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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Hearken, O'Hashem, to Yehudah's voice. (33:7)

Shimon did not receive an individual blessing. This was the result of the involvement of the tribe in the Shittim tragedy, when their Nasi, Prince, Zimri, had illicit relations with Kosbi, the Midyanite princess, and they supported him. Therefore, Moshe Rabbeinu concealed Shimon's within the blessing of Yehudah. Moshe used the word shema, listen, in Yehudah's blessing. The root of the name Shimon is also shema, hearing, as Leah Imeinu said when she named Shimon: Shama Hashem b'anyi, "Hashem heard my affliction." (Bereishis 29:33)

Shimon's tribe received a portion in Eretz Yisrael, but the Torah does not refer to it as "Shimon's portion." Instead, it is absorbed within Yehudah's portion, to the point that the two tribes could hardly be distinguished one from another. The pasuk above alludes to this absorption, just as Shimon's blessing is included within Yehudah's blessing.

Let us analyze Shimon's "punishment." Are the members of the tribe of Shimon to be forever censured because they defended their Nasi? Clearly, they should have known that Moshe was right and Zimri was wrong. Zimri, however, was their Nasi. They were defending him. Were they that wrong? Furthermore, the idea that Moshe was exacting "revenge" is atypical of Moshe's character.

In his Haamek Davar, the Netziv, zl, explains that Moshe's unusual actions were actually his way of addressing Shimon's natural character and tendencies, thereby enabling him to achieve the greatest benefit in life.

Our first exposure to Shimon is when he and his brother, Levi, acting in defense of the honor of Dinah, their violated sister, destroyed an entire city. They both were incensed and, with great intensity, together they exacted their revenge. Superficially, their actions and intentions seem to parallel one another. The Netziv explains, however, that this was only an external fa?ade. Actually, Shimon's purpose in attacking Shechem did not coincide with that of Levi. Levi was defending Hashem's honor, for if people would lose respect for the house of Yaakov, who represented Hashem, it would, by extension, be a disgrace to the Almighty's Name. Dinah was a member of Yaakov's family. To violate her was to besmirch the family name. This was, in effect, a desecration of Hashem's Name. To defend Dinah was to defend Hashem.

Shimon's motives, however, were to preserve the family's reputation. He had strong feelings of loyalty to the family name - not because they represented Hashem, but because they were his family. For Shimon, avenging Dinah was defending his family's honor.

Both brothers fought for their family: Both demonstrated intense fidelity to their family, albeit for diverse intentions. Levi fought for Hashem's honor; the family was the medium. Shimon fought for the family's honor; the family was the ultimate target of his actions. These divergent attitudes played out several generations later when a member of Shimon's family had an encounter with a representative of Levi's. It was Pinchas, scion of the tribe of Levi, who came up against Zimri, a descendant of Shimon. Pinchas' intense loyalty was linked to Hashem, while Zimri's supporters identified intensely with the preservation of family honor. Levi's characteristic came out "on top," his actions ratified by Hashem, in whose honor Pinchas acted. Shimon's actions engendered disaster, since this was a time in which family honor was not to be supported, because it was counter to the honor of Hashem.

Shimon's intensity on behalf of family is a characteristic that required moderation. It is a wonderful trait, but it must be balanced in accordance with time and place. If family honor does not coincide with Hashem's honor, then one must prioritize Hashem's honor and allow his fidelity to dissipate. This was the error of the tribe of Shimon. Their support of Zimri was misplaced. Therefore, their blessing came in the form of a curse. Shimon should have been able to control his intensity in order to use it only for noble and productive purposes.

