This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Devarim (5767)
This week begins the last and perhaps the most unusual book of the Pentateuch.
Moses is giving his final directions to the Jews before he dies and they enter Israel with Joshua at their head. But he does it in a strange, seemingly confusing way.
In the first four books of the Bible it is clear when G-d is speaking and when it is Abraham, Isaac etc. We often encounter "And G-d spoke to Moses saying" so there can be no doubt who is talking.
But not here; here Moses says it all; it doesn't say even once "G-d spoke to Moses saying". But really G-d is talking …. through Moses' mouth!
For instance when Moses said "And it will be that if you do my commandments I will give the rains in their time etc" (Deut. 11:13) everyone knew G-d was saying it; it meant G-d's commandments and G-d would send the rain but for some reason it was coming through Moses' mouth!
Why did G-d do such a thing? Why did want Moses to speak in the first person and really mean G-d? Isn't this misleading? Especially when they were about to enter Israel; they needed a clear message to guide and inspire them.
Also, in the upcoming week we fast in commemoration of the destruction of both Holy Temples on the Ninth of Av, with the hope that Moshiach will bring the Third Temple from heaven to earth.
Is there a connection?
To answer this here is a story told by Malka Touger: (Beit Moshiach Magazine #580)
On a stormy winter day in 2001 Rabbi Shalom Lew, the Lubavitcher Rebbe's emissary in Glendale Arizona with his wife and two small children had just finished an inspiring several day visit to the Rebbe in Crown Heights district of Brooklyn. They were now were standing before the ticket booth trying to buy tokens for the subway.
The plan was to take the subway to Hartford, Connecticut to visit his wife's family and then fly to Glendale. But they overlooked one thing; change.
It just so happened that all they had were two hundred dollar bills and the ticket offices don't change large bills. They were stuck. His wife was feverishly looking through her purse, the children were getting restless and the solution was not in sight. He'd have to miss the train, run up the stairs into the storm and look for change.
Suddenly they heard a woman's voice from behind them. "Can I help? What, you don't have change? Here I have change… it's only a few dollars."
It was a friendly, well-dressed young woman smiling pleasantly with a few dollar bills in her outstretched hand. In no time they were through the turnstile and on the subway, the woman right ahead of them looking for seats.
After the subway began to move Rabbi Lew went over to the woman, and thanked her profusely. "No problem," she said, "I know how it is to travel with small children. I'm glad to help."
They conversed a bit and somehow it entered Rabbi Lew's mind to ask her if she was Jewish and, when the answer was positive, if she lit Shabbat candles.
"No, I don't" she replied. "What good is it if I just do one commandment when I don't do any others. I don't observe the Shabbat, I'd be lying to myself if I lit Shabbat candles."
Suddenly he remembered a conversation his grandfather, Reb Zalman Jaffe ofManchester England told him that he had had years earlier with the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
The Rebbe made a speech that revolutionized Judaism.
Till that speech, Torah Judaism had been on the defensive; trying to ward off all non-religious influences. But the Rebbe changed all that.
He declared in a 'farbrengen' (Chassidic gathering) that Judaism holds the solution to all the world's problems. If every Jew does a commandment, even one, it will fill the world with meaning and blessings unequaled in the history of man: Moshiach will arrive.
The Rebbe told his Chassidim to begin with Tefillin for men and Shabbat candles for women. They had to go into the streets if necessary and change the world.
Shortly thereafter Reb Zalman Jaffe reported to the Rebbe that he had approached a neighbor of his (an unheard of thing in England) with the suggestion that she light candles and she answered, 'What good will just one commandment do when I am completely non-observant' (exactly like the woman was answering Rabbi Lew in the subway!).
To which he replied that each commandment has a special quality, a 'charm' and blessing of its own, not connected to the others." The Lubavitcher Rebbe, smiled and nodded in complete agreement with his approach.
So Rabbi Lew, inspired by this memory, said the exact same words. But, although the woman seemed pleased with the conversation, she did not seem at all convinced. When her stop came she bade the Rabbi and his wife a polite farewell and exited the Subway
Three years later Rabbi Lew got an email.
"Dear Rabbi Lew.
"I got your email address from Chabad.org. My name is Melissa. You probably don't remember me. I met you and your family almost four years ago in the Subway in Crown Heights I gave you change for the hundred dollar bill so you could get on the train and you tried to convince me to light Shabbat Candles.
"Well, believe it or not, it took some time but I lit them. Just one commandment, like you said, with no connection to anything else.
"But it didn't stop there. I got married to a wonderful Jewish man by the name of Marty and we decided to start doing more.
"Believe it or not, today we keep most of the laws of Shabbat, eat kosher food and hope to have a completely Jewish house. I just wanted to thank you for caring. Since then I've thought a lot about what you said 'just light candles' and I just want you to know that because of those words I am the person I am today. Believe it or not! If possible please keep in contact. Melissa."
A few days later Rabbi Shalom Lew called his father, Rabbi Shmuel in London and told him the story; especially how the memory of his Grandfather's conversation with the Rebbe put the right words in his mouth on the subway.
"Amazing!" His father exclaimed. "You'll never guess where I'm just coming from! I was just at the engagement party of a young lady that told me that she is an observant Jew today thanks to a conversation your grandpa Zalman, had with her grandmother years ago about lighting candles.
"That was the conversation you remembered on the subway!"
Now we can understand why G-d spoke through the mouth of Moses before they entered Israel.
When they were in the desert the Jews protected from all sides by 'Clouds of Glory' and fed miraculously with Manna and water from a rock; They had no real challenges to speak of.
But now, in the book of D'vorim, Moses was preparing them for the 'real' world. In Israel they would have to work, build, fight battles, produce their own food and still give all the credit to G-d: To make Israel into G-d's 'home'.
Where would they get the power to do such a superhuman thing?
The answer is from Moses' example. As the Midrash comments on the sentence (Deut. 33:1) 'This is the blessing that Moses the man of G-d blessed the Jews.' "Moses was one half man and one half G-d" (Dvorim Raba 11:4)
G-d made His voice and commandments come through Moses' mouth to show them that every Jew is really 'part' of the Creator (Deut. 32:9) filled with the power of G-d.
And similarly every generation must have a "Moses' to teach (as the Rebbe taught the Chassidim in our story) that each Jew contains a 'Portion of G-d Himself' (Tanya chap. 2). And every Jew is ready, able and willing to change him/herself and the entire world.
And that means us… now. Each of us has the power to, in the language of the Rebbe, turn over the entire world.
It's up to us to do all we can to bring about the arrival of Moshiach, the building of the Holy Temple and the true rebuilding of Israel with.... Moshiach NOW!!
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