This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Balak (5771)
This week’s Torah portion stars two evil anti-Semites; the king of Moav, Balak and the Midionite master of curses, Bilamwho, despite their hatred for each other were willing to unite in order to destroy the Jews (a la the U.N. today).
And it almost worked. But for some unexplainable reason every time they tried, the greatest blessings possible came out; Moshiach.
That’s right; the clearest and most optimistic prophesies regarding the Messiah came from the foul mouth of Bilam.The Rambam even quotes him as a basis of several criterion of Messiah.
According to Judaism, Moshiach is the goal of creation. He will bring world peace, harmony, prosperity, blessing and joy by inspiring all Jews to live according to the Torah (Seven Noahide Commandments for the gentiles). Exactly the opposite of everything that Bilam stood for.
Why was Bilam chosen to prophesize his coming?
This week will also mark the 83rd anniversary of the 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe’s release from Stalinist prison and ultimate victory over Communism.
The Chabad Chassidim consider it to be the ‘beginning of redemption of the Jewish people despite the fact that on this day the Rebbe did not go free. Rather he was sentenced to exile instead of death …. so why is it reckoned as day of freedom!?
But, in fact, the Rebbe did not go free on that date…. so why is it reckoned as day of freedom!
In order to understand this here are two stories.
The first is about Holy Rebbe of Kloisenberg; Rabbi Yekusiel Yehuda Halberstram during the holocaust.
Rabbi Halberstram lost his wife, all his eleven children and over 250 members of his family to the Nazis but miraculously he was not killed. In fact he not only survived the camps, throughout the ocean of torture, disease and death he against all odds, remained a beacon of light and optimism for all those around him.
One of those who he inspired was a Jew named Rabbi Aba Halperin. He too survived the holocaust and lived to tell the world how he personally saw the Rebbe save thousands of Jews from certain death.
He and the Rebbe were two of a work force of 3,000 Jews that the Germans took from the death camp Birkinauin 1944 to clean the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto. The work was backbreaking, almost non-stop and they were guarded closely lest they try to rest. Escape was out of the question.
Then, early one blisteringly hot summer morning, the Germans told all the workers to line up in rows of three and begin marching; they had to move fast.
The Russians were closing in on Warsaw and the Germans didn't want to leave behind any evidence for them.
The heat was unbearable, the Jews could barely stand no less walk but it made no difference to the Germans. Making progress and marching in line were their only interests. They had enough ammo and cold cruelty to kill everyone. Dogs and Nazis were barking everywhere.
Anyone that stepped out of line, even one step, was immediately shot. It was especially awful when they passed a river or a brook. The thirst was so intense that the sight of water simply drove some people crazy and, unable to hold themselvesback, instinctively made a move toward the water and were instantly riddled with bullets before everyone.
The Rebbe ordered all those around him to pass the word to all the Jews that no one was to step out of line for any reason and promised that there would be water.
But when the second morning of marching arrived and water didn't arrive, the complaints, moaning and thirst became unbearable. Everyone felt it was better to die quickly from a gunshot then slowly and painfully from thirst. It was simply impossible to not to break ranks.
The Rebbe said to pass the word that if everyone stays in line he promises that in the evening he personally will provide water for each and every Jew.
Near sunset the Nazis told everyone to lie down in the road to sleep. It was impossible to march at night because it would be too easy for people to escape in the darkness, but there was no water.
The people that the Rebbe told to spread the word came to him and demanded the miracle. "Where is the water?! People are dying! You said that we would have water!!'
The Rebbe answered, "Each of you has a spoon, right? (the Germans gave each Jew a crude spoon to eat the 'soup' when apportioned). "Tell each person to take his spoon and dig in the ground where he is and they will find water."
The road was totally dry surrounded by open fields and therwas no trace of water as far as the eye could see. It was totally impossible that there would be water in this wasteland.
But each person lay on their sides, took out their spoons and lifelessly scraped the dirt where they were, and lo and behold, a miracle!! Each one found water! Everyone’s spoons filled with water! They were saved!
Years later in Israel when the Rebbe spoke at the grand opening of the Kloisenburg Synagogue in Tel Aviv he told this story and then pointed to Rabbi Aba Halperin and added to the crowd, "And if you don't believe me you can ask Rabbi Aba - he was there." (Shaa Tova weekly magazine #309).
