November 25th, 2017

7th of Kislev 5778


The Power of Self-Sacrifice in Torah Study

Rabbi David Hanania Pinto

"And he arrived at the place and lodged there because the sun had set, and he took some of the stones of the place and placed [them] at his head, and he lay down in that place" (Bereishit 28:10)

On his way to Charan, Elifaz, the son of Eisav, chased after Yakov and wanted to kill him as commanded to by his father Eisav, who was angry with Yakov for taking the blessings. Elifaz did not kill Yakov, but instead he took his money, and since Chazal say that a poor man is considered dead, it was as if he had fulfilled his father's command. Elifaz was not as wicked as his father Eisav, and did not wish to kill Yakov. He only did whatever he did because he felt obligated to fulfill his father's command. Elifaz would study Torah, and he was the disciple of Yakov, who studied Torah with him. Therefore, when Yakov told him to take all his money and thus would be considered dead, Elifaz listened to him. This is the tremendous influence of the Torah which affected Elifaz, and made him listen to Yakov, his Rebbe. 

After Elifaz parted from him, Yakov continued on his way to Charan, and when he got there, he stood near the well and saw that all the shepherds were waiting around the well and they were not giving their sheep water. Yakov asked them why they were waiting. They told him that since the well was covered with a large rock, they were waiting for all the shepherds to come, and together they could lift the rock and water the flock. When Rachel, the daughter of Lavan arrived, Yakov went over to the well and lifted the rock by himself, since Yakov was exceedingly strong, and although he was already older, he still had a lot of strength, because he feared sin and never transgressed Hashem's command. Consequently, he had the power to lift the rock by himself.

Thus, we may wonder; why did Yakov relinquish all his possessions to Elifaz? With his might he could have fought him and killed him, and he did not have to give him all his money.

It seems that truly Yakov could have killed Elifaz, since he was so powerful. But since Elifaz possessed the merit of studying Torah; in fact, he learned Torah with Yakov, he did not want to kill him. Furthermore, Yakov knew that everything Elifaz did stemmed from his desire to fulfill the mitzvah of honoring his father, for Eisav commanded Elifaz to kill Yakov. Thus, Yakov did not kill him, because Yakov knew the power and merits that the Torah afforded, and with the Torah it was impossible to fight; therefore, Yakov did not kill him.

Elifaz was the son of Eisav the rasha, and it would seem natural for him to grow up in the ways of his father. But, nevertheless, he did not follow in the footsteps of his evil father. Elifaz went to learn Torah from Yakov because he recognized the truth and wished to study Torah. Therefore, Hashem helped him to grow in Torah even though he was raised in a house of a rasha. Chazal say, "In the path that a person wants to go, he is led" (Makkot 10b). There is no one who cannot learn Torah; if he only wants then Hashem will help him merit learning Torah. And as the Gemara states (Yoma 72b) "The crown of Torah is lying (available for the taking) and whosoever wants to take it, may come and take it." Since Elifaz chose to go in the ways of the Torah, Yakov did not kill him, but let him take all his money so he would fulfill his father's command.

Let us see what Eisav did when Elifaz returned to him and told him that he did not do exactly as he was told and did not literally kill Yakov, but instead took all his money. Was Eisav satisfied and content with this, or did he still want to kill Yakov? It seems that truly it did not bother Eisav that Elifaz did not kill Yakov, because his main intent was to disturb Yakov from learning Torah and serving Hashem. Therefore, when Eisav heard that Elifaz had not killed Yakov, but only took all his possessions, it didn't bother him; on the contrary, he was happy because he thought that now that Yakov had no money, he would not be able to continue studying Torah. Consequently, he would surely deteriorate and fall from his lofty spiritual level by Lavan the rasha. Actually Yakov did not get fazed, and although Elifaz took all his money, he went to learn in the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever and remained there for fourteen years, and only then went to Charan.

Chazal say that the deeds of our fathers indicate the way for their sons (Tanchuma Lech Lecha 9). All that our forefathers did infuse strength in Bnei Yisrael to follow in their ways. Through our father's willingness to sacrifice their lives, this penetrated the souls of Bnei Yisrael that they too received the strength to do so. Ultimately, we are obligated to study Torah and serve Hashem even when there are difficulties and the Yetzer Hara disturbs us. On the contrary, when a person overcomes the difficulties, and despite the hardships continues to learn Torah, Hashem helps him and gives him the strength to withstand his trials. A person experiences the greatest elevation when he withstands a trial that Hashem sends him and overcomes all the difficulties. 

The Haftarah

"And My people waver whether to return to Me" (Hoshea 11)

(Ashkenazim read the haftarah "And Jacob fled to the field of Aram," Hoshea 12)

The connection to the parashah: The haftarah describes how Yakov held on to the heel of Eisav his brother, as it is stated: "In the womb, he seized his brother's heel." This is similar to the parasha where Yakov runs away from Eisav, his brother.

Guard Your Tongue

Making amends

How can one make amends for hearing gossip?

First, one must remove the impression from his heart and not believe what he heard. He should reflect that perhaps the narrator added details on his own, or cut out some important factor from the story, and he should take upon himself that in the future he will not accept any Lashon Hara or Rechilut about any Jew. He should also regret listening and admit his sin.

Walking in Their Ways

From Heaven I was destined to hear about an incident that occurred on the hillula of my holy ancestor Rabbi Chaim Pinto, zy"a:

Mrs. Elkayam purchased three scarves in Morocco, as well as a number of candles. She placed all of them on the tzaddik’s gravestone. Suddenly, all of these items disappeared.

This was indeed strange. No one had ever dared steal items from the tzaddik’s grave in the past. All searches of the area of the grave proved futile. Nothing was unearthed.

This woman is closely connected, through business dealings, with the king’s palace in Rabat, Morocco. Sometime after the hilula, she had occasion to be in the palace on business. She was invited into one of the rooms, a courtesy she had never before enjoyed.

As she walked in, what did she see but her scarves and candles, which had not long ago been placed upon the tzaddik’s grave in Mogador! They seemed to be waiting for her to come and claim them.

How in the world did these things end up in the king’s palace?

Heaven ordained that we should observe three distinct instances of losses which were found most miraculously, in order that we should strengthen our faith in the merit of tzaddikim, who have the power to change the laws of nature.

Words of Our Sages

What have you done today for your spirituality?

"And if I return in peace to my father's house, and the Lord will be my God" (Bereishit 28:21)

Rashi explains the phrase "return in peace" to mean: "Perfect from sin, that I will not learn from the ways of Lavan."

Why does Rashi interpret the words differently than the usual meaning? Most people, when they say, "return in peace" they mean that they should return home without being harmed by the dangers on the road.

Once, Rabi Soloveitchik, zt"l, the author of "Beit Halevi" met a former student and asked him what he was currently doing.

The student replied: "I'm engaged in business."

After a few minutes, the Beit Halevi again asked the student:

"What are you doing today?"

The student was surprised that he was repeating his question, but answered again that he was involved in business.

When the question was asked again for the third time, the student understood that there was something else intended behind the question and he asked the Beit Halevi: "What does the Rebbi mean by his question?"

The Beit Halevi explained to him: "I asked you three times what you are doing, and you answer me what Hashem does… Your livelihood is entirely in Hashem's Hands, and depends only on Him! I meant to ask, what are you doing for your spirituality, which is up to you and in your hands. How many Torah lectures do you attend each day, and where do you go to pray?"

This fundamental principle, explained the Rav of Brisk, is based on Yakov's question, since Yakov already mentioned his physical needs in his previous words (28:20):  "If God will be with me, and He will guard me on this way, upon which I am going, and He will give me bread to eat and a garment to wear." Protection from the calamities that exist in the world in general, and are found on the road in particular, is only up to Hashem, as it is stated "He will guard me;" meaning that Hashem is the one who protects. The food necessary to survive, as well as clothing to wear, is given to a person by the grace of Hashem, and they are not the results of his efforts, nor by "my strength and the might of my hand." Yakov says, "He will give me bread to eat and a garment to wear." It is Hashem who provides all our material needs and acquisitions.

The protection and livelihood are not wrought by man. So then what is accomplished by man?

"And if I return in peace to my father's house," as Yakov states. "If I return in peace" – meaning, "I shall return," because the only thing that is up to man's free choice and accomplishment is his spiritual status. Therefore, Rashi explains "And if I return in peace" to mean: "Perfect from sin, that I will not learn from the ways of Lavan."

Chazak U'Baruch

Unconditional love

A "meshulach," whose job was to collect funds for Torah institutions, rented a room in one of the hotels in Switzerland, where a number of prominent men were staying on vacation. One evening, he met in the lobby of the hotel a whole family, parents and children, sitting on the armchairs dozing.

He inquired what they were doing there, and the head of the family told him that they had tried to reserve a room in the hotel, but since this was the busiest season, there was no room available. So they decided to take a nap in the lobby and the next day they would search for a room in another hotel.

The "meshulach" decided to do chessed with the family and told them that they could go up to his room and sleep there, because he didn’t need to use the room just then. The family members felt uncomfortable and refused to accept his offer. They insisted, "The room is yours; why should we take it? You won't be able to sleep if we are there!"

When the "meshulach" saw that they were uncomfortable, he took action. He took their suitcases and put them in the elevator and brought them into his room. "Now it will be more comfortable for you to sleep in my room," he smiled. The scheme worked, and the family went up to his room…

Two years passed since then, and knocking was heard on the door of the "meshulach's" house in Eretz Yisrael. When he went to open the door, he was astonished to see the father of the family who had used his room in the hotel.

"I want to invite you personally to the engagement of my daughter," he said, and handed him an invitation.  The "meshulach" responded politely, wished him a hearty "mazal tov," and apologized by saying that since he was very busy, he could not join their simchah.

"If you will not come, our joy will not be complete!" the father insisted. The "meshulach "did not understand what he wanted from him…

The father got very emotional and explained to the "meshulach" what had happened.

That evening when you met us in the hotel, we were experiencing great trauma; our daughter had gone to study at a university in Switzerland, and to our horror, she met a non-Jewish young man, and she decided to marry him.

The news struck us like lightning, and despite all our efforts to dissuade her from her decision, she insisted on marrying the gentile.

Since our daughter was in Switzerland, we agreed that we would come to her to talk face-to-face, and perhaps then we would be able to persuade her. We arranged a meeting in the hotel, and wanted to reserve a room. However, when we arrived at the hotel, and our daughter was waiting there, it turned out that the hotel was full. At that moment you arrived as an angel from heaven.

Our daughter witnessed the wonderful act of kindness you did with us, and was very impressed. She realized that you had no ulterior motive for letting us use your room other than your sincere desire to do chessed with a fellow Jewish family.

She burst into tears and said that she regrets her decision of marrying a non-Jew. "Since I have gotten to know Gentiles recently, I know that such an act could not have been performed by a non-Jew. And if so, I would like to belong to the Jewish people and return to their fold," she declared.

"That same day she cut off her ties with the non-Jew and returned with us to Eretz Yisrael and did complete teshuvah. In the end, a true Torah scholar was suggested for her and today she is getting engaged to him."

"Now you understand," said the father to the "meshulach" with tears, "that the one responsible for our daughter's return to the Jewish people and her marriage to a Torah scholar is you! It is only because of you that things turned out so well. Therefore, you are the main character of our celebration, and we cannot do without your appearance at the engagement."

If we think for a moment, what did the "meshulach" do? He gave up his room for one night! And what did he gain? All the Jewish generations that will stem from that daughter, in her marriage with the Torah scholar, will be credited to him!


