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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)

Rashi explains that the three wicks on the right and the three wicks on the left were all directed towards the Menorah's central stem, thereby concentrating the light toward the center. Since its light was focused, rather than spread out, the Menorah symbolized the notion that Hashem does not need its light. As the Source of all light, Hashem does not need the Menorah to illuminate the Sanctuary. The Shem MiShmuel quotes his father, the Avnei Nezer, in explaining the need for seven lights, all focused on the center. The Yalkut Shimoni makes a fascinating statement concerning the Menorah. "Why are there seven lights? They correspond to the seven days of Creation." The Avnei Nezer explains that the six branches of the Menorah correspond to the six working days of the week, while the middle lamp symbolizes Shabbos Kodesh.

To paraphrase the Shem MiShmuel, "My holy father taught that Shabbos is a dugma, example, of the Menorah. The three days preceding Shabbos, and the three days following Shabbos are all focused on the seventh day, Shabbos Kodesh, which, according to the Zohar HaKadosh, is the source of all blessing. Likewise, the three lamps on the right and the three lamps on the left all turn towards the ner ha'emtzai."

He quotes the Zohar HaKadosh who says that all of the blessings of Above and below are contingent upon the Seventh Day. The Shabbos influence infuses the weekdays. Days one, two and three are considered to be basar Shabbata, "following (the previous) Shabbos," and days four, five and six are referred to as Kami Shabbata, preceding Shabbos, because they belong to the upcoming Shabbos. The Avnei Nezer teaches us that the middle lamp alludes to the centrality of Shabbos and its overriding influence in supporting the success of our weekday endeavors.

In his inimitable manner of blending nistar, esoteric Torah thought, with niglah, revealed Torah, Horav Pinchas Friedman, Shlita, cites the Ohr HaChaim in Parashas Shoftim. He, in turn, quotes the Zohar HaKadosh that, prior to Shabbos, Hashem dispatches a neshamah yeseirah, added soul, from Heaven Above, whose purpose is to guide man and serve as a vehicle for saving him from sin. This neshamah yeseirah coincides with a man's individual spiritual plateau. It complements him and grants him the means to grow in his specific traits.

The neshamah is called a ner, candle/lamp, as Shlomo Hamelech writes in Mishlei 20:27, Ner Hashem nishmas adam, "The candle of Hashem is the soul of man." Thus, the pasuk would be interpreted homiletically: Behaalosecha es ha'neiros, "When you kindle the lamps - ie, when you seek to elevate the neiros, which are an allusion to neshamos, souls, of a person." El mul pnei ha'Menorah ya'iru shivaas ha'neiros, "Toward the face of the Menorah shall the seven lamps cast light." The secret to elevating neshamos successfully is to implement the neshamah yeseirah from the "middle light," Shabbos kodesh, and allow it to inspire the "right" and "left" lamps.

We might use this as sound advice for outreach to the unaffiliated. Invite them for Shabbos and allow the holy day with its neshamah yeseirah to do its "work." Shabbos is transformative. A Jew who has experienced the beauty of Shabbos is no longer the same. Now we know why.

Rav Friedman expounds on the Zohar HaKadosh who says: "The Holy Master sends a neshamah yeseirah from the Heavenly abode to guide man on the straight path, and, through it, he will be saved from the one who attempts to cause him to sin." This statement begs elucidation. Who is attempting to make man sin? How does the neshamah yeseirah make a difference? The Arizal writes in his Shaar HaGilgulim that when Adam HaRishon, Primordial Man, ate of the Eitz Hadaas, Tree of Knowledge, incurring the punishment of death to be decreed on humanity, his sin included all of the neshamos that would descend from him. Thus, each and every human being must atone for and repair his individual component of the sin.

Adam sinned on the sixth day in the tenth hour of the day. Since the neshamah yeseirah does not descend until Shabbos kodesh, no neshamah yeseirah was involved in Adam's sin. The sin took place during the waning hours of the weekday - not Shabbos. Thus, Shabbos is outfitted with a very special neshamah - one that is unlike the regular neshamah that is forced within man. This is an unaffected, spiritually healthy, untainted by sin, neshamah yeseirah.

We now understand how the neshamah yeseirah of Shabbos has the power to guide and inspire man to live a spiritually pure life. Man enters Shabbos with a neshamah which, through no fault of his own, has been affected by the sin of eating of the Eitz Hadaas. Thus, man, who is replete with sin, has great difficulty ascending from the grips of transgression. Indeed, the neshamah with which he was born has a natural tendency to gravitate towards sin. Hashem protects man with the spiritual antidote: the neshamah yeseirah. Returning to the opening pasuk of our parsha, we interpret the following: One who seeks to elevate the neiros/neshamos should face the middle lamp, which alludes to Shabbos kodesh. It is from the inspiration of Shabbos provided by the neshamah yeseirah that man receives the guidance and fortitude to elevate himself in his service of the Almighty.

But a man who is pure and was not on the road and had refrained from making the Pesach-offering, that soul shall be cut off from its people. (9:13)

On the one hand, we find that, throughout most of the Torah, we have confidence in people making the right choices. Man is trusted and allowed to make his own choice between right and wrong, good and evil. Despite the obstacles and numerous pitfalls, man is allowed the option to navigate the murky waters of life on his own - without that Divine "nudge." On the other hand, in certain instances the Torah is quite up front in directing the person in no uncertain terms, concerning the way it expects him to act. There is no room for error - the admonishment is extraordinary - the punishment is serious - regardless of the sinner's station in life. Why is there this inconsistency? Is it man - or is it the compelling nature of the circumstances in which man finds himself with regard to certain mitzvos?

Horav Aharon Ogolnick, zl, one of Novardok's premier students and Menahel Ruchoni in Ostrov, is quoted in Gevilei Eish with an explanation for this incogruency. In Avos D'R'Nosson 9:4, Chazal emphasize the importance of distancing oneself from evil people, due to the negative influence they impart. This applies even to the performance of a mitzvah. Chazal have a powerful understanding of human nature; thus, they recognize an individual's gravitational pull to the nefarious behavior of a rasha, wicked person. Indeed, the danger of falling under the influence of evil far supersedes the good that is generated by the mitzvah. In other words, it is just not worth the gamble, because the person will lose.

He cites a classic example from our parsha, in which the Torah introduces the laws of Pesach Sheini. These laws are unique in that, under most conditions, if a person misses a mitzvah, he has missed it. No make-ups are available. This is especially true when the mitzvah is time bound, such as in the case of the korbanos associated with specific Festivals. Once the Festival is over, the opportunity for offering the Korban is also over. Not so the Korban Pesach, which may be brought one month later, if his failure to attend Pesach services in the Temple had been due to no fault of his own. The Torah then makes a point of reiterating that anyone who is negligent in offering the Korban Pesach will be spiritually excised from the nation. One wonders why the Torah places this enjoinment in the middle of the laws of Pesach Sheini, when, in fact, it belongs earlier at the time that it mentions the laws of Pesach Rishon, the first Pesach.

The Mashgiach explains that specifically because there is a halachic dispensation of Pesach Sheini, there is reason to fear that a person will find kulos, leniencies, and excuses not to offer the first Korban Pesach in its prescribed time. In other words, when a dispensation exists, when people are aware of a make-up date, they will often ignore the first date - on purpose. We look for kulos, and one kulah leads to another until the basic foundation of mitzvah observance is undermined. Thus, the Torah makes a point to interject the laws of Pesach Sheini with a reminder: This dispensation is provided only for someone who had been unable to be in Yerushalayim on time. Someone who is looking for an excuse to circumvent the Korban is a sinner and will be appropriately punished.

And when the Ark would journey. (10:35)

Va'yehi binsoa haAron are the first three words of the shortest sefer in the Torah. In the Talmud Shabbos 115b, Chazal teach, Hashem placed markings (inverted nuns) immediately preceding and following this section to enclose it and separate it from the rest of the Torah. This was done to teach that this is not its proper place. (These pesukim belong earlier in Perek 2 of Sefer Bamidbar where the Torah describes how each tribe camped under its banner.) Rabbi (Yehudah HaNasi) says, "It is not for this reason that the signs (inverted nuns) appear, but rather, because this section ranks as a significant Book unto itself."

The Parsha/Book of Va'yehi binsoa contains eighty-five letters. The number of letters has halachic significance: If within a Torah scroll that has become worn, there is sufficient writing to gather (whole words) which number eighty-five letters that are still intact, we may save it from a fire of Shabbos. If not, we may not save it.

Chazal quote the pasuk in Mishlei 9:1, ChaTzvah amudehah shivah, "(Wisdom has built her house.) She has hewn out her seven pillars", these represent the seven Books of the Torah. Following Rashi's commentary, we now have: Bereishis; Shemos; Vayikra, Bamidbar - until Va'yehi binsoa; Va'yehi binsoa; Bamidbar following Va'yehi binsoa; Devarim.

Having said the above, we come to the question that begs elucidation: The entire Torah is made up of Sefarim, Books, which are so much larger than this small parsha. How could a Sefer comprised of a mere eighty-five letters have equal standing with the others? In his Shevilei Pinchas, Horav Pinchas Friedman, Shlita, cites the Chida in his Nachal Kedumim, who quotes the Sefer Kaf V'Naki in its k'sav yad, original manuscript, that presents us with an incredible explanation. "The Shaar Nun, fiftieth gate, was hidden from Moshe Rabbeinu; therefore, two inverted nuns immediately precede and follow Va'yehi binsoa, to allude to the nun/fifty Shaarei Binah, Gates of Understanding. Sefer Va'yehi binsoa is (thus) equivalent to the entire Torah, and all he (Moshe) merited from it were eighty-five letters."

Obviously, much more of this commentary is couched in esoteric profundity. We will attempt to explain and take for ourselves bits and pieces which will illuminate a number of issues concerning the actual size of the Torah. In his Sefer Midbar Kedaimos, the Chida applies the novel idea expressed by the Kaf v'Naki to explain a lingering question based upon a well-known statement by the Zohar HaChadash. The Zohar writes that the Torah is comprised of 600,000 letters. The Megaleh Amukos adds that, just as there are 600,000 letters in the Torah, so, too, there are 600,000 souls, each one coinciding with its individual letter in the Torah. This is alluded by the name Yisrael, whose letters are an abbreviation for Yeish shishim ribo osios la'Torah, "There are sixty myriads (10,000) letters in the Torah."

Anyone who can count the letters will note, as the commentators did, that there are actually 304,805 letters in the Torah. What happened to the rest? There are a number of explanations: most notable is that of the Pnei Yehoshua in his commentary to the Talmud Kiddushin 30a. He wrote that, while the Torah she'B'Ksav, Written Law, has only half of the 600,000 letters, we include the Targum, Aramaic translation, which was also transmitted to Moshe at Har Sinai.

We now return to our original question, concerning how a book of such miniscule size could parallel the significance of the other Chumashim. In the Talmud Rosh Hashanah 21b, Chazal make the following statement: "Chamishim Shaarei Binah nivreu b'olam, Fifty Gates of Understanding were created in the world (these gates represent the various reasons for each law in the Torah). V'Kulan nitnu l'Moshe chaseir echad, "and all but one were given to Moshe," as it is written vaTechasreihu me'at meiElokim, "But You have made him only slightly wanting in (understanding) Divinity". Maharal says that this "one" refers to the understanding of G-d's very essence.

The Shlah HaKadosh quotes the Arizal who says that when Moshe ascended Har Sinai to accept the Torah, he actually received the Fiftieth level of Understanding. After the Jewish People sinned with the Golden Calf, it was taken from him. This is alluded to by Hashem's statement to Moshe following the sin, Lech reid ki shicheis amcha, "Go down, for your nation has become corrupt." The gimatria, numeral equivalent, of lech is fifty, coinciding with the fifty Gates of Understanding. Hashem told Moshe, "Go down from your Fiftieth level of Understanding - because your nation has become corrupt."

We are being taught by the Kaf v'Naki that during Mattan Torah, the Giving of the Torah, Parashas Vayehi binsoa was indeed a very large sefer. It was as large as the rest of the Torah. Because it was a component of the Fiftieth level of Understanding, however, it was hidden as a result of the sin of the Golden Calf. All that was left were eighty-five letters. We now understand the hidden message of the inverted nuns. The nun was above the other letters, to teach us that what we have before us is what is left of Moshe's exposure to the fiftieth gate of understanding. It is inverted as if to indicate that the rest of the parsha sort of "turned" its back on us. We now posit that the Chazal which teaches that the Torah contains six hundred thousand letters is referring to the entire Torah, including the original unabridged Book of Vayehi binsoa. After the sin of the Golden Calf, it was reduced to a mere eighty-five letters.

