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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Send forth men, if you please. (13:2)

The Midrash Tanchuma cites a pasuk in Mishlei 26:6 which seems to equate the meraglim, spies, with a kesil, fool. This is enigmatic. The spies were anything but fools. The Torah refers to them as anashim, men of distinction, righteous persons - certainly not fools. If, in fact, they are denigrated because they disparaged Eretz Yisrael, they should be described with another derogatory term. Perhaps we are to view them as reshaim, wicked men, but surely not as fools. Is one who reports unfortunate tidings a fool? Indeed, in the Shulchan Aruch at the end of Hilchos Aveilus, it is stated that one who relates bad news is considered a fool. Why?

Horav Michel Peretz, Shlita, explains this based upon Chazal's dictum, "One does not sin unless he has first been possessed by a ruach shtus, spirit of foolishness." Now, let us ask ourselves: What is really the difference between a fool and a wise man? Chazal teach us that a chacham, wise man, is one who is roeh es ha'nolad, "sees what will be born, what will be the consequences of his actions." A fool, on the other hand, acts without forethought, with no purpose, no goal, and no objective. He acts in response to his whim of the moment.

The meraglim were not sent to discern if war were necessary, or if it would, in fact, be a successful campaign. They were sent to determine how they should fight, what tactics to employ, what methods would be most beneficial. Instead of returning with the correct information, they came back to the nation with defeat written over their faces and spewing from their mouths. They did not follow orders; they did not spy the land for the purpose for which they were sent. By disparaging the land, they only managed to dishearten the people and frighten them into believing that they had no chance for success. This was their act of foolishness: they did not fulfill their goal and objective in spying the land. They were sent for one purpose; they shifted the focus of their mission. This was foolish.

What really is the purpose of the slanderer? What benefit does he derive from tarnishing someone's reputation? What does he gain by causing untimely pain to another person? If that person deserves pain, Hashem will see to it that it afflicts him in due time. It is not the slanderer's function to execute Hashem's task. The disparager talks for no reason, no purpose, no benefit. One who acts without goals and objectives is a fool. He acts to gratify his own momentary needs. This is the meaning of the phrase, "One does not sin unless a spirit of shtus has entered him." Sin has no long-term purpose. It is an act of gratification that serves only to satisfy the moment. The sinner destroys his future in response to the whim of the present. Is that not foolish? Simply, one who acts without purpose, without goal and objective, just to satisfy his yetzer hora, evil inclination, is foolish.

This is the very definition of religion: recognizing that life has purpose and that one lives with that purpose in mind. The nature of the Jewish journey throughout history has been the recognition that history has a purpose and that humanity has a destiny. Through savage suffering and deprivation, we have clung to this belief. Through heroic persistence and overwhelming dedication, we have maintained our vision of this destiny. We have resolutely maintained our dignity, because we have understood that it is all part of a grand design. That is purpose. Those who disagree are not necessarily evil. They are simply foolish.

The entire congregation broke out in wailing. The people wept on that night. (14:1)

In the Talmud Taanis 29a, Chazal teach us that "that night" was none other than Tisha B'Av. Hashem said to the people, "On this night you cried for no reason at all; I will make this into a night of tears throughout your exile." Tisha B'Av has gone down in history as the night of weeping: the day of our national mourning; the day that our Batei Mikdash were destroyed; the day that many of our national tragedies occurred. All this was the result of unwarranted weeping. When we cried for nothing, Hashem gave us something about which to cry. We have no way of measuring the multitude of tears that have been shed during the millennia of Tisha B'Avs that we have experienced. Every exile has brought with it its own Tisha B'Av, but they all revert back to that fateful night when we cried for no reason. Is there a reprieve? Will these many tears ever become a source of consolation, comfort - even joy? In an essay on the sin of the meraglim, spies and their tragic ramifications, Horav Moshe Eisemann, Shlita, explains the concept of tears. I think we may be able to apply his explanation to a broader picture of tragedy and joy, exile and redemption.

We cry for two reasons; sometimes from joy, but, more often, from sorrow. Why would Hashem create us in such a way that we express both of these contrasting emotions in the same manner? It is not as if Hashem limited the many resources with which He has endowed us. Was there not an appropriate, less ambiguous way to differentiate between joy and sorrow? On a purely physiological level, tears are an expression of strong emotion. Thus, when one is either very happy or very sad, his tear ducts constrict and emit tears. Tear ducts do not "understand" the source of strong emotion, therefore, we have a technical explanation for tears being the same medium of expression for both joy and sorrow. Does it have to be that way? Are joy and sorrow intrinsically connected?

The Navi Zecharyah says, "Thus speaks the Lord of Hosts: The fast of the fourth month (Shivah Asar b'Tamuz), the fast of the fifth month (Tisha B'Av) the fast of the seventh month (Tzom Gedalyah) and the fast of the tenth month ( Asarah B'Teves) will ultimately be transformed into days of joy and celebration for the family of Yehudah, provided only that the (people) will learn to live in truth and peace." (Zecharyah 8:19) The Navi's words are striking. Had he simply said that one day these days of mourning will end and joy will commence, we would have understood him. He goes further than this, however, when he says that these days will not simply disappear, but, rather, they will be transformed and reappear as days of joy and festivity. This is certainly far more than we had hoped for.

In reality, the theme that sorrow will one day not only give way to joy, but actually turn into joy; that mourning and grief will be transformed in celebration and joy seems to be a staple of Jewish history. Yirmiyahu HaNavi also predicts, "I will turn their mourning into joy. I will comfort them and cheer them in their grief." (Yirmiyahu 31:12) He is not presaging some new joyous celebration with no connection to the past. He predicts that the past will be transformed into joy. The Navi's vision that the future is grounded in the past results from viewing the past destruction in a different perspective. He views the past through the prism of the future Messianic era of Redemption.

While there needs to be more space dedicated to a topic of such import and sublimity, I will attempt to encapsulate Rav Eisemann's words and include my personal supplement. The Tanna, Rabbi Akiva, sums up life in his famous dictum, Kol mah d'avid Rachamana l'tav avid, "Anything at all which Hashem does is ultimately for the good." Thus, in the global view of the Torah, no tragedy is completely tragic, and no sorrow, is completely dark. There is light beneath the darkness of sorrow and hope within the tragedy. There is no destruction, other than the one that carries redemption on its wings.

We find that when Yosef revealed himself to his brothers, he addressed all of them equally, comforting them. When he came to Binyamin, he was overwhelmed and began to cry on Binyamin's shoulder, and Binyamin did the same on Yosef's shoulder. Chazal teach us that each one wept in anticipation of the destruction of the Sanctuary that the other one would experience in his portion of Eretz Yisrael. Why would two brothers who had been separated for so long choose this moment of great joy to mourn tragedies that were yet to occur in the distant future?

In his Gur Arye, the Maharal presents an alternative interpretation of Chazal's statement. He suggests that the reconciliation between Yosef and his brothers was a portent of the future reunion of the Ten Lost Tribes, symbolized by Yosef and the remnant of the Jewish nation, which, in turn, was symbolized by Yehudah who remained as the bearer of Jewish history. That reunion will be accompanied by much weeping, which he feels is substantiated by Yirmiyahu HaNavi in 31:5-9, at which point he speaks of the return of the Ten Tribes. Why are they weeping? This is a moment of heightened joy, a moment for which they have waited and hoped for thousands of years. Apparently, the tears about which Yirmiyahu speaks are tears of joy, tears representing the ultimate realization that the horrors of the bitter exile and persecution have finally ended. To paraphrase the Maharal, "When Yehudah and Yosef finally meet, they will cry about the sorrows and destructions that have overtaken them." The tears of joy will be in response to the sorrow and persecution which they have sustained. Does this make sense?

Certainly, the Maharal supports our previous axiom that the tears of sorrow which they shed during the painful galus will be transformed into tears of joy once the exile has reached its culmination. Apparently, what we had originally thought was a technical explanation carries a more profound, meaningful reality. The very same troubles that cause our expression of tears during the immediate period of pain and misery will later bring us the tears of joy when the troubles are resolved. It is all the Hand of G-d speaking, directing, guiding. He strikes, and He heals. He causes pain, and He brings happiness; it is the same Hand. The sorrow is the mask; the rejoicing is the reality.