Shimon's absorption in Yehudah's land benefited both of them. Yehudah's power is in his mouth. The very name, Yehudah, means "admission," which is the recognition of the truth. To confess is to concede to the truth. This is Yehudah's unique quality: never fearing to express the truth. It is the only way to live. As the Netziv explains, however, truthfulness is only one component in the amalgam required to compose Sefer Tehillim. Its praises are lofty and true, and they also reflect extreme intensity. This was a quality that Yehudah had to "borrow" from Shimon. The tribe of Shimon was so integrated in Yehudah's land that the two tribes had become one and the same. It was Shimon's power of intensity concealed within Yehudah that enabled David HaMelech, scion of Yehudah, to create this paradigm of truth with acuteness, passion and veracity, the sefer that has been the handbook of the Jew as he has wandered throughout his exile.

Sefer Tehillim expresses a Jew's most heartfelt emotions, feelings that are pent-up within him, which pour forth from the inner recesses of his soul. It is the Jew's personal conversation with the Almighty, in which he uncovers his truthful feelings of love for his Creator. They are offered with passion and longing, ardor and hope for his Father in Heaven. Just as David HaMelech, its author, expressed himself to Hashem, so do we today, just as we have throughout the millennia. These Psalms incorporate the character of Shimon integrated with Yehudah, creating a symbiosis of intensity and truth.

This is the significance of Shimon's blessing being concealed within the "Shema Hashem" of Yehudah's blessing. Hashem listens to Yehudah's pleas because of the hidden power of Shimon. Hashem does not listen to a prayer, regardless of its veracity, if there is no passion. Likewise, passion and emotion without integrity are worthless. An effective prayer must combine both: intensity and truth. Shema Hashem kol Yehudah: Shimon gave Yehudah's prayer the capacity to be listened to, as David HaMelech composed the most effective prayers known to mankind.

And Moshe, the servant of G-d, died there. (34:5)

In the Talmud Sotah 13b, Chazal describe Moshe Rabbeinu's funeral. Moshe lay within the Kanfei ha'Shechinah, folds of the raiment of the splendor of the Divine Presence…The angels lamented his loss. Hashem's "eulogy" for His trusted servant began with the pasuk in Tehillim 94:16, "Who will rise up for Me against the doers of iniquity?" This seems enigmatic. A eulogy begins with and revolves around the most significant virtue, the primary aspect of his character, or his most prominent contribution to society. Was this Moshe's greatest quality? We find Moshe lauded as the most humble of men, the greatest prophet, one who is "trusted throughout Hashem's house," the quintessential leader who spoke to Hashem, serving as the medium for transmitting the Torah to Klal Yisrael. Yet, when Hashem eulogizes him, He seems to disregard all of the above to focus on Moshe's ability to stand up to evil. Why? Obviously, those praises were the ultimate ones. Hashem waited until after Moshe had passed from this world before He expressed Moshe's distinctive quality. Furthermore, is Moshe's zeal to confront iniquity that significant? Unquestionably, it is a necessary quality for successful leadership, but was it the most illustrious of Moshe's qualities?

The Maharasha presents an alternative interpretation of this eulogy, which seems to be the version accepted in the Tanchuma. Hashem was saying, "Who will stand up to Me - when I am about to punish the wicked, when I am prepared to wipe out iniquity? Who will entreat Me on their behalf? Who will seek compassion and forgiveness for them when they sin against Me?" This idea reflects an entirely new perspective on Moshe. It presents him as the great defender, one who seeks to provide sanctuary for those who have sinned, to sort out anything positive about them, to find a way to have them exonerated, to give them a second chance. Yes, that was Moshe. It was his greatest quality.

The next time any of us looks for an opportunity to denounce, condemn, or simply "do a number" on someone who has acted inappropriately or worse, perhaps we should patiently review the situation, examine it from a positive perspective, and judge the individual reasonably. Taking into account mitigating and extenuating circumstances might make a world of difference. Apparently, it worked for Moshe Rabbeinu.

He (Hashem) buried him in the depression. (34:6)

In Sotah 14A, the Talmud notes that the Torah begins with an act of chesed, kindness, and likewise concludes with an act of chesed. The Torah begins with Hashem fashioning kosnos or, garments of skin, for Adam and Chavah. It ends with Hashem burying Moshe Rabbeinu's mortal remains. It is noteworthy that Chazal select the kosnos or to serve as the example of Hashem's chesed. What is there about these garments or the act of clothing Adam and Chavah, that stands out, making it more prominent than even the entire universe? Olam chesed yibaneh. "The world is built upon chesed." (Tehillim 89:3) Do the garments have greater significance?

Horav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Shlita, posits that the garments indicate personal attention, sensitivity, caring about one's individual needs. Adam and Chavah were unclothed, but they were not embarrassed. Afterwards, they covered themselves with fig leaves. Hashem would not permit His creations, the first human beings, to be clothed in such an unseemly manner. He made for them garments of distinction, clothing that was appropriate for Adam and Chavah. Hashem was not satisfied with just any clothing. It had to be appropriate and "b'kavodik," honorable.

The Midrash goes on a bit further in defining the essence of these garments. Chazal define them as a kosnos or, garments of light, with Rabbi Meir comparing these garments to a lantern which, like human beings, is wider on the bottom than it is on top. This indicates another aspect of the garments. Their purpose was not just there to cover the individual, but to fit him or her like a glove. This is kindness with aforethought. Hashem was concerned with providing Adam and Chavah with garments that fit, were appropriate, and were in "style." It was this unique concern for another's sensitivities that made this chesed stand out. It was not just chesed; it was tzedakah and chesed combined.

When Moshe Rabbeinu died, Hashem did not allow anyone else to arrange for his burial. Hashem wanted to do so personally. This was a lesson in chesed. Do not delegate; do it yourself. The Torah begins and concludes with chesed. The Torah is not demonstrating ordinary chesed to us. We are not learning about saving someone from disaster or raising untold sums of money for some serious financial straits. No, this is not about the exotic acts of kindness. It is about responding to the individual needs of each person. This is chesed at its zenith.

Putting chesed into action is to take the time to notice people, to look at their faces, to look into their eyes, to appreciate each and every one with sensitivity to their individual needs. Sometimes it takes a big heart, the heart of a gadol b'Yisrael, Torah leader, whose heart encompasses the hearts and lives of so many, or it might be the innocent sensitivity of a young child that teaches us how to act with kindness.

A well-known rabbi went to visit a wealthy philanthropist for a donation. This was a man who, albeit not personally observant, supported the Torah study of many institutions. Curious, the rabbi asked him why he did this. Where did he develop such sensitivity towards yeshivos?

He gave the following explanation: "I was a wild teenager, going from trouble to trouble. My parents sent me to Radin to the yeshivah of the saintly Chafetz Chaim. Perhaps there I would be inspired to calm down. Regrettably, I was not accepted. I just was not considered yeshivah material. I was not granted permission even to sleep overnight in the yeshivah. Where would I spend the night? The Chafetz Chaim said, 'You can stay at my home.' So, I went home with the Chafetz Chaim.

"The Chafetz Chaim's idea of home was a two room shack. He gave me his own bed. The room had no light and no heat. Apparently, the great Torah leader was a very poor man.

"I was a young boy, accustomed to a hot meal and a warm bed. Laying there at night, I was shivering from cold, tossing and turning, trying to fall asleep. The Chafetz Chaim walked in and noticed the frigid air in the room. Thinking to himself, 'It is too cold in here for such a young boy,' the sage took off his long frock, which was probably going to be his protective clothing for the night, and placed it on me, over the covers.

"Years later, I became a wealthy Jew. Although I had never become observant, I have never forgetten that incident, how the Chafetz Chaim took off his coat and covered me. I was a total stranger and he owed me nothing. Yet, he felt my pain and showed his love for me. I never forgot that feeling of being cared for and loved by a total stranger. I was so moved by that act of unsolicited kindness that whenever a representative of a Torah institution approaches me for a donation, I give it to him gladly. I will never forget that cold night in that little house, and the elderly man with the giant heart."

The Chafetz Chaim saw a need and acted. He did not say, "I have already done enough." He saw that more was needed for this individual situation, and he immediately responded in turn. His act of chesed lived on in the beneficiary's reciprocity.

