From the teachings of Maran Rebbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztzvk”l
(written by his grandson HaRav HaGaon Rav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a)
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
said in 5765, Yet as Pertinent Today as Then! – The Future Sapphire Gates of Jerusalem, Belief in our Chachamim and Through Tzedakah we May Bring the Redemption Closer
We read in the weekly Parashah, “You can therefore see that I am placing before you both a blessing and a curse. The blessing [will come] if you obey the commandments of Hashem your G-d, which I am prescribing to you today. The curse [will come] if you do not obey the commandments of Hashem your G-d, and you go astray from the path that I prescribing for you today” (Devarim 11:26-28).
We may analyse the pessukim, why regarding the blessing does it state “if you obey the commandments of Hashem”, yet regarding the curse it states, “if you do not obey the commandments of Hashem your G-d, and you go astray from the path”? Why concerning the curse does it add “and you go astray from the path”, implying activity to do this, whereas regarding the blessing it suffices to say “if you obey the commandments of Hashem”?
There is clearly a distinction between mitzvot and sins. With mitzvot, Hashem joins good thoughts and intentions to the deed. Concerning the very thought of a Jew to perform a mitzvah he already merits to a blessing, therefore it states, “if you obey”, and no further considerations. But regarding sins, Hashem doesn’t consider a thought to do bad to be a deed, therefore it states, “if you do not obey…and you go astray”, so that only if a person will actively transgress the sin, only then will they forfeit and suffer the curse.
This distinction is due to Hashem’s fondness of Am Yisrael, that Hashem loves us. Therefore He considers a good thought to be a deed. However, regarding the nations of the world it is not so but rather the contrary, a bad thought for them is considered a deed, (this is explained by our chachamim in Yerushalmi Peah 1:1). The rationale behind this is that generally Am Yisrael’s thoughts are pure, they have no bad intent, their wish is only to fulfil Hashem’s wish, therefore Hashem blesses them for good intentions.
We are fortunate that we have been given a number of Haphtarot over these Shabbatot which are called “The Seven Weeks of Comfort”, seven forms of comfort. Currently we will read the one with the opening passuk, “O afflicted, storm-tossed one, who has not been consoled: Behold, I will set down your [flooring] stones and lay your foundation with sapphires” (Yeshaya 54:11).
When Rebbi Yochanan would teach this passuk, he would expound it in public as follows, in the future Hashem will take sapphire stones, each one being about 15 meters wide and the ministering angels will fashion them and place them at the entrance of Jerusalem. This is the meaning of the words “your foundation with sapphires”.
One pupil, who was in fact himself a talmid chacham, doubted Rebbi Yochanan’s interpretation and mocked his words. He said, “How can such a thing be possible? Today we find only after great efforts small sapphires, so how will such colossal sapphire stones be found? It is impossible!” One day that pupil travelled on a boat and suddenly a vision was revealed to him, due to his own great spiritual level, and he saw ministering angels who were fashioning a beautiful gem. He asked them, “What is this?” They responded, “These are the sapphire stones that Hashem will place at the gates of Jerusalem!” He returned to Rebbi Yochanan and said to him, “Rebbi! Expound! And for you it is fitting to expound! For I have seen with my very own eyes!” Rebbi Yochanan said to him, “If you hadn’t seen then you wouldn’t have believed?” He stared at him intensely and he made him became a pile of bones [Sanhedrin 100a].
We must believe the words of our chachamim, for all their words are true and just. This is indeed how Hashem will beautify Jerusalem! And so will Hashem further beautify Jerusalem, “Be glad with Jerusalem and rejoice in her, all you who love her; exult with her in exultation, all you who mourned for her” (Yeshaya 66:10).
When a person prays, constantly in all of the prayers, he shouldn’t (just) think about his personal needs, but he should - as it were - think about Hashem’s “needs”. Therefore we pray, “for all day we hope and yearn for Your salvation,” not our salvation but “Your salvation”, Hashem’s salvation, as if to say “He drew back His right hand” [see Eicha 2:3] and will not return it until He will redeem Am Yisrael, for He participates and empathises in Am Yisrael’s pain. The Shechinah [Hashem’s intense Holy Presence and closeness to us] is in exile, and so we all pray that we should all make a complete teshuvah, we will all follow the Torah’s path, and observe Shabbat, for if Am Yisrael observe just two Shabbatot they will immediately be redeemed. Likewise we should give tzedakah, “Observe justice and perform righteousness, for My salvation is soon to come” (Yeshaya 56:1), for through tzedakah we draw the redemption closer.
One who donates tzedakah increases kindness in the world, “For I said, ‘Forever will [Your] kindness be built,’” (Tehillim 89:3). How will there be kindness in the whole world? Through feeding the poor. Thereby a person ensures that there is kindness in the whole world. [In turn] Hashem will fill the world with kindness.
Hashem has mercy on the poor. Today (5765) there are struggling families. They have children and have nothing to live off, they live difficult lives and suffer. It is a great mitzvah to help them. I know what I have seen myself, many Kollel men that clean floors to have a little money to buy provisions for Shabbat. How have we sunk so low! We have a cruel government, they don’t consider the ramifications in any way whatsoever. They advise to make a “challenge”, to no longer assist families blessed with many children! In most of the world, for example in France, they give a person, they encourage them [to have children], yet these make themselves worse that the nations of the world!
And so we read in the Parasha, “You are children of Hashem your G-d” (Devarim 14:1). It once happened that the wicked Turnus Rufus asked Rebbi Akivah, “If Hashem loves the poor why doesn’t he provide for them?” Rebbi Akivah replied, “So that we may merit Olam Haba (the World to Come).” Turnus Rufus retorted, this is comparable to a king who was angry at his servant and ordered that no one feed him. One of the ministers gave him to eat. Surely the king will be angry with the minister! If so, Hashem wanted the poor to be poor so why do you provide for them?”
Rebbi Akivah responded, “Your parable is simply incorrect. The parable must be developed as follows: A king was angry with his son and he ordered that no one feed him. One of his ministers came and sustained the son’s life. When the matter will become known to the king, the king will rejoice and he will thank the minister who sustained his son. So it is with Am Yisrael, they are Hashem’s children, and so one who sustains the poor, he sustains Hashem’s very own children!” [Bava Batra 10a].
One who assists the poor, happy is he and happy is his lot, the fruits of his good deeds are for him to benefit in this world and the principal reward awaits in Olam Haba and may Hashem grant him his wishes.
Shabbat Shalom Um’vorach!