August 12th, 2017

20th of Av 5777


Lighting up the World with Yirat Shamayim

Rabbi David Hanania Pinto

 “And now, O Israel, what does Hashem, your G-d, demand of you? Only to fear Hashem, your G-d, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, and to worship Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul” (Devarim 10:12)

“Only to fear” indicates that everything is in the hands of Heaven except for fear of Heaven (Rashi).

Moshe tells Bnei Yisrael that yirat Shamayim is the foundation for everything. With a solid base of fear of Heaven, they can reach the highest pinnacle in avodat Hashem. Moshe’s use of the word “only” seems to imply that fearing Hashem is an easily-achieved quality. We know all too well how difficult it is to obtain and retain yirat Shamayim. Concerning Moshe, yirat Shamayim, was, indeed, a simple matter (Berachot 33b).

We are still left with our quandary. Notwithstanding the fact that Moshe mastered a tremendous level of yirat Shamayim with seeming ease, he was now addressing the entire nation. They were not on his level. Why, then, did he present yirat Shamayim as an easy mitzvah?

Blessings such as a good shidduch, financial security, health, marital harmony, nachat from his children, and overall success, are in the hands of Heaven alone. It may seem like a person is succeeding due to his own expertise, but that is not the truth. It is only Hashem who manages every aspect of our lives.

I have seen fabulously wealthy people who lost everything in the blink of an eye. In contrast, I saw pitifully poor people who turned rich in an instant. We cannot attribute such phenomenon to any natural cause, because they don’t follow the laws of nature. We are forced to say that the keys to success are in the hands of Heaven.

In our prayers, we recite, “Heal us, Hashem, and we will be healed; save us and we will be saved.” The key to life is Hashem’s alone. He is the only one who decides who will recover from illness.

This is the case in every single area of life. If we look around, we will discover that every moment of life is pre-ordained by Hakadosh Baruch Hu. That is, except for yirat Shamayim. In this field, man has his say. Back to our original question: How could Moshe make it seem like yirat Shamayim is a simple matter when, in essence, it is the only quality that a person acquires through his own efforts?

Upon arising in the morning, one recites the Modeh Ani: “I gratefully thank You, O living and eternal King, for You have returned my soul within me with compassion – abundant is Your faithfulness” (Mishnah Berurah 1:8). This statement testifies that when we slept, our neshamot rose up to Heaven and were placed into Hashem’s hands. In His unlimited mercy, He returned them to us.

Reciting this acknowledgment on a daily basis drives home the awareness that Hashem is the one who created us with understanding and intelligence. Whatever we do is only through the power invested in us by Hashem. As Yirmeyahu Hanavi (Eichah 3:23) says, “They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” Immediately upon receiving our neshamah anew, the Jew is infused with the belief that Hashem is compassionate and returns his soul, fresh and pure.

This belief brings a person to yirat Shamayim, closely linked with yirat Chet. Analyzing the amazing process that the neshamah undergoes every night, reinforces a person’s faith, which in turn arouses in his heart yirat Shamayim (fear of Heaven) and yirat Chet (fear of sin). It is therefore fitting to say Modeh Ani with great concentration, delving into the meaning of the words. If you think about it, it’s not all that difficult. Moshe was right in saying that it’s a relatively easy task to take a step in the direction of yirat Shamayim.

In truth, a person possesses yirat Shamayim from birth. But he must open his eyes and see it. It’s like a person sitting in a room full of jewels. He must turn on the light in order to see the vast wealth before him.

It’s the same with us. In order to notice the yirat Shamayim within ourselves and connect to it, we must first turn on the light in our hearts via the light of Torah. We do this by devoting the first few moments of every day to Hashem alone, proclaiming Modeh Ani with intense concentration.

Walking in Their Ways

Unclogging One’s Soul from Unkosher Foods

I was once on a plane near a man who sported a chain with a large Magen David. But when the meals were served, he dug into his non-kosher food with gusto and even drank the forbidden wine with relish. Since he was sitting with a group of acquaintances, I refrained from rebuking him. But I made it a point to ask the stewardess, in a loud voice, if there were kosher portions for the Jewish passengers.

Unfortunately, she replied that there was kosher food only for those who had ordered it beforehand. Moreover, my specific meal had been left behind. At this, I made a show of telling off the staff for their oversight, especially regarding a passenger traveling first class.

