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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


These are the journeys of Bnei Yisrael. (33:1)

The Torah summarizes Klal Yisrael's route through the wilderness. Why are these forty-two encampments emphasized in the Torah? Chazal teach us that it is a form of appreciation, a reward for the way in which they greeted the Jewish wanderers. Hashem will one day reward the wilderness for its magnanimity. Now it is dry and desolate, but in the future it will be transformed into an oasis and a habitat for people. Man is to derive a kal v'chomer, an "a priori" argument, from this. If the wilderness, which is inanimate, is rewarded by Hashem for "extending itself," how much more so will Hashem reimburse he who offers his home and possessions in the service of another person?

Furthermore, the wilderness had no "intention" of offering assistance. It just happened to be there. Yet, its reward is emphasized because ultimately it provided a necessary service. How much more so will there be a reward in store for he who intentionally extends himself on behalf of another Jew.

In the Talmud Megillah 14b, Chazal note that eight Neviim descended from Rachav. Now, let us understand; Rachav was a pagan whose vocation was one of ill-repute. Yet, she ultimately converted, married Yehoshua, the leader of Klal Yisrael, and merited such distinguished offspring! Why? What was her zchus, merit? The Alter, zl, m'Kelm explains that she had one zchus that catalyzed this entire reward. She had extended herself to two strangers and concealed them in her attic. Her actions helped Klal Yisrael. One chesed - one act of kindness - one time helping someone in need - one time protecting someone - one time providing sanctuary for a person. That is all it takes - one time.

These are the names of the men: for the tribe of Yehudah, Calev ben Yefuneh: for the tribe of Shimon, Shmuel ben Amihud. For the tribe of Binyamin, Elidad ben Kislon. (34:19,20,21)

Interestingly, these three tribes - Yehudah, Shimon and Binyamin - do not have the position of Nasi preceding the individual's name, as we note concerning the remaining tribes. The Ohr Ha'Chaim Ha'kadosh cites Rabbeinu Nissim, who explains that Yehudah did not need this designation, since Calev was well-known as its Nasi. Due to the grave sin committed by Zimri, the Nasi of Shimon, its leader lost his title of honor. Binyamin's Nasi was Eldad, who had earlier achieved Navi, prophet, status, a position more distinguished than Nasi.

The Meor va'Shemesh suggests that by this omission, the Torah is teaching us an important principle. One who acts l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven, never loses out. It may seem momentarily that he loses money, or even honor. Ultimately, however, he will get it all back.

The Zohar Hakadosh explains that the Meraglim, spies, disparaged Eretz Yisrael, because they knew that as soon as they entered the Land, they would no longer be Nesiim. Thus, they wanted to extend their sojourn in the wilderness. Calev ben Yefuneh was not concerned with his kavod, honor, and spoke the truth about the land. Likewise, Eldad prophesized concerning Yehoshua leading the nation into Eretz Yisrael. They did not concern themselves with the possibility of losing their present distinguished status. They cared about what was correct, proper and kavod Shomayim, the honor of Heaven. If this meant relinquishing their positions as Nasi - so be it. Hashem rewarded them by not having the word, Nasi, precede their name. This indicates that each was selected as a Nasi, specifically because he rejected the honor of being a Nasi. One who runs away from honor, will merit that the honor he avoids will chase after him.

You shall designate cities for yourselves… and a murderer shall flee there - one who takes a life unintentionally. (35:11)

The Alter, zl, m'Kelm derives that the mitzvah of creating a haven for the unintentional murderer demonstrates that the Torah is sensitive to the needs of all people - even those who take a human life. Indeed, Moshe Rabbeinu was acutely aware that the three Arei Miklat, Cities of Refuge, that were situated on the Ever HaYarden did not go into effect until the three in Eretz Yisrael were designated. Yet, he did not tarry, but immediately designated the Arei Miklat of Ever HaYarden. Even a murderer must be treated as a human being. While this is especially true of the unintentional murderer, Chazal teach us that even a rotzeach b'meizid, intentional murderer, must be given every chance to be found innocent. How different it is today, when a person is derided at his slightest deviation from Jewish observance, and not given a chance to return to correct his sin.

The following story was related by someone who was directly involved with the secular Zionist movement in Eretz Yisrael. In the early nineteen-twenties, struggle raged between the secular Zionist organization and the right-wing faction of the Agudath Israel, led by the venerable sage, Horav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zl. One of the Zionist leaders, infamous for his virulent attacks both on the religious community in general and Rav Yosef Chaim in particular, suddenly fell critically ill. After being hospitalized in the English Missionary Hospital, his condition deteriorated, and hope for his recovery was, at best, slim. Knowing that the finest doctors in the country practiced at the Shaarei Tzedek Hospital, the family of the patient sought to have him moved there.

