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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And this is the blessing that Moshe, the man of G-d, bestowed upon Bnei Yisrael before his death. (33:1)

Moshe Rabbeinu blessed the nation shortly before he passed from this world. Is that not obvious? He certainly did not bless them after he died! This is why Rashi comments, Moshe said, "If not now, when?" The Maharal, zl, m'Prague, explains that the Torah is teaching us that the blessing of a manhig, leader, is most appropriate towards the end of his life. As long as the leader is vibrant and executing his duties with vigor and stalwartness, it is his function to admonish when needed, exhorting the people to raise their level of observance. He must point out their sins, regardless of the reaction and backlash that he may incur. He must move forward with intensity and fairness, never flinching, never holding back. When he approaches the sunset of his life, as he nears the very end, it is now time to change his tone, to display love and affection and bless his flock accordingly.

Perhaps there is another thought that might be implied by Moshe's blessing the people prior to his death. People fear death. It is a natural and normal fear, but it should not be that way. When a person understands the meaning of life and its focus on preparing oneself for the Eternal World, death no longer takes on the image of finality, but rather, as a bridge to a different and better world. Thus, one who has prepared himself, who has lived a "good" life in the Torah sense of the word, does not fear death. He does not welcome it, because one never knows if his achievements have rendered him worthy of eternal repose, but he is not obsessed with fear of the unknown.

Moshe achieved a spiritual status throughout his life like no other human. He understood the meaning of life and the meaning of death. He had nothing to fear. He was calm and relaxed as he blessed the people prior to his death. He was also teaching us an important lesson. One should not fear death. To fear death is to lose perspective on life. One should "respect" death, recognizing its compelling nature and the ramifications of this bridge to the world of truth. Throughout one's life, he prepares himself for this experience. Such an individual may rightfully fear the unknown, but he does not fear the concept of death. To him, it is not an end, but rather, the beginning of eternal life. He can bless with dignity, thinking rationally, with courage, as he takes leave of a life well-lived. He can say goodbye to his family knowing that he did not let them down. Death is inevitable. Fear of death is not.

From His right hand He presented the fiery Torah to them. (33:2)

Rashi explains that Hashem gave the Torah to Klal Yisrael amid fire and lightning. This mode of presentation carries great significance for the way we should study the Torah and for our level of commitment to it. Horav Elimelech, zl, m'Lizhensk comments that this spectacular manner of delivery was designed to impress upon the people that one must fulfill the Torah with the fire of fervor and self-sacrifice. This has been the legacy of Har Sinai - fire and self-sacrifice. Anything less than total commitment is no commitment. There is no dearth of stories that demonstrate our People's devotion to the Torah. In light of the siyum, culmination of the Torah, I will relate a Simchas Torah story.

In the Hassag Camp of the Czestochowa Ghetto, the spoils taken from the Jewish inmates were kept under the guard of the SS. As impossible as it may seem, one man managed to penetrate the warehouse where a small Torah scroll was stored. He was the Jewish cobbler whom the Germans honored and even called, "der shuster-meister," the master shoemaker, for his excellence in his craft. Well, he got his hands on a Sefer Torah on the day that was Simchas Torah. Naturally, when he brought it in to camp, the inmates danced around it. After all, it was Simchas Torah, the day on which we celebrate with the Torah.

How did he do it, and why? The "why" was easy. He cared. It was Yom Tov. That they were interred in a dread Nazi concentration camp did not mean that they should renege on their obligations. It was Simchas Torah, and one is supposed to dance with the Torah. How did he manage to smuggle out an entire Torah scroll under the watchful eye of the Nazis? It was a small scroll, and the cobbler wrapped it tightly around his body. Somehow, the guards did not notice it. Miracle of miracles! Furthermore, he did this as the Nazis were gathering all the scrolls to make a large bonfire and burn them.

The men placed the Torah between the boards of one of their beds. On Simchas Torah they made hakafos, walking around the bed. They were afraid to expose the Torah to public view, lest it be confiscated and destroyed. They did not fear for themselves; they feared for the Torah. They cared. Silently they sang, Sissu v'simchu b'simchas Torah, "Rejoice and be happy in the Torah's rejoicing, for it is our strength and our light!" Eventually, this Torah made its way to Eretz Yisrael where it was placed in the Gerrer shtiebel in Bnei Brak. Mi k'amcha Yisrael. "Who is like Your nation, Yisrael?" From the fire of Sinai, through the fires of the Crusades, the pogroms and the Holocaust, we have not lost our fervor and our commitment.

