This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.
Parshat Shlach (5771)
This week we read the strange and sad story of one of the biggest failures in history: the aborted exodus from Egypt.
The Jews suffered over two hundred years in Egyptian slavery with only one hope: to be free and enter the land promised them by G-d to Abraham Isaac and Jacob...and finally it was about to happen!
After a year of amazing miracles the Jews left a decimated Egypt and were standing at the borders of the Holy Land. But before entering the ‘scouts’ Moses sent to preview the land returned and convinced the Jews not to enter!!
The results were disastrous; only 40 years later, after all of the sinners died in the desert, did the next generation enter…. And it was without Moses.
There are many explanations given for this strange turn of heart but whatever they are one thing seems obvious ….. this depressing story should not be in the Bible!
Torah means ‘teaching. The Torah and every word and idea therein instructs us to be better, more positive and more productive human beings.
But this negative story seems to broadcast the opposite:If the generation that left Egypt, 'saw' G-d and experienced His miracles constantly were afraid to do such a positive, holy thing as enter Israel, then what chance or reason do we have to think positively and overcome our ‘real’ obstacles?
To understand this here is a story
200 years ago Germany was a place of flourishing Judaism. Despite the inroads of the Reform movement hundreds of thousands of G-d fearing Jews faithfully learned and kept the Torah of their fathers.
One of these Jews, who we will call Mr. Deutch (although his name was not mentioned in the story), had big problems. His 12 year old son was deaf and mute; he had not spoken or heard a word since birth could not read or write and apparently was doomed to a life of ignorance and silence.
But Mr. Deutch did not give up easily. He brought the boy to the greatest specialists and professors in the world but they all concluded that although the lad seemed to be intelligent and could perhaps be taught to perform simple tasks, he would certainly never be able to really function normally.
But then a strange rumor reached Mr. Deutch's ears; someone told him that in Poland there were Jews called Chassidim who stressed joy and boundless enthusiasm and had leaders called Rebbes that did miracles like …… healing the sick.
At first he didn't believe it; Jews? Miracles? Things like that only happened thousands of years ago by people like Elijah the prophet. But now!? In the 18th century?! Out of the question! And what was this business about joy and excitement? In Germany all this was totally unheard of. German Judaism was, above all, normal, balanced, and formal. Miracles, rarely, if ever entered the picture and even joy was restricted to certain occasions and holidays.
But as he made more inquires and heard more details he began to pay attention. People were saying that there was a Jew called Rabbi Yissacher Dov of Radoshitz nicknamed the 'Saba Kadisha' (holy grandfather) Who was a genius in Torah, knew all the books, had thousands of pupils, people came to him with their problems from all over Europe and he did miracles!
Mr. Deutch thought it over for a few weeks and finally decided to give it a try. He took a briefcase filled it with money, packed his bags, got into his fancy carriage with his son and a few days later they were standing in the Synagogue of the "Holy Saba of Radoshitz" waiting to be called for an audience.
The Rabbi's door opened, a strikingly impressive Jew exited, introduced himself as Shlomo of Radomsk, a pupil of the holy Rabbi (in time, this Rabbi Shlomo would also become a holy Rebbe with thousands of followers of his own) and asked them to enter.
Mr. Deutch entered with his son and was struck by the holiness of the old Rabbi sitting before him. The Rabbi asked what he wanted and Mr. Deutch, knowing that this was his last hope, began weeping as he explained his problem and finished, tears running down his face, with a promise from the depths of his broken heart, "Rebbe, if you can heal my son I'm willing to give you everything I own! Everything! Here is a briefcase full of money. Take it! And if you cure my son I'll sign over to you all the rest!"
With this he burst out into uncontrollable weeping while his son just looked on from his world of silence with a blank, slightly perplexed look on his face.
The Rebbe of Radoshitz looked at him for a few seconds, nodded his head in agreement and said,
"Listen, my friend. I will make you a deal. Keep your money. All your riches can remain in your hands. You don't have to give me even one penny. You can continue being a businessman, invest your money and continue doing good deeds. Your money won't help. All I want is a promise."
Mr. Deutch was all ears. He leaned forward expecting to hear a complicated message. The Rebbe continued.
"I want to promise that you won't cut your beard, not even trim it, and let your payos (hair on the sides of the head) grow from now on."
At first Mr. Deutch didn't understand. The Rebbe didn't want his money? He was ready to pay a lot of money.... ALL his money. What possible good could come from a beard? Exactly the opposite! In Germany top priority was given to being clean and neat. A full beard (and especially with payos) was sort of primitive and….. ugly!! He would be ostracized!
'Please Rabbi" gasped Mr. Deutch as he leaned forward and almost whispered to the Rebbe. Anything but that! I'm prepared to give you all my belongings; everything I have in the world! Rabbi, think of the charity and good deeds you could do with all that money. It's more than you think Rabbi. I'm talking about millions of marks! Please reconsider! This people would understand. But a beard I cannot do! How could I show my face before my family and friends? I am the head of the Jewish community of my city! I would be looked at like a madman."
The Rabbi looked at him with soft eyes and answered. "If you truly want your son to be healed then you must do as I say. The decision is in your hands."
After a few moments of painful contemplation Mr. Deutch shook his head in agreement, lovingly stroked his son's hair, and announced emotionally that he was prepared to follow the Rebbe's orders.
But he begged to be given just two more weeks. In two weeks would be the wedding of his niece. After the wedding he could grow the beard and payos and before the wedding he would get them ready for the change.
The 'Tzadik' (holy Jew) gave him a look that perhaps he would agree to such a reasonable request….. but replied.
"No my friend, you must begin today. If you don't, I cannot help you."
Mr. Deutch closed his eyes and it was obvious that an inner battle was raging in his heart. Tears came from his eyes. He wiped them off, took out a handkerchief blew his nose, stood straight and said quietly but assertively.
"Yes Rabbi, I will do as you say. From now on, beginning today, I'll grow the beard and side locks."
The Rebbe smiled, nodded, shook Mr. Deutch's hand and invited him to join him and his Chassidim (followers) at his Shabbat table the next evening.
The word spread like fire and on Shabbat evening (Shabbat and the holidays begin at sunset) every male in Radoshitz was crowded in the large room around the hundred or so Chassidim sitting around the well supplied and decorated table.
The Rebbe sat at the head of the table, his pupil Shlomo of Radomsk at his right, a slightly unshaven Mr. Deutch and son sat next to him and tens of other pupils took cramped places around the table waiting for the Rebbe to fill his cup with wine and make the Kiddush prayer over a cup of wine to begin the meal.
The Rebbe closed his eyes while the hundreds of Chassidim sang a beautiful soulful song. It was as though the room had been transported to another world. Suddenly he opened his eyes motioned for one of the Chassidim to pour him wine, lifted the full silver cup slowly, stood, said the 'Kiddush' praising G-d for giving the Holy Shabbat and then sat and drank half of its contents.
The crowd was silent as the Rebbe motioned to the boy to approach. The boy stood slowly and when he reached the Rebbe you could hear a pin drop. The Rebbe told Shlomo of Radomsk, to hold the cup with him, together they put it up to the child's lips and he said quietly,
"Now my son, make a blessing on the wine."
The boy hesitated for a moment, looked intently at the wine in the cup, cleared his throat and then said in shaky high pitched voice,
"Boruch...... ataw...... Melech... HaOlom.... Borei... Pri HaGefen" and took a sip.
Mr. Deutch began to laugh and cry alternately. He stood, then sat, shook hands and hugged everyone around him especially his son, everyone except the Rebbe. The Chassidim broke into joyous song and Mr. Deutch danced before all of them, raising his hands to the heavens and yelling "Danks Got" and kissing his son over and over again.
Finally, when the confusion died down and Mr. Deutch caught his breath he stood on a chair and announced.
"Today everyone made a big profit. I kept my money and got a talking son" one of the Chassidim added "and a beard with payos!" Everyone laughed.
He continued, "My son got his hearing and speaking!" Everyone clapped.
"But the Rebbe also got something… he now has a new Chassid.....Me!
"Till today I was deaf too. I was deaf to the joy of being a Chassid but it's never too late to start hearing."
This answers our questions.
The reason that the generation of the spies was afraid to enter Israel was basically the same reason that Mr. Deutch was afraid to grow a beard and payos; it was totally unfamiliar. People love security; they love to be in control what happens to them and to do what comes naturally. For sure the Jews in the desert were the same but even more so. What they wanted naturally was only holy things like learning Torah and thinking about G_d and in the desert they could do it uninterruptedly.
But this often can be the opposite of what G-d wants. As in our case; the Jews got used to the miraculous life, receiving food, water and protection directly from G-d and learning the Torah directly from Moses. It was like heaven on earth. So entering Israel required a lot of faith: they had to leave holy security and enter a world of totally new challenges and responsibilities. But this was exactly what G-d wanted; Total transformation.
Just as Mr. Deutch totally transformed himself so did the next generation that actually entered Israel. They decided to let G-d control the world and their lives.
This is very relevant to us today; the Lubavitcher Rebbe said countless times that ours is the generation that must make the transition from ‘exile’ to ‘redemption’. Ours is the generation of Moshiach.
Moshiach will be a leader exactly like Moses, who will bring all mankind to reject the attitude of the 'spies' and to rely totally on the Creator and His Torah.
That is the lesson from this week's Torah portion. There is an alternative to the security attitude of the 'Spies'. We need not spend our energy trying to continue the past and reject a new future.
And just one more good deed, word or even thought can make it happen a moment sooner to bring ..... we must only change our attitude a little and we will be dancing with….
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.