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Parshat Chukat (5773)

This week’s Torah portion relates the deaths of Aaron and Miriam; Moses’ brother and sister; and the consequential departures of the protective ‘Clouds of Glory’ and Water from the Rock which the Talmud (Taanit 9a) tells us were in their merits.

But the Talmud also tells us that both; the clouds and the water, returned in the merit of Moses.

This is a very interesting historical fact but what does it have to do with us today? The word ‘Torah’ means ‘teaching’ and the Torah is the source of life and being for every detail of creation. So there must be some practical and vital message here…. But what could it be?

In order to understand this here is a story.

Five foot three, sixty five years old, bespectacled and a bit bent-over, Mr. Joe Schwartz (fictitious name) was depressed.

It happened gradually. For the first twenty years he ran a small grocery story of his own near his home in a completely Jewish area in Brooklyn; but then gradually the Jews started leaving. The Goldmans, the Bernsteins, the Fishers; his best customers and more were either dying or moving out. Things looked bad; the crime rate was rising; it was becoming dangerous to walk the streets. The merchandise wasn't moving off the shelves and when it did he didn't bother to renew it. He began to feel out of place in his neighborhood mini-market.

But he didn't want to leave and begin somewhere else either. He had built this store up from nothing and he liked working there. He certainly did not want to retire; that would just make him feel obsolete. But on the other hand he was losing his desire to wake up in the mornings.

Then one day he saw an article in the paper about a Rabbi in Brooklyn called the Lubavitcher Rebbe that gave free advice to people and he, as an observant Jew, decided to give it a try.

He took the subway, got off at Kingston and Eastern Parkway, walked up the subway stairs and then to the large red-bricked building just across from the exit; the main Synagogue and headquarters of the Lubavitcher Chassidim, and entered.

Bearded young men with pleasant eyes were bustling around in the halls and the song of Torah learning filled the air. Someone shook his hand, three people said Shalom Aleichem! And in no time he was in the office making an appointment, in three weeks he would have a private audience.

Three weeks later the night arrived. He was scheduled to see the Rebbe at 11:00 pm. He arrived at ten, but it wasn't until three in the morning that he actually entered.

The Rebbe's room was brightly lit and unusually quiet. Bookshelves lined the walls. The Rebbe was facing him, seated behind a large, mahogany desk, small stacks of letters and papers before him.

Mr. Schwartz handed him the letter he had prepared. The Rebbe took it, read it carefully for a few seconds, looked up and asked quietly in Yiddish.

"Do you want to leave the store or not?"

Mr. Schwartz began to explain the pros and cons but when he finished the Rebbe again looked at his letter and asked:

"But what do you want? Do you want to leave or not?"

"No!" Mr. Schwartz answered as emphatically as he could. "I don't want to leave. I want to stay. But I'm afraid."

The Rebbe waited for him to continue.

"I'm afraid of the gangsters and I'm afraid there won't be any customers left. But I don't want to leave. That's why I'm here."

The Rebbe looked at him earnestly, smiled and said: "There is nothing to be afraid of. Don't be afraid of the people. And don't worry about not making money; you can make money there also. May G-d bless you and give you much success and good news."

Mr. Schwartz returned home a new man. He told his wife what the Rebbe had said and the next morning he went down to the store, ordered new stock and began to clean the place up he even decided to paint a little.

Sure enough, as his mood lifted little by little people began to trickle in. There were more Jews left than he thought and some of the locals came to buy too, some even wanted kosher products as well and became good customers. Everything seemed to be working out…..

Until the robbery.

There he was; Mr. Schwartz, in the newspaper! It was a small picture of him standing in his store with two huge policemen, one scratching his head in wonder pointing at two bullet holes in the ceiling of the grocery.

The caption read 'Rabbi Routs Robbers' and underneath was an interesting story.

“Last night when Joe Schwartz an elderly but lively observant Jew from Brooklyn had finished the day in his mini-market, emptied the cash-register and was preparing to leave and lock up, he was still behind the counter when two huge robbers suddenly pushed their way in and closed the door behind them.

One pulled out a gun while the other leaned over the counter and opened the cash register. When he found it empty he and his accomplice both began pounding and kicking the counter and even tried to reach over and grab Mr. Schwartz. But he just took a step back, out of their reach, and yelled at them. "Get out of here, the both of you, or I'll call the police! You aren't getting a penny!"

Schwartz reported that one with the gun, to prove he meant business, pointed it in the air, fired two shots then pointed it at him and began screaming, "Give the money or I'll blow your brains out! I'll kill you."

But Mr. Schwartz folded his arms and didn't budge. People started gathering outside and in the distance a police siren was heard so the robbers looked at one another and fled out the door knocking a few people over as they ran down the street.”

The article concluded with a quote from Mr. Schwartz explaining to one of the reporters how he kept his cool:

"It wasn’t so hard. I just did what the Lubavitcher Rebbe said. He said that I shouldn't be afraid so I wasn’t. See! He was right!"

This answers our questions.

According to Kaballa the Jews wandered the desert in order to elevate and refine the entire world.

It was important, even essential to all mankind but it also was dangerous and difficult. That is why, in the merits of true Tzadikim like Aaron and Miriam, G-d sent the clouds of Glory and miraculous water to protect and enliven them to help them to succeed.

So too today; we are in this world in order to purify and refine it to the point that every detail of creation reflects the Goodness of the Creator.

But it is often difficult and dangerous; as we saw in our story.

That is why there is a Moses in every generation; to protect and enliven the Jews. Just as the Rebbe did to Mr. Schwartz by surrounding him with blessing and filling him with certainty.

This too will be the job of Moshiach; to protect Jews in danger of assimilation with commandments feed those spiritually dying of thirst with Torah (water).

And just as Mr. Schwartz was not only unaffected by the world but even improved it, so too each and every Jew has the ability to not be confused by the world but rather transform it with blessing, meaning and joy.

It all depends on us. By learning the teaching of the Rebbe called, Chassidut, we can actualize the power, certainty and love necessary to do even just one more good deed, say one more good word or even think one more good thought to tilt the scales and bring…….

Moshiach NOW!

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