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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Hashem spoke to Moshe on Har Sinai. (25:1)

Mah inyan Shemittah eitzel Har Sinai -"What is the connection between Shemittah and Har Sinai?" has become the catch phrase when questioning why two disparate subjects are juxtaposed upon one another for no apparent reason. The Torah introduces the laws of Shemittah in detail immediately following the mention of the Revelation at Har Sinai. Chazal derive from here that not only the broad outlines, but also the details, the minutiae of Torah law and mitzvah, were transmitted at Sinai - as were those of Shemittah, whose laws are detailed extensively. All mitzvos, even those which were recorded years after the Giving of the Torah, are of sinaitic origin. To deny this verity, to repudiate the Divine Authorship/origin of the Torah, is to remove oneself from the ranks of Torah Judaism. While one's Jewish status is determined biologically via his birth to a Jewish mother, his belief in Torah M'Sinai is what distinguishes him as a practicing Jew.

The idea that Judaism is divided into three branches undermines the core underpinnings of Torah Judaism. Without Torah, there is no Judaism. Without Torah, there is no religion, only a culture. Without religion, what are we? How do we distinguish ourselves from the rest of the world? Our love and compassion for all Jews rises above and beyond the scope of religious belief, regardless of their personal proclivities and behavioral conduct; it does not for one moment, however, mitigate the fact that there is only one true form of religious belief: that which adheres to the Torah, both written and oral. Compassion and sensitivity to the issues/challenges of the other does not justify defying Torah law and degrading those who uphold it.

Every Jew, his religious affiliation notwithstanding, is welcome within the Torah ranks. The obligation to live a Torah life grants him brotherhood among Torah Jews - despite his past behavior. When one insists on dismantling Torah law to suit his transient longing for that which is deemed unattainable - impugning the integrity of the Torah's Divine origin or casting aspersion on the Torah's disseminators - he has, by dint of his actions, removed himself from the Torah camp. He can no longer call himself a Torah Jew.

We live in a time in which our moral compass, our perception of right and wrong, is greatly influenced by societal bias. We feel that we must adhere to the societal definition of culture, lifestyle, fun and pleasure. The Torah was given to us at Sinai in a place and time that predated all of society. The Jewish society is defined and established by the Torah. To posit that the Torah is out of touch with the times is tantamount to heresy.

It all reverts back to affirming the Divine origin of the Torah. This is alluded to by the mitzvah of Shemittah. The Chasam Sofer posits that the mitzvah of Shemittah underscores and unequivocally supports the verity that Hashem is the Divine Author of the Torah. The mitzvah of Shemittah carries with it a guarantee that, during the sixth year preceding the Shemittah, the fields will produce a crop large enough to sustain people for three years, until the next available crop is harvested. A human being could never make such a claim. A statement such as this could only have come from the One Who is capable of supporting it - Hashem.

The land will give its fruit and you will eat your fill… if you will say: "What will we eat in the seventh year?" I will ordain my blessing. (25:19, 20, 21)

Sforno distinguishes between the baal bitachon, one who trusts in Hashem, who does not question, "What will we eat in the seventh year?" and he who questions. The one who does not question will, indeed, have less produce; however, its nutritional value will far exceed that of a regular year. He will have less, but he will require less. Less will be more. His seventh year will be covered by the produce of the sixth year, but in a manner unperceived by the unknowing spectator who will observe a regular yield that year. The believer whose bitachon is not as strong will ask the question and will receive a Heavenly response in the way of a greater yield in the sixth year. His crops will be plentiful - enough to last him through the following year. Nonetheless, these crops will be of normal quality, unenhanced by "Heavenly intervention."

Horav Mordechai Gifter, zl, derives from Sforno's exposition that there are two forms of bitachon in Hashem. One form of bitachon is that of the person who totally desires to fulfill Hashem's Will, but wonders how he will succeed in doing so, given the economic challenges he must transcend. His bitachon is great, for even though he does not know how he will survive the seventh year, he still is prepared to accept the challenge. He has questions, but he is not waiting for answers. He forges ahead, in any case.

There is yet a greater level of trust: one does not ask questions. He trusts without inquiry; he is not fazed by challenge. His bitachon is so great that he is not concerned about what he will eat, because he trusts that Hashem will provide for his needs. Hashem may not grant us what we want, but He unquestionably gives us what we need.

People may have one of two forms of faith: perception and reality. Both types of people believe: one has questions, but does not wait for answers; the other has no questions. The faith of the perceptive believer is based upon intelligence and percipience. He observes, is astute and insightful, thus pointing him in the direction of Hashem. Nonetheless, at the end of the day, it is "faith-based" trust. For the other type of believer, faith is a reality. Believing in Hashem is not an intellectual experience, an exercise in faith. It is reality. If Hashem says it will be good - it is good!

I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year. (25:21)

The crops produced during the sixth year will suffice for portions of the three calendar years affected by Shemittah: from Nissan of the sixth year until Nissan of the eighth year. In commentary on this pasuk, Horav Michel Feinstein, zl, explained that Hashem was ensuring the blessing as part and parcel of the mitzvah. The mitzvah itself provided the blessing. This is similar to the statement made by Chazal in Pirkei Avos, Maasros s'yag l'osher, "Tithes are a protective fence for wealth" (Avos 3:17). The discipline of taking a percentage of one's produce and giving it to charity motivates the owner to realize that all wealth comes from Hashem. He owns it all and gives us the portion which He deems we deserve. When a person understands the true source of all wealth, he becomes worthy of even greater wealth. Thus, the tithing process in and of itself engenders one's fortune. Likewise, Shemittah observance catalyzes blessing.

This is alluded to by the vernacular of the pasuk, "I will ordain My blessing." The mitzvah itself will bless the one who observes it. We find a similar instance in Shemos 16:29, "See that Hashem has given you the Shabbos; that is why He gives you, on the sixth day, a two-day portion of bread." This means that Shabbos observance generates the blessing one will receive.

Veritably, all positive mitzvos generate blessing by virtue of their observance. The following analogy underscores this idea. A young man, who had for years forsaken his religious observance, approached his father with a request. Like all young people, he felt he needed a rest, a vacation from his over-worked life. Alas, it is difficult to enjoy a real vacation without funds. He asked his father for a sizeable sum, so that he could enjoy a "real" vacation. His father, who was as astute as he was loving, countered, "I will be happy to give you ten thousand dollars for your vacation on one condition: that you put on Tefillin for one week. Your Tefillin have been gathering dust in your room since your bar mitzvah. If you are prepared to accede to my request, I will wire the money to you after one week."

The young man agreed. His father gave him a few hundred dollars to start off and, after one week, he would send the remainder of the money. At end of the first day, the father called up his son and asked, "Nu, did you put on Tefillin today?" "Abba, of course I did" was his son's reply. The next day, the father once again called his son and asked, "Did you put on Tefillin today?" "For sure!" was his son's response. Two days later, the father once again called and asked, "Did you put on Tefillin today?" "Why do you not trust me?" the son raised his voice and asserted, "You never believe me. If I said I put on Tefillin today, you can trust me."

On the seventh day, the son did not wait for his father's call. He called and reminded his father that the week was up; it was collection time. Could he, please, wire the money to him? "You put on Tefillin every day?" the father asked one last time. "Certainly! If I said I put on Tefillin, you can trust me" was the son's smug response.

At this point, the father could no longer contain himself. "I was so hopeful that this time, for once, you would be honest with me," the father began. "What do you mean?" the son asked. "I did my part, now you had better keep your word and pay up."

"Do you think that I did not know with whom I was dealing? Before you left, I placed the ten thousand dollars inside the Tefillin bag. Had you been putting on Tefillin, you would have surely discovered the money!"

