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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

PARSHAS Bereishis

Hashem said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation”…Now all the trees of the field were not yet on the earth…For Hashem had not sent rain upon the earth and there was no man to work the soil. (1:11, 2:5)

Rashi tells us the sequence of events preceding the “growth” of vegetation. On the third day of Creation the Torah says, “Tadshe ha’aretz desheh”, “Let the earth sprout vegetation.” The vegetation had already been created, but it remained beneath the surface until the sixth day, when it rained. It did not rain on the third day, because it was prior to Adam’s creation. Hashem had to create man first, so that he would realize the need for rain and he would pray for it. This acknowledgement of the inherent benefit of rain catalyzed the prayer, for which Hashem was waiting. Now the vegetation could spring forth from the ground.

Horav Matisyahu Solomon, Shlita, derives two lessons from Rashi. First, to reflect and acknowledge every bit of good that we receive from Hashem is a form of avodah, service of Hashem. Indeed, we should delve into our life’s experiences and see how Hashem is constantly helping us along the way. Second, this appreciation can only be manifest through the medium of prayer. Only after one prays for something, and is successful in his supplication, does he truly understand the good that he has received. Adam Ha’rishon knew that rain was essential for vegetation. Yet, this abstract awareness had no value until he integrated it into prayer. Knowledge of a situation without an organized response to it is meaningless.

Horav Solomon cites Horav Aharon Kotler, zl, who posits that only through the combined efforts of Torah and avodah, study and devotion/prayer, will one actualize the good that he seeks. One does not deserve Hashem’s beneficence unless he understands the source of that good. This realization is catalyzed by the individual’s prayer. Hence, he understands that it is Hashem Who is his provider – not himself. He understands that without Hashem’s favor, he is powerless and his actions are futile. This is the underlying motif of prayer. We sense that without Hashem we have no hope. Torah study is the wellspring through which flows Hashem’s bounty. Prayer unlocks that fountain of good. The danger that we might forget the true source of our favor is so great that unless we pray for it, we will not receive it.

Hashem Elokim planted a garden in Eden…And Hashem caused to sprout from the ground every tree that was pleasing…Also the Tree of Life in the midst of the garden. (2:8,9)

Rashi interprets the words, “b’soch hagan,” in the literal sense: the Eitz Ha’daas was in the center of Gan Eden, equidistant from everything in the garden. We must endeavor to understand why Rashi defines b’soch in the “geographical” sense. He could just as well have interpreted b’soch as meaning “among” the other types of vegetation. How does Rashi understand that the tree was situated in the center of the garden? Horav Yosef Siegel, zl, of Chicago writes in his sefer Chazon Yosef that he heard the answer to this question from the sainted Chofetz Chaim at the end of World War I. The pshat, exposition, comes to us by way of the following story:

Prior to accepting his “shtele,” position, in Radin, the Chofetz Chaim was rav in Simiatitz, Russia. Horav Siegel happened to be in this city on the last Shabbos of the Chofetz Chaim’s stay, as he was taking leave of the community. It coincided with the Bolshevik revolution as the communists were taking over the government. They immediately seized everyone’s land and began hoarding food. People -- who simply wanted to survive -- would have to go to the commissar in every community to receive their rations. While this put a great strain upon the wealthy, we can only begin to imagine the overwhelming pressure this placed on the poor. Indeed, many people perished from hunger and deprivation, not able to obtain decent rations for their families. The Chofetz Chaim took upon himself the obligation to provide the basic necessities for the poor. He gathered flour from those who could spare a bit, while his daughter “Sarah’le” baked bread to distribute to the poor.

The time came for the Chofetz Chaim to leave this small town; the poor were hysterically afraid of what would happen now that their “source” of sustenance was departing. They pleaded with him brokenheartedly to provide for their needs. Obviously, the Chofetz Chaim did not savor this tragic situation. The Chofetz Chaim ascended the podium to deliver his last sermon. With tears streaming down his face, he begged for forgiveness from the community. He conceded that while he certainly did not hurt anybody financially, he might have offended someone’s dignity. We can imagine the tzaddik hador, the saint of a generation of tzaddikim, asking mechilah, begging forgiveness, from his community. Certainly, such a person never hurt anyone – even inadvertently. He closed by saying that they all, himself included, should cleanse themselves of any possible offenses to their fellow man, either by humiliating, or lashon hora, slanderous speech, – knowingly and unknowingly.

