Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And let them take for Me a portion. (25:1)

The root of the word terumah is rom, to uplift. Hence, one who contributes his wealth elevates it, as well as himself. The mitzvah of tzedakah, charity, and gemillus chasadim, performing acts of loving kindness, is different from all other mitzvos in the sense that performance of any other mitzvah is a response to a Heavenly command. To observe the mitzvah of tzedakah, however, is more than a response; it is an act of representing Hashem. It is an opportunity to serve as Hashem's emissary, to be proxy for Him in carrying out acts of benevolence and compassion. If I do not help the poor and the needy, Hashem will. He is their protector, I am merely His agent.

There is another noteworthy aspect to the mitzvah of tzedakah: its accompanying reward. Chazal tell us clearly that one who contributes freely, will himself be reimbursed, as Chazal say, Aseir-bishvil she'tisasheir, "Tithe, so that you will become wealthy." The Satmar Rav, zl, explains why this idea applies only to the mitzvah of tzedakah.

The Torah teaches us that one who is a worker in another person's vineyard, may partake of the grapes only during the time that he is actually harvesting the grapes. Rashi explains that only when the worker is cutting down the vines and placing the grapes into the owner's vessels, is he permitted to eat from the grapes. Placing the grapes into the owner's vessels allows the worker access to the grapes. Likewise, when one contributes to a charitable endeavor, when he sustains a poor man, when he supports a Torah scholar, he is in the process of filling Hashem's vessels. The poor belong to Hashem. They are His vessels, so to speak. When one is placing fruits in his master's vessels, he is allowed to take for himself also. When one supports the poor, Hashem sees to it that the benefactor's pockets are also filled.

The Satmar Rebbe, zl, was well-known for his generosity. Every penny that reached his desk during the course of the day was handed to the poor and needy before the end of that day. Once a man came to him asking for financial assistance. He lamented to the Rebbe the various vicissitudes which plagued him. Broken-heartedly, he related how his wife had died, leaving him with a number of young orphans to raise single-handedly. He was himself physically infirm, ever since one of his legs was amputated due to a serious illness that left him weak and disoriented. Between his ill health and his many responsibilities at home, he found it difficult to hold down a reasonable job. He looked at the Rebbe pleadingly and stretched out his hand. The Rebbe did not let him down, giving him everything that had accumulated during the course of that day, which was a considerable sum of money.

A few moments after the man left, the gabbai, Rebbe's assistant, entered the room in a furor. "What is wrong?" asked the Rebbe.

"Rebbe, the poor man that was just here claiming to be an amputee - is not. I just saw him walking outside on two legs!" the gabbai exclaimed.

As soon as the Rebbe heard this, he stormed up from his chair. The gabbai was sure that the Rebbe would ask him to seize the charlatan and bring him back. How shocked was he when the Rebbe said, "You caused me such joy. Baruch Hashem he has both legs!"

A few minutes later, the gabbai returned once again and said, "Rebbe, that man is no widower. I just saw him at the store with his wife." The Rebbe's second reaction paralleled his first - he was excited and filled with joy that the man had not lost his wife. This is what gedolei Yisrael reflected - true love of all Jews.

They shall make an Ark of shittim wood, two and a half amos, its length; an amah and a half, its width; and an amah and a half, its height. (25:10)

The architecture of the Mishkan and its Keilim, appurtenances, is not detailed in the Torah for the purpose of sharing with us the great beauty and splendor that was manifest in the Mishkan of old. Indeed, everything about the Mishkan is there to teach us significant lessons that should shape our ethical character and give meaning to our lives. This idea is demonstrated by the "broken", fractioned measurements of the Aron. Unlike the other Keilim, the Aron's measurements were in half amos, cubits. The Shlah Hakadosh tells us that this serves as a lesson portraying the stature of a talmid chacham, Torah scholar: His heart must be broken internally, symbolic of his humility and lowly spirit with respect to Hashem and the community. Regardless of his achievements and erudition, he must maintain an anivus, sense of humility, with regard to others. He must view himself as broken, not yet complete, whose achievements pale in comparison to what is expected of him.

A talmid chacham's unpretentiousness enhances and embellishes the Torah that he has learned. One cannot draw a parallel between the Torah studied with humility, with clarity, with a desire to listen to others, to the Torah studied with arrogance, with an air of contemptuousness and conceit. Torah studied with humility includes Hashem as part of the study structure. The arrogant person, however, causes the Shechinah, Divine Presence, to depart from his proximity.

Our Torah leaders reflected this demeanor. Indeed, the more they studied and the greater their erudition, the more profound was their sense of humility. They truly viewed themselves as simple people carrying out the will of the Almighty. Horav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zl, the legendary guardian of Yerushalayim, exemplified this character trait in every fibre of his being. At a young age, when the spirit of Torah and his genius began to inspire him, the first deficiency from which he sought to protect himself against was vanity.

He so truly despised vanity that an accurate portrayal of his true humility is difficult to depict. He viewed the outside world from a perspective of such complete humbleness that he sought to conceal his greatness even from his own mentors and family. Rav Yosef Chaim would use his incredible genius towards cultivating modesty to the point that even those closest to him often failed to realize that many of his activities masked his true purpose.

The issue of humility versus nobility came into play when circumstances caused it that Rav Yosef Chaim became leader of the religious community in Yerushalayim. Several of his closest associates maintained that, by downplaying the true extent of his greatness, he was playing into the hands of the secular elements who sought to undermine his opinions and religious positions. Alas, their protests did not accomplish much. Rav Yosef Chaim's humility had become so much a part of his nature that it was immune to change even when, according to the opinion of many, the exigencies of difficult times would have implored a different attitude.

Rav Yosef Chaim would truly despise reading or hearing titles and accolades heaped upon him by those seeking his advice in person or by letter. He would often quote his rebbe, Horav Avraham Shaag, zl, who said that there was no person more foolish or degraded than one who sought the esteem of others, for then, his own self-respect was dependent on their whims. Such a person was a fool for placing his self-image in the hands of others, and he demeaned himself by constantly seeking their approval.

He never rendered judgment by imposing his view, but rather, by saying, "it seems that the proper course of action to take would be to…."

In his conversations, Rav Yosef Chaim always emphasized his feeling that he had still not achieved the purpose for his creation. This was said despite the fact that he spent every waking moment either learning Torah or performing acts of loving-kindness. He viewed himself as someone who had yet to succeed in serving Hashem properly. He would remark that he did not know what he would tell the Heavenly Tribunal when he would be called to task to justify his being created.

This feeling of worthlessness was manifest by a number of tzaddikim. Horav Avraham, zl, the Trisker Maggid, a scion of the Chernobler chasidic dynasty was noted for his piety. Thousands flocked to him for advice and guidance in all areas of life. One year, on the first night of Succos, he offered the following insight.

It was after Maariv and a group of his close followers walked with him to his Succah. As he came close to the door of the Succah, he stopped and went no further. The chasidim were puzzled by the Rebbe's behavior. They stood there and waited, watching for some sign from the Rebbe that all was well. After a short while, one of the chasidim queried the Rebbe as to why he just stood there.

The Rebbe smiled as he responded, "It was just a few days ago that we said that man is similar to an earthen vessel. Like the clay in the hand of the potter, so are we in Your hand. Out of respect for the sanctity of the Succah, it is forbidden to bring pots made of earthenware into a Succah. If so, how do we dare to enter the Succah - for we too are like earthenware?

"The answer is," continued the Rebbe, "that the only way to remove tumah, spiritual contamination, from an earthenware vessel is to shatter it. Thus, if we accept upon ourselves to be humble and shatter the impurity of haughtiness from our hearts, we can merit to enter the Succah. Is it not David Hamelech who writes in Sefer Tehillim 51:19, 'A heart broken and humbled, O G-d, You will not despise?'

When the Rebbe finished his remarks, he entered the Succah with a sense of awe and reverence, recognizing what he was and where he was going and before Whom he stood. Before entering the sanctity of the Succah, he had to prepare himself.

We may add that humility and lowering one's esteem does not apply across the board. It is applicable only to oneself. With regard to the respect we owe others, we must seek every opportunity to raise their esteem in our eyes and in the eyes of others.

From the Kapores shall you make the Keruvim and its two ends. (25:19)

Chazal say that the image of the Keruvim resembled that of a child. The Bais Halevi derives from here that the Torah chinuch, education, of children is the foundation upon which the Shechinah, Divine Presence, rests among Klal Yisrael. The Keruvim are the guardians over the Luchos, Ten Commandments, which are placed in the Aron Hakodesh, Holy Ark. The children are likewise the guardians of our future. They are our destiny.

Indeed, Rav Yoshe' Ber, the Bais Halevi, lived what he preached. Jewish education was in his eyes the lifeblood of our People and he approached it with a sense of mesiras nefesh, dedication to the point of self-sacrifice. At a rabbinic conference in St. Petersburg, it was decided to nominate a superintendent of education who would oversee the Torah chinuch of the area, ensuring that it remained al taharas hakodesh, on a high level of spiritual purity and sanctity. The person that was selected for the position happened to be an individual who enjoyed a close relationship with Rav Yoshe' Ber. It was therefore very surprising to everyone when Rav Yoshe' Ber rose from his seat and declared that he was against their decision.

The various rabbanim immediately looked at Rav Yoshe' Ber and asked, "Brisker Rav, is this individual not a close friend of yours? How often have you expounded about his unusual virtue and piety. Why are you so negative about his assuming the position?"

Rav Yoshe' Ber replied, "True, he is G-d-fearing and virtuous. Nonetheless, I oppose his selection. Chazal tell us that if one deposits a gold coin with a woman, telling her that it is silver;. if through her negligence, it is lost, she pays only the value of a silver coin, since the man indicated to her that it was only silver. She, therefore, accepted a guardianship for silver and not for gold. In other words, had the woman been aware that in fact this coin was gold, she would have watched it differently, with greater care and intensity. A person applies himself more for gold than he does for silver.

"I view the education of our children as a gold coin. It is sacrosanct and must be protected with the greatest care. My friend also cares about Torah chinuch, but he views it only as a silver coin. He does not agree with me that without Torah education our People will disintegrate. He can picture a Klal Yisrael without Torah chinuch. I cannot!"

There is no shortage of stories which portray Klal Yisrael's devotion to chinuch ha'banim. Parents throughout the millennia have sacrificed everything from money to their health and happiness to avail their children a Jewish education al taharas hakodesh. They understood that this was our future, without which our nation could not endure. I recently came across an insightful story of a grandfather's devotion to the education of his descendants.

A man who had been successful in life was getting on in his days and was concerned for the future of his grandchildren. He had raised his son well, but unfortunately his influence on him was no longer that compelling. Thus, the son's devotion to Torah ideals had waned. His father was concerned that, being given the option of sending his own children to a Torah day school or to a secular school, the Torah would lose out. He could not permit this to occur.

One day, the grandfather visited the local Day School which adhered to the proper hashkafos, Torah views and values, and was known to prepare its students well for a life of Torah and mitzvos. He spoke with the principal about his hopes and aspirations for his grandchildren who were yet very young. Then he asked, "How much is full tuition for each child - for the duration of their stay in the school?" After the principal calculated the amount, the grandfather took out his checkbook and wrote a check for the complete amount of tuition for each child for the duration of their education in the school!

The grandfather did not live much longer. In his will, he wrote that any grandchild who chose to study in that Day School, could do so for free. He supplemented this saying that any grandchild that received a Torah education would also receive a special bequest from his grandfather's estate. When the man's son and daughter-in-law took note of their father's commitment to Torah chinuch, they themselves changed their own perspective, as they readily raised a generation of Torah loyal Jews.

No paper about Torah chinuch would be complete if mention was not made of those who lay down their lives daily in the field: the mechanchim, Torah educators, both men and women, who have traded opportunities for financial success for a life of Torah dissemination. Horav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zl, the architect of Torah in America, felt that the only cure for American Jewry was Jewish education. Accordingly, he encouraged his close students to seek positions in the field of Torah chinuch. Nonetheless, he felt this was a vocation as any other, and hence, demanded professionalism and expertise. His mandate to his talmidim then should serve as a mantra for all mechanchim today, as well. He would say that, "Only those capable of crying over the state of American Jewry, would be able to change it." Only those who were aflame with the desire to bring Torah to America Jewry that had lost its connection with its glorious heritage would find the necessary means to convey the Torah legacy. "How are we to teach Torah?" he would ask. "The answer is to be found in the first paragraph of the Shma. 'And these words that I command you this day shall be al levavcha, on your hearts, and you shall teach them to your children.' From an overflowing heart, from your heart to their souls - there is no other way."

This mandate has not changed.

Va'ani Tefillah

Mah anachnu, mah chayeinu, mah chasdeinu… - What are we? What is our life? What is our kindness?

We recognize our own futility and confess to our own ineffectiveness. This Vidui, confession, is said on behalf of all mankind. We were all created in G -d's image and are therefore expected to conform to a specific demeanor and code of discipline. Basic ethics and humanistic behavior should be central to our lives. This applies not only to Klal Yisrael who have a Torah, but even to all people who walk the face of the earth. As mankind created in G-d's image, we are failures. As Jews who should be the exemplars for the world, we have yet to succeed and be accepted. Hence, we state here that all the efforts by the decent people of the world have fallen short of the expectations of us.

The world has seen incredible achievements in all areas of human endeavor, but mankind as a whole has yet to be elevated to the level of tzelem Elokim, G-d's image. This is clearly evident in contemporary society with morality at an all time low. We have only to peruse world history of the past century and we see how true the words of: u'mosar ha'adam min ha'beheimah ayin. "Man's superiority over animals is nothing."

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