This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Va'etchanan (5770)
This week’s Torah portion comes immediately after the saddest ‘holiday’ (see Lam. 1:15) in the Jewish year, Tisha B’Av, when we commemorated the fact that G-d destroyed the First and Second Temples (and not the Jewish people), and we pleaded with G-d to bring Moshiach to build the Third Temple and return the Jews to The Holy Land for good.
Accordingly this week’s Torah portionVa'etchanan (which means ‘I pleaded’) opens as Moses pleads for permission to enter the Holy Land.
This week’s Torah portion also contains twelve commandments and two of them; to put Tefillin (Phylacteries) one on the arm and another on the head (two separate commandments) are ‘equal’ to all the rest of the 613 commandments (Talmud Kedushin 35a).
According to Kabala and Chassidut, everything in the creation, and how much more so in the Torah, is interconnected.
What can be the connection between all these: destruction and rebuilding of the Temple, arrival of Moshiach, and the commandment of Tefillin?
To understand this here is a story.
Judaism is not exactly like the other religions. While the other religions are interested primarily in receiving rewards in some form or other, the aim of Judaism is to make this physical world into a blessed, joyous, meaningful place.
This is the secret of happiness.
This idea became forgotten and was rejuvenated and taught by the ‘Baal Shem Tov’ some 300 years ago in the Chassidic Movement in Jewry. But it wasn’t easy as we will see from the following story.
Some 150 years ago in Russia the incompetent Czarist government, in an attempt to divert public attention from the poverty, corruption and incompetence that prevailed everywhere, incited an ‘unofficial’ program of hatred against the Jews.
It wasn’t that difficult; the Russians were natural anti-Semites and their religion was founded on anti-Semitism. But there was one difficulty; everyone knew that the government, and not the Jews, was the cause of their problems.
But anti-Semitic pamphlets began appearing on the streets and gradually they bore bitter fruit. Here a Jew was beaten, there a Jewish factory was broken into, andelsewhere a Jewish store was ransacked. Wealthy Jews tried to stem the tide through the normal channels of influence; bribery, connections, favors etc. but to no avail. All doors were closed. The air was full of hatred and everyone knew that at any moment a full scale Pogrom could break loose.
One Jew, however, decided to think ‘outside the box’. In fact he always thought outside the entire creation. His name was Rebbe Shmuel - the fourth leader of the Chabad Chassidic movement.
He decided to take drastic and very dangerous action. In fact his plan was audacious and simply impossible.But it worked. He actually traveled to Germany and France and several other countries and managed to meet with and influence high, important people and got them to pressure the Russian Government to stop the anti-Semitic propaganda. He also visited the largest banks and investors in those countries and convinced them not to loan Russia money until she promised to protect her Jewish citizens.
When the Rebbe returned to Russia all of the rich or influential Jews there were afraid to even be seen with him. They were certain beyond all certainty that his brazen actions would be treated as treason and earn him and anyone associated with him terrible punishments; life in prison or worse.
But the Rebbe announced that he wasn’t afraid and he wasn’t finished. He sent letters to all the other Jewish leaders explaining that his deeds in Europe were only the first step in his plan. The second step was to pressure his way into a private meeting with, none other than……the Czar himself! And he wanted them to accompany him!!
The others thought he was insane and refused outright. His plan was suicidal! But the Rebbe calmly replied to them, “Don’t worry. I’ll take two of my Chassidim (followers) that are not weak hearted and who have no idea what fear is…. and we will succeed!”
He chose Rabbi Chaim Moshayiv and Rabbi Nachm Hermontto accompany him and they related the rest of the story.
“We traveled with the Rebbe to Petersburg, the capital city where the Rebbe arranged for himself a meeting with the Minister of the Interior of Russia. The meeting was set in one week’s time. All during that week we waited for an opportune moment when the Rebbe was not busy praying or learning Torah to ask him what his approach was going to be. When we finally did ask him he replied that he intended to be firm, forceful and clear. He explained, ‘I am no different than my predecessors who put everything up for sacrifice, including their very lives, for the Jewish people. I do not think about myself at all and there is no room here for compromise.’”
It must be remembered that the Jews had virtually no power in Czarist Russia. Their very lives were dependent totally on the whims of the King, the police, the Church and the government. Something like how it was in Egypt under Pharaoh.
But, in fact, the same G-d that took them from Egypt and had been protecting them ever since was protecting them now and was totally in control. But they just needed a Moses to actually bring it into reality and remind them.
“When the appointment date arrived we entered the huge, massively decorated building, passed tens of guards and soldiers and approached the door of the minister’s room. The Rebbe’sappearance was royal; his face shone holiness and his countenance was so splendid and awesome that it even made an impression on the Minister.
