Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


For the bribe will blind the eyes of the wise and make just words crooked. (16:20)

Horav Aharon Kotler, zl, notes that the Torah uses two terms to describe the effect of bribery: it blinds and it perverts. One who takes a bribe does not see the truth, neither in its essence nor in the manner in which it translates itself into halachah. In a similar vein, the Gaon, zl, m'Vilna distinguishes between the admonition against accepting a bribe in Parashas Mishpatim and the one cited here. The Torah teaches us in Shemos 23:8, "For the bribe will blind those who see and corrupt words that are just." Here, the one who is blinded is referred to as a wise man, as opposed to Parashas Mishpatim, in which he is called a pike'ach, one who sees. What is the difference? The Gaon explains that the term pike'ach refers to one who sees the circumstance with a clarity of vision. A chacham, wise man, however, is one who understands the halachah which applies to this situation. Shochad, a bribe, distorts both: the metzius, actual perspective, of the situation; and the individual's understanding of the corresponding halachah.

The damage sustained by a person who is bribed is devastating. A person is no less, meshuchad, bribed, by his yetzer hora, evil-inclination. An individual is already a victim of bribery by virtue of the fact that he is born with innate tendencies toward physical gratification, and a host of other natural proclivities, which emerge when he is about to "sit down" to study Torah. The yetzer hora has done a "real job" on him. The pervasive influence of the environment, coupled with his tendency to be a victim of habit, man is so bribed that making a proper philosophical decision is difficult. We see this all the time: intelligent people who fall prey to the yetzer hora's blandishments. Where are their eyes? What happened to their seichel, common sense? How do people who are, for the most part, halachically erudite seem to misconstrue and even distort, halachah to customize it to fit their own agenda? The answer is that they have taken shochad and, thus, have developed a bad case of spiritual myopia. Whatever arguments we may be able to muster will regrettably fall on deaf ears and unseeing eyes.

If there will be found among you… a man or woman who commits evil in the eyes of Hashem… and you shall destroy the evil from your midst. (17:2,7)

Why is such emphasis placed on b'kirbecha, among you, that the execution must also be carried out in such a manner that the evil is expunged mikirbecha, from your midst? The Maggid, zl, m'Dubno explains that the Torah is teaching us a profound lesson concerning collective responsibility. An individual arising from within a community to rebel against the Almighty does not occur in a vacuum. Everyone has played a role in his infamy. True, the individual is the only one to have committed this insidious act, but he grew up within the community. Clearly, he had been influenced in some way by the collective behavior of members of the community. Yes, he acted alone, but he did not grow up alone. We all played a role in his spiritual downfall. Since we all have shared in his sin, we must all be present when he is punished.

How often do we see someone on the path to spiritual oblivion? It is difficult to watch because, deep down, we quite possibly recognize our contribution to this walking tragedy. Whether our role was active or indirect, we must all share in the onus of guilt.

In his inimitable manner, the Maggid compares this to the individual who, after watching members of his town dressing in fancy clothing, becomes so obsessed with envy that he is compelled to steal money, so that he, too, can purchase such clothing. While he is certainly the perpetrator of the act of theft, the members of the community share in the guilt. They should feel responsible for acting in such a manner that it has catalyzed such a consequence. They must participate in carrying out the punishment. The Torah knows that Klal Yisrael is by its very nature a compassionate people. When they see what they caused, they will share in the perpetrator's pain. It might be too late for him, but it could, conceivably, prevent the next tragedy from occurring.

The first of your grain, wine, and oil, and the first of the shearing of your flock, shall you give him. For him has Hashem chosen from all your tribes, to stand and minister in the name of Hashem. (18:4,5)

The Kohanim, whose lives are devoted to serving in the Bais Hamikdash and to disseminating Torah to the masses, are not granted a portion in Eretz Yisrael. They are to devote themselves totally to their spiritual pursuits. The Torah provides for their livelihood, as they are supported by the special gifts the people are to give them. We wonder why it was necessary that the Kohanim, who devote their lives in the spiritual service of Hashem's People, are relegated to living off the gifts they receive? Is there something wrong with earning a living? Would that not be more befitting men of such stature than going to their congregants to receive their share of the gifts?

