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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And He (Hashem) called to Moshe. (1:1)

When the Torah addresses Moshe Rabbeinu's prophecy, it uses the term, vayikra, "and He (Hashem) called", el Moshe, "to Moshe." It was a calling. When it mentions Bilaam's prophecy, it uses the word vayikar, as in Vayikar Elokim el Bilaam, "G-d happened upon Bilaam" (Bamidbar 23:4). Rashi explains that vayikar and vayikra are two completely different terms. Vayikra denotes intimacy, while vayikar is an expression which reflects impurity and transitoriness. Moshe felt uncomfortable using the word that suggests direct conversation with the Almighty. Why should he reveal the honor that Hashem had accorded to him? Thus, he spelled the calling as vayikar, in the happenstance mode, as a way of deflecting from his relationship with Hashem. Hashem, however, insisted upon including the aleph, which is printed smaller, as a reminder of the humility of our quintessential leader. The diminutive aleph defines Moshe. He felt himself to be undeserving. Hashem viewed him differently.

In light of the above, the Veinutter Rav, Horav Ezra Altschuller, zl, explains the Karnei Hod, Rays of Glory, that emanated from Moshe's face when he descended Har Sinai with the second set of Luchos. Chazal teach us that this extraordinary light emanated from the extra ink that remained after Moshe had concluded writing the Torah. Rav Altschuller explains that extra ink remained due to the miniature aleph. The ink he saved by making the aleph smaller became the radiant light that accompanied him. Thus, the light was the result of his humility. True anivus, humility, does not cause one to be less. On the contrary, it elevates the individual, causing honor to be bestowed upon him.

What is humility, and how does one acquire this important characteristic? Rabbeinu Yonah explains the root of gaavah, haughtiness, the converse of humility. From his words, we can posit the meaning of anivus, humility. He asserts that when a person feels that he is lacking in a certain quality-- or he lacks knowledge concerning a certain topic-- he often seeks to compensate for his deficit. This inferiority complex, gives the individual license to denigrate others, so that he no longer feels as small. This process may occur either overtly or on a subconscious level as a way of assuaging his feelings of incompetence. In other words, one who feels inferior, has to compensate for his feelings, by acting haughtily, arrogantly, in a superior manner. One who is self-confident, however, has no need to present himself as someone other than himself. A secure person has a need neither for acclaim nor to bend the truth. He accepts who he is, and he feels good about himself!

Horav Alter Henach Leibowitz, zl, derives from Rabbeinu Yonah that the essence of humility is the realization of one's true worth. When one believes in himself, he does not need others to support him. Moshe was the greatest man of all time. Yet, he was also the most humble. Is this not a paradox? He was so great, but, simultaneously, he was so small. When one knows his true value, it is not a paradox. He had no need to overcompensate for his underestimation, because he knew exactly who he was and what he was worth. When one has a neshamah, soul, given to him by the Almighty, his potential is unfathomable. The only obstacle that stands in his way is the one he has created himself!

In his commentary to Bamidbar 12:3, Rashi defines a humble person as someone who is shafal v'savlan, self-effacing and patient, two quality traits which Moshe epitomized. Did Moshe view himself as lowly? Did he consider himself to be insignificant and unlearned? Absolutely not! Horav Avraham Pam, zl, explains that Moshe was acutely aware of his position, his vital contribution to Klal Yisrael, his role as the consummate, eternal teacher of Torah to the Jewish People. Indeed, despite his humility, when the situation warranted action, he acted. When firm, resolute and unyielding decisions had to be made, he was present to make them. His humility was relative to Hashem; He understood that despite all of his qualities, he was a mere nothing in relation to the infinite wisdom and power of the Almighty. In fact, the more he delved into the profundities of the Torah, the more he realized and acknowledged the unimaginable depth of Divine wisdom, and, consequently, his own irrelevance.

The Rosh Yeshiva explains that his monumental achievements do not affect a truly humble person. On the contrary, the more he accomplishes, the more he realizes what he owes Hashem for granting him the privilege and ability of attaining these heights. Rav Pam relates that the saintly Chafetz Chaim, zl, was once overheard murmuring to himself, "Yisrael Meir, look how much Hashem has done for you. He gave you the z'chus to author the Mishnah Berurah, the Shemiras Halashon, the Sefer Ahavas Chesed. He has given you a large yeshivah. He has done so much for you. What have you done for Him?"

True humility does not necessarily mean that one must shun sitting in the front row or decline to accept any honoraria. It means being a savlan, patiently accepting the critique of others-- or even their mistreatment-- and not responding, not becoming upset, not reacting angrily. A true anav shrugs off whatever disdain he receives. For some, not receiving kavod, honor, is palatable, but being the focus of abuse is going a bit too far. A true savlan can swallow his "pride" and accept critique, and even abuse, in stride.

The Chafetz Chaim would refer to Horav Nochum'ke zl of Horadno as his rebbe. Rav Nochum'ke, aside from being a Torah giant, was also a tremendous baal chesed, devoting much time and effort to raising money for the poor. He once solicited a donation from an arrogant, rich man. As part of his pomposity, the man took the liberty to belittle Rav Nochum'ke, even going as far as to slap his face for wasting his precious time. Imagine, if this would happen to one of us! Rav Nochum'ke did not react, nor did he get upset. He quietly responded, saying, "Fine, that was for me. Now what about the poor? Can I now have a donation to support the poverty stricken?"

The venerable Mashgiach of Mir and Ponevez, Horav Yechezkel Levenstein, zl, views humility as the derivative of a realization about the inherent greatness of the Jewish soul. This soul, a chelek Elokai mi'Maal, part of Hashem Above, grants us the capability to achieve incredible exalted levels of spirituality, so that we can cling securely to Hashem. While the exposition of the Mashgiach presents humility as the result of man's relationship with Hashem, this concept considers it as a comparison within each man, weighing his present and his inherent potential against one another.

When we strive to fulfill the yearning of the soul to attain every aspect of greatness in serving Hashem, we begin to realize how far we can go, and how distant we actually are from our goal. This realization catalyzes true humility, when we consider what are we, how far we have to go, and how much more we have to do. Regrettably, when we fail to appreciate our noble status, we undermine our potential and waste our lives by satisfying ourselves with accomplishments far below that of our true station. Humbled in the knowledge that Hashem has bestowed so great a legacy upon us-- and aware that He awaits our fulfillment of His mission for us-- we must exhaust every opportunity to bring ourselves closer to the goal that He has established for us. This is characteristic of the humility that guides us past the allure of the temporal, the enchantments of this transitory world, as we reach for eternity. It is this same attribute which keeps our minds and hearts in perspective, not allowing for haughtiness to creep in, that disallows for any feeling of inferiority or lack of self worth. We know what we are - but we also realize what the standard should be.

Humility was one of the many legendary features in the life of Horav Eliyahu Lopian, zl. He wrote the following declaration on the door to the bais medrash of Yeshivah Kfar Chasidim, where he was Rosh Yeshivah: "I earnestly request of the public and of the yeshivah students that they not stand up for me when I enter the bais medrash, for it causes my soul much grief." He continued to express his deep humiliation in the knowledge that he was not worthy of any reverence.

His humility was real. It was an integral part of his essence. The following incident provides a classic example of his humility. He once paid a visit to Horav Yechezkel Sarna, zl, Rosh Yeshivah of Chevron. When Rav Michel David Shlepoverski, who had been Rav Elya's student in Kelm, heard that his revered rebbe was at Rav Yechezkel's home, he went there to receive him.

When Rav Michel David entered the home, he greeted his rebbe with an enthusiastic "Sholom Aleichem." Rav Elya returned his greeting with great joy. After they were all sitting together and conversing, Rav Elya asked Rav Yechezkel permission to kiss his student, Rav Michel David. Only after he received permission from Rav Yechezkel, did he rise and kiss his beloved student.

Finally, on various festive occasions, when all of the yeshivah's students were assembled in the dining room, Rav Elya generally entered together with the Mashgiach, Horav Dov Yoffe. When the students saw them entering, they would all rise and sing, Ohr zarua la'tzadik, "May a light shine for a righteous person." At that point, Rav Elya would begin to sing with the students. Then he would join hands with them as they began to dance, forming a circle around Rav Yoffe. He clearly felt that they were singing in honor of Rav Yoffe. No other thought entered his mind!

When a man among you brings an offering to Hashem. (1:2)

The pasuk uses the word adam, in reference to (the) man who brings the offering. Chazal note that adam is also the name of the Adam Ha'Rishon, the first human being created by Hashem. They feel this implies that just as Adam did not bring stolen animals as a sacrifice, because everything belonged to him, so, too, are we forbidden from offering a stolen animal as a sacrifice. It seems strange that Chazal would choose Adam as the reason for prohibiting offering stolen goods on the Altar. Can we just not say that Hashem despises theft? The Navi says in Yeshayah 61:8, "I, Hashem loves justice and hates a burnt-offering (bought) with robbery." What special lesson do we derive from Adam?

The Chafetz Chaim, zl, explains that theft is not only accomplished by force. Accepting a gift under false-- or misrepresented-- circumstances also constitutes gezel, theft. Imagine, someone gives a gift to an individual whom he feels is a talmid chacham, Torah scholar, or tzadik, righteous, virtuous person - and he is neither! Had the individual known that he is neither a tzadik or talmid chacham, he would not have given him the gift. Thus, by misrepresenting himself, he is catalyzing theft.

Adam HaRishon teaches us that one must be free of all forms of theft - even misrepresentation of one's true character. Once during Bircas HaMazon, as the Chafetz Chaim was reciting the words of Bentching, he said the words, "Please make us not needful - Hashem - our G-d - of the gifts of human hands…that we not feel inner shame nor be humiliated forever and ever." Suddenly, he gave a krechts, groaned. After he concluded Bentching, one of his students asked why he had groaned. He replied, "The verse is inconsistent. We begin by asking Hashem that we not be compelled to rely on the help of human beings, and we conclude by asking Him that we not be relegated to inner shame and humiliation forever and ever. What shame is there in the World to Come for someone who is forced to accept charity, or is in need of a loan? Regrettably, one can end up humiliated in the world of truth. Imagine, someone helps you because they are under the impression that you are deserving, pious, a Torah scholar--wonderful virtues that in this world can be deceiving. In Olam Haba, however, the truth is revealed to all, and, at times, the truth can be humiliating.

If a person will sin and will commit one of all the commandments of Hashem that may not be done, but did not know and became guilty, he shall bear his iniquity. (5:17)

In explaining the word v'ashaim, "and became guilty," the Ramban asserts that it is a derivative of the word shameim, desolate. The individual who committed a sin which is atoned for with a Korban Asham, Guilt-Offering, has committed a grave sin, one that would demand that he became isolated, forsaken, and disengaged from the community. The Korban Chatas, Sin-Offering, on the other hand, denotes one who has veered off the correct path, who has erred and lost his way. In other words, the wrongdoing of the choteh is not as deleterious as the one who brings an Asham. How are we to understand this? The Torah clearly states his error as resulting from v'lo yada, "but (he) did not know." No evil was intended at all. In fact, it is almost an accident. Why is he so harshly indicted, to the point that he is worthy of being isolated from the community?

Horav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Shlita, views the v'lo yada, "but (he) did not know" as the source of his Asham. True, concerning the cheilav, non-kosher fat that he ate, it is almost an accident, but "not knowing," being "unaware" is a grave sin. A Jew must always be aware, must be ever thoughtful and cognizant of the possibility of sin. A Jew who has yiraas Shomayim, who fears Hashem, is always concerned lest he do something wrong, something inadvertent.

One who is imbued with fear of Heaven does not rest. The fire of yiraas Shomayim burns passionately within him, a fire of trepidation and worry that does not permit him to forget the One Above. There is no such thing as "relying" on something, or it is "probably" all right. No! It must be perfect. There is no room for error. In his Shaar HaGamul, the Ramban explains that one who eats non-kosher fat b'shogeg, inadvertently, is considered a choteh, sinner, because he should have been more careful. The mere possibility that he might consume something that is not one hundred percent kosher should drive him to be painstakingly cautious.

Lo yada, not knowing, is a serious offense. It indicates a lack of yiraas Shomayim, albeit minute, but a deficiency nonetheless. The critical importance of yiraas Shomayim cannot be overemphasized. In his Kovetz Maamorim, Horav Elchanan Wasserman, zl, explains that only yiraas Shomayim has the power to restrain man from becoming a beast. He bases this hypothesis on the teaching of the Zohar HaKadosh. The Torah in Bereishis 1:26 quotes Hashem as saying, "Let us make man." The Zohar explains that Hashem invited each creation to contribute something of itself to man's essence. Every animal contributed a small component of its nature to man. Thus, man is a microcosm of the entire world, for he has within himself something from all that exists in heaven and earth. Since man contains some of the nature of every wild beast, he potentially becomes the most dangerous wild creature on earth. In addition, man is endowed with intellect and the power of speech, two potentially lethal weapons, which no other creature possess. Now, if an animal needs an iron chain to be restrained, how many chains are necessary to restrain the beast within man? Clearly, Hashem has provided man not only with an "antidote" to curb the beast within him, but a feature that allows him to employ all of these "beastly" qualities for the greater good.

The "iron chain" that keeps the beast within man in check, is yiraas Shomayim. To paraphrase Rav Elchonon: "Only yiraas Hashem has the power to restrain man so that he will not be like a beast that tears apart its prey. Nothing else in the world can guard man from causing harm (to others as well as to himself) - even if he is wise and a philosopher of the caliber of Aristotle - when he becomes overwhelmed by base inclinations." Yiraas Shomayim is the totality of man, without which he is nothing more than just an ordinary beast.

Constant examination and introspection characterize yiraas Shomayim. This demand on oneself should be internal, focusing one's inward life. Toward others, however, one should manifest happiness and satisfaction. In other words, do not impose your yiraas Shomayim on others; do not call attention to yourself. Be demanding on yourself - not of others. Subtly, encourage others to elevate their fear of Heaven, but do not compel, rebuke, or disdain. Yiraas Shomayim is a crucial aspect of one's personal relationship with the Almighty.

Horav Mordechai Schwab, zl, lived such a life. When he was with people, he radiated joy and friendliness, smiling to young children and playing with them. When he was alone, however, he entered into a state of solemnity concerning his yiraas Shomayim. He lived by the maxim of: Shivisi Hashem l'negdi tamid, "I place Hashem before me constantly." He always envisioned himself in the Presence of Hashem. Every endeavor, every action that he undertook, he did so only after contemplating: Is this the ratzon, will, of Hashem? If he did not feel that it was Hashem's will, he would not act. He executed every mitzvah amid the utmost concentration and energy, regardless of its implied significance. The brachah, blessing of Asher yatzar, recited after performing one's bodily functions, was no different than Krias Shema, Bircas HaMazon, Grace after meals, being on an even keel with Shemoneh Esrai.

He would begin each day with a lengthy session in his room, privately reciting Bircas HaShachar, morning blessings, and Krias Shema with utmost concentration, intensity, and even physical exertion. His meticulous care in carrying out mitzvos was overpowering for those in his presence. It was often difficult to watch, because one felt diminished, painfully aware of his personal shortcomings in comparison to this giant of Torah and Yiraas Shomayim.

One of his nephews, the son of his brother, Horav Shimon, wanted to spend Yom Kippur with Rav Mordechai. He discussed this with his father, who permitted him to go, but added that he would be disappointed, which indeed he subsequently was. He discovered that Yom Kippur to Rav Mordechai was no different than a regular day. He prayed with the same intensity all year, expending the same amount of religious fervor. To him, it was Yom Kippur all year. He always felt himself in the Presence of Hashem.

His tefillos and berachos exhausted him physically, as well as emotionally. Indeed, he would drink a cup of coffee prior to reciting Krias Shema at night, if he felt that he was tired and his alertness impaired. When Erev Pesach occurred on Shabbos, necessitating Seudah Shlishis, the question was raised whether to split the morning seudah in two. Rav Schwab would excuse himself, maintaining that he lacked the physical strength to recite Bircas HaMazon twice in such a short period of time. He would go out of his way not to impose his personal chumros, stringencies, on anyone else. For instance, he would usually insist on preparing his own coffee on Shabbos, because of the various chumros pertaining to cooking which he kept. As meticulous as he was bein adam l'Makom, mitzvos relating to Hashem, he was equally circumspect in observing mitzvos bein adam l'chaveiro, interpersonal relationships. As a distinguished and revered rav, he would receive invitations to many simchos, joyous affairs. If he felt that there was the slightest chance of offending someone's feelings, he would make the effort to attend - even if he had neither the time or the energy.

He shall return the robbed item that he robbed. (5:23)

Is it not obvious that if he is returning the robbed item, he must be the robber? Why does the Torah repeat the asher gazal, "that he robbed"? He clearly is not doing this out of the goodness of his heart. He is a thief! Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, cites the Sefer Chassidim that asks this question, and writes the following: "If on that very same day that he stole, he returned the article, then he pays no more than the item which he returned. If he is delinquent in returning it, waiting a week, a month or even longer, he must reimburse its owner all that he could have profited during this time. The robber has to realize that what he has stolen has a constant value to its owner. This value extends far beyond the object's actual worth. In addition, the robber must consider the emotional strain caused to the owner by the item's loss. People become attached to their possessions. This is not a Biblical mandate, but it is something to which one adheres to if he cares about fulfilling the mitzvah in accordance with Heaven's criteria. There are times when the robber causes the owner to diminish his intake of food and drink. After all, he has lost part of his money, and now his portfolio has been depleted."

In other words, one does not just steal and return. He must take everything into consideration - all of the losses, both monetary and emotional. He must return the robbed item which he stole - everything that he stole - every inconvenience that he caused.

Rav Zaitchik adds that time is also something the robber should not ignore. He has wasted the owner's time. He also degraded him, since he no longer has the same financial status as before. There is so much involved when we change the status quo. When one steals from someone else, or causes him a monetary damage, it is not enough to simply return the stolen item. There is the "arum and arum," everything else involved, that must be acknowledged. We must look at the wider ramifications of our actions, the things that we rarely see--and often tend to ignore. It can make a world of difference - in many ways.

Va'ani Tefillah

Hallelukah, Halleli nafshi es Hashem! Hallelukah ,Praise Hashem, O my soul.
David Hamelech has a dialogue with his neshamah, soul. He is imploring his soul to praise Hashem. The neshamah responds that Ahallelah Hashem b'chayai, azamrah l'Elokai b'odi, "I will praise Hashem during my lifetime, I will sing to my G-d as long as I exist." Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, explains the neshamah's response based upon the principle, hashoras ha'nefesh, "the soul lives on forever." As an everlasting creation, the soul replies, "I express my praise to Hashem by the mere fact that I exist, and my continued existence is in itself a tribute to Hashem."

Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, feels that ahallelah, with the ah suffix, denotes urging. Thus, David is speaking to himself, urging himself to more service, greater praise, more frequent devotion to Hashem. This is his- and should be every Jew's- life purpose: to praise Hashem, either actively or by the example he manifests, through his lifestyle. To paraphrase Rav Miller, "There is no greater success than that of utilizing one's life to praise Hashem…This is one of our 'national' privileges…for which we must always be thankful. Indeed, this is the purpose of life."

In honor of the
Bar Mitzvah
of our dear son,
Avrohom Naftali Grossn"y

From his proud parents,
Yosef and Raizy Gross

y'hi ratzon shenirvu mimenu rov nachas

Peninim on the Torah is in its 18th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

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