DECember 1ST 2012
kislev 17th 5773
Keep Your Word!
by Rabbi David Hanania Pinto Shlita
It is written, “Now Dinah – the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob – went out to look upon the daughters of the land” (Bereshith 34:1).
The verse which appears further on, “Arise, go up to Bethel…and make an altar there to G-d, Who appeared to you” (ibid. 35:1) is explained by the Ben Ish Hai as follows: “With a unanimous view, our Sages understood by tradition that G-d told Jacob that the entire ordeal connected to Dinah occurred because he had delayed in fulfilling his vow by needlessly lingering along the way. The result was that G-d made him hasten to Bethel in order to fulfill his vow.”
Jacob was now being called to account for having delayed in the fulfillment of his vow, which he formulated upon awakening: “Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely Hashem is present in this place and I did not know!’ He became frightened and said, ‘How awesome is this place!’ ” (Bereshith 28:16-17). Jacob arose early that morning, took the stone which he had placed beneath his head, and set up a pillar upon whose top he poured oil. He then uttered a vow, saying: “If G-d will be with me, will guard me on this way that I am going, will give me bread to eat and clothes to wear, and I return in peace to my father’s house…then this stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will become a house of G-d” (vv. 20-22). The incident involving Dinah came to punish him for this sin, which is actually the interpretation that appears in our commentaries. Rashi also states, “Because you lingered on your journey, you have been punished and this [ordeal] regarding your daughter has come upon you” (Rashi on Bereshith 35:1).
This statement requires some clarification. Actually, have our Sages not explained on numerous occasions that G-d always deals with an individual “measure for measure”? In that case, how was this demonstrated in the incident involving Dinah? Was there something that Dinah did which was comparable to Jacob’s delay in fulfilling the vows he had made? (Note: Rabbeinu Bechaye gives others reasons for this punishment.)
The Ben Ish Hai underlines that immediately after the incident involving Dinah, G-d told Jacob: “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there, and make an altar there to G-d, Who appeared to you when you fled from Esau your brother.”
Let us try to understand this: If the punishment that Jacob incurred through the sin of Dinah was due to the fact that he did not fulfill his vow, then why – when G-d said to him: “Arise, go up to Bethel” – did He mention Jacob’s situation at that point (“when you fled from Esau your brother”) rather than the vow he had made? Furthermore, how was the negligence for which Jacob was criticized so grave? Had he not already set up an altar at Shechem, as it is written: “He set up an altar there and called it, ‘G-d, the G-d of Israel’ ” (Bereshith 33:20)? The commentators explain that he set up an altar to thank G-d for having saved him from Esau (see Rashi, Ramban and Rashbam). In fact even if Jacob did not immediately return to Bethel to fulfill the vow which he made, he nevertheless set up an altar!
In reality, this is quite simple to understand. A specific power has been given to man – the power of speech – and through it he can transform the mundane into something sacred, an animal into a burnt offering for example, sanctifying it and elevating it to the highest spiritual level. In short, he can transform mundane objects into sacred objects. This power is specific to Jews. In return, there is something that is demanded of Jews: “When you make a vow to Hashem your G-d, you shall not delay to pay it, for Hashem your G-d will demand it of you, and there will be a sin in you. … You shall observe and carry out what emerges from your lips, just as you vowed a voluntary gift to Hashem your G-d, whatever you spoke with your mouth” (Devarim 23:22-24). This contains both a positive and a negative commandment: “You shall observe” is a positive commandment, and “you shall not delay” is a negative commandment. To this the Torah adds still more: “Hashem your G-d will demand it of you.” Why such insistence? Because the power of speech, which was given to man, constitutes his essence. Thus Onkelos translated “the man became a living soul” (Bereshith 2:7) as “the man became a speaking soul.” Through speech, the power of holiness was bestowed upon man. Thus if a person carelessly uses this power, he will profane the breath of sanctity that was infused in man so as to make him a “speaking soul.”
