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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And I shall take you out from under the burdens of Egypt; I shall rescue you from their service; I shall redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. (6:6)

The above pasuk contains therein the four different expressions of redemption, which represent four progressive stages of the redemption with which Hashem liberated Klal Yisrael from Egypt. These three are followed by V'lakachti eschem Li l'am, "I shall take you to Me for a people," referring to the Giving of the Torah, our acceptance of which made us Hashem's nation. The Chidushei HaRim wonders about the sequence of the expressions, of placing V'hotzeisi, "And I shall take you out" before V'hitzalti, "And I shall rescue you from their service." One would assume that, in the sequence of redemption, cessation of labor would be first, after which Klal Yisrael would be taken out of Egypt. He explains that this sequence addresses the vagaries of human nature, whereby people under intense pressure fail to realize fully the difficult circumstances in which they find themselves. It is only after they have emerged from darkness, and they can finally sense the beauty of light, that they begin to realize the depth of misery in which they had been immersed. Very often, we become so terribly complacent, so used to our miserable lot, our desolation and sorrowful condition, that we lose sight of how really miserable it is.

The Jewish People had been in Egypt so long, had been enslaved by the wicked Pharaoh and his equally evil nation for such a long time, that they were no longer aware of the meaning of freedom. It was only after they had been liberated from Egypt, and were now a free people, that they could reconcile themselves with the misery of their forced labor. They had no idea of how much they had actually suffered until it was over, they were out, and now they could look back in retrospect.

A powerful analogy lends insight to this idea. The story is told of a king who sought to imbue his son with common sense and understanding concerning the ways of the world. For his first lesson, he chose to break his son's dependency on money. After all, the prince was wealthy; nothing prevented him from spending whatever he wanted. He could have anything, go anywhere; there was nothing in his way - except for his intellect, which would teach him that everything has a limit.

The king felt that the best way to teach his son the proper values would be to remove him from his present setting and situate him in a community of poor beggars, who earned their daily bread by soliciting door to door for pennies - if they were lucky! A year passed, and the king decided to check up on his son to determine if he had benefited from the experience. "My son, how are you doing?" the king asked. "Fine. I am doing well," the prince answered.

"Is there anything I can do for you? Anything I can get for you?" the king asked. "Yes, there is. I need a bag, so that when I go begging, I will have a place in which to put my few coins," the prince answered.

After only a year, the prince had lost sight of the palace with its gold and silver. He did not ask for anything much, because his entire perspective had been altered. He was no longer a spoiled prince living in luxury, in a palace awash with gold, silver, precious paintings and fine furniture. He needed nothing more than a bag to hold his few pennies, because if he would lose a "penny," he would have lost a fortune!

"Is it any different with us?" asks the Chidushei HaRim. Ask a Jew what he needs, the response will invariably be, "a raise" or "a few extra dollars." We have lost our sense of values. Sadly, we rarely hear, "I wish I had more time to learn," or "I am having great difficulty understanding this passage in the Gemorah." We have lost sight of our priorities. Instead of focusing on what is really important, we complain about foolish things.

Horav Shlomo Levinstein, Shlita, relates an incident which took place concerning Horav Shaul Rubin, zl, who served as Rosh Kollel in Afula. One day he met a fellow who served as a security officer at one of the prisons. The officer related to the Rav that he had been dealing with a recaltricent husband who had been jailed for refusing to give his wife a get, halachic divorce. In Eretz Yisrael the rabbanim take serious action against one who is guilty of such egregious behavior. They frown on one who relegates his wife to becoming an agunah, abandoned wife - as should we all. The officer asked Rav Rubin if perhaps he would meet with the obstinate husband, who would rather spend his life in jail than give his wife a get.

Rav Rubin complied with the officer's wish and visited the prison, where he spent some time in conversation with the husband. At the conclusion of the conversation, he commented to the officer, "I am sorry to say that this man will never give his wife a get - even if he is incarcerated for one hundred years! He has become quite used to being in prison. He no longer knows what life on the outside is like. He does not know the meaning and value of freedom. He sees neither anything wrong, nor restrictive, about being in prison. I suggest that you release him for a few months. Let him get a taste of freedom. Then, suddenly, return him to prison. You will see how fast he will give his wife a get."

The prison officials followed the Rav's suggestion and released the prisoner. In two months' time, he was "reintroduced" to his prison cell. Two weeks later, he begged to be released. He would give his wife a get.

I shall take you to Me for a people, and I will be a G-d to you. (6:7)

The election of Klal Yisrael as the nation upon whom Hashem confers His Name is a concept about which every ben Torah, every observant Jew and Jewess, is acutely aware. Sadly, the term "observant" in this case is more than a mere adjective. It defines those who believe in Klal Yisrael as the am ha'nivchar, "chosen people." We choose to be chosen, and only we are willing to aspire to be worthy of the mission of "choseness." Of the millions who carry the name Jewish to define race, only those who are knowledgeable and committed to this mission understand its meaning and responsibilities and take pride in carrying its banner. Those who have had their Jewish heritage surreptitiously purloined from them can only blame their misguided forebears and prevaricating leadership.

Horav Shlomo Levenstein, Shlita, quotes Rav Meir Grozman, a rav in Tel Aviv, who was present when a tour group of Israeli air force pilots visited with Horav Elazar M. Shach, zl, during their tour of Bnei Brak. They entered his apartment and were immediately overwhelmed by a large salon which was lined from (the) floor to ceiling with bookcases, each filled to capacity with sefarim, volumes of Torah commentary. In the middle of the room was a table covered with a tablecloth, upon which were piled a number of sefarim all opened up to a specific page. At the table sat an elderly man, bent over the books, apparently engrossed in study.

The members of the group entered the room and took seats surrounding the Rosh Yeshivah. Rav Shach looked up and asked, Mi ba'rosh, "Who is the leader of this group?" One of the men came forward and said, "I am."

"Since you are the leader, I would like to extend my hand to you and welcome you on behalf of your group to my home. Please sit down."

One of the aides of the Rosh Yeshivah asked Rav Shach to sit down, but he dismissed him with a wave of his hand, saying, "In honor of these distinguished visitors, I will stand while they remain seated. They came to visit me, which indicates they seek to do me honor. I also feel that I should pay my greatest respect to them."

Rav Shach then turned to the men and said, "You are very distinguished men. Your mission of protecting the Jewish People in Eretz Yisrael demands the utmost gratitude on our part. I understand very well your contribution to the safety and security of every man, woman and child living in the Holy Land. You should all be blessed by the Almighty for your devotion to His People.

"When you are up there, flying high above the terrain which includes all of Hashem's creations, land, sea, mountains, inhabited areas, forests, and deserts, you have the opportunity to view the world through a unique perspective. As such, you are availed a global perspective of the Almighty. Seeing it all before you allows you to see what the average person cannot. Furthermore, when you are "up there," you may feel "closer" to the Creator. Do you take a moment to cogitate on what you see? Do you ever ask yourselves: Who created all of this? You are so fortunate to have this privilege. I am truly envious of your opportunity to achieve even greater emunah, faith, in the Almighty.

"If, Heaven forbid, your faith is not increased exponentially, it must be because the spiritual education which was availed to you was dismally deficient. Let me elaborate on how deficient the educational system is." Rav Shach went on to point to a large, heavy tome on his desk, "This large sefer is a volume of the Talmud Zevachim." He pointed to the various commentators, Rashi, Tosfos, Rosh, Rif, Maharasha, and then went on to mention a host of other names. He then pointed to his bookcases filled with sefarim, explaining the general nature of the areas upon which these authors focus. After giving them an outline of the vastness of Torah, he asked, "Do you now agree with me that your Jewish education has been stunted?

"I have neither asked you to repent, nor have I asked you to put on Tefillin or observe Shabbos. I just want to know one thing: What right do you have to deprive your children of their heritage? Let them learn, understand, and, then, if they choose to reject the Torah, they at least will have been allowed to make an educated choice! Have they had the opportunity to see what a Shabbos looks like? - A Yom Kippur? Moreover, let them compare the freedom of an observant Jew with the freedom of one who does what he wants with his life. I would like to know which life has greater satisfaction, inspiration, future. "We, in the yeshivah, as well as all of the Torah-observant Jews throughout the world, have chosen to follow in the path of our Patriarchs, the way of life that, throughout the millennia, has been transmitted from father to son. We have been hounded and persecuted, yet, we have remained staunchly committed to our heritage and have preserved this legacy, so that it may be transmitted to future generations.

