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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Only he shall not have too many horses for himself, so that he will not return the people to Egypt in order to increase horses…and he shall not have too many wives, so that his heart shall not turn astray. (17:16,17)

While the Jewish king must have an adequate number of horses, he is forbidden to get carried away and amass an excess beyond what is really necessary. Too much will cause him to seek more and that will lead him to rely on Egypt. He is also prohibited from having too many wives, because they will turn him away from Hashem. Both of these prohibitions are used by Chazal as examples of the Torah's penetrating wisdom. Shlomo Hamelech, who was certainly one of Klal Yisrael's greatest and wisest Jews, transgressed these prohibitions, asserting that they did not apply to him. His unparalleled wisdom would protect him. Regrettably, as history clearly indicates, he was wrong. One cannot question the Torah. Its wisdom transcends and supersedes anything that is available in this world.

Chazal go a bit further with regard to Shlomo Hamelech's violation of these prohibitions. They relate that the "yud" of the word yarbeh, increase, came before the Almighty and complained, "Hashem, did You not say that a letter from the Torah will never become annulled? Why then is Shlomo Hamelech permitted to marry more than is allotted to the Jewish king? In a sense, he is annulling this prohibition." Hashem responded that no letter of the Torah will ever be negated. This was supported when Shlomo Hamelech fell prey to the effects of this excess. The question that confronts all of the commentators is simple: Why did the "yud" complain more than any of the other letters of the word yarbeh? Aspersion was cast equally on all of the letters. Why did the "yud" speak up?

Among the many explanations given by the commentators, I have selected two that have a special meaning and present a timely message. A number of commentators explain that it was because of the "yud" that Shlomo's lineage received acceptance. The Torah states, "Lo yavo Amoni u'Moavi b'kahal Hashem." "An Amonite or Moavite shall not enter the congregation of Hashem." (Devarim 23:4) Chazal derive from the "yud" of Amoni and Moavi that only an Amoni or Moavi, not an Amonis or Moavis, is disallowed in the congregation of Hashem. This was the reason that Shlomo Hamelech's grandmother, Rus haMoaviah, was accepted into Klal Yisrael. Therefore, since Shlomo Hamelech's status as king and as a Jew was attributed to the "yud," it was the letter that complained.

This has a powerful implication for all of us. We often easily forget how we arrived, how we achieved, and who assisted us in the process. As soon as we make it up the ladder of professional success, be it either in the field of material achievement or spiritual accomplishment, we forget who has helped us along the way. Indeed, at times, these are the first people that we ignore. The "yud" reminded Shlomo about his roots. It would serve us well to contemplate our own beginnings and consider those who were there when we needed someone.

Second, there is a very meaningful explanation given by Horav Tzvi Hersh Ferber, zl. He explains that the "yud" is the letter of the alphabet by which we Jews are called. Why are we called Yidden? The yud is an interesting letter in that it is unalterable. It is a very small letter. If it is made smaller, it becomes a dot. If it is elongated, it becomes a "vav." Thus, the Jew must realize that he may not change his Jewishness. His Jewish identity cannot be modified. He may not add mitzvos, nor may he subtract from them. The traditions and customs that have long been a part of our heritage continue in their vibrancy today as they did in days past. As the yud does not change, so does the Jew not change.

In a similar exposition, Rav Ferber focuses on the prohibition against the king having a multitude of horses. The Torah begins by prohibiting sussim, horses in the plural, and concludes by saying that the king might return the people to Egypt in his quest to increase his suss, horse, in the singular. Why does the Torah alter the text? Rav Ferber explains that there are people who have emigrated to the larger cities in England and America, who, due to an inability to earn a living, have had to work on Shabbos to secure a job. While certainly this is chillul Shabbos, it begins with a desecration that is focused only on the area of earning a livelihood. After some time, however, once the individual has become accustomed to desecrating Shabbos for his work, he slowly begins to cook and write on Shabbos. This leads to flagrant chillul Shabbos in which Shabbos becomes no different than a weekday. Had the individual originally not succumbed to his yetzer hora, evil inclination, when it involved a greater challenge, such as earning a livelihood, he would not be contending with the issues of desecrating Shabbos even for a simple task. In other words, at first it is the challenge of amassing many horses. The king who is weak, however, who acquiesces to his desire, will eventually submit to returning to Egypt even for one horse. This is the regression of assimilation. First, one finds an excuse to justify his lack of observance. Afterwards, he is so accustomed to his new way of life that he no longer needs an excuse to justify his behavior. One horse will do.

It shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life. (17:19)

The pasuk enjoins the melech Yisrael, Jewish monarch, to have the Torah scroll with him at all times. This applies not only to the physical scroll, but its contents and lessons that should be his guide throughout his life. While the pasuk addresses the melech, the message applies equally to each and every Jew. The Torah is our guide and the primary staple of our life. Clearly, one who values and appreciates the Torah will have a totally different perspective on life than his counterpart who does not have this allegiance. Likewise, in order to maintain such a relationship with the Torah, one must appreciate and value its essence and message. One who is machshiv Torah, appreciates and holds it in its proper esteem, will likewise convey that feeling to his children. This is a lesson by default that has come back to haunt many a parent.

The significance of how one views something is underscored in the following Chazal. The Talmud in Kiddushin 30b relates that the School of Rabbi Yishmael taught: "My son, if this menuval, repulsive one (evil inclination), confronts you, lead him to the bais hamedrash. If he is of stone, he will dissolve; if he is of iron, he will splinter into fragments." A number of questions are in order. First, why does Rabbi Yishmael commence his statement with beni, "my son"? Second, why is the yetzer hora, evil inclination, referred to here as the menuval, repulsive one? Third, why should he lead him to the bais ha'medrash? If the point is Torah study, then learn with him in the place where he confronts you. Last, Rabbi Yishmael does not indicate that one should study with him in the bais ha'medrash. He only instructs us to pull him in there. Why?

The yetzer hora's power lies in its ability to distort the scenery around us. It projects an imagery that is unrealistic and untrue. It paints olam hazeh, this corporeal world, as a place of enjoyment, of fun, a place where self-gratification in its many forms are a necessary way of life. It distorts what is valuable and what is really worthless, what is honorable and what is shameful, what is important and what is insignificant. The bais hamedrash is a place where there is clarity of vision, where there is no question. Torah and ruchniyus, spirituality, reign supreme. Physicality and materialism are secondary. The neshamah, soul, granted to us from Hashem takes its rightful prominence.

Therefore, we are not instructed to study with the yetzer hora, because study will be to no avail if he confronts us in the street, in a place where values are distorted. In a place where Torah carries little significance, where it runs a far second behind the frivolities and blandishments of this temporal world, study will have little effect. The yetzer hora will find some way to misinterpret and undermine that Torah study. Instead of reaping benefits from Torah study, it can be used by the wrong forces as a vehicle for inappropriate behavior. It, regrettably, becomes a medium for sanctioning the improper and unseemly.

Instead, we are to lead him to the bais ha'medrash, a place where values and objectives are clear, where right and wrong are unambiguous, where the "air" is not tainted with distortion and self-gratified imagery. Indeed, it is not even necessary to learn with him, as long as he is brought into the bais ha'medrash. The clarity of vision that is now achieved will make a world of difference. The yetzer hora is, therefore, referred to as menuval, repulsive one, to denigrate and weaken him, so that he does not have significance in our eyes. Now, we understand why the individual whom Rabbi Yishmael is addressing is called beni, my son. This appellation grants chashivus, distinction, to his neshamah component. It is the significance of the neshamah that must be emphasized in order to maintain a clarity of vision of what is dominant and what is subordinate.

