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Parshat Chukat-Balak (5769)

This week's Torah portiontellsthe bizarre story of an evil sorcerer called Bilamwho almost destroyed the entire Jewish people (G-d forbid).

This seems to contradict everything Judaism believes in: that G-d is good, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, creates and enlivens all being constantly and 'chose' the Jews as HIS People.

Why does the Torah tell us this story?

Similarly, this Shabbat will mark the 82nd anniversary of the miraculous release of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi YosefYitzchak, on the 12th and 13th of Tammuz 5687 (1927) from certain death in Soviet prison. Why did G-d allow the evil, immoral Communists to threaten such a holy, selfless man?

To understand this, here is a story.

The story occurred some 200 years ago in the city of Rimanov. A large garrison of some 200 Austrian soldiers descended on the Jewish section of city and declared that they were considering making it their base for several months at least. Every house was to supply food and lodging for at least two soldiers until further notice.

This decree, as innocent as it may seem, really spelled disaster for the Jews. Besides the damage and loss that the Jews would incur in home and property, it meant that their sons and daughters would be constantly in contact with these uncouth animals which would weaken and threaten their connection to Judaism.

A meeting of the city elders was called at the home of their holy leader Rabbi Mendel of Rimanovto decide what to do to avert this terrible decree. They spoke for several hours, accepting some ideas and rejecting others until suddenly one of the more experienced elders had a brainstorm revelation. He smiled, cleared his throat, stood and said:

"My friends, I don't think we have much to worry about! I know a little about being a soldier. I myself was one for some five years and I know that when troops make camp, one of their greatest necessities is a place to keep their weapons. They need a large, strong, dry building to use as an arsenal. And there is no such building here!

That's right. Just think of it; the biggest building we have is our Synagogue and it certainly does not meet the qualifications of an arsenal: The walls are cracked, the roof leaks, the doors are broken. For sure, no self respecting commander would use it! I mean, of course we should pray, give charity and try to give a few bribes to the commander and all, but what I'm saying is that our Shulwill certainly convince them to leave. "

Everyone was quiet, the speaker sat down and all eyes turned to the Rebbe.

He closed his eyes for a minute or so, opened them, looked around and began to speak. "My decision is ,we must take all the money we have saved up and repair the Synagogue! Reinforce the walls, replace the roof and the doors and the place must be entirely painted inside and out! It is our only chance."

The elder that just spoke about the arsenal was speechless. The Rebbe either didn'tunderstand him, didn't hear him or was simply committing suicide! He was doing the exact opposite! He was destroying their only chance!

But no one asked questions. The Rebbe had never been wrong. Workers were hired, materials were purchased and in just two days time the repairs had been completed and the Synagogue looked as fit and sturdy as a fortress!

The next day the officers in charge of the troops talked it over and decided that the RimanovSynagogue was too small for their needs. One hour later there was not one soldier left in the town!

Of course the Jews were overjoyed and at the thanksgiving celebration someone asked the Rebbe for an explanation. Why did he decide to fix the Shul? Why did he rely on miracles?

Reb Mendel replied. "It was no miracle. When I heard of the decree I asked myself 'why'? What sin could it be that we did to deserve such a terrible curse? And I couldn't find anything wrong. In Rimanov, thank G-d, we learn Torah, pray, give charity and do all the commandments. But then when someone talked about how our Shul(Synagogue) was in ruins I understood that that was the cause. I knew we had to do something quickly.

And, thank G-d, I was right! As soon as the Shulwas fixed our problems disappeared! (Adapted from Words of Wit and Wisdom, by Shmuel Himelstein)

This answers our questions: The reason that G-d allowed Bilamto curse the Jews was in order to transform his curses to a blessing.

Indeed, this, according to teachings of Kabala and Chassidutis the 'reason' that G-d created the entire universe: G-d wants there to be a world where sin is possible in order for us to transform that possibility into perfect good.

Just as the terrible conditions in our storywasthe cause of great miracles and brought many Jews to a greater appreciation of the Creator.

And the Communists were able to threaten the Rebbe so the Rebbe could transform it all to a miraculous blessing. (Indeed, because of his self-sacrifice, Communism eventually fell and an unprecedented awakening in Russian Jewry has begun).

It is all a preparation for a time when, in a more absolute and permanent way, all the bitterness and selfishness in the world will be transformed to sweetness and brotherhood.

Sounds a bit fantastic, but it is one of the basic foundations of Judaism; that Moshiach will teach all mankind to make heaven on earth!

It all depends on our efforts and prayers. Every time we transform selfish thoughts, speech and action to comply with the plan of the Torah we get a step closer to....

Moshiach NOW!

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