Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Hashem was good to the midwives, and the people increased and became very mighty. (1:20)

The meyaldos haIvrios, Hebrew midwives, really extended themselves to save the Jewish children,but is that not what being Jewish means? These women stood up to Pharaoh's evil decree, with great risk to their own lives; thus, they were able to save countless Jewish children. The pasuk's syntax, however, seems out of order. It begins, "Hashem was good to the midwives, and the people increased and became very mighty. Because the midwives feared Hashem, He gave them houses." Rashi explains the meaning of this "good" which Hashem gave the midwives as the Houses of Priesthood that they would be of the Leviim and of Malchus, royalty. In other words, these women did not receive real estate in return for sacrificing their lives. They became the progenitors of the Houses of Kehunah, Leviah and Malchus, which is an appropriate "return" on their "investment." The problem is that, in order to explain the term, "Hashem was good [to the midwives], Rashi skips over to the next pasuk and explains that the "good" refers to these Houses. In order to do this, he includes the pasuk, "And the people increased and became very mighty," which has little to do with the "good" Hashem did to benefit the midwives.

According to Rashi, Hashem's "good," a reference to the houses that He gave them, is interrupted by the statement noting the nation's physical increase in numbers. Would it not have been simpler just to say that Hashem gave the women houses as their reward, immediately after stating that He was good to them? Then, after connecting the "good" and the "houses," the Torah could write that the nation had increased.

In his Einei Yisrael, Horav Yisrael Belsky, Shlita, quotes his father, Reb Berel Belsky, zl, a talmid, student, of the Chafetz Chaim, who suggested a fascinating explanation, which I feel is especially practical and characteristic to him. He explained that, throughout the ages, many Jews have performed numerous acts of lovingkindness with selflessness and mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, solely for the purpose of executing Hashem's will. Hashem is surely good to them, rewarding them well. A number of mitzvos incur wonderful reward in Olam Habba, the World to Come.

What about reward in this world? It is rare for someone to be fortunate enough to witness the fruits of his labor materializing in full force before his eyes. To observe the full impact of one's own benevolence, to be a part of the lives of those whom he has set on the true path to religious observance, is a reward that is both inspirational and encouraging. More often than not, one endeavors and helps those who are in material and spiritual need, but the fruits are reaped much later. He may have to leave this world before his endeavors become successful.

Occasionally, individuals partake from both "tables," who merit to see the results of their endeavors, both in this world and in the next. This was precisely the blessing received by the meyaldos. They risked their lives to save the Jewish children, and they lived long enough to see their work bloom, as Klal Yisrael turned into a strong, mighty nation. This is what the Torah means when it says, "G-d was good to the midwives, and the people increased and became very mighty." An inherent part of the "good" which Hashem granted the midwives was allowing them to see all those babies whom they had saved become the backbone of the mighty nation - Klal Yisrael. They lived to experience tremendous nachas, satisfaction, by witnessing the incredible growth of the Jewish nation - all as a result of their self-sacrifice.

And Moshe grew up and went out to his brethren and observed their burdens. And he saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man, of his brethren. (2:11)

Rashi's famous comment tells it all: Nassan einav v'libo liheyos meitzar aleihem, "He applied his eyes and heart (to see their suffering and) grieve with them." The Melitzer Rebbe, Shlita, observes that Hashem has given us a mitzvah to protect our eyes from gazing at anything that will cause us spiritual harm. V'lo sassuru acharei levavchem v'acharei eineichem, "And (do) not explore after your heart and after your eyes" (Bamidbar 15:39). To explore with our eyes can be quite dangerous to our spiritual health. This is why we are admonished concerning shemiras ha'einayim, guarding/ protecting our eyes from those areas which increase our base physical passions, causing us to stray. On the other hand, elsewhere, we are commanded not to look away, Lo suchal l'hisaleim, "You shall not hide yourself" (Devarim 22:3). One may not look away and ignore a lost article belonging to a Jew. We must stop, pick it up and return it. We have a responsibility to all Jews. Turning away our eyes does not change the fact that someone is in need. Averting our gaze will not make the need disappear.

Moshe Rabbeinu taught us that a Jew does not divert his visual awareness of another Jew's pain. It begins, va'yaar, "and he observed." If one does not look, he remains unaware. Indifference to another Jew's plight begins with a refusal to see, to observe his pain. One cannot be sensitive to what he does not see. One does not have to turn his head away intentionally, nor maliciously refuse to look at a situation. He just seems to discover new areas of frumkeit, religious observance, to occupy his mind, so that he is able to justify his indifference and insensitivity to others.

In the Talmud Sotah 21b, Chazal decry the chasid shoteh, pious fool, who refuses to pull a woman out of the water, thereby allowing her to drown. His claim that he does not look at women earns him his well-deserved appellation. The Talmud also addresses the fellow who shuts his eyes to avoid looking at women. This causes him to bloody himself as he walks into a wall.

