april 26th 2014

nisan 26th 5774


Hashem Scrutinizes One’s Intentions

by Rabbi David Pinto Shlita

“Speak to the entire assembly of the children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem, your G-d” (Vayikra 19:2)

In Morocco it was customary to consider every person holy after his  death.  This  originated  from  the  fact  that  parashat  Kedoshim follows parashat Acharei Mot, and people would proverbially state, “םישודק תומ ירחא – After death one is considered holy.” The gaon, Rabbi Chalimi, zt”l, from Algiers, wrote in his sefer Zechut Avot that one may not  scorn  any person  after  his death, even if he was a rasha. This is because one must consider that perhaps the person regretted  his sins prior  to  his death and did  complete  teshuvah. This  corresponds  to  the  teaching  of  Chazal (Avodah  Zarah  17a) “There are those who attain their  portion  in the World to Come in a moment.”

The tzaddik, Rabbi Yaakov ben Shabbat, zt”l, a disciple of my holy grandfather, the tzaddik, Rabbi Chaim Pinto Hagadol, zy”a, explains the  statement  of Chazal (Berachot 19a) that  if  one sees a talmid chacham who sinned by night, he should not suspect him in the day, for  he certainly  did  teshuvah. It may be that  the talmid chacham sinned only in order that he could fulfill the mitzvah of teshuvah, as it says (Devarim 30:2), “And you will return unto Hashem, your G-d.” Therefore, one should not suspect him, since his sin was not for the purpose of indulging in passion, but on the contrary,  from Heaven he was brought  to do a small aveirah so that he should be able to fulfill  the mitzvah of doing teshuvah.

Chazal expound on the issue of pure intentions  with the following example (Ketubot 63a; see Tosafot ibid.; Shoshanat Ha’amakim, Shir Hashirim 1:4). Chazal relate that  Ben Azzai married  Rabbi Akiva’s daughter, but divorced her shortly after with the consent of the contemporary   Chachamim. Why  did  the  Chachamim support  his decision to get divorced? After all, one of the first  mitzvot  of the Torah is to be fruitful  and multiply (Bereishit 1:28). It would  seem that, on the contrary,  Ben Azzai should have remained married precisely because of his erudition  in Torah, since learning leads to action. Consequently, he should have fulfilled the Torah’s command to have children.

The question is heightened by what happened to Chizkiyahu, who also refused to marry, and was punished with a fatal illness (Yeshayahu 38:1). When Yeshayahu Hanavi appeared to Chizkiyahu Hamelech, who was suffering, instead of wishing him a speedy recovery, he informed  him, “You shall die, and you shall not live.” Chazal (Berachot 10a) say that  the  double  language implies  that Chizkiyahu was destined to die the following day, leaving this world, and in addition, he would also be banished from the World to Come. This is because he had never married, and thereby disregarded the mitzvah to be fruitful  and multiply.

Chizkiyahu intentionally refrained  from  marrying,  since he foresaw in ruach hakodesh that Menashe the Wicked would be his son. He did not wish to be the cause for such an evil person to be born, who would sin and induce all of Am Yisrael to sin. Therefore, he chose to remain single (Berachot 10a). We may wonder why the Chachamim allowed Ben Azzai to divorce, whereas Chizkiyahu, who refrained from marrying for altruistic reasons, was decreed to lose his portion  in the World to Come.

The difference between the two cases is the following. Chizkiyahu was a king, who had many obligations to fulfill. Although he engaged in  the  study  of  Torah  and its  dissemination,  to  the  extent  that Chazal (Sanhedrin 94b) testify  about his generation that there was not a single child who was not fluent in the complex laws of tumah and taharah, he was also occupied with governmental matters. Therefore, he could not dedicate himself entirely  to Torah as Ben Azzai did. The Chachamim allowed Ben Azzai to divorce  his wife, since they realized that  his study  of Torah was all-encompassing. Regarding Ben Azzai, one can argue (Sukkah 26a), “When one is in the  midst   of  [performing]  a  mitzvah   –  he  is  absolved   from performing  another  mitzvah  at that  time.”  Ben Azai’s total immersion in Torah protected him. Conversely, since Chizkiyahu Hamelech was the king, he was also involved  in legislative affairs. Therefore, he was obligated to get married so that he would fulfill the mitzvah of having children and be guarded from sin by his wife.

We can learn a lesson from the punishment of Chizkiyahu. He was considered a tremendous tzaddik in his generation, however he was condemned for not getting married and having children, despite his good intentions of preventing the birth  of wicked descendants. How much more so is a person blameworthy  if he gets married and has children  but does not raise them in the ways of the Torah.

Chazal (Avot 2:1) say, “Know what is above you – a watchful Eye, and an attentive  Ear, and all your deeds are recorded in a Book.”Although  at  first  one may judge  his  fellow  a certain  way because of his behavior and lifestyle, he should be aware that ultimately  only Hashem, Who is capable of scrutinizing  one’s intentions,  can  accurately  judge  a person’s  spiritual   level (Yirmeyahu 17:9-10). This  is why  we must  consider  each person holy. We cannot possibly  gather all the necessary factors in order

to   judge   another   person’s   spiritual    level.   Only   Hashem  can recognize the qualities of each person and judge him accordingly.

I once invited a generous benefactor to our office, in Lyon, France. I  hoped  he  would   donate  a  substantial   sum  to  support   our illustrious institutions, for “if there is no flour, there is no Torah…” (Avot 3:17). The office was in the building  of our institution, which was secured  by  a series  of  hidden  cameras, connected  to  the monitor   in  a  closed  circuit.   This  way  I  was  able  to  observe everything that was happening on the campus grounds at every moment,  in  order  to  be  protected   from  hostile  attacks.  While glancing at the screen, I noticed the sponsor approaching the gate with  a cigarette in his hand. He paused in order to finish smoking his cigarette. Then he carefully wiped all traces of evidence from his mouth and face, without  suspecting that he was being watched. He smoothed his suit to portray a neat appearance and hurried to enter the office. Upon seeing me, he extended his hand to shake mine as is  customary.  Following  this  incident  I thought  to  myself  that  I received a live lesson of Chazal’s teaching (Avot 2:1): “Know what is above you – a watchful Eye, and an attentive Ear, and all your deeds are recorded in a Book.”

The Words of the Sages

Paying Wages on Time

The injunction that appears in this week’s parsha, “A worker’s wages shall not remain with you overnight until morning” (Vayikra 19:13), is repeated in Sefer Devarim with even greater force: “On that day you shall pay his hire. The sun shall not set upon him, for he is poor, and his life depends on it. Let him not call out against you to Hashem, for it shall be a sin to you” (Devarim 24:15).

Already in the early generations, the great men of Israel fought tirelessly against all those who exploited their workers, something that G-d finds wrong and intolerable.

In Sefer Chassidim we read, “Those who withhold the wages of a worker, who purchase a stolen item from non-Jews, who use instruments of idolatry, their candles, their jeweler, and their tools, who refuse to pay their share to the community – their money is anathema. G-d decrees that this money will be lost regardless of who possesses it. That is why we must be careful not to possess such things.”

A Trace of Theft

The story of Rabbi Avraham Galanti, a great Torah scholar from Sefat who went to see the Arizal for a tikkun [spiritual rectification], is well-known. At first the Arizal did not want to honor his request, saying to him: “Who am I to prescribe a tikkun for you, since you are so great in Torah?” Yet after Rabbi Avraham insisted, the Arizal looked at him and said: “I see a small trace of theft on your forehead.” Rabbi Avraham was stunned, and he returned home in tears. Saddened by this news, he donned sackcloth, sat on the ground, and burst into tears as he engaged in profound soul-searching.

