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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


A man or woman who commits any of man's sins by committing treachery toward Hashem. (5:6)

The Torah details a number of seemingly unrelated situations in which someone has sinned. First is the individual who unlawfully withholds the money of a fellow Jew through a loan, overdue wages, or outright theft and then compounds his sin by swearing falsely to support his innocence. Next is the individual who steals from a ger, convert, who has no heirs. At first glance, one questions why these unprincipled behaviors are bunched together. Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, explains that in order to understand the commonality that exists between these contemptible exploitations of another human being, one must fully appreciate the depth of the prohibition, "Do not steal." The reason one may not steal is not merely that taking something from another one is hurting the victim. If this were the reason, there might be circumstances in which this rationale does not apply. Suddenly, some enterprising thief might justify stealing from a wealthy man on the grounds that it would not really create a dent in his portfolio; hence, he will experience no pain. One could rationalize stealing from a wealthy convert. After all, not only is he rich, but he has no heirs who will sustain a loss as a result of the theft. Stealing Terumah would be another area for rationalized theft, because the owner would be giving the Terumah regardless. All the thief is really doing is selecting the Kohen of his choice.

These three cases all have one thing in common: There is a concept of theft, but no real victim. Someone is stealing, but no one gets hurt. Is it punishable? It is probably not appropriate behavior, but is it sinful? Is it stealing? The Torah teaches us that it is no different from your everyday, garden variety act of stealing. Sure, one may attempt to rationalize and even justify his actions, but, he is still stealing. Stealing is ultimately not about pain; it is not about hurting someone. Stealing is a sin because the thief has taken something that Hashem had not given him. If it would have been meant for him, Hashem would have appropriated it to him. He did not. Thus, it is sinful to take it from someone else.

One should ponder whatever he has in his possession to ascertain whether it was really meant for him. Likewise, one should desire only that which Hashem bestows upon him. This refers only to those items which have come into his possession - rightfully.

With this insight into theft, we can approach the subject from a different vantage point. Stealing is a "G-d issue." While it is true that the thief causes physical and emotional pain to the victim, he is impugning Hashem's "ability" to sustain him. Sefas Emes notes that Vidui, confession - which is the foundation upon which all teshuvah, repentance, is based - is detailed in the chapter that addresses the prohibition of theft. In Bamidbar 5:7, the Torah writes, V'hisvadu es chatasam, "And they shall confess their sins." Is theft the paradigm of sin?

Sefas Emes explains that actually every sin carries with it a vestige of theft. Let us face it: Hashem grants us life and the ability to maneuver and do things. He does this for a specific purpose: so that we have the strength and ability to serve Him properly. Hence, when we channel this strength for the purpose of sinning against Hashem, we are stealing from Him. Think about it: We take what Hashem gives us and we use it against Him. Not only is this the nadir of ingratitude, but it is theft with impudence.

Theft is about breaking boundaries, breaching parameters that were set by Hashem. The entire Torah is about parameters, limitations on various areas of human endeavor. Serving Hashem bespeaks a life dedicated to obedience. An observant Jew is an obedient Jew. A thief breaches the guidelines, ignores the restrictions. Likewise, one who sins cares very little for the criterion which Hashem has established for Jewish life. Yes, every sin contains a little bit of theft. A thief does not ponder that whatever he has G-d has given him. If he does not have it, Hashem did not give it to him. A sinner finds it difficult to accept Hashem's guidelines. He also ignores the Hashem factor in his life.

One who steals has no place before Hashem. His prayers are meaningless. Sefer Chassidim relates that a man once "took" the machzor, festival prayerbook, belonging to another Jew. After he concluded his Rosh Hashanah prayer service, he was confronted by an elderly Jew, who rebuked him, Botzea beireich ne'eitz Hashem, "He (who) breaks off a slice and blesses Hashem, angers Hashem" (Tehillim 10:3). What value is there to a prayer offered from a stolen machzor? "What shall I do now?" the man asked. "Return the machzor to its rightful owner," the elderly man said, "and ask for permission to use it, and then - pray again."

The Chafetz Chaim writes that one who steals from his fellow is not only a rasha, a wicked man, but he is also a shoteh, fool. He explains that on Rosh Hashanah Hashem decrees the exact amount of material bounty an individual will acquire during the coming year: no more; no less. One who takes from another person will ultimately have what had originally been designated for him taken away to pay back the victim. How foolish one must be to think that he can "outsmart" the Almighty. Hashem gives to whom He determines should have. If he does not have, it is because Hashem did not see fit to grant it to him. It is as simple as that.

Yalkut Me'am Loez relates a frightening story that provides much food for thought. A Torah scholar asked the Arizal for a letter of recommendation, since he was moving to another community. A letter from the Torah leader of the generation would certainly open up doors for him. The Arizal acquiesced, adding, "Go in peace, for in that community, Hashem will summon your intended wife."

The scholar took the letter and left for the community, where, as a result of the Arizal's approbation, he was accorded great honor. Shortly thereafter, one of the wealthiest leaders of the community offered his daughter to him in marriage. Along with the young lady came a dowry befitting a scholar of his stature. The marriage regrettably lasted only three months, as the young bride became ill and passed away suddenly. The widower returned to his hometown - upset, but quite wealthy. There had to be some reason that this tragedy had befallen him. Surely his rebbe could reveal an explanation. The Arizal explained the following: "You should know that the woman who you married was the gilgul, reincarnated soul, of a male friend of yours who appropriated a large sum of money from you. It was decreed that his neshamah return to this world to afford you three months of wedded bliss as retribution for the pain which you sustained. In addition, you inherited all of 'his' possessions to make up for your earlier losses."

When the talmidim, students, of the Arizal heard this, they cited the pasuk in Yirmiyah (32:19), "Great in counsel and mighty in deed, Your eyes are cognizant to all the ways of mankind, to grant each man according to his ways and the consequences of his deeds." Hashem repays everyone measure for measure, commensurate with his actions. No one is absolved. Everyone pays. Frightening.

If any man's wife goes astray and acts treacherously toward him. (5:12)

Rashi notes the preceding pasuk, "A man's sacred objects shall be his." This is a reference to the Priestly gifts that every Jew is mandated to give. Rashi posits that if one withholds the Kohen's gifts, he will ultimately pay for this infraction by having to visit the Kohen with his wayward wife. This is a very strong punishment. Because a man withheld his Priestly gifts, he should lose his wife in such a tragic manner? Should his family be torn apart simply because he withheld the gifts due to the Kohen? How are we to understand this?

A husband's relationship with his wife should be one of mutual respect and, of course, love. When the husband acts inappropriately: when he cheats others; when he lies and looks for excuses to justify not paying his due to the Kohen; when he conjures up stories to validate his refusal to give tzedakah, charity, does he think that he fools his wife? Once, twice, three times - a woman who sees her husband acting in such a manner invariably loses respect for him. Once the respect is lost, anything can happen.

All too often, we hear about an individual who has acted in a manner unbecoming a Torah Jew. Are we to believe that this does not have an effect on his family? One might succeed in fooling the community, but, unless his wife is a total fool or totally subservient, he does not fool her. Thus, the Jew who wanted to save a few dollars by cheating the Kohen out of his due has perhaps gained a few dollars. Regrettably, he has destroyed his marriage. After all, what kind of woman would respect such a man? Clearly, this does not justify her actions. The husband, however, should think twice before absolving himself from all guilt. His miscreant actions have played a role in catalyzing his wife's abhorrent behavior.

What if the woman had been wrongly accused? The Torah writes (ibid 28), "But if the woman was not defiled and she is pure, she will be cleared and shall bear seed." In other words, if the woman endured the humiliation that came with the degradation of being labeled as a suspected sotah, and she was rendered innocent, she will be blessed with seed. Rashi explains that if, in the past, she had suffered during childbirth, her labor would now be painless. If she had, in the past, given birth to swarthy babies, they would now be light. In other words, the wrongly accused are vindicated with a blessing. Why? It is not as if this woman had maintained herself on a pristine level of moral rectitude. There is a reason that her husband had suspected her of infidelity. Perhaps he was too quick to assume, too fast to blame, but, he was not responding randomly. She had been meeting secretly with a man. She was warned to stay away. Yet, she acted in a manner which is inappropriate for an observant Jewish woman. Is she to be rewarded for her indiscretion? Is she to be blessed because she did not consummate her act of infidelity?

The Chasam Sofer zl, explains that the shame which this woman has sustained as a result of being labeled a suspected sotah suffices to cleanse her of any punishment she might deserve. Humiliation cleanses; embarrassment is a powerful catharsis. She has had her atonement. Life now goes on.

This concept should send a shudder up one's spine. A woman whose moral posture is, at best, questionable, has acted inappropriately - yet not in as vile a manner as she had been suspected of acting - is concomitantly blessed, because of the humiliation she has endured. We seem to have no problem embarrassing others. It happens all of the time. Perhaps it is not with malice, but rather, without thought. We say something thoughtless, but the hurt has been caused. Someone has been shamed. If we realize that shame has such an incredible exonerating effect, we would realize how absolutely hurtful it must be. It's a consequence we might think a little more about before we act.

A man or woman who shall disassociate himself by taking a Nazirite vow of abstinence for the sake of Hashem. (6:2)

One would think that the daily occurrences in the lives of the members of the secular society that surrounds us have no effect on our mindset. After all, what relationship does an observant Jew have to the base society in which he lives? Clearly, the moral bankruptcy, perversion and hedonism that has become the standard of living for much of the entertainment, media and political arenas are as far removed from us as the constellations in outer space. Well, that is the way it should be. Chazal apparently have a different take on the matter. Upon noting the Torah's juxtaposition of the laws of nazir upon the laws concerning the sotah, wayward wife, Chazal derive that anyone who sees a wayward wife in her degradation should prohibit himself from drinking wine by taking a Nazirite vow.

Chazal's choice of vernacular, kol ha'roah, "anyone who sees" indicates that the effect of seeing a sotah in her humiliation can be deleterious for anyone - even the greatest and most devout individual. In addition, a simple adjustment in his spiritual lifestyle will not suffice. He must go to the limit - become a nazir. Does this not seem a bit extreme?

Apparently not. This is exactly how the yetzer hora, evil inclination, works. When we begin to believe that it cannot happen to us, that we are on a higher spiritual plane, then the yetzer hora has already succeeded in deluding us. We have just fallen into its net of guile. Chazal say "anyone" - this means "you" - regardless of where you might be on the spiritual totem pole. The higher one is, the more the yetzer hora seeks to "initiate" him.

In addition, once one has "subtly" been impacted by the effect of the sotah's degradation, he might think that reciting an extra kapitol, chapter, of Tehillim, learning another blatt, page of Gemorah will do the trick. It will wipe the slate clean and remove the harmful exposure. Chazal say no! It is not enough. One must go to the polar extreme and accept a Nazirite vow. It is not enough simply to strengthen one's observance. He must be extreme and undertake to live a lifestyle to which he has never aspired and has never been accustomed. All of this because he "happened" to notice an event that "might" leave a negative taste in his mind.

The act perpetrated by the sotah affects more than herself and her immediate family. It is an incursion against the very fabric of Klal Yisrael. Morality is one of the principles upon which our nation is founded. It is one of the things which distinguishes us form the rest of the world. Indeed, the first time the name Yisrael is used in the Torah in reference to the Jewish People is following the violation of Dinah. The Torah writes, Ki nevalah assa b'Yisrael, "For he had committed an outrage in Yisrael" (Bereishis 34:7). This woman has breeched the Jewish code of morality. Her actions are an outrage against the entire nation. Every member of Klal Yisrael is hurt by her actions. We do not live in a vacuum. By her immoral activity, this woman has changed the rules, thereby demeaning and degrading the entire Jewish nation. By impugning the Jewish concept of married life, she has attacked the foundation of our people. Her act of indiscretion was an assault on each and every one of us.

