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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


You will eat and you will be satisfied, and bless Hashem, your G-d, for the good Land that He gave you. (8:10)

This is the commandment that enjoins us to recite Bircas Hamazon, Grace after meals, Bentch. Moshe Rabbeinu initiated the blessing of Hazan es hakol kulo b'tuvo, "Who nourishes the entire world, in His goodness," following the descent of the manna to sustain the nation. Horav Moshe Tzvi Nariyah, zl, observes that in no other instance does a person become so absorbed with his ani, himself, with his existence and personal pleasure, as when he is engaged in eating. Food/eating can have a compelling and almost vulgar effect on a person, often catalyzing his base instincts. Therefore, claims Rav Nariyah, the only place in which we are enjoined to recite a brachah m'd'Oraissa, Biblically ordained blessing, is Bircas Hamazon. This is to heighten our awareness so that we acknowledge that man should never lose sight of the true Source of his sustenance: Hashem.

By reciting the blessing, man affirms that his sustenance is another one of G-d's kindnesses - not just for him - but for the entire world. Furthermore, this sustenance is a critical component of Creation. Prior to the creation of any creature, the food to sustain that creature had already been put in place. U'meichin mazon l'chol briyosav asher barah, "And He prepares food for all of His creatures which He created": There is no creature in the world which does not have its source of sustenance available.

We derive this from the Heavenly Manna which Hashem provided for the Jews in the Wilderness. The desert neither has food for a nation of this size, nor does it contain anything nourishing for human beings. Hashem saw to it that the food He provided for them was contingent upon neither climate nor fertile soil. This Heavenly bread became part of the seder haBriah, order of Creation. Food had to be in place for the Jews as they traveled through the Wilderness.

In Hallel HaGadol we recite, L'molich amo Bamidbar, "To Him Who led His people through the Wilderness - for His kindness endures forever." We offer our gratitude to Hashem. We do not mention the manna or the water from the well of Miriam. These are also miracles for which we should offer gratitude. Apparently, we see from this that these life-sustaining gifts were intrinsic to "being led into the Wilderness." If we were to be subjected to the forty-year journey, Hashem was to provide food. That is a fact of life. Providing food is His responsibility from before Creation. If He creates, He sustains. Therefore, even after we sinned concerning the Golden Calf, we did not lose our source of sustenance. Food is food; punishment is something else.

Having established that food is part of the general foundation of man and connected inextricably to Creation, Rav Nariyah explains why Bircas Hazan, the first brachah of Bircas Hamazon, which was emended by Moshe, does not mention Klal Yisrael, its Torah, or its land. It relates only to the world as Hashem's Creation. Hazan es ha'olam, Who nourishes the world. Yehoshua brought the nation into Eretz Yisrael, which would be their home. He added the Bircas Ha'Aretz, the blessing for the Land. Moshe originally alluded to this when he said, "And you should bless Hashem, your G-d, for the good Land that He gave you." Once it was established that Bircas Hamazon was an appropriate place to add a blessing for physical bounty, David Hamelech and Shlomo Hamelech added the Bircas Hodaah, gratitude, for the building of the Bais Hamikdash and for Yerushalayim. These blessings were later followed by the blessing initiated by the Chachmei Yavneh, who added the brachah Hatov v'Hameitiv after they emerged from the destruction of Beitar.

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

How easy it is to believe in ourselves - to think that our power is the result of our own strength; our battle skills, the result of our being formidable warriors. Hashem wants us to dispel this notion, by remembering that whatever success we enjoy is only because He gives us the means. In his Ben Ish Chai, Horav Yosef Chaim, zl, m'Bagdad, observes that whenever it is demanded of a person to remember, it is because it is concerning a subject that he is prone to forget. Indeed, there are six places in which the Torah enjoins us to remember, the Sheish Zechiros: the Egyptian exodus; Revelation; the incursion of Amalek; the trials of the forty-year trek in the Wilderness; Miriam's speaking ill of Moshe; and the mitzvah of Shabbos - all of these remembrances are to reinforce our memory, so that it does not fall prey to the weakness of forgetting.

The Maharia explains that we are commanded to "Remember the Shabbos," because, by nature, man will otherwise lose sight of its distinction and compare it to the rest of the week. Six days a week he labors, employing all thirty-nine primary categories of labor which are prohibited on Shabbos. He became habituated in this lifestyle, making it difficult to draw the line between Shabbos and weekday. Thus, the Torah reminds him with the mitzvah, Zachor es yom HaShabbos l'kadsho, "Remember the Shabbos day to sanctify it."

Likewise, explains Rav Yosef Chaim, man becomes complacent with life. He works, makes a living, invests and receives a decent return for his money; basically, life seems to go smoothly - as expected. He presses the right buttons; he receives the right responses. Suddenly, he thinks that it is all about him. He is the reason for his own success. He went to the right schools, made the right contacts, acted appropriately - so what could go wrong? He has done it all himself!

It is so easy to lose sight, to forget, that Hashem is the Source of our success. Thus, He enjoins us to remember. It is better that we should remember of our own accord, then that He has to "remind" us.

Rav Yosef Chaim employs this premise to explain why Chazal established the obligation to offer thanks by way of Bircas HaGomel, concerning four specific instances: one who was healed from an illness; been freed from prison; traveled across the sea; traveled through the desert. When we think about it, in each of these instances, one is predisposed to err and think that his success has been his doing.

One who emerges healthy from an illness that otherwise could have taken a fatal turn often thinks that it was his choice of hospital, physician, procedure, which raised his odds for recovery. Hashem is usually farthest back in a remote place in his mind. This idea would appear to have support in the instances of a traveler who successfully crosses the sea, or one who makes it through the wilderness. It will always be the choice of a sturdy boat, captain, sailors, caravan with proper preparations, and guards for safekeeping. The individual who is released from prison ultimately attributes his success to a benevolent parole board, governor, warden, civic leaders, who were on his side. In all of the above examples, it is only natural to ascribe one's delivery from danger to anything and anyone - but Hashem. Thus, in an effort to reinforce our belief in the Almighty as the Source for all that occurs, Chazal initiated the obligation to offer a Korban Todah, Thanksgiving Sacrifice, or to recite the Gomel blessing. We must remember to Whom gratitude really belongs. This, too, is an intrinsic part of gratitude.

I took hold of both of the Tablets, and I cast them from my hands, and I broke them before your eyes. (9:17)

A powerful lesson can be derived from this pasuk, which describes Moshe Rabbeinu's act of shattering of the Luchos not simply as a negative act or an act of weakness, but rather, as a forceful, compelling, even positive act. Horav Yaakov Kamenetzky, zl, comments that, were it not for the Torah's unembellished description, one might harbor the thought that Moshe was so overcome with shock in seeing the Golden Calf that he dropped the Luchos. Perhaps another scenario would be that they were too heavy. Moshe's strength came from the People. Their merit infused him. Once they fell off their spiritual perch, Moshe no longer had the ability to hold the extremely heavy Luchos, and they dropped from his hands.

The pasuk conveys an entirely different message. Moshe's act of breaking the Luchos was deliberate. With deep circumspection and forethought, Moshe assumed responsibility for the Luchos and decided that the nation did not deserve them. So he acted accordingly by shattering them. He was not weak; he was not indecisive. He was acting with great decisiveness when he broke the Luchos. He was not giving these Tablets to a nation that reveled with a molten idol. Furthermore, Moshe's decision was far from popular. Chazal teach that the Seventy Elders attempted to prevent Moshe from breaking the Luchos. His own brother, Aharon HaKohen, also tried unsuccessfully to convince him to rethink his decision and not break the Luchos. Moshe's mind was made up. He knew what had to be done, and he was determined to do it. It was his duty as leader to break the Luchos. Sometimes leadership calls for the leader to put a stop to something - not to give it a chance, because it will be a blemished achievement; it will mean short-selling a product, settling for mediocrity when only a superior, untainted product will suffice.

The closing pesukim of the Torah laud Moshe for breaking the Luchos. U'l'chol ha'yad ha'chazakah… asher asah Moshe l'einei kol Yisrael, "And for all the mighty hand… that Moshe did, before the eyes of all Yisrael" (Devarim 34:12). Rashi explains "the mighty hand" as a reference to the courage and determination manifest by Moshe when he broke the Luchos. It was no accident; it was duty at its most sublime implementation.

Horav Yisrael Belsky, Shlita, explains why Moshe took it upon himself to break the Luchos "before the eyes of all Yisrael," an act which was arguably his greatest act as leader of the Jewish People. Moshe realized that presenting the Luchos which had engraved upon them the enjoinment, "You shall not have any other gods," to a nation that was in the midst of celebrating around a molten calf/idol would be their undoing. If Moshe were to give the Luchos to Klal Yisrael at that moment, they would immediately be held accountable for idol worship; thus, they would be deserving of execution. By breaking the Luchos, Moshe saved the nation from punishment.

Our leader went out of his way to break the Luchos, rather than conceal them for a later date when the nation would be deserving, because he sought the shock-effect. Shattering the Luchos would jar the people into humility and submission. The shock would shake them up and "shatter" their false sense of security and invincibility. Thinking that they could withstand and even triumph over the forces of evil with which the evil-inclination challenged them was fool- hardy. No human is spiritually invincible. Everyone has a spiritual Achilles heel which makes him conquerable. "Pride goes before the fall" is the expression that has accompanied so many haughty people to the dung heap of history.

The Rosh Yeshivah offers a strategy for fighting pride. When one is aware of the nadir of sinfulness and depravity to which misplaced pride can lead, he thinks twice before falling victim to his own shortsightedness. Second, one only has to think of the valuable treasures he will lose as a result of capitulating to his base desires. The Jews lost the precious Luchos. Others have lost their families, the respect of their friends and community. Everyone has that one precious commodity which supersedes everything. We must never lose sight of it.

Now, O' Yisrael, what does Hashem, your G-d, ask of you? Only to fear Hashem, your G-d, to go in all His ways and to love Him, and to serve Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart and all your soul. (10:12)

In the Talmud Menachos 43b, Chazal derive from this pasuk that a Jew is obligated to recite one hundred brachos, blessings, daily. This is derived from the word, Mah, before the words, Hashem Elokecha sh'oel meimach, "What - does Hashem, your G-d, ask of you?" The "mah" is interpreted to mean meah, which means one hundred. Midrash Tanchuma, Korach 12, adds that David Hamelech initiated the decree to recite one hundred blessings daily as a merit to save the nation from continuing to lose one hundred men each day. Apparently, as explained by the Tur Orach Chaim 46, one hundred Jews died every day, and no one understood why. Employing the means of Ruach HaKodesh, Divine Inspiration, David was able to determine that, by having the nation recite one hundred brachos daily, they could circumvent the Heavenly curse placed upon the nation.

Horav Moshe Leib Sassover, zl, writes, "Who am I, the smallest of the small, who never feared (had reason to fear) the Master of Masters? (In other words he was a truly righteous and holy Jew). But if I sinned but once (in the fact) that I do not recite the one hundred blessings with (proper) yiraah u'pachad, fear and trembling; that (as a result of this) I am angering my Creator Blessed is He, one hundred times a day! Woe is to me, and woe is to my soul that I (am responsible for this) blemish every day."

Upon reading this personal self-assessment of the holy Sassover, we are all obviously weakened and anxious about the efficacy of our blessings. If this righteous Jew was anxious concerning his kavanah, proper intention, upon reciting these blessings - what should we say? Better we should say nothing. We are all witness to the constant deluge of tzaros, troubles, financial, physical, spiritual and emotional, with which we are all in one way or another beset. Yet, this simple remedy which comes to us from none other than David Hamelech is ignored. Perhaps it is as the Sassover implies: It is simply too much to expect. Is there any way to salvage the remedy without so much of the responsibility? Is there an "easy" way out?

In his Shvilei Pinchas, Horav Pinchas Friedman, Shlita, explores the issues, devoting an entire thesis to this subject. He quotes the Daas Zekeinim m'Baalei Tosfos, in their commentary to the above pasuk, who write, "Our Sages decreed that we recite the blessing of Modim (in the Shemoneh Esrai), which coincides with the one hundred blessings. One who recites the brachah/tefillah of Modim with the proper kavanah will thereby fulfill his obligation to recite one hundred blessings. The gematria, numerical equivalent, of Modim is one hundred.

Rav Friedman continues with an explanation of the significance of the Modim brachah, especially the critical importance of bowing down in concession as he begins the blessing. The Talmud Bava Kamma 16a teaches that the spine of a deceased person transforms into a snake seven years after he is buried - if this person, when he was alive, had not bowed down for the Modim prayer. This same bone which is transformed into a snake is the bone from which the person will be recreated in the World to Come. Thus, Tosfos adds, a person who was deficient in properly expressing his gratitude during the Modim prayer will have no bone from which to be recreated. It has been transformed into a snake. His options are eliminated. Tosfos actually have great difficulty with this concept, since every person has the potential to enter the World to Come. The Zohar adds that such a person will not rise up for Techiyas HaMeisim, Resurrection of the Dead.

In any event, the consensus is clear: One who does not bow for the Modim prayer will be the victim of eternal punishment. Why is this? Rav Friedman illuminates us with a citation from the Toras Chaim's commentary to Meseches Bava Kamma 16a. He explains that Chazal were mesakein, decreed, that one recite the Modim prayer thrice daily to fulfill the mandate indicated by the pasuk in Sefer Tehillim 150:6, Kol ha'neshamah tehallel Ka, "Let all souls praise G-d." Chazal interpret kol ha'neshamah- all souls, as Al kol neshimah u'neshimah tehallel Kah, "For each and every breath of air that one takes, he should praise G-d." We have a constant obligation to offer our gratitude to the Almighty for every moment of life. Nothing is to be accepted as chance. It is all by Heavenly design and gifted to us by the Almighty.

I take the liberty of quoting a loosely translated version of the Toras Chaim's commentary. "Hashem performs an incredible kindness for man every day, every moment, every second. The baal ha'nes, one who experiences a miracle, is rarely aware of his miraculous gift. He thinks olam k'minhago noheig, the world goes about in its usual custom. In other words, out of a sense of complacency, man thinks that this is the way of life; thus, he loses sight of the miracles which sustain him. He does not realize that every step, every movement, every breath, which he takes is (a gift) from Him.

It would be only proper that man should pay gratitude for these myriad miracles of which he is the beneficiary. This is what is meant by Chazal when they say that one should give praise Al kol neshimah u'neshimah - "for each and every breath." This is really how it should be: One should constantly bless Hashem, because one's debt of gratitude is ceaseless and never-ending.

Since it is unrealistic to expect a person to remain in constant prayer throughout the day, our sages established a prayer whereby we are able to offer gratitude to Hashem in a cumulative manner for the boundless good which we receive from him. This is the Modim prayer.

The Toras Chaim now addresses Chazal's statement concerning the spine of one who does not bow down during Modim. The first premise which he establishes is that when one pays gratitude - he bows. David Hamelech says, Eshtachaveh el heichal kodshecha v'odeh es Shimcha al chasdecha,"I will prostrate myself toward Your Holy Sanctuary, and I will acknowledge Your Name, for Your kindness" (Tehillim 138:2). One who remains erect while conceding/confessing/paying homage demonstrates his lack of sincerity. This was demonstrated by Dasan and Aviram, Moshe Rabbeinu's primary nemeses, who, upon being called to present themselves before him, (the Torah emphasizes that they), stood erect before him, in defiance of his exalted position. The Midrash teaches that the primordial serpent came to entice Chavah. It came standing erect, filled with conceit, expounding arrogance with malice. This was the serpent's way of saying, "I do not fear Hashem." Thus, explains Rav Friedman, one who does not bow down for the Tefillah of Modim will have his spine turn into a snake. The snake was the "father" of all those who refuse to bow down. This person might utter the words of Modim, but it remains mere lip service. He does not really mean what he is saying. Adam HaRishon's teshuvah, repentance, spared him a similar punishment.

Horav Bunim, zl, m'Peshishcha was once queried by a fine, observant Jew who simply found it very difficult to provide for his family: "Why do those who do not put on Tefillin and do not observe Shabbos live in fancy homes, while those of us who adhere strictly to the Torah often suffer the pangs of hunger and deprivation?"

The Rebbe answered with a powerful insight into the distinction of punishments meted out to the three participants in the sin of eating from the Eitz HaDaas, Tree of Knowledge. Adam was told that he would earn and eat his bread by the sweat of his brow. Chavah was told that she would have great difficulty and suffer pain when delivering her children. The serpent, however, seems to have gotten away with a light punishment. He would crawl on the ground and eat dirt. Crawling on the ground is not fun, but having one's "food" available whenever is a plus. How is this to be considered a punishment?

We fail to acknowledge that the greatest reward available to man is the ability to establish and maintain a close relationship with Hashem. As long as one must pray to the Almighty for sustenance, there is an indication that Hashem cares and that He wants to hear from man, that He wants to maintain this relationship. When Hashem grants him his livelihood on a silver platter, it means that Hashem really wants nothing more to do with him: As He said to the serpent, "Here is all the food you will ever need. Do not bother Me. I want nothing to do with you." When Hashem "grants" us opportunities for prayer, it is a sign of love. He is waiting to hear from us.

Gratitude is an attitude. When one allows himself to delve into the character trait of gratitude, he soon realizes how much good there really is in life. While there will always be some things which we are lacking, we should shift our focus on that which we have. There is no limit to what we do not have. If this becomes our central focus in life, we will be bitter, dissatisfied people. Horav Nachman Breslover, zl, was wont to say, "Gratitude rejoices with her 'sister,' joy, and is always ready to light a candle and have a party. Gratitude does not have a strong relationship with such traits as boredom, despair and taking life for granted. Gratitude does not allow for one to feel sorry for himself - regardless of his situation. One of the distinguished Baalei Mussar, Ethicists, began his Mussar shmuess, discourse, by pounding on the lectern, followed by, "It is enough that we are alive!" That was his entire shmuess.

We close with a now well-known story. It concerns the famous virtuoso violinist, Izhak Perlman. He was in New York to give a concert. When he was a child, he was stricken with polio, resulting in his difficulty in getting around. His mobility was quite limited, as he had to wear braces on his legs and was relegated to getting around with the support of crutches. When the famous violinist ascended the stage, it was a sight to behold him crossing the stage slowly and reaching the chair upon which he sat during his recital. The audience waited patiently for the super-star to traverse the stage.

Perlman signaled the conductor to begin. No sooner had he completed the first few bars of his solo than one of the strings of his violin snapped loudly, making a noise much like a gun shot. While it was early in the concert and Perlman could have halted the concert to fix his violin, he did not. He waited momentarily and once again signaled for the conductor to continue from where they had left off. With only three strings left on his instrument, Perlman was able to redesign the score in such a manner that he was able to complete the concert with three strings, playing with passion and artistry. When he finally finished, the audience came to their feet and cheered him excitedly. They realized that they had been privy to a stroke of brilliance, an extraordinary demonstration of human skill and genius.

When the crowd quieted down, the master spoke, "You know," he began, "I could have changed the string, but it is the artist's task to make beautiful music with what he has left."

We all lack something. Instead of focusing on our deficiencies, we should train ourselves to contemplate all of the positive things that we have been granted. We would be so much happier and more complete people.

Va'ani Tefillah

You shall love Hashem, your G-d.

Ahavas Hashem, yiraas Shomayim, loving G-d and fearing Heaven, are unique mitzvos which are expressed by individuals, each in his own manner. There is one commonality that courses between these two mitzvos: sincerity. Let me explain. The Steipler Gaon, zl, would often emphasize the tremendous need for chizuk, strengthening. He would say, "Ahavas Hashem and yiraas Hashem are mitzvos in the Torah just like any other mitzvah. Why should we not apply ourselves to them as well?"

The Steipler then added that these two mitzvos stand out in the sense that lishmah, performing the mitzvah for the mitzvah's sake - with no ulterior motive - is a defining factor in their performance. Concerning other mitzvos, the person may perform the mitzvah, but does one know his real motivation? It could be for personal satisfaction, to impress others, to get attention. The mitzvah is executed, but it is missing the lishmah imperative. Loving G-d, and fearing G-d are essentially 'lishmah' mitzvos. One who does not act with sincerity does not manifest true love. One who does not fear with sincerity does not manifest true fear.

In loving memory
our dear Mother & Bubby

Mrs. Chana Silberberg
Chana bas Moshe Zev a"h
niftar 20 Av 5760
Zev & Miriam Solomon & Family

Peninim on the Torah is in its 20th year of publication. The first fifteen years have been published in book form.

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