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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Zos Habrachah

The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the congregation of Yaakov. (33:4)

The text of this pasuk is inconsistent. It begins by stating that the Torah has been commanded to us and ends by saying that it is the heritage of the congregation of Yaakov. Who is included in the words of "Kehillas Yaakov"? Horav Chaim Elazary, zl, suggests that the congregation of Yaakov is a reference to all Jews, even those who have not had the opportunity to study Torah and develop a proficiency in it. The am haarertz, so to speak illiterate Jew, who performs mitzvos is devoted to Yiddishkeit. He just does not learn, although he respects those who do. Thus he is is included in the congregation of Yaakov.

Horav Elazary recounts a story which serves as an excellent analogy to emphasize this point. One Simchas Torah a simple Jew, whose level of Torah erudition was far from adept, came to the court of a great Chasidic Rebbe. He requested to dance with the Rebbe as he danced with the Torah. When the Rebbe heard this strange request, he asked the man, "Tell me, what is the source of your great joy? Did you study so much Torah during the past year that it warrants such an expression of happiness?" The simple Jew responded, "If the Rebbe's brother would marry off his daughter, would not the Rebbe participate in the simchah as an uncle? I am sharing in my relative's simchah!" What a remarkable response. All Jews are part of one great congregation. We should participate in each other's simchos, as well as in the tragedies. We should share a personal joy with each Jew who celebrates a milestone. The Torah is the heritage of all of Klal Yisrael. While many individuals devote their lives to its study and dissemination, this devotion is not theirs exclusively. It belongs to all of those who are a part of Kehillas Yaakov.

And Moshe, the servant of Hashem, died there...and He (Hashem) buried him." (34:5,6)

In His glory, Hashem buried Moshe Rabbeinu. The Midrash relates how it happened that Moshe merited for Hashem to personally take charge of his burial. During the final days prior to the exodus from Egypt, while everyone was occupying themselves with "relieving" the Egyptians of their money, Moshe sought to fulfill the promise made many years earlier to Yosef: that his bones would be taken out of Egypt. Moshe spent three days and nights searching throughout the country, looking everywhere in the hope that he would locate Yosef's coffin. According to one tradition, Serach bas Asher approached Moshe to ask him why he was so fatigued. Moshe explained that he had been searching for Yosef's coffin for three days. She said, "Come with me, and I will show you where he is buried." She took him to the Nile, whereupon Yosef's coffin rose from the depths. Moshe took it and personally carried it. When Hashem saw Moshe's devotion to the middah of chesed, He declared, "Moshe! You might think that you performed a simple act. By your life, the kindness that you performed was very significant. You carried Yosef's coffin while the rest of Klal Yisrael were occupied with carrying their gold and silver. For this, you will merit that I will be personally involved in your burial."

If we note the text of the Midrash, we infer that Chazal question the reason for Moshe's unique merit. Is it any wonder that Moshe was worthy of this distinction? Perhaps he did not do enough. Does not mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, on behalf of Klal Yisrael for forty years carry its own merit? His willingness to have his name erased from the Torah, if Hashem would not forgive Klal Yisrael for their participation in the Golden Calf, should be significant. He rose to become Adon ha'Neviim, Master of All Prophets, the quintessential leader of Klal Yisrael. He became the vehicle through whom Hashem gave the Torah. This fact alone should warrant a unique relationship with, and reward from, the Almighty.

Horav Chaim Elazary, zl, feels the Midrash is emphasizing another aspect of Moshe's character and avodas Hashem, service to the Almighty. Had Moshe turned to any of the Zekeinim, Elders, or Yehoshua, Nadav, Avihu or Aharon Ha'Kohen to take care of Yosef's bones, that individual certainly would have fulfilled his request. Moshe did not delegate this mitzvah to anyone else. Moshe personally undertook to perform this final chesed for Yosef. While an agent might have performed the same task, it was a "mitzvah bo yoser m'bishlucho," a greater mitzvah if one acts personally, rather than delegate the deed to an agent. "Emptying out" Egypt was also a mitzvah. Yet, Moshe chose the mitzvah that did not accord him additional benefits. He personally searched, he alone carried the coffin, a task for which he received no benefit other than the pure mitzvah itself. This was chesed shel emes, pristine kindness of the highest order. It was pure altruism. This G-d - like activity, behaving in a manner in which only Hashem acts, earned him the reward middah k'neged middah, measure for measure. Thus, when the time would come for Moshe to pass from this world, the Almighty would personally attend to his needs.

And by all the strong hand and awesome power that Moshe performed before the eyes of all Yisrael. (34:12)

The Matnos Kehunah cites the Yerushalmi that states that, after Klal Yisrael had sinned with the Golden Calf, Hashem refused to give them the Luchos. He was close to retrieving the Luchos from Moshe, when Moshe grabbed them back. This is the meaning of the yad hachazakah, strong hand, which Moshe demonstrated as he "took away" the Luchos from Hashem. Rashi applies the popular p'shat, interpretation, that yad ha'chazakah is a reference to Moshe's breaking the Luchos. Obviously, Moshe did not demonstrate greater strength than when he grabbed the Luchos. The Yerushalmi is telling us that there was a dialogue between Hashem and Moshe in which Hashem "conceded" to Moshe's taaneh, interceding, on Klal Yisrael's behalf. What really happened?

In his response to this question, Horav Baruch Sorotzkin, zl, first cites his father. In his sefer, Aznaim La'Torah, Horav Zalman Sorotzkin wonders why Moshe took the Luchos down in order to break them. After all, he knew that the people had sinned. He was aware that their iniquity would not change as he came down. He explains that while Moshe perceived their sin, he was not convinced of its extent. If this was a spiritual error in which Klal Yisrael misdirected their allegiance due to faulty spiritual perception, Moshe would have had reason to hope for their teshuvah. He would come down, explain their error to them, and inspire them to repent. When he descended the mountain, however, and observed the revelry that ensued, when he saw a complete breakdown of their moral fiber, when he saw the murder that they committed, he was convinced that this was no avairah b'hashkafah, error in spiritual perspective; rather, this was wanton lust, debauchery at its nadir. The people had gone over the moral limits.

Horav Boruch Sorotzkin takes a somewhat different approach to explaining Klal Yisrael's behavior and Moshe's reaction. Moshe took the Luchos down with the intention of breaking them. He wanted Klal Yisrael to acknowledge what they were doing wrong, so he sought to shock them into awareness. Smashing the Divinely fashioned Luchos in front of their eyes would deliver the message that what they were doing was kefirah, apostacy. The people erred in thinking that they could serve Hashem while building a Golden Calf. They deceived themselves into thinking that they could mix light with darkness, that they could call themselves a Torah nation while they still continued to act like pagans. Giving them mussar, ethical lectures, would not help; reasoning with them would leave the same impression. They had to be jolted into understanding the gravity of their sin, the travesty of the nature of their Jewish "observance."

Hashem told Moshe that as long as Klal Yisrael remained in such a state, they could not receive the Luchos. Moshe agreed; he only felt that in order for them to accede to performing teshuvah, they must realize their iniquity. This would only occur if the Luchos, the symbol of their assured "Jewishness," would be smashed in front of their eyes. Let them see what comprises Judaism devoid of observance. Let them visualize Torah without mitzvos. Let them come to their senses in order to confront the reality that they could not refer to themselves as faithful Jews as long as they embraced the Golden Calf. . Hashem deferred to Moshe. Thus, the two explanations for the term "yad ha'chazakah" are congruous: Moshe "bested" Hashem so that Hashem gave him the Luchos, which he proceeded to break before Klal Yisrael's eyes.

Alternatively, we may suggest another reason for Moshe's insistence on bringing the Luchos down to Klal Yisrael. True, he was aware of their sin; Hashem had told him, "Go descend, for your people that you brought from Egypt has become corrupt," (Shemos, 32:7) Moshe was hoping, however, that the sin had been limited only to the erev rav, mixed multitude,that had come along when Klal Yisrael left Egypt. He hoped that it had not spread to the decent, observant Jew. When he descended the mountain, he beheld the revelry and blatant iniquity that had spread beyond the ranks of the erev rav. When he saw how observant Jews stood by apathetically -- even, in some instances, shamefully participating -- as a sign of unity with those that had assimilated their faith -- he realized there was no choice. The Luchos must be broken. The message that Torah cannot be compromised for any reason was clear. Principle accompanies conviction. To believe in the Torah is to uphold it under all circumstances, regardless of external pressure and the lack of popularity that one may encounter. Moshe broke the Luchos; Hashem was in accord with his actions. Unfortunately, we have not assimilated the timelessness of this lesson.

