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.
Parshat Ki Tisa (5767)
We read this week about how Moses convinced G-d to forgive the Jews after the sin of the Golden Calf which essentially was the worst sin imaginable.
(Thus ruling out the possibility that G-d could ever abandon the Jews for another people or religion. If He forgave them after the Golden Calf, He could forgive anything.)
But here we see a strange thing. Part of the forgiveness was when He said to Moses, "I will show you My back" (33:23)
And Rashi comments, 'G-d showed him the knot on His (G-d's) Tefillin'.
This seems to makes no sense. First of all, as encouraging as it is to us, how could G-d forgive such a deliberate and heinous sin as the Golden calf? The Jews heard DIRECTLY from G-d not to worship any power except for the G-d who took them from Egypt! (First two of the Ten Commandments).
2) What does this have to do with G-d's Tefillin knot?
3) G-d is infinite; in fact, He creates even the spiritual worlds (i.e. other gods). What does it mean that He wears Tefillin?
To understand this …. Here is a story.
The Baal Shem Tov (Besh't for short) was once on a journey with his prize pupil Rebbe Dov Ber of Mezeritz. They passed through a city and were stopped by a Jew with a smile on his face and a pleasant request.
He explained how amazed he was to have 'happened' to meet the Baal Shem Tov… especially today!! His wife gave birth to a son eight days ago, the Brit (literally 'covenant' referring to the commandment of circumcision) was going to be in just a few hours and he would be overjoyed if the Besh't would agree to be the Sandak (one who holds the child on his lap at the time of circumcision, which is a great honor and blessing)!
To his surprise the Besh't agreed….. but on two conditions. First, that the Rabbi of the town, who was supposed to be the Sandak, would give his permission, and secondly that he (the Besh't) be allowed to choose and slaughter the chicken that would be his portion for the festive meal after the Brit.
The father of the child readily agreed. He escorted the Besh't and his pupil to the Synagogue, then ran to the Rabbi and got his full permission (the Rabbi was delighted) and then ran back to help the Besh't to choose a chicken.
But it wasn't as easy as he thought. When they went to a farm and found the chicken coops the Besh't put his walking stick in and all the chickens ran away. "Not here" he said, "we will have to try somewhere else."
But the same thing happened everywhere they visited until finally at one coop one scraggly fowl that probably didn't have more than a few spoonfuls of meat on its bones, remained.
"This is the one." said the Besh't as he undid his sack, took out a small, longish box, and from it produced a ritual slaughtering knife and a small rectangular flat stone. He then sharpened the knife, had his pupil check it to see if it was done correctly, then made a blessing and slaughtered the chicken.
"Hmmm" he said as he looked closely at the chicken he had just killed, I think there is something wrong here… call the Rabbi."
In just moments the Rabbi was there. He examined the bird and declared it to be kosher. But the Besh't turned to his pupil and asked "What do you think, Dov Ber?"
Rabbi Dov Ber answered, "I think it is not kosher!" and he brought several reasons why.
But the Rabbi didn't agree. He began quoting noted opinions to support his lenient decision. But when he finished the Besht's pupil rebutted with equally great opinions to contradict those brought by the Rabbi and so they went on for almost an hour!
Meanwhile the father of the child was getting more and more desperate… it was getting late! It was already well after noon, in a few hours it would be dark and too late to make the brit and it seemed like the argument would go on for ever.
Finally the Besht turned to the Rabbi and said, "I think the only way to decide this is to ask your son Alexander Sender for his opinion.
The Rabbi's eyes opened wide almost in horror, he became pale and looked like he was about to faint as he stammered, "Sen… Sender? My… my … my son? How did you know I had a son?"
The Besh't calmly continued. "Just go and ask him, I'm sure he knows the answer."
"But… but… he's paralyzed… since birth." The Rabbi whispered aloud. "From birth… he can't … why … he can't talk."
"Ridiculous!" answered the Besh't, "Come, I'll show you.
They walked to the Rabbi's house, entered the boy's room and sure enough when his father bent down and whispered what the Besh't said …. The boy suddenly sat up and said, "But I can't go there in pajamas, daddy! You'll have to find me something to wear."
The entire household was upside down, screaming and jumping around hysterically but after a few moments they calmed down, found clothes for him and he went to examine the chicken.
"The chicken is kosher!" the boy declared. And he proceeded to repeat all the previous opinions and then add a genius analysis of his own that solved all the problems.
The boy's father was amazed, how could the lad possibly have known ideas that were totally new to even himself? But the Besh't didn't seem surprised at all. "Now we have two more reasons to rejoice besides the bris; the chicken is kosher and … today is Sender's Bar Mitzva!"
The boy's father thought deeply for a moment and exclaimed, "Yes! You are right! He was born exactly thirteen years ago! We have a double holiday!"
Immediately they went to the Synagogue, made the circumcision, washed their hands for bread and began the celebrations. Sender gave a long Bar Mitzva speech filled with deep and wondrous Torah ideas and after he finished he said he wanted to lie down and rest for a while after such a demanding few hours. The Besh't agreed, Sender thanked everyone, said the blessing after eating and went to his room.
Shortly afterward the meal ended and the boy's father thanked the Besh't profusely but the Besh't answered. "But we still have one more 'mitzva' (good deed) to do… Alexander Sender's funeral."
"What!"| The boy's father shouted. His mouth dropped open and his eyes again widened in horror. He ran to the boy's room and, sure enough, it was as the Besh't said. Sender had passed away!!
Again, the household was turned upside down, but this time with cries of sorrow and heartbreaking grief.
After the funeral the boy's father asked for an explanation and the Besh't answered.
"Years ago lived a great and holy Torah Scholar, the author of the book Tevuat Shor, Rabbi Alexander Sender Shor. He was unequaled in erudition and people came from far and wide to drink from his wisdom and to ask him to decide difficult Torah questions.
"Well, it so happened that one Friday afternoon a poor widow arrived at his home with a problem. She had purchased a chicken for her family for Shabbat but after it was slaughtered a question arouse if it was kosher or not. This woman had worked like a slave for a month to afford this chicken for her five orphans and she was really praying that it was kosher.
"But it just so happened that precisely when she entered Rabbi Shor was so busy with pressing problems of the community that he just took one fleeting look at the chicken said it was not kosher and wished the woman a good Shabbat.
"So years later when he passed away and his soul was elevated to heaven he was informed by the heavenly court that, although he had led a perfect life he could not be raised to the sublime level he really deserved because of one blemish; that chicken was really kosher and if he would have made a super human-effort and taken the time he would have known it was kosher.
But now, besides the injustice done to the widow and her children, the chicken had also been denied 'elevation' through being eaten by Jews on Shabbat and it was standing in his way.
"So his soul was given the choice to either resign itself to a 'lesser' heavenly level until the raising of the dead or to return to this world and 'fix' the mistake.
"But Rabbi Shor's soul protested; the world is fraught with temptations and darkness … perhaps, rather than fixing things the world might cause it to sin!
"Your son was the 'gilgul' (Reincarnation) of that Rabbi and that is why he answered to the name Alexander Sender. And that is also why he was completely paralyzed until the age of Bar Mitzva (when he would be responsible for his actions); to make it impossible for him to sin.
And the chicken I picked contained the 'spark of holiness' that he had to fix and that is why he passed away almost immediately after he fixed it.
This answers our questions.
The Jewish people are higher than the Torah. That is why Moses was willing to break the Tablets to save them (see Rashi 34:1). And that is why they are called "Sons of G-d".(Ex. 4:22, Deut 14:1, see Tanya Chapt. 2).
And, in fact, when they remember this essential connection it is impossible for them to do a sin or even make a mistake.
The problem is that this world is very confusing and often causes Jews to forget who they are. That is what happened when the Jews sinned with the Golden Calf and, in a very subtle way, how Rabbi Shur made his mistake with the chicken they simply were under pressure and forgot who they were. (And had to be re-incarnated into our generation order to remember).
This is also what is meant by G-d's Tefillin.
One of the main purposes of Tefillin is to help us to 'REMEMBER' who we are (Ex 13:9). And G-d's Tefillin means that He HELPS us to do this (see Talmud Brachot 6a).
This is especially signified by the knot of His Tefillin; to strengthen our connection to G-d… in a way that is above understanding (like the Tefillin are worn ABOVE the head.
This will be the main job of Moshiach: to TIE all the Jews to their true source and to connect them, and all mankind to the Creator of the universe.
Indeed, Moshiach will connect the entire creation to the Creator (like the chicken finally got 'elevated' in our story) and all mankind will see, as we say thrice daily in the 'Alenu' prayer that G-d is ONE and His name (creation) is one!
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.