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.
This week's Torah section tells the story of a truly unfortunate Jew by the name of Josef who became the ruler of Egypt, and eventually the entire world, because he knew how to interpret dreams.
The Bible is supposed to teach about Judaism and how it is the best religion. Why pick a hero that was hated by his brothers, enslaved in Egypt imprisoned for life and saved only by his dream reading abilities? What is the Torah trying to tell us? What is so great about interpreting dreams?
Also, this Shabbat we are still in the holiday of Chanukah. Is there any connection?
To understand this here is a story (The Storyteller vol. 1 pg. 271).
World War Two was a tragedy for all mankind, but especially for European Jewry. Millions were killed for no reason except that they were Jews and millions more suffered terribly.
One of those in the last category was Hershel. The story doesn't state his last name but it really isn't important (I once heard it said that all the six million Jews that were killed were really the same Jew).
Hershel was a religious Jew, born and raised in Czechoslovakia and educated in the finest Torah Academies. When the Germans conquered his country in late 1939 he was one of the 'lucky' ones to be sent to a working camp and not to a concentration camp to be exterminated.
Hershel was a good worker; he took orders, cared about the other workers and even kept their morale up… so the Nazis didn't kill him. But what really kept him alive were his Tefillin. (Phylacteries).
As soon as he was taken into captivity he made a firm resolution that no matter what he would keep his Tefillin and put them on every day that he possibly could.
At first he tried to keep it a secret and put them on when and where no one would notice him but when it became known to the other prisoners they also expressed a desire to do the commandment. Eventually it got the point that they would line up every morning; each prisoner taking no more than one minute to put on Tefillin and say a short prayer. They even bribed one of the guards by giving him parts of their precious rations so that he would tell them when a raid or a search was coming so they could hide them.
So it continued for several years; miracles after miracles.
Once Hershel had to hide them in the snow behind the bunker and it took several hours of the combined efforts of several prisoners to find them.
Another time he had a feeling to take them with him for work. Usually after everyone had put them on he would hide them before everyone was herded out to work. But one morning Hershel had a crazy feeling that he should take the Tefillin with him to his work assignment although they were bulky and hard to conceal. But in the end it proved to be a blessing.
The Germans announced at the end of that day that they weren't returning to the barracks and decided to keep the Jews in the same place for the next six months! Were it not for his premonition no one in the group would have put on Tefillin for a half a year!
From then on, even when they were forced to dig trenches under enemy fire, Hershel kept his Tefillin in his pockets. He was sure that as long as he had them he would outlive his tormentors and he was right.
In 1943 the Germans began lose the war and to retreat and it was in this time of disorder somewhere in the Carpathian Mountains that he and ten others decided to make a break.
One night hundreds of prisoners slipped off into the thick forests (it seems that everyone got the same idea at once) and tried to disappear.
The Nazis, despite the fact that they themselves were fleeing for their lives from the Russian forces, sent out special squads to search and destroy the Jewish escapees. Some were apprehended and killed but Hershel and his friends somehow managed to hew out a deep underground bunker where they hid from the Nazis over six months daring to venture outside only under the cover of darkness. But miraculously some of the nearby villagers had mercy on them and provided them food and they were able to survive.
They had many close calls. Once a patrol passed over their heads and a German dog even entered the narrow tunnel that was their entrance. But for some unexplainable reason the dog turned back without even barking and they were saved. The war was still raging; many areas were still under the German occupation and the holocaust was still going full steam but it was clear that it was only a matter of time.
Eventually even the Germans had to withdraw from the area and Hershel and friends were able to leave their hiding place and move to Romania which had been in the hands of the Red Army since August of 1944.
Hershel joined one of the many Jewish rescue groups there and was given the task, along with several other young men, of going to outlaying towns and villages in search of Jewish children and bring them to Bucharest.
He threw himself into the job heart and soul but will never forget one incident that saved his life.
