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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


A man went from the House of Levi and took a daughter of Levi. (2:1)

The Torah presents the lineage of Moshe Rabbeinu in a very clandestine manner, almost as if it is attempting to hide the names of his parents. It is only later, in Parashas Vaeira, that we are finally introduced to his parents. Clearly, the Torah must have a reason for concealing their identities. Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, explains this, providing us with a practical application for parents. Nachas, satisfaction, is something we all seek from our children. Because parents are naturally biased, we take pride in our children's achievements, especially when they demonstrate talent and outstanding character traits. Undoubtedly, Amram and Yocheved were quite proud of their young son, Moshe. When he was born, the house lit up; he was already circumcised, and he manifested other signs which indicated that he was an unusual child. As an infant, he showed exceptional maturity: for example, choosing gold coins instead of burning coals. It was only by Heavenly intervention that he was spared from Pharaoh's paranoia. Having brought such a special person into the world can go to one's head.

The Rosh Yeshivah observes that, at this point, since Moshe was yet an infant, the Torah could not yet credit his parents for the wonderful job they did in raising him, despite his incredible potential. Every child has potential - some more - some less - but the accolades for parents should be reserved for later, when a child develops to his capacity. It is only when the parents have encouraged, cajoled and inspired their child to maximize his G-d-given talents, so that he achieves his capability, that credit is due and accolades should be declared. Thus, at this point, they were no more than, "A man from the House of Levi, who took a daughter of Levi."

As Moshe aged, he demonstrated the inherent qualities of a Jewish leader. First, he empathized with his brothers' pain. Then, he went out to share in their tribulation, lending his assistance in an effort to ease their plight somewhat. While one person can do very little to help a multitude of oppressed slaves, at least he can convey a crucial message: You are not alone; someone cares about you. Moshe risked his life when he killed an Egyptian taskmaster who was beating a Jew. I think what made this act of mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, that much more significant was the fact that he received no pat on the back for his actions, no accolades from his people - only scorn and derision, with threats of publicizing his act of treachery against the state. One would think that, at this point in Moshe's life, it would be appropriate to mention his parents' names. The Torah obviously did not think so. Even this achievement did not render Moshe's parents worthy of acknowledgment. Why?

Rav Moshe explains that it is all based upon one's potential for achievement. If Moshe's potential had been for nothing greater than empathizing with his brethren and risking his life on their behalf, then his pedigree would have been mentioned. His parents would now be able to take credit for raising their son in a manner in which he would be able to realize his potential. Our quintessential leader, however, had much more within him. He had the potential to become Moshe Rabbeinu. He was still a long way off from that moment. Within the inner depths of Moshe's personality lay dormant the capacity to speak to Pharaoh without fear, to demand that he send out the Jews, and the uncanny ability to shepherd an entire nation for forty years of constant challenges from within and without. He was worthy of receiving the Torah and teaching it to his nascent nation. Indeed, his potential, which took forty years to maximize, had not yet been reached.

If Moshe were to have halted his upward rise with his act of mesiras nefesh, if his empathy for a fellow Jew would have remained his crowning achievement, it would have shown us that his parents had failed to recognize his immense potential. They had fallen short of raising Moshe to become Moshe Rabbeinu. It was not evident that Moshe would assume the role for which he was created, the position he was to fulfill with strength and dignity.

Horav Yisrael Belsky, Shlita, expounds upon this idea. Often, parents are content with their child's existing achievements. They judge their child by their personal standards, their own small-minded grasp of the meaning of success, or by comparing their child to someone of lesser capability. They fail to recognize that for their particular child, the talent that has thus far been demonstrated is only a drop in the bucket, a hint of much more to come.

While the parent is satisfied with mediocrity, what about the child? His parents' satisfaction with his current level of achievement conveys a harmful message: You have worked hard enough. You do not have to work harder. If, as a result of his parents' lackadaisical attitude, he tapers off his effort, he will, in terms of his potential, be a failure. His parents may not take credit for his present success, because, in effect, he is really a failure. He could have achieved so much more. Thus, his parents remain an ish and ishah, man and woman - no names that require recognition. They did not succeed in enabling him to realize his inherent potential.

