This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Shemini (5769)
This week's Torah portion tells us of the sad opening day of the Tabernacle (Mishkan) in the desert. Nadav and Avihu, the two holy sons of Aaron the High Priest, entered the Holy of Holies improperly and died.
The Holy of Holies was the room where the Tablets of Ten Commandments were kept in an ark. The room was so charged with G-dly energy that only the High Priest could enter - only on Yom Kippur and only with the exactly right attitude and thoughts. But the sons of Aaron lacked all these and they perished.
This week's Haftorah portion speaks of similar tragedy. Some four hundred years later the Ark containing the Tablets was taken by the Philistines in war and when King David brought it back to Jerusalem in a great joyous parade one of his men by the name of Uza touched the Ark and died. (Samuel 2:6)
At first glance this is not so clear; how can religious objects like an Ark or Tablets have such destructive power? Even more; the Torah is called a Tree of Life! (Prov.3:18) it should be the source of life and blessing!
To understand this here is a story I just heard. (Sichot HaShavoa #1162)
Once there was a very rich Jew who we will call Yitzchak, who was a follower of the great Tzadik and holy genius Rebbe Yisroel of Ruzin. Yitzchak was known for his warm heart and open hand. He gave a lot of charity. Every day his home was filled with the poor and hungry coming for a handout, a meal or just a place to rest for a while. But where he really shined was on Pesach (Passover).
Every year more than a hundred guests graced his table. People came from far and wide to partake of the joyous celebration of remembering the miracles G-d did thousands of years ago and hoping for even greater ones.
But, as we all know, there is a wheel of fortune in the world and so it was for our hero. Suddenly Yitzchak's fortune dwindled until within months he found himself a pauper with almost nothing to eat.
He was forced to sell his businesses, his properties and even his furniture. His wife sold her jewelry and everything of value in the house including their precious candle sticks until his house was a virtual shell… and it would only be a matter of time till it would have to be sold as well.
But there was one thing that his wife refused to part with. She had sold all her fine dresses and ornaments, even her family heirlooms but she refused to part with the Kos Shel Eliahu; the cup we fill with wine for Elijah the Prophet (who was taken in a wind to heaven some 2,800 years ago and supposedly visits every Passover Seder) at the end of the Passover Seder.
It really made no sense. The cup was made of gold and would surely have brought a good sum. Every so often her husband would add a jewel or golden inscription to it so it was worth a lot of money. But she refused to let it go. "It's our only hope." She said. "Elijah will announce Moshiach and Moshiach is our only hope."
Yitzchak was in no mood to argue with her. If poverty didn't convince her to sell it he surely wouldn't…. And deep down… he knew, or at least hoped, that she was right.
But the morning before the Pesach Seder their house was barren. Somehow they scraped together enough money for a bottle of wine, a few Matzot, some potatoes and a small piece of fish and of course they had a small table and two chairs but except for that… nothing.
So with only hope (which was waning) and an empty stomach (which was waxing) he told his wife he was going to the synagogue that morning and would return only that evening for what was sure to be a lonely, quiet, ghost-of-the-past Seder.
He sat alone in the Shul (Synagogue) and did his best not to weep. But it wasn't easy. The thought of days gone by and of the dismal future; maybe next week he wouldn't even have his house, haunted him.
Close to evening he went to the Mikva, washed up, immersed himself, changed his clothes and tried to keep a smile on his face and a song on his lips as he walked home.
But as he approached and saw his house in the distance his smile faded and he fell silent in awe. His house was….. ablaze….. with light! …. From inside….. it was filled with ….. people!
He thought that perhaps he had lost his mind. He shook his head as though trying to wake up. He rubbed his eyes and held his temples in disbelief and approached.
He opened the door and it was like a dream. His huge frontroom was filled with guests, maybe a hundred of them, all joyously, handsomely dressed and busy arranging their places at a huge, long, decorated table. Lights and candles were shining everywhere! He looked at his wife. She was dressed like a queen! She gazed back at him, her eyes sparkling with sweet tears of joy as she raised her arms and announced,
"My husband! Rav Yitzchak!!"
Everyone stood and applauded and poor Yitzchak broke down in tears and swooned. He would have fallen on his knees and raised his hands in thanks to G-d but it just didn't seem to be the right thing to do so he wiped his eyes, held up his hands for silence and yelled, "Good Yom Tov (holiday) everyone!! Thank G-d for everything!!" and everyone answered "Good Yom Tov!!" and resumed finding and arranging their places.
His wife approached, smiling from ear to ear, and explained.
"Just after you left this morning, a carriage pulled up in front of the house and an important looking Jew got out and knocked at our door. He said that many years ago he had been at our Passover Seder and never forgot it. He said that his carriage happened to break down here yesterday and he just got it fixed. He wanted to know if it was all right if he spent the Passover with us again. But when I told him that we didn't have enough food for guests he insisted that money was no problem and he gave me five thousand guilder! Five thousand!!
"I tried to refuse. I told him it was a thousand times what we needed. But he insisted. In fact he even took the money back and gave it to his servants to buy food and hire workers to prepare it. He even bought new furniture and tapestries! It's unbelievable! In just hours the food and pots and everything were delivered, the stove was burning, the house was busy and people were coming from all over to help. It's a miracle! And soon he'll be here. He told me not to wait for him, that he would be a bit late but I'm sure he'll be here any moment and we can thank him."
That Seder night was probably the best and happiest that Yitzchak and his wife ever had in their lives and, sure enough, when the meal was almost finished, their rich benefactor appeared, hurriedly found a seat, and before anyone knew it finished his Seder quickly and quietly and approached them.
They thanked him profusely to which he replied. "I understand that you've been having a hard time financially. Well, I bless you with greater riches than before." And with those words, he turned on his heels and left.
Sure enough, several of the guests that night were businessmen and as soon as the holiday ended, eight days later, Yitzchak was back in business and in just a few weeks he was making money and giving charity like never before.
Months later Yitzchak visited his Rebbe, told him the entire story and gave a him a huge donation. The Rebbe put his head down for a minute, lifted it and said.
"That rich man was Elijah the Prophet. You merited seeing him once and your wife merited to see him twice! It was all in the merit of that cup and her simple faith. She was right, your only hope was Elijah."
This explains our question. When G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people He turned the creation 'inside out' and 'downside up'.
Suddenly the most mundane 'outside' deeds became filled with 'inside' spiritual mysteries and this 'downside' physical world became "Higher upside' than the highest levels of heaven. Like the physical Tablets that contained the Ten Commandments.
And that is the secret of Elijah the Prophet; he did not die! In fact his physical body went up to heaven. This was possible because his body was actually HIGHER than heaven. That is why he returns to earth for every Seder Night (and every Brit (circumcision) as well)
Because doing G-d's commandments with physical things on EARTH is higher than any spiritual world.
And that is the reason that Elijah will announce Moshiach. Because this is exactly the message of Moshiach… that this physical world is the most blessed, holy and meaningful of all places. And here will be the Raising of the Dead! The spiritual souls will LEAVE heaven to RISE UP in physical bodies: the physical is higher than the spiritual.
But this can only be revealed through the Torah; that is why the Torah is called the "Tree of Life" because only it can provide the vessels and framework for this eternal, unbounded life.
Therefore there was so much power in the Tablets. Indeed, when they were given on Mt.Sinai everyone present… all the Jews… actually died, they became spiritualized, and G-d re-enlivened them. (Shabbat 88b. See Tanya Chapt 36); the revelation was too powerful for this world… too much life!!! That is what the son's of Aaron and Uza found out in an unfortunate way.
But the heroes of our story realized it in a good way. The faith of Yitzchak's wife was the vessel for fantastic riches in this physical world.
And the Lubavitcher Rebbe said that so is our generation a vessel for fantastic blessings.
Ours is the generation of Moshiach. It all depends on our faith, joy and actions. Even one more good deed, word or even thought can tip the scales and bring the biggest blessing of all ….
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