This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Vayechi (5763)
This week's Torah reading deals with the blessings Jacob gave to his sons before he died.
What exactly is a blessing?
Why did Jacob have to bless his sons; doesn't G-d control blessings? Why did he have to bless each one separately? Why not just one general blessing for all of them?
To answer, here is a story I heard recently.
In the Chabad community in Crown Heights, there is a woman who is very active in the community (I wasn't told her name but for the sake of the story we'll call her Sarah) who told the story of how she became religious.
She and her brother were brought up in a "reform" home where Torah was of little or no importance but her brother attended a few classes at a Chabad House in New Jersey became interested in Judaism and tried to get her involved but it didn't work.
She even spent several Sabbaths there with him and although it was a pleasant experience, while there she decided to seek spirituality elsewhere.
She enrolled in a seminar of Scientology or some similar idolatry and prepared for new adventurous vistas. But because the seminar she signed up for was to begin only in two weeks time she decided to stay on for one more Shabbat at Chabad.
That Shabbat, like all the others at Chabad, was peaceful and uneventful (in fact she never was quite sure why she went in the first place) and shortly after it ended she was already heading for the front door of the Synagogue with her bag packed.
On the way out she approached the Chabad house director to say good bye but he was so busy on the phone and simultaneously arranging the room for some program that was about to happen, he didn't even notice her.
She moved closer, waiving and smiling trying to catch his attention and said, "Rabbi, I just wanted to say thank you for the Shabbos" and turned to leave.
But he signaled for her to wait, finished his call, and said, "Hey! Why don't you stay for the lecture? It's a great speaker, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Hecht from Chicago, you'll really enjoy it. C'mon, he'll only speak for an hour or so, unless you have somewhere really important to go and he tells fantastic stories."
It sounded harmless enough and she really wasn't in a hurry, so she put her suitcase in a corner and began helping everyone set up the room.
Just as she was beginning to have second thoughts about staying the Rabbi arrived. He was an older man, perhaps in his late sixties, but he had a contagious smile and warm eyes that made her forget her qualms. Everyone took their seats and the lecture began.
He was really an excellent and friendly speaker. But after just a few minutes he suddenly interrupted what he was saying and changed the subject,
"My dear friends please excuse my changing the subject but I just remembered, for the first time, a strange thing that happened to me and I want to share it with you.
"A long time ago, about a year after the World War Two, I flew to New York from my home in Chicago to have a private audience with the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of blessed memory (who passed away in 1950).
"I entered into his room, gave him a letter upon which I wrote all my questions but instead of reading it he held it in his hand, looked at me and said: 'Rabbi Hecht, do you know who was just in here to see me? Rabbi Boyer the well known philanthropist'
"The Rebbe's holy eyes were red as though he had been crying.
"I remember thinking to myself that this was very strange because the Rebbe would never reveal to others what was told him in private. But he continued; 'Rabbi Boyer told me that he had just returned from a tour of refugee camps in Europe. He said there are thousands of Jews in these camps; broken souls, all that remains of European Jewry.' The Rebbe began weeping aloud. He dried his eyes and continued:
"'He explained, that even though he is a Misnagid (opposer of the Chassidic way) he came to visit me because of a young boy he met there wandering through one of the camps.
"'The boy was about twelve years old, wearing a 'kippa (Yarmulke) and his clothes, even his shoes, were so old and torn that he looked like a truly lost sheep. So he went up to him, took out a ten dollar bill from his wallet and offered it to him.
"But the boy shook his head 'no' and said in Yiddish that he didn't take gifts and that he didn't need anything.
"'When Rabbi Boyer insisted, the boy looked up at him and said, 'If you want to give me something, then buy me a ticket to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe in New York! I want to see the Rebbe!'
"Rabbi Boyer was astounded. Here is a young boy who probably had been through hell, lacking even clothes, and what is going on in his mind? What is he thinking about? He wants to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe! Just imagine what an education he must have had to teach him that.
"Of course Rav Boyer couldn't afford to give him such a gift but did promise him that when he arrived back in New York he would go see me and mention his name to me.
"Then I asked him to tell me about the various refugee camps and when he finished (here the Rebbe began weeping almost uncontrollably) I asked him if there is anything he wanted. He answered that he wanted me to bless him. So I blessed him that he should have 'nachas' (satisfaction) from his offspring.' Then the Rebbe turned to my letter."
Rabbi Hecht apologized again to the crowd for telling a story out of context, and he continued his lecture.
When he finished and everyone applauded, thanked him and left he noticed that one girl was remained sitting in her seat, her face in her hands weeping; it was Sarah.
He and the Chabad House Rabbi approached her and asked if anything was wrong. She dried her eyes. Smiled a smile of thanks and said,
"I'm sorry for crying, excuse me but I couldn't help myself. You see…. that Rabbi you spoke of in your story, Rabbi Boyer …. He was my grandfather.
"That blessing the Rebbe gave him must have been for me! G-d wanted you to tell that story tonight so I would hear it."
She changed her mind about the cult and decided to give another chance to becoming the type of Jew that would give her grandfather (and hundreds of generations of grandfathers before him) 'nachas'.
This answers our questions.
It's true that blessings are only in the hands of the Creator. But Since G-d told Abraham "And you will be a blessing" (Gen. 12:2) Jews have had the power to bless as well. Because Abraham's covenant with G-d made each Jew a 'part' (Deut 32:9) and a 'son' (Deut. 14:1) of G-d!
Blessings 'draw down' G-dliness from the spiritual worlds where there is no evil or disease etc to a revealed state.
The problem is how to actually do it.
For instance in our story about Sarah; although it is certain that EVERY Jew will eventually return to Judaism (Rambam, Hil. Tshuva 7:5) the Rebbe's blessing to Rabbi Boyer was able to bring it into the world sooner.
That is what blessings are and why Jacob blessed his sons; to reveal the hidden goodness in store for each of them. And because each was different he had to bless each separately.
This is very important to each of us, today.
The Rambam (Mimonedies in Laws of Kings 11:1) explains that in the days of the Moshiach there will be no war, disease, hunger or strife because the Creator; the SOURCE of the spiritual, will be revealed in His creation. But we have to make it happen.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe said that we are NOW in the age of Moshiach ……….. and like Jacob, we all have the power and blessing to reveal it.
All we have to do is open our eyes; think, talk and do only good to tilt the scales and bring the ultimate blessing…..
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