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Shavuot (5766 (2))

This coming Friday will be the holiday of Shavuot and the day after, on Shabbat (In Israel), we read the second Torah portion of the book of Numbers, Naso. (Outside of Israel, where there are two days of Shavuot, Naso is read next Shabbat.)

Among the commandments found in this week's section is the commandment to repent for one's sins. (Or in Jewish terms, to do t'shuva--to return).

According to Judaism, G-d forgives anyone who genuinely repents but genuine repentance must have these three details:

1) heartfelt regret for the past

2) resolution to improve the future

3) verbal declaration of both 1 and 2 to G-d.

Similarly, when the Torah was given 3,318 years ago, the Jews both "returned" to G-d AND verbally declared "Na'aseh V'nishma"--"We resolve to do what ever G-d commands."

But at first glance this is not understood. Why did they have to say this and, similarly, why do we have to verbally repent?

Isn't a change of heart sufficient? How can speaking "encourage" G-d to give the Torah or to forgive us? Surely He knows if we are genuine in our hearts whether we speak or not!

To understand this, here is a story:

Some one hundred and fifty years ago in Russia, in one of the forests near the town of Polotzk, worked a Chabad Chassid whom we will call Reb Shlomo.

Reb Shlomo was an accomplished Talmudic scholar but he was also a businessman. He bought sections of forests, brought workers to chop them down, and then sold the logs to lumberyards for a large profit. It was hard work being an overseer. The trees had to be felled properly, taken to the nearby river, and tied and readied for the coming thaw when they would be directed to the lumberyards far away.

It meant being away from home for a few months till the work was done.

But just before sunset he returned every day to the city of Polotzk. There he had rented modest lodgings and spent most of every evening learning Talmud into the night in one of the local synagogues with some twenty other Jews who all learned in pairs.

Reb Shlomo, being a newcomer, didn't have a partner but it didn't bother him. He was an accomplished scholar and was well able to learn alone.

But there was also another scholar in the synagogue who also learned alone.

We will call him Reb Zundel. He was an impressive-looking Jew--tall and stately with a long white beard and was known as the town genius. He must have been in his sixties and was thoroughly familiar with all the texts. In fact, his understanding was on such a different level from the others that he couldn't find a learning partner.

But as serious as he was, he was a good-hearted man and was always available to help others in their learning if they had questions.

So it was inevitable that when he saw Shomo sitting alone he concluded that possibly he needed help and he approached him.

But when he discovered, to his pleasant surprise, that Shlomo was in fact very capable in the complicated labyrinths of the Talmud, he suggested that they learn together.

The partnership worked well. Shlomo added a new life and enjoyment to the learning while Reb Zundel contributed deep scholarly insights.

But when the Talmud got around to anything dealing with G-d, as it occasionally did, something happened: Reb Zundel would always fall strangely silent while Reb Shlomo would do all the talking.

At first Reb Shlomo didn't think much of it but as the nights rolled by, it became noticeable. Nevertheless, Shlomo acted as though he didn't notice the change.

Until late one night when the topic again came up and Reb Zundel really began to act strangely. He started mumbling and moaning and moving his head as though he wanted to say something but couldn't.

"What is it?" Shlomo asked. "Is everything okay? Are you feeling all right?"

Reb Zundel was strangely pale and sad and was looking silently at the floor.

Suddenly, he looked up and said, "I have doubts about G-d." His eyes filled with tears and he continued in an almost pleading tone.

"I have been reading books of philosophy and, to tell you the truth, I have questions that I can't answer.... Many terrible questions about G-d - I mean, How can we really be sure that He exists? Maybe, G-d forbid, it's our imagination. Or maybe He isn't infinite? I mean....if He exists and is infinite then what does He care what we do? How can it be that He was before the world? What did he make the world from? And more, many more. Sometimes I feel I'm going crazy from these doubts! Can you help?"

Reb Shlomo told him that the teachings of Chassidut deal with these things and said he would do his best.

From that evening on, after everyone else was gone, Reb Zundel would ask one of his questions and they would discuss it.

Finally Reb Zundel felt he found some solace in his confusion. Although each answer brought more questions, he finally had someone that he felt understood him and he could talk to.

But then the spring aproached, the river thawed, the logs were floated to their destination, and it was time for Shlomo to return home for Passover.

"But what will I do now?!" Reb Zundel asked. "Since you came I feel I finally have someone to confide in, besides the fact that you were a friend in learning Talmud. What will I do when you are gone? I'm already an old man. I can't leave here and follow you." And he wept.

"My suggestion to you," replied Shlomo, "is that you travel to the city of Lubavitch to speak to my Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, the third Rebbe of Chabad. He will answer all your questions."

Reb Zundel had heard of this Rebbe and his chassidim but he had never been even the least interested. Although he definitely wasn't a mitnaged (those who opposed the chassidim, suspecting them of heresy), he simply was totally devoted to the Talmud.

But Reb Shlomo had no choice. They parted and Reb Shlomo promised to write.

That should have been the end of it but it wasn't.

Some two months after Passover, Reb Shlomo got permission from his wife to visit the Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, in Lubavitch for the holiday of Shavuot.

It was a journey of several days but it passed like moments and before he knew it he was walking the streets of Lubavitch again, saying hello to other chassidim he hadn't seen for years.

Suddenly someone came from behind him, put his hands over his eyes, and said, "Guess who?"

Shlomo turned around to see none other than the serious, stately Reb Zundel with open arms and a genuine smile on his face.

They embraced and Reb Zundel told his story.

"The Rebbe answered all my questions. For the first time in years I have no doubts or confusion. And he did it in just seconds!"

"What happened? What did the Rebbe say?" asked Shlomo.

"Well, after you left I thought about it and decided to take your advice.

After Pesach I left Polotzk and arrived here in Lubavitch. It took a few days of waiting but finally I was given an appointment to be alone with the Rebbe . . . you, that is . . . we . . . call it yechidut, right?

"I went into the Rebbe and told him that I have a lot of questions about G-d that make me confused and sad. The Rebbe looked at me and asked if I knew who Abaye and Rava were. What a question! If anyone else asked me I would have considered him to be an ignoramus, everyone who ever opened a Talmud knows who they are. But something about the Rebbe overwhelmed me.

"I told him that Abaye and Rava were two of the greatest, wisest, and holiest Jews in history and their names are mentioned hundreds of times in the Talmud.

"The Rebbe looked deep into my soul and said, 'So if they didn't have any doubts, then why do you?'"

"Suddenly all my questions fell away as though a big veil had been lifted from my heart and . . . well . . . I feel like a totally new man! Since then I have been learning Chassidut day and night!"

This answers our questions.

The main message of Shavuot is "return" and "renewal."

When G-d gave the Torah, He, so to speak, changed His nature and became accessible to the world . . . but it was on the condition that the Jews also change their nature and become accessible to Him and His Torah.

This is the same message as tshuva--"return"--because it really means returning to our origin and totally renewing our being.

Like Reb Zundel in our story. The Rebbe dissolved all his questions by simply returning him to the source of the Torah. Suddenly he was renewed and even young again.

But the power to do this--to be totally renewed--comes from the fact that the Torah favors the PHYSICAL over the spiritual.

That's why G-d gave the Torah and its commandments in this physical world because, paradoxically, only the physical, if used properly, has the power to evoke the highest levels of G-dliness.

And that is why the Jews had to verbally accept the Torah then and we today must verbally repent today. Because speech, being more physical than just emotion or thought, draws G-dly blessings and power of renewal and return that thought and even emotion cannot reach!

The ultimate revelation of this will be through Moshiach.

And the Zohar says that the Moshiach, by revealing new meaning and blessing in the Torah, the commandments, and every aspect of Creation will "return"

even the Tzadikim (the most holy and spiritual Jews) to a higher level (something like the Rebbe did to Reb Zundel).

And bringing Moshiach also depends on our verbal declarations.

May this Shavuot bring new blessings of renewal and return and the biggest blessing of all, the revelation of . . .

Moshiach NOW!!

Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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