1. Why do Chazal refer to the Torah as Aish Das?

2. Why is Yehudah's blessing juxtaposed upon Reuven's?

3. Why does Binyamin's blessing precede Yosef?

4. Who received his portion of Eretz Yisrael in two distinct places?

5. How long did it take Moshe to go from the plains of Moav to Har Nevo?

6. Moshe Rabbeinu's "grave" was prepared during the Six Days of Creation. Why was this place chosen?

7. For whom was there a greater display of grief at his passing: Moshe or Aharon?


1. a. It was written in black fire upon white fire.

b. It was given amidst flames. (The mountain was in flames.)

2. a. They both confessed to their error.

b. Yehudah caused Reuven to confess.

3. The Mishkan Shiloh was in Yosef's portion in Eretz Yisrael, while the Bais Hamikdash stood in Binyamin's. The Bais Hamikdash clearly was dearer to Hashem. Thus, Binyamin precedes Yosef.

4. Dan

5. He covered the area in one step.

6. This place was chosen to serve as an atonement for the sin of Peor which occurred there.

7. Aharon.

Dear Readers,

With the writing of this issue of Peninim, we have completed our eighth cycle of Peninim Al HaTorah. We would like to express our profound sense of gratitude to the Almighty for all that He has bestowed upon us. Peninim is currently distributed in hundreds of shuls throughout North America and Europe. Through the efforts of the Shma Yisrael network, we are afforded the benefits of internet distribution throughout the world. Peninim is also found in a column in the Yated Neeman newspaper. We look forward to publishing the fifth volume in the Peninim Al HaTorah series during the coming year. We pray that all our efforts on behalf of harbotzas Torah will be equally blessed.

The number eight is associated with a sense of mystique. The Maharal explains that the number eight symbolizes the supernatural. The natural creation took seven days, so the number seven is the perfect natural number, and the next consecutive number, eight, represents the supernatural. Hence, the Maccabean victory of Chanukah, which was clearly miraculous, is symbolized by the oil of the Menorah that burned for eight days. Similarly, the leader of the revolt was a Kohen Gadol, who wore the special eight vestments of the Kohen Gadol. During the past eight years, we have been blessed with incredible Siyata Dishmaya. We hope that with the achievement of this milestone, we will attain greater opportunities for harbotzas Torah.

We express our heartfelt appreciation to all those who have been involved in the production and dissemination of Peninim on a national and international level: To Ahuva Scheinbaum for typing, even though she does not have the time; to Mrs. Marilyn Berger for editing and always finding a way to enhance the writer's words; to Mrs. Sharon Weimer who always prepares the weekly Peninim with a smile; and to Mrs. Chantal Modes for her wonderful and pleasant disposition in putting it together graphically, while juggling so many other duties; to Bracha Scheinbaum for making sure the copies are distributed in a dignified and timely fashion; to Rabbi Malkiel Hefter for doing everything whenever, and however, I need it. I thank all of you.

To all those that distribute Peninim in their respective communities: Baruch Berger in Brooklyn; Avi Hershkowitz in Queens; Meir Bedziner in Baltimore; Asher Groundlin in Detroit; Adam Tanenbaum of the Shma Yisrael Network, who prepares the internet edition of Peninim for world-wide distribution; and Eli Goldberg and Menachem Hummel who prepare the European edition. May the mitzvah of harbotzas Torah be a z'chus for them to be blessed.

Last, but not least, I acknowledge my wife, Neny, who painstakingly reviews the weekly copy before it goes to print. Her propensity for detail ensures an error-free copy. Her devotion, encouragement, patience and constant support are the factors which allow this project to continue and succeed. May she be blessed with good health, and may we both merit to see Torah nachas from our children.

Rabbi L. Scheinbaum


Peninim on the Torah is in its 7th year of publication. The first three years have been published in book form.

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