December 17th, 2016
Kisleiv 17th 5777
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What is the only effective ammunition to overpower Lavan HaArami?
Rabbi David Hanania Pinto
“Then Yaakov sent angels ahead of him to Esav his brother” (Bereishit 32:4)
Yaakov Avinu sent angels to his brother Esav in order to lay the ground for a meeting between them and to appease Esav so that he should forgive him. Yaakov instructs the angels (Bereishit 32:5), “Thus shall you say, to my lord, to Esav… I have sojourned with Lavan.” Rashi comments: Sojourned – גַּרְתִּי has the numerical value of 613. That is to say: I lived with the wicked Lavan, but I kept the 613 (תרי"ג) commandments, and I did not learn from his evil deeds.
When man reflects on his purpose in coming to this world, he will soon see that his purpose is not to engage in worldly pleasures, because worldly pleasures are not lasting. Most of a person’s days are filled with frustration and difficulties; there is no day without a curse, and he is surrounded with challenges. Whether it is wars between one nation and another, or painful difficulties in marital harmony, or financial hardships and lack of income, placing a heavy burden on man, as Chazal say, “A person dies without having achieved half his desires,” a person is never entirely cheerful and happy in this world. If so, then certainly man was not placed in this world in order to enjoy himself, but only for the true purpose and the ultimate desired goal, which is for Torah and mitzvot, and to acquire a portion in the World to Come.
This is what Yaakov Avinu teaches us by saying “I have sojourned (גרתי) with Lavan,” since Lavan is the symbol of all evil inclinations existing in the world. There are all sorts of passions and lust in this world, and a person is surrounding by the evil inclination in every step of his life. Yaakov Avinu warns that if a person wants to overcome Lavan HaArami, i.e. the evil inclination, and succeed in the battle against him, there is no other way other than through the holy Torah. Therefore “I kept the 613 (תרי"ג) commandments” because the 613 (תרי"ג) mitzvot are the only effective ammunition against Lavan HaArami who is the Yetzer Hara, as Chazal say (Kedushin 30b) “I created the Evil Desire, but I [also] created the Torah, as its antidote.”
When a man will stand in judgment after his death in the Heavenly Court and argue – why is he to blame that he sinned? After all, he was sent to an entirely materialistic world full of enticement, and he was surrounded by the evil inclination on all fronts. Hashem will answer him; against the evil inclination an effective antidote was provided, which is the holy Torah. If he would have been wise and taken this “medication” in the right dose regularly, surely he would have been cured from the ills of the evil inclination and then the Yetzer Hara would not have overcome him.
How can we merit achieving this and adhering to the Torah, clinging to it all our lives?
Only through contemplation does one realize clearly that this world is not the objective or purpose, and that it is just a transient world; man was not created just for the purpose of existing in this world, but this world is just like a corridor where he prepares himself to enter the parlor. If he knows this, and he lives his life with this understanding that everything that happens to him is merely a challenge for his benefit, then the difficulties will not bother him so much, and all the hardships that he experiences in his lifetime will not get him down, because he knows that it is all fleeting and will pass. Ultimately, he finds his happiness and pleasure in the holy Torah.
In the time of the Ba’alei Tosafot, when evil agents arranged to take a group of Jews to be burned at the stake for engaging in Torah, the night before their gruesome death, they gathered in a room and reviewed one of the most difficult tractates in Shas and originated the most outstanding novel explanations ever to be heard in the world. It is very puzzling, how could a human being spend his time delving into the depths of Torah when he knows that the next day he will be burned alive, G-d forbid?
The answer is because this world was not all important for them. They had something far more important and more sublime than thinking about their lowly materialistic body, which would be burned shortly. They understood that at the moment they were engaging in the most exalted and lasting occupation – the words of the Living G-d, and they were blissfully happy with the Torah. They forgot their trials and tribulations. Miraculously, one member of the group escaped alive and published the novel Torah explanations that they had originated that night.
This is as Yaakov Avinu said: There are many distractions in this world like Lavan HaArami, and he succeeded in overcoming all these hardships only in the merit of adhering to the 613 (תרי"ג) mitzvot. When one recognizes that studying Torah is more important than anything else, automatically he is filled with happiness and all his troubles seem to shrink into insignificance, because he doesn’t attribute much importance to them. On the contrary, tzaddikim relate to hardships in life as an opportunity to grow to greater spiritual heights, because they become closer to Hashem and strengthened in faith.
Guard Your Tongue
Atoning for the past
Even if one was amiss in guarding his tongue a large part of his past, nevertheless, he should strengthen himself during his remaining days and establish safeguards by distancing himself from crowds, and not speaking about other people. If he had disparaged people in the past, he should appease them and seek forgiveness. He should guard his tongue the rest of his life being careful to speak only words of kedushah and Torah [besides for speech which is necessary and also which is mandatory for his livelihood], and then he will be able to testify about himself: Happy is our old age which has atoned for our youth.
The haftarah of the week: “The vision of Ovadiah” (Ovadiah 1)
The connection to the parashah: The haftarah tells about the continuous hatred of Esav for Yaakov, as is described in the parashah when Esav came with 400 men in order to harm Yaakov.
Walking in Their Ways
The Magnetic Force of a Good Word
When I was yet a young boy, I was sent to faraway England. Due to the distance, I didn’t see my family for seven years straight! After this time, I returned home to Morocco and the family I so missed. I was surrounded by love and warmth. Then it was time to return to the yeshiva. But, obviously, my return was very difficult. I had enjoyed the easy life at home and many comforts which were lacking in yeshiva life. After only a few days, I grew terribly homesick and wanted nothing more than to return home.
During that difficult period, my teacher, the tzaddik, Rabbi Chaim Shmuel Lopian, zt”l, supported me emotionally. He encouraged me to remain in the yeshiva. For this, I am indebted to him my entire life. The yeshiva also started studying a sugya which I found interesting, and it drew me back into the portals of the Beit Hamidrash.
Without my mentor’s support at that crucial time, together with the excitement generated by the sugya that was being studied then, who knows where I would be today? I am forever grateful to the Ribbono shel Olam, Who sent me His good messengers and kept me sheltered in the tent of Torah.
I learned invaluable lessons from the wonderful lifestyle of my teacher; Rabbi Chaim Shmuel Lopian, zt”l. I witnessed how he was satisfied with the barest necessities, while living with great joy.
It is difficult to believe that in our generation, there are still people who subsist in such simplicity. Rabbi Chaim Shmuel had a few rickety chairs around an old table. A few cups and saucers rounded out the sum total of his household furnishings. But his family was happy with their lot. This was in fulfillment of the pasuk in Mishlei (17:1), “Better a dry piece of bread with peace in it…”
I once observed my mentor suffering terribly from headaches and leg pains. I asked how he felt, and he replied that he was merely suffering the infirmities of old age.
“Why doesn’t the Rav take anything for the pain?” I inquired.
“Involvement in Torah is my best pain reliever,” he replied, in all sincerity. “When I am engrossed in Torah study and endeavor to understand a sugya, all of my aches simply disappear.” He said this with tranquility on his face.
How did Rabbi Chaim Shmuel merit such greatness in Torah? It was because he did not seek earthly pleasures. He was satisfied with the minimum necessities of life.
Words of Our Sages
Seeking counsel with the Torah Sages
“Two of Yaakov’s sons each took” (Bereishit 34:25)
Rashi explains: “They were his sons, but nevertheless, Shimon and Levi conducted themselves like other people, who were not his sons, for they did not take counsel with him.” It seems that they should have taken counsel with Yaakov, not only because he was their father, but also because he was an elder who had acquired wisdom, as Chazal say (Bamidbar Rabbah Shemot 3): “When do Yisrael succeed? When they have elders since one who takes counsel with the elders does not meet with failure.”
