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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


"Please let me cross and see the good land that is on the other side of the Jordan." (3:25)

A fascinating Midrash relates part of the dialogue between Moshe Rabbeinu and Hashem concerning his plea that he be allowed to enter the Holy Land. Moshe asked, "Ribono Shel Olam, the bones of Yosef HaTzaddik will enter Eretz Yisrael, and I will not enter? (Why is Yosef different than I?)" Hashem replied, "One who conceded, who acknowledged his Land, deserves to be buried there. One who did not acknowledge his Land is not buried there." Chazal note that when Potifar's wife failed in her attempt to seduce Yosef, she cried out, "Look! He brought us a Hebrew man to sport with us!" (Bereishis 39:14). It was clear to everyone that Yosef was a Jew. Yet, when Moshe saved Yisro's daughters, they described him in the following way: "An Egyptian man saved us from the shepherds" (Shemos 2:19). Moshe remained silent to the allegation that he was Egyptian, while Yosef affirmed his Jewish roots.

Chazal teach us that Yosef merited burial in Eretz Yisrael, because he had affirmed his Jewish lineage. He was not ashamed of acknowledging his Jewishness, despite his Egyptian surroundings. In Egypt, they clearly did not think highly of the Jews. Yet, Yosef was not afraid to assert his Jewishness. Moshe, however, did not take this approach. As a result, his request to enter the Holy Land was denied.

While the critique against Moshe was clearly on a microscopic level, in light of the fact that Moshe was the preeminent Jewish leader of Klal Yisrael, we still must ask ourselves where are we holding with regard to expressing and manifesting our Jewish image. Do we alter the mode of our public appearance upon finding ourselves in an environment in which our Jewish comfort level is challenged? A Jew must maintain his Jewish countenance, his external sense of pride, regardless of where he finds himself. This is especially true at a time in which so many of our brethren travel throughout the world to areas where a Jewish presence is quite limited, and often even non-existent. We have nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary, our mode of dress gives us reason to be proud of our tznius, private, modest, manner of not calling attention to ourselves, nor following the chukas ha'goyim, the utterly inane style of dress adopted by contemporary society. When a Jew walks down the street, it should be noticeable that he is Jewish - and he should be proud of it. This is demonstrated by the following incident:

Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, was once walking down the street when he was accosted by an Arab who slapped him across the face, declaring, "That is for you, Jew!" The Jews in the vicinity immediately wanted to pounce upon the Arab and give him what he deserved. Rav Yisrael begged them to desist and do nothing. Indeed, the onlookers were slightly shocked by this gesture. Allowing an Arab to take such liberties with the gadol ha'dor, preeminent Torah leader of the generation, was beyond wrong. It just did not make sense.

Rav Yisrael turned to the group that had assembled and said, "I said thank you to the Arab who slapped me for no other reason than I am a Jew. This indicates that he recognized my religious affiliation from nothing other than my appearance. It makes me feel good and increases my sense of pride in Whom and what I represent. I thanked him for enabling me to enjoy that moment of Jewish pride."

In his sefer, Ne'os Desheh, Horav David Shneur, Shlita, suggests that with regard to Jewish appearance, contemporary Jewish society falls into three groups. He comments on the pasuk detailing Yaakov Avinu's brachah, blessing, to Yosef's two sons, Menasheh and Ephraim, V'yikarei bahem shemi, v'sheim avosai, Avraham v'Yitzchak, "And may my name be declared upon them, and the names of my forefathers, Avraham and Yitzchak" (Bereishis 48:16). What is the meaning of the names of the Patriarchs being declared upon them? Every Jew has his own name. Menasheh and Ephraim were no different. Each had his individual name, given to him by his parents.

Rav Shneur explains this with the following analogy: A brilliant artist paints a picture of an apple tree on a canvas. The picture is so real that anyone who beholds it is almost prepared to take a bite of one of the apples. Certainly, the artist has no reason to write a caption at the bottom of the graphic, indicating that it is a tree. Anyone with a semblance of vision sees that this is a picture of a tree. Another artist presents his picture of a tree. This artist, however, is not as proficient as the first. In fact, it takes some imagination to see the "tree" in the picture. The artist writes on a card, "a tree," and places it next to the picture. The card allows one to "envision" a tree out of the conglomerate of colors pieced together on the canvas. It is not as defining as the tree painted by the first artist, but it is a tree nonetheless.

A third artist who is basically nothing more than a novice presents his painting. To use the word "painting" elevates the description of the "mess" of colors on the canvas to a higher level. Only someone with a daring and vivid imagination could ever think that this is a tree. In this case, even the card describing the hodgepodge of color as a "tree" is of little assistance. People have a difficult time believing that this is the picture of a tree.

The nimshal, lesson, is quite apparent. Some Jews, by virtue of their countenance/physical appearance, mode of dress and personal/social demeanor, have "Jew" written all over. They act with refinement, dignity, and even royalty. Their choice of clothing parallels their spiritual persona, not seeking to endear themselves to the "hip-hop" culture which pervades society. They have no desire to call attention to themselves. In short, they are secure in their religious belief; proud of their tradition; and confident in their commitment.

The second type of Jew is one who no longer publicly exhibits an affiliation with Judaism. He has long ago exchanged the "black and white" for the "paisley and pink." Tzitzis and other traditional garb are not consistent with his current lifestyle. Yet, he does wear his Star of David or Chai on a chain around his neck. He will don a kippah on his head if the need arises. It is not that he is ashamed of his Jewishness. He just does not think much about it, and he publicizes it even less. This individual is much like the ambiguous painting of a tree that is defined once the card bearing the word "tree" is placed in front of it.

The third type of Jew is all too familiar. His relationship with his heritage had been severed generations earlier. His father was the second type of Jew whose commitment was, at best, lackadaisical. He contributed to producing a generation of Jew who neither appears Jewish, nor acts Jewish. The alienation of this Jew has digressed to the point that he feels no emotion towards his religion. He is spiritually numb, or perhaps worse. He is very much like the hodgepodge of color that is a tree - but only in the artist's imagination. Placing a card in front of the painting and calling it a tree will do very little to define the picture. Yaakov Avinu prayed that regardless of what the future would bring, the names/images of the Patriarchs will be proudly manifest in his progeny.

And you shall not steal. (5:17)

We live in a day and age during which the idea of theft has lost much of its aura of malevolence. Stealing used to be an anathema. Regrettably, people have discovered loopholes whereby what used to be evil no longer carries such a negative stigma. Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, relates the story of a distinguished student of the Arizal, a wealthy businessman who owned two factories in Tzfas. In one factory, he employed only men; in the other factory, only women. One day, the student visited his revered Rebbe. When he entered the room, the Rebbe said, "I see on your forehead a speck of gezel, theft." Apparently, the holy Ari was able to see what the average man could not. He looked at his student and saw a taint of misappropriated funds. The student immediately replied, "Rebbe, I have never taken anything from anyone. How could I be suspected of theft?" The Ari told him to introspect, because it was definitely there - someplace.

The next day, the student entered his two factories. He placed a bag of silver in front of all of his workers and declared, "Anyone who has any monetary claim against me, please come forward and take what is your due. Even if you remotely think that I owe you money - take it please! If anyone feels that he or she has sustained a monetary loss because of me - come forward and take your money!"

No one came forward. The silence was palpable. Finally, a middle-aged widow slowly came forward and took three pennies. She felt that this sum of money, although a mere pittance, was owed to her. Until now, she had never felt like complaining over such a paltry sum, but the owner of the factory was literally "begging" someone to come forward and relieve him of his money. Until now she had been embarrassed to complain. Now the situation had changed.

The Ari's student was overjoyed to return to his Rebbe with a clean slate. Indeed, the Ari no longer noticed the telltale sign on his student's forehead. Apparently, the issue had been resolved. We now have an idea of the perspective in which a tzaddik, righteous person, views thievery. A mere three pennies, which a woman felt in her heart rightfully belonged to her, comprised a breach in the transgression of Lo signov, "Do not steal." It is not how much. The mere fact that another person feels degraded is sufficient cause for the act of theft to leave a spiritual blemish on a person's forehead. Can we imagine what our foreheads must look like?

