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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


When you will go out to war against your enemies…and you will see among its captivity a woman who is beautiful of form…If a man will have a wayward and rebellious son…and you shall remove the evil from your midst. (21:10, 11, 18, 21)

The two topics discussed at the beginning of the parsha seem to contrast one another. The Torah allows for a dispensation in the case of the yefas toar, beautiful captive, during a war when emotions run unusually high and people act in a manner atypical to their usual self-controlled state. The Torah provides an avenue for the Jewish soldier who comes under the spell of this beautiful captive, recognizing the considerable risk that he might fall prey to his uncontrollable lust for this woman. He may not violate her now, but he is permitted to put her through a process, after which he is permitted to marry her. Chazal say, Lo dibrah Torah elah k'neged yetzer hora, "The Torah spoke only in response to the evil inclination." Since the soldier knows that she will become permitted to him later on, he is willing to wait.

The episode of the yefas toar is juxtaposed upon the story of the ben soreir u'moreh, wayward and rebellious son, who is put to death at a young age - while he is still innocent of any capitol offense - in order to prevent him from being guilty at the time of his death. The Torah perceived this boy to be a potential danger to society. If he is allowed to continue, he will certainly resort to murder as a medium for satisfying his desire. Chazal suggest that the rebellious son is the product of the union between the Jewish soldier and the beautiful captive. A relationship that was originally founded in uncontrollable lust can produce nothing more than a child whose life is fueled by illicit desire and passion for gluttony and physical gratification. What seems strange about this comparison is the Torah's attitude towards the individual examples of unbridled desire. The soldier is granted a dispensation, considering his overpowering evil inclination. He is under the influence. Thus, we provide him with an outlet. Why? Why are we not too certain that he will not allow this dispensation to serve as the footstool for more audacious lusts and greater demands on the Torah? Why should he be different from the wayward son who is stoned because we view him as unable to cope with his physical desires? These two incidents seem to contradict one another.

Horav Dovid Budnik, zl, differentiates between the age and educational background of the individuals in question. The soldier is a grown man, an adult who has received a strong traditional education. Otherwise, he could not have joined the war effort. It is not likely that he will become dysfunctional as a result of the one-time dispensation. It will not catalyze his break-down. The ben soreir, u'moreh, however, is a young boy, a troubled child who probably has not received a proper chinuch, Torah education. His character has not yet been molded; his life has not been anchored. If he is allowed a relaxation of the law, it will backfire and grant him license for increased rebelliousness.

Perhaps we can suggest another difference between these two: attitude. After careful perusal of the text, one develops an understanding of these two very distinct individuals. The soldier in the Jewish army who has fought in a discretionary war is a person of high moral character, pious and totally observant and committed to a life of piety and devotion to Torah and mitzvos. Otherwise, he would not have been accepted in the sacred army. Yet, even such a person can fall under the spell of an active yetzer hora. The soldier asks, "What do I do?" He is overwhelmed by an uncontrollable desire, so he asks a shailah, halachic query. The Torah understands his predicament and weighs his past track record, thus granting him an exemption in this one instance.

The ben soreir u'moreh on the other hand, is a boy who has been unruly and unrestrained from his beginning. He does not ask a shailah. When he wants something, he takes it. His infraction is not limited to one solitary area. His entire life is one of unabashed, intractable disobedience. He is not asking for a dispensation, because as far as he is concerned he has no boundaries; no laws concern him. Yes, it is all in the attitude. The ben soreir is beyond help. In contrast, the soldier seeks it.

If a man will have a wayward and rebellious son, who does not hearken to the voice of his father and the voice of his mother. (21:18)

The case of the ben soreir u'moreh is an unusual one. According to Chazal, the various requirements needed to sanction this boy are virtually impossible to meet. Yet, the Torah records the case for the many lessons in parenting and education that are to be derived from it. The Ramban characterizes the ben soreir u'moreh's sin as a deviation from the Torah's requirement of Kedoshim tehiyu, "You shall be holy" (Vayikra 19:2), an injunction which calls upon a Jew to maintain a lifestyle of sanctity. According to Ramban, the approach to life must be one governed by moderation, particularly in those areas in which something is permitted. Life must be under control and disciplined. One who observes only the letter of the law, but fails to exert control and moderation in his life, is a naval birshus haTorah, a degenerate with the permission of the Torah. Such a person can observe the technical requirements of the mitzvos of the Torah, yet surrender himself to self-indulgence, self-gratification, gluttony and licentiousness. He might be an obedient Jew, but he surely is not a kadosh, holy Jew. Holiness must be a part of our spiritual fiber, part of our makeup as a Jew. In Judaism, good is equivalent to holy.