But now, our life is parched, there is nothing; we have nothing to anticipate but the Manna. Now the Manna was like a coriander seed and its color was like the color of b'dolach. (11:6,7)

Rashi explains that the individuals who complained, "We have nothing to anticipate but the Manna," were countered by Hashem, Who said, "The Manna was like a coriander seed with a color similar to crystal." As the commentators explain, it had the taste of dough saturated with oil. Rashi understands that Hashem was alluding to the world, "Look at about what My children are complaining! They say the Manna is nothing worth waiting for, and I show you that it is indeed quite special."

This does not mean that the Jewish People were full of complaints. It is possible that they conceded that indeed everything else was actually great, but there was one issue about which they had criticism: the Manna. Horav Gamliel Rabinowitz, Shlita, notes that, sadly, there are people whose lives are filled with good fortune: wealth, great wife, wonderful children, nachas, satisfaction and acceptance in the community. Everything in their lives works - except for one issue which they have. Do they pay gratitude for all of the good and positive aspects of their lives, or are they consumed by - and obsess constantly about - the one area of their lives that does not work to perfection?

This is what angered Hashem. Everything about Klal Yisrael's life was just about perfect. They were no longer in Egypt serving as slaves to a despotic ruler. Whatever they asked of Hashem, they received. Were they thankful? No - all they could do was issue complaints about the Manna, complaints which were not valid.

This is an important lesson for all of us. No one has a perfect life. One thing is not always one hundred percent the way we would like it. Do we make the effort to thank Hashem for everything else, or do we focus all of our energies to complain about one thing that does not meet our standards? Before we complain, or even ask for that one thing that is missing, it might be a good idea to first look around and thank Hashem for our many blessings.

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

Humility is built upon a person's assessment of himself. It has nothing to do with his being able to speak up or take a stand on behalf of what is right. A humble person is well aware of his personal ability and successes in life. He just feels that he could have done so much more. As far as his ability is concerned, he considers himself lacking in achievement. With his G-d-given talents, he should have been that much greater. As a result of this self-assessment, one carries himself in a manner incongruous with that of a person who is as distinguished as he is.

This is perhaps a characterization of the saintly Chofetz Chaim. An individual who achieved distinction and reverence far beyond his personal opinion of himself, he still, until this very day, is considered the paradigm of humility. We live in a time when donning rabbinic garb has become cheap, and demanding undeserved honor has become a way of life for some. The Chafetz Chaim never felt himself different than the average Jew. Thus, he dressed with a regular Polish hittel, or kashketal, bent-down brimmed hat; he did not wear a frock, which was the recognized garb for rabbinic leadership. This in no way demeans those who did wear rabbinic garb. Most were deserving of the title and, thus, wore what one would refer to as the "uniform" of rabbinic leadership. It was important for the average Jew to make note of the distinction between himself and the Rav - even if the only obvious signs available were the difference in mode of dress.

When rabbanim would issue approbations on the Chafetz Chaim's seforim, he insisted that plaudits about the author be omitted. He did, however, ask them to emphasize the significance of the sefer and its intrinsic value for the community. As much as possible, he insisted on minimizing his image. While many refer to themselves as Ani ha'katan, "I the small one," as reference to their diminutive level of scholarship and G-d-fearing nature, the Chafetz Chaim meant it. He believed that he was unworthy of both the public and private accolades that were accorded to him. In the preface to his Likutei Halachos, a compendium of laws on Kodoshim, Sacrificial service, etc, the Chafetz Chaim writes: "I, the low, poor one in Torah erudition and the performance of good deeds, do not know Torah; I really know neither one halachah properly, nor (perform) one mitzvah in its entirety. I am null and void in comparison to the Rishonim. I am not more than a diminutive shamash, sexton, in a bais hamedrash, who carries over the seforim of the Rif, Rambam and other Rishonim for others to study from them. (The author apparently considered his compendium as nothing more than a collection of authors which he has cited - something he feels that even the simplest Jew could have done. This is, of course, not correct, since this work is an indication of the author's encyclopedic knowledge and depth of understanding of the halachos and their sources in the Rishonim.) The above gives us a small window into the Chafetz Chaim's unmitigated humility. It is perhaps for this reason alone that his seforim have been accepted the world over as setting the standard for excellence in halachic and ethical opinion.

Otzros HaTorah quotes an episode that took place in 1915 between Horav Shimon Rosovsky, zl, Rav of Aishishuk and the Chafetz Chaim. The venerable sage had decided to leave Europe for Eretz Yisrael. He was getting on in years, and he wanted to spend his twilight years in the Holy Land. To this end, he traveled to Aishishuk where he had studied for quite some time, to take leave of its residents, individuals who had befriended him earlier in his life.

When news of the visit of the gadol ha'dor, preeminent Torah leader, to the community became public, the whole town awaited excitedly for his arrival. On the auspicious day, the entire Jewish community came to greet the sage. Before the Chafetz Chaim alighted from the coach, he requested that Rav Shimon enter alone. When the Rav entered the coach, he discovered the Chafetz Chaim bent over, crying bitterly.

"Rebbe, why are you crying?" Rav Shimon asked. "I cry because of the undeserved kavod, honor that is being accorded to me." The Chafetz Chaim then quoted a Yerushalmi, that posits if a person is granted honor on account of two mesechtos, Tractates, of Talmud which he has mastered, but, in truth, he has only mastered one of them, he must reveal the truth - that he is unworthy of the distinction. "What should I say?" asked the Chafetz Chaim.

It goes without saying that the Rav made every attempt to assuage the feelings of the Chafetz Chaim, but to no avail. The sage kept on repeating that he was undeserving of all the laurels. Rav Shimon was determined to give it is "last shot." He began, "When we bentch Rosh Chodesh, bless the New Month, on the Shabbos prior to Rosh Chodesh, we supplicate Hashem to give us life… a life of wealth and honor. Why is this? One would think that honor is not something that is beneficial for a person. It catalyzes haughtiness - so why ask for it? The answer is that immediately following this ambiguous request we ask Hashem for a life in which we have ahavas Torah and yiraas Shomayim, love of Torah and fear of Heaven. The juxtaposition of these two requests is to emphasize that, when people take note of the reverence accorded to Torah scholars, it will cause an increase in their personal love of Torah and fear of Heaven. Thus, chaim shel kavod, a life filled with honor, is motivation for others to respect and love Torah and create an increase in yiraas Shomayim.

"Therefore, I am asking our revered Rebbe to act joyfully and not weep, because the kavod that is generated by his presence will elevate the love of Torah and yiraas Shomayim."

When the Chafetz Chaim heard this explanation of the passage in the prayer, he ceased his weeping and went out to greet the people - with a smile on his face.

Va'ani Tefillah

Hashem Echad, Hashem is One.

Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, explains that the Oneness of G-d denotes many principles. There is no other G-d - but Hashem. No other Being possesses intrinsic existence. Hashem alone is the truth, and nothing else is as true as His existence. All things exist due to Him.

He is One in managing the Universe. He is one forever. Everything will one day cease to exist - but Hashem. He is One in all His deeds. He is truly just and kind in everything that He does. He is One in His perfection. No one can ever remotely compare to Him in kindliness or in any other attribute of perfection. He stands alone.

He is one in all thoughts and deeds. He is the one purpose of our lives, and we love and serve Him with all of our thoughts and deeds.

He is One everywhere, north and south, east and west, and throughout the entire universe: He sees everywhere; His power is everywhere; and His kindliness is everywhere. He is One in this world, and He is One in the Afterlife. This gives us a small idea of the meaning and power of One.

In memory
Robert and Barbara Pinkis
R' Baruch Gimpel ben Chaim Yehuda z"l
and his wife Esther Chana bas R' Avigdor a"h

Michele and Marcelo Weiss and Family Lisa and Eric Pinkis and Family

Peninim on the Torah is in its 20th year of publication. The first fifteen years have been published in book form.

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