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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


When a man among you brings an offering to Hashem from animals, from the cattle or from the flock shall you bring your offering. (1:2)

If Reuven slaps Shimon across the face for no reason, Shimon's physical pain will not be as great as his emotional pain. Being slapped for no apparent reason is truly an emotional trauma. On the other hand, if Shimon had first struck Reuven with a powerful blow, and then Reuven reciprocated - Shimon would not be that upset. He would understand that he deserves what he has received.

Horav Baruch, zl, m'Kosov applies this analogy towards explaining the concept of mesiras nefesh Al Kiddush Hashem, dedication to the point of self-sacrifice for the purpose of sanctifying Hashem's Name. If a person realizes that he belongs to the Almighty, Who can do with him what He pleases, he will understand that he is obliged to give of his life to sanctify His Name. This is the underlying meaning of the pasuk: "When a man among you brings an offering" - Hashem says to His chosen People, "It should not be difficult for you to sacrifice yourselves for Me, or from the animals - from the cattle or from the flock - Learn from the animals, from the cattle and sheep which you freely slaughter to be used as food. They undergo the pain of Shechitah, ritual slaughter. You understand that they must go through this process in order to become food, because this is their raison d'etre, the purpose of their creation. Therefore, surely, you must understand your own obligation to give up everything in your lives for Me." The Torah concludes with the words, "shall you bring your offering." If you understand your position vis-?-vis Hashem, then you will be able to give yourselves up as a sacrifice to Hashem - with love, devotion and a pure heart.

A Jew who has realized that Hashem is the source of all can cope with his own suffering. Conversely, for the Jew who cannot grasp the positive manifestation of suffering, it becomes a two-edged sword, a source of both physical and spiritual pain, a truly depressing force. Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying Hashem's Name, is a privilege which can elevate the simplest of Jews, even the sinners, to an unparalleled spiritual zenith. One who is willing to die for Hashem demonstrates his true love of the Almighty. Horav Yisrael, zl, m'Rizin interprets the pasuk dealing with sacrifices as presenting the fundamental significance of Kiddush Hashem. "When a man among you brings an offering", Only he who brings himself to Hashem as an offering can be called a man.

Despite the apparent readiness of a Jew to die Al Kiddush Hashem with mesiras nefesh when put to the test, we must note that the purpose of man's creation is: that he live; that he observe the Torah and its mitzvos, and that he "live by them" and "not die by them." Indeed, the Kotzker Rebbe, zl, emphasizes that Kiddush Hashem is kiddush hachaim, sanctifying life. He interpreted the pasuk, V'anshei kodesh tiheyu li, "You shall be men holy to Me" (Shemos 22:30) to mean that Hashem says to us, "Let your holiness be human, and may your human acts be holy." This is the holiness demanded of man. Hashem has no need for angels in Heaven. The other world is not to be seen as an escape from the responsibilities of life on this world. To paraphrase Horav Naftali, zl, m'Ropshitz, "No Jew can possibly inherit the World to Come except by means of this world." While the Jew's commitment to Kiddush Hashem is unequivocal, what may be of greater significance is the Jew's willingness to sacrifice himself for the Torah and Jewish values, as well as his commitment to transmitting the heritage of Moshe Rabbeinu to the next generation. I take the liberty of citing a story by Rabbi Zecharyah Fendel concerning a handwritten page of Ashrei which he found in the archives of the Kibbutz Lochamei ha'Ghetto. The caption beneath the page indicated that this had been written by a concentration camp inmate, as a means to teach his son how to pray.

"A Jew sits engulfed by dark despair, the overriding gloom of the concentration camp. He is one of the fortunate ones, for, indeed, he is privileged to have his son by his side. He cannot satiate his son's craving for food, but, yes, he can give him something else - something perhaps more satisfying - surely more enduring. As indispensable as bread itself, he can give his son something that a Jewish father is instructed to transmit to his son.

"The concentration camp does not supply the materials needed for this endeavor. He looks around and finds a small, dirty scrap of paper. Now, he must fashion a makeshift pencil. With a trembling hand, he etches out the magic formula upon the paper. He looks back and gazes upon his handiwork, "Baruch Hashem, I have completed one more link in the chain. He takes his little son gently by the hand and points to the scribbled letters before him, and he begins to recite the letters. Read after me, my child, the father coaxes his son. Together they read, Aleph, Bais, Gimel, Daled…"

What a powerful example of mesiras nefesh. They do not know how long they will live, but as long as they breathe as Jews, a father has the mitzvah of transmitting the heritage to the next generation. This is more than a mitzvah - it is our source of survival!

Horav Ephraim Oshry gave the following eyewitness account of mesiras nefesh for Torah in the Kovno ghetto. It was February 8, 1942, and the Nazis issued an order for the confiscation and destruction of all seforim, Torah literature, of any kind. After the issuance of the order, many Jews - young and old - took extreme measures to protect whatever seforim they could. Young and old, they dug pits in which they hid Sifrei Torah, Tractates of the Talmud, various volumes of responsa, Chumashim and Siddurim. It was the children of the ghetto, however, that exhibited the greatest degree of self-sacrifice. Rav Oshry remembers, "Upon concluding my classroom lesson on the day of the order, I turned to my students and queried, 'Where will we obtain Chumashim and Gemorras for our studies?' They replied with an indomitable spirit shining from their faces, 'Rebbe, do not worry, we will each hide a Chumash and Gemorra, so that we might continue our studies without interruption.' When I heard their response, my eyes welled up with tears. And I reminded my students, 'Kinderlach, what you are about to do is fraught with danger.' 'Rebbe,' they countered, "it does not matter. If they shoot us with our Gemorras, we will at least have died Al Kiddush Hashem!"

The next time we hold a Chumash or Gemorra in our hands, we should try to remember this narrative. It might make a difference in the way we learn. If it does not, it might be a good idea to consider why.

When a nasi / ruler sins. (4:22)

In the Talmud Horiyos 10:b, Chazal make an intriguing statement. They say that the word asher alludes to ashrei, fortunate. This implies that the generation whose leader seeks atonement, even for his inadvertent sins, is truly a fortunate one, for he will repent his intentional sins. We must understand the good fortune in having a ruler that sins - because he becomes a model of someone who repents his sins. Horav Elimelech, zl, m'Lishensk, gives the following explanation: Klal Yisrael is comprised of tzaddikim, righteous, pious Jews, and also peshutei ha'am, common, simple Jews. Due to the vast spiritual dichotomy between the two, it is almost impossible for the tzaddik to come close to the common Jew? How is he to know and be sensitive to the common Jew's brokenhearted feelings when he sins? How is he to help him, if he has never experienced the feeling of dejection that comes with a spiritual failing; the feelings of spiritual inadequacy that one feels when he has fallen short of his expected goal?

Hashem causes the tzaddik to fall prey inadvertently to a minor infraction. He sustains a spiritual setback. During this moment of shortcoming, the tzaddik can sensitize himself to the pain and anguish that accompanies the common Jew during his period of frailty. The sefer Chaim Sheyeish Bahem, cites the Tanna Divrei Eliyahu which offers a powerful analogy. A simple maidservant lost her inexpensive, earthenware pitcher in a well. Due to her inability to retrieve it, she gave up hope of ever seeing it again. Afterwards, the princess went to that well and lost her gold pitcher there. When the maidservant heard this, she was overjoyed. She knew that the princess would instruct her servants to look into the well in order to retrieve her pitcher. Once they were looking for the gold pitcher, they would also recover the maidservant's pitcher. The Steipler Rav, zl, once attended the bar mitzvah of a boy who was totally unknown to him. The great sage was ill at the time and had not left his house for quite some time. It was, therefore, very surprising to everyone that he attended this simchah - especially since he had no connection to the family. What was even more astonishing was that when the Steipler entered the hall, he went straight over to the bar mitzvah boy and asked to speak to him privately. One can imagine that this caused quite a stir.

After the Steipler left, the boy was asked what had occurred in the room. The boy was so overcome with emotion that all he could say was, "He came to ask me for mechilah, forgiveness." Later it was discovered that six years earlier, when the boy had been seven years old, he was attending the same shul that the Steipler frequented. One day, during davening, the Steipler noticed the boy learning when he should have been davening. The Steipler proceeded to go over and admonish the young boy for not paying proper attention to his prayers. After all, when one has an "appointment" to speak with the Almighty, he should not drift away and study. There is a time and place for everything. Afterwards, the Steipler discovered that the boy's Siddur was set up in the form of a Gemorra. Actually, the boy was davening - not learning. The sage was despondent that he had wrongly hurt the child's feelings. Since the boy was halachically a katan, a minor, asking forgiveness would be to no avail. He waited six years, until the boy turned bar mitzvah, to ask for mechilah! "Fortunate is the generation whose tzaddikim repent for their 'inadvertent' sins!"

If a person commits treachery and sins. (5:15)

How does one relate to his non-observant brethren? While there are certainly various approaches and responses to this question, Horav Meir Shapiro, zl, the famous Lubliner Rav and founder of the Daf HaYomi, study of one blatt, page, of Talmud daily, gave the following response. A businessman once lent a large sum of money to his friend, who later went bankrupt. There was no way he could pay back the loan. In such a situation, the lender is willing to take anything that he can, regardless of its value or significance. Whatever he is able to put his hands on is saved. On the other hand, in a circumstance when one lends money and there is a guarantor who guarantees payment on behalf of the borrower, the lender is not concerned; he simply goes to the guarantor and collects his debt, transferring to the guarantor the headache of collecting his debt.

A Jew who does not observe the mitzvos has an enormous debt to pay back to Hashem. He is spiritually bankrupt and has no ability to repay the loan. At such a time, it is incumbent upon the Torah camp, those who have had the perseverance, tenacity and dedication to cling to the faith of their ancestors, to reach out to their alienated brethren and bring them back - one mitzvah at a time. Every little part of the loan that we can collect is important. Simultaneously, it is important that we act as guarantors, because Kol Yisrael areivim zeh lo'zeh. "All Jews are considered responsible /guarantors one for another." We have a filial responsibility to increase our own mitzvah observance as a way of seeking merit and providing inspiration for those that have left the Torah fold.

Rav Meir Shapiro would instruct his students that upon coming in contact with a non-observant Jew, they not come down "hard" on him, but rather coax him along gently as he returns to Hashem. We must realize that mitzvah goreres mitzvah, the performance of one mitzvah engenders the performance of another mitzvah. Be patient - they will come along in due time. Horav Simcha Wasserman, zl, was one of the vanguards of kiruv, the Jewish outreach movement. He succeeded because of his personality. In his quiet, self-effacing, warm and sensitive manner, he exposed thousands to the Torah way. He taught many lessons in regard to outreach, some of which I will take the liberty to cite. Rav Simcha felt first and foremost that learning Torah with someone was the most powerful kiruv tool. Arguing about Yiddishkeit is the first step towards alienating a prospective "client" and only leads to disaster. Each one feels he is right and that only he has the correct approach. Arguments never increase understanding, since neither side is willing to budge. Rav Simcha would say, "Learn with them - and their eyes will open up as they see what you see. Then you will no longer have to explain it to them." The Torah is Hashem's antidote for the evil of the yetzer hora, evil inclination. Until one studies the Torah, he is still captivated by the poison. He must have the antidote. One who studies Torah and still has not straightened out his character is apparently not studying Torah in the correct manner with the proper attitude.

We begin with a little bit of Chumash, a taste of Ethics. As we begin to understand the Torah, it slowly permeates our psyche, penetrating it, refining it, purifying it. One who has fasted for a long time cannot suddenly be given a lot of food. It must be introduced to him in small amounts. The same idea applies to one who has been spiritually starved. He must be spoon-fed small pieces that are "chewable." Perhaps we can encourage the student to make a berachah or recite a blessing prior to studying Torah, so that he realizes that he is really learning Torah, not just hearing some nice stories, instruction in ethical behavior.

This was Rav Simcha's way. He taught Shabbos, and people began observing Shabbos - on their own. When asked why even though he did not tell his students to observe, they did so anyway on their own, he explained that it was the Torah that accomplished this feat, the Torah that made them observe Shabbos. He just was astute enough to teach the right areas of Torah that he felt would inspire them to observance.

A young man once came to Rav Simcha and said, "Rabbi, I am soon about to become a father. I would like some advice." Rav Simcha told him, "The first thing is to see to it that your child has a father."

"Do you mean that I should close my store on Shabbos?" the man queried.

Rav Simcha said simply, "Start learning Torah." Today, that home is spiritually beautiful, with the father himself giving a shiur every Shabbos in shul, and his sons outstanding students in yeshivah. This all occurred because he did not force the man to keep Shabbos. He encouraged him to learn, and the Torah did the rest.

Horav Shimon Shkop, zl, once commented that Avraham Avinu had no father or rebbe to teach him Torah. He achieved everything on his own. In the period prior to the advent of Moshiach, there will be a period when people will gravitate to Torah on their own. They will have either a father to teach them nor a rebbe to motivate them. No one will bring them to the yeshivah - no one but themselves. We are living during that period. Let us do something about it - and reach out to those who turn to us. Perhaps Moshiach will come sooner.


He (Hashem) called to Moshe. (1:1)

Chazal derive from here that (even) a dead carcass is better than a talmid chcham, Torah scholar who does not have daas, humility. Moshe Rabbeinu, the greatest Navi, prophet, was the vehicle for the implementation of all the miracles of the exodus from Egypt. Yet, he did not enter the Ohel Moed until he was summoned by Hashem. In his commentary to the Talmud Sanhedrin 92A, Beer Sheva defines a person who has no daas as an individual who refuses to apply himself to understand and to know. It is not the gifts with which we are born, but rather how we make use of our G-d-given gifts, that determines our humanness.


The sons of Aharon HaKohen shall place fire on the Altar. (1:7)

Streams of water have the ability to flow anywhere. When the weather becomes cold and the streams freeze, understandably, the flow is halted. Horav Meir Shapiro, zl, explains that Klal Yisrael is likened to water. When they are filled with eish - fire/passion, enthusiasm, a burning desire to achieve spiritual excellence, they can go anywhere, accomplish anything. When they lose the warmth, and the "cold" sets in, then their ability to achieve is greatly hindered.


When a nasi/ruler sins. (4:22)

Horav Nota zl, m'Chelm says that the roshei teivos, first letters, of these three words - aleph, nun, yud, - spell out the word "ani," I. The sin of the ruler originates with his believing in the "ani," himself, the "I" factor. Arrogance is the source of his transgression.

The Baal Shem Tov notes that the aleph of the word cheit, sin, is silent. The sinner sins because he forgets the alufo, ruler, of the world - Hashem. The fact that it is there, albeit silent, attests to his subconscious awareness of Hashem for a Jew, although he has sinned, remains a Jew.


Peninim on the Torah is in its 11th year of publication. The first seven years have been published in book form.

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