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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


This shall be your reward when you listen to these ordinances. (7:12)

Rashi explains that the word "eikav," which also mean "heel," alludes to the type of mitzvah that people consider to be relatively insignificant. Literally, they step on the mitzvah with their heel. The Torah here assures the nation that if they hold all mitzvos in their proper esteem, they will receive their due reward. The Lachmei Todah supplements this, citing a pasuk in the beginning of Sefer Bereishis, (3:15), where Hashem is admonishing the serpent for its part in causing Adam HaRishon to eat of the Eitz Hadas, Tree of Knowledge. "I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring. He will pound your head, and you will bite his heel." Hashem is telling the snake, "If you incite the Jew to sin with his 'head', which is a reference to the entire body, he will triumph over you. He will not sin with his body to perform a sin wholeheartedly, maliciously. You will, however, succeed in instigating him to sin with his 'heel', which alludes to the fences that Chazal have erected around the mitzvos Lo Saase, negative commandments, that are to protect and discourage us from going all the way, to transgress the entire sin."

This is how the serpent misled Chavah. He began by enjoining her to distance herself from sin, to stay far away from the tree. Heaven-forbid she should touch it. Then, he pushed her against the tree, and nothing happened - no bolt of lightning, no punishment from Heaven. Next, he countered, since apparently there had been no punishment for touching, probably there would also be no punishment for eating. She ate and quickly noticed that the fruit was sweet and delicious. She fell in. She broke through the fence, and the rest became history.

The snake accomplished his goal first because he encouraged Chavah to break through the barrier that separated her from sin. This catalyzed the bechiah l'doros, eternal weeping and grieving, that accompanies the onset of death. The snake was very crafty. Knowing fully well that Chavah would never knowingly transgress Hashem's command, it incited her to break the barriers that ward off sin. Throughout the millennia, the serpent's followers have done much the same. They focus on the "heel," the fence that protects us from sin. Whether it is the Rabbinic decree or a custom going back generations, they seek to pervert and degrade our Jewish way of life and our adherence to Hashem's Torah, by destroying the protective fences. Some are "insignificant;" others are "archaic," while still others have very little value. Their true goal is to encourage us to throw off the yoke of Torah. As the serpent's success was short-lived, so is theirs.

Perhaps ("ki") you will say in your heart, "These nations are more numerous than I; how will I be drive them out?" (7:17)

In a number of places throughout his commentary on Chumash, Rashi explains that the word "ki" has four different connotations: "perhaps", "rather", "because" "if/when". He submits that in this instance we are compelled to define ki as "perhaps", since the other definitions do not apply. In other words, we do not accept that Klal Yisrael would ever descend to total yiush, lack of hope, complete despondency, from which they believe that there is no escape. According to Rashi, machsheves yiush, an attitude of despair, are antithetical to Jewish perspective. A Jew does not give up hope! Hashem is always there: we need not worry - or fear - or give up hope. He will save us.

Sforno does not take this approach. He interprets the pasuk in the following manner: There can be two reasons for posing such questions. One is that you fear these nations. Such fear implies lack of faith in the Almighty. The second reason is that you recognize that without Hashem's intervention, you have no way of triumphing over your enemy. This is a commendable attitude, since it indicates a recognition of one's inadequacy accompanied by trust and faith in the Almighty.

Therefore, the Sforno indicates, the pesukim can be understood as follows: Let not your fears and anxieties be due to your fear of the enemy. Rather, they should be the result of a profound recognition and acknowledgement that, without the help of Hashem, we simply cannot succeed. When a Jew achieves such a penetrating recognition of his weakness and Hashem's greatness, he has nothing to fear.

What a powerful statement! Only when a Jew reaches the point of recognizing his own "afsiat," inconsequence, only then can he aspire to Hashem's salvation. As long as man thinks that it is his own prowess that catalyzes his success, he is doomed to rely solely on his own ability.

The Mezritcher Maggid, zl, makes a similar statement in regard to the famous Rabbinic dictum, "It is as hard/difficult to match a husband and wife as to split the Red Sea." Many commentators have rendered various expositions on this Chazal. What really is the relationship between finding one's mate and the splitting of the Red Sea? The Maggid explains that at the Red Sea, Klal Yisrael had exhausted all of the natural resources for her salvation. They were locked between a "rock and a hard place," between the Red Sea and the Egyptians. They had nowhere to go. They were finished. What eventually occurred was unimaginable; the sea split. Unimaginable occurrences often happen in the world of shidduchim, matchmaking, as well. How often does a young woman marry a young man who was the farthest individual from her mind? Certainly, we can all cite instances when a young couple come together under "miraculous" circumstances. Evidently, Hashem played a major role in the sea splitting, as well as in every shidduch. Klal Yisrael was acutely aware that she had no recourse - she had come to the end of her rope. They turned to Hashem and He responded. They finally realized that they had only one source of salvation. This might be an appropriate lesson for many of us.

Then you shall remember Hashem, your G-d, that it was He Who gave you strength to make wealth. (8:18)

A person must always realize and remember that whatever he does, whatever endeavor he takes upon himself to perform, the ability to do so, the power to succeed, is derived from Hashem. This should be a source of encouragement for us. Let us explain with the following analogy. A king asked his trusted servant to prepare a lavish dinner in his house, which would be attended by the king with his entire retinue. Naturally, the servant was quite nervous. It was an awesome responsibility, and a compelling obligation to perform successfully. So many things could have gone wrong. If, however, the king told him to take whatever he needed from the royal kitchen, then he was much less concerned, because the food was from the king. The food was prepared exactly as the king liked it, since it was cooked in the royal kitchen in the same manner as usual.

The Mezritcher Maggid, zl, applies this analogy to explain the tefillah, Nishmas. We say, "Were our mouth as full of song as the sea, and our tongue as full of joyous song as its multitude of waves, and our lips as full of praise as the breadth of the Heavens…we could still not thank You sufficiently." In other words, we express our incapacity to describe Hashem's greatness, regardless of the powers and abilities with which we have been blessed. Yet, soon after, we continue the tefillah and say, "Therefore, the organs that You set within us, and the spirit and soul that You breathed into our nostrils, and the tongue that You placed in our mouths - all of them thank and bless, praise and glorify, exact and revere, sanctify and declare the sovereignty of Your Name, Our King…" There seems to be an apparent contradiction within the text of this tefillah. First, we declare our inadequacy to praise Hashem. We follow this statement with a declaration of praise. Are we able to praise Hashem or not?

The answer, explains the Mezritcher Maggid, is dependent upon with "whose" organs are we praising Hashem? If they are ours, and we think that "we" are able to praise Him, then it is fruitless. Man alone is unable to praise Hashem. If, however, we realize that what is ours is really from Hashem, and that whatever ability/strength/power we possess all is derived from Hashem, then "Hashem-given organs" are able to exalt Him. Like the servant who takes the food from the king's home to serve him, so, too, can we offer praise to Hashem, if we realize that whatever we are is only through His will. Likewise, the mere knowledge that whatever we achieve only occurs as a result of Hashem's Will, gives us much more confidence in our success.

It shall be ("v'hayah") that if you forget Hashem, your G-d. (8:19)

Chazal teach us that the word v'hayah, "it shall be," denotes simchah, joy. We wonder what joy there can be found in forgetting Hashem? Horav Baruch zl, m'Meziboz, one of the earliest Chassidic leaders, explains that there are two types of sinner: One sinner falls prey to the blandishments of his yetzer hora, evil inclination. He has lost control; he is, instead, controlled. This sinner's punishment will not be as serious, because he did not sin with malice. He is a lost soul - lost to his base desires. There is another kind of sinner: one who sins with contempt, with disdain and spite, in order to degrade and humiliate Torah and its Author. His intention is to rebel and repudiate. Indeed, he is filled with joy when he sins. His intended goal is the breakdown of Torah Judaism. His transgression engenders within him a feeling of satisfaction.

The pasuk addresses the fate of the malicious sinner, who is filled with glee at his act of rebellion. V'hayah, if you are filled with joy as a result of your forgetting Hashem your G-d, then I testify to you that, surely, you will be destroyed. One only has to peruse Jewish history to note that those whose sins were acts of sedition ended up destroying not only themselves, but also their families and descendants. Indeed, their names are lost to history. Whatever positive activity they generated was lost with them. Their misdirected joy catalyzed eternal grief.

Hashem is the Avi Yesomim, Father of orphans, and the Dayan Almanos, Judge of widows. Essentially, this means that Hashem is there for those who are in need. When a child loses his father, he should remember that Hashem is his father, Who watches over him and cares for him, just as his own father concerns himself with his welfare. The widow is not alone. Hashem is her advocate. He will see to it that those who oppress her will pay. Indeed, every individual Jew should understand that to intimidate the widow is equivalent to intimidating Hashem. One does not oppress the downtrodden unless he is prepared to incur the wrath of Hashem.

It happened in a small community in Egypt, where two Jewish businessmen, Raphael and Asael, succeeded in developing a successful import-export business. They were partners who had the greatest respect, love and admiration for one another. No one believed that anything could ever happen to tarnish this unique relationship. At least, so people believed. Raphael had to go on a business trip to purchase goods for their business. He was going to take a boat to Europe and return with the finest dry goods for their business. On his return to Egypt, a devastating storm struck the ship. The boat's crew fought the storm valiantly until they succumbed to its tremendous force. The boat capsized; everything and everyone on the boat went to the bottom of the sea. Raphael's wife was left a bereaved widow with two young daughters to support and eventually marry off.

As soon as the shivah, required seven day mourning period, ended, Asael gave his partner's widow a small sum of money to support her and her daughters for two weeks. He claimed that the business went down with the ship, and everything was lost. What could she do? It was her word against his. With bitter tears -- tears of insult added to injury -- the widow and her two small daughters moved away to a small community, where she supported her family by working as a maid and cleaning woman for the wealthy.

Time does not stand still for anyone. Years went by and the young widow grew old and weak; her daughters became young, attractive women. During this time, for a period of about ten years, Asael's business thrived. He became increasingly wealthy . One would think that his life was blessed with good fortune. Hashem, however, does not forget, especially when one oppresses a widow and orphans. Suddenly, Asael's only son became ill. The illness spread throughout his body until he was completely paralyzed. The finest physicians were consulted, to no avail. His illness was a mystery. He was beyond medical help. Shortly thereafter, the young man died -- to the excruciating grief of his parents. They could not survive the tragedy. He was their only child. How could their good fortune suddenly have changed?

Asael's wife could not tolerate the pain and agony of having lost her precious child. She succumbed to depression. Eventually, her broken heart gave out, and she also died. It did not take long, and Asael, despite his incredible wealth, left bereft of his two most important possessions, took ill and died as well.

What a terrible end to a story. But it is not over yet. The only ones left to inherit Asael's vast fortune were his two nephews. They were fine young men who themselves had recently entered the world of commerce. With the help of Hashem, their assets grew considerably. They met two wonderful young women, who were orphaned at a young age and raised by their mother. Yes. They were Raphael's daughters, who -- after marrying Asael's nephews -- finally received their overdue inheritance. One's faith in Hashem need never wane, because everything that occurs is part of a Divine master plan. Regrettably, some of us think that we are the directors of the play called "life." Those who think so usually end up missing the show.

Questions & Answers

1) What miracle occurred with the clothing Klal Yisrael wore in the wilderness?

2) In what type of Aron were the second Luchos placed? B.What else was placed inside?

3) Why is the death of Aharon juxtaposed upon the breaking of the Luchos?

4) When the earth swallowed up Dasan and Aviram's possessions, which possessions were affected?


1) The clothing grew with the children, always remaining fresh and clean. It lasted forty years without deteriorating or wearing out.

2) Moshe placed the luchos in a temporary wooden Ark until the permanent Aron Hakodesh was built. The broken shards of the first Luchos were also placed inside. Rashi says that after the new Aron was completed, the broken Luchos were kept in the wooden ark and would be taken out with Klal Yisrael when they went to war. Ramban disputes this, contending that after the new Aron was made, the old one was hidden.

3) It indicates the great tragedy of losing a tzaddik. Although Aharon's successor was Elazar, who in his own right was a great man, the loss of Aharon was grievous for the nation. Although the first Luchos were replaced by the second Luchos, this in no way minimized the tragedy of their loss (Divrei David).

4) Even those possessions that were not with them at the time were swallowed up, wherever they were (Ohr HaChaim citing the Midrash).

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Peninim on the Torah is in its 11th year of publication. The first seven years have been published in book form.

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