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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Hashem said to me, "It is too much for you! Do not continue to speak to me further about this matter. (3:26)

In the Talmud Sotah 13b, Chazal relate an interesting dialogue that ensued between Hashem and Moshe Rabbeinu. Hashem told Moshe, Rav lach, which is traditionally translated, "It is too much for you." We now offer an alternative interpretation, "You have a rav, master, to assume power, and who is this? Yehoshua." The Almighty was intimating that Moshe could not enter Eretz Yisrael, for his entry would delay Yehoshua's reign as leader. This statement begs elucidation. Moshe Rabbeinu was about to take leave of this world. It was a difficult time. He had unsuccessfully attempted to enter Eretz Yisrael. The door was closing on him. Yet, it was precisely at this emotional time that Hashem told Moshe: "Your student, Yehoshua, is waiting in the wings. His time to ascend to the leadership position has arrived. You are holding things up. It is time to move on." Would it not have sufficed to simply say, "Time is up"? Why did Hashem add, Rav lach, "You have a master - Yehoshua." It is like adding salt to the wound.

The Nesivos Ohr explains that, not only is this statement not hurtful, but it is actually expressing the contrary sentiment; it is a statement of consolation to hearten Moshe at this difficult time. Our leader was terribly distraught over the fact that he could not enter the Holy Land. He wanted to serve Hashem by fulfilling all of the mitzvos - even those that apply only in Eretz Yisrael. How could he teach the Torah and mitzvos, but not personally carry out what he was teaching to others? Hashem replied that all of the good deeds that Klal Yisrael would execute in Eretz Yisrael would be under the direction of his student: Yehoshua. Every mitzvah, every act of kindness that the Jewish People would perform, would be through the guidance of Moshe's surrogate: Yehoshua. Hashem was explaining to Moshe that it was all his doing. He was responsible for whatever success the nation would achieve in the Holy Land. He had taught his student well. Yehoshua would transmit the Torah, mitzvos and their interpretation precisely in the same manner that he had heard it from his rebbe. Yehoshua would carry on Moshe's legacy. Indeed, Moshe lives on in Yehoshua and his teachings. Hashem was telling Moshe that he need not worry that he was not entering the Land. Yehoshua would carry on his teachings in his name.

How important it is to leave a legacy. In my journey through life, I have been privileged to meet many people. Many were either sick or elderly, at the end of their life's sojourn. In speaking with them, I noted that they feared not the unknown as much as they were concerned with what they were leaving to others: "Will anyone remember me? Will anyone even know that I lived?" These are piercing questions that should trouble most of us. How will we be remembered? Will we be remembered? Are we doing anything to generate a positive reply to these questions?

You shall safeguard and perform them, for it is your wisdom and discernment in the eyes of the peoples. (4:6)

Rashi interprets U'shemartem, which is translated here as, "You shall safeguard," as referring to the study of Mishnah or Oral Law. It is only through the diligent study of the Oral Law that one develops an understanding of the ways and means of halachah and how to observe the mitzvos of the Torah properly. Usually u'shemartem is translated as, "You shall observe." In this pasuk, however, this interpretation is not applicable, because the following word, va'asisem, is translated as "(and) (you) (shall) perform them". In his commentary to Mishnayos, Zera Yitzchak, Horav Yitzchak Chiyos, zl, interprets this idea in the Mishnah 4:6, Ha'lomeid al menas laasos, maspikim b'yado lilmod u'lelameid lishmor v'laasos, "One who studies Torah in order to practice, is given the means to study and to teach, to observe and to practice." Chazal teach that the ultimate purpose of study is to better observe mitzvos.

The Zera Yitzchak quotes Horav Leib Chasid, zl, who explains the above Mishnah pragmatically. Studying Torah for no other purpose than stimulating and increasing one's intellectual knowledge is not a mitzvah at all. Torah is studied in depth so that one develops an acute appreciation and understanding of how to perform mitzvos properly. Otherwise, it is wisdom like any other intellectual discipline and, other than honing the mind, accomplishes little else. Rav Leib substantiates this exegesis with a rational question concerning the giving of the Torah. Chazal teach that, prior to giving the Torah to Klal Yisrael who accepted it outright, no questions asked, Hashem had offered it to the other nations. Concerned that it might hamper their lifestyle, they all questioned Hashem concerning the contents of the Torah. When it became clear to them that such compelling demands as prohibiting theft, adultery and murder were contained therein, they quickly begged off. To live a life without such practices was too difficult. It was just not living. Imagine, asking the pagan nations to act as human beings! Ridiculous! Now, if the only reason they rejected the Torah was that they could not perform its mitzvos, they could have at least accepted it with the provision that they study it. Forget about performance. They would learn Torah in the same manner that they learn everything else. Obviously, this approach was not acceptable. Torah has a purpose: carrying out its mitzvos. Torah study provides the means for executing this objective.

This is how the Zera Yitzchak understands the pasuk, according to Rashi: "You shall safeguard and perform them" - "You shall safeguard" - this applies to the study of Mishnah, "And perform them" - as it implies that we will study it for the purpose of performing mitzvos. What proof is there that this is to be our objective in Torah study? The Torah is responds, "For it is your wisdom and discernment in the eyes of the people." The reason that we received the Torah and they did not is that we were willing to perform the mitzvos, as opposed to the gentile nations, who wanted no part of it. Without mitzvah performance, the Torah is merely the Bible.

Only beware for yourself….lest you forget the things that your eyes have beheld and lest you remove them from your heart all the days of your life, and make them known to your children and to your children's children - the day that you stood before Hashem , your G-d, at Chorev. (4:9)

Ma'amad Har Sinai, the Revelation at Har Sinai, was the single most seminal event in the history of the Jewish nation. We changed our status from that of regular human beings to human beings endowed with the power of nevuah, prophecy. It was not just Moshe Rabbeinu alone who achieved this distinction; it was the entire Klal Yisrael - each and every Jew.

In the Talmud Makkos 24a, Chazal teach that Klal Yisrael heard the first two Dibros, commandments of the Aseres HaDibros, directly from Hashem, in much the same manner that Moshe heard the rest of the Ten Commandments from the Almighty. Horav Mordechai Gifter, zl, posits that this is the basis for the Torah's teaching, V'gam becha yaaminu l'olam, "And they shall believe in You forever" (Shemos 19:9). Herein lies the foundation upon which rests the principle of Torah authority in Jewish life. In the act of Klal Yisrael becoming prophets themselves - and thereby becoming the recipients of the Torah - the power of prophecy endowed in Moshe also became an acknowledged fact. Our acceptance of the Torah made Moshe the Lawgiver.

The Rosh Yeshivah explains that emunah, faith in the Almighty, is the result of intellectual perception of knowledge. A fool cannot be a true believer. It takes intelligence. If human knowledge is to be of any intrinsic value, if it is to endure - it must be experienced through man's physical senses. At Ma'amad Har Sinai, the entire nation achieved the plateau of prophecy. They became endowed with a sensory perception of Torah, whereby it became real; it became palpable. In Klal Yisrael's personal perception of prophecy lay the guarantee of becha yaaminu l'olam, the source and origin of Torah for all eternity. As Ramban writes, "Man does not believe that which he does not know."

It is, therefore, clear that the perpetuity of the Torah is connected directly with the Revelation at Har Sinai. One is not disassociated from the other. If Torah is part of our life, if it is chayeinu v'orech yameinu, "our life and length of our days," then we may never forget Ma'amad Har Sinai: the two are inseparable.

This was the primary function of the Mishkan and, later, the Bais Hamikdash: to grant permanence to Ma'amad Har Sinai in the life of Klal Yisrael. The glory of the Shechinah, which had descended on Har Sinai, rested within the Kodesh HaKedoshim, Holy of Holies, in a concealed form. The voice which had descended from Heaven to speak to the people continued to speak from within the Keruvim above the Aron HaKodesh. The Sanhedrin, from which Torah emanated to Klal Yisrael, sat within proximity of this "continued" Ma'amad Har Sinai.

The Rosh Yeshivah incorporates this concept into the mitzvah of Talmud Torah, teaching / transmitting Torah to our children, and propagating Torah from generation to generation. It is insufficient merely to teach Torah alone without imbuing the students with the "fire of Sinai," the tremendous Revelation that all Klal Yisrael-- men, women and children-- experienced. Only then does Torah become intrinsically a part of his psyche. Ramban emphasizes this idea in his commentary to this pasuk: "The Torah teaches us that in addition to observing Torah and mitzvos, it is our duty to remember the origin of these mitzvos at all times; we are exhorted not to forget Ma'amad Har Sinai and all that we saw and heard there. All that we witnessed at Ma'amad Har Sinai must be forever handed down to our children."

