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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


From there you will seek Hashem, your G-d, and you will find Him, for you will seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. (4:29)

Hopelessness is a dangerous and destructive condition. The Torah is teaching us that this condition is all in the mind. One who feels hopeless, who is falling into the brink of despair, should know that it is all a ruse. Regardless of how bitter and dreary the future or the present may seem, his feeling of despair is nothing more than a delusion. Horav Nachman zl, m'Breslov was wont to say, "Despair does not exist." Sure, there are many people walking around depressed, but that is only in their minds. They should not be that way. No matter how low one has sunk, he can still return and establish a relationship with the Almighty. This is the pasuk's message. Regardless of where we are, how depressed we are feeling, we can still find Hashem.

Furthermore, he who thinks that he cannot find Hashem in his life should remember the words of the Kotzker Rebbe, zl, who supplemented our pasuk, "You will seek Hashem… and you will find Him." Seeking Hashem is to find Him. The actual search has profound meaning and is not in vain. Unlike the search for a treasure, which is fruitless if the treasure is not located, the search for Hashem is a goal in itself. The yearning to come closer to the Almighty, to work on oneself as a means of getting closer to Hashem, is in fact an aspect of discovery. The process of seeking is in its own right a function of the discovery and the mark of success.

Yearning and seeking, whether in order to get closer to Hashem or in order to develop a greater depth and understanding of His Torah, are what makes the difference in ascending the ladder of success. The Baalei Mussar, Ethicists, refer to this process as bakoshas chochmah, seeking wisdom. In order to acquire wisdom, one must yearn for it and overcome every obstacle in his quest for wisdom. The symbol of the true mevakesh, seeker, is Yehoshua, Moshe Rabbeinu's successor. In Bamidbar 27:18, the Torah records Hashem's instructions to Moshe, "Take to yourself Yehoshua bin Nun, a man in whom there is spirit." Sforno comments: "He is prepared and ready to accept the light of the Countenance of the Living King, as it says, 'And I have endowed the heart of every wise-hearted person with wisdom.'" (Shemos 31:6). Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, derives from here that Yehoshua was singled out due to his overwhelming desire to acquire wisdom. One who is a mevakesh, who is prepared to absorb the eternal verities of the Torah, deserves success.

During the forty days and nights that Moshe was on Har Sinai, Yehoshua camped at the base of the mountain waiting for his rebbe to return. He did not want to lose a minute. As soon as his rebbe descended, he would be there waiting, prepared and ready to serve him. And what would have been so bad if he would have waited the few minutes it would have taken Moshe to walk to camp? No! Bakoshas chochmah demands that every minute is important, every minute has something to teach, every minute provides us with something to learn.

Logic dictates this point. It makes sense that something is given to the individual who appreciates and values it. Otherwise, it does not achieve its potential. One who values Torah knowledge will do everything to acquire it. Such a person is worthy of being invested with Torah. He will appreciate and care for the gift of Torah.

For Hashem, Your G-d, is a merciful G-d, He will not abandon you nor destroy you. (4:31)

Hashem is a compassionate and merciful G-d, whose sensitivity to our needs goes beyond anything we can possibly fathom. Yet, we see activities that clearly seem to contradict this statement. We have only to peruse history or to look around any community to observe the tragic incidents that have occurred. Which community has not had its share of grief? Who does not know someone that has suffered a loss? This is only a reference to the overt incidents that reach the public. What about those who suffer in silence, because they have no one with whom to share their pain? Yet, we refer to Hashem as all-merciful and compassionate. How are we to understand this?

Since Parashas Va'Eschanan corresponds with Shabbos Nachamu, I take the liberty of citing Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, who relates the following words of nechamah, consolation, which were shared by a Rosh Yeshivah who came to comfort a young family that had sustained a tragic loss. A number of years ago, Hashem called to one of the fine and pure neshamos, souls, in Heaven and notified it that the time had come for it to descend to this world. When the neshamah heard this announcement, it shuddered with fear. "How can I descend to such a world? How can I leave such a world of purity and sanctity to live in a world where moral decay is a way of life and spiritual contamination is acceptable - and even laudatory? Who knows in what image I will return? Please, Hashem, do not make me go!" the neshamah begged.

It made no difference; Hashem's decision had been made. "I promise you that I will place you with a wonderful family, with loving, righteous parents, Torah scholars who are replete in yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven. They will provide you with an excellent Torah education and see to it that you remain within a strong, positive Torah environment. When you become an adult, I will see to it that you marry a Torah scholar who will devote his life to the pursuit of Torah knowledge. Together, you will merit to build a bayis ne'eman b'Yisrael, a home true to the eternal values of Klal Yisrael."

Yet, the neshamah refused to descend to this world, for fear that it might become spiritually tarnished. Hashem then promised that she would be here no longer than thirty short years. This short lifespan would not allow for much opportunity for a spiritual breakdown. This was still not enough, however, to calm the neshamah. "Just in case something goes wrong, I request that the last four years of my life be filled with illness and excruciating pain, so that whatever indiscretions I may have performed will be cleansed for me," demanded the neshamah.

Hashem agreed, and this very special neshamah was sent down to this world. "This neshamah was the soul of your wife/daughter," said the rosh yeshivah. "She was so special and so unique that she acquiesced to descend to this world only on the condition that her tenure here be short and that she go through a process of purification prior to her return. You have been blessed and entrusted with a very special neshamah whose time to return has come."

We now have a different perspective on the "behind the scenes" activity concerning one who leaves this world as a young age. Another perspective is shared by Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, who was asked to speak to a group of yeshivah students who had suffered the loss of one of their close friends. The student was an incredible young man who had been raised in a non-observant home and had developed into a distinguished Torah scholar. The students of the yeshivah were devastated by the tragic loss, and they could not cope. Rav Sholom, the venerable Maggid of Yerushalayim, was well-known for his ability to find the right words to say. It was felt that he could reach the students about their loss to console them.

Rav Sholom related the following story. It was Yerushalayim in the late 1920's, and poverty was rampant. It got to the point that the rabbanim decided to send one of their own to America to raise funds for the many Jews and organizations that were falling prey to abject poverty. Rabbi Volk was charismatic and a powerful, inspirational speaker. He was asked to represent the Jews of the Holy Land. After covering the major communities on the east coast, he traveled to the midwest. Chicago was his first stop. It was a wealthy community that responded to his oratory. His words melted their hearts, and many individuals opened their wallets to help the needy of the Holy Land. Among the major contributors was Rav Yerachmiel Wexler, who, besides writing a sizable check, was so moved by Rav Volk's sermon that he decided to sell his business in the states and relocate to Eretz Yisrael. There he planned to purchase a number of fields and orchards to provide food for the needy.

It was the winter of 1929 when Rav Yerachmiel left for Eretz Yisrael together with his twenty year old son. Upon visiting Yeshivas Chevron, he was impressed by the student body, especially with a number of American boys who were studying there. The students related to him how wonderful it was to study Torah in the Holy Land. Why not allow his son to remain in the yeshivah for a while. It would certainly change his life. It was decided: Yechezkel Wexler would remain in Chevron. He was determined to grow spiritually in Torah and mitzvos. All went well for the duration of the winter, until that summer when, on Av 18, the yeshivah was attacked by maniacal Arab hordes, and a number of yeshivah students were slaughtered Al Kiddush Hashem. Yechezkel Wexler was one of them.

It was a terrible tragedy, one that reverberated throughout the world. Rav Volk felt a taint of responsibility. After all, his inspirational sermon had catalyzed the process of the family's aliyah to Eretz Yisrael. He just could not face Rav Yerachmiel Wexler. Indeed, he did everything possible to avoid contact with him. Although Rav Volk did not go to Chicago, Chicago came to him. One day, as he was walking to an appointment in New York, he was confronted by Rav Yerachmiel Wexler. "Why do we not see you anymore in Chicago?" Rav Yerachmiel queried. Rav Volk was not very adept at covering up the truth. "I have not come, because I was afraid that you blame me for the tragedy that befell your son," responded Rav Volk.

"Why should you be afraid of me? What did you do? On the contrary, it is I who owe you a debt of gratitude. Indeed, you have no idea of the wonderful kindness that you did for my family and me," Rav Yerachmiel countered.

"Let me explain," he continued. I had a son, Yechezkel, whom I loved very much. Forty days prior to his birth, it had been decreed that he would only live to be twenty years old. That decree was unalterable. Now, had he not gone to Eretz Yisrael at your suggestion, he might have lived and died just as any other American boy - with little Torah, less mitzvos and hardly any yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven. Luckily, you inspired us to go to the Holy Land where, as a yeshivah bachur, he died Al Kiddush Hashem. Thanks to you, my son died as a yeshivah bachur!"

Rav Sholom explained that the length of a person's stay on this world has been decided by Hashem even before the individual arrives here. How he lives, and on what spiritual plane he will be at the time of his passing, are determined by his actions. He makes that decision. Baruch Hashem, the young yeshivah student that had passed away in the prime of his life was ensconced in a Torah environment, steeped in yiraas Shomayim and totally committed to Hashem. His neshamah left this world while he was climbing the ladder of spiritual success. He was one of the lucky ones.

You shall love Hashem your G-d, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might. (6:5)

If we explore the text of Krias Shema, we note that in the first passage, we are enjoined to love Hashem "with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might." In the second passage, however, it states, "If you listen to My commandments to love Hashem, your G-d, and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul, then I shall provide" (11:13-14). The third phrase, u'bechal me'odecha, and with all your might, is deleted in this passage. Why is there a change between the first and second passages?

In order to understand this distinction, we must first bear in mind that Chazal render a different translation to b'chol me'odecha. They interpret it to mean, "with all your money." We are enjoined to love Hashem, even if it involves a financial loss. One more distinction between the passages to be considered is that in modern English we do not distinguish between the singular "you," and the plural "you." In the Shema, the first paragraph is written in the singular, while the second paragraph is written in the plural.

The Torah commands us to love Hashem with all our heart and all our soul (our very lives). This concept applies both on individual and communal levels, thus appearing in both of the passages of the Shema. With regard to one's obligation to love Hashem with all of his belongings, even if it means incurring a financial loss, the Torah makes demands only on the individuals. It is not something that can be invoked upon the entire community as a whole. Giving up one's possessions out of love for the Almighty is an individual requirement. It cannot be imposed collectively.

You shall love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart… and you shall teach (the words of Torah) to your children. (6:5,7)

People declare their unswerving commitment to Hashem constantly. Do they mean it or is it just an overstatement? In a letter to Horav Yissachar Dov Teichtal, zl, Horav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zl, writes the following observation. The Torah commands us to love Hashem with all our heart and all our soul. How does one actualize this love? How does he express it? The Torah responds to this question by juxtaposing the mitzvah to teach Torah to one's children, upon the mitzvah to love Hashem. By raising our children to study Torah, we demonstrate our love for Hashem.

We often make declarations affirming our commitment to and love, for, the Almighty. When we look at it realistically, however, do we really mean what we are saying? Do we sincerely love Hashem? If we did, we would want our children to spend their lives immersed in Torah study. Our greatest hope would be to see our children shine as Torah scholars. Is this true? Are we like that? Yet, we have no qualms about declaring our love for the Almighty. Perhaps, it would be wise to think before we speak or to act before we declare.

Va'ani Tefillah

Eizehu mekoman shel zevachim

In order to develop a better understanding of the Korbanos and their individual significances, it is important to understand the layout of the Bais Hamikdash, the placement of the Klei Hamikdash, various holy vessels, in association with the specific sides/corners of the Mikdash. The Temple Sanctuary consisted of three chambers. The first was the Kodoshei Kodoshim, Holy of Holies, situated in the western side. It was also referred to as Dvir, the Abode of the Word, Dvir being a derivative of daber, to speak. This name was based on the fact that the Aron Hakodesh - containing within it the Luchos and the original Sefer Torah written personally by Moshe Rabbeinu - reposed there. Second, to the east of the Kodoshei Kodoshim was the Heichal, Abode of G-d's might. It was separated from the rest of the Mikdash by the Dividing Curtain, called Paroches. At the northern side of the Heichal was placed the Shulchan, Table; opposite it, on the southern side of the Heichal was the Menorah, Candelabrum, and in between these two vessels, slightly forward in the direction of the entrance, was the Mizbayach HaZahav, Golden Altar, which was used for burning the Ketores, Incense. Third, in front of the Heichal, to the east, was the Azarah, Ante-court, something like the Chatzer, Courtyard, of the Mishkan, the Bais Hamikdash's predecessor in the wilderness. In the Azarah was placed the Mizbayach HaOlah, the Altar upon which the sacrifices were offered. The entrance to the Sanctuary was in the eastern portion of the Azarah, opposite the Kodoshei Hakodoshim.

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Mrs. Chana Silberberg

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