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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And they shall judge people with righteous judgment. (16:18)

Chazal derive from here the importance of always seeking the positive in a person, of judging everyone in a favorable light. They cite an incident that teaches us a powerful lesson. In days of old, it was not uncommon for men to leave their families for an extended period of time in order to search for a livelihood. One such individual left his family. For three years, he worked for someone. At the conclusion of his servitude, he counted the days longingly, with great anticipation, so that he could finally return home to his wife and children. He approached his master and asked to be paid. The master's reply, "I have no money," floored him. The worker countered, "If you do not have cash, at least give me fruit." Once again the owner replied in the negative, "I have no fruit." Not willing to give up, the worker asked, "Give me some land." "I have no land," the owner replied. "How about a few animals?" the worker queried. The response was as negative as before, "I have no animals. I have nothing."

Depressed and dejected, the worker returned home. Broken-hearted and poor, he had to face his family after three years away from home. It was right before Succos, and he did not want to mar the joy of the Festival. He figured he would let things be for a few days and then see what he could do.

Immediately after Yom Tov, his master appeared at his home with the full salary that he owed. In addition, he brought a donkey laden with food and gifts for the entire family. The worker was overjoyed with this wonderful surprise.

The owner then asked the worker, "When I responded negatively to all of your requests, what did you think?"

"I never thought you were lying," the worker replied. "Each time you said, 'No,' I assumed you had a good reason. I conjectured that you had no money, because it was all invested. Your animals and your land were probably leased to various people. Your fruit was probably not tithed, and your possessions were quite possibly consecrated to the Beis Hamikdash."

"You are absolutely right. I had made a vow to give all of my possessions away, and I just received a heter, annulment, for my vow. My investments were recently returned to me with a healthy profit, which I share with you. As you judged me favorably, so should Hashem judge you favorably."

A powerful lesson is to be derived from here. We think that judging favorably is something to be done when there is no monetary loss. How about when one loses a considerable amount of money? Should he just suffer his losses in silence? Apparently, the injunction to judge people favorably applies under all circumstances - even when one's gut feeling tells him that someone is taking advantage of him. Horav Aharon, zl, M'Belz, would say, "just as when one is confronted with a difficult Rambam, he will toil and labor to find some way to understand the meaning, so, too, must we endeavor to understand the actions of our co-religionists. There is a shverer, difficult Rambam, so, too, is there a shverer 'Yid.'"

The Maharal attributes the quality of viewing people and situations through a positive light to a lev tov, good heart. One whose heart is intrinsically good will always seek the best for his friend. One who has an evil heart views people through a jaundiced perspective.

We find a pasuk in the Torah that can only be understood if we apply it to the concept of limud z'chus, judging favorably. In Devarim 22:27, the Torah tells us about a naarah ha'me'orasah, betrothed virgin girl, who was attacked and violated in the field away from anyone who could have come to her aid. The Torah writes that nothing should be done to the girl, because she certainly must have cried out for help to no avail. How do we assert that she surely cried out? There is no proof of this fact. Horav Yitzchak, zl, m'Boyan, derives from here that we judge this girl favorably, assuming that she was not a willing party to this sin.

The Tiferes Shlomo questions this. What is to be gained by giving her the benefit of the doubt? Does this ameliorate her sin? Does she become righteous simply because we judge her favorably? Hashem certainly knows the truth, and that is all that matters. Or is there an added factor which Hashem takes into consideration?

The Tiferes Shlomo explains that, indeed, the attitude Hashem takes to human sin is related to the manner in which people view the sin. When man judges favorably and looks at his fellow's actions from a positive viewpoint, Hashem does the same, even though He surely knows the truth. Nonetheless, He bases His decision on man's perspective. Hashem will not pass a negative judgment unless the human dimension has done so - already. If we are melamed zchus on our fellow's actions, Hashem will concur with our judgment.

You shall not pervert judgment, you shall not recognize someone's presence. (16:18)

The pasuk addresses the judge who must render judgment without the stature of either one of the litigants influencing his ruling. This idea applies to one who is called upon to uphold the law of the Torah. He should neither fear manú nor be swayed from supporting the truth, because his adversary is a man of means - both materially and physically. The Torah personality must be prepared to battle for Torah against any incursion, regardless of with whom he must contend. Yet, at the same time, he must be gentle and loving, reaching out to all segments of the Jewish community who seek his guidance and help.

The Chazon Ish, zl, exemplified this dual personality. In his hesped, eulogy, for the Chazon Ish, Horav Eliyahu Meir Bloch, zl, said that the Chazon Ish embodied these two seemingly incongruous qualities. On the one hand, as David Hamelech lamented, Shaul Hamelech and his son Yonasan, Eich naflu giborim, vayovdu klei milchamah, "How the mighty have fallen and the weapons of war have been lost" (Shmuel II, 1:27). A true gadol is a fighter in the battle for Torah supremacy. His passing means that the weapons in the war of Torah against perfidy have been laid to rest. The gadol, Torah giant, is the champion in the province of protecting kavod Shomayim, the honor of Heaven, and preserving the veracity of Torah from those who would distort and impugn it.

