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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


So that you may relate in the ears of your son and your son's son that I made a mockery of Egypt… that you may know that I am Hashem. (10:2)

The Revelation of the Divine Presence witnessed by the Jewish People in Egypt was unparalleled. They saw how Hashem manipulated the "laws of nature" to serve the needs of His People, as he meted out justice to the evil Egyptians. This year of Revelation led up to their liberation from Egypt, followed by the Splitting of the Red Sea, which was the precursor to the seminal event in Jewish history: the Giving of the Torah. It would all be for naught, however, had it not been transmitted to future generations. The Torah invokes us to relate this experience to our sons and grandsons. The Baal Shem Tov HaKadosh explains why Sippur yetzias Mitzrayim, relating the story of the Exodus, is incumbent upon the grandfather, as well as the father.

The Baal Shem Tov says that herein lies a new perspective on the critical importance and the overriding responsibility one has towards the chinuch, education, of his children. The Torah intimates that the command concerning the successful passage of the torch of Torah from father to son is dependent upon the father's sense of responsibility. A father must not simply educate his son - one generation; rather, he must see to it that the chinuch he imbues in his son will carry on to the next generation as well. He must see his grandson's "face" in his son's image. If he teaches for only one generation, the chances are that if it even lasts that generation, it surely will not last much longer. We measure successful chinuch by its enduring nature, its ability to transcend and survive the test of time and challenge. When a father teaches his son, just as when a rebbe teaches his talmid, student, he must realize that before him stands not just one child, but the future potential of generations. If he imparts the lesson with feeling, love and inspiration, it will endure the test of time.

How does one teach in this manner? How does one ensure that his lesson will be successfully infused in his son/talmid for generations to come? Perhaps we can explain it utilizing the following novel approach towards mitzvah observance. In his Michtav MeiEliyahu, Horav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, zl, distinguishes between two concepts which each describe the essence of mitzvos vis-?-vis man. We find that mitzvos are referred to as chaim, life: Ki heim chayeinu, "For they are our life." In other sources, however, we find that mitzvos are called levushim, garments. He explains that these two terms apply to the manner and attitude with which one performs the mitzvos.

One can perform mitzvos with pnimius, an inwardness of the heart, with feeling, with dedication, struggling to overcome the wiles and challenges presented by the yetzer hora, evil inclination, and with mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice. This is the meaning of "life" vis-?-vis mitzvos, since it adds to the personality of the one who executes the mitzvah, a degree of sanctity which had not previously been there. To "live" means to supply a need which the ego feels and struggles to fulfill - and this need is fulfilled in such a case.

There is another manner of mitzvah performance - regrettably, one to which many of us adhere. It is the result of the way we have been raised: K'mitzvas anashim melumdah, as human commands learned by rote, or, to put it simply, complacency. This is the type of mitzvah which is called levush, "apparel." We cannot dismiss this approach; although it lacks inwardness, it can still contain considerable educational value by maintaining one's spiritual status quo, by preventing him from descending to a lower spiritual plateau. One who is surrounded by mitzvos possesses a certain tris, shield, against the yetzer hora, even if his performance is only extrinsic and superficial. Thus, mitzvos are referred to as "apparel," since clothing provides a covering over the body, a safeguard against the environment. There is kedushah, holiness, in every mitzvah endeavor - even if performed for extrinsic motives.

The Michtav MeiEliyahu delves deeper in explaining the distinction between these approaches to mitzvah observance, emphasizing the long-term effect of each. We explore two ways to perform mitzvos. One's attitude towards mitzvah performance affects his relationship with that mitzvah. One can transmit "life" to the next generation. If the role of a mitzvah is only on the "apparel" level, however, the father is hard-pressed to transfer this mitzvah to his son. After all, no "apparel" comes in "one size fits all." My jacket will fit my body - not my son's body!

I think that herein lies the secret to transmitting our Jewish heritage from generation to generation. If a father wants to transmit his mitzvah experience to his son in such a manner that he will eventually transmit it to his son (the grandson), it is necessary that the father/grandfather maintain the proper attitude/approach towards mitzvah performance. If the mitzvah is "life" to him, then he will be able to imbue this life-source in his son and grandson. If, however, it is only an activity that he carries out superficially, without feeling or devotion, the chances are that his son will observe this and not take the mitzvah to heart. He certainly will not feel it incumbent upon himself to transmit it to his son.

Perhaps the key to Sippur yetzias Mitzrayim, "relating the story of the Exodus," is to be found at the end of the pasuk: V'yidaatem ki Ani Hashem, "That you may know that I am Hashem." What does "knowing" have to do with the mitzvah of transmitting the story to one's son and grandson? Perhaps yediah, knowledge, defines our attitude. The word yediah, which is normally translated as knowledge, is also defined as turning particular attention to a subject, ie, to care deeply, to love someone. Hashem says (Bereishis 18:19), Ki yidativ, concerning Avraham Avinu, "For I have turned My particular attention to him/I have loved him." To "know" something/someone is to care deeply about him. Hashem wants Klal Yisrael to have such a deep awareness of what took place in Egypt that this awareness will catalyze within them a deep sense of love for Hashem. When one performs a mitzvah on the yediah level, it will be transmitted to the third generation.

After all is said and done, the Torah is underscoring the need for parents to inculcate their children with love for Hashem and a deep desire to carry out His mitzvos. This infusion must be strong enough to carry on for generations. To the parent who comments, "I can only do so much; the rest is up to the school," I conclude with the timeless words of Horav S. R. Hirsch, zl, "If there is one lesson that Judaism teaches about the family, it is this: There can be no substitute for the mother and father in producing a Jewish child and in ensuring Jewish continuity. The best of schools cannot achieve what even the average parent can achieve when it comes to Jewish education."

Horav Moshe Aharon Stern, zl, quotes Horav Eliyahu Lopian, zl, who explains the Rama's addendum to the Shulchan Aruch. The Mechaber (author of the Shulchan Aruch, Horav Yosef Karo, zl) writes that, when a boy reaches the age of bar-mitzvah and receives his first Aliyah, is called up to the Torah, his father recites the Baruch Shepitrani, blessing Hashem for absolving him from the punishment for the deeds of this person - namely, his son. The Mechaber is of the opinion that the blessing is made b'Shem u'Malchus, using Hashem's Name. From now on, once the boy has entered adulthood, the boy is responsible for himself. He is no longer the father's headache. His son is now an adult.

The Rama agrees that a brachah is recited - only without including Hashem's Name. Hence, the father says, Baruch Shepitrani meiansho shelzeh. Why is this? Rav Elya explains that a parent is freed from responsibility for his child's deeds - only in such a case that the father has given his son proper correct chinuch, Torah education, prior to his becoming a bar mitzvah.

If he has given his son the proper chinuch and later the child decides (on his own) to reject it, the father is not responsible. The Rama feels that no one can truly assert that he has given his son the complete proper chinuch. Issues always arise during a child's formative years which can necessitate augmenting a child's chinuch. Some parents take action; others do not. We may have the right intention, but this does not necessarily catalyze the right results. If a father cannot stand up and say with all certainty that he has given his son the right chinuch, then he cannot make the brachah with Hashem's Name, because it might be a brachah l'vatalah, in vain.

One thing is certain. As parents, we can and should see to it that we serve as the proper role models for our children. If we do this, if we make every effort to set the proper standard for our children to emulate, we will merit to derive Torah nachas from our children.

Please speak in the ears of the People. (11:2)

Rashi quotes the Midrash which explains the reason that Hashem asked Moshe Rabbeinu to make a special effort to convince the Jews to request valuables from the Egyptians. If they would not do so, the neshamah, soul, of Avraham Avinu would take umbrage, saying that Hashem had carried out His promise that the Jews would be enslaved and persecuted, while he had not carried out the second prophecy, concerning the Jews' exodus amid great wealth. It appears that Hashem's primary concern was regarding what Avraham would say. What about Hashem's word? The Almighty informed Avraham that two things would occur: imminent slavery and persecution, followed by leaving with great material wealth. Is His word not sufficient reason for asking the Jews to borrow from the Egyptians? What does Avraham have to add to the equation?

The commentators, each in his own inimitable manner, offer perspective concerning this question. In his Sefer Dorash Mordechai, Horav Mordechai Druk, Shlita, quotes an explanation he heard from the Klausenberger Rebbe, zl, based upon an incident which took place during the frightening days of the Holocaust. The men were placed on different blocks. The Rebbe found his assigned "bed" was next to that of a Jew who had abandoned the faith, someone we refer to as a yehudi mumar.

It was late one night when the mumar whispered to the Rebbe, "You know, despite my rejection of the Jewish faith, I will nevertheless receive a portion in Olam Habba, the World to Come."

The Rebbe was shocked by this man's statement. "You? How is that possible? You are a meshumad, apostate. Why would you deserve Olam Habba?" the Rebbe asked.

"Let me explain," the man began. "The accursed Hitler sent me to the camps because, after searching back for three generations, he found Jewish blood in my lineage. Apparently, for Hitler, the slightest connection with Judaism is sufficient reason to subject me to persecution, deprivation and death. I figured that if I am 'Jew' enough to suffer with you, I am, therefore, also good enough to enter Olam Habba. I do not believe that I will suffer down here and not receive a portion in the World to Come!"

When the Rebbe heard this man's logical deduction, he commented, "I thank you for allowing me to answer a question that has been bothering me for some time. I always wondered why Hashem included Avraham's potential grievance as a reason for having the Jewish People leave Egypt with material wealth. Now I have gained a new perspective on the issue. After all, did Hashem owe anything to the Jews? They had descended to the forty-ninth level of spiritual contamination. They worshipped idols in Egypt. Certainly, Hashem owed them nothing.

"However, Hashem had given His word to Avraham that they would be enslaved, and that they would leave wealthy. Can you imagine what our Patriarch Avraham would say? 'Hashem, if they were Jewish enough to suffer persecution, they must also be worthy of leaving with wealth'!"

And you shall redeem every human first born among your sons. (13:13)

The mitzvah of Pidyon HaBen is a rite of passage mitzvah in which the firstborn son is redeemed for five silver coins. This is an important mitzvah, in that the child/b'chor/firstborn is like a Kohen, since the priesthood was once the domain of the firstborn. They lost it, and it was transferred over to Shevet/Tribe of Levi, of which the Kohanim became the replacement b'chorim. Thus, every firstborn harbors a degree of sanctity which must be redeemed, since he cannot use it. In the following incident, we see exactly how important the mitzvah of Pidyon HaBen really is.

Rav Meir Gruzman is Rav in Tel Aviv and also teaches a Judaism course for Israeli soldiers in the military academy. This course covers basic Judaism, its history and hashkafah, philosophy, heralding back to the Revelation at Har Sinai, and continuing on to the issues confronted by Jews in modern times. One day, following an especially spirited class explaining the concept of nevuah, prophecy, and the unique nature and distinction of those chosen by Hashem to be His prophets, he was asked by one of his students, a captain, "Do we still have such men of stature who represent the spiritual elite to the Jewish People?" Rav Gruzman responded with a short discourse on the thirty-six tzaddikim, righteous Jews, in whose merit this world is sustained. He talked for a few minutes about the truly righteous Jews of past generations and their achievements. He saw, however, that the student was not buying his reply: "I am not asking about the past. I want to know about the here and now. Do we have such righteous people today?"

Rav Gruzman was about to navigate the topic to a different subject, when, suddenly, one of the students raised his hand to speak. He was a decorated colonel by the name of Samuel: "I would like to share with the class a perspective to which I was personally privy. It is a story of a great man, who, I think, will fit the bill.

"Let me first introduce myself. I was born in Bucharest, Romania, during the Communist occupation. The country was agnostic, G-d playing no role whatsoever in the lives and outlook of its citizens. My parents were no different. We knew that we were Jewish, but we did not know what being Jewish meant - other than being reviled by the Communists. As a young child, I was healthy physically. My first three years of life were no different than that of any other young boy.

"Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, I began fainting whenever I heard a noise. The slightest sound, even a cup falling to the ground, would cause me to faint. If a bus passing my house would make a loud noise, I would convulse and faint. My parents feared the worst. They stuffed my ears with cotton and took me from doctor to doctor. There was no specialist that we did not see. They exhausted me with tests covering my entire body - all to no avail. They remained clueless to my illness. No one knew why an otherwise healthy boy was constantly fainting when he heard noise.

"We finally returned to Bucharest, exhausted and wasted. My mother wanted to keep on hoping for some type of cure, but the doctors were not very reassuring. They could not figure out the source of my problem. My mother was sitting there one day, bemoaning her life and my predicament to a close family friend, who, albeit also assimilated, did have some knowledge of Judaism. 'Have you gone to a tzaddik, righteous person, for a blessing?' the woman asked my mother. 'Never,' my mother replied. 'What can a tzaddik do that the greatest specialist could not do? Is he a doctor? Does he know anything about medicine? How could he help me?'

"The friend was adamant: 'You cannot give up hope until you have tried everything. Go to this tzaddik and petition his blessing. What do you have to lose?' she asked.

"We went to this holy Jew. I was a four-year-old boy, but I remember his eyes. They were piercing - yet soft and caring. His entire countenance and bearing bespoke a man who carried enormous responsibility on his shoulders. I never saw an angel, but, if I had to imagine the appearance of an angel, I would describe the image of this tzaddik.

"He asked my mother various questions concerning my symptoms, who the doctors were with whom we had consulted, and which medical centers we had visited. Finally, after obtaining a complete image of my medical picture, he asked my mother, 'Since he is your firstborn, did you perform the Pidyon HaBen rite with him?' My mother had no idea what he was talking about, and she said so. 'What is a Pidyon HaBen, and what impact does it have on my son's health?' she asked somewhat impatiently.

"The holy tzaddik was very patient as he described the entire procedure to my mother, explaining the significance of the mitzvah. Meanwhile, worshippers were entering the building on their way to the shul to pray the Minchah, afternoon service. The tzaddik called in a minyan, quorum of ten men, including among them a Kohen, and performed the mitzvah of Pidyon HaBen. I remember that, at the conclusion of the ceremony, the tzaddik took my hand in his and said, 'In the merit of the mitzvah you will be healed.'

"From that day on, I became a changed person. Noise no longer bothered me. The windows of my house could now be kept open; no more cotton in my ears. I no longer needed them."

Obviously, everyone wanted to know the name of this holy Rebbe. Samuel said it was the Buhasher Rebbe. Samuel added that every year on Erev Rosh Hashanah he, together with his family, visit the Rebbe and petition his blessing for a healthy new year.

And it shall be a sign upon your arm, and an ornament between your eyes. (13:16)

The four Scriptural passages contained in the Tefillin are basic to Judaism. They address the concepts of the Oneness of G-d, reward and punishment, and the obligation of a Jew to observe all of the mitzvos of the Torah. Also contained therein is a reminder of the Exodus which catalyzed our freedom from tyranny, leading up to our acceptance of the Torah and eventual initiation as Hashem's People. Thus, wearing Tefillin daily is an affirmation of our belief in all of the above. A Jew who does not put on Tefillin is referred to as a poshei Yisrael b'gufo, Jewish sinner with his body, which serves as the vehicle for this transgression. One who wears Tefillin not only fulfills a most important mitzvah, but he also wraps himself in an insurance policy, which is demonstrated by the following episode.

Horav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zl, symbolized ameilus baTorah, toil in Torah, at its zenith. His brilliant encyclopedic knowledge was without peer. His mastery over Torah granted him the unique power which allowed him to have a penetrating insight into situations which would elude others. Commensurate to his great strengths was his outstanding humility. He made every effort not to call attention to himself, by constantly playing down his involvement in a specific endeavor. During the shivah, seven-day mourning period, following his passing, the following story came to light.

