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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


If a man will have a wayward and rebellious son. (21:18)

The ben sorer u'moreh, wayward and rebellious son, is punished al shem sofo, as a consequence of his iniquitous end. He will one day resort to murder in order to satisfy his desire. Rather than wait for him to be punished for committing a violent act, he is killed now, so that he dies on a relatively innocent level. This concept is not consistent with the idea expressed by the Torah concerning Yishmael: Ba'asher hu shom, "In his present state." (Bereishis 21:17) The angel asserted that the innocent child, Yishmael, should die as a consequence of what his descendants would do to the Jewish People. Hashem responded that a person is judged according to what he "is," not according to what he "will be." If so, why is the rebellious son judged according to the acts of terror that he will commit later on in life? What about his "present state"?

The Kotzker Rebbe, zl, suggests a profound thought to explain this concept. The expression al shem sofo, translated literally, means "according to his end." While we interpret this as reference to what he will do later on in life, it may have another meaning. Al shem sofo, "according to his end," refers to the end of his title: ben sorer u'moreh. The word moreh, which we have translated as rebellious, can also be understood to mean "and he will teach." A moreh is a teacher. Our fear is that this rebellious child will not just simply isolate his iniquity; he will share it with others, teaching them to be rebellious. When the evil is such that it will be spread and develop a following, when it will be spawned by teaching it to others, it must be stopped now! It is important to give a person who is straying a chance to rehabilitate himself, but not at the expense of others.

When you will go out to war…and you will see among its captivity a woman who is beautiful of form…If a man will have a wayward or rebellious son… an Ammonite or Moavite may not enter the congregation of Hashem…because of the fact that they did not greet you with bread and water…and because he hired against you Bilaam ben Be'or. (21:10, 11, 18) (23:4, 5)

The Torah sees beyond the veil of ambiguities that conceal the essence and reality of an activity that appears innocuous or harmless. As members of the Torah nation, we unequivocally trust the Torah's decision concerning certain situations that would normally baffle human perception. Let us cite three examples from our parshah. The Torah begins with the halachic dispensation concerning the yefas toar, the beautiful captive. One sees a woman among the enemy captives and is suddenly engulfed with an uncontrollable desire for her. Understanding the breakdown of human rationality during times of war, and addressing human frailty, the Torah recognizes that the soldier may not be able to restrain himself. Therefore, it provides a venue for the lustful soldier to satisfy his desire in a permissible way.

In the second example, we find the incident of a wayward and rebellious son, the ben sorer u'moreh, who becomes, among other things, a glutton and drunkard, stealing money from his parents to satisfy his addiction. The Torah understands that while the gravity of the sins that he has committed until now is not yet severe, it soon will be. His behavior is a clear indication that he will become a monster and kill people in order to satisfy his addiction. The death penalty is imposed on this youngster, even though he has yet to commit the capital offense that he is destined to commit. Let him die while he is innocent and not when he is actually guilty of capital crimes. What is the difference between the two cases? Why do we allow the soldier to defer to his passion? Why are we not concerned that he might be stricken with desire and plunge deeper and deeper into the abyss of sin - just like the ben sorer u'moreh? Why do we have more confidence in the soldier who is driven by lust than the youngster who is addicted to gluttony and liquor?

The soldier is a product of a Torah education who stumbled into desire. We can work with him. Until now, he has proven himself to be of impeccable character, virtue and piety. Otherwise, he could not have joined the Jewish army. Only the righteous were selected as soldiers, but even the righteous can falter in the heat of battle. Anxiety and fear dominate; the mind no longer thinks clearly; the passions of the heart begin to prevail. There is, however, hope. This man was educated. His connection with the Torah has not been severed. There is still room for hope.

The ben sorer u'moreh has not had a chance to develop his Torah values. He has no foundation - only an uncontrollable addiction that must be satisfied - or else. He will do anything to satiate that desire, because he has never had the basis of a Torah education to shape his outlook, to put the "brakes" on his lust, to control and guide his mind. He does not drive; he is driven. The Torah has determined that, for him, there is no hope. It sees beyond the cloak of human activity, to the motivating factor of every action. Is it evil incarnate, or is it a temporary flaw?

In our third example we are exhorted not to admit an Ammonite or Moavite as a convert, because members of those nations did not come out and greet us with bread and water when we journeyed past their land, and because they hired Bilaam to curse us. Once again, we see what seems to be a "gray" area, a lack of proper etiquette. A flaw in character refinement should not be license to exclude them from Klal Yisrael. Yet, if the Torah says no and includes it together with a second reason, a reason demonstrating extreme malevolence and hatred for the Jewish People, this is more than a character flaw. It is not simply a lack of human compassion. It is because they possess an implacable hatred for the Jewish People, a hatred only the Torah can perceive. People see what appears before them. The Torah looks into the heart - and Moav's heart is evil incarnate. They have no place in our holy nation.

Then you shall take them both out… and pelt them with stones and they shall die; the girl because of the fact that she did not cry out. (22:24)

Why is the girl who is betrothed stoned in the same manner as the one who attacked her? The Torah explains that she should have cried out. Since she did not scream, it indicates that this violation was not an act of force, but was consensual. The Sefas Emes derives an intriguing thought from here. We often claim that we are not to blame for our sins, since the yetzer hora, evil inclination, coerced us into acting sinfully. It was an accident. We are not innocent bystanders. Blame the yetzer hora. This pasuk serves as a condemnation of such excuses. You should have cried out. If the yetzer hora is impacting your life and not allowing you to serve Hashem as you desire, then cry out to Hashem. Pray to Him to give you the fortitude and resolution to triumph over the yetzer hora's blandishments. Just as the girl is held in contempt because she did not vigorously protest her violation, so, too, are we held accountable for not turning to Hashem during the yetzer hora's coercion. When He sees how much we do not want to sin, He will protect us from the evil inclination's insidious effect. If we do not cry, it indicates that we are not that distressed by our sinful behavior.

Because of the fact that they did not greet you with bread and water…and because he hired against you Bilaam ben Be'or…to curse. (23:5)

The Torah states two reasons for not accepting converts from the nation of Moav: because they did not greet us with bread and water when we traveled to Eretz Yisrael; and because they hired Bilaam to curse us. We are hard-pressed to develop a connection between these two reasons. What relationship exists between the two? Horav Meir Abavitz, zl, explains that greeting the Jews with bread and water is more than an act of kindness. It is an expression of kavod, honor, respect, for a nation that has been the beneficiary of such incredible miracles, as well as an acknowledgement of their unique relationship with the Almighty. Hashem's love for Klal Yisrael was no secret. The entire world community was aware of this exemplary expression of love. As the recipients of this special Divine countenance, they should have been accorded an outpouring of respect. Certainly, they should not have been scorned. There was one possible justification for the Moavites' lack of respect and recognition for the Chosen People: they did not believe in miracles. The supernatural was beyond their grasp. Whatever the Jewish People experienced must have been beyond the natural order of events. Miracles just do not happen. If it was a natural occurrence, however, Klal Yisrael does not merit any distinction.

When they hired Bilaam to perform his nefarious incantations and curse the Jewish People, they demonstrated that they did believe in the supernatural. The mere fact that they were inclined to accept the premise that a curse can affect an entire nation was the greatest indication of their belief. Apparently, their hatred for the Jews was so intense that they were even willing to believe in miracles. A nation whose hatred was so overwhelming that it created such a dramatic transformation in their belief deserves to be distanced from the Jewish People. Such implacable hatred is genetic and, thus, not easily expunged.

It occurs frequently. People claim not to believe in Hashem or in His ability to perform miracles. Yet, when these same people are confronted with a crisis, an illness, a tragedy, they suddenly turn to Hashem. Likewise, we find those who disclaim any sort of belief in spiritual powers. When they are in pursuit of fulfilling their base desires, however, they are prepared to go to any length to achieve their goals.

Horav Elchanan Wasserman, zl, citing his rebbe, Horav Eliezer Gordon, zl, related a similar idea. The Telshe Rosh Yeshivah commented, "The word is that the secularists do not believe in anything. They simply have no conviction. That is a blatant lie! They certainly do believe, but they believe in the wrong thing. Instead of believing in a Navi emes, true, righteous prophet, they believe in a Navi sheker, false prophet. Every person has the power of conviction, the power of faith. The problem is that there is a dearth of knowledge in what and in whom they should believe. Without the Torah, one remains blind and baffled."

Horav Chaim Kamil, zl, cites a like-minded thought expressed by the Bais HaLevi in his commentary to the confrontation between Yosef and his brothers. He writes, "We see clearly that the denial of Hashem by the heretics of our times is not the result of a lack of belief. They are all believers! In fact, their heresy is a by-product of their belief, but this belief is in the words of heretics and false ideologies. They follow like the blind and believe and listen to everything they hear." After all is said and done, a person believes what he wants to believe, rather than what he should believe.

The Bais HaLevi's commentary on the famous Midrash focuses on Yosef's dialogue with his brothers and their frightened response -- or lack thereof. Yosef said, "Is my father still alive?" Their reply was, "No response," because, as the Torah relates, they were frightened. In its commentary, the Midrash notes, "Woe is to us for the Yom HaDin, Day of Judgment; woe is to us for the Yom HaTochachah, Day of Rebuke." Yosef was the youngest of the brothers. Yet, when he said, "I am Yosef," his brothers were speechless. What will we say when we face the Heavenly Tribunal in which each person will be rebuked according to what he is?" The Bais HaLevi explains the difference between the two terms, Day of Judgment and Day of Rebuke. How are they different from one another?

There are two aspects to Hashem's judgment of man: din, judgment; and tochachah, rebuke. Din focuses on the actual sin. One transgresses, and he must pay for his infraction. Human beings with their frailties and limitations are hard-pressed to own up to their responsibilities. Part of human maturity is to accept responsibility for one's actions. Regrettably, we always attempt to justify our actions, finding some excuse for the reason that we acted as we did. Heaven forbid we should concede guilt. At times, we even have the audacity to present our incursion as some form of mitzvah! Hashem understands how a human being might err and give credence to a sin, by seeking some validation. This could even be tolerated under certain conditions. When the person acts like a hypocrite by justifying his sinful behavior, rebuke becomes necessary.

The brothers expressed their overriding concern for their father's well-being. Everything they were doing to protect Binyomin was to spare their father any travail. Thus, when Yosef said, "I am Yosef! Is my father still alive?" he was implying, "You did not seem to care about our father when you sold me into slavery. All of a sudden, now when it is convenient to care about him, you care. Where was your concern all of these years?"

The same idea applies to each and every one of us. We claim we are too tired to attend a shiur, Torah study class, or to study with a study partner: "It has been a long day." Why is it that we find the time and strength to participate in anything else - be it witnessing or participating in a sports event or attending a function that is not Torah- oriented? We claim that it is difficult to arise early in the morning to attend davening. When we have to go away for any reason other than davening, however, we are able to get up bright and early. We are filled with hypocrisy. Our excuses cannot withstand the "rebuke" of our actions, because they do not coincide. When it serves our benefit, we are able to do anything we want. When it involves serving Hashem, we are very creative in conjuring up excuses. Day of Judgment addresses the actual sin. Day of Rebuke focuses upon our hypocrisy.

The converse is also true. The individual who has a difficult time rising on time, yet makes sure to attend davening bright and early, surely merits a great reward, since he is acting contrary to his nature. He triumphs over the obstacles presented by the yetzer hora, evil inclination. That is his hope for the Yom HaDin. When we demonstrate our ability to overcome challenges, Hashem smoothes out the path to reward.

You shall not cause your brother to take interest…you may cause a gentile to take interest. (23:20, 21)

Rashi comments that this exhortation is directed to the borrower and serves as an addendum to the prohibition already mentioned in Vayikra 25:37, which prohibits the lender from taking interest from a fellow Jew. Gentiles, however, are exempted from the laws of interest. Thus, a Jew is permitted to pay them interest and extract interest from them. The commentators explain that the laws of interest are primarily part of the laws of chesed, kindness. One must lend money to his brother without taking interest as part of his obligation to perform kindness to his fellow Jews. Why is it different in regard to gentiles? Does kindness extend only to Jews? Furthermore, according to the Rambam, taking interest from a gentile is a mitzvah. Why?

Horav Simchah Wasserman, zl, cites the pasuk at the beginning of Sefer Mishlei (1, 3), which instructs the Jews to accept mussar haskel, wise discipline, tzedek, righteousness, mishpat, justice, and meisharim, fairness. The Gaon, zl, m'Vilna defines tzedek as one's obligations towards his fellow; and mishpat as his rights and what his fellow owes to him. The Torah instructs us to focus our efforts on providing good will to our fellow. We must ask ourselves: What do I owe my friend? What must I still do for him? Have I fulfilled my obligations? This is tzedek, righteousness. The Torah commands us to lend money to our fellow Jew without exacting any interest in return. It must be purely for the favor, a consummate act of kindness - not an act of taking advantage. If a person only focuses on what he must do for his fellow, but his fellow only looks for ways to take advantage of others, squeezing whatever he can from the other fellow, there would be nothing short of anarchy. Therefore, the Torah demands mishpat, justice, which indicates the other fellows' obligation towards me.

When a Jew lends money to his fellow Jew, he incurs a loss, since he cannot charge interest for the money which he is lending. Money that could have otherwise been earning interest in the bank is presently in another Jew's possession - for nothing! Remuneration is inherent in the concept of mishpat: When I borrow from my fellow Jew, he may not charge me interest. This reciprocity is called meisharim, fairness, in which I do for you and you do for me.

When a Jew lends money to a gentile, however, this reciprocity does not exist, since he may and will charge me interest. Thus, in accordance with the rules of reciprocity, I should do the "same" for him. Part of this idea of meisharim is that I do for the other person what he would do for me. He lends for interest; therefore, I lend for interest.

We are commanded to strive to be a mamleches Kohanim v'goi kadosh, "a kingdom of Priests and a holy nation." This can only be achieved when we adhere to the concepts of tzedek, mishpat and meisharim. Lending money to our fellow Jew out of a sense of kindness - not for profit purposes - is one of the ways that we may achieve this lofty and noble goal.

Va'ani Tefillah

Yehi chasdecha Hashem aleinu kaasher yichalnu lach.
May the loving-kindness of Hashem be upon us, while we eagerly await Him.

Bitachon, trust in Hashem, is the feeling that everything in this world occurs as a result of His will and that nothing can occur by accident, by coincidence. Nothing just happens. It has to be decreed by Hashem. We sense that Hashem is the Source of whatever loving-kindness we experience in our lives. Thus, according to Maharam Albildah, this prayer tells us that bitachon alone, trust in Hashem, and hoping for His chesed, kindness, are sufficient merit for us to realize our hopes. One need not be a righteous person to be deserving of Hashem's kindness, merely if yichalnu lach, "we eagerly await Him," we are already guaranteed that, yehi chasdecha aleinu, "Your loving-kindness be upon us." Moreover, even if our trust is incomplete, if it is deficient, nonetheless, crying out and entreating Hashem for His kindness assures us of a z'chus, merit, deserving of His favor. This is alluded to by the word yichalnu, eagerly awaiting, which is a derivative of choleh, sick, a reference to one who is in pain and cries out to Hashem. As long as we know to Whom we cry and we beseech Him, He will listen.

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