February 25th, 2017
29th of Shvat 5777
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The Servant of Hashem Rejoices in His Portion
Rabbi David Hanania Pinto
“And these are the ordinances that you shall place before them: If you buy a Jewish bondsman, he shall work for six years, and in the seventh he shall go free” (Shemot 21:1-2)
The Torah mentions the subject of the eved Ivri first in the list of the laws of Choshen Mishpat. Why is this so? Aren’t these laws delegated to judges? Furthermore, why do these laws begin with the subject of the eved Ivri?
In the haftarah of parashat Mishpatim (Yirmeyahu 34), it is recorded that in the time of King Tzidkiyahu, Yirmeyahu Hanavi warned Bnei Yisrael that Nevuchadnezzar King of Bavel would do battle with Yerushalayim. The nation immediately repented and set free their slaves, fulfilling the command to set free one’s slaves after six years. Immediately after, they received the report that the enemies retreated to Bavel. This is quite surprising. Bnei Yisrael did not undertake to be more stringent with Shabbat observance or with any other mitzvah. They merely set their slaves free. What was so great about this act that warranted liberation from their enemies?
The Navi relates (ibid. vs. 11) that after Nevuchadnezzar and his battalions left Yerushalayim, everyone retrieved his slave, as it says, “But they reneged after that and brought back the bondsmen and bondswomen whom they had sent forth as freemen and subjugated them as bondsmen and bondswomen.” When a person is in distress, he does complete teshuvah, but after he is released from this situation, he returns to his wrongdoings. This is how Bnei Yisrael acted. At first, they set their slaves free, but after Nevuchadnezzar retreated, they took back their slaves. He immediately returned and captured Yerushalayim.
After years of labor, a person acquires a slave mentality. He fears his master and will always live in his shadow, even after being set free. He has no individual identity, for all that he attains belongs to his master. This is why the Torah commands a master to provide his slave with gifts when he frees him, as it says (Devarim 15:14), “Adorn him generously from your flocks, from your threshing floor, and from your wine cellar; as Hashem, your G-d, has blessed you, so shall you give him.” This is all in order for the former slave to feel free of his master, so that he can begin life as a truly free man.
The Ibn Ezra asks (see Shemot 2:3; 14:13) why the Torah constantly mentions that we were slaves in Egypt. Today we are free men. He explains that bondage is a mindset, etched into one’s very being. It is very difficult to release oneself from this condition. The Torah reminds us time and again, that although we were originally slaves in Egypt, we were set completely free, in order that we should understand that we are slaves no longer.
In Tefillat Shacharit of Shabbat morning, we say, “Moshe shall rejoice with the portion granted to him, for a faithful servant You have called him.” Moshe’s greatness lay in the fact that he was loyal to Hashem. In the king’s palace, the servant who dedicates himself to the king’s wellbeing is considered faithful.
Many years ago, there was an assassination attempt on the king of Morocco. He was travelling by plane, and a missile was shot toward it. The plane was flying over the city Ouezanne, on its way to Kenitra. The king was saved at the last moment. [He attributed his salvation to the merit of the tzaddik, Rabbi Amram Diwan, zy”a, an emissary from Eretz Yisrael who passed away in Morocco and was buried in Kenitra.] This is how he was saved. The missile struck the plane, which began swaying. The quick-thinking pilot contacted the rebels who had fired the missile, and told them that the king was dead. He claimed that only he and his men remained alive and would they please stop shooting, so that at least they could survive. In this manner, the pilot succeeded in landing safely. The king returned to his throne and immediately put every last one of the rebels to death. The pilot was honored, for he demonstrated loyalty and determination in saving the king’s life. This is a loyal subject. This, l’havdil, is how Hashem describes Moshe – a faithful servant.
We are all servants of Hashem. But only He knows who is a truly loyal servant. Hashem testified that Moshe was a loyal subject. Hashem declares, “Moshe shall rejoice with the portion granted to him.” What is this portion granted to him? It is the Divine image within him. Every person contains a Divine image from Hashem within him, for He blew life into us. One who feels that Hashem blew of Himself into him, will feel loyal to Him and certainly serve him to full capacity.
Walking in Their Ways
Don’t Wash Your Hands of It
A man related that he was diagnosed with cancer. His doctors recommended chemotherapy, a difficult and drawn-out process, which would take about six months.
I asked this man if he was scrupulous in washing his hands every morning, upon awakening, according to halachah. He replied in the negative. I instructed him to take this practice upon himself. The spirit of impurity which clings to a person who does not wash his hands can be extremely harmful. The man accepted my words and undertook to keep this mitzvah.
After some time, the man returned to me and ebulliently informed me that, Baruch Hashem, his tumor was noticeably reduced, and his doctors told him he could forego the difficult treatments.
Often, we regard regular, daily mitzvot as simple and worthless. Infrequent, rare mitzvot are granted our esteem and admiration. But this is a serious mistake. It is specifically the mitzvot which one “treads with his heel” which have the power to effect miracles, for their merit is immeasurably great.
Guard Your Tongue
Avoid Getting Trapped into Sinning
There is another situation in which it is a mitzvah to listen, such as when a person comes to his fellow to complain about what his friend did to him, and he knows that the person will listen to his words and he will be able to abate his anger against his friend, and consequently he will not air his complaints to other people. In this way he will promote peace among the people.
However, one must be very careful in this situation not to believe what he hears while listening to his fellow’s gripes, but only to suspect that it may be true, so that he should not fall into the trap of sinning by accepting gossip.
The haftarah of the week: “And Yehoyada enacted” (Melachim II 11:17)
The connection to the parashah: On this Shabbat, “Shabbat Shekalim,” the portion discussing the “Machatzit Hashekel – the Half a Shekel” is read, which is similar to the haftarah discussing the shekalim that were donated by Bnei Yisrael for the maintenance of the Beit Hamikdash.
Words of Our Sages
Not to Cause a Widow to Cry – G-d Forbid
“You shall not oppress any widow or orphan” (Shemot 22:21)
Rabbeinu Yonah wrote frightening things in his sefer “Sha’arei Teshuvah” (Sha’ar 3:24) about the punishment for one who pains a widow and orphan. These are his words:
One who hurts or pains a widow or orphan, whether by swindling them, or oppressing them, whether by embarrassing them or causing them grief, is liable to be put to death by Heaven. Therefore, judges who have the ability to save one from being swindled, but for the orphan they do not do justice, they are liable for death, as it says (Shemot 22: 21-23), “You shall not oppress any widow or orphan. If you oppress him, [beware,] for if he cries out to Me, I will surely hear his cry. My wrath will be kindled, and I will slay you with the sword, and your wives will be widows and your children orphans.”
The gaon Rabbi Shmuel Aharon Yudelevitz, zt”l, was a gifted speaker and his heartfelt words influenced many to straighten their ways. From great distances people would beg him to come to deliver his lecture, and even though it involved much trouble and missing Torah study, however bringing merit to the public always carried the most weight.
When the Rabbi of the Batei Horodna neighborhood died, the gabbaim and the congregants approached Rabbi Yudelevitz and asked him to deliver an arousing lecture prior to “Kol Nidrei”. This was a perfect golden opportunity. “Everything is beautiful in its time,” because this could arouse people to do teshuvah specifically prior to the Day of Judgment. At this time, a person can earn a portion in the World to Come, and be inscribed for good life, and be judged favorably, and here he had an opportunity to address an entire congregation who sought to hear words of inspiration. What a great way to bring merit to the people! This would surely grant him enormous merit on the Day of Judgment.
But Rabbi Shmuel Aharon refused!
All requests were to no avail. Rabbi Shmuel Aharon did not respond to the pleas.
He also did not explain his refusal, for the obvious reason that one does not speak in the Beit Haknesset other than words of Torah and prayer. But after the services, when he went home, he was asked the reason for his refusal: It could have brought the audience to tears!
Rabbi Shmuel Aharon replied:
I knew that, and exactly for that reason I refused. I could have aroused everyone to cry, but there was one person in the audience whom I didn’t want to bring to tears.
As you know, every year the Rabbi would speak to the congregants and arouse them to do teshuvah. This year he passed away. But his wife, the widow, prays in the women’s section of the Beit Haknesset. When she would hear someone else speaking instead of her husband, she would certainly remember how he used to speak and recall his absence. Then her tears would begin to flow!
