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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


The Kohen who is exalted above his brethren. (21:10)

The Kohen Gadol is described as the individual who is the most exalted above his brethren. Chazal define this greatness as exalted in piety, wisdom, handsomeness, wealth (which, if he does not have, is supplied to him), and strength. Obviously, the two most critical requirements are piety and wisdom; the other criteria are mentioned so that the average person, who does not look beyond the external, is still impressed. While appearance certainly does play a role, as does physical strength, why should wealth be important? Indeed, material wealth seems to be the antithesis of ruchniyos, spirituality.

The Rebbe of Rizhin, zl, was a tzaddik without peer; yet, he surrounded himself with fabulous wealth, such that it was to the envy of everyone. All of his personal belongings, even his every-day cutlery, were fashioned from the most expensive materials. The buttons of his bekeshe, silk frock, were of solid gold, studded with diamonds, and his pillowcase was woven from pure gold thread. Prior to his petirah, passing from this world, the Rebbe said, "Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi attested about himself that he never benefitted from this world - not even the amount of a small finger. I testify about myself that I did not enjoy from this world - anything - not even the amount of a bit of thread. The reason for my grand and royal conduct was all l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven."

To understand this statement, we refer to an exposition of the Rebbe concerning a statement in the Talmud Berachos 17b. Chazal say, "Every day a Heavenly Voice declares, 'The entire world is sustained because of (in the merit of) Chanina, My son; yet, Chanina, My son, suffices (to live) on a kav of charuvin, carob, from erev Shabbos to erev Shabbos (week to week, this is all he requires to live).'" The Rebbe asks, "What is this Chazal teaching us?" He explains, "The Heavenly Voice bemoans the fact that, while the world is sustained on the standard which seems sufficient for Chanina, he is to live in deprivation, feeling the constant pangs of hunger. Why is this?" asks the Rebbe, "Because Chanina needs no more than a drop of carob to sustain himself. When the tzaddik is able to live on a little, everyone else is sustained on that standard. A tzaddik who demands more, both in food and in material accruements to support his material lifestyle, it will trickle down to his flock. They, too, will be sustained on such a level."

The holy tzaddik, Horav Uri, zl, m'Strelisk, who was known as the Saraf, fiery one, established a chassidic court of students who represented the apex of spiritual devotion. They neither benefited, nor sought to benefit, from this world in any way. For them, it was all about ruchniyos, spirituality. It is related that once one of the senior Admorim, a holy, saintly Rebbe, visited the Saraf, and he asked him, "Why is it that your chassidim live such a life of physical/material deprivation? Why do you not bless them with parnassah b'harchavah, good, sustainable livelihood? Why should they live in such abject poverty?"

Immediately, the Saraf called over a group of chassidim and said to them, "Here sits next to me one of the true tzaddikim, righteous persons, of our generation. You may request from him anything that you want. Whoever is in need may ask for the Rebbe's blessing." One chasid appeared and asked, "I would like to recite Baruch She'Amar (Morning Prayer) with the same feeling and devotion as the Rebbe." This was the type of chasid the Saraf produced; one that had no need for material wealth whatsoever. When the Saraf passed away, a number of his chassidim traveled to Rizhin to seek guidance from the Rebbe. It is important to underscore that these men were of a spiritual calibre without peer. Their exalted spiritual achievements were the consequence of a life of total devotion to spirituality.

The chasidim presented their kvitalch, written requests, to the Rizhiner, who scanned them and noticed that each one requested only spiritual ascendance. There was not a single request for material sustenance. The Rizhiner returned their petitions and said, "It is written in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 60:5) that he who recites the first pasuk of Krias Shema without proper devotion and intention does not fulfill the obligation to recite Krias Shema, since this is the primary opportunity for Kabbolas Ole Malchus Shomayim, accepting upon oneself the yoke of the Heavenly Kingdom. Additionally, in Shulchan Aruch (57:4), it is written that he who does not have proper kavanah, intention, when he recites the pasuk Poseiach es Yadecha, 'Open up Your hand, (in Ashrei)' also does not fulfill his obligation. He must repeat his request. This teaches us that it is not enough to ask only for spirituality. One must also see to it that his material needs are addressed!"

