This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Behar-Bechukotai (5767)
This Shabbat we read two portions of the Torah that together contain 36 interesting commandments such as the details of the Sabbatical and Jubilee years, various monetary and property laws, the law of the Jewish slave and more.
But what really catches the eye are the 48 terrible curses and catastrophes in the second portion that G-d says will befall the Jews if they transgress the Torah - and history has proven that, unfortunately, these were not just empty threats.
But after all these G-d promises a happy ending!:
"I will remember the covenant of Jacob and the covenant of Isaac and even the covenant of Abraham ….. and the Land of Israel I'll also remember. Even when they are in the land of their enemies I will not despise or reject them to destroy them and invalidate my covenant with them because I am the Creator their G-d. And I will remember the first covenant when I took them from Egypt before all the nations to be their G-d, I am G-d" (26: 42,44,45)
The sages learn from here that G-d will send a king like Moses or David to strengthen and gather the Jews draw them all to Torah, and bring everlasting peace, health and prosperity to all mankind. (Mimonidies, Laws of Kings 11:2)
But right beforehand (ibid 40,41) between the curses and the promises we see two very strange sentences.
"They (the Jews) will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers etc. .. And I will bring them into the land of their enemies, then their uncircumcised hearts will be humbled and their sins will be forgiven."
This seems to make no sense.
If they confess their sins why should G-d THEN take them to the land of their enemies? And why does it say that only then will their hearts be humbled? Isn't the confession they made beforehand enough?
To understand this here is a story that occurred some 150 years ago in Poland.
Yankel's magnificent carriage, pulled by four huge steeds, roared down the dirt road followed by a huge cloud of dust while Yankel, a rich, religious Jew, sat inside comfortably looking through the window at the Polish countryside sweeping by him, lit a fine long cigar and couldn't help feeling superior.
He blew out a stream of smoke which disappeared out the slightly opened window and thought dreamily to himself, "Rich, influential, successful and humble. Thank G-d! Where can you find such a combination? The other rich Jews….why they don't even believe in G-d! Heh! But not me! Why, I'm on my way to Lezinsk! To the Rebbe!! I bet those Chassidim never saw a carriage like this! But me, I could care less about what they think. That is humility!"
He leaned back to take another puff from his cigar when suddenly he noticed something outside. An old Jew dressed in raggedy clothes slowly dragging his way down the road side.
"Hey! Stop the carriage" he yelled as he pulled the string to ring the bell.
The driver stopped and in moments was bringing the wayfarer in. But when the 'old fellow' was finally seated opposite him and the wagon resumed rolling Yankel saw to his amazement that he was mistaken. This Jew on was no old man. He was no more that in his early thirties possibly in his late twenties.
"What!" He thought to himself, "A simple bum! A good for nothing! How could such a young able bodied fellow wear such rags? Had he no self esteem!? Probably he was just a lazy parasite that would rather take charity than work for a living."
He considered stopping and throwing him out and maybe he should have because after a few moments of pregnant silence he couldn’t hold himself back and for the next two hours he poured out his anger on his unfortunate guest with biting short epithets and cynical comments.
When they reached Lezinsk the poor man slinked out of the carriage, said a weak 'thank you' and disappeared into the crowded street, while Yankel ordered his driver to take him to a hotel to wash and prepare himself for his meeting with the great, holy Tzadik Rebbe Elimelech completely forgetting the episode with the pauper.
A half-hour later he arrived in the Synagogue and, being a big donor, immediately was escorted to the front of the line of Chassidim waiting for an audience with the holy Rabbi. But just before he arrived at the front the first person in line, unaware that he was supposed to relinquish his place, opened the door and entered.
Yankel was a bit angered but comforted himself saying, "In another few seconds I'll be in."
But ten minutes passed, a half hour, then an hour …. then two! Obviously the one who entered was a very important person. Finally the door opened and Yankel almost fainted… it was the pauper he had cursed out just a few hours earlier. He apologized for taking so long and gave Yankel a strange look.
Suddenly Yankel felt ashamed and blurted out. "Listen, I'm sorry about how I treated you in the carriage and what I said, Okay?"
"No problem! I forgive you totally! Every word you said was correct." the pauper answered and Yankel entered the Rebbe's room.
His meeting with the Rebbe was short, he got the blessings and advice he asked for, left the room and in an hour he was in his fine carriage on his way home.
But things weren't the same.
When he went back to business and began buying and selling again he just couldn't seem to think straight and make the right choices. Loss followed loss and within a few months he was a pauper himself. His creditors confiscated his home and all his belongings. His wife and family moved to her parent's home and he, too embarrassed to live off his in-law’s mercy took to the road.
For months, then years he wandered aimlessly from town to town, sleeping in Synagogues and alleyways and, with no other choice, living off charity. He suffered from cold in the winter, heat in the summer and constant hunger and shame. He prayed that no one would recognize him and most of the time wished he had never been born. When would it end??
But then, after fifteen years of hell on earth, suddenly it all turned around. He found a large sum of money on a deserted road, bought himself a new suit, washed up, began to make investments again and regained his fortune. It was as though he had been asleep all this time.
But his days of poverty and suffering haunted him like a nightmare. It was obviously and act of G-d but what was the meaning of it all?
Then one day it dawned on him…..... he would go to Rebbe Elimelech of Lezinsk and ask for an explanation.
But when he got to Lezinsk he found that he was too late… the Rebbe had passed away just weeks earlier! He asked around for advice and Someone suggested that he go to one of the Rebbe's disciples; Rebbe Dovid of Lelov. So Yankel made his way to Lelov, got in line to see Reb Dovid and after two hours of waiting entered and closed the door behind him.
The room was deafeningly silent. The Rebbe looked up and asked. "Can I help you?" and Yankel almost fainted.
"It's… it's you!" He exclaimed.
"Yes", the Rebbe answered "I'm the one you took in your carriage fifteen years ago! That is why you lost all your riches and suffered terribly."
"Because I shamed and insulted you!"
"Yes," The Rebbe answered. "And that is why you had to wait so long back then for me to come out from Rebbe Elimelech's room. When I entered before you, the Rebbe told me that it had been decreed in heaven that you should die. So we, Reb Elimelech and I, prayed and beseeched G-d for two hours to get your sentence rescinded. And we succeeded! Your sentence was changed from death to a life of poverty! So, you see, all that suffering was for your benefit…to save your life and to put true humility and joy in your soul."
"But if so" Yankel asked, "Why did it stop? Why G-d give me back my riches?"
"Ahh!" answered Reb Dovid with a smile "Because, after all, you did give me a ride in your carriage. And, not only that but the purpose of your suffering was to humble you and I’m sure you’ll admit that your new riches make you more humble than the suffering did. Now you really realize that you don’t deserve anything and all you have, even your very life is a gift from the Creator."
This answers our question.
The goal and purpose of the Jewish people is to make the entire world aware of the greatness, goodness and nearness of the Creator. But first they must feel this themselves… and this requires humility.
That answers our question: why will the Jews be exiled AFTER they repent.
The Torah is telling us here that when the Jews will sin and their Holy Temple will be destroyed they will repent. But the repentance will be insincere; more from habit than from the heart.
So G-d will have mercy on them and, instead of destroying them, will give them a deeper exile in the land of their enemies which will bring them to true humility. Just as happened to Yankel in our story.
But in truth, the Jews can never really reach true humility on their own… especially not in exile (and today, in many ways, the Jews in Israel are in deeper exile than those living outside).
That is why the Torah continues, "I will remember the covenant of Jacob and the covenant of Issac etc."
Only through the merit of the Forefathers can we truly open our hearts. And that will be done through Moshiach.
The Moshiach, whose arrival the Jews have been waiting every moment for thousands of years, will arouse the spiritual merit of the forefathers to humble and arouse the Jews (and eventually all mankind) to make this world heaven on earth. True riches!!
And, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe declared time and time again; It’s all up to us. Just one more good deed, word or even thought can tip the scales, and we will certainly open our eyes and see,,,,
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