This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Va'eira (5763)
In this week’s portion we see two unusual things.
Firstly, in the beginning (6:12) Moses tries to quit his job as leader of the Jews (although, at the burning bush, G-d spent seven days trying to convince him to do it (Rashi 4:6)).
And secondly, G-d repeatedly hardens Pharaoh’s heart causing him to refuse to release the Jews (despite seven plagues that G-d sends to convince him otherwise).
Why did Moses want to refuse G-d’s wishes and why did G-d ‘force’ Pharaoh to refuse them?
To understand this here is a story.
Fival was almost weeping as he entered the Tzemach Tzedek’s (the third Rebbe of Chabad some 150 years ago in Russia) office to beg for help. He was unexplainably being evicted from the inn he’d been running for over twenty years.
He couldn’t understand it; he always paid his rent to the Poritz (landowner) on time, and never made trouble. But suddenly a week ago the Poritz gave him one month’s notice to leave. All his pleas and reasoning didn’t help, and now with nine mouths to feed and such short notice he had no other recourse than to travel to the Rebbe for help.
The Tzemach Tzedek was more than just a great leader. There was no branch of knowledge mundane or spiritual that he was not acquainted with, and his miraculous powers could only be described as divine. Many considered him to be the embodiment of what the Zohar (Jewish Mystical book) explains that in every generation there must be a Moses whose sole purpose is to help each and every Jew.
Fival entered the Rebbe’s study in trepidation as one would enter the Holy of Holies. He closed the door behind him, and poured out his heart. When he was finished the Rebbe took out a piece of paper and a pen, wrote a short letter, put it in an envelope, addressed it told him to deliver it as swiftly as possible, and gave him a blessing for success.
He thanked the Rebbe profusely, backed out of the room and as soon as he closed the door took a quick glance at the name on the envelope and his heart sank; the Rebbe had made a mistake!
There was clearly written ‘Shmuel HaKatan’ (Samuel the Small) an old retired woodcutter that lived with his wife in his run-down cottage in the woods!! One word was wrong; instead of Katan he should have written ‘Godol’ (The Great).
The Rebbe was known to be infallible but here it was obvious…he should have written Shmuel HaGodol who was a rich, influential Jew that had close connections with all the landlords and perhaps even the Czar himself! If anyone could help it would be him!
But Fival was stuck. To enter the Rebbe’s office again was out of the question. Suddenly he had an idea; the Rebbe had seven sons, he went to one of them and asked for advice.
But the Rebbe’s son only assured him that as strange as it might seem, just as a Jewish prophet never errs, so also the Rebbe never makes mistakes.
So with a heavy heart, Fival made his way to Shmuel HaKatan’s hut deep in the forest and knocked on the door. The old man answered, and when he heard the reason for the visit and read the Rebbe’s letter he invited Fival to be his guest for a few days and see what would happen.
But a week passed and still nothing. Fival began to become depressed. What would become of him? In another two weeks he would have to vacate his home and his job. Winter was beginning; the weather outside was already cold and miserable which added to his melancholy. Where would he go? What would he do? What would be with his children and wife? Night fell, the wind and rain were pounding on the roof and the walls. He went to his room, sat on the bed, put his head in his hands and wept.
Suddenly the front door rattled and thundered; someone was pounding and shouting outside. “Help! Help! Let me in!!” Shmuel ran to the door and opened it as Fival looked on through his slightly open door. It was the Poritz, the one that was evicting him, drenched to the bone, shivering blue with cold. He had been on his way home when the storm caught him unexpectedly and night fell. Now he had been wandering in the cold for almost an hour and was on the verge of death.
Shmuel brought him a change of clothes some warm blankets, a glass of vodka and a bowl of hot soup, moved him near the stove and in no time the Poritz was showering him with praises and promises.
“You saved my life!! I owe you my life!” He exclaimed still shivering, sipping his soup. “You are sent from G-d! Tell me how to repay you!”
“Listen” Shmuel answered. “If you really want to reward me then you can do me a big favor.”
“Anything! I swear! I almost died!! You are my savior! Just ask!”
“Well,” Shmuel gave a glance at Fival peeking from behind his door, “I have a good friend. His name is Fival, he’s the one that runs the inn on your property. I’m sure you know him. Well a few days ago you gave him a month’s notice for eviction. You told him to vacate with his wife and family. Well, I want you to let him stay.”
“So it shall be!! Your friend can stay! He can stay forever if he wants! You saved my life!!” Shouted the Poritz.
“It just so happens that he is here in the other room” Continued Shmuel. “Will you put it in writing?”
Fival came out of his room and the Poritz immediately shook his hand warmly, asked for pen and paper and wrote a deed giving him and his offspring sole rental rights on the inn for all generations, and for good measure gave him the next three years rent free.
“But just one thing is bothering me,” Fival said as he thanked G-d, thanked the Poritz and took the deed lovingly in hand, “Why did you evict me in the first place? After all, I always paid rent and never gave you any trouble. What made you do it?”
“Yes,” answered the Poritz as he sat and took another sip of his vodka,“You were the perfect tenant and I would never have even thought of it. But a very influential person came to me and demanded that I rent the inn to his son-in-law. He promised to pay more rent and even threatened to make trouble if I refused. He said he had connections with high officials and even the Czar! It was that Shmuel HaGodol!
“I don’t know what got into him and made him so hard-hearted. I even asked him how he could do it to a fellow Jew and he answered he didn’t mix business with friendship. But I’ll take care of him myself. I’ll tell him that you are my personal friend. Just one thing that I would like to ask though,” he continued, “How did you happen to be here exactly on this night?”
When Fival told him about how the Rebbe sent him the Poritz asked a few questions, thought for a while and finally exclaimed, “Now I know that G-d is still with the Jewish people!!”
This answers our questions: why did Moses refuse to lead the Jews and why did G-d force Pharaoh to refuse.
According to the Saadia Gaon, Moses feared his mission was doomed because his prophesy was incomplete; a prophet has to say what he himself heard from G-d and here, because Moses had a speech impediment and Aaron was the spokesman, no one was saying what he heard from G-d. Moses couldn’t speak and Aaron was saying what he heard from Moses, not G-d.
But G-d calmed this fear by announcing, “Moses, I have made you G-d to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother will be your prophet” (7:1)
In other words, Aaron WILL be saying what G-d tells him to say because you, Moses, are G-d! (Just as Moses spoke the entire book of Deuteronomy ‘on his own’.)
Similarly with Pharaoh:
G-d gave Pharaoh self-confidence and courage to overcome all doubts and totally expend all his powers of evil and selfishness to the end.
His stubbornness brought another and another plague each highlighting Moses’ G-dly nature until, after the splitting of the sea, the Jews actually believed in Moses and G-d equally! (Ex. 14:31)
In other words it all came to show that the leader of the Jews; be it Moses or the Tzemech Tzedek in our story, or the leader of every generation including ours cannot be understood with the normal senses.
And the purpose of such a leader is to show us that we are all G-d’s people (His sons Ex. 4:22) and each of us has the purpose of revealing the Creator within nature (as Pharaoh finally realized).
This is the deepest and more personal meaning of taking all the Jews from ‘Egypt’; namely widening their ‘normal’ ‘everyday’ understandings, feelings and realizations of the world of themselves and of G-d in order to make this physical world a heaven on earth
That is why the Zohar informs us that the Moshiach will bring all Jews, even the greatest and holiest, to "teshuva" (self-transformation).
Because Moshiach as Moses before him (and as Abraham began) will cause a complete renewal of all human priorities and values. And that is the lesson of our weekly portion and of the entire Torah, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe said countless times; that even ONE more good deed, word or even thought can tilt the scales and fill the world with the awareness of the Creator G-d.
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