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 Vayeira (5769)
This week we read the long and rather complicated episode of Abraham bargaining and trying to convince G-d not to eradicate the inhabitants of an evil five city complex called Sodom and Amora.
At first glance this makes no sense. The Torah tells us that the citizens of these cities were terrible, incorrigible sinners that had committed the most heinous crimes. Why did Abraham want to save them?
What would he do with all those sinners? It would take years of counseling and one-on-one grueling psychological work to get so many egotists to suddenly become productive, caring citizens. And what about their past sins? Didn't theydeserve extermination? Why did Abraham want to stop it?
And his line of argument was also strange; he demanded of G-d that any city containing ten righteous people should be entirely spared. Why didn't he just pray that the righteous should be spared? Why release an entire city of sadistic murderers because of ten upright citizens?
To understand this, here is a story. (HaY'dion HaKfar (Oct 30, 08')
In the late Seventeen Hundreds in Russia a terrible practice was begun by the Czar to 'unify' his citizens and 'save' their souls as well.
Young boys, especially Jews, were snatched from their homes, taken to training camps and taught how to become Russian Orthodox Christians.
The following few generations of Czars would increase this practice to horrendous proportions but this Czar began it.
There were some boys who held on to their Judaism despite the tortures, beatings and psychological pressure. But they were few. The majority either died or succumbed to the pressure and converted.
Eli Leib Itzkovitz was among the majority; when he was just a lad of twelve he had been kidnapped into the army and was so weak, alone and afraid that he couldn't resist the pressure. The priest seemed so warm and friendly when he spoke about the church and so scary when he didn't, that Eli decided to just flow with the stream and do what they wanted.
After he agreed to convert it was smooth traveling; he changed his name to 'Sasha', made friends, moved up in the ranks and fifteen years later he was respected and was on his way to becoming an officer.
Then, because of their outstanding devotion and behavior, he and a few other soldiers were given a ten day leave; his first leave in fifteen years.
The first day they just ate and slept, then they went to a nearby city to get drunk and have a good time. Then one of them mentioned that he was going to visit his parents tomorrow and the others said pretty much the same thing.
Suddenly a brief flash of his mother's eyes, his father's voice and the house that had once called home passed through his mind. Of course the army was his 'real' home and Russia and the Czar were his parents.
But after all, he had another week with no plans and all the others were going home, why not him?
He went to the train station, bought a ticket and got on the train.
Ten hours later he was standing in front of his old house and knocked on the door. A middle aged woman answered. Could this be his mother?
She was in her middle thirties when he left, but this woman looked older than fifty, or perhaps not. Even if it was, he probably wouldn't recognize her. One thing for sure, she didn't recognize him.
She treated him like any Russian citizen would treat any visiting Russian soldier; she told him to come inand prepared a cup of tea. He told her he was just passing through the town and gradually brought the conversation around to her family.
She told him that her husband had passed away years ago from cholera and she had an only son who had been snatched into the army years ago.
And now she was alone.
It was his mother. Eli had to hold back tears. His father was dead. He would never see him again, his heart winced.
But it had been a long time; he'd spent more time in the army than at home. He thought that he had forgotten his parents. But somewhere deep down inside him the child was still alive. He changed the subject and tried to talk about the weather etc. until finally he looked her in the eyes and said quietly.
"Mother, it's me! I'm Eli!"
They embraced, crying and hugging each other for a long time. She said his name over and over as if to make up for all the years she hadn't said it and finally when they calmed down and dried their eyes Eli told her about the army and all that he had done in the last fifteen years. Her eye caught the cross that was hanging on a thin chain around his neck.
"Oh that?" He replied. "I changed my religion. It's no big thing.
Judaism is a thing of the past anyway. The commandments are old etc.
And he repeated all he had been taught by the priest about getting saved, going to heaven, eternal damnation and more.
She begged him to be a Jew. She told him of his father's devotion, about Abraham and the thousands of years of Jewish self-sacrifice for the Torah that followed him. But it was no use. Eli had become so indoctrinated that he had ten answers for each of her questions… so she changed the subject; she didn't want to lose him.
