July 20th 2013
av 13th 5773
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Gratitude Leads to Cleaving to G-d and Mitzvot
by Rabbi David Hanania Pinto Shlita
It is written, “You who cleave to Hashem your G-d, you are all alive today” (Devarim 4:4).
The Sages have asked, “Is it possible for a human being to walk after the Shechinah, for has it not been said: ‘Hashem your G-d is a devouring fire’ [Devarim 4:24]? However [the meaning is] to walk after the attributes of the Holy One, blessed be He. Just as He clothes the naked, as it is written: ‘Hashem G-d made for Adam and for his wife garments of skin and clothed them’ [Bereshith 3:21], so should you clothe the naked. The Holy One, blessed be He, visited the sick, as it is written: ‘Hashem appeared to him by the plains of Mamre’ [ibid. 18:1], so should you visit the sick” (Sotah 14a).
This requires an explanation, for how is it possible to ask a person to attain the same level of compassion that Hashem has towards His creations?
It seems that due to our numerous sins, a person is always in a state of change and flux. Sometimes he prays well and with great concentration, which has an immediate influence on the rest of his activities during the day, such as when he returns home from synagogue in joy. At other times, however, he gets up “on the wrong side of the bed,” and is sad throughout the day, feeling tired despite having slept for the entire night. At that point, he will also start praying without motivation and concentration, looking at his watch every few minutes to see when the service will finally be over. It seems to him like an intolerable burden.
Likewise, in regards to learning Torah, a person’s behavior is also constantly changing. Sometimes he adheres to a fixed learning schedule, and sometimes he has a tendency to ignore it. The same applies to the observance of mitzvot as well, for sometimes he fulfills them with great enthusiasm, appreciating and valuing their importance, yet at other times he pays no attention to them – and worse still, he may even reject them.
We really need to examine this issue in detail. How is it possible for a person – for whom it is as clear as day that there is a Creator of the universe, and that it is proper to serve and revere the Ruler of the world – to change his behavior so often by vacillating from one point of view to another?
We shall attempt to explain. Cleaving to G-d means being devoted to Him and trying to emulate His ways. This is only possible when a person is grateful for all the benefits that he receives from Him. However gratitude towards the Creator of the universe must be sincere, not just expressed superficially. It should be exactly as if a person were sincerely thanking someone who had saved the life of his son. In that case, he would be ready to kiss his feet out of gratitude.
This is how a person should behave when he feels gratitude for the benefits that the Holy One, blessed be He, has granted him and his family at every instant. In that case, there will never be enough time to thank the Creator of the universe, the result being that he will always cleave to G-d and never change.
For example, several times a day we say a polite “hello,” “how are you,” or “goodnight,” to people around us, since they also say the same to us. How much more should we thank, praise and make the Creator our king, the One Who from morning till night grants us innumerable benefits at each instant!
This is what Moshe Rabbeinu told the Children of Israel: “You who cleave to Hashem your G-d, you are all alive today,” meaning that when we constantly thank the Creator for all of His kindnesses, we will automatically merit living before Him constantly, in this world and in the World to Come, and to remain attached to Him.
In fact a man who is grateful to the Creator of the universe – Who dwells in him and helps him each day in all his ways and endeavors – will merit to cleave to Him. This is a very simple concept: A man who thanks Hashem for all of His kindnesses, and who is grateful to Him, will necessarily resemble Him, for he cleaves to His middot [attributes] on his own.
This idea is alluded to in the verse, “You who cleave.” The term hadevekim (“who cleave”) contains the letters forming the words middah and modeh. This means that it is precisely when a person possesses the middah (attribute) of modeh (thanking) the Holy One, blessed be He, that he will merit to constantly cleave to Him. Such a person will always live before Him, as it says: “you are all alive today.” As we have said, it is only in this way that man can acknowledge the benefits of the Creator and thank Him for all His kindnesses, and that he can continuously cleave to Him. In that case, he will automatically stop vacillating, and will constantly remain in the same path. In every situation, be it good or bad, in his heart he will constantly believe in Hashem.
The Words of the Sages
How to “Bring a Soul” into Man
It is written, “You shall hearken, O Israel, and beware to perform” (Devarim 6:3).
One day, at an especially propitious time, the Maggid Rabbi Reuven Karlenstein Shlita asked the gaon and tzaddik Rabbi Shalom Schwadron Zatzal: “Teach us how to ‘bring a soul’ into man.”