Moshe Rabbeinu had within him a capacity for leadership. Anything less than becoming the quintessential leader and Rebbe of Klal Yisrael would be considered a deficiency. He could do better, achieve more. Only when Moshe had embarked upon the path by which he achieved all that he was to accomplish does the Torah reveal the names of his parents. Now - they could take credit for properly guiding, inspiring and encouraging their son's spiritual development.

Rav Belsky adds that many parents have successful children who have become accomplished Torah scholars, and they can continue to scale the heights of Torah achievement, plumbing the depths of Torah profundity, but, at some point, the parents say: "Enough. He has learned enough. As long as he remains as sufficiently committed as we are, he will be fine. Why should we continue supporting him? Does he have to become a gadol, Torah giant? As long as he is a deeply committed, knowledgeable ben Torah, we will be pleased." This is an all-too-common situation where parents settled for less, when, in fact, their son is destined for gadlus, greatness. Instead of nurturing his potential, they stifle it, thus making themselves responsible for his failure to realize his potential. Such parents lose the credit they would otherwise have achieved, for they have prevented their child from climbing the ladder of success.

Why would a parent do this? Perhaps it is due to insecurity. A parent feels inadequate, inconsequential in the presence of his son. He almost regrets his own past failed attempt at achieving success in Torah erudition. A parent may feel inferior to his son, the talmid chacham. This is a problem with which the parent must deal, but not at his son's expense.

Moshe desired to dwell with the man; and he gave his daughter Tziporah to Moshe. She gave birth to a son, and he named him Gershom. (2:21,22)

In the Talmud Nedarim 65a, Chazal teach that Yisro made Moshe Rabbeinu swear to him that he would never leave without permission. The Yalkut has a different perspective on Yisro's requirements for Moshe to fulfill before he would agree to give him his daughter in marriage. Moshe asked for Tziporah. Yisro agreed, on the condition that Moshe promise to carry out the one request that Yisro had of him. Moshe agreed. Yisro presented what is considered to be atypical of him. On the other hand, it is also frightening that Moshe would accede to the request. He said, "The first son produced by your marriage must be handed over to avodah zarah, idol-worship. After that, the rest can be dedicated to Heaven Above. The first one, however, is mine." Moshe agreed. The source of this Chazal is the Mechilta to Parashas Yisro. Targum Yonasan supports this Midrash, since he writes that Moshe had not performed a Bris Milah, circumcision, on Gershom, as he did for Eliezer, since Yisro had forbidden it. Gershom belonged to the Pagans. How did Yisro make such an impossible demand, and why did Moshe agree to it? This Midrash is laden with difficulty.

Horav Zevulun Charlop, zl, illuminates this Midrash for us with a practical explanation. First, why would Yisro make such a foolish demand? He had personally mastered every religion, and acknowledged the folly of each one of them. It is, therefore, ludicrous to think that Yisro would demand that his first grandson be given to the pagans. He clearly knew better. Therefore, we must submit that, in effect, it was just the opposite. Yisro was not attempting to destroy his grandson; he was actually making an intelligent attempt to save him.

Yisro was acutely aware of the worthless validity of pagan worship. He had been there and done that. Idol worship was a sham. It was one large vacuum, but people had a tremendous gravitational pull to idol worship. How was he to spare his grandsons and future descendants from falling prey to this immoral hypocrisy of religion? When Yisro met Moshe, his concern was raised. After all, the "Egyptian" man was the product of a country whose very foundation was firmly entrenched in idol worship. Therefore, Yisro had serious reservations concerning allowing his daughter to marry Moshe, unless he would accede to Yisro's request that not all of his children be permitted to worship idols. Thus, when Yisro said, "The 'first one' and afterwards the 'rest are to belong to Heaven Above,'" the critical and most important part of Yisro's request was concerning the rest of the children. Yisro knew that he would probably have to give in on the first son, but, afterwards, they would all belong to Hashem.

