Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Hashem spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Ohel Moed. (1:1)

The Midrash notes that great significance is accorded to the fact that Klal Yisrael received the Torah in the wilderness. The midbar, wilderness thus, becomes the setting for receiving the Torah, which is intrinsic to the Jewish national character. What characteristic of the midbar evokes such consideration? Chazal derive from here that one must make himself like a midbar, whereby he is hefker, ownerless, giving up his rights to possession, totally relying on Hashem without a care in the world for himself. Horav Yaakov Neiman, zl, in his Darkei Mussar, expounds upon this concept. He explains that one who is situated in a desolate wilderness is alone - without food and drink, prey to the animals that roam there. He is there without hope for salvation. Such a person realizes that he can rely on only one Being for salvation: Hashem. For Hashem is there for all, under all instances and circumstances.

This must be the perspective of one who seeks to acquire Torah - complete and unequivocal trust in the Almighty. Indeed, we say this every day in the Ahavah Rabbah prayer preceding Krias Shma, "For the sake of our Forefathers who trusted in You and whom You taught the decrees of life, may You be equally gracious to us and teach us." It was our ancestors' bitachon, trust, that warranted the Torah for them.

One who worries about his sustenance cannot conceivably apply himself wholeheartedly to Torah study. On the other hand, one who trusts in Hashem and studies Torah has nothing to worry about; Hashem will sustain him. In his commentary to Pirkei Avos 3:5, the Chasid Yaavetz, cites an incredible thought from one of the distinguished leaders of his time. The pasuk in Tehillim 1:2,3 says, "But his desire is in the Torah of Hashem, and in His Torah he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree deeply rooted alongside brooks of water, that yields its fruit in due season, and whose leaf never withers, and everything that he does will succeed." What is the meaning of a tree planted alongside the river? Such a tree cannot bear fruit, because of the moisture at the side of the river. Although it is true that its leaf never withers, it is extremely weak and wilting. What success can such a weak tree hope to enjoy, to the point that David Hamelech analogizes the talmud chacham, Torah scholar, to such a tree? We must say to the individual who studies Torah day in and day out, night and day, without thinking about parnassah, a livelihood: Hashem will provide for him. He will be like a tree, which - although it is firmly rooted on the banks of the river, a place not suitable for producing healthy fruit -Hashem, nevertheless, sees to it that it bears fruit. So, too, will the Torah scholar be miraculously sustained by Hashem.

A talmid chacham living in Manchester, England, studied diligently for many years despite his abject poverty. Many times he was offered a position that would guarantee him a set income, yet he refused to accept. He would always give the same response, "Hashem is the One Who sustains; I have nothing to worry about." His family grew. With each child, his parents would insist that it was already enough; he must go to work. He responded in his usual calm manner, "Hashem is taking care of me." This happened at the birth of his tenth child, the birth of his eleventh child and again when his twelfth child was born. He did not worry, as he ignored everyone and continued his devotion to Torah study.

Shortly after the Bris, circumcision, of his thirteenth child, he received an express letter from a distinguished law firm requesting his presence at the reading of the will of a Mr. John Klabari. He could not understand the meaning of this. He neither had any idea who the deceased was, nor did he have any interest in wasting a day in a lawyer's office. He quickly sent a letter to the attorney notifying him of his error in inviting the wrong person to the reading of the will. The lawyer returned a note to him to the effect that there was no error, and by law he was required to attend the reading. The court date arrived, and our hero left the bais hamedrash to attend the reading. He was shocked to discover that John Klabari had been a very wealthy man who had died childless. Prior to his death, he had asked that his entire estate by given to the family in the city who had the most children. Apparently, when number thirteen was born, it brought this young man's family "over the top," granting him the status necessary for inheriting the entire estate, which was valued at millions of pounds. What did the young man respond when he heard the exciting news? "Hashem sustains everyone. There is nothing to worry about."

