Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


He called to Moshe, and Hashem spoke to him from the Ohel Moed. (1:1)

When Moshe Rabbeinu was summoned (Vayikra el Moshe - He called to Moshe), when Hashem wished to teach him a lesson or impart to him a new command, Moshe would reply, "Hineni - here I am, ready and willing to do whatever is asked of me." Hashem would then inform Moshe of what it was that He wished. The pasuk implies that the call/summons was issued only to Moshe. This is not because Hashem's voice is low and only Moshe could hear it. The Almighty's voice can shatter trees; such is its awesome power. Hashem wanted that only Moshe would hear His voice. The voice/sound was out there; only Moshe heard it. Furthermore, the voice could only be heard within the environs of the Ohel Moed.

In a homiletic rendering of the pasuk, Horav Baruch Sorotzkin, zl, suggests that a lesson may be derived from the pasuk with regard to contemporary times. (The Rosh Yeshivah taught this lesson about fifty years ago.) We are living during a period in which Hashem's voice, His message, is loud and clear. It has enormous power, capable of shattering cedar trees (Kol Hashem shover arazim). The power of His voice was heard and felt following and during the Holocaust. The sheer force of such a cataclysmic destruction gives us an idea of Hashem's greatness and the depth of his message. On the other hand, there is a positive, majestic side to the voice (Kol Hashem behadar), as we observe in the rescue of some yeshivah students who were miraculously able to rebuild the mekomos haTorah, yeshivos that flourished before the war. The old is gone, and the new has been ushered in with great zeal, passion and fervor. Torah is alive and well and growing throughout the world.

There are kolos, voices/sounds: sounds of destruction; sounds of rebirth and rebuilding. The believer hears these sounds and he understands and accepts the message which these sounds convey. No message from Hashem is wasted on the believing Jew. This is how the Almighty communicates with him. The non-believer, however, sadly hears nothing. He neither hears, nor sees. Why? Because he is not in the Ohel Moed. One who has not merited to ensconce himself in a makom kadosh, holy place - a yeshivah, a shul, a place where Torah is studied and taught - does not hear. The "speaker system" is within the bais hamedrash. The sound ceases outside the parameters of the Ohel Moed.

Hashem created the world in such a manner that the greatest glory is manifest specifically when one must look for it, when there is a chance that he might err and wrongly interpret what he sees. Instead of overtly seeing the glory of G-d, it will pass over him as if nothing had occurred. True "seeing" occurs when one must look "hard" and "deep"; when he must study what he sees, delving into every aspect, until he sees G-d's hand. When an undisputed miraculous occurrence takes place, one often misses the point, because it has all come too easily. He did not ferret out; he did not cogitate what he saw. Such vision will not last.

We often perceive Hashem's hand controlling life's events. We hear the Kol Hashem shover arazim: the powerful voice which shatters the strongest trees. The believer picks up on the message and, therefore, interprets loudly and clearly what Hashem wants of him. Sadly, there is an entire world out there which lacks the ability to interpret because G-d is not "there"; their emunah, faith, is compromised and weak. When one's eyes are sealed shut, he cannot see the obvious. He does not see; he does not hear. The Heavenly message is lost on him.

To interpret the message, one must hear it. It is "difficult" to hear dual messages when one is simultaneously listening to the messages of a world society into which he is attempting to be accepted, into which he has already assimilated himself. The word of Hashem is heard in the mekomos haTorah, holy places where Torah is studied and disseminated. Another reason for not picking up on the message, for ignoring what is clearly being conveyed to us, is a lack of observation and introspection. The Torah teaches that, prior to the plague of Hail, Pharaoh and the people of Egypt were warned, "Get your animals out of the fields. Take them indoors. The plague will devastate everything outside."

We are taught that anyone with a modicum of common sense listened. After all, this was the seventh plague. Hashem had a track record that had previously been proven six times to be on the mark. Yet, the Torah writes about the "one who feared G-d and his counterpart who did not fear G-d." Who were these individuals who stood out for their opposing characteristic? Chazal explain that Iyov was the one who "feared G-d," while another one of Pharaoh's advisors, Bilaam, did not. He was lo sam libo, did not stop to allow his heart to think, to reflect upon what was happening. This was Bilaam, the fellow who continued on with his goals in life, despite being on a crash course with Hashem.

