Tetzaveh - Zakhor
March 11th, 2017
13th of Adar 5777
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Light is Torah
Rabbi David Hanania Pinto
“The Jews had light and joy, and gladness and honor” (Esther 8:16)
On Purim in 2009, we were fortunate to host in France the esteemed gaon, Rabbi Baruch Shimon Solomon, ztk”l, the Chief Rabbi of Petach Tikvah. There were few people then who recognized his outstanding greatness in Torah and exceptional conduct, whether in his many lectures that he delivered in halachah and aggadah, and also in his leadership. Not long after, we were informed about his passing. It is an irreparable loss.
A few days before his sudden passing, he sent me a spiritual “mishloach manot” which contained words of Torah – the words of the “Sefat Emet,” zy”a, regarding the gemara (Megillah 16b) “The Jews had light and joy” – Rabbi Yehudah said: “Light” means the Torah, and so it says, “For the commandment is a lamp and the Torah is light.” The Sfat Emet asks – If so, it would seem that the Megillah should have stated: “The Jews had Torah;” so why does it state, “Light,” which is interpreted to signify the Torah? He answers that it is because Bnei Yisrael merited seeing the light of the Torah. This is his commentary.
I would like to add to his sacred words that it is true that many people study Torah, but not all of them merit perceiving the light hidden in the Torah. While many sit and learn, it may be that it is done through coercion and lack of choice and not from their genuine desire to learn. They feel that the Torah is a heavy burden because they still did not merit perceiving the light and beauty inherent in it, and did not taste its sweetness. Only in the days of Mordechai and Esther, as a result of their overwhelming appreciation of the miracle done for them, love for Hashem and His Torah entered their heart. Only then they merited perceiving the dazzling light and the sweetness inherent in the Torah, and therefore the Megillah states “The Jews had light.” They actually possessed the Torah already from the time they had received it on Mount Sinai, but only now they merited perceiving its light. In other words, they merited perceiving its beauty and glory because “Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.”
The Gemara states (Shabbat 88a): “And they stood under the mount… this teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, overturned the mountain upon them like an [inverted] cask.” Thus they accepted the Torah through coercion. Nonetheless, they re-accepted the Torah by choice in the days of Achashveirosh, as it states (Esther 9:27), “[The Jews] confirmed, and took upon themselves” – they confirmed what they had accepted long before. This proves that only now in the days of Achashveirosh Am Yisrael merited experiencing the sweetness and true light of the Torah, and only now they realized that the Torah and mitzvot are not a heavy burden, chalillah, but on the contrary, the eternal Torah of our people is a way of life, and anyone who parts from it, it is as if he is parting from life. I think that this is the main lesson of the miracle which occurred during the days of Mordechai and Esther, since then they opened their eyes to perceive the dazzling light of the Torah.
However, we still need to clarify how it was possible that only in the days of Mordechai and Esther the Jews accepted the Torah willingly. After all, when the Jews witnessed Hashem’s miracles during their Exodus from Egypt, and they saw His strong Hand and outstretched Arm at the Sea, and they merited building the Mishkan, and Hashem’s Shechinah walked with them, why was this not enough to inspire them to receive the Torah willingly and with love?
I would like to explain, with siyata d’Shemaya, that only in the days of Mordechai and Esther they discovered the bitter truth that up until then they had only accepted the Torah through coercion… Many times a person prays fervently and he innocently assumes that he prayed exceedingly well from his heart and his prayer is welcomed and favorable to Hashem, bringing Him pleasure. However, some time later, after praying with even more concentration, a prayer that stems from love of Hashem, and he feels Hashem’s closeness to him, only then he realizes that in retrospect, the prayers which he had considered welcomed and favorable, was not so at all. A person may remain deluded all his life thinking that had always served Hashem with joy and good-will and through love of Torah and mitzvoth, however, in the End of Days his error will become clear to him, that his service of Hashem was not for the Sake of Heaven, but only lip-service. It may have been only in order to achieve greater respect, or for other personal gains.
