Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with robbery through them; and behold, I am about to destroy them from the earth. (6:13)

Rashi notes that whenever you find promiscuity, catastrophe comes to the world. As a result, both good and evil people perish. Yet, the ultimate judgement of destruction was sealed as a result of robbery. The Gur Aryeh reconciles this apparent contradiction with the idea that although robbery catalyzed the destruction, once it occurred the good and the evil both died because promiscuity was also involved. We wonder why robbery has an effect only on the evil, while the consequence of promiscuity radiates to the good people as well.

Horav Shmuel Walkin, zl, explains that like a physical disease, in which certain illnesses are highly contagious while others affect only the immediate victim, spiritual disease has similar characteristics. One of those sins that is contagious and spreads quickly throughout a group is promiscuity. The far-reaching effect of this sin is obvious throughout history. Contemporary society is plagued by this spiritual disease to the point that its greatest and most illustrious leaders have fallen prey to it. The slightest vestige of promiscuity arouses the yetzer hora, evil-inclination, granting it the power to bring us down spiritually.

Yes, robbery sealed the sentence of destruction. Yet this sentence would have been executed only against the actual perpetrator. Once promiscuity entered the picture, both the sin and its consequence became more widespread.

Rashi's statement that the "good" are also affected means that the good are no longer good. In other words, the yetzer hora of znus, promiscuity, is difficult to overcome. It has an effect on everyone, unless a person is stoic and maintains a strong footing against the blandishments of the yetzer hora. This is the reason that tznius, modesty/moral chastity, plays such an integral role in the weltenshauung of the Jewish People.

Interestingly, as noted by Horav Eliyahu Munk, zl, the first time that the Torah refers to the descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov by the name, Yisrael, is in regard to morality. When Shechem violated Dinah, daughter of Yaakov Avinu, her brothers exclaimed their outrage with the words, Ki nevalah asah b'Yisrael, "He had committed a disgraceful act against Yisrael" (Bereishis 34:7). This occured even before the name Yisrael had officially been proclaimed as exemplifying our strength and ability to overcome challenge. This name denotes the priestly people, who will "fight for G-d." To paraphrase Rav Munk, "What a lofty conception of duty, virtue, and moral nobility is already connected with this august name!" It is particularly significant that the first "struggle for G-d" with which the name, "Yisrael," is connected is in defense of the sacred ideal of moral purity. The primary mission of those who are Bnei Yisrael is to safeguard this ideal.

For it is you that I have seen to be righteous before Me in this generation. (7:1)

What did Noach do during the year that he and his family spent on the Teivah, Ark? Chazal teach us that Noach immersed himself in chesed, as he saw to the needs of the thousands of creatures that were in his care. The Midrash Tanchuma tells us that the Torah refers to Noach as a tzaddik due to his extraordinary care of the animals. Indeed, Noach was unable to sleep because the schedules for feeding the various animals did not coincide. Noach's devotion to performing chesed was a kaparah, atonement, for the selfishness and depravity of the members of his generation. They lived for themselves. Noach lived for others. They preached cruelty, injustice and apathy. Noach exemplified love, sensitivity and hope.

Feeding the hungry is a form of chesed that many of us ignore, because we do not know what it means to be hungry. Sensitivity towards others can often be expressed once the beneficiary has himself experienced the "other side of the coin," once he has been sick or hungry or poor and in need. We live in a country where people do not usually experience the hunger that is commonplace in Third World countries. Yet, there are people among us who, although they do not starve, do not have the money to put meat and chicken on the table - even on Shabbos! There are people who do not have enough to eat. They might not go to bed hungry, but how do we measure hunger? Noach taught us the significance of caring for the simple material needs of all creatures. Surely what he did is a lesson for us all in our concern for our fellow man.

I would like to share with the reader an analogy, a story that pertains to this subject: A man had two distinctly different dreams. In the first dream, he saw hundreds of sad, expressionless people, sitting at a large banquet table that was filled with large platters of the most delectable foods. Regrettably, not a morsel of food had been touched. The people simply stared at the tables.

He wondered, "Why are these people not eating? They appear to be hungry. The food is there for the taking. What is preventing them from availing themselves of this feast?"

His guide told him, "They cannot feed themselves. If you will look, you will notice that the people have no joints in their arms. They can hold their arms straight out, but they cannot bend them. No matter how hard they try, they cannot bend their arms to bring the food to their mouths."

In his second dream, the man saw a similar vision: same room, same table, same people with no joints in their arms.

Everything was the same, except in this vision the people all appeared to be well-fed and happy. "How could this be?" he wondered. "How could these people appear to be well fed if they could not feed themselves?"

The guide gave a quick response, "Look again, carefully, and tell me what you see."

