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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


In the beginning of G-d's creating the heavens and earth. (1:1)

The Baal Haturim notes that the last letters of the words Bereishis bara Elokim - taf, aleph, mem - spell out the word emes, truth. This teaches us that the world was created via the attribute of emes. Interestingly, the Torah alludes to the word emes in an indirect manner, since the sequence of the letters is out of order. Horav Shmuel David Walkin, zl, infers a profound lesson from here. The Torah teaches us that one must strive for the truth, regardless of the situation. One is not obligated to be truthful only during times of smooth sailing in which he has no extenuating circumstances or financial troubles. One must be truthful, even under circumstances that overwhelm and distress him, when life has no seder, order, and the demands on him are overpowering. Even when he is under stress, one must act with integrity. Indeed, the only thing that can guide him to maintain a straight course through the ambiguities and vicissitudes that confront him is the truth. The Brisker Rav, zl, was known to be the paragon of integrity. The attribute of emes was his benchmark in every endeavor in his life. He demonstrated this trait when an individual whom he held in esteem would visit. The Brisker Rav showed him the greatest reverence, regardless of the person's station in life. Conversely, if he was visited by a person for whom he had very little respect, it did not matter whether the individual had a large following or not, the Rav's greeting was only cordial and diplomatic.

Indeed, the Brisker Rav was once asked if a person's stature can be measured by his following. He responded that one's following is not an indication of his true character. He substantiated this with Rashi's comment concerning the multitude of stars that accompany the moon. These stars are present to appease the moon after its size had been diminished by Hashem. This teaches us that one's following is not a sign of his essence. On the contrary, it might indicate the converse. A weak person needs a strong backing. A strong person does not need the accolades and the "pat on the back" that are quite often false anyway.

The Rav cited the following analogy to explain this further. A man walks down the street and notices a large tree. Regardless of how many people come along to support his "view," he is clearly aware that there is a tree in this place, because he sees it with his own two eyes. Let us look at another scenario. The same person stands in the street and does not see a tree. Then, even if another person comes along and says he sees a tree, he will not believe his peer. If ten people come and declare that they see a tree, the first person might begin to question his own ability to see clearly. After all, ten people say that they see a tree! If one hundred people come along and verify that they see a tree, then the first person who had not seen a tree might even begin to believe that he is losing his eyesight. If one hundred people see something and he does not, then something must be wrong. His "inability to see" will increase as more and more people exclaim that they see a tree.

The same idea applies to Torah leadership. The true Torah giant does not need a large community to pay him homage. The Chafetz Chaim was rav in Radin, a small community in Poland. He made the town great. He gave it distinction. He gave it greatness. The Chafetz Chaim and so many like him were distinguished in their own right. They did not need others to substantiate the reality of their gadlus. There are others, however, who are like the elusive tree that one believes exists only because so many say they see it. If the tree is not there, the fact that people say it is there will not bring it into existence. Gadlus baTorah is inherent within the person. It is not subject to public acclaim.

And G-d saw all that He had made and behold it was very good. (1:31)

Life is comprised of successes and failures. Some of us have a greater number of success. Others look at failure more often than at success. This is not a perfect world, but our perspective on life and the world can make a "world" of difference. Hashem created the world that we know in Six Days of Creation. He made some subtle changes during Creation in order to offset some of the problems that arose.

Hashem first created light. This was a powerful, intense and very spiritual light. In fact, it was so spiritually illuminating that the wicked would never be worthy of experiencing it. Hashem, therefore, separated it from this world and set it aside for the righteous to enjoy in the World to Come.

On the third day, there was once again a disappointment, when Hashem created fruit trees whose bark would taste the same as the fruit. The tress produced a bark, but it did not taste like the fruit. The earth was later punished for not conforming to Hashem's command.

On the fourth day, the two illuminations, the sun and the moon, had a "situation." At first, they were both the same size - until the moon complained about having to share its dominion over the world with the sun. In response, Hashem decreased the size of the moon. Once again, the creation produced disappointment.

Yet, as we see from the Torah, despite the shortcomings and disappointments, Hashem said that His creation was tov me'od, very good. It would have been better. It could have been perfect. There could have been an absence of strife, no disagreement, no complaints. There could have been - but there was not. Yet, Hashem says it was very good. Why? Horav Avraham Pam, zl, cited in The Pleasant Way, explains that Hashem accentuated the positive. He focused upon the success - not the disappointments.

Emphasize success; accentuate the positive; focus on winning: these are phrases that we hear all the time. How often do we listen to them? We listen to a shiur, lecture, or speech. The speaker/lecturer has presented a powerful and brilliant discourse. The presentation contained a few short moments when he seemed to drag out his thoughts. During the sixty-minute lecture, eight minutes were boring. Does that diminish the value of the rest of the speech? Just because a small part of an endeavor does not rise to the apex of our expectations does not - and should not - decrease its total accomplishment. Having said this, we are enjoined to make every effort to praise the positive efforts of those with whom we come in contact on a regular basis. This is a reference to those whom we take for granted, the chazzan or baal tefillah in shul, the cook who prepared our food, the one who gives a daily shiur, our wives and mothers, etc. We tend to ignore the basic expression of gratitude for services rendered, either because we take them for granted or because we do not focus on their positive aspects. We have constant opportunities to perform chesed with a simple good word, a smile, a gesture of recognition. Some of us, regrettably, find it difficult to pay a compliment. We conjure up all forms of excuses for not rendering this common courtesy, but, after all is said and done, it is the result of an insecurity on our part. What we do not realize is that a subtle compliment can make a distinct difference in someone's life, as evidenced by the following story:

The story is told about a famous author who was walking along the East River promenade in New York City, very depressed. He felt at the end of his rope. His life's work, his writing, was of no value. His life felt empty and meaningless. Had his writing really accomplished anything? There was only one thing to do. Suicidal, he thought about climbing over the railing that divided the promenade from the river and throwing himself in.

He stood there, staring at the dark waters, about to make his final move, when he suddenly heard an excited voice, "Excuse me, I am sorry to impose on your privacy, but are you Christopher D'Antonio, the author?" He could only nod in return. "I hope you do not mind my approaching you, but I had to tell you what a difference your books have made in my life! They have helped me incredibly, and I just wanted to thank you!"

"No, it is I who should be offering gratitude to you," he said, as he turned around, walking away from the East River and heading home.

Space does not permit me to add many more vignettes of chesed through words. As someone who has spent many years in the field of chinuch, however, I can say unequivocally that nothing does more for a student than positive recognition from his rebbe. This equally applies with regard to the rebbe. Parental recognition of a rebbe's efforts on behalf of their child is crucial for the rebbe, the child, and the parents.

And the Tree of Life in the midst of the garden and the Tree of Knowledge good and bad. (2:9)

Sforno explains that daas, knowledge, means to focus one's heart on (what is) good and evil. From this source of the word daas, we also find the phrase v'haAdam yoda, "and Adam knew," i.e., he became aware and now concentrated his heart on her (Chavah). This is also why a relative is called a moda, as it says in Rus 2:1, moda l'ishah, "a relative of her husband," for it is natural that one concerns himself for the needs of his relative. Horav Shmuel David Walkin, zl, infers from here that a relative is a moda, because the foundation of closeness and love is the knowledge and concern for the needs of his relative. This is also why a friend is referred to as meyuda, as it is written in Tehillim 31:12, ufachad limyudoai, "and a fright to those who know me (my friends)." A friend is someone who understands my needs and focuses upon them.

Any love, any relationship in which the two parties are not sensitive to the needs of one another, is not a relationship. Love cannot exist unless there is an awareness of each other's needs and sensitivities. Horav Moshe Leib Sossover, zl, was want to say that he learned ahavas Yisrael, love for all Jews, from an itinerant farmer. A farmer who was totally inebriated asked his friend, "Do you love me?" The friend responded, "Of course I do," and he immediately proceeded to demonstrate his affection by embracing and kissing him. The drunken farmer continued, "Do you know what I am missing? Do you know what I need?" "How should I know what you need?" the other farmer/friend retorted. "Well, if you are not aware of my needs, how can you say that you are my friend?"

This story sums it up. A friend is aware; a friend cares. One who is not aware of his friend's needs is not much of a friend.

By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread… For you are dust and to dust you shall return. The man called his wife's name Chavah, because she had become the mother of all living. And Hashem made for Adam and his wife garments of skin. (3:19,20,21)

The commentators question the sequence of the pesukim. The fact that Adam named Chavah should have been written earlier, at the end of Perek bais, where the Torah relates how Adam gave names to all the creatures. Why is the naming of Chavah juxtaposed on Hashem making garments for Adam and Chavah? The Kehillas Yitzchak explains that when Adam realized what Chavah's act had catalyzed, when he understood that his death and the deaths of all future generations was the result of Chavah's eating and sharing of the Eitz Hadaas, he immediately became severely depressed and angry. After awhile, it dawned on him that anger would be to no avail. It would not rescind the decree. Death was now an inevitable part of the human condition. At the same time, Adam was acutely aware of Chavah's role in propagating life. He decided to be maavir al midosav. He overlooked his anger and decided to forgive Chavah. He transcended, passed over, his natural character traits that would predispose him to anger. This character trait was Adam's distinction.

Imagine what we have just said. A man discovers that his wife has put poison into everyone's food. She is about to feed this preparation to him and all of their descendants. Is there any question as to his reaction? He would undoubtedly call her a murderess at best and immediately go out to publicize his wife's invidious act.

Is that not what Chavah did? She caused death to become a part of our lives. Everyone returns to dust as a result of Chavah's actions. Should she be lauded for this act? Yet, Adam controlled himself and overlooked her error. He did not call her an evil serial killer or murderess. He accentuated her positive attributes. While it was true that she brought death to the world, she also brought life. Without Chavah there would be no life, no future - nothing! We must remember her positive contributions and name her accordingly.

When Hashem saw how Adam transcended his anger and harbored no enmity towards his wife, He made holy garments for them - an indication of His favor. This teaches us that when one transcends his natural inclination for anger, revenge and hatred, Hashem overlooks his transgressions and gazes favorably upon him.

Great people are able to act in this manner. The Ohr HaChaim Hakadosh writes that Moshe Rabbeinu had every reason to be upset with Klal Yisrael. They caused his death. Because of them, he would never enter Eretz Yisrael. Yet, he still blessed them prior to his death. Great people overlook their contemporaries' shortcomings. They transcend slander and disparagement. They look beyond the pettiness that has become a major component in the daily endeavor for so many of us. Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, relates that this middah, character trait, the ability to transcend anger and hurt in order to pursue peaceful reconciliation, was the hallmark of the previous Bobover Rebbe, Horav Shlomo Halberstam, zl. The Bobover Rebbe was a wellspring of sensitivity for all Jews. His activities during and after World War II saved the remnants of Galician Jewry, both physically and spiritually. Men of distinction, however, will inevitably have detractors who are filled with envy, glory-seekers who resent sharing the limelight with anyone other than their own shadow. Shortly after the Rebbe emerged on the American scene, a rabbi who felt threatened by the Bobover Rebbe's activities on behalf of world Jewry lashed out strongly against the Rebbe. He did not mince words in his character assassination of the Rebbe. The Bobover Rebbe did not respond. It was only after the slanderous remarks were becoming downright humiliating that the Rebbe called together all of his chassidim in his bais hamedrash.

The large shul was filled to capacity. There was not an empty seat, as everyone crammed to hear the Rebbe's response to the insults hurled at him. Everyone expected a fiery rejoinder that would put the rabbi in his place. The Rebbe entered the bais hamedrash, ascended to the lectern in front of the Aron Kodesh, and, after kissing the Paroches, cover, turned to the gathering and spoke for fifteen seconds! He said, "I am declaring to everyone assembled, as I stand in front of the Aron Kodesh, that I absolutely forbid anyone from battling on my behalf. My honor is my honor - and it will remain my honor, if everyone acts appropriately and does not take sides. Whoever does not obey me has no place in my bais hamedrash." The Rebbe descended the podium and left the bais hamedrash.

A few hours later, the Rebbe asked his gabbai, attendant, to take him to the rabbi's home. Word of the Rebbe's response had already gotten out throughout the community. The Rebbe arrived at the rabbi's home and ascended the steps to his apartment. He knocked on the door lightly until the rabbi himself answered. Ashen-faced, the rabbi realized who was standing before him. Words were not necessary, nor would they suffice. It was action that was needed. The Bobover Rebbe took the rabbi in both his arms, embraced and kissed him. He said, "You may go to any one of my chassidim and they will attest to the fact that I harbor no ill feelings towards you. As once we were friends, we will continue to remain friends."

Rav Zilberstein notes that the Bobover Rebbe left this world on Rosh Chodesh Av, the same yahrtzeit as Aharon HaKohen. They had one thing in common: ohaiv shalom v'rodef shalom; they were both individuals who loved peace and pursued peace. The common thread that coursed between them was their love of all Jews and unswerving desire to promote harmony within Klal Yisrael.

Out of a sense of hakoras hatov to Hashem Yisborach, I have taken it upon myself to present insights into our daily davening, with the hope that it will catalyze greater understanding of the Tefillos and, thereby, increase their inspiration and effect.

In his Iyun Tefillah Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, cites the Chovos Halevavos, who says, "When one prays, he should not permit his mouth to precede his heart." This means, explains Rav Schwab, that one is to comprehend fully the words of the Tefillah before he utters them. The Chovos Halevavos is critiquing those who know the meaning of the words, but concentrate on their meaning only after they have vocalized the words. Merely mouthing the words, however, without having any understanding of their meaning, is nothing more than lip service and can hardly be called Tefillah. The Tefillos and their meaning should be integrated in our mind in such a manner that the conveyance of these words should be a form of speaking naturally to the Almighty. We begin with the first prayer of the day - iust okug- Adon Olam.

The phrase Adon Olam means Master of the world. To refer to Hashem as Master is to ascribe a personal relationship with Him, since a master has a personal relationship with his servant. Hence, we begin every brachah with Baruch Atah Ado-noi, which confirms our recognition of Hashem as our Master. It was Avraham Avinu who first referred to Hashem as Master. We affirm Hashem as Melech, which is a broader, more general term, and as Adon, which emphasizes His personal relationship with each individual.

Rav Schwab comments that there is no greater introduction to the prayer of the day than the notion that, regardless of how feeble and small man may be, he is in direct contact with the Almighty. One's concentration on Tefillah, his devotion and emotion, should reflect this feeling.

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Peninim on the Torah is in its 11th year of publication. The first seven years have been published in book form.

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