This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Toldot (5764)
In this week's section we learn how Issac dug wells and called them names; 'Asek' , 'Sitna', and 'Rechovot'. ('Strife, Opposition, Wideness)
The Torah is a book of teaching, 'Torah' means 'teaching'. Every detail in the Torah is vitally important to our daily lives. But here it's hard to understand how.
These wells not only do not exist any more; no one even knows where they used to be! And what possible difference can it make what their names were? What is the Torah teaching us here?
To understand this here is a typically astounding "Baal Shem Tov" story.
Judaism depends on "Tzadikim". The Torah centers around the deeds of Abraham, Moses, Elijah and similar Jews whose only purpose was to serve the Creator and improve the world. So it has been through the generations. Without such beacons of truth to lead and inspire, Judaism could not have survived.
Three hundred years ago in Russia such a Jew was Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem or The Baal Shem Tov (Besh't for short). His name spread throughout Russia and Europe as one who was able and willing to do even miracles like Elijah and Moses in order to help others... especially Jews.
One evening a middle-aged couple came to him with a desperate request; they wanted a child. Despite their prayers, good deeds and the various remedies and treatments they tried…. they had no children.
The Baal Shem Tov closed his eyes, put his face into his hands, lowered his head to the desk before him and his consciousness soared to the spiritual realms.
Moments later he sat upright, looked at them sadly and said, "There is nothing I can do! Continue praying, continue your good deeds. May G-d have mercy. But it is out of my hands."
The woman burst into bitter crying, her husband turned his face aside and wept silently, his body shaking.
"No, NO!!" She turned back to the Besh't and screamed. "I won't believe it! You CAN help!! I know that when a Tzadik decrees G-d must fulfill. I want a CHILD!!" Her cry pierced the walls and the heavens.
He lowered his head again for several long minutes then looked up and said.
"Next year you will have a child."
The couple was speechless. The man began almost fainted, trembling he took the Besht's hand and kissed it as his wife showered thanks and blessings. They backed out the door, bowing, weeping and praising HaShem and His servant the Besh't.
Sure enough two months later she was pregnant and nine months thereafter it was a beautiful boy!
The couple's joy increased day by day as the child grew. The baby was beautiful! His eyes sparkled with life and his every smile filled their lives with warmth and happiness. At the age of one it was obvious he was something special; he was already walking and talking and as he approached the age of two they began looking for a tutor to begin teaching him Torah! They planned to take him to the Baal Shem Tov for a blessing; they would show him what his blessing brought.
But on the morning of his second birthday the child didn't wake up.
The neighbors came running when they heard the screams, but nothing could be done. As miraculously as the boy had come, so he mysteriously and tragically departed this world!
The funeral was enough to make the heavens cry and after the week of mourning they returned to the Baal Shem Tov to inform him of the tragedy.
But the Baal Shem Tov understood better then they could possibly have imagined. He asked them to be seated and began to explain.
"Your child was really the soul of a great Tzaddik from two previous generations that made a huge sacrifice to save thousands of people but needed you to become rectified. Let me explain.
"That day you arrived here I looked into the heavens and saw that it was impossible for you to have children, but when you screamed I knew there might be hope. And, sure enough, I found a soul to be your son. Who was that soul?
"Several hundred years ago in a distant country lived a King that was childless. He was a kind and wise ruler and his subjects loved and respected him but this did not sooth his broken heart. He so desperately wanted a son to carry on the lineage that he was willing to do anything.
"So, when one of his advisors suggested that perhaps the cause of his problem is that his Jewish subjects weren't praying sufficiently for him and the only way to make them do that was to oppress them, he jumped at the suggestion.
"The next day, the Jews were astounded to see public proclamations posted on the walls of all their Synagogues stating that they would be expelled penniless from the kingdom if the King's wife did not become pregnant in the next three months. Sure enough the Jews began to pray with all their might. Fasts were declared, groups were organized to say Psalms non-stop, all weddings and festivities were cancelled, the Rabbis wore sackcloth……. and it worked!
"Their cries were heard and G-d responded by asking the souls in the upper realms for a volunteer soul to descend to be the King's son and save thousands of Jews from expulsion and almost certain death. Finally one very holy soul of a past Tzadik, agreed.
"A month later that soul descended, the queen became pregnant and gave birth to a beautiful boy. The king was overjoyed! He publicly apologized to the Jews and showered them with presents and favors.
"As he watched the boy grow he was overjoyed. At the age of two he could read and write and when he was five he had surpassed all his teachers and absorbed all they had to teach! Because all education was in the hands of the Church a search was made until finally a priest who was known as a master teacher and an eclectic genius, was brought from Rome to teach the child.
"This new priest was of a different caliber altogether. It seemed that he had mastered every form of wisdom in the world and his very being radiated knowledge and a thirst for more knowledge.
