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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


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

When an individual is successful in any position, it is due to hard work coupled with increased experience, as he works his way up the ladder of success. Clearly, one does not become proficient at his job overnight. It is a process. Statesmanship, leadership, and monarchy are roles which one acquires after a lengthy apprenticeship. This is especially true if his previous vocation had been the antithesis of his present role. This is the reason that Moshe Rabbeinu's transformation from a puritanical shepherd herding his flocks in the desert, into a statesman, king, and spiritual mentor to an entire nation, is quite extraordinary. When Moshe was "asked" by Hashem to go to Egypt, present himself to Pharaoh and demand the release of the Jewish people, he demurred. He felt unable to articulate their case properly. Lo ish devarim anochi; "I am not a man of words" (Shemos 4:10), Moshe countered. Hashem did not accept Moshe's refusal. The Midrash (Devarim 1:1) teaches that when Moshe received the Torah, his tongue was healed and he began to speak - "These are the words that Moshe spoke."

Moshe did not have the experience-- and certainly not the ability-- to orate, due to his speech impediment. The healing power of the Torah catalyzed his transformation. The Midrash says, "The Torah can be written in every language. Hashem says, 'See the language of the Torah, how dear it is.' It heals all languages…as it is written, Marpei lashon eitz chaim, 'The cure of the tongue, the tree of life' (Mishlei 16:4). The tree of life is a reference to the Torah. It frees all tongues."

Sfas Emes explains this Midrash, granting us deeper insight into the power of speech and its connection with the Torah. Human speech is much more significant than merely being a function of the body. When Adam HaRishon, primordial man, was created, the Torah writes, "And He (Hashem) blew into his nostrils the spirit of life and man became a living soul" (Bereishis 2:7). The Nefesh HaChaim explains the concept of a "living soul"as a reference to the life-giving power that Hashem vests in man. The actions of man have a deep, sustaining spiritual nature to them. When man performs a mitzvah, he creates a light in the world above which, in turn, descends to enlighten our world. Horav Chaim Volozhiner explains that the living soul within man becomes the living soul of myriads of worlds. Without his living soul, man can do nothing. With his living soul, he manifests the power of the millions of worlds that "live" through the living soul of man. In other words, man's life represents the living souls of the worlds Above. His life empowers their existence.

What is the source of this living soul? Where is it located? Targum Onkeles translates "living soul" as ruach mimallila, "a speaking spirit." Thus, we see the characteristic of the power of speech grants man prominence over every other creation. Man is called a medaber, a speaker. The fact that both of these concepts-living soul and speaking spirit - are alluded to together in the same phrase - nefesh chayah -indicates that man's role as the lifesaving power of Creation is related to his power of speech. When man uses his power of speech to express himself, to communicate with others, his influence on the worlds above him and in the world around him is especially strong. The Sfas Emes says that the Torah gives life to all creations, for Hashem created the world using the Torah; and the life force that continues to sustain the world is from the Torah. Thus, when a Jew uses his exclusive power of speech to speak divrei Torah, he acts as the soul of Creation. He gives overt expression to Hashem's thoughts, thereby bringing a spiritual flavor to the world.

The world consists of seventy nations - each with its own unique language. These languages do not have kedushah. Lashon hakodesh, however, is considered holy. When one speaks divrei Torah-- or writes divrei Torah using the medium of other languages-- he frees these languages from their physical limitations, thus enabling their spiritual potential.

This, explains Sfas Emes, is how Moshe Rabbeinu was healed. Prior to the Exodus, Moshe said, Lo ish devarim anochi. The word devarim, words, is derived from dibur, to speak. Amirah is another word which is used to refer to verbal expression. Dibur is focused speech; one speaks to someone. Amirah means saying words. Moshe's vocal capacity was not lacking.

