January 28th, 2017
1st of Shvat 5777
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Slavery was Essential Prior to Redemption
Rabbi David Hanania Pinto
“Moreover, I have heard the groan of the Children of Israel whom Egypt enslaves and I have remembered My covenant” (Shemot 6:5)
We need to clarify why Hashem wanted Bnei Yisrael first to be humiliated and tortured slaves before taking them to be his Chosen People. It is also puzzling – since the decree upon Am Yisrael was that they would be enslaved in “a land that is not theirs,” it could have been satisfied in any foreign land in the world. Why then did they specifically descend to Egypt, which is the source of impurity and abomination, where they would eventually fall to the depths of the forty-ninth level of impurity and become enslaved with body and spirit, working with mortar and bricks and all field work and the Egyptians would drown their sons in the Nile and would plaster them into the walls and slaughter them in order to bathe in their blood. Why did Hashem not choose to enslave them in a less cruel environment?
I would like to suggest, that it is because the main purpose in leaving Egypt was in order for Am Yisrael to become faithful servants of Hashem, subjugating themselves to Him, and performing His will wholeheartedly. Hashem knew that prior to their enslavement, they were unfit to serve Him properly because they were not absolutely subservient. Only after subjecting them to Exile and suffering humiliating slavery would they be fit to be redeemed and become the Chosen People, entirely subservient to Hashem. Consequently, if Hashem would have placed them in a different land and they would not have enslaved them with torturous labor, but would have treated them as kings, they would not have become subservient and it would have defeated the entire purpose of the exile.
Ultimately, placing them in the hands of cruel slave-drivers was a fulfillment of what is stated (Shemot 2:23) “and the children of Israel sighed from the labor, and they cried out, and their cry ascended to God from the labor.” Only then did they learn to be entirely subservient before Hashem and they turned to Him wholeheartedly begging to be saved. Now they were prepared to become faithful servants and perform His will. When the purpose of the exile was realized, Hashem immediately appeared and redeemed them.
Bnei Yisrael, indeed, merited becoming Hashem’s servants, and Hashem proudly proclaimed (Vayikra 25:55), “For the children of Israel are servants to Me; they are My servants, whom I took out of the land of Egypt.” Actually there is another kind of slavery, as in the example of the wicked Pharoah, who was a slave to his desires, to his passions, and to his vices. Pride and haughtiness filled his whole being, and he would arrogantly declare (Yechezkiel 29:3) “Who is the Lord that I should heed His voice to let Israel out? I do not know the Lord, neither will I let Israel out.” This is a kind of slave who is a enslaved to his heart’s desire.
Although at first it seemed that success shone upon him and he was in full control, but Hashem revealed for all to see, what is the fate of one who chooses to become enslaved to the vanities of this world. Ultimately, Hashem lowered him to the depths of destruction and struck him with supernatural torturous plagues, because that is the end of one who removes from himself the yoke of Heaven and chooses to become a slave to his passions and evil inclination.
Unfortunately, there are such people today who have not yet left the slavery of Egypt and are enslaved to their money from morning to night, and all day they are in pursuit of transient vanities. They do not even care properly for their own health, and do not take time to eat proper meals, because they are under pressure around the clock to pursue their physical desires. They do not enjoy normal family life and they barely know their children, because they do not have time to spend with them. Their head is constantly occupied by their material business. These people should be aware that the time will come when their life will end, and like everyone else they will be interred in the earth and they will have to give an account for their actions before the Heavenly Court. They should learn from the example of the wicked Pharoah, who also was a slave to his desires and succumbed to his evil inclination. At first it seemed that he was successful and prosperous. But in the end, disaster set in and he fell to the depths of destruction and experienced terrible humiliation.
This is what Hashem wanted his people to witness so that they should learn a lesson and take it to heart. He told them that they feared Pharoah and trembled before him, thinking that he was omnipotent. However, in the end he met his downfall and was completely destroyed. This is the end of all those who choose to become slaves to their evil inclination. The example of Egypt paved the way for Bnei Yisrael to become faithful servants to Hashem, Blessed Be His Name.
May we merit to be true faithful servants to the A-lmighty, who fulfill His will wholeheartedly and willingly. Then Hashem, Blessed Be He, will proudly proclaim, “You are My servant, Israel, about whom I will boast,” Amen and Amen.
Walking in Their Ways
Haste Makes Waste
I once noticed a man come extremely late to the tefillah. After rushing through his prayers, he turned to leave as quickly as he had come. I hurried over to him, stopping him in his tracks. I roundly rebuked him for his sham of a prayer. “Is this what you call tefillah?” I asked rhetorically.
He replied, “I am exempt from praying longer today. I must make an important call regarding business. I stand to gain a huge profit. Therefore, I could not spend more time on my prayers.”
This man came to the Beit Hakeneset, but prayed only as long as was convenient. As soon as his business transactions were at risk, he forsook his prayers to tend to his finances. His actions reminded me of Lot, who was willing to cling to Avraham as long as his materialistic lusts were not compromised.
He failed to realize that praying to Hashem for siyata di’Shemaya is what brings in profits. Had he understood this, he would have spent his time supplicating Hashem, Who is All-Powerful. In this manner, he would have accrued additional merits, which would provide him with blessing and success in all his endeavors.
The haftarah of the week: So says the Lord, “The heavens are My throne” (Yeshayahu 66)
The connection to the parashah: Rosh Chodesh Shevat is on this Shabbat, and thus the connection to the pasuk mentioned in the haftarah: “And it shall be from new moon to new moon and from Sabbath to Sabbath, that all flesh shall come to prostrate themselves before Me,” which is related to this day.
Words of Wisdom
“These [following] are the heads of the fathers' houses: The sons of Reuvain… And the sons of Shimon… And these are the names of Levi's sons” (Shemot 6:14-15)
The Shela Hakadosh asks: What is the reason that the word “שמות” (names) is mentioned in reference to the tribe of Levi, whereas it does not appear in reference to Reuvain or Shimon.
The answer is: Because the descendents of Levi were not enslaved. Levi knew this and wanted to share in the pain of his fellows. What did he do? He gave his sons names that reminded him of the slavery, such as Gershon, which signifies “your seed will be strangers in a land that is not theirs,” and Kehat (lit. blackened), since their teeth became blackened, and the name Merari (lit. bitter) since “they embittered their lives.” Thus it states, “And these are the names of Levi’s sons.”
From this, the Shelah writes, a person should learn to share in the pain of his fellow even though he is not experiencing trouble. So Hashem told Moshe Rabbeinu, a”h, “Ehyeh asher ehyeh (I will be what I will be),” signifying that “I will be with them in this exile, as well as in every other exile.”
The gaon and tzaddik, the Sabba of Slabodka, Rabbi Nattan Zvi Finkel, zt”l, would educate and train his students to acquire the virtue of “sharing his fellow’s yoke.” During the war, the economic situation was bad, and everyone was literally starving.
The proverty that prevailed in those days was terrible. “The shoes of yeshiva students,” as his disciple, the gaon Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman, zt”l, testifies, “were made from old rags glued together. My suit, at that time, was sewn from a burlap sack used to package potatoes.
During that period, Rabbi Ruderman succeeded in setting aside half of his meager allowance to buy a brand-new “tallit kattan” to enhance the mitzvah. When he presented the Sabba of Slabodka with the new tallit which he had purchased, expecting to receive admiration and praise for his devotion, the Sabba reprimanded him sharply, with the intention of guiding his pupil correctly to distance himself from any touch of arrogance that may have prompted him to purchase the new tallit, and to train him to first consider the needs of his fellow. He reproved him, saying: “What have you done?! If you were able to set aside coins from your meager allowance, you should have given the money to another poor fellow to buy the food that is so lacking in times like this.”
Guard Your Tongue
One should ask: What is the purpose of listening?
One who wants to do what is right in reference to listening should conduct himself in the following manner: If a person comes to him and wants to relate to him something about his fellow, and he realizes that he is about to relate something derogatory, he should first ask him, is the matter that you wish to relate something that will affect me in the future, or will I be able to assist someone, as in reproving him, or something similar?
If he will say that it can affect him in the future, or that he can assist someone, it is permissible to listen, but not to believe it as absolute truth, until further investigation. However, if it is understood from his response that there is nothing beneficial to gain from listening, or it is clear that he is only trying to disgrace the person because he hates him, then it is prohibited to listen.
Rabbi David Hanania Pinto
“But I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and I will increase My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt”
Rashi explains: “But I will harden”: Since he [Pharaoh] behaved wickedly and defied Me, and I know full well that there is no delight among the nations to make a wholehearted attempt to repent, it is better for Me that his heart be hardened, so that [I can] increase My signs and My wonders in him… Nevertheless, in the first five plagues, it does not say, “And the Lord strengthened Pharaoh’s heart,” but “Pharaoh’s heart remained steadfast.” These are the words of Rashi. Since Hashem saw that Paroah had intentionally hardened his heart, He reinforced his hardness of heart, but at first, despite all the plagues that befell him, Pharoah persisted stubbornly in his rebellion and was not inclined to do teshuvah, even after seeing the truth before his eyes that whatever Moshe said came true with every plague.
We need to clarify, from where did he get the strength to persist with his wickedness and hard hardness and refuse to let the Jews go. After all, the Egyptians were struck with painful plagues, so why did he not change his mind?
This is because the vice of arrogance was his ruination. Arrogance is the root of all vices.
When a person is proud and arrogant, he is not ready to listen even to true messages that others tell him, even if he sees the truth before his eyes. His arrogance blinds him to the obvious truth; consequently, he becomes trapped by his pride.
On the contrary, when a person behaves humbly and unassumingly, he is a receptacle for all positive virtues. He has a sympathetic ear to hear others and is capable of accepting his fellow’s point of view. If the latter is right, he admits the truth and accepts those who say it, whether they are younger or older than him. However, Pharaoh, the wicked, did not behave in this way. He stubbornly hardened his heart despite the painful plagues.
The leaders in every generation emphasized greatly the importance of educating children from a young age to answer Amen after each and every blessing that they hear, as is stated in the sefer “Kiyum HaTorah” (5:41).
“When a person teaches his child to answer Amen and Amen y’hei Shmei Rabba, and to recite the blessing properly and slowly, he reinforces connection to Hashem and instills faith in his heart. In this way he fulfills the positive Torah Commandment of “And you shall make them known to your children and to your children's children.”
These are the beautiful words of the Shelah Hakadosh: (Kitzur Shelah Masechet Shavuot):
Chazal say (Avot 1:17) “Not study, but practice is the main thing.” He implied that one should get used to practicing good deeds and instill fear of Hashem in their hearts, and acquire faith in Hashem and His commandments so that they should fear His word, and they should not take pleasure in this world without making a blessing before and after, and answer “Amen, y’hei Shmei Rabbah” and “Amen” following every blessing. Certainly, every teacher who does so will be rewarded greatly.
From the testimony of the great Torah Sages we see that from time immemorial they put emphasis when educating children on this matter, as the Chafetz Chaim, zt”l, writes in his sefer “Chomat Hadat” (Chatimat Hasefer 2):
It is a worthy custom that is generally accepted that the Rebbes of the young Cheder children should train the children to answer Amen, and “Amen, y’hei Shmei Rabbah” and Kedushah pleasantly. This is what Maran Rabbi Yisrael Ba’al Shem Tov did in his youth. He would gather all the young Cheder children to answer Amen.
One Should Invest Efforts in This
Thus says the Admor of Toldot Aharon, zt”l, the author of “Divrei Emunah”:
Years ago, in past generations, when people prayed with tremendous enthusiasm, it was not necessary to tell children about the importance of prayer, since the fervent prayers of their fathers taught them volumes about the importance of prayer. However, today, unfortunately, the concept of prayer has weakened and the burning fervor has cooled. Therefore, it is necessary to invest efforts and look after the children to pray. If not, they will not concentrate properly on their prayers, and the children may lose all sensitivities and appreciation for prayer, G-d forbid.
The Admor adds: Children must be supervised so that they do not miss prayers, and so that they should not pray hurriedly and not talk during the repetition of the shaliach tzibbur, and they should answer Amen, and “Amen, y’hei Shmei Rabbah” loudly and deliberately.
As Soon as the Child Can Talk
It is worth noting the custom of the holy Baba Sali, Rabbeinu Yisrael Abuchatzera, zy”a; when the children would recite a blessing correctly, the tzaddik would answer Amen to their blessing. And as soon as the child would begin to talk, Rabbeinu would train him to answer Amen after each and every blessing.
Men of Faith
When Rabbi Chaim Hagadol was only twelve years old, he was orphaned from both his father and mother. At that time, a strong earthquake rocked the city of Agadir. The port, which was the main source of income for the inhabitants, was destroyed. In its place, a new port was constructed in the city of Mogador. Consequently, many Jewish families, including the Pinto family, resettled in Mogador, where they eventually succeeded in earning a profitable and respectable income.
Rabbi Gedalia Yaakov was very active in assisting the immigrants who streamed to Mogador. He sent the youth, Chaim Pinto, to his relative, Rabbi Meir Pinto, who served as an official in the French Consulate in Mogador.
Rabbi Meir Pinto welcomed his young relative cordially and extended his hospitality to him. Eventually, he sent Rabbi Chaim to learn in the yeshiva of the gaon Rabbi Yaakov Bibas, zt”l, who was the Rosh Av Beit Din of Mogador, so that he should grow in Torah.
When the famous war between France and Portugal broke out, Rabbi Chaim Hagadol was taken against his will and tied to the top of the tower overlooking the sea. The Portugese believed that since he was a G-dly man, a tzaddik and miracle-worker, he would protect them by sitting at the top of the tower overlooking the sea and facing the oncoming enemies.
Rabbi Chaim was held in the top of the tower for a long time. At the end of that period, all of a sudden, the authorities decided to execute him in public in the city square, so that everyone should fear them.
By miracle, Rabbi Chaim was spared this gruesome death, and then the poet, Rabbi Chaim Zafrani wrote a beautiful piyut for the occasion called “My heart warmed within me.” He writes the following:
“The enemy raised his hand, to cruelly strike, but his hand became paralyzed and stopped, also from his place he could not move, he stopped, was arrested, was imprisoned, because he wanted to destroy him, the sanctified man of G-d, Rabbi Chaim Pinto.”
Ultimately, on the twenty-sixth of Elul, 1845 (5605), Rabbi Chaim’s flame was extinguished, and his holy soul returned to its source from beneath the Heavenly Throne.
Rabbi Chaim was buried in the old cemetery in Mogador. Prior to his death, he requested of his sons neither to build a monument over his grave nor to inscribe any praise on his tombstone, but only to write his name.
After a consultation with the city’s Rabbis, it was decided to inscribe the following words, which appear on the tzaddik’s grave until today:
“The tombstone of the holy Rabbi, a bastion of strength, who was the most senior authority and known for performing miracles, Moreinu v’Rabbeinu Chaim Pinto, zy”a, who returned his soul on the twenty-sixth of Elul, 5605, may he rest in peace.” A few years ago, Mr. Shimon Levi from the city of Mogador built a magnificent shelter over Rabbi Chaim Pinto’s grave.
Rabbi Chaim Hagadol left four righteous sons: Rabbi Yehuda, known as Rabbi Hadan; Rabbi Yosef; Rabbi Yoshiyahu; and Rabbi Shaul, may their memory be blessed. Each one of them became famous for their righteousness, erudition in Torah, fear of Heaven, holiness, and for the many miracles they performed.
From the teachings of Eliyahu Ha’navi – Of Blessed Memory
Tanna D’vei Eliyahu
Ten plagues the Holy One Blessed Be He brought upon the Egyptians, and all of them He did not bring upon them only because of what they had thought to do to Israel; for all matters of the Holy One Blessed Be He are truth, measure for measure; and no bad measures go out before Him but only good measures, and because of the improper actions of people bad measures go out upon them. These are the plagues: Blood, frogs, lice, wild beasts, cattle plague, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and death of the first-born.
Why did He bring upon them blood?
Because they saw Israel immersing to purify themselves from their contamination; what did the Egyptians do? They seized all the waters so that they should not be able to immerse and thus would not multiply; therefore, the Holy One Blessed Be He turned all their waters into blood, as it is stated, “He turned their waters into blood, and killed their fish” (Psalms 105:29). The Egyptians then said to Israel “Give us from your water”. He gave him water and it turned to blood; he (the Egyptian) then said, “You drink”, and the Israelite drank water. He (the Egyptian) then said, “Drink together with me from one vessel”; the water divided; the Israelite drank water and the Egyptian drank blood, this is to fulfill what is stated: “And so that you may relate in the ears of your son and your son’s son that I made a mockery of Egypt etc. that you may know that I am Hashem” (Shemot 10:2.), faithful to give good reward to the tzaddikim and punishment of justice to the resha’im.
Why did He bring upon them frogs?
Because they said to Israel: “Go and fetch for us reptiles for us to play with as we wish”. Therefore the Holy One Blessed Be He brought upon them frogs; to the extent that their voices were heard from within the bellies of the Egyptians saying “coo-coo”; and not only that but also when they went to the lavatory the frogs would go out and bite them in their anus’; and there is no greater shame than this, as it is stated: “The river shall swarm with frogs, and they shall ascend and come into your palace and your bedroom and your bed, and into the house of your servants and of your people, and into your ovens and into your kneading bowls. And into you and your people and all your servants will the frogs ascend” (Shemot 7:28, 29). And Pharaoh said to Moshe, “With sorcery you are coming against us”? I shall summon the schoolchildren and they will do the same. Immediately Pharaoh summoned his wise-men and necromancers and they did also the same, just as Moshe and Aharon made the frogs so did the Egyptians make frogs. From this point and further, there is no one in the whole world who can create a creature smaller than a lentil.
One verse states: “The river shall swarm with frogs (plural tense), whereas a different verse states: “The frog (singular tense) ascended”, how can we resolve these two verses?
Rabbi Akiva says, there was one frog and the Egyptians hit it; and more frogs came out of it until the entire land was covered with frogs. Rabbi Eliezer the Modi’ite said to him, “Why do you engage in Aggadah, leave your words aside and go engage in the study of Nega’im and Ohalot (matters of ritual purity), but the Holy One Blessed Be He brought upon them many types of frogs; what does “The frog” (singular tense – צפרדע in Hebrew) then refer to? The word צפרדע is a contraction: "צפור- דיע" (“bird – wisdom”), for she (the frog) has wisdom; when the birds are thirsty and come to drink from the river and the lakes, they (the frogs) call to them and say to them “come and drink, do not fear”; regarding them is stated: “He sends the springs into the streams, they flow between the mountains, They water every beast of the field, they quench the wild beasts’ thirst. Near them dwell the heaven’s birds etc.” (Psalms 104:10, 11, 12).
Why did He bring upon them lice?
For they assigned Israel to sweep the roads and streets, the houses and the fields; the men sent to sweep the houses of the women; and the women they sent to sweep the houses of the men. Thereupon the Holy One Blessed Be He turned the dust of Egypt into lice, as it is stated:”Aharon stretched out with his staff and struck the dust of the land, and the lice were on man and beast; all the dust of the land became lice” (Shemot 8:13), till they did not find the dust of the land that the Israel swept.
Fourteen kinds of lice the Holy One Blessed Be He brought upon the Egyptians: 1) yeruknin, 2) yarkuvot, 3) kapuin, 4) kapuhot, 5) sefifin, 6) yaalim of the water, 7) nefchadrin, 8) yaalim of the fields, 9) nemalah, 10) avi atzel, 11) em kinim, 12) achshav, 13) kivin dechachichi, 14) byuky biely.