Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Yosef died, and all his brothers and that entire generation. (1:6)

Sforno comments that, as long as any member of the original generation that had descended with Yaakov Avinu to Egypt was still alive, the present generation was able to maintain the proper spiritual level. Once they were gone, however, the spiritual decline which led to slavery and persecution accelerated. In his commentary to Shemos 6:16, Rashi teaches that, as long as a member of the original group of immigrants was alive, the Jews enjoyed freedom. The slavery commenced with the demise of the last one. This seems inconsistent with Rashi's commentary to the beginning of Parashas Vayechi (Bereishis 47:28), where he describes Vayechi as a parsha setumah, closed parsha. He explains that the lack of the nine-letter spacing that usually divides the previous parsha (Vayigash) from the next one reflects a condition which teaches us something about the Jewish People's mood when the Patriarch died. At that moment their hearts were "closed", in anticipation of the persecution and suffering that would be their lot immediately following his death. If, in fact, the shibud, enslavement, did not begin until everyone had passed on, why were they so overcome by the exile? Indeed, Yaakov sought to reveal to them the source of hope, the end to the exile, but was prevented from doing so by Hashem. Were they enslaved - or not?

Horav Dov Schwartzman, zl, distinguishes between two forms of shibud, enslavement. The Torah teaches us, Vayechi Yaakov b'eretz Mitrayim, "And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt." What does "living" in Egypt mean? The Rosh Yeshivah explains that Yaakov Avinu lo meis, "Yaakov did not die." An eternal trait of our Patriarch, Yaakov, transcends the galus, bitter exile. This ability to rise above the exile, to maintain a sense of fidelity to Hashem, to continue hoping for redemption and waiting for it daily, is intrinsic to Vayechi Yaakov. The Patriarch saw beyond the pain, perceived beyond the troubles, because his life source was Hashem. Yaakov's inextricable bond to the Almighty was an enduring quality, which he infused in his descendants throughout the generations. Vayechi Yaakov b'eretz Mitzrayim is the catchphrase for Jewish transcendence in the diaspora, for the almost daily confrontation with adversity and pain. This emotion comprises our generative force that keeps us strong and committed despite the overwhelming challenges which confront us at every turn.

Rashi alludes to the idea that our parsha is closed due to two factors: The eyes and heart of the people became closed in response to the upcoming enslavement; Yaakov wanted to reveal the end of the exile to his descendants, and his "access" was blocked. If the shibud had not yet commenced, why were the people so "closed"? Apparently, two aspects to the exile/enslavement existed. With Yaakov's passing, an aspect of shibud Mitzrayim began, which may be referred to as timtum ha'lev, "stuffed/oppressed heart." Depression, hopelessness, is a symptom of timtum ha'lev. When Yaakov was alive, the Egyptians had no adverse influence over the Jews. He lived - and infused his family - with life, hope and optimism. Once Yaakov was gone, the Egyptians began to enslave the Jews. This does not mean that there was actual slavery. It is just that the Egyptian mindset took over their lives. They no longer expressed the emotions of hope for the future, and joy of life in the present that had infused them when the Patriarch had been alive.

Shibud malchiyos, enslavement by (gentile) monarchies, is a term which describes the Jew under the influence of the gentile nations; subject to their mindset, culture, habits and lifestyle. The Jew loses his uniqueness, his individuality, his independence, his Jewish selfhood. This is what is meant by the eyes and heart of the Jews were closed due to the troubles of the enslavement.

The second reason that our parsha is designated a parsha setumah is that Yaakov was prevented from revealing the end of the exile. The Rosh Yeshivah explains that it was not simply the end of the Egyptian exile which he wanted to reveal, because this was no secret. Four hundred years, which began with the Bris bein HaBesarim, Covenant Between the Parts, was the timespan allotted for the Egyptian exile. It was the end to all exiles, the Final Redemption, which Yaakov wanted to share with his children, but it was blocked to him.

Revealing the end to our tzaros, troubles, by extension, also indicates to us what is incumbent upon us to do, so that this event takes place in the nearest future. Thus, Yaakov's children would develop an acute understanding of their obligations in this life. What happened? Why did he stop? The Shechinah, Divine Presence, left him. This means that Hashem veiled the means for effecting the Redemption in a cloak of ambiguity. The people knew that the Redemption would occur. How - and when - was not revealed. We will just have to continue acting appropriately by focusing upon our responsibility and obligation to Hashem while we are in this world, never giving up hope and never ceasing from trying to bring about an end to our galus.

She saw him, the boy, and behold! A youth was crying… and (she) said, "This is one of the Hebrew boys." (2:6)

Pharaoh's daughter looked at the infant in the basket and noticed something unusual about the manner in which the infant wept. This made her assume that it was a Jewish infant. What about the infant's weeping spurred her to think that it was Jewish? The Slonimer Rebbe, zl, explains that, indeed, a marked difference exits between the cry of a Jew and the cry of one who is not. Rather than go right to the distinction, I would like to approach it from the vantage point of Tishah B'Av, our national day of mourning.

Every Festival has its cheftzah d'mitzvah, "object of mitzvah," which is intrinsic to and personifies the Festival: Pesach has its Matzah and other Pesach/Seder-related foods; Succos has the Succah, and Arba Minim, Four Species; Shavuos is all about the Torah; Rosh Hashanah, the Shofar; Chanukah, the Menorah; Purim the Megillah. What about Tishah B'Av? What is its cheftzah d'mitzvah? I recently saw suggested that the object of mitzvah for Tishah B'Av is tears. Our weeping is our avodah, service, which we render on that day. By grieving for the loss of the Bais Hamikdash, we actually "celebrate" Tishah B'Av! Interestingly, on this day reserved for grief and mourning, the halachah is clear that one does not recite Tachanun, which, translated literally, means supplication. On days of joy, such as Shabbos and Festivals, it is not proper to pray for specific needs or to recall sad thoughts. Tachanun is, therefore, omitted on days of celebration of joy and contentment. Tishah B'Av is referred to as a moed, which, although translated as an appointed meeting time, is a term used to refer to the Moadim, Festivals. Why should Tishah B'Av be included amongst these Moadim? What do they have in common?

Horav Yaakov Meir Shechter, Shlita, explains that Tishah B'Av is a day of hope for the Jewish People. Inarguably, the mere fact that we are enjoined to "celebrate" this day with profound weeping and mourning over the loss of our Temple is an indication that there is hope for salvation. Certainly, one does not cry over the past, which cannot be rectified. Why cry over spilled milk? Why would an intelligent person weep over something that is lost and gone forever? Since Chazal want us to weep, they must have had another idea in mind. They viewed Tishah B'Av from an altogether different vantage point. They saw hope; they perceived rebuilding amidst joy and return to Hashem as we had experienced in happier times. We are: crying out of hope; crying for salvation; crying for Revelation of the Divine Presence, as we had once experienced it. Intrinsic to the tears of pain is the hope that they engender. This is what the Navi means by Kara Alai moed, "He proclaimed a set time against Me" (Eichah 1:15). Tishah B'Av is a day on which we rendezvous with G-d, a day of challenge and hope. On Tishah B'Av, we see that we matter to G-d. He awaits our return. Indeed, Chazal say that Moshiach will be born on Tishah B'Av. Amidst our weeping, hope engenders salvation.

Returning to our opening question as to how Bisyah, daughter of Pharaoh, deduced the infant's pedigree from the manner in which he cried. She perceived that these were tears of hope - not resignation. Moshe cried like a Jew, and a Jew never gives up hope. From the tears, she saw that he was no ordinary child. He was miyaldei ha'Ivirm, from the Hebrew boys.