Why did Yisro not demand that the first one also belong to Hashem? He feared the backlash from the other Midyanite priests who were not very pleased with his monotheistic leanings. If he would make too many "unrealistic" demands, they might kill him, his daughter and Moshe. By giving up one son, he made himself appear supportive of the Midyanite pagan culture. Over time, they would work things out.

What would be the test to affirm Moshe's acquiescence to Yisro's demand? Bris Milah. If Moshe did not circumcise his firstborn, it would be an indication that he was dedicating his first son to the pagan culture. Moshe, fearing for his life and the lives of the members of his family, delayed the Bris Milah until a more opportune venue. This is why he was not punished for his laxity in carrying out the mitzvah. When he left Midyan and was at the inn, the angel came to carry out the punishment. Since he was now beyond the tentacles of the Midyanite priests, the dispensation of pikuach nefesh, life endangerment, was no longer in effect.

Moshe was shepherding the sheep of Yisro… he guided the sheep far into the wilderness… an angel of Hashem appeared to him in a blaze of fire from amid the bush… but the bush was not consumed… Hashem saw that he turned aside to see. And G-d called to him… He said, "Do not come closer to here, remove your shoes from your feet, for the place upon which you stand is holy ground." (3:1-5)

Hashem appeared to Moshe Rabbeinu in the wilderness, from amidst a burning bush. It was at this point that the Almighty appointed him to be Klal Yisrael's leader. Moshe resisted until Hashem ultimately "convinced" him to accept. The place where the encounter with the bush took place was Har Sinai, which would later become known as Har Hashem, the Mountain of G-d. Moshe was overwhelmed with the vision of a bush that continued to burn without being consumed by the fire. The scene was an allegory to Klal Yisrael, with the burning bush representing the Jews in the Egyptian exile. The bush, symbolic of the Jewish People, would never be consumed, because Hashem would never permit His nation to be destroyed.

The Almighty told Moshe that he was standing on hallowed ground. Targum Yonasan explains the reason for the sanctity of the ground upon which Moshe tread. One day, Klal Yisrael would accept the Torah at this very place. The problem with this exegesis is: Why could Moshe not go further? If the reason was that the Torah would be given there, did Moshe not ascend Har Sinai to obtain the Torah from Hashem? Clearly, this ground could not be any holier at this moment than it would be later at Kabollas HaTorah. Furthermore, why was Moshe instructed to remove his shoes as he neared the burning bush? At that point, he was not in proximity of the bush.

Ramban senses this question, and writes that, although Moshe was still standing at a distance from the bush, the entire area had become consecrated, as the Shechinah, Divine Presence, descended upon the area, just as the entire Har Sinai became sanctified during the Giving of the Torah. Thus, it was prohibited to wear shoes, in the same manner that the Kohanim served barefoot in the Bais Hamikdash.

The Chafetz Chaim, zl, explains the words, "For the place upon which you stand is holy ground." The yetzer hora, evil-inclination, would have us believe that studying Torah and performing mitzvos need a specific opportune time and place. The place and situation in which we presently find ourselves is "never" opportune. "If" the place and situation were to be altered, there would be no hindrances to prevent us from achieving our goals. To this the Torah counters: The place in which you are presently situated is the place in which you can develop. You do not have to go elsewhere. This is one of the ploys of the evil inclination, who is constantly looking for ways to throw us off base, to change our positive course of observance and service to Hashem.

A Jew must believe that in whatever circumstances he finds himself, it is so designated by Hashem, despite the trials and tribulations presented by the situation in which, he finds himself. We say Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh, Hashem Tzakos, melo kol ha'aretz kevodo, "Holy, Holy, Holy is Hashem, of Hosts, the entire land is filled with His Glory." Hashem is everywhere, under all conditions. He is with us during our periods of ups - and downs. He never forsakes us. The only one who can prevent us from seeing Him is - ourselves.

Hashem told Moshe, "Do not come close to here." It is not necessary to come nearer in order to serve Me. Wherever you are is hallowed ground. Hashem is to be found everywhere. This is why Moshe was instructed to remove his shoes. Since Hashem is everywhere, and one may serve Him wherever he may be, he should remove any mechitzos, barriers, that separate him from Hashem. The shoes are a metaphor for the partition between the person and the ground. Whatever comes between man and Hashem is an unnecessary and unwanted division, which only serves to disrupt the smooth flow of his Service to the Almighty.

