This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Noach (5769)
This week we learn about the flood that destroyed almost the entire world some 4,000 years ago.
According to some opinions this flood was more than just a punishment, it was the means G-d used to alter and purify human consciousness and make a 'new world' where people wanted only to live the truth.
Selfishness had reached its all time peak. Mankind was so totally devoted to having a good time that murder, decadence and thievery were everywhere, even the animals perverted their natural drives. And the flood, as we see, changed all this.
Afterwards, although such activities did pop up occasionally (i.e. Nazi Germany and Stalin's Russia) they never again reached worldwide pre-flood proportions. Never again would the entire world deserve extermination.
But at first glance this is not understood; was such a total catastrophe really necessary? After all, G-d creates everything constantly, including the drives and urges of man. And G-d can do anything! Why couldn't He just change the genes of that totally evil generation or at least of their offspring …. Why drown them all?
To understand this here is a story.
George was a bank guard in Tel Aviv. He wasn't really much of an observant Jew… in fact besides the High Holidays and a few occasional rituals he acted like everyone else, but he was an excellent guard.
His job was to stand before the large vault door that led to the safe-deposit-box room and admit those who could give him a name and code number. Only then would he use his key to open the door. What the customers did in the room was their business but he did notice things.
For instance there was one old disheveled Jew that showed up every evening just before closing time with a small, worn-out cloth sack.
Every day it was the same; he gave his number, entered the room, put the bag in his deposit box and left. Then early each morning he returned, gave his code and took the sack out.
It puzzled George as to exactly what the old fellow was up to, it really wasn't any of his business but it aroused his curiosity. So he kept it in the back of his mind until one day he got his answer.
There he was, sitting on a chair on the bustling sidewalk with a large tin can in front of him asking the passersby for money. That was it.
The old fellow was beggar.
Now George understood what was happening, every evening he was probably bringing his day's take to the bank and the next morning taking it out to use it. It wasn't really that important but he felt good that he had solved the mystery. Or so he thought for several years..
Until the strike.
The bank workers demanded a raise, the management refused to comply and a strike was declared, picket lines stood before the entrance, none of the workers showed up and the bank doors were closed.
George was sound asleep when the doorbell rang. He tried to ignore it but it just kept ringing. 'Someone for you George.' His wife yelled out, "Says it's urgent."
"Urgent? For me?" George pulled himself out of bed put on his slippers and walked to the door. It was nine thirty in the morning… he figured he'd use the free day to catch up on some sleep but… what the…! It was the old beggar.
"S'cuse me." The intruder said with a heavy European accent. "I am sorry to disturb. But I must get into the bank, that is, into my safe box. Please, it is very important to me. I am willing to pay money."
George tried to explain that it was impossible. He didn't have the keys to the bank and even if he did… it was a strike, no one gets in.
Maybe tomorrow. Anyway he didn't have to worry, his money was safe, no one could get in to take it. But it didn't work.
"Money?" the old man said. It's not money. I'll give you money. I don't want money…just that bag. I must have it. Please. Please, just do me a favor."
George was puzzled. If it wasn't money in that bag then…what was there? He stared at the old man's pleading eyes and something inside of him broke.
He was trying to read what those eyes were saying, lowered his voice and said. "What's in the bag?"
"My Tefillin." He answered. "It's my Tefillin."
"Tefillin?!" George exclaimed. "I'm sure you can get Tefillin somewhere else for a few days. Listen, I'm sure the strike will be over soon. You know what, I'll even help you … I know a few religious Jews. Here, look, I'll give this Rabbi I know a call. I have his number somewhere. Here have a seat." He motioned for him to sit down but it didn't help.
"No. You don't understand." The old man's eyes were red. He cleared his throat a few times, leaned forward and whispered as though he had some horrible secret.
"These are mine Tefillin from the camps."
"But listen…" George tried to protest. The whole thing was absurd.
There was no way he could get in. It would mean calling the president of the bank, getting the keys, breaking the picket lines, go though security procedures…it was crazy!
But he couldn't ignore the old man's eyes.
"Listen, I know you'll help me." The old man went on. "Only you can help me. I'll tell you what Tefillin these are and you decide. Just listen." George offered him to sit down again but he just grabbed George's forearm with both hands and talked.
"Listen, the Germans killed my family, everyone. My wife and children.
