This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Shlach (5767)
This week we read about strange and tragic battle of Moses versus the Jews.
The Jews were all about to enter the Promised Land and finally conquer the inheritance that G-d promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
But first Moses sent, of his own free will (G-d told him Sh'lach Lecha. i.e. of your own choice') 'scouts' to assure the success of this supreme task.
These 'scouts' were hand-picked leaders… the cream of the Jewish crop. But amazingly they not only failed in their task but actually convinced the entire Jewish people to oppose it as well!
G-d's reaction was swift and harsh: "I'll destroy them all with a plague and make you (Moses) a greater and more awesome nation then they are." (13:12)
But Moses came to their defense: "Egypt… the inhabitants of Canaan… the other nations… will hear … and say that G-d wasn't able to bring the Jews to the land He promised etc." (13:13-16)
And it worked!! G-d changed the punishment from instant destruction to natural death in the course of the next forty years: everyone , when they reached the age of sixty, would pass away quietly in the desert.
But at first glance this is not understood.
Why did Moses use this argument about 'what the gentiles will say'!? He should have pleaded for mercy that G-d shouldn't kill the entire Jewish nation!!
And why did the argument about world opinion work? What does G-d care about what the gentiles or anyone else for that matter, thinks?
And, finally, how could Moses argue against G-d? Especially when G-d's idea was not so bad: maybe if all the Jews were his offspring they would they wouldn't give G-d any more trouble!
To understand this here is a story I just heard.
Several years ago a young man, a Baal Teshuva (someone who was far from doing the Commandments and decided to become close) got married.
Usually such weddings are especially joyous occasions: To get married according to the will of the Creator of the Universe is a happy thing, especially someone who CHOSE to be in this category.
The dancing singing and rejoicing were boundless but when everyone took a break to sit down for the wedding meal the boy's grandfather stood, walked to the front of the large wedding hall asked for a microphone and waited for silence.
He wasn't very religious-looking and he had a sort of inebriated, maybe even angry look on his face that made everyone a bit apprehensive. But after a few minutes everyone stopped talking, gave him their attention, he cleared his throat and began.
"First of all, thank you all for coming. Second, I want to say a big Mazal Tov to my grandson and his new wife. And thrid I want to tell a story."
He took a sip from the glass he was holding and continued.
"A long time ago there was a small town in Poland where there lived a lot of Jews. Of course they were all religious and the boys, starting from three years old went to Cheder to learn Torah all day. Well, it so happened that one of the boys in this Torah school was a troublemaker.
"He loved to make trouble; wake up late, skip school, do crazy things, have fun. But especially he loved to make 'practical jokes'.
"Well, this boy, by the time he was twelve was had done so many practical jokes and crazy things that he was just on the edge of getting expelled from the school.
Until one day he crossed the line.
"He put a goat in the Holy Ark of the Synagogue. That's right! A goat! He must have done it early Saturday morning but you can imagine what happened. Everyone was really serious and religious, you know how it is when they open the ark to take out the Holy Torah and suddenly the goat jumped out!
A big goat! The women began to scream and waive their arms, the Rabbi almost had a heart attack, people were yelling, rushing all over the place, the caretaker was holding his head, others laughed so hard they fell off their seats. Pandemonium!
"Needless to say it didn't take long for them to figure out who did it and the next day the boy was brought before the Rabbis of the school and solomnly informed that he was permanently expelled!
"But then something happened. The mischief-maker fell silent, maybe for the first time in his life. He got really serious and said. 'I understand. I'm expelled, right? Well, you are right. I deserve it. But I also deserve a last request.'
"'Deserve?' said the Rabbis 'if you deserve anything it's a good spanking!'
"'Maybe you're right about that' he answered. "But you have to realize you that by kicking me out you are executing me. I mean, for sure no other Jewish school will accept me. Right? So I'll have to learn in a regular school with the gentiles which is like killing my Jewish soul. And a man before he is executed deserves a last wish. '
"Nu" The Rabbis answered nervously, 'So what do you want?'
"My last request is; okay, I understand that I deserve no mercy… but what about my offspring? What will be with them? Why should they be doomed also?'
"Well, to make a long story short; against their will the Rabbis softened up and the troublemaker wasn't expelled. Somehow he even managed to finish the school and eventually got married.
"True, he wasn't very observant. As soon as he could he shaved off his beard and exchanged his big black yarmulke for a little red one but he kept some of the commandments.
"He and his wife moved to Israel and had an only son who was even less religious than they were. In fact when the boy turned eighteen he completely stopped doing the commandments and decided to move to America.
"His father was heartbroken but he said to his son before he left, 'Listen my son, I can't force you to do anything. You're a grown man. But I have one request. I want you to promise you'll only marry a Jewish girl.'
"Well, miraculously it worked. His son promised and, although he was completely non-observant in America, he did manage to marry a Jewish girl and they also had one son.
"But this son, unlike his father and grandfather decided to become a Rabbi! An observant Rabbi! So his grandfather's 'last wish' to the Rabbis that wanted to expel him became a reality… his offspring were saved!
The old man took another sip from the glass he was holding and concluded.
"The reason I'm telling this story tonight is because that mischievous boy that put the goat in the Holy Ark was me. And and his grandson that became the Rabbi is none other than the groom whose wedding we are celebrating tonight!! My grandson!!
"So, the moral is…. when you educate a child, remember! You are educating not just him but his children and children's children for all generations!"
This is what Moses was saying to G-d. 'I understand that the Jews are incorrigible troublemakers and deserved to be wiped out. In fact it's probably the only way to make them stop sinning. But what about their offspring? Could it be that the G-d of Israel made a mistake when he picked Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Could it be that their offspring have no hope?'
Even more; the purpose of creation is that ALL mankind, beginning with the Jews, should recognize that the G-d of Israel is the Creator and King of the Universe…. and decide of their OWN FREE WILL to serve Him.
As the name of this week's portion indicates; 'Shlach LECHA' 'Send on your own free will.'
And that is what Moses was saying to G-d: 'If you wipe out the Jews with no consideration for their offspring then how can You expect the gentiles to worship You from their own free will?
And it not only worked then but it is working today as well.
Today, in our generation, is the reality, the payoff, of G-d's mercy back then. Just as the boy in our story 'returned' to his Creator, so today thousands, indeed millions of Jews and after them the ENTIRE WORLD will turn, or rather return, to the Creator.
As the Lubavitcher Rebbe said time and time again, "Ours is the last generation of exile and the FIRST generation of Moshiach, when the entire world will be filled with the awareness of G-d.
We just have to do all we can; even one more good deed to bring ...
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