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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


We arrived at the Land, to which you sent us, and indeed it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. (13:27)

The spies returned from their ill-fated tour of Eretz Yisrael, and ten of them projected a jaundiced view of the Holy Land. Interestingly, they included in their report that the land flowed with milk and honey. In addition, they presented the exceptionally large fruit of the land for all to see. One wonders why they would do two things that, in effect, reflected a positive aspect of Eretz Yisrael. Rashi explains that the spies were well aware that even a liar must establish his credibility by introducing some aspect of truth into his story. They first stated emphatically that conquering Eretz Yisrael was impossible. Then they added that it was a land flowing with milk and honey, and here were its fruits. What Rashi says seems impractical if their goal was to use the truth as a way of strengthening the lie, since they should have first mentioned the truth, followed by the lie - not vice versa.

Furthermore, when Moshe Rabbeinu sent them off, he instructed them to check for seven factors which would confirm their ability to conquer the land. One of these items was: Are trees growing there? Rashi explains that this question was really a metaphor for: Are any righteous people living there who could shelter the populace in the "shade" of their merit? The rationale for this question was based upon Hashem's comment to Avraham Avinu that the Jewish People would defeat the inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael only after the sin of the people of the land had become so bad that there was no longer room for forgiveness. This is why Moshe instructed the spies to determine whether righteous people were living there. How were the spies to discern whether individuals of such merit resided in the land?

Horav Yaakov Meir Sonnenfeld, zl, cites a passage in the Talmud Kesubos 112a, which serves as basis for his answer to these questions. The Talmud relates that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi once passed by a grapevine in Gavla, a place in Eretz Yisrael. He was amazed by the incredible size of the grapes. He declared, "O Land! O Land! For whom are you producing such fruits? For these Arabs who, because of our sins, have displaced us?"

Rabbi Yeshoshua's question indicates his expectation that the production of Eretz Yisrael is to be correlated with the merit of its inhabitants. This is the underlying motif of Shemittah, whereby the land produces in relationship with the Shemittah observance of its inhabitants. This is why Rabbi Yehoshua was shocked to find remarkable produce in Eretz Yisrael, despite the fact that the Jewish People had been exiled from it.

We now understand how the spies were able to determine whether Eretz Yisrael had people of merit living there. They would simply look at its fruit. If the fruits were large and plentiful, it was proof that righteous people did, in fact, live there. The spies made a point to show off the fruits of the land as soon as they returned. It was their way of saying: "The people in Eretz Yisrael do not warrant being driven out. Look at their fruit. We will fail in conquering the land. There is no hope for us."

Yehoshua and Caleb countered that it was a "land flowing with milk and honey." The land was prepared especially for us. Everything exceptional that we observed there was Hashem's "welcome package" for us. The incredible fruits and the milk and honey, were all there in our merit, not the merit of its inhabitants, because they have no merit. This is why Hashem will deliver them into our hands. They all saw the "fruits." The difference was in the interpretation. Has that not always been the point of dispute?

The entire assembly raised up and issued its voice; the people wept that night. All (Bnei Yisrael) murmured and Moshe and Aharon. (14:1, 2)

How often does it occur that we study a pasuk in Chumash, translate it, yet its meaning continues to elude us, either due to our indifference to its message or by intention to avoid following through on the Torah's demands? Regrettably, the number of times is not decreasing. The Torah relates that following the spies' communication of their slanderous reports, the people reacted in what seems to have been an atypical manner. They complained, but the Torah does not share their complaint with us. In the beginning of Sefer Devarim (1:27), however, when Moshe Rabbeinu issues his rebuke to the people prior to his death, he says, "You slandered in your tents and said, 'Because of Hashem's hatred for us did He take us out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the land of the Emori to destroy us.'" Even though we read these words every year, we tend to ignore what this statement intimates.

