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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And these are the ordinances that you shall place before them. (21:1)

The vav, which serves as a conjunction, transforms the word eilah, these, changing it to "and these." This indicates that there is a connection between this parshah and the previous one, which detailed the Aseres HaDibros, Ten Commandments, and the Altar. Rashi cites the Mechilta which says that, just as those commandments were given to us at Har Sinai, these laws that are mentioned in Parashas Mishpatim were also given to us at Har Sinai. In addition, we derive that the Sanhedrin, High Court, which is the seat of all law, must be situated next to the Bais Hamikdash. What Rashi is emphasizing to us is that, even those mitzvos that are primarily bein adam l'chaveiro, between man and his fellow man, were given to us at Sinai. They are Divinely decreed, and they have efficacy as mitzvos only because Moshe Rabbeinu received them from Sinai. The question is obvious: Was it necessary to command us in "rational" human-based commandments that, for the most part, apply to all nations? Could they not have been decided by earthly Jewish courts?

Horav Eliyahu Schlessinger, Shlita, explains that the question itself indicates a lack of understanding about the essence of mitzvos, their source and significance. He relates a comment he heard from the Admor of Pittsburgh, zl. The Rebbe would often come to the United States to raise money for his institutions in Eretz Yisrael. When he did this, he would hire a taxi to drive him from place to place. Every day, he would reserve a car and driver from the same company. One day, he noticed something strange about the car in which he was traveling. There were two steering wheels! On the left side was the driver's steering column with all of the gadgets necessary to drive the cab. On the right, passenger side, was a steering wheel which was similar to the one used by the driver. It seemed very strange. The Rebbe asked the driver to explain this anomaly.

"Rabbi, I have a young son who drives me batty when I drive. He always wants to control everything that I do. I decided that in order to circumvent any problems, I made him a steering wheel which he could use while he sits with me in the front seat. Needless to say, the steering wheel is not connected to anything. It cannot in any way affect the direction in which the car is traveling."

The Rebbe thought about this, feeling that Hashem would not have had him encounter such an automobile unless a significant lesson could be derived from it. Apparently, the message is that there are many who feel that they are steering the world. Some do so politically, while others do so financially. We are constantly opening up the newspaper to read about the great movers and shakers of the secular world and the impact that they have on the way we live. It almost allows one to believe that they have some form of power. They are steering the car and they are turning the wheel right and left. This is their mistake, and-- in many cases-it is also ours. Yes, they are steering the wheel, but what we do not realize is that their steering wheel is not connected. What they do has no effect on the guidance of the world. It is the "other" steering wheel on the driver's side that controls the car. Those controls are in the hands of Hashem. The other controls are present for the "young children" to "play with" as they please. Otherwise, they have no significance.

Hashem Yisborach has determined the "rules of the road" of life, what creates a positive influence and what does not. The rules are those mitzvos that are Divinely ordained. Therefore, when the Tanna in Pirkei Avos (1:18) states: "The world endures on three things: justice, truth and peace," it means just that. Nothing else keeps the world going - not oil, not money, not political power - just justice, truth and peace. Hashem has the real steering wheel, and He decides the direction that we will travel.

Thus, we also received those mitzvos in Parashas Mishpatim which deal with human relationships on Sinai. This means that only these mitzvos, with their intricacies as expounded and elucidated by Chazal, are part of the Heavenly steering column. These laws are the way Hashem has decided a Jew should live, and-- without strict adherence to them-- their "car"/world cannot go forward. It will simply stall - or crash.

When you lend money to My People, to the poor person who is with you. (22:24)

Lending money to a friend in need is clearly a great mitzvah. Having the patience and tolerance to wait for payment takes this mitzvah to even greater heights. Every borrower has good intentions, but unforeseen circumstances can cause a borrower to be tardy in repayment of the loan. Horav Avraham Pam, zl, demonstrates through a story that, not only are the spiritual rewards great for he who lends money, but there are even material rewards, as well. He relates the story of Reb Zalmen, one of Vilna's premier Torah scholars, who was also blessed with enormous wealth and used it to gain a reputation as a baal chesed, one who pursues acts of loving kindness. A stranger once approached him for a loan of three hundred rubles, an enormous amount of money by any standards. When Reb Zalmen asked him for references, the man replied sadly that he was new to town and knew no one.

"How can I lend you such a large sum, if you have no one who can vouch for you?" Reb Zalmen candidly asked the man.

"Oy, Reb Zalmen, nobody knows me in town. I only have the Ribbono Shel Olam to serve as my Guarantor," the man replied.

"If that is the case," Reb Zalmen said, "then I will surely give you the loan. Who can be trusted more than Hashem?"

