This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Chukat (5768)
One of the main themes in this week's Torah reading is 'correcting death'.
It begins with the ashes of the Red Cow correcting the impurity of death, followed by Moses correcting the deaths of Miriam and Aaron (When they died the water-from-the-rock and the clouds of glory that sustained and protected the Jews ceased. But they returned in the merit of Moses (Talmud Taanit 9a)) and how the Brass Serpent stopped a fatal plague (Num. 21:9).
If all these events occur together in one Torah portion there must be a deep connection between them and also deep lesson here for us ('Torah' means 'Teaching'). What are they?
To understand this here is a story (HaChozrim B'Tshuva by Klapholtz pg. 238)
Almost two hundred years ago in the town of Chernobyl lived a great Tzadik (Holy gifted Jew) by the name of Rebbe Nachum who had hundreds of followers.
One day a businessman (who we will call Reb. Zalman) entered the Synagogue of Chernobyl with bundles of goods and spread them on the table. Several bottles of good vodka, plates of fish, pickles and cakes and announced a meal of thanksgiving for the miracle that Rebbe Nachum just did for him.
The Chassidim stopped their learning, took their places around the table where the food was set up, poured themselves 'LeChaim' and listened as Reb Zalman told his story.
"Some fifteen years ago I came to a huge market day in a city not far from here to do business. I had in my possession four hundred rubles, a small fortune, but I kept it well concealed in a money belt. I found a small hotel run by a religious Jew, he gave me a room with two beds, left my things there (except for my money of course) and went to find a synagogue to pray the evening prayer and to begin making connections.
"I returned late that evening to find the second bed occupied by another religious Jew who was soundly asleep with his face turned to the wall. I myself was so tired that I didn't give it much thought but went to bed and immediately fell into a deep slumber.
"When I awoke a bit late the next morning he was already gone and so was his suitcase but as I was preparing to leave I noticed a small bag under his bed near the wall. I picked it up and was surprised to see it was a money pouch with no identification inside but four hundred rubles!
"I figured the fellow would probably come back and look for it so I put it under his pillow and went to the market locking the door behind me. But that night when I returned it was still there and so it was the next morning.
"I should have given it to the hotel owner. Anyway, don't ask me why but I took it. Suddenly it became obvious to me that the fellow would never come back and the money was mine. Call it the devil in me, it was insane but I did it. I took the money went to the market for another day of bargaining as though it was the most natural thing in the world and afterward forgot the entire incident.
Fifteen years passed. I became more and more wealthy and successful, gave huge amounts of charity, never forgot the needy or the Talmudic scholars. I but I completely forgot the incident in the hotel room.
Until two weeks ago.
I was sound asleep in bed after a very taxing day when suddenly a man dressed in white with frighteningly angry eyes appeared, menacingly put his face close to mine and said. 'I want JUSTICE!! I SUMMON YOU TO THE HEAVENLY COURT!!'
"I was paralyzed with fear and tried to convince him that it was a mistake; that I had no idea who he was. But he answered.
"'You don't remember me but you remember my money! Remember the four hundred rubles you found in the hotel room fifteen years ago.? Remember?!! Because of you I and my family suffered for the last fifteen years!! That money you took was mostly borrowed and when I returned home the creditors began to hound me. People suspected me, they started talking and one thing led to another. No one trusted me, I became depressed and couldn't work. I had to sell my house… everything!! Until I and my family were reduced to paupers begging for our meals. All that time I thought I had lost the money on the road but a few weeks ago after I died the whole thing was revealed to me in heaven. It was you!! You killed me!! Now I want REVENGE!!!'
"He grabbed my hand as though to pull me out of the world and I woke in a cold sweat. It was a dream!! Only a dream!! But my hand hurt… there were even bruises!"
"The next day I went back to work and tried to forget the whole thing and it almost worked but that next night he returned again. And the night after! Threatening me and summoning me to the heavenly court! I was going crazy; afraid to even close my eyes… but every time I did… there he was!!!"
