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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


You shall not revile G-d. (22:27)

Chazal derive that the word Elokim is a reference both to G-d and to judges. While it is, indeed, forbidden to curse anyone, judges are often the brunt of people's curses, since they are compelled to render judgment which is not always popular - especially in the eyes of the individual who is on the losing end of a litigation.

Horav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zl, served for a short time as Av Beis Din, head of the court, of Horav Yehoshua Leib Diskin, zl. Once during his incumbency, he was confronted with a bitterly disputed divorce case. He eventually ruled in favor of the husband, an act that incited the members of the wife's family. They felt that the ruling was unjust and were prepared to take the law - and the judge - into their own hands. They barged into Rav Yosef Chaim's house and began shouting and berating him as if he were the lowest scoundrel. They were so vicious and violent that the rebbetzin began to cry uncontrollably. In light of the fact that it was only a week before Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the days of judgment, their cruel words and curses left a powerful impact on her sensitive heart.

Throughout the tirade, Rav Yosef Chaim remained silent, seated peacefully at his table, never raising his head from the Talmud which he was studying. As the shouting began to get out of control, however, Rav Yosef Chaim arose, looked them straight in the eye, and made the following pronouncement: "Listen now to what I have to say." As soon as he spoke, a sudden silence enveloped the room.

"If you are correct in your claims against me, and my beis din and I erred in halachah, you have already succeeded in registering your complaint with Hashem. May He have mercy on us, for a judge is only human and can rule only in accordance with the facts presented before his eyes.

If, however, we are correct and you are wrong, if our rendering of the law is justified," Rav Yosef Chaim paused for a moment, as the protestors moved back bracing themselves for what was sure to be a scathing rebuke "Then I want you to know that I forgive you with a complete heart for your disgraceful behavior and for the terrible pain you have caused me and the members of my family - and I wholeheartedly wish that you are inscribed in the book of life for a good year!"

One can only imagine the shock and embarrassment that overcame the dissident group. The Rav's humility was overwhelming. They left the house in disgrace, as the neighbors began to congregate to determine the source of the commotion. A few days later, on Erev Yom Kippur, as Rav Yosef Chaim was returning from pouring his heart out in prayer at the Kosel HaMaraavi, the leader of the group of dissenters confronted Rav Yosef Chaim and begged forgiveness for his insolence. Rav Yosef Chaim reaffirmed that he had already forgiven him wholeheartedly. It was unnecessary to reiterate this. The man was visibly relieved to hear the Rav's reply. Rav Yosef Chaim then asked him a question which seemed to be a change of subject: "Tell me, have you purchased an Esrog yet?"

"What a question! Rebbe, I will have you know that I spent a small fortune securing what I feel is a most beautiful specimen, but, it was worth every penny!"

Rav Yosef Chaim continued, "Let us make a calculation. The Torah demands that a person spend up to -- and no more than -- one-fifth of his money to fulfill a positive commandment, such as the mitzvah of Lulav and Esrog. Yet, in order to avoid committing a negative commandment, one should be prepared to give up everything that he owns.

Now there is a negative command that says, 'You shall not curse a judge.' To what is the Torah referring with these words? It certainly is not addressing the party in whose favor the judge has ruled. He would be more likely to bless the judge than to curse him. It makes sense to say that the Torah is referring to the one who lost the case; he should not curse the judge. Let us go one step further. If he realized that the judge had ruled correctly and that he was wrong, he also has no reason to curse the judge. We must, therefore, conclude that the Torah is addressing the individual who is certain that the judge erred and miscarried justice against him. He is the one who is admonished not to curse the judge.

Now, I ask you, in comparing this negative commandment to the Torah's positive commandments, which must be taken more seriously?"

The individual took the hint and understood the point to which Rav Yosef Chaim was alluding. He was prepared to spend a small fortune to purchase an Esrog, but would do nothing to refrain from slandering and abusing the rav who had rendered judgment against him. Regrettably, this form of righteous hypocrisy still prevails.

Distance yourself from a false word. (23:7)

It is impossible for any human being to stand up to challenge the truth. Truth is an absolute which no one can circumvent. Ultimately, a person never suffers when he tells the truth. Indeed, one who lies only delays the inevitable. A person cannot elude the truth. His lies come back to haunt him. Regrettably, this is the way of the world. Lie whenever it suits you; bend the truth, if that is what it takes Tanna Due Eliyahu cites the pasuk in Mishlei 19:3, "A man's foolishness corrupts his way." A person should be careful to act righteously and speak the truth. When he does, an angel is assigned to assist him to continue along this path. If, however, he is inclined towards evil and lying and deceit, he is assigned an angel who will mislead him. Thus, a person is led upon the path that he has chosen for himself.

