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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


My Lord/Hashem Elokim, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand. (3:24)

Let us consider Moshe Rabbeinu's statement in light of the individual who made it. Moshe received the Torah directly from the Almighty. He had been taught the entire Torah on an extreme level of incomprehensible depth. Indeed, Chazal teach us that every chidush, novel/original Torah thought, that a student presents had already been taught to Moshe. Moshe had been privy to all of Hashem's awesome miracles and wonders. He saw Hashem's might and strong hand first-hand. Nonetheless, despite all of these unparalleled achievements, Moshe stood at the entrance to Eretz Yisrael, proclaiming, "Hashem, You have (but) begun to show Your servant." In other words, all that Moshe had perceived of the Torah, his incredible knowledge of every facet and nuance of Torah, coupled with all that he saw of Hashem's wonders and miracles, was a haschalah, a beginning. Moshe had just begun learning. He was acutely aware that he had much more to learn, so much more to achieve. He had barely scratched the surface.

Veritably, as Horav M.L. Shachor writes in his Avnei Shoham, the more one learns in Torah, the greater his understanding of its concepts and depth, the more he becomes aware of how much further he must go to achieve that which is available in Torah. The more one learns, the more he realizes how deep and how wide is the sea of Torah. The true student of Torah understands that as much as he has been able to accomplish, he has only just reached the "beginning."

Horav Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam, zl, the Klausenberger Rebbe, was the standard-bearer of Sanzer chassidus in the Twentieth century. His compelling life story is a lesson in: commitment to Torah study; meticulous observance of mitzvos; and profound awe of the Almighty. His inner strength was unmatched; his sole purpose in life was to serve Hashem and His people. So emotional was he, that when he davened, prayed, his prayers would send chills through his listeners' bodies. He would cry and groan while standing erect before Hashem, his face enraptured with love for his Creator.

Often, when he recited Ahavah Rabbah, the tefillah preceding the daily Shma Yisrael, he would repeat each word two or three times, as tears streamed down his cheeks, similar to the emotion expressed by a child pleading with his father. When he prayed, he was in a world all of his own. He was not on planet earth; he was soaring to the Heavens. At times, he would even change the words, as he choked with emotion, first reciting, v'haer eineinu b'Sorasecha, "Enlighten our eyes to Your Torah," v'dabeik libeinu b'mitzvosecha, "Attach our hearts to Your mitzvos," and then repeating, "Enlighten our eyes to Your mitzvos, attach our hearts to Your Torah." He followed this by throwing himself on the floor in humility and entreaty. To the one-time spectator, this may have seemed strange, but to those who knew the Rebbe, it was the zenith of sincerity. The Rebbe "lived" his prayers, davening in such a manner that demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that he was talking directly to Hashem.

When we speak about individuals who have embodied Torah study at its zenith, the name Horav Yosef Rosen, zl, the Rogatchover Gaon, comes to mind. Horav Pinchas Teitz, zl, Rav of the Jewish community in Elizabeth, NJ, was very close with the Rogatchover and was instrumental in printing his novellae. In his introduction to the 1985 edition of Tzafnas Paaneach, Bava Metzia, he writes about this gaon's relationship with Torah. I take the liberty of citing snippets from this introduction, as translated and recorded in the volume of biography, "Learn Torah, Love Torah, Live Torah," authored by his daughter, Dr. Rivka Blau.

"In his entire perception and his entire being there was only one Torah. It is not that he was cut off from the world of action - he was well aware of all the events and problems of the world. It is just that his approach to examine anything was through the Torah… We think of three dimensions for physical matter: length, width and height. The Rogatchover innovated that everything had a fourth dimension, the dimension of halachah that is found in everything… He could not possibly distract himself from Torah, so total was his bond with it… Indeed, the day he found most difficult was Tisha B'Av, when one is not supposed to learn Torah. By the afternoon, he was compelled to open a Gemara. He could not go on. When he had to undergo a surgical procedure, he instructed the doctor not to give him anesthesia, saying that he would simply concentrate on his learning and, thereby, not feel any pain.

"He lacked the ability to forget. Everything that he learned, thought, heard, conceived or wrote was always before his eyes. He saw what he had learned (similar to a teleprompter) - not just remembered it."

Rav Teitz notes that, in the Torah world, a sense of puzzlement concerning the Rogatchover's seemingly strange behavior vis-?-vis people and even rabbanim prevailed. He chose to remain in complete isolation, refusing to become friendly or draw close to anyone. Many even felt that this was out of disdain for others. Rav Teitz feels that this conjecture is far from correct. His conduct emanated from a sense of anxiety at wasting time from Torah which might occur if he were to become involved in relationships. He did everything in his power to protect himself from wasting time from Torah. He refused to become friendly with Torah luminaries who sought his friendship. His love of Torah encompassed every fiber of his essence.

