This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Re'eh (5770)
This week’s Torah portion is a continuation of Moses’ final directions and warnings to the Jews before they enter the Holy Land without him.
He begins: “See, I have put before you today a blessing and a curse.” And then continues to explain what these blessings and curses are.
But at first glance this is totally not understood. Why did Moses begin with the word ‘See’ and not ‘Listen’ or ‘UNDERSTAND’? ‘See’ seems to be inappropriate. What exactly did he want them to look at?
Also, why did he say “I” have put etc.? Everyone knew that Moses was speaking; he didn’t need to say ‘I’.
In fact this entire introductory sentence seems superfluous. What exactly does it add to the subject of blessings and curses?
To understand this here is a story. (HaGeula weekly page #521)
In the early nineteen fifties the Crown Heights district of Brooklyn New York was a colorful but poor Jewish neighborhood. Today it is known as the center of the Chabad Chassidim but then it was populated with Jews of all types with an abundance of Synagogues small and large and a very small presence of Chabad Chassidim.
The presiding Rabbi in one of those small Synagogues was one Rabbi Youngreiz who lived in near poverty. The forty or so members of the Shul (Synagogue) barely paid him enough to support himself and family and from that salary he had to worry for the upkeep of the Shul as well.
For a while he managed somehow to pay the woman housekeeper-caretaker but as his family (and expenses) grew and it became increasingly difficult to meet the deadlines she simply quit.
The Rabbi certainly could not do the cleaning; he didn’t have the time, he wasn’t good at it and it would mean forfeiting any respect his congregation had for him … and eventually losing his job.
So the task naturally fell to his wife. The janitor lady used to clean their house as well as the Shul so now it would be reversed; she would clean the Shul as well as her house.
She accepted the job with great difficulty. First, she was occupied almost full time with raising her growing family and cleaning her own house. Second, maintaining a large public Synagogue is much more difficult than cleaning a home. And finally; she was not a strong woman and such a full, tedious day was simply above her abilities.
Perhaps the worst part was that it seemed there was no solution in sight. She spoke to the members of the Shul about raising her husband’s wage but they just refused but on the other hand she couldn’t stop.
If no one took care of the Synagogue all the members would leave, but she didn’t have the stamina to last another week. She was beginning to lose her mind until someone suggested the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He lived just a few blocks away and he had a reputation of helping people; he might be able to help.
She had no problems with asking holy people for blessings; the Torah and Talmud replete with such stories and after the Baal Shem Tov began the Chassidic movement some 300 years ago many of his pupils were known to be miracle workers. The problem was that this Lubavitcher Rebbe was in his early fifties while all the other Jewish leaders at the time were over seventy and also some said he was inexperienced; he had assumed the leadership of the Chabad (Lubavitch) movement just a few years earlier with the passing of his father-in-law the previous Rebbe.
But rumor had it that he was a truly unique and wonderous person; totally fluent in every book in Judaism and totally acquainted with every aspect of the world.
So the next day she walked to the Chabad Headquarters, made an appointment to see the Rebbe and in just a few hours standing before his office door.
As soon as she entered the Rebbe’s room and saw his face she burst out in uncontrollable weeping. They were more like tears of joy and relief than anything else. She had never experienced anything like it.
She calmed down, dried her eyes and told the Rebbe her sad story about no money or help. She was expecting that the Rebbe would give her the name of someone, perhaps one of his Chassidim or some rich person who could help her to find help or money but the Rebbe surprised her completely. He just smiled kindly and said, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world,
“What is the problem? Just go into the street and ask the first capable-looking person you see to help you. And he will certainly help.”
The Rebbe said it with such certainty and simplicity that she wondered why she hadn’t thought of it herself. But after she thanked him profusely, backed out of the room and closed the door behind her she realized that it wasn’t so simple.
First of all she was a very timid and modest woman that never had any business dealings or spoke with strangers. Not only that, but she never had heard of such a thing as stopping strangers in the street and asking them to work for her. But for some reason she felt that she could do it.
She left the building and tried to catch someone’s attention or glance as she walked down the street, someone capable-looking. But no luck. No one looked at her and the few that did didn’t look very able-bodied. Just as she was about to forget the whole thing she noticed, standing in front of her house, was a man who looked approachable. So she approached him, excused herself and asked, in very broken English with a few words of Yiddish mixed in, if he could help her.
“Help? You want help? Where do you live?” he replied in a friendly tone. She pointed to her house and the synagogue next door, he followed her in, asked what she wanted done and proceeded to do it all in just a fraction of the time it had taken the previous worker.
When he finished he introduced himself, said his name was James, asked when he should return and, sure enough, the next day showed up again.
Even more interesting thing was that, when Rabbi Youngreiz offered to pay him at the end of the first week he smiled and refused and so it was at the end of the first month and the one after that.
In no time James became a member of the family; the children obeyed him like an older brother, he attended all family celebrations.
But most amazing was that James worked for the Youngreiz family each day for a few hours for thirty six years! Watched all the children grow, marry and have children of their own. And refused all payment!!
This explains our questions. The biggest obstacle to believing in G-d is this physical world, but it is also the only place that G-d is REALLY found.
Those who escape into worlds of meditation, contemplation or religion (even Jewish religion) and ignore the physical world eventually will have even bigger problems.
First of all, they deny that G-d can help us in the physical. Second, they separate G-d from the world and thus deny His UNITY. Third, by living in a dichotomy they are always in tension and can never be happy.
That is why the Jews needed Moses and need a Moses in every generation: to bring G-d into the world, SHOW His unity and make mankind happy. But without Moses it can’t happen.
That is why, as soon as the Jews thought they would never SEE Moses again they got scared and .... worshiped the Golden Calf! (Ex. 32:1)
That is what Moses meant by the word “SEE”. He was telling the Jews; don’t just HEAR or UNDERSTAND that G-d is the source of all blessings but rather look at me and SEE it! SEE that G-d is close, loves and creates you and will solve all your PHYSICAL problems. That is the message that he wanted them to take into the Holy Land.
And that is why he said “I”; because this is the true “I” within each of us. Namely the fact that Moses was a “G-d man” (Deut.33:1) gave everyone that saw him the realization that they too are G-dly and that the world can never prevent them from realizing this.
As we saw in our story; the Rebbe caused everyone involved to SEE how G-d solves PHYSICAL problems in a way that everyone feels a new identity… a new “I”.
This will be the job of Moshiach; to make everyone realize how close and caring the Creator is… indeed, that He is our true “I”.
It all depends on us to make it happen sooner.
One more good deed, word or even thought can bring....
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