Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And he became frightened and said, "How awesAme is this place! This is none other than the abode of G-d." (28:17)

When Yaakov Avinu first walked by (the place that would be) the Bais HaMikdash, G-d did not halt him there. Why? Rashi explains that since he did not take the initiative to pray in the place in which his ancestors before him had prayed, Heaven was not going to halt him. It was only when he traveled as far as Charan that he realized, "Is it possible that I passed by a place where my ancestors prayed, and I did not pray there?" He then set his mind to return and went as far as Beth-El, and at that point, the earth contracted for him and the Bais HaMikdash came toward him. Interestingly, it was only after Yaakov "set his mind" and began to return that he merited the miracle of kefitzas ha'derech, the earth contracted for him. Why did there have to be a miracle; he should have been halted at Har HaMoriah when he passed it by. Why did he have to "return" to it?

Horav Moshe Shapiro, Shlita, derives from here that although he was in the place most propitious for prayer, since he did not set his mind and heart on his own, Hashem was not going to assist him. It was only after he took the initiative, set his mind to return, and began the return trip, that Hashem caused a miracle. Siyata d'Shmaya, Divine assistance, is granted to us only after we have taken the first steps, after we have taken the initiative to go forward and undertake the endeavor.

We find support for this idea in Daniel 1: 8-15 when the wicked king decreed that in order to fatten up the Jewish youths, to make them appear healthy and strong, they should be fed unkosher meat and wine. The pasuk says, "Daniel set [the resolve] in his heart not to be defiled by the king's food." We find soon afterward that "G-d granted Daniel favor and mercy before the chief officer," until finally, "their appearance seemed better and they (Daniel, Chananyah, Michael, and Azaryah) were of healthier flesh than all the youths eating the king's food." At the moment that Daniel took the initiative and resolved in his heart not to be led astray, Hashem came to his assistance.

Likewise, the Rosh Yeshivah noted that bachurim in yeshivos become overwhelmed, or they are mistapek b'muat, satisfied with a little accomplishment. They do not shoot for the stars. When one sets his mind and resolves within his heart to become a great talmid chacham, Torah scholar, Hashem will grant him siyata d'Shmaya. If one does not try, he will never know if he could have achieved the goal.

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

Rashi explains that Leah's eyes were tender from constant weeping in prayer. She feared that since she was the elder daughter, she would have to marry Eisav. What an incredible sacrifice! What an exalted spiritual position she must have reached. To cry so much that her physical appearance was actually transformed was truly an unprecedented achievement. Bearing this in mind, why did Rachel merit Yaakov as her husband? She did not cry for him, her sister Leah did. Yet, Rachel eventually became the akeres ha'bayis, the foundation and principle of the home.

Harav Tuviah Lisitzin, zl, a student of the Alter of Slabodka, and founder of Yeshivas Heichal HaTalmud, gives an insightful explanation. Leah cried so that she would not fall into Eisav's grip. The mere thought of falling into this evil man's grasp brought about a torrent of tears and supplication. Rachel, on the other hand, exhibited a tremendous inner peace and joy with the knowledge that she would marry Yaakov. The inherent joy of marrying this great tzaddik, righteous man, brought about a physical change, transforming her into a remarkably beautiful woman. Her external physical appearance was a manifestation of her inner joy. Rachel's transformation came about as a result of a positive desire to marry Yaakov, who is considered part of Hashem's Merkavah, Holy Chariot. Thus, in her outward appearance, one could perceive the aura of the Shechinah. A beauty that is the result of a desire for closeness to the Shechinah will undoubtedly reflect the Shechinah in its countenance.

We now have some idea of who were the Matriarchs that gave birth to the Shivtei Kah, Twelve Tribes of Hashem. One cried so much not to fall into Eisav's grasp that her facial appearance changed and her eyes became tender. The other Matriarch exhibited such inner joy in her desire to marry Yaakov, it was manifest in extraordinary physical beauty that glowed of the Shechinah. This is the power of a Jewish woman who, with holiness and purity, seeks to be wed to a talmid chacham and build a Jewish home that is loyal to the verities of Torah.

