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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And you shall make known to them the path in which they should go. (18:20)

In the Talmud Bava Kama 100 A, Chazal indicate that the word bah, "in which," is a reference to kevurah, burial of the dead. Gedolei Yisrael were extremely meticulous in attending to the needs of the deceased. Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, writes about Horav Chaim Sofer, zl, one of the preeminent Torah leaders in Hungary, who made it a point to involve himself with those deceased who either did not have a minyan, quorum, by their bedside when they passed from this world or did not have anyone to recite Kaddish for them.

In the preface to his sefer, Kol Sofer, on Mishnayos, Rav Chaim writes that at first he attempted to join the ranks of those who washed and prepared the body of the deceased for burial, but his delicate nature did not allow him to participate in this task. He then decided to care for the needs of those individuals who had no family, or were incarcerated in government prisons. He arranged to be with them during those last fearful moments when all they request and need is: not to be alone. He also accepted upon himself that, immediately following the brachah Ha'machzir neshamos li'figarim meisim, "He Who returns souls to dead bodies," he would study Mishnayos and recite Kaddish D'Rabbanan for those souls.

Rav Chaim would conclude his study with the following poignant entreaty; "Ribbono Shel Olam, Master of all creatures, Creator of all souls: Gaze down from Heaven and see how I, a simple creature of flesh and blood, have acted compassionately on behalf of the soul of a person whom I neither knew nor sensed his pain. Yet, I cared about him. Hashem, Who is so infinitely great and merciful, take pity upon the holy and pure soul of the deceased which You created and You fashioned. You are well aware of, and understand, the terrible pain which he underwent. Take pity upon him and forgive his sins and indiscretions. In the merit of each letter and word of Mishnayos that I recite and think about, may all of those neshamos for whom I study find eternal repose in Your Presence."

And you shall discern from among the entire people, men of accomplishment, G-d fearing people. (18:21)

Ibn Ezra explains that those who genuinely fear Hashem do not fear people. A judge who is subject to Divine authority is swayed by neither bribery nor threats. He responds to a Higher Authority. This implies that a person's fear of man diminishes commensurate with his increasing fear of Hashem. With this in mind, Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, notes that one who feels that he has achieved yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven, should ask himself how much of earthly/human concerns he fears.

Rav Schwadron substantiates Ibn Ezra's thesis with a famous incident from Navi. Yonah Ha'Navi was fleeing Tarshish. While he was on board the ship, Hashem cast a mighty wind across the sea, causing the vessel to become so shaken up that it hung at the precipice of destruction. The sailors became frightened and cried out, each to his own god. They cast the ship's wares overboard to lighten its load. Nonetheless, the ship was about to sink.

During all this time of crises, Yonah had decided to descend to the ship's hold and lay down to sleep.

The captain approached him, asking, "How can you sleep at such a dangerous time? Call out to your G-d. Perhaps He will listen." The sailors then cast lots to determine on whose account this calamity was being summoned against them. The lot fell on Yonah.

They turned to Yonah and demanded of him, "Tell us, now: in regard to whom has this calamity befallen us? What is your role? And from where do you come? What is your land, and of what people are you?"

The text of the last question seems a bit incongruous. They did not simply ask him, "Who is your nation?" They asked, "And of what people are you?" They seemed to be focusing more on the characteristics of the nation than on him. They were more concerned with the nation than with him as an individual. Why?

Rav Schwadron explains that Yonah appeared before them as an enigma. The storm was raging; the ship was about to capsize - and Yonah went to sleep. Is this a rational reaction to such a situation? Everybody was beating his chest, crying out to his god, yet Yonah went to bed, as if he did not have a care in the world. Not only did he go to bed - he even was able to fall asleep. Not a care in the world - or so it seemed.

When they saw this sight, a man sleeping during a storm that was threatening the ship, they asked, "From what type of nation do you originate?" That is when Yonah responded, "I fear the G-d of Heaven and earth." In other words, everything originates from Hashem Who rules the Heaven and earth and everything in between. Wherever one is standing it is all the same. There is no reason to fear the ominous threat of the weather, because it is all the same - Heaven and earth. One who fears Hashem has nothing else to fear. Everything else is merely an illusion.

Remember the Shabbos day to sanctify it. (20:8)

The Torah introduces the institution of Shabbos in the Fourth Commandment of the Aseres Ha'Dibros, the Ten Commandments. The first three commandments focus on our acceptance of Hashem as supreme Ruler and Creator, forbid us from worshipping other deities, and forbid us from showing Hashem disrespect by taking His Name lightly. Shabbos attests to Hashem being the Creator of the world, for it is a constant reminder that He created for six days and rested on the Seventh Day. When we observe Shabbos, we bear testimony to this fact. Therefore, the commandment of Shabbos should follow in the natural progression after the first three.

