This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Bereshit (5770)
This Shabbat we read the first chapter of the Torah which begins with the creation the world.
The Torah tells us that the first thing that G-d created was light.
At first glance this totally does not make sense. Light is only useful if it illuminates something, why create it first when there was nothing to illuminate?
Even more, Rashi points out (1:4) that immediately after G-d created this light He concealed it so only the righteous people would use it! If so why create it at all?
Finally, we see that the sun, moon and stars were created on the fourth day so this light must be something spiritual. If so, what does it have to do with creation?
To understand this, here is a story. (Chadashot HaP'elot #17)
In a small village somewhere in Poland almost 300 years ago lived an old Jew by the name of Reb Yosef who taught the children Torah. He was well over 60, but his quick mind and young positive spirit made him an excellent teacher. Although he was usually quiet and kept to himself, when he was teaching Torah or telling the children stories he was a bundle of energy; encouraging, helping, singing even dancing with his young pupils.
No one knew exactly where he was from or who he was; family, home, birthplace. No one knew and no one really cared; just to see him for an instant left the immediate impression that he was truthful through and through.
One day another interesting Jew came to the town who called himself Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem; it was the Baal Shem Tov (Besh't for short) just as he was beginning to become famous. He was much younger than Reb Yosef but it wasn't long before they met, went off to a side room, closed the door and began to talk.
Unbeknownst to anyone there Reb Yosef was what the Talmud calls a 'Tzadik Nistar'; a secret holy-man and he had been waiting for this visit from the Besh't, he needed advice.
"I have been teaching in this town for almost ten years" said Reb Yosef to the Besh't, "but I feel that I would accomplish much more in a bigger city. Here I have five pupils, and there I could have ten times more. But I don't want to move until I know it's the right thing to do."
The Baal Shem told him that it was a good thing he waited to ask and then gave him some shocking news. "A terrible heavenly decree is hanging over the Jews of this town and the only one that will be able to save them you; Reb Yosef the teacher!"
Reb Yosef took the Besht's advice and remained in the town. When the decree would occur and how he could possibly avert it was totally beyond him, but meanwhile the Besh't had removed all his doubts and he devoted himself totally to his students.
Several years passed, the Besht's warning did not materialize and life went on quietly as normal. Almost.
The local baron was a benign sort of fellow, more interested in hunting and partying with his cronies than ruling with an iron hand, raising taxes or converting the Jews like the other land owners. But his son was not so benign. In fact, the young man lacked all signs of decency and lived a life of drunken debauchery with no goal other than doing what he wanted.
It just so happened that on one of his wild rampages he was riding through the streets of the Jewish quarter and noticed a young, attractive girl that found favor in his eyes. He jumped from his horse, asked her name and if she was married. The poor girl was so shocked and frightened she couldn't speak but as far as he was concerned it was settled; she was his choice and he was sure she would agree! Who wouldn't want to marry the son of the Baron! The girl tried to protest; that she was Jewish, she was only sixteen years old but the young 'prince' would not take no for an answer.
The next day the overjoyed Baron himself sent a message to the girl's parents that in a day or so he would visit them personally to see if their daughter (her name was Sarah) was all his son said she was and, if so, to arrange the wedding.
An emergency meeting was called at Sarah's parents' home with all the town elders. But no one had a solution. It was clear she couldn't marry him but on the other hand if she refused the Baron would certainly take revenge it was a terrible predicament.
Everyone sat in sad silence. Suddenly Sarah spoke. "The solution is obvious. If I am married, the Baron's son will leave me alone. The Priests won't let him marry me.
"Married?" The Rabbi said incredulously. "But there is no time. The Baron will be here tomorrow. If you get married after that he will be blazing mad; he'll burn down all our houses. You have to get married tonight! Where will you find a groom tonight?! It's impossible!"
"And it will have to be a proper husband." Her mother and father added. "We wanted you to marry a G-d fearing Torah scholar. Or at least someone normal!
Sarah blushed, looked down at the floor and said quietly "There is someone here that is a fitting husband." "Here? Who?" Her parents and the Rabbi said almost in unison.
"I'm sure that in order to save a Jewish girl from marrying a gentile, Reb Yosef would agree."
Reb Yosef realized that this is what the Baal Shem Tov was talking about. When the Baron's son would see that she married a man fifty years her senior he wouldn't need the Priest to tell him no, he would think she was crazy.
That night the strange wedding took place and the next morning it was exactly as they thought; when the Baron heard she was married and saw Reb Yosef he shook his head in disbelief and left without a word.
A bit more than a year later a child was born to them who, when he got older, became famous for his love and self-sacrifice for other Jews. He was named after his mother and became known as Rabbi Leib Sarah's.
The following story is told about him (From Rabbi Manis Friedman's Parsha Sheets, Ki Tisa)
Reb Aryeh Leib Sara’s, (1730-1791. student of the Ba'al Shem Tov) traveled throughout the countryside helping Jews in need.
One Erev Yom Kippur, just a few hours before the Day of Atonement, he found himself stuck in an obscure village in a small Synagogue with eight other Jews. With him as the ninth, they were still lacking one Jew for a 'Minyan' (Many prayers can only be said with ten Jews called a 'Minyan') but everyone insisted there were no Jews to be found.
Reb Leib asked them again and again; “Are you sure there are no other Jews in the village? Even someone who converted out of Judaism?”
Suddenly one of the men recalled that the evil “poritz (Land Baron)” had left Judaism many years ago in order to marry the daughter of the previous poritz. But since he changed his religion he became a violent, rabid anti-Semite with a sadistic streak that he often put to action. There was certainly no way he would agree to come to a minyan and there was a good chance he would get violent. And even if he did come … he wasn't a Jew anymore!
Despite the discouraging words, Reb Leib Sara’s set out in the direction of the Poretz's castle. And it worked! The moment the poritz opened his door and saw the Rebbe in his white Yom Kippur attire he was neutralized speechless and he actually listened as Reb Leib said the following words.
“My mother Sarah, was a saintly woman. The son of a Baron saw her and wanted to marry her but despite his offers of riches and wealth she refused and married my father, a poor, old G-d fearing Jew. She passed her test! You did not!"
The poritz stood frozen as the Rebbe continued, “Nevertheless, It’s not too late to do T'shuvah (transform). The gates of heaven are open. Today is Yom Kippur, come and complete our Minyan. We need you for the tenth man."
When the poritz entered the Shul (synagogue) after Reb Leib, the others gasped with disbelief. The poritz was given a Machzor (Yom Kippur prayer book) and a Tallis (prayer shawl) in which he wrapped himself and stood in the corner.
Two Sifrei Torah were taken out and the prayers began. Reb Leib led the prayers and when he got to the part about asking permission of G-d and the congregation to pray with evil sinners the poritz groaned so loud the people thought he would collapse.
But he didn't. He remained in place, crying desperate tears of regret and moaning from the depth of his heart, bringing frightful shivers to all those present.
When the prayers resumed the next morning he was still there in his place wrapped in his Tallit, occasionally crying or moaning aloud and when they got to the last “Al Cheit,” prayer he he had cried and trembled so much that his Tallis was soaking with tears and sweat.
Finally in “Neila,” the holiest and last prayer of the day, he approached the Aron Kodesh, embraced the Torah and with a scream that pierced the heavens proclaimed, "SHEMA YISROEL HASHEM ELOKEINU, HASHEM ECHOD!!!!!” With all his strength he cried out, “HASHEM HU HAELOKIM!!!!” Hashem- He is our G-d. Seven times he repeated this line, louder and louder, ‘till he reached the final time and with superhuman strength he screamed; HASHEM HU HAELOKIM and fell unconscious to the ground. Everyone rushed to him but when they opened his Tallis they discovered that he was dead.
Reb Leib said, “Fortunate is the one who died with the name of Hashem on his lips."
It is known that Reb Leib Sara's said Kaddish for the Poritz - become-Tzaddik every Yom Kippur for the rest of his life.
This answers our questions about light.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains the reason G-d created light first was, just as before one builds a house he first has the reason for building it, so here G-d wanted to show that the REASON He is creating the world is to make 'light'.
And that is why He hid it; to teach that the only way to reveal this light is by transforming darkness and overcoming obstacles.
As we saw in the above stories; First the young Sarah, then her son Leib when he went to the poritz's castle and finally the Poritz in the last story ….. all revealed this 'light' through transforming darkness and difficulties into meaning and blessing.
This is a very important message to us; anytime we have obstacles or disappointments in life just remember that they are only opportunities to deepen our appreciation for G-d and reveal new light and blessing.
This will be the job of Moshiach, the "spirit of G-d on the water", who will teach us to transform the entire world to reveal true G-dly light.
That is why, according to Chassidic teaching, this coming Shabbat; Shabbat B'reshis, is the foundation of the year; because it teaches us this vitally important message: the world (olom) has no real existence until we transform it to 'light'. And it's all up to us. Even one more good deed, word or even thought can tip the scales and bring…
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