This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Lech-Lecha (5770)
This week we read about Abraham the first Jew. But at first glance it is not so clear what exactly this means.
There seems to be no clear explanation in the Torah as to exactly what made him a Jew or what exactly a Jew is!
Seemingly Abraham did no miracles, made no sermons, developed no religion and had few, if any, followers. He did not even see the fulfillment of the promises G-d made to him; to receive the land of Israel and have offspring as plentiful as the soil of the earth etc. So what exactly made him a Jew? And what is a Jew?
We also see that Abraham had his name changed from Avram. What is the meaning behind this?
To understand all this here is a story I just heard about Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch the third leader of the Chabad Movement some 150 years ago in Russia (nicknamed 'The Tzemach Tzedek').
Since the time of Abraham, something about the Jews has always aroused the admiration, awe and ire of the non-Jews. The Good Book says it's because we were chosen by G-d, but it's not so clear what that means; the Jews don't seem to be much different from everyone else and certainly not in a way that would indicate they are G-d's chosen.
But in every generation there is at least one Jew who does clearly demonstrate this 'chosen'ness. One was Abraham and another was the Tzemach Tzedik.
For instance; one of the major problems in Judaism is that of the 'Aguna'; a married woman whose husband disappears. If it can be proven that he died or there is a bill of divorce that he wrote then she is free to remarry. But without either of these she doomed to a lonely life of uncertainty.
Precisely in such cases the Tzemach Tzedik often demonstrated powers above nature - within nature.
One particular Aguna had been estranged for several years with two children and no clue as to her husband's whereabouts. At first his absence was a bit of relief to her. He had been a strange, distant sort of fellow with an occasional streak of violence. But after a few years on her own it suddenly hit her; she was still a young woman and the prospect of making a living, raising her children and living the rest of her life this way would be torture.
So she began to take action. She sent letters and visited as many Rabbis as possible with her sad story and a description of her husband. The Rabbis kept their eyes open, some even sent searching committees, but with no results.
Then, one day there was a breakthrough! Two honorable looking Jews knocked on her door, introduced themselves by name, and began their somber message; the reason her husband did not return is because several months ago he got sick and passed away! They had even been present at his funeral.
On his sick bed he told them about her; his wife, and made them promise to inform her if he died. They apologized that it took them so long but it was a long journey and a big trouble for them so they kept pushing it off.
When she digested the news she first heaved a sigh of relief, then covered her eyes and finally began to weep; tears of woe for her dead husband and of relief for herself.
The men insisted that they go immediately to the Rabbi and give their testimony so she could be officially freed to remarry and they be freed from their promise.
An hour later they had finished testifying and answering grilling questions to the satisfaction of the judges who turned to the Rabbi for approval to begin the writing of the 'get'. But then suddenly an old Rabbi who had been sitting unnoticed in the corner of the room reading, stood, closed his book, raised his hand for them to stop and declared, "Don't let her marry!"
All eyes turned to him. It was the well known 'Tzadik' of the town (names were not given in the story); a holy Jew with a long white beard and kind, deep eyes whose every word was tried and trusted to never miss the mark.
"I 'see' that he is still alive! I can 'see' him!" The judges stared at the Tzadik with wide eyed astonishment and then turned to the Rabbi who shrugged his shoulders and said. "We can't give a get until this is clarified!" And the court was dismissed.
But the aguna wasn't going to give up so easily. She knew that according to the Torah, testimony of two reliable eye-witnesses is always accepted as final evidence whereas prophetic, mystical 'visions' NEVER are.
So she decided to take the two witnesses and travel to the city of Lubavitch to get the okay of the 'Tzemach Tzedek'.
A day later she and the two, now very impatient witnesses were standing before the Rebbe. This is exactly what they were afraid of; they were working men and wanted to go home! They couldn't bear the loss of so much time.
The Rebbe heard the case, called three judges who sat down and solemnly heard the testimony, asked almost the same questions as the first judges did, nodded their heads in agreement and turned to the Rebbe for his okay.
But the Rebbe, unlike the visionary in her home town hearing, thought for several moments, raised his gaze to the ceiling as though deep in contemplation, smiled, looked at the judges and finally nodded in agreement. "I see no reason why she can't remarry".
Again she broke out crying tears of relief. Within an hour adocument was written up, signed by the witnesses and the judges and finally she was free!
Several months later there was more good news; she found a match! And several weeks after that she got married and began life anew. Mazal Tov!!
But a few days after the wedding a shocking thing happened. Two honorable looking Jews knocked at her door and when she opened up they asked her name and then gave her shocking news - they had been with her first husband when he got sick and passed away...two weeks ago!!
"TWO WEEKS??" She said in disbelief and staggered backwards.
"Yes" They replied. "He had been ill for a few weeks and when the doctors told him he had no chance to live he asked that two reliable people be brought so he could confess to them the terrible thing he had done. So they brought us and he told us that a few months earlier he paid two Jews a lot of money to travel to his wife, namely you, and falsely testify that he was dead so you would do a sin and get married to someone else while still married to him! He wanted you to go against the Torah!
"He said that he had left the commandments of Judaism and it gave him a particular pleasure to make others do the same!"
Her mind was spinning! In other words the first Rabbi had really been correct; he really DID 'see' her husband alive while the Tzemach Tzedek seemingly made a mistake?!
When the first Rabbi heard what happened he immediately traveled to the Tzemach Tzedek to hear his explanation; how could the holy Lubavitcher Rebbe have given the okay for her to marry when in fact at that time, it had been FORBIDDEN! Could it be that the Rebbe didn't 'see' properly. Or, even worse, perhaps he CAUSED the man to die in order to save the woman from doing a sin?
"No" The Tzemach Tzedek answered matter-of-factly. I saw the same thing as you did. And I certainly didn't kill him.
"I just saw that everything would turn out according to the Torah. In fact his death saved her, his two false witnesses, the man she married and even himself from causing a sin.
"I didn't kill him. Rather, he killed himself! By declaring that he himself was dead he actually caused it to happen!"
This answers our question; the special, 'chosen' quality of Abraham which he passed on to all Jews after him, was that he totally loved the Creator with all his heart, soul and life. In fact he loved G-d so much that all he thought about and lived for was that the world should run according to G-d's will.
Just as the Tzemach Tzedek was willing to risk his name and reputation in order that the woman should get married; all he was interested was that the world, or even one detail of it, should be according to G-d's will.
For this the Jews were chosen; to put order, meaning, joy and blessing into each detail of creation. Namely, that the creation should run according to 'the manufacturer's manual'; the Torah.
That is why G-d changed Avram's name.
Avram means 'Elevated Father' while Avraham means 'Father of All Mankind'. Avram was devoted to elevating himself. But Avraham was devoted to transforming the entire world!
And this work that Abraham began will be completed by the Moshiach through the efforts of each and every one of us. We, like Abraham and the Tzemach Tzedek, must do everything in our power to make the world around us a better place according to the wisdom of the Torah. And we inherited the power, ability and blessing to do so!
It all depends on us; each of us! Even one deed, word or even thought can bring….
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