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Parshat Va'etchanan (5766)

This week's Torah portion contains twelve commandments, among them: 1) Not to desire the possessions of others; 2) To unify G-d and know He is One; 3) To love G-d; 4) To learn and teach Torah; 5) To say the " Shema Yisroel" prayer twice daily; 6) To put tefillin on the arm and 7) on the head; and 8) To affix mezuzot on all of one's doors.

At first glance, all these commandments are understandable . . . except the one about loving G-d.

How is it possible to command us to love anything? For instance, if a person doesn't like peanut butter or classical music, then all the commands in the world won't make it click for him. He can pretend to love . . . like a movie actor or a con-artist does . . . but not really love.

Especially when the command is to love an intangible, infinite G-d!

To understand this question more deeply, here is a story about Rabbi Hillel of Paritch [who passed away on the Hebrew date of this Shabbat; 11 th of Menachem Av, 142 years ago] as brought down in the book Shmu'ot V'sipurim by Rabbi R. N. HaCohen, vol. 3, page 233.

Rabbi Hillel of Paritch was a great Torah scholar as well as a holy tzadik (perfectly righteous Jew). When he was thirteen years old, he knew the entire Talmud by heart and by fifteen, he had memorized all the books of Jewish mysticism.

Then he saw a copy of the Tanya (the sourcebook of Chabad Chassidut) and after he studied a few chapters, he looked up and declared in Yiddish, " Oiyse Tzadik!" -- "Looks like I'm not so perfect!" And he became a devoted follower of the Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbes.

Under the third and fourth (in a line of seven) Rebbes, he often was sent to far-away cities and villages to strengthen Judaism and collect money (for Torah learning, feeding the poor, and redeeming Jewish prisoners).

This second task, collecting money, was much more difficult than the first. First of all, Rav Hillel was a very spiritual person; he understood souls, not rubles. Second, huge sums of money were always desperately needed. And finally, usually only anti-Semitic nobility or alienated Jews had money to give.

But sometimes fortune smiled.

For instance, Rav Hillel heard of a wealthy manager of a huge farming estate for a local poritz (land baron) who happened to be Jewish.

A meeting was arranged and Rav Hillel was instructed that if this manager was approached properly and treated with the proper respect, it could really pay off. He asked the Rebbe, got permission, and packed his bag.

When he arrived he was greeted by the Jews living there (Rav Hillel was very well known even by the simple people) and was invited by one of the Jewish serfs to stay in his house.

There Rav Hillel got a complete rundown on this manager. True, he was a Jew but he was also arrogant and haughty to a degree that bordered on cruelty.

At the slightest whim he would fly into a fits of anger, threatening everyone who happened to be around. As a result, everyone was petrified of him and rumor had it that in the past he had actually carried out some of his worst threats.

But he also liked to pride himself with being a good Jew, and he loved to gain the praise of the rabbis.

Whenever some rabbi collecting money happened to pass through the estate, the manager would go out of his way to spout words of Torah and end with a nice donation to the rabbi's cause.

This is where Rav Hillel came in.

As is so happened, the Jewish community located on the estate was in dire need of money, and the leaders of the community knew that if all that was needed to get this arrogant estate manager to donate a few rubles was a genuine holy Rabbi, then Rav Hillel was the best.

The manager was informed that the great Rav Hillel had arrived and he replied that he would visit him after dinner in the serf's house where Rav Hillel was staying.

The word got around about the meeting and tension was in the air. Everyone speculated on how much Rav Hillel would get. Some said fifty rubles, others one hundred (a veritable fortune) and yet another exclaimed, "You don't know Rav Hillel! Believe me, he can get that evil rat to give two hundred rubles! I'm sure of it! You'll see!"

The manager arrived in a carriage pulled by several horses and one of his servants jumped off the wagon, ran into the house and announced, "The manager of the estate is here to see the honorable rabbi!"

Rav Hillel was seated at a table just finishing a page of the Talmud when the beaming manager entered expecting a warm, formal welcome befitting a man of his stature.

But Rav Hillel just looked up briefly and then returned to his learning as if he couldn't care less; as though a cat just entered

His hosts, the serf and his wife, almost choked from surprise; their eyes and mouths opened so wide that it looked like they were about to faint.

