This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Tzav (5766)
This week's section continues the laws of the animal sacrifices adding, among other things, the details of the Korbon Toda - the Thanksgiving Offering.
This special offering was not brought anytime but rather only on the four occasions enumerated in Psalm 107: after getting out of prison, crossing a sea, crossing a desert or recovering from a serious disease.
This is very appropriate to the holiday of Passover (which we celebrate this coming week) when we give thanks to HaShem for exactly these four miracles. He took us out of Egyptian imprisonment, across the 'Red' sea, through the desert and to the revelation at Mount Sinai where all diseases were cured.
But at first glance this is not understood. Why does G-d make difficulties in the first place? Why does He need us to give thanks? Wouldn't it be better if we never entered Egypt and didn't need the miracles in the first place?
This question has even deeper implications. Giving thanks is the essence of Jewish identity: the word Yehudi (Jew) is derived from the word Hodaa which means to give thanks (See Gen. 29:35). So if there are no troubles to get saved from, what would be the purpose of the Jewish people?
To answer this here is a story found in Sefer Maasiot of Rabinu Nisim G'oan (brought in Maasai Hagedolim).
Elijah the prophet is probably the most interesting and mysterious figure in Judaism.
He lived in the beginning of the first Temple over 2,500 years ago and is still alive to this very day!
The second book of kings (2:11) tells us that Elijah actually ascended bodily to heaven in a chariot of fire and never died. In fact the Talmud is filled with stories of him appearing to deserving tzadikim (often in the guise of a beggar or even a gentile). Similarly he appeared to other holy Jews long after the Talmud was written and he is actually present every time a Jewish child is circumcised.
Here is one of the most outstanding stories of them all.
One of the Rabbis that Elijah frequently visited was the 'Amora' Yehoshua Ben Levi (who lived almost a thousand years later). The Talmud tells us that Elijah taught him secrets, arranged him a visit alive into heaven and even got him an audience with Moshiach.
The story goes that once Rabbi Yhoshua ben Levi had not seen Elijah for a long time. He so longed for another visit that he fasted and prayed until finally Elijah revealed himself and even promised to grant him a request.
Rabbi Yhoshua, always interested to learn more about serving the Creator and knowing that there was no one better to teach him than Elijah, requested that he be allowed to accompany Elijah for one day in his travels. "This will be of great help to me as I will learn untold wisdom from such an experience."
But Elijah replied, "Sorry, I must refuse you this. You will see things that your mind will not be able to bear, and it will only slow me down when you ask for explanations."
But Rabbi Yhoshua promised that he would not ask or even be surprised by anything he saw. He gave his word that he would cooly look on like a neutral observer.
And to his unbounded joy Elijah agreed. But if he asked even one question he would have to return home.
They set off together walking on the road until they came to a dilapidated hut surrounded by a rickety fence, with one skinny cow in the back yard. Elijah approached the door, knocked and an old Jew opened up and invited them in.
"Guests! Guests!" the old fellow yelled out. His wife came out from the other room with a loaf of bread in her hand, smiling and bidding them both to wash for bread while she heated some water for tea.
While they were eating the old couple brought out two straw mattresses, arranged a comfortable place for them to sleep and bade them good night. "That was wonderful!" Elijah said to Rabbi Yhoshua. Such kind people! I'll have to reward them!"
Early the next morning when the couple was still sound asleep Elijah woke Rabbi Yhoshua, took him quietly out of the house to the yard where the cow stood and prayed to G-d with all his might, "Please G-d, may it be your will that this cow....drop dead!"
And so it was! The cow fell over and breathed its last breath.
"What?!" Exclaimed Rabbi Yhoshua shaken to the essence of his being. "What did you do that for?! Why, this is their only possession! They were so nice to us!" But Elijah warned him sternly, "Remember the agreement! Be silent and watch! One more question and we part our ways! "
They walked the entire day until they saw a large mansion in the distance. As night began to fall they arrived there and knocked on the door. A rich man opened up flanked by a few servants, took one look at the visitors, mumbled something to one of his men and walked away.
The servants showed Elijah and friend to a bleak corner of the house and left them there with no mattress, food or even water the entire night.
Early the next morning Elijah woke Rabbi Yhoshua and told him they were leaving. But on the way out he pointed to a wall that had fallen and needed fixing, prayed to HaShem that the wall be miraculously fixed and before their eyes bricks began jumping one on the other plaster began flying and in no time the wall stood on its own completely plastered and finished.
Rabbi Yhoshua almost yelled out again, but held himself back this time and remained mum.
Again the walked the entire day down dusty forest roads, through towns and fields past farms and factories. Elijah explained wondrous secrets of the Torah while Rabbi Yhoshua kept silent and listened.
Near nightfall they found themselves in a town and turned to the nearest synagogue. It was a truly magnificent edifice made of marble and decorated with fine engravings and tapestries. But the Jews praying there were strangely cold and indifferent. No one even approached the guests to say hello and surely not to arrange lodging. Elijah and Rabbi Yhoshua were forced to sleep, or rather sit, on the cold marble benches the entire night.
Early the next morning when most of the townsmen arrived at the synagogue for prayer Elijah took Rabbi Yhoshua by the hand to leave and at the door turned around to the congregation and announced: "May G-d bless you all and make you all into great leaders!" Rabbi Yhoshua was having difficulty keeping quiet.
Again, just as the previous days, they walked until sunset and found themselves in yet another town. But here the reception was different. As soon as one of the inhabitants saw them he approached them and begged them to come to the synagogue for the evening prayer.
They agreed and after the prayer everyone there surrounded them and actually vied for the honor of having them as guests. But when Elijah insisted that the would rather sleep in the synagogue the sexton of the synagogue brought mattresses, blankets and food for them and made sure they were comfortable before they went to sleep.
Early the next morning Elijah took Rabbi Yhoshua out of the synagogue, lifted his hands beseechingly to heaven and prayed, "Creator of the universe! May it be your will that only one person in this town be a leader."
When Rabbi Yhoshua heard these words he felt as though he was going mad - exactly as Elijah had said!
Why, he thought that Elijah helped Jews and now with his own eyes he saw him praying that the righteous be punished and the wicked get rewarded….. and G-d even ANSWERED his prayers!!
"Enough!! Enough!" Rabbi Yhoshua exclaimed. You were right! I can't take it! Why did you kill that poor couple's cow and fix that evil man's wall? And blessing the cruel community while cursing the kind one! Why? Why!? Where is the justice? The mercy?"
Elijah listened calmly and replied. "You ask excellent questions. Now I will tell you the answer and explain the deeper meaning in everything you saw.
"The old couple; I killed their only cow because I saw that in just hours the old Jew's wife would suddenly pass away. I prayed to G-d that He transfer that tragedy for another one; that the cow should die instead of her. Believe me she will do much good in the world.
"I fixed the rich man's wall because if he would have begun work to rebuild that wall he would have uncovered a treasure chest buried in its foundation. That's right, he would have been rich beyond imagination. Now the fool will rejoice in this cheap miracle and will never even guess what riches are hidden under his very nose. Not only that but soon the wall will fall again and will never be rebuilt.
"Regarding the two cities; "There can be no bigger curse than many leaders. On this is the saying 'Too many captains will sink the ship.' Why, when everyone is a leader and no one is willing to be a follower there will be no peace, only constant bickering and discord. That is the 'Blessing' I gave to the first city.
"But on the other hand if there is only one leader and everyone is willing to follow to him there will be peace and progress as the saying goes 'One head can found a city.' That was the blessing I gave to the second congregation.
"But now that you have asked we must part our ways. Just remember from now on, whenever you see what seems to be the righteous suffering or the wicked prospering do not ever doubt the judgment of the Creator.
Now you have learned and seen that things are not as they seem to be… in fact they may be exactly the opposite: what seems to be a curse is really a blessing and so the opposite."
With this Elijah blessed Rabbi Yhoshua and they each went their own ways.
This answers our questions.
G-d wants us to give thanks in order to change our human nature and prepare for Moshiach by seeing only the good (and G- dly) side of everything. Because that is how things will be when Moshiach is revealed.
Human nature is to say; 'Why thank G-d?
After all, if He exists, then it was He who made the problems in the first place! And if we get saved or healed... who said it was He that saved me? Maybe it was human skill… or luck?
And if He doesn't exist….then there CERTAINLY is no one to thank…. Except myself!'
We saw this 'natural' line of thought prevail in Israel so tragically after the Six Day War denying G-d's hand in the victory. It was the same mistake that destroyed the first and second Temples and made the Jews want to return to Egypt (to this very day) after G-d took them out.
But the truth is (as Rabbi Yhoshua ben Levi learned in our story) that we must always search for the hidden good and the G-dliness in everything, because that is the truth.
There is nothing but G-d (He is One) and He is pure good.
In fact, this will be THE main feature of the Moshiach....and the future redemption he will bring (that we pray for tens of times each day); namely, the world will be filled with G-dliness and all mankind will recognize it.
As the Lubavitcher Rebbe once wrote, that before he was three years old he already had woven in his mind how the Moshiach will make sense of all the incomprehensible suffering and pain of this 2,000 year, mind-boggling exile and transform it to incomprehensible good.
And the preparation for this is our giving thanks.
This is the essence of the Jewish soul, the purpose of the Jewish people and the main theme of the Passover night. To thank G-d for what He has done and what He WILL do.
May our praise and thanks hasten the prophesy of Micha (7:15) "As the days of the exodus from Egypt I will show you (even greater) miracles".
And may we all dance together and offer real Thanksgiving Offerings in Jerusalem in the Third Temple with the revelation of Elijah the prophet announcing....
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