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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


He became King over Yeshurun when the members of the nation gathered - the tribes of Yisrael in unity. (33:5)

Rashi explains that Hashem is Klal Yisrael's King in the most complete sense only when the people unite to do His will. Just as achdus, unity, prevailed at Har Sinai when all of Klal Yisrael accepted the Torah, so, too, does Hashem reign only over a nation that maintains a sense of harmony in belief and action. The Navi writes in Melachim I 3:3, "And Shlomo loved Hashem, walking in the statutes of David, his father; only he sacrificed and burnt incense in high places." Rashi explains that while Shlomo acted in a manner similar to David HaMelech, he deviated in one area from his father's practice: he delayed the construction of the Bais HaMikdash for four years, during which he continued to offer his sacrifices in the "high places," a reference to the personal Bamos, altars, that each individual placed on top of his roof or in his yard. According to Rashi, Shlomo HaMelech is criticized for delaying the construction of the Bais HaMikdash. This is not consistent with the pasuk that intimates that his only infraction was continuing to make use of the Bamos. Why do we have this apparent contradiction? As long as there was no Bais HaMikdash, offering sacrifices on a Bamah was totally permissible. If so, why does the Torah note the continued use of the Bamah, while it seems to ignore the primary dissatisfaction with Shlomo for having delayed the Bais HaMikdash?

Horav Shmuel Truvitz, zl, cites the Netziv, zl, in his commentary to Shir HaShirim, who writes that we would be wrong to suspect Shlomo of indolence concerning building the Bais HaMikdash. The reason that he took his time in building the Bais HaMikdash, is that as long as there was no Bais HaMikdash the people were free to use their personal Bamos, allowing for increased latitude of expression of one's love for, and gratitude to Hashem. The Bamah was available everywhere. Anyone could sacrifice in any place.

This is, regrettably, where Shlomo erred. While individual service is wonderful and meaningful, it is not the optimum that Hashem desires. Hashem does not want individual service, in which each person does his "own thing." He wants all of Klal Yisrael in perfect harmony and in total unity to worship Him collectively from one Bais HaMikdash through the medium of one service. As Moshe Rabbeinu told Korach, "We have one G-d, one Aron HaKodesh, one Torah, one Mizbayach, and one Kohen Gadol."

Hashem is one, and unity among His subjects is the precise manner in which He demands that we serve Him. Everything in our lives focuses on bringing together the various parts into a single, consolidated unit. While there is strength in numbers, this strength reaches its apex when all of its parts act in perfect harmony together, as one. This does not demean individual expression. On the contrary, every individual's personal contribution is significant, as long as each is focused on the same goal. Horav Yaakov Kamenetzky, zl, notes that Hashem divided Klal Yisrael into individual degalim, banners, each relating the singular traits of its shevet, tribe. This was done, however, only after the Mishkan was erected and placed in the middle of their encampment. They first had to all be focused on one unified goal - then, they were free to express themselves individually.

Of Levi he said, Your tumim and your urim befit Your devout one. (33:8)

First, Moshe Rabbeinu stressed Levi's position as the tribe from which the spiritual leadership, the Kohanim, of the nation emanated. Then, Moshe turned to the tribe as a whole, focusing on its bravery and steadfast loyalty in the desert. He then blessed the Leviim as the teachers of the nation. The commentators note the omission of Shimon from the blessings. This is due to the fact that Shimon was severely criticized by Yaakov Avinu and the tribe's later participation in the worship and consequent moral deviation concerning the Baal Peor idol. The Sifri notes that at one time, Shimon and Levi had equal status in the eyes of their father, Yaakov. After their reaction to Shechem's violation of their sister, Dinah, Yaakov was angry at them. Indeed, on his deathbed, he said, "Accursed is their rage for it is intense and their wrath for its is harsh." (Bereishis 49:9)

