This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.
Parshat Vayelech (5769)
This Shabbat, which is called Shabbat Shuva (the Sabbath of Repentance) we read how G-d commanded Moses to write a Torah scroll (five books of Moses) and put it in the Holy of Holies 'Next to the ark'. (31:26)
There are two opinions in the Talmud (Baba Batra 14a) as to exactly what 'Next to the ark' means; either 'next to the tablets in the ark or on a protrusion outside the ark. One thing for sure is that it was in the Holy of Holies.
This prepares us for the upcoming holiday of "Yom HaKipurim" (literally 'the day of forgiveness') the only day of the year when the High Priest used to enter the Holy of Holies.
The Torah is not just a book of religion; it is the blueprint of creation and the instruction manual for reality. So there must be a meaningful connection between these three; the Torah scroll, the Day of Forgiveness and the High priest in the Holy of Holies.
But what is it?
First; today we have no Holy Temple, no Holy of Holies, no Torah scroll that Moses personally wrote and no High Priest.
Second; it's not so clear what these things have to do with forgiveness anyway. Forgiveness is a deeply personal and spiritual thing between us and G-d while the Temple, the scroll and the Priest were 'outside of us'.
Third; why did G-d tell Moses to put his scroll in the Holy of Holies?
To understand this, here is a story.
Once, over four hundred years ago in the city of Sefad, Israel lived a simple Jew who we will call Reb Shimon.
He was a good natured fellow, always careful to do what G-d wanted and to ask the Rabbi of the town what to do if he had doubts.
It so happened that one Shabbat (perhaps it was the Shabbat before Tisha B'Av commemorating the destructions of the first and second Temples) the Rabbi gave a sermon about how not only the Jews are suffering from the absence of the Temple but G-d also 'suffers' (so-to-speak).
The sacrifices were called G-d's 'food' and 'bread' and without them, since the Temple sacrifices were ended, G-d is 'hungry'.
Reb Shimon heard these words with an open mouth and eyes wide as saucers. 'Could it really be?' He thought to himself. 'Could it be that G-d is hungry? G-d is suffering?'
He didn't really hear much more of the speech about how our prayers, deeds and Torah learning are like the sacrifices because he was too busy pondering and digesting (as deeply as his simple mind would allow him) what he had heard.
At first he couldn't believe that the Rabbi would say such a thing; he always thought that G-d was infinite and had no body or stomach that could get empty. But the more he thought about it, it began to make horrible sense. First of all the Rabbi said it so it must be true. Second if G-d is infinite then why can't He have a stomach also? Third, we really can't understand G-d anyway. So maybe He has an infinite stomach!
In any case when Reb Shimon went home for his Shabbat daytime meal he gave the grim news to his wife. G-d was hungry! The Rabbi even said it!! And he burst out crying.
His wife, who was a bit more practical by nature, also cried but she thought it over for a while, dried her eyes and came up with an idea.
One of the services in the Temple was the 'Face Bread' (Lechem HaPonim); twelve loaves of bread put on a special six layered table each Friday and eaten by the priests a week later when new bread was brought.
She would bake several extra loaves of bread each Friday and Shimon would bring them to the synagogue for G-d. He could place them in the Ark where the Torah scrolls were kept, and they would pray that G-d would eat them.
Shimon clapped his hands with joy at the idea and he and his wife went to work. They saved up money all week and the next Friday Shimon tiptoed into the Synagogue with a sack of three warm breads.
Then, when he was sure that no one was in the premises he quietly approached the ark, opened the door, put the freshly baked breads in, closed the door and backed out of the building as fast as he could.
Later that morning the Rabbi came into the Synagogue to learn Talmud for a few hours as was his custom but as soon as he entered he was greeted by a waft of pleasure! The fragrant aroma of the breads filled the room.
The Rabbi went to the ark, opened it and the smell was unbearably good! He waited for the custodian to come and when he didn't know where the breads came from the Rabbi decided that rather leaving them to go stale he would take them home for Shabbat.
Of course, that Shabbat in the day when the Synagogue was full and the ark was opened to take out the Torah scroll Shimon was all eyes, craning his neck to see without attracting attention; were they still there? Aha!! The breads were GONE!! 'G-d ate my breads!!! G-d wasn't hungry anymore!!' Shimon was silently bursting with glee!!
He would have jumped up and begun clapping his hands with joy but that would give the secret away so he just sat and dried off his tears of joy!
And so it continued for months. Every Friday the Rabbi found delicious warm bread in the ark and every Saturday Shimon was flush with pride and accomplishment. Everyone was happy!!
But good things sometimes come to an end.
It so happened that one Friday morning the custodian came in early to clean up. He was in another room when he heard someone enter the synagogue, sneak up to the ark, put the breads in, give them a kiss, close the ark door and leave.
