This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Naso (5761)
In the beginning of this week’s section, Moshe completes the commandment G-d gave him last week, counting the Jewish people.
Why was it necessary to count the Jews? Obviously G-d knew the number, why did He order Moshe to count them?
And after the counting was finished why put it in the Torah? What do we care today exactly how many Jews there were over 3,300 years ago?
Here is a story I hope will help explain:
One of the more famous printing houses in White Russia was in the town of Slavita. Here is the miraculous story of how it was established.
In Czarist Russia some two hundred years ago, there were millions of religious Jews and a terrible shortage of books. Often even "Siddurim" (prayer books) were lacking for the "People of the Book" to pray from.
The Rav of Slavita decided that it was time to do something about it. He had experience in printing and even enough money to get a printing house started, but the problem was Czarist bureaucracy. The fees and bribes necessary to obtain the proper licenses required a fortune. And then there was corruption, and of course anti-Semitism. After several years of efforts he had made zero progress.
Being a Chassid he decided to travel to the town of Liazne and take advice from the famous Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the first Rebbe of Chabad.
The Rebbe heard him out and after thinking for a few seconds answered optimistically,
"Don’t worry, all the obstacles will disappear. First travel to the city of Mohilov and there you will find a teacher of small children by the name of Reb Yisroel. If you can convince him to accompany you to Vilna he can arrange all the necessary papers for you in a very short time."
Needless to say, bright and early the next morning the Rav set out to Mohilov; with such an answer from the Rebbe he couldn’t fail!! But despite his optimism he was in for a big disappointment; after two days of searching the town, the only teacher called Reb Yisroel he could find was an old Jew of over seventy that spoke only Yiddish, and not a word of Russian!
"What?! I should go to Vilna to talk to Officials??" exclaimed the old man, "What...I’m gonna talk Yiddish to Officials? It's a joke, Right?! A joke!! Ha Ha!! Yiddish Officials!! Maybe you want I should talk to the Czar for you?! Not only that, who will provide for my wife when I'm there? No, no, you are mistaken, my friends, the Rebbe could not mean me."
It took a lot of convincing, but when the Rav gave him a full months wages and he saw he was serious, the old man also became interested in seeing what would happen.
Several days later they arrived in Vilna and set themselves up in the house of a well known Chabad Chassid called Rav Mair Refoels, himself a wealthy businessman with some connections in the Government.
Now their only problem was, exactly what they were supposed to do?
The Rebbe told them that Reb Yisroel would take care of everything, but Reb Yisroel had no idea what was going on. So for the first few days they wandered aimlessly around the streets of Vilna.
When Shabbos finally came, old Reb Yisroel decided that he had had enough. He was tired and depressed. He was becoming increasingly convinced that they made some sort of mistake.
"Oy! What have I gotten myself into?" He thought to himself. "How long will I have to wander around Vilna? Forever?!! I’m an old man, my feet hurt. I want to go home."
Rav Mair tried unsuccessfully to cheer him up, and finally suggested that they take a stroll in the main square and that for sure HaShem would help.
A few minutes later they were leisurely strolling. The Shabbat seemed to make everything a little more beautiful, and Rav Mair turned the conversation to the weekly portion of the Torah. Soon Reb Yisroel was so involved in trying to make some point that he forgot his problems. He did not even notice the strange stare he got from a passing man. But Rav Mair did.
The man actually stopped for several seconds, stared at Reb Yisroel’s face and then continuing walking. From the man’s dress and manner, it was obvious that he was someone important, possibly a government Minister.
When several minutes later the man again walked toward them and repeated the same scene, Rav Refoels left his companions, approached him and introduced himself and cordially asked:
"Please excuse me Sir, but I couldn’t help noticing your interest in Reb Yisroel. Possibly you could tell us what interest a nobleman such as yourself could possibly have in a simple old Jew?"
He took Rav Refoels by the arm walked over to Reb Yisroel, and said, "Ask the old man if he remembers me." Rav Refoels translated, and the old teacher just shrugged his shoulders, how could he possible know such a person?
"Ask him if he lives in Shklov." Continued the man.
"No, I live in Mohilov!" replied Reb Yisroel, shrugging his shoulders. But then he paused, held up one finger and said, "One minute, just a minute... you can tell him that twenty years ago I did live in Shklov."
"Aha!! Said the man!" I knew it was you; my memory did not fail me! You must come to my house tomorrow at ten in the morning. You are my dear friend!! Please do not forget."
With this he told the old man his address, shook his hand warmly, and departed.
The next morning they were seated in the nobleman’s spacious front room, a servant appeared, told the other two to remain seated and escorted old Reb Yisroel into the study.
"Ahh, reb Yisroel!!!" The nobleman said to him (in Yiddish!) as he closed the door behind him.
"Of course you don’t remember me, I was just a young boy of fourteen years old then. Do you remember? They called me Yanush the orphan. I was the scourge of Shklov. I refused to go to school or listen to anyone. My only interest was to make trouble and to convince the other kids to do the same.
Finally after they caught me stealing for the hundredth time they put me in this sort of cage in the center of the city. I guess I had it coming, but it was more than I could handle. Everyone that passed would curse me and some of the kids even threw rocks and spit at me when no one was looking. I was so ashamed I wanted to die. I was supposed to be there for three days and when the first night came I felt closer to death than life.
Then, when everyone else was asleep, you came. You opened the lock, took me to your house, gave me a meal, a change of clothes, a warm coat and even some money and told me to run away. I’ll never forget your face.
Well, thanks to you, today I am a high minister in the government and now I want to repay you. First take this bag of golden coins, this will last you for a long time, and I would like to give you a job but... tell me, what brought you to Vilna? Are there children here you have to teach? And who are those two men with you?"
Needless to say when he heard the reason for Reb Yisroel’s visit he immediately arranged all the necessary permits for the printing house that very day, free of charge.
And also opened a door for himself to return to Judaism.
This answers our question.
What HaShem wanted to teach us here by telling us that Moshe counted everyone is that everyone is important, (how much more so every Jew). No one can be too far away, too old or too insignificant, (conversely no one is so great that he can think he is worth more, or has finished his work.)
That is the job of the Tzadikim in every generation; to remind us that every one is number one and everyone counts. And even if you are in a desolate desert and the situation seems impossible, your one good deed also counts and can change it all.
In a big way this is Moshiach who will raise up (Naso) all the Jewish people, and through them the entire world. Like in our story all we have to do is open our eyes to see the miracles that are happening around us and see...
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