With this in mind, we wonder how this lofty ideal is to be expected of a young boy, to the point that he is considered a sinner beyond help and hope, so that he must be put to death. Is this realistic? Horav Shmuel Rosovsky, zl, explains that this is all part of Shlomo HaMelech's admonition of Chanoch lanaar al pi darko, gom ki yazkin lo yasur minenah, "Educate a child according to his way, so that when he becomes older, it will not leave him." (Mishlei 22:6) From the earliest stages, a Jewish child must be educated in the parameters of kedushah, holiness. This way, it will be ingrained within him, so that when he is older and removed from his educational source, he will have retained his valuable lessons. It is not sufficient to teach a Jewish child the difference between right and wrong. He must be taught the meaning of kedushah, to the point that he manifests a totally different demeanor from his peer in contemporary society.

In addition, I think the Torah is teaching us the criteria for measuring and defining the pedagogic goals of a school: it must train and imbue its young charges with kedushah. It is not enough for a Jewish child to accumulate Jewish knowledge. He must be informed about the standards involved in being a holy Jew. The ben soreir u'moreh might possibly have been a "good student," proficient in his academic achievement, but he's lacking the "glue" to bind it all together. Knowledge without kedushah is like ethics without character. If the knowledge does not transform the person into a holier, better, more refined person, than it just is not "Jewish."

Then his father and mother shall grasp him and take him out to the elders of the city. (21:19)

The ben soreir u'moreh's parents come to the bais din with their hands up in the air, "We can do no more. We have tried everything. Our son is impossible. We have no control over him." It takes a great person, a strong person, an ish, a "man" in the truest sense of the word, to quote Horav Aryeh Leib Tzintz, zl, in his Melo HaOmer, to refuse to cover up the truth about their own son. He is beyond repair. What about the boy who is at risk, but has not gone far enough to be termed uneducable? How do we deal with the boy who, if permitted to slide, will slip away? How do we prevent further alienation from the Torah way? Every situation, every child, every family has its individual issues and, consequently, its individual approaches. We can apply certain basic responses in dealing with a boy or girl who has deviated from the Torah way of life due to an inability to cope with his or her yetzer hora, evil inclination, emotional issues, or family problems of such a caliber that they have created a rift between the child and the society in which he has been raised. This does not address the youth who is clearly a non-believer, an individual who has rejected Judaism, Hashem, His Torah and all those who disseminate it. The problem is different. Therefore. the approach to reaching such an alienated child is different It is an intellectual issue, quite often reflecting a serious inner emotional conflict for which Hashem is "blamed."

In his sefer, Mishpatei HaTorah, Horav Tzvi Shpitz, Shlita, cites an episode in the Talmud Bava Metzia 85A, which forges a path through the ambiguity which surrounds these difficult situations. Chazal teach us that Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, the famous Rabbi, redactor of the Mishnah, had occasion to be in the city where Rav Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai had lived. He inquired concerning Rabbi Elazar's son. He was told that while Rabbi Elazar had left an heir to his spiritual legacy, regrettably, his son whose name was Yosi, was a total moral deviate, selling his body to women of questionable repute who laisoned with him because of his exceptional good looks.

Imagine what any one of us would have done upon hearing such disheartening news about the son of such a great Tanna! Certainly, we would have taken a different course of action than that taken by Rabbi. What did Rabbi do? He took the young man and told him, "I am granting you semichah, ordination. From now on, you will be called Rabbi Yosi." He elevated this "lost" young man to a position parallel to that of the great Tannaim. He then brought him to Rabbi Shimon ben Issi who taught him Torah. Everyday Yosi would bemoan his fate. He wanted to return to his home, his immoral, wanton lifestyle. The response was always, "How could you? They declared you a talmid chacham, Torah scholar. You were outfitted in the traditional garb of a distinguished talmid chocham. What more do you want?"

Rabbi Shimon's words penetrated his heart. The mere thought of his awesome potential was simultaneously frightening and encouraging. Yes, he could still make it and claim his spiritual legacy. He did. He studied with great intensity and, possessing a brilliant mind, he was able to grasp the material with ease. When Rabbi Yosi left this world, he was on a spiritual level comparable to that of Rabbi Elazar, his father. This was confirmed through a Bas Kol, Heavenly Voice.

That is the story. Now for an analysis. Rabbi's approach to saving this lost soul teaches us a number of lessons. First, he did not throw up his hands in defeat. He did not give up, declaring that the job was too formidable. He chose to deal with the challenge. Rejecting the idea of giving Rabbi Yosi mussar, admonishment, ignoring how far gone he was, not mentioning his illustrious lineage by asking, "How could you do this to your forbearers?" he immediately proceeded to give Yosi prestige. He called him, "Rebbe!" It took someone of Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi's caliber to engage in such an approach. He dressed him in distinctive garments that elevated prestige to his position. In today's terms, he gave him back his self-esteem. Rabbi told Yosi that he had tremendous potential. All had not been lost. His focus was on retrieving his self-image, raising it up from the pits of despair to give him hope. "Yes, Rabbi Yosi, it could still all be yours. You have it in you. I have dressed you for the part. Now it is your turn to live up to it."