Rav Gifter underscores the great benefit which results from this mitzvah. Had the Torah been given by Moshe alone, it might have created an issue. True, he was the greatest prophet, but a prophet is not infallible. Another prophet might arise one day who would impugn the integrity of Moshe's prophecy. We have only to look back in the Chumash to the Korach rebellion to appreciate the validity of this hypothesis. Since the Torah descended to us directly from Heaven, amidst a Revelation unparalleled and unprecedented in the history of mankind, it becomes indisputable. Thus, all doubts are dispelled, and anyone whose goal it was to undermine the Divinity of the Torah would be viewed as a fraud. Regrettably, this did not prevent the early secularists in Germany, who, as the first casualties of the Haskalah, Enlightenment, denied the Divine Source of Torah. Unfortunately, they did garner enough pathetic followers to ensure the viability of a movement against Hashem. They may have succeeded in fooling themselves and perhaps their na?ve followers, but we - and any believing Jew - are conscious of this deception.

This is why becha yaaminu l'olam, "they shall believe in You forever." When Ma'amad Har Sinai is transmitted to the next generation, it will be recognized for what it is: the truth. No father lies to his son, and if one was sick enough to do so, surely 600,000 followers did not lie to their sons. Maamad Har Sinai is real; it is true. It is absolutely ludicrous how anyone could possibly deny this - and how anyone could be so gullible, so utterly foolish, to fall prey to this aberrant position.

In order to convey the Torah's teachings properly, it is essential that we not only transmit the law, the mitzvos, the teachings, but also the manner in which the Torah was given to us at Har Sinai. How does one do this? I think the rebbe/father must first sense the feeling, the emotion, the excitement, the awe of teaching something Divine. When one realizes that he is on a mission, acting as Hashem's agent to teach His Torah, his entire attitude changes. In order to teach it - one must feel it.

Perhaps this is what took place in Germany in the nineteenth century. They lost the "feeling." Ma'amad Har Sinai was no longer part and parcel of the Torah's study. Without the Revelation, Judaism is nothing more than a culture, a civilization. It lacks the religious aspect. Torah must be studied in much the same way that is was given. The people were filled with fear. They trembled. They were awestruck. That is how one approaches Toras Hashem. Bible study is not Torah from Sinai. If we do not respect the Source, then we cannot appreciate the material!

The Rosh Yeshivah concludes with a profound understanding of what the Ma'amad Har Sinai experience means to us today. Finite man lacks the ability to contain all of the Torah, which is infinite. He can, however, purify himself to the point that he becomes a receptacle in which Hashem implants within him the Torah. On his own, man cannot process Torah. The Revelation which we experienced at Har Sinai is part of a dynamic process through which all of Klal Yisrael became worthy of receiving the Torah. As we "recall" that seminal event in the history of our nation, we are able to relive it. Ma'amad Har Sinai takes place every time one opens up a Gemora and studies from it, with the knowledge that this is the Divinely ordained Oral Law that was given on Har Sinai. To remember is to relive, and to relive, is to capture the moment and make it a vital part of our lives.

Only beware for yourself…And make them known to your children and your children's children - the day that you stood before Hashem, your G-d, at Chorev. (4:9)

We find a special emphasis placed on Klal Yisrael's amidah, "standing" during the Giving of the Torah. We find this idea underscored in Parashas Yisro (Shemos 19:17), "And they stood beneath the mountain." This idea is mentioned a number of times. Likewise, Chazal refer to the Revelation as Ma'amad Har Sinai, the "standing" at Har Sinai. Apparently, this "amidah," Klal Yisrael's "standing," seems to be the primary context of Mattan Torah, the Giving of the Torah. Why?

Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, notes that, actually every time that there was a revelation of the Shechinah accompanied by Heavenly Fire, the immediate reaction of the people was to fall on their faces to the ground. This occurred when the Heavenly Fire consumed Nadav and Avihu. Likewise, when Heavenly Fire descended on Har HaCarmel, consuming Eliyahu HaNavi's sacrifice, the people fell to the ground. On the other hand, during the Revelation at Sinai, which was the greatest and most seminal of all such experiences, we find the people continuing to stand erect.

When the Neviim, prophets, heard the word of G-d, they fell to the ground. This applies to every Navi. Even the greatest gentile prophet, the wicked Bilaam, attests to his falling to the ground upon experiencing a Heavenly vision. Yet, during the Giving of the Torah, every Jew, from the greatest to the most simple, all stood strong and erect. Why?

In the Talmud Yoma 61a, Chazal teach that when the Kohanim and the people who were stationed in the Azarah would hear the Shem HaMeforash, Ineffable Name, emit from the mouth of the Kohen Gadol, they would fall on their faces to the ground and recite the verse, Baruch Shem Kavod Malchuso l'olam va'ed. Yet, when Klal Yisrael heard Hashem Himself declare, Anochi Hashem Elokecha, "I am Hashem Your G-d," they neither bowed, nor fell to the ground. They strengthened themselves and continued standing. Why was Mattan Torah different?

Rav Schwab derives from here that Mattan Torah was much more than a Heavenly revelation amid fire descending from Heaven. The experience was altogether unique and much more exalted than any other revelation. This was a unique opportunity to study Torah directly from the "mouth" of the Almighty. This one-time, "face to face," Panim el Panim, experience was the most seminal, sublime encounter of its kind. It is why we recite daily in our Bircas HaTorah, Ha'Melamed Torah l'amo Yisrael, "Who teaches Torah to His Nation, Yisrael." Thus, the Revelation is referred to as Ma'amad Har Sinai, with an emphasis on the ma'amad, "standing" at / of Har Sinai. It was no ordinary experience. It was the one time that we stood and listened to the Almighty teach Torah directly.

Perhaps this is why we must incorporate Ma'amad Har Sinai into our own daily learning experience. It elevates and enhances our own personal learning to the point that we feel that we are "there," standing before the Almighty, learning His Torah directly from Him. Clearly, if this concept would course through our minds, if we would apply this idea to our personal learning, it would transform it into an extra-ordinary experience. Indeed, this is how one should study Torah - as if he is standing at the foot of the mountain.

Who can assure you that this heart should remain theirs to fear Me and observe all My commandments all the days. (5:26)

When Klal Yisrael received the Torah, they experienced an unparalleled, unprecedented closeness with Hashem. At that point Hashem declared, "I wish that their hearts would be like this forever." It was almost as if He yearned to bottle the moment, to put it away for posterity. Forty years later, as Klal Yisrael stood poised to enter the Holy Land, Moshe Rabbeinu chastised them for not responding properly to Hashem. In the Talmud Avodah Zarah 5a, Chazal explain that the people should have immediately responded with an emphatic, "Yes! We pray that You grant us the purity of heart to serve You in this manner forever." Why were they reluctant to rendering this reply? Chazal teach that on some imperceptible level, they were circumspect about feeling gratitude towards Hashem, about recognizing His infinite kindness in allowing them to achieve this sublime level of spirituality.

It is an incredible statement, but, as Chazal note, Moshe himself only realized their error forty years later. At the time that it took place, he saw no failing in their non-reaction. In fact, Chazal derive from here that a person only begins to understand his rebbe fully after forty years, for it took Moshe forty years to comprehend clearly what it was that his Rebbe, Hashem, expected of him.

The above creates another problem. Tosfos asks: If it took Moshe forty years to detect a shortcoming in Klal Yisrael, how could he criticize the Jews for not realizing the correct manner in which to respond to Hashem? Klal Yisrael was certainly not greater than Moshe. Tosfos explains that the Jewish People should have had a more penetrating awareness - even greater than that of Moshe. What was so "special" about Klal Yisrael? They had sinned concerning the Golden Calf and again with the meraglim, spies. The people needed the prayer. Moshe did not. He had not sinned. They did. Their spiritual well-being required continued prayer. Had they given proper thought to the matter, they would have realized their error. Regrettably, they did not.

Horav Henoch Leibowitz, zl, derives from Tosfos a powerful lesson. The individual who has sinned may feel the need for closeness with Hashem much more so than the tzadik, righteous person, who has led a saintly, pure life. The Rosh Yeshivah explains that it is the sin that causes this spiritual need. The individual's neshamah, that Divine spark, the Pintele Yid that exists within each and every Jew, cries out from the abyss of sin and spiritual pollution. The neshamah is being stifled; it is being suffocated by all of the contamination that surrounds it. It gasps for purity and for the holiness of which it is being deprived. Thus, the sinner senses a deep-seated need to return to Hashem. This need is acknowledged, and it achieves greater expression in the realm of the sinner than it does in the realm of the tzaddik.

I might interject that this is perhaps the reason why many a sinner who returns goes back whenever he can, with whomever will take him - whether it is a bona-fide, Torah-orientation or just a sham. He is starving for something, to be accepted, to find grace; thus, he will go anywhere that the door is "open."

This is sin's impact. On some inner level, the sinner knows his true essence, his greatness and potential for spiritual security. Moshe acknowledged this error after forty years, but he still criticized them (Klal Yisrael) for not realizing this much earlier. Their history, their realization, should have preceded his.

The Rosh Yeshivah notes that every Jew has been blessed with a Divine GPS which finds the correct path. Regardless of how far one has strayed, or how much he has deviated from the path of Torah, this unique homing device, called the neshamah, directs us home to Hashem. Indeed, the further we stray, the deeper the abyss, the greater the urgency for our neshamah to prod us home to the warm embrace of Avinu she'ba'Shomayim, our Father in Heaven.

As an aside, concerning the forty-year waiting period before a student understands the depths of his rebbe's meaning, I quote from the life of Horav Meir Chadash, zl, the legendary Mashgiach of Chevron. In one of his shmuessen, ethical discourses, the Rosh Yeshivah, Horav Yechezkel Sarna, zl, raised a revolutionary idea which he attributed to his rebbe, the Alter, zl, m'Slabodka, Horav Nosson Tzvi Finkel. One of the students in the yeshivah approached the Mashgiach and asked him if he remembered hearing this idea from the Alter. The Mashgiach confirmed that he had heard it.

"If it was the Alter who said this, why did we never hear it from the Mashgiach?" the student asked.

The Mashgiach's answer was simple, to the point and very typical. "Because the Alter never said it in public." If the Alter never said it publicly, his student also refrained from doing so. He would quote Chazal in the Talmud Berachos 47a, "A person is obligated to speak in his rebbe's language." He added, "A person does not plumb the depths of his rebbe's meanings for forty years."

The Mashgiach felt that it took this amount of time to understand thoroughly what his rebbe had in mind. Indeed, it is possible that only after many years does he begin to understand the reason that his rebbe chose to express himself in a specific "language." Thus, as long as the reason remains elusory, he must be careful to speak in his rebbe's language.

It is for this reason that an educator's function is more difficult than that of a teacher. A teacher prepares the lesson and teaches it to the student. He receives immediate feedback; thus, he is able to judge how much of the lesson the student has grasped. An educator does more than just teach. He plants the seeds of his teachings with an eye on the distant future, amid calculations of an accumulated benefit. It is, therefore, impossible for the educator to know how much of his "seeds" will achieve fruition. As an added note, the Mashgiach said, "In order to view the full results, the educator must wait forty years - and that is difficult."

Va'ani Tefillah

Amen...Y'hei Shmei rabba mevarach l'olam u'l'olmei olmaya.
Amen…May His great Name be blessed forever and ever (throughout all of the four worlds of existence).

Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, notes the usual translation of l'olam u'l'olmei olmaya, either "eternity of eternities of eternity" or, "forever and ever." He cites the Nefesh HaChaim who translates this to mean: "In the world and in the worlds of the world." This is a reference to the four worlds of existence. The first "world" is followed by the "worlds," with the fourth being the "world." Rav Schwab explains: First, is the world of physical existence, the Olam Ha'Asiyah. This is followed by a higher spiritual world called Olam Ha'Yetzirah. The third world is even higher. This is the world of the Malachim, Angels, and is called the Olam Ha'Beriyah. The highest world is the Olam Ha'Atzilus which is derived from the word eitzel, near,a reference to this world's proximity to Hashem. Rav Schwab notes that we refer to these "worlds" in the Elokai Neshamah prayer which we recite daily. The neshamah, prior to its creation, is neshamah she'nosata bi, which is a reference to Olam Ha'Atzilus. Atah Barasa, "You created it," is Olam HaBeriyah where the neshamah is prepared for Creation. Atah yetzarta, "You formed it," is where the neshamah is fashioned with its individual characteristics and readied for placement in the physical body. This occurs in Olam Ha'Yetzirah. Finally, Atah nefachta bi, "You breathed it into me," when, in the Olam Ha'asiyah, Hashem places it within our body.

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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