"The young prince couldn't get enough of him. He became attached to him more than even to his own father and spent every moment he could absorbing his teachings; and, like his teacher, the more he absorbed the more he desired.
"But this priest also needed his times of privacy. He accepted the job only upon condition that two hours every morning he would lock himself in his room and no one, not even the King himself, and certainly not the prince, could disturb him in any way.
"But, the prince was curious and thirsty for knowledge. True it was an agreement and his father would be mad at him for breaking it but he felt he had to learn! Everything!!
"So, one day when the priest was on his way to his room, the prince got there first and hid under the bed hoping he wouldn't get caught. The priest entered, locked the door securely behind him, checked the room for intruders and somehow didn't notice the prince peeking at him from under the bed. The prince witnessed a strange ritual.
"First his teacher removed all the crosses from the walls and from around his neck, put them in a box and put the box outside his window. Then he took out a large white woolen shawl with strings at the corners, wrapped it completely around his head and body and began weeping like a baby.
"Then he took out two small black boxes with long black straps attached to them, tied one to his left upper arm and the other above the middle of his forehead, closed his eyes and began what seemed to be praying; swaying slightly while singing soulful melodies and occasionally weeping. An hour later he opened his eyes, sat down, took out a very large Hebrew text from under his desk and began reading from it in a stifled voice swaying back and forth all the time.
"The little prince was so hypnotized with what he saw that he forgot himself and suddenly…. Sneezed! The priest was terrified. He jumped from his chair, hurriedly removed the black boxes and shawl, stuffed them in a drawer and looked under the bed. When he saw the boy he begged him not to reveal what he saw! If the king found out he would certainly be beheaded!
"But the prince's curiosity had been aroused. He swore that he would never tell …. But only if the priest would explain what he had just done and teach him how to do it.
"So the priest had no choice but to reveal his secret. He was a Jew doing was what Jews had been doing for thousands of years; commandments, praying and learning Torah. Years ago he had pretended to enter the clergy and hide his true identity under threat of death.
"For two more years they learned Torah together until the boy announced that he wanted to convert to Judaism. His desire became so strong that they made up a story about going to Rome but instead escaped to another country where the prince converted and never returned to the castle again.
"The prince became a great and famous Rabbi but when he died many years later his soul (which if you remember had originally been the soul of a great Tzadik) could not ascend to where it had been before; the non-kosher food he had eaten in his years as a prince had sullied it.
"It was the soul of that prince that became your son and the two years that he was by you was all that he needed to purify himself again. In fact now that soul is even higher than before. And that is why he passed away after two years.
"But even more" concluded the Besh't. "The pain and suffering you have just borne has opened for you both a new channel for blessing. Your future has been changed and, G-d willing, perhaps now you will have children of your own."
This is the meaning of Isaac and wells he dug and named.
The wells signify the Jewish soul; every Jewish soul. According to Kabala each Jew has, in additional to a spiritual soul, a G-dly soul that desires only to serve the Creator.
This soul is put into a body so, like 'living' spring water flows from below the ground to make a well, so this soul will bring blessing to the world.
And just as spring (living) water has special purifying powers (Rambam, Hil. Mikvaot 9:8) when it pushes up through the earth, so the soul can only realize its potential by pushing up through a physical body and meeting the challenges of this physical world. Then it has the ability to put meaning and blessing in the world around it.
But sometimes the soul cannot overcome the obstacles and complete its mission in one lifetime and must go through several until it fulfills its true purpose. As the Baal Shem Tov taught the bereaved couple in our story.
This is what is being hinted at the three wells in our Torah portion; 'Asek' , 'Sitna', and 'Rechovot'. ('Strife, Opposition, Wideness). Sometimes souls must be 'reincarnated' until they reach wideness.
And Issac's digging and re-digging of wells gave power to all the Jews after him to accomplish this; to fulfill their true purpose even through 'Strife' and 'Opposition'……… until attaining 'Wideness'.
Wideness is also an allegory for Moshiach.
Moshiach, like the Baal ShemTov and his followers but in a MUCH greater way, will bring the ultimate wideness and the true culmination of the purpose of all the Jewish souls; Bringing meaning, blessing and happiness to the entire world.
That is why Moshiach (and only he) will strengthen Torah, the commandments, rebuild the Temple and bring all the Jews to Israel; because only in the Temple and the Land of Israel can all the commandments be fulfilled ....and only then can the entire world be 'Filled with the awareness of G-d like water fills the ocean." (Maimonides, Laws of Kings 11:1)
But as the Lubavitcher Rebbe said time and time again: Moshiach is HERE, all we have to do is open our eyes. One more good deed, word or even thought can tilt the scales and bring…..
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