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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


When he zealously avenged Me among them. (25:11)

Pinchas represents the paradigmatic kanai, zealous person. He was a kanai filled with the true spirit of kanaus, seeking to eradicate anything that would impugn the integrity of Torah. Throughout the ages, many have attempted to assume the mantle of kanai for Torah. Some have succeeded, while others have ended up as bitter, depressed individuals, regrettably seeing only the negative, never experiencing the positive. What determines who is the real kanai? I think that sharing a vignette from the life of Horav Aharon Kotler, zl, will give us insight into this phenomenon.

Rav Aharon was the consummate kanai: He saw through the sham created by those who undermined Yiddishkeit in their pursuit to satisfy their desire to be like "everybody else." In their attempt to accommodate Orthodoxy to the liberal world of secular Judaism, they succeeded in watering down a number of the basic tenets of Judaism, creating an approach to religious observance that was neither. The Rosh Yeshivah was relentless in exposing their charade and in warning the ignorant of the harm that could - and would - come as a result of an attempt to meld sheker, falsehood, with emes, truth.

The Rosh Yeshivah was seriously troubled - actually in pain - when he was compelled to take a negative stand, but Torah Judaism can only be built upon the foundation of emes. His kanaus was the result of genuine yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven, and a profound love for Yiddishkeit. In A Living Nishmas: Rav Aharon, Rabbi Yitzchok Dershowitz quotes Horav Leib Rotkin, zl, a close disciple of the Rosh Yeshivah who once saw Rav Aharon pacing back and forth, saying to himself, "Ich bin nisht aza locheim vi der Chasam Sofer, veil ich hab nisht der yiraas Shomayim fun der Chasam Sofer. "I am not a warrior [for Yiddishkeit] as was the Chasam Sofer, because I do not possess the same level of yiraas Shomayim as the Chasam Sofer." Ven ich volt gehat der yiraas Shomayim fun der Chasam Sofer, volt ich loichem geven vi der Chasam Sofer. "If I would have the yiraas Shomayim of the Chasam Sofer, then I would be a warrior like the Chasam Sofer." Rav Aharon kept on repeating this over and over again. He viewed himself to be deficient due to his inability to reach the level of the Chasam Sofer, the individual who saved Hungarian Jewry from falling into the evil clutches of the Haskalah, Enlightenment. He exposed the maskilim for what they really were.

Horav Shneuer Kotler, zl, explained that his father derived his kanaus from his deep love for Torah. His love was so encompassing that when he sensed that someone was undermining Torah, he would become angry. It was a "call to arms." His love and excitement for Torah was so strong that he could not tolerate any infringement upon it.

I have always wondered about this. Does this mean that when one observes elbonah shel Torah, the humiliation of Torah - either directly or focused on its disseminators - without reacting or exhibiting anger and disgust, he simply does not really care the way he should? Probably. When something hurts, it is not the time to be politically correct. When Torah is being slandered; when its spiritual leaders are being denigrated, a G-d-fearing Jew takes a stand, or he is simply deficient in his yiraas Shomayim!

I think kanaus has another characteristic which is a requirement in all mitzvah observance: passion. Yes, one should be a kanai, zealous in observing mitzvos, serving Hashem and performing good deeds. He must act in such a way that indicates how much the mitzvah means to him. We often shy away from acting boldly, due to petty concerns such as: "What are people going to say?" While our spiritual leaders exemplify this quality, I take the liberty of citing from the life of a baal ha'bayis, layman, whose dedication to Torah was only paralleled by his myriad achievements on its behalf: Stephen Klein.

Stephen Klein arrived in this country in 1938, a refugee from Nazi tyranny. Without financial resources, he relied on sheer drive, charisma and extreme faith to build a high-profile business, while playing a leading role in saving Jewish lives in Europe and establishing schools and yeshivos in America. He had passion for Yiddishkeit, and he was uncompromising in his standard of Torah observance. His business empire, although lucrative, also served as the cornerstone of many of the major Torah and chesed projects of the era. He did things that were unbelievable, such as opening stores on major streets where the sight of shutters rolled down at five o'clock on Friday afternoon had previously been unheard of. Indeed, the idea of a shomer Shabbos store provided an education to New Yorkers. This, and his full-page ads and candle lighting announcements in the newspaper, were among the most pioneering and far-reaching methods of mass education and outreach to the broader Jewish community. He was not afraid of what "others" would say. He acted according to the passion of his heart. He was a kanai for Yiddishkeit.

His boundless love for the Jewish People took him to Europe, where he toiled relentlessly on behalf of the survivors of the Nazi death camps. He spent six months away from his family and business, working for Jews in displaced persons camps, opening yeshivos, arranging visas and supplying affidavits for thousands, so that they could emigrate to the United States.

Returning home after a grueling six months, filled with a fiery drive to do everything within his power for the tragic survivors of the Holocaust, he had little tolerance for bureaucracy, factionalism and turf wars among the Jewish relief organizations. When it was all over, he did not rest, as he turned to establishing Chinuch Atzmai, working with the fledgling Torah U'Mesorah, championing Jewish education on all fronts. He worked side by side with Horav Aharon Kotler to build Beth Medrash Gavoah and to establish and support Central Yeshivah High School for Girls.

Stephen Klein had the courage to stand up against the trends of the times. A modern-day Pinchas, he was a singular Jew who bridged the world of Torah observance with corporate America. He never backed down from what was right. His adherence to halachah, as expounded by the Torah leaders, was unyielding. A faithful emissary of these Torah giants, he was a man of vision and action whose advocacy for Torah and chesed remains unparalleled. We are all beneficiaries of his passion and zeal for Yiddishkeit.

The daughters of Tzlafchad drew near. (27:1)

Because he had no sons, the family of Tzlafchad - his widow and five unmarried daughters - was not allotted a portion of their own in Eretz Yisrael. The daughters were wise women whose love for Eretz Yisrael was part of their family mesorah, tradition, as they were descendants of Yosef HaTzaddik, whose passion for the land was consummate. They felt that they were entitled to a cheilek, portion, of the Land, and they brought their case before Moshe Rabbeinu. Chazal teach us that they were extremely astute in selecting the right time to approach Moshe. They waited until he had begun teaching the laws of inheritance to present their case.

Chazal laud these exceptional women, attributing a number of virtues to them. Although these women possessed a number of fine qualities, the Midrash seems to highlight one in particular: their foresight in timing their request, knowing when they would be most likely to succeed. They waited for the most opportune time to approach Moshe and present their claim. While this was clearly a wise thing to do, why was it singled out above and beyond the other exceptional qualities that they possessed?

Horav Henach Leibowitz, zl, takes a practical approach toward interpreting Chazal. They are teaching us that the crowning achievement of a mentch, human being, is seichal, common sense. Intellectual acuity, outstanding erudition and the best intentions, do not guarantee success. One must possess seichal. This quality most often lays the foundation for success in many endeavors. Bnos Tzlafchad knew when to make their move. They identified the most appropriate time to present their question, when they would most likely receive a positive response. Their understanding and insight enabled others to succeed in similar claims.

I think the greatest aspect of common sense is that one can develop it without having to be born with an especially astute mind. Wisdom, acuity, sharp-witted, and brilliant, are terms we use to describe intellectual assets with which one is born. One is either smart, or he is not. Common sense is a trait one can learn from others by watching and listening attentively. Indeed, many smart people lack the basics of common sense. In reality, they are far from astute, since they do not know when and how to utilize their G-d-given wisdom.

Probably the most significant lesson we can impart as parents and mentors is the significance of common sense. That would, however, require parents and mentors themselves to possess this quality. Ki ner mitzvah v'Torah ohr, "A mitzvah is a lamp, and Torah is light" (Mishlei 6:23). Horav Bunim, zl, m'Peshischa, explains this pasuk in the following manner. Two wise men and a simpleton were flung into a dark dungeon. The darkness was almost palpable. Every day their morsel of food was lowered down to them. Since the simpleton could not figure out which were the utensils and dishes, he was unable to eat without the assistance of one of the wise men.

One day, the wise man asked the other wise man, "Why do you leave the feeding of the simpleton to me? You should share equally in this responsibility."

The other wise man replied, "My friend, I am occupied with chipping away at the wall. Hopefully, I will create a crack large enough for some light to enter the dungeon. Then the simpleton will see by himself."

There are two ways of guiding people. We can either show them how to do everything, thereby denying them the tools to act with independence and the ability to think for themselves. I hate to think how many parents are guilty of this. Or, we can empower them by giving them the principles which will enable them to choose for themselves properly, so that they can make their own appropriate decisions.

Torah and its mitzvos are the principles by which one can live. They serve as a beacon of light in a world filled with darkness. A similar idea applies to common sense. It is the key which opens all doors. Without it, one has the treasures, but no access to it.

May Hashem, G-d of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the assembly, who shall go out before them, and come in before them, who shall take them out and bring them in. …Take to yourself Yehoshua bin Nun, a man in whom there is spirit. (27:15,16)

Moshe Rabbeinu enumerated to Hashem the qualifications he felt a leader of the nation should possess. These reflect Moshe's concern for the nation which he had led up to this point. Clearly, he was not instructing Hashem about who would be best suited for this position. He was merely expressing his love, concern, aspirations - no different than a parent who takes leave of his child. He felt that a leader should be a man who: understands people; who senses their ups and downs; is aware of their virtues and foibles; understands that he is dealing with human beings, their emotions - basically, the entire package.

The leader should be prepared to lead Klal Yisrael in battle as Moshe himself had done during the wars with Sichon and Og. A leader does not sit behind the lines, in comfort, while his troops risk their lives. The leader's personal merits should protect the people from harm and ensure their success. Sforno interprets Moshe's list of qualifications as a request for a leader who was both a warrior and a statesman.

Hashem chose Yehoshua, Moshe's faithful student, to be Klal Yisrael's next leader. Apparently, he synthesized all of the qualities which Moshe felt a leader must possess. Yehoshua had a great mentor, Moshe, whom he served faithfully, absorbing from him all there was to know about leadership. Indeed, Moshe observed these qualities in his prize talmid, student. Thus, he sent Yehoshua to lead the nation in battle against Amalek, and he sent him along with the other spies, so that he would deny whatever slanderous reports they would make. An individual who was so dedicated to Torah and to the nation truly deserved to become Moshe's successor.

We have another leader in the parsha that we should not ignore: Pinchas. His decisive actions at a critical time saved Klal Yisrael from complete destruction. He singlehandedly put to rest what might have been a terrible incursion into Moshe's leadership, preventing a serious moral debacle from occurring. He had a heart filled with emotional passion. He was decisive and unfaltering, a zealot who did not vacillate, who saw with clarity and acted with determination and urgency. He brought about the nation's salvation at a time when it was teetering on the precipice of moral abyss.

So, we have two worthy leaders: Pinchas, the man of action; Yehoshua, the man of spirit, the student who never left his rebbe's side. He served with extreme devotion and self-sacrifice, doing whatever he was asked to do - regardless of the danger. Which approach is preferable? Which one is more effective? The answer is: both. Both Yehoshua and Pinchas achieved leadership. Each functioned in a preeminent role in piloting Klal Yisrael's future after the passing of Moshe and Aharon. Interestingly, Yehoshua, who was the man of the spirit, was designated to the position of leader of Klal Yisrael, which was a position which required action: leading the people in battle; settling international disputes; guiding and administering the collective nation. The man of spirit was called to action. Pinchas, the man of action, the individual who jumped into the fray and acted decisively, was elected to minister to the spiritual needs of the nation. He would consult the oracle of the Urim v'Tumim, and serve in the Mishkan/Bais HaMikdash, which were areas far-removed from the "action."

We derive a powerful lesson from this "incongruity" in leadership: There must be a symbiosis of action and spirit, each working together, complementing one another. If the man of action would have been elected to lead the people into battle, it would send a message to the people concerning the significance, method and direction of war. The spiritual, moral and ethical perspectives might quite possibly be treated with indifference. Likewise, if the spiritual arena of the nation would be administered solely by a man of spirit, it would lend itself to the belief that the Bais Hamikdash was for the spiritual elite, those who were isolated from the rest of the nation. The message was clear: Each leader had to "make up" what he was "missing," so that he could function with greater proficiency in his position. The man of action had to develop greater spirituality, while the leader who was devoted to matters of the spirit would have to become more "decisively active." In other words, extremism, focus on one specific approach, is inappropriate. One must choose the golden mean, both as a leader and as a follower.

Perhaps there is another aspect of these two leaders that should be addressed. Both Pinchas and Yehoshua were warriors who waged war on behalf of the Jewish People. The difference between these battles was the arena in which they were held. Yehoshua battled the Jewish nation's external enemies - the enemy from without - whose sole goal was to destroy our nation. Under such circumstances, we first resort to diplomacy in an effort to circumvent any bloodshed; after all of the avenues of "making nice" have been exhausted, the leader goes to war. Pinchas fought a different enemy: the enemy from within, the Jew whose interpretation of Torah differed with that of gedolei Yisrael, the Jew who repudiated daas Torah, the wisdom of the Torah as expounded by the Torah sages. In this war, the "victim" is Hashem, whose Torah and mitzvos are being impugned. The leader who undertakes the prevention of chillul Hashem does not have the luxury of playing games and acting diplomatically. It is a time for action, a venue that calls for kanaus, zealousness.

Pinchas served in the Bais HaMikdash, the seat of our People's spirituality. This represented all that was dear to Klal Yisrael. There was no room for error, no opportunity for compromise. It was a venue for absolute truth, where a decisive stand must be taken regardless of the consequences, which very often are not pleasant. Yehoshua was the consummate leader who guided the people through their daily endeavor. When the situation arose that the nation was in peril from its enemies from without, Yehoshua would take appropriate action. If actual battle was the only way, then he would lead at the front lines. There is a time and place for everything, and a leader who is perfectly suited for dealing with the specific issue at hand.

Take to yourself Yehoshua bin Nun, a man in whom there is spirit. (27:18)

Hashem informs Moshe Rabbeinu that his successor will be his prized talmid, disciple, Yehoshua. Exclusive of the many qualifications that Yehoshua possessed, he was a devoted student who "would not depart from the tent." (Shemos 33:11) Always at Moshe's side, waiting devotedly for him at the foot of Har Sinai for forty days, Yehoshua feared he might miss an important lesson, a piece of education that would later be helpful to him. Does devotion beget leadership? Just because someone is an excellent student does not necessarily mean he will be a superior teacher - or does it? Chazal cite the pasuk in Mishlei, Notzar te'einah yochal piryah, "He who watches over the tree shall eat its fruit." Yehoshua demonstrated boundless love for the Torah. He did not leave Moshe's side, as he was watching over the "fig tree." He was afraid he might miss out on a dvar Torah, an important ethical lesson. A good teacher is one who appreciates the subject matter. A math teacher loves math - or at least he should. A rebbe exemplifies love of Torah. Yehoshua became Moshe's successor because he showed how important Torah was to him. He could not live without it. His entire life revolved around the Rabban shel kol Yisrael, the rebbe of all the Jewish People, his personal rebbe, Moshe. His rebbe was the primary exponent of Hashem's Torah, so he could not leave him.

In the Midrash Tanchuma, Pinchas 11, Chazal expound on the significance of the fig tree and its apparent relationship with Yehoshua as Moshe's successor. The fruits of other trees - such as olive, grape and date - are usually harvested all at once. The entire tree ripens at an equal pace. The fig tree is different. Its fruit ripens individually over time, so that it might take weeks until an entire fig tree is harvested. Torah study and achievement are very much like the ripening/harvesting process of the fig tree. One does not become a talmid chacham, Torah scholar, in one sitting. It takes diligence, toil and patience to accumulate the multi-faceted knowledge related to Torah. Slowly, the yedios, pieces of knowledge, germinate and grow in one's mind. Some students pick up the material more quickly but lack the retention, while others have no problem retaining the material once it has been acquired and assembled properly in their mind.

No shortcuts to Torah erudition exist. Distinction in Torah is a product of patience and resolve. Like the fig tree, the fruits of one's study are "harvested" one at a time and, often at different intervals. Horav Avraham Pam, zl, cited by Rabbi Sholom Smith in his latest anthology of the Rosh Yeshivah's shmuessen, ethical discourses, observes that some Torah students become disillusioned and discouraged when they realize that they are not going to become gedolim, Torah giants, overnight. They cannot wait to reach the apex of Torah knowledge. Thus, they have unreasonable expectations concerning their advancement in Torah. The next step is listening to the yetzer hora, evil inclination, when it conveys the message that a life of devotion to Torah is not their cup of tea. Why not pursue other endeavors - something easier, more lucrative, more acceptable to public acclaim?

The Rosh Yeshivah adds that growth in Torah is predicated on another factor: chazarah, review. Study is important, but if one seeks retention, he must review constantly. He cites the Maharal in his commentary to Pirkei Avos, Derech Chaim, who laments the fact that without chazarah, one ultimately forgets his learning. It should be no different than one who is carrying a pouch of diamonds on his person. He will constantly check to see if the pouch is secure, if all of the diamonds are still there. When something is precious, one takes great pains to guard it against loss. Torah is no different. One who cares about his learning, reviews. One who does not review cares very little about his learning.

The Maharal decries the fact that some of the most brilliant and capable students squander their potential due to a lack of review. He considers this a tragedy akin to the burning of a sefer Torah, which requires one to rend his garments as an expression of mourning.

Rav Pam noted that Parashas Pinchas is read during the beginning of summer vacation, at a time when one can evaluate how much he has achieved during the past year and what he has to do in order that his achievements are retained so that they become an integral part of his life. A parent should appraise his child's accomplishments during the past and correct when necessary, as well as encourage and offer praise when appropriate. The fruits of Torah achievement are like figs which ripen at different intervals. Children who study Torah are similar. They achieve at various paces, something parents should take to heart when comparing children. With this attitude, and the proper guidance, one will enjoy the luscious fruits of the fig tree of Torah learning.

It is You, Hashem, the G-d, Who selected Avram; You took him out of Uhr Kasdim and You made his name Avraham; You found his heart faithful before You.

The sequential order of the verse seems wrong. First: Hashem is Elokim, Who took Avram out of Uhr Kasdim, and He found Avram's heart loyal to Him. Then: He chose him, and He changed his name to Avraham. What we have here instead is Avraham's selection and name change, preceded by his loyalty of heart, which actually is the cause for his selection and name change. Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, explains that Avraham Avinu was chosen repeatedly. He was first chosen in Uhr Kasdim because of his virtue. He was then removed from there and subjected to further tests. These tests were not challenges as much as opportunities to demonstrate his love for Hashem. Thus, a test is a reward: an opportunity for growth, an opportunity to earn greater closeness with Hashem.

The first choice was Hashem singling him out for additional ordeals. After he successfully completed these challenges, Hashem chose him again and gave him a new name, indicating his newly elevated status. Subsequently, Hashem tested him again, and he came through with exemplary conviction. Because of his ability to withstand all of these ordeals, he demonstrated his total fidelity to Hashem. At that time, he made the final and greatest choice.

The true maamin, believer, does not seek reward. His greatest accolade is being recognized by Hashem as a loyal believer.

l'zechar nishmas
R' Yissachar Dov ben HaRav Yisrael a"h
niftar 7 Av 5745

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