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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

PARSHAS V'ZOS HABRACHA

The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the Congregation of Yaakov. (33:4)

This pasuk, which claims that the Torah is our morashah, heritage, seems to contradict Rabbi Yossi's statement in Pirkei Avos 2:12, "And prepare yourself to study the Torah, for it does not come to you by inheritance." Is it a yerushah - or not? Horav Meir Lehmann, zl, Rav of Mainz, Germany, explains that, indeed, the Torah is the heritage of the community of Yaakov - but not an inheritance of the individual Jew. The Torah belonging to the Jewish community at large will never be lost, for there will always be men who will see to it that it is transmitted to the next generation - intact, unaltered, in its pristine state. They will do this regardless of their own personal sacrifice - physical or material. The individual, however, must fight to obtain it and to maintain it.

Let us further this thought. Rabbi Yossi is teaching us that, regardless of family pedigree - even if one's father, grandfather and all of his ancestors have possessed the greatest storehouses of knowledge and infinite wisdom - one must himself make the effort and exert toil to acquire the Torah on his own. His pedigree will not help him. He must act on his own. Torah-study has been compared to a war. As one prepares himself for war, so, too, should he gird himself in preparation for the emotionally-charged, difficult battle he must wage while learning Torah, as our treacherous enemies lay what seem to be insurmountable obstacles in our path.

Rav Lehmann aptly describes these obstacles. As a young child, growing up in a home with loving parents, the first issue arises. "Should my child attend sacred studies? What use will it be to him later in life? Is it not more important that he acquire knowledge that will enable him to earn a living later in life?" Understandably, this issue is one with which only the non-observant grapple - or is it? Even today, over one hundred years later, in a country in which religious freedom reigns, and the Jew is accepted and often admired, issues arise concerning the value and significance of a Torah education. For some, the issue materializes at the post-high school level; for others, it occurs post-elementary. A minority even exists who views a Torah education as insubstantial and purposeless. They are thus prepared to ruin their children's future by robbing them of their greatest treasure, their Torah heritage.

If the child is fortunate enough to have intelligent parents who are eager for him to study Torah, then the struggle begins later, as he matures. He will see other children devoting their leisure time to "fun" pursuits - such as sports, music, arts - while he is "stuck" devoting all of his time to difficult and serious study. He may have to contend with his personal lack of ability. To succeed in Torah-study demands unflinching determination and untiring toil in order to overcome insufficient talent and to strengthen and temper the power of the mind. The individual who has been blessed with better than average acuity will have greater expectations placed upon him. In other words, regardless of one's point of commencement or his abilities, the climb is steep, gradual and difficult. When one reaches the summit, however, the feeling of success is unparalleled.

Rav Lehmann relates that in his community of Mainz, Germany, there were two brothers: the elder was called Loeb; and the younger was Nathan. The younger boy was blessed with a sharp mind. As a gifted child, he made splendid progress in his studies. His older brother, Loeb, lagged behind. He found the studies extremely difficult. One day, Loeb's mother overheard her seven-year-old son's prayer, entreating the Almighty, "All-Merciful G-d, please give me the strength and courage to persevere in my learning, even if I cannot be as smart as Nathan!" From that day on, she noticed her older son's progress begin to change. His understanding of the subject matter came rapidly, and his depth was much more profound. Both brothers became distinguished rabbinic leaders: Rav Loeb Ellinger became Chief Rabbi of the Country of Mainz; and his brother, Rav Nathan, the Chief Rabbi of Bingen.

As one ages, the challenges to his Torah-learning seldom decrease. He must struggle to earn a livelihood, while increased social responsibilities take their toll on his time. The individual whose vocation allows for more devotion to Torah study rarely uses it as such. He always has excuses. It is too hot, or it is too cold. Last, in order for the wine to be distilled within the individual, he must render himself a vessel of such pristine nature that Torah will reside within him. This is why Rabbi Yossi underscores the need for each and every individual to work on acquiring Torah for himself. If he does not do it - no one else will.

Rav Lehmann cites another Chazal which appears to contrast Rabbi Yossi's dictum. Va'ani zos Brisi osam, "As for Me, this is My covenant with them," 'Hashem said, My spirit that rests upon you, and My words that I have placed in your mouth, they will not leave your mouth and the number of your seedů from now until eternity.'" In the Talmud Bava Metzia 85a, Chazal cite the above pasuk from Yeshayahu 59:21 and declare, "From then onward, the Torah always returns to the same inn." Once the Torah has been the property of a family for three generations, it will belong to it for all eternity.

What a wonderful and heartening feeling. If we have retained the Torah in our family for three generations, we have acquired it. Yet, Rabbi Yossi says one must acquire Torah himself because it is not his inheritance. How do we understand this? Furthermore, we see more than one family in which the Torah has been a welcome "member" and "participant" for three generations, and now, alas, it is not to be found in the home of the fourth generation. What has happened?

Rav Lehmann applies a simple parable to give us a practical and timely explanation - one which we should all consider. A man visits a certain town from time to time and always lodges in the same hotel. On one such visit, however, the innkeeper tells him that, regrettably, the hotel is fully booked. There is no room for him. What should he do? What can he do? He must look for another inn. The Torah is no different. It always stays in the same inn. For generations, the family has been host to the Torah, providing it with a warm welcome. The Torah seeks to return to its accustomed place, but, alas, there is no room. Ostensibly, its present host no longer wants to receive it. The great-grandson of the scholar who first hosted the Torah, has his house filled with "other" guests, so that the Torah cannot stay there.

The analogy is quite clear: Torah does not go where it does not fit in. A house replete with items antithetical to Torah dictate, which undermine the very principles explicated by the Torah, is a house in which Torah is not welcome. It is as simple as that. If the Torah is not allowed past the front door, one can hardly blame the fact that Torah has no place in his life on anyone - but himself.

He became King over Yeshurun when the numbers of the nations gathered - the tribes of Yisrael in unity. (32:5)

Hashem is Klal Yisrael's King in the fullest sense only when the nation acts like a klal, united in each individual's conviction and obedience to carry out His will. When we received the Torah at Har Sinai it was amidst ish echad b'lev echad, "One man with one heart." The nation was unified as one. We pray for that day to return. Unity among Jews is all-important. Without it, we cannot exist as a nation under G-d. Great tzaddikim have gone out of their way to promote achdus, unity. Horav Moshe Epstein, zl, the Admor of Ozrov, was a well-known Torah giant whose encyclopedic knowledge of all aspects of Torah was legendary. Yet, despite his distinguished status, he made time every day to study Daf Yomi, the folio-a-day program, initiated by Horav Meir Shapiro, zl, in which all Jews learn and participate together in experiencing unified Torah study. He was a scholar who did not need to set aside time for Torah-study. It was his life. Yet, he wanted to learn a topic that many Jews throughout the world were learning. He did the same concerning the Mishnah Yomis and Halachah Yomis, in which every day Jews throughout the world studied one Mishnah or one halachah. He wanted to be part of the klal, general community.

The inclusion of an individual in a group plays a dual role. On the one hand, he is relegated to suffering from the same negative decrees that affect the larger community - regardless of his own personal merit. On the other hand, by associating oneself with the larger group, he derives the benefits of the group - regardless of his personal merit. In the Talmud Berachos 30a, Chazal teach, "A person should always associate himself with the community." Rashi explains this as reference to one's prayers, maintaining that they be articulated in the plural form, rather than the singular. By praying for the public welfare, everyone is immediately included with them. Thus, no one individual needs personal merits in order to benefit from the prayers.

Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, explains that the community is not viewed as merely a collection of individuals, but rather, as a new entity exceeding the combination of the merits and strengths of the individuals of which it is composed. He cites the Derashos HaRan who supports this idea from the fact that Moshe Rabbeinu was punished for referring to Klal Yisrael as "the rebellious people." While, as individuals, each one deserved this ignominious title, the nation, as a whole, did not deserve to be described in this way. Moshe was unjustified in referring to them by this label.

While Chazal make their statement concerning being part of the community with regard to prayer, it applies to the entire gamut of human endeavor. Indeed, as Rav Chaim notes, isolating individuals from the umbrella of "community" is the ploy of the yetzer hora to make them easy prey to succumb to temptation. As soon as Yaakov Avinu was left alone, Va'yivasseir Yaakov levado - va'ye'aveik ish imo, "And a man came and fought with him" (Bereishis 32:25). This, as Chazal point out, was Eisav's guardian angel, who had previously been powerless to ensnare Yaakov in his web, since he was never alone. He was surrounded by family. With them, he was safe. Once he was isolated, he attracted the forces of evil.

The Rosh Yeshivah concludes with the famous Chazal in the Talmud Kiddushin 30b, "If this abominable one has begun bothering you, draw him into the bais ha'medrash." This is a reference to the yetzer hora, evil inclination, who is beginning to overpower an individual. His salvation is to draw the yetzer hora into the house of Torah-study. Why? The Rosh Yeshivah explains that the bais ha'medrash is a place of community, where everyone is involved in the support of the same goal and objective. The despicable yetzer hora is powerless when he confronts the community. His strength peaks when there is a dearth of numbers. The merit of the many Jews in the house of study, all focused on studying Hashem's Torah is so strong that it renders the yetzer hora helpless.

