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 (5764)
In this week's section we read about how Judaism was founded. G-d promised Avram (later known as Avraham) greatness, fame, fortune and more if he would leave his home and go to the promised land …… and then G-d seemingly reneged on His promises!
When Avram got to Israel all he found was famine and was forced to 'go down' (12:10) to Egypt to avoid starvation.
The Torah is tells us here how G-d gave Abraham the power to bless (12:2) the land of Israel (12:7) and circumcision (17:10).
Is that a way to start a religion? Why didn't G-d promise him Heaven, eternal bliss or world conquest?
To understand this here is a story.
Shraga was a simple wagon driver. He eked out his meager living by taking people from one town to another and he was always happy. When the weather was nice, the horses were feeling good and there were customers it was easy for him to be happy but if not, he always found something to be happy about.
Even today when anyone else would be miserable!
When he set out the morning to look for work in the next town the sky was clear and the cool autumn air was fresh and crisp. But an hour into his journey the temperature suddenly dropped, clouds blackened the sky and in no time torrential rain and freezing winds were cutting through his coat and clothes and it was almost impossible to move.
He whipped the horses. He was freezing and drenched to the bone. It looked like it would rain forever and the horses were barely making progress. In another few hours it would be night. Who knows if he would make it home alive?
Then, suddenly, through the wind and rain he noticed someone standing at the side of the road up to his ankles in mud, waiving furiously and trying to shout through the howling wind. He stopped, stretched out his hand and yelled to the man to grab on and get in the wagon.
It was a Jew! What was he doing on the road in the middle of nowhere? They huddled together, he turned the carriage around, and two hours later they miraculously reached Shraga's home, put on dry clothes and were sitting by the stove sipping hot soup.
The traveler turned out to be none other than the famous Holy Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sussov the Holy Sussover Rebbe. He too had set off in the morning to visit his elderly parents and got caught in the storm.
"Well" the Rebbe said, "now that you saved my life I want to give you a blessing of riches and fame. What do you own? Do you have anything of value?"
"Fame? Blessing? Thank you Rabbi! Wow! Thank you!! Err, anything of value? Not much." Shraga shrugged his shoulders and replied. "Except for, maybe my horses. I mean no one would buy my wagon or my house or anything else. I guess the only things worth anything are my horses."
"Nu" Answered the Rebbe, "Good! One will be for Purim and one for Passover. Now I must be gone. Thank you again and G-d bless you!"
He shook Shraga's hand and left, closing the door behind him and leaving poor Shraga more confused than happy. ""One for Purim and one for Passover? Wonder what he meant by that?" he said to his wife.
A few months later, just before Purim when the joy of the approaching holiday was in the air, one of the horses suddenly died. With no other choice and with a heavy heart he sold the dead horse to the local gentile butcher for meat and the skin to the tanner. With the money he celebrated the holiday in style and even filled his house with guests!
Then, a month later, just a week before Passover another tragedy struck; the second horse died as well! Again he had no choice but to mournfully sell its carcass which gave him enough money to make a Passover holiday fit for a king. Now he understood what the Rebbe meant! 'One for Purim and one for Passover'.. But he wished the Rebbe hadn't said it. The holidays were wonderful but now he was left with no horses and no source of income. What would he do?
He asked around in the streets and in the Synagogue if anyone knew how he could make a few Kopeks to feed his family with no luck. There was simply no work.
But Shraga did not loose hope. He talked it over with his wife and decided to go wandering. G-d would certainly help. One thing for sure, he would starve sitting at home. He packed his Talit (prayer shawl) Tefillin and a loaf of bread and set off early the next morning to wherever his feet would take him after resolving firmly not to lose his good mood.
After a few days he happened at an inn and sat down to rest his weary bones when suddenly he heard two fellows sitting in the corner talking in loud tones.
"What are we going to do?" said one of them slapping the table in frustration. "The man is insane!! This makes the fifth manager in two months. Every manager we bring he fires! Next thing he'll fire us! What are we going to do?! "The other fellow just kept letting out moans and grunts, shrugging his shoulders and throwing up his hands in despair.
Shraga immediately stood and walked over to them. "Excuse me. I just came in from the road and, well, I couldn't help overhearing what you were saying. What type of a manager are you looking for?"
The two men looked at Shraga, then at one another in disbelief and one of them answered.
"The Poritz (landowner) needs a manager for his lands." "We are two of his tenant farmers," The other interrupted and then the first one resumed. "He owns all the farmland in these parts and for some reason he assigned us to find him a manager. Were you ever a manger? That is... could you do such a thing? Manage a huge estate?" "Listen," The other one chimed in, it's not going to work. You're a Jew, right? Well, the Poritz hates people, everyone! But he hates Jews ten times as much. Are you willing to take a chance of being whipped and beaten? Are you crazy enough to take the chance? You don't know him…he's a real maniac!! He might even kill you!"
Shraga agreed, they took him to meet the Poritz and, for some reason the cruel maniac took a liking to him! He, perhaps for the first time in his life, actually started smiling, gave Shraga the job immediately and heaped praises on the two fellows who brought him.
That was only the beginning. Shraga, who had never managed anything other than his horses actually succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. He somehow always made the right decisions, said the right things at the right time and, most important; the Poritz loved him!
Every few months he gave Shraga more and more responsibility until simple Shraga became a wealthy and influential benefactor helping everyone in the entire area, in fact even the Poritz himself became more charitable and less anti-Semitic until he urged Shraga to invite Jews and give them work.
Now he understood the Rebbe's blessing. If his horses hadn't died he would have remained a wagon driver and missed all these blessings.
This answers our questions. Abraham was quite successful before G-d commanded him to start moving, but his success was something like Shraga before he lost his horses; within reason.
By leaving everything behind he became a new TYPE of person; he became the first Jew. Namely he became the first human to totally surrender to the Creator and in return to receive the ability to evoke blessings beyond his personal abilities.
That became the essence of the Jewish people: Serving G-d from pure love, expecting nothing in return and eventually receiving what ONLY The Creator can give.
And what does the Creator want?
G-d wants us to do everything possible to reveal Him HERE in this world through His commandments (as happened for a limited time and place when He gave the Torah at Sinai)
That is the meaning of the three gifts G-d gave to Abraham: the power to bless, the land of Israel and Circumcision.
Blessing others mean bringing G-d's goodness into humanity. The Land of Israel brings G-d's holiness in the physical earth and circumcision means bringing holiness into the physical body.
And what will G-d give in return?
Moshiach! A great Jewish leader just like King David and Moses who will reveal the results of our efforts here in the entire physical world: Blessing, Israel and circumcision.
Namely: fill the world with the blessing and awareness of G-d, return all the Jews to Israel and circumcise our hearts. (Deut. 30:6, see Rambam, Laws of Kings Chapt. 11 andTanya; Igrot Kodesh chap. 4).
That is the purpose of Jewish people we inherited from Abraham. And today it can hastened by doing what the Lubavitcher Rebbe says (see Moshiach essay at www.ohrtmimim.org/torah ),
Just one more good deed, word or even thought can tilt the scales and reveal
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.