The loan was granted for three months, at which time the man returned with the entire sum of money. Reb Zalmen looked at him somewhat incredulously and said, "What are you doing? Your loan has been paid up by your Guarantor. I never take payment twice for a loan."

They began to argue, with Reb Zalmen claiming that Hashem had already paid the loan through a series of unusually large, unexpected profits that were clearly the "workings" of Hashem. The borrower, on the other hand, claimed that he owed the money, and he would pay it back. In the end, they settled on a compromise - with Reb Zalmen accepting the money to be used exclusively for his free loan fund, with the rewards incurred by the mitzvah of lending money divided equally between them.

Reb Zalmen understood that Hashem rewards the lender in many ways - one of which is an increase in his monetary holdings. Lending money generates a dual reward. Perhaps if more people would believe this, they would act more freely with their money.

People of holiness shall you be to Me; you shall not eat flesh of an animal that was torn in the field. (22:30)

All forbidden foods are included together under the common case of an animal that was killed in the field. Just as it did not receive proper ritual slaughter, likewise any foods that are not prepared in accordance with the Torah's dietary laws are deemed forbidden food. The Torah adds that the consumption of forbidden foods impedes the Jew from attaining his noble stature of holiness which is inherent in a member of the mamleches Kohanim v'goi kadosh, kingdom of Priests and a holy nation.

Horav Yehudah Tzedakah, zl, views the phrase u'baser basadeh treifah, "flesh of an animal torn in the field," from a practical perspective. There are individuals who view the dietary laws as being applicable only at home - either because that is where they have the greatest shame, or because the food is readily available there. It does not take much effort to keep kosher at home. Kosher food is to be found everywhere, and the price difference, for the most part, is not sufficient reason even for the most liberal Jew to sense a threat to his economic freedom. In other words, at home, no excuse justifies not eating kosher.

When a person is in the "field," outside of the Jewish community, on the road, attending a business lunch or party, where he has no one in front of whom to be ashamed, there is always the fear that, without inhibitions, he might defer to his yetzer hara, evil inclination, and eat non-kosher. The Torah, thus, admonishes us that even when one is away from home, when he is in the "field," he should adhere to the laws of kashrus. This idea applies equally to those who would "never" outright eat non-kosher, but have no problem eating in a non-kosher establishment those foods which are "ordinarily" kosher, even though there is no rabbinic supervision. Kashrus today has become a high tech field in which supervisors must be well-versed in halachah as well as science and technology. To assume something is kosher just because "why not?" is fool-hardy and negligent.

Rav Tzadakah relates the story of a cemetery in Poland which stood in the way of a new highway that was being constructed by the government. The Jews of the community were instructed to disinter the bodies and move them elsewhere for burial. Two graves had remains that had been completely untouched by time or decay. The bodies were as complete as on the day that the neshamos, souls, had left them. One body was that of the city's rav, a man known for his piety, virtue and holiness. The other body was that of a Jewish soldier who had fought in the Polish army. The Chevra Kaddisha, sacred society, was shocked. What did this young soldier do that warranted such outstanding merit?

After some research, it was discovered that this young soldier had served for some time in the Polish army, and he had never once consumed non-kosher food. Once, when they told the captain of his regiment that the "Jew" refused to eat the same food as everyone else because it was not "good enough" for him, the captain became upset. He asked the soldier why he had refused to eat, and the soldier told him that the Jewish religion did not permit it. The captain was incensed, and he immediately asked for a piece of pork to be sent over. "Eat it now! That is an order!" the captain demanded. "I will not," the soldier replied. "It is against my religion."

"Nonsense," the captain ridiculed, calling over a group of soldiers to hold the Jewish soldier down to force-feed the pork to him. He refused to open his mouth, and he fought them off. Finally, they forced his mouth open and shoved in the piece of pork. The young martyr refused to swallow and choked to death.

It took one hundred years, an entire century, before his corpse was unearthed, and they discovered that his holy body had not deteriorated during this entire time. The Chevra Kaddisha recorded this story in its book of remembrances, noting the tremendous Kiddush Hashem, sanctification of Hashem's Name, that resulted from this young man's refusal to partake of non-kosher food.

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

Emes, truthfulness, is more than a virtue. It is one of the pillars upon which the world stands. It is the seal of the Almighty. Conversely, there is nothing so abhorrent as a lie. The Trisker Maggid, zl, observes that the word rasha, wicked person, which is comprised of three letters - raish, shin, ayin - contains two letters of the word sheker, falsehood: the shin and the raish. He notes that the word tzadik, righteous person, has a kuf in it, which is one of the letters of sheker. In other words, sheker can subtly sneak in anywhere. He adds that through the relationship of a tzadik with a rasha, all three letters of sheker are completed. The interaction of the tzadik with a rasha not only completes the sheker inherent in the rasha, it strengthens it. Furthermore, it is a well-known axiom that sheker ein lo raglayim, falsehood cannot be supported. Therefore, it will sooner or later crumble to the ground. This is to be observed from its spelling - shin, kof, raish - with the kuf in the middle protruding downward, thereby throwing the other two letters off-balance. Sheker does not have a leg to stand on - meaning, it is missing the other kuf - leg. If the word tzadik, which ends in a kuf, is placed next to sheker, the sheker suddenly has another kuf upon which it finds support. What makes this worse is the fact that normally sheker "falls down" due to lack of support. Now, with the unwitting support of the tzadik, sheker stands proud, resolute and tall!

In his Yam Shel Shlomo, Horav Shlomo Luria, zl, presents a compelling exposition in his commentary to Meseches Bava Kamma 38b, giving us insight into how Chazal view the significance of truth. Chazal relate that the Roman government sent two soldiers to study Torah from the sages of the Mishnah. In this way, they would have a more penetrating idea of its profundities and they would also be able to determine if there was anything in the Talmud that was not consistent with the government's line of thinking. After completing the entire Torah, they remarked, "We have learned the entire Torah and it is all correct, except the law concerning the cow belonging to a Jew that gores the cow of a gentile. For this he does not pay, while he pays in full for the cow of a Jew. This halachah did not sit well with the Romans. In his commentary, the Maharshal wonders why they felt it prudent to teach this halacha to the gentiles. Clearly, it does not reflect positively on our opinion of gentile ownership and its ramifications. Why teach something that is self-incriminating? He explains that the Torah is what it is. It cannot be altered or diluted to suit each individual's personal fit and comfort zone. Even if the threat of death hangs over us, we may not amend anything in the Torah. There is a principle of truth that must be our guiding light in every endeavor. Truth stands above political correctness. It is a mandate that might not receive wide concurrence in the secular world, but it is something by which the Jew must live. The Torah is G-d's word and, as such, it is the essence of truth in its most profound form.

Chacham Ezra Attiah, zl, Rosh Yeshivah of Porat Yosef, was known not only for his brilliance and piety, but also for his ethical nature. Years ago, one did not just go in to a store and purchase a suit or a dress. It had to be ordered and custom-made by a tailor or seamstress. Rebbetzin Bolisa Attiah was certainly not into clothes, but, as the Rabbanit of the community, she had to have one garment that was worthy of her position. She relented and ordered a lovely ivory silk dress that was both elegant and regal - truly fitting for the wife of the Chacham. After returning a few times to the home of the seamstress for measurements, the rabbanit came to pick up her dress. This was an auspicious moment, because theirs was a home where every penny mattered, and purchases were prioritized according to need and importance.

As the rabbanit was sipping tea, which was graciously offered by the seamstress, she noticed that the woman's eyes were red and her face presented a sullen look. "What is wrong?" the rabbanit asked. "Nothing, Rabbanit," was the immediate reply.

"I sense that not everything is as you project. What is troubling you?" the rebbetzin asked.

"Rabbanit, forgive me for complaining, but here I sit everyday, sewing beautiful garments for others, while my daughter, who is getting married next month, has no dress for her own wedding!" the seamstress said, as she broke down in tears.

When the rabbanit heard this, she decided that she must rectify the situation. She had had no idea about the financial plight of the seamstress's family. "Take my dress and give it to your daughter. It will be my gift to her for the wedding. It is far more important for her to have this dress than I." As the rabbanit said this, the seamstress broke down in tears of joy, "Thank you, thank you, rabbanit. Now my daughter will have the opportunity to enjoy her simcha." When Rabbanit Attiah came home with empty hands, but with a heart filled with joy, she immediately went to tell the Chacham of her day's accomplishment. The Chacham listened and commented about his wife's wonderful act of kindness. He then looked at her and asked, "Did you pay the seamstress for the dress?"

"No, why should I pay? I gave her an expensive piece of cloth, and, when she completed the dress, I gave it to her too. Should I also have paid her?" she asked incredulously.

The Chacham shook his head and said, "We must go and pay immediately. She was contracted for a job, which she performed to your satisfaction. She must be paid. It was a mitzvah to give her the dress, but not at the expense of the woman's labors."

This gives us an idea concerning the meaning of emes.

