This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Tetzaveh (5770)
In last week's Torah portion we read about G-d's commandments to Moses to make a Tabernacle in the desert and its various vessels; The Menora, Altar, Ark etc.
This week's Torah portion deals with His commandment to make garments for the priests (Cohanim) who worked in the Tabernacle.
But there are many questions here. First why does the portion begin with G-d telling Moses to take pure olive oil for the Menorah and end with the commandment to build an 'inner' golden altar for burning incense? Neither of these have anything to do with the garments, which are the topic of the portion, and seemingly should have been dealt with in last week's portion with the vessels!
Also it is not very clear what exactly is the purpose of these garments and why did they have to be so detailed and precise? Why couldn't all the priests just dress in white plain robes? What difference could it possible make to G-d what they wear?
Also, this Shabbat is Parshat 'Zachor' when, in preparation for Purim, we add a paragraph (Deut. 25:17) to the Torah reading to remind us how Moses defeated the anti-Semitic nation of Amalek from which Haman stemmed.
Is there a connection between all these? To understand, here is a story (Stories of the Baal Shem Tov vol. 5 pg 155)
Some 300 years ago after the Chmilnitzki massacres and the Shabatai Tzvi False-Messiah-fiasco, Judaism was in a state of shock and regression. Like a patient in intensive care, the reigning Rabbis wanted only to protect Judaism by rejecting all change.
In this time lived one Rabbi Yechiel of Kovli. He was a great scholar and holy Jew, but when rumors began going around that there was a Jew called Rabbi Yisroel baal Shem (Baal Shem Tov or Besh't for short) who claimed to have special powers and was teaching a new type of rejuvenated Judaism called Chassidut he was suspicious. And so were the majority of Talmudic scholars.
But unlike most of them he decided to find out for himself whether this Baal Shem was another faker or a perhaps a true leader like Moses who also had big problems changing the mindset of the Jews of his time.
The more objectively Rabbi Yechiel investigated the more he realized that the latter was true and the reason for the opposition was that Chassidut was almost too good to be true.
He became a convinced, devoted follower of the Baal Shem Tov, but when he tried to convince others he found it was a different issue altogether, Jews just don't want to leave Egypt.
For instance, one Motzi Shabbat (Saturday night) he met a Jew who had spent a Shabbat by the Besh't and was totally turned off. He had been very impressed with the Baal Shem's erudition, deep insight, memory, total command of all aspects of the Torah and the communal prayers were incomparable to anything he had ever experienced. But he was repulsed at the fact that Besh't lost his temper!
And not just for a second or two. He related how, on Friday night, shortly after the Sabbath began, the Besh't called his gentile servant Alexi and began screaming and cursing him for not wanting to go out immediately into the cold and brush the horses! The servant was so shocked he almost fainted! He meekly tried to defend himself by saying that he had just brushed them a few minutes ago and it was freezing outside but the Baal Shem Tov just kept shouting that if he didn't go immediately he would burn in hell and become blind and crippled and similar things! It was just shocking. You could see that all the Chassidim, felt so bad for the poor gentile but the Baal Shem Tov just kept yelling "'Go! go! Leave NOW! I'll kill you! get out!" etc.until Alexi ran out into the cold to again brush the horses. "I mean, who cares about horses?! What type of tzadik is this?" the guest complained, "Why, it says clearly in the Talmud that getting angry is equal to idolatry; forgetting about G-d!"
Rabbi Yechiel tried to calm the fellow down, he assured him that the ways of the Besh't were hidden, that it was impossible that he 'lost' his temper etc. but it didn't help until promised he would personally go and ask.
The next day Rabbi Yechiel went to the Baal Shem's Synagogue, waited for him to finish the Morning prayers, took him aside and asked him to please reveal the secret behind his yelling and screaming the day before.
Immediately after he asked he regretted it. How could he mix in to things he had no understanding of? It was like asking Moses why he had a staff!
"Ahh that!" the Baal Shem replied to Rabbi Yechiel's surprise "Of course I'll tell you. You are right, it really was shocking but I had no choice. I'll explain.
"That Friday I noticed that about a hundred miles from here in the middle of the forest there was a simple Jew who had lost his way and, as he noticed that night was falling, had no choice but to stop his carriage and spend the Holy Shabbat where he was (it is forbidden to travel, carry in an open place or use horses on the Shabbat).
"But shortly after nightfall a band of robbers noticed his lone wagon and, not sure if he was armed or not, cautiously began to surround him. Of course the only weapon the poor fellow had except for the stick he used to ocassionally prod his horse was prayer and when he saw that he was surrounded and any second was about to be attacked, he began crying out to G-d for help.
"And that is why I yelled at poor Alexi. I saw that the Jew in the forest didn't have sufficient merits to save himself and I knew I had to do something to help. So I threatened my servant Alexi in order to project his fright on to the robbers! In other words I arranged it so that they felt the same fright he did! They became so insane with fear that they ran away in all directions and didn't dare approach him or his wagon again for the entire Shabbat."
Just as the Besh't finished talking the doors of his synagogue burst open and a wide-eyed Jew who looked as though he had just escaped the angel of death staggered in. He was out of breath, trying his best to say something but it was impossible to make out a word. Someone sat him down, someone else brought him a hot glass of tea, he took a few sips, calmed down, said thanks and began to tell his story to the large crowd of Chassidim that gathered around.
On Friday, just two days ago, he was on the way home driving his wagon through the forest and somehow got lost. So he stopped just before sunset to set up for Shabbat and a band of robbers surrounded his wagon! Then suddenly for no reason their eyes bolted open in fear, they began clutching the sides of their heads screaming 'No! No!' and ran away as though they were being chased by demons!"
This was the man the Baal Shem had saved! The story was verified before Rav Yechiel's eyes!
When Rav Yechiel returned, found the guest and explained what the Besh't had said and what he had seen with his own eyes the guest at first did not believe it, but after a few minutes of thought decided he needed a few more days to think.
Finally the guest became a follower of the Baal Shem Tov and admitted that when he had seen the Besht's scholarship and spirituality, although he had never seen anything like it, it wasn't enough to make him change his entire life. But now that he saw how he used anger to save that traveler it made him realize that the Besh't had the secret to making Judaism was more real than he had ever dreamed.
This answers our questions.
This week's portion deals with the priestly garments but begins with the oil for the Menorah and ends with the inner Altar. The garments were a correction for the sin of Adam which brought shame and egotism into the world. Preceding the commandment of oil accentuates that the reason for these garments is, like the Menorah, to illuminate the world with the awareness of the Creator.
In a more personal sense; the 'garments' of our soul are thought, speech and action (see Tanya Chapt. 4) . These three garments have the purpose of illuminating our surroundings.
Therefore our portion ends with the inner Altar to show that in every thought, word and deed there must be an inner purpose. Something like how the Besht's actions and words really contained the deeper intention of saving that Jew in the forest.
And that is the connection to remembering Amalek in preparation for Purim.
The purpose of the Baal Shem's miraculous transportation of fear a hundred miles away was not only to save the Jew in the forest (like Mordechi saved all the Jews from Haman) but also to save that visiting Jew from his own doubts.
As Chassidut points out that the Hebrew letters for 'Amalek' have the same numerical value as 'Safek' which means 'doubt'. Doubt can be the worst enemy of Judaism; Judaism is joy and love while and doubt is coldness and egotism.
This is the purpose of the Holy Temple, the priestly garments, the shining Menorah, the Inner Altar and Purim; to dispel all doubts about the goodness, closeness, omnipotence of G-d.
And so this is the job of the Baal Shem Tov and all the Chassidic masters after him; to dispel all doubts so the entire world will worship only the Creator; the G-d of Israel, with Joy.
We just have to have no doubts; we must do, say and think positively. Even one more good deed can tip the scales and insure that....the Joy of Purim will never cease!!!
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