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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Re'eh

Each individual has his singular vision of his personal message, his personal goal, his particular lesson to be derived from the Torah.

This idea applies similarly in other areas as well. A rebbe/Torah teacher, speaks to a group of students; a rabbi lectures to his congregation. In both situations, the general idea applies to all equally, but each individual receives his own personalized message. He just has to listen. Hashem speaks to each one of us through the medium of the Torah. It is unfortunate that some individuals listen only to what they want to hear.

You shall seek out His resting place and come there. (12:5)

The Gerrer Rebbe, Rav Avraham Mordechai, zl, questions the distinction between the word "sidreshu," "you shall seek," which is written in the plural, and the word "u’vaasa," "and come there," which is written in the singular form. He cites the Talmud Rosh Hashanah, 30A, where Chazal derive from the pasuk, "Tzion hi v’doresh ein lah," "She is Tzion, there is none that inquires about her (Yirmiyah 30)", that it is necessary to "inquire" about Yerushalayim. What is the nature of this inquiry? Every person should investigate into the reason for the churban, destruction of the Bais Hamikdash. It is the hope that research and reflection will lead to repentance and action, so that the Sanctuary will be rebuilt speedily in our days. This is consistent with Chazal’s statement, "Any generation in which the Bais Hamikdash was not rebuilt – it is as if it was destroyed during its days."

The factor considered most responsible for the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash was sinaas chinam, unwarranted hatred. Thus, the tikun, correction, for this sin is ahavah v’achdus, love and unity, among our people. The Torah conveys this message: "L’shichno sidreshu," when you seek/inquire regarding the Sanctuary’s extinction, you will come to realize that it was the lack of unity which continues to plague us that caused its destruction. You will then see the sin of sinaas chinam in its tragic proportions. If you will correct this infraction; if you will rid yourselves of the disease of divisiveness and dispute; if you will unify yourselves as one People, and "u’vaasa shamah," "come there," you will merit to have come to the "menuchah v’nachalah," resting place and heritage, that Hashem has given us.

A striking Aggadah relates a beautiful story of two brothers who lived together on one piece of property. One brother never married, while the other, younger brother, had a wife and three children. They were both poor farmers who shared in the produce of a field they had inherited from their father. It happened one night after the harvest, that the older brother could not sleep due to his growing concern for his brother. His younger brother had a family to support and, with the smaller yield which they had harvested, it seemed unlikely that he would succeed in feeding them all during the coming year. He decided to get up and take a portion of his share and covertly add it to his brother’s portion.

The younger brother also had a difficult time falling asleep. He, too, was concerned. He felt a sense of compassion for his older brother’s circumstances. After all, he was alone with no family with whom to share his “good” fortune, no family to ease the trial and travail of his everyday challenges. He figured that if he at least had some extra produce, it would cheer him up somewhat. He proceeded to take from his share and add to his brother’s.

Imagine the next morning when both brothers arose to discover that their portion had not changed at all. Each had what he had originally received as his share of the produce. Each was perturbed and consequently continued his clandestine act of charity, the next night and the next night, until they "met" each other in the act of brotherly love. They now realized why their respective portions had continued to retain their original quantity. They immediately embraced each other lovingly.

Hashem Yisborach took note of this exemplary display of love and concern for a fellow Jew and blessed the area in which they lived. After awhile, this became the site where Shlomo Ha’Melech built the Bais Hamikdash. What a wonderful place to build Hashem’s Sanctuary: a place where one brother demonstrated sensitivity towards his brother’s physical needs, while the other brother showed an overwhelming interest in his brother’s emotional well-being. A place in which concern for the emotional and physical well-being of another Jew is to be found exemplifies holiness. This is a place in which Heaven “kissed” the earth, and the spirit connects with the material. This place is the most appropriate place to build the Bais Hamikdash.

If there should stand up in your midst a prophet or a dreamer of a dream. (13:2)

For the most part a dream is an expression of one’s subconscious. There are, however, dreams that convey a message. It does take some wisdom to interpret a dream and to glean the message. Horav Nachman M’Breslov, zl, tells of an Austrian Jew who had a dream. He dreamed that there lay a hidden treasure in Vienna beneath a bridge. He figured that he could not search for the treasure during the day for fear that people would see him and discover the treasure themselves. He decided, therefore, to go there at night. During this time, a soldier came by and waited on the bridge. The soldier asked the Jew, "Why are you here? What are you looking for?" The Jew could not contain himself any longer, and he related the entire story to the soldier "Will you help me search for the treasure? I will share equally with you," said the Jew to the soldier. The soldier responded saying, " I, too, had a dream. I dreamed that in the cellar of the house of a certain Jew who lives in an Austrian city, a valuable treasure is hidden. What do you think? Should I go there and seek out the treasure?" When the Jew heard the name of the Jew in the other city, he was shocked. The soldier was referring to him! He immediately turned around and sped to his home to search for the hidden treasure. He went down to the cellar and, as was foretold, he found a treasure. The Jew realized that actually the treasure for which he had been looking was in his house the whole time. He had to travel far away from home to realize that the treasure he was seeking was in his own home.

A remarkable lesson can be derived from this story. People are rarely satisfied with what they have. They spend a lifetime searching for a treasure that always seems to elude them. They search everywhere – except their own backyard. This applies to so many areas of human endeavor, be it communal, organizational or personal. Frequently, the solution to our problems, the key to our success, is staring us in the face. Indeed, at times we travel far and wide searching for the treasure that has always been with us. Our problem was that we had refused to look in the right place. Furthermore, we see that at times the Almighty causes us to travel elsewhere, because the searching is in itself an integral part of the process of finding the treasure which has always been with us. Had we not often searched for it in the distance, we would not have found it at home. We cannot appreciate something which has always been with us until it is searched for far and wide.

You shall not harden your heart nor shall you close your hand against your destitute brother. (15:7)

The simple explanation of "closing one’s eyes to the poor" is to refrain from giving them tzedakah when they turn to us for assistance. The Rambam in Hilchos Matnos Aniyim 10:3 says that one who "conceals his eye" from charity is evil. If a poor man is coming to seek alms and the would be donor dodges him by hiding or going on a different path to avoid meeting him, he transgresses the above commandment. One is to be G-d like. As Hashem listens to the pleas and cries of the destitute, so should we. In other words, there are two forms of spurning the mitzvah of tzedakah: A direct no, referring to help the poor; or shirking our duty by avoiding an encounter with the poor.

In the Talmud Bava Basra 7b, Chazal relate that there was a certain pious man with whom Eliyahu HaNavi would frequently converse until he made a porter’s lodge. Rashi explains that once he added a door to his property, he was preventing himself from hearing the cries of the poor. Thus, he no longer deserved to be visited by Eliyahu. Chazal here do not criticize this individual for shirking his duty, for making it more difficult for the poor man to reach him. He simply no longer warranted Eliyahu’s visit. This, however, does not render him evil. Horav Moshe Yavrov, zl, cites an incident in the Talmud Shabbos 55A in which Rav Yehudah was sitting before Shmuel, when a woman entered and began to cry about a wrong that had been done to her. Shmuel ignored her. Rav Yehudah questioned his behavior, quoting the pasuk in Mishlei 21, "He who stops his ears at cries of the poor, he shall also cry, but shall not be heard." In other words, Rav Yehudah implied that ignoring the pleas of this woman was improper. Shmuel retorted that Mar Ukva, the head of the Rabbinical Court, was present, and he should have listened to them, as he was the one who had the power to help her. It seems implied from Chazal that Shmuel and Rav Yehudah were disputing the obligation to listen to a poor man’s plea if one is not in the position to help.

We derive from here that there are two distinct obligations in the area of helping the poor: There is a mitzvah to assist him in every way, to feed, clothe and sustain him; and a mitzvah to listen to his pleas, to lend an ear to his cry, to open up one’s heart and sense his plight. Shmuel was punished because he did not listen. True, he could not help anyway, but he should have listened. Part of being nosei b’ol im chaveiro, bearing the yoke with a fellow Jew, is to feel his pain and to listen to his cry. The pious man who built a porter’s cottage surely continued his noble tradition.


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

The fifth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

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