One man, beleaguered and weakened by illness, reaches deep into the hearts of millions of Jews with soul-wrenching words that inspire repentance and kindness * The wondrous phenomenon of one Grand Rabbi and spiritual leader who, beginning in his youth, built a congregation that now spans countries and continents * The kashrus revolution in Morocco * The global expansion of Rabbi Pinto’s batei medrash and the Grand Rabbi who captivates millions *
“We are suffering greatly. The pain is intense,” he whispers. The eyes are wise and understanding, gleaming with an ethereal light, while the tone is soothing, caressing. Even as he speaks of complex surgeries and excruciating recoveries, of dreaded illness that took root in his body, and of the inconceivable challenges and hardships, his words elevate his listeners and inspire them to continually strive for good. Not for a moment does he allow himself respite as he persists at touching the heart of one more Jew, and another and another, reaching out from his far-flung corner in arid Morocco to Jews around the world wherever they may be.
Beside him sits his eldest Rabbi Yoel, a distinguished figure, his father’s son in every way, who bears the burden of managing and navigating the Shuva Yisrael community spiritual. On the other side sits Rabbi Menachem Pinto who has devotedly accompanied and supported his older brother on his sacred mission from the very start. Together, these men generate miracles and wonders that will forever be engraved in the annals of Jewish history.
It is now thirty years since Moroccan Chief Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto founded his empire of Torah and chessed which touches the hearts of millions of Jews worldwide.
And not only Jews.
“You can sit next to him,” describes an American non-Jewish businessman, “and feel those kind eyes boring into you and caressing your soul. His words reach straight to my heart, into the deepest caverns. For that, I don’t even need to enter his sanctum; it is enough to just sit and listen to one of his lectures, to hear his electrifying stories that have been translated into many languages, and find answers to the questions that plague me.”
Recent months have found society in a state of distress and loss. Coronavirus sparked utter chaos in the world, leading to the collapse of the global economy, finance, and even families. With the world as we’d always known it utterly transformed and people suffering the throes of confusion and anguish, Rabbi Pinto forged ahead with confidence and continued leading his flock of students and followers with pride and love.
Spanning the Globe
While the titles Admor, Rebbe or Grand Rabbi are generally reserved for the venerated leaders of Chassidic sects, Rabbi Pinto has merited these accolades despite his Moroccan descent. For many years, Rabbi Pinto’s lecture were something of an attraction that drew the masses, yet with each year, as more and more Jews are captivated and inspired by his spiritual perspective and brilliant lectures, his following grows exponentially. His very first speeches, delivered when he was a young man in his early twenties, drew respectable crowds, but in a recent visit to Israel, a single lecture in Ashdod attracted an audience five thousand strong.
“I could have watched the lecture on live broadcast like so many others, but I wanted to experience a real connection with him, to live the event deep inside,” says one avid participant.
For many years, Rabbi Pinto journeyed from country to city to town with Jewish populations, even if they were negligible, delivering riveting lectures and championing mitzvah observance while attracting countless admirers.
“I doubt that many can compete with the hours that he spent flying in the heavens,” shares a longtime student. “There were weeks when he flew every day to a different country, delivered several speeches, or sometimes even one, and then continued to his next destination. I recall weeks at a time that he spent crisscrossing continents indefatigably. We, healthy, robust young men were falling off our feet from the constant travel, but he continued going strong. With insatiable fervor, commitment, and boundless energy, he fulfilled his self-imposed mission of instilling people’s hearts with love of Torah, love of mitzvos and love of one’s fellow Jew, wherever he may be.”
“This is also the reason,” adds a different student, “that people who were as remote from Torah as they could possibly be, who spurned Rabbanim and their teachings, instinctively connected to the image of this tzaddik. It was not his mouth speaking, but his soul.”
He shares the fascinating anecdote of the Chafetz Chaim, gadol hador of the previous century, who once requested a meeting with the Polish Prime Minister. When the Chafetz Chaim finished speaking, the Polish dignitary turned to his interpreter and said, “There is no reason to translate. I understood it all, for he spoke in the language of the heart.”
“This is exactly what occurs in the Rabbi’s lectures; his words are spoken in the language of the heart, and they instantly penetrate the hearts of others.”
Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto’s batei medrash span the length and breadth of the Jewish world. Throughout decades of tireless effort, he has cultivated an empire of Torah and chessed that reaches out even to remote, little-known corners of the globe. More recently, the Rav has reached out to support and rebuild Jewish Morocco, the native land of his righteous ancestors, to its former glory. He presently serves as Rosh Av Beis Din in Morocco and has invested huge sums from his own pocket in order to bolster vibrant Jewish community life and reinforce religious observance in Moroccan cities with Jewish populations. Among his notable accomplishments is opening a kosher slaughterhouse that provides glatt kosher and mehadrin meat and poultry to all Jewish Moroccans and beyond. His concerted efforts and fierce dedication to this cause led him to remain in Morocco since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in order to offer support and encouragement to Moroccan congregations. Simultaneously, he continually inspires and enlivens millions of Jews around the world through daily lessons and broadcasts.
Throughout the past months, Rabbi Pinto went to the opposite extreme by opening nearly ten new batei medrash throughout the world in Israel, the USA and France. These facilities, which join the ranks of dozens of Shuva Yisrael learning and community centers around the world, add spiritual light, joy and relief into a world darkened by anxiety, grief and fear of illness.
Every evening at precisely the same hour in Marrakesh, Rabbi Pinto sits down to deliver his daily shiur which is broadcast live to over a million listeners and viewers across the Jewish world. In the course of these lectures, he responds with the same brilliance and clarity that has captivated countless people for over thirty years to a range of deep questions and issues posed to him by Jews across the spectrum on topics ranging from halachah to philosophy to faith.
“It’s an amazing thing to see,” expresses a veteran media personality in Israel who follows Rabbi Pinto’s broadcasts on digital media. “A phenomenon unrivaled in the Jewish world. My colleagues compare it to the global following of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, but here we have the added bonus of modern technology and media tools that enable a man sitting in a remote desert at the ends of the earth to touch the hearts of millions around the world.”
This ‘phenomenon’ as it’s termed and the thirst for Rabbi Pinto’s Torah wisdom and insights led to the printing of hundreds of thousands of copies of his sefarim at the height of the corona crisis when so many people were in need of spiritual support as oxygen. These sefarim, translated and printed in several languages, feature an inspirational compilation of his shiurim, along with a meticulously-chosen selection of the personal guidance that he dispenses to individuals. His works now grace the libraries of all shuls and batei medrash in the Jewish world, and beyond, as well.
“It’s simply mind-boggling,” continues the media spokesperson, “a rare and unprecedented phenomenon by any estimation. People in America and South Africa and other countries in the world are talking not only about their fellow Jews who are completely hooked on the Grand Rabbi’s lectures, but also about non-Jews who are utterly spellbound by Rabbi Pinto’s deep insights and sage counsel. Many gentiles number among his keen admirers, appreciating that his words and approach are Truth, and that he holds the key to help them achieving true happiness and fulfillment in life.”
While there were people who worried that the illness spreading maliciously through his body and his physical condition, which was labeled terminal on more than one occasion, would negatively affect the continued growth of his community of followers. However, much to their surprise, it seems to have actually been the catalyst of further growth and development.
Around the World
This profound connection, shared by hundreds of thousands, is expressed in the development of a virtual community of followers that span thousands of Whatsapp groups whose members feel close to the Grand Rabbi and draw strength and spiritual fortitude from his words. They heed his repeated calls for self-improvement and his exhortations to continually strive for closeness to the Master of the world. He emphasizes yearning for and accepting the mandates of our holy Torah and faith rather than falling prey to depression and fear, even when hardships abound.
In the course of his lectures, Rabbi Pinto has occasionally bared his soul to his followers, describing the excruciating pain of his illness. In a recent broadcast, Rabbi Pinto divulged, “In these past two-three weeks, the situation has deteriorated, and these last days have been physically agonizing.” Despite his personal troubles, he entreats his followers not to pity him, but to continue working on themselves, performing good deeds and benefiting one another and the global Jewish community.
For this reason, Rabbi Pinto also instructed directors of Shuva Yisrael establishments around the world to intensify their outreach and charity efforts among the masses. In previous years, Rabbi Pinto had arranged mass charity distributions every Pesach to the tune of millions of dollars in food baskets. Yet this past Pesach, due to the range of lockdown restrictions in every country and the severe economic crisis that struck countless individuals, he instructed students and followers around the world to exert extra effort in their local communities, reaching out and aiding their Jewish brothers in need. His heartfelt appeals, expressed urgently on live broadcast and heard by over a million Jews, worked their magic as many united enthusiastically to heed his call, providing desperately-needed aid and support to hundreds of thousands of destitute and disadvantaged Jews.
In a brilliant, preplanned move, and following his difficult illness, Rabbi Pinto “privatized” his communities. Fostering the growth of each one, he does not touch any of the charity and chessed monies raised, but serves as a larger umbrella chessed society that urges and encourages each one of the dozens of communities not only to maintain, but also to ramp up their efforts. Rabbi Pinto does not make use of any of mind-blowing sums of money raised through his giant industry of tzedakah and chessed, but rather invests them right back into the local Shuva Yisrael communities, enabling each talmid and emissary to operate on his own with success. Armed with their beloved Rav’s mission and power, they perpetuate his legacy of charity and chessed, spreading Torah knowledge throughout the Jewish world.
“We take our orders, our cues, so to speak, from the Rav, and do everything in our capacity to reach out and help others. Everyone who enters our beis medrash feel like he belongs, like he’s one of us, and therefore he also does everything in his power to help. There’s a tremendous amount of chessed work going on around the world, projects and campaigns for the needy, and every month we’re fortunate to see new batei medrash sprouting in more cities,” relates a talmid.
Rabbi Pinto, and by extension, his eldest son Rabbi Yoel, endeavor tirelessly to encourage, motivate, keep updated, and assist their talmidim, ensuring that the growth and work is constant, without respite or reprieve.
“We didn’t come down to this world to rest, but to work!” declares Rabbi Pinto. “We have a role, a mission to fulfill here in world, and this is true for all of us.”
Perpetuating the Legacy
It is distressing both to hear and transcribe Rabbi Pinto’s words, yet as they were spoken before a crowd of millions of viewers and listeners, we present them here: “Due to our many sins, the body is now riddled with holes; there is not a single complete organ in the body, and the agony is unbearable, unfathomable. In these past weeks, the suffering has been inconceivable. I can’t comprehend this pain, a pain that is impossible to endure, impossible to withstand.
“Pray for us, all you righteous ones, that the Holy One shall sweeten judgment upon us, that He shall pity us. We require great compassion. Every physical movement is agonizing, every motion so difficult… Sometimes, I reach the point of uncertainty of whether it is better to live and suffer…
“We remain sure in the knowledge that all these tribulations that we have suffered throughout the past ten years, that all these troubles, are only intended to pave a holy path. The path of Shuva Yisrael is a legacy of generations. The path and direction of Shuva Yisrael are the way of Torah, the way of peace, the way of serving Hashem, the way of my holy ancestors the Pinto and Abuchatzeira families. It is the path of my forefathers and our holy rabbis. The path of the Arizal, the path of the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov. The path of holiness where light and radiance dwell…”
The story of Rabbi Pinto’s illness is tragic, incomprehensible. Doctors have repeatedly expressed their amazement and disbelief that a man as weak as he, who has undergone dozens of surgeries in a matter of years, and whose body is so afflicted and diseased can keep to his phenomenal pace, traveling from country to country, delivering countless lectures, and maintaining this empire of kindness and charity.
Tragically, Rabbi Pinto’s health is in a steady state of decline, and it is impossible to know what the future holds. Yet if one asks him, he smiles weakly and replies that his mission has just begun. Throughout the past years, he has been priming his eldest son Rav Yoel to succeed him when the time comes. Rav Yoel began relaying regular shiurim in his late adolescence, and his brilliant mind and profound understanding of the human heart coupled with his indefatigable nature and far-reaching aspirations have earned him the unanimous respect, love and admiration of his father’s followers.
“As of now, the Yeshiva and all its activities are under the auspices of Rav Yoel,” explains one of the Yeshiva’s rabbanim. From an early age, it was Rav Yoel who transcribed his father’s eye-opening lectures and divrei Torah, preparing them for print as sefarim; and today, it is he who travels the world to relay shiurim in the spirit of his father’s teachings. Despite his frequent travels, Rav Yoel remains deeply involved in all aspects of the beis medrash, continuing to encourage the learning, escort the talmidim, and serve as his father’s emissary. Between shiurim, he invests a substantial amount of time in authoring sefarim and expanding the circle of Shuva Yisrael institutions throughout the world.
“It’s all in his hands now. It’s all up to him now.” Rabbi Pinto’s voice is soft, feeble. He has lovingly entrusted the empire called Shuva Yisrael into the capable hands of his son, and he is confident in Rabbi Yoel’s strength to expertly navigate the needs of the community with trademark serenity and gentleness offset with determination, vitality and commitment to not only perpetuate, but also expand his father’s circle of success.
