Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Leah's eyes were tender, while Rachel was beautiful of form and beautiful of appearance. (29:17)

Chazal tell us that Leah's eyes were tender because she wept constantly in prayer that she would not have to marry Eisav. People would say that Rivkah had two sons and her brother, Lavan, had two daughters. The elder daughter would marry the elder son, and the younger daughter would marry the younger son. Leah's prayers were answered: Not only did she not marry Eisav, she even was the first to marry Yaakov. In his sefer Simchas HaTorah, Horav Simchah Hakohen Sheps, zl, notes that while Leah was the one who wept profusely because she was concerned about her fate, in the eternal scheme of things it was Rachel who was designated as the one who cries for her children. Her tears leave an impression. Hashem listens to her pleas. Why? Indeed, once she gave up her opportunity to wed Yaakov, she had every reason to fear that Eisav would seek to marry her. What is there about Rachel's tears that render their influence more favorable than those of any of the other Matriarchs?

Rav Sheps explains that the nature of Rachel's tears was different than Leah's because the two women had two distinct personalities. Leah worried; she feared that she would fall into Eisav's clutches. Rachel, by her very nature, was a baalas bitachon; she had incredible trust in Hashem that everything would work out for her. She did not cry; she did not fear. This is the underlying meaning of "Leah's eyes were tender." She did not have the fortitude, the stoicism, to confront challenges, trials and tribulations with tenacity, forbearance and conviction. She wept profusely out of fear and anxiety. Rachel was "beautiful of form and appearance." She never manifests hopelessness. She never gave up hope. One would look at her and see beauty in the way she carried herself - proud, hopeful, and filled with courage and resolution. When she wept, her tears were heard. She was, therefore, selected to serve as Klal Yisrael's advocate par excellence.

Rav Sheps notes that we have turned the tables around. In regard to routine, simple pressures, such as earning a livelihood, instead of being like Rachel and maintaining a sense of bitachon, we act like Leah and worry and cry. We demonstrate everything but bitachon. In regard to the important things, such as our children's education, we are like Rachel: filled with bitachon that everything will work out - eventually.

To expand a bit upon the above thesis, we may cite Chazal who teach us that after the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash, all the gates through which prayers travel to Heaven were closed, except for the Shaarei Demaos, Gates of Tears. This means that currently it is much more difficult for our prayers to penetrate the Heavenly Court. There is one set of gates, however, that remains open: the Gates of Tears.

If the Gates of Tears never close, why have gates altogether? The purpose of a gate is to lock someone out. If the gates never close, what purpose is served by them? The Kotzker Rebbe, zl, explains that some tears do not get through - regardless. Tears of desperation and hopelessness do not penetrate the Heavenly Court. These do not represent Jewish tears. The tears of a Jew should reflect the individual's innermost and purest thoughts. These are tears of hope. They have the power to pierce the Heavens. The gates are there to distinguish between tears of hope and tears of hopelessness.

Regardless of how overwhelming and desperate a situation may seem, a Jew cannot give up hope. The Izbitzer Rebbe, zl, explains that we are called Yehudim, after Shevet Yehudah, because when Yosef confronted his brothers with the planted incriminating evidence, all the brothers gave up hope - except Yehudah. He immediately approached Yosef. He drew near to him in order to establish a dialogue. Yehudah never gave up hope. This attitude must epitomize all Jews.

And she declared, "This time let me gratefully praise Hashem. Therefore, she called his name Yehudah." (29:35)

In the Talmud Berachos 7b, Chazal say that no one paid gratitude to Hashem until Leah made this statement. Was Leah really the first to thank Hashem? Does this mean that the Avos, Patriarchs, did not show their appreciation to Hashem? The Kesav Sofer responds after first citing Chazal's maxim, "He who recites Hallel daily scoffs Hashem." Why should someone who praises Hashem be castigated? Apparently, Chazal are teaching us a significant lesson in regard to awareness of Hashem's daily miracles. One who is the beneficiary of a miracle that goes beyond the parameters of Hashem's daily caring for us is motivated to render his gratitude with the lofty praises of Hallel. What about the daily miracles, however, that are cloaked in what we call "nature?" Are they to be ignored? Ostensibly, this person thanks Hashem only for the "miracles," but not for the "nature." One who says Hallel daily, who appreciates the "Hallel type" miracles, but ignores the daily miracles which we take for granted, scoffs Hashem.

Surely, Avraham and Yitzchak thanked and praised Hashem for the miracles which He wrought for them. Indeed, their lives were filled with miracles. Leah, on the other hand, thanked Hashem for giving her a child - a seemingly "natural" gift. She understood the gift of a child. She understood that teva, nature, is really neis, miracle. She taught the world that one must offer gratitude for the natural as well as for the miraculous.

