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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And G-d spoke to Moshe and said to him, "I am Hashem." (6:2)

Rashi comments that Hashem spoke to Moshe with words of rebuke for speaking harshly, asking, "Why have you harmed this People?" Later in pasuk 9, Rashi explains that Hashem drew a contrast between Moshe and the Patriarchs. He exclaimed, "Woe for those who are lost and are not found! I have good cause to bemoan the deaths of the Patriarchs. Many times I revealed myself to them as Kel Sha-ddai, and they never asked Me, 'What is Your Name?' But you said to Me, 'If they will say to Me, what is His Name, what shall I say to them?'" In other words, Moshe questioned Hashem's actions, while the Avos, Patriarchs, never complained, even when they were confronted with situations that were incongruous to their faith, such as: Avraham Avinu, when he could not find a suitable place to bury Sarah Imeinu; Yitzchak Avinu, when his servants could not find water to drink; Yaakov Avinu, when he sought a place to pitch his tent, and was not successful until he was compelled to spend a large sum of money. They never questioned Hashem's Name, His manner of interacting with them. Yet, Moshe was concerned with Hashem's treatment of the Jews. He therefore, questioned His name.

The above seems to imply that Moshe Rabbeinu, the quintessential leader of our People - about whom it was said, "There never arose a Navi, prophet, like Moshe," who spoke to Hashem with a clarity of vision - was on a lower plateau than the Avos. Is this possible? Throughout Torah literature, it seems apparent that the spiritual level of Moshe transcended that of everyone else. How are we to understand Rashi?

The Dibros Shlomo, Horav Shlomo Lutzker, zl, cites the Tiferes Shlomo who explains that, as Klal Yisrael's consummate leader, Moshe Rabbeinu, sought ways to rationalize the actions of his flock. As such, he presented their case before Hashem in the most positive manner. Moshe was acutely aware that they were Hashem's chosen People; He was their compassionate Father in Heaven, and, thus, he was concerned with their every need.

With this preface in mind, we understand the background for Moshe's challenging question, "Why have You harmed the People?" When Chazal distinguish between Moshe Rabbeinu and the Avos, it is not a critique. On the contrary, Chazal are lauding Moshe's efforts as leader of Klal Yisrael, his total devotion to the needs of his people. The Avos were confronted with personal issues, personal challenges, personal questions to the faith. They transcended the challenges and triumphed in their conviction. Moshe Rabbeinu was a leader who could not permit his personal commitment to obstruct his sense of leadership. He was a Klal mench. His personal feelings did not play a role in his position as community leader. Klal Yisrael's pain was his pain; their anguish was his anguish, their torment was his torment. Is this not why Hashem chose him to be their leader? His empathy was unprecedented, his compassion unparalleled.

At times, a leader recognizes that he cannot ease the pain or lighten the burden. This does not relieve him from the need to declare his empathy and cry out with emotion on behalf of his flock. This is what Moshe was doing - and Hashem praised him for his actions.

Throughout history, we have been blessed with leadership of this calibre. Horav Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, zl, the Piasczner Rebbe, the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto, was such an individual. His personal grief only catalyzed greater empathy for his flock, who - together with him - were interred in the Warsaw Ghetto as victims of the Nazi master plan. His life was an incredible story of devotion and commitment. Above all, it demonstrated his ability to maintain intellectual stamina, which enabled him to transcend his personal tragedies in order to maintain his guidance over his people, to inspire them with love of Hashem and acceptance of His decrees. I take the opportunity to share some episodes from his war years that lend insight to his personality and leadership.

When the war broke out, the Rebbe was situated in Warsaw. His close chasidim insisted that he leave for a safer location. The Rebbe demurred, replying, "I am not going to desert my chasidim at this difficult time! Wherever my chasidim are - that is where I must be. I will not consent to saving myself, while I abandon my chasidim!"

