january 11th 2014
shvat 10th 5774
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A Single Thought of Repentance
by Rabbi David Hanania Pinto Shlita
The Torah describes the exodus from Egypt by underlining the order in which events unfolded, for we can draw a tremendous number of lessons from each verse. The Egyptians were hastily liberating the Children of Israel, who had already been calling for this liberation long beforehand. The long-awaited time finally arrives, and the Children of Israel leave Egypt. Yet as soon at that happens, the Egyptians arise and pursue them. Is this conceivable? What about everything that had happened until now? In regards to Pharaoh and his servants, the verse states that G-d hardened their hearts in order to punish them. Yet that is not said in regards to the rest of the Egyptians, so why were they not opposed to pursuing them? In fact they even placed soldiers and horses at Pharaoh’s disposition!
During that time, the Children of Israel fled from Egypt. They left on that very same day, carrying with them all the wealth they had taken in Egypt. They arrived before the sea and looked behind them to see Egyptian horses rushing their way. They found themselves between a rock and a hard place: The Egyptians pursuing them and the sea before them. There was no longer any way out. It was then that Moshe cried out and one of the greatest and most famous miracles in history took place for the Children of Israel, the miracle of the splitting of the Sea of Reeds. It split into twelve parts as the people passed through the midst of the water on dry ground. Yet that was not all, for during that time all the surrounding gardens and vineyards suddenly dried up, whereas the Egyptians drowned in the sea. Thus all Israel, the male and female slaves, the erev rav (“mixed multitude”), and the skeptics alongside the great men of Israel, the righteous ones, and the leaders of the nation, saw the hand of G-d in all its power. They reached the pinnacle of faith, as Rashi states in citing the Mechilta: “A maidservant at the sea saw what the prophets did not see” (Mechilta 20:15). It was then that Moshe arose and praised G-d through song. What an extraordinary event! The entire people joined in this song, without any preparation or prior coordination, as it is written: “Then Moshe and the Children of Israel sang” (Shemot 15:1). A spirit of prophesy infused the people as a whole, with everyone singing the very same song.
Let us point out something else that is extraordinary: Although the entire Jewish people had barely left Egypt, having just emerged from the 49 gates of impurity, they already benefited from prophesy! (Indeed, while still by the sea, the ministering angels cried out to G-d and asked, “What is the difference between them [the Egyptians and Israelites]? These are idolaters and those are idolaters!”) Just a moment earlier, they were still awash in the abominations of Egypt, in its impurity and witchcraft, and yet now they were uttering a song to G-d, even before receiving the Torah! How could that be? It’s astounding!
Here the Torah is revealing to us the extent of man’s power, for in a single instant he can go from evil to good, from a state of wickedness to a state of righteousness. Along the same lines, we read in the Gemara: “[If a man betroths a woman by saying,] ‘On condition that I am righteous,’ then even if he is absolutely wicked, she is betrothed” (Kiddushin 49b). Let us reflect upon the Gemara’s words: A man is about to marry a woman, but he makes it conditional by saying: “You are betrothed to me on condition that I am righteous.” He does not say “average,” nor does he say “religious.” Rather, he specifies “righteous,” nothing less. Even if he is absolutely wicked, meaning not “slightly wicked” – not someone who acts as he should for the most part, yet stumbles from time to time – but someone who is “absolutely wicked,” she is still betrothed to him. How so? The Gemara explains that it is because “he may have had a thought of repentance” (ibid.). In fact if he reflects, he can go from a state of impurity to a state of purity in an instant, immediately proceeding from wickedness to righteousness. This is precisely what happened to the Children of Israel: When they experienced a Divine revelation with their own eyes – when they saw the miracles and wonders at the sea when the heavens opened up, and they pointed to Him with a finger and said: “This is my G-d, and I will praise Him” (Shemot 15:2) – they felt such complete faith that they were able to elevate themselves and reach a true degree of prophesy. Such is the power of man: He can climb to the greatest heights in an instant. A single thought can make the difference between a ba’al teshuvah – next to whom even tzaddikim cannot stand – and a complete evildoer.
All this comes to teach us that “a single thought of mussar” is incredibly powerful. “A single thought of repentance” carries tremendous weight.