The manager wanted to fly into a rage but didn't want the holy rabbi to know what kind of person he really was. So he just tried to smile, stand straight, keep his chest out, and not lose his honor. But it was clear that he was being made a fool of.

He looked alternately at Rav Hillel and then to his right and left in desperation for something to keep him from getting angry. He cleared his throat as loudly as possible.

This rabbi just ignored him. NO ONE . . . EVER ignored him! Inside he was fuming. He had come to make a good impression. But now!

Rav Hillel looked up again and mumbled something like "So you're the manager, eh?"

The manager couldn't take it. He turned to the serf and his wife, red with anger, and began to yell. "This is what you invited me here for?! I'll burn down this filthy hut! I'll throw you all in the dungeon! You'll regret the day you ever saw me! THE WHOLE BUNCH OF YOU!"

And with this he stormed out of the house, slamming the door so hard behind him that the straw roof almost fell in.

About a half-hour later, when everyone in the house had calmed down a bit, Rav Hillel called his still-bewildered host aside and told him that he had a mission for him.

He should go to the manager's mansion and tell him that Rabbi Hillel of Paritch said that the only way he will leave is if you give him one thousand rubles for charity.

"But . . . but . . . b-b-b-b-but I don't dare!" his host stammered in reply. "Didn't you see how angry he was? Why, he'll kill me! He said he would burn my house!"

"No, there's no need to worry. He won't do anything. You'll see," Rav Hillel answered calmly. "Just think positively and do as I say. If he asks, you can tell him that I forced you. But he won't get mad. I assure you. Remember, one thousand rubles!"

So the poor fellow made his way to the manager's mansion wondering if this would be his last day on earth and hoping that the manager wouldn't let him in. But when he arrived at the mansion, he found the door a bit ajar and heard a voice coming from inside. He knocked, the door opened a bit wider but no one answered . . . although the talking was louder.

So he apprehensively pushed the door open and entered the house. "Hello?" he almost whispered. "Anyone ho…" But he was cut short by the sight of the manager in the next room pacing, from one wall to the other like a man possessed, talking aloud to himself.

"Why, he didn't pay attention to me at all! Not at all! Why I could crush him! Who knows what I could have done to him! No one can do that to me! No one! But he looked right through me! He didn't even see me!

" That is a tzadik!"

When the manager calmed down a bit from his monologue, he noticed the serf standing there and asked what he wanted. The poor fellow cleared his throat a few times and tried to get the message across.

"Eh . . . Er . . . Rabbi Hillel sent me. He sent me here and he said I should tell you . . . that is . . . you should give him one . . . thou . . . er . . . one thousand rubles."

As soon as the manager understood what he was saying, he told him to wait. He went to the next room and returned with the money without saying a word.

A year later, when Rav Hillel returned to the same place, the manager had transformed into a different person. He was kind, refined, punctilious to set times for learning Torah, and generous to give charity with an even wider hand. Rav Hillel had opened the estate manager's heart.

This answers our question. The reason it is possible to command us to love G-d is because G-d is good. In fact, He creates and is the source of all good. In other words, if we love, for instance, money, fame, power, or other pleasures because they are real, how much more so should we love the Creator who brings these things constantly into existence and is INFINITELY more real!

The only difficulty is feeling this - that is, feeling the goodness of the Creator.

That is where the tzadikim come in. Tzadikim are Jews who DO feel the oneness of G-d and, even more, can inspire and even teach others to do so as well - something like the effect that Rav Hillel had on the manager or that the Tanya had earlier on Rav Hillel.

This is the purpose of the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, especially as they are explained in Chabad Chassidut: to open our minds and hearts to FEEL the love the Creator and to serve and love Him in return.

That is why the teachings of Chabad are called Torat HaMoshiach - the Torah of Moshiach.

Moshiach will bring everyone in the world, even the gentiles, to this desire to feel the oneness of G-d. And we can reveal him even one moment earlier.

It's up to us to desire, try, to do good deeds and learn more Torah (especially the writings and directives of the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, who some say is Moshiach). And soon we will all be dancing with . . .

Moshiach NOW!

Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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