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.
Tisha B'Av (5766)
This Shabbat, the Shabbat before Tisha B'Av, Jews all over the world begin the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy), the last of the Five Books of Moses.
This book has special importance for us because it contains the latest, precise words of G-d spoken on earth.
Unlike the revelations of all other prophets, every word and even letter that came from Moses' holy mouth (namely, the entire Pentateuch) was exactly the word of G-d. And for that reason, a Torah scroll it is disqualified for use if even one of its letters is missing or changed.
But the book of Devarim is even more unique.
The first four books of the Torah are full of reminders that G-d was dictating to Moses what to he should tell the Jewish people; almost every paragraph begins, "G-d spoke to Moses, saying..."
But in this last book of Devarim there are no such reminders; Moses talks on his own and it's up to us to remember that "the Shechina [another name for G-d] is really speaking through his throat."
This is strange. What was the purpose of Moses being G-d's mouthpiece?
Why didn't G-d just write the Torah Himself as He did with the Ten Commandments, or at least dictate it as He did in the previous four books?
To understand this, here is a fresh miracle that occurred just days ago.
Fifteen years ago, Avraham T. had achieved the Israeli ideal. He had as his very own reality what many Israelis only dream about.
He lived in Sweden, was married to a beautiful Swedish girl (gentile, of course), and was as far from Judaism as possible. There was nothing and no one to ever remind him that he was a Jew.
But things don't always go the way we would like them to.
Avi's problem was that he was intelligent, a hard worker who was good at business, and a go-getter with great desire to be rich. But in Sweden, he couldn't make it happen. He simply didn't know anyone and he lacked language fluency.
So his "wife" suggested that they try their luck in Israel. After all, there Avi had friends, connections, and family. Then they could return to Sweden after they made his fortune. He decided to go for it.
A few weeks later they had made the move and Avi was introducing her to his parents and friends and making business plans. But after a few weeks, something began to go wrong.
It wasn't noticeable from the outside but his wife began to feel strangely uncomfortable. At first she thought it was because she was homesick or not used to the climate or the surroundings or the people. But she wasn't like that. In fact, she became fluent in Hebrew and made friends in no time. She really liked Israel and felt very at home. After a few weeks, she figured it out.
She felt unworthy.
She had heard that Israel is a holy land and, although her husband and every one around her in Israel seemed to ignore and deny it, she couldn't help feeling it was true.
And she felt unworthy and even ashamed to be in such a holy place.
It wasn't long before she began asking Avi and his parents questions, and when they couldn't answer, she went to the library. But the books there were so uninspiring (most were written by non-believing Jews) that she turned to searching the newspapers for classes or lectures in Judaism she could attend. Her wanderings brought her to the local Chabad House.
She liked it. It was her style. She could ask what she wanted with no embarrassment and she wasn't intimidated by the answers.
Avi even accompanied her a few times but she left him far behind; while she was asking her deep and difficult questions and trying to analyze the answers, he just went to sleep.
But he didn't like the direction that things were going. He wanted to be married to a gentile! He tried to calm her down, to divert her attention, to suggest that they go for a vacation, or even return to Sweden, to find her a job, to put a stop to it. But nothing worked. She was on fire.
It wasn't long before she was going to the Chabad House almost every night and was more enthusiastic than anyone around her. Until she made the decision.
She had to convert to Judaism.
Poor Avi! His life was turning upside down right before his eyes.
He was beginning to understand why his mother didn't want him to marry a gentile.
He meekly suggested a reform or conservative conversion. But she insisted on the real thing and she wanted him to share her enthusiasm. She studied for another year, dragged him to New York to a well-know Chabad rabbi, and got converted.
He said after the rabbi signed her papers. "Now that that's over, let's just go back to Israel." But it wasn't so simple.
Before they could return they had to....get married! According to the Torah, they had never been married.
It was at this "second" wedding that Avi got the point. Possibly it was due to the few Chabadniks who attended and danced, sang, made a few l'chiam's, and really made him happy (incomparably more so than at his first "discothèque-like" wedding in Sweden). But whatever it was, suddenly he realized that Judaism is full of life, meaning, and joy!
Avi went home a different man and it wasn't long before he decided to be full partners with his wife in raising their children and living according to the Torah. They even moved back to Sweden for a while, far from his non-religious friends and family, and were active in outreach. But he wanted more.
So they moved back once again to Israel to try again to make it big. But, although Avi saw some signs of success, his own family just kept getting bigger and his savings smaller.
His wife gave birth to, thank G-d, their eleventh child (!) and jobs got harder to find. We are talking about just a few months ago. Unemployment is soaring in Israel and, to make life impossible, the government, in order to finance their various "peace" fiascos, drastically cut welfare benefits to large families.
Avi's only consolation was the 27 books of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's Igrot Kodesh consisting of thousands of letters that give advice on almost every personal problem possible.
Every time he or his wife opened one of the books it was to some letter where the Rebbe assured the letter writer that everything would be fine, and suggested that he/she return to where they did outreach.
In other words, go back to Sweden.
But for Avi it was out of the question. Where would he get money for thirteen plane tickets?! All he had to his name were debts. He owed money to almost all the stores in the city of Tsfat where they lived.
And how could the Rebbe say it would be all right when things couldn't get worse.
And they got even worse yet!
A week or so ago a terrorist organization called the Hezbollah, entrenched in Lebanon, began raining missiles down on the entire north of Israel, especially Tsfat.
People were being blown up in the streets (may G-d avenge their blood) and everyone who could, fled. But Avi knew of no person or place that could put up his huge family and he certainly didn't have money for a hotel.
They were forced to spend days in the crowded bomb shelters of Tsfat. His wife and children were going crazy… not to mention himself! How could the Rebbe say it would be all right?
Then, suddenly his wife got wind of a rumor that the various embassies were providing hotel rooms in the middle and south of Israel for their citizens. She had nothing to lose.
She called the Swedish embassy and begged them to move her and her family from the danger zone. They told her that they would consider her request and would reply soon.
A half-hour later her phone rang. Her request had been granted. In four hours several taxis would come pick them up.
"Oh! This is wonderful," she exclaimed. "Can I ask where you are taking us? Where we will be staying?"
"Staying?" the man from the embassy answered. "You will be taken to the airport."
"Airport?" she answered. "What, is there a hotel in the airport?"
"No, no!" he replied. "You, your husband, and children are being taken to Sweden. Of course, we will provide you there with housing as well. And welfare benefits will begin when you arrive there."
The Rebbe's advice came true.
This answers our questions.
The goal of Creation is that it be transformed to reveal G-dliness - just as normal rocks became transformed to holiness when they were used to build the Holy Temple.
But it depends on us. We Jews, by using the Torah properly, have to begin the process by transforming ourselves and even the world around us, like Avi's wife did in our story, to holiness.
That is why the Torah, especially the book of Devarim, was given through Moses and not directly by G-d. Because the goal of the Torah is not just revelation but transformation of all Creation just as Moses achieved; he became a "G-d man" (Deut. 33:1).
That is the connection of this week's section to Tisha B'Av, the date that both Temples were destroyed. The destructions of the Temples, as tragic as they were, were only to make way for the eternal Third and last Temple.
This "Holy House" will be the result of the transformations that Moshiach will bring: there will be no hatred, jealousy, or even competition and the entire world will be transformed to only be interested in serving the eternal Creator.
May we all merit to see the building of the Third Temple and the transformation of the world into a blessed, G-dly place NOW with....
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.