How true this is. Ask anyone who has undergone a period of travail which culminated in salvation and redemption. His joy is more elevated; his sense of satisfaction and pleasure are heightened. The joy increases with the measure of pain that one has sustained. We Jews have suffered so much. How great will be our tears of joy. We must, however, believe that it will one day reach its culmination with our Redemption, bimheirah b'yameinu.

Yehoshua bin Nun and Calev ben Yefuneh, of the spies of the Land, tore their garments. (14:6)

In a display of grief, purposefully carried out to raise attention and shock the people into acknowledging their sinful behavior, Yehoshua and Calev rent their garments in mourning. Indeed, when we observe people, who know better acting in a manner that is reprehensible, in a manner unbecoming a Jew, rather than talk about them or criticize them, we should mourn. First, we have just witnessed an attack on the integrity of Jewish belief. Hashem's Name has been impugned. Furthermore, the mere fact that we have witnessed this assault on Torah Judaism is indicative of our own personal failing in this area. Hashem shows a person the area in which he himself is deficient. This is the simple p'shat, explanation.

The Kotzker Rebbe, zl, offers an alternative explanation that is both practical and, regrettably, a tragic commentary on Jewish history. The meraglim, spies, were anashim chashuvim, distinguished Jewish leaders. Forty days of insecurity and fear of what life in Eretz Yisrael would mean for them brought them to their knees. It catalyzed within them a reaction that would have been totally atypical of their lofty position when they left on their mission. Yehoshua and Calev could not tolerate that these men who had "gone wrong" stood there in all of their glory, wearing the distinguished garb of leadership, with the kapota, Rabbinic frock, and top hat, trashing Eretz Yisrael and speaking with impunity against Hashem and His chosen agents who were to lead Klal Yisrael into the Holy Land. They did not tear their clothing. Rather, they tore the fine garments worn by the meraglim, who had impugned and denigrated themselves. They no longer deserved distinction. I think that the practical aspect of this thought needs no elaboration.

And Moshe said to Hashem, "Then the Egyptians shall hear it, for You brought up this People in Your might from among them…the nations (which have heard Your fame) will speak, saying, "Because Hashem was notably to bring this people in to the land…therefore He has slain them in the wilderness." (14:13, 16)

In the Talmud Berachos 32a, Chazal note that the pasuk should have read, Mibilti yachol - "Because (Hashem) was not able," using the masculine form (yachol), rather than the way in which it is written, mibilti yecholes, in the feminine form. This prompts Chazal to relate that Moshe Rabbeinu said to Hashem, "Ribono Shel Olam, now the nations of the world will say that the G-d of the Jews has grown weak like a female, and He is not able to save His People." Hashem then replied, "Have they not already seen the wonders and miracles that I performed for them at the Red Sea?" Moshe Rabbeinu responded, "Yes, but they still might say that You could stand up to one king (Pharaoh), but not to thirty-one kings." Chazal conclude that Hashem pardoned Klal Yisrael as a result of Moshe's response.

Horav Mordechai Rogov, zl, notes the severe and exact nature of chillul Hashem, desecration of Hashem's Name. The exchange between Moshe and Hashem basically revolves around the impact that a possible chillul Hashem might have. Indeed, it was this prospect that catalyzed Hashem's annulment of the decree to destroy His People. Let us consider this idea.

The miracles that Hashem wrought against the Egyptians were unprecedented and unparalleled both in terms of number and nature of severity. The defeat of the Egyptians was a convincing display of military might which certainly promoted the Jewish People as a strong nation with whom to be reckoned. At the time these miracles took place, literally no one in the world doubted Hashem's ability to do as He pleased- however, whenever, and wherever. Only a fool would have thought that Hashem's powers were limited and that defeating thirty-one kings was beyond His capability. If Hashem were to punish the Jews at this point in time, no rational person would think that it was due to His inability to vanquish the kings of Canaan.

Yet, based upon this very concern, Moshe was able to negotiate a stay of punishment for the Jews. As remote as it was, the chance that someone, some place might hypothesize that Hashem was weak was a risk of chillul Hashem not worth taking. A risk of desecrating Hashem's Name was a chance that could not be taken - regardless of how unreasonable and unfeasible it might be. Hashem acquiesced to Moshe's request due to this remote liability. The critical consideration of avoiding a chillul Hashem at all costs spared the Jewish People from their fate.

