This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Behaalotecha (5761)
Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki), the most basic and famous of Torah explainers, tells us that in this week’s section (9:1) G-d advertises the shame of the Jewish people;
The "Passover Offering", (the most important of all sacrifices, made yearly after they entered Israel) was sacrificed ONLY ONCE in the entire forty years the Jews wandered in the desert!!!
At first glance this is not understood…. What was so bad? G-d never commanded them to do more than that! (See Rashi on Shmot 12:25)
Why is it shameful that they did EXACTLY what G-d told them to?
I want to explain this with a STORY:
Zalman the woodchopper was a poor Chassid who lived in a small isolated hut with his wife and seven children. But he was happy. Sometimes the family only had bread to eat, and the Ukrainian Winters were often difficult to bear, but nevertheless they were happy.
In fact Zalman used to say, “We are Jews! We are alive! And we can learn G-d’s Torah! A million rubles couldn’t make us happier.”
One balmy summer evening Zalman was sitting in his house learning Talmud with two of his children when they heard the unmistakable sound of a large carriage stopping in front of his hut. He looked out the window and could not believe his eyes; the wagon was filled with Chassidim and … the holy Baal Shem Tov himself!!!
And they were coming to visit him!!
Zalman had seen the Besh’t (Short for "Baal Shem Tov") from afar some five years ago when he came to a nearby town to speak. And now… he was here! What an honor!! What a blessing!!!
Zalman turned to his wife and excitedly whispered to her to prepare something to eat, and for the children to straighten their clothes and stand at attention.
Then he ran outside, arms outstretched, greeting his visitors, “Blessed are you all! Thank G-d! Thank G-d you have come to my house!! Please, Please come in!! Is there anything I can do? To what do I owe this great blessing?”
“May HaShem bless you also, my friend,” Said the Besh’t “We want to spend this "Lail Shishi" (Thursday night), in your house if it is all right with you.”
Zalman was overjoyed. He showed them in. His wife brought out all the bread they had in the house with a few pieces of herring, some boiled potatoes and tea, while they prayed the evening prayer, then washed their hands and sat down to eat.
They didn’t sleep that night. They sang, danced, listened to the Besh’t speak, and learned Talmud and Zohar until, at the crack of dawn when they went to the river, immersed themselves and returned to Zalman’s house to pray the Morning Prayer. Only then did they all go to sleep for a few hours.
When they awoke it was already Friday afternoon and the Besh't announced that if Rav Zalman would agree they would like to stay for Shabbos.
As soon as Zalman heard the good news he went to the closet, took out his slaughtering knife, sharpened it, gave it to the Besh’t to check, and preceded to slaughter his only cow. These were very special guests; they deserved nothing but the best!!!
He checked the lungs to be sure the cow was Kosher and gave the meat to his wife to prepare. Then he hitched up his horse to the wagon put his goat and all his chickens in, and drove off as fast as he could in the direction of the nearest village about an hour away.
A few hours later he was back with flour, potatoes, fish, wine and more. He had even put his horse and wagon up for collateral.
The Shabbos was unforgettable; the prayers, the three meals, the words of Torah, the singing, the Joy. In fact, just looking at the radiant face of the Besh’t....or even one of his pupils, made Zalman and his family feel like they were in the Holy of Holies.
When the Shabbos ended, he made the M’lave Malka (meal after Shabbos) from Shabbos leftovers. But the next morning was another story.
It seems the Chassidim had eaten everything, and Zalman’s cupboards were all empty. All he could find was a small sardine that the Besh't willingly accepted and divided among his entourage.
“Are you sure you have nothing left?” asked the Besh’t. “If so, it is time to leave.”
He bade his host goodbye, ordered the Chassidim to enter the carriage and rode off into the horizon.
At first Zalman was in bliss, the aura of the Shabbos was still in the air. But the whining of his children brought him to his senses. The previous night they had had little to eat and now they were hungry.
That entire day went by with no food, and the next morning found Zalman in his backyard begging to Heaven:
“I never asked you for anything G-d, You know I never asked, but now I can’t take it any longer! G-d, have mercy on my wife and children! HAVE MERCY!!! Send me a blessing!!! HELP!!! The children are starving!!”
Zalman lay on his face weeping for almost a half an hour until the sound of another wagon stopping before his house made him look up. He ran to the front to see a fancy carriage, its door being held open by the driver. Two well-dressed religious Jews exited, with a servant carrying a large box following them.
“Ahh! You must be the owner,” Said one of the rich men as he saw Zalman appearing from around the back of the house.
“Pardon us, but we are tired and hungry and we saw the Mezuza on your door, may we enter?”
“Oy!” Moaned Zalman, “You are more than welcome but I’m sorry to say I have no food to offer you, not even a piece of bread.” He said, as he rolled his reddened eyes beseechingly to the heavens.
“Food?” Answered the other rich man “Ha Ha! We have enough food for an army! We just need a place to eat it and an oven to warm it up! We can even give you food if you want! Now may we use your house?”
Zalman realizing that a miracle was transpiring, nodded, shook their hands and introduced himself and escorted them in.
“Ahh! What a beautiful family! Here....they can eat with us also! We have plenty of food. I assure you it is of the highest kosher standards, and we can buy more at the next town. Please, tell the children to sit down, and you and your wife also, Reb Zalman. Please do join us” the guests chimed in together.
Throughout the meal the two men were mumbling to each other, and when everyone had finished eating and children left the table they confided in their host.
“Reb Zalman, we, my friend and I, are business partners. For various reasons we have decided to dissolve our partnership and divide our assets, but it’s more complicated than we thought; we have lands, investments, debts, and all sorts of valuables and no one can seem to tell us how to do it according to Torah law.
“Now we are on our way to Prague where there are great Rabbis that can advise us. If you could attempt a solution you would save us weeks of dangerous travel and we would reward you for your troubles. What do you say?”
It took a few minutes but finally Zalman agreed and they brought out all their papers. The amounts were not large, about 20,000 rubles sum total, and although the problems were difficult, after half an hour Zalman had a solution.
The two rich men listened carefully as he explained. They asked several questions, repeated his plan and finally joyously announced that that they would accept it!!
“Of course your commission is three percent of the total sum.” One of them said to Zalman.
“Now each number we wrote here really represents 1,000 rubles, in other words we owe you 3% of twenty million rubles or 600,000 rubles. Here is 20,000 and a promissory note for the rest.” Said the other.
They produced a bottle of brandy, poured three cups, drank ‘L’chiam’, shook hands, and departed leaving a bewildered Zalman waving goodbye in the cloud of dust.
Not more than an hour passed, and Zalman had still not digested all that had happened, when the unmistakable carriage of the Baal Shem Tov appeared in the distance and returned to Zalman’s house once again!
“How wonderful!!” thought Zalman as he went toward the carriage to announce his new riches to the Besh’t. He was sure that it was all in the merit of the wonderful Shabbos, and he was prepared to give it all to charity.
“No!” Explained the Besh’t. “Exactly the opposite. It is all in your merit. For years these great riches were waiting for you in heaven, but you refused to ask for them. In fact you never asked G-d for anything for yourself.
That is why we ate all your food and brought you to starvation. I knew that that would be the only way that you would beg with all your heart. And that opened the heavenly gates to this fortune as well.”
This answers our question about the Jews in the desert.
True, G-d didn’t tell them to sacrifice more than one Pesach offering in the desert, but the Pesach offering is so essential to Judaism that they should have begged for more. (Like they did for the "Pesach Sheni"), And that was the "shame" of the Jewish people.
What does this have to do with us?
We are supposed to demand Moshiach.
Although it appears that G-d has His own schedule, nevertheless, says the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Moshiach is so essential to Judaism and to the world that we must demand him. And through our prayers and requests Moshiach will come earlier.
Even one second earlier will mean one less second of pain for the world and one more second of truth for all mankind.
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