This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Chukat (5767)
This week's Torah portion begins with the complicated and completely illogical laws of the Red Cow.
The Torah and The commandments have been copied by many religions, but no religion has anything like the Red Cow.
And the reason is simple. It makes no sense! The Torah invented the entire thing; how dead bodies defile Jewish people and how the Red Cow purifies them ... all for no apparent reason.
Also this coming week Chabad Chassidim will celebrate the 80th anniversary of the miraculous release of the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak from sure death in communist prison, which eventually led to his moving to America and founding today's 'outreach' movement.
Is there a connection?
To understand this here is a story I just heard from Rabbi Dryfus, who was born in France and is now a Shilach of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in the Israeli city of Natanya, that happened in New York some twenty years ago.
Michele 'Weiss' (Weiss is a fictitious name) was Jewish, but it meant nothing to him; it was no more important than having red hair or blue eyes. He was a Frenchman through and through. In fact he was a community man, a politician- so involved in making connections and rising in politics that he didn't even have time to get married.
His work took him all over the world meeting people and making important agreements, but one encounter that he had in New York changed his life.
One Friday he was walking down some tremendously busy Manhattan avenue when strains of Jewish clarinet music faintly wafted over the honking car horns from a distance.
As he walked, the music became closer and louder until he saw a large van parked half on the sidewalk with a loudspeaker on it and a few bearded people milling around in front of it.
"They must have some sort of special permit to park there" he thought to himself, "I wonder who they are".
He approached and saw young Chassidim busy in various activities. Some were talking to passers-by while others were wrapping some sort of straps on people's arms. He became even more curious.
Before he could say anything one of the Chassidim turned to him and called, "Excuse me sir, are you Jewish?"
"Jewish?" he replied "Juif?" Why, yes I suppose I am. That is, I am from France but….."
"Your mother is Jewish?" The Chassid asked. Michel came closer and shook his head yes. "Well then, you're Jewish! Mazal Tov! Here, you can put on Tefillin!!"
The young man held out a small black box with a black leather strap dangling from it.
Michel had never seen 'Tefillin' in his life and had no idea what this fellow was talking about but it seemed to be something religious. He was an assimilated Frenchman; liberty, fraternity and equality were in his bones and not religion! Indeed, it was somewhat abhorrent to him.
"What is this? Religion?" he looked at the Chassid as though he was being offered a dead cat.
"No," the Chassid answered, "It's Judaism."
Michel waved his finger and shook his head 'no' and turned to go when the young man made some clever remark and skillfully called him back to talk.
Michel relaxed and responded; he loved people and in no time he was conversing and joking with the Chassid as though they were best friends. But when he mentioned that the reason for his visit was politics the young man lit up.
"Aha! Politics!? Why didn't you say so?! Why, if you want to meet politicians you have to go to the Lubavitcher Rebbe! ALL the politicians are by the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Sunday?" (In fact this was a trick. True, there were many politicians that visited the Rebbe but usually they were in no mood for socializing.)
"Lubavitch ….. Rebbe?" Michel repeated. "All the politicians? Why have I never heard of this? Are you sure?"
He was interested. The young man convinced him to give his hotel address and telephone number, they shook hands and parted and, on the surface of things, it looked like that both of them would forget the whole thing.
But early Sunday morning Michel's phone rang; his Chassidic friend was waiting downstairs to take him to the Rebbe. "Rebbe?" asked Michel groggily still half asleep.
"Yes," The Chassid replied, "Remember? The politicians at the Lubavitcher Rebbe?"
"Ahh, yes, yes!"
"Well, I'm waiting here with a taxi."
An hour later Michel was standing with his Chassidic friend in the middle of a long, moving line of people winding down the street before a large, stately, red-bricked building in the Crown Heights district of Brooklyn; 770 Eastern Parkway, the Rebbe's headquarters. People were arriving constantly behind them and about an hour later they were standing before the Rebbe at the head of a huge line.
The young Chassid introduced him; "This is Michel, he is a politician in France."
Michel was surprised and impressed. He came to meet politicians but he was beginning to realize that something very big was happening.
"What is your Jewish name?" The Rebbe asked him.
"Jewish name? Why, Michel." He replied simply.
"No, the name given you at your Bris" (circumcision).
"Ahh, yes" Michel replied "My family name is Weiss" .
"No" replied the Rebbe. "You must call France and ask your mother what is your Jewish first name. Then please come back here and tell me."
He handed Michel a dollar, told him to give it to charity and moments later Michel and friend were outside trying to digest what happened.
He was a bit confused. He had never met anyone like this Rebbe before. He turned to the young Chassid and asked "That was very impressive. But where are the politicians you promised?"
The young man thought fast, "Here everything goes according to your Hebrew name. Without that we can't begin."
"Ahhh yes!" Said Michel. He returned to the hotel and called home.
"Jewish name?" His mother answered "Where are you, Michel? Is everything all right? Are you in trouble? Are you sick?"
He assured his mother there was nothing wrong and she told him to call his aunt Paulette who is religious (the only one in the family that occasionally fasted on Yom Kippur) who might know.
With this new information, Michel called his Aunt, got the name and early the next morning rushed back to the Rebbe's headquarters. He found his Chassid friend, told him the good news and they stood outside the Rebbe's door waiting for him to come out for the Afternoon prayer to give him the report.
After a short wait the Rebbe's door opened and he immediately noticed Michel who stepped forward and said in a half-whisper, "Rebbe, my Jewish name is .... Menachem Mendel."
The Rebbe smiled and said. "Menachem Mendel, you should be a good Jew and live according to the Shulchan Aruch (Jewish book of law)" and continued walking.
Michel later said that at that moment he suddenly transformed into a different person.
"Up to that moment I was only concerned with myself and my career. That was what drove me and what I lived for. But after the Rebbe said those few words I began to think … 'How can I help Jews? How can I improve the world?"
(Incidentally, the young Chassid who brought him made a getaway before Michel could ask him where were the politicians he promised.)
Michel truly became a new man. When he returned to France he contacted the Chabad house and began learning Judaism. Shortly thereafter he married a Jewish girl and even took on a few of the commandments… miracle after miracle.
And from then on he became the address for helping Jews in need and distress. Often at the cost of much time, energy and money a few times even at the risk of his precious career.
He became alive.
But he told Rabbi Dryfus that the Rebbe kept helping him.
For instance, one of the hardest decisions for him was to eat only Kosher food. It was almost unthinkable that he, pleasure-loving Michel, whose job was to wine and dine important gentiles in exclusive non-kosher French restaurants would never again in his life eat an oyster or sautéed rabbit.
But against all odds he made the decision. But it didn't last long. Several months afterwards the enevitable occured. He was entertaining a big businessman from Poland in a top seafood restaurant and he broke. The smells, the people eating all around him, the very thought of no more fine French cuisine for eternity! He broke and ordered a fine array of all the juicy creeping sea creatures he so loved.
He and his guest were nibbling on nuts and other appetizers, waiting for the main course when the businessman asked,
"Tell me Michel, your last name is Weiss, correct? This is a Jewish name, isn't it?"
Michel couldn't figure why his guest would bring up such a subject but he said yes and the fellow continued,
"Well maybe you can explain something to me. Here look." He pulled a folded newspaper from his jacket pocket and began to open it.
"This article caught my eye yesterday and I began to read it. It's interesting but I didn't understand much. Here, have a look. It's by a Rabbi called 'Lu….ba…vitch'. See? It is simply intriguing!"
There on the page in front of Michel was a big picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe with the same look in his eye he had seen years ago saying to him 'Menachem Mendel.. Be a good Jew'.
His thoughts were broken by the waiter approaching with a heaping tray of plates of seafood, "Your food messeurs!"
"Ehh?" Michel said "Oh… I'm sorry. But I just got this terrible stomach ache. And, well, I'll just have a cup of tea." The Rebbe helped him live according to the Shulchan Aruch.
With this we can understand our questions. What happened to Michel is happening today to tens of thousands of Jews throughout the world and eventually will happen to all of them.
This is called "purification".
According to Judaism G-d is not just a superior and infinitely distant being. Rather He also constantly creates the entire universe and is infinitely near and personal to each of us. Even the gentiles.
But until all mankind realizes this, as long as The Creator (the source of life) is concealed from His creation, all humanity is, so to speak, 'impure'.
Indeed, this 'impurity'; is the cause of death.
But the job of Moshiach will be to reveal G-d's true 'One-ness' and thus purify the entire world from darkness, ignorance, disease and …. Even death (this is the reason that the Raising of the Dead will follow the revelation of Moshiach).
This is the hinted at by the Red Cow.
When the Torah was given and G-d was revealed at Sinai the Talmud tells us that death ceased! But when the Jews worshiped the Golden Calf it returned.
And the Red Cow is just a healing for the Golden Calf (Rashi 19:2; 'Let the mother cow clean up after the calf').
But Moshiach will bring even a higher and more total purity. Then the entire world will be filled with the knowledge of the Creator and eventually death will cease forever.
This higher purity was begun with the release of the Previous Rebbe from prison (12th of Tammz 5687- 1927).
Then, the Rebbe explianed, began a healing for the entire world, revealing the light of the teachings of Chassidut to the most alienated 'dead' Jews like Michel in our story and eventually to all mankind.
This gives us the power to to feel the Creator in our personal lives and not rest until the entire world is without darkness, disease and …. even death.It is clearly in our grasp to do just one more good deed and bring....
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