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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And let them take for Me a portion, from every man whose heart motivates him. (25:2)

Does Hashem need our money? After all the miracles and wonders that He wrought for the Jewish People in and out of Egypt, does He need our money? Hashem has everything. He needs nothing. Clearly, He needs nothing from us, except sincere conviction. Did we really mean what we said when we declared, Naase v'nishma, "We will do and we will listen"? Talk is easy; talk is cheap. Are the people ready to put their money where their mouths are? Are the Jews prepared to spend, to share, to give - or are we just all talk? For some people it is easier to say, "We will do," than to put their hand into their pockets and declare, "We will give."

A Jew is supposed to have faith in the Almighty. It is one of the most basic tenets of our faith. One who professes to deny Hashem's existence is not only a fool, but he is also an apikores, heretic. Clearly, this is a negative quality. Having said this, we relate a homily from Horav Yitzchak, zl, m'Vorka, who remarked that Hashem created all character traits and attributes - even those which are undesirable and evil- to be used for positive, good purposes. This includes anger, arrogance, stubbornness, etc. It, of course, applies only under certain conditions and in specific circumstances. When asked what the purpose of apikorsus, heresy, is, he replied that instances occur in which one should act as if he is faithless.

How is this possible? The Rebbe illustrated with the following example. There are circumstances in which a poor man stands before a person of means and begs for assistance. His life is coming apart. He has nothing to eat and no way to support his family. "Please," he begs. The wealthy man responds, "Do not worry. Things will be fine. Hashem will help you." He says this to assuage his own guilt for not giving the poor man his due. Let this miser believe a little less and give the poor man a little more. All of a sudden, when it to comes to helping another Jew who is down and out, he becomes a sanctimonious believer. It was in a situation such as this that apikorsus is considered constructive.

Rav Yitzchak once approached a wealthy man, requesting a donation from him on behalf of one of the wealthy man's relatives who had been going through a difficult period. This individual was notorious for his refusal to help anyone - even his own flesh and blood. This time was no different. The answer was no.

Rav Yitzchak just sat there waiting, staring, offering no response, refusing to arise from the chair and leave. The man reiterated, "I told you my answer. I will not change my mind. I will not give you any money." No response. The Rebbe continued sitting, staring, ignoring the wealthy man as if he were non-existent. The man was becoming insolent. "I said I would not change my mind. I have work to do. The answer is still no," he said.

"There is a reason to wait," the Rebbe replied. "Every individual possesses two inclinations: a yetzer tov, good inclination; and a yetzer hora, evil inclination. The evil inclination is born with him, so from birth his yetzer hora has been a part of him. The yetzer tov, however, does not become a part of his psyche until he reaches adulthood - thirteen years later. It, therefore, takes the yetzer tov a little bit longer to voice its opinion. I already heard from the evil inclination. Now I am waiting to hear what the good inclination has to say concerning this charitable endeavor. That is why I am waiting." The man took the hint. He received the message and gave Rav Yitzchak a considerable donation. It is all in the packaging.

They shall make an aron of acacia wood, two and a half cubits its length; a cubit and a half its width; and a cubit and a half its height. (25:10)

The measurements of the Aron were presented in fractions. Each of its dimensions included a "broken measure" - two and a half, one and a half, one and a half. Chazal teach that, given the fact that the Aron symbolized Torah study, a lesson may be derived from here concerning the character of the talmid chacham, Torah scholar. One who masters Torah erudition has not necessarily joined the ranks of the Torah elite. He does not achieve this position until he has refined his character traits, a goal which sees fruition only after he has integrated the Torah's lessons into his psyche. He becomes "one" with the Torah. Regardless of his achievements, the talmid chacham must view himself as "broken," still an incomplete person. He has so much more to study, so much further to go in developing himself into a receptacle of Torah. He always sees himself as standing in the middle of his journey. While he is acutely aware of his accomplishments, they pale in comparison with how much more he has to achieve.

A multitude of stories depict the character of our Torah giants, how they shunned praise, always feeling that their achievements were extremely limited in contrast with their obligations. The Maharam Schick, zl, was one of the preeminent leaders of Hungarian Jewry. A talmid muvhak, primary disciple of the Chasam Sofer, zl, he developed a relationship with his rebbe that inspired him throughout his life. Indeed, before his death, the Maharam Shick said that he remembered every Torah thought which he had heard from his revered rebbe.