But you shall greatly beware for your souls. (4:15)

Horav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, zl, writes in his Michtav m'Eliyahu, that the natural inclination to live-- the love of life and fear of it ending-- has its root in a profound spiritual source within each individual. The understanding that every moment of life contains within it boundless spiritual opportunity is enough to imbue a person with a love of living. Thus, he explains that, commensurate with one's spiritual plateau, so will be his desire to live. One whose spiritual dimension tags along far behind his material/physical needs will have no problem endangering himself and putting his life at risk.

We live in a generation in which people risk their lives for very little - a little attention, a fleeting moment of public awe and acclaim. In contemporary vernacular, this is referred to as gevurah, strength. These are people who have severed their relationship with the source of life. Spirituality means nothing to them. Therefore, their lives have limited meaning or value.

Rav Dessler notes that these self-proclaimed heroes refer to the Torah Jew as a pachdan, one who is fearful of everything, an alarmist, whose diffidence controls his life, causing him to be afraid to move. They have no understanding of the value of life; to them, it is worthless. For the Torah Jew, ahavas chaim, love of life, has a meaning which totally contrasts the meaning that it holds for these giborim, "strong men." They do not care about life. We do.

This idea helps us to decipher why some young people succumb to the desire to experiment with mind-altering drugs, living a lifestyle that is both dangerous and hopeless. They have not yet experienced a lifestyle of spirituality, a life of Torah, a life of value. If there is no spirituality, life is truly vacuous and without meaning. They view life from the perspective of the mundane. Life is short; let's have fun; let's live life on the fringe. How wrong they are. Regrettably, by the time some of them wake up, it is too late.

We question why certain individuals lack the attraction to spirituality, and we wonder how to go about addressing the problem. First, we must define spirituality, and then move on to the next phase concerning how to foster this experience in the minds and hearts of those who lack it. Spirituality is the relationship one has with Hashem. A spiritual person is one who maintains a strong bond with the Almighty, such that every act in his life is measured by how much it will benefit his relationship with Hashem and every negative activity is defined by how much it impinges upon this bond. In other words, these individuals mix up their priorities in life. The internal spiritual focus that one must possess in order to grow spiritually is often replaced by the concentration on the external impression they leave on others.

Spirituality focuses on: Who am I? Why am I here? And what am I doing in order to succeed in my mission to serve Hashem? The individual who ignores spirituality is more concerned with how he impresses others than the internal meaning and purpose of his life. A life of true spirit seeks an environment in which it is nurtured, so that it can grow and continue developing. The shul, where Jews of all ages and backgrounds gather to supplicate Hashem, is a critical place in which to experience spirituality. Thus, those who attend the services with the proper attitude will grow immensely in such an environment. Those, however, who are uncomfortable with focusing on the spiritual dimension of their lives, will do everything in shul - but daven. They will find every reason to talk and even to disturb others. It is frustrating for the individual who is impressed by externals to attend a service, which has very little meaning to him. Indeed, he will make sure to attend a shul which is more ritual-oriented than prayer-oriented. He cannot handle prayer, because this means turning inside and concentrating on the why and how of the prayer service, the emotions that are intrinsic to prayer and the sentiments it infuses within the person. He feels that acting is much easier than feeling.

This is not to say that the externals are insignificant. They should not be our primary focus, however, because they distract us from the real essence of Judaism. Likewise, it would be nice if, for a change, we stopped judging people by how they appear to us, but rather assessed them according to who they are. When we begin focusing on what is really important, we will become much happier people and much better Jews.

Hashem became angry with me because of you. (4:21)

The Torah seems to imply that Moshe Rabbeinu lost out on his chance to enter Eretz Yisrael as a result of the people's reaction to the spies when they returned from their mission and issued slanderous reports. This seems strange, since the decree refusing Moshe's passage into the Land took place much later, at the end of their forty-year journey. It was the mei merivah, waters of strife, that catalyzed this refusal. What role did the incident of the spies of forty-years earlier play in this refusal? The Ozrover Rebbe, Horav Moshe Yechiel HaLevi Epstein, zl, cites the Midrash in the beginning of Sefer Devarim, in which Moshe asks Hashem which of the phrases He will fulfill. Phrase one is, "Forgive now the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your kindness" (Bamidbar 14:19), which is a reference to the sin of the meraglim. Phrase two is, "Let me now cross and see the good land that is on the other side of the Jordan" (Devarim 3:5), which is Moshe's plea to Hashem to allow him to enter Eretz Yisrael.

The dialogue that ensued between Moshe and Hashem was a discussion about "trading off" the consequences of phrase one for phrase two and vice versa. In other words, if Moshe had wanted Hashem to forgive the Jewish People, then Moshe would have had to relinquish his request of Ebra na, "Let me now cross." If he had wanted Hashem to permit him passage into the Holy Land, then Moshe would have had to forget about the Slach na, "Forgive now the iniquity of this people."

We derive from the Midrash that if Moshe had been willing to give up on his request to enter Eretz Yisrael, the Jews would have received forgiveness for their reaction to the meraglim's slander. If he had insisted upon entering Eretz Yisrael, he would have had to give up the opportunity for the Jewish People to receive forgiveness for the sin of the spies. Moshe Rabbeinu, the quintessential leader, decided that Klal Yisrael was more important than his desire to enter the Land. Their forgiveness took precedence. He chose to remain on this side of the Jordan and die there, prior to his nation's entrance into the Land.

We now understand the meaning of al divreichem, "because of you." Moshe could have had the edict against him rescinded. He did not, because he cared about the people. Thus, the reason that he was not entering the land was "because of you." This is mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, at its zenith. We find individuals who sacrifice themselves for the tenets of our faith, for the opportunity to study Torah, to perform mitzvos, but we rarely find that one is moser nefesh for chesed, just in order to perform a kindness for another Jew.

During World War II, the Vaad Hatzalah, rescue and relief organization of Agudath Israel, played a dominant role in saving the lives of Jews who otherwise would have perished in the Holocaust. When we think of Vaad Hatzalah, the names of three roshei yeshivah come to the fore: Horav Avraham Kalmanowitz, zl, Horav Eliezer Silver, zl, and Horav Aharon Kotler, zl. Together with other rabbanim and lay leaders, they worked with incredible mesiras nefesh to save Jewish lives. Rav Aharon placed Vaad Hatzalah as a priority. Jewish lives were at stake. One night, in ill health and flushed with fever, he traveled to Washington and walked in rain and snow from government office to government office to rescue Jewish lives.

In his hesped, eulogy, for Rav Aharon, Reb Yitzchak (Irving) Bunim, zl, cried out at his funeral, B'zos yavo Aharon, "With these shall Aharon come into the Holy Place," which is a pasuk in the Torah referring to Aharon HaKohen, but in this sense serves allegorically as a testament to Rav Aharon Kotler. "Rav Aharon made a korban out of himself," R' Yitzchak declared. "The korban he brought by neglecting his family and his own children that he cherished so much. With these sacrifices, shall our esteemed Rebbe enter into the Holy Place in Shomayim."

As busy as Rav Aharon was with the klal, general community, he did not in any way diminish from his involvement with the p'rat, individual. He would drop everything and throw himself into helping an individual. When helping a single Jew, he would show the same enthusiasm as he showed when trying to address the most demanding and crucial klal matter. He felt that ein b'klal ela ma she'b'prat, "the whole only consists of its individual parts." Klal Yisrael's value is equivalent to the value of its individual members. Thus, one may neither lose sight of the needs of the individual, nor may he ever lose his sensitivity towards the individual due to his involvement with the klal. That is the true mark of greatness.

You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal. (5:17)

Once a maskil - a member of the progressive, Enlightenment, anti-Torah element, that was scourging the Jewish communities of Europe-- came to the Sefas Emes with a question that had been troubling him for quite some time. "Rabbi," he began, "during Matan Torah, when the Torah was given, it is stated that v'chol ha'am roim es hakolos, "And all the people were able to see the sounds." Chazal explain that this was a miracle which enabled the people to see what was being heard. My question is: Was this necessary? Why would Hashem have made a miracle which does not have any significance?

The Sefas Emes understood that this miscreant was not looking for an answer. He just wanted to challenge the Torah. Thus, he disregarded him. Horav Avraham Mordechai, zl, his son, happened to hear the question and, knowing the source of the question and the individual's miserable attitude towards Judaism, he decided to answer the question. He said, "If they could not actually see what was being heard, they quite possibly could have conjured up an excuse that perverted the meaning of the admonitions of Lo sirtzach, Lo sinaaf, v'Lo signov. He could have replaced the alef at the end of the word lo, which means 'do not,' with lo with a vav, which would not mean, 'for Him,' implying that if it is for Hashem, then murder, immorality and theft are quite permissible. Now that one could actually see the sounds, there could be no question concerning the meaning of these prohibitive commandments."

And with all your resources. (6:5)

Me'odecha is translated as resources, implying that even if love of Hashem causes one to lose all of his money, he should be prepared to do so. There are those who would endanger their lives to save their wealth. They, too, must place love of G-d above all else. Ramban explains that the word me'odecha is derived from me'od, which means "very much." This means that one is obligated to love Hashem more than anything else which he favors. Since some people put their money in the fore of their lives, the Torah enjoins that love of Hashem takes precedence even over money.

The Chafetz Chaim added that just as money is referred to as meo'decha, since it is one's most valued possession, one who values Torah more than anything else must be prepared to sacrifice his me'odo, when the opportunity to express his love for Hashem or to sanctify His Name arises. Indeed, the Chafetz Chaim told his son-in-law, Horav Hirsch Levenson, zl, who was the Menahel, Director, of the Yeshivah in Radin, that, in order to run a yeshivah, one must be willing to sacrifice the time he normally apportions for Torah study.

Horav Elchanan Wasserman, zl, was more than the Rosh Yeshivah of Baranovich; he was "everything" to the yeshivah. Thus, he would often take extended trips to various countries to raise vital funds for the yeshivah. He would say that on these long, arduous trips he would, at times, want to steal himself away and return to his beloved Torah study. He thought to himself, however, "This is the yetzer hora, evil-inclination, talking. It wants me to study Torah specifically at a time when I must raise additional money for the yeshivah."

Horav Aryeh Zev Gurvitz related that when Rav Elchanan once visited England on a fund-raising mission, he visited with Horav Elya Lopian, zl. He began his visit with a Torah thought, and the two Torah luminaries were lost in the vast sea of Torah. Every once in a while, Rav Elchanan stopped the conversation with a fund-raising question. "Where can I find an individual who has the wherewithal and the will to support the yeshivah?" He would then immediately return to his question or answer. After this had occurred a number of times, to the consternation of those present, he explained, "This is what was taught to me by my rebbe, the saintly Chafetz Chaim: When a person is involved in carrying out a mission for a yeshivah, he is forbidden to allow his mind to wander to other issues. His primary focus must be the yeshivah - to the exclusion of everything else.

Bind them as a sign upon your arm, and let them be ornaments between your eyes. (6:8)

The Torah places the Tefillin shel yad, Tefillin worn on one's arm, before the Tefillin shel rosh, Tefillin worn on one's head. Other than the halachah which demands that the shel yad be put on prior to the shel rosh, the Viznitzer Rebbe, Shlita, of Monsey, feels that the Torah is alluding to an important principle in avodas Hashem, service to the Almighty. Concerning the Tefillin shel rosh, Chazal apply the pasuk, V'rau kol amei ha'aretz ki shem Hashem nikra alecha, "Then all the peoples of the earth shall see that Hashem's Name is proclaimed over you" (Devarim 8:10). The function of the Tefillin shel yad is, as we say in the preparatory prayer before performing the mitzvah, "And that it be opposite the heart thereby to subjugate the desires and thoughts of our heart to His service." In other words, the Tefillin shel rosh symbolize our obligation vis-?-vis the outside world, while the Tefillin shel yad denotes our own personal battle with the desires of the heart.

This, explains the Rebbe, is the message of the sequence of the Tefillin. A person puts on his Tefillin shel yad to remind him that he must first triumph in his personal battle with the yetzer hora, evil-inclination, before he "goes out" to represent Judaism to the masses. The only way one can expect others to see that Hashem's Name is proclaimed over him is when he has demonstrated his own inner strength and convictions. Yes, there are those who erroneously feel that by working in the field of outreach, the person develops inner strength. It may work for some, but it is nonetheless the wrong sequence. In fact, when they see their mentors acting inappropriately, it can endanger the very individuals whom they are trying to help. One cannot teach others before he has taught himself.

Va'ani Tefillah

ki tov zamrah Elokeinu ki naim naavah sehillah.
It is good to sing to our G-d, because it is pleasant when praise is fitting.

Elokim is the Name of Hashem which denotes Din, the attribute of Strict Justice. Why does David Hamelech use the Name which expresses Strict Justice - especially if he is lauding Hashem by "singing" His praises? Song and strict justice do not seem to "harmonize." In his Meshech Chochmah, Horav Meir Simchah, zl, m'Dvinsk distinguishes between two concepts that exist in Hashem's world. There is tov, good, and mo'il, beneficial. Just because something is inherently good does not necessarily mean that it will be beneficial. Likewise, something which is beneficial does not have to be good. For instance, an act of chesed, kindness, is clearly good, but it might not be helpful. Chazal say that aniyus, poverty, is considered by Hashem as something "good," but it does not mean that it is advantageous. Strict Justice is very mo'il, helpful, but that does not make it "good."

When it comes to the darkei Hashem, ways of the Almighty, everything is both good and beneficial. Both His acts of Chesed and Din are good and beneficial simultaneously. We just have to open our eyes a bit to perceive His acts through deeper perspective. Therefore, David Hamelech says, ki tov, "It is good to sing," Elokeinu, "to our G-d (Din)," ki na'im v'naavha tehillah, "Because it is pleasant to listen to His reprovment. Hashem's rebuke should be accepted joyfully, since it is to our advantage.

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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