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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


When you kindle the lamps, toward the face of the Menorah shall the seven lamps cast light. (8:1)

Rashi cites Chazal who explain the use of the word Behaaloscha, which really means "when you bring up," as opposed to behaadlikcha, when you kindle. It is necessary for the Kohen to keep the flame in place until shalheves oleh m'eilehah, the flame rises on its own, from the oil in the wick and not from the Kohen's flame. This explanation is seemingly superfluous, since it is obvious that the flame should be burning on its own. Otherwise, as soon as the Kohen takes away his light, the lamp on the Menorah will extinguish. Do we really need a specific word to convey a halachah that is obvious?

Horav Avigdor Halevi Nebentzhal, Shlita, offers a homiletic approach. The three Klei Kodesh, holy appurtenances, that stand in the Heichal - the Menorah, Mizbayach Haketores, and Shulchan - signify the three pillars upon which the world rests. The Menorah denotes the Pillar of Torah, since the Menorah is closely related with wisdom. The Altar of Incense signifies the Pillar of Avodah, prayer/service and devotion to the Almighty. The Table, closely connected with food and sustenance, connotes gemillus chasadim, acts of loving-kindness. The shoresh, source, for these three Keilim which were outside in the Heichal was the Aron Hakodesh, Holy Ark, which alludes to emunah, faith, in the Almighty. This teaches us that the three pillars of the world, Torah, Avodah and Gemillus Chasadim, must have their source in emunah. If they are not the outgrowth of pure faith and conviction, they are missing the most essential component of their existence.

When the Torah teaches us the laws that apply to the lighting of the Menorah, its intention is to convey to us the manner in which we should transmit Torah to our students. The rebbe should involve himself in the teaching process until the student grasps the material on his own. When one seeks to transfer the flame of Torah to his student, he must see to it that the flame burns brightly within the student - on its own. One who teaches and communicates Torah wisdom to his student is not assured of success until the student is able to understand the material to the point that he can be mechadesh, say/write original thoughts and novellae. One who simply repeats by rote, but cannot innovate his own original deduction based upon the derech, approach to Torah thought, taught him by his rebbe, has not really grasped the flame. It is not "rising on its own."

Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, was wont to say, "One who can simply 'say over' what his rebbe said on a specific topic is not considered a true disciple. He must be able to 'say over' on his own what his rebbe would have said." This indicates that he has absorbed his rebbe's approach to understanding the profundity of Torah. Every Rosh Hayeshivah had his own unique methodology and approach to the nituach ha'sugya, analysis and dialectic, of the subject matter. A true student should be able to distinguish between the approach of Rav Shimon Shkop and that of Rav Chaim Brisker. There was also the derech of the Chasam Sofer that was used primarily in the Hungarian yeshivos. To be able to perceive what one's rebbe would say indicates one's depth of understanding.

Rav Nebentzhal continues with the responsibilities imposed upon the yeshivah toward its students in transmitting the Torah lesson. He cites the Gaon, zl, m'Vilna, who posits that when one teaches, he should not complete his thesis, leaving over one point for the student to delve into and cogitate himself. This is applicable only if the student is capable of deducing the concept on his own. If he is, however, incapable, then the rebbe should teach it over and over, as the famous Rav Preida taught his student four hundred times until he understood each lesson.

Once, Horav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, zl, the Michtav M'Eliyahu, was giving a shmuess, ethical discourse, during which he explained two of Chazal's teachings that seemed to contradict one another. When the lecture was over, the students realized that he had not answered the original question. He wanted to see who would come over and ask him for the answer. This is the meaning of the flame rising on its own: the student is inspired to think on his own, to question, respond, compare and expound on the analysis presented to him.

