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 Bo (5769)
This week's Torah portion contains 20 commandments and one of them is offering the Paschal Lamb.
Before the Jews left Egypt, every household had to sacrifice a lamb or goat and eat its meat before midnight. Only then were they able to leave. This commandment was done every Passover till the destruction of the second Temple some 2,000 years ago and will be renewed when Moshiach builds the Third Temple.
But at first glance this makes no sense. What does slaughtering and eating sheep have to do with Judaism or with leaving Egypt?
Even more, why did G-d have to take the Jews from Egypt at all? After He destroyed the country with ten plagues why not just let the Jews take over!! Wouldn't that have been better? Then THEY would be the bosses instead of the evil Egyptians!
To understand this here are two stories: (Shmuot V'Sipurim Rav R.N. HaCohen Cahn Vol. 3 pg 241)
Judaism defies all standards. The Jewish 'race' has no defining physical features, Jewish 'nationality' doesn't depend on place of birth or residence and a Jew is Jewish although he doesn't believe in the religion.
But at the same time their standards are very high; Chassidic Judaism teaches that every Jew is obligated to try, and has the potential to succeed, to improve the entire world through G-d's commandments.
And one of the most outstanding examples of this teaching was the third Rebbe (leader) of the 'Chabad' Chassidim called Rabbi Menachem Mendel (nicknamed the Tzemach Tzedik 1789 - 1866).
He brought all of his followers to the highest levels of self fulfillment and many of them had followers of their own. Especially his sons.
For instance, once he sent two of his six sons; Rav Zalman and Rav Shmuel to speak to government officials in Petersburg to and to nullify decrees that were threatening Judaism. The work was demanding, dangerous and difficult and miraculously they succeeded. But before they left they were approached by two respectable looking Jews and invited to preside over the wedding ceremony of their children.
Usually the Rabbis would not have agreed; their time was precious and there was no shortage of capable Rabbis in Petersburg but strangely they agreed. That very evening Rabbi Zalman the older of the two, readily wrote the marriage certificate, made the blessings and he and his brother even participated briefly in the festivities.
The families were overjoyed that such prestigious Rabbis attended the wedding of their children and couldn't thank them enough.
In fact, early the next morning they brought the newlyweds to the Rabbis' hotel room and requested that they bless the couple again…. And they even brought along some cakes, drinks and one of the musicians of the wedding band, a violinist, to make things merry.
The violinist played a merry tune, the food was arranged on a table and Rav Zalman and his brother blessed the couple. But then Rav Zalman pointed to the violinist, and when he stopped playing, praised him for his music in a way that implied he would like to make a request.
The father of the groom understood the Rebbe's hint and immediately jumped in. "Perhaps the Rabbi like to hear a particular melody? The violinist knows many Jewish melodies!"
Rab Zalman answered, "Ahh! Nu! Good, Can he play Kol Nidre?" (The first and opening prayer of 'Yom Kippur'; The Day of Atonement, sung in synagogues across the world).
"Of course, I can. I'm also a Jew!" the violinist answered with a smile and a nod at the family members. Then he closed his eyes and began to play the familiar melody, his body swaying with great feeling at every phrase of music.
Rab Zalman lowered his head between his hands on the table before him in great rapture and as the last notes faded away in the silence he raised his head and said, quietly almost intimately, "Once more."
The violinist nodded, lifted his bow and the beautiful tones again filled the room as Rav Zalman returned his head to his hands as though in another world.
When the music finished he straightened up, smiled again, looked deamily at the musician and said, "Once again".
The violinist understood. The Rabbi probably wanted to hear the tune three times as it is always repeated on the evening of Yom Kippur. So he put all his energy into this third and final time.
Truly it was magic; more melodic and with more feeling then the first two. But as he finished, lowered his bow and began to take the violin from his shoulder Rab Zalman lifted his head and said, "Again!"
The family looked at each other in bewilderment, almost ashamedly. If it was anyone else they would think he was mad, but it was the honorable Rabbi. Probably he really loves this song. Or perhaps it's the performance. In any case they hoped four times would be enough.
