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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your cities… and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. (16:18)

It is almost that time of year when Hashem makes a reckoning of our deeds of the past year and renders His decisions for the coming year. We all could use "help" in obtaining favorable judgments. The easiest and most propitious way is by doing all that is asked of us. In other words, good people will receive a good judgment. What about those who were not perfect, who made their share of mistakes, who committed sins without malice (of course), but sins nonetheless? What is the best advice for them, other than teshuvah and going through the process of change? We all want to be good, but "things" happen. Horav Levi Yitzchak, zl, m'Berditchev, the holy advocate of the Jewish People, derives an answer from this pasuk.

Hashem judges us all. He wants to give us all a "passing" grade, to render judgment that our mortal lives will continue without "pause," but He requires isarussa d'l'tatta, an arousement from below. His Heavenly compassion is ready and waiting, but, unless we act in an inspiring manner, the compassion will not go into effect. We must show Hashem that we are compassionate, that we care about His children, that we overlook their errors, the hurt they have caused us; only then can we expect something in return.

There are two sides to every story, but, when we are upset, we see only our side of the story. We neither care nor want to hear the other person's reasons for acting the way he did. Are we melamed z'chus, seek to justify another person's actions, or do we malign him as soon as we become his victim?

Shoftim v'shotrim titen lecha - "Judges shall you appoint for yourselves." You can help adjudicate your Heavenly decision by judging your fellow man in a positive light. By judging others favorably, you are, in turn, catalyzing your own favorable judgment. Indeed, the Baal Shem Tov writes that a person is judged by Heaven in accordance with the manner that he judges others. When his day of judgment arrives, he will be shown how he judged others. He will be judged commensurate with the way he judged others. When we view the actions of others and comment about it, we are actually rendering judgment - against/for ourselves. How we view them is how we will be judged. The Sfas Emes explains that this is the reason the Tanna in Pirkei Avos (1:6) says: Hevei dan es kol ha'adam l'kaf z'chus, "Judge everyone favorably." Since when are we judges? Does our opinion of another person's actions constitute a judgment? In essence, we are judging ourselves. How we perceive others will be used one day as the measuring stick for our own judgment.

The Tzror HaMor suggests that this pasuk is alluding to the requirement to introspect and judge oneself prior to rendering judgment concerning the actions of others. Titen lecha - (judge) yourself! Make sure that you are perfect, that you are faultless. Double standard judgment - whereby we see the faults of others, but remain oblivious to our own deficiencies (which are often worse than those of others) - is the natural perspective for many. I think the reason for this is simple. In order to see oneself, it is necessary to use a mirror. What we do not realize, explains the Baal Shem Tov, is that "mirror" reflects the actions of others. Hashem shows us the errors of others as a message: "That is you!" The actions of others, which "happen" to come to our attention, are done so by design. We are to perceive what others do, so that we realize that these shortcomings are ours. Whatever we see in others is a mirror image of our actions. How we judge them will reflect upon our own judgment.

A milkman and a baker would do business together. One day, the baker claimed that the milkman was cheating him (and others). Every day, he delivered a flask of milk that was supposed to weigh one kilogram, and, when he weighed it, it weighed only 900 grams. The judge felt that this was a legitimate accusation. Turning to the milkman, the judge asked, "Do you have a good scale?"

"No," replied the milkman.

"So how do you weigh your products?" the judge asked.

"I have a large board," the milkman explained, "upon which I place the container of milk on one side."

"What do you place on the other side as a weight?" the judge asked. "Do you have a kilogram weight?"

"No. I use the loaf of bread which I purchase from the baker as a kilogram of weight." The milkman replied.

What a powerful story - but so very true. We often judge others by our standard, which, for the most part, is in and of itself flawed.

One more story. A man was having shalom bayis issues. He decided that he would purchase his wife a gift as a token of reconciliation. This would start them off on the path towards marital harmony. He began to think, "What is there which was practical and would have lasting meaning?" (Obviously, he realized that jewelry goes out of style with the whim of the moment.) One of the major areas of dispute between them was the fact that she ignored him. He felt that she was slowly becoming hard of hearing. Perhaps, he would buy her a state of the art hearing-aid. (Imagine bringing your wife a hearing aid and expect it to bolster shalom bayis!) He went to the store and explained his predicament to the owner. He wanted the finest hearing-aid. Money was no object.

"There are all types of hearing-aids," the owner explained. "It all depends upon your wife's level of hearing loss. If it is only from a distance, I would give you one type. If her loss is acute, I would give you a stronger one. Perhaps you could bring her in and I would measure her hearing to determine which hearing-aid is best suited for her."

"No," the husband replied. "That will not work. This is supposed to be a surprise. She cannot come to the store."

"Then the only advice I can give you is that you measure her hearing loss by speaking to her from a distance and then moving closer and closer until you can determine when she begins to hear your voice," the owner advised.

"Great idea," the man said, and he immediately proceeded home to "test" his wife's hearing. At the bottom of the steps to his second floor apartment, he called out, "I am home. How are you?" - No answer. He went up part way on the steps and called out, "Hello. I came home early. What is for dinner?" - Once again, no answer. He entered the apartment and called out, "It is so good to be home. I am really looking forward to a great meal. What is for dinner?" - No answer. This was getting serious. Finally, he walked into the kitchen and almost yelled, "Hi. I am home. What are you cooking there?" This time, his wife "finally" answered, "Four times I told you hello and gave you tonight's menu. How many times do you have to ask the same question?"

At that moment, it dawned on the husband that his wife did not have a hearing problem. He did!

It is so easy and so common to place our faults on someone else. Thus, the Torah tells us to judge yourself - first. The negativity you see across the table is a mirror image of your own shortcomings.

It shall be with him and he shall read from it all the days of his life… so that his heart does not become haughty over his brethren. (17:19,20)

Arrogance is an indication of a defective character. Arrogant people are (often) those who failed to be recognized and respected by others who are important to them. Their solution is to lord it over others to whom they feel superior, thus receiving acknowledgment by force. Most often, the arrogant person has nothing about which to be haughty. It is like air puffed into an empty container. When it dissipates, the container returns to its original vacuous state. Having recently read a "confession" of a "once" arrogant person (the "pin" that releases the air had allowed him to finally see his true self), I cannot help but share of his observations. Who knows? Someone may even read this and take it to heart.

The "once" arrogant person's observation was founded on the notion that his youthful arrogance was based on a superiority complex brought on by an abundance of early successes. Eventually, life has a way of restoring one's humility. He quotes a well-known maxim, "Be kind to those while climbing the ladder of success, for they are the ones you will meet on the way down as well." Success has that opiate effect that blinds a person to his own shortcomings. At the end, we are given the opportunity to see the truth (if we are fortunate; some never see, because they refuse to open their eyes and look) which will humble us.

Why such a long hakdamah, preface, to the dvar Torah? I think that the preface allows one to have a deeper understanding of the dvar Torah. Veritably, only one who has spent his life learning Torah, plumbing its depths and familiarizing himself with its profundities, will understand that it is by far the consummate educational text. There is nothing like Torah, because it is Divinely authored. The Gerrer Rebbe, Shlita, interprets the above pasuk concerning the Torah's fear that the Jewish king might become haughty as the result of his constant study of Torah. Since he is enjoined to have the Torah with him always and to use it as his primary text, studying from it, applying its lessons as the inspiration for his life and endeavor, there is the fear that having such mastery might lead to arrogance. Otherwise, there is no reason to be impressed by anything else he has achieved. The only achievement of value, the only area of success that has any enduring significance and eminence, is accomplishment in Torah. Otherwise, what does he have to be arrogant about?

It happened a number of times that a student would present the Lev Simchah with a kvitel, written petition requesting a blessing (which is common fare in Chassidic circles), asking for advice and blessing on how to ward off the inclination towards haughtiness. The Rebbe looked at him almost incredulously; "Gaavah, arrogance? Have you mastered half of Shas by heart?" the Rebbe asked. "No!" "Yet you fear becoming arrogant?" The Rebbe was (not subtly) implying that unless he had mastered an incredible amount of Torah by heart, there was nothing to be arrogant about.

How true. Everything that is material/physical is fleeting: here today; gone tomorrow. Torah is everlasting, and mastery of Torah is indicative of one who possesses an enduring treasure. Someone who has achieved such distinction in Torah is blessed.

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

The purpose of the city of refuge was to protect the inadvertent murderer from the wrath of the goel ha'dam, redeemer/close relative, who seeks to avenge the death of his relative. The word v'chai, "and live," has a powerful connotation. Chazal teach (Makkos 10b), "If a student goes into exile, his rebbe goes with him; if a rebbe goes into exile, his yeshivah goes with him. Avid lei midi d'tihevei lei chiyussa, "Provide him with arrangements that will enable him to live."

Apparently, another rebbe would not suffice. The inadvertent murderer requires his personal rebbe from whom he had been learning until the tragedy which exiled him took place. A rebbe is everything to a Torah student. Torah is life, and to study Torah from someone other than his rebbe means diminished life. The Torah says that he must maintain the same quality of life that he has had until now. Furthermore, when the rebbe joins the student in exile, he does not go alone. His other students in the yeshivah will follow him, since he is the source of their life. This is a tall order and much to demand from both the rebbe and his students. This is the degree of relationship that (should) exist(s) between a talmid, student, and his rebbe. It is his life.

Clearly, not all of us have such a relationship with our rebbeim - but we should. The Torah sees this as a required relationship in order to achieve true success in Torah. When Torah is one's source of life, and his rebbe serves as the lifeline to that source, his learning is tantamount to breathing. Horav Aharon Leib Shteinman, Shlita, relates that he heard from Horav Simchah Zelig Riger, zl, who claimed that the following incident was an accepted tradition attributed to Horav Chaim Volozhiner, zl, primary disciple of the Gaon, zl, m'Vilna. When the Gaon died, there was within the body of one of the Vilna's Jews a gilgul, transmigrated soul, who suddenly began to shriek that he must leave. Apparently, there was too much kedushah, holiness, in the "air," since all of the Tannaim, Amoraim, Gaonim and Rishonim, whose works and commentary the Gaon had spent his life studying, had come to accompany his soul to Gan Eden. Such was the Gaon's relationship with the Torah that he learned.

On a more recent note, Horav Yehoshua Shiff, zl, student of Horav Shlomo Heyman, zl, Rosh Yeshivah of Torah Vodaath, who had first served as Rosh Yeshivah, Rameilles, Vilna, related that he was in the room shortly before his rebbe's holy soul returned to its Heavenly source. An hour before his passing, the Rosh Yeshivah declared, "Bring a chair. Rav Akiva Eiger has arrived." A few moments went by and he said, "Bring another chair, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzenski has come." The Rosh Yeshivah, who moments earlier was so close to death, perked up, and his eyes began to shine. His rebbeim had come to escort him "Home." (While Rav Akiva Eiger was not his rebbe, the Rosh Yeshivah had spent much of his Torah career studying and elucidating the words of Rav Akiva Eiger. Rav Chaim Ozer was the Nasi, President, of the Rameilles Yeshivah and had handpicked Rav Shlomo to be its Rosh Yeshivah.)

Horav Baruch Sorotzkin, zl, feels that had the rebbe been more conscientious in his nurturing of the student/inadvertent murderer, the tragedy might have been averted, and he would thus not have to join him in exile. Chazal explain that nothing occurs in a vacuum, and an inadvertent act is actually a repeat performance of something that occurred at an earlier time, but without witnesses to see the unintentional act. Furthermore, the victim was someone who had earlier premeditated killing someone covertly. In order that these two covert perpetrators receive their due, Hashem manipulated circumstances such that the unintentional murderer, whose act had heretofore been enshrouded, kills the intentional murderer by accident, in the presence of witnesses. One goes to exile; the other is executed. Having said this, we observe that the "student" has a history, a pathology that predisposes him to commit the unthinkable under a cloak of ambiguity. Does anybody know for certain that it was an accident? Only Hashem knows man's true motivation and intention. There are varied degrees of unintentional, ranging from pure accident to surreptitious negligence. One who values life is meticulous in his concern for it and vigilant that he do nothing to shorten the life of another human being.

This student must have exhibited "tendencies" at an early age, a proclivity for not respecting the welfare of another. As a student with shortcomings, the rebbe should have been more astute in inculcating in him proper values. Apparently, he did not. Thus, he accompanies his student into exile, because he played somewhat of a secondary role in this tragic episode. Perhaps this is why the rest of the yeshivah is also exiled. The other students were aware that one of their own was having a problem. They should have helped him. Apparently, they did not at that time. Now, they will have to help.

They shall speak up and say, "Our hands have not spilled this blood, and our eyes did not see." (21:7)

Obviously, no one suspects the elders of participating in the murder of the individual whose corpse was found in the field. Rashi explains that they mean to say that they were unaware of this traveler and had no part in allowing him to go on his way, lonely, without food or escort. We derive from this statement that had they been aware of his presence and need, they would have been guilty of neglecting another Jew, so that there would be blood on their hands. This is the extent of responsibility demanded of a leader. Maharal m'Prague observes that the declaration implies that the murder might not have occurred had the victim been escorted as required. While there is no mitzvah to accompany a visitor to the next city, when a host takes the trouble to escort a stranger part of the way, he demonstrates his unanimity with a fellow Jew. When Jews display their comradeship with one another, when there is caring and concern within the Jewish community, Hashem responds with an extra measure of protection. In other words, when we care - Hashem cares.

Horav Meir Shapiro, zl, adds a practical insight to the idea of escorting the traveler and how it could have prevented him from becoming a victim of murder. When an individual comes to a community and is received by its leadership in an honorable manner, it leaves an impression. The guest feels relevant, appreciated, respected. This feeling of good-will engenders within him a sense of nobility, a feeling of strength and self-confidence. On the other hand, if a person is ignored when he comes to visit, because he is not "important enough" for the leadership to give him the time of day, he will feel unwanted, dejected, irrelevant. This will only make him harbor greater feelings of self-neglect and a lack of self-confidence.

Now, let us see how these disparate feelings play out as the fellow leaves town, when he is traveling on a lonely road and held up by a thief bent on getting what he wants, regardless of what he must do to obtain it. The traveler who feels good about himself will put up a fight, or he will run. One thing is for certain, he will not lay down and wait for the bullet. The individual who is already depressed, who was shown by the community that "no one really cares about you" will give up and quite probably wait for the thief to do something to him. He does not care about himself, because, sadly, no one seems to care about him.

The Lubliner Rav quotes a well-known Yiddish maxim, "Gelt farloiren - garnisht farloiren; Courage farloiren - ales farloiren "Money lost - nothing is lost (one can always either accrue more money, or live without it). Courage lost - everything is lost." One cannot live without self-confidence, tenacity, and a will to survive.

The elders are acutely aware that every person wants to feel relevant. To visit a community, shul, school, club and be ignored, because the powers that be have not deemed him to be important enough for their time, to be shunned into non-existence, can be a devastating experience. This is especially true when one sees who it is that is considered important. Some people have been able to elevate their ability to sycophant to "art" level. Others would rather be ignored than bend. It is the member of the third group, the one who does not know how to sycophant, yet is unable to stand up for himself - but does seek relevance of some sort - about whom we should be concerned. He falls between the cracks, lives an angry, dysfunctional life, and sadly transmits his feelings of ineptitude and lack of self-worth to his children. No one wants to have blood on his hands, but, unless he thinks of those around us, he will.

The true measure of greatness is how much of a role does another Jew's feelings play in one's life. The greater the scholar, the more noble his position in Torah and leadership, the greater will be his personal humility and concern for the welfare and feelings of all Jews. There is no dearth of stories which portray this refinement of character. I was especially moved by the following story, because I know how easily in the course of writing one can forget a name, or ignore a source.

Horav Isser Zalmen Meltzer, zl, was a giant among giants of Torah. The senior Rosh Yeshivah in Eretz Yisrael at the time, he was the uncle of the three Roshei Yeshivah of Chevron: Horav Moshe Chevroni; Horav Aharon Kohen; Horav Yechezkel Sarna. When Rav Isser Zalmen passed away, Horav Moshe Chevroni gave a riveting eulogy. Among his many observations, he related the following story: During the British occupation, a secret war was going on between the Haganah and the British army. The British placed a curfew on the city, prohibiting its residents from being outside from six in the evening until six in the morning. It was two o'clock in the morning and Rav Chevroni was learning, when he heard urgent knocking at his door. Frightened that it was the British, but knowing what it would mean not to open the door, he answered only to discover that his venerable uncle, Rav Isser Zalmen, was there.

"Why is the uncle here in the middle of the night?" he asked. "It is dangerous to go out after curfew."

"I was sitting at home learning when I came across a Rambam which perturbed me. I just could not go on until my question on the Rambam was resolved. I knew that you would still be awake, learning, so I came here." Rav Moshe stood in awe at the ahavas, love, of Torah exemplified by Rav Isser Zalmen. They sat down to discuss the Rambam, during which time Rav Moshe rendered a brilliant answer. Rav Isser Zalmen was excited and prepared to leave.

"Uncle, sleep here tonight. It is dangerous to go out." Rav Moshe begged. "No, I must write down the answer." Rav Isser Zalmen said. "But the uncle can write it here. Why go home?" "I must write it down in my notebook," he said as he left.

Rav Moshe underscored Rav Isser Zalmen's love of Torah, explaining that this was the reason for his extraordinary success as a Torah leader. (The fact that Rav Isser Zalmen had an unusual mind and was consummately diligent should not be ignored.)

When Rav Moshe visited his aunt during the Shivah, seven-day mourning period, she told him the "rest of the story," "My late husband was everything that you said he was, but there is an addendum to this story which reveals his true greatness. Rav Isser Zalmen yearned to see his chiddushim, novellae (Even Ha'Azel), in print. I wanted it even more than he did. Due to the war and other issues, the printer worked by a strict schedule, and the earliest date for the printing of the Even Ha'Azel was set for five years from now. We were broken-hearted. Who knew what would be in five years?

"The day that Rav Isser Zalmen visited, we received a notice from the printer that he had a cancellation. A spot had opened up for the next morning. If we did not avail ourselves of this opportunity, it would be five more years before the Even Ha'Azel would see the light of day.

"Rav Isser Zalmen blunted the good news when he interjected that he was not ready to go to print. I asked him why. He said, 'I have in my sefer a chiddush from Rav Aharon Kohen and Rav Yechezkel Sarna. I have nothing from Rav Moshe Chevroni. For me to put my sefer out without including a chiddush of his would be a terrible slight to him. I would rather wait five years!'

"'Do you think that Rav Moshe would be offended? He is so humble.'

"'Nonetheless, I will not print my sefer without including a chiddush from each of my nephews.'

Now you know why Rav Isser Zalmen came to your house in the middle of the night. He sought your answer to his question on the Rambam. This is why he went home immediately after obtaining your answer. He erased his answer and inserted yours. Yes, my husband was a great masmid, diligent in his devotion to Torah. His love for the Torah was consummate. He was also a caring individual who placed the feelings of another Jew before and above everything."

Va'ani Tefillah

Someich noflim v'rofei cholim. (You) uphold those who fall and heal the sick.

Hashem alone is able to heal the sick. All remedies are made readily available by Him as are all procedures for healing the sick. It all comes from Hashem. Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, takes this prayer a step further by underscoring the fact that preventing illness and maintaining health are also manipulated by Hashem. Indeed, without Hashem's ever-constant protection, we would succumb to illness, both physical and emotional. The mere fact that our bodies automatically self-heal is a miracle provided by Hashem. Rav Miller, therefore, interprets the prayer as: You give life to those who otherwise would be dead; You uphold those who otherwise would have fallen; You heal all who otherwise would be ill; and You loosen all who otherwise would be bound. We often forget that our state of well-being (regardless of the level of our health) is the result of millions of miracles working in tandem by Divine decree to protect us from the countless misfortunes which could have befallen us. We are quick to thank Hashem when we are healed from illness, but we forget to do so when we "just" continue to remain healthy.

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