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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


You shall rejoice with all of the goodness that Hashem, your G-d, has given you. (26:11)

The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh writes that b'chol hatov, "all of the goodness," alludes to the Torah, for there is no greater "good" other than Torah. He adds that if people would sense the incredible unparalleled sweetness and pleasantness associated with the Torah, people would go out of their minds in pursuit of Torah. Money would have no value; nothing would have value, for the Torah includes within it everything - all of the goodness in the world.

In his hakdamah, preface, to his Iglei Tal, the Sochatchover Rebbe, zl, writes, "Chazal's dictum, Mitzvos lav l'henos nitnu, 'The performance of mitzvos were not given for one to experience personal pleasure,' does not apply to Torah study. The study of Torah should engender a heightened sense of joy within a person. The underlying principle of Torah study establishes the ideal that a person should envision the truth and be overwhelmed with joy by experiencing firsthand the depth and clarity of mind achieved through Torah study. The primary objective of the mitzvah of limud haTorah is the pleasure and satisfaction one derives when he understands a passage of his learning." Anyone who has ever toiled in Torah and was zocheh, worthy, of penetrating its depth and capturing its meaning is uniquely aware of this feeling.

A Jew's simchah, joy, is derived from his sense of being at peace with himself, in complete harmony, without worry and in a calm state of affairs. Chazal teach, Ein simchah k'hatoras ha'sefeikos, "There is no sense of joy like (that which is the result of) resolving all doubts." Finding resolution for the issues that plague one's life/mind is the greatest source of happiness. As long as one is beset with any form of disquiet, the questioning and lack of closure will continue to weigh him down, often destroying his sense of quiescence. In Tefillas Arvis, in the blessing of Ahavas olam, we entreat Hashem, V'nismach b'divrei Torasecha, u'b'mitzvosecha l'olam vaed, "And we will rejoice with the words of Your Torah, and with Your mitzvos for all eternity." We immediately "explain" the reason for this sense of unimpeded joy: Ki heim chayeinu v'orech yameinu, "For they (the words of the Torah) are our lives and the length of our days." We clearly underscore the Torah as our source of joy. It is only when a person comes to the internal realization that the study of Torah and mitzvah observance are the sources of eternal life, and that they are the only sources of longevity and quality of life, that one can achieve true joy. V'nismach b'divrei Torasecha, only then has one achieved peace of mind, total harmony - joy in the fullest and truest sense of the word.

This does not preclude "fun," but one must remember that fun is not the essence of life. A life filled with fun may quite possibly be totally vacuous if it contains no eternal value. A life without value is not life. It is merely existence.

From the very onset, children should be inculcated with the notion that there is no true simchah like simchah shel mitzvah. There is no source of eternity like the Torah. It is our life, our future, and the joy of our hearts. One may surely enjoy the wonders and beauty of the world and nature. True joy, however, is reserved for matters relating to the spiritual dimension. Only in that realm will one find joy in something of lasting value.

Throughout the generations, we have been blessed with Torah leadership who embodied the ideals of Torah standard. Their joy in studying Torah and in observing Hashem's mitzvos has been boundless and without parallel. Make no mistake; their joy has not been to their grasping a chelek, portion, of Olam Habba, the World to Come. Indeed, their joy is in olam hazeh, this world. While others enjoy the temporal pleasures which have little or no value or meaning, their olam hazeh is comprised of Torah and mitzvos.

Horav Elazar M. Shach, zl, once rema

rked, "My Olam Habba I am already receiving in olam hazeh when I study Torah, for there is no greater joy in life than (that which is derived from) Torah study." The story is told that a wealthy philanthropist, well-known for his generosity to yeshivos, once commented to Horav Aharon Kotler, zl, "My portion is even greater than that of the Rosh Yeshivah. The Rosh Yeshivah will certainly be the recipient of Olam Habba in the merit of his Torah study. The Rosh Yeshivah, however, has gained nothing from this world. I, however, will receive Olam Habba for my support of Torah. I am like Zevulun, who supports Yissachar. In addition (to my Olam Habba), I am presently enjoying the many pleasures that my wealth allows me to experience."

When Rav Aharon heard this, he immediately rose from his chair and exclaimed, "As far as my Olam Habba is concerned, I have no idea. Of one thing I am certain: I have olam hazeh. You, however, have none! For there is no greater pleasure in the world than Torah study and mitzvah performance!"

The last two stories are hardly a surprise, since both of these gedolim, Torah giants, were living embodiments of the Torah. Their unparalleled devotion to the Torah was their inspiration to distinction. It was truly the essence of their lives. What about the amcha Jew, the Yid who exemplifies Mi k'amcha Yisrael? "Who is like Your nation, Yisrael?" This refers to the Jew who is not a gadol. (Actually, I think such a person truly epitomizes Torah greatness.) Just an ordinary (or not so ordinary) Jew, whose commitment to Torah follows in consonance with that of faithful Jews throughout the millennia. I came across what I feel is a telling expression by a Jew who did not serve in the capacity of Torah education. He was very learned, a Holocaust survivor, who, if not for the war, perhaps might have become a Torah sage - but, now, he was a layman, a baal ha'bayis, deeply committed to Yahadus, Judaism.

While he never gave interviews, in his The Unexpected Road, Rabbi Hillel Goldberg relates a conversation that he had with Mr. Martin Tesler. It was the beginning of the war, 1939 or 1940, and Mr. Tesler's son, who was fourteen-years old the time, was taken from him. This was the last time he ever saw his precious son. Now, some sixty five years later, he was retelling the event. Rabbi Goldberg wondered what he would remember: Would he remember? Would he even speak about it? What would stand out in his mind? How would he express his pain?

This is what Mr. Tesler remembered about his son: "He was already learning Tosfos!" An eternity of anguish came out with these five words. This was this father's ultimate condemnation of the heinous act perpetrated by the accursed Nazis. Beyond everything that these animals had done, beyond the atrocities and physical and emotional indignities, they were to be denounced for taking away a son who was already learning Tosfos! Sixty-five years after the tragedy, it still gnawed at him. He retained his deep pain. Why? Because his son had already begun to study the most sophisticated commentaries to the Talmud. He was already ascending the heights of the Torah - and the Nazis, yimach shemam, destroyed that escalation to the heights of Torah erudition. This is what pained him. Ki heim chayeinu v'orech yameinu. These are words that cannot be explained. They must be felt. They must be experienced.

It shall be that if you listen to the voice of Hashem, your G-d Then (He) will make you supreme over the nations of the earth. All these blessings will come upon you. (28:1,2)

The Torah enumerates a number of material blessings which are wide ranging and encompass every area of material life. What should be the primary and most significant blessing? "He will make you supreme over the nations of the earth" seems to be presented more as a hakdamah, prelude, to the rest. One would think that our supremacy in the world, the respect, admiration, and certainly the lack of animus against us would not only be an introduction to the blessing - but rather, the greatest blessing in its own right. Horav Zev Weinberger, Shlita, explains that the Torah is teaching us an important principle. Elyon al kol goyei ha'aretz, "supreme over the nations of the earth," means that we will develop the proper mindset, the correct Torah hashkafah, perspective, concerning the value and meaning of blessing. We cannot approach blessing with a gentile/contemporary society mindset. Our barometer for defining blessing cannot be the perspective of the goyei ha'aretz. We must achieve supremacy over them. Only then will we be able to appreciate the blessings which Hashem bestows upon us.

Once our perspective on life has been properly established, our understanding of "Blessed shall you be in the city and blessed shall you be in the field" will change. The entire concept of "livelihood," success with children - indeed, the very foundation of blessing, will have new meaning. Contemporary society's concept of blessing a curse is for the Torah Jew. A life of materialism and hedonism is certainly not a blessed life. Once we have our heads on straight, our ability to see properly will be modified and magnified.

We now understand why, in pasuk 14, the Torah admonishes us not to follow after the heathen idols. What does idolatry have to do with a people who are blessed and committed to listening to Hashem's word? The admonition concerning idol worship belongs elsewhere - when the Torah addresses klalos, curses. The Maharil Diskin, zl, explains that the Torah is teaching us not to derive any lesson whatsoever from the behavior of the idol worshippers. A person might be inclined to learn from the mistakes of the pagans. This, too, is included in the prohibition against following after the idols. We must realize - once and for all - that we are elyon al goyei ha'aretz, "we are above and beyond the society which sometimes envelops us." They have nothing to teach us, neither positive nor negative. We do not have to learn from their mistakes, because we are not interested in what they do. We are not on the same page. The sooner our people realize that our Torah is our culture and that the lifestyle of a Torah Jew is better, loftier, completely on a different plane than the lifestyle enjoyed by members of contemporary society, we will be much happier, more satisfied and better Jews.

I close with an appropriate thought from Horav Yehonasan Eibeshitz, zl, concerning the pasuk, "Hashem will place you as a head and not as a tail" (Ibid 28:13). Obviously if one is a rosh, head, he is not a zanav, tail. Why must the Torah add the second half of the blessing? It could have stated simply, "You will be a head." Rav Yehonasan quotes the Tanna in Pirkei Avos, 4:20, "Be a tail to lions rather than a head to foxes." Apparently, it is possible for one to be a head of "tails," but to be a head of "heads" is a completely different distinction. The Torah blesses us to be a rosh, head, of heads, of lions, of leaders - not a head of weak, obsequious tails. To be a "head" means very little if those who are following are not distinguished. Likewise, we may add that making it in the gentile, contemporary, society does not mean that one has truly become by Torah standards - a rosh. We have different values and different ideals. Their heads, whom they venerate, are successful adaptations of their base, materialistic society. After all, would one rather be a famous rosh yeshivah or a basketball star? Unless one has the refinement that is inherent in a life of Torah and mitzvos, he really has nothing.

Blessed shall you be in the city and blessed shall you be in the field. (28:3)

A Jew shall remain blessed whether he is in the city together with his chaburah, social group, or if he is alone in the field, away from everyone. Horav Yaakov Galinsky, zl, recalls his years as a student in the Novaradok Yeshivah, an institution which imbued its students with a sense of commitment to Torah and mitzvos that transcend time and place and even social support. Wherever a Novaradoker student found himself, he was somehow able to transcend the vicissitudes of life and the challenges they presented. For example, Rav Galinsky and a group of students were banished to a prison camp in the frozen tundra of Siberia. On a warm day, it was forty below zero. No beds, sleeping on the floor in the freezing cold, being forced to subsist on scraps of vegetables, because kosher food was non-existent. Yet, this was not the end of the world. They were able to survive amid deprivation; indeed, they thrived in frozen captivity.

It was not the physical challenges that made life difficult. It was the emotional challenge - the desolation and loneliness, separated from family and friends, all alone in the bitter cold, compelled to cope with the overwhelming silence of forced solitude. How did they survive in a world isolated from humanity?

He quotes what became the motto of these bnei Torah. The Navi Malachi (3:16) says, Az nidberu yirei Hashem ish el reieihu, "Then those who fear Hashem spoke to one another." Theirs was a pre-established relationship that transcended time and space. True, they were physically separated from one another, but the love and devotion for one another which permeated their essence remained with them, imbuing them to overcome the loneliness that enveloped them during the toughest of times, granting them the ability to endure, to survive, to thrive.

This was Novaradok. A yeshivah - a movement - of extreme dedication to the point of mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice for one objective: to seek the truth. Their commitment to Torah was fabled. Their devotion to one another was legendary. There was a unique, unbreakable bond between students and rebbeim through which they nurtured one another. The pasuk of Az nidberu, emphasizing the relationship between friends, became their motto.

Chazal state, "One who takes leave of his friend should do so only through a halachic discourse, since from this (it will be a catalyst through which), he will remember him" (Brachos 31a). The Yerushalmi adds that it refers to a specific halachah of, Yachid v'rabim, halachah k'rabim. "If there is a dispute between an individual and a group, the halachah follows the majority." Why is this halachah selected over all others as the halachah to emphasize upon departing from one another?

In Novaradok, they gave the following answer: When two people are together, when a group of friends, students are aligned with one another, it is easy for one person to encourage another and, likewise, to receive inspiration, intellectual and emotional stimuli, and support that endures their separation from one another. This halachah alludes to the idea that one is never alone. He is always part of the group - even when he has moved away from them.

This is the meaning of our opening pasuk, "Blessed shall you be in the city and blessed shall you be in the field." (As) You are blessed when you are in a chevrah, group, of like-minded, Torah oriented, G-d-fearing Jews, who share your common goal within the shul, the bais hamedrash; so shall you be blessed when you must leave, when you are on your own, often in a place far-removed from Torah and mitzvos. The friendship of the rabim, group, will infuse and maintain you even when you are a yachid, alone.

It is difficult when one is alone and must confront the spiritual elements that oppose him. We have only to study the life of Yosef HaTzaddik to understand the depth of his loneliness, as he was forced to survive spiritually during his wanderings. First, he was alone in the field searching for his brothers. Then, he descended into the immoral depravity of Egypt, living in the house of Potifar whose lecherous wife sought every opportunity to bring him down. This was followed by a stay in the dungeon of Egypt with its criminals and other low-lifes. When he was finally elevated to the position of viceroy, he was not yet safe. He still remained very much alone, a religious Jew among the lewd aristocracy of Egypt. How did he do it? What gave Yosef the strength of character to remain faithful to Hashem, despite the lack of social support?

The Kotzker Rebbe, zl, explains that the answer lies in the question posed to him by the man/Angel that originally met him when he was searching for his brothers: Vayishaleihu ha'ish leimor mah tivakeish, "And the man asked him, saying, 'What is it that you seek?'" (Bereishis 37:15). The man gave him the clue, the key, the secret to surviving the harsh spiritual elements that overwhelm us in this world. "Do you know what you are seeking? Do you have a purpose, a goal, an objective? Do you know where you are going? Do you know what you want?" It is all one question: What is your purpose in life? These are the opening words of the Mesillas Yesharim: "The bedrock of piety and the root of flawless Divine service lie in man's effort to clarify and verify his duty in the world. He must determine for what he is aiming, and how to achieve this - in all his labors throughout his lifetime." There it is in a nutshell. Do you know where you are going? Do you have a goal?

Rav Galinsky quotes an analogy from the Alter m'Novaradok, Horav Yosef Yoizel Horowitz, zl, which underscores this idea. A simple farmer, who had led a bucolic lifestyle far-removed from modern convention, saw a locomotive for the first time. He was absolutely amazed to discover that one steam engine could pull many train-cars laden with human passengers, agricultural and industrial freight. He wanted to know which of the many cars was the locomotive and which were the cars. He was told to wait until the cars had disengaged from the locomotive. The car that could move by its own locomotion was the locomotive. The other trains were just pulled along.

"Likewise," commented the Alter, "in the yeshivah, we have many students. Some are compared to cars, who are doing well as long as they have someone to follow, to emulate. Then there are those who move of their own volition. These are the locomotives. How can one discern between the two types of students? When the connection is severed, when they must go out on their own, then it is quite clear who can make it on his own and who will falter." There are the "Yosefs," and there are the rest of the crowd.

But Hashem did not give you a heart to know, or eyes to see, or ears to hear until this day. (29:3)

Moshe Rabbeinu tells the people that only now, after forty years of miraculous sojourn in the wilderness, with danger at every turn, were the people finally able to acknowledge the all-encompassing gratitude they owed Hashem. It takes common sense, wisdom and insight to appreciate fully the debt of gratitude we owe those who have helped us in our achievements. Sadly, many of us refuse to engage our common sense, either because it then behooves us to show our gratitude to others - which is difficult for some - or because a festering bitterness makes us angry and resentful of anything others might do for us.

Rashi explains the word daas, knowledge, as the ability to recognize the kindness of Hashem. In the Talmud Sanhedrin 92a, Chazal state, "One who gives his bread to someone who has no daas (which in this case means common sense, the ability to discern) he will receive yissurim, pain and affliction." We wonder what offense he committed by being nice to a person who lacks wisdom. Does he deserve such punishment as pain and affliction - just for being nice to the fellow who does not appreciate his act of kindness?

Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, explains that the punishment does not emanate from Hashem; rather, when one helps someone who is incapable of appreciating his kindness he ultimately will end up suffering from the subject of his beneficence. Someone who lacks appreciation invariably belittles the kindness that he has received. He will attempt to discredit his benefactor by finding something deficient about his act of kindness. In the end, he will complain about him and even scorn him. All this is due to the fact that a person who lacks daas is dangerous.

It is all part of a pattern of bitterness. Klal Yisrael complained about the manna: it was too light; its texture troubled them. They did not realize that kings eat light food, because they can afford to eat refined food. Hashem was doing the Jewish People a favor. Not only did they not appreciate the favor, but they complained and scorned Hashem.

When Adam ate of the Eitz HaDaas, Tree of Knowledge, whom did he blame? "The woman whom You gave me." Hashem sought to help Adam, so that he would not be alone; He created an eizer k'negdo, a helpmate opposite him. As soon as Adam erred, he immediately blamed Hashem for giving him Chavah: "Hashem, it is because of You that I sinned. Had You not granted me this woman, I would not be in this predicament." Someone who is not makir tovah, able to acknowledge gratitude, can turn on his benefactors.

The meraglim, spies, were no different. They observed many funerals taking place wherever they went in Eretz Yisrael. Rather than attributing this strange occurrence to Hashem providing miracles for them, they slandered the Land.

Bitter people are angry and resentful, occupying themselves with finding and dwelling on ways in which they have been wronged and how life is not fair. These people are not enjoyable to be around, because they spoil everyone's mood. They negatively stereotype others and see only what their warped minds perceive. They enjoy their bitterness, because their life is probably not the way they want it to be. They become martyrs to their misery, all the while taking it out on anyone who has the misfortune to cross their paths.

Hakoras hatov, gratitude, means acknowledging the good one has performed for the benefit of another person. To acknowledge good demands that one concede that he has benefited from someone else and that life is not as bad as he has painted it to be. In order to change this pervasive attitude, which eats away at a person until he has lost every friend and destroyed every relationship that he has ever had, one must sort out his issues and focus on the root of his bitterness. It could be his job, lack of success, family issues, finances, etc. One's mind naturally gravitates towards other negative thoughts. By sorting out one's issues and getting his life where he wants it to be, he will be less troubled by life's injustices. We must remember that a person who is bitter towards other people cannot be far from expressing his negativity towards Hashem.

Va'ani Tefillah

V'asu lahem Tzitzis. And they shall make for them Tzitzis.

The word Tzitzis is usually translated as fringes or related to the word meitzitz, to look, as in Meitzitz min ha'charakim, "Peering through the lattices" (Shir HaShirim 2:9). Thus, the ornament worn by the Kohen Gadol on his forehead is called a Tzitz, which means something to look at. Horav S. R. Hirsch, zl, suggests that Tzitzis is related to the word for flower, as in Tzitz ha'sadeh, "A flower which sprouts from the ground" (Tehillim 103:15). He explains that Tzitzis "sprouting" from our clothing reflects the fact that our clothing is an extension of the higher moral significance of what clothing means to the human being.

In brief, at first Adam and Chavah did not wear clothing, since their essence was the neshamah, soul, with their outer skin serving as the covering for the soul. Their real being was clothed by their outer external flesh. Once they sinned by succumbing to their bodily desires, they became identified with their animal bodies, and their outer skin was no longer simply a covering, but it became an identity. Thus, they required clothing to serve as a covering, to reflect the notion that they had a moral obligation to subdue their animal natures.

Therefore, the idea of clothing for the human being is a reflection of the verity that man reigns supreme over the animal (the fewer clothes, the more we are like the animal). By covering our bodies, we underscore the notion that our bodies are not our essence, but only a covering over the neshamah. However, as Yidden, the idea of subduing our animal nature is extended. It becomes Tzitzis, growing, flowering into a higher moral calling, that of acceptance of Hashem's dominance and rule. Tzitzis demonstrates that it all does not end by just being better than the animal. We need purpose and a higher calling.

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