This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Shemini (5770)
This week we read about the first day that the Holy Temple (called the 'Mishkan' and later the 'Bait HaMikdash') began to function. On this very powerful and holy day G-d was revealed and experienced in this world (in the 'Holy of Holies' room of the Mishkan) as He was at Mount Sinai!
But in the end of this week's portion we read a tedious list of animals, birds and fish that are forbidden for Jews to eat!
The word 'Torah' means 'teaching'; it's every word and idea comes to teach us invaluable lessons in life. What is the Torah teaching us here?
To understand this here is a story I heard just a few days ago from a good friend of mine, Rabbi Chaim Dyan.
The story takes place some 20 years ago just as the first Israeli-Lebanon war was winding down to an uncertain, one sided (our side) halt.
Chaim Dyan, who lives in Kfar Chabad and was in the army at the time, received a phone call from his commanding officer that he must appear at his base near Haifa (called Bat Galim) at 8:30 the next morning....or else.
Chaim thought to himself: "The base is two hours away, the sun rises at 6:00. That means that tomorrow morning I'll have to pray alone, rush the prayers to make it there on time."
He thought about it for a few more minutes and finally decided… no. That's no way to start the day and certainly no way to start an army stint. He would take his time, pray slowly and hope for the best. G-d will help!
The next morning he woke at the crack of dawn, went to the Synagogue, took his time praying and finished at… seven. He had an hour and a half to get there. But he had to hitch a ride; public transportation would take two hours.
'No problem!' He said to himself as he ran to the main road and stuck out his finger hoping for the best….."G-d will help!"
But no one stopped. He tried switching fingers, then arms, then poses, but nothing helped. He was getting tired, aggravated, and pessimistic as car after car whizzed by. But he had to keep reminding himself, "Everything is from G-d, I must be positive! Positive thinking will change the situation. THINK GOOD and it will BE GOOD!
And sure enough, as soon as he began to think 'good' a car pulled over, screeched to a stop and the door opened. But just as he was about to ask if he could get a ride, a soldier in an air force uniform got out, slammed the door behind him and the car drove off leaving a thin cloud of exhaust smoke and … another hitchhiker. The pilot, or whatever he was, stuck out his finger as well!
But five minutes later, just as he was thinking all was lost, a huge truck loaded with massive crates filled with oranges pulled to a stop and the driver yelled out high up from his cabin, "One place!"
"A truck! Oy!" Chaim thought to himself, "It will take a year to get to Haifa, but on the other hand it's better than nothing. And maybe there will be a miracle."
But in the two seconds he was busy thinking, the other hitchhiker somehow managed to cut in front of him and slip up into the cabin of the truck! Chaim's anger instantly flared up. "I'll go up there, grab a hold of him and pull him out!! Why that…..!"
He battled internally; should he do it? Should he get mad? Should he go up ….? But something inside of him told him to let it go… anger is like idolatry, G-d will take care of it, I'll see it was all for the best etc..… until the passenger door slammed shut, the truck rumbled off into the distance and he was alone.
After another few minutes Chaim was really getting worried… what if no one stops!?
Suddenly sirens filled the air, an ambulance, sirens screaming, appeared as if from nowhere and screeched to a halt before him. It couldn't be offering him a ride, it's forbidden for ambulances to take riders. But the driver rolled down the passenger window and yelled "Hey soldier! You've got to help me! I got a soldier with shell-shock here, he's in bad shape and I need someone to talk to him non-stop to keep him awake. Can you do it?"
"Listen, where are you going?" Chaim asked the driver. "I need to get to Bat Galim and I'm really late."
"Jump in!" The driver yelled. "I'm going to the hospital in Haifa. I'll take you to Bat Galim. It's on my way! Just get in!"
Chaim got in the back door, sat next to the soldier who was laying catatonic on his back, eyes bolt open eyeballs dancing wildly in their sockets, mouth open totally unable to utter a sound, as the ambulance jetted forward and gained speed, sirens howling.
Chaim tried to get the soldier's attention so he talked about the weather. But it didn't seem to be working, the soldier was fading away, so he changed subjects, sports, news, but nothing worked till he talked about what he himself was interested in; Judaism.
He talked about G-d, the Torah, the commandments, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, while gradually the soldier turned and silently stared at him, open-mouthed, occasionally convulsing or twitching wildly for a second or two but apparently hanging on his every word.
The ambulance raced through red lights, around corners and swerved past traffic. Only once did it slow down to go around a huge traffic jam caused by a truck whose cargo had fallen off…. orange crates! It was the truck that had stopped for him!! Chaim looked briefly out the window and saw the air force soldier that had stolen his place standing helplessly in a sea of oranges on the road… It would be hours until anyone in that huge line would be able to give him a ride.
But the ambulance sped on and Chaim never stopped talking until it came to a screeching halt. The driver turned to Chaim and said. "Here it is! Bat Ganim! Thanks a million! I'll make it alone, its just a few minutes to the hospital! You did a great job."
The ride took one half an hour! Chaim jumped out in time to catch the last bus in his battalion that was pulling out! It was a miracle. He made it! He made the last bus!"
Several years later Chaim was walking down the streets of Tel Aviv when a religious fellow in his twenties stopped him, shook his hand and asked. "Tell me? A few years ago wasn't it you that talked to me in that ambulance? I was in shock and you talked to me? Wasn't it you?"
When Chaim remembered and said yes the fellow hugged him and began crying like a baby. Sobbing aloud and hugging him for dear life.
"You saved me! You saved me!" He repeated, "And I remembered everything you said! Everything! It took me a while but I decided to learn about what you said. You know, about Judaism and the Rebbe, and now I'm a different person! You saved my life!"
By not fighting for his place in the orange truck Chaim got much more than he could possibly dream of! He saved a life and got to his base on time as well.
This answers our questions.
Some religious people think that G-d has to be distant and miraculous and have nothing to do with nature while most non-religious people feel the opposite; they accept only nature and reject anything incomprehensible.
But the fact is that G-d is both totally above AND totally involved in, each and every creation in and aspect of nature.
This is called "Hashgacha Pratit" (detailed control) …. as we saw in our story. On one hand everything was natural; no cars stopped for Chaim Dyan, the air force soldier stole his place, the ambulance happened to pass by and happened to need him etc.
But on the other hand, if we think about it we can see that G-d was intimately involved not only in the general picture but in every detail as well….. in order to have a 'happy' ending.
This is what our Torah portion is telling us; the same G-d who is totally above all; that took us from Egypt and gave us the Torah with awesome miracles, actually cares which animals, birds and fish we eat!
And, in fact, if we take this seriously it is a preparation for one of the essential truths that Moshiach will reveal and teach us to feel. In the language of the prophet Isaiah (11:9) "The world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d".
Namely, that G-d controls, cares about and creates each detail of creation. And, even more important, He cares about what we do with it.
Indeed, this revelation that 'G-d 'fills' the world' will be higher than even the one at Mount Sinai or in the Holy Temple when G-d was revealed only in one place and for a limited time.
Moshiach will reveal the essence of G-d who is above even the spiritual (G-d is not spiritual, rather He CREATES the spiritual).
It all depends on us, as we saw from the beginning of our Torah portion; that through our deeds "There will appear to you the glory of G-d." (9:6).
It's up to us to reject the bad and do just one more good deed, say one more good word or even think one more good thought to see….
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