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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Beware for yourselves lest you forget the covenant of Hashem, your G-d,…and you make yourselves a carved image, a likeness of anything, as Hashem, your G-d , has commanded you. (4:23)

This statement is puzzling. Not to make an idol of "anything that G-d has commanded you" seems a bit contrary to our understanding of the prohibition against idol worship. People create idols specifically in order to venerate the antithesis of Hashem's command. What does the pasuk mean? Rashi explains that the Torah actually abbreviates its enjoinment and should be read: "…anything that G-d has commanded you (not to make)." This sounds correct, but why would such an important prohibition be transmitted by inference, rather than diectly?

The Kotzker Rebbe, zl, explains the pasuk's message pragmatically. We are admonished not to distort Divine commandments to suit our own purposes and whims. We are to observe them exactly as Hashem has given them to us in accordance with the interpretation which Chazal have rendered. People think that they can be selective in mitzvah observance, picking and choosing those mitzvos which fit into their comfort zone and ignoring those which they determine are not relevant. When we do this, we are essentially creating a Torah of our own. Any Torah which is man's creation, rather than that which Hashem has given to us, is nothing short of idolatry. By creating his own version of Torah he ends up worshipping his own will, rather than that of G-d. The Torah is warning us not to make an idol of the mitzvos that Hashem has commanded to us. We should worship Hashem - not ourselves. Every mitzvah has its own designated time and place, as prescribed by Hashem and transmitted through the generations by those Torah scholars that have remained faithful to Him - not to the idols which some have created.

Face to face did Hashem speak with you on the mountain, from amid the fire. (5:4)

Moshe Rabbeinu recounts the awesome experience of the Revelation. As Sforno explains, Moshe was emphasizing that the Revelation was not a dream or a prophetic vision. It was a direct revelation, during which Klal Yisrael were in full possession of their faculties. Other than an unprecedented spiritual experience that has become part of the mindset of the observant Jew's psyche, what is the depth of the experience we call the Revelation? I think the answer lies in the Maharal m'Prague's explanation of the concept we refer to as the "truth." At Revelation, we experienced the essential meaning of truth, the ultimate truth.

Maharal defines truth as the entire picture. It is an image that includes everything: past, present, future; including the internal reality of something, together with its external counterpoint. It is a synthesis of the entirety of reality, a total harmony, in which every aspect of a given subject interplays in absolute harmony. For an idea to be true, it must be so on all levels: spiritual, physical, mathematical and philosophical. In order for an idea to be true, it must be so in all areas, under all circumstances.

Thus, as human beings, it is difficult for us to perceive truth in its purest sense. We are unable to see the future, and we view the past through our colored interpretation. When we add our own subjectivity and vested interests to the equation, our view of the past is "clearly" not objective and, hence, not accurate. If so, what is real truth?

Maharal explains that the only real truth is transcendent truth, which by definition means a truth that either emanates from-- or is above-- time and place. Only once in our history did we have access to this transcendental truth: Kabolas haTorah. When Hashem gave us the Torah amid a revelation unparalleled and unprecedented in history; when He opened up the Heavens and we saw and beheld a revelation of His glory never before and never after seen by mortal man - we experienced transcendental truth. We experienced the essence, the reality, of truth.

Finding truth is a quest in which we, as mortals, engage throughout our lives. In his sefer, Michtav M'Eliyahu, Horav Eliyahu E. Dessler, zl, asks: What is the essential characteristic which enables one to withstand all of the tests and trials throughout life successfully? Our forefathers did. With what ammunition can we do the same? He explains that we utilize our developed ability to bring our baser nature under the control of our higher yearnings. It is the power to confront the truth in the innermost depths of our hearts; to refuse to be swayed by falsehood which masquerades as the truth. This attachment to the truth in truth is the secret of success in the spiritual life. We inherited this ability from the Patriarchs.

Accepting the truth in the recesses of one's heart is not a simple endeavor. The yetzer hora works overtime to convince us that what is patently false is somehow true - and we all fall for it - because we want to believe it! It is so much easier to convince ourselves that something false is true, than to continue our quest for the truth. It is a quest that never really ends, if we search for the truth - in truth.

I close with a profound thought from Horav Nachman, zl, m'Breslov in his Likutei Moharan:

"Truth is one. One is always one. Before one, what do you count? If there are two, they are not one. It is the same with truth. It is only one. When you speak the truth, you can say only one thing. What you say is the truth, and that is the way it is. Falsehood, on the other hand, can be expressed in many ways. For instance, if you have a silver bowl, you can only say one true thing about it. You can say it is a silver bowl, but if you wish to speak falsely, you can say many things. You can say that it is made of gold, copper or any other material - each one deviating from the truth. Hashem, the Torah, and Klal Yisrael are, therefore, all one. Hashem is truth, the Torah is truth, and Klal Yisrael is truth. Since they are all truth, they are all one."