However if a person develops the incredible power that he has been granted, then he will act on what he says, and it is certain that he will keep his word. Nevertheless, a person sometimes justifies himself with excuses such as “I didn’t really mean it,” “I tried but didn’t succeed,” or even, “Had I known that things would turn out this way, I would never have said that.” Sometimes a person will keep his word, but not in the proper way, keeping it “somewhat” or “more or less.” If asked what became of his promise, he will pretend that he doesn’t understand. He will respond with statements like, “Isn’t that more or less what I said?” as if to say: “Why are you nitpicking and being so strict with me?” However all these excuses and replies will not help him in the least, for if he has given his word, he is obligated to keep it. A person must keep his word! As long as words have not emerged from his mouth, as long as they have not breached his lips, he is not obligated to keep them. He can change his mind and his views. However as soon as a person has voiced them, he is obligated to respect and fulfill them, literally, without changing a thing!
Things are now clearer: When Jacob awoke, he was fleeing from his brother Esau. He therefore made a vow and set up a pillar in order to offer his sacrifices and pour out his libations. Yet because of delays and obstacles, he did not literally keep his word, although he did keep it in spirit: As promised, he set up altars and offered sacrifices – though not at Bethel – to thank the Creator for having appeared to him there and for saving him from Esau. It was for this reason that Jacob was punished, because he should have fulfilled his word to the letter.
The Ben Ish Hai therefore writes in regards to this subject, “A person must draw a great lesson here: Since Jacob, the greatest of the Patriarchs, was punished for not having fulfilled his vow on time, and since his piety was not enough to have saved him, how much more should each of us be scrupulous in this area and not take our words lightly when they concern sacred issues.”
Nevertheless, we have not yet explained how this is related to the story of Dinah. Where do we see conduct that was “measure-for-measure”? If we look more closely, however, we see a clear connection, for Rashi states: “The daughter of Leah. Not ‘the daughter of Jacob’? Yet because of her ‘going out,’ she is called ‘the daughter of Leah,’ for she [Leah] too, was in the habit of ‘going out,’ as it is said: ‘Leah went out to meet him’ [Bereshith 30:16].” The Midrash asks if it is fitting to compare these two “going out”s. Was the “going out” of Leah not justified, insofar as an extra tribe was obtained among the tribes of G-d as a result? The Sages derived an important principle here: “Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: A woman who solicits her husband to the [marital] obligation will have children the likes of whom did not exist even in the generation of Moshe. For of the generation of Moshe it is written, ‘Provide for yourselves men who are wise, understanding, and known’ [Devarim 1:13], which is followed by: ‘So I took the heads of your tribes, men who were wise and known’ [v.15]. However he could not find men of ‘understanding.’ As for Leah, Scripture writes: ‘Leah went out to meet him and said: “You must come to me, for I have hired you” ’ [Bereshith 30:16], and elsewhere it is written: ‘Of the children of Issachar, men with understanding of the times, to know what Israel should do’ [I Chronicles 12:33]” (Eruvin 100b).
As a result of her “going out” and request that Jacob should come with her, Leah merited sons like Issachar. Her “going out” was therefore something positive! That said, why was she criticized for it, as Rashi writes: “for she [Leah] too, was in the habit of ‘going out’ ”? The commentators explain that Leah actually had to “seek her husband.” However the proper way of going about this is described in tractate Eruvin, and in a very subtle way we see a lack of modesty on her part. The Ohr HaChaim is also greatly surprised by Leah’s conduct: “She had reasons to act in this way, but it was not exemplary conduct.” In other words, her way of doing things was inappropriate.
Thus the whole situation can be fully explained. In fact there was nothing more fitting and holy than Leah’s “going out.” However Dinah “took” this virtue and used it in the wrong way, for she “went out to look upon the daughters of the land.” Analyzing things very carefully shows that Jacob acted in the same way: He took what is most sacred in man, the power of speech, and used it improperly. These actions were thus identical! How greatly should a person make the most of the powers that G-d has given him for the sake of holiness and purity – not, G-d forbid, for other purposes that are inappropriate! In fact man, who is a divine spark, the crown of Creation and created in the image of G-d, should make the most of this aspect of holiness and purity in order to study Torah, perform good deeds, and give to charity – not, G-d forbid, for other purposes!
Guard Your Tongue
Things that Lead to Disputes
Also know that speech can be classified as Rechilut [talebearing] even if it is not said in the presence of the person in question. This would include, for example, someone who says: “I heard that Reuven said [such-and-such] about Shimon,” for such things – when spread from mouth to mouth – will lead to a dispute between Reuven and the person in question.
The Parable and its Meaning
From the Maggid of Dubno
What the Rich Man Found Difficult to Understand
Rabbi Shimon suffered from poverty and want for 30 years, during which time he could barely feed or clothe his children. Then, thank G-d, he suddenly and unexpectedly became rich! From then on, everything was possible for him, and his home was filled with great possessions and wealth. From that day forward, he stopped eating dry bread dipped in pungent oil, and his table began to look like that of a king. He was truly a wealthy man.
For the first few weeks, every fine meal that he ate brought him joy and happiness, a true pleasure! One month passed, then another, and on each day he treated himself to meat, fish, and all kinds of delicacies.
Six months passed, by which time he had already forgotten his days of poverty, having grown accustomed to eating meat and fish in abundance, which was now the norm for him. When Shabbat or a festival arrived, he lacked the pleasure which he used to have on Shabbat, for there was nothing new to bring him joy! This applied to the week as well, for if he attended a wedding or circumcision, he derived no joy from what was served. He had already grown accustomed to fine meals, having eaten them either on that day or the day before. He had grown used to it all, and his joy had disappeared.
When he first became rich, he was content and happy whenever he purchased a new suit. A month later and he was still buying clothes with joy. Yet after a year, all this happiness had faded. He felt neither satisfaction nor joy, for all his pleasure had vanished.
The poor man? The poor man dances for joy whenever he succeeds in acquiring a new pair of shoes. He handles them with joy and can look upon them for an entire hour!
The rich man? The rich man does not really derive satisfaction from new shoes. Why not? Because he has grown used to them.
This parable was offered by the Maggid of Dubno. What follows is his interpretation, which is presented in the book entitled Lehagid (“To Recount”):
Food, clothing, money, and all the possessions that surround man have no intrinsic value, for their importance stems from their absence. In fact if someone possesses fine armchairs and furniture, chandeliers of silver and gold, he will feel no difference – no “change of scenery” – upon finding them in the home of a wealthy man, nor will he derive any particular satisfaction from them. As for a poor man, who does not have these things in his own home, he will rejoice whenever he is surrounded by fine armchairs and furniture. Yet even he will only rejoice in these things if they remain rare and unusual. Once he grows accustomed to them, his joy will vanish.
To summarize, the importance of food and money, of rejoicing and sensual pleasure, only exists when they are not available at every possible moment.
This is precisely what King Solomon said in his wisdom: “Let your feet be scarce in your fellow’s house, lest he grow weary of you and comes to hate you” (Mishlei 25:17). These words, spoken by the wisest of all men, do not deal with food or material possessions, but rather with the bonds of affection and joy that can be established between friends. Even if people greatly value one another, frequent and unlimited contact will change the way they feel, and the great bond of friendship that connected them will vanish. This is how the world works!
He Won’t Be Seeing People Today
Let us illustrate this idea with a story: As a wealthy man was strolling between the benches in synagogue, he noticed among the faithful a poor man who seemed content and happy. He wondered, “What’s happening here? What’s making this poor fellow so happy?”
“He’s been put in charge of calling people up to the Torah for the entire year to come,” he was told.
“That’s what’s making him so happy?” he asked in surprise. “Look at how tattered his shoes are! He was only given a small responsibility, and yet he derives so much joy from it? A wealthy man such as myself only derives pleasure when I’m told of a large financial gain. Yet he rejoices in being given this responsibility, as if he had profited from who knows what!”
On the following day, as he was walking by the home of the wealthy man, this poor man tried his luck by knocking at his door to request a few cents of tzeddakah. The maid answered and said to him, “He’s not seeing anybody today.” The poor man asked, “What happened? Monday morning is usually when he sees people.”
The maid replied, “Yesterday a merchant spoke to him with disrespect, which hurt him. He remained upset all night long. Then, when he woke up this morning, he experienced a slight loss on the stock market. There’s nothing to discuss. He won’t be seeing people today.”
The poor man placed his head in his hands and thought, “Sovereign of the universe, how can that man be upset? He’s rich! I don’t even have a millionth of his wealth or happiness, his greatness or possessions! If only I had a quarter of what he has, I would be dancing for joy in the streets! Never would I even think of getting upset. I would be delighted and radiant from morning till night, and yet he’s upset and broken-hearted! It’s incredible, truly unbelievable!”
Both Were Right
The poor man could not comprehend his wealthy counterpart, which is understandable. As for the wealthy man, he was stunned by the poor man’s joy, which is also understandable. How could he rejoice in something so insignificant? One man could not understand the other.
This story comes to teach us that there is almost no absolute “good” in this world. Rather, all notions of “good” are relative. It is a general principle: Everything seems good to us as long as it is rare and attained through difficulty. However when possessions are close at hand, and we benefit from them for a long time, they lose their appeal. This is what King Solomon said, “What does a man gain from all his labor at which he labors under the sun?” (Kohelet 1:3). That is, what does he gain by trying to become wealthy, since wealth loses its appeal when a person grows accustomed to it?
A Torah of Life
Tell Me Your Name - (Part III)
The subject of names, which we have been discussing over the past few weeks, is quite vast. It extends over large areas and casts light on how we should select a name that befits a newborn. Naturally, we cannot include everything in this article, but we shall point out that some Torah giants advise people who ask them about this subject to select a name that has a connection to current events, especially a name mentioned in the parsha of the week in which the child was born.
The Rav of Ostrova advised a couple who had greatly suffered after losing each of their children shortly after birth. In their distress, their rushed to see the tzaddik and “promised” not to leave until he had given his word that their next child would live.
A year later, the wife gave birth to a girl. It was Parsha Nasso. To follow the Rav’s advice, the couple searched through the entire parsha, but could not find a name that was appropriate for a girl. Again, they burst into tears before the Rav and asked him for advice.
The Rav isolated himself in his office, and after a few minutes he emerged and said: “The name I found may not please you, but if she carries this name, she will live.”
The name which the Rav suggested was Tzlelponit, who was Samson’s mother, as mentioned in the haftarah. This name appears in a remark by the Maharshal: “It seems to me that Tzlelponit is Samson’s mother [Bava Batra 91a], and she appears in the Book of Chronicles at the end of Judah’s lineage. Her name is auspicious for defending against evil spiritual forces.”
A Segula for Longevity
The commonly found name Chaim is acceptable to give to someone who is ill. The name itself indicates that it is an addition, in order to merit a long and good life. Among Sephardic communities, people usually add the name Chai (after the expression chai chai hu yodea), and among the Jews of Yemen it is very common to find the name Yechiya, which means “life.”
As a segula for longevity, in Ashkenaz countries (as well as among the Jews of Tunisia) the name Alter (“elder”) is also given to newborns. The book Ta’amei HaMinhagim explains the reasoning behind this: It is meant to hide the newborn’s identity, so that the Satan has no power to harm him. The newborn will no longer appear as a child, but as an old man. As such, he will merit a long life and his name will be known as a blessing by all.
In his book Yosef Ometz, the Chida suggests giving a newborn a name that contains Hashem’s Name, this being a segula to educate children who will grow up to enjoy a long life. Such names include Samuel, Israel, Michael, Raphael, Eliyahu, and Joshua, as well as Yehoyada, Elkana, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Ovadia, Gedalia, and Elihu, or other names that designate angels: Raphael, Michael, Gabriel, and Uriel.
The book Zecher David explains why the names of these angels differ from other angel names, which we do not mention: “It is because these angels materialized and descended to earth at different times for the needs of men. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael came to see Abraham, while Uriel revealed himself to Manoah.”
Naturally, we must not neglect any of the names that express gratitude and praise for the Creator of the universe, names such as Elchanan, Elnatan, Yehuda, Hodaya, and others.
We find support for this custom in the Ramban’s commentary on Bereshith 33:20, where he writes: “Know that it was the custom in Israel that names be called which are indicative of the praises of G-d, such as Tzuriel [G-d is my rock] and Tzurishaddai [the Almighty is my rock], for one who calls this name declares that G-d is his rock and the Almighty is his rock. Likewise Immanuel [G-d is with us], as well as the name of Mashiach, who will be called Hashem is our Righteousness [Jeremiah 23:6], and Jerusalem will be Hashem is There [Ezekiel 48:35]. Likewise for the names of the angels: Gabriel [G-d is my strength] and Michael [who is like G-d], for on account of their great power, they proclaim with their very name that strength belongs to G-d, and who is like Him!”
The name of Mashiach, as the Ramban indicates, possesses greatness. In fact we often find the name Mashiach among Bukharian Jews. Among Tunisian Jews we find the name Tzemach, and in other communities the name Menachem is widespread, as well as Yinon, all these being names of Mashiach, may he come speedily and in our days.
The name Joseph, which in passing is the most common name among the Jewish people, has the ability to protect against the evil eye. The Gemara mentions a formula that a person should recite if he fears the evil eye: “I [so-and-so] am a descendant of Joseph, over whom the evil eye has no power” (Berachot 55b).
The names of animals have also been given to people, mostly in Ashkenaz countries, bringing us to another segula that originates from the Beit HaMidrash of the Chida:
“In Italy, people sometimes name their children after animals, for some say that they have a tradition that this protects them from serious illnesses. Hence the names Tzvi [deer], Ayil [ram], and Aryeh [lion].”
Along the same lines, we also find the following remark in the book Zecher David: “I have found it written that those whose children are no longer alive name their next children after an animal, such as Tzvi. This is a sure solution.”
Among the animal names that are given to people, we find Aryeh, Tzvi, Dov (“bear”), Re’em (and in Yiddish the names Bear, Leib, Wolf, and Hirsch are also given). In Jewish history we find that one of the Ba’alei HaTosaphot was called Schorr (ox), namely Rabbeinu Yosef Bechor Schorr of France (cited in Makkot 6a).
On the other hand, names of domestic animals are not common, except for Rabbeinu Yosef Bechor Schorr among the Ba’alei HaTosafot. On a completely different note, the name Chamor has a negative connotation in regards to the story of Shechem the son of Chamor. However Chamor evokes another name that was common in the 1930s, during which time there was a famous doctor whose last name was Shalem. Dr. Shalem specialized in human and animal illnesses, and it wasn’t surprising that everyone called him a “doctor of man and animal.” When his first son was born, he loved animals so much that he wanted to call him Chamor.
Granted, we can say that among animal names, there are some that are more appealing than others! However this scholarly physician believed that the donkey [chamor] was much more intelligent than other animals.
The story from Jerusalem is that if his wife had not refused, Dr. Shalem would have had a son named Chamor Shalem.
At the Source
Why Such Fear?
It is written, “Jacob became very frightened, and it distressed him” (Bereshith 32:8).
Rashi explains: “[Jacob] became very frightened – lest he be killed; and it distressed him – lest he kill others.” Here the Maharal Tzintz asks: What did it matter to Jacob if he killed, since it is a Halachah that killing is permissible in legitimate self-defense?
He gives a marvelous explanation: The only reason that Jacob acquired the birthright from Esau was because of the service in the Temple, which was reserved for the firstborn. Now it is a Halachah that a kohen who has killed cannot perform the Birkat Kohanim (priestly blessing).
All of Esau’s hatred for Jacob was on account of the birthright. Now if Jacob killed Esau, it would have made him completely unfit to carry out the service in the Temple, meaning that he would have gained nothing by having acquired the birthright.
That is why Jacob was so afraid of killing.
Reason to Fear
It is written, “Jacob became very frightened, and it distressed him” (Bereshith 32:8).
Why was Jacob so afraid?
