February 18th, 2017
22nd of Shvat 5777
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A Wise Man Considers the Outcome
Rabbi David Hanania Pinto
“All the people saw the sounds and the flames, the sound of the shofar and the smoking mountain; the people saw and trembled and stood from afar” (Shemot 20:15)
How could the nation “see the sounds”? The words וירא העם(the people saw) can also mean that the nation feared. They heard the sounds of the shofar, which generally signifies war or the Day of Judgment, and feared their implication.
But let us try to understand the simple meaning of the pasuk, which seems to imply that they actually saw the sounds. “The wise man sees the outcome of his deeds” (Tamid 32a). Bnei Yisrael were in this category at Matan Torah; they had the foresight to see the implications of the shofar’s sounds. However, the word “seeing” does not seem accurate. A person can attempt to predict what will happen to him, but he does not have any power to perceive what exactly will take place in the future.
Maybe the way to explain this statement is as follows. A person’s wisdom depends on his ability to see the far-reaching effects of his mitzvot. He can determine whether or not they are done perfectly, l’shem Shamayim. They may, chas v’shalom, contain an element of personal interest and be tainted by ulterior motives. This type of mitzvah comes through aveirah, and it is preferable not to do it at all.
One’s power of imagination can help him picture exactly what will result from his mitzvot. It can help him understand whether or not he is fulfilling the mitzvot from a desire to fulfill Hashem’s will and sanctify His Name. When this is the case, he earns a special level of siyata di’Shemaya, which saves him from all harm.
“The wise of heart will seize good deeds” (Mishlei 10:8). Chazal say that this pasuk refers to Moshe Rabbeinu (Sotah 13a). At the time when the entire nation was involved in acquiring the riches of Egypt, Moshe took it upon himself to locate the remains of Yosef. But weren’t all of Am Yisrael occupied with Hashem’s command, when they were taking the wealth of Egypt? Hashem had promised Avraham Avinu (Bereishit 15:14), “And afterwards they will leave with great wealth.” Taking the wealth of the Egyptians was in fulfillment of this promise. Why was only Moshe’s action considered a mitzvah?
True, Bnei Yisrael were commanded to take the spoils of Egypt. But when they were busy with that, they were not concentrating on fulfilling Hashem’s word. They were completely consumed by the desire to acquire more and more riches. Therefore, it was considered a mitzvah done without considering the outcome. Moshe, on the other hand, was considered “the wise man who sees the outcome of his deeds.” With his power of vision, he saw the lasting effect of taking the Egyptians’ money, and opted, instead, to focus on finding Yosef’s coffin, for one who is involved in a mitzvah is exempt from performing another mitzvah (Sukkah 25a). Moshe probably took a small item from the spoils of Egypt, in order to fulfill Hashem’s command. Alternatively, Batya, daughter of Pharaoh, left Egypt with the rest of the Jewish nation and most likely took objects from her father’s house. Since Moshe was considered her son, this was deemed Moshe’s wealth, as well.
Because Bnei Yisrael did not use their power of imagination to picture the outcome of the urgent plundering of Egypt, it was detrimental to them. Mixed together with the wealth was the greedy temptation for money and possessions. This ultimately led them to fashion the Golden Calf.
Hashem blesses a person with wealth in order to allow him to support the weak and needy. But unfortunately, people perceive their possessions with distorted vision. They consider their money as the ultimate goal, instead of a means. This is similar to a mitzvah done through an aveirah, which results from the inability to see the future.
Bnei Yisrael spiritually scrubbed themselves for fifty days. They said “We will do” even before “We will hear.” They had reached the level of the angels, who accept Hashem’s mission upon themselves even before hearing what it is (Shabbat 88a). Making the declaration of “Na’aseh v’nishma!” demonstrated their ability to see the long-term effect of their actions. Since they were on the elevated level of the angels, they were able to see the future result of Kabbalat HaTorah. This, then, is the meaning of the words, “The entire people saw the thunder and the flames, the sound of the shofar.”
Guard Your Tongue
Good Advice and Making Amends for the Past
If a person transgressed the prohibition of listening to lashon hara, he should immediately attempt to seek merit for the one who was defamed in front of the gossiper. He should also attempt to remove any negative impressions from his heart about the person who was defamed, and thereby amend his transgression.
If he knows the nature of the gossiper, that anything that he will attempt to say in the victim’s favor will be met with another barrage of derogatory gossip, then certainly silence is the best recourse. After the gossiper leaves, it is a mitzvah to give the other listeners a positive explanation to the derogatory account and remove any negative impressions caused by the gossip from their hearts.
Walking in Their Ways
On the way to Toronto, for the sake of inspiring fellow Jews to increased Torah observance, I decided to spend the weekend in Deal, New Jersey. Although it seemed to make more sense that I should remain in Canada and participate in the simchah of a major Torah supporter, thereby benefitting our institution greatly, Hashem had other plans for me that Shabbat.
In Deal, I spoke before the congregation, strengthening their commitment to Torah and mitzvot. As I lectured, I noticed that although the Beit Hakeneset was a magnificent edifice, it lacked an Aron Hakodesh befitting this miniature Mikdash. When I asked the gabbaim about this, they informed me that there were plans for a grand Aron Hakodesh, but a considerable sum of funds was still lacking for it.
It suddenly dawned on me that this was the reason why Hashem had sent me to New Jersey. I immediately set to extolling the honor due to Torah, and what a great mitzvah it is to donate toward its beautiful abode.
The congregants were taken aback that I was soliciting funds for their Beit Hakeneset instead of requesting donations for my own institutions. They were even more amazed to see that I was the first one to pledge toward this endeavor.
Within a mere few moments, the entire sum was collected, 150,000 dollars. The members of the congregation took part in erecting a most majestic Aron Hakodesh, befitting the holy Torah Scrolls.
The haftarah of the week: “In the year of King Uzziah’s death” (Yeshayahu 6)
The connection to the parashah: The haftarah describes the revelation of the Shechinah in the Beit Hamikdash in Yerushalayim, which is similar to the parashah, describing the revelation of the Shechinah before the eyes of Bnei Yisrael at the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.
Words of Our Sages
Visiting the Sick and the Shechinah Resting On Him
“And you shall make known to them the way they must walk” (Shemot 18:20)
Chazal say (Bava Kama 100a): “The way” means deeds of lovingkindness; “they must walk” means the visitation of the sick. This corresponds to what Chazal say in the gemara (Sotah 14a): Ye shall walk after the Lord your God? Is it, then, possible for a human being to walk after the Shechinah; for has it not been said: For the Lord thy God is a devouring fire? But [the meaning is] to walk after the attributes of the Holy One, blessed be He. As He clothes the naked… so do thou also clothe the naked. The Holy One, blessed be He, visited the sick… so do thou also visit the sick.
There is a wonderful insight regarding this matter, as Chazal state (Shabbat 12a): If one enters [a house] to visit a sick person [on the Sabbath], he should say, “שבת היא מלזעוק ורפואה קרובה לבוא – It is the Shabbat, when one must not cry out, and recovery will soon come.” This is alluded to in the pasuk, “משֶׁה יְדַבֵּר וְהָאֱלֹהִים יַעֲנֶנּוּ בְקוֹל – Moshe would speak and God would answer him with a voice. In other words: if the visitor will say מש"ה – which is an acronym for “שבת היא מלזעוק – It is the Shabbat, when one must not cry out,” then “וְהָאֱלֹהִים יַעֲנֶנּוּ בְקוֹל – G-d would answer him with a voice” (The word קול (voice) is an acronym for “ורפואה קרובה לבוא – and recovery will soon come”).
Rabbi Chaim Chizkiyahu Medini, zt”l, (the author of “Sdei Chemed”) had a virtuous custom of going personally to visit others – either to comfort them in mourning, or to join in their celebration. He would even extend himself to visit the poorest people and pay respect to them.
Once, people met him going out in the heat of the day. They asked him: “Where is the Rabbi going?” He replied: “To perform the mitzvah of visiting the sick.”
The asked him: “Who is the sick man?” He then named the person. The people were horrified and said:
“This sick man is a corrupt man; may there not be others like him among the Jewish people!”
Rabbi Chaim Chizkiyahu explained to them:
First of all, it is stated: “Even the transgressors in Israel are as full of good deeds as a pomegranate [with seed],” and second of all, it is not the sick man alone that I am going to visit, but also the Shechinah hovering over the sick man’s bed.