On the other hand, David Hamelech was known for his gentle and caring nature. When he studied Torah or dealt with people, his personality shone forth as he reflected the epitome of refinement and affability. His compassion was unsurpassed in dealing with others. Does this mean that he was inconsistent, that his personality was an anomaly? No! He exemplified the concept of a Torah personality.

So, too, was the Chazon Ish acutely aware of the difference between the bais hamedrash and the battleground, between the foe who sought to pervert and undermine Torah values and the friend who needed instruction and encouragement. The Chazon Ish was, therefore, able to be the general in the battle to preserve the authentic values of Torah, to subvert those whose singular purpose it was to destroy the teachings of the Torah as transmitted in their pristine, unalterable nature throughout the generations. At the same time, he was a kind and loving father to all of those who turned to him.

You shall not pervert judgment, you shall not recognize someone's presence and you shall not accept a bribe, for the bribe blinds the eyes of the wise. (16:18)

When we establish a Jewish court system, it must be focused on justice and truth. Integrity is a value-laden word, which, regrettably, has different meanings to a variety of people. The Torah sets the standard for absolute truth and justice, concepts that are not simply great political idioms, but are intrinsic to the survival of a Torah nation. Everyone is treated equally in a Jewish court of law. There cannot be a show of favoritism towards one plaintiff over another.

A judge who accepts any form of bribe must withdraw himself from presiding over the case, because he can no longer be objective in his rendering of justice. A bribe consists of any favor, even a non-monetary service. Chazal cite a number of examples of the minutest favors in cases that to us might seem trivial and insignificant. This does not mean that Chazal were so fickle that their judgment would be impaired as a result of an insignificant benefit they derived from someone. As Horav Avraham Pam, zl, explains, our Chazal had an acute understanding of the meaning of hakoras hatov, gratitude. They felt totally indebted to any benefactor from whom they received a favor.

We do not relate to this concept of hakoras hatov because we live in a world in which many people feel that they deserve everything that they receive. The great Jews of yesterday understood that there was no limit to the feelings of gratitude they must maintain to those who did even a minor favor for them.

In his inimitable manner, the Rosh Yeshivah explains how every person is the recipient of kindness and favors from those around him. One must demonstrate his gratitude to anyone who does him a service, regardless of his religious affiliation. Even if someone pays for a service, it does not absolve him from his obligation towards his benefactor. Many of the problems that comprise the crises of the American family would never surface if gratitude and appreciation for one's spouse would be recognized as a critical component in a marriage. Indeed, the many daily chores which are viewed as routine are rarely acknowledged. If people would only live by the credo of hakoras hatov, the world would truly be a better place to live.

Yeshivos would have a much easier time dealing with their financial burdens if students who are now alumni would recognize and acknowledge their debt of gratitude. Regrettably, this problem is not new and it is not going to recede, especially in a generation that blames all its problems on the "school."

The problem has its genesis in the way we raise our children. Rav Pam points out that even young children must be taught to say, "Thank you," when they receive something - anything. While they may not yet understand what they are saying, in time, they will be trained that a debt of gratitude exists, and they are obligated to acknowledge and repay it. As time goes on, as the young child matures into adulthood, this character trait will become an innate quality that is integral to their Jewish psyche.

You shall be wholehearted with Hashem, your G-d. (18:13)

Faith means to believe unequivocally, without first asking questions. We are instructed to be wholehearted with Hashem, to place our trust in Him - first and foremost. We go through life, enduring many trials and tribulations. In every situation, we are to view these challenges as events orchestrated by Hashem for a Divine purpose. We recite a prayer at the end of the Shabbos Shacharis, Ein KeilLokeinu, "There is none like our G-d" (the Sephardic and universal custom in Eretz Yisrael is to recite this Tefillah daily), that begs elucidation. Immediately after the first stanza, when we declare that there is none like Hashem, we say, "Mi KeiLokeinu, "Who is like our G-d?" Why ask a question after it has already been answered? I would think that the order should be reversed, with the stanza, "Who is like our G-d?" first, followed by, "There is none like our G-d."

Horav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zl, applies a parable to respond to this question. A man has to enter a long, dark, winding cave. He has no lights to guide him. If he has a modicum of common sense, he will not go any further into the cave unless he is absolutely sure that he can retrace his steps to the entrance of the cave. If he thinks it through, he might prepare for himself a way out by laying down a rope as he goes farther and deeper into the cave. As long as he holds onto the rope, he will be able to locate the entrance by following the course of the rope.

