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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


From the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water. (29:10)

Everybody was present that day, from the woodcutter to the water carrier. Is this the correct sequence? Should it not be worded, "From your leadership all the way down to your woodchoppers" or "From your goldsmiths to your woodchoppers"? One would think that the woodchopper and water carrier are basically on an equal level. Shivim Panim LaTorah suggests the following idea. When the ax is raised up over the head of the woodchopper, the "ax" would never consider that it is higher or more distinguished than the woodchopper, because the woodchopper is the one who is raising it up. Likewise, when the pail is lowered into a well, would the water-drawer even for a moment think that he is on a higher plateau than the pail? After all, if he would not have lowered the pail, it would have been on the same elevation as he.

This analogy may be applied to our leadership. The leaders should never feel they are on a higher level than the people whom they serve, because, without the people who selected them as their leaders, they would be no more distinguished than the common person. No leader should ever look down upon any person, because ultimately the leader is responsible for the development of the people he serves. If they do not ascend, it is because he is a poor leader. The leadership have an enormous responsibility. That is why they have been selected for this position. If the leaders fail in their charge, if they do not succeed in elevating their community both spiritually and morally, they not only do not deserve their position, they are actually depriving the community of their due. They should take a lesson from the woodcutter and water-drawer.

No Jew is unimportant. Every person has great value. The ability to value and appreciate each individual is the sign of a great person and one who truly deserves to be a leader. Horav Shmuel zl, m'Lubavitch had among his many followers a wealthy diamond merchant by the name of Reb Monya Mosinson. One time, Reb Monya was sitting with a group of chassidim at the Rebbe's table and the conversation turned to the poverty which beleaguered the Russian Jewish community. Suddenly, in middle of the conversation, the Rebbe began to laud the poor Jewish workers who slaved from early morning until late at night in order to provide for their families. They preferred to be subject to the most difficult back-breaking labor, rather than live off the community offering. Reb Monya interjected, "I am surprised that the Rebbe is making such a to-do about these simple people." "These people possess many valuable virtues" the Rebbe countered. "I do not see their qualities," Reb Monya responded, as he motioned with his hand in a condescending and derogatory manner.

The Rebbe did not reply to this disparaging remark. The next morning the Rebbe asked Reb Monya if he had brought a collection of diamonds with him. He immediately proceeded to take out his bag of diamonds and spread them out on the table. He was so excited about his wares that he began to point out the exceptional qualities of each individual diamond. "I see nothing special about these diamonds," the Rebbe said in a mocking manner. "Rebbe!" Reb Monya exclaimed in a slightly higher voice. "One must be a maven, proficient and adept in the value of diamonds, before he can pass judgment on these stones. Diamonds are remarkable stones whose individual beauty and value one must appreciate." Upon hearing this, the Rebbe looked at Reb Manya. With a stern, accusing tone, he reminded the diamond merchant of the conversation they had had the previous day, "This same idea applies to every Jew. Each and every Jew has inestimable value. Only, it takes a maven to recognize this."

Perhaps there is among you a root flourishing with gall and wormwood. (29:17)

And you will return unto Hashem, your G-d, and listen to His voice.(30:3)

A remarkable contrast between two people: the one who defies rebuke, laughing it off with disdain and derision; and the baal teshuvah, penitent, who hears Hashem's call, who responds to His voice, and returns wholeheartedly. Two people - or could it be one person, one individual in different stages of his spiritual development? Is it possible for the hard-core sinner, the individual who mocks Hashem and His followers bitterly, to return and be accepted? It is certainly possible for him to be accepted: Hashem is a loving Father Who waits patiently for His errant child. How does one whose attitude is likened to a bitter root, however, change from one extreme to another? We do not always know what turns someone on, because we are not always aware of what has turned them off. If we fail to properly diagnose the illness, we will have a difficult time discerning a cure.