Indeed, he spoke with Hashem Himself. His problem was transforming Hashem's words into a "language" understandable by a human audience. He could not communicate Hashem's message to the people. The Zohar says that until the Exodus, "speech" was in exile. Now, on the Arvos, Plains of Moav, Moshe began to "explain" the Torah. He was able to elucidate the Torah and infuse its kedushah, sanctity, into each of the seventy languages. The light of the Torah could now illuminate every aspect of Creation. By teaching the Torah in seventy languages, Moshe taught the people the way to find Hashem in exile under each of the world's nations. Even in exile, we must believe that Hashem guards and protects us. The Torah makes this belief become a reality.

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

Moshe Rabbeinu is about to take leave of the nation that he shepherded for forty years. During the last five weeks of his mortal life, our quintessential leader, the loving Rebbe of our nation, bids goodbye: reviewing the laws of the Torah; preparing the nation for their entry into the Holy Land; and issuing words of rebuke. Someone who cares is not afraid to offer constructive criticism. To refrain from pointing out the faults of the other is to demonstrate cowardice; it indicates that the relationship is primarily a self-serving one. One who does not reproach - does not care. There is, however, a correct way to rebuke. Moshe's rebuke was comprised of veiled references, using names of places which alluded to the nation's sins. Bein Paran u'bein Tofel, "Between Paran and Tofel; and Lavan and Chatzeiros and Di Zahav." (1:2) Paran is the place from which the meraglim, spies, were sent out. Tofel, which sounds like tiflus, calumny, alludes to the people's complaints about the manna; and Lavan, which is white, is the color of the manna. Chatzeiros is where Korach's rebellion occurred; and Di Zahav, meaning abundance of gold, refers to none other than the sin generated by opulence: the sin of the Golden Calf.

The rebuke is veiled in order not to embarrass anyone. The words are spoken softly, gently, not to scare anyone away. Once the subject of the rebuke takes umbrage, we have lost him, and the rebuke will have been for naught. Horav Yisrael, zl, m'Vishnitz was beloved by all. At times, he was compelled to rebuke an individual. When this took place, he presented the rebuke in the most soft, gentle manner, using great astuteness. The following is an illustration of his manner of rebuke. The Rebbe had occasion to visit a wealthy banker in his palatial mansion. Clearly, the Rebbe was not just visiting because he had nothing else to do that day. He had an underlying reason. When the butler opened the door, the Rebbe entered, went to a seat in the drawing room and sat down, without uttering a word. The banker was a man of deep respect. He waited by the side of the Rebbe, also not saying a word, afraid to interrupt the Rebbe's silence. This went on for a short while, after which the Rebbe stood up and left the banker's home. The banker silently accompanied the Rebbe back to his home. Anyone who has ever been given the silent treatment will attest that it can drive the individual mad. The wealthy banker was dying of curiosity. Finally, he broke the silence by begging the Rebbe to explain his "silent" visit to his home. The Rebbe replied, "I came to your house for the purpose of fulfilling a mitzvah, which I completed."

"What mitzvah was that?" the banker asked.

"Our Chazal have taught us that just as it is a mitzvah to say something that can be heard, so, too, is it a mitzvah not to say something that cannot be heard." The Rebbe continued, "If I were to sit in my house and you were to sit in your house, what kind of mitzvah would I have not to say what could not be heard? Therefore, I went to your house in order not to say what you could not hear!"

We can imagine that, by now, the banker was all ears. He must have really been curious to find out exactly what it was that he had refused to hear. He asked the Rebbe what it was. The Rebbe refused to tell him, explaining to him that it would defeat the entire purpose of his approach. Since he would not hear what the Rebbe had to say, it was incumbent upon the Rebbe to remain silent concerning the purpose of his visit.

The Rebbe's explanation only piqued the banker's curiosity even more. What was the issue that the Rebbe could tell him to which he would not adhere? What was there that he simply would not be able to hear? The banker was not used to receiving "no" for an answer. He persisted, begging the Rebbe to please tell him what he would not hear.

Finally, the Rebbe relented and told him the following: "There is a poor widow who cannot pay her mortgage, and your bank is foreclosing on her home. She is being evicted by your bank. I had originally come to ask you to forgive her loan, so that she could continue living in her home."

"But, Rebbe, there is nothing I can do. I am only the bank manager. These decision are made by the higher ups. It is not as if it were my bank and my loan. I am only a worker."

"Do you not see?" the Rebbe interrupted. "I told you that it was something which you could not hear. It is not your fault. It is not your bank. You cannot hear, because it is not about you!"

The Rebbe bid the banker good day and entered his home. The banker returned home with a heavy heart. The Rebbe's words gave him no respite. He thought about it long and hard. Eventually, he paid the widow's mortgage out of his own pocket. This is what is meant by gentle and pleasant rebuke.

What about mussar, rebuke that is accepted well? What if the individual concedes his guilt - how should we react? In his biography of Horav Shlomo Freifeld, zl, Rabbi Yisrael Besser cites many chinuch-related vignettes concerning the legendary Rosh Yeshivah. I was especially moved by one such episode, because, regrettably, it is an uncommon trait. Perhaps by bringing it to light, this trait might return to vogue.

There was a rash of break-ins in the dormitory of Shaar Yashuv. It had to be an inside job, meaning that, sadly, one of the students was guilty of theft. After the latest loss of money, Rav Shlomo announced that every talmid, student, had to be present for Shacharis the next day. He came to davening early, but he did not daven. Instead, he turned his shtender, lectern, toward the congregation and simply stared at every arrival throughout the entire davening. It must have been compelling to daven while being stared at by the Rosh Yeshivah.

After davening concluded, Rav Shlomo quietly summoned a certain student to his office and accused him of the thefts. The student vehemently denied any wrongdoing. The Rosh Yeshivah was not falling for the student's false claim of innocence. He accused him emphatically, this time raising his voice, explaining what the loss of funds meant to those who were his victims. These were not wealthy boys. He had committed an egregious sin, a reprehensible act against his friends. The boy refused to confess. He was like a stone - conceding nothing. Rav Shlomo was relentless. He was certain this boy was the culprit. He pressed on until the student broke down and confessed.

The next evening was Friday night. After davening, each student filed past the Rosh Yeshivah to wish and receive, "Gut Shabbos." When Rav Shlomo noticed the guilty student waiting in line, he welcomed him with a brilliant smile and a resounding, "Gut Shabbos! Perhaps you would join us tonight for the seudah, meal?" he asked warmly. The student's countenance brightened as he accepted the invitation.

One of the members of the yeshivah's hanhalah, administration, who was acutely aware of the entire incident, was surprised by the Rosh Yeshivah's attitude. "He is a ganov, thief. He stole money. Why are you acting so warmly to him? Is it because you feel bad that you were so rough on him?" he asked.

"No, not at all," Rav Shlomo replied. "The pasuk in Mishlei 28:13, says, U'modeh v'ozeiv yerucham, 'One who confesses his sin, and leaves it, is worthy of compassion!' The young man confessed. Now we must be merciful. It is as simple as that." Regrettably, some of us find it difficult to follow this course of advice. If someone does something wrong, we never let him forget it. It is the nature of man not to forget. This is especially true if we are the ones who have been wronged. It is almost as if we want the individual to remain in our debt so that we can lord over him. Some individuals feel that people cannot change. "Once a sinner - always a sinner,' summarizes their perverted outlook on life. This perspective runs counter to the principle of teshuvah and undermines its efficacy. Hashem will not forget the individual who does not forgive.

Between Paran and Tofel. (1:1)

Rashi cites Chazal who contend that these places do not exist. Thus, they explain, they are allusions to specific sins committed by the nation. Paran alludes to what they did when they encamped in the wilderness of Paran. This is a reference to the sin of the meraglim, spies. Tofel is derived from tofel, which means besmirching or smearing. Klal Yisrael complained about the unsubstantial bread - the manna, which Hashem sent daily.

Kli Yakar offers an alternative exegesis, saying that "between Paran and Tofel" refers to the period of time, the three weeks between the 17th of Tamuz and the Ninth of Av. Tofel refers to the sin of the Golden Calf, with Tofel being derived from tiflus, folly, a reference to idol worship. This took place on the Seventeenth of Tamuz. Paran refers to the sin of the spies, which occurred on Tisha B'Av.

The Kli Yakar explains the gravity of bein Paran u'bein Tofel. When Klal Yisrael is in trouble, two possible redeemable qualities allow for our continued survival: we either perform mitzvos, thus meriting Hashem's salvation; or we are united, and the power of achdus, unity, spurs our survival even if our merit is insufficient. When we sinned with the Golden Calf, we turned against Hashem. The sin of the meraglim created harsh enmity, thereby depriving us of our second redeeming quality.

The mazal, zodiacal sign, of the month of Tamuz is a sartan, crab. The crab walks backward, which is what we did when we turned away from Hashem. The mazal of Av is an aryeh, lion. On Tisha B'Av, the Temple was destroyed as a result of sinaas chinam, unwarranted hatred, as we devoured each other like ravenous lions. During the period in which the First Temple stood, the leaders fought among themselves. This was followed by the period of the Second Temple, during which the hatred spread to the people.

This was Moshe Rabbeinu's message to Klal Yisrael: "You have placed yourselves in an untenable, precarious position, exposing yourselves in such a manner that you have lost your protection from both flanks." This is alluded to by the lament of the Navi, Yirmiyahu (Eichah 1:3), Kol rodfeha hisiguha bein ha'metzarim, "All her pursuers overtook her in dire straits." Metzarim are boundaries which refer to the front and back. Klal Yisrael was left vulnerable from both avenues of attack due to its own indiscretions.

Hashem said to me: "Do not fear him, for in your hand have I given him and his entire people." (3:2)

We live in this temporary world without any clue concerning what is taking place around us in the cosmos, and without understanding the impact an event which occurred throughout the millennia can have on our lives. An incident may have taken place a thousand years ago, and it still may be connected to someone in our circle today. This idea applies to all of us, since we do not know the source of anyone's neshamah, soul. Thus, an inexplicable event can take place - it may have tragic ramifications or the outcome may be incredibly joyful - but, we are at a loss to explain the event. The following two divrei Torah, which are not related to one another, give the same message.

In his commentary to the Talmud Meseches Bechoros 8b, the Maharsha writes that the twenty-one days beginning with the 17th of Tamuz and concluding with Tisha B'Av correspond with the twenty-one days from Rosh Hashanah through Hoshanah Rabbah. Horav Tzvi Meir Zilberberg, Shlita, derives from here that a special kedushah, sanctity, permeates the Three Weeks in a way similar to the Yamim Noraim, High Holy Days, so our avodah during the Yamim Noraim impacts not only Rosh Hashanah, but has an overall effect on the entire year. Rav Zilberberg cites the Toldos Adam who says that one who strengthens himself during the Three Weeks will get through the Yamim Noraim unblemished. This idea demonstrates that two seemingly unrelated periods of time impact one another, as well as the entire year.

Furthermore, Rav Tzvi Meir cites the Apta Rebbe, zl, in his Ohaiv Yisrael, who teaches that the Three Weeks correspond to the following twenty-one special days of the year, including: Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh, seven days of Pesach, eight days of Succos, Shavuos, two days of Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur. They do not simply correspond - the Three Weeks actually encompass the kedushah of these twenty-one days.

Today, these three weeks are periods of mourning. They seem lifeless, a period we have to experience, a time in which we cannot do much and have limited places to go. One day, these days will be times of joy, filled with holiness and spiritual euphoria. Tisha B'Av will be the Simchas Torah culmination of a three-week period that was heretofore perceived as a period of mourning. Today, the light of these days is concealed, but, if we put our mind to it and meditate on the meaning of these days, we might be able to tap into the kedushah they contain.

For the second dvar Torah, I cite from the Zohar HaKadosh who says that Og melech haBashan had a Bris Milah, with none other than Avraham Avinu serving as the mohel, ritual circumciser. The Alshich HaKadosh writes that it was this z'chus, merit, which caused Moshe Rabbeinu to fear Og. The leader of Klal Yisrael perceived that Og's bris at the hands of the Patriarch awarded him such awesome merit that it would prevent Klal Yisrael from conquering him.

This is to be interpreted into the pasuk (Devarim 3:2), Al tira oso, "Do not fear him," in which Hashem tells Moshe Rabbeinu not to concern himself with Og. Do not fear him, ki b'yadcha nasati oso, "because in your hands I will deliver him." Why is the word oso, him, mentioned twice? ("Do not fear him;" " I will deliver him.") The Alshich explains that if the vov which is at the end in the first oso were to be placed in the middle, the word would read os. Os means sign, another word for describing the Bris Milah, a sign on the Jewish body that this person has entered an indelible covenant with the Almighty. Hashem is saying to Moshe, "Do not fear Og's z'chus of Bris Milah, because you / Moshe have an even greater z'chus." Moshe was born mahul, with a bris milah, and he served as the mohel for all of the yotzei Mitzrayim, Jews who left Egypt. Therefore, Hashem told Moshe that Og would be delivered into his hands. Only Moshe could conquer Og, because he was the only one who had the z'chus of the os bris kodesh for all the yotzei Mitzrayim. Ultimately, it was Moshe who slew Og. These are two unrelated divrei Torah. Their messages, however, coincide: We have no idea what is taking place nor why. Og was a rasha, wicked person. Yet, Klal Yisrael could not defeat him. Why? Because Avraham Avinu was his mohel. Every summer we live through the Three Weeks, thinking that this seemingly difficult and lifeless period is just something we have to endure in order to commemorate part of our history. We have no weddings, no music, just mourning, focusing on the destruction of the Batei Mikdash and what it means to us. Did we ever think that this period of time could empower our entire year, that it could catalyze the teshuvah, repentance, that would grant us a year of health and prosperity? There is more than meets the eye. We each experience episodes in our lives that seem inexplicable. We observe others who are either breezing through life on a cloud of good fortune or enduring misery heaped on travail. Neither makes any sense to us, but there is an explanation for everything. Let me conclude with the following story, which had been related in these pages a number of years ago.

Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, quotes from the Likutei Imrei Avos, a distinguished Rav in Baghdad, who writes this frightening story. A special young man, scion of a wealthy family and the son-in-law of one of the community's wealthy lay leaders, spent his entire day engrossed in Torah study. An individual of exceptional character traits, he remained in seclusion the entire day, except for the times that he went to shul to daven. His tefillah, prayer service, was something to behold, as he demonstrated what it truly means to stand in supplication before the Almighty. This young man was a spiritual gem, ensconced in a human container that was totally sublimated to serving the Almighty.

One day, the prince of the country visited their town. Everyone came out to see and experience the pomp that was part of a royal visit. People waited in long lines just to greet the monarch. Everyone in the Jewish community went - except for this young man, who refused to disrupt his daily Torah sessions. He did, however, want to recite the appropriate blessing one makes upon seeing a monarch. Thus, he stood at his window waiting for the prince to appear, at which time he would make the brachah.

As the prince's parade went by the house, a rock came out of nowhere and struck the prince's horse. A hush fell over the crowd, as everyone wondered who would dare to perform such a dastardly act. Regrettably, after searching the building, the police found no one but the young man who had been standing at the window in preparation for the recitation of the brachah. It was a sad moment; the townspeople watched in horror as the precious young man was dragged out in chains and hauled down like a common criminal to the police station to await trial.

The young man, of course, claimed innocence. The prince did not believe him. Circumstantial evidence, fueled by a lack of love for the Jewish population, catalyzed the combined issue of a quick death sentence for the young man. The Jewish community was grief-stricken. How could such a decree be passed upon such a special ben Torah? No one harbored any doubt that the young man was the victim of false charges. He had been framed, but, alas, their pleas fell on deaf ears. Letters were written entreating the prince to listen, explaining that the young man was as much a victim as the prince. Finally, the prince relented and said that, if the Rav would intercede on behalf of the defendant, he would free the young man. It seemed like a "done deal." The reprieve was clearly in sight.

Everyone was shocked and dismayed when the Rav refused to intercede. The verdict was in, and the young man was led to his death. Shortly after the execution took place, the Rav asked that the young man's body be brought to the shul. The pallbearers followed the Rav's directive and brought the deceased into the shul. The rav went over to the casket. In a loud voice, he proclaimed, "I command you by decree of the Torah to arise and inform everyone assembled the true cause of your death, so that the members of the Jewish community will harbor no ill will against me for not interceding on your behalf." To everyone's surprise and disbelief, the corpse stood up and began to speak. "I am the neshamah of the first one to have thrown a stone at Yirmiyahu HaNavi. As penance for this egregious sin, I was sent back to the world to correct the spiritual taint caused by my sin. It took several gilgulim, transmigrations of the soul, until I was finally ready to return to my place in the World to Come. My soul is once again as pure and holy as it was when it was placed within my body so many years ago. With his far-reaching eye and through Ruach HaKodesh, Divine Inspiration, the Rav was acutely aware of this phenomenon. Therefore, he did not attempt to prolong my life on this world, which would have prevented me from achieving eternal rest." The deceased finished speaking, lay down in his casket, and returned his soul to the World of Truth. Understandably, the members of the community now perceived the spiritual zenith upon which their Rav tread. A number of lessons can be derived from this episode, but, for our purposes, one will suffice: We have no idea concerning what goes on around us; not everything that we observe is really as we see it.

Chemlah gedolah v'yiseirah chomalta aleinu You have shown us great and overwhelming compassion.

While chemlah is often described as compassion, it is a stronger term than rachmanus, which means mercy/compassion. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, notes that the word chemlah appears twice in the Torah. When Bisyah bas Pharaoh saw the infant Moshe in the basket on the water, the Torah describes her emotional state as va'tachmol alav, "and she pitied him" (Shemos 2:6). The second time that the word is mentioned is in connection with the meisis l'avodah zarah, one who attempts to recruit people to worship idols. If he is convicted of the crime and consequently sentenced to be executed, the Torah prohibits the judges from searching for mitigating circumstances that might exonerate him. This law is expressed with the words, v'lo sachmol v'lo sechaseh alav, "You shall neither be compassionate nor conceal him" (Devarim 13:9). In both these instances rachamim, compassion, is used to replace din, strict judgment.

When Pharaoh's daughter went against her father's edict, she changed din to rachamim. Likewise, once din has been issued against the inducer to idol worship, we are told not to override it with rachamim. Thus, chemlah gedolah means being worthy of Hashem's compassion. The Almighty has manifest chemlah gedolah, great and overwhelming compassion. Rather than treating us with the punishment of din which we have sadly warranted, He has, in His abundant compassion, rescinded din and reverted instead to rachamim. How did He do this? Rav Schwab explains that by providing us with talmidei chachamim, Torah scholars, teachers, Roshei Yeshivah, poskim, Halachic decidors, throughout every generation, He has enabled Torah to be kept alive. If we peruse history, we will note that following every spiritually depressed period, we have experienced a "comeback," thanks to the spiritual leadership of every generation who have been blessed with incredible siyata d'Shmaya, Divine assistance. This is chemlah gedolah!

Roza Rochel bas R' Moshe Aryeh a"h
niftar 8 Av 5756
Shelley Horwitz a"h

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