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 Lech-Lecha (5762)
This week's section tells us of G-d's eternal covenant (Bris) with the first Jew, Abraham, thus marking the beginning the Jewish people.
But it arouses a big question.
G-d swore to Abraham that his seed would inherit the Promised Land, and be as multitudinous as the dust of the earth and the stars of the sky. But later in the Torah when G-d defines exactly who these offspring are, it doesn't sound so promising:
Firstly, only the seed of Yitzchak and Yaakov were to be considered Jews, thereby excluding the myriads of Yishmail and Asav (who are a son and a grandson of Abraham, and with whom it would have been easy to fulfill these big promises, due to their hugh numbers).
Then G-d says that someone is only counted as Jewish if their mother is Jewish (or who converts, which is rare). In other words, each Jew would have to know for sure that he stems from an unbroken chain of mothers till Abraham!
This Bris (covenant) is also very vague; it doesn't seem to contain ANYTHING except promises. True, it is connected with Circumcision, but Circumcision is not unique; other nations do it as well.
Why didn't G-d give Abraham some unusual talent or birthmark, or even a book or something to make him and his seed different?
And to make things more difficult, Avraham was called "HaEvri", which means "from the other side" implying that he and the Jews after him would be strangers and the entire world would be against them.
If so, what is the good of this covenant? And what secret power does it contain that has preserved Jewish identity for over four thousand years?
I want to explain with a story:
Stanley was never really happy being a Jew. He learned in Yeshiva (Talmud academy) just like his father and grandfather before him, but it just seemed like a lot of work and no rewards. There was always someone brighter and wittier than he, and he just never seemed to get the attention he craved.
Finally one day when walking home from Yeshiva he happened to meet one of the priests from the local church, and they got into a conversation.
One thing led to another, and it wasn't long before they were sitting on a park bench, and Stanley was spouting off his Torah insights and philosophies. The priest invited him to come visit his school, and a few days later they were sitting together before the priest's teacher. The teacher listened, and then heaped so many praises upon poor Stanley that he became insane with pride and joy.
A few weeks later he disappeared from the Yeshiva, went to another country where his parents wouldn't see him, converted to Catholicism, and enrolled in a monastery.
Stanley had begun a new life. He excelled in his studies, and in no time he had mastered the major texts, and even became the favorite of the Bishop that ran the monastery. But there was only one problem...the other monks there hated his guts.
They couldn't stand his clever answers, his attention seeking quips, and his stupid smile. Eventually they became so obsessed with getting him ousted, that they actually bored secret peepholes in the walls of his room with the hope of catching him in some sinful act.
And it worked! According to the Church law, it was forbidden to eat meat on Fridays. So you can imagine their joy when one Friday, before their very eyes, Brother Stanley locked himself in his room, took a box out from under his bed, opened it, put it on his table, pulled up a chair, sat down, took out a clean handkerchief, and tucked it in his collar for a bib.
Then from the box he ceremoniously took out a chicken leg, held it up, looked at it lovingly, and completely unaware he was being observed, ate the entire thing, skin and bones included, until nothing was left.
The monks gleefully ran to report what they had seen to the Bishop, who accordingly ordered that Brother Stanley be brought immediately into his office to stand charges. But to the amazement of the monks, when he arrived and heard the accusations, he flatly and vehemently denied everything.
"What do you think I am, some sort of infidel? A traitor, a heretic!? Why, the very thought of eating meat on Friday is detestable to me. NEVER! I swear by all that is holy that it is a lie! May I burn in Hell for all eternity if it is true! I ate NO MEAT....It was a potato."
His performance was so convincing that even his accusers almost believed it, and it goes without saying that the Bishop, despite their protests, swallowed the entire story.
Now the monks were out for blood; he may have slipped through their fingers once...but never again!!
It took a few weeks of careful planning and patient waiting, but the next time Stanley locked his door and took out the box, they were ready.
There was one monk hiding in his closet, one behind the drapes, and another under his bed. As soon as he put that chicken leg in his mouth, they leaped out from their places with tremendous speed and precision, and before he knew it he was bound and gagged with the bone sticking out his mouth, being carried, struggling and wiggling to the Bishop.
"Your holiness" said the monks. "We caught him in the midst of..."
The Bishop was almost in tears; his beloved Stanley was a two-time sinner, and a liar to boot. "Brother Stanley, Brother Stanley, How could you?!"
But Stanley vigorously shook his head and tried his best to shout what was obviously a denial.
"UMMFFF FOUMMPPFF NU UUU" Was all he could say. But it was enough to arouse the Bishop's sense of justice, and curiosity.
"Release him!" declared the Bishop. "Even a doomed man has a right to defend himself". They tried to object, but finally did what the Bishop asked.
Brother Stanley indignantly stood up, removed the bone from his mouth, threw it angrily to the floor, swallowed the meat, cleared his throat, raised his hand majestically in the air, put the other to his heart, looked the Bishop deep in the eyes and said with the utmost sincerity.
"Your Holiness. I am INNOCENT! I swear by Holy Script that I did not, nor will I EVER eat meat on Friday!"
The monks were astounded; their eyes were bulging out of their sockets with disbelief.
"But, B-B-But Brother Stanley" stammered the Bishop, "WE SAW YOU!! I myself just saw you eat meat!? How...?"
"Allow me to explain" Said Stanley.
"I will never forget that glorious day that I first entered the fold. Remember? I was taken to the Holy Anointing Chamber and you, you yourself, your holiness, took the silver anointing spoon, dipped it into the Holy Water and sprinkled it on me three times, saying "You are a Catholic! You are a Catholic! You are a Catholic!"
"So?" said the Bishop, "So what's the point?"
"But once in a while" resumed Stanley, "I got this urge to eat meat on Fridays. It got to the point that it simply bothered me so that I couldn’t think or pray. So, what did I do?
Every Thursday evening I bought a chicken leg, took it down to the anointing room, took the holy anointing spoon, sprinkled holy water on the meat three times and declared:
"You are a potato! You are a potato! You are a potato!"
In the book called the Kuzari it explains what Avraham got with this covenant.
It says that there are five levels of creation: mineral, plant, animal, human and Jew.
This is what Avraham received at his brit; a new identity; a Jew can never be anything other than a Jew. And it is that awareness, that 4,000-year-old covenant, was burning in the heart of Stanley. He knew down deep that just as a chicken leg can't lose it's identity, so he can never sever his Jewish 'Brit' with G-d.
This is what G-d meant when he promised that the Jews will be as numerous as the stars and the sand.
Because this covenant in the physical flesh causes even the Jewish BODYS to be eternal as will be revealed in the Raising of the Dead. It is to this that G-d was referring and it is then that G-d's promise will be fulfilled.
But in addition, the Brit gives each Jew the power and ability to advertise and bring a change in the entire world NOW. Namely to bring the entire world to observe the NOAHIDE COMMANDMENTS; to believe in the Creator who loves His creation, gave the Torah, and will soon bring the long awaited redemption.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe knew what he was saying when he predicted that very soon all of G-d's promises to Avraham will be fulfilled, and we will see with our eyes how all the Jewish suffering of thousands of years will make perfect sense with the arrival of...
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.