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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


This shall be the reward when you hearken to these ordinances. (7:12)

In this instance, the word mishpatim, statutes, is a general term to describe the various divisions of the mitzvos - eidus, chukim and Mishpatim - under one title. All mitzvos, whether they commemorate an historic religious event, a legal obligation to a fellow Jew, a form of Heavenly service, or a mitzvah which defies human comprehension, are all included in the category of mishpatim, legal maxims. As such, it is our duty to execute them simply because it is Hashem's command; it is our duty - with no thanks or reward to be claimed. Yet, by doing all of these, we establish a harmonious condition in which our nation will receive the richest blessings. As the eikev, heel, comes along naturally with the forward movement of the foot, so, too, do these blessings follow our total obedience.

We are neither to weigh mitzvos, nor are we to attempt to determine and establish the value of each individual mitzvah, to consider which mitzvah engenders greater promise, larger reward. Each mitzvah in the Torah interlocks with one another, with the smallest, and seemingly most insignificant, "holding hands" with the weightiest, most critical mitzvah. We are not the ones who determine the importance of a mitzvah. Our function is to carry out the word of Hashem without raising questions, without deciding for ourselves in which areas of Jewish life and observance we would like to express greater obedience. This is why all mitzvos, without distinction, should be carried out with equal conscience, faithfulness; all are to be of equal importance to us; all are to be performed without the thought of greater or lesser reward hanging in the back of our minds.

This is what the Torah means when it uses the word eikav, which is often translated as heel, something which is often not considered, as it moves along with the rest of the body. When we turn our attention to the seemingly insignificant and do not capriciously distinguish between mitzvos, between what should be important and what in our small minds might not carry the same relevance, we undermine Hashem's Torah. If, however, we are eikav tishme'un, listen, pay attention to the eikav, we will garner the reward that is so richly deserved by those who are Torah observant.

When one takes such a non-questioning attitude towards the Torah, he ascribes to the obedience expected of a Torah Jew. We have questions, but we do not ask. Clearly, traumatic events occur which would challenge a non-believer, raising penetrating questions which weigh heavily on their faith in G-d. The believing Jew, however, understands and accepts that this is Hashem's decree. While there certainly is a rationale for everything, it is beyond his human grasp of understanding.

A noted Rav and educator had a meeting in one of the Israeli Ministry buildings. As is common throughout Eretz Yisrael, he had to pass through security in order to be cleared to enter the building. The security guard was a nice, friendly fellow, non-observant, but that had no bearing on his position. He was in charge of making sure that no suspicious person or package entered the ministry building. This is a country which takes its security seriously.

"Kavod Horav," the guard began, "do you know the story concerning the bas melech, princess?" For a moment, the Rav was taken aback. This was not the conversation he had expected to have with a non-observant security guard. "No, I do not recall a specific story. Perhaps you can jar my memory and remind me of the story."

"I am surprised that such a distinguished Rav is unaware of the story of the princess. Nonetheless, I will be happy to share the story with you." Obviously, the guard had a specific point that he wanted to make.

"This story is from the Ramak" (acronym for the name of the noted Kabbalist, Horav Moshe Cordovero, zl, author of Tomar Devorah and many other seminal volumes of chochmas ha'nistar, mysticism). Once the holy mystic's name was attached to the story, it took on renewed significance.

"There was once a princess whose father provided for her every need. There was nothing this girl could not access. The king arranged for her to have the finest teachers who instructed her in every educational subject and every sport. Her clothes came from the finest shops, designed and constructed by the best and most sought-after designers and seamstresses. All that was necessary was for the princess's servants to say to the king that the princess requires 'this or that' and, immediately, it was delivered.

"One day, the princess herself approached the king with a request. 'My master, the king, can I have 'something?' The king was shocked by her request and replied, 'My dear daughter, it is not necessary for you to address me as, My master, the king. I am your father. All you have to say is, Daddy, can I have something?'

"Sadly, the child did not pick up on the meaning of the king's request. Being raised by nannies and servants, with very little access to the king as a 'father,' all that she ever heard was, 'my lord, the king, or your royal highness.' Never did she have the opportunity to interact with him as 'Daddy.' While she might not have realized this, the king was brokenhearted, yearning for that sweet sound of 'Daddy' to emanate from his daughter's mouth.

"Another few times, the princess made requests of the king, but it was always either, 'Your royal highness,' or, 'My lord, the king,' never 'Daddy.' One day, the young princess took a walk outside of the palace compound, and the king had set upon her two large, trained dogs who were told to frighten her, but not to hurt her. The princess immediately began to scream hysterically, 'Daddy! Daddy! Help me! Help me!'

"When the king heard his daughter calling out 'Daddy,' it was music to his ears. When his daughter was in a frightening situation, she remembered her father."

The security guard turned to the Rav, and said, "We are similar to the princess. When our Father in Heaven wants us to call out to Him, Avinu Malkeinu, He sends dogs to frighten us. Dogs come in all shapes and forms; terrorists, bombs, disasters. All of these are our Holy Father's way of saying to us: 'You have not called out to your Father lately.'"

Things take place around us and throughout the world, events which defy our ability to rationalize. We accept them because we believe in Hashem. When we think about it, however, do we ever ask ourselves: "When was the last time we cried out to our Father in Heaven?"

There will be no infertile male or infertile female among you. (7:14)

We, as human beings, will not be plagued with infertility. The pasuk continues on with a similar blessing for our sheep and cattle. The Baal HaTurim makes note of an incredible gimatria, numerical equivalent, that corresponds with the pasuk, Lo yiheyeh becha akar va'akara, which amounts to 834. Likewise, the words b'divrei haTorah, "in the words of the Torah," also amount to 834. This implies a connection between Torah study and fertility, which is explained by Horav Shlomo Levenstein, Shlita, as a demand for a person to be mechadesh chiddushim, innovate original commentary and elucidation, to apply creativity to one's learning. The Torah is hereby guaranteeing us that there will not be a paucity in creative learning. There will always be those who will be mechadesh chiddushei Torah, whose creative insights will bear fruit to the Torah.

The Reishis Chochmah (Shaar HaKedushah 4) writes that, just as a Jew has a mitzvah to be fruitful and multiply in the physical sense, so, too, should he be innovative in his Torah learning, by intuiting and being mechadesh chiddushim.

In discussing the last mitzvah of the Torah, the mitzvah of Kesivas, writing (a) Sefer Torah, the MeGaleh Amukos (Parashas Vayishlach) observes that the first mitzvah in the Torah is Peru U'revu, be fruitful and multiply, and the last mitzvah is that of writing a Sefer Torah. This teaches us that it is similarly important to be "fruitful and multiply "in divrei Torah.

The Torah in Vayikra 18:5 states: U'shemartem es mitzvosai, v'es mishpatai asher yaaseh osam ha'adam v'chai behem, "You shall observe My decrees and My laws, which man shall carry out and by which he shall live." The Netziv, zl, understands this azharah, warning, not as a general exhortation concerning mitzvah observance, but as a specific command to be an oseh, a doer, to create and innovate in Torah. We ask Hashem daily to grant us the ability lilmod u'lelamed, lishmor, v'laasos, u'lekayeim, " to study and teach, to guard and to do and to fulfill the mitzvos." Laasos applies to the mitzvah of limud haTorah, the process of studying Torah. It must eventually lead to laasos, creative, intuitive, insight and chiddush, original novellae.

We make the mistake of thinking that the ability to be mechadesh is directly connected to one's acumen. This cannot be further from the truth. One creates; one works at something which is his. When one's attitude toward a given subject or item is dispassionate, "It's not mine, so why bother?" he will not be able to innovate. Ki heim chayeinu v'orech yameinu, "For they (the words of the Torah) are our life, and the length of our days." When one views Torah as life - his life, when it is his source of longevity, he learns as if his life depends on it. He will then have no problem being mechadesh chiddushim. They will flow like a natural spring.

In speaking with my Rav, Rabbi Aharon Dovid Lebovics, regarding this idea, he shared with me what he had heard in the name of Horav Leib Mallin, zl. David Hamelech says, V'ruach kodshecha, al tikach mi'meni, "And Your Holy Spirit, do not take from me" (Tehillim 51:12). Ruach Kodshecha, Your Holy Spirit, is a reference to the ability to be mechadesh chiddushei Torah. Apparently, David HaMelech felt that the power of innovation, of creativity, is derived from the Creator of the Universe.

You shall cut away the barrier of your heart. (10:16)

Metaphorically, the heart represents the seat of a human being's passion and emotion. When one loses his moral compass and begins to fall prey to his base desires, this moral weakness is described figuratively as a dulled heart, ensconced in a layer of dross which prevents it from connecting spiritually. In other words, the person's ability to perceive and be inspired spiritually is hampered by this encumbrance. The only way to resuscitate the heart spiritually is to "cut away" the layer that dulls the person's spiritual impulses, preventing him from growing in the manner of becoming a Torah Jew.

What is the source of his spiritual obtrusiveness? What grants it the power to sway a person, to so distort his spiritual perceptions that he requires a "surgical procedure" to remove the ingredient?

Horav Nosson Breslover, zl, writes: "The tremendous tzaros, troubles, pain and adversity which plague a person in this world weigh down heavily upon a person, making it very difficult for him to come close to Hashem, to express his pain, to entreat Him concerning his troubles. It is also difficult to come forward, due to the many impediments and pain that dull his heart to the point that he is unable to open his mouth and articulate his feelings." Apparently, he feels that the otem ha'lev, obtrusiveness of the heart, is due to the many adversities through which we suffer. So, what does one do? We all have adversities. No one leads a charmed life. The wealthy and the poor, the high and the mighty and the downtrodden - each has his own unique peckel, package of tzaros, troubles. Some are run of the mill; some are exotic; some are self-imposed, some are victims, but everyone has something. Some just have greater proficiency in covering up their personal adversity, but it is still present. What does one do? Hashem says u'maltem - "You shall cut away" - Now that we have some idea concerning the meaning of orlas levavchem, the barrier of your heart,we better understand why it is so difficult to remove, because we are all affected by this restrictive dead weight.

Rav Nosson offers illuminating advice, which, when applied, changes the playing field, allowing one to transcend his tzaros and come close to Hashem. "Therefore an eitzah gedolah, great recommendation, is that a person should always recall the good things that have occurred to him, to our ancestors, our People. (It is not only about us. We are part of a larger collective; we must learn to think out of the box.) Most of all, one should thank Hashem that he has been included among the Jewish People, that he is a part of the nation which accepted the Torah, that he is among those who have been distinguished from among those who wander aimlessly, with no direction in life."

According to Rav Nosson, orlas ha'lev is defined as ribui ha'tzaros, the detrimental effect of increased troubles and pain to which we, as human beings, are subjected for various reasons. These obstacles can have a deleterious effect on one's ability to come close to Hashem. They take up one's time, his life, his mind, thereby causing his heart to be surrounded with a covering that has a dulling effect on his spiritual impulses. The cure for this disease is to look at the good and delve into all of the good fortune of which one has been the beneficiary since birth. If we get in the habit of acknowledging and appreciating the good, we will be able to cut away the covering of pain and adversity surrounding our heart, so that we can reach out to Hashem.

In the often-quoted perek, chapter, of Tehillim, 23, David Hamelech begins, Hashem ro'ee lo echsar, "Hashem is my Shepherd, I shall not lack." After describing the many gifts of good he has received from Hashem, he says, kosi revaya, "my cup runneth over." Simply, this means that David acknowledges that his life is one long series of gifts from Hashem. The statement, "my cup runneth over," has become a metaphor for expressing one's gratitude to Hashem for all the good things that He does for us.

Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, comments on the pasuk: "A cup can only run over if it is first full. If there is a hole at the bottom of the cup, it will never become full; thus, it will never run over. This is a lesson for us constantly to remember the good things that Hashem does for us. Never forget them. Then the good things will add up, and your happiness will follow."

As human beings, we tend to focus on the present - our momentary needs. We focus on that which we have already received and enjoyed, while that for which we need to be forever grateful remains in the back of our minds: "Been there, done that." It is no longer a priority. Thus, we most often feel that our cup is far from running over, since we are always focusing on what we still (think) we need. As soon as our request is filled, our happiness is short-lived, because there is always another "need" waiting in the background. Rav Nosson teaches us always to focus on the good that we have received. Otherwise, we have no chance of getting over that insurmountable hump of dissatisfaction, layered with adversity, and hinged with pain.

When we focus on something, it becomes reinforced in our minds. Therefore, when one attempts to ferret out the positive of each day, each situation, it will become habit-forming, and, suddenly, his "bad" days will no longer be considered bad. Furthermore, he will generally be a happier person.

There is another aspect to orlas halev, whereby one realizes the therapeutic effect of the ribui ha'tzaros, adversity and pain. I came across the following analogy attributed to Horav Yisrael Gustman, zl. A young, talented artist drew a beautiful painting on an outdoor easel. He was quite proud of his work. After all, he was still young and had labored long hours to produce this wondrous graphic. Days were spent perfecting every nuance, every aspect of the shades, colors, and contrasts of the painting. He was now ready to show it off, to receive the acclaim that he so deserved for a job well done. He called for his father, hoping to receive his compliment concerning the painting.

The father came and could not stop marveling at his son's brilliance. He was effusive in his praise, hoping to encourage his son's continued commitment to painting. As his father continued with his praise, the young artist stepped back to behold the beauty of his creation. As he moved further and further back and then to the side, he was left standing one step from the edge of the cliff. One more move would be his last.

The father suddenly realized that his son was moving precariously to the edge. He might fall backward into an abyss. Yelling "Stop!" would only shock him and cause him to move backward. He quickly grabbed a can of paint and threw it at the painting, completely ruining the beautiful work of art! Seeing this, his son came running, screaming hysterically, "How could you have done that? You destroyed my painting. All of that hard work was for nothing." The father waited patiently while his son vented and blew off steam. Then he spoke softly, "My son, I saved your life. You were so close to the edge that one more step would have proven fatal. You were so engrossed in your beautiful creation that you did not realize that you were endangering your life. Your priority should be your life - not your painting."

The lesson is obvious. At times we become so involved in our daily pursuits that we lose sight of the priorities in life which should serve as our lodestar. We are on this world to serve Hashem, to be good Jews, to glorify His Name in the world. Everything else is second place. When we appear to forget our true objective, Hashem must throw a monkey wrench into the engine, spill some paint on the painting, in order to get our attention. This how He helps us remove our orlas ha'lev.

To love Hashem your G-d, to walk in all His ways and to cleave to Him. (11:22)

To follow in Hashem's ways, to walk in His path, means to display the same loving compassion for all Jews, regardless of background, personality and religious attitude. Hashem is our Father, and, as such, turns away no one. On the contrary, it is we who turn away from Him. Horav Shlomo Levinstein, Shlita, relates the following episode. Horav Mordechai Rabinowitz is the Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivas Oheiv Yisrael in Petach Tikvah. It is a school that caters to a high caliber of highly motivated students. Like so many good schools, it is very difficult to gain entrance to this yeshivah.

One day Rav Mordechai received a call from Horav Michel Yehudah Lefkowitz, zl. The Rosh Yeshivah began, "Rav Mordechai, would you want to sit together with me in Gan Eden?"

"Of course! What is the question?" the Rav said. "There is a young student in one of the yeshivos who refuses to attend any school but yours. Will you accept him?" Rav Michel Yehudah asked.

"Yes, yes, Rebbe. I will accept him - no questions asked."

A few weeks elapsed, and Rav Michel Yehudah called again - this time to inquire concerning the boy's scholastic achievement. To the menahel's chagrin, he informed Rav Michel Yehudah that, although the boy had been accepted, he never showed up. When Rav Michel Yehudah heard this, he broke down in bitter weeping: "Woe, we lost a child to Torah! Woe are we that this boy will not attend yeshivah!"

Rav Mordechai felt terrible about the boy. After all, he had done all that he could do. A Yiddishe neshamah, Jewish soul, regardless of the reason, and notwithstanding upon whom blame is placed, is still a lost soul. Rav Mordechai nonetheless asked Rav Michel Yehudah if the boy's non-attendance at the yeshivah would affect their pact. Could the menahel "look forward" to "sitting together" with the Torah giant in Olam Habba? "Absolutely!" answered the Rosh Yeshivah.

Hearing the story, Rav Eliyahu Mann approached Horav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita, with a simple, but compelling, question:. "Who gave Rav Michel Yehudah permission to welcome 'guests' to Gan Eden? Is it his place that he can do as he pleases?" Rav Chaim removed a Midrash Aggadah on Sefer Bereishis from his bookcase and pointed out the following Chazal (84:1): "Rabbi Avahu said, 'In the future, people (neshamos) will wonder at the seating arrangement in Gan Eden. Individuals who had never studied Torah are sitting in close proximity to the Avos, holy Patriarchs. Hashem will explain His choice (for including these seemingly simple people together with the nation's spiritual elite). They listened to Me (whatever I asked of them, they immediately carried out).'"

Someone who listens to Hashem's call to save a Jewish child from spiritual infamy will surely have a special place reserved for him in the world to come. After all, this person is following in the darkei Hashem, ways of G-d, emulating the Almighty.

Ponevez Yeshiva in Bnei Brak is one of the Torah world's most distinguished yeshivos. Gaining entrance to the yeshivah is no simple feat. A yeshivah student must be scholastically worthy and profoundly dedicated to achieving excellence. It was, therefore, quite surprising when a young teenage boy from Switzerland, whose level of proficiency was lacking, insisted on meeting the Rebbetzin, the widow of the yeshivah's founder, Horav Yosef Kahaneman, zl, Ponevezer Rav. The Rebbetzin did not have an active role in the Yeshivah's admission process. The Rav had been gone for a few years. The entire meeting did not make sense. The boy, however, demanded to meet with the Rebbetzin. He was guided to the Rebbetzin's apartment, met with her for a few moments, and then emerged with a big smile across his face. The Rebbetzin asked to speak with the present Rosh Yeshivah. A few minutes went by as the elderly widow met with the Rosh Yeshiva. A few minutes later, the Rosh Yeshiva motioned for the young student to come over. "Welcome to the Ponevezer Yeshiva."

Clearly everyone, especially the other students who had observed the entire incident, was clueless to what had taken place. The young boy explained to them that he had a "history" with the Ponevezer Rav: "When I was seven years old, one summer I vacationed with my mother in Switzerland. Coincidentally, the Ponevezer Rav was also staying at the hotel (it was the only kosher establishment in the area). The problem was that the only available room was on the top floor, which made it very difficult for the Rav to walk up and down. Upon hearing of the problem, my mother immediately offered to switch rooms with the Rav. The Rav graciously accepted our offer, and afterwards invited my mother and me to his room: 'I want to express my gratitude to you and to your son for your kindness. I know that when one is on vacation everyone wants everything to go as planned. I would like to buy your son a toy as a token of my appreciation.'

"I immediately interjected and said, 'I do not want a toy. I do not even want a few coins. I want only one thing: one day to be a student at the Ponevezer Yeshiva.' The Rav smiled and took out his pen and wrote a note on the hotel stationery that I was accepted as a student in the Ponevezer Yeshivah."

The boy had a vision. The Rav had a mission to teach Torah to every Jewish child. He was following in Hashem's ways.

u'ksavtam al mezuzos beisecha.
l'maayan yirbu yimeichem vimei bneichem.
And write them on the doorposts of your house.
In order to prolong your days and the days of your children.

The commentators offer various reasons for establishing a connection between the mitzvah of affixing a kosher mezuzah to one's house and longevity for a person and his offspring. While the following episode does not necessarily offer a reason, its lesson is inspiring. There was a non-observant couple living in a religious neighborhood in Petach Tikvah. They blatantly did not observe Shabbos. It was not spiteful; it was simply a situation in which each one had grown up in a non-observant environment and had no reason for changing his or her lifestyle. Sadly, the couple had not yet been blessed with children. The woman had been pregnant seven times, with each pregnancy ending in miscarriage.

One day, the man visited the Rav of the shul and poured his heart out to him. What could he do? The Rav told him that in Bnei Brak lived a great Torah leader called the Chazon Ish. Perhaps he should visit him and relate his pain. The man went to the Chazon Ish and shared his sad story with him. The Chazon Ish instructed him to return home and check his mezuzos. The man returned home and immediately checked his mezuzos. Lo and behold, the shock when he discovered the words, l'maan yirbu yimeichem vimei bneichem, were declared unkosher. The man immediately purchased new mezuzos and was blessed with a child. After some time, the Rav had occasion to meet with the Chazon Ish, and he posed to him the same question which is probably on the minds of everyone who reads this story: Why not impress upon him to observe Shabbos? The Chazon Ish replied, "We are not businessmen." In other words, the man had come for advice, and he had given it. We are not in the business of brokering religion.

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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