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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


They were all distinguished men; heads of Bnei Yisrael were they. (13:3)

There are many episodes in the Torah which are not easy to explain; yet, we try to explain them. The chet ha'meraglim, sin of the spies, is an aveirah, collective sin, which begs elucidation. Once we understand the sin, acknowledge its ramifications, and prepare for the consequences of its actions, we still must focus on its origin. Why did we act this way? What compels us to sin? How have we changed?

Much has been written concerning the chet ha'meraglim. While the actual sin has been addressed, the "why" needs to be explained. These were no ordinary men. These were holy Jews, leaders of the nation, Princes of Yisrael. To ascribe sin to them is farfetched. How did men of such noble stature, men of spiritual distinction, commit spiritual suicide which caused them to lose both worlds? The dream of entering Eretz Yisrael became their nightmare, and Olam Habba, the World to Come, was also taken from them.

The Zohar Hakadosh makes what seems to be an ambiguous statement: Kulam anashim, "All of them, men" - worthy men, heads of the nation. They convinced themselves to accept faulty advice. Why did they accept misplaced, misguided and erroneous counsel? (Why would well-meaning intelligent men of stature accept a recommendation that ran counter to everything which they believed to be true?) They conjectured: If we enter the Holy Land, we will lose our leadership positions. Moshe Rabbeinu will transfer our positions to others who will be appointed in our stead. We are worthy of leadership in the wilderness. (In the land, it becomes an entirely new story. There, we will not be leaders.) Since they followed this distorted line of thinking, they ended up sinning, so that they perished in the wilderness.

The Zohar seems to minimize their sin. The Torah presents their sin as rebellious in nature. Ach b'Hashem al timrodu, "But against Hashem, do not mutiny" (Bamidbar 14:9). The Zohar presents them not as mutineers, but as selfish leaders whose entire focus was on themselves and their loss of position upon entering the Land. They were transgressors, but not rebellious. What is the Zohar implying?

Horav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, zl, suggests that the Zohar is not addressing the extent of the sin, but rather, is focusing on its origin and how the aforementioned distinguished Princes of Yisrael plummeted to such a nadir of iniquity. He demarcates between two types of authority: the menahel, director/manager; and the manhig, leader who guides. There are instances in which a leader guides from an office, making decisions which are executed by others. There are managers who innovate, who do not actually themselves follow the directive issued from above. In unique circumstances, we have a hands-on leader who is prepared to take hold of the rudder and steer the ship.

Their positions are essentially different from one another. The menahel is someone trained to steer the ship, manage the business. He is able to achieve the necessary goal of the operation which he is directing. He is trained in carrying out the planned mission according to the prepared blueprint. When it is necessary to change course, to adopt a new initiative, to pioneer new vistas, to travel through unchartered waters, the menahel is often at a loss for such an undertaking; a manhig, true innovative leader, is required.

The manhig is a man of initiative, passion, drive, charisma, who can rally the troops as he charts new frontiers for his charges. The manhig is endowed with a Heavenly inspiration which allows him to transcend - and even grow from - his challenges. The obstacles that block the path of the manhig are actually opportunities which enable him to apply his unique powers of innovation for greater growth and development.

Having distinguished between these two forms of leadership, Rav Weinberg analyzes the statement in the Zohar Hakadosh concerning the meraglim. It is not as if they feared losing their position of leadership upon entering Eretz Yisrael. This was not a selfish - almost insecure - decision. Their sin was not comprised of fear borne of diffidence; or apprehension resulting from being troubled and unconfident. This was not their sin. It was, however, the reason that they lost their ability to lead. Their apprehension led to abdicating their positions as manhigim. They were now on the menahel level. As menahalim, they could successfully carry out their mission in the wilderness. Leadership in Eretz Yisrael would demand much more of them - something for which they were no longer equipped. A manhig must have the ability to rise up over personal interests which becloud his decision. It is all about his flock - never about himself. The meraglim could no longer claim that it was all only about the people. Thus, they were no longer permitted to lead.

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

Probably the most common catalyst for sinful behavior is low self-esteem, which is often the precursor of depression. While depression alone is not a sin, it leads one to commit the most egregious transgressions. When one thinks ill of himself, he has little reason to act positively. After all, who cares? This, explains the Kotzker Rebbe, zl, was the motivation for the sin perpetrated by the meraglim, spies. They felt worthless; they had no chance of overcoming such a strong nation. Their negativity was infectious, causing the entire nation to feel bereft of their leadership. They all began to cry. It was a bechiah shel chinam, unwarranted weeping. There was no reason to cry. It was all in their minds. As a result, they lost their will to fight, to go on. They were defeated before they had fired the first shot.

