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 Va'eira (5769)
This week we go a step deeper into Jewish faith; we begin to read about the Ten Plagues.
Here we learn that not only does G-d exist and cares about His creation…. HE actually gets personally involved in the world and does big miracles.
At first glance these are totally not understood; First of all, why did G-d have to send plagues at all? If their purpose was to free the Jews from slavery then couldn't G-d just have flown them out?
And if the plagues were to punish the Egyptians then one of them surely would have sufficed, why ten? And if they were intended to show G-d's power then ten aren't enough!
And why did they begin with blood, frogs and lice?
To understand this here is a story. (Bamachaneh weekly #66, Chukat 5768)
Chabad Chassidim are Jews that love to do favors, especially spiritual ones, for people, especially Jews; for instance, putting Tefillin (Phylacteries) on those that don't usually do it.
But sometimes it gets them into trouble, like it did to Yosef Yitzchak, an 18 year old student in the Chabad Torah Academy in Sefad, Israel.
Early one Friday morning he jumped on a bus for a quick visit to his parents in Ramat Gan in the center of Israel three hours away. He spent a few hours there, kissed them good bye, bade them a good Shabbat and returned to the bus terminal for the return trip.
But there were so many Jews without head coverings in the terminal… a little voice inside him told him he had to put Tefillin on at least one.
He found a table somewhere, put down his backpack, took out his Tefillin, asked the first man who passed by if he wanted to put them on and to his pleasant surprise. the man smiled, agreed, approached the table and rolled up his sleeve. In a flash Yosef had the Tefillin on him but before he was finished someone else approached, then another until there was a small waiting line.
Yosef Yitzchak forgot about time. 'This is great!!' He told himself and he kept doing what he had to. G-d will help!!'
Of course many wanted to hear a word about the weekly Torah portion or just to talk for a minute, but the first time there was a lull he took a look at his watch. GEVALT!!! Th..Three hours had passed! He quickly wrapped up the Tefillin, put them in his bag and ran to the stop to see the last bus pull away! He had to get back to the Yeshiva!
So he took the next bus going in that direction got off after an hour and began to hitchhike. After only a few minutes he got a ride. It wasn't all the way there but at least he was making progress. "Ahh! What good luck!!" he told himself.
But the next ride didn't come so quickly and the next was that did come wasn’t exactly going where he wanted. He got in but he realized he'd have to get off on the way. After another hour he realized that he had to get out… in just a few minutes it would begin to get dark, Shabbat was approaching!! (Religious Jews don't drive or ride on Shabbat). "Please let me out!!" He said quietly.
The driver thought he was crazy, they were in the middle of nowhere! But he had no choice. He let him off at the entrance of the first Kibbutz they passed and sped away.
Yosef Yitzchak had been in a Kibbutz before and all of them have pretty much the same layout so he knew where to go; to the dining room.
It dawned on him that he'd even heard of this place (The name wasn't given in the story). It was a 'Shomer HaTzair' kibbutz, [years ago such places had pictures of Stalin on the wall entitled 'A luminary to the world' (Shemesh l'amim)], once known for their atheism.
But Yosef Yitzchak was optimistic; if he was here might as well make the most of it!
He entered the dining room just as everyone was in the middle of their meal and suddenly there was silence; all eyes were on him. He put down his backpack, smiled, waved hello and said "Good Shabbat everyone!"
A few men approached him, shook hands and he briefly and quietly explained to them what happened. They graciously invited him stay to eat whatever he could according to his beliefs and explained that all the rooms were full but they could give him a small room off the kitchen with a mattress and bedding.
Yosef changed clothes in a side room, prayed the evening Shabbat prayer in his pleasant melodic voice and sat down to eat.
For many of the Kibbutz people it was their first personal contact with a religious Jew and Yosef's simple, positive character and pleasant demeanor had a positive effect on them. In the course of that Shabbat they heard words of Torah, Chassidic stories and a lot about the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Moshiach.
Finally, that Saturday night, after the end of Shabbat a shy young woman, perhaps in her mid twenties, approached him, thanked him for coming and asked him exactly why he decided to come.
When he explained what had happened; how he had missed his bus and how it really wasn't his conscious decision her eyes filled with tears and when he finished she began weeping.
When she calmed down she dried her eyes and explained. A few years ago she had become interested in Judaism but because there was no one to really help her and it was a sort of taboo subject in the Kibbutz she just kept it to herself. But it bothered her so greatly that there was no one to teach her that she prayed to G-d for help.
Then, a few weeks later she had something to do in Tel Aviv and while there she saw a poster with a large picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe advertising a certain telephone number where it was possible to get advice from his books of letters.
So she did it; when she got home she wrote a letter to the Rebbe, called the number and, without telling them the contents of the letter, asked them to open a book for her.
They read to her over the phone, 'The Rebbe acknowledges receiving your letter and promises to send one of his emissaries to answer your questions and to help you.'
Then, just a week later Yosef Yitzchak arrived! It was obvious to her that this was no accident; he was sent directly by the Rebbe …. That was the only explanation.
It wasn't long before a Rabbi began visiting the Kibbutz regularly and not only the young woman but many more of its members strengthened their connection to G-d's Torah and its commandments.
This answers our questions. Many things happen in life that we take for granted but, in fact are really miracles and part of a large picture. If we would just put our minds to it we would see that they were.
The perfect example of this was the ten plagues.
Despite Moses' warnings and the damage of the plagues the Egyptians kept convincing themselves that these were merely natural events and refused to release the Jews! Indeed, even after the tenth and final plague they pursued the Jews to bring them back! And according to the Midrash most of the Jews didn’t want to leave either!
(Unfortunately, so it is today. In the last 2 years the Arabs have shot over 5,000 explosive missiles into the city of Sderot and almost no one has been injured! But nevertheless the Israeli government refuses both to recognize this as a the hand of G-d or to learn any positive lesson from it.)
But a lot of Jews left Egypt. And they did so because they took a positive, G-dly lesson from each plague.
As did Yosef Yitzchak in our story.
He began by being warm, positive and alive… corresponding to the 'plague' of blood.
Next he threw himself into doing what G-d wants him to, just as the Frogs threw themselves into furnaces (7:28) because it was G-d's will.
Then he made himself small and paid attention to small details of Judaism corresponding to the third plague of lice.
In other words the plagues came to teach Egyptians and Jews as well, that every 'bad' or 'natural' event is in reality a positive, G-dly message in life.
And this is the message that Moshiach will drive home.
The prophet says, "Just as when you left Egypt so G-d will do miracles." (Micah 7:15). If we treat life like Yosef Yitzchak in our story we will soon see the total revelation of the Creator as it was over 3,300 years ago.
We just have to do all we can to bring....
Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.