This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.
Parshat Behaalotecha (5773)
In this week’s Torah portion is found a strange sentence:
“And it was when the Holy Ark (containing the Torah) traveled, Moses would say: Rise up G-d, disperse Your enemies and may those who hate You flee before You” (10: 35).
This ‘traveling’ refers to the Ark traveling with the Jews in their 42 journeys in the desert. But at first glance this is not understood.
The Torah is filled with stories of those who are enemies of G-d and His the Jews but why does He need Moses to remind him to disperse them? Why doesn’t G-d take care of it Himself? And why does Moses remind Him only when the Torah is moving? What is the connection?
To understand this, here are two stories (Ma ShSiper Li HaRebbe vol. 2 pgs. 90 and 82)
The Fourth Rebbe of Chabad, Rebbe Shmuel, nicknamed the Mahara’sh, was perhaps the most mysterious of all the three Chabad Rebbes before and three after him. (there were seven altogether) .
On one hand he surrounded himself with pomp and riches, golden vessels, ornamented clothes and a fine carriage drawn by the most expensive horses. But on the other, it was obvious that both he and the riches all belonged to the Creator and he was doing it all for supernal purposes.
For example, everyday he would tell his driver to hitch up four handsome steeds to his magnificent carriage and he would ride into the woods.
It was obvious to the Rebbe’s Chassidim that the Rebbe was not going for pleasure but that there must be some deep mystical and kabalistic practices the Rebbe did there far from the human eye and they longed to know what they were. But it was out of the question to approach the Rebbe to ask him so their only hope was perhaps to get some information from the driver. But the Rebbe, knowing unquenchable curiosity of his followers warned the driver very firmly to never tell anyone what he saw.
The driver was no fool. The Rebbe paid and treated him very well and he knew that one word would get him fired. So anytime any of the Chassidim asked him anything he would simply turn and walk away.
But the desire of the Chassidim to learn was stronger than the driver’s opposition and they devised a plan.
One of them who was friendly with the driver and had done him several favors with no thought of remuneration, had a birthday and had invited the driver to come.
The other Chassidim took advantage of this, bought several bottles of good vodka, and made sure to make many l’chiams that the driver would be free to make as many extra ‘l’chiams as he wanted.
Then, when everyone was inebriated, and the driver many-times so, each began telling personal stories until it became the driver’s turn.
He stood, cleared his throat, took another L’chayim, sat down and began to talk in a quiet voice.
“You know, you fellows have a very wonderful Rabbi! But he is also very strange. Very strange person.” Everyone was listening.
“You know, I take him everyday to the woods. Deep, deep, deep into the woods.” He paused, took another L’chayim and continued while everyone pretended to be not as interested as they really were. “You know what he does? We stop in the same place every day. There is a big log there. The Rebbe sits down on this log and starts to cry. That’s right. He cries and cries like a baby. And while he’s crying, ants begin to pour out of these holes in the ground and cover his body. Big ants that bite. Until his whole body is covered. And he cries and cries!
“Then, suddenly, all at once after a few minutes, all the ants leave! He doesn’t do anything but cry and for some reason they all leave him.
“Then, the Rebbe stops his crying, returns to the carriage and we leave. But I can’t understand it! I can’t figure it out. I mean, your Rebbe has a beautiful house, nice horses, I am his faithful, good driver, a fine wife and children. He has a good life! What has he got to cry about?! Why is he crying? And even more I don’t understand those ants. How they know when to leave him? I mean, he doesn’t do anything to make them leave! They just all leave at once! It’s like he is their boss or something.”
The second story:
Once the same Rebbe Mahara’sh took a long train ride and one of his Chassidim by the name of Rav Yaakov Reshel got on the train near nightfall at the city of Dvinsk to accompany him. His intention was to accompany the Rebbe for less than an hour till he went to sleep and then get off at the next stop and return to Dvinsk.
But, to his surprise, a few minutes into the ride, the Rebbe asked him to stay till the morning.
Rav Yaakov was honored by the request and couldn’t refuse. It was, in fact, a great pleasure and blessing to be with the Rebbe. But he was a bit uncomfortable because he hadn’t brought his Talit and Tefillin (prayer shawl and phylacteries Jews put on for the morning prayers) and certainly wouldn’t ask the Rebbe to borrow his.
He paid for an adjoining compartment and when the Rebbe lay down to sleep he left the Rebbe’s room and went to his. Early the next morning the Rebbe, who had woken even earlier and had already finished praying, sent a porter to call Rav Yaakov to his room. When he entered he saw that the Rebbe was sitting with eyes closed laughing.
He didn’t have a chance to sit down before the train came to a stop and a well dressed, clean shaven young man got on, asked the conductor something and then headed straight for the Rebbe’s compartment. But when he entered and saw the Rebbe sitting there, smiling with eyes closed and Rav Yaakov standing there he seemed confused and just sat down opposite the Rebbe.
The train began to move and five minutes later when they were outside of the town the Rebbe suddenly opened his eyes, stared deeply into those of the young man and said “Why do you possess a dangerous item? What have you got in your pocket? Show me!”
The young man turned pale and began to shake. He stuck his trembling hand into his pocket and pulled out…a small pistol! He handed it to the Rebbe who opened the window and threw it out into the passing bushes.
It seems that the Maskilim (Jews that wanted to uproot Judaism and replace it with more ‘modern’ ideas) had planned to assassinate the Rebbe because of all the troubles he made for them at government levels. But when the young man saw the Rebbe was not alone it confused him, he forgot his plans and suddenly felt the Rebbe’s holiness. At that point he changed his mind and sat down opposite the Rebbe like a child.
The Rebbe gave his Talit and Tefillin to Rav Yaakov and motioned for him to go to his compartment and pray and leave them alone. When he returned an hour later the Rebbe took the Tefillin and said to his young companion “Would you like to pray?”
Suddenly, the young man began to frown and then burst out in awesome tears as he took the Tefillin. The Rebbe comforted him: “Don’t worry, one who is forced to sin is not a really a sinner”.
At the next stop the young man got off and the stop after Rav Yaakov parted from the Rebbe and also got off.
This answers our questions. Before G-d gave the Torah to the Jews the world was Chaos and impossible to ‘civilize’ only destroy as when G-d brought the flood of Noah. Shortly thereafter Abraham began to prepare the world but only when G-d gave the Torah was it possible to ‘transform’ the creation and reveal in it …. The Creator.
But it’s not so easy; the Creation is very resistant. Therefore the word Sinai is similar to ‘Sina’; hatred because people don’t like to be ‘transformed’ or ‘Civilized’ or ‘tamed’. As we see so clearly in the last generation when the Germans and Russians cherished their freedom to murder and rob in the name of culture, justice and equality…. but ‘unexplainably’ hated the Jews.
The Torah will certainly prevail over such destructive forces but not without Moses (and the Moses of each generation) whose job it is to activate the Torah and the Jewish people. That is why each time the Ark with the Tablets began moving Moses began his job of activating the Torah to not destroy but disperse and scatter those who oppose the Creator.
As we saw with Rebbe Shmuel in our story; He was the Moses of his generation whose job it was to tame, through the Torah, the negative forces in the world. As we saw when he invited and then drove away the ants and later transformed his would-be assassin.
This is only an example of what will be completed by Moshiach for whom every Jew must expect and long for.
Moshiach will use the Torah to change the priorities of all mankind. Then there will be a total transformation, not just scattering, of evil to the degree that the only occupation of humanity will be to know and serve the Creator even in the most mundane deeds (Mimonidies, M’lachim 12:5).
But it all depends on us to do just a little more, even one more good deed, word or even thought can tip the scales, drive away all negativity and bring even one instant earlier….
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.