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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Go for yourself from your land. (12:1)

Chazal note that "Lech Lecha" is repeated a second time, when Hashem once again instructs Avraham Avinu to go forth. This time he is to go to Har Moriah to offer his son, Yitzchak, as a sacrifice. They add that the second Lech Lecha was more beloved to Hashem. What are Chazal teaching us? Is there a question about the relative significance of Akeidas Yitzchak compared to Avraham's moving from his home to go out into the world?

In his sefer, Simchas HaTorah, Horav Simcha Hakohen Sheps, zl, distinguishes between the two commands, offering a practical insight into Chazal's query and response. Both commands to Avraham had a definite purpose: to sanctify Hashem's Name in the world. The difference between the two concerns the immediate focus of the Kiddush Hashem. When Avraham was told to leave his home, his family, his past, and go forth to build the future of Monotheism in the world, the goal was Kiddush Shem Shomayim b'rabim, public sanctification of Hashem's Name throughout the world. Akeidas Yitzchak also centered on Kiddush Hashem, but it was intended for a different audience. It was for Yitzchak alone. The next link in the chain of transmission of belief in the Ribbono Shel Olam had to concretize his own beliefs.

Chazal wonder which trial is more beloved to Hashem: sanctifying His Name to the world, chinuch, teaching and transmitting emunah, faith, in the Almighty to his son. They respond that chinuch - transmitting the message of Hashem's Oneness to one's own flesh and blood - eternalizes it, guaranting its continued application. Avraham Avinu converted many people, reaching out to the world. How many remained committed to his teachings? How many followed in his pathway? Very few, if any, continued on the road charted by the first Patriarch. His son, however, not only adhered to his father's teachings, he became the next Patriarch, assuring that the Kiddush Shem Shomayim that he experienced was disseminated to the next generation.

Teaching a world is all-important. For some, it is their lifelong ideal. One should not focus on, however, at the expense of his own children. Many educators have successfully transmitted the message of Judaism to the wider community, but regrettably have neglected to reach their very own. There are also individuals who refuse to go out and teach the world for fear that they will harm their own children. This selfish excuse has kept some of the most talented potential teachers from spreading Hashem's Torah to the greater community. There is no doubt, chinuch of one's own children takes precedence, but how should he weigh the relative importance of the two goals? Educating one's own children does not take the place of chinuch ho'rabim.

Avram passed into the land as far as the site of Shechem. (12:6)

Rashi explains that Avraham Avinu went to Shechem by design. He prayed there for Yaakov's sons, Shimon and Levi, who would wage war there. Interestingly, it was necessary for Avraham to go into Shechem to pray for them. Could he not have prayed elsewhere for his descendants? Horav Shmuel Walkin, zl, derives from this that in order to pray appropriately for another person's anguish, it is critical that the individual himself experience the pain. Prayer is the result of sensitivity. This idea is manifest in a number of places.

Rachel Imeinu was buried on the road near Bais Lechem, not in Chevron, which would be her rightful burial place, so that she would be able to help her descendants when Nevuzaradan exiled them. They would pass by her tomb, and Rachel would go out onto her grave, weeping and seeking mercy for them. Why did Rachel have to "go out" of her grave to weep? Certainly, she was aware of her children's travail. She could have wept from within her grave. Once again, we see that in order to empathize, one must observe, one must sensitize himself to the pain.

Likewise, we see that when Moshe Rabbeinu went out to his brethren, the Torah writes, "Moshe grew up and went out to his brethren and observed their burdens" (Shemos 2:11) Rashi comments that Moshe went out to see their suffering and grieve with them. It would have been so natural, so practical, even so understandable for Moshe to remain secure and protected within the confines of the palace. He could have chosen not to notice his brothers' travail, to claim no kinship with the Jewish slaves. Moshe's growing "up" was really his act of going "out." Growing up is growing out, going out of ourselves and identifying with the needs of others, reaching out beneficently to others. Regrettably, many of us become self-absorbed as we grow older, failing to recognize that as one matures, he should begin to shoulder greater responsibility from without.

Avraham Avinu knew that Shechem was to be a place prepared for punishment; the evil permeated the air. It suffused the environment. By going there, by being within the confines of the area, he could identify with and sensitize himself to the future needs of his descendants. This is the essence of empathy.

A poor man once approached Horav Bunim, zl, m'Peshischa, and asked him for a donation. Rav Bunim immediately gave him a considerable amount of money. As the poor man began to leave, Rav Bunim called him back and gave him some more money. Overcome with curiosity, the man asked Rav Bunim why he had called him back.

"The first donation was in response to the pity I felt for you," said Rav Bunim. "The second one was to fulfill Hashem's command to give to the poor."

One has to give tzedakah to fulfill the mitzvah. One must also understand and empathize with the needy. In fact, it is especially important that one give to suit the needs of the recipient, not simply as a response to his own feelings of guilt.

Giving does not always have to be of a material nature. There was once a famine in Russia. People literally starved to death. One day a poor, emaciated beggar came up to a man and begged for alms. The man searched his pockets for a coin, to no avail. He did not have even one copper coin in his possession. Taking the beggar's worn hands between his own, he said, "Do not be angry with me, my brother, I have nothing with me." The thin, lined face of the beggar lit up as from some inner light, and he whispered in reply, "But you called me 'brother'! That was a gift in itself."

People are starving all around us - not for bread, but for recognition. I would suggest that much of the depression that we see could have been prevented had the individual been exposed to kindness. While we readily give a check to the poor, how many of us have the time, thoughtfulness, or compassion to say a kind word, perform a gracious act, or actually give a piece of bread to an emaciated spirit?

Horav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zl, imbued in his students a sense of responsibility for their fellow Jew. No subject so dominated his teachings as the obligation imposed upon every Jew towards his brother. Among the most important words in his lexicon were Klal Yisrael. His constant question was: "What are you doing for Klal Yisrael?"

Rav Shraga Feivel would interpret the pasuk in Tehillim (145:4), L'dor va'dor yeshabach maasecha, "One generation will praise Your creations to another," to mean that each generation has an obligation to improve Hashem's world, rendering it more praiseworthy. He emphasized that a Jew may not make himself the primary focus of his own life. To concern oneself only with himself - apart from the community - is wrong.

In Pirkei Avos 2:18, Chazal say, "Do not judge yourself to be a wicked person." Rav Shraga Feivel interpreted this to mean that anyone who limits his efforts to himself alone - who is bifnei atzmecha, for himself - is derelict in his obligation. Torah is called Toras chesed, the Torah of kindness. This is Torah that is taught to others, not just kept selfishly to oneself.

The Sefas Emes teaches us that a Jew must be prepared to sacrifice everything, even his personal share in the World to Come, on behalf of Klal Yisrael.

Rav Shraga Feivel sensitized his students to the needs of other students. Younger students in the Mesivta learned to be sensitive to the needs of those sitting next to them in the bais hamedrash. Better students were "encouraged" to study with weaker students.

He once noticed two talmidim carrying chairs to a classroom. He asked one of them, "For whom are you bringing this chair?" The student answered, "For myself." He then asked the same question of the other boy, and the response was the same. Rav Shraga Feivel chided, "You brought a chair for yourself, and you brought a chair for yourself. So you are both shleppers. Had each one of you brought a chair for the other, each of you would have performed a chesed."

Mesivta Torah Vodaath students were never allowed to forget that, regardless of how happy they personally were to be able to sit and study Torah in the bais hamedrash, they represented a small fraction of the Jewish world - a world that regrettably was far-removed from the walls of the bais hamedrash. This situation has lamentably not changed significantly. While the number of students in the bais hamedrash has certainly increased, the Jewish world outside the bais hamedrash has also grown. As bnei Torah, we have a moral obligation not to ignore that world. Indeed, what greater act of chesed, kindness, is there than bringing a Jew back into the spiritual fold?

And I will uphold My covenant…to be a G-d to you and to your offspring after you. (17:7)

"To be a G-d to you and to your offspring after you." Why could the Torah not simply have said, "To be a G-d to you and to your offspring?" It seems that the two do not necessarily go together. Rather, Hashem must first be a G-d to the father, and then afterwards, He can be a G-d to the son. That is the natural order. A child observes a role model in his father. He senses his father's level of commitment, and he becomes inspired. Regardless of whether it is a parent or a gifted rebbe, a child/student needs a positive role model, someone that inspires him, infusing him with a desire to grow in Torah. We never know when that inspiration will occur or who will be the source, but invariably it is an important part of the child's growth process.

The Ben Ish Chai, Horav Yosef Chaim, zl, m'Baghdad, was a brilliant Torah giant, who inspired thousands with his writings and lectures. Each Shabbos, he would lecture in the main shul in Baghdad to thousands of Jews for two hours. The pearls of wisdom that left his mouth were treasured by his listeners. Among those who came to listen was a young boy, Sulamon Mutzafi. His father, Rav Tzion Meir, was one of Baghdad's known Torah scholars. Every Shabbos, the young boy came with his father to hear Rav Yosef Chaim.

After the drashah, lecture, the child held onto his father's cloak as the assemblage went over to the rav to receive his blessing. It was finally Sulamon's turn to greet the rav. Shaking with awe and trepidation, holding onto his fathers' sleeve, the child went forward and kissed Rav Yosef Chaim's hand. This was the high point of the week. "It should be the will of Hashem that you grow up to become great in Torah," said Rav Yosef Chaim, as he placed his hands on young Sulamon's head. Everyone responded with a resounding Amen! This was no mere brachah, blessing - this was inspiration at its apex. Sulamon was already on the path to gadlus b'Torah, distinction in the field of Torah erudition.

On the thirteenth day of Elul, 1898, Rav Yosef Chaim's pure soul returned to its Maker. The funeral cortege left from the shul on Motzoei Shabbos, followed by thousands of broken-hearted Jews. Their beloved rebbe, their leader, mentor and guide, was gone. The eulogies were powerful portrayals of his life of dedication to Torah. Unparalleled mourning and grief were manifest. The Mutzafi family also attended, everyone but young Sulamon. He was too young.

Sulamon Mutzafi could not remain in his home. He had to attend the funeral of the rebbe that had left such a powerful impact on him. He had to say good-bye. He joined the assemblage of grief-stricken mourners. Like a young orphan, his cries shattered the sounds of silence, as he stood there watching Rav Yosef Chaim's mortal remains being lowered into the earth. At that very moment, he accepted upon himself greater sanctity, greater sublimity and purity. Torah would be his guide, his friend with whom he would share every minute of the day. He began to study every night from midnight until dawn. His parents attempted to dissuade him, claiming that such practice was set aside for great tzaddikim. Yet, the child was not swayed. He was not deterred from his mission. He was inspired to achieve greatness.

Our children have many such opportunities for inspiration. If they do not find it at home, they find it in the yeshivah, or in stories of Gedolim - who achieved distinction because they followed their own inspiration. When you bring up the subject of achieving greatness to a parent, the immediate response is, "Today is different." Heintiga tzeiten, today's times/society has greater demands. It is more difficult to get inspired. I recently read a story which was related by the Voideslaver Rav, zl.

When the Voideslaver was a young boy, he met an elderly rebbetzin who was a granddaughter of the Chasam Sofer, zl. She explained that as a young girl she would often eat the Shabbos meal with her grandfather. She remembered that once the Chasam Sofer spoke at the meal. He asserted that in each generation the yetzer hora, evil-inclination, takes on a new identity. This is done for a practical reason, since in each ensuing generation, people become increasingly aware of the dangers of associating with known evil, so they stay away. As they become aware of one evil disguise, the yetzer hora quickly dons a new one, so that his evil is always one step ahead. He then added that in their generation, the disguise/yetzer hora's new name could very well be heintiga tzeiten, today's world.

The Voideslaver continued his story, saying that he asked the rebbetzin what she felt was the yetzer hora of their day. At first, she demurred, claiming that she was nothing more than an elderly woman. Then after some cajoling, she said, "It may very well be l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven."

In other words, deception is all around us. We find excuses for our children's lack of inspiration, rejection of discipline, and absence of respect. In truth, however, it is all part of the yetzer hora's deceptive powers. This is similar to those times when we are prepared to resort to anything, even character assassination, all in the name of l'shem Shomayim.

Va'ani Tefillah

V'Hu Keili v'chai goali - "He is my G-d, my living Redeemer."

The word go'eil is translated by Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, as one's closest relative. It is used in the Torah in connection with someone who is so deeply in debt that he is compelled to sell his property and his go'eil, closest relative, has to come to his assistance. Based upon this, Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, interprets the above phrase in the following manner: If I am the beneficiary of rachamim, mercy, then Hashem is the source of this rachamim. If, however, I am the subject of His middas ha'din, attribute of justice, then I look to Hashem as chai goali, my closest relative, who will surely redeem me. This is especially noteworthy in light of the fact that one who experiences a gezeiras ha'din, decree of strict judgment, becomes morose and despondent, feeling alone with nowhere to turn. We are being taught here that we are never alone. Twice daily, we affirm our belief that - even when we are in severe pain - Hashem, our closest relative, is with us. This awareness gives us the courage and hope to face adversity stoically.

hk xubnu hxb tuvu - V'Hu nisi u'manos li -"He is my banner and my refuge."

When one triumphs in battle, he raises a banner. When one loses, he seeks refuge. Hashem is both. When we are involved in physical or spiritual battles, we look to Hashem as a banner of encouragement, as a tower of strength in our moment of uncertainty or need. In the event that the tide of the battle turns against us and we lose, Hashem becomes our refuge, our place of escape, to Whom we can return and be accepted.

How invigorating are these words to one who has strayed from the path of observance. How fortunate are we to know that we always have a place to which to return - and to be accepted.

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Peninim on the Torah is in its 11th year of publication. The first seven years have been published in book form.

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