Rav Nebentzhal suggests that the yeshivah has another function: to imbue the student with a love of Torah. Only a student who loves the Torah, who senses the "v'haarev na," sweetness of Torah, will be driven to plumb its profundities with enthusiasm and fervor. He must realize that the Torah is not merely another wisdom - it is his lifeline. The bren, fire/passion, that one invests into Torah study should burn fiercely. To study Torah with a kaltkeit, cold, distant feeling is to invite trouble. The flame surely cannot rise on its own if it had not originally been present. The initial break with Orthodoxy came about in this manner. Interestingly, the original founders of the Haskalah movement, which undermined and attempted to totally destroy the Torah, were themselves observant Jews. Their approach was to "cool off" one's yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven. They considered mitzvos to be nothing more than Jewish tradition and custom, relegating observance to a matter of culture. The result was that their own children became apostates and converted out of the faith. When the fire is extinguished, nothing remains but a cold heart.

The Chazon Ish related that a father once came to him complaining that his son was extreme in his observance. The Chazon Ish commented, "This father thinks that middle of the road refers to one who observes fifty percent of the mitzvos. He does not understand that the absolute minimum that a Jew must observe is all 613 mitzvos. One who refrains from performing thirty-eight of the thirty-nine types of labor on Shabbos is still a mechallel Shabbos, desecrator of the Shabbos." When we do not transmit the flame to the next generation in such a manner that it burns brightly on its own, the result is a Jew who is distant, cold and dispassionate in his observance. His observance is - at best - sterile and will not produce a second generation of Torah-observant Jews.

Those men said to him, "We are contaminated through a human corpse; why should we be diminished by not offering Hashem's offering?" (9:7)

The Sifri derives from the Torah's use of the word anashim, a term reserved for distinguished men, that these individuals were kesheirim v'charaidim l'mitzvos, proper men who were eager and meticulous in mitzvah observance. There are people who observe whatever they are told to observe. Yet, they will look for loopholes and heteirim, halachic dispensations, to get around an obligation. Then there are those who seek every opportunity to observe mitzvos, to carry out Hashem's will. One who loves Hashem does not look for a way out. On the contrary, he will seize every opportunity that brings him closer to Hashem,. These men had been deprived of a mitzvah. While it is true that they were involved in another mitzvah, they did not look at it that way. They did not want to miss an opportunity to offer the Korban Pesach.

Our gedolei Yisrael, Torah luminaries, of each generation were characterized by this unique attitude toward mitzvos. The Gaon, zl, m'Vilna was imprisoned during the Festival of Succos. He did everything within his ability to stay awake, to the point of holding his eyes open, so that he should not fall asleep outside of the Succah.

A Russian Jew who was a student in Radin related that he once stayed up all Thursday, Mishmor night, studying Torah. As he left in the wee hours of the morning, the snow was beginning to descend and the wind was picking up its fury, as the temperature plummeted to below zero. He rushed through the quiet streets to get home and catch a few hours of rest before the sun rose. Suddenly, he noticed something moving surreptitiously through the streets. Back and forth the figure moved, stopping every once in a while, then continuing on. The student was nervous. Who could this be in the middle of the night? Filled with fear, he decided to go on to his home. As he came closer, he was filled with surprise to see that it was none other than the saintly Chafetz Chaim. "Why are you outside in the middle of the night?" the Chafetz Chaim asked, clearly agitated, but concerned. "Go right home to sleep."

The next day, the student discovered that this was the third night that the Chafetz Chaim had been circling the city, amidst the bitter cold and raging snow, waiting for the levanah, moon, to appear, so that he could fulfill the mitzvah of Kiddush Levanah.

A bit closer to our own time, we can learn what devotion to mitzvos is from the Klausenberger Rebbe, zl. The Rebbe survived the Holocaust with his faith intact, making sure to observe whatever mitzvos he could, risking his life not to transgress any negative commandments. His dedication and commitment are legendary. Probably the most difficult time was during the eight days of Pesach when his body, already wracked with pain from the cruel labor to which he was subjected, had to be sustained without eating the smallest crumb of chametz. Together with a small group of fellow prisoners, he was able to gather a small store of potatoes, hiding them in the cracks of the barracks walls and between the bunks. One day, a Nazi guard found the treasure and confiscated them. The Rebbe's reaction was typical, "We have done our part; Hashem will do what is good in His eyes."

