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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


You shall sanctify the fiftieth year and proclaim freedom throughout the land for all its inhabitants; it shall be the Jubilee year for you. (25:10)

The commentators - each in his own manner - interpret the concept of Yovel and the meaning of dror, freedom that is to be proclaimed throughout the land. Ramban delves into the profundity of the subject, and, after offering a number of approaches, concludes with what he considers the derech ha'emes, way of truth. The word dror is derived from the vernacular of dor holech v'dor ba, "A generation goes and a generation comes" (Koheles 1:4). Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, explains that, exclusive of the laws that apply to land at the end of fifty years, there is a message to a person who has reached a yovel, which represents a period of completion, an entire generation. During the Jubilee year, one must free the slaves, return the land, and take stock of his personal life. It is a time for introspection. It is a time of dror, as in one generation leaves and the next generation arrives. According to Ramban, Yovel should awaken us from our deep, sweet slumber. Life will not go on forever. Yovel also means "to be carried." The time will come when we will be "yoveled," carried off, to our eternal resting place; when our mortal remains will return to the earth from which they were fashioned; and our neshamah, soul, will go "home," to Heaven, to Hashem, to its Source.

Ramban's words should arouse us. Yes, life for many is a sweet dream. As a gadol, Torah giant, once said, "Life is a dream only if one is sleeping." We go through life imagining what we could have been, what we could have achieved, what we would have liked to have done. Alas, by the time we display signs of aging, we realize that we have been dreaming. We did not achieve; we did not do; we are not whom we thought we would be.

When we are/were young, we had/have all sorts of dreams. Children are asked what they would like to be when they grow up. The answer usually begins: "My dream is to become…" it is always about a dream. Regrettably, for many it remains a dream, and, for some, a nightmare. We are always conjecturing about the future, what will be… while simultaneously ignoring the present. Rav Sholom relates an episode that occurred when the sister of the Gaon, zl, m'Vilna visited him. He showed her that some of the hairs of his beard had begun to turn white: "This is an indication and a personal message that the journey of life is nearing its completion." This is how the Gaon, whose entire life was suffused with Torah and mitzvos, viewed the slightest change in the color of his hair. Today, we are enthralled by our "white" beards and multitude of grandchildren, envisioning many more productive years of achievement. Do we not understand that the whiter the beard, the greater number of progeny, the more we are living, is a message: the end is nearer than you think! Stop dreaming! Wake up! Get your life in order! Unfortunately, we continue to sleep with our eyes open, our hearts sealed, our minds imagining what will be.

Rav Sholom tells us how the Chafetz Chaim gave the community of Radin a wakeup call. He buried his intention under the guise of a unique revelation that he would divulge publicly at 3:00am on a given day. It was during the sage's usual Friday afternoon shmuess, ethical discourse to the students of the yeshivah, that he said he would reveal a special secret, that Friday night, on Shabbos, but it was best for this revelation to take place at 3:00am. Word spread in the city like wildfire. Imagine, the Chafetz Chaim, who rarely gave public talks, was about to bring to light some penetrating secret. A guessing game began, as everyone had some notion of the nature of this covert message. Most were certain that the message was apocalyptic and that the Chafetz Chaim was about to reveal when the advent of Moshiach would occur. Three o'clock in the morning was in itself a strange time. Why in the middle of the night? This is how it went on all afternoon.

No one slept that night. People hastily concluded their meals and ran to the shul. Everyone wanted a good seat to hear the Chafetz Chaim as he shared with them the long-awaited coming of Moshiach Tzidkeinu. The shul was packed. Not an empty seat was to be found. Everyone began to recite Sefer Tehillim in anticipation of the Chafetz Chaim's arrival. The people were in a frenzy; the mood was electric.

At five minutes to three, the Chafetz Chaim entered the room. Slowly, carefully, he trudged up to the lectern. At precisely 3:00am, he began: Elokai, Neshamah she'nasata bi tehorah hi, "My G-d, the soul which You have given to me is pure," Atah barasa Atah yetzarta, Atah nefachtah bi, v'Atah meshamrah b'kirbi, "You created it; You fashioned it; You placed it within me; and You guard it within me." V'Atah asid litlah mimeni u'le'chachazirah be le'asid lavo, "You will, in the future, take it from me, and return it to me in the future."

The Chafetz Chaim enunciated every word in Hebrew, and he slowly and carefully translated it into Yiddish. As the sage uttered the words le'asid lavo, "in the future," he repeated himself… stopped… and repeated it again. Then, as if talking to himself, said: "He is talking about the ultimate future!"

Everybody bent closely to hear the next sentence. They understood that the message, for which they had all been waiting, was about to be revealed:

V'Atah asid litlah mimeni - u'l'hachazirah bi, "You will, in the future, take it from me - and return it!" This means that when we arise at Techiyas HaMeisim, Resurrection of the Dead, we will not receive a new neshamah, soul. We will receive the exact same neshamah that Hashem will have taken from us when we passed from this world. Precisely, the same soul that was taken - will be returned. If our soul has been tarnished; if we sullied it in this world; then that is what is going to be returned to us: the very same neshamah - in all of its "glory"!

His entire message was in the "hay," last letter of u'le'hachazirah - "it" - He will return "it" - the same neshamah, without any change. No spiritual car wash. No cleansing. What you give is what will be returned. Everyone will arise for Techiyas HaMeisim: The Patriarchs; Prophets; Rabbinic leaders of every generation; millions of Jews who have perished over the years; Holy Jews, who led wonderful, devoted, pristine lives. They will all retrieve their holy neshamos. What about us? We will also retrieve our neshamos, but they will not be so holy! Can we begin to imagine the humiliation we each experience when we receive our neshamah? Wake up! Wake up, before it is too late and your neshamah has been taken. This is how the Chafetz Chaim attempted to captivate his community and wake each person from his spiritual slumber.

Rav Sholom explains this further. Life in this world is a gestation period, quite similar to the nine months that the fetus spends in its mother's womb. Every month is another stage in the child's physical and mental development. The child depends greatly on its mother for its personal health and welfare. The mother who endangers her life is doing the same to her child. Thus, if the mother had not executed care in her personal health, she will give birth to a child who will be plagued with physical challenges.

The nine-month gestation period of an infant is analogous to a seventy, eighty or ninety year period of life in this world for the adult. As the fetus develops within the womb, so does one's neshamah develop throughout its sojourn in this world. The moment of truth for the infant arrives when the umbilical cord linking it with its mother is severed. Likewise, the last few moments of mortal life come to a close when the neshamah is ultimately separated from its earthly shell - the body. As the placenta is thrown away, so, too, is the body buried in the ground. A child's birth is accompanied with the mother's pain of labor, as well as the joy that follows a healthy birth. Likewise, when the neshamah takes leave of its earthly container, there is much grief, tears flow, eulogies are expressed, but as soon as the neshamah enters into the portals of its Heavenly abode, the proclamation of mazel tov, welcome home, rings through. The process is not that dissimilar; the end result is quite the same; the difference is in the "geography" - this world, or Heaven Above, temporary life or eternal living.

The question now confronts us: What have we achieved during our earthly gestation period? Have we returned with a pure neshamah, or have we sullied it? Like the infant whose mother was not concerned with her own physical health and its effects on her fetus, we too, must accept that the neshamah that did not learn Torah in this world will be deficient in the next world. This will apply to every organ/limb of the body. Those areas in which he was spiritually deficient in this world, he will likewise be spiritually handicapped in the next world. As the Chafetz Chaim emphasized, u'le'hachazirah, "and return it," the same neshamah that we return is the one we will repossess. Are we ready for that? Perhaps, if we wake up in this world, we will not be relegated to sleeping in the next world.

If you will say: what will we eat in the seventh year? - behold! We will not sow and not gather in our crops! (25:20)

This question is asked in a different context by many. How will we make it in Kollel? How will we make it in chinuch? How will we marry off our children? But, we do! How? - Hashem! Somehow, we always seem to make it. Trust me, it did not just happen. Hashem played His usual leading role in providing, in sustaining, in supporting. We could circumvent the entire worrying process by just relying on Hashem. That is the meaning of bitachon, trust, in Hashem. There is nothing that He cannot do. We must only be worthy of His favor.

Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, quotes a powerful insight from the Brisker Rav, zl. He claims Chazal make certain statements that present the mood of the High Holy Days in a contrasting - almost compromising - position. On the one hand, we find in the Talmud Rosh Hashanah 32b, Chazal relate that the ministering angels query Hashem why they do not sing Shirah on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Hashem responds, "Is it possible that when the King sits in judgment deciding who will live or die, at a time when the books of the living and the books of the departed are open, that Shirah, a song of praise, should be sung?" On the other hand, Rosh Hashanah is a day of rejoicing. It is a happy day. The Tur Shulchan Aruch writes that prior to Rosh Hashanah, one should bathe himself and take a haircut in preparation for this auspicious day. Now, if Rosh Hashanah were to be a solemn day, a day of serious judgment, the calendar of "activities" in preparation for this day would be different. Halachah does not seem to think so. It is a solemn day, a serious day, a day filled with trepidation and emotion. Yet, we act and dress as if it were a day of hope, a day of joy, a day during which we aspire for Hashem's reprieve. How do we understand these contrasting expressions of emotion?

The Brisker Rav cites the fascinating piyut, liturgical poem, authored by Rabbi Shlomo Ibn Gabirol, Kesser Malchus, from where we may glean an explanation to this anomaly. Im tifkod avoni, "If You will remember/acknowledge my sin." Evrecha mimcha - eilecha, "Where should I run? - To You! Ve'eskaseh mei'chamasecha - b'tzilcha, "And I will conceal myself from Your anger - in Your shadow."

When a person is in danger, the only way out, the only way that he can truly be saved, is b'tzilcha, "in Your shadow." This is only if the individual is running away, looking for a sanctuary in which to hide. He is scared; he has nowhere to go. He turns to Hashem. The individual who is not running, however, who is not scared, has no hope. In other words, "opposites" attract. The one who is in fear for his life, who has no avenue of escape, knows that he is at an abyss. He has no one to rely upon - except for Hashem. Thus, the individual who is up against a wall - he relies on Hashem. One who either does not acknowledge the danger or does not perceive it does not rely on Hashem, because he is "sure" that nothing will happen to him. One who is unaware of the danger does not rely on Hashem. After all, he has no reason to be anxious; he has nothing to fear.

Therefore, on Rosh Hashanah, when the books of life and death are open before the Judge at the Heavenly Tribunal, we have plenty to fear. Specifically because we possess this healthy sense of fear, we realize that only Hashem can protect us, only He can release us from this compelling situation. So we take haircuts and dress up in all our finery, because we trust in Him. Trust is the result of fear. One who does not fear has no reason to trust.

Bitachon does not mean: I trust; therefore, I am not worried. Everything will be fine. No! One is worried. One understands that there is something about which to be concerned. He knows, however, that as fearful as the situation may seem, it is only Hashem Who can save the day. We must never ignore the danger. It must be acknowledged. Bitachon does not ameliorate the danger. It addresses the salvation.

We must ask "how" will we live? We must wonder "how" we will support our families. Concomitantly, we must trust in Hashem to find the solution to our problem. This is bitachon. Putting one's head in the ground and saying that the problem does not exist, does not comprise bitachon. It is a foolhardy approach.

If your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you should strengthen him. (25:35)

The mitzvah of tzedakah, charity, is so basic and important to Judaism, yet complicated and often difficult to fulfill. The problem begins with how one views his material possessions, his wealth, his salary, his money. Is it really his? Has he earned it? If so, perhaps he might have a right to do what he wants with it. The Hebrew word tzedakah is derived from tzedek, which means righteous and justice, thus implying that it is the correct thing to do. We give not because we feel an affinity with the recipient, or because we have a particularly good feeling toward the work of the organization for which we are being solicited. We give because it is the right thing to do. It is tzedek. When we perform tzedek with our money, that is tzedakah. Thus, when a foul-smelling, obnoxious person pesters us for funds, certainly not arousing any love within us toward him or the organization that he represents, we nonetheless open our pockets and give, because that is the correct and proper thing to do.

The truth is that our obligation to give comes from the fact that, essentially, the money in our possession is not really ours. Indeed, whatever we have is conditional on the premise that one give a portion away to tzedakah. We give to the poor, unkempt individual, regardless of his attitude, because Hashem has so dictated. In his commentary to Devarim 15:7-8, the Abarbenel writes that we must view ourselves as brokers, handling someone else's money. When we are in charge of someone else's money, we must be meticulous in following the owner's express instructions. Every decision we make must be well-thought out and carefully decided. If we do not comply with Hashem, the Owner's instructions, He may decide to put a new person in charge of our funds. As difficult as it may be for some of us to swallow, who is wealthy, how much he accumulates and by what means this occurs are all determined by Hashem. Every penny that one earns, inherits, obtains, wins, may all be traced back to Hashem. We say the fellow who wins the lottery is lucky; the one who amasses a large fortune in the market or in commerce is brilliant, has the golden touch, is incredibly talented. But, after all is said and done, it all goes back to Hashem, Who decides who should be brilliant and who should be lucky.

Another aspect of tzedakah that some may find difficult is the manner in which we give. Is it begrudgingly or with joy? Once again, the Abarbenel's thesis plays a defining role. If we view ourselves as Hashem's broker, giving becomes much easier. One of the most important aspects of tzedakah is focusing on the dignity of the recipient. There is a way to give - and there is an alternative way to give. If we do not preserve the recipient's self-esteem, then we are causing him harm. Many years ago, those in need would have to wait in line to receive welfare checks. The pencil-pushers who were distributing the checks only added to their shame by having them wait in line. This caused many elderly Jews, whose dignity was greatly impugned by the process, to forego the checks, despite the great need on their part.

The Talmud Bava Basra 93b cites a minhag, custom, in Yerushalayim that circumvented the dignity issue. Whenever people ate dinner they would place a "flag" on their doors, indicating to the public that it was dinnertime in their home. Poor people who would otherwise have been relegated to visiting the soup kitchen or starving would come to the homes and join a family for dinner. While some might rather have fed the poor through the "back door" or sent them to the food kitchen, the minhag Yerushalayim taught that if you treat the poor like family, if they have a seat at your table just like your own children, you preserve their dignity, rendering this mitzvah that more meaningful. The poor did not feel like they were barging in; they felt at home. It is not how much we give, but how we give. Our attitude makes the critical difference.

Tzedakah goes beyond money. It is a lesson in life. Some individuals spend their lives accumulating possessions, wealth and other items to glorify their lives. Others spend their lives giving of themselves, sharing their wisdom, inspiring hope, wiping tears and touching hearts. These two types of people are as far from one another as two worlds. One is eternally satisfied; one is never satisfied. The latter never has enough. He always wants more.

We are supposed to provide the poor man with not only money, but with whatever additional comfort he may need. One does not have to be financially challenged to be considered poor. One who is physically challenged or socially lacking is also in need. There are those who have everything, but real friends. They want so much to be included, to be accepted, but whenever they try, someone always shuts the door in their face. They are not socially adept, so they are not wanted. Tzedakah teaches that one must do what is right: for some this means money; for others, it is a helping hand; for yet others, it means friendship. The list goes on. Are we prepared to put a stop to this growing list?

If your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him. (25:35)

We have a moral obligation to reach out to our brother who has fallen on hard times. We should not wait until he is completely down, but rather, as soon as we see him faltering, we should immediately step in. It is much easier to catch someone who is falling than to raise someone off the ground. The mitzvah of tzedakah, charity, is central and basic to Judaism. As the Ramban writes, it is a symbol of the children of Avraham Avinu, almost like a badge: "I am a Jew; I have compassion." Tzedakah protects; tzedakah engenders material success; tzedakah saves. When one thinks about it, giving tzedakah does not complete the task. One must be a maskil el dal, attempt to understand the poor man's situation, penetrate his financial predicament and deduce the best and quickest way to help him. David Hamelech says, Ashrei maskil el dal, b'yom raah yemalteihuh Hashem, "Praiseworthy is he who contemplates the needy, on the day of disaster, Hashem will deliver him" (Tehillim 41:2).

Why is this necessary? The Maggid, zl, m'Dubno distinguishes between two forms of compassion for the needy. In one case, the poor man visits the individual at his home, relates his painful story, explains his bitter predicament, and asks for assistance. The benefactor listens intently, takes pity, and writes a substantial check. Then there is the maskil el dal, who is a completely different breed. He does not wait for the poor man to come knocking at his door. He inquires of the poor man: Asks him how he is doing; how he is holding up; does he need any assistance? He then writes out a check. The amounts of both benefactors might be equal, but their attitudes are clearly different. The difference will surface in the event the poor man becomes ill and can now no longer go of his own accord to solicit alms; or if the poor man is either bashful or very proud, so that knocking on doors asking for assistance will, regrettably, do more harm than good. Under such circumstances, the type of benefactor will play a major role in the poor man making it - or not.

Hashem reciprocates in kind. Measure for measure, He will repay the individual benefactor. The one who waits for the poor man to come knocking will have to "wait" for Hashem's reward. The maskil el dal, however, will not have to ask Hashem for assistance. The Almighty "understands" his needs and will answer even before he asks.

Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, cites two pesukim that seem to contradict one another, but, in reality, are addressing two potential forms of Heavenly response. David Hamelech says in Tehillim 91:15, Yikra'eini v'l'eneihu, "He calls out to Me and I answer him." The Navi Yeshayah (65:24), says, V'hayah terem yikreu v'Ani eshma, "And it will be before they call out, and I will answer." What is it: Must one call out, or does Hashem perceive the need and respond before he makes his entreaty?

Rav Pincus explains that it depends on the type of person he is: Is he a maskil el dal, or does he wait for the poor man to speak up and solicit him for a contribution? Imagine a situation in which an individual: is stricken with a sudden illness; falls into a coma; is involved in a car accident and is unable to think coherently and entreat Hashem in his own behalf. If he is unable to ask for help, if he cannot pray, cry, beg for life, will Hashem "listen"? This depends, of course, on his personal z'chusim, merits. In addition, however, it is helpful if he is a maskil el dal, an individual who himself does not wait for the poor man to express his need, who acts of his own accord to help, to alleviate pain. If so, Hashem will do the same. We should never be in the situation, but it definitely sounds like solid advice.

Va'ani Tefillah

Ki l'Hashem ha'meluchah u'mosheil ba'goyim.
For sovereignty is Hashem's and He rules over nations.

Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, distinguishes between the terms used for a sovereign: melech; and mosheil. A melech is a king who is accepted by the people. The consensus of the nation is one of respect, admiration, love and acceptance for their monarch. He is approachable, capable of being influenced by reasonable discussion. A mosheil, however, is a ruler who reigns over his people whether they like it or not. There is no two-way relationship between the king and his people. He issues edicts - they accept and act - whether it meets with their consent, or not. Similarly, we find Yosef's brothers reacting to his monarchy: Hamoloch timloch aleinu; im mashol timshol banu, "Do you think we will accept you (Ha'moloch timloch) as king; and if not, do you wish to force yourself as ruler (im mashol timshol)?" (Bereishis 37:8).

Thus, we say in this pasuk: Ki l'Hashem ha'meluchah, "we accept Hashem as our king." Concerning those nations who still have an issue with accepting His sovereignty over them, however, He is mosheil ba'goyim, a Ruler, who reigns whether His constituency accepts Him or not.

With deep appreciation
To a dear friend of Torah

Mr. Alan M. Krilov

May the Almighty grant him
good health and long life.

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

The Fifteenth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

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