Finding Meaning in Adversity

Last week I merited to have a lengthy, uplifting and heart-to-heart conversation with Rav Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, founder of the Shuva Yisrael educational network and chief rabbi of Morocco. We met for close to two hours at his headquarters on the East Side of Manhattan, where he was staying for a few days before returning to Morocco for Pesach. In this freewheeling conversation, Rav Pinto shared his thoughts about COVID-19, his own ailments, and his prison experience in Israel. At times, when he thought that he had revealed too much about his personal travails, he asked that it be off the record. At all times, though, Rav Pinto was exceptionally serene and inspiring. It should be noted, as is the custom of many rabbanim, Rav Pinto uses the plural “we” instead of “I” when speaking about himself. Listen in.

Shalom aleichem, Kevod Harav.
We met last year. You came with Reb Isaac [Fried, who heads Hidabroot].

Yes. I came as a shaliach of the Belzer Rebbe. We spoke about Hidabroot.
You and Reb Moshe [Gross, a Belzer chasid and askan who is present] and Reb Isaac are matanot from Hakadosh Baruch Hu. You are good people. You have yirat shamayim and you do good work through your publication—holy work, in the shlichut of Hakadosh Baruch Hu. We respect and appreciate your publication. You have good middot, and you do all of your work l’sheim shamayim. We see it.
On Shabbat we say that those who serve the tzibbur, “Hakadosh Baruch Hu yeshaleim secharam,” because when people serve the tzibbur, others sometimes don’t appreciate what they do. Only Hakadosh Baruch Hu knows how to repay him. People, on the other hand…
The say that the Vilna Gaon once heard that someone was saying a lot of lashon hara about him. The Gaon said, “I don’t remember ever doing him a favor, so why is he speaking lashon hara about me?” Every time the Vilna Gaon would do someone a favor, he would open a drawer, take out a small stone and give it to the person he had helped. When they asked him why he gives people small stones he replied, “Because everyone for whom you do a favor will end up throwing a rock at you, so at least this way it will be a small stone rather than a big one.”
The Gaon was a great tzaddik—how could anyone speak lashon hara about him? And what does the Gaon say, “I don’t remember ever doing him a favor for him to talk about me like that.” This is something that is in the nefesh of a person. We’ve thought about this many times. Why does someone for whom you’ve done a favor suddenly turn around and repay you with bad? Because the person feels an obligation because you once did him a favor, so he wants to reject that obligation. The nefesh of the person wants to push away that obligation. This is why hakarat hatov is considered so important: the person has to learn to respect and appreciate the person who did him a favor. The first time we find that is when Adam Harishon was ungrateful to Hakadosh Baruch Hu for giving him Chavah.

The Maharal says that we are not allowed to do a favor for one who is ungrateful.
Yes. It’s a pachad. But it depends on the kind of favor that needs to be done. If it’s something that must be done, similar to “ki tireh chamor sonaacha…azov taazov imo,” then you have to help no matter what. But if it isn’t in that category, then you’re not allowed to help the ungrateful person because you’re forcing him to feel obligated to you and then to behave badly, which falls under the category of lifnei iveir lo titen michshol.
Everyone knows that the first Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of the three aveirot, avodah zarah, shfichut damim and giluy arayot. And what was destroyed? Just the ceiling, not the walls. Bayit Sheini, when there were so many talmidei chachamim and everyone was learning Torah, the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of sinat chinam. And then the entire Beit Hamikdash was destroyed down to the foundations. The only thing that wasn’t destroyed was Shaar Nikanor.
The Gemara says that there was a man named Nikanor who traveled to Mitzrayim to bring doors for the Beit Hamikdash. On the way back, there was a terrible storm and the sailors decided to throw one of the doors overboard to lighten the ship’s load. When that didn’t help they decided to throw in the second one, but Nikanor grabbed it and said, “Throw me into the sea together with the door.” As soon as he said that the storm stopped. But he was very sad about having lost the first door. When they arrived in Akko he discovered that the door had floated there with them. It says that when Moshiach comes the entire Beit Hamikdash will be different aside from the doors of Nikanor, which sank into the ground when the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed and will return when the Third Beit Hamikdash descends from the heavens. The reason for this was Nikanor’s mesirut nefesh and his desire to donate something for Hashem.
The Gemara in Yevamot says that a woman who doesn’t have children for ten years will never have children. The mefarshim ask what that means, since there are many cases of women who do have children after more than ten years of childlessness. They explain that a woman who constantly thinks about having children and yearns for them can have children at any time, but a woman who goes ten years without that yearning will never have children. When you have a desire for something, even if it isn’t realistic, you can still attain it. It’s the teshukah that brings it about. Having a teshukah for something connects the person with that thing and gives the koach for it.
There is an opinion that hydroponic vegetables should require the brachah of Shehakol because they don’t come from the ground. This is an issue for the marror on Pesach, because the brachah has to be Haadamah. But there’s a concept in halachah called atzitz nakuv: when the vessel in which the vegetable is growing has a hole through which it can receive nutrients from the ground, the brachah is Haadamah. That’s because even when the only connection is through a small hole it’s enough to create a real connection. All we need is that teshukah to bring the koach for it.



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