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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Every man whose wife deviates from the right path. (5:12)

By acting inappropriately and cavorting with another man after being admonished by her husband to desist from this relationship, the sotah, wayward wife, has deviated from the prescribed moral path of a Jew. The word sotah may also be derived from shoteh, which denotes an individual who has deviated from the normal psychological profile. The shoteh has no emotional control. The sotah has acted in a manner that bespeaks a breakdown of her mental faculties. Indeed, Chazal say that one does not sin unless he has first had a mental lapse.

To deviate morally is not simply a shortcoming in one's moral fiber; it is a sign that one has sustained an emotional breakdown. The woman who acts immorally, who degrades the marriage bond with acts of infidelity, demonstrates a deficiency in her mental state. V'es tzenuim chochmah, Shlomo Hamelech says in Mishlei 11:2, "Those who are private (in their Torah learning) will achieve wisdom."

Why is a tzanua, a chaste, private person, considered wise? He is pious; he is righteous, but how does that trait indicate that he possesses wisdom? We infer from here that tznius is based on chochmah, wisdom. The individual who is secure, who sincerely believes in the Torah way, will not act inappropriately. One who dresses or acts in a manner which demonstrates a lack of tznius is acting irrationally. He displays a faulty mechanism in his mental state. When anyone - male or female - serves Hashem, he or she must concentrate on the inner-directed aspect of striving, the essence of the Jewish heroic act. While this concept applies equally to men and women, the woman is particularly enjoined to develop this character trait to its highest degree. This is implied by the fact that woman was created from an organ in the body that is private in two aspects: first, it is generally clothed; and second, it is located beneath the skin.

Indeed, tznius is a woman's ultimate distinction. The Imahos, Matriarchs, had many unique qualities. Yet, they were immortalized by a name that denoted their tznius. They were given the name of levonah, frankincense: "The Shechinah visited a hill of frankincense" (Shir Hashirim 4:6). This pasuk is a reference to the Matriarchs, because - by virtue of their good deeds - they were analogous to this delicate and aromatic spice. Moreover, the literal translation of levonah is white, and the lifestyle of the Imahos epitomized whiteness and purity. This is why the sotah, who is suspected of immorality, does not bring the usual frankincense with her sacrifice. Levonah represents whiteness and purity, while her behavior reeks of the antithesis. Last, to paraphrase Horav Elya Svei, Shlita, "Tznius must be the foundation of the Jewish home. The essence of womanhood is tznius, and this trait is the woman's anti-toxin to the yetzer hora, evil inclination."

May we be so bold, as to posit that people who are deficient in the area of tznius are very insecure. They feel the need to call attention to themselves either by the way they dress, speak or act. They are weak and have no pride. Last, as we see from the sotah, one who lacks the trait of tznius will resort to stupidity and act in a manner unbecoming a rational person. A Jewish person - male or female - should reflect refinement, purity, and humility. Whatever happened to the eidelkeit, refinement and class, that was the hallmark of the Jewish female - and male? There was a time when we used to have class and pride. Has American society weakened us so, or are we that insecure?

David Hamelech tells us in Sefer Tehillim 45:14, Kol kevodah bas melech penimah. "The entire glory of the daughter of the king lies on the inside." This pasuk is absolutely non-debasing. The pasuk underscores the Torah's positive attitude towards the female role. It has also been used by Chazal to promote the private nature of the religious experience in general. True achievement is always in the private sphere, hidden from the public arena. The Jewish hero is he who reaches his zenith on the inner stage, not on the public forum. We serve Hashem only for the sake of Hashem - neither for the accolades nor for the sake of any other audience. The audience to which one directs his performance defines both the act and the actor.

The Kohen shall inscribe these curses on a scroll and erase it into the bitter waters. (5:23)

Although it is forbidden to erase Hashem's Sacred Name, and one who does so is punished with malkos, lashes, Hashem commanded that His Name be erased in order to engender peace and harmony between man and his wife. Domestic tranquility is the anchor of the Jewish family unit, so that one must go to all lengths to enhance the unity of the marriage bond.

Throughout history, we find that this was a priority by many of our gedolim, Torah leaders. Most recently, an individual of the calibre of Horav Moshe Aharon Stern, zl, invested endless time and energy to assure that peace reigned among those families with whom he came into contact. He would lovingly refer to his work as "the one mitzvah I do wholeheartedly." In an appreciation of his life, his son Rav Yechiel Michel devotes an impressive section to perspectives, insights and stories which emphasize the significance of marital bliss. I take the liberty of citing a few of these vignettes.

When Horav Shlomo Zalmen Auerbach, zl, eulogized his wife, he made a statement that confounded everyone gathered there. In fact, it left an indelible impression on the entire observant world. He said, "It is customary for one to ask mechillah, forgiveness, from his deceased spouse. In my case, however, it is not necessary to do so, for I never once offended her during our life together." It was difficult for people to grasp how two people could live together for almost sixty years and not need to ask forgiveness from one another.

Rav Stern would often remark that it was common for young men to ask their rebbeim, Torah mentors, for advice concerning how to talk to girls during the dating process, but rarely would ask for advice on how to speak to their wives during marriage. Now that is something to think about! The "holier than thou" attitude prevails among many after they get married. After all, they are the ones that are learning. Regrettably, they forget who is supporting them.

Horav Naftali Amsterdam, zl, preeminent disciple of Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, recounted that after his marriage, Rav Yisrael queried him whether he was fulfilling the mitzvah of gemilas chasadim, acts of loving-kindness. Assuming that he was referring to a gemach, free-loan fund, he responded that he did not have enough money to start such a fund. Rav Yisrael countered, "I did not mean that. After one is married, there are numerous opportunities for one to perform acts of kindness for his wife." All too often, we are prepared to save the world, but we forget our responsibilities at home. This suggests a new twist to the idea that charity begins at home.

Let them place My Name upon Bnei Yisrael and I shall bless them. (6:27)

Why does the Torah add this last phrase? Every blessing begins with Hashem: Hashem should bless you; Hashem should make His face shine upon you; Hashem should turn His face unto you, etc. We already know that Hashem is granting the blessing. Horav Simchah HaKohen Sheps, zl, in his Sefer, Simchas HaTorah, explains that this last phrase is an added blessing. Even after one receives a blessing from Hashem, he must internalize the fact that the blessing comes only from Hashem. Nothing that one receives has any source other than Hashem.

This, in itself, is a profound perception. For while many people know theoretically that Hashem is the true source of all blessing, how many people really internalize this idea into their psyche? We turn to Hashem only when we are about to lose the gift. Then we entreat Him not to take it away. When we have it, we forget that it is only through Hashem's blessing that we are the beneficiaries of His good-will. Even after we have received Hashem's blessings, we are enjoined to recognize, realize and remember that they are from Hashem.

This is especially true of a special gift from Hashem, one that we often take for granted. In fact, I think it is the one gift that we take most for granted: the gift of tomorrow. We make plans and plan schedules, always taking tomorrow as a given. Does anybody ever perceive tomorrow as Hashem's greatest gift? How often do people put things away for a special occasion only to find that the special occasion does not materialize? All too often we tend to go through life as if it were an endurance test. Life should be savored - not endured. We do not have time for our children or our friends. We push off for tomorrow what we should do today. We are always saving and putting things away for that "special moment." Every day that one is alive is a special occasion, a moment to savor, enjoy and for which to thank Hashem. Every day - every minute - every breath - is a gift from Hashem. Just ask someone who almost lost it.

On the second day Nesanel ben Tzuar, the Prince of Yissachar, brought near. (7:18)

Although each Nasi, prince, brought the same sacrifice, the Torah seeks to emphasize the importance of the independent declaration of each individual Nasi. Horav Yechezkel Levinstein, zl, infers from here the uniqueness of every individual and our responsibility to respect each and every Jew - regardless of his background or position. He cites the Rambam, who posits that to include all of the Nesiim under one blanket grouping would be to diminish the individual honor each one deserved. The Torah is very careful to show respect to every one of Hashem's creations - even inanimate ones. Regrettably, we think that respect is something that is manifest by those who themselves are of a lower echelon. If we peruse history and take the time to study the lives of our gedolim, Torah leaders, we will note an interesting phenomenon - it was specifically the great Torah giants who were meticulous in their respect for their fellow man. No one was personally too great - nor was anyone too small - to honor. A Jew is a Jew. He represents the Almighty in this world. He must be given his due respect.

It once happened that Horav Isser Zalmen Meltzer, zl, was speaking with a group of students in his home, when one of them saw the Brisker Rav, zl, entering the apartment building. He immediately announced to those assembled that the Brisker Rav was coming. When Rav Isser Zalmen heard this, he immediately ran to his room to change his kapata, frock, for his Shabbos frock, as befits greeting a dignitary. He ran quickly down the stairs, so that he could be there to greet the venerable sage. When he came to the door, he realized that his student had erred. The individual standing before him had an uncanny likeness to the Brisker Rav, but he certainly was not the Brisker Rav.

Rav Isser Zalmen did not skip a beat. He accorded to the simple Jew who stood before him the same visage and reverence that he was prepared to accord to the Brisker Rav. The visitor, of course, begged Rav Isser Zalmen to desist. "I am a simple Jew who has come for a letter of approbation, so that I can seek funds to marry off my daughter," he said. Immediately, Rav Issur zalmen wrote an impressive letter for the man. When the visitor was ready to leave, Rav Isser Zalmen accompanied him down the stairs to the front door.

Afterwards, Rav Isser Zalmen explained to his students, "Just because he was not the person to whom I had originally intended to pay homage does not mean he does not deserve my respect. He is a Jew - and every Jew is worthy of honor. Furthermore, if Hashem caused it to occur that I should mistake him for the Brisker Rav, it proves that ultimately he was deserving of this honor."

The Manchester Rosh Hayeshiva, Horav Yehudah Zev Segal, zl, relates a famous story which occurred with the Rashash, Horav Shmuel Shtershun, zl, one of the most distinguished Torah scholars in Vilna. His scholarly commentary on Mishnayos and Talmud are widely accepted and studied throughout the Torah world. Aside from being a great Torah scholar, Rav Shmuel also coordinated a gemach, free-loan fund. He once lent a member of the community the sizable sum of one hundred ruble to be returned in four months.

On the designated day, the borrower appeared at Rav Shmuel's home to discover that Rav Shmuel was studying in the bais hamedrash. He found the sage deeply engrossed in studying a difficult section of Talmud. Feeling very awkward, he interrupted, saying, "I have the money I owe you." "Fine, just put it down," Rav Shmuel said, as he took the envelope and placed it inside his volume of Talmud.

The next day as Rav Shmuel was reviewing his accounts, he noted with concern that the loan which he had made four months earlier for one hundred ruble had not been repaid. Apparently, he had been too engrossed in Torah study the previous day to remember what had occurred. He called the borrower to his home and asked for payment. The borrower, of course, declined after describing how just yesterday he had gone to the shul to repay the loan.

Rav Shmuel could not permit such a blatant denial to go by: after all, it was community money they were discussing. The borrower was sent a summons to appear before the rabbinical court to adjudicate the claim. As is regrettably common in some communities, the rumormongers began to do their malignant work. The borrower was disparaged and slandered. He was accused of everything from lying to stealing and worse. It became so unbearable that his only son, a fine, delicate young man, could not take the pressure and left town. He was humiliated by his father's "treachery."

On the day of the din Torah, Rav Shmuel was perusing a volume of Talmud when, lo and behold, he discovered the "non-existent" envelope. He was immediately filled with guilt and despair. What troubles he had caused the poor borrower. His name was now ruined in the community. His family was destroyed - all because he did not take the time to listen to him. He must throw himself at his feet and beg forgiveness for the tragedy that he had caused.

It was not so easy. The borrower said, "What will I gain by forgiving you? No one will believe me anymore. I am the liar who was accused by the Rashash! I have lost everything. Wait, there is one way to prove that you really forgive me and publicly assert that you believe it was all a mistake. If you give your daughter to my son in marriage, I will forgive you. This way everybody will believe that I am not a thief."

Rav Shmuel immediately accepted the condition and the shidduch, match, was made.

Horav Yitzchak Shraga Gross, Shlita, in his sefer, Chaim Sheyeish Bahem, infers two lessons from this narrative. First, we should look for merit in every Jew. Accentuate the positive, look for the positive. Do not think the worst of a person just because circumstantial evidence "seems" to point in that direction. Second, one who hurts another Jew - even accidentally - must seek every possible way to appease him. Rav Segal supplements this with another lesson. The Rashash was a distinguished Torah scholar, a man of means and great intelligence. He could have had any young man from the finest yeshivah for his daughter. Yet, in order to spare someone from shame, he accepted a simple young man from a common background. Rav Segal conjectures that perhaps this was the reason his seforim received such unparalleled acceptance in the Torah world. Last, I was impressed by the Rashash's daughter, who immediately listened to her father and entered into matrimony with this young man. Her father directed - and she listened. My, how life was different in those days.


A man or a woman who commits any of man's sins, by committing treachery towards Hashem. (15:6)

In Hilchos Teshuvah, the Rambam says that one who sins against another Jew also sins against Hashem. Horav Yehoshua, zl, m'Kutna, says this is implied by the pasuk: one who commits any of man's sins - who sins against man - concurrently sins against Hashem.


So shall you bless Bnei Yisrael. (6:23)

One of Aharon HaKohen's attributes was his love of peace and his pursuit to increase harmony among Jews. The Chozeh, zl, m'Lublin explains that this is the meaning of koh - "so" you shall bless; the blessing of the Kohanim should be that Klal Yisrael should be koh, like them.

Horav Yisrael, zl, m'Modzitz says that the Kohanim should bless the Jews - koh, as they are. Do not seek out only those who are distinguished, righteous or great. Every Jew is worthy of blessing.

Horav Yitzchak Kosovsky, zl, brother-in-law of Horav Chaim Ozer Grodzenski, zl, and rav in Johannesburg, S.A., posed the following halachic question to Rav Chaim Ozer: How should he respond to those Kohanim who, albeit not Shabbos observant, want to bless the congregation during Bircas HaKohanim? Do we keep in mind that their lack of knowledge regarding Jewish law prevents them from perceiving the seriousness of the prohibition, or do we look at the actual sin? Rav Chaim responded that they should be encouraged to participate in the Bircas Kohanim, otherwise they might forget that they are Kohanim and might marry women that are prohibited to them. Furthermore, the mere knowledge that they are descendants of Aharon HaKohen might motivate them one day to repent and return to their faith.

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