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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And Hashem showed him the entire Land. (34:1)

The mission of Moshe Rabbeinu on earth was complete. He blessed his nation and prayed for the people, and then, as Hashem's faithful servant, he ascended the mountain, following Hashem's directive. Hashem then showed him the entire length and breadth of Eretz Yisrael and the entire panorama of history which was connected to each place that he saw. The history of our people is intricately tied to our Land. Hashem showed Moshe Eretz Yisrael in its ups and downs, from the height of prosperity and good fortune to the oppression and persecution under future rulers.

Ramban writes that Hashem was aware of Moshe's boundless love for Klal Yisrael. Thus, he sought to grant him great joy in his last moments on earth. This was achieved when He showed him the future home of His people. Horav Gedalyah Eismann, zl, underscores Moshe's selfless love for Klal Yisrael. His entire life was spent caring for them: from the earliest moment when he refused to become their leader and spokesman to Pharaoh, because of the chance that it might offend his brother Aharon HaKohen; to risking his life to save a Jew from the hand of an Egyptian; to the forty-year sojourn in the wilderness with the constant challenges they presented to him - he was always there for them. Klal Yisrael was the major focus in his life.

Vayamas sham Moshe, "And Moshe died there." "There" refers to the place where he received such joy, the place in which he saw the great gift that was being given to Klal Yisrael. How much he had prayed to enter Eretz Yisrael. The extreme love that he harbored for the Land was indescribable. How he yearned to cross that border, to kiss the earth. Sadly, he did not merit to see his dream achieve fruition. Yet, when he saw the Land that his nation would enjoy, Moshe negated his ani, "I"; he forgot about himself, his personal feelings. It was always about Klal Yisrael. It was here that Moshe received his greatest appellation: eved Hashem, servant of G-d. He was a true servant, inextricably bound up with his Master, to the extent that he did not live for himself. He lived completely for others. This gave him his greatest sense of joy.

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

When the Chafetz Chaim was niftar, passed away, on Elul 24, 1934, Klal Yisrael was thrown into collective mourning. The preeminent tzaddik hador, saint of the generation, his impact was felt throughout the entire Torah world. During the year of mourning, Horav Elchanan Wasserman, zl, primary student of the Chafetz Chaim, had occasion to be in England. He was asked to eulogize his revered Rebbe, to render an appreciation of his unique personality, his saintly spiritual demeanor, his extraordinary achievements on behalf of Klal Yisrael. Rav Elchanan spoke inspiringly about his Rebbe. The following is an excerpt of his hesped, eulogy (free translation).

"Let us attempt to imagine that we had been alive in Moshe Rabbeinu's generation, when our quintessential leader took leave of his precious people. What would the hespedim be like? He was the greatest Rebbe of all generations. Is there one Jew that has not been affected by his life, his teachings? It would take hours to attempt to explain his greatness aptly, to relate his contribution. Veritably, we might only grasp but a miniscule appreciation of who Moshe Rabbeinu was. Yet, our Torah encapsulates Moshe's essence with a mere two words: eved Hashem, servant of Hashem. What profundity lies concealed within these two words? What hidden meaning is implied by the words 'servant of Hashem'?

"In the Midrash Tanchuma (Lech Lecha 8), Chazal provide us with the following analogy. A wealthy businessman left Eretz Yisrael for an extended business trip overseas. Travel in those days was not a simple jaunt. It involved much danger and meant being separated from one's loved ones for a long period of time. The businessman took his trusted servant with him, leaving at home his ben yachid, only son, who was too young to travel. It was a difficult decision, but the father was hoping that the trip would be successful, so that he would be able to return home quickly. He took a considerable sum of money and goods with him, in the hopes: that he would sell his goods at a sizable profit; and that he would be able to purchase more goods at a reasonable price. He was there but a short time when he suddenly became gravely ill. He was acutely aware that he was not going to return home. His days were numbered, and he would never see his son again.

"One major worry entered his mind: How could he provide for his son and family when he had his entire financial portfolio with him? While he had trusted his servant in the past, could he trust him when it involved a large sum of money? What would prevent the servant from taking everything for himself? If he were to write a will, how could he guarantee that it would ever reach the hands of his son? He came upon an amazingly clever idea.

