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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


It happened when Pharaoh sent the nation. (13:17)

In the Talmud Megillah 10b, Chazal state that the word vayehi, "and it was", implies sadness. The Midrash says that Vayehi is a combination of two words: Vay - woe; and v'hi, as in nehi, which means mourning. These two words describe anything but joy. This brings us to ask: What about the Exodus engendered sadness? This was Klal Yisrael's finest moment; surely nothing about it would provoke sadness. Furthermore, the phrase beshalach Pharaoh, "when Pharaoh sent (the people)," raises a question: When did Pharaoh send out the people? He had nothing to do with it! It was Hashem throughout Who manipulated and orchestrated the events of that evening. Pharaoh was a mere spectator. Why should he receive any mention?

Horav Yaakov Galinsky, Shlita, suggests that the latter questions actually answer the former. Clearly, it was Hashem Who orchestrated all of the events of that night. Pharaoh, however, thought it was all about him: he was making the decisions; he allowed Bnei Yisrael to leave. Is this true? Absolutely not! Pharaoh fought them every step of the way. Yet, in all reality, we must face it. The next day, the headlines of the local Egyptian newspaper screamed: "Pharaoh allows the Jews to leave!" No mention of Hashem - only Pharaoh. This is the meaning of Vayehi. A seminal event, unparalleled in the history of mankind, whereby an entire nation of slaves leave their masters after being subjected to 210 years of brutal persecution, and the headlines attribute their exodus to Pharaoh's benevolence! How ludicrous!

Rav Galinsky takes this bizarre development one step further. Perhaps the degree of lucidity required of a secular Egyptian reporter might be less than expected of a Jew, but regrettably, the facts do not support this premise. The Maggid relates the following episode: The village of Mir, Poland, was a tiny hamlet situated on the outskirts of Grodno. Every week, the peasants of the surrounding area would travel to the village to sell their wares. An old battered bus that had seen better days was driven by each farm, picking up the peasants and depositing them in Mir. At the end of the day, they returned home with the few rubles which they had earned. One day, the rickety bus carrying a full complement of peasants crossed the bridge. For years, people were warned not to cross the bridge for fear that it might snap - well, it did, and forty peasants plunged to their untimely deaths.

Immediately following the tragedy, the blame game began in earnest. The bridge was faulty; the bus driver was drunk; the bus was overloaded. At the end of the day, they sought everywhere for a sacrificial goat upon whom to lay the blame. Hearing this, the Mirrer Mashgiach, the venerable Horav Yeruchem Levovitz, zl, spoke to his students to give them the Torah's perspective on this incident.

"On Rosh Hashanah we recite the words: 'On Rosh Hashanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is signed. Who will live; who will die; who according to his predestined time and who not on his predetermined time.' The method of death is also determined whether by water, fire, sword or wild animal. This judgment applies l'chol bnei olam - all members of the world - everyone - Jew and gentile alike.

"This past year, it was decided that forty peasants from different villages were to die by drowning. These were people from all walks of life and various areas of endeavor. How did they all come together? How was this Divine decree to be facilitated? By bus! A bus was sent to pick up the peasants, gather them together, so that the execution could be carried out.

"Now, if we were to make the following test: One group of students would read the popular Mussar sefarim, ethical discourse, before Maariv, while the other group would read a newspaper. Whom do you suppose will pray with greater kavanah, intention/concentration? Certainly, the group which studied Mussar. The other group - the newspaper readers - would invariably focus on, 'It happened that Pharaoh sent out the people' - rather than on, 'G-d took them out of Egypt.'

"This is human nature. We see what we want to see - and it usually is not the Hand of Hashem that enters our limited line of vision. This is the vayehi of our generation, of our lives. It is always the physician, the driver, the illness, the business partner, the husband, the wife. It is never about Divine decree. It is never about Hashem. It should be. What we thought about on Rosh Hashanah should remain in our minds throughout the year."

Hashem will fight for you. And you shall be silent. Hashem said to Moshe, "Why do you cry out to Me?" (14:14,15)

Moshe Rabbeinu told the people that crying was not the correct response to the present situation. Hashem asked Moshe, "Why do you cry out to Me?" Apparently, this was a situation which did not call for prayer (cry out to me). It was a time for action, for an affirmation of one's devotion to Hashem. In other words, when one is up against the Red Sea, with the Egyptian army bringing up the flank, one jumps into the water. Horav Shalom Arush, Shlita, explains that, on a deeper level, Hashem is actually teaching Moshe and Bnei Yisrael: "You do not have to cry out loudly to Me. I can hear a silent scream just as well." Indeed, a silent scream emanating from the depths of one's heart has incredible efficacy.

Rav Arush explains that, indeed, when one screams out to Hashem, he should not do so within earshot of his neighbors. Davening to Hashem should reflect an intimate relationship between man and the Almighty. A silent scream does not attract attention, and hence, is devoid of all vanity and externality. One cannot call attention to himself when he is quiet. A silent scream's ascension to Heaven is meteor-like, without the impediments that hold back our regular prayers.

In his Sichos Horan, Horav Nachman Breslover, zl, writes, "One can shout loudly in a small, silent voice, without anyone hearing, because he does not emit a sound, but simply screams with a soundless voice. No one hears his scream other than Hashem. Anyone can do this by simply imagining the sound of the scream in his mind. As he depicts the sound with his imagination, he is able to elevate the decibel level until he is literally screaming at the top of his lungs - but no one hears him, only Hashem." Is this not incredible? Can there be a more intimate form of communication? Rav Nachman explains that this is actually a scream and not mere imagination. Rather than the sound being carried from the lungs to the lips, the sound is instead carried by the nerves to the brain, so that one is shouting in his brain. One can picture the sound filling the inside of his brain. Thus, one can stand in a crowded room and scream in such a manner - yet no one will hear him, but Hashem.

The "sound" of the silent prayer is a cogent and effective manner of prayer. One utilizes this opportunity to express his deepest and strongest emotions and trepidations. The silent scream allows one to speak to Hashem and only to Hashem, for no one else hears - even the Angels are not privy to the "sounds" of the silent scream. This is the meaning of personal prayer, a device through which one expresses his innermost feelings to Hashem. It is just the individual and his Father in Heaven - no one else.

Then Moshe and Bnei Yisrael sang this song to Hashem. (15:1)

The verb yashir, he sang [will sing] is written in the future tense, although it is clearly a reference to an event which had already taken place. Rashi explains that the future tense is related to a past occurrence, the time that Moshe Rabbeinu first considered singing. In an alternative exposition, he quotes Chazal, who interpret yashir as referring to an event which will yet take place in the future. This pasuk is a remez, allusion, that the axiom, Techiyas HaMeisim min haTorah, the Resurrection of the Dead, is referenced in the Torah. Indeed, Moshe and all Yisrael sang then, but they will all sing again one day after Techiyas HaMeisim, when the dead will come back to life. We have yet to explain the nature of shirah, a song of praise, after the Resurrection of the Dead. What will be its content? What aspect will we praise?

The Talmud Pesachim 50a, discusses the difference between Olam Habba, the World to Come, and Olam Ha'zeh, this world. Chazal distinguish between the blessings one recites for good and bad news. In this world, when one hears good tidings, he blesses HaTov v'Hameitiv, "Who is good, and Who does good." When one hears bad tidings, he blesses Dayan Ha'Emes, "The truthful Judge." In Olam Habba, everything is (the blessing is always HaTov v'Hameitiv) good. Rashi explains that in the World to Come, there will be no bad tidings. Thus, the only blessing that is recited is HaTov v'Hameitiv.

In his commentary to Meseches Pesachim, the Tzlach raises the following difficulty. Why does the Talmud focus on the blessings for good and bad news? It could simply have said that in this world there are both good and bad tidings, while in the World to Come, everything will be good. The issue should not be concerning the blessings, but rather, regarding the news one receives.

The Tzlach quotes Horav Ephraim Risher, zl, who explains that, indeed, nothing truly bad issues from Hashem - even in this world. The suffering and pain which Hashem, at times, visits upon a person are intended for his own good. By virtue of yissurim, troubles, one's evil inclination is subdued or his soul is purified, so that, when it returns to its Source, it will be as pristine as when it was originally taken to be placed within man. In this world, however, we do not appreciate the benefit derived from experiencing suffering and tragedy. It is only in the next world, the world of pure truth, that we will look in retrospect and see that which we had perceived as bad was actually good - for us. We will then acknowledge its inherent goodness. Armed with this new perspective on the life he lived in this world, he will exult in the blessing of HaTov v'Hameitiv - in regard to all of the suffering that he had previously experienced.

Hashem's Oneness is not fully appreciated, and certainly not acknowledged in this world, since it is difficult for the individual to reconcile pain and tragedy with Hashem's Divine Attributes of Mercy and Kindness. In the next world, the story will be quite different. There, man will experience only good, thereby stimulating acknowledgment and glorification of Hashem's Oneness.

Le'asid lavo, in the future, in Olam Habba, we will see with a clarity of vision unparalleled to anything we have heretofore experienced. All of the tzaros, troubles, pain and suffering, will have transparency through which they will appear as only the true good which they are. In the next world, we will confront the truth which has eluded us in this world. The test of man, however, is not in the next world, but in this world. We must believe b'emunah sheleimah, with complete and unequivocal faith, that everything which transpires in this world does not "just happen." Coincidence is not a word which should be in the observant Jew's lexicon. Everything has a reason. Hashem knows it and, one day, we will also know it.

Knowing that there is a reason for everything and that Hashem is behind every occurrence in our lives should provide us with the hope necessary to overcome life's challenges. Without hope, one will find it most difficult to survive. With hope, one can look death in the face and not be afraid. The following episode attests to this verity:

One evening, Horav Aryeh Levine, zl, was seen walking in the Bukharian quarter of the holy city of Yerushalayim. "What brings the Rav to this neighborhood?" he was asked by a prominent member of Yerushalayim's elite.

"Come with me," Rav Aryeh replied, displaying his infectious smile. They continued walking together until they arrived at a wedding hall. The ceremony had yet to begin, as everyone was milling around anticipating the opening music, heralding the beginning of the wedding. The chassan, bridegroom, was sitting at his place of honor at the head of the table. When he saw Rav Aryeh enter the room, the chassan jumped up, ran over and embraced the Rav. The embrace was reciprocated. People were surprised at this display of affection between the Tzaddik of Yerushalayim and the chassan from the Bukharian community. Sensing this, the chassan put his arm lovingly around Rav Aryeh and called the gathering to attention. "Let me share with you a story which is the background of my unique relationship with the Rav," the chassan began.

"Under the British Mandate, I unfortunately was imprisoned on a trumped-up charge and sentenced to death. I joined the ranks of the 'red-clothed elite' in the British prison in Yerushalayim - those who had been sentenced to death. As I sat in my cell brooding over my fate, I found myself broken in spirit, plunging deeper and deeper into depression. All I saw before me were the hangman's gallows.

"It was the first Shabbos of my incarceration, and the Rav appeared at my cell. We talked long and earnestly. He tried to imbue me with courage and hope. I had none. He was unable to budge me from my melancholic state. Finally, completely out of the blue, he said to me, 'Promise me that you will invite me to your wedding!'

"I looked at the Rav incredulously. This was the very last thing I had expected to hear from him. Married? I did not even know a girl. Yet, the Rav repeated his request once again with utmost confidence, as though it were a fait accompli.

"When I heard these words emanate from the Rav's mouth, it changed my entire outlook. The Rav had given me his promise. How could I go wrong? His hope and good cheer stayed with me, imbuing me with hope until that wonderful day that my sentence was commuted. The end of the Mandate brought my release from prison, after which I met my kallah, bride. Rav Aryeh kept his promise."

A war against Amalek from generation to generation. (17:16)

Hashem will continue the war against Amalek from generation to generation - literally, forever, until the memory of that evil nation will be expunged. The Melitzer Rebbe, Shlita, of Ashdod derives from here the profound difference between the Jewish People and the offspring of Amalek. Dor l'dor yeshabach maasecha, "Generation to generation will praise Your deeds" (Tehillim 145:4). The very essence of the Jewish People is dependent upon their mesorah, tradition transmitted throughout the generations, from father to son. Dor l'dor, generation to generation. The lamed connects the first dor, generation, to the next. There is a filial bond that is essential and intrinsic to their relationship. Judaism, its Torah, halachah, lifestyle and culture are all transmitted from yesterday, to today, to tomorrow, via the vehicle of mesoras av, the transmission from father to son.

Regarding Amalek, however, it is written midor dor, without the lamed connecting generation to generation. Concerning our archenemy, every generation stands alone without any relationship to the previous generation. It is brand new evil, brand new hatred. Amalek does not have to look back into history to discover new ways to perform evil, to anger Hashem, to loathe Jews. He is able to devise his own methods, to offer his own originality in creating evil schemes for causing misery and persecution for the Jews. Hatred does not need a mesorah. Amalek has it within him.

With the above principle, I think we are now able to understand the irrational hatred that Amalek harbors for the Jewish People. In the spiritual sphere, Amalek represents the essence of irrational, unwarranted hatred. His indifference to what he is inflicting upon himself is nonsensical. Indeed, in the Midrash, Chazal state: "To what is the incident of Amalek to be compared? To a tub of boiling water which no human being was able to enter. Along came one person and jumped into it. He was severely burned, but he cooled it off for others. Likewise, when Klal Yisrael left Egypt and Hashem split the Red Sea before them, followed by the Egyptians drowning in the waters, the fear of the Jews penetrated the hearts of all nations. When Amalek came upon them and challenged them, he was soundly punished, but, at the end of the day, he cooled the awe with which the nations held forth the Jewish people.

Does this make sense? Is it worth committing suicide over one's hatred of the Jews? Whatever arguments one can muster to paint the Jew in the most anti-Semitic manner, when all is said and done, there is no rhyme or reason for anti-Jewish sentiments. Similarly, the fellow that jumps into scalding water is either slightly insane or his hatred is so implacable that it resists even the truth. Amalek represents the fellow who stands back and witnesses the truth in all of its glory - yet ignores it. There is no rationale to Amalek's actions; but then, Amalek needs no reason for his actions. It is not a legacy of hate; he has his own hatred which renews itself without reason on a regular basis.

Amalek is not necessarily an enemy that exists externally. I think there is an Amalek within each of us, an attitude of indifference to what is right and proper; an attitude whereby we say, "I do not care"; "I could care less"; "I do not have to give a reason for my attitude." We have all heard it, and some of us have even said it. We act irrationally, knowing fully well that what we are doing is inappropriate. We simply do not care. This is the Amalek syndrome. There are times when we neither challenge nor negate the truth as an excuse to absolve our actions. We simply do not care. We act with smug indifference and disregard of the truth. This is the result of apathy, cynicism, and skepticism.

How does one battle such indifference? How does one triumph over apathy and cynicism? How does one conquer the skeptic? In other words, can reason overwhelm one to whom reason has no validity? The Baal HaTanya explains that emunah, faith in Hashem, is not something which one attains; rather, faith in G-d is within everyone. It needs to be revealed. Intrinsic to the neshamah, soul, which Hashem has given each one of us, is a connection with the Creator. This connection, which is called faith, is woven into the very essence of the neshamah. Since its source is spiritual and given to us by Hashem, it is beyond reason. It transcends the rational. Thus, we find Jews throughout the ages who have believed in Hashem and have been willing to die for His Name, at times, when reason did not prevail. Faith relates to the truth which is the essence of Hashem, unlike reason which is limited to what the mind is capable of grasping. We can take this one step further. There are individuals who have lived a life far-removed from the Torah way. Yet, under the duress of Kiddush Hashem, Sanctifying Hashem's Name, their inner-faith which had lain dormant for a lifetime suddenly emerges as truth/faith confronts truth/Hashem. The inner Jew concealed under layers of the mundane, entangled in the morass of life's vicissitudes, bursts forth and transcends the obstacles before him.

What about maintaining faith after the fact - after one has hoped, prayed, and yearned - and the answer was, 'no'? How does one pick himself up, "brush off his jacket," and go on? One must still continue believing. A bitter, unhappy woman once came to the home of the tzaddik of Yerushalayim, Horav Aryeh Levine, zl. "Let me sit in your house," she pleaded, "and cry and weep before you."

"You may surely sit," Rav Aryeh replied, "and even cry and weep - but not before me. Direct your tears to our Holy Father in Heaven Above, Who listens to weeping and hears the cries of His human beings."

The woman took a chair, sat herself down and began to lament without pause. She was unable to desist from crying. In between her tears, she sobbed out her tale of woe concerning her husband, who lay mortally ill.

"Do not cry so," Rav Aryeh said. "Hashem will surely have mercy and grant a cure. Your husband will be fine." Alas, a few days later, the woman returned to tell him that her husband had succumbed to his illness. He had gone to his eternal rest. The woman now began to cry in earnest - once again. The tzaddik made every attempt to comfort her, seeking words that would touch her heart, ease her pain. It was to no avail. Finally, after much weeping, she took a "break" and said, "Rebbe, I will accept your solace and cease my lament - but only if you can tell me what became of the thousands of tears I shed over the Tehillim, when I recited its poignant words in supplicating Hashem for my husband's recovery."

"Let me explain," Rav Aryeh gently replied. "When your life on earth ends and you come before the Heavenly Tribunal, you will discover how many severe and harsh decrees against the Jewish People were rescinded as a result of those precious, holy tears which you shed for your late husband. Remember - not one teardrop goes to waste. Hashem counts each and every one, like pearls, and treasures them."

When the woman heard these inspirational words, she immediately burst into tears once again. This time, however, the tears were tears of joy, in the knowledge that all of her suffering and prayer were truly not in vain. Sometime later, she returned to Rav Aryeh's home, "Rebbe, tell me again, those beautiful words concerning what happened to those tears that I wept."

She now understood the value of each tear. Furthermore, she now believed. Her faith had been strengthened. What earlier seemed irrational - now - made all of the sense in the world.

Va'ani Tefillah

The mitzvah of Tefillin and Mezuzah, as well as V'shinantam levanecha, the mitzvah of limud haTorah, are included in the first parsha of Krias Shema. Chazal considered these mitzvos to be absolutely vital to the very existence of our individual and national life. Chazal relate various episodes which depict the mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, the Jewish People were prepared to undergo, in order to observe these mitzvos. The lesson which I personally derive from this is that these mitzvos are vital to us, because each mitzvah protects us in a descending manner. Let me explain: Torah is our life, and, thus, when we are suffused in its profundities, we are sort of concealed behind, and within, a protective barrier.

The Tefillin are less of a protector, but no less, give refuge to the Jewish soul. When one wears Tefillin, he is ensconced in Hashem's protection. This might not be as powerful as being suffused in the Torah, but the connection is quite apparent. Last, is the mezuzah, which, although one does not wear it, when he raises his hand and touches it, he indicates his inseparable bond with the mezuzah's message.

There is the Jew who lives within the Torah, suffused in its profundities. There is another who is not as involved, but at least he dresses the part and remains within the environment of an observant milieu. Last, is the Jew who is out in the world, whose lifestyle and dress code leaves much to be desired - but his connection to Yiddishkeit is warm. He keeps his hand on the mezuzah, never forgetting the Source of his existence.

l'ilui nishmas
Aidel bas R' Yaakov Shimon a"h
niftar 13 Shevat 5767
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