This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Re'eh (5767)
This week's section begins strangely: "See! I have put before you today a blessing and a curse."
This doesn't seem to make sense, why would G-d put curses before the Jews? According to Judaism G-d is good. In fact He is the source and definition of good.
So how could He give us curses?
Also, this week we will usher in the last month of the Jewish year; Elul - the month of self-inventory. But what exactly this means is the subject of much debate. Some say this self-inventory must be done with weeping, others say with joy. What is the proper way? What do we have to be happy about anyway?
Finally, our Torah portion contains 54 commandments several of which deal with the false prophet; one who tells the future and even makes miracles, but tries to change the Torah and is punishable by death.
What is the connection?
To understand this, here is a story.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman Gurary was a well know man among the Chabad Chassidim. Besides being a successful businessman and an accomplished scholar he was known for his unique, positive personality and wide range of acquaintances.
Our story begins as he is waiting in line for 'Yechidut'; a private audience with the Rebbe.
One of the highlights in the life of a Chassid is 'Yechidut'.
The mystical teachings of Chabad teach that the soul is very complex; indeed the soul has five levels each deeper than the other. The deepest level is totally united to the Creator and is called 'Yechida': 'unified'.
And that is why these private meetings are called Yechidut; because they are designed to awaken this 'Yechida' level.
Rabbi Gurary was nervous - these meetings were often totally transformational, even to the most seasoned Chassidim. So he decided he would open the Yechidus by telling the Rebbe of a fresh miracle of the Rebbe's, something happened earlier that day, that he played a big part in to ease the tension.
This was the story:
It began a month earlier when one of Rabbi Gurary's many acquaintances told him a sad story. This fellow had a young daughter who was suffering from a severely inflamed abscess in her throat. The doctors said she needed to be operated on immediately but admitted that the operation would be a delicate one and now he was beside himself with doubts as what to do.
Rabbi Gurary suggested that he see the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He explained that the Rebbe's blessings were miraculous and his advice was always correct. The girl's father agreed but being that he wasn't a very observant Jew insisted that Rabbi Gurary accompany him.
Although he had heard of these miracles, to him they were like Bible stories that weren't really very real. But now his little daughter's life was depending on them and he was confused.
So the next day they went to the Rebbe's headquarters; a large stately brick building in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, told the Rebbe's secretaries what they wanted and were granted Yechidut without waiting (often people had to wait months). That very night he, together with Rabbi Gurary, entered the Rebbe's room.
They closed the door behind them. The Rebbe was very cordial, heard the problem and answered immediately. He blessed the girl with a 'Refua Shelema' a complete recovery and added that, in his opinion, they should wait three months till the Jewish month of Adar to make the operation. Adar is a lucky month for the Jews and so it would be for them.
The man shook his head in agreement, shot a pleased and grateful look at Rabbi Gurary as if to say, 'this is real advice!' and got ready to thank the Rebbe and leave. But the Rebbe continued.
"Tell me, where does your daughter learn?"
"Where?" he replied, "You mean in which school? Why, she learns in Shulamit (modern-orthodox Jewish school).
"I think you should transfer her to Bait Yaakov. That is a good Jewish school where she will learn Torah values and true Jewish ideals."
But the man was not pleased. He just looked at the ground waiting for the Rebbe to finish so he could leave.
"I don't understand," The Rebbe continued. "My expertise is not in medicine but you came to ask my advice about medicine. My expertise is, however, education, that is the field to which I have devoted my entire life. And my advice is that you should enroll your daughter in Bait Yaakov.'
The man backed out of the room and went home happy as could be. He told his wife of the meeting, told her there was nothing to worry about and waited for the Rebbe's blessing to kick in.
But it didn't.
In fact after a few weeks the girl's state deteriorated so that she was rushed to the hospital again, but this time in very serious condition and high fever.
The girl's mother and some other friends were beside themselves. They heard that the reason for all this was because the Lubavitcher Rebbe said to wait. They decided to act.
They drove to Crown Hights to complain to the Rabbis and leaders of the community that their Rebbe was mixing into matters that he did not understand. The girl was dying. Obviously his blessings and advice weren't working and now the doctors said there was nothing they could do until the fever and infection subsided. And who knew if it ever would! They were mad!
When Rabbi Guary heard this he ran to the Rebbe's secretariat and wrote an urgent note to the Rebbe explaining what was happening. The girl was unconscious, her life was in danger and the situation was desperate. The Rebbe had to do something fast.
And the Rebbe's reply came immediately. "Be my emissary to her father and ask him, in my name, to transfer his daughter to Bait Yaakov."
'Tell him to transfer his daughter'?! Rabbi Gurary wasn't too happy with the answer. He figured the Rebbe would just do a miracle and make the girl healthy as he'd done hundreds, even thousands of times before. But he didn't.
How could he possibly relay such a message?
The girl's father was already beside himself with grief and worry. He had enough on his head to think about. Certainly the last thing he would want to hear is advice from the Rebbe especially on such a meaningless topic as changing schools. It would sound absurd to talk about where his daughter was registered when the girl was dying! She might not live another hour.
But suddenly Rabbi Gurary threw all logic aside, mustered up the courage, took a cab to the hospital and gave the father the message. And to his surprise, instead of getting mad or bursting out in tears he actually agreed. "After all, I've got nothing to lose, do I." He said as he went to the nearest pay phone.
He called BaitYaakov, enrolled his daughter on the spot and told them he would be in the next day to pay in full.
Just an hour later the abscess burst on its own, his daughter's temperature fell to normal and the doctors said there was no need for an operation. It was an open miracle!!
This was the story Rabbi Gurary decided to tell the Rebbe when he went in to Yechidut. He would introduce it by saying that he would like to first tell the Rebbe a miracle of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
And so it was. He entered the Rebbe's room and began with his story. The Rebbe listened and when it was finished, smiled and said:
"The biggest miracle was not that the daughter recovered but that you agreed to tell the father what I had requested!"
Now we can understand our questions. The reason G-d gave curses is BECAUSE He is good and He wants us to have free will. Angels, because they have no free will of their own, have no curses but they don't earn blessings either.
But man, especially the Jews, because we have so many commandments and so much opportunity to, G-d forbid, make mistakes…. when we do choose correctly we bring great blessing to the world.
This knowledge that we can bring blessing and meaning to the world and, indeed, give G-d pleasure (Nachat Ruach) should make us very happy.
Especially when we remember that even if we failed in the past, G-d will always forgive us, wipe out the curses and renew our power to choose correctly so as to transform them to blessings.
This is the optimistic inventory we must make in the month of Ellul. Especially keeping in mind the five areas of Judaism hinted at by the initials of E L U L: (see Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 126:1) prayer, charity, Torah, Tshuva and Redemption.
Even if sometimes we must face awesomely difficult tests, like the false prophet or the test Rabbi Gurary was faced with: to follow our natures and our 'common sense' or to follow the true prophets. We can be encouraged by keeping in mind the great blessings we bring to the world if we make the proper choice.
This is the practical message we can learn here. The Rebbe declared that ours is the generation that Jews have been waiting and praying for for thousands of years; the generation of Moshiach.
But it demands one thing of us; to choose to go above our natures and our normal ways of thinking. To think Jewish.
As Maimonides points out in the end of his Yad Chazaka; 'The Moshiach will cause the world to be filled with the knowledge of G-d and change everyone's priorities.'
All we need to do is make the right choice and do all we can, all the time, with all our energy to bring...
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