July 22nd, 2017

28th of Tamuz 5777


A Jew’s entire life is one long saga of journeys and travails

Rabbi David Hanania Pinto

“These are the travels of Bnei Yisrael who left the land of Egypt to their legions in the hand of Moshe and Aharon” (Bamidbar 33:1)

The Torah delineates the travels of Bnei Yisrael from the day they left Egypt until their entry into Eretz Yisrael. Why did the Torah see fit to record, in detail, each of Bnei Yisrael’s travels? What is the message?

A person is obligated to know his purpose in this world. What was he sent here to accomplish? What a shame it is that so many people waste their time on emptiness! One moment of teshuvah and good deeds in this world is more precious than the entire World to Come. When one serves Hashem in this world, he is accruing untold reward in the World to Come.

The detailed list of Bnei Yisrael’s travels in the desert teaches us that the main reason they were redeemed from Egypt was for the purpose of reaching their final destination – Eretz Yisrael. But earning the privilege of arriving at Eretz Yisrael was conditional upon their observance of Torah and mitzvot, specifically the Land-related mitzvot. Hashem allowed Bnei Yisrael to feel the difficulties of traveling through the wilderness in order that they fully appreciate arriving at their final destination – the Land flowing with milk and honey.

When Bnei Yisrael would finally arrive in Eretz Yisrael after all the travails of the wilderness, they would have a deeper awareness of galut. Exile is manifold times more difficult than the travels Bnei Yisrael underwent during their years in the desert. With all the hardships involved, there were many miracles they enjoyed during those years. For instance, the Clouds of Glory led the way and paved their path, the manna fell from the heavens, and the Well of Miriam sated them daily. Nevertheless, camping and traveling intermittently, without forewarning, definitely was difficult. But this cannot be compared with the suffering our nation endured at the hands of their enemies when they were exiled from their land after the churban.

The Torah relates that the Egyptians were burying their dead. This is not just for informational purposes, but, as always, to teach us a lesson. This world is compared to Egypt, overflowing with materialism and attractions. It is the yetzer hara’s domain. When one successfully overcomes his yetzer hara, he experiences his personal yetziat Mitzrayim, an exodus from the frivolities of this world. One should exchange the temptations of this world with divrei Torah, which is regarded as a “journey.” As the Ohr Hachaim (Shemot 19:2) explains the words, “They traveled from Refidim:” Bnei Yisrael left the place where they had been weak in Torah, and undertook to reinforce their bond with Torah. One should always journey through life by the map of Torah, going from strength to strength in this venture. Even his “rest stations” should be only for the purpose of gathering renewed energy for the continuation of his glorious journey.

A good way of keeping “on track” in this lifelong journey is to constantly remember one’s day of death. The station Kivrot Hata’avah (literally – Graves of Lust) refers to burying one’s desires, which provide but instant gratification and are then gone.

The Torah makes mention of the fact that the Egyptians were busy burying their dead at the time of yetziat Mitzrayim. Bnei Yisrael left that abominable land with the intent of becoming Hashem’s Nation. They “buried their dead” by doing away with all connection to this-worldly attractions. In order to help themselves overcome their yetzer hara, they constantly reiterated, “Know from where you come, to where you are going, and before Whom you will give an accounting” (Avot 3:1).

“From where you come” – Bnei Yisrael were so entrenched in their servitude to Pharaoh that they completely forgot the meaning of freedom. With their exodus from Egypt, Hashem compassionately removed the yoke of slavery from them and enabled them to taste the flavor of freedom.

“To where you are going” – Bnei Yisrael were now on the road to accepting the Torah. This is the merit that earned them their freedom. Only a small step stood between them and the fiftieth gate of defilement, the point of no return. Were it not for their agreement to observe the Torah, they would have fallen into eternal doom.

“And before Whom you will give an accounting” – At the end, one will give Hashem an accounting of every moment of his life.

It is these three paramount points that save a person from sin. Without an honest appraisal of these three points, one will be in a very sorry state when his life is tallied up before the Heavenly Court. Those of Bnei Yisrael who refused to make this personal accounting perished in the Plague of Darkness.

A Jew’s entire life is one long saga of journeys and travails. Walking on the well-trodden path of Torah and mitzvot will keep one in line and safe from the dangers lurking at the roadside. But if one chooses to focus on materialism and physical desires, he will find himself on a thorny path, from which it will be very difficult to extricate himself.

Since Bnei Yisrael sinned in the wilderness, they were decreed to spend forty years traveling about. All that Hashem desired was that Bnei Yisrael remain a holy nation in all their endeavors, until they reached Eretz Yisrael. There, they would be “a nation that dwells alone and is not calculated among the nations.”

The Haftarah

The haftarah of the week: “Hearken to the word of Hashem” (Yirmeyahu 2)

The connection to the parashah: This is the second haftarah from the three ordained by Chazal to be read during the three Shabbatot preceding Tisha B’Av. They are all Yirmeyahu’s prophecies of the destruction of Yerushalayim.

Guard Your Tongue

At All Cost

Even if someone stands to lose a lot of money, such as losing his job, he may nevertheless not relate lashon hara. This is like any other negative commandment of the Torah, wherein one is obligated to lose everything rather than transgress.

Walking in Their Ways

A Miraculous Spectacle

A woman was having trouble finding her marriage partner. She came to me, pleading that I bless her in the merit of my holy fathers that she find her intended in the near future. I acceded to her request, praying that Hashem should enlighten her eyes and help her find her true intended, meriting to marry according to Jewish custom.

But Heaven arranged otherwise. The woman spent years in spinsterhood. But she did not despair. Every so often, she came to me, asking for another berachah in the merit of my ancestors. Every time that she visited, I blessed her anew that she should merit establishing her home in the very near future. Additionally, I wrote out blessings for her on notes. I asked her to return these papers to me as soon as she found her intended.

When I was visiting Paris, this woman approached me. This time, she bewailed her bitter lot. At a loss as to how to help this poor, broken woman, I decided to offer her my glasses as a security of sorts. I stated that she may come to me next only with her chatan at her side. Until the day of her happiness, I did not want to see her, for I felt I had nothing more to give her.

The woman heard my words. She took the glasses, and, with a look of defeat, left the room. Feelings of depression began worming their way into her heart. She resigned herself to a life of spinsterhood till the end of her days.

To my utter amazement, within a short time, the woman returned, beaming. I had never known she could look so happy. She had come to return my glasses, for they had done their job. She had found her intended and was preparing to build her future home.

“Your deliverance should demonstrate the great power of faith in Hashem,” I told her. “Only after you placed all your trust in Him, having no other recourse of action, did you merit salvation. Had you felt that there is none other than Him sooner, you might have merited salvation earlier.” I added a heartfelt blessing that she merit building an everlasting edifice built on Jewish values.

Words of the Sages

Just in Time

“You shall designate cities for yourselves; they shall be cities of refuge for you, and a murderer who killed a person unintentionally shall flee there” (Bamidbar 35:11)

The Chiddushei HaRim teaches us an invaluable lesson: Here is someone who killed another Jew, albeit unintentionally. He is overcome with remorse and can find no comfort for his soul. Hashem lovingly turns to him and says, as it were, “Come to My city of refuge. Hope is not lost. You have a haven from those who seek your harm.”

We, too, must always give sinners a second chance. Let us never give up on them or leave them to their own devices. Rather, we should bring them close and guide them on the path that leads up to the House of Hashem.

The love of Rabbi Nissim Toledano zt”l, Rosh Yeshivat Sheirit Yosef toward his disciples was legendary. He loved each one individually, like a father toward a son.

In the yeshiva’s early days, a bachur arrived from a city near Caesarea. He came from an irreligious home and kept wondering if he should continue learning in yeshiva or enlist in the army. Finally, after learning in Sheirit Yosef for some time, he decided it was time to join the army. He informed the Mashgiach of his plans and the next day found him outside the yeshiva gates, suitcase in hand.

As he was leaving the hallowed halls of the yeshiva, he noticed the mailman delivering the day’s mail. “Maybe I got a letter,” the boy thought. The mailman showed him the pile, and to his surprise, he found that he indeed got a letter. It was from none other than Rabbi Nissim Toledano, the Rosh Yeshiva himself, who, at the time, was on a trip to America.

The boy took the missive and made his way to the bus stop. There, he opened the letter.

“My dear, beloved one…” the letter began with words of genuine love. “How are you? I think of you from afar. I am aware of your challenges and know things are difficult for you…” The letter continued with sincere words of concern and interest.

Suddenly, the boy’s cheeks were wet. Such love! “This is the Rosh Yeshiva I merited having? If so, I’m going straight back!” The Mashgiach, who had already made peace with the boy’s leaving, was surprised to see him back so fast. Instead of explaining, the boy simply showed him the letter, its words like cool waters on a tired soul.

In the wake of this letter, not only did this bachur make a complete about-face, but his brothers, as well, remained in yeshiva. And his sisters married fine bnei Torah from that yeshiva. Four Jewish homes were saved in the merit of a Rosh Yeshiva who cared enough to show it.

Chazak U’Baruch

The kindergarten in Beit Choron was abuzz with excitement this Tu B’Shvat. As every year, they were eager to enjoy the fruits of shivat haminim as well as the other fruits of Eretz Yisrael. Various activities and creative workshops were always on the program.

Only this year, one of the teachers had an innovative idea: Instead of workshops, they’d have a “seudat ameinim” for all of the kindergarten classes. As they ate of the special fruits, the children would imbibe the pure faith that comes with responding “Amen” to a berachah. Hundreds of zechuyot would accrue from this initiative as pure angels would be created through the recitation of “Amen.”

During the days leading up to Tu B’Shevat, the teachers explained the concept of “Amen.” Responding to a berachah with this word completes the blessing, creating a pure angel.

The teachers related Chazal’s praise of those who respond “Amen,” as well as their reward: The gates of Gan Eden open for them.

When the day finally arrived, the children were prepared for this auspicious occasion. At the appointed hour, all the classes joined for a lavish “seudat ameinim.” The children joyfully said berachot on the colorful array of fruits and replied “Amen” to their friends’ blessings.

Only a short while later, it was discovered that the pure angels created by the pure mouths of babes, approximately sixty strong, indeed served as protection over their settlement, averting tragedy.

This is how it happened:

At 4:00 p.m., the children went home. They were proud of their merit in answering “Amen” so many times, thereby earning Heavenly reward.

Since snow was in the forecast, many parents took their children to the store nearby in order to purchase snow gear. While the unsuspecting residents walked down the aisles, two terrorists, taking advantage of the inclement weather, cut the wires surrounding the settlement and infiltrated the place. They were armed with sharpened knives and other weapons. With murder in their eyes, they made their way toward the kindergarten and the nearby store.

Sadly, a young woman in their path met her death, H”yd. Then the terrorists made their way to the store, bent on performing a grand carnage.

A moment before they walked in, an elderly lady came out, loaded down with bags. The evil men tried to stab her, but she managed to escape by jumping into a passing car just in the nick of time. The terrorists threw a hand grenade at the car, which smashed a window, but nothing more.

Who was this lucky woman? None other than one of the kindergarten teachers who had helped arrange the “seudat ameinim.” She tangibly felt that the angels of protection from that mitzvah were shielding her from harm.

The vicious men continued on their way to the store, which was filled with customers. First, they threw in explosives, which, thankfully, did not detonate. Then, when they tried to harm the customers, the storeowner, having his wits about him, and with a great dose of siyata di’Shemaya, rammed into them with a -- shopping wagon, and managed to thwart their schemes.


Rabbi David Hanania Pinto

Of Sympathy and Success

“Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: Take revenge for the children of Israel against the Midianites; afterwards you will be gathered to your people” (Bamidbar 31:1-2)

Why did Hashem delegate this war to Moshe, as opposed to Hashem Himself fighting the Midianites, as He had fought the Egyptians in their time?

As always, there is a message here for all times:

Often, when we hear about somebody who has fallen onto hard times, we sigh in commiseration, say something like, “Hashem should help him,” and move on. But we ourselves don’t make any move to offer tangible help. Suddenly, at such a time, we are filled with faith, fully believing that Hashem will bring this person his salvation.

Of course, Hashem is the source of all salvation. But this does not exonerate one from doing his utmost to help his fellow Jew.

Hashem wants us to take the first step, as we read (Shir Hashirim 5:3), “Open for Me an opening the size of a needle-hole and I will open for you an opening the size of a banquet hall.” All of Bnei Yisrael are responsible for one another (Shavuot 39a). Mutual responsibility means that when one Jew is suffering, I am enjoined to feel his pain and do my best to alleviate it.

Due to their low spiritual level, Bnei Yisrael sinned with the daughters of Midian. Fighting against the Midianites would be an act to repair this breach. Hashem would then complete the job, allowing them to emerge victorious.

Men of Faith

A woman from the Ochayon family related the following story:

Her mother always experienced early labor, and her children would die shortly after birth. When her third son was born, the couple went to the grave of Rabbi Chaim Hagadol to pray and made a vow: If this son would survive, they would take him to Rabbi Chaim’s grave when he turned three years old and cut his hair there, as is customary at the age of three. Moreover, they would arrange a feast of thanksgiving there as well.

The third boy did stay alive. However, when he reached the age of three, they forgot the pledge that they had made at the grave of the tzaddik.

One morning, they heard knocking on their door. Rabbi Chaim Pinto Hakatan, stood at the door and asked the family members, “Does family Moyal live here?” They confirmed that he had arrived at the correct address.

“My grandfather, Rabbi Chaim Pinto, came to me in a dream at night and told me to come to this house, because there was a pledge made here to cut the child’s hair by his grave when he turned three years old. But, the pledge was forgotten. Therefore, he requests that you go today to his grave to fulfill your vow.”

It is interesting to note that Rabbi Chaim Hakatan concluded emphatically with a blessing: “This son shall surely live.”

The couple recalled their pledge, and on that same day, they went to the grave of Rabbi Chaim Hagadol to cut the child’s hair. As an appendix to the story, it is told that this man is alive today, enjoying ripe old age. He is in good health and has a large, extended family.

Food for Thought

Accepting Rebuke

Every day, a long line would form after the morning tefillah, as people waited to ask advice of the Rabbi of Yerushalayim, Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zt”l. Rabbi Sonnenfeld would remain in the beit kenesset and respond to each petitioner with utmost patience.

One day, somebody entered the beit kenesset and was incensed by what he saw. Losing complete control, he began shouting, “How can Jews speak mundane talk in a synagogue?!” he demanded.

Rabbi Sonnenfeld, in his trademark humility, accepted the rebuke with love. He immediately went outside where he continued to see supplicants. From that day on, he never saw petitioners in the beit kenesset itself, but only outside.


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