Imagine, Hashem took Klal Yisrael out of Egypt amid the greatest and most spectacular array of miracles and wonders. He then split the Red Sea to allow their safe passage through its waters. Hashem's benevolence continued as He sustained the nation with manna and other forms of sustenance. Yet, what do the people declare? He did all of this to kill them in the wilderness. He carried them on the wings of eagles, protected them from harm with the Pillars of Cloud and Fire, so that they may enter into the Promised Land. Why? So that the Emori could destroy them? Is this not ludicrous? Nothing could be more absurd than such a statement.

Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, asserts that this is exactly the way we act every time something does not go our way. We are guests in Hashem's world, in which He sustains us, grants us health and welfare. We are recipients of countless miraculous gifts from Hashem on a daily basis. The moment that something goes awry, however, such that the balance of our lives is not exactly perfect, we blame Hashem. "What does He want from me? Why is He always picking on me? What did I do to deserve this?" Whether it is a minor delay or a major trauma, we always perceive that it is the hand of Hashem, Who no longer loves us.

Now I ask you once again: How often have we read the episode of the Jewish People's reaction to the spies' report and ignored this powerful message? We do not seem to think that their reaction was absurd, because we probably would have reacted similarly! Indeed, we do it all of the time!

Rav Pincus takes the message further. Not only is it ridiculous to "blame" Hashem - it is equally dangerous. No greater danger or hazard exists than alienation from Hashem. When we foolishly forget how much Hashem loves us, we become vulnerable to the most alien, inappropriate thoughts that drive a wedge between us and our belief in the Almighty. Let us observe how far our ancestors' murmuring led them, to what depths of iniquity they plummeted, and how we today are still paying for it.

"The people wept that night." Chazal teach us that that fateful night was Tisha B'Av, the day that would become our national day of mourning. Why? Hashem told them, "You wept needlessly. I will give you a reason to weep." That night, the decree that the Batei Mikdash would be destroyed and Klal Yisrael would go into exile was pronounced.

We begin the day thanking Hashem in the Modim prayer of Shemoneh Esrai, for "our lives that are committed to Your power." Suddenly, something goes wrong during the day, and we immediately forget our declaration of Hashem's unabiding love for us. Furthermore, at times, what appears to be a tragedy is actually the greatest favor, in disguise. Indeed, the spies returned with the news that Eretz Yisrael is a land that kills its inhabitants. After all, why else would the populace be so involved in funerals? Wherever the spies went, they saw a funeral. Little did they realize that Hashem was causing these funerals so that the people would be thoroughly engaged, in order not to notice the Jewish spies.

Is it any different in our own lives? We are often privy to occurrences which, from a cursory glance, appear to have a serious, negative connotation. In the end, everybody lives "happily ever after." When one keeps this idea prominently focused on his radar screen of life he will never doubt Hashem's love for him. During the most taxing moments, under the most vexing circumstances, he will remember that ultimately all of his pain and troubles will transform into joy and salvation.

But my servant Calev, because a different spirit was with him and he followed Me wholeheartedly. (14:24)

Yehoshua and Calev believed in Hashem, despite the insurmountable pressure mounted against them by the other ten spies, and, later, by the nation. As a result of their resoluteness, they were both rewarded: Calev with Chevron; and Yehoshua, as successor to Moshe Rabbeinu. One would think that simply being saved from the decree of death which was issued against the entire nation would suffice. Yet, we see that they were granted individual, exclusive rewards. Why? Horav Chaim Mordechai Katz, zl, explains that the distinct rewards were for their ability to act in a unique manner, to rise above the fray and stand up against their colleagues and the nation, not to waver under pressure. When a person takes an exclusive stand, when he reflects individuality, he is rewarded accordingly.

The ability to stand alone - often as the subject of ridicule, disdain and animosity - is the hallmark of a gadol b'Yisrael, Torah leader. When the alien winds of progressiveness and liberal change attempt to uproot the traditions of millennia, it is the Torah leader who stalwartly stands firm and, often, quite alone. It has been this individuality that has sustained our People in its battle for spiritual ascendency. A leader is strong; he is resolute; most of all, he is prepared to stand alone.

