This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Behaalotecha (5772)
Tomorrow Jews all over the world will be celebrating the holiday of Shavuot when we received the Torah at Sinai 3326 years ago.
Then a few days later on Shabbat we read the Torah portion that begins with and is named after the commandment of ligniting the Menorah in the Holy Temple.
But interestingly it does not use the word for igniting or kindling or but rather it says ‘raise’ the lights.
Some say it is referring to the fact that the priest (Cohen) had to walk up a few steps in order to light, others say that he had to take care that the flame ‘raised’ on its own before removing the match.
But there is a deeper and more personal meaning. The Torah is a book of practical teaching written by the Creator as an instruction manual for His creation so every idea therein is vital and important to our lives. So there must be a deep, pertinent, vital meaning to ‘raising’ the flames rather than igniting them.
Also there must be a connection to this and the holiday of Shavuot. What is it? And what does it mean to us today?
Here are three stories I recently heard that might help us to understand this.
The first two I heard years ago in a video presentation on “Chabad Org” by Rabbi Nissen Mangel.
When Rabbi Mangel was a ten year old boy in Hungary the Germans conquered that country and shipped him and his father off together with hundreds of thousands of other Jews to Auschwitz. Miraculously he and his father survived the ‘selection’ and were told to turn to the right, undress and put on prisoner’s uniforms.
But there were no uniforms small enough for ten year old children so little Nissen was ordered by the presiding officer to return to the huge mountain of clothes that everyone taken off when they arrived, find his own garments and put them on.
So he returned to the massive pile, searched until he miraculously located them and put them on. But as he was doing so he noticed something interesting; the clothes his father had been wearing. So, pretending that he was still busy carrying out orders he bent down put his hand in first one pocket and then the other and came up with two treasures: a sardine and a small package containing… a pair of Tefillin (phylacteries) which he hurriedly put into his shirt.
When returned to his father, at the first opportunity, when he was sure no one was looking he showed his father what he found; first the sardine and then the small package.
When his father saw the sardine he almost wept in joy. A sardine was worth more than a diamond! What good is a diamond to a starving man? But a sardine could mean the difference between life and death for both of them.
But when he saw the Tefillin; he almost passed out; as though someone opened the gates of the camp and told him he was free. And, in a certain sense he was; as the saying goes: you can imprison the Jewish body but you can NEVER imprison the Jewish soul (actually this is true for every soul, Jew and gentile alike… but the Jews are supposed to lead the way).
The Tefillin reminded him that his Jewish spirit was free!
But there is more. Eventually the word got around to the prisoners that someone had Tefillin and it began a minor revolution…….. against meaninglessness. Hundreds wanted to put them on, if even for only a minute.
But all the prisoners were marched out of the camp every morning at sunrise and had to work non-stop under sadistic surveillance until well after sunset. Even one moment of rest was instantly rewarded with corporal or capital punishment. In other words; putting on Tefillin in the proper time, namely in the daytime, was out of the question.
So every evening instead of getting a few hours of desperately needed uninterrupted sleep, some four hundred men waited in turn to strap one black box around their arm and another around their head, say a short prayer and remove them for the next in line.
Not only was this a sacrifice of sleep; if the guards caught them or if they were tired the job the next day it could cost them their lives.
And it also made no sense. The reason they were in this predicament is because they were Jews. So why should they do Jewish commandments? And the reason they were putting on Tefillin was because they believed that G-d is the ruler of the world. So if He’s ruler, why are the Anti-Semitic Nazis ruling?
The next story Rabbi Mangel told was about Passover. One cold evening one of the 1,500 prisoners in the concentration camp barracks he was in, announced that ‘Tonight is Passover’. How exactly this man knew this no one could figure out because in Auschwitz there was no such thing as dates or months; only days and nights and winters and summers.
Nevertheless when they heard this news all the prisoners spontaneously decided to make a Passover ‘Seder’. Of course there were no Matzos, wine or even Hagadda books. All they had was the bitterness of the ‘bitter herbs’ and their memories. Someone said; ‘anyone who knows any part of the Hagadda; (specially arranged praises of G-d’s taking us out of Egypt), by heart should say it and everyone will repeat’.
And so it was. One person remembered a few paragraphs, another remembered a song, another remembered a story, another a joke, another a deep idea and so it continued for some time with almost everyone participating; some more and some less. Suddenly the door burst open and an infuriated S.S. officer stormed in, pistol drawn, yelling and screaming to stop the nonsense and go to sleep. Immediately everyone complied, the ritual stopped and everyone lay down and fell silent in the darkness.
Five minutes later however, when they were sure the officer wasn’t listening, it resumed.
That night the S.S. repeated their angry visits with murderous threats four times…. And each time with the same results; the prisoners fell silent, lay down on their wooden planks, feigned sleep and after a few minutes resumed the Passover ‘Seder’…. Until the morning!!!
Miraculously no one was punished or killed but even more so was that despite the fact that many, perhaps most of them were not religious and some were avowed atheists.
Not only did they all participate at the risk of their lives but not even ONE of them so much as complained that this religious ritual was putting them in serious danger or even suggested that they keep the noise down.
On that night everyone in those barracks was just ………. a Jew.
The third story was told to me just yesterday. When the American Army liberated one of the extermination camps among the thousands of surviving inmates was the famous Kloisenberger Rebbe.
He had lost his parents, his wife, eleven children and hundreds of other family members to the Germans as well as thousands of his beloved followers.
He was hungry, tired, sick and should have been broken in spirit but he wasn’t. His main concern was finding a Jewish soldier among the liberating troops with a pair of Tefillin that he could put on even for a moment.
After intensive inquiry he was successful and when the other inmates heard of his discovery, they too wanted to do the commandment…… despite all they had been through.
So every day (except for Shabbat and holidays when Tefillin are not worn) until their release, the American soldier would hurriedly put on and remove his Tefillin at the break of dawn and then for the rest of the day until sunset there was a line of survivors that said a blessing, put them on for a minute and passed them on to the next in line.
This explains what raising the flames means today.
The Menora is the Jewish soul. And the ‘flame’ is the inherent love and faith in G-d therein.
Yes, one of basics of Judaism is that every Jew, without exception, has a natural ‘burning’ love and faith (albeit often totally concealed) in G-d that is already kindled and ignited; it is waiting only to be ‘raised’.
And this is what our Torah portion is hinting at. Often all that is lacking to do this is an Aaron: a holy person. As we saw in our three stories; someone had to produce the Tefillin or announce that it was Passover in order to ‘raise up’ the flame that already was hidden in their souls.
That is the message for all of us, each of us has a fire in our souls that can illuminate the entire world with good (just as even a small light can dispel much darkness). We just have to find a righteous Jew to ‘raise up’ this flame.
And that is the connection to the holiday of Shavuot: on this day the Jewish people received the true light of meaning; the Torah (Torah Ohr). Torah gives the power and peace to not only survive, or flourish spiritually as we saw in our stories but even improve and transform the world to heaven on earth: To ELEVATE the entire world.
In a big way, this will be the job of Moshiach: to bring, first every Jew to true Jewish identity and then every human being to recognize the Creator and how He loves EACH of his creations. To elevate all mankind to a new dimension of truth, meaning and joy.
But it’s up to us to hasten his arrival and success. One more good deed, word or even thought can reveal ….
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