In his Michtav Mei'Eliyahu, Horav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, zl, explains that the role of community has great efficacy, especially in the area of prayer. In fact, it is desirable for one to pray for his friend in sickness or in trouble. He can even hope for a positive Heavenly response to his prayer. He does not have to be a tzaddik, righteous person, to entertain this hope. His simple concern for his friend, coupled with his sincere prayers on his behalf, can create new merit and, ultimately, a new revelation of Hashem's glory in the world. It is this extra merit that might make the difference in tipping the scales in his friend's behalf.

Furthermore, any individual can pray for the whole community, thereby increasing the merits of the whole community. Most of our prayers are founded upon this principle, and, for this reason, Chazal formulated our prayers in the plural. Every individual prays for the whole community, and his prayers are, therefore, exponentially more valuable in this form than if every individual would have merely prayed for himself. In this form each prayer is purer, because it is devoid of selfish interests. Thus, communal spirit is fostered, adding to its merit and consequent efficacy.

And this to Yehudah, and he said, "Listen, O' Hashem to Yehudah's voice, and return him to his people; may his hands fight his grievance and may You be a helper against his enemies." (33:7)

The Talmud Sotah 7b, teaches that, during all of the years that the Jewish People sojourned in the wilderness, the bones of Yehudah were rolling around in his coffin. Moshe Rabbeinu then prayed on his soul's behalf. He entreated Hashem, saying, "Who caused Reuven to confess - if not Yehudah?" Immediately, Hashem listened. Yehudah's bones came to rest, but they were not permitted to enter into the Yeshivah Shel Maalah, Heavenly Academy. Moshe prayed again, requesting, "And return him to his people." Hashem listened, and Yehudah's neshamah entered the Yeshivah. He was unable, however, to establish a Torah dialogue with the souls of the other scholars who were there. Once again, Moshe prayed and beseeched Hashem, "May his honor fight his grievance." Hashem listened, but Yehudah's novellae were still not acceptable. Moshe offered one more prayer to Hashem: "May You be a Helper against his enemies." Yehudah was finally "in."

Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, derives from Chazal that zikui ha'rabim, crediting/endowing the multitude with merit, catalyzing merit for others, is even greater than the actual activity. Moshe prayed for Yehudah for one reason: Yehudah caused Reuven to confess his error. What about the fact that Yehudah had also confessed to his own error? Are we to disregard that? No. but it is not as great a meritorious factor as creating an opportunity for others to do good.

The members of a small village near Radin, Poland, approached the saintly Chafetz Chaim with what they thought was a simple request. Could the venerable sage dispatch one of his bachurim, students, to serve as their chazzan for the Yamim Noraaim, High Holy Days? The Chafetz Chaim immediately called over one of his students and asked him to lead the services in that shul. The student replied that he would much rather remain in the yeshivah for the holidays, so that he could daven in unison with the other students. In addition, he wanted to pray in the proximity of his revered Rebbe. The Chafetz Chaim told him that man was not created to serve only himself, but also to serve others. His purpose in life now was to lead the services in the small village.

In closing, the Chovas HaLevavos, Shaar Ahavas Hashem writes: "My brother, you should know that if a man has reached a sublime spiritual level with regard to the repair of his neshamah before Hashem - even if he becomes as great as a Navi, Prophet, and has gained their character traits and has devoted himself to Hashem, as they did - his merits will still not reach the merits of he who turns the multitude to righteousness. Reaching out to the wicked and bringing them 'home' is the most wonderful merit, for, in this way, his own personal merits increase with the mitzvah performance generated by those whom he has inspired."

Moshe Rabbeinu taught us Torah. Thus, thousands of years after he has departed from the face of the earth, the Torah is referred to as Toras Moshe. It is his Torah because he taught it to us. It is not what you do, but what you catalyze others to do.

The one who has said of his father and mother, "I have not favored him"; his brothers he did not give recognition, and his children he did not know." (33:9)

As Moshe Rabbeinu blesses Shevet Levi, he details their qualities and the perfection of their souls, which they exhibited while standing up for the Glory of Hashem and His Torah. They withstood enormous challenges to their spiritual persona and emerged better people, to the point that their individual personal lives had no meaning to them. They lived for Hashem. When Moshe stood in the midst of the Jewish camp following the tragic sin of the Golden Calf, he called out, Mi l'Hashem eilai! "Who is for Hashem should come forward and stand by me!" It was the tribe of Levi that surged forward. At Moshe's order, they raised their swords and slew the idolaters - even if they were close family. Their loved ones had become Hashem's enemies. Shevet Levi answered the call. They responded to Mi l'Hashem eilai. This tribe demonstrated unprecedented commitment.