The Torah provides solutions and advice for all problems in the world. The gaon Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, zt”l, would repeat the following words of the Chafetz Chaim: There are moments in a person’s life when he has to decide on a certain matter and does not know what to do. Sometimes his life depends on this matter, and because he does not know what to do he falls into despair.
Then someone whispers in his ear: You can ask Hashem for His advice directly!
“How is that possible?” The man asks in wonder.
In fact – says the Chafetz Chaim, zt”l, this opportunity is presented to each person. We have the Torah which provides solutions for all difficulties that one encounters. The solution that we find in the Torah is Hashem’s advice to us. It is important to note that besides for mitzvot and prohibitions written in the Torah, there is also advice, which is tried and true. Just as the Torah is eternal, so, too, the advice of the Torah is eternal.
For example: “One should always divide his wealth into three parts: [investing] a third in land, a third in merchandise, and [keeping] a third ready to hand” (Baba Metzia 42a), because if he will suffer a loss in one area, he will still be left with another. This advice is tried and true. One who does not conduct himself according to this principle, does not transgress any commandment, but he declines good advice.
Rabbi Elchanan would add a personal touch to illustrate the point with a descriptive parable. If Reuvain comes along and informs you that your face got dirty, and your friend Shimon denies it and says that your face looks freshly washed, what would you do?
He says: You would walk over to the nearest mirror and see for yourself to know who is right. Similarly, the Torah is a clear mirror. Everything is reflected in it. When one is beset by doubt and disagreements, he should first look what is written in the Torah.
In the previous issues, we expanded on the enormous reward in store for one who answers Amen, as presented in the words of Chazal and in the Midrash, that He opens the gates of heaven and brings down an abundance of spiritual and material blessings. Consequently, the reward for one who answers Amen is like the dividends, since his reward is guaranteed also in this world, aside from the principal, which is reserved for the World to Come, eternally.
There is an amazing story that took place in Baghdad in the days of Rabbi Yosef Chaim, zya”a, the Ben Ish Chai:
There were two partners who lived in Baghdad who dealt with old clothes. Once, they heard of a gentile family offering old clothes for sale, and they went together to purchase them.
On the way they passed by a Beit Haknesset where they sought a tenth man to fill the quorum in order to say Kaddish. One merchant replied that his time was short and he separated from his partner. However the other one abided by the words of Chazal who say “A mitzvah that comes your way, do not delay performing it.” He entered the Beit Haknesset and answered the Amens after the Kaddish and immediately continued on his destination. When he arrived, he discovered that his fellow had already bought most of the clothes, besides for some tattered rags. Nevertheless, in order not to return empty-handed, he bought the rags and left.
A surprise awaited him at home. Among the tattered rags there was an old pillow. When he tore open the seams to remove the feathers, he found a precious gem inside. Immediately he ran to the jeweler who estimated that it was worth fifty gulden, and he gave him the money for it in cash on the spot. But, when the merchant’s wife heard about this, she began to persuade her husband that the jeweler had swindled him, since the gem was worth a lot more, and he should fight to get the jewel back.
The merchant decided to consult the “Ben Ish Chai,” zt”l. When the Rabbi heard the entire story, he replied: According to Chazal (Chulin 87a) it seems that the reward for every Amen is worth ten gulden. If so, when you heard a half Kaddish and answered five Amens, according to the letter of the law, you deserve fifty gulden in this world, while the principal is reserved for you in the World to Come. Therefore, do not appeal the bargain you made!
Omitting Amen reflects a lack of faith
On the other hand, we should note the inspiring words of the “Moreh Mikdash” (8) in the name of the Mahara”m Schiff, zt”l:
Every Jew must be aware of the magnitude of the prohibition of speaking mundane matters in the Beit Haknesset. In the holy Zohar it states that one who speaks [idly] in the Beit Haknesset, causes division – since his soul does not bond to the G-d of Israel, and also he harms his faith; meaning, that since he is engaged in chatter, he is not careful to answer Amen because he does not pay attention to the conclusion of the blessing. And even if he does pay attention, ultimately he does not know for what he is answering Amen (especially by the repetition of the Chazzan, if there are not ten men to answer Amen, then it is a blessing which is in vain). Since the one who answers Amen is called “guardian of faith – שומר אמנים”, then one who is not careful with this harms his faith.
Rabbi David Hanania Pinto
Yaakov’s message to Esav
“Then Yaakov sent angels ahead of him to Esav his brother” (Bereishit 32:4)
Yaakov Avinu sends angels to Esav to inform him that he is returning to Eretz Yisroel. Without doubt, Esav knew where Yaakov was all these years. If so, Esav knew that he was in Lavan’s house in Charan, and he could have gone there to harm him if he would have wanted to do so. Therefore, why does Yaakov have to inform him that he was in Charan and now he is returning to Eretz Yisrael? It is also surprising that he sent him angels to let him know (ibid. 32:5) "I have sojourned with Lavan,” and Chazal explain that he told him, “ I lived with the wicked Lavan, but I kept the 613 commandments, and I did not learn from his evil deeds.” Does this interest Esav?
The answer is that all along Yaakov made sure to let Esav know that he possesses Torah and mitzvot. When he has the merit of Torah occupation, he is not afraid of Esav at all. When he left his father’s house, he did not flee in panic, but remained in Eretz Yisrael in the yeshiva of Shem and Ever and studied Torah for fourteen years. Only then he set out to Lavan’s house. So too now, upon his return, he did fear and come in secret, but returned openly and boldly, and even sent angels announcing his return, because he possessed the power of Torah, then, and now as well.
Says Yaakov to Esav: You knew that I was in Charan in Lavan’s house all these years, and surely you were able to find me and harm me. Who prevented you from doing so? It is only the merit of the 613 mitzvot which I observed in Lavan’s house. It is the merit of the holy Torah that stood by me and prevented you from harming me, because when the voice of Yaakov resonates with Torah, there is no enemy who can fight against him, and the “hands of Esav” lose their strength. Thus, also now I am returning without fear and without fright, because I possess Torah which protects and guards me.
He added saying that one should not think that because he engages in Torah and invests all his energies and strength only for the Torah, he will not earn a respectable income, G-d forbid. Also Yaakov merited engaging in Torah and nevertheless he still possessed ox, donkeys and sheep, and many maids and servants. This is an all important foundation for all Torah Jews.
Unfortunately, today there is widespread concern for making a living, and many trouble themselves greatly for it. There are those who mistakenly believe that if they will leave the study of Torah and instead engage in business, they will have a better life; their financial situation will improve, and they will become wealthy. Yaakov Avinu teaches us that this is not true. On the contrary, the more one will invest in learning Torah and occupy himself with it, he will merit greater wealth in his home. Only because Yaakov Avinu observed the 613 mitzvot, he merited prosperity in his home. This is the message that Yaakov wished to impart to Esav the Rasha, who is the symbol of the Yetzer Hara. Precisely when we engage in the study of Torah diligently, then there is blessing in our efforts, and we enjoy prosperity in our home.
Teaching of Eliahu Hanavi
King David o”h said in addition:
I, my fear (of Hashem) was from within my joy and my joy was from within my fear, but my love (of Hashem) was above all. Therefore the Holy One Blessed Be He established His covenant with me, that I shall be proficient in Scripture, in Mishnah, in halachot and aggadot, as it is stated “For was my house not [set up] thus with G-d; for He has granted me an everlasting covenant, established for all [time] and secure; for my entire salvation and desire [have been fulfilled], for He will not [allow other kingdoms to] sprout” ( Shmuel 23: 5). “Covenant” is a reference to none other than Torah, as it is stated “My covenant was with him, life and peace” (Malachi 2:5). “Established for all”; in Scripture, in Mishnah, in halachot and aggadot. “And secure”: that the words of Torah shall be secure in me forever and ever. "For my entire salvation and desire [have been fulfilled], for He will not sprout”, from here they said: A talmid chacham who is excessively occupied with the study of Torah; if his sustenance is not plentiful, this is a good omen for him.
And if you shall ask: If the Holy One Blessed Be He loves his Torah-study, why then does He not make him wealthy?
Thus this goes to say that if he would become wealthy he shall step away from the words of Torah.
Hence, a talmid chacham who is greatly occupied in the work of Torah-study but does not bring in large income; this is a good omen for him; (this indicates that) Holy One Blessed Be He loves his Torah-study, for if he shall become wealthy he shall step away from the words of Torah. So is stated explicitly in Ketubim by Solomon, King of Israel: I ask two things of You, Do not withhold from me before I die; Keep vanity and falseness far from me; give me neither poverty nor wealth, but allot me my daily bread, lest I become sated and deny [You], and say, “Who is Hashem?” and lest I become impoverished and steal, and take the Name of my G-d”.
Blessed be the Omnipresent One who chose Torah, Gemara, the sages, their students and student’s students, their children and children’s children until the end of all generations. He relates to them with “the measure that a person measures so is measured (from Heaven) to him”. Just as when they sit in Batei Knesset and Batei Midrash and any available place, and study for the sake of Heaven’s Name, with fear in their hearts and keep the words of Torah in their mouths so that they shall not be forgotten from their mouths and the mouths of their children and children’s children forever; so does the Holy One Blessed Be He choose them and their children and children’s children forever. As is it stated: “And as for Me, this is My covenant with them”, said Hashem, “My spirit that is upon you and My words that I have placed in your mouth shall not be withdrawn from your mouth, nor from the mouths of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring’, said Hashem, “From this moment and forever” (Yeshaye 59:21).
Men of Faith
The daughter of the tzaddik Rabbi Chaim Pinto Hagadol, Bébéh, married Rabbi Chaim Ifergan, zt”l, who served as a dayan in his city. They had two children, a son by the name of Meir and a daughter called Taneh (Sultana).
Mrs. Mira Moyal, the daughter of Rabbanit Taneh, who was the granddaughter of Rabbi Chaim Hagadol, testifies that whenever Rabbanit Taneh would leave her house, the entire street would be vacated because of her tremendous holiness. All the men and women feared looking at her face, since it shone as brightly as the radiant sun.
Mrs. Moyal further adds that when she was a young girl, she became sick with a life-threatening illness and was on the brink of death. The doctors predicted that she would undoubtedly die that day.
Rabbanit Taneh quickly set out to the cemetery, in order to pray at the grave of her righteous grandfather, Rabbi Chaim, and beg him to intervene on her daughter Mira’s behalf.
When she arrived at the grave, she encountered all her holy ancestors, who had already perished, greeting her. Suddenly, she spotted her illustrious grandfather, Rabbi Chaim, and he informed her, “Today a decree was issued upon your daughter Mira that she will die.”
Rabbanit Taneh lamented, “This is not possible.” Rabbi Chaim repeated once again, “The decree was already issued, and there is nothing to do.”
Rabbanit Taneh questioned, “Grandfather, is there really nothing left to do?” Rabbi Chaim responded, “Do you have any suggestions?”
“Yes!” answered Rabbanit Taneh. “My daughter has a lot of silver and gold coins saved for her wedding expenses. I ask that all the coins disappear, and in return, she should live and be spared from death.”
Rabbi Chaim agreed to this offer; and so it was. On that very day, all the coins disappeared, and Mrs. Moyal began to recover.
In the evening, the doctor visited the house, expecting to see Mrs. Moyal already deceased, as he had predicted. He was absolutely amazed to see her alive and well, as healthy as before.
When Mira grew up, she married an illustrious Torah scholar, Rabbi Avraham Moyal, who had true fear of Heaven and refrained from all evil.