A man once came into shul, bringing with him a l'chaim, bottle of whiskey, to share with the members in honor of the great miracle that occurred in his life. He had been walking down the street, when a car went out of control and hit him. Baruch Hashem, it was a minor injury. In gratitude to Hashem, he was sharing his good fortune with others. The next day, another member came into shul and also brought a "l'chaim" to share with others. Assuming that he was also the beneficiary of a great miracle, they all wanted to know what had happened to him. "Nothing," he said, "absolutely nothing. I walked down the street, and nothing happened to me. Is that not also a miracle?"

Horav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, zl, in his Michtav M'Eliyahu, explains the concept of teva and neis in the following manner. He cites the famous statement made by the Rambam at the end of Parashas Bo that one must be aware and believe that everything that occurs is actually a miracle. Nothing is natural. It is all the result of Hashem's will. If so, how does one distinguish between neis and teva? Rav Dessler explains that while everything that occurs is really miraculous, Hashem has set forth a process in the world whereby some miraculous occurrences are guised in the cloak of nature, which means they adhere to the rule of cause and effect. It is only in certain circumstances for unique individuals, that Hashem acts outside of the parameter of cause and effect, causing what we refer to as a miracle, to occur.

Let us give an example of cause and effect. One plants a seed in the ground, and in a few weeks it begins to sprout. The cause is the planting and watering. The effect is the natural result. It seems natural, but is it really so? Does it make sense that when a living seed is buried in the ground, it decays and germinates, producing a living plant? Is this not some form of techiyas ha'meisim, resurrection of the dead? Indeed, it is; if it would happen with a human being, it would be called a miracle, while with a seed, it is called natural and taken for granted. In other words, there is no difference between neis and teva, other than what we have become accustomed to believing.

In our times, we should be aware of the daily miracles that pursue us. The places that we did not go - and something terrible happened; the places that we did go and - to our good fortune - we "lucked out." It was just a couple of years ago following the 9/11 tragedy, that so many people became aware of the idea of neis and teva, and how what seemed to be an oversight, or a nuisance, was Hashem's gift of life - for some.

The following story caught my eye as an incident of neis which some might casually write off as teva. A group of Orthodox Jews prayed daily in a small, makeshift synagogue near the Twin Towers. Rarely was there a problem with a minyan, quorum. On September 11th, for some reason, they just could not put together a minyan. Perhaps the regular worshippers had opted to stay at their resident shuls for the Selichos services. Or, perhaps they were among the two hundred men who worked at the Twin Towers who were late to work that fateful day because they attended a Shloshim, one-month anniversary service, for a group of Jews killed in a helicopter crash over the Grand Canyon. Whatever the reason, only nine men were present for the minyan. It was getting late, and they all had to be at work at the Towers Trade Center well before 9:00AM. They looked at their watches and the time to leave for work was fast approaching. What would they do? They never missed minyan. Especially during Selichos, with Rosh Hashanah approaching, they had to try to get the proverbial tenth man.

As they were about to give up, an elderly gentleman shuffled in, asking, "Did you daven yet? I have to say Kaddish, the memorial prayer, for my father. It is his yahrzeit, the anniversary of his passing, and I would like to daven for the amud, lead the services."

Under normal circumstances, the members would have questioned the man: Who was he? Where did he come from? Was he observant? By now, however, they were frantic. It was late, and they had to move on - or they would be late for work. The man proved to be anything but a fast davener. He turned the pages and read the words at an agonizingly slow pace. The members were literally climbing the walls. Indeed, it seemed as if every gesture, every movement, every sound the man made was done so deliberately. The worshippers nonetheless respected his slow pace.

Suddenly, during their insistent complaining about being late for work, they heard the first plane explode. They heard the horrible blast that would forever shake their hearts and souls. They ran outside and saw the mass hysteria, the chaos and the thick smoke that lay before them.

"It should have been us," they thought. After the initial shock wore off, they realized that they had been miraculously spared from the jaws of death. Each and every one of them would have been there if not for the minyan and the elderly man who appeared from nowhere and who had davened so slowly. By the way, where was that man? They looked around, because they wanted to grab him and shower him with thanks. Where was that elusive mystery man who was probably the reason they were alive?

They would never know the answer to that question, however, because just as he had suddenly appeared - he disappeared. During the commotion, he must have slipped out of shul. Now is that teva or neis?

