This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Shlach (5763)
This week's we again read the bizarre story of the M'raglim (spies); holy pioneers empowered by Moses and G-d Almighty to manifest the very goal of creation and pave the way for the Jews into the Promised Land… who inexplicably failed in their task.
But maybe it wasn't so inexplicable.
In fact we see that they did exactly what they were sent to do; they reported what they saw in the land of Canaan:
'The inhabitants are strong giants, Amalekites, Emorites in the mountains, Cannanim on the sea. The land devours its inhabitants, we were in our own eyes like little bugs and so we were in their eyes.'
After all, G-d had fought all their battles and now things would be different, it was a new order and they needed a good briefing. Not only that, in the desert they were a Torah nation and now they would have to become killers. They had a lot to lose, they were unprepared and apprehensive.
What's so bad about that?
Perhaps the answer can be found in the following story.
In Judaism there is little more sacred than marriage.
Besides being the first commandment in the Bible it is the best metaphor for the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people. The day the Torah was given, the day the Temple was built and the arrival of Moshiach are all called our marriage days.
But it's not always so easy to get married.
For instance, there was once a young Chassid who found it almost impossible to fulfill this commandment. Although he was honest, kind and intelligent, his poverty ruined it all. His utter destitution cried out from every corner of his being; he walked, spoke, and even thought like a pauper and it destroyed his self-confidence and hence any appeal he might have to the opposite gender.
Now, this young man was a devoted follower of the Rebbe the Magid of Mezeritz (the holy successor of the Baal Shem Tov) and the next time he was traveling home to see his parents he went in to the Rebbe and asked his advice.
"If you want the perfect wife, accept the first match that is offered to you." The Rebbe said.
Now, to a normal person this advice would sound a bit strange; what if the girl was not normal etc. But a Chassid is one who believes that everything he does is in order to fix up the world to bring Moshiach, so our hero set off joyously to his destiny.
Travel in those days was only by day so that night he stopped his journey and turned off at an inn. Because he had no money he sat down at a table in the corner of the dimly-lit dining room and put his head down to sleep. But there was too much noise.
A bunch of Jewish ruffians were joking around, perhaps it was some sort of birthday party or something, but they were pretty intoxicated and were shouting and laughing at the tops of their lungs.
Suddenly one of them noticed our Chassid in the corner, walked over to him, tapped him on the shoulder and when he looked up with bleary eyes, asked him if he would like to join them in their wedding feast.
"Wedding?" Asked the Chassid groggily, "Mazal Tov! But, err, where… where are the Bride and groom?"
"Ha!!" The drunkard exclaimed jubilantly! Right here!!! You're the Groom! And the bride is right over here!! Right fellows?!!" He yelled over his shoulder.
The others were bursting with glee, they thought it was the funniest thing they ever heard. "Here! One of them cried out. I'll get her, just wait right there, hold him so he doesn't run away!"
Two of them went into the kitchen and a minute later returned with a bewildered young lady who was drying her hands and laughing no less than they.
"Here comes the bride!!!" they yelled out. "Make the wedding canopy! Get the wine!! Bring the Katuba!" (According to Jewish law a wedding is only valid if a special legal document called a Katuba is signed by the groom.)
"Huuuu!" said someone else "That's the end of the party! We have no Katuba." "Oyyy!" They all answered in unison looking at each other in silent disappointment.
"Oh, that's no problem." Said our hero quietly breaking the silence, "I know how to write a Katuba."
"Bring paper and a pen! Let's drink to the Katuba!! Let's dance to the Katubaa!!"
In no time the Chassid wrote up the document, a tablecloth was spread on four broomsticks making a wedding canopy and before they knew it the ceremony was finished!! Of course they were rolling on the floor at how this dunce took it all seriously.
"Now, let's give him presents!". They shouted out wildly One dumped a plate of pickles on his head, another poured water down his shirt, the next gave him a kick in the pants and so on until they got tired of it and everyone including the 'bride' left.
But the next morning when the owner of the inn returned he didn't think it was so funny. It so happens that the girl was his daughter and the inn wasn't all he owned. He was a wealthy, influential man and after some investigation it was obvious to him that the marriage ceremony, although they thought it was a joke, was technically valid.
He ran to the Chassid and began screaming throwing in a few punches of his own. "You fool, you idiot, you penniless begger! Where is that Ketuba? I want you to tear that thing up and get out of here NOW!!"
But then he realized what he was doing was futile. It was too late; she was officially married to this scarecrow!! Tearing up the document and kicking him out would accomplish nothing. The only way to annul it was to convince him to agree to write a 'get' (bill of divorce).
So he changed his tone. He apologized, sat the young man down, ordered that he be served a meal, tried smiling, speaking softly and finally offered him a hundred rubles in cash (about five year's wages) which he spread out on the table, if he would only write his daughter the necessary document.
But soon he found out that the only one that could convince him to do that was The Magid of Meseritz.
The next day they were standing in the room of the Magid and, although he came because of his daughter, the wealthy man was overwhelmed with the presence of the Magid. Never had he experienced such a thing. Suddenly he understood what it meant that Moses had beams of light coming from his face. Suddenly he had complete faith in this man.
The Maggid spoke. "My friend, the only way you can completely erase the spiritual effect of this marriage so your daughter will not be marked as a divorcee and will be able to find her destined match is to give her new husband the sum of one thousand Rubles. Once that is done he will write the divorce bill and I personally will find her a match that will be agreeable to you.
'A thousand rubles' the rich man whispered to himself. He took out a handkerchief and wiped his forehead. 'Why that is a fortune!' he opened his collar looked the Magid in the eyes and saw he was telling the truth. 'It's done!' he exclaimed. Here is five hundred in cash and a promissory note for the rest.
"Please bring a scribe to write the 'get'". Said the Magid and a half-hour later his daughter was holding the document, the Chassid was holding the cash and the check and the rich man was still wiping his brow, grateful that he had gotten out of a tight situation.
"Now" said the Magid, "Regarding your daughter. I have the perfect match for her."
"Yes?" asked the rich man.
"Just take a look" said the Magid, pointing at the same Chassid. But he looked different.
The second that that money touched his hand he changed. Suddenly he was the very picture of self-confidence and purpose. His posture, his face, even his old clothes suddenly were impressive.
"The only thing he lacked was money." Explained the Magid, "and now that he has it I think that even you will agree that he is the perfect husband for your daughter!"
And so it was.
This answers our question.
This week's section begins with G-d telling Moses to pick 'yourself' people. In other words the spies were supposed to be Moses' people; determined to overcome nature as did the Chassid in our story. And if they would have done so, like the Chassid in our story, they would have become new people with new powers.
Once the Lubavicher Rebbe was asked what he sees is wrong with Reform Judaism and he answered "Their goals are too low." The purpose of Judaism is to change the world and not to be changed by the world.
That was the fault of the spies; they didn't want to change the world. They themselves said it best: "We were like little bugs in our own eyes, and so we were in their eyes." They felt so overwhelmed by nature that they were trapped in the past and present and couldn't make a new future.
Similarly we see today. The Lubavitcher Rebbe said we must prepare for Moshiach. Ours is the generation of Moshiach. We must only open our eyes and see that Moshiach is here. We must live Moshiach and live ONLY for Moshiach.
But this implies creating a future that (apparently) endangers all we've accomplished and built in the past.
Just as Abraham became the first Jew by virtue of his willingness to sacrifice Issac.
But this is what is demanded of us the followers of the Moses of our generation; leave the comfort of our personal (even holy) deserts and make a new, good world through…..
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