This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Shemot (5766)
This week's section begins the awesome saga of the 210 year imprisonment and miraculous escape of an entire nation. Never even vaguely similar in history has anything occurred nor has any religion or nation even claimed so; the scope and depth of these events simply defies human imagination.
But, after all, the story of Exodus is not understood from the beginning.
Why did the Jews have to go into slavery?
It couldn't be because of sins or transgressions; almost all of them (except seventy) were born after they went into Egypt.
It couldn't be because nature just took its course; G-d controls and directs all and nothing happens by accident.
Not only that, G-d is good, merciful, patient, kind and He loves all His creations (Psalms 145:8,9). Especially the Jewish people (Ex 4:22).
So why did they suffer terribly for two hundred and ten years in exile??
Here is a story that might help us to understand (Shmuot V'sipurim, Rabbi R.N.HaCohen book 1 pg 251)
Some two hundred and fifty years ago in the Ukrainian city of T'shish'nik lived Reb Berel; a devoted Chassid of the great Tzadik, Rebbe Mordechai of Chernobyl .
Reb Berel had a fairly large house and was respected by the entire community for his good heart and good deeds so it was understandable that whenever Rebbe Mordechi came to T'shish'nik he stayed by his house.
Indeed, Reb Berel and his family waited for those visits impatiently the entire year, or even longer. His whole life was centered around his Rebbe. The Rebbe was his friend, his inspiration, his teacher, his leader his very soul. The Rebbe's teachings, his motions, his advice, his eyes, that is what kept Reb Berel happy and optimistic in the midst of the misery, tragedy and oppression surrounding the Jews from every side.
So we can imagine Reb Berel's joy when he heard that in one week's time the Rebbe would be arriving in T'shish'nik for a week's visit!!
Reb Berel and his family had spent the entire week cleaning and polishing every corner of the house, preparing food, books, a quiet place.. like the Rebbe liked. And sure enough, as every year, the big day came! The Rebbe's personal secretary came to Reb Berel's house to see if everything was ready.
But this time the secretary had a strange look on his face; something other than the usual enthusiasm and joy.
"Listen, Reb Berel" the secretary said seriously as he took him to a table in the corner and sat down opposite him.
"Is something wrong?" Reb Berel asked, a look of bewilderment replacing the smile on his face.
"Well, it's like this" the secretary said leaning forward earnestly. "The Rebbe said he's not staying by your house."
"What!?" gasped Reb Berel, tears forming in his eyes "Why? What happened? Is everything...?"
"Everything is all right" said the secretary "But the Rebbe said that he's not staying here and he never wants to see your face again unless you bring him two thousand rubles." Reb Berel's mouth fell open and his eyes widened in horror as his head shook 'no' in disbelief. The secretary continued as he began standing up.
"The Rebbe says that he doesn't want you to attend his meals, to be in the Synagogue when he prays or even to watch him walk in the streets, nothing. In fact, he said he never wants to see you again, ever! Unless you bring the money."
With this he shook poor Reb Berrl's hand, who was sitting there like a stunned cow whispering to himself, "two thousand", shrugged his shoulders as to say he wished he could help and left.
Reb Berel was swooning. He meekly called to his wife and when she came running into the room and heard the news she held her head in her hands and fell, almost fainted, into the seat opposite him.
Two thousand rubles was a fortune!!
After a short reckoning they realized that even if they sold everything including their house and took out loans they would barely reach one third the amount. Usually they would go to the Rebbe with their problems! But now!! OY!! Why had the Tzadik left them? Why was he being so severe? They searched and searched their deeds of the past month, the past year, the past ten years for as far back as they could remember … but they couldn't figure it out.
Their only recourse was prayer.
They both grabbed books of Psalms and began pouring out their souls, reading and rereading aloud most of that night and the entire next day, then the next day and the next, over and over again; weeping and pleading with broken hearts to HaShem that He have mercy and send them the money.
But the week ended and nothing happened; No money, no Tzadik and no hope. They were alone.
Then, just as they thought it couldn't be worse, it got worse! An entire battalion of barbaric Russian soldiers who had just returned from some sort of successful raid swept into town and took over the houses; twenty five soldiers were assigned to Berel's house. He had to vacate his own bed as well as provide food and lodging for them on punishment of death.
In just moments his sparkling clean home became a shambles. The soldiers wasted no time in eating everything they could and laying down to sleep anywhere they wanted. Reb Berel and his wife had to sleep in the hay loft. But he thanked G-d that things weren't worse… at least the soldiers left them alive!
Then, suddenly in the middle of the night Berel was awakened by the sound of trumpets. He peered out the window of the loft to see soldiers running out of all the houses on the block, as well as his, with all their gear. It was a call to order. Berel hoped they weren't going to be given orders to kill everyone. He began reading Psalms again. But the soldiers all mounted their horses and rode off like a huge horde of locusts just as they had entered.
Rab Berel and his wife dragged themselves back into their house, it looked like a hurricane hit the place but they thanked G-d that the invaders had left. They went to their room to sleep in their own beds when suddenly Berel's wife noticed that from under Berel's bed protruded a wide, low wooden crate. But they were too tired to do anything about it. They left it for the morning and went to sleep.
The next morning they woke up, pulled out the crate and opened it to see that IT WAS FILLED WITH GOLDEN COINS!
In fact, what had happened was that shortly after the soldiers left they realized that one of their chests of booty was missing.
Their commander immediately dispatched twenty men to return to the town and find it and in no time they were back in T'shish'nik, waking every family and ransacking every house one at a time.
But for some reason they kept missing Rab Berel's after a few hours of futility they concluded that either they made a mistake in calculation or had lost it somewhere else and returned to their commander empty handed.
But all this was completely unknown to Rab Berel; he slept through the whole thing. He held on to the crate for another few months waiting for someone to claim it and when they didn't finally decided to ask the Rebbe what to do. The crate had no markings on it, no names and he certainly had no idea where the soldiers were; maybe it was his.
He took two thousand rubles of the money, only a small portion of it, and traveled to the city of Chernobyl.
He arrived with trepidation and immediately got an audience and when he entered the Rebbe's room the Rebbe was smiling.
"The money is yours". He said. "All of it. And you can keep this money also.
"But, but I thought…" Berel stammered. "I thought you wanted two thousand rubles. See? Here's the money."
"No, Berel" answered the Rebbe "I saw that a fortune was waiting for you but you were missing two things; humility and prayer.
The fact that you hosted me every year in T'shish'kin gave you a bit of false self-confidence and the fact that you never really broke down and prayed to G-d with all your heart for anything in your entire life … those two things prevented the blessing from reaching you. The money they left is really yours. You just had to want to leave your present state with all your being."
Needless to say Reb Berel gave a lot of what he had to charity for the rest of his long and generous life.
Now we can understand why the Jews were put in exile and G-d even promised Abraham some two hundred years earlier that it would happen. Because the exile in Egypt gave the Jews what they were lacking to receive the Torah and be G-d's chosen people; humility and a strong desire to pray, to do everything possible and to depend on G-d for drastic and total change.
And this would be necessary for all future generations (especially ours; the generation of Moshiach) as well. As we say in the Hagadah of Passover (explained in Chapter 47 of the Tanya), "Constantly one must see himself as though he is leaving Egypt."
And as the Lubavitcher Rebbe explained the Mishna (Brachot 1:8 also brought in the Hagada) "All the days of your life; bring to the days of Moshiach"
We must constantly strive to leave Egypt, i.e. our egotism and false limitations, even our spiritual ones, that prevent us from realizing our G-dly potentials (the Hebrew word for Egypt; Mitzraim, is similar to that for limitations; Mitzarim).
And specifically this is what will bring Moshiach, the true and final redeemer, who will teach all mankind how to truly leave our small limited worlds of war, hate, selfishness, disease and eventually even death.
It all depends on us. The terrible exile we are in now, like the terrible one in Egypt, exists only to force us to leave our limited outlooks on life, begin seeing the world in the eyes of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and do all we can to reveal....
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