Then Lavan spoke upů "The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, and the flock is my flock, and all that you see is mine. (31:43)

Lavan's response was to be expected: arrogant and insolent. It did not, however, respond to Yaakov's demand. Lavan pursued Yaakov and threatened him.Yaakov responded from the depths of over twenty years of frustration, describing his dedication and integrity beyond what was expected of him. He cited the many times that he had been mistreated and shortchanged by Lavan. How did Lavan respond to these claims? He said simply, "Your wives are mine; your children are mine; your sheep are mine; whatever you possess is mine." In other words, he did not respond to Yaakov. He ignored him - completely!

A famous incident occurred between the Brisker Rav, zl, and the Chafetz Chaim, zl. This dialogue serves as a portent for future relationships with our non-Jewish neighbors. The Brisker Rav once had a two-hour layover in Warsaw. As he was waiting in the station, he was notified that the Chafetz Chaim was presently in Warsaw. The Brisker Rav immediately ordered a wagon and driver, so that he could visit the Chafetz Chaim. During their conversation, the Chafetz Chaim shared the following incident with him. The Chafetz Chaim yearned to visit Eretz Yisrael. He decided to apply for an exit visa. The ministry for immigration said that he would have to produce a valid birth certificate before they could process his application. He told them that he had been born over ninety years ago, at a time when they were not issuing birth certificates. The only other alternative was to produce two witnesses from the same town who remembered his birth. The Chafetz Chaim looked at the minister incredulously, "The witnesses would have to be over one hundred years old!" To find two such witnesses was impossible.

"Now," continued the Chafetz Chaim, "what was the minister thinking? He certainly understood that his demand was impossible for me to fulfill. Why did he make such an impossible request of me? The answer lies in Parashas Va'Yetzei - and he cited the above pasuk in which Lavan basically dismissed Yaakov, saying, "Everything is mine. You have no claim on anything!" Lavan disregarded Yaakov's reasoning, overriding it with the notion that since everything is mine, you are a nobody with no ability to demand anything of me.

"The same idea applies to our position in Polish society. We are nothing in their eyes. They view us as non-entities with no claim to anything. We are dismissed and ignored. Our feelings and sensitivities are totally meaningless to them."

Lavan did not consider himself arrogant. He viewed Yaakov as a nothing, someone whom he could dismiss without any compunction. This type of anti-Semitism is worse than blatant hatred. Not to be considered a people, to be regarded as a nonentity, to be dismissed without reason, to be relegated to a position of insignificance is worse than hatred. This demeaning view of our People is self-inflicted. We ask for it when we refuse to act like a Torah nation with pride and dignity. When we attempt to act like them, we become like them. What is there about us that is worthy of respect? We are not religious. We are not moral. We are not ethical. We are no different than the nations around us. Our assimilation indicates our insecurity. No one cares for an insecure person. Why should the nations of the world have regard for an insecure, vacillating nation? The cure for anti-Semitism is simple: act in the manner in which a Jew was created and instructed to act; the hatred will dissipate, and the respect will return.

Va'ani Tefillah

Gomel l'ish chesed k'mifalo,
Nosen l'rasha ra k'rishaso.

He recompenses man with kindness according to his deed; He places evil on the wicked according to his wickedness.

The Shlah HaKadosh derives from here that the reward for mitzvah performance is not something separate and exclusive from the mitzvah. Rather, the reward for a mitzvah is the very mitzvah that one performs. When a person fulfills a mitzvah, he creates a positive spiritual entity that elevates and protects him. Likewise, one who sins creates an angel that will hurt him. The reason that the reward is commensurate with one's good and the punishment is in accordance with one's evil, is that we, by our actions, determine the type of spiritual entity we create.

This is the meaning of Chazal's statement in Berachos 17a, "In the World to Come, the righteous sit with their crowns on their heads and derive pleasure from the shine of the Shechinah." We note that it says their crowns - not just any crowns - but the crowns that they created with their good deeds.

Alternatively, the Yaavetz explains k'mifalo, according to his deed, as referring to the spiritual effect created by the tzaddik's action in the Eternal World, thereby according the righteous an even greater reward. The wicked, however, receive their punishment only v'rishaso, according to his wickedness, and the effect it had on this world. Even in punishing the wicked, Hashem is benevolent and does not mete out to them the punishment commensurate with the spiritual blemish they have created in the World of Truth.

In loving memory of our father and grandfather on his yahrtzeit
Elchanan ben Peretz z'l
niftar 11 Kislev 5759

Mordechai & Jenny Kurant
Aliza & Avrohom Wrona
Naomi & Avrohom Yitzchok Weinberger
Dovid & Yossi Kurant

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

The Ninth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.


This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel