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 Eikev (5771)
This week's Torah portion; the third in the book of Deuteronomy which is devoted to Moses preparing the Jews to enter Israel, contains eight new commandments among which are: not deriving any benefit from idols, to say 'grace' after meals, to fear G-d, to love converts, to pray to G-d and more.
It also contains a clear indication that the dead will one day rise (11:21 see Rashi).
At first glance these last two; praying to G-d and the Raising of the dead, don't make much sense.
Why should we pray to G-d, and what good can it possibly do? G-d creates us, is infinitely good and knows what is best for us. So why not just accept what He gives? Why try to convince Him to do what WE want?
And if we suppose that G-d isn't almighty or that He isn't infinitely good, then why waste our time praying? Maybe He wants us to suffer or just doesn't care or can't do anything about it?
Also this idea of the dead raising is very hard to understand. It means that in the end of days all the souls will return to resurrected bodies. It's even one of the 13 basics of Jewish faith. But it seemingly makes no sense; why not just leave the souls in heaven? What do they have to come back to their bodies?
To understand all this, here is a story I just heard from Rabbi Shmuel Hendel in Kfar Chabad, told to him by Rabbi Eliyahu Segal of Rishon L'Tzion.
It occurred just recently in New York. The phone rang one evening in the home of an orthodox Jewish family with bad news; their 90-plus year old mother, grandmother etc. who had been in a nursing home for the aged, passed away quietly in her sleep.
Everyone wept, funeral arrangements were made, and early the next afternoon family and friends gathered from near and far to pay their last respects and bring their beloved relative and friend to her final resting place.
After the funeral as everyone was leaving the gravesite it was announced that the family would 'sit shiva' (observe the seven (shiva) days of mourning) in their home and everyone was invited to comfort them and participate in the prayers thrice daily.
The next few days were busy, the house was filled with visitors and those who were not able to come sent telegrams and called long distance. But on the afternoon of the third day one strange phone call stood out from all the others.
The phone rang, one of the children answered and the voice on the other end said, "Hello! Is this Avi? Is everything all right? Are mommy and daddy there? What do you mean who is it? Don't you recognize your grandma? This is Avi, right? Nu! So let me talk to your mom or dad. Why don't you come visit?"
Her son got on the phone and....hesitantly said "Mom, is this you?" "Of course it is!" She replied, "What's going on? Why doesn't anyone come to visit me for three days already? Is everything all right?"
Mom was still alive! He burst out crying and joyously turned to everyone else, who already heard the boy's conversation. "Grandma didn't die!" He said with a wild look of disbelief "She's on the phone…. She's alive!"
The joy was great! He told her they were on their way to visit her and in no time they were by her side explaining the whole thing. It had obviously been a terrible mistake.
But suddenly it dawned on them....they just had made a funeral and buried someone! Who was that someone? And who were her relatives?
They had been so overwhelmed with their own living grandmother that they hadn't thought about the dead one! So they called the manager of the nursing home and when he heard what had happened he got the secretaries working and in a short time they got to the bottom of it. Unfortunately things like this happen.
In the same building was another patient with the same name as their grandmother. Both were holocaust survivors, both were in their nineties and both were very similar in build. So somehow the management confused the identities, made a terrible mistake and informed the relatives of the living one instead of the deceased. The management apologized profusely, agreed to pay the price of the funeral, damages, missed work etc. begged them to understand and set to finding the relatives of the deceased woman.
After a short investigation they discovered that she had only one relative; a son who lived not far away and they all agreed that it would be best if the family of the living woman would deliver the bitter news. After all, they reasoned, probably the son would be angry and they could calm him down by assuring that she was given the utmost honor and respect, show them the gravesite etc.
But they were in for a surprise.
As soon as he picked up the phone and heard they were calling from the nursing home and would like to visit him he interrupted and said, "If you're calling to say my mom died no need to come. Just cremate her, throw away the ashes and send me the bill. Okay?"
They were shocked. They had never experienced such callousness! But when they asked if they could come speak to him, he agreed and a half hour later they were sitting in his home trying to explain to him that cremation is forbidden according to Jewish law and that the custom is there should be a proper Jewish burial, there is the raising of the dead etc.
But he wanted no part of it on principle. Not only was cremation cheapest, most efficient, and space and time saving - it was realistic! All this business about souls, G-d, Judaism and raising of the dead was all nonsense as far as he was concerned. People were like plants or animals that live and die… it's nature. "THAT is reality!" He said emphatically.
Finally they had no choice but to tell him the truth.
That, in fact, his mother died several days ago. But by mistake they were told it was their mother and so they not only gave her a Jewish burial but they already sat three days of 'Shiva' for her. They were about to add he doesn't have to worry about money ….. but he didn't give them a chance.
"What!?" He held his head in his hands and whispered "buried? Mom got buried?"
He had this strange, stunned look on his face. They couldn't figure out what he was doing. He closed his eyes, his face contorted and suddenly he burst out weeping uncontrollably like a baby! From time to time he said, "Oy! Buried!"
After ten fifteen minutes he calmed down, sat down, asked for a glass of water, wiped his eyes, and explained.
"My mother was a holocaust survivor. All her family got killed by the Germans along with my father and all his family. But she got out with me. I was just a baby then but we moved to America and after all that happened to her…... she still believed in G-d.
"At first everything was okay but as I got older, like fifteen sixteen, and didn't want to be different from everyone else so I dropped Judaism. She started bugging me about how we are different, I should marry only a Jewish girl and eat kosher food etc. but it just made me mad.
"We used to have big arguments until I got so fed up I told her that I'm not going to live a life like hers. As far as I'm concerned there is no such thing as G-d or afterlife or souls or Judaism and when I die I'm going to have my body cremated and that's what I'll do to her's also when she dies. I guess it was sort of cruel but I thought it was for her good, that she should start living in a real world and leave the 'superstitions'.
"Finally I told her I'll make a deal. She should pray to G-d; if she's right and G-d exists then He'll see to it that she gets a burial but if not then… cremation. I was a hundred percent sure, no doubt at all, what the outcome would be.
"Now I see I was wrong! All this time she was right! Do you understand what happened!? G-d listened to her prayers! She was right! " And he began weeping anew.
On the spot he agreed to observe the seven days of mourning for her in the house of the previous 'mourners' and to begin learning about Judaism.
This answers our questions.
The commandment of prayer is twofold. First to raise our 'energy' i.e. thoughts and emotions to G-d (like a 'sacrifice'), and second to change G-d's will to be like what we want.
True, G-d creates the world, and everything He does is for the good. But part of that infinite good, indeed, the very REASON He created the world, is for us to improve it though our deeds and....prayer. G-d WANTS us to change His will.
In fact this, itself is a sort of 'enlivening the dead'!
As we saw with the 'son' in our story; As soon as he realized that there is a G-d to pray to and that our prayers actually 'please' G-d and change His will so He actually responds….. he became alive.
That is the reason that the souls will return to bodies: because, in fact, what we do here in this physical world is 'higher' than any of the spiritual heavens. As the fourth Rebbe of Chabad explained;
"In heaven WE receive infinite spiritual pleasure. But here on earth our deeds and prayers give G-d infinite pleasure!"
This teaches how important it is to pray ….. especially to pray for Moshiach (in the book Tolaat Yaakov it explains that all the prayers of the 'Amida' are only for Moshiach),
Moshiach will be a truly great leader like Moses who will build the Third Temple, gather all the Jews to Israel and bring peace, blessing and joy to all mankind.
It all depends on us. Just one more good, deed, word or even prayer in THIS world can bring the Raising of the Dead both metaphorically and actually with…..
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.