This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.
Parshat Va'eira (5768)
Before G-d took the Jews out of Egypt over 3,300 years ago, He smote the Egyptians with ten horrible plagues. In this week's Torah portion we learn about the first seven; Blood, Frogs, Lice, Wild animals, Pestilence, Boils and Hail.
But, at first glance this doesn't make sense.
The Torah is not just a history book but also the teaching of life explaining how to actively put meaning and blessing into everything.
What do the plagues have to do with this?
The plagues were acts of G-d to destroy Egypt, the Jews just had to stand back and watch. How does this bring us to be more active or make the world a better place?
To understand this here is a story. (The power of Ruach HaKodesh by Uri Auerbach pg. 218)
Once, about two hundred years ago in Poland, a great Talmudic scholar, who we will call Reb Shmuel, needed money. This man was a paradigm of holiness and erudition. His every waking moment was spent learning the Torah and delving into its G-dly wisdom and the last thing on his mind was money. But two things made him change his mind; his daughter and his wife.
His daughter was of marriageable age; and his wife wouldn't let him forget it. It meant he had to provide a dowry, a house, a wedding etc. and she didn't give him a moment's rest until he did something about it.
But the poor fellow had only three unmarketable talents; learning Torah, teaching Torah and ignoring the world. So he asked around for advice and the most practical piece he got was; go to a Chassidic Tzadik and ask for a blessing.
He wasn't a Chassid, he didn't believe in Rebbes, he didn't want to do anything except sit and learn Torah in peace but his back was against the wall.
So against his better judgment, but with no other choice, he went to one of the towns where the Chassidim lived, asked where to find a Tzadik and was directed to the home of Rabbi Mair of Parmishlian.
He entered, was escorted to the Rebbe's study, closed the door behind him and poured out his heart; he needed money for his daughter… or maybe a rich groom. The Rebbe looked at him with a clever eye, took out a long stemmed smoking pipe and said.
"See this? It's my pipe and I need a pipe cleaner." He pulled out a long thin metal rod and continued. "See? This is my old one and it's about to break, can't use it any more. Do me a favor. Go find a blacksmith and, here, take this and show it to him and ask him to make me a new one. Here's money to pay him. Do me a favor, I want to help you but I can't think without my pipe."
Poor Reb Shmuel took the dirty rod and the money and, without thinking too much shook his head in agreement, tried to smile and left the room.
"What am I doing this for?!" He thought as he walked down the street away from the Tzadik's house. "This is insane! I'm a Torah scholar! I'm no servant! And this rod smells terrible!" But he was trapped! He couldn't go home, he couldn't run away ignore the world and learn Torah like always, so he asked the first man that passed where he could find a blacksmith.
But it wasn't so easy. There were plenty of smiths around but none of them wanted to take the job; too small, too delicate, too old-fashioned…. No one used smoked such pipes nowadays.
Finally, after hours of searching, he was directed to a dilapidated shack far from the city where he found an old smithy who greeted him warmly and joyously agreed to make the pipe cleaner he requested. He was familiar with such things and was willing to begin work immediately.
At first Reb Shmuel was cursing every minute he had to sit with this uncouth gentile and miss precious Torah learning. But as he watched the smith work he became more and more interested until each blow of the hammer and each change in shape of the red hot bar excited him.
The smith began talking. He explained how when he was young and strong people would flock to his shack and he was busy all day. But then tragedy struck. A fire burned down his house and consumed his wife and daughter and he really never recovered from the blow.
Then other blacksmiths, younger and stronger than him, opened shops in the town and people stopped coming to him in fact he hadn't had a customer for months, maybe more.
Reb Shmuel began to really like this old fellow. In fact he saw that he was a real human being… maybe even a lot more that he himself. They began talking and the conversation continued until almost evening and finally when the smith gave him the finished product he refused to accept payment.
"I don't need money." The smith said. "What I need is a friend. And you are a friend. Why, I have a lot of money. See?" And with this he stood, grabbed both sides of the anvil before him, took a deep breath, his face became red as a beet and gave a mighty heave. "See? Here's my money! Saved it all from the good days. Don't know what I'll do with it. Got no family. No friends. Except for you. Tell me … will you come back and we can talk some more tomorrow?"
Reb Shmuel stuck out his hand and said, "I'll do it! I really enjoyed talking to you! G-d willing I'll come back tomorrow."
The smith put the anvil back in place, they shook hands and the Rabbi returned to the town, took a room in a hotel and went to sleep. It was too late to go to the Rebbe with the pipe cleaner… he'd go tomorrow.
But the next day, after he finished his morning prayers and was on his way to the Rebbe's home he noticed a big commotion in the street. He approached to find that …. The old smithy had passed away that evening and they were trying to sell his tools and his shack to pay for the funeral, but no one wanted to buy any of his antiquated junk.
Reb Shmuel was shocked! The smithy, his friend, was dead?! He turned briefly aside as tears filled his eyes then suddenly remembered …….. the money under that anvil! He dried his eyes, blew his nose, asked how much money they needed and, to the amazement of everyone, promptly paid in full and got a receipt.
As calmly as he could, he made his way to the smithy's shack, somehow managed to move the anvil a bit, took out the money stuffed it in his pockets and in his shirt and made his way to Rebbe Mair of Parmishlian's home.
"Here is your pipe-cleaner" he said to the Rebbe and was about to say that he didn't need the blessing; G-d provided the money. But suddenly he saw in the Rebbe's eyes and realized that he knew.
"I knew that money was there." Said the Rebbe "It was just waiting for the right person to take it, HaShem sent you."
Reb Shmuel learned three lessons; from the money he learned that G-d is better than we think. From the Rebbe; that Tzadikim are better than we think. And from the smithy, that people are better than we think.
This answers our questions.
The foundation of Judaism and the first of the Ten Commandments is; "I am G-d that took you from Egypt."
Namely that G-d, the Creator of all being, personally took the entire Jewish nation from Egypt and gave them His greatest treasure: His Torah.
And He did it all through Moses. Moses announced the plagues, unified the Jews, gave them direction, led them from Egypt and brought them the revelation at Mt. Sinai.
So also in this week's Torah portion, we learn three things:
G-d is better than we can imagine; He helped (and helps) us out of 'Egypt' (i.e. our personal problems and shortcomings), the Tzadikim are better than we imagine; Moses helped the Jews appreciate G-d. (and in every generation there is at least one 'Moses')
But the third thing; that people are better than we think, is the message that Moshiach, the leader that Moses prepared us for, will bring.
This is perhaps the main lessons of the followers of the Baal Shem Tov… especially the Lubavitcher Rebbe and, indeed, of all Judaism!
In the FINAL redemption by Moshiach ALL mankind will go out of 'Egypt' (as the Mimonadies quotes from the prophets in the very end of his book).
Unlike the Exodus from Egypt the gentiles will not be destroyed. Rather they will all turn to the Creator, the G-d of Israel and realize that He creates, loves and helps them.
And it all depends on us, each and every (or ANY) one of us.
Even one more good deed, or positive word or even optimistic thought can tilt the scale of creation and bring... Moshiach NOW!!
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.