But when he finished playing Rav Zalman commanded him to play again a fifth time, then a sixth! And a seventh!!!
Suddenly the violinist, stopped. He stood there and began trembling as though he remembered something terrible that shook his entire being. He lowered the violin, looked at the Rebbe with horror and tears in his eyes and tears streamed down his cheeks for several speechless moments. He wavered as though he was about to fall to his knees and finally the words came out,
"Rebbe help me!!! How can I repair my soul!!?"
Rab Zalman motioned for the violinist to wait, bade the other visitors Mazal Tov and after they left spoke to him for several minutes alone.
Later the violinist told them what had happened.
Some twenty years ago he and his friends began drinking, playing cards and playing music the day before Yom Kippur and enjoyed themselves so much that they continued on well into the night… after the Holiday had begun and the Cantor had sung …….. Kol Nidre.
Before that evening he had been an observant, albeit not enthusiastic, Jew but it was that party that began his 'descent' and estrangement from Judaism.
"Somehow the Rabbi sensed this and that is why he wanted him to play that melody over and over again until it brought him back to his Jewish senses".
The second story took place some one hundred years later. In the city of Nevel, Russia. There was a large community and a large Torah Academy (Yeshiva) of Chabad Chassidim. One of the outstanding in the Academy was a Rabbi by the name of Gershon Ber who was also in charge of the personal conduct and attitude of the pupils.
One pupil there, who we will call Moshe, began to be lax in his Torah observance and everyone noticed it. But Rabbi Gerson Ber never mentioned this to him. He would only chastise him for not paying attention in the Tanya (Chassidic Philosophy) class.
Day after day Moshe became more brazen and callous to G-d's commandments but his Rabbi only reproved him on this one particular class.
Until eventually Moshe left Judaism altogether, changed his religion and was on his way to becoming an important figure in the government.
Then, one day, years after he left the Yeshiva, he met Rabbi Gerson Ber in the street and mockingly said to him.
"Nu! Rabbi! See what came of your reproofs. Nothing!! In fact I don't see why you wasted your time telling me about such a small thing as listening in class when I was doing the biggest sins in the book…. Even the biggest! See? I changed my religion!!"
"I'll tell you." Rabbi Gershon Ber replied seriously.
"When you die you will go to hell for purification. First they will punish you a few years for leaving Judaism. Then after you have returned to being a Jew they will punish you for transgressing the commandments until you will return to be an observant Jew. Then after that they will punish you for not listening in class. It was that punishment that I wanted to spare you."
Moshe listened and the words hit home. It wasn't long before he left town, moved far away where no one knew him and returned to the religion of his fathers.
This answers our questions. The essence of Judaism is to know that the creation is infinitely close to Creator but is our job to make it even closer.
And the word 'to come close' ("Korov") is almost the same as 'to sacrifice' ('HaKriv').
We can only be TRULY close to G-d world by making sacrifices to the Creator in THIS physical!
The first time this happened was when the Jews sacrificed the Paschal Lamb; the first Sacrifice/Coming Close of the creation to the Creator.
As in both our stories; the violinist and Moshe both realized how close G-d is to them and sacrificed from themselves to come even closer.
The reason it was a lamb was because the lamb was one of the main gods of Egypt; the Jews needed great bravery to take it into their houses and risk the wrath of their 'masters'; just as Rav Gerson Ber risked the wrath of the apostate Moshe.
And so today; leaving Egypt, reversing nature (even our own nature) and ignoring the negativity around us often requires unusual bravery…. And humility.
That's the reason G-d didn't want the Jews to stay in Egypt; He didn't want a nation of leaders. Rather G-d wants a nation of servants; servants that aren't interested in pleasing the world (Egypt) but rather interested in pleasing the CREATOR of the world.
This is the true secret to transforming the world to a good, blessed and meaningful place. And just as the Jews left physical Egypt by means of Moses so will we leave all our personal and spiritual limitations (Egypt) by means of …..
Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.