Throughout his life he was plagued with ill health, the result of a weak body. This, of course, had no effect on his spirit; his devotion to Torah study and its mastery was his beacon of strength. He developed a warm relationship with the Yetev Lev, father of the Satmar Rebbe, zl, and Rav of Sighet. The episode takes place when the Yetev Lev visited the Maharam Schick during his last illness, to which he ultimately succumbed.

The Maharam was in intense agony, pain racking his frail body. The Yetev Lev approached his friend's bed and held his hand for a few moments. Finally, the two long-time friends embraced and kissed, both acutely aware that this was probably the last time they would see one another. Suddenly, the Maharam moaned and said, "I am suffering overwhelming pain, and I wonder why. What did I do to deserve such intense pain? It must be the result of bitul Torah, wasting time that should have been spent studying Torah."

The Sigheter Rav left and decided to pay a visit to the Maharam's yeshiva. While there, he related the incident that had taken place at the home of their revered Rebbe:. "Can you imagine that the Maharam attributed his agony to bitul Torah? He has always been the quintessential masmid, diligent student of Torah. His mouth does not wane from Torah. Nary a moment is wasted. What could he mean?"

The Rav thought for a moment, then commented, "Unless he is referring to the passage in the Talmud Berachos 5A, wherein Chazal say, 'If one sees himself plagued by yissurim, pain and misery, he should introspect and scrutinize his actions. If, after a complete scrutiny he is not yet able to find anything wrong with his actions, then he should attribute his pain to the sin of bitul Torah.' Now you will understand the meaning of, pishpeish v'lo matza, 'he scrutinized and found nothing wrong with his actions." The Maharam introspected his life and found nothing negative to which to attribute his misery! Therefore, he suggested that perhaps it is for the sin of wasting time from learning Torah!"

The Maharam led a life that was essentially perfect. Yet, he did not rest on his laurels. Until his very last breath, he continued to demand more of himself.

You shall make two keruvim of gold - hammered out shall you make them. (25:18)

The existence of Hashem in the world is not a novel Jewish idea. It is a reality that is accepted by most people. The Navi Malachi (1:11) says: "From the rising sun to its setting, My Name is great among the nations." The nations of the world are aware that there is a Creator. On every American dollar we proclaim, "In G-d we trust." All one has to do is open his eyes to witness His manifold miracles and wonders before our very own eyes. One idea, however, is purely Jewish: A personal G-d.

Man is troubled with this pressing question: How is it possible to establish a relationship with the Almighty? Hashem is spiritual, all-encompassing, unlimited, all-powerful, above and beyond anything that man could possibly conceive. In contrast, man is limited, inadequate, bound by constraints of time, weak. In other words, man is the total opposite of Hashem. We are His creations. So, how do the "two" come to the table?

A difficult philosophic query frustrates the gentile world. Their greatest philosophers and theologians have grappled with it and have arrived at no conclusive explanation. They are stumped. It is specifically in this question where the difference between Jew and gentile, righteous and wicked, saint and sinner, is revealed. Yes, they believe that the Almighty created the world, but today He is too busy, too involved, to micro-manage day-to-day activities. There are those who believe that a simple man cannot reach G-d. Thus, they conjured the concept of a medium, a prophet, a son - anything but a personal G-d.

The Jew knows that Hashem's function as G-d did not end with the world's creation. Hashem continues to be involved in every aspect of this world at all times and in all circumstances. In addition, it is not merely a remote possibility to develop a relationship with Him; it is a critical component of our dogma. We can speak with Hashem through the medium of prayer, blessings and Torah study. Last, we believe that Hashem loves us unconditionally, with a strong love that will endure forever.

Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, posits that this idea is symbolized by the two Keruvim which were above the Aron in the Beis Hamikdash. One Keruv symbolizes Hashem, while the other represents Klal Yisrael. While this idea may seem logical, what is most impressive is that the two Keruvim were identical! Shlomo Hamelech says in Shir Hashirim (5:2): Pischu li achosi raayasi yonasi tamasi, "Open up your heart to Me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfection." In the Midrash, Chazal say, "Do not read this as tamasi, my perfection, but rather, as teumasi, my twin. This means that in the relationship between Hashem and Klal Yisrael they are both equal - like twins! This is incredible. How do we understand this?

Rav Pincus analogizes this to an illustrious Rav, such as Horav Yosef Chaim, zl, of Baghdad, whose brilliance in Torah and spiritual elevation were legendary. The great man comes home and is confronted by his young daughter who asks him for a piece of cake. Rav Yosef Chaim replies, "Let me ask your mother." Now, should someone so distinguished as Rav Yosef Chaim, the leader of Sephardic Jewry, have to ask his wife's permission to give his daughter a piece of cake? Yes! Because when he married her, she became his equal - his twin. This is an ultimate relationship. What creates the bond that makes them "twins"? It is the love that exists between them. When husband and wife live together in harmony, they create a bond of equality. That is the result of love.

This is what Chazal mean when they compare our relationship with Hashem to that of twins. The mutual love that exists between Hashem and Klal Yisrael is so strong that it creates such an equality. This is why Hashem grants tzadikim, righteous persons, unique powers. Imagine a couple comes to a tzadik to intercede on their behalf, to bless them with a child. The tzadik listens and blesses them, practically guaranteeing them a child within a year. How does he do it? He is not G-d. How does he make such a promise?

It is a gift from Hashem, Who grants him the power to establish, to alter, to amend things in the world. Chazal say that, under certain circumstances, a tzadik can annul a Heavenly decree. Indeed, when one applies himself properly, he realizes that the relationship between Hashem and the Jewish People is one of the greatest miracles that occurs in the world.

In the Kuzari, Rav Yehudah HaLevi writes that a Jew is endowed with a special capacity for awareness of Hashem. While nevuah, prophecy, is the highest expression of this capacity, every Jew, regardless of his spiritual plateau, has the potential to feel a closeness to Him. I think it all depends on how much we can divest ourselves of the external riffraff that goes on around us. This determines how close we feel. Many great people feel this closeness to an acute degree. You see it on their faces; you sense it in speaking to them; when they daven; when they learn; when they talk about Hashem. There is one individual who stands out, who perhaps towers above many, who seethes with emotion during moments of spiritual ascendance. Horav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zl, menahel of Mesifta Torah Vodaath and architect of Torah chinuch in America, was that person.

Reb Shraga Feivel would often quote the Baal HaTanya, who, while laying on his deathbed, pointed to the beams of the ceiling above his bed and remarked, "I see here more than wooden beams. I see the Divine words of Creation that brought them into existence." His thoughts were constantly on Hashem, because he lived with a sense of obligation to give of himself entirely to the Almighty. Perhaps this is why he was so driven to build Torah in America. He was motivated by his intense love for Hashem and His People. He viewed b'chol meodecha, which means with all of your resources, as a mandate to utilize all of one's talents in service of Hashem.

The mission statement, the anthem, of Torah Vodaath under Reb Shraga Feivel was taken from Sefer Chareidim: Bilvavi Mishkan evneh, la'hadar Kevodo, "In my heart I will build a Tabernacle to His glory." His voice would tremble when he read the words written by the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, and he placed them as his personal petition, between the cracks of the Kosel. The Ohr HaChaim addressed the Shechinah with the words of Shlomo HaMelech in Shir HaShirim 5:2, Achosi rayasi yonasi tamasi "My sister, my beloved, my dove, my perfect one." So close did he feel to Hashem.

Reb Shraga sought to imbue his talmidim, students, with this awareness of Hashem. He tried to infuse them with this same emotion. He taught that an individual's awareness of Hashem's Presence depends on sensitizing himself to it. The following analogy was used to illustrate this idea. Twin brothers were separated at birth and each was in a different area. One brother was raised in the home of a wealthy banker, while the other was raised on a farm. Many years went by and, shortly after they reached adulthood, the brothers were reunited. As they stood on a busy street corner talking to one another, the brother who was raised on a farm stopped to listen to the sweet song of a lark. His brother, who was raised by the banker, heard nothing, or, at least, it meant nothing to him. On the other hand, when someone nearby dropped a coin on the street, the brother raised by the banker heard the sound above the din of the street noises, while the brother who had been raised on the farm heard nothing. Each brother had heard what his ear had been accustomed to hearing - and appreciating. Thus, one should sensitize himself to sense Hashem everywhere. He is present. We just have to look and listen.

On the last Simchas Torah of his life, Reb Shraga Feivel sat in Bais Medrash Elyon, his yeshivah in Monsey, New York. Together with his students, while observing the waning light, he sang the haunting melody of Horav Aizik Kahliver, zl. Galus, galus, vie lang bist du - Shechinah, Shechinah, vie veit bist Du. "Exile, exile, how long are you - Shechinah, Shechinah, how distant You are." To him, it was more than a song; it was his heartfelt emotion. Reb Shraga Feivel told his students that the saintly Divrei Chaim, Horav Chaim Halberstam, zl, m'Sanz, used to send his chassidim to Reb Aizik, as the Divrei Chaim put it, "to study in the yeshivah of galus haShechinah." Reb Aizik's love for Hashem was so intense and so strong that he imbued his students with his passion. To truly love, one must want to share this love with others. Reb Shraga Feivel loved Hashem with overwhelming intensity, and he infused this passion into others.

You shall put the Partition under the hooks…and the Partition shall separate for you between the Holy and the Holy of Holies. (26:33)

The Aron HaKodesh was separated from the Holy by the Paroches, Partition. Accordingly, the Aron was kept sealed in the Holy of Holies. Within the Aron were the Luchos, Torah and Shivrei Luchos, broken shards of the first luchos. Klal Yisrael never had the opportunity to study from this Torah scroll. We must endeavor to understand what purpose is served by a scroll that is not seen. Indeed, the Aron is referred to as, Aron HaEidus, Ark of Testimony, attesting to Hashem's continued love for the Jewish People and His forgiveness of their sin concerning the Golden Calf. If no one ever saw the Aron, how did it "testify"? In his hesped, eulogy, for the Brisker Rav, zl, Horav Zalman Sorotzkin, zl, explained that this scroll served another lofty purpose. It guarded the Torah from forgers, amenders and progressives, who in every generation seek new ways to undermine the Torah and sabotage its authenticity.

Hashem commanded that the accuracy and pristine nature of the Torah be protected in the sanctity of the Holy of Holies. It was forbidden for anyone to enter the Holy of Holies, except for the Kohen Gadol on one day of the year - Yom Kippur, a day reserved for holiness and purity, when all work is prohibited. This is neither the time nor the place for the individual entering the Holy of Holies to engage in any form of sabotage. These conditions helped insure that the Torah would always remain in its original form.

The Brisker Rav remained within his small apartment in Yerushalayim, concealed within his world of Torah. He shunned politics and rarely involved himself in mundane activities. He was neither a rosh yeshiva, nor did he have an official position. He was the gadol ha'dor, preeminent Torah leader of his time. He was uncompromising in his adherence to the Torah and immovable in protecting it against its would-be falsifiers. As long as the Brisker Rav lived, Klal Yisrael was assured of an individual who would not allow the Torah to be breached.

The Torah scroll was doubly protected. It was kept sealed within the Aron HaKodesh, which was kept off-bounds by the Paroches which, in turn, separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy. Did the Aron require dual protection? I think an important lesson is to be derived herein. We have suffered the effect of the falsifiers for hundreds of years. The French Revolution brought us the Haskalah, Enlightenment, which spawned a number of secular incursions against the traditional way of Jewish life. First, Torah She Be'al Peh, Oral Law, was not from Heaven; then, the Divinity of Torah She'B'ksav, the Written Law, was repudiated. This led to intermarriage and, ultimately, the baptismal font. We fought the enemy from without, and, while we definitely sustained serious casualties, we are still here today, thriving and growing, Torah Judaism is fast becoming a way of life that is the accepted way that a Jew should live.

In addition, there is the battle from within. I refer to those who claim to pledge allegiance to the banner of Orthodoxy, but who look for every new way to undermine traditional Judaism, all under the guise of pluralism. Unity among Jews is all-important, but at what expense? What do we have to give up in order to establish unity? The sanctity of the Torah cannot be challenged. Its purity may not be impugned. Those who deny the Divinity of the Torah are clearly not our recognized leaders. To regard them as such, and consider them equal, is an affront to the Torah and Hashem Yisborach.

Which battle is more difficult - from within or without? Interestingly, when the Kohen Gadol entered the Holy of Holies, the Partition was moved slightly. The Kapores which enclosed the Aron was never moved . The cover above the Torah within was never moved. This should tell us something.

With their faces toward one another; toward the Paroches, Cover, shall be the faces of the Keruvim. (25:20)

We are a complex nation, filled with diversity, contrasting attitudes, divergent emotions, and distinct character traits. Yet, something unifies us as a nation. What keeps us together? The core which unites the Jewish People as one nation is the belief in the Torah and in the One incorporeal G-d. The Torah says in Devarim 27:9, Hayom niheyeisa l'am, "Today you became a nation." This is a reference to the day we received the Torah at Har Sinai. Rav Saadya Gaon writes, "Our nation is a nation only through the Torah." Beyond our essence as a nation, we are truly divided.

This is not a new concept. While the sons of a single man do share a commonality of ideas and customs, it does not necessarily mean that they can form together as one nation. Avraham Avinu had two sons who went their separate ways, forming two diverse nations. Yitzchak Avinu had two sons who did not see eye-to-eye and, hence, developed into distinct nations. Yaakov Avinu's family was large, and they suffered strife from within. An accord between the brothers did not come easily. They were split according to their maternal pedigree. In his final moments on this world, Yaakov called his sons together and blessed them. He compared them to different creatures. Horav Zalman Sorotzkin, zl, says he did this to demonstrate that they had nothing to unify them as a nation. They were too different from one another. This worried the Patriarch until, at the last moment, he found the one idea that could unite them all: faith in the Oneness of Hashem and acceptance of the yoke of His kingdom.

In the Talmud Pesachim 5b, we are taught that at the time of Yaakov's petirah, passing, the tribes told him: Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad. "Hear O Yisrael. Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One." He then passed away, reassured in the knowledge that his sons had one element that unified them: their belief in Hashem. This conviction was capable of unifying them as one nation.

It did not last. One would think that in the crucible of affliction, in Egypt, our first exile, we would have gotten along. No - there was slander and lashon hora among them. When they left Egypt, they should have been overjoyed. When people are happy they normally get along. They did not. The wilderness experience was rife with quarrels, complaints, and grumbling. Nothing seemed to work for them. It was only when they came to Har Sinai that their distorted ideas, the bitterness that plagued them, was corrected. When Klal Yisrael heard Hashem speak, when they heard Him command them to believe in Him and reject other deities, to accept His Torah and become a mamleches Kohanim v'goi kadosh, "a kingdom of Priests and a holy nation," the common element within their Jewish souls was aroused, so that they proclaimed their faith in the one and only G-d. The diversity of their natures was removed. They were now one nation whose diversity was focused on one common goal, one unified faith, one G-d.

Torah is the only entity / idea that has united our nation. Without belief in the Torah, its Divine Authorship, both Written and Oral, we have nothing to unify us. We are just not on the same page. This explains the Lutzker Rav's message of the Keruvim, "With their faces toward one another, toward the Cover shall be the faces of the Keruvim." The Keruvim were in the form of a young child, in order to teach us that childhood education must be grounded in Torah. Indeed, we must hammer the Keruv from the same block of gold as the Kapores, Cover, itself. A Keruv may not be added. It must be one with the Torah. The link between Hashem and Klal Yisrael stems from Jewish children studying Torah. The voice of prophecy was heard from between the two Keruvim. Its message was symbolized by the Keruvim facing toward one another, symbolizing love and facing toward the Kapores/Aron/Torah, denoting the focus of that love: Hashem. True unity will reign among us, children and adults, only when the children turn their faces to the Torah.

Va'ani Tefillah

Zeh Keili v'anveihu
This is my G-d and I will beautify Him/ wish to serve Him in a beautiful way

The simple meaning is that I wish to serve Hashem in a beautiful way. Chazal use this pasuk as the basis for the halachah of hiddur mitzvah, the concept of performing mitzvos in a beautiful way, going out of your way to beautify the mitzvah. When one performs mitzvos in such a manner, it shows that mitzvos are important to him, that they play a significant role in his life. When we perform mitzvos in a beautiful way, it indicates that we feel privileged and enthusiastic that Hashem has placed the yoke of mitzvos on our shoulders. This responsibility gives us pleasure.

Targum Onkelos offers an alternative explanation for the word v'anveihu. He sees the word related to naveh, a beautiful dwelling. Therefore, he translates the pasuk as, v'avni lei mikdash, "and I will build for Him a Bais Hamikdash." This will be Hashem's abode. Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, extends this idea a bit further. He sees the person as the dwelling, thus the pasuk will read: "I wish to become a dwelling for Him." This means that I wish to live my life in such a manner that it becomes an abode for His Shechinah in this world. Is there a higher aspiration? This is what He expects of us. When we are exhorted, Kedoshim tiheyu. "Be holy," prepare yourself to be a vessel upon which the Divine Presence will rest.

l'zechar nishmas
R' Moshe Yehudah Leib
Asher Alter Chaim z"l
niftar 24 Shevat 5769
By his 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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