This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Pinchas (5763)
This week's section features an unusual sentence. Moses, knowing that he is not to enter the land of Israel, asks G-d to appoint someone to replace him because so that …. "THE CONGREGATION OF G-D WILL NOT BE LIKE SHEEP WITHOUT A SHEPHERD." (27:18)
At first glance this is not a nice thing to say. Why compare the Jews to sheep? In fact why use a metaphor at all? G-d certainly knew that the Jews need a leader, why did Moses have to compare them to anything, and why to animals?
Here is a story that occurred fifty years ago in Brooklyn that might help us understand.
Mr. Brown (not real name), a sixty five year old, Five foot three bespectacled Jew was in a big dilemma and was beginning to get depressed.
For over twenty years his mini-market had been successful. It was in a completely Jewish area and his clients were steady. But then they began either moving or dying out; The Goldmans, the Bernsteins, the Fishers; his best customers were gone, more were preparing to exit and blacks began to move in and he didn't know any of them. His mood dropped, the merchandise wasn't moving off the shelves and when it did he didn't bother to renew it he felt out of place and was losing his desire to wake up in the morning. Things looked bad.
He didn't want to leave, or retire. He had built this store up from nothing but he also felt too old to begin somewhere else anew.
Then one day he opened his newspaper and there was a picture and an article about a Rabbi in Brooklyn called the Lubavitcher Rebbe. According to the article this Rabbi did miracles and gave advice to people…. all for free. He decided to give it a try.
He wrote down the address, took the subway, got off at Kingston and Eastern Parkway, walked up the subway stairs to the busy street and then to the large red-bricked headquarters of the Lubavitcher Chassidim, 770 Eastern Parkway.
Bearded young men with pleasant eyes were bustling around in the halls and the song of Torah-learning in the adjacent rooms filled the air. Someone shook his hand, three people said 'Shalom Alechem' and in no time he was in the office making an appointment, in three weeks he would have a private audience. His mood already began to lift…… there was hope!
Three weeks passed like days. His appointment was scheduled for eleven P.M, he arrived at ten but it wasn't until three in the morning that his turn came. He entered and closed the door behind him.
The Rebbe's large room was brightly lit and unusually quiet. Full bookshelves lined the walls. The Rebbe was seated behind a large, mahogany desk with a few stacks of letters books and papers on the desk before him.
Mr. Brown handed him the letter he had prepared. The Rebbe took it, read it carefully, looked up and asked quietly. "Do you want to leave the store or not?"
Mr. Brown began to explain the pros and cons but when he finished the Rebbe again looked at his letter and asked, "But what do YOU want? Do you want to leave or not?"
"No!" Mr. Brown answered as emphatically as he could. "I don't want to leave. I want to stay. But I'm afraid." The Rebbe waited for him to continue.
"I'm afraid of the blacks and I'm afraid there won't be any customers left. But I don't want to leave. That's why I'm here."
The Rebbe looked at him earnestly, smiled and said. "There is nothing to be afraid of. Don't be afraid of the people. And don't worry about making money; you can make money there also. May G-d bless you and give you much success and good news."
Mr. Brown returned home a new man. He told his wife what the Rebbe had said and early the next morning he went down to the store, began to order new stock, clean the place up and even paint a little. In a week he reopened and sure enough, little by little people began to trickle in. There were more Jews left than he thought and a lot of blacks were friendly and even wanted to buy kosher products. Everything seemed to be working out…
Mr. Brown's picture was in the newspaper! The caption read 'Rabbi Routes Robbers' and there was a picture of him in his mini-market with two huge policemen pointing at the bullet holes in the ceiling followed by an interesting story.
Yesterday night he had just emptied the cash-register and was about to come from behind the counter and close up when two huge men suddenly pushed their way in and closed the door behind them.
One pulled out a gun while the other leaned over the counter and opened the cash register. When they found it empty they began pounding and kicking the counter and even tried to reach over and grab him. But Mr. Brown just took a step back out of their reach and emphatically declared, "Get out of here, the both of you or I'll call the police! You aren't getting a penny!!'
One of them, to prove he meant business, pointed his gun in the air, fired two shots then pointed it at him and began screaming, "Give the money or I'll blow your brains out!! I'll kill you." But it didn't work. Mr. Brown didn't budge. Exactly the opposite, he calmly shook his head no and the robbers got scared. People were gathering outside the door and in the distance a police siren was heard. The robbers looked at one another, pushed open the door knocking a few people over as they went, and fled.
The article concluded with a quote from Mr. Brown explaining how he kept his cool in the face of death;
"Was I afraid? Not at all! I just did what that Lubavitcher Rebbe said. He said that I shouldn't be afraid. So I wasn't afraid. See! He was right! There was nothing to be afraid of! And now my market is famous!!"
It is very unusual that such a great man as the Lubavitcher Rebbe should give so much attention to the welfare of so many simple people. It's like Rabbi Mordechi Eliyahu, the past Chief Rabbi of Israel, said after his visit to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
"I saw that no secret is hidden from him, and I mean that simply and explicitly. He knows all of the Talmud, Poskim (legal precedents) and in the Mystical works his understanding is VERY VERY deep. He is the master of light. He is a master of all the Torah. And is an expert on everything that is happening in Israel. His face shines like an angel of G-d and he himself is higher than any angel. He is the greatest Torah master in our generation and no one is even close to him. And together with this he worries for every Jew in the world."
This is the reason that Moses gave the example of a shepherd and sheep.
A shepherd is on a completely different level of consciousness than his flock; he is human and they are animals. But simultaneously he is totally devoted to benefiting each and every sheep.
In fact, the reason that myriads of sheep can be led by just one shepherd is that the sheep sense that it is for their own good to follow him; that there is something better than sheep mentality.
That is what Moses was requesting from G-d; that the next leader of the Jews should not be just a great guide or a wise teacher but a shepherd; someone on a totally different level than the Jews, yet with the devotion and ability to touch and inspire every single one to new levels of loving the Creator, the Torah and all mankind……… so that they no longer be sheep.
Just like the Lubavitcher Rebbe was on a completely different level as the people, many even believe him to be the Moshiach we have been waiting thousands of years for (see the Moshiach essay at www.ohrtmimim.org/torah) but still was able to inspire myriads of people like Mr. Brown to surpass their own natures (and he is still inspiring them).
True, it's not pleasant to realize you are a sheep, but on the other hand to know it's possible to be raised to the level of Moses (According to Kabala there is a spark of Moses and Moshiach in each of us) and no longer be an animal…. makes it all worth while.
This is the goal of the Jewish people that the Moshiach will accomplish. That the entire world will realize the true oneness of G-d as we say thrice daily in 'Alenu'; "All the dwellers of the earth will know and realize…..there is nothing except G-d." And that each deed of each human is unique, important, irreplaceable and vital to the entire world.
But it all depends on US to make it happen. One more good deed, word, or even thought can tilt the scales and bring……
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