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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And (Hashem) will give me bread to eat, and clothes to wear. (28:20)

One would think that it is self-evident - bread is for eating; and clothes are for wearing. Why else would Yaakov Avinu ask for bread and clothing? Horav Aharon Hildesheimer, zl, compares this to a baker who has a store filled with bread, but he is too sick to eat. Likewise, one can be a haberdasher with a large stock of suits. Yet, he cannot enjoy his wares due to his illness. Yaakov asked Hashem to grant him food and clothing, together with the ability to enjoy them. To receive Hashem's gifts without the ability to enjoy them is as bad as-- or possibly worse than-- not having them at all.

We might add to this idea. Let us consider those whom Hashem blesses with His favor, but use it unwisely or for the wrong purpose. We do not wish to accept that Hashem grants us our wish for a specific reason. He expects us to use the great house we have built for a noble purpose. We are to use the wealth we enjoy for others - not just to satisfy our needs and wants. Indeed, everything we possess serves a purpose. While it might be difficult for some of us to accept, that purpose extends beyond ourselves. Therefore, the next time we admire what-and how much-we have, we should question if we have put it to good use. Included in our Heavenly gift is the ability to use it and to do so appropriately.

Yaakov said to them, "My brothers, where are you from?" …He said, "Look, the day is still long; it is not yet time to bring the livestock in." (29:4, 7)

The Ponevezher Rav, Horav Yosef Kahaneman, zl, was well-known for his intense love of all Jews. When he addressed a group of Jews, he would begin by saying, Briderlach, "My dear brothers." This constituted much more than a term of endearment. It was an expression of his essence. He focuses on a simple question that surprisingly eludes so many of us. When Yaakov came to Charan and met the shepherds sitting around, he began by rebuking them for their attitude. One wonders how he did this. Imagine someone arriving in a strange community, knowing no one. Yet, he has no problem rebuking the people for their lack of conscientiousness concerning their jobs. First, how does one do this? Second, why did they accept his reproach? If someone who does not know us walks into shul and rebukes us about the way we daven, we will probably either ignore him or tell him, "Thank you, but mind your own business." Here we see neither. Yaakov rebukes - and they listen. Why?

The Rav explains that the answer is to be found in Yaakov's opening word to them. Yaakov said, Achai, "My brothers." When a person begins his rebuke with, "My brothers," he manifests an element of sincerity that transcends any feelings of animus that the other person might have as a result of the rebuke that he is expressing. The first step in reproaching an individual is to demonstrate to him that this is the result of concern and love: "I do not want to put you down, but I do want to help you." Thus, when one begins by saying, Briderlach, "My brothers," it is difficult to scorn his admonishment. Indeed, there is a strong possibility that the individual will accept the rebuke.

This was the Ponovezher Rav's credo in dealing with people from all walks of life, from all phases of the religious spectrum. Everyone was his brother. His overriding love for all Jews was his hallmark. Dayan Moshe Swift, zl, a talmid, student, of the Ponovezher Rav writes that his rebbe exemplified Shlomo HaMelech's concept of cholas ahavah, sickness of love. He was literally sick all of his life with the love for his fellow Jew.

In a heated debate with the Rav, who was known to embrace every Jew, Dayan Swift said to him, "You come and go, but we must struggle here (in the United States) with these men and disentangle ourselves from the entanglements in which these men involve us." His rebbe looked back at him with angelic eyes and responded, "A Yiddishe neshamah. These people are sick." Dayan Swift retorted, "Rebbe, you love too much. You love like Yitzchak Avinu, whose eyes were so dim that he could not see wrong - even that of Eisav."

