Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


These are the journeys of Bnei Yisrael, who went forth from the land of Egypt to their legions. (33:1)

As Klal Yisrael has traveled from place to place, country to country, from bitter exile to bitter exile, we have never been alone. Hashem is always with us. The concept of hashroas haShechinah, the resting of the Divine Presence among the Jewish People in whatever circumstance they may find themselves, is accepted throughout Biblical, Talmudic and Rabbinic literature. The idea of Shechinta b'galusa, the Shechinah is in exile is one which both causes us much pain, and gives us much hope. In the Talmud Megillah 29A, Chazal say, "Come and see how beloved Bnei Yisrael are before Hashem. For wherever they were exiled, the Shechinah is with them." Chazal go on to say that Hashem was with us in Egypt; He was with us in Babylon; and He will be with us at the appointed time when we are destined to be redeemed.

Furthermore, one of the most striking themes in Rabbinic literature is that of Divine suffering. Tzaar haShechinah, the pain of the Shechinah, is expressed in the pasuk, Imo anochi b'tzaarah, "I am with him in suffering" (Tehillim 91:15). These teachings have served as a source of comfort and consolation to a grieving nation in its time of pain and bereavement. Indeed, the burden of persecution and exile was made lighter with the knowledge that Hashem shared in our destiny. The Navi Yeshayah says, "In all their troubles He was troubled" (Yeshayah 63:9). Hashem suffers with us, and His suffering is infinite; yet, it does not penetrate this world. As the Piasezesner Rebbe, zl, explains, Hashem's pain is too sublime for this world, but it is nonetheless here.

The Shomer Emunim writes that the average Jew cannot possibly fathom Hashem's suffering. Only those very holy tzaddikim, righteous Jews, whose every thought and idea revolves around the Almighty can sense in some small manner the great suffering which the Shechinah endures. In turn, they do everything to share in the pain of the Shechinah. This is the reason that the righteous and pious Jews throughout the millennia have always been meticulous in executing their duties to Hashem. They understood that the Shechinah suffers greatly from our sins, and they, therefore, were careful not to add to His pain.

The Chida, zl, cites his rebbe, the Ohr HaChaim Hakadosh, who related the story of a wealthy man who was very close with the authorities. This, together with wealth, might inflate the ego of an individual considerably. In this man's case, it caused him to speak derisively, impugning the honor of a noted Torah scholar. The Ohr HaChaim became aware of his man's insult and approached the scholar requesting that he forgive the wealthy man. The scholar responded, "I forgave him immediately. After all, does the Zohar HaKadosh not say that our sins weigh heavily upon the Shechinah? If so, every moment that I refrain form forgiving him, I cause the weight of his sin to bear down on the Shechinah. How can I add more pain to the Shechinah?"

Much has been written concerning Chassidic eschatology, the thoughts of the great Rebbes concerning exile, redemption, the coming of Moshiach and the resurrection of the dead. Indeed, the primary focus of much of their doctrine was a development of a deeper sense of empathy for the tzaar of the Shechinah in galus, an empathy that would catalyze the Redemption.

There is a famous story that bespeaks the essence of their point of concentration. When the Chozeh of Lublin passed away, his sons came to claim their share of his "estate." One son, who had traveled quite some distance, took his father's bekesha, Shabbos cloak, and a wall clock. On the way home, he stopped at an inn and was forced to stay for a few days due to the torrential storms that overwhelmed the area. When he was finally able to leave, he realized that he was short on cash. Therefore, he left the clock with the innkeeper as payment.

A number of years later, a famous Rebbe stopped at the same inn and noticed the clock. When innkeeper related the story of the clock, the Rebbe said, "I immediately recognized it be the clock belonging to the Chozeh."

"How did you recognize it?" the innkeeper asked.

The rebbe explained, "Every clock, when it strikes the hour, has its own peculiar and characteristic message: 'One hour closer to death.' The Chozeh's clock was different from any other clock in the world. It 'sings' out, 'One hour closer to the coming of the Redeemer.'"

In his commentary to Sefer Shemos, the Noam Elimelech, Horav Elimelech zl, of Lizhensk writes: "Because the Shechinah is in this bitter exile and suffers with us, we should only be concerned with and lament the exile of the Shechinah not considering our personal interests. If we were truly to be preoccupied and distressed solely because of the Shechinah's pain, and not our own suffering, we would then most certainly merit immediate redemption. "We are, however, mortal, and it is almost impossible for us to endure our own pain and suffering. Therefore, alas, the exile has been lengthened. This is because we combine our pain with that of the Shechinah, and (rather than concentrating only on the pain of the Shechinah), we are distressed by our own pain. Were there but one tzaddik (who would pray exclusively for the Shechinah, without permitting self-interest to distract him from his totally theo-centric devotion), he could save the entire world from exile."

Horav Avraham Harari Raful, Rosh Yeshivah in Porat Yosef and Dayan on the Sephardic Beis Din in Yerushalayim, was a deeply pious man. It was said of him, "He is not classified as one who has fear of sin; rather, he does not know the meaning of sin." He was an individual who exemplified empathy with the pain of the Shechinah, as evidenced by the following story, related by Rabbi David Sutton, in his "Stories of Spirit and Faith."

Rav Avraham once took his young grandson to the zoo, stating he wanted to visit two exhibits. Clearly, the sage had more than entertainment on his mind. For Rav Avraham, a trip to the zoo meant the opportunity to recite a rare blessing. He always took great care to recite his brachos aloud, to include others in this singular experience. When he beheld the huge bulk of the elephant, the amazing dexterity of the monkeys, he used the moment to make the brachah: Baruch meshaneh habriyos. "Blessed is Hashem Who makes the creatures different." Once he concluded the blessing, he asked to go to one more exhibit: the lions. His grandson led him to the lion cages, where the king of beasts sauntered around in all his magnificence. Suddenly, the sage burst out into bitter weeping, as he said, "Look at the lion, king of the animals, locked in a cage." He continued on for a while, refusing to be comforted.

It was years later that his grandson finally understood his grandfather's reaction to the lion. He came to a portion of the Zohar Hakadosh that describes the Shechinah in galus, comparing it to a lion locked inside a cage. Where others saw a lion, Rav Avraham, who had been sensitized by years of weeping during Tikun Chatzos, the prayers of lament for the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash, saw the Shechinah in pain, locked in captivity, waiting to be released, hoping for redemption. It is all how you perceive the situation. Do we put ourselves first?

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

Horav Aizik Ausband, Shlita, relates that his father-in-law, Rav and Rosh Hayeshivah of Telshe, Lithuania, Horav Avraham Yitzchak Bloch, zl, would say that one must maintain his regular sedarim, schedule, even when traveling on the road. Indeed, it is specifically during a time in which one is usually "off schedule" that he should do everything within his power to prepare a schedule for himself, so that his life will continue to be in order. An individual who is mixed up will not accomplish anything. When his other son-in-law, Horav Baruch Sorotzkin, zl, was traveling by train during World War II together with the students of the Mirrer Yeshivah, Rav Bloch instructed him to maintain his regular sedarim for learning on the train. Rav Aizik suggests that might be the reason that following each encampment, the Torah writes vayachanu, they camped. They traveled, they camped. Obviously, when they stopped somewhere they would camp. Is it necessary to reiterate the obvious? Yes. Even when they stopped for the night, it was a vayachanu, a full-fledged encampment, so that they could conduct their daily schedule. Travel did not suspend life. There were no vacations. It was seder as usual, only under a different venue.

Shlomo Hamelech says in Koheles 3:1, L'chol zman v'eis, "For everything there is a time and a place." This is the essence of seder, orderliness, a trait which can transform our lives, as well as give us the tools to achieve our goals. Organization applies to every aspect of one's life, but especially to Torah study. One whose learning is organized has a deeper understanding of the Torah. It is clearer to him, and he retains it much longer. When a person has a "seder," it becomes part of his way of life. Thus, one whose learning is precise and defined by a schedule will not miss his daily requirement, regardless of the changes that occur in his day. He has prioritized his time.

An individual who lived in a house which Horav Eliyahu Lopian, zl, would pass every day on his way to the yeshivah remarked that the venerable sage passed his house everyday at exactly six fifty five and thirty seconds! It was not 6:55 or 6:56. It was 6:55:30 - every single day!

Perhaps this might be Chazal's meaning when they say in Shabbos 31A, "When a person is brought in before the Heavenly Tribunal for judgment, he is asked a number of questions. One of those questions is: "'Did you set times for learning Torah?'" These questions are asked of everyone. Everyone - even the Torah scholar, who spends his entire day in the bais hamedrash-, is going to be asked, "Did you set times for learning Torah?" Certainly he set times! He studied Torah all day! It was his life! How can such a question be asked of one who studies Torah as a way of life?

I think that the Rosh Yeshivah is alluding to such a circumstance. One studies Torah all day - every day. When he is on the road, however, his schedule changes and his learning becomes erratic. He has no seder. True, he has an excuse, but the excuse does not justify the lack of seder. One who has orderliness in his life understands that he has an obligation, a schedule to maintain. He is no different than the writer who must submit his copy at a certain time, without excuse.

Orderliness is a major component to success, with organization being its primary ingredient. This applies in all areas of life's endeavor - especially concerning Torah. The author of the Yonas Aylem was a prized student of the Rosh Yeshivah of Kaminetz, Horav Boruch Ber Leibowitz, zl. He wrote very little, but whatever he did put down to pen was profound and very clear. He would say, "If someone is a masmid, diligent in Torah study, he has time for everything - even for batalah, wasting time. However, someone who is a batlan, one who wastes his time, does not have time for anything - not even for batalah." One who is a masmid is a masmid in everything, and one who is a batlan, is likewise a batlan in everything. In other words, the ben Torah who is "holding in learning" will always find time to learn. It is part of his life. The individual, however, who learns when its convenient will regretfully always find a way to justify his "constant occupation" with everything but learning.

And he will live there until the death of the Kohen Gadol. (35:25)

The unintentional murderer receives safe harbor as long as he remains within the confines of the ir miklat, city of refuge. His term of exile is linked with the life of the Kohen Gadol, who, as the Talmud in Makkos 11A, says, should have prayed for Hashem's mercy that there not be any accidental deaths. Clearly, the Kohen Gadol's prayers were deficient and he now bears the burden of this insufficiency. Chazal support this position with an incident that occurred concerning a man who was killed by a lion near the home of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, an incident in which Eliyahu HaNavi blamed the Tanna for not praying adequately for his people.

This entire case and that of R' Yehoshua ben Levi begs elucidation. We know that nothing in this world "just happens." There is a Divine decree that preempts every incident. Thus, the victim of the unintentional murderer has been destined to die by Divine mandate. Likewise, the victim of the lion was to die by Divine mandate. How could the Kohen Gadol's prayer change anything? What purpose would have been served by Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi's prayers if the man has been destined to die? Can one prevent a Heavenly decree from occurring?

Horav A. Henach Leibowitz, zl, explains that indeed this is the incredible power of prayer. It has the ability to alter a Heavenly decree. Hashem is a G-d of compassion, and He does not pass judgment lightly. Thousands of factors are considered before the guilty verdict is handed down. Everything is taken into account - even the ripple effect the decision will have on others. Nonetheless, prayer has that unique power to change the cosmic balance, to tip the scales of Divine Justice in favor of the person and alter the decision. Hashem welcomes prayer, and He will erase the decree if the prayer is worthy. Had the Kohen Gadol or Rabbi Yehoshua prayed with greater intensity, with more feeling, it might have made a difference.

It is not just any prayer that can pierce the Heavens and cause a decree to be annulled. It must be a sincere prayer, an entreaty that comes from the heart, a supplication that has purpose that has integrity that is rendered with intensity. Such a prayer is heard. It is not the words; it is the attitude. Rabbi Yechiel Spero relates the poignant story of the young shepherd boy who did not know how to read, and, thus, had no way of expressing himself through prayer. He did do one thing beautifully: he could whistle. So he whistled to Hashem. This was his heartfelt prayer. It seems funny, but it is not amusing to Hashem, because, as the Baal Shem Tov relates, it was this whistling that catalyzed the reversal of a terrible decree. It was sincere; it was from the heart; it was real; it was heard.

Horav Shabsi Yudelevitch, zl, tells the story of a young orphan in a Peruvian village orphanage, whose heartfelt request transformed a dream into reality. Eight year old Juan Diego hungered for the affection of a family, something which he had never experienced. He had never known his parents or siblings. Relegated to living in a tiny room in an orphanage, he had never known the meaning of family, of love, of caring. How he yearned for the loving embrace of a mother, the support and strength of a father. He decided to do something about it. He would write a letter to G-d.

The postman had no idea what to do with the strange envelope addressed to "G-d." He passed it up to his superiors, who were reluctant to open it. There was no address, no name, just the word "G-d." The envelope was transferred from supervisor to supervisor, each one in a quandary because mail is not to be opened without permission. After weeks of being shuttled from one minister to the next, the crumpled envelope ended up on the desk of the Prime Minister, who decided that as the most powerful person in the land, he had a right to open the envelope. What he read brought tears to his eyes:

"Dear G-d, my name is Juan Diego, but I am sure You know that already, because You know everything. I am eight years old, and I live in an orphanage. I miss my father and mother, and I really want a family badly. Please help me. You are the Only One Who can. Your son, Juan".

The Prime Minister wiped his tears and promptly called his wife who had a similar reaction to the letter. After some discussion, they decided to seek out Juan. It took some time to locate the boy, but with their ample resources they were able to bring Juan to the Prime Minister's residence. The child's charming personality won over the hearts of all who met him. After more discussion and soul searching, the Prime Minister and his wife adopted the young orphan. Juan's dream became a reality.

Rav Shabsi concludes the story with a pasuk in Tehillim 145:18, Karov Hashem l'chol asher yikrahu b'emes. "Hashem is close to all those who call Him - but He endears Himself especially to those who call out to Him - with emes, sincerity." When we call out to Hashem with innocence and sincerity, He listens.

For he has to remain in his city of refuge until the death of the Kohen Gadol. (35:28)

The rotzeach b'shogeg, unintentional murderer, is sent to the city of refuge which happens to be inhabited by Leviim and is to remain there until the death of the Kohen Gadol, who also happens to be a Levi. Apparently, the murderer is to fall under the influence of members of the tribe of Levi. Does this mean that there is some link between the two? Horav S.R. Hirsch,zl, delves into the function of the Shevet Levi, the Leviim and Kohanim, with the Kohen Gadol as their supreme representative. Clearly, their function is that of teacher and of facilitator of atonement for the people. That is the role of spiritual leadership. The atonement is performed in the Sanctuary vis-?-vis the various services performed there, while the educational services take place outside the domain of the Sanctuary. They are, however, interrelated.

Let us now analyze these services. The atonement which the Kohen effects in the Sanctuary is primarily for an unintentional deviation from the correct path. Those acts of deviation which are committed with malicious aforethought, with intent to rebel, to defy the strict code of behavior required of a Jew knowingly, are not in the domain of the Kohen, but rather, are exclusively under the purview of the judicial court system.

