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 (5761)
This week's section is the preparation for the giving of the Torah. "Bamidbar" means "in the desert".
G-d could have given the Torah anywhere; He could have given it to the Jews in Egypt before they left, or in Israel after they arrived. He could even have given it to Moses privately, but He didn't... He gave it in the desert.
One reason is that He wanted the people to depend totally on Moses.
The desert is desolate and dangerous; there is neither food nor protection. In Moses merit there miraculously appeared food, water, and even clouds that protected them from all sides (Talmud, Taanit 9a).
But in addition to all these, the desert made the people realize that Moses provided something even more essential to Judaism as this story will explain:
It was a beautiful cool summer day in the Ukraine. Huge open fields glistened in the sunlight of a clear blue sky. Through the sound of birds chirping and the gentle wind in the grasses, Yankela's insane singing could be heard faintly in the distance.
Yankela was a Chassid of the Tzemach Tzedek (third Lubavitcher Rebbe 1789-1866) and he made a living selling seeds to the farmers.
Once a year he loaded up some fifty wagons with choice seeds, and brought them to the farmers to plant their wheat crop.
It wasn't easy work. He had to store the seeds and protect them from moisture and rodents and the like for an entire year.
Then at exactly the right time he had to load up the wagons and make a five-day journey to the farms.
A few days early and the seeds would rot because the farmers had nowhere to store them, a bit too late and they wouldn't get planted before the first rain. The slightest mistake could spell disaster for the entire year's wheat crop...and for him as well; the farmers were not exactly Jew-friendly. His best customer, the Baron, was renowned for his homicidal temper.
Yet despite all this, every year when Yankela arrived with the seeds, the farmers would make a great holiday replete with music, dancing, vodka and cakes. At the end of it, they would divide up their seeds and return to their farms.
But this year tragedy struck.
It was in the middle of the last day of his journey that it happened. Yankela was sitting next to the driver on the first wagon when his faithful manager Steffen, came running up with bad news.
"There’s been a mix-up, a terrible mix-up! Six wagons full of the best wheat are missing!! The Baron’s wheat! They must have been left behind!!"
Yankela was stunned. What would he do? To return home was impossible; it would mean loosing ten days. But to arrive without the Baron’s wheat might just cost him his life.
He got off his wagon, stopped the caravan, counted the wagons and began mumbling to himself. He counted again, and again, and again. He climbed back up to his seat, then jumped back down again talking to himself in a loud voice and making no sense. It was clear that he was really in distress.
In two hours he had to get six wagons of wheat, but how? From where? He was pacing back and forth, holding his head in his hands.
Suddenly Yankela froze...a strange half-smile crossed his lips. He stood this way for a few minutes and them began tapping his foot, humming a jolly Chassidic song. It wasn't long before he was spinning around, clapping his hands, and singing insanely at the top of his lungs.
Suddenly, drenched with sweat, he stopped, looked wildly around, leaped back on the wagon and shouted, "We're going to have SIMCHA!!" (Happiness).
"He's gone mad," thought Steffen to himself, "Poor Yankela is crackers!".
Two hours later when the farmers saw the wagons coming from a distance, they began clapping and singing to the lively tune of a fiddle like every year.
But this time it was different. As soon as Yankela was close enough he shouted, "HO HO!!" jumped from his wagon and ran toward the farmers. "Today is a happy day!! Today we are going to have SIMCHA!!"
He ran pass everyone into the tavern, bought thirty bottles of vodka, all sorts of spices and fruit juices and began pouring it all into a big pot the tavern owner brought him.
"NU?" he shouted as he took a cup and plunged it into his "punch". "Who is first? What about you Ivan?" He turned to one of the farmers.
"Pachimu Niet?" (Why not) he answered shrugging his shoulders with a smile as he took the cup and drank its contents. All eyes were on Ivan. Realizing he was the center of attention, he looked to the right, then to the left, waited a few more seconds, began to frown and then with a huge smile on his face said, "It’s GREAT!!"
The festivities continued into the night. The drunken farmers occasionally ran to the wagons, uncovered the wheat, took a deep inhale and began rejoicing anew!! The noise, music and laughter filled the tavern.
So no one noticed the drops of rain at midnight (that weren't supposed to come for another two weeks) falling on the open wagons.
When they all woke up late next morning they realized it was too late. The rain had ruined the entire shipment. No one even noticed that the Baron’s seeds had been forgotten.
Yankela tried to refuse payment but the farmers forced him to take at least half. After all, they uncovered the wheat. And from the Baron he took nothing.
As they were returning home, Steffen turned to Yankela in awe and said, "Master Yankela, that was a miracle! How did you know to make that punch and that the rains would come early?"
"It was no miracle of mine" He answered. "It was my Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek."
The last time I had a private audience with the Rebbe, he spoke to me about my service of G-d and some personal matters. After he had finished, just as I was about to exit, he called to me and said;
"Yankela, remember, Happiness will free you!" (Ki B’Simcha Tai’Tzaioo).
"Up to a few days ago I never understood what he meant. But suddenly when you gave me that terrible news, the Rebbe’s face appeared to me saying those words again. That explains my Simcha!!"
This is what Moshe gave to the Jews in the desert; JOY.
It is this Joy that earlier enabled Abraham (our father) to pass all of G-d's tests, and is therefore the essence of Judaism. (Tanya, 4:21)
Without Joy, Judaism can become mere ritual, and the Torah is just one of many religious manuals. With it both, we are warm and alive.
The desolate desert brought the Jews to Humility, the main prerequisite for Joy. They realized that they, like the desert, have nothing of their own. (Egotists can never be truly happy, they always want more for themselves).
That is why Moshe was the most humble man on earth. (Bamidbar 12:3)
But the main source of Jewish Joy is through connection to Moshe and the Holiness of Moshe as it says by the splitting of Yam Suf: (Shemot 14:3, 15:1)
"(The Jews) believed in G-d and His servant Moshe...THEN THEY SANG."
That is why the Chassidim (followers of the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov) were and are still known for their Joy; because they connected to the Besh't, the "Moshe" of their generation.
In this respect the great Tzadikim like the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and others are still very much alive, because those who are connected to them feel Joy and optimism in the Torah they learn.
And that is why one of the main descriptions of the days of the Moshiach is JOY; "Then will our mouths be filled with laughter" (T'hillim 126).
May we all receive the Torah this year with true joy, together with Moshiach.
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.