This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.
Parshat Bo (5765)
This week we read another episode in the miraculous destruction of Egypt and the freeing of the Jews by the G-d of Israel.
This strange story is the basis of Judaism.
It constantly comes up in our prayers, especially in those of the holidays and Sabbath, and is the very first of the Ten Commandments:
"I am G-d that took you from Egypt".
This is the most basic and foundational principal of Judaism. It means that the Jews (in fact all mankind) must believe that G-d, the Creator of all being, is active in the world:
He cares about all mankind, loves the Jews, took them from Egypt and will eventually send another 'Moses' (namely the Moshiach) to redeem them again (see Sefer HaMitzvot HaKatan Mitzva 1)
And the second of the Ten Commandments is to believe only in this G-d.
But at first glance this is not understood. If it's so essential to believe only in this One G-d then why was the redemption through a person; Moses?
And why will the future one be through another person; Moshiach?
Isn't this problematic?
By sending a human 'savior' isn't there the danger of believing in or even praying to him as well . which is, G-d forbid, idolatry?
And doesn't this discourage and even repel Jews from longing for Moshiach which is equally as essential to Judaism. (See Rambam Hil. Melachim 11:1)
Why didn't G-d just do it all Himself and avoid this entire problem?
Also this week's section ends with the commandment of Tefillin which it connects to the exodus from Egypt (13:16). What has one got to do with the other?
To explain this, here is a story about the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak Shneerson, whose 'Yor Tzite' we celebrate this coming week.
(Together with the anniversary of the beginning of the present Rebbe's leadership).
This Previous Rebbe led the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in thirty years of its most difficult times.
The first ten were in Anti-Semitic Communist Russia where he inspired the establishment of hundreds, even thousands of clandestine 'underground' Torah schools, mikvas, Mohels and Rabbis to keep Judaism alive. He defied Stalin's all-pervasive, deadly 'purge Network' until he was finally imprisoned, sentenced to death and then miraculously released and forced to leave the country.
The next ten were in Anti-Semitic Poland until the Nazis attacked and he was forced to flee to the U.S.A.
He arrived in a wheelchair. broken in body but more alive than ever in spirit and immediately devoted the last ten years of his life and all his energies to saving world Judaism; beginning and developing the concept of 'outreach' Judaism.
The Rebbe vowed to "To melt the ice of America." He printed books and pamphlets, encouraged programs on radio and even sent out emissaries; all with the goal of waking up Jews and preparing the world for Moshiach.
This story takes place in the first period.
At this time (1924) the headquarters of Chabad was in the city of Rostov far from the center of Russia. From there the Rebbe controlled his 'forbidden'
educational network which, besides the physical dangers hanging over the heads of the teachers and pupils, was always in deep financial problems.
Hundreds of teachers and workers had to be paid, pupils had to be fed and donations, especially for 'counterrevolutionary' Jewish causes, were very scarce.
One Chassid of the Rebbe who was manager of one of these yeshivas got acquainted with a very wealthy Jew in Rostov and asked for financial assistance.
"The institution is folding, sinking! The teachers and staff had not been paid for months there was no food for the pupils!" He pleaded. But despite his requests, arguments and tears the rich man would not budge; he was a true miser.
Until one day the rich Jew happened to mention his own problem: he had no children! This is what broke his heart and worried him day and night.
Suddenly he looked the Chassid in the eyes, became serious and made a proposition.
"If you, being a Chassid and a man of G-d, would bless me with a child I will give what you ask."
The Chassid, realizing that besides being his only hope, this was a golden opportunity, shifted into another gear and the words came tumbling out.
"My school is going to close any day, certainly we can't wait nine months!
If you give the money that I need (here he quoted a very large sum) now, then I promise that within a year you will be hugging your SON!!"
The rich man burst into tears of grateful joy as he shook the Chassid's hand, went to his safe, took out the entire sum and counted it, bill by bill into the hand of his wide-eyed benefactor whose heart was pounding so fast he thought he was about to faint any second.
The Chassid felt a bit guilty about the blessing but on the other hand the yeshiva had been revived! Hundreds of young Jewish souls would be saved! Think of all the Torah that would be learnt! All the commandments that would be done! Surely in the merit of all this, the blessing will be granted!
But it wasn't.
The months passed and nothing happened. Finally after a year the irate fellow went to the home of the Chassid.
"Remember me?!" He yelled. "Remember your promise? Your blessing?" he screamed. "Where is my child?! I want my money back...Or else!"
The Chassid didn't lose his composure, forced a smile and answered.
"Listen, it must be that there is some spiritual problem. Usually my blessings work. Just give me a few more weeks and I'll try harder."
The rich man quieted down and as soon as he left, the Chassid ran to the house of the Rebbe and arranged a private meeting.
"Who told you to promise children?" said the Rebbe. "Maybe this man doesn't deserve children. How could you do such a thing? The fact is that I can't help."
"But Rebbe," the Chassid pleaded "I did it for the children, for the pupils
- without his money the Yeshiva would have closed!" But his pleas were to no avail.
Two weeks later the threats resumed and so it was the next day and the next, till the Chassid had no choice but to either leave the city or....return to the Rebbe.
"Please Rebbe" he begged after somehow managing to secure another private audience. "Save me!!"
This time the Rebbe answered differently, "All right! But this is the only time! Go and tell him in my name that this year he will have a son. But from now on, never make promises you can't keep!"
Sure enough that year his son was born, he continued to support the Rebbe's programs and the Chassid never made any more such promises. The Rebbe changed the course of nature.
This answers our questions. The reason G-d took the Jews out of Egypt was not just to free them but rather, as G-d commanded Moses to tell Pharaoh:
"Release My people so they can SERVE me!!"
The purpose of the Jewish people is to SERVE the Creator of the universe.
And this service means not only just performing the commandments of G-d (which is essential) but also completely changing one's heart and mind to truly love and fear the Creator (which is even more essential).
[Corresponding to Tefillin on the arm (near the heart) and on the head (near the mind)]
And this is why it had to be done through Moses for three reasons:
1) Moses was a living inspiration of total, human devotion to the Creator.
2) Moses taught and directed others how to serve G-d (as the Rebbe did in
the volumes of Chassidut he produced).
3) And Moses was the ONLY Jew that could free all the others from their
personal 'Egypts' (as the Rebbe did in our story).
And so will be the job of Moshiach - but infinitely more so.
Moshiach will bring ALL MANKIND as well as the Jews to the ultimate level of service with a complete heart and mind.
It all depends on us to learn Chassidut and take the example, inspiration and direction of the Rebbe. Namely to do all we can to SEE....
Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.