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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Between Paran and Tofel and Lavan, and Chatzeiros and Di Zahav. (1:1)

Rashi explains that these names are all allusions to a variety of sins committed by the people. Paran is a reference to the wilderness of Paran from where the meraglim, spies, were sent out. In an alternative explanation, Rashi says that Chatzeiros also refers to the sin of the spies, since Chatzeiros is where Miriam was punished for speaking ill of Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe said to them, "You should have learned a lesson about lashon hora, defamatory speech, from what Hashem did to Miriam at Chatzeiros. Yet, you went ahead and spoke against Hashem and Eretz Yisrael." We wonder why it was necessary to rebuke them twice for the same sin.

The Maharal m'Prague explains that the first rebuke was for the actual sin of speaking disparagingly. The second reproach was specifically for not learning a lesson from the incident of Miriam. Exclusive of the actual sin is another indiscretion - that of a failure to derive a deterrent from what happened to Miriam as a result of her strong criticism of Moshe. One who sees the effect of a sin and does not take note to correct his own ways is by the omission itself committing a sin.

These are the words which Moshe spoke… between Paran and Tofel and Lavan. (1:1)

Rashi explains that Moshe Rabbeinu's words were an admonishment to the people, and the places that he mentioned are allusions to various sins that occurred. "Paran" is a reference to the sin of the meraglim, spies, who were sent from the wilderness of Paran, and "Tofel" and "Lavan" refer to the Jews' complaints concerning the manna. Upon studying the text, two questions present themselves. First, the word "between" (between Paran and Tofel and Lavan) suggests a connection between the two aforementioned incidents. Yet, this is hardly possible, since the two sins occurred thirty-eight years apart. The meraglim sinned right at the beginning of their forty-year sojourn, while the complaint about the manna occurred near the end.

Second, the names Tofel and Lavan are enigmatic. The word "tofel" in Hebrew means to attach, and "lavan" means white. These definitions imply that the people attached one word to another to formulate their complaint about the manna, which happened to be white. What aspect of the Torah's allusion to the manna underscores its color?

In addressing these questions, Horav David Feinstein, Shlita, suggests that the connection between the two sins was the Jews' complaining. In the incident of the spies, they complained about Eretz Yisrael; concerning the manna, they referred to it as lechem haklokeil, the light bread. The common thread that runs between them is that in both cases they were tired of living under Hashem's constant observation. Chazal teach us that the manna was white because it whitened, cleansed, Klal Yisrael's sins.

The manna communicated a compelling lesson to each individual when he gathered it. Each day, they were able to gather only one measure of manna per family member. This measure was edible for only that day. If they would attempt to gather extra, it was useless, since it would disappear by the time they arrived at home. Also, any leftover manna became wormy at the end of the day. Thus, it was essential that Klal Yisrael maintain its utmost faith that Hashem would provide their gift of manna on the next day. Every day, each Jew would examine his actions: Was he worthy of manna for another day - or not? He knew that if he was not worthy, he would not receive Hashem's gift. Consequently, the daily manna catalyzed a powerful teshuvah, repentance movement, by which daily introspection became a common and natural occurrence.

During the episode of the spies, the Jews were concerned that once they arrived in Eretz Yisrael, their every action would once again be under constant Heavenly scrutiny. Does not Moshe later tell the Jews that Eretz Yisrael is a land "where the eyes of Hashem are on it from the beginning of the year until the end of the year"? (Devarim 11:12) They knew that they were leaving the scrutiny created by the daily manna to live under the scrutiny of Eretz Yisrael. This was very likely why the spies' negative report made them want to go back to Egypt. They were not interested in living under such close perusal.

During both incidents, the spies and the manna, the people had a parallel complaint: Hashem was watching them too closely. It was more than they were willing to confront. When one is insecure about himself and diffident about his actions, if he questions the integrity of his service to Hashem, it would make sense that he could not deal with scrutiny from above. He has two choices: either he cleans up his act and changes his ways; or he learns to live with scrutiny.

You shall not fear in the face of man. (1:17)

The Torah exhorts the judges not to adjudicate out of fear, lest it color their attitude toward the case.

When the Brisker Rav, zl, was rav in Brisk, there lived a young man from a wealthy family who was a moser, government informer, who was the cause of much pain and anguish in the community. When his mother died, she left in her will that when her son married, the rav of Brisk should officiate at the wedding ceremony. A short while later, the young man became engaged, and he requested that the Brisker Rav officiate at his wedding. The rav refused emphatically, saying that it was forbidden to officiate at the wedding of an informer.

The groom offered the rav a substantial amount of money to change his mind, to no avail. The Brisker Rav was not swayed by material benefits. The young man threatened to go to the authorities and inform on the rav, as he had done before to another rav. The Brisker Rav was not moved by his threats. The community was in an uproar. They were acutely aware of the groom's threats and the dire consequences. The leaders of the community, together with the Rav's closest students, entreated him to rescind his decision.

On Motzoei Shabbos, the rav raised his cup to recite Havdalah, and at that moment another one of the rav's close students entered the house. The rav, knowing fully-well the purpose of his visit, became so agitated that he spilled the wine from the cup.

After he calmed down, the rav told him, "I know why you have come here. You should know that only one thing determines my actions - halachah, Jewish law. If you will prove to me that halachah permits me to officiate at the wedding of an informer - I will do so. If, however, you cannot, and the halachah is as I arbitrated it, then there is no alternative but to refuse to go through with this travesty."

Once Horav Yechezkel Abramsky, zl, was asked to arbitrate a monetary dispute. His response to the questioner was that he had nothing to worry about. The questioner was concerned, lest people circulate rumors regarding his integrity in business, asserting that he was not acting in accordance with halachah. Rav Chatzkel replied, "What will people say? This is a common malady. What did people say when they walked behind Boaz's coffin at his funeral? Surely, the slanderers were saying, 'He died the day after he married Rus, the Moabite. For transgressing a Biblical ordinance, Hashem immediately punished him.' This is what some people were saying. They were certainly not aware of Chazal's interpretation of 'Movi v'lo Moavis,' a (male) member of Moav, but not a Moabite, female member. Rus was totally permitted to Boaz, yet people talk. Who says we must concern ourselves with those who are unschooled and not proficient in Jewish law?"

Furthermore, not only was this absolutely not a punishment for Boaz, on the contrary, it was a blessing. Hashem, the Mesabev sevivos, cause of all causes, catalyzed a chain of events that Boaz should merit one more mitzvah, one more unprecedented opportunity - to sow the seeds of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, one day before he was to leave this world." As usual, there are always those who will see things in the negative, because they look through a distorted spectrum. Then there are those who look with an emes, with veracity, and see the positive aspect of an occurrence. It all depends on the lens through which one gazes.

But Hashem did not listen to your voice and He did not give ear to you. You stayed in Kadesh many days, (as many) as the days that you dwelt. (1:45,46)

Rashi tells us that they remained in Kadesh for nineteen years, half of the thirty-eight remaining years they were to spend in the wilderness. In the Midrash, Chazal say that Tefillah oseh mechtzah, "Prayer makes/accomplishes one-half." The Netziv, zl, explains that when Klal Yisrael heard the terrible decree that befell them, that they would now have to spend thirty-eight more years in the wilderness, they cried bitterly and supplicated Hashem to rescind His devastating decree. While their prayer did not fully succeed in eradicating Hashem's decree, it did achieve partial success in that they were allowed to remain in one place for an extended period of time, cutting back on their wandering. The Netziv teaches us a compelling lesson. One should never despair, even if he does not notice an apparent response to his prayers. No prayer is wasted. The response may be negative, but there certainly is a positive consequence as a result of one's prayer.

Our gedolei Yisrael, Torah leaders, exemplified the three pillars which sustain the world. Torah, Avodah and Gemillus chasadim - the study of Torah, service to G-d, i.e. prayer, and acts of loving-kindness. Yet, there were individuals who, besides exemplifying distinction in Torah knowledge, their avodas ha'lev, service of the heart, was quintessential. The Steipler Rav, himself an individual whose prayers were known for their wondrous efficacy, said about the Manchester Rosh Yeshivah, Horav Yehudah Zev Segal, zl, that he was the Amud ha'Tefillah, Pillar of prayer, of our generation. Anyone who saw the Rosh Yeshivah daven witnessed avodah sh'blev at its zenith. When the Rosh Yeshivah prayed, he felt himself in the presence of the Almighty in every sense of the word. I once had the privilege of seeing him recite the Birkas Asher yotzar; it was an experience I will always remember.

On a return flight from Eretz Yisrael, the Rosh Yeshivah was in the midst of Shemoneh Esrai, when the plane was struck by lightening. The passengers were understandably shaken and remained so, until the pilot announced the all-clear. A secular Jew who observed the Rosh Yeshivah continue his Shemoneh Esrai throughout the ordeal as if nothing had occurred, seemingly oblivious to the anxiety shared by all the passengers, said, "It was surely in the rabbi's merit that we were saved."

As an aid to proper kavanah, concentration, during his prayers, the Rosh Yeshivah recited every Tefillah from a text. His Asher Yotzar was recited from a Siddur with the intensity and concentration of a person saying Neilah, the closing prayer on Yom Kippur.

The Rosh Yeshivah saw nothing belittling in davening from a Siddur with a translation. In fact, he felt that this improved one's concentration. On Hoshanah Rabah one year, someone offered him a card on which were printed the Hoshanos to facilitate encircling the Bimah with a Lulav and Esrog. The Rosh Yeshivah thanked the person, but declined to use the card saying that he preferred to daven with his large Siddur, even though it was somewhat cumbersome, because it contained a translation.