"Hashem should protect you as you guard over His Land. May you be successful in all of your endeavors on behalf of our People. May we together greet Moshiach Tzidkeinu."

Rav Shach refused to sit down until the very last pilot had left the room.

The pilots left and congregated outside the Rosh Yeshivah's apartment: "This cannot be the very same Rav Shach who last week railed against members of the kibbutz who do not observe the laws of kashrus. Imagine! He even questioned their Jewish pedigree."

After all was said and done, they all agreed that meeting the Rosh Yeshivah and listening to him speak was a seminal experience - one that would remain with them for the rest of their lives. In summing up the experience, the commander remarked, "We need someone of his elevated stature at the helm of the Jewish People. It is because of his inspiration and demands that we are what we are. Imagine how low we might descend without someone like him to look up to."

And I shall put My hand upon Egypt; and I shall take out My legions - My People Bnei Yisrael - from the Land of Egypt. (7:4)

Hashem promised to take the Jewish People out of Egypt, dealing with the Egyptians and punishing them for mistreating the Jews. There is no question that the Egyptians deserved a very strong punishment - one which they would remember for all time. They persecuted and murdered an innocent people who had done nothing to them. Now, they would pay not only with their material bounty, but with their own blood. They would suffer as we suffered. While this is all understandable and unquestionably deserved by the Egyptians, did it have to occur before the Jews could be redeemed from Egypt? What would have been wrong to liberate the Jews immediately, allowing them to distance themselves from the moral filth of Egypt, and then punish the Egyptians? Why did the Jews have to spend an extra year in Egypt, while the Egyptians were receiving their due? The Jews could have "read" about it, while they were ensconced in Eretz Yisrael.

In his Vayedaber Moshe, Horav Moshe Pollack, zl, explains that, indeed, Hashem could easily have redeemed the Jews immediately, but he wanted to put them to a test, to see who really wanted to leave Egypt and who just did not want to be a slave. Had Hashem dispatched Moshe Rabbeinu to inform the people that they were promptly leaving, they would have all lined up waiting for the opportunity to leave. What fool would have chosen slavery in Egypt over freedom in Eretz Yisrael, even if it meant traveling through a miserable wilderness with its many challenges and dangers? Leaving Egypt was all that mattered. At least their children would be safe.

After an entire year of relative freedom, witnessing the wonders and miracles wrought by Hashem against the Egyptians, including a cessation of their work load - was it really necessary to pick themselves up and gather everything together, just to go to Eretz Yisrael? Would it be the end of the world if they were to remain free men in Egypt? True, a change in scenery is always invigorating and exciting, but, at the expense of uprooting oneself, perhaps it would be better to stay put.

These were the thoughts that entered the Jewish mindset during that year of plagues. Hashem did not want to force the Jews who were not committed to leave to abandon their "homestead" in Egypt. Indeed, as we are well aware, only twenty percent of the Jewish population in Egypt passed the test and left. The remaining eighty percent remained, Egypt became their everlasting resting place. To serve Hashem in Eretz Yisrael demands commitment to Hashem and His Torah. One who goes to Eretz Yisrael just to escape the travail of Egypt lacks the necessary commitment.

At any time during our tumultuous history, had the opportunity been given to leave for Eretz Yisrael, to live the life of a ben Torah, committed to observance, there is no question that everybody would have lined up to leave. The passionate belief in Moshiach Tzidkeinu was burning within the hearts and minds of all. Now, with the establishment of a relatively safe haven in the Holy Land, under a secular regime - how many Jews still yearn for Moshiach Tzidkeinu with that same passionate fervor? Perhaps they think that this is it; they need no more. As long as we are not slaves, are we not free?

Sadly, throughout the generations, as was the case in Egypt, a large percentage of our people would rather settle for a figment of imaginary freedom than wait for the real thing. Moshiach will, im yirtzeh Hashem, arrive at the designated time. Until then, we continue hoping - as well as preparing for his arrival. After all, we want to be worthy of redemption.

Whoever among the servants of Pharaoh feared the word of Hashem chased his servants and his livestock to the houses. (9:20)

What is the meaning of avdei Pharaoh, the servants of Pharaoh? What about the citizens of Egypt? What did they do? The Meshech Chochmah explains that, when word went out from Moshe Rabbeinu that all Egyptians should take their animals inside, the immediate reaction was to comply. After all, Moshe seemed to have a powerful track record. It would be suicide to defy his warning. Pharaoh, however, would not allow his people to cave in to Moshe. He dispatched his servants throughout the land with an order to actively disregard Moshe's warning. The Egyptian citizen was now in a quandary: To whom should he listen - Moshe, or Pharaoh's servants?

