This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Vayechi (5764)
This week’s section describes in great detail the deathbed scene of Yaakov and how he blesses each of his twelve sons until his final moment.
But the Talmud (Pesachim 56a) tells us that at this time Yaakov suspected his sons of idolatry. Perhaps they believed in more than One G-d.
To this they replied by assuring him; Shma Yisroel etc. HaShem ECHAD…. “Hear Israel (Yaakov’s alternate name) HaShem is our G-d, HaShem is ONE”
(And Yaakov exclaimed, “Boruch Shem K’vod etc” – ‘May the glory of G-d’s name be blessed for ever’ - which is the reason these words are added to the ‘Shema’ prayer to this very day).
This is not understood. Why would Yaakov, especially at such a serious and intense moment, suspect his sons of such a thing as idolatry?!
And, on the other hand... what was he so worried about? What difference does it make how many gods his sons worshiped? Better he should worry if they are honest or kind.
To answer this, here is a personal story.
Several years ago my wife and I took a trip to Holland for a few days. As a Chassid Chabad I try to put Tefillin on Jews whenever possible. Jews, even the most unobservant, are often surprisingly pleased to be asked and amazingly willing to comply. So I have custom that any time I am on a daytime flight to or from Israel I try to put Tefillin on the Jewish passengers.
The flight to Holland was in the night, which is not the time for Tefillin.
on the early morning flight back I took out my Tefillin and went to work.
I soon realized that although on most flights it is necessary to ask passengers if they are Jewish … on this flight it wasn’t. There is no problem recoginzing a Dutch passenger from an Israeli.
The Dutch hardly move. They just sit in semi-frozen, stoic poses reading their papers or just looking ahead as though hypnotized by the drone of the engines. The Israelis, on the other hand were constanly moving; adjusting something, talking, getting something out or putting something back or just gesturing and wiggling.
So I just zeroed in on anything that moved.
I had a few successes and a few refusals until I came to three young Isreali fellows, obviously friends, sitting next to each other. Each one was decorated with progressively more disgusting degrees of tatoos, metal piercings and strangely dyed hair than the next, as though they were living advertisments for decadent Amsterdam; ‘WE WERE THERE’!!
I approached the one closest to the aisle, held out the Tefillin to him and asked, “Would you like to put on Tefillin, my friend? It only takes a minute, just one, and you’ll enjoy it!”
He looked at me with sheer disgust and his entire body, beginning with his head, shook ‘no’ as though I was offering him to eat a dead cat.
Undaunted, I turned to his friend next to him and made the same offer, “Nu, what about you? What do you say?”
He promptly reacted by tilting his head over and back, closing his eyes and letting out a fairly loud snore to convince me he had really be asleep all along.
Still opitimistic I turned to the one sitting near the window and yelled out over the din of the engines, “What about you my friend. Put on Tefillin?”
He looked up from the magazine he was reading, shrugged his shoulders, turned one palm up moving it from side to side while wagging his head in bewilderment which is Israeli for “What did you say? Are you talking to me??”
I held the Tefillin out and repeated “Tefillin! Tefillin! Want to put on Tefillin?”
I could tell that the one closest to me was loosing his patience and was just about to say something like “Don’t you see that…..” When the one I was asking smiled and joyously replied, “SURE!” As he stuck out his arm for me to begin.
The one feigning sleep opened one eye while the first one was tried to disguise his surprise and disappointment by looking back down at the book he was reading.
Meanwhile I noticed that in the row in front of us a rather distinguished looking gentleman had noticed the commotion and was craning his neck around looking alternately at me. He was peaking between the seats to see what was going on.
I smiled and asked him in English, if he was perhaps Jewish. He shook his head no, but he kept staring.
So I asked him if he knew what we were doing, he again said no. So I told him to please wait and I would explain.
When the Israeli finished I removed the Tefillin, shook his hand, offered his friends one more chance and, when they again refused, shook their hands as well and moved forward to the the non-Jewish fellow.
I asked him his name and he replied, if I remember correctly, Hans. I had to speak over the noise of the engine but it didn’t require much effort. In fact it added a bit of privacy to the conversation. I explained that these are a commandment in the Bible to the Jewish people to show that G-d is not just in heaven but here on earth as well.
I explained that they are made of leather pressed into two hollow boxes each containing one of the four Biblical passages relating to this commandment.
I suddenly had an inspiration, “Do you know what the main portion says in these boxes?” I asked rhetorically. He shook his head no.
“It is the main prayer of Judaism: ‘Listen Jews….. G-d is ONE’. Do you know what that means Hans?” He again shook his head no. “It means that G-d is the ONLY being and He alone creates all existence, each and every thing … from nothing, EVERY INSTANT!”
I saw he was facinated. “That means that G-d creates YOU as well, Hans. G-d creates you every instant and do you know why?” He innocently shrugged his shoulders.
“Because… G-d loves you! That’s why. So if He loves you, Hans, and creates you for free… then you should do something for Him for free!” and I explained a bit about the seven Noahide Commandments.
Suddenly he loosened his safety belt, stood at full hight, fixed his tie and jacket, raised one finger into the air and shouted at the top of his lungs,
“This Rabbi is CORRECT! And I want to appoligise to him for what our people have done to his people! We have taken a man and tried to make him G-d….. And we have attempted to eliminate THE HOLY COMMANDMENTS!!”
He said each word louder and louder until the last few caused everyone within five rows in each direction, to look up. Seemingly oblivious of his surrounding, he shook my hand warmly, looked me deeply in the eyes, again fixed his tie and sat down… occasionaly shaking his head ‘yes’ emphatically as though he was mentally repeating and affirming his statement.
This answers our question.
Worshiping only one G-d is not a matter of arbitrary numbers. The difference is much greater.
One who worships many powers or ‘gods’ ALWAYS does so for selfish reasons; for power, success, knowledge, a place in the world to come.
The real meaning of G-d is ONE is that there is NO OTHER EXISTENCE.
If a person merely cosolidates all the gods into one but still has the feeling that he himself is a separate, real existance (or as one Chassid, Rabbi Meir Blazinski ob’m, said “I believe that G-d is bigger than me, smarter than me, stronger than me, is all around me ….. but there’s still a ‘ME’ in the middle!”) then he is still not really worshiping ONE G-d. That is what bothered Yaakov.
The Midrash (Shmot Raba 3) relates that a gentile Matron once scoffingly challenged Rabbi Yosi Ben Chalafta saying, “My god is stronger than yours!
Bible says that when Moses saw your G-d in the burning bush he just hid his face (Exodus 3:6). But when saw the serpent (ibid 4:3), which is my god, he ran away! So which is stronger!!?”
But Rabbi Yosi calmly replied. “Exactly the opposite. Where could Moses flee from the Creator of the heavens and earth whose Being fills the entire creation? Could he go to the sea or to the sky? But from your snake, after two or three steps he was out of his reach.”
And this is what Yaakov was worried about on his deathbed. The last moments of a Tzadik are the culmination of his total life’s work; revealing the ONEness of G-d in creation.
And the ONLY way this can be done is through the Jewish people. ALL the Jewish people. ONLY if the Jews observe the Torah with the feeling that there is NOTHING but G-d…. only then can this wonderful and joyous truth be revealed.
That is the simple meaning of “HaShem is OUR G-d, HaShem is ONE”(See Rashi on Deut. 6:4). And Yaakov was worried that perhaps his sons had missed this crucial point.
The Talmud tells us (Taanit 5a, see Rashi here 49:33) that Yaakov really didn’t die. And, in fact, the ESSENCE of this ONEness of G-d is the cessation of death; that death itself will become life… as it did when the Torah was given.
Simply put, this is the job of the Moshiach; as the Lubavitcher Rebbe did and his Chassidim are still doing….. to bring ALL the Jews to do the Torah with joy and truth. Only then will be revealed the fact that Yaakov worked so hard to reveal; G-d is ONE. It all depends on us to see….
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