This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.
Parshat Bamidbar (5760)
The meeting had been set months before, and the group of five Chabad women had been waiting almost twenty minutes in the reception room outside the office door of Knesset member Sara Doron, anxious to present their well-prepared case regarding the law called ‘Mihu Yehudi’.
But they were in for a surprise; Mrs. Doron came out of her office, briskly announced that she had another meeting, and abandoned the astonished women with only her secretary to complain to, which they did enthusiastically.
After listening to their bitter comments for several minutes, the secretary quietly said:
“Oh, you are Lubavitchers, right? I know the Rebbe of Lubavitch, he is the Moshiach!”
The women were shocked and furious. This woman was mocking them! Adding insult to injury!!
My wife, who was in the group, looked at the secretary and asked her in a bewildered tone, “Tell me, are you joking? If so, you’re not very funny!”
“No, No! Certainly not!” She answered. “I really mean it, he is the Moshiach. I’m sure. Let me explain.”
The women were really in no mood for stories, but on the other hand…why not? They looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders and agreed.
The secretary began apologetically. “ I know that I don’t look very religious.” she said, pulling up unconsciously on the low neckline of her dress, “But believe me, since this story happened, I eat only kosher and even keep Shabbos.
It happened like this; five years ago I visited some friends in the U.S.A. in California. One late afternoon I was driving to a party in my convertible alone on the freeway watching the sunset listening to music and feeling great, when I had this feeling that something was wrong.
I looked at my watch, and I realized what it was: it was already after eight o’clock.
The party was supposed to be a twenty-minute drive from where I was staying, and I had been driving for over an hour!
It was getting darker and darker outside, and as far as my headlights lit up, all that could be seen was….…desert.
I figured that I must have missed my exit or something, so I turned the car around and headed back, but the more I tried to correct my mistake the more lost I got, and not only that, but the road was empty, no cars were passing me by from either side.
At first I wasn’t worried, but after another hour of driving in the dark when I saw wasn’t getting anywhere, and I was getting low on gas, I started to get nervous.
Anyway, I decided all was not lost; I could always flag down a car for help, right?
So I pulled over to the side of the road, turned on the light inside the car so people would see me, and began flashing my lights at oncoming cars.
But this didn’t work either. First, there were very few cars, second, the ones that passed didn’t stop, and finally when this big truck did stop, two huge men got out laughing and shouting some obscene language. So I put the car in gear, and drove away as fast as I could.
Now I was really scared, petrified, I even started crying and prayed out loud for help.
But it didn’t help, a few minutes later the gas ran out and I coasted to the side of the road, alone in the middle of the desert.
Then, after about a half an hour it started getting cold. I don’t know if you have ever been in the desert at night, but its like winter, and after a while with no heater I was really shivering. I was alone, frightened and it was at least eight hours till dawn. I began really crying, I lost control completely, I was sure that this would be the end of me.
I had no blanket, the seats didn’t even have covers, or I would have wrapped myself in them. I just curled up in a ball and kept saying, “Oy eemaleh (mommy)! Please, Please someone help me.”
I lost track of time, but it must have been an hour until … suddenly I saw a car coming!
I began flashing my lights again like crazy and praying that everything would be all right.
The car stopped.
It stopped a good distance from my car. The door opened and…three men got out, all dressed in black and one of them had in his hand….a gun!
They were still a bit far away. My heart was pounding like a drum. I still had a chance. I jumped out of my car and thought that I would run, but all that came out was a scream, “SHMA YISROEL!”
The man with the gun yelled back quickly,
“Shma Yisroel HaShem Elokenu HaShem Echad!”
They were Chabadnicks from California that were planning to travel to some convention early in the morning, but received an urgent telephone from the Lubavitch Rebbe’s office to set off immediately.
They thought it was weird to begin their journey at night, especially with no sleep, and arrive eight hours before the convention… but the Rebbe, they said, never makes a mistake.
I’m sure that the Rebbe sent them to save me. I mean…there is no other explanation. They gave me gas from their tank, escorted me home and calmed me down. They were wonderful.
But then I started to think, how did the Rebbe know about me? And why would he even care about me? I mean…I didn’t even keep one commandment. (I even sort of hated those that did!)