There is another aspect of Shabbos that we often overlook, although it is equally significant. The Lecha Dodi hymn, recited Friday night as we welcome the Shabbos, portrays Shabbos as Klal Yisrael's bride. Indeed, Chazal relate that when Hashem first introduced the Shabbos day into Creation, Shabbos complained bitterly to Hashem, "To every other day of the week You have given a mate: the creation of the First Day was completed and sustained by the creation of the Second Day; the creation of the Third Day by that of the Fourth Day; the creation of the Fifth Day by that of the Sixth Day. But me, the Seventh Day, You have given no companion." Thereupon, Hashem replied, "I still have one more work of Creation to bring forth: Klal Yisrael; they will be your betrothed. "Yisrael yehai ben zugach."

Thus, when Hashem gave His Torah to Klal Yisrael at Har Sinai, he stated, "Behold, the Shabbos stands here alone and forgotten; remember her and hallow her unto yourselves as a chassan, bridegroom, cherishes and sanctifies his kallah, bride, on the wedding day." Ever since that august moment, Klal Yisrael has kept the Shabbos day. It has celebrated its eternal betrothal to the Shabbos, as a faithful husband protects, sustains and treasures his beloved wife. This is the manner in which Shabbos should be observed: as a husband cherishes his wife.

Shabbos is Klal Yisrael's companion for eternity. Without the Jewish People to keep it, Shabbos would have disappeared from mankind. Likewise, were it not for the Shabbos, we would have succumbed to the many miseries and afflictions that have accompanied us throughout our tumultuous history. A wife and companion for life: what more meaningful terms can we use as an analogy for our relationship to Shabbos?

Our observance of Shabbos should be paradigmatic of the harmonious relationship between husband and wife. If this is the case, we may be so bold as to wonder whether those who reject the sanctity of Shabbos, negate its overriding significance to the Jewish People, are reflecting their own misperception of the institution of marriage. Do they understand the meaning of fidelity? We may suggest that the laws regarding the observance and hallowing of Shabbos should serve as a primer for the relationship between husband and wife. After all, the union of Klal Yisrael and Shabbos was the first marriage, since we are Shabbos' eternal companion. Examining Chazal's terminology regarding Shabbos and its relationship vis-?-vis Klal Yisrael serves as a powerful tool for understanding the manner in which a husband should view his wife.

Let us go back to the beautiful hymn of Lecha Dodi, which refers to Shabbos as mekor ha'brachah, a source of blessing. When Hashem first instituted Shabbos as a memorial to His Creation, He blessed it with a special message, a unique power. By means of the truth that it symbolizes and communicates to Klal Yisrael, Shabbos is able to train man for his spiritual and moral destiny, as well as to ennoble him, so that he can fulfill that destiny. Shabbos is all that in its being a source of blessing.

A wife can and should be the home's source of blessing. Quite often, her contribution to the home is not recognized - because it is not appreciated. This provides thought as a parallel to Shabbos. The value and significance of Shabbos can be realized only when one appreciates it. This can only occur when one observes the Shabbos - properly - according to halachah. By delving into the Shabbos, we will raise our level of appreciation, so that it can have a greater effect on our lives. This applies equally to marriage. Sometimes we have to sit back and think: What would life be like under different circumstances? Are we acting properly? Do we appreciate our mate? Do we display our appreciation? Let us each learn from Shabbos how to honor the "other" kallah in our life.

Honor your father and your mother. (20:12)

The Fifth Commandment, honoring one's parents, is a bedrock of our faith. Our tradition is based on the chain of transmission from Avraham Avinu to his descendants who received the Torah at Har Sinai and handed it down in its entirety from generation to generation. This chain links parents with children who later transmit the "Torah" to their own children. Thus, the Fifth Commandment enables the observance of the preceding four commandments.

The mitzvah of Kibud Av v'Eim carries with it some profound emotional fulfillment. For the most part, people have a difficult time feeling a sense of indebtedness to others. By his very nature, man thrives on independence. Thus, he finds the need to appreciate and offer gratitude extremely constraining. Therefore, children should be taught the importance of honoring parents. Indeed, it should be demanded and deserved. While demanding respect of a child will be effective for a period of time, in the long run, a person should earn the respect of his child both by the way he treats his child and by the respect that he personally projects.

Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, explains that one of the major factors that can contribute to engendering a climate within which children willingly choose to truly honor their parents is when parents themselves serve as role models, when they are individuals who are prepared to eschew their personal agendas in favor of others, be it spouse, peers or Hashem. In other words, respect breeds respect; it is more natural to respect a parent who demonstrates respect of others.

To paraphrase Rav Hirsch, "Why do parents have difficulty training their child to comply willingly with their expectations without having to force the issue? Is it possible that it is related to the fact that self-discipline is the one character trait that children raised in a non-observant environment do not witness in their parents? When we appear before them as military officers who issue orders, how can we expect them to learn to be disciplined?

"Those who live by the Torah and joyfully carry out its dictates teach their children by their personal example the meaning of submitting to a Higher Will. In the eyes of the child, the Torah is like grandparents. Just as his parents willingly and joyfully submit to its call, in its most minute details, he, too, can learn from their example to joyfully and willingly submit to the will of his parents."

Moreover, as the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch writes: "A father who truly has mercy upon his children should study Torah, perform good deeds, and maintain a strong relationship with Hashem and with his fellow man. Thus, his children will consider it an honor to have such a parent."

One should not have to be worthy of his child's respect, but, regrettably, in today's society, children see through the transparency of parents who do not practice what they preach. This, in turn, influences the manner in which they fulfill the mitzvah of Kibbud Av v'Eim. A child should honor his parents because the Torah says to do so. This should be his only source of motivation. It does not always work this way. At times, a parent's hypocritical behavior can even catalyze his child's lack of mitzvah observance, as demonstrated by the following story:

Horav Moshe Blau, zl, once traveled abroad and was a guest in the home of a distinguished European lay leader. During a discussion with his host, the latter suddenly broke down and cried bitterly. His sons were not as committed to a Torah lifestyle as he would have liked them to be, and this caused him great anguish. On Friday night, Rav Blau was sitting in this man's house, when he saw one of his host's sons touch an object that was muktzah, set apart, not to be moved or picked up on Shabbos. The father told his son that the object was muktzah, and he should not touch it. After Shabbos was over, Rav Blau observed how the boy had taken out several gold pieces from their special display case and had begun playing with them. When the father saw this, he began to shout so loudly that the walls of the house seemed to shake. Seeing this, Rav Blau commented to the man, "I now understand why your children are lax in their observance. When it entails infractions involving yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven, they notice that your rebuke is gentle, but when it comes to money, you begin to shout uncontrollably. You have thereby indicated to them your true values and priorities." The only thing to add to such a story is to be introspective and question ourselves as to the applicability of this narrative to our own personal lives.

I close on a positive note with an example of the extent of Kibbud Av v'Eim, manifest by one of our gedolei Yisrael, Torah leaders. Horav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zl, distinguished himself not only in his encyclopedic knowledge of Torah, but also in his exemplary middos tovos, positive character traits. Indeed, he was a giant in both areas. His adherence to the mitzvah of Kibbud Av was legendary. To the very end of his life - and even beyond - he epitomized this "mitzvah." In his tzavaah, last will and testament, he wrote, "The monument on my grave should be a standard size. Certainly, it should not be higher than that of my dear parents." There are some people that "take" throughout their entire lives, and there are those unique few who are always "giving". Even when they leave this world, they make certain that the giving continues.


The name of one was Gershom, for he had said, "I was a sojourner in a strange land." And the name of the other was Eliezer, for "the G-d of my father came to my aid, and He saved me from the sword of Pharaoh." (18:3,4)

Why did Moshe Rabbeinu use the name Gershom, denoting his status of a sojourner before he commemorated his rescue from the sword of Pharaoh? Horav Yissachar Dov, zl, m'Belz explains that it was specifically because he was acutely aware of his sojourner status that Hashem had saved him from Pharaoh's sword. Thus, Gershom's name is a reference to Moshe's stay in Egypt - not Midyan.

And the people stood by Moshe from the morning until the evening. (18:13)

Horav Shmuel Salant, zl, was once asked why he did not have specific times set aside for responding to rabbinical questions. He explained that a Jew must follow the course set forth by Hashem. The Almighty responds to His People whenever they cry out - morning, noon or evening. This is mentioned in Bircas HaMazon, "That You feed and sustain us, every day, every moment, and every hour." Hashem does not have "hours" when He is available. He is always available.

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

The verb is in the singular, in contrast to the previous verbs. Rashi explains that this teaches us that the multitude of people all camped as one unit, with one desire. Horav Yitzchak,zl, m'Vorka, adds that the word va'yichan, and they camped, is derived from the word chein, favor. True unity is achieved only when every Jew finds favor in his friend's eyes.

And sanctify them (the people) today and tomorrow. (19:10)

Lev Simchah explains that commensurate with the preparation of "today," "tomorrow" will have power and success. We reap tomorrow only from that which we plant today.

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