May 7th, 2022

6th of Iyar 5782


Rabbi Akiva and the Attribute of Unconditional Love

Rabbi David Hanania Pinto

During this period between Pesach and Shavuot, we mark the passing of two great Tanaim, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and Rabbi Meir Baal Haness, disciples of the holy Tana Rabbi Akiva.

The Rambam writes that Rabbi Akiva was one of the great sages of the Mishnah, and close assistant of King Kuziba (Bar Kochba, also known as Kuziba – false). Rabbi Akiva was of the opinion that King Kuziba was the Mashiach. We find that despite the reluctance of many of his acquaintances, the Jewish sages, Rabbi Akiva continued applying to Bar Kochba the verse (Bamidbar 24:17), "A star (kochav) has issued from Yaakov," "Kuzba (Kochba) has issued from Yaakov." When he saw him, he proclaimed: "Here is the king Mashiach!"

This needs clarification. How is it possible that Rabbi Akiva, who was greater than Moshe Rabbeinu (see Bamidbar Rabba 19:6), considered Bar Kochba to be the Mashiach? He saw Bar Kochba did not behave appropriately and denied Divine Intervention!

This can be explained in light of the following Gemara (Pesachim 49b): "Rabbi Akiva said, 'When I was an am ha'aretz (ignorant of Jewish law), I said, "If a talmid chacham would be brought to me, I would bite him like a donkey." His disciples replied, 'Rebbi, say – like a dog.' He replied, 'This one [a dog] bites and does not break a bone, while this one [a donkey] bites and breaks a bone.'" What was the source of his extreme hatred for talmidei chachamim, so much so that he wanted to bite them like a donkey which leaves a terrible after-effect with its bite?

One can say that Rabbi Akiva felt the sages were responsible for the fact that he was an am ha'aretz. It was because they did not do enough to draw him close and teach him Torah, he hated them so intensely. He was of the opinion that if you find a place where there is ignorance and many transgressions are committed, the defect should be ascribed to the talmidei chachamim who are not doing enough to influence the people.

When Kalba Savu'a's daughter showed that she believed in him and he began studying Torah, eventually becoming a talmid chacham, he did everything in his power to help others and influence them to repent. Chazal say Rabbi Akiva took in an orphan (son of a wicked man), educated him and taught him Torah. When this orphan began reciting Kaddish for his father, he annulled his father's harsh sentence. Also, when Rabbi Tarfon gave Rabbi Akiva 4,000 golden dinars to purchase a city, he took the money and distributed it to the poor. We see from these incidents that the attributes of charity and kindness were deeply ingrained in Rabbi Akiva.

And this trait of assisting others is what Rabbi Akiva found in Bar Kochba. He saw how he tried to unite the Jewish people to fight against the enemy. In place of the baseless hatred that led to the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, he sought to spread unconditional love. Although Rabbi Akiva also noticed Bar Kochba's shortcomings, for he did not observe the mitzvot properly and acted wickedly by cutting off the soldiers' fingers, Rabbi Akiva fulfilled the words of the Tana Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachya, "Judge every man favorably" (Avot 1:6).

He judged Bar Kochba favorably since he believed that Bar Kochba's negative behavior stemmed from the influence of the Romans. But since he now wanted to fight against them, it was correct to help him, for if he is victorious they will no longer have an influence on the Jewish people. Furthermore, Bar Kochba himself will repent since one mitzvah leads to another mitzvah (ibid. 4:2). Certainly after Bar Kochba creates an opening the size of a pinprick, Heaven will create for him an opening through which carts and carriages can enter (Shir Hashirim Raba 5:3). A person must begin with a small mitzvah, and from there he can eventually attain a high level, achieving the level of "a star," part of Yaakov Avinu.

That is why Rabbi Akiva applied to Bar Kochba the verse (Bamidbar 24:17), "A star has issued from Yaakov." Just as every descendant of Yaakov can elevate himself and attain a high level, so too could Bar Kochba follow the path to ascent. Since seeking to fight against the enemy who wanted to make Am Yisrael forget the Torah, was a decisive action that must certainly be supported. Rabbi Akiva focused on that and did not measure Bar Kochba according to his present inappropriate behavior. Being his close assistant meant that Rabbi Akiva's intention was to advise Bar Kochba and arouse his spirit of heroism, not only against the external enemy but also against his internal enemy, the Yetzer Hara.

Rabbi Akiva teaches us that when one sees a Jew who is far from Judaism, instead of despising him, one should draw him closer and advise him. One should try to help him rid himself of the negative attributes that cling to him and acquire new, positive attributes. This was Rabbi Akiva's wish; to defeat the Romans and unite Am Yisrael, and thereby restore the crown of Torah to its former glory, under the reign of Mashiach.

Walking in Their Ways

Torah Toil

I once spent an entire night writing divrei Torah. It was mentally and physically strenuous, to say the least. I still needed one last sentence to pull the thoughts together. And then unexpectedly, someone from a foreign country came to visit me. He brought me a sefer as a gift, and in it appeared the exact sentence I needed to complete my essay.

In spite of my tremendous exhaustion, I did not sit back and rely on this wonderful sefer to fill in the missing holes in my work. Instead, I began the process from the beginning. I re-wrote my entire composition, reinforcing my thoughts with supportive ideas. The sefer remained closed at my side. Only after I finished the painstaking task did I feel at peace.

The way of the ben Torah is to study a sugya with intense concentration. When he comes across a difficulty, he plows on ahead, never relaxing his grip, until he has researched the subject completely. Only then does he feel a spiritual satisfaction which cannot be understood by anyone else.

Instead of resting on his laurels, he then hurries to commit his insights to writing, a form of repetition of his Torah study.

Another time, I was grappling with a certain sugya for about two weeks and was very upset by this. I decided to go to the beit midrash and engross myself in the sugya, until I would merit comprehending it completely and resolving all my difficulties.

With Hashem's help, after much time and toil, I finally merited understanding all the fine details and found solutions to all my queries.

I was filled with tremendous joy at having ultimately understood the sugya. At the same time, I berated myself for waiting so long to settle the matter. Had I exerted myself earlier, I would certainly have discovered the truth, instead of going around confused and distracted for two full weeks. Time that could have been well spent studying Torah went to waste.

Words of the Sages

Who Pays for the Haircut?

The story is told of Reuven, a God-fearing Jew, who was once walking down the street when he passed by a barber shop. Remembering that it was time for him to get a haircut, he went inside. He noticed the barber was wearing a large kippah and had long, flowing tzitzit, giving the impression of a recent ba'al teshuva.

The barber was deft and skillful and when he finished the haircut, Reuven got up from the chair, put on his glasses, and looked in the mirror. He was utterly shocked at what he saw and shouted: "What did you do to me? What happened to my peyot? You caused me to transgress the serious sin of cutting off my peyot! I dare not show my face in the street!"

The barber apologized from the bottom of his heart, explaining that he had only just begun his journey of repentance, and out of habit gave him a regular haircut as unfortunately he was accustomed. While Reuven was looking for some kind of head covering to save himself from embarrassment, the barber turned to him and asked him to pay up, since up until a certain point he had done his job well…

"For this shocking haircut you dare ask for payment? I would not have agreed to such a haircut even if I was paid a large sum!"

Who is correct?

Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein (Kol Barama 361) ruled that it is clear the barber does not have to be paid for his work because he caused the customer great heartache and albeit inadvertently, to transgress severe prohibitions. It is not correct to claim that since the haircut involves several stages, the customer must pay for the parts that were cut correctly, since the entire haircut is considered one job whose essence is adornment and beauty, as we find (Sanhedrin 22b), "A king has a haircut daily as it says, 'Your eyes will behold the King in His splendor.'" Therefore since the customer has no pleasure at all from this haircut and it does not add to his beauty in any way, on the contrary, he was harmed and is extremely embarrassed to the extent that he will not leave his house, he is exempt from paying the fee.

It is comparable to the incident related in sefer Shmuel concerning David Hamelech's servants who were sent to comfort Chanun king of Ammon. When they came to the palace the ministers suspected them of being spies, so Chanun took them and shaved off half of their beards. They were deeply humiliated and David Hamelech told them, "Stay in Yericho until your beards grow back and then return." The Radak explains: David Hamelech did not tell them to shave the other half because it was their custom not to shave, therefore they would be mortified to walk around without beards.

Therefore the barber's claim for payment should be reversed. We need to consider whether the barber must pay the customer a fee for the terrible shame caused to him (d'mei boshet), and payment for being unable to go to work (d'mei shovat), until his peyot grow back.

Regarding the embarrassment, the Shulchan Aruch rules (CH.M. 321:1): "One is only required to pay for shame if he intends to shame. One who unintentionally shames his friend is exempt." Accordingly, the barber is exempt from d'mei boshet.

Regarding the loss of his earnings, the Rav ruled that the barber must indeed recompense him for this.

Reuven also inquired about the ruling concerning being unable to fulfill certain mitzvot, for he could not go to the beit knesset and beit midrash. Did he not deserve compensation for this? The holy Alshich writes on the words "Only for his lost time shall he pay" (Shemot 21:19): "[The one who strikes] must pay [the victim] only for loss of earnings. But for the fact that he is prevented from carrying out certain mitzvot, the assailant will be punished by Heaven.

From the Treasury

Rabbi David Hanania Pinto

Sanctify Yourself Through the Permitted

"You shall be holy, for holy am I" (Vayikra 19:2).

We have a rule that man only attains holiness by killing himself in the tent of Torah, as Chazal say (Shabbat 83b), "A person should never prevent himself from going to the beit midrash or hearing words of Torah, even as he is about to pass away, as it says (Bamidbar 19:14), 'This is the teaching regarding a man who would die in a tent.' Engage in Torah even on your deathbed. Raish Lakish said, 'Words of Torah only endure in one who kills himself over them, as it says, "This is the teaching regarding a man who would die in a tent."'"

We are told that on his deathbed Rabbeinu Hakadosh raised his ten fingers and said: "Master of the World, it is revealed to You that I toiled in Torah with my ten fingers and did not enjoy [worldly pleasures] even with my smallest finger. May it be Your will that I merit peace after my demise." He was called Rabbeinu Hakadosh because he conducted himself with extreme holiness; for example he never put his hand below his belt. Since he abstained from all worldly pleasures, he merited attaining a high level of holiness.

How can a person attain this attribute of engaging in Torah to the point of killing himself? After all, we were created with a physical body and have physical requirements, such as eating, drinking, sleeping; acts necessary to sustain ourselves. By sanctifying oneself through what is permissible, and trying to keep in mind that we eat, drink, and sleep to have strength to serve Hashem and not for physical pleasure, the Torah considers it that he has "killed himself" for Torah, since more than this he cannot do. Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk zt"l wrote, "Before washing hands for eating, one should recite the petitioner's prayer from Rabbeinu Yonah zt"l, and after taking a bite he should say: 'For the sake of the unification of the Holy One, Blessed is He, and His Presence, I am not eating for bodily pleasure, G-d forbid, only to maintain a healthy and strong body for the service of Hashem.'"

If a person sanctifies himself through what is permissible, and does not touch that which is not necessary to sustain himself, abstaining from worldly pleasures, the Torah considers it that he did not benefit from This World at all and killed himself for the sake of Torah and mitzvot. His level is considered to be higher than that of the angels. Since it is possible that one who attains a special level of sanctity might feel slight pride and think that since he has sanctified himself to such an extent, he no longer needs to sanctify himself further for he has rid himself of the Yetzer Hara, the Torah issues a warning: You should know My holiness is higher than your holiness. Even though you have killed yourself for Torah today, you may not sit back and rest; but every day requires new effort, until your very last day. It is possible that tomorrow the Yetzer Hara will attack and make you fall from your high level. As Chazal say, "Do not believe in yourself until the day you die" (Avot 2:4). A person may never be negligent in avodat Hashem, since at any moment the Yetzer Hara can pounce.

The Sabbatical Year

1. During Shemittah one may gather strawberry leaves to feed to silkworms. This is not considered wasting peirot shevi'it.

2. One must not spoil the taste of peirot sheviit by mixing them with something bitter. One may also not spoil peirot sheviit even if they will thereby improve the taste of other foods. Therefore, one may not pickle vegetables (such as cucumbers, olives, or onions) with vinegar that has kedushat shevi'it. Such vinegar may also not be used for cleaning lettuce, since in both cases the vinegar is usually poured away afterwards.

3. One may not grease a baking pan (when baking cake or bread) with Shemittah oil, if the point is to prevent the dough from sticking to the pan. It is also forbidden to take Shemittah oil and mix it with different substances for the purpose of anointing the body or for lighting purposes, since one thereby makes it unfit for consumption.

4. One may not use Shemittah oil to lubricate utensils and wood.

5. One may not use wine or vinegar with kedushat shevi'it to anoint the body since these products are not normally used for this purpose.

6. One may use Shemittah oil to light the Shabbat candles since one benefits from the light.

Some say that one may not use Shemittah oil for lighting the Chanukah lights, since one may not benefit from their light. Others permit this since a mitzvah purpose is also considered a benefit to man. Even though it appears correct to be stringent, if one has no other oil one may use Shemittah oil to fulfill this mitzvah.

7. One may use Shemittah oil to light a yahrzeit light at night, at one's table where one is eating, in a way that one benefits somewhat from its light. But by day it is not proper to do so because one has no benefit from a candle during the day.

If the oil is made from fruits that were grown on Israeli land sold to a gentile, one may be lenient and light even during the day. And if the oil truly belonged to gentiles, there is no problem at all.

For any questions in practical application of these halachot, please consult a rabbinical authority.

Zecher Tzaddik Livracha

Rabbi Yaakov Yosef zt"l

On motza'ei Simchat Torah, 5767, the house of the Gadol Hador, the Rishon LeTzion Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef zt"l was illuminated with a special light that shone with the birth of Rabbi Yaakov Yosef.

Already in his youth he adhered to his father's tradition and travelled the length and breadth of the Land to teach Torah and halacha. His agenda was particularly demanding: from the early hours of the morning when he used to start his day with prayer at sunrise by the gravesite of the Tanna Shimon Hatzaddik, near his home in Shmuel Hanavi, Yerushalayim, and ending late at night after an entire day of teaching Torah.

He never agreed to forgo a Torah shiur. As is well known, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef gave at least forty shiurim every week for decades! Until his last days, he devotedly continued spreading Torah despite his medical condition, for the needs of the public were like oxygen for the Rav and literally revived him, as his many disciples testified.

Along with his genius in Torah, he possessed outstanding middot and was extremely modest.  He took every question seriously, listening carefully to the questioner, and replying pleasantly and calmly, with pure humility and yirat Shamayim.

One of his disciples recounted that once when Rabbi Yaakov Yosef went to comfort mourners, he took an interest in their welfare and then began explaining all the relevant laws fluently, so they should not be embarrassed to ask. He then waited a bit to see if there was anything that was not clear to the mourners. His refinement, pleasantness, and deep love for every Jew, shone throughout the encounter.

Even his deepest shiurim were given over in a flowing style that one and all could understand. It is no wonder, then, that he was beloved by all sectors of the Jewish people who regularly came to listen to his shiurim. Many hundreds of his shiurim on sections of the Shulchan Aruch have been published, and his words constitute a guide to the thousands of scholars who drink his words with thirst.

During a special shiur given by Maran Posek Hador, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef zt"l, he paid tribute to his eldest son and told of his greatness, relating stories he had been told during the shiva.

"I will relate some stories about my late son zt"l, which I heard only after his passing," Maran began.

"A couple who were ba'alei teshuvah used to come to his shiur. After forming a relationship with them, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef asked them, 'Where do your children study?' They answered, 'In a secular school.' He told them to register them in a religious school and they heeded his words.

"There was a young girl who wanted to transfer to a religious seminary. She was told, 'You used to study with secular friends, you will spoil the class.' The same story happened in the second seminary she tried. Rabbi Yaakov Yosef did not despair. He went to the principal of the Chabad seminary, whom he knew well, and said, 'I ask you to accept her.' He added, 'If you turn her away, you might be responsible for her (spiritual) life. If she is rejected, who knows what will become of her?'"

Maran revealed the conversation that took place between his son and the seminary principal: "Chacham Yaakov said to the principal, 'I am asking you to send a fax to the Rebbe of Chabad and whatever he tells you, listen to him.' He indeed sent him a fax and three days later Chacham Yaakov went back to the principal but he had not received a reply. A short time later he returned once again and the principal informed him, 'I received an answer to accept her on the spot!'"

Rabbi Yosef recounted what happened to that girl: "She grew up, married an avreich and they had eleven children who today are all avreichim and b'nei Torah. All in the merit of Rabbi Yaakov! It was not his responsibility but he had such strong love for others, he wanted to give everyone the opportunity to study Torah."

Rabbi Yaakov's sons testify that their father always spoke highly of tzaddikim who passed away on Erev Shabbat after midday. And he too merited passing away on Erev Shabbat!

Due to his great modesty, Harav Yaakov Yosef asked that those being maspid him should not praise him, besides matters of zikui harabim. He also asked that only the following sentence, which actually sums up his glorious life, should be written on his tombstone: "Here lies Your servant, son of Your handmaid, Yaakov Yosef ben Margalit." May his merit protect us.


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