So I decided that there is no other explanation other than he is the Moshiach. He felt that I was in trouble. He must care about everyone.
After that, I wrote a letter of thanks to him and he wrote me back asking me to please begin to strengthen the Jewish people and myself and keep some of the Commandments. So I did.”
Then the secretary took a deep breath, looked at all the ladies, gave a big smile, and said…. “Wow! Thanks for listening to my story!”
The group of women now understood the real reason for their visit to the Kenesset.
THIS WEEK’S section is also called “In the Desert” and it is a preparation for the holiday of Shavuos “The giving of the Torah”.
The Midrash gives several reasons why G-d gave the Torah to the Jews in the Desert.
One is because the Desert is free territory, anyone who wants it can live there. Teaching us that we must be optimistic, because the Torah is similarly free for all who want it.
Another reason is that the desert is all sand, teaching us that one must be humble like the earth in order to learn Torah.
Yet a third reason is that although the desert is a wasteland, nevertheless G-d provided the Jewish people with food, water, clothing, and housing, telling us that in order to learn Torah one must trust in G-d for his livelihood.
A fourth is, that just as the desert is a full of snakes and scorpions, so must Torah scholars be cautious of their own bad impulses and never be overconfident.
These four reasons, however, are not so clear.
First: Why would G-d want to imply that the Torah be ownerless like a desert? The Torah is the possession of the Jewish People!
Second: Why would G-d want to compare the Torah to the sand of the desert from which nothing grows? The Torah should be compared to good fertile earth.
Third: Why do we need the desert to learn to trust G-d? The desert is not the only desolate place in the world. There are (unfortunately) homeless and starving people everywhere.
Fourth: Dangerous animals, snakes etc. exist elsewhere (in fact humans are even more dangerous!). We don’t need the desert to teach us not to be overconfident.
In other words, G-d could have given the Torah in Egypt or in Israel, for example, and the Jews could have learned all these moral lessons there. Why only the desert?
The answer to is that only in the desert could G-d teach the Jews devotion to… Moshe.
Without complete devotion to Moshe it is impossible for the Jews to wholeheartedly observe the Torah and its commandments (In fact, we see that the very moment that they believed that Moshe was gone, they built the Golden Calf and forgot all the lessons).
And the desert is the only place that this could be done.
In the Desert, the Jews were isolated and completely dependent on Moshe for leadership.
There he could teach and inspire them without interruptions, and bring the Torah into every aspect of their souls as ONLY he knew how to do.
The reason that only Moshe could do this is that Moshe was a special gift of G-d to the Jewish people.
He was a “Raaya Mehemna” A Shepherd of faith and a “G-d man” (Devorim 33:1); so united with HaShem, that he, and ONLY he, knew exactly how to inspire and increase faith and enthusiasm in each and every Jew according to his or her individual nature.
In fact, the Zohar tells us that every generation must have a leader like Moshe (I feel that in our generation it is the Lubavitcher Rebbe), and without such a person the Jews are like lost sheep without a shepherd.
So now we can understand the four aforementioned factors in a new light: How only the desert can teach us how to connect TO MOSHE.
First, the fact that the desert is ownerless, teaches us that the Torah in its essence can never be possessed, for it belongs only to HaShem. Only Moshe could teach this, because HaShem’s Torah came through him and did not change AT ALL, it always remained G-d’s Torah.
Second, from the barren desert sand we can learn true humility as was found only in Moshe. The Lubavitch Rebbe explains that Moshe was the most humble man on earth (Numbers 12:3), because he felt that he himself was nothing, barren as the sand; all his qualities of leadership, wisdom and devotion were only gifts from G-d (and others would have used them better).
Third, the Manna that they ate, Miriam’s well that they drank from, and the clouds of glory that protected them in the desert were all in the merit of Moshe (Taanit 9a). Teaching us that if trust the ‘Moshe’ of our generation, HaShem will provide for us and protect us.
Finally, Moshe showed them repeatedly in the desert (at Yam Suf, the Golden Calf, Korach, The spies, the manna etc.) that even the Tzadikim should not be overconfident, and the real wild animals one must be wary of are in one’s own personality.
So everything; the Torah, ourselves, in fact the entire world, depends on Moshe and, (like the secretary in our story) we can learn it all from the Desert.
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