Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


I will place My Sanctuary among you; and My spirit shall not reject you. (26:11)

Hashem assures the people that the Divine Presence will rest among them wherever they are. We wonder why, after detailing the many blessings that we will experience as a result of observing Hashem's mitzvos, that the Torah adds that Hashem will not become disgusted with us. Is this a "necessary" blessing? It is obvious! Horav Yosef Yoizel Horwitz, zl, the Alter m'Novardok, derives from here that it is natural for the nefesh, soul, which descends from on High into the body of a Jew, to recoil from its new home. It does not belong here, so it should not feel comfortable here. It craves a spiritual environment. The fact that it is not totally repulsed by the physical circumstances in which it has been placed is due solely to the blessing, "My spirit shall not reject you." Indeed, it is specifically due to this blessing that the body, when it acts in accordance with Hashem's dictate, integrates with the soul, becoming a single essence.

The flip side to this blessing occurs, regrettably, when the individual does not follow Hashem's command. Then, explains Horav David Povarsky, zl, the body--which is physical and has a natural abhorrence to the spiritual--will strongly vilify anything spiritual. This is why there is often an innate lack of love between the secular Jew by choice and the chareidi Jew - a phenomenon which is not reciprocated. Without the Torah's blessing, if man allows himself to succumb to the laws of nature, his body feels a sense of negativity toward his neshamah, and his secular tendencies become uncomfortable with his observant tendencies. If we think about it, this process works to our benefit, so that the neshamah can influence the body, and the observant can reach out to those who are not yet observant - and not vice versa.

If you behave casually with Me and refuse to heed Me. (26:21

) Rashi interprets keri, casually, as an attitude. This means that, despite the punishments which are Heavenly messages, we are likely to continue performing mitzvos in a haphazard, lackadaisical manner, demonstrating that we view mitzvos as a matter of convenience, not a Heavenly dictate. In his Sefer HaMitzvos, the Rambam defines the mitzvah of yiraas Hashem, fear of Hashem, as a person's belief in Hashem to the point of fear. He fears the punishment he will receive for improper performance of His mitzvos. This is unlike the apostates who go about their merry way, uncaring, unfeeling, and unafraid. They walk with keri, nonchalance, casually--without fear of retribution. As Horav Matisyahu Solomon, Shlita, notes, the Rambam does not say that yirah, fear, is only tied to belief in Hashem. It is much more than that. Fear of Hashem means that one is acutely aware that he will pay for his mistakes and that he will be punished for his transgressions. He understands that for every word of lashon hara, slanderous speech, that exits his mouth, for every penny that he takes from another person without permission, he will be punished. In his commentary to Sefer Devarim 13:5, the Ramban writes that the mitzvah of yirah is a consciousness that one believes: that the soul of every living creature is in Hashem's hands; that He has the power to continue life or to end it - at any time; and that He remembers every infraction of man and will pay him commensurately.

The fact that the Rambam refers to one who lacks yiras ha'onesh, fear of retribution, as an apostate is quite startling and should serve as a wake-up call. The inclusion of the word keri, casually, which coincides with Rashi's interpretation of the word, indicates that we are referring to an individual who does perform mitzvos and understands their value. It is just that he fails to recognize that each and every mitzvah can be performed b'tachlis ha'hidur, with utmost beautification, and that one should distance himself from every aveirah, sin, with the utmost care and urgency. It is all in his attitude: if he is "in the mood," he davens well, performs mitzvos well and is very careful not to fall into the abyss of transgression. If he is not "in the mood," he just acts casually, carelessly, almost nonchalantly, as if mitzvos and aveiros are the last thing on his mind - which they, regrettably, are. This is whom the Rambam calls an apostate!

Rav Matisyahu quotes Horav Shlomo Wolbe, zl, from a shmuess, ethical discourse, which he delivered to a group of Kollel fellows in Yerushalayim. The Mashgiach was sharply decrying the fine, upstanding bnei Torah who study Torah all day, but are seemingly too selective in their mitzvah performance. For example, purchasing a beautiful Esrog is very important - even compelling for some. They devote so much time to picking out the perfect specimen. Even during davening, when they should be concentrating on their devotion to Hashem, one obsessive thought courses through their minds: My Esrog. The reason for this obsession is simple. They measure the individual's level of yiraas Shomayim by his Esrog: how much he pays for it; how beautiful it is; how much time and effort he expended in acquiring it. Everything revolves around the Esrog.