"He summoned his servant and said to him, 'You have been my trusted servant for years. I have relied on you in so many areas of my daily endeavor. Out of a profound sense of appreciation, I bequeath to you all of my possessions. I ask of you only one favor. Please get in touch with my son and inform him that he may take for himself one item.' The servant was ecstatic over the fact that he was now a wealthy man. Thus, he had no qualms about presenting his master's son with one item from his vast newly-acquired wealth. The servant returned home and conveyed the sad news of the passing of his master. He extended his condolences to the son and informed him of his father's will.

"The son was stupefied. His father was a wise man who had loved him. Why would he give everything to the servant and leave only one item for him? He went to visit the rav of their community and posed the predicament to him. At first, the rav was incredulous. He knew the boy's father to be an astute businessman, in addition to being a wise and resourceful member of his community. How could he do something like this? He thought a few moments as he studied the will, and he suddenly jumped up, 'Your father is brilliant!' he screamed. The halachah is stated clearly in the Talmud, Mah shekanah eved kanah rabo, 'Whatever a servant acquires belongs to his master' (Pesachim 88b). Take the servant for yourself. Thus, everything that he owns will belong to you!" Rav Elchanan concluded the Midrash and said, "This is the underlying meaning of the Torah's eulogy of Moshe: eved Hashem. Whatever Moshe possessed in the area of ruchniyos, spirituality, belonged to Hashem. Everything that Moshe did - every endeavor, every mitzvah, every good deed - all reverted to Hashem, because Moshe was the quintessential eved, servant, totally devoted to his Master. Moshe reserved nothing for himself, because he did not view himself as a separate entity. He belonged wholly to Hashem. Therefore, the Torah has only one appellation for Moshe: eved Hashem. These two words aptly describe Moshe. Everything that he did, all of the achievements of his entire life, all belonged to Hashem. He had nothing, because it all reverted to his Master. Can there be a greater epitaph?"

Rav Elchanan summed it up, "This is every Jew's mission: to be an eved Hashem. The Chafetz Chaim achieved this pinnacle of service."

In other words, a servant is acutely aware that his goal in life is to serve his master, and that each and every one of his achievements belongs to his master. The more he negates himself, the greater is his value as a servant. In his Nitzozos, Horav Yitzchak Hershkowitz, Shlita, relates the following story, which complements this idea.

A Jew who had wandered off from the path of religious observance once came to a holy man to petition his blessing. The holy man asked him, "Do you observe Torah and mitzvos?" "No," answered the man. The man, however, did not end the conversation with his negative response. He decided to add somewhat of a rationale to justify his lack of observance. "Rebbe, the Almighty has millions of Heavenly Angels at His beck and call. They carry out His commands to the fullest extent. Does it matter to G-d if one simple Jew like me performs the mitzvos or not? Will it really make a difference if I keep Shabbos or not?" The holy man was not deterred. "Tell me," he asked, "what is your profession?" "I am an artist," the man replied.

"What is the most beautiful piece of art that you have ever seen? What captivated you the most?" the rabbi asked the artist. After a few moments, the artist replied, "I once saw a breathtaking painting of a sunset across the Kinneret. It was absolutely the most life-like imagery I had ever seen." "How much was the sticker price on that painting?" the rabbi asked. "Six million dollars" was the quick reply.

"Incredible!" the rabbi declared. "A picture that sells for six million dollars! What is there about this picture that catalyzes people to pay such an astronomical sum to own it? Indeed, we could go together to the seashore and shoot countless digital photos of the sunset, which would cost us a fraction of the money. What about this painting is so special? What is the difference between a painting crafted by a well-known artist and a picture taken by a professional photographer?"

"Well, the artist spends hours, days, weeks, at times working under difficult conditions to paint such a perfect picture," the artist explained. "All of this toil - coupled with the artist's expertise - can translate itself into hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of dollars. Six million dollars, however, is an outrageous amount of money to ask for a picture which can be taken with a camera. You still have not explained to me why the price should be so outrageously high," said the rabbi.

The rabbi continued, "Let me explain to you why the painting is so expensive. A photograph cannot lie. The photographer cannot alter the image that is present before him. His camera captures what he sees. There is no work involved on the part of the photographer. He focuses his camera lens on the subject and presses a button. What he sees is what is printed on the paper. An artist is different. He has the ability and talent to alter the scene, to darken the sky, change the hue of the water's color, present a different texture of the sand. Indeed, he can do anything, but he does not. He suppresses his instincts to innovate, to change, to express his inner personal feelings, because he wants the painting to be true to its reality. He wants to present a picture perfect image of the sun setting on the Kinneret, without personal embellishment of any kind. This is why the painting is so expensive. It is the product of extraordinary talent and exceptional devotion to a goal of presenting the scene as it existed at that time. Anyone can take a photograph, but it takes a unique and dedicated artist to prepare such a painting.

"You asked why Hashem does not have the Heavenly Angels perform the mitzvos. What impact can a simple human being have in the Heavenly scheme of things? Angels are programmed to follow Divine Will. They have no yetzer hora, evil inclination, to deter them from their pre-ordained goals. Human beings have to overcome so much in order to perform a mitzvah k'tikunah, in accordance with Hashem's Will. It takes enormous effort, enthusiasm, and joy to overcome the challenges and obstacles presented by the crafty yetzer hora; at times, it even demands one to triumph over physical and economic challenge. Yet, all of this effort pays off when a mitzvah is performed properly. It means so much to Hashem - much more than the six million dollar painting." This is the meaning of eved Hashem. A true servant of Hashem allows nothing to stand in the way of his serving the Almighty. He is focused on his mission, a soldier completely dedicated to his service. At times, the "frum" yetzer hora encourages him to embellish the mitzvah, to enhance it with his own innovation. He does not listen, because he follows only what Hashem tells him to do. He is a loyal and trusted servant. He knows no other way.

Then the days of tearful mourning for Moshe ended. (34:8)

In the beginning of the pasuk, the Torah writes that the period of mourning for Moshe Rabbeinu lasted for thirty days. Why does it conclude with the words, Vayitmu yimei bechi eivel Moshe, "Then the days of tearful mourning for Moshe ended." Once it stated that the period of mourning lasted for thirty days, it is obvious that, after thirty days, the mourning period had been concluded. The phrase vayitmu, "Then there ended," appears redundant.

The HaKsav v'Hakabalah distinguishes between the words tamim and shalem, both which intimate completion. The word tamim, from which tam/va'yitmu is derived, implies qualitative completion. It implies perfection in the qualitative sense, such as a korban, animal offering, must be tamim, perfect, in the sense that there are no physical blemishes on its body. Shalem/shleimus, however, infers quantitative completion/perfection. When the Torah refers to the sins of the Emorites as not being shalem, complete, it means that the number of sins that has to be tallied has not been completed.

Thus, when the Torah informs us that the thirty day mourning period for Moshe had ended, it should have used the words vayishlemu (y'mei b'chi eivel Moshe), which would refer to the quantitative mourning for Moshe. Instead, it uses the word vayitmu, which bespeaks qualitative mourning, as if to say: the various mourning rituals required to mourn for Moshe had ended. Bathing, cutting hair and other prohibitions of this period was no longer forbidden. The actual mourning - the sadness, the grief, the feel of irreparable loss over their quintessential leader - did not end. It will never end! The void left by the passing of Moshe Rabbeinu cannot and will never be filled! Vayitmu - the qualitative, traditional ritual of mourning had come to an end. Shleimus - completion of mourning for Moshe, is impossible.

What a powerful lesson for us to absorb. In every generation, we mourn Moshe. This is especially crucial as we are mesayeim, complete, the Torah on Simchas Torah. Moshe Rabbeinu, our quintessential Rebbe - who was the medium for the giving and teaching of the Torah - is gone. What greater tribute can we make to his memory than to commence immediately with Sefer Bereishis. Moshe is very much alive in the Torah that we study.

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

Times change; people change; society and culture change. Change impacts upon our lives to the point that what had been right for one generation might not be right for the following generation. Mentalities change, and the new generation might have a different perspective, a varied approach to life. Different needs require different approaches. Those who are charged with teaching Torah to each ensuing generation has to adjust, adopt new skills and new methods, because their charges are of a different generation.

Horav Nissan Alpert, zl, posits that this is why Moshe Rabbeinu shattered the Luchos, Tablets, right before the very eyes of Klal Yisrael. The Torah alludes to the awesome power exhibited by Moshe. Rashi explains that this refers to his decision to break the Luchos before the Jewish nation. He did not ask Hashem; he just did it - and Hashem indicated that He was in agreement. It was the right and proper thing to do. Why? Why did Moshe think that the Luchos required such definitive action? Why did Hashem agree with Moshe?

This generation was different from the generation that left Egypt, but were they not one and the same? It had only been a short few weeks since the Exodus; what happened to change them? The chet ha'eigel, sin of the Golden Calf. The present Luchos were Maase Elokim, the handiwork of Hashem. This "altered" generation, having sinned egregiously, required a new set of Luchos - one made by Moshe. The original Luchos were no longer the right tools for transmitting the Torah to that particular generation. Why?

The generation which was liberated from Egypt experienced a series of miracles and wonders - all by the Hand of G-d. They miraculously went from slavery to freedom, from bondage to nationhood. Their entire existence was min haShomayim, from Heaven. Their Luchos reflected their needs.

The new generation was different. Having just made the Golden Calf, their needs were different. They had descended from the summit of spirituality to the pits of aggression and despair. They had demonstrated their independence. No longer under the thumb of their Egyptian taskmasters, they decided to act out their newly-found freedom. They sinned.

This generation would be charged with transmitting the Torah to ensuing generations. First, they would need to acquire it - not as a gift, but through toil and struggle. They would have to earn it, to work for it. It was now up to them.

Moshe recognized that this generation would require a set of Luchos that reflected this new reality, the nation's new mentality. Hashem instructed Moshe psal lecha - "You make the Luchos - you yourself!"

The Torah is inimitable. It endures forever and does not change - one iota. Its keilim, pedagogic tools, for transmitting the Torah, however, can change from generation to generation. In order to transmit the Torah effectively to each ensuing generation, we might have to improvise our teaching methodology. It all depends upon the need.

Dear Readers, A repeat performance carries with it the fear of complacency. When doing the same thing over again, one might lose some of the original freshness, excitement and enthusiasm. Being that this is the culmination of the twenty-sixth cycle of Peninim, I feel it is especially incumbent to acknowledge my overwhelming indebtedness to Hashem Yisborach for the extraordinary siyata diShmaya which He accorded me, and to express my sincere gratitude to those who, year in and year out, have worked to make Peninim a reality. I truly feel the same sense of hakoras hatov today as I did twenty-six years ago when I began this journey. I pray that the same emotion and vivacity accompany me in the years to come. Gratitude is never superfluous - nor should it be - since it defines the humanness of a person. It is one value that cannot be overdone.

Mrs. Sharon Weimer and Mrs. Tova Scheinerman prepare the weekly manuscript with extreme patience, and, at times, creative ingenuity to decipher my illegible scrawl. It is difficult to determine what I mean, especially when words are missing. Likewise, Mrs. Marilyn Berger successfully navigates my ambiguous writing and unravels what it is I mean to say. She allows for Peninim to be presentable - and acceptable - to the wider spectrum of the world Jewish community. She subtly informs me when I gravitate too much in either direction away from the center. Last, but not least, Rabbi Malkiel Hefter somehow makes the time in his busy schedule to see to it that the final copy is disseminated expediently.

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 all started with Baruch Berger of Brooklyn, New York, who came to me 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. Four years ago, shortly before Rosh Hashanah, 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 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 went so far as to Anglicize the text to make it more readable in the United Kingdom. I finally had the privilege a year ago of meeting him face to face. We became instant friends. Sadly, this past summer Eliyahu's life came to an untimely end. It was a shock to me and to his many friends all over the world. His widow, Angela, has been shouldering the responsibility of keeping Eliyahu's legacy of harbotzas Torah alive. Rabbi Moshe Peleg, Rav of Shaarei Zedek Medical Center, prints and distributes Peninim throughout the English speaking communities 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. Somehow, she always finds areas that require correction. After carefully reading the manuscript, she offers her constructive suggestions, and, with her keen eye, she enhances the manuscript's readability. She is literally the last word before the weekly edition 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 both: be blessed with good health; merit that Torah and chesed continue to 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

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