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והארץ היתה תהו ובהו וחשך על פני תהום...ויאמר אלקים יהי אור ויהי אור... ויבדל אלקים בין האור ובין החשך

When the earth was astonishingly empty, with darkness upon the surface of the deep. (1:2) G-d said, “Let there be light,” and there was light, and G-d separated between the light and the darkness. (1:3,4)

In what must be the most interpreted, but yet remains the most enigmatic, ambiguous pesukim, the Torah commences with the story of Creation. It is a topic which can be studied for a lifetime and its interpretation still remains elusive, because its profundity is far above our mortal cognitive limitations. Just to give the reader snippets to think about, I cite from Kol HaTorah by Horav Eliyahu Munk, zl, concerning the phrase v’choshech al pnei sehom; “with darkness upon the surface of the deep.” The Ramban explains that darkness is not to be thought of as an absence of light,…

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וירא אלקים את כל אשר עשה והנה טוב מאד

G-d saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good. (1:31)

It was not just “good” – it was very good. Each of Hashem’s creations was good in its own right. When combined together as part of the greater creation, the totality was even better, explains the Meshech Chochmah. Horav S. R. Hirsch, zl, views this alternatively. Can we say that all of Hashem’s creations were good? Are suffering, pain, grief, temptation and death considered to be good? Surely, we could do without any of these. Rav Hirsch explains that, indeed, isolated and viewed in a free-standing context, these challenges to life do not come across as being good. As part…

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ותרא האשה כי טוב העץ למאכל וכי תאוה היא לעינים... ותקח מפריו ותאכל

And the woman perceived that the tree was good for eating and that it was a delight for the eyes… and she took of its fruit and ate. (3:6)

A horrible tragedy occurred in Telshe, Lithuania, during the tenure of Horav Yosef Yehudah Leib Bloch, zl, as Rosh Yeshivah and Rav (about one hundred years ago). A secular Jewish student with no ties whatsoever to religion rented an attic apartment in town and succumbed to the severe depression that plagued him. Following the incident, the owners of the house in which the deed was done would hear and then see plaster fall from the ceiling. The owner of the house was himself also not an observant Jew, so, at first, he ignored it. (A religious Jew takes nothing at…

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ויבא קין מפרי האדמה מנחה לד' והבל הביא גם הוא מבכורות צאנו ומחלביהן

Kayin brought an offering to Hashem of the fruit of the ground… and as for Hevel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and from their choicest. (4:3,4)

Kayin brought his offering, followed by Hevel’s offering. Hashem turned (listened/accepted) to Hevel’s offering, but did not respond to Kayin’s offering. On the surface, the disparity between Kayin and Hevel’s offering was quality. Hevel offered his finest, choicest, while Kayin brought what he did not want for himself. The inferior crops were designated for offering. So begins the first tragic story of brother killing brother. We understand that the Torah’s narrative is replete with powerful messages and lessons. How do we understand this incident between history’s first two sons? First and foremost: Why did Hashem not accept Kayin’s korban, offering?…

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ויבכו בני ישראל את משה... שלשים יום ויתמו ימי בכי אבל משה. ויהושע בן נון מלא רוח חכמה כי סמך משה את ידו עליו

Bnei Yisrael bewailed Moshe… for thirty days; then the tearful mourning for Moshe ended. Yehoshua ben Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom, because Moshe laid his hands on him. (34:8,9)

Moshe Rabbeinu had no equal. Thus, he left behind no one that had achieved his level of prophecy. Never would there be another Rabbeinu such as Moshe. The grief over his passing was palpable due to the irreparable loss. Even grief over Moshe, however, must come to an end. Yehoshua, Moshe’s able and devoted talmid, disciple, became his successor as the nation’s Rebbe and leader. The Torah was passed to him, as he carried on Moshe’s legacy. Moshe laid his hands on him, giving him semicha, ordaining him to take over. With the laying of hands, a portion of Moshe’s…

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יחי ראובן ואל ימת... וזאת ליהודה ויאמר

May Reuven live and not die… and this to Yehudah, and he said. (33:67)

Yehudah’s blessing is juxtaposed upon Reuven, because they had in common their individual confession of guilt to a corrupt act for which they were jointly responsible. Reuven was chastised by his father, Yaakov Avinu, for his impetuosity in moving Yaakov’s bed from Bilhah’s tent. (After Rachel Imeinu, who was Yaakov’s primary wife, died, Yaakov moved his bed into the tent of the concubine, Bilhah. Reuven felt this was an affront to the honor of his mother, Leah Imeinu). Yehudah’s role concerning his inappropriate relationship with Tamar, which almost led to her execution, was the reason for his confession of guilt….

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וזאת הברכה אשר ברך משה... את בני ישראל לפני מותו

And this is the blessing that Moshe… bestowed upon Bnei Yisrael before his death. (33:1)

The Midrash Tanchuma (Va’eschanan 6) teaches: “Moshe Rabbeinu was (Heavenly) informed, ‘The time for you to leave this world has arrived.’ He said to them, ‘Wait for me until I bless Yisrael. For they have not found contentment from me all my days, because of the rebukes and warnings with which I rebuked them.’” Moshe then proceeded to bless the nation. Chazal are teaching us that Moshe feared that the people would not correctly perceive his admonishments, and, rather than acknowledge his boundless love for them, they would think that he harbored anger and discontent concerning their behavior, and, by…

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אם שנותי ברק חרבי ותאחז במשפט ידי

That I shall sharpen the shine of My sword and My hand shall grasp judgment. (32:41)

“My hand shall grasp judgment.” Chazal (quoted by Rashi) derive from the language of this pasuk (concerning the concept of “grasping” judgment), “Not like the attributes of flesh and blood (mortals) is the attribute of Hashem. Once a human being shoots an arrow, once he releases the bow, he is unable to take it back. Hashem, however, shoots His arrows and has the power to retrieve them (before they hit their intended target). It is as if He holds them in His hand (ochazon b’yado).” Rashi is teaching us is that no restrictions limit Hashem’s power. He is not restricted…

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שאל אביך ויגדך זקניך ויאמרו לך

Ask your father and he will relate it to you, and your elders and they will tell you. (32:7)

Issues arise; questions abound; to whom do we turn for sage advice, intelligent counsel? The Torah enjoins us to turn to “your father,” whom Rashi interprets as the Navi, prophet, Torah leader of the generation, and “your elders,” who are the chachamim, Torah scholars. After a lifetime of Torah study and devotion, these Torah scholars have honed their minds through the daas, wisdom, of the Torah which they have cultivated. Horav Avraham Yaakov Teitelbaum, zl, quotes a novel homiletic exposition of this pasuk rendered by his Rebbe, the venerable Horav Meir Arik, zl, which is practical and timeless in its…

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עם נבל ולא חכם

O’ base and unwise people. (32:6)

The Torah is criticizing Klal Yisrael for being an am naval, base people, and v’lo chacham, unwise. Ramban quotes Rashi who comments that they forgot the good that Hashem had done for them. They were unwise in realizing the good and bad, the consequences of their ingratitude. He then quotes Targum Onkeles who renders the phrase (critique) in a manner which begs elucidation. Naval – ama d’kablu Oraisa, “A nation that received the Torah.” Ramban explains that Onkeles translates naval as being related to navol tibul, “You will surely become weary” (Shemos 18:18). Thus, the Torah is intimating that Klal…

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