Shortly before the war, the Rebbe had lost his life's companion, his Rebbetzin. Her death was a great blow to him, and his inner pain was intense. He consoled himself with his only son, Reb Elimelech, who was his trusted assistant. His son stood by his side prior to and during the difficult periods of the war. The Rebbe's love for his son was great. An accomplished scholar and an individual of exemplary character refinement, Reb Elimelech never departed from his father's side.

The Rebbe's home in Warsaw was the focal point of gathering for the refugees from Piaseczno seeking material and spiritual sustenance. Services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were held in the Rebbe's Bais Hamedrash. Survivors recall the Rebbe's deep concentration in Tefillah, his sweet, poignant voice and his rapture of spirit, which transported him to a realm far above the bombings and the terror that had become daily ritual in Warsaw. Upon gazing at the Rebbe, his chasidim were filled with a measure of comfort.

Yom Kippur night, the bombing began with intensity. Throughout the night, the bombs fell and the fires burned, but the Rebbe's house was spared. Monday morning, the day after Yom Kippur, was a day of exceptional savagery, as destruction and death reigned throughout the city. The German planes flew low, with an arrogance that suited them, dropping all types of bombs and incendiaries. The people who were by then tormented, exhausted, starved and thirsty, thought they would go insane. They had nowhere to turn, nowhere to run. Indeed, thousands lost their sense of judgment and waited indifferently to meet the angel of death.

That day, the Rebbe's house was no longer spared. Shrapnel flew in and struck the Rebbe's son, wounding him in the arm. The blood loss was terrible. The Rebbe and his chasidim had no recourse but to bring Reb Elimelech to a hospital. They carried him through the street under the hail of bombs, which were still exploding. They went from one hospital to the next, but the answer was always the same, "We are filled to capacity." Finally, after several hours of trudging through the streets, they found a hospital that would treat Reb Elimelech's wounds. He was taken in, and he received medical attention.

The Rebbe would not leave the hospital. Exhausted and broken-hearted, he waited throughout the night to hear news of his son's welfare. The Rebbe was not alone. Together with him were his daughter-in-law and his sister-in-law, who had come from Eretz Yisrael before the war to visit. Together with a small group of dedicated chasidim, they waited at the door of the hospital.

They davened and cried the whole night for a refuah sheleimah. It was a long, terrible night of waiting. The situation looked bleak, so the Rebbe, accompanied by a few close chasidim, went to a doctor's house to ask him to come to the hospital. Perhaps he could do something to save his son. While the Rebbe was away, a bomb fell at the entrance of the hospital, killing all of those present.

The Rebbe returned to the hospital and was shattered by the news. One can only imagine his pain and grief in losing his daughter-in-law and sister-in-law. They thought the Rebbe would collapse; yet, he composed himself and recited the pasuk in Iyov 1:21, "Hashem gave and Hashem has taken away," directing that the deceased be taken immediately to the cemetery for a eulogy and burial.

On Wednesday, the city of Warsaw surrendered. Reb Elimelech struggled in agony, burning with fever from an infection that ravaged his body. That evening was the beginning of Succos. The Rebbe erected a small Succah, and the next morning he prepared for Yom Tov as if nothing had occurred. He instructed the Chazzan to sing the special Yom Tov melodies that were a tradition in Piascezno. As the Sifrei Torah were being removed from the Aron, the Chazzan - in the middle of his favorite melody - broke down in tears. The Rebbe gave a shout, "Nu! Yom Tov!" The congregation attempted to fulfill the Rebbe's request, taking up the melody with as much joy as they could muster. This holiday spirit was kept alive for the first two days of Succos.

Late Friday night, immediately after Kiddush, the Rebbe's son breathed his last breath, and his soul rose up to Heaven. His passing had a devastating effect on the Rebbe. His closest chasidim feared for his health, but the Rebbe manifest superhuman strength and endurance. He did not utter as much as a sigh over the passing of his son. It was Shabbos, and he refused to mar the sanctity of the day. He conducted his Tish, festive Shabbos table, gave a Torah discourse and sang Zemiros. On Motzoei Shabbos, after nightfall, he broke down in heart-rending weeping for his beloved son. His words that night expressed his essence as a leader: "I am already done in my war. May G-d help the Jewish People to emerge victorious." He never thought of himself, only of his flock.

A few days later, on Simchas Torah, the usual joy and religious fervor of the Rebbe and his chasidim were noticeably subdued. The high point of the evening came when the Rebbe stood before the Aron Kodesh and sang Eishes Chayil. No doubt, he was focusing his thoughts on the Shechinah which was in exile, recognizing Its suffering on behalf of Klal Yisrael. He stood there for about an hour, singing the haunting melody with tears streaming down his cheeks.

A few weeks later, tragedy stuck again as the Rebbe's elderly mother died suddenly of a heart attack. The pain resulting from the tragedies that had befallen her family was too much for her to sustain. The Rebbe now was saying Kaddish for five of his closest relatives. Left alone, bereft of his closest family members, the stricken Rebbe continued rallying for his chasidim not to despair. Their morale and spirit were not to waver. His self-control was incredible, conducting his Tishen, studying Torah, and writing his magnum opus, the Eish Kodesh, which was later discovered among the ashes of Warsaw. Everything continued as before, except this time it was all accompanied by tears. The Rebbe spoke words of Torah, strengthening and encouraging, uplifting and giving hope. He sang Zemiros and danced the traditional dances, but it was always accompanied by tears.

In addition to his spiritual leadership, the Rebbe was active in relief activities, organizing a public kitchen in his own home that serviced fifteen -hundred people. His life was his people. His derashos, Torah discourses, were focused on reassuring them that one can function creatively and endure under conditions of great extremity. Perhaps the greatest contribution to his chasidim's welfare was neither the lectures nor the material sustenance; his powerful presence dominated their lives. His greatest lesson to them was his ability to continue, not permitting himself to be crushed by the tragedies of the war.

Entreat Hashem that He remove the frogs from me and my people, and I shall send out the people that they may bring offerings to Hashem. (8:4)

Pharaoh still seems to be under the impression that Klal Yisrael is leaving for a brief, three day seminar in the desert. After all, this is what Moshe Rabbeinu was originally instructed to request of him. We know that this was not the intention. The time had come for the exodus from Egypt to take place. Was the three-day trip simply a ruse, or was it the original plan? In his book, Forever his Students, based on the teachings of Horav Yaakov Weinberg, zl, Rabbi Boruch Leff explains that, indeed, when Hashem said three-days, that is exactly what He meant. When Pharaoh rejected this offer, Hashem rescinded it and was no longer bound by it. Now, when they would leave, it would be forever.

There is still one issue to be resolved: Why did Hashem originally want to take them out for only three-days? Egypt was certainly not a place where the Jewish People would thrive spiritually. It was a country that was morally decadent, the antithesis of everything the Jew stands for and believes in. The quicker they would be released from the clutches of Pharaoh, the better for them.

Rav Weinberg derives an important lesson from here concerning spiritual development: It must be gradual. We often find people that are catalyzed to accept a new way of life, a Torah way of life, only to have the inspiration short-lived. Why is this? What happens? We must accept the fact that everyone has obstacles to overcome as he ascends the spiritual ladder of growth. Some of these challenges are overwhelming. With due time, patience and perseverance, one is able to triumph over these obstacles, but it is a gradual process. Assuming too much, too fast, is a prescription for failure. While it may seem to work initially, the growth effects will not endure.

Hashem knew that Pharaoh was not going to part with the many Jewish slaves that had become a part of Egyptian culture. Egyptians had slaves, Jewish slaves. Pharaoh would never accede to a demand that he give them up. When the request was for a three day service in the wilderness, however, Pharaoh might have had a positive reaction. This would be a way of imbuing him with the notion that the Jews did not belong to him, and - sooner or later - he would have to give them up completely. Although Pharaoh refused to let them leave even for a short while, it was nonetheless a test that he could have passed.