The Kesav Sofer explains that this unpleasant way of providing for their families was specifically designed. In fact, it is an essential prerequisite for the fulfillment of the Kohen's function as a member of Klal Yisrael's spiritual leadership. There is a great danger that one who reaches a plateau in leadership might become haughty. The position goes to his head, as he feels the power that accompanies the position. There are even those who might take advantage of their position, using it to control and manipulate those beneath them, those whom they are supposed to serve.

The Torah stipulates an antidote to circumvent this problem. On the one hand, they are the spiritual leadership. With regard to their material sustenance, however, they must be dependent on the people. Without the material support of the people, they cannot function. This provides a counterbalance for them, so that their position of leadership does not lead them astray.

This is emphasized by the pasuk when it says that the Kohen has been chosen "to stand and minister in the name of Hashem." They are to serve in Hashem's Name - not their own.

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

We are enjoined to follow Hashem with perfect faith, without feeling a need to know the future. This is what He asks of us: Wholesome faith, complete trust, unequivocal fidelity to the Almighty. Horav Pinchas Koritzer, zl, notes that there are only two mitzvos which we are instructed to carry out im Hashem, "with Hashem": The mitzvah to have wholesome faith; and the mitzvah - presented in the Navi -to Hatznea leches im Hashem Elokecha, "Walk modestly with Hashem, your G-d." We are cautioned to act modestly, not calling attention to ourselves and to our activities. He explains that these are two areas in which it is easy to put on a facade and fool those around us. One can portray himself as a righteous believer, who is faithful to the Almighty, while, in fact, this is not true. Likewise, one can put on a display of false modesty, and no one will see beyond the superficial level.

People do it all of the time. They cloak their arrogance in a veil of modesty. They might succeed in fooling some innocent spectators. They might even succeed in fooling their close associates. They will not fool Hashem. People are trusting. They want to believe in someone. Hashem knows the truth. He knows if the emunah, faith, is wholesome or a facade. He knows if the modesty is for real or for the sake of attention. When we perform these mitzvos, they had better be im Hashem Elokecha.

The individual who stands as the quintessential paradigm of selflessness and modesty is Moshe Rabbeinu. When Hashem asked him to go down to Egypt to lead Klal Yisrael out of bondage, he said, Mi anochi? "Who am I?" Moshe Rabbeinu sincerely felt that he was not suitable for the position of leader. It was this utter lack of arrogance that rendered him deserving of the position. His humility was unparalleled. He did not need the mizrach vont, eastern wall. He did not need accolades and plaques. His self-effacing character was his essence. People who do not look for the position of leadership, who sincerely feel humbled by it, are the ones who are worthy of it - and who succeed in their role.

Rabbi Yissachar Frand, tells a powerful story about Horav Tzvi Pesach Frank, zl. It was the 1930's, and a vacancy had opened up for the position of chief rabbi of Yerushalayim. This is a prestigious position that was filled by a number of distinguished Torah scholars. Many people felt that Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank was the perfect person for the position. He was a recognized scholar, whose brilliant responsa were accepted throughout the world. He was also a skilled leader who had earned the respect and admiration of many. Hence, a delegation of the rabbinic and lay leadership of Yerushalayim went to Rav Tzvi Pesach's house to offer the position to him.

The delegation did not make their offer immediately. They first expounded on the issues and problems facing Yerushalayim's observant community. Rav Tzvi Pesach listened intently to their rendition with an incredulous look on his face.

Finally, he turned to the delegation and asked, "I do not understand why you are telling me this. I am acutely aware of the challenges that confront the community, and you most certainly know that I know. So, why are you here?"

The head of the delegation replied, "Rebbe, this is specifically what we are looking for: someone who has no clue as to why we are here. We are looking for someone who does not understand why we are coming to him. We want the next Rav of Yerushalayim to be someone who is so self-effacing that he does not realize that we want him to be our next rav. Rebbe, we are looking for someone like you to be the Rav of Yerushalayim."

Rav Tzvi Pesach knew that the position was vacant. A lesser person would have surely thought that they were coming to him because they were offering him the position. Not so, Rav Tzvi Pesach. His incredible humility was like that of Moshe Rabbeinu. Mi anochi? "Who am I?" was his catchword. It defined his character. There are those who mouth the words, but do not mean it. Just try giving the position to someone else, and we will see what happens to the "Mi anochi?"

