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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


He (Moshe) carried out Hashem's justice and His ordinances with Yisrael. (33:21)

In Pirkei Avos, 5:18, Chazal teach us, "Whoever makes a multitude meritorious; no sin shall come through him…" Moshe Rabbeinu attained virtue and brought the multitude to virtue; therefore, the merit of the multitude is attributed to him, as it is stated, "He carried out Hashem's righteousness and His ordinances with Yisrael." We live in a complex world, in an environment that is not necessarily conducive to spiritual growth. While whether or not to sin consciously is based upon a person's individual discretion, it is often difficult to avoid an inadvertent sin. When we act in haste without forethought, we might suffer unfortunate consequences. A thoughtless word can sometimes cut cruelly, producing severe repercussions. Indeed, even an innocuous statement can be misconstrued, so that it influences others in a negative manner. The Mishnah conveys to us its prescription for protection against sin: lead others to virtue and righteousness; be concerned with the spiritual welfare of others; and you will earn Hashem's special concern. Circumstances will be so ordained that the mezakeh es ho'rabim will not lead others astray by his needless word or action. His hand will not cause others to sin. Chazal explain that one who leads others to merit will never be the cause of transgression, because it would cast him in a negative light to his disciples; the beneficiaries of his good work should merit Olam Habah, the eternal merit, and he should merit perdition. His destiny remains eternally linked with that of his beneficiaries.

The Mishnah cites Moshe Rabbeinu as an example of the mezakeh es horabim. He was a master at leadership, bringing his people to spiritual and moral growth through forty years of difficulty. Never did he flinch or falter. How did he do it? His portrait in Midrashic literature indicates one sterling quality as the primary factor in his success: he was able to bear the people patiently to the utmost limits of human endurance. They turned against him time and again out of fear, anxiety and hysteria. Their suspicions, resentments and other critiques were the outgrowth of hundreds of years of cruel servitude. Their complaints against Moshe were beyond ludicrous.

Yet, Moshe Rabbeinu, the consummate leader, the quintessential manhig Yisrael, rarely retorted with impatience or anger. Moshe serves as the paradigm for all leaders. Who today is not the subject of petty, carping criticism? The frustration and irritation which a leader experiences certainly takes its toll. Yet, we are not to condemn, but rather to defend our constituents, realizing that they are human and, therefore, subject to human frailties.

While Moshe did entreat Hashem to overlook Klal Yisrael's behavior, when he spoke to them, it was altogether different. He was stern and demanding, exacting and unrelenting. He taught them middos, character refinement; he imbued them with hope and reverence. He also taught them the Torah. His teachings were tempered with love, even when he upbraided them for their stubbornness and insolence and took them to task for their ingratitude. Yes, he was demanding, but he was also thoughtful. He did not merely seek to discipline; rather, his goal was to inculcate values, inspire virtues, and imbue their lives with spiritual meaning.

This principle holds true for every principal, teacher and guide. Teaching, mentoring, instructing are all terms referring to a role in preparing the next generation. It is not easy, but then nothing of value comes without effort. It can, at times, be demeaning, frustrating, thankless to name just a few of the "negatives." There is no endeavor, however, that provides greater and more enduring satisfaction than the knowledge that we have played a role in shaping the life of another Jew. We might not receive our "thanks" in this world, but we will receive our appreciation with the ultimate reward from Hashem. We will be repaid not only for those that we have helped directly, but we will also receive reward for all those in generations yet to come who will learn Torah or become finer Jews as a result of our toil. Indeed, to teach is to achieve immortality.

We have to add one more point. Immortality is achieved when one teaches that way. Let me explain with the following story: Horav Shlomo Heiman, zl, the distinguished Rosh HaYeshivah of Torah Vodaath, was an individual of incredible depth and breadth. His shiurim, lectures, were brilliant masterpieces which were presented in a manner unlike many of his peers. When he taught, the shiur came alive; in fact, the room came alive as he would shout with almost breathless ecstasy as he explained the words of Chazal and their commentaries. His eyes gleamed, his hands waved to and fro, while his entire body gyrated as he expounded on Chazal. When the shiur was over, Rav Shlomo would collapse from the physical exertion.

It was one particular cold, snowy day in the early 1940's when New York was blanketed with snow. Only four talmidim, students, showed up for shiur. Undaunted, Rav Shlomo delivered his shiur as if the room were packed with hundreds of students. Sweat rolled down his face as he passionately presented the finer points of Jewish law to the four skeptical students. As he paused to catch his breath, one of the four asked, "Rebbe, please, why are you getting so worked up? There are only four of us!"

Rav Shlomo looked back at the student and said, "You think that I am only giving a shiur to four students? You are not the only ones. I am giving this class to hundreds and hundreds of students. I am teaching you, your students, your students' students, and so on!"

In order to imbue generations, the lecture must be taught in such a manner. Rav Shlomo did not speak to the present - he spoke to the future - to a generation yet unborn. When one works with the future in mind, his preparation takes on a whole new meaning. The Chafetz Chaim's son, Rav Leib, zl, once asked his father if he really thought that the future readers of his magnum opus, the Mishnah Berurah, would ever have an inkling of the indescribable effort that he had expended in producing this masterpiece. Every halachah, every Chazal, every source -- Rishon, Acharon, anywhere in Talmudic and Halachic literature -- was painstakingly checked and rechecked. The Chafetz Chaim responded that the only reason future generations would even be able to read the halachos with lucidity and accuracy is that he had expended so much time in ensuring the verity and intelligibility of the sefer. The Chafetz Chaim wrote for the future. Indeed, everything we do should be able to withstand the test of time.

And the days of tearful mourning for Moshe ended. (34:8)

In the Talmud Shabbos, 106a, Chazal say, "Whoever lets down/ weeps over the passing of an adam kasher -- upright, virtuous man -- Hashem counts his tears and puts them aside in His treasury." What is the meaning of "counting tears," and what is its significance? Olas Shlomo on Seder Kedoshim, cited by Shai LaTorah, explains that it is human nature to weep for a person who passes from this world, regardless of the level of his virtue. We are an emotional people. Therefore, when someone dies, our first reaction is to express our emotion - an emotion that may have little to do with the individual. Perhaps he is a relative, or a friend; perhaps we simply cry because when we hear of a death, we cry. Who does not shed a tear upon reading about a tragedy that has occurred? How are we to discern between the individual who cries for an adam kasher, and one who simply cries as an expression of emotion?

The duration of the weeping determines for whom and why we are weeping. An expression of emotion does not last long, unless it is for someone whose loss has left a tremendous void, someone who has inspired others with his behavior, with his brilliance, with his virtue. Indeed, for such an individual, as time goes by, the loss becomes more pronounced. Consequently, the original expression of grief is no indication of its focus. We could be crying for anyone. Only after a substantial amount of time has passed and one is still grief-stricken, do we have a clear intimation that this is not typical weeping for an ordinary person. These tears have special meaning, and they are valued by Hashem to the point that He counts and saves them.

Perhaps we may suggest a somewhat different approach. Adam kasher is a reference to a "good" Jew - not necessarily a brilliant Torah scholar, a great Torah luminary - just a simple Jew: a man of sterling character, impeccable behavior, devout and virtuous. This person does not make any "waves." In fact, most people do not even know him. His picture is not in the paper every other week. His passing might be noted with a small obituary in the local paper. Instead of learning folios of Talmud, he recited Tehillim whenever he had the opportunity. He is what David Hamelech in Sefer Tehillim 15 describes as "one who walks in perfect innocence, does what is right, and speaks the truth from his heart. He does not slander, nor does he do evil or disgrace his fellowman." He neither takes advantage of others, nor can his integrity be compromised with special gifts. This is an adam kasher.

Regrettably, we do not often cry for such people, because in today's society they remain unnoticed. We do not realize that their loss creates an irreplaceable void in the Jewish community. When they are taken, the Shechinah feels the loss much more than we do. The Shechinah knows their contribution to Klal Yisrael, while we conveniently ignore it. When we weep over the passing of a great man, we cry over our loss. When we cry over the death of an adam kasher, we grieve over the Shechinah's loss. Hashem counts those tears, because they are altruistic; they are real.

Perhaps this is the underlying meaning of Chazal's statement when they say, "Kol ha'morid dema'os," "Anyone who lets down tears." Why did they not say, "Kol ha'bocheh," "Anyone who weeps?" I think that "bocheh" is spontaneous weeping. When we hear of a death, a sad occurrence, a tragedy - we cry. That is our first reaction as human beings. To "let down" tears, however, is an expression which denotes thought, an intelligent appreciation of a situation, a cogent understanding of who it was that has passed away, as well as his contribution to the community and the consequent loss produced by his demise. When an "ordinary" man leaves this world, it takes a "thoughtful" and caring person to express his grief. Hashem values those tears because they have special meaning.

Never again has there arisen in Yisrael a prophet like Moshe…And by all the strong hand and awesome power that Moshe performed before the eyes of all Yisrael. (34:11,12)

"Asher asah Moshe," "Which Moshe performed." Did Moshe perform, or did Hashem perform? In his commentary to the Hagaddah, the Gra, zl, m'Vilna writes that Hashem took us out of Egypt - not through the medium of an agent or an angel, but Hashem Himself. The revelation of Hashem during the Exodus was apparent to all, especially since Moshe took no honor whatsoever for himself. Moshe's humility was readily manifest as he indicated to all that Hashem was acting alone without any agents. Thus, Moshe Rabbeinu's name is mentioned nowhere in the Hagaddah. Everything that occurred was through Hashem levado, alone.

Now that we have a clear statement that forbids us from associating any medium with Hashem in regard to the Exodus, why does the Torah write the words, "asher asah Moshe?" Hashem performed the redemption; why is it attributed here to Moshe? Horav Yitzchak Goldwasser, Shlita, explains that whenever one attributes an endeavor solely to Hashem and takes no credit whatsoever for himself, Hashem rewards him by crediting it to the individual. Hence, since Moshe took no credit for the Exodus, ascribing every facet of it to Hashem, he was rewarded by having the geulah, liberation, attributed to him. The purpose of the geulah was that every Jew should see clearly that "I am Hashem your G-d Who took you out of Egypt." This belief is mandatory and unequivocal. Moshe Rabbeinu downplayed his part in the Exodus so that no one would err in acknowledging the true source of our redemption. Thus, the redemption was in his merit and should, therefore, be ascribed to him.

Rav Goldwasser supplements this thought with another example. Chazal tell us that Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol was meticulous throughout his life never to say a halachah which he did not hear from his rebbeim. He did not say his own chidushim, novellae. In reward for this exemplary humility, the first Mishnah in Meseches Berachos, the opening words of the Oral Law, begins with a statement from Rabbi Eliezer. The question glares at us: If he never said anything of his own, how does the first Mishnah begin with his statement of halachah? Is it his, or is it not his?

We must say that Rabbi Eliezer demurred himself, never calling attention to himself, always attributing his Torah to his rebbeim. Therefore, Hashem rewarded him by ascribing the halachah at the beginning of Shas to him. In other words, when we defer what we have to Hashem, He rewards us by giving it back.

Questions & Answers

1) Which tribe is omitted from blessing?

2) Which tribe was recognized for the selfless manner in which they carried out their religious duties, without regard to family ties?

3) The Bais Hamikdash was located in __________portion of Eretz Yisrael?

4) Which tribe is described as dwelling as a lion?

5) Which was the largest tribe?


1) Shimon

2) Levi

3) Binyamin's

4) Gad

5) Asher

Dear Readers,

It was twelve years ago that the first copy of Peninim appeared in the greater Cleveland community. Since that day, this endeavor has been blessed with incredible Siyata Dishmaya. Peninim has been welcomed as a refreshing and enriching weekly compendium on the Parsha in thousands of homes and shuls throughout the world. I am, indeed, humbled by this z'chus haTorah and fervently pray that I be able to continue to be a medium for harbotzas Torah.

Twelve years is a long time, especially when keeping in mind that a serious attempt has been made never to repeat a d'var Torah. The sea of Torah is endless, however, and there is so much to convey that there is never a shortage for Torah true thought. The number twelve is symbolic of the Shivtei Kah, Twelve Tribes, each one an individual, but yet, part of a collective and integrated unit. Each year has presented its own individual challenges and unique approach to writing. The style may change, but the imprimatur stays the same. This year, I"YH, we hope to publish Volume Nine of the Peninim series. The success of Peninim did not just happen. It is through the tireless efforts of some very special and dedicated people that Peninim is produced weekly and distributed world-wide. I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation to Mrs. Sharon Weimer and Mrs. Chantal Modes for preparing the weekly manuscript; to Mrs. Marilyn Berger for editing and making it presentable; to Rabbi Malkiel Hefter, a friend and colleague, for always being there to assist in every manner. Without their pleasant demeanor and willingness to help, Peninim would be but a dream.

Over the years Peninim has developed its own distribution network. While there is no room to mention each and every person in the various communities that Peninim serves, I will highlight a few. It all began with Baruch Berger of Brooklyn, N.Y. May the Ribbono Shel Olam grant him a complete refuah shelaimah and arichas yamim v'shanim b'soch shaar cholei Yisrael. Avi Hershkowitz of Queens, N.Y., Asher Groundlin of Detroit, MI and Meir Bedziner of Baltimore, MD, provide their respective communities. Fishel Todd of Shema Yisrael network provides the internet edition for worldwide distribution. A number of years ago, Eliyahu Goldberg began the European edition. Through his efforts and the mesiras nefesh of Menachem Hommel of London and Pinchas Brandeis of Manchester, Peninim has extensive coverage in England, Paris, France, Zurich, Switzerland, and Johannesburg, South Africa as well as Eretz Yisrael. May the mitzvah of harbotzas Torah be a z'echus for them to be blessed "b'chol mili d'meitav."

The last paragraph is always the most difficult one to write. It acknowledges the individual least recognized, but most critical for the success of this endeavor - the woman behind the scene. To this end, I recognize the efforts of my wife, Neny, on behalf of this publication. Aside from being the "last word" in the editing process, she has been a pillar of support and encouragement for this and other projects. May she be blessed with good health, and may we together merit to see Torah nachas from our children and grandchildren.

Hebrew Academy of Cleveland
Rabbi L. Scheinbaum


Peninim on the Torah is in its 11th year of publication. The first seven years have been published in book form.

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