There was a very wealthy man who became impoverished and reached the brink of starvation. Having no other choice, he wandered from village to village, from house to house, in order to collect mere pennies, with a sack over his shoulders and a stick in his hand. When he needed to sleep, he would lie down on a cot in the Beit Haknesset.
Once he passed by a mountain, and at the foot of the mountain there were beautiful twinkling gems. While longing for his family, and remembering his wife and unfortunate children whom he had not seen for so long, since he had been wandering great distances, and he did not have a penny to buy them gifts to bring home, he decided to descend to the bottom of the valley and collect some stones for his children to play with.
On his way back, as his knees buckled under the burden of the stones, he was left with no choice but to empty his sack and throw away some of the stones to lighten his burden.
Not long after, he had to throw some more stones along the way, until he was left with only one small stone as a souvenir of his long exile. While passing one of the villages, he found shelter in a small shabby hut of a poor Rebbe, who welcomed him warmly and graciously, and was happy to perform the mitzvah of hachnosas orchim which came his way. However, there was no food in the house, since they were very poor.
Thus, they could not offer their visitor other than a bed to rest on from his weary trip, but food to satisfy his hunger was not available. When the pangs of hunger got the better of him, the guest began to empty his sack in order to find a coin with which to purchase food to satisfy his hunger.
While still searching, he noticed the small gem glittering in his pocket, which he had left as a souvenir. Its radiant beauty caught the attention of the Rebbe and he was captivated by it. His admiration of the gem increased by the minute, and he was not satisfied until he asked the visitor to come with him to his neighbor who was a merchant of precious stones and hear his opinion about the value of the stone in his hand.
The guest, who felt his head getting heavy with weariness from his hard journey, did not pay attention to the arguments of the Rebbe, thinking that the Rebbe was imagining things. Later, when the Rebbe urged him repeatedly, he gave in and together they went to the diamond merchant. After examining the stone thoroughly, he admired its beauty and immediately thrust into the hand of the visitor a considerable sum of money for it. However, the guest got flustered and got annoyed at the Rebbe who brought him to this merchant who was playing some joke on him.
Upon seeing his angry countenance, the merchant thought that he was looking to bargain and was not satisfied with the amount he received for the stone. He quickly raised the price of the value of the stone. Within moments the stunned visitor fainted. Quickly the Rebbe and the merchant began to revive his spirits until he came back to his senses.
After he recovered, he began to weep bitterly. With tears he began to relate what happened to him on the way, about the piles of gems that he found at the foot of the mountain, and how he had thrown them away, one by one, from his heavy sack, leaving only a single gem in his pocket as a souvenir. “Alas for me!” cried out the visitor in pain. “Had I only known the value and worth of those precious gems, I would gladly have carried many more stones and would not have tossed them aside to get rid of them because of their weight.
The moral: When a person will come before the Heavenly Court and be shown the value of the mitzvot that he disregarded, which he could have easily performed; then “he will go along weeping” that he didn’t pay heed and tossed away these precious stones and diamonds.
This is what the Midrash is elucidating – the author of “Ohev Yisrael” explains – “והיה עקב תשמעון – And it will be, because you will heed”, this is what the verse “he will go along weeping,” refers to. Rashi says: “If you will heed the minor commandments which one [usually] tramples with his heels [which a person treats as being of minor importance], He will keep His promise to you.” If a person will be meticulous in “תשמעון –heeding” (lit. listening), and listen to every Kaddish of the Chazzan’s repetition of the Amidah and the blessings, and he will answer “Amen” after them, which is often disregarded, but can be easily performed every day in the Beit Haknesset, at home, and in every place, then he will earn great rewards. Ultimately, when he will come before the Heavenly Court, “he will come with song,” in fulfillment of “the Lord, your G-d, will keep for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers.”
Rabbi David Hanania Pinto
Who Will Climb the Mountain of Hashem?
“Against the great men of the Children of Israel, He did not stretch out His hand – they gazed at G-d, yet they ate and drank” (Shemot 24:9-10)
At the time of Matan Torah, Nadav, Avihu, and the seventy elders were so spiritually elevated that they were able to actually observe Hashem’s Glory. But when Nadav and Avihu gazed at the Shechinah, they continued eating and drinking, not displaying awe at the sight of Hashem’s Glory. Rashi quotes the Midrash Tanchuma, “They looked at Him with undue familiarity, while eating and drinking.”
How can we possibly understand that Nadav, Avihu, and the seventy elders of the generation continued eating and drinking when Hashem appeared before them? Anyone with common sense is paralyzed with fear when confronted by a human king, how much more so should one fear the King of kings.
We must say that this was no ordinary meal. It was more like a sacrificial offering. This is similar to the way the Kohanim partook of the offerings in the Beit Hamikdash, about which the Navi states (Yechezkel 41:22), “This is the Table that is before Hashem.”
The accusation against Nadav, Avihu, and the seventy elders was that they gazed at Hashem’ Glory. Moshe Rabbeinu, too, merited speaking face-to-face with Hashem, but he never dared fix his gaze upon Him. He would, instead, lower his eyes. He knew that (Shemot 33:20) “no human can see Me and live.” The charge against Nadav and Avihu was not the fact that they ate, for this was surely a holy type of eating. Rather, it was due to their gazing at the Shechinah. Although they had reached the elevated level of seeing the Glory of Hashem, they should have respected it. They were expected not to exploit this tremendous virtue, rather, to turn their gaze away from the Shechinah.
Food For Thought
The Chafetz Chaim relates:
Life is compared to a postcard. Usually, when a person sends a postcard to his friend, he writes slowly and with big letters, which fill several lines. However, when he needs to write more at length, but the postcard has only limited space, he crowds the words together in order to gain another line and fit in another sentence… He still has so much to write!...
This is an illustration of a person’s life in this world – his youth passes peacefully in tranquility as precious time is wasted on frivolousness, and no attention is given to the importance of time until it is too late.
Rabbi Yisrael Mimuan, zt”l, one of the Sages of Fez in Morocco, merited achieving success in Torah and prosperity.
One year he started building a house in his court, but after several weeks he halted the construction.
The family members wondered why he stopped the construction. After much pleading, he agreed to tell them.
He opened the Chumash and read the pasuk (Vayikra 27:7): “And if [the person is] sixty years old or over… the value shall be (only) fifteen shekels” – his value declines. I also reached this age, so why should I engage in worldly matters? It is better for me to continue engaging in Torah, and earn real assets, so that I will be worth more in the World to Come.
Men of Faith
Rabbi Chaim Hagadol served as the chief judge in the esteemed Beit Din of Mogador, and Rabbi David Chazan served as his assistant. The third pillar of the court was Rabbi Avraham Koryat, who was a young student of Rabbi Chaim.
How did Rav Avraham merit sitting as a judge in the Beit Din together with these Torah giants? It is told that when he was young, he was very musical and a talented poet. Once, when Rabbi Chaim passed through the streets of Mogador with his friend, Rabbi David Chazan, they heard an enchanting melody echoing from one of the houses. The two followed the sound and discovered Rabbi Avraham Koryat sitting in his house, singing piyutim with a captivating voice, accompanied by the violin.
For a whole hour, the Rabbanim remained entranced by the enthralling melody and prose. They inquired about the background of the young fellow, and they learned that he was a grandson of the famous tzaddik, Rabbi Baruch from Tetouan, zt”l, and lived alone without any family or financial support.
Upon hearing this, Rabbi Chaim and Rabbi David Chazan told him, “Such a sweet voice should be utilized for learning Torah. Come with us and join us in our study. We will provide you with all your needs.”
Rabbi Avraham accepted their offer and joined them, learning both b’iyun and b’kiyut. Rabbi Chaim provided him with all his physical needs with the same devotion as a loving father.
In time, after Rabbi Avraham became well-versed in all areas of the Torah, he wrote the sefer “Brit Avot,” and he too was appointed as a judge in the special Beit Din of Rabbi Chaim and Rabbi David Chazan. From then on the three of them were referred to as echad (one), since אחד (echad) is an acronym of their names (*א~ברהם, *ח~יים, *ד~וד).