april 5th 2014
nisan 5th 5774
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Heaven Helps Anyone Who Comes to Purify Himself
by Rabbi David Pinto Shlita
Our Sages have affirmed, “If one comes to purify himself, he is helped [by Heaven]” (Shabbat 104a). It follows that we are first obligated to purify ourselves, and only then do we merit Heaven’s help. In fact the Midrash states that Hashem says to Israel, “My sons, present to Me an opening of repentance no bigger than the eye of a needle, and I will widen it into openings through which wagons and carriages can pass” (Shir HaShirim Rabba 5:3).
These statements need to be understood. How can we expect someone who is immersed in impurity, G-d forbid, to start purifying himself without any prior help from Hashem? How can we expect such a person to begin this process before receiving any help from above? After all, the first stage – the first step – is the most difficult of all!
Furthermore, we need to look at something mentioned in the Gemara a little more closely: “Everything is in the hands of Heaven except the fear of Heaven” (Berachot 33b). Here Rashi explains that “Everything is in the hands of Heaven” means that although Hashem decides the particulars of a person’s life – such as whether he will be rich or poor, strong or weak, smart or dull – He does not decide whether a person will be righteous or wicked. He has left this responsibility up to us. He placed two paths before us, and we must choose the path of the fear of Heaven. Hence it follows that fearing Hashem is an obligation that is incumbent on every person, who must achieve it without Divine assistance. That said, it becomes much more difficult to understand the statement, “If one comes to purify himself, he is helped,” which indicates that a person receives help from Heaven!
What Comes Easily, Goes Easily
Let us try to explain all this with a parable: It is like someone who becomes incredibly rich overnight, be it through an unexpected inheritance, or because he won the lottery. In all likelihood, such a person will not be used to managing large sums of money, and therefore he will not know how to invest such a vast fortune without quickly losing it all. Furthermore, he will certainly waste this money, since he acquired it easily, without any effort. What comes to us easily and without toil is also lost easily. On the other hand, when we exhaust ourselves in order to obtain something, we appreciate it and guard it carefully so as not to lose it. This principle, which applies in every area – especially material possessions – also applies to the fear of Heaven. If a person suddenly receives a flash of spiritual inspiration and obtains assistance from G-d, without the slightest effort on his part, it is highly likely that he will be unable to properly value the precious aid that he has received. He will therefore not know how to react in this light, and its impact will quickly diminish. He will then return to his ways and easily revert to his old, detrimental behavior. At that point, it will be much harder for him to do teshuvah.
Why does Hashem not want to help purify us beforehand? Why does He instead prefer to wait for an awakening on our part, especially since He clearly has this ability, as Rashi explains in commenting on the Gemara (Megillah 25a): “The fear of Heaven is not in His hands. He has conferred it to us, in order that we may orient our hearts accordingly, even if He can do it for us. In fact it is written, ‘Behold, just as clay is in the hand of the potter, so are you in My hand, O House of Israel’ [Jeremiah 18:6].” When we take the initiative to serve Hashem, without receiving any support, we realize how difficult this is to do. Thus afterwards, when we do receive Heaven’s support, we will appreciate it that much more and make certain not to lose the benefits that we have gained. We will carefully safeguard this aid so that it continues to guide us throughout life, allowing us to progress ever more in the service of G-d.
Only By Controlling Our Desires
By delving deeper into this subject, we can affirm what is written in the Gemara: “It is said in Scripture, ‘Rakatech [your cheeks] are like a slice of pomegranate’ [Shir HaShirim 6:7]. ... Read not rakatech, but rekanim [the empty ones] – even the worthless among you are filled with mitzvot as a pomegranate [is filled with seeds]” (Eruvin 19a). Thus just as a pomegranate is filled with seeds, likewise no Jew can be devoid of mitzvot. In fact there is no Jew who does not perform at least some mitzvot from time to time, this being due to the fact that he is endowed with a Divine soul (Zohar III:219), one that connects him to his Creator.
If we are indeed born with a Divine spark, we can never be novices in the service of G-d. We are already, in any case, at the level of one “one [who] comes to purify himself.” Thus just by maintaining our relationship with Hashem by respecting His mitzvot in holiness and purity, we will be worthy of receiving His help in order to continue growing. Nevertheless, all this applies only when we control our desires and material wants, transcending them to serve Hashem. Such is not the case when we are completely bogged down in the frivolous pursuits of this world, and eventually break our connection to G-d, as illustrated by the verse: “But you were naked and bare” (Ezekiel 16:7). We are then “naked” of Torah and mitzvot, which in the past connected us to Hashem. We then destroy His entire world, His Divine image, and the potential for holiness that resides within the soul. It will not be easy to purify ourselves in that case, since we will have become prisoners of the evil inclination. Even if we receive a flash of Divine inspiration, we will not want to free ourselves of the evil inclination, for we will have already tasted all the pleasures of this world.
