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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And now, Yisrael, what does Hashem, your G-d, ask of you but to fear Hashem, your G-d. (10:12)

In the Talmud Menachos 43b, Chazal derive from the words mah Hashem, "What does Hashem", as alluding to the word meiah, one hundred; that a Jew should recite one hundred berachos, blessings, daily. What is the relationship between the recitation of berachos and yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven? Horav Yaakov Belfus, Shlita, in his sefer Chaim Shel Torah, gives the following analogy: A small town in Europe lived an idyllic lifestyle; quiet, pleasant, away from the tumult of the large cities. There was a road that passed through the town which was originally used by the peddlers in the community for their horses and buggies. With the introduction of the automobile, lifestyles changed. The little road soon became a busy highway, dividing the town in half. The quick pace of the speeding cars back and forth on the highway became a danger for the citizens of the town and their families. People feared for the safety of their children. Suggestions poured in, but nothing practical enough to address the danger posed by the highway. One day, someone came up with a functional idea to solve the problem: speed bumps, every few feet. Along the road that traversed the town, speed bumps were placed to slow down the cars. Life soon reverted to its original slow-paced, idyllic state.

This same idea applies to yiraas Shomayim. The Rema in the beginning of Orach Chaim, writes that Shivisi Hashem l'negdi tamid, "I place Hashem before me constantly," is an important rule of the Torah and a crucial step for those who follow in Hashem's ways. A person's day involves many different circumstances, many of which remove him from the perfect environment for mitzvah observance. Thus, he needs reminders to keep him on track to remember that he is always in Hashem's Presence. The hundred brachos that one is to recite daily are one hundred meetings with Hashem. A berachah recited with the proper kavanah, intention/concentration, enunciated correctly, is a rendezvous with the Almighty during which one becomes acutely aware that he is in the Presence of Hashem. This catalyzes a heightened sense of yiraas Shomayim.

If one only takes the time to think about the meaning of the words Baruch Atah Hashem, Blessed are You, Hashem, he would realize that he is speaking to the Almighty. This alone should generate a feeling of fear and awe.

A talmid chacham, Torah scholar, who was critically ill came to Horav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zl, asking for advice concerning what he could do to merit a speedy recovery. Rav Shlomo Zalman replied, "I do not think that I am the appropriate person to ask, but I know what I would do if I was in your situation. I would be meticulous in reciting the one hundred brachos we are to recite daily."

He carries out the judgment of the orphan and widow. (10:18)

The attitude of our gedolei Yisrael, Torah leaders, towards widows and orphans was exemplary. While they empathized and were sensitive to the needs of all Jews, they were especially circumspect with those individuals who were alone. Horav Elazar M. Shach, zl, would go out of his way to ease the plight and loneliness of a widow. He would say, "Any widow, regardless of her strong nature, experiences a feeling of loneliness. It is difficult for her to acclimate herself to her new circumstances. After a while, the reality of her husband's demise seems to settle and she begins to find comfort and the strength to go on. Everything that one can do to assist such a woman in need achieves a great mitzvah."

One of Rav Shach's close students recounts how he was walking down one of the streets of Yerushalayim when he saw his venerable rebbe going into an apartment building. He followed him up a few floors, to the home of a widow whose husband had passed away a few years earlier. Her husband had been a student of Rav Shach and the Rosh Yeshivah felt a strong obligation to see to the needs of his widow. Rav Shach at the time was over 100-years-old. He sat with the widow for about half-an-hour and talked. He then played with her young children. One can only imagine what such a visit did for the mood in her home.

The Bais HaLevi remarried later on in life after his wife passed away. His second wife was a widow with a family of her own. The Bais HaLevi took her children into his home and treated them as if they were his own. Indeed, if he felt that his own children were mistreating his wife's children, he would exclaim, "An orphan!," and he would then punish his children. This, despite the fact that his own children were orphans. The Bais HaLevi spared no expense in caring for his wife's children, to the extent that when he passed away his own children were in dire financial straits.

This legacy of caring for widows and orphans was transmitted to the next generation. Once Horav Chaim Soloveitchik, zl, was presiding over an important meeting of rabbanim when a widow came to the door and asked to speak with him. He immediately left the room and spoke to her for about half-an-hour. Those in attendance were reasonably impressed until the widow later said, "That is nothing. His father (the Bais HaLevi) would spend hours talking with me."

The Brisker Rav, zl, was once approached by a student in Yeshivas Chevron and asked for advice concerning a shidduch, matrimonial match. The rav replied that he does not advise in these issues. The young man then said, "I have no father with whom to discuss my issues, thus, I came to the rav." The Brisker Rav replied, "If that is the case, you may come to me at any time with any sort of question, and I will see to it that you receive the necessary advice."

The Manchester Rosh HaYeshivah, Rav Yehudah Zev Segal, zl, was known for his sensitive and caring heart. This was especially true with regard to widows and orphans. He showered orphans with love and concern and provided emotional support and guidance, and, at times, financial assistance to widows. When no one called, he would call them to reiterate his offer. Once, while paying a shivah call, comforting the bereaved, to a student upon the loss of his mother, Rav Segal confided that from the time the student's father had died more than twenty years earlier, his mother had visited him weekly to pour out her troubles and discuss her situation.

When visiting rabbanim in various communities in England, he made it a point to also visit the widows of the rabbanim he had previously visited. He explained that it was extremely painful to a widow when she no longer could play hostess to those who used to come to pay her husband their respects. He made every effort to attend the wedding of an orphan. When one of his students, a baal teshuvah, who was raised in a secular home devoid of Torah, was forced to leave the yeshivah and return home upon the death of his father, the Rosh Yeshivah told him, "From now on, I will be your father."

Shortly after the Rosh HaYeshivah's passing, the family received the following letter: I include an excerpt from it because of its message to all of us.

"I have been a widow for twenty-one years. Many people do not realize that what is missing most for a person who is alone, is the warmth and caring of another human being. This is where the Rosh HaYeshivah excelled. His genuine warmth and concern was comforting. His initial "How are you?", and his inquiring about my health, livelihood, and all other pertinent matters, always gave me the feeling that someone cared for me. It also gave me the strength I needed to continue carrying my burden. His readiness to listen to my problems at any time and to give them his utmost attention was quite unique…

"I do not know how I could have managed without his emotional support and guidance all these difficult years. May he be a meilitz yosher, intercessor, for us all."

As a postscript, I would like to add a point and be so bold as to draw focus on another type of "orphan" - those boys or girls whose parents either do not care, or are incapable of caring for their emotional, spiritual and even physical needs. Every community has its dysfunctional families who need our assistance. Are these children to be viewed in a different light? They also have no one to turn to, or in some cases, the one's they turn to are detrimental to them. We must open our hearts, homes and minds to them as well, because they also need our love.

To love Hashem, Your G-d, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul. (11:13)

In the first passage of Shema, the Torah adds u'b'chol me'odecha, "and with all your money." What is the meaning of this term? Let me share with you two examples of this quality. The Satmar Rebbe, zl, was a towering figure in a spiritual and inspirational sense. His encyclopedic knowledge was only surpassed by his love for his fellow Jew. His devotion to mitzvos was an inspiration to all who came in contact with him. When he came to these shores, a remnant of the fires of the Holocaust, he rallied the other survivors not to lose hope, not to fall prey to apathy, but instead to embrace the Torah and mitzvos with fervor and love, and serve the Almighty as they did before the tragic Holocaust. Slowly, he succeeded in establishing yeshivos, chadorim, schools for girls, chesed organizations and just about everything that was needed for a vibrant Jewish community. He did not stop with the Williamsburg section in Brooklyn, New York. He set his sights westward and turned to Chicago, to give encouragement and succor to the survivors of that community. The Rebbe gathered his strength and with great resolve traveled to Chicago with the hope that his presence would inspire a renaissance of European Yiddishkeit in the Midwest.

The Rebbe spent seven days in Chicago, during which people from all walks of life thronged to see him. Some came for blessings, others came to imbibe his Torah, and still others came just to listen, to see, to remember what it used to be like in Europe. People gave him money. With every berachah there was a pidyon, money for redemption, and over the week the Rebbe amassed a small fortune. Four thousand dollars was an incredible amount of money in those days - enough money to support his many charitable endeavors in New York. Yes, the trip was very successful in many ways.

Prior to leaving town, the Rebbe made a point to look into the state of the community mikveh, ritualarium. After speaking with a number of lay leaders, he discovered that the mikveh was in dire need of repair. "Why is it not being fixed?" asked the Rebbe incredulously. "We have no money," they replied. "No money for a mikveh! How is it possible that there is money for everything else and for taharas Yisrael, family purity, there is no money?" the Rebbe asked.

The Rebbe began explaining to them the significance of a kosher mikveh in a community until they all agreed that something must be done immediately to repair the mikveh. "How much money is needed?" asked the Rebbe.

"Approximately $5,000 dollars," they replied.

The Rebbe did not waiver for a moment as he took out from his briefcase the $4,000 dollars that he had raised in Chicago, and said, "Here, take this money and I will personally sign a note for the remaining one thousand dollars, but, there will be a mikveh in Chicago."

The Rebbe returned to New York with empty pockets and another thousand dollars in debt, but his heart was overflowing with joy. He had been able to express his unequivocal love to Hashem with "all his money."

Horav Nachum, zl, m'Chernobel was told that a nearby community was in need of a mikveh. He turned to one of the great philanthropists of that time and said, "I will sell you my portion in Gan Eden for your contribution to build the mikveh in that community." The man jumped at the notion. What an unparalleled opportunity. The Chernobler's Gan Eden was certainly impressive. To be able to acquire it for mere money was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

When the Chernobler was later asked what motivated him to sell his Gan Eden for a mikveh, he responded, "The Torah instructs us to love Hashem b'chol me'odecha, "with all your money." I have not been blessed with material abundance. I do not have anything of monetary value that I can give up for Hashem. The only item of value that I possess is my portion in the World to Come. I am thus compelled to sell it in order to fulfill the mitzvah of serving the Almighty "with all my money." Otherwise, my Krias Shema which I recite daily is meaningless."

We now have a glimpse of what it means to serve Hashem with all that we possess.

To love Hashem, your G-d, and to serve Him with all your heart. (11:13)

Rashi explains that one must serve Hashem for no other reason than because of deep, abiding love for Him. We are to serve Him with all our heart, which Chazal interpret as a reference to tefillah, prayer, which should emanate from the heart. Perhaps, we might add, that when one prays, it should be indicative that his prayer is out of love for Hashem, not for personal motive. Everything we do should be a reflection of our unequivocal love for the Almighty. We do nothing for ourselves.

I recently read a beautiful analogy in Touched by a Story I, by Rabbi Yechiel Spero, which can be applied here. The story took place in Yerushalayim during the second World War as Rommel and his Afrika Corps were getting closer to the Holy Land. The mood in the country was one of fear and anxiety. Tensions rose as the people prepared for the worst. The Shomer Emunim Shul, in the heart of the Meah Shearim district was the place to be on Simchas Torah. The dancing and singing would attain such fervor that one felt a spiritual ascendancy like no other time of the year. That year, regrettably, the impending doom took its toll on the worshippers and the davening was listless, without the usual heart and passion. After a few minutes, the rav of the shul, Horav Aharon Roth, ordered the dancing to come to a halt as he addressed the crowd.

"My dear friends, I would like to share a story with you that I feel has great meaning for us. There was once a king who decided to make for himself a very festive and unique birthday party. He sent out letters throughout the land inviting the most graceful dancers, the finest musicians, and the most creative choreographers. They were all to assemble dressed in the most lavish outfits for the grand event.

"All was arranged and the special day arrived. Everything was as meticulously planned. What a sight it was. The music, the dancers, the outfits - everything blended together in a most unique harmony as truly befits a king's party. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, the king noticed a slight commotion in the back as an elderly, crippled man struggled to make his way to the dance floor. Not only was he handicapped, he was also blind and, thus, was bumping into the tables and chairs.

"After much exertion, the man finally made it to the dance floor and began to hobble around in a makeshift dance using his crutches as means of support. The king was mesmerized as he ignored the rest of the show and focused on the poor, wretched man who was doing his best to maintain his balance.

"One of the king's servants was taken aback with this sight and asked for an explanation. 'My king, we have assembled here tonight the finest choreographed dances, yet, you ignore everyone but that poor cripple who is hobbling around on his crutches.'

"The king smiled and explained, 'You are right. All those who have gathered here tonight are truly talented and their performance is certainly exemplary. But, let me ask you, are they not deriving personal enjoyment from their performance? Are they dancing solely for me, or are they also satisfying a personal desire? But the cripple has nothing personal to gain from his dancing. He cannot see, he cannot dance. Yet, he does so because I requested it. He is acting solely for me! Look at his face, how contorted it is with pain. But, he continues to dance, because he wants to please me. That is why his dancing is so precious to me - because it is for me.'

"My dear friends," Rav Aharon concluded, "In past years our dancing was different. We danced for Hashem, but we also danced for ourselves. We derived personal joy and benefit from the dancing. This year, however, with Hitler pounding down on our doorstep and the fate of the Jewish People on our minds, we have the unique opportunity to dance solely for Hashem. Let us dance tonight - for Him!"

Many of us pray with great concentration and devotion - but, we pray for ourselves. We should aspire to elevate our prayer so that we pray to please Hashem. When we will pray for Him, he will listen to us.

Va'ani Tefillah

Ha'meichin mitzadei gaver - who directs the steps of man.

The Maharit Elgazi, zl, comments that when Hashem created man, He "consulted" with the Heavenly angels saying, "Naaseh adam b'tzalmeinu kidmuseinu," "Let us make man in our image, in our form." This means that man should stand upright on two legs like angels and not like animals that walk on four legs. Every day, we offer our gratitude to Hashem for this gift. The Shomer Emunim explains that Hashem's Divine Providence over man is exceptional and all-encompassing. Indeed, the number of steps we will take throughout our lives are predetermined. When we make this brachah, we recognize and affirm this reality. Supplementing this idea, the Dover Shalom says that while the distance one travels throughout his life is determined, in which direction - the path of the righteous, or the opposite - is decided by man alone. This is alluded to by David Hamelech in Tehillim 37:23, "By Hashem are a strong man's footsteps established, and He shall favor his way." Hashem determines how far one will go. It is His will that the individual go in the right direction. But, He does not influence his choice of direction. If our day begins with this thought in mind, it might just help us focus our steps on the proper path.

In loving memory
our dear Mother & Bubby
Mrs. Chana Silberberg

Zev & Miriam Solomon & Family

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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