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Parshat Pinchas (5769)

This week's Torah portion talks about how the land of Israel was apportioned to the tribes. It was done in three ways.

First according to logic; the biggest tribe got the biggest portion.

Second, according to lots.

And third, according to Divine inspiration; each lot yelled out the miraculous decision made by the Breastplate of the High Priest.

At first glance this makes no sense. If the land was allocated logically, then why throw lots or rely on miracles for the SAME results?! Why does the Torah tell us this?

To understand this, here is a story. (HaGeula #471).

Eight year old Elchanan Betzalel Chadash was very sick and he didn't have much chance to live. In the early nineteen hundreds in backward Czarist Russia it was common to bury children. Indeed, his parents had already buried several. But this time they decided to 'bother' the Rebbe for a blessing before it was too late.

They went to the Rebbe Resha'b (Rebbe Shalom Dov Ber, the Fifth Chabad-Lubavitcher Rebbe) and poured out their hearts.

Elchanan Betzalel was their only son, several other children had passed away on them and now the doctors had given up on him as well. Were the doctors right G-d forbid?! Was there a chance?! They begged the Rebbe to do a miracle.

The Rebbe looked at them calmly and told them not to worry. "Add the name 'Alter' to his existing name and, with G-d's help, he will recover and live a long, healthy and happy life."

It didn't really make sense, a normal person probably would have paid no attention; why couldn't the Rebbe just make the child healthy? How can a name change get rid of disease? But Mr. Chadash and his wife believed in the Rebbe and in miracles. After all, if it weren't for leaders and miracles how could the Jews still exist after 2,000 years of persecution?

They changed the child's name and almost immediately little Alter Elchanan began to improve until a few weeks later he was completely healthy.

But trouble is always around the corner for the 'Chosen' people. When World War Two broke out Alter Elchanan who, unfortunately, was perhaps too healthy for his own good, was drafted into the Red Army.

The first month or two he managed to send an occasional letter home but after that the letters stopped coming.

Then the Germans attacked Russia and war began taking horrible proportions, over 20 million Russians some ten million of which were soldiers were killed! But despite this ocean of death Alter Elchanan's parents had faith. The Rebbe had promised long life and the Rebbe was never wrong.

So despite the monstrously rising casualty figures, Mr. and Mrs. Chadash were certain that either their son would return or at least they would receive a message as to his whereabouts. But it didn't happen. Even after the war ended they heard nothing.

Everyone they talked to about it told them to just forget it and accept reality. There were millions of soldiers unaccounted for; blown up, burned or buried with no trace, and he was probably one! If they hadn't heard from him now it was certain that they never would. They began to have serious doubts.

If there only was a way to ask the son of the Rebbe Resha'b, the Rayat'z (Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak who became Rebbe after his father's passing in 1920). But he had been expelled from Russia in 1928 and now lived in New York (founding Chabad outreach Judaism) where it was impossible to contact him from behind the iron curtain.

In fact, the Iron Curtain was so impervious that when one of Elchanan's four sisters did manage to escape from Russia in the confusion just after the war in 1946, contact the Rebbe's office in Brooklyn at the first possible opportunity and receive the Rebbe's reply that her brother would certainly return home, she couldn't relay the news to her worried parents in Russia! Communication was closed hermetically!

Meanwhile things did not improve. The years passed and still no sign was heard from Alter Elchanan. If it hadn't been for the Rebbe's promises, his parents would probably have died from broken hearts long ago.

Then, one night in 1953, after almost thirteen years of doubt, there was an ominous, official sounding knock on their door that froze their blood.

They had heard about how the government informed the families of the dead and this was probably it. Mr. Chadash braced himself, his wife covered her mouth to keep from crying, he opened the door and there stood a middle aged man with shining eyes - it was Elchanan!!

They embraced him and wept for joy! Where had he been for so long?! Why hadn't he contacted them?

After they all calmed down he sat them down and told them what had happened all these thirteen years.

In the first months after the Germans surprise-attacked Russia, the Red Army was in such total disorder that tens of thousands of their soldiers fell into Nazi captivity and he was one of them. He was put to labor in a German prisoner of war camp.

The work was heavy and almost non-stop, the food was sparse, disease was rampant and the Germans were cruel taskmasters. But the thing that worried him most was that he had heard and even seen evidence that the Nazis were killing Jews. He was sure that if they discovered he was Jewish they would kill him on the spot.

