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.
Simchat Torah (5770)
On Simchat Torah we finish the reading of the Torah and begin it anew.
The Jews have been reading the Torah in public at least once every week since it was given over 3,300 years ago (thereby making it impossible to change or get lost, G-d forbid, as some religions claim) and when we finish a cycle it is a good reason for rejoicing.
Or is it? At first glance, what exactly is there to rejoice about? What is so happy about the Torah?
Even more, the last words of the Torah praise Moses for breaking the Tablets of the Ten Commandments! (See Rashi 34:12) Why finish on such a negative note? And what could breaking the Tablets possibly have to do with Rejoicing with the Torah.
To understand this, here is a story I just heard.
Less than a hundred years ago lived a great Tzadik (totally righteous Jew) named Rabbi Dovid of Lelov.
There are many stories told of his total familiarity in all aspects of the Torah both revealed and mystical and the many miracles that he did. That all began with his education as a child.
In Judaism, children are taught to read at the age of three, and at five they are already learning the Five Books of Moses. Great emphasis is put on the personality as well as the erudition of the teacher.
So, when Rabbi Dovid was of learning age his father set out to find him a teacher. The child was already showing signs of genius and he would need a teacher who could provide him with a lot of answers.
After months of searching he finally found what seemed to be what he was looking for; a G-d fearing, very learned and experienced teacher with and impeccable reputation and personality.
Reb Dovid's father spoke to the man himself and was so impressed that he took him on and even paid him a month in advance.
After a week after testing his son on the material he had been learning he asked him if there was anything unusual he could tell him about the new teacher.
"Yes," little Dovid replied "I saw that every time, before the teacher begins to pray the morning prayers he does 'Tshuva' (returns to G-d); he puts on his Tallis and Tefillin (prayer shawl and phylacteries) and weeps."
Dovid's father decided to see for himself. Early the next morning he went to the synagogue where the teacher prayed and, sure enough, it was just as his son said. The man actually wept true tears of repentance for several moments before he began to pray.
After the prayers Dovid's father approached the teacher, took him aside, apologized for spying on him and asked him for an explanation; why was he weeping?
The teacher replied, "To tell you the truth I don't know. It began years ago after I spent a few weeks in the home of Rabbi Yissacher Dov of Rodshetz. I did some teaching there in his town and got to know him fairly well. He was a genius! Knew the entire Torah and Talmud by heart! Anyway, after he paid me he gave me a blessing that I should do 'Tshuva' and since then, every day just after I put on Talis and Tefillin, just before I begin to pray I burst out weeping uncontrollably for a minute or two and don't understand why. It's really amazing isn't it!"
Dovid's father was impressed. He had heard of Rabbi Yissacher Dov and wanted to hear more. "Tell me" he asked the teacher. "You spent several weeks by Rabbi Yissacher Dov, can you tell me any other interesting things you saw there, maybe a miracle that you saw him do?"
The teacher thought for a moment and said that in fact he could.
"Once there was a woman that came to the Rebbe of Rodshetz crying and sobbing. While she was waiting to get an audience with him she told everyone what her story was so it was no secret. Her husband had abandoned her five or so years earlier and disappeared. Now she was stuck, she had several children, no money, no source of income and couldn't remarry until she either got a bill of divorce or there was conclusive proof that her husband was not alive.
"So the Rebbe heard what she had to say, waited for a few minutes, and then told his assistant, one of his Chassidim, to go out into the street and bring in the first person he sees on the street.
The assistant did as he was told and a few minutes later returned with a Polish gentile who was peddling firewood. He had a wagon full of wood pulled by a horse and he was the first one to pass by. When the Chassid saw him he told him, first in Yiddish and then, when it was obvious he didn't understand, in Polish that his master wants to see him.
"'He wants wood?' 'Maybe' the Chassid replied and showed him in.
"When they were in the Rebbe's room the gentile asked in Polish, how much wood? To which the Rebbe replied to his assistant 'Tell him to give a divorce bill! (called 'get' in Hebrew)"
"The Pole shrugged his shoulders and said again in Polish, 'He wants wood or no?!' To which the Rebbe again said to his assistant, 'Tell him to give a get!'
"The gentile yelled, 'What is this? You waste my time! You buy wood or I leave!!'
"The Rebbe again said to his assistant, 'Make him give the get!'
"The assistant, who was a young, healthy fellow, knew what to do. The Rebbe never had made a mistake. He grabbed the woodseller by the shirt, lifted him from the ground and began shaking him until the woodseller yelled out in Yiddish, "Nu NU! Ich vill given der Get! Rachmanus! Shlug mir nisht!" (Okay, I'll give the 'get'! Have mercy! Don't beat me!"
"The Rebbe brought the woman and then, when she recognized him as her husband, he brought a few more Chassidim as witnesses and in moments a proper bill of divorce was written and she was free!
"All this," concluded the teacher "I saw with my very eyes!"
Little Dovid's father was very impressed but suddenly he became serious, his eyes narrowed and he asked a telling question. "Tell me, after seeing such holiness and such a revealed miracle, why did you leave the Rebbe of Rodshetz? Why didn't you become a Chassid (follower) of his?"
The teacher smiled, shrugged his shoulders and answered matter-of-factly, "Become his Chassid just because he knows how to do tricks? Who says that he didn't do that with magic?"
Dovid's father's mouth dropped open in amazement. "Tricks? Magic?" He took his son by the hand and said decisively, "Dovid, let's find another teacher!"
This explains our questions. The reason we have to be happy on Simchat Torah is not just because we finished a cycle of Torah reading but because of who we are.
We are happy because we are Jews and the Creator chose us to teach the entire world how use the Torah to reveal meaning, blessing and joy in the creation.
But the only way to do this is by faith in Tzadikim.
Tzadikim are Jews who FEEL the G-dliness in the Torah and in every Jew. Tzadikim make us realize how CLOSE and REAL G-d is and without connection to them G-d seems very distant and the Torah is just a very clever religious book.
That is why Moses broke it.
The Jews sinned with the Golden Calf; because they lost connection with Moses. And when that happened the Torah became so 'empty' they could even use it to justify idolatry (much as the church does). In other words, the Torah praises Moses for breaking the Tablets in order to awaken the Jews to believe in him and the Tzadikim after him.
But now we have great Tzadikim! And that is the reason why we rejoice!
Of course, like Rabbi Dovid's father in our story, we must believe in them and in order to believe in Tzadikim we must read the ideas they teach. Especially the ideas of Chassidut (ask in your local Chabad House for details) .
Then our joy will spread even to the non-Jews (Seven Noahide Commandments) through their connection to the greatest Tzadik ever to walk the face of the earth - the King Moshiach.
It all depends on us to do all we can, even one more good deed! And soon the entire world will be dancing in joy with....
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.