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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Moshe sent them to spy out the land of Canaan. (13:17)

Yehoshua also sent spies to spy out the land prior to conquering it. He had no problem with his spies. In contrast, when Moshe Rabbeinu, his rebbe, sent twelve distinguished leaders of the Jewish nation, a terrible calamity resulted. The impact of this calamity affected the entire Jewish nation. Wherein lay the difference between the two sets of spies?

Perhaps the difference is in the numbers. Doleh U'mashkeh cites the pasuk in Devarim (1:22): "Vtikrevun eilai kulchem" "And you all came close to me" and requested spies. Yehoshua sent two representatives of the people, whom he felt were the individuals who were most appropriate and suitable for this mission. On his own volition, Moshe would have sent two, which is really all they needed. Yehoshua, his devoted disciple, and Calev, the prince of Shevet Yehudah, the most distinguished tribe, would probably have been the individuals he would have sent. The other tribes would not accept this approach. They each wanted their own representative. They did not trust one another.

What happened to their kinship? Apparently, it took a hiatus that presented itself as a breach among the tribes. If all the tribes could not agree on a leadership that was to represent them all, then it is no wonder that this feeling of insecurity catalyzed this enormous tragedy.

Calev hushed the people toward Moshe. (13:30)

Calev sought to attract the people's attention, in order to listen to what they were saying against Moshe: "Is it this alone that the son of Amram has done to us?" Calev gave the inaccurate impression that he would now disparage Moshe. They were wrong. He only wanted their attention, so that he could reveal the wonderful things that Moshe had done for them. Is one permitted to resort to subterfuge, to give the impression that he is not very observant, only to clarify the matter shortly thereafter?

The following halachic query was presented to Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, by a talmid chacham, Torah scholar, who was seeking a rabbinical position in a community whose religious observance was, at best, left of center. The attitude of several of the board members was antagonistic towards the Torah community. They hammered the candidate with questions that had little to do with the rabbinical position. Their intention was to sidetrack the prospective rabbi to observe whether he would compromise his stance in regard to religious issues. In short, they sought to "weed out" any candidate who might be too frum, observant.

The question that the candidate posed to Horav Zilberstein was a practical one. Was it permitted to respond in the affirmative to the question, thereby giving the impression that he was a progressive and liberal rabbi who would have no problem compromising in areas of Torah law - if that was what was needed to keep the congregants in good spirits. After the position was his and he would have an opportunity to endear himself to the congregants, he would, of course, show his "true colors." He would explain to the membership that the only authority in regard to Jewish law was Daas Torah, the authority of Torah interpreted by the gedolei Yisrael, Torah giants of each generation. Regrettably, when he would be questioned, he would be compelled to present himself as one who is estranged from the Torah way of life.

Horav Zilberstein responded that it is forbidden to present oneself in a negative light even if it is only for a short time. He supported his psak, halachic decision, with a Mishnah in Meseches Ediyos 5:6. Akavia ben Mahalalel testified concerning four things: he was in dispute with the Sages regarding four areas of Jewish law. They said to him, "Akavia, withdraw these four things in which you are in dispute and we will promote you to be the Av Bais Din, head of the Rabbinical court." He said to them, "It is better for me to be called a fool all my life than I should become a wicked man in the presence of the Almighty even for one hour. Let not men say: 'He withdrew his opinions for the sake of getting power'."

Chazal attempted to persuade Akavia ben Mahalalel to change his view. Iyun Yaakov understands from the Mishnah that the request was temporary in nature. They wanted him to change his view for one hour, during which they would elect him as the Av Bais Din. Afterwards, he could revert to his original decision. He responded that he would rather be called a fool for the rest of his life than to compromise his opinion of halachah and consequently be viewed as a rasha - even for one hour. We may add that certainly what was expected of Akavia was in no way as potentially damaging to halachah as what was expected of this young rabbi. Yet, one's commitment to halachah must be unwavering. This does not apply only to rabbis; it applies to their congregants, as well.

We were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so were we in their eyes. (13:3)

What did the spies want to prove when they said, "And so were we in their eyes"? The Kotzker Rebbe, zl, said that this comprises, in effect, a major aspect of their sin. The fact that the spies felt small in their own eyes is something we can accept. They saw these giant men, and they felt overwhelmed by them; they felt small compared to them. While a Jew who has faith in Hashem should not have feelings of inadequacy, it is understandable that some of us have a difficult time dealing with pressure. What the Canaanites thought, however, also concerned them. Who cares what they think of us? Our self esteem should not be determined by the opinion of others - especially not by those whose lifestyle is based upon the values and morals of contemporary society.

The first Bobover Rebbe, zl, quoted by Horav Yissacher Teichtal, zl, explains that there are two types of modest people: the sincere and the insincere. The latter is an individual who makes it a point to "display" his modesty. He presents himself as the paragon of humility as long as it serves his purpose. Heaven forbid should someone offend or embarrass him. He will immediately take offense and spew forth a venomous diatribe against the unlucky soul who offended his honor. The former maintains his humility under all circumstances, because it is sincere humility. The spies could not tolerate the fact that the pagans looked down on them. They were concerned with the opinion of others, even the lowest of the low. When they made this statement, they indicated their true colors.

And the people wept that night. (14:1)

Klal Yisrael believed the spies' malignant report of what they saw in Eretz Yisrael. They responded to the report in a manner unbecoming a noble people, a nation that stood at Har Sinai and was privy to an unprecedented Revelation of the Almighty. What was their response? They cried - and cried. They withdrew to their tents and lamented the terrible "fate" that was awaiting them. They lived through a night of ceaseless weeping, a night of unwarranted weeping. Hashem also responded. The Talmud in Taanis 28a states that Hashem said to Klal Yisrael, "You wept without reason; I will provide you with a weeping for generations." This refers to our national day of mourning, Tisha B'Av, the day upon which our two Batei Mikdash were destroyed, the day that served as the harbinger of our galus, the beginning of our long exile.

Hashem does not tolerate unwarranted weeping. While it is appropriate to mourn for a tragedy, it is wrong to transform a mishap into a tragedy, to view a temporary setback as a national calamity. It is not justifiable; it is not honest. Even in mourning, integrity must prevail. Another aspect of unmitigated grief should be addressed. The Jewish nation has undergone great tragedies throughout our tumultuous history. We have suffered persecution, affliction, and annihilation. We have always, however, bounced back. We did not resign ourselves to the loss. We took the necessary steps to rebuild our lives, to emerge from the ruins and go forth with courage and determination. We did not permit grief to lead to despair.

It is told that during the Three Weeks of mourning, from the Seventeenth of Tamuz to Tisha B'Av, Rav Naftali, zl, m'Ropshitz would repeatedly sing a tune to the words of the prayer, "And You will restore the Kohanim to their service, and the Leviim to their chants, and Yisrael to its place of beauty." He did not allow himself to be overcome by grief; he did not permit despair to take hold of him.

The story is told about a Talmid chacham,

Torah scholar, who was once walking along the edge of a river when he heard a sudden cry for "help." He looked around and saw a man struggling to stay afloat in the water. Unable to swim, the scholar quickly obtained a rope and threw it to the man, saying, "Better grab the rope. If you do not succeed, give my best regards to the Livyasan," the legendary large fish at the bottom of the sea.

People who observed this incident had a difficult time accepting the scholar's callous remarks. He explained that this was not gallows humor, but an attempt to ease the person's anxiety somewhat, so that he would be more capable of grasping the rope and saving his life. When one panics it becomes difficult to see the way out. Even in the most difficult times, one must find some source of cheer, some positive outlook, to prevent depression and despair from setting in - a situation from which it is difficult to extricate oneself.

And it will be in front of the eyes of the assembly. (15:24)

The Torah refers to leadership, the Sanhedrin, as the einei ho'eidah, the eyes of the assembly. Their ability to see far beyond that of the common person; their penetrating insight; their global perspective; their clear vision and comprehension of a situation makes this nom d"guerre highly appropriate. Their vision and perception is honed and refined by their constant immersion in the sea of Torah. The eyes that never leave the Gemorah are capable of seeing beyond the limits imposed by nature.

Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, relates that Horav Isser Zalmen Meltzer, zl, was able to look at a vessel and ascertain if it had been toiveled, immersed in a mikvah, prior to its first use. He said that a keili, vessel, that has been immersed has the Shem Havaya, Ineffable Name of Hashem, in it. We cannot see the Name, but someone of Rav Isser Zalmen's holy stature can. When this was related to the Brisker Rav, zl, he was unimpressed. He said, "Do you think this is something surprising? Do you have any idea who Rav Isser Zalmen is? Do you even begin to understand his sichas chullin, simple, mundane conversation? In other words, when one begins to fathom the greatness of Rav Isser Zalmen, one does not become surprised by his spiritual perception.

Horav Zilberstein continues, explaining that the distinction of the Torah giant does not extend itself only to the great actions that he performs. On the contrary, it is the little things, the simple activities, the everyday actions, that distinguish a gadol b'Yisrael, our nation's Torah leaders. He cites the following incident that left an indelible impression on him. He was a young student in Yeshivas Eitz Chaim in Eretz Yisrael, and Rav Isser Zalmen, the Rosh HaYeshiva, was escorting his son-in-law, Horav Aharon Kotler, zl, and grandson, Horav Shneur Kotler, zl, prior to their return to America. Rav Aharon and Rav Shneur had recently been saved miraculously from the clutches of Satan's representatives - the Nazis. They had spent a short while in Eretz Yisrael and were now about to journey on to America. Rav Shneur was a chassan, whose marriage would take place upon his arrival in America.

Rav Isser Zalmen accompanied them down the steps, but did not continue on to the street where the taxi to take them to the airport was waiting. He bid them an emotional good-bye on the steps. He would not walk with them to the street, to the waiting cab. The students who observed their rebbe's actions were somewhat taken aback by his reluctance to walk them to the street. They knew that everything their rebbe did, or did not do, was by design. What was his reason? Finally, someone conjured up the courage to ask Rav Isser Zalmen the rationale behind his actions. He gave a response that tears the heart and should cause us to shudder.

"Not all of my grandson's friends were fortunate enough to be in the situation he is in today. Most of them were slaughtered after being persecuted in the most heinous and brutal manner. They were sacrificed Al Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying G-d's Name. How can I walk them down to the street and publicly kiss them good-bye, knowing that there are others who did not attain such a moment? How many mothers and fathers lost their children? How can I not be sensitive to their emotions?"

When one plumbs the depths of these words and is cognitive of the true sense of caring that is emitted by this special human being, it is no longer any wonder how this person could sense whether Hashem's Name was on a vessel or not! We now understand why the Brisker Rav was not impressed when he heard about Rav Isser Zalmen's supernatural powers. Apparently, Rav Shneur inherited the unique sensitivity and caring for another human being that exemplified Rav Isser Zalmen's character. He, too, exhibited incredible sensitivity for others, as demonstrated by the following little-known episode. As mentioned before, Rav Shneur was engaged to his rebbetzin prior to the outbreak of World War II. The two miraculously survived the war by Divine design. A short time after they had been reunited, Rav Shneur received a letter from his intended. She wrote that due to the war's hardships, her physical condition was no longer as fit as when they had first become engaged. She, therefore, was absolving him from the engagement, and she would have no complaint if he were to decide to break the engagement and seek another bride.

What did Rav Shneur, the man who was Rav Aharon's son and successor to head the greatest Torah center in the world, answer to his kallah? He said, "You lost your father during the war. You no longer have the material wealth that you once had. Your health is no longer what it used to be. You have undergone much pain and anguish. Do you think that I, too, your chassan, will also forsake you at a time like this? Never - it will never be!"

The rest is history. Rav Shneur, zl, and tibadel l'chaim, his rebbitzen, married and raised a family that includes some of the greatest Roshei Yeshiva and marbitzei Torah of our generation. This is how Torah is built - on the small things - on the simple concerns - on caring and sensitivity to all people. The small acts define great people.

Bnei Yisrael were in the wilderness and they found a man gathering wood. (15:32)

In directing the spies where to investigate the land, Moshe Rabbeinu instructs them to confirm whether "there are trees in it or not." Rashi defines the word tree as a reference to an adam kasher, a decent, righteous man who would protect Canaan's inhabitants through his merit. Eitz, tree, is an allusion to a pious, upright man in whose merit a community, or an individual is sustained. In order to receive the merit of the tzaddik, however, one must be machsiv, recognize, value and appreciate the tzaddik. If he "knocks" every Torah scholar; if he determines who is a scholar and who is not, we cannot expect the tzaddik's merit to preserve him in his time of need.

Horav Meir, zl, m'Premishlan suggests that the mekoshesh eitzim, gathered sticks of wood, are a metaphor for selecting and determining who is an "eitz" and who is not. The mekoshesh denigrated tzaddikim. He decided who was worthy of being an "eitz". How can one who degrades tzaddikim expect to be sustained by them? He, accordingly, was not.

Vignettes on the Parsha

We arrived at the land to which you sent us. (13:26)

The Abarbanel observes that they did not say, "We arrived at the land that Hashem is giving to us," or, alternatively "We arrived at the land that Hashem promised to our ancestors." They sought to divorce Hashem's relationship from any aspect of the land. That is the first step in every act of rebellion against religious authority. First they say that it has nothing to do with G-d. This clears their conscience, allowing them to commit their evil.


A land that devours its inhabitants. (13:32)

Horav Yitzchak, zl, m'Varka says that Eretz Yisrael is not a land that tolerates those who "sit around", not "shteiging," growing in spiritual stature. One has to ascend and grow mei'chayil el chayil, from strength to strength.


Recalling the iniquity of parents upon children. (14:18

) Hakesav v'Hakabalah interprets the word "pokeid" as being related to "nifkad," as in, "v'lo nifkad mi'menu ish," no man was missing. Thus "pokeid" will then mean that Hashem diminishes and absolves the sins of the fathers as a result of the merit of their progeny.


From the beginning of your kneadings you shall give a portion to Hashem. (15:21) The word "araisah," which is the root of arisoseicham has another meaning: cradle. A child in its araisah is a reference to a young infant. This prompts Tal Oros to interpret the pasuk homiletically. When the child is still in its araisah, crib, when it is but an infant, you should imbue him with a love and devotion for Hashem and Klal Yisrael.

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