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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


These are the offspring of Noach - Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations. (6:9)

The commentators have all offered their own definitions of the terms, tzaddik and tamim. They have even offered various interpretations for b'dorosav. What about the word ish, man? It must mean more than a tzaddik who happens to be a male. Horav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Shlita, cites a pasuk in Melachim I, 2:2, V'chazakta v'hayisa l'ish, "Be strong and become a man." David Hamelech is approaching his mortal end and issues his charge to his son, Shlomo. Implicit in his words is the idea that ish, man, is a goal in itself. Just as there is a tzaddik, so, too, is there an ish. Radak explains this to mean one who is: zariz, ready, willing; u'moshel b'nafsho, who rules over his spirit; and koveish es yitzrecha, conquers his (evil) inclination. In other words, an ish is an individual who is in control, who dominates over himself.

Essentially, the primary difference between an animal and a human being is the ability to assert self-control. There are other differences. A human being: speaks; thinks logically; has common sense; has a spiritual and emotional dimension. These are all realms from which animals are excluded. While animals do not speak, they have other methods of communicating with one another. Likewise, while they do not possess clear cognitive ability like humans, they are not completely devoid of the thinking process. Some aspects of emotion play a role, even in the life of an animal. The one area, however, in which man and animal are clearly distinct from each other, is mastery over their will. We can call it will-power, discipline, self-control, single-mindedness; it all means the same. A human being is in charge; he has control. An animal is controlled. Animals cannot contend with - and prevail over - their natural desires. Only one who is an "ish", a man, possesses that ability.

Thus, explains the Rosh Yeshivah, Noach earned all three appellations. He was an ish, tzaddik, tamim. The fact that he was first and foremost an ish empowered him, paved the way for him to become a tzaddik and tamim. First, he had to be an ish - a man in control.

A similar idea can be used to explain the pasuk in Shemos 32:1, Ki zeh ha'ish Moshe asher he'elanu mei'eretz Mitzrayim lo yadanu meh hayah lo, "For this Moshe, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt - we do not know what became of him." Moshe Rabbeinu's distinction, his ability to lead the Jewish nation throughout its sojourn in the wilderness, with all of the issues and challenges that this presented, derived from his ishiyus, his being a "man." One who is not in control of himself is unable to govern others.

Mordechai HaYehudi is referred to as ish Yehudi, ish Yemini, a Jewish man, a man from Binyamin. Mordechai's various attributes and his success as a leader were the result of his being an ish. This quality defined his character and acted as the primary catalyst for his success as Klal Yisrael's leader during a critical juncture in their history.

We can pose one question to help us to understand this thesis. In the beginning of Parashas Toldos, the Torah describes both Yaakov and Eisav as ish: Yaakov ish tam yosheiv ohalim; Yaakov was a wholesome man, abiding in tents; Eisav ish sadeh; Eisavů a man of the field. This does not present a problem with regard to Yaakov Avinu. Indeed, he was an ish tam, wholesome and perfect man. This enabled his eminence in the tents of Torah. How are we to understand Eisav as an ish sadeh? He certainly was not a disciplined person. In fact, he manifested the antithesis of self-control, indulging in every whim and desire.

We suggest that the concept of ish can be a double-edged sword and, thus, may be viewed from two perspectives. Some evil people are not evil incarnate. They simply have no control over themselves, submitting to their evil-inclination and acting out whatever role it chooses for them. In other words, there are weak people who follow the sordid script of their yetzer hora, evil-inclination. There is another type of evil, whereby the individual exhibits complete self-control in purporting and carrying out evil, not because he must, but because he wants to; he enjoys it. This is the ish sadeh, man of evil, the individual who controls evil, disciplining himself to channel all of his natural forces to produce evil. This characterizes Eisav, the ish sadeh.

Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations. (6:9)

The Torah uses two adjectives to describe Noach's character: tzaddik and tamim. In his own manner, each commentator offers definitions for these terms. Rabbeinu Bachya defines tzaddik as a person who is careful with other people's property, distancing himself from any vestige of thievery. The members of Noach's generation were derelict in this area, as the Torah writes, Vatimalei ha'aretz chamas, "The land was filled with robbery (Ibid 6:12)." Tamim is defined as, shaleim b'chal midosav, perfect in all of his character traits. Tamim is sheleimus, perfection; one who is ethically flawless. Noach did not just excel in just one area of his behavior; every aspect of Noach's demeanor exuded impeccability. In grappling with the concept of ethical perfection, one wonders what quality is most necessary to achieve such eminence. What ingredient must one possess in order to realize this distinction?

I think that in order to wear the mantle of tamim, one must first be a vatran, acquiescent and compliant. One who is demanding can never achieve ethical perfection. The mere fact that he is not flexible excludes him from this goal. Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, relates a story about a young talmid chacham, Torah scholar, who fits this criterion. There was a young, wealthy widow who was sadly called to her eternal reward at a young age. Prior to her passing, she told her only daughter, who was of marriageable age, "I am leaving you my entire fortune on the condition that you approach the Rosh Yeshivah of a certain yeshivah and ask him to suggest to you his very best student as a husband." Of course, everything was contingent upon the boy and girl being attracted to one another, but the mother was just attempting to establish criterion for her daughter: he must be the very best.

The daughter followed her mother's will, seeking out the Rosh Yeshivah who suggested a certain young man who was certainly on the road to eminence in Torah. They met, liked each other, and became engaged shortly thereafter. A few weeks later, the kallah heard a rumor claiming that indeed, her chassan was not the number one student in the yeshivah. There was someone else who was better. Actually, it was either only a rumor - and she should have trusted the Rosh Yeshivah - or maybe in certain areas the other young man excelled over her chassan. Hearing this, the girl became distressed. Perhaps she was not carrying out her mother's wishes. Either the kallah was not quite ready to make a life- altering decision, such as marriage, or her sense of values in defining the "best" student was confused and sorely lacking. It became evident to her chassan that she had issues.

The chassan was an ish tzaddik in the true definition of the term, and he refused to benefit from what might not rightfully be his. He "suggested" to his kallah that perhaps it would be best for her to pursue whom she felt was the best student in the yeshivah. He was willing to comply with her wishes. The two parted on good terms, and the kallah arranged to meet with the other "best" student. It soon became a shidduch, and the young couple was married.

Fast forward six months, and the Rosh Yeshivah of a preeminent yeshivah in Yerushalayim went to visit the original "best student's" yeshivah and asked its Rosh Yeshivah for his top student. He was searching for someone young with exceptional potential upon whom he could entrust the future of his yeshivah. In other words, he was seeking a successor for his mantle as Rosh Yeshivah. Of course, the Rosh Yeshivah suggested his prize student, who by now had also developed a reputation for his high ethical standards. For what more could one ask? The young man was being offered an unparalleled opportunity to be marbitz, disseminate, Torah. This was every yeshivah student's dream. When the suggestion was presented to the young man, he demurred.

After much prodding by his Rosh Yeshivah, he finally explained the reason for his decision. While he knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, he could not accept for fear that his original kallah, who was now married, after hearing of his new position, might have second thoughts concerning her present husband. Maybe he is not as good as everybody says he is. Perhaps my first chassan is better. "I cannot allow this to occur," he said. Therefore, I am mevater, graciously refusing, the position, rather than in some way aggrieve my original kallah."

This story provides us with an insightful perspective concerning the definition of tamim.

Noach walked with G-d. (6:9)

Rashi notes that concerning Avraham Avinu, the Torah writes, "Walk before Me and be perfect" (Bereishis 17:1). He explains that Noach "walked with G-d," needing the Almighty's support to maintain his spiritual status quo, while Avraham walked alone, resolute, and with fortitude in his commitment to Hashem. The Midrash Tanchuma explains that Hashem protected Noach, not allowing him to falter and fall into the spiritual abyss created by the wicked of his generation. This is compared to a king who sends his son, the crown prince, on a mission. Along the way, he must traverse an area inundated with quicksand. The king provides support for his son, protecting him from falling into the quicksand. Avraham, on the other hand, walked alone, without the need for support.

Horav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, zl, observes that the Midrash distinguishes between the prince who is on a mission for his father, the king, and the individual who, like Avraham, is on his own performing the will of the king. One who is sent on a mission will invariably cancel the mission when he encounters a challenge. This is not part of the deal. One who is on his own, who acts on behalf of the king, because he seeks to perform his will, is not overcome by challenge. He proceeds on, treading slowly and carefully, never faltering from his self-proclaimed goal. Noach considered himself as nothing more than Hashem's emissary. When the going became rough, when he was confronted with the spiritual pitfalls of living in a generation of degenerates and thieves, he could not handle the challenge. He needed Hashem's support.

Avraham did not view himself as an agent. He was on his own, taking his own initiative, going forward and acting in the manner which he believed was necessary. Nothing was going to prevent him from achieving his goal. Nothing was going to stand in his way.

Rashi writes that Avraham was different in that "he was michazek," strengthened, himself. This teaches, explains the Rosh Yeshivah, that although Avraham did not need Hashem to support him, he did require chizuk, strengthening. It is just that he did it on his own. He did not sit back waiting for Hashem; he took the initiative. Even the great Patriarch could not have achieved spiritual endurance without calling upon his own reserves. The Avos, Patriarchs, were constantly strengthening themselves.

The area in which one requires the greatest chizuk, and which, if he succeeds, will greatly enhance his chances of achieving spiritual perfection, is time. Applying every waking moment to important spiritual endeavors - either directly or indirectly - is a most significant undertaking, one that marks the difference between one who is growing spiritually, and one who is spiritually stagnant. Many of us have the proper motives, but we get bogged down with foolishness and end up wasting the most precious commodity that we possess: time. It is the one sphere in which many are unknowingly derelict. We fail to recognize the significance of time and the extent to which it affects every aspect of our spiritual lives. A minute wasted is a minute lost forever. One who fails to respect this idea cannot possibly aspire to earn the mantle of tzaddik.

Of the clean animal, of the animal that is not clean. (7:8)

The Talmud Pesachim 3a derives an important moral lesson from the Torah's use of the long expression, "that is not clean," rather than the abbreviated single term, ha'temeiah, unclean. One should never utter a gross expression. The Torah, which is unusually brief in expressing itself, added several letters to the Hebrew text, rather than using an indelicate expression. When we think about it, the Torah added eight letters, since ha'temeiah is five letters and asher einenah tehorah is thirteen. This is a wonderful and important lesson, but it is inconsistent, since there are many places in the Torah where the word tamei and temeiah are written. Why the discrepancy?

The Maggid, zl, m'Dubno explains this, in his inimitable manner, with an analogy. There lived in a small village a Torah scholar who was equally refined and cultured. A simple, illiterate farmer, who was a very physical person, lived nearby. Culture was the farthest thing from his mind. He was rightfully called, "Reb Getzel der poier, the farmer," a far from complimentary nom de plume. One day, a man arrived from a distant community in search of "Reb Getzel." He knocked on the door of the scholar's home, and, when he asked the servant for Reb Getzel, the servant replied, "You probably mean Getzel the illiterate farmer."

When his master heard his response, he immediately chastised his servant: "Why did you refer to our neighbor in such a degrading manner? How dare you belittle another Jew?"

A few months later, a shadchan, matchmaker, visited with the Torah scholar and suggested Reb Getzel's daughter for the scholar's son, who was a brilliant student in a prominent yeshivah. When the Torah scholar heard the suggestion, he immediately became upset and declared, "How dare you suggest the daughter of that crude, illiterate farmer for my brilliant son!"

The shadchan left quite upset and very embarrassed. He had no idea that Getzel was such a boor. The servant, however, had been privy to what he felt was a clear double standard. When he spoke negatively of Getzel, his master berated him, but this did not prevent his master from sharing his negative opinion concerning Getzel with the shadchan. He immediately conveyed his feelings to the master, feeling that he deserved an explanation.

The master turned to his servant and gave the following reply. A few months previously, when a visitor from another town inquired concerning Getzel, there was no compelling reason for the servant to give a negative response. This person could care less about Getzel's profundity in Torah. He just wanted to know where Getzel was to be found. This time, it was a completely different story. The shadchan was looking to match the Rav's son with Getzel's daughter. The Rav asserted that he had other available matches for his son. He felt that he owed it to the shadchan to explains why he was rejecting the shidduch. He felt that Getzel was not the kind of person his son was looking to have as a father-in-law. He had no other recourse but to tell the shadchan the truth concerning Getzel.

A similar thought may be expressed concerning the animals entering the Ark. It was not necessary to spell out clearly which ones were unclean. It was sufficient to allude to the fact that certain animals were einenah tehorah. The precise word which denotes a stronger form of uncleanliness, tamei, was simply not necessary. The fact that the Torah went out of its way to use a "cleaner," more appropriate word, despite its length, underlines the importance of the lesson of not using gross language.

However, when the Torah discusses kosher and non-kosher animals with regard to what one may eat and what is forbidden, there is no place for allusions. The Torah tells it like it is: this animal is tamei, ritually defiled/unclean. One cannot be subtle concerning issurim, prohibitions. If something is forbidden to be eaten; if a given activity is categorically prohibited; if it is wrong to take part in a specific endeavor, or attend a questionable function, then the message concerning its impropriety must be conveyed emphatically and without embellishment, so that people get the message clearly.

Haran died in the lifetime of Terach, his father, in his native land, in Uhr Kasdim. (11:28)

Sefer Bereishis is referred to as Sefer Hayashar, the Book of (the) Just, because it recounts the lives and experiences of the Avos Hakedoshim, Holy Patriarchs, who exemplified yashrus, justness, and perfection in their commitment to Hashem. Thus, the Torah relates their stories so that we, their descendants, will learn from their example and follow suit. The Torah also writes about individuals who did not attain the status of tzaddik, righteous person. Nonetheless, their stories, which are filled with both failures and triumphs, impart important lessons for us.

