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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


You shall not eat any abomination. (14:3)

When the cemetery in Kovno was emptied, the Chevra Kadisha found two bodies that were untouched by time; the bodies of the Kovno Rav, zl; and that of a Jewish soldier upon whose tombstone was engraved, "Here lies the kosher/proper Jewish soldier." These were the two bodies that had defied the natural process of decomposition. What merit catalyzed this miracle?v It is told that this soldier, who was conscripted into the Polish army, absolutely refused to eat non-kosher food. He would not eat the army's rations, sustaining himself on vegetables alone. One day a group of anti-semitic soldiers decided to force the Jewish soldier to eat non-kosher food. They grabbed him and poured hot soup down his throat. The Jewish soldier absolutely refused to swallow the soup and choked. This exceptional act of self-sacrifice for kashrus, to maintain the purity of his soul, earned him that his body, his soul's earthly receptacle, was not affected by nature.

And you shall eat before Hashem, your G-d,… the tithe of your grain, your wine, and your oil… so that you will learn to fear Hashem… (14:23)

Daas Zekeinim emphasize the "your" part of the grain, wine and oil. They explain that the pasuk conveys a profound message: If you give Maaser, if you tithe your grain, oil, and wine, then it is yours. In other words, Hashem grants us these possessions because we listen to His command and either share it with the Levi or the poor man, or we eat it in Yerushalayim. Giving Maaser does more than fulfill a mitzvah, it creates our ownership, it grants us license to claim these possessions as our own. Whatever Hashem created is for a purpose - to serve Him. To that end, when we realize the purpose of our material possessions, that they exist for us to serve Hashem with them, then they become ours. What we own is in our possession as a deposit from the Almighty. Indeed, whatever gifts we receive from Hashem, all our material abundance, is all a gesture of Hashem's beneficience, so that we may carry out His will.

Nachlas Tzvi cites a number of "tzedakah stories," episodes in the lives of great people, in which their devotion to share their own material possessions with others less fortunate than they, earned them remarkable reward from the Almighty. Horav Moshe Ravkash, zl, the author of the Be'er HaGolah would weep when he would see his wife's candlesticks. A very poignant story informs us of the reason for this expression of emotion. It was during the fury of the Cossacks that the Jews of Vilna were bracing themselves for the vicious onslaught of these sub-humans. Whoever could gather his few possessions loaded them on a wagon and ran. The majority of the community, regrettably, did not believe that the danger was imminent, so they did not escape. A few of the great Torah scholars of that generation did, in fact, escape to freedom. Among them were the Shach, the Shaar Efraim and the Beer HaGolah. Rav Moshe Ravkash, being an extremely wealthy man, tarried as long as he could, to enable himself to bury his money and gold and silver utensils. Luckily, he succeeded in hiding his material possessions and his wife's jewelry. A displaced person, Rav Ravkash trekked from community to community in search of a place where he could go on with his life. His wandering led him to Amsterdam. At that time, the city of Amsterdam had a thriving Sephardic Jewish community. These Jews of Middle-Eastern descent embraced the Ashkenazi gaon, scholar,with open arms. This wealthy community saw to it that he was financially remunerated in accordance with his distinguished scholarship. He remained there until the Cossacks were driven back, and it was safe to return home.

He located his hidden treasures, but he was unable to make personal use of them, since the community was in dire need. The Jews who had survived, and those who had returned, were left virtually penniless. Rav Moshe disbursed all of his money and even sold his jewelry to sustain the Jewish community. His wife, observing that he was selling all of their material possessions, even her jewelry, hid her silver candlesticks out of concern for their own financial predicament, so that her "giving" husband would not also give these away. After awhile, when the financial situation seemed to improve, she divulged to her husband that she had hidden their candlesticks. When Rav Moshe saw the candlesticks, understanding that his wife had concealed them so that they would have some funds with which to sustain themselves, he sighed heavily. He exclaimed, "How many poor people could have been supported by these candlesticks!" This is why he cried. Indeed, it is tears such as those that Hashem scoops up and saves.

One never loses when he gives charity. "Aser Teasar" "you shall tithe." Chazal add, "Aser bishul shetisasher" "Tithe so that you shall become wealthy." This is more than a reward or a blessing. It is, rather, a consequence of one's giving. In an anecdotal remark to a community that was not sufficiently giving, the Maggid m'Kelm once said, "Hashem assures us that "Ki'lo yechdal evyon mikerev haaretz", "For destitute people will not cease to exist within the land" (Devorim, 15:11) In other words, there will always be poor people. If we do not see to the needs of the poor, they will unfortunately not survive. Someone will have to replace them. It quite possibly might be you.

