Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


He met the place and stayed there. How awe-inspiring is this place! (28:11)

Rashi explains the word va'yifga, "he met," as a reference to Yaakov Avinu praying there. This unusual use of the word va'yifga, to denote praying, teaches us, shekaftza lo ha'aretz, "the earth jumped towards him," the point towards which he was journeying came to meet him. When Yaakov realized that this was a remarkable place, he exclaimed, "How awe-inspiring is this place!" When we view these incidents in context, we note that Yaakov attributed the revelation which he had experienced to the place, while, in truth, it was Hashem Who "brought the earth closer to him." Therefore, although the place was awe-inspiring, it was "brought there" because of Yaakov.

The Sefas Emes elaborates that, on one hand, Yaakov attributed his dream to the inherent sanctity of the place, thereby bestowing honor on the location. On the other hand, however, since Chazal inform us that the place actually moved towards him, thus demonstrating its deference and subordination to him, the honor should really be accorded to him, not the place. In order to resolve the apparent question concerning who paid homage to whom, he explains that Hashem protects His devotees from falling prey to the trap of arrogance. Hashem, therefore, permitted Yaakov to feel that the dream was a result of the place, so that he might not attribute it to his own spiritual stature and become haughty. In this way, Yaakov demonstrated his humility, and Hashem helped him to retain this unique quality intact.

This is a powerful statement. Hashem caused the kefitzas haderech, the shortening of the earth, only so that Yaakov's middah, character trait, of anavah, humility, not be challenged. Chazal tell us that Yaakov's exclamation, mah nora, "how awe-inspiring (is this place)," is what distinguished the mountain as the future makom ha'Mikdash, site of the Bais Hamikdash. Hashem said, "The Heavens are My throne, the earth, My footstool. How can you build Me a house? Where can I rest?… with a poor person and one of a lowly spirit?" (Yeshayah 66:1,2). Yaakov's self-abnegation was the quality required to enable the Bais Hamikdash to be built at that site. Prerequisites for the very existence of the Bais Hamikdash are humility and negation of one's self. It is only when we sacrifice our pride and selfish desires that we allow the Shechinah, Divine Presence, to enter. Hashem dwells within us when we provide Him with a place created by our humility. Hashem gave Yaakov the opportunity to demonstrate his humility. Yaakov grasped the opportunity, because humility was an integral aspect of his psyche.

Horav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, zl, cites the Gaon, zl, m'Vilna, who underscores the extreme spiritual damage caused by receiving even a small amount of honor. The Gaon explains that honor is a spiritual pleasure which is experienced by the soul, thus diminishing one's eternal reward much more so than physical indulgence, which by its very nature is limited. The body can sustain only so much because of its limitations. Not so the soul, which is eternal. It has no constraints. It is for this reason that ennobling oneself in the eyes of others produces such disastrous consequences.

Rav Dessler posits that Rachel Imeinu's inability to conceive was a dire consequence of having been the recipient of an extra vestige of honor. The pasuk (Bereishis 29:31) says: "Hashem saw that Leah was hated, so He opened up her womb, while Rachel remained infertile." Previously, (29:30) the Torah writes that, "and he (Yaakov) also loved Rachel." This implies that Yaakov certainly loved Leah. It is just that he had a greater affinity towards Rachel. He loved them both, but Rachel received slightly more honor - an honor which she deserved, but, it was still more than Leah had received.

We must remember that Rachel neither asked for nor sought this honor. She did everything possible to see to it that her sister, Leah, would not be humiliated on her wedding night. She remained concealed in the room in order to assist Leah. She sacrificed her role in life as the propagator of the Jewish nation, so that her sister would not be humiliated. Chazal tell us that it was in the merit of this act of selflessness that Klal Yisrael was later spared. Clearly, whatever honor was later bestowed upon her was neither sought nor desired. Yet, the mere fact that she sustained this added honor disqualified her from bringing into the world Levi, who was the ancestor of Shevet Levi and Moshe Rabbeinu, as well as Yehudah from whom Moshiach would descend. All this was because of a little unrequested, but well-deserved, glory! Instead, it was all transferred to her sister, Leah. What a lesson for all of us as to what a moment of glory can mean, and how much we have to lose. The flip side is, of course, the tremendous merit that Leah had of becoming the Matriarch of Shevet Levi, the Kehunah, Moshe Rabbeinu and Moshiach Tzidkeinu. All this occurred because she was the "unloved" one, the one who had received a little less honor.

Incredible! For every moment of glory in which we bask, we pay a price. Likewise, every time we think that we have lost out on something, or we feel that we did not receive the appropriate honor due to us, we should think twice. This quite possibly may be a hidden blessing.

Avoiding honor has been the hallmark of our gedolei Yisrael, Torah giants, of each generation. They understood that honor is fleeting, but its consequences are eternal. By fleeing from honor, they ensured that their eternal reward would remain intact and preserved in its entirety.

And he (Yaakov) dreamed, and behold! A ladder was set earthward and its top reached to the Heavens. (28:12)

Rashi says that the legs of the ladder which Yaakov Avinu envisioned were situated in Be'er Sheva, with its tip reaching Bais El and its middle over Yerushalayim. The Ramban disputes this, contending that it is unreasonable to place Yerushalayim in middle of the ladder. Yerushalayim and the Bais Hamikdash are either a point of embarkation or the point of achievement of a goal. Thus, it either belongs at the bottom of the ladder or at the top. He, therefore, feels that the ladder was either standing in Yerushalayim with its top in Beis El or it was stationary in Be'er Sheva with its top in Yerushalayim. It is the place where holiness and blessing enter the world, the culmination of spiritual achievement. The significance of Yerushalayim is lost if it is placed under the middle of the ladder.

Horav Yisrael Belsky, Shlita, explains Rashi in the following manner. Taking upon oneself to ascend to the lofty perch of holiness and spirituality is an auspicious undertaking. Yet, as momentous as it is, it is not uncommon. People do it all the time. We resolve to start over, to begin anew with the finest, most lofty intentions, only to get sidetracked, overcome by challenge or overwhelmed with disappointment. It is not unusual to hear of the individual who possessed tremendous potential, yet succumbed to the pitfalls of life. The path of life is filled with shattered dreams and unfinished, unrealized potential. Surely, Yerushalayim cannot signify the bottom of the ladder, the commencement of what - a fall, failure, broken dreams?

Yet, on the other hand, there are those few who do make it to the top. They triumph over adversity, succeed against all odds, and rise above challenge. These are the gifted few, the unique elite, who, with righteousness and fortitude, scale the mountain of spirituality and holiness to reach its summit. To say that Yerushalayim is only for them, however, would be a difficult statement to make. Hashem did not create the world only for the few elite, for the totally righteous, for the spiritually invincible. Yerushalayim is for everyone. It, therefore, cannot be at the top of the ladder.

Rashi is of the opinion that Yerushalayim's position corresponds to the middle of the ladder. Holiness is not only an achievement, it is a goal. It is the reflection of a person's striving to excel, to attain a greater and more elevated level of kedushah, holiness. Any Jew who has broken the shackles that restrain him from growing is already on the road to kedushah. If he has moved beyond the pitfalls, the obstacles and disappointments, then he is already, in a sense, kadosh. It is not necessary to achieve the goal, to reach the summit - only to continue striving, to persevere and keep on going. Yerushalayim signifies this. It is in the middle of the ladder, because that position indicates forward movement.

A Jew's avodah, service to the Almighty, is to never lose sight of his goal, never to give up in defeat, to persevere over the challenges that confront him. Indeed, these obstacles give him the greatest opportunity for spiritual ascension, by bringing to the fore his deeper strengths, abilities and potentials - opportunities that, under normal circumstances, would elude us.

It is expressly at these difficult moments, when the "going gets rough," when the barriers which confront us seem insurmountable - and we are about to despair of ever achieving success in our spiritual climb - that we have the fortuity to make significant strides. When a person feels that he is up against a wall with nowhere to go, he now stands at the verge of achieving unprecedented success. Hashem avails us of these unique moments in life. It is up to us to withstand the test and ascend like never before. When we consider the alternative, there is really no other option. It is not only about winning; it is about not giving up. One's attitude makes the difference between success and failure. When we lose the will and determination to persevere in our quest, we have lost, perhaps, the single most important ingredient for success. There is no failure, except in no longer trying. There is no defeat greater than the defeat from within: the defeat of giving up.

Then Yaakov kissed Rachel; and he raised his voice and wept. (29:11)

Rashi explains that Yaakov Avinu wept for either of two reasons. First, he saw through Divine Inspiration that Rachel would not be buried with him in the MeOras Ha'Machpeilah. Second, he wept because he came empty-handed. He thought, "Eliezer, my grandfather's servant, came for my mother with great wealth. I am coming to Rachel penniless, with nothing to offer." It is not that Yitzchak Avinu sent Yaakov on his way with nothing. Yaakov had been amply supplied before he left. On the way, he was pursued by Elifaz, Eisav's son, who was sent by his father to kill Yaakov. When he caught up with Yaakov, he realized that, as a result of his being raised by Yitzchak, he could not bring himself to take a human life. Nonetheless, he was disturbed about not carrying out his father's command. When he posed this question to Yaakov, he was told that if he were to take away Yaakov's money, thereby leaving him destitute, he would be in compliance with his father's command. Our sages teach us that ani chushuv k'meis, "A poor man is considered like a dead man." Elifaz complied, and Yaakov was left penniless.

Elifaz sat next to Yitzchak. He grew up in his proximity. The Steipler Rav, zl, derives an important lesson from this incident. The only reason that Elifaz did not kill Yaakov was the inspiration with which he was imbued by Yitzchak. According to the Midrash, he was "raised in his bosom." Elifaz did not just "pop" into seder when he felt like it, leaving when he found something more important to do. - No! He remained there - glued to Yitzchak. It was in this merit that he did not kill Yaakov.

Imagine, had Elifaz not had such an upbringing; there is no question that he would have fulfilled his father's command to kill Yaakov. After all, one must respect his father! Horav Yaakov Galinsky, Shlita, expands on this idea. Let us consider the average student of Torah. The yetzer hora, evil-inclination, whispers in his ear, "Why bother? Is there really any hope for you to make it as a talmid chacham, Torah scholar? You are not destined to be one of the few, one of the elite. Give it up. How does one respond to this compelling assault? One cannot ignore the element of realism involved in this disparagement.

The response must be that, while becoming a talmid chacham is certainly everyone's lofty goal, the ideal, the end result of years of total perseverance, it is true that only a select few make it to the top. The rest will become bnei Torah, observant, knowledgeable, committed Jews, whose lifeblood will be Torah and mitzvos, whose day be filled with Torah, avodah, service to the Almighty, and gemillas chasadim, carrying out acts of loving-kindness.

Rav Galinsky relates an incident that occurred concerning him and Horav Chaim Kreisworth, zl. The venerable rav of Antwerp commented about a recent din Torah, litigation, that was presented to him. It concerned a dispute regarding the broker's percentage on the sale of a diamond. The owner claimed that he had promised five percent to the broker, while the broker contended they had agreed on six percent. One might think that this entire dispute was foolish. What is one percent? When one takes into consideration that the principle was valued at fifteen million dollars, the one percent was quite a huge sum of money.

A similar idea applies to Torah and Jewish living. When one computes the value of the principle of Torah and mitzvos, then every percentage point is of infinite significance. Whatever one achieves in Torah is an incredible accomplishment. Every step that he ascends on the ladder of Torah achievement is beyond our ability to gauge. Every little bit matters - both in a positive light and from a negative perspective.

In the Talmud Sanhedrin 46, Chazal say that those executed by Bais Din were buried in different cemeteries. There was a cemetery designated for those who were killed by the sword and those who were strangled. There was another cemetery for those who were stoned or who died by hot lead. Just as the condemned sinners were not immediately buried in the general community cemetery, so were the different levels of sinners not buried together. Just as a wicked man is not buried next to a righteous person, so, too, is a high-level sinner not buried next to one whose sin is considered to be less grievous. Since those who are condemned to die by stoning or fire are guilty of a greater, more deleterious sin, they are not buried next to others who, although were executed, had not sinned to as great an extent.

Let us analyze an example of this halachah. A married woman commits an act of infidelity; her punishment is chenek, strangling. If this same woman had not yet entered into full matrimony, if she is only an arussa, betrothed, without chuppah, and still in her parents' home, she is to receive the ultimate punishment of sekillah, stoning. She is, thus, buried in the cemetery reserved for the most miscreant sinners. Why? One would think that a woman who is not married, who has not destroyed the sanctity of a Jewish home, would receive some form of dispensation and leniency - surely not a greater punishment.

Horav Elya Lopian, zl, explains that precisely because the woman is married and has a family her punishment is mitigated. When she leaves the stability of her home and her husband, to whom she was to have remained committed, in order to act immorally, her heart gives a shudder. She feels "bad" about what she is doing. It is this "bad" feeling that diminishes her sentence. The other woman, who has yet no family ties, acts with impudence and with no conscience. She enjoyed her sin more. Therefore, her punishment is greater. It is all dependent on the heart's thumping. When one sins, and he does not feel good about it, if his heart gives a beat of remorse, it palliates his sin. It all depends upon the percentage. One percent of an enormous sin is a large amount in respect to the sin and will concomitantly deduct from his punishment. Everything that we do - however miniscule - both positive and negative - must be measured in context of the big picture. It suddenly takes on new weight and greater proportion.

Rachel saw that she had not borne children to Yaakov, so Rachel became envious of her sister; she said to Yaakov, "Give me children…" Yaakov's anger flared up at Rachel, and he said, "Am I instead of G-d who has withheld from you fruit of the womb?" (30:1,2)

Rachel complained to Yaakov Avinu that he should do something about her lack of children. His response was terse and seemingly out of nature, "Hashem has held children back from you, but not from me!" Yaakov was apparently saying that he had children from Leah. It was now up to her to daven to Hashem, for herself. The Midrash wonders how Yaakov could have responded in what seems a heartless manner to his wife, who was clearly brokenhearted. Is this the way one speaks to an aggrieved woman? Indeed, it was for this reason that Yaakov's children from Leah would one day bow down humbly before Yosef, Rachel's son. While Yaakov certainly did not want to hurt Rachel, he was criticized for the manner in which he spoke to her. We wonder if Yaakov had another reason for speaking to Rachel this way.

Horav Chaim Kamil, zl, feels that Yaakov was intimating a profound idea to Rachel. If the situation had become so grave that Rachel still was not blessed with a child, it must be because Hashem wanted to hear her prayers. This is why Yaakov told her - "From you, Hashem has withheld children - not from me." He wants to hear your tefillos, prayers - not mine. It is not that Yaakov refused to daven, pray, for Rachel. It is just that her lack of children was due to her lack of prayer. His prayer would not have catalyzed the blessing that she sought.

A person must delve into every nisayon, challenge, in life and ask himself, "What is Hashem asking of me? What does He want from me?" The challenge is there to elevate us. We must rise to the occasion as our Patriarch Avraham did throughout his life. Every challenge made him a greater person. Every challenge elevated him spiritually. Every challenge fulfilled the ratzon Hashem, will of the Almighty.

Va'ani Tefillah

Melech mhullal ba'tishbachos - A king extolled in praises.

Is there anything else with which one is praised? Certainly one who is praised is appreciated for his positive activities - not for anything negative. The Gaon, zl, m'Vilna explains this with a parable. There was a king who possessed every virtue and attribute. Indeed, there was not one blemish to his behavior and character. He had but one physical blemish: his nose was long and crooked. Every year on his birthday, every officer and minister would file by him and laud him with praises. One year, after everyone had passed by, one minister presented himself and said, "Your nose is long and crooked." A pall came over all those assembled, as they stood there in shock and disbelief at the minister's insolence. The king immediately sentenced him to death. As he was being led to the gallows, the king asked him why he had so foolishly insulted him. The condemned man replied, "My praise was more exalted than any of the ministers. They each praised you, leaving room for other praises. After they were all finished speaking, there was still much to be said about you. I declared that you have only one negative point - your nose. Otherwise, you possess every praise imaginable. When the king heard this, he was overwhelmed with joy. He now realized that this minister was really the cleverest of them all. He pardoned and elevated him.

We derive from here that it is possible to laud someone by mentioning his negative aspects. Thus, the less negativity indicates an increase in praise. This is true with regard to human beings who are not perfect. Hashem, however, is perfect. Therefore, when we praise Him, we praise Him with only tishbachos, praises, because there is nothing else with which to praise Him.

In loving memory of
our husband, father and grandfather
on his yahrtzeit
Elchanan ben Peretz z'l
niftar 11 Kislev 5739

Esther Kurant
Mordechai & Jenny Kurant
Aliza & Avrohom Wrona
Naomi & Avrohom Yitzchok Weinberger
Dovid & Chavi Kurant
Yossi Kurant

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