This is the idea behind all mitzvos. When a person performs a mitzvah, the reward is inherent in the mitzvah performance. An observant Jew - by virtue of his observance - is blessed. He just has to "open the bag" to realize that the blessings are to be found within.

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

The Midrash quotes an often-used pasuk relating to the mitzvah of tzedakah, charity: Ashrei maskil el dal, b'yom raah yimalteihu Hashem, "Praiseworthy is he who contemplates the needy, on the day of disaster Hashem will deliver him" Tehillim 41:2. David HaMelech enjoins us to give tzedakah with understanding: delving into who stands before us and why; making an attempt to put ourselves in his shoes. The above pasuk addresses the needs of one who has not yet hit rock bottom. He is faltering and needs assistance to prevent him from falling into the abyss of abject poverty. We are admonished to support him: give him a loan; a job; an investment in his endeavor that demonstrates we believe in him. At times, such encouragement can have a greater effect than a check. Money can quickly be spent, while encouragement can catalyze one to strive harder, achieve independence. When one gives money, he should be maskil, contemplate his actions. Thinking can make the major difference between a handout that might be quickly spent and support that can transform someone's life.

Kehillas Yitzchak observes that this pasuk which enjoins us to employ seichel, common sense, in supporting our brother follows shortly after the laws of shemittah, yovel, the paradigmatic laws which underscore the importance of maintaining everything, our sole manner of earning a livelihood, by letting our fields lay fallow for a year. It takes great bitachon to adhere to this mitzvah. Since bitachon is so important, and every person should strive to develop his own level of bitachon, one might mistakenly feel that it is his responsibility to teach others the importance of bitachon. For example, a poor man approaches someone who is able to help him and asks for a loan - or even an "investment." The well-to-do would-be benefactor responds, "Why should you turn to mortals for assistance? You should have bitachon and turn to Hashem for help. Pray, and He will help you!" This is obviously the benefactor's manner of avoiding an act of kindness. It is his "frum" cop-out. To him, David HaMelech asserts, "Praiseworthy is the one who contemplates the needy." You (the benefactor) can be a believer, and you worry about your bitachon. When it involves another Jew, a poor man in need who turns to you for assistance, do not play the "bitachon card" on him. Help him! Do not preach to him about bitachon. One does not tell someone else who is in need that he must have bitachon; use some seichel - be maskil el dal and give him a check to cover his needs.

A well-known scholar once asked the Rosh Yeshivah of Novordok in Mezritch, Horav Avraham Zelmans, zl, a scholar who was well-known as one of that period's chachmei ha'mussar, masters of ethical discourse, the following sheilah, question: Is it permissible for one to borrow money from another Jew, knowing fully well that in the foreseeable future he has no way of paying back the loan? Is he permitted to rely on bitachon, his trust in Hashem, that some way, somehow, he will procure the necessary funds to pay back the loan? Is he allowed to rely on his bitachon in order to borrow the money from someone?

The Rosh Yeshivah gave an insightful reply which addresses the crux of bitachon and defines our relationship vis-?-vis others. "If you are prepared to lend money to a person solely upon his bitachon," he began, "in other words, he has no money and, for all intents and purposes, he has no means for obtaining sufficient funds for paying back the loan, then, you, too, are permitted to borrow under similar conditions. If, however, you are unwilling to part with your money based solely upon the borrower's bitachon, you may not borrow either."

If your brother becomes impoverished … and let your brother live with you. (25:35, 36)

It is our responsibility to see to it that our brother does not descend to the level of poverty such that he will have great difficulty sustaining himself. We must attempt to help him before he becomes poor, so that, with help from his brother, he can maintain his independence and raise himself up to his prior status. Lending him money or investing in his business is among the highest and noblest forms of charity, since the beneficiary is not made to feel like a charity case. The Torah admonishes us not to lend money for interest. This is not the Torah way. When we perform a mitzvah, it should be for the purpose of carrying out Hashem's dictate - not for personal profit.