In a tribute to his illustrious rebbe, Dayan Swift renders the following interpretation of a well-known Midrash. When Chazal portray the passing of Moshe Rabbeinu, they speak of the Almighty eulogizing his death with the words of David HaMelech, Mi yakum li im mereim, "Who will rise up for Me against these evildoers?" (Tehillim 94:16) There are two ways to translate this pasuk. The world needs two types of rabbis: The first will rise up against the evildoers; identify their sins; condemn them, when necessary; and reproach their shameful behavior. There is a second approach, one that may not be for everyone, but is no less important. This rabbi is an advocate for the evildoer, pleading to others: forgive him. He may be ignorant. He does not know any better. The Ponovezher Rav was the latter. He sought and found good in each Jew. He was an advocate for every Jew, regardless of his past and regardless of his current status.

Indeed, the future played a most significant role in the life of the Ponovezher. He did not care what the individual was or what he had done. It was always his potential, what he could do, that he considered. When the Ponovezher Rav established the yeshivah in Bnei Brak, he also opened an orphanage which he called Battei Avos, which means Homes of Fathers. Clearly, Battei Avos is not a typical name for an orphanage. Beis Yesomim, House of Orphans, is the standard name for such an institution. The Rav, undeterred, explained why he did this. He wanted both the children and the teachers to focus on their mission, the bright future that was in store for them. They should not dwell on their unfortunate past. "These little boys will one day be fathers in Klal Yisrael," the Rav said. "They will be a part of our future. It is called Battei Avos, Homes of Fathers, in order to emphasize their positive future."

She (Rachel) conceived and bore a son; and said, "G-d has taken away my disgrace." (30:22)

The Midrash explains this form of praise in the following manner: A woman who has no child does not have anyone to blame when something breaks. When someone asks her, "Who broke this?" she would not blame it on her child. Once she had a child, Rachel had someone upon whom to lay the blame. It seems a bit strange to say that Rachel was offering praise to Hashem because she had someone to blame when something had been broken in the house. Is this the purpose of children?

Horav Asher Kalman Baron, zl, explains that the Torah here is teaching a compelling lesson concerning the degree of hakoras hatov, appreciation, one must manifest. In expressing her gratitude for being blessed with a son, Rachel Imeinu examined every area in which she benefited from this child. She overlooked nothing - even the fact that now she had someone to blame when something broke in the house. There was nothing too great or too miniscule when it involved hakoras hatov. She was obligated to offer gratitude

Indeed, this is the meaning of hakoras hatov, recognizing the good. One must introspect and search deeply for every aspect of the favor which he has received, so that he can offer proper gratitude. The character trait of hakoras hatov is basic to perceiving Hashem. When one appreciates what people do for him, he realizes that he owes even more to Hashem, Who is the Source of all good. This prompts him to serve Him with greater fervor and enthusiasm.

While gratitude is a trait that we commonly acknowledge, we demand it more often than we actually express it. Horav Avraham Pam, zl, the venerable Rosh Yeshivah of Torah Vodaath, was an individual who exemplified the above dvar Torah. He did not merely appreciate; he searched for ways to compensate others and for reasons to offer his gratitude. Nothing - no favor, regardless of how miniscule- ever went unrequited. He lived hakoras hatov, and he assumed that everybody else did, too. He explained that the reason Yitzchak Avinu was so beholden to Eisav, to the point that he was about to grant him the berachos, blessings, was not that he was fooled by Eisav's righteous fa?ade. Since Eisav attended to his father's needs in an exemplary manner, treating him like a king, Yitzchak felt a sense of hakoras hatov to him. This profound feeling of gratitude engendered a special love for his errant son to the extent that he wanted to confer the blessings on him.

In the new volume about Rav Pam by Rabbi Shimon Finkelman, the author quotes Horav Elya Svei, Shlita, who commented, "If anyone performed a kindness for him or for one of his children or grandchildren - especially if this was in the spiritual realm - the rosh yeshivah felt there was no way he could fully repay it. He would do everything that he possibly could for that person."

When Rav Pam attended a convention, he made a point to thank the cooks for their work. He did not call for them, but rather, he went to the kitchen to pay his respects to them personally.

When the Rosh Yeshivah was approached in the early 1970's to become Rosh Yeshivah of a prominent kollel in Eretz Yisrael, he demurred, despite the elevation in status, both spiritually and financially. When he was questioned about this, he responded, "How can I leave Torah Vodaath? I owe so much to the Yeshivah! I learned here, and the Yeshivah gave me a position when I needed one."

The Rosh Yeshivah was in great pain on an almost constant basis during the last five years of his life. He neither complained nor lamented his situation. At a seudas hodaah, meal of thanksgiving for a relative who had survived a serious car accident, Rav Pam gathered his strength together to address the assemblage: "A seudas hodaah is a time for all participants to reflect on the gratitude which they owe Hashem Yisborach. I myself know how much appreciation I owe Hashem for all that He does for me. We should be ashamed of our complaining over small problems when we have so much for which to be grateful." This was coming from an individual who was suffering from constant, debilitating pain!

Towards the end of his life, when walking to the Yeshivah minyan was too difficult, a small select group of people would provide a minyan for Shabbos in Rav Pam's home. After Mussaf, Rav Pam would publicly thank the baal korei, Torah reader, the baalei tefillah, and all the attendees for taking part in the minyan. This was despite the fact that everyone who had come felt privileged just to be there and to have the opportunity to observe him in close proximity. He did not just preach gratitude; he lived it with every fiber of his being.

Then Rachel and Leah replied and said to him, "Have we then still a share and an inheritance in our father's house?" (31:14)

The Midrash makes a frightening statement which presents a powerful lesson. Chazal say that since Rachel spoke before Leah, she was punished by preceding her in death. This is mind-boggling! Horav Yoel Kleinerman, zl, writes that anybody who reads this should shudder that we are talking about Rachel Imeinu, who was willing to forgo marriage to Yaakov Avinu, the man for whom she had so patiently waited, in order not to embarrass her older sister. When Rachel saw that her sister would be humiliated, she proceeded to give her the simanim, predetermined signs, which she had arranged with Yaakov. She even stayed in the room and talked, so that Leah would not be forced to reveal her true identity. Rachel knew that if Leah were to marry Yaakov, she might be compelled to marry Eisav. Certainly, Leah "owed" her to some extent.

After the marriage, we find that the Torah refers first to Rachel, then to Leah because, to quote Rashi, "Rachel was the ikar ha'bayis, principle woman of the household." (Bereishis 31:4) She was the sole reason that Yaakov was willing to enter into a matrimonial relationship with the wicked Lavan. This fact is undisputed - even by Leah's sons. We find later that Boaz and his Beis Din, court, who were descendants of Yehudah, Leah's fourth son, refer to Rachel before Leah, "Like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built up the House of Yisrael." (Rus, 4:11)

Ultimately, Rachel had every reason to think that she was "permitted" to speak before her sister. Yet, the Torah not only disagrees with this rationale, but explains that Hashem punished her with premature death! Why?

This teaches us that, despite all that Rachel had done, it did not absolve her of the honor due to her older sister. She was not permitted to speak before her sister. Her wonderful achievements on behalf of Leah notwithstanding, she had her own obligation to achieve perfection, and this would not occur if she were to speak before her older sister.

How far are we from even understanding the extreme level of perfection demanded of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs. We do not understand the lives that they led. We speak about them as if they were ordinary people. They were not! They demanded much of themselves, because they provided the foundation upon which the entire Klal Yisrael was to be built. The statements made by secular and non-observant writers about our Avos, Patriarchs, and Imahos, Matriarchs, are totally off the mark. They view our illustrious ancestors through the spectrum of their personal vision. It is like taking a toy telescope to analyze the surface of the moon. It is impossible to perceive the nuances accurately utilizing this medium.

Then Lavan went and returned to his place…Yaakov went on his way, and the angels of G-d encountered him.

The Meshech Chochmah takes note of the words, "and (Lavan) returned to his place." All of those years with the righteous Yaakov had no influence on him. As soon as Yaakov left, Lavan said his "good by," and that signified the end of their relationship. Yaakov Avinu went his way, and he met up with the Malachei Elokim, Heavenly angels. The righteous strive to go higher and higher, to reach closer to Hashem, while the evil continue on their downward spiral of iniquity. Nonetheless, the question still remains: How can someone be in the proximity of an individual of Yaakov Avinu's caliber and remain unmoved, uninspired and uninfluenced?

I think the answer lay in Lavan's name, a name that characterizes the type of evil that he represents. Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, notes that we refer to various reshaim, wicked people, through different appellations. For example, Chazal refer to Eisav as ha'rashsa, the wicked. Lot is called a baal taavah, one who is obsessed with lust. He was certainly evil, but his primary description is as a baal taavah. Chazal call Lavan, ha'Arami. Chazal give him this name because Rimah es anshei mekomo, "He cheated the people of his community." Lavan was a swindler; hence, Chazal refer to him as Lavan ha'ramai, which is a play on the word Arami.

Rav Schwadron asks an insightful question: If Lavan is a ramai because he deceived others, why is he called arami? He should be referred to as Lavan ha'Ramai. This teaches us that while a swindler cheats others; his greatest victim is none other than himself. It is true that Lavan cheated others. He was a charlatan that bilked and gouged people, but the one whom he succeeded in deceiving the most was himself.

This is the story of ramai. He is a new strain of evil. In fact, he sees no evil and speaks no evil. He is able to rationalize every nefarious deed that he commits. He can even transform a heinous transgression into a mitzvah! Thus, Lavan could be with Yaakov for years and not learn anything from him. Why? Because, in his own eyes, he was perfect. He believed that he had nothing to learn. He probably thought he could teach Yaakov a few things. The Mesillas Yesharim writes that the yetzer hora, evil inclination, brings a person to commit two errors. First, he causes the individual to lose the ability to discern between good and bad. The individual no longer recognizes evil for what it is. Second, the yetzer hora infuses within him a feeling that he is actually performing a mitzvah, rather than an aveirah, sin.

Lavan was such a swindler that he no longer realized that he had been deceiving. He had mastered the art of deception, so that he completely fooled himself into believing that what he was doing was proper, even meritorious. This is why he had taanos, complaints, against Yaakov. The chief scoundrel, who had written the book on deception, suspected his righteous son-in-law of cheating him! Lavan was so taken in by his own swindling that he no longer trusted anyone but himself. That constituted his first and biggest mistake.

Va'ani Tefillah

Mizmor l'sodah - A Song of Thanksgiving

The Shalah HaKadosh, zl, writes that we recite Mizmor L'Sodah daily because each of us experiences a miracle on a daily basis. We simply do not realize this. Thus, Chazal arranged it to be part of our daily prayers. We express a similar thought in the Modim prayer of Shemoneh Esrai, when we say: Al nisecha sheb'chol yom imanu, "And for Your miracles which are with us every day." The Kaf HaChaim adds that this prayer has been placed at the commencement of the Pesukei D'Zimra in order that a person remember that he is a constant beneficiary of Hashem's favor. This acknowledgement motivates him to daven properly - word by word - with joy, enthusiasm and feeling.

Horav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zl, cites the Shulchan Aruch, which states that we should recite this prayer with a tune. Chazal teach us that all shiros, songs of praise, will become null in the period following the advent of Moshiach Tzidkeinu - except for Mizmor L'Sodah. Thanksgiving will never cease. Rav Shlomo Zalman wonders why we do not fulfill this halachah. This is especially true in those congregations in which singing during davening is commonplace. Why not include the prayer of thanksgiving?

This tefillah is not recited on Shabbos due to its allusion to the Korban Todah. Mizmor L'Sodah contains forty words coinciding with the forty challos/breads that accompanied the Korban Todah. We did not offer the Korban Todah on Shabbos. Likewise, we do not recite this prayer.

In loving memory of
our husband, father and grandfather
on his yahrtzeit
Elchanan ben Perach z"l
niftar 11 Kislev 5759

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.

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