Rabbi Avraham was the owner of a weaving and spinning mill. He immediately assembled all his workers and asked them to verify their accounts in order to determine if he owed them any wages. They responded that all the money which they earned from him was accompanied by such blessings that they never needed to check their earnings.

Rabbi Avraham then said to them, “Now I understand. I am guilty of theft because you received your wages without checking as to their amount. From now on, please take a precise accounting of your wages. If not, do not continue to work for me, for I do not wish to descend into Gehinnom on account of my mill.”

He continued: “I must now rectify my past deeds. I will place a large sum of money before you, and everyone should take what he feels that he deserves, and then declare in all sincerity: ‘I received everything that the boss owes me, and if he owes me more, I consider it all paid.’ ”

His workers immediately forgave him, and none of them took a cent…except for one elderly woman who bent down to take two pennies.

When Rabbi Avraham returned to see the Arizal, the latter revealed to him: “That woman was more skilled than the others workers, and she should have received a greater salary, but did not. Heaven was strict with you because you should not have acted in this way. Now that this error has been rectified, the trace of theft that marked your forehead is gone.”

From here we learn a great lesson in ethics: Since a slight neglect left a trace of theft inscribed on the forehead of this pious and holy man, how many sins must be inscribed on the forehead of one who robs and abuses his fellowman! How can such a man stand before G-d in prayer?

A Sin That Shortens Lives

The author of the amazing book Kav Hayashar (ch.14) states things even more directly:

The Zohar affirms that anyone who withholds the wages of a worker will be severely punished. Each worker ardently yearns for the wages of his work, and withholding them is equivalent to imprisoning his soul and that of his family members. Any man who does this will see all the prosperity that had been destined for him depart and vanish, all because he withheld the wages of a worker. This sin also shortens lives, G-d forbid.

This passage from the Zohar constitutes an important warning: There is no greater desecration of G-d’s Name than for a worker (even a non-Jew) to have to beg and implore his boss to receive his wages. He awaits his salary for the effort that he made and the toil that he put into his work, and yet his boss pretends that he doesn’t hear, he sends him away – and makes him return – before giving him what he is owed! Punishment will quickly follow anyone who does this: His possessions will be lost and destined to vanish. Even if he now lives at ease, in the end he will have neither health nor success. He will arrive in the World to Come completely destitute, and no mercy will be shown to him. In addition to everything that we have mentioned, this sin brings about numerous other punishments. Hence we must be very careful not to stumble and fall into the sin of withholding the wages of a worker.

Guard Your Tongue

How Much More Before Non-Jews

The prohibition against Lashon Harah applies if we speak disparagingly about a Jew to other Jews, and even more so to non-Jews. In the latter case, the sin is that much worse, for in addition to the fact that we are insulting a Jew, and as such profaning G-d’s honor, we also cause the subject a great deal of problems. In fact if we recount something disparaging about a Jew to another Jew, he will not immediately believe it. However if we say something disparaging about a Jew to a non-Jew, saying that he is dishonest or something along the same lines, he will immediately believe it and spread this rumor, which will do him great harm.

 At the Source


It is written, “You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem your G-d” (Vayikra 19:2).

Many people make the mistake of thinking, Rabbi Israel Salanter once said, that holiness pertains only to spiritual matters. However in Parsha Kedoshim, the Torah establishes the conditions necessary for attaining holiness: “You shall not steal, you shall not deny falsely, and you shall not lie to one another,” “You shall not cheat your fellow and you shall not rob,” “You shall not commit a perversion of justice.” Holiness depends on all these things, “for holy am I, Hashem your G-d,” meaning that in Heaven, so to speak, I am holy. If I demand holiness from you, it is in the material realm, in transactions, work, commerce, and in your relationship with others.

The Gemara states, “Who is the son of holy men? Rabbi Menachem ben Simai. And why did they call him the son of holy men? Because he did not look at the effigy of a coin” (Pesachim 104a). Hence his holiness pertained to financial matters.

Good Deeds

It is written, “Every man, your mother and your father shall you fear” (Vayikra 19:3).

It is said that before performing any mitzvah, Rabbi Alexander Ziskind Zatzal of Horodna (the author of Yesod VeShoresh HaAvodah) would say three times: Leshem yichud [for the sake of the mitzvah] in order to honor his father and mother. In fact the Zohar states that every mitzvah and good deed that a person performs brings satisfaction and honor to his deceased parents in the World to Come.

Regarding the mitzvah, “Honor your father and your mother” (Parsha Yitro), the Zohar states that good deeds are what is termed honoring your father and mother!

No Other Way

It is written, “Whatever remains until the third day shall be burned in fire” (Vayikra 19:6).

In his book Kisse Rahamim, Rabbi Rahamim Melamed Hacohen Zatzal interprets the above verse as an allusion to meat that has not undergone soaking and salting for three days following slaughter. It is therefore forbidden to cook, for its blood has coagulated internally, having been absorbed and dried. Hence it can no longer be removed by salting, but only by grilling over fire.

In this regard the verse says: “Whatever remains until the third day” – meat that has remained without soaking or salting until the third day – must “be burned in fire,” for there is no other way but to grill it over fire.

One Thing Leads to Another

It is written, “You shall not cheat your fellow and you shall not rob. A worker’s wages shall not remain with you overnight until morning” (Vayikra 19:13).

The significance of the commands given in this verse – as well as in the following verse, which states: “You shall not curse the deaf, and you shall not place a stumbling block before the blind” – aroused the astonishment of the gaon Rabbi Yehonatan Eibeshutz Zatzal.

He stated that the command, “You shall not cheat your fellow” refers to not immediately paying the salary of a person who works by the hour. Whoever transgresses this prohibition will end up transgressing the prohibition, “You shall not rob.” How so? It is due to the fact that “a worker’s wages shall not remain with you overnight until morning,” for someone who is concerned with his employees will remember to pay them on time. However if he delays and fails to pay them on time, he is liable to forget and transgress: “You shall not rob.” The employee will then think that his boss wants rob him, and so he will curse him. The employee will therefore transgress the prohibition against cursing the deaf, and the boss – who provoked this curse – will transgress the prohibition: “You shall not place a stumbling block before the blind.”

The Test

It is written, “You shall not place a stumbling block before the blind” (Vayikra 19:14).

An avrech who studied for many years went to see the Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Yehudah Tsadka Zatzal. He asked the Rosh Yeshiva to please test him on the laws of Choshen Mishpat in the Shulchan Aruch, and to confer Smichat Chachamim on him.

The Rosh Yeshiva accepted and scheduled an appointment to test him, as he had asked.

When the time came for the test, the avrech went to see the Rosh Yeshiva, and even before starting to speak with him, the Rosh Yeshiva make a small request: That the avrech should please lend him a certain amount of money. Hurrying to fulfill the tzaddik’s request, the avrech quickly took out his wallet and handed the requested amount to the Rosh Yeshiva with obvious joy.

The Rosh Yeshiva immediately said to him, “That’s enough. The test is over.” When the avrech expressed his astonishment, the Rosh Yeshiva indirectly suggested to him that he had forgotten an explicit Halachah from the Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat regarding the laws of loans. There it states, “It is forbidden to lend without witnesses, even to a talmid chacham. Whoever lends without witnesses transgresses, ‘You shall not place a stumbling block before the blind.’ ”

In the Light of the Parsha

The Redemption of Israel Depends Solely on Tears

It is written, “Any man who curses his father or mother shall be put to death” (Vayikra 20:9).

The Sages have said, “Come and see how delightful the mitzvah of honoring parents is to the Holy One, blessed be He, Who rewards both the righteous and the wicked for the fulfillment of this mitzvah. From where do we learn this? From the wicked Esav, to whom G-d gave great honor because he honored his father. Rabbi Elazar said: The wicked Esav shed three tears: One from his right eye, another from his left eye, and a third remained in his eye and was not spilled. When was this? When Isaac blessed Jacob. See how much peace the Holy One, blessed be He, gave him!” (Tanchuma, Kedoshim 15). The Sages have also said, “Because of three tears that Esav shed, Israel endured three wars, as it is written: ‘You fed them bread of tears, You made them drink tears in threefold measure’ [Tehillim 80:6]” (Yilamdeinu, Bereshith 126). The Zohar also states, “The redemption of Israel depends solely on tears: Redemption will begin for Israel when the effect of Esav’s tears, which he shed before his father on account of the birthright, will have been exhausted” (Zohar II:12b). Thus we read, “With weeping shall they come, and through supplications will I bring them” (Jeremiah 31:8). Let us think about this: We know that Esav did not fulfill this mitzvah sincerely, and therefore he was not worthy of being given all this reward. Nevertheless, the Holy One, blessed be He, judged Israel on account of his tears! The reason is that when Esav shed these tears before his father Isaac, the attribute of strict justice came and said: “Sovereign of the universe, is it by chance that this evildoer is crying and shedding tears because of a mitzvah that he could not fulfill? He is only crying because of the reward and blessings that Jacob took from him! In that case, he is crying and suffering on account of a material reward! It is therefore unfair for the Children of Israel, who yearn for mitzvot in the same way that this evildoer yearns for the reward of mitzvot!”

When the Holy One, blessed be He, heard this, He gave him a reward, and the Children of Israel were dispersed among the nations of the world as a result. They will not emerge from their exile before the tears of this evildoer are drowned among the tears of Israel. And they will not disappear with tears shed over the pain caused by evil decrees, but only by tears shed over the pain of the Shechinah, as it is written: “Since the destruction of the Temple, the gates of prayer are locked, for it is written, ‘Though I would cry out and plead, He shut out my prayer’ [Eicha 3:8]. Yet although the gates of prayer are locked, the gates of tears are not, for it is written: ‘Hear my prayer, Hashem, and give ear to my cry; be not silent to my tears’ [Tehillim 39:13]” (Bava Metzia 59a).

A Life of Torah

It is written, “They embittered their lives with hard work, with mortar and with bricks, and with every labor of the field; all their labors that they performed with them were with crushing hardness” (Shemot 1:14).

The Zohar explains this verse based on the hidden meaning of the Torah, establishing a parallel between Torah study and the work of the Children of Israel in Egypt:

“They embittered their lives with hard work [kasha] – this refers to a quandary [kushia] in the text; with mortar [chomer] – this refers to a conclusion drawn from a minor premise to a major one [kal vachomer]; bricks [levanim] – this refers to the clarification [livun] of Halachah; and with every labor of the field – this refers to the study of the baraitot [mishnayot not incorporated into the Mishnah]; all their labors that they performed with them were with crushing hardness – these are the Torah difficulties that Eliyahu HaNavi will explain” (Zohar III:153a).

Besides the simple meaning of the text, the Sages of Israel used this verse to show us the path which leads to Torah, which is not the path of possessions and pleasure. The Gerer Rebbe writes, “The Torah only endures with one who precedes it with suffering…and in order to defeat the evil inclination, it is necessary for one to declare that he is studying solely because we have been commanded to” (Beit Israel, Shavuot 712). Whoever has no desire to engage in Torah study must furnish special effort at the outset in order to commit himself to it despite everything else, for afterwards “those who have tasted it merit life [true life].” Furthermore, reward comes in large measure for the effort furnished to overcome this lack of desire to study.

Rabbi Haim Vital, the disciple of the Arizal, said in regards to his teacher: “Even when he expounded a Halachah with study partners, I saw him exerting the strength of a lion, until he finally exhausted himself and was sweating profusely.

