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Parshat Behaalotecha (5771)

This week's Torah portion contains the sentence that we say in the Synagogue every time we take out the Torah to read it publicly (which has been going on four times a week since it was given over 3,300 years ago).

"Raise up, G-d, and your enemies will scatter and those who hate you will flee before you" (10:35)

This is in tune with the upcoming holiday of Shavuot, commemorating the receiving the Torah and what it says in the Talmud (Shabbat 89b) that it was given on Mount Sinai because there 'SINA' (hatred) began toward the Jews.

At first glance this is totally not understood. First, why did the gentiles begin hating us just because we got the Torah? Second, if they all hate us, so we are outnumbered several thousand to one how can we possibly survive? And how have we survived up to now? Finally, if the Torah brings hatred then why not just stop learning it (G-d forbid)?

To understand this here is a story I just heard.

Rabbi Moshe Feller is the head Chabad emissary (Shliach) in the state of Minnesota. Recently he spoke to a group of honorable Rabbis and told them the following story. Two or three years ago a young man and woman, perhaps in their early twenties, appeared one Shabbat day at his Chabad house and at the end of the festive Shabbat meal asked for a few moments with him alone.

They told him that they were both almost totally ignorant of Judaism and wanted to learn. Or more exactly, wanted the girl to learn.

He was born Jewish and she was not, which officially makes her not Jewish. This did not bother them at all however and they were considering on getting married until to their genuine surprise the boy's parents, who were as non-observant as he, objected. They could do what they wanted… alone. But in no way would they support their son marrying 'out'.

They insisted that the girl convert and that is why they came to the Chabad house. They had considered the much easier 'reform' route but the girl heard that it wasn't one hundred percent accepted and decided to do it 'all the way'.

Rabbi Feller explained to them that conversion wasn't just like learning to drive a car or play the flute, rather it demanded a new orientation in life and would take at least a year of serious learning, But all this did not deter the young lady at all. She wanted nothing but the best, or perhaps she was just genuinely curious, and the young man wanted to remove all obstacles from the wedding day. So when Rabbi Feller suggested that she should convert via the Chicago Rabbinical Council (C.R.C.) they both readily agreed.

But then things got complicated. After a few weeks of learning she reported to her 'fiancée' that the classes were more serious than she thought. According to what they said one of the Ten Commandments is that Jews are supposed to keep the Shabbat! And they also taught her that Jews should put on Tefillin and eat only kosher food. So why didn't he do these things?

The young man replied simply that these were not things that actually had to be done, rather ideas to be learned; she was there to get converted so they could get married but certainly no more than that. The Ten Commandments were history, religion maybe even philosophy....but not reality!

But she disagreed. In fact she couldn't understand what he was talking about and after a few weeks of this eventually the inevitable happened. She told him that if he didn't want to take Judaism seriously then she didn't take him seriously and she broke off the engagement.

A year later she finished the course, took the tests and finally came the actual day of the 'conversion.'

The way it's done is that the one being converted is taken to a mikva (a body of water made exactly according to Torah standards, in a closed room) immerses totally in the water, facing away from the door. Three Rabbis then open to door for a second to see that the convert is totally immersed and that ends the 'ritual'.

So it was in this case. Rabbi Feller was one of the Rabbis. They all glanced in, witnessed the immersion and then closed the door and waited for the young lady to leave the water and get dressed.

Suddenly from the mikva room they heard screaming!

Rabbi Feller was shocked! Could it be that something went wrong? Why was the girl screaming...almost hysterically!

In the next moment he had the answer. She screamed,

"I'm a JEW!!! I'm a JEW!!!"

She was overjoyed by the fact that she had become Jewish!

At this point Rabbi Feller finished his story, and said to his audience, "My dear colleagues, that girl was screaming and shouting in joy because she was a Jew for only a minute! But we have been Jews for tens of years!! Why aren't we happy like that? Why aren't we as happy?! The reason is because we forget the gift we have.

This answers our questions.

Joy is the result of doing or being involved in something 'meaningful' and the more meaningful; the more joy we have.

Conversely; deeds which have only physical 'payoffs' may bring fleeting satisfaction but not lasting joy.

Therefore there have been people in concentration camps or in other difficulties who can find meaning and even joy in life while only too often do we see the rich and the famous personally depressed and joyless.

When G-d gave the Torah to the Jews He gave them true, absolute, infinite meaning. That is what the convert in our story was screaming in joy about and that is what the Rabbis forgot; ultimate meaning and with it, ultimate joy.

That is why the Torah brought hatred; because we Jews have this meaning and joy but we keep it hidden… often from even ourselves!!! (Like the Rabbis in our story)

True, there are gentiles that hate us because the Torah limits their ego: 'absolute' meaning from an absolute G-d, means that they can't do, say and even think what they want and people don't like that (especially the Jews themselves).

But most, if not all, of them will drop this hatred when they see our joy and realize that it can be theirs as well (through observing the Noahide Commandments: http://www.ohrtmimim.org/Torah_Default.asp?id=939 )

This explains the sentence in our Torah portion, "Raise up, G-d, and your enemies will scatter and those who hate you will flee before you"

Namely, when our enemies (who really hate G-d and therefore are called "YOUR enemies etc") see our Joy and realize that we are attached to the King of the Universe who has miraculously protected us from them for these thousands of years, then all their hatred and opposition will evaporate.

But this depends on us learning the Torah and feeling the meaning and joy in the commandments.

As the Chassidim bless each other on Shavuot; "May you receive the Torah with Joy and meaning (simcha v'penimious).

Then, together with this joy, even one more good deed, word or even thought can tilt the scales and bring….

Moshiach NOW!

Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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