This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Vayak'hel (5771)
This week we read almost the exact same thing, word for word, that we read three weeks ago in "Parshat Truma" about the building of the Tabernacle in the desert! The only main difference is that in then we learned what G-d commanded the Jews to do and this week we read about how they ACTUALLY did it.
At first glance this is hard to understand. Each word of the Torah is exact, written by G-d Almighty. Why repeat an entire Torah portion just to tell us that the Jews followed instructions? Why not just add a few words at the end of 'Truma' that the Jews did what G-d commanded?
Even more perplexing is; why Jews needed a Holy Temple or Tabernacle at all? Especially in the desert when everything around them; the Clouds of Glory, the pillar of fire, bread from heaven, water from a rock, Torah, Moses and Aaron, reminded them of G-d every moment. Even more; all they did in this Tabernacle was slaughter animals! How could that be more better than, for instance, the pillar of holy fire that blazed their path at night?!
To illustrate here is a story.
The Baal Shem Tov had a pupil who we will call Mordechi (the name wasn't mentioned in the original) that wanted to learn sorcery.
Sorcery is forbidden according to the Torah and Mordechi certainly knew it was but he had a great yearning.
It is known that the greater that a person is, so is his selfish ego (evil impulse). But as soon as he heard there was such a thing he felt that his life was gray and empty without it. Now he was desperate, bored, angry, depressed! He wanted action, REAL ACTION!
He already had made contacts, and everything was set. This Shabbat he would spend it with the Baal Shem Tov and early Sunday morning he would head out for a new life…. a REAL life!!
That Shabbat night he sang the songs, ate the meal, and listened to the words of Torah with all the other Chassidim, but his mind was far away. He vaguely noticed that it was unusually warm in the room and, not giving it much thought, he removed his Shtrimel (large fur hat worn by Chassidim), wiped the sweat off his brow and opened the top button of his shirt but it didn't help. He unbuttoned another button and removed his over coat. He'd never remembered it being so hot here before.
Through the window across from him he saw the icy winter wind howl through the trees and whip up the deep snow covering the forest outside. But he was sweating and he felt as though he was about to faint. "Please, may I step outside for a moment?" he asked the Master "I need some fresh air."
"Just for a minute, no longer" answered the Besh't "Just make sure that you return immediately, it's dangerously cold out there. Remember no longer than two minutes!"
It was already getting hard for him to breathe as he stood from his place, opened the door and stepped into freezing fresh air hitting his face. "Whew! Another minute and I would have passed out," he thought to himself as he closed the door quickly behind him. But suddenly he felt hot again. Without hesitating he opened his shirt and began rubbing his face and chest with snow. But this too only brought temporary relief. In just seconds he felt again as though he was standing in a furnace.
So he began running. Ahhh… The cool wind against his body felt good, he took wider and wider strides, stumbling and falling into the snow but he didn't care. He needed cold! Wind!! He staggered to his feet and began running … running like a madman through the woods the trees, leaves, snow on the ground racing, spinning by him, he was out of breath, the cold wind, the stars, the sky…… then he fell and everything went black.
He woke in a strange warm room and a freshly made bed. An old farmer and his wife were standing over him.
"Are you all right?" one of them asked worriedly "We thought you were dead when we found you there in the snow" said the other. "You've been sleeping for over a week. Are you all right? Do you want some warm soup? Where are you from?"
Our young hero was in a daze. He sat up, looked around and didn't remember anything, but he took up the offer on the soup.
In a few weeks he had regained his strength and was already learning how to clear the land and work behind the plow. Gradually the farm began to change. Mordechi, although he still had no idea who he was, had a sense of business. He hired new workers, purchased all the neighboring fields and farm and five years later what had been a simple farm had become a massive spreading estate.
One day, the old happy farmer returned from a trip into town and showed the young man an advertisement he had taken from the post office. "They are looking for new officers in the army" he said, "Just read this. I think you should apply; it's your chance to be someone really important. Just look at the miracles you have done here. You are someone special; don't waste your life here on this farm. You've been here long enough"
The young man took to the army like a fish to water. He passed all the entrance requirements with flying colors and after two years of officer's training a war broke out between his country and Poland he found himself a captain in the Czar's Royal cavalry.
Several chapters would be necessary to describe the many fierce battles and brave accomplishments of our hero, his innumerable brushes with death, his brazen spirit, split second decisions and impressive victories against impossible odds.
But suffice it to say that five years later he had already been promoted to the rank of Major-General with ten thousand mounted lancers at his command, when suddenly, as he was sitting astride his magnificent white steed reviewing his troops, as if from nowhere it came back to him in a flash of memory… that night twelve years ago when he left the Baal Shem's Shabbat table!
He paused for several minutes, deep in thought remembering every rich vivid detail, and every emotion that passed through his mind back then. Suddenly he came to himself and announced, "Dis…mount! Return to your tents, and prepare to travel. In one hour we are beginning a three day march!"
It was late at night three days later when the huge army reached forest surrounding the small synagogue of the Besh't. The General turned to face his myriads of mounted soldiers and yelled orders: "Light torches!" Suddenly the entire forest was illuminated with an eerie flickering light. "Draw Swords" the ringing of the swords and the glistening blades was everywhere.
He dismounted, approached the large old hut, drew his sword and began pounding with its hilt on the closed door "Open in the name of the King! See what happens to a Chassid who leaves the Holy Master! Ha HA HAAAAAA!"
No one answered, but he heard someone speaking within the house and he got angry.
He furiously stuck his sword in the snowy ground and began pounding on the door with both fists and screaming "Open! Open for a General in the King's army!" Slowly the door opened, the wind was whistling furiously as Baal Shem Tov stuck his head out and said, "Mordechi, are you still here? You have been outside for almost five minutes! Do you want to become ill? Come in immediately!"
"Five minutes?!" the General screamed "Look at all my troops and tell me about five minutes!" He turned around and…. there was no one there, even his horse had disappeared! The wind was howling through the trees and deep snow covered the silent forest. Even his uniform and sword were gone! He was in the same garments as he was…twelve years ago, it was all an illusion. The entire twelve years were an illusion. Suddenly he realized that the Besh't also knew magic, and he humbly reentered the house, back to the real world.
The point of the story is this: What if our hero hadn't woken up? What if he died thinking he was a General? Would that have been better?
The same for us; What if it were possible to live a 'virtual' life; to have our brains attached to electrodes so we can experience whatever life we wanted. Everyone could be movie stars, Generals, multi-billionaires or even kings. All mankind could live 120 imaginary years of pleasure with no disappointments or pain. No wars or hatred. Would it be worth it?
This week's section tells us, NO!
An imaginary life, a life that is not devoted to actually doing the Creator's will is a false life, and no healthy minded person wants to be fooled.
That is why the Torah doesn't mention heaven or hell and why Judaism regards death as the worst thing possible, even for those whose souls are in heaven! Because heaven is a virtual, spiritual life while here is a real world where one can ACTUALLY serve the Creator. (Which is why doing commandments and saying words of Torah in a Jewish Graveyard is called 'scoffing at the poor).
So this answers our question. The novelty of this week's Torah portion is ACTION. And that is why the Jews had to have a tabernacle and make sacrifices even while surrounded by miracles in the desert. Because miracles are what G-d does for us… but the Temple service was what WE do for G-d.
This is the reality of the Holy Temple and why it is so important that Moshiach will rebuild it! And also why he will gather all the Jews (from the desert) to Israel and cause the dead to rise; because ACTION in this physical world is, in fact, holier than all the spiritual worlds.
It all depends on us; just one more deed, word or even good thought can make it all happen a minute sooner to bring...
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