This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Tzav (5762)
This Shabbat announces the approach of a holiday that has no comparison in the world, the Holiday of Passover: It celebrates the birth of the Jewish nation over 3,300 years ago when the Creator of the universe actually took a entire nation of abject slaves, millions of Jews, to freedom from one of the greatest and most evil superpowers of all time.
There is no other nation, religion, or even fiction book that ever so much as invented such a story. As we say in the Hallel prayer "He does great miracles alone…. He took Israel from them (Egypt)…" (Psalms 136:4,11).
But at first glance this is not understood. The Bible tells us that G-d did it all through Moses. What did G-d need Moses for? Why was it Moses that convinced the Jews to leave, announced the plagues, and led the Jews out? Couldn't that deemphasize G-d and confuse the Jews? As Maimonides writes (Ysodi HaTora 8:1) one may think that G-d had nothing to do with it but rather Moses did the Exodus by magic.
A similar question is found in this week's portion.
Here we find a commandment to keep a fire constantly burning on the altar in the Holy Temple.(6:5,6)
The Talmud (Yoma 21b) tells us that the sacrifices in the Temple were really consumed by a miraculous fire that descended from heaven.
So why did G-d command us to make a second fire? Wasn’t this man-made fire useless?
Even more; fire coming from heaven is one of the best proofs of G-d's existence and sovereignty (see the story of Elijah versus the idolaters. Kings 1:18:38, 39) why minimize its effect by bringing regular fire?
To help understand all this, here is a Passover story about the Besh't (Baal Shem Tov) that occurred some 300 years ago.
A little known fact about the Besh't, is that he once tried to travel to Israel in order to meet with the Tzadik (holy Jew) Rabbi Chiam ben Atar (known as the Ohr HaChiam HaKodesh). If they would have met Moshiach would have been revealed and could have put an end to world suffering.
But he didn’t make it. He did not reach the Holy Land, but he did get as far as Turkey where the following story occurred.
When he reached the shores of Turkey without money or friends he suddenly lost his memory and all his holy powers departed from him. Luckily his daughter, who had accompanied him on the trip, found a job washing clothes in the Jewish section of Istanbul while he struggled to learn how to read.
Passover was approaching. All of the poor people of the town were invited to one home or another and the Besh't and his daughter were invited by a rich man called Rab Mair to be among the fifty guests at his Seder (Passover meal, at which we talk about the miraculous exodus from Eygypt, eat Matzah, and drink four cups of wine).
They arrived in Rav Mair's palatial home with all the other guests before the beginning of the holiday and were given a room. But as night fell and the holiday began the Baal Shem Tov did not leave his room to participate in the holiday prayers. In fact, even well into the night when everyone was seated in their places for the festive meal, the Besh't still didn’t show up.
Rav Mair noticed the absence and began to regret that he invited him. Here was such an important festival with such unique and meaningful commandments and it seemed that this man couldn't care less. The Besht's daughter tried to calm their host down and said they should just begin the ceremony without her father but the rich man thought differently.
He excused himself, left the table, went up the stairs to the Besht's room and began to angrily knock at the door. When there was no reply, he took out his key and opened it.
But what he saw made him freeze.
The Besh't was sitting in a chair facing the door, eyes bolt open, staring at the ceiling as though in another world. His face was red with intense longing and he was completely oblivious to what was happening around him. His memory and abilities had returned.
Rab Mair wanted to quietly close the door and leave, but he was so paralyzed with awe he couldn't move.
After several minutes the Besht came to himself, looked at his host, and calmly said, "Ahh, Good Yom Tov, excuse my delay. Come, let us go downstairs. I just have to pray the evening prayer. Please just give me a small room downstairs for a few minutes so I won't disturb your guests with my prayers and I'll be with you shortly, don't wait for me."
But it wasn't so simple. As soon as he began praying in an adjoining room, his sweet joyous voice drew all the guests from their chairs, and in moments they were either trying to get a look at him through the partially open door, or at least hear a word or two though the wall.
The Besh’t finished his prayers, joined everyone at the table and the Seder began. The joy was contagious and in moments they were all singing and celebrating the exodus of over 3,000 years ago as though it was actually occurring at that moment for the first time.
But the highlight of the evening was when they came to the sentence in the Hallel, "He (G-d) does great miracles alone, forever is His Kindness".
The Besh't stood up and told everyone to repeat this phrase over and over again, "He does great miracles alone, forever is His Kindness. He does great miracles alone, forever is His Kindness" ..louder and louder with more and more enthusiasm, until they almost felt their souls jump from their bodies from sheer joy.
After the Seder the Besh't announced that these words had just eliminated a terrible decree against all the Jews of Turkey, and that the next day in Synagogue everything would be clear.
Sure enough the next morning in the Synagogue instead of beginning the prayers, everyone was gathered around a merchant called Rab Tzemach, one of the richest Jews in Istanbul, who was standing on a chair waiting for silence so he could tell everyone what happened to him the previous night. When they were quiet he began.
"This has never happened before, but last night just as I was about to begin the Seder with my family, I unexplainably felt so tired and sleepy that I told my guests to continue without me and went to my room to lie down for a few minutes.
“No sooner did my head touch the pillow that I fell into a deep sleep. Lo-and-behold, my dear departed father appeared to me, which also had never happened before. He looked very worried and told me there was a terrible decree about to be signed by the King against the Jews of Turkey!
“He said that the King's chief adviser, a wicked anti-Semite called Mustafa, had convinced the King by all sorts of "proofs" and "witnesses" that a necessary ingredient in our Matzoth is the blood of Moslem orphans.
“The King became so enraged that he decided to evict all the Jews from Turkey the night of Passover and confiscate their belongings.
“’But it is not to late", continued my father, ‘The king has not yet actually signed the decree. Now he's asleep and if you can get to him before he wakes up perhaps you can convince him not to sign’.
"’Me!?’ I blurted out, ‘How can I convince the King? Who am I? Why, I wouldn't even be able to get into the Palace! This makes no sense!’
"’I have a document that will get you in’ interrupted my father, ‘and you can talk to the King. Just listen. You see, years ago I saved the life of the present king's father who was then King of Turkey. That's right I saved his life.
“’The king was traveling incognito on a journey when he was kidnapped by highway robbers who thought he was an ordinary rich traveler. He was very clever, and managed to conceal his real identity, and even convince them that he was an expert carpet maker, which he also happened to be, and would make fine carpets for them if they didn't kill him. His plan worked. He wove the carpets, and they sold them for very high sums and in return they kept him alive.
“Everything went smoothly for a while, but it so happened that one day I happened to buy some of those carpets and something made me suspicious. In fact I became so suspicious that I actually followed that salesman back to his hiding place in the forest without him knowing it, and eventually even managed to free the King.
“The King was so grateful that he wrote me an official document granting me and my offspring permission to enter the palace for a private audience whenever we so desired. And that deed is in the false bottom of the safe that I left you".
"Up to this time", said Rav Tzemach to the crowd of Jews, "I must admit I was skeptical; after all it was only a dream. But when I actually woke up and found the document where he said it was, I began to realize that something awesome was happening and I had to work fast. I took the document, put on my coat, ran out the back door, jumped on a horse and raced to the palace.
“At first the guards refused to let me in despite the document. But when I demanded to see the King's mother they unexplainably agreed and called her. It was a miracle that she came, and when she saw the document she immediately brought me into the castle to her son's chambers, which was no less of a miracle.
“Luckily he was still sleeping, but when he awoke and saw us standing there he was anything but pleased and he began screaming at me.
"’Do you mean to tell me that my trusted advisor Mustafa is wrong or that he lied to me?" he bellowed angrily, "NO NO! Not Mustafa!'. He is a wise and devoted servant. If anyone is the liar it's you and your blood-thirsty people! So what if your father saved my father's life? So what? I will not allow murderers of Moslem children to breathe the holy air of Turkey! Bring the Decree!" He yelled shaking with rage.
"Suddenly I shouted out at the top of my lungs, "Mustafa is a charlatan! He is your enemy, a liar and an idolater! Yes! An Idolater. If you break into his house you will see that he really is a devout Catholic and even sleeps with a cross around his neck!""
"Believe me I don't know where I got those ideas from, but I spoke with such authority that the king immediately dispatched a group of his secret police to check my accusations.
“An hour later they returned with the shocking news that every word I said was true, and that they had even killed the Satanic villain on the spot.
“Needless to say the King profusely apologized to me and swore that from now on we will have no troubles from our Moslem brothers in Turkey."
After Rav Tzemach finished speaking everyone began making some calculations and came to the conclusion that exactly at the time when the Besh’t had made them repeat the words "He makes great miracles alone etc.'' the police entered Mustafa's home and put an end to his blood libel.
Now perhaps we can answer our questions; why G-d wanted Moses to take the Jews from Egypt and we had to make a fire on the altar when He, in fact, did these things Himself.
The answer is; G-d wants man as His partner.
But at the same time this in no way contradicts the fact that "He makes great miracles ALONE."
In fact the greatest miracle is that G-d does both: He creates us constantly, gives us life, intellect, power of choice, power to overcome all difficulties and even a 'Moses' in every generation to inspire and guide us, but at the same time He ALSO gives us credit for everything that WE accomplish and give us the feeling that We are the ones that accomplished it.
In fact He even demands that we develop this feeling! It's called JOY!
Yes, the fact that WE light the fire on the altar and can CHOOSE to follow Moses is the source of Joy!
As we see in the Hagadda of Pesach. It only mentions Moshe's name once, (in the paragraph that begins 'Rabbi Yosi HaGalili') but in the most powerful way possible:
"They (the Jews at Yam Suf) believed in G-d and Moshe His servant!" After which is written in the Torah (Exodus 15:1) 'Az Yashir' "THEN THE JEWS SANG".
In other words; the ONLY way to REALLY be happy and sing with joy is by first believing in Moses.
This is also very relevant to the 11th of Nisan (this Friday), the Jewish date that the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Shneerson, was born over one hundred years ago.
The Rebbe was not just a great scholar or the leader of a certain group of exuberant Jews. He was, and still is, the leader, the Moses of all world Jewry.
His teachings make the Torah and its message alive throughout the world; Each Jew is a Holy Temple and each of us must keep a fire of enthusiasm burning on the ‘altar’ of our hearts constantly.
But most of all …….. it all depends on us.
As the saying goes: “G-d can take the Jews out of Mitzraim but He can’t take the Mitzriam (Mitzriam means both Egypt and ‘limitations’ in Hebrew) out of the Jews”.
Only Moshiach will be able to do that. And the Rebbe’s goal is to bring Moshiach: the final ‘Moses’ who will light the fire in and take the Egypt out of each and every Jew.
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