So many of us fear taking that necessary plunge, because we are afraid of failure. Rather than fail, we do not even make the attempt at trying to succeed. As a result, we go through life existing, not living, never achieving our potential. On a tombstone in the country is etched: "Here lies so and so - born 1810 - died 1890 - lived fifty years." How telling an inscription! A man lived a life, but for thirty years he did absolutely nothing. Why? He was probably too depressed. Hashem gave him the precious gift of life, and he wasted it.

The depressed person is also quite selfish. He thinks that it is all about him. If he does not sense success, then he has no interest in moving forward, regardless of the impact on others. The meraglim acted that way. They felt like grasshoppers, so why not make everybody else feel similarly? After a day's hunting in India, a young Englishman, whose shooting skills left much to be desired, commented to his Indian attendant, "I guess I did not do too well today." The young man was quite the diplomat. He replied, "The young sahib shot very well, but G-d was very merciful to the birds." There are two sides to every story, two perspectives to every situation. While it may be true that the situation is not in one's control, it does not have to be due to his ineptitude. It could be because the other fellow is finally having a good day. When you think about it, often the one who is depressed - just wants to be that way.

There is a well-known comment attributed to an unknown author that goes something like this: "One day fortune knocked on a fellow's door. Sadly, the fellow did not hear it. He was over at his neighbor's house relating his latest hard luck story." We are so busy complaining, that we ignore the subtle messages that would provide relief and generate good cheer. Veritably, some of us would not know how to react to good fortune.

One who has low self-esteem obviously has little connection to Hashem. His emunah is clearly deficient. One whose faith in the Almighty is unequivocal always believes that things will either change for the better, or that Hashem's reason for placing him in his current situation is overwhelmingly justified. The fact that he does not understand it now has no bearing on Hashem's reasoning. Perhaps, a most sobering lesson can be derived from the unique brachah, blessing, that women recite daily: She'asani Kirtzono, "That He made me according to His Will." This blessing, although recited only by women, has a powerful message for men, as well. Every person should seek self-understanding and self-acceptance. It does not have to be as we would like it; rather, it is as Hashem wants it, and we should, thus, be happy to accept it.

We are all born with varied levels of acumen, physical attributes and capacities. We must all learn how to make the best of what has been allotted to us, without complaining why "he" has it better or easier. Our concern should not be regarding others, but regarding ourselves. The world was not created to nurture our inflated egos. Many of us are destined to struggle with challenge and adversity throughout our lives. She'asani Kirtzono teaches us to reject bitterness, transcend depression, embrace hope and seek joy in every aspect of our lives.

The Kotzker Rebbe, zl, said, "Hashem cannot be deceived; one's neighbor may not be deceived; and one who deceives himself - deceives a fool." One of the most difficult tasks for man is to face himself, to resolve the personal conflicts which tend to absorb his time and energy. We must take a sober and honest look at our capacities, as well as at our shortcomings. There is no greater betrayal than self-deception.

Veritably, many in today's society whose faith has lapsed suffer from a lack of genuine understanding of "themselves." They have lost their connection with true reality, resorting to living their lives surrounded by materialism, steeped in physicality, basically living in a vacuum. Jewish history, uniqueness, pride are of no meaning. Is it any wonder that, when one has no sense of self, depression sets in?

A Jew without hope is missing an essential component of his Jewish DNA. Hope is an inherent part of the Jewish psyche. We do not give up hope. This is why we are called Yehudim, after Yehudah the brother who, when it appeared hopeless and the other brothers were cowering before Yosef, moved forward. He did not throw in the towel. This is how the commentators view Yehudah's bold approach toward Yosef.

Rav Yissachar Frand, Shlita, quotes the Izhbitzer Rebbe, zl, who explains the destructive effect of abandoning hope. He cites one of the most famous sugyos, topics, in Meseches Bava Metzia; yiush, giving up hope concerning a lost article. When a person loses an article, it does not mean he has lost ownership over it. It is still his until he has given up hope of ever finding it. Thus, anyone who finds the article must return it. It reverts back to its original owner.

The Rebbe wonders why a lost object is still considered the property of its owner. He cannot use it. He derives no benefit from it. What connection does he have to it? Why is it considered his property?

The Izhbitzer explains that one significant connection continues to exist between the owner and the article: hope. As long as the owner harbors hope that he will recover his article, it remains his in the full sense of the term. If, however, he feels a sense of yiush, hopelessness; if he abandons hope of every recovering the article, then his connection to it has been severed. Whoever finds it, may keep it. It no longer has an owner.

The Rebbe explains that a similar idea applies to a person who has become seriously ill and is in need of a major refuah sheleimah, complete recovery. If Hashem has created the illness, obviously He has also created an antidote, a therapeutic refuah, that will deliver a complete recovery. We must connect to this refuah if we are to beat this illness. As long as we hold out hope of discovering that cure - regardless of the challenges involved - then we maintain our connection to the refuah. If, however, we lose hope, we have also lost the refuah. It has slipped away when we "severed" its mooring.

It was this feeling of worthlessness and self-generated hopelessness which destroyed the Jewish People during that night that has gone down in infamy, the night that eventually became our national day of mourning: Tishah B'Av. The people threw in the towel; they gave up hope and wept bitter tears for no reason. Their weeping has accompanied our nation through its tumultuous history. Whenever we cry out, "We are unable"; "We cannot," we demonstrate our sense of yiush, our lack of faith in the Almighty.

Last, when a person acts with deep faith, pride and strength of commitment, his attitude becomes infectious. Not only do others emulate his actions, he becomes respected by those around him. He becomes a leader by virtue of his stalwart pride. When a person realizes Whom he is serving, what he is about to perform, the deeper meaning of his lifestyle, he becomes elevated in the eyes of those who observe him. One should never be concerned about what others think of him, but what message he is conveying to them. If he is proud of his Yahadus, Judaism, they will respect him. If he is not - well, he is not really worthy of respect.

And Who cleanses - but does not cleanse completely, recalling the iniquity of parents upon children. (14:18)

Children are held to task for the iniquities of their parents. Is this fair? Let each generation pay for its own sins - not those of its predecessors. We have enough to deal with from our own mistakes, why should we be responsible to pay for those of our parents? Chazal explain that this unique form of reparation applies when banim ochazin b'maaseh avosam, "Children maintain their father's iniquities." The son will be punished when he continues actively to expand and extol his father's egregious behavior. Still, is this a reason for the son to pay for his father's sins? The son should pay for his personal sins - not those of his father.

In his commentary to the Torah, Va'Yomar Avraham, Horav Avraham HaLevi Patael, zl, explains this with a well-known analogy. A hungry wolf sought his evening's dinner. He came upon a fox, who, although one of Creation's wiliest animals, was nothing more than a meal ticket for the wolf. The wolf was ravenous and prepared to partake of the fox's flesh, when the crafty fox asked the wolf, "Sir, why would you settle for such a meager meal? You know that I am not a large animal. You could probably consume me in just a few bites. You see that large, plump human being over there - well, that's who you should have for dinner. If you want a satisfying meal, you will sink your chops into his succulent flesh and enjoy. Why waste your time and energy on the slim pickings that you will have from eating me?"

It seemed like rational response, but the wolf was not quite as dumb as the fox would have believed. "It is forbidden for us (animals) to devour human flesh. We must stick to the animal species. Human beings are off limits."

The fox was not one to be at a loss: "Do not fret. The punishment will not be meted out to you. If you sin, the punishment will be extracted from your children. You can rest easy; have your cake and eat it. Your children will be paying the bill - not you."

The trusting wolf took one look at the plump human being and was immediately seduced by the fox's guile. He made an about-face and charged at the man. He was ravenous and was not about to rely on stealth in attacking. Little did he realize that his intended prey was quite adept, not only at protecting himself, but also, in preparing a covert trap to ensnare any animal that might disturb his peace. The wolf fell into a deep pit and broke many of his bones in the fall. He lay there in pain, all broken and bloodied. He began to wail and scream from pain. He understood that his end was near.

The fox sauntered by, peered into the pit, and, with a gleam in his eyes, greeted the wolf. "Can I do something to help you? You appear to be in pain," he said in all innocence.

"Liar! You filthy liar! You said that only my son would be punished - not I. Look what happened to me!" the wolf cried out.

The fox waited patiently before replying, "You are a fool. Do you not know that the punishment that you just received is because of your father! I told you that you had nothing to worry about your sins, but I never said anything about your father's iniquity."

The wolf began to scream, "How is it possible? Why should I suffer because of my father's iniquitous actions? I did nothing; he should pay for his sins - not me!"

The fox laughed, "A few minutes ago, you were prepared to devour a human being, despite the fact that you were acutely aware that your son would be punished for your actions. If you are willing to sin and allow your descendants to make reparations - then you must be prepared to stand in for your father's actions. You cannot have it both ways."

We now understand why children are punished for the sins of their parents - if they perpetrate their parents' sordid behavior. They know that, by their actions, they are setting their own children up for failure. When they sin, they are aware that the onus of guilt might possibly be placed on the shoulders of their children. Yet, this does not serve as a deterrent. They continue on with the lessons in iniquitous behavior which they learned from their parents. Thus, they actually receive exactly what they deserve.

For some people, their children are their only deterrent from sin. For others, regrettably, even their children do not prevent them from acting in a manner unbecoming a Torah Jew. Whether it involves dubious financial dealings or scurrilous moral behavior, it leaves children open to the stigma of guilt by association. Why should a child suffer because a parent has acted contemptibly? Life is difficult enough; growing up and developing into a proper ben Torah is filled with challenges. Why should we add to them?

And they found a man gathering wood on the Shabbos day… and they pelted him with stones. (15:32,36)

The mekoshesh eitzim, wood gatherer, who was the first mechalel Shabbos, desecrator of Shabbos, was executed by stoning. The Torah writes, Vayirgemu oso b'avanim, "And they pelted him with stones," in the plural. Interestingly, when the mekallel, blasphemer, was executed by stoning, the Torah writes, Viyirgemu oso even, "And they stoned him to death," in the singular (Vayikra 24:23). What is the reason for this change in the Torah's vernacular?

This question was asked of the Chidushei HaRim when he was a young boy. Known as a child prodigy, Rabbinic leaders would often pepper him with difficult questions to see how the young genius would respond. When posed with this question, the young child's eyes lit up as he gave his reply, "I remember that the Baalei Tosfos in the Talmud Bava Basra 119b cite the Midrash which contends that the mekoshesh's intention was l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven," the child began. "Apparently, the people were grumbling that, since Hashem decreed that no one would enter Eretz Yisrael due to their participation in the sin of the meraglim, they should not bother performing mitzvos. The mekoshesh sought to disprove their baseless reasoning by desecrating Shabbos, thereby incurring the death penalty. This would teach the people that everyone must perform mitzvos. Not being granted access to Eretz Yisrael is certainly no excuse for ignoring mitzvos.

"As a result of their faulty reasoning, there were Jews who, upon being instructed to stone the mekoshesh, were hesitant about it. They harbored second thoughts, thinking to themselves that perhaps the mekoshesh was not such a bad guy after all. His intentions were noble. He wanted to teach the nation an important lesson. Who knows how many lives he had saved by his commission of a sin? Therefore, when Klal Yisrael stoned the mekoshesh, not everyone was on the same page concerning the man's culpability. Some must have felt that he deserved a reward - certainly not stoning. Thus, the Torah uses the plural to describe the stoning. There was a strong difference of opinion among the executioners.

"Concerning the blasphemer, the consensus of emotion was all proactive. This man's actions warranted the death penalty. He has blasphemed Hashem's Name. Everyone was on the same page concerning this sinner. Thus, the Torah records the stoning in the singular."

Va'ani Tefillah

V'limaditem osam es b'neichem l'dabeir bam…L'maan yirbu yimeichem… kiyimei HaShomayim Al ha'aretz.
You shall teach them to your children to discuss them… in order to prolong your days… like the days of the Heaven over the earth.

What is the relationship between teaching one's son Torah and the reward of lengthening of one's days, "like the days of Heaven over the earth"?

Horav Yissachar Dov, zl, m'Belz, explains this based upon the well-known concept that Torah, mitzvos and the performance of good deeds generate reward only as long as one is alive in this world. When one has gone to his eternal rest, it is all over. The clock stops. He is now about to receive his reward. If, however, one has left over sons or students whom he has inspired, then all of the Torah study, mitzvah performance and the execution of good deeds are accumulated in his merit. He receives reward for their actions, since he played a role in spurring them on. Thus, even after one has passed on, his reward accumulation clock is still ticking. This is what the pasuk is teaching us. When you teach your sons to study Torah, then you will achieve true longevity in the Heaven over the earth. Even when you are in Heaven, concerning your ability to earn reward, it will be considered as if you are still on earth. This is true longevity. It is not granted; it is earned.

In memory
Robert and Barbara Pinkis
R' Baruch Gimpel ben Chaim Yehuda z"l
and his wife Esther Chana bas R' Avigdor a"h

Michele and Marcelo Weiss and Family
Lisa and Eric Pinkis and Family

Peninim on the Torah is in its 20th year of publication. The first fifteen years have been published in book form.

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