This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Eikev (5766)
This week's Torah portion praises the Land of Israel and concludes (11:12): "A land that G-d examines constantly, the eyes of G-d are on it from the beginning of the year to the end of the year."
Then later (11:21) it continues: if the Jews follow the Torah, then G-d will raise Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob from the dead and give them the Land He promised them (see Rashi there).
At first glance, all this is strange. First, what does it mean that G-d looks at Israel from the beginning of the year to the end? Why doesn't it just say "constantly"?
And why does it say that if we do G-d's commandments, He will give Israel to our resurrected forefathers. Why doesn't He give it to us? And what do the commandments have to do with raising the dead? And what will the dead do with Israel?
To understand this, here are two stories:
Not too many years ago, all Chabad chassidim lived in Russia but they longed to live in Israel -- the only real place for a Jew to live.
Indeed, even the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidut, and later the first Rebbe of Chabad, Rebbe Shneur Zalman, desired to move there (something like Moses in last week's Torah portion) but they weren't able to.
Nevertheless, there is a startling, 200-year-old story about a chassid who entered the room of the third Lubavitcher Rebbe (who is nicknamed the Tzemach Tzedek after his famous book on Jewish law) and begged for permission to travel to the Land of Israel. The Rebbe shook his head and replied: "Make HERE the Land of Israel!"
This seems to make no sense. Everyone knows that the city of Lubavitch is NOT Israel and it never will be! It is in Russia. Israel is a holy land. Its very earth and air are holy and Russia is not.
So how could the Rebbe tell his chassid such an apparently meaningless thing?
This next story might explain.
One of the most outstandingly holy rabbis of all time was the famous Moroccan-born tzadik, Rabbi Yisroel Abuchatsera, of blessed memory, who lived in Israel and passed away some twenty years ago.
He was an outstanding genius in all branches of the Torah but was best known for his miraculously practical use of mystical Judaism.
There are many stories of how his blessings made the blind see, the crippled walk and the barren give birth, not to mention the thousands of Jews whom he influenced to became truly Torah-observant.
Every day hundreds of people in need lined up at his door for advice and blessing and our story is about one of them; Rabbi Shlomo Chazan.
Rabbi Shlomo was a Torah genius with an unusually productive history. When he arrived in Israel from Morocco, he was immediately chosen to be the dean (Rosh Yeshiva) of a well-known Torah institution in Haifa called Yeshiva Od Yosef Chai. In the years he was there, he taught and raised hundreds of pupils that today are spiritual leaders all over the Holy Land.
Then he decided that he could no longer ignore the ignorance and lack true Judaism all around him. The time had come to stop limiting himself to talented students and begin working with all types of Jews. He left his prestigious position and became the rabbi of the simple Israeli town of Shlomi.
It wasn't long before he became respected and beloved by everyone there and began transforming the entire place to a center of Torah and brotherly love.
But then, at the height of his career, tragedy struck.
He began feeling weak with terrible head and stomach aches. At first he thought it was just flu but the pain began to spread through his entire body and only with the greatest difficulty was he able to function.
He went to the doctor who sent him to the hospital for more thorough examination. And the diagnosis was the worst . . . he had a terrible, incurable disease and had only a short time to live; in a matter of months, perhaps weeks his life would all be over.
He tried other doctors, but they all said the same thing; the only thing that could be done was to alleviate the pain so his remaining few weeks would be bearable.
But as every Moroccan Jew knows; tzadikim are more potent than doctors. So with his last energy he asked his son Shlomo to escort him to the great Baba Sali (a Moroccan nickname for Rabbi Abuchatsera) in the city of Netivot to ask for a blessing.
They stood in line and finally their turn came to approach the holy tzadik. Rabbi Chazan told the entire story, making sure to stress the doctors' prognoses and waited for an answer.
The Baba Sali looked at him deeply for several eternal seconds as though searching the Upper Worlds for an answer and finally replied:
"I can add one year to your life. If you want more than that, then fly to the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Brooklyn. He is the leader of this generation. He can certainly pray for you."
Rabbi Chazan was already half-dead. He barely made it to Netivot; a trip to America would be next to impossible. But the sight of the Baba Sali and his suggestion gave him a new lease on life.
He bought two tickets, called the Rebbe's office long distance to arrange a private meeting, and within a few days he and his son were in Brooklyn entering the Rebbe's room for yechidut (a private audience with the Rebbe is called "Yechidut" because it awakens the highest level of the Jewish soul called Yechida").
Rabbi Chazan's son tells the rest:
"When we entered the Rebbe's room, I was overwhelmed in a way that I had never felt in my life. The Rebbe looked like an angel and his eyes were so penetrating that I was afraid to look into them. I was almost shaking but at the same time, I felt strangely at home. He listened closely to what my father said, then took a small stack of dollar bills, began handing them to my father one after another until he had given him seven, and concluded with "Blessings and Success!" Then, as we were about to leave, he counted out seven additional dollars into my hand and we left.
"Almost as soon as we were out of the Rebbe's room I could see a change in my father. He was happy, filled with life. At first I thought it was psychological but it wasn't just that.
"By the time we returned to Israel, my father was like a new man; he was filled with energy and there was color in his cheeks. The first thing we did was go to the Baba Sali and tell him what happened and then, after a few days, back to the doctors.
"The doctors simply couldn't believe what they saw; the disease had completely disappeared! I remember them looking at the old reports and the new ones and scratching their heads in confusion. But my father just went home, reported all this back to the Rebbe, and went to work.
He understood he was living on a miracle and made use of every second. He wrote several books, built a new, large Mikva for the people of Shlomi, and was even offered the position of being the chief rabbi of the third largest city in Israel, Haifa, which he considered taking.
But HaShem decided differently; precisely seven years to the day (!) that he received those dollars from the Rebbe's hand, he suddenly felt weak, was forced to lie down in bed, and a few hours later passed away. It was a total shock to his family and to the people of Shlomi but no one had any doubt where those seven years came from.
This answers our questions.
The Land of Israel is special; it is the Holy Land, the eternal land. It is not just part of the Creation but part of the Creator Himself. It is the foundation point from which the world was created, from which man was made, where the holy Temple will be built, and where even the dead will rise (see Rashi on Gen. 47:29).
Even today, we face Israel when we pray because Israel is the source of holiness and life for the entire world.
But as holy and alive as the Land of Israel is, the Jews are even more so.
That is why Moses broke the tablets and was willing to risk the entire Torah with everything in it, including the Holy Land, just to save the Jews. And idolatrous ones at that!
That is how the tzadikim in our stories could promise life and defeat death, because death is foreign to Judaism.
Adam, the first man, was created to live forever (had he not sinned) and the Jews would have lived forever after the Revelation at Mount Sinai had they not committed idolatry -- all because they were connected to the Creator, and the Creator is pure life.
Similarly, Rabbi Abuchatsera and the Rebbe.
And so it is with every Jew potentially.
But every year, when they sound the shofar at Rosh HaShana it is revealed, a new revelation of infinite life is drawn to the world, beginning with the Land of Israel (see Tanya, pg. 239).
That is why the Torah says G-d's eyes are on the Land of Israel from the beginning of the year to the end; it is referring to this new flow of life begun each Rosh HaShana.
And why will the Patriarchs be revived in Israel? Because as the ultimate Jews they will link and reveal the holiness of the people of Israel to the Land of Israel.
But this will only happen through our efforts to transform the entire world into holiness NOW -- that is, to make Israel everywhere and prepare the world for Moshiach.
Because ONLY Moshiach will bring the Jews to Israel when the Great Shofar will be sounded by HaShem Himself.
We just have to do all we can in thought, speech, and action to bring . . .
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