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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

PARASHAS VA'ESCHANAN

You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor shall you subtract from it. (4:2)

The Torah is Divinely authored and, as such, it is perfect. To add or subtract from the written word of G-d is to imply that it lacks perfection and is somehow not applicable in all venues or under all circumstances. When Hashem commands that Tefillin have four parshios, He does not mean that four is a minimum, allowing for us to add a fifth parsha at will. Every number that Hashem gives us is the requisite for this mitzvah. To add or subtract is to distort and demean the pristine nature of the Torah. To do so is to deny its Divine authorship. This idea would seem valid if one were attempting to subtract from the Torah. Why should the devout, observant Jew who wants to add to the mitzvah be held in contempt?

Simply, one who adds suggests that the original mitzvah is imperfect. We can look at it in another way. Horav Lazar Brody, Shlita, suggests an often-used parable which lends practicality to this prohibition. It also explains why those individuals who attempt to impugn the Torah with their own perverted ideas of religious observance not only lack clear perception in their understanding of Torah, but are also deficient in their religious observance.

A man visited his doctor complaining of chest pains and trouble breathing. The doctor put him through a battery of tests to confirm that nothing was seriously wrong with the man. The diagnosis came back as pneumonia, a lung infection that was treatable with antibiotics. The doctor was well aware that in order to rid the system of infection effectively, the patient would require 20,000 units of antibiotics. To swallow the entire dosage all at once would kill the patient. On the other hand, to spread the dose over a period of thirty days would not provide enough fighting power to eradicate the bacteria. Thus, the doctor wrote a ten day prescription, dividing the dosage over four times a day, providing the patient daily with 2,000 units of bacteria-fighting antibiotics. In ten days, the patient should be cured of his pneumonia.

The doctor took all of this into consideration when he wrote the prescription. He was not going to hold the patient's hand to make sure that he took the correct amount four times daily for the allotted time period. A patient who does not follow the doctor's instructions and misses a dose or doubles up on his dose either will not recuperate or will become sicker. Anyone with a modicum of common sense understands that the doctor knows what he is doing, so that to undermine his authority would be foolhardy.

Is it any different with the Torah's mitzvos? Hashem is the Rofeh kol basar, Healer of all flesh, the Supreme Physician, Who knows what is best for us, because He is our Creator. Hashem has determined that the Jewish neshamah, soul, requires four species for seven days - no more, no less. Those who are clueless concerning the spiritual anatomy of the Jewish soul should not attempt to change the age-old, hallowed traditions of our people. Egalitarian worship is just another ruse for "do not add." Changes in halachah to conform with contemporary society were attempted by the secular streams of Judaism two centuries ago. We all know how successful they were. Now we have those who call themselves Orthodox, attempting to do the same, all under the veneer of progress. They will meet with the same success as their secular mentors. The issue is only how many unsuspecting, misguided Jews will be misled because of their folly.

I am Hashem, your G-d, Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt from the house of slavery. (5:6)

A well-known question was posed by Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi (Kuzari 1:25): Since the first mitzvah of the Aseres HaDibros, Ten Commandments, is the enjoinment to believe in Hashem, why not mention that Hashem created Heaven and earth? Why does our liberation from Egypt play such a critical role in our hashkafah, philosophy/outlook. He explains that, while the creation of the world is the penultimate experience, no one was around to see it. Yetzias Mitzrayim, the Exodus, was witnessed by millions. There is no question that something witnessed is something remembered. Yetzias Mitzrayim left a lasting influence on the psyche of the nation that experienced this seminal event.

Ibn Ezra (Shemos 20:1) quotes the Kuzari's question and replies in a diametrically opposite manner. He explains that, on the contrary, a logical deduction reached through analysis and profound dialectic is the most concrete proof that Hashem is the Master and Ruler of the world. Any intelligent person whose mind is engaged understands that Hashem created the world and that He continues to guide it every moment of its existence. The problem is that, sadly, a large segment of people exists who find reaching a cogent conclusion established on logic and reason quite challenging. They just cannot seem to pick it up and understand. It is for them that Hashem must employ the proof of yetzias Mitzrayim, to support the building blocks of faith.

