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Parshat Behar (5760)

There was once a young Chassid in Russia called Boruch Zalmanovitch who received a draft notice into the Russian army. When his mother saw it, she began crying, and his father burst into tears as well.

A draft notice in Czarist Russia was tantamount to a death warrant for a religious Jew. First, the Czar used the army as a means to his diabolical plot to convert the Jews; secondly, all resistance to conversion was met with torture. And thirdly, the usual duration of service was fifteen years!

So the Chassid traveled to the great and holy Rebbe, Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk to request a blessing that he be exempt from the army.

But when he finally was alone with the Rebbe he got a big surprise. The Rebbe looked at him and said, “Why do you want to evade the army? I think you will make a very good soldier! You will be a credit to the King! Meanwhile go home and learn Torah!”

The young man was destroyed…Soldier? Army!?

He went to the Rebbe to get an exemption not a recommendation!

When he returned home and told his parents, they again began crying and moaning. “Oy! What will be with us!!! If you are taken in the army, it will be the end of you!! Maybe the Rebbe made a mistake? Maybe you didn’t hear right? We will ask again.”

But when they went they received the same answer “He will be a good soldier and a credit to the army, meanwhile he should sit and learn”

The entire family was beside themselves, but they had no choice. To run away was impossible, and, who knows, maybe the little bit of learning he would do would make miracles.

So our young hero sat in his Yeshiva and learned until finally the dreaded day of induction arrived.

What to do? To appear at the draft board or not? “No!” he decided, “I’m not going to throw myself in the lion’s mouth! I’m going to sit here and learn Talmud. If they come, I’ll tell them that I was sick or something, anyway the Rebbe told me to learn and that’s what I’ll do, HaShem will help me”.

So he sat and learned. The days passed, and before he knew it, the days turned into weeks and the weeks became months and still nothing from the army.

“It must be that the Torah is keeping them away” he thought to himself. “Maybe they even forgot totally about me.” But even after a year, and then another, he lived in constant fear of being drafted.

Every time the large door of the Bait HaMedrash (learning room) opened suddenly, he shuddered with fear and without looking up, began learning with renewed fervor.

Then, after five years, it happened.

Suddenly the door burst open and two huge Russian soldiers appeared at the entrance of the large Bait HaMidrash. They were dressed in spotless uniforms with large fur hats, shiny high leather boots, huge swords hanging at their sides from their belts. The very sight of them with their massive handlebar mustaches and cruel cold eyes threw trepidation into the hearts of everyone in the room. They stood there menacingly, their arms folded over their chests surveying everyone like a farmer looks at his cows, and then one of them bellowed:


Slowly Boruch, stood up, cleared his throat and said quietly, “I…I a..a..am Boruch Zalmanovitch”

All eyes turned to him as the soldiers ceremoniously approached him, and stood at attention.

One pulled out a small ornate box from his breast pocket, opened it, took out a gold medallion attached to a wide blue ribbon and solemnly hung it around Boruch’s neck without saying a word.

The other then produced a medium sized document and began solemnly reading the contents; “His Royal Majesty The Czar hereby presents you with the highest distinction of our Country, The Golden Star, for valorous and devoted service.”

The Soldier kept rambling on about bravery and patriotism as Boruch went into a daze; he only heard the last sentence, “His Exalted Majesty The Czar therefore grants you, with the highest praises, complete honorable discharge from further military service”

The soldier facing Boruch put his hands firmly on Boruch’s shoulders and kissed him first on one cheek and then on the other, while the second soldier was pumping Boruch’s hand in a firm handshake.

They then both saluted, presented him with the document, turned on their heels and left.

Everyone immediately surrounded the bewildered Boruch, shaking his hand, congratulating him, asking to see the document.

But as soon as he came to himself, he immediately ran out the door and down the street to the Rebbe’s house with the good news.

