Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Send forth men if you please (for yourself) and let them spy out the land of Canaan. (13:2)

Rashi explains that the word lecha, for yourself, means according to your own counsel. Hashem said, "I am not commanding you to do so. If you so want, you may send them." Hashem "gave in" - so to speak - to Klal Yisrael's request to send spies. It was not an enthusiastic acquiescence, as indicated by Rashi, "I (Hashem) told them that the land was good, but they do not trust Me." While Hashem was not pleased with the people's determination to send spies to the land which He had told them would be good for them, He, nonetheless, permitted it. History proved that the people had seriously erred, something for which we are paying until this very day. The entire episode begs elucidation. If Hashem was not happy and Moshe Rabbeinu was aware of this, why did Moshe allow the people to send spies? Furthermore, we even find later in Sefer Devarim that Moshe had no problem sending spies. Why did he proceed as planned, fully aware of Hashem's displeasure? Also, Hashem surely knew that this mission would lead to disaster. Why did He not immediately halt it? Last, what is the meaning of "For yourself"? Hashem was telling Moshe to send spies. He distanced Himself from the mission by adding the words, "For yourself." If He issued the command, then it could not really have been "for yourself."

In "Forever His Students," a collection of essays based on the teachings of Horav Yaakov Weinberg, zl, Rabbi Boruch Leff offers the following fundamental lesson in Jewish philosophy. Hashem deals with us in accordance with our spiritual position - not in accordance with His. Sending the spies should not necessarily have catalyzed the downfall of Klal Yisrael. Thus, under the circumstances, it was the proper course of action. Hashem felt that the people had made an ineffective decision. Yet, once they made the decision, He dealt with them according to their present position. Their spiritual level had plummeted, leaving them vulnerable to the physical elements. They would have to deal with whatever challenges arose in the appropriate manner. This meant sending spies and relying on conventional tactics of warfare in order to succeed.

A holy person whose trust and faith in Hashem are unequivocal can simply pray to Hashem, asking that his sustenance be provided in an unnatural manner. One who is not on this spiritual plateau must resort to conventional methods - together with prayer. When Hashem said, "for yourself," He was implying that He was disappointed in their decision not to place complete trust in Him. If they wanted spies, however, so be it. Hashem certainly did not want Klal Yisrael to send spies, an action which led to such disastrous consequences. They asked for it, as they had made the fatal error of not trusting Hashem and, consequently, they would have to deal with the spies' report and the challenges that ensued. We made the decision; we had to live with it.

Hashem deals with where we are. We design the playing field for our own lives. If we err, Hashem will, nonetheless, support and guide our decision. He will also hold us accountable for our choices and actions, judging and recording our failure. He will, however, always be there to guide us, regardless of how much we err and how far we stray. Today, we are still experiencing the consequences of that fateful decision.

We were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes. (13:33)

The incident of the meraglim, spies, is one of the compelling tragedies that occurred during Klal Yisrael's sojourn in the wilderness. The commentators, each in his own inimitable manner, try to find a rationale for the way in which Klal Yisrael's leadership/turned spies literally transformed overnight into a scared and rebellious people. This attitude quickly infected much of the nation, creating a situation that engendered a night of bechiah l'doros, weeping for generations. Indeed, until this very day, we are plagued by the consequences of that ill-fated night.

The Sfas Emes takes a somewhat psychological approach towards understanding what occurred. The night that the meraglim returned, the lines were drawn and a debate ensued: Could Klal Yisrael triumph over the Canaanites? Could they conquer the land that Hashem had promised to them? The meraglim emphatically declared that they had no chance for success. Regrettably, they prevailed.

Now, why were they so "sure" they could not conquer the land? The Sfas Emes explains that they were unsure of themselves. They reported that the inhabitants of the land were huge, like giants, and that "we were in our eyes like grasshoppers" in comparison to them. When people view themselves as grasshoppers, as insignificant in relation to the Canaanites, they are precluding their chances for success. To win, an individual must have motivation, courage, and vigor. This gives him the momentum to achieve. When one is plagued by feelings of inadequacy and incompetence, he has lost the war before the first shot has been fired.

It all boils down to pride - Jewish pride. Throughout the millennia, there have been Jews who have been so self-deprecating that they felt that the only way they could achieve any form of significance would be by assimilating and becoming part of their host nation. Whatever happened to the pride associated with being Jewish, with having a Torah, with maintaining a life of mitzvah observance, with adhering to the ethical and moral values that distinguish us from the nations of the world? Unfortunately, when one is infused with feelings of inadequacy, he does not see beyond himself. He does not see the full context of the greater picture.

If we peruse history, we may note the incredible achievements of our forbears, their spiritual stamina, their willingness to sacrifice their lives for Hashem, but, above all, their pride in being Jewish. There have certainly been those who have fallen by the wayside, but they were the individuals who viewed themselves as parasites, because they were concerned with public opinion, with the opinion of the pagans, the gentiles, the cruel oppressors, the secular elite, as well as the itinerant farmers. How did our ancestors combat these feelings? How were they able to inculcate pride in their children, to raise the banner of Torah and to perpetuate the eternal verities of our people?

