Frbruary 4th, 2017
8th of Shvat 5777
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Separating Between Light and Darkness
Rabbi David Hanania Pinto
“And there was thick darkness over the entire land of Egypt for three days” (Shemot 10:22)
Rashi explains: Now why did He bring darkness upon them [the Egyptians]? Because there were among the Israelites in that generation wicked people who did not want to leave [Egypt]. They died during the three days of darkness, so that the Egyptians would not see their downfall and say, “They too are being smitten like us.” Also, the Israelites searched [the Egyptians’ dwellings during the darkness] and saw their belongings. When they were leaving [Egypt] and asked [for some of their things], and they [the Egyptians] said, “We have nothing,” he [the Israelite] would say to him, “I saw it in your house, and it is in such and such a place.”
This requires explanation. If the plague of darkness came in order to kill the wicked people of Yisrael, was there no other way to kill them? And if the purpose was that the Egyptians should not notice the deaths of the wicked Jews, in any case it would have been discovered a few days later when they would see that many Jewish slaves were missing. Then they would all realize that these Jews died during the plague of Darkness because they were wicked. So, what was the point in hiding something that would eventually become known?
Regarding the second reason that Rashi cites, that the plague of darkness came so that the Jews could enter the homes of the Egyptians and see where they kept their treasures and take stock of their gold and silver, it is puzzling. Why was it so important to Hashem that Bnei Yisrael should acquire the possessions of the Egyptians? Moreover, it is clear that at that time the Jews did not desire gold and silver. They only wished to be freed from their torturous slavery and leave Egypt.
In order to understand this, we first have to clarify that the Ten Plagues brought upon the Egyptians did not come only in order to punish Pharaoh and his nation for enslaving the Jews with harsh labor, but it also provided an important lesson for the Jews. First of all, through the extraordinary Plagues and the miracles involved with them, the Jews would recognize Hashem, as it is stated, “And you will know that I am the Lord your God.” This way they would witness His tremendous might and power and they would realize that “there is none else besides Him,” and then they would readily agree to accept upon themselves the yoke of Heaven and observe the Torah and its mitzvot wholeheartedly.
Besides for this, there was another lesson to be learned from the Plagues. Bnei Yisrael would realize what terrible punishment awaits one who behaves stubbornly and hardens his heart against Hashem. For example, the Plague of Hail was a painful blow, to the extent that Pharaoh broke from it. Moshe prayed to Hashem to end the plague, and so it was. The thunder and hail ceased, but then Pharaoh again relapsed into his stubbornness and hardened his heart. Then again Hashem had to strike him with another plague in order to bring him around to the truth and subdue him. Certainly, Bnei Yisrael, observing this from the side, witnessed the foolishness of Pharaoh and learned a lesson for themselves. They saw before their eyes how just moments before Pharaoh had subdued himself before Hashem and bowed before him, crying loudly, “Hashem is the Righteous One!” Then suddenly, when the plague ended, all was forgotten as if nothing happened. Again, Pharaoh turned stubborn and rebelled against Hashem.
Unfortunately, there are many people today who follow in the path of Pharaoh, and it is incumbent upon them to repair their ways immediately. Many times, when a person suffers affliction, he cries to Hashem for salvation, and then he comes closer to Hashem and promises to improve his ways and do teshuvah. However, once Hashem showers Mercy upon him and removes the affliction, and he feels good, he returns to his evil ways and leaves the path of Torah and mitzvot. Does this person not resemble Pharaoh? Does he not follow in his corrupt ways, where first he declares “Hashem is the Righteous One!” but after the danger passes, he turns stubborn and hardens his heart against Hashem!...
This behavior is similar to that of Pharaoh. As soon as he sees that a miracle occurred, he gives lip service and declares “Hashem is the Righteous One!” However, deep inside, he does not change at all. Therefore, after a while he returns to his evil ways and says, “Who is the Lord that I should heed His voice to let Israel out?” When Bnei Yisrael witnessed Pharaoh’s corrupt behavior and the Plagues that he suffered as a result, they realized how terrible it was to go in his ways which results in destruction, and it was preferable to sincerely draw close to Hashem and not vacillate from the truth.
Walking in Their Ways
With Bonds of Love
During a trip to New York, Mr. Diamond approached me and related that he suffered a serious eye disease, which had no known cure. It left him blind in both eyes.
“Do you put on tefillin daily?” I asked.
He replied in the negative.
I then quoted to him the pesukim which discuss tzitzit and tefillin. I read to him the following from Sefer Bamidbar (15:37-39), “Hashem said to Moshe, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them that they shall make themselves tzitzit on the corners of their garments, for all their generations. And they shall place upon the tzitzit of each corner a thread of turquoise wool. It shall will be tzitzit for you, that you may see it and remember all the commandments of Hashem and do them; and not explore after your heart and after your eyes after which you stray.” I also quoted the pasuk from Devarim (6:8), “Bind them as a sign upon your arm and they shall be ornaments between your eyes.”
I explained that Hashem gave us the mitzvot of tzitzit and tefillin which have the ability to protect a person from all harm. But to my dismay, he burst out in laughter. “Honored Rav, I was born in Israel, but moved to America, the land of plenty. Thank G-d, I do not lack for anything. The only thing that bothers me is this eye disease. What’s the connection between tefillin and my vision? Is wearing tefillin some kind of voodoo, which will suddenly open my eyes?!”
But I would not be deterred. “Imagine if a top specialist were to prescribe some sort of concoction of various herbs and tell you to put it between your eyes every morning. Would you obey him? Of course, you would. If you would unquestioningly accept the advice of a mere human doctor, listen to me, your spiritual healer and do exactly as I instruct!
“The Torah is the potion of life, with the potential to heal anyone from any ailment. If Hashem commands us to wear tefillin every day, there is certainly a special reason for it, and doing it can only be beneficial. The Ben Ish Chai writes that tefillin have the ability to help a person believe in Hashem. They act as buffers between a person’s eyes and heart and the temptations of this world. If they provide spiritual remedy, they surely provide physical remedy, as well, and will be the catalyst for your complete recovery!”
Mr. Diamond followed my instructions. He purchased a pair of tefillin and wore them daily. One morning, after only a week, he awoke to a brand new day and the realization that he could see his wife standing in the kitchen preparing a cup of coffee. He immediately jumped out of bed and rushed toward her, ignoring his walking stick.
His wife was shocked at this, and called out to him, “Hey, do you want to fall on your face, first thing in the morning? Do you see that you’re walking without your stick?”
“I certainly do,” he said, just as surprised at this turn of events as she was.
There is no doubt that it was the merit of tefillin which effected his recovery. When Hashem saw his determination to begin wearing tefillin, He healed him and returned his sight.
Words of Wisdom
Being Careful with his Fellow’s Honor
“And all these servants of yours will come down to me” (Shemot 11:8)
Rashi cites the words of the gemara (Zevachim 102a): [By using this phrase,] he [Moshe] showed respect for the throne, because eventually Pharaoh himself went down to him at night and said, “Get up and get out from among my people” (Exod. 12:31), although Moshe had not originally said, “You will come down to me and prostrate yourself to me.” Similarly, Chazal say regarding the pasuk, “He commanded them concerning the children of Israel and concerning Pharaoh, the king of Egypt;” Hashem told them: honor [Pharaoh] and show respect to his kingship even though I will bring justice upon him.
The gaon Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, shlit”a, in his sefer “Orchot Yosher” writes:
It is clear that one who respects people, other people will respect him, and if he behaves in the contrary, everyone will disgrace him. This is as the Mishnah states, “Who is honored? He who honors others.”
The gaon Rabbi Yechezkiel Abramsky, zt”l, was very careful to preserve the dignity of others, so when people would stay in his house until very late and he wanted to go to sleep already, he would not tell them that it was time to leave, and would not directly imply it. But he would begin to recite sweetly the seder “Kriyat Shema” before retiring, and then everyone understood that it was time to go. They would wish him “good night” and Rabbi Yechezkiel Abramsky, in the midst of reciting “Kriyat Shema” would nod his head, gracing those leaving with his shining countenance.
The haftarah of the week: “The word that the Lord spoke to Yirmeyahu the prophet” (Yirmeyahu 46)
The connection to the parashah: The haftarah discusses the punishment of Pharaoh and the destruction of the land of Egypt. This is similar to the parashah that discusses the last three plagues and the destruction of Egypt.
Rabbi David Hanania Pinto
Hashem’s Presence in our Lives
“Hashem said to Moshe: "Come to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart” (Shemot 10:1)
The parashah begins with the words: “Come to Pharaoh” and does not state: “Go to Pharaoh” as in the previous parashah. Many commentators have commented on this, and I saw in the Zohar (Chelek 2:34a) that this choice of words implies – “Come Moshe, I and you will go together to Pharaoh.” Because Moshe feared going to Pharaoh, he was assured by Hashem that He would come along with him to Pharaoh. If Hashem would have said “Go,” it would imply that Hashem was telling Moshe to go alone, and Hashem would watch over him from a distance. Therefore, the Torah emphasizes “Come,” signifying that Hashem will come together with him to Pharaoh. This is the Zohar’s explanation.
However, this needs clarification. After all, the entire world is filled with Hashem’s glory, and Hashem is present all over, and just as He is here, He is present everywhere. Thus, how can we say that “Come to Pharaoh” implies “I and you will go together,” but “Go to Pharoah” suggests that Moshe will go alone? Isn’t Hashem present, at Moshe’s side, also when Moshe goes to Pharaoh?
I would like to suggest, with siyatta d’Shemaya, that there are various degrees of Hashem’s revelation in the world. There is a basic revelation to all creatures, meaning that Hashem is present and supervises over them with Divine Providence, supplying life energy continuously, to the extent that a person cannot lift his finger in this world unless the order was given to do so from Above. Anyone who contemplates the Creation will see clearly Hashem’s supervision over the world to the last detail.
The Yerushalmi (Shavuot 9) relates the following about Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, zy”a: He hid in a cave with a carob tree for thirteen years, and after his body turned rusty from being dug in, he decided to go out and he sat at the entrance to the cave. He saw a hunter hunting birds and he spread his nets to catch them. Then he heard a Heavenly Voice call out “Dimus!” which means “watch out!” and indeed the bird overhead was not caught. Rabbi Shimon concluded that if a bird cannot be caught unless it was decreed so from Heaven, how much more so is this true regarding man. He understood that he could leave the cave and not fear getting caught. And so it was. Thus, we see that Hashem supervises over all His creatures at all times and everything is decided upon through Hashem’s decree. This is in essence basic Divine Providence on all creatures.
But there is a higher degree than this for which every man and every Torah Jew should aspire, which is to sense and feel Hashem’s presence every single moment, as it is stated (Tehillim 121:5) “The Lord is your Guardian; the Lord is your shadow; [He is] by your right hand.” On every occasion and at all times, even in times of trouble, a person should realize clearly that his Father in Heaven is escorting him. Regarding this, David Hamelech states (ibid. 23:4) “Even when I walk in the valley of darkness, I will fear no evil for You are with me.” This is the most preferable level in Fearing Heaven that each person should strive to achieve. This too was the factor concerning Moshe Rabbeinu, a”h, who wanted Hashem to literally escort him and that he would attain the level of “The Lord is your Guardian; the Lord is your shadow; [He is] by your right hand,” and feel that Hashem is coming with him to Pharaoh. And this is what Hashem promised he would achieve.
Strong and blessed
Among the stories about the lives of Torah Sages throughout the generations, most notable is the emphasis the Torah Sages have placed upon answering Amen upon hearing a blessing, and they bequeathed the importance of this matter to all future generations. Below we will note some stories which emphasize the importance of answering Amen after every blessing.
The mashgiach of Ponovezh, the gaon Rabbi Yerucham Levinstein, zt”l, would get up early to go to the yeshiva a whole hour before the beginning of the Morning Service. In the yeshiva there was a student who wished to recite before him the Morning Blessings every day to enable him to answer Amen after the blessings. (“Amud Hayirah Veha’avoda” 67)
It is told about Rabbi Nathan Wachtfogel, zt”l, that he was outstandingly meticulous about reciting blessings properly. He would recite the Morning Blessings out loud and made sure that there would be someone to answer Amen after his blessings. He would conclude “hagomel chassadim tovim l’Amo Yisrael – Who bestows beneficent kindness upon His people Israel” loudly. Once someone questioned him about this and he said “This includes everything.” (Leket Reshimot B’inyanei Tefillah 105)
Maran Rabbi Ahron Yehudah Leib Steinman, shlit”a, made sure to lecture about this matter in public. Once he said in his lecture that while we are in this world we have a hard time understanding the importance of answering Amen, which is worth billions and billions, and we do not appreciate it. However, in the World to Come, every “Amen” helps, and if one Amen is lacking, a person has a lot to lose, and even one “Amen” has the power to save him!
“Once Jews were very careful to answer Amen, and they would seek more and more to answer Amen, to the extent that they would go from one person to the other to hear them recite the blessings so that they could answer Amen. This is why people recite the Morning Blessings out loud, so that others could answer Amen, and this is a very good thing, since they bring the merit of this mitzvah to others.” (Kovetz Kol HaTorah 57:108)
The Chattan Was Chosen for This Reason
There is a beautiful story brought in the “Kovetz Ma’ayanot Hasimchah” about one of the grandchildren of the “Tiferet Shlomo,” who came to the holy Rabbi Shlomko of Zhevil, zt”l, and asked him about a shidduch for his daughter, who had become of age. The Admor told him to go pray in the “shtibelech” in the Beit Yisrael neighborhood and see which young man recites the Morning Blessings out loud before others so that they could answer Amen, and this person is the true match for his daughter. This is exactly what happened.
More on the Customs of the Tzaddikim
The Admor, the Shefa Chaim of Sanz, zt”l, would customarily distribute fruit for all the young children by his table, even for the very young children, and after they would recite the blessing, he would answer Amen. He viewed this as an exceptionally lofty custom.
In the sefer “Darchei Halachah,” the author Rabbi Chaim Shmerler, shlit”a, writes that one Shabbat when the Rabbi was lying in bed suffering, he did not distribute the remainder of his food to anyone sitting by his table because of his overwhelming weakness, but he did not forgo distributing fruit to the young children, and he sat a full hour answering “Amen” after each blessing.
Thought for the Week
Real and tangible faith in the Torah and in its scholars is exemplified by Channah, who was the mother of the prophet Shmuel. It is told about the Rav of Brisk, zt”l, that when he read the sefer “Shmuel,” discussing how Channah received the blessings of Eli the Cohen to have a child, and her reaction that she “no longer had the same look on her face” and was no longer worried, he would be moved to tears.
He would stress, “When did it happen that she “no longer had the same look on her face”?
It happened right after Eli the Cohen promised Channah that in the following year she would have a child.
Now Channah had suffered terribly throughout nineteen years of childlessness, until she received assurance from Eli the Cohen. And the moment that she heard his promise, the pasuk testifies that she did not look worried anymore.
Why was she relaxed to this extent? Did she see her child already?
The answer is:
But as soon as Eli the Cohen promised her a child, Channah believed with all her heart that his promise would be fulfilled, to the extent that she felt as if she was already holding her child in her arms. This is the level of faith that Channah had achieved, and it is deemed worthy to be implied in the pasuk: “And [Channah] no longer had the same look on her face”?
Men of Faith
While Still Young
During one of the years of famine, the young Chaim Pinto arrived in Mogador when he was only a young boy of twelve, orphaned of both his father and mother. He was weary from his journey, hungry and thirsty, but had no food or drink in his sack. He sought refuge in the Beit Hakeneset of Rabbi Meir Ben Attar. He was utterly exhausted, and his head dropped slowly, until he fell fast asleep.
At that time, Rabbi Meir Pinto, one of the charitable residents of Mogador, was sleeping comfortably in his bed. Two tzaddikim appeared to him in a dream: Rabbi Shlomo Pinto, zy”a, Chaim’s father, and Rabbi Moshe Tahuni, zt”l.
Both tzaddikim began to admonish him in his dream, since while he was sleeping in comfort, the young orphan, Chaim Pinto, was in the Beit Haknesset, hungry and thirsty.
“You should know,” the two disclosed, “that although he is still young, a great light will emanate from him in the days to come. Arise quickly and take him into your home. You must take care to hire a teacher who will teach him Torah.”
The two tzaddikim also appeared to the young Chaim Pinto in the Beit Haknesset, informing him that shortly Rabbi Meir Pinto would arrive, and he should go to his home. In order to verify the validity of the dream, the tzaddikim woke him up and stood before him while he was actually awake. They also blessed him and shook his hand.
Rabbi Meir awoke startled and immediately hurried to the Beit Haknesset to search for Rabbi Chaim. He knocked on the door.
“Who is there?” asked Rabbi Chaim from behind the door.
“It is I, Meir Pinto.”
“Recite the psalm May the pleasantness of the L-rd so that I should know that it is really you and not an agent of the Sitra Achra.” (The mazikim are afraid of this psalm, as is known by those who learn the hidden secrets of the Torah.)
Rav Meir Pinto recited the psalm, and then Chaim let him in. He recounted his father, Rabbi Shlomo’s, visit in detail.
Rabbi Meir trembled when he heard his relative’s tale. He brought the young Chaim to his home and took care of all his needs, spiritual and physical. Each day, Rabbi Meir would accompany Chaim to the house of Rabbi Yaakov Bibas, where he studied Torah diligently until he became a great Torah scholar.