A move such as this was easier said than done. The Bais Din of Yerushalayim had placed a cheirem, ban, on entering the Missionary Hospital. Therefore, Dr. Wallach, chief administrator of Shaarei Tzedek, would probably not permit this patient access to Shaarei Tzedek. The decision to transfer the patient was made. Dr. Wallach met the patient and his family in the emergency room and, upon discovering that the patient was being transferred from the Missionary Hospital, stalked out of the room. It seemed almost certain that he would refuse to admit the patient.

The family quickly deliberated and decided to send the person who was relating this story to Rav Yosef Chaim. This individual, although presently a staunch secularist, had originally been raised in the home of one of Yerushalayim's most distinguished Torah scholars. The individual had himself once been very close with Rav Yosef Chaim. Alas, the winds of change had swept him away. He ran as fast as he could to the home of Rav Yosef Chaim. On the way, a terrific thunderstorm struck, and he arrived there thoroughly drenched and cold.

He entered the house to find Rav Yosef Chaim immersed in a large volume of Talmud. Nervous that Rav Yosef Chaim might berate him for forsaking his upbringing and turning his back on religion, he was quite surprised to be greeted with a warm, friendly smile. He apologized for the interruption and explained the seriousness of the predicament. Rav Yosef Chaim listened intently and immediately closed the Talmud, donned his fur coat, and prepared to leave for the hospital. The emissary said, "Rebbe, the weather outside is treacherous. I only want a letter asking Dr. Wallach to provide medical attention. I have no wish for the Rav to go outside."

Rav Yosef Chaim's response was emphatic: "When a Jewish life is in danger, a letter is insufficient. I must personally attend to fulfilling this great mitzvah. A letter might help. I will not, however, leave the hospital until the patient is admitted!"

With these words, Rav Yosef Chaim dashed out into the torrential downpour to save a Jewish life. At the Jaffa Gate, they boarded a carriage and asked the driver to get them to the hospital as fast as possible. During this time, Rav Yosef Chaim's face glowed as he quietly recited pesukim from Sefer Tehillim on behalf of the patient. As soon as the carriage pulled up to the hospital, Rav Yosef Chaim sprang from it and ran directly to Dr. Wallach's office.

"Since when is a doctor a halachic authority with regard to human life?" asked Rav Yosef Chaim. "Immediately admit this patient! A Jewish life is at risk."

Two weeks later, the patient, now fully recovered, was released from the hospital. Knowing that the relationship between the patient and Rav Yosef Chaim was, at best, very tense, the family refrained from telling him who it was that had intervened on his behalf and had been indirectly responsible for his recovery.

One year later, as the patient returned to his position in promoting the aims of secular Zionism, while denigrating the position of Orthodoxy, he was asked to be the keynote speaker at a groundbreaking ceremony for a new settlement in the Galilee. Speaking eloquently of the lofty goals of his group, his closing words were a jab at Agudath Israel, "We will build this land in our own way with our own strength! We will build this land by waging a battle to the death against the black arm of Rabbi Sonnenfeld and his cronies!"

The one who related this story, who had originally been instrumental in bringing in Rav Yosef Chaim to save the speaker, was in the audience. Hearing these vilifying words and knowing the truth about Rav Yosef Chaim, he jumped up and ran towards the podium, "How dare you speak so disparagingly! Have a little respect for the saintly rabbi to whom you owe your very life!" he declared.

The speaker was shocked into silence and immediately asked for an explanation. The explanation came forth as a public announcement, as the young man who had by now regretted ever having left the Torah camp, strode to the podium and explained to the assemblage exactly how the "black arm" of Rav Yosef Chaim had interceded to save the life of the individual who had just vowed to destroy him.

You shall designate cities for yourselves, Cities of Refuge shall they be for you, and a murderer shall flee there - one who takes a life unintentionally. (35:11)

Not every unintentional murderer was permitted to seek sanctuary in the Arei Miklat, Cities of Refuge. Chazal explain that there are three cases to which the term unintentional murderer may be subscribed: A) Accident, whereby the perpetrator is blameless; B) Unintentional, but with a certain degree of carelessness - the perpetrator is exiled to a City of Refuge; C) Unintentional, but where circumstances are such that although there is a high degree of negligence, the bais din cannot consider it intentional. In such a case, the perpetrator is not exiled, since the sin is too great to be absolved by exile. Only the bais din has the authority to determine the degree of "unintentional" and until, that time, the go'el ha'dam, avenger of the blood, a close relative of the victim, may kill the perpetrator. In the event that it has been determined that there was a prevalent degree of negligence, and, consequently, the perpetrator is not to be exiled, in the event that he were to flee to the City of Refuge, the go'el ha'dam may kill him even there.

The aveirah, sin, of killing b'shogeg, unintentionally, is underscored by the fact that misasek, an unwitting act, is not considered a reason for exemption regarding murder, even though concerning all other areas of halachah, a misasek is patur, exempt. For instance, if a person has set out to cut a vegetable that had already been picked and his hand slipped, causing him to cut another vegetable that was still growing, he is exempt. One who is chopping trees in a place where people are usually to be found, but he had no clue that anyone was in the vicinity, and the axe handle flew off and struck and killed someone - he goes into exile. He should have been more careful. Human life is sacrosanct. One must take the greatest care to prevent any tragedy.

There is another aspect concerning taking a human life which underscores its significance - the form of penance. Desecrating Shabbos unintentionally carries with it the punishment of a Korban Chatas, Sin-Offering. This seems to be a fairly inexpensive form of atonement, especially compared to the unintentional murderer, who is exiled sometimes for many years. His entire life comes to a standstill, as he must change and give up everything and flee for his life. He can never leave until the Kohen Gadol dies. If he leaves prematurely, he may be killed by the go'el ha'dam, and, according to one position in Chazal, anyone is permitted to avenge the death of the victim.

Horav Avigdor Halevi Nebenzhal, Shlita, takes this point further. Imagine, one is driving along, talking on his cell phone, and, because he is engrossed in the conversation, he does not notice the young child that has wandered into the path of his car. This is a clear case of misasek. It is as unwitting as one can get. According to the Torah, however, he must go into exile. He took a life unintentionally, unwittingly - but there is a victim, and someone must take responsibility.

Let us go a bit further. If one were to throw a stone into a public place and no one was hurt, has the perpetrator transgressed a mitzvah of the Torah? Certainly. He had not been careful regarding human life. Luckily, Hashem had taken pity on him and had not permitted the stone to strike anyone and inflict damage. In a way, this person is worse off than he who is exiled. At least the one who is exiled has the opportunity to repent the consequences of his actions. He sees what has resulted from his unwitting act. Rav Nebenzhal wonders how we should react to the individual who brags about how fast he had driven his car and almost had an accident. Baruch Hashem, no tragedy occurred. Is that it? Something certainly happened! He played with human life. He could have been hurt, or he could have hurt others! This is a case of rotzeach b'koach, potential murderer. He could have, but he did not - by the grace of the Almighty. What is he going to do about it? Teshuvah? Regrettably, not. It usually goes on until someone is hurt.

Interestingly, at a meeting in the Har Nof community of Yerushalayim, the residents complained to their rav regarding those individuals whose reckless driving was endangering them and the general population. The following decision, with the encouragement of the rav and Rav Nebentzhal, was proposed. A bais din should be designated to listen and validate these complaints. The driver must be warned and taken to task. If this does not help, then the driver should not be given an aliyah, called to the Torah; he should not be permitted to be a shliach tzibur, lead the services; he should be placed in cheirem, a ban of excommunication leveled against him whereby he is not counted in a Minyan, quorum, nor will anyone do business with him. Rav Nebenzhal added that it is permitted to release the air from his tires, if it is confirmed and documented that he is a habitual reckless driver.

There is another point that should be addressed, one that quite possibly is more serious and, regrettably, more common. Chazal tell us that one who causes the spiritual demise of another Jew by leading him to sin, or, if I may add, by turning him off to Yiddishkeit, is worse than a murderer, who takes his physical life. The life of the spirit extends to this world and the next. The physical realm is only in this world. If this is the case, we should ask ourselves, how often are we guilty of causing another Jew to sin? Bitul Torah, causing another Jew to waste time from Torah study, is also an aveirah, a sin of epic proportion. Furthermore, while it is very difficult to calculate the loss created by taking someone's life, can we even begin to imagine the incredible loss incurred in Olam Habah, the World to Come, for one who has deviated from the Torah way?

It does not take much. We are not talking about blatant incitement to sin - just simply situations in which our thoughtlessness creates a situation which might unwittingly have a negative influence on another Jew. It is mind-boggling how often we might cause bitul Torah, unknowingly, and certainly, unintentionally. Take a simple case of removing a sefer from its proper place in the bais ha'medrash and neglecting to return it. This causes bitul Torah. Is it any different than speeding down a city street?

Va'ani Tefillah

b'heitivoh es ha'neiros yaktirenah.

There seems to be a distinct relationship between the offering of the Incense and the kindling of the Menorah. Furthermore, these two mitzvos, which were exclusively in the domain of Aharon and his descendants, were theirs even before the Kehunah was transformed from the firstborn to the Kohanim. Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, explains that the Kohanim were given the task of Torah dissemination within the ranks of Klal Yisrael. They were to see to it that the Torah remained in its pristine, unaltered condition and was transmitted to the people in this state. The Torah teachers were likewise to be of impeccable character, as well as of a high moral and spiritual standard. The Menorah symbolizes the Torah and the manner in which it illuminates the lives of each Jew individually and the world in general. The lighting of the Menorah represents hafotzas Torah, the dissemination of Torah, throughout the world. As the light of the Menorah reaches out and illuminates the world, so, too, does the Torah light up the darkness that envelop the individual and the world. The Torah scholar, who is entrusted with its dissemination, must have a powerful sense of smell, so that he can "sniff out" any movement that would undermine the integrity of the Torah, that would conceal the evil intentions hidden under a veil of righteousness. The Torah leader must maintain a strong sense of smell that works in tandem with his scholarship. Otherwise, his work will end in self-defeat.

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