This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Bamidbar (5772)
This week we read the first chapter in the book of ‘Numbers’ (Bamidbar).
It deals with an exact head count of all the Jews that left Egypt according to tribes. After all, it is not really very interesting or very topical. What do we care how many Jews there were over 3,300 years ago and precisely how many each tribe contained?
But, in fact the Torah is the book of life and meaning so there must be some deep and vital message contained here. But what could it be?
In addition, this coming week begins with the holiday of Shavuos, the date the Jews received the Torah at Mount Sinai 3,334 years ago as of this writing. Is there a connection here also?
To understand this here is a story about the imprisonment of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak, in the year 1927 in Soviet Russia. (Otzar Sipury Chabad, vol.11, pg 143)
When the Communist government took control in Russia in 1917 they began as friends of the people. But as they became more organized and powerful their true ruthless, paranoid nature surfaced. Secret police and spies were so ubiquitous that neighbors and even family members could not trust one another.
It was then that Stalin formed an organization called the Yevsectzia: Jews against Judaism’; Jews who made it their life’s goal to destroy any sign of religious Judaism in Russia. And their number one enemy was the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson because he had a large network of followers who provided clandestine Jewish Torah instruction to thousands of children throughout the country.
But they had no proof. Eventually the Rebbe was called to interrogation. One wrong word could mean death. Each of the interrogators had a pistol on the table before him in addition to the gun each one carried on his belt.
But the Rebbe began by announcing, in Yiddish, that he was only going to speak to them in the language of the Jews, Yiddish, being that all of them were Jewish.
“How are you so sure we are Jews?” they asked.
“My father said that when a Jew has a circumcision at the age of 8 days a bit of flesh grows on his nose in place of the foreskin that was removed. My father could see this but although I cannot, it seems to me that you are Jews.”
One of the officials then pointed his gun at the Rebbe and said “You will speak any language we tell you to. This toy has made many people do what we want and if you’re smart you will join them”
The Rebbe answered “That toy scares people that have many gods; a different one for each of their desires and fears, and only one world. But I have only one G-d and two worlds so I am not afraid of you. You should know that there has not yet been created any man or demon that can shake me from my principles. And one of them is to speak only Yiddish to you.”
Strangely these words had an affect on them and they changed the subject.
“Tell us, Rabbi Schneerson, all these Jewish rituals you do; keeping your holidays and all, is it because you are certain or is it a matter of faith. In other words; do you know it as a fact that there is a G-d who said these things or do you just believe. (They were certain that he would say the latter and admit that religion is only superstition.)
“I know it for a certain fact.” The Rebbe answered
The officials looked incredulously at one another and one of them smiled, leaned forward toward the Rebbe and asked him what he was sure would be a knockout question:
“If you are convinced that your religion is absolute truth than can you convince us so we can be certain as well?”
“Yes,” answered the Rebbe immediately, “I can and I am totally prepared to do so but first you must cooperate and give me a chance to fulfill your request. We both know that if a man while strolling in the city, meets his friend who learns advanced astronomy and asks him to show and explain to him the orbits and paths of the stars certainly his friend will reply that here in the street it is impossible. Rather if he desires to know these things then he should accompany him to a planetarium where there is a huge telescope that will enable them to see and understand the stars. Is this not correct?” The Rebbe did not wait for an answer and continued.
“So too here, if you really desire to attain certainty about the religion of G-d and His Torah then come with me to the house of G-d, to the Synagogue, and put on Tefillin, eat Kosher food and keep the Shabbat. This will refine your brain and heart so you will be able to understand first what is right and wrong, then slowly you will rise on the rungs of intelligence until I will bring you, first to intellectual awareness and then to absolute certainty that G-d and His Torah are true.
But the interrogator was too clever to fall for that. “It is unrealistic to expect us to do things without understanding. First, begin to explain some proofs of your religion,” he said, “then we will accept on ourselves to keep your commandments and rituals. First you bring a proof. Without absolute proof we cannot accept Judaism.
The Rebbe replied, “Certainly you are aware that food, in addition to satisfying and giving us energy also adds weight and health to our system; food transforms to flesh and blood. Exactly how this works; the processes of nutrition, is very complicated and requires much study. Now what would you say about a person that refuses to eat until this entire process of digestion and nutrition is explained to him? That person would not only be a fool but he would not live long.
“In fact, first we must eat even if we don’t understand how it nourishes us. Then, in the course of time we can come to a certain understanding of how food works.
“So too with Judaism” the Rebbe concluded, “first you must do. Then you can understand.”
The Rebbe commented that he saw that his words made a definite impression on his interrogators.
Now we can understand our questions; What do we care if the Jews were counted and what does this have to do with the giving of the Torah.
The reason G-d wanted the Jewish people to be counted was to show two things; first, that EACH of them, regardless of intelligence or status, was number ONE. And second, that essentially no one was worth more or less that any other; each one was ….only ‘one’.
This is basically what the Rebbe said to his Communist inquisitors; regardless of how great or small your comprehension of G-d and His Torah you must begin with ‘one’ simple deed.
This is the essence of Judaism and by virtue of it the Jews received the Torah at Mount Sinai when they said, “Na’aseh V’nishma’ ‘We will first DO whatever You say, G-d, and THEN we will understand’. (Talmud, Shabbas 88a).
May we receive this year the holiness and joy of the Torah as never before and may the entire world be filled with the ONEness of G-d as it was on Mount Sinai. As the Rambam writes in the end of his massive work the ‘Yad Chazaka’ that exactly this will happen through the Moshiach.
And it all depends on us to make it happen even a moment sooner. One more good deed, word or even thought can bring...
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