The boy grew up and she brought him to the daughter of Pharaoh and he was a son to her. She called his name Moshe, as she said, "For I drew him from the water." (2:10)

The well-known Midrash at the beginning of Sefer Shemos states: "By your life! (Hashem is speaking to Moshe). From amongst all of the names that were called (given) to you, I will only refer to you by the name given to you by Bisyah bas Pharaoh. Thus, it is written, Vatikra shemo Moshe; 'And she (Bisyah) called him Moshe;' Vayikra el Moshe, 'And He (Hashem) called to Moshe." This is a wonderful commentary on the character and moral demeanor of Bisyah, Pharaoh's daughter. Nonetheless, Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, wonders why Hashem accepted a name which was given to Moshe as a result of a specific occurrence. While the name was significant to Bisyah, since it describes how she saved the infant Moshe from the waters of the Nile River, it does not have anything to do with Moshe himself. How did this name define our quintessential leader?

Horav Aryeh Leib Heyman, zl, observes that this question is not exclusive to Moshe Rabbeinu, but to others as well. Hashem instructed Avraham Avinu to call his son by the name Yitzchak. Shortly thereafter, Sarah Imeinu says, Tzchok asah li Elokim, kol ha'shomea yitzachak li, "G-d has made laughter (tzchok) for me; whomever hears will laugh for me" (Bereishis 21:6). Indicative of the Torah's juxtaposition of Yitzchak's name upon Sarah's laughter is that the two are closely connected. Why? Furthermore, Reuven and Shimon both received their names from their mother, Leah Imeinu, as a result of circumstances in her life. What about Sarah's reaction to an almost comical thought concerning her achieving motherhood at an advanced age served as the basis for Yitzchak's name? This question applies to Leah's naming of Reuven and Shimon, as well.

Rav Heyman quotes a passage in the Talmud Brachos 7b, which he offers as a springboard for explaining the source, as well as the significance, of names. The Talmud establishes the premise that a name affords us a glimpse into that person's future achievements. Based upon this premise, the Talmud expounds on Rus HaMoaviah's name: "Why was she called Rus? She merited to have David Hamelech descend from her. David sated sherivahu, (which is from the root riva, a word closely connected to Rus) Hashem with songs and praises. From where do we know that a name is the cause of future occurrences? It is because it is stated in the pasuk, Lechu chazu mifalos Hashem, asher sam shamos ba'aretz, "Go and see the words of G-d, who has wrought devastation in the land. Do not pronounce it shamos (devastation); rather, pronounce it sheimos (names)." Rus's name was prophetic of the deeds of her descendants.

Concerning this statement of the Talmud, the Maggid Mesharim says, "This is the secret of a name. 'Do not pronounce it shamos,' rather, pronounce it sheimos, provides us insight into the influence of a name. One who is called Avraham will gravitate towards performing acts of lovingkindness (Avraham Avinu was the consummate baal chesed); and one who is called Yosef will either be powerfully strong in his opposition to arayos, any form of immoral behavior, or he will be exemplary in his prodigious support and sustenance of those who are financially challenged. (These were two areas Yosef exemplified. He warded off the enticements presented to him by Potifar's wife and he sustained his entire family and the citizens of Egypt.) This idea applies to all names. We find individuals who are by their very demeanor evil, even if they have names that are righteous in nature; that name does not protect them by preventing them from acting out their base tendencies. Names will only provide them with a netiyah, gravitation, toward good." (If he does not follow this "pull" on his psyche, he will act nefariously).

Rachel Imeinu named Yosef as a symbol that Hashem added another son to her (Yosef Hashem li ben acher, Bereishis 30:24). It had nothing to do with the unique talents and proclivities of Yosef. Furthermore, one who names his son Yosef does not do so due to the reason detailed by the Maggid Meisharim. Nonetheless, one who has a child whom Heaven has designated to possess the qualities which defined Yosef, the father of that child will be Divinely inspired to name his son Yosef. In other words, the name is not the catalyst for the child's positive actions. This is part of the child's innate nature. Heaven will "see to it" that the child will somehow receive a name that coincides with his nature.