A few hours later when the Rabbi entered the custodian approached him. "Excuse me Rabbi. Remember a few months ago you asked me about those breads in the ark?" The Rabbi smiled raised his eyebrows and shook his head yes.
"Well, I know where they came from, or rather where they come from. It's Shimon."
"Shimon?" asked the Rabbi incredulously. "Why would he bring breads?"
"Who knows?" The janitor replied "Maybe ask him. But one thing for sure… it's him. I saw him just a few hours ago."
Now this Rabbi was no ordinary Jew. He was a genius pupil of the Holy Rabbi Isaac Luria (the Ar"I ob'm) the greatest Kabbalist that ever lived and this completely baffled him. Why would a Jew put bread in the ark?
So the Rabbi right then and there walked to Shimon's humble house, knocked on the door, asked to enter, sat Shimon down and calmly and quietly asked for an explanation.
"Ahhh!" Said Shimon "Well, I'm glad you asked Rabbi. To tell you the truth I didn't want anyone to know. It was just between my wife and I and HaShem. But, well, you know how you said in a sermon a few months ago that since the destruction of the Temple G-d is hungry? Well, my wife and I decided to do something about it. So she bakes a few breads every Friday and I take them to the Shul (Synagogue) for G-d to eat.
And you know what Rabbi? G-d actually eats them!! Oy it's such a miracle!! I put them in the ark and in the morning they're gone! Gone! It's such a miracle! But please don't tell people.. unless you want to. But I'd rather keep it a secret."
The Rabbi looked at Shimon like Shimon just popped out of the ground. "What?!" He said. "You're doing this because of ME?!" You want to blame this on me!?"
Poor Shimon's smile faded and his eyes opened in horror. "But Rabbi… I just thought.."
"You thought? If you would have thought you would have asked me for an explanation! What, do you really think G-d eats your bread? Why that's crazy! G-d eats them?! I've been eating them! That's right! I've been eating the breads. Now I want you to stop this insanity right now!! Do you hear?! This is the last time you bring those breads! Understand? I can't believe this is happening! G-d eats bread! Shimon!!"
Shimon was stunned like he had been hit with a board and his wife retreated into the other room where she was crying silently into her dishtowel.
The Rabbi shook Shimon's hand, got a promise from him not to bring more bread and returned to the synagogue.
But once he arrived there was someone waiting for him with a message; the Holy Rabbi Isaac Luria wanted to see him.
"Oy!" he said to himself "The Rebbe called for me! Now I'm going to be late to see the Rebbe because of those simpletons!"
The Rabbi almost ran to the house of the Ar'I only to find him in a serious mood.
"Prepare your household and write your last will and testament." said the Ar'i. "You have only a few days to live!"
The Rabbi was startled! The Ar'I continued,
"A Jew at your level should have known better than to do what you just did. You should know that since the destruction of the Temple and possibly since the First Temple was built, G-d has not had such pleasure from the simple sincerity of a Jew as He had from the breads of Reb Shimon and his wife."
This answers our questions.
What G-d really wants is sincerity. True, Reb Shimon in our story should have know the laws but his intentions were true; he honestly and simply believed he was feeding G-d and this canceled out his mistake.
In fact, G-d does get 'nourishment' and 'pleasure' from our deeds (Nachat Ruach). And although they must be according to the Torah… they must also be with 'soul' and a pure heart. Sometimes this pure heart is the most important thing.
That is what our Torah portion is telling us; G-d told Moses to put the Torah scroll in the Holy of Holies; a place where the essence of G-d, above time and measure, was revealed, because this is exactly what the Torah is; limited laws that reveal the infinite essence of G-d (and of each Jew) in this physical, limited world.
And this is 'forgiveness'; namely that G-d ignores the 'limited' mistakes we made and looks only at our 'unlimited' potential.
Or, in other words, He overlooks our bodies and our finite past and sees only our souls and infinitely perfect futures.
That is why the Great Priest could bring forgiveness for all the Jews, because he is an expression of this 'general' Jewish soul, above all limitation that is common in every Jew.
Just as Moses was able to bring forgiveness for all Israel for sin of the Golden Calf and brought them the second Tablets on Yom Ha Kippurim. Because he was a general soul; above time, place and divisions.
And as Moshiach; the ultimate general soul, will do to the entire world.
This is the message of the Day of Forgiveness: We must look at the world from our Jewish soul's point of view (this is true repentance). There, above time and space; the Holy of Holies, the scroll of Moses and the High priest still exist in each of us. And there each of us has a perfect, unlimited future.
May this all be revealed NOW through our good deeds… or even ONE more good deed to bring….
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.