We find a similar thought expressed in the Talmud Kesubos 63. Kalba Savua was the father-in-law of Rabbi Akiva. Originally, he pariticipated in this relationship reluctantly. Indeed, when his daughter, Rachel, married Rabbi Akiva, who was at that time illiterate, he disinherited her from his fortune. Chazal relate that when Rabbi Akiva, who had become a famous scholar, visited the city where Kalba Savua lived, his father-in-law, unaware of his relationship with the great Torah leader, came to annul his vow. He was getting on in years, and it hurt him to cut his daughter off from his possessions. A neder, however, is a vow that must be annulled by a Torah scholar. Who was a greater scholar than Rabbi Akiva?

Rabbi Akiva asked his father-in-law, "Had you known that the illiterate shepherd whom your daughter married would one day become a distinguished Torah scholar, would you have nonetheless made the vow?"

Kalba Savua replied, "If he could master even one chapter or one halachah, I would never have uttered the vow." Rabbi Akiva then informed him that he was that illiterate shepherd, and Kalba Savua immediately kissed him and gave him half his fortune.

There is a powerful lesson to be derived herein. At first, Kalba Savua overcame his normal filial fatherly love for his daughter and disinherited her, because she was marrying an am ha'aretz, illiterate, unknowledgeable man. Had he known that his future son-in-law could master even one halachah, he would have accepted him. Why? Because Torah meant so much to him that even one halachah would have made the difference. Had Rabbi Akiva known anything, Kalba Savua would have never given up his daughter. Torah was that important to him. When a man is machshiv, values, Torah so much, he is rewarded with a son-in-law of the stature of Rabbi Akiva. Hashem's recompense is commensurate with our value system. He gives us what we value, and what we deserve.

While valuing Torah is all-important, how we present this value can sometimes play a significant role in the message we seek to convey. We recite daily the brachah, blessing, V'haarev na Hashem Elokeinu es divrei Torasecha, "Please, Hashem, our G-d, sweeten the words of Torah in our mouth." We understand that while we must overcome a number of challenges in our effort to study Torah, we ask once this effort has been expended, the words of Torah become sweet to our mouths, that we develop a cheshkas ha'Torah, a desire, and enjoyment in this endeavor. This appreciation of Torah, the tremendous enjoyment that one derives from its study, is to be conveyed both verbally and by action.

How does one develop a sweetness in Torah? How does he "taste" this unique joy and pleasure from learning Torah? Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, recounts that he once spent Shabbos as a guest of the Chafetz Chaim, zl, who rendered the following exposition concerning the "V'haarev na" associated with Torah study. The Chafetz Chaim first cited Chazal, who state that the manna's taste changed according to the thoughts of each individual who ate it. "What taste was there to the person who did not give any thought to its taste?" asked the Chafetz Chaim. Silence. All those seated at the table remained silent. The Chafetz Chaim said, "Let me tell you. When there is no thought, there is no taste! The manna was a spiritual food. A spiritual entity receives its taste in accordance with the thought one puts into it. This is why we ask Hashem daily to 'please sweeten the words of Torah in our mouth.' If one sits in front of a sefer and simply reads the words by rote without applying his mind and thought process to this endeavor, his learning will have no taam, taste. It will be bland and uninspiring. He will not be stimulated by the learning experience, because he did not apply his mind to it." Torah study is ruchniyus, spiritual in nature, and one must, therefore, engage his mind as he utters the words, so that he tastes the sweetness of Torah.

Our gedolei Yisrael, Torah leaders, tasted the sweetness of Torah and imparted it to their students. The inner joy they experienced when they studied Torah was their greatest source of pleasure. They would captivate their students with this joy and, thereby, embolden them to follow suit.

The V'haarev na of Torah study was palpable on Simchas Torah when the talmidim, students, of Yeshivas Etz Chaim would watch in awe as their venerable Rosh Hayeshivah, Horav Isser Zalmen Meltzer, zl, would dance a special dance in which only small children were allowed in the circle. Here was a man who was a world Torah scholar, a sage who guided world Jewry at a time when there were many great scholars, a pious and virtuous individual whose whole life was dedicated to the pursuit of Torah and mitzvos. Yet, he took the time, despite his weakened state of health, to dance with little children who were just beginning to study Torah. Why? Because he wanted to impart a very special message: Torah is sweet. It is the greatest source of enjoyment!

