This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Vayak'hel-Pekudei (5761)
This week’s section is very strange because it is an almost total repetition of sections, ‘Truma and T'tzave’ that we read a few weeks ago detailing the complicated Commandment of making the Tabernacle in all its details.)
The only difference is that here is that the word ‘VaYaas’ (lit. ‘It was done’) is added to each detail, meaning that what was commanded earlier was now ACTUALLY done.
But, this could have been accomplished in one sentence like “All that G-d commanded in the construction of the Tabernacle was done.”
Why did G-d add two entire chapters repeating thousands of words when He could have said it with just ten? The Torah is a book of instructions for every moment of life; what is the message here?
To explain this, here is a story that happened some 300 years ago in Russia.
Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem a.k.a. “The Baal Shem Tov” or “BeSH’T” for short, was the founder and leader of the Chassidic movement in Judaism. He was a holy, inspired, genius as were his pupils but it is known that the greater a person is, often his evil impulse also can be correspondingly greater and one of his pupils, who we will call Mordechi, despite his greatness (or perhaps because of it) had a powerful desire to become, of all things, a sorcerer.
He knew that the Torah clearly forbids such activities (Ex. 22:17), but fight it as he did for months and years, he finally gave in. He couldn’t take his mind off it, the urge was too great. He made up his mind that this Shabbat would be his last with the Master, and early Sunday morning he would head out for a new life. He already had made contacts, and everything was set.
That Shabbat night he acted as usual, prayed, sat at the Shabbat Dinner table, sang the songs, ate the meal, and listened to the Torah ideas of the Baal Shem with all the other Chassidim, but his mind was far away. He vaguely noticed that it was unusually warm in the room and, not giving it much thought, he removed his Shtrimel (large fur hat worn by Chassidim). But it didn’t help. He still was unusually hot. So he unbuttoned the collar of his shirt and removed his over-coat. He’d never remembered it being so hot here before. Through the small window opposite him he saw the icy winter wind whipping through the trees and deep snow covering the forest ground, but here inside the large room of the Besh’t synagogue he was sweating and felt as though he was about to faint.
“Please, may I step outside for a moment?” he asked the Besh’t “I need some fresh air.”
“Just for a minute, no longer” he answered “Just make sure that you return immediately, it’s dangerously cold out there.”
It was already getting hard for Mordechi to breathe as he opened the door and stepped outside into the freezing fresh air. “Wow, one more minute and I would have passed out,” he thought to himself as he pulled the door shut behind him, but suddenly he felt hot again.
Without hesitating he opened his shirt and began rubbing his face and chest with snow which gave him a few seconds of respite until the fever returned. He began running. Ahhh… The cool wind against his body felt good, he stumbled and fell several times, but he didn’t care. He staggered to his feet and again began running… running like a madman through the woods. He was burning with fire. The trees and the sky racing, spinning by him, he was out of breath, the cold wind, the stars, and then everything went black.
He woke up in a strange warm room, in a freshly made bed. An old farmer and his wife were standing over him.
“We thought you were dead when we saw you laying there in the snow” The farmer said, “You’ve been sleeping for over a week. Are you all right? Do you want some warm soup? Where are you from?”
Our young hero was in a daze. He didn’t remember anything, but he took up the offer on the soup and his new parents called him Vladimir. In a few days he was able to get out of bed and walk around and in a month he began learning how to work behind the plow. The farm was small and run down but as he became more active and interested the farm gradually began to change and he even bought the farming land of one of the neighbors. New workers were hired, new fields were purchased and cultivated, and five years later the simple farm had become a massive estate.
One day, the old farmer returned from a trip into town and showed the young man an advertisement he had taken from the post office. “They are looking for new officers in the army” he said with a big smile on his face, “Just read this. I think you should apply; it’s your chance to be someone really important. Just look at the miracles you have done here. You are someone special; don’t waste your life on this farm. You’ve been here long enough. Go and give it a try.”
Mordechi (still under total amnesia) took to the army like a fish to water. He passed all the entrance requirements with flying colors, and after two years of officer’s training a war broke out between his country and Poland and he found himself a captain in the Royal cavalry.
Several chapters would be necessary to describe the many fierce battles and brave accomplishments of our hero, his innumerable brushes with death, his brazen spirit, split-second decisions, and impressive victories against impossible odds. In one fierce battle when all the officers above him fell he was thrust into command and managed a victory that impressed even the Czar himself. Five years after the war began Mordechi found himself promoted to the rank of Major-General, seated on a fine horse, reviewing ten thousand mounted lancers at his command.
Then, from nowhere it all came back to him!! He remembered… that night twelve years ago when he left the Baal Shem’s Shabbat table!
He paused for several minutes, deep in thought remembering every rich vivid detail, and every emotion that passed through his mind back then. Suddenly he came to himself and announced to his troops, “Dismount! Return to your tents, and prepare for journey. In one hour we are beginning a three day march!”
It was late at night three days later, when the huge army reached the forest that surrounded the small synagogue of the Besh’t. It was a cold, snowy winter night, almost exactly as it was twelve years ago. Vladimir turned to his huge army of mounted soldiers and yelled: “Light torches!”
Suddenly the entire forest was illuminated with an eerie flickering yellow light. “Draw Swords!!” the ringing the glistening blades was everywhere like thunder. And then, except for the occasional snorting of a horse, silence.
The General dismounted, approached the large old hut, drew his sword and began pounding with its hilt on the closed door.
“Open in the name of the King! See what happens to a Chassid who leaves the Holy Master!!”
No one answered, but he heard someone speaking from within the house and he got angry. He furiously stuck his sword in the ground and began pounding on the door with both fists and screaming “Open! Open for a General in the King’s army! Open for Ten Thousand Calvary troops.”
Slowly the door opened, the Baal Shem Tov stuck his head out and said “Mordechai, are you still here? You have been outside for almost five minutes! Do you want to become ill? Come in immediately!”
“Five minutes?!” the General screamed “Look at all my troops and tell me about five minutes!” He turned around and…. there was no one there. Even his horse had disappeared! The wind was howling through the trees and deep snow covered the silent forest. Even his uniform and sword were gone! He was in the same garments as he was twelve years ago, it had all been an illusion!
Suddenly he realized that the Besh’t knew magic better than he ever possibly could and he humbly reentered the house, back to the real world.
The point of the story is this: What if our hero hadn’t remembered the Baal Shem Tov? What if he died thinking he was a General? Would that have been better?
The same for us; What if it were possible to live a ‘virtual’ life; to be hypnotized or be attached to electrodes so we can experience whatever life we wanted. Everyone could be movie stars, Generals, multi-billionaires or even kings. All mankind could live 120 imaginary years of pleasure with no disappointments or pain. No wars or hatred.
Would it be worth it?
This week’s section tells us, NO! An imaginary life, a life that is not devoted to actually doing the Creator’s will is a false life, and no one wants to be fooled.
And that is why it is worth repeating all the details of building the Tabernacle adding only the word “And it was done” … to stress the infinite importance of actual deed in this physical world.
This is the reality that the Tabernacle (and later the Holy Temple “Bait HaMikdosh”) reveals.
This brings us to the topic of Moshiach. According to Judaism one of the main accomplishments of Moshiach will be to build a Third Temple. Moshiach will not suffice with big miracles and spiritual revelations (as some religions mistakenly teach) because only thorough actual deeds (commandments) done in this physical world can G-d will be revealed here (as He was on Mount Sinai): the Commandments are not only higher than the highest heavens but they actually make heaven on earth.
Indeed this is the secret of THE ENLIVENING OF THE DEAD (last of the 13 principles of Jewish Faith). That Moshiach will cause even the highest souls such as Moses and Avraham to leave the highest heavens to be clothed in bodies in this physical world of ACTION. Because only here can G-d’s true essence be revealed.
(Today we are forbidden to do any commandments or learn Torah in a Jewish Graveyard. Because the dead are aware of what goes on around them and they are pained by the reminder that there is a real world where one can ACTUALLY serve the Creator but in the future they will ‘Awaken and rejoice’).
But it all depends on us. One more good deed, word or even thought can tilt the scales, make a perfect NEW world (This Shabbat we read ‘HaChodesh HaZeh LaChem’ i.e. this renewal is up to us) and reveal ………
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