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Parshat Yitro (5764)
It is written in the Talmud (Shabbat 88b) that with each Divine utterance G-d spoke to the Jews at Mount Sinai they all died and G-d had to repeatedly revive them.
The Torah even tells us (Deut. 5:22-24) that the experience was so traumatic that after the first two commandments they begged Moses to make it stop and go receive the rest of the Torah on his own.
At first glance this makes absolutely no sense.
The Torah is just a book, why did they have to die? What killed them? There are a lot of religions that have religious books and no one had to die to get them. Not only that, but the Torah is called Torat CHIAM… the Torah of LIFE, and the tree of Life!! So why did they die?!
Here is a story to help us understand.
In the city of Annipoli lived a devoted Chassid (follower) of the Holy Rabbi Zusia of Annipoli who was a rich businessman specializing in precious stones and almost anything else of major value.
His biggest business was done in the one month of the year that he would travel to the massive fair in Leipzig.
First he would go to Rebbe Zusia for a blessing, then travel to the fair and finally return with big profits. He always gave a big percentage to charity and the rest of the year he sat and learned Torah while preparing for the next year's fair.
But one year the Rebbe told him… NOT to travel!
At first Yaakov couldn't believe his ears. He just stared, shocked and speechless for several seconds then timidly repeated the Rebbe's words, "Not… not to travel? Not to go…… to the fair?"
The Rebbe just nodded slightly and poor Yaakov, realizing he had nothing more to do there, confusedly backed out of the room.
But when he got home his wife didn't take the news so benignly. "What?!" She screamed "Not to travel!? What are you going to do..close the business? Sweep the streets? Sell diamonds in Annipoli? Did you ask the Rebbe what you should do instead?! Are you sure the Rebbe understood the question?" She even suggested that he go back … but that was out of the question! A Rebbe doesn't make mistakes!
But she didn't let up and soon his in-laws, brothers, partners, investors and even a few friends heard the news and joined in until Yaakov thought he was going mad. Suddenly his wife had a brainstorm idea:
"You know, Rebbe Elimelech of Lezinsk is Rabbi Zusia's brother and he is also a holy famous Tzadik. ….. Maybe go see what he has to say!"
At first Yaakov tried to resist… after all he already had a clear answer from Rebbe Zusia, but when everyone started putting on the pressure he began to think differently. Certainly Rebbe Elimelech would say the same thing as Rebbe Zusia and then everyone would finally leave him alone.
He traveled to Lezinsk, easily got an audience with the Holy Tzadik and told him what had happened with Rav Zusia his family.
Rabbi Elimelech answered,
"Tell me… you are a Mohel (one who knows how to circumcise babies) correct?"
Yaakov, just shook his head yes. In fact he was an expert Mohel and it was treasured hobby of his to gladly offer his services whenever a Jewish father had a baby to circumcise. How Rab Elimelech knew he had no idea... but what did it have to do with this?
"Well" continued the Rebbe, "I want to teach you a special formula that will stop bleeding when nothing else works." Only after he was sure Yaakov had learned it by heart did he continue.
"Now then, you ask about going to Leipzig? You say my brother said no?!" he asked rhetorically, "And you come to me!!?" he continued in an almost angry tone.
Yaakov began to regret coming.
"Well….." Rabbe Elimelech paused … "I say YES. YES you SHOULD go to Leipzig!!
Rab Yaakov's jaw dropped in astonishment and the Rebbe continued,
"In this case my brother Zusia saw only until the river… but I see AFTER the river!"
Yaakov had no idea what the Rebbe was talking about and he didn't really care. He returned home with wings on his feet and a joyous song on his lips and in two days he was on his way; bags packed and pockets filled with precious gems and large sums of money.
The trip was pleasant as never before and the weather was beautiful. He had a good feeling; a feeling that this trip would be something special. A BIG success.
But, as the sun was setting and they were just hours before Leipzig, … tragedy struck.
The barge that they were crossing the river on struck something under the water and with a sickening crunch suddenly reeled over and before they knew it the ship was gone and everyone was up to their necks in the cold, black river, fighting for their lives against the strong current, .
Yaakov grabbed on to some piece of flotsam and after what seemed like hours washed up on the shore. It was dark, freezing cold, all his outer garments had been swept away by the current; he had lost everything! And now he was almost naked, penniless, alone and freezing to death… a stranger in a strange empty frightening land.
In the distance he saw a large house and, shivering uncontrollably, he ran in that direction. When he got to the front door he began pounding and screaming for help. "Help! Let me in.. I'm freezing!! Throw me a blanket!! Please!" The door opened, a Jewish man peeked out, undid the latch and said.. "Come in! Come in quickly!" The last thing Yaakov noticed as he fell unconscious into the man's arms was the Mezuza on the door.
He awoke several minutes later, wrapped in warm blankets near the stove. "Ahh! Thank G-d!" Said his host, "you're all right". We were really worried. What happened?"
As Yaakov came to himself he told his sad story. True it was a miracle he was alive, but he had lost his entire fortune. Everything!! Now he understood why Rabbi Zusia didn't want him to come….. Probably Rebbe Elimelech wanted to teach him humility.
Suddenly his host asked. "Tell me, You're from Annipoli maybe you know of someone over there in Annipoli or Lezinsk that is an expert Mohel?"
"What? Why," Yaakov replied "I myself am a Mohel, and an expert Mohel as well… at least that’s what the Rabbis say." He was still shivering a bit.
"Ahhh!" exclaimed his host "Maybe you can help me! I have a heartbreaking problem and for almost ten years now I can't find the solution."
Yaakov was all ears.
"My wife has given birth five times and all boys!"
"Mazal Tov! What is the problem?" asked Yaakov
"The problem is that the first two children passed away."
"Oh, I'm sorry."
"They bled to death. When they were circumcised the Mohel could not stop the bleeding may HaShem have mercy! And now the law is that it is forbidden to circumcise the other three. For years I have looking for a Mohel that knows of a way to stop the bleeding…. Perhaps you …."
Suddenly Reb Yaakov remembered what Rebbe Elimelech taught him and told his host about it.
His host observed Rab Yaakov for several days and when he was sure he was normal and could be trusted, the Brit (circumcision) was set for that day and …. The potion worked! It stopped the bleeding!!!
The next day Rab Yaakov circumcised the other two children and his host, beside himself with joy, rewarded him royally. It seems this fellow was a multi-millionaire, one of the richest men in Leipzig!! Yaakov was suddenly worth over ten times what he lost!!
Suddenly he understood what Rebbe Elimelech meant about the 'Other side of the river."
This answers our question.
Just as Rab Yaakov had to lose everything in order to gain untold riches so the Jews had to die at Sinai.
The Torah is not just a religion book. Religions and their various Bibles only claim to teach how to invest one's time and energy in the lower physial aspect of creation in order to move up to the spiritual afterlife. But this requires no more transformation than, say, any course in self-improvement.
But at Mount Sinai the Jews became transformed into new TYPES of beings! A GOY KADOSH (here 19:6) A Holy race that can connect the ENTIRE CREATION (through the physical commandments) to the INFINITE ALLMIGHTY!!
Therefore they had to die.
Death usually means departure of the soul from the boundaries of the physical … but in this case it meant leaving the boundaries of all creation!!! And getting the power to reveal the ESSENCE of G-d IN THIS WORLD! (Like it was in the Holy of Holies).
In fact Matan Torah was similar to what will be at the Raising of the Dead (See Tanya end of Chapt 36) and if the Jews hadn't sinned with the Golden Calf they would have lived eternally IN THEIR BODIES!!
But all this, as fantastic as it seems, is NOT in the past G-d forbid.
We all have this power till this very day! And the Raising of the Dead is the real goal and hope of the Jewish people NOW!
Through our, faith, joy, love and work in the LIVING Torah … we too will experience the revelation of HaShem in the entire world and everything will return to eternal life with….
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