matot - masei
July 21st 2012
Av 2nd 5772
THE FINAL REDEMPTION IS CLOSE TO US
by Rabbi David Hanania Pinto Shlita
Because of our numerous sins, today we find ourselves in a bitter exile, and Mashiach has still not come to deliver us. Hence we must mourn over Eretz Israel and Jerusalem, each of us having the responsibility to feel connected to Eretz Israel, of which it is said: “The eyes of Hashem your G-d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to year’s end” (Devarim 11:12). As a result, even if we find ourselves in a foreign land, our eyes are always turned to Israel, and thus we draw upon ourselves the light and abundance that Hashem spreads upon Eretz Israel.
The Sages have said, “Everyone who mourns for Jerusalem merits to share in her joy” (Taanith 30b). In fact Eretz Israel and Jerusalem have been punished because of us, for we have sinned before G-d. Instead of punishing us, however, He poured out His wrath upon wood and stone (Eicha Rabba 4:14). Consequently, wood and stone depend on us, on our actions and reactions. Hence we must ask G-d to quickly rebuild Jerusalem, and for it to never again be destroyed.
Despite all this, let no one think that if the Final Redemption is delayed, it means that Hashem holds Jerusalem in contempt. Certainly not! The verse states, “He will choose Jerusalem once again” (Zechariah 1:17), which means: It is true that non-Jews live in Jerusalem and want to conquer it for themselves, which is why they think that Hashem has abandoned the city and that it no longer belongs to the Jewish people. However the verse tells us, “He will choose Jerusalem once again” – the Holy One, blessed be He, will choose Jerusalem and never abandon it. Even if we are far from Jerusalem and think that it is far from us, this is not true. It is close to us, and the Final Redemption is also close to us, for Mashiach waits to come and deliver us. Although he lingers, nevertheless we await his arrival each day, doing so by improving our deeds and our ways.
However people have already started to despair, for so many years have passed and Mashiach is still not here. Nevertheless, we must not lose hope. In previous generations, two tzaddikim dared to ask when Mashiach would arrive. These were Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi (Sanhedrin 98a; Yalkut Shimoni, Tehillim 95:852) and the holy Baal Shem Tov. Mashiach answered them, “Today, if you will but listen to His voice” (Tehillim 95:7). In other words, Mashiach has already been waiting for many years to come and deliver us – but everything depends on us, not him!
We have also heard that numerous tzaddikim have wanted, and have had the opportunity, to bring about the arrival of Mashiach. Included among these were the Chozeh of Lublin, who agreed with several other tzaddikim, men such as Rabbi Mendel of Rimanov and Rabbi Israel of Koznitz (the author of Avodah Israel), to hasten the coming of Mashiach. The attribute of strict justice was against it, however, and they did not receive permission. Furthermore, they died at that time. Why? Because the coming of Mashiach does not depend on an individual, but on the community. All Jews have the duty to do everything possible to hasten the Final Redemption and the coming of Mashiach. They must all yearn for his coming, and only then will he come. This is why he told Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, “Today, if you will but listen to His voice” – the term “listen” being in the plural, not the singular, for the coming of Mashiach depends on the community. This means that we must listen in truth, without cheating, hypocrisy, or false pretenses. We must truly want it, for the voice of Jacob must be heard in its desire to bring Mashiach.
“I’ve Just Bought a New Home”
As long as the Jewish people are still in exile, and as long as the nations of the world want Jerusalem for themselves, it means that the voice of Jacob in Torah learning is not perfect, which is why Mashiach’s arrival is delayed. A certain Jew once told me, “I don’t want Mashiach to come right now.” When I asked him why, he replied: “I’ve just bought a new home and haven’t started enjoying it yet” – which clearly indicates that the voice of Jacob is not yet perfect, and so the exile continues. However the days of exile are a trial for us, to see if we have corrected everything that needs correcting. Have we perfected ourselves in light of the coming of Mashiach? Furthermore, let no one think that today we already have a country and are therefore no longer in exile. Let no one think that there is no longer any reason to wait or hope for the coming of Mashiach. This is an absolute lie. We are indeed in exile, and all the peoples of the world want to wipe us out and take Jerusalem from us. She is not yet free, nor will she be free until Mashiach liberates her at the same time as all Israel.
Is it therefore possible to hasten the Final Redemption? The Zohar (Va’etchanan) states that the study of Torah hastens it. In fact the letters forming the word Mashiach are the same as those of yismach (“he will rejoice”), for this will occur through Torah, which rejoices the heart of man, as it is said: “The orders of Hashem are upright, rejoicing the heart” (Tehillim 19:9), as well as, “The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor” (Esther 8:16). Now “Light means Torah” (Megillah 16b), and it is by the light and joy of Torah that Mashiach will arrive. However we must realize that this can occur not only through Torah, for unity can also hasten the Final Redemption. Thus the Children of Israel were completely united before the giving of the Torah, like a single man with a single heart (Mechilta, Yitro 19), which is how they were able to annul the evil inclination and be worthy of entering Eretz Israel. It is also how they ensured that Eretz Israel would never be destroyed, but would one day be completely liberated. However our sins have serious consequences, for the Children of Israel made the golden calf and fought against one another, which greatly diminished their unity.
Guard Your Tongue
Don’t Fail to Respond “Amen”
How much more should we be very careful not to choose a place in synagogue or the Beit HaMidrash next to someone who regularly speaks Lashon Harah. Besides the fact that we will learn from their sin and also start to disparage others, it often happens that because of them we will not respond: “Amen, Yehei Shemei Rabba” or “Barechu,” nor will we listen to the reading of the Torah and the repetition of the Shaliach Tzibur, as well as numerous other sins.
The Story of the Week
It was already late when Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev left the home of his chassid in the village to return home in a nearby town. He had remained in the chassid’s home longer than expected, and night had already fallen by the time he left.
From time to time, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak would visit towns and their surrounding villages. During these trips, he asked those with financial means to give tzeddakah. Whenever he encountered poor families, he distributed the money he had collected. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak also strived to see how people were living in these communities and what needed improving, and he would arouse people’s enthusiasm for Torah and mitzvot.
That night, he completed a regular visit to a village near his town. The sun had already set long before, and heavy darkness covered everything. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak decided that it was too dangerous to return home on foot at such a time, and so he retraced his steps and asked the chassid if he could spend the night at his home.
The chassid was overjoyed at this turn of events. His house was small and rundown, but he prepared a suitable place for the tzaddik, made a bed for him, and served him dinner. He then went to bed.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak also went to bed and pretended that he was sleeping. When he was certain that his host was asleep, he arose and began to study Torah, as was his habit. The tzaddik remained seated before a tiny lamp for the entire night, occupied with holy things. At dawn, he said farewell to his host and returned home.
Two days later this Jew, who had sheltered the tzaddik, went to see his landlord in order to renew the lease on the house he was renting. As soon as he arrived, he could see that his landlord was not as sympathetic as usual.
“I can’t rent my property out to you any more!” the owner exploded. “You don’t pay your rent on time, and you also owe me a lot of money. I’m renting it out to someone else, and you have to immediately pay me what you still owe. Otherwise I’ll have you jailed!”
The Jew left in a daze. What was he going to do? Where was he going to find the money to pay off his debt, and where was he going to live, now that he was being chased out of his home? The words, “From where will my deliverance come?” were constantly on his lips as he made his way back home. However he quickly pulled himself together and said: “My help is from Hashem, Maker of heaven and earth” (Tehillim 121:2).
An idea suddenly came to him: Only two days earlier, he had the honor of hosting the tzaddik of Berditchev, who was famous for working miracles. He would now go and tell him about the catastrophe that had occurred, for the blessing of the tzaddik would certainly help him.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak listened carefully, his forehead creasing and his face demonstrating compassion. After having heard all the details of this story, he began to think.
“Bring me a sheet of paper,” he asked a member of his household. He took the sheet and enclosed himself in his room. It was quite dark inside, and the Jew standing outside was wondering how Rabbi Levi Yitzchak could be writing under such conditions. He stretched out his ear and heard neither the sound of a pen nor that of an inkpot. After half-an-hour, the tzaddik emerged, his face enflamed and shining. He gave the Jew the sheet of paper, which was now folded, and said: “Give this letter to the landlord, and G-d will save you.”