We wonder why taking interest is prohibited. Is it any different from any other form of business, whereby one makes a profit on his investment? How is this different from renting a space or an appliance from someone? The rental fee is the premium one pays for the favor he receives. It is a simple business deal. One is, so to speak, charging rent for the use of his money. Is this so bad?

Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, explains that, veritably, charging interest is neither morally reprehensible nor is it benign and inoffensive. People do it all the time, and it is a recognized and acceptable manner of doing business. In the context of "family," however, it becomes reprehensible. It takes on a noxious image. Profiting from family members is just not right. One should reach out with complete equanimity to a member of the family. Imagine one charging his brother interest for a loan! It would be considered outrageous. (This does not mean that people do not act outrageously and reprehensibly to their siblings. These individuals have basically removed themselves from the human race.) This is why the Torah emphasizes that the person who is descending into poverty is "your brother." We are all brothers. The sooner we accept this concept and act upon it, the quicker we will realize it and act with greater compassion and decency toward one another.

The following dvar Torah from the Ponevezer Rav, zl, is not only timeless, it also represents the standard by which the Rav lived. His incredible success with people was the product of his love for all Jews. He treated them all as family, because they were. In Parashas Vayeitzei (Bereishis 29:7), when Yaakov Avinu arrived at the well in Charan and met the local shepherds, he set about rebuking them, saying, "The day is still young! It is not yet time to gather the livestock. Give the sheep to drink and go pasture them." We do not find the shepherds taking umbrage with Yaakov's rebuke. Imagine coming into a new place and, by way of an introduction, one begins by rebuking the community!

Yet, amazingly, they not only did not respond negatively; they even apologized and gave an excuse for their seemingly indolent behavior, "We cannot give them to drink until all the flocks are gathered and the shepherds roll the stone off the mouth of the well, and then we shall give the sheep to drink" (ibid. 29:8). Why, indeed, did they respond so "nicely"?

The Rav explains that the key to understanding their exchange is in Yaakov's greeting to them. He addressed the shepherds as "brothers." That was the secret of his influence: Achai, "My brothers!" Or, as the Rav put it, Briderlach, "(My) precious brothers," indicated the closeness and fondness he had for them. When Yaakov addressed the shepherds as "family" they felt he was close to them, that he loved them as brothers. They viewed him neither as a stranger nor as a newcomer sitting in judgment on them. They did not mind a rebuke from a "brother." When a person radiates genuine love and brotherly feelings, he can deliver his rebuke, and it will be accepted in the spirit that it is rendered. His message will penetrate the most obdurate heart and elicit a positive response.

This was the secret of the Ponovezer Rav's success. The overflowing love he manifested towards each and every Jew was a major component of his character. When he referred to fellow Jews as "Briderlach, briderlach," it was not a pejorative in order to impress. He meant it, and they knew this. His love penetrated, because it was real.

For they are my servants, whom I have taken out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold in the manner of a slave. (25:42)

The Talmud Yevamos 46a teaches, "You may purchase from them, but they may not purchase from you." In other words, a Jew may not sell himself as a slave to a gentile. The Brisker Rav, zl, comments that this is the underlying directive of the above pasuk. The Jewish people are excluded from the laws of slavery. They do not apply to us, because we may no longer become slaves. We were taken out of Egypt, from servitude to freedom. We have parted ways with slavery - we serve Hashem as our only Master.

There is an emotional aspect to this freedom. The Jewish mindset no longer tolerates servitude to a gentile master. A slave lives in fear; he is afraid not only of those who have jurisdiction over him; he also fears repercussions for anything he might say that is unacceptable. He is obsequious, not his own person. Indeed, this nature is the motivating factor of his life as a slave. Once we were redeemed, we were introduced to our Headmaster, in Whom we place our total trust. We fear only Him.

A slave keeps quiet, remaining in the background, standing ready at the beck and call of his master. As a free man, he regains his power of speech and is more than willing to share his experiences with others. On Pesach, we commemorate our servitude and ultimate liberation with our family, so that they preserve these lessons for the future. On Pesach we regain our ability to express ourselves, to vocalize and articulate our feelings, our deepest emotions. The Brisker Rav explains that, with the Egyptian redemption, we were not only liberated from Egypt, but we also received a new status which precludes our ever returning to servitude.

Perhaps we might add that this new status is applicable and retained only by those who have accepted the position of avdei Hashem, servants of the Almighty. One who has rendered himself to Hashem, who views the Almighty as his Master, cannot possibly be subjugated by mortal man. His body might be shackled, but his spirit soars in the Heavens. Emotionally and spiritually, he is a free man. He is master over himself, because he has given himself over to Hashem.

The Brisker Rav applies his thesis to explain the phrase at the end of the Maggid portion of the Seder, in which we express our duty to thank Hashem for all that He has done for us. Among the accolades, we say that "He took us from avdus l'cheirus, slavery to freedom; mi'yagon l'simchah, from sorrow to joy; mei'eval l'yom tov, from mourning to festivity." Why is it necessary to add the state of festivity? The mere fact that we have been taken from mourning should suffice. The Rav explains that the redemption was not just a removal of the Jewish People from Egyptian subjugation. There is an added dimension - one of yom tov, festivity, which accompanies our new-found status of no longer being avadim, slaves. We are not just free; we are free forever!

I think the newly-acquired status of "free-man forever," which goes hand in hand with "servant of Hashem," was demonstrated in Egypt on the fateful night of our liberation. If we peruse history, we note the lack of moral discipline that accompanied the various liberations of slaves, serfs and peasants throughout the millennia. Upon acquiring freedom, these slaves acted like slaves who had been let out of their cages. They were cruel, ruthless, participating in violent and random acts of murder and mayhem, just to get back at their past masters. It was all about vengeance. By their actions, they demonstrated that they were first and foremost slaves who were unable to act as free men. They had been exploited, reviled castigated, afflicted and murdered. Now, they were doing the same to their masters. Is this the way a free man acts, or are these the actions of a wounded animal?

The Jews, despite suffering mercilessly for over two centuries, their blood spilled like water at the hands of the cruel Egyptians, did not act this way. The Egyptians were suffering that night, as every family experienced the death of their firstborn. The cries of pain, the moaning and grief, enveloped the people. Did the Jews take advantage? Did they vent their centuries-old anger on their cruel taskmasters? No! They did not act like the hooligans who riot when they have the opportunity to avenge themselves, who destroy city blocks because this is how they express their idea of freedom. The Jews went about their business, serving Hashem, eating the Korban Pesach in the privacy of their homes, surrounded by family and friends. Why is this? Because they had become true free men. They went from being slaves to Pharaoh to being servants of Hashem, a status that defies any form of subjugation either to oneself or to any other human being.

Va'ani Tefillah

Melech Ozer u'Moshia. O' King, Helper and Savior.

A helper (ozer) "helps." The beneficiary has participated in his own salvation and possibly might have succeeded in ameliorating his circumstances, but it was the ozer who helped him to achieve success. The savior does it all. The beneficiary is in a helpless state, either due to his own personal/collective weakness or the overwhelming strength of his aggressor. In enters the moshia and puts a stop to his troubles. When Klal Yisrael earns collective merit, they are worthy of salvation, the "support" that Heavenl provides on their behalf. Certainly, Hashem requires no assistance from "below"; it is just more beneficial for us to be worthy of His Salvation than to require total yeshua due to our helpless state. Concerning the Avos HaKedoshim, holy Patriarchs, it is stated (in the tefillah initiated by the Anshei Kenesses HaGedolah), Ezras Avoseinu, the Helper of our Patriarchs. They had their own individual merits. Thus, Hashem was only an eizer, helper, to them. Regarding us, their children, it is written, Magen u'Moshia livneihiem achareihem, "A Shield and a Savior to their sons/children after them." Hashem saves us due to His extraordinary middah, trait of chesed, kindness. Unlike our Avos, we require Hashem as Moshia, total Savior.

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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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