This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Vayechi (5769)
This week's Torah portion tells us of the blessings that Yaakov gave to his sons shortly before he passed away.
At first glance this is not understood. What exactly are blessings… aren't they just good wishes? And what do we care about blessings given some 3,500 years ago? Even more, Yaakov's sons eventually became the 12 tribes and today we don't even know where they are or even if these still exist!
To understand this here is a story (The Storyteller Vol. 3 Pg 177)
The city of Nikolsberg, Moravia (now Czechoslovakia) was famous for its long chain of great Rabbis reaching back almost a thousand years. Among them were the famous Maharal of Prague and the Tosfos Yom Tov but perhaps the last in the line was the great Tzadik Rebbe Shmuel Shmelka; pupil of the Chassidic master the Magid of Meseritz (successor of the Baal Shem Tov) some 250 years ago.
Rabbi Shmelka was truly fitting for the post; he was a great Talmudic and Legal genius, his advice was impeccable and his brotherly love was seemingly without limit. Many were the nights that his eyes saw no sleep because he was involved in the problems of others and he was very proficient in the mysteries of Kabala.
But despite his flawless character and selfless nature he was once the center of a controversy that only miracles were able to quell.
One of the richer Jews in Nikolsberg, who we will call Groisman was sued by one of its poorer members. The details were not passed down so it's not clear what the suit was about nor the amount involved but what we do know is that Rabbi Shmelka, after hearing all the arguments and seeing the evidence, decided in favor of the poor man.
Groisman was boiling mad; not only had been found guilty and lost money he had been humiliated publicly by a nobody! He declared war! After all, he told himself, he didn't become the wealthiest man in town by surrendering!
He was clever about it. First he began quietly complaining and, because he was rich, people began to listen. At first it was only his family and friends but slowly the circle began to widen. Friends spoke to their friends and their friends to their friends until within a few months the town became a cauldron of discontent.
Gradually Groisman's claims became clear; 'The Rabbi, he whispered to a ready audience, is one of the Chassidim who consult the Kaballa and other mystical books for their decisions. Who knows when he would claim that some angel or spirit told him to change the Torah! Indeed, this is probably the reason he found me guilty. Maybe tomorrow he'll make up a new religion!
The tone of things became increasingly sinister until one day placards appeared on the street announcing a meeting in the great Synagogue to discuss 'pressing issues'.
That night some one thousand men were packed into the huge auditorium and the voices began to be more angry until they finally took a vote and decided to oust the Rabbi! Groisman had succeeded!
Suddenly the voice of the old Shamash (sextant) of the Synagogue rang out from somewhere. "Wait! WAIT!! I want to talk!"
Everyone looked up to see the old fellow standing at the podium in the middle of the Synagogue open hands raised for silence.
He must have been over eighty years old and his high pitched voice rang clearly over the crowd until everyone's curiosity was aroused. "Wait!! I want to talk!" He kept repeating until there was silence.
As far as anyone remembered he had never raised his voice or spoken more than a few quiet sentences in all the years he had been in the Synagogue. What could he want now? He cleared his throat and spoke.
"I want to say something important." He looked around to see that everyone was listening and continued. "Two things that I saw that I swore I would never tell… but I think it's important."
The room was still.
"It was about ten years ago, just after we chose our Reb Shmelka. Well, I was making my rounds early in the morning before sunrise, ringing my bell and knocking on windows to wake everyone up for the Morning Prayer. When I got to the Rabbi's house I saw the light was on in his window so I looked in. There he was sitting and learning Talmud with some wild-looking long-haired Jew with a leather girdle around his waist."
I figured it must be some traveler or something, really I thought it might be one of the '36 hidden Holy Men (Tzadikim) that I read about somewhere but I kept quiet.
"But when I saw him again there the next morning, standing before the Rabbi and listening to his learning I decided I'd ask. Later that day I caught the Rabbi alone in Synagogue after the prayers and asked him who the man was and the Rabbi was very surprised.
"'What, you saw him?' he asked a few times. Until he finally said, 'Well if you saw him then I'll tell you. That was Elijah the prophet (who lived some 2,700 years ago and appears regularly to the righteous) but best not to talk about it.'
