This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Vayeira (5771)
This week's Torah portion begins with Abraham, the founder of the Jewish religion, sitting in the entrance of his tent waiting for guests. Abraham was definitely not a normal person and here is a prime example. At the time of this scene he was ninety nine years old, had just circumcised himself and was sitting in blistering hot, desert weather!
Torah means "Teaching" it is supposed to 'teach' us how to live a more meaningful life but here seems to be an exception.
What made this great Patriarch look for guests under such terrible conditions? Could this be telling us to endanger our lives as Abraham did in order to find a guest for our dinner table? What could be so special about guests? And what does this have to do with Judaism?
To understand this here is a story I recently heard from Rabbi Yisroel Brod here in Kfar Chabad.
The story centers on a thirty year old, non-observant Jew who we will call Joe. Joe had been orphaned at the age of five. His mother had been sick for a year or so before her passing and it's not clear what happened to his father but in any case, at five years old he was alone and bitter.
He was angry at his mother for leaving him; all the other kids had parents but him. He knew it didn't really make sense to hold a grudge, after all it wasn't her fault, but he did and it consumed him.
The years passed. Joe became totally estranged from Judaism; his mother had been religious so it was a sort of revenge.
One day he got an idea. He would go to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
It's not so clear where he got this idea from or what his motivation was but he remembered that his mother mentioned this Rabbi a few times so he went. Perhaps he wanted to make trouble, perhaps he was just curious, perhaps bored but whatever the reason he made up his mind to visit the Rebbe's headquarters.
He had heard that the Rebbe only received guests at night and only once or twice a week. Figuring he had nothing to lose, one night he took a taxi to the Crown Heights area of Brooklyn to 770 Eastern Parkway and entered.
It was after midnight but the place was well lit, busy and lively just as at midday. Bearded young men with friendly faces were walking about, others were vociferously learning Torah in a room off to the side, once in a while someone rushed by him in a hurry. A young man approached him, shook his hand and asked him if he could help and when Joe answered 'The Lubavitcher Rebbe' the young man pointed to a small hallway where a line of several people stood silently and nervously before a large closed mahogany door.
"They are waiting for Yechidut" the young man said. "The Rebbe is in there" and he pointed to the door "and they're waiting to talk to him alone. Some have been waiting for months for this meeting."
Joe went to the line, examined it for a few minutes from a distance and made his move. He went to the first man in line, tapped him on the shoulder and whispered. "S'cuse me. I have something really urgent. Really urgent! But I have to catch a plane. Please, it's really important and it will only take a minute, maybe less. Can I go in front of you?"
The man hesitated for a few seconds, looked Joe in the eyes, shrugged his shoulders, quietly said "Nu, Urgent? Nu, what can I say?" and let Joe get in front of him.
At that moment one of the Rebbe's secretaries, Rabbi Groner, entered the hall, noticed what was happening; that Joe was not there with permission, and he rushed to remove him.
But at that moment the Rebbe's door opened, someone came backing out, eyes red possibly from weeping, and Joe entered.
Rabbi Groner ran after him to pull him out but the Rebbe just made a sign to leave the intruder alone and Rabbi Groner had no choice but to retreat and close the door.
Joe sat in the chair next to the Rebbe's desk and said nothing. He just stared at the Rebbe, perhaps in defiance, perhaps in curiosity, and was silent. His plan was to make the Rebbe talk first.
The Rebbe looked at him for a few seconds and said with a European accent. "I know you."
Joe just pointed to himself, shrugged his shoulders, raised his palms upward, shook his head and said, "Me? No, not me!"
The Rebbe continued, "I received a letter some years ago."
"Not from me!" He replied.
About me?" Joe said incredulously. "Who would write a letter to you about ME?"
The Rebbe stood, pulled a letter out of a cabinet, sat back down and put it on the table. "Your mother."
Joe was shocked, he could see from afar that it was an old handwritten letter. Could it be from his mother?
"She wrote me twenty five years ago saying she was about to die and requested that I should pray for you. Here, you can read it."
The Rebbe turned the letter to Joe but kept his hand on it so Joe could not pick it up.
Joe read the letter. It was as the Rebbe said! His mother didn't just leave him! His insides were turning around, his head was spinning. He had been wrong all these years! She really did try her best to provide for him! Tears filled his eyes but he couldn't cry, the inner turmoil was too much and too sudden.
"Rebbe!" He begged "can I have this letter? Please, it is from my mother!" But the Rebbe pulled the letter back and said.
"I can give you a copy but the letter was written to me and it stays with me."
"But it's my mother!" Joe said with a broken heart not understanding why the Rebbe wouldn't just give it to him! It was his mother!! "Why not?" He whispered like a child.
The Rebbe answered "Every year, just before Yom Kippur I gather all the pupils in my Yeshiva; several hundred young men, and I bless them."
"So?" Joe interrupted.
The Rebbe continued "Before I bless them....I read that letter."
This answers our questions.
Abraham was the first Jew, the first of the 'chosen' people. That is why he was so 'fanatical' about guests.
Because the 'job' Abraham was chosen by G-d to do was to inform every human being of G-d's love; that G-d creates, enlivens, protects, encourages, provides for and CARES about each person. Indeed, every human is unique, precious, beloved and created in the 'image' of G-d (Pirke Avot 3:14).
That is why the Torah tells us that Abraham looked for guests immediately after his painful circumcision.
Because this circumcision was the 'covenant' that transformed him into 'The spiritual Father of the entire world" (See Rashi on 17:5): In other words to teach all mankind as a father teaches his son by being a living EXAMPLE; a living example of G-d's unconditional love for each person.
This is what the Rebbe was teaching Joe; the letter was not as important as the LOVE that caused the letter to be written. And it was Joe's job to embody that love; to love others like his mother loved him. As the Rebbe did.
But this was only begun by Abraham. The culmination will be by Moshiach.
The Moshiach will bring all the Jews back to the Torah and teach all mankind how to be partners with the Creator through observing His Seven Noahide Commandments. Then the true love of G-d to each of us will be in every heart. But it's up to us to make it happen.
Just one more good, loving thought, word or deed can tip the scale and bring…..
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