Let us go further: Even a burst of repentance can quickly fade if a person does not adhere to it, as we saw with the Egyptians. Soon after the death of the firstborn, a few days after having released (of their own freewill) the Children of Israel in order to stop the plagues, the Egyptians forgot everything and went out to capture them. Such is the nature of man: He forgets quickly. The same applies to the Children of Israel, for just after their tremendous spiritual elevation at the Sea of Reeds, they began to complain at Marah. Furthermore, they committed the sin of the golden calf after the giving of the Torah. We therefore learn that if a person puts no effort into maintaining the spiritual level that he has attained, he will finish by losing it, for spiritual gains easily evaporate. All the spiritual heights that a person attains, even if he has worked hard for them, are as fragile as a glass container, especially if given to him as a gift, as was the case when the sea spilt for the generation of the desert, or when the Torah was given to the Children of Israel.
We must draw a tremendously important lesson from all this: We have a great obligation to work each day at preserving what we have, to engage in serious reflection! Even if we have merited to progress and elevate ourselves spiritually, we must not be complacent. We must not be satisfied with our gains and rest on our laurels. We must continue to study and persevere, to battle and deepen our understanding, to fight and improve ourselves. This is the only way in which we can defeat our evil inclination and thus inherit the “310 worlds” promised by G-d to those who love Him.
Guard Your Tongue
Why Did You Help Him?
We must also be careful, if we have asked someone to help us and he says that he cannot, not to say to him: “Why did you help so-and-so? He himself told me that you helped him!” It often happens that if we respond in this way, we will arouse resentment in his heart towards that friend for having said how he helped him.
– Chafetz Chaim
The Words of the Sages
How Yeshiva Students Contributed
Hashem is a Warrior
The Maggid of Jerusalem, the gaon Rabbi Shabsi Yudelevitz Zatzal, recounted the following story:
After the Six Day War, I was approached by a young, resourceful man who served as a soldier in the army.
He said to me, “Rabbi Shabsi, I want you to say a few words to the soldiers. Come and strengthen them in their fear of Heaven.”
“Leave me be,” I said in attempting to dodge his request. However it was useless.
He sent me numerous requests, and I eventually agreed to come and speak a little Torah to the soldiers. On my way to the military base, I thought that only a few dozen soldiers would be assembled. Yet when I arrived, I was in for a shock: There were not dozens, but hundreds, even thousands of soldiers!
They were all seated and waiting, in uniform with their insignias on their shoulder. Believe it or not, there was great arrogance in the military at that time. During that era, the IDF enjoyed sacred status, one that garnered enormous respect from the public. I was about to turn back, but I didn’t have any choice at that point, and so I entered the hall.
I sat down at the place reserved for me, and naturally I was immersed in thought as I prepared myself to speak. Yet at the same time, I happened to catch what the commanding officer was saying in his speech. He spoke with pride about various military subjects, which gave me enough time to think about what I was going to say.
All of a sudden, towards the end of his talk, he arose, stood silent for a moment, and raised his hand. He then turned to me and said, “Who isn’t aware that our air force greatly contributed to the last victory of the war? They advanced on all fronts. The engineering corps also fully contributed in the most critical areas. The soldiers of the infantry gave their lives to further our victory. In short, our great victory was achieved by the contribution of men on the ground, in the air, and on the seas. Soldiers, a rabbi from Jerusalem has come here, perhaps from Mea Shearim or some other yeshiva, to tell you about the contribution that yeshiva students made to our victory….”
Thousands of soldiers loudly applauded, and the commanding officer finished his talk by saying with cynicism: “Over to you, Rabbi.” Once again, thousands of soldiers applauded.
I went up to the podium and began speaking, all while boiling with anger on the inside.
“Gentlemen, dear soldiers, a question has been raised: How did yeshiva students contribute to the military victory? What part did yeshiva students play in the great victory of the armed forces? Well, I will start with a short answer that goes to the heart of the question, and then we shall speak about other things. As you and I know, before the war the general consensus of military leaders was that we were looking at a devastating war. They were speaking about 60,000 dead, and it was already decided that large plots of land were going to be set aside in several cites as makeshifts cemeteries during the war. With so many dead, tell me please, who was going to bury them? Yeshiva students, naturally! They would have mobilized themselves to bury them, like a Chevra Kadisha that devotes itself to this sacred mitzvah. Of course, the honorable officer who just gave his speech would have proclaimed that yeshiva students had greatly contributed to the overall situation.
“However, honorable soldiers, the Holy One, blessed be He, did not want us, yeshiva students, to neglect the study of Torah. That is because the whole world exists only by the merit of Torah, as it is written: ‘If not for My covenant [the Torah], I would not have appointed days and nights, the decrees of heaven and earth’ [Jeremiah 33:25]. That is why it was proclaimed on high that they would ‘forgo’ these 60,000 dead, and that the merit of learning Torah would protect them!
“As a result, I tell you from this podium that we yeshiva students, we have contributed 60,000 to the people of Israel. We yeshiva students also contributed large plots of land in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Is fighting all you really want to do? What does it matter to you if Hashem granted life to myriads of soldiers, and that instead of temporary battles we have fine areas of land with green grass? Get up and thank the Holy One, blessed be He, for having given you life!”
Loud applause was heard throughout the hall. I did not return to my seat, but decided to shake them up a little so they would understand that if there was any pride of the kind, “My strength and the power of my hand” [Devarim 8:17], it was possible to lose the merit of miracles. Was it the army that won? Incredible miracles took place during the Six Day War. What did they have to boast of? Hashem is, so to speak, the General of all wars, “Hashem is a warrior.” In other words, He alone is the master of war and He is the master of victory.
The Gemara recounts that in the future, all the nations will come before the Holy One, blessed be He, to ask Him for a reward, saying: “We have waged many wars, and all for the sake of Israel, that they might engage in the study of the Torah.” He will reply, “I am the master of battles, as it is said: ‘Hashem is a warrior’ ” (Avodah Zarah 2b). In other words, wars are not in the hands of men. Man is only caught in them. Wars are not the “personal property” of the army, which cannot wage war as it pleases. You have no reason to become inflated with pride, for I am the One Who makes wars! “Hashem is a warrior, Hashem is His Name.”
A Torah of Life
Vegetation Can Perceive
From a Jewish point of view, Tu B’Shevat (the “New Year for Trees”) constitutes an important milestone in how we see the world of vegetation. Although it may seem inanimate to us, the Sages reveal in numerous places that plants have feelings and can even express pain.
It is written, “When one fells a fruit-bearing tree, its voice goes from one end of the world to the other, even if its cry is not heard” (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 34).
This is astounding. A tree cries out and its voice echoes throughout the earth, and yet we, human beings, are unable to hear it.
Plants have a special language. The Sages of Israel knew and understood this language, and sometimes they even used it. As the Gemara tells us, “Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai’s studies included Scripture, Mishnah, Gemara, Halachot, Aggadot…the language of the demons, the whisper of the palm trees, the language of the ministering angels” (Bava Batra 134a).
The Midrash tells us, “Rabbi Tanhuma said: There was once a palm tree in Hammethan that would not bear fruit. They grafted it, but it still bore no fruit. A palm gardener said to them: ‘She [the barren palm tree] perceives a palm tree in Jericho and longs for it.’ So they brought a portion of it and grafted it, and immediately it bore fruit” (Bamidbar Rabba 3:1).
With their deep wisdom, the Sages of Israel understood the sentiments of palms trees, knowing what disturbed them and how to solve their “problems.” The One Who created the world knows the secrets of Creation, and every detail that He found good to reveal, in the written or oral Torah, has been preserved and transmitted from generation to generation by the Sages of our people.
The Needled Jumped
With the emergence of modern science and the abundance given to mankind in recent times, experimental findings have been published that have made waves throughout the world. These findings have shaken those who refuse to believe in the Creator of the world and in His eternal existence.
An intriguing finding is cited in the journal Torah uMada (“Torah and Science”), one that casts new light on the amazing world of vegetation. This incredible and little-known finding occurred “by chance,” when an American researcher specializing in polygraph (“lie detector”) tests conducted, out of sheer boredom, a bizarre experiment. He attached polygraph electrodes not to a living person, but to leaves of a plant that was growing in his office. To his great surprise, the plant reacted to stimuli.
Surprised, this researcher wanted to obtain an even stronger reaction from the plant, so he decided to burn one of its leaves. Before he could make the slightest move, however, the needle on his polygraph machine jumped wildly. It was exactly as if he had recorded a man exhibiting a violent emotional reaction! The plant, whose “eyes” could apparently see better than human eyes, had simply sensed the danger threatening it.
That was only the start. The American researcher put everything aside in order to devote himself to examining the amazing characteristics of plant life. “Very quickly,” he wrote, “I discovered that plants can see perfectly without eyes, and can sense things perfectly without a nervous system!”
Filling his lab with all kinds of plants, he quickly discovered something else: Plants react not only when they sense a direct danger, but also indirect dangers. When someone who did not like plants entered his lab, the plants reacted by exhibiting a particular kind of “shiver”. When a living creature, such as a spider, was injured and tried to escape a predator, the plants reacted as if they were in shock.
A scientist by the name of Dr. T.C. Singh, head botanist of Annamalai University in India, heard that plants given “musical therapy” flourished. These were baseless rumors, yet how could such a thing be proven?
Dr. Singh therefore conducted some scientific experiments. He took a large number of perfectly healthy plants, all of the same age, and exposed them one at a time to sounds from three musical instruments. The results were beyond imagination: The plants flowered and produced much greater yields than normal!
After a series of scientific experiments confirmed these findings, a few farmers decided to use this method to increase their yields. They recorded music and played it on loud speakers, one hour per day, to 60 varieties of rice which they were growing. They recorded yields were that were 25% to 60% above the norm.
Peter Belton, a researcher from Canada’s Department of Agriculture, tried to reproduce Dr. Singh’s experiment in order to help corn crops fight extremely harmful parasites. He recorded sounds similar to those made by bats, and he played them in fields where corn was being grown. The result: Fields infested by parasites recovered with extraordinary speed.
This revolutionary idea was greeted by traditional science with complete scorn and skepticism. However similar findings began to accumulate, and scientists could no longer ignore them. In a new book published in Great Britain on the mysterious realm of vegetation, we are given a small glimpse of what this world is like. Famous scientists affirm in no uncertain terms that plants are alive and can feel: They sense and transmit!
Russians in the former Soviet Union also did experiments on the mysteries of plant life. In 1970, the newspaper Pravda published an article called What Leaves Tell Us: “Plants talk...yes, they scream,” declared the official Communist Party newspaper. “It only seems that they accept their misfortunes submissively and silently bear pain.”
The reporter from Pravda describes a visit he made to the Laboratory for Artificial Climate at the renowned Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Moscow:
“Before my eyes, a barley sprout literally cried out when its roots were plunged into hot water. True, the plant’s ‘voice’ was registered only by a special and extremely sensitive electronic instrument…. As though it had gone crazy, the recording pen wriggled out on the white track the death agony of the barley sprout….”
Soviet experiments proved that plants perceive and transmit signals around them.
Marcel Vogel, a young chemist from California, worked to create a mutual connection between plants and his own feelings. His final conclusion was that the attention and compassion that we demonstrate to a plant has an undeniably positive affect on its development, the opposite being true as well.
In one of these experiments Vogel describes how he cut two leaves off a bush and placed one of them on a table and the other by his bed. He paid great attention to one of them, and ignored the other.
“Every morning when I got up,” he writes, “I looked at the leaf near my bed and wanted it to continue living. I devoted zero attention to the other leaf.”
After a month, Vogel invited his friends from IBM, where he worked, to see the results. They could hardly believe it: The leaf that he had neglected was completely withered, whereas the leaf that he had placed near his bed was completely green and healthy!
As for ourselves, we who study Torah, we don’t require special electronic equipment to know what every Jewish child needs. We can cite from the prayer book the Baraita that we are very familiar with: “…for the voice is good for the spices.”
At the Source
The Essence of Joseph
It is written, “Moshe took atzmot [the bones] of Joseph with him” (Shemot 13:19).
The author of Megaleh Amukot states that this concerns Joseph’s very essence (atzmiuto) and power, which Moshe took with him.
What was Joseph’s essence? Not to exercise any vengeance against his brothers. Although they had sold him as a slave, he sustained them and loved them even more. Moshe also paid no attention to the protests of the Children of Israel when they disobeyed and complained to him. Rather, he lovingly tolerated all the problems they caused him in the desert for 40 years.
The Troubling Waters
It is written, “The waters split” (Shemot 14:21).
In regards to Rashi’s statement that “all the waters of the world also split,” Rabbi Sar Shalom of Belz asked the following question:
Why did all the waters of the world also split, since “G-d does not perform miracles for nothing”?
He gives a marvelous response: Water represents troubles, as King David said: “The waters have reached my soul” (Tehillim 69:2). Water thus indicates great troubles, and water splitting indicates deliverance. Thus when the Sea of Reeds split, all the waters of the world also split in order to demonstrate that as long as the Children of Israel are suffering, their deliverance is already prepared. It will come in the blink of an eye, at which point all the troubling waters will split.
It is written, “Y-H is my strength and song, and He was a salvation to me” (Shemot 15:2).
In the Midrash we find that the ministering angel of Egypt said to Hashem, “What merit do the Children of Israel have, such that You are performing all these miracles for them?” He answered, “In the future, they will receive the Torah, which is called oz [power].” The ministering angel replied, “Yes, but afterwards they will say [during the sin of the golden calf]: ‘Here is your god, O Israel.’ So what good will it do for them to accept the Torah?” The Holy One, blessed be He, answered that Moshe would say that the Torah was given “to me,” not “to them.”
The gaon Rabbi Shimon Chavilio Zatzal states that this perfectly explains the verse, “Y-H is my strength and song, and He was a salvation to me.”
Bitter to Sweet
It is written, “For they were marim [bitter], therefore they called it Marah” (Shemot 15:23).
Would it not have been more appropriate to call the place Matok (“sweet”), because of the miracle that sweetened the waters?
Rabbi Shlomo of Chortkov explains that it was only called Marah in order to preserve the greatness of the miracle. In other words, the bitter waters were not transformed into other waters that were sweet. Rather, it was the bitter waters themselves that became sweet.
All this was in order to tell the generations not to get discouraged from anything, for bitterness itself can be transformed into sweetness.
It is written, “Moshe said to Joshua, ‘Choose men for us and go do battle with Amalek’ ” (Shemot 17:9).
Moshe asked Joshua to deal with the war with Amalek. Moshe did not do this himself because he knew that the Children of Israel were being punished for having neglected Torah. “That is why,” says the Ohr HaChaim, “Moshe thought that only Joshua was suitable to go and fight, for of him it is written: ‘[He] would not depart from within the tent’ [Shemot 33:11] – he studied Torah.”
Moshe told Joshua to choose men such as himself, men who studied Torah, in order to go out and fight Amalek, for in this way they would defeat him.
He finishes by saying, “That is precisely what happened.”
It is written, “Not one of them remained” (Shemot 14:28).
The last letters in the expression bahem ad echad (“one of them”) form the term madad (“measure”).
This hints to us that the same measure used by the Egyptians when they threw Jewish children into the river was used against them, the result being that “not one of them remained.”
– Karnei Remim
Mayim Marim + Etz = Matok
It is written, “The waters became sweet” (Shemot 15:25).
The expression mayim marim (“bitter waters”) has a numerical value of 380. Hashem told Moshe to throw etz (a piece of wood) into it, and etz has a numerical value of 160. Together this comes to 540, which is the numerical value of matok (“sweet”).
– Rabbi Yaakov Meir Shechter Shlita (Cited in Peninei Kedem)
In the Light of the Parsha
From the Teachings of the Gaon and Tzaddik Rabbi David Hanania Pinto Shlita
The Need to Constantly Grow
It is written, “Amalek came and battled Israel in Rephidim” (Shemot 17:8).
We are familiar with how the Sages interpreted the term Rephidim: “Rabbi Yehoshua said, ‘It was because there riphu atzman [they slackened] in Torah’ ” (Sanhedrin 106a; Bechorot 5b; Yalkut Shimoni 263).
To explain how the Children of Israel reached the point of neglecting the study of Torah, we must first note that they experienced a tremendous degree of prophesy at the crossing of the sea. As Rashi says on the expression, “This is my G-d, and I will praise Him” (Shemot 15:2): “With His glory did He reveal Himself to them, and they pointed to Him with a finger. A maidservant at the sea saw what the prophets did not see.” Man’s nature is such that when he attains a high level, he thinks that he has already reached his goal and no longer has to work, and so he stops making an effort.
It is said that man is a being that “walks.” That is, he must always be moving, proceeding from one level to another, and cannot remain static. Hence to arrive at a high spiritual level, he must make a constant effort at climbing so as not to descend.
We may say that this is what happened to the Children of Israel following their journey through the sea. Since they reached an extremely high spiritual level, they showed some slack in climbing higher because they had already reached the summit and did not feel a need to continue climbing. Hence they descended and ended up neglecting the study of Torah.
This allows us to explain a statement made by the Sages: “Whoever is greater than his fellow, his evil inclination is also greater” (Sukkah 52a). In fact when a person grows spiritually, there is reason to fear that he will make less of an effort to continue growing, for he may be content with the level he has reached and thus fall very low. This is why Hashem increases the power of his evil inclination, making it stronger than a person and thus forcing him to continue climbing. In this way he will not descend, but instead will continue to grow.