This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Ki Tisa (5762)
This week's Torah section tells us (34:28) that when Moses was on Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, he did not eat or drink for forty days and nights.
There are three explanations how he did this. The Rambam, in his Guide to the Perplexed tells us that every day, G-d made a miracle. Another explanation is that Moses was so happy and enthusiastic that he simply didn't think of eating all this time. And the Midrash says that the nature of Moses' body changed and became so pure as to not need food.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that all three opinions can be right. After all Moses had to go up on Mount Sinai three times.
The first time was to receive the First Tablets (which he later broke) which were miraculously made by the hand of G-d. So G-d also made another miracle so Moses didn't have to eat.
The second time Moses went up was to beg forgiveness for the Jews. Then it is reasonable to say that Moses was so occupied in prayer and supplication that he wasn't concerned with eating.
And the third time, when receiving the second tablets Moses' body had reached such a high level of purity from the first two times that it didn't need food.
But there still remains a question. What is the meaning of this miracle? What do we care he if he didn't eat? After all, the Talmud tells us that it is impossible for a person to go for more than a week without food and drink. The Torah is not a history book, G-d forbid. The word Torah means teaching. What is the Torah trying to teach us here?
To understand this, here is a story:
Rabbi Dov Ber of Meseritz, nicknamed the "Maggid" was a renowned genius and Tzadik (Holy Jew). It was said that there was no Torah commentary in print that he had not learned ten times and committed to memory, including all the esoteric texts. Therefore he was perplexed when he heard of a man called Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem (or the Baal Shem Tov) that was teaching a new joyous approach to the Torah that he hadn't heard of.
Rumors were flying around about this "new" method and its originator. Some said it was wonderful and holy, but others said very emphatically exactly the opposite. He decided that he had to see for himself.
When he arrived he noticed that the pupils of this "master" were learned and serious, but that was no sure indication of anything. In fact he was beginning to regret that he came. It was his way to learn Torah non-stop day and night and the long journey had seriously interrupted his schedule.
But that Shabbat when he heard the Besh't (short for Baal Shem Tov) speak, he decided that it definitely wasn't for him. The Besh't told a series of strange stories about travelers and journeys that seemed to contain no real Torah value at all.
Early Sunday morning the Maggid had already packed his bag and was about to leave his room when the one of the Besht's pupils appeared at his door. The "master" wanted to hear his explanation of a certain paragraph in the mystical book "The Tree of Life" (Aitz Chiam), and he wondered if he would be so kind as to stop in at his house on his way out and tell him.
Rabbi Dov Ber knew the entire book by heart and on his way out of the town stopped in the Besht's home, opened the book, and explained the paragraph to him.
"No! That is insufficient." Said the Baal Shem. "Please try again. Take a few minutes, sit down and think a bit deeper."
The Maggid was a bit aggravated, but he sat and after a few moments his mind unexplainably "opened" and he saw things in a new light.
But when he explained again the Besh't replied. "That is much better than the first time, but something is still lacking. Please try again." This repeated itself several times until finally the Besht said, "Here, please sit down and I'll explain the real meaning. You see the passage is talking about angels and here is the explanation."
As the Besht spoke the room became first totally dark then filled with awesomely blinding light and earsplitting thunder. The Maggid felt as though he had been transported into another world and his soul was about to leave his body from sheer awe and fear.
When the Baal Shem finished and everything returned to normal he said. "Your explanation was correct but it lacked truth and reality."
The Maggid decided to become his pupil.
A similar story is told about one of the foremost pupils of the Maggid, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (author of The Tanya and founder of Chabad). He was sent by the Maggid to debate with the "mitnagdim"; scholarly, G-d fearing Jews who truly believed the Chassidic Movement to be the work of the devil (G-d fobid).
At one famous public hearing that was held in the city of Minsk, his irate opponents yelled such a barrage of questions that it was impossible for him to answer. The Rebbe called for silence and claiming that he would answer all the questions at once began to...sing a song.
It was a Chassidic "Niggun", a melody whose only words were from the sentence in Song of Songs "Go out and See" - "Tzena U'Rena".
It should have aroused scoffing and derision, but it didn't. When he finished, the room remained silent and over twenty of his enemies became his followers. They realized that this was a man whose entire physical being, even his song, was permeated with G-dliness.
That is why Moshe didn't eat. When he went up on Sinai it wasn't just to receive the instruction-book for a new religion. Nor was it to have a "spiritual" experience. Religion and spirituality are just parts of creation and the Torah is "part" of the Creator.
Yes, on Sinai Moshe united with the CREATOR Himself. There even his PHYSICAL BODY became so purified that it was exactly the way G-d intended it to be when He first created man; true and eternal. Exactly what it will be like at the Raising of the Dead.
In fact when the Torah was given each and every Jew experienced death and resurrection (Tanya chapt. 36).
So that is why Moses didn't eat. Eating is a feature of the physical world. (Even according to the deeper Kabbalistic implications of eating i.e. to "raise sparks" and "souls") and Moshe was much above that. He was preparing the world for its ultimate purity; when infinite G-dliness will give TRUE ETERNAL meaning to this physical world as Maimonides says in the very end of his all-encompassing masterpiece of Jewish Law, Mishna Torah.
So that is what the Torah is telling us here. The Torah and the Jewish people are eternal. Even their physical bodies are eternal! And through the Torah they can put true eternal meaning into every THING in the entire world. That is what they were "chosen" for at Sinai.
But this will only be manifested in the days of the Moshiach.
This is why, according to some, the Moshiach must, like Moses, disappear and then be revealed once again (See Rashi end of the Book of Daniel, Ari z'l Sefer HaGilgulim chap. 11 and more).
The idea has been borrowed and corrupted by other religions but here it has a meaning.
Because the Messiah will, like the Tzadikim in our above stories, reveal the TRUE, ETERNAL meaning of the Torah (but in a much greater way), indeed, he will change the consciousness of the entire world and actually bring about the raising of the dead! Therefore he will, like Moses, have to undergo a complete purification and transformation himself.
May we all learn G-d's Torah with a new vigor and remember that it, along with good deeds and prayer, is the only way to completely change the world for the good and bring.....
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