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Parshat Bo (5761)
This week’s section describes the last moments of the Jews in Mitzriam (Egypt) before their birth as a nation.
Just before attaining freedom G-d commanded them (through Moshe) to do a very strange thing, everyone had to eat a roasted lamb (Koban Pesach).
This was to become the first Jewish holiday, Pesach …. Jewish Independence day.
On Pesach the Jews became freed not just from Egyptian bondage but also from all limits of creation, (both spiritual as well as physical); they became G-d’s, the CREATOR’S, people and His representatives in the world.
What does roasted lamb have to do with this?
I would like to answer with a story.
A very talented Chabad Rabbi, Rabbi Shochet, once received an invitation from an organization in Buffalo New York to speak before a crowd of intellectuals, among which would be many priests and soon-to-be priests, on the topic of charity.
He had his reservations about speaking to such a crowd; on one hand he wanted to educate, but on the other hand he wanted to avoid interfaith debates, so he called the office of the Lubavitch Rebbe and requested from one of the secretaries to ask the Rebbe what to do.
The answer came immediately, The Rebbe said that he should accept the offer, and to be sure to end his lecture with the story of the ‘Rich Miser of Krakow’.
Needless to say Rabbi Shochet threw himself into the task, (although the Rebbe’s insistence on that particular story seemed a bit unusual) and when the date arrived he flew to Buffalo and gave a fascinating two hour-long speech describing the uniqueness of the Torah approach to ‘Tzadaka’ (from the word ‘Tzedik’ ‘Justice’; we give G-d’s money not our own). But as the crowd was about to applaud he announced that he wanted to tell the following story.
“Once in the city of Krakow almost four hundred years ago lived a rich Jew named Yisroel. No one really knew his last name and no one even cared, because he was a miserable person. He lived in a large, plush home and was very rich, but he was a hardhearted miser and everyone avoided him. If ever an unsuspecting money collector would knock on his door he would receive an abrupt ‘No money!’ and a door slammed in his face.
“Now, although it is forbidden to call people derogatory names, this old man was so stingy that eventually everyone began calling him ‘Yisroel Goy’ (‘Goy’ lit. One of the Nations) saying that only a non-Jew could be so callous to other Jews, and unfortunately the name stuck.
“So it continued for many years, in fact everyone completely forgot about the old skinflint, until one day the burial society (Chevre Kadisha) received a message to come to his bedside.
“‘Here is two thousand dollars, you’re not going to get another penny from me so don’t ask,’ He announced to them. ‘I want you to bury me in a good spot, not near the fence or the garbage dump, and write on my tombstone: ‘Yisroel Goy’’. He then said the ‘Shma Yisroel’ prayer, closed his eyes and a few days later passed away.
“No one knew exactly how old he was, maybe ninety, maybe more, but one thing for sure; no one wept at his funeral, in fact almost no one attended, and they also didn’t bury him exactly where he wanted. But they did write what he wanted on his tombstone: ‘YISROEL GOY’. And that was the end of a sad episode in the history of Krakow. Or so they thought.
“One afternoon, about one week later, the Rav of the city, Rabbi Yom-Tov Lipman Heller (author of ‘Tosfos Yom Tov’ on Mishna) heard a knock on his door and when he opened it about fifty hungry faces greeted him. ‘Yes, can I help you?’ he asked incredulously, ‘Where are you all from?’ “‘We are from here, from Krakow.’ One of them cried out, ‘and we are hungry, we haven’t eaten anything all day.’
“The Rav didn’t understand what was going on but he invited them all in, found them all places to sit and while his wife was preparing something for them to eat, he heard the following story.
It seems that these poor people had been going to the grocery store every day for as long as they could remember and taking what they needed, they only had to sign, and that was it. But since yesterday the grocery owner refused to give them anything, so they were all hungry.
“‘Very strange’ thought the Rav to himself. ‘So many hungry people, and all from here, Krakow! Could it be that they are lying? I must get to the bottom of this.’
“He waited for them to finish eating and told them to come to his home again tomorrow morning. Then he put on his overcoat, told his wife that he would return shortly and walked out the door in the direction to the home of the town treasurer. From far away he could see that there was a crowd of people gathered at his door as well, and as he approached he could hear the treasurer trying to make some order of the chaos that was prevailing. ‘Oy!! Am I glad you are here!’ He shouted out when he saw the Rav. ‘Look inside, my house is filled too, there must be three hundred people here, and this is the second shift, a big group just left!!’
“‘I know, the Rav answered, they came to me also, different people that is, but hungry and all of them say that they are from Krakow. I simply don’t understand it.’
“After everyone had been fed and the treasurer distributed some money for tomorrow’s meals, both he and the Rav walked to the house of the Grocery store owner. “‘Sure,’ he answered, ‘I used to give everyone food. They would sign and I’d give the bill at the end of each week to that old rich guy that just died, the one they called Yisroel Goy. I mean, it’s been going on for, I’d say forty years, maybe more, even before I owned the store. I mean he was my best customer that old man. But what… he kept warning me not to tell anyone, even my wife. Every time he would pay he said if he heard that people knew he was paying, he’d stop. I don’t know why he didn’t want me to tell.
Did you see at his funeral? It was terrible; he almost didn’t have a minyan (ten people)! I guess he only cared about those poor people. But now that he’s not around well, what can I do? I can’t give food for free! I mean I have a wife and family too. Maybe I can give something, but he used to give thousands each week! I can’t give thousands like him. I hope that’s not the reason that you came to my house. I’m sure willing to help, but what can I do?’
“When the Rav and the treasurer heard these words they looked at each other and began weeping. They had made a terrible error in judgment. The Rav declared a day of fasting and repentance for the next day.
“The word spread like wildfire and everyone gathered at the Shul to say Psalms, they realized that they had made a big mistake. After several hours the Rav stood at the podium and announced that they were all going to the graveyard.
“It was a strange site to see so many people walking somberly like a funeral with no coffin. But they all poured into the graveyard and gathered around the grave. For some reason the tombstone was covered with a large cloth but everyone’s attention focused on the Rav as he stepped from the crowd, stood at the foot of the grave, and began to speak.
“‘Yisroel, Yisroel! We’ve come here today to say we are sorry.’ He paused; the silence was broken by some muffled weeping from the crowd. ‘I know you don’t need our apologies but we are sorry! We’re sorry that we were so cruel, crueler than we accused you of being. And we’re sorry that no one was your friend and that no one really cared.’ Now the cries were louder, almost everyone was sobbing. The Rav waited for silence, dried his eyes and continued.
“‘I know you wanted the words ‘Yisroel Goy’ written on your tombstone. Well I’ve done something that I hope you won’t mind … I had the stonecutter add a word’. With this, the Rav pulled away the cloth and in place of Yisroel Goy the inscription now read:
‘YISROEL GOY… KADOSH’ (Israel, a Holy Nation.)”
Rav Shochet had finished his lecture and the crowd showed their satisfaction with rounds of applause. After he had finished shaking hands and was making his way out the door one of the young men studying for the priesthood approached him and asked if it was possible to speak to him alone.
There was something strangely sincere in the young man’s eyes and Rav Shochet set an appointment for the next afternoon in his hotel room. The young man appeared at the time they set and after sitting down requested that the Rabbi repeat the story he told, and then requested an explain on several points. He listened deeply to the answers and when they finished they shook hands and parted.
Years later Rav Shochet, on a visit to Israel, was praying at the Kotel (Wailing Wall) when a young, religious, bearded Jew approached him and shook his hand warmly. “Do you recognize me?” he asked, “I am the priest that visited you years ago in your hotel room.”
Rav Shochet stared at him and was so astounded he couldn’t speak. “Yes, you don’t know what that story you told about the miser did to me” the young man continued. “You see, my mother was Jewish but she kept it a secret. She escaped to America from Poland in the war and there she married a devout Catholic. You see, it wasn’t so easy being a Jew in those times. Until just before she died she told me that story, and added that we are Jews and are related to a holy generous Jew, that supported hundreds of people anonymously in Krakow hundreds of years ago.” Your story woke something that was sleeping in my soul and now I’ve returned to my self.
It took several years, but Rabbi Shochet now understood why the Lubavitcher Rebbe insisted on that particular story.
With this we can understand the Pesach Offering.
The ‘Paschal Lamb’ was the first time in history that people became holy through eating, and eating meat no less.
Usually if one wants to become spiritual it is though fasting, abstinence, and quiet purity. Here G-d demanded from an entire nation that they occupy themselves with the messy business of slaughtering, roasting and finally eating sheep and goats in order to become holy, and free themselves from the bonds of nature!
It was a new type of Holiness; the physical was to become higher than the spiritual. G-d Himself chose a nation of people that would reveal the truth; only the Torah is G-d’s will, and the entire creation, both physical (meat) and even spiritual (shunning idolatry), if used according to the Torah can be maden holy… revealing the Oneness of G-d.
Something like our Yisroel Goy. He shunned fame and favor and earned the title “Kadosh” ‘Holy’ because he devoted himself and his riches totally to the physical act of giving charity.
Or like the young priest when he heard the Rabbi tell the story of the miser he left the pristine boundaries (Mitzriam) of spiritual selfishness of the Church to cling to the true will of the Creator; to elevate the world rather than reject it.
And just as the redemption from Egypt needed a redeemer; Moses, and the priest was redeemed through the wisdom of the Lubavitch Rebbe, so also the Rebbe assured us time and time again that our generation will be redeemed through the immediate arrival of Moshiach NOW!
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