It is, therefore, strange that when we read Bircas Moshe, our quintessential leader's blessing, we are surprised that, to the consummate appellations attributed to these spiritual giants, Moshe adds, Ki shamru imrasecha u'Brischa yivtzoru, "For they observed Your word and Your covenant they preserved." These words are anti-climactic. Every Jew is obligated to observe Hashem's word and preserve His covenant. What did Shevet Levi do that was so unusual? They acted in much the same manner that is expected of every ordinary Jew. It is like saying that the spiritual giant, the greatest, most eminent scholar of the generation, observes Shabbos. Is this all there is to say about him/them?

Horav Avraham Zelmans, zl, Rosh Yeshivah in Novarodok, derives an all-important lesson concerning avodas Hashem, service to the Almighty. Regardless of one's spiritual stature, even if he is the gadol hador, preeminent leader of the generation, someone who has the ability to catalyze great and mighty achievements, who can - and does - withstand the greatest challenges - even he must concern himself with what may appear to be an insignificant mitzvah, a simple spiritual endeavor. He may not say, "I will do bigger and better things." He is obliged in the most menial, as well as the most sublime. One may not say, "I do not have the time for davening in the morning. I am busy throughout the night with important communal activities. I am writing my shiurim, lectures, etc."

There are individuals whose lives are devoted to the basic mitzvos - shul, a little learning, tzedakah, Shabbos, etc. They do not get involved in the larger communal issues. They do not protest, give mussar, "stick out their necks" to take on those who would usurp the Torah-way. On the other hand, there are those gifted individuals whose innate talent and personality render them prime candidates for communal leadership. They are always in the thick of things, in middle of the fray of activity. They can be called upon 24/7 to answer the call of someone in distress. When it comes, however, to the basics - such as timely davening, attendance and participation, learning a daily minimum, helping someone who will not garner much attention, they are suddenly deficient.

The Torah is teaching us that an adam ha'shaleim, complete man, does it all. Only one who has successfully adhered to the criteria of, "For they observed Your word and Your Covenant they preserved," can go on to be among those who are Mi l'Hashem eilai. One does not happen without the other.

Dear Readers: As I conclude yet another cycle of Peninim Al HaTorah, I reflect upon the overwhelming siyata diShmaya which I have enjoyed these twenty one years. It has been an inspiring journey which I hope shall continue far into the future. Why me? Why now? I recently read a compelling thought from the Michtav Mei'Eliyahu which seems to tell it all. He explains that people who work for the good of the community find that they are aided by the merit of the community. We often find an extraordinary thing taking place. A community may be in dire need of a person to come to its aid or help it in some other way, material or spiritual, but, regrettably, no one is available who is really suited to the task. We then find that Hashem will shower Heavenly aid in extraordinary measure upon anyone who volunteers for the task, even though, judged on his own merits, he is far from fitting the bill. Though he is not fitting for the job, he will be made suitable. What has brought about this incredible transformation? It is the merit of the community which needs him. Apparently, there was a need, and I was fortunate enough to be showered with Hashem's favor. I pray that I continue to be worthy of this blessing.

We often take the support we receive from friends and colleagues for granted. We become complacent, almost expecting their continued aid with the same congenial attitude, regardless of how much pressure they are under, or what their personal circumstances may presently be. To this end, 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, who continues to edit the copy, making it presentable and readable to the wider spectrum of the Jewish community; finally, Rabbi Malkiel Hefter, who sees to it that it all comes together, the final copy completed, printed and distributed in a timely and orderly manner.

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 started with Baruch Berger of Brooklyn, New York, who originally came to me, requesting that he be able to distribute Peninim in his community. At the time, Baruch had become ill and sought a z'chus. As his health regressed, Baruch was compelled to halt his activities, but the z'chus is all his. May Hashem grant him a refuah shleimah b'soch shaar cholei Yisrael. Avi Hershkowitz of Queens, New York, and Asher Groundlin of Detroit, Michigan, distribute in their respective communities. For years, Meir Bedziner distributed Peninim throughout the Baltimore, Maryland, area. He was niftar seven years ago. His wife continues the labor of love of disseminating 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 "World" 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, Hong Kong, South America, and Australia. Rabbi Moshe Peleg, Rav of Shaarei Zedek Medical Center, prints and distributes Peninim throughout the English-speaking community in Eretz Yisrael. Kudos to Meir Winter of Monsey, NY, and Moshe Davidovici of Antwerp, Belgium, for including Peninim in their electronic edition of Divrei Torah. May the mitzvah of harbotzas Torah serve as a z'chus 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. For this reason - 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 all of our children and grandchildren.

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

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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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