The great men of Chassidut have explained that Jacob was worried because he was forced to “divide the people” – meaning that division and separation reigned among the people, with no restraint. Jacob knew that as long as the Children of Israel were united, Esau would have no power over them. However if they were divided into different camps, there was reason to fear him.
This applies to our generation as well.
It is written, “He fell on his neck and kissed him” (Bereshith 33:4).
How great is the power of bribery!
The wicked Esau held a grudge against his brother throughout those 36 years, constantly looking for a way to kill him.
The Sages tell us that Jacob sent messengers to Esau, who returned and said that Esau had maintained his hatred for him, meaning that nothing had changed. Nevertheless, as soon as Jacob humbly prostrated himself before Esau and addressed him as “my lord,” he was immediately placated and his hatred disappeared. In fact he even fell on Jacob’s neck and kissed him!
From here the book Melitz Yosher learns just how powerful bribery is. Indeed, it is man’s weakness.
Signs of Pride
It is written, “Esau said, ‘I have much’ ” (Bereshith 33:9).
From here Rabbeinu Bechaye perceives the great pride that filled Esau, saying: “Esau spoke with pride and haughtiness. In examining these verses, we see that Jacob spoke to him at length, whereas Esau spoke in brief, which is a sign of pride. This goes without mentioning the fact that Jacob mentioned G-d at every opportunity, saying: ‘The children whom G-d has graciously given to your servant’ and ‘like seeing the face of G-d.’ As for Esau, we do not find him mentioning G-d at all.”
It is written, “The days of Isaac were…” (Bereshith 35:28).
The Ohr HaChaim asks why the term chaim (“life”) is not used in regards to Isaac, as it is for Abraham and Jacob.
He states, “From the day that Isaac was born until the Akeidah, he had no wife, and the Sages say: ‘A man who has no wife lives without…chaim [life]’ [Kohelet Rabba 9:8]. Starting from the Akeidah, the Midrash says that Isaac’s eyes began to weaken, which is why the verse does not use the term chaim in regards to him.
It is written, “[Jacob sent] 200 she-goats and 20 he-goats, 200 ewes and 20 rams” (Bereshith 32:15).
I heard from my grandfather Zatzal that Jacob was alluding to something in the number of animals which he sent, namely a number equivalent to Seir, whose value is 580.
That is why he sent 440 goats and ewes, as well as 30 camels with their young, which made 60. In other words, 500. He also sent 40 cows and 10 bulls, as well as 20 she-donkeys and 10 donkeys. This came to 580, in order to diminish his [Esau’s] power.
– Ohr HaChaim
In the Light of the Parsha
From the Teachings of the Gaon and Tzaddik Rabbi David Hanania Pinto Shlita
Hashem’s Great Kindness
It is written, “Let me go, for dawn has broken” (Bereshith 32:27).
In the Gemara the Sages teach, “He [Jacob] said to him [Esau’s ministering angel], ‘Are you a thief or a rogue, that you are afraid of the morning?’ He replied, ‘I am an angel, and since the day I was created, my time to sing praises has not come until now’ ” (Chullin 91b).
This is surprising. Normally when a person has spent his entire life waiting for the king – who has not yet appeared – what will he do if the king’s servants come to him and say: “Tomorrow the king will come to see you”? He will take out pen and paper, and he will write down the things he should say. In this way, when the king meets him, he can speak in a calm and composed manner. Will he decide to travel far away at that point, thinking that he has time because the king has not yet arrived? He might encounter thieves or wild animals on the road!
This is similar to what Esau’s ministering angel did. He knew that he had to sing praises on that day, so why did he go off and fight Jacob?
From here we learn the great goodness of the Holy One, blessed be He. From the day that the world was created, He knew that Esau’s ministering angel would have to sing praises before Him uniquely on that day. Thus on that very same day, He sent him to earth in order to fight Jacob. Why? So that Esau’s ministering angel would not have time to think before singing praises, thereby preventing him from accusing the Children of Israel!
If this angel would have had time to prepare, he could have accused Israel. Yet since he descended and had no time left, he couldn’t say a thing, for he didn’t have the words readily in his mouth, not having thought about them beforehand. Thus he could only sing praises.