This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Shemini (5768)
This week's Torah reading is called 'Shemini' ("Eight"), referring to the Eighth and final day of the inauguration of the 'Tabernacle' in the Desert.
The Tabernacle was a quite remarkable and unique detail of Judaism. It was a large, portable 'Temple' made mostly of wood and tapestries containing; a large animal-sacrifice altar, a smaller incense altar, a seven stem candelabra, a 'Holy of Holies' room with the Tablets that Moses got on Mt. Sinai and more.
But this Tabernacle required a complicated seven day inauguration process (which was explained in the end of last week's Torah portion 'Tzav') before it could begin to function. And our weekly Torah portion begins on the eighth day when G-d's presence actually filled the edifice.
But at first glance this is not understood.
First of all, the Torah is a book of life instruction. What has this ancient (3,320 years ago) story got to do with us today? And even back then this inauguration was only done by a few people; Moses and the Cohanim (priests) and was never repeated.
Second: What did they need a Tabernacle for, isn't G-d everywhere? Why didn't they just pray, or 'connect' like all the other religions? And why couldn't they wait till they entered Israel, why did they NEED it in the desert?
Third, why did they need inauguration? Why didn't the Tabernacle just work the first day it was erected?
And finally, what is so special about the EIGHTH day that it begins and is the title of an entire Torah portion… why wasn't it just included as the finale' of last week's Torah portion?
To understand this, here is a something that just happened to me.
For the past twenty years or so I have flown a lot around the world. And, with G-d's help, every flight from or to Israel I always take my Tefillin, stand up from my seat and walk down the aisles asking the other passengers if they want to do the commandment of putting them on.
Amazingly there are always some passengers that agree to do so, and sometimes the numbers reach into the thirties!
But last week when I flew to Johannesburg South Africa I was seriously considering not asking anyone.
The reason is that some ten months ago I also flew to South Africa and it was the first time that EVERYONE I asked to put on Tefillin both on the flight from and back Israel said they were gentiles!
This was such an unnerving experience that I figured that this time I would be normal like everyone else and simply mind my own business.
Suddenly it became so clear and obvious to me that this business of butting into people's lives with Tefillin was ridiculous. It disturbed their privacy, made me look like a fool and took me from learning Torah. In fact the more I thought about it I realized that no one in their right mind would comply anyway: if they were religious they didn't need me. And if they weren't… why would they agree to do a complicated ritual …. in public no less!
Not only that … I was tired, there was turbulence every half hour, people were tired, or they were eating, or wanted to be with their families, or were watching the movie etc. etc.
Suddenly I grabbed my head in my hands and almost yelled "Stop it!" I realized that I was actually thinking myself to 'death'!
"Bolton" I though to myself "All those negative things are certainly obstacles. But you can't use them for excuses!" I thought a bit more and concluded, "And what should a Chassid do when confronted with obstacles? Overcome them with … joy (Simcha)!"
I don't know how, but it worked! I opened the overhead compartment, took out my Tefillin, walked to the beginning of the aisle, bent over, held out my Tefillin and asked the first man if he wanted to put them on.
His answer was, "CERTAINLY NOT!!"
"Ah!" I thought to myself "Another obstacle! Need more Simcha!"
So, undaunted, I asked the person behind him who was watching us, but as soon as I said the first word and held out the Tefillin he held up both hands like stop signs and said "Not Jewish! I'm not Jewish!"
Encouraged by my dismal failures I preceded to a heavy, muscular fellow with a shaved head, perhaps in his forties who looked a bit like a professional wrestler.
I held out the Tefillin and asked him if he was interested. But he just stared at me. I thought that maybe he's not Jewish so I asked him. But he just kept staring. He didn't even blink. So I figured that maybe he doesn't speak English so I repeated both questions in Hebrew. "Tefillin? Yehudi?" But he just kept staring.
Usually I would have just moved on but my decision to overcome obstacles wouldn't let me. I forced a smile, imagined that this is my best friend, moved the Tefillin closer to him, took his hand, raised it and cautiously began to slip the straps on.
When I saw no resistance I moved a bit faster until he finally took over, made the blessing, I gave him the page with the 'Shma' prayer on it and let him do the rest on his own.
I went to the back of the plane for a minute to let him alone and when I returned and helped him remove the Tefillin he said quietly to me, "We'll talk later."
Across the aisle sat a young fellow with a big smile on his face who said "Now me! Right? Wow! The last time I put on Tefilln was years ago at my Bar Mitzva."
Then, after he finished there was an older man that admitted that he hadn't put on Tefillin for fifty years (his wife kept saying … 'Fifty? Fifty? Try sixty!). When he finished I noticed that the 'wrestler' was motioning that he wanted to talk.
As I approached I noticed that he kept rubbing the side of his hand on his eye but when I got over to him I saw that it was because …. he was crying.
"You have to excuse me for crying" he said shaking my hand. "But when I see how you care for others and don't seem to care about yourself … and you do it with such simcha. Well, it makes me think what am I doing?" He blew his nose a few times and continued.
"You know what? I just decided, I'm going to buy a pair of Tefillin for myself and start putting them on! I used to do it ten, twenty years ago, but I stopped. I'm going to do it again! You know what? I'm going to do it!"
He shook my hand warmly and and I went on to put Tefillin on four more people.
If it wouldn't have been for my decision to not be 'normal' (get discouraged by the past or nervous about the future) it would have been a normal flight… with nothing to get happy about!
This answers our questions.
The physical CREATION was completed in SEVEN days (according to Kabala, with G-d's SEVEN emotional attributes). But EIGHT is above creation and represents holiness.
The uniqueness of the Jewish people is that they were 'chosen' by the Creator to make the entire physical world 'Holy'. (To draw the 'Eight' INTO the 'Seven' days of creation). Just like Adam, the first man, was created to do.
But Adam couldn't cope with obstacles; with nature.
In fact no one could until Abraham came on the scene almost 2,000 years later and got the first commandment; to remove his foreskin on the EIGHTH day. In fact this became the covenant between the Jews and G-d.
This was the purpose of the Tabernacle which was finished on the Eighth day; to bring this holiness (EIGHT) into the physical world (Seven). This is the prototype of ALL of the service of the Jews in our everyday lives. And although it requires constant preparation: learning Torah, doing the Commandments, Prayer, giving Charity etc. the most important is our attitude: to be above nature.
We must be like the number eight; regarding obstacles not as excuses for defeat (G-d forbid) but rather to as challenges to be transformed into Joy… by means of Joy! (Just as when a child is circumcised and when the Tabernacle was finished, both on the eighth day, it is and was a joyous occasion.)
But our joy will not be complete until Moshiach actually transforms the entirety of creation into a Holy Temple. http://www.ohrtmimim.org/Torah_Default.asp?id=781
That is the lesson for all of us. Don't let nature get you 'down'. Rather it is up to us to 'raise' nature to new heights. It's all in our hands to transform ourselves and the world around us to bring….
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