I must add that misplaced humility or modesty at a time when one must - and should - take a stand or believe in himself, despite what he thinks are his shortcomings, is equally wrong. At times, life presents us with a challenge. At first glance, we tell ourselves, I cannot handle it; it is too much for me. Do we ever consider that Hashem believes in us, and He is presenting us with an opportunity for growth, a chance to go to the next level? Perhaps, if we stop to think of the consequences of saying no, of passing up the opportunity, we might take a more affirmative stance.

Rabbi Frand has shared a letter from a woman who has been a successful Bais Yaakov teacher, who has inspired hundreds of young women, infusing them with a love for Yiddishkeit, Torah and mitzvos. She writes that originally she had been a medical technician, a fine and honorable profession, but she wanted to achieve a greater plateau, to reach out and inspire others, so she changed vocations. She became a teacher. Putting her heart and soul into this noble endeavor, she had a positive influence on many. Looking back at what motivated her decision, she says it was the notion that one day she would stand before the Heavenly Tribunal and be asked, "Where are all the young women that you could have inspired?" What would she say, "I was too busy as a medical technician"?

Powerful words. We all have opportunities. Some of us are insecure; some of us are victims of misplaced humility; some of us simply wake up too late. When opportunity knocks, it is a message from Hashem. Apparently, He believes in us. Should we not do the same?

When you go out to the battle against your enemy, and you see horse and chariot - a people more numerous than you - you shall not fear them, for Hashem, your G-d, is with you. (20:1)

It is natural to be afraid, especially when one is confronted with an enemy that exhibits great strength and self-confidence. This, in addition to state of the art weaponry and large numbers, can have a humbling effect on one's sense of security. How is a person to shut his eyes and ignore the odds, ignore the vast numbers, ignore the weapons as if they do not exist? Simply, one would suggest that since Hashem says, "Do not be afraid," that we should not be afraid. The pasuk however, does not support this position. Shortly before the soldiers embark on the battlefield, they make a declaration, "Who built a new house… should return lest he die in the war." The Torah clearly states that there is something to fear - he might die! If so, why are we instructed not "to fear them"?

The Steipler Rav, zl, explains that the answer lies in the pasuk, "And you see horse and chariot - a people more numerous than you." What generates fear? It is not the danger of possible death. Anyone who goes into battle is aware of the danger. People are injured, and even die, in war. This is an accepted reality. The soldier does not fear death. What the soldier fears is the enemy, the weapons that destroy and obliterate. The nature of a person is that he fears the big guns, the bombs, the planes, the powerful soldiers.

The Jewish soldier who goes into battle is to place his trust in Hashem and hope that he will emerge alive and victorious. He should not bury his head in the ground and ignore the danger endemic to the battlefield. War is a dangerous experience. It is wrong, however, for a Jewish soldier to be afraid of the enemy and his armament. Everything is in the hand of Hashem. The mightiest rocket can miss its target, while the small pebble shot from a slingshot can take down a giant. Hashem is in control. He will determine the outcome - not the soldiers and the guns.

Indeed, this applies to everything in life. Everything is in the hand of Hashem. The illness that seems devastating and insurmountable is in Hashem's Hands. The challenge of earning a livelihood is determined by Hashem. Whom and when we will marry is Hashem's decision. We may be the players in the game called life, but it is Hashem Who determines if and when one wins.

Va'ani Tefillah

Korbanos: Sacrifices

The other category of Korbanos is Kodoshim Kalim, those sacrifices which carry a lesser degree of kedushah, holiness. These sacrifices serve to make us aware of the sense of pure, unclouded bliss. The Korban Todah, Offering of Thanksgiving, represents regained joy. The Ayil HaNazir, ram brought by the Nazir, reflects happiness, which will be shortly resumed. The Bechor and Maaser, Firstborn and animal Tithe, as well as the Korban Pesach, are intended to remind us that the welfare of our families and the future prospering of our material possessions are not in our hands, but are dependent upon Hashem, Who is their source. Thus, the Shechitah and Kabbolas hadam may be performed anywhere in the Azarah, since these sacrifices do not signify either one's failure to sanctify his entire conduct to Hashem nor his desire to renew his dedication to this end. These Korbanos represent joy - not sin.

Sponsored by
Rabbi and Mrs. Sroy Levitansky
in memory of
Mr. Sol Rosenfeld

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

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.


This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel