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Parshat Pekudei (5763)

This week we finish the book of Exodus which relates the miraculous birth of the Jewish people from physical and spiritual slavery.

There is a general principle in Judaism that books and even chapters of books try to end on a positive note. But here, the last chapter in the entire book of Exodus seems to be an exception.

The very last sentence tells us that a cloud covered the Holy Tabernacle making it impossible for even Moses to enter and commune with G-d.

So the book ends with concealment.

Only NEXT week, in the beginning of the book of VaYikra (Leviticus) does G-d call out to Moses from this cloud. Could this be a 'bad note'?

To understand this here are two stories.

The first story I heard from an old Chassid by the name of Rabbi Mendel Futerfass. He had been in a concentration camp in Siberia for many years and in general had seen many tragedies in life but never lost his good spirits and optimism.

I once asked him how he did it and he told me a story.

Once there was simple young man that decided to learn to be a wagon driver. Now, being a wagon driver was the least intellectually demanding of jobs involving sitting behind a horse for hours a day but nevertheless it did require some minimal training.

So the young man paid two older drivers to teach him the ropes and when they finished and saw he knew how to drive they decided to have some fun at his expense and give him an oral 'exam' as well. They pulled up a table, sat him down, solemnly sat opposite him and after a minute of pregnant silence began the questioning.

"What would you do if one of the wheels fell off the wagon?" They asked. The young man was nervous and sweating but after a few torturous moments of racking his brain … he remembered and gave the right answer.

"And what would you do if the horse began to make problems like going too fast or too much to the left or bucking up and down?" Again, after straining his memory to the edge he answered properly.

One of the old fellows then pinched the other under the table and, feigning great seriousness, cleared his throat leaned forward narrowed his eyes and asked quietly. "And what would you do if all the wheels fell off, the horse went insane and dragged the wagon into quicksand leaving only your seat and the horse's head sticking out of the mud?"

With only a few seconds of thought the young man smiled, sat upright and answered in a ringing voice. "I would jump from my place to dry land, run around in front of the horse, look him in the eyes and LAUGH as hard as possible!!"

The two older drivers, astounded by the speed and certainty of his stupid answer stared at him in wide eyed silence.

"Where did you get that from?" One of them asked. "What good will it do if you laugh?!" asked the other in disbelief.

The young man smiled even wider and replied, "If I cried, would it help?"

The second story is about the Seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe; Rabbi Menachem Shneerson.

In 1978 in the middle of the 'Simchat Torah' holiday festivities in his massive synagogue in Brooklyn N.Y. he suffered a severe heart attack. Suddenly thousands of Chassidim were ordered to clear out of the room and say Psalms.

Doctors arrived and the reports became more and more serious. The Rebbe's life was clearly in danger. Huge crowds stood outside in the cold weeping and praying. Then the Rebbe sent his first message to the Chassidim. Those interested in his recovery should be happy and DANCE, and the joy would break all harsh decrees.

And it worked!!

The next morning the Doctors announced that the Rebbe had passed the crisis and that if the Chassidim had any idea how severe things had been (the Rebbe's heart actually ceased to work for a while) there wouldn't be enough vodka in all New York to celebrate the miracle.

But the strain on the heart had been very severe and the doctors said the road to recovery would be long. They forbade the Rebbe exertion of any type including public speaking and hinted that he retire.

After all, he was seventy five years old and had been working non-stop, over twenty hours a day for the last thirty years attending the needs of hundreds if not thousands of followers, He had never taken even one vacation and received more mail than the President of the U.S.A. He deserved a rest.

But the Rebbe did not agree; just months later he resumed speaking from his room and within two years he had returned with increased vigor to his original grueling schedule of 'Farbringins' (public speeches), answering letters and pushing his followers to improve the world.

Once, one of the doctors that had treated him attended one those Farbringens and saw how the Rebbe spoke for hours with only short breaks between speeches.

This doctor had been given a seat of honor near the Rebbe and in one of these breaks, when the thousands of Chassidim would sing and the Rebbe would nod to them and say "LeChiam', he leaned over and said quietly, "Rebbe, you should not exert yourself; there is a thirty five percent chance of a heart attack recurrence."

The Rebbe did not respond at all, so the Doctor leaned a bit closer and raised his voice over the noise.

"Rebbe, you shouldn't be speaking for such long times. There is a thirty five percent chance that you can have another heart attack!"

But the Rebbe seemed not to have heard again. After all he was an older man etc.

So the Doctor put his hand on the Rebbe's arm to catch his attention and spoke even louder, "Rebbe, did you hear what I said? I said that ….."

The Rebbe turned to him with a smile and said, "Yes, I heard. You said that there is a Sixty Five percent chance that there is nothing to worry about."

After the Farbringen the Rebbe told one of his secretaries that he doesn't want that doctor to treat him again; doctors must be optimistic.

This is the lesson that the cloud over the Tabernacle teaches us.

Often the only way to reach new heights is by passing through darkness. That is what Rab Mendel realized in Siberia and how the Rebbe treated his heart attack.

Just as the Jews had to pass through the exile in and the redemption from Egypt to receive the total revelation of G-d at Mount Sinai, and we have had to pass through 2,000 years of exile to receive Moshiach (who will bring the future 'redemption' and even raise the dead) so the cloud had to cover the revelation of G-d in the Tabernacle in order bring the Jews to a new revelation in next week's section when G-d calls to Moses (VaYikra.

This is the principle of 'Tshuva' (literally return).

It means passing through personal darkness in order to rise to new levels of truth. And that is the secret of redemption of the Jewish people. As the Rambam says (Hilchot Tshuva 7:5) 'It is certain that (after the destruction of the Second Temple and exile of almost 2,000 years) the Jews will all return to G-d and immediately they will be redeemed.'

But in order to endure this darkness and even transform it to light we must learn the above lessons of Rabbi Futerfass and the Rebbe: Only by joy and optimism can we make a better world.

And it is in our power to do so….. just one more good deed, word or even thought can tilt the scales of the universe and from this darkness of exile bring………

Moshiach NOW!!

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