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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Give us a possession (in Eretz Yisrael) among our father's brothers. (27:4)

The five daughters of Tzlafchad came to Moshe Rabbeinu with a taanah, complaint. They understood from the law that Eretz Yisrael was being divided up among the males of each family. Since their father had died without leaving any male progeny, they were concerned lest they be deprived of securing a portion of Eretz Yisrael. Rashi explains that their request was not motivated by a desire for financial gain, but rather by a passionate love for the Holy Land. This is why the pasuk traces their lineage back to Yosef HaTzaddik, whose love for Eretz Yisrael was boundless. The meraglim, spies, stand in contrast to Bnos Tzlafchad; they slandered the land because they lacked that intrinsic love for the country.

When someone cares deeply about an object, a person, a mission, or an organization, he will move heaven and earth to assure its success. His love forms the basis for his perspective and, concomitantly, his reaction. The meraglim described Eretz Yisrael as they saw it. They saw a country that was heavily fortified, cities that were inhabited by powerful giants and fruit that was unusual in its size. Wherever they went, they noticed that funerals were taking place. Everything seemed to be against them. They also forgot that Hashem, Who took them out of Egypt amidst the greatest miracles and wonders, had promised them that they would conquer the land. Had their emunah in Hashem been on an appropriate level, it whould have overwhelmed whatever doubts regarding the land that they might have harbored. Yehoshua and Calev, the two members of the spying mission who clung steadfast to their conviction, had no problem believing in the successful result of their quest to inhabit the land.

The result depends upon attitude. When one views the land with love, when he believes that it is good - as Bnos Tzlafchad did, then any challenge that surfaces can - and will - be dealt with successfully. If the love for the land is phlegmatic, however, then any challenge that arises will generate a sense of hopelessness. The meraglim's lackluster feelings towards Eretz Yisrael reflected a deficiency in their spiritual character that lay at the foundation of their sin.

Love conquers whatever ambiguities one might have in regard to an endeavor. Horav Avraham Pam, zl, applies this concept to encourage bnei Torah to shteig, excel, and become great talmidei chachamim, Torah scholars. Many bnei Torah have the desire to achieve distinction in Torah erudition, whether it is in the area of harbotzas Torah, dissemination, or in psak, halachic arbitration. Regrettably, for many, these dreams remain nothing more than fantasies. What happens?

A young man assesses his capabilities and potential, realizing that he does not have what it takes to achieve greatness in Torah. He is confronted with uncertainties. He strives to teach and imbue others with a love of Torah, but, alas, he does not know if he has the necessary skills to perform this function. Will he find a decent position? Will he make a living, or will he have to scrounge from paycheck to paycheck? These and many other doubts enter the mind of a young person about to trek upon the path that leads to greatness in Torah. These ambiguities can depress him to the point that he may give up before he even starts. He might choose a more secure and comfortable vocation. Of course, he would love to devote himself to a life of Torah, but so much uncertainty stands in his way.

Rav Pam posits that the source of this attitude is rooted in a lack of true ahavas Torah, love of Torah. One who truly desires distinction in Torah, whose love and passion for Torah is unequivocal, will not be bothered by doubts. Even for one whose level of intellectual acuity is limited, his desire and commitment will merit him great Siyata diShmaya, Divine assistance, to realize his goal. Hashem grants wisdom to he who desires and strives for it.

Love of Torah conquers questions of parnassah, livelihood. This does not suggest that one who dedicates himself to Torah will prosper materially. It only implies that the usual issues of material sustenance will not plague him. Hashem takes care of His own, of those whose love for His Torah transcend their material needs.

Last, Rav Pam comments that this principle is not reserved only for Torah study. It applies to every area of spiritual endeavor. How often are we inspired to act on behalf of the community, in a spiritual endeavor, a tzedakah campaign, a neglected mitzvah awareness program, a chesed project, a kiruv, outreach, affair, only to be left with the inspiration and nothing else? We often perceive the need, and we have the tools and ability to carry out the task, but we renege at the last minute due to self-doubting. Will I succeed? Why has no one else undertaken this project? Will I receive community support? These and other doubts cross one's mind, and soon the self-doubting develops into a negative attitude, so that he rejects the plan. The fire of idealism has been extinguished by the feelings of ambiguity and uncertainty. Bnos Tzlafchad teach us a valuable lesson: When one loves something - nothing stands in the way. When someone cares about Torah, about Klal Yisrael, about the Ribono Shel Olam, he doesn't just talk - he acts.

May Hashem… appoint a man over the assembly. (27:16)

It is related that when the rav of Slutzk, Poland, Horav Yaakov David Ridvaz, zl, was nearing death, the leaders of the community came to him to discuss the issue of a successor for the position of rav. After they left, his rebbetzin entered and implored him, "My dear husband, you are acutely aware that our financial straits are, at best, terrible. Please ask the leaders of the community to see to it that we receive a greater stipend. There is no way we can go on this way."