Kavanah was something he would always emphasize concerning davening. He advised his talmidim, students, to be mindful of the axiom in Orach Chaim 1:4: "Better a little with kavanah than a lot without kavanah."

The Rosh Yeshivah felt that spiritual refinement was the result of proper Tefillah. He felt that the term avodas ha'lev, service of the heart, had a deeper connotation. Prayer, when approached properly, is a service that refines the heart, as it draws the supplicant closer to the Almighty and deepens his understanding of his purpose in life.

His efforts in Tefillah were based to a large degree in his firm faith in prayer's power to help in the most devastating situations, even when everything seemed hopeless. Once, an x-ray indicated that a certain individual was stricken with a dreaded disease. A subsequent x-ray showed no sign of illness. The Rosh Yeshivah explained the apparent contradiction between the x-rays in the following manner. "The first x-ray was not wrong. Your disease was there, but the power of prayer rescinded the decree."

When a yeshivah student was diagnosed with a dreaded disease, the doctors attempted to save his life through surgery. Regrettably, the surgery was not successful in reversing the course of the disease, and the doctors soon despaired for his life. The boy's father approached the Rosh Yeshivah for a brachah, blessing, for his son's life. Following the Chafetz Chaim's suggestion, the Rosh Yeshivah told the father that if he would dedicate his son's life to Torah, he would have a complete recovery. Although the father had been planning for his son to pursue a secular career, he readily agreed to the Rosh Yeshivah's suggestion. That night as the Rosh Yeshivah davened the Shemoneh Esrai of Maariv, he was heard saying, Tatte! Ich hob em tzugezagt, "Father! I promised him." He felt that his Tefillah achieved success - a feeling that was soon substantiated when the family sought a second opinion. The second doctor felt that the patient's alarming weakness was attributed to having been given the wrong medication. As soon as a new prescription was administered, the boy's condition improved. Today, he is a healthy, outstanding talmid chacham, Torah scholar, and has raised a beautiful family.

Due to his total devotion to Tefillah, the Rosh Yeshivah became an individual that people would turn to from far and wide to receive his blessing. Even gentiles sought his blessing. A surgeon who operated upon the Rosh Yeshivah asked that he blessed with steady hands, so that he could continue his work for many years to come. The Rosh Yeshivah was once hospitalized and was attended to by a talmid, student. The talmid happened to be in the corridor and noticed a gentile woman pacing nervously up and down the corridor. He asked her what was the matter. She replied that her four-year old son had fallen from a tree and lay in a coma. When the talmid related this later to the Rosh Yeshivah, he appeared pained and said, "And what if he is a gentile? - Does it not say, V'rachamav al kol maasov, 'And His mercy is on All His works.' And this is a child untainted by sin." He instructed the talmid to ask the woman for her son's name and then mentioned the name and repeated the phrase, V'rachamav al kol maasov.

A few days later, the woman joyfully informed the talmid that her son had regained consciousness, and the doctors were hopeful for a complete recovery. "It is all due to the Rabbi's prayers," she declared.

Upon being told the news, the Rosh Hayeshivah in his inimitable manner responded, V'rachamov al kol maasov.

Va'ani Tefillah

She'asah li kol tzarki - Who provided me my every need.

As mentioned earlier, this brachah is associated with the tying of the shoestrings. The Abudraham explains the connection to shoes in the following manner: As long as one is barefooted, he is limited in where he can go and what he can do. He cannot go to work or go into public areas to attend to his needs. Now that he puts on his shoes, he is able to address his needs.

Notably, the blessing is recited in the past tense. This is recognition of the fact that all our needs are already provided for us by Hashem, even before the day begins. Hashem decrees the amount of money we will earn. It is up to us to go out and collect it. It is through our efforts that Hashem's miraculous gifts are provided for us through what seems to be natural channels. When a person begins his day with this conviction in mind, he is much more capable of dealing with the various situations that cause anxiety and mental strain.

Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, adds that we do not realize the meaning of kol tzarki, all/every needs. Do we realize how many needs we have? He comments that it was not until he moved from one house to another - and he took note of the countless boxes and containers of household and personal possessions that he possessed - that he realized how much are our "needs."

l'iylu nishmas
R' Yaakov Zev ben R' Yehuda Aryeh z'l
niftar 7 Av 5755

By his wife, their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren
Mrs. Jeanne Fogel
Rabbi Yudie & Chaya Sarah Fogel,Nussie & Esther Fogel, Shalom & Ettie Fogel, Yosie & Bryndie Fogel, Rabbi Dovid & Liz Jenkins, Rabbi Yitzie & Bryndie Fogel, Rabbi Avi & Suri Pearl and their families

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