This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Eikev (5770)
This week’s Torah portion contains eight commandments andone of them is to Thank G-d after eating bread.
“You should eat and be satisfied and bless G-d your L-rd forthe Good Land He gave you.” (8:10)
Today we fulfill this commandment with a four paragraphblessing (which is really four blessings) the first and most important of whichwas composed by Moses for being satisfied by the Manna in the desert (Thesecond was written by Joshua (Yehoshua) upon entering Israel, the third by KingSolomon in the First Temple and the last by the Rabbis of the Great Assemblysome 500 years afterwards).
But this doesn't seem to make sense. How could Moses make ablessing on being satisfied from the Manna when in fact Manna had the oppositeeffect…. It produced misery and hunger:
“G-d tortured you andstarved you and gave you the Manna etc.” (8:3). Eating it resulted in tortureand starvation!
On the other hand this also doesn't make sense. The Jewslived from Manna for forty years!!! Why does the Torah say that it tortured andstarved those who ate it?
But most important, what does this mean to us now? Today there is no such thing as Manna!
To understand this here is a story. (Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Memiors Chapt. 109)
It was a cold Ukrainian winter night when Gershom Yitzchakheard the knocking on the door that he so feared.
Gershom Yitzchak was a very simple person. He barely knewhow to read, had to work the entire day to make a living and had no time toeducate himself and his only son David in Judaism. But he was an honest man, loved to helpothers and had a good, charitable heart which made him well liked by Jew andgentile alike.
Many years earlier he had rented a large area from the localBaron which included a big plot of land and the rights to a wide river. On theland he built a tavern and hotel which were usually full and from the river hemade a good profit on the fish that he netted.
He was on his way to becoming a wealthy man and gave charityaccordingly … until the arrival of Priest Thaddeus.
Priest Thaddeus was a devout Catholic who saw it his holyduty to convince everyone to feel as negative about life in general and theJewish people specifically as possible … and he especially hated the successfulGershom Yitzchak.
True, Gershom had a lot of friends even among the gentiles.But they couldn't protect him against the priest’s fiery Sermons. Every Sundayin Church he held the entire town's population captive audience as he rantedrabidly against the Jews until even Gershom’s biggest admirers were afraid todo business with him.
It wasn’t long before the tavern and inn were empty forweeks, then months on end, frequented only by an occasional traveler or avagrant looking for a free meal. Even the fish in the river seemed to havejoined the boycott; day after day Gershom’s his nets came up almost empty. Hispoverty and his trust in G-d were both growing daily but the former seemed tobe winning.
His only consolation was that the Baron gave the managementof his lands to his son who was fond of him and didn’t press him for payment.
But one terrible day the old Baron himself happened toglance in his account books, notice Gershom’s large debt and flew into arage. He sent some of his soldiers todrag poor Gershom from his home for questioning and when the he saw that heonly had excuses and supplications he shouted yelled and threatened him hopingit would help. But it didn’t.
When the next month rolled around with no change and Gershomwas again dragged to the castle the Baron this time not only went berserk andscreamed he resorted to violence. He beat Gershom with his cane until he drewblood and then had him bodily thrown out of the castle and threatened to havehim imprisoned.
The Priest, who had been present for the entire scene,suddenly got a brainstorm. He leaned over to the Barron and whispered in hisear, “Why throw HIM in prison? What will you gain from that? If you want your money then I suggest yourather take not him but his young son. He has a twelve year old son you know.Imprison him and don’t worry, you’ll get the money. Those Jews will do anythingfor their children….and if not … I’ll take the boy and at least ‘save’ his soul!”
The idea appealed to the Baron and next day soldiers cameand took little David into custody which smote Gershom and his wife like a boltof lightning. Their only hope was perhaps miraculously a sudden rush oftravelers would visit their inn. But as fate would have it a storm set in andthe winter became one of the worst they had known for years. Snow was severalfeet deep and it was so many degrees below zero that no one ventured outsidefor any reason. Except for the Baron’s messenger who knocked on Gershom’s dooreach night.
Gershom was desperate. He decided he had no other choiceother than to brave the storm and get advice from his son in law that lived afew days journey away but the storm was so intense that after a half hour hemanaged only with great difficulty to find his way back home.
So, resolved to not give up, he and his wife went to theBaron with the hope that a mother’s pleas would soften his heart. But it onlyhardened. He mercilessly gave them both a few blows with his riding crop andswore that he would take them as slaves to cover the principle of their debtand give his son to the priest to cover the interest if they didn’t pay withina week.
Gershom and wife returned home bruised and bleeding butamazingly, still optimistic. “G-d won’t let us down!”
Suddenly Gershom had an idea. He would sell everything! Hisinn and tavern, that is the buildings, were all his and that would cover a goodportion of the debt. He and his family would live in a small storage shedbehind the house. Then if he could sell all their furniture and clothes etc.and maybe get a loan somewhere and cover both the debt and the interest.
In less than an hour he found a wealthy gentile in thevillage that was willing to buy but, realizing that Gershom was desperate,offered only a third of its value. Poor Gershom had no choice but to accept.That night the new owner had a grand opening and sold all the vodka and food inthe tavern for almost nothing.
But the very next morning the buyer returned with his threeburly sons and announced the deal was off and he wanted his money back. Thepriest convinced him that he was a fool for paying money when in just a fewdays it would be taken from him by the Baron anyway. Gershom tried to protestbut the new owner’s sons beat him until he agreed. Gershom got his Tavern back but with nothingto sell, it had all been consumed the night before, and with a lot of achesfrom the punches he had received.
But he couldn’t give up… there must be a solution. Suddenlyit occurred to him… his friend Yaakov Krepil!
Why hadn’t he thought of it before?!
Yaakov Krepil had been Gershom’s friend from youth, butunlike Gershom, Yaakov had been blessed with intelligence and a good sense ofbusiness. He was quite a Torah scholar as well being a wealthy man. If hedidn’t have the money certainly he would have a solution. He lived in the townof Shareye just a few hours away. It would be difficult to travel in the stormbut it was his only chance.
Gershom put on his heaviest coat, bade his wife a tearfulfarewell and she blessed him with a safe successful journey. But as soon as heopened the door to leave he was greeted by three huge armed men that had beenstationed outside! The Baron decided to make sure that he wouldn’t make agetaway! Gershom was a prisoner in his own house!!
But he couldn’t lose heart. Everything was at stake. Ratherthan bursting into tears he took a look at the guards. Two of them weretownspeople who knew and liked him! Thank G-d! They would be willing to listento reason! It took some work but finallyGershom convinced them to escort him to the Baron who, after giving him a fewmore angry blows with his whip, calmed down and agreed to let him travel,accompanied by an armed guard, to his friend. But the Baron reminded him thatwithout the money he would never see his child again.
The next morning miraculously the storm had calmed down andafter a three hour journey Gershom, with the guard standing over him, found himself standing in Yaakov Krepil’sliving room pouring his heart out to his old friend.
As Gershom spoke tears flowed freely down Yaakov’s cheeks,and when he heard of all the beatings he had received and how his son was inthe clutches of the church he burst out crying. When Gershom finished Yaakovand his wife went into another room, talked it over and decided that they wouldgive all their money, sell all their possessions and even take loans to gettheir friend out of trouble. They had no children of their own and were both intheir fifties; saving little David would be almost like bringing a child intothe world.
It took almost a day of hard work to find the right buyersat the right prices but the next day, accompanied by the guard, Yakov andGershom were on their way back to the Baron to pay off the debt.
But Gershom’s problems were far from over.
When they arrived they found Gershom’s wife weeping ingrief. Word had reached her that thepriest was torturing her little David and the boy, despite the fact that he wasonly twelve years old with almost no Jewish education, was totally alone andwas receiving daily beatings from the priest, refused to eat non-kosher food ortransgress the Shabbat!
She heard that just today when he refused to eat Pork thePriest beat him until he was unconscious, threw him into the pen with the pigsand announced that tomorrow he would ‘convert’ the boy whether he complied ornot.
But now with the money in their pockets Gershom and wiferushed off to the Baron to set things right. However when they finally arrived,paid off their debt including interest and begged to have their child back theBaron just shrugged his shoulders and said it was out of his hands; he hadalready given full permission to the priest to convert the boy.
Gershom and wife fell to their knees and began weeping soloudly that the Baron ordered that they be beaten for disturbing him untilfinally they had to be carried to their home on stretchers.
But when they told Yaakov Krepil what had happened he flewinto action. He had done business with many of the townspeople and was welladmired. He visited them one by one and when he described what the priest wasdoing to Gershom’s defenseless child each became furious and in short ordersome fifty villagers gathered at the church and were demanding the boy’srelease.
He also visited the Baron’s son, who already was opposed tohis father’s treatment of Gershom Yitzchak, and convinced him to order thepriest to release the boy as it was stirring unrest.
The priest, on his part, was not ready for such oppositionand when he sensed that trouble was brewing he reluctantly released the boy.David’s arms and legs had been broken and he was terribly undernourished but hewas alive and after a year his bones healed and he returned to health.
Yaakov Krepil was left a pauper and a debtor. But he and hiswife were happy; they had saved an entire family from destruction. Shortly thereafter, however, the holy BaalShem Tov heard of his courageous sacrifice, blessed him with both riches andchildren and both blessings were fulfilled the details of which are found inthe ensuing chapters of the ‘Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Memoirs’
This answers our questions. Why did Manna bring hunger andwhy did Moses compose a blessing on it satisfying us?
The Talmud tells us that “The Torah wasn’t given except forthose who ate the Manna.” (Mechilta, B’shalach 17)
One reason is that Manna was physical food that fellmiraculously from heaven. This, on one hand, made those who ate it happy andnourished, and that is why Moses established a blessing after eating it, but onthe other hand it made them constantly aware that their entire being; theirvery lives and sustenance depended totally on …. G-d.
In other words; although the Manna satisfied their bodies,it tortured their souls and made them ‘hungry’ for an infinitely more REALreality… this is a prerequisite for learning Torah.
This is very relevant to each of us now.
This hunger for the Creator was inherited and passed downfrom those who ate the manna to the Jews of all generations. As we saw in ourstory how little David, didn’t know much more about Judaism than theprohibition of not eating pork… but he sensed that it was connected to thesource of life and more real than life itself. And this made him willing tosuffer all the physical tortures.
Additionally, the Manna had been prepared by G-d from thebeginning of creation (Avot 5:6). In other words, those who ate it realizedthat it came from the same G-d that took the Jews from Egypt. And CERTAINLY hadthe power and care to exonerate everyone from ANY problem.
And this too was inherited to all the Jews for allgenerations.
As we saw in our story how Gershom Yitzchak and YaakovKerpil didn't give up. They were certain they would be freed from theirdifficulties despite all the terrible setbacks by the same G-d that freed theJews from Egypt. And due to thiscertainty they, in fact, were freed.
Yes, we too have inherited all this; each of us has anunquenchable hunger for truth and an unconquerable certainty that we will befree to find it. As the Ramba'm assuresus, and as we say thrice daily in the 'Alenu' prayer: that the Moshiach willbring all mankind to total awareness of the Creator thus ending all ignorance,war and suffering.
But, just as in our story, it can only come through ouractions.
One more good deed, word or even thought can tilt the scalesand bring total world freedom with….
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