This is what happened to Bnei Yisrael. True that on Mount Sinai Bnei Yisrael received the Torah and engaged in it and served Hashem, observing His mitzvot. They innocently assumed that they had done everything with utmost dedication and devotion. They mistakenly thought that their superficial service of Hashem was sufficient and they did not imagine that something more was necessary. However, in the days of Mordechai and Esther, after experiencing the incredible miracle done for them, their hearts opened, overflowing with love for Torah, and love for Hashem burned within them. They felt the delight and sweetness of the Torah, and at once they realized that they had only then begun to accept the Torah willingly, with all their heart. This realization swept over them when they saw the whole picture of the “turnabout,” as it says, “It was reversed, the Jews should rule over their enemies.” Subsequently, this is when they began to sense their error in assuming that had been serving Hashem up until then sincerely and perfectly. Only after the miracle of Purim they realized that their acceptance of the Torah at Mount Sinai was more like coercion compared to their wholehearted acceptance of the Torah in the days of Mordechai and Esther.
The haftarah of the week: “And Shmuel said” (Shmuel I, 15)
The connection to the parashah: On this Shabbat, which is Shabbat Zachor, we read the haftarah that mentions the issue of obliterating Amalek after they went to war against Bnei Yisrael in the time of King Shaul.
Walking in Their Ways
A handsome young man once came to me and said that he was asked to pose as a model. The first time I saw him, I was also struck by his good looks. At that time, I had put forth a prayer that his features should never be the cause of his downfall.
I was saddened at the prospect that he would pursue this type of career. I exhorted him to at least lay tefillin and observe certain other mitzvot, which would protect his neshamah.
One day, I got a phone call from him. “Honored Rav, I must have your advice,” he began. “My father passed away, and his funeral is this afternoon. But I am scheduled to fly somewhere in order to sign a contract with a big company, to pose for them. This is an offer of a few million francs. But I don’t know what to do. My father’s funeral is exactly the same time as the flight.”
“Do you know what the burial society will do today with your father?” I asked.
“They will bury him, obviously.”
“Do you know what they bury? They bury a person’s body. Do you resemble your father?”
He responded in the affirmative.
“If so, think a little about your end. Your body, too, will be buried underground, as we are told, ‘You are dust, and to dust shall you return’ (Bereishit 3:19). Still, you insist on selling your body to a foreign firm. The Jewish nation does not subscribe to modeling. It is not fitting for a man or woman’s body to be on public display. Moreover, how can you, in good conscience, take a flight to sell your body when you know that your father’s body is being interred just then?”
The young man was surprised at the turn in the conversation. I continued, “I would like to express my condolences, and I sincerely hope you make the right choice.”
A few days later, I met this young man in the Beit Hakeneset Buffault in Paris, when I delivered a sermon there. After my speech, this young man approached me. I noticed that he hadn’t shaved, as is the custom among mourners. I asked what had happened in the end regarding his contract. He replied, “I came in order to rip it to pieces before the Rav.” Before I could utter a word, he took out the contract and tore it to shreds.
“What made you change your mind and forego such a lucrative career?” I asked.
“My body is not for sale!” he declared determinedly.
I was extremely happy to hear this. “You acted properly,” I told him. “One cannot observe Hashem’s mitzvot while doing whatever he feels like. There are times when a person must decide which road he is taking, for better or for worse. I am glad you chose the right road, the one that leads to life.”
Words of Our Sages
Injections of Tehillim
“And Aaron will carry the judgment of the children of Israel over his heart before the Lord at all times” (Shemot 28:30)
Why did Aharon have to carry the names of the children of Israel over his heart at all times?
The Seforno explains: In order that he should pray for them to be judged favorably.
This implies that it is commendable for a person to share in the pain of his fellow and pray for them constantly. In order to pray properly for Bnei Yisrael, it was necessary to carry in his heart their plight and really feel their grief.
One of the students of the Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva relates:
While studying in Yeshiva, one winter night at midnight, I woke suddenly to the sound of loud noise coming from the Beit Midrash of the Yeshiva. I got dressed and quickly went to the Beit Midrash and saw the Rosh Yeshiva, the gaon Rabbi Meir Shapiro, zt”l, pass before the Ark, reciting Tehillim tearfully, crying like a small child.
I tried to found out what happened, and I learned that the gaon was praying and pleading for one of his students who was diagnosed with a difficult illness a few days earlier. Then, that night, the well-known doctor was called and stated that in his opinion there was no hope for the student’s recovery. I was distressed and shaken to the core by the terrible cries of the Rosh Yeshiva, and all the students cried along with him.
Two days later, we were informed, with siyata d’Shemaya, that the sick young man was out of danger, and the doctor who treated him (who was not religious) declared that he wished to do teshuvah. He was flabbergasted and could find no explanation for the miracle that happened to the patient. He was convinced that only the prayers of the Rosh Yeshiva and his students saved the student from death.
Another doctor then asked Rabbi Meir Shapiro, what are the secret injections that he gives his students, which cures them of their ailments. The Rosh Yeshiva answered simply, “Injections of Tehillim”…
Rabbi David Hanania Pinto
Garments of Torah
“And you shall speak to all the wise-hearted people whom I have invested with a spirit of wisdom, and they shall make the vestments of Aharon, to sanctify him to minister to Me” (Shemot 28:3)
Hashem commanded Moshe to search for people invested with wisdom and appoint them to prepare the holy vestments of Aharon, the Kohen Gadol. Why did someone need to be wise in order to sew these clothes? Any professional tailor is capable of fashioning beautiful garments. There are many simple people who fashioned exceptional creations. Thus, we need to clarify what the significance is in Hashem’s command to Moshe to search for wise-hearted people and appoint only them to prepare the holy vestments for the Kohen.
As an example of the exalted level which the clothing must attain, let us look at the Me’il that Aharon wore. It had bells at the bottom. As long as the nation heard their tinkling when Aharon was in the Kodesh Hakodashim, they knew he was faring well. As soon as it ceased, they began to worry and checked up on him. Apart from this task, the bells were there to remind the Kohen before Whom he was standing and serving in the Beit Hamikdash. The bells constantly rang in his ears, peeling away the layers of indifference and laxity. He was always enjoined to be meticulous in his work, and take care to do it properly.
The clothes of the Kohen Gadol were not merely physical garb. They were saturated with yirat Shamayim, which would become transferred to the wearer. This would help the Kohen reach great heights in Avodat Hashem and be meticulous in his Service in the Mikdash. He would constantly remember before Whom he stands. This is why only men of great wisdom and knowledge of Hashem were chosen for the job of sewing the garments. Their magnificent middot would be transferred to the clothes they made, weaving a level of loftiness in Avodat Hashem into the garments, so that no mishaps would occur through them, chalilah.
It is incumbent upon every Jew on earth to live his life with pure faith, with the realization that everything stems from Hashem and there is no other, because faith is the foundation that everything rests on, and it is not something that comes naturally, but one must constantly nurture his faith deep in his heart.
One of the ways to nurture faith and instill it in our children is by reinforcing acts of faith, such as reciting a hundred blessings every day, with the proper intention, and answering Amen after them. In truth, this is a halachic obligation in every Jewish home, as the Rema writes (Orach Chaim 124:7): “And he should teach his young children to answer Amen, because from the time that the child answers Amen, he acquires a portion in the World to Come.”
In fact, by young children, every impression is engraved in their heart and leaves their mark for many years. If they get used to saying Amen, which verifies the absolute Kingship of Hashem constantly and permanently by answering Amen after every blessing, this impression leaves its mark and remains etched deep in their souls. Thus, part of the “Torat imecha - the instruction of your mother” is to instill in her children the tremendous importance of answering Amen.
This training must begin when the children are very small, as is implied by the words of the Rema that “from the time that the child answers Amen, he acquires a portion in the World to Come.” This segulah primarily depends upon the mother, since she is the one who takes care of them when they are young, and in this way she plants within them the root of faith in their pure hearts. A father and mother who do this should be aware that have granted their children a wonderful gift for which the gates of Gan Eden are opened.
All Gates are Opened
In the booklet “Derashot Hitorrerut”(lectures of the Admor, zt”l “Yeshuot Moshe” of Vizhnitz) the author exhorts his followers to warn others to remain quiet during prayers, and to make sure that during the repetition of the Chazan silence prevails, and that they should listen when Kaddish is recited and have the children answer Amen after every blessing properly. These things are of supreme importance, but unfortunately many people neglect them.
