This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Toldot (5770)
This week's Torah portion tells the story of Yitzchak's wells. Strangely the Torah devotes a lot of space to how he dug these wells and even some of their names; one was called Aisek another Sitna and the third Rechovot.
The Torah is neither a mere history book as atheists claim nor a spiritual manual as the other religions profess. Rather every word and letter of the Torah was dictated by the Creator of the Universe to the Jewish people through Moshe to put meaning and blessing in the entire creation!
If so, what possible significance is it to us now, that Yitzchak dug a few obscure wells whose location is unknown today, almost four thousand years ago?
To understand this, here is a story (Sichat HaShavua #1193)
A few years ago, in the year 2,000 (5760) Rabbi Shlomo Wilhelm, the Chabad representative in the city of Zitomer in the Ukraine, attended a family affair, perhaps a wedding, in London England when a woman approached him, introduced herself and said that she was very pleased to hear that he ran the Chabad House in Zitomer and had a personal favor to ask.
She had been raised in a small village by the name of T'chorisha not far from Zitomer but had to leave it and her family at a young age. To her knowledge, her parents were buried there and she requested with tears in her eyes that at his first free moment to please locate their graves and send her a picture.
Of course there was no such thing as a free moment for Rabbi Wilhelm but somehow when he returned he asked the help of Reb Hersh Shribman one of the pillars of the Jewish community of Zitomer, and together they found time to locate the town of T'chorisha find its Jewish cemetery and finally take pictures of the desired tombstones; all this to calm one troubled Jewish woman.
After taking the pictures Rabbi Wilhelm turned to his companion and said, "Listen, if we're already here… why not see if there are any Jews in the town. Maybe we can do some good!"
So together they began wandering the streets of T'chorisha asking the residents if there were any Jews until one of them pointed to a large hut (all the houses there were large huts) and said they should ask the old lady living there. If anyone would know it was her.
So they walked to the house, opened the gate to the front yard and saw a young couple with a small child standing there. As soon as this couple saw them, their eyes opened in amazement and they froze.
"What do you want?" the young man barely asked.
When Rabbi Wilhelm told them that they were looking for Jews the couple turned to each other shaking their heads incredulously almost in tears and the young man shook the Rabbi's hand as though he couldn't believe he was real.
The young woman explained. "Our grandmother is inside. She is Jewish. We are her grandchildren. This little girl is my daughter and this young man is my brother. The reason we are here today is because her doctor told us to come quickly if we want to see her alive again."
They all entered the hut and as their eyes adjusted to the dim light they saw a very old woman, eyes slightly open, lying almost lifeless in the bed. But as soon as she saw the Rabbis she opened her eyes, smiled and whispered, 'Shalom'! They said a few words to her in Yiddish and she replied, while her grandchildren stood hypnotized not believing their eyes.
After several minutes of this the Rabbis said good bye, left their phone numbers and plenty of reading material on Judaism and returned to Zitomer.
That evening they received a phone call from the young lady that shortly after they left, her grandmother passed away. Rabbi Wilhelm quickly and efficiently arranged a proper Jewish burial for her and was amazed by the revealed Divine providence; how he 'happened' to come to this 'lost' town, 'happened' to arrive at the home of a lost Jew in her last moments in this world and 'happened' to get her a proper Jewish burial.
But there was much more to the story.
Six years later the Rabbi Wilhelm arranged a special evening of lectures for the citizens of Zitomer with a talented speaker by the name of Mrs Rivka Nimoy on the topic of prayer. Almost fifty women from the area attended most of whom were tasting Judaism for the first time. The lecture went well, the discussion afterwards was lively and at one point Mrs. Nimoy asked if there was anyone that had an experience of having their prayers answered. After a few moments of uncomfortable silence one of the women raised her hand and stood.
She introduced herself as Netalia Pogoroi and told the following story.
Her mother passed away when she was a young girl and she and her brother were raised by her grandmother, a woman by the name of Batia Pobolotzkia. Eventually they grew up and moved away, she even married and had a child, but they always kept in touch with each other and with their grandmother and regularly visited her.
Then, when their grandmother was well into her eighties, the doctor that had been assigned to her called and told them to come quickly because the old lady was dying.
So they both took taxis and within the hour were by their dying grandmother's bedside. She was breathing with great difficulty and was barely conscious and it seemed like the end would be any second, but then she suddenly opened her eyes, motioned for them to come closer and began to speak clearly and with great determination.
She told them she was Jewish! And so were they!
She explained that her whole life she was surrounded by gentiles and kept her Jewishness quiet because she didn't want to be different. But now that she was dying she begged them to see to it that she would get a Jewish burial. Then she lapsed back into her semi-comatose state.
They couldn't believe their own ears. They were ….. Jews?! Their grandmother wanted a Jewish burial!??
They didn't even really know what either of these things were! They had been sure that they were just like everyone else! Maybe the old lady was crazy? But she spoke so clearly!
They went out to the yard to calm down and discuss things when suddenly… from nowhere, two genuine Rabbis entered through the gate! It was as though they were participating in some sort of dream!
"At first we thought that maybe grandma invited them but when we saw how genuinely excited and amazed she was when she saw them and they spoke to her we realized it was a miracle. The Rabbis came because she prayed for a Jewish burial and G-d answered her prayers!
"Afterwards we, my brother and me, read some of the pamphlets the Rabbis left and began to get interested in what was written there. Until this year I enrolled my daughter, who was the young baby in the story six years ago, in the Chabad school here in Zitomer. And that is why I'm here tonight!"
Now Rabbi Wilhelm was truly astonished; his search for a grave not only got a woman a proper Jewish burial it brought an entire 'lost' family back to Judaism.
This answers our questions.
Yitzchak was one of the three 'Fathers' of Judaism and his work paved the way for ours. Digging and discovering wells in the desert is an allegory for awakening Jewish souls in this seemingly meaningless and desolate world. Just as Rabbi Wilhelm and tens of thousands of Chassidim of the Lubavitcher Rebbe are awakening dormant Jewish souls throughout the world.
But this is not an easy task as the names of these wells indicate: Aisek and Sitna mean struggle and opposition. Often our efforts meet with struggle and opposition from both the world and from within ourselves. But we must not be intimidated or discouraged. We are promised that after all we will merit to 'Rechovot'….. miraculous 'wideness'.
As we saw in our story; G-d helps and directs the steps of man so that finally all the 'wells' will be revealed. Soon the world will be filled with the awareness of G-d like the water fills the ocean. It's just up to us to make the 'steps'.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe says it all depends on us. Even one good deed, word or even thought could remove the final thin layer of dirt to reveal 'Rechovot'; the true, unbounded wideness of …
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