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 Vayikra (5769)
This week we begin the book of Leviticus and usher in the Month of Nissan; the month of miracles (unlike the Month of Tishrei which commemorates the creation of nature, Nissan commemorates the birth of the Jewish people; above nature.)
But strangely, if you look in a Torah Scroll you may notice that the first word of our portion, (meaning G-d 'Called' to Moses), is written with a small last letter: VAYIKRa.
There are several reasons given for this; one is to stress the humility of Moses. (see also Num. 12:3).
Another is to point out that that here G-d was calling to Moses in an inferior way; in the desert and not as it was supposed to be in the Temple in Israel.
A third reason is to show that as perfect as Moses was he wasn't at the level of Adam, the first man, (therefore in Cron. 1:1:1 the Alef of 'Adam' is big) and certainly not as high as Moshiach will be.
But at first glance this is hard to understand: Why begin on a negative note? What way is this to usher in the month of miracles?
First of all, what is so great about humility? Second, why tell us that G-d's message to Moses and Moses himself were both second best?
To understand this here are two stories that the Lubavitcher Rebbe told publicly. (Ma Sh'siper Li HaRebbe pg.89 and 95).
The first story was told on Purim 1960: The Fourth Rebbe of Chabad was called Rebbe Shmuel (M'harash for short). He had two sons. The older was called Zalman Ahron and the younger (who would become the next Rebbe when his father passed away at age of 49 in 1882) was called Shalom Dovber.
Both boys showed signs of genius and even the games they played together as children showed they were destined for greatness.
In the home of their grandfather, the third Rebbe of Chabad the Tzemach Tzedik, they were accustomed to see tens of Chassidim coming every day from far corners of Russia and Europe for advice and blessings. So it wasn't surprising that one of their games was 'Rebbe and Chassid'.
First, a few words about these terms, Rebbe and Chassid: Success in most walks of life does not necessarily depend on one's character or personality. A doctor who heals people, a lawyer who wins cases or a businessman who makes money is called 'good' regardless of his private life.
But this is not so in Judaism.
A 'good' Jew is one who has rid himself of selfish priorities and desires (even spiritual ones like going to heaven) and who genuinely loves G-d, the Torah and other people.
An almost impossible task…. Especially when coupled with difficulties in health, livelihood and family that plagued the Jews constantly. That is why there are Rebbes.
Rebbes are Jews who, like Moses over 3,300 years ago, have a G-d given talent to take other Jews out of 'Egypt' i.e. all the internal and external problems bothering them and bring them to 'The Holy Land' i.e. revealed awareness, love and fear of G-d.
In their games Zalman Aharon, being the oldest, assumed the part of Rebbe and his younger brother played the part of Chassid.
On one occasion Shalom Dovber solemnly asked his brother-as-Rebbe a question: "Rebbe, tell me… what is a Jew?"
His brother, sitting behind a table with a serious face just as he had seen his grandfather do answered in the most meaningful tone he could muster up, "A Jew is fire."
"If so," replied Shalom Dovber "Why is it that when my hand touches yours it isn't burned?"
"Ahh!" Replied his brother wisely, "because you are also fire and fire cannot be burned by fire!" at which point Shalom Dovber humbly backed humbly out of the room and waited a few moments before reentering.
This time he stood before his brother with an even more serious problem; "Rebbe" he said sincerely, "I need a 'Tikun' (a path of correction for a sin).
"What did you do? Why do you need a Tikun?" His brother asked.
"This past Shabbat I cracked some walnuts and ate them. But afterwards it became known to me that we in Chabad don't crack nuts because the Alter Rebbe (First Rebbe of Chabad Rebbe Shneur Zalman) forbids it. So I need a Tikun." He said with tears in his eyes.
His brother thought for a few seconds and answered all-knowingly. "Your 'Tikun' is you must pray every word of the prayers only from a Sidur (prayer book) and not by heart." And again Shalom Dovber thanked his 'Rebbe' brother and backed out of the room.
But as the days passed it was noticeable that he didn't take his brother's advice seriously and made no attempt to hide the fact; he often was seen praying by heart without a siddur.
When his mother, who knew the entire story, asked him why he didn't take the advice of his older brother he replied, "The reason I didn't take his advice is because it won't help.……. because he isn't a Rebbe. He doesn't even know how to playact like a Rebbe."
He turned to his brother and continued,
"I've seen what Grandpa does when people come in with problems. Before he gives advice he sighs. You don't sigh! When a Rebbe gives advice to a Jew it's not his advice that helps. It's his sigh with a broken heart that helps. Because you don't sigh or moan….. your advice won't help."
The second story is from Simchat Torah 1956 and is about the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak.
Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak was put into Communist prison in 1927, sentenced to death, tortured but miraculously released about one month later. A few months thereafter he was forced to leave Russia and almost a year later he decided to visit first Israel to strengthen the Jews and pray at the holy graves there and then to visit America, where assimilation was beginning to take its toll.
His travels in Israel are recorded in several places; everywhere he went he was greeted and accompanied by hundreds, often thousands, of people and he left a great and positive impression.
He left Israel just days before the terrible Arab massacres in Hevron (in 1929) and it was on the ship that he got the depressing news. Over sixty Jews had been killed in cold blood by their Arab neighbors and many more had been maimed. What aggravated the pain even more was that just days earlier he had been the guest of the Hevron community and knew each of them personally.
The news made him so ill that he was bedridden and even experienced a life-threatening kidney attack.
But there happened to be on that same ship a famous Jewish doctor by the name of Dr. Moshe Valach on his way to America to raise funds for his hospital in Jerusalem.
He had left a comfortable practice in Europe in order to help the Jews of Israel, became one of the founders of Shaari Tzedek hospital in Jerusalem and later became famous for his super-human, unending self-sacrifice (he didn't even marry) in healing the sick.
Needless to say, when he heard of the Rebbe's condition he rushed to his side and treated him for hours giving him various shots and medicines until he was out of danger. He literally saved the Rebbe's life.
But a few days later Doctor Valach knocked on the Rebbe's door, asked if he could enter and then humbly requested from the Rebbe a Tikun; advice on how to correct hisa sin.
"What is the sin?" The Rebbe asked.
"It is clear to me" the Doctor answered. "That the Rebbe is the leader of the Jewish people and that it cannot be that the Rebbe be anything but healthy. If so, if it wasn't for the fact that I was on the ship, in which case there would have been no one to heal the Rebbe, the Rebbe would not have gotten sick! In other words, only because I was on the ship did the Rebbe become ill. I am certain that only because of me did the Rebbe suffer several days. Therefore I came to request a Tikun."
We do not know what the Rebbe's reply was but we do know that this great doctor, rather than feeling ego from his talents actually felt shame that his good deeds had to come as the result of someone else's suffering.
This answers our questions.
The essence of Judaism and the message we Jews were 'chosen' by G-d to bring to the world is that G-d creates, directs, cares for, and enlivens the entire creation (spiritual as well) constantly. And the Torah is His instruction manual to mankind to make it all work.
But this can only be realized through humility. Only by controlling and transforming our selfish natures can we feel how good and close the Creator is. As Moses felt through his humility.
But there is another step. Giving thanks for all we have is only the beginning the second step is to change the world for the better.
We must realize that the world is missing a lot something like the Rebbe's sigh and Dr. Voloch's regret in our stories; we must feel that the world needs to be fixed.
Only then will we really want the pain in the world to stop and really do everything we can to bring Moshiach and the Third Temple in the Holy Land;
The very messages G-d teaches us here with the small Alef in VAYIKRa.
There is no more fitting message to begin the month of Nissan; the month of miracles; we are small… but we can make big changes. It's just up to us to do everything 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.