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Parshat Va'eira (5772)

This week's Torah portion tells us how Moshe went into Pharaoh, told him to release the Jews and when he refused, brought the first seven plagues, one after the other.

At first glance this is not understood. Why did he ask Pharaoh? G-d already told him that Pharaoh wouldn't listen (3:19). Secondly, when Pharaoh heard from Moses that releasing the Jews depended on him it was a sign to him that G-d couldn't do it himself! So why should he say yes? And finally, why didn't G-d just take the Jews out Himself? Why did it depend on Pharaoh?

To answer this here is a story about the first Rebbe of Chabad, Rebbe Shneur Zalman, who wrote the Tanya and Shulchan Aruch HaRav and who passed away 200 years ago on the 24th of Teves, (today, Thursday).

The late Seventeen hundreds were difficult times for Orthodox Judaism; they were fighting an uphill battle against the 'enlightenment' movement. Myriads of Jews were being lured away from the solemn, black-on-white world of Torah to the colorful, fresh and vibrantly new world of art, philosophy, culture, fun and unrestrained atheism found in France and Germany.

The Chassidic movement, which stressed serving G-d with joy and humility was not as deeply affected by this 'spirit of the times but the colder, non-Chassidic world was. So Rabbi Eliahu of Vilna (the Vilna Gaon) decided it was time to take action to save his followers as well.

He, together with several elders of the community chose ten (in another version I read 'tens') of his most brilliant, devout and learned pupils to visit the universities of Berlin, absorb the new ideas there and then use them to strengthen Judaism thus defeating the insidious forces of 'freethinking' once and for all.

Although it was a dangerous move, they were certain that the power of G-d's holy Torah would assure their success. But it didn't.

They so seriously underestimated the magnetic power of their enemy that in the end all of them, save two and 'a half', became enamored with the 'new spirit' and gradually abandoned Judaism completely.

The exceptions were Rabbi Pinchas (who later wrote a book called Sefer HaBrit), Rabbi Moshe Mizlish who became a devoted Chassid of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Chabad and Rabbi Shlomo Faigen who was the half.

Like the others, the atmosphere in Berlin awakened in him a desire to leave Judaism, but unlike the others, he sensed that maybe there was more to Judaism than he was aware of. So he lived in a sort of a half in half out limbo.

Then he met the Chassidim.

Besides being an accomplished Torah scholar he was also a successful entrepreneur and on one of his travels he happened to pass through the city of Liozne where Rabbi Shneur Zalman and his Chabad Chassidim were located (before they moved to the city of Lubavitch). Here, unlike the cold academic atmosphere of Vilna where he had been brought up, the spirit was warm and alive.

The Rebbe gave deep and intricate discourses on all aspects of the Torah; kabbalistic and Chassidic as well as Talmudic. And his followers, who were awesome scholars and G-d fearing Jews, would occasionally make 'farbringens' where they would sit together, drink vodka, sing Chassidic songs called 'nigunim' and speak of the love of G-d, the Torah and every Jew.

He felt his soul opening to a new world of joy and meaning that gave him the power and joy necessary to withstand his urges. He wanted to become a devoted follower of the Rebbe but still, deep down, something was bothering him.

One evening, when the Rebbe was explaining some mystical aspects of washing one's hands for bread to all his Chassidim, he noticed a strange scoffing smile on Shlomo's lips and he commented, "He has a worm eating at his soul".

The next day the Rebbe called him to his office and said, "Shlomo, you are a businessman, right? Well, the next time you go, if you happen to travel near the city of Karlin please stop in and visit the great Rabbi of Karlin there for me."

Sure enough a week later Rab Shlomo suddenly had an urge to make a business trip to replenish his funds. He got the Rebbe's blessing packed his bags, and on the way stopped at the city of Karlin to see the Karliner Rebbe.

He was directed to the Karliner's Synagogue, told one of the Chassidim there of the Chabad Rebbe's orders and was given a chair in the hall outside the Rebbe's door to wait until the Rebbe called him in. He sat down, opened a book of Psalms and began to read.

Suddenly the strangest thing happened.

From within the Rebbe's room he heard unusually loud noises. Chairs were being pushed aside and things fell to the ground. Someone in there was pacing back and forth in frenzy. Suddenly the noise stopped, the door opened and, it was the Rebbe of Karlin himself! He had the most frightening look on his face; his eyes almost bolting out of their sockets as he stared deeply at Shlomo shook his head slowly up and down and said, "Maybe after all G-d does exist?"

The Rebbe abruptly pulled his head back into the room, slammed the door behind him and after a few more minutes of furious pacing back and forth the door again burst open, he again stared wildly out and repeated: "Perhaps it's true?" Perhaps there really is G-d?"

As if it wasn't enough, the scene repeated itself yet a third time,

"Maybe after all G-d exists?"

Shlomo didn't really understand what was going on but he realized that he couldn't take much more of this. He stood up, brushed himself off and left.

A few days laterhe abruptly and unexplainably left Judaism.

Years went by. Rebbe Shneur Zalman passed away while fleeing the advancing armies of Napoleon and was buried in the town of Haditch while Shlomo changed his religion and rose in the political spectrum until he was chosen to be a high Minister in the Czar's government with massive headquarters in St. Petersburg.

As fate would have it, the Czar decided to build a new cross-country highway that the Chassidim discovered was to run through the very resting place of the Rebbe. What could they do? To move the Rebbe was out the question. To change the Czar's mind was also unthinkable. Their only chance was to appeal to the Minister of Transportation.

But to their dismay they revealed that the Minister of Transportation was none other than …. Shlomo (now Stephan) the apostate! It was one in a million that he would help them …… but he was the only straw to clutch at.

Rabbi Moshe Valinker, who had befriended Shlomo in the old days, was chosen to make the visit and several days later he was sitting in the ornate waiting room outside the Minister's office.

His name was called. He was escorted by two huge soldiers into the Minister's office. The minister was sitting at his desk elegantly dressed, clean shaven with a well groomed mustache. "What do you want?" He said officially.

Rav Moshe leaned forward and told the story of the Rebbe's passing and the problem of the proposed road.

"Aha!" Said the Minister. "Yes, I understand. You want me to divert the road, do you? Well, there is something I want from you as well."

He rang a small bell on his desk, a secretary entered with a serving tray covered with a silver cover. Rab Moshe was afraid that the Minister would ask him to eat not-kosher food. But the Minister waited for the soldiers and the secretary to leave and close the door, opened the cover and revealed a bottle of vodka, two cups and two small plates of herring and pickles.

He looked at Rab Moshe warmly and said. Please, do me a favor. Let us make a Farbrengen like in the old days."

After several 'lechiams', heartfelt Chassidic songs and words that came from the heart about G-d, the Jews and the Torah he took out a large map, obviously that of the new road, erased the line that went through Haditch and carefully drew it again so it went around the town. Then poured two cups and said, "Nu, Rab Moshe, make another le'chiam."

He then leaned forward and explained,

"The words I heard at the home of the Karliner Rebbe 'Maybe there is a G-d after all' echo in my head constantly. Since I heard those words, as much as I would like to I can never really get pleasure from all this richness and power that you see here. I long for the days I spent by your Rebbe. Your coming here today is sort of a wish come true for me."

This answers our questions.

Just like Shomo in our story Pharaoh did not want to believe in G-d.

But Moshe asked him anyway because just like the Rebbes in our story did their utmost with Shlomo, Moshe did everything possible with Pharaoh to encourage him to recognize and decide on his own that G-d exists and is King of the Universe.

Because both Moshe and the Rebbes were preparing the world for Moshiach when all mankind will (as we say thrice daily in the 'Alenu' prayer) recognize and know that G-d creates, provides for, enlivens and directs every detail of creation (including us) and then CHOOSE to observe His Torah (7 Noahide commandments for non-Jews).

In other words they were opening up the spiritual 'pipeline' for mankind to 'decide' to coronate G-d in the days of Moshiach.

And the Lubavitcher Rebbe said that if we open our eyes and hearts we will see that those days are here! NOW! The time has come for US to decide…. each of us individually to do all we can to transform the world.

All the channels have been opened. We have the precedent, power and blessing of all the great Tzadikim.

Just one more good deed, word or even thought can tilt the scales and bring ……

Moshiach NOW!

Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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