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 Matot-Massei (5760)
This week we read a double portion; the first begins with some of the laws concerning vows and the second with a list of the forty-two journeys the Jews made in the Desert after they left Egypt.
We can understand the connection between them by first telling a story.
Shraga Farber was a wealthy businessman and a bit of a Torah Scholar to boot but he scoffed at the Chassidim. Nevertheless although he made fun of every Baal Shem Tov story he heard, something inside him told him that he must travel to Mezibuz, where the Baal Shem lived, and see for himself.
It was a two-day trip, but when he finally arrived, secured a private audience and entered the Besht’s room he was anything but impressed. The man that everyone called a great, holy Tzaddik looked and acted pretty much like everyone else. It didn’t take long until he decided that he had been right all along, there was nothing for him here. He waited for a pause in the conversation, stood up, shook the Besht’s hand, thanked him for his time and explained that he had to catch his train.
The Baal Shem escorted him to the door, gave him a blessing that he find a good job and a new house, handed him a sealed letter and asked him if he would please do him a favor and deliver it the next time he visited Minsk. “That is weird” the rich man thought to himself as the door was closing behind him, “Why did he bless me with a job and a house?” He looked the letter and saw it was addressed to: “Mr. Samuels the Mayor of the Jewish sector of Minsk”, slipped it into his jacket pocket and chuckled uneasily to himself, “What, does he think I am, his postman?!” as he walked quickly to the train station.
A few days later he arrived back home, put the letter on some shelf and promptly forgot the entire matter.
Twenty years passed. The Baal Shem had passed away, Mr. Forbes had aged a bit and his luck had taken a change for the worse. He was no longer the self-confident millionaire of years ago. Financial setback after setback had brought him to the point of actually selling the furniture in his house to salvage something from his foreclosed mortgage. As he was moving a cabinet suddenly he noticed a letter that fell to the ground. He picked it up and began weeping; it was the letter that the Besht had given him to deliver twenty years ago!
“Don’t weep Shraga”, his wife comforted him, “The Chassidim say that it is never too late. I think that you should travel to Minsk and deliver the letter; perhaps the Mayor is still alive, maybe your luck will change.” A week later he arrived in the Jewish quarter of Minsk to find the streets decorated for a festivity. A hundred tables were set with fruit and cakes, a small band was tuning up and a huge banner was tied to opposite sides of the street saying: “MAZAL TOV MAYOR SAMUELS!!”; a new mayor was being sworn in!
Our hero asked to meet the new mayor and was directed to a young well-dressed man. “Mr. Samuels? Congratulations! I have a letter for your father, the previous mayor, from the Baal Shem Tov” “My father?” asked Samuels as he took the letter, “From the holy Baal Shem Tov? But my father was not the previous mayor; the previous mayor was called Blumfield. And the mayor before him was called Goldman”.
He opened the letter and read: “Dear Mr. Samuels, Mazal Tov on your appointment as Mayor! The man standing before you is honest and intelligent. He was once very wealthy and successful, please make use of him and provide him with an income and a house, I guarantee that you will not be disappointed. Sincerely Yisroel Baal Shem.”
How could the Besht know that Mr. Farber would become poor and forget the letter until the inauguration day of the new mayor twenty years later?
One of the explanations is that everyone’s soul has to go through the 42 journeys (even if it takes several incarnations), and the Besht was able to see all these journeys before they happened.
The great Tzadik Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk related that once the Maggid of Mezeritch (the main pupil, and successor of the Besht) told each of his disciples allegorical stories explaining each of their pasts and futures according to these journeys. “Each of us understood some of the metaphors” he said, “but the only one that really understood everything was Sheur Zalman” (the first Rebbe of Chabad and the author of the book ‘Tanya’).
It is no wonder, therefore, that ‘The Tanya’ is the only book ever written that completely explains what is a Jew, what is his special purpose in creation and how exactly to carry out this purpose.
The Tanya explains that life, like our first Torah portion, begins with an oath.
Every soul is made to swear before entering this world, “Be a Tzadik and not a Rasha”; namely to be completely devoted only to G-d and not even consider transgressing His will.
This oath attaches the inner (‘G-dly’) soul of each Jew, to the outer (Natural) soul, giving each Jew the ability to do, speak, think and even feel (love etc.) what the Creator wants.
Just as when a person takes an oath to, for instance, stop smoking, the oath gives him power and drive to ignore all distractions and focus only on his goal, similarly the oath taken before birth gives each of us to the urge and the power to focus on moving ever nearer to G-d and His Torah.
Therefore this oath is also the secret of the 42 journeys.
The mystical books explain that the number 42 is derived from one of the names of G-d, which manifests itself in each of us (because we are made in G-d’s image) as an insatiable drive to move ‘upward’ closer to the Creator; closer to truth, just like the oath we spoke of.
In this deeply personal sense, the 42 journeys beginning with the Exodus from ‘Mitzraim’ and culminating with ‘Yardain Yereacho’ take on a new importance.
‘Leaving Egypt’ (Mitzraim) means constantly leaving all boundaries (Mitzarim), even the spiritual levels acquired yesterday. And both ‘Yarden’ and ‘Yeraicho’ allude to the last stop; the revelation of Moshiach.
‘Yarden’ because it says of him “He will rule (Yared) from sea to sea (Thilim 72:8),
‘Yereacho’ because he will Judge by his sense of smell (Reach Vadiin).
In other words the purpose of our lives is to bring Moshiach who will be a true leader and a true judge (two things sorely lacking today) to correct the entire world.
This week’s combined portions are reminding us that it all depends on our doing these two things; keeping the oath and completing our 42 journeys to bring Moshiach NOW!
Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.