Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Yitzchak entreated Hashem opposite his wife…Hashem allowed Himself to be entreated by him. (25:21)

Yitzchak Avinu and Rivkah Imeinu both stood in supplication to Hashem, beseeching Him to grant them a child. Hashem listened to Yitzchak's entreaty because there is no comparison between the prayer rendered by a tzaddik ben tzaddik, the righteous child of a righteous person, and that of a tzaddik ben rasha, righteous child of a wicked person. Why? One would think that Rivkah, as the righteous child of a wicked parent, had attained a greater achievement than Yitzchak, whose roots were meritorious. Horav Dovid Povarsky, zl, cites a pasuk in Yeshayah 29:13 as basis for his explanation. The Navi says, "Their fear of Me is like rote learning of human commands." This gives the impression that the critique of the people was their complacency in serving Hashem. In other words, they put on Tefillin and observed Shabbos and all of the other mitzvos. The problem was that they did not display any enthusiasm. They acted by rote; the manner that they put on Tefillin yesterday was the same way in which they put it on today - without excitement or fervor. While this may be reason to critique them, why does the Navi say that their fear of Hashem was deficient? Does a lack of excitement connote a lack of fear? Furthermore, is it possible that a generation of righteous, observant Jews was guilty of complacency in mitzvah performance?

Rav Povarsky explains that when one emulates the observance of his predecessor or parent, without adding any creativity of his own, he is guilty of complacency. A Jew must grow spiritually. To do this, he cannot retain the status quo of observance. The people basically continued observing as they and their predecessors had in the past. They remained carbon copies of those before them without initiating anything of their own.

The righteous child of a righteous parent refers to an individual who forges on ahead beyond his parent. He strives to achieve on his own and in his own right. Resting on past laurels and standing on the shoulders of predecessors does not make one a tzaddik. Thus, the tzaddik ben tzaddik has a difficult path before him as he trail-blazes new heights in avodas Hashem, service to the Almighty. It is not as challenging for the righteous child of a wicked parent. His path to creativity is not as tenuous. Indeed, whatever he does is creative, because his past contained nothing at all. This does not in any way minimize the awesome challenge of overcoming one's past. That alone is a remarkable feat. In the area of spiritual creativity, however, the one who descends from righteous parents has to exert himself greatly, expending much effort to achieve his own spiritual plateau - on his own.

Every day, every prayer, must be a new experience. To observe in a manner similar to the day before-- or to pray today without giving it a second thought-- is to deprive oneself of spiritual growth and to relegate the mitzvah to complacency. Rav Povarsky adds that this similarly applies to the concept of chazarah, review. We often find that despite one's review of a subject, he still has difficulty remembering the material. This is because when the individual reviews, he does not learn anew and analyze again what he had once learned. He simply recapitulates what he had previously learned. This is not chazarah. A review should trigger new questions, stimulate new insights. If the review does not generate renewed interest in the material, it is an indication that it had been an improper review.

Yitzchak entreated Hashem. (25:21)

Yitzchak Avinu was not the first Patriarch to be childless at first. His father, Avraham Avinu, was quite old when his mother, Sarah Imeinu, gave birth to him. If so, asks the Zohar HaKadosh, why do we not find that Avraham prayed for a child? While he does say, "See, to me You have given no offspring," (Bereishis 15:3) this is more of an aside during a conversation than an outright prayer. The Zohar replies that our Patriarch was fully secure that if he would entreat Hashem for a child, his wish would be granted. Since he was not yet commanded regarding the mitzvah of Bris Milah, he did not want to have a child - yet. He wanted to wait to have a child b'kedushah, when he was sanctified through Bris Milah. He was willing to wait, to suffer in silence, until such moment that the child would be the product of total sanctity.

Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, emphasizes the enormous sacrifice this must have been. Avraham Avinu had been waiting his entire life for the opportunity to establish a legacy, to have a son that would follow in his ways. Clearly, this aspiration monopolized his every waking moment, becoming the focus of his every supplication to Hashem. His pain must have been intense; his emotions under intense pressure. Yet, he persevered and withstood the pressure, because he looked at the big picture. Yes, he truly wanted a son, but he wanted the heir to the Avrahamitic legacy to be conceived and born in kedushah. The tears would continue; the pain would not dissipate; his aspirations were not yet ready to be realized. He was waiting for the word from Hashem to have his Bris Milah. Then, he would be ready to have his son.

How often do we rush things impatiently, not allowing for the proper scenario to unfold at the proper time? We are in need, and we have become greedy. We have been waiting so long for salvation that we are prepared to settle for anything - even if it is half-baked and inappropriate. Anybody, anything, will suffice, as long as it "seems" to fit the bill, to fill the immediate need. Avraham waited, because he knew that there was a time and a place, and it had not yet arrived. His personal pain would have to continue. Hashem Yisborach has a Divine plan. We must be patient and allow it to play out. When we really believe and really care, when it extends beyond our personal vested interests, and it is about glorifying Hashem's Name, then we wait for Him to give the "go ahead."

There is an incredible story about self-imposed restraint, similar to that evinced by our Patriarch, which was assumed by a simple, righteous woman living in Soviet Russia, a country infamous for the fetters it imposed on its citizens. One of the areas of Jewish observance in which these impediments were most visible was concerning the mitzvah of Bris Milah. Circumcising a newborn son was asking for serious governmental repercussions. Hence, most Jewish boys in Soviet Russia did not have a Bris. Nonetheless, Jews have lived in fear throughout their history. At the risk of their lives, they have taken chances to fulfill Hashem's command. Often parents in Russia would wait a few weeks or even months until the "coast was clear" and then have their son circumcised. One family waited an entire year until they were advised that it was "safe" to have the Bris. Finally, the closest of trusted friends were invited; the mohel was called, and the group gathered clandestinely in a basement to celebrate the entry of another Jewish child into the Covenant.

The Bris was performed, the mazel tovs were wished, and the child was taken back to the room where his mother was eagerly awaiting his arrival. Suddenly, a piercing scream was heard, followed by wailing and crying, and then a heavy thud as if someone had fallen to the floor. They ran into the room to find the mother passed out on the floor. After reviving her, she related an incredible story to those assembled.

Living in the Soviet Union, she had feared that her son would never have the good fortune of having a Bris. Apprehensive that her longing to see her son circumcised would be stifled over time and that fear of the authorities would prevail over her awe and love of the Almighty, she was determined to set a safeguard against this realistic concern. She undertook something that would compel her to not give up yearning for her son's bris, something that would constantly be on her mind every waking moment of the day. She vowed not to kiss her son until he had a Bris!

For a year she suffered the pain of holding her son in her arms and not being able to kiss him. The pent-up emotions that only a mother can feel increased with each day, until the moment that she held him close and was finally able to kiss him. She did so fervently, but it was too much. So long, so much pain and emotion - she fainted. This was a Jewish mother's superhuman constraint - a strength of character she had inherited from our Patriarch, Avraham.

And he ate and drank, got up and left, thus Eisav spurned the birthright. (25:34)

Chezkuni teaches us that even following the sale, Eisav reiterated that the birthright was of no value to him. It was there to serve his present purpose - to fill his belly with some warm soup. Otherwise, there was no intrinsic value to the birthright. The Midrash says that Eisav gathered together a group of his followers and actually made light of the sale, scorning the birthright and everything connected to it. Hashem responded by saying, "You spurned the birthright; by your life, you will be spurned by generations." Horav Sholom Kluger, zl, explains that it was Eisav's distorted sense of values - not so much by his sale of the birthright for a pittance, but for his cynical contempt toward the spiritual and moral values of the bechorah, birthright, that earned everlasting scorn. By the words and gestures following the sale, after satisfying his hunger, he indicated that his act was motivated not so much by need, as by a vulgar sense of values.

There are two disparate attitudes to non-observance - neither of which are acceptable, but one of which is understandable. There are those who have been subject to a laxity of observance and to religious illiteracy. While this is inexcusable, it is regrettably something that does occur for a number of reasons, some of which are not the fault of the individual. What is especially reprehensible, however, is one who has a disrespect and irreverence for the ceremonies and rituals of Judaism. The Rambam considers the individual who is malig al ha'mitzvos, disparages the precepts, debases the rituals and, with vulgar jest, scorns the ceremonies that have such profound meaning, to have committed one of the twenty-four transgressions which withhold the acceptance of teshuvah, repentance.

Making fun of religious observance, acting in a lightheaded manner towards one who is enthusiastically and passionately expressing himself to the Almighty is despicable. Such an individual cannot perpetuate Judaism. Some people are lax in observance because they are victims of life's difficulties; they have fallen prey to its vicissitudes, and it has turned them off. They are different from the cynic who shows callous disrespect for his religion. If he is exposed to a different, more positive climate, if conditions become more favorable, the former will quite possibly alter his attitude and amend his opinion. The latter is doomed to spiritual deflection, because he has trampled-- and continues to trample upon-- the hallowed and sacred traditions of our religion.

A memorable story is told about a Lubavitcher chasid who was condemned to eight years of hard labor in Siberia for some trumped-up charge. Upon reaching the prison camp, the proud and courageous Jew told the police authorities that under no circumstances would he violate the Shabbos. Regardless of the consequences, Shabbos was sacrosanct, and nothing they could do to him would sway his commitment. He did, however, have an "offer" to negotiate with them. He was willing to spend additional years in the camp in hard labor to make up for the Shabbosos he would not work. Even the hardened commissars were moved by this man's dedication and unswerving commitment to his religion. His determination was real and quite awesome. Against their better judgment, they decided not to compel him to work on Shabbos. After hearing of such an experience, one cannot help but reach the conclusion that reverence and fidelity to an ideal can successfully defy even the most hardened commandment.

The question that we ask is: If the Soviet commissar was moved by a dedicated Jew's loyalty to his religion, why is it that some of our alienated coreligionists harbor such disdain for their more observant brethren? The answer is simply that our actions reflect their rebellion. If we can be observant in today's contemporary world, why can't they? They have two choices: join us and live the committed life or ignore us - respectfully. Regrettably, some still make the negative choice. Hopefully, one day they will realize the error of their ways.

Thus, Eisav spurned the birthright. (25:34)

Rashi explains that the Torah is teaching us that Eisav denigrated the service that is performed to Hashem. It seems that Eisav Ha'rasha, the wicked, did much more than that. Chazal tell us that he committed five sins that day, including murder and immorality. If so, why does the pasuk focus on his spurning the birthright? Clearly, this should hold a far second place to murder and immorality. If the Torah seeks to emphasize his evil, it should have selected his more nefarious activities.

Horav Aharon Kotler, zl, gives us insight into the character of Eisav. When we better understand the person and his hashkafos, outlook and perspective, we better understand his evil. This will also serve as an opportunity for developing a more penetrating insight into the actions and activities of others who have greatly harmed the Jewish nation, but whose actions at the time seemed innocuous and certainly not evil. Many think that Eisav sold the birthright because he did not appreciate its eternal value. He viewed the birthright as an equal exchange for the bowl of lentils. This is wrong. Eisav was very clear in his understanding of the value of his birthright. The mere fact that he despised Yaakov Avinu for receiving Yitzchak's blessing is a clear indication that Eisav valued the spiritual dimension. He cried bitterly, and we are still paying for that great weeping.

Eisav knew and understood that the birthright was a great blessing. He was also acutely aware of the intrinsic value of Yitzchak's brachah, blessing, but this awareness did not traverse over to his heart. It stayed in his head. Eisav was intellectually aware of Judaism's verities, but could not harness this knowledge to control his base instincts. A large gap separated his intellect from his emotions. His mind could not discipline his body. He knew he was acting inappropriately, but he had no way of stopping himself.

Horav Avraham Schorr, Shlita, explains that while the mind is capable of grasping the profundities of kedushah, holiness and esoteric wisdom, and it fully understands the tragedy of wallowing in moral pollution and drowning in one's base desires, it has no control over itself. The mind is not able to influence the physical dimension, one's emotions, his desires, his physical tendencies. The only thing that can make a difference, that can harness the body and subject it to reason and understanding, is the Torah. This Divine gift from Hashem can reign in the body and exert control over it. Rav Schorr cites the Chidushei HaRim who explains that this is specifically why a Torah scholar is called a talmid chacham, "student" of wisdom, as opposed to a chacham, wise man. A true Torah scholar understands that he studies Torah wisdom, and it influences him. As a student of the Torah he is shaped by it, so that he develops an outlook on life based upon the Torah.

A budding young scholar visited the Kotzker Rebbe, zl, and proudly declared that he had already learned the entire Shas. The Kotzker Rebbe looked at him and asked, "And what did the Shas teach you?" When we study Torah it is not like other educational material through which, when one masters its knowledge, his level of intelligence increases. Torah study addresses much more than one's intelligence: It concentrates on the student of Torah, transforming him as he absorbs the lesson. One who has not undergone such a metamorphosis has not studied Torah. He has merely studied the Torah's wisdom. The Torah has taught him nothing.

This was the character of Eisav. Indeed, when he attempted to prevent Yaakov's body from being buried in the Meoras Ha'Machpelah, he incurred the wrath of Chushim ben Dan, who was not prepared to allow his grandfather's body to just lie there, while the brothers sent one of their own to retrieve Yaakov's contract affirming Eisav's sale of the birthright. When Chushim slew Eisav, his head rolled into the cave, indicating that Eisav's "head" was worthy of burial in that holy place. Eisav had a head filled with intellectual knowledge concerning right and wrong, good and evil. Regrettably, his head was unable to reign over and influence the rest of his body.

Awareness of evil and its consequences does not necessarily save a person from becoming its victim and falling into its snare. This is especially clear in contemporary times when we see the effects of a hedonistic, self-gratifying society. Does it have the power to prevent us from joining in the "fun"? No. All of the wisdom in the world will not save a person. The only thing that can guarantee our survival is the Torah. By studying Torah, one develops the tools and skills necessary to prevail over the forces of darkness. The Torah imbues the individual with a depth of understanding that transcends the here and now, as it penetrates to the essence of life and connects the individual to his eternal source. Without Torah, one might go so far as to sell all of the intellectual knowledge he has accumulated for a bowl of lentils. After all, is there such a great distinction between the pleasure one receives from deferring to his base desires and the satisfaction he has from eating a bowl of soup? They are both fleeting, enjoyed for the moment, soon to be forgotten and immediately driven for more. One is never satisfied, because he is not in control. He is controlled. Torah teaches the individual how to live, the correct path of life to choose, as it infuses him with holiness, serenity and inner joy. It gives him the fortitude to triumph over life's challenges. He becomes a true chacham because he is a "talmid" of chochmah.

Then Yitzchak trembled in very great perplexity. (27:33)

Chazal tell us that Yitzchak Avinu trembled twice in his life: once, when he lay bound at the Akeidah, prepared to serve as a sacrifice to Hashem; second, when Eisav brought him the hunt, and he realized that his father had already given the blessings to Yaakov. Chazal then ask which of these two tremblings was greater. They reply that the trembling he experienced when Eisav came to him was greater. Let us think about this. What really happened is that Yitzchak realized the tremendous spiritual gap that existed between Yaakov and Eisav. Apparently, it became clear to him who Eisav really was. His son's estrangement from the spirit made Yitzchak tremble. The thought of losing his son spiritually had a greater impact upon him than the fear of his father's plunging blade!

What a lesson for all of us. A man has less fear of his own mortality than of his child's spiritual demise - or at least he should. A child's disenfranchisement with Judaism is a terrible pill to swallow. How terrible? Yitzchak viewed it with more fear than his own death. Perhaps this is a message to be conveyed to children: Your spiritual welfare is the most important thing in my life. In fact, it is more important than my life! When children hear such a declaration articulated by parents, as well as experiencing living proof of their commitment to the way of life they expound, the child establishes a firm foundation upon which to build his own life. In contrast, when parents are "wishy washy," vacillating between what they say they want, and the way they actually act, children receive mixed messages. A child raised on mixed messages grows into a confused adult.

Chazal teach us that Avraham Avinu died five years younger than Yitzchak, who lived to be 180 years old, so that he would not witness his grandson's sinful behavior. Indeed, on the day of Avraham's funeral, Eisav's sinfulness became public knowledge. Hashem spared Avraham this tremendous tzaar, pain, and took him from this world prematurely. Can we even begin to imagine the incredible spiritual loss that was sustained by the premature death of our Patriarch? Five fewer years of mitzvos and good deeds! All of this so that Avraham would not suffer the immeasurable pain of seeing his grandson - not his son, but his grandson - leave the Torah way of life. What an incredible lesson for us. We now know why Yitzchak trembled. Perhaps if we tremble now, we will circumvent anxiety later on in life.

Va'ani Tefillah

U'masbia l'chol chai ratzon.
And satisfy the desire of every living being.

According to this pasuk, Hashem sustains every living being. The ambiguity is obvious: All life does not find sustenance. A large portion of the world population is starving. Clearly, these people have not been granted their parnassah, livelihood. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, suggests that the answer lies in the word chai, living being. He translates this word as, "Those whom Hashem wants to live." Hashem satiates all those whom He wants to live. Thus, Hashem truly does sustain and provide a livelihood for all chai - those who want to chai, live. Those who have sustenance receive it from Hashem, Who is the Source of all sustenance. Those who do not receive sustenance from Hashem will simply not receive sustenance - period.

The question that plagues me is how many people recite this pasuk thrice daily, yet have no clue that their parnassah is Heaven-sent. Indeed, the halachah in Orach Chaim 51:1 states: One who failed to have kavanah, proper concentration, while saying Poseiach es yadecha, must repeat it. This is due to this verse's overriding significance. Yet, we still do not fully understand its message.

in loving memory
Mrs. Grace Venee`

By her son,

Peninim on the Torah is in its 18th 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