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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Who I call out the Name of Hashem, ascribe greatness to our G-d. (32:3)

According to the Rashbam, this pasuk teaches us the importance of accepting and affirming Hashem's deeds, regardless of how they might superficially appear to us. Moshe Rabbeinu is saying, "When I speak of Hashem's great deeds and His kindness towards you, and also when I speak of the necessary punishments He must mete out against you, attribute to Him greatness. Acknowledge that Hashem's ways are just, and always in accordance with what you deserve." Chazal derive a number of halachos from this pasuk concerning brachos, blessings, and the listener's response to them. When Hashem's Name was uttered in the Bais Hamikdash, those assembled were to respond: Baruch Shem kovod malchuso l'olam vaed, "Blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity."

The Sifri derives from here that when one makes a blessing, the listener should respond Amen, an affirmation of the blessing. In the Talmud 119b Chazal say that Amen is an acronym for Keil Melech Ne'eman, "G-d Faithful King." Indeed, Chazal extol the one who responds to the blessing made by another Jew. The commentators expound upon the awesome reward in store for he who says Amen properly; likewise, they decry and detail the punishment for he who neglects to respond Amen in a proper, dignified manner.

When we answer Amen, we indicate our agreement with the blessing or with what the individual is expressing. Amen means that our inner understanding, our intrinsic perception, is at one with that which we have heard. It is much more than a one-word public response; it is a reflection of the inner emotions of our soul. It is the essential "me" confirming that the sentiments which we have heard, resonate with our own thoughts and feelings. The purpose of a "loud" Amen is to rally others, to use our faculty of speech as a public declaration of our inner reverberation of thought and agreement with the blessing. The loud Amen is not for us; it is for others. For us, it represents a quiet reflection, a deep emotional expression exalting in G-d's Name, an inner recognition that Eil Melech Ne'eman.

So many stories abound which demonstrate the significance of answering Amen. My goal was to find one inspiring story that would make a difference, so that I might encourage people to wait in shul until after the last Kaddish has been recited. After all, just imagine how that last Kaddish, the Kaddish Yasom, prayer of an orphan, must "feel" when we look for reasons to conclude our session in shul early, ignoring the last Kaddish. It is almost as if it should be called the "orphaned" Kaddish, since it is often left alone in shul with a steadily decreasing minyan.

Having said that, the following is a true story that took place recently in Ashdod. There was a family in the community who had recently lost its mother. In her merit, members of the family took upon themselves to recite the blessing over food only in the presence of others, so that the others could answer Amen. It seemed simple enough. One day, however, the daughter came home and was extremely thirsty. It was a hot day, and she had walked home from school. All of this added up to a parched throat and a powerful thirst. Since no one was at home to respond to her blessing, she remained thirsty. She waited and waited. Finally, two and a half hours later, one of her siblings arrived, so that she could finally have her drink.

That night, she had a dream. Her deceased mother appeared to her and said, "Know, my child, the fact that you waited so long to make a brachah so that someone could answer Amen, made a powerful impression in Heaven. Indeed, as a reward for your deed, it was decided that a positive decree would be granted. It so happens that one of your classmates is gravely ill with an incurable disease. In the merit of your good deed, she will be healed completely." Her mother told her the name of the classmate, which shocked her, since no one knew that she had been ill.

At 5 a.m. the girl woke up in shock. She immediately ran to her father and told him the dream. The father said that he would look into the matter in the morning, since no one was aware of her classmate's illness. Shortly after davening, her father approached the father of her classmate and inquired about his and his family's health. The man answered that everyone was well, but wondered about the sudden interest in his family's welfare. The widowed father revealed to him the reason for his question.

The man was shocked. No one was aware of his daughter's illness. It was supposed to be kept a secret. The widowed father's explanation must be true, because they had not told anyone about their daughter's illness. Both fathers were members of the same Chassidic sect, so they went to their Rebbe to seek his advice. The Rebbe listened to the story and then instructed the father to take the ill girl to the doctor for a physical, to determine the extent of her illness. On that same day, the girl had been scheduled to begin her first therapy session.

The family are believers, and, thus, they were not shocked when the doctor came out and incredulously declared the girl healthy. The results of the exam were astounding. The child was totally clear - not one bad cell. There was absolutely no trace of her illness! It had to be a miracle. It was a miracle; the result of a little girl's stubbornly observing a mitzvah that can have a life-impacting merit.

The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are justice. (32:4)

It is with these words that Moshe Rabbeinu's Shirah, song, actually begins. Tzur, the rock, is a metaphorical description of the Almighty, which occurs several times in the Shirah. Its presence in the Shirah indicates that it is a characterization of Hashem. Horav S. R. Hirsch, zl, comments that with regard to Klal Yisrael and its relationship to Hashem, Tzur implies a dual entity. We know that Hashem has been the everlasting support of our existence throughout history. We exist only as a result of His will. With this in mind, we are assured that as a nation we are indestructible. On the other hand, we must live our lives based on the specific paths revealed to us in the Torah. These are laws which we may not ignore, because they are as immutable as the existence and the Will of G-d Himself. Whatever turns of fate may be in store for us, we experience them to serve one purpose: to bring about the ultimate realization of Hashem's objectives for, and through, Klal Yisrael. In other words, Hashem has a plan, and we are part of it. The blows that we receive at times are the hammer blows of G-d's shaping power, fashioning and molding the Jewish people.

We exist as a result of His Will, and our existence is contingent upon our conformance with His Laws. As invincible as a rock, we, as a people, are here to stay. Yet, we have "issues." We seek an understanding of the "hammer blows" which have become an intrinsic part of the collective life of our nation. We believe that Hashem will never abandon us, yet, we are bothered by His concealment. We feel alone, but we know deep down that we are not. How do we relate to such a predicament? Perhaps the following story will lend some insight.

There was once a man who suffered greatly, constantly being stricken with illness and troubles. Whenever he was struck by misfortune, which was often, he would feel alone and forsaken. He would cry out to Hashem and ask: Keili, Keili, lamah azavtani, "My G-d, My G-d, why have You abandoned me?"

One night, he dreamed that he was walking on a very long path. When he looked back, he saw two sets of footprints, but in some places, where the path narrowed, he saw only one set of prints. He began to think. After a while, he came to the realization that the path in question was really the path of his own life. Starting with birth, he passed through childhood, developed into adulthood and now he was at the sunset of his life. He had reached old age, and the path was reaching its end.

He traveled on this path in the accompaniment of Hashem. The path was wide and well lit. Hence, the second set of footprints. During those instances in which the path became narrow and dim, there was only one set of footprints. Hashem had left him in bad times. Why? Why did You forsake me in the times of travail? I needed You there. You allowed me to travel all alone during times that I needed You most. Why?

Suddenly, he heard a gentle voice, "My beloved son. You are mistaken. Yes, during those times of difficulty, when travail and bitterness seemed to engulf you, the road became quite narrow, and you seemed to be walking alone. This is not true. Actually, you are never alone. The reason you see only one set of prints is that when times are painful, when the path is constricted, I carry you. Those footprints are mine! You are never alone. Even at times when you feel abandoned - especially during those periods of hardship- I am even closer than before."

The man woke up from his dream a changed person. He realized how wrong he had been, how important it was to rely on faith to help him shoulder his troubles. "Even when I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me."

Hashem spoke (to Moshe) on that very day. (32:48)

The phrase "on that very day" appears three times in the Torah. In each circumstance, a large mass of people were determined to prevent Hashem from carrying out His decree. Thus, as an indication of the futility and folly of human endeavor, the pasuk in each case emphasizes that it took place "on that very day," in public view, during which anyone who foolishly thought that he could prevent the proceedings from occurring, could see how wrong he was. The first case is when Noach was about to enter the Ark, and his compatriots thought that they could prevent this from taking place. This was later followed by the Egyptians thinking they could impede the Jewish People from leaving Egypt. In this last scenario, the people were distraught concerning Moshe Rabbeinu's imminent death. They thought they could obviate this decree by not allowing him to ascend the mountain. Hashem ordered him to go up to the mountain, publicly, in plain sight, to demonstrate that man cannot countermand Hashem's Will.

What seems puzzling is the thought that might have entered the people's minds. Does a Jew for a minute believe that it is within his power to prevent someone's death? Horav Aizik Ausband, Shlita, cites his rebbe, Horav Asher Kalman Baron, zl, who explains that Klal Yisrael thought that they would intercede through prayer. Knowing fully well the awesome power of prayer, they would put it to good use praying for their rebbe and leader, Moshe, to live.

Apparently, Hashem did not grant them the ability to save Moshe through prayer. Why? Rav Asher Kalman explains that a cardinal rule in the principles of emunah, belief in the Almighty, is that one can achieve the supernatural via prayer. The power of sincere prayer is unparalleled. One condition must be met, however: the individual must rely solely on Hashem. If he thinks for one moment that his tefillah, prayer, has its own efficacy, he is not only wrong, but he borders on heresy! A person may - and should - entreat Heaven for mercy, asking for one more dose of compassion, one more chance, but he may never think that he has any power to rescind a decree.

This was Klal Yisrael's error, when they said, "If we sense what is occurring, we will prevent it from taking place." They felt that they had the power, even if only through the medium of prayer, to halt Moshe's death. Their error was in relying upon their own sense of power.

Ascend to this Mount of Abarim… and die on the mountain… and be gathered to your people, as your brother died on Mount Hor, and was gathered to his people. (32:49, 50)

The Meshech Chochmah observes that when the Torah relates Moshe Rabbeinu's imminent death in Sefer Bamidbar, it writes: "And you shall be gathered in to your people, you too, as your brother, Aharon, was gathered in" (Bamidbar 27:13). This is a truly impressive end to a life well-lived. The word death is not mentioned; the Torah merely says that, he is "gathered to his people." Indeed, Rashi writes that Moshe desired an end to his life that would parallel that of Aharon. In Sefer Devarim, as we note in the above pasuk, things seem to have changed. Moshe is offered the same "end" as Aharon; only this time the Torah writes concerning Aharon, "As your brother, Aharon, died on Mount Hor, and was gathered to his people." Now the word "death" with its inherent gloom and doom is mentioned. What happened between Bamidbar and Devarim?

Horav Meir Simcha, zl, sees the answer in Chazal's explanation of a similar change of wording elsewhere. In Melachim I 11:21, the Navi relates how "Hadad heard in Egypt that David (Hamelech) had gone to rest with his fathers and that Yoav (ben Tzruyah), chief of his army, had died." David had gone to "rest" with his fathers, while Yoav had died. In the Talmud Bava Basra 116a, Chazal explain the contrast: "Concerning Yoav, who did not leave a son like himself after him, death is mentioned; concerning David, who did leave a son like himself, death is not mentioned." It depends on what one leaves over when he moves on. If continuity is suggested, his passing would not be expressed with such finality. If he is the end of his legacy, he has died.

In a sense, a parallel may be applied to Aharon HaKohen's departure from this world. Throughout the Torah, we note indications of Aharon's impressive stature. The Torah changes the phrase "Moshe and Aharon" to "Aharon and Moshe" in order to indicate that they were of equal status. At one point, Aharon's son and heir, Elazar, stood on a plane similar in status to that of his father. In Bamidbar 27:21, the Torah writes, "Before Elazar HaKohen shall (Yehoshua) stand, and he shall ask him according to the judgment of the Urim before Hashem." Not every Kohen could be given a question for the Urim v'Tumim, only one who has spoken with Ruach HaKodesh, Divine Inspiration, and upon whom the Shechinah reposes. This all demonstrates that Elazar was destined to assume Aharon's position and status. Thus, in Sefer Bamidbar, no mention is made of "death" concerning Aharon's taking leave of this world. There was no "death." Like David Hamelech, he had left a son of his own considerable stature. Aharon was "gathered to his people," with no words connoting gloom used in this connection.

Something happened, however, to alter the circumstances and to create a change in Elazar's status. He was destined to be Yehoshua's primary counselor, to whom he would turn when he needed to hear Hashem's word through the Urim v'Tumim. After Aharon passed away, Elazar made a serious error which changed everything. At the time of the war with Midyan, although Aharon was gone and Elazar was now the Kohen Gadol, Moshe was still very much alive and in full capacity as the Rabbon Shel Yisrael, quintessential rebbe of the Jewish People. A question arose concerning the kashering and immersing of the captured utensils. Elazar decided to teach the laws to the soldiers.

Elazar was careful not to impugn Moshe's leadership and he certainly showed reverence to him. However, teaching the halachos at all when Moshe, his rebbe, was still alive was considered a breach in respect. Chazal in Eiruvin 63a, say: "Anyone who decides a halachic question in the presence of his teacher… is cast down from his greatness." Elazar did, and he was accordingly cast down. As Chazal tell us, although it is written that Yehoshua should consult the Urim v'Tumim through Elazar, it never occurred. Elazar lost the ability to consult with the Urim v'Tumim as a result of his infraction. Aharon no longer had a son on his own level of greatness to assume his exalted position in the world. Elazar was great, but he was not Aharon. He could not replace his father.

Following this misfortune, when Hashem referred to Aharon's departure from this world, He said to Moshe, "And be gathered to your people, as your brother, Aharon, died on Mount Hor." Now that Aharon no longer "left a son who was like himself," his demise became post-facto burdened with heavy-hearted connotations. No longer is his passing a triumphant "ingathering" to the previous generations. He had "died." The change of words reflects the downgrading of his status.

Horav Meir Bergman, Shlita, cites another instance in the Torah in which the opposite is true, when two people received an outstanding, everlasting reward for excelling in the area of respect for elders. We read in Parashas Vayechi about the scene in which Yaakov Avinu gave his final blessing to his children. Everyone received his personal blessing which addressed his individual character traits and qualities. Interestingly, Yosef's two sons, who were included among the tribes, received the consummate blessing, Becha yevorach Yisrael, yesimcha Elokim k'Ephraim v'k'Menashe. "Yisrael will bless (their children) by you thus: G-d make you like Ephraim and Menashe" (Bereishis 48:20). This blessing begs elucidation. Why were these two grandchildren elevated to Shevatim, tribal status, and then given a blessing like no other tribe, whereby they become the standard for blessing for all future generations?

Yaakov was acutely aware that the generations would dwindle spiritually, each generation descending in its spiritual status from the generation that preceded it. When he saw Ephraim and Menashe, he saw a marked difference between them and the other tribes. As the third generation removed from him, they were able to elevate themselves to the level of his own children. He was impressed that not only did they not dwindle, but they actually ascended in their spiritual journey. What better blessing can a father give his sons than to be like these two archetypical leaders? Who does not want his son to rise to the level of previous generations?

How did they do it? What brought about this incredible elevation of spirit that characterized Ephraim and Menashe? Rav Bergman demonstrates how their self-effacing characters played a pivotal role in their relationships with their father and grandfather. Menashe is referred to as the meturgamon, interpreter, between Yosef and his brothers. As his father's secretary, he was privy to be the first to detect the brothers' arrival in Egypt. He was the one who incarcerated Shimon; and, as supervisor over Yosef's palace, he was the one who welcomed the brothers to the home and later hid the silver goblet in Binyamin's sack. Last, he pursued them as thieves. Menashe played a central role in the reconciliation between the brothers and Yosef.

Likewise, we find Ephraim, who studied regularly with Yaakov, serving as the messenger to inform Yosef about his father's illness. Yosef's sons demonstrated extraordinary care, devotion and respect to their father and grandfather. They sought no accolades, a phenomenon which is indicated by the fact that the Torah does not mention them at all in its recording of events. Why? Precisely because of their consummate devotion. They viewed their devotion to the service they performed for their elders as a second nature. They were so selfless that when they engaged in it they saw themselves not as separate entities carrying out a service, but as extensions of those whom they served. The Torah thus records their death in the same impersonal manner.

The epitome of their humility came when they stood before Yaakov. Yosef placed them in a position such that Menashe, the older son, would receive the first blessing. Yaakov, however, did not seem to agree, indicating a preference to Ephraim over Menashe. Yosef respectfully "corrected" his father, who maintained his position. During this interchange, Ephraim and Menashe stood silently, not questioning, acquiescing to whatever decision was made, because they felt that it was not their place to interfere in a dialogue between their father and grandfather. This is respect! It concerned their future. Yet, they remained calm and did not mix in. This was self-effacement at its zenith, a sense of humility and respect that earned them unprecedented status as Shevatim, equal with their uncles!

When young people feel that they know better and are more "with it," have a better perception and understanding of the issues, they ultimately sever their relationship with the past and disrupt its continuity. We must remember that we, as each generation before us, serve as a link in Klal Yisrael's progression and perpetuity. When we connect with the past, our nation's history becomes alive. It no longer has happened to "them." It involves "us." We are "them," and they are "us." We are all part of the continuum of Klal Yisrael.

Malchuscha malchus kol olamim.
u'memshaltecha b'chol dor v'dor.
Your kingdom is a kingdom spanning all eternities. And your dominion is in every generation.

What difference is there between malchus, kingdom, and memshala, dominion? Furthermore, why is malchus a kingdom spanning all eternities, whereas memshalach is a dominion for all generations? The Siach Yitzchak cites the Gaon, zl, m'Vilna, who says that malchus is b'ratzon, willingly, and memshalah, is a rulership even against one's will. This is the meaning of the pasuk in Tehillim 22:29, ki l'Hashem ha'meluchah u'mosheil ba'goyim, "For the sovereignty is Hashem's, and He rules over our Nations."

Concerning Klal Yisrael, it is a meluchah, which is accepted with good will. Hashem reigns over us b'ratzon. Regarding the other nations, it is similar to a mosheil, rulership with force. In the future, however, it will be V'hoysah l'Hashem ha'meluchah, v'haya Hashem l'melech al kol haaretz, "And the kingdom will be Hashem's. Then Hashem will be King over all the world" (Ovadiah 1:21) (Zechariah 14:9).

Everyone will then accept His rulership b'ratzon, willingly. This is what our pasuk is telling us, "Your kingdom (which is b'ratzon) is for all eternities, but Your domain, which You rule over the nations of the world, that is only for the coming generations until the advent of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, when it will be accepted willingly by all peoples."

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

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