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 and one of them is to ‘Bless’ (i.e. thank) G-d after becoming satisfied from eating bread as the Torah says.
“You should eat and be satisfied and bless G-d your L-rd on the Good Land He gave you.” (8:10)
Today we fulfill this commandment with a four paragraph blessing (which is really four blessings) the first and most important of which was composed by Moses when the Manna fell in the desert.
(The second was written by Joshua (Yehoshua) upon entering Israel, the third by King Solomon in the First Temple and the last by the Rabbis of the Great Assembly some 500 years after that).
Interestingly, however the Manna did NOT satisfy those who ate it! In fact our Torah portion says “G-d tortured you and starved you and gave you the Manna” (8:3); eating it produced torture and starvation!
At first glance this is totally not understood. First, how did the Manna really torture and starve those eating it? Second, why did Moses establish a blessing for being satisfied if it didn’t satisfy? Third, and most important, what does this mean to us now?
To understand this here is a story. (Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Memiors Chapt. 109)
It was a cold Ukrainian winter night when Gershon Yitzchak heard the knocking on the door that he so feared. For the last week it happened. Every night at this time the Baron sent one of his soldiers to ‘remind’ him that he owed almost a year of back rent and that if he didn’t pay he and his wife would be evicted into the cold and he would never see his beloved twelve year old son again.
Gershon Yitzchak was a very simple person. He barely knew how to read, was not at all careful about the commandments and, because he was always busy working, didn’t even have time to educate his only son David in Judaism. But he was honest and had a good, charitable heart which made him well liked by Jew and gentile alike.
Many years earlier he had rented a large plot of land from the local Baron including a wide river. On the land he built a tavern and a hotel which were usually full and from the river he made a good profit on the fish that he netted. Fortune was smiling on him, he was on his way to becoming a wealthy man and gave charity accordingly - until the arrival of the Priest.
Priest Thaddeus was a truly religious man; a devout Catholic who saw it his holy duty to force everyone to feel as negative about life and the Jewish people as he himself … but he especially hated the successful Gershon Yitzchak.
True, Gershon had a lot of townspeople that liked him. He was an honest and pleasant man who was always willing to help anyone in need which made him a lot of friends among the gentiles. But this was a poor shield against the priest’s fiery Sermons. Every Sunday in Church he held the entire population captive audience as he spoke against the Jews until even Gershon’s biggest admirers stopped doing business with him.
It wasn’t long before the tavern and inn were empty for weeks, on end only frequented by an occasional traveler or a vagrant looking for a free meal. Even the fish in the river seemed to have joined the boycott; day after day Gershon’s his nets came up almost empty. His poverty and his trust in G-d were both growing daily but the poverty seemed to be winning. His only consolation was that the Baron’s son was fond of him and didn’t press him for payment.
But one terrible day the old Baron himself happened to glance in his account books, notice Gershon’s large debt and flew into a rage. He sent some of his soldiers to drag him from his home for questioning and when the he saw that Gershon only had excuses and supplications he shouted yelled and threatened him hoping it would help. But it didn’t.
When the next month rolled around with no change and Gershon was again dragged before him the Baron, this time, went berserk with rage. He screamed that he would have Gershon and family imprisoned, then commenced to beat him with his cane until he drew blood and finally had him thrown out of the castle.
But the Priest who had been present for the entire scene had a better idea. “Why throw them in prison?” he asked the Baron rhetorically. “What will you gain from that? If you want your money then the only way you’ll get it is if he’s free. I suggest you rather take his young son to prison. Those Jews will do anything for their children…. Don’t worry you’ll get the money. And if not… I’ll convert the child and at least ‘save’ his soul!”
The idea appealed to the Baron and next day soldiers came and took little David into custody which smote Gershon and his wife like a bolt of lightning. Their only hope was perhaps miraculously a sudden rush of travelers would visit theirinn. But as fate would have it a storm set in and the winter was already one of the worst they had known for years. Snow was several feet deep and it was so many degrees below zero and the winds were so powerful that no one ventured outside for any reason. Except for the Baron’s messenger who knocked on Gershon’s door each night.
Gershon decided he would try to visit some of his son’s in law that lived a few days journey away but the storm was so intense that after a half hour he managed only with great difficulty to find his way back home.
So, resolved to not give up, he and his wife went to the Baron with the hope that a mother’s pleas would soften his heart. But it only got worse. He mercilessly whipped them both with his riding crop and swore that he would take them as slaves to cover the principle of their debt and give his son to the priest to cover the interest if they didn’t pay within a week.
Gershon and wife returned home bruised and bleeding but optimistic for a solution. “G-d won’t let us down!” Suddenly Gershon had an idea. He would sell everything! His inn was worth a lot of money as was his tavern. That would cover a good portion of the debt. Then they 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 the village that was willing to buy but, realizing that Gershon was desperate, offered only a third of its value. Poor Gershon had no choice but to accept. That night the new owner had a grand opening and sold all the vodka and food in the tavern for almost nothing.