“You see, I told you that you would be a good soldier in the army!” Said the Rebbe smiling, “(Of course I was referring to the army of HaShem). In fact, you did so well that even the Czar had to recognize it, although he didn’t himself know what he was doing. But then again, how else could the evil Czar possibly recognize G-d. It’s something like it says in ‘Alenu’ ‘All the evil people in the earth will turn to You’”

This week’s section tells of the commandment of Yovel (Jubilee). Once every fifty years the Shofar (ram’s horn) was sounded in the Holy Temple and ‘DRORR’ (freedom) was proclaimed.

All lands returned to their original owners and all Jewish slaves went free.

This commandment was only actual when the Holy Temple stood, but its true spiritual meaning is timeless and is especially important today.

The Yovel hints at the arrival of Moshiach, namely the ‘World to come’ when there will be no slavery (to ignorance or hatred) and everything will return to its rightful owner, (HaShem who owns the creation (see Rashi Berashis 1:1)).

Only then will there be true freedom.

The Lubavitch Rebbe assured us that ours is certainly the generation of Moshiach.

Very soon the Moshiach will arrive, G-d’s Oneness will be revealed totally, and everyone in the entire world will believe in the Creator and His Torah. As we say three times every day in the beautiful prayer ‘Alenu L’Shabaiach’: “Everyone will see, every knee will bend etc.”

In fact, the revelation of Moshiach is the reason that G-d created the world (Tanya Chapt. 37).

It is the most important thing there is, and THE MAIN THING we all should be thinking about constantly, as we say in prayer ‘For Your salvation I wait all the day!’

But despite all this, it is hard to seriously believe that it will actually happen.

And even more difficult to believe that such an incredible thing depends on us.

That is the reason this week’s Torah Portion tells us about the Commandment of Yovel; to strengthen our belief in Moshiach.

Just as we can be sure that G-d gave us the Yovel, and it was incomparably different than all the 49 years before it (especially spiritually), so also we can begin to imagine how the Moshiach will arrive after all our thousands of years of work and bring a new revelation.

Even more, the word Yoval means Shofar (Rashi 25:10).

Spiritually this is the same Shofar that the prophet Isaiah (27:13), is referring to when he says, “On that day (coming of Moshiach) will be blown a GREAT SHOFAR:”

And the same heavenly shofar that was heard at the Giving of the Torah (Shmot 19:19)

This is to tell us that just as a Shofar blast wakes everyone up, so HaShem will wake EVERYONE from his or her spiritual sleep (see Rambam Hil. Tshuva 3:4) to receive the Moshiach.

And if you ask, “So let G-d do it all, how can I help this to happen?”

The answer is, that the Men of the Great Assembly almost 2500 years ago required US to ask G-d three times a day:

“Sound the GREAT SHOFAR to free us!”

And they wouldn’t do that if it didn’t help. (If so they would be causing us to take G-d’s name in vain when we made the blessing.)

Similarly, the Lubavitch Rebbe pointed out, we pray thrice daily:

“May the Moshiach (Tzemach Dovid) come quickly, BECAUSE we desire your salvation all day”.

Implying that BECAUSE we desire his arrival we actually hasten it.

That is also why the arrival of Moshiach is compared to the giving of the Torah (Isaiah 51:4) and to circumcision (Bris) (Dev.30:6), as well as to the Yoval.

This is because all of these are new revelations, higher than nature and incomparable to anything before them.

[Therefore Yoval comes after seven Shmitas (periods of 7 years), Torah after seven weeks, and Bris after seven days because the number seven is related to nature, and above seven is above nature.]

Moshiach will also come after these thousands of impossibly difficult years of suffering and serving G-d.

And what we are doing today every time we do a good deed or refrain from doing a bad one, we are bringing Moshiach a bit closer.

But nonetheless, the revelation he will bring will be totally new and unexpected.

[As the first Rebbe of Chabad once said to some hecklers who asked him if he really thinks Moshiach is coming soon, “The Moshiach that you people want will never arrive, and the Moshiach that will arrive you won’t want” because it will be too different.]

Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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