The Rebbe's words became a reality, as the day before Pesach the Nazis suddenly - and for no apparent reason - assigned an entire group of Jews to help the farmers whose fields bordered the camp. Their job: to open up the stores of potatoes which had been underground all winter. This work assignment provided them with the means to smuggle a large quantity of potatoes back to the camp.

By an overt miracle, they were able to procure some grain, which they crushed with their fingers and some rocks until it was fine enough to be flour. They baked tiny little matzos in secret and prepared for the Seder. Fifteen men gathered around the Rebbe, as he recited the entire Hagaddah from memory. His bitter weeping shook the entire assemblage, who listened with tears streaming down their faces. While they certainly did not have four cups of wine, and marror, bitter herbs, was a part of their daily routine, they did have matzoh. The Rebbe spoke words of encouragement to the men who sat enraptured by his words. They were amazed how he spoke of a future filled with hope. When others were filled with depression and devastation, the Rebbe's mind was replete with spiritual matters that transcended the realm of the average person's understanding. The experience may be summed up with the words of a non-observant Jew who had been invited to the Seder. He sat silently, watching, listening, absorbing everything that was taking place. He did not utter a sound, until he could no longer contain himself and he exclaimed, "Jewish brothers! If I did not personally experience this beautiful scene I would never have believed that such a thing was possiblethat Jews should observe the commandment of eating matzoh right under the noses of the Nazi murderers, with death staring them in the face. I would never have believed it."

Surviving the week of Pesach took superhuman strength - both physically and emotionally. The Rebbe hardly ate anything. He refused to eat chametz of any sort. He left his daily portion of bread unclaimed for anyone who wanted it. He would eat nothing more than unpeeled potatoes that were occasionally obtained for him, baking them in an empty can that he koshered in boiling water before Pesach. On the last day of Pesach, the Rebbe was on a work detail outside of the campgrounds. He refused to eat a baked potato that someone had managed to obtain for him, because it was not prepared in a utensil that had been koshered for Pesach. As he was working, he came upon the head of a sugar beet. He felt this was his reward for not eating the potato. As he ate the beet, he remarked, "I have never eaten anything as sweet as this." This is commitment to mitzvos.

Now the man Moshe was exceedingly humble. (12:3)

The Daas Zekeinim notes that the word anav, humble, is written without a yud. This implies that Moshe Rabbeinu's humility extended to every organ in his body. The word anav without a yud. spelled ayin - ayin, yud, nun - 130; nun - nun, vav, non - 106; vav - vav, vav - 12, total 248, which is the number of organs in the body. What is the meaning of humility throughout the entire body? Horav Shmuel David Walkin, zl, renders the following explanation based on an episode that occurred with the Baal HaTanya. The Baal HaTanya decided to leave Mezritch to return home. He felt that remaining in Mezritch in close proximity to the famous Maggid was harmful to his character. He saw himself becoming haughty about his spiritual ascendancy. It was better that he should return home and become a baal agalah, wagon driver, than become a baal gaavah, an arrogant and pompous man. He was traveling home just before Pesach when the roads affected by the coming spring were flooded and filled with deep potholes. It took a very experienced wagon driver to guide the coach along the way, making sure not to fall into any of the holes in the road. The wagon driver turned to his passengers and asked, "Have you ever seen such a fine driver as I? No other driver could have guided you so brilliantly as I have!"

When the Baal HaTanya heard this, he realized that one who is arrogant will be so regardless of his position. The baal agalah who thinks highly of himself will be the same baal gaavah as the talmid chacham, Torah scholar, who allows his erudition to go to his head. A baal gaavah is a baal gaavah, regardless of his position. This is what is meant by referring to Moshe as humble in every one of his organs. Regardless of what he would do, with whichever part of his body, he viewed himself as insignificant and unworthy.