This was indicated by the fervor and passion that Rav Isser Zalmen manifest during this dance. He would close his eyes in concentration and begin humming a niggun, tune. Immediately, the children picked up the tune. After all, they were acutely familiar with it, having recently learned it in cheder. The Rosh Hayeshivah would sing, "Kametz aleph - ah! Kametz bais - bah! Kametz gimmel - gah!" Each stanza was repeated by the children. The aged Rosh Hayeshivah would sing, and the children would burst forth with their refrain. This dance would go on for close to half an hour until the sage, who was already over eighty years old, submitted to his physical condition and sat down. This was a dance of innocence and purity, but above all, it was a dance of sheer, unadulterated joy. The Rosh Hayeshivah, who had devoted his entire life to Torah, was teaching these little children how sweet Torah study is. His lesson and the unique manner in which he taught it remained with them throughout their lives.

He shall flee to on of these cities and live. (19:5)

One who kills inadvertently must flee to one of the Arei Miklat, cities of refuge, to seek asylum, or else he may fall prey to the wrath of his victim's goel ha'dam, relative who is the redeemer of his blood. In the Talmud Makkos 10A, Chazal derive from this pasuk that a student who goes into banishment is joined in exile by his rebbe. This is in accordance with, v'chai, "and (he shall) live," which implies that we are to provide him with whatever he needs to live. A talmid, Torah student, needs his teacher. The question is obvious: Why would the Torah impose such a strong punishment on the rebbe? To have to leave his home and family, his entire lifestyle, all because of a student. Does a rebbe have such a compelling obligation to his student?

Horav Boruch Sorotzkin, zl, cites the conclusion of the Talmud in which Rav Zeira comments that this halachah (of a rebbe following his student) is the basis of the Rabbinic dictum, "Let no one teach a student that is unworthy." Rashi explains that the student's sins will bring the rebbe to a situation in which he will act in a manner that will cause him to be banished. The Rosh Hayeshivah suggests that Rav Zeira is actually stating a reason that the rebbe accompanies his student into exile. Since the student has acted inappropriately, it is obvious that this was not a sudden overnight infraction, but rather part of an ongoing process. This is something a good rebbe should have noticed and acted upon. Apparently, he was deficient as a mentor, indifferent to his student's lapse in acceptable behavior. The rebbe, thus, carries upon himself part of the onus of guilt for what has occurred. He cannot absolve himself from his student's actions. While he may not have played an active role, he certainly has some culpability. This is the awesome responsibility of a Torah teacher. Teaching is more than the transmission of knowledge. It is the development and nurturing of a relationship founded in the Torah that the rebbe imparts.

Va'ani Tefillah

Baruch meshaleim sachar tov l'yireiav. Blessed is He that gives a good reward to those who fear Him.

In an alternative exposition, the Chafetz Chaim, zl, explains the concept of sachar tov, good reward. Understandably, every reward that one receives from Hashem is tov, good. Why is emphasis placed on "good" reward? Would Hashem reward one for actions that were inappropriate? He explains that all creations were created to glorify Hashem. Thus, by one's mere existence, as long as he does nothing wrong, he is fulfilling his purpose and is, thereby, deserving of reward. However, this reward is like being compensated for one's time wasted from work. It is not a sachar tov; rather, it is similar to nahama d'kisufa, bread of shame, something one receives not because he has earned it, but as a gift. Sachar tov is the reward one has rightfully earned.

The Chafetz Chaim compares this to a businessman who had a large business where he supported many workers. He had a nephew whom he sought to give a job, but every position was currently filled. He told him to go in every day, take a seat and "hang around." He would not have to do anything - just be there. One day, the man came to observe how well his business was functioning and to meet the workers. As he met each one, he asked him his name and position he held with the company. When his nephew came forward to state his position, he said, "I do nothing. I simply 'hang around' and get paid." Obviously, his nephew did not feel very comfortable taking a paycheck for doing nothing. Likewise, Hashem places upon us mitzvos, so that the reward which we will receive in Olam Habah will have been justly earned.

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