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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Send forth for yourself men, and let them spy out the land of Canaan. (13:2)

Rashi notes that the passage about the meraglim, spies, is juxtaposed upon the previous passage which relates the incident of Miriam speaking against her brother, Moshe Rabbeinu. He explains that since Miriam was stricken over matters relating to speech, the spies should have had enough sense to take heed to learn a lesson from her debacle. Horav Zalmen Sorotzkin, zl, questions the comparison between Miriam's speaking against Moshe and the meraglim's speaking against the inanimate wood and stones of Eretz Yisrael. Obviously, there must be a differential between the two. Horav Shmuel David Walkin, zl, explains that speaking against Miriam created a mindset that should have taught the meraglim an important lesson: the critical impact of a negiah, personal prejudice/vested interest. He derives this from the following hypothesis.

Chazal teach us that the women of that generation were tzidkaniyos, righteous women. It was in their zchus, merit, that Klal Yisrael was liberated from Egypt. They refused to contribute their jewelry toward building the eigal, Golden Calf. Bnos Tzlafchad were just a few of the many women who loved and yearned for Eretz Yisrael. At every juncture when the men disputed Moshe, the women had supported his leadership. This whole pattern of support ended during the episode of the meraglim. Suddenly, the women agreed with the men and contended with Moshe. Chazal tell us that they all cried on that fateful night. They all complained on that night. What catalyzed this change of heart? What brought about this sudden about-face? It was Miriam's words against Moshe. When she said that Moshe was not treating his wife the way other men treated their wives, this resulted in an uproar among the women: "What? Moshe, our revered leader, is not treating his wife properly? We should support her and rebel against him." Miriam's provocative statement had a tragic effect. It turned the women, who heretofore had been Moshe's greatest supporters, into his antagonists.

It was their negios, personal prejudices, that turned the tide. Moshe, who until now, had been kadosh, holy and perfect, was quickly transformed into someone who was unfit to lead. The meraglim should have derived from Miriam's fiasco that negios sway a person's perspective and pervert his vision. He is no longer able to see reality in its clear light. This constitutes the parallel between Miriam and the meraglim. They should have learned from her error. They did not, and we still suffer from the consequences until this very day.

The entire assembly raised up and issued its voice; the people wept that night. (14:1)

That fateful night became a night of weeping for our entire nation for posterity. It was Tisha B'Av, the national day of tragedy on which our Batei Mikdash were destroyed and other tragedies occurred. What precipitated this? Were they really that bad? In the Yalkut Shimoni, Chazal say that weeping is infectious. The spies returned and fanned out throughout their respective tribes. They called together their close families. In somber voices packed with emotion, each related his story. They wept as they spoke, and when they wept those who listened shared in their emotional outbreak. Crying will do that. When someone stands in front of us and cries, we become emotionally moved and it leaves an impact on us. This response spread throughout the nation until everyone began wailing and grieving over the terrible outlook for the future. The unwarranted weeping of Klal Yisrael rose up to Heaven and Hashem responded, saying, "You cried for no reason. I will give a b'chiah l'doros, a reason to cry for generations." Tisha B'Av became our national day of mourning. Our greatest tragedies occurred on this day - all because of our unwarranted, needless weeping.

Let us analyze this. It is human nature to become emotional when someone in front of us begins to weep uncontrollably. Parents and educators are swayed when their child/student begins to cry. Imagine an entire family crying, an entire assembly of people wailing. The entire nation is crying uncontrollably. Can a person be held accountable for giving in to his emotions in the face of such public weeping? On this night the depression and hopelessness were overpowering. The fear was overwhelming. The people were totally unable to cope. Should they really have been blamed and punished so gravely?

We derive from here, posits Horav Gershon Liebman, zl, how much the Torah demands that a Jew be independent, that he not be controlled and easily swayed; that he stand resolute, uncoerced by falsity and deception. One who believes in and recognizes the truth will not be moved - regardless of how many others fall prey to emotion and misguided influence. The unwarranted weeping should not have reached such proportions, because there was no reason to fear a lack of success. Hashem had been with them up until this point. He promised to take them into the land without mishap. They should have maintained their conviction, despite the weeping. Indeed, as soon as they heard their punishment, they lamented their past weeping and were prepared to ascend to the land. This only demonstrates the shallowness of their weeping. When one believes in an ideal, when he knows that he is acting correctly and in good faith, he should not fear what others have to say. The truth should fortify his conviction and give him the fortitude to withstand whatever criticism insecure individuals may level at him.

And the people mourned exceedingly. They awoke early in the morning and ascended toward the mountaintop saying, "We are ready and we shall ascend… For we have sinned." Moshe said, "Why do you transgress the word of Hashem? It will not succeed." (14:39,40,41)

An incredible transformation seems to be taking place before our very eyes. The same people who wept b'chinam, for no reason - who earlier that evening had eschewed Moshe Rabbeinu and Eretz Yisrael - were now prepared to eat their words and push on to the Holy Land. Is there a greater indication of teshuvah, repentance? Immediately after Moshe conveyed to them the consequence of their rebellion, that only their children would enter Eretz Yisrael, they repented - according to the halachic process. They regretted their rebellion by morning. They abandoned their sinful behavior, and they confessed to their sin. We do not find a parallel in Jewish history where immediately after the nation sinned, they repented.

Yet, the Torah does not accept their teshuvah. In fact, they were considered reshaim, wicked, for attempting to ascend to Eretz Yisrael. Why? Horav Avigdor Halevi Nebentzhal, Shlita, explains that while their intentions were possibly noble, their timing was faulty. Hashem had already declared that they were to wander in the wilderness for forty-years. To ascend to Eretz Yisrael at this juncture - after Hashem said no - was rebellious. Hashem had issued His edict. All they could do now was to accept it. Teshuvah is certainly a process by which the sin is expunged, but it takes time and effort. Apparently, their teshuvah was insufficient.

Rav Nebentzhal adds that quite possibly their teshuvah was an improper and incorrect form of repentance. Since their initial regret and ensuing confession were misplaced, their teshuvah was of no value. Only yesterday the people had fallen under the influence of the meraglim, spies, who slandered Eretz Yisrael and Klal Yisrael's ability to triumph against its inhabitants. They were clearly aware that Hashem had said that they would conquer the land. Their mistake was in assuming that Hashem had no control over the giants who inhabited Eretz Yisrael. They acceded to Hashem's awesome power, but they thought that His powers had limitations. When Moshe told them that they were not going to enter the land as a result of their misgivings, they accepted that they had erred. Their error, however, went deeper than they thought. They thought that they had underestimated Eretz Yisrael. Their real sin was in underestimating Hashem! The next day, they decided to storm the mountain and ascend to the land, because they now realized the critical significance of Eretz Yisrael. What about Hashem? He had said that now was not the time to ascend. Once again, they failed to reckon with Hashem's decree. They did not understand that just as Eretz Yisrael's giants were meaningless before Hashem, so, too, was Eretz Yisrael without meaning if Hashem Yisborach did not want them to go there. The only thing that matters is Hashem's will, and, at the current time, it was not supportive of their endeavor. Indeed, if we consider it, not only did their action not represent teshuvah, in reality it was a continuation of their original sin of not acknowledging Hashem.

There are people who, albeit observant, fail to correlate the mitzvos with Hashem. As far as they are concerned, there are mitzvos - and there is the will of Hashem. For example, we will make the statement regarding an individual, "He is observant, and he is also a great ohaiv Yisrael; he loves Jews, and he loves Eretz Yisrael." This sort of statement can cause one to think that there is a dichotomy between an observant Jew and one who is an ohaiv Yisrael, or ohaiv Eretz Yisrael. These are both aspects of Jewish observance and, thus, included in the Torah. Everything we are to do must be viewed as the ratzon Hashem, will of G-d. It is all part of one large package. We do not cut and paste mitzvos.

This form of equanimity towards the will of Hashem exemplified the European Jew, who never looked for ways to cut corners in mitzvah observance. Hashem gave us 613 mitzvos. They are all equally His will, and, therefore, we are enjoined to observe. The same attitude applied to transgression. If an activity or endeavor was not in accordance with the will of Hashem, they did not look for loopholes to get around the sin. What was wrong remained wrong. Heiteirim, halachic dispensations, were not sought as a means to circumvent various inconveniences. The following story is one of the first stories I heard from my revered rebbe, Horav Tzvi Hirsch Meisels, zl, the Veitzener Rav.

It was Erev Rosh Hashanah, when the Nazi guards of Auschwitz rounded up 1600 youngsters under the age of eighteen for a selektzia, selection, to see who was healthy enough to be kept alive. They put a pole with a cross bar in place and the children had to pass beneath the bar. If their heads reached the bar, they lived. If not, they were condemned to die. In the end, 1400 youngsters were condemned to die on Rosh Hashanah. Horrified fathers and relatives went through the motions of attempting to bribe the guards and kapos on behalf of their sons. There were, of course, men of great reason who refused to redeem their sons at the cost of another child, which was the inevitable consequence of their dealing. If 1400 youngsters had been counted, there had to be that exact number - or else someone else had to take the place of the missing children. On that fateful Rosh Hashanah, a simple, unassuming Jew approached Rav Meisels with a halachic query. "Rebbe," he said in a shaking voice, "my only son, my beloved child, is in that barracks doomed to die. I have money to redeem him, but it will be at the expense of another child. I have already lost everything. My son is all I have left. May I redeem him? Please answer me, and I will submit to whatever you decide."

Rav Meisels turned to the father, and with great trepidation, replied, "How can you expect me to give a ruling in such circumstances under such duress? I have no seforim, halachic responsa, to research. I have no one with whom to confer. This is a difficult question for me to decide."

Reflecting on the query, a number of thoughts went through Rav Meisel's mind. There were pros and cons, but the bottom line was that it was a difficult shaaleh, with very little logic to permit redeeming the boy. The father kept on begging, crying bitterly, "Rebbe," he pleaded, "you must decide this question while I still have the chance to save my only son."

Rav Meisels begged the man to desist from pressing the question, "I cannot render a proper decision without my seforim."

The Jew persisted, "Rebbe, does that mean that you do not permit me to save my only child? If so, I will willingly accept, with love, your ruling."

"No, my dear friend," Rav Meisels countered. "I did not say that it is not permitted. I only said that I cannot reasonably rule either way. Do whatever you feel you should do, as if you had never asked me at all."

When the broken-hearted father realized that Rav Meisels could not be swayed into rendering a decision, he cried out passionately, "Ribono Shel Olam, I did what the Torah demands of me. I asked a shaaleh of the rav, the only rav that was available. If you cannot give me an outright heter, then that implies to me that a question in halachah remains regarding granting permission for me to redeem my child. If that is the case, then I abide by this "non"- ruling, even though this means that my child will die tomorrow. I will do nothing to override what the Torah ordains."

Rav Meisels could do nothing to dissuade the father who walked around for the rest of the day with a subtle smile on his face. He felt he was about to sacrifice his only child to Hashem in the manner of the Akeidas Yitzchak. This man's righteousness was exemplary and indicative of a complete temimus, wholesomeness and perfection in his avodas Hashem, service to Hashem: Mi k'amcha Yisrael? "Who is like Your nation Yisrael?"

For he scorned the words of Hashem and broke His commandment; that person will surely be cut off, his sin is upon him. (15:31)

One who humiliates a talmid chacham, Torah scholar, is included in the transgression of dvar Hashem bazah, "For he scorned the word of Hashem." In the Shulchan Aruch, it is cited as a halachah prohibiting embarrassing a Torah scholar, a sin which cuts the sinner off from Olam Habah, the World to Come. The Chafetz Chaim, zl, writes in his Hilchos Lashon Hora that although people understand the gravity of humiliating a Torah scholar, it does not serve as a deterrent. They fall prey to their yetzer hora, evil-inclination, which tells them that the concept of talmid chacham applies only to the days of yore when the leading Torah scholars were the authors of the Talmud. This is categorically untrue. In every generation a standard exists that is appropriate to that generation. A scholar who fits the position of that generation is a talmid chacham who must be respected. One who denigrates a talmid chacham commits a grave sin. I would be so bold as to suggest that this idea applies equally to any scholar in a position of authority, who disseminates Torah to the masses. All too often we view those individuals who teach Torah to our children as employees with whom we deal according to our whims. It is essentially such an attitude that undermines Torah authority and cheapens the entire fabric of our Torah standards. When children perceive their parents' attitude and lack of respect, what should they do? The apple does not fall far from the tree.

The story is related about a man in Yerushalayim, who shortly after the passing of Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, became very ill with excruciating headaches. He sought the counsel of the greatest specialists, to no avail. Finally, he went to one of the distinguished rabbanim of Eretz Yisrael to ask for his blessing. After the rav discovered that the headaches began during Rav Moshe's levayah, funeral, which was held in Yerushalayim, he immediately asked the man if he had ever touched upon the kavod, honor, of the venerable sage. The man replied in the negative. He would never have impugned the dignity of Rav Moshe. The rav said that he should execute the goral ha'Gra, the Gaon M'Vilna's lot, which would hopefully reveal the source of his illness. This method, which ultimately lands on a pasuk in the Torah which alludes to the answer to one's question, indicated the pasuk in Bamidbar 12:8, "Why did you not fear to speak against My servant, Moshe?" Clearly, this man must have said or done something to impugn the honor of Rav Moshe.

At first, the man could not remember anything negative that he had done. Suddenly, an incident came to mind that brought a shudder to the man. "I remember now what happened. It was Shushan Purim, and Rav Moshe's levayah was dragging on and on. The streets of Yerushalayim were filled with thousands of people who had thronged to the funeral of the gadol hador, preeminent Torah leader of the generation. It bothered me that everyone's simchas Purim was delayed as a result of the funeral. Indeed, I conveyed my feelings to those around me. I now realize that this was insensitive and insolent."

The rav listened to the man and said, "There is a process cited in the Shulchan Aruch which must be carried out in the event the individual who was shamed is deceased. You must go to the kever, grave, of Rav Moshe and assemble a minyan of ten men, and ask mechilah, beg forgiveness, of his neshamah, soul." The man followed the rav's instructions. Soon after, he was healed of his headaches.

Va'ani Tefillah

Pokeach Ivrim

There are brachos which are general all-inclusive praise to Hashem, such as we say in Shemoneh Esrai, v'konei hakol, "He creates everything." This intimates that literally everything exists because of the ratzon, will, of Hashem. In contrast, we also recite blessings that focus on the details of Hashem's creation. Borei Pri Haeitz, blessing the fruit of the trees, is certainly more specific than Borei Pri HoAdamah, blessing the fruits of the earth. Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, underscores the fact that Tefillah, prayer, is primarily a binyan, structure, comprised of many components. During the course of our supplication, we praise Hashem for all the various components of His creation.

We wake up in the morning and render our praise for all the gifts that He has granted us. Pokeach Ivrim is a blessing which gives thanks to Hashem for giving us our eyesight. Rav Shimshon emphasizes that when we recite this "brachah", we should concentrate on the specific aspects and particular advantages of being blessed with the ability to see. Seeing is living! One who lives in darkness does not experience the beauty of life. We do not realize the many gifts that are accorded us until they are taken away. If one wants to experience the value of each breath, he only has to place his head under water for a few moments. The same idea applies to eyesight. Seeing is believing. Witnesses testify based upon what they saw - not what they heard. What one sees becomes ingrained perpetually in his mind. This occurs every day of our lives. When we say Pokeach ivrim, we should stop and think about this wonderful gift. Perhaps we should close our eyes for a moment and think about how it would feel if this gift had not been given to us.

Mazel Tov
to our dear friends
Dr. Louis and Chanie Malcmacher
on the occasion
of the marriage
of their son, Dovid
to Dasi Blum
May we all share in many simchos together.
Jonathan and Edina Heifetz
Zelig and Judy Schur

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

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