Rabbi Shalom answered as follows: “Thousands of years ago, at the creation of the world, Cain wanted to kill his brother Abel. We’re all familiar with the story. However he didn’t know how to do it, since nobody had ever been killed by someone else. What did he do? He began to injure Abel’s body, striking him without pity. He cut off his fingers, then sliced off his hands, but Abel was still alive. However he suffered indescribable pain as a result of Cain’s actions.
“What did the Holy One, blessed be He, do in His great compassion? He sent a bird which pierced the neck of another bird and killed it. When Cain saw this, he hastened to cut Abel’s neck, and shortly thereafter Abel rendered his soul and was spared further agony.
“Since then,” said Rabbi Shalom Schwadron, “we know how to remove a man’s soul from his body. But how to bring a soul into it, that we don’t know.”
He added, “You see, Rabbi Reuven, a person does not realize what influence his words can have on the soul of another. Sometimes, a vort [short Torah discourse], or even a lighthearted remark can accomplish great things.”
He then finished his explanation by recounting the following story:
We Also Want One!
One day many years ago, I was invited for Shabbat to the home of my daughter, who lives in Kiryat Gat. In the middle of the Friday night meal, we heard someone knocking at the door. A family member quickly went to open it, and there he saw a gabbai from one of the local synagogues. This gabbai explained that upon hearing that I was going to be in Kiryat Gat for Shabbat, he decided that he would ask me to speak to the members of his community after the meal. In principle, I was not expecting such a request, meaning that I had nothing prepared. However I couldn’t refuse, and I relied on the fact that with Hashem’s help, I would find something to say when standing before the public.
I finished the meal and recited Birkat Hamazon, then proceeded to the synagogue, which was filled with people. I immediately began to speak. It wasn’t an impressive discourse that I gave, nor was it well-structured and logically self-consistent. Rather, it was comprised of a few things taken from here and there. Here a vort on the parsha, there a nice story with a parable and its lesson, as I was used to telling. In the middle of my discourse, I asked the public a question:
“Tell me, gentlemen, do you know why, in the recent past, people have started celebrating a ‘Bat Mitzvah’ for girls? It’s something that our ancestors never even conceived of! In the past, the norm was to make a ‘Bar Mitzvah’ meal for boys who reached the age of 13, but today the custom has even spread to girls who reach the age of 12. Why? What’s the reason for this?”
Naturally, the audience had no answer to this question, which had swooped down on them without warning. At that point I said to them, “I will tell you what this means, where this custom comes from. In the past, when every Jewish boy reached the age of 13, he began to observe mitzvot, putting on tefillin and learning Torah. This does not happen for a girl who reaches the age of mitzvot. She does not put on tefillin or learn Torah, which is why we only have a Bar Mitzvah for boys. For girls, there is no special ceremony when they reach the age of mitzvot. Yet today, to our great regret, girls see that even boys who reach the age of mitzvot do not put on tefillin or learn Torah, and yet the custom is to give them a Bar Mitzvah. Girls then say, ‘In that case, we also want a “Bar Mitzvah.” How are we different from the boys?’ ”
A Lighthearted Remark
A few years ago, a Jew approached me and started up a conversation:
“Dear Rabbi, you don’t know me. I’m from Kiryat Gat. I once attended a talk that you gave in town one Friday night. Among other things, you made a lighthearted remark: In our time, why have people started observing a ‘Bat Mitzvah’ ceremony for girls, just like for boys? You should know, dear Rabbi, that this sad, lighthearted remark you made had a profound effect on me. I thought to myself that it wasn’t possible for my sons to reach the age of mitzvot without any difference between them and my daughters, since my daughters don’t put on tefillin, and my sons won’t either.
“The following day, Shabbat, I got up and asked my sons to start observing mitzvot and to wear tefillin, which is precisely what they started doing. Now ‘one mitzvah leads to another,’ and after a certain time they also went to learn at a religious school, along with all that this entailed. This had an effect on the entire family, and we eventually all decided to do complete teshuvah. Thank G-d, today we all observe Torah and mitzvot in the smallest of detail. All this happened on account of a lighthearted remark that you made in your talk.”
Rabbi Shalom Schwadron completed his account by telling Rabbi Reuven, “And so, as you can see, we do know how to take away someone’s soul, but how to give him a soul, that we don’t know how to do. After all, who would have thought that a lighthearted remark told in passing on a Friday night, during a completely unprepared speech, would lead an entire Jewish family into doing teshuvah!”
Guard Your Tongue
The Grave Sin of Rechilut
One who speaks Rechilut about his fellow violates a Torah prohibition: “You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people” [Vayikra 19:16]. This is a grave sin that can cost numerous Jewish lives, which is why the Torah continues: “You shall not stand over [i.e., allow the shedding of] the blood of your fellow” (ibid.).
We may learn from what happened as a result of the Rechilut spoken by Doeg the Edomite, who caused the violent death of all the inhabitants of Nov, the city of the kohanim.
– Chafetz Chaim
At the Source
In Everything He Does
It is written, “You shall greatly beware for your souls” (Devarim 4:15).
The Chafetz Chaim asks the following question: Why does the Torah advise us to be careful about our bodies by saying “beware for your souls”?
In answering this question, the Chafetz Chaim derives a great principle in serving Hashem:
This teaches us that when a person is occupied with his body, such as when he is eating, drinking, or earning a living, he should think carefully about his actions, such that they do not harm his soul. Hence the verse states, “You shall greatly beware for your souls.”
Regardless of what a person is about to do, he must first ask himself if it involves anything forbidden, anything contrary to the will of the One Who sent him. In fact man is not his own master; he has been sent by Hashem to carry out His will, and he must have this alone in mind during all his actions. Even when he is occupied with the needs of his body, such as when he is eating or drinking, he must realize that this is all part of his mission, that this too is Hashem’s will, to sustain his life. He must realize that he must only eat food when it is clearly kosher, that he must only involve himself in a business deal when it is completely aboveboard. Otherwise, he must get away!
Contemplating His Deeds
It is written, “You shall love Hashem your G-d with all your heart” (Devarim 6:5).
How does one love Hashem and fear Him?
The Rambam (Yesodei HaTorah 2:2) formulated this with great clarity:
“When a person contemplates His wondrous and great deeds and creations, and he appreciates His infinite wisdom that surpasses all comparison, he will immediately love, praise, and glorify [Him], yearning with tremendous desire to know His great Name, as David said: ‘My soul thirsts for G-d, for the living G-d’ [Tehillim 42:3].
“When he reflects upon these same matters, he will immediately recoil in awe and fear, appreciating how he is a tiny, lowly, and dark creature, standing with his flimsy, limited wisdom before He Who is of perfect knowledge, as David stated: ‘When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers...what is man, that You should remember Him?’ [Tehillim 8:4-5].”
It is written, “Keep the Sabbath day to sanctify it” (Devarim 5:12).
Contrary to the first version of the Ten Commandments, found in Parsha Yitro, where it is said: “Remember the Sabbath day,” in the second version (found in this week’s parsha), it is said: “Keep the Sabbath day.”
The Shach explains that the first version consists of Hashem’s words, which is why it says: “Remember.” However the second version consists of the words of Moshe Rabbeinu, a human being. As such, it was not appropriate for him to say “remember,” but rather “keep,” in the sense of awaiting, as in: “His father kept the matter in mind” (Bereshith 37:11). That is, we must carefully await the arrival of Shabbat, just like someone who awaits the arrival of the king, preparing all the necessary food and drinks in his honor.
Dulling the Heart
It is written, “When Hashem your G-d brings you into the land…beware for yourself lest you forget Hashem your G-d” (Devarim 6:10-12).
Why was there the fear that upon entering Eretz Israel, the Children of Israel would forget Hashem, such that they were being warned about it?
Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Yaffe, the Av Beit Din of Ruzhany, explains this in accordance with the Halachah (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 81:7) which states that a baby may be breastfed by a non-Jewish woman, but that doing so will dull its heart.
The Sages say that during the seven years in which the Children of Israel conquered Eretz Israel after entering it, they were permitted to eat forbidden food (Chullin 17a). This permission, however, was only temporary. The above verse hints that even if this was permitted according to the strict letter of the law, in reality it was liable to dull the heart.
Hence the verse means: Once you enter Eretz Israel and find “houses filled with every good thing” (Devarim 6:11) – including forbidden food – then even if you are permitted to eat it, nevertheless “beware for yourself lest you forget Hashem your G-d,” for forbidden food dulls the heart.
It is written, “We remained be’gai [in the valley], opposite Beth Peor” (Devarim 3:29).
The Gemara states, “Upon seeing the houses of idolaters, when inhabited, one says: ‘Hashem will uproot the house of the arrogant’ [Mishlei 15:25]” (Berachot 58a).
Now Beth Peor was an idol, something which is alluded to in the term be’gai (“in the valley”), this being the initials of Beit Gai’im Yisach Ad-nai (“Hashem will uproot the house of the arrogant”), a place of idolatry.
– Nitzotzei Shimshon
It is written, “You shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates” (Devarim 6:9).
We know that the mitzvah of the mezuzah protects the home from all kinds of evil and against all forces of impurity and demons. Our holy books state that the term mezuzat is formed by the same letters as zaz mavet (“pushing away death”).
The Sages have said that children die as punishment for the sin of neglecting the mezuzah, but that death is pushed away from the home of one who is careful about this mitzvah (Shabbat 32b). Hence we write the Name Sh-dai inside the mezuzah, this Name being formed by the initials of Shomer Daltot Israel (“Guardian of the Gates of Israel.”). When forces of impurity see this Name written in the mezuzah, they flee from that door.
– Sha’ar Bat Rabim
In the Light of the Parsha
From the Teachings of the Gaon and Tzaddik Rabbi David Pinto Shlita
The Power of Prayer
It is written, “And I implored Hashem at that time” (Devarim 3:23).
Moshe Rabbeinu prayed 515 times at one time before the Holy One, blessed be He, beseeched Him to answer his prayer. Our Sages in the Midrash state that the term va’etchanan (“and I implored”) has a numerical value of 515 (Devarim Rabba 11:10), and our holy books state that if Moshe had prayed just once more, his prayer would have immediately been granted.
This is why the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moshe: “Speak to Me no further about this” (Devarim 3:26). Let us think for a moment: If Moshe Rabbeinu knew that his prayers would be useless, then why did he pray so much? And if he knew that a single extra prayer would have been effective, then why did he not make it? It seems that we may explain this according to what our Sages say on the verse, “Moshe descended from the mountain to the people” (Shemot 19:14): “This teaches that Moshe did not turn to his own affairs, but [went directly] from the mountain to the people” (Mechilta, Yitro BaChodesh 3).
This is how Moshe Rabbeinu acted throughout his life. Even when he was praying, it was not for himself that he prayed, but for the Children of Israel, and he included himself among them. All the prayers that he uttered were for them alone. Hence the verse uses the term va’etchanan, written in the future tense, to hint to us that Moshe had not yet prayed. And when he prays, “at that time,” teaches us that the Children of Israel will only be delivered by the prayers that Moshe said for them. This is why he prayed 515 times, and it is why he will pray again in the future, a prayer that will be immediately granted. At that point the Children of Israel will be delivered by the merit of this extra prayer, one made in addition to the 515 others.
The Memory of the Tzaddik is a Blessing
Rabbi Yehuda Pinto, Known as Rabbi Hadan
The great void left behind by Rabbi Haim Pinto Hagadol, may his merit protect us, was quickly filled by his son, the tzaddik Rabbi Yehuda Pinto, may his merit protect us. Known as Rabbi Hadan, he became famous for his zeal in the observance of mitzvot. In fact the words of the Tanna, “Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and strong as a lion to carry out the will of your Father in Heaven” (Pirkei Avoth 5:20) were fulfilled in him.
Rabbi Hadan became famous for his greatness in Torah and Kabbalah. He studied holy books with incredible diligence both day and night. He was also a tzaddik, a very pious man, and performed miracles to help people. Many were those who came to see him for his blessing.
His wisdom and intelligence in all areas of life led the greatest dignitaries of the city and country to his home. Foreign delegates and ambassadors were among those who lined up at his door, hoping to obtain advice on various relevant issues. In the greatness of his heart and in his wisdom, Rabbi Hadan, may his merit protect us, would give useful advice to whoever addressed him, be it spiritually or materially, not to mention his prayers for all Jews who asked to be delivered from distress and shown compassion.
Rabbi Hadan also inherited the attribute of generosity from his father, a desire to help others, which he naturally had flowing in his veins, throughout his 248 limbs and 365 sinews. Thus for example, it is said that he distributed all his goods to the poor as tzeddakah.
Rabbi Hadan was careful not to go to bed at night if a single penny remained in his pocket. If it did, he would quickly make sure to distribute it to the poor.
To the children of the poor who reached the age of Bar Mitzvah, he would purchase a tallit, tefillin, clothes and food so they could celebrate it properly, without lack and without worries. When boys had grown and the time had come for them to get married, it was Rabbi Hadan who saw to the important mitzvah of Hachnasat Kallah.