She (Leah) declared, "This time let me gratefully praise Hashem"; therefore she called his name Judah. (29:35)

The translation of the word, odeh, is to gratefully praise. Leah was especially grateful now, because as the mother of four sons she had been granted a privilege whereby she had a predominant share in building the twelve tribes which comprise Klal Yisrael. Gratitude is an inherent Jewish character trait. Indeed, the Chidushei HaRim posits that this is the reason the Jewish People are called Yehudim. We understand that we must always be grateful to the Almighty for granting us even more than we deserve.

The word todah, thanks/thank you, is the acknowledgment of gratitude and appreciation to the one who has performed a specific act. The word todah has another connotation. It is a derivative from the word modeh, to confess/concede. Todah is thus an act of admission and concession. Veritably, when one confesses to another, he is in fact conveying a message of agreement with the other party's opposing view.

Horav Yitzchak Hutner, zl, explains that the parallel between these two definitions-- todah as an expression of gratitude, or as an act of admission -- lies in the depths of man's natural instincts. By his innate nature, man seeks independence, aspiring and eager to demonstrate his ability to fend for himself without requiring the services of another individual. Thus, when one expresses his gratitude to his benefactor, he is actually acknowledging and conceding that he really does need the assistance of others. This conceptú which applies to every individual in his interpersonal relationships with others, manifests itself in one's attitude towards Hashem.

Ingrained in the human mind, as part of the human psyche, is the foolish notion that it is my strength and the power of my hand which has wrought this greatness. The ludicrous belief that man has his own power, without acknowledging Hashem as the Source of all power, has misled and been the ultimate downfall of many. Yehudim, by their very characterú should reflect and understand the futility of this belief. At every juncture one must acknowledge and give gratitude to his benefactor and to the One Who is the Source of all power. Hashem wants us to maintain this sense of appreciation and to always feel that we are in debt. In fact, He assists us in doing so, as evidenced in the following story.

I was recently at a wedding on the east coast and met someone who shared an incredible story with me. I have since spoken to, and verified the facts with, the primary source of the incident. It was 1984 and Rabbi Aaron Paperman, zl, the executive vice-president of Telshe Yeshiva, and later the director of Chinuch Atzmai, was the keynote speaker at Yeshiva Shaarei Torah's annual dinner. The Rosh HaYeshiva, Rabbi Berel Wein, sent one of the older bachurim, students, to meet Rabbi Paperman at the airport. The bachur who was selected, Yonasan Hirtz, is today Rabbi Yonasan Hirtz, a distinguished rav in Queens, New York.

When Rabbi Paperman arrived, Yonasan introduced himself as his chauffeur. Rabbi Paperman asked him, "Why were you sent?" Yonasan replied that his Rosh HaYeshivab had sent him. "But, why you - specifically?" Rabbi Paperman reiterated. "I have no idea," replied Yonasan, "I guess I was available, so Rabbi Wein asked me to go."

"Impossible," Rabbi Paperman countered. "There must be a reason that you were sent - and not someone else. Tell me about yourself. Perhaps I can figure out some reason why you were the one that was sent to fetch me."

Yonasan began to relate his background to Rabbi Paperman - who his parents and family members were, where he had studied in yeshiva. Suddenly, Rabbi Paperman's face broke into a large smile as he exclaimed, "I know why you were sent. It was to avail me the opportunity to finally show my appreciation and convey my gratitude to the man who is in a large part responsible for my Torah education. You are the great-grandson of Philip/Uri Shraga Gundersheimer of Baltimore. Do you know who this man was? He was a simple grocer who, despite the financial pressure of the times, refused to open his store on Shabbos. Even during the difficult years of the Depression, he observed Shabbos.

"There were three of us, three aspiring yeshivah bachurim who wanted to go to Europe to learn Torah. America had very little to offer us. Two of us were accepted in Telz and the third wanted to go to Slabodka. There was one major problem: money. Who could afford to go to Europe to learn Torah? Your great-grandfather undertook the responsibility to pay for our tuition. He covered all of our expenses. When I returned from Europe, I went to your great-grandfather's house to offer my profound gratitude. It was too late. He had passed away shortly before my return. I was devastated and during the last forty-three years it has troubled me greatly that I could not thank my benefactor. Today Hashem has finally availed me this opportunity. Thank you! Now you know why you were chosen to meet me at the airport. It was not by chance - it was by Heavenly design."

As a postscript, Rabbi Hirtz related to me that the other two bachurim became gedolei Yisrael, Torah leaders. In fact, one was my rebbe. Interestingly, similar episodes occurred with other members of Philip Gundersheimer's family, yehi zichro baruch.