The first time a terrible event occurs, it shakes us up. People talk about it for months. The media is filled with op-eds decrying the act of terror, etc. - until the next time. We are no longer shaken up as much. It is reported; it is written up; every aspiring politician renders his most brilliant commentary - until the next time. It no longer garners as much publicity, because, regrettably, it is no longer an outrage. It has become an accepted fact of life. It is no longer an act of terror. It is what freedom fighters do.

The sotah committed an outrage - the first time. It is no longer an outrage when it happens again. This is why we must use extreme measures to underscore her degradation. The next time it happens, the effect will not be as crushing.

A man or woman who shall dissociate himself by taking a Nazirite vow of abstinence for the sake of Hashem. (6:2)

Chazal teach us that one who sees a sotah amidst her degradation should accept upon himself a Nazirite vow. Would it not be sufficient to simply make an oath to no longer drink wine? Why demand that he go to the extreme? One who vows to abstain from wine might find it difficult to maintain his commitment. One who vows to become a nazir has to transform his entire lifestyle and - more or less - become a new person. Included in the various prohibitions which he now takes upon himself is abstinence from wine. He is more likely to adhere to this vow.

In order to break a bad habit, one must cut himself off completely from the possibility of failure. Many of us have, at one time or another, attempted to swear off certain vices, only to go back to them the very next day. The reason is simple: they are accessible. In order to detach oneself successfully from something, it must be rendered inaccessible to him. Without a major change in one's lifestyle, success is, at best, limited.

Nazirus creates a physical change in a person. He no longer looks the same, and he cannot frequent the places he would have visited in his "previous" life. He has burnt his bridges. Had he simply sworn off wine, he would still fall under the influence of his friends - who did not swear off wine. Taking that extra step ensures him of the protection he needs in order to navigate the teshuvah, repentance, process successfully. In order to maintain one's distinctiveness, he must distinguish himself from the life he has lived until now.

This brings us to a "situation" which requires understanding on the part of those who come in contact with baalei teshuvah, those who have altered their lifestyle and assumed a life of Torah observance. We often ignore the sacrifice the baal teshuvah must make to adapt to a brand new lifestyle. His old friends often shun him. The old haunts that he had frequented no longer welcome him - nor does he want to go there. He has to endure many inconveniences. One sacrifice, however, supersedes the rest, and can cause great pain and, for some, even generate second thoughts: family.

The baal teshuvah often sacrifices his relationship with his family. While the relationship may not necessarily be totally severed, it often becomes tenuous and confrontational, rarely supportive. This creates a stressful mindset for the baal teshuvah as he walks the tightrope between past and present. Juggling emotions, often having to contend with a lose-lose situation, plays havoc with one's mind. At the same time, he is making every attempt to acclimate to a lifestyle that, by its very nature, is sheltered and selective in terms of who "makes it." It would serve us well to be more understanding of the multi-faceted sacrifices involved in the teshuvah process and respectful of the individuals who make those sacrifices.

The one who brought his offering on the first day was Nachshon ben Aminadov, of the Tribe of Yehudah. (7:12)

Just plain "Nachshon ben Aminadav of the Tribe of Yehudah." There is no mention of his title, Nasi, the Prince of the Tribe, as it is listed when the other Nesiim are mentioned. Why does the Torah not accord Nachshon, the first Nasi, the same distinction that each of the other Nesiim received? The Kli Yakar offers a most meaningful explanation. The previous chapter concluded with the blessing of peace, as the addendum to the Bircas Kohanim, Priestly Blessing. This is probably the greatest blessing, for, without peace, among Jews, we really can have no blessing. The scourge of dispute has - and continues to destroy - relationships, families and entire communities.