It happened later on, with the donkey, when Bilaam became angry, cursed and hit his donkey. Why? He was not looking, because he was obsessed with his diabolical plan to curse and annihilate the Jews. The great Bilaam fell prey to simple arrogance, to an obsession based upon the vile hatred of a nation that had done him no wrong. We see this irascible, implacable hatred today, in our very own lives, as Muslim terrorists one by one - Jihadists - who are willing to destroy themselves out of hatred for Hashem's People.

Time and again, miracles occur which clearly speak to us, which admonish and encourage us to return to Hashem. Yet, instead we write papers and deliver speeches to "explain" why the world hates us. There is always an intellectual response. This is true; there is an intellectual response. Regrettably, the self-proclaimed secular spokesmen have no clue what it is.

Hashem calls out to us; we are too busy, too involved, too focused on our petty goals to listen, to apply His directive to our lives. At times, the message is there and germane to the individual. Horav Yisschar Frand relates the following story, which indicates what we have said: when one is not listening, the message just goes over his head.

An Israeli woman had become interested in changing her vacuous lifestyle and was gravitating towards religion. She attended a number of classes on Judaism and was slowly beginning to adopt mitzvah observance as a way of life. She was on the way towards spiritual growth and development. Then, suddenly, one day, out of the blue, she announced to her teacher that she was leaving the program. Understandably, her teacher asked for a reason. Was it the staff? Her peers? The material? Perhaps they were moving ahead at too quick a pace?

"No, it is nothing like that," she replied. "It is just that I am pregnant, and I have decided to terminate my pregnancy."

"Why would you do something like that?" the teacher asked - couching the question in a tone that would elicit an intelligent response. Sadly, terminating the life of a living embryo means much less to the secular-oriented person than it does to us.

"I want to embark on a career," she replied, "and this pregnancy will impede my ability to do so seamlessly. There will just be too many issues and hassles to contend with." (It is interesting how a living embryo has suddenly become a hassle.)

The teacher continued with another question, "What does your husband say to your decision?"

"He is in full agreement. If it will make life difficult for me - then no baby - for now," the young woman responded.

Realizing that this was one headstrong woman who seemed bent on moving forward with her decision to terminate the pregnancy, the teacher attempted a new approach. Perhaps, this might change her mind.

"Listen," she began. "If you are prepared to abort this pregnancy, you must be aware that it is a dangerous procedure. Prior to going for such a serious procedure, I think you should go to a holy rabbi and petition his blessing, so that you safely get through the operation without mishap. I will accompany you and act as your interpreter."

Being that she was not "anti" religion, just "unknowing," she agreed to meet with a great rabbi. They went to Horav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zl, "I would like a blessing," she asked of Rav Shlomo Zalman. "I am about to terminate my pregnancy, and I want to be sure that it will all go smoothly." "Why would you want to terminate your pregnancy?" Rav Shlomo Zalman asked.

"Because I want to pursue a career," she replied.

"What career have you chosen to pursue?" Rav Shlomo Zalman asked.

"I want to be a doctor." She said.

"Why do you want to be a doctor?" Rav Shlomo Zalman asked.

"Well - for one, I want to save lives," she responded.

"Really? What is so important about saving lives that you want to devote your life's work to it?" Rav Shlomo Zalman asked.

Startled by such a question coming from the gadol hador, preeminent Torah leader of the generation, the woman said, "Saving a human life is the most important thing a person can do. What could be more important than saving a human life?"

All of a sudden, the significance of her statement aroused her. She now understood what Rav Shlomo Zalman was intimating. She pointed to her swollen stomach and said, "You do not mean 'this.' Do you?" she asked.

Rav Shlomo Zalman's voice was unwavering, "I most certainly do mean 'that.' That embryo can become a living, breathing, vibrant child. It has a right to life as well as anyone else you are prepared to save."

This woman heard a message. Certainly, she was aware before she spoke to Rav Shlomo Zalman that an embryo is a human life. She just did not think about it, because she was bent on breaking the rules. She had a goal in life which she felt was not consistent with religious observance. She had made a decision - not to listen to her messages. That was, until Rav Shlomo Zalman was able to jumpstart her mind.

Hashem calls to each and every one of us. If we are not in the Ohel Moed, we will have difficulty listening and interpreting His message. Need we say more?

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

Rashi explains that the word adam in our pasuk is a reference to Adam HaRishon, the first human being, with a lesson regarding the laws of korbanos, offerings. As Adam did not bring any korbanos from stolen property, since essentially the whole world was his, so, too, may no one serve Hashem with anything that came into his possession in a dishonest manner. The Panim Yafos explains this idea practically. Adam HaRishon was last to be created, following the creation of an entire world with its myriad creations. Adam was fully aware that nothing belonged to him; after all, he had created nothing. He viewed the world much like the Tanna in Pirkei Avos (3:7), "Give Him from His own, for you and your possessions are His. As David Hamelech said (Divrei Hayamim 1:29:14), 'For everything is from You, and from Your own we have given You.'"

Foolish is the man who thinks Kochi v'otzem yadi asah li es ha'chayil hazeh, "It is my power and the strength of my hand that wrought for me all of this wealth" (Devarim 8:17). It is not one's hand - it is Hashem's hand; it is not one's acumen - it is Hashem's acumen; it is not one's wealth - everything belongs to Hashem. Since everything belongs to Hashem, one might begin to think that what his neighbor has in his possession also belongs to Hashem. Following this line of thought, if I want to bring a korban, taking from my neighbor is not really stealing, because it does not really belong to him anyway. Thus, the Torah underscores the need to bring the korban only from one's own property. Nonetheless, the person must internalize the idea that everything in this world - including the ability to appropriate it and the idea to offer up a korban to Hashem - is all derived from Hashem.

Horav Yaakov Galinsky, zl, relates an incident which took place when the sefer Degel HaMasser by Horav Gershon Libman, zl, was compiled by his students and published. The sefer was an anthology of the source material for his ethical discourses. Rav Libman was the founder and Rosh Yeshivah of the Novaradoker Yeshivah in France. A brilliant scholar, whose deep understanding of the human psyche was concomitant with his unique ability to relate the words of Chazal to the ethical, moral and spiritual issues confronting the ben Torah. In celebration of this wonderful feat the completion of this sefer, the students prepared a gala dinner in which the primary speaker was none other than Rav Gershon.

It, therefore, came as somewhat of a shock that Rav Gershon arose and publicly lauded the brilliance of the ideas presented in the sefer. He went on speaking about the deep thoughts and illuminating lessons which were taught in this volume of penetrating mussar, ethical discourse. When asked, concerning Shlomo Hamelech's sound advice, Yehalelucha zar v'lo picha, "The strangers should praise you - but, not your own mouth" (Mishlei 27:2), he replied, "This is not my Torah! These are not my novellae. It is all from Hashem. What makes it mine: the fact that Hashem's Torah passed through my brain? Furthermore, is it my brain? It is Hashem's brain! Veritably, does anything really belong to us? Is anything really ours? It is all that with Hashem endows us."

Adam HaRishon was acutely aware of this truth. Thus, when we commence Sefer Vayikra with the parsha of korbanos, it is important that this idea be ingrained in our minds. Rav Galinsky explains the following. The Korban Olah is brought for sins committed through inappropriate thoughts and improper emotions. The Korban Chatas is brought for a sin that had been committed unintentionally. The consequences for not bringing these korbanos are dire. Why? In the Yerushalmi Makos 2:6, Chazal state: "Nevuah, prophesy, was asked, 'What is the punishment for one who sins?' The response was, 'Let him offer a korban and it will atone for him.'"

The manner in which this is effected is that the sinner who offers the korban, takes to heart that whatever is happening to the animal should have happened to him. One who carefully considers the proceedings, and understands the significance of the animal taking his place, is worthy of atonement. With this in mind, our original question becomes stronger: Why? The sinner had an improper thought, an improper passion upon which he acted unintentionally. Is this a reason for him to experience what is now (instead) happening to the animal? Rav Galinsky explains that our question indicates a lack of Torah perspective concerning sin and the concept of ownership. We tend to think that "my life" is just that: my life. I can do whatever I please with my life, my health, my possessions -they are all mine. Furthermore (along these lines), if I transgressed slightly - not a major sin, but an error, an indiscretion - nothing terribly spectacular or egregious, my thought process tells me that I deserve - at worst - a simple punishment - nothing serious, just a slap on the hands and business as usual. To lose my life, Heaven forbid, over a simple sin is ludicrous! Or so I would tend to believe.

Whoever thinks along these lines has no idea of the meaning of the word adam. He does not understand the perspective of Adam HaRishon. We do not realize that nothing - absolutely nothing - belongs to us. Everything belongs to Hashem - our lives, health, wealth - everything! If this is the case, once we sin against G-d, do we deserve to keep our lives? After all, they are really not ours. They belong to Hashem.