Indeed, we never know the far-reaching effect of that act of charity, as evidenced by the following story. It occurred with the Ramah, zl, the rav of Crakow. There was a simple, but interesting, man in the community who went by a number of pseudonyms. He was called Moshe Trager/carrier, because he would carry packages for people. He was commonly called, Moshe Shikur, the drunk, or Moshe Shabbosnick, because he would save up the small amounts of money he would earn during the week, go to the liquor store on erev Shabbos, and purchase a cup of mead wine. He would proceed to drink this wine with great relish. While he drank this wine, he would joyfully sing "Shabbos, Shabbbos, Shabbos." He would then go to the mikveh and prepare for Shabbos.

One week, on his way to perform his ritual, he overheard a poor woman saying, "Moshe is going to buy wine for himself, and I do not even have money to purchase two candles for Shabbos." Moshe was in a quandary. Should he give the woman the money, or should he get his glass of wine? He decided not to listen to his yetzer hora, evil inclination, and he gave the woman money to buy candles.

Regrettably, this was to be Moshe's last trip to the mikveh, as he passed away shortly thereafter. Since it was almost Shabbos, the chevra kaddisha, burial society, decided to delay his burial until after Shabbos. That night, Moshe appeared before the Ramah and said, "There is a critique against you in Heaven." "Moshe, you are a shikur; go home," the Ramah answered. It was then that Moshe revealed to the Ramah that he had died. The Ramah did not believe him until he went to shul and discovered that, indeed, Moshe had died right before Shabbos and that his body lay in the chevra kaddisha's room, awaiting burial. Realizing now that Moshe's appearance was a special occurrence, the Ramah immediately went to the room and questioned Moshe regarding his message from Heaven. "In Heaven they are upset that you do not avail the poor people the opportunity to also give charity. Since they have limited funds, people do not ask them for anything," answered Moshe. "What should I do?" asked the Ramah. "From now on, whenever the community is in need of funds, the collectors should also go to the poor and ask them to participate," was Moshe's answer.

The Ramah continued, asking Moshe what warranted his selection to deliver this message from Heaven, even before his body had been buried. Moshe then related how he had overcome his evil-inclination and gave his "drinking" money to the woman, so that she could purchase candles for Shabbos. "That woman was none other than Esther HaMalkah. As a result of her exemplary deeds, her neshamah had consistently entered higher and higher levels of paradise, until she arrived at a very sublime level where she was not granted entry. She was told that this level is only for the poor who, despite their poverty, give charity and perform kindness with others. She then asked, 'Is it my fault that I was wealthy? I am certain that had I been poor, I would have been as charitable and as kind as when I was rich'."

The Heavenly Tribunal decided to allow her neshamah to return to this world as a poor woman, so that she could have the opportunity to give tzedakah, even in this difficult circumstance. When the Ramah heard this story, he accepted upon himself to see to it that all people, regardless of their financial situation, would be given the opportunity to join in the mitzvah of tzedakah. Indeed, as Nachlas Tzvi cites the Chafetz Chaim who once said, "There is a wealthy Jew in Lublin who has the where-with-all to sustain all the yeshivos in Europe. What about the mitzvah of tzedakah imposed on all the other Jews? Why should they be deprived of this mitzvah ? This is why Heaven has arranged it that this wealthy Jew does not give, so that others will be able to give."

Rather, opening, you shall open your hand to him…you shall grant enough for his lack which is lacking for him. (15:8)

When a poor man comes to the door requesting assistance, he certainly needs a comforting word, some sound advice, even a nice Torah thought. We often forget, however, that he is there for one purpose: to raise sorely needed funds for himself and his family. His time is limited, and his needs are great. The Dubno Maggid once went on a fundraising mission. He came to the home of a distinguished scholar who was also quite wealthy. The wealthy man was honored to have someone of the Maggid's stature visit him, and he reciprocated this honor. Prior to asking for a contribution, the Maggid began with a scholarly discourse on the laws of tzedakah, charity. The man was reasonably impressed, adding his own erudite exegesis. This went on for awhile. Every time the Maggid gave a Torah thought, the man reciprocated. The Maggid noted that while they were having a lively scholarly discussion, the purpose of his visit had not been fulfilled. He still had no money.

The Maggid looked at his wealthy host and said, " Let me share a story with you. In one of the far-off countries, there is a community where the people had never seen an onion. One day a traveler came to this community and brought with him an onion. The people were very excited with this wonderful find and thanked him profusely. They showered him with gifts and money when he left to continue his travels. They took the onion and planted it. Soon, they were able to harvest many onions. Word spread that this community had handsomely rewarded the wanderer that had introduced them to onions. Soon, afterwards, another traveler looking to secure some sorely needed funds arrived in this community with poppy seeds. The people were overjoyed with this new gift. They realized that they must offer remuneration for the poppy seeds. What would be the most worthy gift to give the traveler? Nothing less than their most valued commodity: onions! They decided to pay their new supplier with onions. We can only imagine what he told them. "I did not come here for onions; I came for money."

"Likewise, my dear host, while I greatly appreciate the brilliant Torah thoughts that you have shared with me, I have come here, however, for something else: money. Does not the Torah say that one must give the poor man 'that which is lacking for him'? I lack money."

Giving, you shall give him, and let your heart not feel bad when you give him, for because of this matter, Hashem, your G-d, will bless you. (15:10)

The Torah is teaching us a significant lesson: Tzedakah is our insurance policy. It protects us, as it circumvents any evil from coming close to us. The following story is one of countless episodes that recount the remarkable consequence of giving tzedakah. We must add that, as in all instances, there are many variables which play a role in a given situation. We do see, however, in the following episode, how giving tzedakah with mesiras nefesh, utter devotion and self-sacrifice, saved a life.

A poor woman once knocked on the door of the home of a very special Torah scholar, a kollel-fellow who devoted himself to Torah study to the full extent of the word. It was a very special home - but, alas, a very poor one. The couple had been blessed with fourteen children. Obviously, money - and even food - was at a premium at this house. Answering the woman's knock was the kollel fellow himself. "I need a piece of chicken," cried the woman. "I am terribly sorry, my dear woman, but I cannot help you. I have two chickens in the refrigerator which I have put away for the upcoming Yom Tov, so that my family can enjoy the festival with a small piece of meat as prescribed by halachah. This is all we have for the entire family." "Please, I am begging you, I have not had a piece of meat in such a long time. I crave a small piece of chicken," she implored. A few moments passed and the young man decided this woman's health was certainly more important than his children's simchas Yom Tov, celebrating the festival amid joy. If she was so obsessed with eating a piece of chicken that she would beg him so profusely, then she should get it. "Ok, I am going to give you a piece of chicken," he said as he left her to go to the refrigerator for a piece of chicken.

Suddenly, there came forth a heart-rending shriek from the kitchen, as the young man opened the refrigerator door and beheld the most bone-chilling, shocking sight. His three-year old son had somehow gotten into the refrigerator and was trapped inside. His lips were already blue; his skin the pallor of death; his breathing shallow and labored - but, he was still alive! A miracle! Hatzalah, the emergency rescue team, was immediately summoned. They began to resuscitate the child, as they hurriedly transported him to the hospital. With the help of the Almighty, they succeeded in saving his life. All because of a piece of chicken. The gesture of giving tzedakah, going out of his way to help a woman in need, saved the life of his child. We do not need proof to substantiate Chazal's dictum, "Tzadakah tatzil mimaves, charity saves (one) from death," but such an incident is encouraging and gives one hope. We also derive form here another imporant lesson: One never loses by performing a mitzvah. To paraphrase Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, "You gave away a quarter of a chicken; you received a child as a gift."

Vignettes on the Parsha

See! I present before you today. (11:26)

The Baalei Mussar note the word "nosein," give, Hashem gives and gives, but man does not sense this gift. We are asked to wake up and "see" Hashem's constant giving.


"See" the "I". The Chassidishe seforim adjure one to see the "anochi," "I", to take note of oneself, for the primary purpose of man is to know himself.


The enjoinment to "see" is said in the singular to teach us, says the Gaon m'Vilna, that one who seeks to go on the correct and proper path must act alone. He should not alternate back and forth to observe what the majority, what others are doing. He should be his own person and do what is right - not necessarily what is in vogue.


You shall seek out His Presence and come there. (12:5)

The word tidreshu, you shall seek out, is written in the plural, while the word, u'baasa, and (you shall) come there, is written in the singular. This teaches us, says Meoros Eish that although at times outside, in the community, there might be discord among people, when they enter the holy Bais Hamikdash, they must come as one person with one heart, totally unified to serve Hashem.


And you will look malevolently upon your destitute brother and refuse to give him. (15:9)

Lachmei Todah renders this pasuk homiletically. One is asked for charity on behalf of a poor person and he reneges his responsibility, claiming that he has a poor brother, a close relative whom he is supporting. In truth, however, this is a sham. He is not supporting his relative. Then your "brother" will cry out to Hashem, because you are humiliating him needlessly.

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