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Parshat Bo (5766)

This week's section tells of the last three plagues and the Exodus of the entire Jewish nation from Egyptian slavery.

Strangely, the Jews prepared for this monumental event in a seemingly very inappropriate way:

All Jewish males had to undergo a painful and debilitating operation and then eat a full meat meal: they circumcised themselves and then had to eat from the Korbon Pesach - the Pesach Offering, just hours before beginning an arduous desert trek.

Who would do such a crazy thing? Why did G-d want them to do it? What sense did it make?!

Also, this coming week we celebrate the Tenth day (yud) of Shvat; that date of the passing of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe (1950) Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak and the date, one year later, that his son-in-law succeeded him.

Is there a connection?

To understand this here is a story.

About 250 years ago in the Ukraine, Jewish education was a big problem. Gentiles had the option, which they often took, to leave their children unlettered but not the Jews! That a Jewish child could be illiterate and unable to approach the wonderful, holy Torah was inconceivable!

In fact, education was so ingrained in the Jewish soul that even non-observant parents, which began to be more and more common, often hired Torah teachers for their children.

One such Jew lived in a small village. He was well-off financially and personally considered himself to be far above the antiquated Torah and it's commandments but for some reason, that he himself couldn't figure out, he wanted his children to learn Judaism.

The teacher he hired happened to be a young married Chassid, that we will call Yankel, who had to leave his wife and three children far away to come to teach in this village with an agreement that he could travel home twice a year; Tishre and Nissan, for the holidays.

But as the month of Tishrei approached his boss started to have regrets. True he didn't have much patience for Judaism the rest of the year but Rosh HaShanna and Yom Kippur were different! He was sick of the old farmer that usually led the prayers in the town and wanted Yankel to stay in the village and lead the prayers on the High Holy Days. But an agreement is an agreement and in any case he couldn't stop Yankel from seeing his family.

But he was surprised to hear that Yankel had no intention of going home. Rather he said that he was going to Liozne see his Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Laidi the (first) Rebbe of Chabad.

His boss couldn't figure out why Yankel would want to go see a Rebbe when He was a rebbe himself! Everyone in the village called him 'Rebbe Yankel'. What did he need a Rebbe for?

Yankel even tried to explain it to him; something about the Moses of each generation and a general soul, but he didn't understand a word. Yankel seemed to be a normal, intelligent young man. Why would he forego a visit to his family to see some Moses?

Yankel didn't give up. He tried again and again to explain but his boss was too seeped in the mundane for anything to penetrate. Until finally Yankel just said, 'Listen, if you want to know what a Rebbe is, then why don't you just come to Liozne with me. It will be an adventure!"

It was all too spiritual for the boss and at first he refused. But after several days of hearing Yaakov ramble on, his curiosity got the best of him and he took up the invitation.

Yaakov was especially glad not only because it might awaken his boss' Jewish soul but also because he wouldn't have to walk for five days; his boss had a horse and wagon.

When they arrived in Liozne his boss was surprised to see hundreds, maybe thousands of Chassidim that seemed to know and respect Yaakov and that were friendly to him as well. They shook his hand warmly, spoke openly and in general the atmosphere was happy and positive.

He accompanied Yaakov to the place where they were staying but that night he saw that Yaakov, instead of just falling exhausted into bed as he did, seemed to be preparing for something. He was looking in his Siddur (prayer book) praying and swaying back and forth with such concentration that his boss had to interrupt and ask him why.

Yaakov explained that tomorrow after the morning after prayer, would be his turn to enter for 'Yechidut', a private audience, with the Rebbe and he is thinking about it.

His boss didn't understand a word but the next day they woke early and when Yaakov went to stand in line for Yechidut his boss also stood there for a while and then went back to the room to eat.

When he finished he returned to look for Yankel and when he didn't see him, decided to stand in line for 'Yechidut' himself. He wasn't aware that each of the Chassidim there had been preparing intensely sometimes for years for this moment that they would be with the Rebbe, in fact he had never been aware of anything spiritual his entire life.

Finally he was next! The Rebbe's door opened and the Chassid who had been in before him came out. The Chassid had obviously been crying but he wiped his eyes, grabbed another Chassid and began singing and dancing.

The boss entered, closed the door behind him and there he was...standing before the Rebbe. The room was quiet and very solemn but besides that he didn't really see anything special. So he just stood there. After all, he thought to himself, he had put a lot of time and effort to come here, now the Rebbe has to do something.

The Rebbe looked up at him and said, 'Nu?' (usually Chassidim give the Rebbe a note with their name and request or question but he gave nothing.)

'What, Nu?' Yankel's boss couldn't figure what the Rebbe wanted.

"What nu?" The Rebbe asked rhetorically.

"I will tell you. Sometimes it could be that a Jew who doesn't learn Torah and doesn't care much about the commandments can come to do sins. For instance…" and the Rebbe proceeded to list, one at a time, all the sins that the Yankel's boss had done in the last few years.

The boss couldn't believe his ears! At first he was startled, how could he know!? But then he realized what happened; it was Yankel! He must have told the Rebbe all this!! Why, that snake!!

As soon as the Rebbe finished he turned, walked out the door and began looking for the culprit; the informer!!

By the time he found Yankel he was burning mad. He grabbed him and began yelling. 'How could you stab me in the back?! I've treated you well and even brought you here… and you told the Rebbe my sins!!? Why I'm going to..." but he saw that Yaakov was bewildered.

"What? Me? I would never! G-d forbid! What, I told your sins to the Rebbe? Why, how could I know if you did sins?? How could I possibly know? Just think! And even if I did, I wouldn't tell the Rebbe! G-d forbid! That is loshon hara (slander).

"Well, if it wasn't you then who could it be!!" his boss sputtered. "It was you all right! You can forget about working by me again! You're lucky I don't punch you. Just keep away from me from now on!" And he turned in anger and stormed away.

But after a few minutes it dawned on him that what Yankel said made sense. But on the other hand, how did the Rebbe know? Why did he tell him? What did he want? It was too confusing. He decided to leave.

Meanwhile Yaakov stood in line again to the Rebbe, told him what happened, how now was out of a job and asked him to help.

So a few moments later Yankel's boss, who was in his room packing his suitcase, heard a knock on his door, opened up and saw a Chassid saying that the Rebbe wants to see him.

In a few minutes Yankel's boss was back in the Rebbe's room listening to the Rebbe explain that not only had Yaakov never told him anything but in fact all he said was that it's possible for one to do sins not that anyone actually did them. And even if someone did do all those sins they could easily be corrected.

For the first time in his life Yankel's boss didn't feel like a boss and he didn't like the feeling… but he sensed it was the truth. Suddenly he noticed the Rebbe. This man obviously cared about him and wanted him to be a Jew. He had been fooling himself and the Rebbe was peeling off his foolishness.

His eyes began to fill with tears as the Rebbe told him that from now he would have to change his attitude to G-d and the Torah and learn to act and think differently.

Yaakov's boss left the room a humbled man as though the Rebbe turned on a light that showed him that his life had been in the shadows; a complete bluff. He remained in Liozne, became a genuine Baal Tshuva and came home a happy Jew.

This answers our questions.

When the Jews left Egypt it wasn't just for political freedom, in fact after Egypt had been decimated by plagues they could have remained there and themselves been bosses.

Rather they had to leave the Egypt within them.

That was the job of Moses; to make the Jews leave not only the external but also their internal, spiritual, personal Egypts. Namely their false egos and unwillingness to love, fear and trust the Creator.

That is why they had to circumcise themselves and sacrifice the Pesach Lamb. The Egyptians were the epitome of egotism; famous for their licentiousness and idolatry, and the Jews had been under their evil influence for over two hundred years!

And just as the Rebbe made Yankel's boss in our story remove his falseness before he could reveal and internalize the truth of Judaism so Moshe did to all the Jews.

The circumcision negated the desire for licentiousness (with the Mila) and the Pesach offering the desire for idolatry (the lamb was worshiped in Egypt); Moses removed the barriers to believing in G-d and Moses His servant.

And even more; the eating of the Pesach offering was the first time in history that anyone had ever actually used the mundane physical act of eating meat to reveal the inner will of the Creator in this world as well as raise the consciousness of the person eating it to a higher spiritual level.

And more yet: this circumcision just before the journey and the slaughtering and eating of the god of Egypt before the very eyes of the Egyptians requied much self-sacrifice (M'sirut Nefesh) faith and optimism; exactly the qualities necessary to bring Moshiach and take us from the exile we are now in.

This is what the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe did. He opened the channel of M'sirut Nefesh, faith and optimism for our generation by single handedly defeating Stalin's forces in Russia and later the coldness and indifference of American Jewry.

As his successor pointed out in his acceptance 'speech'; ours is the seventh generation of Chabad Rebbe's (beginning from Rabbi Shneur Zalman). Just as Moses, because he was the seventh generation from Abraham, built the Tabernacle and revealed G-d in this world so will our generation, the generation of Moshaich, merit to see the Third Temple.

Just as Moses took the Jews out of their physical limitations and connected the Creator and the creation, so Moshiach will take all mankind from even spiritual limitations!!

The world will be filled with the knowledge and realization of not just spirituality but rather of the Creator Himself; the source of all spirituality. And the Lubavitcher Rebbe said that if we open our eyes we will see that Moshiach is here right now!!

It all depends on us to remove our apprehensions, false ideas and false egotism, and do all we can to reveal....

Moshiach NOW!!

Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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