The above pasuk tells us about Avraham Avinu's brother, Haran, a decent - but weak - individual, who died during the lifetime of his father, Terach. A seemingly innocuous pasuk, it alludes to a powerful story which serves as the background for Haran's premature death. Apparently, when Avraham took it upon himself to shatter all of his father's idols, word got back to Nimrod, the king and chief pagan, who took this act of "treachery" as a personal affront. He immediately sentenced Avraham to be consumed in a fiery cauldron. Haran witnessed the entire debacle and was determined to make a decision concerning his own level of commitment. Being a simple person who was not willing to gamble and make a major commitment to something which was unknown, he decided to be "flexible" in his decision. He said, "If Nimrod succeeds in killing my brother, then I am putting my money on Nimrod. If, however, my brother emerges unscathed, then I will commit to Hashem. Well, we all know what happened: Hashem miraculously spared Avraham, after which Haran came forward, defied Nimrod, and committed himself to Hashem. He was flung into the fire and died. Apparently, he was not worthy of the miracle that spared Avraham. So seems to end the story of Haran, brother of Avraham.

To the reader it is a story of two brothers - one deeply committed to Hashem, the other who vacillates - one miraculously escaped harm due to his total devotion, the other died in a fiery death. Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, feels that there is more to the Haran story which, from a superficial reading, we fail to take into account. Haran did allow himself to be thrown into the fire. He did acknowledge monotheism, and he emphatically rejected idolatry. His willingness to die for what he believed was the true religion is evident. Perhaps, his intentions were not pure - or not as pure as those of Avraham, but he did give up his life for Hashem. He could have just as easily committed to Nimrod and his pack of idols - but, he did not. Is it possible that Hashem ignored this act of self-sacrifice and withheld the opportunity for him to receive reward for his actions? It just does not seem right.

Regrettably, this is how one who studies the Torah perfunctorily can err. It may appear that Hashem ignored Haran in terms of receiving a reward, but if we just look a few pesukim further and take note of his offspring and descendants, we realize that Hashem certainly did not spare him any reward.

In fact, he was handsomely compensated with a very special distinction: Sarah Imeinu was his daughter, and Lot, from whom descended Rus and Naamah, was his grandson. This is all because he acted faithfully and willingly risked his life. While it is true that his intentions were indecorous, he was rewarded for his actions. Hashem remunerates everyone for his positive actions - even if his intentions are inconsonant with his actions.

Rav Pincus observes that, on occasions when some of us might take issue with the contribution offered by someone to a shul, school or yeshivah, suspecting that the reason for his generosity is only for the attention that he receives. Some of us get involved in various chesed projects only because of the accolades that will follow or because it nurtures our lack of self-esteem. While the motivation for joining or involving ourselves might be somewhat lacking, the positive actions and ensuing results are beneficial to others and, thus, sufficient reason for reward.

Chazal teach us in the Talmud Sanhedrin 105b, "One should occupy himself in Torah (study) and mitzvah (observance), even if he is doing so shelo lishmah, not for the sake of the mitzvah, because good work, although misapplied in purpose, will lead to lishmah." For as reward for offering forty-two sacrifices to Hashem, Balak merited that Rus was his descendant. His intentions were not only wrong; they were outright evil. Yet, he did achieve some merit. Thus, he was privileged with being the ancestor of the progenitor of Malchus Bais David, Kingdom of the House of David.

This teaches us a valuable lesson in self-motivation for mitzvah observance. It happens that one is reluctant in undertaking to perform a specific mitzvah, spiritual endeavor, or act of loving-kindness, because he lacks the proper motivation. He feels that he is not on the lofty spiritual plane required for such a venture. Nonetheless, he should go forward and act assertively, because eventually his mind will be clarified and sublimated to a higher cause and his intentions refined. Mitoch shelo lishmah - ba lishmah.

Rotzeh Hashem es yireiav, es ha'meyachalim l'chasdo.
Hashem takes delight in those who fear Him, and (in) those who wait for his loving-kindness.

What dos it mean to fear Hashem, and how does one become G-d-fearing? Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, observes that the word yireiav, those who fear Him, is closely related to the word re'eh, see. Indeed, the true concept of fear of Hashem is the awareness (seeing, recognition) of Him. Thus, the yud of yira and the hay of re'eh are not fundamental consonants, making the root of both words the same: r'a. We now understand that those who fear Hashem are those who recognize and trust solely in Him. They are acutely aware that all help comes directly from Hashem. This knowledge brings about absolute fear of Hashem. In addition, whatever matters generate fear within others will not engender fear in the G-d-fearing Jew, since he fears only Hashem. Furthermore, one cannot simply pay lip service to fearing Hashem. He who fears Him trusts Him in his heart. Hashem knows who really fears Him and who does not. He takes delight only in those who are sincere in their belief.

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