I did this in order to awaken a dormant spark in this lost soul. Maybe this Jew would remember something of his childhood and become interested in kosher food. But he merely scoffed at my words and continued eating his meal voraciously.

Later in the flight, we entered into a conversation, as I had hoped. The man asked whether I was going away on vacation. I replied that I was going to see a small Jewish enclave where only a few Jews lived, holding tenaciously to their Judaism. They make every effort to maintain a life of Torah and mitzvot. I was going to offer them inspiration. Not your typical vacation resort.

I continued talking about Judaism and kashrut, emphasizing how crucial it is to protect one’s soul from defilement by eating treif food. I related instances of self-sacrifice of Jews of old, who protected themselves from unkosher foods at all costs. These foods stuff one’s heart, I explained, distancing him from Hashem.

“I have full faith in Hashem and His tzaddikim, even though I do not eat kosher,” the man excused himself. “I lay tefillin every morning and am strict with kashrut in the house. But outside my home, I am not strict at all.”

I was pained at his revelation and tried to explain that belief in Hashem while ignoring mitzvot is counterproductive. There is no point in putting on tefillin parallel to the heart that has become sullied by impure foods. There is no reason to keep kashrut at home when one eats anything and everything outside the home.

After approximately two hours of talking, the man asked where I was from, and I answered, “Lyon.”

“Do you by any chance know a rabbi there by the name of Rav Pinto? My father frequently visits him.”

“Really?” I asked in feigned ignorance. “I actually know him very well. He is sitting across from you and has been talking to you for the past two hours.”

The man did not know where to hide himself from shame. He apologized for eating treif food in my presence, and promised to try eating only kosher. I berated him for his deceitful attitude. Only after he realized who I was, did he promise to change his menu. Had he not known my identity, he would have continued eating non-kosher food unhesitatingly.

In order to have complete faith in Hashem, one must first and foremost abstain from eating defiled foods, which detach us from Him. In this manner, we will merit cleaving to Him without obstruction.

Words of the Sages

Kindness Saves from Death

“Hashem, your God, will keep for you the covenant and the kindness” (Devarim 7:12)

Hashem blessed Bnei Yisrael with three qualities: compassion, bashfulness, and loving-kindness (Yerushalmi, Kedushin 1a). This is derived from the above pasuk.

“Loving-kindness is one of the essential mitzvot between man and his fellow man. One is enjoined to make every effort to help his fellow man, assisting him financially, physically, emotionally, and by seeking his welfare. He should try to never hurt him in word or action.

“With this quality, negative character traits such as selfishness, envy, hatred, and arrogance are eradicated from a person’s heart. Every person has the skill to practice loving-kindness.

“The reward for loving-kindness is inestimable. Everyone should try to perform acts of loving-kindness. One should speak well of others and do favors for them. Chazal say, ‘Greater is the one who encourages good deeds than the one who actually does them.’ Even if one is not blessed with wealth, he should aspire to give tzedakah. He should gladden those who give charity. This is in line with the pasuk, “What does Hashem, your G-d demand from you? Only to do acts of justice and loving-kindness.” (RabbeinuYonah).

Rabbi Yaakov Koppel MiLikov zt”l (grandfather of the Chozeh MiLublin) was a tremendous Torah scholar, and also renowned for his acts of chessed. When the time came for him to die, groups of angels created by his mitzvot claimed that he was yet young and still had a daughter to marry off. It would be better for him to be granted more years.

But the Satan, aka the Angel of Death, stepped in, “Do you call these ‘good deeds’? Are his acts in the category of ‘Charity saves from death’? Everything he did was only in order to reserve a spot in the World to Come. Let him leave this world so that he can enjoy the World to Come.”

The Heavenly Court decided to send down the Angel of Death to test this tzaddik. If he deeds were, indeed, not l’shem Shamayim, the Satan had permission to take his soul.

The Angel of Death descended on a Thursday, when Rabbi Koppel would purchase Shabbat provisions.

The Angel of Death disguised himself as an indigent pauper, dressed in filthy rags. Rabbi Koppel stopped his wagon and invited the “pauper” for a ride. “I don’t need your favors!” was the response. “Leave me alone!” But Rabbi Koppel insisted that the man honor him with this mitzvah. Finally, the “pauper” blurted out, “All you’re interested in is to receive a portion in Olam Haba! That’s the only reason you do mitzvot!”

Rabbi Koppel was stunned. After regaining his composure, he calmly stated, “I hereby forego my entire portion in Gan Eden in exchange for this mitzvah of chessed. Please join me in my wagon.” Now it was the “pauper’s” turn to be shocked. Without much choice, he ascended the wagon.

And as he sat there, he proclaimed, “You won! You will be granted another twenty-five years of life. You will merit marrying off your daughter, and even the son born to her.”

That son was none other than Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak; the Chozeh of Lublin, zt”l.

Guard Your Tongue

Deep-Seated Hatred

It is forbidden to say rechilut, even if it’s completely true. Rechilut may not be said before the person or in his absence. Even if one is sure he would say such a thing in front of the person, it’s forbidden. All the more so is it prohibited to tell someone in front of the person he spoke/acted against , “You spoke/acted against so-and-so in this manner.” His sin is compounded by the fact that he is instilling tremendous hatred in the heart of his listener, who will accept his words as the truth. He will deduce that if this is not the complete truth, the speaker wouldn’t say it.


The haftarah of the week: “And Tzion will say” (Yeshayahu 49)

The connection to this Shabbat: This is one of the haftarot of nechamah (consolation) which are read from the Shabbat after Tisha B’Av. The haftarah contains both sections of consolation and sections of faith in Hashem and the Torah.


The benefits of answering Amen are well-known. From the following story, related in the Zohar, we learn that one should even be willing to sacrifice his life for this important mitzvah.

Rabbi Chiya and Rabbi Abba spent a night at an inn. As was their custom, they arose at midnight to study Torah. The innkeeper’s daughter noticed this and hurried to light a candle for them. Then she stood at the side, unobtrusively listening to their pearls of wisdom.

After some time, the sages realized that the young woman was listening in. Therefore, one of them switched topics, focusing instead on the mitzvah of candle-lighting, which was given to women. He added that although women do not illuminate the world with Torah-study as men do, they nevertheless bring light to the world through their specific mitzvah, that of lighting the Shabbat candles.

Suddenly, the young woman burst into uncontrollable tears. Her cries were so loud that they awakened her father, who, after hearing the reason for her weeping, began to cry, as well.

One of the sages asked for an explanation: Perhaps the young woman didn’t merit a chatan who was a ben Torah?

“Yes, that is the reason why we cry.”

The father then went on to explain why he took a son-in-law who was not a Torah scholar: “One day, I noticed a young man leap from rooftop to rooftop in order to hear Kaddish and respond Amen with the congregation. I was so impressed by his devotion that after the prayer, I decided to take him as a husband for my daughter. I believed that this was a great man. However, soon after the wedding, we discovered that this man doesn’t even know Birkat Hamazon or Kriyat Shema.”

The sages suggested he ask his son-in-law to divorce his wife. And if he refused, the man could console himself with the knowledge that at least the children of this union would be great in Torah.

As they were speaking, the son-in-law himself entered the room. One of the sages saw a shining light emanating from the man’s face. “The light of Torah is reflected in him,” he said. “I don’t know if it means that he himself will grow in Torah or his children after him will do so.”

The young man heard this and smiled. Suddenly, in front of the entire prestigious group, he began revealing deep Torah secrets, the likes of which they had never heard before. When he was done, he explained, “Since I am young and emigrated from Bavel to Eretz Yisrael, a country overflowing with Torah scholars, I resolved, for a certain period of time, to remain silent and keep my knowledge concealed. Yesterday was the last day of my self-imposed vow of silence. Heaven arranged that you should stop at this inn just now in order to hear my divrei Torah.”

The young man took up the thread of the sages’ discussion regarding candle-lighting, expounding on the pasuk, “For a mitzvah is a candle and Torah is light.” As before, he divulged deep, esoteric secrets.

The Torah sages were shocked and pleased They studied the man’s background. From where was he? Who was his family? “I am from Bavel, the son of Rabbi Safra. As a child, I was orphaned from my father and made my way to Eretz Yisrael. When I discovered the greatness of the sages of this Land, I avowed to remain silent for a set period of time.”

The innkeeper and his daughter were overwhelmed with joy and this turn of events. In their gratitude to Hashem, they hosted a large banquet for the entire city. On that occasion, they appointed the young scholar as Rav and leader of the community.

When Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai heard this episode, he recalled many years earlier, having blessed Rabbi Safra that he would merit having a son who would be a Torah sage. Rabbi Shimon was very happy to hear that his blessing materialized.


Rabbi David Hanania Pinto

Mitzvot in the Land

“A land Hashem, your G-d, looks after; the eyes of Hashem, your G-d are always upon it,  from the beginning of the year to the end of the year” (Devarim 11:12)

Hashem constantly watches over Eretz Yisrael. He supervises this favored land “from the beginning of the year” – Rosh Hashanah, until “the end of the year.” And then the cycle begins again. There is no time when Hashem is not supervising Eretz Yisrael and its inhabitants.

Moreover, there are mitzvot particular only to Eretz Yisrael. Examples are: terumot, ma’asrot, appointing a king, and bikkurim. Those who live in chutz la’aretz are not  able to observe these mitzvot. This indicates that Eretz Yisrael has an elevated level of sanctity above all other countries. Apart from Hashem’s constant supervision, the kedushah infused in the Land due to the numerous Land-related mitzvot brings merit and protection to its inhabitants.

The human body is comprised of 248 organs and 365 sinews, corresponding to the 613 mitzvot. This signifies that a person is actually a living Sefer Torah, each part of his body paralleling a different mitzvah. There are parts of the body that parallel the Land-related mitzvot. This implies that one who lives abroad is lacking vitality in one or more body part.

Conversely, one who lives in Eretz Yisrael has the potential of fulfilling more mitzvot. He thus enables his body to be more complete in Torah and mitzvot. Sadly, we are missing the Beit Hamikdash and its accompanying mitzvot. Nonetheless, one who eagerly anticipates the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash receives reward as if the Beit Hamikdash were built and he was performing its related mitzvot.

Men of Faith

A Precious Find

In the Tanach there is a story about donkeys that Kish, the father of King Shaul lost. Thus, Kish said to Shaul, his son: Take with you one of your helpers, and go look for the donkeys that got lost. Shaul said to Kish his father: Here I have a quarter of a shekel. I will give it to the G-dly man, and he will reveal to us where to find our lost donkey.

We see from this that in the past, when something was lost, people did not file a complaint by the police, but instead they gave money to tzedaka. This is how it works with tzaddikim: one makes a pledge in their merit, and then Hashem assists them in all their endeavors. The following story demonstrates this point:

Rabbi Yaakov Odis was about to marry off his son. On the day of the chuppah, Rabbi Odis gave his son, the chatan, a golden bracelet, with the name of the chatan engraved on it. The chatan was delighted with the gift, but on that very day, while running an errand he lost the bracelet. He returned home downcast and despondent over losing this valuable gift such a short time after receiving it.

The chatan did not reveal to his father what had happened, but immediately went to the police station to file a report about the missing chain. In addition, he pledged a large amount of money to the merit of the tzaddik Rabbi Chaim Pinto, in order that he should find the bracelet that he had received.

The day after the wedding, the chatan returned to the same spot where he had lost the bracelet. To his amazement, he found it lying on the floor, exactly where he had lost it. When the owner of the property heard about it, he exclaimed, “I can’t understand how it is possible! We cleaned the entire area yesterday four times, and we gathered all the garbage, but we did not see the bracelet.”

How can it be? It is only possible that in because of the pledge of tzedakah in the merit of the tzaddik, the bracelet was found (Shenot Chaim).

Food for Thought

Acknowledging the Source of our Success

David Hamelech instituted the recitation of at least 100 berachot daily.

Rabbi Meir tells us about this in the Gemara:

One is obligated to say 100 blessings a day, as the pasuk says, “And now, Israel, What does Hashem your G-d ask of you” (Devarim 10:12). Our sages say, “Do not read מה (what) but מאה (one hundred).

Why did David Hamelech institute this custom? The Levush relates the following:

In the times of David, an epidemic swept through the land, claiming one hundred lives daily. The people were bewildered. They couldn’t figure out the cause of the plagues and therefore didn’t know how to stop it. Finally, David Hamelech was told in a Divine revelation that the plague came as a result of Klal Yisrael being remiss in praising and glorifying Hashem sufficiently for all the good He has done for them.

David then established that each person say at least 100 blessings a day, corresponding to the number of people dying each day. Immediately, the plague ended.

When one makes a blessing and praises Hashem, he is admitting that everything comes from Him. He relinquishes the notion that it is his skill and intelligence that brings him success. If we undertake to thank Hashem 100 times each day, we will be closely connected to Him all day long.


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