This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Vayechi (5767)
This week's section finishes the first of the Five Books of Moses; the Holy Bible given directly and publicly by the Creator of the Universe to the entire Jewish nation at Mount Sinai.
But strangely this book isn't very Biblical! It contains no miracles, rituals, rites, commandments, prayers, meditations, mysterious messages or even sermons; the stuff The Bible is made of.
But it does contain stories.
There is a story about two authors who approached a Holy Rabbi by the name of Rebbe Yisroel of Ruzin some 150 years ago for approbations on books they had written.
The first was a great Talmudic scholar who wrote a sizable masterpiece explaining various complicated Talmudic concepts while the other, a much simpler Jew, brought a book of stories he had compiled.
They presented their works to the Rebbe and waited for his response.
The Rebbe examined the larger book for several moments, put it down on his table and then glanced through the second book, smiled at the author, praised him warmly, wrote a glowing approbation, blessed him with success and only after he left the room turn to the other Chassid, praise his work and write a glowing recommendation.
The second Chassid was pleased … but perplexed to the point that he respectfully asked why it was that the Rebbe seemed to favor the other book and approved it first when his work obviously involved more effort, time and painstaking work.
"Very simply", the Rebbe answered. "Just as the Torah begins with stories; namely the entire book of Genesis, and only then begins the other four books where the commandments are found. So his book of Chassidic stories comes before your complicated legal masterpiece."
This is because stories are the soul of Judaism while the laws are the body. Both are certainly necessary to make the Torah alive…..but the soul comes first.
So it must be that this week's section, the last in Genesis, has a very important, summarizing, soul message.
In this week's section the main character is Yaakov who blesses each of his sons and all their offspring for all generations (namely all of us today).
But it seems to me that the most important 'blessing' found here is in the sentence, "Yaakov ….. was gathered to his people." (45:33) As the Talmud explains;
"The Patriarch Yaakov did not die, he only appeared to but really he is still alive physically! And just as his offspring (namely us) are still alive physically, so he lives." (Taanit 5:a see Rashi there)
To explain this, here are two stories I heard from the talented educator and popular lecturer Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Jacobson.
The third Rebbe of the Chabad Movement; Rabbi Menachem Mendel (nicknamed the 'Tzemach Tzedek') was orphaned at the tender age of three and was raised by a nursemaid.
This nursemaid lived to a ripe old age and, because she had no children of her own, requested from the Tzemach Tzedek, who was already serving as Rebbe at that time, to say the 'Kadish' prayer for her for a full year after she passed away. (This short prayer, or rather praise, is, in many ways, the 'highest' prayer in Judaism and is said for the departed for a full year in each of the three daily public prayers).
And so it was. The evening after she passed away the Tzemach Tzedek said 'Kadish' for her memory at the evening prayer and everyone answered 'amen'.
But, the very next morning instead of saying Kadish himself, as he promised, he hired someone else to say it in the Morning Prayer!
One of the older Chassidim approached the Rebbe and asked him for an explanation. After all, the woman had been like a mother to him! How could he just disregard his promise to her like that?
"No" the Rebbe explained "You don't understand. I wanted to keep my promise. But last night she appeared to me in my dreams and begged me to find someone else to say it.
"She complained that when I said it, it raised her soul to such a high spiritual level that she felt frightened and out of place there. So I found someone else."
The second story is about Rabbanit Sterna Sara the mother of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak).
She was a very humble and holy person in her own right but one of her pleasures in life was to see great Tzadikim (miraculous Jews).
And one such Tzadikim was Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Shapiro known as the Munkacher Rav.
She knew that he was good friends with her son, the Rebbe, and she asked her son that if the opportunity presented itself she would like to at least see this great man.
Sure enough the day came. The Rebbe was to meet with the Munkacher Rav in a local park and stroll for several hours while discussing vitally important communal issues.
The Rebbe told his mother the exact path they would be taking and advised her to stand behind one of the trees on the route where she could clearly see him.
The next day the Rebbe and Munkacher began their 'moving' discussion in the park as planned but in the middle of the stroll the Munkacher Rav suddenly stopped, raised his face upward and began smelling the air.
"Is something wrong?" the Rebbe asked. "Do you feel alright?"
"Yes, certainly I feel alright" The Rav replied. "But do you smell that? I mean, do you smell anything unusual?"
"What do you mean?" the Rebbe asked, "What smell are you talking about?"
"Why," the Rav replied in disbelief "I smell the smell of Gan Eden (Heaven)"!
"Ash!" replied the Rebbe. "My mother is probably standing nearby. What you smell is my mother!!"
These two stories show us that there are Jews that experience heaven in this world, take it with them and even control it.
Everyone knows that heaven is spiritual and eternal and the usual way to experience it is only after death when we shed our earthly shrouds.
But Yaakov was different. The Torah explains that he carried heaven with him (Rashi on Gen. 27:27).
Indeed, the Talmud tells us that the 'Beauty of Yaakov was like that of Adam" (Baba Metzia 84a); namely just as Adam was created to live forever physically (but brought death when he ate from the tree) so Yaakov lives even today… just as we live (as the Talmud explained).
And it was precisely this blessing of everlasting physical life that he gave to his children, including us to this very day.
This is truly the soul of the Torah; 'The Tree of Life for those who hold it" (Proverbs 3:18).
And the goal of the Torah; the coming of Moshiach and Raising of the Dead (Rambam's 13th Principal of Faith. Also see Tanya chapt. 37)
We have the blessings of Yaakov and the teachings of the Chassidic masters (especially as they appear in Chabad Chassidut) to activate the Holy Torah and do all we can to bring....
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