Their count, for the tribe of Dan; sixty-two thousand, seven hundred. (1:39)

The tribe of Dan was considerably larger than most of the other tribes. This phenomenon is all the more notable given the fact that Dan had only one child. Horav Yechezkel Levinstein, zl, takes this idea further. Binyamin had ten sons. One would assume that, allowing for the course of "nature," Binyamin's tribe should be fairly sizable. Dan, on the other hand, who had only one child, should have a much smaller number of descendants. When we look at the final tally, Binyamin's tribe was half the size of the tribe of Dan. What happened? Rav Chatzkel derives from here that Hashem listens to the pleas of the weak and downtrodden who have no one upon whom to rely but Hashem. One who foolishly relies on his own talents and attributes quickly discovers that, without Hashem's Divine Assistance, his G-d-given gifts are of little use. One has only to look back at those in his generation/class who have succeeded. Were they the individuals whom everyone expected to succeed? Success in every endeavor is from Hashem, and the sooner one accepts this fact, the quicker envy and its ensuing consequences will be relegated to the past.

Hashem helps the weak. When life seems to push an individual up against a wall, with no place to turn, suddenly salvation occurs. One should never give up hope, for Hashem's salvation can come in a moment's notice. The Chafetz Chaim, zl, related the following story. It was the custom in Galicia that Jews would assemble in the shul on Shabbos shortly before Maariv to recite Tehillim. As the kedushah, holiness, of the day ebbed away, these people would entreat the Almighty with their heartrending pleas, employing the time-honored medium of Tehillim. One Shabbos, a Jew entered the shul and noticed that in one corner that another Jew was reciting Tehillim with extreme devotion and intense fervor. One could sense the fiery passion and extreme emotion emanating from this person. This was no usual Tehillim recitation. To see another Jew pour out his heart to the Almighty with such zeal was truly inspiring. Thus, the second Jew decided to stand next to this person as he also began to recite Tehillim.

Soon, both Jews were crying out to Hashem, each supplicating Him for his own individual needs, each elevated by his deep concentration and expression of emotion. After Maariv, the second Jew turned to the first and asked, "I know it is not my business, but I see that you are obviously anguished. What is it that bothers you so? Perhaps I could be of some assistance."

The man responded with a deep sigh, "Yes, I have what to cry about. I have a daughter who is of marriageable age, and I have no dowry for her. She sits at home all day, depressed and dejected. During the week, I am not home to witness her sorrow. On Shabbos, however, I am home and when I look at my child, it breaks my heart that I can do nothing to help her. So I go to shul and cry out my heart to the Almighty. Perhaps He will listen to my entreaty."

When the second man heard this explanation, he said, "I have a son who excels in middos tovos, exemplary character traits, and yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven. Regrettably, I have no money. If you are willing to make a shidduch, matrimonial match, with me, I am ready and willing."

The wedding took place, and the young couple was blessed with incredible nachas, Jewish bliss. Among their descendants were four gedolei Yisrael, preeminent Torah leaders: Horav Yehudah Hakohen, author of the Kuntros Hasfeikos; Horav Chaim Hakohen; Horav Aryeh Leib Hakohen Heller, author of the Ketzos Hachoshen; Horav Mordechai Hakohen, who was rav in the city of Chodrov. From the depths of despair and hopelessness, a future of shining hope bloomed forth that illuminated Klal Yisrael for generations to come. One should never give up hope.

And the leader of Bnei Gad is Eliyasaf ben Reuel. (2:14)

Interestingly, in 1:14 above, this same Nasi is called ben Deuel. Rambam comments that he actually held both names, both of which they described his essence. Reuel is a contraction of daas Keil, knowledge of God. Both names reflect the Nasi's engrossment in understanding Hashem and in getting closer to Him. The Chida cites the sefer Imrei Noam who asserts that Moshe Rabbeinu was buried in Gad's portion because Gad displayed a remarkable attribute. When Dan was selected to be the leader of his degel, flag, Gad remained silent and did not dispute his selection. He could easily have contended that he was the firstborn of Zilpah, while Dan was the firstborn of Bilhah. Why should he not have been chosen as leader of the degel? For maintaining his silence, the raish, Reuel was added to denote that he had become a reia Keil, friend of G-d, which is a reference to Moshe, who was buried in his portion.

The lesson from here is powerful. Had Gad claimed that he wanted to be head of the degel, what would he ultimately benefit from his dispute? He would have become the leader. What kavod, honor, however, would he ultimately have taken with him to the grave? Nothing! His silence, on the other hand, earned him an honor for posterity - the Adon ha'Neviim, master of Prophets, the quintessential leader of Klal Yisrael would be buried in his portion. This distinction outweighs anything he could have received had he spoken up. This is what Chazal mean when they say in Pirkei Avos (1:17), "I have found nothing better for oneself than silence."

The author of the Sdei Chemed, Horav Chizkiyah Medini, zl, was a renowned Talmudic genius. He was proficient in every area of Torah knowledge and Talmudic jurisprudence. His encyclopedic knowledge is manifest throughout the seforim that he authored. He writes that, as a young man, he excelled in neither brilliance nor acumen. It was only after an episode that occurred, coupled with his reaction to it, that Hashem blessed him by granting him his extraordinary abilities.

When he was a young man, he studied in a kollel together with a group of distinguished bnei Torah. One member of the group, regrettably, was deficient in his ethical character. For some reason, he was envious of Rav Chizkiyah. He bribed an Arab woman to assert that when she would come to clean the bais hamedrash in the early morning, Rav Chizkiyah was there and would make inappropriate advances to her. Word spread, and Rav Chizkiyah was humiliated and scorned. His reputation was besmirched. The Rosh Kollel, knowing the impeccable character of Rav Chizkiyah, did not believe the girl, so he relieved her of her position.

After a while, the money that financed her lies ran out. The girl then went to Rav Chizkiyah and begged his forgiveness, pleading with him that she badly needed the money. She was prepared to acknowledge her miscreancy publicly in order to clear Rav Chizkiyah's name. She concluded by asking Rav Chizkiyah if, after his name was cleared, it would be possible for him to intercede on her behalf with the rosh kollel, so that she could regain her position.

At that moment, Rav Chizkiyah was in a quandary. What should he do? On the one hand, he had the opportunity to vindicate himself. On the other hand, at what expense! To clear his name meant to condemn the other kollel fellow. A chillul Hashem, desecration of Hashem's Name, of epic proportion would result from this. It would be better for him to continue suffering in his humiliation than to catalyze a further chillul Hashem. Rav Chizkiyah replied to the Arab girl, "What you ask of me, I agree to do. I will speak in your behalf to the Rosh Kollel. I forbid you, however, to ever relate to anyone any information concerning the bribe that you accepted!"

Rav Chizkiyah concluded by saying that at that moment in which he accepted upon himself a vow of silence, he felt that the wellspring of wisdom opened up, and he absorbed a spiritual flow of wisdom that enabled him to achieve proficiency in all areas of Torah erudition. All this was granted to him as a reward for maintaining his silence.

Do not allow the tribe of the family of Kehas to be cut off…This is what you shall do for them so that they shall live…Aharon and his sons shall come and assign them, each man to his work. (4:18,19)

The Midrash comments that the members of the family of Kehas were assigned to carry the Mishkan and its keilim, vessels. Recognizing that the Aron Hakodesh was the preeminent component, they neglected the Shulchan, Menorah and Mizbachos in order to run to carry the Aron. The result was contention, bickering and, eventually, a lack of respect. Hashem punished them, and members of that family died prematurely. Thus, Hashem issued the command that each family member of Kehas be assigned a specific task, thereby preventing any dispute over who had the privilege to carry each specific item in the Mishkan. The Mesillas Yesharim devotes a chapter of his magnum opus to the topic of Mishkal hachassidus. A chasid is defined as one who goes beyond the letter of the law, who truly loves Hashem and is not satisfied with merely getting by. He always endeavors to do more. Mishkal hachassidus focuses on weighing one's actions, especially those that are laudatory, to be sure that what appears to be a positive gesture is truly what it seems. The yetzer hora, evil-inclination, is crafty and has the ability to paint a sin as a mitzvah. What begins as a righteous deed can sometimes end as a tragedy. The classic case is the reaction of Bnei Kehas to transporting the Mishkan. What should have been noble, lofty and honorable was transformed into a chillul Hashem, desecration of Hashem's Name. Had they weighed their good intentions, it would be apparent that Hashem's will could not be fulfilled by bickering and in-fighting.

In his inimitable manner, Horav Avraham Pam, zl, dedicates a shmuess, ethical discourse, in The Pleasant Way, to this malady. He first cites a number of narratives in which the father of the Mussar movement, Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, demonstrates the importance of thinking before one acts piously. In these instances, to act piously would have meant taking advantage of someone else. The Rosh HaYeshivah then concentrates on some practical issues to which, regrettably, many could relate.

Hachnosas orchim, welcoming guests to one's home, is one of the benchmarks of the Jewish People which we inherited from our Patriarch Avraham Avinu. Yet, the husband and father should take into consideration that he also has a wife and children at home. His wife also puts in a hard day, and his children would like his attention at the meal. The number of guests and their frequency should be considered. Another example is that when the Chafetz Chaim had guests at his home on Friday night, he would first recite Kiddush, make Hamotzi, eat, and only then, after his guests had eaten, did he sing Shalom Aleichem. He felt that his guests, who were usually poor Jews who had not yet eaten, should eat. The Heavenly Angels could wait for their Sholom Aleichem.

Reciting Kaddish for a parent is a halachah. It is a merit for both the parent and the son. To contend in shul about who and when one says Kaddish is not only demeaning for the son, it also detracts from the parent's merit. It is probably a greater zchus, merit, for the parent if his son is mevater, concedes, and does not compete for the Kaddish.

While rejoicing with a chassan and kallah at their wedding is a great mitzvah, those who have young children at home should not do so at the expense of the grandparents, who are usually the babysitters. Even when the babysitter is a teenager who can use the money, she still has to go to school the next day. In addition, bachurim who insist on dancing into the wee hours of the morning should consider the fact that the parents of the chassan and kallah are undoubtedly exhausted and would like to conclude the festivities.

Last, is sholom bayis, matrimonial harmony. Rav Pam describes a scenario in which a young wife prepares a special dinner for her husband. I might add that she, herself, has put in a full day at two different jobs, so that she can support him in kollel. Supper is called for 7:00PM. At 8:00PM, her husband comes home. He probably has forgotten about using his cell phone for something as insignificant as notifying his wife that he was occupied with a mitzvah, so that he would be late coming home. Is this a mitzvah, or is it a lack of sensitivity?

Shabbos Bamidbar is usually the Shabbos before Shavuous, the time that we received the Torah. As we prepare to embrace Hashem's gift to us, let us remember to properly implement the lessons the Torah teaches us.

Va'ani Tefillah

She'lo Asani Goi - She'lo Osani eved - She'lo Osani Ishah

He has not made me a gentile - He has not made me a slave - He has not made me a woman.

It is interesting that Chazal have expressed these three important berachos in the negative, when they could have easily been recited as, "He made me a Yisrael; He made me a free-man; He made me a man. In Orach Chaim 46, The Bach cites the famous dispute between Bais Shamai and Bais Hillel as to whether it is better not to have been created, or better to have been created in order to have the opportunity to do much good. On the other hand, since we enter the world where the pitfalls that lead to sin are so commonplace, where the opportunity to taint the precious neshamah, soul, is everywhere, it might be better not to have been created than to risk the chillul Hashem, desecration of Hashem's Name. Eventually, after two and one-half years, the matter was decided by a vote, that indeed it would have been better not to have been created. Now, that one is here, however, he must make the best of it and examine his deeds to be sure to improve in those areas that need improvement.

Thus, the entire concept of being created is difficult for us. We, therefore, bless in the negative, implying that under the circumstances we are happy that we are not something other than what we are.

In honor of
Mr. & Mrs. Eli Goldberg
upon the marriage
Ezra Goldberg to Kelly Frommer
with best wishes from his dear friends in Cleveland

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

The Ninth 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

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.


This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel