October 27th, 2018

18th of Heshvan 5779


Rectifying the Soul

Rabbi David Hanania Pinto

"And He said, "Please take your son, your only one, whom you love – Yitzchak – and go to the land of Moriah; bring him up there as an offering upon one of the mountains which I shall tell you." (Bereishit 22:2)

The trial of the Akeidah, was the last and most difficult of all the ten trials with which Avraham Avinu was tested. Avraham Avinu's great love for Hashem shines through, not just in his avodah and tefillah but also when it came to his personal life - even at the expense of sacrificing his son. He personified "Not study, but practice is the main thing" (Avot 1:17). There are people who spend time learning Torah, but in practice, they do not observe what they learn. This is a sign that they do not appreciate their learning sufficiently, because learning Torah is hard work and taking this learning to a practical level is what brings a person pleasure. He is then motivated to continue learning since he appreciates its importance and value.

We can compare this to someone who works and earns money. Since the goal of earning money is to benefit from it, enjoying the gains that the money brings him will cause him to want to continue working so that he can continue to enjoy these advantages. But if a person just hoards his money, what does he gain? There is no purpose in acquiring money that is not spent. He will not experience the motivation to continue working since there is no purpose or pleasure in his work. It is the same with learning Torah. For example, one who is learning hilchot Shabbat will realise that his learning prevents him from committing prohibited acts and this gives him the desire to learn more. This is the importance of learning in order to observe.

The holy Rabbi Chaim Vital zya"a says that each person's neshama is made up of two parts - the 'nefesh hashfela', which is the materialistic part of the nefesh, and the 'nefesh ha'elyonah' which is the neshama. The task of a person is to connect the two by elevating the lower part of his nefesh to the level of the loftier nefesh. The way to do this is as David Hamelech writes "Turn from evil and do good" (Tehilim 34:15). 'Turn from evil' refers to the materialistic part, while 'do good' refers to the spiritual nefesh. David Hamelech uses the term 'good', which has two meanings. There is the regular meaning of 'good', and another implication that 'good' is the opposite of bad. The only intrinsic good is Torah, as it says "For I have given you a good teaching, do not forsake My Torah (Mishlei 4:2). Only through Torah which is called 'good' can one connect the lowly nefesh with the lofty nefesh and turn it into something higher.

Chazal say, "I created the evil inclination, I created the Torah as a spice" (Kidushin 30b). The Torah is referred to as a spice. A spice is not the main ingredient of the dish; it is there to embellish the taste. Similarly learning Torah does not annul the yetzer harah, because the evil inclination does not operate by persuading a person to do bad, rather, he convinces the person that what he is doing is good, that most of the world behaves like this and they have it good. Only through the lens of the Torah can we differentiate between artificial good and true good. One can notice an enormous difference between the 'good' of the goyim and the good of Yisrael. Chazal tell us, "Don't believe [one who says] the goyim [possess] Torah" (Eichah Rabba 2:13). A person can think that he is behaving correctly, but when he learns Torah he realises that what he thought is good is not correct at all. Through learning Torah he reaches an understanding of genuine good.

Avraham Avinu saw that the people were serving Avodah Zarah and they felt that this was correct. He too searched for a creator. When he realized that theirs was not the correct path, he turned his back on the bad and began serving Hashem. This is in essence the task of a person, to rectify the animalistic part of his soul and elevate it to the level of the higher nefesh. The physical body of righteous people who have achieved this level then becomes holy. We see that they are above bodily things such as perspiration or unpleasant odor, since their body is connected to the higher spirit.

A person's body contains 248 limbs and 365 sinews, corresponding to the number of positive and negative commandments. It would seem that the goyim have the same number of limbs even though we are told by Chazal that there is no Torah among the goyim? The answer is that Hashem created Adam Harishon perfect, and had he not sinned, there would not have been a reality of Jews and non-Jews. Instead, everything and everyone would have been the true and ideal good. It was his sin that created the existence of goyim.

We can also say that since the goy is uncircumcised, he doesn’t have the same 248 limbs and 365 sinews. It is only the Jew who becomes complete by removing the foreskin, as we are told about Avraham Avinu, "Walk before Me and be perfect" (Bereishit 17:1). Since without milah man is not considered complete, therefore this is the first mitzvah that was given to Avraham Avinu and his children so that there should be a clear distinction between them and the goyim. The entire Torah is associated with the foreskin, and since a child is circumcised at a young age, it gives him the strength and tools to grow in Torah and holiness, whereas a goy is born uncircumcised and dies uncircumcised. Since milah endows a person with these strengths and possibilities, he has all the tools he needs to succeed. It is all dependent on him. If he invests effort, he will receive siyata diShmaya and be successful.

