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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And leave a space between drove and drove. (32:17)

The Midrash Rabbah quotes a poignant request made by Yaakov Avinu of Hashem: "Yaakov said to HaKodesh Baruch Hu, 'Ribbono Shel Olam! If adversity/troubles/pain will (be decreed) to come upon my children, please do not send them one following (immediately) after another; but rather, leave (a) space between them!' This is to be implied from the word revach, 'space' between the flocks of sheep." Horav Yaakov Galinsky, Shlita, wonders what is the meaning of "space" between troubles? How does space make a difference?

The Maggid quotes an explanation which he heard from the Steipler Gaon, zl, given during a group lecture while in the Novardok Yeshivah in Biyalastok, Poland. In the Talmud Berachos 5b, Chazal relate that when Rabbi Elazar became ill, Rabbi Yochanan came to visit him. When he entered the house, he noticed that it was very dark. Rabbi Yochanan uncovered his arm, and the house immediately became illuminated. He then noticed that Rabbi Elazar was crying. "Why are you crying?" he asked. "If it is because you feel that you did not sufficiently learn Torah, it should not be of concern to you. We have learned that it is not how much one learns, but rather, his intention and devotion to Heaven, that it be l'shem Shomayim, for Heaven's sake, that counts. If it is because of your extreme poverty: not everyone merits two tables (i.e. distinction in Torah and material wealth). If it is because you did not merit to have children: I have here with me a bone from my tenth son to have passed away. The bottom line is: Do you appreciate yissurim, troubles?" Rabbi Elazar replied, "Neither them, nor the reward they incur." When Rabbi Yochanan heard this, he stretched out his hand to Rabbi Elazar and the sage immediately became cured. The question is obvious: If Rabbi Yochanan possessed this incredible power, why did he wait to pose all of these questions to him? Why did he not heal him on the spot?

The Steipler explained that, had Rabbi Yochanan asked him outright, "Do you want to be healed?" the immediate response would have been one of dejection, "Leave me be; I want to die!" Why would he have responded so negatively? Because this is exactly how he felt. He had not learned enough Torah; he had no money, no children, and now he was gravely ill on top of all of that! Yes, his immediate response would have been, "Leave me alone, I just want to die!" He no longer had any strength left to continue his painful suffering.

Therefore, Rabbi Yochanan took apart the various adversities which, throughout his life, had taken their toll on him. Each one was disassembled and ameliorated. Individually, none was a catastrophic burden with which he could not deal. What was left? His illness! That, he could cure! This is how the brilliant Rabbi Yochanan was able to bring Rabbi Elazar back to manifest a positive outlook on life.

This is the meaning of revach, space. Everyone suffers through some form of adversity. Some experience much more than others. Yet, it does not destroy them. This is because they catch their breath in between each one. There is a space during which one can straighten out his life, pull himself together - and then go on to the next one. He breaks up his tzaros, troubles, into distinct adversities dealing with each one on an individual basis. This allows him time to reflect when transitioning from one situation to another.

Perhaps we might suggest another interpretation of allowing for revach bein eider l'eider. Revach means space. It also means benefit, profit, surplus. If we follow along the lines of Chazal that we are addressing issues of adversity, revach can be interpreted as the benefit or lesson one derives from the adversity. Thus, he triumphs over the troubles, rather than letting them envelop him. This idea came to me when I read a simple, but poignant, quote: "Grief is the price we pay for love." One who loves someone grieves over his loss. One who cares about something mourns his separation from it. One who does not care, who does not love, does not grieve or mourn. Every "negative" emotion is a response to a positive feeling within us. One who undergoes an adverse situation can either: gain from it, thus triumphing over it, or it can destroy him.

I recently read a book about people who had undergone various challenging situations. They coped and grew from their experiences. At times, the ending was a happy one, but sometimes not: the patient did not survive. Yet, the people who were involved in the experience emerged stronger, emotionally healthier, nobler, wiser and more caring individuals. Despite the grief that overtook them following the bad endings, they benefitted so much from their ordeal that the tragedy itself was redefined.

Whether revach means space or it is interpreted as benefit, the message remains the same: Do not allow adversity to triumph over you. Delve into every situation. Allow yourself to think, to expand your horizons, to recognize that every situation carries a lesson, a message, an opportunity for betterment. "Grief is the price one pays for love" is a powerful statement, which teaches us that it is not all bad. One who does not love will never have to grieve. Think about that.

I close with a powerful exposition attributed to the Chiddushei HaRim. Avraham Avinu was tested through the Akeidas Yitzchak, Binding of Yitzchak, whereby Hashem commanded him to sacrifice his only son, whom he loved. It involved a lengthy process of traveling three days to Har HaMoriah. Why could Hashem not have tested Avraham with a quick, sudden command: "Put a knife to your son's throat." Why did he have to go through the whole process? The Rebbe explains that a person's senses can desert him under such duress. A moment so sudden, so traumatic, can have a deleterious effect on his consciousness. Avraham and, - by extension, each person who is tested by Hashem - undergoes a test for how well-prepared he is for the challenge. Every human being can study, contemplate, mull over the issues of life and fill his internal repositories of faith, compassion, trust in Hashem and Jewish perspective, to the point that his instincts are well-honed and properly molded. Therefore, when the time of challenge - that awful moment we pray never happens - does come, he is prepared to deal with the adversity that confronts him.

We live a life of hope - hope that "bad things" will never happen, but we must leave ourselves revach, take every opportunity to pack our bags with inspiration and faith, so that if it "does happen," we are prepared.

He said, "No longer will it be said that your name is Yaakov, but Yisrael, for you have striven with the Divine and with man and have overcome." (32:29)

Yaakov/Yisrael are two names, each with unique implications. The name Yaakov heralds back to the birth of the Patriarch, v'yado ochezes b'akeiv Eisav, "his hand grasping on the heel of Eisav" (Bereishis 25:26). Yaakov Avinu emerged into this world holding onto the heel of his brother Eisav. This clearly does not imply strength or assertiveness. Later, at the convincing of his mother, Rivkah Imeinu, he appropriated the b'rachos, blessings, from Eisav, under what appears to be in less than a forthright manner. Eisav declared, Hachi kara shemo Yaakov vayaakveini zeh paamayim, "Is it because his name was called Yaakov that he outwitted me these two times?" (Bereishis 27:36). Once again, the name Yaakov connotes stealth, cunning, acting somewhat surreptitiously.

This is in contrast with the name Yisrael, which is derived from sarisa, "You have striven/contended." Sarisa is derived from sar, which means officer, dignitary. Thus, Yisrael is a name which denotes dignity and pride, strength, openness, authority - definitely the opposite of deceit and treachery.

It is, therefore, interesting to note that the Torah calls the righteous women of our nation by the appellation Bais Yaakov, the House of Yaakov, while the men are referred to as Bnei Yisrael, the sons of Yisrael. This is evidenced in Shemos 19:3, when Hashem instructed Moshe Rabbeinu to inform the nation of the terms of the covenant. He distinguished between the men and women - referring to the men as Yisrael, while the women were called Yaakov. Why is this so? What is it about the righteous women of our nation that connects them to the Yaakov name?

In his Livyas Chein, Horav Cohen, Shlita, offers a fascinating understanding of the dichotomy between the role of women versus the role of men, based on the women's guiding principle in life of: Kol kevudah bas melech penimah, "All the honor of the daughter of the king is within" (Tehillim 45:14)). We must refer back to the role played by Rivkah Imeinu in Yaakov's ruse to relieve Eisav of the blessings. She did not act without guidance from Above. Through Ruach HaKodesh, Divine Inspiration, she was able to perceive that the blessings were to be given to Yaakov. The problem was that Yitzchak had made it clear that his intention was to give the blessings to Eisav. What does a righteous, chaste, but principled and logical, woman do when she perceives a conflict between Divine Inspiration and her husband's personal proclivity? One thing that she does not do is confront her husband. This is not the way a bas melech, princess, conducts herself.

Most women have gentler characters. They are not aggressive. Thus, when Hashem told Moshe to convey the covenant to the women, He used the term tomar, "say," to Bais Yaakov. Men are by nature much more assertive and bold. Their imperious nature demands a strong form of communication. Thus, Hashem told Moshe, v'sagid, "and speak," to Bnei Yisrael.

Kol kevudah bas Melech penimah is much more than an adjunct description of the character of womanhood. It asserts the very definition of the role and position of woman in Judaism. The soft-spoken, genteel, dignified, but modest, way of the Jewish woman is not only desirable, it is a requisite. Thus, the righteous woman understands that the tactics which princes and soldiers employ are hardly appropriate for her. She must focus on a non-confrontational, almost passive, way of influencing those around her. Binah yeseirah, a surplus of understanding, was given to the woman. Thus, she should utilize her intuition and wisdom to prevail in life.

This, explains Rav Cohen, is exactly what Rivkah did when she instructed her son, Yaakov, to appropriate the blessings through a maneuver that appears to be subterfuge. In an attempt to avoid an outright confrontation with her husband, she turned to her son, Yaakov, and instructed him on how to obtain the blessings that were due to him, covertly. She was able to see her son blessed without having to catalyze confrontation or discord.

Rivkah Imeinu set the tone for women of future generations. Chochmas nashim bansah beisah, "The wisdom of women has built the house" (Mishlei 14:1). In building her home, Rivkah used good judgment as the mortar to hold the bricks of Torah and ethics together, so that her home would flourish, thereby ensuring the continuation and success of the Jewish People through the blessings bestowed upon her son, Yaakov. A Jewish woman employs her wisdom and intuition l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven, discretely and without fanfare, developing her home into a bastion of Torah and yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven.

We now understand the significance of - and the necessity for - calling the Jewish community of women by the appellation, Bais Yaakov. Recalling the name of the Patriarch who was guided by guile and wisdom, who was crafty when necessary, who listened to his mother's wise advice, serves an important function. It teaches the generations of women to follow and strive to emulate the ways of the Matriarch Rivkah. She brought blessing to her home: neither by grabbing, nor by protest; by eschewing the limelight; without aggressiveness - but with strength, modesty and gentleness. Every Jewish woman must avail herself of her unique qualities of wisdom and intuition, in order to remain the paradigm of the true Bais Yaakov, the revered princess, which personifies her essence and enables her calling.

He raised his eyes and saw the women and children, and he asked, "Who are these to you?" he answered, "The children whom G-d has graciously given your servant." (33:5)

Eisav took one look at the women and children and asked Yaakov Avinu, "Who are these to you?" Yaakov replied that the children were graciously bestowed to him by the Almighty. We assume that, upon seeing the group of women and children, Eisav questioned Yaakov concerning both the women and children. Yaakov, however, only replied concerning the children. He seems to have ignored the wives. The Malbim explains that Yaakov was conveying to Eisav an important aspect of his outlook on life, which was altogether different than that of Eisav.

To Eisav, a wife was a goal within itself. He had no other purpose in establishing the relationship. It was all for the purpose of self-gratification. Yaakov, however, married for the purpose of procreation, which, without a wife, was impossible. Marriage served as the cornerstone for a family. A family is of primary significance in Jewish life. Family represents future. Life is all about future. Without a future, we have no present.

Eisav asked about the women and children. Yaakov responded concerning the children, because the women's significance was intrinsic to the children. They were all one family unit. Eisav could not comprehend the idea of a family, because everything he did was to satisfy the here and now. Family represents future. Eisav lives for the present.

Perhaps, Yaakov was suggesting another perspective on marriage to Eisav. Eisav inquired concerning the women and children who were accompanying Yaakov, as if they were two separate entities, sort of Yaakov's "possessions." The Patriarch replied only concerning the children - not the women. He was intimating to Eisav that the women who Eisav viewed as assets were his wives, the mothers of his children, and, hence, had status equal to his own. They were a couple, and the children were "theirs."

In Eisav's perverted world, the woman/mother had no individual status. Rather than being the husband's companion for life, she was his chattel; she belonged to him. This is why Eisav asked about the women in the same manner as he asked about the children. Yaakov's reply was very telling. The children were "theirs." In the "triangle" of Yaakov's family, he and his wives were along the same "line," with their children serving as the focal point. Not so Eisav, who viewed himself as the focal point, and his wives and children to be mere possessions. They were just not on the same page.

Now Yaakov heard that he had defiled his daughter Dinah, while his sons were with his cattle in the field; so Yaakov kept silent until their arrival. (34:5)

There were no cellphones in those days, so Yaakov Avinu had to wait until his sons arrived home before he could tell them of the outrage that had taken place. Abarbanel explains that the Patriarch waited for his sons, because he was not going to make a decision without first consulting them. Their input was important to him. Horav Yaakov Meir Shechter, Shlita, explains that including mature children in decision making is good parenting. In fact, this is specifically how one should relate to his children.

This is especially true under circumstances in which one is compelled to point out a son's errant ways, in the hope that he will alter his present activities. For instance, if one son is acting inappropriately, the father should approach him to discuss a problem which he feels exists with regard to the behavior of his siblings. By including this son in the decision-making process, he raises his self-esteem, and, at times, can point out areas of behavior which he sees in the other children. This is actually a ruse, so that the father can point out these same issues to this son. Subconsciously, as the son "advises" his father concerning his brothers, the message will invariably be reflected back on himself.

That a parent loves his child goes without saying. It is the manifestation of this love under everyday circumstances that is not all that common. Rav Shachter quotes Tanna D'vei Eliyahu Zuta that says, "One should act with humility toward all men. This is especially true with regard to members of one's family. It is important that, upon occasion, he acts as one of them, including them in affairs and decisions concerning activities in the home. In this manner, he will inspire them to follow the correct path, without the need for discipline."

Indeed, Yaakov Avinu referred to his sons as brothers. "And Yaakov said to his brethren, 'Gather stones!'" (ibid. 31:46) Rashi explains that the Patriarch was speaking to his sons who stood by his side in trouble and war like brothers.

While the above is the principle to which one should adhere, how this plays out in each individual family and when to apply this principle are based upon a parent's common sense. Every child is different, and every family dynamic is different. The bottom line is that a child must feel a parent's love, and that love should be manifested on more than an annual basis.

Horav Eliyahu Roth, zl, was a master mechanech, educator, in Yerushalayim, who devoted his entire life to preparing the next generation of Torah students. He himself was a student of Horav Shlomo, zl, m'Zvehil, who was a saintly Rebbe, well-known for his devotion to Jews of all stripes. Aside from being a holy, esoteric individual, he was uncommonly wise. He was wont to say that chinuch ha'banim, child-rearing, may be compared to a hen resting upon its eggs. During the twenty-one-day gestation period, it may not allow any cold air to enter between its body and that of the eggs. The air will have an adverse effect on the chick's development. On the other hand, it may not press down too hard with its body, lest it crack the egg. These two contrasting measures - tight, without permitting air to enter; and light enough not to crack the egg's shell - are requisites for the maturation of a healthy chick. Hashem provided the hen with the innate ability to bridge these opposing measures.

Likewise, a parent must take great care in protecting his child from the deleterious winds of contemporary society. This requires great care and often strong, practical common sense concerning what to allow and what not to allow. Unless the parent is himself a victim of society's pervasive permissiveness, he should be competent in making such decisions. If he has questions, he can always approach his local Orthodox Rabbi who should be well-versed and able to offer guidance and inspiration. All the same, pressing down too hard, too much discipline, inflexible and uncompromising demands, might create a fissure in the "shell" of the child.

In his Generation to Generation, Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski writes about growing up in Milwaukee, in the home of the revered Chassidic Rebbe, Horav Yaakov Yisrael Twerski, zl. His father was a giant of intellect, wisdom, compassion and inspiration. His legacy is his incredible family and the Torah community he left behind. He was also a mechanech par excellence, who imparted to his children a way of life steeped in Torah and Chassidus, while remaining cognizant of worldly disciplines. Rabbi Twerski remarks concerning his father's method of parenting and the manner in which he taught his children to distinguish between right and wrong.

We all know that the greatest challenge confronting parents is imparting Torah values to their children. Children must know what is right and what is wrong, and they must learn to choose to do what is right. This must be done while nurturing a sense of positive self-esteem within the child, so that if he does something wrong, he will not feel that he is bad. This requires discipline with love, a discipline whereby the child is made to feel that some of the things which he has done are considered to be unacceptable behavior. How does a parent teach this to a child, however, without somehow making him feel guilty or bad?

This is the question that Rabbi Twerski focuses on. He remembers once early on in life being disciplined by his father. His father heard what he had done, and it was something of which he disapproved. In a no-nonsense, quiet and firm voice, he said, Es past nisht, "It is not becoming (of you)." No screaming; no names; no corporeal punishment - just a simple, but stern, reprimand to the effect that such behavior, albeit acceptable by others, was unbecoming of him. Rather than put the child down, such discipline elevates the child's status and expresses the notion that more is expected of him. No put-down; rather, it was the exact opposite: "You are special. It behooves you to act differently."

As a practicing psychiatrist dealing with problems of addiction, Rabbi Twerski relates that he has employed this method in speaking to teenagers who have fallen prey to the scourge of drugs. A teenager enters his office suffering from a drug abuse problem. This beautiful child has for years been putting these harmful substances into his/her body.

"Tell me," Rabbi Twerski asks, "what do you do if you are working in the kitchen and you accumulate garbage? Where do you put the garbage?"

The teenager has a puzzled look on his face. "What is the question? I put it into the garbage can, of course. Where else?"

"Then tell me, my child, how is it that you have been putting all of this drug garbage into yourself? I am certain that you knew that all the stuff that you were taking was all garbage?"

This approach has rarely failed to elicit an immediate reaction. Tears well up as the children who appear lovely on the outside share the fact that they had never felt good about themselves. Thus, essentially, they saw nothing wrong with introducing garbage into their systems. They viewed themselves as trash cans - so, why not?

Imagine, if people would realize that certain behaviors are inappropriate because, Es past nisht, "it's just not becoming." We are a mamleches Kohanim v'goi kadosh, "a kingdom of Priests and a holy nation." We are dressed in exquisite finery. We are not permitted to play in the mud. It is as "simple" as that! We are too fine, too important, too easily soiled, to be playing in the garbage dump. This is how a Jewish child is to be raised: Es past nisht!

Va'ani Tefillah

U'keshartam l'os yadecha. And you shall bind them on your hands.

In Sefer Shemos (13:16), the Torah elaborates on the mitzvah of Tefillin shel yad, the Tefillin worn on the arm: "It shall be a sign on your handů that with strength of hand Hashem took you out of Egypt." Also, it is written (ibid 13:9), "It shall be a sign on your handů in order that the Torah of Hashem be in your mouth." Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, explains that these two signs are actually one. Hashem took us out of Egypt, not simply because He did not want us to be subjected to slavery, but because He wanted us to be His nation. Entrance into the Jewish nation is based upon acceptance of Hashem's Torah. He took us out of Egypt so that we would study His Torah. It really is as simple as that.

Rav Miller adds that the sign on the arm is a sign of love. He quotes the pasuk in Shir HaShirim (8:6), "Put me as a sign upon your heart, as a sign upon your arm; for love is as strong as death." The Tefillin on the arm is opposite the heart, as a sign of Hashem's everlasting love for us and our love for Him. It also serves as a reminder, so that whenever we do something with our arms, we thereby become aware of the Tefillin. Last, I think we are compelled to keep in our mind the fact that something as holy as Tefillin is placed on our arms, thus making them a repository of holiness. We will, therefore, think twice when we do something with our arms. All we have to imagine is having a Sefer Torah tied onto our arms.

in loving memory
Harav Yeshayahu ben Nachman z"l
niftar 9 Kislev 5747
By his children and grandchildren
Birdie & Lenny Frank & Family

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

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