Rav Yaakov David looked up at his wife and said, "Should I be different from Moshe, whose primary concern prior to his death was for the community of Klal Yisrael - not for his family? We do not find Moshe supplicating Hashem for his personal needs - only for the needs of his flock."

His rebbetzin, who was a wise and learned woman, responded "Perhaps, that is why his grandson, Shevuel ben Gershom, ended up as a priest for idols." (This is a reference to Yonasan ben Gershom, who was later called Shevuel after he "returned to Hashem.") Prior to his repentance, however, he served as a priest, since he refused to accept charity and was willing to do anything to satisfy his desire for money. (Bava Basra 110a) When the Ridvaz heard this, he agreed with his wife and implored his lay leadership on behalf of his family.

This paper is not here to discuss the propriety of her claim. Rather, this story is meant to point out that our spiritual leadership also has needs. A rav has a family, a rosh yeshivah has a wife and children. All too often, we think only of ourselves and the spiritual leader's obligation to serve us. Do we ever think about his family and his needs? We turn to them for advice regarding family situations, shidduchim, livelihood issues, problems with our children. Yet, do we ever stop to think that they also might have issues on their mind? To whom do they turn for advice, solace or a shoulder on which to cry? Do we ever take into consideration that the rebbe who teaches our children also has a family, and perhaps he has a situation at home that is taking its toll on him? The answer to all these questions is probably no. The reason is that we think that our spiritual leadership is here to serve us, and their circumstances are not our concern. While this is regrettable, it is probably true.

On second thought, getting back to the Ridvaz, he really should not have had to turn to his lay leadership for assistance. Had they been proper leaders, they would have cared enough about their rav to offer help on their own. I guess things have not changed much over the years.

Who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall take them out and bring them in; and let the assembly of Hashem not be like sheep that have no shepherd. (27:17)

The Kesav Sofer explains the distinction between a shepherd who shepherds sheep and a spiritual leader whose only focus is the welfare of his human flock. A shepherd has one goal - himself. Everything he does is done so that his flock retains its current value. His flock is nothing more than a means, a vehicle, to increase the shepherd's material wealth. The roeh Yisrael's, Jewish spiritual leader's, mindset is focused only on his people, their physical and spiritual welfare, their families and their concerns, both personal and general. The Torah leader is prepared to sacrifice his life for his people. He goes out before them, as he leads in times of danger. Unlike the shepherd - who, upon seeing a wolf runs for his life, leaving his flock open to danger - the Torah leader stands resolute and fearless in the face any viscitude which confronts his people. He goes before them and remains with them throughout their challenges.

Horav Elchanan Wasserman, zl, the venerable Rosh Hayeshivah of Pre World War II Baranovitz, exemplified this calibre of leadership. His devotion to Klal Yisrael in general, and his yeshivah community in particular, was legend. Rav Elchanan spent a good part of 1938 in America on behalf of his yeshivah. During this time, he crisscrossed the country reaching out to Jews, inspiring and encouraging them to strengthen their ties with Hashem Yisborach. The political situation in Europe was rapidly deteriorating. As Rav Elchanan packed his bags to return to Europe, the black clouds of war were ominously approaching. In this dangerous atmosphere, friends approached Rav Elchanan and implored him to stay in America. Perhaps he should even bring over his two sons who remained in Europe. Rav Elchanan rejected their plea, countering, "I do not have only two sons. I have four-hundred; all of the yeshivah bachurim are my sons. How can I leave them?" The Rosh Hayeshivah had decided that it was his moral obligation and duty to return to Poland, despite the imminent danger - even at the expense of his life. He would not listen to the many arguments that encouraged him to stay - for America's sake.

His rejoinder was simple, "I am a soldier; I have to go to the front." He changed planes in England, where the great sage Horav Eliyahu Lopian, zl, futilely attempted to convince him to stay in England. Even as he was boarding the plane, Rav Elyah begged Rav Elchanan to stay. Rav Elchanan answered with resolve, "We shall all have to endure chibut hakever, buffeting the grave. I want to suffer this together with my students."

The account of Rav Elchanan's last moments and that of the Baranovitch community have become the paradigm for mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice. The Lithuanian terrorists entered the house where Rav Elchanan was hiding, searching for the rabbis who were "collaborating with the communists." Rav Elchanan was engrossed in learning together with his chavrusa, study partner. The terrorists then searched and humiliated him.

Rav Elchanan was fully aware of what was in store for him. Instead of fear and anxiety, his face brightened, exhibiting what could best be described as an angelic expression. The Jews who saw him then were later to describe his countenance and demeanor as that of a great Torah leader preparing to give up his life Al Kiddush Hashem, to sanctify Hashem's Name. Even the two savage Lithuanians who were his guards were struck by his visage and were inspired with dread and awe. One of them was prepared to release the Rosh Hayeshivah. His partner, regrettably, refused, insisting that he be taken to the seventh fort together with the others.

While he was being led away, Rav Elchanan told his fellow captives, "Apparently they consider us tzaddikim, righteous people, in Heaven, for we have been selected to atone for Klal Yisrael with our lives. If so, we must repent completely, here and now. We must realize that our sacrifices will be more pleasing if accompanied by teshuvah, repentance, and we shall thereby save the lives of our brothers and sisters in America."

He then exhorted them that martyrs must, in their last moments expunge any impure thoughts from their minds, lest the sacrifice which they represent become invalidated. Hence, he focused on repentance and total devotion to Hashem. Twenty-four hours later, the entire group was machine-gunned to death. It was a holy brotherhood - a community with its yeshivah - led by their beloved Rosh Hayeshivah, who would not leave them. As he lived with them - he died with them, exemplifying a leader who goes out before them and comes in before them. As he cared for them in this world, Rav Elchanan accompanied his community into the World to Come.

You shall place some of your majesty upon him. (27:20)

In the Talmud Bava Basra 75a, Chazal derive from the word meihodcha, some of your majesty, that only a portion of Moshe Rabbeinu's majesty was being transferred to Yehoshua, but not all of it. They relate that when the zekeinim, elders, of that generation contemplated the difference between Moshe and Yehoshua, they would say that the face of Moshe was like the sun, while Yehoshua's face was like the moon. Chazal conclude with the statement, "Woe, for that shame! Woe for that disgrace!" What is the meaning of "that" shame and "that" disgrace? To what are Chazal referring?

The Chida, zl, gives a practical and timely answer to this question. Yehoshua merited to become Moshe's heir apparent and the next leader of Klal Yisrael, because he would arise early every morning and organize the benches in the bais hamedrash. He would place the mats in their proper place in the morning and do this once again at the end of the day. He was the first to arrive and last to leave, making sure that the menial labor involved in presenting a clean, organized bais hamedrash was carried out personally by him. The elders, who probably were not prepared to do this menial labor at the time because it was not dignified, now regretted their earlier decision. What they then thought was humiliating, they now realized was a source of distinction. They now regretted "that" shame and "that" disgrace which they had refused to exhibit.

The Tanna in Pirkei Avos 4: says: "Whoever honors the Torah, will himself be honored by people." Otzros HaTorah infers from here that one who disgraces his honor, who is willing to humiliate himself for the sake of the Torah, will, in turn, achieve honor and esteem in the eyes of his fellow man. Indeed, Chazal teach us that King Achav merited to reign over Klal Yisrael for twenty- two years, because he accorded honor to the Torah which was given to Klal Yisrael through the medium of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

It is related that Rashi's grandfather merited to have such a grandson that would light up the world with his commentary on Torah, because he used his beard to wipe off the dust in front of the Aron Hakodesh, Holy Ark. The Tashbatz would always make a point to dust off the seforim in the bais hamedrash. It is told over that it was revealed to him from Heaven that the seforim which he himself had authored, would never decay. Indeed, Horav Chaim Kanievski, Shlita, attested that he once found an original copy of the Tashbatz, and it was in perfect condition.

Horav Michel Yehudah Lefkowitz, Shlita, relates that he once went to be menachem aveil, comfort the bereaved, at a home where an elderly father passed away and left over a family of sons who all were great talmidei chachamin, Torah scholars. He queried the sons concerning to what they attributed their father's incredible zchus, merit, to leave over such distinguished offspring. They replied that their father was a simple carpenter, who would go to the bais hamedrash and fix whatever benches or furniture needed repair, during his free time. Apparently, this man was no simple craftsman. His appreciation of Torah earned him the ultimate Torah nachas.

Va'ani Tefillah

Roka haaretz al hamayim - who spreads out the earth over the waters.

When we wake up in the morning and are about to take our first step on the ground, we should recognize the fact that there is ground beneath our feet is in itself a tremendous chesed, kindness, from Hashem. He created the world in such a manner that the earth is spread out over and above the waters, so that we live on dry land. By making all the waters which covered the earth to assemble into one place, Hashem caused the dry land to appear. The seas and oceans were formed. Large masses of water remained underground, which are the source of our wells and springs of fresh water. The fact that the mass of land which we call our earth is above water is a chesed from Hashem. If the land masses were on the same level as the water, we would always be flooded and life would be dangerous and miserable. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, adds that there is a certain sense of security that a person feels when he has his feet planted on firm ground. This is the result of Roka haaretz al hamayim.

Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, emphasizes that we take Hashem's miracles for granted. We have become accustomed to a way of life whereby we walk on dry land without fear of falling through into the water. We forget that this is a miracle which endures only due to the will of Hashem. We acknowledge this miracle when we recite the brachah.

l'zechar nishmas
R' Yissachar Dov ben haRav Yisroel a'h
niftar 7 Av 5745

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