This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Haazinu (5770)
This week will be the Jewish Holiday of Rosh Hashanna, the ‘Head of the Year’ and on the Shabbat immediately afterward we read a poem from G-d beginning with the words Ha’Azinu to remind the Jews of their mission in the world.
According to the mystical books of Judaism each of the Holidays is connected to one of the three forefathers. Passover to Abraham (who gave cakes of Matzo to his quests (Gen 18:6), Shavuot to Yitzchak (the horn of his ram (22:13) is like the horn of the Torah (Ex.19:19) and Succot to Yaakov (33:17)
But Rosh Hashanna is connected to …. Adam.
‘Rosh’ HaShanna is a ‘general’ holiday. It means the ‘Head of the Year’ and affects the entire year just as the head contains and affects all the body. Similarly Adam (who was created on Rosh HaShanna) was a ‘general’ soul; contained all generations after him and his actions affected the entire creation.
According to Jewish tradition Man was created with the purpose of being partners with G-d in the task of perfecting the world.
That is why just hours after his creation when Adam failed in his task he plunged the world into chaos that only Abraham, 2,000 years afterward, would begin to correct.
But what does all this have to do with us today? The poem of HaAzinu and the deeds of Adam seem to be Biblical issues not practical ones.
To understand this here are two stories that I heard just a few days ago from the person they happened to; Rabbi Ami Pikovski.
40 years ago Ami Pikovski was not a religious Jew. He was almost the opposite.
Born and raised in Israel the Israeli goals of success, fun, and freedom-from-religion were in his bones. He became a successful soccer player for the prestigious Poel Tel Aviv team and then a successful businessman. It was only a matter of time until the spirit of the ‘outgathering of the Israelis’ moved him to leave Israel for the ‘Good, wide, land’….. Los Angeles.
Ami succeeded there as well, had fun and was free as a bird but something was missing, not just soccer or more money but…… meaning. That’s when he met Rabbi Ymini who ran the Chabad center near where he lived. Rabbi Ymini was Ami’s sort of person; full of life, optimism and practical advice but after all…. Religious.
Somehow Rabbi Ymini not only got Ami to come to his Chabad Center but actually convinced him that he couldn’t miss the experience of “HaKafot’ by the ‘Rebbe’ in Crown Heights on Simchat Torah.
Ami knew that Simchat Torah meant the Joy of the Torah and was some sort of Jewish religious ritual simulating fun, but he had no idea what Rebbe, Hakafot and Crown Heights were.
But he was ready for anything. So a week later, a few hours before the night of the holiday, he found himself in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with Ultra-Orthodox Jews dressed in black waking around everywhere! He felt a bit out of place with his tight-fitting colorful clothes but no one seemed to mind and, frankly, he wouldn’t have cared if they did.
Rabbi Ymini had arranged a nice family to stay by and after the holiday meal he headed out the door down the Brooklyn street in the direction of Chabad International Headquarters and Synagogue where the Lubavitcher Rebbe and his Chassidim would be celebrating the holiday doing “HaKafot” which means dancing in a circle 770 Eastern Parkway.
Just as he was one street from his destination an elderly Chassid passed him by, stopped, turned around and asked ‘Where are you going?’.
“To the Rebbe for HaKafot” he answered as though he knew what it meant. “Come with me!” The old Chassid commanded and pulled him by the arm to a nearby two story apartment and up the external metal stairs leading to a door. He opened up and revealed some sort of festive meal in action. Thirty or so older Chassidim were sitting around a dinner table with plates of food and bottles of vodka, singing hearty, joyous songs and making LeChaims. Brotherhood and friendship filled the room. “Sit here” The old Chassid said as he pulled out a chair, filled a cup with vodka and said, “Now drink this. Here, make a ‘LeChaim’”.
Ami picked up the cup and said ‘LeChaim but just as he was about to drink the Chassid grabbed his hand and yelled out “NO! First make a bracha! A blessing! Make a blessing.” Ami complied, blessed, drank the cup and waited for someone to speak or something to happen but the old Chassid just motioned with his hand and said “Now go to HaKafot!”
Ami descended the stairs back to the street and in two minutes was standing before the wide double doors of the Synagogue. He pulled the door open and was greeted by a wall of people…. an ocean of people! The noise, singing, joy, confusion and crowdedness would have discouraged any normal person especially a not-very-inspired one like Ami but… the vodka began kicking in and so did Ami’s fighting spirit; victory at all cost!
He began pushing and was unstoppable! He had absolutely no idea where he was or where he was going but he knew he was making progress. He kept pushing and when he decided to look up all he was people, all around him and even above him but when he looked down he saw, chained to a post, a green plastic milk crate upon which were standing eight feet. When he looked up he saw that it was eight people; each was standing on one leg craning their necks to see something. Suddenly a huge fellow close to 7 feet tall that was standing next to him put the tip of his shoe on some miniscule empty space on the box, slapped Ami on the shoulder and yelled… “NU!! PUSH ME UP!!”