Of Zevulun, he said: Rejoice, O'Zevulun, in your excursions, and Yissachar, in your tents. (33:18)

Yissachar and Zevulun were two brothers/tribes that had a unique and profound relationship. While Yissachar spent his days and nights engrossed in Torah study, Zevulun engaged in maritime commerce in order to support Yissachar. One brother studied; the other worked, each sharing in the fruits of his brother's labor. Rashi notes that Zevulun's name precedes that of Yissachar, despite the fact that Yissachar preceded him in birth. This is because Zevulun made Yissachar's Torah study possible. What a wonderful and meaningful relationship! Let us momentarily transport ourselves to another world, the world of Truth, Olam HaBah, to see how this partnership is faring. Clearly, Zevulun is sitting next to Yissachar. After all, they are partners! Yissachar's Torah study was enabled by his brother, who spent his life engaged in nautical pursuits. Now, how is Zevulun going to comprehend Yissachar's dialogue with the other Torah scholars that are present? Zevulun certainly did not have the time to become a master of erudition. He was busy working. This seems an unlikely reward, considering that Zevulun will have no clue concerning the proceedings going on around him.

Horav Yaakov Kaminetsky, zl, posits that Zevulun not only receives reward for supporting Yissachar, he also gains his yedios ha'Torah, knowledge of Torah. Otherwise, his reward would have a value that is ambiguous, at best. He cites the Chida, zl, who maintains a similar position. The Chafetz Chaim, zl, also contends that the machazik Torah, supporter of Torah, will amass the knowledge of Torah, as well as receive his due for supporting Yissachar. The question that confronts us is how does this occur? If one learns, he knows. If he does not learn, however, how will he know? Torah is not something that one gains without toil. Even if "Zevulun" were to be miraculously granted Torah knowledge as he enters Olam Ha'bah, can it be on the same level as Yissachar, who devoted his life to study Torah with yegia, toil? How can Zevulun "pick up" the Torah which Yissachar studied "one hundred and one" times, just like that?

Rav Yaakov explains that prior to its birth, an embryo studies the entire Torah with a malach, Heavenly angel. As soon as the infant is about to enter the world, an angel comes and sort of "slaps" him above the mouth, causing him to forget all that he has learned. He now has before him a lifelong mission to retrieve that which he has lost. The pasuk in Sefer Iyov 5:7, declares, "Adam l'amal yulad," "Man is born to toil." He must toil to gain Torah knowledge. Furthermore, the Talmud in Berachos 63b, says that Torah is preserved only in one who "kills" himself to acquire it. Apparently, toil is an integral part of Torah erudition. Therefore, our lifelong endeavor is to gain back what we have lost.

Zevulun spent his entire life toiling in the field of commerce so that Yissachar could toil in the field of Torah. Now that his life has come to an end and he is about to enter the world of Truth, the toil that he expended to support Yissachar's Torah will be counted in his favor, and he will retrieve the Torah that he studied prior to his birth. He learned - he toiled. Now, his life has coalesced, and he enters Olam Habah as a talmid chacham, consummate Torah scholar.

Horav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zl, offers another twist to explaining why Zevulun's name preceded Yissachar's. The one who studies Torah experiences an incredible sense of simcha, joy. This is a joy that cannot be described. One has to experience studying Torah to have this feeling. Thus, Zevulun is missing out on the simchas ha'chaim, joy of life that is a fringe benefit of Torah study. To allay this, the Torah places his name first.

How does placing his name first make up for this loss of joy? Perhaps, we might suggest that the simchah which is inherent in Torah study results from identifying the "course" of study with its Heavenly source. When one realizes that the Torah which he is studying is Hashem's Torah, he derives incredible joy from this connection, from this relationship. Likewise, being placed eternally in Hashem's Torah is an experience that delivers outstanding joy. This joy is magnified when the individual receives superior status in the study of Torah, because it indicates a closer relationship with the Almighty. Can there be a greater source of joy?

Thus, Yisrael will dwell secure, solitary, in the likeness of Yaakov. (33:28)

Rashi explains that one day, when the enemy is driven out, there will no longer be a need for Jews to band together and live in large communal groups for protection. Now, they will be able to live individually, secure, "each under his vine and under his fig tree." In an attempt to define the concept of badad, solitary, the Yalkut Shimoni makes the following remarks. "It will be badad - not like the badad of Moshe Rabbeinu, who said, Hashem badad yanchenu, "Hashem alone guided them" (Devarim, 32:12). It will also not be like the badad of Yirmiyah HaNavi who said, Mipnei yadecha badad yashavti, "Because of Your mission, I sat alone" (Yirmiyah, 15:17). Rather, it will be like the badad expressed by the wicked Bilaam, Hen am l'vadad yishkon, "Behold! It is a nation that will dwell in solitude" (Bamidbar 23:9).

In Likutei Tikun Shlomo, Horav Binyamin Shlomo Spitzer explains that the goal of the Jewish nation from its inception as a nation through its receiving the Torah at Har Sinai was to be separate, without any intermingling with the gentile nations. In order to maintain a level of kedushah, holiness, it is essential that a strong partition be in place to maintain their distinctiveness. Regrettably, the alternative to disengagement is assimilation, which has been the root of many of our problems throughout history. In order to prepare us for this "experience," Hashem first led us through the wilderness. The reason for this was simple: Just like a child must be trained and educated, so did the nascent Jewish nation have to be protected, to be in the experience of solitude. Living "alone" would prepare them for a life of dedication to Torah - without disturbance of any kind.

This was not, however, Hashem's real goal. They were not to live in isolation, in a desert, surrounded by nothing. The next step in their educative process was one of exile. They were hounded, chased, oppressed, reviled and persecuted by their enemies. Once again, they were alone against the world. No one wanted them. Everybody hated them. They only had each other. This was still not the experience that Hashem sought for them.

This is the understanding that the Yalkut expresses: that it was not Moshe's badad, being led in the wilderness, that Hashem sought for them; nor was it Yirmiyah's badad, of persecution and exile that was Hashem's goal for them. It was the badad that Bilaam envisioned, a solitude in which the Jewish people will live in the world community, secure, protected, respected and admired. What will separate them from assimilation? It will be their own self respect: their pride in being Jewish; their pride in being the Am Hashem; nation of G-d; their pride in being committed, observant and devoted Jews. They will not need to assimilate, because they will realize how distinctive it is to be a Jew. That is the true definition of badad - not alone, but outstanding.

Fortunate are you, O Yisrael, who is like you! O people delivered by Hashem, the Shield of your help. (33:29)

Our salvation is only in Hashem, Who is the Shield of our salvation. This relationship is truly unique; it is one that we must acknowledge and sustain through our tefillos. Harav Chaim Friedlander, zl, explains the nature of prayer as the medium for maintaining our closeness with Hashem and as the vehicle for catalyzing our salvation in times of need. He cites the Midrash that comments concerning Mordechai's salvation from Haman's diabolical plan to hang him on the scaffold that he had prepared for him. Suddenly, the tables were turned, and Mordechai was no longer the victim. He was dressed in the king's royal garments, paraded through the streets on the king's royal steed, led by none other than the evil Haman! The Midrash asks, "What caused Mordechai to achieve such greatness? What brought about this sudden turn of events whereby the victim became the victor?" They explain that it was because Mordechai understood fully well what was occurring and what was behind these decrees. He began to pray - and he continued praying even after the king had conferred eminence upon him. He immediately returned to his sackcloth and prayer.

Incredible! One would think that after achieving such a victory like being led through Shushan, perched on the king's royal steed and guided by the most distinguished minister in the land, Mordechai would go home and throw a Kiddush! No, instead he went back to his siddur and sat down on the ground and cried out in prayer. Why? Is this the correct response to continued salvation? After all, Hashem obviously answered his prayer. Why did he return to his sackcloth and continue to pray?

This teaches us an important principle with regard to prayer. The trials and tribulations that challenge us do not happen to stimulate us to pray. Tzarah, trouble, is not the cause, and tefillah, prayer, is not the effect. Prayer is not a medium to catalyze yeshuah, salvation. If this were the case, once the yeshuah arrives, there would be no reason to continue praying. Mordechai did continue praying as before. Why? This indicates that tefillah is the cause for tzarah, and the vicissitudes and troubles serve as a vehicle to arouse and inspire man to move closer to Hashem via prayer. In other words, the objective is to move closer to Hashem. The method is prayer. The prayer is the means that continues on even when the salvation has already materialized. On the contrary, now that one has experienced the closeness, he should strive to intensify and deepen it. Even when Mordechai saw a glimmer of hope, he continued praying.

Va'ani Tefillah

Ashrei ha'am she'Hashem Elokav.
Happy is the people that Hashem is his G-d.

The mere fact that an entire nation is joined to Hashem is truly a great source of joy. Horav Eliyahu Lopian, zl, explains that the nations of the world relate to Hashem as their king. He is the melech ha'olam, king of the world. They are his subjects, and they relate to Him on this level. The king has ministers and servants who carry out his bidding. The nations of the world are under the domain of the king's servants. Klal Yisrael is under Hashem's personal guidance. He is our G-d. Indeed, the Midrash says that when Moshe Rabbeinu heard the words, Anochi Hashem Elokecha, "I am Hashem, your G-d," from the Almighty, he immediately recited the blessing of shelo asani goi, "that He did not make me a gentile." The relationship that Klal Yisrael has with Hashem is one of a closer nature - that of G-d with His people. We must remember that this relationship goes two ways: we trust in Him alone; and, therefore, He chooses us as His People. We have been elevated to be His primary interest, precisely because we serve Him alone.

Dear Readers,

As Peninim enters its eighteenth year of publication, I would like to take a moment to reflect on the enormous Siyata Dishmaya that I have been granted and to thank the Ribono Shel Olam for availing me the opportunity to disseminate Torah. What started out as a weekly Parsha sheet for the Cleveland Jewish community has evolved into a staple in Jewish homes and shuls throughout the world. I pray that I continue to merit the privilege of being a conduit for Torah dissemination.

My heartfelt appreciation to Mrs. Tova Scheinerman and Mrs. Sharon Weimer, who prepare 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 print and electronic distribution. Without their pleasant demeanors 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 his or her 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 four years ago. His wife continues the labor of love to disseminate Torah in her community. 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, and 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.

Rabbi Leib Scheinbaum, Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

l'os hakoras hatov
u'lchvod mishpachas
HaRav Avrohom Leib Scheinbaum v'rayaso shetichyu

me'es mishpachas
Meir Tzvi and Perel Broin

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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