This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Balak (5770)
This week's Torah portion tells the story of an arch sorcerer named Bilam, who was hired by a king called Balak to curse and destroy the Jews as they were wandering in the desert. Bilam's curses were known to always work, but when he tried them on the Jews for some reason they transformed to the greatest blessings possible.
Joke: "What is a Jewish Holiday? Answer: They tried to destroy us. They failed. Let's rejoice!"
The evil designs of Pharaoh brought us Passover, Haman's plan to annihilate us became the festival of Purim, the attempt of the Greeks to assimilate us produced Chanuka but the curses of Bilam will transform into a perpetual holiday of infinite proportions; the arrival Moshiach!
Moshiach will be a Jew who will bring infinite joy and blessing not just to the Jews but to ALL MANKIND by convincing everyone there is a Creator who loves and helps us. (See Mimonedies, Laws of Kings Chapt. 11-12) Some holiday! And it all began with Bilam who made the clearest prophesies regarding Moshiach.
Does this make sense? Why couldn't G-d just tell Moses about Moshiach, why did such a beautiful prophesy come from such a foul, cursed source?
To explain this, here is a story. (Sefer Toldot, Admor Rayat'z #3 pg 81-85)
The year was 1927. The evil despot Josef Stalin had total control, heart and soul, of the Russian people and was even hailed as saint (his picture, with the caption 'Light to the Nations' hung in many Israeli Kibbutzim). But in fact he was one of the most destructive mass murderers of all time. Through him over 20 million of his own people died in Siberian exile or in prisons throughout the land, secret police were everywhere and children turned in their parents for such 'counter-revolutionary' crimes as praying to G-d or learning Torah.
In this oppressive atmosphere one man stood out like a beacon of light; Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe. Like Abraham, the first Jew thousands of years earlier, he risked everything to advertise the truth: G-d creates us (and the universe) constantly and expects us to live according to His Law - the Torah.
The Rebbe sent his Chassidim (followers), to establish secret Torah schools for children and to encourage the fulfilling of the Commandments throughout Russia often at the cost of their lives. [His father, Rebbe Shalom Dovber who was the Rebbe before him, was quoted, before he passed away in 1920, as saying that although he was able to combat Czarist Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church and the anti-Torah 'enlightenment' movement he felt helpless against the evils of Communism, and gave that task to his son.]
This story occurred as the noose was tightening around the necks of the entire Chabad (Lubavitch) movement. Death, imprisonment, exile and oppression were everywhere but no one really believed it would reach the Rebbe. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak was a gentle, holy, scholarly man, a paradigm of kindness and love that desired only to benefit mankind … it was unthinkable that violence or evil should befall him. How he managed to single-handedly establish and direct his secret Jewish education movement up till 1927 was really quite a miracle in itself, and everyone hoped it would continue.
On the holiday of Purim 1927 the Rebbe made a large festive gathering of Chassidim at his home (which was totally against Russian law). With great trepidation Chassidim began to gather until there were hundreds present in his home. The Rebbe motioned for everyone to sing, make 'L'Chaim' on vodka and sing again then again and again until the spirit of Purim filled his large front room.
But the Rebbe himself was obviously in another world. Serious and awesome, occasionally his face reddened and eyes closed tight in deep thought, at other times tears streamed down his cheeks. Intermittently he spoke for many minutes. The Chassidim were hanging on each word and movement; something was about to happen.
About an hour after the festivities began, three religious Jews entered the room, pulled up chairs and sat at the other end of the long table opposite the Rebbe. They appeared to be genuinely interested but everyone knew who they were; informers that attended every public occasion of the Rebbe to collect incriminating evidence. Usually when they appeared the Rebbe spoke cautiously and with great cunning… careful not to say anything that might endanger anyone. But tonight was Purim… the holiday the Jews defeated the anti-Semitic nation of 'Amelek'.
The joy and singing were great then suddenly, sometime after midnight, the Rebbe stood, removed his coat, opened his shirt, pulled hisTzitzit and undershirt aside, called out to one of those present and, beating on his bare chest with each sentence yelled, "Eli Chaim! I commanded you last year to announce something! I told you to write letters announcing everywhere to all the Jews in Russia and you refused. You see the troubles that befell you because you didn't listen. Now I'm commanding you again and this time you must obey. Advertise everywhere to all the Chassidim, that anyone that sends his children to the Soviet schools will not live out the year!!"
When the Rebbe bared his chest the Chassidim were aghast and his words threw them into total panic! Some of them tried to sing loudly hoping that everyone would join in and make it impossible for the Rebbe to continue but it didn't work. The Rebbe turned to another Chassid and yelled, "Zalman! If they make a huge fire from dried sticks and force you to choose between either sending your child to one of the 'State Schools' or throwing yourself in the fire, do you know what you must do? You must throw yourself into the fire! Do you hear? Throw yourself into the fire!"
Indescribable fear fell over everyone. They all knew that every word would be passed on by the informers to the police. Indeed, the informers were themselves members of the bloodthirsty Yevsektzia; the 'Jewish Section' of Jews devoted to destroying Judaism in general and the Rebbe specifically.
The Rebbe threw a glance at them then turned to the others and said repeatedly, "I know they are here, the Yevsektzia, Yemach Shemam (May they be cursed), but they do not scare me at all!"
When the informers saw the certainty in the Rebbe's eyes they were temporarily confused but quickly regained their composure and became livid with rage. Who was this bearded Jew who dared to speak against the entire Soviet regime!
Pandemonium reigned, the Chassidim began to sing desperately loudly to drown out the Rebbe's words but the Rebbe continued speaking and somehow everyone heard him, "Zalman, if you see the body is burning have no mercy, protect the head."
Then he stood and said,
"I just asked my father (the previous Rebbe who had passed away seven years earlier), 'Will it be as it was with Nicolai? And he answered 'Yes, like Nicolai!'"
He saw that no one understood and continued, "Once Czar Paul decided to test his son, Nicolai the First, by sending him to lead the Russian troops in war games. Nicolai succeeded marvelously but because he rewarded the troops without his father, the king's, permission, his father was forced to exile him from Petersburg, the capital city, for two years."
The Chassidim were beside themselves with confusion and heartbreak. They had never heard the Rebbe speak like this and couldn't take it. Then someone had the idea to bring the Rebbe's mother into the room to beg him to stop.
When the Rebbe saw his mother enter he immediately stood. She begged him to please not exert himself and at least to take a short rest but the Rebbe refused and began weeping,
"Mother, I'm not doing anything on my own, I asked father!"
At this point both of them began crying so deeply that in just moments everyone in the room (except for the informers) was sobbing uncontrollably. Suddenly the Rebbe fainted and had to taken into the next room where, only after great effort, he was brought back to consciousness and the festivities ended.
Exactly three months later his mysterious words about the body burning and 'Like Nikolai' became clear; At two thirty in the morning police from the Yevsektzia burst into his home, arrested him and took him to prison where he was to be unceremoniously murdered that very evening. But miraculously it didn't happen! The orders became confused and he was not killed. Rather he was 'only' beaten, tortured, sentenced to several years of exile in Siberia. Then suddenly and unexplainably he was freed on the 13th of Tammuz some three weeks after his arrest! This was the first 'crack' in the Iron Curtain!
Today Communism is dead and Chabad is alive, teaching Torah in Russia (and the entire world) and almost finished with the work of bringing total world redemption.
But it could only come as a result of transforming evil. Just as Abraham had to 'pass' ten tests of self-sacrifice to transform bad to good, so also Moshiach will only come as a result of such 'self-sacrifice' namely to take example from Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak and CHOOSE, from the essence of our being, to do what G-d wants despite all obstacles.
That is why the prophesies of Moshiach had to come from the curses of Bilam.
The future redemption will not be the same as it was when Moses took the Jews from Egypt. Back then Moses and G-d did it all and very little free will was involved on the part of the Jews (and when it was, they failed miserably). But the future redemption will be the result of our constant choices to TRANSFORM our selfishness to blessings.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe has already announced that all the work has been done. Bilam's curses have already been transformed to blessings! Communism has fallen, throughout the world, especially in Israel, G-d protects the Jews constantly in the most revealed ways from the bombs and missiles of our enemies and the follies of our government.
All that remains is for us to do now is to CHOOSE to do one more good deed, say one more good word or even think one more good thought and we will all see….
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