Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


You are all standing before Hashem, your G-d. (29:9)

Much has been written today concerning the meaning of the above pasuk. What is the significance of the nation's "standing" before Hashem? Also, why enumerate them according to class: leaders, elders, men, women, children? Horav Karlinstein quotes the halachah that during those parts of the davening one must stand; he must stand freely. This means that if he leans against something, such as a shtender, lectern, to the point that, if it were to be removed, he would fall over, it is not considered standing. This is considered leaning.

Rav Karlinstein derives an important lesson concerning parenting and education from this halachah. It is important that we impart to our children the lessons of life and give them the skills and tools to maneuver past the challenges and vicissitudes which they will confront throughout their lives. We want them to rely on us, but not to the point that if we - the support system - is removed, they will fall on their faces. The goal of a parent and a mechanech, educator, should be to place the child/student firmly on the ground, with the ability to address and deal with the various situations that arise. This is the underlying meaning of nitzavim, standing. We should aspire to build a nation whereby each individual person - regardless of class - fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, young and old, scholar and simple Jew - all stand independently before Hashem. Every Jew is blessed with his own unique talents, personality, skills and emotions. We should use them to the best of our ability to serve Hashem.

You are all standing today. (29:9)

Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, posits that nitzavim, standing, has a deeper meaning, beyond describing the vertical position of Klal Yisrael as Moshe Rabbeinu delivered his last homily to the nation he had shepherded for the last forty years. While nitzavim does mean standing, it has a much more powerful connotation. The word nitzavim is derived from - or closely related to - matzeivah, a pillar, a monument. In his last oration to the people, Moshe tells them, "You are the matzeivah, the foundation, the pillar, the force, the very future and the eternal carriers of the flame of Torah. You perpetuate the banner of Hashem. I will pass on and move into the annals of history. Likewise, you will have great leaders throughout every generation, leaders who will be the back bone of the Jewish people, but, they, too, will move on and meet the same end that is destined for all mortals.

Moshe was intimating that, while strong leadership is the guiding force of the Jewish people, the rise and fall of our nation rests on the shoulders of those present and their children. In order that the nation continue thriving, it is necessary for the hamon am, ordinary Jew, to continue as a torch bearer. It is in him that the people of Hashem finds its greatest strength.

One has only to peruse history to note the veracity of this statement. At the early part of the twentieth-century, the east coast of America was dotted with small towns and cities which were host to distinguished Torah scholars who led their communities. They were real rabbanim of European origin who had emigrated to America, the land of opportunity. They spoke every Shabbos, gave shiurim, lectures and classes, officiated at family milestones both joyous and sad, and maintained a warm relationship with their congregants. They did not, however, build schools. Thus, in the next generation, the children had no opportunity to expand their Jewish horizons. Therefore, their Yiddishkeit died. The rabbanim passed on to their eternal reward, followed by their devoted congregants. The children were left holding the bag, but the bag was empty. The Yiddishkeit which they sorely needed in order to go on had not been inculcated in them. Their matzeivah had crumbled. If we do not educate the next generation, the only monument we will have will, regrettably, be at the cemetery.

You are standing today, all of you… for you to pass into a covenant of Hashem, your G-d, and into His oath, that Hashem, your G-d, forges with you today. (29:9,11)

Chazal teach that when Klal Yisrael accepted the oath at Har Gerizim and Har Eival - naasu areivim zeh lazeh, "They became guarantors one for another." The principle, Kol Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh, "All Jews are guarantors for one another," is the foundation for many halachos, laws, which relate to Torah observance for the individual and the community. We must care for one another, because we are responsible for each other. This is the novel idea that was declared at Arvos Moav, the Plains of Moav. We wonder what is so novel about this idea that had not previously been indicated by the mitzvah of Hocheach tocheach es amisecha, "You shall reprove your fellow" (Vayikra 19:17). Indeed, the mitzvah of rebuke was given at Har Sinai, while the oath at Arvos Moav was later. What was supplemented by the oath that had not been included in their original acceptance of the Torah?

