Lech Lecha

October 31st, 2020

13th of Cheshvan 5781


A Spiritual Building Must Rest on Firm Foundations

Rabbi David Hanania Pinto

"And he trusted in Hashem, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness" (Bereishit 15:6)

Avraham Avinu's a"h entire way of life serves as a living mussar sefer for us. Just as faith in Hashem was implanted in his heart already from his early years, and from when he was a young child he loved Hashem Yitbarach and served Him with self-sacrifice, so too every person must learn from his ways and follow in his footsteps. If he does so, he too will merit the blessing that was given to Avraham, as the Midrash says (Tanchuma Lech Lecha 11) on the words "Fear not, Avram, I am a shield for you": "Not on you alone but also for your children, if they engage in My Torah just as you engaged in it, I will be for them as a shield as it says (Shmuel II, 22:31), 'The promise of Hashem is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in Him'".

We will now study Avraham Avinu's a"h holy ways in some small measure. We can see the degree of love that Avraham had for his Creator by the Chazal that tells us (Tanchuma 4), "Rabbi Chanina said, he was three years old when he recognized his Creator as it says (Bereishit 26:5), 'Because (עקב) Avraham obeyed My voice'. The word 'עקב', 'because', has a numerical value of one hundred and seventy-two. Since Avraham Avinu lived for one hundred and seventy-five years, we conclude from this that he was three years old when he recognized his Creator."

As we know, during those three years Avraham Avinu engaged in investigating and examining his understanding of who created and directs the world. At first, he supposed that the sun was the master of the world, but once the sun set he understood that it could not be the master. After that, he innocently thought that the moon must be the director, but when dawn broke, the moon disappeared and the sun took its place, shining brightly in the sky. Then Avraham understood that the moon too could not be the director of the world. And so it went on, Avraham observed and examined until at three years old he came to the conclusion that there is a Master of the World and it is impossible for the sun, the moon, or the stars to fill this role. At that point, the Master of the World appeared to him and announced, "I am the Master of the World."

I was wondering if Avraham Avinu received reward from Hashem for those three years in which he investigated and searched to discover the Master of the World. For during that time, he did not actually serve the Creator but only searched for Him, therefore it is questionable whether he was deserving of reward for this. According to the Midrash that we quoted above, Avraham Avinu a"h served Hashem for only one hundred and seventy-two (עקב) years, so in what way did Hashem consider those three years in which he searched for Him?

With siyata dishmaya, I would like to suggest the following answer. To illustrate, when a person stands facing a massively tall building which rises skyward, does he see its foundations?! Of course not. But without a doubt, this enormous building stands on strong, firm foundations which are concealed deep in the ground, and it is these very foundations which allow the building to remain in position.

So it was with Avraham Avinu a"h. Those three years in which he inquired, investigated and searched for the Creator of the World, constituted the basis and foundation for the rest of the one hundred and seventy-two years of his life, in which he served Hashem with self-sacrifice and sublime strength. During those three years, Avraham Avinu a"h implanted firm foundations deep in his soul to know and recognize the truth, and when he found that Truth, he immediately made a firm decision and was determined that this is the correct path and there is no other way. These strong foundations are what implanted in him an immense power to remain strong and not lose heart when facing all the wicked people of his generation, such as Nimrod and his cronies.

In contrast, if we consider the life of Lot, Avraham's nephew, it seems on the surface that he followed Avraham's path and learnt from him to observe Torah and mitzvot. As an example, Lot's hospitality was exemplary, to the extent of self-sacrifice. He risked his life to host the angels who came to his home in Sodom, and also was particular to eat matzot and not chametz on Pesach. However, all his deeds were insincere and hypocritical, lacking foundations and roots.

Lot did not see Avraham Avinu's way as a definite path that has no other alternative. Rather, with his distorted intellect, he came to the erroneous conclusion that there could be another way, the way of lawlessness, abandonment and corruption through the temptations of This World. This is why his faith in Hashem and his mitzvah observance were no more than an unsteady building established on unstable foundations. When this is the case, in a moment of challenge the entire building obviously falls to the ground. That is why Lot stumbled and fell spiritually until he befriended the people of Sodom and Amorah and learnt from their ways. To what is Lot compared? To a tree that does not have many roots, when the wind comes it uproots it. That is why Lot degenerated and became sinful, and Hashem despised him to the extent that He did not wish to speak to Avraham as long as Lot was in the vicinity. This, in fact, is the abysmal difference between Avraham Avinu a"h and Lot, considered by some as a rasha.

Avraham Avinu followed the path of life, walking in the way of Torah and mitzvot and cleaving to faith in Hashem. With his utmost strength, he strove to sanctify Hashem's Name in the world, among the rest of mankind.

The Haftarah

The Haftarah of the week: "Why do you say, O Ya'akov" (Yeshaya 40:41)

The connection to the Parsha: The Haftarah speaks about Avraham's battle with the four kings, as it says "Who inspired [the one] from the east, at whose [every] footstep righteousness attended? [Who] delivered nations to him, and subdued kings [before him]?" This battle is described in the Parsha.

Words of the Sages

Why Should You Kiss My Hand?!

"I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse" (Bereishit 12:3)

Rabbeinu Chaim ben Attar zya"a, in his sefer 'Ohr Hachaim', asks the following remarkable question:

Why does the verse change its terminology and in reference to those who bless it says, "I will bless those who bless you", implying that Hashem's blessing to them precedes their blessing to Avraham, while in reference to cursing, the person's curse precedes Hashem's curse, as it says, "the one who curses you I will curse"? This implies that Hashem will curse them only after they curse Avraham. Should it not say 'I will curse him who curses you', the term used for those who bless?

But, explains the Holy Ohr Hachaim, the reason for the change is that Hashem intentionally wished to precede His blessing to those who bless Avraham, so as to give validity to their blessing and allow it to have an effect. This is why it says, "I will bless those who bless you". Before others bless Avraham, Hashem blesses the words of their mouths so that they should have an effect and be fulfilled.

The Gaon Rabbi Reuven Elbaz shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of 'Ohr Hachaim', relates the following personal story:

More than forty years ago I used to give a lecture in a neighborhood in Yerushalayim. I was then a young man and could easily have been a grandson of the elderly participants…

On one occasion when we completed a masechta, I invited the Yerushalmi darshan, the Gaon Rabbi Shalom Schwadron zt"l, with whom I had a close relationship, to share words of Torah and inspiration. The Beit Haknesset was crowded and the Rav was extremely happy that so many people had come to participate in the siyum of the masechet. He addressed the participants and after the shiur some of the participants came over to me, wishing to kiss my hand. I immediately pulled my hand away and said to them, why do I deserve this?!

Rabbi Shalom Schwadron zt"l noticed and did not hide his displeasure.

"What are you doing?" he asked me. "Does it not say, 'Do not withhold good from its rightful recipients' (Mishlei 3:27). Why if so, are you preventing yourself from being blessed? Are you not aware of what the Holy Ohr Hachaim writes in Parshat Lech Lecha on the words "I will bless those who bless you"? When a person is asked to give a blessing, Hashem first blesses him so that his blessing should have an effect. And concerning pride? What is there to feel proud about? Your brethren wish to receive a blessing, do not withhold it from them!"

Guard Your Tongue

Laxity in Mitzvah Observance

It is forbidden to relate that someone is lax in observing certain mitzvot. Therefore, it is forbidden to say that someone dedicates only a small amount of time to Torah study or that he does not try to do good to others.

This applies even if both the one relating and the one listening do not spend much time studying Torah themselves or are not known for their generosity to others, and they admit this without any embarrassment. Since the Holy Torah considers Torah study and acts of kindness as foremost priorities, it is forbidden to say that someone else is lax in these areas.

Walking in Their Ways

Lucrative Investments

I know of a wealthy man who owns tremendous amounts of property. He has bank accounts in Switzerland and other countries. I do not know if he himself is aware of how wealthy he is. However, he behaves like a pauper in every respect. He dresses in regular clothes, lives in an apartment building like ordinary people, and eats simple foods.

One day, my curiosity got the better of me. I asked him, “Why do you live like a poor man? You are already seventy. You never married and do not have children who will continue your name. You know that the banks will take all your money after you pass away. Why do you live so eccentrically? Don’t you at least want to enjoy your hard-earned money, before the government seizes it for themselves?”

The man was quiet, so I went on. I suggested that at least he should fund the writing of a Sefer Torah, which would stand in his merit.

“How much does a Sefer Torah cost?” he inquired.

“Two hundred thousand francs,” I replied.

“Two hundred thousand francs? That’s an astronomical sum!” He had no intention of parting with such a considerable amount of money. I personally did not think it would make a dent in his bank account.

“Isn’t it a shame that the banks will have a field day with your millions after you die? Don’t you see that although you are loaded, you are really very poor, because you are not concerned with funding yourself for your future!

“What a shame, my dear brother! None of your wealth will accompany you when you come to the World Above. It will all remain in This World. To your dismay, you will then realize how many merits you could have acquired with your vast assets, and arrived in the Next World rich in merits and mitzvot."

And with that, I left my penetrating words to seep into his Jewish heart.

Pearls of the Parsha

Personal Lesson in Torah and Acts of Kindness

"But Malchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine; he was a priest of G-d, the Most High" (Bereishit 14:18)

The Sefer 'Marganita d'Rabbi Meir' offers a wonderful explanation of this verse, according to the account of Rabbeinu Meir of Parmishlan zt"l who once met up with the tzaddik Rabbi Shlomo Kluger zt"l. Rabbi Meir zt"l told him that the intention of this verse is to teach us that when two tzaddikim meet, each one must learn from his fellow what he himself lacks.

This is how the tzaddik explained the verse: "But Malchizedek", this refers to Shem who was the Minister of Torah, "brought out" (learnt) from Avraham the attribute of "bread and wine", referring to Avraham's attribute of hospitality.

And "he", referring to Avraham Avinu a"h, absorbed from Shem the attribute of "priest of G-d", of studying Torah day and night, for this was Shem's quality.

Why Did Pharaoh Wish to Take Sarah?

"Why did you not tell me that she is your wife? Why did you say, 'She is my sister'?" (Bereishit 12:18-19)

To be precise, Pharaoh's main claim against Avraham was "Why did you not tell me that she is your wife?" So why did he continue to assert, "Why did you say, 'She is my sister'?" a statement that seemingly does not add or detract to the claim.

Rabbi Avraham Brudo zt"l of Istanbul, in the sefer 'Birkat Avraham', reconciles this difficulty in light of the Gemarah (Baba Batra 110a) that says: "Rava said, one who weds a woman should examine her brothers, as it says, "Aharon took Elisheva daughter of Aminadav, sister of Nachshon, as a wife" (Shemot 6:23). What do we understand from the words 'daughter of Aminadav', do I not know that she was the sister of Nachshon? What is the verse coming to teach us by saying, 'sister of Nachshon'? From here we learn that one who marries a woman must check her brothers. We learnt in the Mishna, most children are similar to the mother's brothers."

In light of the above, it could be that Pharaoh had two claims:

Firstly, "Why did you not tell me that she is your wife?" because due to this I almost transgressed the prohibition of taking a married woman. Furthermore, since you said, "She is my sister", this was another reason that tempted me to take her for a wife so that the children born to me will be similar to you!

Magen David or Magen Avraham?

"Fear not, Avram, I am a shield for you" (Bereishit 15:1)

We are all familiar with the famous symbol of 'Magen David', a symbol with six points. The question is, why is it called 'Magen David' and not 'Magen Avraham'? Was it not Avraham to whom Hashem said, "I am a shield (magen) for you"?

The 'Kovetz Hama'asef' offers a wonderful explanation:

The Gemarah (Sanhedrin 95a) tells us that Yishvi brother of Goliat wished to kill David in revenge for killing his brother. The Satan brought it about that David arrived in the land of the Philistines and when Yishvi saw him, he bound him and placed him under the beams of the winepress. But when he pressed down the heavy beams, a miracle occurred for David and the ground under him became soft and so he sunk into it.

Later on, it says that Yishvi threw David to heaven and inserted his spear in the ground so that David would fall down onto it. At that moment Avishai son of Tzeruyah came, pronounced the Holy Name, and suspended David between heaven and earth. In this way, he saved him from Yishvi.

Concerning Avraham Avinu, we find that Hashem protected him in the way that a king protects his warriors, from the four directions that surround them, north, south, east and west.

However, Hashem protected David Hamelech Hashem from six directions. From the four directions as in all battles, and additionally from above and below. From above, when the heavy beams of the winepress almost crushed him, and from below, when he almost fell down and would have been pierced by Yishvi's spear.

The symbol is called 'Magen David' since David was protected from six directions, as depicted in the symbol!

From the Treasury

Rabbi David Hanania Pinto

Raise Your Eyes on High and See Who Created These [Things]!

"And said to him, 'I am E”l Sha”ddai; walk before Me and be perfect" (Bereishit 17:1)

The Gemarah tells us (Makot 24a), "Chabakuk came and established Am Yisrael on one foundation: 'But the righteous person shall live through his faith'". This is the entire foundation of man, perfect faith, without reservations, in the Creator of the World.

In truth, belief in Hashem, the G-d of Israel, does not require considerable depth and understanding. It is sufficient to merely see and contemplate the wonderful creation that Hashem formed and irresistibly the exclamation, "How great are Your works, Hashem, You make them all with wisdom" erupts from our mouths. If a person contemplates his amazing bodily systems and the manner in which all his limbs and sinews function, he will certainly be utterly overwhelmed and understand that there is a Master Creator. This contemplation will bring him to an immediate belief in Hashem, with his entire heart, and it will strengthen his faith.

When I merited visiting Maran Harav Shacha zt"l, the Rav told me, "If a person would only reflect on his body when he awakens in the morning, how he is able to open his eyes, move his hands and legs, communicate using the power of speech with which he was endowed, faith in Hashem will immediately fill his heart"…

This is what Hashem commanded Avraham Avinu a"h (Bereishit 17:1), "walk before Me and be perfect". Perfect faith without investigations and inquiries. For one who tries to achieve faith in Hashem through investigating, questioning and querying, can lose everything. This is because the Satan never rests and will never cease trying to make man stumble, so even when all his questions have been settled, the Yetzer will uncover new questions and claims. Until eventually he will abandon Torah and mitzvot with the claim that he was not able to resolve all his difficult questions, and so he may even die in that state of his wickedness.

To what can this be compared? To a gravely ill person whose doctor prescribes medications to heal his illness. But in his foolishness he says, "As long as I do not understand how the medications work I cannot agree to take them"… Sooner or later he will obviously die from his illness. On the other hand, a wise person trusts his doctor and believes him that these are the most suitable medications for him, and does not try to research what they are and how they function.

This is exactly the manner of one who possesses perfect faith. If a person tries to investigate and declares that as long as Hashem's existence is not perfectly clear to him, he is not interested in observing the mitzvot, he will die in that state of wickedness and cut himself off from the land of the living. On the other hand, one who believes with complete, simple faith in the Eternal G-d and has a clear recognition that the Creator of the World is the One who directs every step of his way in life and is the One who assists him, he merits peace of mind in This World and tranquility in the World to Come. This is the reward of one who merits cleaving to faith in Hashem.

Zecher Tzaddik Livracha

The Esteemed Maran Rabbi Chaim Pinto HaKatan zya"a

This week (Monday 15th of Cheshvan - November 2nd) we mark the hilula of one of the great Torah giants, a descendant of the distinguished Pinto dynasty from Morocco, the tzaddik and miracle-worker, Rabbi Chaim Pinto HaKatan zya"a. The tzaddik Rabbi Chaim zya"a brought merit to the public, both spiritually and materially, not only while he was alive but also after he passed away, by returning the hearts of his people to their Father in heaven.

This very week in which we read in the Torah about the exceptional deeds of Avraham Avinu a"h, the pillar of kindness, we will depict a digest of the distinguished personality of the tzaddik Rabbi Chaim Pinto zya"a, focusing on his acts of kindness which were only one facet of his exemplary ways and righteousness with which he illuminated the world.