The people accompanied him to the sick man. When the sick man saw them, he was very moved and uplifted. He regained his strength and sat up in bed out of respect. Not long after, the man was back on his feet, alive and well. Thereafter, he did complete teshuvah and did not transgress again. (“Orot MiMizrach”)
Rabbi David Hanania Pinto
You Shall Be Wholehearted with Hashem, Your G-d
“Yitro, the minister of Midian, the father-in-law of Moshe, heard everything that G-d did to Moshe and to Israel, His people – that Hashem had taken Israel out of Egypt” (Shemot 18:1)
Yitro joined Bnei Yisrael after hearing about the Splitting of the Sea and the war with Amalek (Rashi). Why didn’t he come on account of the miracles of the battle with Egypt? Why was it specifically the battle with Amalek that spurred him to connect with the Jewish nation?
The Egyptians were bent on physically destroying the Jewish nation. To this end, they enslaved them in the hope that little by little, they would die out, until nothing would be left of them whatsoever. Amalek had a different agenda. They wished to annihilate the Jewish nation spiritually, by introducing doubt in their minds. This would result in a lackadaisical attitude toward Avodat Hashem. It would diminish their yirat Shamayim and cool off their faith in Hashem. They were not interested in physically annihilating Bnei Yisrael as much as in severing their spiritual ties with Hashem.
When the Egyptians were pursuing Bnei Yisrael in the Wilderness, they hurried to supplicate Hashem and cry out for His deliverance, as the pasuk says (Shemot 14:10), “Egypt was journeying after them, and they were very frightened; the Children of Israel cried out to Hashem.” On the other hand, when Amalek broke out in spiritual warfare against Bnei Yisrael, we don’t find Bnei Yisrael turning to Hashem for salvation and crying out to Him.
Perhaps we can explain the difference in their reactions to these two enemies in the following way. When they perceived the Egyptians, with their spears poised, they realized the imminent danger, and called out to Hashem to spare them. But the nation of Amalek had a different tactic. They bore no arms. Theirs was silent warfare. It was the deadly poison of tainting their faith and implanting doubt in their minds. Am Yisrael could not identify this type of peril as readily, and hardly realized that they were in a state of battle with them. This was why they desisted from turning to Hashem for rescue.
This is analogous to Am Yisrael and its existence in the world. The Torah says (Devarim 18:13), “You shall be wholehearted with Hashem, your G-d.” We are instructed to serve Hashem with simplicity and loyalty, without questioning His ways or trying to outsmart them. We are enjoined to do His will because it is His will. The Amalekite nation understood that Bnei Yisrael can serve Hashem correctly only through simple faith. Therefore, they sought ways to cool off their faith, implanting doubts and questions in their hearts. They artfully caused Bnei Yisrael to question and doubt their faith. These questions eventually led them to fashion the Golden Calf, to their eternal shame.
There is a story told about a doctor who became a Ba’al Teshuvah and made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael from the US. When he was asked about the circumstances which led him to do teshuvah, he related the account that caused him to change his life completely.
This is his story:
One day a patient came to see me, whose bodily functions had entirely collapsed. He was deathly ill and had only a few days left to live. After conferring with specialists in the field, an option was raised of performing complicated surgery, which would give the man a chance to live for about another half a year. The surgery was enormously expensive, and involved a lot of suffering.
We presented the situation to the family and waited for their decision.
The patient himself, who was a disciple of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, wished to refer the question to his Rabbi and mentor.
Upon hearing his request, I decided to go personally to discuss the matter with Rabbi Moshe, zt”l, and hear his opinion first-hand. I came to Rabbi Moshe – the doctor relates – and I presented the problem to him. His eyes filled with tears, and for nearly twenty minutes he sat and cried. For years he had not been in contact with this disciple, but as soon as he learned about his medical condition, he cried non-stop. What should be done?
Rabbi Moshe asked me to give him a day to think it over and decide. The next day, he said: Operate! We will pray for his recovery and plead that he be granted long life.
Rabbi Moshe enlightened me about the reason for his decision and explained that the source lay in his faith that the patient can merit long life on the following account:
During the next half a year the sick man will merit answering Amen after numerous blessings, and an angel will be created by each “Amen” he utters. Every one of these angels created by “Amen” will join the council of the heavenly household, and they will serve to protect and guard him and advocate for his benefit.
