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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Like gentle raindrops upon the vegetation and like pelting raindrops upon the blades of grass. (32:2)

The weeks prior to Yom Kippur have a certain mood to them, since during this time we are enjoined to do our utmost to repent and return to Hashem. At times, Hashem "avails us" the opportunity to realize that repentance would be appropriate. Hopefully, we do not stand on ceremony, waiting for Hashem's little reminders. We understand what is expected of us, and we act accordingly. In his commentary to the above pasuk, the Ohr HaChaim Hakadosh presents an enlightening thought which can inspire us and direct us to the path of teshuvah during this propitious period.

He cites the Midrash Socher Tov on Sefer Mishlei 10, which depicts the judgment man faces after his life on this earth reaches its conclusion. If he has studied Chumash, the Heavenly Court will ask him why he did not advance one step higher and study Mishnah. If he has studied Mishnah, he will be questioned concerning why he did not study Talmud. If he has studied Talmud, they will want to know why he failed to master the more difficult parts of Torah. Even if he has achieved proficiency in the entire Torah SheBaal Peh, Oral Law, they question why he did not delve into Kabbalah, the mystical aspects of Torah. He who mastered even the most profound areas of Kabbalah will be asked why he did not master the most esoteric portion of Kabbalah, which deals with Maaseh Merakavah which deals - in turn - with the composition and structure of the Heavenly Throne.

There is a powerful lesson to be derived from Chazal: Hashem does not expect us to do the impossible. He wants us to maximize our potential. If Chumash was all one could master, due to one's limited abilities, he will not be questioned as to why he did not study Kabbalah, because it is clearly beyond him. He will be queried, however, about why he did not study Mishnah, because it was within the reach of his intellectual capacity. If Mishnayos was his forte' - great, but why did he not push a bit more and study Talmud? Do not go beyond your reach, but, by all means, achieve what is within your grasp.

The Ohr HaChaim derives this lesson from this pasuk. Hashem created variegated raindrops: each to nourish different types of plant life. Vegetation and herbage require a soft, gentle drizzle - consistent, but not heavy. Grass, on the other hand, needs to be drenched in order to thrive. Drizzle does not fulfill the needs of grass, while heavy rain will not serve vegetation well. The same idea applies to the life-sustaining waters of Torah. Each person is created with his own individual abilities and intellectual capacity. If he can study Mishnah, then he must strive to go a bit further and master Talmud. He must excel in his area of Torah and a bit more, because that is all part of his potential. All that is expected from him is within his grasp. He must live up to his own individual potential - not that of someone else.

This concept can have both a positive and negative connotation. While one is not expected to do more than he is equipped to do, he must reach and achieve the highest heights if he is endowed with superior capacities. Regardless of one's success, if he could have accomplished more, he will have to answer for not fulfilling his potential. One can never be satisfied with anything less than his own full capabilities. What is considered success for one person may simultaneously be viewed as utter failure and dereliction of duty for another. It all depends upon his unique potential.

Horav Avraham Pam, zl, cites the Gaon m'Vilna, who distinguishes between the concept of din and cheshbon. Din is judgment for one's actions, while cheshbon refers to the good that one could have achieved during the time that he was involved in carrying out his transgression. In Pirkei Avos 3:1, Chazal exhort us to remember that we will one day have to give a din v'cheshbon, judgment and reckoning before Hashem. This means, for example, that if a person speaks lashon hora, slanderous speech, against someone, he will not only be punished for his iniquity, he will also have to answer for all the good that he could have accomplished during this time.

Rav Pam posits that this idea is the basis for the Torah's comment regarding Moshe Rabbeinu's "sin" of Mei Merivah, Waters of Strife, where Moshe struck the rock instead of speaking to it. The pasuk in our parshah 32:51 describes the sin as consisting of two aspects: trespassing against Hashem and a lack of sanctifying Him among Klal Yisrael. Moshe violated Hashem's command and did not speak. Simultaneously, he caused the potential for a great Kiddush Hashem to be lost.

At a time when teshuvah should be foremost on our minds, we should remember that everything is within our ability to correct. Hashem does not impose upon us anything that is beyond our capacity to execute. Likewise, we must keep in mind that our repentance should focus not only on what we did, but, also, on what we could have done, but failed to do.

Recall the days of the world. (32:7)

The Yalkut Shimoni comments on this pasuk, "Moshe Rabbeinu said to Klal Yisrael, 'Whenever Hashem brings suffering upon you, recall how much benefit and consolation He is destined to give you in Olam Habah, the World to Come.'" The Maggid m'Vilna explained this Yalkut with the following mashal, parable:

A Jew rented a house from a Polish nobleman for three hundred rubles per year, which he paid on a designated day every year. Once, the nobleman took a vacation and left an unscrupulous, anti-Semitic official in charge of his estate. The official jumped at the opportunity to harass the poor Jew. He immediately raised the rent to five hundred rubles per year. On the designated day for payment, the corrupt official was at the Jew's home early in the morning to demand his payment. Regrettably, the Jewish tenant had only four hundred and eighty rubles. He requested a delay of a few days in order to get the remaining twenty rubles. The evil official refused to wait even a day. When night fell and the Jew had not paid, the official decided to whip the Jew twenty lashes, one blow for each ruble. This practice was carried out a number of times with other Jews, as the crooked official had found a helpless group of people upon whom he could prey.

The day that everyone had awaited had finally arrived: the nobleman returned home. It did not take long before the Jewish tenant who had been beaten went to notify the nobleman of his ill treatment by the nobleman's agent. The nobleman enjoyed a good relationship with his Jewish tenants. Consequently, he became furious at the corrupt official. He decreed that the Jew would receive one hundred rubles for every blow that he had received: a total of two thousand rubles. The official's property was valued at four thousand rubles. The Jew now became part owner of the official's estate as payment for the abuse that he had sustained.

When the Jew returned home, he related to his wife all that had occurred with the nobleman. His wife was excited to hear that they now owned half of the nobleman's estate. Looking at her husband's face, his wife noticed that he did not seem as happy as he should have been. "What is wrong?" she asked. "You should be ecstatic with the valuable gift we have received."

"It is not that I am not happy," he said. "It is just that the pain of the blows is long gone. Now I wish that the official had given me forty lashes. That way, I would now own his entire estate."

This is the story of life. We suffer in this temporary world. For some, the suffering is great and painful. When a person is struck with misfortune, his suffering feels overwhelming. When he goes to his future place in the Eternal World, however, where payment is in eternal currency, where the reward he receives for every moment of pain and anguish is immeasurable, he will think to himself, "How I wish I had suffered many more yissurim, pain and troubles, in the lower world. I would now be receiving much more reward."

Horav Yaakov Galinsky, Shlita, relates the following powerful story, underlining its inspiring message. A terminally ill person was attached to an artificial respirator and lay in bed suffering excruciating pain. His doctor, a compassionate man, hoping to spare him more suffering, decided to disconnect the life-support system. The man died soon afterwards. It seems like the end of the story, but there is more.

A few days later, the deceased man appeared to the doctor in a dream and said the following to him, "I had four more days left to live. During this time I was to suffer terrible yissurim, which would have catapulted me directly into Gan Eden. Their cleansing effect was all that I still needed. Because you caused me to die four days before my time, I lack that measure of suffering. Now, I have no idea how long I will have to be in Gehinnom, Purgatory, to be purified. Suffering on earth has a greater effect than suffering in Gehinnom."

The doctor woke up from his dream completely shaken. He eventually became a baal teshuvah due to his fear of the Final Judgment. Life and death are in Hashem's hands. We must learn not only to accept His decisions, but, also, to trust in them.

Remember the days of yore, understand the years of generation after generation. (32:7)

Moshe Rabbeinu urges the people to reflect upon the past, to inquire about it, and to seek to understand the course of events, as well as their underlying message. Human error is based upon human shortsightedness. We either fail to see, or we refuse to look. According to some, the past has no relevance. It is long gone. We live for the future. These people do not realize that history repeats itself precisely because people refuse to learn the lessons of the past. They refuse to seek counsel with those whose perspective of the future has been tempered with their experience of the past. Perhaps this idea is alluded to with the words shenos dor vador, the years of generation after generation. Shenos can also mean the repetition - or, in this context, the repetition of the generation. It all comes around. The way to understand the yemos olam, days of yore, is by reflecting upon the shenos, repetition of generation. The sins and punishments of the past should serve as a portent for the future.

Alternatively, shenos can also refer to shinui, change. Understand that the next generation is different. Your children's environment and upbringing are different from yours. Thus, what was expected of you by your parents is not necessarily the standard by which you should define the expectations you have of your children. The generations change, and expectations must change. Your child is exposed to much more and much worse than you were. What was safe for you might be dangerous for your child. What was acceptable for you might be a serious challenge for your child to overcome. Understand the shenos, change, of the generation. It might help you understand your child and, consequently, help you to raise him successfully.

Moshe came and spoke all the words of the song. (32:44)

The Targum Yonasan gives us an insight as to from where Moshe Rabbeinu came. He says that Moshe came from the bais ulpena, bais hamedrash. Even on the last day of his life, when his imminent death glared at him, Moshe Rabbeinu felt that he could not interrupt his daily sedarim, study sessions. Moshe Rabbeinu was Klal Yisrael's quintessential leader. He was devoted to each and every Jew. His love of the Almighty, His People and His land was unparalleled. Yet, his hallmark was his diligence in Torah study. He could not be separated from the Torah. Is it any wonder that the Torah is referred to as Toras Moshe? He sacrificed himself for it.

The gedolei Yisrael, Torah leaders of every generation, achieved the zenith of Torah erudition and leadership primarily as a result of their overriding commitment to and unceasing diligence in studying Torah. Their hasmadah, diligence, was legendary. Nachlas Tzvi relates that the Chasam Sofer was once asked to what he attributed his incredible success in Torah. He responded, "I became greater than my friends because of my commitment to five minutes." He explained that he never wasted a moment of time that could otherwise be spent studying Torah - even if it were only five minutes. If he had only a few minutes of free time, he would not waste it. He spent it constructively - learning.

Indeed, in the yeshivah in Kelm there was seder, study period, that lasted only five minutes! The Alter, zl, m'Kelm explained that it was to imbue the students with the idea that five minutes have inestimable value. The Steipler Rav, zl, would say that many of the Torah leaders of past generations achieved their level of erudition due to their extreme diligence. Without it, they would never have achieved such distinction.

"Today, I merited to complete the entire Shas for the one hundred and first time," said Horav Zelig Reuven Bengis, the Gaon Av Bais Din of Yerushalayim. This was an annual achievement of the distinguished sage. Indeed, a siyum in the rav's home was not unusual. It was a sign that another year had passed. This siyum, however, was different, and the rav invited his closest friends and associates to the affair. The invitees realized that it had been merely five months since that they had been to the last siyum. This siyum was special, explained the rav. Throughout his life he had tried to stay away from the yoke of the rabbinate because of its impact on his Torah study. He had spent the first eight years of his marriage in total immersion in the sea of Torah study. Afterwards, when he was compelled to take a rabbinic position, he accepted positions in those small communities which would accord him the most freedom to study Torah. As rav of Yerushalayim, the demands on his time grew, such that he no longer had as much time available for learning as he had before. He decided, however, that in those few minutes that he spent waiting for each simchah to begin, rather than waste precious time, he would make a seder, study period, for learning Talmud. Indeed, these minutes added up. In the span of five months, he was able to complete the entire Shas! We now have an idea of both the value of time and the definition of diligence in Torah study.


Righteous and fair is He. (32:4)

A great Torah scholar and disciple of the Kotzker Rebbe, zl, lost his daughter suddenly at a very young age. The rav was distraught beyond description. He could not eat; he could not sleep; he could not stay in his house. He decided to travel to Kotzk to seek the Rebbe's advice. He arrived in Kotzk a few days later and did not reveal his purpose in coming to anyone. As soon as he greeted the Rebbe, the Rebbe asked him for an explanation of a passage in the Talmud, to which the rav immediately rendered an excellent interpretation. The Rebbe continued with a question on Tosfos' commentary. Once again, the rav gave a brilliant explanation. This went on for a while, when finally the Kotzker looked into the rav's face and said, "If in Torah everything makes sense, and you can find an explanation for every question, why should Hashem's ways be any different?" The rav understood the Kotzker's message and was thereby consoled.


Ask your father and he will relate to you, and your elders and they will tell you. (32:7)

Minchas Yehudah explains that the father, who is in the prime of life, speaks with a strong tone. Hence, the word, yaged, relate, which is a stronger form of communication, is used. The grandfather, who is older, more experienced and has greater sensitivity, speaks with amirah, a softer manner of conveying a message.


Moshe came…he and Hoshea bin Nun. (32:44)

Why is Yehoshua referred to here as Hoshea? It is related that once one of the distinguished students of the Voloshiner Yeshivah was appointed to a rabbinical position in a large community. Before leaving the yeshivah, he came to the Netziv, zl, to ask for his blessing that he should not become victim to the baalei lashon hora, slanderers. The Netziv responded, "I cannot give you this blessing, for one who takes a communal position should be prepared for everything. It goes with the territory." Indeed, before Yehoshua was appointed leader of Klal Yisrael, he was called Yehoshua which reflects the blessing, "Hashem should help you." After he became leader, he was referred to as Hoshea, indicating that now it is inevitable to become a victim of lashon hora.


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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