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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse. (11:26)

The Torah begins with the word, re'eh, see, written in the singular, and it concludes with the word, lifneichem, before you, written in the plural. Why is this? Horav Chaim, zl, m'Vermiza, brother of the Maharal, derives from here that if one has the opportunity to rebuke a group that will probably not listen to him, he should do so, regardless. This approach acknowledges the unlikely chance that even one person might be inspired, which would validate the effort. Moshe Rabbeinu spoke lifneichem to all of Klal Yisrael, but his words were actually addressed to the re'eh, each individual Jew. Success is measured with each individual. I must add, however, that one's goal should be to reach the masses, but, if he succeeds in reaching only one person, his efforts will have met with success. This reflects the value of each and every Jew.

Rabbi Akiva lost twelve-thousand pairs of students. Twenty-four thousand of the greatest Torah scholars in history were all gone. This would have devastated a lesser individual. Not Rabbi Akiva, the individual who rose from illiteracy to becoming one of the greatest Torah illuminaries that ever lived. He forged on and took five new talmidim, students. Through them, he perpetuated Torah knowledge. He realized the inestimable value of each individual student.

We live in an era in which success is measured by numbers. A successful school is a large school. A good yeshivah is a large yeshivah. This statement cannot be farther from the truth. While numbers might accrue to one's advantage, when he is fund-raising for his institution, his success is measured by each individual that he inspires.

Furthermore, one may not even notice the influence that he has had on the individual for quite some time. If the effect has been rendered, however, it will be recognized. In other words, our function is to do; Hashem will determine the success ratio of our endeavors.

When the Chafetz Chaim, zl, reached an advanced age, he became sickly and weak, and he hardly ever traveled. Once, Horav Chaim Ozer Grodzenski, zl, the venerable rav of Vilna, asked the Chafetz Chaim to come to Vilna to give words of inspiration to bolster observance of the mitzvah of taharas ha'mishpachah, family purity. The Chafetz Chaim was already past the age of ninety, and his family felt that the trip would be a most difficult one for him to undertake. The Chafetz Chaim's response was unequivocal: "If Rav Chaim Ozer asks, then I must go."

The family did everything possible to prevent the sage from undertaking this major venture, but the Chafetz Chaim was determined and adamant; he was going. A throng of thousands of Jews met the gadol hador when he arrived. Friday night, he spoke to a group of 6,000 women. On Shabbos morning, there were over 6,000 men in the congregation. After the seudah, meal, Shabbos afternoon, many members of the community visited the Chafetz Chaim and asked for his blessings. One elderly Jew approached the Chafetz Chaim, and, after receiving his sage advice, asked for a blessing. The Chafetz Chaim then spent a few moments speaking with the man about emunah, faith, in Hashem. When the man left, the Chafetz Chaim remarked, "I think I reached him." Indeed, when the Chafetz Chaim returned home to Radin, he commented to a member of his family, "The entire trip was worth it, even if the only person that was inspired was the elderly Jew that came to see me in the afternoon." Success is measured with each Jew - one at a time.

You shall not add to it, and you shall not subtract from it. (13:1)

We are admonished neither to add to nor to subtract from the mitzvos that Hashem has given us. It certainly makes sense that subtracting mitzvos is a dangerous practice. In contrast, however, one would think that adding mitzvos is laudatory. Horav Aharon Kotler, zl, cites Horav Yosef Zundel, zl, m'Salant, a disciple of Horav Chaim Volozhiner, zl, who related in the name of his rebbe, the Gaon, zl, m'Vilna, that any practice that is initiated "supposedly" for the purpose of increasing Torah observance and ethical/moral living, but does not succeed, is actually counter-productive. This practice, which ultimately usurps Torah authority and denigrates mitzvah observance, is actually coming to us via the guile of the yetzer hora, evil inclination. The yetzer hora makes every attempt to sway us to a life antithetical to Torah dictate, and, at times, even uses a mitzvah as a ploy to induce us to commit an aveirah. It will involve us in all forms of frumkeit, piety/observance, and chesed, acts of loving-kindness - as long as we do not study Torah. We can spend days looking for the perfect Esrog, but what about our seder, study period, for learning?

Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai instructed his five greatest students, "Go out and see which is the best derech, approach, to life one should maintain." Why does he say, "Go out" ? Can this discussion not take place "inside" as well? No! Says Rav Chaim Volozhiner. The bais hamedrash is a place for learning - not discussions. When the talmidim, students, find themselves outside the four walls of the bais hamedrash with nothing to do, then, they should initiate this discussion. If it takes place in the hallowed halls of the bais hamedrash, it is the work of the yetzer hora.

In his inimitable manner, the Maggid, zl, m'Dubno uses an analogy to render a rationale for the prohibition against adding mitzvos. There was a man who would often borrow various utensils from his neighbor. One day, he borrowed a pot. The next day he returned two pots to his benefactor, claiming that the original pot, which he had borrowed, conceived and gave birth overnight. This went on for about two weeks. Whenever he borrowed a utensil, he would return two. Apparently, there was a population boom with regard to the man's utensils. We can be certain that the lender was very pleased with this arrangement. One day, the man came over and said, "Tonight, I am having a large dinner party. Regrettably, my house is not very well lit. Can I borrow your large golden candelabra?" "Certainly," the other man replied. "I will be happy to lend you my menorah." The dollar signs were already shining before his eyes as he conjured up images of another golden candelabra.

A few days passed, and the borrower did not return the candelabra. "Something must be wrong," the lender thought to himself. "The borrower has never been late with a payment. It just does not make sense." He decided to go to the lender's home and ask for his candelabra. The door to the home was opened by the borrower, who seemed to avoid his gaze. "Where is my candelabra? It is almost a week since you borrowed it," the lender asked.

"Oh, I am so sorry to inform you that your candelabra became ill and died," the borrower replied. "What? Why are you teasing me? You know that a candelabra does not die," the lender practically screamed back at him.

"You seemed to have no problem believing that inanimate utensils can give birth. Why do you not believe that they can also die?" the borrower smugly countered.

The lesson to be derived is very clear and simple. One who supplements a mitzvah, thinking foolishly that there is nothing wrong with increasing upon a mitzvah, might also one day, when confronted with a difficult mitzvah, decrease his mitzvah performance. After all, if one can add, why can he not similarly subtract?

If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or daughter, or the wife of your bosom, or your friend, who is like your own soul, will entice you secretly, saying, "Let us go and worship the gods of others. (13:7)

Rashi cites the Sifri that interprets the phrase, "your friend, who is like your own soul," as a reference to one's father. The other commentators do not seem to agree with this exposition. We wonder why the Torah would choose such a roundabout way of referring to one's father. Why not simply say - father? Horav Meir Chodosh, zl, explains that a father is not a meisis, seducer. A father is a mechanech, an educator. This father certainly is a terrible educator, but an educator he is. He educates either by example or by instruction. He either guides his son to continued spiritual growth, or he catalyzes his spiritual downfall. It all depends on how he educates him. The father's role in his son's life does not fall under the category of meisis. His function as the child's primary educator places him in a position in which what he does, or does not do, affects the child from an educational perspective.

A father's actions, his various activities, statements, mannerisms, allusions and innuendo, all leave a lasting impression on his child. His responsibility as a role model is awesome. When we look at the flip side, however, the side of positive instruction, care and sensitivity, we see the incredible reward and nachas one can derive.

You are children to Hashem, Your G-d. (14:1)

Our relationship with the Almighty is unique. His love for us is that of a father to his son. In the Talmud Kiddushin 36a, Rabbi Yehudah says that this relationship is based upon how we act. If we act as children towards a father, then Hashem will treat us as such. If we do not, we are not considered sons. Rabbi Meir disagrees, contending that the relationship of banim, sons, to Hashem, holds true regardless of the way we act. The Teshuvos HaRashba says that the halachic position remains with Rabbi Meir.

The Chida, zl, says that according to Rabbi Meir we must view every Jew as having a distinguished status. Regardless of one's background or position, he is Hashem's son, a position that is unparalleled and to be revered. The Arizal writes that in "recent" generations, the power of the sitra achara, "other" forces, the forces of tumah, spiritual contamination, have taken a greater hold on us. Therefore, the little that we do of a positive nature is valued by Hashem and considered on the level parallel of the Tanaim, sages of the Talmudic era. Thus, every Jew should be revered and treated as a king.

The Midrash Tanchuma attributes this distinction to one action on the part of Avraham Avinu. When he saw the Angels in the guise of Arabs coming towards his tent, he ran to them. Afterwards, when he went to prepare the meal for them, the Torah says that he ran to the cattle. In reward for the Patriarch's running, we, his descendants, maintain an eminent status. This is due to one positive action, one display of enthusiasm to perform Hashem's will.

We have no idea of the value of even one mitzvah and the esteem it holds in the eyes of Hashem. The following story gives us a window of insight into the value of a single mitzvah. In a resort hotel in Eretz Yisrael outside Yerushalayim, the mashgiach, Kosher supervisor, would see to it that there was a daily minyan for Minchah. It happened that one day he had a very difficult time completing the minyan. He decided to go outside in search of that elusive tenth man. He soon met a Jew who neither had a clue about what a minyan was nor about what the mashgiach wanted from him. After the mashgiach explained the significance of minyan and the incredible reward in store for those who participate in a minyan, the stranger acquiesced to be number ten.

He followed the mashgiach into the building and began walking up the stairs to the dining hall, where the minyan took place. Suddenly, the mashgiach was notified that the son of one of the worshippers had arrived, so that they now had a minyan. The mashgiach turned to the Jew who had only walked up the steps, and told him that their minyan problem had already been solved. He thanked him for his good intentions and bid him good day.

