August 19th 2023

2nd of Elul 5783

The Cure for Pride

Rabbi David Chananya Pinto

“If a matter of judgment is hidden from you, between blood and blood, between verdict and verdict, between plague and plague, matters of dispute in your cities — you shall rise up and ascend to the place that Hashem, your G-d shall choose. You shall come to the Kohanim, the Levites, and to the judge who will be in those days; you shall inquire and they will tell you the word of judgment” (Devarim 17:8–9).

Parshat Shoftim has a direct connection to the previous parsha, Parshat Re’eh where it says (ibid 16:16), “Three times a year all your males should appear before Hashem, your G-d, in the place He will choose: on the Festival of Matzot, the Festival of Shavuot, and the Festival of Succot.” The Torah commands every male Jew to go up to Jerusalem three times a year, since aliyah l’regel holds the power to inspire a person and lead him to faith in Hashem Yitbarach. When he sees the masses of Jewish people going up to Jerusalem with a feeling of joy and closeness to Hashem, his faith in Hashem immediately becomes stronger. The ones travelling to Jerusalem also observed close up the ten miracles that constantly took place in the Temple, and from contemplating these miracles their faith intensified and they accepted the yoke of Heaven upon themselves.

In this parsha too, Parshat Shoftim, the Torah commands a person who seeks an answer to a halachic query, to go to Jerusalem and stand before the Kohen and Levite, or the judge, in order that they should resolve his doubt. If a person does not know whether a particular kind of blood is impure or pure, if a certain situation is forbidden or permitted, or if the plague is impure or pure, he must go to the local judge so he can decide for him, but if the local judge does not know the answer or has a doubt, he must go to Jerusalem in order to ask da’at Torah from the Kohen or the judge in Jerusalem, in order that he should determine the matter.

The Torah continues and says that the decision of the Kohen or judge of Jerusalem is final and one cannot question or doubt it, therefore a person who is not willing to accept the decision of the Kohen or judge of Jerusalem, must be killed, as it says (Devarim 17:12), “And the man that will act with willfulness, not listening to the Kohen… or to the judge, that man shall die, and you shall destroy the evil from among Israel.”

The sefer Ma’or V’Shemesh asks (Shoftim d”h ki yipaleh): Why is the one who has a query commanded to go first to the Kohanim and Levites, when their role is to perform work in the Temple and not to decide halachic queries, (besides the area of afflictions of the skin where the Kohen is the one who decides if it is pure or impure)? It seems more fitting that he should go straight to the judge; why are the Kohanim listed first in the verse?

The Ma’or V’Shemesh answers that all the doubts and questions that exist in the world, have their root in the first sin committed by Adam HaRishon, who was the first one to doubt the word of Hashem. Hashem put Adam HaRishon in Gan Eden and allowed him to eat from all the trees besides the Tree of Knowledge. But Adam HaRishon, instead of listening to G-d’s word, chose to listen to the words of his wife who persuaded him to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. This happened to him because he doubted the word of Hashem, for had he not doubted Hashem’s word, he would not have dismissed His word even after hearing his wife’s words.

This makes it clear that all the doubts and questions which exist in this world, are an outcome of the first doubt that Adam HaRishon implanted in the world. Those doubts that came down to the world also gave birth to questions in halacha, until there became a need to inquire as to the correct halacha in order to understand the true intention of Hashem.

When a person disagrees with the opinion of his Rebbe and prefers to listen to the words of his student, his behavior shows he has a lack of respect for his Rav’s words. If he would respect his Rav wholeheartedly, he would accept his words without any hesitation at all.

One can add that doubt is an outcome of pride, because when a person feels “Only I and none but me!” (Yeshaya 47:8), as a result of this he is inclined to doubt the words of those greater than him because of the inflated sense of self-importance he feels.

The Torah commands an arrogant person to go up to Jerusalem in order to clarify the correct halacha, therefore it is not enough for a person to go to a judge, but first he must go to the Bet Hamikdash and see the Kohanim and Levi’im at their work, since the service of the Kohanim who are occupied with the blood of sacrifices has the power to shake up the heart of a person and get rid of his pride, since he looks and sees what should really be happening to a person because of his sins. Similarly, when a person observes the Levi’im in their service, his love for Hashem and faith in Him will intensify, and this power will cause the trait of pride to be annulled.

This is the reason the Torah commanded a person to first go to see the Kohanim at their service and the Levi’im at their singing, since when he sees the devotion of the Kohanim and Levi’im for the sake of sanctifying G-d’s Name and fulfilling His will, and also sees the spilt blood of the sacrifices, his arrogance will leave him, and instead he will be filled with deference and submission which will cause him to accept the words of the judge in Jerusalem, without any wavering at all.


Based on the teachings of Moreinu v‘Rabbeinu Hagaon Hatzaddik Rabbi David Chananya Pinto, shlita

Avodat HaMiddot — A Constant Work-in-Progress

“When you observe this entire commandment to perform it — which I command you today…then you shall add three more cities to these three” (Devarim 19:9).

Rashi explains “And you shall add three more — this totals nine; three in Ever Hayarden (Transjordan) and three in the Land of Cana’an and three in the future.” Besides the six cities of refuge which exist in the Land of Cana’an and Ever L’yarden, Bnei Yisrael will be asked to add another three cities of refuge when Mashiach comes.

This is hard to understand because Chazal tell us (Succah 52:1) that when Mashiach comes Hashem will slaughter the evil inclination and there will no longer be temptation to transgress the word of Hashem. Since this will be the case, people definitely will not kill by mistake because this sin comes as a result of other sins they have committed. So why did Hashem command the people to add three cities of refuge for those who kill unintentionally? In the future there won’t be an evil inclination and there won’t be sinners.

We can explain this according to the Chazal (Avot 2:4), “Don’t trust in yourself until the day of your death.” Bnei Yisrael did indeed inherit the Land from all the nations who were dwelling in it, and thereby removed their bad influence from having an impact on them. But nevertheless, the yetzer hara continued to exist inside them and therefore their work hadn’t finished yet. Therefore, they had to “precede healing to the disease” and designate cities of refuge for unintentional sinners.

Sometimes it seems to a person that he is immune to a certain danger because he did all the necessary effort to combat it, but he must know that as long as a person is alive in this world, the evil inclination is alive within him and tries to lure him into committing sins. Therefore, a person must constantly be alert and stand guard not to fall prey to his evil inclination. Even though the Jewish people had removed from themselves the negative influence of the nations who had been dwelling in the Land, with this their work and toil hadn’t finished. Who can be sure that on one occasion they won’t stumble, and since “A liability is brought about through one who is liable,” Hashem will cause this person to murder unintentionally in order to awaken him to repent for true sins he has committed.

If Hashem commanded the people to designate cities of refuge when Mashiach comes and there will no longer be a yetzer hara, we must learn from this that all the more so to what extent we are obligated to be on guard whilst we still have the yetzer hara inside us. And it is binding that “One who tries to become pure, receives Heavenly help.”


The main spiritual work during the month of Elul involves examining and searching deeply into our everyday actions of the past year, noting if we acted appropriately or not, what we need to improve in our deeds and behavior between man and man and between man and G-d, and of course to express regret for our crooked ways and preparing ourselves for the Day of Judgment.

The Dubno Maggid describes the importance of regret with a wonderful parable:

A shepherd was watching over his sheep on a hill of pasture, when he suddenly felt tired. He laid his head on a bed of grass and fell asleep. The sheep made the most of this time, meandering here and there until they found a hole in the fence and promptly went into the adjacent field where there was superior quality grass and ate to satisfaction. But those fields belonged to the general of the town, and when his servants saw alien sheep grazing in the fields, they took possession of them and placed them together with the flocks belonging to the general. When the shepherd awoke he was astonished to see that his sheep had disappeared…

He investigated the situation and then sat and thought what he could do in order to appease the general. The shepherd heard that a similar incident had happened earlier and the owner of the sheep presented the general with a sack of sugar and with this he was appeased. The shepherd was pleased and hurried to bring the general a sack of sugar. When he came to the general’s house, they told him that the general was away and would return only the next day. With no choice, he left the sack of sugar in the general’s room on his table, took his sheep and left.

When the general returned and heard what had happened, he was enraged and requested that the shepherd be brought before him. The shepherd arrived, trembling. The general immediately asked: “How did you dare enter my house and take the sheep?” “I did as the previous shepherd did!” answered the shepherd. “You fool,” shouted the general, “Do you really think I need a sack of sugar?! The main thing was the pleading and begging of that shepherd; when I heard his pleas and saw how he sincerely regrets his actions, then I forgave him.”

The moral is clear: We too, when we repent and beat our hearts as our fathers did, this is not enough. We must beg and plead for our lives with a broken heart, because only then will Hashem forgive us for our sins and accept our supplications.


The Lesson of the Ant

“Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your cities — which Hashem, your G-d gives you — for your tribes; and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment” (Devarim 17:18).

In contrast to man, whom the Torah commands to appoint judges and officers for himself in all his cities, so they will stand guard and concern themselves in case he will deviate from the correct path, there stands the ant, this tiny insect about whom Shlomo Hamelech tells us in his wisdom, “… though there is neither officer nor guard nor ruler over it…” (Mishlei 6:7).

The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Mishlei 6 remez 938) explains the allegory of the ant, which is a symbol for a person. “Go to the ant, lazy one; see its ways and grow wise.” The idea behind the expression is that a person should observe how extremely careful the ant is, not to steal or touch what it’s friend prepared for itself, even though it doesn’t have neither an officer nor judge, as it says, “…though there is neither officer nor guard nor ruler over it.” So you, man, who have appointed judges and officers for yourselves, all the more so, go and learn from the ant, how can it be that you won’t be careful and guard yourself?!...

Chazal tell us (Eiruvin 100b), “Had the Torah not been given we would have learnt theft [is forbidden] from the ant.” The sefer Umatok Ha’or quotes R’ Shmuel HaLevi, zt”l, on this idea. “The main area of decline over the generations is that people are not scrupulous with robbery, theft and pilfering money in different ways. This is the main accusation, just as it says concerning the sin of the Generation of the Flood (Bereishit 6:11), “And the earth had become filled with robbery.” Chazal say about this (Vayikra Raba 33:3), “A se’ah (measurement) full of sins, which one heads the accusation? Robbery.”

But it is difficult to understand, Harav Wosner continues. Why does Shlomo Hamelech command the lazy one to go and learn from the ant to be careful with theft? It seems that it would be more suitable to have written: Go to the ant, thief?

But, the Rav explains in a wonderful way, in our generation we see a strange phenomenon; many people are not ambitious. They don’t want to work and they are also not motivated to learn. The reality of (Tehillim 128:2), “When you eat the labor of your hands, you are praiseworthy and it is well with you,” as David HaMelech tells us, does not attract them, but instead, they wish to become rich overnight.

These lazy people try their hands at all different dealings, which often involve a hint of theft, stealing and bankruptcy, and with their bad deeds they bring suffering upon themselves and on those around them, and also profane G-d’s Name in the world.

Therefore, Shlomo Hamelech says, “Go to the ant, you lazy one,” this failing with money is caused by your laziness! Therefore, you need to go and learn from the ant, see to what extent she is careful with money that does not even belong to it, even without an officer or ruler, and without a legal system and law-enforcement.


Tidbits of faith and trust penned by Moreinu v‘Rabbeinu Hagaon Hatzaddik Rabbi David Chananya Pinto, shlita

There is No Chance Occurrence

The name of Amalek hints at its essence and its claim that everything that happens in the world is purely coincidental. The name “Amalek” has the same numerical value (240) as the word “safek,” doubt.

If we think about it, we will see that the word “mikreh” (chance encounter), is a combination of the words rak me’Hashem (only from G-d). This means that even when things seem to us as happenstance, this is not so, in reality everything comes solely from Hashem Yitbarach. When a person trains himself that everything that happens to him is by chance, doubt and confusion very quickly become attached to him and he is compared to the Amalekim who lived with the belief that everything is purely “chance,” and they closed their eyes to seeing the Hand of G-d.

Many years ago when I was in Morocco, I had to travel to the airport, but I made a mistake on the way. Usually I am particular to be in the airport three hours before the flight, but this time because of the error, time was passing and I was still considerably far from the airport one hour before the plane was due to take off. In my distress I mentioned the names of the tzaddikim and prayed that their merit should protect me and I will manage to get to the airport quickly. Suddenly a taxi drew up next to me, and its driver agreed to take me to my destination. When I asked the driver if he usually passes the place where I was waiting, he replied that normally he doesn’t take this route, but this time he made a mistake on the way and therefore entered this area.

I thought to myself that Heaven alone caused the driver to make a mistake so he should pass by this place and help me arrive at the airport as quickly as possible. It is well known that taxis are never seen here and therefore a great miracle was performed for me; this taxi was sent to me by Heaven so I shouldn’t miss my flight. And while we have accustomed ourselves to seeing G-d’s Hand in every occurrence and as a result of this we strengthen our faith in Hashem, there are people who have become accustomed to writing everything up as coincidence, and even in this incident they would say that by chance the driver made a mistake and therefore came my way.

All those people who believe in chance encounters should know that they are strengthening and increasing the power of Amalek in this world; the power of Amalek who wished to implant doubt and cool off our faith in Hashem and in His messengers.


Judging Favorably

“With Righteousness Shall You Judge Your Fellow” (Vayikra 19:15).

Even if the act seems to lean towards a negative interpretation, it is proper to leave the matter undecided in one’s mind, and one shouldn’t conclude that it is something bad.

When the act seems more probable to be positive, which means it is definitely forbidden by law to judge him negatively, if he does judge him negatively, and because of this goes and denounces him, besides not fulfilling “Judge your friend favorably,” he has also transgressed the law of speaking lashon hara.


Sadness is a Negative and Harmful Trait

Before the Jewish people go out to war, the Kohen stands in front of the people and encourages them not to be afraid for Hashem is with them. He then instructs the people concerning what awaits them, and with his words (repeated to the people by the officers) he permits certain groups of people to leave the battlefield and not participate in the fighting.

The officers then continue and say, “Who is the man who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house…” (Devarim 20:8). Rashi explains the words “the man who is fearful and fainthearted” according to the words of Chazal in Masechet Sotah, and these are Rashi’s words: “Rabbi Akiva says: As its simple meaning. He is not able to stand in battle and see a sword drawn. Rabbi Yosi HaGlili says: One who is afraid because of his sins.”

On the words of Rabbi Yosi HaGlili, the tzaddik Rabbi Nachman of Breslav would say: The most harmful thing is “one who is afraid because of his sins” — the feeling of depression and sadness that comes after the sin has been committed. This is very important to know — when the evil inclination persuades a person to sin, more than he intends for the action (the sin) to be carried out, his main intention is to sow sadness and depression inside the sinner after the sin; because these (feelings) are more severe than all the sins in the world…


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