The Kohanim are there to teach, to disseminate the word of G-d throughout the nation, so that we learn to place every aspect of our lives under the sovereignty of Hashem's Law. We are to learn to ponder our every action with care and circumspection, so that we leave no area devoid of genuine, sincere and solemn devotion, in order to prevent the levity and complacency which catalyze unintentional errors from prevailing. If thoughtlessness has caused an unintentional wrongdoing involving a capitol sin, which would incur a punishment of kares, spiritual excision, the atonement must be effected by the Kohen in the Sanctuary. If the unintentional sin was one whose victim was another man, such as an act of criminal imprudence, which resulted in the death of another Jew, it is a capitol offense that stands as a rebuke and warning to the Kohanim.

The verdict is galus, exile to the city of refuge, until the passing of the Kohen Gadol under whose tenure the verdict was given. Indeed, the verdict itself is strongly linked with the Kohen Gadol. The banishment of the unintentional murderer is regarded as banishment from the presence of the Kohen Gadol. As the highest representative of the order which effects atonement for unintentional sin, the Kohen Gadol's life interfaces with that of the murderer, in that the death of the Kohen Gadol at any time after the issuance of the verdict is considered the final atonement for the inadvertent act of murder.

The Kohanim --and especially the Kohen Gadol, who is their chief exponent-- must nurture a spiritual climate among the people which is conducive to a purposeful, enthusiastic life of duty and subservience to Hashem, to the point that the individual never allows himself to lose focus or alter his course of behavior. In addition, he is always cognizant of others, so that an act of reckless disregard for another Jew never occurs.

We suggest a rationale for the Shevet Levi's leading role in effecting atonement for the unintentional murderer. When the Jewish People were involved in the sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe Rabbeinu went through the camp and declared, Mi l'Hashem eilai, "Whoever is for Hashem, join me!" (Shemos 32:26). It was Shevet Levi, who came forward as a group, resolute and committed to stand by their leader and battle, if necessary, to maintain the sanctity and purity of the Jewish nation. In order to accomplish this, it was essential that they remain completely focused on their mission, overlooking friendships, and even relatives. This takes a singular type of devotion. Shevet Levi possessed this quality and, therefore, they became the symbol of intensity in service, unswerving commitment and extreme vigilance in executing their mission to uphold the honor of Hashem. It is for this reason that one who acts without aforethought is maligning the mission that has so nobly become part of Shevet Levi's focus. This unintentional sinner must be sent to the city of refuge where he will learn from the example set forth by the Leviim, who are the city's prime inhabitants, the meaning of conscientious devotion to Hashem's service.

Gadol Hashem u'mehulal…Dor l'dor yeshabach maasecha.
Great is Hashem and exceedingly (to be) praised… Generation to Generation will praise Your works.

The word gadol, great, is a relative term. All creations which are called "great" are great only in relation to phenomena which are smaller. The adjective "great" as applied to Hashem has a different connotation. It denotes true greatness, which is infinite. Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, explains that the Torah does not say here, "Hashem is great," but rather, "Great is Hashem," in order to emphasize that only He is truly great and, therefore, He is to be exceedingly praised. Whenever we see anything great it should catalyze the idea in our minds that whatever we have seen is infinitesimally smaller than the greatness of Hashem.

Siach Yitzchak differentiates between Hallel, which is a general form of praise, and shevach, which is more focused and particular. Thus, the interpretation of the pesukim is: Great is Hashem u'mehullal, and exceedingly (to be) praised. Man cannot grasp the entirety of the greatness of this world and how every piece fits perfectly with the next piece. It is, therefore, impossible to praise You in generalities, to laud the greatness of the universe, as it is beyond our ability to comprehend. Each generation can, however, in accordance with its individual conceptualization, "praise" Your specific creations.

Roza Rachel bas R' Moshe Aryeh a"h
niftar 8 Av 5756
Shelley Horwitz

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

The Ninth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.


This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel