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 Va'etchanan (5771)
This week's Torah portion contains the 'motto' of Judaism said twice every day; once in the morning and once in the evening, by every Jew:
'Shma Yisroel, HaShem Elokeinu HaShem Echaud'. "Listen Jews, G-d is our L-rd, G-d is one." (Deut. 6:4)
Rash'i quotes the prophets Zephaniah (3:8) Zecharia (14:9) and explains that these words mean; "Listen Jews, now G-d is ours i.e. only we believe in Him. But in the days of Moshiach He will be ONE i.e. everyone will!"
And the Rambam (Laws of Kings 10:4 uncensored) quotes Jeremiah (16:19) and explains even more: that Moshiach will convince the gentiles that their religions are lies and fabrications and bring them all to believe only in the Creator.
In other words; the "motto" and goal of Judaism is that the Messiah will come and change everyone's beliefs.
Is this so important? Why doesn't Judaism shoot for world conquest, going to heaven, unlimited success, bliss, riches or power like all the other religions, philosophies or self-help programs? What do we care what everyone believes? What's wrong with everyone believing in what they want… or in nothing, if they want?
And finally, how can one person, Moshiach, change EVERYONE'S mind?
To understand this, here is a story. (Bais Moshiach #736 pg 58-61)
This story took place in Israel in 1986. Eliahu Gabai was an outstanding pupil in High School and was singled out for special training for service in the Israeli air force where he was eventually inducted in to train fighter pilots in flight-simulation machines.
But before he began his service he met up with a truly unique Jew called Rabbi Reuven Dunin and became a Chabad Chassid. (Rabbi Dunin had once been an atheistic-Israeli tractor driver from the 'Red' (i.e. communist) town of Haifa who himself met up with Chabad Chassidim some years earlier and became an enthusiastic Chassid of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. His enthusiasm was contagious)
All this gave him a greater sense of responsibility but it did not affect his work in the army, which he did with ultimate efficiency.
He wanted to make a difference.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe taught that only when each and every Jew reveals their 'Jewish identity' will there be meaning and peace in the world. But Israeli society and especially the army in those days, was very cold to Judaism. And, although there was a Rabbi on every base it was more a passive than active job……. so making a difference wasn't too probable.
But there was always prayer. Eliahu prayed for a brake ….. and his prayers were answered.
On every air force base were (and still are) neighborhoods of pilots and their families and this base was no exception. There was a small group of boys who approaching the age of 'Bar Mitzva' and needed some preparations. Because many of the non-religious pilots had worked with Eliahu they asked him to teach their sons (for some it would be the only religious occasion in their lives) and he happily agreed.
The class began with seven boys and he was thankful there were that many. But the boys enjoyed it, brought friends and in just a few months over seventy boys were attending twice weekly! They loved it!
Once he told them a story about Eliahu HaNavi (Elijah the Prophet) that so impressed them that they gave him the nickname "Eliahu HaNavi" (Elijah the Prophet) and called their group 'The class of Eliahu the Prophet.'
Eliahu wrote a letter to the Lubavitcher Rebbe reporting his success. It was like heaven on earth! But, as we know, heaven and earth aren't always compatible. Dark clouds were brewing over the horizon!
The commander of this base was a very non-religious general by the name of Ron Huldaie (who 12 years later would become the Mayor of Tel Aviv for five terms to date).
One evening he came home, yelled 'hello' and when no one answered he began looking around only to discover his 12 year old son, Gad, standing silently in a corner; feet together, swaying back and forth and reading from a book. He approached the boy and asked if everything was all right but to his astonishment he didn't answer! He just kept swaying and didn't even look up.
His wife, who had been in another room, entered, saw what was happening and assured her husband that there was nothing to worry about; a Rabbi was coming to the base and giving classes and he taught them not to answer in the middle of prayer.
The boy was praying!
Praying!? Rabbi!? On my base!!? In my house??! My boy!?? He was blazing mad; his son was being brainwashed under his nose! Who was this Rabbi? How did he get into the base? Why didn’t anyone stop him?
When his son finished he replied that all he knew was that his name was 'Eliahu HaNavi' (Elijah the Prophet!). (Eliahu had changed into civilian clothes before each class, so no one knew he was a soldier).
Immediately Huldaei contacted the chief of security and reprimanded him for allowing unauthorized personnel on the base, but the chief had no idea what he was talking about. So he contacted the Rabbi of the base and yelled at him but he too was bewildered. So in desperation he called the commanding general of the entire air force, but when he told him that the invading Rabbi's name was "Elijah the Prophet" the general almost fell off his chair laughing.
The next step was to make an emergency meeting with several other officers which he did but which didn't help at all.
So he decided to take things in his own hands. He lay in wait and the very next day caught the 'phantom Rabbi' red handed, revealed that it was one of his soldiers and told him to pack his bags and get off the base the next day.
Eliahu was heartbroken; all those beautiful children would never learn about Judaism! He went to his room, began to pack his bags, started weeping and fell asleep from exhaustion.
He had a dream. The Lubavitcher Rebbe appeared to him, asked him how things were going. Eliahu burst out crying; the Rebbe approached, opened his coat, put Eliahu's head inside and covered it with the coat. The message was clear; don't worry.
The next morning he received an envelope from New York! It contained two replies from the Rebbe for the letters he had sent weeks earlier! The first thanked him for the good news about the classes he was giving and the second was a general letter about the Torah portion of the week. Miracles were beginning to happen.
He finished packing, left the base and took a bus to central command where he was to be reassigned to a new location. But when the officer there examined his papers he scratched his head, examined them again and asked.
"What exactly is going on here? Why are they kicking you out? It will take me months to find someone qualified to replace you in flight simulation! I don't need headaches! And I don't see you did anything wrong. No problems with health, conduct, performance, attendance…. Nu? Say something! Why are they expelling you?"
Eliahu had no choice but to tell him, "Because I taught children on the base Torah."
"Torah?" The officer thought for a while then leaned forward, narrowed his eyes and asked angrily, "Does this have anything to do with the Lubavitcher Rebbe?" Eliahu shook his head 'yes'.
"If so," The commander brought his fist down on the table and yelled "they will kick me out before they kick you out. I'm sending you back! After the Rebbe saved my father's life I'm prepared to do anything for him. ANYTHING!" and he pounded the table again with all his might. "Now you go back to your base and tell them I sent you!"
Eliahu couldn't believe his ears. This officer looked like a totally non-observant Jew. He was happy that someone was fighting for him but his curiosity was aroused. What made him suddenly transform into a self-sacrificing Chassid? He wanted to hear the story and after a few requests the officer agreed.
He finished with Eliahu's papers, wrote something on them, pushed them back to him on the table, cleared his throat and began.
"About ten years ago my father woke one morning and he couldn't move his legs. We called a doctor, took him to the hospital, they brought the biggest professors in Israel but after thorough testing they advised us to take him to Mount Sinai Jewish Hospital in New York to even bigger experts.
"We did what they said but over there it was pretty much the same story; they made all sorts of tests but weren't sure what exactly to do except to make more tests. Meanwhile, one day a bunch of young religious Jewish boys came to ask people to put on Tefillin. My father and I put on, we got to talking and in no time they suggested that they take my father to a 'farbrinen' which they explained is some sort of serious, happy Chassidic speech-meeting, of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in honor of a Chassidic Holiday called Yud Tes Kislev.
"My father was considering it but before we knew it they got a wheelchair and permission from a doctor and an hour later we were in this big synagogue in Brooklyn that was packed with people at a place called 770 Eastern Parkway.
"Because my father was in a wheelchair they made way for him and we got a place close to the Rebbe. My father said it was one of the happiest moments in his life; everyone was singing, smiling and joyous …. exactly the opposite of the hospital. Suddenly the Rebbe gazed at my father and motioned 'LeChaim'. Someone produced a small plastic cup with some vodka in it and he drank. It was bitter, maybe not even permissible in his state but he figured one time won't hurt.
"But then the Rebbe motioned for him to stand and make another one. We tried to refuse; motioning and pointing at his wheelchair but the Rebbe just kept signaling that he should stand up. Someone put a hand under my father's arm and with super-human effort…. he stood!
"And even more amazing; he didn't fall back down! In a month or so he was totally healthy. All because of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Now, go back to your base!"
Eliahu returned to his base, was given permission to stay but on condition that he never to teach the children again. But he was allowed one last farewell meeting with them alone.
At that 'last' meeting he closed the door and said, "Children, remember how I told you that in the days of Rabbi Akiva there were harsh decrees against learning Torah? Well, now there is a similar decree on us. So we will do what the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak) did and what Rabbi Akiva did; they taught Torah 'underground'."
The children were excited. Eliahu told them that once a week he would put a code in the corner of one certain black board on the base that would tell everyone where and when they would meet that week. And so, for the next year, until he finished his service in the army, Jewish children overcame all obstacles and learned Torah …… in secret…. in Israel. Occasionally, even today over 25 years later Eliahu meets one of those 'children' who tell him how his classes changed their lives.
This answers our question: Why does the Shma prayer stress teaching the entire world about G-d.
The Jews are G-d's chosen people; chosen to put meaning, blessing and joy into every human heart. Chosen to inform all mankind how much G-d loves them and how important and alive every detail of life can be.
Indeed, G-d creates the entire world constantly and gave the Torah with its commandments and mysteries to tell us that each human has a unique responsibility to make the world a better place ……. and to teach us how to fulfill that responsibility (613 commandments for Jews, 7 for gentiles).
That's what the 'Shma Yisroel' prayer is saying. Today Jews and gentiles alike do not feel they are being created by G-d. And they certainly don't feel that G-d gave the Torah. In fact they don't feel much of anything except for themselves.
And until people do feel the truth there will be strife and unhappiness in the world.
The solution is 'Shma Yisroel' i.e. Listen Jews! Someone must first awaken "Yisroel'; the Jews, to do their job and awaken all mankind to the fact that G-d is ONE. Something like how the Lubavitcher Rebbe did to the hero of our story and he, in turn, did for the children on the base.
That someone will be Moshiach. He will make the Jews 'Hear' that G-d is 'our' G-d and they, in turn, will bring the entire world to know that "G-d is ONE"; creating and loving each and every one.
And if you ask how can one man accomplish such a change the answer is that he is only awakening something that is already there; the desire in every soul to know the truth.
Just a king is able to inspire the loyalty and patriotism of his people to fight and die so will Melech HaMoshiach ('King Messiah') awaken the loyalty of all mankind to their Creator to build and live.
Indeed, this is the goal of creation and without it; all other acquisitions; spiritual and physical are without meaning. But with it all other accomplishments; riches, fame even the bliss of heaven, are pale in comparison.
And therefore Shma Yisroel is the goal and motto of Judaism and of all mankind.
But it is all up to us to make it happen one second sooner! One more good deed, word or even thought can tip the scales and reveal…
Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.