Horav Eliyahu Baruch Finkel, zl, supplements these expositions with a powerful thought. Aside from the mitzvah of emunah, faith in Hashem, implied by the first commandment, it is upon this mitzvah that we must build our obligation to observe Hashem's Torah and observe His mitzvos. This mitzvah teaches us why a Jew must be observant: Hashem took us out of Egypt. Had He not taken us out, we would still be slaves to the Egyptian Pharaohs.

Our obligation to serve Hashem originates from our obligation to show hakoras hatov, appreciate and show gratitude, to Hashem for everything that He has done for us. We must acknowledge that, without Hashem, we are nothing. We cannot function. The event that serves as the watershed for Jewish existence is the liberation from Egypt. This is why we constantly reiterate this fact.

In his sefer, Orchos Chaim, the Rosh writes that the first commandment encapsulates the essential foundation of the Torah: to trust Hashem with all your heart; and to maintain perfect faith in His Hashgachah Pratis, Divine Providence. It implores us to believe that each and every one of us is under Hashem's individual supervision. The Alter, zl, m'Kelm explains that, in this way, one is fulfilling the dual beliefs in his heart: the perfect unity of emunah, faith; and bitachon, trust, in Hashem.

Included in this belief, writes the Rosh, is the knowledge that Hashem sees everything that occurs anywhere in the world at all times. This includes the deepest recesses of one's heart. One must sincerely believe that Hashem is his G-d. Without faith in Hashem, one's faith remains incomplete. There is no such thing as partial belief.

The Mashgiach of Mir and Ponevez, Horav Yecheskel Levinstein, zl, adds that the purpose of Hashem's actions with regard to yetzias Mitzrayim is for us to learn His ways. By mentioning yetzias Mitzrayim during Krias Shema, we remind ourselves that everything and everyone - regardless of his significance - is subject to Hashem's close, undivided scrutiny and supervision. One who is deficient in this belief, even in the least degree, lives with incomplete faith in Hashem, because he believes in an extraneous power other than Hashem.

By affirming that Hashem freed us from the Egyptian bondage, we assert that we have since become Hashem's servants. Furthermore, having descended to the forty-ninth level of tumah, spiritual defilement, our moral degeneration had descended to the point that we stood at the precipice of extinction. Indeed, our very survival, our lives, were at stake. Hashem rescued us from that moral abyss, from that state of near obsolescence. This was the segulah, treasure, that distinguished the Jewish nation from all other people. We were almost gone. Hashem spiritually resuscitated us. This created a unique bond. While the Hashgachah Pratis manifest by yetzias Mitzrayim applies to all people, it is on a special level with regard to the Jewish People. It guards each person's spiritual condition, and, through this vehicle, the Jewish People have the merit of achieving eternal life. Hashem will not allow us to descend to the point of no return.

This follows in the teachings of the Ramban who explains (Shemos 13:16) that when a Jew attaches a single mezuzah to his doorway and takes a moment to contemplate its significance, its meaning and underlying message, he has already acknowledged the fundamentals of faith. The mezuzah on the doorpost is witness to the person's belief that Hashem took us out of Egypt. It acknowledges the events of yetzias Mitzrayim which are an affirmation of Hashgachah Pratis. The pasuk, Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad, which is contained within the mezuzah, is testimony to Hashem Echad, the Oneness of Hashem, which is the foundation of the entire Torah.

In his last mussar shmuess, ethical discourse, on Parashas Vayishlach, the Mashgiach spoke of Hashgachah Pratis as the key to menuchas ha'nefesh, peace of mind. Simply, a person who lives with the belief that Hashem is One, and that everything in life is Divinely Providential, lives with menuchas ha'nefesh. It is only through one's confidence that Hashem deals with every person individually that he can achieve true peace of mind. One who believes in Hashgachah Pratis knows that he will be rewarded for the mitzvos that he performs and punished for the aveiros, sins, that he perpetrates. He relies on Hashem's justice, because he knows that it is just.

