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Shavuot (5762)

Most of the eighteen commandments in this week's section are only minimally practical nowadays such as "Sota" and "Nazir".

But one of them is very important and real; the commandment of Repentance.

"If a man or woman sin....they must confess to G-d." (5: 5, 6)

This commandment, perhaps more than any other, is an expression of G-d's Infinite Mercy:

Even if one deliberately and repeatedly committed the worst sins, nevertheless repentance and confession (the sinner must truly regret the sin and speak to G-d saying; "G-d I did such-and-such, regret it and will not do it again") will clean his spiritual slate each time, even today when there is no Temple!

(Incidentally, in the days of the Temple the sacrifices only covered unintentional sins, and even then they also had to be accompanied by repentance.)

But this is not understood. If G-d is really so merciful, wouldn't it have been better if He just didn't give us the Torah, with so many laws to transgress in the first place?

So why do we celebrate the holiday of Shavuot (this Friday & Shabbat) when the Torah was given 3314 years ago? If He didn't give the Torah (G-d forbid) there would be no reason to repent!

To answer this, here is a story from the Baal Shem Tov (Besh't for short) (who passed away on Shavuot, 242 years ago).

The Besh't once called one of his Chassidim named Rav Nisan, gave him a closed envelope and ordered him to travel to the Castle of the local landowner Count Radzvill. The purpose of his trip was to try to arouse the Count's best friend, Pierre Louis, to return to Judaism. The envelope was to be opened in two days time.

Rav Nisan was perplexed. Pierre Louis was, as far as everyone knew, definitely not Jewish. But the Baal Shem never had been wrong. The Besh't was not only a holy Jew (Tzadik), but he was also a Rebbe. He understood the purpose of creation and strove to arouse as many Jews as possible to act like G-d's chosen people. So Rav Nissan followed the instructions with joy.

Count Radzvill was a wealthy Russian landowner who spent much of his time in Europe enjoying himself. Years ago on one of his journeys he met a French nobleman called Pierre Louis and since then they traveled, went hunting and did almost everything together. Today they were returning, after an absence of several months, to the Count's Russian palace and the joy was great.

Unlike most of the Russian nobility, Count Radzvill was kind and just to all those living on his lands, Jew and gentile alike. All his "serfs" were gathered before his castle to welcome him.

Our Chassid, Rav Nissan, arrived just as the Count and his friend stepped out of their carriage, and as he examined Pierre Louis amidst the cheering crowd he was even more amazed at the Besht's request, the man certainly did not look in any way Jewish.

After the two had entered the Castle and the crowd had dispersed, Rav Nissan hung around the grounds for the rest of the day wondering what to do, but at nightfall he still had no clue. He had absolutely no way of entering the building and even if he did, how could he possibly speak to Pierre Louis, and even then there was little chance that the latter would listen to him.

That night he slept in the town Synagogue and the next day he returned to the Castle hoping something would materialize. But as he approached the Castle he immediately noticed that something was wrong. There was again a large crowd gathered there, but they were unusually quiet, some of the Jews were reading Psalms and some of the people were crying.

It seems that shortly after the Count and his friend arrived at the Castle they couldn't resist the idea that the surrounding woods were probably filled with game. So despite their fatigue from the road they went hunting.

The hunt was successful but when they returned toward evening, tired and laden with prey, a tragic accident occurred; the Count tripped on one of the Castle steps, his pistol discharged and he was left with a large bleeding wound in his chest.

His friend Pierre Louis immediately had him moved into the Castle and sent tens of carriages to nearby cities to bring help. All night the carriages left and returned with different doctors but despite all their expertise and efforts they weren't able to stop the bleeding. The Count was dying.

Suddenly Rav Nissan remembered the envelope the Rebbe had given him.

He opened it, took out the letter and began reading. Even he, who was accustomed to miracles from his master, was amazed. It was a prescription with exact directions how to prepare a salve to cure...a gunshot wound to the chest!

He ran to the castle gate waiving the letter and demanded to be let in but the guards refused. They had strict orders to admit only doctors and despite his arguments and pleas they stuck to their orders.

Pierre Louis must have heard the ruckus from inside the palace because he suddenly came running out to the gate obviously very irritated, "What do you want here Jew?" he shouted, "Don't tell me you are a doctor? You are no doctor!! Leave here immediately!! What is that you have in your hand? What is that paper you are holding?"

Rav Nissan tried to explain but the Frenchman snatched the prescription from his hand and began to read. "This is your cure?!" He screamed. "This is nonsense!" He was about to tear it into pieces when one of the doctors emerged from the castle, saw the commotion and approached.