But the very next morning he returned with his three burly sons to Gershon and announced the deal was off and he wanted his money back. The priest convinced him that he was a fool for paying money when in just a few days it would be taken from him by the Baron anyway. Gershon tried to protest but the new owner’s sons beat him until he agreed. Gershon got his Tavern back but with nothing to sell, it had all been consumed the night before, and with a lot of aches from the punches he had received.
But he couldn’t give up… there must be a solution. Suddenly it occurred to him… Yaakov Krepil! Why hadn’t he thought of it before?!
Yaakov Krepil had been Gershon's friend from youth, only Yaakov had been blessed with intelligence and was quite a Torah scholar as well being a wealthy man. If he didn’t have the money certainly he would have a solution. He lived in the town of Shareye just a few hours away. It would be difficult to travel in the storm but it was his only chance.
Gershon put on his heaviest coat, bade his wife a tearful farewell and she blessed him with a safe successful journey. But as soon as he opened the door to leave he was greeted by three huge armed men that had been stationed outside! The Baron decided to make sure that he wouldn’t make a getaway! Gershon was a prisoner in his own house!!
But he couldn’t lose heart. Everything was at stake. Rather than bursting into tears he took a look at the guards. Two of them were townspeople who knew and liked him! Thank G-d! They would be willing to listen to reason! It took some work but finally Gershon convinced them to escort him to the Baron who, after giving him a few more 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 that without the money he would never see his child again.
The next day miraculously the storm had calmed down and after a three hour journey Gershom, with the guard standing over him, found himself standing in Yaakov Krepil’s living room pouring his heart out to his old friend.
As Gershon spoke tears flowed freely down Yaakov’s cheeks, and when he heard that his son was in the clutches of the church he burst out crying. When Gershon finished Yaakov and his wife went into another room, talked it over and decided that they would give all their money, sell all their possessions and even take loans to get their friend out of trouble. They had no children of their own and were both in their fifties; saving little David would be almost like bringing a child into the world.
It took almost a day of hard work to find the right buyers at the right prices but the next day, accompanied by the guard, Yakov and Gershon were on their way back to the Baron to pay off the debt. But Gershon’s problems were far from over.
When they arrived they found Gershon’s wife weeping in grief. Word had reached her that the priest was torturing her little David and the boy, despite the fact that he was only twelve years old with almost no Jewish education, was totally alone and was receiving daily beatings from the priest, refused to transgress any law of the Torah!
She heard that just today when he refused to eat Pork the Priest beat him until he was unconscious, threw him into the pen with the pigs and announced that tomorrow he would ‘convert’ the boy whether he complied or not.
But now with the money in their pockets Gershon and wife rushed 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 the Baron just shrugged his shoulders and said it was out of his hands; he had already given full permission to the priest to convert the boy.
Gershon and wife fell to their knees and began weeping so loudly that the Baron ordered that they be beaten for disturbing him until finally they had to be carried to their home on stretchers.
But when they told Yaakov Krepil what had happened he flew into action. He had done business with many of the townspeople and was well admired. He visited them one by one and when he described what the priest was doing to Gershon’s defenseless child each became furious and in short order some fifty villagers gathered at the church and were demanding the boy’s release.
He also visited the Baron’s son, who already was opposed to his father’s treatment of Gershon Yitzchak, and convinced him to order the priest to release the boy as it was stirring unrest.
The priest, on his part, was not ready for such opposition and 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 he was alive and after a year his bones healed and he returned to health.
Yaakov Krepil was left a pauper and a debtor as well as being childless. But he and his wife were happy; they had saved an entire family from destruction. Shortly thereafter, however, the holy Baal Shem Tov heard of his courageous sacrifice, blessed him with both riches and children and both blessings were fulfilled the details of which are found in the ensuing chapters of the ‘Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Memoirs’
This answers our questions. The Talmud tells us that “The Torah wasn’t given to learn except for those who ate the Manna.” (Mechilta, B’shalach 17)
One reason is that Manna was physical food that fell miraculously from heaven. This, on one hand, made those who ate it happy and nourished, and that is why Moses established a blessing after eating it, but on the other hand it made them constantly aware that their very lives depended on …. G-d.
In other words; although the Manna satisfied their bodies, it tortured their souls and made them ‘hungry’ for an infinitely more REAL reality… this is a prerequisite for learning Torah.
And this hunger for the Creator was inherited to the Jews of all generations. As we saw in our story, little David, didn’t know much more about Judaism than the prohibition of not eating pork… but he sensed that it was connected to something infinitely more real; G-d. And the fear of doing anything against G-d made him willing to suffer all the physical tortures.
Additionally, the Manna was prepared from the beginning of creation for those who left Egypt (Avot 5:6). In other words, those who ate it realized that the Egyptian exile was destined to end as will all ‘exiles’ and limitations.
And this too was inherited to all the Jews for all generations.
Which was the reason that Gershom Yitzchak and Yaakov Kerpil certain that they would be freed from their problems.
Yes, we too have inherited all this; Each of us has an unquenchable hunger for truth and an unconquerable certainty that we will be free to find it. But, just as in our story, it can only come through action.
One more good deed, word or even thought can bring total world freedom with….
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