Rav Sholom takes a strong position concerning yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven. He feels that unless one purges himself of his obsession for acquiring material wealth, he cannot possibly achieve an acceptable level of yiraas Shomayim. The two simply do not mesh together. Only one who is not consumed by a passion for amassing wealth, who has not fallen victim to an insuppressible drive for attaining as much money as he can, has the ability to achieve true yiraas Shomayim.

The Maggid quotes a Torah thought he had heard from a distinguished Torah scholar concerning the pasuk in Tehillim 19:10, Yiraas Hashem tehorah omedes la'ad, "The fear of Hashem is pure, enduring forever." The Mechilta comments, "How does one guarantee that his yiraas Shomayim will endure? If his yiraas Shomayim transcends the material, if it eschews monetary gain, he is guaranteed of a lasting relationship with the Almighty." One feels that he has made it in certain instances in one's life. He senses his life going in the right direction. He is learning, davening, performing acts of chesed - all of the good things. Thus, he certainly feels that he would be labeled a yarei Shomayim, G-d- fearing Jew. Rav Sholom claims that this is not always the case. One may appear to be G-d-fearing, but, for all intents and purposes, it is a yiraas Shomayim that is tainted by gold and silver. When he is up against the wall, when the challenge becomes too much to bear, he immediately exchanges his yiraas Shomayim for a little gold and silver.

How sadly true this is. How often do we hear of a devout person falling prey to a challenge involving money? What about the yarei Shomayim boss/owner/manager, anyone in a leadership position, putting their yiraas Shomayim into their back pocket to save a few dollars? The Ari's student was spiritually blemished due to three pennies of which he was unaware, but a poor widow was. We play with people's lives hiring, firing at will, disregarding the emotions of the worker, the financial loss, as long as our bottom line appears healthy. Lo Signov!

You shall love Hashem, your G-d. (6:5)

The Talmud Yoma 86b delineates between chillul Hashem, desecrating Hashem's Name, and Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying Hashem's Name. Four varieties of penance atone for the sins one commits. First is teshuvah, repentance, which atones without the need for added yissurim, pain and troubles. There are sins for which teshuvah requires Yom Kippur as an added penance. We have so far alluded to three forms of teshuvah: teshuvah alone; teshuvah with yissurim; teshuvah with Yom Kippur. One last sin goes beyond the parameters of teshuvah, yissurim and Yom Kippur. It is a transgression that is neither atoned for by Yom Kippur, nor cleansed by yissurim. Only one form of penance is left: missah, death, which is the ultimate purification process.

The Talmud presents a number of examples of chillul Hashem, the common thread among them is an activity which has a negative effect on the spiritual demeanor of others. Concerning Kiddush Hashem, Chazal teach that one should see to it that Shem Shomayim misaheiv al yadcha, "The name of Heaven becomes beloved through you." This is derived from the above pasuk: "You shall love Hashem." How does one manifest his love for the Almighty? One should read, study and also serve talmidei chachamim, Torah scholars. His dealings with people, both business and otherwise, should be conducted in an easy-going, pleasant manner. This will cause people to comment: "Praised is the rebbe who taught him Torah; woe are those people who did not learn Torah. That man who studied Torah, how pleasant are his deeds, how proper are his actions."

Chazal teach us an important lesson concerning Kiddush Hashem. We have often defined Kiddush Hashem as mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice. If a Jew must choose between death and apostasy, he chooses death. This is Kiddush Hashem. While it certainly is that, Kiddush Hashem goes beyond one's preparedness to die for Hashem; It is equally important to live in such a manner that he sanctifies Hashem's Name with his every action - She'yehei Shem Shomayim misaheiv al yadecha, that you become the medium for increasing love for Hashem.

We wonder why this message could not have been conveyed more briefly. Chazal should have said, "One should act appropriately in his dealings with people, so that people will comment concerning his wonderful actions." Was it necessary to add: "Praised is his father; praised is his rebbe, etc."? Horav Eliyahu Lopian, zl, derives from here that without Torah there is no appropriate behavior, no proper manners - no mentchlichkeit. That which we see on the street is fleeting and quickly renounced. The only human decency that endures is that which is the result of Torah study. Positive character traits that are not refined by a life of dedication to Torah have no lasting value. They will quickly dissipate under pressure, falling prey to adversity and challenge. Torah hones one's personality as he becomes one with its spiritual Source. As it is eternal, so, too, do his character traits become an integral part of his essence. People may not be able to determine the extent of his learning, but they will certainly be impressed by his character refinement.

You shall love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart… and these words… shall be upon your heart. (6:5,6)

The pasuk tells us that one should love Hashem with all of his heart. This is followed by the admonition to place "these words" on one's heart. A connection must exist between the two "hearts" mentioned. The Sifri asks how does one manifest his love for Hashem? The Almighty is not a mortal. He has no corporeality. How does one experience this sense of love? Chazal answer that the key lies in the words, V'hayu ha'devarim ha'eileh… al levavecha, "And these words … shall be on your heart." By inscribing Hashem's words on our heart, we come to recognize, acknowledge and appreciate the One Who brought this entire world into existence.

In his inimitable manner, the Maggid, zl, m'Dubno, explains this with a parable. A villager who was far-removed from anything cultural visited a large metropolis shortly before Yom Tov. He figured that, with the Festival quickly approaching, he might as well purchase a new set of clothes in honor of the holiday. The villager came to the tailor shop dressed in his heavy wool clothing, which was the trademark of the villager of those days. Indeed, when the villager donned his daily clothes, he appeared to have put on a few pounds.

Upon entering the haberdashery shop, the villager was overwhelmed with the selection of suits in various shades and sizes. The salesman, of course, was proficient in his vocation; and immediately selected the correct size from the rack. The villager went into the dressing room to try on his new suit. Alas, he had great difficulty getting on the pants. Finally, when the pants were on, he attempted to put on the jacket, but it was to no avail. In the process, he had almost ripped the seams on the new garment. The fellow left the dressing room hurling insults at the salesman. "What kind of salesman are you?" he screamed. "You told me that this was my size. Look at the suit; it is almost torn to pieces from my attempt to put it on!"

The salesman looked at the villager and began to laugh. This did not sit well with the prospective customer. First, the man had given him the wrong size, and now, he was laughing at him. The salesman explained the reason for his levity: "The suit size I selected for you is the correct size. The problem is that you forgot to remove your heavy wool clothes before trying on the suit. The new suit will replace your 'village' clothes. Remove your wool shirt and heavy wool pants, and you will immediately see how well the suit fits you!"

The Maggid explains that man is very much like the villager who forgot to remove his thick wool clothes. We are weighed down with character traits that take their toll on our personality and actions. We are filled with envy, obsessed with lust, and constantly seeking honor. Middos, character traits, are much like the clothing we wear. They define us and present us in the light in which we are seen, creating our image. A Torah scholar whose connection with the Torah is absolute and all-encompassing is able to "change his clothes," rid himself of the evil character traits that bog him down, and focus instead on refining his character traits. He exchanges arrogance for humility, lust for satisfaction, envy for dignity and self-respect. He realizes that, unless he removes the "old clothes," the defective middos, he will not succeed in donning those middos which are essential for spiritual growth.

The Sifri asks a question: "How does one love Hashem?" The Torah teaches us, V'hayu ha'devarim… al levavecha, "These words… shall be placed upon your heart." Place them on your heart, and remove the spiritual dross that covers your heart. Take off the old clothing, so that the Torah can be placed directly upon your heart. Now, you will see how the Torah fits perfectly on you. This is how one learns to love Hashem. A heart filled and overloaded with middos ra'os, defective character traits, does not know how to love Hashem, since it is too involved in its own self-love. Purge yourself of the dross, so that the Torah can "fit" in where it belongs.

In this sense, b'chol levavcha, "with all your heart," means that nothing should come between your heart and Hashem. Perhaps we may offer the following alternative approach: The story is told about a young yeshivah student who longed to meet the gadol ha'dor, preeminent Torah scholar, the Chafetz Chaim. He saved his money and took the train to Vilna. Upon arriving, he switched his mode of transport to a wagon and driver who took him to the small town of Radin, home of the saintly Chafetz Chaim.

It was the middle of a very cold night when the bachur, young man, arrived in Radin. There was no cab service to speak of, so he began to walk through the Jewish neighborhood hoping he would find someone who could put him up for the night. Luckily, he chanced upon a middle-aged man who, from external appearances, looked like a Torah scholar. "Can I help you, Reb Yid?" the man called to him. "Yes, I came to Radin to receive a blessing from the Chafetz Chaim," the bachur replied. "Fine, I can help you. He is my father-in-law. Come, I will put you up for the night, and, in the morning, we will visit him."

The bachur could not believe his incredible good fortune. Not only did he find a place to sleep, he now had access to the venerable sage whom he had come to visit. He quickly got into bed and covered himself from the cold that seeped through the walls of the house. As he was about to drift off to sleep, the exhausted bachur reminded himself that he had not yet davened Maariv, prayed the evening service. The yetzer hara, evil inclination, took over, convincing him that it was freezing in the house. He had finally come in from the cold and now lay beneath a warm blanket. Why not simply daven in bed? After all, Maariv was a tefillas reshus, discretionary prayer. Under normal circumstances he would never consider such behavior, but it was so cold, and he was so tired. Why not - just this one time?

The yetzer hara's guile worked, because two minutes after he began davening, he was fast asleep. The next morning, he was up bright and early. After davening and eating breakfast, the bachur - accompanied by the Chafetz Chaim's son-in-law - went to visit the sage. The Chafetz Chaim was quite old and weak. At that moment, he was laying in bed, his face turned to the wall. His son-in-law motioned to the bachur to approach the bed, as he explained to the sage the reason for the bachur's visit.

The Chafetz Chaim listened, but did not turn his head to face the bachur. His eyes were still on the wall. Apparently, he did not feel it prudent to turn toward the bachur. At first, the sage did not respond to his son-in-law's request that he confer with the bachur. Instead, the Chafetz Chaim began saying the following, "Veritably, Maariv is a discretionary prayer. Yet, we are all aware that if one is caught stealing, he must pay back what he has stolen. In addition, he might be fined considerably. If one perpetrates an act of theft during a period of war, he will most likely be executed. This is a time of heightened anxiety in which discipline is critical to maintaining the basic structure of the community. Tolerance is extremely limited during wartime. They shoot first and ask questions later. Our present period in time is considered a spiritual war-zone; thus, it demands greater vigilance and adherence to Torah and mitzvos. Excuses cannot be accepted. One who transgresses a Rabbinic decree is liable to suffer the penalty of death!"

When the bachur heard this, he burst into tears. After a few moments of bitter weeping, he said to the Chafetz Chaim, "I accept upon myself to repent, perform teshuvah. I will never again transgress a Rabbinic decree." The fear of death was palpable in the room as the bachur, amid trembling and a heavy heart, asked the Chafetz Chaim to countenance him favorably. The sage turned around and blessed him.

This is an intriguing story which teaches us a powerful lesson. When we live in a spiritual war-zone, we must exert greater vigilance and manifest even greater meticulous observance of Torah and mitzvos. This is what b'chol levavcha is teaching us. One who loves Hashem with all of his heart understands that he can brook no compromise, allow no laxity, leave no room for error concerning his relationship with the Almighty.

Va'ani Tefillah

Chemlah gedolah v'yeseirah chomalta aleinu.
"You have shown us great and overwhelming compassion."

The source of the word chemlah, which is translated as compassion, is different from that of rachamanus, which is also defined as compassion. Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, quotes the pasuk in Shmuel I, 15:15, "The people took pity on the choicest of the flock," indicating that chemlah means "pity because of love." The people did not pity the sheep because of the sheep, but rather because they desired the sheep for themselves. Here, the Torah is referred to as Hashem's great mercy on us. Indeed, it is the greatest of all forms of mercy. Hashem has had mercy on man by allowing him to get a glimpse of Creation and all of its wonders. Thus, man - who is cognizant of these wonders - will recognize and acknowledge the Presence of the One Who made it all possible. Hashem has bestowed upon Klal Yisrael a great and exceptional mercy- one that is the product of the deep and abiding love that He has for us. He gave us the Torah which serves as the vehicle for raising our awareness and cognizance of Him. Without the Torah, our perception of the Divine world would be no different than that of the rest of the world. What makes this act of mercy that much more exceptional is that Hashem bestowed His Torah only upon us. This alone requires a separate dose of gratitude.

In loving memory
our dear Mother & Bubby

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

Peninim on the Torah is in its 20th year of publication. The first fifteen years have been published in book form.

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