The answer is that they had the Torah. What does Torah do? Let me explain. David Hamelech says in Sefer Tehillim 84:5, Ashrei yoshvei veiseicha, od yehallelucha selah, "The praises of those who sit in Your House, more, will they praise You, forever." Ashrei is defined as praise. The word od means "more." Thus, we say that the praise of the Almighty is an expression of od, moreness. What does this all mean? Horav Shlomo Freifeld, zl, explains that this refers to the praises attributed to a person, the excellence of a person, his brilliance, his aura, his glow, the achievement of the optimum, the ultimate expansion of his being. When a person is at the point of fulfilling his potential, when he shines the brightest; when he has achieved his ultimate: this is the power of od. This point occurs not when he is wealthy, not when he is famous, but when he is making maximum use of his Divinely endowed abilities. This is when he has achieved true and maximum excellence, when he is in an expanded state of being, when he is "more," when he is ensconced in the power of "od."

This achievement is realized when he is yoshvei veisecha, "dwells in Your House," when he sits in the bais ha'medrash studying Torah. That is when he has access to the power of od, when he can transcend the here and now in order to attain true excellence.

Torah is mesamchei lev, "gladdens the heart" (Tehillim 19:9). When one studies Torah, when he embraces it, his heart expands with a pure, transcendent joy, and he enters into an expansive state of mind and soul. His vision broadens, and he develops an increased level of tolerance for the irritations that life has handed him. He becomes a person of "moreness," all from the joy of embracing and studying the Torah.

Rav Freifeld cites the Baal HaTanya, who makes an interesting observation concerning the extremes of joy and depression. In the Talmud Eiruvin 3b, Chazal discuss the various forms of amah measures. All amos are comprised of six tefachim, each being approximately the size of a closed fist. There are, however, two types of closed fist: a tightly closed fist and a loosely closed fist. The difference in size between the two is about a third of a finger. Chazal refer to these two fists as an amah sochekes, literally a smiling amah, and an amah otzeves, a depressed amah.

The Baal HaTanya explains the deeper meaning of this unusual metaphor. A depressed person's face is long, taut and scrunched up, while a happy person's face is relaxed and wreathed in smiles. When a person smiles, his face, and, indeed, his entire body, expands. Thus, a loose, larger amah is sochekes, smiling, while a tight, scrunched up amah is otzeves. In addition, the Baal Hatanya explains that this expansion is not merely physical; it is also spiritual. A person's face is a reflection of his inner soul. When a person is happy, the powers and abilities of his soul expand, resulting in a physical expression: a smile. In contrast, when he is depressed, his soul shrivels and constricts. His powers and abilities are now limited, and his face crumples. When a person is happy, a metamorphosis occurs, and he is transformed into a different person.

When a person is happy he tolerates whatever he confronts. He is in an expanded state of being, and he is able to transcend adversity and challenge. Suddenly, his enemies become his friends, his troubles become opportunities, and his pain is a stepping-stone for spiritual growth. On the other hand, one who is in a state of depression is constricted. He has no patience. He cannot listen. He does not think straight. Everything is a problem, and even the smallest obstacle is insurmountable. The greatest person can overnight become very, very small. That is what occurred that night in the wilderness. It was the genesis of Tisha B'Av, our national day of mourning and grief. We felt like grasshoppers, and our whole world came tumbling down on us. Only one thing can pull us out of the abyss of depression: the joy that comes with embracing the Torah.

What about the common Jew who has not achieved that level of relationship in which Torah is his companion, his friend, his life? What gives him hope? What comprises his sense of pride? Horav Yissachar Frand, Shlita, relates the following story which gives us much to be proud of. The Klausenberger Rebbe, zl, one of the few and strong who rebuilt Torah on these shores in the aftermath of the Holocaust, was an individual whose indomitable spirit and love of every Jew paralleled his encyclopedic knowledge of Torah. When he arrived in America, after surviving internment in the Nazi concentration camps, he opened a small shul in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. The shul's congregants had the same history as the Rebbe: suffering, pain and misery. Broken in body, but healthy in spirit, these survivors were prepared to rebuild their lives with hope and courage.

Parashas Ki Savo arrived, and it came time to read the Tochachah, the dread curses which foretold Klal Yisrael's punishment for not observing the mitzvos. The custom is for the baal korei, Torah reader, to read this portion quickly in a quiet, subdued voice, which is what he began to do. Suddenly, the Rebbe exclaimed, "Louder!" The baal korei raised his voice slightly, hypothesizing that he had been reading too low for the Rebbe to hear.

Once again, the Rebbe emphatically said, "Louder!" The baal korei raised his voice again, but, apparently, it was not enough, as the Rebbe again said, "Louder! Read it the way that you always read the Torah." The baal korei listened, completing the Tochachah in his regular tone. Afterwards, he approached the rebbe for an explanation.

"Let me explain," said the Rebbe. "In the past, we have read this quietly, because these curses were nothing more than distant images, far-off tragedies to which we could not personally relate. Therefore, we would quickly read the words without dwelling on them. Times have changed. Our generation has lived through these curses! We know exactly what they are and how they feel, but we have managed to survive them. We are still here today. We are entitled to read the Tochachah out loud."

The Rebbe viewed his Holocaust experience and survival as a badge of honor, a source of pride. He had triumphed over the Nazi beasts. This idea applies equally to us, the descendants of that generation. We have maintained what they had begun to create. They planted the seeds of Torah in this country. We have nurtured, harvested and planted again. We have continued their work. They survived the Tochachah. We carry on the torch, which they kindled. Therefore, we share in their badge of honor, in their sense of pride. We are entitled to hope, because we have earned that right.

When you will come to the land of your dwelling places… and you perform a fire offering to Hashem… and a quarter-hin of wine for libation shall you prepare. (15:1,2,4)

The position which the Torah accords to the laws of the ritual libations that were placed on the Altar in the Bais Hamikdash seems somewhat misplaced. Klal Yisrael had just been informed of the tragic news that they would not enter Eretz Yisrael, as a result of their involvement in the sin of the meraglim, spies. To immediately relate to them laws that are applicable only in Eretz Yisrael seems like pouring salt on an open wound! These people were mourning their impending deaths in the wilderness. Everything they had hoped for had just been lost. Why would Hashem add to their misery by discussing laws that would not pertain to them? Furthermore, it is stated in the Tanna D'bei Eliyahu that Moshe Rabbeinu requested of Hashem, "How can I appease the Jews who are mourning their fate?" Hashem responded by telling him to teach them the laws of the libations. How would that appease them?

Horav Moshe Shapiro, Shlita, derives an important lesson from here regarding the awesome power of Torah. When Moshe Rabbeinu began teaching the people the laws of libations, the sweetness of Torah embraced and enveloped them, so that they completely forgot about the tragic decree and their impending doom. There is no greater form of consolation than to hear a shiur from Moshe. Torah does that for a person. Indeed, it is like an anesthetic that allows the individual to transcend the here and now to enter into a different, more pleasant world.

When two people study Torah, Chazal refer to the ensuing dialogue between them, as each one presents and argues his point, as milchamatah shel Torah, literally, the battle of Torah. The two study partners contend with one another, each one seeking to understand and acquire the Torah to the greatest degree possible. The Brisker Rav, zl, was once at a health resort together with Horav Shimon Schkop, zl, when a group of senior yeshivah students approached Rav Shimon to speak with him "in learning." The Brisker Rav listened by the side as Rav Shimon delivered a brilliant lecture on the topic about which they had queried him. Afterward, the Brisker Rav told Rav Moshe Shapiro that what Rav Shimon said could have been delivered by any Torah scholar, but the sweetness that was infused in the words of Torah as they emanated from Rav Shimon was unparalleled.

The ability to experience mesikus, sweetness, in Torah learning is the result of ameilus ba'Torah, toil in Torah. When one applies himself in such a manner, when he toils and labors to understand the profundities of Torah, he will enjoy its sweetness. It becomes a sweet melody whose dulcet tones swathe him with Heavenly sound. This creates a mood that enables the individual to transcend his present worries as he embraces the Torah.

Va'ani Tefillah

Order of Sacrifices.

In the Talmud Megillah 31a, Chazal relate a dialogue between Avraham Avinu and Hashem. Avraham wondered, "Perhaps the Jews might sin, and You will punish them as You did the generation of the Flood and the generation of the Tower of Babel." Hashem replied that He would not destroy them and, if they would sin, He would accept their korbanos, sacrifices, as penance. Avraham then countered that this would work only as long as there is a Bais Hamikdash. What would happen to them if there were to be no Bais Hamikdash? Hashem responded that He prepared for them the Order of the Korbanos. Each time they would recite the litany, He would consider it as if they had actually offered a sacrifice. The commentators question this. If Avraham was comparing contemporary Jewish sin to the generation of the Flood, then, apparently, he thought they would sin b'meizid, intentionally, as that generation had. If this is so, how could korbanos, which are brought for an aveirah b'shogeg, unintentional sin, atone for their infraction?

Talelei Oros cites the following explanation. While there is no fear that Klal Yisrael will intentionally rebel against Hashem and sin, there is always the possibility that they will sin b'shogeg, unintentionally. Once they do so, they become ensnared, falling prey to a feeling of permissiveness. Once the breach has been made, the original unintentional infraction ultimately leads to intentional sin. The fear that one will fall into the abyss of sin is realized only if one does not immediately repent his unintentional sins. Hence, Hashem says that He provided the Seder, Order, of Korbanos, so that it would serve as an opportunity for teshuvah, repentance, which will prevent the sin from becoming intentional.

Sponsored by
Shiya and Edith Zeitman
in honor of the marriage of their daughter
Devorah to Nassan Treitel

'yehi ratzon shtizkeh l'vnos bayis ne'eman b'yisrael'

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

The Ninth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.


This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel