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 Shlach (5769)
This week's Torah portion contains three commandments the last of which is 'Don't follow your eyes and heart."
There are, all together, 613 commandments in the Torah. Some are only applicable to men, some only when there was a Holy Temple, others are only in special times; day, night, holidays etc. But this commandment of 'Don't follow your heart and eyes" is one of the few (six) that apply to every Jew, in every place and at all times.
At first glance this is not understood. First, isn't this commandment superfluous? If a Jew keeps all the other 612 commandments certainly he won't have much desire or even time to go running after his what he sees. Not only that, what is so bad about doing what one's heart desires if he keeps the rest of the Torah? Why must be on our guard constantly?
To understand this, here is a story. (HaGeula weekly page #435)
Rabbi Mair Bostomski is a neighbor of mine here in Kfar Chabad. He is a known educator and has influenced hundreds of young men to change their lives and to even become Chassidim but only recently did I hear the story of how he became interested in Judaism.
Rabbi Mair grew up in the city of Haifa, known as the 'Red City' for its all-pervasive, typically Zionistic, communist-atheistic atmosphere. Judaism was nowhere on his agenda.
After he finished his service in the army his father urged him to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering in the prestigious 'Haifa Technion' and he not only succeeded with the highest grades but, after he graduated, several big companies began vying for his services.
But something was missing. A voracious reader, he had informed himself about almost everything under the sun… and it was all interesting. But after all, he didn't feel that by working as an engineer he would fulfill what was lacking in his life and in the world. He wanted more… but what?
For some reason, perhaps he just happened to be passing by or perhaps he had some free time, he entered the local synagogue, asked the Rabbi there if he had some time and began to ask questions.
When the Rabbi recognized the depth and urgency of this young man's queries he directed him to two Chabad Chassidim in the city, Rabbi Yechiel Michel Dubruskin and Rabbi Ruven Dunin; well known figures in the Chabad world, knowing that they would give him all their attention and possibly the answers to his questions.
His two new teachers came from the opposite backgrounds. Rabbi Dubruskin was a Talmudic genius from a long line of Rabbis while Rabbi Dunin was a tractor driver that had been brought up in a communist kibbutz. Mair spent hours asking, discussing and arguing with these two Chassidim until, little by little, he began to suspect that maybe Judaism had the answers, and certainly wasn't just another religion. He even began, much to the consternation of his father, to consider doing a few of the commandments, but after all, he wasn't totally convinced.
So his teachers suggested that he visit the headquarters of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in New York for the month of Tishrei. This was 1966 when such visits were not common, but neither was Mair Bostomski. He had to know what Judaism was REALLY about.
As soon as he arrived he liked it. The atmosphere in the Rebbe's synagogue-yeshiva (Torah academy) was something fresh and vibrant that he had never experienced. The young men there friendly, lively and open minded. It was first time he had ever been exposed to the intricacies of the Talmud, and much of the day was spent learning and discussing the Rebbe's novel answers to questions just like the ones that had been bothering him.
The time passed quickly, he pushed off his return a few times but finally, when he could delay it no longer a private meeting (called Yechidut) was arranged with the Rebbe.
He entered with three questions to ask but when he actually stood before the Rebbe he almost forgot them. The Rebbe's face and eyes were something that took him by surprise. But then, the Rebbe greeted him warmly and suddenly he remembered.
The first was; why did he have such an affinity to the ideas of Chassidut Chabad? Could it be possible that somewhere in his family tree there had been Chassidim?
The Rebbe did not reply. And he understood that he was the beginner.
The second was more serious; his father had a severe heart condition; the doctors gave him, at most, two or three years to live and warned that any emotional strain could be fatal. But his father was also a staunch atheist and he was afraid that if he came home with a beard, who knows what would happen! He feared for his father's life.
The Rebbe told him not to worry. He blessed his father with a long, healthy, happy life and then answered Reb Mair's question. "If you arrive home with an attitude of compromise, it will encourage arguments and complaints from your father. But if you come with a firm decision to do what is true and right not only will this not be harmful; exactly the opposite. Your clinging to your principles is what will make your father happy and healthy."
The third question was what he should do when he returned. A bright, lucrative future awaited him in Israel as a mechanical engineer but he felt more drawn to Judaism. The Rebbe answered that if money was of foremost importance to him then he should do work as an engineer. But if money is not the main thing, he should work as a teacher.
'A teacher?' Thought Reb Mair to himself, it's something that always was at the back of his mind, but he had no training or experience in anything other than engineering!
A month later he returned to Israel and, just as the Rebbe said, when his father saw that he was firm in his beliefs he actually seemed relieved that his son had found himself. But there was a bigger problem - telling him about becoming a teacher.
He was petrified to tell his father that he was about to throw away his diploma and everything he had worked and hoped for all these years. If the beard didn't kill him, this news certainly would.
He was referred to two Chassidim in Kfar Chabad, Rabbi Moshe Neparstak and Rabbi Shlomo-Chaim Kesselman, both of whom decided that nothing would be more fitting for Reb Mair than to be a teacher, and if he did what the Rebbe said for SURE nothing bad could occur.
So Reb Mair braced himself, said a few prayers, practiced smiling and went back to his father to break the news. "Dad" he was watching his father closely for signs of distress or chest pain. "You know, the Lubavitcher Rebbe gave me some advice and, well, I talked to other Rabbis and I decided that I'm not going to be an engineer. Dad, I love you and I want to do what's right and. Well....I decided I'm going to try to be a teacher. I want to teach young people Torah."
His father fell silent and a slight smile appeared on his lips. "Just wait right here" he said while he went into another room, opened a closet, searched through some papers and returned with some sort of folder. "Open it." he said.
As Reb Mair was opening it his father explained. "I don't know if you remember but over ten years ago you took an aptitude test. Do you remember? In any case I never told you the results and, well, that's what I'm doing now. I really wanted you to be an engineer, to make a good wage and be secure and I was sure that is what the test would show. But it didn't.
"It showed that you have more an aptitude for spiritual things than for physical things. I didn't want to tell you but… well, I guess that that Rebbe of yours really knows what he's talking about."
Today Rabbi Mair runs a Torah school for several hundred children, mostly from non-observant backgrounds, in Petach Tikva. And, against the projections of all the doctors, his father lived another twenty years, which they admitted was an open miracle, and rejoiced with many grand and great grand children till the age of 84.
This answers our question.
Going after one's heart and eyes does not necessarily mean doing sins. But it might mean compromising the sprit or goal of Judaism.
The first law of the Shulchan Aruch (Jewish code of law) is not to be discouraged or ashamed before those who make fun of you for doing what is right.
Indeed, Judaism is based on the deeds of three men, Abrhaham, Issac and Jacob who went against the spirit of their times…and of all times, to do what G-d wanted… against all odds.
They ignored what their eyes saw and what their hearts felt in order to give the power to their offspring, the Jewish people, to not only survive but to eventually bring Moshiach and transform the world to heaven on earth. That is the goal of Judaism.
As the Rebbe told Reb Mair. If you compromise the truth you will have problems, but if you cling to the truth despite what your eyes and heart tell you, it will bring health, long life, and joy.
So with us today; we must do everything we can, according to the Torah, to ignore the negativity and pessimism around us and transform the world into a blessing.
It only takes one more good deed, word or even thought and soon we will be dancing with....
Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.