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.
This Shabbat we read the first portion in the book of Bamidbar (Numbers) and four days afterward we will celebrate the holiday of Shavuot; when G-d gave the Torah to the entire Jewish nation 3,319 years ago.
Interestingly, this Torah portion is always read directly before the holiday of Shavuot. So there must be a similarity.
Not only that, but the Torah is the pure wisdom and will of the Creator, so this must be a very potent portion that prepares for it.
But it seems to be the opposite!
To begin with, this week's Torah portion contains no commandments at all… not even one (!) while the Torah contains all of them (613 for the Jews and 'seven' for the gentiles).
Second: Bamidbar means 'desert'; a dead wasteland while the Torah is called 'The Tree of Life' (Proverbs 3:18) and enlivens all creation!
And finally, this week's section devotes itself almost totally to a detailed head count of the Jews over 3,300 years ago when they left Egypt. How can this prepare us to accept the Torah with joy and desire on Shavuot!!
To understand all this here is a story I just saw (HaGeula issue 359).
Dr. Avraham Goldenski was an Israeli success story. Despite his being semi-crippled after a severe auto accident he managed to acquire a doctorate in the humanities and be appointed as a representative of the Israeli ministry of transportation to the U.S.A.
In the true Israeli leftist (Mapa'i party) tradition he was as far from being an observant Jew as possible but he had an open mind and heart to Judaism and anything new. So when his term of service had ended and he was preparing to return to Israel it wasn't surprising that when one of his friends suggested that he visit the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Brooklyn before he left, he agreed.
The next day an audience was arranged, something which usually takes weeks or even months, and before he knew it he was entering the Rebbe's office.
Due to his difficulty in walking The Rebbe stood and helped him to sit down and the conversation began.
Doctor Goldenski thought that he would be there for a few minutes, receive a few blessings and possibly discuss religion, and that would be it, but he was in for a very pleasant surprise.
The Rebbe took a great interest in his work and his other interests, asked deep questions and made accurate and deep comments. The conversation was lively and the Doctor enjoyed it immensely but then about a half an hour later the Rebbe suddenly became serious.
"Ah ha! Here's the pitch about religion;" the Doctor thought to himself" This is what he's been setting me up for." But it wasn't so.
The Rebbe looked into his eyes and said, "I understand that you will be leaving for Israel tomorrow but I think that you should consider delaying your return in order to see a neurologist (and the Rebbe named a professor). He's a friend of mine and it won't cost you anything; I will pay the bill. Please think about it."
Then, as Dr. Goldenski was about to get up, the Rebbe said, "And I have one more request. Please send me an invitation to your daughter's wedding."
The Doctor sat back down, looked at the Rebbe strangely and corrected him. "Heh, heh! Wedding? Excuse me Rebbe, but my daughter is only fifteen years old! She's not going to get married so soon."
"Certainly" the Rebbe answered "But when she does please don't forget to send me an invitation."
Once outside of the Rebbe's office Dr. Goldenski could not calm himself down; he was really impressed. He had never met anyone that both knew so much and was so interested in his welfare. Something told him that he should take the Rebbe's offer seriously.
So the next day Dr. Goldenski was sitting in the professor's office after being examined, and was listening to the diagnosis.
"My friend, you are very fortunate that the Lubavitcher Rebbe sent you here." The professor said seriously. He held up some the x-rays and explained. "See here? This is your spinal chord. Because of the structure of your body there is pressure here and, well, it's not good. In a few weeks the cord will almost certainly break which means crippled for life ... or worse. But now that we caught it in time it can be stopped. You said you are returning to Israel, right? Well you can go to Haddasa Ain Kerem hospital in Jerusalem. They have an excellent staff. I'll be in touch with them! I'm sure you'll last till then."
Goldenski left in a daze and immediately took the first cab to the Rebbe's headquarters to thank him.
He was admitted almost immediately and when the Rebbe heard the news he smiled, said he was happy to help, reminded him again to send an invitation to his daughter's wedding and finally made a strange request. He asked him to stay in Crown Heights for Shabbat.
The Doctor, as unreligious as he was, actually accepted the invitation. That evening he returned for Shabbat and the next afternoon stood with hundreds of Chassidim at the Rebbe's public talk.
But after the Rebbe finished his first speech, the Doctor approached him and thanked him again, whereupon the Rebbe shook his hand, reminded him a third time about sending the wedding invitation and they parted.
Dr. Goldenski returned to Israel and the treatments in Ain Kerem saved his spinal chord. He even brought a Chabad Rabbi to give a class in Chassidut in his house to some friends once a week. But despite all this, he did not move even one iota closer to observing the commandments
But he didn't forget the Rebbe's request. Three years later his daughter became engaged and he sent the Rebbe an invitation but, strangely, he received no reply.
Then just days before the wedding as he was in the middle of his afternoon meal, suddenly he clutched his chest in pain, lost his breath and fell to the ground unconsciousness. It was diagnosed as a severe heart attack and he was hospitalized in serious condition. The very next day a long letter from the Lubavitcher Rebbe arrived in the mail!
It was over three pages long but the Doctor asked that it be read to him. It was filled with positive and encouraging ideas about actually fulfilling commandments and near the end the Rebbe wrote:
"When I came to know you and saw your courage and fortitude that, despite your state of health you were not only able to withstand all difficulties but to even to overcome them and surpass those around you (and even more importantly, in a pleasant and refined way) there is no doubt in my mind that if you truly decide to make an effort to encourage your daughter live a true Jewish life, at least from the day of her marriage (including you being a living example to her), that you will also succeed."
The Rebbe closed by saying, "Please pardon me for taking the liberty of entering into your personal affairs and your private life but I feel that the topic is so important and serious that I don't have the right to keep my thoughts and hopes to myself."
Dr. Goldenski silently read and re-read the letter and an hour later turned to those around his bedside and said seriously …. "It's necessary to fulfill everything written here."
These were his last words on earth. Moments later he closed his eyes and returned his soul to the Creator. The Rebbe foresaw that just before his daughter's wedding he would be willing to become a new person; a living example of true Judaism.
This answers our questions.
One of the holiest and most famous Jews of all time, Rabbi Akiva, said that the entire Torah could be summarized in the commandment, "Love your fellow man as yourself".
But this can only be done through the influence of Tzadikim; teaching us how important every Jew is. Like the Rebbe did in our story.
These are two important messages of this week's Torah portion.
First of all, by counting the Jews G-d showed that each and every Jew was important - and equal; each one is worth 'one'.
The key to loving others as yourself.
And second, the only way they could exist in the desert is because of the Tzadikim. The Torah the Jews learned and the Manna they ate was in the merit of Moses, the water they drank, in the merit of Miriam and the clouds of glory that surrounded and protected them were due to Aaron.
And this is the best preparation possible for the holiday of Shavuot.
Without brotherly love and devotion to Tzadikim the Torah is meaningless and even counterproductive; causing discord and egotism. Indeed, the very existence of the Jews and the Torah depends solely on the Tzadikim and brotherly love.
But this will only be realized completely with the arrival of Moshiach. The Moshiach, who will be someone just like the Lubavitcher Rebbe, will open our hearts and minds to the true G-dliness found in the Torah, the commandments and the Jewish people.
Then we will truly leave the 'desert' of exile and join altogether with the Torah, the Third Holy Temple and all the Jews in Israel.
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.