The Or HaChaim HaKadosh writes that Arvos Moav added a new dimension to our collective responsibility for all Jews: we must make sure to see to it that no Jew fall into a situation from which he cannot extricate himself. We have to circumvent a Jew from falling prey to sin. Anyone who can prevent his brother from sinning and does not, transgresses the oath taken at Arvos Moav. Kulchem, "all of you," each and every Jew, according to his ability, must see to it that the other Jew does not sin. Obviously, the heads of the Tribes, the spiritual leaders of each generation, those whose power extends beyond their grasp, have a much greater responsibility. Like everything else in life: it goes with the territory.

In Parashas Ki Savo (Devarim 27:26) the Torah writes: "Accursed is one who will not uphold the words of the Torah, 'to perform them.'" The members of Klal Yisrael accepted upon themselves - with a curse and with an oath - to uphold the entire Torah. The Netziv, zl, comments that this was primarily the acceptance of the Covenant at Arvos Moav. He adds that the words: Asher lo yakim, "Who does not uphold," refers to anyone who does not endeavor to uphold the Torah through others. In other words, if I do not make sure that my friend keeps the Torah, it is a stain on my observance. Regardless of what I must do - I have to try to make my brother observe the Torah. It is not enough for me to be frum, observant. I must, likewise, concern myself with the religious plateau of other Jews. I may not lock my door, close my eyes, stuff my ears, and act like the proverbial "three monkeys" - as if everything is fine. In fact, it is not fine, and I am part of the problem.

At the conclusion of the Covenant at Arvos Moav, the Torah gives us a reason for the initiative: "In order to establish you today as a people to Him and that He be a G-d to you" (Ibid. 29:12). The Or HaChaim explains that this pasuk serves as the rationale for the Covenant at Arvos Moav. A Jew might question carrying the weight of responsibility for his brother. One would think that the average Jew carries enough of a load just seeing to it that he himself remains observant and committed. To worry about everyone else might be asking a bit much. To this query, the Torah responds, L'maan hakim oscha hayom l'am, "In order to establish you today as a people." Unless Jews care about one another's spiritual welfare, the nation will eventually disintegrate. One day, it will be a simple slip in obedience; the next day, it will be a slight aveirah, sin. If this slippage is not immediately addressed, the entire nation can fall apart. The future of Klal Yisrael is based upon the spiritual solidarity of its people. If we allow our spiritually deficient brother to falter, the nation will splinter and eventually lose its singularity and distinction. Whatever Hashem does for us - or demands of us - is for our own good, so that the nation will prosper.

We must remember that Klal Yisrael is one large collective body of Jews. When one member sins, it harms the entire body. Every transgression that is committed causes the Shechinah, Divine Presence, to distance itself from us. If we will not be responsible for our brothers - who will?

And He cast them to another land. (29:27)

It is obvious that the "neck" of the lamed of va'yashlicheim, "And He cast them," is elongated. Nothing is happenstance in the Torah. Every letter, spelling, nuance, is the foundation for many halachos and Torah lessons. Clearly, a lesson can be derived from the shape of the lamed. The Ridvaz, zl, quotes the Tur in his commentary to the Shulchan Aruch, who says that if someone were to throw his wallet into the reshus ha'rabim, public domain, it becomes hefker, ownerless. Whoever finds it is free to take it. If a string is attached to it, however, then regardless of the distance between the owner and the object, it is considered to still be in his possession. The rope serves as an unbreakable bond connecting the owner with his object.

When the Torah writes that Hashem threw us to another land, it would seem that we would thereby become hefker, ownerless. After all, our G-d has rejected us, and, therefore, the nations can do with us what they please. Our status of strength continues unabated as long as we embrace Hashem, maintaining an unseverable bond with Him. When we begin to make cracks in the connection, it would seem that Hashem would allow us to become hefker. He would revoke His ownership. This will never happen. The Torah teaches us in Parashas Ha'azinu (Devarim 32:9), Yaakov chevel nachalaso, the word chevel means rope. The Torah is suggesting that whatever happens, Hashem will always maintain an attachment with His People. Even if we are cast away in His anger, we are connected by a long rope. It is almost like a bungee cord. Regardless of the length of the rope, or the distance that He casts us away, the connection has not been severed.

This is symbolized by the elongated lamed. Although Hashem will throw us into the public domain, He still retains possession over us by means of His holding on to our rope. This rope is signified by the long lamed.

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

If ever there has been a pasuk that addresses the ills of contemporary society, it is this one. On all levels of exegesis, it speaks to us and the issues which plague many of us. Simply, the Torah is addressing those who contend that they cannot be held responsible for those Jews who sin covertly, who conceal their miscreancy, often under a façade of righteousness. Not only are they not sinners - they are righteous! How dare anyone impugn their spiritual integrity? Hashem's response is quite forward: Do not worry about them. The hidden sin are in My domain. I will address the sinners. They think they can pull the wool over the eyes of their contemporaries. Perhaps they can, but they cannot fool Hashem. For the apathetic Jew who seeks refuge behind the words, "I am not observant," or "I am no longer Orthodox; it is my teacher's fault," all of these are sham excuses. They are pretexts to cover up the truth about one's nefarious activities.

We have fallen under the influence of contemporary society. Public opinion plays a dominant role in our lives. We dress to conform with the styles that are in vogue. We speak the language of the street. We have adopted the values of society. Indeed, our total demeanor reflects contemporary society. Our role models, the ones who we want most to emulate, sadly represent moral hypocrisy. Hashem tells us that we should not worry about the "hidden sinners."

Ramban adds that the pasuk addresses the sinner whose sins are so concealed that even he does not know what they are! This is probably the result of unfamiliarity with the law. Hashem tells us that we have to worry about the niglos, those sins that are readily detected. He will deal with the others.

Last, this pasuk applies to those Jews who are so assimilated that their Jewish origins have been completely forgotten. Hashem tells us that they are not our concern. At the appropriate time, He will reunite them with the remainder of the Jewish nation.

We have before us three forms of nistaros: the one who conceals his sins; the one whose sins are so "concealed" that even he himself is unaware of them; and the hidden Jew whose sins have taken him over the spiritual deep end to the point that he no longer knows that he is Jewish.

Let us address each of these nistaros. The first nistar is the hypocrite who sins covertly. On the one hand, we may be melameid z'chus, find justifiable merit, for his evil: at least he still has a sense of shame. He is not ready to flaunt his flagrant desecration of the Torah. Even in this area of concealed transgression, we find "creative" approaches to miscreancy. There is, of course, the blatant sinner who simply commits his iniquity in private. While he has never claimed to be righteous, he is not prepared to publicly sever his relationship with the Torah.

Another attitude reeks of sham piety and duplicity. This is the approach of the individual who presents himself as a saint, but, in reality, is a sinner. Indeed, it is specifically in the area for which he demands tzaddik, righteous recognition, that his insidious behavior is concealed. We refer to the individual who affixes kala ilan, blue dye, to his Tallis and calls it techeiles, wool dyed with the blood of a chalazon, fish, whose known identity is disputed. The Talmud in Bava Metzia 61b teaches us about this character, but, first, a few words of introduction.

The Torah requires us to wear Tzitzis, fringes, made of wool on our four-cornered garments. One of the four threads which are doubled over into eight should be colored techeiles, which is something like sky-blue. This blue dye is supposed to be derived from the blood of the chalazon, which, as previously mentioned, is problematic due to a rabbinic dispute concerning its identity. Therefore, the majority of Jews do not wear techeiles.

In the Talmud Bava Metzia 61b, Chazal quote Hashem as saying, "'I will punish one who dyes one of his Tzitzis with a blue dye, kala ilan, and claims it to be techeiles.'" Is the man doing anything wrong to anyone? Is he hurting his fellow man? No. He is simply being a phony, a moral hypocrite. Most people do not wear techeiles anyway. Who is he harming? Chazal are issuing a protest against deceitfulness and hypocrisy. This man's unctuousness covers up an individual who is very insecure. Anyone who presents himself as self-righteous and decent in an attempt to deceive others is actually a very sick person. He may fool many people, but he cannot fool Hashem, Who will exact punishment from him. A man who will prevaricate in his mitzvah performance will lie in his business dealings with his fellow man. Such a person is an insult to the Jewish community. Since his deception harms no one other than himself, we cannot do a thing to him, but Hashem will.

I recently saw a quotation from Horav Avraham Chen, zl, a Rav in Russia and later in Eretz Yisrael. He writes in his Sefer B'malchus Ha'Yahadus that the reverse is also true. This refers to one who possesses techeiles, yet refuses to wear it because he is afraid of what people might say. He is concerned lest he is suspected of being a frumi, strictly observant, one who is meticulous in carrying out mitzvos. This is the fellow who always plays down his religious observance, fearing it would make him less popular. He tells everyone that what he is wearing is kala ilan, when, in fact, it is techeiles. He gives excuses for his Yarmulke, his Shemiras Shabbos, keeping kosher, and so many other mitzvos. It is not good for business to be too frum - or so he claims. He is a moral coward who refuses to stand up for his convictions. One who does not take pride in his Jewishness has a more serious problem than he realizes. Hanistaros l'Hashem Elokeinu, The Almighty will address the bad which such actions generate. A person who is a moral cripple, who does not have the strength to support his convictions, is a danger to society.

According to Ramban, the next nistar, hidden sin, is the result of am ha'aratzus, illiteracy and an unfamiliarity with the law. The cure for this problem is learning. By studying Torah and quenching one's thirst for knowledge, one learns how to perform mitzvos properly, and how to distance himself from sin. One who has the opportunity to learn but does not do so can hardly claim that he did not know that this activity was prohibited. Had he learned, he would be knowledgeable. He just did not care enough.

The last nistar is not a sin, but an individual who has long forgotten that he is Jewish. Assimilation has taken its toll on him. Our concern concerning him is the concern of a brother for a brother. To observe so many of our brethren, individuals who are decent, ethically and morally upright, be washed away by the waves of assimilation, hurts. To see Jews by birth who have no clue concerning what this means, leaves one feeling empty. It is like watching someone die. Many of them never had a chance, as they themselves are the product of generations of assimilation. Hashem assures us that He will deal with these "hidden Jews." Every time we come across such a Jew and the opportunity for reaching out to him avails itself, we should remember that this is probably part of Hashem's plan to bring back the nistaros. To ignore the opportunity - or worse - to eschew it - is to disregard Hashem's plan. We are part of His Divine plan. By turning a blind eye to what we see and turning a deaf ear to what we hear is to declare to the Almighty, "I want no part of this." Perhaps, this might be something to consider the next time the opportunity arises.

It will be when all these things come upon you - the blessing and the curse… Then you will take it to your heart. (30:1)

While no one can actually pinpoint the corollary that exists between our rebellious behavior and the curses which follow, a definite pattern in history demonstrates the idea that allegiance to Hashem is followed by blessing and sinful behavior precedes punishment. There are those who vehemently deny this verity, but they have chosen to bury their heads in the proverbial sand and ignore what is plain to see, by continuing to remain indifferent to what even a simpleton can deduce.

Hashem has been very upfront with us. In Parashas Ki Savo, the Torah outlines the wonderful blessings that will be showered upon us for compliance with the Torah. There is also a litany of ninety-eight curses which are Hashem's punishing rod for exacting retribution. The choice is up to us: Do we want to earn blessing, or are we on the road to curse? In his commentary Pnei David, the Chida, zl, observes that there are 676 words in the text of the k'lalos which Moshe Rabbeinu said to the nation. The number 676 is likewise the numerical equivalent of the word raos, bad/evil.

This is what the Psalmist means when he writes (Tehillim 34:20), Rabos raos tzaddik, u'mi kulam yatzileinu Hashem, "Many are the mishaps of the righteous, but from all of them Hashem rescues him." The Chida explains this homiletically: The tzaddik, Moshe, enumerated the k'lalos, curses, which (in number of words) equals the word raos, 676, but all of these k'lalos can each and every one be turned around to blessings by Hashem. As long as we include Hashem in our lives, we will be spared. The Almighty will transform k'lalah into brachah.

How does this radical change occur? The Chida explains that Hashem's name is mentioned 26 times in the k'lalos. The name yud, kay, vov, kay equals 26. Thus, 26 times 26 equals 676. Hashem converts curse into blessing. By including Hashem Echad, the Almighty is one, we add one to 676 increasing the total to 677. Therefore, by incorporating Hashem into our lives, we are able to transform raos = 676 to ezras, salvation, which equals 677. Let us make Hashem a part of our lives. The difference spells salvation.

And you will return unto Hashem, your G-d, and listen to His voice, according to everything that I command you today. (30:2)

Ideal repentance is not motivated by fear, but by love, preceded by an intellectual appreciation of what a Torah way of life revolving around a profound belief in Hashem can do for a person. Unquestionably, teshuvah, return/repentance, is a major step for anyone to undertake. This is, of course, especially true when one returns from a life of total assimilation and alienation. A word of warning, however, is in order: Teshuvah is much more than a step. It is a lifelong process that must continually grow as one's commitment becomes stronger and more concrete. All too often, people begin the process with great sincerity and, for some reason, become bogged down, never achieving total success. For the remainder of their lives, they are in a state of flux, questioning, postulating, wondering, "What if?" The baal teshuvah, penitent, must put his mind to rest and continue to move forward and upward. The alternative is very sad.

Horav Yisrael Meir Lau, Shlita, relates the story of a middle-aged fellow who appeared one day in the bais ha'medrash of Ponevez, where the then seventeen-year-old future Chief Rabbi was a student. It was the middle of second seder, and Rav Lau went to the back of the bais ha'medrash to search for a sefer pertaining to the topic of the Talmud that he was studying. Standing there in a sense of awe and puzzlement was a fortyish man wearing a light blue kippah, that appeared "strange" on his head. Clearly, this fellow was not a "regular" in the yeshivah environment. The man just stared at the 350 young men who were fervently engaged in their Torah study. The dialogues and debates among the various chavrusos, study partners, and chaburos, groups, can be overwhelming and awe-inspiring to a first-time visitor to the exalted halls of Torah study.

"Can I help you? Are you looking for someone?" Rav Lau asked the man.

"I am looking for a Jewish teacher, someone who can teach Judaism," the man responded, somewhat "removed."

It was not unusual for people to visit the yeshivah occasionally in search of a tutor, bar-mitzvah teacher, part-time rebbe. "How old is the child?" Rav Lau asked the man.

The fellow chuckled as he answered, "Forty-two years old."

When Rav Lau heard this reply, he understood that there was more to this man than what appeared superficially. He engaged him in conversation, asking him his background and from where he hailed.

"I am a forty-two year old carpenter from Ramat Gan. I have a wonderful wife and two loving children. I have a nice apartment and, by Israeli standards, make a decent living. My life is fine. The truth is, this is what is troubling me: Everything is fine, but I feel I am living without purpose, without goals and objectives. It is the same thing every day. There is no excitement in my life. No meaning.

"At first, I thought the answer could be found in religion. Religious Jews have a daily plan which guides them. They go to the synagogue twice daily. They seem to have purpose in their lives. They are focused, but I have no idea how it all began. Who decided that observant Jews should attend services in the synagogue, wear Tallis and Tefillin? You might say that a group of elderly scholars conversed and made these rules. Well, that does not turn me on. A group of elderly Jews - regardless of their brilliance, piety and virtue - does not impel me to observe. I need much more than that to convince me. For me to observe Shabbos and the Jewish dietary laws, I must be committed to G-d. I must know and believe that this is what G-d wants of me. Otherwise, I simply cannot undertake this obligation."

Rav Lau observed that such an individual, a true seeker of the word of Hashem, is an anomaly. It was twelve years since the Holocaust had occurred, a decade after the War of Independence, a time when the last thing people were contemplating was a return to Hashem. Teshuvah was not uppermost in anyone's mind. If someone was a standout and interested in learning more about Judaism, it was incumbent that the young yeshivah student give it his all.

He began with the time-honored argument that our "history," the origin of our nation, is not based on conjecture and hyperbole, but on the reality of 600,000 men over the age of twenty-years old witnessing a Revelation that had been unprecedented and unparalleled in the annals of time. It was an argument that even an agnostic could not refute. This young man wanted to believe. He just needed to get it all together and take that "small step" for himself. He left the yeshivah, saying that he had much to think about. He would get back to Rav Lau.

Weeks went by, and he had yet to return. Finally, after about six weeks, the man appeared once again at the yeshivah with the same perplexed countenance he had evinced the first time he came. "What happened?" Rav Lau asked him. "It has been a considerable amount of time since you were last here. Is everything all right?"

"Well," the fellow began, "I took what you said to heart. I went home and started reading, researching the history of the Jewish people. Evidently, the secularists have closed the door on our origins. It is almost as if they do not want us to study our roots. Thus, I decided to begin a life of observance, but I have encountered serious challenges: My wife thinks that I have lost my mind. My children do not know what to think anymore. Now, my wife has practically given me an ultimatum: either become "normal" again or she is leaving! What should I do? I cannot seem to convince her to accept this way of life!"

"This issue is beyond my purview. I am an unmarried student who has no experience in matters of family life. Perhaps you will join me and present the question to the Rosh Yeshivah," was Rav Lau's reply. The man acquiesced, and they went to the office of Horav David Povarsky, zl, to seek his sage counsel.

"Describe for me your last Shabbos at home," the Rosh Yeshivah said to the man.

"The Rosh Yeshivah must take into consideration that it is still summertime. I told my family that we had already entered into the month of Elul, a time for spiritual advancement and introspection. Therefore, I was not about to use the services of a taxi to go to the beach on Shabbos. It just was not right. On the other hand, my wife continues to cook on Shabbos; the radio is blasting away its usual perversion; everything is as usual - with the exception - I do not drive to the beach on Shabbos."

Rav David smiled, "I, too, do not drive on Shabbos, nor do I go to the beach. Yet, my wife does not think that I am insane. Do you want to know why your wife thinks you are not normal? Because Shabbos cannot be divided. If your wife were to know and see that you are thoroughly committed to every aspect of Jewish observance, she would respect your decision and eventually go along with it. It is because you are acting like a hypocrite that she is turned off! Beach, no! Radio, yes! This is not Shabbos observance. If you want respect, you must show respect!"

The man understood quite well the Rosh Yeshivah's advice. It was to be either all or nothing. Teshuvah is neither a game, nor a part-time vocation. It is not a feel-good experience for those who need to stroke their egos. One is either committed, or he is not!

Va'ani Tefillah

Avinu Malkeinu… Baavur avoseinu she'batchu becha, va'tilamdeim chukei chaim… kein techaneinu u'silamdeinu. Our Father, Our King, for the sake of our forefather who had faith in You, and You taught them the laws of life, so may You also endow us spiritually and teach us.

Horav Arye Levine, zl, makes a powerful observation that, sadly, we all often overlook. We daven to Hashem constantly, offering supplication after supplication, entreating Him for our many needs. We offer many tefillos to Hashem, daily, weekly, monthly, annually. There is only one prayer that is prefaced with a number of unique hakdamos, introductions: the Tefillah of Ahavah Rabbah, which is recited each morning prior to reciting the Shema Yisrael prayer. We begin, "You have loved us with ever-increasing love, Hashem, Our G-d. You have shown us great and overwhelming compassion." This is followed by relating how the Almighty blessed our forefathers with the Torah, and how He taught them the Torah way to live. Only then do we say the actual prayer: Kein tichaneinu u'silamdeinu, "So may You also endow us spiritually and teach us." Why all the introductions? Why not come immediately to the point: "Hashem, please endow us spiritually! Hashem teach us Torah."

Rav Arye explains that, in order to achieve success in Torah study, one must be machnia, subdue, his ego, and literally transform himself into a vessel prepared to accept the Torah within himself. Hachnaah is an essential pre-requisite for Torah study, without which one cannot develop into a talmid chacham, true Torah scholar. He might be a scholar, and he might possess wisdom, but, without hachnaah, he is not a Torah scholar. This attitude was underscored by Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohen, who each wanted to study from the other. Neither one felt worthy to teach the other.

l'zechar nishmas
R' Moshe Yehuda Leib ben
Asher Alter Chaim z"l

by his family

Peninim on the Torah is in its 20th year of publication. The first fifteen years have been published in book form.

The Fifteenth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.


This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel