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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


One more plague shall I bring upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt; after that, he shall send you forth from here. When he sends forth, it shall be complete; he shall drive you out of here. (11:1)

Simply, Hashem is conveying to Moshe Rabbeinu that Pharaoh and the Egyptians will have to undergo one more plague. Then the ten plagues will be complete, and Pharaoh will have received his due. Sforno, however, renders this pasuk differently. He explains that Pharaoh originally sent Moshe and Aharon away willingly; with his rod of anger, he drove them out from his presence. In a similar manner, he will now be compelled to send them and all of Klal Yisrael away in anguish. The previous time he had driven away only Moshe and Aharon - and it was only from his presence. Now, he will be forced to send Moshe, Aharon and all the Jewish People away - from his country.

Sforno explains that this is the measure of Hashem's justice. When a man obstinately refuses to comply with the wishes of his Maker, he will ultimately do what he has resisted doing; only now, it will be in distress and sorrow, against his will. This is similar to the pasuk in Devarim 28:47,48, "Because you did not serve Hashem…amid gladness and goodness of heart…So you will serve your enemy." This idea corresponds with Chazal's maxim, "He who abolishes/nullifies the Torah when he is wealthy, will eventually do so amid poverty." (Pirkei Avos 9:10)

Sforno draws an important moral lesson from this pasuk. What man fails to do of his own free will, he will eventually be compelled to do under circumstances that are more distasteful to him. We are taught that the world is not hefker, ownerless. Everyone must eventually give an accounting for his actions. There is no way to escape Hashem's will. We either do it willingly, at the appropriate time, under circumstances that are convenient and acceptable -- or we will do it under duress, under adverse conditions.

Sforno substantiates his thesis with the famous pasuk that admonishes us for not serving Hashem amid joy, with goodness of heart. Horav Gershon Liebman, zl, Rosh Hayeshivah of Yeshivas Ohr Yosef/Novardok in France, writes that he remembers being in the concentration camp digging ditches. Throughout this backbreaking labor he heard a certain Rosh Hayeshivah next to him repeating this pasuk constantly, serving as a reminder that this misery was a result of a lack of joy in serving the Creator.

Furthermore, when we sit back indifferent to the needs of our People; or when the crown of Torah is humiliated; when Torah Judaism is denigrated and no one takes a stand; we sit idly by watching with blank looks, folded hands, shaking our heads as Torah leaders are shamed, the Torah is defamed, and Orthodoxy is disparaged. How will we respond later, when Hashem asks us, "Why did you sit around doing nothing?"

We have only to peruse history to find Sforno's words glaring at us. How many times have we been lax in our observance, performing mitzvos in an apathetic manner, only to be compelled to act in a similar manner during times of persecution and oppression? How often have we watched indifferently as those who would tear down the mantle of Torah did so- without our protest? Was this not followed shortly by decrees against our People where once again we were forced to acquiesce to the edicts of our enemies?

Sforno cites Chazal's maxim about nullifying Torah amid wealth. Rav Liebman remembers how the Jews of Morocco and Algiers were lax in their Torah study, focusing primarily on secular studies, especially mastering the French language. To convince parents to send their sons to a yeshivah was an onerous task. Now, the tables have been turned. French is of no value, unless it is being used to ask directions out of the country. The broken Jews who eschewed Torah study because it was not in vogue now do not have the time or "head" to study it, as they are so encumbered with attempting to leave the country for which they gave up so much. When will we learn that when we refuse to obey Hashem of our own free will, we ultimately will be compelled to do so under circumstances which are more unpleasant?

This month shall be for you the beginning of months. (12:2)

The first mitzvah Klal Yisrael received as a nation was the mitzvah of Kiddush haChodesh, sanctifying the new moon. Indeed, the moon is the constellation by which we reckon our Yamim Tovim, festivals; and Klal Yisrael is compared to the moon. Simply, this is due to the waxing and waning of the moon every month. As the moon goes through a process of monthly renewal, so, too, does Klal Yisrael have the opportunity and ability to rejuvenate themselves spiritually. Even if a person has feelings of rejection, when he senses within himself a sort of spiritual deterioration, he can reinvigorate himself and return to his original spiritual plateau.

Horav Mordechai Ilan, zl, supplements this idea with the consideration that the moon returns to its original state as it appeared during Creation. Similarly, this is Klal Yisrael's attribute. Upon rejuvenating themselves, they revert to the state in which they had been when they became a nation. While renewal is important, and rejuvenation is essential for growth, there has to be a base level position from which one proceeds and to which one returns. The starting point of one's renewal should be the point designated by Hashem, the position/plateau upon which he stood when he began his journey. Klal Yisrael reached their zenith when they accepted the Torah. This is their starting point to which they revert upon their renewal. If a person goes through a period of spiritual decline, he can pick himself up and return. He has to know, however, to where he returns and what position he must seek to rejuvenate himself.

Horav Avraham Pam, zl, cited in The Pleasant Way, derives another lesson from the moon. While the Torah refers to the sun and the moon as the meoros ha'gedolim, great luminaries, the moon hardly fits the description. The moon is actually tiny compared to the sun. Ibn Ezra and the Malbim explain that the appellation, meor ha'gadol, does not refer to the size of the luminary, but rather to what it accomplishes, to its function vis-?-vis the world. The sun gives light and heat to the earth - without which the world could not exist. The moon lights up the night, and, as such, it has a major role in illuminating the earth. While many of the stars are even larger than the sun, their power of illumination is relatively insignificant. What is especially significant is the fact that the moon is referred to as a great luminary, even though it does not even generate its own light. It only reflects the light it receives from the sun. We derive from here that the source of light is inconsequential; it is the actual manifest of light that counts. The moon illuminates the sky - that is important to us. The fact that this is reflected light has no bearing on the fact that the moon transmits this light to us.

Rav Pam explains that this may serve as an important lesson for bnei Torah, students of Torah, who feel shortchanged and unfulfilled because they are not mechadesh, do not produce novellae or original Torah thoughts. While it is true that in some yeshivah circles this is a barometer of success, it is regrettable that they overlook havanah, comprehension; hasmadah, diligence, and emes, sincerity in learning Torah lishmah, Torah for its own sake. The moon, which does not have any light of its own, is not mechadesh ohr. Yet, since it reflects the light of the sun, it is still considered a meor hagadol, great luminary.

So, too, should a ben Torah feel success when he reflects the Torah of his rebbeim, their middos tovos, character refinement, and chochmas ha'Torah, wisdom inspired by the Torah. The fact that he represents everything that is good in Torah is in itself a mark of success.

When one reflects the light of a mitzvah, if through him the mitzvah has greater proliferation, he is considered a success. In other words, facilitating the fulfillment of a mitzvah is tantamount to performing it. There are people who are blessed with great wealth which they use wisely and share with others. Does that mean that one who is not wealthy is deprived of the mitzvah of tzedakah? No! If one reflects the light of tzedakah by motivating others to give, by encouraging others to fulfill this mitzvah, he is also performing the mitzvah. Tzedakah means charity - reaching out to others and giving assistance. Some fulfill this mitzvah with money; others with time; yet others lend their expertise to help others. It is all the same mitzvah. While it may not earn him a plaque in this world, the recognition he will receive in the Eternal World is what really matters.

Remember this day on which you departed from Egypt…Today you are leaving in the month of springtime. (13:3,4)

We are enjoined to remember the liberation from Egypt and to relate it constantly. Interestingly, the Torah seems to emphasize the fact that we were redeemed b'chodesh ho'aviv, in the spring. This is part and parcel of the geulah, liberation. It must be stressed again and again that we left during the spring. Rashi explains that we were redeemed in the spring, at a time when it is not cold or hot, or rainy. Indeed, at a time when the climate is perfect.

At first glance, the answer makes sense. When we think about it, however, the fact that we left Egypt in the spring is secondary to the actual liberation and its ensuing miracles. Furthermore, Chazal note, "See the chesed, kindness, that He granted you," in regard to the "perfect" time for taking us from Egypt. This kindness is certainly laudatory, but is it to be mentioned in the same breath with the miracles surrounding the Exodus? Apparently, there is a significant lesson to be derived from this unique "chesed."

Horav Chaim Goldvicht, zl, distinguishes between the concepts of gemilas chesed, acts of loving-kindness, and rachamanus, acts of compassion. In the Talmud Yevamos, 79A, Chazal state that there are three distinguishing characteristics by which we can identify a Jew: rachamanim, compassion; baishanim, a sense of shame, embarrassment, they can easily blush; gomlei chasadim, perform acts of loving-kindness.

To the average person, rachamanim and gomlei chasadim are one and the same. The one who acts kindly is compassionate. He who has compassion acts lovingly towards his fellow man. Why are these two similar features considered separately? We derive from here that rachmanus and chesed are the same characteristic. The Zohar HaKadosh defines a chasid as one who is mischaseid im Kono, acts with kindness towards his Creator. Certainly the concept of rachamim, compassion, does not apply in our relationship vis-?-vis Hashem. Yet, a concept of chesed does apply.

The pasuk in Mishlei 11:17 reads, Gomel nafsho ish chesed. Chazal explain that the great Tanna, Hillel, viewed his body as a holy receptacle, catering to the needs of the neshamah, soul. We must, therefore, say that rachamim is an act of reciprocity whereby one manifests compassion for another human being. Chesed, on the other hand, is a sensitivity one demonstrates without provocation from another source. If one notices someone who is suffering, he has rachmanus on him and responds accordingly. When the reason for the rachmanus disappears, so does the compassion. Furthermore, even the most sensitive person, if confronted with pain and suffering on a constant basis, will, eventually lose some of his compassion. His sensitivity becomes numbed by too much exposure to pain.

The gomel chesed is different. He acts out of the kindness of his heart. Chesed is a characteristic within a person who seeks to perform kindness, to help others. He does not need external motivation to act. The baal chesed acts out of his own sense of duty. He wants to help others, even if they do not seek help or realize that they need his assistance. This may be noted from Avraham Avinu who helped the three Arabs/angels who he felt were in need of spiritual assistance, even though they did not apparently think so. Avraham was troubled when he lacked the opportunity or ability to be gomel chesed with others.

In explaining the pasuk in Mishlei, Chazal teach us that one can perform chesed even with oneself! The soul cannot be elevated as long as the body demands its physical gratification. Thus, when one addresses the needs of his body, he is essentially performing a kindness to his neshamah. Shlomo Hamelech tells us that one can be a gomel nefesh, act with chesed towards his soul by giving assistance to his body. Now that we see a clear line of demarcation between chesed and rachamim, we can begin to understand the relationship of chesed to yetzias Mitzrayim, the exodus from Egypt. Rav Goldvicht explains that if one were to examine the earlier pesukim in which Hashem states that He saw the Jews' affliction, listened to their cries and understood their pain, the implication clearly is that the Exodus had its genesis in Hashem's rachamim. This compassion evoked Hashem's response - yetzias Mitzrayim. An exodus based upon the middah, attribute, of rachamim is metzutzam, somewhat suppressed and constrained.

Hashem went a step further. He redeemed Klal Yisrael with the middah of chesed. While it is true that the original stimulation was Klal Yisrael's pain and suffering, it evoked an overwhelming response of chesed. True, a nation that has heretofore been subjected to harsh, spirit-breaking labor is only too happy to be redeemed. The fact that this redemption took place during a propitious time just adds to the event. The most significant aspect, however -- the aspect that concerns them most -- is the actual redemption. Everything else is "frosting on the cake."

We now have a more profound understanding of this aspect of the redemption. It is an indication of the sheleimus hageulah, completeness, perfection of the redemption. Hashem redeemed them with chesed, demonstrating His boundless love for Klal Yisrael. Yetzias Mitzrayim was an outpouring of unmitigated kindness to Hashem's Chosen People. His love for Klal Yisrael was manifest in the fact that He saw to it that every aspect of the geulah would be favorable.

This should serve as a standard in our interpersonal relationships with people. Our friend should not have to fall into poverty, illness, or serious trouble before we reach out to help him. That is compassion; we respond when there is a need. Rather, we should act with chesed, in which we look for opportunities to reach out. Indeed, if that were to be the case, we might very well prevent the need for rachmanus.


Hashem said to Moshe, "Come to Pharaoh." (10:1)

Horav Menachem Mendel, zl, m'Kotzk notes that Hashem does not say, "Go to Pharaoh." He says, "Come to Pharaoh." The reason for this is that one can never distance himself from Hashem. The world is filled with His Glory. Thus, Hashem says to Moshe, "Come with Me to Pharaoh. I will be with you every step of the way."


With our youngsters and with our elders shall we go…because it is a Festival of Hashem for us. (10:9)

Moshe Rabbeinu begins with his demand that the young go with the old and ends by saying that they will have a festival for Hashem. What is the connection? The Chassidishe seforim explain that only when the young go hand in hand with the older generation, continuing the heritage of the past, can there be a promise of a future festival.

Without a connection to the past, there can be no assurance of a future.

Horav Yosef Kahaneman, zl, the Ponevezer Rav notes that Moshe emphasizes the children - the future of Klal Yisrael. He said, "A child is called an orphan when he has no parents. A nation is called an orphan when it has no children to carry on the legacy of the parents."


This month shall be for you the beginning of the months. (12:2)

Chazal teach us that Klal Yisrael counts their days of the year according to the lunar calendar, the moon. The umos ha'olam, nations of the world, use the solar calendar, the sun, as their basis for counting the days of the year. The Sfas Emes explains that the non-Jewish world exists only when the sun is shining for them, when life is going "their" way. The Jews, on the other hand, are able to survive even during darkness when their light shines like the moon, illuminating the darkness.

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