This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Lech-Lecha (5772)
This week we read the first harrowing chapters in the life of Abram; the Father of Judaism.
Perhaps the most outstanding is when G-d makes a covenant with him that he should circumcise himself and change his name from Abram to Abraham.
At first glance this is totally not understood. First of all, why did G-d choose circumcision as a covenant? Second, why is a name change so important? And finally, the difference between Abram and Abraham is only one letter ('hey'). Why is that so significant?
Furthermore, what exactly was the Judaism of Abraham? The Torah does not tell us that he practiced any particular rituals, had any particular beliefs, propounded any sort of religious ideas, philosophies or meditations or even had much success. His only followers were his wife Sarah and son Isaac and he received neither the land of Israel, nor a multitude of offspring as G-d promised him.
To understand this, here is a story I heard a few years ago from Rabbi Hertzel Borochov of Rechovot, that might help us understand.
Rabbi Borochov runs an ' Igrot Kodesh' center. The Rebbe received and answered more mail than any man in the world, including the president of the USA, and some 25 volumes of these letters have been collected to date. So people come to him with problems they would have asked the Lubavitcher Rebbe and he finds the answers in one of the volumes of these 'Holy letters' ( Igrot Kodesh).
Rabbi Borochovalso has a custom of occasionally visiting storeowners near his place of work to encourage their observance of Torah whether it is with putting on Tefillin or just having someone to talk to.
Several years ago he visited an auto repair 'body shop' run by a one Mr. Tzion K'doshim and his wife. [Interestingly, she did all the heavy work; hammering and welding, while he did the fine painting and delicate final touches].
Mr. K'doshim put on Tefillin and was glad to see that someone cared, but when the Rabbi asked if he had any children and how they were, Mr. K'doshima nd his wife sadly looked at one another, their eyes filled with tears and she finally mumbled something about 'not so good'.
It took a bit of coaxing but the Rabbi finally got them to talk. Their fifteen year old son had problems; since he was five years old he had not grown an inch.
At first the doctors thought that perhaps he was just a late developer, but the years passed and nothing happened. So the doctors took more tests and prescribed various treatments and hormones but the boy remained four feet tall. Soon he would be sixteen and it was driving them all crazy. He was becoming introverted and depressed. He had no friends, no self confidence, no hope for the future and no reason to live.
Rabbi Borochov asked them to write a detailed letter to the Rebbe about their problem and promised to do what he could.
That evening when he arrived home the first thing he did was go the bookcase, randomly pick one of the 25 volumes, pray to G-d for success, and insert the letter between two of the pages.
Then he opened it to that place and read what was written. It was a detailed explanation of different aspects of the commandment of ...circumcision!
Absolutely nothing to do with his problem! Maybe he should try again.
But then he caught himself. If this is where the book opened, then maybe this is the answer! After all, we are supposed to believe that there are no accidents and to try to see the good in everything. So the next day he returned to the body shop and gave them the news.
The Kedoshims were happy to see him but when he told them the answer he received their faces went blank. Circumcision? What has that got to do with being short? How could circumcision help? It's ridiculous!! Not only that, but the boy had already been circumcised!
"By a proper Mohel?" the Rabbi asked, grasping for straws. (The one cutting the foreskin must be a properly certified expert called a ' Mohel').
Suddenly Mrs. K'doshim began to stammer. "Well, sort of. That is. It certainly. . err. what difference does it. ."
Her husband interrupted, "It's no big deal. What difference does it make!"
Then he turned to the Rabbi and continued. "When he was born our friends convinced us that it was primitive and crude to have a Rabbi do it. And they're right! So we had the doctor at the hospital make the circumcision under anesthetic. But what does that have to do with his height?! Excuse me Rabbi. Tanksf or the help, but I think maybe we should forget it."
But Rabbi Borochov stood firm. "After all", he explained to them, "it probably wouldn't require any more than a pin-sized cut to make one drop of blood. And maybe it might help. It has to be done anyway according to the Torah. It won't cost money. A lot of older people are doing it etc. etc."
After a half hour they finally agreed. The Rabbi even set up an appointment with Rabbi Yaron Amitwho runs 'Brit Yosef Yitzchak Center' in Jerusalem; a large, modern medical facility dedicated to circumcising older people (originally established for the thousands of Russian Jews who want to return to Judaism.)
They only lacked one detail; their son. When he heard the idea he looked at them with wide eyes and announced that, in his opinion, they all were insane.
What possible connection could there be between his height and this?! Not only that, he wasn't religious, he didn't care what the Lubavitcher Rebbe said, especially in some randomly opened book, he certainly had no desire to have another ' brit', he had suffered enough already and he wanted them to leave him alone!!
But a few months later he suddenly changed his mind and agreed. And although when they visited Rabbi Amit,he examined him and decided that it would be necessary to perform almost a complete circumcision anew, nevertheless the boy agreed to do it and the date for the circumcision was set.
Meanwhile Rabbi Borochov became so involved in other things that he completely forgot the entire incident.
It was four years later that he happened to be walking in a shopping center and heard someone call his name.
"Rabbi Borochov! Helloo there!!"He turned around and there was Mr. Kedoshim.
"Rabbi, don't you remember me? You were at my garage several years ago, you convinced me to buy Tefillin. Do you remember now? My wife does the welding? Remember?" he said as he pumped the Rabbi's hand. "How are you? Good to see you Rabbi!"
"Of course! Hello! Kedoshim, right?" Rabbi Borochov answered.
"How are you? How is your wife? Hey! Tell me, what is with your son? Did he make the Brit Mila?"
"Ahhh! Of course!!" Mr. Kedoshim lifted his open hands to heaven and exclaimed. "Ah! Thank G-d! Oy! Right! It was you!! Rabbi, you won't believe it. He made the Brit, and a few months later he started to grow. Now he is huge! Taller than you, Rabbi! He is in the engineering corps in the army - a real fighter! He's religious now also. You should see him. Sorry we didn't call you but we simply forgot."
Rabbi Borochov told me that just a week ago that he went to their son's graduation party and what they said was true, the 'boy' was fifty pounds heavier and a full head higher than he.
This answers our questions.
The uniqueness of the Jewish people is not that they are more spiritual or powerful than the other nations and religions. (The Torah even calls us the smallest of nations Deut. 7:7).
Rather, the uniqueness of the Jews is that they are eternal: they are the representatives of the Infinite Creator in this finite creation.
That is how the Torah, the Jewish people and the Commandments have withstood the trials and tribulations of persecutions, expulsions and perfidies of almost 4,000 years; Because the Jews too are eternal.
This was all begun by Abraham. He was the first human being to risk his life in order to advertise that the world is one with the Creator, and that the Creator has a plan (the Torah, which Abraham fulfilled before it was given some 400 years later at Mt.Sinai) for His creation.
And G-d repaid him by promising that this trait of self-sacrifice would be inherent in his offspring through the commandment of circumcision: engraved in their PHYICAL BODIES and in their souls.
That is why the letter "hey" was added to his name. This letter represents revelation of high things in low places. It is the last letter in G- d's name and it indicates the five sources of speech (tongue, palate, teeth etc). Before the change his name "Avram" meant "high intelligence" but with the added letter it brought this 'highness' down to mean "The father of all humanity."
Similarly, the 'mark' of circumcision brings the covenant of G-d into even the 'lowest' places; transforming the most potentially base of desires to become the source of offspring who are dedicated to revealing G-d in the world. (Just as Isaac had to have been born after Abraham was circumcised.)
That is the Jewish people.We have been chosen to show that G-d really cares and provides for each of His creations…. Physically.
That is what happened in our story. The Brit Mila actually affected and brought material blessing to the boy's physical body!
And it will happen in a big way in the coming of Moshiach.
Then, and only then, will we see the fulfillment of all G- d'spromises to Abraham; the Jews will be the 'Fathers of all Mankind' (see Rashi 17:5). G-d will circumcise everyone's hearts (Deut. 30:1) and, like the boy in our story, the world will be blessed PHYSICALLY.
As Maimonides writes in the end of his 'Yad HaChazaka', "In the days of Moshiach there will be no hunger or war, no jealousy or strife. The world will only want to know G- d,therefore the Jews will be filled with the wisdom of G-d."
And all of the Lubavitcher Rebbes showed the way. From their writings called 'Chassidut' (see your local Chabad House for details) we can learn how we can do everything possible to fulfill the goal of the Jewish people; 'circumcise our hearts" (Deut. 10:16) and bring....
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