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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Yitzchak entreated Hashem. (25:21)

The Zohar HaKadosh asks a profound question. Yitzchak Avinu was not the first Patriarch to have difficulty fathering a son. His father, Avraham Avinu, and mother, Sarah Imeinu, were not blessed with a child until they were advanced in age. Only then were they miraculously blessed. Yet, we do not find the Torah emphasizing that Avraham prayed to Hashem for a child. While we do find an "off the cuff" comment, "See, to me You have given no offspring" (Bereishis 15:3), this is a statement, not a prayer. The Zohar explains that Avraham was aware that Hashem would bless him with a child, but, since he had not yet had a Bris Milah, he did not want his child born to him while he was still uncircumcised. The child had to be born b'kedushah, into holiness.

Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, expounds on our Patriarch's enormous strength of character. Imagine what must have gone through his mind. He had been waiting most of his life for a child, someone who would carry on the Abrahamatic legacy. He certainly also had the usual yearnings that we all have, to hold his own child, to sense the future, to experience the unique feeling that only a parent can perceive. Avraham was occupied all day with reaching out to a pagan world, but when he came home, it was to an empty tent. The sense of joy that permeates a home with a child was lacking. When Avraham rested, when he lay down at night, he thought about his empty home, and he cried. Do we have any idea how much the Patriarch wept for a child, how much he suffered, how much pain he felt?

Nonetheless, he was willing to continue living this misery until such a time that he could have the child b'kedushah, in holiness. Now do we have an idea concerning his strength of character? It is mind-boggling! He was not going to "force" Hashem to do anything before its designated time. He would wait patiently, regardless of the pain, because he wanted to do it right.

The following story has made the rounds. It was first told over by the Kaliver Rebbe. Perhaps, over the years, some variations have crept in, but the underlying lesson is clear. Soviet Russia was a place where practicing Judaism was very dangerous. The godless Russian government wanted their citizens to believe in "them" - nothing else. Any ritual, such as Bris Milah, was fraught with danger. One who circumcised his infant son was immediately subject to job-loss and often trumped-up criminal charges, in addition to a hefty fine. Thus, in order to preserve the health and welfare of their parents, the vast majority of Jewish boys did not have a Bris Milah.

I say the vast majority, because there was a distinct minority of committed Jews who risked their lives to circumcise their sons as soon as possible. It was rarely performed on the eighth day, since the spies who were all over expected this, and they waited for the slightest reason to inform on these dedicated souls. The families would wait a few months - at times even up to a year -- until they felt that the coast was clear. Only then would they perform the holy ritual.

In one particular village, a group of like-minded Jews kept an eye out for one another and, when they felt it was safe, they would pass the word and see to it that whoever needed a Bris had one with a minyan, quorum, and even a seudah, ritual meal. A child was born to a family, and a year had gone by before the group felt it was safe to perform the Bris.

The guests all gathered in a basement; the tables were decked out with whatever delicacies they could prepare on such short notice. The mitzvah was about to be carried out, albeit one year later than prescribed. The Bris was performed, and the child was sent back to the care of his mother. A few minutes elapsed and, suddenly, there was a piercing scream, followed by a loud crash and thud. It sounded as if someone had fallen to the ground after first breaking a piece of furniture. Indeed, this is what had happened. The mother had fainted shortly after taking the child into her arms. Cool heads prevailed, and they were able to revive the mother. After she was checked out and they made certain that the child was fine, the group turned to the mother, who gave an intriguing explanation for her fainting spell.

Having a son and living in Russia was an awesome responsibility for this young woman. What if she could not bring him into the Covenant that every Jewish boy is supposed to enter? Due to her fear of the authorities, she was afraid that she might become complacent about her son's Bris Milah and forget about it altogether. She needed a constant reminder, a powerful motivation that would ensure her compliance in this mitzvah. She decided to accept upon herself something so powerful that she would surely not be lulled into laxity regarding this mitzvah. She vowed not to kiss her son until after he had a Bris! As long as he was uncircumcised, she would not put her lips to him.