It happened when he together with a friend were bringing a group of homeless children they had found, by train back to Bucharest. The train had left Debretzin and was speeding towards Grossvardein when he suddenly felt the need to get some fresh air. He stood in the open area between the two cars when the train turned a sharp curve. Hershel was standing on the open platform of the train clutching his small valise in which he kept his Tefillin when the train swerved, then suddenly lurched forward and caught him by surprise. He lost his balance and grabbed a piece of metal at the last moment to keep him from falling. But the valise flew out of his hands and went rolling down a hill and away from the train!
Hershel was horrified. All thorough the war he had guarded his Tefillin at the risk of his life and now he had lost them!
He immediately ran back into the train car and told his friend the horrible news; he decided to get off at the next station and walk back to search for his Tefillin.
His friend tried to dissuade him, to convince him how foolish it was; it would mean days of walking. He even begged him not to risk his life by wandering alone… but to no avail.
Suddenly the train screeched to a halt; a red signal light flashed on the tracks indicating that something was wrong and Hershel took the opportunity to jump off the train and run back to search for his Tefillin.
A few hours later he spotted his little valise in the distance, thanked G-d, rushed to it, picked it up and hugged it with delight.
Meanwhile the train had resumed its journey and he realized that he had to get to Grossvardein as fast as possible. There was no chance that he could catch up with the children but at least he could catch a train there that would take him to Bucharest.
Hershel walked as fast as he could hoping to catch a train in the next town to Grossvardein but to his dismay he discovered that the trains had stopped and he had no choice than to walk the entire distance by foot to Grossvardein a distance of some three days!!
But three days later when he arrived in Grossvardien and bought a ticket to Bucharest he was in for another surprise. As he was about to board the train someone grabbed his arm to stop him; he turned to see a friend; one of the group that had escaped from the Nazis with him.
"Hershel!" he said in amazement, "I don't believe you are still here! It's a miracle!! Listen, don't go to Bucharest! It is a miracle that you are still alive!"
It seems that the Communists had taken control of Bucharest with a heavy hand and had arrested everyone that looked 'counterrevolutionary' or, in other words, religious. Thousands had been rounded up for 'correction' and Russian agents were waiting of him near his hotel room to arrest him as soon as he arrived.
Hershel grasped his friend's hand and said gratefully, "Thank G-d that my valise fell out of the train and that I went back for it! Otherwise I would be a dead man!"
His friend thought Hershel had gone mad. What could his valise have to do with this? But when Hershel took him aside and explained what happened his friend remained silent for a few moments and hesitantly said,
"Hershel, I haven't put on Tefillin today, can I put on yours?"
Hershel gave him his Tefillin and left him for a few minutes to pray on his own but when he returned he noticed that his friend's eyes were still wet from tears.
"I must tell you the truth" His friend said in a very serious tone. "Since the Nazis killed my family and sent me to the camp I stopped putting on Tefllin. The Germans took everything I had away! Everything… I thought even my Jewish soul! Since then I gave up! I said I'd never put on again. But now I heard your story I decided that not acting Jewish would be like giving in to them… to Hitler! Hershel, I'm not going to do that! From now on you can be sure I will never again miss putting on Tefillin!"
This answers our questions.
Sometimes the only way to reveal the truth is under pressure. This is the story of Josef and the story of Chanukah: only in times of difficulty is the true innerness of the soul revealed. Just as only when the olive is crushed does pure oil come out.
In other words it comes to teach us that the future is not determined by the past. If Josef, the Maccabees or Hershel in our story would have thought about the terrible situation they were in and how they got there the world would have remained terrible.
If we want to really make a positive change in the world (and that is what the Jews were chosen for; to make the world a blessed, happy, meaningful place) we have to concentrate only on doing what is true in the present as we saw in our story and look at the past only as a dream that must be interpreted positively.
As King David said regarding the arrival of Moshiach who will bring the entire world to be aware of G-d and return all the Jews to the Holy Land, "We will realize that (during the exile) we were like dreamers." (Psalm 126:1)
Then G-d will show us miracles as he did to Hershel, to the Maccabees in Chanukah and to Josef in our Torah portion.
As the prophet says (Micah 7:15) "As it was when you left Egypt; G-d will show you miracles"
It all depends on us to do, say or even think positively NOW and G-d will do the rest and send…
Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.