He looked again and saw an astonishing sight. While each person could not feed himself, he could grasp the food in his outstretched hand and place it in to his neighbor's mouth. They could not feed themselves, but they could feed one another! What a powerful analogy! To the extent that we do for others, we do for ourselves. When we feed only ourselves, we all starve. When we think of others, we are all satiated. A wise man once said, "This world is comprised of two kinds of people: the givers and the takers. The takers eat well, but the givers sleep well.

The following story occurred with Fiorella LaGuardia in 1933: The future legendary mayor of New York was then a presiding judge in police court. A trembling old man was brought before him. The charge: stealing a loaf of bread. The man broke down and conceded his guilt, adding, "What can I do? My family is starving."

LaGuardia turned to the man and said, "I have no recourse but to fine you ten dollars for your crime." He then reached into his pocket and said, "Well, here is the ten dollars to pay for your fine." He proceeded to place the ten-dollar bill on the table. "Furthermore," he declared, "I am going to fine everybody in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a man has to steal bread in order to eat. Will the bailiff please collect the fines and give them to the defendant!"

The bailiff went around the room collecting the fines and gave the defendant the money. The shocked old man, who was originally brought to the judge for stealing a loaf of bread, left with tears in his eyes and forty-seven dollars and fifty cents to help feed his starving family.

This story teaches us the value of human compassion; the importance of caring about others; and the extent of our responsibility towards our fellow man.

And Cham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and related it to his brothers outside. (9:22)

Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, observes that Cham should have remained respectfully outside, as his brothers did. Entering the tent with the intent to look already identified him as the degenerate that he was. Cham should have known better. After all, he was also a father. No - not Cham. He went in and saw what he wanted to see. When he came out to his brothers he did not simply tell them, he related in detail what he had seen. Vayaged, he painted the story in words to get the most out of it. He gloated on the shocking effect of his words.

Cham fathered Canaan and Mitzrayim, two nations that descended to the nadir of depravity. The social degeneration that characterized Egypt and the moral decadence that personified Canaan had their source in Cham's behavior towards his father. The whole world of humanity is built on the relationship of children to their parents.

Veritably, parents are there for their children: the mother, as the condition for their existence; the father as the one whose life should be given up for the well-being of his children. Children must see in their parents the repository of Hashem's mission in this world. If respect for a parent is absent, then the stem that connects the sapling to the tree is severed. The younger generation then considers itself only a yoreish, inheritor, of the previous generation. The more vital supplants the older, weaker generation and steps into its place. We are taught differently. The Jew's relationship to the previous generation is one of nachalah, a form of inheritance, a word derived from nachal, stream, a flow. Thus, the older generation hands over its strength and powers, material and spiritual treasures, to the younger generation. While others seek to divorce themselves from the past, we see our parents as a source of strength, power and experience. As a stream flows from above, the spiritual mission of the Jew is transmitted from one generation to the next.

Cham denigrated the pivotal mitzvah of Kibbud Av, honor for a parent. The degeneration that followed was the consequence of his iniquity. The ensuing moral disintegration of his descendants was a direct outgrowth of that first act of disrespect towards a father. Cham set the standard of behavior for his children throughout the following generations.

Come, let us descend and there confuse their language, that they should not understand one another's language. (11:7)

Rashi tells us how their failure to communicate in a common language resulted in confusion and discord. One person would ask for a brick. The other one, as a result of a lack of comprehension, returned with plaster. The first one would rise up and kill the other person for not bringing him the brick. We wonder why Rashi has to go so far as to say that the lack of communication resulted in murder? The original purpose of confusing the language was to undermine their building project. If they could not communicate, they would not be able to build. Why did they resort to murder?

The Brisker Rav, zl, explains that unity can have a negative as well as a positive effect. Furthermore, when the wicked unite with a common objective, they find an avenue to succeed. The drawback of the d'or haflagah, generation of the dispersal, was the harmony that existed between them. If their goal was to build a tower, they would find a way to see their goal reach fruition. Nothing would stand in the way of their collective efforts. This is why it was essential that the confusion brought about by the language problem had to be so great that it resulted in a complete breakdown of society, even murder. The greatest proof is the fact that even after they killed one of their own, they continued building the tower. It was only when they were dispersed that the Torah writes that work on the tower came to a halt.

Terach took his son Avramů And they departed with them from Ur Kasdim to go to the land of Canaan; they arrived at Charan and they settled there. (11:31)

Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, notes that the Torah reveals to us that Terach originally had set a destination to reach Canaan. In the end, he did not reach his goal; he settled midway in Charan. He cites the Arugas Habosem that explains this occurrence in the following manner. Terach set a goal to reach Canaan. Like so many other weak people, Terach did not achieve his goal. The yetzer hora, evil inclination, challenges us midway, seeking a way of preventing us from bringing our goal to fruition. This is what happens to the wicked: they undertake glorious endeavors; they make grandiose plans, all with good intentions. Yet, along the way, they fall prey to their yetzer hora which misleads them. Tzaddikim, the righteous, are not like that. They set sail on a mission, and nothing obstructs their way. They triumph over the challenges and obstacles that lie in their path, because they are focused on their objective. Regardless of the difficulties, once they have accepted a task upon themselves, they complete it.

