This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Shlach (5768)
This week we read the embarrassing story of how the Jews wandered in the desert for forty years and were miraculously provided for by G-d; Embarrassing because it was a punishment for their refusal to enter Israel.
And the perpetrators of this shame were the Meraglim; ten trusted scouts, the hand picked (by Moses) cream of the Jewish crop, who betrayed their mission and convinced the Jews it was suicidal to enter.
Why did they do it? And why did everyone listen to them? Even more, we learn that ten Jews are a holy 'minyan' (the number necessary for certain rituals) from the fact that these traitors that the Torah calls an "AiDa Raa", an evil group were TEN!
Does this make sense?
To understand this, here is a story (Y'dion HaKfar, 2nd of Ellul, 5767)
One hundred years ago in Poland was not a time of danger for the Jews but you could never know.
It was late, well after midnight. Shlomo was sitting at his desk in his house learning Torah in the still of the night when he heard something. Someone was outside his house. 'Who would visit now?' He thought to himself as he apprehensively peeped through a window curtain. An emaciated bearded Jew dressed in rags was standing in his yard a good distance from the front door.
The fellow didn't seem care if anyone was looking at him but he looked harmless, perhaps on the verge of starvation. Could be he was crazy? But now was no time for questions. Shlomo opened his front door and called to him.
The visitor answered, "Thank G-d and thank you." But he didn't move until Shlomo motioned him to enter.
The poor fellow looked starved and exhausted as though he hadn't eaten or slept for days and his clothes were in total shambles. Shlomo gave him a meal, asked him if he would like to wash up and in a short time the visitor was snoring soundly on a bed Shlomo set up for him in a side room.
Late the next morning after he awoke, prayed and had something to eat, Shlomo offered him to stay and tried to give him charity he refused both.
"I want to explain something" the visitor said with surprising clarity and dignity. "I'm not poor. In fact I'm quite a wealthy man. And I have a home as well; perhaps you would call it a mansion, that's right. And I have servants too… a lot of them. In fact that is why I am here."
Shlomo was having trouble digesting it all. It was like some different soul was speaking from the person standing before him. "You have money? And a … a house? So why….?"
"Why I'm wandering? I'll tell you the story," The visitor replied "And you judge for yourself.
"It was over two years ago. A large sum of money went missing from my home and after a bit of investigation the finger of suspicion pointed to one of the maidservants. In fact it was clear she took it. It's not important why but she dressed fancily, bought jewelry, was talking about moving to another town. We were sure.
"I went to the police and, being that I was a fairly influential person, they took her into custody and interrogated her thoroughly but she refused to admit to the crime. They beat and humiliated her but she maintained her innocence and finally they had to let her go. Needless to say I fired her and she left the town a broken and disgraced woman.
"Well, a few months later the police caught a ring of thieves who confessed to a string of crimes one of which was….my money! They even gave the money back!
"I searched for the maidservant for several months until I found her … but it was too late. She had never recovered from the interrogations and she was on her deathbed.
"I tried to apologize, to offer her money but it did no good, she was too weak and confused and a few days later she died.
"I was beside myself with remorse. I had destroyed a totally innocent woman. So I went to the Tzaddik Rabbi Mair of Parmishlian for a 'Tikkun' to fix my soul.
"Rabbi Mair said, 'There are three ways to clean your sin: Death, disease or exile. Death means you will die in a few days, disease means being bedridden and suffering terribly for three years. Exile means wandering like a madman, only taking what people offer you but never asking and sleeping in a different place every night. You take your choice."
"I asked him for a few days to think it over and he agreed but that night I became so feverish, weak an filled with pain that I realized that the Tzadik had chosen death for me. With my last powers I dragged myself to his home and begged for life. 'Good,' he said, 'you won't die. And you already experienced disease and I see you can't take it … so let it be exile! But you must return to me at the end of that time and I will tell you if your sin has been forgiven.'
"That was over two years ago. Since then I have been wandering, sleeping every night in a different place, eating only when invited. I haven’t seen my family or friends all that time. Just once a year the Rebbe gave me permission to stand outside the gate of my town and send for one of my workers to bring me the reports of my business so my family doesn't lose everything.
"But last week I heard terrible news, that Rebbi Mair of Parmishlian passed away! Now I won't be able to ask him if my sin has been absolved. So I decided that the only alternative is to see the Rebbe of Sanz. I hear that he also understands the upper worlds."
Shlomo happened to be a follower of the Rebbe of Sanz and when he heard his Rebbe's name he immediately offered to escort the visitor to him.
That very day they entered the Rebbe's office and before the visitor even opened his mouth the Rebbe looked at him and said.
"I know why you have come. Rebbe Mair has passed away. But I see you have suffered enough. Return home. G-d and the soul of the maidservant have forgiven your mistake."
This answers our questions.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained that the reason the Jews didn't want to enter Israel was they wanted an undefined G-d; a G-d that was so holy He could not be found in the world, only in the Torah, only in the desert far from mundane disturbances.
And G-d supported their misconception. He surrounded them with glorious protective clouds, sustained them with miraculous manna and water and more.
He made it seem clear to them that He didn't want them to leave the desert. So the 'Meraglim' and the Jews who followed them were really holy and their intentions were holy. That is why we can learn from them that a holy 'minyan' is ten.
But they were wrong.
And that is why they had to wander in the desert, like the visitor in our story wandered Poland, to correct their mistake.
What G-d REALLY wanted was that they should listen to Moses. Being holy is good. But listening to Moses, (like Joshua and Calev did) is better…. and that is what G-d expects from His people; to TOTALLY devote themselves to Him.
Similarly the visitor in our story; if he would have had a Rebbe he would never have been so stuck to his lost money or wasted so much energy on revenge.
And this very relevant to our generation, which the Lubavitcher Rebbe called the Generation of Moshiach.
We must be different from the Jews of the desert that were worried about losing their personal (albeit spiritual) achievements.
Rather we must be followers of the Moses of our generation the Lubavitcher Rebbe and desire a new world… the world that is explained in the writings of the Rebbe called Chabad Chassidut (see your local Chabad House for details). And to think, speak and do all we can to make this new world a reality.
Only then can we fix the mistake of the Jews that wandered in the desert, with.....
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