This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Chayei Sarah (5768)
This week's Torah Portion begins with Abraham looking for a burial place for his wife Sarah and finally paying the exorbitant price of 400 silver coins for it.
Why does the Torah tell this story? What do we care about how much money Abraham paid some 4,000 years ago? What possible connection can it have to our religion? And why did he have to pay so much? Jews are supposed to be shrewd businessman. How could it be that the FATHER of Judaism overpaid?
To understand this here is a story. (HaGeula #348)
The Garbovskis were typical Russian Jews. They lived in the Ukraine near Kiev in a modest home with their two sons Vladimir and Igor, were about ignorant about Judaism as a Jew can be and they had a strong desire immigrate to Israel.
But they had differing ideas about how to do it.
Vladimir, always the idealist, didn't want to wait. He figured that with his degree in engineering he would surely succeed there and wanted to leave immediately. But Igor and his parents wanted to wait until there were sufficient funds and then move together.
But Vladimir wouldn't hear of it. One day he announced that he had purchased his ticket and would go alone… and before they knew it he was gone.
At first Vladimir phoned home once a week and was full of good news: He became a citizen and was living temporarily in one of the immigration centers. He was learning Hebrew and he had been promised a job as an engineer as soon as a position was available.
But a half a year later he didn't sound so enthusiastic as before: The engineering job never materialized, he was working 'temporarily' as a gardener and he had moved out of the Immigration Center to a dingy apartment in the city of Romley.
He sounded depressed. His parents suggested that he return home and Igor began pressuring him; come home and in a year or so we will all move together and help each other.
But Vladimir would have no part of it. In fact it made him angry; bad enough that the Israeli Government wasn't helping him, now his family was against him?!
He began calling home less frequently and his conversations were tense and often ended in quarrels.
Until Vladimir decided to stop calling altogether.
Igor tried to call him back, but the phone had been disconnected. He called the Israeli police and the immigration service but they were of no help.
He felt guilty; perhaps it was his fault; maybe he had been to forceful, to negative? Perhaps if he had been more friendly etc. etc. until finally he decided there was no other way to calm his conscience than to travel to Israel and locate Vladimir himself. With a heavy heart his parents agreed and he was off.
Igor unlike his brother already knew Hebrew fairly well and in no time he settled in. He found himself an apartment in Tel Aviv got a successful job as an apartment broker to Russian immigrants and began looking for Vladimir.
But it wasn't so simple.
He went to the immigration center but they had lost contact with him. Then he located the apartment in Romley only to discover that Vladimir had moved out several months ago and all the landlord and neighbors could say was that he looked depressed.
He went to the company for which his brother had worked as a gardener and they told him that he had been fired. He had been a good worker for the first month or so but then he said it wasn't fair that an engineer should do such menial work and since then, three months ago, they hadn't seen him.
Igor contacted the police again, got on the radio, spoke on the Russian stations, put ads in the Russian newspapers with his brother's picture and even printed advertisements and put them on telephone poles in the streets. But nothing worked. And he began to suspect the worst.
After a year of fruitless searching in Israel suddenly an idea popped into his mind, maybe his brother moved to America. After all a lot of Russians that didn't make it in Israel went there. And, although Igor realized the irrationality of his thinking; if he couldn't find Vladimir in little Israel he certainly wouldn't succeed in the U.S.A., nevertheless he bought tickets and flew to Los Angeles… He wanted a vacation.
But as expected, despite a month of praiseworthy efforts he came up with nothing. So he decided to try in New York for a week or two and then if nothing turned up he would return to Israel.
But in New York he fared no better. He put ads in the Russian papers, even got his plea announced on a few Russian radio stations but with no results.
Then on Friday, three days before his return flight on Sunday night, he met someone in the hotel where he was staying told him what he was doing in the U.S. and his acquaintance replied,
"Your brother? Why, if I was you I would go to the Lubavitcher Rebbe and ask for a blessing."
Igor had no idea what the man was talking about. "Rebbe? Lubavitch?" he replied, "No, I'm sure that my brother would never go any Rebbe. Vladimir wasn't religious at all."
But his acquaintance explained how this Lubavitcher Rebbe was known to help people in the most miraculous ways, especially Jews. He even told him a story or two and added that the Rebbe personally gives out one dollar bills, blessings and advice every Sunday from his headquarters in Brooklyn to anyone that comes.
Igor had heard stories of Chassidic Rebbes doing miracles but he was sure that they were fables or fairy tales. He couldn't believe that this fellow was telling the truth.
But then he thought to himself that he really had nothing to lose and was free Sunday morning. Not only that but according to his fellow the Rebbe was very friendly, and spoke Russian.
So that Sunday morning Igor found himself standing in a huge line of several thousand people that wound around a large red brick building in Brooklyn and an hour later he was face to face with the Rebbe.
Just as the man in the hotel said; the Rebbe was not austere at all, exactly the opposite, he seemed very warm and friendly. So Igor said in Russian, "I'm looking for my brother who has been lost for a year. Can you help me?"
The Rebbe smiled, gave him two dollars and said, "One is for you and the second give to charity and you will find your brother."
Igor took the dollars, said thank you and moments later was in the subway back to his hotel trying to understand what happened. He finally figured that it the dollars were probably some sort of good-luck, mystical thing. In any case he put them in his pocket, didn't give it much thought, packed his bags, rested for an few hours, went to the airport and forgot the whole thing.
When he arrived in Israel he already had a few meetings planned and he took a cab to Jerusalem directly from the airport.
Once in Jerusalem he got out of the cab and immediately five 'poor people' surrounded him for donations. Usually he would simply ignore them but suddenly he remembered the Rebbe's words, dug his hand into his pocket and begrudgingly gave the Rebbe's dollar to one of them thinking to himself, 'At least I'll see if that Rebbe's blessing was real'.
But he didn't have to wait long. The bum that he gave the dollar to had tears in his eyes…. He took a good look. It was none other than his Brother!!!
Needless to say both of them decided to learn more about Judaism and today are much more active Jews.
This answers our question.
Money is a very powerful thing. In fact the Torah tells us that money can blind the eyes of the wise and twist the words of the righteous (Deut. 16:19) (as we see in Israeli politics today).
But it also works the other way… as we saw in the story: Money, if used properly, can bring even the foolish to see; both physically (he found his brother) and spiritually (they both came closer to Judaism).
But the first one to do this was Abraham. That's why he is called the FATHER of Judaism.
He realized that G-d wanted him be the first to transform the evil of the world to good… which is the job of the Jews; for this we were 'chosen'.
And the number four hundred corresponds to both: For instance, the 400 men of the wicked Eisav (Gen. 32:7) and the Four hundred worlds of G-dly desire (Torah Ohr 24:3).
So Abraham, by using these 400 silver coins for the holy purpose of purchasing land in Israel, was paving the way for people like Igor in our story to use money in order to reveal holiness in the entire world.
And that work will be finished by Moshiach when the truth will be revealed: that the entire world, even money, if used according to the Torah, is holy and G-dly.
We just have do all we can, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe taught, to act as though Moshiach is here. If we use all we have to serve the Creator then immediately the entire world will see….
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