Yet Hashem, may His Name be praised, in His great compassion and goodness, continues to give us life and sustain us. Nevertheless, He awaits our repentance, as it is written: “I do not desire the death of the wicked, but rather the wicked’s return from his way, that he may live!” (Ezekiel 33:11). It is only after we wake up and start purifying ourselves that He will restore our Divine spark, helping us to completely purify ourselves.
The Faithful Ones
Accounts from the Tzaddikim of the Pinto Family
Rabbi Haim Pinto and the Flask of Tears
Rabbi Haim Pinto and his friend Rabbi David ben Hazan traveled to Marrakech, where the latter died. However he could not be buried, for anyone who touched his sanctified body immediately collapsed. At that point Rabbi Haim Pinto said, “We can only clean the body of the holy man with his own tears, which he kept in a flask in Mogador.”
At the time, about 180 years ago, there were no trains or cars, and the residents of Marrakech were upset because they didn’t know how they were going to bury the deceased. Rabbi Haim Pinto then went into a small room, and emerged a few minutes later and said: “Go to the Al Azama synagogue. There you will find the flask of tears.” No sooner said than done.
Real Life Stories
The Sages will be Honored
It is written, “The kohen shall command; and for the person being purified there shall be taken two live, clean birds, cedar wood, crimson thread, and hyssop” (Vayikra 14:4).
The Midrash explains that these plants, carefully chosen by Hashem, hint to the metzora [“leper”] that his pride is the source of the disputes aroused by his words and the quarrels that he incited between men, as well as between husband and wife. “What then is his remedy? Let him lower himself to the level of a worm, and let him feel as insignificant as hyssop.”
The great men of Israel have always made a tremendous effort to flee from pride, honor, and every tendency that can ruin the lofty soul of an eminent man. With such an attitude, they fulfill the saying: “Whoever flees from greatness, greatness pursues him” (Eruvin 13b). Thus their greatness is recognized by their peers, and because of their humility, they are eventually honored as kings.
In regards to Rabbi Yitzchak Taieb, the Chief Rabbi of Tunis, it is said that he never sought personal glory. He diligently studied Torah, remaining discreet and in the background. As a young man, he was once in synagogue and consulted a book after prayers. One congregant, a wealthy figure who was discerning and refined, saw the young man immersed in this book. Noting the way that he studied and delved into the text, he suddenly realized that he was in the presence of an exceptional man. He then approached the young man and addressed him. One thing led to another, and they ended up discussing the young man’s financial situation. It turned out that he was an orphan and living in poverty. The wealthy man offered to help him, inviting him to live in his own home and offering to take care of his material needs as long as he studied Torah. The young man was almost never seen from then on, for he spent his time learning Torah, isolated in the wealthy man’s attic.
Something then happened that would reveal his character to everyone. That year, on the eve of Pesach, an animal was slaughtered in the wealthy man’s home for the holidays, but water was found in the animal’s head. The wealthy man, busy with preparing for Pesach, asked the young man if it was permissible to eat the animal. After consulting the works of the poskim, he said that it was permissible.
During Yom Tov, the wealthy man was at the home of the city’s Rav, and by chance he told him what had happened. Being adamant about his position as the Rav of the city, he criticized the fact that the question had not been addressed to him, and demanded that the man who had dared to make this ruling be summoned to him immediately. When he arrived, the Rav asked him: “Are you the one who permitted the eating of this animal?” The young man replied, “Yes.”
“And what led you to make this ruling?” he continued.
Without the slightest hesitation, the young man took out a thick booklet that addressed all the issues involved in the problem with an amazing degree of scholarship, as well as extreme precision. Upon seeing this, the Rav – now stunned – kissed him on the head and said: “From now on, you are no longer Yitzchak Taieb, but the gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Taieb.” Without further delay, he named him as a dayan on his court.
Afterwards, he was appointed as the Chief Rabbi of Tunis, though he refused to wear the traditional rabbinic “garment of honor” that his lofty position demanded. After numerous attempts by the community, he complied with their requests to wear it for the honor of the congregation, as well as by dint of his status with the local authorities.
Following this appointment, the members of his community offered to move him into a larger home, but he categorically refused. At that point they requested that he at least allow them to renovate his present home, but he vigorously refused that offer as well. Hence they devised a ruse: While the Rav was delayed in court one day, they renovated and expanded his home without his knowledge. That night, when he returned from court, he did not return to his home. Eventually his wife found him wandering the neighborhood, immersed in his Torah thoughts.
Are You Trying to Make Me Stumble?
Reb Zusha of Anipoli, who was able to purge his heart of all traces of pride, was always surprised by one thing: He didn’t understand how people could make every effort to seek their own glory, since the whole world is filled with the glory of G-d.
Reb Zusha had a daughter who was at the age for marriage, but he didn’t have the financial means to marry her off. Worried about their financial situation, Reb Zusha’s family pressured him into looking for a livelihood. However he placed his faith in Hashem, and one day he received a message from his Rebbe, the Maggid of Mezritch, who invited him to his home. He therefore went to visit the Maggid, who upon seeing him immediately said: “I know that you don’t have the means to marry off your daughter. Here are 500 rubles to start with, and Hashem will help you find a suitable match for her.”
Reb Zusha stopped at an inn on his way back. While there, he suddenly heard a ruckus, followed by the sound of bitter weeping. In looking out the window of his room, he learned that the wedding of a fatherless girl had been cancelled, for her fiancé no longer wanted to marry her.
Reb Zusha went down to inquire about the situation, and he was told by the other guests at the inn that the widow (the mother of the fatherless girl) had just discovered that the money for the dowry, a sum of 500 hard-earned rubles, had disappeared. Upon hearing this, the girl’s fiancé announced that if he didn’t receive the dowry in full before the chuppah, he wouldn’t say: “Behold, you are consecrated to me.” Tears from the girl and her mother aroused Reb Zusha’s compassion, and he announced to those gathered there: “I found the money!” Everyone was extremely happy! Yet to their great surprise, Reb Zusha demanded a 10% commission for the returned money.
Everyone was shocked by the audacity of this poor and unknown guest, and they derided him: “Have you no shame, wanting to humiliate the girl like this in public?” Yet nothing worked, for Reb Zusha stuck to his position: Ether they give him the commission, or he wouldn’t give them the money. The other guests began to lose their patience, and they almost came to blows.
Finally, they dragged him before the Rav of the town, who heard arguments from both side and ruled that Reb Zusha obviously had to return the money without preconditions. Those present took the money by force and chased Reb Zusha out of town.
Some time later, the Maggid of Mezritch passed through the same town. The local Rav told him about the shameful conduct that that miserable passer-by, who appeared to be among his group of chassidim. The Maggid clearly understood that he was talking about Reb Zusha, and afterwards the Maggid asked him about his strange behavior in that town. Reb Zusha replied, “Faced with the possibility of the girl and her mother grieving on the day of the chuppah, my compassion was aroused and I decided to give them the money that you had given me to marry off my own daughter. Yet as I was about to give them the money, the evil inclination ‘accompanied’ me and began to whisper thoughts of pride into my ear: ‘Are you greater than Avraham Avinu?’ What could I say to that old fool? ‘Are you trying to make me stumble? You’ll see – they’ll take this money from me by force!’ ”
Guard Your Tongue
She Will Bring Embarrassment Upon Him
Many people make the mistake of telling their wives what so-and-so did to them at the Beit HaMidrash or elsewhere. Besides transgressing the prohibition against speaking Lashon Harah, this will lead to even greater strife, for his wife will certainly bear a grudge and quarrel with the person in question, as well as encouraging him to do the same. In the end, she herself will bring embarrassment upon her husband, which is why he must keep the matter to himself.
– Chafetz Chaim
At the Source
It is written, “This shall be the law of the metzora on the day of his purification: He shall be brought to the kohen” (Vayikra 14:2).
The book Ta’am VaDa’at offers one explanation for why the Torah makes the purification of the metzora dependent upon the kohen. It is because speakers of Lashon Harah usually disparage talmidei chachamim [Torah scholars] and leaders of the Jewish people.
It is therefore fitting for the metzora to be brought to the kohanim, those who serve Hashem, teach the law, and upon whom the offerings rest. In order to atone for his sins, the metzora must yield before them and be careful not to sin again.
The author of Chovot HaLevavot writes that one who disparages others acquires their sins. Hence it is possible that this is why talmidei chachamim are so often disparaged, this being among the ways of Divine providence to cleanse and purify His faithful ones of their sins, which are transferred to the wicked who disparage them.
It is written, “For the person being purified, there shall be taken two live, clean birds, cedar wood, crimson thread, and hyssop” (Vayikra 14:4).
In his book Midbar Kedemot, the Chida explains why the metzora is purified by birds, by the placing of blood and oil on his thumb, big toe, and earlobe, and by the bringing of cedar wood and hyssop. It is because Lashon Harah occurs in five forms:
1. By one who speaks alone. This is why birds are used, for they chirp.
2. By one who goes on foot to speak Lashon Harah. This is why the big toe is involved.
3. By one who listens to Lashon Harah. This is why the earlobe is involved.
4. By one who witnesses a person speaking Lashon Harah, and can reprimand him for it, but does not. This is why the thumb is involved.
5. By one who speaks favorably of his friend, but evil comes of it. This is why he brings cedar wood, which elevates him, but then he is humbled like hyssop.
Not Even by a Hair
It is written, “On the seventh day he shall shave off all his hair” (Vayikra 14:9).
The Ben Ish Hai explains why the Torah commands the person being purified to be shaved on the seventh day:
Shaving alludes to the fact that although man’s hair is dense, each strand is nourished separately. The same applies to the sustenance and other needs of man: No one can touch anything that is destined for another, just as each hair on the head has its own individual source of nourishment.
The Gemara cites Ben Azzai as saying, “By your name, you will be called; to your place, you will be restored; and from what is yours, you will be given. No man can touch what is prepared for his fellow, and one kingdom does not interfere with the other, not even by a hair” (Yoma 38ab).
It is written, “Something like a lesion has appeared to me in the house” (Vayikra 14:35).
The author of Tosafot Yom Tov, Rabbi Yom Tov Lippmann Heller Zatzal, notes that according to the Halachah, the homeowner is the one who must tell the kohen “like a lesion.” He says this in order not to “give an opening to the Satan,” for as long as the kohen has not ruled that the house is unclean, there is no uncleanliness in it.
The Gerer Rebbe objects, stating that the source of the concept that we must not “give an opening to the Satan” is the verse: “We would have been like Sodom” (Isaiah 1:9). Immediately following this, we read: “Hear the word of Hashem, chiefs of Sodom” (v.10).
Therefore why say “like a lesion” rather than “a lesion”? In this passage from Isaiah, it is also said: “We would have been like Sodom,” and yet an opening was still made for the Satan, for the prophet called them “chiefs of Sodom”!
However the difference is that in the passage from Isaiah, they should not have mentioned Sodom at all, even by adding the qualifier “like.” On the other hand, in regards to the lesions afflicting houses, the Torah commands the homeowner to find the kohen and tell him what happened. He is therefore obligated to say something, but must still be careful not to “give an opening to the Satan.” Hence he expresses himself by saying, “Something like a lesion has appeared to me in the house.”
It is written, “On the day of his purification, vehuva to the kohen” (Vayikra 14:2).
The letters of the term vehuva (he shall be brought) are the same as those of ve’ahuv (he shall be loved).
This alludes to a concept mentioned by the Rambam, namely that the penitent, before his repentance, was despised by G-d, Who held him in abhorrence. Afterwards he is loved by G-d and close to Him. Thus we can read the verse as, “On the day of his purification, he shall be loved by the kohen” – as soon as he repents, in addition to being cleansed, he will immediately be loved by G-d.
– Chomat Anach
In the Light of the Parsha
Learning from Tzara'at on Houses, Garments, and the Body
It is written, “This shall be the law of the metzora on the day of his purification: He shall be brought to the kohen” (Vayikra 14:2).
We are familiar with what the Sages have said, namely that the term metzora (“leper”) evokes motzei shem ra (slander), meaning that tzara'at (“leprosy”) is a punishment for speaking Lashon Harah, for having slandered someone. If we think about it, we note that everything about tzara'at is meant to try a person (as the Gemara mentions in Berachot 5b, such afflictions are an altar of atonement), for such trials remove evil from man. Because he suffers, he is purified and cleansed of all his sins.
This explains the juxtaposition between the passage, “When a woman conceives and gives birth to a male…. On the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised” (Vayikra 12:2-3) and Parsha Metzora which follows. It teaches us that just as we bring a newborn into the covenant of Abraham through circumcision, likewise the sufferings caused by tzara'at removes and distances evil from a person and reconnect him to Hashem. In fact trials are only for the good of man, and he must not regret it when he experiences them.
The mashgiach of Ponevezh, Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, would always say that tzara'at comes upon a person gradually, not all of a sudden. At first it comes upon his house, which is far from a person. However he still needs his house because it protects him from cold and heat. If this doesn’t affect him and he pays no attention to the fact that he had committed a sin, it then comes upon his garments, which are already much closer to him. If he still doesn’t repent, it then comes upon his body, which is the closest thing to him. This is a great lesson for anyone who reflects upon it: A person should not grow accustomed to trials, but must be sensitive to the lesson that Hashem wants to teach him.
We may also say that this contains an incredible allusion to how we must examine our deeds and completely repent, beginning with what we learn from the lesions that come upon houses and the body. In this way, we will be able to cleanse ourselves and come closer to Hashem.
A Life of Torah
One of the laws established in nature by the Creator of the universe is that “man is born for toil” (Job 5:7). The Sages praise a person who leaves the vanities of this world and the work connected to them in order to devote himself to the work of the Torah: “Happy are those whose work is in Torah.”
In his book Ohr LeTzion, Chochma U’Mussar, the gaon Rabbi Ben Tzion Abba Shaul Zatzal, the Rosh Yeshiva of Porat Yosef, defined this kind of “work” in the following way:
“The concept of work also applies to study, which must involve no laxity. Laxity in Torah study comprises two things…the second deals with the body of man: He must accustom himself to learning without placing his hands on the table, and without leaning on it. He must learn in joy, intensely involving all the parts of his body, including his hair and nails. In that case he will find joy – and if he does not find it, something is missing.”
Certain that Rashi Would Meet Him
We may get a small glimpse into just how intensely Rav Ben Tzion studied Torah by several statements that he was heard to say on various occasions, when he was speaking openly.
He once told a student, “There are some who think for a minute and speak for ten, while there are others who think for ten minutes and speak for one.” This student emphasized that such a statement perfectly corresponded to the one who said it, for in giving classes he would condense ten hours of study into a conclusion of a few words.
Another time he said, “Every day when I return home, I’m exhausted and sweating as a result of the effort that I put into learning.” He also revealed to one student, “Know that I put a greater effort into the study of Torah than anyone else.”
On several occasions, the Rav would tell his students: “I plumb the depths of the sugia and don’t stop learning until I have a headache, until it’s impossible to continue.” He also said that because of his efforts in learning, he would usually go to bed with a headache.
He paid special attention to the smallest detail of Rashi’s comments, meticulously and constantly reviewing the sugia in order to fully understand his reasoning. There was no place in the Gemara where Rashi begins an explanation with the words “this means” or “in other words,” without Rav Ben Tzion teaching his students what Rashi had found difficult, what he meant to explain by his comments, and also how to understand the sugia that he just elucidated.
On one occasion, he stated that he put an enormous effort into understanding one of Rashi’s explanations for 18 hours, until he finally found the right way to interpret it in context. He was also heard to say more than once, upon finally being able to deeply understand a comment from Rashi, that he was on the verge of fainting! (Indeed, he invested so much effort in learning Rashi that he once said Rashi himself would come to meet him when he arrived in the World of Truth.)
During his eulogy, given by one of his students, he was described in the following way: “The effort that he put into learning Torah was astounding. Whoever saw him in the midst of learning remembers that he turned red by dint of effort. He studied a sugia deeply numerous times, until his clothes became drenched with sweat.”
Mind and Body for Torah
The gaon Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky Zatzal said that even the posture of the gaon Rabbi Moshe Feinstein Zatzal testified to why he grew beyond his peers in Torah learning. Reb Moshe never sat back in his chair to rest. In fact his body was always directed towards the front, his forehead creased, in an effort to discover the true meaning of the Torah’s words.
In the Beit HaMidrash of the Tiferet Yerushalayim yeshiva, as well as in the Staten Island yeshiva, students sat in front of tables, not in front of large shtenders, as is the norm in most yeshivot. Reb Moshe was afraid that a shtender, which the student can easily tilt towards himself as he sits back, can cause him to become drowsy and prevent him from making the necessary effort in learning Torah.
It is also said in his advanced years, when Reb Moshe gave a class in the yeshiva where Rabbi Reuven Feinstein Shlita served as the Rosh Yeshiva, he had to climb a number of stairs in order to reach the classroom. The effort required to climb these stairs was bad for his heart, and he was forced to pause from time to time in order to catch his breath. To those accompanying him, Reb Moshe said: “In climbing these stairs, I feel the joy of making an effort for Torah. It’s like climbing the ladder of Torah!”
An elevator was eventually installed at the yeshiva, which enabled Reb Moshe to avoid straining himself in climbing those stairs. However his relatives fully realized that he regretted not being able to make his way up to the classroom on his own. Furthermore, he would usual climb chairs to take books down from his bookshelf, allowing no one else to do it for him, saying: “It’s good to make an effort for Torah with both body and mind. And when we make an effort, we succeed!”