Yet, the owner of a grocery in the same neighborhood, which is home to hundreds of bnei Torah who are extremely devoted to Hashem and meticulously observant of His mitzvos, was forced to close his store and claim bankruptcy as a result of the credit he had extended to these families. He could not pay his bills, because too many people owed him too much money.

This bespeaks a "casual" attitude to mitzvos. The Esrog is certainly important and should remain so, but not at the expense of other mitzvos. The individual who is concerned with purchasing a beautiful, expensive Esrog--but loses no sleep concerning the money he owes the poor store keeper--has a serious deficiency in his yiraas Shomayim. He will have to explain why he used the money that he owed the store keeper to purchase an Esrog. There are appropriate priorities in mitzvah observance. One who fears Hashem knows what they are.

If despite these you will not be chastised toward Me, and you behave casually with Me, then I, too, will behave toward you with casualness. (26:24)

The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh interprets this pasuk to teach us a powerful message: Even if one does not actually sin anew, the mere fact that he has not learned from Hashem's punishment is considered as if he is carrying out new sins. The Talmud in Pesachim 34a states that seven things are hidden from man, meaning that they are beyond his ability to comprehend. One of them is omek ha'din, the depth of justice. Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, explains that with eyes of flesh and blood, one's ability to see is limited. He certainly cannot delve into that which eludes his practical vision. We see a sin in its visual context, as an isolated infraction - and nothing more. Hashem has a completely different perspective on this "infraction." As Creator and Ruler of the world, the all-knowing G-d has a penetrating insight into man's actions in such a manner that the sinful activity reflects many frames of reference and, thus, becomes much more than one isolated sin.

To develop a deeper understanding of Hashem's visual perception, we might suggest an analogy with an MRI scan, which presents us with multiple shots and frames from various positions and perspectives. Thus, one has a more profound perception of the object that he is viewing. Sin is not much different. It is also subdivided into different frames from varied vantage points: motivation, intention, habit, consistency, background, environment, with the list of contributing factions continuing on. Hashem takes all of this into account and, therefore, one sin can be magnified many, many times.

The relationship between sin and virtue, merit and demerit, is also measured on a completely different scale. A z'chus, merit, created by one's positive action can also have great effect in mitigating the effects of a transgression. Alternatively, it can go vice versa, with one sin erasing much merit. It all is calculated on a scale whose weights do not correspond with our system of assessment. It is quantified in accordance with the Heavenly standard of measurement, which has a different set of criteria.

I will remember My covenant Yaakov, and also My covenant Yitzchak, and also My covenant Avraham. I will remember, and I will remember the land. (26:42)

After describing the wonderful blessings in store for the individual who observes the Torah, the parsha elaborates the curses that will befall he who does not. As the curses reach their painful nadir, the Torah interrupts with a promise of remembrance. The Midrash cites a dispute between Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel that is worth noting. "I will remember My covenant Yaakov." This is consistent with the pasuk in Tehillim 102:26, "From of old, You set the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands." As the Shem MiShmuel explains, the connection between these pesukim is the order of the subject. In our pasuk, the Avos, Patriarchs, are listed in reverse order. In the pasuk in Tehillim, the earth precedes the heavens, which is in contrast to the order stated in Sefer Bereishis. The Midrash addresses the order and its specific purpose.

Bais Shammai contends that the heavens were created first, followed by the earth. They support this with the first pasuk in the Torah, "In the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the earth." Bais Hillel disagree, comparing the world's creation to that of a palace. The king will certainly erect the lower level prior to topping it off with the upper level. So, too, the pasuk (ibid 2:4) continued, "On the day which Hashem created earth and heaven." Rabbi Yochanan seems to offer a compromise when he suggests, "With respect to initial creation, the heavens were first, but with respect to completion, the earth was first." Rabbi Elazar ben Rabbi Shimon adds, "In every place, we find heaven mentioned before earth, except for one. This teaches us that each was equal to the other - meaning that they are interdependent upon one another. Likewise, Avraham is always mentioned before the other Avos, except in the above pasuk, in which Yaakov is mentioned first. This teaches us that they were all equal."