Thousands of people benefitted from the charitable activities of the tzaddik Rabbi Chaim Pinto Hakatan. Some were those who donated charity and some were the recipients of his charity. Rabbi Chaim vigorously engaged in gemilut chassadim, one of the pillars that support the world, following in the ways of his Creator, "who bestows beneficent kindnesses upon His people Israel", by dedicating his entire being in support of the destitute and needy of his town.

His daily schedule began after the Shacharit prayers, when he would visit the grave of his grandfather the tzaddik and mekubal Rabbi Chaim Hagadol, in the old cemetery. He would always mention his name while blessing people, saying, “The merit of my honorable, holy grandfather, should protect you.”

Afterward, he would go to the new cemetery and prostrate himself over the grave of his father, the holy tzaddik Rabbi Yehuda (Hadan) zya"a. Then he would set out in the direction of the stores, to purchase the necessary provisions for the poor.

He would instruct his attendant to visit a needy widow or underprivileged family, in order to deliver the food. For some, he would instruct his attendant to deliver meat and pastries, and to others, fruits and vegetables. In this way the attendant shared in the mitzvah of distributing food among the needy, preventing the poor people of the city from starving.

R’ Itzchak Abisror relates that Rabbi Chaim Hakatan called him several times to accompany him on his rounds of collecting money from the people of the city and distributing the charity among the poor. Not everyone merited accompanying Rabbi Chaim when he collected money since it was a special privilege. However, R’ Itzchak was chosen for the mission.

Every Friday, Rabbi Chaim would go and collect food from people so that he could distribute it among the poor in honor of Shabbat Kodesh. He would not collect money on Fridays since he knew that time was limited, and the poor would not have sufficient time to buy provisions for Shabbat. Conversely, on other days, he would collect money and distribute it to the poor.

The impressive image and shining countenance of the tzaddik made a lasting impression on each and every Jew who visited Mogador. Rabbi Chaim Hakatan would sit at the gates of the city and wait for guests arriving from other cities, in order to grant them the opportunity of sharing in the mitzvah of tzedakah.

There were those who actively searched for Rabbi Chaim, passing in front of him intentionally, so that he should request of them to donate a specific sum of money for tzedakah. They believed that if they would fulfill the request of Rabbi Chaim Pinto, they would meet success and thereafter experience good fortune in all their endeavors.

It was a known fact among the Moroccan Jews that if Rabbi Chaim would bless them for their donation, everything would go well for them that day. Furthermore, they would see wondrous miracles in the coming week.

Complete Joy

During the chagim, and especially before Pesach, when expenses were greater than usual, Rabbi Chaim did not hesitate to burden the wealthy people with supporting the impoverished people. Prior to Pesach, Rabbi Chaim Pinto would go from house to house, asking everyone to open their hearts and pockets to give charity and gladden the hearts of the poor people, widows, and orphans on the upcoming chag. In this way, they could also rejoice during the festival, and the happiness of Am Yisrael would be complete. 

Anyone who donated money for charity merited the blessings of the tzaddik, issued from his holy mouth and the depths of his pure heart.

Twenty-six Years

Rabbi Chaim zya"a would instil faith and hope, crucial for every Jew, in every person no matter his origin; Jews and non-Jews alike. The sefer 'Anshei Emuna' (Ch. 19) brings the following story:

Rabbi Chaim once came down with a severe case of typhus and was at the brink of death. The members of the Chevrah Kadisha assembled around his bed, and when they saw him taking his last breaths, they began to recite Tehillim.

Suddenly, Rabbi Chaim opened his eyes and raised himself slightly. He told the members of the Chevrah Kadisha, “You can leave now. I am fine. I was granted by Heaven another twenty-six years of life.”

After everyone recovered from their shock, the tzaddik explained to them that just as he was about to die, his grandfather, Rabbi Chaim Hagadol, suddenly came from Gan Eden to stand before the Heavenly Court. He tearfully pleaded, “You must add more years to Rabbi Chaim’s life since he has not yet accomplished all that he has to do. He must live longer in order to increase people’s faith in Hashem.”

Rabbi Chaim Hagadol continued pleading his grandson’s case and advocating for him. In the end, the Heavenly Court accepted his appeal and added another twenty-six years to Rabbi Chaim Hakatan’s life. During these years, he dedicated himself to strengthening his brethren with faith in the Master of the World.


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