This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Behaalotecha (5764)
This week's section begins with the commandment to light the Menorah; the seven branched oil lamp that stood on the floor just outside of the inner sanctum of the Holy Temple.
The Torah is eternal. And the Baal Shem Tov, who began Chassidic Judaism some 300 years ago, taught that every word and certainly every idea in the Torah is meaningful to each of us in all time.
So how can this Menora lighting be relevant today?
As we know, there is no Temple; the second one was destroyed by the Romans almost 2,000 years ago.
And even when there was a Temple [and we Jews believe that Moshiach will build a third and final Temple] only the 'Cohanim', namely those of priestly family, lit it.
So where is the meaning for each of us?
Maybe this personal story will help.
I have a good friend by the name of Yisroel that lives in Bne' Brak. He must be well into his sixties by now and has several grandchildren, but nevertheless he still doesn't know how to read Hebrew very well and has held the same simple job for the last thirty-some years.
But he is a very genuine, hard working, honest man and although we rarely see one another we have a deep brotherly connection.
Once he told me a bit about his past. When he just nine years old his father passed away and his mother, thinking that no one would marry her with a child, put him into a Jewish orphanage.
The orphanage promised that they were strictly religious and even kept the Shabbat. But they lied. They sensed that his mother didn't really care and soon poor little Yisroel found himself working on the holy Shabbat just like the weekdays.
The boy realized that something was really wrong, but because he really hadn't received much of a Jewish education and also was quiet by nature and didn't want to make any problems, he suffered silently.
Until one day he heard that there was a Rabbi in Brooklyn called Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak (the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe) who gave wondrous advice and even blessings that worked, so he decided to give it a try.
It took him a few days to get the address and a few more to actually write the letter. Then there was the problem of getting a stamp and putting the letter in a mailbox without being noticed. But his simple determination prevailed and finally he proudly managed to sneak it off in the post.
The letter told his sad story and asked for a blessing to make them stop forcing him to work on Shabbos or even better yet, to get out of the place completely. But he received no answer for several weeks.
In fact he almost forgot about the entire incident and when he occasionally did remember he just gave a sigh and thought 'Who am I to get an answer'.
Then one morning …. there is was! A letter from the Lubavitcher Rebbe…. TO HIM!!
It was a multiple miracle!!
First; it was the first letter he ever received in his life from anybody! Second; this great, holy Rabbi actually paid attention to him! And finally, it was a miracle that no one intercepted and destroyed either the letter he sent or this letter he received.
The Rebbe wrote that he was happy to have received his letter and that he shouldn't worry because Jewish people must always be strong and proud to be G-d's people. He wished him Mazal Tov on his upcoming Bar-Mitzva (thirteenth birthday when Jewish males are obligated to do all of G-d's Commandments) and assured him that when he began putting on Tefillin (phylacteries), things would automatically get better.
Sure enough, when Yisroel turned thirteen his mother got him a pair of Tefillin. Then, suddenly the orphanage found a more lucrative job for him outside the building which also did not require him to work on Shabbat.
So little by little he was able to save up a bit of money, become more independent, and eventually at the age of fifteen moved out completely.
Time passed and he became more and more attached to the Lubavitcher Chassidim. In 1950 Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak passed away and was replaced by his dynamic son-in-law Rabbi Menachem Mendel.
This new Rebbe explained often and at great length very deep existential and kabalistic concepts such as how G-d creates all being constantly, the eternal uniqueness of the Jewish people and how the Torah is the blueprint of it all.
But he always managed to put these ideas in a way that it was possible to gain inspiration and depth from even the simplest everyday things.
For instance, we are surrounded by electrical appliances: lights, ovens, telephones computers etc. that are teaching us an amazing lesson.
From them we can learn that a completely invisible power, electricity, can produce such powerful and positive things as light, warmth, motion, communication etc. But we have to push the right button to turn it on.
Similarly, in each of us is an invisible power, and uniquely so in every Jew. This power, like electricity, is invisible but it has the ability to illuminate, thaw out, set into motion and connect the entire world to the Creator.
We only have to push the proper button.
And when we do we find that a little light pushes away much darkness.
We can stop the pain, suffering, war and ignorance in the world by awakening Jews to Judaism.
The Rebbe's Chassidim took it seriously and soon young men began traveling throughout the world to spread the ideas of Chassidut.
Everyone was doing something… except for Yisroel. He had no ability to write or even speak (he had a bit of a stutter as well). He didn't have any money, so he couldn't give charity. He was shy and didn't have any real friends to go with. He tried to learn Torah but couldn't really concentrate for long…. all he could do was pray.
Suddenly, he got a brainstorm!! The previous Rebbe had written three small booklets translated into English. One was called 'On Learning Chassidut another was called "the Teachings of Chassidut". Each contained forty-some pages of simple explanations on such Chassidic as what it says in the Zohar (Kabalistic book); "G-d, the Jews, and the Torah are One" and other things.
Yisroel bought the pamphlets, bound them together with a piece of thick paper, wrote on the cover: "Chassidut Chabad-Lubavitch" and tucked it in his coat pocket.
He then went to the Brooklyn Library, found the 'Judaism' section and, when no one was around swiftly stuck his book between two others … and left.
(Something like how he mailed that letter to the Rebbe).
He walked out of the library, looking straight ahead so as not to attract attention, feeling as though he had just pulled some mission-impossible espionage job infiltrating the command room of the enemy!
He had done something BIG!!
Years later he was riding home from work one night on an almost empty subway reading his newspaper. He looked up for a second and the fellow sitting opposite him also happened to look up from his paper at the same time. They both nodded and a conversation ensued.
Yisroel told a bit about how he became a Lubavitcher and the other fellow, who also happened to be a religious Jew, said that he lived in Monsey. He was not brought up observant and today wasn't a Lubavitcher Chassid but he had a strange episode with Chabad that changed his life.
One day, years ago, he happened to be browsing around in the Brooklyn library when he noticed a strange booklet that seemed out of place among the other books in the Judaism section. He took it out, saw it had a strange handwritten title, opened it up from curiosity and, although he didn't really understand much, he couldn't put it down!
It was something about Chassidut and had a completely different angle. For the first time he saw that Judaism was something very deep and alive.
It was Israel's book!!! He actually saw the fruits of his labors!!!
This is the lesson we can learn from the Menorah.
Today, each Jew is a Priest (see Exodous 18:6) and our job is to 'turn on' each person in the world, especially each Jew, and reveal that the ENTIRE CREATION is a Holy Temple.
And just as there are MANY arms to the Menora (and many types of electrical appliances) so each person has a unique benefit, a positive power that can only come by turning the G-dly purpose within him/her on.
This, the Rebbe taught, is the job of Moshiach; to turn on the entire world (even the non-Jews through the observance of the seven Noahide commandments) to serve the Creator.
We just have to begin the process: find the right button, light the proper wick, and soon the world will be filled with the illumination of…;
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