The same idea applies to the concept of philosophical speculation, which is no less perilous than a dark and twisted cave. Prior to approaching the subject too deeply, one must see to it that he has established a secure way to get out of the "cave." Thus, one must first anchor himself firmly in his belief in Hashem with the declaration of, Ein KeiLokeinu, "There is no one like our G-d." Once this position has been firmly stated, there is now room for dialectic with questions such as, "who is like our G-d?" Before we delve into the question, the answer must first be rooted in our minds!

Our gedolei Yisrael embodied the principles of emunah and bitachon, faith and trust, in the Almighty. Their unshakable faith enabled them to confront the challenges and vicissitudes of life. The Manchester Rosh Yeshivah, Horav Yehudah Zev Segal, zl, was well-known for his faith and sanctity. He lived the words of the Rabbeinu Yonah, "The meaning of bitachon, trust, in Hashem, is that one knows in his heart that everything is through the hand of Hashem, and that it is in His power to deviate from the ways of nature." His rock-firm faith in Hashem gave him the fortitude to remain calm and relaxed when others were tense and anxious.

One who believes in Hashem is never anxious. The Manchester Rosh Yeshivah was meticulous to arrive at a wedding at the prescribed time, so as not to delay the wedding on his account. Once, he entered the wedding hall on time, only to find that the chassan, groom, had not arrived. The family of the kallah, bride, was understandably anxious and tense. The Rosh Yeshivah asked, "Why is everybody tense? Only because the wedding had to take place on time. They forget one thing: the meaning of "on time." The invitation reads, b'shaah tovah u'mutzlachas, "at a good and fortuitous time." If the chassan is delayed, it is an indication that it is not yet the good and fortuitous time. When this time arrives, he will be here." This healthy attitude was the result of a deep-rooted sense of faith.

If a corpse will be found on the land… fallen in the field, it was not known who smote him. (21:1)

The Baal HaTurim notes that the laws of the eglah arufah, axed heifer, is written between two chapters that address Klal Yisrael going out to war. He explains that the Torah is subtly delivering a message to he who hates another Jew and feels that during wartime -- people are in a tumult and disorganized -- no one will notice if he kills his adversary. They will probably blame it on the enemy. The Torah teaches us that the elders must expunge this attitude from the community so that people do not feel free to spill innocent blood wantonly.

Horav Ze'ev Weinberger, Shlita, gives a practical explanation. The Torah is teaching us that during war, when the value of human life has greatly depreciated and death is all around us, we should not forget any Jew. Even during times of strife, we are enjoined to care for the Jew in need and not say, "There are more important things to worry about now." If a Jew is murdered, we are exhorted to bring an atonement, because we must care - at all times, for all Jews.

This is what Yosef alluded to his father, Yaakov Avinu, when he sent agalos, wagons, which is the same word as eglah, a reference to the eglah arufah, the last halachah that they studied together before Yosef's untimely sale into slavery. He was conveying that, regardless of his exalted position, he still retained in his mind the infinite value of every Yiddishe neshamah, Jewish soul. This idea is especially significant in the aftermath of the Holocaust, when we refer to the tragic deaths of six-million Jews in one breath. Our sensitivity to life has, regrettably, been diminished.

Va'ani Tefillah

Oteir Yisrael b'sifarah - Who crowns Yisrael with splendor.

This brachah is understandably connected with covering one's head -- first with a form of headgear; and culminating with the Tefillin Shel Rosh. This is why the minhag, custom, of Frankfurt, Germany, is not to recite this brachah on Tisha B'av at Shacharis, since we do not don Tefillin, but instead at Minchah, when we put on Tefillin. For a Jew, placing a cover on his head is associated with yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven. By covering our heads, we recognize that we are always in the presence of the Almighty. We wear yarmulkes with pride and dignity as a crown of glory, reminding us of the One Above.

Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, explains this on a deeper level. The brachah refers to the fact that the mitzvos are the malachim, guardian angels, which protect him. If a person performs mitzvos, communicates with Hashem and also wraps himself in the mitzvos via the Tzitzis and Tefillin that surround him, then the Shechinah is over his head. The word Shechinah is derived from shachein, neighbor, those who are close by. Hashem comes close to him, crowning Yisrael with His glory as a result of the mitzvos they perform. Rav Schwab adds that just as we create a separation between the human and animal aspects of the body, so, too, do we distinguish between our human intelligence and the Daas Elyon, Divine Omniscience, of Hashem. Our head covering reflects this separation, as the chagurah, belt of waistband of our pants, makes the separation on our bodies. These ideas are implied by this profound blessing.

l'ilui nishmas
avi mori
R' Nechemiah ben Avraham Hillel
Nathan K. Gross

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