This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.
Parshat Acharei-Kedoshim (5770)
This week's reading begins with the service of the High Priest (Cohen Gadol) in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur where he secured G-d's forgiveness for the sins of all the Jews. This is not so clear - how can one person make G-d forgive the sins of others?
Also, this week's double Torah portion contains 76 of the 613 commandments and one of them is "You shall love your friend as yourself." (19:18) which many consider to be the most important commandment in the entire Torah. (See Rashi there)
At first this is also not so clear. Why is this commandment so important? And if it is so important, then why are there so many other commandments that divide between the more and less religious and make it hard to love them?
Also it's not so clear exactly what does it mean to love others "AS yourself". For instance, if I love to eat hot peppers does that mean I should make everyone else eat hot peppers? Why doesn't the Torah explain?
To understand this, here is a story. (Sichat HaShavua #1214)
Over three hundred years ago a awful and frightening thing happened in Judaism. For the first time in 3,000 years since they received the Torah at Mt. Sinai some Jews actually stopped believing that G-d exists!
Up to then the Jews had their problems with G-d for sure. They doubted G-d's power, His love, His care, His presence. They rebelled against Moses, King David and the prophets when they tried to teach them differently. But NEVER did Jews totally deny G-d's existence…..until the arrival of the 'enlightenment' movement when Jews (like Spinoza) began preaching that only nature REALLY exists.
Such a Jew was Itzi (Short for Yitzchak). He had been born in a religious home but shortly after his Bar Mitzva party he began chumming around with gentiles, became 'enlightened', stopped doing the commandments and by the time he was 16 had left home and was 'free'.
Paradoxically instead of G-d punishing him, as his parents had warned, the business he formed with one of his gentile friends succeeded tremendously and by the time he was in his twenties he was already a millionaire with a mansion, servants, properties, forests and more. The world was his and Judaism was no more than a bone in his throat.
He hated religion but most of all he hated the Chassidic 'Rebbes'. He could find some justification for the 'normal' 'paranoiac' Rabbis who stressed heaven and hell but the Chassidic Rebbes taught that we can and must reveal G-d, HERE in this world! As far as Itzi was concerned this was blatant charlatanism and an obvious lie. How can one reveal G-d if there is no such thing!!!
So you can imagine Itzi's glee when he heard that a well known group of actors was presenting a satirical stage play on the famous Chassidic Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev. And to add fuel to the fire it was to be staged on the coming Shabbat in the theater in the city of, of all places, Berditchev!! In other words they would be making a fool of this 'Rebbe' in his own back yard!!
Itzi had to see this! He couldn't miss it! He loved theater and hated Rebbes! Two birds with one stone! He bought a front balcony seat and looked impatiently forward to Saturday.
Friday arrived. Early that afternoon Itzi told his driver to prepare his carriage for the trip from Brod, where he lived, to Berditchev. Itzi was dressed in his very best, filled with anticipation. But as they neared the city suddenly a genius thought popped into his mind. He could do something all the gentiles in the crowd could never do!! See the Rebbe!!
He heard from someone that the "Shul" (Synagogue) was just one street from the theater, he could go to there, see the Rabbi at his prayers, which the Chassidim make a big production of, and make it back in plenty of time before the play. Then he would really appreciate the humor!
Itzi fixed his tie, straightened his hat, stood erect and entered the Synagogue. He found a prayer book and stood in the crowd like everyone else. He felt a bit out of place in his colorful suit and hat among the black garbed Chassidim but it didn't seem to bother anyone. Suddenly the room became silent and all eyes turned to the door. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak entered. He walked hurriedly to the podium in the front of the Shul, raised his hands to heaven and said in a loud clear voice,
"Master of the Universe! All your heavenly emanations, formations and creations are singing praises to your awesome name! Now I, your lowly servant Levi Yitzchak the son of Sara Sasha, want to also praise you!" And then he began to sing the fist lines of the Shabbat prayers.
Suddenly Itzi lost his identity. All the experiences, successes, thoughts, words and deeds since his Bar Mitzva seemed to peel off, paper thin, and fade into nothing. He became lost in the beauty, power, longing, depth and fullness of each word the Tzadik (totally holy Jew) sang. It was as though he entered a time tunnel where there was no past or future.
An hour later when the prayers finished and the Synagogue emptied out Itzi approached the gabbai (sexton) who was waiting to lock up, and asked if he could find him a place for the Shabbat meals. He made up a story about how his wagon broke down and he got stuck in a hotel with no kosher food etc.
The Gabbai didn't believe him but didn't show it. He invited him to his home where Itzi, deep in thought, just picked silently away at his food and after the meal he took him back to the Shul where Rebbe Levi Yitzchak was sitting before several tens of his Chassidim singing and occasionally interrupting with words of Torah. Itzi sat down and just stared at the Rabbi till 2 a.m. when the Rabbi stood and left the room.
That night Itzi did not sleep. He sat in the Shul until dawn, then he just waited for the Rabbi to enter and then gazed at him throughout the Morning Prayers until the moment he left. That evening, when the Shabbat was over, Itzi, approached the holy Rabbi and asked if he could have a word with him.
Hundreds of times in his life Itzi had felt certain and followed his hunches, but never had he ever been more certain of anything as he was now. It was as he had woken from a dream. Up to now he imagined that he himself was god but in fact the great, rich, atheistic Itzi was, nothing more than a mere creation. G-d is creating him constantly! It was obvious! The Creator loves him infinitely more than he could ever love himself.
And somehow looking at this Chassidic Rabbi made him feel all this!
He asked the Rabbi if he could prescribe a path of 'tshuva' (lit. return) for him for his sins.
"What sins have you done?" Rabbi Levi Yitzchak asked.
"What HAVE I done!? Better ask which sins haven't I done." He replied.
"Except for murder and a few others I've done almost all of them."
Tears began to cloud Itzi's eyes.
"If so," The Tzadik answered "You have to become a totally different person; someone that has never sinned. Go back home, sell all your possessions, give half to the poor and then come back here."
Itzi was afraid. He figured that if he went back to Brod his friends would think he was crazy, and scoff at him until he changed his mind and never return to Braditchiv. But it wasn't so; either because of the blessing of the Tzadik or because it was all simply paranoia....no one said a word to him.
In a week's time Itzi returned to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and returned to Jewish consciousness. In time he married, and lived to see children and children's children living a life of Torah and Mitzvot.
This answers our questions.
The purpose of the Torah and the Jews is to reveal the good hidden in each creation of G-d. And the only way to do this is through love. Love, if directed properly according to the Torah, reveals the 'spark of holiness' in everything.
That is what happened in our story. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, who was renowned for his unquestioning, total love for all humanity, brought out the good in Itzi just by being the positive person he was, available to everyone who needed him.
That was also the secret the High Priest. He brought forgiveness for the sins of the entire Jewish people through love. As the Mishnah says about Aaron, the first Cohen and founder of the Priesthood, "He loved the creations and brought them close to the Torah' (Avot 1:12). Namely he loved even people like Itzi whose only saving grace was that G-d created them, and revealed the good in them through the Torah.
And when this saving grace was revealed, G-d forgave them.
This is the lesson to each of us. The Torah teaches that everyone and every creation is basically good. As King Solomon said "All her (the Torah's) ways are pleasant and her paths are peace' (Prov. 3:17).
But only on the condition that there is love; that we use the power of the Torah to see the good in everyone and have faith that this good exists. (For instance, how the Lubavitcher Rebbe taught that all Jews want to do the commandments of the Torah… if asked with love.)
But we must put this Torah love into action; one good deed, word or even thought (as we saw in our story) can transform the entire world and bring the total redemption of all mankind with ….
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.