This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Re'eh (5768)
This week's Torah portion warns us against the false prophet; a Jew who accurately predicts the future seems to be a holy man and even does miracles but really is a charlatan. Even more, the Torah tells us there is a REASON for G-d sending him; "To test us in order to know if we really love G-d with all our hearts and souls!!" (13:4)
At first glance this makes no sense. Why would G-d give someone supernatural powers only to tempt the poor Jews to sin? Don’t the Jews have enough problems as it is with anti-Semitism, poverty, expulsions, pogroms, internal confusion, politics and more? Why a false prophet?
And why does He have to test us? G-d is omniscient! Surely He knows our motivations without driving us crazy with false prophets.
To understand this, here is a story that occurred some 300 years ago involving the famous Holy genius (Zadik) Rabbi Yehuda Levai (known as the Mahara'l of Prague) taken from the book Niflaot MaHaRal in HaChozrim B'Tshuva, Klapholtz pg. 216)
The Mahara'l, a direct descendent of King David, was not only a genius in all aspects of Torah and all fields of science but also a miracle worker who was able, as did the wise men of the Talmud a thousand years earlier, to actually create a human being who couldn't speak, the Golem, by use of the Book of Formation (Sefer Yetzira).
Our story begins in the city of Friedberg Prussia as Raizel the young daughter of a rich Jewish wine merchant by the name of Reb Michael, received a letter from the local Bishop as she was standing behind the counter of her father's wine store filling his place while he was away on a long business trip.
The local Bishop was a wickedly intelligent man with a golden tongue, an unquenchable lust for power, an unfathomable hatred for the Jews and an obsession to convert Raizel.
He had been watching her and scheming for years. An expert in human character his patience finally paid off when he discovered Raizel's weakness… flattery. She blushed at even the slightest praise.
He made a plan. He began to buy large consignments of wine and pay at the end of every month in full. After a year or so of this he waited until her father went on a long business trip and sent a note to Raizel apologizing that he would not be able to pay as usual because there was a mistake in the bill she sent him which he had to discuss with her in person.
She sent a messenger back with all of the receipts that he himself had signed to prove there was no mistake … but replied with a letter claiming that she sent several cases of vinegar rather than wine and if she didn't believe him she could come herself to check. He assured her he would remove all the religious icons and statues in his home so as not to offend her religion but it could only be settled face to face.
Raizel had no choice but to comply. After all, the Bishop had almost unlimited power and could refuse to pay anything if he wanted.
When she arrived at his palace escort by one of her servants she discovered that not only had the Bishop removed all the religious symbols, even the one hanging around his neck, but he was surprisingly friendly, intelligent, gracious, hospitable and …very flattering.
After checking the bottles in question and realizing he had made a 'mistake' he feigned surprise and embarrassment, paid in full and even added a large penalty for his 'foolishness'.
Meanwhile they conversed and Raizel began to enjoy this highly educated man who seemed to really appreciate everything she said. She had never received such attention and she liked it. The Bishop ended by again apologizing, telling her how immensely he enjoyed her company and invited her to return as soon as possible.
It seems he was also a bit of a sorcerer as well and even after she returned home poor Raizel couldn't stop thinking about his invitation. It wasn't long before she found all sorts of excuses to spend time in the Bishop's presence without her parents suspecting a thing. In fact she felt empty without his praises and after he cleverly dropped mentions of hell and eternal damnation she began worrying that perhaps she might be a sinner and that only he could save her. Several months later she left home altogether and he found her a room in his castle where she could rest, learn and listen.
When her parents saw she didn't return they notified the police and set the entire town to the search until they discovered the bitter truth. They went to their Rabbi the great genius Rabbi Yaakov Gintzberg, Rabbi of Friedberg for advice and when he heard what happened he began to actually tremble in fear. To stand against the evil Bishop was suicide. The only man that had that power, like Moses standing against Pharaoh, was the Mahara'l of Prague.
Meanwhile in his castle, with Raizel under his spell, the Bishop was completing his plans; nearby lived a powerful duke with an unmarried son.
This Duke was really the ultimate authority in these parts and up till now he had been a bit of a bone in the Bishop's throat. Now the Bishop could kill two birds with one stone.
He approached the Duke, told him of the new 'potential convert' and began to praise and speak of her in such superlative terms that the Duke agreed to let his son meet her.
Sure enough, a week later when they met it was, unfortunately, love at first sight. She was like a breath of fresh air for the Duke-to-be and she saw in him a type of royalty she found captivating. That week they met several more times until, with the urging and 'blessing' of the Bishop, they decided to marry.
Things were desperate. In a week she was going to change her religion and a few weeks thereafter to marry into a life of luxury and royalty. Only a miracle could help.
At first the Mahara'l refused. Angering the Bishop and the Duke as well could mean death and destruction for the entire Jewish community but Raizel's father begged and her mother wept until the Rabbi finally agreed.
He gave them detailed instructions. They had to fast for three days in a row, having only a piece of bread and a glass of water at night and all this time they had to say Psalms non-stop with tears and supplication to G-d for mercy. In addition they had to prepare a light carriage with two swift horses, a trained driver and two strong young men to accompany her and find a place far from Prague where their daughter, if he succeeded in wrenching her from the clutches of the Bishop, could live incognito.
It was mission impossible. First, she had to be convinced to forget about leaving Judaism. Then she had to be weaned away from the spell and flattery of the Bishop and the life of wealth and attention the Duke's son would provide. But to top it all off, the Bishop had put her in a room in the top of a tower with a heavy guard at the door to make sure no one would get to her.
But miracles began to happen.
On the third night of her parent's fast Raizel had a dream: Her departed grandfather appeared to her weeping and begged her not to leave the religion of her forefathers that millions of Jews sacrificed their lives for and assured her that in just moments someone would come to save her.
She woke with a sweat and began to weep. Suddenly she realized how far she had fallen, but how could she leave? She was startled by a light tapping at the window and opened the drapes to see the huge face of a very large man who was clinging to the bricks that jutted from the wall… he must have climbed up five stories of sheer wall!
This was the 'Golem'; the humanoid created by the Mahara'l for saving Jews that could do everything human but speak.
She opened the window, he climbed in, opened a large canvas sack before her and handed her a note which said. "The Bishop has gone for a week to an important meeting. If you want to return to the G-d of your fathers get into the sack and have no fear."
In fact the golem had been had been wandering the castle grounds the entire day searching for her until he noticed the window and began his climb. According to the story he remained unnoticed all this time due to a magical amulet hung around his neck by the Mahara'l.
She entered the sack, he exited though the window descended the wall, fled with her into the night and in less than an hour brought her back to her parent's home.
Her parent's joy was boundless but at the same time they had to move quickly. The Bishop's spies could be everywhere and they might be noticed even though it was three in the morning.
****They kissed their daughter goodbye, put her in the carriage they had prepared and many days and many harrowing episodes later she arrived in a distant but safe place.
Meanwhile in the Bishop's castle the next morning the guard at Raizel's door opened to bring her food and saw she was gone. He knew he had to act quickly or the Bishop would have him killed. He left the castle, changed clothes, ran to the local graveyard and when he was certain that no one was watching, dug up a skeleton, put the bones in a large sack, returned to the room put them in Raizel's bed and lit the room afire. By the time help arrived all that was left was ashes and bones. Raizel had burned to death.
The next day when the Bishop arrived and heard the terrible news he suspected everyone especially the guard, but with no proof had to keep quiet and wait for evidence…. which never came.
The duke's son, however, did not take the news so easily.
When he heard of her death his heart was broken and he fell into a deep melancholy. His father brought the best doctors and experts to no avail and even the Bishop had no idea what to do except to send him far from home to relax.