The fear which gripped the Egyptians was now doubled. If they left their animals outdoors, the animals might die. On the other hand, if they brought the animals inside, they might die. Those G-d-fearing Egyptians who listened to Moshe - the yarei es dvar Hashem mei'avdei Pharaoh, who feared Hashem more than they feared the servants of Pharaoh - took their animals in. They made the wise choice.

When we consider that this was not the first makah, plague, to strike Egypt - and that each one was devastating - one begins to wonder at the utter foolishness of those Egyptians who did not seem to care. They had seen the miracles. How could they be so dense, to disregard the past as if it had never occurred? Apparently, this is human nature. How often do we perceive overt miracles and occurrences which are clearly supernatural, yet go on with business as usual? It is only when we are personally affected, when we personally experience a miracle, that we lift up our heads and pay attention.

The Mashgiach of Kol Torah, Horav Yitzchak Yeruchem Bordyanski, related the following telling story. The Mashgiach had occasion to take a monit, taxi, to a student's wedding. Accompanying him were three students of the yeshivah. The nahag, driver, who apparently was friendly with the Mashgiach, asked for a dvar Torah. This must have been their usual exchange, with the Mashgiach sharing a Torah insight with this otherwise yet-to-be-observant Jew. This time, however, the Mashgiach countered, "I am the one who always says the dvar Torah, while you listen. This time we will exchange our roles. I will listen, while you will say a dvar Torah."

"Fine," began the driver. "I have an inspiring story to relate. When I was in the army, training to become a paratrooper, I once had to endure a difficult day of training. Our entire group was taken to a desolate spot in the wilderness and told to bed down for the night. We were all exhausted and could not wait to go to sleep - even in the miserable wilderness. A few minutes after we lay down and immediately floated into an exhausted sleep, we were awakened to terrible screaming. We immediately jumped up to see the cause of the screams. We looked around to see that one of the soldiers lay with a poisonous snake coiled around his leg.

"The soldier knew that the slightest movement on his part would cause the snake to attack, and his life would be over. He lay there without moving, begging us for assistance. 'Please do something,' he cried out. Regrettably, there was nothing any of us could do to help him.

"In a last-ditch attempt to save the soldier, the commander called over one of the sharpshooters, a marksman of exemplary ability, and instructed him to take careful aim and shoot the snake. The marksman replied somewhat nervously, 'But the snake is coiled around his leg. If I miss, or if it does not die immediately, it will react and bite the soldier!' The commander replied that there was no other alternative. Otherwise, the soldier would certainly die.

"The marksman lined up his rifle, carefully adjusting the sight, checking the wind, and was about to take aim and shoot, when a chareidi, observant, soldier called out, 'Stop! Before you shoot, try one alternative gesture.' He looked at the soldier lying on the ground, white as a sheet, with sweat pouring down his face, and said, 'Recite Shema Yisrael. It will protect you.'

"He had nothing to lose, so he began saying the age-old words from the Torah. Word-by- word came out of his mouth, very slowly and clearly. He then repeated it. Suddenly, to our astonishment, we saw the snake slowly begin to uncoil itself from the soldier's leg and crawl away.

"This was a miracle experienced by each one of us. We all saw it. There was no doubt that G-d had listened to the prayer and intervened."

The driver concluded the story and was silent, prompting the Mashgiach to ask, "What was the conclusion of the story?"

The driver replied, "The soldier who was saved took it as a sign from Heaven. He changed his life and is now dati, fully observant, and studies Torah."

Hearing this, the Mashgiach asked the driver, "What about you, my friend? Did you change as a result of this overt miracle?"

"Rebbe, I have not changed. You see, the snake did not coil itself around my leg."