In conclusion, the approach to reaching the alienated is to accentuate the positive in their lives. For some, it is acumen. For others, it may be character traits, personality, anything that increases their self-worth. Focus on their potential - their awesome future - not their miserable past. Some students crave attention, while others seek solitude. Everyone wants to feel good about himself, assessing that success in his life is a realistic goal to which he can and should aspire.

In an open forum, a teacher who specialized in working with students who are at risk, turned off both to academic achievement and religion as well, asked the group what it is that really matters to them personally and what assurances they would need before they would be willing to speak out to articulate their concerns. The immediate response was: trust. They had to feel a sense of trust - not blind trust - but intelligent, discerning trust. When asked what actions or behaviors engender such a feeling of trust, they gave the following responses: respect; honesty; no put downs; listening as if you really want to know; no laughing at people; no interruptions; no judgments; an open mind; respect for privacy.

This list seems to be the standard composition for individuals from various backgrounds and beliefs. While the language may vary, the sentiments remain the same. When there is a sense of trust, one can move on to genuine communication. It is the teacher/parent's goal to develop and foster that trust so that the communication - once it has begun-will forge an ongoing relationship.

If you build a new house, you shall make a fence for your roof. (22:8)

The mitzvah of Maakeh, building a protective fence around one's roof, is juxtaposed upon the mitzvah of Shiluach Ha'Kein, sending away the mother bird from the nest. Rashi explains that mitzvah goreres mitzvah, one mitzvah causes another mitzvah. Therefore, if one performs the mitzvah of Shiluach Ha'Kein, he will merit to build a new house which will facilitate the mitzvah of erecting a protective fence on its roof. This is puzzling. I would think that a person needs a house in order to be sheltered from the elements in the environment. Why does Rashi say that, because he fulfills the mitzvah of Shiluach Ha'Kein, he will merit a new house so that he can perform another mitzvah? Should it not be the other way around? A person needs shelter; therefore he builds a house to protect himself and his family. Now that he has a house, he will build a protective fence for its roof, thus fulfilling a mitzvah. This same reasoning should apply to a vineyard and a field, which-- according to Chazal -- also provide opportunities for mitzvah fulfillment. What comes first, however, the mitzvah or the vineyard and the field which a person needs for sustenance?

Horav Yosef Leib Nendik, zl, explains that we have it all wrong. We think that since we have the house, the vineyard, the field, now we have opportunities for mitzvos. It is not that way. Chazal teach us that, "Hashem looked in the Torah and created the world." In other words, the Torah was the catalyst for the world's creation. The reason for the world is the Torah. It is the place in which the Torah finds the opportunity for fulfillment. Therefore, the sequence is correct. Regrettably, we have our priorities misplaced. The Torah is first and foremost our raison d'etre for everything. Since a house must have a protective fence, one needs a house. The reason for the house is the mitzvah - or mitzvos - he will be able to fulfill as a result of it. The vineyard, as well as the field is also a source for mitzvos - not man's livelihood. A man earns a livelihood from his field, since it is there for the purpose of mitzvos.

Anyone reading this should have a clear idea where I am going with this thought. The criteria for everything that we purchase has to have the furtherance of Torah as its primary goal. We have it because it facilitates mitzvos. This does not mean that we are not also allowed to benefit from it. It is just that we have to have our priorities in correct sequence. It is as simple as that.

You shall wipe out the memory of Amalek from under the Heaven. (25:19)

We find a similar pasuk in Shemos 17:14: "That I shall surely erase the memory of Amalek from under the Heavens." Amalek is clearly the archenemy of the Jewish People. This is the reason that Hashem commanded us to destroy him, to blot out his name to the point that there should be no remembrance of him. This command is unique. It is the only instance that we find Hashem instructing us to "wipe out," to "erase," a nation. Concerning other enemies of the Jewish People, the Torah uses words such as missah, put to death, or harigah, kill. Why did the Torah not simply command us to kill Amalek? Why are we told to erase his memory?

Horav Eliyahu Schlessinger, Shlita, explains that mechiah, to erase, has a different connotation, one that applies specifically to Amalek. He cites the pasuk in Bereishis 6:7, where Hashem says, "I will blot out Man, whom I created from the face of the ground." Rashi explains the use of the word emcheh, I will blot out, as a "practical" solution to the problem that man was presenting. "Man is comprised of the earth. I will bring water which will wipe him away. Water mixes with dirt in such a manner that the dirt literally melts and disappears." In this way, there will be no remembrance left of Man. He will be completely obliterated.

This is what Hashem wants us to do with Amalek. If we will kill Amalek, there is always the possibility that a monument will be erected in his memory. He will be idolized as a hero, as we find in many cultures who have immortalized history's greatest despots. The evil tyrant may be gone, but his followers will continue to venerate him and the evil that he personified. Hashem wants that no zeicher, memory, of his existence remains, that his name and everything he stood for be completely extirpated from beneath the heavens. No one will ever remember that he existed.

We wonder why it is this way. Clearly, Amalek manifests an evil that is so deleterious that it poses a disastrous threat to Klal Yisrael. What makes him worse than any other nation that has persecuted us? Indeed, according to many commentaries, Amalek is more of a characteristic, a personality trait by which we identify a certain strain of evil unlike no other evil, and, therefore, more dangerous. In fact, there are individuals who, although they are not linked in pedigree to Amalek, represent his mission and reflect his deficient character. What difference whether his name is blotted out, or he is destroyed? In either scenario, he can no longer threaten us.

In Shemos 17:16, the Torah concludes the episode about Amalek with the words: "Hashem maintains a war with Amalek from generation to generation." In his Be'er Moshe, the Ozrover Rebbe, zl, comments that this pasuk represents the root of Amalek's evil. The dor l'dor, generation to generation, is the focus of Amalek's war against the Jews. He "agrees" that the Torah way of life and belief is true and correct. It was the way to live - then, but this is now. We are in a changing society: we are no longer living in the ghetto; we are no longer secluded, separated, polarized from the rest of the world. We have to have a life! Sounds familiar. Yes, we have been suffering from the effects of assimilation, the enlightenment, the progressives, the liberals, the secularists, anyone who has one battle cry: Do away with tradition. Prevent the Torah from being transmitted from generation to generation. We are a modern society. Tradition is out; contemporary is in!

This is the manner in which Amalek seeks to sever the relationship between Klal Yisrael and Hashem. The Torah of "old" no longer applies today. Perhaps this is the underlying meaning of the Midrash Tanchuma, which posits that "Remember" the day of Shabbos and "Remember" what Amalek did to you have a relationship. Shabbos observance has a way of vanquishing Amalek, because Shabbos recalls the past. It affirms our belief that Hashem created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. Shabbos connects us to Hashem. It gives us the ability to triumph over Amalek. Is there any wonder that the first mitzvah the secularists sought to destroy was the mitzvah of Shabbos? It was an obstacle for them. It brought back memories of the past. They could not allow for this to occur. Shabbos had to be relegated to antiquity forever.

This is why it is not sufficient merely to do away with Amalek. We have had Amalakian philosophy surface in every generation. It is necessary to erase his name, so that no remembrance be left of him. Then, we will have a "seamless" relationship with our heritage. There will no longer be any obstruction to hinder us from connecting to the past. It is only when we live in the present, based upon the foundation and principles of the past, that we can be assured of a Jewish future.

Va'ani Tefillah

Tov Hashem la'kol, v'rachamav al kol maasav.
Hashem is good to all, and His mercy is upon all His works.

In the Talmud Sanhedrin 39b, Chazal cite the pasuk in Eichah 3:25 in which the Navi says, "Hashem is good to those who trust in Him." That seems clearly to contradict the statement made above which lauds Hashem for His goodness to "all" - not just to His believers. Chazal distinguish between two types of activity. When a farmer waters his field, he does not delineate between the "good" crops and those that are inferior. The water nourishes them both. When he is weeding or hoeing his field, it involves more labor to devote himself to every plant. He directs his efforts only at those plants that show promise. Horav Yitzchak Aizik Chaver, zl, expands on this explanation. Hashem has two hanhagos, forms of directing and guiding the world. One form of direction is through derech ha'teva, making use of natural events, letting nature-- which is actually miraculous, but appears to be natural-- take its course. Thus, all people, regardless of their affiliation or level of belief, function under the same form of guidance.

There is another hanhagah called hashgachas pratis, Divine Providence, which is focused on the individual in accordance with his actions. In this scenario, Hashem deals with what He determines is best for that specific person, just like weeding a field. It is focused; it is individualized. This is the meaning of Tov Hashem l'kovav, "Hashem is good to those who trust in Him."

Alternatively, the Yesod V'Shoresh Ha'Avodah writes that one should see this pasuk as a springboard to praying to Hashem that He should have mercy on all Jews, and that those who are alienated should be Divinely "steered" back to the fold.

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