This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Vayishlach (5763)
This week's section contains many interesting episodes in the life of Jacob: his battle with an angel, his tense encounter with his murderous brother Esav, the rape of his daughter by the prince of Shchem and the consequent revenge of his sons against the entire city and more.
But there are two things that are puzzling.
First, the last chapter of our Torah portion is almost entirely devoted to a long detailed list of the offspring of Esav; obscure gentile sinners! Why does the Torah even mention, no less eternalize, such people?
Second, after a grueling twenty-year stint with his devious father-in-law Lavan, and a harrowing all-night battle with an awesome angel G-d rewards Jacob by... changing his name to Israel. Does this make sense? Is this a fitting reward?
To understand this here are four stories about the 'Alter Rebbe' Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Laidi, the first Rebbe of Chabad and the author of the book "Tanya" when he was in prison.
The Rebbe's enemies, the Mitnagdim, forged papers 'proving' that he was planning a revolution and in 1799 he was imprisoned for high treason against the Czar.
Things did not look promising for the Holy Rebbe. Russia at that time was one of the most fanatically religious country that ever existed. The entire population, including the royalty, was devoutly Russian Orthodox and consequently very anti-Semitic and this, combined with the totalitarian Czarist regime and the Rebbe's uncompromising stand, should have spelled his doom.
But the results were more than miraculous. Not only was he released 53 days later on the 19th day of the Jewish month of Kislev (Which falls this year on this coming Sunday) but he transformed his incarceration to a milestone in the hastening of Moshiach (celebrated by Chabad Chassidim to this very day).
The first story occurred when one of the guards entered the Rebbe's prison cell early one morning, and found him preparing to pray the Morning Prayer (Shachrit) with phylacteries on his arm and head.
The Rebbe's cell was illuminated solely by torchlight making it impossible to know what time of the day it was and the guards did their best to confuse the prisoners.
"What is this?" asked the guard.
"Morning prayers" answered the Rebbe.
"Morning? Why it's the middle of the night, Rabbi. You must be confused." The guard scoffed.
"Time is not determined by the movement of the sun." answered the Rebbe. "Exactly the opposite is true; time moves the sun. G-d creates the world constantly according to "combinations of the letters of His names" which change each hour. I can 'see' those 'letters' and now is a bit after five thirty in the morning.
The guard was overwhelmed; as much by the explanation as by the fact that the Rebbe knew the exact time and eventually the word got around that a holy Jew was in the prison.
Several days later the second story occured.
An important government minister; perhaps the minister of education, came to see for himself. He entered the Rebbe's cell, was very impressed with the Rebbe's countenance and he asked.
"Rabbi, I hear you are a very wise Jew, like King Solomon. I believe the Bible is true, but I have a question that really bothers me. The Bible tells us that after Adam had eaten from the tree of knowledge G-d asked him, 'Where are you?' (Gen. 3:9).
"This makes no sense to me. What difference did it make where Adam was? And even if it was important, why did G-d ask? Doesn't G-d know everything."
The Rebbe replied "Rashi, the greatest of Torah commentators, explains that G-d wanted to hear Adam's answer and began a conversation."
"I know that" replied the Minster. "I know what Rashi says. I'm interested to hear what you say, Rabbi."
The Rebbe looked at the minister and replied. "I say that Adam means not just the first man but every man. The Torah is informing us here that G-d asks every man at every instant 'Where are you?'
"For instance you," the Rebbe looked the Minister in the eyes and continued. "Where are you? What have you done with the fifty two years of your life? (The Rebbe told him his exact age). Have you lived according to the Torah? Have you done anything lasting and true or just accumulated egotistic achievements?"
The minister was shaken to the very essence of his being and humbly left the cell. Some say he later converted to Judaism.
This brings us to our third story.
Days later his cell door opened and a simple soldier entered bringing the Rebbe's food.
The Rebbe immediately stood and made the blessing for seeing a king. (The Rabbis of the Talmud instituted, according to deep kabalistic principles, many blessings of praise based on the commandment to thank G-d.)
When the soldier asked for an explanation the Rebbe replied," Your Majesty, when you entered I felt a bit of the fear that I feel every time I think that G-d is King of the Universe. That is why I stood and said the blessing on seeing a King. You must be the Czar himself!"
In fact it was the Czar. He had thought that his disguise would hide the fact that he was visiting a solitary Jew. But the Rebbe's vision and wisdom left him completely stunned. He turned on his heels and left.
The fourth story is my favorite.
Because the Rebbe was charged with treason and was accused of trying to begin a new form of Judaism based on world conquest with himself as King Messiah, he was subjected to intensive interrogation.
He was to answer a list of twenty two difficult questions regarding his life-philosophy; Chassidut.
He answered almost all the questions in great length. Some required much time and filled tens of pages. But there was one that he did not answer:
"In the end of the first Chapter of the Tanya you write that only Jews have a potential for good, while non-Jews stem from the 'other side'. How can this be when our religion is one of ultimate Good and Mercy? Are you implying that our religion is not good?"
The Rebbe just looked at them and smiled.
After consultation they declared the Rebbe innocent of all charges and the court adjourned .
There are two possible explanations given for their strange decision: One is that they realized that the Rebbe was right; Jews are completely different and are connected to a different type of 'good' than the world has ever experienced.
The other explaintion is that the Rebbe knew that he was about to be killed for challenging their religion and he was happy to die for the Truth. But because joy, especially that of a Tzadik, breaks all boundaries, the accusations were broken and the Judges found themselves freeing him.
And his exoneration was a turning point in Judaism; it prepared the entire world for Moshiach.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained several times that the real spiritual reason for the Alter Rebbe's imprisonment was to prevent him from bringing Moshiach with his teachings.
he redemption of the Jewish people depends almost totally on education; teaching the entire world, including the gentiles, to think differently about Torah, G-d, Moshiach, the Jews and the importance of serving the Creator with joy.
And each of the above stories teaches one of these things:
The "Where are you" story stresses that the Torah is alive, sets the rules of life and G-d cares if each person is doing his best to follow it.
The 'time' story stresses that G-d is 'One'. He alone creates the entire world (spiritual as well) and every detail of it; every person, every change etc. constantly.
The 'disguised King' story shows that the Moshiach (the Rebbe was Moshiach of his generation) knows the true nature and purpose of each person.
And the 'Rebbe's smile' story shows that there is an unexplainable and infinite difference between the Jews and gentiles. And the importance of Joy.
Now we can understand why the Torah lists Esav's relatives in the end of this week's section and why changing 'Jacob' to 'Israel' was so important.
Because one of the true accomplishments of the Moshiach will be that ALL the gentiles will serve the Creator; a thing that has never occurred in the history of the world, even in the days of King Solomon.
So the generations are listed in our section because our section deals uniquely with Moshiach: Earlier (33:14) Jacob said to his brother Esav (who represents the non-Jews) that he will meet him in 'Sair' and Rashi explains he is referring to the arrival of Moshiach. (See Ovadia 1:21) and listing their names here gives them their first connection to this.
That is why, immediately after his release, the Alter Rebbe wrote a letter to his friend The Bradichiver Rebbe giving thanks to G-d for making a miracle "in the eyes of the gentiles'
And that is what is being hinted at by changing Jacob's name to 'Israel'. The name Jacob signifies the Jews as they are in exile, but 'Isreal' indicates Jews as they are victorious revealing their true G-dly nature to educate the world spiritually and physically with....
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