"So I went the Holy Rabbi Aaron of Karlin. I reasoned that if anyone could help it would be him. But when I told him my story he closed his eyes, fell silent for several minutes, took out a pen and paper, wrote a letter and told me that I should take it to the only one that can help; Rebbe Nachum of Chernobyl.
"Well, when I finally got to Rebbe Nachum last week I was a wreck! Totally destroyed! I hadn't slept for days! I was afraid of my shadow and felt more dead than alive.
"Rebbe Nachum looked at the letter, walked to the window and stood there for a while and finally said that he would try to help. 'He has a good case against you. A strong case.' He said, 'You were wrong to have not returned what he lost. But, G-d willing, I think I can help.'
"When he said those words I burst our crying like a baby until he held his hand up for me to stop, and continued. 'The next time he appears to you in a dream tell him that because the sin was done in this world the trial must be in this world… and I am prepared to be the Judge. Invite him to appear before me and if he refuses come and tell me.'
"Well, that night he appeared again and, to my surprise, when I gave him Rebbe Nachum's message he agreed.
"The next morning the Rebbe told me to purify myself, pray for forgiveness, read Psalms and prepare my case.
"Two days later one of the Chassidim called me from my room and I went, shaking like a leaf, to the Rebbe. He put me in a small room with a large window, told me to wait and a few moments later he entered, went to the window, opened it and stood there silently looking outside for over an hour while I sat there weeping in fear for my life.
"Suddenly he said.'The plaintiff demands your life, he says you killed him.'
"When I heard these words I almost fainted, but the Rebbe continued. 'And he claims that all your money should go to his family. But I say that he is wrong.
"'First of all, G-d has many ways. There are many rich people that lose their money but don't lose their minds and certainly not their lives. True you took his money but he himself lost his mood. My decision is as follows; that you calculate the sum total of all your holdings. Right now!'
"He gave me a pad of paper and a pen and suddenly my mind became clear. 'Forty thousand rubles!' I announced. 'My decision' Said the Rebbe 'Is that you must give half, twenty thousand rubles, to this man's widow and orphans.'
"The Rebbe then looked out the window in silence for another ten minutes and again spoke: 'The plaintiff protests. He claims that from the beginning he gave half the money, four hundred rubles, and that half of your wealth is coming to him….. But he wants additional remuneration for the shame and suffering that you caused.'
"'But' said the Rebbe, 'I disagree. You can only be judged as you are now and presently you are a crushed man that completely regrets his sin with a totally broken heart and that is sufficient. So my final decision stands!! You must give his family half your wealth and he must leave you alone.'
"That," Concluded Reb Zalman "Was a week ago. The next day I gave his widow the money and since then he has stopped appearing. The Rebbe saved me!! LeChaim!!!"
This answers our question: Death is not permanent. We Jews believe the Dead will come back to life! Indeed if Adam hadn't sinned with the tree of knowledge he and all mankind after him would have lived forever (Gen. 2:17).
I heard that a group of American college students once asked the Lubavitcher Rebbe if Judaism believes in life after death. The Rebbe answered that Judaism does not believe in death… just different forms of life; life in a body outside of the body as we saw in the above story. But, also as we saw in the story, the most important is life in THIS world.
That is the job of Moses and the Moses of each generation (The Zohar says that there must always be such a Jew in the world): to wake up this awareness of 'eternal life' IN THE BODY… in THIS world.
That is the connection between all the above: The Red Cow, the return of the water and clouds of glory and the brass serpent were all means given to Moses (and to the Moses of every generation) to combat the 'illusion' of death.
And in our generation; the generation the Lubavitcher Rebbe called the 'Generation of Moshiach' (i.e. the Messiah who will precede and bring about the raising of the dead) the means to combat death are the teachings of Chassidut! (visit your local Chabad House for details).
When Jews begin to learn Chassidut; the ideas of the Moses of our generation, they begin to change themselves and the world with the awareness of the Creator and bring….
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