At first glance, the presentation in the Midrash of the dispute between Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel, followed by the order of Creation and the order of the Avos, seems to be an academic discourse, with little relevance for us today. The Shem MiShmuel feels that, after delving into the meaning of the dispute, we may glean a profound, timeless message from their words.

The Sifrei Kabbalah teach that each human being is an olam katan, microcosm of the world. All of the features of the world are manifest within each of us in some form or another. Thus, for every significant occurrence in the greater world, there is a smaller, corresponding one within the human personality. Consequently, the precise order of creation affects the nature of human life. Since heaven and earth are the two primary constituents of the universe, they correspond with the two primary features of the human being. As such, the heavens, which are the "higher" part of creation, coincide with the intellect of man; and the earth, representing the "lower" element of creation, corresponds with his emotions.

With this in mind, we must also take into consideration the varied foci of each of these two attributes within the framework of Judaism. The nature of the intellect is to strive to develop a greater and deeper understanding of the Creator, working to appreciate the complexity of Creation through the prism of Hashem's Torah. Man's emotional component, however, must focus on self-development, contrition and humility.

The complete, properly developed human being manifests both traits: an elevated striving of the intellect fused with a profound emotional contrition. There is one mitigating factor, however; it is very difficult to experience these two distinct aspects of life at the same time, because each of them demands a different mood and context. It, therefore, behooves us to begin our spiritual development with only one of these concepts, speculating that at a later time we will have the opportunity to integrate the second one into our personality. Something has to be first. The question is: Which one? This, suggests the Shem Mishmuel, is the basis of the dispute between Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel. Their point of contention is: should the intellect or emotion come first?

Whereas each of these approaches is important and necessary, each also has drawbacks which can undermine the successful spiritual development of the human being. If one begins with contrition, constantly working on his humility and self-effacement, there is always the risk that he might get carried away and reach the point of total self-abnegation. In an extreme case, this can lead to despair and hopelessness. Consequently, it makes sense to begin one's spiritual ascent by concentrating on intellectual striving. This approach will lead him to a greater and more profound appreciation of Hashem's grandeur and majesty, which will, in turn, enable him to move on to emotional development within the proper framework. This is why Bais Shammai state that the heavens were created first. On the individual level, they are telling us that the intellect should precede the emotions.

Bais Hillel take a contrasting view, recommending the reverse approach. When one begins his quest on the foundation of intellectual development, "sailing" through the heavens and contemplating the Divine, there is the risk of developing an inappropriate feeling of superiority, elitism and arrogance. This will actually prevent the emotions from taking hold. The individual's overblown confidence will prevent humility and contrition from finding a foothold. When one flies through the heavens, it is difficult to plant his feet on the ground. Thus, Bais Hillel contend that the earth was created first, which intimates that man must prioritize his emotional development before he turns to intellectual progress.

Rabbi Yochanan seems to compromise between the two, suggesting that the creation of heaven was commenced before that of the earth, but the earth was actually completed before the heavens. This conjunction of the two opinions plays itself out in the human condition in the following manner. He is in agreement with Bais Shammai that the intellectual development should be the first priority. Once this has begun, the individual should switch his focus to the development of humility and other emotional traits, which will complement his intellectual growth, allowing it to develop unhindered by the dangers of arrogance. In this way, the pitfalls encountered by following either Bais Shammai or Bais Hillel exclusively, will not materialize.

We now see that the Midrash is not talking in the past, but actually focusing on the present by providing us with a recipe for a successful approach to life. Each of the views presents an opinion concerning the best way to juggle the soaring goals of the intellect with the appropriate level of emotional humility, while simultaneously circumventing the stumbling block that each one alone presents.

The Midrash concentrates on the order of creation only in comparison with the pasuk which cited the Avos in reverse order. We can now address the unusual order of their appearance in this pasuk. While they are usually listed chronologically, here the focus seems to be on something else altogether.

Avraham Avinu was a man of great humility, for of himself it is said, "I am but dust and ashes" (Bereishis 18:17). Yaakov, his grandson, represented intellectual perfection. As a synthesis of his father, Yitzchak, and grandfather, Avraham, he combined everything for which they stood. The achievements of the Patriarchs were so outstanding that the Torah views them as the conclusion of creation, "These are the products of heaven and earth, b'hibaram, when they were created" (ibid 2:4). The Zohar Hakadosh adds, "Do not read the word b'hibaram (when they were created), but rather Avraham, which is an anagram of b'hibaram. Thus, the conclusion of creation was Avraham Avinu."

As the first of the Avos, he represented the commencement of their combined endeavor. He epitomized self effacement, which, in turn, is symbolized by the earth in the scheme of Creation. Apart from the obvious chronological reason for presenting Avraham before the other Avos, he also teaches us the priority of emotion over intellect. This is the story throughout the Torah.

Our pasuk, however, describes Klal Yisrael's position in galus, exile, when their spiritual life is at its nadir. In galus, we are plagued by depression, despair and hopelessness. We do not know our role in the world, only that it is not very promising. The physical circumstances that abound only adds to our uncertainty and feeling of failure and nothingness. We have descended so low that we no longer believe in the efficacy of our prayer and Torah study. We have given up hope, thinking that we have lost our chances for reconciliation with the Almighty. Indeed, the future looks quite dim. This was the scenario in Egypt when Moshe Rabbeinu came to greet Klal Yisrael with a message of hope: "And they did not listen to Moshe due to shortness of spirit and the hard work" (Shemos 6:9). They were simply out of it, having plunged to the nadir of depravity and the abyss of despair.

They could neither listen to--nor have the presence of mind to appreciate--Moshe's message of hope. This has been the case throughout our prevailing exiles. We reach a point of emotional hopelessness. In such a state, it is best that we focus on intellectual development and strive for a deeper understanding of, and connection with Hashem's majesty. This is why in our parsha, Yaakov is mentioned first. He represents the intellectual striving more so than the other Avos. His clarity and closeness to Hashem inspire our own personal growth to the point that we are able to overcome the clutches of despair that seem to hold us down.

Va'ani Tefillah

V'Hu Rachum yechapeir avon, v'lo yashchis, v'hirbah l'hashiv apo v'lo yair kol chamaso.
And He is merciful; He will wipe out sin, and He will not destroy, and He greatly turns back His wrath, and He does not stir up His anger.

Only Hashem is intrinsically merciful. In other words, Hashem is the source of whatever mercy other people exhibit towards us, since He grants them the ability to be merciful. Whatever mercy we receive from others is nothing more than Hashem's mercy being carried out through His agents. Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, derives this from the text in the pasuk which employs the word rachum, is merciful, rather than merachem, has mercy. Hashem is intrinsically merciful at all times. He does not merely forgive one of his sin; He is mechaper, which means wipes off. The sin is gone - abrogated - as if it never was there. No stain is left; no taint remains to remind one of his infraction. He also does not destroy hope. Even when people have individually acted so malevolently that they incur the punishment of destruction, Hashem still leaves over a root from which hope can sprout out in the future.

Hashem turns back His wrath. Rav Miller explains that the wrath incurred by a sin is immense, and only because of Hashem's enduring and boundless mercy are we able to survive, because He turns it back - holding it in place while we perform teshuvah, repentance. We must remember, though, that it is only v'hirbah, much of the wrath is turned back - but not all. We must perform perfect teshuvah to complete the process.

Sponsored in memory of
Mrs. Seliga Ahuva (Schur) Mandelbaum

Seliga Ahuva bas HaRav Daniel a"h
26 Iyar 5751

"tenu la meprei yadeha vehaleluha bashe'arim ma'asehah"

by her family
HoRav Doniel z"l & Shoshana Schur

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