I once told someone: You want to talk? No problem! After prayers sit with your friend and talk all you want about whatever you need, but why is it necessary to talk specifically in the middle of “Kaddish” and thereby miss answering Amen after the blessing?! Of course, after the prayers, he rushes home together with the other congregants, since he has important things to do… like make Kiddush… The most important thing is “Amen” and “Amen, y’hei shmay rabbah” – these are of supreme importance!
Regarding the awesome importance of answering Amen, let us heed the words of Rabbeinu the Maharsh”a (Shabbat 119b) that every tzaddik has in Gan Eden has a habitation as befits his honor, as Chazal say: “Not a single righteous man lacks a habitation as befits his honor.” Anyone who answers Amen with all his might, all the gates of Gan Eden are opened for him. Thus Chazal say, “He who responds ‘Amen’ with all his might, has the gates of Gan Eden opened for him.” “Gates” is in the plural form, in order to teach us that all the gates are opened for him.
Likewise it is stated in Tanna D’vei Eliyahu (Zuta 20), “The criminals among the Jews answer Amen from within Gehinnom; Hashem says to the angels: Who are these that answer Amen from within Gehinnom? They tell Him: Master of the World these are the criminals among the Jews who although they are suffering in Gehinnom, they gather their strength and say before You, Amen. And Hashem tells the Ministering Angels: Open the gates of Gan Eden for them so they should come and sing before me, as it says (Yeshayahu 26:2) “Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keeps truth [shomer emunim] may enter in”: read not “shomer emunim” but “she’omrim Amen” [that say, Amen].
Food For Thought
Due to our sins, our Beit Hamikdash was destroyed and we do not have neither Kohanim, nor sacrifices to atone for our sins, but the most terrible thing of all is that because we have become so distanced from the source of sanctity and from those days when we lived in the shelter of Hashem in the Beit Hamikdash, we cannot possibly fathom the enormity of the loss, and we do not sense the pain, aside from the pain of our technical hardships which we encounter, including: sickness or financial crisis, or such other difficulties.
A simple Jew approached the tzaddik of Apta and poured out his grief to him. He made a living for a long time by trading oxen, and suddenly, one fine day, the wheels of fortune turned against him, and he lost all his money in a bad investment.
The tzaddik listened to the woes of the man intently, gave him good advice, and showered him with many blessings. But after the man left, he exclaimed bitterly: You are busy with oxen and business, but forget that the greatest tragedy happened today for all Jews…since today they did not sacrifice the Daily Offering! It is because we have no Beit Hamikdash, no Mizbe’ach, and no Kohen… You are pained because of your oxen and businesses, but that the Daily Offering was not sacrificed on the Alter today does not bother you at all!
This story was often told by Rabbi Mordechai Chaim Slonim, while weeping copiously, and anyone who was in his presence literally felt as if today indeed something terrible had occurred, that twice a day the Jews had not sacrificed the Daily Offering…
Men of Faith
The following story was told by Rabbi Meir Pinto, zy”a:
One year there was a big shortage of fish. Since it is a custom to eat fish on Shabbat in accordance with Kabbalistic teaching, Rabbi Chaim Hagadol summoned a fisherman and requested, “Please go to the ocean and catch some fish.”
“Rabbeinu! For so many weeks now there have been no fish in the sea.”
Rabbi Chaim instructed him, “Go to the edge of the sea and every time you throw your net into the water, say ‘Chaim,’ and fish will emerge.”
The fisherman did as the tzaddik instructed, and in a few moments he had amassed a large stock of high-quality fish with which to honor Shabbat Kodesh.
When people heard that the fisherman had a stock of fish, they flocked to him, begging him to sell them some. However, the fisherman refused to sell even one fish, insisting that the fish were not his, but belonged to Rabbi Chaim Pinto.
Rabbi Chaim Pinto took the whole stock and distributed the fish to all the people of the city, leaving only a small portion for himself.
When his friend, Rabbi David Chazan heard about the episode, he came to the Rav’s house on Shabbat night and said, “Rabbi Chaim! I heard that you have Chaim (life) in your house.”
“That is true,” Rabbi Chaim replied. “I have Chaim in my house.”
The two sat together by the Shabbat table, relishing the special dishes of fish. Thus, they were able to uphold this traditional custom, originating in Kabbalistic teaching.