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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Come, let us outsmart it. (1:10)

One of the most notorious incidents that occurred after World War II was perpetrated by secularists who were in charge of an absorption camp, Atlit, on the outskirts of Haifa. Here, groups of Jewish youths, mostly survivors of the Holocaust and Soviet Russia, were subjected to unimaginable mental and physical cruelty with one goal in mind: obliteration of Judaism. These children - mostly orphans from frum, observant, homes in Poland - were sent to Palestine through the auspices of the youth Aliyah division of the Jewish Agency, via Tehran. Hence, the name Yaldei Tehran. It was during the terrible incursion against the Yaldei Tehran that Rav Moshe Blau and Rav Moshe Porush came to the Brisker Rav, zl, to consult with him regarding the correct action to take to save these children from spiritual annihilation. When the Brisker Rav heard what was happening, he began to scream and cry uncontrollably. He enjoined them to do everything humanly possible to save the children. Seeing the Rav respond with such intensity, Rav Moshe Blau was concerned for his health. "Why does the Rav scream so much? It is not good for his health. Anyway, screaming is not going to solve the problem," said Rav Blau.

The Brisker Rav replied, "Whether screaming helps or not is not the issue. When it hurts, one screams. To hear about the tragedy hurts!" He continued by elucidating the Midrash that says that three advisors sat with Pharaoh to guide him concerning the decision about the "Jewish Problem": Iyov, Yisro and Bilaam. They each reacted differently and were punished accordingly. Bilaam, who advised Pharaoh to kill the Jewish boys, was himself killed. Yisro escaped. Because he fled, his descendants sat in halachic arbitration in the Lishkas Hagazis, Chamber of Hewn Stones. Iyov, who was silent, was punished by having to endure severe pain.

A person is repaid in the exact manner, measure for measure, as his actions. Hashem will repay accordingly the individual who gives charity to a poor man with a smile and shares his wherewithal unbegrudgingly with others. Bilaam and Yisro received their due middah k'neged middah, measure for measure. Bilaam advised to murder the Jewish boys, so he himself was later killed. Yisro was wealthy and famous. He was revered and exalted by all of Egypt. He turned his back on fame and fortune and ran away. For this, he was granted the great distinction of having descendants that arbitrated and adjudicated Jewish law. What, however, was the middah k'neged middah of Iyov's punishment? What relationship is there between pain and silence?

The Brisker Rav explained that Iyov had many reasons for keeping silent. He was acutely aware that he could not change the decree; therefore, screaming would be to no avail. Iyov felt that if he would not succeed in averting the decree, he might as well remain silent and be politically correct. Perhaps, he would be able to help the Jews later on.

Therefore, Hashem punished him with severe pain, so that Iyov would cry out in agony. Does crying out allay the pain? Does the pain diminish when one cries? No, but when it hurts, one cries. Any person who is in anguish cries out, because it is the normal reaction to pain. Likewise, when Iyov heard the terrible decree, it should have hurt to the point that he could not remain silent. Why did he not cry out? Apparently, the decree did not cause him sufficient anguish to invoke a scream. Therefore, Hashem gave him cause to scream.

But as much as they would afflict it, so it would increase. (1:12)

The Midrash interprets the pasuk in the following manner: Ruach Hakodesh omeres kein, the Holy Spirit is saying, "You say - pen yirbeh, lest it will increase, but I say - kein yirbeh, just so, it will increase." I once heard a homiletical rendering of this Midrash. You, enemies of Yisrael, think that your evil decrees will have an effect on increasing the pen, perhaps/the doubt factor, within the Jewish mind. You think that the more pain, the greater the persecution, the more intense the anguish, that the Jew will give up hope, will fall into apathy. You are wrong! I say - kein yirbeh, the kein, yes, the Jew's unequivocal commitment and unbreakable bond with Hashem will only get stronger and more enthusiastic.

We have seen this idea demonstrated throughout the millennia. The more they have persecuted us, the greater and more steadfast was our dedication to Torah and mitzvos. They said "Pen"- and we responded, "Kein!"

The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, of whom the name of the first was Shifrah and the name of the second was Puah. (1:15)

The Midrash cites a dispute between Rav and Shmuel as to the identity of the midwives. They both agree that Yocheved, Moshe Rabbeinu's mother, was one of them. Their point of contention is in regard to the second midwife. Was she Miriam, Moshe's sister, or Elisheva, the wife of Aharon Hakohen? Perhaps there is a message to be derived herein. Moshe Rabbeinu, the quintessential Jewish leader, the only human being who knew Hashem face to face, was truly a unique individual with exemplary character traits, leadership qualities and a sanctity that paralleled the Heavenly beings. His parents must have had an incredible zchus, merit, to have such a child. Moreover, whose "gene" did he inherit?

The Torah tells us that Hashem rewarded the midwives by making for them batim, houses, a term that denotes families or distinguished offspring. While Amram was a distinguished scholar and the undisputed leader of the generation, it seems that he was a pacifist. We do not see him taking steps to impede Pharaoh's genocidal activities. He was resigned to doom. Thus, he discouraged any further procreation. He decided that Klal Yisrael should not bring new Jews into a world of suffering and death. Pharaoh cannot kill what does not exist. The image we have of Moshe is in direct contrast to that of Amram. Moshe burst on the scene proactively, exhibiting opposition to the man in whose palace he was raised.

It seems that Moshe inherited his activism and leadership role from his mother, who not only frustrated Pharaoh's efforts to decimate the Jewish male population, but even raised funds and collected food to sustain the impoverished Jewish mothers. Moshe was her reward. Furthermore, if we are of the opinion that Elisheva was the other midwife, we can understand from whom her grandson, Pinchas Hakohen, received his legacy.

I suggest that there is a great lesson to be derived from here. Scholarly pursuit has been our mainstay throughout the generations. We are the people of the book, not only in character, but also in demeanor. A Jew must take a stand for his people. Activism must be secondary to Torah ideals and values, but without Torah activism, indifference and apathy will reign.

Moshe grew up and went out to his brethren and observed their burdens. (2:11)

Moshe Rabbeinu did not simply empathize with his persecuted brethren. Rashi says that sam libo, he applied his heart, to sensitize himself to their pain. He wanted to feel what they felt. In order to perform chesed, loving kindness, in the correct and proper manner, one must attune himself to his friends' needs, to those areas wherein he senses a deficiency. Even if he may not be on the same "wave length" as I, my act of kindness must address what my friend needs - not what I might need.

I recently read an exceptional example of this form of 'chesed' cited by Rabbi Yechiel Spero, in his recent publication, "Touched by a Story." Rav Shraga Wollman, the Mashgiach of Yeshivas Mekor Chaim is the Baal Musaf for the Yamim Noraim. He has a unique ability to capture the essence of the day, and to convey its crucial message to all those assembled, as he inspires their tefillos with his melodious voice and fervent devotion. On Yom Kippur, he returns to the amud to lead the Neillah service. His passionate rendition and his beautiful voice turn the Bais Hamedrash into a sea of prayer. This particular Yom Kippur, when our story took place, was no different.

Well, it was no different as far as the davening was concerned. There was something strange, however, about the Tallis Rav Shraga was wearing. It was not his. It was an old, tattered Tallis that he must have picked up somewhere. Was there something wrong with his own Tallis?

Neillah was concluded and the crowd broke into a joyous dance, singing l'shanah habaah b'Yerushalayim. This was followed by Maariv, and everyone began to leave for home. The question regarding the strange Tallis kept gnawing at a few people, until one of them decided that he would question Rav Shraga about why he had used this old Tallis.

At first, Rav Shraga refused to answer, attempting to avoid the question. The more he dodged the question, the more his friend pestered on, until Rav Shraga had to reveal the truth. He explained that shortly after Mussaf, as he walked back to his seat, he noticed an elderly woman whose husband had passed away that year. As he wished her a "Gut Yom Tov," he noted that she was unusually depressed. She acknowledged that widowhood was not pleasant and that she missed her husband terribly. She was used to his company, especially on Yom Kippur. As she spoke, tears welled up in her eyes.

Rav Shraga then thought of an idea. He asked the woman if he could borrow her husband's Tallis for Neillah. This way, when she would gaze down on the Chazzan, she would see her late husband's Tallis. What greater remembrance could there be of her husband? This would bring her comfort and encouragement. Perhaps this Tallis was not as nice as his own, but what it represented was certainly more beautiful.

Chesed means identifying with another person's needs as if they are your own. Thus, if one's needs do not presently conform with those of his friends, he abnegates his own feelings for his friend. The following story concerning Horav Moshe Mordechai Epstein, zl, the venerable Rosh Hayeshivah of Chevron exemplifies this idea. It was 1929, and Klal Yisrael had sustained one of the most alarming atrocities of the Twentieth Century. A band of blood-thirsty Arabs, their hatred for the Jews elevated to a frenzy by their accursed leadership, ran through the streets of Chevron, murdering men, women and children in cold blood. Twenty-five students of the Chevron yeshivah gave up their lives that fateful day Al Kiddush Hashem, to sanctify Hashem's Name. The Rosh Hayeshivah, Rav Moshe Mordechai, became physically ill as a result. His feelings of personal responsibility for the murder of his students never really left him. He took his fatherly feelings of guilt with him to the grave, never recovering from the tragedy.

His clarity of vision, however, never waned. The Rosh Hayeshivah, whose love for his talmidim, disciples, was legendary, never forgot his mission in life. It was the last day of his earthly existence and Rav Moshe Mordechai lay in bed, unable to move, surrounded by his closest students and his children. He asked that everyone but his son leave the room. When everyone had left, Rav Moshe Mordechai turned to his son and said haltingly, "My dear son, I know my time to leave this world draws close. One of the talmidei ha'yeshivah, students of the yeshivah, is to be married tonight. I ask you that tonight, regardless of what happens today, you will encourage the rest of the students to attend the wedding and dance with joy and enthusiasm. I do not want this young man's wedding to be marred in any way."

An hour later, the Rosh Hayeshivah returned his soul to its Maker. Thousands of Jews from all areas of the Jewish spectrum attended the funeral. Rivers of tears were shed for the man who loved all Jews and whose love was reciprocated. The funeral concluded right before shkiah, sunset, at which point Rav Moshe Mordechai's last request was announced to the talmidim. How could these broken students, bereft of their loving and exalted mentor, dance at a wedding? That is exactly what their rebbe had wanted. Indeed, that is what their rebbe epitomized. That evening, the crushed young men of the yeshivah, their eyes red with tears - the pain in their hearts still fresh and hurting - rejoiced at their friend's wedding, because that is what their rebbe wanted.

Va'ani Tefillah

Asher kideshanu b'mitzvosav - Who has sanctified us with His mitzvos.

Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, explains that the above words describe a unique quality that exists only in members of Klal Yisrael - kedushas haguf - sanctification of the physical body. Hashem Yisborach has conferred an element of sanctity on the body of the Jew unlike that of any other creation. This kedushah has its genesis in Avraham Avinu from the moment that he entered into the covenant with the Bris Milah. There were many righteous individuals, who, although they had reached a high level of piety and sanctity, still could not attain kedushas haguf. Noach, Shem, Ever and Iyov, individuals who left an incredible impact on the world, did not have this unique element.

Thus, when we use our bodies to perform a mitzvah, we recognize its inherent sanctity and add the words Asher kideshanu b'mitzvosav. The underlying meaning of the phrase, Kadsheinu b'mitzvosecha, is that we ask Hashem to sanctify us through His mitzvos. This only applies if the actual mitzvah is performed with one's body. An example of this concept would be thinking of divrei Torah without pronouncing words. Moreover, a berachah is not recited prior to reciting Krias Shma, since the primary motif of Krias Shma is kabbolas ol malchus Shomayim, accepting the yoke of Heaven upon oneself, which is a mental - not a physical - activity.

l'iluy nishmas haisha hachashuva
Rivka Tova Devora
bas R' Chaim Yosef Meir a"h

yahrtzeit 21 Teves
With love
Menachem Shmuel and Roiza Devora Salamon

In memory of Mrs. Toby Salamon

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

The Ninth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588

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