This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Vayak'hel-Pekudei (5769)
This week we finish reading about the building of the Tabernacle in the desert.
The Torah tells us that the Jews were so enthusiastic in donating the required materials that there was actually a surplus (36:7).
At first glance this is not so surprising. After all, the Jews left Egypt with great riches and in the desert there wasn't much use for it; G-d supplied their food, shelter and protection and there wasn't much to buy anyway.
But it is explained that the reason for their enthusiasm was because the Tabernacle brought forgiveness for the sin of the Golden Calf.
At first glance this is completely not understood. First of all, idolatry, the second of the Ten Commandments is the worst sin in Judaism! Secondly, before they bowed down, all the Jews HEARD G-D personally tell them at Mount Sinai NOT to do it! And third, they did it while G-d was providing for and protecting them in the desert! What a slap in the face!!
So how could such a thing as a Temple or a Tabernacle erase such a heinous sin??
Not only that, the Torah (Ex. 32:1) tells us that the Jews did it because they thought Moses left them. Why would such an apparently minor thing as Moses' absence drive them to such a total mistake as idolatry!?
To understand all this, here is a story (Raboseinu N'siainu, Admor HaRashab pg, 69) about the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rebbe Shalom Dovber (1860-1920) whose yortzite, 2nd of Nissan, will be this coming week.
In Czarist Russia everything seemed to be against the Jews: The Russians were anti-Semites, the all-powerful, omnipresent Russian Orthodox Church was even more so and poverty was everywhere. But somehow the Jews not only survived they flourished (See Exodus 1:12).
But not without miracles.
One example was with a simple Jew in the Ukrainian city of Dormilovka, who we will call Zelig, who opened a small grocery store and was eking out a respectable living ….. until his neighbors decided to kill him.
Just like that!
It began with some sort of argument over a debt and the next morning as he was leaving his house Zelig noticed an envelope stuck under his door. He picked it up and opened it and it read, in Russian scribbled on a piece of paper: "Ivan and friends talking to kill you. Hide."
Poor Zelig began to tremble like a blade of grass in the wind. Where would he run? Where could he go? There were six of them, maybe more. And they were vicious! He was afraid to leave his house. He stayed home.
The next morning he peeked out his window and saw them hiding outside. And so it was the next day. A few times a day they passed by and tried to peer through his window. For almost a week he stayed at home hoping they would forget him but it wasn't so.
So he got afraid to sleep at home. Every night he snuck out to sleep somewhere else and it was a miracle they didn't catch him. And the next week it was the same.
He considered running away but he couldn't; it wouldn't help. First of all they would find him. Second, even if they didn't, he would have to leave everything behind and become a pauper with no home, job or family. Third, he wasn't a young, healthy man, if he didn't solve the problem he wouldn't last long.
So when someone suggested that he travel to the city of Lubavitch and ask the Rebbe, Rebbe Shalom Dovber, for a blessing and advice he jumped at it. He waited for the right time, put on different clothes, covered his face, had someone smuggle him off to the train station, buy a ticket for him and he was on his way.
But it wasn't so simple.
Once he got to Lubavitch he discovered that he wasn't the only Jew with problems; there was a line of some thirty people before him. Some of them looked like rich businessmen, others like Talmudic Scholars, and others simple Jews like himself… but he was last. And at the rate the Rebbe dealt with people he would be there for a week, an eternity! Maybe more!
What could he do? His mind was churning with worry! Nothing was stopping his enemies back home from burning down his store or even worse…. his house! With his wife in it! He had to get to the Rebbe, just for two minutes!! He even asked the Chassid guarding the Rebbe's door, with no luck… he got a flat no.
And the next day the line seemed to be even longer. There were people that had appointments for months that got slipped in before him! Poor Zelig! He had only one thing left to do… pray! G-d had to answer his prayers!
As he was standing in some isolated corner of the house, face to the wall, weeping like a baby and shaking like a leaf he heard someone clear his throat directly behind him. He turned to see a very respectable Rabbi with friendly eyes asking, "Is everything all right?"
Zelig wiped his eyes and … he recognized him! It was Rabbi Menachem Mendel Chein, the Rabbi of the city of Ni'ejin and it was truly a miracle that he just happened to enter.
"Ohh, Rabbi Chein! Thank G-d you're here! No, it's not." He answered. "That is, I'm sure G-d is in control but I need the Rebbe's help to see it. I need a big miracle! I'm in big trouble!" And he poured his heart out telling him the entire story.
"Listen," Rabbi Chein said, "you only need five minutes with the Rebbe? Are you sure? If so, G-d willing I'll talk to the Rebbe's wife and see what happens."
Two hours later the doorman called out Zelig's name and he was standing before the Rebbe telling his bitter story.
The Rebbe calmly and quietly answered. "You can return home, everything will be all right."
But poor Zelig was still afraid. The very thought of stepping off the train at the station back home filled him with fear. They would be waiting for him! He was sure of it! They would catch him, beat him, they had knives oyyy!! He imagined his dead body and felt all empty and cold.
"Rebbe!" he pleaded. "I'm so afraid! I'm even afraid to get on the train! I appreciate the blessing… but I please…. Only if the Rebbe PROMISES that nothing will happen. A clear promise."
The Rebbe smiled and replied almost jokingly. "What do want, that all the gentiles in your village should die? I told you not to worry!" Then smiling even more warmly said, "If you believe in what I say then what is the difference if I bless or I promise?"
But Zelig didn't get the joke. He just sort of whimpered. "Rebbe, I'm afraid to go home. Please promise!"
"And if I promise, you won't be afraid anymore?" The Rebbe asked.
"No. That is, yes! I promise I won't be afraid."
"If so," The Rebbe continued "I promise that you won't have any more trouble from the gentiles."
As soon as he heard those words he became calm, thanked the Rebbe with all his heart, backed out of the room, ran to the train and took the first one out.
When he arrived in Dormilovka he found the Rebbe's promise was really a blessing! None, not one of the six hoodlums that hated him were there… they all disappeared!
One fell from his horse while drunk and drowned in the river. Another got killed in a fight or something. And the remaining four 'somehow' got the 'brilliant' idea that it would be more fun to burn down the mansion of the local baron than Zelig's little hut.
And they probably would have been right if they hadn't gotten caught in the act and sent to Siberia for eight years!
And if that isn't enough of a happy ending, when the eight years ended and they returned to the village Zelig almost began to fear that they would take revenge.. but it was the opposite. They not only had forgotten the entire fight with him, they became his friends and best customers.
The promise of the Rebbe was fulfilled.
This explains our questions. The reason the Jews worshiped the Golden Calf was because they became afraid. Something like Zelig in our story.
When Moses was leading them they only thought of G-d; of the greatness, goodness and closeness of the Creator and were filled with motivation and joy. But without Moses they only felt themselves; their thoughts became filled with uncertainty and egotism and they grabbed at any sort of spirituality (Idolatry) available.
That is why the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, was the antidote. Because these holy edifices filled the Jews again with joy in the awareness that G-d is INFINITELY close to us and KING of all creation.
But the Temple is not enough. Only with Moses (and the Zohar tells us that every generation must have a 'Moses') can the Jews find this joy and motivation. As we saw with Zelig and the Rebbe (the Moses of his generation).
And this will be the function of the King Moshiach that we Jews have been awaiting for thousands of years.
Moshiach will be a great leader like King David, a Torah genius like King Solomon and a prophet like Moses. Indeed, even greater than these three.
And as the Rebbe in our story did to Zelig, Moshiach will infuse the Jews with joy and bring them all back home.
It's all up to us! We can make this all happen even one second sooner by doing just one more good deed, or even having one good thought.
Soon we will be rejoicing in the Third Holy Temple with…
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