Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


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

Sefer Devarim is different in nature from the other four Chumashim. The mere fact that this sefer begins with the words, "These are the words that Moshe spoke," speaks volumes about its unique character. As a preface to the entire sefer, we will select the approaches to understanding this sefer's uniqueness. In the Talmud Megillah 31b, Chazal state that Moshe Rabbeinu himself declared the curses in Sefer Devarim. The Avnei Nezer explains that while Hashem clearly presented the material in Sefer Devarim to Moshe, it contains greater human input than the previous four. Indeed, we can view Sefer Devarim as the transition stage between Torah She'Bichsav, Written Law, and Torah She'Baal Peh, Oral Law. Sefer Devarim contains both: the Written Law with an element of human content similar to the Oral law.

The Shem MiShmuel explains his father's statement. The Talmud in Nedarim 27b states, "Had Klal Yisrael not sinned (with the Golden Calf), they would have been given only the Five Books of the Torah and Sefer Yehoshua, which contains the details of Eretz Yisrael's boundaries. Clearly, this does not mean that if not for their sin they would have received only the Written Law. The Oral Law is indispensable to understanding the Written Law. Without Chazal's interpretations, the Chumash as we know it is totally untenable. Every aspect of the Torah is given meaning and depth only with the accompaniment of the Oral Law. Every aspect of Jewish life, every mitzvah, is dependent upon the details provided to us compliments of the Torah She'Baal Peh. What do Chazal mean by this sweeping generalization?

The Midrash in Shir HaShirim teaches that each of the Aseres HaDibros, Ten Commandments, went to every member of Klal Yisrael and asked, "Do you accept me upon you? I contain so many mitzvos, so many laws, so many punishments, so many kal v'chomer, a fortiori inferences, so many rewards." Klal Yisrael responded with a resounding affirmative. In understanding this Midrash, the Shem MiShmuel explains that, at some level, the Aseres HaDibros contain all of the Taryag, 613, mitzvos of the Torah. The entire system of Torah law is included in the Ten Commandments. This may be nearly impossible for us to comprehend today - but, at the time of Divine Revelation, Klal Yisrael's perceptive and cognitive powers were enhanced beyond our ability to grasp. Thus, they perceived every word that Hashem spoke with such clarity of vision that they were able to detect every nuance of each word. Had they been able to retain this spiritual plateau, they would not have needed the vast interpretation rendered to them by the Oral Law, which is no less Divine than its written counterpart. However, they sinned. The Golden Calf debacle reduced their spiritual position, and they were no longer able to decipher the details of each mitzvah directly from the text of Torah She'Bichsav. Their perception and depth of understanding were now limited. This necessitated the transmission of Torah She'Baal Peh, in order to explain the Written Law and endow it with meaning.

Until this very day, the harmonization between the two types of Divine Torah has been the focus of Talmudic scholars throughout the generations. In the attempt to trace the laws in the oral tradition to their source in the Written Law, they not only create an intellectual appreciation of the law, but they actually create the opportunity for a return to the sinless state of mind that characterized Klal Yisrael prior to the sin. Thus, to a certain extent, the resolution of these two depths of understanding serves to counteract the ramifications of the sin of the Golden Calf.

Sefer Devarim bridges the gap between the Written and Oral Law. Due to the human element, symbolized by Moshe himself presenting the content of Sefer Devarim, it was not as difficult for Klal Yisrael to grasp its laws, derivations, and textual hints and to see the foundation of the Oral Law within it. The ethical messages of Sefer Devarim are more explicit than those of the previous four books, and, thus, are more easily appreciated. People could relate much quicker to this book as a result of its intrinsic dichotomy.

This is why the speech that Moshe delivered at the end of his life had greater impact. It had greater transparency than anything that had preceded it. As such, it aroused a feeling of power and spirituality which Klal Yisrael had not experienced since the Revelation at Har Sinai.

Horav Yaakov Weinberg, zl, cited by Rabbi Boruch Leff in his volume, "Forever His Students," takes a more basic, but similar, approach to understanding the tenor of Sefer Devarim. In the previous four books, Moshe was instructed by Hashem exactly what to write. Even the conversations that we encounter, were those selected by the Almighty to be recorded for posterity. Hashem dictated the text to Moshe word for word. Sefer Devarim was also written by Moshe in accordance with Hashem's will, but Sefer Devarim manifests a slight variation. Moshe had deep, profound thoughts that he wanted to share with the people he had led for forty years. He was about to pass on from this world, and he wanted to say "goodbye" in an instructive manner. Moshe shared his thoughts and emotions with the people. Hashem decided to include these speeches in the Torah. In other words: in the first four books Moshe simply said what Hashem had told him to say. In Sefer Devarim, Moshe spoke first - then Hashem told him to record it. In essence, they are both Hashem's words.

Rav Weinberg concludes that Sefer Devarim should be studied on two different levels. First, what was Moshe, the quintessential rebbe and greatest prophet, thinking when he said the words that comprise Sefer Devarim? Second, what are the eternal, essential values and lessons to be derived from these words once Hashem had decided to transform them from being an extraordinary human statement to be included in His Torah?

Hence, Sefer Devarim should be studied in a fashion that differs from the manner in which one studies the other four books. Each pasuk, each halachah, each ethical lesson, must be analyzed on both of the two aforementioned levels. Furthermore, we now infer that Sefer Devarim offers a more natural, innate, emotional, human connection to us. Its human element reaches in to our psyche in a manner unlike that of the other four books. Its mitzvos and ethical lessons connect to us emotionally, as well as spiritually. As we begin to study Sefer Devarim, let us take note of our warm, almost filial, relationship to its verities.

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

Parashas Devarim is also Shabbos Chazon, named after the first words of the Haftorah (Chazon Yeshayahu), which coincides with the Shabbos preceding Tisha B'Av, our national day of mourning. Moshe Rabbeinu begins this last of the five Chumashim with his rebuke to the nation that he had led for the last forty years. Likewise, Yeshayahu HaNavi rebukes the people of his generation for their misdeeds - behavior which led to the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash. Rebuke is certainly important and necessary, but is it a function that is reserved only for the gadol ha'dor, preeminent leader of the generation? Does the Torah not admonish us to offer rebuke to our fellow Jew on a one-to-one basis? "Hocheah tocheach es amisecha," "You shall reprove your fellow" (Vayikra 19:17). It is the function of every Jew to correct his fellow when he sees him erring. Is it possible that the only one to notice Klal Yisrael's infractions was Yeshayahu? Where were the others?

Horav Eliyahu Schlessinger, Shlita, cites the Brisker Rav, zl, who explained this with the following analogy. Imagine a beautiful, verdant garden containing a large variety of flowers, replete with an orchard of all types of trees. The scent that emanates from that garden is captivating. The streams and waterfalls that flow throughout the garden are clear and pure. Many people make a point to visit this luscious paradise of beauty and scent to enjoy this most pleasing sight. Whoever comes by to visit leaves enraptured by the experience. They rave for days after participating in this exhilarating experience. Well, almost everyone is excited about the garden. There is one person, however, upon whom you can always count to say something negative about the garden. He notices a flower that is wilting, a branch of a tree that has lost some of its color, or a section of grass that is too dry. Who is this person that is always pointing out the negative aspects of the garden? It is the gardener - and that is his job. In order to protect the future of the garden, he must constantly be on the alert for anything that might cause concern.

The average person who visits the garden of "life" does not sense the responsibility to make sure that it remains pristine and beautiful, nor does he voice concern about those inhabitants who act inappropriately. He is here to enjoy - for himself - not to be concerned about others. Not so the gadol, who senses that his function extends beyond visiting rights. He is like the gardener who must ensure the continued beauty and health of the garden. When he notices a tree that is not growing properly, he attends to it. When he notices a flower that is wilting, he quickly fertilizes and waters it. He weeds and waters the grass that should be greener. He addresses every aspect of the garden, so that it continues to be verdant and fruitful.

Rav Schlessinger suggests that this is why the Navi concludes his rebuke with the pasuk, "Then I will return your Judges as in earliest times, and your couselors as at first. After that you shall be called City of Righteousness, Faithful City." (Yeshaya 1:26)

The prophet prays for the day in which there will be more judges who reprove with sincerity and integrity. This communal sense of responsibility enhances people's relationships and elevates Klal Yisrael's spiritual plateau. The Talmud in Shabbos 119 teaches, "Why was Yerushalayim destroyed? Because they did not rebuke each other." Reproach catalyzes improvement in observance and ethical character. Once this takes place, the perfection that has been eluding us for so long will finally occur. At times, the most positive attitude is manifest by he who seeks out negativity - and corrects it.

A true friend will not shy away from subtly pointing out his friend's failings. This mission must be executed with sincerity, love and respect. Indeed, if one can get by without rebuking altogether, it would be more advisable. At times, it is better to close one's eyes and not see. The Pele Yoetz writes, "At times one should make himself like he does not hear and does not see, or he should acquiesce to the other's will to prevent a negative reaction." Do not look for trouble. If you find it, however, do not ignore it.

When one is compelled to offer words of admonishment, it should be couched with dignity, always making sure not to destroy the self-esteem of the individual he is rebuking. Often when someone who is already dealing with serious issues is rebuked in a negative manner, whatever is left of his self esteem descends to even lower pits of depression. This will only serve as a reason for him to continue along on his path of deviation from a life of Torah.

The Shalah HaKadosh interprets the pasuk in Mishlei 9:8, "Do not rebuke a scoffer, lest he hate you; rebuke a wise man, and he will love you," in the following manner. Do not rebuke a person by calling him a letz or any other derogatory term, in that it will only alienate him from you. Rather, tell him that he is a chacham, wise, and intelligent man, so that he will feel close to you and love you. Praise him and subtly inject some of the criticism in between words of praise. Talk to him with respect; elevate him and encourage him to continue along a path of positive service, reparation and return. By denigrating him, we only put him off.

Nobody is perfect. Everybody has some sort of deficiency. When we focus only on the individual's negative traits and deficiencies, our rebuke can backfire. The sinner will say, "I am so bad; I am so far gone, why bother turning around? I am surely not going to make it." Instead of repenting, he quite possibly will deteriorate even more. A rav of an average sized community in Poland once came to the Chafetz Chaim and complained about his inability to inspire his congregation to increase their level of shemiras Shabbos, Shabbos observance. One derashah, lecture, after another did not seem to effect any positive change in their behavior. The Chafetz Chaim asked him, "How do you speak to them?" "Oh Rebbe," he replied, "I lash into them with fire and brimstone. I scream and speak dramatically and passionately. I certainly get their attention. No one sleeps through my derashah."

Hearing this, the Chafetz Chaim asked, "Do you scream when you put on your Tefillin? Surely not. The mitzvah of tochachah, rebuke, is no different than the mitzvah of Tefillin. It is carried out with patience, relaxed, with devotion and awe - not by screaming."

Sometimes, the lack of rebuke - or a smile rendered precipitously - at a moment when one expects to be admonished can create a positive mood, which facilitates the ultimate communication. An Israeli cabdriver who recently became a baal teshuvah, returnee to mitzvah observance, revealed what had catalyzed his return. He was driving a group of Arabs on Shabbos through the streets of Yerushalayim. As he slowed down for a light, an obviously observant Jew dressed in Shabbos finery and wearing his Tallis walked by the cab. The Jew looked at him with a big smile and, in a gentle voice, said, "Shabbat Shalom." That is it. Just a simple Gut Shabbos couched with a smile of brotherly love. It penetrated years of uncertainly, years of animus, years of fear. When the cab driver dropped off his fares, he decided to park his cab and call it a day. He was no longer driving on Shabbos. Shortly thereafter, he became fully observant. All because of a smile. He expected to be called, "Sheigatz!" and, instead, he received a smile and Gut Shabbos. It saved his life. We should remember this story the next time we see one of our misguided brethren. Perhaps, our attitude might change.

Last, one Shabbos in Yeshivas Ateres Yisrael, Rebbetzin Ezrachi noticed a student who "stole" a container of milk. This bothered her greatly. Her husband, the Rosh Yeshivah, Horav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Shlita, was away for Shabbos. She decided to go to the Mashgiach, her father, the venerable Horav Meir Chodosh, zl. "As the ethical supervisor of these yeshiva students, I implore you to censure him for stealing the milk," she said to her father. The Mashgiach listened and said, "Go speak to your husband." "My husband is not in town," she countered. Once again she demanded that her father castigate this student for stealing.

The Mashgiach finally told her to sit down, so that he could explain his reluctance of criticizing the student - now. "If I will speak to him now, I might gain a few containers of milk that will not be pilfered, but I might lose a student with enormous potential. My function is to teach and guide him not to succumb to his desires, not to fall prey to his yetzer hora, evil inclination. Chastising him is not the correct way to bring him to this goal."

Your G-d was with you; you did not lack a thing. (2:7)

The Torah admonishes Klal Yisrael not to act like ingrates, but rather to acknowledge and appreciate all of the abundance that Hashem has granted them. Unwarranted complaining is reprehensible. It is especially loathsome when one ignores all of the wonderful gifts that have been bestowed on him and instead focuses on the small inconveniences. In Bamidbar 11:7, Klal Yisrael complains about the "food," the manna they are receiving. Rather than thank Hashem for all of the good, for a food which provides them with total nourishment and any taste they could fathom, they complain. Hashem "said" to the nations of the world, "See about what my children complain!" In other words, Hashem announces to the world community the ingratitude of His children. This is not a common statement, and it is not often found in Torah literature. When people, however, do not appreciate what they receive from Hashem, it becomes the basis for public criticism. Horav Avraham Pam, zl, adds that it is quite possible that each and every one of us who does not properly acknowledge Hashem's beneficence deserves His punishment. We have become so spoiled with His benevolence that we no longer properly acknowledge it.

Horav Yitzchak Zilbertstein, Shlita, cites a number of instances which are examples of this type of self-centered behavior. A young man came to Rav Zilberstein to complain about his wife. It seems that every day when he would return home, the floor would be littered with various toys and children's clothing. He is extremely fastidious and, therefore, the mess bothers him. What should he do? Rav Zilberstein told him that he would have been among the ingrates who complained about the manna. He should realize that the mess is caused by his children who are a blessing from Hashem. Let him enter a home where the people have not been blessed with children, and he will not encounter a mess! He should first appreciate his gift before he complains about some of its fringe "benefits."

Another fellow complained that his wife, who supposedly had an incredible reputation prior to their marriage, was constantly putting him down. By listening to the entire story with an astute ear, Rav Zilberstein noted that the husband, who also had been touted as an exceptional young man, both academically and ethically, was himself not so perfect. The rav pointed out to the young man that a number of men his age have not yet been blessed with a mate. Perhaps his complaint was premature. If he would appreciate his wife more, she would reciprocate with greater deference.

This attitude is prevalent wherever we lose sight of the positive forces in our lives. Parents do so much for their children. Do we acknowledge what they do, and what they are giving up to act accordingly? Hashem said, "See about what my children complain!" Let us learn to appreciate our gifts and not complain about trivialities.

Va'ani Tefillah

Keil nekamos Hashem. O G-d of vengeance, Hashem.

The fact that vengeance is placed between the Names of Hashem is a clear indication of the significance and necessity of this attribute. Furthermore, it demonstrates that it is an attribute of the same caliber as the other attributes included herein. Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, explains that the two Names describing G-d, Keil and Hashem, aptly define His role in taking vengeance against those who warrant it. The name Keil describes Hashem's awesome power to pay retribution. No sinner can escape his due, because it comes from Hashem, a name which denotes that "He will be for He will be," meaning He will always be around; nothing will be forgotten, regardless of how much time elapses, before the judgment is executed. It may occur in this world - or it may wait until the next - but one can be certain that it will be executed.

Furthermore, vengeance is a way of demonstrating to the world that there is a G-d. This is especially true when a person observes punishment being carried out middah k'neged middah, measure for measure. When recompense is visited upon the wicked in the same manner as their sins have been committed, a person sees clearly that this world is not hefker, ownerless.

The wicked are referred to here as geiim, arrogant, because arrogance is their primary characteristic. The term also emphasizes our joy in seeing their downfall. They, who thought they were omnipotent, now see for themselves that their power was but a figment of their imagination, a dream transformed into a nightmare.

"Tov Shem MeShemen Tov..."
v'keser shem tov oleh al gevihen
li"n R' Yaakov Zev ben Yehudah 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

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

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

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.


This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel