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Parshat Shlach (5770)

This week's Torah portion contains three commandments: and one of them is "Not to stray after your heart or eyes".

This is one of the few 'constant' commandments that must be observed by all Jews at all times and in all places. [The others are 1. To love G-d 2. to fear G-d 3. to believe in G-d 4. not to believe in anything else 5. To unify G-d.]

It appears at the very end of this week's portion, within the paragraph containing the commandment of "Tzizis" (specially woven strings tied in a special way to the four corners of a garment) "And you should see it (Tzitzis) and not follow your eyes and hearts etc" (15:29)

At first glance there is little connection between them. Resisting the whims and fancies of one's heart and eyes is logical and beneficial while tying strings to one's garment, except for its religious value, seemingly is neither.

And on the other hand, attaching Tzitzis is fairly simple; someone else can even do it for you! While ignoring the frightening and enticing sights dancing before our eyes and the turbulent emotions in our hearts is next to impossible.

But the Torah says clearly that by specifically by looking at the Tzitzits we can do it!

How is this possible?

To understand this, here is a story. (B'Khila weekly #653, Kolot pg 23)

It was hard to believe, but the holy Rabbi and all the elders of the city of Zlotchov had been imprisoned, sentenced to death and were waiting helplessly for the date of execution.

This occurred some 150 years ago in the Ukrainian town of Zlotchov. The name of the Rabbi was not given in the story but what was given is that his arrest was the last in a long series of terrible sufferings he sustained all his life.

In addition to the hunger, poverty and anti Semitism that was the plight of allUkrainian Jewry and the many troubles, sleepless nights and hectic days that were the plight of all Rabbis, something caused him more anguish than all of the above:

Shabtai the butcher.

First let's explain how and why the Rabbi was sentenced to death.

Czarist Russia was perhaps the most fanatically religious country that ever existed. The entire populace, every man woman and child without exception, was Russian Orthodox, including the king and all royalty. The clergy had total control of the souls and bodies of everyone…. except the stubborn Jews. No one succeeded in convincing them to 'accept' the religion of the country.

But Czar Nicolas thought he would succeed. He instituted a policy of 'enticing' Jewish youth into the army where, away from all Jewish influences, they could be taught to see the 'light'. But when this failed totally, he invented 'forced enlistment'. Bands of evil men, most often Jews who knew the 'territory', would enter Jewish villages and towns and simply 'grab' children, often under the age of ten and 'sell' them to the army. These children would often never be seen again but the Jews were helpless to do anything about it; they had no weapons and were not trained to stand against these armed and ready kidnappers.

But when the word got out that a group of these 'grabbers' (Kchapers in Yiddish) had entered the town of Zlotchov it was different; no one knows exactly who but somehow a number of large, heavy objects got thrown off a three story building onto the heads of the invaders killing several, wounding more and scaring away the rest.

But there was a price.

The next day a battalion of police invaded the town, arrested the Rabbi and all the elders and sentenced them to death unless the real murderers turned themselves in.

The poor Rabbi! Everyone was heartbroken! He had suffered so much … and now this.

All the Jews made a meeting to discuss what to do, but without the Rabbi and the elders there was no order or progress, in the confusion someone quipped quietly to the person standing next to him (but, unfortunately, loud enough for others to hear), "At least if the Rabbi gets killed he'll finally be rid of Shabtai!" Everyone around the joker first smiled instinctively but then angrily turned and told him to shut up.

Who and what was this Shabtai the butcher?

Shabtai, the town butcher, was a huge, loudmouthed, coarse fellow who also happened to be the richest Jew in town.

As uncouth as he was, so was he also a shrewd businessman and a born politician who, because of his money and mouth, always had a group of followers that, together with him, transformed the Rabbi's life into hell on earth. Since the Rabbi reprimanded him once about something, Shabtai hated him so that he found in him a hundred faults and talked about them, often in the presence of the Rabbi at high decibels. And so it was day after day without respite.

One of the Rabbi's biggest disappointments came when his holy teacher and mentor Rebbi Moshe Leib of Sassov came to be his guest one Shabbat.

Several months before Rebbe Moshe Lev's visit, Shabtai decided that the town of Zlotchov was too small for him and he would move to the large city of Brod which was not far away.

The Rabbi couldn't believe his ears when he heard that Shabtai was leaving and movers had rolled up to Shabtai's mansion with five wagons, loaded them with all his valuables, furniture, clothes etc. and drove off into the horizon toward the nearby city of Brod with Shabtai and family following.

The Rabbi was happy, G-d had answered his prayers! Could it really be? Shabtai was moving to Brod!! Finally he would be rid of this evil, uncouth troublemaker… it was too good to be true! But several months later just as he beginning to get used to the quiet, he was crushed!

The Rabbi made a large Shabbat meal at his home in honor of his beloved teacher and Rebbe, Rebbi Moshe Lev of Sassov, who came to visit him for the Shabbat. Almost a hundred people were there listening to the Rebbe's holy words when, in the middle of the meal entered none other than…. Shabtai the butcher with his two sons.

The Rabbi looked in horror as the Rebbe told those on either side of him to move, turned to Shabtai and asked him to be seated and, from then on the Rebbe gave the three intruders his undivided attention! He made sure they had wine, meat and everything else they wanted and only when he was sure they were provided for did he ask their permission to continue speaking.

The Rabbi wanted to cry, to scream out, to take his beloved Rebbe aside and ask permission to throw Shabtai out, but before he could, something happened that almost made him faint. Shabtai leaned over to the Rebbe and said in his typical gruff voice, that now that he had moved to Brod he decided he didn't like it there and was considering moving back to Zlotchov! But had his doubts and wanted the Rebbe's blessing for success before making a move.

Immediately the Rebbe became serious, took Shabtai's hand in his and said endearingly, "My friend, I advise you to return here, to Zlotchov" and then proceeded to bless him with success and riches in this world and the next.

The Rabbi was crushed. It couldn't be that his Rebbe was doing this! He certainly knew who this man was and he knew how much trouble he was making… so why was he blessing him?! And why didn't he at least throw in something about not terrorizing the Rabbi of Zlotchov any more?!

Shabtai just thanked the Rebbe, told his sons they were leaving, shot a sneering look at the Rabbi and left. And as soon as he did the Rebbe called our Rabbi, whispered something in his ear about Shabtai and Zlatchov needing each other and assured him that everything would be alright.

But it wasn't.

Shabtai moved back to Zlotchov, re-opened his butcher store, totally ignored the cold reception he received from the Rabbi's supporters and in no time was back to making the poor Rabbi's life pure torture.

That is why people chuckled when the fellow at the meeting said, "At least in heaven the Rabbi will be free from Shabtai."

But it wasn't funny. The days were ticking by. In just two days the execution would take place. Three scaffolds had been built in the town square and it seemed as though the worst would be a reality. The Jews all flocked to their Synagogues to read Psalms and pray to the Almighty for mercy, they needed a big miracle.

The sun shone brightly that morning in a cloudless blue sky. Already at sunrise several tens of people were milling around in the town square, examining the gallows from all sides and trying to talk with the police who were standing like statues there making sure no one came too close. By the time nine o'clock arrived the square was filled with some one thousand bloodthirsty spectators impatiently waiting for the first of the doomed to be brought out.

But then someone came running and announced something. He was all out of breath and it was hard to understand him at first but finally the message got out, "All the prisoners got released! They found the murderers!"

Was it true? Was it a miracle for the Jews? The townspeople were disappointed…or maybe not. After all, there would be entertainment… just with a different cast.

Sure enough; at ten o'clock the first victim was brought out with a hood over his head, led up to the gallows and unceremoniously hung. But where were the rest? The crowd was impatient. The chief of police then got up on the gallows and announced. "That's it! There was only one. He gave a full detailed confession and …. Well… that's it! Now go home."

The next day one of the older members came into the synagogue as everyone was trying to figure out who the hooded man was and announced.

"Shabtai the Butcher!"

"What?!" Everyone said almost in unison. "Yep, it was him alright. He appeared in the police station and confessed. I heard the whole story from the chief. He said Shabtai told them that he really hated the Rabbi but couldn't let him die for a crime he didn't commit. He said that when he saw the kidnappers he saw red, went up on the tallest building and threw the heaviest things he could find down on the 'grabbers' heads. He didn't want them to get his sons. Then to prove his confession, that he did it all alone, he asked to be shown the heavy objects and proceeded to lift them one at a time over his head and throw them quite a distance. He was the murderer for sure!"

So it ended up that Shabtai was a hero! Not only had he saved the Jews from the kidnappers but he also gave his life to save that of the Rabbi although he was his sworn enemy;.

But a few days later a frightening thing happened. Several young men appeared in town, went to the Rabbi's house and asked him if it was true that someone had been hung for what they did!!

It seems that they had been visiting in the town at the time the kidnappers invaded and being young and strong, they decided to fight back. So they went up on that roof and threw the objects down on them. But then afterwards they ran away and hid in the forest till now and weren't even aware that the Rabbi and the elders had been taken prisoner or that Shabtai had been killed in their place.

Now the Rabbi understood what Rebbe Moshe Lev had whispered to him back then on Shabbat, "More than Shabtai needs Zlotchov you'll see that Zlotchov needs Shabtai".

Shabtai was even more than a hero… he was a saint.

This explains our questions. The commandment of Tzitzis is to take specially made strings that are of the same material as the garment and hang them on the corners of the garment.

This has deep Kabalistic meaning. The garment signifies the Creator who encompasses all. The strings represent the entire creation which, as complicated and diverse as it is (just like the strings are separated), comes from and is REALLY the same 'stuff' as the Creator and has no independent existence of it's own.

This is what we are supposed to think when we look at these Tzitzis strings: that G-d is king and creator of all being constantly. And when we remember constantly that the world is G-d's, it will be impossible for it to frighten, entice, anger, worry or overpower us in any way.

Then we will NEVER stray after our eyes or our heart.

Just like Shabtai in our story; the world did not frighten or confuse him at all and he was willing to throw his entire life away to save others; because he suddenly realized that it and he himself are all miracles from G-d.

This should be our lesson; to remember that the Creator has a plan for His creation; He wants a world free of hatred, fear, disease, ignorance, famine and evil. But it will only happen when Moshiach comes to teach all the Jews to realize the lesson of Tzitzis and not allow their eyes and hearts to confuse them.

But this will only occur totally when Moshiach arrives. Meanwhile it is up to us to make it happen even one instant earlier.

It depends on each of us; even one person can tilt the scales with one good word, deed or even thought and we will all rejoice with ……

Moshiach NOW!

Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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