This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Vayishlach (5765)
In this weeks portion we read about the confrontation between of Jacob and his brother Esau.
At first glance this is not very important.
Who cares what happened some four thousand years ago between two brothers in an isolated spot in the Middle East? Important events are things like Napoleon at Waterloo or the Japanese at Pearl Harbor!
But in fact our story is much more important. As famous as these occurrences were, they brought no significant change in the nature of man.
But the meeting of Yaakov and Esau refers to the battle of man for meaning and identity.
Jacob and Esau were twin brothers. They shared the same womb, had the same mother and father and the same upbringing. But most important; both were Jews; the focal and balancing point of creation.
Their confrontation was to determine how the Jews will tip the destiny of the world.
If Jacob dominates, the Jews are the Creator's people teaching His Torah and eventually bringing Moshiach to transform the world into a utopia of meaning, blessing and joy.
But if Esau wins the Jews are just part of creation like any other nation, and have no Torah or G-dly message to lift the world from its vicious cycle of suffering, war and ignorance.
Here is a story to illustrate these points:
In the year 1843 the evil Czar Nicholas the first ordered the Jews to choose a board of Rabbis to travel to St. Petersburg and answer several questions about Jewish education.
Those chosen were:
1) Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Chabad-Lubavitch known as the Tzemach Tzedek
2) The Torah genius Rabbi Issac of Viloshin to represent the Lithuanian Jews
3) Rabbi Israel Halpern to represent the Polish Chassidim
4) Mr. Betzallel Stern was an 'enlightened' atheist appointed by the government as 'Rabbi' in Odessa.
The judge was a government minister called the Graf Oberov.
There were several meetings and questions were asked on the Talmud Jewish customs. Finally on the third or fourth meeting, which happened to fall on Friday, they got around to the topic of the learning of Kaballah and Chassidut.
The Graf was, of course, opposed to such irrational subjects as was his crony Mr. Stern while The Rebbe and Rabbi Halpern were in favor and, surprisingly. The Rabbi of Viloshin abstained; choosing to remain silent.
The Graf, seeing the results proudly announced. "Well, well. There seems to be a clear decision here as it says in the Holy Bible; we must follow the
majority: I and 'rabbi' Stern are opposed, the two of you are in favor and the Rabbi of Veloshin's silence can be interpreted as opposition. After all he does not agree with you.
So we have decided that from henceforth Kabbalah and such nonsensical books are forbidden for the Jews to learn or teach!"
The Tzemach Tzedek stood, his body shaking visibly with emotion as he announced in a loud firm voice:
"No matter what is decided here, the learning of Kabala and Chassidut will NEVER stop!"
The Graf angrily motioned to the guards to remove the Rebbe and lock him in an adjoining room under house arrest. When the Rebbe was gone he continued the meeting.
It happened to be Friday, an hour or so before the Shabbat and, alone in the locked room, the Rebbe washed his hands and began preparing for Shabbat by saying aloud the prayers 'Hodu' (Psalm 107) and then 'Petach Eliahu' (an excerpt from the Kabala book the Zohar) written in Chassidic prayer books.
The meeting continued but through the walls the bitter-sweet voice of the Rebbe could be faintly heard flowing from the depth of his heart and entering the hearts of all who heard it. Even the Graf, as much as he tried, was unable to complete a sentence so moved was he by the song.
Finally he turned to Rabbi Halpern and asked, pointing to Rebbe's room, 'What is he doing?
Rabbi Halpern answered "He is praying the afternoon prayer.
"But what is he singing?"
"It's something from one of the Kabalistic books you just forbade." He answered.
The Graf sat and listened, obviously affected and when the Rebbe finished he yelled, motioning to the guards at the door, "Schneerson (the Rebbe's family name), you can leave your prison."
When the guards brought the Rebbe back the Graf said: "Rabbenu, you and Rabbi Halpern are in favor of the Kaballah books, I and Rabbi Stern are opposed while the Rabbi of Veloshin is silent and could possibly be agreeing with you.
Now, because your Sabbath is approaching we will deal with this problem next week." And he adjourned the meeting.
The next several days the Tzemach Tzedek was ill from the stress and shock of all this but as soon as he recovered the next meeting was scheduled and he went there accompanied by his son Yehuda Leib.
The Rebbe lodged in a nearby hotel and usually he would walk to the meeting via the road avoiding a shorter path through a small park.
But this time he motioned for his son to go through the park. After several moments they saw the atheist 'rabbi' Stern sitting on a bench in the park, leisurely smoking an expensive cigarette and the Tzemach Tzedik approached him.
"Tell me, my friend," The Rebbe asked, "do you believe in heaven and hell?"
Stern in fact did not believe in these things but he looked in the Rebbe's eyes and suddenly said, 'Yes, Rebbe, I do'.
"Well then', continued the Rebbe, if you want a place, a guaranteed place in Heaven, vote as I do regarding Kabbalah." The Rebbe stuck out his hand to make his promise official as tears of emotion were flowing from his eyes.
Stern shook the Rebbe's hand and later voted for the learning of Kabbalah and the decree was annulled.
Later he came to the Rebbe with another question. How can you say the Torah is contemporary? Just now scientists have discovered that roses live from dew. Does the Torah have anything like this?"
The Rebbe went to a bookcase took out a Midrash that had been written almost two thousand years earlier and showed him an interpretation of the sentence from Hoshea (14:6) 'I will be like dew to Israel'
"Just as a rose grows only from dew, so Israel grows only from the Torah."
Mr. Stern then asked, "If G-d is really omnipotent, can He create another G-d?"
And the Rebbe answered. "Certainly He can, and He did! It says in this week's portion (Gen 33:20) 'And He (G-d) called him (Jacob) the Lord, G-d of Israel'.
"And the Talmud explains (Megila 18a) that G-d actually called Jacob, 'G-d'!
And this," concluded the Rebbe, "is impossible for any human to understand."
They say that afterward Mr. Stern returned home, made his kitchen Kosher, began putting on Tefillin and religiously kept the Shabbat for the rest of his life.
The battle between the Rebbe and Mr. Stern was exactly that of Yaakov and
Esau: Are the Jews a G-dly people or just a race, with their own unique traits of course, like any other. And the outcome of this confrontation (which continues to this very day with even more intensity than ever) is what decides the attitude of the Gentiles to us, like the Graf in our story.
But just as Jacob, and the Tzemach Tzedek in our story, not only came out victorious but brought the enemy to their side (Esau kissed him 33:4) so it will be with us.
Soon the entire world will worship ONLY the Creator according to the Torah (seven Noahide commandments) and we will all be dancing with....
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