Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And Yisrael camped there opposite the mountain. (19:2)

The Torah presents the verb, "va'yichan," and they [Yisrael] camped, in the singular, in contrast to the previous pesukim in which it more appropriately uses the plural form of the verb. Citing Chazal, Rashi, indicates that they camped "k'ish echad b'lev echad," like one man with one heart. So strong was their unity, that they were like a single person. In order for Klal Yisrael to elevate themselves for Kabbolas ha'Torah, receiving the Torah, it was necessary that they be united in their goal of listening to Hashem's word.

Klal Yisrael demonstrated its merit and readiness to receive the Torah by approaching Har Sinai as one unit, like a single person with a single heart. Their common goal unified them. Hashem responded by instructing Moshe to tell the people not to ascend the mountain while the Shechinah was there, lest many people die. The Mechilta explains this enigmatic response. Hashem was indicating the significance of each Jew. Even if one single Jew were to die, it would be considered as if an entire multitude had perished. Horav Aharon Kotler, z.l., attributes this to the unity that bonded Klal Yisrael together as one. When all Jews are united as one, each Jew becomes even more precious. This teaches us the overriding responsibility each Jew has to alleviate the distress of his fellow Jew. Just as Hashem will not tolerate the loss of a single person, so must we be concerned with the spiritual and material needs of all Jews.

This is a compelling statement. Like many such statements, however, we accept it, we understand its importance; yet, we rarely do anything to address the issue. How many can say they are really troubled by the lack of observance of so many of our own brethren? We observe it, we are acutely aware of it, yet, we continue on with our lives as if business is as usual. While some individuals are involved in reaching out to the unaffiliated, what are we doing about those who are in significant financial jeopardy? If we are truly united, we must care. If our sensitivity does not extend beyond ourselves, our sense of unity is quite limited.

I have always had difficulty understanding the concept of k'ish echad b'lev echad, as one person with one heart. How are we to conceptualize this level of kinship and unity? I recently came across a short story that conveys this message. This story is about an American entertainer who was asked to be part of a show that would go to Europe to entertain the United States troops who were battling in World War II. He said that he was very busy and could only give them a few minutes. Since the entertainer was quite famous, to have him for even a few minutes was well worth it. He agreed to do one short monologue before continuing on to his next appointment. He went up to the stage, performed his act, but instead of leaving - he stayed. He went on to another monologue. As the applause continued, so did he. Soon, the five minutes stretched into fifteen minutes. After a half hour, he finally left the stage to roaring applause. The director of the show came over and thanked him profusely. He said, "I thought you had to leave after five minutes. What made you stay for half an hour?"

The entertainer responded, "I did have to go, but if you will follow me, I will show you what it was that compelled me to stay on." They went to a corner of the stage where they could see the front row. "You can see for yourself why I stayed, if you look at the front row," said the entertainer.

In the front row were two men, each of whom had lost an arm in the war. One had lost his right arm, the other had lost his left. Together, they were able to clap, and that is exactly what they were doing - clapping loudly and cheerfully, one arm of one soldier with the arm of his friend. This is the meaning of "ish echad" - two people realizing that alone they cannot function. They each need the second person, so that together they both become one person. Unity is the realization that without my friend, I am not complete.

For on the third day Hashem shall descend in the sight of the entire people on Har Sinai. (19:11)

Many of the Taryag, 613, mitzvos are zeicher l'yetzias Mitzrayim, a commemoration of the Egyptian exodus. The Exodus served one primary purpose; it brought Klal Yisrael closer to Har Sinai and the ensuing Revelation and Kabbolas ha'Torah, receiving of the Torah. The Revelation was certainly a seminal event in the history of the Jewish People. Why is there no zeicher l'Kabbolas ha'Torah, commemoration of receiving the Torah? Horav Aharon Kotler, z.l., gave a definitive response to this question, which addresses the very essence of the manner in which we should study Torah. The Egyptian exodus was surely a monumental event, one that we recall daily. It is an event, however, that occurred in the past. It is something that we commemorate, that we talk about, but do not experience. It happened, and it is over.

The Revelation at Har Sinai was different. In Sefer Devarim 5:19 the Torah says that Hashem spoke to the People "kol gadol v'lo yasaf", with a great voice, never to be repeated. Targum Onkelos interprets the phrase, "v'lo yasaf," (commonly translated as "never to be repeated"), as "it did not cease." The Revelation which occurred at Har Sinai continues on to this very day. Indeed, as Rav Aharon explains, Hashem took that singular great voice of Kabbolas ha'Torah and placed it in the Torah itself. It is a vital component of Torah.

The Torah is revealed to us constantly. We open up a Gemora, Talmud, and we are standing at Har Sinai about to experience the Revelation. There is no need for a mitzvah to commemorate the Revelation, because it is an event that is still unfolding. I feel that this concept is the underlying reason that some people study Torah, with love, enthusiasm and awe. They sense the repeated Revelation when they study the Torah. They feel it - they experience it. Is it any wonder that this emotion permeates their surroundings so that others around them are equally inspired? To succeed in Torah study one must love the endeavor, becoming excited and awed by the experience. He is in the presence of the Almighty at Har Sinai.

Love for Torah, has been the hallmark of many a great Torah leader. Indeed, it is something we have come to expect. How often do we hear or read an episode concerning a "regular" Jew, a simple, devout Jew, not a Rosh Yeshivah, whose love for Torah is overwhelming? I would like to take this opportunity to share with the reader a few brief narratives about such "regular" Jews. After World War II, those Jews who were fortunate enough to survive the Holocaust were placed in DP (Displaced Persons) camps. Soldiers from the United States army were there to attend to the basic necessities of these survivors. Rabbi Goldman was an observant Jewish chaplain who went out of his way to provide for the needs of his brethren. One of his functions as chaplain was to determine each survivor's most urgent needs. He would mount an army truck and with the help of a megaphone, instruct the people to line up. The survivors would then file past the truck and tell Rabbi Goldman what they required.

One of those who stood on line was a Mr. Schwartz, a frail, battered survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp. When his turn came, he looked up at the chaplain and said, "I need a Gemora Bava Kama."

Rabbi Goldman did not believe what he was hearing. He looked at Mr. Schwartz and said in a kind, soothing voice, "I am here to try to get you clothing, medical supplies - whatever you need to become healthy again. So, now how can I help you?"

Mr. Schwartz looked up and responded, "Let me explain my immediate needs to you. Five and a half years ago, I was studying Meseches Bava Kama. Then the Nazis came and destroyed Jewish life as we knew it, sending me away to the camps. I have not seen a Gemora since that day. Now, Baruch Hashem, with the help of the Almighty, I am free to study Torah again. I want to resume my learning. Trust me, what I need most is a Gemora. Please help me to obtain it."

Rabbi Goldman could not believe his ears. Five and a half years in the Nazi purgatory, and all this man wanted was a Gemora. He would do whatever he could to find a Gemora for Mr. Schwartz. He succeeded in locating an old Meseches Bava Kama among the contents of a Hebrew library dumped by the Nazis. Words cannot describe how Mr. Schwartz's eyes lit up, as five and a half years of misery, torment and longing - for freedom to learn Torah, to live as a Jew should live - all came to a climax when Rabbi Goldman handed him the Gemora.

For the next story I return to the present, to my dear friend, Baruch Berger. I wrote about Baruch a few months ago, depicting his incredible love of Torah, and his burning desire to share this love with other Jews. Unfortunately, Baruch is very ill with a disease that invaded his body years ago. Today, he has little or no movement in his body. He is in constant pain, and his eyesight is severely impaired, but he still loves Torah with all his heart and all his soul. It is very difficult sitting in a wheelchair all day, wracked with pain, and attempt to concentrate on Torah learning. This becomes even more challenging when one takes into consideration that reading the words is almost impossible because of their size.

This circumstance would surely impede the Torah study of most people. Baruch, however, is not a member of the "most people" group. He is in a class to himself. Baruch phoned me recently with wonderful and exciting news. Due to Baruch's condition, speaking is most difficult and extremely painful. It takes some time to articulate the words that he wants to say. What was Baruch's "news"? He had begun learning Mishnayos baal peh, by heart, on his computer. Baruch's computer is his life line to the outside world. Except for the very special bachurim, yeshivah students, of Yeshivas Emek HaTalmud, who pick up Baruch every day and take him to Minchah, he really does not interact with many people. Baruch was able to obtain the Mishnayos on a CD Rom. By enlarging every letter of every word he is able to learn the Mishnayos! He studies the Mishnah - letter by letter - word by word, and then he memorizes it. He has completed the first three perakim of Meseches Brachos! If that does not redefine love of Torah, then I do not know what does! I told Baruch that when he is mesayem, completes the Meseches, I will I.Y.H. come to the Siyum. In fact, I will write about it, and we should all go. This is Kiddush Shem Shomayim at its zenith!

And they stood at the bottom of the mountain. (19:17)

Chazal tell us that they stood beneath the mountain, since Hashem raised the mountain over their heads and declared, "If you accept the Torah - good. If you do not, here will be your graves." This seems to indicate that, in a sense, Klal Yisrael's acceptance of the Torah was not willful. The commentators discuss at length the explanation and significance of raising "the mountain over Klal Yisrael's heads" and the manner of the Torah's acceptance. They explain that the people readily accepted the Torah Shebiksav, Written Law. However, they needed some extra prodding in order to accept the Oral Law. They later accepted the Oral Law willingly on Purim. The Chasam Sofer wonders why, after the people willingly accepted the Written Law they had to have the mountain held over their heads to induce them to respond positively to accepting the Oral Law. He gives a penetrating response which conveys a profound and timeless message. When Klal Yisrael stood at Har Sinai, they decided to humble themselves and accept the Torah from Hashem. But, when they were given the Oral Law with its implication that they would now have to submit themselves to the talmidei chachamim, Torah scholars, who are also made of the same flesh and blood as they, they reneged.

They were not prepared to humble themselves before the Torah leaders, who were also human beings. Hashem lifted the mountain over their heads and said, "If you do not submit yourself to the leadership of the gedolei Torah of each generation, then you will be buried here. If you do not humble yourself and listen to their adjudication of the law, it is considered as if you were dead and buried. For such people, even the Written Torah is not a Torah, if they will not submit themselves to the gedolei Yisrael. They will be buried beneath the mountain. How terrifying! How do the halachic renderings of a gadol become transformed into a permanent part of the Torah? Horav Yehudah Ades explains that this is part of the dictum, "Lo baShomayim hee" "The Torah is not in Heaven." Once it has been handed down to man, the rulings rendered by the gedolei Torah become a permanent part of Torah itself. Indeed, even in Heaven the rulings follow those rendered by the gedolei ha'Torah. How is this to be understood? The Alter, z.l., m' Kelm explains that since we are commanded to toil over Torah learning, to the point that we are "meimis atzmo b'oholah shel Torah," "kill ourselves in the tent of Torah," we are compelled to become totally detached from any personal interests. After all, we are "killing ourselves" in the study of Torah. We are, thus, transformed into nekiyei ha'daas, uncontaminated by any outside interests or any subjective intentions. As a result, our knowledge descends to us directly from Heaven. This, according to Rashi, is defined as Ruach Hakodesh, Divine Inspiration. This is how the rulings of the talmidei chachamim become the ruling of the Torah itself - because it is Divinely inspired.

We now understand the depth of Daas Torah, the knowledge expounded by our Torah leaders, or the wisdom of Torah. Perhaps if more of us would understand the true hidden source of Daas Torah, we would more readily accept it. Hopefully, we will not need a mountain over our heads to drive home this message.

Questions and Answers

1. Why did Yisro return to Midyan?

2. From where did the Shofar that was blown on Har Sinai originate?

3. On what day of the week did Klal Yisrael receive the Torah?

4. How do we fulfill the mitzvah of "Zachor es yom ha'Shabbos l'kadsho," "Remember the Shabbos day to keep it holy"?

5. What type of thief is being addressed by the prohibition of "Lo Tignov"?


1. Yisro returned to Midyan, so that he could convert his family to Judaism (Rashi). His sons remained with Klal Yisrael during their sojourn in the midbar. Alternatively, Yisro, aware of his advanced age, decided to return to his home to be buried near his parents on the family plot (Sforno).

2. The Shofar blown at Har Sinai was the left horn of the ram that took the place of Yitzchak during the Akeidah. The right horn will be used to herald the advent of Moshiach Tzidkeinu (Pirkei d'R'Eliezer).

3. Chazal say that the Torah was given on Shabbos (Shabbos 66b).

4. By making Kiddush on Shabbos, we fulfill the mitzvah of "Remembering" the Shabbos.

5. This prohibition refers to a kidnapper who forces his victim to work for him and then sells him into slavery (Sanhedrim 87a).

Sponsored by
Rabbi & Mrs. Leibel Scheinbaum
with gratitude to Hashem Yisborach
upon the engagement of our son
to Michal Rhein


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

The Seventh 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