This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Devarim (5770)
This Shabbat is called Shabbat Chazon (Sabbath of vision) and in it we read the first portion in the book of Deuteronomy where Moses, a month before he dies, reprimands the Jews before they enter the land of Israel for all the sins and transgressions they did during the previous 40 years of wandering in the desert.
But at first glance this is not understood.
The word ‘Torah’ means ‘teaching. What importance does this have to us today how the Jews sinned over 3,300 years ago?? Why not just let bygones be bygones?
And why didn’t Moses let bygones go by? Why chastise the Jews before they entered Israel? Why not just bless them on their new endeavor? After all, they were about to enter the Holy Land, wouldn’t this itself have a positive effect on them?
Maybe we can say that this negative message is appropriate to this Shabbat because it comes just few days before the saddest date in the year “Tisha (the 9th) of Av” when we mourn the destructions (because of our sins) of the First and Second Temples.
But, in fact this Shabbat is not so sad. It is called Shabbat ‘Chazon’ because after reading the Torah we read a portion (HafTorah) called Chazon Yeshayhu (1:1) and, as Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Braditchiv explained, we can get a ‘vision’ (Chazon) of the Third Temple waiting in ‘heaven’ to be brought down by Moshiach (Messiah).
To understand this, here is a story. (HaGeula weekly page #524)
A few years ago Greece was not a good place to be. Angry, violent mobs with grievances to the government set to the streets, destroyed property, set fires, rioted and battled the police and bedlam reigned.
Vacationers shunned the place, trips, hotel reservations and plane tickets were cancelled but for Rabbi Yoel Kaplan, the Chabad Representative in Sloniki Greece it was just another major challenge.
Rabbi Kaplan thrived on the unusual. His home, like all the hundreds of Chabad Houses throughout the world, was open to the public 24/7 with the hope of helping Jews, Judaism and, thereby, the entire world. And that required expecting the unexpected.
In the days of the rioting there was nothing to do, it was impossible to leave his house. And even weeks after the rioting ceased signs of vandalism were everywhere and tension filled the air but the Rabbi tried to resume his normal activities.
It wasn’t easy; there were no tourists, Jews included, and after all the violence it seemed wise for him to just stay indoors for a few more weeks but he had a job to do… maybe there was even one Jew out there and then there were some things that were pressing …. like going to the post office to get his mail which was a daily necessity.
But even such a seemingly simple task was fraught with danger. The post office was located in a part of downtown that was a youth hangout and had been hit the hardest by violence.
There were days that he took side roads to get there and used the back entrance, which meant a serious detour and time loss, just to avoid trouble.
But one day he was running late and forgot to worry for trouble. He headed straight for the post office but as he neared his goal he began to regret it. A group of about ten mean-looking fellows, some of them with tattooed arms, punk hairdos and other bizarre and frightening decorations were staring at him with hatred in their eyes. His full beard, black hat, long black coat and entire Jewish demeanor were like a red flag before a maddened bull and he was a sitting duck for their frustrations.
He should have turned back, taken an alternate route and avoided them but something told him to just keep walking. From afar he heard the curses they directed at him first in Greek then, because they knew he spoke English, in English; all of them anti-Semitic.
He had experienced Greek anti-Semitism before. Usually he just ignored it but for some reason this time he glanced up, raised one hand and, as he got closer, said in as friendly a tone as possible “Hello, good morning!”.
“Someone talking to you?!” the biggest of them replied sarcastically as the others got ready for some action.
Suddenly the Rabbi realized something. Just like Abraham, the first Jew, some 4,000 years earlier was alone in his quest to bring meaning into a hostile world, but trusted G-d to protect him (therefore we pray to ‘The Shield of Abraham’) so this same ‘G-d of Abraham’ would protect him now.
He smiled and said, “Maybe you weren’t talking to me… but you certainly are talking about my people.”
“That’s right Jew!” The young man replied with burning venom laced with terms not fit to print, “About your cursed nation of thieves, liars and cheaters we certainly were talking. And we’ll keep talking until you are exterminated etc.”
The smile did not depart from Rabbi Kaplan’s face as he calmly replied, “You look like intelligent people. You have no reason to hate me or any other Jew. In fact, if you knew the truth I’m sure you wouldn’t treat any of us badly.”
This was too much for the ‘leader’. He was livid with anger as he made a fist, held it before the Rabbi’s face and said, “I’m an experienced boxer. Unless you want to taste a few of these you’d better get away as fast and far as possible and don’t come back!”
Rabbi Kaplan realized that things were about to get out of hand, so he calmly turned to the others, blessed them warmly with a good day and good news and continued on to the post office.
But after he finished his business there and left the building something told him not to take a detour back home, rather to return the same way he came… through the crowd. After all, he was only here to do good; the same G-d of Abraham that protected him on his way here would protect him on his way back.
But this time when he passed the group something unexpected happened, they were quiet. He again blessed them with a good day and all of them answered “Same to you.”
He continued walking and the ‘boxer’ that had threatened him previously approached him and stuck out his hand. “I want to apologize for what we said before. We thought about it and decided that you are right. We really know nothing about the Jews. Must be that we were affected by the media or what people say.”
The Rabbi shook his hand, smiled and said. “Apology accepted. The fact is you should never judge anyone before knowing them and for sure you shouldn’t hate anyone just because of their opinions. Here” Said Rabbi Kaplan as he took a calling card from his wallet and handed it to the ‘boxer’, “if you ever want to talk over a cup of coffee … on me!”
If the Rabbi had doubts about talking to these people in the first place all of them melted away. Finally he would have a chance to dispel some of the hatred in the streets and maybe convince some of those fellows to live better lives.
A few days later he got a phone call. “Hey Rabbi, my name is Alexandros remember me? I’m the fellow you gave your card to the other day. You know, the boxer. Were you serious about that cup of coffee? If so, I’m right outside your house.
Rabbi Kaplan was pleasantly surprised and in just moments he was introducing Alexandros to his wife and children. But then they sat down and the conversation began. His visitor had good questions and was a great listener but eventually, at the third or fourth cup of coffee, when the topic of ‘Who is a Jew’ came up and the Rabbi explained that only someone with a Jewish mother, or genuinely converts to Judaism, is considered a Jew, Alexandros got serious and began making interesting calculations. “Mother? What about Father? What about grandmother? What about grandfather’s mother? What about grandmother’s mother?”
He thought about it for a few seconds and announced that his maternal grandmother once told him that she had once been …………..Jewish.
Indeed, she had even been observant but in the war, after her husband and children were taken and murdered by the invading Germans she ran and hid in the mountains for several years and figuring that all the Jews had been killed and she would be too if anyone found out, when she returned to civilization, she married a gentile and began going to church.
Shortly thereafter she gave birth to a baby girl who grew up and married a religious Greek Orthodox man and their first child was…… Alexandros!
Alex was Jewish.
He even took the Rabbi to visit his aged grandmother where she verified the story and even agreed to put a Mezuzah on her home.
Suddenly Alex transformed from one who knew nothing about Jews ….. to being one. He even agreed to put on Tefillin for the first time in his life and every day thereafter.
This answers our questions. Why did Moses reprimand the Jews and why are we reading about it thousands of years later.
Moses was really giving the Jews a very important lesson in life; don’t try to be the King of the Universe; leave that up to G-d.
The reason that the Jews sinned: worshiped the golden calf, refused to enter Israel, complained about the Manna and demanded water and why thousands of years later the Two Temples were destroyed, anti-Semitic religions, governments and philosophies were invented and, indeed, that all mankind suffer war, disease, and poverty today is………….
because people don’t want to do what they are created to do; connect to and be partners with their Creator.
So that is why the Torah is telling us this now; so that our generation will be different: and not make the same mistakes as the previous ones.
We can be the ones to make a perfect world.
And that is why this Shabbat we can ‘see’ the Third Temple ready to take its place in Jerusalem. In order to encourage and remind us that this goal is MUCH closer than we think.
That is the reason we must be happy this Shabbat, because we get a ‘glimpse’ of this potential within ourselves. But we must also remember the secret of happiness is …… by being partners with the Almighty and acting, speaking and thinking positively.
As Rabbi Kaplan did in our story he did his best to improve the world and HaShem (G-d) did the rest … miracles!
This is the goal of Judaism, Abraham began it and it will be accomplished totally by Moshiach.
Moshiach will be the one that actually makes it all happen. Just as Moses took the Jews from Egypt, David fought their battles and Solomon built the Temple. So will Moshiach rebuild the Third Temple, gather the Jews to Israel and bring world peace, health, joy and prosperity.
But it is up to US to get the message. We can bring ‘the Redemption’ even one second earlier and save the world from ignorance and suffering.
All we need is to do is add one more good deed, word or even thought and we will see the real Third Temple NOW with
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