A person can advance in Torah and mitzvos only when he experiences true menuchas ha'nefesh. In turn, one's emunah in Hashgachah pratis, which facilitates his menuchas ha'nefesh, is the result of his belief in yetzias Mitzrayim. Therefore, the first commandment sets the foundation for the others that follow.

You shall teach them thoroughly to your children and you shall speak of them. (6:7)

Rashi teaches that banecha, your sons, eilu ha'talmidim, applies equally to one's talmidim, students. In Nitzotzos, Rav Yitzchak Herskowitz, Shlita, relates a story he heard from a Rosh Yeshivah, who is one of today's more successful marbitzei Torah, disseminators of Torah, in Eretz Yisrael. Apparently, Torah was not always this individual's primary interest. As a young, teenage student attending Yeshivas Ohr Yisrael in Petach Tikvah, he was involved in a lot of things, most of which were not Torah-related. Running with a group of like-minded students, he presented a constant challenge for the patience of the yeshivah's Mashgiach, ethical supervisor. Every opportunity to sneak out of the daily instruction in Talmud was an opportunity to catch up on his sleep. In short, he was walking the fine line between remaining in the yeshivah and being asked to leave to join the ranks of those who had sadly relegated themselves and their future to a life devoid of Torah erudition. The alternatives to a proper Torah education were dismal.

At this point of our story, we see a teenage yeshivah student floundering within the system. One cannot really refer to him as a student, because he was at risk, at best a non-student, who happened to be on the yeshivah's student roster. He was at the point that, after considerable warnings, the next infraction would gain him entrance to the street with the others who had failed in the yeshivah. Drifting through the day as usual, with no interest in learning, sitting in the back of the bais hamedrash trying to catch up on some needed sleep, the Mashgiach came over to his seat, and pointed to him and three other students, "Out of the bais hamedrash! Pack your bags and leave. You no longer have a place in the yeshivah. How dare you go to such and such a place!"

Apparently, someone had reported to the Mashgiach that a group of students, "one" student included, had left the yeshivah without permission and visited a place that was off limits to yeshivah students. (This writer does not know the identity of the place that these students had visited, nor am I aware of the prevailing mindset in those days, to be able to determine what was considered off limits.)

Our "hero's" immediate response was, "It is a mistake. It was not me. (For once) I was not there yesterday." The boy pleaded with the Mashgiach to listen to him. It was a case of mistaken identity. He simply was not there. The Mashgiach was intractable, "Take your belongings and leave immediately! You are no longer wanted in this yeshivah."

The boy was upset for two reasons. First, he did not want to be asked to leave the yeshivah. The image of his devastated parents stood before him. His parents were not giving up without a fight. They took their son the next day to the office of the Rosh Yeshivah, the venerable Horav Yaakov Neiman, zl. The boy began his plea, saying, "Kavod Horav, I know that, in the past, I have proven time and again that I make poor choices, spending time with the students who are not into learning, sneaking out to places that are inappropriate for an observant Jew - let alone a yeshivah student. This time, however, I am innocent! I did not go."

The boy did not know if Rav Neiman considered his plea to repent the paragon of integrity, but, regardless, he was willing to give him another chance. Rav Neiman looked straight into the tear-filled eyes of the student and said, "My child, do not weep. Do not be pained - especially if you are not guilty. Tomorrow, you are to attend class as if nothing had happened. I will speak with the Mashgiach. You have nothing to worry about."

The next morning, the boy entered the bais hamedrash as usual. As the Mashgiach was about to come over to him, Rav Neiman appeared at the entrance to the bais hamedrash. This was unusual, since the Rosh Yeshivah was already advanced in age, frail and in ill-health. A conversation ensued between the two. While the student did not hear the whole conversation, it was the last sentence that changed his life - forever. "Please accept him as if he were my own son!" was Rav Neiman's request of the Mashgiach.

Lightning had struck! Hearing these words spoken about him, he knew that the Rosh Yeshivah cared about him! He was like his own son! From that day on, the boy's life changed. He threw himself into his learning with such incredible diligence that it astounded everyone. After all, the Rosh Yeshivah loved him; he was like his own son.

A mother once came to a prominent Rav, seeking his advice concerning her son who was drifting off the derech, path, of Torah and observance. His response was classic: "Show him greater love!'

What is the meaning of showing greater love? Do we not all show all of our love to our children/students? Rav Hershkowitz quotes the well-known question and answer given in educational circles concerning Yaakov Avinu's reaction to his son, Reuven's, relationship with Leah, Reuven's mother. While Chazal teach that Reuven did not sin (in our terms), his act of impetuousness was severely criticized by his father, when he lay on his deathbed. Why did Yaakov wait so long to have his "talk" with his eldest son?

The explanation which the commentators give is that our Patriarch feared a negative reaction on the part of Reuven. Had Yaakov rebuked Reuven at the time of the incident, Reuven might have changed his familial allegiances and followed his uncle Eisav on his journey to infamy. Frightening - but quite possibly true - especially in today's society - when our children are sadly accorded many negative examples to follow. Today, a parent must think hard and long concerning for what incursion he will rebuke, and how he will administer his carefully selected words of reproach. We do not want to "offend" the children whom we have carefully and meticulously "spoiled" throughout their formative years. "They" were never wrong. It was always the "friends," the rebbe or the school. To lose it now and tell it like it is might upset the careful balance that we have established with our children.

On the other hand, ubiquitous criticism, pervasive disparagement, casting aspersion on everything that does not meet with the standards with which we were raised will only distance today's youth. There must be a balance which is regulated by common sense. While this quality is often at a premium, one who does not possess it should seek the help of someone who does. Someone who does not recognize or respect common sense has a much more serious problem.

During the period of Czarist Russia, the Jewish youth were in danger of being kidnapped by the evil authorities and drafted into the Czar's army for a minimum of twenty-five years. Those few who survived physically no longer had any relationship with Judaism as a religion. These young men were called the Cantonists. Jews would do anything to avoid the accursed Russian draft. One young teenager received the dreaded letter to report to the draft for an "interview." Deathly scared, he went to the Rav of his village and asked for his blessing. "Please, Rebbe, I do not want to go to the army!" the boy cried.

The Rav looked at the boy and asked, "My son, are you Shabbos observant?" The boy was embarrassed when he answered, "No." "Do you observe the laws of kashrus?" the Rav asked. "Sometimes," the boy replied. "Do you daven? Do you recite blessings?" was the next focus of the Rav. Sadly, the answers were, once again, in the negative.

The Rav thought for a few minutes, as the boy stood there humiliated, thinking to himself that the Rav would never give his blessing to a Jewish boy who did not practice even the basic tenets of his religion. After what appeared to be careful rumination of the boy's responses, the Rav looked at the boy and said, "I hope the authorities will be as disappointed with your answers as I am!"

The boy stood there for a few moments, contemplating the Rav's blessing, and then suddenly a smile came across his face. The Rav did not say that he was disappointed with him. He indicated that it was his answers that distressed him - not the boy - just the answers. As a result of the Rav's common sense and deep-rooted compassion for a Jewish child, he saved the boy.

The blessing was effective, and, as a result of the Rav's thoughtfulness, the boy became an observant Jew and went on to study Torah and raise a Torah-observant family that was a source of nachas, spiritual satisfaction, to Hashem.

You shall teach them thoroughly to your children. (6:7)

In his Taam V'Daas, Horav Moshe Shternbach, Shlita, quotes a powerful observation from Horav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zl. Chazal teach that anyone who recites Krias Shema while not wearing Tefillin is considered as if he is offering false testimony. The parsha of Krias Shema includes the pasuk U'keshartem l'os al yadecha v'hayu l'totafos bein einecha, "Bind them as a sign upon your arm and let them be as ornaments between your eyes" (Devarim 6:8). How can one recite the mitzvah of wearing Tefillin when he himself is not wearing them?

Accordingly, one who does not educate his children in the derech Yisrael sabba, approved traditional manner, which has been integral to the Jewish people since time immemorial, is, likewise, testifying falsely. How can he say the phrase, "You shall teach them thoroughly to your children," when, in fact, he does not?

It is a compelling observation, but one which apparently does not seem to shake anybody up. We live in a society in which parents believe they know what's best for their children. The education which they choose for them does not have to conform to tradition. It must conform to the parents' comfort zone. If the parent feels the education their child receives might cramp their own style of religious observance, they will nix that school. If it is not sufficiently progressive for their line of thinking, they will seek one that is. I really wonder if such parents bother to concentrate on the words of Krias Shema - unless they feel that it, too, is outdated.

But He repays each of His enemies to his face to make him perish; He will not delay for His enemy to his face He will repay him. (7:10)

Rashi explains that even the wicked who act appropriately and carry out good deeds will be rewarded. Hashem does not deprive anyone of his rightful reward. There is one difference, however; the wicked will be rewarded in this world. Olam Habba, the World To Come, is not their domain. They will not access their reward in the Eternal World. Their reward will be received in the here and now. The righteous, however, will enjoy the deep-rooted spiritual pleasure that is Olam Habba. Why should the rasha, wicked person, not receive his reward in Olam Habba? Is it reserved only for the righteous? Also, why does the tzaddik, righteous person, not receive his reward in this world? Is there some taboo concerning a righteous person receiving his reward in this world?

The Maharam, zl, m'Lublin, explains this pragmatically. The rasha, who for once acts properly, who performs a kindness, carries out a good deed, does so for ulterior reasons. His motives are suspect. He does not live a life reflecting belief in - and devotion to - Hashem. His positive activities are performed for attention, for public acclaim. Simply, his motives are false; his acts of kindness are nothing more than a sham to garner accolades for himself. An action that from its very onset is false should be rewarded in a world that is false. Thus, the rasha receives his reward in the world that is appropriately suited for his less than genuine act - Olam Hazeh, this world.

When the rasha commits a sin, it is with resolute passion and with his fullest fervor. There is no holding back. He sins with emes, with heartfelt, genuine rebellion against Hashem. He has no regrets. Thus, his punishment is administered in the World of Truth, where he will feel the pain for his actions in all of its truthful splendor.

The tzaddik performs mitzvos with sincerity, with genuine emotion, with the spiritual integrity required to serve Hashem, Whose seal is emes, truth. He, therefore, receives his reward in the world most suitable for such integrity - Olam Habba. When the tzaddik errs, his infraction is a temporary lapse in judgment, a momentary laxity in his battle with the yetzer hora, evil inclination. It is not purposeful and clearly not a sin committed with sincerity and malice aforethought. Thus, his punishment takes place in the world where falsity reigns, a world where eminence is often spurious and inauthenticity is held in esteem - this alma d'shikra, world of untruth.

Va'ani Tefillah

V'yam suf lahem bakata. And You split the Yam Suf.

Two hundred and ten years of brutal slavery - yet, the Jewish nation might err in thinking that in some way they were in debt to the Egyptian people. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, posits that had Hashem not split the sea during the Egyptians final confrontation with the Jews, the full effect of yetzias Mitzrayim, the Egyptian exodus, would have been minimized. The purpose of Krias Yam Suf was to dispel the notion that the Egyptian people were basically good. After all, did they not appear courteous and even helpful to the Jews during their last moments as "residents" in Egypt? Did they not freely give the Jews their gold and silver and other valuables? Did they not show reverence to Moshe Rabbeinu? Indeed, Pharaoh even sent along an escort to see to it that Klal Yisrael was traveling in the right direction.

To dispel the notion that the Egyptians were not so bad after all, Hashem, portrayed them manifesting all of their nefarious intentions. They pursued the Jews, because they wanted to annihilate them completely. This was their "going away" present - total extinction. The Jews saw the truth when their avowed enemies came running after them into the sea - and Hashem finally put an end to their plans. Thus, Krias Yam Suf was the last of the miraculous events surrounding the exodus from Egypt, which teaches us that every aspect of these miraculous events emanated from Hashem.


In loving memory
of
our dear Mother & Bubby,

Mrs. Chana Silberberg
Chana bas Moshe Zev a"h
niftar 20 Av 5760
t.n.tz.v.h.
Miriam Solomon & Family


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.

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