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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


In the beginning Hashem created. (1:1)

Horav Tzvi Hirsh Meisels, zl, the Veitzener Rav, cites the Midrash Hane'elam that suggests that the letters of Bereishis, "Bais, Reish, Aleph, Shin, Yud, Saf," are an acronym for two words; bris eish, a convenant of fire. He explains the concept of a covenant forged in fire based upon the following story. Horav Meisels was the rav in the dreaded concentration camp Aushwitz. On Simchas Torah night a group of fifty young Gerer chassidim were brought to the gas chambers. Their sin was rebelling against the German government. Their act of mutiny - observing the laws of the Torah. These young men, who were defiant in life, were not going to go to their deaths without exhibiting the Jewish spirit that had maintained them to this point. They sang - and sang. They sang with a voice that was not theirs. They sang with a supreme power, imbued in them by the Almighty. They walked through the camp on the way to the crematorium with song and ecstasy. They were about to die Al Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying Hashem's Name.

As they entered the gas chamber, one of the young men said, " Tonight is Simchas Torah. While we have no Sefer Torah with which to dance, we have the Almighty with us. Let us dance with Him in our last moments." They formed a circle and started dancing, crying to one another in spiritual ecstasy. "Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu, u'mah naim goraleinu," "We are fortunate - how good is our portion, how pleasant our lot."

The chief executioner, the devil's emissary on this world, could not tolerate their joy. He could not bear to see these young Jews cheating him and his cohorts out of their sadistical fun. Above all, he could not tolerate the faith and conviction that was manifest by these young Jews. He wanted to see broken, wretched, depressed people, not proud ecstatic Jews. What did he do? - He would not kill them! He would not grant them their wish. They lived - because they sang. This is bris eish. The ability to maintain our faith, and to sustain our conviction-in the presence of the fires of the crusades, the flames of the pogroms, and the inferno of the Holocaust-is the legacy that has been bequeathed to us by our ancestors. This is our covenant of fire.

This covenant is not exclusively the domain of the observant. Indeed, every Jew has within him that Pintele Yid, Jewish spark, just waiting to connect, to be ignited into a fiery flame, a brilliant light. Horav Meisels recounts how he met a secular Jew being led to his death, who turned to him and said, "Rebbe, I know that perhaps I did not live as a Jew should live, but, I am going to my death happy to die as a Jew!" The apex of Jewish living is to die as a Jew! To be able to sanctify Hashem's Name in death, is to have attained the zenith of Jewish sanctity. The last words of the Torah are " kol Yisrael." This is a reference to Moshe Rabbeinu's leadership and the actions he took to preserve the spiritual integrity before " kol Yisrael," all of the Jewish people. Many commentator, seek to connect the last words of the Torah with its beginning. Horav Meisels extends this idea with its accompanying narrative to interpret the words: " kol Yisrael - Bereishis" - " all of the Jewish People- regardless of their religious commitment and level of observance-are "Bereishis" - willing to share in the bris eish, covenant of fire, to stand ready to go into the fire for the Name of Hashem. "Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu!"

And Hashem Elokim formed the man…and he blew into his nostrils the soul of life; and man became a living being. (2:7)

The "soul," the nishmas chaim, which Hashem blew into man's nostrils is defined by Targum Onkelos as "ruach memalela," a speaking spirit. This means, that the essence of life which only Hashem could have imparted to man, is the soul that includes the power of speech. The ability to use intelligent speech to communicate is what elevates man above the animal world. We must endeavor to understand with whom man was designed to communicate. At this time, no one else had yet been created. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, derives from here that the primary purpose in creating man with the "koach ha'dibur," power of speech, was so that he would "speak" to Hashem in order to supplicate Him through prayer. Speech is inherently holy, for it was created for us to be able to communicate with the Almighty. One who does not sanctify his speech-using it instead to disparage and slander-has defiled G-d's gift.

Hashem Elokim cast a deep sleep upon the man, and he slept. (2:21)

Hashem determined that Adam Harishon should not witness the creation of his wife to be. To circumvent this problem, He made Adam fall asleep. The Torah does not seem to record him waking up from his spiritual slumber. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, derives from here that indeed, in comparison to the clarity of vision and spiritual perception ?? Adam manifest prior to his slumber, he and his descendants are considered to be in a deep spiritual sleep. Only Klal Yisrael stood at Har Sinai, being spiritually awakened as they experienced the Revelation and received the Torah.

With this idea in mind, Horav Schwab proceeds on to explain the daily Bircas ha'Shachar, morning blessing, " Who removes sleep from my eyes and slumber from my eyelids." This blessing is immediately followed with the supplication regarding our success in Torah and avodas Hashem, service to the Almighty, "that You accustom us to (study) Your Torah and attach is to Your mitzvos: Let not the evil inclination dominate us." The blessing concludes, "Who bestows beneficent kindness upon His People, Yisrael."

If we think about it, there are a number of anamolies exist regarding this brachah. First, this blessing is our praise to the Almighty for awakening us from our nocturnal slumber. This is the first blessing one should recite upon arising. Why then does it follow after the blessing, "Who restores souls to dead bodies," "Who gives sight to the blind," and "Who straightens the bent?" Second, how is the supplication regarding proficiency in Torah and mitzvos related to the beginning of the brachah, "Who removes slumber from my eyes"? Third, the blessing's conclusion " Who bestows beneficent kindness upon His People, Yisrael," implies that the chesed, kindness, of awakening in the morning is bestowed only on Klal Yisrael. Does not every body wake up - not only Jews?

Horav Schwab presents a novel interpretation. This blessing does not praise Hashem only for our physical awakening, since this is included in the blessing of "Who restores souls to dead bodies." We are also offering our gratitude for warranting our spiritual awakening, while everyone else wallows in a deep slumber. Since this awakening occurred during Kabbolas ha'Torah, the receiving of the Torah, the appropriate place for noting it would be with the supplication for proficiency in Torah, concluding the blessing by emphasizing that this chesed was bestowed only on Klal Yisrael. They received the Torah, while everyone else continues to sleep.

During the course of time and the travail of the exile we have certainly descended from the spiritual plateau we achieved at Har Sinai. Yet, the terms "awake" and "slumber," as well as "seeing" and "sightless" are relative. Our ability to observe and perceive on a spiritual level is considered limited in comparison to Moshe Rabbeinu's ability. Each person - each generation - each situation, however is to be viewed in its own context, exclusive of others. It is for this reason that we praise the Almighty daily for granting us spiritual perception.

Horav Schwab writes that he once heard an analogy that "sheds light" on the matter. He compares this to a home for the visually impaired where everybody has been sightless from birth. One day, a surgeon appeared at the home with the claim that he had perfected a procedure which would restore anyone's vision, regardless of his impairment. There was, however, one drawback: The results would last for only one day. The individual would see, but only for twenty-four hours. Understandably, no one was interested in this temporary cure.

One person stated that it was worth undergoing the pain of surgery if he could see, even for a single day. The surgery was successful. Lo and behold, the world opened up before this person. Suddenly, he could see face, images, and colors. He could perceive an entire world. Even after he lost his sight, he would have memories to treasure. He could relate to what he heard from others. The members of the home proclaimed him as their leader because, indeed, he could "see" better than they.

This same idea applies to Klal Yisrael. Unfortunatly many have fallen back asleep, resorting to a state of spiritual slumber once again. The material/ physical blandishments of this world have blinded so many. Yet, this may all be true - now; nonetheless, these people all stood at Har Sinai and were healed; their spirits and sights were aroused. The impression lasts forever in the hearts, minds and psyche of every Jew. Deep down they know what a "mamleches Kohanim v'goi kadosh," " kingdom of Priests and a holy nation" should look like. They have a goal to which to aspire, and thus, they are still a "light unto the nations."

And he brought her to the man. (2:22)

This is the underlying concept of shidduchim, marriage matchmaking - Hashem brings the couple together. It is only the unperceptive who think otherwise. Anyone whose vision is not blurred by secular induced myopia is acutely aware of the Yad Hashem, Hand of G-d, in this misunderstood area of Jewish life. Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, tells the story of a young man, a talmud chacham and yarei shomayim, Torah scholar and G-d-fearing, who was having a difficult time finding his "bashert," intended mate. He decided to go to Eretz Yisrael to implore the neshamos, souls, of the tzaddikim, righteous, virtuous Jews, who are buried there, to entreat Hashem on his behalf.

He decided one day to go to the kever, gravesite, of Horav Aharon zl m'Belz, situated on Har Ha'menuchos. The wind, which was gusting with unusual force, blew off his hat. As he ran to retrieve it, he noticed many of the "kvitlach," notes left by other Jews to entreat the neshamah's intercession, had also blown away. It "happened" that one kvitel landed right next to his hat. When he picked up his hat, he also took the kvitel, figuring that he would return it to the kever. While he knew it was improper to look at its contents, he was overcome with curiosity when he just happened to see some of the emotion filled words. He read the prayer of a young women asking the holy neshamah to intercede on her behalf to find her right mate. The young man was so moved by her entreaty that he asked his parents to negotiate a shidduch between himself and this young woman. With siyata di'Shmaya, Divine assistance, the shidduch was arranged to everyone's joy, and the young man and his bashert were married.

While this is a beautiful and poignant story which demonstrates the Divine Hand directly guiding events, it is equally important to always remember that this is true of all shidduchim. We just have to open up our eyes and see.

Vignettes on the Parsha

In the beginning Hashem created. (1:1)

The Kotzker Rebbe zl, was wont to say

"Hashem created the beginning; the rest He left for man to accomplish."


These are the products of the heaven and earth. (2:4)

Regarding the age-old question, "Why is the world round?" Horav Chaim Volozhiner, zl, explains that the world was created, and is maintained for Torah. If for even one minute Torah study would come to a stop, the world would likewise come to a premature end. Hashem, therefore, created the world round, so that the times would be different throughout the world.

When it is daytime on one end of the world, it is night in another part of the world and vice-versa. When in one area of the world bnei Torah are going to bed, in another part of the world bnei Torah are rested and engaged in spirited Torah study. Never can there be a moment in which the Torah is not studied.


I will greatly increase your suffering and your childbearing. (3:16)

It happened in Laniado Hospital, in Netanya, Israel, as a young woman was going through a difficult and painful childbirth. Every few minutes she would make her pain known to everyone on the hospital floor. Suddenly the midwife came over and whispered something into her ear. While the pain did not subside, the sounds did. After a short while, she gave birth to a healthy child. "What did you tell her?" everyone asked the midwife. She answered, "I explained to her that prior to a child's birth, it studies the entire Torah with an angel. Apparently, your child is missing a few small areas of Torah, and it will soon be born." The pain kept up, but the mother had acquired a new perspective on her child's birth.


Why do the Jewish People ascribe to matrilineal descent, meaning if the mother is Jewish the child follows her pedigree? The Ohr Ha'chaim Hakadosh explains that a mother goes through great pains to have and sustain a child. From pregnancy through childbirth she fulfills the Torah's pronouncement, "I will greatly increase your suffering d your childbearing." The Torah rewards her for her efforts.


This is the account book of the descendants of Adam. (5:1)

The toldos of Adam Harishon and all of his descendants were determined on that first day. He sinned that first day, and everything changed - forever. Indeed, the changes could fill up a full book. The Netziv zl, derives from here how much we can destroy in one day. It takes very little to lose so much.


The gimatria, numerical equivalent, of "sefer," 340, is the same as for "shem," name. Horav Yisrael m'Rizhin, zl, derives from here that the primary quality one should have in his sefer, "book" of life, is his shem tov, good name. A person works hard to develop a good reputation. It, in turn, follows him everywhere.

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