The Shamash cleared his voice and continued. "Then a few days later I saw him again but this time it was really frightening.
"It was late at night and the Rabbi was standing at the door holding a candle holder with two very bright candles escorting some people from his house. When they got to the door I saw them. One was the same Elijah the Prophet but the other…. Well I couldn't believe my eyes but it was a real king with royal garments and a crown …. and even carrying a royal scepter! I was petrified with fear and awe.
"The Rabbi escorted his guests out the door for a few more steps until they disappeared then he returned to his house to continue his Torah study.
"Well, I don't know what made me do it but I waited a few minutes, said a prayer, approached the Rabbi's door and knocked. He had been so friendly to me the time before I figured he would tell me who that king was.
"So I went in and told him that I just happened to be passing and saw what I saw and I asked my question.
"The Rabbi looked at me for a while, told me to sit down and explained.
"He said that a few weeks ago in a certain town in Poland a tragedy occurred. There, there lived a simple Jewish artisan who was obsessed with hatred for idols and idolatry. He made his living by making small dolls and toys and the third of the Ten Commandments "You shall not make for yourselves any carved idol or any image' literally burned in his heart. In fact he spoke of it non-stop.
"One night he went crazy. He ran into town and began smashing every statue he saw including the ones in front of the Church until he was caught by a crowd and beaten and killed for his crime. It was with greatest difficulty that the Jewish community there was able to convince the gentiles that he acted alone but the whole thing was so traumatic on the elders of the community that they refused to provide for his widow from the widow's fund.
"They argued that because the poor fellow knew very well that he would be killed for his actions he was responsible for throwing his life and his money away and she should be paid from the communal charity like all the other paupers, which meant a lot less money.
"Anyway she complained to the Rabbis of her town and when they couldn't decide what to do, they brought the case to our Rabbi.
"That was yesterday in the day. Last night the Rabbi was sitting and pouring through books for a solution when the two visitors I mentioned visited him.
"And that king was none other than Menasha, the idolatrous son of King Hezkiahu (see Kings 2:21:19)!
"He said that since his death, over two thousand years ago, he had been reincarnated time and time again to atone for his blasphemous sins (among which was erecting an idol in the Holy Temple!) but his soul found no rest until it became incarnated in this Jewish artisan.
That explains his unexplainable hatred of idols; it was the result of Menasha's tormented soul seeking repentance.
"And that's why he came to Rav Shmelka; to explain to him that the artisan was neither crazy nor suicidal, rather he was sacrificing his life to destroy idolatry and sanctify G-d's name; the only thing that would purify Menasha's soul. Reb Shmelka didn't tell me what he would decide but he did ask me to keep the matter quiet but I couldn't.
Now, my friends and brothers." The Shamash concluded. "I felt I had to tell you this so you should know what a holy Rabbi we have. I beg you not to be angry with him and I hope he won't be angry with me for telling." Then turning to Mr. Groisman he said, "Surely if he decided against you it was for the benefit of everyone involved including you…or at least your soul."
The group dispersed and the impeachment was canceled.
This explains our questions.
Just as the sins of King Menasha had a spiritual effect long after his life ended so the blessings of Jacob exist to this very day because blessings are much more than just good wishes. Rather they are eternal, spiritual bundles of goodness that can change the physical world for the better.
But not everyone can bless; Only someone who really has love and affection for the one being blessed.
More than anything else Yaakov truly desired Moshiach and the future redemption (see Rashi on Gen.33:14) and his blessings were designed to hasten its arrival (see Rashi 47:28). Then he would again be united with his children in the Holy Land.
Just as Menasha, perhaps the worst sinner of all time, found comfort and forgiveness so will all Jewish souls; the blessings of Jacob will take full effect. That is why Yaakov blessed his sons; because in the future when Moshiach will gather all the Jews to the holy land it will be revealed that every Jew is holy, the tribes will again be reinstated and Yaakov's blessings will really come true.
But now it's all up to us; we just have to do all we can to make it all real and bring..
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