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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


He was like an eagle arousing its nest, hovering over its young, spreading its wings and taking them, carrying them on its pinions. (32:11)

In describing Hashem's relationship with Klal Yisrael, the Torah uses the simile of an eagle. The eagle demonstrates incredible compassion for its young. It does not suddenly enter its nest, but rather, stirs the nest up, then spreads its wings - not under, but - above its nestlings, so that, with keen courageous eyes, they fly up to rest on the mother's outspread wings awaiting them above. The eaglets, however, must make the first move, explains Horav S. R. Hirsch, zl. Their mother waits for them, but they must bravely and consciously make the decision to leave the safety and security of their nest and fly up by themselves to set themselves upon their mother's outstretched wings.

So, too, does Hashem first awake His People and get them used to having the courage to trust themselves with the free-willed decision and full consciousness to place themselves under His guidance. This free-willed, conscious decision is the preliminary condition that grants them access to the whole future guidance and makes them worthy of it. Only the young eagle has the courage to leave the stability of its nest and trust himself to the upward flight, into the isolating heights where its parent hovers.

It requires great courage to make this move, to take the "plunge" and trust in a Higher Power. We are so used to relying on the secure and comfortable life built upon human power and art that it is difficult to sacrifice a life of materialism and imagined security for a life of spirituality, relying solely on the word of G-d. How many have refused to do so out of fear of the "unknown"? How many have "tip toed" out, only to return quickly, having failed the courage test? To be an observant Jew takes courage and resolution. Klal Yisrael was trained during the forty-year sojourn in the wilderness. This courage to trust has been transmitted to their descendants. We have to believe in ourselves, believe that we can do it. Unless we make the move by leaving the imagined safety of the nest, however, we will never soar. We will continue living in the nest until it falls apart and we, who thought that we have been protected, will sadly discover that we are not.

Hashem beckons to us to come to Him, but we must be prepared to leave the nest.

Were they wise they would comprehend this, they would discern it from their end. (32:29)

There are some things that we only seem to comprehend at the end, after we have had the bad experience, and everything good that we believed would occur does not materialize. Only then do we realize our foolishness for not listening to the voice of reason, to those who discourage us from making a bad choice. The worst part is that, even after we have supposedly learned our lesson, it does not serve as a deterrent from performing the same foolish acts over again. The Kaf HaChaim, zl, offers a powerful analogy to explain the pasuk.

A man was married to an exceptional woman. She possessed superior intelligence as a result of her sharp acumen. She was exemplary in her middos tovos, positive character traits. Indeed, she personified the eishes chayil, true woman of valor, as characterized by Shlomo Hamelech in Sefer Mishlei. Her husband was acutely aware of this most wonderful gift with which he had been blessed, and he made every effort to show her his appreciation.

Once, he was on a business trip which took him to a small town where he enjoyed the hospitality of the local Jewish innkeeper. It had been a long - but successful - trip and he saw no harm in relaxing from his tensions with a good hearty shot of whiskey. One shot led to two, and, before long, the man was in a state of total inebriation. The innkeeper saw an opportunity to benefit from his guest's present "relaxed" state. It seems that the innkeeper had a daughter who was neither blessed with exceptional physical looks, nor was she unusually bright. These deficiencies (in the eyes of the beholder), coupled with her living in a small out-of-the-way village which precluded her contact with society, created a situation in which she was challenged with regard to shidduchim, marriage. Being not overly intelligent, not overly appealing in appearance, her father was climbing the walls in search of a young man to marry his daughter.

The innkeeper saw before him a solution to his problem. He approached the inebriated guest and proposed his daughter to him as a wife. "But I am already married", the guest countered. "Nu, so what is wrong with a second wife?" the innkeeper asked. Back and forth, they talked, until in a moment of total imbecility, the guest agreed to marry the innkeeper's daughter. Quickly, the father called two witnesses and made a makeshift tenaim, binding engagement. Voila! His daughter was practically married!

The guest stepped out into the cool night air, and, after a short time, his head began to clear. He suddenly realized what he had done. Now what? His wife would probably be furious with him. On the other hand, if he were to renege on the marriage, he will have lost a good friend and hurt the feelings of an innocent girl. He had only one course of action. During all the years of his marriage, whenever a difficult decision came before him, he would discuss the issue with his wife. Her clear, common- attitude to the various problems was a breath of fresh air. She would surely advise him regarding to his present predicament.

The man came home and, meekly, he began to present the entire debacle: how he became drunk and betrothed to this other woman. She was well aware of the other woman and her reputation. She looked at her husband and said, "I think you should keep her as a wife." He looked at his wife incredulously, "Do you know what you are suggesting? Her father expects me to marry her within the month!"

"Why wait a month? I think you should get married this week", his wife answered. The husband thought that he would lose his mind. "How can I get everything ready within a week?" he asked. "I do not have an apartment, furniture and the various accoutrements that go with setting up a house."

"Do not worry," his wife replied. "You can use our house. We will all live together as one happy family. I will leave the day of the wedding and live with my father for a month. I will return home after the month. This will give you the opportunity to get to know your bride. There is, however, one condition: during the month that I will be gone, you may not contact me. Under no circumstances may you reach out to me during this time - regardless of the situation!"

Reluctantly, the husband agreed to his wife's advice. He did not understand her reasoning, but who was he to argue with her? He was the one who had created his own problem. He would have to live with it. He notified his kallah's parents that he wanted to get married the following week. His wife helped prepare the dinner and even decorated their home to welcome the new bride.

The wedding took place, and he brought his bride home with him. Now that he was stone sober, he looked at her and saw a different woman than the one he had seen in his inebriated state. Well, looks are not everything. Perhaps her seichal, common sense was her strong point. He asked her, "What is today?" She replied, "Wedding." "I know that. What day of the week is it, Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday?" "Wednesday," she repeated. "What was yesterday?" "Wednesday" she repeated - again. "What is tomorrow?" he asked. "How should I know?" she replied. "We will wait and see and when tomorrow arrives, we will know what it is."

Seeing that he had really fallen in, he figured that maybe she might at least be proficient in the kitchen. He asked her, "Can you please bring me a glass of water?" "From where?" she asked. "From the kitchen," he replied. "Where is the kitchen?" she asked. This went on for a while until the husband realized that this woman was clueless concerning anything. She obviously was physically and mentally challenged, which was far from appealing. He immediately returned with his new wife to her father's home and petitioned for a divorce. He had been duped into marrying a woman who was not for him.

The man sat at home for an entire month - lonely, depressed, and miserable. Oh, did he miss his wife! She was so special. Now he realized even more how fortunate he was to have such a special wife. He now understood why she had readily agreed to the marriage. She knew it would not work. She was acutely aware that he had to discover for himself that such an arrangement was doomed. Had she told this to him, however, he would not have believed her. He would always wonder: Perhaps she would have been good for me. Maybe the marriage would have worked. He had to find out for himself the hard way that such a relationship was not for him.

The Kaf HaChaim sums up the mashal, analogy. The Torah is compared to a faithful wife without peer. It guards over us and protects us from harm. Along comes the yetzer hora, evil-inclination, and attempts to push "her," the Torah, aside. It tempts us with another spouse. We defer to our desires, falling into the trap of blandishments set for us by the king of guile, the yetzer hora. We follow our heart, falling prey to its passions, until we realize too late that this is a poor imitation of Torah.

Lu chochmu yaskilu zos, "Were they wise, they would comprehend this." They would realize that absolutely nothing can replace the Torah. There is no wisdom like the Torah's wisdom, no lifestyle like the one prescribed by the Torah. Too many have wandered off to chase their dreams, only to wake up to a bitter nightmare. They thought that another spouse, a life detached from Torah observance or one in which they could inject a little modernity, some progressive thinking, would add to their geshmak, enjoyment of life. Yavinu l'acharisam; 'They would discern it from their end.' In the end, they have lost everything. Their past is gone; their present is filled with frivolous foolishness, nothing of enduring value; their future is likewise gone, because the decisions they made earlier in life took their toll on their children, who are now completely divorced from Judaism. Thus, the sooner they realize the folly of their ways and come to their senses, the better are their chances of salvaging their present and future.

Apply your hearts to all the words that I testify against you today. (32:46)

Are Klal Yisrael to apply themselves solely to that which Moshe Rabbeinu commanded them that day? What about all of the other days? Are they to be disregarded? Horav Nachman, zl, m'Breslov teaches that one's avodas haKodesh, service to the Almighty, should focus on hayom, today. Yesterday is gone, over, finished. Tomorrow is the future. Who knows if there will even be a tomorrow? Our concern is for today. Rav Yitzchak makes the following statement (in the Talmud Kiddushin 30b): B'chol yom - "A person's yetzer hora, evil inclination, renews itself against him (every Jew) every day." Rabbi Shimon ben Levi adds, "A person's evil inclination threatens to overpower him every day and seeks to kill him." The Gaon, zl, m'Vilna, explains the idea of the daily power of the yetzer hora as an indication that, even if it has failed to convince a person to commit a particular sin the first time, it will make a stronger attempt each succeeding time. It never gives up. Thus, the Talmud is exhorting the individual to maintain his vigilance concerning the yetzer hora's guile. Beating him out one day is insufficient, because he will return, fresh and crafty, prepared for a renewed fight.

The Sifrei Chassidus apply the Breslov approach. The yetzer hora presents a daily challenge, and that is exactly how we should view it: from a daily perspective. When one views his battle with the yetzer hora as a lifelong endeavor, he will become overwhelmed, slothful and depressed: "It is too much"; "It is beyond my ability." When the battle with the yetzer hora is viewed as a never-ending battle, which demands constant vigilance, the individual might give up without a fight: "Why make the attempt when the chances are that I will not succeed?" If, however, he views the battle with the yetzer hora, as lasting but one day, hayom, it becomes much easier, something that he can handle. Tomorrow? Who knows what will be tomorrow? I am concerned only with today. One should stay focused on the present day by removing all thoughts of the past and all concerns regarding the future. It is all about hayom.

The Gaon suggests that the key to overcoming the wiles of the yetzer hora is to maintain one's focus on three points: the individual himself; the activity (the mitzvah presently before him); the time. In other words: the entire Torah is comprised of one page; he is the only person in the world; this is his last day on earth. One page - one person - last day/chance.

One should view himself as the only person in the world. If I do not go to shul today, the shul will be empty. If I do not reach out and help the poor man in need, there will be no one else to help him. If I do not attend the shiur, Torah lesson, there will be no lesson. This is step one: it is all about me.

Step two focuses upon the endeavor, the mitzvah at hand: this is the only instance in which the mitzvah of tzedakah, charity, will be available; the only opportunity to daven; the only chance to visit a sick person.

Step three calls to attention that today is the only day that I am alive. There is no tomorrow. This is it.

Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, asks, "If Eliyahu HaNavi would approach any one of us and say, 'I have been sent to deliver some bad news. It has been decreed that today is to be your last day among the living. Tomorrow you will be gone,' What would be our reaction? Would we run to the bank to withdraw our assets? Would we order a large fancy meal with all the trimmings? Or - would we run to the bais hamedrash and learn like we never did before?" Obviously, the answer is simple - or it should be. One will waste no time in running to the bais medrash to learn every precious minute that he has.

Horav BenTzion Abba Shaul, zl, once related to his students, "I accepted a young student into the yeshivah based upon his word alone." The Rosh Yeshivah continued, "A young boy approached me and asked to be admitted into the yeshivah. Since I saw that he was too young, I suggested that he return the following year for an entrance exam. The boy left and returned about a half hour later, asking, 'May I at least learn in the yeshivah today?'

"I was amazed with this boy's attitude. I had never come across such a phenomenon. A boy is not accepted into the yeshivah because he is too young, yet he asks to be allowed to learn that one day in the yeshivah. What does he have to gain from one day in the yeshivah? Obviously, this boy understood the infinite value of each and every day's study in the yeshivah. I was amazed by this boy's maturity. To realize at such a young age that one day in the yeshivah is an unparalleled gift indicates the unparalleled love this boy has for Torah learning. I was sure that he will one day be a great Torah leader. Thus, I accepted him."

We often talk about keeping an eye on the big picture, the larger purpose, the goal that we should set for ourselves in order to complete our mission. While maintaining an eye on the larger picture is important, its fruition is best achieved by working at it day by day, piece by piece; otherwise, one becomes overwhelmed with what he must do. It is so much easier to face the "present" without being encumbered by the "past" and the challenges that might arise in the future.

We certainly do not require the corroboration of secular sources to support the above idea, but, since I just read this story and I am acutely aware that Peninim reaches a vast audience of all persuasions, I feel it is appropriate to include the following. Sir William Osler is considered by many to be the father of modern medicine. As a young student in 1871, he read about a short quote from Thomas Carlyle, a Scottish poet that inspired him to change the focus of his life. This led to his becoming an outstanding physician, visiting professor of medicine at Oxford University and founder of Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore. The quote: "Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand." Forty-two years later he gave his famous lecture entitled, "The Way of Life" at Yale University, based upon this simple, but profound, quote.

It is all about hayom. So many of us are either bogged down by the errors of our past or the fantasies we have concerning the future, when our primary objective should be hayom, what lies so clearly before us today.

Shloimke was a teenager who suffered immensely during World War II. Beaten and hounded, witnessing the murder of his entire family, he himself ended up in a dreaded Nazi death camp. Shloimke might have suffered, but his commitment to Hashem did not wane one iota. One day, the Nazi guard caught Shloimke wearing the Tefillin, which he was able to smuggle in with him to camp. With a loud, animalistic cry demonstrating the intense hatred this Nazi harbored for the Jews, he grabbed Shloimke and hurled him to the ground. He then proceeded to strike him on the head with a leather truncheon on the place where he had placed his Tefillin Shel Rosh. He struck him long and hard until all signs of life disappeared. Leaving his body on the frigid ground, the Nazi left. Hashem was not yet prepared for this saintly young soul to leave this world. A few hours later, Shloimke came to, and his compatriots removed him to the bunker where, after being nursed back to health, he survived the war. He merited raising a wonderful family, a virtual spiritual empire.

One day, his son asked him, "Tatty, what inspired you to choose life, to fight to live in the deadly purgatory that was your lot?" Shloimke took his son in hand and said, "Every morning when I woke up from the few hours of painful rest sleeping on the cold floor, I looked up to Heaven and pleaded with Hashem, 'Ribono Shel Olam, please give me just one day! Allow me to live through today.' I did not ask for more than one day - at a time. This continued for five years until the liberation."

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

The phrase, b'etzem hayom hazeh, on that very day, appears three times in the Torah, each time indicating that large masses of people were prepared to impede Hashem's decree from being carried out. Thus, to demonstrate that He was in charge - and not the people - Hashem ordered that it be done in the middle of the day, in plain view of everyone. Let them see that no one - absolutely no one - has the power to prevent Hashem's word from being carried out. The first time was when the people of the dor ha'mabul were bent on preventing Noach from entering the Teivah, Ark, followed by when the Egyptians foolishly thought that they could halt yetzias Mitzrayim, the Exodus, followed by this situation.

The first two instances were cases of reshaim, wicked people, thinking that they could impede Hashem's will from being carried out. Here, it was a distraught Jewish nation seeing that their beloved leader was to be taken from them. Their love for Moshe Rabbeinu was so overwhelming that they thought they could prevent his death by preventing him from ascending Har Navo. Hashem instructed Moshe to go up the mountain publicly, as an indication that no one could keep Hashem's word from achieving fruition.

When the Brisker Rav, zl, was gravely ill with his final illness, all of the yeshivos and Kollelim increased their prayers for him. Many held special prayer sessions to beseech the Almighty, to petition the Heavenly Tribunal to grant continued life to this giant of Torah. Yeshivas Mir held a special prayer gathering in the zchus, merit, of the Rav. Prior to the recitation of Tehillim, the venerable Rosh Yeshivah, Horav Chaim Shmuelvitz, zl, ascended to the podium to address the assemblage. He cited the above Rashi, which describes Klal Yisrael's desire to prevent the death of their Rebbe, Moshe. How could they imagine that it was within their ability to prevent death? Life and death are not in the realm of human domain. Only Hashem can grant life and decree death. Mortals are powerless in this completely spiritual dimension.

The Rosh Yeshivah explained that Hashem has imbued Klal Yisrael with a unique koach, power: the ability to pray fervently with such sincerity and outpouring of passion that individuals are effectively able to catalyze change in a Heavenly decree. It is not as if they cause the change; Hashem is the only One Who can avert or alter a decree, He does, however, listen to Klal Yisrael's tefillos. Therefore, even when the situation appears hopeless, it is not. Hashem listens. Ostensibly, many factors beyond the scope of our human perception go into play, although the decision is ultimately Hashem's. Through the vehicle of sincere prayer, we can and do play an active role in ameliorating the final decision.

Rav Chaim related that a year earlier he had attended the funeral of Horav Zaidel Samietetzky, zl, together with the Brisker Rav. He had shared this dvar Torah with the Rav, who replied that he had learned a similar p'shat, exposition, in a passage of Chazal relating to Moshe's death. Hashem had instructed Moshe to ascend the mountain and die there. This indicates that Moshe's death was contingent upon his going up the mountain. Therefore, if Klal Yisrael had wanted, they could have prevented his death by obstructing him from going up the mountain.

Horav Shmuel Aharon Yudelvitz, zl, posits that Moshe was acutely aware that Klal Yisrael would attempt to impede him from ascending the mountain. Thus, as Rashi explains, rather than climb the mountain step by step, our quintessential leader made one leap and reached the summit of the mountain. Why did he do this? Was he not aware that his death was intricately connected with going up the mountain? Hashem had issued a decree. Being the ultimate eved Hashem, servant of G-d, he carried out Hashem's will with utmost alacrity. Knowing fully well that his flock would do everything to "keep him," he bounded up the mountain in one giant leap. He loved Klal Yisrael; he loved his life; but he loved Hashem more.

Va'ani Tefillah

Mechayeh hameisim. He resurrects the dead.

In his sefer Avnei Shoham, Horav Moshe Leib Shachor, zl, explains that the closing blessing mechayeh hameisim, is different than the earlier version of mechayeh hameisim. There is the actual resurrection of the dead, when the deceased are brought back to life. This is the climax of the body being preserved in such a manner that it is able to be resurrected (so to speak). It is not a new creation, but rather, the original human being whose body has been maintained in readiness for this moment. This is the mechayeh hameisim of the closing brachah. Thus, mechalkel chaim: He sustains life; He maintains the living on earth. He later is mechayeh meisim, preserves the dead, so that they may be later resurrected. This explains why the term mechayeh hasmeisim is written in the present tense, rather than the future tense. Does it take place constantly? Is techiyas hameisim not an event to take place in the future? It is - but only after the deceased has been "kept alive," waiting for this event.

zechar nishmas Rochel Leah bas R' Noach a"h Fraida bas R' Noach a"h Sara Esther bas R' Noach a"h נספו במחנות ההסגר בשנות הזעם י"ג תשרי תש"ג

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