November 26th, 2016
Heshvan 25th 5777
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The Great Virtues of Avraham and Sarah
Rabbi David Hanania Pinto
“Sarah’s lifetime was one hundred years, twenty years, and seven years; the years of Sarah’s life” (Bereishit 23:1)
We need to clarify why this parashah is specifically called on Sarah’s name and not by a different one, such as Eliezer, who risked his life in order to carry out the mission for Avraham Avinu to go search for Yitzchak’s intended wife. It is also surprising. Was Eliezer, the servant of Avraham’s rank inferior to that of Balak, for example, who merited having a parashah called by his name?! Likewise, Yitro merited having a parashah called by his name.
Chazal comment on the pasuk (Bereishit 12:5) “And the souls they made in Haran” that Avraham converted (מגייר) the men and Sarah converted the women. I would like to suggest, b’syatta diShemaya, that the word “גר” (convert) has many meanings, and it literally signifies wandering, referring to a person who does not have permanent lodging. He is a temporary citizen and not a permanent citizen, so he is a גר (stranger) in the land. People tend to think that this world is the objective of Creation, and they believe that they will continue living forever as a permanent citizen in the world. Therefore they try to establish themselves comfortably and acquire great wealth and honor to make their life a happy and good one. This is because they believe that they will live permanently in this world. Consequently, they invest all their efforts to ensure that everything should be the best.
On the other hand – Avraham Avinu and Sarah, his wife, explained to the whole world that they were mistaken. This world is only temporary and not permanent, as it says “The days of our years among them are seventy years, and if with might, eighty years.” If so, the days of man are like a passing shadow. Then why invest so much effort in this transient world? After all, people are like temporary residents in this world, and not permanent.
Hence, Avraham and Sarah, a”h, opened the eyes of their contemporaries, and corrected their outlook to observe the world in the proper light. They showed them the right way; that this world is not the desired objective, but only is the means to attain the true objective, which is Torah and mitzvot, in order to merit acquiring a portion in the World to Come, the World of truth and eternity.
Therefore, the pasuk describes what Avraham and Sarah did as “And the souls they made in Haran.” What is the implication of the word “made”? It signifies that Avraham and Sarah created and fashioned new people. They brought about a revolution inside the people, in their inner selves. On this note, Chazal say “one who has become a proselyte is like a child newly born,” because he is like a new man with new understanding and a different objective in life.
Chazal account that the ant collects and gathers enough food to last for days and years, because it thinks it will live forever. This is the way the rest of the animals behave. Avraham Avinu, a”h, taught the people the proper understanding and awareness to live as a temporary resident in the world, because the objective of man is not this world. Consequently, the main dwelling place of our forefathers was in tents, which signify a temporary existence, as opposed to dwelling in a permanent abode.
All things considered, could Avraham not have afforded to build himself a luxurious, grand house? After all, it was said about him “Now Avram was very laden with livestock, silver, and gold.” But Avraham wanted to teach his descendents that this world is temporary, and it is a pity for man to invest all his energies and labor in it. Therefore, his home was a temporary tent, and that is where he chose to live.
Chazal explain the pasuk, “A man who would die in a tent,” that the Torah is not acquired unless one kills himself for it. Precisely one who is aware that this world is like a temporary tent, which falls apart from time to time and is not permanent, is the one who merits “killing” himself in the tents of Torah. This is because only such a person can understand that the main objective is not this world and its temptations, but only the Torah and its mitzvot. He always recalls that the World to Come is the eternal world, as the Tanna teaches “Exile yourself to a place of Torah.” Who goes to exile? One who feels that he has no permanent residence. A person should train himself that if he wishes to merit Torah, he must be aware that this world is not his bastion, but he is only temporarily in this world. Therefore, he has to go from place to place in search of the Torah, his true objective.
Walking in Their Ways
When I was a young man learning in Fublaines, France, I was beset by doubts regarding my future. I wasn’t sure whether I should continue my studies and spread Torah, as my fathers before me, or pursue a profession.
Another boy had similar questions. Eventually, we parted ways, each to his own calling. I went on to disseminate Torah, while my friend entered the business world.
Forty years went by. One day, I bumped into my old friend, who had aged considerably and become distant from Torah and mitzvot. He had severed all ties with Judaism. At first, he tried to avoid me. But in the end, we carried on a conversation.
Although we spoke sparingly, our eyes spoke volumes. I conveyed to him the following missive: “See where you stand and where I stand. I chose to crown Hashem as my King. I cling to the path of Torah and mitzvot and have reached where I am today, whereas you have chosen to coronate your Yetzer Hara. See how low you have fallen!” This was my unspoken message.
But I did leave him with some food for thought, as I said to him, “It is always possible to turn over a new leaf.”
A Jew who wishes to crown Hashem as his King is proclaiming, “I am my Beloved’s.” Hashem comes to his aid, responding, as it were, “And my Beloved is mine.” In contrast, one who chooses the path of sin loses his connection with Hashem in this world and will face the consequences in the World to Come.
“King David was old, advanced in years” (Melachim I, 1:1)
The connection to the parashah: The haftarah states “King David was old, advanced in years,” and similarly the parashah relates, “Avraham was old, advanced in years.” Likewise, the haftarah relates that David transferred the crown to his son Shlomo prior to his death, just like the parashah which states that Avraham gave over everything to his son Yitzchak.
Guard Your Tongue
Even if one did not guard his tongue in the past, he should strengthen himself to guard his tongue for the rest of his life, so that it should not be flawed.
What can this be compared to? A person who hired a guard to protect his vineyard throughout the summer. The guard was negligent for a few months and consequently the vineyard suffered great damage. Thieves broke through the fence and stole a lot of the grapes. Would it make sense that because of this the owner would abandon his vineyard altogether and let it get run over by wild beasts?
Words of Our Sages
The mitzvah of chessed by a funeral
“For all who come to the gate of his city” (Bereishit 23:10)
Rashi comments: “For they all left their work and came to pay their respects to Sarah.” And then further on the pasuk states:
“And afterwards, Avraham buried Sarah his wife.” Chazal say that this is an example of what is written (Mishlei 21:21) “One who pursues righteousness (צדקה) and kindness (חסד) will find life, righteousness, and honor.” “Righteousness – (צדקה)” – this refers to Avraham, as it says “That they [Avraham and Sarah] keep the way of Hashem, doing charity (צדקה) and justice.” “Kindness – (חסד)” – since Avraham practiced kindness with Sarah.
Up to his last days, Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnefeld, zt”l would make sure to participate in funerals. Rabbi Yosef Chaim would personally escort almost every Torah scholar that passed away to the cemetery for burial.
On one funeral that took place a short time before Rabbi Yosef Chaim’s demise, when walking was very difficult for him; he insisted even then to escort the deceased, who was one of the Torah scholars of Yerushalayim. A member of his household approached him and begged him that this time he should just escort the deceased until the Dung Gate and not until the cemetery (which was further away).
Rabbi Yosef Chaim listened to his suggestion and expressed surprise: “I am a member of the Chevra Kadisha already for forty-five years, and I do not know why I should be different than the other members of the Chevra Kadisha who drag their feet in the rain and snow to go to the cemetery.”
In a different instance when he was asked not to bother dragging himself until the cemetery, Rabbi Yosef Chaim refused to listen and argued, “What else can we give the Torah scholars of Yerushalayim other than their last honor? Even the last honor that I can give to a Torah scholar from Yerushalayim, which are the fruits of his life-long difficult labor, you suggest to withhold from me”…
It may seem to us that the mitzvah of answering Amen is an easy mitzvah; not a mitzvah that one needs to be precise with and actively pursue. But the truth is, as the Rabbi of Melitz writes in his sefer “Birkat Yitzchak,” that not every person knows which mitzvah is more important or less important than the other. For example, simple people may think that answering Amen is not such an important mitzvah. But great G-d fearing Torah scholars know that by answering Amen they make a big impact in Heaven, as Chazal says, “Greater is he who answers, Amen than he who says the blessing.” Furthermore, they say: “He who responds ‘Amen’ with all his might, has the gates of Paradise opened for him.”
The angels wait to hear people answer Amen
One should be aware that the angels listen to the blessings recited and the Kaddish said [below] and they answer Amen, because Amen (אמן) has the same numerical value angel (מלאך). If he does not answer Amen with the proper intentions, the impure spirits come before him and take him to the darkened quarters.
Every person should be careful even in his home to recite blessing out loud, and all who hear them should answer “baruch hu uvaruch shemo – Blessed be He and Blessed be His Name.” He should be vigilant while answering Amen, because its meaning is not always the same. It depends upon what kind of blessing was recited. Sometimes its meaning is “true,” and sometimes “so shall it be” and sometimes “I believe and agree to it.” Therefore, one must pay attention carefully, and one who is meticulous in this matter merits answering Amen in the World to Come.
One should be especially careful to answer Amen after the two blessings of: “Who restores His Presence to Zion,” and “Spread over us,” which is said on the eve of Shabbat and Holidays.
(Sefer “Hapnim” pg. 31)
The power of one Amen
One of the students of Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky, zt”l, relates:
At the end of her life, my mother suffered from various illnesses and afflictions, her vision and hearing was weakened and her body stopped functioning; then she turned melancholy and lost her will to live.
When I consulted my Rabbi how to lift my mother’s spirits, he said to me: After Yaakov Avinu wrestled with the angel, the angel said to him, “Let me go, for dawn is breaking,” and Rashi comments that the angel requested that Yaakov let him go say Shira, since just then his turn came to say Shira. This angel was created with all the other angels during the Six Days of Creation – approximately two thousand years before this event. It seems that the angels need a certain kind of “sustenance” in order to exist. We see from this that it is worthwhile for an angel to be created and to be sustained by Hashem for two thousand years only in order to sing Shira for one moment!
The gaon Rabbi Yaakov concluded: if your mother would appreciate the power of one Amen said after one blessing, or the power of one chapter of Tehillim, she would certainly appreciate that it is worthwhile for her to live if only for that alone for even a thousand years. This is enough of a reason for Hashem to sustain her for those thousand years…
Other suggestions of how to answer ninety Amens
The Gr”a writes: Every person must answer 90 Amens, and whoever cannot answer should intend [the meaning of Amen] when saying fifteen times “vav” (the letter “vav”) while saying (following kriyat Shema) “veyatziv, venachon, vekayam” (fifteen times “vav” (6) equals 90).
It is also brought in the sefer “Notrei Amen” that one who prays in solitude, or if he is in a faraway place where there is no congregation during the weekday, and he is not able to answer 90 Amens, it seems that he could fulfill the sum of 90 Amens by saying “אין כאלוקינו – There is none like our G-d… מי כאלוקינו – Who is like our G-d?... נודה לאלוקינו – Let us thank our G-d… since the first letters spell Amen (אמן).
Rabbi David Hanania Pinto
Sarah Imeinu exists and lives
“And Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and to weep for her” (Bereishit 23:2)
Contemplating this pasuk, one may wonder why the letter “כ” in the word “לבכותה – to weep for her” is written small.
Chazal explain that Avraham did not weep excessively over Sarah’s death, because Avraham did not sense her departure so much. The connection that he had with Sarah when she was alive still remained. He felt that Sarah’s energies in helping him bring mankind close to their Father in Heaven still continued to infuse him with strength. Her good deeds and exalted virtues continued to bring fruit. So why cry over her passing excessively? After all, it is still possible to refer to her as “The life of Sarah” – she still exists and is alive because of the effects of her good deeds. Her legacy continues from generation to generation.
This force is deep-rooted in the core of each Jew, and it is revealed when he succeeds in overcoming challenges in life and sanctifying Hashem’s Name in the world, despite the hardship. This ability is still ingrained within us. Thus, Avraham and Sarah are still considered alive today because their pure way of life is a part of us, imbedded in their descendents for all future generations. This is as stated (Avot 2:2) “For then the merit of their forefathers aids them and their righteousness endure forever.” Although the forefathers have died, their teachings and legacy continue forever.
The gemara relates (Avodah Zara 18a) about Rabbi Chanina ben Teradion, when they took him to be executed, wrapped in a Torah scroll, his daughter exclaimed, “Father, that I should see you in this state!” He replied, “If it were I alone being burnt it would have been a thing hard to bear; but now that l am burning together with the Scroll of the Law, He who will have regard for the plight of the Torah will also have regard for my plight.” His disciples called out, “Rabbi, what do you see?” He answered them, “The parchments are being burnt but the letters are soaring on high.” This signifies that although he was burned, and also the Torah scroll was burned, the letters soared high, because the Torah that he transmitted to his disciples still exists and is soaring throughout the world. And if his students continue his legacy, then it is as if he too continues to exist. Although his body is consumed, his Torah flourishes forever. Thus Chazal say (Berachot 18a) “These are the wicked who in their lifetime are called dead.” This is because there is nothing to learn from their actions. They are like a well devoid of any residue of water to draw. However, the righteous even in their deaths are called living because their teachings spread throughout the world and everyone draws from their wells of wisdom even after their death.
Consequently, we understand why this parashah is called precisely in the name of Sarah “Chayei Sarah.” It signifies that even though Sarah Imeinu passed away, but since her whole way of life continues as a guiding light for generations, and all her descendents cling to her ways and good deeds, thus she is still alive among us.
Zachur LaTov – Of Blessed Memory
Tanna D’vei Eliyahu
Blessed be the Omnipresent One, blessed be He; there is no favoritism before Him, before Him brightness and light go out to the world, before Him rains and vegetation come to the world; the reward of tzaddikim who toil in the words of Torah (is that); Scripture considers as if they bring the brightness, light, rains and vegetation to the world, therefore it is stated afterwards: “like the morning light when the sun shines – a morning without clouds, from the shine out of the rain, grass [sprouts forth] from the earth.” (Shmuel 23:4)
King David said:
“I shall relate the charity and kindness that the Holy One Blessed Be He does with the people of Israel all the time; each and every day a person is sold and each and every day a person is redeemed; at night a person’s spirit is taken from him and given to the Holder of Deposits and in the morning they return it to him, as it is stated “In Your hand I entrust my spirit; You redeemed me, O Hashem, G-d of truth” (Psalms 31: 6). Each and every day miracles are performed for a person like those done for those who went out of Egypt, each and every day a person is afflicted like a child before his teacher for his actions.
And know that it is so; nine hundred and seventy four generations the Holy One Blessed Be He presented all his words before the seed of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. He said, when will the time come and it will be heard from their mouths, as it is written: “For the conductor, a psalm by David. The heavens declare the glory of G-d, and the firmament tells of His handiwork” (ibid. 19:1:2). But they are not worthy of telling the works of creation? What then does the verse “the heavens declare the glory of G-d” come to say? That the heavens were created first; they are worthy of telling the praise of the Holy One Blessed Be He. For the whole world, man and animal and the birds of the sky are only sustained from the acts of heaven and earth; in the six months of the winter they grow the fruits and in the summer they ripen them and all those who came to the world and all His handiwork that He created in the world live from them.
Men of Faith
In conclusion of this chapter, we include an excerpt from a lecture delivered by Moreinu v’Rabbeinu on Motza’ei Shabbat Kodesh, parashat Chukat, 2006 (5766), describing the preparation of the universe for the future redemption, may it come speedily and in our days. He also mentions this astonishing story that happened not so long ago.
The words of Moreinu v’Rabbeinu are quoted verbatim:
I wish to relate a story that happened six months ago. Rabbi Chaim Pinto Hagadol’s house was in desperate need of repairs, since it was close to 220 years old. Many adjacent houses had already collapsed, and it was dangerous to even approach his house. We proceeded to collect donations, and when we obtained the necessary funds, we hired an Arab contractor to do the renovations.
Upon further consideration, we decided that in order to reduce the costs, we would provide the contractor with the necessary building materials, and we found someone to sponsor it. We placed R’ Avraham Knafo in charge of the project.
Amidst the renovations, he realized that a lot of the construction material was missing. This aroused his suspicions. He approached the Arab contractor and demanded an explanation. The contractor denied all accusations and pretended that he was insulted for being suspected of stealing.
During their verbal exchange, the contractor declared that he would never steal, and especially not from the tzaddik’s family. He swore that if he had a hand in the theft, he would pay with his life.
The incredible happened. On that day, he joined a party at his friend’s house, and a fight broke out. One member became enraged at the contractor and killed him.
The whole city was in turmoil, since everyone clearly saw that the tzaddik had brought retribution upon the guilty party.
All the workers came running to R’ Avraham Knafo’s house, falling to their knees. They admitted that they too had participated in the theft, but only by the orders of the contractor. Now they feared for their lives, since they could also be struck by G-d’s vengeance.
During the next few months, this story spread all over Morocco. One Arab, not believing the story, began to ridicule its source. The hand of Hashem struck him as well, and his mouth became distorted. For two weeks he visited countless doctors, but no one could assist him. Finally, his friends advised him to go beg forgiveness for slighting the honor of the tzaddik.
To everyone’s astonishment, after receiving pardon, his mouth functioned normally again. Concerning this, Chazal state, “Tzaddikim are more powerful in their deaths than in their lives.” Their power stems from the holy Torah, and that is why their influence affects even inanimate objects, including the house of the tzaddik. Rabbi Chaim Pinto’s house, like the pans of the Mishkan, became sanctified.