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 Pinchas (5770)
This week's Torah reading begins with the adventures of a simple Jew called Pinchas, who, due to one deed of self-sacrifice, saved the entire Jewish nation from destruction.
As a reward G-d arranged it that:
1) He became a Cohen (priest) which is usually an inherited quality (only son's of priests can be priests).
2) He receive a "Covenant of Peace."
3) According to the Zohar (B :190) he will become Elijah the prophet and usher in 'Moshiach' (the true Messiah) who will 'build' the third Temple, gather the Jews to Israel and teach the gentiles true faith etc.
That is why in this week'sHaftora (a portion, usually from the prophets, read aloud in Synagogue after the Torah reading with a similar theme as the Torah portion,) G-d tells the prophet Jeremiah (1:5) "I have made you a prophet to the gentiles" i.e. just as Pinchas-Elijah will transform the gentiles.
But at first glance this is not understood. The Torah is a practical 'work book' that teaches (Torah means teaching) us how to make ourselves and this world work properly.
If so, what does all this mean to us? Surely we are not at the level of Pinchas, Elijah, Jeremiah and certainly not Moshiach! How can we save and change the entire world?
To understand this, here is a story. (HaK'hila12thTammuz, Kolotpg. 31)
Rabbi Yhoshua Heshelof Apta, called the Apta Rebbe, was once riding in his carriage back from an important meeting when he noticed a man standing in the road in the far distance, apparently a religious Jew, waving his hands as though trying to flag him down.
He ordered the driver to approach cautiously as it could be a robber or a trick and as he did the man began screaming and yelling at the carriage, "Rebbe? Apta Rebbe? Rebbe! Is it you?? Save me!! Help!!"
The Rebbe told the driver to stop a distance from the man and wait to see what happened. When the carriage stopped the poor fellow ran to it, weeping and sobbing loudly from the depths of his heart, fell to his knees on the dusty road and began begging and pleading for the Rebbe to help him.
The Rebbe finally opened his carriage door, got the fellow to calm down, stop weeping, and tell his sad story.
It seems this Jew rented an inn on the properties of the local Baron and, although he had several years of relative success in which he was able to pay the rent, for the last ten years business had been so poor that he had no money to even support his family who was forced to live off stale bread and rotten potatoes, and even that was running low.
Now the Baron was threatening him with imprisonment, his family was starving and he needed a sheer miracle. That's why he turned to the Rebbe! He heard that the Apta Rebbe, like Moses thousands of years ago, could take Jews from even the worst situations 'Egypt'.
Right then and there the Rebbe did it! He stuck his hand in his pocket, pulled out a small pouch and unceremoniously emptied its entire contents into the trembling hand of the poor Jew, who we will call Avraham. Just moments ago a rich man had given him this bag of money sum to distribute to the poor!
But when Avraham counted this miracle money and saw that it added up to three hundred guilder; a small fortune, he was broken. It was like a drop in the ocean. He needed several THOUSAND guilder!! The Baron would kill him!!
"Rebbe!" He groaned, clasping his hands to heart in supplication! "Rebbe, I thank you with all my broken heart but what I need is a blessing! A very big blessing!" And he held out the money for the Rebbe to take and began to weep.
The Rebbe fell silent for a few minutes and then repeated quietly but loud enough for Avraham to hear. "Aha! Now I understand. Hmmm, now I understand." He took the money back and explained.
"You want a blessing? Well, if you really want it I think you'll get it. Let me tell you a story. About a year ago I was approached by a poor Jew who begged me to preside over his wedding ceremony. At first I refused, after all there are a lot of very qualified Rabbis and I had a lot of very important work to do and my every second was precious. But something told me it really meant a lot to him, that I should forget about myself and that G-d would give me the time back somehow. So I agreed. Believe me I don't know why, but only on the condition that I not participate in the ensuing festivities but rather a swift carriage would be arranged to take me there and immediately back.
The Jew happily agreed and, sure enough, shortly before the wedding a carriage with four huge horses whisked me off to the ceremony and in short order I arrived and finished what I had to do.
But just as I was turning to leave they begged me to just wait a 'few seconds', make a 'L'Chaim' and bless the family of the bride and groom. But when I did that they all began to actually cry and beg me to just stay a few minutes for the meal … that it would give them such pleasure and it meant so much to them etc. etc
"I don't know why I agreed. I had so much work to do at home. I wanted to just refuse and remind them of our agreement but I didn't. I stayed, washed my hands for bread, ate a bit, blessed everyone, even said a short speech and then apologized that my carriage was waiting and I had to leave.
"But as soon as I said that, a group of the groom's friends approached me and begged that I stay just five minutes more and see the play they had been working on for months in honor of the newlywed couple.
"I tried to refuse but before I knew it the players took their places and, seeing that it was important to them, I watched.The fact is I had never seen a play in a wedding and even considered stopping it but I watched. First of all it was hard to remember they were actors, they did excellent jobs to the point that it was like watching the real thing.
"The play was about a trial. The judge sat austerely listening to the pleas of first a simple Jew and then of an aristocratic snobbish noble. The noble claimed that the Jew owed him several years of rent and he demanded that the Jew either pay up in full or be sent to jail with his family until someone paid for him.
"The Jew, on the other hand, claimed that the noble had tricked him into believing the inn would be profitable when in fact it was a pure waste of time and energy.
"The impassioned performances by both sides were fascinating." The Apta Rebbe continued "But I kept asking myself 'what does this have to do with the wedding? Or with me? Why am I seeing this?"
"Anyway the judge in the play, after hearing both sides, deliberated loud enough for all to hear and finally brought his gavel thundering down on the desk before him and announced …… that the Jew was totally innocent and exempt from all payment!
"Of course the groom and all the wedding guests cheered and applauded with glee and everyone thought the play was over. But then an unexpected thing happened; the Jew in the play stood, cleared his throat and demanded in an angry, loud voice that he wanted money.
"Because he had worked for ten years for nothing and suffered, together with his family, hunger, cold and humiliation…. he wanted the noble to pay him damages! He demanded that he be given the entire inn and all the land around it!
"The 'noble' stood to his full height, fuming with anger and screaming threats and curses like, 'impudent serf! worthlessdog! Insolent Jew! 'Then suddenly he fell silent and all the actors turned to me and asked in unison,
"'And what does our holy guest, the Rebbe of Apta, say?'"
"I was half amused and half surprised by how the play jumped off the stage to me! So I thought for a moment and played along. I announced 'The Jew is right! The nobleman must pay in full!!" Everyone answered 'Amen!!' began laughing, clapping and making ' L'chiams'.
"I hurriedly made the blessing after eating, wished everyone well, shook hands with them all, ran to the carriage and in an hour was back home. My conscience bothered me terribly over the time I wasted at that wedding especially over that play. What childish frivolity! But I consoled myself that at least I made the newlyweds and the guests happy.
"This was over a year ago and I had totally forgotten it" concluded the Rebbe to Avraham, "but just now it just popped into my mind and I have a feeling that it relates to your case. Let's wait a few days and see."
Avraham returned home empty handed but full of alternately hope … and fear. The date was approaching! What if he wasn't deserving of a miracle? But on the other hand he heard that trust in G-d makes miracles happen…. so he tried his best to only think positive thoughts.
Early the next morning there was a knock at the door, a loud knock, only the Baron knocked like that! Avrhaham looked at his wife, took a deep breath, straightened his jacket and opened the door.
It was the Baron all right, but he had a strange look on his face. "Please come in honorable Baron." Avraham said, "You camea bit early...a few days. I'm just getting the rent together, if your majesty could only….. "
But the Baron didn't seem interested in rent. He seemed terribly worried about something else. Avraham invited him to sit down, poured him a small glass of brandy and a large glass of water. The Baron drank both, motioned for silence and began to talk.
"Listen my friend, here, see this?" He took out an official looking document, put it on the table and continued, "Several years ago I got involved in a crime, it's not important what. The trial has drawn out until now but yesterday it ended and I was sentenced to seven years in prison. They gave me a day to put my things in order. Now, you know that I never married and have no family and so, well, I got to thinking and, well, I decided that I'm not a young man and, well, if anything happens to me, instead of the government taking possession of all my properties I figured, well, you have a family and, to tell you the truth, you are the most honest man I know. So that's what this document is for, it's a deed to all my lands from now on … and for ever if I don't come back. And, of course you can forget what you owe me. What do you say?"
Of course Avraham agreed, took the deed and neither he nor anyone he knew ever saw the Baron again. The Rebbe's 'blessing' came true.
This answers our questions.
The way the Apta Rebbe changed the situation from tragedy to joy was by just going out of himself and letting G-d take over. Rather that attending that wedding he wanted to sit home and learn Torah. But because he 'let go' for someone else's sake (according to the Torah of course) and had patience and trust that something good would come of it … something good DID happen ..G-d transformed disaster to blessing. And so we too have the power to change the world around us.
Perhaps this is best stated in this week's Haftora, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe points out ( Lekuti Sichot#18 pg 342). When G-d tells Jeremiah he will be a messenger to the world Jeremiah refuses saying that "I don't know because I'm just a child" whereupon G-d answers. "Don't fear because I'm with you!" And earlier G-d told him, "I knew you before you were formed."
In other words, true even a holy person like Jeremiah can never succeed alone, but G-d is promising here that He will be him and with EACH OF US, giving us power, joy and success if we decide to improve the world as best as we can. Indeed, it was for that purpose that G-d formed us!!
That is the message of Pinchas. Even one simple Jew, if he/she does what is necessary according to the Torah and is even willing to change one's own nature (sometimes our 'nature' can be our biggest obstacle) then G-d CERTAINLY will help and give everything necessary for success.
Indeed, this 'self sacrifice' for the sake of love and truth is what will transform each of us to a sort of Elijah the prophet who will announce world peace and redemption from all problems.
It all depends on us to make it happen even one second sooner. One more good deed, word or even thought can tip the scale and bring....
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.