Herein lies the difference between a wise man - a perceptive person - and a fool. The fool waits for the snake to coil itself around his leg. The wise man, however, suffices with a perceptive lesson from others. He would much rather remain an innocent observer. Another powerful lesson can be derived from the Torah's characterization of the G-d-fearing Egyptian: yarei es dvar Hashem; "he feared the word of G-d." Did it require a rocket scientist to believe in Hashem? One makah after another struck the land of Egypt. What more did this G-d-fearing Egyptian require to infuse him with the fear of Heaven? How could they not fear Hashem? We see clearly, comments Horav Yeruchem Levovitz, zl, that it is quite simple for one to become a yarei Shomayim. It does not take much. Indeed, if one believes because he is up against the proverbial wall, with no way out, and the chips are all stacked against him - and he believes in Hashem, which is a no-brainer - he is still considered a yarei Shomayim! How easy it really is; yet, how difficult it apparently must be to so many who talk the talk, but are ill-prepared to assume the duty of becoming a true G-d-fearing person.

Veritably, if it were so simple, why did those Egyptians refuse to listen - at a danger to their servants and animals? How could they ignore something that was clearly going to occur? Rav Yeruchem quotes Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, who applied a powerful analogy to explain how a person could possibly ignore Hashem. He suggested the following: A person chances upon a glass of water which seems untouched. It appears pristine. There is no reason for him not to drink it. In fact, a number of intelligent people who are in the area where the glass of water is located all attest to its purity. As he is about to drink the water, a man saunters over and claims that the water has been poisoned! This man has a long history of emotional problems. Indeed, the last few weeks he had been acting even more irrationally than ever before. Chances are that this person had conjured up in his own deviated mind that the water had been poisoned. Yet, will anyone in his right mind drink the water? Absolutely not! If there is even a remote possibility that the water is poisonous, no intelligent person would drink from it.

With this idea in mind, Rav Yisrael wonders how any rational person could go through life and not be afraid that, perhaps, he will ultimately be punished for his evil. How could one blatantly transgress Hashem's command when there is a "remote" possibility that he will be punished for his misdeeds? Even if there is a "slight" chance that Torah Judaism is the only way of life to which a Jew should adhere, and one who does not observe will pay dearly for his decision, it would make sense that any Jew with a modicum of intelligence would be observant. Yet, it is clearly not the case.

The fear of G-d manifest by the Egyptians was elementary in nature. It was the simplest form of fear. Yet, they were called yarei Hashem. This supports the notion that yiraas Shomayim takes intelligence. On the other hand, the criteria for the one who did not fear Hashem was lo sam libo, "And he who did not apply (the lessons) to his heart." He did not take the miracle seriously. The lessons did not catalyze his asking: What should I do? How should I react? No, he ignored the miracles and continued along his merry path of iniquity, with business as usual. In order to be a yarei Shomayim, one has only to look, acknowledge and relate to his heart. If one closes his eyes and refuses to see, it is no wonder that the greatest miracles leave him unmoved.

Va'ani Tefillah

Emes V'yatziv. True and certain.

Emes v'yatziv begin sixteen adjectives describing our acceptance of the Kingdom of Heaven. Hashem Echad u'Shemo Echad, "Hashem is One and His Name is One." These are verities which must be accepted and ratified. Interestingly, while we might recite the Shema Yisrael with kavanah, intention/devotion, we often "fly" through the follow up Emes v'yatziv, when, in truth, the sixteen adjectives are a powerful affirmation of: our belief in the Oneness of G-d; the acceptance of His Torah; and observance of His mitzvos.

These sixteen adjectives are arranged in eight sets of pairs, in which the two relate to one another. Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, explains them in the following manner, focusing on their individual description of the truth.

Emes, "true," denotes reality. When we declare something to be emes, we are verifying and certifying that these statements are true and factual, and we accept their veracity not only for now, but for posterity. It is necessary to add the v'aytziv - certain, which implies that it is true, not only in one specific era, but for all time. Yatziv is similar to nitzavim, standing firm; mutzav, a ladder standing firmly on the ground. This truth is certain, firm and permanent. Emes also denotes posterity, as we see from its derivative emunah, defined as steadfast, as in yadav emunah, "his hands were steadfast" (Shemos 17:12). Since, however, emes is also used to describe something that is temporarily true, it is, therefore, necessary to add v'yatziv to teach that this particular verity is permanent.

In loving memory of
Miriam Bas Avraham Yehuda Jacobson
by her family

David, Susan, Danial, Breindy, Ephraim, Adeena, Aryeh and Michelle Jacobson
and her great grandchildren

Peninim on the Torah is in its 20th year of publication. The first fifteen years have been published in book form.

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