This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Bereshit (5763)
In this week's section we are introduced to G-d and told of how He created the world.
The Baal Shem Tov taught that from this interesting narration we can learn that Judaism's totally unique message to the world; 'G-d is ONE', is not what most people think it is.
Not only that there is just one G-d in Heaven rather than many. And that He created this physical world long ago.
Rather the message of Judaism is that there is nothing other than G-d and the entire creation, physical and spiritual, is miraculously being created by Him constantly from nothing (In Hebrew; Ain od milvado)!
But G-d 'hid' even this when He created the world [The letters for 'world' HLM, are the same as 'to conceal' HeLeM)]
Adam was supposed to reveal it totally. In other words Adam was supposed to reveal that G-d is MUCH CLOSER (creating us constantly from love) and MUCH GREATER (creating the spiritual) than is possibly conceivable.
But he didn't succeed.
And as a result the world is confused as it is today. People have no idea what G-d is and many believe there is no such 'thing'. But the true 'one'ness and love of G-d remains hidden.
Why did Adam go wrong?
To answer this here is a story about the Baal Shem Tov who some 300 years ago developed a way of thinking called "Chassidut' to correct Adam's sin and the damage it caused.
"Rabbi you have a visitor" announced Rab Yaakov's servant. Rab Yaakov looked up from his desk and saw entering the room a Russian nobleman dressed in his most formal and elegant uniform standing erect like a king.
Rabbi Yaakov, the head of the Jewish community in Bohemia, a Chassid (follower) of the Baal Shem Tov and a very successful businessman, was well acquainted with the gentile nobility.
"Hello" he said cordially as he formally stood and extended his hand to his visitor, "With whom do I have the honor of speaking".
"I cannot tell you my name" said the stranger, shaking Rab Yaakov's hand, "but I come on a very important and desperate mission; I must borrow from you five hundred Gulden (about $100,000)."
"Excuse me, but how do you expect me to….” Rab Yaakov stood back a half-step and looked the visitor in the eyes to see if he was normal, "…to loan you such a sum without knowing you? Have you any backers, any letters of reference, any credentials, any collateral, anything at all?"
"I have nothing and I can say nothing. You only have my word and my oath to G-d that I will pay."
Rab Yaakov couldn't believe his ears. He wanted to just tell the man to leave but something told him not to.
He sat for a minute deep in thought as the visitor just stood looking straight ahead and finally answered. "I won't say no or yes, I must travel to my rabbi, the Holy Baal Shem Tov, and ask him. Please return tomorrow night."
But Rab Yaakov was in for a surprise. When he asked the Baal Shem he enthusiastically encouraged him to make the loan but only on condition that he get some sort of written receipt. The next evening the nobleman reappeared, took the money, wrote an IOU that contained only the words "I owe Rab Yaakov 500 guilden" with no name or address and walked out the door into the night.
In the course of the next few years, when he happened to see the IOU among his papers, Rab Yaakov remembered the loan for a few seconds and thanked G-d that his businesses and investments succeeded so he didn't really feel the loss. But still it puzzled him as to why the Besh't insisted on such a worthless IOU and in the course of time he totally forgot the entire incident.
Fifteen years later tragedy visited.
The local Bishop, a vile anti-Semite spread a blood libel against the Jews and succeeded in getting all the local clergy to sigh an edict evicting all of them from Bohemia. The decree was to become effective six months from its signing and spelled disaster for tens of thousands of families.
Rab Yaakov sped to the Baal Shem Tov for help but the Besh't told him that his only chance would be to speak to the only man in the world that had the power to rescind the evil decree. None other than the Pope himself.
The very idea sent shivers down Rab Yaakov's spine. Any Jew caught traveling in Italy especially in the 'holy' city of Rome, would almost certainly die. According to Catholicism, the Jews were the murders of god, the enemies of mankind and were it not for the hope they could be 'converted' there was no reason not to simply exterminate them.
The next day Rab Yaakov bade his wife and family farewell, perhaps for the last time, set off on a ship and after several weeks, arrived on the shores of Italy.
Disguised as a simple peasant, he rented a donkey and cart and began traveling according to a map he brought along.
He just kept praying that the holiness of his task, the Baal Shem's blessing and his excellent disguise would protect him. After all he did know a bit of Italian; certainly HaShem would make a miracle. How to get to the Pope would definitely be a problem but he would cross that bridge when he came to it.
On the third day of his journey as he was driving slowly through some town saying Psalms by heart suddenly he noticed his wagon was becoming surrounded by peasants.
He only understood a bit of what they were saying but he got the point quickly when someone jumped on the cart, grabbed his nose and yelled 'It's a Jew all right! Kill the Jew!!" and rocks started flying at him from all directions.
Rab Yaakov sensed that this was the end. Possibly this is why the Besh't sent him; sacrificing his life would save the Jews of Bohemia. He closed his eyes, said 'Shma Yiroel!' and prepared to meet his Maker when suddenly a voice rang out and everyone became quiet.
Yaakov opened his eyes and saw a tall important-looking middle aged man striding through the crowd.
He walked up to Rab Yaakov took a close look at his face, smiled wickedly, took out a long sword from a sheath that was hanging from his belt yelled out 'I'll take care of this Jew' myself. Move aside!
He motioned to his victim to get off the wagon, to put his hands behind his back and to walk before him. They walked this way for about fifteen minutes until they reached a large mansion. He told Rab Yaakov to enter and as soon as they were inside he closed the door, told Rab Yaakov to turn and face him, dropped his sword to the ground and threw his arms around him hugging him for several minutes saying in Russian, "Ahh thank G-d!! It is you. It is you!! Thank G-d I came in time."
Rav Yaakov was sure it was some sort of mistake; he had never seen this man before in his life.
"Do you remember me?" the man said as he held Yaakov at arms length and gazed lovingly into his eyes "You saved my life!!"
Yes, it was he. It was the nobleman that borrowed the money fifteen years ago. They shook hands gratefully both exclaiming "It is a miracle!!! Thank G-d a miracle!!"
They sat and when Rab Yaakov explained the reason for his trip the stranger seemed even happier. "My dear friend, I can help you, I am nothing less than a Duke and a very influential one at that. Do you know how much power a Duke has here in Italy? And to top it off I have very good connections with the Pope. I can arrange a meeting.
It was like some sort of a dream. The next evening they were actually sitting before the Pope and Yaakov the Jew was explaining how it was the Pope's duty to dispel these anti-Semitic superstitions and teach forbearance and tolerance and true justice.
The next day the Pope called a meeting of the Cardinal Court and put forth the suggestion that they rescind the Bohemian expulsion. When they objected, as he knew they would, he clapped his hands and a huge book was brought forth, put it on an ornate table and the Pope announced;
"This is a book containing all the Papal decisions in history from the foundation of the Church. It is, needless to say, full of cases against the Jews. I suggest we open the book and to whichever page it falls we will take it as a sign from heaven what to do in this case."
The Cardinals agreed, the book was opened to an arbitrary page and the scribe read: "In the year 1456 a Jew called Yehuda was accused of poisoning the well of the Church grounds in Venice."
The Cardinals winked and smiled at one another in glee.
"But" the scribe continued reading, "the charges were discovered to be false and due to the lies of the priest Thaddeus who was relieved of his position for two months because of the trouble he caused to the court."
The Cardinals had no choice but to agree with the 'sign from heaven'! A decree was signed nullifying the Bohemian expulsion and Rav Yaakov returned joyously and full of gratitude with the Duke to his palace.
When they arrived the Duke took Rav Yaakov into his study, closed the door, took out a stack of money out of one of his desk drawers and said. "I'm returning the loan; exactly 500 Gulder. I would like to give you interest but I can not. You see ……." he was unable to finish and tears were streaming from his eyes. Suddenly he burst out weeping and fell to his knees ….
"I am a JEW!!!"
It took several minutes for him to calm down but finally he sat Yaakov down and began to tell the story.
"You see, I was born to a Jewish family in Russia, my name was Ariah Leib but poverty drove us from place to place until finally we ended up in Paris. It's not important how, but I got involved with the wrong crowd and before my parents knew what happened I left Judaism and began traveling the world.
"I lived a totally wanton life until fate brought me to Italy and I found favor in the eyes of a very powerful and rich Duke. He was an old man when I met him and my keen wit and business sense made him so fond of me that, because he had no children of his own, he adopted me as his son.
"I had everything one could ask for, power, youth, success, pleasure and when he died I inherited even more.
"But it also brought me enemies; people that were jealous of my power and riches. They were very clever, they plotted behind my back bribed witnesses, forged papers and before I knew it I was charged with treason and sentenced to death.
"My friends, who believed I was innocent, succeeded after several years of court battles in getting the court to agree that if I would pay an exorbitant fine to release me from prison and even return my title and the rights to my properties.
"My friends helped me with some of the money I took loans on my properties but after all I still lacked some five hundred gulden, a small fortune, and had exhausted all my sources in Italy.
"So I asked for permission to return to Paris to collect there and it was granted but it wasn't so easy. First of all people didn't remember me and I was simply ashamed to ask for loans but also something else was happening inside of me.
"I didn't understand what it was until one day as I was walking in the streets I happened to pass by a Synagogue and suddenly heard from inside the sound of a Shofar, the ram's horn the Jews sound on Rosh HaShanna. Suddenly I felt drawn into the building and once inside I began to feel a strange revulsion for everything I had done in my past and a great yearning for the G-d of my fathers, the G-d of Israel.
"I took a prayer shawl out of the box at the door, put it over my head entered and began weeping uncontrollably.
"Then after several minutes I was approached by one of the congregants who took me aside heard my story and told me that as soon as the holiday is over I should travel to the Baal Shem Tov in the city of Mezibuz in the Ukraine and ask his advice.
"Well I did so, it took me a while but when I saw the face of the Baal Shem Tov I decided then and there to forfeit all my money, title and past and never return to Italy again but become a totally new man….a Jew!
"But he didn't agree. He told me that the only way to completely cleanse my soul is to return to Italy, take back my title and lands and live secretly as a Jew but most important to develop connections with the Pope.
"He gave me your address, told me to dress up in my finest clothes go to your house and ask you for the money I needed but under no circumstances to divulge my identity. That is why I couldn't sign the IOU.
"When I asked him how will I know when and if I have been completely forgiven, he answered, 'When you save an entire Jewish community.' That means …….. now."
This answers our question. Adam's sin was a catastrophe. It threw the entire world into chaos till this very day causing untold grief, pain and sorrow.
But hidden deep inside that sin, inside of every sin, is the possibility to transform that evil energy to good. And that will produce even a higher revelation of G-dliness than if the sin had never been done. As the Talmud teaches; 'The place where Baali Tsuva stand even the righteous cannot stand'.
Or as the Medrash and the Zohar explain on the second sentence of the Torah: "The earth was chaos and confusion and darkness on the depths and the spirit of G-d floated on the water":
'Chaos and confusion and darkness' refer to different levels of evil and exile caused by the sin of Adam. But 'The spirit of G-d floating on the water' refers to Moshiach who will come on the ' water' (i.e. repentance and the secrets of the Torah both of which will fill the world with the knowledge of G-d like water) and transform the bad to good.
Something like how the Baal Shem Tov transformed the duke and the evil decree in our story.
And this is what Adam felt unconsciously when he ate from the tree of knowledge. But he mistakenly thought he could transform his sin quickly by repentance (Similar to what Isaac thought when he planned to bless his evil son Asav) .
He didn't know it would take thousands of years!
Until …. NOW! Yes….. OUR generation is the one that will transform it all to good.
We are standing on the merits of thousands of years of good deeds and sufferings of millions of Jews. One more good deed, word or even thought of ours will tip the scales and transform the entire world with……
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