So Miriam was quarantined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not journey until Miriam was brought in. (12:15)

Rashi says that the distinction of having the entire nation wait for her was accorded to Miriam as a reward for her waiting and watching the infant Moshe when he was left in a basket in the river. Miriam waited for Moshe as a natural instinct, an expression of love for her baby brother. The child was born and tragedy struck. Of course, she would remain in the background to see what would take place. It was the natural, right thing to do. Indeed, if she would have to pay a great amount of money for the opportunity to guard her little brother, she would have certainly done so. Her reward is incredible. For waiting a few short moments just to see what would happen to her brother, all of Klal Yisrael waited for her for seven days. This teaches us how crucial it is to empathize with another person. A few minutes were valued by Hashem as being so significant that an entire nation waited - for a considerable length of time for her to heal.

A son was born to Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, during the Israeli War of Independence. The Bris Millah took place in the hospital as the shells and bombs were exploding outside. As the walls of the building shook, everyone in attendance appreciated the emotional and spiritual respite from the devastation that was going on in the streets of the city. Returning to their home, the family had to run, dodging exploding shells and seeking refuge in any place that provided cover from the ravages of war. Running between houses, Rav Chaim sensed a presence in the doorway of one of the houses. It was a young wounded boy, his arms and legs bound in bandages. Rav Chaim stopped and began to cry. He was so emotionally overcome with the plight of the young child that he ignored the exploding shells, as well as the immediate danger to his own life. He just had to stop and cry - empathize with the young boy's pain.

Rav Chaim explained, "People think that empathy means to help another in need. What can you do for someone who is wounded, wrapped in bandages, and has been helped as much as possible? What more can be done for him? The answer is that while assistance may be ruled out, empathy is not! One can share in his pain, feel his anguish. When an individual carries a heavy load, everyone understands that we should help. What do you do, however, for the one that is carrying a load of 'pain'? We are obligated to try to 'feel' his pain and share his anguish."

Va'ani Tefillah

She'osani kirtzono - That He made me in accordance with His will.

This brachah, which is recited daily by women, reflects the fact that women are exempt from certain mitzvos. Regrettably, there are those who view this brachah as having a negative connotation, as intimating that women have no real obligation or focus, that they are obsequious and secondary. This is categorically not true. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, gives a lucid and meaningful explanation of this brachah, one that is echoed by a number of the commentators.

The purpose of the fulfillment of all mitzvos is to create a bond with the Almighty. This bond is created through the love that one feels and demonstrates through mitzvah observance. The variant natures of men and women demand a difference in the mitzvos, needing to elevate them and bring them closer to Hashem. If a man were not to wear Tefillin, he is considered a sinner and one who is sorely lacking in yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven. This mitzvah does not apply to women. Thus, it is understood that a woman can have the same amount of yiraas Shomayim without putting on Tefillin. By their nature, men require more mitzvos to bring them closer to Hashem. Women, however, were created with an innate nature which is more in accordance with the will of Hashem than men. They do not require the same "connections" as men do to bring them closer to G-d. Hence, the brachah, She'osani kirtzono, implies that women do not need all of the mitzvos that men do in order to achieve a close relationship with Hashem.

This idea applies as well to all mitzvos that are part of a man's compendium of mitzvos, but are not applicable to women. Limud ha'Torah is one example. A woman does not have to occupy her mind with the intricacies of Torah knowledge as a man does. She must learn the laws of mitzvos in order to carry them out properly. She does not become more G-d-fearing by studying Torah, nor does her learning Torah have any influence on her relationship with Hashem. A woman who is erudite in Torah knowledge does not become any better as a result. She'osani kirtzono proclaims that she does not need man's added mitzvos to bring her closer to Hashem. She is created in accordance with Hashem's will.

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