This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Shoftim (5769)
This week's Torah portion contains Thirty Eight commandments. One of these commandments is when the Jews are in Israel they should choose a king to rule them.
Interestingly, the first time the Jews actually did this commandment was 400 years after they had been in Israel. They asked the prophet Shmuel to pick a king to judge them and both Shmuel and G-d became furious! (Samuel 1:8:5)
At first glance this is not understood.
First, why did they get mad; the people were only fulfilling a commandment? Second, if choosing a king is so aggravating to G-d then why did he command it? Third, we see that the first 400 years in Israel the Jews had no king and G-d didn't get angry, why couldn't they just continue that way? Fourth, and most important, what does this mean to us now?
To understand this here are two stories about Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. (Sipurim M'Cheder HaRebbe pgs. 128 and 236)
Sam (fictitious name) was a young upcoming businessman who, in his travels through Europe, met an attractive young woman who found favor in his eyes.
At first the only connection they had was business, but eventually he invited her out for dinner and discovered they had a lot in common…. Except religion.
Her parents and she were devout, church-going Catholics. It was simply unthinkable that she would marry out of her religion. Her parents would never agree. Not only that but such a sin meant eternal damnation! The only possibility, she told him, is if he would (G-d forbid) leave Judaism.
But Sam wouldn’t hear of it. True he was fond of her and also true that he wasn't a particularly observant Jew. But he was a proud Jew and he knew that marrying a gentile meant trouble; the children wouldn't be Jewish, the house wouldn't be Jewish, his parents would be heartbroken and, most important of all … Judaism was too important to him.
So they separated and Sam threw himself into his work and his other interests and forgot all about what had happened. Almost.
As 'fate' would have it, because they were in the same general line of work, a year later they again met. But this time things were different. First of all it was in New York and second, Sam was much more to the point.
He told her firmly and finally that, despite his feelings for her, if she would not be willing to convert this would be their last conversation.
The poor girl was beside herself, conversion was out of the question… but she liked him. She explained her dilemma; they exchanged phone numbers and again parted.
A few weeks later her phone rang. It was Sam. He had decided that it was unfair of him to expect her to convert when she knew nothing about Judaism. He told her that in another few days would be a festive Jewish holiday called Simchat Torah. If she wanted, he had spoken to a family in an area of Brooklyn called Crown Heights who agreed to take her as a guest. Then she could ask questions, learn and see what real Judaism was.
She agreed. She spent two days of the Holiday there and it was wonderful. The family, the Chassidim, the joy but most of all, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. As soon as she saw him she felt that if anyone could help her solve her problem it was him.
The family she stayed by made a few phone calls and, got her an appointment (called 'Yechidut') and a few days later she entered the Rebbe's office and poured out her heart.
She explained how was a Catholic, Sam was Jewish. He wanted her to convert. But her parents would never agree to her converting. She but she didn't want to lose him. She was torn. Should she leave him? Should she convert?
The Rebbe was silent for a few seconds and said, matter-of-factly, "You don't need to convert."
She looked at the Rebbe bewilderedly and the Rebbe continued. "You can get married. You are not a gentile. You are a Jew."
She couldn't believe her ears, this was crazy. She? A Jew? "But you don't know me." She blurted out. "I've been in this room only two minutes. I'm Catholic! I was raised a Catholic. I go to church with my parents every Sunday. What do you mean I'm Jewish?!"
The Rebbe just looked at her, smiled and said. "Go to your mother and ask her if you're Jewish or not."
That evening she returned to the house where she was a guest and asked if she could use the phone to call her mother long distance. They agreed. When she heard her mother lift the receiver she asked. "Mother, am I Jewish?"
She figured that her mother would simply answer 'no' and that would be the end of it… but to her surprise her mother slammed the phone down.
'Strange' she thought to herself. Two days later she flew home and as soon as she entered the door she took her mother aside and asked the same question. "Shhhhh" Her mother whispered. "Don't talk about this when your father is at home. Tomorrow we will take a walk in the park and I'll explain."
The next day after her father left for work they went to the park and, when her mother was sure they were far from any human ear, she turned to her and said. "My dear daughter, it's true. You are Jewish. And so is your father, and so were our parents and their parents before them. But after the war things changed; your father and I went through the camps and when the war was over we met and got married. We suffered a lot because we were Jews and, well, your father said he didn't want his children to suffer like we suffered. So we changed our religion and never told you."
Several days later the girl returned to the Rebbe to give him the good news and the Rebbe replied. "Because you entered a Church you must immerse yourself in a Mikvah… not for conversion but to remove the defilement of idolatry. Then you must learn the laws of Judaism."
Today she and Sam are married, live in Haifa and have a Chassidic family with children and grandchildren making the world a better place.
The second story is about Rabbi Shalom Ber Gansberg who worked as the Rebbe's personal helper mostly in the Rebbe's home.
One of the major holidays in Judaism is called 'Succot' The Festival of 'Booths'. For over three thousand years Jews have celebrating this by been eating all their meals for seven days in Succot (booths) and the Lubavitcher Rebbe and his wife were no exception.
The Succa in which they ate their Holiday and Shabbat meals was near to the Rebbe's headquarters and every time they would enter, Rabbi Gansberg would first make sure everything was ready and then tend to their needs during the meal.
On the first day of the holiday the Rebbe's wife, Rebbitzen Chaya Mushka, took Rabbi Gansberg aside before the Rebbe came home and told him that because it was cloudy outside and looked like it would rain, he should make sure the Succa was covered when they weren't using it. (There was a plastic cover that could be rolled over the Succa to prevent rain from falling in. This cover had to be removed before the Succa could be used).
Rabbi Gansberg replied that he purposely did not cover it because he was afraid he would forget to remove it before the Rebbe entered which would disqualify the Succa. But the Rebbitzin assured him that he had nothing to worry about; first of all he had an excellent memory and had never let the Rebbe down and second, she promised she would remind him.
But he wasn't convinced. So she again told him not to worry, it looked like it was about to rain, the Succa would be all wet etc. etc. he had never forgotten before and she again promised to remind him. So, against his better judgment, after the Rebbe and his wife left the Succa he covered it with the plastic covering.
But his worst nightmare came true. The next day when the Rebbe entered the Succa and sat down to make 'Kiddush' before the Holiday meal Rabbi Gansberg realized he had been so busy with other duties that he had forgotten to remove the covering!!
Immediately he slapped his forehead in dismay and yelled "OY! Rebbe, wait!!" ran outside, rolled the plastic covering back, re-entered and announced that the Rebbe could begin the meal.
But the damage had been done. Poor Rabbi Gansberg was heartbroken. He had let himself and the Rebbe down; even though it was a small thing and nothing really bad came as a result, he felt terrible.
Two days later the Rebbe whispered in his ear. "Gansberg, you can't fix one sin with another sin".
He stepped back, saw the Rebbe was half smiling and understood. The fact that he forgot to open the covering was a 'sin' but being depressed about it was another 'sin'.
The Rebbe was telling him that the only way to really fix mistakes is through joy.
This answers out questions.
The Rebbe explains (Lekuti Sichot vol. 24 pg 104) that the purpose of a King is to attach the Jewish people to the Creator. But in this there are two aspects.
The first is as a strong leader and judge to keep the people in line; to 'force' the people to connect to G-d and make them understand their true identity. Something like how the Rebbe reminded the girl in our first story.
But the second is to elevate the people to a level of joy and awareness ABOVE understanding that they could never reach on their own. Something like what the Rebbe did to Rabbi Gansberg in the second story.
This is why G-d got mad at the people when they asked for a king; they wanted a king of the first level that would judge them and not demand too much.
While G-d had left them alone for the four hundred years they were in Israel so they would come to desire a king to bring them to the second level; joy and awareness ABOVE understanding.
That is the lesson for us today.
We are all impatiently awaiting the arrival Melech HaMoshiach; the KING Moshiach. Who will finally accomplish what all the Jewish kings did not achieve; to raise the Jews (and through them the entire world) to recognize the infinite greatness, goodness and closeness of the Creator and fill the world with the joy and awareness of G-d like water fills the ocean.
But it all depends on us. We have to work on ourselves, learn Chassidut, think about G-d and then….
One more good deed, word or even thought can tilt the scale and bring…
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