There are so many examples which demonstrate the ill effect of lying and the reward of speaking the truth. The following story is one of the most compelling examples which illustrate that one never compromises himself by being truthful. Horav David Luria, zl, the Radal was well-versed in secular subjects, as well as kol haTorah kulah, the entire Torah. He was proficient in several languages, including French. Once, a group of his antagonists slandered him before the government, claiming that he was a rebel who aided anti-Czarist forces. He was summarily arrested, brought to St. Petersberg and imprisoned. A few days later, he was summoned to appear before a group of government officials to confirm the charges against him. When the interrogation began, the officials spoke among themselves in French, thinking that this rabbi surely had no idea what they were saying. Hearing them converse, Rav David moved away. Observing this, the Chief Minister turned to him and said in a menacing tone, "Why did you not remain in the designated spot? How dare you move away!" "Your honor," answered Rav David in French. "I am sorry, but I noticed that the officials were speaking among themselves in French, thinking that I did not understand them. However, as you see, I am quite fluent in French. I could not listen to their conversation while deceiving them. It just would not be proper. I, therefore, moved away." The officials were quite taken aback with Rav David's integrity. As a result, he found favor in their eyes, and he was exonerated of all the charges leveled against him.

Horav Yechezkel Levenstein, zl, was another great tzaddik who represented integrity at its zenith. In his old age, he exerted himself to refrain from weeping when learning mussar, ethics, or, making a cheshbon ha'nefesh, personal introspection and accounting. While at times tears are beneficial, he nonetheless felt that he should restrain his emotions. He explained, "An old man tends to cry. If a heartfelt cry is influenced by external factors, it has been transformed from a noble expression to a lie with strong emotional backing."

This was the reason that Rav Yechezkel refused to deliver a eulogy at the funeral of Horav Yitzchak Aizak Sherr, zl. Tragically, one of Rav Yechezkel's grandchildren had recently passed away, and he knew that the tears he would shed would likely be influenced by his own personal grief.

The attribute of emes, truth, is an absolute upon which there is no room for compromise. With truth, it is either all or nothing. One either is truthful or he lies. Horav Moshe Aharon Stern, zl, notes that for this reason when a person claims, "It is true. I tell you it is true!" we suspect him of prevaricating. When he says, "It is true!" for a second time, it weakens the credibility of the first time. Otherwise, why would he need to emphasize the fact?

Horav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zl, the legendary architect of Torah in America was also known for his meticulous adherence to the truth. On one Simchas Torah, the students of Mesivta Torah Vodaath were dancing with great enthusiasm with the Torah. They spontaneously broke into a moving rendition of Bilevavi Mishkan Ivneh, "In my heart I will build a Sanctuary," one of Rav Shraga Feivel's favorite nigunim, songs. Suddenly, Rav Shraga Feivel stopped the dancing. The singing immediately came to a halt.

Rav Shraga Feivel later explained the reason for his actions. "I suddenly felt ill, as if I was about to faint, or G-d forbid, have a heart attack. Everything started spinning. I thought to myself, the last thing I want people to think is that he reached such an exalted state of ecstasy when he sang Bilevavi that his body could no longer contain his soul, and he passed away. I immediately decided to put an end to the dancing."

Sefer Chassidim teaches us regarding the awesome power of he who speaks only the truth. "When a person speaks truthfully and will not contemplate falsehood, then everything he thinks or declares shall be fulfilled, even if he does not mean it." The Chida writes about Horav Yosef Shmuel, the author of the Mesoras HaShas; "His words are listened to in the Heavens like those of the Rishonim."

The Chafetz Chaim would often send people who were in need of a tzaddik's blessing to Horav Yosef Zundel Hutner, zl, of Aisheshok. When questioned in regard to this practice, the Chafetz Chaim explained that Rav Yosef Zundel was an individual who guarded his tongue from any form of forbidden speech. He was a person who was especially careful not to utter any form of falsehood. Such a person had a sanctified mouth. Blessings that emanate from such a source of purity will be fulfilled by Hashem.

In his preface to Sefer Machtzis HaShekel, the Chasam Sofer writes that the author, Horav Shmuel HaLevi Keller, zl, was so scrupulous to speak only the truth that he was prepared to die rather than utter a falsehood: Once a corpse was found that had been stabbed to death. The murder weapon was found lying next to the body. There was no question regarding the knife's owner - it was Rav Shmuel. The terror that gripped the community was unimaginable. The entire community was thrown into despair. Quickly, the leaders of the community went to Rav Shmuel's house. After notifying him of the grim details, they implored him to tell the magistrate a lie, to assert that the knife was not his.