Veritably, it is as prophesy said. One who sins should forfeit his life. Torah, however, says, "Let him bring a korban and achieve atonement." This is what Adam HaRishon taught. He understood that nothing belonged to him. It was a gift from Hashem, just as nothing belongs to us - it is all a gift from Hashem.

He shall skin the Elevation/Burnt Offering and cut it into pieces. (1:6)

Arrogance may not be the prime motivation for sin, but a sinner is certainly arrogant. His pretentiousness is the result of an exacerbated self-opinion, which allows him to act injudiciously. A more pronounced sense of self will provoke even greater and more audacious sin, while the sinner thinks that, as a result of his self-perceived greatness, he may act with impunity. One who is humble is careful concerning what he says and how he acts. Hence, his indiscretion is less common and certainly less pronounced. Having said this, the question is: What motivates the arrogance? Every individual knows "himself." He knows the truth. He might not want to accept it, but the truth about himself is blatant and unambiguous. Why, then, does he permit himself to think that he is so great that he may act as he pleases?

Horav Shlomo Levinstein, Shlita, quotes the Yalkut HaGershuni in the name of the Arvei Nachal with an illuminating explanation for this phenomena. Once, Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, the venerable Rosh Yeshiva of Mir Yerushalayim, was asked to speak at a sheva brachos, festive meal, in honor of the wedding of one of his close students. Rav Chaim was not only a brilliant Talmudic scholar, but his penetrating insight into the human psyche, coupled with his vast knowledge of all the literary sources concerning ethical character refinement, also made him an accepted leader and mentor to those studying and seeking self- improvement. It was, therefore, surprising to hear him begin his speech with a self-commentary of his greatness. "I am one of this generation's greatest tzaddikim, righteous persons. Perhaps, I might even be the gadol hador, preeminent Torah giant of this generation. I am a brilliant scholar and faithfully observant." Hearing such utterances from the mouth of Rav Chaim frightened all of the guests. While everything that Rav Chaim said was probably true, it was totally uncharacteristic of him to talk about himself - certainly not with such glowing accolades. The people were momentarily ashamed that they were party to the great Rosh Yeshivah's seeming debasement.

As the Rosh Yeshivah continued, the people cringed: "It is impossible for me to ignore the fact that I do have shortcomings, but, b'sach ha'kol, in sum total, in a general sense, I am in good shape." The Rosh Yeshivah stopped for a moment, allowing for his words to sink in, and then he declared, "This is how everyone thinks of himself!"

The Yalkut HaGershuni continued, explaining that everyone realizes that he has good and bad qualities. Deep down he thinks highly of himself, comparing himself to some of the great Torah giants of his time. He concedes, of course, that he has deficiencies - after all, who is perfect? At the end of the day, however, when he tallies up the sum total, he determines that he is doing well.

Arrogance is based upon one's obsession with sach ha'kol, the sum total. The individual is not interested in breaking down the various components of his essence. One who seeks to free himself of the negative middah, character trait, of gaavah, arrogance, should follow the message of the pasuk. He shall skin the Olah and cut it into pieces. Let him peruse each mitzvah to see if he truly executes it according to halachah. Are his Tefillin in perfect condition? Does he have the proper kavanah, intention/devotion, when he prays? Is he certain that his Shabbos observance is up to speed? Does he check that everything that enters his mouth maintains impeccable standards of kashrus? If every aspect of his "broken down" service to Hashem is perfect, then he is in good shape. Otherwise, what reason does he have for being arrogant?

We observe Torah and mitzvos, but are we truly observant in accordance with Hashem's demands, or are we just getting by? We must stop looking at the sum total and begin taking everything in our religious observance apart, much like a doctor in search of a diagnosis. The patient on the whole seems fine, but he still feels a bit sluggish. Why? Perfect health, both physical and spiritual is not based on sach ha'kol, the sum total. Every aspect of a person's physical and spiritual self must be fine-tuned and in perfect shape, or else the patient does not receive a clean bill of health.

On your every offering shall you offer salt. (2:13)

Salt is the only "food" which (since it is a condiment) does not have its own value. Its worthiness is noted only when it is mixed with other foods, thereby imparting its taste into that food. Horav Yisrael Chortkover, zl, comments that this is why the Torah demands salt to be placed on every korban, as a way of reminding and imbuing us with the notion that there is no value to the Jew who thinks and cares only about himself. A Jew's true value is manifest when he devotes himself to others. Life is not about living alone, thinking only of oneself, never participating with others. Self-centeredness has no value in Jewish life. One who thinks only of himself - remains alone. On the other hand, once a person mingles and involves himself with the greater community - helping others, reaching out in whichever way that he can - he elevates himself and becomes a worthy person.

One element in reaching out cannot be sufficiently underscored: identifying with another Jew's suffering. Our attitude concerning our fellow Jew should be: "we" have a problem; "we" are suffering; it is "our" issue. Unless we personally feel and identify with another person's pain, we cannot properly be of assistance to him. Rav Yisrael Chortkover personified this type of communal sensitivity. I have selected one episode from the many examples in the Rebbe's chesed portfolio.

World War I was a difficult time for European Jewry, both from a physical and a spiritual perspective. This was especially true if one was of conscription age. During the war, many Jews were conscripted into the army, where they met their deaths or were wounded. From a spiritual perspective, it was equally harmful, since living as an observant Jew was hardly "encouraged." Rav Yisrael was instrumental in aiding and abetting scores of young men in avoiding conscription. His home became the address for anyone who sought refuge from the army. This, of course, did not sit well with the authorities. They heard about the Rabbi's activities and sent one of their own, dressed as a Jew, to spy out the Rebbe's home and ferret out the truth. Was the Rebbe guilty of treason?

The man came before the Rebbe and began to cry, claiming that his ben yachid, only son, had been conscripted into the army. He begged the Rebbe to do something about it. He could not allow his only son to join the army. The man cried bitter tears, pleading with the Rebbe to "intercede" on his behalf. The Rebbe listened to the man's story and then had him repeat it over again. The man did this, with his entire act - tears and all. When he finished, the Rebbe had him repeat the story a third time.

When the man completed his third rendition of the story, the Rebbe admonished him, "Do you not know the importance of serving in the army? We are living in a country that has just laws which we must follow. Army service is a law, and your son should serve." A few days later, a high ranking officer visited the Rebbe and thanked him for his support of the army. They had heard rumors that the Rebbe was undermining their efforts, but, apparently, these were slanderous rumors which were untrue.

The Chassidim were thoroughly convinced that they had just witnessed an overt miracle. Heaven had protected the Rebbe. Rav Yisrael sought to dispel this notion. He explained why he suspected this man of being a government spy: "Normally, when a Jew relates his personal sorrows to me, I feel a sense of kinship to him, and within me, I feel his pain and suffering. Yet, when this man told me his story, I felt nothing. At first, I thought it was my fault. I am not on the spiritual plane such that I feel another Jew's suffering. I had him repeat the story three times, and still no change was effected in my feelings towards him. I then realized that he must be an imposter. How could I not sense his pain?

Va'ani Tefillah

Al baneinu v'al doroseinu v'al kol doros zera Yisrael.
Upon our sons and upon our generations and upon all the generations of the progeny of Yisrael.

Although we previously said that, "His kingdom, trustworthy and desirable will endure forever and ever," a statement which includes our sons and ensuing generations, the purpose here in reiterating the enduring nature of our relationship is different. Earlier, we addressed the permanence of "these matters." Torah and mitzvos are here to stay - forever. Now, we are addressing to "whom" they are enduring, to whom they are meaningful and delightful. Who are those who declare the permanence of the Torah? Who are they that accept its precepts and live by its guidelines? It is "we" who accepted it then and continue to affirm our relationship via our efforts to infuse our children and our children's children with the verities of the Torah. We underscore the chain of transmission from father to son to ensuing generations, because any belief that a father is not prepared to transmit to his most prized possession, his child, is not much of a belief. Throughout the generations, we have demonstrated our loyalty to Hashem by not only adhering to His mitzvos, but by seeing to it that our children do the same. What greater indication of our allegiance to Hashem can we manifest?

In memory of our beloved parents
Rabbi Dr. Avrohom Yitzchok Wolf
Rebbetzin Anna Moses
Sruly and Chaya Wolf and Family
Ari and Rivky Wolf and Family

Abba and Sarah Spero and Family
Pesach and Esther Ostroy and Family
Sruly and Chaya Wolf and Family

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

The Fifteenth 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