This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Vayeira (5767)
This week's Torah portion opens three days after Abraham circumcised himself at the age of 99 and G-d Himself appears (VaYeira) to him to comfort him.
But strangely, instead of being frozen in awe by this G-dly apparition, when he saw three guests approaching his tent Abraham actually 'left G-d' (also ignoring the pain and discomfort of being a 99 year old freshly circumcised man) and ran to meet them!!
Although the Rabbis learn from this that it is more worthy to take in guests than to greet the presence of G-d it's really not so clear what happened here!
If we give it a bit of thought it seems that Abraham made a BIG mistake! These 'guests' weren't really humans but angels posing as men! In fact, they needed no food, lodging or any form of hospitality!
So it comes out that Abraham had no actual reason to leave G-d! The angels weren't real guests! But it can't be that Abraham was, G-d forbid, wrong. If so, how can this be explained.
Here is a story that might help us understand. (Kfar Chabad Magazine #1017 pg 45 and Torahs Menachem 3 pg 210)
The days when the Czar ruled in Russia were unbearable for the Jews. It was almost impossible to believe anything could be worse. Anti-Semitism and evil decrees were constant and every few years, wholesale Jewish massacres called 'pogroms' suddenly popped up like poison mushrooms sowing death and destruction in the Jewish communities.
But in this atmosphere of constant oppression and suffering, Judaism miraculously survived and even flourished! As the Torah says: "The more the Jews are oppressed the more they are fruitful....." (Ex. 1:12).
One of the biggest enemies of the Jews, and of mankind in general, was the Czar's Minister of the Interior, an evil, sadistic despot by the name of Stolypin. He was always making new oppressive rules and laws to scare the people, secure his own power and, whenever possible, torture the Jews.
One awful day the leading Rabbis of Russia were notified that, under the direction of Stolypin, the government was passing a new law requiring all Rabbis to pass a series of exams in secular subjects and any Rabbi failing to meet the requirements would not be allowed to lead a congregation.
The idea, harmless as it might seem, would spell destruction for Russian Jewry. The goal was to weaken and 'normalize' Judaism by installing 'new' rabbis who cared nothing for 'G-d or Torah' thus lowering the resistance of the next generation to, G-d forbid, conversion.
The great Rabbis of Russia decided to meet in Petersburg to decide what to do. Hundreds of devout geniuses were present with one purpose, how to assure the decree would fail. But the cunning and ruthless Stolypin was totally ready. He expected the Rabbis to resist and on the second day of the convention a messenger of the government pompously entered the hall, took the podium, called for attention and announced to the hushed crowd of Rabbis.
"The Minister of the Interior wishes to inform you in the name of His Majesty the Czar that he fervently hopes that the Rabbis are willing to support and join His Majesty the Czar in his new program. But if not… then His Majesty the Czar will find it difficult to protect the Jews against those who threaten them and it could certainly be that one hundred and one cities will suffer pogroms at the hands of vicious Anti-Semitic mobs."
All the Rabbis became pale with fear and a deathly silence fell on the crowd. These were no empty words. Just a few years earlier they actually came true; thousands of bloodthirsty Russian peasants suddenly swept through Jewish areas destroying Jewish shops, homes and property sadistically killing and maiming thousands of Jews as they went.
It was clear that resistance to the decree would be pointless and although there were still a few Rabbis that had not yet taken the podium it was doubtful that anyone could change the atmosphere of defeat in the air.
The next to speak was supposed to be the Rebbe of Lubavitch, Rebbi Shalom Dovber (called the Resha'b for short. Incidentally his birthday will be this coming Thursday the 20th of Cheshvan) but he requested that he be allowed to speak last.
So the great holy genius Rabbi Chaim of Brisk stood and heroically declared that despite the threats he was opposed to the government idea. But it was obvious that he spoke with a heavy heart. It seemed clear that the outcome would be concession.
