This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Matot-Massei (5767)
The Torah is called Torat Chaim; the Teaching of Life. Every word, idea, story and commandment contains precious gems of wisdom teaching us why we were created and how we can serve our Creator and fulfill our purpose in life.
But it wasn't till the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov called Chassidut that these hidden gems were made available to every Jew; even the simplest.
For instance, this week's double portion; the first part, Matot (staffs), begins with the laws of oaths and the second, Massei (journeys) begins with the forty two journeys the Jews made in the desert.
At first glance, oaths and journeys seem to be two unrelated topics but the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov; Chassidut show how vital they are to one another and to every Jew.
Oaths refers to the 'Oath' administered to every Jewish child by G-d just before birth to try to act, speak, think and even feel Jewish at all times (Tanya chapter 1).
And JOURNEYS refers to everything in life thereafter.
In fact it was said that the Baal Shem's successor The Maggid of Meseritz could see every detail of a person's life; past present and even future, by examining these forty two JOURNEYS.
To understand this here is a story. (Beis Moshiach Magazine, issue 607)
Rabbi Shimon Freundlich the Rebbe's 'Shliach' (emissary) in Beijing China, runs a successful and very busy Chabad House catering to the Jews that live, visit or come to do business there.
His approach is so genuinely friendly that everyone that comes in contact with him or spends any time in his Chabad House is impressed, often to the essence of their souls as we will see.
Recently,whilst visiting New York, he was invited to be the personal guest at the Tish (public meal) of the Rebbe of Satmar (a very large and influential group of Chassidim that at one time was at odds with Chabad for various reasons) because of the many Satmar Chassidim that had benefited from his Chabad House.
Hundreds of Satmar Chassidim were present as their Rebbe whispered something to one of his assistants whereupon the assistant pounded on the table and announced.
"The Rebbe requests that 'the Lubavitcher' (referring to Rabbi Freundlich) should speak."
Rabbi Freundlich stood, cleared his throat, thanked the Chassidim and their Rebbe for inviting him, said an interesting idea from the weekly Torah portion and then asked permission to tell a story; something that had recently occurred in his Chabad House. The Rebbe nodded yes and he began.
"A lot of people come to visit our Chabad House for Shabbat, as you know. Well, one Shabbat evening a few months ago, and older man, maybe about eighty years old, who didn't look very religious, appeared in the company of a younger man in his forties.
The old fellow found a seat and just minutes after we began the prayers he put his face in his hands and began to cry. He kept it up for almost an hour; he would calm down for a few minutes, dry his eyes and blow his nose and then begin again.
I quietly approached him and asked him if everything was all right and he told me not to worry. Then after the prayers he and his friend joined us all for the Shabbat evening meal.
There were over fifty people there. I sat him next to me and after he calmed down he asked if he could speak and explain the reason for his weeping.
I stood, said a few words, introduced him, he cleared his throat and began,
"'My name is Sam Katz (pseudonym). The reason that I want to speak now is because I am very emotional and I want to tell you about it. The last time I was in a Synagogue was over sixty years ago in Poland. I was a young man then when the Germans came and took my entire city to Buchenwald. I was there for four years and in that time I lost everything; my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, my friends; all killed, some of them before my eyes. But I lived. I got out at the end of the war and after a few years of searching for family or friends with no results I finally moved to Australia.
"I was totally alone and angry at G-d. I succeeded at business, made a lot of money, got married had children but my wounds and anger were so deep that I made a sort of decision to never go into a Synagogue or have anything to do with Judaism again… nothing!!
"But then just yesterday I came to China with my friend and he said we should visit the Chabad House. At first I didn't want to come but he said there was nothing better to do and that he'd been here before and the food is good so I agreed.
"But as soon as the prayers began everything suddenly came back to me. I remembered how good it is to be a Jew; how proud and happy my father and mother were and, well, suddenly it was like a wall of ice just melted. That's why I cried. I thought I'd never forgive G-d again but now I feel like a small child that just wants to be home. All thanks to this Chabad House and the Rabbi here."
The crowd clapped, wiped tears from their eyes and congratulated him for the beautiful story but then one woman stood up and said.
"Tell me Mr. Katz. If you were in Buchenwald until the end, then maybe you know my father. His name is Naftali Kogen (pseudonym) he also was in Buchenwald."
Mr. Katz's jaw dropped, his eyes bolted open and he held his head in wonder "Naftali Kogen!? What… Naftali is still alive?! Why we were the only two Kohanim in the camp and we were always together. We risked our lives for each other not just once…. We were like brothers!! Oy!! Naftali!!
"There was such total confusion in those days; everything was upside down. We were put in different recovery camps and got separated. I searched for him for a long time after the war but finally I gave up. I thought he was dead. But now it's a miracle!!"
Rabbi Freundlich finished his story saying that after Shabbat a meeting was arranged between them… and this is only an example of the miracles that happen in Beijing thanks to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Suddenly the head of the Satmar community, a Chassid by the name of Rav Yaakov who had listened intently to the story yelled out! He raised himself in his seat a bit and fell back; his face pale as chalk and his eyes staring wildly at the ceiling. The others were startled and rose to help him.
He came to himself in just seconds stood up and yelled aloud to all those present, "Tell them that Yaakov is still alive!!"
He was obviously experiencing some sort of emotional hurricane.
"There weren't just two Kohanim in Buchenwald." He continued, "There were three; Sam Katz, Naftali and …. Me!
"We stuck together like brothers…. more than brothers. But just a few days before the end of the war I was moved to another camp. They probably thought I was dead, and I almost was, and I was sure that they were. But I never believed that they would still be alive even now!!"
This story occurred just recently and in these days they should be making a joyous reunion.
This is the meaning of Matot Massei: staffs and journeys.
A staff is something firm and unyielding. Similarly, this is the spiritual 'oath' that every Jew is given before birth; the staff of Jewish identity to steady each of us throughout life's vicissitudes.
While a journey is constantly changing. And every Jew must have both.
Like the survivors in our story; their Jewish identities were the 'staffs' that kept them firm but each had to make his individual 'journeys' in life in order that they all finally be brought together'
And just as the Rebbe unified all the survivors, so Moshiach will unite all the Jews.
This is all the work of the Moshiach; to remind every Jew of this 'staff' of life; the pre-natal oath that provides the identity which will bring all the Jews to the third Holy Temple in the Holy Land.
It can happen any instant now. In fact it's well overdue!! We just have to do all we can to bring...
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