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.
Parshat Behaalotecha (5766)
This week's section features the embarrassing and detailed story of how the Jews complained about the Manna in the desert.
After G-d took them from Egypt, split the sea for them, decimated their enemies, gave them water from a rock and bread from Heaven, and even protected them with clouds guarding them in all directions . . . all they could do was complain.
The Torah tells us (Rashi 11:1) that they really had no concrete grounds for their discontent . . . they just were looking for trouble and happened to pick the Manna to complain about.
How did it happen? Why couldn't they be happy? Why does the Torah have to tell us this and what is the solution?
Here is a story (Bais Moshiach magazine, Issue #509) that may help us understand:
Little Boaz (fictitious name) came home almost in tears from his school in Kfar Vradim, a small, pastoral, leftist, "elite" village in the northwestern portion of Israel. In true Israeli tradition, Kfar Vradim was founded on the doctrines of "open thinking" and Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality. They established an "open, progressive school" there which attempted to eliminate divisions of race, age, aptitude, beliefs, and any formality between pupils and teachers. This is where seven-year-old Boaz learned.
He handed his mother an envelope. She opened it and found a letter from Boaz's teacher together with a crumpled picture of a rabbi.
"Dear Mr. and Mrs. C. This morning there were a few of these cards in our school. Someone must have put them here last night. Your son Boaz got so very angry when he saw them that he crumpled two of them up and threw them into the trash can.
"I asked him why and he said because he hates rabbis. So I suggested that he should do some research and write a paper on this rabbi in order to be more open-minded in the future and not to judge without knowing the facts. I hope you agree and would appreciate your feedback."
His mother looked at the crumpled picture. Under it was written "The Lubavitcher Rebbe" and on the other side was listed "Commandments to Bring Moshiach: Put on Tefillin every weekday. Learn Torah. Give Charity." and more.
At first Boaz's parents, being intellectuals and very far from religion, just wanted to say no. After all, those pictures had no place in their open school. Their little Boaz was right! But something about the rabbi in that picture aroused their curiosity.
"What do you think?" his mother asked his father. They talked it over and finally decided to write the paper; maybe it would be fun!
But it wasn't as easy as they thought. First of all, the encyclopedia in their house had nothing written on "Lubavitch," "Rebbe," or "Moshiach" and almost nothing on "commandments." And the local library didn't have much more except for stories by non-religious authors. So they decided to ask friends.
After several phone calls they discovered that this Lubavitch Rebbe was also called the Rebbe of Chabad, had what were called "Chabad Houses" all over Israel, and there was one not far from them.
Little Boaz really was beginning to regret that he got himself and his parents into this mess but it was too late now.
The next day they picked him up after school and drove to the Chabad House. They felt a bit uneasy going into a "religious" institution but, after all, it was all in the name of free-thinking.
There they were in for a few surprises! First of all, the rabbi was young and friendly and even seemed to be happy--exactly the opposite of what they supposed Judaism to be. Then they discovered that this Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote almost one hundred books answering myriads of questions and explaining his plan for the world.
Plan for the world?
They had always just figured that Judaism was dull, superficial, exclusive, and afraid of the world. They couldn't figure out what was happening, and if it wouldn't have been for the rabbi's beard and hat, they would have thought they were in the wrong place.
They talked to the rabbi for a while, borrowed as many books and pamphlets as they could, and returned home to do the paper.
They tried to be objective in order to write a proper essay but each explanation they read made them realize they had no idea what Judaism, especially Chassidic Judaism, was all about.
They found it very difficult to be not affected by what they were reading.
Especially when they got to the part about the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov--the father of Chassidic thought--and his definitions of G-d, the Torah, and the Jews.
He taught that G-d is constantly creating, enlivening, and providing everything . . . that Torah is G-d's inner wisdom and will . . . and that the Jews are "part" of G-d Himself.
This, and the Baal Shem's use of Jewish mysticism and emphasis on joy, had them completely baffled. But after all, it was only an academic exercise. They finished the paper, Boaz handed it in to his teacher, and their life returned to normal.
Something kept nagging Boaz's father. He couldn't get the ideas, especially the ones about the Jews and the Torah, out of his mind.
On one hand they felt very foreign and distant but at the same time they made sense. He brought it up with his wife and she revealed that she felt the exact opposite; she found the ideas strangely familiar but at the same time intellectually abhorrent.
It continued this way on a low flame for several months until one day Mrs. C. noticed an advertisement in a local paper for a three-day seminar in Jewish mysticism at a place called Ascent in Tzfat.
"Hey! Everyone is getting interested in mysticism," she said to herself. "So why not us?"
They enrolled and after the first day everything became clear. Judaism has a soul!
The teachings of Chassidut suddenly became very relevant and alive and Mr. and Mrs. C's minds began racing as never before.
Jewish heritage, the Torah, the forefathers, the commandments--such wonderful ideas! But they still remained unexplainably foreign to Mr. C.
On the last day of the seminar he found out why: Mr. C. wasn't really Jewish! His father had been Jewish but not his mother.
Nine months later Mr. C. reappeared at Ascent with his wife but it was almost impossible to recognize them. He had taken a nine-month leave from work, converted to Judaism, and now sported a beard, hat, and tzitzit. His wife looked like someone that had been religious all her life.
All because of a picture.
This answers our question. The reason the Jews complained in the desert is because they refused to get excited about the goals that Moses had set (which were the goals that G-d told him to set): To be holy and make the world holy.
And without clear and valid goals they simply became selfish and divisive.
Similarly, the Zohar teaches us that every generation must have its Moses--a true leader and goal-setter.
Just as Moses had to continually remind and inspire his generation to be devoted to the Creator and improve His Creation, so too in our generation does the Lubavitcher Rebbe remind us that our job is to finalize the process and bring Moshiach.
That is what Boaz's parents realized. But before they saw it, they--like the generation of the desert--were full of complaints and even hatred.
This is the message for our generation. The Lubavitcher Rebbe has a clear plan to bring Moshiach: do more commandments; learn more Torah, especially regarding Moshiach; and go into the street if necessary to encourage others to do the same. Or, in the language of the Rebbe: " . . .that every moment and every fiber of our lives must be to bring the arrival of Moshiach."
Then the entire world will make the transformation that Boaz's parents made and we will all dance and rejoice with . . .
Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.