After the sermon, the kehilla, synagogue membership, davened Minchah, and a number of the shul’s dignitaries accompanied the Chofetz Chaim to his house for Seudah Shlishis. As they walked along the street, they met a Jewish young man, a powerful communist, the distinguished commissar of the town, who tragically had become an apostate. When the Chofetz Chaim saw him, he greeted him pleasantly, “Gut Shabbos.” The young man responded with the reverence reserved for a noted scholar, “Gut Shabbos, Rebbe.” The Chofetz Chaim then invited him to join him for Seudah Shlishis. The young man refused, stating that he had already “eaten” the third Shabbos meal. The Chofetz Chaim said that he would like him to join him at home for a little talk.

Indeed, all of the assembled were shocked at what was transpiring before their eyes. Their beloved rebbe, the gadol hador, was consorting with a known miscreant, a sonei Yisrael, Jew-hater of the highest order. Horav Siegel relates how the Chofetz Chaim’s gabbai, secretary, divulged to him this young man’s pedigree. His family was far from reputable; he, however, distinguished himself as a scoundrel and thief, a truly rotten apple from an equally contemptible tree.

He had been caught stealing one time too many and was sent to Siberia to be incarcerated for “life.” During the Bolshevik Revolution, however, all prisoners had been freed. His evil was now sanctioned by the government. He rose quickly in the ranks, achieving high marks for his “prolific” past. As evil as he was to the Jewish community before he had been jailed, his new position afforded him even greater opportunity to continue his nefarious activities – legally. This made the Chofetz Chaim’s invitation to him all the more intriguing.

Impossible to refrain from “listening” to the sounds of the conversation, those assembled in the house heard the following dialogue between the tzaddik and the alienated Jew: The Chofetz Chaim said, “I summoned you because I would like to make a request of you. First, I would like to tell you a dvar Torah.” “Rebbe,” responded the commissar, “I really do not think that I am ‘ready’ to hear a Torah thought.” “Do not worry,” said the Chofetz Chaim, “It will be simple but meaningful.” The Chofetz Chaim began by citing the pasuk which we have questioned. “Why”, asked the Chofetz Chaim, “was it important to have the Eitz Ha’daas in the center of Gan Eden?” The Eitz Ha’daas, the Tree of Life, was the source from which spiritual life, Divine sustenance, flowed. Everyone is in need of this source of life; everyone seeks to fulfill the required course for achieving life. Because people are different from one another, there are also various ways available to be nurtured by the Tree of Life. Some reach it through Torah study; others through mitzvos; yet others through avodah, devotional service to the Almighty. There are people for whom acts of loving-kindness, charity, and promoting good-will are their tickets for achieving spiritual life.

Hashem sought to provide everyone with an equal opportunity for attaining life. He, therefore, planted the Tree of Life in the center of Gan Eden to convey to everyone that life is obtainable, life is achievable for everyone – equally. We are all equidistant from the Eitz Ha’daas. Whichever approach we take, we will realize our goal: some through Torah; some through avodah; some through gemillas chasadim, but everyone in accordance with his ability, talent and personality. “My son,” the Chofetz Chaim raised his voice, “you have been estranged from our people and religion for too long. You have now been granted a once in a lifetime opportunity to perform an incredible act of gemillas chesed by providing food to the poor Jews of this town. You can achieve the life that heretofore has been so distant from you. Who knows if it was not for this specific purpose that Hashem granted you such a powerful position in the government. I implore you to undertake the responsibility of sustaining the poor. In this way you, too, will achieve spiritual life.”

Needless to say, the hardened criminal possessed a soft Jewish heart and soul beneath the veneer of evil. He acquiesced to the Chofetz Chaim’s plea, and the Jews of that community no longer suffered from hunger. We now understand the significance of placing the Eitz Ha’daas in the center of Gan Eden.

Hashem turned to Hevel and to his offering. But to Kayin and to his offering He did not turn. This annoyed Kayin exceedingly. And Kayin rose up against his brother Hevel and killed him. (4:5,8)

Kayin could not cope with the fact that Hashem did not accept his offering, but had accepted Hevel’s offering. Kayin had a problem with competition. Chazal teach us that “kinaas sofrim tarbeh chochmah,” “jealousy among scholars increases wisdom.” Kayin, obviously, did not ascribe to that dictum. His envy provoked him to destroy the competition. He did not realize that the only way to overcome the healthy challenge of competition is to compete and become better. Destroying the competition creates anarchy. Inability to deal with the challenge of a rival indicates insecurity. Focusing on destroying the opposition, rather than bettering oneself, demonstrates one’s true weakness.

The nachash, serpent, had a similar difficulty. He wanted Chavah to be his. To accomplish his objective, he had to get rid of Adam, to destroy the competition. What else would we expect from a snake? What should we say? Perhaps, this is the underlying meaning of Hashem’s admonishment to Adam, “Ayeca? Where are you?” Did Hashem really not know where Adam was hiding? No! Hashem was conveying to Adam an important idea. Ayeca? Where are you? Do not worry about anybody else but yourself. If people compete with you, if others are getting ahead of you in school, work, and life – do not pray for their downfall. Just work on yourself. Make yourself better. Ayeca – know where you are.

And Kayin knew his wife, and she conceived and Chanoch. He became a city-builder, and he named the city after his son, Chanoch. (4:17,18) Kayin was alone. He had sinned terribly. He needed to respond by doing something to make sure the tragedy that he had caused would never be repeated. He had a child whom he named Chanoch, an intriguing name considering its connotation. In addition, he built a city, which the Torah, incidentally, describes in the present tense, “boneh,” building, as opposed to “va’yiven,” he built. Third, he named the city Chanoch, after his son. These three acts are connected and ostensibly convey an important message. What is it? I recently heard a homiletic rendering of the connection between Kayin’s actions. Kayin had erred and committed a grave sin; he had killed his own brother. In order to perform teshuvah, to properly repent his tragic sin, he was obligated to reflect upon the origin of his sin. How could he have acted in such a nefarious manner? Where was his understanding and appreciation of the value of human life? He decided that he did not know any better. No one had taught him. “Es hut gefelt in chinuch,” he was missing an education! He had not been educated in terms of right and wrong. He was determined to see to it that such a tragedy would never happen again as a result of a lack of chinuch. He, therefore, named his son, Chanoch, implying the need for parents to educate their children, to see to it that their children have the finest Torah education, that chinuch be a vital part of their home life. The entire relationship between parent and child should be an endeavor in chinuch. Parents should understand the role that they play in their child’s education, actively and by example.

This, however, was not enough. It was not sufficient to simply take care of his own child; he felt obligated to make sure that others were also availed a Torah chinuch. He could not raise a child in a vacuum. He must have friends, he must go outside, and he must have an environment that would be conducive to what he was taught at home. He created that environment. He built a city and named it Chanoch, to teach others the importance of chinuch.

There was still another lesson to be communicated: Chinuch is not a one-time endeavor, it is not a process that ends with elementary school, or high school, or yeshivah gedolah. Rather, it is a constant focus throughout life. Hence, we find the word “boneh” in the present tense, indicating the ever present need for chinuch. Kayin had the right idea. Unfortunately, not everybody ascribes to it.



1) Why do we stand when we say the “Va’yechulu” prayer on Friday night?
2) a) On which day did the earth bring forth vegetation?
b) Why?
3) When did the yetzer hora “enter” Adam and Chavah?
4) Where in Gan Eden was the Eitz Ha’daas?
5) How many sisters did Kayin and Hevel have?
6) Who killed Kayin?
7) Which man lived the longest?

1) This prayer attests to the fact that Hashem “rested” after creating the world. Witnesses must stand when testifying.
2) a) On the sixth day. b) After man was created, he prayed to Hashem that it should rain. When the rain descended, the vegetation began to sprout.
3) After they ate from the Eitz Ha’daas.
4) In the center.
5) Three.
6) Lemech.


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