A Vow Made at Sea
The following story is told in the book Shevach Haim: Rabbi Hadan, may his merit protect us, carried the crown of a good name among his generation, his good heart and fine character traits being like rare pearls that shined in all their brilliance. One of his special customs, which was famous at the time, was to accompany anyone leaving the city, be it for business, for questions of health, or for any other reason.
The following story took place when two merchants, the chacham Bihou and Rabbi Yosef Elmaliach, wanted to travel to England by sea for business. The tzaddik Rabbi Hadan went to accompany them to their ships.
When the chacham Bihou saw Rabbi Hadan, he thought that the Rav was coming to ask them for tzeddakah, and so he made a disparaging remark about Rabbi Hadan. The latter heard this insult, but endured it in silence. He didn’t say a word, but it caused him a great deal of pain. “Why did the chacham think that it was good to humiliate me like this?” he thought as he continued on his way, as if nothing had happened.
Rabbi Hadan returned home mortified. This embarrassment had affected his health, and he began to cough up blood. The tzaddik’s servant suggested that he go up to the roof to get some fresh air, hoping that it would help him feel better.
On the roof, which overlooked the beach of Mogador, the two of them saw commercial ships sailing away in the distance.
“Whose ships are those?” Rabbi Hadan asked his servant. He replied that they belonged to the chacham Bihou. One boat contained his merchandise, while the other contained passengers.
Rabbi Hadan reflected for a moment and said, “Just as he caused me tremendous pain, to the point that I coughed up blood, may Hashem cause the boat with all of his merchandise to be burned by fire, while the second boat will be saved with no one harmed in any way.”
That is precisely what happened. Not long afterwards, the boat carrying merchandise was ravaged by fire and sunk without leaving a trace.
Rabbi Hadan’s servant, who was present when all this happened, ran with all haste to the home of the chacham Bihou. There he told his wife what had happened, how Rabbi Hadan had coughed up blood because of what her husband had said, and what had occurred to his ship.
The chacham Bihou’s wife rushed to see the Rav, begging for the life of her husband to be spared. She asked the Rav to save him, to ensure that no harm would come to him. However the Rav replied, “I cannot do that. What emerged from my mouth is like a bullet: As soon as it is fired, it can no longer be taken back. The main thing, however, is that no harm will come to the ship on which your husband is traveling.”
A month passed, and the chacham Bihou returned to Mogador by sea, with five ships accompanying him. Thoughts of his family had filled him with longing and joy. But catastrophe struck! All of a sudden, a storm arose at sea and threatened the ships and its passengers. The wind was so ferocious that everyone aboard thought that their ship would sink within a few seconds.
At that disastrous point, the chacham Bihou thought of the tzaddik Rabbi Haim Pinto, may his merit protect us, and he began to pray to Hashem from the depths of his heart. He said that if he were to be saved by the merit of the tzaddik, the would give the tzaddik’s son, Rabbi Hadan, 50 rials as well as a watch and chain of pure gold.
His prayer was answered. The boat was spared, and the chacham Bihou returned home safe and sound. Many residents of the city rushed to his home to welcome him back. Caught up in the celebration, he forgot about the vow he had made in his distress.
At that point Rabbi Hadan, may his merit protect us, was sleeping. In his dream, his father Rabbi Haim appeared to him and said: “Get up, my son, and quickly make your way to the home of the chacham Bihou. Remind him of the vow that he made at sea, and tell him that he must now fulfill it.”
When Rabbi Hadan awoke, he hurried to the home of the chacham Bihou. Upon entering, the tzaddik described to the chacham Bihou the miracle that he had experienced at sea. At the end of his account, he said to him: “You made a vow, and now you have to fulfill it in its entirety.”
The chacham Bihou, who had already forgotten his vow, was stunned, for how could the Rav have known about it? He asked him, “Who told you all this?”
“My father Rabbi Haim appeared to me in a dream and told me everything,” replied the tzaddik.
The chacham Bihou arose with great emotion, with a tremendous sense of wonderment, and kissed the Rav as a sign of admiration and respect. He fulfilled his vow on the spot, giving the Rav what he had promised in his vow.
The gaon, tzaddik, and kabbalist Rabbi Hadan, may his merit protect us, departed for the Celestial Academy on Av 16, 5641. His grave is located in the new cemetery of Mogador, and inscribed on his tombstone are the following words: “Here lies the chacham endowed with every virtue, who conferred merit upon the community, zealous in mitzvot, of holy lineage, our teacher Rabbi Yehuda Pinto, may his merit protect us, who rendered his soul on Av 16, 5641.”