And Moshe was on the mountain forty days and forty nights. (24:18)

The Yalkut Shimoni relates an episode which serves as a powerful lesson concerning material assets and their relationship to our spiritual goals. Rabbi Yochanan took a trip with his student, Rabbi Chiya bar Abba. When they passed a certain field, R' Yochanan remarked that he had sold it in order to learn Torah. He reiterated the same thought when they later passed an orchard. Last, they passed a vineyard, and, once again, R' Yochanan commented that he had sold it to learn Torah. At this point, R' Chiya broke out in tears, "Rebbe, you have nothing left for your old age!" he cried. "Do not worry, Chiya, my son," R' Yochanan comforted him, "I sold something that was given in six days (a reference to material possessions), and I purchased something that was given in forty days (Torah knowledge)."

Horav A. Henoch Leibowitz, zl, explains the logic behind their dialogue. R' Chiya clearly understood the significance of Torah in our lives, and that its study overrides every material pursuit. Nonetheless, upon viewing his rebbe's sorry material circumstances, he could not help but notice that his great teacher was in dire financial straits. What would he do when he aged? He would have nothing! The prospect of his rebbe's bleak material future brought tears to his eyes and sorrow to his heart. It was unavoidable. This is despite the knowledge that it was all worth it for Torah achievement.

R' Yochanan's outlook on Torah study versus material pursuits differed from that of his student, R' Chiya. He looked at the larger picture; the spiritual and material, pursuits traded off with one another. An astute businessman will trade in low-yielding investments when the opportunity for a high-profit investment presents itself. Indeed, later on, when he is able to reap in his huge profits, he will look back on his decision to sell off his devaluated stocks for the opportunity to purchase a high-yielding portfolio with pride and joy. It catalyzed a wonderful opportunity for him, one that could never have materialized had he not resorted to the clever trade-off.

This perspective is true of life itself. The Rosh Yeshivah explains that all too often we ignore the fact that the material comforts associated with life in this temporary world are a poor return for the investment we make in them and certainly for what we give up for them. A sagacious mind understands that life's low-yielding return is fleeting and in no way compares to the opportunity for gaining eternal bliss when one devotes himself to a life of achievement in the spiritual dimension.

R' Yochanan felt this way and, therefore, had no regrets concerning the sale of his property to enable him to study Torah. His student had every reason to worry because his rebbe's welfare was his primary focus. He was his source of Torah, the fountain of spirituality from which he imbibed. His continued health and satisfaction were connected to his material assets.

The Rosh Yeshiva concludes with a practical perspective on life. As Torah Jews, we all make sacrifices in order to achieve the spiritually-oriented lifestyle that should be the focus of every Jew. R' Yochanan is teaching us that we should not view these decisions as "sacrifices." We should approach these "adjustments" in life with pride and joy. Just as someone relinquishes certain luxuries in order to have the wherewithal to purchase his dream house, so, too, should we not regret the material luxuries that we renounce. They have enabled us to achieve greater and more elevated levels of spiritual bliss which would otherwise have been unattainable. We should be infused with such simchah, joy, that the word "sacrifice" with regard to serving Hashem should be erased from our lexicon. To serve Hashem is a privilege. It is our mission and, thus, our greatest source of joy.

Va'ani Tefillah

He will do the will of those who fear Him; He will hear their cries and save them.

One of the Chafetz Chaim's grandsons asked the Brisker Rav, zl, why his grandfather is remembered by all as a saintly and virtuous tzadik. Why is he not also acknowledged for his brilliant erudition, for his encyclopedic knowledge of halacha? The Brisker Rav replied that, retzon yireiav yaaseh, Hashem will do the will of those who fear Him. The answer did not sit well with the questioner, because, if Hashem does the will of those who fear Him, why do people remember the Chafetz Chaim's saintliness? Certainly, it was not his desire that it be revealed and publicized. A short while later that same grandson happened to meet Horav Yehudah Horowitz, zl, Admor of Dzikov, who, after reading the Biur Halacha, could not stop praising the Chafetz Chaim's brilliance. He said the citations were incredible. Then he pondered, "I wonder why the world does not better acknowledge the Chafetz Chaim's genius in Torah knowledge." The grandson immediately told him what the Brisker Rav had said. Hearing this, the Dzikover commented, "Brilliant response. Only the Brisker Rav with his penetrating insight could have given such a reply." Still bothered, the grandson reiterated his earlier query: "My grandfather did not want his piety and virtue acknowledged either. Why is he remembered as a tzadik?"

The Rebbe looked at him and said, "Do you think for one moment that your grandfather viewed himself as a saint? No! He thought he was a poshuter Yid, ordinary Jew, doing what he was supposed to do, serving Hashem in the manner in which every Jew should serve Him. He felt he was only doing the minimum! He is remembered as a tzadik, because he did not think of himself as a tzadik!"

l'zechar nishmas
by his family:
David, Susan, Daniel, Breindy, Ephraim, Adeena, Aryeh and Michelle Jacobson
and great grandchildren

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