The Duke sent his son to friends in Venice hoping the open sea, new climate and friendly people would have a calming effect. In fact, after several weeks it did; but in an unexpected way. When is mind cleared and he began to think more deeply about it the idea suddenly occurred to him to learn about Raizel's religion; Judaism;
He found a Rabbi in Venice to talk to, asked questions, learned Hebrew and began to realize that the sentences of the Bible had different meanings than he had been taught.
It wasn't long before he began inquiring about conversion which in Italy, the very heart of the Church, could spell death to him and all the rabbis involved.
His Rabbi suggested that the only place for him was Amsterdam. There he could find many great Rabbis to teach him, no one would know who he was and he could even convert if he so desired. He gave him a letter of recommendation to several of his rabbi friends and the young man set off.
One year later the duke's son actually converted, changed his name to Avraham Yeshurun and became such a Talmudic scholar that many wealthy Jews actually sought him as a potential match for their daughters but none of the girls really found favor in his eyes.
But one day was suggested to him a young girl who also came from a similar background as his; fleeing from her past, estranged from her parents a sort-of convert and a stranger in Amsterdam.
A meeting was arranged and it took him almost an hour to realize that this was the very Raizel who he was sure had burnt to death! It seems that the 'safe place' her father arranged for her was at the home of his brother ….. in Amsterdam!
The joy at their wedding was unlimited. Several years and several children later Avraham Yeshurun, the duke's son heard two things through the grapevine; first, that his father had passed away and (not aware that he had converted) left everything to him and second, that the evil Bishop had also died and he could return to Prague with no fear or worry.
When they arrived in Prague the happiness of Raizel's parents was unimaginable as was that of all the Jews in the area when the new duke announced that unlike normal royalty he would give charity, help the sick and poor Jew and gentile alike and would encourage Torah learning and prayer.
Raizel's parents lived to a ripe age and when they passed away Avraham Yeshurun decided to transform their home into synagogue which is called 'Bait HaMidrash Yeshurun' in Prague to this very day.
All this thanks to the miraculous intervention of Rabbi Yehuda Levai; the Maharal of Prague and the mercy of HaShem (G-d).
This answers our question; why would G-d send a false prophet?
The reason G-d created the world is so that we should improve it and make the entire creation into a 'Holy Temple' (this goal will be completed by Moshiach).
But to do this we must know how to deal with EVERY aspect of the creation…. even evil.
And one of the biggest and most tempting evils, indeed the source of all evil, is idolatry. (Avoda Zara, lit; Improper Service)
In its essence, idolatry means feeling there is an authority other than the Creator…. even ourselves. Reliance on our own urges and feelings, if they oppose the Torah, is spiritual idolatry and eventually it can bring to actually bowing to creations.
As we see that the Jews felt unable to resist the Golden Calf even after experiencing G-d directly amidst soul shaking miracles in Egypt, at the sea and hearing Him personally say not to do so at Sinai!!
And so it continued until some 900 years later and some 500 years after that the First and Second Temples were destroyed till this very day as the Jews are dispersed around the world until Moshiach will gather them.
Because human nature is often the exact opposite of what the Creator wants.
And that is why G-d sends tempting, convincing, false prophets that do miracles. Not so that HE should know,,,,,,, but rather that WE should 'KNOW' i.e. connect (Like Adam KNEW his wife. See Tanya end of Chapter 3) to G-d with a love that can withstand all forms of idolatry.
Like the duke's son and his wife in our story; when they realized how good the Creator is and how His Torah is true it gave them the power to resist idolatry as well as riches and power.
This is the reason why it is so important to learn the teachings of Chabad 'Chassidut', (see your local Chabad House for details). Because there you can find ideas from Rabbis like the Mahara'l to inspire and put meaning, joy and blessing in your life to KNOW G-d and transform the world around us.
And so it will be with the arrival of Moshiach. He will strengthen the Jewish people and the entire world in the awareness of G-d and His Torah until all mankind will be transformed to worship only their Creator in joy, blessing and meaning.
And we can make it happen sooner! Even one more good deed, word or even thought can tip the scales to bring…..
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.