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 Massei (5771)
This week's section is called 'Journeys' and begins with the sentence "These are the Journeys of the Jews that they left Egypt". Namely a detailed list of the 42 journeys the Jews took in the 40 years of travel in the desert from Egypt to Israel.
The Baal Shem Tov explained that these journeys represent 42 milestones everyone must experience in life (birth, marriage, success, failure etc) from the day of birth (leaving Egypt) till the day of death (entering Israel).
But this is not understood for many reasons.
First; why does the Torah call the 42 journeys as leaving Egypt when, in fact, only the FIRST was from Egypt? The other 41 were APPROACHING Israel.
Second; there were many journeys that were bad, for instance Kivrot HaTaava where the Jews sinned with the Manna (Num. 11:34) and Shitim where they sinned with the women of Moab(Num.25:1). Does that mean that according to the Baal Shem Tov, we must all sin?!
Third; why is it called 'Journeys' and not "ENCAMPMENTS"? After all, the places they camped were the main thing; the journeys were only means to get from one encampment to the next.
Fourth, and most important, of what practical importance is this to us now?
Here is a story I saw in a book called Rabim Haishiv Mavon ByRabbi Aaron Dov Halperin(vol. 1 pg 161) that will help us understand.
Our story occurred some 30 years ago with a Chabad Chassid called Rabbi Dovber Levi who was an expert in ' Kashrut'. There are many very complicated laws and conditions that must be fulfilled for food to be permissible (Kosher) for Jews to eat and Rabbi Levi's job was to inspect various plants throughout the world to assure the food they produced met these conditions and could be certified as 'Kosher'.
As a Chabad Chassid, before each trip he would write to the Rebbe for blessing and advice. Usually he would receive almost the same response each time; wishes for a safe and successful journey and several dollars to be given to charity when he reached his destination.
But this time, it happened to be a flight to the Philippines, in addition to the above, the Rebbe added a check for one hundred and eighty dollars and orders to locate the Jewish community there ,speak before them and give them the check.
After he arrived in the Philippines and finished his job of checking out the food (which turned out to be non kosher) he, instead of just getting the first flight out as was his custom, began searching and asking around for directions to the synagogue of the orthodox Jewish congregation.
It took a bit of time but when he finally found it, traveled there and entered, he was shocked; it was filled but the men and women were sitting together in one big room for the prayers!
Although this may not seem important to the average reader, and it wasn't at all to them, it is, in fact, forbidden in Judaism for several reasons. The foremost of which is that prayer requires concentration on spiritual matters and removal from worldly ones, which is impossible in mixed seating.
His original plan was to fulfill the Rebbe's directive by saying a few nice words but now, with a goal and a topic he asked for permission to speak and the crowd, sensing that he had something important to say, fell silent as he took his place before them. He spoke of the importance of making a division ( me'chi'tza), explained what it is, told stories, jokes, examples and finally produced the Rebbe's check as participation in its building.
To his amazement the crowd was enthusiastic! They accepted the check and promised to build a ' Mechitza' according to whatever standards he dictated.
But that wasn't all.
As he was completing explaining to them all the technical details of the Mechitzasuddenly the door of the synagogue burst open and a young man came running in while putting on a Yarmulke as he yelled, "Is Rabbi Levi here!? Is Rabbi Levi here?!"
When he saw the Rabbi he ran up to him, shook his hand, sighed a sigh of relief and said.
"Hello! Shalom! My name is Y…., I'm fromNew York, not far from where you live. That's why I want to talk to you." He caught his breath and continued. "I came to learn medicine here a few years ago after I didn't get accepted to any University in the U.S.A. Anyway, I did pretty well, that is I'm doing well here and, well, I met a really nice girl here in Medica lSchool and, well, she's very intelligent and we get along great. Phew! Let me catch my breath. Well, we decided we want to, err, that is, we're getting married. I plan to take her to New York and we'll get married and set up a clinic there.
"I don't want to just call my parents and tell them such an important thing long distance. And, well, you are a Rabbi and know how to talk. So what I'm asking is that when you get back to New York, please do me a favor and visit my parents and tell them you were here and that I'm doing well and I'm going to get married to and the girl happens to be non-Jewish."
Rabbi Levi almost fell down in shock. If it wasn't for the Rebbe he would have been long gone from the Philippines and would have never met this young man. He had to convince him to call off the wedding. But it wasn't so easy. So he used every argument he could think of, with no results; Y... was determined to get married and NOTHING would change him.
So with no alternative Rabbi Levi promised to relay the sad news to the fellow's parents and left.
But when he got to New York and told Y……'s parents they didn't take it well. They both broke out in hysterical weeping and after a few minutes his father actually passed out cold on the carpet for a few minutes.
"Please" his mother begged "Please, we know you spoke to our son but we beg you, please try again."
Rabbi Levi got the young man's number. He lifted the phone, called him in the Philippines, explained what happened when his parents heard the news and spoke as he had never spoken before.
"That was only when they HEARD you're marrying a gentile." He said passionately. "Think what will be when they actually see her! Not only that but I understand they gave you all their life's savings for you to learn medicine. Is this how you repay them?"
The next morning at 7 a.m. Y... called his parents and told them that he called off the wedding.
Several months later Rabbi Levi received a letter in the mail from the president of the Philippine Synagogue containing pictures of, not only the new mechitza they had built but also the new Mikva that they were beginning to build and a note from the young doctor that he was now part of the congregation and was looking for a Jewish girl to marry.
This answers our questions.
Everyone, especially every Jew, is supposed to take 42 major journeys in life. But without Moses the chances are slim of even making the first one; leaving Egypt. But really each of them is 'leaving Egypt'.
The Hebrew word fo rEgypt( Mitzrayim) is synonymous with 'limitations' ( Maitzarim). So these 42 journeys are really 42 levels of leaving one's egotistical limitations and becoming a new person as we saw in our story; the congregation, the young doctor and even the Rabbi changed attitude totally.
And, as in our story, by opening ourselves totally to change we too can transform even the most negative,seemingly inevitably 'bad' journeys…..to good and positive ones.
And that is why our Torah portion is called 'Journeys' and not "Encampments'. Because even though the encampments i.e. accomplishments in life are important, the main thing is to constantly 'move' and change ourselves and the world around us according to the Torah.
This is the work of Moshiach alluded to in the name of the final journey (33:48) ' Yardain Ye raecho' (referring to Moshiach who will judge with 'Raecho' i.e., his sense of smell (Isaiah 11:1)
But the key is to follow the words of the Moses. In our case the Moses of our generation; the Lubavitcher Rebbe (see your local Chabad House for instructions)
This will move us to make the first journey and bring us to the last journey; all the Jews will gather toIsraeland together with all mankind will worship only the Creator according to His Torah.
Then the world will be filled with the knowledge of the Creator like water fills the ocean and there will be no more suffering, war, or ignorance. ( Rambam, Laws of Kings 11:1)
It all depends on us. Even one more good deed, word or even thought NOW can tip the scale and bring...
Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.