Rabbi David Hanania Pinto

Great difficulty in parting from an elevated spiritual state

"Now Jacob lifted his feet and went to the land of the people of the East" (Bereishit 29:1)

We need to clarify what does it mean that Yakov "lifted" his feet. When do we find that a person lifts his feet? It should have simply stated that Yakov went to the people of the East. Only a person, who Heaven forbid, has a mutilated foot has to lift his feet. So what does it mean that Yakov lifted his feet?

We can explain this through the pasuk "Vayikatz Yakov mishnato – And Jacob awakened from his sleep" (ibid. 28:15). Chazal say, "Do not read 'mishnato', but Yakov woke up from his 'mishnayot'." This implies that he awoke amidst learning. Thus, even though it seemed that Yakov was sleeping, really he was not sleeping but learning Torah. The Gemara in Ta'anit (5b) states that Yakov did not die, because a dead man is one who sleeps, and since Yakov never tasted sleep, he is not considered dead. Only now he was forced by Hashem's will to sleep so that Hashem would reveal Himself to him. But really he did not go to sleep and did not intend to sleep. In fact, when he arose and saw what an awesome place it was, he understood all the Torah he had learned, and therefore Yakov said, " This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven" (Bereishit 28:17). The gates of heaven opened before him and he reviewed everything he learned. Therefore it is stated "Now Yakov lifted his feet," because it was hard for him to leave the place where Hashem had appeared to him; from the place where the heavenly gate was so sacred. On the other hand, he had to go because of the commandment of honoring his father who told him to go. And Hashem promised him He would protect him, so he told his feet that they must go. If so, it was difficult for Yakov to go, but because of the command he had to go, and therefore Yakov had to literally lift his feet to force them to go.

Men of Faith

The Prophet

Toward the end of his life, Rabbi Chaim Hakatan lost his sight and became blind. Yet, even then he could clearly perceive, in an uncanny way, what was going on around him, who was standing next to him, and who was approaching him.

Also, those who came to receive his advice and blessings were surprised to hear him accurately describe their state of health and financial situation.

It is not surprising that during the period in which he was blind, the Torah scholars called him “The Prophet.”

 A Sacrifice for Klal Yisrael

Early in the morning, several days before his passing, the family members were awakened by the sound of a loud thud. They got up quickly and found that Rabbi Chaim had collapsed on the floor. He was wrapped in tallit and tefillin and had obviously been in the midst of his Shacharit prayers.

The family rushed to his aid and lifted him onto a bed. The tzaddik called his sons and told them, “My time has come to die, and I wish to bless you.”

It was an emotional scene. Rabbi Chaim blessed his sons and those who were standing at his side. When he blessed his son Refael, he cried bitterly and later explained, “I am crying about the way that he will die, since he will be taken as a sacrifice for Klal Yisrael.”

Decades later, on the twelfth of Shevat, 1980 (5740), a criminal entered Rabbi Refael’s house in the middle of the night and beat him cruelly to death with an iron rod while he was lying in bed, may Hashem avenge his blood. 

Food For Thought

Is the blessing of a tzaddik infallible?

Hashem promised Yakov Avinu, "And I will guard you wherever you go," but nevertheless, Yakov Avinu was afraid, as it is stated (Bereishit 32:8) "Jacob became very frightened."

Why was Yakov Avinu afraid despite Hashem's clear promise?

Rashi explains: My merits have diminished because of the kindnesses and the truth that You have rendered me. Therefore, I fear lest I have became sullied with sin since [the time that] You promised me, and it will cause me to be delivered into Eisav’s hand[s].

In light of this, the Rebbe of Vizhnitz, author of "Imrei Chaim," answered one of his disciples who came to him once and asked for a blessing for children.

The Rebbi promised him: Next year you will make a Brit." But a year passed and the Rebbe's words were not fulfilled. The chassid returned to his Rebbe questioning, "What about the promise to have a child?"

The "Imrei Chaim" answered him: "Even Yakov Avinu feared that perhaps his sins would cause him to forfeit the promise of Hashem. Now, I am not G-d, and you are not Yakov"…


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