The Chassidic Seforim distinguish between angels and man in that angels manifest the virtue that they cannot deteriorate. Their concomitant flaw is that they cannot improve. They cannot go forward and grow. Man, regrettably, can deteriorate, but he also demonstrates the virtue that he can improve. Man can set goals for himself which he can drive himself to achieve. A wise man once said, "Humanity cannot be measured by what it is; only by what it is trying to become." When people set a goal before themselves, and they adhere to the path towards achieving that goal, their success is determined by their achievement. They can only achieve their goal, however, if they feel a sense of mission.

One of our most common human failings is a lack of persistence. We set before ourselves lofty goals, which we initially attack with great enthusiasm, but we do not persevere. When we lose the will to go forward, we have lost the most significant line of defense against failure - persistence. And a lack of persistence is the natural consequence of losing our sense of mission.

How often do we throw up our hands in defeat at a time when - with just a bit more effort, a bit more patience - we would have succeeded? With a little more perseverance and a little more effort, what previously might have seemed hopeless, may yet turn into a glorious success. The greatest failure is in no longer trying. Defeat except that from within. There is no barrier more insurmountable than our own lack of purpose, our own lack of mission.

Hasmadah, diligence, in Torah study produces Torah leaders. One does not have to be a genius to achieve this status. Indeed, many talented geniuses have not achieved this zenith in Torah. It is those who plug away every day, all the time, who are undiscouraged and indefatigable, who achieve the mark of success.

A person who is on a mission works at achieving his goal on a constant basis. He looks for every way to enhance his work and grow in his endeavor. He does not slack off and take the easy way out. Nothing stands in his way. He is on a constant mission. The story is told about a firm that sought to hire a man for a top executive position. The firm had bypassed the man next in line and chosen an outsider for the position. The individual who had seniority and had been ignored was upset, so he decided to take his case to the company's CEO. In very hurt tones he said, "But I had fifteen years of experience with this firm." The CEO replied, "That is not so. You had one year of experience fifteen times."

In every endeavor, in every field, especially in the field of Torah chinuch, education, one must be creative, innovative vitality and fresh. The success of a teacher is determined by his excitement, his viridity and his sense of mission. Horav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zl, the legendary menahel of Mesivta Torah Vodaath and primary architect of Torah in America, instilled this sense of mission in his talmidim, students. He understood that the transformation of American Jewry was dependent on the creation of a cadre of teachers who had a passion for their work, a burning sense of mission. He imbued them with a love for each Jew, with a sensitivity to their physical and spiritual needs, by having them identify personally with each one. Rav Shraga Feivel once sent one of his close students to a distant community for the Yamim Noraim, High Holy Days. When the student returned, he asked him, "How many shomrei Shabbos did you find there?" The talmid responded, "I highly doubt if there is even one shomer Shabbos in the community." quickly asked in amazement, "Did you not cry bitterly because of this?" He felt that only those capable of weeping over the sorry spiritual state of American Jewry were capable of changing it. The situation required sensitivity, determination, diligence and a sense of mission.

Va'ani Tefillah

Adon Olam - Master of the Universe

Our entire day is governed by the tefillah of Adon Olam. We go to bed with the words, Biyado afkid ruchi b'eis ishon v'airah, "I entrust my spirit into His hand when I go to sleep and when I am awake." We go to sleep entrusting our lives in His hand, secure that He will see over us. Who knows if we will arise - when we will arise - in what condition we will arise? We can only place our trust in Hashem. He is our personal Adon, Master. Therefore, when we close our eyes at night, we can say, "Ado-noy li lo ira, "Hashem is with me, I shall not fear." This idea precedes our day, as we say Adon Olam, affirming our faith in the Almighty and His protection of our body and soul b'terem kol yetzer nivra, "Who reigned before any form was created."

How can one have a kingdom without a nation? How does one reign supreme without a creation over which He reigns? Horav Baruch Halevi Epstein, zl, in his Baruch Sh'Amar explains that the following sentence, l'eis naasah b'cheftzo kol, "Then when everything was done according to His will," responds to this query. At the time when there was yet no creation, Hashem's Sovereignty was proclaimed in that He had the ability to create Heaven and Earth. This ability and its concomitant result, the creation of the world is referred to as meluchah, kingdom, which means molich u'meivi, He brings back and forth. The ability to create, to render life and power, to bring into being all that exists - this represents monarchy and mastery at its zenith.

Sponsored by
Etzmon and Abigail Rozen and children
in loving memory of their Father and Zaide


Peninim on the Torah is in its 11th year of publication. The first seven years have been published in book form.

The Seventh 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