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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Bechukosai

If you will go in My statutes. (26:3)

Rashi explains that "going" in Hashem's mitzvos does not simply mean following His decrees. Rather, "teleichu," "going" in Hashem's statutes, is a reference to ameilus ba'Torah, laboring in Torah, studying it with intensity and extreme devotion. Why is ameilus ba'Torah conceptualized as halichah, going/movement? In his commentary Gur Aryeh, Maharal explains that just as an individual travels from place to place, so, too, does one who labors in Torah move onward as he delves deeper into the profundities of Torah. Thus, one who studies with intensity is considered "moving" from place to place because every time he understands Torah "better" as a result of his ameilus, he "moves" upward in his spiritual achievement. How are we to understand this?

Horav Chaim Goldvicht, zl, explains this by first citing an exegesis from Horav Simcha Zissel,zl, M'Kelm regarding Chazal's statement in the Talmud Shabbos 112b, "If the first ones (our predecessors) are like angels (on a spiritual plane), then we are like human beings; if the first ones are like humans, then we are like donkeys." Why does Chazal contrast humans to donkeys? If their goal is to emphasize the distance between generations, could they not have employed a more "dignified" distinction?

The Alter M'Kelm explains that a disparity in quality and disparity in quantity are quite different from one another. When the contrast is in quantity, then, even if the difference between both subjects is great, we can still view the smaller, or lesser, of the two as related in some manner to its greater, or larger, counterpart. They are of the same essence, distinguished only by size or number. When the distinction is in quality, however, no basis of comparison exists. The distance between the two is so vast because they are comprised of two different essences. We are not talking about numbers, we are addressing the essential nature and composition of each subject. It is as impossible to comprehend angels as it is for a donkey to comprehend a human. To paraphrase the "Alter": "If we were able to combine a number of human minds we could meld them into one 'super mind.' If we were to meld together many minds of donkeys, however, we would still not come close to creating a human being."

This is Chazal's lesson for us. The difference between generations, from those that are closer to the generation that accepted the Torah to our generation today, is not a quantitative distinction, but a qualitative one. Just as humans can never be compared to angels, so, too, can donkeys never be in the same league as humans. Two generations - the past and the present - may both be studying the same Torah. The distinction between the two is not merely in the amount of Torah studied or the profundity that each has achieved. Each has had a totally different experience. One is like a human; the other is not. If we view the previous one's Torah experience as a human experience; if we look at the individuals as mortals, then we must realize that our generation is totally removed from theirs, to the point that we are like mere donkeys. We have absolutely no area in which we are similar to them. In the area of the spiritual experience, comparisons defy description and definition. It is not that one is simply greater than another; they are comprised of a completely different nature!

The concept of makom, place, is a term that expresses the individual's spiritual plane in regard to The Makom, Hashem. Just as the word "place" defines one's physical standing in relation to something, so, too, does makom delineate one's spiritual standing. This idea is reflected in Chazal's reference in Pirkei Avos 6:6: "One who recognizes his makom, place" or to Avos 2:14, "Do not judge your friend until you reach his makom, place." or Kesubos, 103b, "One who fills the makom, place, of his ancestors in wisdom and fear of the Almighty." Indeed, when Moshe Rabbeinu implored Hashem to "show me now Your glory," Hashem responded, "Behold there is place near Me; you may stand on the rock" (Shemos 33:21). In his Moreh Nevuchim, Rambam explains that this place is a reference to a unique spiritual position to which Hashem elevated Moshe, so that he would be able to perceive a greater perspective and understanding of Hashem's glory. Last, when Adam ha'Rishon sinned, Hashem asked him, "Ayeica?" "Where are you?" (Bereishis 3:9). Where is your place? You have fallen in spiritual position as a result of your sin.

Thus, we understand the concept of halichah, movement, as depicting a change in one's spiritual standing. Ameilus, toiling in Torah, has the power to transform an individual in a manner unlike any other mitzvah. One who clings to Torah lishmah, for its own sake, clings to Hashem! This conviction enhances one's essence as well as elevating his spiritual standing. Ameilus ba'Torah, indeed, changes one's makom. Even if one changes only a little, he is no longer on the same spiritual plane. He has changed his place. This is how he becomes a mehalech, goer. With this thesis in mind, we have but a glimpse of the difference between a true ben Torah, who devotes all of himself to Torah, laboring and toiling in its endeavor, and his counterpart in the secular world who, regrettably, does not avail himself of this opportunity. They are two totally different individuals.

If you will go in My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them. (26:3) What is the purpose of the phrase, "v'asisem o'som" "and you will perform them"? Obviously, if one is following Hashem's statutes and observing His mitzvos, he certainly is performing them. The text appears to be somewhat redundant - or is it? The Baal HaTurim notes that the word "o'som," "them," is spelled aleph, taf, mem, which spells the word "emes, truth. This leads him to suggest that the Torah is focusing upon the necessary attitude one must maintain for mitzvah performance. It must be with an "emes," with truth, with integrity, with a passion and enthusiasm, not complacency, lacking feeling or intensity.

This is consistent with Chazal's dictum in the Talmud Nedarim 81a, when they ask: Why is it uncommon for a talmid chachom, Torah scholar, to produce sons who are also scholars? They attribute this to the fact that they do not make a Bircas haTorah, blessing the Torah, before they begin to study. Nachlas Tzvi cites the Ran who quotes Rabbeinu Yona in his sefer, Megillas Setarim, who explains that Torah study has always been considered an active pursuit. Throughout history everyone has studied Torah. This brings Chazal to question why the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed. If people had been studying Torah, what more could have been expected of them? They responded that, while it is true that they studied, it was not their primary focus in life. They also studied. It was not important to them. Hence, they did not feel the need to begin their daily study with a blessing. The brachah was irrelevant, because the learning was inconsequential. Hashem demands that we perform mitzvos with a passion, with enthusiasm. We should be excited to act on behalf of Hashem to perform His mitzvos with "emes."

Nachlas Tzvi cites an incredible story related by the Bendiner Rav zl, in his sefer Yechahein Pe'er. In the city of Nickolsburg, a group of laymen came to the rav, the famous Rav Shmuel Shmelke of Nickolsburg, to tell him that there is a butcher/shochet in the city who constantly slaughters glatt kosher. This was considered to be unusual, given that some animals are naturally prone to have some physical blemishes that would render them not glatt. Rav Shmelke decided that he would go to observe the shochet during one of his sessions and see for himself if the animals were really glatt kosher. After spending a day with the shochet, he was amazed that, indeed, every animal was glatt kosher.

Rav Shmelke summoned the shochet to his home and asked him how it came to be that he had such remarkable good fortune. The shochet responded that every time he went to the market to purchase animals, he would meet a Jew who would point out to him which animals to purchase. "If this is the case, then I must go with you to the market to meet this person," said Rav Shmelke. They agreed to go a few days before Pesach, since the shochet would be filling a large order for Yom Tov. They met at the market on the appointed day. After being introduced to the man in question, he asked him, "How do you know which animals are glatt kosher?" "Rebbe," responded the man, "I do not know on my own. Before I go to the market, Eliyahu Ha'Navi appears to me and points out which animals to use. It seems that those animals are the gilgulim, reincarnated souls, of animals that were destined to be korbanos, sacrifices, in the Bais HaMikdash. These animals must be eaten by Jews on Shabbos and Yom Tov in order for them to achieve their tikun, spiritual correction, and enter the Eternal World." Obviously, Rav Shmelke was taken aback with the man's response, particularly his "familiarity" with Eliyahu Ha'Navi. He turned to the man and asked, "If Eliyahu Ha'Navi is so close to you, why do you not ask him why Mashiach has not yet come to redeem us from this galus, exile?" "Rebbe," the man responded, "in just a few days it will be Pesach. I am sure that Eliyahu Ha'Navi will grace my home during the Seder. I will ask him this question and relay to you his response to you."

During Chol HaMoed, the Intermediate Days of the Pesach festival, Rav Shmelke traveled to this person to find out what Eliyahu Ha'Navi had revealed to him. When he came into the man's home, the person said, "Rebbe, I asked Eliyahu Ha'Navi your question, and he told me that an illusion to the answer is found in the Mah Nishtanah." The Four Questions are actually four queries and requests of Hashem regarding the exiles to which we have been subjected. "Why is this night different from all other nights," means "why is this exile different from the other exiles?" Night has often been used as a metaphor for the darkness of galus. Each question concentrates upon a different exile. The last question centers on the present galus. The answer to why this galus is different, why each of the previous exiles had an end while this one does not seem to have an end in sight, is that during the other nights, exiles, we either sat or reclined, but on this night we only recline. This means, that during the other exiles there were people who made Torah study their primary vocation. They studied, relegating their mundane labor to secondary focus. Basically, they would sit and study Torah. During our exile, our attitude towards avodas Hashem, serving the Almighty, is "kulanu mesubim," totally from "subim." Subim is the bran of the wheat, the inferior, hard portion of the wheat. This means, that we serve Hashem without our heart and soul. We are cold and distant in our avodas Hashem. Is there any wonder that the galus continues?

Our reality can be summarized by a single word: attitude. If our attitude changes, we may hope to have a positive response from the Almighty.

I will lay your cities in ruin, and I will make your sanctuaries desolate. (26:31) The Midrash on Megillas Eichah relates that Rabbi Yochanan was able to render sixty expositions on the pasuk, Eichah 2:1, "The Lord consumed without pity all the dwellings of Yaakov." Rabbi Yehudah Ha'Nasi, however, rendered only twenty-four expositions.

Rabbi Yochanan was not necessarily greater or more erudite by virtue of the fact that he was able to render more interpretations. It is just that Rabbi Yehudah Ha'Nasi lived in a time closer to the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash than Rabbi Yochanan did. Thus, when he began to speak he would remind himself of the Bais Hamikdash and begin to weep. After he wept, he was consoled. His emotional state limited his application of the pasuk which recounts the destruction.

We must endeavor to understand the consolation that Rabbi Yehudah Ha'Nasi had just because he lived prior to Rabbi Yochanan. One would think that the closer one is to the churban, destruction, the greater proximity he is to tragedy, the greater his reaction would be. Does an individual's sensitivity and emotion increase as he becomes more distant chronologically from the tragedy?

Horav E. M. Shach, Shlita, explains that both of these great Tannaim had one concern: that the terrible churban would not be forgotten. As long as one remembers the majesty of hashroas ha'Shechinah , the Shechinah's repose in the Bais Hamikdash, the impression that this repose engendered would remain imbedded in the Jew's psyche. When one becomes "accustomed" to the loss, when complacency and acceptance cool the effects of the tragedy, then there is a serious fear that the Bais Hamikdash will be forgotten. People learn to live without a Bais HaMikdash, without Kohanim performing the avodah, service, without the incredible revelation of Hashem's glory and the holiness this engendered. Time heals - it also dulls the sensitivity and tempers the emotion.

Rabbi Yehudah Ha'Nasi, who lived closer to the churban, saw that the people still remembered; the pain and sorrow were still vivid in their minds; the grief was yet fresh. He did not need more than twenty-four ways to describe the loss. Rabbi Yochanan, who lived in a later generation, was more removed from the churban. He needed greater stimulation to arouse his sense of mourning. The consolation for the destruction is commensurate with the degree of grief. The more one weeps, the greater is his nechamah, consolation. The more one acknowledges the loss, the greater is his awareness of the holiness and majesty that once was. This awareness is in itself a source of solace.

If a man articulates a vow to Hashem regarding a valuation of living beings. (27:2) The Torah addresses the concept of "arachin", valuations, this is a specific form of vow in which an individual may choose to contribute his value of himself or the value of another person to the Sanctuary. Interestingly, the laws of valuations are juxtaposed upon the Tochachah, Admonition. Is there some connection between the two: kelalos, curses, for negative behavior; the portent for what is to occur as a direct result of our negative attitude and lack of observance; and the positive message to be gleaned from the laws of valuations? Horav Meir Shapiro, zl, suggests a distinct relationship. When a Jew reads the Tochachah and its various implications, he may become depressed. Realizing what his responsibilities are, and the punishment he may suffer for not adhering to Hashem's command, one can become dejected, develop a low sense of self-esteem. When confronted with the seriousness of their erroneous ways, people will often give up. The Torah immediately addresses this emotion with the parsha of valuations in which a person is taught that even the simplest Jew has a value. Indeed, Jews are not categorized according to scholarship or observance, but, rather, according to their nationhood. Being a Jew establishes one's value.

Guilt, which can be healthy since it motivates one to repent, can also be a source of depression. The Kotzker Rebbe, zl, was wont to say, "Whether one thinks of a sin longingly or reflects upon it with great remorse, his mind is preoccupied with sin. A sin is like mud: regardless of the way one handles it, he becomes muddy." After teshuvah, repentance, one must go on with life - with pride and dignity.

One who capitulates to the effects of guilt is falling prey to the yetzer hora, evil inclination, whose goal it is to destroy - regardless of the method. Depression is as much a conquest as joy in performing evil. If the yetzer hora compels us to ruminate over our past indiscretions to the point that we are saddened and dispirited, we cannot act constructively - and this is exactly what he wants. He has us doing teshuvah constantly in such a manner that he successfully prevents us from performing mitzvos. After all, how can someone so contaminated by sin act in a positive manner? This is the yetzer hora speaking to us, encouraging us to false piety. Indeed, such frumkeit can be self- defeating. Regardless of what one has done in the past, he must not despair. Rather, he should look to the future, taking into account what he can do, not what he has done. Indeed, it was the Baal Shem Tov who instituted the custom of serving "farfel," toasted barley/pasta, at the Friday night meal to emphasize that as Shabbos begins, we make closure to the events of the previous week. Everything is now "farfallen," bygone. In this manner, we begin the new week, fresh, unhampered by the errors of the past. May we all be worthy of this feeling.


1) When is it a "good" time for it to rain?
2) In the Tochachah, the Torah refers to ___________ punishments for the _________ sins that are stated by the Torah.
3) What was the hidden blessing in the curse, "I will make the land desolate!"
4) How many years did the wicked Menashe reign over Yehudah?
5) For how many years was Menashe a baal teshuvah?
6) In how many places in the Torah is Yaakov Avinu's name written in full with a "vov"? This corresponds with the ______ times the name of _____ is written without a "vov."


1) On Friday nights most people are homebound. The rain will benefit their fields, but not affect them personally.
2) A. Seven    B. Seven
3) This curse assures us that the enemy will not find any contentment in the land, since it will be desolate of its inhabitants.
4) 55 years
5) 33 years
6) A. Five    B. Eliyahu Ha'Navi's

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