He examined the paper, turned facing Pierre with his back to the Jew and whispered. "They've given up in there. Let the Jew try, he certainly can't hurt.

Minutes later Rav Nissim was in the Castle, had prepared the medicine and was beginning the treatment. Some of it he smeared on the wound, some of it he applied on various parts of the Count's body and every few minutes he repeated the process, exactly according to the instructions.

To everyone's surprise the Count stopped hemorrhaging almost immediately! After a few applications he even seemed to breathe more deeply and evenly. After an hour, instead of being dead as everyone had thought, color returned to his cheeks and minutes later he regained consciousness!

The doctors and professors were speechless; they had never seen anything even vaguely like it. But Pierre Louis was moved to the essence of his very being; he felt something very potent was happening here but he had no idea what it was.

After several hours the Count was actually strong enough to call Rav Nissim to his bedside and thank him profusely. He even offered to reward him royally but the Chassid refused. "Seeing you healthy is my reward. Just continue to treat the Jews kindly." he said. "But I do have one request; I want to speak with Pierre Louis alone."

The bewildered Pierre Louis and Rav Nissan went into a side room and closed the door.

They sat, Rav Nissan looked him in the eyes and said, "I am a follower of a great Jew called Yisroel Baal Shem. He was the one that wrote that prescription and saved your friend. He told me to come here and....bring you back to Judaism."

Pierre was still in shock from, first the near death of his friend, then his strange supernatural recovery. He felt as though he had been transported into another world but he couldn't figure out which world was real; the one of wealth, and pleasure that he had been enjoying for over forty years, or this new strange one of Jews, and miracles.

Pierre just looked at the Chassid, eyes wide in disbelief; "Back? Judaism?" He mumbled to himself. "Back?"

"The Baal Shem Tov told me to tell you that your real name is Pesach Tzvi" continued Rab Nissan. "He said that both your parents were Jewish and your mother even wanted to give you a Jewish education but your father opposed and prevailed. So you were thrown into French society educated in the best schools and lost your Jewish identity. But now it is time for you to return."

"Return? How...How can he know this? How is he so sure of these things you are saying?" asked the Frenchman in a whisper.

"I have no idea, but from my experience he knows everything," replied Rav Nissan.

"I don't understand" Said Pierre, trying to clear his throat, "Are you saying that I am...a Jew?" A Jew? My god, it's impossible!! Impossible!!"

Pierre Louis refused to discuss the subject further and abruptly ended the conversation. He only promised he would give it further thought and the Chassid left the Castle.

Almost a year later Rav Nissan heard a knock on his door, opened it and there stood a bearded Jew. It was Pierre Louis, or rather Pesech Tzvi, returning to the G-d of his fathers.

So this answers our question. We see in our story that the Count's illness brought a blessing to everyone; both he and his friend Pierre came, through the Besh't, to new awareness of the Creator. In fact there are many such stories of Tzadikim especially about the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

But certainly no one would say; "better that G-d should not have created healthy life so there would be no sickness and no need for healing". That would be ridiculous, simply unheard of!

Similarly it would be meaningless to suggest that G-d not give the Torah so that sin would be impossible.

The Torah is like life itself. In fact it is called the Tree of Life and the sourse of Living Waters. G-d gave the Torah in order to reveal His essence, the CAUSE and PURPOSE of life, in this world

Sin, on the other hand, is like sickness. When one transgresses the Torah he disrupts this spiritual life flow and he and the entire world require healing.

Repentance is like healing. And like healing it can bring a greater realization of the truth. But this is only if it is connected to the tzadikim the righteous Jews of our generation.

In fact the Talmud tells us that one who was distant from the truth and 'returns' (a baal tshuva) is in some ways even higher than a completely righteous "Tzadik".

That is the Miracle and the Joy of Shavuot. We received the Tree of Life, the Torah. And even more, we became connected to Moses, who revealed the real life and magic of the Torah; the power of Tshuva.

But most important of all, Moses was the forerunner of Moshiach who will heal the entire world through Tshuva and Torah.

That is what Isiah means that Moshiach will reveal a "new" Torah.

Then we will see and feel the G-dliness in every commandment. Every letter of the Torah will be so alive that it will never again be misinterpreted, misused or abandoned. As the Rambam says at the end of his work, in the days of Moshiach the world will be filled with G-dliness like the water fills the ocean.

May you all have a happy and meaningful holiday with...

Moshiach NOW!

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