The Bnei Yissachar quotes Maharam Chagiz, who cites the Chachmei haRemez, Torah Scholars who focus on the esoteric and Kabbalistic explanations, who, in turn, render an intriguing explanation for the necessity of shoes. When Adam sinned, Hashem cursed the earth. Therefore, we create a separation between ourselves and the ground. Hence, we need shoes. Har Sinai, which was sanctified via the medium of Hashem's Presence, no longer required a separation between man and the ground. Moshe could remove his shoes. The Bais Hamikdash was a venue steeped in holiness. The Kohanim did not wear shoes there. On Yom Kippur, a day replete with kedushah, holiness, we are prohibited to wear shoes. The curse of the earth has been temporarily removed. Shoes detract from the communion of man with kedushah. This is one more lesson that things are not always what they seem.

Moshe took his wife and his sons… and returned to the land of Egypt… it was on the way, in the lodging, that Hashem encountered him. (4:20,24)

Seven days elapsed while Hashem maintained His dialogue with Moshe Rabbeinu, attempting to convince him to go to Egypt to serve as the first leader of Klal Yisrael. Moshe demurred for various reasons; his unparalleled humility and consummate respect for his brother, Aharon HaKohen, were his primary reasons. Ultimately, Hashem said, "Either you lead them out, or they will remain forever slaves to Pharaoh." Moshe relented and agreed to go. The Torah relates that Moshe fetched his wife and sons and set out for Egypt. Along the way, they stopped to rest at an inn. It was at this inn that an angel was dispatched to kill him for not circumcising his son. It is not that Moshe harbored any negative thoughts about circumcision. He was simply delaying the Bris Milah because of a dilemma that confronted him. If he were to perform the circumcision before he left for Egypt, he would be putting the life of his infant son in danger; for the first three days after the Bris, travel could cause a serious health issue. To delay Hashem's agency for three days was not an alternative. One does not delay Hashem. He planned on doing the circumcision en route, at the inn, but, he tarried while making arrangements for his lodging, rather than immediately arranging for the Bris.

Imagine, Moshe was the one selected to lead the Jews out of Egypt - no one else! Without Moshe, there was no liberation. Yet, because he tarried at the inn, thereby pushing off his son's Bris for a few moments, he was about to lose his life. What about Klal Yisrael? What about the Redemption? If there is no Moshe - there is no redemption. This is incredulous!

Apparently, zerizus, alacrity, in executing a mitzvah is much more than a good quality. It is an inherent component of the mitzvah. A mitzvah carried out with indolence - with complacence, or at one's convenience - is not a mitzvah. One is not serving Hashem. He is serving himself. Zerizus means that a person takes charge of a situation. He is not bogged down by place, circumstance, or person. Our world is filled with countless excuses for acting indolently. We are subject to the whims and fancies of others. This is true, however, only if we allow ourselves to fall prey to the curse of a "situation" or matters "beyond our control." A zariz neither seeks alibis, nor does he permit the act of deflecting blame to deter him from overcoming the challenges in life. Whenever we push off until tomorrow what we should be doing today, we are deferring to the yetzer hora, evil inclination. We are no longer carrying out Hashem's command; rather, we are serving the yetzer hora.

Horav Yechezkel Abramsky, zl, related a story concerning Horav Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor, zl, one of the greatest Torah luminaries of the previous generation. The young man who was destined to be the Rav of Kovno and the gadol hador, preeminent Torah leader of his generation, lived in abject poverty. He was so poor that he could not even afford a pair of shoes. Without something to cover his feet, he was relegated to sit at home and study Torah. One of the students of the yeshivah was about to get married. He hailed from a well-to-do home, whose parents certainly outfitted him properly for his wedding day. Since he was the same age, height and build as Rav Yitzchak Elchanan, the budding talmid chacham, Torah scholar, asked the chassan if he could have his old shoes. The young man looked at Rav Yitzchak Elchanan with derision and said, "If you would get a job and earn some money, you would not have to beg from others. You would be able to purchase your own shoes."

Years elapsed, and that poor yeshivah student became one of the generation's greatest halachic arbiters. Rav Yitzchak Elchanan's fame spread throughout Europe and beyond. One day, he took a trip to Vilna. In his valise, he carried the manuscript from one of his volumes of Torah responsa, which he was about to print. When word spread that the distinguished Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor was visiting Vilna, the town came out in force. Businesses closed; everything came to a standstill. According to historical reports, twenty thousand Jews came forth to greet him. Indeed, the mayor of Vilna prohibited Rav Yitzchak Elchanan from returning to his city. Apparently, the honor accorded to the Torah giant exceeded even that bestowed on the Czar - which did not speak well of the Czar. Among those who came to pay homage to the Rav was that chassan, who was now one of the wealthiest men in Vilna.

When the wealthy man heard that Rav Yitzchak Elchanan sought a sponsor for his volume of responsa, he offered to cover the entire cost of printing, binding, and dissemination. When Rav Yitzchak Elchanan took one look at the would-be benefactor, he immediately recognized that he was none other than the chassan who years earlier had refused to give him his old shoes. The Rav said to him, "My friend, you came too late. Twenty years ago you could have had the privilege for a pair of old shoes!"

Horav Ronen Abitubul, Shlita, quotes an incident recorded in the Sefer Rosh Golas Ariel. In the city of Lodz, a dispute developed between a renter and his landlord. Apparently, the renter was unable to carry out his end of the contract. He was broke, and he could not pay the rent. The landlord said, "Nothing doing." He wanted the rent that was due to him. It happened to be that both men were Gerrer Chassidim. Shavuos came around, and they presented themselves before their revered Rebbe, the Imrei Emes.

The Rebbe looked at the landlord and declared that it was prohibited for him to evict the renter from his house - even if he did not pay up his rent. The man asked the Rebbe, "Why should I have to carry this load?" There are other Chassidim in Gur who are quite capable of taking such a loss. Why me?" The response of the Imrei Emes should catalyse for us how to think about our own daily challenges: "If Hashem Yisborach has caused events to occur, so that you were availed the mitzvah of helping another Jew - do not allow it to become leaven - fulfill it immediately!"

Events occur in our lives, to which we immediately ask Hashem: "Why me?" While we do not know the answer, we do know one thing: Hashem is availing us an opportunity for spiritual growth. It is a challenge from which we can grow immensely. It is not a punishment; rather, it is a privilege.

Va'ani Tefillah

V'haer eineinu b'Sorasecha. And illuminate our eyes in Your Torah.

In his Ishei Yisrael, Horav Shimon Yehudah Broda attributes the need for Heavenly illumination to a practical reason. In the Talmud Beitzah 32, Chazal state: "Whoever longs for the table of others (is supported by the generosity of others), his world is dark for him." Chazal are making a practical application concerning outside support. It is tough, often demeaning, and detracts from one's joy and good cheer in life. When we ask Hashem to illuminate our eyes through His Torah, we are essentially intimating that we would much rather receive Heavenly support for our Torah study than be sustained by the generosity of the community. Thus, we retain the "light" in our eyes.

I must add that, while the exposition is correct, there is a problem with an individual who, while being supported by the community, feels a sense of "darkness". If this is the case, there is something very wrong with his attitude towards Torah study. The individual who devotes himself to Torah study is not a second-class citizen. If he thinks this in his mind, he has a serious problem with his learning. The individuals who study Torah full-time carry their benefactors on their respective shoulders. It behooves each and every member of the greater community to assume his share in the privilege of hachzokas ha'Torah, support of Torah. It is the people who have it wrong - not the ben Torah.

l'ilui nishmas ha'isha ha'chashuva
Rivka Tova Devora
bas R' Chaim Yosef Meir a"h
niftar 21 Teves 5760
Menachem Shmuel and Roiza Devora Solomon

In memory of Mrs. Toby Salamon a"h

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