Walking in their Path

Conscious of Hashem’s Presence

When I was once in Toulouse, France, the famous cardiologist, Dr. Asseraf, approached me.

He explained that he is far from Torah and mitzvot. Nevertheless, when he was informed about a car accident in which his son was critically injured, thoughts of belief entered his mind. “There is no atheist in a foxhole,” as the saying goes. During a crisis, the Jew turns to Hashem. But unfortunately, the good doctor did not even know how to pray.

He suddenly remembered the stories of the miracles of Rabbi Chaim Pinto, zy”a. He said to Hashem, “If these stories are true, prove it to me with a sign from Heaven, and perform a miracle for my son.”

Just a few moments passed when he was informed that his son had regained consciousness and opened his eyes!

How great is the power of a Jew’s pure thoughts. They can even reverse harsh decrees.


The Haftarah of the week: "One woman from among the wives of the prophets' disciples" (Melachim 2:4)

The connection to the parsha: the haftarah tells about Elisha Hanavi who blessed the Shunamit that she will bear a son, and about the fulfillment of that promise when a son was born to her at the exact time that Elisha prophesied. Parshat Vayera tells of a similar incident where the malachim told Avraham  Avinu that at this time next year a son will be born to him.

Guard Your Tongue

The Truth Will Emerge

If someone is not explicit about the name of the person who spoke badly about the other, but through his unspecific remarks the person will be able to deduce his identity, or find out what exactly he did, it is forbidden for him to tell over this narrative.

The Words of the Sages

Our Father in Heaven Knows what I Lack

"Is anything beyond Hashem?" (Bereishit 18:14)

The Saba of Novhardok would regularly frequent the woods next to the yeshiva of Novhardok, spending time in solitude and making an accounting of his daily conduct. One day he discovered a forsaken cabin that had been built by wood-cutters when they used to chop wood in that forest. The Saba was overjoyed at his discovery, and from then on used the cabin regularly. He sat there and learnt sifrei mussar and also prayed there occasionally. It was the place that he went to when he wished to spend time in seclusion without any distractions.

One night he lit his candle and sat and learnt in the hut with great passion, his soul overflowing with closeness to Hashem. One hour passed and then another hour, without the Saba realizing how much time had passed. He sat and learnt with diligence. Eventually the candle burnt its way out and he was left in complete darkness.

The Saba of Novhardok sat quietly. He did not pray or request anything. He felt that since Hashem can see him and knows that he wants to learn, He will give him what he needs; he just needs to wait patiently.

Suddenly the door of the hut opened. The Saba made out the form of a person standing in the doorway, holding a lit candle in his hand. The stranger placed the light in the empty candlestick, and went back outside to the wind, the cold, and the darkness. The Saba did not contemplate the identity of this person. And if he was Eliyahu HaNavi? Maybe he was a malach? Or maybe a person that Hashem sent? So what? What's the difference to him who this person was? The main thing is – his Father in Heaven sent him; He worries for whatever he lacks. Now he has light and can continue learning until the morning.

Morning arrived, the Saba put out the candle and took it with him back to yeshiva.

He told his talmidim the story and set the candle in a place where it would serve as a constant reminder. He called it the "candle of bitachon". His talmidim were moved and astounded when hearing this amazing tale. They were impressed by their Rebbe's serene, strong sense of bitachon. It was perfectly clear to him that if he needs light Hashem will send him light in one way or another. Not only this, but had the messenger not have been sent to him – he would have taken it as a sign that he doesn’t need the candle…

Many years later, a fire broke out in the town. The townspeople's efforts to control the fire were no match for the strong flames, and the houses, which were made of wood, were quickly consumed by the devastating fire.

The talmidim hurried to remove the sifrei kodesh from the yeshiva before it, too, would be devoured by the flames. The Sifrei Torah, the tefillin and the sefarim were all taken out, and a miracle occurred - the prayers of the talmidim were answered and the fire went out. The yeshiva building remained standing complete – but because of the strong heat the "candle of bitachon" melted and was no longer.

The bochurim were very upset about the loss of their "candle of bitachon" and were distressed that they hadn't thought to save it when they rescued the sifrei kodesh. Their pain and disappointment was great – but there was one person who was not upset at all - the Saba of Novhardok himself. "As long as we had the "candle of bitachon", he told his talmidim, "it was a sign that we needed it. Now that it is no longer, it is a sign that we have no need for it anymore."

This is the power of bitachon; to live with the knowledge of when one needs the candle, and when not…

From the Treasury

Rabbi David Hanania Pinto

The Light that Surrounds Mitzvot

"Avraham raised his eyes and perceived the place from afar" (Bereishit 22:4)

The word "vayar - and he perceived", has the same root as the word "or – light". This is a reference to the idea that Avraham Avinu perceived 'a light' in the commandment of the Akeidah. Even though the commandment seemed distant and irrational, nevertheless he saw it as something illuminating. Avraham Avinu turned to Yitzchak and asked him if he can also make out this light in the distance. With his question he was implying, - are you ready to fulfill a mitzva that doesn't seem rational? Yitzchak replied that even though the mitzva is entwined with difficulties, like a cloud which prevents the eye from seeing clearly, he is prepared to do Hashem's will.

But when Avraham asked Eliezer and Yishmael if they also feel this way, they answered negatively. He didn't mean to merely check if they merited seeing the cloud, but he wanted to test their level of devotion to fulfill the mitzvot, to see if they were suitable to partake in the mitzva of the akeidah. With their answer, Eliezer and Yishmael were inferring that if they don’t understand the idea behind the mitzva, they will fulfill it because they have to, but it will be hard for them to do so with joy, since it is difficult for them to grasp. Therefore Avraham told them, "Stay here by yourselves with the donkey"; this is your level in avodat Hashem. On the contrary, consider your ways and try to achieve the level of "from afar". Even though both Eliezer and Yishma'el were righteous, they had not reached the level of being able to fulfill a mitzva "from afar".

Harav Shach zt"l, was a shining example of someone who conducted his life with far-reaching insight. He led the generation with the special perception of being able to take future consequences into account, and today the world is forsaken. During elections, HaRav Shach brought everyone together in a huge convention that was held in Yad Eliyahu. The entire religious sector was anxious to hear Harav Shach's opinion for whom to vote. However, when he got up to speak he did not utter a word; he simply stood up and cried. He was no doubt crying for the Torah (Jewry) which had fallen to such a low point, that it had to have connection with irreligious parties. "Torah is our life" and for Torah alone the world was created. Torah is the only guide for the world.

There are many stories told about how Maran HaRav Shach zt"l used to hand out sweets to children, taking time to talk to them and tell them stories. It is an exceptional thing for a Torah giant to do; who can imagine such a thing? But he contemplated the future, maybe one day the child will chas v'sholom stumble on the wrong path and then what will bring him back? The memory of the candy that he received from Maran HaRav Shach zt"l, and the love that he showered on him.

It happened once that two rich men came to ask me for a blessing. They were about to invest an enormous amount of money in establishing a certain institution. The day that they approached me was the hilulah of Maran HaRav Shach zt"l. Normally I bless people straight away, but this time for some reason I took a different approach and asked them if their institution will follow the mesorah of our ancestors or maybe chas v'sholom there is a chance that they wish to teach Jewish children secular studies and sciences? Upon hearing my question they looked uncomfortable and walked out. I am certain that what caused me to ask them this question was the merit of Maran HaRav Shach zt"l, who at every juncture and about every concern, considered the future and weighed up each detail before he answered.

Parsha Pearls

Recognizing the Needs of the Destitute

"He lifted his eyes and saw: And behold! three men were standing over him. He perceived, so he ran toward them" (Bereishit 18:2)

The word "vayar" (he saw/he perceived), is repeated twice in this verse and the commentaries offer different explanations on why this is so.

Maran HaGaon HaRav Eliezer Menachem Man Shach zt"l clarified this difficulty in an ethical light: The main shortcoming in not performing an act of kindness is in not considering the person who is in need. Chazal say, "One who hides his eyes from tzedaka". This refers to someone who doesn’t give because he doesn’t 'see' the poor person; he doesn't contemplate his needs and therefore doesn’t feel that it is necessary to help him.

The repetition of 'he saw' emphasizes that Avraham Avinu was especially perceptive in noticing who was in need of kindness, and with the power of this 'sight' he was able to perfect his exceptional practice of chessed.

Why the Sefardim Stop

"Is anything beyond Hashem?!" (Bereishit 18:14)

The tzaddik R' Aryeh Levin zt"l used to learn the haftarah of the week with his wife the rabanit , on Friday night.

One year when they were learning the haftarah of parshat Vayera and they came to the verse: "He said, "Why are you going to him today? It is not a New Moon or a Shabbat!" She replied, "It is well." (Melachim II 4:23), R' Aryeh asked in puzzlement:

I do not understand our Sephardi brothers, how are they able to stop here, right in the middle of the suspense, without knowing what happened to the child? Why do they not continue to read what seems to be the main part, about the great wonder that Elisha HaNavi performed?

His righteous wife answered: "It is because the Sephardim possess sincere faith and they believe that if the woman went to the Navi, this is already the happy ending; the Navi will definitely help her…".

But the Ashkenazim are doubtful and they need to see the miracle with their own eyes, they do not have the emunah peshuta that the Sefardim have…

Rabbi Aryeh smiled and the next day in his drasha he mentioned this explanation, showing admiration for their emunah.

Ways to Inspire

"For I have loved him, because he commands his children and his household after him" (Bereishit 18:19)

We find that after the trial of the akeidah when Avraham had passed ten trials in perfection, the malach told him in Hashem's name: "For now I know that you are a G-d-fearing man".

If so, why does the verse here tell us that Hashem loved Avraham because he taught his children after him; in his personal avodah he had already reached the peak of perfection?

Rabbi Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz zt"l explains in the name of his Rav, HaGaon HaTzaddik Rabbi Leib Chasman zt"l, the menahel ruchani of Yeshivas Chevron: When a person fulfills a mitzva, he carries out the will of Hashem entirely, but when he inspires others he reaches an even higher level. Through his deeds he is a reason for the world to exist. By motivating other people he becomes a 'partner' with Hashem in creating the world. Therefore Hashem's love for Avraham was great particularly at this juncture of guiding his children to go on the correct path.

Rabbi Michel Yehuda adds:

"We must contemplate how great and powerful is the idea of inspiring other people. It is a mistake to think that in order to influence others one must leave the walls of the beit midrash, for one can influence other people in yeshiva by coming early to pray, arriving early for seder or by learning aloud in a pleasant voice and with fervor. Other people will notice and learn from his ways - the effect on other people from this is extremely great. Or for example, when one asks his friend a question in learning and he answers pleasantly and in a forthcoming manner, the friend has inspired others.

Men of Faith

Arak that Turned into Water

One year, when Rabbi Chaim Hakatan lived in Casablanca, the customary drink of arak usually served to the participants at the hilula of his grandfather, Rabbi Chaim Hagadol, was missing. According to the law, it was absolutely forbidden to manufacture or purchase alcoholic beverages.

The day of the hilula was approaching, and one of the members of the community decided to travel to the distant city of Safi to purchase several bottles of arak, despite the risk of being caught.

Rabbi Chaim instructed the volunteer, telling him whom to contact upon arriving in Safi, and to inform him that Rav Chaim Pinto had sent him. The man set out to Safi and arrived safely. Soon after, he returned to Casablanca.

The hilula was conducted with much fanfare and celebration. The participants felt tremendous spiritual elevation. They also enjoyed getting a taste of the arak. However, the ploys of the Satan succeeded, and one of the neighbors complained to the authorities that prohibited beverages were being served at the hilula. A police unit was immediately dispatched to the place, and they began searching for the arak being served.

Rabbi Chaim approached them and asked, “What are you searching for?”

“We received information indicating that the participants of the celebration have violated the law and are drinking alcoholic beverages.”

“Please,” said Rabbi Chaim, “search as much as you wish. However, you will find that there are only bottles of water here. You will not find any arak.”

The police quickly spotted the bottles labeled as arak, and they turned to Rabbi Chaim triumphantly. The Rav requested that they open the bottles and taste the liquid inside to see whether it was arak or only water.

The police tested the liquid and admitted that it was only water and not alcohol, as they had suspected. They had no choice but to leave in disgrace. They vented their anger on the neighbor who had given them false information.

The guests who had remained were awed by the tremendous miracle which they had experienced and continued with the celebration. However, they voiced their disappointment over the lack of arak, since it had turned to water. Rabbi Chaim reassured them, “The one who traveled all the way to Safi did not bring water, but arak. Taste it, and see for yourselves.”

One of the guests later testified before Moreinu v’Rabbeinu that everyone drank from the bottles again, and lo and behold, the liquid had turned back into arak.

Food for Thought

Parshat Vayera begins with the story of Avraham Avinu's incredible thirst for the mitzva of hachnasat orchim. We, as a nation, are famous for our dedication to this mitzva, and it is Avraham Avinu from whom we received this legacy.

Rabbi Yehuda Leib Chasman told over that once he ate at the Chafetz Chaim's house in Radin, on a Friday night.

When they came home from shul, he was surprised to see that the Chafetz Chaim did not sing Shalom Aleichem as per the normal minhag, but instead immediately sat down by the table and started the se'udah. He made Kiddush, hamotzi, and ate the fish. Only after finishing the first course did the Chafetz Chaim begin to sing Shalom Aleichem.

Rabbi Leib couldn't contain himself. He asked his host why he varied from the minhag of singing shalom Aleichem as soon as one comes home from shul?

The Chafetz Chaim answered him: Your honor was surely hungry after coming all the way. I wanted you to first satisfy yourself a little. The malachim are not hungry. They can wait a while…


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