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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


This shall they give - everyone who passes through the census - a half shekel. (30:13)

The nation was commanded that every male Jew was to give a half-shekel donation each year. When the Bais HaMikdash was standing, this money was used for the maintenance of Korbanos Tzibbur, Public Sacrificial service. The half-shekel was chosen, as opposed to a whole unit, to imply that every Jew is incomplete as an individual. It is only when he joins together with another Jew that he becomes a whole and fully functional member of the community.

The Mishnah in Meseches Shekalim 1:1 says: On the first day of Adar, announcements are made concerning the donation of the Shekalim and concerning Kilayim, crops that are commingled in a forbidden manner. Is there some connection between these two seemingly disparate matters? At first glance, Shekalim and Kilayim are two divergent issues. Why does the Mishnah juxtapose them upon one another?

Horav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zl, explains that, as mentioned above, a person must strive to cultivate relationships. As the Tanna says in Pirkei Avos 1:6, Knei lecha chaver, "Acquire for yourself a friend." One who lives as an individual lives as an incomplete person. He is missing a part of himself. Nonetheless, one must maintain criteria with regard to his relationships. He must be sure to associate only with those people who are appropriate. Just as certain admixtures of crops are forbidden, so, too, is it unwise to develop an affiliation with people of questionable or incompatible character. The positive effect of a good friend - and, conversely, the negative effect of a bad friend - cannot be emphasized enough.

And He gave Moshe (the Luchos) when He finished speaking to him on Har Sinai. (31:18)

Moshe Rabbeinu remained on Har Sinai for forty days and nights, while Hashem taught him the entire Torah. In the Talmud Nedarim 38a, Chazal tell us that, despite Moshe's outstanding acumen and memory, "he learned and forgot, learned and forgot." In other words, he could not retain the Torah lessons that he was receiving from Hashem. In truth, this is not surprising. How could a human being comprehend the wisdom of the Creator? This troubled Moshe as he became increasingly frustrated with his inability to absorb and retain his knowledge of the Torah. In the end, Hashem gave him his Torah knowledge as a gift. We wonder why it had to be this way. Hashem knew that a yelud ishah, human being, was incapable of absorbing the entire Torah, and, ultimately, the only way he would grasp it would be as a gift. Why did Hashem make Moshe spend forty days on the mountain working at a task that was impossible and would inevitably end in failure?

The Alshich HaKadosh explains that Hashem selected Moshe as the one to receive and eventually transmit the Torah to Klal Yisrael. He would be the source from which future generations of Jews would learn Torah. To be worthy of this monumental privilege, Moshe would have to sustain the emotional pain and frustration of "learning and forgetting" the Torah that he had been taught for forty days. Horav Avraham Pam, zl, notes, as cited by Rabbi Sholom Smith, in his anthology on Chumash, that Moshe's frustration was probably exacerbated by the realization that he would only be able to transmit to Klal Yisrael that which he remembered. Whatever he forgot would be lost to eternity. Yet, Moshe persevered. His desire to absorb the eternal verities and wisdom of the Torah catalyzed him to go on, not to give up. Thus, he earned the Divine "gift" of the Torah.

Moshe earned the privilege to be the quintessential Torah leader, relaying the Torah in its entirety, even the profound insights that every perceptive student in the future would innovate, only because he overcame his own frustration, his feelings that his efforts were nothing more than an exercise in futility.

Rav Pam adds that it is human nature to forget. Even the rare genius forgets. One of the greatest challenges on the road to distinction in Torah knowledge is the feeling of despondency that one gets when he forgets much of what he has learned. The yetzer hora, evil inclination, avers, "Why waste your learning? You are going to forget most of it anyway. Why expend the energy when you could be doing something more productive?"

What really is the purpose of studying if it will be forgotten anyway? First, we acknowledge that Hashem rewards study for the purpose of study. There is a mitzvah of limud haTorah, study of Torah - not yedias haTorah, the knowledge of Torah. Whether the reward is received in This World or in Olam Habah, the World to Come, it will nonetheless be received. Second, Hashem granted the Torah to us as a gift. When one indicates his appreciation of the gift, when he demonstrates that he knows the value of the gift, he is then worthy of receiving it. One who studies shows that he cares and seeks mastery. He is deserving of that gift.

Last, Rav Pam cites the Talmud in Niddah 30b, which teaches us that an embryo developing in its mother's womb is taught the entire Torah by a Heavenly Angel. As soon as the child emerges, an angel strikes him on his mouth, and he forgets everything. Why bother teaching Torah to an embryo that will forget it anyway? The Bach explains that the Torah that is taught prior to birth is absorbed by all 248 organs of the body. Thus, even though he will forget it at birth, the Torah will, nonetheless, permeate the child's body, infusing its soul forever with the holiness of Torah. In addition, the Eitz Yosef explains that once the Torah is suffused into the child's body, his task after birth is merely to remember what he learned from the angel during his embryonic stage.

Last, the Sefer Chassidim offers encouragement to the individual who is frustrated by his inability to remember what he learns. One should not be disheartened, regardless of how hard he struggles to understand Torah to no avail. In the World to Come, when he will be a student in the Yeshivah Shel Maalah, Heavenly Academy, he will be able to understand all of the Torah that he has struggled to comprehend in This World. His efforts and his struggles will then be richly rewarded.

Our reward is commensurate with the effort that we expend. Moshe Rabbeinu epitomizes this concept. Reflecting upon Moshe Rabbeinu makes our task that much easier.

And the people gathered around Aharon and said to him, "Rise up, make for us gods." (32:1)

The sin of the Golden Calf suggests a multitude of questions. First, how did they do it? How were they able to create a molten image of a calf? Rashi tells us that Aharon collected a wealth of gold and Jewelry. Afterwards, members of the erev rav, mixed multitude, trouble makers and rabble rousers who accompanied the Jewish People when they left Egypt, might have used the sorcery that they were taught in Egypt. Alternatively, Michah might have had with him a tablet upon which was written ali shor, "rise up ox," a phrase which Moshe Rabbeinu used to raise up Yosef's coffin from the Nile River. This caused the calf to rise from the molten gold. According to the Tikunei Zohar, the leaders of the erev rav were two of Bilaam's sons, who in Egypt had graduated to the top of their class in witchcraft and sorcery. They used all of their acquired powers of tumah, spiritual contamination, to create a living idol of molten gold.

This answer leads up to a greater, more cogent question. If the erev rav had their own ability to create this idol, why did they approach Aharon? Apparently, they did not need him to make the eigal, Golden Calf, so why did they bother with him? What makes this question more pressing is the fact that the Zohar HaKadosh declares that if Aharon had told them to place their gold on the ground, rather than to give it directly to him, the magic forces would have dissipated. In other words, they were taking a risk by giving the gold to him. Why did they take a chance of endangering their plans by seeking Aharon's assistance?

The Maharil Diskin gives a compelling explanation for including Aharon in their diabolical plan. Derech eretz kadmah laTorah, "Derech eretz/manners, human decency, precedes Torah." In other words, in order for something to succeed, it is essential that a process be followed. That process demands that the elders - be they rabbinic authority, lay leadership, parents, mentors, or whoever is in charge - must be consulted. Otherwise, an individual's actions are indicative of a lack of control, a lack of focus, an accident about to happen. When leadership is not consulted, it is a recipe for disaster, both spiritually and physically. Indeed, upon recounting the episode of the meraglim, tragedy of the spies, Moshe Rabbeinu emphasized that everybody came to him in a tumult, with the young pushing the elders, exhibiting a lack of derech eretz. This was the first sign that trouble was brewing and a disaster would occur.

The erev rav were very clever. They were not satisfied merely to create a Golden Calf. They wanted to make sure that everybody participated in its creation. They did not want a single Jew to say that his hands were clean, that he was innocent. No one would be more righteous than they. No one was going to denigrate them by saying, "I am better than you." In order to ensure "perfect attendance" at their unprecedented act of chutzpah, they included Aharon. When Chur intervened, they killed him.

It is not that they really had derech eretz. They just knew that unless they exhibited derech eretz, unless they put on a show, they would not get the following that they sought. They needed acceptance. Having Aharon in their camp increased the chances for their success.

"Go, descend - for your people that you brought up from Egypt has become corrupt. (32:7)

The sin of the Golden Calf has left a dark spot on the spiritual character of Klal Yisrael. Indeed, its repercussions, both from a spiritual perspective and from a punitive point of view, affect us until this very day. Particularly, occurring shortly after the highpoint of our history, the Revelation and the Giving of the Torah, this sin was one of epic proportion. Yet, there is a positive aspect, as evidenced by Chazal's statement in the Talmud Avodah Zarah 4b. They say, "Klal Yisrael made the Golden Calf only to give a pischon peh, opening (of the mouth) for baalei teshuvah, penitents or returnees to Judaism." Just as David HaMelech was not suited for "that" deed (David's misconstrued sin with Batsheva), neither was Yisrael suited for the Golden Calf. Why did they act that way? "So that if an individual sins, he is told to 'look' at the 'other' individual who has sinned, and if a community or group sins, they are told to look at the 'other' group that has sinned."

Rashi's commentary reinforces this. He comments, "They were strong and in full control of their yetzer hora, evil inclination. In turn, they should not have fallen prey to the blandishments of the evil inclination. It was, however, a decree from the King (Hashem) in order to give an opportunity for the sinner. This way he will not say, 'I am not going to repent. It is too late. I will not be accepted.' To him, we say, 'Go derive a lesson from the Golden Calf.' They denied (Hashem), and, yet, their teshuvah, repentance, was accepted."

That generation should have been able to overcome its collective yetzer hora. Hashem, however, did not want that. He wanted to teach a lesson to future generations. People, by their very nature, fear change. Thus, one who has sinned and now must go through the process of teshuvah looks for every excuse to justify his misdeed and avoid repenting. He is afraid that his teshuvah will not be accepted. So, why bother?

In order to circumvent such a defeatist attitude, Hashem prepared the way that even such great individuals as those who received the Torah and David HaMelech should also fall into the clutches of sin. Their eventual teshuvah serves as a standard and a guide for others. If "they" can fall and raise themselves up through teshuvah, so can we. If they could erase the taint of sin, despite Hashem's extreme displeasure with them, so can we. It was worth it for Hashem to "allow" His noble servants to err, so that generations of others could learn from them.

Horav Chanoch HaKohen, zl, m'Alexander, interprets the famous pasuk of U'beyom pakdi u'pakadeti aleihem es chatasam, "And on the day that I make My account, I shall bring their sin to account against them" (Shemos 32:34), which is usually defined as a condemnation presaging everlasting punishment. In a positive note, in the future, when a Jew sins, Hashem will say, "If I forgave 'their' sin, I will certainly forgive the sins of others." Indeed, the tradition is that when his chassidim heard this from the Alexander Rebbe, they became so overjoyed that they danced throughout the night.

Moshe would take the Tent and patch it outside the campů and call it a Tent of Meeting. (33:7)

Klal Yisrael's involvement in the sin of the Golden Calf effected a negative critical change in their spiritual persona. In his commentary to the end of the parsha (34:30), Rashi notes that the people feared coming close to Moshe Rabbeinu. "Come and see the great power of sin," Rashi says. "Prior to extending themselves to the Golden Calf, they were able to look at Moshe without fear, without trembling. Once they sinned, however, they shivered and trembled even before the Karnei Hod, Rays of Glory, of Moshe." Consequently, Moshe moved his tent out of the camp, so that those who sought the word of G-d would go there. While there is a difference of opinion between Rashi and the Ramban as to when Moshe moved, it is clear that once the people had sinned and fallen from their lofty spiritual perch, such that Hashem declared that He would not reside among them, Moshe also left. His tent remained outside the camp until Rosh Chodesh Nissan, at which time the Mishkan was inaugurated and became the new Ohel Moed.

The Talmud Berachos 63b relates Hashem's reaction to Moshe's move. "Now they will say, 'The Rav is angry, and the student is angry. What about Klal Yisrael? What will be with them? If you return your tent among them, good. If not, Yehoshua bin Nun, your disciple, will serve instead of you.'" Basically, Hashem was telling Moshe that he had no right to leave. Klal Yisrael needed him. This was especially true now after they sinned. They needed his compassion, his love, his guidance.

There is a powerful lesson to be derived herein. A leader does not have the right to stay angry. He may not sever his relationship with his flock. If Moshe would not return, then Yehoshua would have to step up and take over the reins of leadership. This idea applies equally in the family unit. Parents have a responsibility. Yes, there are disappointments, some simple setbacks, while others may be of a more serious nature. As parents, we have to be there through thick and thin, through trial and error, through disappointment and failure. We may be insulted, we may be hurt, we may become angry, but we must always be there. Unless, of course, as in the case of Avraham Avinu, who was compelled to send Yishmael away in response to the adverse influence he was having on Yitzchak. Eisav did not deter Yaakov from studying Torah. Thus, he was allowed to stay home while his father, Yitzchak Avinu, was mekarev him, reached out to him. Leadership has its perks. It also has its responsibilities. One goes in tandem with the other.

As parents and teachers, we have a responsibility to make realistic goals for our children and students, while simultaneously giving them the tools to realize these goals. All too often, we hear about demands that parents and teachers make, but little is said about how they assisted in their achievement. I recently came across a powerful educational lesson that I think is appropriate for these pages.

Everyone makes mistakes. Each of us fails at times. As adults, we accept these failures as setbacks which can serve as learning blocks upon which to build. It is all part of the process. The problem is that we often relay a different message to our children and students. Failure is shameful, and anything less than an "A" is just short of disaster. When children are subjected to this form of pressure, it can have an inverse, devastating effect. We are conveying to the child that anything less than perfect will not meet with our approval.

This story is about a young third-grade boy who was a shy and nervous perfectionist. Because everything had to be so perfect, he refused to get involved. His fear of failure deterred him from playing classroom games. He never enjoyed himself with the other children, because anything that involved competition was too much for him to handle. Constantly frustrated, he rarely completed his assignments, as he was repeatedly checking for mistakes.

This went on for most of the school year until a young teacher's aide joined the class in order to ease the teacher's load. One morning, as the students were working on an assignment, the young boy suddenly burst into tears: he had missed one of the problems. The teacher's aide looked up in despair. What could she do? Then, out of the blue, she had an inspiration. "Come here," she said to the young boy. "I have something to show you."

The child came over to her desk, and she showed him a canister filled with pencils. As she removed the pencils one at a time, she said, "See these pencils? They belong to the teacher and to me. Notice how the erasers are worn. Do you know why? Because we also make mistakes. And when we make a mistake, we erase it and start over again. This is what you must learn to do. Do not let the mistake halt your growth. Use the eraser and continue writing! I will leave one of these pencils on your desk, so you will always remember that everyone makes mistakes, even teachers."

That pencil became the boy's most cherished possession, and he kept it with him throughout life. That, together with the encouragement he received, helped him to scale the heights of learning, as he rose to the pinnacle of his profession. He made it because he had learned that to err is human, and because somebody cared enough not to give up on him.

Va'ani Tefillah

Mizmor shir Chanukas ha'Bayis l'David
Aromimcha Hashem ki dilisani v'lo simachta oivai li.

"A psalm - song for the inauguration of the Temple - by David. I will exalt You, Hashem, for You have drawn me up, and not let my foes rejoice over me."

David Hamelech did not build the Bais Hamikdash. When he heard the command to build the Bais Hamikdash, he prepared the materials and gave them to his son, Shlomo. He also prepared the song that would be sung at its inauguration. Maggid Tzedek explains that it was specifically at the dedication that it became known to everyone that Hashem had forgiven David for his involvement with Batsheva. Chazal tell us that the entrance doors to the Bais Hamikdash remained closed, and not even Shlomo Hamelech was able to open them until he recited the pasuk in Tehillim 132:10, "For the sake of David, Your servant, turn not away the face of Your Anointed." It was for this reason that David included the pasuk of Aromimcha Hashem - "I will exalt You, Hashem, for You have drawn me up, and not let my foes rejoice over me."

Alternatively, Horav Simcha Zissel Broide, Shlita, cites the pasuk in Shmuel 2, 7:10, "I shall yet establish a place for My People, for Yisrael: I shall plant it there, and it shall dwell in its place so that it shall be disturbed no more; iniquitous people will no longer afflict it as in earlier times." David Hamelech established the place, the makom haMikdash, by preparing the materials necessary for its construction. This act alone catalyzed the reality that our enemies would not have power over us.

Indeed, Chazal in the Talmud Berachos 7b derive from this pasuk that if a man is kovea makom, has a fixed place for his prayer, his enemies succumb to him.

l'zechar nishmas
R' Tzvi Elimelech
ben Alter Elazar Yehuda HaLevi z"l
Sidney Greenberger z"l
niftar 22 Adar 5754
The Greenberger Family

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