“When the Rebbe entered the room the Minister seemed startled.
He stood in respect, shook the Rebbe’s hand and even offered him a seat next to himself for the conversation.
“But quickly the Minister took hold of himself and remembered that he was the official and the Rebbe was just a ‘Jew’.
“His face changed to red, his eyes narrowed and he began pounding on the table and screaming at the Rebbe and us with fury. ‘Do you think we don’t know what you were up to outside of Russia? The Czar knows EVERYTHING about you. EVERYTHING!!! We know who you met with and what you said. You should know that in our eyes and in the eyes of His Majesty the Czar you are a traitor! A traitor against your country!!! And you ALL will PAY!!!’”
“Our eyes were glued to the Rebbe. We had no thought what-so-ever about ourselves rather we stared at his face, followed each movement of his hands or utterance of his mouth. But despite the frightening words he had heard, the Rebbe did not seem to be in the least moved. Exactly the opposite; when the Rebbe opened his mouth and began to talk, the Minister actually recoiled in fear!
“The Rebbe turned, rose slightly in his chair and, staring intently at the Minister announced, ‘ What?! Does your government think that the blood of our brothers and of our sons and daughters can be spilled, our property can be ransacked and we would remain quiet and mute?! And even bend our knees to you and bow in subservience?!’ The Rebbe spoke with total certainty and fearlessness as though he was conveying a message from G-d. ‘We are faithful citizens of Russia with equal rights!! Is it not enough that you have forced us to live in restricted areas for no reason? Do we not deserve to be protected from evil blood-thirsty and money-thirsty vandals?!!?’
“The Minister was in shock. The Rebbe, took a few long breaths, waited for his words to sink in and continued. ‘I have come in the name of all my Jewish brothers to request an appointment to speak to his glorious majesty the Czar and to present before him our miserable plight. Certainly he will grace us with the assistance and protection that we deserve.”
“The Minister of the Interior, who quite probably had a hand in many of the evil decrees on the Jews himself, suddenly could not summon up the courage to reply… the Rebbe took all the wind out of his sails. He sat back in his chair, relieved that the Rebbe had finished, wiped his brow, opened his collar and said, ‘Give me a few days in order to see what can be done. Only then can I reply to your request.’ He answered meekly.
“When we left the Minister’s office the Rebbe so very weak that he had to be helped to get to the hotel where we were staying and when we got there he passed out unconscious! It was necessary to call a doctor to revive and treat him and when he awoke he said, ‘That meeting cost me a lot of health, but I am certain that it was worthwhile.’
A few days later the Rebbe was invited to another meeting with the Minister who informed him that due to the Czar’s extremely tight and vitally important schedule it was impossible to arrange a meeting with him. But nevertheless the Czar did hear the Rebbe’srequests and promised that they would be honored.
And so it was! Just a few days later letters were sent to all the governors of the outlaying districts ordering them by Royal Decree of the Czar to protect the Jews and to put an end to the threats on their lives and property. This opened a period of relative peace in many areas of Russia.
This answers our questions. The commandment of Tefillinis to put one leather box on the arm and another on the head. In each box are written the four paragraphs from the Torah that this commandment appears.
But the most ‘dominant’ of them is “Listen Jews….G-d is ONE…” (Our Torah portion 6:4).
In other words we must put in our minds (head) and in our hearts (arm) that G-d alone is constantly creating, ruling, enlivening and directing everything: He is ONE.
But the law is that the head Tefillin must never be on alone. In other words this awareness of G- d’s ONEness is impotent if only in the ‘head’ and is not accompanied by genuine emotion of the heart.
That is the reason the Temples were destroyed. The Jews believed in G-d intellectually … but their hearts were elsewhere; into idolatry, selfishness etc. and so it was necessary for the true Jewish leaders of every generation (Like Mordechiin the miracle of Purim and the Rebbe in our story) to use self-sacrifice to arouse and save them.
But today this is changing. Due to the self-sacrifices of the ‘Moses’ of every generation (as we saw in our story) our generation has become the generation of Moshiachwhen the minds and hearts of ALL Jews will be awakened to the ONE G-d.
Today our enemy is not the Czar or anti-Semitism but rather … ignorance. Jews simply do not know what Judaism, Moshiachor G-d is……… but ALL the Jews; each and EVERY one, are ready to learn.
Therefore in our generation the Seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, with no less devotion than his predecessors, broke through all boundaries and established ‘ Chabad Houses’ throughout the world in order to teach and put the idea of Moshiach in the minds and hearts of the entire world.
So there is no reason that the Third Temple cannot be built by Moshiach. It just depends on us. One more good deed, word or even thought can bring…..
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