In another story, we learn from a young boy how true chesed should be performed. Chazal teach us that the great Tanna, Rabbi Tanchuma, would always purchase two portions of food: one for himself, and one for the poor. Deriving an important lesson from here and seeking to impart it to his children, a father taught his family to act similarly. Every time they would go to the supermarket, they would purchase one extra item: a container of milk; a can of tuna fish; a bag of potato chips, etc. They would store the items, and every few weeks they would go to the local food gemach, pantry, which distributed food to the poor, to drop off a bag of food items.

One day, in the supermarket, the father took a box of Cheerios from the shelf and said, "This will be our gift today."

His six-year-old son picked up the box from the cart and placed it back on the shelf. Instead, he reached for a box of Cocoa Puffs. His father looked at him and asked, "What are you doing? What is wrong with Cheerios?"

The young boy looked at his father through his big innocent eyes and said, "Because there are hungry kids out there too, and kids like Cocoa Puffs better than Cheerios."

The young boy had seen the faces of his beneficiaries. He sensed their need and responded. Chesed is to see, to feel, and to respond immediately.

And no prophet has arisen in Yisrael like Moshe…and in all of the mighty hand…that Moshe performed before the eyes of all Yisrael. (34:12)

Moshe Rabbeinu was the quintessential leader of the Jewish People. His epitaph is stated in the last pasuk, as he is lauded as the greatest Prophet in Yisrael who was the conduit for Hashem's miraculous signs and wonders, which revealed Hashem in His Almighty power. Moshe displayed his "mighty hand," the hand that would not brook any impudence from within, any form of deviation that would alienate his people from the truth. Moshe received the Torah from Hashem with his own hands. His hands were unique, representing an individual who had reached the epitome of service to the Almighty.

When the Jewish nation was defending itself against Amalek's treachery, it was Moshe's hands that served as a symbol of encouragement. When he held them straight, the people triumphed, as "his hands remained an expression of trust until the sun went down." (Shemos 17:12) The Mechilta explains the "hands" of Moshe. With one hand (he was lauded), because he never accepted anything from the people. With the other hand, he said to Hashem, "With/through 'this' hand You took the people out of Egypt; You split the Red Sea; You performed all the wondrous miracles, and with/through these hands You will continue to act for Klal Yisrael."

Moshe's hands represented purity and total virtue, faultless in all ways. He never personally benefited in any way from the Jewish people. He was a leader who served and was totally dedicated to his flock. In his commentary to Bamidbar 16:15, Sforno writes, concerning Moshe's declaration to Hashem regarding Korach's accusation that his leadership was motivated for personal benefit and advancement: "I have not taken a donkey from them, I did not benefit from them even as a common man would benefit from his friend, for I did not even borrow a donkey from them. Hence, any rulership over them was totally for their benefit and to attend to their affairs."

To do things purely for the sake of others - not for personal self-aggrandizement; to serve Hashem unequivocally l'shem Shomayim, purely for the sake of Heaven - not for any other motives, that is the summit of Jewish service. We are here for one purpose: to serve Hashem and to serve others. Service defines Jewish existence. Moshe exemplified this quality. He was the consummate eved, servant of Hashem.

Va'ani Tefillah

Malchuscha malchus kol olamim
u'memshaltecha b'chol dor vador
Your kingdom is a kingdom spanning all eternities, and Your dominion is throughout every generation.

What is the difference between malchus and memshalah, and why is malchus followed with the appellation of kol olamim, that it endures forever and ever, while memshalah is sustained only throughout the generations? Siach Yitzchak cites the Gaon, zl, m'Vilna who distinguishes between malchus, which is b'ratzon, willingly accepted, and memshalah, a dominion which is against the will of its subjects. We say, Ki l'Hashem ha'meluchah, u'mosheil ba'goyim, "For the sovereignty is Hashem's and He rules over nations. (Tehillim 22:29) Concerning Klal Yisrael, Hashem is our melech. He is accepted willingly, as we say in Tefillas Maariv, U'malchuso b'ratzon kiblu aleihem, "And His kingship they accepted upon themselves willingly." Regarding the nations of the world, Hashem is a mosheil, dominating over them regardless of their acceptance. In the End of Days, Hashem will be a melech, "king," al kol ha'aretz - "over all of the land," when His monarchy will be accepted by all the nations.

Thus, we say malchuscha, Your Kingdom, which is willingly for all eternity, memshaltecha, which is Your reign over the nations. This will change after the generations of mankind end, after which it will become malchuscha, Your accepted monarchy over everyone.

Dear Readers,

As we conclude this year's reading of the Torah, we declare with great fervor, trepidation and joy: Chazak, Chazak, V'nischazek! "Be strong, Be strong, And may we be strengthened!" One who completes the Torah is to be blessed with strength, because now he must begin to study the Torah with renewed vigor, with greater enthusiasm, and increased dedication. It is so much more difficult to start immediately that which one has just concluded.

Eighteen years is a milestone which I have been privileged to achieve. I thank Hashem for His boundless kindness, for His siyata d'Shmaya in enabling me to prepare and disseminate Torah-true thought to a responsive and appreciative audience. I pray that I will continue to merit His constant favor, and that He will continue to guide me in every endeavor.

At this point in past issues of V'Zos HaBrachah, I have thanked those individuals who have been instrumental in seeing to it that Peninim are produced from concept to reality. As usual, the list has not changed, because the people have not changed, both in their contribution and in their commitment. I once again have the privilege of thanking: Mrs. Sharon Weimer and Mrs. Tova Scheinerman who prepare the manuscript on a weekly basis; Mrs. Marilyn Berger continues to edit the copy in an effort to make it presentable and readable to the wider spectrum of the Jewish community; Rabbi Malkiel Hefter sees to it that the final copy is completed, printed and distributed in a timely and orderly fashion.

Over the years, Peninim has developed its own network of distribution. While the constraints of space do not permit me to mention each and every person who sees to it that Peninim is distributed in his or her individual community, I will highlight a few. It was Baruch Berger of Brooklyn, New York, who came to me originally, requesting that he be able to distribute Peninim in his community. At the time, Baruch became ill and sought a zchus. As his illness progressed, Baruch was compelled to halt his activities, but the zchus was all his. May Hashem grant him a refuah shleimah b'soch shaar cholei Yisrael. Avi Hershkowitz of Queens, New York, and Asher Groundland of Detroit, Michigan, distribute in their respective communities. For years, Meir Bedziner distributed Peninim throughout the Baltimore, Maryland area. He was niftar five years ago. His wife continues the labor of love to disseminate Torah in her community. Shema Yisrael network provides the electronic edition for worldwide distribution. A number of years ago, Eliyahu Goldberg of London, England, began a European edition. Through his efforts and those of Menachem Hommel of London and Pinchas Brandeis of Manchester, Peninim receives extensive coverage in England, France, Switzerland, South Africa, as well as in Eretz Yisrael. May the mitzvah of harbotzas Torah serve as a zchus for them to be blessed b'chol mili d'meitav.

My wife, Neny, has supported me in more ways than I can enumerate. Peninim is no different. She avails me the opportunity and peace of mind to write, regardless of the time and place, whether convenient or not; and her weekly "early morning" last word editing of the manuscript prior to its printing is the final word. She has been-and always is-there. To this end, and for so many other favors too numerous to mention, I offer her my heartfelt gratitude. I pray that: we are both blessed with good health; we merit that Torah and chesed continue to be the hallmarks of our home; and we continue to derive much nachas from our children and grandchildren.

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

l'os hakaras hatov
v'l'chvod mishpachas
HaRav Avraham Leib Scheinbaum v're'oso sheyichyu

me'es mishpachas
Meir Tzvi v'Perel Braun

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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