On the day of the trial, the judges called on him and asked if the knife belonged to him. He replied the following: "The truth will ultimately prevail. The knife is mine, but I did not perpetrate this evil deed."

Is it any wonder that his commentary on the Shulchan Aruch is so widely accepted?

And Moshe took half of the blood and placed it in the basins and half of the blood he dashed against the Mizbayach. And he took the Book of the Covenant…and they said, "All that G-d has spoken we will do and we will obey." And Moshe took the blood and sprinkled it on the people. (24:6,7,8)

Horav Mordechai Rogov, zl, derives a compelling lesson from the sprinkling of the blood of the korbanos, sacrifices, at the time of the receiving of the Torah. We are being taught to defend and uphold the Torah even at such times when doing so requires that we invest our own blood and our very lives for Torah's sake.

Every drop of Jewish blood that has been spilled l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven, to defend the Torah, does not go to waste. This blood has been preserved as the lives of the living are strengthened and inspired by the lives of the martyrs. We cherish, admire and value their dedication and commitment to Torah and mitzvos. Their ultimate devotion - actually relinquishing their lives for Torah ideals -- concretizes our faith in Hashem as it incorporates their mesiras nefesh, supreme devotion, into our national agenda. Their willingness to defend the Torah strengthens our own resolve to sustain the Torah.

Rav Rogov notes that the impact of these selfless deeds goes beyond our own people. Its far-reaching effect inspires even the gentile world which witnesses such dedication. While it is true that other nations also manifest a form of self-sacrifice, these people, regrettably, are willing to die while they kill others. This is not self-sacrifice. This is moral hypocrisy and blatant murder.

Chazal tell us that the executioner who was assigned to carry out the death sentence against Rabbi Chanina ben Teradyon by burning him to death at the stake was himself overcome by what he saw. Rabbi Chanina's submission and devotion melted the executioner's wicked heart to the point that he himself repented. He gave up his life in order to decrease Rabbi Chanina's suffering by hastening his death.

This phenomenon has repeated itself throughout the millennia. Those who have witnessed our People marching to their death with their heads held high, with pride and devotion in our beliefs, with resolution and fortitude in the face of impending death, have come to admire the Torah and its teachings. Many of them have sustained this inspiration and dedicated their own lives to observe the Torah's laws. Some have even entered under the protective wings of the Shechinah.

Moshe Rabbeinu took half of the blood and placed it into basins. He took the other half and sprinkled it on the Altar. The blood from the bowl was then sprinkled upon the people. The significance of these actions served to energize the spiritual psyche of the people, so that they would serve Hashem enthusiastically -- with vibrancy and vigor. The other half was directed at the Mizbayach, the symbol of Jewish sacrifice. This teaches us that Torah's mission includes a profound commitment of a readiness for sacrifice when the need arises.


If you buy a Jewish servant. (21:2)

He becomes an eved, servant, only after he has been purchased. Why is he referred to as an eved prior to the sale? The Alshich HaKadosh interprets this as alluding to the fact that he is purchasing one who is already an eved - a servant to Hashem.


One who strikes a man, a man who dies, shall surely be put to death. (21:12)

The gematria, numerical equivalent, of the words makeh ish, [he] who strikes a man, is 376; this is the same gematria as Eisav. This teaches us, submits Nachalas Chamishah, that the essence of Eisav is violence and murder.


Only for his lost time shall he pay, and he shall provide for healing. (21:19)

Chazal in the Talmud Shabbos 12A say that, "Though the Shabbos prohibits us from crying out, may recovery come speedily." Simply, this means that Shabbos has therapeutic powers. Toras Levi Yitzchak derives this from the above pasuk. Rak shivto yitein, "If he will keep shivto, the/his Shabbos,(then) v'rapo yerapei, he will be healed."


"For the poor person who is with you." (22:24)

The Chasam Sofer once approached a wealthy miser to contribute towards a fund benefiting the many poor of the city. The miser came out to the front door to greet the Chasam Sofer in nothing more than a shirt. Being that it was a very cold evening, he attempted to go back into his warm home. The Chasam Sofer demurred, seeking only to speak to him in the outer vestibule. It got to the point that the miser began to shake with cold. "Why do you not want to come inside?" asked the miser. "It is by design that I am standing out here," answered the Chasam Sofer, "so that you might experience the cold that is regrettably a way of life for the poor because they have no wood to heat their homes."

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