Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Of Asher he said, The most blessed of children is Asher; he shall be pleasing to his brothers, and dip his feet in oil. (33:24)

What made Asher so special that he was considered "the most blessed of children"? Horav Shlomo Levenstein, Shlita, quotes Lechem Lefi HaTaf who explains that the word, shmeinah, richness, which Yaakov Avinu uses to describe Asher - Mei Asher shmeinah lachmo, "From Asher- his bread will have richness" (Bereishis 49:20), - is a reference to Asher's land which will be so rich in olive trees that it will flow with oil like a fountain. The word shmeinah is comprised of the same letters which comprise the word Mishnah. This alludes to the true "richness" of Asher; his tribe was devoted to studying Torah, and especially Mishnayos, more so than any other tribe.

The Lechem Lefi HaTaf supplements this exposition with a caveat from the Arizal who teaches that, after a person passes from this world, his soul is brought to Gehinom, Purgatory, for judgment. Is this soul to join the ranks of the punished, or will it receive its reward in Gan Eden? The soul cries out to each and every shevet, tribe, seeking redemption, salvation, from what might be a terrible fate. No one answers - no one responds to its pleas - until it calls out to Asher. Asher asks the neshamah, soul, of the deceased, "Did you study Mishnayos during your lifetime? If the answer is "yes", the soul is immediately taken out of Gehinom and saved. The Lechem Lefi Hataf concludes his thesis with an allusion to the study of Mishnayos and its ability to save one from Gehinom, cited from the pasuk in Sefer Tehillim 30:4, (Hashem) he'elissa min she'ol nafshi, (Hay, mem, shin, nun)"(Hashem) You took my soul out from she'ol," which is a term used to describe Gehinom. The first letter of each of these four words spell the word Mishnah!

The power of Mishnayos is sufficiently compelling for everyone to make the study of Mishnayos an integral part of his daily Torah-study ritual. Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, relates an amazing story concerning the significance of Mishnayos study, especially regarding the moment of truth, when the soul passes from its earthly physical container. At that point, nothing accompanies the soul on its final journey - not money, not friends, not family. The only "baggage" allowed on this trip is the Torah he has learned and the acts of loving-kindness he has performed. Nothing else stands in his stead to support him at this most critical moment.

The Talmud Torah in Meah Shearim, in the mid-twentieth century, was a unique institution staffed by rebbeim of the highest caliber. These were holy men wholly dedicated to their students, but, above all, devoted to Hashem. Rav Sholom was a student in the cheder. His rebbe was an outstanding educator whose name was Rav Yaakov. Rav Yaakov was a holy man whose uniqueness was his ability to remain silent at all times, unless he was engrossed in Torah study or teaching his young charges. Silence was a common practice among the Jews of the Yishuv, especially during the month of Elul until after Yom Kippur. Even among these men who held silence to be a major virtue - Rav Yaakov was in a league all to himself. Indeed, he would speak no more than thirty words that were mundane in nature. (We must remember that his idea of mundane was quite different than our idea of mundane.)

Rav Yaakov excelled in the study of Mishnayos, nary a moment going by that he was not either studying Mishnayos from a sefer or repeating it to himself from memory. Incidentally, Rav Yaakov knew the Mishnah by heart. Every free moment was filled with Mishnayos study.

Rav Sholom relates that one day he overheard one of the other rebbeim asking Rav Yaakov concerning his inextricable bond with Mishnayos. Why was he so obsessed with the study of Mishnayos? Rav Yaakov's response gives us a window into the mind of this holy Jew, and indeed, a virtual image of what Yerushalmi people were like less than a century ago. Rav Yaakov gave a smile and replied, "I began to think to myself what will happen to me when I pass from this world. You see, Torah study is very important to me, so, when I am not teaching my young students, I use every available moment for Torah study. What will I do, however, when I personally cannot study - during the short period from yetzias neshamah, the moment of death, until kevurah, burial? I am certain that, during this time, my corpse will be accompanied by men who will either be reciting Tehillim or studying Mishnayos.

"Then I realized that this might be fine if I were to pass from this world on a weekday, when the time elapsed from yetzias neshamah to kevurah is very short. Yet, man does not know when his time on this world has reached its conclusion. Quite possibly, I could die on Erev Shabbos and not be buried until Motzei Shabbos. Friday afternoon until Saturday night is not a short interval. Can I expect people to sit beside my corpse for so many hours - just to learn Mishnayos by my side? Therefore, I decided to memorize the Mishnayos and to repeat it constantly, so that it remains fixed in my memory. Thus, if I were to die on Erev Shabbos, I would recite the Mishnayos on my own behalf!"

The other rebbeim politely smiled at the notion of Rav Yaakov reciting Mishnayos on his own behalf, but they never for a moment thought that he was not sincere. This was Rav Yaakov. The postscript to the episode came when, years later, Rav Yaakov died on Erev Shabbos. Rav Sholom attended his funeral on Motzei Shabbos, and he was certain that his rebbe had recited Mishnayos throughout Shabbos.

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

The Talmud Kiddushin 22a states that before an eved Ivri, Hebrew bondsman, can have his ear bored with an awl, so that he be allowed to continue his servitude beyond the normal six years, he must twice say the required words, "I love my master, my wife, and my children. I shall not go free!" Since the vernacular in the Torah is, V'im amor yomar ha'eved, "But if the bondsman shall say" (Shemos 21:5), the words, amor yomar, imply that he says this twice. In his commentary to the Talmud, Horav Elchanon Wasserman, zl, (Kovetz Shiurim) cites the words of the Midrash which reveal to us the text of the prayer of Moshe Rabbeinu when he petitioned Hashem to allow him to gain entry into Eretz Yisrael. He said, Ahavti es Adoni, "I love: my Master, Hashem; es ishti, my wife; the Torah; v'es bonai, and my children, Klal Yisrael." Lo eitzei chofshi, "I shall not go free! Is it possible that, with all of the love that I have for Hashem, the Torah and the Jewish People, I will not be allowed to leave the wilderness for freedom in Eretz Yisrael?"

Hashem's response was: Al tosef dabeir eilai od badavar hazeh, "Do not continue to speak to me about this thing" (Devarim 3:26). Why did Hashem use the words, al tosif, "Do not continue," as a response? What was there about continuing/repeating his plea, that would make a difference? Rav Elchanan quotes his Rebbe, Horav Chaim Soloveitchik, zl, who quoted the Maharil Diskin, zl, who posits that, consistent with Chazal's statement requiring the eved Ivri to repeat himself, had Moshe repeated his plea, Hashem would have been "compelled" to listen to him and allow him entry into Eretz Yisrael. Hence, Hashem said, Al tosif - "No more."

We are being taught a powerful lesson regarding the efficacy of prayer. One is permitted to "negotiate" with Hashem, to arbitrate his petition in such a manner that he presents reason for justifying his demand. To put it in popular vernacular, it is almost like "cutting a deal." Hashem, I know that I probably do not deserve Your forgiveness - again - but, if You will accept my prayers this one more time, I promise to be worthy of Your forbearance. I will daven better - learn better - observe mitzvos better. I will better every aspect of myself. Just, please, give me this one chance."

If a person is truly sincere, and he sticks to his commitment, it might make the difference that he so badly needs. We are complacent in prayer. We articulate the words, go through the motions, but fail to realize that davening is a conversation. When a person is making a plea in his own behalf, he does not just read words from a script. He talks from the heart. He cajoles; he begs; he bargains; he makes every attempt to get his point across. If the manner of our davening indicates that we really do not believe in the efficiency of our prayers, why truly should they be effective? We must daven as if our lives depend on it - because it does!

Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, relates the following story. A woman who resides in the Bais Yisrael neighborhood of Yerushalayim is so well-known for her total devotion to chesed, performing acts of loving kindness for people, that many of the seminaries bring their students to her, just to see what one woman dedicated to the singular mission of chesed can achieve. When queried as to how she is able to do so much and what the source of her motivation is, she gives the following explanation.

"A number of years ago, I was diagnosed with a grave illness. The prognosis for a cure was, at best, bleak. A few months later, as I lay in the hospital listening to the doctors informing me that my chances for living were not good, and it would be best that I put my affairs in order, I burst out crying. I looked up at Hashem, Whose Presence I felt throughout my hospital room, and cried, 'Ribono Shel Olam, Master of the World, who will benefit from my being buried in the ground? You will gain nothing from me if I am dead, because I will no longer be able to perform mitzvos. On the other hand, Hashem, if You allow me to continue living, I promise to dedicate my every waking moment to Your Name, to perform acts of loving kindness in every way possible'. Then I began to cry like I had never cried before. I could not stop, because I knew this was it. I would receive no other chance. If Hashem did not accept my plea for life, I would soon be gone. If, however, He accepted my pleading, I would hold up my end of the deal.

"Hashem returned my life to me. The doctors could not believe their eyes, as I began to improve almost daily. Two weeks later, I walked out of the hospital - and I never looked back. I have kept my end of the deal. I immediately became involved and started my own chesed projects. I am relentless in my work, because I know that my life depends on it."

What an incredible story, with an even more powerful message. One may not give up - regardless of how hopeless a situation may seem. Hashem listens, but we must throw our "burdens" solely on Him. When we realize that He is the only One Who can help us out of our adverse situation, we will then pray with feeling and passion reflective of our faith in Him.

He buried him in the depression, in the land of Moav, opposite Bais-Peor, and no one knows his burial place to this day. (34:6)

Chazal teach that Moshe Rabbeinu's grave had been ready for him since the six days of creation. Furthermore, his burial place has never been revealed. The fact that his burial place is one of the ten miraculous phenomena created during twilight on Erev Shabbos of the sixth day of creation endows it with a supernatural makeup. Thus, it has never been discovered. Rashi explains that Moshe was buried opposite Peor in order to atone for the incident of mass immorality which took place there. The sin committed with the pagan women of Moav undermines the very underpinnings of our faith. Morality is a foundation of the spiritual makeup of Am Yisrael. An incursion into the fiber of our morality is a breach in our essence as Jews. Thus, Moshe was buried there to atone for a sin in which we descended to the nadir of depravity.

We wonder whether the sin at Peor was the gravest transgression committed by the Jewish People during their wilderness journey? Did it supersede the sin of the meraglim, spies, or the Golden Calf? Why did this sin, more so than any other, require Moshe's burial place to be in its proximity in order to effect atonement? Furthermore, it seems that a component of that atonement was the fact that Moshe's burial place eludes discovery. Indeed, this is part of the nature of its miraculous creation. How is this to be understood?

Horav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, zl, explains that the sin of Peor was unlike any other transgression committed by the people. This sin created a taint in the very backbone of Klal Yisrael. This time it was the very core of the Nation. Moreover, this time, Moshe was with them in the camp - and they still sinned! This time, Moshe did not immediately respond to the outrageous and flagrant desecration of Hashem's Name. It was Pinchas who reacted, and when he pointed it out to Moshe, our leader deferred to Pinchas. This was no ordinary sin and, certainly, no ordinary circumstances.

Rav Weinberg distinguishes between this sin and the earlier ones. Klal Yisrael was standing at the end of the nation's forty-year sojourn from the Egyptian bondage to the entrance into the Holy Land. Moshe has been with them the entire time, absorbing the brunt of their inappropriate behavior, taking their side, supporting them, looking for any opportunity to present their infraction in a positive light. Moshe, however, knew that one day it would all come to an end. He could not always be there for them. One day - very shortly - they would have to fend for themselves. They were going to have to become accustomed to the fact that their quintessential leader, who had always been there to defend them, was soon leaving. Why not send them the message now, by not intervening? If they could not surmount the challenge, what would they do in later years?

Miraculously, Klal Yisrael held their ground. Many Jews succumbed and died, but the majority, under the daring and courageous leadership and example set forth by Pinchas, were able to triumph over the adversity. Pinchas came from within the people, which proves that within Klal Yisrael there exists a source of life capable of overcoming spiritual adversity. We are inherently a holy people in our own right. When a challenge arises, when an infraction occurs, we know how to deal with it.

With this in mind, Rav Weinberg explains the above pasuk. Moshe Rabbeinu was Rabban Shel Kol Yisrael, Our Nation's quintessential Rebbe. His merit stands on our behalf even after his passing. Klal Yisrael is inextricably bound with Moshe; thus, even after he is gone from the scene, his spiritual influence continues to inspire and support us: Tzidkaso omedes l'ad, His righteousness stands forever. This concept is revealed by the fact that he is buried opposite Peor, to teach that our nation's spiritual protection is in the dual merit of Moshe, and, after him, the various Princes of Torah of every ensuing generation. At Peor, Pinchas came forward from the midst of the people to take a stand and overcome the challenge. Our nation is inherently holy. This was the lesson imparted by the Peor incident. We have the support of the "Moshe Rabbeinus" of every generation; we are a holy nation because of our connection with Hashem. The leadership of "Moshe," coupled with Klal Yisrael's inherent kedushah, is our source of strength.

The uniqueness of the Peor incident was the lesson it imparted for the ages. Yes, we can make it - even when Moshe Rabbeinu has "disappeared." His memory, legacy and especially his inspiration live on and continue to provide merit for his flock. Furthermore, we have learned that we are unlike any other nation. Our national spiritual DNA is kedushah, sanctity, which is connected to Hashem. Whatever the challenge, despite the obstacles that stand in our way, we will surmount them. We triumphed over Peor - we will likewise triumph over the "Peors" of every generation.

Never again has there been in Yisrael a prophet like Moshe, whom Hashem had known face to face. (34:10)

Moshe Rabbeinu merited an outstanding epitaph: the greatest prophet; an individual who spoke panim el panim, face to face, with Hashem. Yet, despite these accolades, Moshe was considered the most humble person to walk the face of the earth. To maintain one's humility in the face of such incredible, singular praise is in and of itself an uncommon virtue. Surely, Moshe was acutely aware of his eminence. How did he maintain such humility?

Veritably, the question applies to so many of our gedolim, Torah giants. These were men of unusual brilliance, who achieved unprecedented heights in Torah achievement. Yet, they were all paragons of humility. How did the two virtues coincide with one another? Horav Yeruchem Levovitz, zl, saintly Mashgiach of Mir, Poland, was wont to say, "Woe is to the one who is unaware of his deficiencies, because then he does not know what he is still missing to achieve perfection. Who is worse off, however, is he who is unaware of his attributes. He may be compared to a soldier who is unaware of his weapons." Our personal attributes are the weaponry and ammunition which we require for support in our battle with the yetzer hora, evil inclination. The strongest warrior needs a weapon, something with which to do battle. Otherwise, his brute strength is of little significance. Each and every one of us is blessed with unique, individual attributes which are intrinsic to our character and temperament. They enable us to navigate the challenge of life - both from within and from without. If we do not acknowledge our innate strengths, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

In support of this idea, Horav Aharon Levi, Shlita, quotes an exposition from Horav Chaim Soloveitchik, zl, on the pasuk in Tehillim (49:21), Adam bikar bal yalin, nimshal ka'beheimos nidmu, "Man is glorious, but if he understands not, he is likened to the silenced animals". He analyzes this to a horse that is pulling a wagon. The driver "motivates" the horse's efforts by regularly hitting him with a whip. Surely, the horse does not enjoy being beaten over the head by a whip, but that is the life of a horse. The horse could easily put a quick end to its troubles by speeding up its gallop, so that when they approach a sharp curve, the wagon will overturn, and the horse will be rid of its master. Why does the horse not avail itself of this option, asks Rav Chaim. The answer is, because he is a horse and lacks the intelligence to figure out what to do.

The same idea applies to a person. Adam bikar - a person possesses tremendous abilities, strengths with which he can grow and develop immeasurably. There is no limit to what he can accomplish. The problem is that v'lo yavin, he understands not; he is either unaware of - or does not understand - his incredible capabilities. Thus, he is nimshal ka'beheimos nidmu - no different than the horse, who remains clueless and never achieves much in its life. Awareness of one's unique abilities and attributes has nothing to do with gaavah, arrogance. On the contrary, someone who ignores his outstanding faculties, his unusual aptitude and other particular personal features, acts obtusely. Humility, on the other hand, means, that despite one's overwhelming abilities, he realizes that: (a) he is nothing in comparison to those who preceded him; (b) he is the recipient of a gift from Hashem which comes with incredible responsibility; (c) he realizes his own insignificance in comparison with Hashem and with what is expected of him. The more one is aware of his personal greatness, the greater is his level of humility. Small people are not humble; they are small! Great people are humble, because they know who they are, and it does not go to their head.

Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, was the model of humility. He was once walking in the Lower East side of New York, when someone was calling out to his friend, "Moshe, Moshe!" Rav Moshe turned around as if it were he that was being called. Who would have the audacity to call the gadol hador, preeminent leader of the generation, by his first name? Without a doubt, the man was calling a friend, but it never entered Rav Moshe's mind that he was not calling him.

