This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Tzav (5770)
This Shabbat we read a chapter of Torah beginning with the word 'Tzav' (command) which contains the commandment of having a constant fire burning on the altar. Also, being the Shabbat before Passover, this Shabbat is called 'Shabbat HaGadol'… 'The Big Shabbat' because of a 'big' miracle that happened just before the Jews left Egypt.
The big miracle was that when Moses told Pharaoh that G-d would kill all first-born Egyptians if the Jews weren't set free, and Pharaoh nevertheless refused, the first born made war thus fulfilling the sentence in Psalms ( 136:10): "To smite the Egyptians with their firstborn"; big miracle!
At first glance this is not understood. First of all, why is this miracle any 'bigger' than the ten plagues for instance? Second, why did G-d even have to make so many miracles and plagues, why not just put it in Pharaoh's mind to let the Jews go? Third, everything in the world and especially in the Torah is connected… how is this connected to Parshat Tzav?
And finally, and most importantly, what has all this got to do with us today?
In order to understand this, here is a story. (HaGeula Weekly #476)
Tzvi Fliesher didn't look Jewish. He had tattoos that covered most of his body and was careful to never act, say or even think anything Jewish. He was a human being, a loner a free individual that would not be herded into a sect or a caste and no religion would imprison him in a cage of fear and perdition.
But, in fact, Tzvi Fliesher was Jewish and he knew it… and hated it. Since that terrible day when he was thirteen and his parents told him they were getting divorced he hated everything … especially Judiasm.
Not that he or his parents were particularly religious beforehand. His Bar Mitzvah party was really more in adherence with the English propensity for 'tradition' than in adherence to the will of G-d, but at least it was something.
After the divorce it took him a few months to make the decision but he made it …. 'out' the back door of Judaism. At fifteen he left school, found the worst 'friends' possible, had most of his body tattooed and became a street rat.
But G-d often works in strange, complicated and purposely vague and drawn out ways.
Tzvi's father re-married and together with his new wife began exploring Judaism until they became so enamored with the Chabad way of life that they became Chabad 'Chassidim'. (Chassidim are Jews that try to serve G-d with joy and Chabad Chassidim believe that through such joy we can even bring Moshiach.)
The year was 1981, the Lubavitcher Rebbe's 30th year of leadership and Tzvi's father made a bold move; he decided to fly to New York (they lived in England) and invited Tzvi to accompany him.
Tzvi's first impulse was to flatly refuse and he always followed his impulses, but this time something told him to think. After all, this was his father and hidden in this crude attempt to make him religious was genuine love …. maybe. Perhaps his refusal should be a bit diplomatic. Not only that but, he looked at a calendar and, oy! It would mean missing several soccer games that he already had bought tickets for! And what would he do in New York for a week while his father was in the synagogue with all his Chassidic friends. Ugh!
But when he went to his father's house, unexplainably, instead of saying no he agreed to go!
A week later he was standing in line behind his father to enter the Rebbe's office for 'Yechidut' (private audience).
His father had told him that after this he could spend the rest of the week doing what he wanted in New York, no strings attached. So he would see this Rebbe for a few minutes, make his father feel good and then he would be off.
His father entered before him and when he asked for a blessing for Tzvi the Rebbe told him not to worry; for sure his son would return to his Jewish senses.
When his father exited, Tzvi entered. The Rebbe was sitting behind his desk, dressed much like all the other Chassidim. Tzvi felt very strange; at home and very out of place at the same time. The room was very quiet and radiated wisdom. The Rebbe spoke to him in English (the Rebbe knew at least twenty languages fluently) and took a great interest in his past and his plans for the future. Suddenly it dawned on Tzvi that it was like standing before King Solomon, just much friendlier.
After a few minutes of conversation the Rebbe gave him a dollar, blessed him with success and advised him to enroll in a Yeshiva (academy of Judaism) and begin learning Torah.
Tzvi left the room confused. On one hand he was very impressed but on the other hand 'Yeshiva' to him meant the same thing as a home for the aged! He was only twenty years old and his whole life was before him! He had absolutely no intention of entering Yeshiva.
But, on the other hand, the Rebbe was probably the only person he met in his life, with the possible exception of his father, that really seemed to have a genuine interest in him with no side agenda…
Nevertheless force of habit took over and Tzvi naturally gravitated to the nightclubs in Manhattan and, a week later when he returned home, to his old street ways again.
And that's when G-d started sending him 'hints'.
A few months later his father invited him to his Passover 'Seder' and Tzvi refused. He was beginning to regret the trip he took to the Rebbe; when he came back to his 'friends' they just scoffed and laughed at him. He had enough! No Passover.
Instead he went to a pub to have some real fun! But, as fate would have it, that night the 'fun' mushroomed into a full fledged brawl between two groups with knives and broken bottles! Tzvi became seriously wounded in his arm, andrequired many stitches to save his live and spent the week of Passover in the hospital recovering.
But he never thought about Yeshiva.
A year or so later he got a job as a bus driver when G-d sent him the next hint. At one stop two religious Jewish young men happened to pass by and for some reason it made Tzvi suddenly remembered the meeting he had with the Rebbe two years ago (It turned out that one of the boys was Yosi Tzvibel who had been standing behind Tzvi that night that he entered the Rebbe's office).
Tzvi was rudely brought out of his reverie by someone shouting from behind him. One of the passengers, a Pakistani Moslem was so disturbed by the sight of the Jewish boys he began screaming at them through the window.
Tzvi put on the brakes, got out of his seat turned to the Pakistani and declared, "I'm Jewish, what exactly is your problem?"
The Pakistani apologized profusely, swore that he didn't know what got into him and that he would never do it again. But Tzvi was shaken! This was clearly the hand of G-d to arouse his Judaism! But the next day it was forgotten and certainly remained as far as ever from enrolling in Yeshiva.
Two years later it happened again! He found work in a furniture warehouse. The pay was good and so were the conditions but one of the workers wore a different t-shirt every day,bearing a different picture of...Hitler (may he be cursed).
As we said, Tzvi did not look Jewish, no one in the store knew he was Jewish and he himself had NO Jewish identity……. Almost.
After a month of saying, 'yeh, who cares?' to himself, he exploded, almost punched the neo-Nazi in the nose and got fired from his job.
But not Yeshiva.
The final hint was a few years later. His father invited him to spend at least some of Yom Kippur with him in the Synagogue but he flatly refused. Instead he went to work as usual (at that time he was working as a carpenter) and while doing a relatively simple job of drilling a hole in a board somehow drilled his own foot as well.
The voice of the Rebbe began echoing in the far distance.
The next Yom Kippur he fasted. Two months later he lit Chanukah candles for the first time since his bar Mitzva and two years later he finally decided to do it: He flew to the U.S.A. and enrolled in a Chabad Yeshiva for Baali Tshuva. The Rebbe was right; Tzvi found his true identity.
Today Tzvi has a family of his own but without a doubt; without both the Rebbe's influence and the 'signs (plagues)' from heaven he would have never done it. Rather he would be lost somewhere on the streets with millions of other Jews that don't know what the word Jew means.
This answers our question
Every Jew is a Holy Temple and in every Jew burns a constant fire. But it is the job of the 'Cohanim', the priests, to actually make that fire burn.
Similarly it is the job of the Rebbe and leaders like him to keep the fire of Judaism burning in each Jew. But that is only half of the picture. G-d also does miracles to wake us up…. like He did to Tzvi in our story.
And that was the cause of the ten plagues in Egypt; G-d wanted to awaken the Jews to His true, infinitely caring, and miraculous nature so it had to be done gradually within nature itself.
But the biggest and most convincing miracle of all was when the Egyptians, the first born at that, fought other Egyptians; hinting at the days of Moshiach when the world rather than concealing G-d's presence will actually help to reveal it. (like most of Tzvi's 'hints')
But all this depends on us. Today is the 11th of Nisan, the birthday of the Lubavitcher Rebbe whose entire life was (and still is) devoted to convincing all the Jews that bringing the Moshiach and bringing world peace, blessing and joy is in our hands.
We must learn about Moshiach, think speak and do all we can to bring Moshiach. And for sure G-d will do his part… without 'hints' or 'plagues' and reveal….
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