For close to a year, this brave young mother suppressed her emotions, the feelings that are intrinsic to motherhood, and she did not kiss her son. Finally, the day of the Bris, the emotions were rising within her as every minute brought her closer to that first embrace and kiss. As soon as the Bris took place and her son was brought to her, it all burst forward, a watershed of pent-up emotion, a torrent of love, and she kissed him fervently. It was too much for her. She was so overcome with emotion that she fainted.

This was not Avraham Avinu. It was a young, Jewish mother, a devoted Jewess, committed to preserving a mitzvah that has been a Jewish staple from the time Hashem commanded our first Patriarch to circumcise himself. She embodied Jewish heroism at its zenith.

Yitzchak entreated Hashem opposite his wife, because she was barren. (25:21)

In the Talmud Yevamos 64a, Chazal assert that the Imahos, Matriarchs, were originally akaros, barren, because Hashem loves the prayers of the righteous. In other words, they did not pray because they were barren. They were barren because their prayer was desired. This is the simple p'shat, explanation, of Chazal. Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, feels that a profound lesson with powerful ramifications is hidden within the words of Chazal. Hashem loves the prayers of the righteous. Therefore, the conception/birth of the Avos, Patriarchs, had to occur through the medium of prayer. There is a special love for a child who is the product of many heartfelt entreaties. A child whose birth is the result of tears of supplication, begging Hashem for a miracle, tears of hope, of parents who never gave up, who continued praying, hoping, begging. Such a child is special; such a child is especially beloved- not only by his parents - but also by Hashem.

What a gripping, but heartwarming, statement! How many people have waited for that special something, praying fervently for that special blessing that many of us take for granted? How little we realize the value of prayer, but especially the value of prayer's products. Hashem wanted the Avos - Yitzchak and Yaakov - to represent the realization of heartrending prayer, to become such products and to be special to Him. They are not taken for granted. They are valued bestowals for which one constantly recognizes their Originator.

Rav Pincus cites Chazal in Meseches Berachos 31b to support this idea. Concerning Chanah's reply to Eili HaKohen, "This is the child that I prayed for" (Shmuel I, 1:27), Rabbi Elazar asserts that the young Shmuel was moreh halachah bifnei rabbo, rendered a halachic decision in the presence of his rebbe, Eili HaKohen. Eili then told Chanah that the young lad had committed a sin for which one receives Heavenly excision. As Kohen, he could either forgive the slight to his honor, which is the honor of the Torah, or he could not. He told her, "I will not forgive him, and he will be punished by Heaven. I will then pray for you to have another son who will be even greater than Shmuel." Chanah replied, "I want this child. He is the one for whom I prayed." The Maharsha explains this as: He was born as a result of my prayers. He is, therefore, more dear to me than anyone you could bring for me as a result of your prayers. In Yiddish it is referred to as an oisgebetener kind, a supplicated child. She would never exchange this child for anyone else, regardless of the exceptional abilities of the proposed alternate child.

We all have that "something" for which we have prayed fervently. Clearly, we warmly appreciated the gift that we received. We now have a new perspective on the reason some of us have to wait for Hashem's gift. He wants that gift to be the result of prayer. There is an added benefit which eludes many of us, one which I recently had the great pleasure of experiencing.

Horav Aryeh Leib Gunzberg, zl, popularly known by the treatise he authored, the Shaagas Arye, was a brilliant talmid chacham, Torah scholar, of great renown. For most of his rabbinic career, he lived in absolute abject poverty, with no money to purchase even the barest necessities. He could not even afford paper upon which to write his chiddushim, novellae. The last twenty-five years of his long life, he served as Rav in the city of Metz, leaving this world at the age of ninety-five. In Metz, he was given living quarters which were quite impressive in comparison to that which he had been accustomed prior to this point.

When he first assumed his position, the Rosh HaKahal, president of the community, and the board of laymen, showed him around his new house. While it was not a mansion, it seemed like one to the man who had heretofore been living in hovels, with cramped quarters for him and his family. This was truly a remarkable change for him. As they were leading the Shaagas Arye from room to room, the townspeople noticed that the Rav's lips were moving. He appeared to be talking to himself. This bothered some of them, because it seemed as if his "age" was playing a role. They wondered whether he was really up to his rabbanus position.

After a few moments of watching this, one of the members of the board came forward and asked the Shaagas Arye if something was wrong. What was he mumbling? The Shaagas Arye stopped walking, looked at the questioner and said, "David HaMelech says in Tehillim (90:15), Samcheinu k'yemos inisanu, which I interpret as: 'Grant me happiness commensurate with the pain I have sustained.' I am simply asking Hashem to permit me to enjoy my newly-gained material resources in proportion to the poverty and suffering my family has experienced."

This is a powerful story with an equally compelling message. Yes, some of us endure serious hardship. For some, it is illness- either personal or family; others wait for a child and go through extremely frustrating, painful treatments - often accompanied by mind-numbing and heartrending failure-only to go and try again, with the hope that the next time will succeed; some confront debilitating financial challenges. All of these painful experiences are calculated by Hashem, and we will one day be remunerated with joy. We wait for that day when, Samcheinu k'yemos inisanu. Until then, we must be comforted with hope that this prayer endures.

The lads grew up and Eisav became one who knows hunting, a man of the field; but Yaakov was a wholesome man, abiding in tents. (25:27)

Titein emes l'Yaakov, "Grant to Yaakov the truth." (Michah 7:20). Yaakov Avinu personifies the middah, attribute, of emes, truth. With this in mind, it might be difficult to come to terms with the activities of our Patriarchs presented in this parshah. Beginning with the purchase of the birthright when Eisav was "down," up to the point that Yaakov dresses up as Eisav as part of a charade to receive the berachos, blessings, from Yitzchak, Yaakov's maneuvering of the "truth" appears irregular. We almost have to look for justification on his part for some of his actions. On the other hand, heteirim, justifications and dispensations, cannot be characterized as bending the truth. Yaakov personifies the truth. Thus, every action which he takes, anything attributed to the Patriarchs, must exemplify emes. Furthermore, if Yaakov is the embodiment of emes, Eisav, by contrast, must emblematize sheker, falsehood. All we see of Eisav is the Torah's description of him as one who was tzayid b'fiv (ibid.25:28), "game was in his mouth;" he was adept at "trapping" his father by asking him questions which made it appear that he was pious. So, on the one hand, Yaakov, who epitomizes truth, comes across as bending the truth and bordering on falsehood, while Eisav, who symbolizes falsehood, is guilty of nothing more than fooling his father.

Horav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Shlita, cites the Ibn Ezra who interprets yodea tzayid, "knows hunting," as a person who is accustomed to defrauding others, a charlatan who is used to convincing and deceiving. By its very nature, hunting is a game of deception, whereby the hunter must trick the hunted. While hunting is permissible, its very essence is based upon a lie. Setting a trap, and concealing it beneath a false covering in order to deceive the animal, are certainly not examples of truthfulness. For Eisav to present himself to his father as a pious, upright individual - seeking answers to difficult halachic questions - was not a lie; it was natural! He was a hunter, and, by the nature of their pastime - hunters lie. Yaakov, however, went to his father filled with trepidation. He wept as he presented himself as Eisav. This was not something an honest person, an ish emes, man of truth, does.

Why was Yaakov afraid? His mother told him to do it. She was matir, had given him a dispensation. It was no longer wrong. Since Yaakov, however, embodied truthfulness - so sheker, even with a heter, dispensation, was tainted. It just was not him. Eisav, however, the personification of falsehood, thrived on sheker with a heter. Yaakov could not live with the heter; Eisav did not need it!

Rav Ezrachi goes a bit further in explaining the middah of emes, its relationship with Yaakov, and the Patriarch's attitude towards presenting himself to his father, Yitzchak Avinu, as Eisav. The Rosh Yeshivah feels that not only was this not an act of a prevaricator, it was the inherent attribute of emes that comprises titein emes l'Yaakov.

