This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Haazinu (5769)
This Shabbat we read the second-to-last weekly Torah portion; a lyric-poem to help the Jews to not sin that ends with Moses' death.
Here are three questions:
First of all we all know that the Jews nevertheless did sin and G-d even told Moses they would do so in the end of last week's portion, "I know that after you die they will sin and turn from the way I commanded etc." (31:29)
So if G-d knew the poem wouldn't help, why did He give it to them?
Secondly, at the end of this week's reading G-d tells Moses 'In the middle (essence) of that day' to ascend Mount Navo and die (32:48). Rashi explains that the term "Middle of the day" implies that G-d was defying the Jews who were determined to stop Moses from ascending.
Does this make sense? How could Jews really think they could defy G-d and save Moses?
Finally, what has this got to do with us now.
To understand this, here is a story. (Kol Sipuri Baal Shem Tov vol 4 pg 127)
Some two hundred years ago, Poland waged a bloody war of independence against Russia and, as in all wars, one of the biggest losers were the Jews. Both sides hated them and they were almost totally defenseless, their only shields were prayer and 'Tzadikim' (Totally righteous Jews).
Once the Polish forces passed through a certain Jewish town and demanded the inhabitants to provide them with food and lodging. For some reason one of its more wealthy homeowners didn't find favor in their eyes. Perhaps he didn't work fast enough or perhaps he really did refuse to help them but in any case they charged him with high-treason, beat him, put him in chains and took him back to their camp to give him a 'trial' and hang him.
His wife and daughters were left alone weeping, screaming and carrying on until one of the neighbors came in and suggested that they should try getting a meeting with the Polish commander and beg for mercy. But after a few days of trying they came up with nothing. It was impossible to even find the commander no less speak with him.
Then someone else suggested added prayer, charity and repentance which they also tried. But their father still remained locked up. Finally they decided to travel to the great Tzadik Rabbi Shlomo of Radomsk and pour their hearts out. They were not Chassidim, but they were desperately grasping at straws.
They arrived at the Rebbe's headquarters and almost immediately, because of the urgency of their situation, were granted an audience. They entered the Rebbe's office explained, begged, pleaded, wept, perhaps it was too late, they needed a miracle!
"Miracle" the Rebbe said. "I think you can solve the whole thing with money. Offer the commander money." They tried to protest; getting an audience with the commander was impossible! And for sure he wouldn't want money. His troops had stolen millions! They were floating in money.
But the Rebbe didn't reply and they understood that they had no choice but to try.
And it worked! Suddenly everything just clicked. The first officer they met miraculously arranged a meeting with the commander and as soon as they entered his tent and offered him money he immediately replied "Good! Thirteen thousand rubles and he's free!" They ran home, got the money, which was a small fortune, brought it to the commander, and he kept his word!! He freed the Jewish prisoner.
They didn't even go home. They immediately headed for Radomsk to tell the Rebbe what happened, thank him profusely and, of course, give him a sizeable donation.
But as soon as they finished their story, before they could say a word of thanks, the Rebbe interrupted and asked, "And how much did he want? How much did you have to pay?" They answered and he replied. "What! Thirteen thousand? Why that is ridiculous! Far too much!! But don't worry; you will get it all back. Every penny!"
They again tried to disagree; the money was no so importance to them they just wanted to thank the Rebbe! But to no avail. He again ignored them and they backed out of his room.
A short while thereafter the Russians totally crushed the Polish forces and captured their commander who tried to save his skin by handing over lists of all the money and booty they had taken, among which was the 13,000 rubles. Just days later the Russian army, in a display of kindness, gratitude and honesty, returned every penny! The Rebbe had done two incredible miracles!!
They again headed to Radomsk full of gratitude and bearing money for the Rebbe's synagogue but to their total surprise when they finished telling him what happened and began opening their mouths to thank him he shut them up with an angry reply.
"What, you think you can buy me with your flattery and money?! I don't need your money or your stories either. Miracles? Feh! What are you talking about? Now leave before I have you evicted!!"
They tried to explain, to protest, to clarify, to slip a few rubles into the hand of the Rebbe's secretary but after the Rebbe's outburst all the Chassidim wanted to do was to get them outside as pleasantly and as efficiently as possible.
A day or two later of the Rebbe's secretaries summoned up courage, approached the Rebbe and humbly asked. "Rebbe, that family you yelled at. After all, what did they do wrong? They only wanted to thank you. What is wrong with that?"
The Rebbe smiled and replied. It's the worst! I couldn't have asked for anything worse! We see that when the Jewish people sinned with the Golden Calf and G-d wanted to destroy them, Moses protested. So G-d explained to Moses that His intention was not to end Judaism (G-d forbid) but rather to make a NEW improved Jewish people beginning with Moses in place of Abraham Isaac and Jacob (Ex.32:10). Whereupon Moses replied, 'If that's your plan then wipe me out of your Torah.' (Ex.32:32)
"At first glance," the Rebbe continued "this is hard to understand. Why did G-d have to tell Moses what He was about to do. Why didn't He just punish the Jews and explain later? But the answer is that G-d 'couldn't' do what he wanted all the time Moses protested. He set up the world in a way that totally humble Tzadikim like Moses can, so-to-speak 'force' G-d to change His will.
So He offered to make Moses the new founder of Judaism. G-d hoped that if Moses accepted the offer he would become a 'bit' egotistical and this tiny bit of egotism would puncture his humility and nullify his ability to 'stand in G-d's way'.
"That is also why G-d earlier ordered Moses to take his staff and turn it into a snake in front of Pharaoh before beginning the plagues (Ex. 7:9) Namely to remind Moses not to hearken to the snake that tricked Eve into wanting to 'be like G-d' (Gen.3:5) i.e. do miracles and become egotistical.
"That" concluded the Rebbe, "is why I refused the praises and money of these people. The only power I have is humility. I know that if I take ANY credit it will destroy my total surrender to the Creator and my ability to help others.
This answers our questions. The secret of Judaism is total humility. All the other religions are based on egotism; hope for rewards in this world or the next, while Judaism is based on total surrender to the Creator and His Torah like Abraham or Moses, leaving the rewards totally up to G-d.
That is the theme of the song HaAzinu; G-d knew that by demanding the Jews to ignore and even 'Elevate' their selfish nature He would be disappointed. But he also knew that the great Tzadikim, especially Moshiach, would be able to set everything right. And the poem Haazinu would remind the people of this.
That is why they thought they could save Moses; they realized that without Moses they couldn't combat their selfish natures and suddenly they became humble. And they believed that with this new humility they too had the power to negate G-d's decree as Moses so often done.
And that, the Lubavitcher Rebbe explains, (Lekuti Sichot vol. 19 pg 339) is what it means 'the ESSENCE' of the day. Namely their desire to stop Moses came from the essence of their souls! But G-d knew the only way to really reveal this essence would be by thousands of years of exile.
And this is VERY relevant to us today.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe announced many times that this period of exile has ended! And the time of redemption has arrived!
It's hard to believe. After so many thousands of years we have become accustomed even addicted to exile, but the power of Tzadikim is higher!
All we have to do is 'open our eyes' add just a little humility and do even one more good Torah deed to bring....
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