This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Yitro (5771)
The highlight of this week’s Torah portion is the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.
The entire Jewish nation, millions of eye witnesses, experienced the Creator of the Universe ‘face to face’ (Deut. 4:4) and both ‘saw’ and ‘heard’ Him give His Torah.
This is a story which has no comparison. No religion, including those that claim to ‘replace’ Judaism even so much as claim that G-d spoke to more than a chosen few.
Even more, before giving the Torah G-d calls the Jews a special, precious nation of priests and a holy race" (18:8,9)
But we see that all this depended on Moses (Moshe). Without him it wouldn’t have happened. Moses took the Jews from Egypt, brought them to the mountain and even received the Torah.
At first glance this is not understood. Why did the Jews need Moses… if the uniqueness of Judaism is personal experience of G-d then why couldn’t G-d just taken them from Egypt to Mount Sinai, give them the Torah and skip the middleman?
Also, why are only the Jews called "special" and "holy priests"? They don't seem any different from anyone else.
To answer this, here is story I heard some ten years ago at the Chabad International Conference in Brooklyn.
Learning Torah is the basis of Judaism. It’s not enough that the Torah is a holy book, the wisdom of G-d and the blueprint of creation, the Torah must actually be learned … especially the Talmud. And it must be learned by every type of Jew: rich and poor, young and old, regardless of I.Q. or background. But this is easier said than done.
The Talmud is filled with complex arguments and ideas from some of the greatest minds that are often very difficult to understand, especially for the many Jews that never opened a Talmud in their lives.
So in Brooklyn New York there opened a very successful daily Torah learning program for elderly Jews run by a Chabad Chassid (who told this story but whose name I didn’t get).
He arranged a system whereby every day elderly Jews could be bussed in from their neighborhoods throughout the New York area to attend Talmud classes and the response was great. Before long there were hundreds of participants involved in all sorts of classes at different levels of learning and occasionally there were general sessions with lecturers.
Because the majority of participants were neither Chassidim nor particularly observant Jews, the ‘Chabadnik’ who ran the program rarely mentioned Chassidic Philosophy or even spoke much about the Lubavitcher ‘Rebbe’, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneerson at these general sessions. But one Chabad holiday, perhaps it was the Rebbe's Birthday, the 11th of Nisan, he made a small speech about the Rebbe’s tremendous effect on the world, his miracles and his unique approach to life.
But it was a mistake.
About two minutes after he began, one of the old men stood up, pounded on the table and yelled,
"LIES! All LIES! He is nothing but a bluffer! This Rebbe never did a miracle and I can tell you that he doesn't even know what he’s saying!"
The poor Chassid was stunned speechless! He never expected a reaction like this. The other men turned to listen, and when the old fellow saw that no one was stopping him he continued;
"That's right! I know the truth! This whole Rebbe business is a bluff, a big bluff! I talked to him and I know first hand! It’s all lies!”
The Chassid didn’t want to make an argument, the fellow probably had a bad experience, and although it was the first time he ever heard of such a thing he figured he’d just try to change the subject and talk to the fellow in private. But the storm was just beginning.
“Not only him! Not only the Lubavitcher … but ALL the Rabbis are just a bunch of thieves and fakers!! That’s right!!!” He looked around at the crowd with satisfaction as though he’d been waiting to unload this vengeance for a long time. “They’re ALL bluffers!!!”
“What?” The bewildered Chassid said. “I understand that maybe you are angry one Rabbi but why ALL the Rabbis? What, do you know ALL the Rabbis in the world?!”
Some people in the crowd smiled but the complainer didn’t notice them. In fact he didn’t notice anything… he was aflame with revenge!
“You wanna know why?! I'll tell you why! About ten years ago my daughter told me she's marrying a gentile. Get it? A gentile! A catastrophe! Maybe I'm not so religious...but a non-Jew? That’s too much! After all, I’m a Jew. I mean, I got friends that were in Auschwitz.
“I tried to ask her to get him to convert but she tells me that he's not going to convert or nothing! So I started running around, talking to her friends, to Rabbis. Nothing helped. Then someone suggested that I go to the big Lubavitcher Rebbe and he would make a miracle. So I did it! I went by him and I told him the problem. You know what he did? He gave me a dollar to give to charity and said there was ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to worry about! So I took his advice and stopped worrying. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! Do you hear?
“You know what happened? Two months later they got married and now they got three children!
“So there is your great prophet! Big miracle worker! Fehhh! A big BLUFFER, that's what he is!!! ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to worry about! You hear!!??”
Everyone in the room was silent. The Chabad Rabbi was completely stunned. He had never heard such a story in his life. What could he say?
But the angry man didn't stop there; he was on a roll.
"Not just him! Not just him! ALL the orthodox Rabbis are a bunch of crooks. All of them! Each and every one. A bunch of fakers and lazy bums!"
"Nu!" Said the Chabad Rabbi, "I understand why you don't like the Lubavitcher Rebbe, but what have you got against all the other Rabbis? What did they do?!"
"What did they do!?" He screamed and waived his hands, "I'll tell you! It’s a horror story! Another nightmare!!! A few years later I wanted to divorce my wife and those creeps wouldn't give me a divorce. That's right! They refused!! I had to run around from Rabbi to Rabbi like a chicken with no head, and after all this…. they all refused!"
The director was really confused now. He'd heard about rabbis refusing to marry people, but why would they refuse giving a divorce? The answer was soon in coming.
"They said some garbage about my wife's conversion not being good or something. The fact is they are just a bunch of lazy bums!"
"Hey!" one of the other retirees called out. "Hey! If your wife wasn't converted properly, so your daughter isn't Jewish….she never was Jewish. So the Lubavitcher Rebbe was right! He knew what he was talking about; there WAS nothing to worry about! She married a gentile like herself!
This story answers our questions.
When the Jewish people left Egypt they were already called the ‘Sons of G-d’ (Ex. 4;22) but when they received the Torah they became ‘Servants of G-d’ (Ex. 3:12) as well.
The difference is that a son retains his title no matter what he does but a servant implies responsibility and service.
So too here; the old man in our story felt he was Jewish i.e. that G-d was his ‘Father’ despite the fact that he didn’t observe the Torah. He felt like a son.
But he also felt he had to be a ‘servant’ i.e. ‘responsible’ to make his daughter’s marriage and later his own divorce according to the Torah. This is what the Jews received at Mount Sinai; the desire to serve G-d on HIS standards.
But the truth was revealed by the Rebbe. In other words the Rebbe knew that EVERYTHING; all reality, depends on the Torah…. even who is a ‘son’. Just as Moses was necessary to connect the Torah to reality so the Rebbe sensed the fact that this man’s daughter was not Jewish… according to the Torah.
This answers our questions. True, Judaism is based on personal and individual revelation of G-d to each Jew uniquely (that’s why the Ten Commandments are all in the second person singular).
But the only way to really obtain and retain this revelation is through Moses or, as the mystical Zohar puts it; the Moses of every generation.
Indeed, back then when the Jews left Egypt and saw all these miracles and revelations it didn’t help! As SOON as they thought that Moshe had left them they worshiped the Golden Calf!! (Ex. 32:1)
In other words the Jews need a Moses at all times both to reveal the truth and also to internalize and hold on to it properly.
That is the uniqueness of the Jewish people. Each and every Jew as a ‘son’ and a ‘servant’ of G-d has an obligation internalize this G-dliness of the Torah and then teach the gentiles that they too are beloved, unique and created in the image of G-d (Pirki Avot 3:14).
This will be the purpose of Moshiach; to actually make all this happen! Just as Moses awakened the true identity of the Jews and attached them to the Torah so Moshiach will arouse the entire world, beginning with the Jews through the Torah http://www.ohrtmimim.org/Torah_Default.asp?id=939
It’s all up to us. One more good deed, word or even thought can tip the scales. Visit your local Chabad House and learn how to bring…
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