This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.
Parshat Chukat-Balak (5763)
In the first of this week's two action-packed portions we find the law of the Red Heifer, the deaths of Miriam and Aaron, Moses' punishment for striking of the rock, the miraculous victory over Amorites and more. And in the second portion we read how G-d forced Bilaam the anti-Semitic, arch-sorcerer into blessing the Jews.
Regarding Miriam and Aaron the Torah tells us that when they died two miracles: the water that miraculously flowed from a rock for 40 years and the clouds of glory that protected them from danger and difficulty, suddenly stopped.
The Talmud explains (Taanit 9a see Rashi 20:2, 21:1) that this was no coincidence. The water had flowed in the merit of Miriam and the clouds surrounded them in the merit of Aaron; when they died, these miracles ceased as well.
But at first glance this is very hard to understand.
G-d loves the Jewish people. That is why He chose them from all the nations, took them from Egypt gave them the Torah and told them to travel in the desert to and enter Israel.
So how could He remove their water and all their protection in the deadly desert? And why do it just because two Tzadikim (righteous Jews) passed away? What is the connection?
Not only that, what does it mean that these miracles were in the 'merit' of Aaron and Miriam; isn't G-d in charge of miracles? How can they depend on people? And don't the entire Jewish people have enough 'merits' on their own?
And finally what connection, if any, does this have to the story about Bilam.
To understand this here are three short stories about the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe; the holy Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Shneerson.. Whose birthday and day he was released from prison is on the 12th of Tammuz (this Shabbat).
When the communists took over Russia the situation was almost identical to that of the Spanish inquisition some four hundred years earlier but far worse.
Teaching Judaism in any form was punishable by death, not sending one's children to the State schools was punishable by death, aiding or abetting any Jewish ritual was punishable by death, even speaking unflatteringly about the 'party' was punishable by death. Chassidim told me that people were afraid to THINK against Stalin and that one day a half million people simply disappeared from the streets.
Jews either left Russia, went into hiding like Marranos, or simply left Judaism altogether and became communists. (who eventually were 'purged' as well).
But the Rebbe walked right through this wall of hellfire and, completely ignoring all danger, established a huge network of secret Torah schools and spread pro-active Chassidim throughout Russia to encourage and teach true Torah Judaism.
I heard from my teacher Rabbi Abba Pliskin of blessed memory that the Rebbe succeeded in inspiring most of his Chassidim to even wear beards and Tzitzis openly. The Chassidim were caught, imprisoned and sent to Siberia. Then the Rebbe himself was caught, imprisoned and sent to Siberia, but they still continued their holy work.
Rabbi Mendel Futerfass told me that at a meeting one of the Chassidim began by asking if anything could be done for his sister who was in particularly desperate shape. "Excuse me!" the Rebbe reprimanded him. "We have come here to save all the Jews in Russia… not to talk about our personal problems"
In the course of that same meeting a well know doctor who repeatedly risked his life to save other Jews reported proudly how many people he had helped. The Rebbe turned to him and said sadly. "Doctor, I'm really disappointed. True you have helped many people, but believe me it’s less than a tenth of what you could do."
The present Lubavitcher Rebbe once explained that according to the Torah it was completely forbidden for the Previous Rebbe to risk his life and the lives of his Chassidim in order to spread and teach Judaism. There are a limited number of cases that it is permissible to risk one's life and teaching Torah is not one of them.
But, he explained, the Previous Rebbe cared nothing for his own welfare.He was interested only in saving all Russian Jewry, especially the children, from ignorance and assimilation and was more than willing to lose not only this world but his world-to-come as well to accomplish that goal.
The story of the Rebbe's arrest, torture and miraculous release are written in many Chabad publications but three episodes stand out in my mind.
First: Immediately after being arrested (by Jewish communists) he made a firm resolution in his mind that he would pay no attention to his captors, as though they posed no threat to him at all. Several days later after he had been exposed to the murder and sadism of the prison, he was taken into a room and ordered to sign certain papers. As per his resolution he paid no attention to the demand and was beaten. But still he remained unmoved. Furious, one of the interrogators pulled out a pistol, put it to the Rebbe's head and said, "This little toy has convinced everyone to do what we say."
This fellow, like all the other prison staff, was a murderer and there was absolutely no reason for him not to simply pull the trigger. He had obviously done so many times before.
The Rebbe replied matter-of-factly, "That 'toy' scares people like you that have only one world and many gods (desires, urges etc.). But I have one G-d and two worlds (physical and spiritual) so it has no effect on me."
The guard unexplainably did nothing.
The second story: After a few days the Rebbe fate was sealed. He was found guilty of subversion (The police called the Chabad movement 'Shneersonskis' knowing that the Rebbe was the cause of it all) and was sentenced to death.
But suddenly, through world pressure, the sentence was unexplainably commuted to three years in Siberian exile.
Then, even more unexplainably, he was given special permission to leave the jail three days early, visit his family for several hours in Lubavitch and then travel, at his own expense, to Kastroma his town of exile.
This was a true miracle. Every instant in the prison was a true danger to his life; he was easy prey for the anti-Semitic guards and prisoners. Hundreds of Jews 'disappeared' or 'died' daily and he could easily be one of them.
But to everyone's amazement as soon as he realized that according to their itinerary he would have to travel on Shabbat, he refused to leave until after the Shabbos!! (Probably the only time in history that anyone refused to leave a communist jail!). He actually stayed three more days in that hell.
But the Rebbe was determined to show even his evil G-dless captors that the Torah, not Stalin, is the boss of the world. And that they were powerless against the Torah.
(The Present Rebbe explained that the previous Rebbe was determined to correct Moses' mistake of striking the rock and not 'sanctifying G-d's Name'. So he refused to violate the Shabbos although he could easily have excused himself because he resolved not do anything that could be even interpreted by the gentiles as selfishly motivated.
The third story took place that Sunday that he boarded the train to leave the prison. We must remember that the Rebbe was imprisoned for teaching non-communist doctrines and everyone connected to him was immediately suspected of the same.
Nevertheless a large crowd of people threw caution to the winds and came to see him off. They could not forego the opportunity of drawing inspiration from the Rebbe.
Just moments before the train left, the Rebbe made a stirringly emotional and revolutionary speech;
Here is a translation (from Yiddish) of some of what he said.
"…… We must make one thing known to all the nations that are on the face of the earth: That only our bodies are in exile and servitude to the gentiles but our souls never entered exile and were never servants to the other nations.
"We must announce and advertise before the entire world that anything that relates to our Jewish religion; the Torah, the commandments and even the customs can never be changed by opinions. We Jews have no outside forces or opinions that can change us. We must declare with the greatest Jewish stubbornness with thousands of years of Jewish self-sacrifice 'Never touch my anointed and my prophets do not harm'.
"We must pray that G-d give us the proper strength to not be affected in any way by these physical tribulations but rather to treat them with joy! That every, G-d forbid, punishment we receive for opening a children's school, teaching Torah or doing the commandments should give us more enthusiasm in our holy task of strengthening Judaism. Remember! The jails and concentration camps are temporary. But Torah, the Commandments and the Jewish people are eternal….
"May my imprisonment bring new enthusiasm in the eternal power of Torah and Mitzvot. May it be fulfilled the sentence 'G-d be with us as He was with our Forefathers, neither leave nor abandon us' and to all the Jewish people will be blessing and light both physically and spiritually."
In other words; to a crowd filled with informers and secret police he exhorted Russian Jewry to continue the very 'subversive' work that he was imprisoned for!
Miracle upon miracle; rather than serving three years (or getting a more severe sentence) he was actually released eight days later! This day, the twelfth of Tammuz, is celebrated by Chabad Chassidim as a major step in the Redemption of the Jewish people. It was the first serious crack in the Iron Curtain which collapsed totally sixty years later (as the Present Rebbe predicted years before its fall).
This answers our questions.
The Jewish people are chosen, they are special or to put it simply; all mankind is part of the creation …. Jews are part of the Creator.
But, as the Previous Rebbe so clearly personified, their uniqueness obligates them to act and even think differently than the rest of the world (as the Rebbe taught in his works of Chassidut). To begin with; each and every Jew must be perpetually aware that G-d and G-d alone creates, directs and sustains the entire world constantly.
But that is only the beginning. They then must put meaning and blessing into it all through the proper use of the Torah and its commandments.
This is certainly a difficult and total job effecting every moment and aspect of life. But on the other hand it is the most rewarding and meaningful job possible; being an active partner with the Creator of the Universe!
That is why the clouds and water departed with the death of these Tzadikim. G-d was sending the Jews a message that it's a partnership; His protection and sustenance come as a RE-action to our deeds…. And the only ones that are completely in tune with this; the only ones that really put blessing and meaning into the world, are Tzadikim and leaders of each generation. It is from them we must take an example of how to express our Judaism.
But what if the Jewish people DON'T take the example?
That is the lesson of Parshat Balak: Even if the Jews don't deserve it… even if they don't learn from the Tzadikim…G-d will protect them anyway.
Just as G-d alone protected us from the curses of Biliam.
Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than here in Israel today; while the 'Government' is constantly doing all it can to remove the protective clouds and life-giving water (water is Torah) from the Jewish citizens, G-d nevertheless protects us from all sides with CONSTANT MIRACLES. And its all a preparation for …….
Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.