This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Vayeitzei (5763)
This week we learn about Jacob's famous dream; he saw a ladder reaching to the heavens and received a strange promise directly from G-d:
"The land you are laying upon; I'm giving it to you and your generations".
And in case you might think that this does not amount to be very much land (after all, how much area could Jacob's sleeping body cover) Rashi assures us that G-d did a miracle and "The entire land of Canaan folded up underneath Jacob".
At first glance this makes absolutely no sense.
What type of miracle was that? Why didn't G-d just tell Jacob that the entire land of Israel would be his (as he did to Abraham and Issac)? Why did He have to fold it under him?
Even more, how was it possible to fold the entire land of Israel? Did the myriads of people living there fold too? When it folded, did it leave an empty space where it used to be? And how did Jacob know it folded? Did the place he was laying upon suddenly become miles high? And what does all this have to do with the vision of the ladder?
To understand, here is an unusual story:
Zalman was on his way to the docks, his ship was leaving in another hour and he had to hurry.
He checked his pocket again for the tenth time to make sure his ticket was there and...there was the shipyard!
Just two days ago the Baal Shem Tov told him that he should pack his bags and prepare for a dangerous mission to, of all places, India but refused to divulge the reason; saying 'you'll know when you get there'.
Zalman located the ship he was looking for, boarded and in no time he was on his way to India!
It was the middle of the fifth night at sea, Zalman was sound asleep when suddenly his room began shaking and he was thrown onto the floor. Still half asleep he put on his shoes and trousers and tried to open his cabin door to go on deck to see what was happening when suddenly everything seemed to turn over. The door flipped open and water began gushing in. The ship was sinking!
He somehow pushed his way out and the next thing he knew he was in the cold ocean with boxes and things floating all around him.
He grabbed for dear life, luckily there was a rope tied around a nearby box for him to hold. He was alone, freezing and drowning in the black endless ocean. He screamed "Help!" but his voice was lost in the roar the waves and the rain. An empty lifeboat floated past. With his last strength he reached up, grabbed hold pulled himself up and over the side, covered himself with several blankets from the survival box and, shivering with cold, fear and exhaustion, curled up on the floor in a ball, said a prayer of thanks to G-d and closed his eyes.
He didn't know how long he'd been asleep, but what woke him up was that the boat wasn't rocking and it was very warm. He removed the blanket. The sun was shining. He peeked over the side of the boat.. He was on an island. Land! Trees! He stood, raised his hands to heaven and yelled "Thank you G-d! You saved me!"
He stepped onto the beach tired, hungry, confused, and thirsty. Where was he? What day was it? How could he exist without water, or food? Maybe there were wild animals?
He heard the bubbling of a brook nearby and he walked in that direction. It was a brook alright and right next to it was....a paved road!! The island must be inhabited by civilized people! He was saved!
He drank his fill and began walking. Then after an hour or so in the distance he saw a house! Several houses! He approached the first one and..there was a Mezuzah on the door! It was like a dream!! "Thank G-d!! It's a miracle!!" he thought to himself for the tenth time as he knocked gently at the door. It wasn't even closed. He pushed it open a bit more and yelled in Hebrew, "Hellooo! Anyone here?" But there was no answer.
He continued to the next house and the next and the one after that, but they were all the same; the doors were open, each had a Mezuza and each was empty.
He walked on until he found what looked like a grocery store, took some bread and vegetables left a note to 'the owner' listing what he took, went to a nearby house, put a note on the front door that he was sleeping in their front room, ate the food and fell asleep; the first decent sleep he had in days.
Early the next morning he was awakened by noise. He sat bolt upright, looked out the window and...the street was filled with Jews, hundreds of them, dressed in togas rushing in all directions.
It looked like a scene from thousands of years ago. Some were carrying food, others pots, some other things! He went outside and tried to stop someone, but everyone said the same thing, "Shabbat!! Soon will be Shabbat! Have to rush, sorry!!"
