This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Naso (5770)
This week's Torah portion (incidentally, the longest in the book) contains eighteen commandments and one of them is confessing sins to G-d. (5:7).
Of course the Torah is not implying that empty "Lip service" is sufficient (Like the story of the man who confessed a sin to the priest who then advised him to put $100 dollars in the charity box and be forgiven. The absolved sinner appropriately handed over $100 but then added another $900 and explained; "It's an advance payment for the next nine sins.")
Rather all confessions must be accompanied by true change of heart; genuine remorse over the past and resolution to improve the future. These are the MAIN elements of 'retuning to G-d' and even the sin offerings in the time of the Holy Temple were meaningless without them.
The confession is only secondary. Or is it?
If it's not so important then why does the Torah explicitly mention only confession here but leaves remorse and resolution to be implied!? It seems to be saying that words are most important than feelings! But that can't be! Certainly saying 'I'm sorry' to G-d cannot be more important than really BEING sorry!
Even more, it is not so clear why we have to confess at all! G-d creates us every instant anew and certainly knows what we feel and think without us telling Him? If so, why confess? And why does the Torah make it so important?!
To understand this, here is a story that my wife heard just a week ago.
Chabad is a group consisting of perhaps several tens of thousands of religious Jews that follow the teachings of a very great leader named Rebbi M.M. Shneerson that some compare to Moses, others to King Solomon.
These 'Chassidim' (followers) believe that it's possible to transform this world into a heaven on earth and reveal all the good hidden in mankind. But it depends on first getting all the Jews in the world to believe in the Creator and observe His Torah.
To this end The Rebbe told his followers to make 'Chabad Houses' everywhere that Jews might be found and one of these followers is the hero of our story; a young eighteen year old fellow in Maryland by the name of Mordechai.
Maryland was Mordechai's home state and one summer, just a year or two ago, when he was on break from his learning schedule, he took upon himself several 'outreach' projects one of which was in a home for the aged near his home town.
Everyday he went there for a few hours, spoke to people, made them laugh, gave them an inspiring word or two and tried to encourage the Jewish residents to put on Tefillin (two small leather boxes containing four Bible paragraphs written on parchments. One box is strapped to the arm and the other to the head). And he succeeded with everyone except for Joe (fictitious name).
Joe was a very unpleasant, bitter man, perhaps in his late seventies, who, when he did talk which was rarely, never had a good word for anyone or anything.
Every time Rabbi Mordechai asked Joe to do anything he received a barrage of angry curses and bitingly sarcastic remarks. At first Mordechai figured that he would ignore the negativity and just reply with a smile and a kind word… maybe Joe just needed a little tenderness. But it failed totally. As soon Joe heard the first syllable he would give it to poor Mordechai full broadsides.
"Get outa here! Take your Judaism and jump in the lake! Keep away from me! I'll call the police if you don't leave me alone! Get lost!!" and "Drop dead!!" were a few of the nicer ones.
So Rabbi Mordechai tried to ignore him totally, but that was also painful; old Joe wouldn't even nod hello or say good morning and every time Mordechai passed him by he would just utter a loud grunt and wave him away with his hand without even looking up. And then there were the few times that Mordechi forgot and requested him to put on Tefillin, suddenly all perdition again broke loose!
After a few months of this it just so happened that one day Mordechai entered the building and found himself all alone with Joe in the large room.
Mordechai saw this as his chance to make amends. He walked over to Joe, told him he was sorry if he made him mad, pointed out that he was trying to leave him alone, and made a request. "Please, don't curse and scream at me. If, for some reason I happen to forget and ask you then, please, just say 'no' and I'll get the point. Why do you have to scream?"
Joe looked up, stared at him for a few seconds and said "You want to know?" He motioned to Mordechai to pull up a chair, waited for him to sit down, leaned forward and spoke in a raspy voice. "You want to know? Okay, I'll tell you. Want to know why I yell? Well, good, I'll tell you why. Are you listening? Good, then listen."
Joe looked around to make sure they were alone, cleared his throat and began. "When I was a boy in Poland over sixty years ago, I was just twelve years old when the Nazis, Yemach Shemum (may their names be erased), came into our town. They rounded up all the Jews and took us away to Auschwitz and other places. I never saw my mother and sisters again. I heard they all got killed. But me and my father they took to Auschwitz. Ever been to Auschwitz? Well I was there…. Auschwitz…... me and my father. There were thousands of Jews there. The Nazis put us, packed us into bunkers. My father was a religious man but he didn't have Tefillin. Maybe the Germans took them or something but anyway, there was only one person in our barracks that had one Tefillin box, the one for the head and everyone took turns putting it on. Then one day my father says to me, 'Yosef', that's my Hebrew name, he said, 'Yosef, tomorrow will be your Bar Mitzva. I want you to put on a full set of Tefillin, you know, the head box and the one for the arm too.
"He said that there was someone in the next barracks that had a full set, or maybe he said there were two sets, anyway he said he was going to get them for me. He knew it was dangerous to leave the barracks; that the Germans just shot people. But the fact is that others did make it from one barracks to the other and my father was in good shape; he was still strong and quick. So that day, between the changing of the guard, that was the best time… there was about five minutes open… my father ducked down, ran out to the other barracks got the bag of Tefillin and made it back. I watched from the window. He ran like a cat, all hunched up. But just as he reached the stairs and started to go up there was a shot from somewhere far away and my father fell over on his side. He fell over. Then another shot and another one, and each time my father's body shook. I saw it with my two eyes. He got killed because of those Tefillin. He might have survived. But he didn't because of the Tefillin. So that is why I don't put them on."
Mordechai dried his eyes, lifted his hands in surrender and said, "Okay! You're right! I'm sorry. I won't ask you again. Okay? I promise. But can I say hello sometimes? Okay, you know what? I won't say anything. If you want then you say hello. Okay? I'm sorry!"
And so it remained for another month ………… until the crisis:
One of the other Jews there had a Yahrzeit (the anniversary of the death) for his father and wanted to say 'Kaddish' (a Hebrew prayer to merit the dead) which is said only in presence of a 'minyan' (a group of ten Jews or more) and they were lacking…. one Jew! There were only nine Jews.
Mordechai knew what he had to do. The only Jew he would find in this area of Maryland was…. Joe. He approached Joe, apologized humbly for breaking his promise, said he'd understand if the answer was no and explained the situation. Joe thought for a few seconds, stood up and surprisingly said "Alright, I guess for a Kaddish it's alright."
He joined the group, looking occasionally in the prayer book, answering Amen, when necessary, occasionally crying and mostly trying to look not-interested. But the words of the Kadish prayer seemed to move him.
After the minyan he asked Mordechai to come with him back to his place. When they got there he opened his clothes closet, pulled open one of the drawers, took out an old cloth bag and gave it to Mordechai. "My father's Tefillin. I never put them on, never. But I didn't give them away either. I kept them. In the barracks in Auschwitz. I let other people put them on, but I didn't put 'em on. I couldn't. But I kept them. Now I want to start putting them on, I think it would make my father happy if I did that. Show me what to do."
Joe passed away a few months later. Mordechai went to the funeral and afterwards a woman approached him and introduced herself as Joe's daughter. She said that every time she came to visit her father he would tell her that the Rabbi, namely Mordechai, had just left. She concluded, "I want to thank you. You should know that these last few months of his life were the happiest that he ever had. He was always so miserable about the Holocaust and his father. But from the time he began putting on those Tefillin he blossomed like a flower. He said it made him a new man."
This answers our questions.
The commandment of confession is, in effect, DOING something good to counterbalance bad deeds of the past. Of course attitude is essential; if one doesn't really regret sins and resolve to never repeat them then certainly all declarations of repentance are empty.
But here the Torah is reminding us that the MAIN reason we repent is not merely to change ourselves and refrain from evil but rather…. to change the entire WORLD by ADDING good deeds. And that is the purpose of confession; moving our lips and tongue, saying the words of repentance aloud and thus bring our change of heart ….. into DEED.
Something like how, in our story, when Joe heard the actual words of Kaddish it changed him and finally brought that change into action; putting on the Tefillin.
The Rebbe assured us many times that our generation is that of the Messiah who will bring peace, plenty, meaning, blessing and joy to all creation. But it all depends on US to make it happen just one moment sooner.
Good intentions aren't enough. Action is essential! One good DEED or even WORD can tilt the scales and ACTUALLY bring…
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