Ten years went by. One nightú when the mashgiach was sleeping, he had a dream. In the dream, the man whom he had called in to be the tenth man appeared before him. His countenance shined brilliantly. The man related to him that he had passed from his earthly abode during the previous month: "I have come to thank you for attempting to include me in your minyan. You have no idea of the incredible spiritual reward I have received because of the three steps I walked up in order to complete the minyan." He added, "I have one favor to ask of you. I have one son who lives in Yerushalayim. He is non-observant. In fact, he is very estranged from a life of Torah and mitzvos. Please go and ask him to recite Kaddish for me. It will mean so much."

The mashgiach, of course, met with the son of the deceased and was successful in convincing him to say Kaddish for his late father. All of this was the result of three steps. Can we even begin to imagine the reward for complete mitzvah observance?

You shall open up your hand to him… and proved whatever is lacking to him. (15:8)

Avraham Avinu is known as the amud hachesed, pillar of kindness, having set the example and standard for his descendants to emulate. Indeed, more than simply being the model of chesed, he ingrained this character trait in the personality of his descendants. Jews are generous, caring and compassionate. Regardless of their religious affiliation and level of observance, this innate quality defines one's Jewishness and connection to the soul of the Jewish nation. Our people have always sought out opportunities to perform acts of kindness. In his Ahavas Chesed, the Chafetz Chaim emphasizes that it is not sufficient to merely help when one is needed. A Jew must go one step further: he must love chesed. This is an acquired trait that he develops. It is characterized by the individual's motivation to search for chesed opportunities, so that he can express his innate Jewish character. What better example than Avraham, who, after having undergone a painful Bris Milah at an advanced age, insisted on sitting at the door of his tent in the heat of the day, just so that he might be able to serve others?

In his Atarah L'Melech, recently translated by Rabbi Sholom Smith, Horav Avraham Pam, zl, insists that chesed be administered on an individual basis and catered specifically to the particular needs of the recipient. This idea is underscored by the Torah when it says, "You shall open up your hand… and provide whatever is lacking to him." The word "him" is used to highlight the importance of dealing with each person as an individual, not as a number.

Rav Pam expounds on the mitzvah of performing chesed. He explains that those who believe that an act of chesed requires one to expend a great deal of time or spend much money are mistaken. Those who think that performing chesed takes great talent are in error. Frequently, all a person needs in order to perform a service for another person is a good set of ears! Listening to an individual's plight, assuring him that he is not alone, that someone does care, can, at times, be more effective and meaningful than a check.

The pasuk in Mishlei 12:25 says, "When there is worry in a man's heart, he should suppress it." In the Talmud Yoma 75a, Chazal offer two distinct approaches toward addressing the challenges and anxieties that are so intrinsic to life. In some situations, one can overcome anxiety by focusing his mind on another matter. Another way is to share one's worry with a friend or anyone who will listen. When one offers a sympathetic ear, he can often perform a great chesed by alleviating someone's emotional burden. Often, this is the only relief one may experience from certain problems. The issues do not go away. The problems remain, but the person feels better just by having talked about it. The seemingly insignificant gesture of simply listening, of being there for someone in need, helps to alleviate the awesome weight that he carries.

We live in times of advanced technology. Phones, cell-phones, electronic mail - everyone is seconds away. Yet, we fail to make that call which can mean so much to someone who is isolated. Lending a sympathetic ear is a great form of chesed. I may add that how we make the call carries great weight. When we call someone and are perceived as impatient, intimating that we have better things to do than to sit on the phone, it probably would have been better had we not called altogether. The way we have acted only adds to the hurt. This idea likewise applies to children that call their parents and are bored with the topics or interests that their parents have chosen to discuss. They quickly have forgotten when just a few years earlier, what was important to them had very little meaning for their parents. Yet, they listened. As we prepare ourselves for the Yemei HaDin, Days of Judgment, it would serve us well to spend a little of our "precious" time listening to others.

Va'ani Tefillah

Korbanos: Sacrifices

The Korbanos are divided into two categories: The highest level of sacrifice is Kodoshei Kodoshim. These Korbanos represent the loftiest level of kedushah, coinciding with the highest level of duty and commitment. Symbolically, they remind us that if one wants to draw near to Hashem, he must conjure up all physical aspects of his personality and dedicate his service to Hashem. It is for this reason that the Shechitah, slaughtering, and Kabbalah, acceptance of the blood, occurs on the tzafon, northern, side of the Mizbayach, the side where the Shulchan, Table, is situated. As mentioned before, this side represents the material and physical aspects of life. Included in the category of Kodshei Kodoshim are: the Chataos, Sin-offerings, for sins of transgression; Olos, Burnt/Elevation offerings, brought for sins of omission; and Ashamos, Guilt-offerings, brought for wrongdoing. Two of the communal Korban Shelamim, Peace-offerings, the two sheep of Shavuos, are the only ones included in the Kodoshei Kodoshim. Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, explains that these two Korbanos are unique in their responsibility to remind Klal Yisrael of the blissful contentment one may achieve if he lives in accordance with the law of the Torah. Since these korbanos represent a goal not yet attained, they are included among the Kodoshei Kodoshim. The Shalmei Yachid, individual/private Peace-offerings, however, are Kodoshim Kalim, lesser level of kedushah, since they reflect the emotions of joy already attained.

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