Someone stopped for a moment, asked our Chassid if he would like to go to the bathhouse, gave him a change of clothes and rushed away with our hero hot at his heels.
Things were so intense that it was impossible for him to get a word in, so he just followed his new friend. They washed, immersed in the Mikva, put on new garments and rushed out. In minutes they were sitting in the Synagogue that was rapidly filling with people.
He tried to strike up a conversation but to no avail, everyone was reading from scrolls and preparing seriously for something. Suddenly the room fell silent and a holy man appeared at the door, it must have been the head rabbi. His face shone and his white garments and heavenly gaze made our Chassid feel he was completely in another world.
The Rabbi walked slowly to the front of the room, took his place and the prayers began. The cantor had a beautiful voice and the melodies were nothing short of celestial; our hero was hypnotized.
The prayers ended, and before he could come to himself the man sitting next to him invited him to his home for the Shabbat meal and he readily accepted. 'Finally' he thought to himself, he could find out what was
going on. But it wasn't so simple.
As soon as they left the synagogue his host began asking all sorts of interesting questions and giving even more interesting and unique answers on the weekly Torah portion.
In fact it was so interesting that after the meal was finished our hero realized that he had not spoken a word and was so tired he couldn't keep his eyes open.
This same scene was repeated the next day; beautiful melodies, wonderful words of Torah, delicious food, overwhelming exhaustion and sleep, but no chance to get information.
That evening, after the Shabbat, he found himself standing in the Synagogue with several hundred people forming a long line; any moment the Rabbi would enter and say 'Havdala' (a short benediction made over wine after Shabbat ushering out the holy day) and the long line was because everyone wanted to dip a finger in the Rabbi's wine.
"Now", thought the Chassid to himself, "after they finish I'll have a chance to talk to someone!"
The Rabbi entered, walked to the front of the line and faced the people. He filled the cup with wine lifted it, said the "Havdala" prayer, drank and left a bit of wine in the plate for people to customarily to dip their fingers in it and pass it over their eyes for good luck in the coming week. But as they did so, one by one they disappeared!
The Chassid watched in horror as the line became shorter and shorter before him until he was standing alone facing the Rabbi. But before he could utter a word the Rabbi smiled, dipped his finger in the wine, passed it over his eyes and .. disappeared!
The Chassid was alone!
The next week passed as the first. He was alone in the village; he took food from the grocery and continued signing. Suddenly on Friday the streets were filled with people again, rushing about to prepare for Shabbos with no time to talk to him.
He went to the Mikva, then to the Synagogue. Everything was exactly the same as the Shabbat before. Try as he could it was impossible to talk to anyone. Until finally came the moment he was waiting for. He stood at the end of the line as the Rabbi made 'Havdala', watched as the people disappeared before his very eyes and after a short wait was again standing alone before the Rabbi.
The Rabbi again smiled and dipped his finger into the wine, but before he could touch it to his eyes the Chassid grabbed both his arms and yelled "NO!! I'm not going to let you go till you tell me what you are doing here. Who are you? Where am I? I want some answers!!"
"Alright," answered the holy Rabbi, "I promise you that I will tell you, you can release my arms. You have my word."
The Chassid let go and the Rabbi began. "The people you see here are all.. Dead!"
"We are a community that died some 2,500 years ago. We lived in Jerusalem and when we saw that people were turning to idolatry and other transgressions we tried to make them stop. But no one listened so we decided to uproot ourselves and make a new village in the desert far from humanity.
"Then, one terrible day we saw smoke coming from Jerusalem, we sent a runner to find out why. When he returned, half dead, with the news that the Temple had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar's Babylonian armies everyone became depressed and within a year we all died from melancholy and broken hearts.