Rabbi Paysach Krohn tells a story about the Klausenberger Rebbe, zl, which demonstrates this idea. The Rebbe was a unique individual. His love for all Jews was legendary. He had an especially keen interest in children. Immediately following World War II and its accompanying atrocities against the Jewish People, the Rebbe opened a yeshivah and a Bais Yaakov school in a Displaced Persons camp. The conditions were dismal and lamentable, but Torah study, the lifeblood of our People, has to continue. One day, the Rebbe was told about Meshullam, a young man who had succumbed to the heresy that followed Hitler's holocaust of our People. Until the age of sixteen, Meshullam had exhibited signs of becoming an incredible talmid chacham, Torah scholar. He was exceptionally diligent in his Torah study and meticulous in his mitzvah observance. Then came the Holocaust. Having lost most of his family and observed the tragedy that befell so many others, he rejected his Judaism, undermining any attempt to bring him back to observance.

The Rebbe was not a person to take "no" for an answer, especially when a Yiddishe neshamah, Jewish soul, hung in the balance. He asked that the bachur, young man, be brought to him. When Meshullam entered the Rebbe's room, the Rebbe motioned for him to sit down next to him. "I am told that you are the son of Reb Laibish, whom I knew very well," the Rebbe said. "Yes," Meshullam responded, glibly. He was not going to be lulled into any conversation about Judaism and faith in G-d. He knew it all, and he had rejected it after Auschwitz. For him, the world of religion was something of the past.

"They tell me your were once a great masmid, diligent in your studies, back home. Is this true?" the Rebbe asked in a non-confrontational tone. Knowing fully well the significance of Torah study to the Rebbe, he decided not to give the Rebbe the pleasure of telling him that at one time he had conformed to the demands of religion and loved Torah study. He simply nodded to the Rebbe's question.

"But, now you are angry," the Rebbe said in a soft, soothing tone. "Of course, I am angry," he blurted out. "How could I tolerate the heinous, brutal destruction of so many people? The best were taken from us, the finest are lost forever, and you expect me not to be angry!"

The Rebbe lovingly extended his hand and touched Meshullam's face, telling him, "You are so right. I also suffered heavy losses. They took my beloved wife and eleven children and murdered them. I was left alone, with nothing. You are right. The best were taken from us and look at what is left." With these words the Rebbe suddenly burst out in tears and began to sob. As the pent-up emotion poured from him, Meshullam also began to cry. Together, the Rebbe and Meshullam mourned their losses on each other's shoulders.

It was no longer necessary for the Rebbe to say anything. Rebuke was not and had never been a factor. There was so much bitterness bottled up in Meshullam that only needed a release. The Rebbe was that catalyst. Words were not necessary. Tears, streams of tears, an outpouring of emotion is what Meshullam needed. The Rebbe understood this - while others, regrettably, did not. Meshullam returned, because the Klausenberger Rebbe understood his need. It is unfortunate that more people like Meshullam did not connect with someone of the caliber of the Klausenberger Rebbe.

The hidden (sins) are for Hashem, our G-d, but the revealed (sins) are for us and for our children forever. (29:28)

Simply, we are not held responsible for those sinners who hide their evil. The hidden sinners are in Hashem's province. Our focus must be on those whose evil is blatant, who have no shame and no fear. Our lack of response to those sins and sinners - and in some cases, our open acceptance of their evil - impugns the integrity of Klal Yisrael. In an alternative exegesis, the Belzer Rebbe, zl, suggests that nistaros and niglos, "hidden" and "revealed," refer to mitzvos and good deeds, but not to sins. His pshat, rendering of the pasuk, is better understood in light of the following story:

A man was once called in from the street to join a minyan, quorum, being held in a private home for a group of aveilim, mourners. The minyan was being held in an apartment in a very frum, observant, section of Yerushalayim. He was, therefore, surprised to see that the mourners and a number of the minyan attendees were wearing their yarmulkes perched precariously on their heads to indicate that wearing a yarmulke was not a common occurrence for them. Yet, when he looked around the room it appeared like the home of a devout Jew. The shelves were filled with seforim, volumes of Torah literature, that were well-worn and used. This enigma was even more puzzling as a result of the fact that many of the seforim had notes and observations penciled in alongside the text. What was going on here?

After Mincha, the guest could no longer contain himself. He went over to one of the mourners and asked for an explanation, "Do any of the deceased's children use his books?" he asked, judiciously attempting to find out if any of the siblings might be observant. "No, he was the only one that was observant. You see, when my father came home from work, he would quickly execute his fatherly responsibilities and proceed to lock himself for the rest of the evening in his study, immersed in his precious books. Although we knew he was studying in there, this knowledge was basically hearsay, because we never actually saw him studying Torah."

