This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Nitzavim (5768)
This week, as we approach the end of the Five Books of Moses, we find a seemingly misleading statement:
"This commandment I give you today is not distant from you and not far from you …. but it is very close to you; in your mouth and heart to do it." (30:11)
The commandment referred to here is 'Tshuva' (the subject of the previous sentence); namely returning to the Creator by doing His commandments and learning His Torah. In other words, being a Torah observant Jew is easy and close.
How could Moses say this when we see that millions of Jews presently don't observe the commandments because they seem difficult, complicated and 'far'?
Also, this Shabbat is the last of the year and prepares us for Rosh HaShanna this coming week when the Shofar will be sounded in myriads of synagogues across the world. Is there a connection?
To understand this here is a story (HaChozrim B'Tshuva, Klapholtz pg 295)
One of the most famous and interesting figures in history was Rabbi Zusia of Annipoli; a holy genius who was one of the founders of the Chassidic movement some 250 years ago.
Perhaps even more than for his total Torah knowledge righteousness and ability to do miracles, he was renowned for his humility and love of humanity, especially Jews.
The story has it that once he was sitting in his back yard learning from a Torah book when wild looking fellow pounded on the gate and, without waiting for a reply burst in waiving a blank piece of paper and a pen. Coarseness and insensitivity were written all over his face as he stood before the Rebbe and growled.
"You are Rabbi Zusia right? The famous Rabbi Zusia that everyone talks about?"
When the Rebbe didn't protest the man continued.
"Here, here, take this paper and write me a letter that I'm free of sin and I can have my dress coat. Here!" And he put the paper and pen on the table before the Rebbe.
Reb Zusia looked at the man blankly trying to discern if he was mad.
"I don't understand. What connection is there between my letter and your coat? Please sit down." The Rebbe motioned for him to pull up a chair but the fellow paid no attention, He just looked exasperatedly at the sky, then back at the Rebbe and replied with exaggerated hand movements as though he was talking to a child.
"Rabbi, the Chassidim took my dress coat. They said that because I had done a certain sin that I wasn't fit to wear it and they'd only give it back if you write me a letter. And I want it back. I mean, the fact is I could have done a lot of sins… so what? Does that mean they can take my clothes?? So what if I…." And he proceeded to specify what sin it was (the story gave no details.)
"Did you really do such a sin?" The Rebbe asked although the answer was spiritually written on the man's forehead.
"What difference does it make what I did!" he almost yelled. "Just write the letter! Just write! Nu?!!"
"But, my friend please listen." The Rebbe said as calmly as possible. "How can I write a letter saying that you didn't sin when … it could be that you did! That would be a lie."
"Alright! So don't write that I didn't sin. I forgot to tell you that they said you could write that I repented. They said, the Rebbe must either write that I didn't sin or that I repented. Okay? So just write that I did Tshuva (repentance) and I'll go get my coat." He said impatiently.
"But I can't write that either." The Rebbe almost pleaded. "I have never lied in my life. So I couldn't write that unless I know you really did repent and that you regret it so much you won't do it again."
"Arrrggggghhh!!" The visitor shouted in frustration. "Why are you making so many problems? It's just a coat!! If I went to the priest and begged him he would have mercy and write. Is the holy Rabbi more hard hearted and cruel than the priest?! Maybe I should just go to the priest and finished!!!"
When Reb Zusia heard these words he stood and, holding his head in his hands yelled out, "OY!!" His eyes filled with tears and he dizzily began to stagger like a drunk. "Oy! I caused a Jew to say such a thing! How? How? OY!!"
He was so disoriented that he stumbled about his yard until he tripped and fell into the sewage ditch that was in the corner. Passers-by that heard the commotion and saw the Rebbe laying there, filthy from head to toe immediately ran in, pulled him out of the muck, took him into his house, helped him clean up and change his clothes and laid him down, moaning and groaning, to rest in his bed for a while.
Meanwhile, when commotion began the visitor unobtrusively backed up behind some bushes and silently watched what was happening.
At first he was sure the Rebbe was just putting on a show to get rid of him and he'd never see his coat again. But after a few seconds he realized it wasn't an act and watched more intently.
"Aha!" He thought to himself. "I get it! This Rabbi is probably such a fanatic that he can't stand the mention of other religions. That's why he's going crazy!!"
But after a few seconds he began to have his doubts about that as well. Could it be that Reb Zusia was serious?
He didn't believe it. It HAD to be a show! It just had to be!! No one was that serious about G-d!!!
But when they took the Rebbe into his house it suddenly dawned on him that the Rebbe was pained about HIM. Up till now he had completely missed the point of Judaism and of life.
Reb Zusia was in a trauma because for a Jew to leave Judaism is like leaving life itself! He was pained because he caused a Jew to consider spiritual suicide! Not just life in the afterworld but life right NOW!!
The visitor began holding his head in his hands and with tears streaming down his face, ran to the house, entered Rav Zusia's room and found him sitting on his bed swaying from side to side with red eyes pouring tears, saying "Why?? Why??"
"Rabbi!" He said, "Rabbi.. I'm sorry! I'm sorry for what I said! Please forgive me!"
"Ahh, the coat!" Said the Rebbe "Here, bring the paper I'll write that you repented. Please forgive me for what I did."
"No! Rebbe! No!" He exclaimed, also weeping. "Forget the coat, I don't want the coat!! I just want G-d to forgive me for all the stupid mistakes I made. Please Rebbe! Tell me how!"
The Rebbe just slipped down from the bed, sat on the floor and said "Come, sit next to me and we will both ask for forgiveness. I'm sure that together HaShem will have mercy."
And they sat and wept together over their mistakes for almost a half an hour until the visitor became a totally different man.
This answers our questions.
The reason that most Jews find the Torah and its commandments difficult is because they approach them without soul.
From the 'outside', the commandments seem to be meaningless, potentially compulsive deeds that separate us from the world and perhaps from normalcy.
If we don't feel our Jewish soul.
But when we do…. everything is different.
Like Rebbe Zusia demonstrated in our story; the Jewish soul senses, knows and feels beyond any doubt that G-d is not just a religious figure but rather the Creator that creates us and the entire world constantly; He alone is the source of all being, life, spirit, meaning and beauty and the Torah and its commandments are manifestations of His constant love.
But this is only after the Jewish soul is activated.
That is what the Torah is telling us here; that this awakening is very easy and near.
As Rebbe Zusia's visitor discovered and as myriads of Jews all over the world (even in Israel) have been discovering, especially in the last 40 years since the Six Day War when the Lubavitcher Rebbe said the Great Shofar (Isaiah 27:13) was sounded to awaken even the most lost and distant Jews (see Mimorim M'lukatim, vol. 6 pg. 9).
This is the work of Moshiach; all the Jews are realizing that the Torah and its commandments are not distant but rather part and parcel of the Jewish soul to reveal the Creator in His creation. Then all mankind will 'hear' the sound of the Great Shofar.
And the teachings of Chassidut make us more sensitive to that sound (see your local Chabad House for details).
We wish all our readers a healthy, happy, meaningful, blessed new year with Moshiach NOW!!
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