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Parshat Tzav (5769)

This week's section opens with a double commandment "A constant fire must burn on the altar, it shouldn't be extinguished."

At first glance the last part of the sentence is unnecessary; why tell us not to extinguish the fire when we already know it must burn constantly?

Also this Shabbat is called 'The Big Shabbat' (Shabbat HaGodol) because of a big miracle that happened before the Jews left Egypt: G-d commanded the Jews to take sheep, an Egyptian god, into their houses to be sacrificed before leaving Egypt.

The miracle was that the first born of the Egyptians, instead of getting angry at the Jews, made war against Pharaoh instead, thus fulfilling; "To smite Egypt with their firstborn." (Ps. 136:10)

At first glance this is also not so clear. First of all, what's miraculous about one Egyptian killing another? Secondly, this war of the firstborn was really unnecessary; G-d destroyed the Egyptians and took the Jews out just a day or so later anyway! And finally, is there a connection between this and the commandment to keep the fire burning?

To understand this here is a story (Ma Sh'siper Li HaRebbi pg 146)

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, the father of the last Lubavitcher Rebbe was himself a great leader, Torah scholar and Kabbalist. He was the Rabbi over a huge area of Russia in one of the most difficult periods in Jewish history: the era of Stalin.

Stalin wanted to show that he was an enlightened despot, interested only in the good of the Russian people and in mankind in general, so he didn't kill people for 'no reason'.

But everyone knew that one wrong move, word or even thought against Communism meant imprisonment, torture and even death to the point that under his rule over twenty million Russians found their deaths.

It was in this atmosphere of fear and oppression that Rabbi Levi Yitzchak found himself the spiritual leader of tens of thousands of Jews.

But as dangerous as it was every day of the year when Jews could keep to themselves, how much more so around the holidays when preparations and celebrations were visible to the public.

For instance, before Pesach there is much energy, time and care put into making Matza. First of all, religious Jews eat only Matza made from flour that was observed (Shmura) from the time the wheat was harvested.

According to the Torah, if flour, or even wheat after it's cut, comes in contact with water and isn't kneaded within a few minutes it becomes forbidden for any use on Pesach.

Jews have been doing this for over 3,000 years. But the Communists, in their plan to make a new world, decided to make big changes. They took over all the mills and declared that from now on there would no longer be a need for special flour for Matza making. And who would dare to oppose them!?

But Rabbi Levi Yitzchak did not agree.

It seems that the area of his jurisdiction included thousands of square miles of wheat fields where a very significant percentage of the wheat in Russia was grown. And every year he had been in charge of overseeing the wheat harvest and the grinding of the grains into flour and making sure it was 'kosher'.

The government knew that the Jews bought only special flour for baking Matzos but they were sure they could get around it like they got around everything else; with force.

But their power tactics did not impress Rabbi Schneerson.

As soon as he heard about their plans to change things, he immediately went to the local Party Headquarters and informed them that he would not allow his stamp to be put on the packages of Matzos, unless he was allowed to be in full charge of every step in the production of the flour. And if he saw anything that didn't meet his standards he would not give his approval!

The officials looked at him like a madman. No one ever disagreed! There was no such thing as disagreeing!! It was simply suicidal!

But Rabbi Levi did not care what anyone thought. He quietly but firmly announced that if they wanted to kill him they could do so but he would not go against the will of G-d.

When they told him that they had hundreds of Rabbis that would be glad to put stamps on the matzos he replied that they could do what they wanted but he was certain that no one would buy flour without his stamp.

"If so we will simply make a copy of your stamp and put it on the Matzos, and we will put you into Siberia!" They screamed.

To which he answered. "If you do that then I will advertise in all the papers, or have flyers printed. In any case you can be sure that all Russian Jewry will know tomorrow that the seal is a forgery".

The officials began to really worry. Usually the government made a very nice profit from the sale of Matzos and if there was a lack of sales and it was linked in any way to them…. it might cost them their lives.

They threatened, "You had better not cause even a penny of government income to be lost! If you dare damage the economy you will be arrested as an enemy to the party!! You will be shot! Killed for counter-revolutionary activity!"

Rabbi Levi replied, "Your threats do not frighten me. Only if you give me a free hand to oversee the cutting and grinding of the wheat will I give my approval and Jews will buy Matzos. I am prepared to travel to Moscow and meet with the Prime Minister of Russia if necessary and explain to him that it is impossible to give my stamp on a thing that is not Kosher. This would be against the Jewish law and I will never do that.

"If the Prime Minister wants to punish me that is his business but I will never move from my beliefs; I will never do anything against the will of G-d!"

They became scared. They had never confronted anyone as fearless and certain. They wanted to just have him arrested and killed. But something told them not to do it. Maybe he was right, maybe no one would buy matzos without his seal and then they would really be in trouble.

So they sent an urgent letter to the highest levels of the government, some say it was to Stalin himself, explaining what an incorrigible troublemaker this Rabbi was, how he was impeding progress, clinging to ancient superstitions, opposing the government etc.

The reply came swiftly and mercilessly, it began: "Give the Rabbi what he wants!"

Then it not only continued to list in explicit detail all the exclusive rights of Rabbi Shneerson but even decreed that ALL the bakeries in the U.S.S.R. had to bake according to his qualifications and use only flour with his seal of approval.

That year, every Jew in the U.S.S.R. ate the most Kosher Matzos possible.

Several years later Rabbi Schneerson was arrested, (on the ninth of Nissan 5699) taken to prison and tortured for nine months! He was then sent to exile in Siberia where he suffered terribly for four years and finally passed away just weeks after his release.

Regarding the months he spent in jail an eye witness wrote: "Who could bear such tortures and interrogations! Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Shneerson did not confess! He refused to sign on the accusations! Like a superhuman warrior he accepted the measure of torment and did not surrender. He received with love the decree of heaven and did not divulge secrets to his torturers. In the frightening ocean of blood and murder that had trapped millions, Rabbi Shneerson was literally the only one that the fire of hell did not rule over. This fact was passed from one prisoner to another as a wondrous legend. In all the prisons he was known as a miraculous hero."

This answers our questions. The positive commandment to make the fire burn constantly is not exactly the same as not extinguishing it.
We might think that making a permanent fire i.e., being excited about serving G-d according to His Torah is only when there is no risk or undue difficulties involved.

But perhaps when there are seemingly insurmountable obstacles, like Communists or Egyptians or even internal roadblocks like depression, anger, lust etc. we might think that we are exempt.

Therefore the Torah tells us "It shouldn't be extinguished." Just as Rabbi Shneerson showed us; nothing in creation should dampen our enthusiasm for serving the Creator.

And the first time that all the Jews did so was when they took the sheep into their homes four days before leaving Egypt.

The same Jews that were forth generation slaves and had been afraid of everything, suddenly ignored their inborn slave mentality and became servants of G-d, afraid of nothing; not even the angry, armed Egyptians around them.

And the result was a Big miracle; the Egyptians HELPED them. For the first time in history the enemies of the Jews transformed to be their assistants in serving the Creator.

It was a foretaste of the total redemption that will come by Moshiach when all the world will serve G-d together. (Tzfanya 3:9)

It all depends on us, to be constantly inspired to serve G-D under all circumstances and do all we can to dispel the darkness of this terrible exile we are now in.

We can all leave 'Egypt' now by doing just one more deed, saying one
more word or even having one more positive thought to bring….

Moshiach NOW!

Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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