She (Rachel) said to Yaakov, "Give me children…" He (Yaakov) said, "Am I instead of G-d?"…She said, "Here is my maid Bilhah, consort with her that she may bear upon my knees." (30:1-3)

Chazal teach us that there was a little more to their dialogue than what we read in the pesukim. Rachel asked Yaakov why he did not pray for her as his father had prayed for his mother? Yaakov replied that his father did not yet have children, while he already had children. Consequently, he was not certain that his prayer would be successful. She then said that his grandfather, Avraham, already had fathered Yishmael, yet, he still entreated Hashem on Sarah's behalf. Yaakov then queried Rachel, "Are you prepared to do what my grandmother did? Are you willing to take a co-wife into your tent as Sarah took in Hagar?" Rachel responded in the affirmative and instructed Yaakov to take Bilhah for a wife.

When we analyze the dialogue, we wonder what Yaakov wanted from Rachel. Undoubtedly, he had already poured out his heart supplicating Hashem in her behalf.

Apparently, she was destined to be barren. She needed a special zechus, merit, to alter the course of nature and bring about a change in her physical status. Prayer had until this juncture been to no avail. Yaakov then came up with an idea. Perhaps, Rachel would be willing to sacrifice as Sarah had done. Would she be inclined to take a co-wife? He was asking this of the woman who had once given up her rightful place as his wife, only so that her sister not be humiliated. Was not that act of selflessness sufficient to merit a child? This is a compelling question. What greater act of magnanimity is there than giving up her right to marriage - out of sensitivity to her sister?

The question was asked by Horav Avraham Yoffen, zl, in a shmuess, ethical discourse. What more could Yaakov have demanded of his fragile wife? The Novardoker Rosh HaYeshiva offered a penetrating insight into Yaakov's advice to his brokenhearted wife. The Patriarch saw that Rachel's chances to achieve motherhood were bleak. Prayer did not create an impact. The gates of tears seemed to be closed. Rachel was regrettably destined to be barren. There seemed to be no eitzah, strategy, left to bring about a change. But wait, there was something that could be done. Yaakov realized that he could implement the attribute of middah k'neged middah, measure for measure, by which Hashem administers the world. Chazal teach us that by the same measure that one conducts his own personal affairs and relationships, so, too, will Hashem conduct Himself with him. Therefore, Sarah, who was barren, took in Hagar as a co-wife and in this merit was blessed with her own child. Yaakov told Rachel, "We have tried everything. You have certainly gone beyond the call of duty with your prayers and outstanding chesed to your sister. I know of only one last resort which my grandmother employed. She gave her maidservant to my grandfather and, in that merit, she was blessed with a child. The Almighty responds to middah k'neged middah." The rest is history.

What a powerful lesson for us. We need parnassah, livelihood, pray for your friend to achieve parnassah. We need a shidduch, suitable match, for a child, pray for your friend. We need a refuah, cure, pray for someone else. When Hashem sees us acting on behalf of others - He will act on our behalf.

Rachel said to Leah, "Please give me some of your son's dudaim." But she (Leah) said to her, "Was your taking my husband insignificant? And now to take even my son's dudaim!" (30:14,15)

The deep, cryptic meaning of the episode of the dudaim aside, we must endeavor to understand Leah's reaction to Rachel's request. If not for Rachel giving over the simanim, secret signals, to her sister, Leah never would have been Yaakov's wife. Lavan's ruse would not have been discovered. How could Leah speak this way to Rachel? Horav Shalom Schwadron, zl, offers a novel approach toward understanding the entire episode that took place on Leah's wedding night. He cites the Daas Zekeinim who explain that the secret signals were none other than the three halachos, laws, in which every Jewish woman should be proficient: niddah, challah and hadlokas ha'neir family purity, the laws of challah separation, and candle-lighting. Yaakov taught these laws to Rachel and the plan was that he would question her proficiency, to confirm that it was truly Rachel that he was marrying.

Rachel not only went to great lengths so her sister would not be humiliated, but also so that her dignity would be maintained. Therefore, she did not share with her the fact that she and Yaakov had predetermined signals between them. Instead, she simply taught her sister the laws that every Jewish woman should know when she marries. Rachel never revealed, nor even indicated, to Leah that there were simanim. Instead she "gave over" the simanim unpretentiously, by teaching them to her. Thus, Leah was never aware of the great sacrifice her sister had made in her behalf. She did not realize how Rachel selflessly gave her the opportunity to wed Yaakov.

We now have a new insight into the remarkable act of chesed, kindness, that Rachel performed for her sister. The most notable aspect of the chesed is that she did not divulge that it was a chesed.

Then Yaakov became angered and took up his grievance with Lavan…and he said to Lavan, "What is my transgression? What is my sin that you have hotly pursued me?" (31:36)

Twenty years Yaakov Avinu lived in Lavan's home. Twenty years of being cheated and persecuted. Not once did Yaakov complain; not once did they argue. Yaakov accepted his lot and went along with equanimity. Now, after Yaakov is finally rid of Lavan, and after being pursued by Lavan and searched for contraband, does Yaakov at last take issue and argue. After twenty years of misery, Yaakov tells it like it is. Why did it take so long?

The Ben Avraham explains that Lavan pursued Yaakov with the claim that Yaakov was a thief for stealing his idols. Yaakov feared that because of Lavan's maligning him, a chilul Hashem, desecration of Hashem's Name would result. Therefore, in order to mitigate whatever rumors might ensue as a result of Lavan's spurious claims, Yaakov argued with Lavan and publicly denied being a party to any wrongdoing. He also recounted each and every time Lavan cheated him in the past twenty years, so that word would get out that Lavan was a liar and a cheat. Thus, the chilul Hashem would be ameliorated.

There is an important lesson to be derived from Yaakov's behavior. He could handle anything. We have no idea how many times Lavan cheated and denied Yaakov what was rightfully his. Yet, Yaakov kept quiet; he did not complain. He did not take issue with Lavan, nor did he argue. It was only after it touched upon kavod Shomayim, the honor of Heaven, that Yaakov took a stand. Yaakov remained at Lavan's for twenty years. Only after he heard Lavan's sons speaking among themselves, claiming that Yaakov had stolen "everything" that had belonged to their father, did he decide that it was time to move on. Why? What took so long?

True, Yaakov could handle suffering and tolerate the lies and the constant cheating. He would not, however, allow Hashem's Name to be defamed by Lavan's ilk. Once word started to spread that Yaakov was a thief, then his G-d, Hashem's Name, would accordingly be tainted. This could not be allowed to occur. The time had come for Yaakov to leave.

Va'ani Tefillah

Rabbi Yishmael omer: B'shalosh esrai middos haTorah nidreshes.

Rabbi Yishmael says: "Through thirteen rules is the Torah elucidated."

As mentioned before, Chazal have prefaced the morning Tefillah with selections from Chumash, Mishnah and Talmud. The Baraisa of Rabbi Yishmael is one of the Baraisos that are authoritative, a Talmudic teaching that was excluded from the Mishnah when that compendium of laws was prepared. This Baraisa has been selected because it is basically an introduction to Torah She' Baal Peh, the Oral Law. When Hashem had Moshe Rabbeinu write down the Written Law, He had already revealed it orally in full detail to the nation. He caused the Holy Torah to be composed in accordance with thirteen basic rules, which made it possible to present the Torah in its compact form so that the intention of Hashem Who gave the Torah, could be nidrash, investigated, and elucidated from the written word, by means of these rules. Known also as the Thirteen Hermeneutic Principals, there is a tradition expounded by Chazal in the Talmud that determines and governs the manner in which these rules may be applied. We have no authority to implement them in any manner that runs counter, or contradicts, the Oral Law. Thus, Rabbinical exegesis does not mean a new innovation, or new laws, but rather the means by which the Oral Law was implied in the Torah itself. Nothing is new. Furthermore, the majority of the laws were transmitted from generation to generation, by rebbe to student, and they were well-known and accepted without the need for any source in the Torah. It was only in the era of the Talmud, when Chazal decided to set forth the Scriptural derivation of a number of well-known laws, that there emerged disputes concerning the exact Scriptural interpretations. The actual laws, however, were familiar.

In loving memory of
our husband, father and grandfather
on his yahrtzeit

Elchanan ben Peretz z"l

Esther Kurant
Mordechai & Jenny Kurant
Aliza & Avrohom Wrona
Naomi & Avrohom Yitzchok Weinberger
Dovid & Chavi Kurant
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