This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Shlach (5772)
This week we again read the strange and disappointing story of the ‘Meraglim’; the scouts that Moses sent out to prepare the Jews for their monumental and long-awaited entrance into the Promised Land.
But instead of facilitating this joyous event ….they did exactly the opposite! They brought the entire Jewish nation to motivation zero by explaining that it was a bad idea and that the land and its inhabitants were unconquerable!
What happened here? These were the heads of the Jewish nation who had SEEN the King of the Universe in action; the ten plagues, Splitting the sea, Manna from heaven and more. How could they doubt G-d’s promises? And why did the Jews listen to them? They had seen the same miracles!
To understand this here is a story I just read in the weekly Shabbat pamphlet HaGeula (#585).
It is about two ‘Shluchim’ (emissaries) of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Tokyo, Japan, by the names of Rabbi Benyamin Edrei and his wife Efrat.
They opened a Chabad House in Tokyo more than ten years ago, mainly to cater to the myriads of Jewish back-packers, especially Israelis, that pass through that city in the quest to ‘clean head’ (nikui rosh) after graduating from university or finishing their military obligations.
Most, if not all, of these wanderers are searching for meaning, warmth, identity, friendship, fun, action and good food … in other words; Judaism. And that is exactly what Rabbi Edrei has to offer.
But it’s not always easy. It’s basically a 24/7/365 proposition; there are no days that are identical and no times that are predictably inactive. Guests may arrive in the middle of the night any day of the week and the Shaliach has to be ready.The main thing is to do what the Rebbe wants and provide Judaism for Jews.
So he and his wife made an agreement that, barring extreme cases, they would try to never leave their Chabad House unmanned - no matter what.
One of the first tests of this principle was when Rabbi Edrei received the joyous news that his brother was engaged to be married in Israel, and his father was willing to buy plane tickets for him and family to attend.
He had a few months to find a replacement but nothing worked. He sent out advertisements, called and contacted friends and acquaintances but either they weren’t able or weren’t available. His wife alone couldn’t manage it all; both the children and the Chabad House and so, with no other choice he sorrowfully but dutifully told his father and brother of his choice; he couldn’t leave the Chabad House alone.
His father tried to convince them that a few days couldn’t hurt; they could arrive on the day of the wedding and leave the next day, for sure nothing THAT urgent would arise, maybe no one would even knock on their door, they could put a sign on the door telling people to call them collect in Israel, they needed a vacation etc. etc.
But Rabbi Edrei was sure that, as logical and convincing as all these arguments were and as much as he wanted to attend the wedding, the Lubavitcher Rebbe would want him to stay.
But sure enough, as the wedding approached things began to slow down and the day or two before the event no one even visited the Chabad house at all. Could it be he made a mistake? Maybe his father was right after all? But the Rebbe’s face kept popping up in his mind.
The day of the wedding he called his brother, wished him a tearful Mazal Tov, told him how sorry he was that he couldn’t come and finished the conversation with a heavy heart wishing he could be in two places at one time.
But he reminded himself; A Chassid does what the Rebbe wants with JOY!
That evening they did have a guest; a young fellow from England by the name of Daniel Moskovitz. It was nothing special; he only wanted something to eat and a place to sleep and had to set out early in the morning. Really he could have gotten a youth hostile for that but something drew him here and in any case the Chabad House was free. But he didn’t even have time to talk much because he had to get some sleep and wake early in the morning.
Nevertheless Rav Edrei struck up a conversation and revealed that his guest intended on going mountain climbing - alone. He did everything alone! His plan was to begin early in the morning and to make his first encampment and rest on the way to the top of the mountain nine or ten hours later about an hour before sunset at three or four in the afternoon.
Rabbi Edrei tried to discourage him but he wouldn’t listen, all he wanted was to get some sleep for tomorrow’s climb. The best the Rabbi could do was get him to reluctantly promise to call (it seems there is cell phone reception even from such heights) at 3 p.m. when he took that first rest.
The next day morning when Rabbi Edrei woke up and got involved in his daily schedule: taking his children to their teachers, visiting various Jews in the area etc. and when the afternoon arrived he had forgotten the entire incident (Daniel had left before daybreak). But his wife didn’t forget. She announced; “it’s three o’clock and that boy who slept here last night hasn’t called yet. Call him”
Luckily he got Daniel’s cellular phone number the previous night so he called him.
But the phone just rang and no one answered.
“He’s probably in the middle of climbing” he said to his wife. I’ll try later.
“No, later you’ll forget’ she answered. “Try again”.
So he tried again, and then a third time and a fourth. But each time the phone just rang twenty or so times and then stopped. ‘Maybe he dropped his phone. Or maybe it’s not turned on. Or maybe there’s no reception.” He said. But his wife kept telling him to try again.
Finally after almost a half hour of trying there was an answer! First there was a moan, then a few seconds of silence, then a groan then a feeble, “help, help…… I’m dying….. I fell. I can’t….. ahhh…..! Broke my arms, maybe my back….. I’m hanging here, freezing cold. Help! Ahhh’
“Daniel, where are you!? Tell me … where are you? I’ll send help!” The Rabbi yelled.
“Ahhh….. Between the seventh and eighth peaks of Mount Fuji, that’s what the climbers call it. I can’t move.” Then the call cut off. Rabbi Edrei tried to call a few more times but there was no answer. So his wife said, ‘call the British Embassy. He’s English. For sure they’ll help.
The embassy answered immediately but it wasn’t good. The best they could do was to promise that “First thing in the morning we’ll send someone, we’re closing in five minutes and no one is here now. Maybe try the police.”
Rabbi Edrei tried the police with no luck, no one answered and then called a Japanese neighbor that was a friend of the Chabad House. As soon as he heard what the Rabbi wanted he immediately called a private rescue company who told him that if he had called in another few minutes it would have been too late. It takes fifteen minutes to get to the spot of the accident, the sun set in just a half-hour and afterwards it would be impossible to locate an injured person in the mountains.
But, despite all the obstacles, miracle of miracles… they located him, and were even able to send rescuers down on a cable, bring him out on a stretcher and fly him to the nearest hospital.
Rabbi Edrei drove the hundred miles to the hospital saw that Daniel’s condition was very serious but, thanks to the rescue medics and the doctors, not life-threatening. But they all agreed that had they not arrived for sure he would not have lasted another few hours, or perhaps even a few more minutes.
Suddenly the Rabbi realized what had happened; if he had flown to his brother’s wedding Daniel for sure would not be alive. Who else would care and worry enough to try calling a total stranger for a half hour with no success just to see how he is?
But that isn’t all.
Daniel’s condition was still very serious and the doctors were sure that he would never function normally again. But against all their negative prognoses, after several operations and many months of physical therapy, Daniel miraculously left the hospital a totally healthy young man.
Shortly thereafter he underwent more changes; he began learning Torah, became an observant Jew and, Daniel the loner even got married. What he called even a bigger miracle and transformation than getting saved from his accident!
Needless to say the Rabbi that presided over the wedding ceremony was ….. Rabbi Edrei.
All thanks to his stubborn loyalty and devotion to helping Jews at all costs.
This answers our questions.
The ‘Scouts’ sent by Moses were heads of the Jews but they didn’t like changes. In the desert everything was holy and….. ‘secure’; G-d provided them water from a rock, food from heaven, protective ‘clouds of glory’ and a nightly pillar of fire so they could be calm, learn Torah and do Jewish things without worry.
But in the Promised Land things would be different and ……. uncertain. There they would have to work, plow, plant, harvest for food, dig for water and even fight enemies! Who knows what would be? Too many questions! And this was against their grain.
In other words they lacked the UNQUESTIONING loyalty and devotion to Moses that the Rabbi in our story demonstrated.And this is an essential ingredient of Judaism.
So too in our generation; it is necessary to learn and be aware of the directives and teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (see your local Chabad House for details) to make the world a better place and bring the total ‘redemption’ that we Jews are praying for and have been praying at least three times a day for almost 2,500 years: may the Moshiach (Tzemach Dovid) QUICKLY arrive!
According to the Rebbe’s teachings; even one more deed, word, or even thought can transform the mistake of the ‘Scouts’ to total redemption and bring ALL the Jews (even the wandering Israelis!) back to the Holy Promised Land through.......
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