He stayed with her for another few days fixing things around the house, telling her about himself and asking about his father and her until he announced that he had to return to the base.
"Please," she said to him just before she kissed him good bye. "I don't want to lose you again. I don't want you to get killed. Not far from here in the town of Liadi there is a great Rabbi by the name of Rebbe Schneur Zalman. Please go to him, give him this note and ask him for a blessing."
Eli wanted to refuse but one look in his mother's pleading eyes melted his opposition. So he got a carriage and made his way to Liadi.
An hour or so later he was standing in the Rebbe's house at the end of a line of some twenty people leading to the Rebbe's door, but in just moments he was whisked to the front of the line. The Chassidim had orders that soldiers don't have to wait.
In just a few minutes the door to the Rebbe's room opened, a Jew that had been in there before him backed out and he entered.
Suddenly a fear enveloped him that he had never experienced in his life. He had been in battle several times and knew fear but this was something total and totally different. It took him completely by surprise.
He handed the Rebbe the note that his mother had given him. The room was unusually still.
The Rebbe asked him a few questions about himself and the army and finally said,
"May The Almighty give you success in all that you do."
Eli got up the courage and asked the Rebbe for a coin he could carry with him for good luck and protection as his mother told him. But the Rebbe answered.
"G-d will protect you without a coin and give you understanding to choose the proper path."
As Eli left the Rebbe's house he felt like a child, happy and fresh.
It was as though the Rebbe re-attached him to something alive and infinite that he had lost.
The next day when he returned to his camp a strange thing happened. A notice was posted on door of the lunchroom that by order of the Czar anyone who wanted to return to the religion of his parents could do so.
Eli was the first to respond. He immediately reported to his superior officer and requested to change his name back to Eli Leib and to be registered as Jewish.
Within moments a priest and several officers called him into a private conversation. Eli had been an outstanding soldier with a bright future and they didn't want to lose him. They gave him all the reasons possible for remaining a gentile and not becoming a Jew, especially the priest. He was a very intelligent and well versed man and he was sure that Eli stood no chance against his well honed arguments. He explained how he would be damned, would forfeit everlasting bliss and would miss the redemption. And he brought a flood of sentences from the Bible to 'prove' it. Meanwhile the officers reminded him that he stood to lose his rank in the army as well as his friends and his future.
But Eli had looked into the eyes of the Rebbe.
He waited for them to finish, cleared his throat and spoke.
"I was born a Jew and I'll die a Jew." He said quietly but firmly.
"The first Jew, Abraham was alone; the entire world was against him, but I'm with him." Then he turned to the priest and said, "I can't debate you, but I'm sure the Rebbe of Liadi knows all your arguments and nevertheless I'm sure he also is on Abraham's side."
Eli was demoted to the rank of private and all his benefits were erased. Shortly thereafter his term in the army finished, he returned to his mother and the first blessing of the Rebbe materialized; he found a good livelihood a good wife and lived to see three generations of offspring.
At least once a year he would gather all his family together and repeat the story of how just seeing the face of the Rebbe made him into a totally different man.
This answers our question. We have no way of understanding the power of a Tzadik (a totally holy Jew). As we see from our story, one word or even glance from a holy Jew can change a person totally.
So Abraham thought that perhaps if there were ten such Tzadikim in each city perhaps they could influence even the evildoers as the Rebbe influenced 'Sasha' in our story, with a word or a look to become different people.
And although he lost the argument and G-d destroyed Sodom and Amora, Abraham gave us the ability to change the world so it need not happen again.
We have the ability to bring Moshiach.
Moshiach will be a 'super' Tzadik that will open the hearts of all mankind to see how G-d is creating us, feel how He loves and provides for each of us and believe that He will answer all our prayers.
In other words, Moshiach will change the nature and priorities of all humanity! Indeed, as we say in the Alenu prayer thrice daily, "All the evildoers will bow to G-d" (Yifnu Ailechaw Kol Rish'e oretz).
But it all depends on us; even one good deed, word or even thought can tilt 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.