“I then asked him, ‘Why are you making such an effort?’ He answered me, ‘Because this is what true study consists of: Breaking the husks that constitute the difficulties of the Halachah, and which prevent us from understanding. That is why we must toil by putting all our effort into it [lehatish koach]. The Torah is in fact called tushia [wisdom], for it meitish [weakens] those who study it. Hence it is proper to expend one’s energy and exhaust oneself by studying the Halachah.’ ”

I Also Don’t Want To

An eminent Torah scholar once went to see the Steipler and admitted to him that he felt no desire to study Torah. The Steipler then raised his voice and exclaimed, “What do you think – that I myself want to? Yet what then? All I know is that we have an obligation to study it! Just as we are obligated to eat matza on the night of the Seder without using the excuse that we don’t want to, we also have an obligation to study Torah…and moreover, without Torah we are not even considered human beings!”

Moreover, a scholar who was close to the Steipler recounted that the latter complained one day in his presence that it was difficult for him to study, but then quickly added: “But we are obligated to!” He then immediately returned to studying with diligence.

Pay Attention to his Health

The wife of the chacham Rabbi Salman Mutzafi recounted that a rabbi from the yeshiva came to see her one day and said, “On several occasions, your husband studied for many hours without a break, to the point of fainting in the middle of learning. I helped him regain consciousness each time, but I once saw him vomiting blood. I’ve therefore come to tell you this so you can pay attention to his health.”

I Found an Answer!

In regards to the Rebbe of Ostrova, Rabbi Meir Yechiel Halevy, it is said that already in his youth, he was so perceptive that his teachers could not teach him anything more. He therefore left for a yeshiva designed for older boys, where the sharpest youngsters of Poland were enrolled. Nevertheless, they failed to gauge just how outstanding the young Meir Yechiel was.

One time, as they were immersed in a sugia and everyone was struggling to understand it, they sent him to purchase a “drink,” as was the custom among the chassidim. On his way back, preoccupied with the difficulty of the sugia, he walked straight into a wall. The bottle that he was holding broke, cutting his hand. He lost a great deal of blood, but felt nothing.

He then finally discovered a wonderful explanation for the sugia! All excited, and yet bleeding profusely as he held the top of the broken bottle in his hand, he interrupted everyone in the Beit HaMidrash and exclaimed: “I found an answer!”

There Was Once a Pious Man

A pious man set up a Beit HaMidrash in his home, where he prayed each day with his disciples and reviewed the Mishnah with them. This man never left his home or went to the city market. Nevertheless, one day he asked his students: “Please accompany me to the market. I wish to go for a walk.” They replied, “Teacher, the market isn’t a place for a walk. It’s filled with shops and a multitude of people bumping into one another. Going for a walk is only enjoyable in the countryside.” However he insisted, “All the same, I want to go to the market today. That’s where I want to walk, not in the countryside.” Hence they all left for the market.

As they approached it, they noticed a group of six porters. They were all dripping with sweat, for each of them was carrying a large and heavy load on his shoulders. The Rav and his disciples therefore stood to the side and allowed these men to carry their large loads, which originated from customs and were destined for their bosses, market merchants.

The Rav addressed his students: “We can learn a great deal of these porters who carry heavy loads. Because of these loads, sweat drips from them, their backs are bent, and their bones are crushed. All this for ten kopeks [pennies]. Nevertheless, we clearly see that they don’t die under these burdens, nor do they weaken from their effort, nor do their bones break. Indeed, they are able to restart three or four times a day, followed by the same work on the next day, and the day after that. They are in good health, and are always full of energy. And so my friends, you will certainly not exhaust your strength by devoting yourselves to learning Torah. Even if you remain with me for six straight hours, and even if you sweat beneath the hot sun, regardless of the effort that your furnish for the Torah, it will not reach half of the effort furnished by these porters. Furthermore, since they exhaust ourselves so greatly for a salary of ten kopeks, how much more should we exhaust ourselves to acquire the Torah, whose reward is eternal, amazing, and immense, something which no eye has ever seen!”

– Ben Ish Hai


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