Who can assure that this heart should remain theirs, to fear Me, forever? (5:26)

When Klal Yisrael accepted the Torah, they reached a summit of spirituality never before achieved, a closeness with Hashem that has never been paralleled. Hashem declared His wish that this moment continue forever. "Who can assure that this heart should remain theirs, to fear Me…forever?" Regrettably, Klal Yisrael did not respond correctly to Hashem's request. Forty years later, as they stood on the verge of entering Eretz Yisrael, Moshe Rabbeinu took them to task for not responding properly. The Talmud in Avodah Zarah 5a explains that they should have replied affirmatively: "Yes. Please Hashem grant us the purity of heart to serve You in this manner forever!" However, they did not. Why? Chazal explain that on some imperceptible level, Klal Yisrael were reluctant to feel gratitude to Hashem for bringing them to this point, to enable them to achieve such a spiritual plateau. They were not the only ones who did not acknowledge their error. Moshe himself was also unaware of their mistake. He only realized it forty years later! This initiates an insightful comment from the Talmud that a student/person does not attain a full understanding of his rebbe/mentor until after forty years. It took Moshe, the quintessential leader of the Jewish nation and Hashem Yisborach's stellar talmid, disciple, to develop a clear insight of what it was that his Rebbe, Hashem, expects of the Jewish People.

The question which Tosfos asks is quite understandable. If Moshe, the greatest prophet who ever lived, failed to detect any failing on the part of the Jews for forty years, how could he criticize his flock for not realizing that they should have responded affirmatively to Hashem's request? Were they greater than Moshe? He had not realized it either!

Tosfos' answer gives us something to think about. They say that Klal Yisrael should possess a deeper awareness of what is expected of them - even more than Moshe. Klal Yisrael needed the prayer because they had sinned. They should have understood that they needed help from Hashem. Thus, their lack of response was an error. Moshe had not sinned. Therefore, he did not need a prayer for his spiritual welfare. Simply, someone who has once been ill should have the common sense to ask the doctor for help. One who has never been ill does not understand this need.

Horav A. Henoch Leibowitz, zl, derives from here that one who has sinned quite possibly may feel a greater need for closeness with Hashem - even more than a much saintlier or holier person. He explains that the neshamah, soul, of the sinner cries out from the abyss of filth created by his sin, as it grasps for the holiness and purity of which it has been deprived. The sinner has a stronger impetus for crying out to Hashem than the individual who has maintained a righteous and pious lifestyle. Sin has a powerful impact upon a person and, if he is cognizant, it can stimulate exceptional growth. It is very much like the survivor of a sudden illness. He realizes that if he is to continue living, he must make some drastic lifestyle changes. These alterations can spell the difference between life and a painful death. Klal Yisrael should have realized the spiritual trauma their infractions created for their neshamah. The impact of sin is powerful and stimulating, because, on some inner level, the sinner realizes his true greatness and his awesome potential for attaining sanctity. It is all in his hands. Falling down makes a person realize where he could and should be. Moshe did not share their sinful experience. Thus, he had to wait forty years to realize the error of their ways, and only then did he criticize KlalYisrael.

Every Jew has a thirst for holiness. Every Jew wants to be close to Hashem. In some, the thirst is embedded beneath layers and layers of secular and physical habits. What matters most is one's awareness of the distance between him and Hashem. Once Hashem has been "invited" into the equation, He provides the opportunity and impetus for the sinner's return. Teshuvah is a spiritual reawakening, a desire to strengthen one's connection between himself and the sacred. Thus, the efficacy of teshuvah is often derived from one's sense of distance from the sacred. The greater the distance, the greater the potential movement toward renewed interrelation. I once heard that this distance might be compared to a rope that is cut and retied. It is now doubly strong at the point where it has been retied.

What drives a person to return, to awaken from his spiritual slumber? What motivates that thirst for holiness? It is his neshamah, soul. Each and every one of us has a neshamah which is a chelek Elokai miMaal, a part of the Divine in Heaven. Yes, we have a part of Hashem within us. He deposits it with us, and we have to return it in good condition. It is that spark that drives the thirst which stimulates our return. We all have it; some have buried it deep beneath years of misuse, but it is present.

