This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Ki Tisa (5769)
This week's Torah portion contains the most embarrassing story ever told; the Golden Calf fiasco.
The Jewish people had just left polytheistic Egypt amidst miracles and wonders to become the 'Chosen People' of G-d and bring monotheism to the world: to rid the world of selfish idolatry and convey the message of G-d's goodness and Oneness and bring blessing to all mankind.
But instead they did the opposite! Just 40 days after they saw and heard G-d tell them not to worship idols (in the Ten Commandments) …… they worshiped one and brought punishment and curses upon themselves.
But what is even more interesting is the Haftorah.
The 'Haftorah' is a portion, usually from the prophets, read aloud in Synagogue immediately after the regular Torah reading on Shabbat that has some connection to the Torah portion.
But this week the Haftorah seems to convey exactly the OPPOSITE message and actually encourages idolatry!
This week's Haftorah (Kings 1:18:1) tells us of a similarly shameful episode in the history of Judaism. It was about six hundred years after Mt. Sinai in the days of the first Holy Temple when, despite the fact that all of the Jews were living in the Holy Land and holiness was everywhere, almost all the Jews worshipped an idol called 'Baal'.
G-d sent His prophet Elijah to wake the people up…. But it didn't work. It seems that Jews had (and still have albeit to a much lesser degree) a surprising affinity to idolatry.
Finally Elijah had no alternative then to call for a public showdown on Mount Carmel between him and the Baal worshipers. The rules were; whoever could bring fire from heaven onto his sacrifice would be the winner.
The Haftorah tells us that the prophets of Baal made an altar of stone, slaughtered upon it oxen, prayed, invoked, danced, screamed and even gashed their flesh for a few hours but…. No supernal fire.
Then came Elijah's turn; he stepped up to his altar, turned to the people and said "How long will you waver in belief? If G-d is the L-rd worship only Him but if Baal is right then worship him!" (18:21)
He then raised his hands to heaven, called out "Answer me G-d, Answer me!" And fire burst forth from above and devoured his sacrifice together with all the stones in the massive altar he built and the people fell on their faces and yelled "G-d is all, G-d is all"
In our portion G-d and Moses tell the people don't worship idols and here Elijah is telling everyone "If Baal is right ….. SERVE the BAAL!!"
Even more, how could such words come from the mouth of holy Elijah the prophet?? How could he suggest that Jews should worship Baal? (G-d forbid!)
To understand this here is a story. (HaGeula weekly page #446)
Rabbi Levi Vilmovski, today the manager of all the Torah institutions in the city of Migdal HaEmek has hundreds of interesting stories to tell but there is one that stands out.
It occurred some thirty years ago when he ran the Chabad House in Holon shortly after the Lubavitcher Rebbe ordered his Chassidim to go from house to house and explain how the Mezuza, besides being a commandment of G-d and a blessing, protects the home and those in it like a helmet protects a soldier.
So Rabbi Levi and his partner decided to follow the Rebbe's orders and advertise their Chabad House at the same time by offering to check the Mezuzot on people's houses for free.
He took young men from a local Chabad school, gave them thousands of pamphlets, told them to distribute them to every home in Holon and in a short time hundreds of responses arrived.
But one pamphlet caught his eye; it had the words 'URGENT URGENT' written on it in large letters and underlined twice.
He called the phone number written there, introduced himself and the voice on the other end said, "Chabad? Wow! Am I happy to hear from you!! Yes! I'm Ben Tzion S…. and it is very urgent. My wife is very ill and …. Well I thought that maybe the mezuzot….."
That evening Rabbi Levi visited the home of Ben Tzion and heard a sad story. He was the owner of a successful factory in Tel Aviv but over a year and a half ago his wife came down with a severe case of depression and his life had been turned upside down.
At first he thought it would just pass but it didn't. In fact it got to the point that she was unable to even get out of bed the entire day. He'd taken her to almost every doctor and professor whether conventional or alternative listed in the phone book but so far, except for losing his money, nothing worked. The doctors said she was too far gone.
So when he saw the pamphlet on Mezuza from the Chabad House he knew he had to give it a try.
