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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


For inquire now regarding the early days. From the day when Hashem created man on the earth…Has there ever been anything like this great thing or has anything like it ever been heard? (4:32)

Horav Nissan Alpert zl, offers an anecdote in explanation of this pasuk: A Jew once stood before a gentile magistrate, attempting to describe to him the greatness of the saintly Chafetz Chaim zl. He told how the Chafetz Chaim's prayers penetrated the Heavens to implore the Almighty's blessing for those in need. He described the Chafetz Chaim's spiritual eminence and his ability to have miracles made for him. The judge brushed him aside, refusing to believe all of the stories. Hearing the disdain in the gentile's voice, the Jew looked into his eyes and, in an accusing voice said, "My lord, if the stories about the great Chafetz Chaim are not true, then why do they not relate such stories about you? We must, therefore, assume that the stories are true."

This is what the Torah is saying to us. If we need some "proof" of the validity of the Revelation and the Giving of the Torah, we have to take into consideration that we are the only nation about whom history records the Revelation at Sinai. The fact that this magnificent occurrence is not attributed to any other nation, in itself provides indisputable proof of our selection as the chosen people.

Guard the Shabbos day to sanctify it, as Hashem your G-d has commanded you. (5:12)

Rashi explains that Hashem commanded us to observe the Shabbos in Marah, even before the Giving of the Torah. Likewise, in regard to the mitzvah of Kibud Av v'Eim, honoring one's parents, Rashi cites Chazal who assert that we were commanded to honor our parents in Marah. This is enigmatic, since in the parshah that tells about the manna, the Torah also details the laws of Shabbos. Why do they not say, "kaasher tzivcha," "As He commanded you," in the parsha of the manna?

Horav Tzvi Hirsch Ferber zl, gives a practical response to this question. The mitzvos of Shabbos and Kibud Av v'Eim have one common thread between them: They each comprise an example of the type of mitzvos which coincide with common sense. Shabbos is a day when one rests; he eats good meals, he dresses in a manner unlike his usual weekday dress code. Indeed, observing Shabbos is not necessarily an indication that one is overly pious, because it is a mitzvah that is truly relaxing and enjoyable. Kibud Av v'Eim is, similarly, a mitzvah that human nature would demand we observe. Parents go through so much to raise a child. They sacrifice everything for the physical, spiritual and educational development of their children. The very least we should do in compensation is to grant them the respect they deserve. This is the very reason that Hashem gave Klal Yisrael these mitzvos in Marah, a place that derived its name from the Marah, bitterness, exhibited by the Jewish People when they arrived there.

It is comfortable to observe Shabbos and Kibud Av v'Eim when life is flowing easily and there are no challenges to overcome. What about a situation in which observing Shabbos means great difficulty in securing a job? Or honoring parents in the proper manner demands great expense that one cannot afford? What about a circumstance in which one feels no appreciation towards his parents because he matured despite the miserable home life they provided for him? Does Kibud Av apply here also? Is Shabbos to be observed under trying physical and material conditions?

Yes! This is what "Marah" teaches us. We are to observe these two "common sense" mitzvos - regardless of the circumstances, even if they are bitter. This is specifically why the Torah does not add that Klal Yisrael was commanded concerning Shabbos in the parshah of manna. People might suggest that Shabbos was given to those who eat manna, who have no concerns about earning a living. It was given to everyone, under all conditions. Regrettably, some of us have a difficult time reconciling ourselves to this concept.

Do not kill and do not commit adultery, and do not steal, and do not bear false witness against your fellow. And do not covet. (5:17 - 18)

Noting the order of these prohibitions, we may assume that they are written in a logical, descending order. The prohibition against murder, clearly the most grievous sin, is first, followed by the other "lesser" sins. In this manner, the Torah tells us that all of these acts are prohibited - not only the more serious ones. We wonder why the Torah joins these transgressions with the prefix "vav," - "and"?

Horav David Feinstein Shlita, explains that the Torah emphasizes to us that all mitzvos have equal significance. Had the Torah not used the "vav", "and" prefix, we might think that some mitzvos are less stringent than others. The "ands" convey to us that all mitzvos require the same exact level of zealous commitment. An individual who covets can one day kill someone who stands in the way of his obtaining the object of his desire. Similarly, one who rejects murder because it is Hashem's edict will also take meticulous care not to transgress any other prohibition. By connecting these prohibitions, we learn that they are all equal expressions of Hashem's will and, consequently, all maintain equal significance.

You shall love Hashem your G-d, with all your heart, and with all your soul and will all your possessions. (6:5)

Throughout the millennia, Hashem has tested the Jewish nation. He has challenged us collectively as a nation, as well as personally as individuals. We have been subject to the most cruel and inhuman ordeals, and we have survived. We have maintained our faith in the Almighty with all of our heart and all of our soul. Today, most of us live in areas where threats to our physical survival rarely present themselves. There is, however, another area in which the committed Jew is tested: in the area of material advancement. We live in a society in which people are regrettably measured by their material success, where the challenge of earning a livelihood is, for some, overwhelming. Under such duress it is quite possible that the challenge of "b'chol meodecha," "with all your possessions," takes great prominence. If, and to whom one gives charity, are not the only important issues. Indeed, how one uses his money clearly defines where he stands in regard to how he values Torah and mitzvos. The following two narratives provide insight for us into the true level of one who serves Hashem with all of his possessions.

It was Yom Kippur night, and a huge crowd had assembled in the Berditchever Shul where the saintly Horav Levi Yitzchak, zl, was preparing to usher in the holiest day of the Jewish calendar year. The Berditchever motioned to the chazzan to wait a while; he was not quite ready to begin the Kol Nidre prayer. The minutes passed by as the packed congregation began to silently whisper, "What could be holding up the rebbe?" Soon, Rav Levi Yitzchak turned to his shammes, attendant, and asked, "Is Reb Mottel from Zhitomia here?" The shammes looked around and, after noticing Reb Mottel, told the rebbe that he was in attendance. "Please ask him to come here," said Rav Levi Yitzchak.

When Mottel came over, Rav Levi Yitzchak began to question him, "Tell me, do you not live on land owned by a certain gentile landowner?" "Yes," responded the surprised Mottel. "Does he not own a dog?" asked the rebbe. "Yes, rebbe, he owns a very fine dog," answered Mottel, not having any idea why Rav Levi Yitzchak would be asking such questions prior to Kol Nidre. "Do you know how much he paid for the dog?" the rebbe asked. "I surely do," answered Mottel proudly. "He said it was a special dog with a distinguished pedigree and that he had paid four hundred rubles for it." This was a huge sum to pay for anything in those days, certainly for a dog. Hearing the amount, Rav Levi Yitzchak was thrilled, exclaiming "Four hundred rubles! That is fantastic!" He quickly summoned the chazzan to begin the Kol Nidre prayer to usher in Yom Kippur.

It was no surprise that everyone who was privy to this entire episode was bewildered. First, why would the saintly rebbe care about a gentile's dog? And what difference did it make how much it cost? After Maariv, a close group of the rebbe's disciples gathered around him and worked up the courage to ask him to explain to them what had occurred.

The rebbe related to them the following incident: A melamed, tutor, came to our town this past year to earn enough money tutoring to repay the many debts that he had accumulated in his hometown. After awhile, he had earned enough money tutoring to repay his debts and still have sufficient funds to support his family for the coming year. On his way home, he stopped overnight at an inn. You can imagine what happened. He was careless with his money bag and it was stolen. He woke up the next morning to discover the terrible thing that had occurred, and he became hysterical. He screamed and cried. He was crushed, months and months of his work was lost, gone forever.

Mottel's gentile landowner, was staying at the same inn. Upon hearing the melamed's wailing, he inquired about the commotion. He listened to the melamed broken-heartedly relate the entire story: how he had worked hard for months to pay off his debts and support his family, and now it was all gone. The landowner was moved by the story. After hearing how much the melamed had lost, he took out four hundred rubles - the amount that had been stolen - and gave it to the melamed."

The rebbe continued, "As we were about to begin Kol Nidre, I became concerned about the episode and its far-reaching effect on us as we stand in judgement before Hashem. Do we deserve that Hashem should look at us favorably? Let us ask ourselves: 'Are we deserving of His favor? Did any of us do an unusual act of chesed, kindness, that would stand in our behalf?' If a gentile could commit such an exemplary act of kindness, Hashem's nation should do no less. Can we say that we did?

"I then remembered the dog - the dog for which the gentile spent so much money. When I discovered that he spent four hundred rubles for a dog, a simple pet, it indicated to me that this gentile does not really value money very highly. Thus, while the act of giving the melamed four hundred rubles was clearly a remarkable act of chesed, it surely did not represent an act of sacrifice on the gentile's part. A man who can spend so much money on a dog does not truly appreciate the value of money."

Horav Sholom Shwadron zl, cited by Rabbi Pesach Krohn, sums up this story with the following thought. The way we spend our money is relative. We take pride when we spend a large sum of money for an esrog or pair of Tefillin. We feel good when we give a large check to tzedakah, charity. These acts are, however, all relative. If we spend twice as much on ourselves, on a new car, a home, clothes, trips and various forms of "fun," then the money we spend for the mitzvah is not really that great of a sacrifice. We must spend for our spiritual objects at least as much as we spend for our material objects.

Another dimension of "b'chol meodecha" is indicated by the following episode: Horav Nachum zl, m'Tchernobil once came to a small town that had a proportionate small number of Jewish inhabitants. When he expressed his desire to immerse himself in the city's mikveh, he discovered - to his chagrin - that the city did not have a mikveh. He was told that since the city stood on high ground, it would be too costly to dig so deep in the ground in search of water. The Jewish community was not financially able to undertake such a project. The Tchernobler Rebbe turned to the community's leadership and asked, "Is there a wealthy man in the community who would fund this project and maintain the mikveh in exchange for my portion in Olam Habah, the World To Come?" When word went out that the famed Tchernobler Rebbe was selling his Olam Habah for a mikveh, a wealthy man immediately appeared, with sufficient funds for the building and maintenance of a brand new mikveh for the town. The deal was made, and the Rebbe made a bonafide sale of his portion in Olam Habah. The Rebbe was ecstatic. "Now I can truly say that I serve my Master out of love - not for a reward." When he was later asked how he could give up his eternal life in exchange for a mikveh, Rav Nachum responded, "On the contrary, tell me how could someone like me, without money and who finds no interest in material possessions, ever fulfill the mitzvah of 'b'chol meodecha,' 'with all your possessions?' I have no possessions! How could I twice daily utter falsehood, when I recite the Shema Yisrael? All I have is my Olam Habah. This is my most prized possession. I feel honored to give it up for Hashem."

Two different approaches to "b'chol meodecha": one reflects on the relative value of material sacrifices; the other indicates the zenith of sacrifice. They both represent a deeper understanding of the commitment necessary for the individual to serve Hashem.

Vignettes on the Parsha

Please let me cross and see the good land. (3:25)

Obviously, if Moshe Rabbeinu had crossed over, he would have seen the land. Horav Menachem Mendel zl, m'Kotzk explains that Moshe implored Hashem that when he would cross over to see the land, he would not make the mistake of having a negative outlook on Eretz Yisrael. He wanted to see the "good" - not the negative aspect, something which the distorted outlook of the meraglim, spies, misled them to perceive.


From there you will seek Hashem, your G-d, and you will find Him, if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. (4:29)

Horav Simcha Bunim zl, m'Peshischa explains the idea of the elusive "misham", "from there." Where is "there"? It is specifically from "your heart and your soul." One who seeks with sincerity will find the answer within himself.


You will return unto Hashem, your G-d. (4:30)

Teshuvah, repentance, is a wonderful gift from Hashem. It is waiting for us. Teshuvah, however, is not easy. It takes tremendous resolution, commitment and sincerity. Horav Chaim zl, m'Sanz would often say, "When I was young I sought to bring the entire world closer to Hashem. As I got older, I realized that this was an overwhelming challenge. I settled instead to save my city. This was also a formidable mission. I then felt that I could at least improve my family. In the end I realized that this was also an overly demanding undertaking. I decided then to focus only on my own teshuvah. Regrettably, this was also too great a task." We can now only begin to imagine how distant we are from genuine teshuvah.


I was standing between Hashem and you. (5:5)

The Mezritcher Magid zl, was wont to say that it is the "anochi", "the I" - one's personal vested interests - that separates man and Hashem. It is difficult to see Hashem when one is busy always looking at himself.

In loving memory of our dear Mother and Bubby
Mrs. Chana Silberberg
By Zev & Miriam Solomon & Family


Peninim on the Torah is in its 7th year of publication. The first five years have been published in book form.

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