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 Toldot (5761)
This week’s section tells of how Yaakov (Jacob) cheated his brother Aisav, out of their father Issac’s, blessings.
Except for teaching us how important the blessings of a Tzadik (Holy Jew) are; even the wicked Aisov wanted them, it doesn’t seem to put Yaakov ‘Our Father’ in a very positive light.
Why was he fighting for these blessings? Obviously the blessings were for physical things, Aisav wouldn’t have desired them otherwise, Yaakov should have been interested in more spiritual things that can only be acquired through hard personal work.
And in any case, why didn’t he have to cheat? Why didn’t he rely on G-d and play fair?
Also, why did Yitzchak want to bless Aisav? Didn’t he understand that Aisav was evil?
And finally, why didn’t G-d help Yaakov in a more straightforward way, like having Aisav die or miraculously repent?
I would like to answer these questions with a story.
It was a beautiful autumn day in the Ukraine. The open fields were in blossom, the warm sun was illuminating the distant mountains, the winter was still weeks away, and the weather was perfect for a stroll or a picnic.
But Shlomo the innkeeper was preparing to die.
Tomorrow night they would take him out of his one-man dungeon and hundreds of drunken barbarians would stab him to death when he fell down in the ‘Dance of the Bears’.
He was so sick and depressed he wished it were over right now, that he would just die in his sleep tonight. “Oy, Hashem” he whispered to himself “Please do something, please help me!”
For almost a year, since he had been thrown into the pit for not paying his rent, he’d been saying the same prayer in a hundred different variations, but now he understood that it must be that G-d wants another martyr.
He thought about his wife and six children, what would become of them? And he began crying again for the thousandth time. “Oy! Rebono-Shel-Olom, help me!! Ratavet! (Save me) Have mercy!” But the only reply he heard were the crickets outside and the drunken guard singing near the hole above him in the still night.
“They will come down to get me tomorrow night from that hole.” He thought to himself and he shuddered from cold fear, huddled up on his straw and tried to close his eyes.
Maybe he slept, suddenly he heard someone open the lock above him, slide away the bars covering the hole, throw down the rope ladder and begin to descend. He noticed that the singing had stopped, and his eyes were glued to the man descending.
Gevalt!!! It was a Jew! Maybe it was an angel! It was an old Jew, maybe sixty, maybe ninety years old, with a long white beard and a shining face climbing down the ladder!
When he had finally descended he brushed himself off saying, “Don’t worry, the guard is good and drunk! I told him it was my birthday and wanted to drink with him, after two bottles and all the singing and dancing he did, he’ll sleep soundly for a while.”
Shlomo’s heart was pounding with excitement, he recognized the old man! It was none other than the great Tzadik, the Shpola Zaide (Grandpa of Shpola). They say that this holy man received a blessing from the Baal Shem Tov when he was just days old for warmth and enthusiasm in serving G-d and to be “A Grandfather (Zaide) in Israel”. From then on he was called “Zaide” and was renowned for his wisdom and Joy.
He was also famous for his dancing and sometimes on Motze Shabbos (Saturday night) he would call the musicians and dance for hours. (Some said that with each step and graceful turn he was really fighting spiritual battles and fixing unseen problems, all according to deep Kabalistic secrets.)
“Now,” continued the Tzadik to poor Shlomo “I’ve come here tonight to come to teach you how to dance. Tomorrow night they will take you out, dress you in a bearskin and force you to dance in a contest against a strong Cossack.
Whoever doesn’t perform gets jabbed with pins, and whoever falls, dies. I tried to collect money to get you out, but there is no money, as you well know.
Your only chance is to be brave, and dance as well as you can. You have to try or you are lost, and I’m here to help you. If you run away they will just take another Jew or maybe even more, in your place. So let’s begin, don’t worry I can teach you, you will win, DON’T WORRY.”
But poor Shlomo was so weak and sick that try as he would, he could barely move his feet. And after a futile half-hour the Tzadik realized that he had to think fast.
“Nu, Shlomo. Put on my coat! Good! Now take this money, climb up the ladder and run home! Take your family to Shpole the people there will care for you. Go!!! Go home!! Just remember, when you climb out of the hole, pull up the ladder and, oh yes, here is the key, pull the bars back over the hole, lock the lock and put the key in the guard’s pocket, and RUN!!!”
The bewildered man did as he was told and in minutes the Tzadik was alone. Twenty-four hours later, the next night at midnight, he was lifted out of the pit, dressed in a bearskin and lead to a macabre, torch-lit, makeshift arena. There, facing him was a huge Cossack also in a bearskin and surrounding them were several hundred noisy, drunken, red-eyed townspeople sitting on improvised stands, with the eerie flickering torchlight flashing off their knife blades and gold teeth.
They began to sing and stamp their feet with the tune. It was a known Cossack song that began slowly and gradually built up, little by little, finally reaching a maddening speed with the words “Hup Cossack! Hup Cossack!!!”
After just a few minutes it was hard for the crowd to discern who was who. The Jew moved and danced with such agility that they were sure that it was their Cossack inside, so they randomly jabbed whichever ‘bear’ was slowest with long needles and roared with laughter when he screamed and quickened his pace. “Hup Cossack! Hup Cossack!” they all chanted, clapping their hands faster and faster, and the pace of the dance increased furiously from minute to minute. The Tzaddik began spinning and his opponent had to keep up with him. He jumped agilely from foot to foot, twisted, and leapt in the air faster and faster, five minutes, ten minutes, now fifteen. “HUP
COSSACK!!!! HUP COSSACK!!!” The crowd was screaming, clapping, on their feet; their eyes were bulging with excitement! “HUP COSSACK!!! HUP COSSACK!!!!”
Suddenly one bear stopped…. He was dizzy, exhausted, confused and…. He fell!
OOOUUUUPPPAAAA!!!!! Screamed the crowd as they ran into the circle and pushed their knives into the fallen dancer while the other contestant, still dressed in his bearskin, made a silent, unnoticed getaway. Imagine their disappointment when they removed the bear head and revealed …. poor Yorik.
The Tzadik had saved the Jew, himself, put awe in the hearts of the gentiles and won a bearskin to boot.
This is the answer to our above questions.
When G-d created the world he put man in it to fix it. (That is why the rewards of heaven are not mentioned in the Torah, because our purpose is this world). Tzadikim are people whose only concern in life is to do this job.
But since the Serpent tricked Adam and increased darkness, the Tzadikim have been forced also to resort to trickery to heal and restore the world.
This was why Yaakov Avinu had to dress in the garments of the enemy and deceive him. Yitzchak knew as well as Yaakov that Aisav was evil, but he also knew that he had a lot of potential good in him (he represented the power of nature and all creation) and if he were corrected it would correct the sin of the Tree of knowledge and bring the Moshiach.
Yitzchak thought that this could be accomplished quickly by giving him a shot of positive Jewish energy; a blessing. But Yaakov knew that Aisav and all he symbolized could only be fixed by a long process (which is continuing to this day) beginning with trickery, something like the bearskin and the dance in our story.
This is the job of all of us; that even in our most mundane actions such as eating, earning a living etc. we should have our minds on the love of HaShem, of the Torah and of every Jew (and all mankind). Then the world becomes nothing more than a garment for our true G-dly intentions.
Probably the best example of this today is the Lubavitch Rebbe. The Rebbe published hundreds of volumes of the deepest Torah ideas wrapped in garments of understanding and knowledge (ChaBaD). He performed countless miracles (mostly in the garments of nature), made Chabad Houses throughout the world, and brought all of Judaism to using every aspect of the modern world, including the latest technology in a fervor of outreach, (all at a great risk to himself) in order to put the finishing touches on fixing Eisav … the end of the dance.
True, we must increase our efforts. But the Rebbe said many times that our main job today is to “open our eyes and see that the Moshiach has already arrived!”
The dance against the Cossack is over and all we really have to do is remove the garments and see that …. Behold, the redemption is here!
All it takes is just one more good deed, word or even thought and then entire world will see…….
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.