Luckily the other Russian soldiers didn't give him away but it was only a matter of time. Especially when the Nazis made them all strip and shower! He lived in constant fear!

But miraculously the three or four times that one of them did become suspicious, unexplainably, just in the nick of time, he got transferred to another camp where no one knew him. And so it continued until one day they woke up to find that Germans ran away! They lost the war! The Americans freed tens of thousands of Russian soldiers from the concentration camps and Betzalel, as he began to call himself, suddenly had a change for the good!

The Americans, having heard of the suffering of the Jews, had special orders to treat them even better than the others. So Betzalel found himself in a special camp for Jews in occupied Berlin, with more privacy and better food… kosher as well, than everyone else.

He got to know the others Jews there and they tried to convince him that there was nothing for them in him, rather he should join them and make Aliah to Israel. It was a great idea, and a great opportunity, but he refused. He wanted to return to Russia and find his parents. He told the others of the blessing of the Rebbe and that if his parents were still alive they surely were waiting for him.

But he was in for a terrible surprise. He voluntarily asked to be moved to the camp of released Russian P.O.W.s soldiers that were waiting to be taken back to the "Motherland'.

But when the Russians came to take their soldiers home he was called into special interrogation and told to relate everything that happened to him in captivity. He spoke slowly, every word was written down by a stenographer, he supposed, for evidence against the Germans. But it wasn't so.

When he finished, the Russian officer questioning him lit a cigarette, blew smoke in his face, suddenly extinguished it, leaned forward and yelled. "How can it be that you, a Jew, could possibly survive the Germans for four years? Ehhh? Jew is written all over your face! Well I'll tell you how! Because you gave them information, that's how! Other than that there is no explanation!! You are a traitor!"

Poor Betzalel, he tried to protest, to reason with them. He had fought and suffered for Russia! What secrets?? He was a simple soldier! He didn't know any secrets! He wanted to go home, his parents were waiting!

But it all fell on deaf ears. He was arrested, put in one of a seemingly unending line of cattle cars with thousands of other prisoners and the train began moving. Ten days later the doors opened and he found himself in sub-zero Siberia. Hundreds died on the way and hundreds more in the first few freezing months, but somehow he survived. The blessing of the Rebbe was always echoing somewhere in his mind.

He was 'tried' and sentenced to fifteen years at hard labor. Thousands succumbed to the elements and perished (Stalin killed some 20 million Russians in this way) but miraculously he lasted eight years of back-breaking labor and all the time he was there he managed to keep most of the Commandments; put on Tefillin, keep kosher and even Shabbat and the holidays when possible.

Then, in 1953 Stalin suddenly died and his successor Khrushchev ordered the release of tens of thousands of political prisoners; and he, Alter Elchanan Betzalel Chadash, was among them.

The Rebbes' blessings and prophecies were fulfilled in the fullest sense of the word. Elchanan Betzalel lived to the ripe age of eighty three and saw generations learning Torah and living Chassidic lives!

This answers our questions.

Israel is the land where everyone one can FEEL and be CERTAIN of the truth; there is a Creator who creates the world constantly and gave His Torah to the Jews.

The Midrash says that "(The Holiness of) Israel will encompass the entire world." In other words, it is the job of the Jews to spread this truth to all mankind throughout the entire world.

This is accomplished especially by doing G-d's commandments (that is why there is no Jewish holiday commemorating the date the Jews first entered Israel; because we celebrate this EVERY time we do a commandment and make 'The Holy Land' wherever we are.)

But the commandments have to be done with these three aspects of our soul: First, with logic; to understand as much as possible.
Second, by lots; to realize that G-d chose us above all logic and reason. And finally, by Divine inspiration; to arouse our Jewish (G-dly) soul to do the commandments with love, awe, fear and joy.

Just as Alter Elchanan did; wherever he was he used all his soul powers to not only survive but to increase holiness wherever possible; Logic, above logic and emotion.

This is why the Torah tells us the Holy Land was apportioned in three ways; because we all must use ALL aspects of our being in order to transform the entire world, through the commandments into a dwelling for G-d.

It all depends on us to do just one more deed with all we have and bring....

Moshiach NOW!

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