A Kollel fellow from Elad (city in Eretz Yisrael near Tel Aviv) went for an outing with his family. They all climbed into the family van and set out on their journey. Sadly, shortly after they left, they were involved in a collision with another vehicle. Everyone in his family suffered injuries - none life-threatening, but painful. Their oldest son, a b'chor, firstborn, who was at the time nine and a half years old, did sustain serious injuries. For the first few hours, he hovered between life and death. The doctors performed brain surgery on the child, which was partially successful. They saved his life, but they saw little hope that he would ever regain his full brain function. They felt that, to a certain extent, he had suffered irreversible brain damage. He would be mentally deficient for the rest of his life.

The father, who was miraculously the only one not to have sustained injury in the crash, was beside himself. He could not accept the surgeon's diagnosis, and he went all over Eretz Yisrael to various tzaddikim, righteous Jews, to petition their blessing for his son. One of the father's close friends was a Tefillin-maker and scribe. As a result of his vocation, he had opportunity to speak often with Rav Elyashiv. He offered to go to the gadol hador, preeminent Torah leader of the generation, to ask for his blessing.

The man quickly took the boy, who at the time was in bed staring out in space, to Rav Eliyashiv. The Rav listened to the story and responded, "Go home and bring a pair of Tefillin and place them on the boy's head." The only available pair of Tefillin he had at home were in preparation - plain, undyed boxes that did not in any way resemble the real thing. Rav Elyashiv felt that Tefillin would engender positive results. The man quickly picked up the Tefillin and brought them to the home of the young boy. Following the instructions of Rav Elyashiv, he put the Tefillin on the boy.

The surgeon walked into the room to see, to his shock, a boy in a coma wearing Tefillin. He thought the scribe insane, but respectfully did not raise a ruckus. He turned around and quietly left the room, thinking that this time the rabbi was totally insane.

One week later, the boy was standing on his feet. Two weeks after he had been administered the "Tefillin medication," the boy left the hospital on his own volition. That same day, he attended shul, standing next to his father, davening. It was as if nothing had ever happened. The surgeon now agreed that nothing short of a miracle could have affected such results.

Only a handful of people were aware of this story. That was Rav Elyashiv. He did not seek or want any publicity. It remained circulated only within the immediate family. The boy's father had occasion to be in Bnei Brak, so he visited Horav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita. After relating the story to him, Rav Chaim listened and then commented, "The Midrash states: (Hashem says) 'I did not create a head (for no) other (reason) than to put Tefillin on it.'" Rav Chaim added, "If there are Tefillin, then there is a reason for a head!"

When the story was related during the shivah, a member of the family commented, "That was the fourth time that a person was saved through the vehicle of Tefillin."

Va'ani Tefillah

V'Nachon V'kayam - and established and enduring.

The Torah in Sefer Devarim 13:15 addresses the sin of the ir ha'nidachos, wayward city, in which the members of a city in the Holy Land come under the influence of idolaters and all turn to idol worship. V'hinei emes v'nachon hadavar, "And behold it is true, and established/correct." The pasuk distinguishes between emes, truth, and nachon, established/correct. Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, explains the difference between the two terms and applies this idea to the meaning of the adjective nachon, established, which is recited following Krias Shema.

Emes, true, refers to the testimony rendered by the witnesses who confirm that the city had been subverted to idol worship. V'nachon, the matter was established, refers to the thought process and logical analysis of the judges. Once they have listened to the witnesses they digest the testimony and think it through. The result is nachon: it makes sense; it is correct; it is factual.

We add v'kayam, "and enduring". Our belief, based upon understanding, is here to stay. It will never be altered, but will stand and endure forever. All of the descriptions apply to G-d. His promises to His People and His assurances of reward and punishment are all included in "this matter," which we proclaim to be true. It will endure forever.

Sponsored in loving memory
Vivian Stone
Chaya Leah bas Shimon a"h
niftara 18 Shevat 5769
By her children
Birdie and Lenny Frank and Family

Peninim on the Torah is in its 20th year of publication. The first fifteen years have been published in book form.

The Fifteenth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

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