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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Ha'azinu

For Hashem's portion His people; Yaakov is the measure of His inheritance - (32:8)

Hashem's "cheilek," portion, is His people. Yaakov Avinu used the word "cheilek" in a similar sense in his response to his mother Rivkah, concerning why he did not want to pose as Eisav. " But my brother Eisav is a hairy man and I am an ish chalek, smooth-skinned man" (Bereishis 27:11). At first glance one would say that while these words "cheilek" and "chalek," portion and smooth-skinned, are spelled the same, their commonality is limited to their spelling. The Midrash, however, draws a parallel between Klal Yisrael as G-d's portion and Yaakov's smooth skin. How are we to understand this?

Horav Gedalya Schorr, zl, explains that, by nature, Klal Yisrael is upright and just, virtuous and pure. As the Maharal comments, Klal Yisrael's sin, their indiscretions are only b'mikreh, incidental, and not b'etzem, a part of their essence.

When a Jew transgresses, he does not sully his essential character. It is only an external, superficial failure which can easily be cleansed and removed via the medium of teshuvah, repentance. The Midrash explains that when one is hairy, the dirt sticks to him and becomes entangled in his hair. In contrast, one who is smooth-skinned can easily wash off the dirt. A Jew can repent and return to his previous standing because " Ki cheilek Hashem amo," the essence of a Jew is the fact that he is chalek, "smooth-skinned." His transgression does not permeate his essential character. Eisav, on the other hand, is an "ish seir," hairy man, an analogy that describes the manner in which sin envelops his essential character, making it difficult to remove the taint.

Horav Schorr explains that this is the concept underlying tevilah, immersion in a mikveh: the removal of spiritual contamination. Since a Jew is an "ish chalek," smooth-skinned man, the contamination is superficial, making it easy to wash off the taint via immersion.

Probably the most significant lesson to be derived from this idea is that the Jew is inherently good. Thus, regardless of his errors, the extent of his distancing himself from Hashem only represents a surface wound that can quickly heal.

Yeshurun became fat and kicked, you became fat, you became thick, you became corpulent and it deserted G-d, its Maker. (32:15)

Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, notes that this is the first time that Klal Yisrael is described with the august title yeshurun, which is a derivative of yashar, upright/ straight/ just. This application symbolizes the fact that we do not deviate from the right standards demanded of us by Hashem. The expression "va'yivat" " and (he) kicked," does not seem consistent with the idea of corpulence. One would think that obesity catalyzes a slowing of the physical response. With an increase in weight, there should be a decrease in speed of movement. One would hardly expect an aggressive "kick"/ rebellion froma corpulent Klal Yisrael. A more lazy, lackadaisical attitude would seem more "apropos."

We suggest that, rather than characterizing Klal Yisrael critically in terms of its iniquity, the Torah is actually alluding to its virtue. As mentioned previously, yeshurun is a reference to our ability to adhere to a high standard of living, a lofty level of commitment. This exalted stature is a "mechayev," obligates, and demands a lifestyle that is consistent with our position of distinction. When we defer to our base instinct and resort to a life of materialistic excess, we create a clashing of wills that results in a violent discharge. Materialism is the antithesis of the "intended" Jewish phsyce. The reaction is aggressive - va'yivat - and (he) kicked. When the Jew falls, he regrettably falls hard.

O'nations, sing the praises of His people, for He will avenge the blood of His servants and take vengeance upon His enemies. (32:43)

In the Talmud Berachos 33, Chazal say, "Great is vengeance, which was placed between two letters (two Names of Hashem), as it is stated in Tehillim 94:1, "Keil nekamos Hashem." "G-d of vengeance is Hashem." This maxim of Chazal seems to be in opposition to a pasuk in the Torah: "You shall not take vengeance upon, nor bear a grudge against, the members of your people" (Vayikra 19:18). Apparently, there are situations in which vengeance is inappropriate. Why does the Torah encourage vengeance, a quality which is generally considered undesirable, when it is directed towards Klal Yisrael's enemies? Does this analysis indicate a double standard or the true definition of vengeance?

Horav Yoel Schwartz, Shlita, feels that the reason for this is crystal clear: In seeking to destroy the Jewish people, our enemies are engaging in active rebellion against the Almighty. Their actions manifest a "hester panim," concealment of Divine Providence. The tool to reverse this trend, and restore Hashem's sovereignty, is vengeance. Our active revenge against our enemies constitutes a revelation of hashgachah, Providence. Through the act of vengeance, the world will say, "The righteous are rewarded. There is a G-d."

We suggest another form of revenge against our enemies. There is probably no more recent event in the history of our people that evokes as much anger, and begs for more vengeance, than the Holocaust that befell us sixty years ago. When we begin to think of the cold-blooded, ruthless murder of so many of our people, the wholesale slaughter of one and one-half million children, we shudder with anger and thirst for revenge. Is this humane, what the Jewish nation stands for? We are a "momleches Kohanim v'goi kadosh" " a kingdom of priests and a holy people." How can we stoop to the level of the beasts who perpetrated such a cataclysmic destruction against us? Will killing Nazis bring back our dead? Will destroying their cities rebuild ours? No. The only revenge is to continue to thrive spiritually, to continue to rebuild everything they sought to destroy.

My mother, a.h., passed away during this past year. She was a "graduate" of a number of Hitler's concentration camps. She, together with my father zl, lost everything to Hitler - everything but their emunah peshutah, simple faith and conviction in the Almighty. Despite tremendous challenge and adversity, they plodded on, rebuilding their lives and subsequently raising a family that was true to Torah, to the fullest extent of the word. My mother lived to see three generations of Torah-committed Jews following her example. At her funeral, I asked that her coffin be carried only by her grandsons. One can only imagine the nachas her neshamah experienced as her grandsons, a number of whom are accomplished talmidei chachamim, carried out their grandmother, without whom their own spiritual success might never have occurred. As I stood there and watched, filled with bittersweet emotion, an old friend of our family said to me, " This is her revenge on Hitler." How true were those words. She did not give in to depression. She was a fighter, who fought for the Torah way of life, who would not let Hitler and his hordes win. Her form of vengeance is to be encouraged.

Throughout the Holocaust, many of our brethren refused to grant the Nazis success. They stood steadfast, adhering to halachah, Jewish law, under the most difficult situations. The Torah commands us, "Remember what Amalek did to you, 'asher karcha ba'derech,' how he met you on the road." The word "karcha," which is translated as "met," may also have another connotation. It may be understood as a derivative of the word "kar," cold: Amalek sought to cool us off, to chill the passion of our service to Hashem. He wanted to infuse us with complacency and happenstance, to transform our love and devotion into a smug, self-satisfied attitude. He knew that once the fire of our commitment was extinguished, the rest of our observance would soon follow.

The Nazis did everything possible to make religious observance impossible. This did not prevent the committed from conjuring up every bit of physical and emotional fortitude in an effort to maintain their observance, thereby thwarting the Nazis' plans. This was their revenge. They did not go like sheep to the slaughter. They sanctified Hashem's Name in a manner which defies description. In life and in death, they enthroned Hashem as the Sovereign of the world. Countless stories portray the unparalleled courage and strength of spirit exhibited by the Jews during the Holocaust. One moving story, retold by R' Moshe Prager, particularly characterizes the greatness of the Jewish spirit.

It was Friday, Erev Shavuos, 1943. The Nazis roused all of the residents of the ghetto, ordering them to assemble in the market square. While the murderers said nothing of the purpose of the assembly, everyone knew the truth. A few days earlier, the accursed Gestapo had rounded up ten Jews, nearly all of them Gerer chassidim, and charged them with economic sabotage for smuggling food into the ghetto. Everyone understood the Nazis' ruse. Ten victims were to be sacrificed Erev Shavuos, the time of the Giving of the Torah with its Ten Commandments. Once again the Nazis would present a painful and horrifying spectacle: the hanging of ten Jews.

Among the ten doomed men was a chasid by the name of Shlomo Zelichovski. He was a special person, deeply committed, with a passion and zeal for Yiddishkeit that had few peers. He had a beautiful voice which would grace many a Yamim Noraim, High Holy Days, prayer service. He proposed to his fellow inmates that they fast on the eve of their hanging, and he would pray with them the tefillos, prayers, of Yom Kippur. Thus, he conducted a personal "Yom Kippur" service on the eve of their deaths. The ferver was overwhelming; the love and devotion to the Almighty emanating from their prayers was unimaginable. When Shlomo reached the Neilah service, the culmination of the day's prayers, their emotion reached such a crescendo that even the hard-bitten ghetto policeman who were present cried like infants.

Shlomo Zelichovski did not complete the Neilah Service in the jail cell. He purposely left the conclusion of the prayer for the next morning, when they went to the gallows. The next day, as the ten kedoshim, martyrs, were led from their cells through the streets of the ghetto, Shlomo Zelichovski raised his voice in a heart wrenching rendition of the "Ezkerah Elokim Ve'ehemayah," " I shall remember, O'G-d I shall moan." This is the prayer recited on Yom Kippur which recalls the deaths of the Asarah Harugei Malchus, ten martyred sages, who were killed by the Roman government. All together they sang the prayer with bittersweet tears flowing down their faces. They wept tears of bitterness, to have suffered so much and die at the hands of the accursed Nazis; they wept tears of joy, to have withstood the challenge and to be able to go to their deaths proud in their Jewishness, exalted in their sanctification of Hashem's Name. They were now ready to die as Jews, with pride and dignity.

One could not remove his eyes from Shlomo Zelichovski. He was smiling, his face radiant. He did not wait for the executioner to "position" him under the gallows. He jumped up onto the bench in order to put his head into the noose. The heavy silence was broken as the flaming voice of Shlomo Zelichovski cried out, "Shema Yisrael." Everyone assembled was swept up with emotion, with exaltation, with pride and with awe. This was Kiddush Shem Shomayim at its zenith. Everyone cried out without voices, everyone cried without tears. In their innermost souls, they all cried out together, "Shema Yisrael." Then all of a sudden, they heard another loud shout, "Jews! Avenge our blood!" A porter, a simple, pure Jew, had released his pent-up emotion. He had cried out from among the masses what everyone had been feeling in their hearts.

This was the greatest possible vengeance. The Nazis sought to destroy the Jewish soul. That is why they chose Erev Shavuos as the time to attack and persecute the Jews. This is how they strove to weaken our resolve and deride out faith.

Shlomo Zelichovski demonstrated that they can kill our bodies, but they have no dominion over our souls. The Germans, together with the long list of oppressors who have tried throughout history to destroy us, had once again failed. They had no power at all to uproot faith from the heart of the Jew. This is the epitome of revenge!

Apply your hearts to all the words….. In which you are to instruct your children, to be careful to perform all the words of this Torah. (32:46)

The crowning point of Moshe Rabbeinu's prophecy, which the Ramban suggests encompasses all of Jewish history, is that we must instruct our children in the Torah. Throughout the generations, from Avraham Avinu through contemporary times, the success or failure of each generation is dependent upon its ability to transmit the Torah to their young, so that it is carried forward as purely and vibrantly as the day it was given to us.

R' Moshe Prager very poignantly describes the scene in the detention camp in Vital, France: a few remnants of Jews, gathered from various corners of Europe - rabbis, laymen, delicate women and children - were all frightened, having suffered terribly at the brutal hand of the Nazi fiends, not knowing what the future had in store for them. Officially, they had cards identifying them as American nationals, but to the Nazi this meant nothing. The bitter day finally arrived; they were being deported to the death camps of Poland.

Among the deportees was the aged Rabbi of Antwerp, Belgium. Last in line, he marched briskly toward the death train with an uplifted head and an erect bearing. Yet, it was not his march that was captivating; it was what he had with him that bespoke the essence of Judaism, its aspirations and source of strength. With one hand, he led a small child whom he had miraculously saved during a manhunt in his community. On his other arm, he held a small Torah scroll. Even in the last phase of the Nazi destruction, confronted with almost certain death, the Jew thought only of the future: The Torah and the children, two inseparable entities which secure the future of our people. Hashem gave the Torah to us as an eternal inheritance. The children of every generation serve as guarantors for the nation. Our children are much more than our offspring. They are the assurance of our survival, the links to our future. Regrettably, some of us have difficulty perceiving this reality.


1.) Hashem warned Klal Yisrael in the presence of two witnesses who last forever. Who are they?

2.) People are happier with ____ than they are with ____ .

3.) The eagle carries its young on its ____.

4.) The fruits of ____ ____ ripen quicker than fruits of other lands.

5.) A. Did Yehoshua have authority over Klal Yisrael during Moshe's lifetime? B. Why?


1.) Heaven & earth.

2.) Dew; rain

3.) Wings

4.) Eretz Yisroel

5.) A. Yes. At the very end, Moshe handed over his reins of leadership to Yehoshua.
B. This was necessary, so that people would not be able to assert that he had no power during Moshe Rabbeinu's lifetime.

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