Rabbi Levi immediately removed the Mezuza of the front door, opened it, removed the parchment and began checking the letters to see if they were whole and complete. It wasn't hard to find what was wrong. To his shock he saw an entire word; the word "Nafshechem" 'Your Soul' (Deut.11:13) almost completely rubbed out!
When he showed it to Ben Tzion he almost fainted. Could it be that this had something to do with his wife's 'soul'? He didn't ask questions. He bought a new mezuzah on the spot, Reb Levi put it on his door and took the rest of the mezuzot to be checked properly.
A day later Rabbi Levi called Ben Tzion and heard that his wife's state was slightly better; she was talking a bit, but she still refused to get out of bed.
So Rabbi Levi paid him another visit and they called the office of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in New York for a blessing for his wife.
Two days later Rabbi Levi called Ben Tzion again but this time he didn't want to talk on the phone. "Rabbi, you have to come over!" he said excitedly.
When he got to Ben Tzion's house he couldn't help feeling that something had changed. First of all there was the smell of food and the house seemed much tidier.
"Let me tell you what happened" Ben Tzion said excitedly as he offered the Rabbi a seat. "Yesterday morning I woke up and made myself breakfast before going to work, like I do every day. But when I came back I smelled something burning or cooking! The first thought that crossed my mind was 'Oh no!! I must have left the fire burning from this morning! Who knows what damage has been done! Thank G-d the house didn't burn down.' But when I ran into the kitchen I got the surprise of my life… it was my wife!! She was cooking!! She hasn't cooked for over a year and she was standing there cooking!
"But do you know what got her out of bed?! You know what she told me! Here, I'll call her and let her tell you herself."
Ben Tzion called his wife and she entered the room, said hello and thanked the Rabbi for his efforts and told him what happened. It was the first time the Rabbi had seen her, up till now she had been hidden in her room.
"It was the most amazing thing!" She said. "Yesterday I woke up feeling a little better but I was too miserable and afraid to get out of bed. I was just about to go back to sleep when suddenly this old man with a white beard appeared in my room!
"I was really surprised, but he wasn't scary at all. He just stood next to my bed and said. 'Get up! Get out of bed!' For some reason I couldn't refuse him and I got up but as soon as I did he disappeared! Since then I feel that I returned to myself! It was like I woke from a long deep sleep."
Rabbi Vilmovski took a card out of his pocket with the Rebbe's picture on it and showed it to her. "Oh!" She exclaimed. "That's him! He's the one I saw!"
Shortly thereafter they all flew to the Rebbe to thank him and to this day, thirty years later, they are still in touch and the woman's depression has never returned.
This answers our questions.
The reason given in the Torah that the Jews bowed to the Golden Calf was that they thought that Moses was dead. (32:1 see Rashi)
Moses taught and inspired the people to be aware of and feel G-d all the time. And without Moses Jews feel only themselves ....... like sheep without a shepherd.
This false egotism is the source of idolatry, war, sickness and all bad things… including depression.
Indeed, this is the reason that in the days of Moshiach there will be none of this negativity; because Moshiach will teach the world to think about G-d (Rambam, M'lachim 12:5) even more successfully than Moses did.
And this is the point that Elijah the prophet was making. Often a person continues being an egotist and an idolater because he has good qualities as well …. like the Jews he was speaking to; they worshiped both G-d AND idolatry.
That's why he told them to consider worshiping ONLY Baal (G-d forbid).
He knew they would never dream of denying G-d (denying G-d was almost unheard of until only the last few hundred years) but on the other hand they liked idolatry as well and their belief in G-d made them overlook this.
So Elijah told them; 'Stop fooling yourselves! If you really think it's okay to serve Baal and be an egotist then don't think G-d agrees with you; your good deeds don't lessen your mistake!
But our generation is different. Ours is the generation of Moshiach! The day is very close… even today… when we will be aware of our Creator constantly and we will awaken our true ego… our G-dly soul (as explained in the second chapter of Tanya). Then the world will be perfected with no more war, strife, hunger, pain or disease. It's all up to us to do just one more good deed and bring….
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