This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Bo (5768)
This week we read of how, just before He took the Jews from Egypt, G-d told Moses to order the Jews to circumcise themselves, sacrifice a lamb (or a goat), put the blood of the sacrifice on the insides of their doorposts, then roast the meat and finally eat it.
If this seems strange, it is. And the reason for it is even stranger:
The foremost Torah elucidator Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (nicknamed 'Rashi') explains (12:6) that these commandments were the first two that the Jews did and in their merit the Exodus became a reality…. because without commandments they were 'naked' and couldn't leave Egypt.
But this seemingly makes no sense at all.
G-d can do anything He wants… surely He could free the Jews without merits. Why did they need merits to leave Egypt?
And why such difficult ones? Circumcision is painful and dangerous… especially before a harrowing desert trip! And the Paschal lamb was even more dangerous (sheep and goats were Egyptian gods)!
To understand this here is a story. (V'ne'emar Amain pg. 12)
Dr. Stein was an excellent Physician. He had a flourishing practice, a happy home, a good reputation and seemingly lacked nothing. Until he met Mr. Greenbaum (fictitious name).
Greenbaum was a religious Jew in his late seventies and when he came to visit Dr. Stein he was well on his way to the synagogue in the sky. His heart was in terrible condition, he almost couldn't breath and he had other problems as well that made it impossible for him to function normally. The Doctor gave him a thorough checkup and saw that the prognosis was very bleak.
So he consulted with some of his colleagues and they concluded that the only chance that the old fellow had to live out the month was to undergo a complicated operation.
But realistically the probability was slim that he would make off the operating table! The operation would be long and taxing and poor Greenbaum hardy had the strength or stamina for it.
Dr. Stein dutifully reported the dismal news to his patient but he was surprised to see that Greenbaum took it calmly; he just thought for a few seconds and said,
"Listen doctor, I can't make a decision like that on my own. If it's okay with you, would you be willing to go with me to my Rabbi and talk to him?" He told the doctor that his Rabbi was the famous Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (ob'm) whose headquarters were not far away.
Dr. Stein was interested. First of all he was curious to see how a Rabbi would answer. Second he had seen this Rabbi Feinstein's name in the papers a few times and was interested in meeting him, but there was something else.
Dr. Stein was a Jew, but only in name. In fact he had virtually no idea what Judaism was all about. He was vaguely aware that there were such things as religious Jews but it never interested him to meet one.
He was brought up in a typical assimilated American family where religion was associated with something dead and impractical… more interested in the afterworld than this 'real' one. He was pushed to be a doctor, a success. And he made it.
But here was a chance to investigate something else.
So the next day he and his patient were seated in the office of Rabbi Feinstein and he was trying to explain the problem and his proposed solution with as few complicated medical terms as possible.
He figured he would be out of place as a non-religious Jew… but he wasn't at all, in fact he was pleasantly surprised by the genuine warmth and friendliness that the Rabbi showed to him. He was also surprised that Rabbi Feinstein seemed to understand everything, even the most complicated ideas and asked exactly the right questions.
But what really astounded him was that after he finished explaining he figured that the Rabbi would smile and say something like "Well Mr. Greenbaum, it doesn't make much difference whether you're in this world or the next does it … so, why not take the chance!"
But instead, the Rabbi turned his face and began…. weeping!
In fact Rabbi Feinstein wept so uncontrollably that although he tried, he couldn't speak for almost twenty minutes. Here was a man that simply couldn't bear to see another person suffer.
Never had the doctor seen such a thing in his life.
But what really knocked him out, or rather 'in' was what happened next.
Rabbi Feinstein apologized and asked them to give him a day to think. Tomorrow he would give his reply. He said that the doctor didn't have to come but he is welcome.
The next day they both returned, the Rabbi thanked the doctor warmly for coming, invited them to be seated turned to Mr. Greenbaum and said.
"I have decided that you should go ahead with the operation. Now you are not able to function. If the operation succeeds it will improve your health and you will able to do more commandments, say more blessings and answer 'awmain' to other people's blessings. All these will create angels, even the saying of awmain. And these angels will protect and shield you. Not only that but in the merit of all these good deeds and words you will merit to long life."
A few days later Mr. Greenbaum underwent the operation, returned to good health and lived many more years. Just as Rabbi Feinstein said.
But perhaps even more miraculous was the change that occurred in the Doctor. The atheist Dr. Stein began to become a 'religious' Jew!
Never before had he linked Judaism with life. He had learned that religion, Judaism included, was a product of weak human minds and personalities that couldn't cope with life.
But suddenly he realized that Torah is bigger than life, indeed, the source of life. Not just because of how he saw it enlivened Mr. Greenbaum but even more, because he saw with his own eyes that Rabbi Feinstein seemed to somehow be an embodiment of that source; to emanate the living reality of Judaism.
Today Doctor Stein is a happy observant Jew alive with Jewish enthusiasm.
This answers our questions.
The exodus from Egypt was only a preparation for the future redemption. As G-d said through the prophet Micha (7:15) "As the days of the Exodus from Egypt I will show miracles."
Then mankind will think and feel differently about G-d, His Torah and His commandments.
Today it is difficult not to look selfishly at Judaism like Dr. Stein once did. But in the future Redemption we will all look at it like Rabbi Moshe Feinstein did!
Because then G-d will not only take us from Egypt… we will choose to remove the Egypt from ourselves!
'Egypt' means all the self-centered attitudes and feelings; the natural desire to please ourselves.
This we will replace with a natural Jewish desire to please our CREATOR. And the only way to do this is by doing His COMMANDMENTS. (Lev. 1:9)
That is why G-d 'couldn't' take them from Egypt without giving them commandments… because the Commandments prepare the Jews for the future redemption where their ONLY desire will be to please G-d through doing His Will.
And He chose these two commandments: Circumcision and Paschal Sacrifice because they were the ultimate opposites of the licentiousness and Idolatry of Egypt.
Namely to break the power of these two sins both in the world and in each and every Jew and transform them to the desire to please the Almighty.
This week will also be the Tenth day of Shvat; the date that the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe; Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, passed away in 1950 and the date exactly a year later when his Son in Law, Rebbe Menachem Mendel, took over to give us power and inspiration to do all we can to bring the FINAL stage in the FINAL redemption to transform the entire world to heaven on earth with....
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