What a living tragedy! Children learn from their parents. When children see their parents studying Torah, when they observe how their parents value Torah study, they learn to also value and appreciate it. This applies to chesed, acts of kindness, as well. Children should share in their parents good deeds. Make them a part of the endeavor. It is certainly more important and enduring than playing baseball with them. The most important memories children look back on when they become parents are related to the quality time they spent with their parents. How we spend this time with them will determine what aspect of our relationship with them they will remember and eternalize.

Let us return to the Belzer Rebbe's homiletic rendering of the pasuk. He explains that as Moshe Rabbeinu was about to take leave of his beloved nation, he turned to them and said, "The hidden things are Hashem's, but the revealed ones are for us and our children." If we act righteously but keep these acts hidden; if we do not include our children in our meritorious activities; if they are not privy to our Torah study and acts of chesed, then only Hashem will know of the honorable and upright way we lived. Our children will remain unaware and, consequently, uninspired. If we see to it, however, that our positive actions are revealed to our children, then these good deeds will become a part of the family legacy as we impart our noble actions to the next generation to carry them on.

For He (Hashem) is your life and the length of your days. (30:20)

What is the difference between, "chayecha," your life, and "orech yamecha," length of your days? They both seem to express the same idea. Kol Simchah distinguishes between these two terms using the following analogy. A man was diagnosed with a serious, life-threatening illness. He had to undergo painful and dangerous surgery in order to live. The recuperation was painful and long. When he would be healed, however, it would all have been worth it. Indeed, at this point, as bad as the surgery might have seemed, its pain and debilitating effect was the precursor of his life being extended.

On the other hand, there was an individual who seemed to be having a "grand" time. He ate what he pleased, did not exercise, and basically broke every rule for taking care of his health. He seemed to be "living," but actually he was digging an early grave for himself. One suffered and seemed to be dying, while the other one lived it up and seemed to be alive and vibrant, when he was really on a collision course with his early demise. One lived, but did not have long life; the other seemed near death while undergoing painful treatment, but in the end, saw his life-span extended. This is the way of the world. For continued good health, one must suffer a little. As the popular maxim states, "No pain, no gain."

The Torah has a different quality to it. It is our life. When we study - we enjoy - we live! The one who studies Torah earns Olam Habah, but also has tremendous enjoyment. In addition, the Torah study that is his olam hazeh also catalyzes his Olam Habah, so that he reaps both benefits - life and length of days.

Vignettes on the Parsha

Perhaps there is among you a root flourishing with gall and wormwood… he will bless himself in his heart… (29:17,18)

The Kotzker Rebbe, zl, notes that this is quite often the case. The sinner blesses himself in his heart; he thinks his good heart, his humanness and caring, are going to save him from punishment. He is in error. While he will certainly be rewarded for his Jewish heart, his humanitarian acts of kindness, he will also have to answer for rejectingHashem.


The hidden (sins) are for Hashem, our G-d, but the revealed (sins) are for us. (29:28)

The Kotzker Rebbe, zl, was wont to say, "The world thinks that a tzaddik nistar, hidden righteous person, is one who conceals his virtue and piety from others. Veritably, the real tzaddik nistar is one who conceals his good deeds even from himself!"

The later generation will say - your children who will arise after you and the foreigner who will come from a distant land. (29:21)

The various commentators define the word nachri, foreigner, as gentile. This is the bitter prophecy of the future, in which the generation that will arise after you will be as distant from Jewish tradition and practice as the nachri, gentile. Regrettably, this tragedy has occurred.


And you will return unto Hashem, your G-d. (30:2)

The Alter, zl, m'Novardok, observes how teshuvah is the greatest "business." It is the only area of endeavor in which the losses are transformed into profit and the debits into credits.


You shall return and listen. (30:8)

The Alter, zl, m'Kelm says that the primary yesod, principle, of teshuvah is that there is no b'dieved, expost facto, "Now that it has happened," so I might as well continue doing wrong. Once a person repents, he clears his slate and is able to begin again like a newborn.

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