What generates this ability? From where does the Torah leader harness the power to stand alone, often without the support of his very own "supporters"? I think the answer lies in the words, ruach acheres, "different spirit." What is the "spirit" that Calev, and apparently every Torah leader, must possess?

When Moshe saw that he was not going to enter Eretz Yisrael, he petitioned Hashem to appoint his successor. His appeal began Yifkud Hashem Elokei ha'ruchos l'chol basar ish al ha'eidah. "May Hashem, G-d of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the Assembly." (27:16) Rashi notes that Moshe could have addressed Hashem in any of a number of ways. Rather than refer to His Omnipotence, His wisdom and various other qualities in which He is unparalleled in any way, Moshe chose, Elokei ha'ruchos l'chol basar, "G-d of the spirits of all flesh." This describes Hashem's knowledge of the intricacies of the human mind and personality, the awareness that each human being is different and that every person has his own virtues and shortcomings. Moshe intimates that a leader must be sensitive to the needs of his followers. He must also be acutely aware of what motivates them. Thus, when an individual complains, makes demands, is afraid to ask, or questions everything, the leader understands why he is acting in this manner.

A leader will always have dissenters, but he must understand why they are disputing his leadership. Is it philosophic, or is it motivated by arrogance and greed? Throughout the generations, Torah leaders have sustained challenges to authentic Judaism by individuals who have labeled themselves representatives of Judaism. Unfortunately, their demands have not been founded in Jewish concerns. Other than seeking ways to permit them and their followers to act like their secular counterparts, their claims have been baseless. There has been nothing philosophic about their desire to breach the laws of ritual purity, kashrus, Shabbos and to dispute the Divine Authorship of the Torah. Everything has been motivated by a desire to live like the gentiles. When a leader understands that his battlefield has nothing to do with theology and that his adversary is nothing more than a baal taaveh, miscreant who cannot control his urges, thus seeking ways to justify his actions, he no longer has anything to fear. He can stand tall and resolute in the knowledge that his beliefs will not be challenged and that the integrity of his leadership will not be impugned. He knows with whom he is dealing.

But, they defiantly ascended to the mountain top…the Amalek and the Canaani…descended…they struck them. (14:44, 45)

When the Jewish People listened to the slanderous reports of Eretz Yisrael, they reacted negatively, indicating their disdain for the Holy Land. After being chastised for their attitude and negative reaction, they realized the tragedy their lack of faith had catalyzed. Because they did not appreciate Eretz Yisrael, they would not live to see it. During the remainder of their time in the wilderness, they would learn what they had allowed to slip through their hands. Some of them, who recognized their sin and sought to rectify the damage, attempted to turn back the clock and they were going to go forward on their own in order to attempt to conquer the land. Hashem, however, no longer wished to give Eretz Yisrael to that generation. They had committed too many infractions and, as a result, their fate was sealed. Yet, they still insisted on going on their own, which proved to be a fatal error. This group goes down in history as the maapilim, a reference to their self-determined advancement.

There is no question that what the maapilim did was wrong, but it is not considered to be a particularly grave sin. We must bear in mind that their intentions were noble, their motivations pure. They were idealists who meant to do good, but, regrettably, they were wrong in their actions. They should have waited for Hashem's command - and not have gone out on their own. This was their form of teshuvah, repentance. Unfortunately, it was too late to save them from their fate.

Idealism is a wonderful trait, but it can portend danger. At times, one can become carried away with his goal that he totally forgets, ignores, or even rejects anyone who stands in his way. His mind is made up; he knows the right thing to do and he acts upon his feelings. He refuses to see that the only aspect of the undertaking that is "correct" is his desire to see it through. He acts with mesiras nefesh, dedication and self-sacrifice, for what he believes in, for what strikes his fancy.

The maapilim were motivated by a sudden return of love for the Land which they had earlier slandered. At that moment, however, they were chozer b'teshuvah, returned to the commitment, which was expected of them. Their idealism motivated them to surge forward. Regrettably, they did not seek Hashem's approval, which tainted the very foundation of their action.

Chavakuk HaNavi addresses the future liberation of our nation from its present exile. "For there is yet another vision about the appointed time; it will speak of the end, and it will not deceive. Though it may tarry, await it, for it will surely come; it will not delay. Behold, his soul is defiant; it is unsettled within him, but the righteous person shall live through his faith." (2:3, 4) In describing the evil Babylonian King Nevuchadnezer, the Navi uses the word uflah (Hinei uflah), "Behold his (soul) is defiant," a word which has the same source as the maapilim. In his commentary, the Malbim explains ophel, which is the root of uflah and maapilim, as a reference to someone who seeks to ascend to a plateau which is above him, a level which is beyond his grasp; yet, he goes for it anyway. Such a person is considered by the Navi to be lo yashrah, unsettled. Malbim goes on to assert that those individuals who refuse to wait for Moshiach, who make calculations - based upon statements made by Chazal - as to when Moshiach will arrive, who attempt to bring him before the designated time, are guilty of this serious infraction.

Throughout history, we have experienced movements whose leadership have inspired the common Jew to "ascend" and undertake endeavors that were not sanctioned by the Torah. They were all in the name of Judaism, nationalism, idealism. Manipulating the minds and emotions of people who had suffered from racism and bigotry, they instigated revolutions for the people. In the end, they only revolted against Hashem. They venerated Jewish nationalism, the Jewish land, making leaders out of individuals whose very essence was the antithesis of Torah. Every generation had its false messiahs who rallied the people to support various causes - everything - but Torah Judaism. These were the maapilim who refused to "wait."

The common foundation of most religious movements has been an inability to wait. When a person's soul returns to its Source, it is asked, Tzipisa l'yeshuah? "Did you wait for salvation?" This is a referral to Moshiach Tzidkeinu. In his derashos, the Chasam Sofer asserts that tzipisa, "Did you wait?" is more than a question. It defines the way a Jew should act. He is to be patient, unwavering in his commitment to bide his time and defer to Hashem's determination concerning when Moshiach should arrive. This is the reason, explains the Chasam Sofer, that we give children sweets at the Seder table, so that they should wait - and continue waiting - until the story of the Exodus is concluded, and then we eat the meal. Waiting for Moshiach, waiting for Hashem's signal, is an integral principle of Yiddishkeit.

That you may see it and remember all the commandments of Hashem… and not explore after your heart and your eyes. (15:39)

Rashi cites the Midrash that teaches how Tzitzis reminds us of the mitzvos. The numerical equivalent of the Tzitzis is 600. We add to this the eight strings and five knots to arrive at a grand total of 613, which is the number of mitzvos we, as Jews, are to faithfully observe. This concept is reiterated by the commentators either through the gimatriya, numerical equivalent, or the Tzitzis acting as the Jewish uniform which indicates our allegiance to our "Commander-In-Chief." The obvious incongruity is: We do wear Tzitzis, and some of us even have the Tzitzis displayed externally, yet, it does not seem to prevent us from slipping down the slippery slope of sinful behavior. It is not as if we do not "remember" the mitzvos. We seem to have a short-lived memory. Apparently, wearing Tzitzis is not as helpful a reminder as indicated.

Horav Baruch Sorotzkin, zl, explains that "remembering" the mitzvos through the medium of Tzitzis is dependant on another condition which facilitates the memory effort. In other words, one can see Tzitzis and even derive the important lessons concerning mitzvah observance which Tzitzis has to offer, but, in order for this reminder to be effective, another condition must be fulfilled. V'lo sasuru acharei levavhem, v'acharei eineichem, "And do not explore after your heart and after your eyes after which you stray." The sequence of the pasuk implies that remembering the mitzvos has a preventative effect on straying of the heart and eyes. This is not so, for the pasuk which follows states: L'maan tizkeru va'asisem es kol mitzvosai, "So that you remember and perform all My commandments" (Ibid: 40), which implies that remembering to perform the mitzvos is the result of not straying after the heart and eyes. The Rosh Yeshivah explains that seeing is not effective, unless one expunges the desires from his heart. Remembering is no guarantee, unless the eyes are shielded.

One may be exposed to the most profound and captivating lessons, but they will have little or no long term influence, if the individual does not divest himself of his heart's desires and prevent his eyes from gazing in areas that have a deleterious spirit effect on his ability to see properly. We take sight for granted, but "what" we see and how we view it is often predicated upon our selectivity.

Horav Eliezer Silver, zl, would often relate an incident that occurred with him in a displaced persons camp following World War II. As head of Vaad Hatzalah, relief and rescue organization, he had access to the DP camps and had first-hand knowledge of what took place in the years preceding their liberation. His goal was to give both physical and spiritual sustenance to the survivors, giving them hope and bolstering their fragile emotions. He organized minyanim, quorums for daily prayer services, and provided Taleisim, Tefillin and Siddurim for the survivors' use.

In one of the camps, there was a lone Jew who absolutely refused to put on Tefillin. Nothing could convince him to ease up on his recalcitrance and pay tribute to the Almighty who allowed him to survive the purgatory of the Holocaust. He was adamant; he wanted nothing whatsoever to do with religion. Rav Silver could not ignore this person. Such an attitude clearly was the result of some pathological trauma. He had to get to the bottom of the problem. "I hear that you refuse to join the minyan, or to put on Tefillin," Rav Silver began. "I am sure that you must have a very good reason for acting this way."

"Rabbi," the survivor replied, "let me tell you why I want nothing to do with Judaism or its traditions. There was a man in my camp who was somehow able to sneak in a siddur. He would rent it daily to his Jewish brothers for half of their daily portion of bread. Can you imagine such heartlessness? To take advantage of one's brother, whose meager portion is hardly sufficient staple to provide him with nourishment, and charge half of that portion to allow him to daven with a siddur for ten minutes! Such a religion is not for me!"

Rav Silver listened intently and said, "My friend, I feel for you and I understand your pain, but permit me to ask you a question. Why do you look so negatively upon the Jew who acted with cruelty, so that he could sustain himself at the expense of his brother's spiritual devotion? Why are you not impressed with those Jews who daily gave up half of their bread, so that they could daven from a siddur for ten minutes?"

Some people see a half-empty glass, while others see one that is half-full. It is all a question of perspective. That perspective is controlled by the heart. The eyes see what the heart directs them to see. Two individuals can simultaneously observe the same incident, yet, their perceptions of what actually took place and their ramifications can be quite different. It is not in the eyes. It is in the heart!

Va'ani Tefillah

Va'yevareich David es Hashem l'einei kol ha'kahal.
And David blessed Hashem in the presence of the entire congregation.

Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, makes note of the use of the word l'einei - literally, before the eyes or in the presence of - rather than the customary lifnei - before/in front of, the people. Simply, this was done for a practical reason. Not everyone had the opportunity to hear David. The crowd was vast, and - except for those in the front - hearing was impossible without some sort of amplification, which they probably did not have. Thus, most of the assemblage relied on their eyes. They did not hear the king; they did, however, see him.

On a more profound level, Rav Schwab interprets l'einei as being related to iyun, look/delve into a subject. The tefillah that David was articulating was of such significance that even if the listeners did not, at first, understand its message, they were obligated to review it over and over until they did understand it. They should have been me'ayein, delving into its meaning, because it was of great import.

We might suggest another explanation. Ayin is also connected to me'ein, wellsprings, intimating that David wanted each listener to integrate this message into his psyche and then transmit it to the others, to the next generation. It was not only meant for those who were present, but for the einei, wellsprings, within each of the assembled, so that they employ their ability to inspire, to reach out and invigorate others with David's message.

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