For the most part, when people evaluate an object, endeavor or a person, it is not objective, but relative. Often, one is not able to assess the quality of something unless he compares it to something similar. In Misheli 21:7, Shlomo Hamelech says, "A man's every way is upright in his eyes." This means that a man's eyes - his vision, his own perception - create the standard for determining the straightness of a path. He creates the path based on his perception. When one wants to hang a painting on the wall, he measures a straight line either from the ceiling or the floor. If the ceiling or floor is not level, the frame will seem straight in comparison to the ceiling or floor - even though it actually is off-center.

Objectively, it is crooked; relatively, it is straight. Man's perception, determined by comparison, is what decides the accuracy of the image before his eyes. In contrast, the straightness of the rails upon which a train travels is determined by its sister rail. One rail must be equally parallel to the other, regardless of what one sees. They must be straight, or the train will not be able to travel over them.

The distinction between relative perception and objective perception is emphasized more in the area of the spirit than it is in the physical dimension. In the spiritual dimension there is a clear-cut, objective criterion: the Torah. In physical terms, the truth is established by determining that something "is" or "is not," that it "happened" or it "did not happen." This is objectivity with regard to truth, and, on the surface, seems to apply to the spiritual, as well. When we think about it, however, this hypothesis is incorrect. When we describe an event that occurred, what we are describing may be defined as "not false," but it does not necessarily mean that it is emes. Truth goes beyond that which is "not false." Truth is not expressed only in the fact that something took place. It is expressed in the source of something, justified by its creation. Truth is similar to two rails, which from their initial construction must be perfectly accurate.

Let us take an example in order to explain this profound concept. Yaakov was compelled to extract the blessings from Yitzchok in a manner that appears tainted with deception. Why did it have to be this way? We have no idea why Hashem wanted it to occur in such a manner, but once Rivkah revealed to Yaakov that the berachos were destined for him, the emes, truth, was established that the blessings were to go to Yaakov under such questionable circumstances. This became the emes. Emes is not necessarily a mirror image of what is in front of us. It is not even what appears to be reality. Emes is the opposite of sheker. For Eisav to have received the blessings would have been sheker. The blessings belonged to Yaakov and the manner devised by Rivkah to bring them out is the paragon of truth. Not only is the taking of the blessings not a contradiction of the truth, on the contrary, taking them in that specific manner was the highest form of emes. This is the meaning of titein emes l'Yaakov. Specifically, a situation which appeared tainted served as the greatest expression of the truth.

Spiritual accuracy is determined relative to the Torah, which is like the parallel rail. One must conform with the other. What we see as objective is based on just that: what we see. The Torah has a different perception, and that is the one which we follow. Thus, truth goes to the source which is determined by the Torah, the criterion for true reality in the life of a Jew.

The same idea applies to Leah's deception of Yaakov on what was supposed to be Rachel's wedding night. It seems as if the establishment of Klal Yisrael, the house of Yaakov Avinu was founded on subterfuge. Once again, we see that emes is not based upon the standard of what occurs before us. Emes is the truth to its source. Therefore, once it was revealed that Leah was also to be one of the Imahos, Matriarchs, then her becoming Yaakov's wife was to take place under the circumstances determined by Hashem. That is the whole truth.

Yaakov was a wholesome man, abiding in tents. (25:27)

The commentators explain that Yaakov Avinu's establishing residence in tents means much more than the place he chose as his domicile. It is a reference to the ohalah shel Torah, the tent of Torah, or the yeshivah where Yaakov would study day and night. The bais hamedrash became his home. We wonder why the word ohalim, tents, in the plural, is used, rather than ohel, in the singular. Perhaps, Rashi alludes to this when he comments that Yaakov studied in the tent of Shem and in the tent of Ever. Alternatively, we suggest that the word ohel, in a sense, is a temporary habitat. It is a movable structure, in contrast to a house, which has a foundation. Should the Torah not have said that Yaakov studied in a "house" of study? Perhaps, the ohel concept, especially in the plural, teaches us that it is not the edifice which needs to be permanent. It is the person and his attitude towards Torah study which must reflect persistence and consistency in his commitment. Indeed, wherever he may be, he sets up an ohel, tent, to study. He is permanently attached to the Torah - wherever, and under all circumstances. In the many tents of life which Yaakov was relegated to live, one aspect of his settlement was perpetual - his Torah study: it always went with him. Wherever their travels would take them, our People, throughout their long galus, exile, knew that although they may wander, the Torah that they studied remained permanent. Wherever they were, they established a tent/house designated for the study of Torah.

What better example of this phenomenon than the continued Torah study during the Holocaust, under the most trying and dangerous conditions. The Jews understood that there was no point in national - or even individual - survival, if the Torah were to perish. It is the lifeblood of our people. Indeed, throughout our tumultuous history, it has been our dedicated adherence to Torah study that has allowed us to outlive our enemies and prevail over their diabolical decrees.

Torah study continued in little ohalim, tents, of Torah, pockets of spiritual resistance, throughout the Holocaust. In the Vilna ghetto, religious schools for children- both on the elementary and post high school level- continued unabated. Tests were administered to the students to determine and encourage their proficiency. During one such examination in Talmud, the students and the rebbe were vigorously discussing a completed topic, when but thirty meters away, an SS guard stood, machine gun ready, unaware of the spiritual revolt that was taking place under his eyes.

In the Dautmorgen labor camp of southern Germany, a group of yeshivah students would gather every night, after a day of bone-breaking work, to study Mishnayos. How did they do it? One of them had studied Mishnayos baal peh, by heart, and he would recite from memory chapter after chapter, and the others would repeat after him. Many others studied entire pages of Talmud from memory, as they trudged along marching to their slave labor. This was in addition to the many clandestine groups which existed in the ghettos. One group of young chassidim sat day and night in a cellar, engrossed in Torah study.

Following the liquidation of the ghetto, they were discovered, forced out of the ghetto, and killed. Why did they risk their lives? Because they knew that to live without Torah was simply not living.

Va'ani Tefillah

Kefor ka'eifer yefazer
He spreads the frost like ashes.

We are used to the changing seasons, with the weather changes that they herald. It becomes so natural that we forget that every seasonal change is orchestrated from Above. Hot and cold, wet and dry, and their effect on the world are not natural occurrences. They are guided by Hashem and concealed beneath a cloak of "natural occurrence." We take it for granted that freezing, biting cold is natural, and exposure to the elements has a detrimental effect on a person's health. Chazal teach us that all illness is the result of Heavenly decree - except that which results from exposure to heat or cold. This is because one has the ability to protect himself. His negligence is the cause of his illness.

Horav Yechezkel Abramsky, zl, was exiled to Siberia for some time. The inmates were given light garments - no heavy fur coat. The weather in the winter was forty degrees below zero. Whenever an individual complained about his treatment, he was forced to remove his shoes and "jog" on the ice. This usually solved any issues one had concerning his treatment. One day, shortly after arriving in Siberia, Rav Abramsky went outside, looked Heavenward, and declared, "Ribono Shel Olam, Chazal say that everything is in the hands of Heaven, except for cold and hot. This is because whoever is exposed to elements without proper protection acts negligently. His disregard of his health caused his illness. I am here in the cold without anything to protect myself. Thus, the responsibility to preserve my health reverts back to You. Therefore, Hashem, watch over me, because I am seeking refuge in You." As a young child, Rav Abramsky was quite sickly, and his mother would clothe him in heavy wool garments to protect his health. Yet, in Siberia, he never once had a sniffle. Hashem took care of him.

in loving memory
HaRav Yeshayahu ben Nachman z"l
niftar 9 Kislev 5747
By his children and grandchildren
Birdie & Lenny Frank & Family

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