What ensued since that day, such that now Levi is extolled and Shimon is ignored? The Sifri compares this to two individuals who borrow from the king. After awhile, one repays the king his debt, while the other one not only does not repay his debt, but he even borrows again. Likewise, at Shechem, both Shimon and Levi acted in a manner that was censured. They lost it, and, therefore, Yaakov castigated them for their rage. Years later, in the wilderness, when Moshe Rabbeinu proclaimed, Mi l'Hashem eilai, "Whoever is for Hashem - to me!" (Shemos 32:28), Levi came forward. Shimon did not. At that time, Levi reimbursed the "king" for his debt. Shimon did not. And again, years later in Moav, under the leadership of Zimri, Shimon's tribe resorted to a complete moral breakdown. It was Pinchas, from the tribe of Levi, who saved the day. Shimon "borrowed" again, while Levi, so to speak, lent to the "king."

We now understand what occurred, and how Levi corrected his problem, while Shimon magnified it. I think, however, there is a deeper meaning to Chazal than the aforementioned. In his Haamek Davar, the Netziv, zl, writes that when Shimon and Levi avenged their sister's honor, they did so for disparate reasons. Levi sharply felt the insult and profanation of Hashem's Name, the terrible slight to His honor. If people would lose respect for the people that respect and serve Hashem, they would ultimately lose respect for Hashem. Levi therefore acted for -- and in the Name of -- G-d. This is later demonstrated both when his tribe stepped forward in response to Moshe's clarion call of Mi l'Hashem eilai and when Pinchas slew Zimri in order to put a stop to the plague that was decimating the nation.

Shimon also avenged his sister, but for a different reason: he had intense feelings of family loyalty. The honor of his family was defamed. He felt compelled to do something about it. Both Shimon and Levi demonstrated extreme loyalty, but the foci of their allegiances were discordant.

Later on, during the incident of Baal Peor, their loyalties were divergently expressed: Levi's led to elevating Hashem's honor; Shimon's led to disaster. In the confrontation between Zimri, the Nasi of the tribe of Shimon, and Pinchas, scion of the tribe of Levi, Pinchas avenged Hahsem's honor, while the tribe of Shimon resorted to moral degradation and open rebellion.

All of this indicated that these two brothers were not the same - in any way. Levi acted with rage and wrath, but his true character was expressed in his total commitment to Hashem. Mi l'Hashem eilai! aptly defines Levi's essence. Shimon, on the other hand, did not just act with rage and wrath;his response was an expression of a basic flaw in his character. Rage and wrath are necessary traits which one, at times, must employ when one contends with a vicious enemy whose goal is to undermine and usurp the Name of Hashem. When it pits one brother against another, however, for personal reasons, it is far from being worthy of a blessing.

So Moshe, servant of Hashem, died there. (34:5)

According to one opinion in Chazal, the last eight pesukim of the Torah were written by Moshe, but, rather than using ink, he wrote the last words with tears. The Torah comes to an end with the passing of Moshe, the quintessential rebbe of the Jewish nation, the man who dedicated every fibre of his being to Klal Yisrael. This conclusion to the greatest volume that has ever been recorded is written with tears - Moshe's tears. It is very difficult to accept that Moshe wept over the words, "So Moshe, servant of Hashem, died there." Our leader led a perfect life. No man ever achieved the pinnacle of spirituality and the unprecedented relationship with the Almighty that personified his life. Moshe's place in Gan Eden was assured. Moreover, he was acutely aware that his stay in this world was coming to an end before the nation which he had so faithfully led would enter Eretz Yisrael. Why did he weep?

If I may use my homiletic license, I would like to suggest that Moshe cried for the words, And no one knows his burial place to this day (ibid, 34:6). What is the significance of these words? I think that the Torah is conveying a powerful message . Throughout the millennia, millions of our people have been persecuted and put to death through the most cruel and inhuman means. For the Jew, however, there is something even worse than death: not having the opportunity to be laid to rest in a kever Yisrael. Throughout our history, millions of Jews have been deprived of a Jewish burial. This is a tragedy of epic proportion. Hashem Yisborach addressed this dilemma when He personally buried Moshe and concealed his burial site. Hashem was teaching us that every Jew who does not reach kever Yisrael is buried personally by the Almighty - and He knows the spot. Just like Moshe, whom He buried, so, too, have millions of our brothers and sisters been buried by Hashem.

Moshe Rabbeinu realized the implications of the words, and no one knows his burial place. He understood deeply what these words would mean to the millions of Jews, who, like himself, would be buried by Hashem. So he cried. These were not tears of sadness. They were tears of pride in knowing that, regardless of what our enemies do to us, they will never triumph. Hashem will never forsake us. And this is how the Torah concludes.

And by all the strong hand and awesome power that Moshe performed before the eyes of Yisrael. (34:12)

The Torah records every significant moment of Moshe Rabbeinu's life that impacted his nation for all time to come. His activities -- whether they be in the area of leadership or social justice, his relationship with the Almighty, or his character traits - are all presented either overtly or in the context of a subtle lesson. If we were to sum up his life's endeavor and search for the crowning lesson, that action for which he is to be remembered for posterity, it would be found in the closing words of the Torah. The words that seemingly serve as our quintessential teacher's epitaph are: And by all the strong hand and awesome power that Moshe performed before the eyes of Yisrael. Moshe is to be remembered for his yad chazakah, strong hand. What does this mean, and what message does it convey to us?

The Midrash at the end of the parsha cites a fascinating dialogue that took place between Moshe and Hashem. Moshe asked Hashem, "The Torah which I received from Your Right Hand, perhaps when I leave this world, it will be called by another name?" (A name attributing it to another individual.) Hashem replied, "Heaven forbid! It will always be called with your name." Hence the pasuk, Remember the Torah of Moshe, my servant. (Malachi 3:22)

Horav Nissan Alpert, zl, suggests that Chazal here underscore the overriding significance of limud haTorah, the unmitigated study of Torah. Veritably, we have 613 mitzvos and specific principles of belief, together with a host of exhortations concerning our interpersonal relationships and how we must act in every aspect of our daily lives. What is the briach hatichon, middle bar, that sustains and supports our lives? What is the most important aspect of Judaism? It is limud haTorah. Moshe was acutely aware that during his tenure as leader the focal point would be Torah study. What about after his death? What would be the agenda of his successors? Would the ensuing leadership underscore the primacy of other mitzvos and transform them into the cardinal principles of Judaism? Would they say that the most significant way to serve Hashem is through action, through endeavor, but not necessarily through Torah study? True, study is important - but not all-important.

Moshe feared that people would relegate those who spend their lives immersed in Torah study to a distant second place. Action! Doers! That is what Klal Yisrael needs - not "bank kvetchers," bench pressers. They would not understand that Torah study is what maintains us. For forty years in the wilderness, they did nothing else but study Torah. Moshe taught them nothing else. They did not need anything else. In fact, the last mitzvah in the Torah, the one that he "squeezed in" shortly before his final farewell, was the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah. That was it: Torah, Torah - and more Torah! Everything else was secondary.

Now, as Moshe stood at the threshold of his grave, he asked Hashem, "Was it all for naught? Will Torah study be forgotten?" Hashem assured him that our people will never forget the significance of Torah study. It will always have primary status within the framework of Judaism.

This is the meaning of U'lchal hayad hachazakah, "and by all the strong hand" Moshe accepted the Luchos representing the Torah in his two hands, seeing to it that the study of this Torah would be imbued into the hearts and minds of Klal Yisrael, so that it would their yad ha'chazakah.

Our gedolei Yisrael, Torah leaders, have exemplified this quality to the fullest. While many were gifted with exceptional minds, the common denominator between them all has been their unparalleled and uncompromising love of Torah. Their diligence in studying Torah under the most brutal conditions has been the foundation of their greatness. Horav Yisrael Gustman, zl, one of the most brilliant Roshei Yeshivah of the past generation, was well known for his consummate love for Torah. During the Nazi destruction of Europe, Rav Gustman displayed his great love for the Torah that he so diligently studied. Rabbi Yechiel Spero in Touched By A Story 2, relates that when the Nazis invaded his village, Rav Gustman was forced to flee for his life. He ran deep into the forest on the outskirts of town. There, he was able to create a makeshift hideaway for himself and his family in a small alcove of a pigsty. He remained in this "hole" for six months. One can only imagine what this experience can do to the mind and nerves of a person, but Rav Gustman was different. Despite the deplorable conditions, he was able to recite and review the Talmud Zevachim by memory over thirty times! Is it any wonder that we considered the novellae which he composed during that period as some of his most treasured?

Va'ani Tefillah

Korbanos: Sacrifices

Korban Olah - Elevation/Burnt Offering: The dismembered parts of the animal are burnt on the Altar atoning for sins of omission. This atonement is achieved by the penitent's firm resolve to no longer fall prey to indifference and status-quo and to strive relentlessly towards a higher sense of duty and commitment to the Almighty. The Olah "elevates" the petitioner, as he raises himself up to further growth. Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, explains that the zerikah, sprinkling of the blood, is done from afar and applied to the lower portion of the Mizbayach which "leads up" to the upper portion thereof. This demonstrated that the person for whom this blood is sprinkled is still yet far from the path that ascends on high, and he must yet strive with all his energies to reach the summit of commitment and observance. The applications are made shtei matanos shehein arba, two four part applications: one to the northeastern corner and the other to the southwestern corner. The "north side" which represents Torah should subjugate to itself the material and physical aspects of life, represented by the "east side" of the Altar. Likewise, the "south side" and the "west side" must be paired, teaching us that all spiritual life must be based upon the Torah and must be maintained and nurtured through constant Torah study.

Dear Readers,

When I look back over the last fifteen years since the first time that Peninim saw the light of day, I am humbled by its success and acceptance as a staple in Jewish homes throughout the world. I have unquestionably been granted an incredible dose of Siyata diShamaya, for which I am eternally grateful. I pray that I will be worthy of the privilege of disseminating Torah for many years to come.

While my name has the highest profile concerning the Peninim, its initial success is due to the efforts of a number of individuals with whom I am fortunate to be associated.

My heartfelt appreciation to Mrs. Tova Scheinerman, who prepares the weekly manuscript; to Mrs. Marilyn Berger, who edits the copy, making sure that it is presentable to the wide spectrum of readership; to Rabbi Malkiel Hefter, a friend and colleague, who sees to it that the final copy is completed and prepared for electronic distribution. Without their pleasant demeanor and willingness to help, Peninim would be but a dream. Over the years, Peninim has developed its own network of distribution. While the constraints of space do not permit me to mention each and every person who sees to it that Peninim is distributed in their individual community, I will highlight a few. It was Baruch Berger of Brooklyn, New York, who came to me originally, requesting that he be able to distribute Peninim in his community. At the time, Baruch became ill and sought a zchus. As his illness progressed, Baruch was compelled to halt his activities, but the zchus is all his. May Hashem grant him a refuah shleimah b'soch shaar cholei Yisrael. Avi Hershkowitz of Queens, New York, and Asher Groundland of Detroit, Michigan, distribute in their respective communities. For years, Meir Bedziner distributed Peninim throughout the Baltimore, Maryland area. He was niftar two years ago. His wife continues the labor of love to disseminate Torah in her community. Fishel Todd of Shema Yisrael network provides the electronic edition for worldwide distribution. A number of years ago, Eliyahu Goldberg of London, England, began a European edition. Through his efforts and those of Menachem Hommel of London and Pinchas Brandeis of Manchester, Peninim receives extensive coverage in England, France, South Africa as well as in Eretz Yisrael. May the mitzvah of harbotzas Torah serve as a zchus for them to be blessed b'chol mili d'meitav.

It would be wrong of me to say that I alone bear the brunt of the responsibility of publishing Peninim weekly. As long as one has a partner in life, he carries nothing alone. To this end, I acknowledge and offer my heartfelt gratitude to my wife, Neny, for the support she has given me in the past and continues to give me on a daily basis. She is the "last word" in the editing process, making sure that the reader is provided with an error-free copy. I pray that she shall be blessed with good health; and that together we may merit that Torah and chesed will always be the hallmarks of our home; and that we continue to derive much nachas from our children and grandchildren.

Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

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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