This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Naso (5762)
Most of the eighteen commandments in this week's section are so only minimally relevant today such as "Sota" and "Nazir" because their full observance depends on the Holy Temple.
But one of them is different; the commandment of Repentance.
"If a man or woman sin....they must confess to G-d." (5: 5, 6)
This commandment is relevant to all times, people and situations and, perhaps more than any other, expresses G-d's Infinite Mercy:
According to Judaism even if one deliberately and repeatedly transgresses, nevertheless contrition and confession (saying to G-d; "G-d I did such-and-such, regret it and will not do it again") will clean the spiritual slate …… even without the Holy Temple!
(Incidentally, Temple sacrifices only erased accidental sins, and even then only when accompanied by repentance. Purposeful ones required a broken heart just as today.)
But this is not understood. If G-d is really so merciful, wouldn't it have been better if He just let us do what we want and not give the Torah at all?
So, why do we celebrate the giving of the Torah on ‘Shavuot’ each year? If G-d hadn’t given it with all its restrictions there would be such things as sins and no need to repent.
To answer this, here is a story from the Baal Shem Tov (Besh't for short) (who passed away on the holiday of Shavuot, over 250 years ago).
The Besh't once gave one of his Chassidim, Rav Nisan, a closed envelope and ordered him to travel to the Castle of the local ruler, Count Radzvill, and do everything possible to interest the Count's friend and drinking and hunting companion, Pierre Louis, to return to Judaism. The envelope was to be opened in two days time.
Rav Nisan was perplexed. He had heard of this Pierre Louis and as far as everyone knew, he definitely was not Jewish…... What did the Besh’t mean ‘return’ to Judaism?
But the Baal Shem was never wrong. He often did miracles to reveal the purpose of creation, the value of every human and especially the uniqueness of the Jews. So Rav Nissan was only too happy to follow orders. He went in for last minute instructions and was on his way.
Count Radzvill was fabulously wealthy man with castles and villas throughout Europe where he spent most of his time enjoying life; traveling, partying and hunting. Years ago when in France he met a nobleman by the name of Pierre Louis and since then they were almost inseparable. Today they were returning to the Count's Russian palace after an absence of several months and all his serfs and servants were gathered before his castle to welcome him.
The joy was great. Unlike most of the Russian nobility Count Radzvill was a kind and just man and everyone was happy to see him back. Our Chassid, Rav Nissan, arrived just as the Count and his friend stepped out of their carriage, but as hard as he tried and from whichever angle he looked Pierre Louis certainly did not look in any way Jewish.
After the two had entered the Castle and the crowd had dispersed, Rav Nissan hung around the grounds for the rest of the day wondering what to do and at nightfall he still had no clue. Things looked bad; he had absolutely no way of entering the Castle and even if he did his chances of meeting Pierre Louis were zero and of actually speaking to him were less.
That night he slept in the town Synagogue and the next day he returned to the Castle hoping something would materialize. But as he approached he immediately noticed that something was wrong. There was again a large crowd gathered there, but they were unusually solemn, some of the Jews were reading Psalms and others were crying. He asked around until he got the entire picture.
It seems that shortly after the Count and his friend settled in at the Castle they couldn't resist the idea that the surrounding woods were probably filled with game. So despite their fatigue from the journey they went hunting.
The hunt was successful but when they returned toward evening, tired and laden with prey, a tragic accident occurred; the fatigued Count tripped on one of the Castle steps, his pistol discharged and he was left with a large bleeding wound in his chest.
His friend Pierre Louis immediately had him moved into the Castle and sent tens of carriages in all directions to bring help from nearby cities. All night carriages returned with different doctors and professors but despite all their expertise and efforts they weren't able to stop the bleeding. The Count was dying.
Suddenly Rav Nissan remembered the envelope the Rebbe had given him.
He opened it, took out the letter and began reading. Even he, who was accustomed to miracles from his master, was amazed. It was a prescription with exact directions how to prepare a salve to cure...a gunshot wound to the chest!
He ran to the castle gate waiving the letter and demanded to be let in but the guards refused. They had strict orders to admit only doctors and despite his arguments and pleas they remained cold and unmoving like a stone wall.
Pierre Louis having heard the ruckus from inside the palace came running out to the gate obviously very irritated, "What do you want here Jew?" he shouted, "Don't tell me you are a doctor? You are no doctor!! Leave here immediately!! What is that you have in your hand? What is that paper you are holding?"
Rav Nissan tried to explain but the Frenchman snatched the prescription from his hand and began to read. "This is your cure?!" He screamed. "This is nonsense!" He was about to tear it into pieces when one of the doctors emerged dejectedly from the castle, saw the commotion and approached.
He asked a few questions, examined the paper, turned facing Pierre with his back to Rab Nissan and whispered. "Don’t send him away, what do you care? They've given up in there. Let the Jew try, he certainly can't hurt.”
Minutes later Rav Nissan was in the Castle, had prepared the medicine according to the Besht’s prescription and was beginning the treatment. Some of it he smeared on the wound, some of it he applied on various parts of the Count's body and every few minutes he repeated the process, exactly according to the instructions.
To everyone's surprise the wound stopped hemorrhaging almost immediately! After a few more minutes the count even seemed to breathe more deeply and evenly. After an hour, instead of being dead as everyone had thought he would be, color returned to his cheeks and he regained consciousness!
The doctors and professors looked on with open mouths and were speechless; they had never seen anything even vaguely like it and Pierre Louis was moved to the essence of his very being; he felt something very potent was happening here but he had no idea what it was.
After several hours the Count was actually strong enough to call Rav Nissan to his bedside and thank him. He even offered to reward him but the Chassid refused. "Seeing you healthy is my reward. Just continue to treat the Jews kindly." he said. "But I do have one request; I want to speak with Pierre Louis alone."
The bewildered Pierre Louis and Rav Nissan went into a side room and closed the door.
After they sat opposite one another Rav Nissan looked him in the eyes and said, "I am a follower of a great Jew called Yisroel Baal Shem. He was the one that wrote that prescription and saved your friend. He told me to come here and....bring you back to Judaism."
Pierre was still in shock from the near death of his friend and his strange supernatural recovery. He felt as though he had been transported into another world but he couldn't figure out which world was real; the one of pleasure and power that he had been enjoying for over forty years, or this new strange one of Jews, and miracles.
Pierre just looked at the Chassid, eyes wide in disbelief; "Back? Judaism?" He mumbled to himself. "Back?"
"Just before I left him to come here the Baal Shem Tov told me to tell you that your real name is Pesach Tzvi" continued Rab Nissan. "He said that both your parents were Jewish and your mother even wanted to give you a Jewish education but your father opposed and so you were thrown into French society educated in the best schools and lost your Jewish identity. But now it is time for you to return."
"Return? How...How can this Baal Shem person of yours know this? How can he be so sure of these things?" asked the Frenchman in a whisper.
"I have no idea, but from my experience he knows everything," replied Rav Nissan.
"I don't understand" Said Pierre, trying to clear his throat, "Are you saying that I am...a Jew?" A Jew? Mon Dieu, it's impossible!! Impossible!!"
Pierre Louis refused to discuss the subject further, abruptly ended the conversation by promising he would give it further thought and the Chassid left the Castle.
Almost a year later Rav Nissan heard a knock on his door, opened it and there stood a bearded Jew. It was Pierre Louis, or rather Pesech Tzvi, returning to the G-d of his fathers.
So this answers our question: why is repentance so important; without the Torah and its laws there would be no such thing as sin and need for repentance…. wouldn’t it have been better that way?
The answer is certainly not.
That would be tantamount to saying; better that G-d should not have created health so there would be no sickness and no need for healing".
The Torah is called the Tree of Life and the source of Truth. G-d gave the Torah not to invent the truth but rather to reveal what the truth IS so that the truth can flow through us into this world …. like blood flows though a healthy body.
Just as a body is healthy when its soul is revealed through the blood, so too this world is ‘healthy’ when this G-dly purpose is revealed and circulated in this world.
Sin, on the other hand, like sickness, is a deviation from this purpose. When one transgresses the Torah he disrupts this spiritual life flow and he and the entire world require healing.
And that is the purpose of Repentance.
But repentance does even more that just healing; it can not only returns health but ADDS health; as we saw in our story:
The Count's deadly accident and its treatment actually brought a spiritual elevation and blessing to both he and his friend Pierre; they both became connected to the Besh't and to a new awareness of the Creator they never before had.
In fact the Talmud tells us that one who was distant from the truth and 'returns' (a baal tshuva) is in some ways even higher than a completely righteous "Tzadik".
That is the Miracle and the Joy of Shavuot. We received the Tree of Life, the Torah. And even more, we became connected to Moses, who revealed the real life and magic of the Torah; the power of repentance; ‘Tshuva’ that ELEVATES us and the world around us.
But most important, all this is the forerunner of Moshiach who will heal the entire world through Tshuva and Torah.
That is what Isaiah means that Moshiach will reveal a "new" Torah.
Then we will see and feel the G-dliness in every commandment. Every letter of the Torah will be so alive that it will never again be misinterpreted, misused or abandoned. As the Rambam says at the end of his work,
“In the days of Moshiach the world will be filled with G-dliness like the water fills the ocean.”
But it all depends on us. Just ONE more good deed, word or even thought can tip the scales and we will all see and rejoice with...
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