Rav Heyman applies this principle to explain the Midrash concerning Moshe's ten names. Our leader possessed ten names. Which one was decreed upon him by Heaven? Hashem told Moshe, "The name that agrees/coincides most with you is Moshe. Bisyah had no idea of this phenomenon. It was Hashem Who Divinely orchestrated circumstances, so that Bisyah name him Moshe. "Unknowingly," she concurred with the name that Hashem had chosen for Moshe. This concept is clearly affirmed by Rabbeinu Bachya in his commentary to this pasuk. He writes: "Bisyah bas Pharaoh merited that the name that was designated for him (Moshe) forever was the name which she picked to commemorate the miracle that had occurred when she drew him out of the water. Hashem placed this name in her heart, and Hashem did not call him by any other name."

Likewise, the other names which we find in Sefer Bereishis were given for specific reasons. For example, the name Yitzchak was given to the Patriarch by his parents in recognition of the laughter that was generated by his birth. The name Yitzchak actually came from Hashem, Who had His "reasons." Rav Heyman adds that, quite possibly, just as the birth of Yitzchak was so miraculous and supernatural, the amazement was almost mirthful and blithesome, so, too, will be the survival of the Jewish People. As one peruses history, one marvels at the absolutely astonishing survival of the Jewish nation throughout the ages. It is almost comical.

This idea may be inserted throughout the births of the various "children" in Sefer Bereishis. The parents gave names based upon circumstances, but these names were Divinely inspired by Hashem for reasons unbeknownst to them.

And (he) went out to his brethren. And (he) saw their burdens. (2:11)

Rashi defines vayar b'sivlosam, "And he saw their burdens: Nasan einav v'libo liheyos metzar aleihem, 'He focused his eyes and heart to be distressed over them.'" Literally, the phrase means that Moshe Rabbeinu "saw into their burdens." He delved into their adversity. Apparently, the word va'yar, or its root raoh, to see, means much more than superficial perception. It demands cognitive application in conjunction with the perception. To see, and not to see beneath the surface, is not reiyah, seeing.

I think that we have just uncovered a deep insight into the concept of "seeing" as evinced by the word reiyah, in its various forms. It means much more than the simple translation we accord it. In order to see, one must engage his mind. To perceive, one must think. Hashem told Avraham Avinu Lech lecha... el ha'aretz asher areka, "Go for yourself… to the Land that I will show you" (Bereishis 12:1). Here, too, the word reiyah is used. I think Hashem was teaching Avraham, I will show you Eretz Yisrael in such a manner that you will perceive what makes it so special, so unique. It is this perception that Avraham transmitted to his descendants. It is this emotion that every Jew carries in his heart, a feeling that courses through him when he experiences that reiyah of the land first hand.

Perhaps this is why Moshe asked to see the Land. He knew that he would not enter it, but seeing it would not be a simple, insignificant perception. His seeing was commensurate with experiencing Eretz Yisrael.

With this idea in mind, we suggest that this is the underlying meaning of yiraas Shomayim, "fear of Heaven," which is normally translated as "fear of awe." One is awestruck with a profound fear of the greatness of Hashem. Yiraah, fear, is related to reiyah, seeing. Only one who has a deep perception of Heaven can truly fear. In order to fear, one must see - with depth. He who is clueless concerning Heaven has not yet achieved the plateau of yiraas Shomayim. Thus, in the process of inculcating students with yiraas Shomayim, we must first open up their minds to what Shomayim represents. They require a deeper understanding of the Almighty. Otherwise, they are unable truly to "fear."

The Talmud Chagigah 2a states: "One who is blind in one eye is excused from the mitzvah of Reiyah" (going down to Yerushalayim during the Shalosh Regalim, Three Festivals, to celebrate in the Bais Hamikdash, to "see" and "be seen"). Horav Elimelech, zl, m'Lishensk, quoted by the Yismach Moshe, explains that a person was created with two eyes; one eye is for seeing his own lowliness, while the other eye is for perceiving the awesome greatness of Hashem. One who is blind in one eye, who is unable to see his own inferiority, is, as a result, unable truly to see and perceive Hashem. To come close to Hashem, to embrace emunah, faith, to be inspired with kedushah, sanctity, one must divest himself of "himself." One must realize that, without Hashem, he is absolutely nothing.

Parashas Re'eh (Sefer Devarim11:26) begins with an exhortation to distinguish between blessing and curse and to choose blessing. Re'eh anochi nosein lifneichem hayom brachah u'klalah, "See, I place before you today a blessing and a curse. Choose blessing." What is the meaning of "seeing" blessing and "seeing" curse? Does one "see" the difference between blessing and curse, or does one experience the difference?

My Rosh Yeshivah, Horav Boruch Sorotzkin, zl, explained that, before one can distinguish between blessing and curse, it is necessary that he take a close, educated look at the blessing. Is it truly a blessing, or might it be a curse? How often do we choose a path which we feel is blessed, only to discover later on that this was a road to curse? Thus, it is important to have an acute understanding of the true meaning of blessing and curse. Therefore, the Torah underscores the need to "see," to look with understanding, to apply heart and mind, to look beyond the superficial.

With this in mind, we have a deeper understanding of the concept of nosei b'ol im chaveiro, sharing/carrying the yoke/burden together with his friend. In order to do this, one must elevate his level of empathy to the point that he personally identifies with his fellow's needs. This is what Moshe Rabbeinu exemplified. When he "looked" at his brethren, he thought about - and then felt - the burdens which they were experiencing. In order to "feel" the pain, however, one must see with an open mind.

Nosei b'ol im chaveiro is one of the forty-eight qualities through which one acquires Torah. It, therefore, makes sense that the greater one is connected with the Torah, the greater is his understanding of the importance of sharing the burden with those less fortunate than he. All too often we view the gedolei Yisrael, Torah giants, throughout the ages from the perspective of their incredible erudition and devotion to Torah dissemination. They are equally gedolim and gaonim in the area of interpersonal relationships. Every Jew is their brother and sister. They sense the responsibility and feel the obligation to reach out to those members of their wider "family" who are in need.

There is no shortage of stories demonstrating this concept. I chose the following vignette, related by Rabbi Yechiel Spero in his wonderful book, "One Shining Moment." When we think of the Chazon Ish, the first thing that comes to mind is his outstanding scholarship. Commensurate with his consummate greatness in Torah was his unique love for all Jews.

The Chazon Ish lived in Bnei Brak, where Horav Yosef Kahaneman, zl, the Ponevezer Rav, had reestablished the Ponevezer Yeshivah. It was during the war years, and the yeshivah had experienced incredible growth, not only in numbers, but also in the intensity of the learning. Therefore, it was no wonder that, on Simchas Torah, the day that we celebrate with the Torah, the sense of ecstasy and effusive joy emanating from the students was palpable. The dancing was a celebration that went beyond the mundane. Each individual felt spiritually uplifted, as he danced in concert with the other yeshivah students who truly felt a kinship with the Torah. Once a year, the elderly Chazon Ish came to the yeshivah to celebrate Simchas Torah with the students.

It was a sight to behold. The elderly sage danced in a way that was unmatched by those decades his junior. He was neither a part of the yeshivah administration, nor did he hold any official rabbinic position. He just wanted to dance with the bachurim of the yeshivah. Seeing the gadol hador, preeminent Torah giant of the generation, dance with such vigor enlivened the students to dance in kind.

All good things come to an end at the appropriate time. Once the dancing ended, everyone felt the exhaustion of their para-spiritual workout. While the dancing endured, no one felt the physical toll. They were in on a different plane, far removed from the physical. Now it was time to accompany the frail Chazon Ish to his home. The sage also felt the strain. Once the dancing had ended, he realized how old his physical body was. Escorted by the yeshivah students, the elderly sage slowly made his way home.

On the way, they came upon a man dressed in clothes that would not pass as Yom Tov garb even by today's lax standards. The man looked like he just did not belong. He appeared withdrawn, despondent. The Chazon Ish stopped and walked over to the man to ask him what was bothering him. The Chazon Ish himself was exhausted; yet, when he saw another Jew in pain, he felt that man's pain. The man did not need more. He was like a bottle of soda that had been shaken up, waiting to burst through. He began with his dismal tale of woe. "I was born out of the Jewish faith. After years of study and a deep-rooted desire to become a part of the am Hashem, nation of G-d, I converted. Tonight, on the night when Jews all over celebrate their relationship with the Torah, I have nowhere to go. It is like a wedding, only I was not invited! I was alone with nowhere to go. Look at me. I look different, I talk different. I am different. I sat myself down on the street and contemplated my exclusion from the Jewish world that I wanted to join." The man concluded his sad story and hung his head down in defeat.

The Chazon Ish listened to the man's tale of woe, then asked, "Do you know any Jewish songs?" The sage asked the man to pick one of the songs that he knew and begin singing: "You sing, and I will dance. Together, we will celebrate Simchas Torah."

The students were shocked beyond belief. Their Rebbe could hardly walk home. Already advanced in years, he was unusually frail and in poor health. Tonight, he had added the weight of hours of spirited dancing. Yet, if another Jew felt alone and in need, he would gather whatever little reserve he might have and garner it to enliven the life of another Jew. And dance he did.

The man slowly began to sing. Unsure of himself, he commenced with a mumble. Toras Hashem temimah, "The Torah of Hashem is perfect," he sang, picking up speed and pitch as he became emboldened. The Chazon Ish began to dance with a fervor that overshadowed his earlier dancing. As a chassan, bridegroom, dances before his kallah, bride, the elderly sage danced before this man. The man smiled and cried at the same time, as he began to belt out the words of the song. Each stanza brought renewed vigor, matched only by the Chazon Ish's exuberant dancing. Why did he do this? He wanted to make a young man smile. The ger, convert, felt out of place without family and friends on a night that everyone seemed so happy. The gadol hador taught him otherwise. No Jew is left behind. No Jew is left alone.

The students stood there in amazement, as they watched a man, who minutes earlier had hardly been able to trudge home, now dancing gracefully with a joy that apparently transcended this physical world, carrying him aloft to another dimension - a dimension reserved only for the few, the unique, the worthy.

Va'ani Tefillah

Emes v'yatziv v'nachon v'kayam. True, and certain, it is established and enduring.

Following the recital of Krias Shema in which we proclaim our faith in Hashem as Ani Hashem Elokeichem, "I am Hashem, Your G-d," we affirm this verity with sixteen words of praise and affirmation. Horav Yaakov Mecklenberg, zl, quotes the Gra, zl, m'Vilna, who says that these sixteen words correspond with the sixteen pesukim of Shema and Vhaya im shamoa. The word v'yatziv, "and certain," coincides with the second pasuk of Krias Shema, namely, Baruch Shem Kavod Malchuso l'olam va'ed. This pasuk is recited silently, since the Ministering Angels themselves recite this very same pasuk when they praise the Almighty. On Yom Kippur, when we are all on the spiritual plateau of angels, we recite this pasuk in a loud voice. The word v'yatziv is Aramaic in origin, a language which the angels do not know. Therefore, says the Gra, the word is written in Aramaic.

Following the Krias Shema of Shacharis, we say Emes v'yatziv, which implies certainty and clarity concerning the Geulah, Redemption, which will eventually and speedily come with the advent of Moshiach Tzidkeinu. At night, during Tefillas Arvis, the Evening Prayer, we say, instead, Emes ve'emunah, focusing on belief in the geulah, rather than certainty. The Bais HaLevi explains that a geulah which comes by day, in daylight, is one that endures: after the geulah of day, there will no longer be exile. The geulah at night does not guarantee enduring redemption. It does generate hope, which is dependent upon our faith. Thus, we say, Emes ve'emunah. We believe in the redemption that follows the night.

Sponsored in loving memory of
-Aharon ben Moshe-

His Neshama should have an aliyah and…
We should merit Techiat HaMetim B'mhera, Byameinu.
In order to see him again.

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