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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. (8:2)

Horav Yehudah Tzedakah, zl, applies this pasuk homiletically as a lesson for parents, exhorting them to provide a genuine and proper Torah education for their children. Children are the neiros, candles, of the parents. If parents want to ensure that the "lamps" are kindled properly, that the flame will "rise up" and not flicker, then they should light them "towards the face of the Menorah." They should send their children to schools and yeshivos in which they will receive a proper Jewish education. Only then will their flame burn brightly in order to illuminate the spiritual and moral darkness that prevails around them. Indeed, the purpose of every Jewish parent is to see to it that the Torah of our People is transmitted to the next generation. As David Hamelech says in Tehillim 78:1-6, "Listen, my people, to my teaching. Incline your ear to the words of my mouth…That which we have heard and know and our fathers have told us, we shall not withhold from the sons, recounting unto the final generation the praises of Hashem. He established testimony in Yaakov and set down a Torah in Yisrael which He commanded our fathers make known to their sons, so that the final generation may know; children yet to be born will arise and tell their own children."

These pesukim define the Jew's obligation in this world: "So that the final generation may know." Jewish education is our responsibility. We must see to it that the chain that began at Har Sinai is not severed, and that every ensuing generation forges another link in that glorious chain until the "last generation." Every father must execute his responsibility to educate his children according to the derech Yisrael saba, accepted manner that has been approved throughout the generations, going back to Yaakov Avinu. The pasuk reiterates the words, dor ha'acharon, final generation. Why? Is there a special obligation to study Torah during the final generation? Is this the only generation during which there is an obligation to study Torah?

Apparently, through Divine Inspiration, the Navi perceived that this phenomenon would occur only in the End of Days, in the dor acharon. Parents will forcibly deny their children the opportunity to study Torah properly, in an environment which is conducive to spiritual ascension. Yes, we have been plagued with reshaim, wicked people. For the most part, these are errant Jews who have become distant from Torah, primarily due to their own lack of erudition and the many insecurities that result from living under anti-Semitic regimes. This distance, however, seems only to exist vis-?-vis their personal relationship with Hashem. They have no qualms about according their children a Torah education. Furthermore, they would be pleased for their sons to grow up to be Torah scholars and leaders.

It is this dor acharon that have been confronted with a totally new hashkafah, philosophical perspective, in which parents select an educational facility for their children that is not rated for its Torah educational process, but rather for its state-of- the-art adaptation to contemporary society's moral and academic code. Jewish education is no longer a mandatory option. Children are growing up devoid of Yiddishkeit, bereft of Torah, and completely lacking in the ethical and moral standards that set the Torah Jew apart from the rest of the world. These are the products of the dor acharon mentality. This is what the Navi foreshadowed in his penetrating message of caution. We who are living in this dor acharon should respond to his plea.

Nor shall they break a bone of it. (9:12)

The Korban Pesach must be eaten in a manner that bespeaks royalty. Only those people who are literally on a lower echelon, who lack sophistication and breeding, eat ravenously, thus breaking the bones of the meat. One who feels and sees himself as a ben-melech, prince, demonstrates refinement in the way he eats. Klal Yisrael are to act on Pesach exactly the way they should feel: as free men, as princes who have all the time in the world to eat the food placed before them with enjoyment. Does this attitude apply only to Pesach? What about the rest of the year?

Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, relates that he once had occasion to be in Yeshivas Ponevez shortly after Pesach, and he heard the following from the Rosh Hayeshivah, Horav Dovid Povarsky, zl: "The Festival of Pesach has passed. Nonetheless, there is something that we can, and should, take with us into the summer months and beyond, into the rest of the year. The mitzvah, 'Nor shall they break a bone of it,' is a mitzvah that should be part of our lives during the entire year. We should learn to live with dignity and refinement - not like dogs that break bones when they eat."

The Sefer Hachinuch explains that Klal Yisrael is a nation of monarchs. It is, therefore, wrong for them to act in an undignified manner, appropriate for people of a lesser status. The Rosh Hayeshivah reiterated that whereas the actual mitzvah applied solely to the Korban Pesach and only during the period in which the Bais Hamikdash functioned as a part of our lives, the reason behind it applies constantly. Accordingly, we are mandated to act in a manner becoming royalty - because that is exactly what we are.

The essence of this mitzvah is that a person should not degrade his sense of royalty. This concept is timeless and particularly noteworthy in our day and age when society venerates those acting without dignity and without refinement, when being uncivilized and acting uncouthly are considered to be marks of distinction and serve as a badge of honor, especially among the younger generation. Civility and class are considered traits for the senior citizen crowd, traits which are not consistent with a contemporary lifestyle.

We are different. We must act like royalty, because as Klal Yisrael, we are the "kingdom of Priests and a holy nation." The way we speak, walk, act, and eat - in fact, every aspect of our daily endeavor- should reflect our exalted position. If we are to be respected, particularly in a world which has no concept of respect, we must first manifest self-respect. This can occur only when we act in a manner becoming our princely status. In this way, we give respect not only to ourselves, but simultaneously to Hashem.

Reflecting upon his position vis-?-vis the world community is critical, but possible only after the individual personally recognizes who and what he is. One must be cognizant of his unlimited potential and acknowledge it. There is a fine line, however, between kavod haTorah, the honor one gives the Torah, and elitism. One who has studied Torah and achieved erudition is transformed into a Sefer Torah. The respect must be reciprocal: we must respect the ben Torah; and he must maintain himself respectably commensurate with his position.

In his book, "A Touch of Warmth," Rabbi Yechiel Spero writes about a trip Horav Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman, zl, the venerable Rosh Hayeshivah of Ner Israel, took to Eretz Yisrael and his reaction to it. Upon his return to the States, he was asked to identify the pinnacle of his trip. What was his most inspiring experience? He responded, "I was zocheh, privileged, to purchase a mantel for a Sefer Torah." When his students heard this, they were a bit taken aback. Certainly, this is a wonderful accomplishment, but one does not have to travel to Eretz Yisrael to make such a purchase.

The Rosh Hayeshivah then explained that he had met a young Torah scholar who exemplified gadlus baTorah, greatness in Torah, in a manner unlike anything he had ever witnessed. This young man's encyclopedic knowledge of all aspects of Torah literature was unparalleled. During their conversation, Rav Ruderman noticed that the young man's kapota, long frock, was worn out and tattered. When Rav Ruderman offered to buy him a new one, he just shrugged and responded that he could live without it. The Rosh Hayeshivah persisted until the young scholar relented: "Finally he agreed, and I had the z'chus to purchase a kapota for him. This is what I meant when I said that I purchased a mantel for a Sefer Torah - for a lebedike, live, Sefer Torah."

As great as Rav Ruderman was, he recognized the importance of kavod haTorah. Thus, he set the standard for others to emulate. There is no difference between the Sefer Torah in the Aron Hakodesh and the thousands of walking Sifrei Torah. Furthermore, every child has this potential to become a Sefer Torah. Incidentally, the young talmid chacham, Torah scholar, who was the beneficiary of a new kapota was none other than Horav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita!

While the above mentioned episode demonstrates the attitude of a distinguished rosh yeshivah towards a ben Torah, as well as his depth of understanding concerning the parameter of kavod haTorah, it also conveys an important message to anyone who is studying Torah. You are a Sefer Torah in the making! As such, you have a moral responsibility to conduct yourself with rectitude consistent with your exalted status. One who studies Torah becomes integrated with the Torah, thereby changing his own status. The demand of taking the mitzvah, "Nor shall they break a bone of it," extends further beyond the "princely" to the Sefer Torah status. When we realize who we are, we will act in a manner becoming that position.

Moshe said to Chovav son of Reuel, the Midyanite, the father-in-law of Moshe. (10:29)

Rashi teaches us that Yisro had many names. He was called Chovav, which means "lover," because he loved the Torah. The word commonly used to describe love for the Torah is ahavah, as in ahavas Torah. What is its connection to chibah, which also means "to love"? Additionally, if they are one and the same, why do we not refer to love for Torah as chibas Torah? After perusing the various definitions and explanations of these two synonyms, the following definition surfaces. Chibah is to love and hold in great esteem, indicative of a reciprocal relationship. Thus, chibah is the precursor to ahavah, whereby one loves Torah with utter devotion since he has developed an understanding of it and now holds it in great esteem. In any case, loving the Torah is an integral part of learning Torah.

In our morning tefillah, we entreat Hashem that we achieve success in Torah study. We preface the prayer with an acknowledgement of Hashem's great love (Ahavah rabbah), His exceptional mercy (chemlah gedolah), and His boundless compassion (Av HaRachaman). We add to this a supplication for grain (kein techaneinu). Indeed, in the Shemoneh Esrei for Torah knowledge, we recognize once again that it is a matnas chinam, gift from Hashem (Atah chonein). Why is it necessary to be the beneficiary of such great compassion, mercy and grace in order to acquire Torah?

Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, explains that we first must understand the nature of Torah in order to appreciate it and only then can we develop a deep love for it. First, Torah is not a possession which one can acquire with money, nor can one acquire it through his deeds or actions. This is clearly evidenced by the fact that even though Moshe Rabbeinu spent forty days and nights on Har Sinai, he forgot every bit of Torah that he learned from Hashem! Only after Hashem granted him the Torah as a gift was he able to retain its knowledge. Indeed, concerning Torah, Hashem says, "When one acquires it (the Torah) he acquires Me with it." Hashem is included in the acquisition. Torah is not a simple compendium of knowledge. It is Divine - Divinely authored and Divinely granted to us. Therefore, in order to acquire such a unique gift, one must develop an awesome sense of love between the Giver and the beneficiary. It must be a boundless love, unconstrained by embellishment or conditions. Otherwise, we could never receive the Torah, for Hashem's love for us would be predicated on a middah k'neged middah, measure for measure, basis and we would never be worthy of it.

Rav Pincus explains this with an analogy. If we were to notice an individual writing with an exquisite pen, we would first question where he had bought it. Likewise, when we see someone with a new car, or any new item for that mater, we question where it had been purchased. Not so, if we see someone sporting a ten-carat diamond ring. In that case, we query, "Who gave it to you?" because one does not purchase jewelry of that size and expense for oneself. He receives it as a gift. The Torah is much the same. It is not something that one can purchase, because there is no way he would be able to pay for it. It must be a gift to us from Hashem.

Now that we have established that Torah is a gift from a loving Father to His son, it goes without saying that such a gift is granted only to someone whom He loves. This can be compared to a child who jumps up to kiss his father. This spontaneous expression of love stimulates a reciprocal feeling of love which the father concretizes with a special gift for his child. Clearly, this gift is not in exchange for the kiss. The kiss catalyzes the father to shower his son with a love that already exists within him. The act of giving is not an exchange. It is an expression of love which has been present and had only to be aroused. On the other hand, if there had not been an instigation on the part of the son, the father would not have given the gift. There would still be the love - just no free gift.

Rav Shimshon adds that there is no such thing as one-sided love. In its natural state, love is a relationship, a bond that exists between two people. This love is expressed when one side nurtures it through his own expression of love. Therefore, if we wish to see Hashem's overt expression of love for us, we must initiate it through our own act of love. When we study Torah with enthusiasm, we stimulate the process through which Hashem will reciprocate His love, granting us His most prized possession: the Torah. The actual gift is a matnas chinam, free gift, which is a product of his demonstration of love for Hashem, through the study of His Torah.

We now return to our original definition of ahavah: love and devotion. True love for Hashem, ahavah rabbah, means that one is wholly devoted to Him - 24/7. His entire life revolves around Hashem, nothing else matters, but Hashem. Rav Shimshon relates that, as a young boy, he saw a fire in one of the apartment buildings near his home in New York. He watched as the firefighters came flying down the street, rushing to extinguish the blaze. He stood there, enthralled as the hook and ladder truck pulled up and raised the ladder, and the firemen began running up its steps. As he stood there watching the scene that was unfolding before his eyes, his uncle, Horav Noach Weinberg, Shlita, walked by and said, "Shimshi, they say you are a masmid, very diligent in your studies. What could interest you here?" One who loves Hashem has nothing else on his mind.

This type of relationship with Hashem and His Torah signifies a gadol, Torah leader. Horav Shalom Schwadron, zl, was well-known for his outstanding ahavas Torah. Among his notebooks in which he kept a diary of his daily endeavors, he records that he would review seventy blatt, pages, of Talmud every week. His brilliance, coupled with his assiduity, allowed him to gain an encyclopedic knowledge of all areas of Torah in order to become the gaon that he was. While he maintained an ongoing relationship with many Torah luminaries, his stellar relationship with his brother-in-law, Horav Shlomo Zalmen Auerbach, zl, the gaon in halachah, was truly extraordinary. Living next door to each other, these two Torah giants would spend hours daily engrossed in Torah dialectic.

One night, snow was falling in Yerushalyim, and the damp cold coursed through one's bones. As the last of the masmidim left the bais medrash, one noticed that two individuals were outside in the street - at 2:00 a.m. - and, they were dancing! Rav Shalom and Rav Shlomo Zalman were dancing together in the cold night as the snow kept falling on them. They were impervious to the cold, to the late hour, to the falling snow. They were expressing their love for the Torah!

It had all begun a short while earlier, when Rav Shalom came knocking on Rav Shlomo Zalman's door. At first, the members of the family thought the noise must be coming from the falling snow pelting the roof. When they looked through the frozen window, they saw that it was none other than Rav Shalom. "Shlomo Zalman , open the door!" they heard.

Rav Shlomo Zalman, who had already retired for the evening, quickly rose from his bed to respond to his brother-in-law. Rav Shalom stood there with fiery enthusiasm, bursting to speak. "I have just formulated an incredible svara, logical application, concerning the sugya, topic, that we were studying, and you must hear it!" he blurted out. Rather than speak in the house where it would certainly keep whoever was trying to sleep from doing so, they went outside in the cold, damp and snowy night to speak in learning. After discussing the entire application for over one hour, Rav Shalom said, "Nu! Now it is time to dance in honor of the svara!" The two began to dance - and dance, as the snow fell on them. They did not have a care in the world, for they were inextricably bound with the Torah. This is truly ahavas Torah!

Va'ani Tefillah

Ashrei yoshvei veisecha - Praiseworthy are those who dwell in Your home.

Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, cites the Talmud Berachos 30b that teaches us that the early chassidim, pious ones, would tarry one hour in shul prior to beginning their tefillah, so that they could meditate and concentrate on Hashem. Only then would they begin their prayers. Chazal tell us that the source for this practice is the pasuk: Ashrei yoshvei veisecha, "Happy/fortunate are the dwellers of Your house." By meditating prior to their commencing davening, they would reach a proper state of mind. Rav Schwab comments that while we are not on the same spiritual plane as the early pietists, Ashrei, at least, affords us the opportunity to concentrate, albeit momentarily, about Whom and to Whom we are speaking.

One can relate to Hashem through two media: through ahavah, love; and/or through yirah, fear. When one uses love as his approach to connecting with Hashem, he simply "feels" very close to the Almighty. In contrast, through yirah, one is dumbstruck by His Omnipotence and Omniscience. Rav Schwab suggests that this might be the basis for the ancient practice of shokeling, swaying forward and backward, during tefillah. The forward motion expresses one's desire to come closer to Hashem, but then, upon reflection, one realizes the awesome greatness of the Almighty. This causes him to recoil in awe.

These two aspects of one's relationship with Hashem are reflected in the composition of Ashrei. Of the twenty-one pesukim in Ashrei, eleven are stated b'lashon nochach, in second person. Here we address the Almighty directly as, "You," expressing our ahavah for Him. In the other ten pesukim, we address Him in third person, indicating our yirah of Him.

Chaim Tzvi ben Aharon HaLevi z"l
Dr. Harry Feld
niftar 28 Iyar 5760

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