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 Pinchas (5767)
This week we learn how Moses apportioned the Promised Land to the Jews by lottery.
The process was a bit complicated and entailed miracles; for instance each card (called Goral) drawn actually yelled out its results. After it was over the Torah tells us that the five orphan daughters of a deceased Jew called Tzelofchad complained. "Why have we been left out etc.?" (27:4)
The land of Israel had been apportioned only to men. Beginning with each male that left Egypt, only his sons or grandsons inherited him; but not the females.
Now Tzelofchad's daughters wanted to inherit the portion that had belonged to their father.
This put Moses in a very tight spot; he simply didn't know what to do! So he asked G-d and merited to hear a new law: "If a man had no sons then his possessions go to his daughters". (27:8)
This apparently innocent story is not so clear.
Why didn't G-d let Moses know this simple law on Mount Sinai; why did He wait till now? And what is this strange, almost embarrassing story; that Moses had to be forced into admitting ignorance of the Law, coming to teach us?
To understand this, here is a story.
Jews have been a persecuted since the days of Abraham. But one of the most heartbreaking examples occurred in Czarist Russia when tens of thousands of young Jewish boys, often under the age of ten, were 'snatched' at the order of the Czar and then inducted into the army, tortured and beaten until they either died or 'accepted' the 'truth of Russian Orthodoxy.
(Although there were a very small percentage called 'Cantonists' by the Chassidim who survived and secretly kept some of the commandments)
Our story deals with the sad and unusual case of a lively 13 year old boy called Efriam Boruch, who was snatched from the street by soldiers who swept through his little village on horseback as night was falling as he was on the way home.
His parents ran into the street when they heard his soul shaking screams - but it was too late. All that were left were clouds of dust and the faint sounds of their son's weeping and galloping hooves fading into the distant sunset.
That entire night instead of sleeping they wept with broken hearts. But as the sun rose Efriam's father decided his only chance was to travel several days journey to his rich brother, Yitzchak Yehuda, and beg for help.
He hated to do it. In fact although he himself had trouble eking out a living for his wife and nine children and his brother often offered financial help he always refused. But now it was different.
He made the long difficult journey and, sure enough, Yitzchak Yehuda was more than willing to help. He immediately set to action. He cancelled all his business appointments and that very day began contacting anyone who might be able to help.
First he had to locate the boy. Many of the 'snatched' children were taken deep into the bowels of Siberia, never to be seen again but others, especially those that 'didn't make trouble', were given less distant homes… he had to work fast.
It cost him good sums of money but finally several weeks later he got the information he needed, the boy was located in an army camp somewhere near Moscow and was still alive.
He packed his suitcase, told his distraught brother to return home to his wife and children, and set off to Moscow; he would stay there till he brought his nephew home.
But on the way to Moscow he stopped off in Lubavitch to see his Rebbe, the famous Chabad Rebbe; Menachem Mendel (nicknamed the 'Tzemach Tzedek').
The Rebbe heard the story and told Yitzchak Yehuda not to worry. Just do everything possible to bring the child to Lubavitch - even for a short time.
Once in Moscow it took another month of searching and a lot of bribe money but finally Yitzchak Yehuda located the army camp, got permission to look around and, miracle of miracles, after several days of searching saw little Efriam Boruch.
But strangely the boy didn’t seem to recognize him. Or perhaps he just pretended?
The next day Yitzchak Yehuda found the General in charge of the camp, slipped him a few hundred rubles 'down payment' and told him that he wanted the child freed. But it wasn't so easy.
When the general offered him freedom little Efriam Boruch didn't want to go!!
It wasn't by accident that he seemed to ignore his uncle. It seems that in the short time he was in 'captivity' he discovered that the Czar's army was just what his clever, mischievous, attention-seeking soul was missing! He decided to forget his short dim past and live for a bright future.
But Yitzchak Yehuda didn't give up easily. He added a few more 'hundreds' and asked the general to make it so unbearable for the child that he would be willing to leave for just one weekend with him.
And so it was. Suddenly and unexplainably the soldiers in charge made Efriam Boruch's life miserable. They yelled at him, occasionally slapped him and nothing he could do made them happy and praise him as they had done previously.
So it wasn't surprising that the next time the general suggested that Efriam Boruch join his uncle for a two day leave… and while he was gone he would speak to the soldiers to return to how they were before. (He, after all, wanted the boy to back but he also wanted to keep the bribe.) The boy agreed.
That day Yitzchak Yehuda took his nephew, who fell asleep almost as soon as he entered his carriage, to the train station in Moscow and hours later they were in Lubavitch.
Of course he made no mention to the boy of his conduct the last two months, rather kept the conversation light and friendly as he urged Efriam Boruch to wash, dress up and accompany him to the evening prayers.
Efriam Boruch, who only a short time ago was completely observant, felt at home in the Synagogue but he was not familiar with a certain tension of expectation that seemed to fill the air… as though something really important was going to happen.
Suddenly everyone fell silent, the crowd separated to leave an wide path, all eyes turned to the door and the Rebbe, followed by his six sons entered the room. Little Efriam had never seen anything quite like this; he thought that Jews were pretty much like everyone else… but this Rebbe looked bigger than life.
Suddenly the Rebbe stopped, observed the crowd until his eyes settled on the boy. Yizchak Yehuda put his hands on his nephew's shoulders and felt that the boy was shuddering and cold sweat was glistening on his forehead. He was undergoing some sort of transformation.
The Rebbe removed his gaze and continued walking and after he had passed Efriam turned to his uncle almost in a swoon and asked what had happened. The Rebbe had somehow shaken the boy's soul.
But not for long.
The next evening, as soon as the Shabbat ended Efriam Boruch returned to his non-Jewish self and began to remind his uncle that he wanted to return early the next morning; he remembered the general's words that things would return to be as they were.
And the next morning he became more forceful, demanding to leave and even accusing his uncle of being a deceitful cheat and he would report him etc. But somehow Yitzchak Yehuda managed to calm him down with excuses that he had something to do and for sure they would leave first thing the next morning.
But before they left it was logical to go to the Rebbe to get his blessing for the journey.
At first the boy wanted no part of it and even considered just running away but something kept him there. Late that evening Yitzchak Yehuda dressed him up again and they entered the Rebbe's office.
"Here is my nephew" Yitzchak Yehuda said to the Rebbe, "but he wants to go back to the army."
The Tzemach Tzedik gazed deep into the boy's soul with the same holy, loving eyes as before and asked,
"So, do you really want to return to the camp?"
Without thinking Efriam Boruch firmly answered,
And that was the last time he ever considered leaving Judaism. The Rebbe prescribed a schedule of Torah studies for him and where he should be taken so the army would not find him.
Efriam Boruch grew up to be an outstanding Chassidic Jew with generations of upstanding children and children's children.
This answers our questions.
The dividing of the land of Israel was the second time that G-d tried to get the world perfected purely through the service of man.
This is what was supposed to have happened when He put Adam in the 'Garden to Work and Preserve it" Gen 1:15). But it didn't.
Now, with the dividing of Israel, G-d was giving man a second chance.
But this, too, wasn't completely successful. The first and second temples (that we are mourning for in these three weeks until the 9th of the month of Av) were destroyed.
And now it's up to us.
And that is what the Torah is telling us with the story of Tzlafchad's daughters: sometimes there are things that we have to do on our own, Moses and even G-d won't do them.
As in our story; without Yitzchak Yehuda sacrificing his time, money and energy his nephew would never have been saved.
So also, it's up to us today to transform the entire world into the Holy Land now! (as the Midrash says; Israel is destined to encompass the entire world").
As the Lubavitcher Rebbe said "Do all you can, turn over the world with good deeds and education." Soon the Third Temple will descend from heaven, all the Jews will return to Israel and peace, blessing, joy and the awareness of the Creator will fill all the empty spaces.
It's up to us to do ALL we can to bring....
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.