The Kohen who is exalted above his brethren… he shall not come near any dead person; he shall not contaminate himself to his father or his mother. (21:10,11)

The Chassidic Masters posit that the Kohen Gadol is prohibited from defiling himself ritually (metamei) to relatives - including even his parents, because, as the individual who stands at the spiritual helm of the nation, he should feel equally close to all Jews. The concept of "family" should not apply to him, since all of Klal Yisrael is his family. This is, of course, a very noble concept to which an individual who climbs the ladder of spiritual ascendency should aspire. Veritably, feeling a stronger sense of closeness to one's family is entirely normal. The Ohaiv Yisrael, Horav David, zl, m'Lelov, would bemoan, "How can people refer to me as a tzaddik, righteous person, if, in fact, I feel closer to my son and immediate family than I do to others?" Once, Rav David's son became gravely ill, causing his entire community of followers to pray fervently for his return to health. The chassidim loved Rav David; they knew that he acutely felt their pain. Thus, they reciprocated. They kept praying in prayer groups 24/7 until the doctor informed them that the danger had passed; he was on the road to recovery. The community's representatives came to Rav David's house to wish him a Shehechiyanu and found him immersed in sadness, crying profusely. They immediately asked what was wrong. Amid his tears he replied, "If anyone else would have taken ill, would you have gone to such extreme length to pray on his behalf? No! You did this only for my son. Should I not cry?"

The Rebbe was certainly appreciative of the efforts on behalf of his son. He was concerned, however, that other Jews could not hope to have a support system such as he had. I think it boils down to reciprocity. Students/chassidim feel close to their Rebbe because he feels close to them. The Lelover was an extremely warm and caring person whose students were his life. Thus, they reciprocated. Should it necessarily be this way, or should the students' relationship be in return for the material, the Torah and ethics that the Rebbe is imparting to them? For that matter, should a child's relationship with a parent depend on how "nice" the parent is to him/her, or should it be so because the parent partners with Hashem in the child's creation? Undoubtedly, the Torah that we study should catalyze our love, but, due to the fact that we are human beings, subject to the whims of human nature, it would require very mature students and children to rise to such "spiritual appreciation."

Love for a son or a student can, at times, overshadow all else. One becomes so obsessed with pride over his son's/daughter's success that he forgets that the fellow with whom he is speaking either has no children or has not been fortunate in raising them properly. Arrogating over others does not necessarily have to be about material blessing. One can be the recipient of incredible spiritual blessing and unknowingly, without thinking, rub someone's face in the dirt with his comments.

The young (Horav) Zelig Reuven Bergis was an outstanding genius, whose hasmadah, diligence in Torah study, was legendary. As a young boy, he longed to go to yeshivah gedolah where there were Torah giants from whom he could expand his erudition in Torah. His parents wanted the best for their son, and they began contemplating the merits of each yeshivah. It came down to two yeshivos: Mir and Volozhin, both outstanding schools whose leadership was without peer. It was a personal proclivity which one would best serve the needs of their budding young scholar. Finally, Rav Tzvi Bergis turned to his son and said, "My child, the decision is yours. We will abide by it. I ask one favor: please do not inform me of your decision. Simply pick the yeshivah of your choice, travel there, settle yourself, and, in a few months, when all is well, you will drop us a line telling us where you are and how you are doing."

Rav Tzvi saw the look of incredulity in his son's eyes, so he explained the reason behind his strange request. "My son, your mother and I realize Hashem's blessing in granting us such a son as you. Your superior mind and outstanding desire for learning has enabled you to leave for yeshivah at an age at which other boys are still playing games. Most people are not so fortunate. Some have no children. Others have children that are not yeshivah material, and yet others, either do not have the wherewithal or the desire to spend what they should to provide for a yeshivah education. So, you see, we raise up our hands to Heaven with incredible hakoras hatov, gratitude.