There is a powerful lesson to be gleaned from here, one that each one of us should review scrupulously. The need to avoid any element of chillul Hashem is paramount. Regardless of the remoteness of the possibility, it is a fear that one must take into consideration. It goes without saying that this certainly applies to any behavior unbecoming a member of Klal Yisrael, perceived by the world community, and rightfully so, as the Chosen People. We have an obligation to uphold Hashem's Name to the world - a world that is, at best, hostile to the Jewish concept of religion. When we damage that image that we are to present to the world as representatives of the Almighty, we create an unpardonable chillul Hashem. It is certainly not worth the few dollars we might save with an act of misrepresentation. If the need to avoid a chillul Hashem has the power to overturn a decree against an entire nation, it must be that the devastation caused by this breach is exceedingly great.

And it shall constitute Tzitzis for you, that you may see it and remember all the commandments of Hashem. (15:39)

By seeing the fringe, one will be reminded of the many other mitzvos that Hashem has instructed us to observe. In the Talmud Menachos 43b, this pasuk is interpreted differently. Chazal say that the "seeing" is a reference to seeing "Him," Hashem. By performing this mitzvah with the proper intention, one can learn to realize that Hashem guides the world. Thus, when one "sees" Hashem, he integrates his perception with his duty to serve the Almighty. The Maharal m'Prague takes a different approach to explaining this pasuk. When Hashem created the world, all of the creatures of the world came before Adam, so that he could give them all their proper names. With his unparalleled perception, Adam was able to delve in to the essence of each creature, giving it a name that aptly defined its essence. Adam was named for his source, the place from whence the "materials" that comprised his body were taken. Adamah is earth and, thus, Adam received his name. Maharal adds that man's purpose and goal are parallel to those of the earth. The earth causes flowers and herbage, which sustain the world, to sprout forth from its ground. Likewise, man is to also bring forth and realize his potential. As the seed is hidden deep beneath the surface of the ground, so that after it germinates, it will grow into a life-sustaining force, so too, does man have incredible potential to sustain life- both physical and spiritual. This process is called kiyum ha'mitzvos, mitzvah performance, because the world is sustained through mitzvah observance.

When a person wears and gazes at his Tzitzis, he is reminded of his goal in life. The Hebrew term Tzitzis may be derived from the phrase tzitz ha'sadeh, flowers of the field. Thus, when a man sees the Tzitzis that hang at the fringes of his garment, he understands that they represent his function to be motzi min ha'koach el ha'poel , "maximize his potential" in order to realize his goal and objective in life.

This might be the difference between the Tallis Katan, small individual garment that one wears as a bachur, young man prior to marriage, and the Tallis Gadol, larger Tallis that one wraps around himself when he takes a wife. Marriage brings with it added responsibilities. One can no longer concern himself only with personal issues. He now has a partner in life, catalyzing the need to think globally - not personally. Until now, his goal in life has quite likely been more individualistic, revolving around his own potential. Now, he has taken a step forward in responsibility. He must see to it that the potential of others is also realized. He no longer thinks only of himself. He "wraps" himself with responsibility towards others. This does not mean that one should wait until he enters matrimony before he assumes a more public, communal stance. It is just that, at this point, one is obligated to shift his focus.

Va'ani Tefillah

V'Hu Rachum yechapeir avon v'lo yashchis.
But He, the Merciful One, is forgiving of iniquity, and does not destroy.

This pasuk is recited a number of times daily. Its significance, therefore, cannot be understated. Simply, it means that Hashem is merciful. If it had been not for His unsurpassed mercy, we would have long ago been punished for our iniquities. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, explains that V'Hu Rachum, in the passive pual form, means "He responds mercifully." In other words, if we pray for mercy, He will give it to us. Otherwise, the punishment we deserve for our sins would be immediate and severe. We temper this punishment through our request for mercy.

When we refer to Hashem as merciful, we are saying that He alone is intrinsically merciful. Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, explains that all of the others are merciful contingent upon certain circumstances, but not intrinsically. Also, their mercies originate from Hashem, Who is the Source of all mercy. Thus, the word rachum implies more than Hashem's specific actions in displaying mercy, but, rather, His "profession" and vocation, for He - and only He - is intrinsically merciful, and, therefore, merciful at all times.

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