The Jew joyfully took the sheet of paper, thanked the tzaddik, and went to see his landlord. On the way there, however, doubts began to assail him: The tzaddik’s room had been so dark, and he had not heard the sound of a pen or inkpot, which had to mean that the paper was completely blank, the tzaddik having written nothing on it. However he pushed these thoughts aside and strengthened his faith.
He continued on his way, but again these doubts started to haunt him. In the end, he was unable to contain himself: He took the sheet out of his pocket, opened it, and saw that it was completely blank. There wasn’t a single letter on it. At first he wanted to return to the tzaddik to point out the mistake to him. However he quickly rejected this idea and told himself that since the tzaddik had given him this sheet, it meant that his deliverance would certainly come from it.
The landlord took the sheet, opened it on the table, and began reading it. When he finished, he looked at the Jew, but this time there was a sympathetic and gentle look in his eyes. “Listen, I regret what I told you last time. I’m already used to you, so why should I risk taking strangers as tenants? I’ve therefore decided to continue leasing my property to you. In repayment for all the trouble that I’ve caused you, I’ve decided to cancel the remainder of your debt.”
The Jew didn’t know if he was awake or dreaming. His head was spinning with joy. He thanked the landlord for his kindness and went to tell Rabbi Levi Yitzchak about the miracle that had happened. Yet he did not have to go far, for at a crossroads he encountered the tzaddik, who was waiting to hear what had happened.
With great joy, he told the tzaddik everything that took place at the landlord’s home. The tzaddik seemed to be waiting for more, and so he asked: “And? What did he say besides that?” The Jew answered with surprise, “Nothing.” Rabbi Levi Yitzchak then frowned, asking the Jew what he had done with the letter on his way to see the landlord. He was forced to admit that he had opened it and saw that it was blank.
A sigh escaped the tzaddik’s lips: “What a pity. What a pity,” he murmured. “If you had believed with complete faith and harbored no doubts, you would have received your home as a gift and left it as an inheritance to your children. We must not have any doubts about G-d’s deliverance.”
In the Light of the Parsha
From the Teachings of the Gaon and Tzaddik Rabbi David Hanania Pinto Shlita
The Beit HaMidrash is Like a City of Refuge
It is written, “A murderer shall flee there – one who takes a life unintentionally” (Bamidbar 35:11).
In Parsha Va’etchanan it is written, “He shall flee to one of these cities and live” (Devarim 4:42). This poses a problem, for the verse seems to be saying that the murderer will live because he entered a city of refuge. Yet since he can die a natural death in a city of refuge, why does it say “and live”? Better to say, “He shall flee to one of these cities and be saved from the hand of the avenger of blood”! However the Torah states “and live” to teach us that whoever enters the Beit HaMidrash – which is like a city of refuge – is promised that he will live. That is, he will not die from an attack of the evil inclination. In fact the evil inclination cannot enter the Beit HaMidrash, and the expression “and live” means “and he will become a tzaddik.” None are dead but the wicked, as the Sages have said: “These are the wicked, who in their lifetime are called dead” (Berachot 18b), whereas the tzaddikim in their death are called alive (ibid. 18a). Moshe also said, “Not with your forefathers did Hashem seal this covenant, but with us – we who are here, all of us alive today” (Devarim 5:3). What does “all of us alive” mean? It means that if you enter the Beit HaMidrash and study Torah, you will be saved from the evil inclination that seeks to kill you, and you will become living tzaddikim, not dead evildoers.
Now we can also understand why Moshe, in Devarim 4:41, interrupted his account of the giving of the Torah to speak about cities of refuge. As such he was telling the Children of Israel: Now that I have opened the heavens for you, and you clearly know that there is only one G-d, Who commanded you Torah and mitzvot, you will be saved from the evil inclination if you sanctify yourselves. If you ask me how you can separate yourselves from this world, which is completely material, the answer is that before you are cities of refuge, which allude to the Beit HaMidrash. A man can enter it to escape the evil inclination, which has no right to enter. At that point he separates himself from this world, and just as the evil inclination was removed from your hearts at Mount Sinai (Shir Hashirim Rabba 1:15), likewise whoever enters the Beit HaMidrash to study Torah will be saved from the evil inclination, which has no authority to enter.
The Parable and its Meaning
Bilam’s Prophesy: Only for the Sake of Israel
It is written, “Bilam the son of Beor they killed with the sword” (Bamidbar 31:8).
In the middle of this week’s parsha, we find the account of the war with Midian. This was a “war by commandment,” commanded by Hashem to Moshe in order to execute the vengeance of the Children of Israel upon Midian for having involved themselves in a fight that was not theirs. The five kings of Midian were killed in this war, along with Bilam the son of Beor, who was “killed with the sword.”
We must think about this: How could the wicked Bilam have merited to prophesy about the Children of Israel, and even have his prophesy written in the Torah, and yet experience such a violent death? He was killed by the sword, without his own prayer even being fulfilled: “May my end be like his” (Bamidbar 23:10).
We also have to ask why the verse is telling us about Bilam’s death. In reality, whoever reads Rashi’s remarks will draw a marvelous teaching from it:
“He came against Israel and exchanged his craft for theirs, for they are victorious only with their mouths – through prayer and supplication – and he came and adopted their craft to curse them with his mouth. So they too came against him by exchanging their craft for the craft of the nations, who come with the sword, as it says: ‘You shall live by your sword’ [Bereshith 27:40]” (Rashi on Bamidbar 31:8).
He Didn’t Understand the Prayers
The book Od Yosef Hai goes into a lengthy explanation of why Bilam deserved for his prophesy to be written in the Torah, even though his own prayer was not granted. It was in order for the Children of Israel to be covered in the eyes of the nations for all the good they would receive in the future. In fact regarding the prophesy of Moshe and other prophets concerning the heights which the Children of Israel would attain in the future, the nations could say that since these prophets were from among the Children of Israel, they may have exaggerated in order to comfort their own people. Yet since it was someone from among the nations who prophesied for the good of the Jewish people, the nations could no longer protest. That is why Bilam’s prophesy was recorded: It was for the sake of Israel, not for the sake of Bilam.
The proof is that Hashem did not grant Bilam the only thing that he asked for himself: “May my end be like his.” From here we learn that Bilam’s entire prophesy was written solely for the sake of Israel.
A parable will help to explain this: There was an uneducated man who never went to synagogue except on Shabbat and holidays. Whenever he went to synagogue, he did not arrive until after the congregation said Shema, the result being that he didn’t understand the prayers very well.
When the time came to get married, he wed an educated woman who knew how to learn and pray, and they went to live in a city in Spain. The first week they arrived in town, the man thought that he should go to synagogue on Shabbat and pray with the community. When he arrived, the Chazan was reading: “Hashem is King, Hashem was King, Hashem will be King forever.” Thus as soon as the Chazan said “Hashem is King,” everyone arose at the same time. In his ignorance, however, this man thought that the congregants were rising for him.
Thus he entered the synagogue and sat next to the ark, in a place of honor. In fact he took the seat reserved for the president of the synagogue, a seat that was vacant because the president had not yet arrived.
After he had been seated for a few minutes, the Shamash approached him and whispered into his ear that the seat was reserved for the president of the synagogue. He was then led to a place reserved for people who were passing through town. Reluctantly, he had to get up and change seats. After having been seated in his new place for a few minutes, he noticed the president of the synagogue arriving. To his great surprise, he saw that not everyone was standing to honor him, for some were standing while others remained seated. He then rejoiced in his heart that he had been shown greater honor than even the president of the synagogue!
At the end of the prayer service, he returned home and told his wife that the entire congregation had shown him great honor, even more than for the president of the synagogue. The Shamash had not honored him, however, for he asked him to sit elsewhere. The man’s wife, who was bright, asked him: “Tell me, when you left the president’s seat to go sit in the place reserved for people passing through town, did everyone stand up for you?” When he said no, she told him: “From that, you should realize that when you first entered the synagogue and people arose from their seats, it wasn’t for your sake that they did so. Instead, it was because the Chazan was saying ‘Hashem is King, Hashem was King, Hashem will be King forever,’ which is the proper thing to do.”
The meaning of this parable is that the wicked Bilam thought that his prophesy appeared in the Torah for his own sake. To show him his error and prove that his entire prophesy was only written for the sake of Israel, Hashem in His Providence ensured that his prayer, “May my end be like his” would not be granted. As the woman in the parable pointed out to her husband, just as the congregants did not get up to honor him when he changed seats, it proved that they did not get up to honor him when he first entered. Rather, it was only because they were saying “Hashem is King.”
At the Source
It is written, “He shall not profane his word. According to all that proceeds from his mouth, he shall do” (Bamidbar 30:3).
In the book Etz HaDa’at Tov, Rabbeinu Haim Vital teaches: “The expression, ‘He shall not profane his word’ alludes to the fact that one should not utter profane words. Thus of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai it was said, ‘During his entire life, he never uttered profane words’ [Sukkah 28a].”
Until the Death of the Kohen Gadol
It is written, “He shall dwell in it until the death of the Kohen Gadol” (Bamidbar 35:25).
We need to ask why the verse makes the unintentional murderer remain in a city of refuge until the death of the Kohen Gadol.
In his Guide to the Perplexed (3:40), the Rambam explains that the stay of the unintentional murderer depends on the death of the Kohen Gadol in order to calm the anger of the avenger of blood over the death of his relative. In fact it is human nature for a new and important event to make people forget what has happened in the past. When the Kohen Gadol, beloved by all Israel, passes away, it creates tremendous pain that makes people forget less severe pain, and the fact that everyone suffers is somewhat of a consolation.
Who Pleases Them, Not Their Parents
It is written, “To those who are pleasing in their eyes, they may become wives” (Bamidbar 36:6).
A chassid went to see the Rebbe of Kobrin, Rabbi Moshe Zatzal, to complain about his daughter’s attitude.
“What do you mean?” asked the Rebbe.
The man began recounting his troubles: “I’ve been working a long time, traveling around the country in every direction to find a husband for my daughter. Yet now, it turns out that she doesn’t want to marry the one I’ve chosen for her. She says that he doesn’t please her.”
“You shouldn’t be upset with her for this,” replied the Rebbe. He then supported his words with a verse from this week’s parsha: “This is the thing which Hashem has commanded concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, saying: ‘To those who are pleasing in their eyes, they may become wives.’ ”
The Rebbe explained that this means they can chose to marry one who pleases them, not one who pleases their parents.
A Life of Torah
Let us pay close attention to what the maggid revealed to our teacher Rabbi Yosef Karo. He revealed hidden secrets to him about his reward for learning the holy Torah:
“All the tzaddikim in Gan Eden will come to meet you, with the Shechinah at their head, welcoming you with singing and praises. They will treat you like a husband who walks at the forefront, and everyone will accompany you to your chuppah.
“Seven chuppot are prepared for you, one inside the other, and seven chuppot, one above the other. Instead of the innermost and highest chuppah, there are seven streams of a wonderful fragrance. I will prepare for you a throne of gold with seven steps, where I will place pearls and precious stones for you. All the tzaddikim will accompany you and sing before you until you reach the first chuppah, and there you will be robed in an opulent garment. Likewise at each chuppah, so when you are brought to the last one, you will have 14 glorious garments upon you.
“Then two tzaddikim among those accompanying you will place themselves to your right and your left, like best men, and they will lead you upon the throne. When you begin to ascend, you will be robed in glorious garments, over the 14 glorious garments that you are already wearing. This is how you will be led upon the throne. A crown suspended from above will be brought, and it will be placed upon your head, and you will sit upon the throne, with one to your right and one to your left. All these tzaddikim will sit around you, and they will discuss Torah subjects with you until the end of 180 days, as in the book of Esther: ‘To display the wealth of his glorious kingdom and the honor of his splendorous majesty for many days, 180 days’ [Esther 1:4]. Next, you will prepare a Torah banquet for all the tzaddikim in Gan Eden, and for seven days you will explain only words of Torah that you taught in this world, which I will have taught you for these 180 days.”
By the Merit of Diligent Torah Study
The young grandson of Rabbi Yehuda Zev Segal Zatzal once asked him, “Grandfather, how did you arrive at where you are?” He gave him a short reply, but one filled with meaning:
“Know that diligence in Torah study is a characteristic that is extremely important.” In fact in Messilat Yesharim, the Ramchal cites the words of the Tanna Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair in stating that the study of Torah is the first rung on the ladder of the service of G-d, the way by which we can achieve piety and holiness.
Rabbi Yehuda Zev acted according to his convictions, it being said that he was a living Messilat Yesharim. His main occupation was “learning day and night” – quite literally. The saying of the Sages, “His mouth never stopped learning” was something that was normal for him. When he reached out to take hold of a telephone, he continued learning from a book. At the end of the conversation, even before having placed the receiver back on the hook, he was already learning again. (He was incredibly involved with helping people when they had problems. This was one of the reasons why Jews from around the world would phone him when they had difficulties, in order to recount their troubles and ask him for a blessing. More than once, tears would drip from his eyes on account of their pain. Yet incredibly, as soon as he finished encouraging them, without waiting a single extra moment, he returned to what he had been studying in the Gemara.)
It was unusual to see him without a book in hand. Everywhere he went, be it a wedding, a meeting, or a medical appointment, he had a book in hand, and he would be learning from it at every free moment. During his last years, his doctors advised him to have a pacemaker implanted, an operation that was to be done under local anesthetic. Rabbi Yehuda Zev wanted to make use of this time to learn from a book. His doctors agreed, but said that the book had to be small. Thus the Rosh Yeshiva studied mishnayot from Kodashim until his operation was finished.
Papa, the Cigarette is Burning!
The son-in-law of the gaon Rabbi Israel Yaakov Fisher Zatzal, the Rosh Av Beit Din of Jerusalem, recounted the following story about him:
“I remember many years ago, I went to his home for a meal. A certain dish was brought, and he ate it. Since he was waiting for the meal to end, he asked why no food had yet been brought. He was told, ‘You just ate it!’ Food did not interest him at all, and everything he ate seemed to be the same to him. He always ate very quickly, and continued to study immediately afterwards at the place where he had stopped.
“When he was learning profound sugiot, he would usually smoke. (I once asked him about this, and he said to me: ‘I had nothing to eat, so it replaced a meal.’) He was once sitting and learning with a lit cigarette between his fingers, until the cigarette burned to its very end. His hand was already burning, but he didn’t sense it! Dozens, even hundreds of times we had to tell him, ‘Papa, the cigarette is burning,’ and only then would he put it out!”
When Rabbi Israel Yaakov Fisher fell ill, he had to undergo an emergency operation. Yet because of his advanced age and great frailty, his doctors were afraid that any anesthesia, even local, would endanger his life. To their great astonishment, Rav Fisher told them that they must operate without any anesthesia whatsoever. They tried to show him what the operation would involve, with incisions along the length and breadth of his body, during which time he could not make the slightest movement, not to mention the pain he would endure! However he insisted, “It doesn’t matter. I will deeply immerse myself in a sugia.”
When the time came, the surgeons began their work, and during the entire operation the Rav remained completely immobile.
At the end of the operation, his anxious sons rushed to see him, but because of his deep concentration he did not realize that they were there. When he awoke from his thoughts, he said that on account of G-d’s great goodness, he had been able to prepare a good sermon for Shabbat HaGadol!
A Fire that Burns all Accusers
A Jew from Haifa recounted that when he studied at the Ponevezh yeshiva during his youth, he once went to see Rav Shach Zatzal for some advice. He knocked at his front door, but upon hearing nothing he opened the door and went inside. Not seeing anyone in the home, he naively believed that the Rosh Yeshiva had left for a moment and would soon return. He therefore began to wait by his room.
After about a minute or two, he began smelling a strong burning odor coming from the kitchen. When he rushed into the kitchen to see what was happening, he saw Rav Shach standing next to the gas stove with a Gemara in one hand and a spoon in the other, stirring an empty pot from which smoke was billowing!
As it turned out, his wife had asked him to prepare some porridge (since she was ill at the time), and he had hurried to the kitchen to make it. With a Gemara in one hand, he put some oats in the pot for the porridge, and began stirring it with a spoon. Immersed in his studies, he stirred without end, not aware that the porridge in the pot had almost charred. Plums of smoke started to rise, but the Rosh Yeshiva continued stirring. The gaon Rav Zilberstein Shlita, who personally heard this story from this Jew of Haifa, added with astonishment: “Such a fire burns and destroys all accusers of the Jewish people.”