The idea of a mini-exodus would have also benefited Klal Yisrael. After two hundred and ten years of slavery, exposed to Egyptian decadence and idol worship, they had become acculturated into the system. They had adopted the Egyptian lifestyle. To have them leave it all and divorce themselves from the tumah - spiritual contamination - that was Egypt would have been difficult. One does not abandon such a lifestyle overnight. Their attachment was too strong; their assimilation was too powerful. They had to be convinced by being spoon-fed spiritually. First, it would be for three days and then, eventually, it would be forever. In the end, the year-long saga of the ten plagues served as Klal Yisrael's gradual transition from the spiritual filth that defined Egypt.

The lesson is clear: The ladder to spiritual success is accessible, but it must be scaled slowly, gradually. Put both feet on each rung of the ladder. After one is firmly settled on that rung, one can attempt to go on. We make up our minds to be good, to act appropriately, and the first time we err, we are ready to say goodbye to our grandiose plans. If we would only exhibit a little patience and move more slowly, we would reach the summit and remain there.

Those… who feared the word of Hashem hurried his servants and his livestock into the houses. And those who did not take the word of G-d to heart left his servants and livestock in the field. (9:20,21)

Two distinct groups are described here: those who "feared the word of Hashem"; and their opposite, those who "did not take the word of G-d to heart." Since these two groups are contrasted with one another, we would have expected the contrast between them to be parallel: those who feared Hashem, and those who did not fear Hashem. Why is the second group referred to as "those who did not take the word of Hashem to heart"?

Horav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zl, infers from here an important lesson in the Torah's definition of yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven. One who lacks this quality is not necessarily a person who sins blatantly or commits acts of sacrilege. The mere fact that one does not take Hashem's word seriously, that he relates to His commands with apathy or indifference, already qualifies him as a person who does not have yiraas Shomayim. There are many individuals who are observant and committed Jews, yet their conviction is, at best, complacent. They act automatically, and they perform out of habit. Their religious lives are conducted in an apathetic and unemotional manner. The dvar Hashem, "word of G-d," has no relevance to them. It does not penetrate the recesses of their hearts. Such people have no license to call themselves yarei Hashem.

Va'ani Tefillah

L'olam yehei adam yerei Shomayim b'seisar u'vagalui - Always let a person be G-d-fearing privately and publicly. Why is a person who is careful about sinning referred to as a yarei Shomayim - one who fears Heaven? Horav Chaim, zl, m'Volozhin, explains that this person fears the impact of his sin in Heaven. He understands that the spiritual dimension of Heaven becomes deficient by his negative actions.

Should not the sequence of the area of service to Hashem be reversed? It should have said that one should not only fear Heaven publicly, but also in private. Hashem sees everywhere, even in the most private room. Nothing is concealed from His view. The Binah L'ittim explains that the nature of a person is that in those areas of belief that are profound and hidden, areas which are inexplicable, he fulfills the word of G-d according to the letter of the law. He does not deviate from Hashem's command, because he submits himself totally to His directive. In contrast, those areas that are clear and open to human understanding, he might act not only because of a sense of commitment, but rather, out of agreement with Hashem. He understands the command and, therefore, is happy to carry out His word.

This Tefillah enjoins us to serve Hashem in the same manner: out of a sense of fear of Heaven - not because of one's cognitive appreciation of the mitzvah - but, rather, out of submission to the will of G-d. Always let a person be G-d-fearing; everything that he does, every mitzvah that he fulfills, every good deed which he performs, should be the result of and inspired by his yiraas Shomayim.

l'zchus and refuah sheleima
Baruch ben Sara Chasia
b'soch she'or choleh yisroel

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

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