This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Vayeira (5765)
This week we read the soul-shaking story of 'The Akaida'; literally 'the Binding'; how Abraham the forefather of Judaism almost killed his own son as a sacrifice to G-d.
This story is the basis of Judaism: it teaches us to serve G-d enthusiastically because He creates us and wants us to serve Him.
That's what Abraham showed us when he enthusiastically risked losing everything he lived for: his beloved son, his reputation, his future, his past, his followers, G-d's promise of offspring like the stars…. just to do G-d's will.
From Abraham we learn not to serve G-d on our terms (like the other religions; for spiritual or physical reward) but on His.
Abraham and Isaac are the main figures here but, interestingly, so was Abraham's donkey!
Abraham used it to carry the knife, the wood and the fire that would be used in the sacrifice but the Midrash (Pirke D'Rabbi Eliezer chapt.31) gives it mammoth importance.
There it says that this donkey was to be the SAME one that Moses would use to carry his wife and two sons to Egypt [some five hundred years later] (Exodus 4:20). And WILL BE the SAME DONKEY that Moshiach (true Messiah) will arrive upon (Zacharia 9:9) [hopefully now!].
What does this mean? What is so important about a donkey? Why does it have to be the SAME donkey? Is it possible that a donkey can live for over four thousand years?
And why will Moshiach need a donkey?!
To understand this here is a story.
We will call him Jerry; a twenty five year old, handsome, talented, Jew was driving to a Chabad House early in the morning with his mother to talk to the Rabbi about his upcoming marriage. There were two problems he wanted to discuss.
The first problem that his mother was driving him crazy. And the second was that the girl wasn't Jewish. "What", his mother kept saying, "After all we suffered, your father and I, in the holocaust … now you're marrying one of them?!"
They arrived. He knocked at the door and entered. The Rabbi greeted him with a warm handshake, showed them in to his office, told them to sit down and closed the door.
"I'll get right down to business, Rabbi" the young man said. "My name is Jerry, my last name isn't important. I met this very nice gentile girl, we love each other and want to get married but my mother doesn't like the idea, in fact she's driving me nuts because she says I'm Jewish and Jews don't marry out.
"So a few weeks ago she took me to talk to a Rabbi, a nice fellow she knows, very impressive and knowledgeable man. He was really convincing! He explained that there was a golden chain of self-sacrifice. For thousands of years, since Abraham, Jews have suffered holocausts, pogroms, exiles and given their lives for Judaism. And now I would be breaking my link in the chain!!
"He was so convincing that when we left his office I even considered breaking the engagement. But that night I thought about it and the next day I decided that, what.. I'm the only Jew in the world? There are a lot of other Jews and Rabbis around … let them keep the chain intact! I'm going to marry this girl.
"But my mom kept nagging and arranged a meeting with another Rabbi that was supposed to be even better than the first.
"He had a different angle. He explained how it is that if I married this girl my children would not be Jewish and would have no connection to me and some ninety percent of all intermarriages end in divorce or tragedy anyway … so I would be left with nothing but heartbreaking regret.
"He really drove his message home with all sorts of charts, graphs and cold logic. But the next day I thought about it and decided that maybe ninety percent end in tragedy … but ten percent work… so maybe I will be in the ten percent! I'm willing to take my chances and marry her.
"So finally my mom says I should give it one more chance and if it doesn't work she agreed to leave me alone. So that's why we're coming to you. Not only that but we heard that Chabad has a different way of looking at things. So I'm giving it one more chance. You're a Chabad Rabbi, right? So tell me why I shouldn't marry this girl."
The Rabbi thought a while and finally said. "Listen Jerry, I don't know what to say. Those other Rabbis gave really good reasons. If they didn't convince you then I don't know what I can add. I mean, you will be breaking the glorious chain of Judaism and opting out for a pretty meaningless future but except for that…"
They sat there in silence… both lost in thought.
Then suddenly the Rabbi turned to Jerry and said.
"Listen, let's go to the Rebbe."
"Rebbe?" asked Jerry. "Who is that?"
"The Lubavitcher Rebbe gives out dollars every Sunday and today is Sunday." The Rabbi explained. "If we leave now we'll get there on time."
The next day they were waiting in the incredibly long Sunday-morning line before the Rebbe's headquarters; a large, three story, red bricked building in residential Brooklyn. These thousands of people didn't come for just the dollars the Rebbe handed out to encourage people to give charity. They came for advice or for a blessing or just to see the Rebbe's face in person. And now Jerry was one of them.
It took over three hours but finally the line entered the building, went down a hall, turned the corner and … Jerry was standing before the Rebbe.
He was a bit stunned. He thought he would see an ancient, fragile holy-man. Instead he felt like he was standing before a king…. a very friendly, wise and awesomely Jewish king. The Rebbe handed him a dollar and suddenly Jerry began talking.
"I have a non-Jewish girlfriend and ….. we want to get married."
"I envy you." The Rebbe answered.
Jerry tilted his head, squinted his eyes and looked at the Rebbe in disbelief. Was he joking?!
"I envy you" the Rebbe continued, "because each difficulty that G-d gives is a wrung in the ladder of personal perfection and I never had such a test. G-d must have given you a very unique and powerful soul to overcome such a difficult trial. I give you my blessing that you may succeed in all you do and be a good, proud and happy Jew."
The Rebbe gave him another dollar, turned to the next person in line and Jerry was pushed on.
Outside, Jerry was obviously moved. But he had been moved before by other Rabbis. He said goodbye and left without leaving an address or telephone number.
Several months later he appeared in the Chabad House, shook the Rabbi's hand and announced that he broke the engagement with the girl and wanted to buy a pair of Tefillin.
"What did the Rebbe say that convinced you?" The Rabbi asked. "Or maybe it was just because the Rebbe is so special?"
"No" Jerry answered. "The Rebbe is certainly a holy and unforgettable person. But it was his approach that got me.
"The other Rabbis were good but the first one talked about the past… the history of the Jews and all that and the second Rabbi talked about the future; my children, the dim prognosis for my marriage.
"But the Rebbe spoke about the present …. Who I am and how special I am right NOW.
"And that is what knocked me out."
Now we can answer the questions we asked above about the importance of Abraham's donkey.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains in the first of his 39 volumes of speeches (Lekuti Sichot vol. 1 pg. 70) that the Hebrew word for Donkey (Chamor) has the same letters and is pronounced almost exactly as the word for 'Physicality' (Chomer) and that the 'Donkey' here is also referring to how Abraham, Moshe and Moshiach will effect the entire physical world.
The purpose of the Jews is to reveal the true nature of this physical world; namely the NOW. The NOW of this world is holier than the spiritual of tomorrow!!! (That is why the Holy Temple was and the Raising of the Dead, the greatest revelation of G-d, will be in this physical world) And to eventually transform this world into a 'lever' to elevate the entire creation.
And that is what Jerry discovered and what the Medrash is getting at here.
The physical world and ONLY the physical world can be a ladder of self perfection.
Abraham, Moses and Moshiach used the donkey i.e. the Physical world, for this SAME novel purpose.
Abraham began. He was the first to use the world as G-d desires.
But he only began. The world still brought people down and prevented them from serving G-d. So his 'donkey' (the physical world) did not lift his family and certainly not himself … only his possessions.
Moses took it a step further. He received the Torah to purify the world and prepare it for Moshiach. So his 'donkey' elevated only Moses' family, his intimate surrounding … but not himself.
The physical world still made problems for man; the Jews sinned, two Temples were destroyed and we are in exile even today.
But the 'donkey' of Moshiach will be different; the Moshiach himself will ride upon it.
In other words the physical world (Chomer) will, ENCOURAGE and ELEVATE us to serve G-d. Like what the Rebbe said to the young man in our story.
Something like how the first two Rabbis in our story clarified things only partially; Abraham began our glorious PAST Moses received the Torah to create a new FUTURE ….. but The Moshiach will fix up the 'NOW'!
And it all depends on us. All we need to do is follow the directives of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (see last chapter of Moshiach essay www.ohrtmimim.org/torah). Then, one more good deed, word or even thought done NOW, can tip the scales and we will be dancing with....
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