Finally the Rebbe Reshab's turn came to speak. The Rebbe was not a healthy man and was often forced to see doctors and take treatments for weakness. But suddenly he stood straight and spoke with a clear, loud voice that all could hear. (These same words would be spoken by his son Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak years later against the Communists)
"It is not through our will that we are in exile and not with our will that we will leave it….. G-d has put us in exile and He alone will gather us from the four corners of the earth through our Righteous Moshiach. But until then all the nations on the face of the earth must know that only our bodies are in exile …… but no power can rule or imprison our souls! We must announce in public for all to hear, that what is relevant to Judaism; Torah, the Commandments and even our customs… no one can change or influence! We must declare with the greatest Jewish stubbornness drawn from thousands of years of Jewish self-sacrifice, 'Touch not my anointed and my nation of prophets do not harm'. He then raised his arms and cried out, "Jews! Sanctify G-d's name in public!!" (i.e. Be willing to die for the Torah).
And he fainted.
Immediately Rabbi Chaim of Brisk stood and shouted that he too opposes the new decree even at the cost of his life and within seconds everyone followed. A vote was taken and it was decided; not one Rabbi would support the decree.
Meanwhile the Rebbe Reshab was taken to his room, a doctor was rushed in to treat him and it wasn't long before two mammoth soldiers appeared there also with orders to arrest him and take him to prison. It was only with the greatest effort and maneuvering including the doctor's opinion etc. that this sentence was reduced to house arrest and finally dropped altogether.
But in the meantime several of the great Rabbis with Rabbi Chaim of Brisk at their head, came to visit the Rebbe to see how he was … and they found him sitting in a chair at his desk weeping ….. obviously over the impending law.
Rabbi Chiam put his comforting hand on the Rebbe's shoulder and said "Lubavitcher Rebbe, why are you crying? After all, we did all we could! Now it is up to G-d to do the rest!"
"True", said the Rebbe. "We did all we could! But the decree has not been averted!"
He calmed down a bit and continued. "If a paid factory worker does everything possible to fix a broken machine he can go home and sleep peacefully whether he succeeded or not. But not the factory owner; he can't sleep until the problem is solved!"
Unexplainably, the decree was never mentioned again by the government and, thanks to G-d, Stolypin's threats of Pogroms also never materialized.
This answers out questions. Abraham knew how to serve G-d. In fact it says in a Midrash that Abraham actually fulfilled all of the Commandments of the Torah hundreds of years before they were given.
But this doesn't mean that he actually put on Tefillin, put a Mezuzah on his door or read from a Torah scroll….. because those things weren't existent physically until the Torah was given… rather he did it all spiritually. He knew how to attach his soul to the spiritual source of the commandments.
And his spiritual work was so intense and with such devotion and self-sacrifice that it paved the way for the actual Torah to be given.
But nevertheless, all that Abraham did had no permanent effect on the world. This would only occur when Commandments were given at Sinai.
Therefore Abraham did not care if his guests were angels or humans …. because he was concerned only with opening spiritual channels to this world by having the proper intentions.
So, because before Sinai there was no more complete way to serve G-d. So Abraham's giving of virtual, spiritual charity was more important than receiving G-d Himself. And that is why He ran from G-d to the angles.
But now, after the Torah has been given, things are different; action is the main thing. As we saw from our story: that is why the Rebbe Resha'b wasn't satisfied with 'trying' … spiritual wasn't enough.
He was concerned only with actual, physical results.
But, although this is much more difficult than just spiritual work, we have the power to do it.
At Mount Sinai EACH AND EVERY Jew was given not only the obligation but also the infinite, G-dly power and ability to change not only the spiritual but the entire PHYSICAL world. Now one commandment, one prayer, one good deed can tip the scale and bring heaven on earth. (Rambam, Hilchat Tshuva 3:4)
We only have to believe in and realize our potential. And it's in each and every one of us.
This is the job of Moshiach - to encourage and teach first the Jews and then all mankind how to actualize their infinite potential for good and make this world a blessed, prosperous, healthy and happy place.
Then will be fulfilled the promise of G-d regarding Abraham, "There will be blessed through him all the nations of the world" (Gen. 18:18)
We just have to do all we can to open our eyes and hearts to do all we can, even one more good deed, word or even thought can tip the scales and bring....
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