This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Va'etchanan (5767)
This week's Torah reading begins with Moses unsuccessfully trying to convince G-d to let him enter Israel and contains twelve commandments. Among them:
1) to believe that G-d is one
2) to Love G-d with all your heart, soul and might,
3) to learn and teach Torah,
4) to put Tefillin on the head and
6) To say the 'Shma Yisroel' prayer twice daily
7) not to marry an non-Jew and more.
At first glance these seem to be unrelated but in fact they all contain unique points found only in Judaism… as stressed in the 'Chasidic' teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
For instance the idea that G-d is one means not just that He is one G-d and not two (which is also found in other religions). Rather, it means G-d is the ONLY existence; creating constantly all spiritual (i.e. the 'gods' of the other religions) and physical being: there is nothing besides Him.
Similarly loving G-d doesn't just mean appreciating what He gives us. Rather it means appreciating that, despite fact that He is infinite, we can actually 'give' to Him.
And learning His Torah isn't just a way to get into heaven but rather the only way to understand His wisdom and know how to cause him 'nachat ruach' (pleasure) by fulfilling His will.
So also putting on Tefillin is a way to express the essence of the Jewish soul: that we Jews are the 'sons' and 'servants' of G-d.
As we can understand from the following story:
Every Friday afternoon I set up a small table in a large artsy outdoor market in Tel Aviv (on Nachat Benyamin Street), bring three pairs of Tefillin I bought specially for the purpose and ask Jews walking there to put them on.
To some I say "'Yedidi' (my friend), come put on Tefillin" to others I replace the first word with. "Achi (my brother) and others I call, "Yehudi (Jew).
All sorts of Jews agree and many are complete surprises. For instance; Jews with green-dyed Mohican hair cuts, body piercings and tattoos, Jews that have never put on Tefillin in their lives and Russian Jews that have never even SEEN Tefillin in their lives.
But one really stands out in my memory.
One cold, windy Friday I yelled out to a fellow that passed me by, "Yehudi (Jew) come put on Tefillin!"
Usually people either smile and refuse or smile and agree but this fellow stopped, turned to me and gave me a look with small beady eyes that shot a shudder down my spine.
At first I was almost sure he was going to punch me. His small mustache, slick long black hair pulled into a pony tail and long black leather jacket filled with his muscular frame gave the frightening impression that he meant no good and he meant business."
But to my great relief he looked away and resumed walking. I never had quite such an experience, except one time in the U.S.A. when some skin-head tried to make trouble and local passers by stepped in, but now it was over.
But it wasn't.
Several seconds later I was looking in the other direction calling people when suddenly I turned and there he was standing almost on top of me. He put his face in mine and said menacingly, "What did you call me?"
"Ehh?" I answered. He caught me by surprise.
"Before, when you called me; what did you call me?"
He was sort of shaking and I, hoping he was normal and just misheard me the first time, mustered up a smile and, answered.
"I said 'Yehudi (Jew), come put on Tefillin' … I called you Yehudi…Ye hu di'"
His eyes filled with tears and he said, "That's what I thought. You called me 'Jew'. You're right… I am a Jew. No one ever calls me that." And he removed his leather coat and stuck out his arm so I should put Tefillin on him.
The Tefillin called to his true essence.
The next story illustrates the commandment of 'saying Shma' and the prohibition or intermarriage.
It happened some 250 years ago in the Ukraine with one of the followers of the Baal Shem Tov called Rav Leib Sarah's.
(Kol Sipuri Baal Shem Tov vol.1, pg. 209)
His unusual last name; 'Sarah's' was after his mother, Sarah, who when she was in her teens rejected wealth and luxury and married an eighty year old Jew in order to escape the local gentile Baron's marital advances.
Rabbi Leib was once traveling after Rosh HaShanna (New Year's) when a fierce snowstorm forced him to find refuge in a small town for several days.
When he realized that one of those days was going to be Yom Kippur; the Jewish Holy Day of Forgiveness, he began organizing a 'minion' (ten Jews) to pray with.
He discovered that the local Jews had a small Synagogue (Shul) that they prayed in but, as fate would have it two of them had been taken to debtor's prison and there were only eight Jews left, which, together with him meant they were one short.
Reb Leib asked them if perhaps there was a Jew they hadn't thought of… even an apostate Jew.
"Well" answered one of the elders after everyone else was silent for a while, "There is the old Baron."
"What?!" the others turned to him in amazement. Some even spit on the floor in contempt, "The old Baron?! That evil anti-Semite? He's a Jew?! No way!! Why, he'd just as soon kill a Jew as look at him! "
"You're right!" the old man continued, "He's evil all right. But he's a Jew. At least he used to be. He changed his religion some fifty years ago to marry the previous Baron's daughter. That's how he got to be Baron; when the old buzzard died."
"Does he have any children?" asked Reb Leib
"Nope, no children and no wife… she died a few years ago too and he never had children. Must be over eighty years old already but he's mean. I'd forget him if I were you, Rabbi."
Immediately Reb Leib put on his fur coat and set off to the Baron's castle and an hour later he reached the huge front door and entered without knocking.
The Baron was startled to see the old Jew and instinctively reached for his sword but Reb Leib began to speak.
"Listen to me. I know you are a Jew. My name is Leib Sarah's. My mother, Sarah of blessed memory, had a chance to become rich, powerful and famous by agreeing to marry a Baron. But she refused because the Torah forbids marrying a gentile. But you weren't able to stand up to the challenge. You left the G-d of Israel, the Creator of the Universe just for luxury and power. Now is your chance to be true to your soul. Nothing stands in the way of repentance. Repentance is above time.
"Tonight is Yom Kippur and we need a tenth man for the minion."
The Baron removed his sword, put on his fur coat and followed the Rabbi like a small child.
The entire night and the next day he just sat in the corner of the Shul with his prayer shawl over his face reading from his prayer book and saying psalms ….. occasionally heaving a deep sigh.
Then, at the end of the services.. after the last prayer when everyone yells "HaShem Hu Elokim" (G-d is the L-rd) he ran to the open ark, yelled out 'Shma Yisroel; "Understand Jews that G-d is our L-rd, G-d is One" and dropped lifeless to the ground.
From that year on Reb Leib Sarah's would say "Kadish" and remember the soul of the returned Baron.
This is the theme of this week's section and the above commandments.
Moses was the true example of a Jewish leader. He knew and felt G-d's Oneness, loved G-d with all his heart, wanted to do all the commandments and teach all the Jews Torah and He knew the difference between Jew and gentile. He was the embodiment of 'Shma Yisroel'.
This is why he wanted so desperately to enter the land of Israel. Because only there is it possible to do all the commandments (agricultural, and Holy Temple laws etc), give G-d pleasure, express His Oneness and awaken the Jewish soul.
In other words, Moses had all the qualities of Moshiach (except for being from offspring of King David, see Maimonides, Laws of Kings chap 11).
And this is exactly what to expect from Moshiach.
He will awaken all the Jews, bring them back to Torah and its commandments, build the Third Temple and gather all the to Israel.
It's all up to us. In the language of the Lubavitcher Rebbe we have to 'open our eyes' 'Turn over the world' and do all we can to bring all the Jews to Israel and promote world peace with..
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