On the Shabbos after you leave, I will go to shul, and people are going to ask, "Where is Reuven?" My friends have sons who are wonderful, lovely young men, who are working as an apprentice or simply are not yeshivah material. If I tell them that you went to Volozhin or Mir, which are today's preeminent yeshivos, they will feel a twinge of jealousy. Why would I want to cause another Jew pain? Now, however, when they ask me where you are, I will say I told you to look for a yeshivah. I honestly do not know where my son is presently. I will be telling the truth and not offending anyone. Later on, they will forget about it and you can write to me."

A father's love for his son was superseded by his sensitivity for other Jew's feelings.

These are the appointed Festivals of Hashem, the holy convocations… in the first month… in the afternoon is the time of the Pesach-offering to Hashem. (23:4,5)

In his Chorev (23), Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, explains why the Festivals, the Yamim Tovim, are referred to in the Torah as Moadim, which means appointed times. He writes, 'The Moadim summon us to submit ourselves entirely to the contemplation and inner realization of those ideals which lie at their foundation. The Moadim are days which stand out from among the other days of the year. They summon us from our everyday life to halt and to dedicate all of our spiritual activities to them. They (the Moadim) give us the spirit, power, and sanctity for the future by reviving those ideas upon which our whole life is based."

We have noticed one common misconception with regard to the Moadim - and all consecrated milestone occasions, for that matter. We are under the impression that we celebrate the time period designated as Pesach (for example) because we were liberated from Egypt at that time. The liberation was the reason for Pesach; thus, these days became a Moed, time of meeting with Hashem. This is the misconception. When Hashem created the world, He infused specific periods with a unique character, i.e., freedom/rejuvenation; exile/mourning; joy/festivity, etc. During those periods in which a certain spiritual character prevails, Hashem performed specific miracles and occurrences endemic to the "times." Thus, since the month of Nissan is mesugal, a preordained time for rejuvenation and freedom, it was the perfect time to redeem the Jews from Egypt. This concept is reiterated both by the Chassidic masters and Ethicists. The period of time and its character were the precursors for the events that occurred at that time.

Since the first Moed (following Shabbos) cited by the Torah is Pesach, we will use it as the paradigm for establishing the relationship between the "time" and the designated moed. The days which we call Pesach comprised a special period in the spiritual cosmos even before the Jews were redeemed from Egypt. Avraham Avinu triumphed over the four mighty kings on the first night of Pesach. It was on this night that Hashem "visited" Lavan and warned him not to harm Yaakov Avinu. It was also on this night that Hashem warned Avimelech not to touch Sarah Imeinu. (The source for this dateline is the piyut in the Haggadah - V'chein vayehi ba'chatzi halaylah.) Yitzchak Avinu blessed Yaakov Avinu on the first night of Pesach. Avraham was informed on Pesach night that Yitzchak would be born. Indeed, Yitzchak was born on Pesach night.

Apparently, the days that we traditionally celebrate as Pesach have great spiritual significance - a significance which predates Pesach! Horav Elimelech Biderman, Shlita, quotes Horav Levi Yitzchak Berdichever, zl, who says that these are days on which Hashem reveals His love for His People and bestows His goodness on them. The first day of Pesach is most mesugal, appropriate, for this spiritual flow of beneficence. Pesach is a time for miracles. Thus, rather than yetzias Mitzrayim, the Egyptian exodus, being identified as the reason that we celebrate Pesach on Nissan 15, it is just the opposite. Pesach occurred when it did because this period of time is most appropriate for it. On Pesach, Hashem's love for His children is more pronounced.

The Levlover Rebbe goes on to say that many miracles happen to us in the merit of the holy Seder which we celebrate on Pesach night. When we are informed of a time in which Hashem is especially close to us, we should take advantage of this news. The Zohar teaches that on Pesach night Hashem Himself, together with His Ministering Angels, visits every Jewish home and listens to their recital of the Pesach story. Imagine if He comes and our "story" is lacking, our involvement in sharing it with our family is deficient. Need I say more? Horav Shimon Shkop, zl, would say nothing at the Seder but words of Torah, due to the presence of the Shechinah, Divine Presence.

One stipulation must be noted. While the Seder night is a night designated for miracles, and the opportunity to avail oneself of this good fortune is open to everyone, in order to merit a fortuitous result, one must invest effort. Without effort, it is like having the keys to a car that has no gas. If one does not fill the tank - he is going nowhere.

Horav Leible Eiger, zl, observes that we eat an egg on Pesach night for a variety of reasons. He suggests a powerful implication to be derived from the egg. Just as an egg has the potential to become a chicken when it is warmed under a hen, likewise, many great and wonderful things can happen to us on this night. We must, however, bring the warmth, our enthusiasm and joy, to the Seder; otherwise, it will remain an egg, unrealized potential. The moment is ripe; the opportunity is there. We must seize the moment!

The son of a Yisraeli woman went out - and he was the son of an Egyptian man… the name of his mother was Shlomis bas Divri. (24:10,11)

Chazal (Midrash Rabbah, Vayikra 32) state that Klal Yisrael was redeemed from Egypt due to its high standard of morality. Indeed, not one Jewish man or woman was involved with an Egyptian, except for Shlomis bas Divri, who is singled out in the Torah. This is our Torah's way of teaching that no other Jew or Jewess had sinned. A powerful statement, attested to by the Torah. How did they do it? It is not as if Klal Yisrael was perfect. Veritably, the people clung steadfast to certain traditions and lifestyles, but to rise above the moral turpitude that was the symbol of Egyptian culture demanded superhuman commitment. From where did they derive this extraordinary adherence to morality?

Horav Chaim Kamil, zl, quotes the Talmud Megillah 29, where Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai states that, wherever the Jewish people have been exiled, Hashem's Divine Presence has accompanied them. This was especially true in Egypt. The Maharasha questions the proof from Egypt, since it was obvious that Hashem revealed Himself often to Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon in Egypt. He explains that Egypt was unique in that the bar of gilui Shechinah, the revelation of Hashem's Presence, was raised there to the point that it was on a scale equitable with the Divine Presence in the Mishkan and the Bais Hamikdash. This now applies everywhere that we have made our home. Hashem is always there with us. (Perhaps some of us must look a little harder.)

We now understand Klal Yisrael's secret for success during the Egyptian exodus. V'Hi sheamdah l'aavoseinu, it was the Shechinah accompanying our ancestors in Egypt that protected them from falling into moral bankruptcy. They did not defile themselves due to the merit that the Shechinah was among them. With this in mind, we can never say that we are unable to cope with the spiritual challenges that confront us in galus, exile. We are not alone. We have Hashem in our midst. Can we ask for more? Do we need more than the ultimate siyata diShmaya, Divine Assistance, of Hashem's Presence?

We often feel lost in a generation whose societal culture has descended to such a nadir of depravity that it would probably be the envy of the Egyptians. While it is true that Torah study is thriving like never before, the challenges to one's spirituality presented by various media and technology - in tandem with a society in which everything goes - is like nothing we, as a people, have ever experienced. Knowing that Hashem is with us in this last galus is encouraging.

L'sitcha Elyon relates that Horav Baruch Ber Leibowitz, zl, Kaminitzer Rosh Yeshivah and author of Bircas Shmuel, once spoke to an assembly of yeshivah students concerning the spiritual descendacy of the generations (yeridas ha'doros). He quoted David Hamelech's enjoinment to his son Shlomo (Hamelech): "Towards the children of Barzillai… act with kindness, and they shall be among those who eat at your table, for, in this way, they befriended me when I fled from Avshalom, your brother" (Melachim 1,2:7). This is an enormous reward for the little food they shared with him! For this reason, they have the merit of being guests at the king's table and having ready access to him at all times?

The Rosh Yeshivah began by bemoaning the spiritual difficulties that confront the yeshivah student on an almost daily basis. On the other hand, the opportunity for spiritual growth at such a time is unparalleled, quite like David Hamelech's predicament, compelled to flee for his life lest Avshalom overtake him; indeed, he was a prisoner in his own country. While people respect the king, they fear the repercussions from the king's enemies, lest they allow the king into their home, lest they show him any form of favor. It is specifically at such a time that he who opens his door for the king - even if he gives him very little - earns exalted eventual reward! This is what Barzillai did - and this is why he was so rewarded. It was all in the timing. There was an unparalleled window of opportunity - and he seized the moment!

"This is the situation in our generation," declared the Rosh Yeshivah. "It is the generation of Ikvesa d'Moshicha, (the heel of Moshiach). Every ben Torah who toils diligently to study and teach, to observe and perform, regardless of its negligible value in comparison to (what was expected and performed in) previous generations, is sufficient for him to be among those who gaze upon the King and eat at His Table!" It is a time for seizing the moment. This could also be the reason for the unique siyata diShmaya that we are accorded today, unlike any other previous time.

When the Chafetz Chaim, zl, visited Yeshivas Toras Chesed in Lodz, Poland, the Rosh Yeshivah, Horav Sender Diskin, zl, asked the venerable sage to speak words of inspiration to the students. The Chafetz Chaim acquiesced. "I have always been troubled," he began, "and I have ruminated over this a number of times. The saintly gaon, Horav Akiva Eiger, zl, lived not long ago. Yet, in greatness in Torah, he is without peer. It is obvious from his responsa and novellae that his Torah study was blessed with unusual siyata diShmaya. His questions are earth-shattering; his expositions are so brilliantly put together that they bring boundless joy to those who study his words. I have wondered what was the secret - the reason - for such siyata diShmaya, which is unfounded in the generation preceding him - or after him. Why did he merit to become a gaon among gaonim?

"I have thought about this very much, and I have arrived at one conclusion. During the generation of Rav Akiva Eiger, the scourge of the Haskalah, Enlightenment, reared its ugly head (author's translation). The apostasy and heresy which they spawned were devastating, destroying the lives of many of our unsuspecting co-religionists. The shuls were emptied; yeshivos were closed due to lack of attendance (anyone who studied Torah was labeled a primitive parasite). The Torah was cast aside to a corner, like a pitiful orphan. It was specifically in this generation, when the study of Torah had waned so miserably, that Rav Akiva Eiger rose to prominence. Every generation is allotted a certain amount of siyata diShmaya. He was there to take extra portions - because, sadly, no one else came forward."

The Chafetz Chaim concluded, "Today, it is not much different. We are living in a time when those who hate the Torah will do anything to prevent the ben Torah from achieving his goals. The siyata diShmaya out there is multifold and available to whoever seizes the opportunity! He will be blessed by Hashem with uncanny success in Torah!"

Va'ani Tefillah

Ki mocheil v'soleiach Atah. For You pardon and forgive.

Interestingly, we first ask Hashem for slichah, forgiveness (s'lach lanu), followed by our request for His pardon (m'chal lanu). Yet, when we conclude our petition, we praise Hashem as mocheil v'soleiach, He Who pardons and forgives. The sequence is altered. Why? Iyun Tefillah explains that, when we petition Hashem, we commence with slichah, forgiveness; it is casual. It is only afterwards that we present our intense request m'chal lanu, pardon us. At the conclusion, we are praising G-d. It is, thus, appropriate to laud His greater attribute: the ability to pardon, to do away with rebellious sin. We then mention His lesser attribute of soleiach, which He employs in addressing lesser sins.

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