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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


May My teaching drop like rain, may My utterance flow like dew. (32:2)

Torah is compared to life - sustaining, nourishing rain and to dew that is even more welcome than rain, because it arrives at a time that never inconveniences anyone. The commentators, each in his own manner, explain the simile of rain and dew with regard to the Torah. They focus on the ability of rain to generate growth and development. I would like to add one point concerning a function of rain, which could also serve as a metaphor for Torah. One of the extreme qualities of rain is that it causes whatever seeds or vegetation are in the ground to germinate and grow. In other words, if there are weeds or thorns in the ground, the rain will enable them to grow tall and strong. Torah is also like that. If one is worthy, the Torah will illuminate his eyes and he will be able to perceive the greatness and wonders of the Almighty. If, however, the individual is of a base character, morally deviant from a society guided by spiritual ascendancy, the Torah can have an adverse effect on him. He may use it to support his unconscionable behavior and practices.

We often forget that the early secularists were erudite in Torah literature. They used their Torah knowledge to develop loopholes in the law and to justify their rebellion against Hashem. The powers of reason which are honed through Torah study can themselves become the catalyst for undermining the Torah. Indeed, the founders of the Haskalah, Enlightenment, claimed that logic is the sole medium by which man can acquire knowledge. Thus, they reduced Revelation to nothing more than Divine legislation, dismissing the idea of revealed religion. They removed the Divine from the Torah, supporting their position with perverted logic based upon their knowledge of the Torah. In this case, the Torah nurtured weeds and thorns, enabling them to grow. The darkness that had not originally been expunged from this individual is nurtured by the light that was intended to illuminate his life. Just like the rain. Indeed, is this not the very reason the farmer rids his field of weeds and thorns prior to planting the new seed?

Rashi interprets the pasuk in Hoshea 14:10, "For the ways of Hashem are straight - the righteous traverse them and the wicked stumble upon them," in this manner. The very same path of G-d which serves to elevate the righteous also serves to make the wicked stumble.

Chazal make the same point with regard to the study of Torah. "For (those who study Torah) diligently, it becomes a source of life. For those who study it laxly, it becomes a deadly poison" (Shabbos 88b). The very Torah that is a life-giving elixir to the one who studies seriously becomes a poison to the one who views its study as a mere trophy or even as an intellectual exercise. There is nothing as pernicious as evil feeding and drawing upon the sources of good. When it is combined with evil character traits, the light of Torah does not mitigate the evil, but rather feeds and fans its flames. If a person does not entirely uproot the bad and evil within him, then light and darkness both have an equal influence upon him.

This idea is very aptly explained by the Gaon, zl, m'Vilna in his commentary to Mishlei 19:9. He cites the pasuk in Tehillim 85:12, "Truth will sprout from the earth, and righteousness will peer from heaven." He explains that the earth maintains the attribute of truth in its manner of producing its bounty. It grows whatever is planted therein. If wheat is planted, it will produce wheat, etc. From the heavens comes forth rain which is likened to righteousness - in that it is "fair," raining down equally on all vegetation. Thus, if one plants poisonous fruits in the ground, the "righteous" rain will nurture it and the "truthful" earth will produce it. Likewise, Torah, which comes to us from Above, provides the individual with the opportunity to attain whatever his heart desires. If it desires growth in yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven, it will enable him to reach this goal. If, however, his heart is filled with a bitter, acrimonious seed, it will also give that sentiment the ability to grow. We should take a lesson from the farmer and purify our hearts, so that the truth that sprouts will be the truth of Torah.

Hashem will see and grow angry from the provocation of His sons and daughters. He will say, "I shall hide My face from them and see what their end will be; for they are a generation of capriciousness, children without trust. (32:19, 20)

Horav Yosef Chaim Sonenfeld, zl, gave a noteworthy interpretation of the above pasuk during a dialogue he had with Ben Hillel, one of the primary leaders of the secular Zionist movement. Ben Hillel had been raised as an Orthodox Jew and had rejected his upbringing, choosing a lifestyle of secularism instead. Regrettably, as was the case among many of his colleagues, there existed a bitter contempt for the path of life chosen by his parents and forebears. At every juncture, he would speak with disdain and derision to and about his observant brethren. Seeing Rav Yosef Chaim walking down the street, Ben Hillel approached him and said to him superciliously, "Rav Yosef Chaim, as a wise, intelligent man, have you not seen the folly of your clinging to an archaic tradition? You are a man who possesses keen insight and wisdom. Can you not see that there is no future to Orthodoxy? The young generations have turned away from your obsolete observances. Any intelligent person can see that the trend of the future is modernity, secularism and a complete break with the past. In another twenty, thirty years your brand of Judaism with its old-fashioned views will disappear completely. Concede and stop waging war with us. Do you really believe that your grandchildren will adhere to your way of life? They, too, will attend regular progressive schools, if they do not want to lag behind!" The man's chutzpah was outrageous. It did not faze Rav Yosef Chaim. With total conviction and equanimity, he looked Ben Hillel right in the eye and asked, "Are you so sure that your grandchildren will follow in your ways? On the contrary, I am quite certain that they will renege your perverse philosophies, end up attending yeshivos and growing into fully committed, observant Jews. Your descendants will one day open their eyes and see the shallowness of your beliefs, the vacuousness of your so-called ideologies. They will clearly see that your entire belief is based on falsehood and nurtured in deceit."

"What makes you so sure that you are right?" Ben Hillel asked him.

"It says so clearly in the Torah," Rav Yosef Chaim replied. "'Hashem will see and grow angry from the provocation of His sons and daughters.' Why does the Torah use the name Hashem which symbolizes G-d's attribute of rachamim, mercy, when speaking of His anger? The Name Elokim, indicating the attribute of Din, strict Justice, would have been more appropriate. The answer is that, despite the Jews' provocation of Hashem, He will not respond in anger. He will certainly be disappointed and become angered, but He will not lash out at them. They will be granted a reprieve during which time the Almighty will stand by and wait patiently. Why? Because Hashem knows that their lapse in faith is temporary, 'for they are a generation of capriciousness.' They reverse themselves quickly. Thus, by the time the next generation appears, they will have reversed the disastrous course taken by their forebears. 'They are children without trust,' a new generation that does not give credence to the ersatz beliefs of their parents. They will quickly realize the void in their parents' lives and the vacuity of their ideologies. This will spur them on to search for a life of meaning, a life rich with meaning, a life filled with spiritual content, a life of moral rectitude, a life above the base desires of their physical dimension."

Ben Hillel said no more. He really had no response, because deep within his inner psyche, he knew that Rav Yosef Chaim was correct. Rav Yosef Chaim saw the future of the Baal Teshuvah movement, the waves of Jews who would return to a life of commitment and faith, to the life that has sustained our nation throughout the millennia.

Now that we know the fact, we must search for the reason. Why did so many return? What motivates thousands to reject the "fun" that is so endemic to today's hedonistic society? What voice tells them to stop what they are doing in order to commence a search for a deeper meaning to life? Last, what causes someone who has had no contact with any form of observance for two or three generations to drop it all to become frum, observant?

In the end of the days, in the period preceding Moshiach Tzidkeinu, there will be a great returning to Hashem. This is prophesized by the Navi Yechezkel and the Navi Malachi. It is as if Hashem is bringing back those whom He has selected to be a part of the Jewish People as they go on to their ultimate redemption. During this period, Hashem returns to us. To explain this concept further, we cite from the Tiferes Shlomo, who notes that when Yaakov Avinu bid farewell to his children, he said, "Come together, and I will tell you what will happen to you in the end of the days." The word "yikra," what will happen, is spelled in an unusual manner. It should be spelled with a "hay" at the end, instead of the aleph. The aleph at the end changes the meaning from "(what will) happen" to "calling." The Tiferes Shlomo explains that when one acquires an article he must make a kinyan, an act of acquisition. For movable objects or for animals, a kinyan meshichah, pulling the object to oneself, is sufficient. When dealing with animals, if striking it or calling it will cause it to move, the kinyan meshichah takes effect.

The period prior to the advent of Moshiach is the time when Hashem takes possession of the Jewish People. In the period prior to the end of the days, Hashem took possession via the medium of a stick; He drew us closer when we were beaten by the nations of the world. It was the persecutions to which we were subjected that catalyzed our movement back to the Almighty. Look at the pattern of history. Every period of assimilation was followed by oppression and persecution. It was always the stick that brought us back.

Not so in the end of the days. Yaakov Avinu alludes to the idea that prior to Moshiach's coming, Hashem will "call" us. This calling will engender within us a desire to come home, to return to Him. This is why the Torah uses an "aleph" for "vayikra" instead of a "hay." It will not be a happening; it will be a Divine calling. Those that are fortunate to listen will return and be embraced by Hashem.

For how could one pursue a thousand, and two cause a myriad to flee, if not that their Rock had sold them out, and Hashem had delivered them. (32:30)

One of the most challenging and, hence, often discussed theological issues is the holocaust that destroyed most of European Jewry. There is no shortage of papers that have been written on the subject and no dearth of self-proclaimed experts and "prophets" who have attempted to attribute rationale to the calamitous events that have left an indelible imprint on the Jewish psyche. First, the term holocaust is a misnomer. Horav Simcha Wasserman, zl, notes that the Hebrew word used for holocaust is shoah, which means "disaster." The word "aster" means "star" as in "asterisk," which is the symbol used to make a star. People have associated mazal, luck/fortune, with stars. Hence, a disaster means a bad star, bad luck, referring to something that "just happens." Shoah then becomes an occurrence that just happened, something inexplicable. It is a tragedy that just happened with no apparent reason.

There is nothing further from Jewish thought than such a statement. Absolutely nothing in Jewish life simply "just happens." Everything occurs by design of the Almighty. Thus, if the words "shoah" or "holocaust" leads one to believe that these events "just happened" to us, then they are a misnomer and misleading. Perhaps a more correct term would be "tragedy." The European tragedy was designed by Hashem. We do not know why. All we can do is study patterns in history and attempt to understand them as a lesson for the present and a portent for the future.

How did it happen? How did the Jews of Europe go like lambs to the slaughter? These are some of the questions asked by self-decreed academics, who manipulate their audiences to support their own insecurities and religious shortcomings. Questions such as these are more provocative than explanatory. While many responses have been given, the one most cogent and theologically acceptable is found in our parsha.

In Shiras Haazinu, Moshe Rabbeinu relates to Klal Yisrael many of the experiences that they will undergo. He does not shy away from the unpleasant and the tragic. The song is a prophecy, which tells explicitly what is going to happen and why. Hashem tells Moshe that the song is an "eid." The word "eid," explains Rav Simchah, has two meanings. One definition is "witness," something which testifies. The second meaning is "warning." Shiras Haazinu is a warning of what will occur as the result of certain behavior, as well as a witness attesting to the fact that what is predicted will -- and has -- come true over the millennia.

Therefore, when we ask the questions of why and how, we should look into the Torah, and we will discover that the question had actually already been asked 3300 years ago: "For how could one pursue a thousand, and two cause a myriad to flee?" Horav Yechezkel Levenstein, zl, the venerable mashgiach of Mir and Ponevez would point to this pasuk and say that Moshe was asking the question that so many have asked concerning the European tragedy.

While these are painful questions - questions that have alienated many - the Torah gives the answer: "If not that their Rock had sold them out, and Hashem has delivered them." Their passive response was not natural. It did not "just happen." It was a tragedy decreed by Hashem - a tragedy of epic proportion - a tragedy that we, with our limited ability, cannot understand.

Let me explain the meaning of an issue that is inexplicable. In Parashas Ki Sissa (Shemos 33:18-23), Moshe asks Hashem, "Hareini na es kovodecha," "Please reveal to me Your Glory." Hashem responds, "V'raisa es achorai, u'panai lo yeira'u." "You may see behind Me, but the front of Me you cannot see." The Yalkut Shimoni explains this dialogue, to be asserting that as inhabitants of this world, with its limitations, one cannot possibly comprehend events that are intellectually perplexing and emotionally challenging. One can only see the "footprints" of Providence as Hashem has passed.

Horav Aharon Soloveitchik, zl, explains this Midrash in light of the following incident. He was once invited to the home of an art connoisseur, who proudly displayed to him his collection of paintings. As Rav Aharon approached one of the paintings to get a closer look, his host said, "Rabbi, you cannot appreciate the painting unless you are at a distance of five feet." If the work of a human artist cannot be fully appreciated unless it is viewed from a distance, how much more so the work of Hashem, the Cosmic Artist of the world. Only after Hashem has completed the canvas of history will His meanings emerge and His rationale be comprehended.

To attempt to rationalize the European tragedy is to try to assess a complex canvas from a distance of two inches. Hashem told Moshe that His work can only be understood in retrospect, from a distance of time. The grasp of our limited intellect does not permit us access to the realm of comprehension with regard to the troubling events that occur. To attempt to rationalize Hashem's actions is to claim knowledge of Hashem's Master Plan.

On the other hand, one may and should be a student of history in terms of searching for patterns. These patterns only give us something to consider, a way of viewiing the present as a map for preparing for the future. Rav Aharon makes a strong point concerning those who attribute reasons to the tragedy. He distinguishes between: a rationalization, a theological explanation of the cause of the tragedy; and theorizing from a historical and logical perspective, based upon the Torah, why a tragedy has occurred. In other words, the famous statement issued by Horav Meir Simchah, zl, of Dvinsk, in his Meshech Chochmah, prior to the European tragedy, pinpointing the secular Jewish movement, whose roots were in Berlin, as the precursor of the tragedy is not a theological rationale, but rather, a historical perspective and portent for European Jewry. Indeed, noted secular historians concede that Biblical criticism, which emerged in Berlin, helped fuel anti-Semitism in Europe. As long as the Bible was an accepted and revered volume of Jewish theology, the Jews were not despised nationally, even though they were persecuted. It was only after "our own" Bible critics began to chip away at the credibility of the Torah, in their efforts to justify their own immoral miscreant behavior, that hatred for the Jews began to swell in the hearts of their gentile neighbors. Our exalted status was diminished, and roots of anti-Semitism that had been dormant were energized.

After all is said and done, this tragedy and the others that have befallen our nation are beyond the scope of our intellectual grasp. As Torah Jews, we accept Divine will and bow our heads in awed silence to those who, over the millennia, have been persecuted and murdered Al Kiddush Hashem. To paraphrase Rav Aharon, "Following that silence, we must raise our heads and declare to the world, 'Lo amus, ki echyeh va'asaper maasei kah,' 'I will not die; I will live and tell the Glory of G-d. (Tehillim 118:17)'"

Va'ani Tefillah

Chataos Ha'tzibur - Communal Sin-offerings

After the applications of the blood have been concluded, the Eimurim, innards, are to be burnt upon the Mizbayach. This service connotes the penitents' acquiescence to have all of his goals and ambitions permeated by and subjugated to the fiery force of Hashem's Law, so that all his earthly affairs will be an ishei raiach nichoach l'Hashem, "pleasing in the sight of Hashem." The remaining parts of the korban are to be eaten by the Kohanim within the holy area of the Azarah. This symbolizes that not only our ambitions and achievements, but even our mundane joys and pleasures, must be infused and vested with Priestly sanctity. Other than the Korban Pesach, which could only be eaten tzeli, roasted, the other korbanos may be prepared in any manner to one's taste and appeal. The parts that are eaten, however, must be consumed as close to the time of the shechitah as possible. Therefore, they may be eaten only until chatzos, midnight, on the day of the shechitah. The reason for this is that one consecrates his physical enjoyment only when he relinquishes his selfish aims and ambitions in favor of the Sanctuary.

urefuah sheleima

Rachel bas Sarah

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