When this very same exemplar of modesty was told by his cardiologist that, following a recent heart attack, he would need a pacemaker implanted in his chest, he asked for a day to render his decision. A day later, Rav Moshe returned with a positive response. When asked why he had required a day to make what was a necessary life and death decision, the Rosh Yeshivah explained, "We believe that any moment Moshiach Tzidkeinu will arrive and redeem us from our exile. With the advent of Moshiach, the Sanhedrin, ruling judicial branch of Klal Yisrael, will be reestablished. I am certain that I will be among the members of the Sanhedrin (only the most erudite scholars were worthy of a seat on this august body of legislators). According to Chazal, one who has a mum, physical blemish, is disqualified from serving on the Sanhedrin. I had to research the halachah. Had this procedure rendered me unqualified for a seat on the Sanhedrin, I would not have it. It is more important to me to be a member of the Sanhedrin". Wise people know that they are great, but it does not go to their head.

Dear Readers,

Twenty-five years ago, when I first put pen to paper with the intention of writing divrei Torah on the parsha, a quarter century milestone of achievement was an unrealistic dream. The incredible siyata d'shmaya which I was granted is overwhelming and defies verbal description. Mere words restrict my ability to express my true feelings of joy and gratitude. Therefore, in lieu of the right words, I begin with, Modeh ani Lefanecha melech chai v'kayam. Whatever I have achieved during these past years are a tribute to Hashem's beneficence. I pray that He grant me the ability to continue in this avodas hakodesh and that the fruits of my labor continue to be accepted by Jews of all stripes and persuasion, throughout the globe, for many years to come. Since this is a letter of appreciation, it is only right to include all of those whose contribution to Peninim is invaluable - and without whom it could never have been possible. I do this annually, and, while it might appear redundant, I think gratitude is never superfluous, and appreciation defines the humanness of a person. Indeed, gratitude is one value which cannot be overdone.

I have the privilege of once again thanking Mrs. Sharon Weimer and Mrs. Tova Scheinerman who prepare the manuscript on a weekly basis. It takes great patience - and, at times, creative ingenuity to read my illegible scrawl and understand what it is I am trying to say, especially when some of the words are missing. Mrs. Marilyn Berger continues to do an extraordinary job of editing the copy, often compelled to determine what it is that I wanted to say. She makes it presentable to the wider spectrum of the Jewish community. She subtly informs me when I veer too much, in either direction, away from the center. Rabbi Malkiel Hefter somehow finds the time in his busy schedule to see to it that the final copy is completed, printed, and distributed in a timely and orderly fashion.

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. He later became ill, hindering his ability to continue his avodas ha'kodesh. As his illness progressed, Baruch was forced to halt his activities, but the z'chus is all his. It was just three years ago, shortly before Rosh Hashanah, when Baruch's pure neshamah returned to its rightful place b'ginzei meromim. May the limud ha'Torah which he initiated be an eternal z'chus for him.

Avi Hershkowitz of Queens, New York, and Asher Groundland of Detroit, Michigan, distribute in their respective communities. Shema Yisrael network provides the electronic edition for the worldwide distribution. A number of years ago, Eliyahu Goldberg of Yerushalayim, began a "World" edition. Through his efforts, Peninim has received extensive coverage in England, France, Switzerland, South Africa, Hong Kong, South America, and Australia. Eliyahu goes so far as to Anglicize the text to make it more readable in the United Kingdom. I finally had the pleasure this past summer of meeting him face to face. He is truly a good friend. Rabbi Moshe Peleg, Rav of Shaarei Zedek Medical Center, prints and distributes Peninim throughout the English speaking community in Eretz Yisrael. Kudos to Meir Winter of Monsey, New York, and Moshe Davidovici of Antwerp/ Yerushalayim, for including Peninim in their internet edition of Divrei Torah. May the mitzvah of harbotzas Torah serve as a z'chus for them to be blessed b'chol mili d'meitav.

My wife, Neny, has been supportive in many ways. Sharing with me all of the agonies and ecstasies of writing, her support and encouragement, as well as her constructive critiques, have played a vital role in Peninim's success. She avails me the peace of mind to write, regardless of the time or place - whether convenient or not. Her "early morning" editing has become a weekly ritual in our home. After carefully reading the manuscript, she offers her excellent suggestions, and, with her keen eye, she embellishes the punctuation. Indeed, she is literally the last word before my manuscript is printed. Without her, Peninim, like everything else in our lives, would be deficient. As a result, and for so many other considerations too numerous to mention, I offer her my heartfelt gratitude. I pray that we: are both blessed with good health; merit that Torah and chesed be the hallmarks of our home; and continue to derive much Torah nachas from our children and grandchildren, kein yirbu.

Rabbi A.L. Scheinbaum

Peninim on the Torah is in its 20th year of publication. The first fifteen years have been published in book form.

The Fifteenth 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