This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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This Shabbat we readAcharei Mot; the section of the Torah that begins by spelling out the Yom Kippur service in the Holy Temple. And immediately after this Shabbat will be the holiday of Pesach (Passover)!
The Chassidic masters teach that nothing happens by accident. G-d puts meaning in every detail and incident of creation. So it must be that this week's Torah lesson is a preparation for the holiday.
But it's not so clear how.
At first glance these two holidays; Yom Kippur and Pesach, besides occurring at opposite sides of the year, contain completely opposite messages.
The message of Yom Kippur is that we must repent and fix our souls on our own…..while Pesach stresses that G-d does it all: He alone (not an angel etc) took (and takes) us 'out' of Egypt (i.e. all our problems) and our job is to enjoy the ride.
So what connection can there be between Achray Mot and Passover?
To understand this here is a story (Tziri Chabad, Yagel #29). The year1951; the war had ended in Europe but in Russia Josef Stalin, perhaps the most accomplished mass murderer of all time, ruled the minds, souls and bodies of the populace… especially through his secret police the dreaded KGB.
Most of their work was done deep into the quiet night when people were in wrapped in cocoons of warm sleep oblivious of the fear and murder around them…. that’s when the KGB would strike!
But the Koblanov family wasn't afraid. Their route to freedom was one that defied anti-Semites for over 3,300 years; they were sitting around a festively 'decorated' Passover table celebrating the 'Holiday of Liberation'.
But it wasn't easy to feel free.
Three were missing. The father Reb Eliezer had been taken away by police in the middle of the night a few months earlier for 'anti-revolutionary activities'. Then a few weeks later they took his eldest daughter Chaya (leaving behind a husband and a small baby) and finally his wife Elka was arrested a few weeks after that. They were taken to the fearsome Spolerki Prison to await 'trial' and only a miracle would bring them back.
Who knows when the next arrest would occur? It was hanging over their heads like a sharp sword. But what good would being afraid or getting depressed do? Their only hope was G-d.
They remembered the words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and his father before him: "Our enemies can control our bodies but nothing can control the Jewish soul."
And the words of Rabbi Akiva some 2,000 years earlier who defied the Roman prohibition of teaching Torah. When someone tried to talk him into compromising and not risking his life, he replied with the following parable; 'Once a hungry fox tried to convince a fish to leave his shallow habitat saying, 'Fish, in the stream you are easy prey for fishermen, come live with me in safety on the dry open land." "Fool" answered the fish "If I'm not safe here where I'm supposed to be, for SURE I won't last in a place I'm not created for."
"Same with me" Rabbi Akiva concluded. "If I'm not safe with Torah then for sure I'm in danger without it!"
Their only chance was to rejoice in the holiday of Passover…. Only Passover could save them.
So the five that were left; two sisters Liba and Sterna, their younger 20 year old brother Kerpil and their older brother Mendel and his wife tried to be as happy as possible and even managed to sing a few songs of redemption at the Seder.
But after the Seder when the family was asleep and the house was peacefully silent it happened. The house shook, the windows rattled.
It was as though someone was pounding on the door with a sledgehammer. The KGB broke in, took away Karpil and a few hours later returned and took his two sisters. Then a month later Mendel was taken and the entire family was gone.
A few months later they all miraculously made it to the trial alive but when they heard the sentences they almost wished they were dead. Rav Eliezer got ten years at hard labor in Siberia and the rest of the family got eight (very few people survived even the first year). Within the hour each was on a different train headed for different destinations; one of the hundreds of work camps scattered throughout vast Mother Russia.
Kerpil took it hard. He wasn't a weak person physically but he totally lacked the stamina necessary for the twelve hour shifts, meager, bread diets and sub-zero weather. After a few months he thought that he wouldn't be able to hold out.
But then two miracles occurred. The first; because he had begun to learn medicine for a few months before he was arrested he was unexplainably appointed to be a camp doctor!
And second; one of the patients he treated turned out to be a Jew who, as a sign of gratitude, took a folded piece of newspaper from his pocket, carefully unfolded it on a table to reveal a piece of Matza (that he probably carried with him the entire year), broke off a small piece and put it in Kerpil's hand.
It was still several months before Passover but as soon as this small treasure touched Kerpil's palm he felt as though he was plugged in to a new source of life!
That Passover he found an empty room in the work camp, put the Matza before him, recited what he remembered of the Hagadda by heart, gave thanks for being a Jew, prayed to G-d to get him out of his Siberian 'Mitzraim' and vowed to always keep Passover.
But miracles can't last for ever.
For five years, through hunger, fatigue, danger and cold he kept Passover religiously but this year as the holiday rolled around he felt sick. In fact every day he felt weaker and colder until he was really worried.
Of course he wouldn't eat bread (although it was 95% of the camp diet). But usually on Pesach he only ate vegetables that he cooked in a small pot he had secured as his own and this year it he was sure he wouldn't make it on such a meager diet. He felt as though he would faint any moment… or worse.
And to make matters worse he had to work. If he didn't do his job he would be demoted, punished even killed! But he made his decision. Nothing would make him compromise on Passover.
Somehow he made it! He dragged himself to work every day for seven days and actually finished the holiday in one piece!
Almost. Outside of Israel Passover is eight days and on the last day of Pesach a soldier came to him with an order to appear immediately before the dreaded chief doctor of the camp; a middle aged woman with mean, narrow eyes who was known as an anti-Semite and a bloodthirsty sadist to boot.
Kerpil's knees knocked as he climbed the stairs to her office. If she decided to fire him he would have to return to hard labor.. which meant sure death. He stood before her, pale as a ghost, certain that this Passover would be his last in this world and stammered, "Have I done something wrong? Did someone complain about me?"
"Listen" She said, "You look ill. I think you have to get out of here." Kerpil couldn't believe his ears… she was talking like a human being!
"Don't tell anyone I told you this" she continued, "But in a few months there will be a group of officials here to review all the prisoners. Since Stalin died (in 1953) things are changing. Just tell them that you regret your past deeds and I'm sure they will free you. You don't look well at all."
It seems that the poor diet of Passover was exactly what saved him!
Several months later the officials did arrive and over a half a year later….. just a week before the next Passover (!) Kerpil was freed! But imagine his joy when he returned home to discover that his entire family had unexplainably been freed just days before him; all were alive and all miraculously had their sentences shortened in time to be home together for the holiday of Pesach!
That year at the Passover meal there were a lot of personal miracle stories about leaving Egypt.
This answers our questions. The Jews are G-d's CHOSEN people; we were put here in the world to improve it and make it a blessed place.
And there are two ways to do this. One stresses 'do it yourself' and the other stresses leaving it up to G-d. This can be seen from the Jewish calendar.
The first day in the Jewish calendar is Rosh HaShanna followed closely by Yom Kippur. They stress the work of man (Adam, who was created on Rosh HaShanna; the day creation was completed) to fix the world in a normal Torah way; "To work it and protect it" (Gen. 2:15)
But the first Jewish Month is Nisan .. containing the holiday of Pesach, which means changing the world in a MIRACULOUS way.
But although they are opposite approaches they will be combined with the arrival of Moshiach.
Moshiach will be the true example of man (Adam) and of Moses.
Adam; because he will teach us to fix the world in a normal Torah way and Moses; because he will teach us to be conduits for MIRACLES putting meaning, blessing and joy in all creation.
Something like what happened in a small way to Kerpil in our story.
So this is what is implied by this week's portion about Yom Kippur being followed by Pesach; namely the arrival of Moshiach when these two ways of changing the world will be joined into one; both we and G-d will change the world miraculously.
And the Lubavitcher Rebbe announced many times that those days are here! It all depends on US to make the world a meaningful, miraculous place but after all G-d will do even greater miracles than He did when He took us from Egypt.
May we SEE it all happen this Pesach!
Wishing all our readers a Kosher and Happy Pesach with....
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