By this time the vodka was really kicking in and so was Ami’s spirit of camaraderie, he got behind the ‘giant’ and easily pushed him with all his might up on the box. Avi tapped the fellow he just helped on the leg, pointed to himself and yelled “What about me?”
Everyone was singing, the noise was almost deafening, the vodka was really working now. Suddenly the huge fellow grabbed hold of the back of Ami’s shirt, lifted him up and held him in the open space where the Rebbe was dancing with his brother in law. Their right hands were on each other’s shoulders and they were dancing clockwise. Ami was confused; he didn’t know where to look, suddenly the fellow holding him screamed out,
“THE REBBE IS DANCING!!!”
Ami looked at the Rebbe’s face. It was shining so brilliantly he squinted, he couldn’t look! Not just glowing, it was actually aflame! From each of the Rebbe’s cheeks shot a tongue of fire!! They were actually on fire! It was the most real, frightening and awesome thing he had ever seen in his life.
At that moment he became a Chassid of the Rebbe.
The second story is as follows. Shortly afterwards Ami became good friends with one of the Rebbe’s closest assistants; Rabbi Laibel Groner.
Rabbi Groner told him many stories about the Rebbe but one stood out. Just one month after the Rebbe accepted the leadership of the Chabad movement in 1951 came the holiday of Purim.
This holiday celebrates how some 2,500 years ago the Jews were saved miraculously from total annihilation, and one of the commandments of the day is to be happy and another is to get intoxicated.
The Rebbe made a Chassidic gathering called a ‘Farbringin’ and although he personally drank a very large amount of Vodka he spoke clearly and lucidly and delivered deep, complicated and novel ideas of Torah without the slightest confusion.
But there were Jews there that were not so adept at holding their ‘vodka’. One was a businessman that held a full cup of vodka in the Rebbe’s face and yelled. “Rebbe! Give me a blessing for money!”
The Rebbe asked him “What is your name?” But the fellow was so drunk and confused he couldn’t answer so the Rebbe asked him several times until finally he answered, “Isaac, my name is Isaac.”
“Do you know who Isaac was?” the Rebbe then asked him several times until he understood the question and answered, “One of the fathers of Judaism.”
“And do you know what he did?” the Rebbe continued.
The businessman was confused, “Ehh? What he did? No I don’t know. What did he do?”
“Isaac dug wells” the Rebbe replied. You know what that means?”
“Dug wells? No, what does it mean? That I should dig wells?”
The Rebbe continued, “Digging wells means removing the dirt and revealing what is hidden underneath. Do you understand? When you remove dirt what do you reveal?”
Again the fellow just didn’t get the question, then when he did he didn’t know what to answer but finally he blurted out, “Errr… oil! Oil and water! Right?”
“That’s right!” said the Rebbe. “It means that if you remove the dirt; your bad habits and ideas, you will reveal the riches of your soul; living water! This can change the entire world around you!”
“I can change the world?!” he asked incredulously “I can’t change the world! Not me! All I want is a blessing for money.”
“Of course you can. Just like Isaac did. For instance,” The Rebbe continued. “When you leave here, ask the first person you meet on the street to put on Tefillin (Phylacteries).”
“I should ask people to put on Tefillin!?” He couldn’t believe the Rebbe was serious. “Why, I myself don’t put on Tefillin! How can I convince someone else?”
To this the Rebbe replied. “Isaac! You should know that there are Jews that will not listen to anyone. Not him, or him, or him or him. Not even to me!” (The Rebbe pointed first at one Chassid then at another then at himself). Not to any of the religious people in this room. But they will listen to you, Isaac.”
Rabbi Groner did not know what happened afterwards but it was obvious that the Rebbe was laying the groundwork for changing the world.
This answers our questions.
The Mishna in SanHedrin (4:5) states that each person is an entire world just like Adam. Each of us has a job and can affect the entire world. But we need someone like the Rebbe to remind us, enflame us and direct us to do this in the proper way ….. as we saw in our stories.
And that is the main job of the Moshiach. Moshiach will be a great Jewish leader like King David and Moses that every Jew must not only await impatiently every moment but actually can cause to happen even one moment sooner.
Just like the Rebbe did in our stories. The Moshiach will arouse the Jewish potential in each Jew to complete the work that Adam and Abraham began: to bring meaning, blessing and joy into the entire world. Then we will remember and fulfill the mission spoken of in HaAzinu.
It all depends on us. This Rosh HaShanna when Shofer blows we must all pray that HaShem give us the power, courage and fire to do everything possible to reveal….
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