This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Bamidbar (5764)
This week's section begins the fourth book of the Torah.
It begins with G-d commanding Moses and Aaron to take the leaders of the twelve tribes and go count the Jews. The rest of the section reports the results.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe asks a question on this.
Today also surveys and population counts are taken, but usually the ones chosen for this boring job are people who are out of work or have nothing better to do!
Why did G-d have to choose here the greatest men in Israel; leaders whose every instant was filled with Torah learning and making important and critical decisions, to waste their precious time counting people?
There also must be a lesson here relevant to the Holiday of Shavuot, coming up this next week, when we received the Torah.
To understand this, here is a story.
The fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rebbe Shalom Dov Ber (1861-1920) was a very holy and learned person. He never had a free moment and was almost always occupied in prayer or learning and teaching Torah.
But once he stopped all this for over a day because of a dream.
The story is as follows. It was one Wednesday afternoon; the Rebbe was on a trip for his health in a hotel outside of Russia accompanied by his only son Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak (who years later would be the next Rebbe).
Because the Rebbe slept very little, if at all, at nights it was his custom to sit on a couch and rest every day after lunch for a half hour or so.
But on this particular day he sat down but didn't get up. He went into some strange limbo state; not really asleep but also not at all awake, for well over his usual time.
His son, sensing something was wrong, did not dare to wake him but rather tried to arouse him with subtle noises; scuffling his feet and moving things around in the room but to no avail. Rather several hours later obviously moved by something he had seen in his sleep he came to on his own and asked, "Where am I? What day is it today? What section of the Torah are we in?"
That evening he took an unusually long time praying the evening prayer, singing the words slowly and quietly with great emotion and the next morning he asked his son if they had any money at hand.
The times were unusually hard and there was barely money in the house for food but his son took the hint, went to the local pawnbroker with his silver-topped cane and came home with twenty rubles…. a small fortune in those days.
His father took the money announced that he was going a few places and left the hotel room. He was gone for several hours and in that time delivery boys kept knocking on the door and bringing packages and parcels from various women's clothing stores.
All this was very strange in the eyes of his son but he supposed that the clothes were probably meant for his daughters, the Rebbe's granddaughters.
But they weren't.
Near evening his father returned and announced that they were checking out of the hotel. His son packed all the presents in his suitcase paid the bill and they made their way to the train station where his father told him to buy tickets to Pressburg without any explanation.
Of course his son did as told but his curiosity was growing.
Two hours later, when they arrived in Pressburg, his son suggested they order a carriage, being that the suitcase was heavy and also the driver would take them directly where they wanted to go, but his father shook his head no. He would rather they go by foot.
Although it didn't make sense nevertheless he knew his father was never wrong and they began walking.
On the way a young man, obviously a yeshiva student, passed them, obviously in a hurry to somewhere, and the Rebbe asked him for directions to a certain hotel.
"I'm sorry, please ask someone else… I have no time!" He answered as he continued walking.
But the Rebbe stopped him saying, "Is that any way to treat strangers? Is that the how you fulfill the commandment of accepting guests?"
The young man, realizing he was wrong stopped, apologized and explained exactly how to get to the hotel. And he added that the owner of that hotel just passed away yesterday afternoon (exactly when the Rebbe had his dream) and his family was in the hotel for the 'seven' (Shiva) day mourning period.
The Rebbe thanked him, he and his son continued to the hotel and sure enough a woman and three older girls were sitting and weeping in a corner of the front room with several comforters around them.
The bellboy showed them to a room and the Rebbe, rather than lying down to rest a bit after the journey, told his son to put the suitcase in the room and come with him for a stroll.
They made their way to a local Yeshiva where some hundred young men were sitting and learning and the Rebbe went from table to table asking them questions about the Tractate they were learning.
One of the pupils really made a good impression and the Rebbe praised him highly. Then he saw the young man they had met earlier on the street and spoke with him for a few minutes as well, and finally they returned to their hotel.
All this was a great mystery to the Rebbe's son; it seemed that all the events of the last two days had no real connection to one another but he hesitated to ask for an explanation.
But shortly everything became clear.
The Rebbe entered the hotel, approached the woman and her daughters, sat down and said a few consoling and comforting words. Then, motioning toward her daughters asked the widow why they were not married.
The woman moaned, almost began to cry and then said she was having no luck in finding fitting matches for them and now that her husband passed away it would be impossible; she hadn't enough money to buy even clothes for their weddings.
At this point the Rebbe told his son to go to up their room and bring down the packages.
Moments later when he returned the Rebbe gave them to the woman and said,"Here are dresses and clothes for your daughters. And regarding a proper husband I have two excellent candidates" and suggested the two young men he had spoken to earlier; the one he praised highly and the one they had first met on the street.
That very night they met and the next day both decided to marry!
Years later the Rebbe's son happened to be in Pressburg and happened to meet the youngest daughter. She thanked G-d that she was now happily married and that her two sisters were doing wonderfully with the husbands that his father arraigned! One was the Rabbi of a large city and the other the head of a Yeshiva.
(The name of their father, incidentally was Rabbi Avrham Bick author of the book 'Bikuray Aviv' on the Torah)
That is why G-d wanted the leaders to count the Jews. Because a true Jewish leader, like the Rebbe in our story, is similar to G-d: he cares for each of His creations individually….. especially for each and every Jew.
And that is our lesson for Shavuot.
When G-d gave the Torah He 'came DOWN' (Exodus 19:20) on Mt. Sinai and spoke to EACH Jew individually! [The first of the Ten Commandments is "I am YOUR (in the singular) G-d who took YOU (in the singular) out of Egypt.]
So also the Torah enables us and DEMANDS us to both learn as much a possible and also come down to those who know less than we do.
That is why Rabbi Akiva, the greatest of all Torah scholars, when asked, 'what is the essence of the Torah?' answered: "Love your fellow as yourself"!
As the Talmud (Ktuvot 103b) tells us of Rabbi Chiah and Rabbi Chanina who were the greatest Talmudic scholars of their time (some 1800 years ago).
When Torah-learning became weak in Israel Rabbi Chanina had the ability to restore it by drawing new pupils through his sharp erudition and logic.
But Rabbi Chiah had a more down-to-earth approach. He actually hunted deer, stripped their hides, made them into parchments and on each parchment wrote a different book of the written and oral Torah.
Then he gathered a large group of children, gave each one a different parchment and taught each one to understand his book and teach it to all the others thus producing tens of new Torah teachers in Israel.
The Talmud concludes. "Superior is the way of Rabbi Chiah!"
This is the way of Chassidut, the message of the Baal Shem Tov; to come DOWN and worry for the other more than for one's self.
And it is this force that has filled the world with Chabad Houses and will bring Moshiach NOW!
Then we will again feel the real G-dliness in the Torah even more than we did on Mount Sinai!!
Happy Shavuot with Moshiach NOW!!
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