"Of course anyone that mourns so deeply for the Temple certainly has a place in the world to come. So when we were in heaven. They made us a deal; either we could remain in heaven until the raising of the dead or we could stay in heaven for six days of the week and one day we could spend the Shabbat in this world, and we chose the latter; nothing is like Shabbat in this world.
"But" The Rabbi changed his tone and became very stern, "Now that you know our secret you have to make a decision. Either you can live as we do; six days in heaven and one on earth, or you must leave!"
"Leave?" Said the Chassid, "How can I possibly leave? I can't possibly sail home. I'll die out there at sea."
"No," answered the holy man. "I have here a piece of parchment with a holy name of G-d written on it" He produced the parchment from under the table before him. "If you look at this name and then imagine where you want to be, you will actually be there in a matter of moments."
The Chassid saw that the Rabbi was serious and that now he had to make a decision. At first it seemed obvious. 'I'll choose to live like them!! I'll be in heaven six days a week! Eternal bliss!!' But then he thought again.
'Hey!! What do I care about bliss and heaven?' he said to himself.
"I want to be with the Rebbe; with the Baal Shem Tov in Mezibuz.".
"Good" Said the Rabbi "Take this parchment, look at the letters on it till you've memorized them. Then close your eyes and imagine the place you want to be. Under no circumstances open your eyes until you feel your feet firmly on the ground. Do you understand?"
The Chassid said 'yes'.
"Oh! One more very important thing. When you arrive at your destination you must immediately, before you do anything else, throw the parchment toward the sky and a hand will come out from heaven and take it. Do you understand?"
Again the Chassid said yes. The Rabbi gave him the parchment he memorized the letters. Suddenly everything became dark and he was surrounded by fire. He closed his eyes, imagined Mezibuz and felt his feet lifting off the ground and wind rushing by him. He held on to the parchment as his only connection to reality and then .. His feet were on the ground.
He opened his eyes and .. Mezibuz!!!! He was back home! He couldn't believe it!!! Then he remembered his promise to the Rabbi. He took the parchment and drew his arm back over his shoulder to throw it but ... someone grabbed his hand from behind!!
"NO!! Let go!!" He screamed. He turned around and saw .. The Baal Shem Tov!
"This is what I sent you for" the Besh't said with a smile. I need this parchment to save Jews. The Rabbi won't mind.
This is a strange story, right? But if we think about it maybe it's not.
The Talmud tells us (Ketubot 104a) that Rabbi Yehuda Ha Nassi would return home every Shabbat after he died and was buried and make Kiddush for his family! And we know that Elijah the prophet actually went up to heaven in his body, (as did Rabbi Yeshua ben Levi and others, and they all came back) and returns for every 'Brit' (Circumcision).
Similarly the Torah tells us often that long journeys were made in miraculously short time, like Abraham's servant Eliezer (Gen. 24:32).
And the Talmud tells us that the Holy Ark in the Temple actually took up no space in the Holy of Holies.
All this comes to show us that we have no idea what holiness ("Kedusha") is.
This explains how the land could have folded up and why it did so.
The land of Israel is Holy. In other words it defies all laws of nature. Just as Jacob was holy and defies all laws of nature (Jacob never died (Taanit ect) .
And that is what G-d showed to Jacob. The Holy land of Israel belongs to his offspring (Bne Yisroel) alone because both of them are HOLY; above all laws of time and space.
And to prove it G-d folded the land with everything on it under Jacob, made him aware of it, and nevertheless did not remove anything from its place.
And this is the connection to the ladder. The ladder represents all the spiritual worlds, the entire gamut of creation 'from earth to the heavens'.
But Jacob's connection is directly to THE CREATOR. And the Creator can do what He wants with His creation both spiritual and physical.
That is what the Lubavitcher Rebbe has told us time and time again. "Every Jew is holy, above all laws of nature. And therefore each Jew, even the simplest, has the ability to miraculously change the entire world by one good deed.
May we soon see the greatest miracle of all time, the raising of the dead in the Holy land after the arrival of ...
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