The reasoning that Rabbi Moshe presented to the doctor and the family of the patient touched their hearts. The words permeated the heart of this doctor who began to make a reckoning of himself, until he returned to his Father in Heaven in wholehearted teshuvah.
Food For Thought
The Setting Also Costs
It was a very hot day in Yerushalayim, and a Jewish man walking outside suddenly felt very thirsty.
He searched for a cold drink to quench his thirst and found the Restaurant of Rabbi Zalman. He sat down and ordered a glass of cold soda, recited the blessing over it, and drank to his heart’s content.
When he got up and went to pay, he received a surprising bill of a large sum of lirot. He was furious and argued: “All I ordered was a glass of cold soda. Does that justify such an enormous bill?”
However, the owner of the restaurant, Rabbi Zalman, replied, “This is not an ordinary kiosk. This is a restaurant where one sits and orders and receives high-class service. You pay for the setting accordingly.”
“I don’t understand what you want from me. All in all, I was thirsty and I drank a cup of cold soda. I never dreamed that I would have to pay such a price,” the Jew claimed.
They both went to the Rabbi of Yerushalayim, Rabbi Shmuel Salant, zy”a, to present their arguments so that he could decide the case.
Rabbi Shmuel Salant determined that the owner of the restaurant was right. Then he added:
Now I understand what our Sages meant when they ruled that one must recite the blessing “Shehakol nihiye bidvaro – Through Whose word everything came to be” before taking a drink. Why did they not rule to recite this blessing over any other food?!
It is because the Sages wanted to teach us that precisely when a person holds a glass of water, he may think to himself, “What am I drinking already? It is simple, plain water!” Precisely then he should recite the blessing and utter with his mouth “Shehakol nihiye bidvaro – Through Whose word everything came to be,” because you are not only blessing Hashem for the water, you are in fact blessing Him also for the fact that you are alive altogether; you bless Him for enabling you to drink; you bless Him that you have a healthy hand to hold the cup; you bless Him that the water can enter your body and get absorbed properly by the complex digestive system that Hashem designed for you; you recite the blessing “Shehakol nihiye bidvaro – Through Whose word everything came to be,” – over your entire existence and circumstances enabling you to hold the cup of water and drink. All this is possible only through the might and will of Hashem!
Men of Faith
The great tzaddik, Moreinu v’Rabbeinu Rabbi David Chazan, Rabbi Chaim’s beloved friend, did not merit having children for many years. At every opportunity, he prayed to Hashem that He should merit having sons who would serve and fear Him.
His prayers bore fruit and after a period of time, to his immense joy, Rabbi David had a son. However, his joy was short-lived, since this only child died while still very young. The following tale is told describing the episode:
Rabbi David Chazan engaged in the study of Kabbalah, unveiling the secrets of the Torah. Once, while he was learning, his son, who was approximately seven years old at the time, approached him and began to learn with him the hidden mysteries of the Torah.
The young boy quickly grasped everything his father taught. Afterward, he proceeded to transmit the mystic secrets to his father’s students (Shenot Chaim and Mekor Chaim).
From then on, all the people referred to the boy as “the prophet,” because every word that he uttered was true. His father, Rabbi David, feared this development, and beseeched Hashem to cause his son to depart from the world, so that he would not frighten people by revealing to them what was on their conscience.
His prayers were realized, and his son died at the height of his youth. He had exceeded his limits due to his lofty neshamah. He was buried in the cemetery of Mogador, near the place where Rabbi Chaim Pinto Hagadol was eventually laid to rest (Shevach Chaim).
A few years ago, when I visited the cemetery in Mogador, close to the gravestone of the holy Rabbi, the mekubal Rabbi Yaakov Bibas, I saw the image of a child standing near the grave of the deceased boy, called “the prophet.”
I informed the guard of the fact that there was a solitary child wandering around the cemetery. The non-Jewish watchman glanced around but did not see any child there.
I pointed precisely to the spot where the child was standing, but the words of the pasuk were fulfilled, “They have eyes, but cannot see.”
I believe it was the image of the child called “the prophet,” standing near his grave in the cemetery. Unsurprisingly, the non-Jewish watchman could not behold the image of the holy child, who was an exalted tzaddik.