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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Those men said to him… Why should we be diminished by not offering Hashem's offering at the appointed time? (9:7)

A group of people, who due to their being in a state of tumah, ritual impurity, were ineligible to bring the Korban Pesach, presented themselves before Moshe Rabbeinu, asking for a dispensation of some sort. Their desire to offer the Korban Pesach was so intense that they appealed to Moshe to somehow, someway, help them experience this milestone event. As a result of their burning desire to perform the mitzvah, Hashem made them agents through whom He revealed the mitzvah of celebrating Pesach Sheni, the Second Pesach. Essentially, it was to be viewed as a makeup Pesach.

This is the only mitzvah of its kind - a commandment initiated by a group of people whose intensity for serving Hashem was so great that Hashem provided them with the opportunity to perform the mitzvah at a later date. As a result, Pesach Sheni has become a mitzvah, as well as a standard for demonstrating how much one can achieve if he sets his heart onto something.

One who desires to come closer to Hashem - yet, his actions are not worthy because he is on a level akin to ritual contamination - can, and should, pray to Hashem to enable him to experience the mitzvah. Lama nigara, "Why should we be diminished?" Why should we lose out on this mitzvah?

Ein davar omeid bifnei ha'ratzon, "Nothing stands in the way of one's (strong) will (desire)." A Jew never gives up hope, never stops aspiring for greatness. The road is tough and filled with many obstacles and challenges. Yet, if a person is resolute and tenacious, he will persevere and achieve his intended goal.

Not every gadol b'Yisrael, Torah luminary, was born with a brilliant mind. They achieved their prodigious distinction through toil and persistence. Indolence was not in their vocabulary, as they doggedly endured and triumphed over many challenges on their long road to gadlus baTorah, greatness in Torah. One such gadol was the venerable Maharam Schick, zl, one of the most distinguished students of the Chasam Sofer.

As a young boy, he toiled diligently in what seemed almost impossible studies to master. His mother would tell him to go to sleep, but the child continued to study until he physically could not go on any longer. Regrettably, the next day when he came to cheder and the rebbe would ask who had understood yesterday's lesson, his hand did not go up in the air. He had reviewed and reviewed countless times - to no avail. His ability to retain the lesson seemed to be nonexistent.

His parents supported his efforts at mastering the shiur, lesson. One night, after observing how her son went to bed after crying himself to sleep, she bemoaned his plight to her husband, "If only our Moshe would be like other boys. He works so hard and is so intense in his commitment to his studies. Yet, regardless of how hard he tries to achieve, it eludes him. He is not a strong child. The late nights filled with persistent study and little sleep are taking their toll on his body. Do you notice that he never smiles? His is so sad over his inability to achieve success - to be like everyone else." With these words, his mother broke down in bitter, uncontrolled weeping for her son who wanted so much to understand a blatt, page, of Gemorah.

Her husband listened. While he, too, was concerned, he sincerely believed that all of his son's hasmadah, diligence, would one day pay off. He was certain that at a certain point, his son's hasmadah and profound desire for Torah achievement, coupled with his mother's prayers and tears, would amount to the recipe for success. Hashem would listen. His son would one day illuminate the Torah world and be counted among the great Torah leaders of his generation.

The next day followed the usual pattern as the many days that had preceded it. The rebbe explained the passage in the Gemorah, then he asked who had not understood what he had said. One hand was raised: Moshe Schick. The rebbe made a "silent" moan, as he began to explain the passage once again for Moshe's benefit.

"Now do you understand?" the rebbe asked. "No, I do not," Moshe replied, to the visible smirks and chuckles of the other boys in the classroom. This did not bother Moshe. He knew what was taking place around him, but he was totally focused on the rebbe and his explanation of the Gemorah. Only one thought coursed through his young mind: "I want to understand! I want to understand, to understand, to understand!"

The rebbe continued with his discourse. He attempted to cite a difficult question from the preeminent Torah giant of the generation, the holy Chasam Sofer. The class sat dumfounded as they applied their minds to understand the profundity of the question. "Does anyone understand the question?" the rebbe asked.

Suddenly, one of the students screamed out, "Moshe Schick!" This brought the house down, as the entire classroom erupted in laughter. Imagine, Moshe Schick understanding the question. What a joke. The rebbe did not laugh. He was shocked; the pain he felt for young Moshe was obvious. One need only look at the rebbe's face. The student who called out was filled with regret and shame. The entire classroom became still; one could hear a pin drop. The rebbe continued staring at the student who had called out, and without warning, closed his Gemorah, and, began to shake back and forth.

The children looked at their rebbe incredulously. What was he doing? It appeared as if he had "lost it." A few moments went by, and the rebbe began to speak. "You are all Hashem's children. Every Jew is a beloved child of the Almighty. We do not fathom Hashem's ways. We cannot know, we cannot understand why one boy is blessed with an acute mind, while the other is not; why one is destined for great wealth and the other for abject poverty. One thing is for certain: Hashem gives each person what is best for him; no different from a loving parent who gives his child the very best that is suited for that individual child.

"How much pain Hashem experiences when His brilliant child humiliates his academically challenged child. We are all guilty! With two words, we allowed an arrow to be shot into a child's heart! I do not know what teshuvah, repentance, we are collectively obliged to perform." The rebbe stopped for a moment, and then he added, "And I do not know what teshuvah I personally must do, because such an egregious act of public humiliation occurred in my classroom." Moshe Schick took all of this in. He stood up and, in an attempt to assuage his rebbe's pain, said, "Rebbe, do not be concerned. He did not mean to hurt me. It was only a joke." The rest of the class turned to Moshe with admiration, the result of appreciation for what he had just done. Clearly, he was hurting inside, but he concealed his pain for the sake of his rebbe.

The boy who had called out was now crying hysterically. He realized that Moshe Schick was no ordinary student. Everyone understood that they were in the presence of greatness, of a child that would one day be a very special adult. It was the rebbe who articulated their collective feelings when he said, "Moshe, I have no doubt that you will one day be a leader in Klal Yisrael!" With these words, the rebbe kissed his Gemorah and left the room.

Moshe Schick maintained his routine, reviewing the lesson many times until he grew stronger in his understanding of the lesson. With time, his hidden talents matured and his acuity became more and more honed until he was counted among the most superior students of the Chasam Sofer. Indeed, Moshe Schick became one of the gedolei ha'dor.

Rav Moshe Schick wrote about himself: "As a child, I was not blessed with a good mind. Hashem blessed my diligence and toil, as I ascended upon the ladder of Torah erudition… I reviewed my lessons up to forty times. I prayed to Hashem, supplicating Him to take pity on me and allow me to understand His holy Torah. Finally, after much toil, tears and prayer, Hashem listened to my pleas and blessed me with a deeper understanding of His Torah." Nothing stands in the way of one's will.

Make for yourself two silver trumpets - make them hammered out, and they shall be yours for the summoning of the Assembly and to cause the camps to journey. (10:2)

The Talmud Menachos 28b states: "All the vessels which Moshe made were valid for him and (remained) valid for future generations. (This is exclusive of) the Chatzotzros, silver trumpets, which were valid for him and invalid for future generations." The limitations of age did not apply to such keilim, vessels, as the Menorah, Shulchan, Shofar; every utensil which Moshe Rabbeinu had made was perfectly kosher, valid, for all future generations. The silver trumpets were different. They were made by Moshe for his own use; no one else could use Moshe's trumpets. They would have to fashion their own.

The rationale behind the trumpets' exclusiveness is simple. The trumpets were used to rally the people; to call them together; to initiate forward movement. Every generation has its unique manner of communication. What was novel last century might be considered primitive by contemporary standards. Likewise, the masses respond differently today than they did one hundred years ago. How we respond to the call of our leadership defines us; how our leadership conveys their message will somehow reflect upon them. While it is important that, with the changing times, the method of communication must change to placate the level of and attitude concerning the art of listening - the message must be the same. The call to Torah has not changed in three thousand years. We might resort to a different presentation or manner of expression, but the message is unchanging. Truth is immutable.

The Aron HaKodesh, the Shulchan and the Menorah could be handed down from one generation to the next, because they each, in its own way, represent a timeless valued aspect of Judaism. Their message is a constant and absolute. How their message is conveyed depends on the lifestyle and culture of the people of that generation. Someone living in an age of materialism must be spoken to in "his" language. At times the "volume" must be lowered, and, at times, it must be raised. It all depends on the generation's ability to hear and acquiesce, to listen and accept.

The people took to seeking complaints; it was evil in the ears of Hashem. (11:1)

Complaining can reflect much more than simple negativity. It all depends against whom and about what one complains. A chronic complainer will invariably not be selective about what or whom he finds fault. It begins with mild grumbling about nothing of major concern, then graduates to harping about everything, anything and everyone. It, however, does not stop there. One who becomes used to denouncing everything will ultimately protest the way Hashem directs the general world, and especially this individual's own little world.

Horav Aharon Leib Shteinman, Shlita, once commented to a close student, "You should know, one who looks askance on hanhagas Hashem, the manner in which Hashem acts, his attitude is one of the primary catalysts for his own prayers not to be accepted." To put this in simple, laymen terms: If one complains about Hashem - his prayers will invariably have great difficulty achieving efficacy. The reason for this is elementary. The essence of prayer is hisbatlus and hachnaah, self-abnegation, denouncing one's ego, before Hashem. Veritably, everyone should negate himself and his desires before Hashem. The problem is that when one is overwhelmed with tzaros, troubles, the first thing he asks is: "What does Hashem want from me now? Why is He picking on me? I don't deserve such a headache - especially now - after all I have gone through."

Now, if this person, with his baggage of tzaros, complaints, comes before Hashem in prayer - not only is he not filled with humility - he comes ungezetzet - morose, and filled with deprecation. His prayer will be anything but helpful. Indeed, his prayer, quite simply, might work in his disfavor! He is not beseeching Hashem - he is, chas v'shalom, Heaven forbid, remonstrating against Him.

The Rosh Hayeshivah applied this rationale to explain a difficult concept presented in the Talmud Rosh Hashanah 18a. Chazal distinguish between two individuals upon whom was issued a similar Heavenly decree: they were both sentenced to be executed, or they were both to become gravely ill. Both men prayed; one was answered positively while the other, sadly, was executed or succumbed to the illness. Chazal posit that the one who was spared had prayed a tefillah sheleimah, perfect, complete prayer. The other one, whose prayer was seemingly rejected, had not prayed a tefillah sheleimah.

Both men equally perceived their upcoming mortality. They both knew that they were supposed to die. One accepted Hashem's decree and prepared himself for his impending death. He believed in Hashem's judgment and acquiesced to whatever Heaven was demanding of him. Thus, his prayer was heartfelt, without protest, no grumbling, just a simple entreaty asking that, despite his unworthiness, "Please Hashem, spare me! Let me live for my wife, my children, for myself. Give me a chance to do more for Your glory. Allow me to sanctify Your holy Name."

The other fellow had taanos. He was not prepared to accept the Heavenly decree. After all, he was a good person. He studied Torah, performed mitzvos, gave tzedakah, charity. Why should he die prematurely? It just was not fair. It was not right. Since tefillah is comprised of hisbatlus, his prayer was missing the primary ingredient which would render it perfect and successful. Thus, he died. It is all in the presentation - and the presentation depends upon one's attitude.

Did I conceive this entire people… that You say to me, Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a suckling. (11:12)

Horav Meir Shapiro, zl, interprets Moshe Rabbeinu's lament to Hashem as analogous with the complaints issued by rabbinic leaders throughout the generations. Two words used by Moshe are not synonymous with one another. An omein is more of a governess, who raises and instructs the child. We find Mordechai being referred to as Esther's omein, V'hu omein es Hadassah, "And he raised Hadassah" (Megillas Esther 2:7). A yoneik, on the other hand, is a young suckling infant whose interest is primarily concerning its next meal. What is the relationship between the individual who is charged with educating the child and the individual who is providing for its meals?

This is what Moshe was saying to Hashem. "Almighty, I have the skills and ability to teach the nation Torah, to inspire and elevate them spiritually, to guide and embellish their moral rectitude. Instead, I am being asked to provide them with food and meat. Am I a meinekes, nursemaid, or am I an omein, who teaches?"

Likewise, the members of our rabbinic leadership have spent their lives developing a proficiency in Torah erudition, in learning how to inspire and guide the spiritual development of their flock. Their time should be well spent studying and teaching Torah, elevating their congregations to unprecedented spiritual heights. The material sustenance and maintenance of their congregants' needs should be provided for and directed by those whom Hashem has blessed with material abundance. Instead, the rabbis spend a good part of their precious time fundraising to provide the basic needs of their congregants. Whether it be food on the table; finding a job for the family's provider; raising money for tuition; seeing to it that families have decent, presentable clothing for Shabbos, Yom Tov and yes, for during the week; seeing to it that a family is not evicted, nor foreclosed upon; making sure that those who prey upon the unknowing are dealt with and the unknowing are paid back. These are some of the responsibilities of today's rabbanim. Oh, yes, they also teach and render halachic decisions but, as Rav Meir Shapiro bemoans, this is secondary to the financial obligations that really should be addressed by the community's lay leadership. Apparently, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Now the man Moshe was exceedingly humble, more than any person on the face of the earth! (12:3)

Moshe Rabbeinu was the quintessential leader of our People. He was replete with and exemplified, every positive character trait. Yet, the one middah, character trait, with which the Torah defines Moshe is anavah, humility. This teaches us the significance of humility as being the one middah which towers above all the rest. The Shlah HaKodesh states that the word ha'adam, person, is an acronym for the three pillars of humility - Avraham Avinu, David HaMelech and Moshe Rabbeinu. Aleph - Avraham, daled - David; mem- Moshe. Three giants of humility, of which Moshe was the greatest.

Moshe's humility is indicated from his remaining silent and not seeking to defend himself against the statement made by his siblings. How do we know that his silence was due to humility? Perhaps, he was simply a refined human being who - either because of his incredible yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven; or his total lack of envy - was able to accept derogatory remarks made about him without responding to his offenders. Horav Tzvi Shraga Grossbard, zl, explains that Moshe's response to these comments was no response whatsoever. It is not as if he was offended, and it did not bother him. He was not offended at all! He was so humble that he did not even feel any form of humiliation.

He quotes a similar idea rendered by the Chafetz Chaim, zl, in explaining Aharon HaKohen's response to the tragic death of his two sons. Vayidom Aharon, "And Aharon was silent" (Vayikra 10:3). Vayidom is commonly translated as silence. The Chafetz Chaim explains that Aharon's silence was much more profound. Aharon was totally mute. He did not react whatsoever. It was as if nothing had happened. Aharon was mute. No facial expression. No soft weeping. No moving of his lips. It never took place. So powerful was his deep faith and belief in Hashem. No questions. Total acceptance. It never happened.

Likewise, Moshe was not affected. He did not defend himself because there was nothing to defend. He was so humble that he did not feel that anything happened. This is the meaning of true humility. Not silence. Not laid back. Nothing whatsoever. It never happened.

What was the nature of Moshe's humility? What caused him to be so humble? Was he unaware of his distinctiveness as the Torah's lawgiver, the man who stood up to Pharaoh, who spent forty days in Heaven learning the Torah from Hashem before bringing it down to Am Yisrael? Does humility mean unawareness? Bina L'Itim explains that Moshe was acutely aware of who he was and what he had achieved. He felt, however, that every person was greater and more worthy than he was. Thus, he showed deference to everyone.

Humility refers to someone's personal assessment of himself. He may be aware of the esteem in which others hold him, but he himself feels - no, knows - that he has not yet achieved his potential. So whatever he has done is nothing in comparison to what he is capable of doing.

Horav Yaakov Galinsky, zl, quotes from the Chafetz Chaim who asked why the wealthy arrogate about their material bounty. Their money is not readily available. They are not necessarily liquid. True, their assets and holdings are worth an incredible fortune, but most of it is not accessible. The banker, however, has oodles of money, conveniently securable in his possession at all times. Why does this accessible wealth not go to the banker's head? The answer is obvious: It does not belong to him. It is deposited in his bank and must be made available to the depositor whenever he so desires.

The Chafetz Chaim continues. Why should the man blessed with wealth feel any different than the banker? Hashem has deposited His money with him - not because of his wisdom or acumen, not because of his strength or charisma - only for one purpose: to perform the will of G-d. When Hashem indicates that it is time to give some of it up, he must do so immediately, without question. Wealth begets responsibility; responsibility engenders humility.

There is a well-known story concerning the founder of the mussar, ethical, character refinement, movement, Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, which demonstrates the meaning of humility. Rav Yisrael was a brilliant Torah scholar who had achieved mastery in all areas of Torah erudition. He devoted his life to an area of spiritual development that, at the time, was greatly deficient. He focused on yiraas Shomayim, increasing one's fear of Heaven and his ethical character refinement. He felt, and rightfully so, that with increased fear, Torah knowledge would also be elevated. The medium for this development was through the study of mussar, ethical discourse. When people focus on their character traits and attempt to repair their shortcomings, they acquire the skills for greater devotion, diligence and perseverance in Torah study.

Rav Yisrael devoted his life towards teaching the masses this new approach to growth and development. Essentially, it was a new way of life, an entirely different approach in Torah study. Mussar had its dissenters and Rav Yisrael had his critics, but he overcame the challenges and moved on. He was unwavering and tenacious, accomplishing alone what would have normally required an army. He once commented, "I am fully aware that I have the brilliance and talents of one thousand gaonim, eminent scholars. Because of this, however, I must achieve what it would take one thousand gaonim to accomplish. I have no idea if I am capable of this." He threw his entire life into spreading the teachings of mussar. He had no material means to speak of; he was too occupied with his and everybody's spiritual dimension.

His wife once purchased a lottery ticket and asked him to pray in her behalf that she win the prize. Rav Yisrael asked her, "What is it that you want to win?" "I would like to win the grand prize of 10,000 rubles," she replied. He said, "No problem. First, I need two witnesses to attest that I relinquish all rights to any part of your winnings. If you purchase a new home with the prize money, I will not be able to enter it. If you buy food with the winnings, I will not be able to eat from it." The rebbetzin understandably asked, "Why?"

Rav Yisrael explained. "You should be aware that Heaven does not dole out gifts. For every quality that a person receives, he must produce commensurate with his newly-acquired ability. Hashem blessed me with exceptional kishronos, talents. I must, therefore, work very hard to be deserving of them. This is why I work feverishly to excel, to achieve, to reach out to as many people as possible. I have an enormous responsibility because of my outstanding gift.

"Now you want me to win 10,000 rubles. For what? Do you realize what all of this material wealth will oblige me to do? Why do I need so much money? A person can eat only so much. Even after he stuffs himself, he will have so much money left over of which he will have no idea what to do with it. Imagine that he decides to become a philanthropist to support the many poverty stricken Jews in Kovno. What happens if he misses one poor man, who, as a result, dies of hunger? He is punished! What if a poor man has no money to go to the doctor - and he dies? The philanthropist is culpable! What about the young boy who cannot afford to go to cheder - and, as a result, strays from the correct path of serving Hashem? Who is guilty - the philanthropist! Do I need more headaches? If you want the money, it is yours, but I don't want any part of it. I cannot undertake another obligation."

A humble person is acutely aware of his qualities and also of his concomitant obligations resulting from it. The responsibility is overwhelming. He is humbled by the enormity of what he must accomplish. This awareness provides sufficient reason for being humble.

Va'ani Tefillah

V'limaditem osam es b'neichem l'daber bam.
You shall teach them to your children to discuss them.

V'limaditem osam, "And you should teach them." The word osam is spelled without a vav; thus, without nekudos, vowels, it could be read as, v'limaditem atem, "You should personally teach." The Chafetz Chaim, zl, explains that the Torah is teaching us that fathers should not rely solely on the Torah of their sons. Rather, they, too, should study Torah and teach it to their children. Studying Torah is not a spectator sport. A father should be proactive in studying with his son, but only after he, himself, has studied. One cannot teach what one does not know, and one does not know what one does not learn. Therefore, the Torah admonishes the father to learn not only for himself - but also for his son.

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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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