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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And Di Zahav. (1:1)

Was there such a place as Di Zahav? Rashi explains that this term is an allusion to a place in which Klal Yisrael sinned. Di Zahav literally means, "enough gold." Moshe Rabbeinu chastised the people, saying, "You became spoiled because you had so much gold, causing you to make the Golden Calf." The problem with this exposition is that it seems to be more of a defense than a rebuke. Moshe justified the Golden Calf, explaining that the people had overreacted to the multitude of gold that was suddenly theirs. Another question asked by Horav David Feinstein, Shlita, concerns the fact that Moshe seemed to be implying that wealth only leads to evil. In Parashas Lech Lecha (Bereishis 12:2), however, Hashem promises Avraham Avinu, "And I will bless you." Chazal interpret this to be a blessing for wealth. Which is it: good or bad?

Rav David explains that essentially people manifest two different attitudes towards wealth: one good and one bad. One who is arrogant about his financial success will most likely ignore his responsibility to Hashem. After all, his wealth is his doing. He conveniently forgets the "Hashem factor" in life.

The individual, however, who maintains David Hamelech's words (Divrei Hayamim I, 29:14), "Everything is Yours, and from Your hand we have given to You," understands that all wealth belongs to Hashem, and the person is nothing more than a banker in Hashem's employ. Whatever he has received from Hashem is everything that he needs. He has whatever he requires for himself, and the remainder is to be distributed to the poor and used for other mitzvos. For him, wealth is a blessing. He does not feel that he has more than he needs. Indeed, he has exactly what he needs.

Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, notes that these two attitudes distinguished Yaakov Avinu from Eisav. When the two brothers met, Eisav remarked about his wealth, Yeish li rav, "I have plenty" (Bereishis 33:9). He was indicating that he had more than he could use. It was all his, and he did not feel obligated to anyone else for it. Yaakov, however, said, Yeish li kol, "I have everything." He realized that he had everything that he was supposed to have. It was now his responsibility to figure out what it is that Hashem, Who was the source of his wealth, wanted him to do with it.

This was Moshe's criticism of the Jews: "You thought that you had enough money, that your money was a play thing, something to enjoy, something to serve you. That is why you deviated and created a Golden Calf. Had you realized that wealth comes with a purpose, that Hashem's gifts are yours for a reason. Had you been aware that with wealth comes obligation, you would not have acted so foolishly."

On the other hand, Hashem knew that Avraham understood how to value and appreciate the wealth that He would grant him. He would help those in need, and he would sanctify Hashem's Name in the world. For someone with such a lofty attitude, wealth is truly a blessing.

These are the words which Moshe spoke to all of Yisrael. (1:1)

During the five weeks prior to his passing, Moshe Rabbeinu reviewed with Klal Yisrael their errors and the sins that they had committed during their forty-year trek in the wilderness. He neither castigated them harshly nor admonished them in an angry manner. Rather, he alluded to incidents and places in which their actions angered Hashem. Reproving a sinner is a mitzvah and a moral obligation. When we see someone engaged in a wrongdoing, we are enjoined to call his errant behavior to attention. This reprovement must be carried out with love, sensitivity and consideration. The individual's dignity must be upheld. Our goal must be to help him avoid falling into the abyss of sin and to encourage his return to a Torah way of life. If our reproach, however, will have a negative effect, if it will deflate the individual, catalyzing depression and despair, the reproach can be counterproductive. Our critique must be couched in such a manner that it catalyzes teshuvah, repentance, - not despair.

Another instance in which rebuke is not the correct course of action is in a situation in which the rebuke is likely to be scorned. We find that Hashem informed Avraham Avinu of His plans to destroy the wicked city of Sodom. Avraham risked the wrath of Hashem by attempting to ameliorate the sentence. He succeeded in receiving a major concession from Hashem: Hashem would spare the city if it contained a certain number of righteous persons. Sodom was not spared, however, because the city lacked the requisite number of righteous persons. The question that should confront us is: Why, during this entire time, did Avraham not admonish the people of Sodom concerning their behavior? If they were so cruel, they should have been rebuked and taken to task. Nowhere do we find that Avraham attempted to offer words of reproach, or even tried to influence their return to a life of moral rectitude.

In response to this question, Horav Avraham Pam, zl, cites the Dubno Maggid who quotes the Talmud in Yevamos 65b, which says that just as there is a mitzvah to offer rebuke when it will be accepted, so, too, is it a mitzvah to withhold rebuke when it will not be accepted. They cite a pasuk in Mishlei 9:8, "Do not rebuke a scoffer, lest he hate you. Rebuke a wise man and he will love you." The second part of the pasuk (rebuke a wise man) seems to have no bearing on the point Chazal are emphasizing.

The Maggid explains that Chazal are teaching us an important lesson with regard to rebuke. One should not criticize people when he knows that they will not listen to his words. He who insists on rebuking others, despite a clear knowledge that he will be ignored, risks being considered a fanatic and even losing his credibility altogether. This will affect his later capacity to effect any influence on the sinner. His potentiality for success in helping others has been compromised as a result of his being labeled a fanatic.

In an attempt to emphasize this point, Chazal quote the entire pasuk, which tells us that if one wants to succeed in rebuking a wise man, he must refrain from rebuking a scoffer, lest he hate him and destroy his validity and effectiveness. We now understand why Avraham Avinu did not bother to critique the people of Sodom. He understood that he would not succeed; his words would fall on deaf ears. Moreover, they would scoff at him and even hate him. This would preclude his ability to reach others. In order to inspire and influence the rest of the world, Avraham had to maintain his credibility. He could hardly afford to undermine his facility to influence and teach. By not castigating the people of Sodom, Avraham was preserving his ability to reprove others who would listen more responsibly.

This also explains why Noach's reproof of the people of his generation did not succeed. For one hundred and twenty years, he built an ark. He explained to everyone that he was trying to save them from certain death. They laughed; they scoffed; they ridiculed him. His pleas fell on deaf ears. Why? Because they labeled him a fanatic. Once the label was placed, it was readily accepted by all, because no one wants to hear a negative assessment of himself. If they could subvert his efforts by destroying his credibility, they could continue along their merry way, sin after sin, without being hampered by Noach. When it comes to rebuke, it is not what is said, but how it is said, and to whom.

Horav Mendel Kaplan, zl, the legendary Rosh Yeshivah in both Chicago and Philadelphia, was known for his acute sensitivity to people's feelings. When he gave mussar, reprimanded his students, he was as sensitive to their feelings as he was to the one they had inadvertently hurt. The students in the yeshivah were upset with the cook for the usual reason: no "variety" in their lunches. For the last thirteen days, the lunch menu had consisted of egg salad and red jello. A group of bachurim, young men, sent a sarcastic letter to the administration requesting a change - yellow jello and red egg salad. The administration responded, but the cook was crushed. She was so upset that for months she could not face the bachurim, turning her head away as they came into line for their portion.

One day, as Rav Mendel gave shiur, he interrupted the regular topic to discuss the importance of not embarrassing others. He cited the Talmud Berachos 43b that posits that it is better to jump into a fiery furnace than to embarrass someone in public. None of the students understood why the rosh yeshivah was interjecting this quote into the regular Talmud shiur until Rav Mendel concluded, "It would be better to eat nothing but jello and egg salad for an entire lifetime than to embarrass someone publicly." They suddenly realized to what he was referring. In his subtle and sensitive manner, he had conveyed his message to them.

Like everything He did for you in Egypt, before your eyes. (1:30)

When Hashem liberated Klal Yisrael from Egypt, He did more than free them from physical bondage. He made sure that the torment and misery to which they were subjected would also come to a halt. Hashem saw to it that the upheaval of the Egyptian experience would not be the Jew's companion when he left the bondage. The Ohr HaChaim Hakadosh notes this in his commentary to Parashas Beshalach. This is indicated by the fact that each Jew recognized his individual Egyptian tormentor. Prior to that Egyptian's drowning in the Red Sea, he was brought before the Jew, who assailed him for his subjugation. Afterwards, the Jew instructed his dog to eat the hand which the Egyptian used to beat him. Furthermore, after the sea drowned the Egyptians, they were thrown back on the shore, so that the Jews could see that they were all gone. The Jews could now live safely, secure in the knowledge that the demons who persecuted them were destroyed.

Horav A. Dunner, Shlita, suggests that this is the reason for Chazal's exposition on the pasuk in the Shirah, Zeh Keili v'anveihu, "This is my G-d I will beatify Him," Chazal say, "Beautify yourselves before Him with mitzvos." They emphasized the significance of hiddur mitzvah, performing a mitzvah to its fullest, in the most dignified and beautiful manner. What relationship does hiddur mitzvah have with the parting of the sea and the drowning of the Egyptians? Rav Dunner explains that Klal Yisrael are hereby expressing their overwhelming appreciation to Hashem for saving them "b'hiddur" in a complete, fulfilled manner, making sure that they would not be anguished with the memories, or accompanied by the demons that normally follow a person after sustaining such an ordeal. In appreciation, we will perform His mitzvos with the utmost of hiddur.

And you shall not provoke war with them. (2:9)

Rashi notes the disparity between Hashem's admonishment concerning Bnei Ammon and the manner in which He instructed them not to engage Moav in battle. He did not tell them that they were forbidden to put the fear of G-d into them. Nothing was wrong with a display of weapons and armor - as long as there would be no war. Concerning Ammon, however, they were told explicitly that there was to be no contention whatsoever. Ammon was to be left alone: no fear, no battle. Why did Ammon receive such preferential treatment? What did they do to deserve such "favorable status"? Rashi attributes this to their great-grandmother's tznius, modesty. While she was no different from her sister, in that they both cohabited with their father, Lot, during his drunken stupor, she did not publicize her illicit behavior. Her moral "chastity" in contrast to that of her older sister merited her protection many years later for her descendants.

Our initial reaction to Rashi's statement would probably be, "That's it?" Does one little display of decency following an act of perversion make such a difference? It just seems a bit surprising. As Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, notes, however, Hashem has a different standard, and long after a simple action has been forgotten, He remembers it and issues the appropriate reward.

Two women: one aggrandized her perversion by publicizing it; the other was discreet about her degeneracy. Both received their due - or, at least, their descendants were either punished or rewarded. Their actions were neither ignored, nor forgotten.

With this in mind, let us now take into consideration the perek, chapter, of Tehillim recited by one's great-grandmother fifty or one hundred years ago. If Lot's daughter's decency was not forgotten, how much more so does Hashem remember our bubba's Tehillim, her tearful supplication for her progeny - both present and future? Now, it all makes sense. We see people who have strayed from the Torah way, who have deviated completely from the path chosen by their ancestors. We have given up hope for them. They will surely never return. Then, all of a sudden, they are back. They come to shul; they daven. They study Torah, and their children attend yeshivah. What happened? It was their bubba's Tehillim, her tears, her entreaties; They were not ignored. It just took a while.

We present two short stories about a mother's tears, a bubba's tears, and the effect they had many years later. Horav Aryeh Levine, zl, the venerable tzaddik of Yerushalayim, was once walking late at night in the dark streets of Yerushalayim when he chanced upon a woman sitting outside of her tiny hovel, bent over, stitching a pair of pants to the dim light of a kerosene lamp. "Excuse me," Rav Aryeh asked, "why are you sitting outside stitching those pants so late at night?" The woman noticed who stood before her, and she quickly rose in respect, explaining, "You see, I must work very hard and very long to earn the extra money I need to pay for a good rebbe for my son. I am a widow, and I have very little money. I cannot permit my son to lose out." As she spoke, tears ran down her cheeks, as the pain in her voice came through loud and clear.

This woman succeeded. Her hard work, but, above all, her sorrowful and sincere tears paid off. Her work paid for her son's Torah education, and the tears of this widow pierced the Heavens and Hashem listened. Her son became a gadol ba'Torah, preeminent Torah leader, and the Rav of Yerushalayim - Horav Betzalel Zolti, zl.

Rabbi Yechiel Spero, in his first volume of Touched by a Story, offers a vignette about a mother's tears. What makes this story interesting is that the woman was not even observant. Yet, she had the right goals and she knew for what to cry. The first Minister of Education in the newly formed State of Israel was a non-observant Jew by the name of Zalmen Oran. Although secular in ideology, his convictions were sincere. Taking his position seriously, he served with dedication and commitment.

His wife, also secular in belief, did maintain certain "traditions" that had been handed down to her from her mother. Every Friday night, she would light the Shabbos candles, covering her eyes and praying that her children grow up to be as great as the greatest Jew. To her, the greatest Jew was none other than David Ben-Gurion, the Prime Minister. Week after week, she continued with the same prayer.

During the early stages of the formation of the statutes of the state, Ben-Gurion met with the preeminent Torah leader of the generation, the venerable Chazon Ish, zl, to discuss issues that were important to the nation's spiritual survival. While Ben-Gurion did not necessarily accept everything the Chazon Ish suggested, he left the meeting incredibly moved and impressed to the point of awe from the Chazon Ish's sensitivity and saintliness. He related his feelings to his cabinet, emphasizing his amazement with the Chazon Ish's angelic presence. Zalmen Oran went home that night and related this incident to his wife. That Friday night, Mrs. Oran once again entreated the Almighty that her children grow up to be like the greatest Jew. This time, however, her appreciation of the "greatest Jew" had been altered. She now hoped they would grow up to be like the Chazon Ish.

Hashem listened to her prayers, as this incident was related to Rabbi Spero by Rabbi Baruch Heyman, a rav in Yerushalayim. A man involved in many successful Torah endeavors, he is the grandson of Mrs. Zalmen Oran. A bubba's tears never go to waste.

Va'ani Tefillah

Eizehu mekoman shel zevachim - Which are the prescribed places of the sacrifices?

Chazal have selected the Mishnah of the fifth perek of Talmud Zevachim, which describes the various sacrifices and the place where they were offered. Since this is a Mishnah, it should not be "recited" as is a tefillah, but should be actually learned. The Shelah Hakadosh suggests that one should say this perek with the niggun, melody, used for studying Mishnayos. Another distinction, as noted by Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, is that one should not merely mouth the words, but should try to understand their meaning. This is Torah learning. It is not to be simply recited. Perhaps it might be advisable to take the time to study the Mishnayos well, so that when one recites them - he is truly learning the subject matter. This perek has no machlokes, dispute in opinion, in it. Thus, it gives that it was received directly from Moshe Rabbeinu at Har Sinai. Indeed, if we note some of the text, terms such as lifnim min ha'kela'im, a reference to the Azarah, it must go back to the time of the Mishkan. Shlomo Ha'melech replaced the kela'im, curtains, of the Mishkan with stone walls. Rav Schwab adds that to learn the same chapter of Mishnayos daily, although by now we surely know it by heart, constitutes true Torah li'shmah, studying Torah purely for its own sake. This represents true avodas Hashem and will likewise serve as a merit for the petitioner.

In memory of JACK FOGEL OB"M

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

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

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