This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.
This week's section, which contains the story of the sin of the Golden Calf (Egel shel Zahav), coincides with the holiday of Purim.
One obvious similarity between them is that both began with Jews transgressing (in Purim; attending the feast of the king and bowing to Haman) and another is that in both G-d forgave the Jews due to the leader of their generation; first through Moses and then through Mordechi.
Why did they need these leaders?
Why couldn't they just have repented on their own?
Also in our section we see a strange sentence; after forgiving the Jewish people for the Egel G-d tells Moses,
"Behold, I am making a covenant: Before your people I will make miracles that never have been created in the entire world so all the nations and all the people will see the work of G-d that He is awesome etc. (34:10).
But strangely we do not see that any major or unusual miracles occurred afterward!
In fact Rashi (the main elucidator of the Torah) explains there that the word 'miracles' (Nifla'ot) also means to be exalted and separated. In other words G-d was telling the Jews that He was raising them above the other nations.
What exactly does this mean? And why did G-d wait till after the sin of the Golden Calf to do it?
Similarly the Talmud tells us that Purim is the highest of all the holidays: even higher than Yom KiPurim (Which is only 'Ki' i.e. 'something like' Purim)! Does this make sense?
To understand this here are two stories.
Shortly before the Six-Day war the Lubavitcher Rebbe announced to his Chassidim that, since every Jew is essentially holy and that the commandment of Tefillin not only brings out this holiness but also puts fear into the heart of our enemies, therefore they should see to it that every Jew in the world, especially those in Israel and more especially the Israeli soldiers should put on Tefillin.
The idea worked; his Chassidim went into action and hundreds of thousands of Jews in Israel and elsewhere put on Tefillin, many for the first time in their lives. The rest is history; the ridiculously outnumbered Israelis miraculously destroyed all their enemies and a clear sign was given to the entire world that G-d is with us and wants us to inhabit the Holy Land.
But after the war the Rebbe told his followers to continue with the Tefillin campaign.
Our story begins shortly after the Six-Day war. A young Chassid from Australia came to visit the Lubavitcher Rebbe in his headquarters and Yeshiva at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn.
The students there implemented the Campaign by going out with Tefillin every Friday for a few hours to unaffiliated Jews. The Australian fellow, who we will call Avraham, announced that he would buy some refreshments for the road. He ran to the nearby grocery store, bought some Kosher cookies, fruit and drinks and jumped into the car with a bunch of fellows that were going to a nearby hospital and they were off.
No one had eaten breakfast so he began pulling out food from his bag. But to his chagrin one thing he bought; a small box of Hamantashin (triangular cookies filled with chocolate that are traditionally eaten on Purim) was avoided by everyone. Purim had passed almost three months ago!
Needless to say no one even opened the box and the Hamantashin were left behind in the car untouched while they went to do the work of the Rebbe.
They met with much success; many of Jews in the hospital agreed to put on Tefillin, some for the first time in years, andsome for the first time since they had left concentration camps in Poland.
But then they came up against Max.
Max must have been close to ninety and as soon as they entered his room he shouted, "What do you want here? Get out! Go jump in the lake!!" They explained that they were only asking people to put on Tefilin ....."
But he didn't let them finish. "I'm just as close to G-d as you! I don't need your boxes and your rituals!! I have my own commandments. Now get out!!" And he rolled over with his back to them."
The young Chassidim didn't want to leave on such a bad note so one of them held out some of the fruit the Australian had bought and said in the most friendly way he could muster up, "Hey, no hard feelings. We're leaving, we're leaving! Okay? But maybe you'd like a piece of fruit before we leave?"
"Fruit?" The old man turned to them and scoffed. "What, you think they don't have fruit here? Why don't you bring me something good? You know what? You want me to put on Tefillin? Well then" he said mockingly, "bring me a Hamantash!! I haven't had a Hamatash for forty years!! That's right! A Hamantash from Purim."
He was sure that the last thing they would have was a three month old cookie.
All the fellows stared silently and unbelievingly at Avraham who got the hint and ran from the room like a jet. Less than five minutes later he returned, out of breath, with the box of old Purim cookies that he had almost thrown into the garbage.
The old man couldn't believe his eyes as Avraham opened the box and handed him a Hamantash. He took it, examined it, sniffedit (it was still edible!) and even took a small bite (the fellows reminded him which blessing to make beforehand) and, for the first time in forty years, actually began to smile... !
The Chassidim broke out in a Purim song and danced.
"Nu?" The old fellow said as he rolled up his sleeve. "I don't know where you got that hamantashin but you got me in a corner! Where are the Tefillin?"
It was the beginning of a long friendship. Chassidim came to visit him every day thereafter until he announced that he bought a pair of Tefillin for himself.
The second story seems to have taken place when this week's Torah portion was being read. The great and famous Torah genius Rabbi Yosef Ber Soloveichik came to visit the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Shabbat in Brooklyn to hear him speak to thousands of his Chassidim.
He and the Rebbe had been old acquaintances; they had learned at the same time some thirty years earlier in the Sorbonne in France.
As soon as Rabbi Soloveichik entered the Synagogue the Rebbe stood up in his honor and did not sit till his illustrious guest was seated next to him. They spoke warmly for several long minutes while the Chassidim sang and sang until the Rebbe turned to the crowd, they fell silent and he resumed speaking.
When Rabbi Soloveichik left, the Rebbe again stood until he had gone.
Afterward Rabbi Soloviechik was asked what was his impression of the Rebbe.
He replied, as was his custom, with an example from the Torah.
"A question is asked on this week's Torah section. We see that after the Jews sinned with the Egel, Moses broke the First Tablets, asked G-d for forgiveness and G-d forgave them and gave a second set of Tablets like the first ones. The Torah then tells us that when Moses descended from Mount Sinai with these Second Tablets his face shone with such indescribable holiness (34: 29) that he had to cover it.
"The question is, why didn't his face shine when he brought down the first Tablets? Why only now with the second ones?
"And the answer that is given is that Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the First Tablets as the greatest Torah Scholar in the world; G-d Himself had personally taught him everything!
"But when Moses descended with the second Tablets it was after they had sinned with the Golden Calf and he had devoting himself with total self-sacrifice, heart and soul, non-stop to saving them ... each and every one! It was no wonder that his face shone with holiness.
"The Rebbe as I knew him thirty years ago" Rabbi Soloveichik continued, "was the greatest scholar I had ever seen (incidentally the Rebbe said something similar about Rabbi Soloveichik). He knew literally everything, all the books all the commentaries, by heart and was totally devoted to the Torah.
"But now after he has been devoted to saving all the Jewish people with every fiber of his being for all these years.... his greatness is totally indescribable... like Moses with the second Tablets."
This answers our questions.
The Jewish people without leaders are lost, as Moses put it,' like sheep with no shepherd (Num. 26:17). In fact all the problems they have ever had was a result of ignoring or disobeying these leaders.
The Jews are a holy nation but when left on their own, without proper leaders, they forget and even deny it.
And, unfortunately, the two times they really connected to their leaders were after the sin of the Golden Calf and some thousand years later on Purim. In both cases they sinned, saw the disastrous results, and repented; realizing how much their existence depended on Moses and Mordechai.
But interestingly, according to Judaism one who repents is, in many ways, higher and holier than one who never sinned: as the Talmud (Brachot 34b) states, "Where Baali Tshuva stand even the greatest Tzadikim cannot."
This was the unique job of Moses and Mordechi; to BRING the Jewish people to this highest level. But in order to do demanded total self-sacrifice on their parts. As Rabbi Soloveichik perceived in the Rebbe.
And this will be totally achieved by the Moshiach but the closest we ever came to it was Purim.
In Purim, back then almost 2,500 years ago all the Jews connected to Mordechi with total self-sacrifice for the entire year that the decree of annihilation hung over their heads. And their 'Tshuva' transformed the decree to joy and celebration.
That is the job of our generation; to be totally dedicated to the plan of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, awaken all the Jews in the world and trasform this terrible exile we are in to Joy, blessing and celebration for the entire world!!
We must do all we can to bring...
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