I conclude with a powerful thought from the Chofetz Chaim. The sage once announced that he wanted everyone in his yeshivah to assemble at a certain time. He had an important secret to reveal. Obviously, the excitement ran high as everyone was trying to guess what it was that their revered rebbe was going to tell them. This was unusual. Perhaps the Chafetz Chaim was about to reveal to them information concerning the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu. Clearly, that is what it had to be. After all, what could be more important? At the appointed time, everyone assembled in the bais medrash, waiting eagerly to hear what their rebbe was about to reveal to them.

The Chafetz Chaim entered the room, took out a siddur and proceeded to read the berachah of Elokai neshamah she nasata bi tehora hi, "My G-d, the soul You placed within me is pure." We recite this prayer daily at the beginning of our morning prayers. It is an expression of gratitude to Hashem for restoring our vitality in the morning with a soul of pure, celestial origin, and for sustaining us in life and health. As the Chafetz Chaim read, he came to the part where one says, "Someday You will return it me." This same neshamah which you have within you will be returned to you. You will receive the neshamah which you possessed in this world. What you do with your neshamah does not affect you only for the duration of your life, for the fifty, seventy, even one hundred twenty years. It affects you forever, for eternity. Remember that!" Now we can understand what drives us - or, at least, what should drive us to greater spiritual heights.

You shall teach them thoroughly to your children. (6:7)

The Torah uses the word "children," but, as Rashi comments, it does not mean children exclusively. It refers to one's students as well, since the Torah considers an individual's students to be like his children. In other words, the Torah writes children, because it means children, but students are also considered children. Rashi cites a pasuk in Devarim 14:1, "You are children to Hashem, your G-d." Certainly, we are not Hashem's children simply because of His partnership with out parents. If so, members of the gentile nations would also be considered His children. The pasuk is clearly speaking only to members of Klal Yisrael. Apparently, we are Hashem's children because He is the Source of our influence. He is our inspiration, the Source of our perspective on life and living. This teaches us, explains Horav Matisyahu Solomon, Shlita, that the title av, father, is not linked to the physical form of the child, but rather, with the essence of the child. This title can equally apply to the talmid, student, who receives a similar influence from the rebbe as the child receives from his father.

The Mashgiach emphasizes the significance of Klal Yisrael as Hashem's banim. He cites the tefillah which we recite on Rosh Hashanah, Hayom haras olam, "Today is the birth(day) of the world. Today all creatures of the world stand in judgment - whether as children (of G-d) or as servants. If as children, be merciful to us as the mercy of a father for children." Rabbeinu Bachya in his Kad Hakemach comments, "We do not know if You will judge us because we are Your children, as it is written, 'You are children to Hashem, your G-d, or You will judge us because we are Your servants, as it is written (Vayikra 25:55), For Bnei Yisrael are servants to Me." Apparently, Rabbeinu Bachya understands this tefillah to convey two perspectives concerning Hashem's outlook during judgment. He can view us as children: Did we act as good and proper children? Did Hashem derive pleasure from us, as a father derives pleasure from his son? Did we give nachas to Hashem? He can also view us as servants and determine if we have fulfilled our role as such.

We now have to ask ourselves: What is considered nachas for a father? How do we determine a father's nachas? When a father perceives that his influence has inspired his child's positive development, he derives pleasure. When a father sees that his positive character traits, outlook, ethical and moral standards have been transmitted to his child, he has nachas. When a father sees himself in his child, he has pleasure. Are we giving Hashem the nachas that a father deserves? Do we act towards Him as a son should act towards his father?

While children are aware of a natural sense of love, students have to be made to feel loved. A student should feel that his rebbe cares about him as a person, as well as a student. He should sense that his rebbe views him as a father views a son. Then, a reciprocity in which the student feels like a son to his father follows.

Horav Mordechai Weinberg, zl, was such a rebbe. A rosh yeshivah who was known for his brilliance and erudition, his uncompromising position to preserve the sanctity and purity of Torah, he was an individual who would tolerate no infraction or corruption. Yet, he was the gentlest of souls with regard to his talmidim. Known affectionately in the Torah world as Reb Mottel, he represented the middos, character traits, of emes and rachamim, truth and compassion, kanaus, zealousness, and sensitivity, all developed into a harmonious blend, a phenomenon of Torah leadership at its zenith. He took leave of this world in the prime of his life, leaving talmidim bereft of a rebbe, orphaned of a father. In an appreciation of the Rosh Yeshivah's life, Rabbi Yaakov Feitman cites vignettes from his life, emotions that poured from students who felt that they had lost more than a rebbe; they had lost a father, a moreh derech, a guide on the path of life.

One mother wrote: "I am so and so's mother. My son was known as a trouble maker and non-accomplisher. The Rosh Yeshivah singled him out, infused him with self-worth and peeled away his rough exterior. No one else saw what was beneath the surface, but Reb Mottel did. He saved my son."

He would take students who had previously been labeled, boys to whose names epithets had been attached, and lead them personally to the bais hamedrash. He took his love for Torah and breathed it into them until he altered their consciousness.

A young man came to his yeshivah after a number of dismal failures in other yeshivos. Actually, he was about to give up on ever becoming a Torah scholar. The Rosh Yeshivah devoted a portion of his daily study time to learning with this young man for two years until he was confident enough to go on his own. Today, he is a respected talmid chacham who credits his success and that of his family to Reb Mottel.

Once someone learned Torah from Reb Mottel, it was the beginning of a lifelong bond - a relationship that was unbroken by time or distance. He would travel to their simchos, refusing to accept payment for his time and effort, declaring, "This is my nachas as well." Indeed, he participated in the simchah like a parent.

I conclude with a story which Rabbi Yisrael Besser relates in his, "Warmed By His Fire," which I feel defines the relationship between a talmid and his rebbe. A talmid recently called Reb Mottel's son-in-law, Horav Shlomo Altusky, Shlita, for advice regarding a yeshivah for his highly motivated son. When Rav Altusky commented on the young boy's exceptional attitude towards learning, the father said, "It is not our z'chus, merit. It is because of the Rosh Yeshivah."

He explained his comment with the following story. Apparently, a number of years had gone by since this young man's wedding, and the couple had not yet been blessed with children. When the talmid visited with Reb Mottel and lamented the couple's predicament, the Rosh Yeshivah told him not to worry. This was atypical of a man who was unusually warm and compassionate. The talmid alluded to this. Reb Mottel's response tells it all.

"Do you think that when I am mesader kiddushin, officiate at a wedding ceremony, it is a simple ceremonial honor which has no meaning? The reason that I always ask to be provided with hotel accommodations is simply because I want to be more comfortable? Absolutely not! It is because whenever I am mesader kiddushin, I sit and recite Tehillim for many hours, entreating Hashem that this marriage be successful in all ways. I pray that my students build homes that are filled with joy, harmony and siyata dishmaya, Divine assistance. I was your mesader kiddushin. I prayed for you. Thus, you have nothing to worry about."

Hashem blessed the talmid and his wife with a child shortly thereafter. When the student called Reb Mottel to share the news with him, the Rosh Yeshivah commented, "You know, I am envious of you. Every parent must undergo tzaar gidul bonim, the various trials and tribulations that are so much a part of child rearing. You, however, have suffered enough prior to your son's birth. Thus, you will be spared any further pain."

The father concluded the story and said, "You see; the Rosh Yeshivah blessed me. My son's success is in the z'chus of the Rosh Yeshivah."

When a rebbe loves like a father, his students value him as a son.

Va'ani Tefillah

Hadar kavod hodecha v'divrei niflosecha asicha.

I shall speak the splendid glory of Your Majesty, and of Your wondrous deeds.

Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, distinguishes between the praise offered by the gentile nations and that of Klal Yisrael. The nations of the world relate all of the details of the mighty upheavals in nature and history and the destruction of the wicked - all events which are the precursors of the advent of Moshiach and the establishment of Malchus Shomayim, Heavenly Kingdom, on earth. The Jewish People, however, view these occurrences as manifestations of the splendor and glory of Hashem. We perceive world events as fitting perfectly into what seems to be a puzzle. Everything has its proper and correct place. It all fits into a Divine plan.

Furthermore, as Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, notes, asicha, with the suffix "ah," denotes urging. David Hamelech is urging himself to be dedicated to this function. Sichah is different than the other terms which denote speaking, such as, sippur, haggadah, dibur, amirah, all functions which indicate speaking in a limited measure in accordance with the nature of the subject. If it is lengthy, the speech will coincide. If it is short, the story will be brief. Sichah denotes constant talk, without limits, or specific purpose - just plain talk - and more talk. Thus, David declares: I choose to talk without limit always about Your splendor and glory. This is my pleasure and my heart's desire. It is focused speech for a specific purpose: for personal appreciation of Hashem's greatness and to share this awareness with everyone. That is my pleasure!

In loving memory
our dear Mother & Bubby

Mrs. Chana Silberberg
Chana bas Moshe Zev a"h
niftar 20 Av 5760
Zev & Miriam Solomon & Family

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