Moshe did not allow himself this stigmatism. He looked when necessary, because he cared about his brothers. He was not looking for excuses, as so many do when they lack the fortitude to help another Jew in pain. Far be it from me to suggest that we are unsympathetic. It is just that it is easier to help when the adversity is of a conventional nature, such as illness, poverty and death. When the challenge is of a more exotic nature, such as reaching out to a Jew in trouble with the law, helping women or children who are victims of abuse, children at risk, women who are maliciously abandoned by their husbands, people tend to shy away and encourage "others" to help.

This double-standard is not innovative. It was already in vogue in Moshe's time. Moshe was certainly not the first person to behold a Jew being beaten by an Egyptian. He was the only one who stopped and took issue with it. What happened to everybody else? Where were all of the other Jews? Did they not see what Moshe saw? Horav Gamiliel Rabinowitz, Shlita, explains that it was no secret that Jews were being persecuted by the Egyptian aggressors. Moshe distinguished himself by the fact that he viewed each and every Jew as achiv, his brother. The Torah alludes to this when it writes, "And he saw an Egyptian striking a Hebrew man, of his brethren." One usually gets involved when family is suffering. I underscore "usually," because it is not always true. Some people turn their backs even on close family. It may not be the norm, but, sadly, it is true.

Vayeitzei el echav, "And (he) went out to his brethren." The reason Moshe left the comfort and isolation of the royal palace was that his brethren were suffering. He felt a brotherly kinship to them which inspired him to help them. When we turn our collective backs on a fellow Jew or Jewess, we must remember that he is our brother; she is our sister. If we continue ignoring them - the problem is with us - not them. We have lost our kinship with the Jewish People. We should view Jewish issues as family issues, Jewish problems as family problems. We must open up our eyes - not close them, hoping the problem will go away. Sadly, it does not go away until someone with courage and sensitivity becomes involved.

Moshe replied to Hashem… I am not a man of words, not since yesterday, not since the day before yesterday, nor since You first spoke to your servant. (4:10)

Rashi notes that this was the seventh day of Moshe Rabbeinu's dialogue with Hashem. Moshe's reluctance to assume the leadership of Klal Yisrael was because he did not want to arrogate himself over his older brother, Aharon, who was a Navi, Prophet, and the present leader of the people. The Yalkut Shimoni quotes Moshe, "Until I stood here, my brother, Aharon, had been prophesizing for the last eighty years. Now I should come into his perimeter? I should be his adversary and cause him pain?" Hashem replied, "You will neither be his adversary, nor will you cause him pain. Indeed, Aharon will be overjoyed with your acceptance."

Chazal teach us that Moshe was concerned about Aharon's feelings. Indeed, if Hashem would not have assuaged his concerns, telling him that Aharon was in agreement, Moshe would not have accepted the nation's leadership - and he would have been justified! This is mind-boggling! An entire nation is enslaved. Hashem "asks" Moshe to take the reins of leadership, to play a role in the people's liberation, and Moshe politely refuses, because he does not want to hurt his older brother's feelings - and he is warranted in doing so! This teaches us the overriding significance of another Jew's feelings. Halachah demands that we be cognizant of our fellow's feelings. We may do nothing to impinge on another person's sensitivities. This applies even if we are in the course of executing a mitzvah - even one as lofty as saving the Jewish nation from bondage! Is this reasonable? Should one Jew's feelings dominate over a mitzvah, over saving the Jewish nation?

While there is no question that a Jew's emotions play a critical role in whatever endeavor he undertakes, it is the halachah that cannot be accommodated, repealed in any way. Halachah is the foundation of our People. It is the very discipline that maintains our commitment to Hashem. Halachah does not brook any compromise. To undermine halachah is to impugn the integrity of our relationship with Hashem.

In his commentary to the pasuk (in Bircas Yaakov, the blessings of Yaakov Avinu, prior to his death), Lo yassur shevet miYehudah, "The scepter shall not depart from Yehudah" (Bereishis 49:10), Ramban writes: "This blessing grants monarchy over the Jewish nation to the tribe of Yehudah - under all circumstances. No one is to infringe upon their leadership." He observes: "This was the reason for the punishment of the Chashmonaim who ruled during the Second Temple. Despite their righteousness, and the fact that without them Torah would have been forgotten from the Jewish People, they were punished." The monarchy must remain in the hands of Shevet Yehudah.

Clearly, these chasidei Elyon, exalted pious ones, acted l'shem Shomayim, for Heaven's sake. They had no ulterior motives. Apparently, if they undertook to lead, it was because there was no one else suitable for the position. What else should they have done? Nonetheless, they were punished. They transgressed a halachah. Monarchy belongs to Yehudah. They should have found another way to save the nation, rather than assuming its monarchy. Once again, we see that if the intended mitzvah impinges upon someone's sensitivities, if it does not consummately adhere to halachic standards, it is no longer a mitzvah. Does not the end, however, justify the means? Does not an entire nation's Torah study and mitzvah observance merit some leniency? The following Torah thought from the Brisker Rav, zl, cited by Sichah Naeh, as being cited by the Tolner Rebbe, Shlita, in Heimah Yanchuni, should give us deeper insight, as well as buttress the idea that a mitzvah must be carried out in its purest form without any taint - regardless of its nature or validity.

In the Talmud Bava Metzia 85b, Chazal relate that Eliyahu HaNavi would frequent the Mesivta of Rebbi. One Rosh Chodesh, Eliyahu arrived late. Rebbi asked, "What is the reason Master is late?" Eliyahu replied that he had been unusually preoccupied: "By the time I awoke Avraham [Avinu] (the state of death experienced by the righteous is considered as merely a slumber. Thus, if they are awakened, they must first wash their hands prior to praying. Obviously, this passage of Talmud is replete with esoteric meaning and implication) and washed his hands and prayed, and did the same for Yitzchak [Avinu] and Yaakov [Avinu], it was already late." Chazal explain that Eliyahu did not wake them all up at once, because if all three Patriarchs had prayed at once, their prayer would have had such efficacy that they would have caused Moshiach to come before his proper time. Rebbi then asked Eliyahu, "Is there anyone alive in this world whose prayer is as effective?" Eliyahu replied, "Yes, there are Rabbi Chiya and his sons." Rebbi decreed a fast, and he placed Rabbi Chiya and his sons before the Amud, Lectern. This is in following with the halachah that on a public fast day, three people are placed before the Amud. (This fast day was "arranged" by Rebbi as an excuse to bring Rabbi Chiya and his sons together in prayer.)

During Chazaras Ha'Shatz, repetition of the Shemoneh Esrai, when Rabbi Chiya said Mashiv ha'ruach, "He makes the wind blow," a wind blew. When he said, Morid ha'geshem, "He brings down the rain" rain descended. As he was about to say Mechayeh ha'meisim, "He restores life to the dead," the world suddenly shook. Chazal continue that Heaven prevented Rabbi Chiya from going further. Tosfos questions the use of Rabbi Chiya as Shliach Tzibur, to lead the prayer service. It has been decided that one whose articulation of certain Hebrew words is deficient should not lead the service. Therefore, people who lived in Haifa or Bais Shaan, who did not distinguish between the sounds of an aleph and ayin were not sent up to be chazzan. If so, why was Rav Chiya permitted to lead the service? Apparently, he did not distinguish between the sounds of a hay and a ches. They reply that this applies only in the event that another chazzan is available to lead the service. If no one else can lead, we use whomever we can get. Rabbi Chiya was unique in that no one else had the ability to achieve his exalted level of prayer. He was in a league all by himself.

The Brisker Rav has difficulty with Tosfos' question. This was a one-time opportunity, unprecedented in history, to bring about the advent of the Final Redemption. Is this a time to concern ourselves if the chazzan properly pronounces the hay? This teaches us, explains the Brisker Rav, that if the action we are about to take does not absolutely one-hundred percent conform with halachah, it is not done - even if this means delaying the Final Redemption for thousands of years! Halachah may neither be pushed aside, nor belittled. It is our lifeline, our strongest sense of discipline, and our connection with the Divine.

In today's highly-technological society, concern for the feelings of our fellow is not at a premium. We move at a faster pace and have less time for face-to-face, person-to-person relationships. We say "good morning" to thirty people at one time via text, and we neither offer a smile, nor care to receive one in return. There was a time when people did concern themselves with the feelings of others. While this may sound cynical, it is not meant to be. It is, regrettably, the truth. I had the good fortune to read the following two inspirational stories in Rabbi Yisrael Besser's Warmed by the Fire. While the stories took place involving gedolei Yisrael, I think it was their attitude and concern for others that elevated their gadol status even more.

It was Purim evening in the Yeshivah Gedolah of Montreal. In anticipation of the many times that Haman's name would be publicly read from the Megillah, the bachurim, students, hid a tape recorder that made numerous strange noises in the ceiling. Each time the name of Haman was read, they would activate it, to the hilarious laughter of all the students. The Rosh Yeshivah, Horav Mordechai Weinberg, zl, was visibly upset. He halted the Megillah reading, concerned lest he miss hearing the reading of a word, and sought out the source of the strange noises.

The Rosh Yeshivah's agitation continued, even after the Megillah reading had concluded. Later, someone asked him why he had been so anxious; after all, it had only been a joke. The Rosh Yeshivah's response teaches us volumes about his concern for a fellow Jew: "To you, perhaps it was a joke - a joke that would delay the reading of the Megillah. To Reb Mordche (an elderly mispallel, worshipper, in the yeshivah, who was also a Holocaust survivor), who does not allow himself to sit down in a bais ha'medrash and who has been fasting all day because it is Taanis Esther, Fast of Esther, it is not so funny. To him, your five minutes of laughter may not be so funny. To him, five minutes may be critical. And you wonder why I am upset!"

The second episode occurred concerning Horav Elazar M. Shach, zl, during one of his brilliant shiurim, lectures. Rav Shach's shiur was an experience to behold, as hundreds of students would sit there spellbound, while they observed the unfolding of the extraordinary gaon's thought process. His depth was without peer, the fruits of diligence, perseverance and sheer brilliance. One day, as the Rosh Yeshivah was giving the shiur, he paused in mid-sentence, as if trying to recall something. The room was still - not a sound was uttered - nobody moved. Rav Shach was thinking. He said, "I know that Rav Akiva Eiger discussed this issue someplace, but, for some reason, I cannot seem to pinpoint it. Is there anyone here who knows where Rav Akiva Eiger discusses this subject?"

Immediately, everyone began to speak. The most distinguished students all searched their minds, looking for the elusive commentary of Rav Akiva Eiger - which the Rosh Yeshivah did not know! There was no resolution. Suddenly, from the back row, a talmid, student, walked up to the lectern carrying in his hand a Teshuvas Rav Akiva Eiger, and, with great confidence, presented it to Rav Shach. Voila! The Rosh Yeshivah's eyes flashed with delight. "Reuven," albeit a good student, was not the most distinguished - but the smile that Rav Shach gave him was priceless. It elevated his esteem before the entire student body of Ponevez. "Reuven" returned to his seat in the back of the bais ha'medrash a changed person.

One student in the bais ha'medrash, Akiva, Reuven's chavrusa, study partner, had a deeper insight into what had just taken place. Apparently, Reuven had been seriously involved in a shidduch, matrimonial match, with a fine, young woman, and it had recently broken off. He had thought that he was getting engaged. She let him know otherwise. Reuven was devastated, sitting in his room for a few days following the breakup. Word reached the Rosh Yeshivah, whose concern for his students was legend. The Rosh Yeshiva carried the nation's ills on his shoulders, but it did not distract him from his self-imposed responsibility to his talmidim.

Rav Shach summoned Akiva to his office and asked him about Reuven's "progress" in getting over his mishap. Akiva explained that, while he was going to seder, his heart was not in it. He remained depressed, his self-esteem having taken a major hit. Rav Shach thought for a moment and said, Mir darfen em freilich machen, "We must gladden him."

The very next day, as Rav Shach was preparing to enter his office prior to the shiur, he once again summoned Akiva and asked him what they were learning that day. Akiva mentioned that they had come across an interesting commentary by Rav Akiva Eiger. Rav Shach stopped him, "Hold it right there. Perfect."

For days after Reuven pointed out the Rav Akiva Eiger to Rav Shach, students would pass him by with looks of admiration and perhaps a bit of envy. After all, how often does one have the opportunity to show the Rosh Yeshivah a commentary that had "slipped" his mind? We now have an idea regarding the extent of caring for another fellow's feelings.

Va'ani Tefillah

and write on the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.

We take the mezuzah affixed to our doorpost for granted. For those of us who make the effort to kiss it, it is often expeditiously, without much forethought or intent. It is just something which we are used to doing. The other day, while speaking to someone who was about to have a mezuzah affixed to his office door for the very first time, he asked me to explain the exact significance of having a mezuzah on one's doorpost. First, it is a mitzvah. This alone lends it significance. As for reasons, I told him the following: the mezuzah is a sign on the house which declares that the house and everything therein belongs to Hashem. They all are dedicated to Him in such a way that is pleasing to Him. It is our way of saying, "Thank you," to Hashem. Indeed, it is very much like the brachah, blessing, we make over food. Without acknowledging and thanking Hashem for the food, we hardly have the right to partake of it. Next, whenever we enter or leave the house, we are reminded that we are Jews and that wherever we may be, whether at home or at work, we must live up to the ideals and values which set Judaism apart from the rest of the world's religions. Last, the mezuzah protects the home. With its parchment containing the sacred words of the Shema, it serves as the ever-watchful and faithful guardian of the Jewish home, blessing it with health, harmony and happiness.

l'ilui nishmas ha'isha ha'chashuva
Rivka Tova Devora
bas R' Chaim Yosef Meir a"h
niftar 21 Teves 5760
Menachem Shmuel and Roiza Devora Solomon

In memory of Mrs. Toby Salamon a"h

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

The Fifteenth 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