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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

PARSHAS VZOS HABRACHA

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

The above pasuk contains the name of our quintessential leader, the Rabban Shel Kol Yisrael, Moshe Rabbeinu, and also that of the third Patriarch, the b'chir ha'Avos, chosen one of the Patriarchs, Yaakov Avinu. Does a relationship exist between these two, or is the mention of both in the same pasuk arbitrary? Horav Aryeh Leib Heyman, zl, observes that, in a similar instance, we find Yaakov's name together with that of Yosef. True, they were father and son. In his commentary to Parashas Vayeishev, however, Rashi notes this, explaining that this association reflects a powerful verity: the events of Yosef's life found a parallel in the life of his father. Kol mah she'ira l'Yaakov - ira l'Yosef, "Whatever happened to Yaakov - happened to Yosef." Each one had a brother - or brothers - who sought to take him down, etc. Midrash Rabbah, Bereishis 84:6 enumerates twenty-four areas in which Yosef and Yaakov were alike! Indeed, the Radal applies a siman, mnemonic, to this number from a pasuk in Yeshaya 54:12, V'Samti kadkod shimsosayich, "And I will set your window/sun with ruby." Kadkod is spelled chof daled - chof daled - each pair denoting the number twenty-four. Shimsosayich is translated as window, because it allows in the sun, shemesh. Both Yaakov and Yosef are compared to the sun. Thus, two "suns"/Yaakov and Yosef/ twice - 24.

Having established that a relationship exists between Yaakov and Yosef to the extent of twenty-four instances of commonality between them, Rav Heyman wonders if a parallel does not also apply to Moshe and Yaakov. He set himself to the task of locating areas of relationship between the two. He found twenty-four parallels between Moshe and Yaakov. Since this is the end of this Torah cycle, I have taken the liberty of detailing them as a type of review. At the end, I will offer my understanding of their correlation to one another.

Yaakov was born circumcised; so was Moshe. The name Yaakov is not an original Biblical name, but rather, a reference to the incident of his holding onto the akeiv/heel of Eisav. Moshe's name was also given to him as a result of an incident which took place concerning Pharaoh's daughter. She drew him out of the water. Hence, his name Moshe: ki min ha'mayim mishisuhu. Third, Yaakov's attribute is emes, Titein emes l'Yaakov; even the wicked concede that Moshe emes v'Toraso emes; "Moshe and his Torah are true."

Fourth: Yaakov's image/countenance is engraved on the Kisei HaKavod, Heavenly Throne; Moshe was commanded by Hashem to grab the Heavenly Throne and respond to the Ministering Angels in a debate concerning why the Torah should be given to the mortals (Shabbos 88b).

Fifth: Yaakov was forced to flee his birthplace and home for fear of being killed by Eisav. Moshe was forced to escape Egypt as a result of the slander spoken against him by his arch nemeses Dassan and Aviram. Ultimately, they both returned home - years later.

Sixth: Chazal teach that when Eisav met Yaakov, he attempted to bite his throat. Miraculously, Yaakov's neck turned into marble, leaving Eisav with a painful reprisal. When Pharaoh commanded that Moshe be executed with the sword, his neck also turned into marble. Seventh: when Yaakov came to the Yarden, he stretched out his walking stick and the water split for him. Moshe used his Mateh Elokim, Staff from G-d, to split the Red Sea. Indeed, Yalkut Shmoni (Shemos 168) writes that the two staffs were one and the same. Yaakov's staff was passed down through the generations.

Eighth, Yaakov met his bashert, predestined spouse, at the well. Chazal tell us that this incident taught Moshe to seek his wife at the well. Ninth: Moshe and Yaakov are the only two individuals in Tanach who shepherded the sheep belonging to their fathers-in-law.

Tenth: from amongst Yaakov's sons, three stand out as having caused him pain and anxiety: Reuven, Shimon, and Levi; Reuven moved around the bed, and Shimon and Levi destroyed the city of Shechem, both instances that troubled the Patriarch. Moshe too, suffered at the hands of Dassan and Aviram, who hailed from Shevet Reuven. Zimri was the Prince of Shevet Shimon; his outrage can hardly be ignored. Then there was Korach, scion of Shevet Levi, who led the only mutiny against Moshe. Eleventh, Yaakov sent Yosef on a mission to search for his brothers. Moshe sent the meraglim, spies, to reconnoiter Eretz Yisrael, resulting in Klal Yisrael's tragic exclusion from entering the Land.

Twelfth, Both Yaakov and Moshe's marriages were tainted and eventually ended as a result of their personal eminence. Yaakov was married to two sisters; therefore, when he was about to enter Eretz Yisrael, one of them had to "go." Rachel died on the road to Bais Lechem. Since Moshe never knew when he would be summoned to speak with the Almighty, he separated from his wife.

Thirteenth, Yaakov taught Yosef all of the Torah which he had learned from Shem and Eivar, thus transmitting his legacy to the next generation. Moshe transmitted the Torah to Yehoshua, his disciple and eventual successor. Fourteenth, In Yosef's dream, Yaakov is compared to the sun. Upon comparing Moshe to Yehoshua, the Zekeinim, Elders, viewed them through a contrast whereby Moshe was the sun, and Yehoshua was the moon.

Fifteenth, Yaakov wrestled through the night with an angel, representing Eisav. Moshe fought valiantly, triumphing over the Ministering Angels who attempted to prevent the Torah from being given to mortals. Sixteenth, Yaakov rebuked his sons complaining, Lamah harei'osem li, "Why did you treat me so ill (by telling the man [Yosef] that you have another brother)?" (Bereishis 43:6). Moshe complained to Hashem, Lamah ha'reiosa la'am hazeh, "Why have You done evil to this People (Why have you sent me)?" (Shemos 5:22).

Seventeenth, Yaakov originally distanced Timna who had come to convert. As a result, she became the concubine of Elifaz, and together their union produced the archenemy of the Jewish People: Amalek. Moshe, who symbolizes unusual alacrity in carrying out mitzvos, was seemingly indolent in battling against Amalek, sending Yehoshua instead.

Eighteenth, Yaakov rebuked his sons shortly before he took leave of this world. Moshe derived from this that one speaks his piece, rebukes, blesses, tells it how it is, shortly before death. This is when his words have the greatest impact.

Nineteenth, concerning Yaakov, the Torah uses the phrase kreivah lamus, "The approachment of death;" Vayikrevu yemei Yisrael lamus, "The time approached for Yisrael to die" (Bereishis 47:29). Likewise, shortly prior to Moshe's death, the Torah writes: Vayomer Hashem el Moshe "Hein karvu yamecha lamus, "Hashem spoke to Moshe, 'Behold, your days are drawing near to die'" (Devarim 31:14).

Twentieth, Yaakov blessed his sons before he died. Moshe blessed Klal Yisrael before he left this world. Twenty-first, Yaakov blessed his successors/heirs by placing his hands on their heads. He placed his hands on Menashe and Ephraim, who were assuming Yosef's place among the Shivtei Kah. Moshe blessed Yehoshua by placing his hands on his head. On the other hand, we find Yitzchak kissing Yaakov before his death - not placing his hands on his head.

Twenty-second, Yaakov's descendants numbered over 600,000; Moshe's descendants also numbered over 600,000 (Bereishis 7a).

Twenty third, Moshe and Yaakov partnered in proclaiming the Oneness of Hashem to future generations. Moshe declared: Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad. We add Yaakov's declaration, Baruch Shem Kavod Malchuso l'Olam Vaed. Chazal teach that Yaakov assembled his sons around his deathbed, and, as he was about to divulge the End of Days to them, the Shechinah, Divine Presence, suddenly left him. He asked, "Is it possible that there is a psul, flaw, among my offspring, similar to that of my grandfather, Avraham, who had Yishmael, and my father, Yitzchak, who had Eisav?" They answered with a resounding, Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad. "As there is only One G-d in your heart, so, too, is there only One G-d in our hearts." At that moment, Yaakov replied with Baruch Shem Kavod Malchuso l'Olam Vaed. Thus, Moshe said, Shema Yisrael, and Yaakov said, Baruch Shem.

Twenty-fourth, Yaakov and Moshe each had an equal share in constructing the Mishkan. Yaakov brought the cedars, which he transplanted in Egypt and later commanded his children to take them along with them when they left the country. Moshe erected the Mishkan by raising up the pillars and placing the curtains upon them.

Now that we have established the twenty-four similarities between these two giants, we wonder 'why?' What about these two demands such parallels in their respective lives? Rav Heyman explains that Moshe is heir to Yaakov's legacy of Torah. Moshe is the spiritual heir to Yaakov. At the end of Parashas Vayechi, when Yaakov concludes his blessings, the Torah writes: V'Zos asher dibar lahem avihem, "And this is what their father spoke to them" (Bereishis 49:28). Chazal observe that the word v'zos, "and this," is used, rather than zos, "this." They say, "One day someone like me will bless them - and continue where I left off." Therefore, when Moshe was about to bless Klal Yisrael, the Torah begins, V'Zos HaBrachah, "And this is the blessing." Yaakov's blessing did not come to an end, Moshe continued it. We hope that Moshe's blessings will also persist.

We might add that both Yaakov and Moshe were leaders who went into exile. Thus, their legacy is one designed specifically for Klal Yisrael throughout the ages, who have regrettably been without our home for over two thousand years. The leadership of these two giants paralleled one another due to the circumstances under which both of them established their tenures. What they taught us continues to sustain us and give us hope throughout time.

To Zevulun he said: Rejoice, Zevulun, in your going out, and Yissachar in your tents. (33:18)

Moshe Rabbeinu appears to be counting words. His blessings to the three Shevatim, Tribes, of Dan, Yissachar and Zevulun are quite brief. This is in stark contrast to the blessings given by Yaakov Avinu prior to his death. It is precisely these tribes whom he blessed profusely, sparing no words in showering them with eloquent and lengthy blessings. Why did Moshe choose the path of brevity, while Yaakov functioned on the other extreme? Furthermore, Moshe's blessings do not seem to do justice to Yissachar, who abides in his tents. These tents are the tents of Torah, which produced the nation's greatest Torah scholars. Through their diligence and toil in Torah, Bnei Yissachar achieved proficiency and clarity in Torah which pivoted them to leadership positions in Torah erudition. It almost seems unfair to allude to such distinction with one word: b'ahalecha, "in your tents."

Horav Yisrael Belsky, Shlita, explains that Moshe's conciseness does not demonstrate his lack of esteem for their accomplishments; rather, we derive from this pasuk that it is not always necessary to go into great detail, presenting a flowery accolade upon expressing one's estimation of another person - especially if this praise is in regard to excellence in Torah. Chazal teach in Pirkei Avos 6:4, Kach hee darkah shel Torah im atah oseh kein ashrecha v'tov lach, "This is the way of Torah if you conduct yourself in this manner, you are praiseworthy and it will be good for you." That is all. If you achieve excellence in Torah - it will be good for you. It does not go into detail. It does not explain what kind of good or how much good - just simply - it will be good.

This is because one who delves into Torah, who makes it his life's work to immerse himself in its verities, to plumb its depths, does not require a lengthy litany to explain to him what is expected of a ben Torah and the benefits he will accrue by choosing this path of life. On the contrary, for one who does not appreciate a life of Torah, a detailed explanation of its benefits will simply make him feel ill at ease and uncomfortable concerning his lack of knowledge. Let it suffice to say that the individual who learns needs no directive concerning its benefits, and he who does not learn will gain nothing from hearing the accolades of one who learns.

One appreciates Torah when he learns Torah. When one tastes the sweetness of Torah, he acknowledges that this alone is its greatest benefit. One who does not learn views Torah study as an enormous task which is impossible to master - so why bother? Thus, Moshe chose the route of brevity. He knew to whom he was speaking. The individual who was learning did not require a pep talk, while the one who chose not to learn would only be turned off by it. Sometimes less is more.

And by all the strong hand and awesome power that Moshe performed before the eyes of all Yisrael. (34:12)

This pasuk seems to comprise Moshe Rabbeinu's epitaph. Indeed, if there were to be an inscription on his tombstone, it would be the words of the above pasuk. Rashi explains that the mora gadol, awesome power, refers to his shattering of the Luchos, Tablets, when, upon descending the mountain, he confronted the revelry, debauchery, and rampant idol worship that had overtaken his spiritually lost nation. Moshe made a statement for all time: The Jewish People could not survive on a diet of mixed allegiances; it was either to be Hashem or a life of lewd idol worship. They could not have both. A nation that was wrapping itself around a molten god had no business with the Luchos. While no one questions this verity, we wonder if it was necessary for Moshe to respond so emphatically to the Golden Calf. Just holding onto the Luchos and refusing to give them to the people should have been sufficient. True, it would have been less dramatic - but would it have been less effective? Was there a need for such decisiveness?

Apparently, the people needed a climactic, striking, and never-to-be-forgotten expression of displeasure - but why? Many a commentator has used his pen to answer this question, explaining that Moshe's message was powerful and for all time. Perhaps we might suggest that it was the nature of the people receiving the message that gave the message such urgency and significance. I came upon this idea as I was about to write an appreciation of a dear friend and colleague, Rabbi Sholom Ziskind, zl, in honor of the tenth yahrzheit of his untimely passing. I was perusing Surviving Galus, a collection of Rabbi Ziskind's homilies, and came upon the following story, which might very well characterize him.

During the fierce fighting in Jenin, the Commander-in-Chief of the Israeli Army, General Shalom Mofaz, came to inspect his officers in the area of the battle. Gathering the commanders and officers for a briefing, he noticed that one of his major generals, Avraham Gutman, had a long rip down his army shirt. He asked Major General Gutman about the tear and was shocked to hear that Gutman's mother had died a day earlier and that this was his kriah, tear of mourning. General Mofaz immediately ordered him to leave his post and return home to sit shivah, observe the seven-day mourning period.

Not one to be insubordinate, Avraham Gutman atypically refused his Commander-in-Chief. He explained that he had originally volunteered to join his unit upon hearing that they had been called up to serve in Operation Defensive Shield. Within a few days, they were deep in the fray, fighting in the terrorist enclave in Jenin. On the second day of battle, as he was speaking with the regional commander, Eyal Shalein, his cell phone rang. Seeing that the call was from his ninety-two year old mother, he picked it up. Under normal circumstances, his family had strict instructions not to contact him while he was in maneuvers. The call from his mother was a mystery, something must be wrong.

His mother said, "I called to tell you two things: The first is that, as a commander in the field, you have an overriding responsibility to bring your soldiers back home safe and sound." Then she paused for a moment and said, "Remember, Avraham, you are my revenge on the Nazis." With that, she hung up. Several hours later, she quietly passed from this world. Avraham left the battlefield to attend his mother's funeral. His mother was a woman of strong will and character. She had survived the terrors of the Holocaust, came to the Holy Land and raised a proud family of committed Jews. When Avraham's family observed his unusually pensive mood at the funeral, they assumed it was due to a mix of grief and battle fatigue. They were taken aback when he announced that he was not remaining at home to sit shivah. "I am returning to battle," he said. "I have no other choice. This was Mother's last request." He understood the deeper message of his mother's phone call.

As a forty-four year old reservist, Avraham Gutman did not have to go into battle. He went as a result of his sense of responsibility. He stayed due to his sense of mission. He was following his mother's imperative. What drove him to such unequivocal commitment? What drives many of us to stand up to the most difficult challenges with fierce single-mindedness, with an unfaltering sense of commitment to Hashem, His Torah and its values?

Perhaps, the following Torah thought from Horav Matisyahu Solomon, Shlita, will explain this phenomenon. The Torah (Vayikra 10:12) relates Moshe's talk with Aharon HaKohen and his two sons, Elazar and Isamar, following the tragic deaths of Nadav and Avihu. "And Moshe spoke to Aharon and to Elazar and Isamar, the children of Aharon, who remained." The words "who remained" seem to be superfluous. Aharon had four sons, and two died; obviously, two remained. What is the significance of ha'nosarim, "who remained"?

The Mashgiach explains that this term implies an added responsibility placed upon Elazar and Isamar. They were survivors, and those who survive when others perish have the enormous responsibility of guaranteeing that the Torah will endure in ensuing generations. The survivor carries a double responsibility on his shoulders: his own, and that of those who did not make it. The survivor must look himself in the mirror and reflect, "I am here, and others are not. Life cannot go on as usual. I must make up the difference." The survivor may not brook compromise, because he is not working for himself alone. He carries the added weight of the others who did not survive.

Rabbi Ziskind was a child of Holocaust survivors; thus, he always felt a personal added obligation to carry out his and their missions. He was his parents' revenge on Hitler.

Returning to our original question concerning why Moshe acted so definitively in conveying his message to Klal Yisrael, we suggest that this was a nation of survivors. They had survived the Egyptian slavery, the liberation, the Splitting of the Red Sea. When one is a survivor, he has no room for negotiation, no room for error, no place for compromise. The Torah which he must transmit to the next generation must be pristine, free of any taint of alien worship. Therefore, Moshe shattered the Luchos. The nation of survivors must be wholly devoted to Hashem, without allegiance to any other entity or figment of their imagination.

Dear Readers:

When I realize that Peninim made its first appearance twenty-three years ago, I am truly humbled by its enduring success. Chasdei Hashem ki lo samnu, ki lo chalu rachamav. It is truly a chesed Hashem to succeed in conveying Torah-true thought in a manner that is accepted throughout all elements of the Jewish spectrum of faith. What started out as a small-town weekly parsha supplement has mushroomed into a commentary that has worldwide acceptance and appeal.

While my name is more publicly identified with Peninim, its success is due largely to the individuals who are involved with its weekly preparation. Their efforts are hereby recognized, with overwhelming gratitude and appreciation. I do this annually, and, while it might seem redundant, I think gratitude should never be taken for granted, and appreciation is never superfluous. Indeed, it should be repeated often.

I have the privilege of once again thanking Mrs. Sharon Weimer and Mrs. Tova Scheinerman who prepare the manuscript on a weekly basis. It takes great patience, and, at times, creative ingenuity to read my illegible scrawl and understand what it is I am trying to say - especially when some of the words are missing. Mrs. Marilyn Berger continues to do an amazing job of editing the copy, making it presentable and readable to the wider spectrum of the Jewish community. She often tells me when I veer too much in either direction away from the center. My dear friend, 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. He later became ill, hindering his ability to continue his avodas ha'kodesh. As his illness progressed, Baruch was compelled to halt his activities, but the z'chus is all his. It was just two years ago, shortly before Rosh Hashanah, when Baruch's pure neshamah returned to its rightful place b'ginzei meromim. May the limud ha'Torah which he initiated be for him an eternal z'chus. Avi Hershkowitz of Queens, New York, and Asher Groundland of Detroit, Michigan, distribute in their respective communities. Shema Yisrael network provides the electronic edition for the worldwide distribution. A number of years ago, Eliyahu Goldberg of London, England, began a "World" edition. Through his efforts, Peninim receives extensive coverage in England, France, Switzerland, South Africa, Hong Kong, South America and Australia. Eliyahu goes so far as to Anglicize the text to make it more readable in the United Kingdom. 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, New York, and Moshe Davidovici of Antwerp, Belgium, for including Peninim in their internet 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 been supportive in more ways than I can enumerate. Sharing with me all of the agonies and ecstasies of writing, her support and encouragement have been indispensible. She avails me the peace of mind to write, regardless of the time or place - whether convenient or not. Her "early morning" editing is a weekly ritual in our home. Her careful reading of the manuscript - her excellent suggestions, as well as her keen eye for typos and poor punctuation - is literally the last word on my manuscript before it meets the copy machine. To this end, and for so many other considerations too numerous to mention, I offer her my heartfelt gratitude. I pray that we: are both blessed with good health; merit that Torah and chesed be the hallmarks of our home; and continue to derive much Torah nachas from our children and grandchildren.

Rabbi A.L. Scheinbaum



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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