My friends, my parents. All dead. Just I was left in Auschwitz. But I still had my Tefillin. Every day I put them on. I even put them on other Jews but I never let them out of my possession. I still believed in G-d. I said to myself that everything was just a gift, a free beautiful gift and G-d just took it back. But my Tefillin no one would take back.
"Then one day a young man, a religious young man, skinny, dirty and almost dead like everyone else comes running up to me and says that the holy Reb Yoel the Satmar Rebbe is about to get released from Auschwitz and somehow his Tefillin got lost. He pleaded with me to let the Rebbe use the Tefillin and swore that the Rebbe himself said he would return them in fifteen minutes I couldn't refuse such a thing.
"So I gave him the Tefillin but five minutes after he was gone a bunch of Gestapo guards appeared with other soldiers and told me to follow them. I was sure they were going to kill me and was thinking how lucky it was that the Rebbe got my Tefillin. But they didn't kill me.
"They put a group of us on a few trucks and took us to another camp far away where they needed workers and that is where I spent the rest of the war till the Russians came and freed us.
"After another few years I ended up here in Israel but I couldn't get a job or anything. I was crazy from the camps. I'm crazy now. Every few months I have breakdowns and go to the hospital.
"Anyway, about ten years later I was in the hospital in very bad shape, very sick, and a nurse comes with a few Chassidim, Satmar Chassidim. They ask me my name and ask me if I'm the one that gave the Rebbe my Tefillin in the camp. At first I didn't remember but then after I talked to them it all came back to me.
"One of them told me that he was there too and when Reb Yoel finished with the Tefillin and sent them back to me and I wasn't there he felt very bad and he's been looking for me for years. So they helped me and took care of me these Satmar Chassidim and when I was better and out of the hospital they bought me a first class ticket to New York because the Rebbe wanted to see me.
"So I saw him. Ah! Such a holy person! And when he saw me we hugged each other and cried like babies. Like babies! Then he gave me my old Tefillin back and told me that after he got out of the camp he took them with him and had them checked and every once in a while he put them on. Do you understand? Everyso often, the holy Satmar Rebbe put on my Tefillin! He said he didn't know if I was dead or alive but because I saved him from missing a day of Tefillin he put them on. Well, when I heard that I decided I would put these Tefillin on every day. And I did what I promised
"That's why I must get them today. It is very important to me."
"George dried his eyes and got to work, it wasn't easy but that morning he managed to get the Tefillin.
"Of course from then on he and the old man were best friends. But a few years later the old fellow stopped coming. I found out he was sick and even went to see him a few times in the hospital. The last time I was there he told me a secret. He said. "You know what I do with the money I collect? I use it to buy Tefillin for children that don't have enough money."
"A week later he passed away. The Satmar Chassidim paid for his funeral completely. But a few months later I got a letter from some lawyer that the old man left me something in his will.
So I went to the lawyer's office and he told me what it was; he left me his Tefillin and all the money he had in his account… which was quite a substantial sum, I won't say how much. I guess I was all the family he had.
"Anyway, I decided not to touch the money. Instead I decided to leave it in the bank and use the interest to keep doing what he did and buy Tefillin for young boys who need it, I'm sure that's what he wanted."
This answers our questions.
True G-d can do what He wants. But the reason He created the world is so man would use his free will to choose to do the Creator's will against all obstacles. And often the most difficult obstacles of all are the urges and tendencies within us.
That is why G-d did not simply change the genes or the brains of the sinners and had to start over with a new generation that would choose rather than having G-d make the choice for them. Because he wanted the generation of Noach to be a true example for the coming generations; like the hero of our story was for George. He continued to serve the Creator through all the darkness of the holocaust despite the despair and misery in his soul.
The lesson from this is that we should never feel depressed, frustrated or confused when we experience difficulties (may G-d forbid there should ever be any difficulties). Rather we should hold on to the truth at all times and remember that we did not create ourselves or the world around us; everything we are or have is a gift and everything that happens is somehow for the good.
Then we will be able to not only survive but overcome all obstacles and pass on our attitude and victory to others.
But our generation is experiencing a different sort of flood; the flood of the awareness of G-d contained in the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbes called Chabad Chassidut (see your local Chabad House for details). These are the teachings of Moshiach that the Rambam speaks of at the end of his all inclusive 14 volume work when "the world will be filled with the Awareness of G-d like water fills the ocean."
Just as Noach found a new world around him after exiting the ark.
And our test is, as the last Lubavitcher Rebbe put it; to open our eyes and experience it.
In other words, to do all we can to understand, make and reveal the new world that is happening around us of…..
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