The second story is about the first Prime Minister of Israel, Dovid Ben Gurion. In the true Zionist spirit he was an avowed atheist and had as little to do with Torah and its commandments as possible.
But once Rabbi Menachem Porush met with the Lubavitcher Rebbe and told him the following story.
“Often, I had opportunities to discuss various topics with the founder of the modern State of Israel, Prime Minister Ben Gurion. Having fought the many battles and survived the countless political deadlocks that had been necessary for the nascent nation to emerge, Ben Gurion was a fascinating person to speak to, his perspective of historical events unlike any other. During one of those conversations, I asked him:
"’Which would you say was the most difficult moment for you as a leader and politician, throughout your entire career?’
“He immediately answered, ‘When we announced the establishment of the state of Israel, in the midst of chaotic battles waged on several fronts, we did not have the most vital of military equipment, guns,’
"’After endless agony, we were finally able to obtain a miniscule cache of guns, procured from a reluctant Russia. Incapable of supplying all the troops with proper artillery, I had to make a tortuous choice which of our valiant comrades, all contributing their entire energies to a venerable cause, should receive the goods.
“’Each commander, many of them close friends of mine, vying for his men, had his own reasoning why it was imperative that the guns be directed to them. My friends from the Galilee, locked in battle over strategic enemy positions, while outnumbered and understaffed, came to me and cried, 'While you sit here in safety, our best young men are falling, lacking the most basic weapons. Give us guns, so we can protect this land, or all will be lost.'
"’From Central Command in Tel Aviv, endeavoring to withhold hostile forces from completely overrunning the heart of the country, came the besieged Hagana leaders, who demanded, 'We must have more equipment; the majority of our civilian population are under incessant fire, and without stocking our depleted stockpiles, we will be compelled to surrender.'
"Harassed and fatigued, the generals from the Negev arrived next, pleading for every morsel of warfare they could receive, 'If you don't supply us with adequate arms, we will be powerless against the armies invading the South, putting at risk all of the inhabitants of the land.'
"Finally, following these groups, a contingency appeared, representing the gallant but beleaguered soldiers defending the ancient capital,Jerusalem. Heads drooping on their tattered uniforms and shoulders slouching under the heavy weight of battle, they lifted their weary eyes and simply said, 'You must replenish our empty storehouses if we are to continue guarding our holy city. Although there may not be many Jews in the city, it is crucial to the future of the nation that it remain in our hands; for Jerusalem is the essential spirit and central organism of our people, and Israel having lost Jerusalem would be like a body without a head.'
"I was faced with a moral quandary, and this was the toughest decision in my life; how can one make such a choice? Who is to decide which region is more vital and which people best deserve to live? His anguish inconceivable, a leader is forced to make such a judgment of one man over another. In the end, unable to reach a logical compromise, I allowed my emotional instincts to override strategic concerns; the argument aboutJerusalem's centrality in Jewish religion and history prevailed, and I handed over the weapons to those guarding the city.’
“Concluding this tale before the Rebbe, who had listened attentively to every detail, I observed how deeply moved, and even pleasantly shocked he seemed; apparently, finding it hard to believe Ben Gurion had behaved that way. Still coming to terms with the story and visibly impressed, he asked me with great feeling to repeat the entire incident.
“At the end of the second time the Rebbe said:
"’This is a tremendous achievement, an incredible merit. I marvel how Ben Gurion acquired the great merit to make such a monumental decision."(Ascent of Safed, Story #709)
Now we can answer our questions. Exile and redemption do not depend on where our bodies are but rather where our souls are. A Jew can be in a death-march like the Kloisenberger Rebbe and be in the redemption. Or in Israel like Ben Gurion, and be in Exile.
It all depended on their free choice to be connected to the truth or not.
And often what brings us to this choice is hardship.
That is why the evil Bilam was the one who advertised Moshiach; because often only from the deepest darkness comes the greatest light. That’s what happened to Ben Gurionin our story; just as the Kloisenberger Rebbe brought water from arid land.
That is why the date of Gimmel Tammuz is the beginning of redemption; because it was on that day that the Lubavitcher Rebbe proved that G-d was the boss...even in Communist prison!
May we all reveal the truth hidden in each of us, or, as the present Lubavitcher Rebbe said; the Moshiach in each of us.
One more good deed, word or even thought can transform all the darkness to light and reveal...
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