Also supporting Rabbi Pinto’s endeavors is his younger brother Rabbi Menachem Pinto, likewise a grandson of the Baba Meir. Rabbi Menachem, who endeavors backstage to orchestrate Shuva Yisrael’s worldwide network of activity, is a respected figure and well-known both to world leaders and Gedolei Yisrael. He is a powerhouse and one of Rabbi Pinto’s closest confidante, one of the few individuals in the world who is aware of the mysterious connections that the Grand Rabbi forged with Gedolei Torah, international VIPs, and key figures in many countries around the world. He is likewise fiercely dedicated to the vision and essence of Shuva Yisrael, viewing it as an extension of himself.
“Rabbi Menachem has always stood faithfully by the Rav’s side,” relates a close family member. “There wasn’t a single major project that he wasn’t part of from planning through execution. He sits together with his elder brother and Rav Yoel, and turns every vision — even those that seem impractical, unfeasible, impossible — into a wondrous reality. In his mind, every one of the Rav’s visions can and must be carried out, be it the kashrus and shechitah system in Morocco, opening branches of the Yeshiva in Miami, or delivering fifteen thousand food baskets within several hours. The above are just a chip off the block of Rabbi Menachem’s incredible accomplishments, which he carries out with absolute devotion to Rabbi Pinto and Rabbi Yoel.”
Golden Chain of Greatness
Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto is a scion of the glorious Moroccan Jewish dynasties Pinto and Abuchatzeira. As a grandson of the famed Rabbi Moshe Aharon Pinto on his father’s side, and a grandson of the Baba Meir and great-grandson of the Baba Sali on his mother’s side, Rabbi Pinto’s illustrious lineage lends an additional dimension of depth and truth to his lessons which are liberally enhanced with sacred teachings and customs that he garnered from his righteous ancestors.
It is these traditions that Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto relays with love and ardor to his eldest son Rabbi Yoel. As his health swiftly declines, he has begun speaking frequently of the inevitable change.
“I am preparing myself to greet the King,” he expresses with equanimity before hundreds of thousands of listeners. “I am aware of the situation, and ‘in Your Hand, [the Hand of G-d], I deposit my spirit.’ I know that I have done everything in my ability, and that I am leaving it all in the most trusted of hands. The fact that I am alive today is only because of everyone’s efforts to increase Torah and chessed, and this blessed activity shall continue afterward, as well, along the path of truth, the path that encourages anyone who traverses it to draw nearer to the Master of the world.” The simplicity with which he expresses these words, the awe-inspiring serenity, and the nonstop activity have impacted those farthest from Torah and mitzvos, and even non-Jews, fulfilling the words of the verse, “And the nations of the world shall see that the Name of Hashem is called upon you, and they shall fear you.”
For example, last week, when King Mohammed VI of Morocco underwent critical heart surgery, Rabbi Pinto opened his daily shiur with a special blessing and tribute to the monarch and his kingdom which he extols as a “kingdom of kindness, a kingdom that treats its Jewish subjects with absolute equality and great love.” He praised the king as one who is reminiscent of one of the benevolent kings of yesteryear and recalled that when his own holy ancestors, the Baba Sali and Baba Meir zy”a would rise for Kiddush on Friday night, they would always add a blessing for the king’s welfare.
“Early Sages taught that ‘the entire nation is encompassed in the heart of the king,’” he expressed. “Indeed, the entire country, the entire nation, draws from the heart of its king. When we have a king like this, a king whose heart is replete with kindness and compassion, a king who seeks to benefit others and the world, and he truly possesses the power and will to radiate goodness upon the world, then it automatically impacts the people.
“May the Holy One Blessed is He strengthen and elevate him and safeguard him and his family. May He grant him all goodness, health and joy, and may he rule his kingdom until 120 years with health, pleasure, joy and bountiful goodness.”
In the course of several shiurim relayed this past week, Rabbi Pinto continued weaving his vision for the future of Shuva Yisrael, at least until the coming of Mashiach Tzidkeinu. He points with confidence and pride to his eldest son and future successor, emphasizing that the Torah and chessed shall continue proliferating
“We remain sure in the knowledge that all these tribulations that we have suffered throughout the past ten years, that all these troubles, are only intended to pave a holy path. The path of Shuva Yisrael is a legacy of generations. The path and direction of Shuva Yisrael are the way of Torah, the way of peace, the way of serving Hashem, the way of my holy ancestors the Pinto and Abuchatzeira families. It is the path of my forefathers and our holy rabbis. The path of the Arizal, the path of the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov. The path of holiness where light and radiance dwell, until the coming of Mashiach Tzidkeinu …”