The Nesiim exemplified peace and harmony. They not only lived in peaceful coexistence with one another, but each of them also went out of his way to promote harmony in his respective community. Obviously, this did not just happen. Peace is a process in which both parties work toward a common goal of unity. The question which confronts us is one of a practical nature. The Nesiim clearly all had great relationships with everybody. In a utopian society, this is the way it should be. Regrettably, we do not live in a perfect world. Envy is a part of human nature. Jealousy is a fact of life. How was it that none of the Nesiim was envious of Nachshon? Being selected to be the first to represent Klal Yisrael in the Chanukas HaMishkan, Inauguration of the Mishkan, is no small feat. This was truly a proud moment for Nachshon. Was no one jealous of him?

Chazal teach us that the twelve shevatim, tribes, coincide with the twelve mazalos, zodiac signs. As the mazalos are arranged in a circular manner, there is no beginning and no end. One follows the other in a circle. There is neither a first shevet, nor is there a last one. Indeed, the one who seems to be first is actually the continuation of the last one who was before him in the circle.

This idea is alluded to in the pasuk which refers to Nachshon's offering as v'korbano, "and his sacrifice." If he was viewed as the first, it would grammatically be incorrect to prefix his sacrifice with a vov, implying "and," as if it were following the previous korban. His korban was not a commencement - it was a continuation. In order to prevent Nachshon from entertaining any visions of grandeur, the Torah withholds the title Nasi from his name. This guarantees the reign of peace and harmony among the tribes.

Creating peace among people is an impressive goal. There is, however, an even more impressive goal: engendering peace between people and Hashem. Some individuals have taanos, complaints, about life in general, as well as their specific personal circumstances. Bitterness has become a way of life for them; negativity is the predominant mode in which they view what occurs around them. Nobody is perfect, but some of us seem to have the habit of searching for, and revealing the adverse in every situation. Such a person is not at peace. As a result of his personal bitterness, he ends up harboring feelings of discontent against Hashem. While such feelings are unfounded and foolish, it does allow the individual to feel better as long as he has someone to blame. Thus, rodef shalom, pursuing peace, takes on a new image when it concerns Hashem. The rodef shalom attempts to create a balance, a sense of harmony between man and Hashem.

How does one deal with a bitter person? Rebbetzin Elyashiv, a.h, was well-known for her ability to "listen," to understand what had provoked an individual's bitterness, the source of pain, the underlying reason for the complaint. Her love for every Jew was legendary. It was not unusual to see her crying bitterly following a "listening" session with one of the many women who poured out their hearts to her. Her chesed, acts of loving-kindness, were boundless. This was evidenced when, shortly after her marriage, her revered in-laws moved in with the young couple. Rebbetzin Elyashiv attended to the needs of her in-laws for the next twenty-five years, with dignity, love and reverence.

It is all about one's ability to listen. Feeling understood is a basic need for human beings. This need becomes even more crucial in times of need or during a crisis. Many of us have occasion to come in contact with someone who is down and out. All he or she needs is to talk. Our function is to listen reflectively. Solutions are not necessary, since most of the time the person is not seeking a solution. He just wants someone to listen to him.

Va'ani Tefillah

V'alu moshiim be'Har Tzion lishpot es har Eisav.
And saviors will ascend Har Tzion to judge the mountain of Eisav.

Why is the "mountain" of Eisav emphasized? They should be judging Eisav - not his mountain. The Bnei Yissachar explains that our arch enemy, Eisav, has had a hand in every galus, exile, in which we have suffered. Whether it was overtly, or concealed in the background, Eisav was present. Therefore, Eisav is included in galus: Bavel, Yavan, Madai, Edom. If one tallies up the gematriah, numerical equivalent, of these four countries, it equals 205 - or har, mountain. Thus, "Har Eisav" is a reference to Eisav's involvement in every galus.

Perhaps, we may suggest that "har" represents dominion. One's "mountain" is his sanctuary, his possession, his strength, his power. Har Eisav is a reference to Eisav's far-reaching power. As long as Eisav has any power in the world, any influence whatsoever, the Throne of Hashem will be incomplete. The "mountain" must go!

R' Alter Chaim Dovid ben R' Menachem Shmuel z"l
niftar 28 Iyar 5767
Menachem Shmuel and Roiza Devora Solomon
In memory of Mr. David Salamon z"l

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