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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Let the people go out and pick each day's portion on its day, so that I can test them, whether they will follow My teaching or not. (16:4)

The daily gift of manna, Klal Yisrael's Heavenly food, was actually a lesson in Jewish spiritual survival. The Jewish People had witnessed incredible miracles leading up to, and including, the exodus from Egypt. Life is all one miracle: an important lesson that so many of us tend to ignore. Many of us go through life with the notion that we are in charge, we make decisions, and we carry out what we have determined is the correct course to follow. It is always "we" or "I". Whatever happened to Hashem? Why do we always impose upon Him a reason to remind us that He is there - always, constantly and in every aspect of our lives?

In the Talmud Sotah 48b, Chazal remark regarding the above pasuk: "Whoever has enough to eat today and says, 'What will I eat tomorrow?' has little faith." Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, submits that by limiting the manna to a daily allocation, Hashem showed Klal Yisrael that He was their Provider at all times. Furthermore, by providing a double portion for Shabbos, He demonstrated that Shabbos observance would never impede one's livelihood. We are taught that it was necessary for the generation that accepted the Torah to have first proven their faith and trust in Hashem through the vehicle of manna. Only a nation that has been taught to rely upon the kindness and consistency of Hashem could receive His Torah.

Faith is not a simple attribute to develop. Indeed, in our sophisticated society, faith is sorely deficient. In today's culture, some view the faithful Jew, the one whose fidelity to Hashem never wanes, as somewhat simpleminded. In the Torah world, however, the Torah scholar who has been endowed with a brilliant and erudite mind also possesses a soul that is committed unconditionally to Hashem. Many narratives portray the unequivocal faith of both the scholar, and simple, common Jew. I have selected two stories which demonstrate this commitment and also convey an important lesson to us.

There was a Rosh Yeshivah in Europe whose dedication to his students was legendary. The yeshivah regrettably had no money and was, consequently, often forced to miss providing meals. Yet, the students reciprocated with devotion to their rebbe. Often they went to bed satiated spiritually, but physically starved. One day the Rosh Yeshivah heard that in a neighboring community a wealthy philanthropist, who was very generous to yeshivos, lived. The Rosh Yeshivah decided that he had no alternative but to go to the philanthropist and appeal for his assistance. He bade farewell to this students and left for the train station. While he was waiting for the train, one of the town's outspoken skeptics appeared.

"Rebbe," he asked, "what brings you out of the yeshivah into the 'real' world?"

The Rosh Yeshivah ignored the derogatory stab and responded, ""I am going to the next town in an attempt to raise money for the yeshivah."

"Have you purchased your ticket?"

"No," replied the Rosh Yeshivah.

"What do you mean? You do not have a ticket? The train will arrive any minute, and you will be left here!"

"I have no money for a ticket but I am not concerned - Gut vet helfen"(G-d will help).

Hearing this, the skeptic shook his head, muttering under his breath, "These frum, observant, Jews are out of their minds." He decided to hang around the station to see what would occur. Would G-d really help the Rosh Yeshivah?

Five minutes later, the train whistle sounded and the train pulled into the station.

"Tickets, tickets," the conductor called out. "Have your tickets ready."

To the man's bewilderment, the Rosh Yeshivah proceeded to get into the line.

"Rabbi, are you out of your mind? How do you get into line without a ticket?"

"Do not worry," answered the Rosh Yeshivah. "G-t vet helfen."

The skeptic scratched his head in amazement. "I cannot figure out the rabbi. He has no money to buy a ticket. Yet, he gets into line to board the train." As he got closer to the train, he said, "Ok, Rabbi, I am going to give you the money for the trip now, but do not rely on me again. How could you be so naive as to think that G-d will help?"

Here we have a case of a believer and a non-believer. The believer had no doubt that he would get on the train. The non-believer was so obsessed with his heresy that he never realized that he was the medium through which Hashem helped the Rosh Yeshivah - to sustain his entire yeshivah. His bias prevented him from believing that "G-t vet helfen."

The second narrative demonstrates how deeply committed one can be in his belief and to what extent this faith will carry him. It is a story about two chassidim who visited their Rebbe annually on Succos. Each year, they would stop overnight at the same inn. One year, the innkeeper approached them humbly and said, "You know, I am neither a chasid nor a disciple of your Rebbe, but I have a great favor to ask of you. My wife and I have been married for ten years, and, unfortunately, we have not yet been blessed with a child. Please ask the Rebbe to pray for us." The chassidim agreed to do so.

The very next morning, the innkeeper's wife began parading around the neighborhood with an expensive baby carriage. When her friends came over to wish her mazel tov, she explained that while she did not yet have a child, she soon would, since the Rebbe was going to pray for her. Hearing this, the two chassidim were somewhat embarrassed, because they knew that prayers did not always produce the desired result. They said nothing and continued on with their journey, faithfully carrying out their mission when they arrived at the Rebbe's court.

When the two chassidim returned the following year to the inn, the baby's Bris, circumcision, was in progress. The innkeeper understandably was quite elated and thankful to have them, treating them as guests of honor. Later on, when they arrived at the Rebbe's home, one of the chasidim entered the Rebbe's office and complained, "Rebbe, you do not even know the innkeeper. Yet, you prayed for him - successfully. I have been your trusted disciple since I was a child. I visit you every year just as my father did before me. Yet, I am married for twenty years, and I have made the exact same request of you - and my wife has still not conceived. Rebbe, is it fair?" The Rebbe took his trusted chassid's hands and looked deeply into his eyes, asking, "During all those twenty years, did you ever go and buy a baby carriage? How great was your faith in comparison to that of the innkeeper's wife?"

Bitachon, trust in Hashem, has to be unequivocal. We either believe, or we do not. To believe when it is convenient, to trust when there is no other alternative, is not trust. It is self-serving and hypocritical. When we say we believe, when we express our trust, we have to be prepared to purchase that baby carriage.

The people contended with Moshe, and they said, "Give us water that we may drink!" Moshe said to them, "Why do you test Hashem?"…Moshe cried out to Hashem saying, "What shall I do for this people? A bit more, and they will stone me!" (17:2,4)

The Torah says that the People "tested" Hashem. Where is this written? We only find that they asked for water. What really is wrong with asking for water when one is thirsty? Is this not the purpose of prayer: to supplicate Hashem for our needs? Furthermore, we find nowhere that Moshe Rabbeinu prayed to Hashem on behalf of the Jews. We find him saying that he felt threatened by them. Why did he not entreat Hashem for water?

Horav Yechezkel Levenstein, zl, explains this with a parable. A student once came to a yeshivah for an entrance bechinah, exam, to ascertain his knowledge and ability, so that the Rosh Yeshivah could determine to which shiur, level, he should be admitted. The Rosh Yeshivah asked him a number of questions, to which he received satisfactory responses. The Rosh Yeshivah said, "You have done well and will be placed in shiur bais. Now, I would like to ask you a few more questions that are more difficult." The student was able to master these, as well. "Excellent," exclaimed the Rosh Yeshivah. "You have been able to go up to shiur gimmel. However, I am not quite finished. I have a few more questions, even more penetrating than the previous ones." The Rosh Yeshivah asked a few more questions. Once again, he was extremely pleased with the student's responses. "I am very impressed with your ability," said the Rosh Yeshivah. "You have once again been able to elevate your position to a higher class. We are prepared to accept you into shiur daled. I would, however, like to ask you a few more questions that are extremely difficult. These will determine for me your ability to be placed in yet a higher class."

This was too much for the young student's patience. He lost it and told the Rosh Yeshivah, "Perhaps the Rosh Yeshivah should attempt to answer the next few questions."

Hearing this, the Rosh Yeshivah said to the student, "Why did you lose your patience? Do you think that I am asking you these questions because I do not know the answers? Trust me, I know the answers. I am doing this for you, to see if we might be able to elevate you to yet a higher class."

This is a simple enough analogy, one which should enlighten us. Hashem tested Klal Yisrael for one purpose - so that they should demonstrate their spiritual ability. Could they be raised to a higher class? Klal Yisrael were acutely aware of Hashem's ability to provide for them. The lack of water at this juncture served one purpose: to see if they were able to achieve even greater spiritual status.

Regrettably, they lost patience and said, "Where is our water?" This is similar to the student who challenged the Rosh Yeshivah and demanded that he respond by answering the questions. They tested Hashem. They should have realized that Hashem truly has all the answers. He was testing them for their sake. We now understand why Moshe did not pray to Hashem on their behalf. He knew that Hashem had water available for the Jews. He was only testing their ability to withstand even greater and more difficult spiritual tests.

Moshe said to Yehoshua, "Choose people for us and go do battle with Amalek; tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill". (17:9)

In the Talmud Yoma 52b, Chazal say that the word machar, tomorrow, which is found in the above pasuk, can be interpreted as belonging to the previous phrase: "Choose people for us and go to do battle with Amalek tomorrow. Alternatively, it can refer to the second half of the pasuk: "Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill." We wonder what is the significance of the word, "tomorrow." What message regarding the war with Amalek is being taught to us via the word "tomorrow"? Horav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zl, explains that the concept of "tomorrow" plays a crucial role in Amalek's fight against Klal Yisrael. Amalek denotes evil. He represents the forces of evil within a human being - the yetzer hora, evil inclination, whose function it is to ensnare a person and lead him to sin. Outright incitement does not work. The yetzer hora has to use guile to convince a person that the sin is really not so bad; in fact, it might even be the right thing to do. It is very sinister in its methods to convince a person to renege against the Torah, to abrogate mitzvah observance and to perform outright transgressions.

In order for the yetzer hora to convince an observant Jew to act against the Torah, it must apply patience and discretion. One of its most potent tools is that of "tomorrow." It assures its victim, "Yes, of course, you should act appropriately. Very definitely, you must perform this mitzvah. Do not do it today, however; start tomorrow. Study Torah - tomorrow. Give tzedakah - tomorrow. Do whatever good you plan on doing, but do it tomorrow. Thus, the yetzer hora grabs hold of a person and leads him to neglect the mitzvos and eventually to become an all out baal aveirah, sinner.

This is the disease called Amaleikism that the Torah instructs us to expunge from our midst. When the opportunity to perform a mitzvah presents itself, one should not dawdle, but he should take immediate action and carry out his responsibility. One who slacks off in the area of positive mitzvah performance, will soon end up taking initiative in a sinful manner.

This, says Rav Yosef Chaim, is the idea behind Moshe Rabbeinu's "lifting his hands," an action that catalyzed Klal Yisrael's victory, as opposed to his lowering his hands, which gave strength to Amalek. Raising his hands symbolizes action, our way of defeating the yetzer hora and its personification in this world - Amalek. Allowing our hands to drop sustains the evil of Amalek, who takes his strength from our weakness.


Bnei Yisrael were armed when they went up from Egypt. (13:18)

The word chamushim, armed, has its root in the word, chamesh, which means five. The Chassidishe seforim say that the word chumash - cheis, vov, mem, shin - has a gematria, numerical equivalent, of 354, which is the number of days in the Jewish year, based upon the lunar calendar. This teaches us that if one studies Chumash, the Bible, every day of the year, he is able to ascend from Egypt - the hardship of being in exile.

Pardes Yosef notes that the word chamushim is written without a vov and may be read, chamishim, fifty. Thus, he interprets the pasuk, to say that during the fifty days, from the Exodus till they received the Torah on Har Sinai, Klal Yisrael went up fifty steps of holiness until they merited the purpose and goal of the Exodus - receiving the Torah.


They had faith in Hashem and in Moshe, His servant. (14:31)…Then Moshe and Bnei Yisrael chose to sing…(15:1)

Were there no other miracles that warranted Klal Yisrael's appreciation and song? Why did they only sing Shirah, now? Horav Yisrael, zl, m'Rijzin, explains that they did not sing in response to the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea. They sang because they had now reached the point of true belief in Hashem. It was the Vayaaminu, they believed, that spurred on the Az yashir, their decision to sing.


This song. (15:1)

Toldos Yitzchak notes the use of the word shirah, which is written in the feminine form. He explains that like a woman who gives birth, the redemption from Egypt was not the final redemption. Klal Yisrael would have to undergo more anguish and exile from which they would be miraculously spared. This would engender more shirah, song. Therefore, this shirah is written in the feminine form, because there would be more songs of gratitude. Regarding the Final Redemption, the Navi Yeshayah (42:10) says, Shiru l'Hashem, shir chadash. "Sing to Hashem a new song." This time it is written shir, in the masculine form, to denote that this is the final song.

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