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Parshat Devarim (5761)

In this weeks Parsha, just before Moshe dies he criticised the Jewish people in great detail for the trouble they made for him in the desert.

At first glance this seems strange:

First of all, the Jews had already been punished for their transgressions immediately after they did them, why couldn't Moshe just let bygones be bygones?

Second, Moshe was speaking here to a new generation, not the one that sinned. Why chastise them for sins they didn't even do?

And finally, what does all this mean today? After all, if the Jews sinned back then after G-d personally warned them on Sinai, then how can a 3,000-year-old reproof possibly deter us?

Here is a story to help understand.

Fival was a simple Jew. He had a little farm in the Polish countryside and lived a meagre life with his wife and four children. But he had a dream.

From the minute he heard about the Baal Shem Tov he longed to see him. For years he saved and scrimped until he finally this year he had enough for the journey and to hold his family till he returned.

The weather smelled of winter. It was the Jewish month of Elul the month of "Tshuva" (spiritual return). Then there would be the month of Tishrai; Rosh Hashanah! Yom Kippur! Succot!! Hundreds, even thousands of Chassidim would be there together; learning, praying, hearing the words of the Holy Besht, and seeing his holy face. He couldn’t wait!!

After a five-day journey cramped in a wagon with ten other Chassidim he finally arrived in the town of Mezibuz.

What he heard was right! Even the sky and the air were different here; every molecule seemed to be shouting, 'Rosh HaShanna is coming!! The King of the Universe is near!!'

He was so excited! Everyone was heading into the Shul (Synagogue) and he followed, suitcase in hand. In another minute he would see him!! He would see the Baal Shem Tov in person!!

But he was to be in for a big surprise.

The room was packed with hundreds of Chassidim when suddenly everyone became silent; the Rebbe was entering!

The Besht appeared from a side door, gave a quick penetrating look around the room and suddenly his eyes fixed on Fival.

Fival was in awe. This was the moment he had been waiting for! But why was he staring at him? Everything was dreamlike; he vaguely felt that he was the centre of attention, but all he saw was the master’s eyes gazing deeply at him. Suddenly the Besht lowered his head in deep thought, or perhaps prayer, then looked up once again and called out "Fival!! Fival!! Fool!! Idiot!! What are you doing here?"

The silence was deafening, the Chassidim were afraid to breathe. Something very strange was going on, something was very wrong.

"Aren't you ashamed of yourself!?" exclaimed the Besht, "How dare you come into a holy place like this!!!"

Fival was confused, his head was spinning, he tried to move but there was nowhere to go.

"Leave!!" Shouted the Besht, "Leave here immediately!!!"

He started moving backwards, afraid to turn his back on the Holy man but afraid to stay even another second, his heart was thumping and a cold sweat clung to his forehead.

He felt the door at his back, turned the knob and stumbled outside, back first, into the street. He was crying, disorientated, he stood up, brushed himself off and walked zombie-like over to the carriage stand, paid for the five day journey home, climbed in and was on his way back in a dizzy stupor.

After a few hours the wagon stopped. "What’s this?" he asked, "Why are we stopping?"

"What! Never rode in a wagon before, Jew?" answered the driver, "It's night-time, we can't travel at night! Here, look outside. See? It's night and here's the inn. See? We've stopped at an inn."

Poor Fival was so bewildered by his encounter with the Besht he didn't notice anything. He got out of the carriage still clutching his old suitcase and dragged himself into the inn.

To sleep was out of the question, he was trying to digest what had happened. He sat at table in a corner, ordered a beer and tried to remember, maybe he did do some sort of sin… maybe it was a punishment. It's true he didn't learn much Torah. But that couldn't be what the Besht expelled him for; the Besht loved every creation of G-d, especially every Jew!

He vaguely heard the sound of another carriage stopping, and then joyous singing from outside. It got louder and louder until the inn door burst open and a group of Chassidim came pouring in; they were just hours away from the Besht, loud and happy.

"Give us Vodka!" Sang one of the group, "Tomorrow we'll be with the Rebbe!!"

"Ooy!" Groaned poor Fival bitterly, "Ooy! "The Rebbe"!" And he began to weep quietly to himself.

Fival was sure that the Chassidim didn't notice him sitting in the shadows. He watched as they pushed a few tables together, sat down, and began pouring small cups of Vodka for one another, making l'chayims, saying words of Torah and singing.

But all this joy only made poor Fival more depressed. Head drooping, he was looking down at the table when suddenly he felt two Chassidim grab him under the arms, lift him to his feet and pull him over to their table.

He tried to resist, to protest, to beg them to leave him alone, but to no avail. They had decided that he must be one of the Misnagdim (opposers to the Rebbe) and that they had an obligation to transform him.

It wasn't long before they forced him to take a drink and say l'chayim with them, then another and in another few minutes he too was singing and dancing and the hours passed like minutes.

"Aha!! What was that? The Rooster crowed! It is already dawn!"

The Chassidim paid for the drinks, piled back into the wagon, (accompanied by a very drunk Fival still clutching his old suitcase) shouted, "We're going to the Rebbe!!" and began another song.

Five hours later they were in Mezibuz, out of the wagon and on their way to the Baal Shem’s Shul. Two of them had their arms under Fival's and were "carrying" him with them.

"Ahh yes!!" mumbled Fival, not realising that he was back in the exact same room that the Besht evicted him from less than 24 hours ago.

Suddenly the room fell silent, the side door opened, the Baal Shem entered the room and his eye again caught Fival. Fival looked up, his eyes met the Baal Shem's, and at that instant it was like someone threw a bucket of freezing water on him.

He snapped to rigid attention, and then began changing colors; red from shame, white from fear, green from dizziness, he wanted to run, to back out the door but he was too confused.

"Welcome Fival!!" Shouted the Tzadik (Holy man) "My beloved Fival! Where have you been?! How I've worried about you!!"

Now Fival was really mixed up. His mind was spinning like a merry-go-round "What's going on here?" He thought to himself "Maybe yesterday never happened, or maybe now I'm dreaming!!" Then the Besht beckoned him to come and the Chassidim moved aside making a path for him.

He took Fival’s hand and explained,

"My dear Fival, you didn't know it but yesterday when you entered, the Angel of Death entered with you; I knew that you wouldn't live to see Rosh Hashanah.

I tried praying for mercy but to no avail; it had been decreed in heaven that your time had come. I had to act fast; it is known that embarrassing someone is public is like killing him, I thought that maybe shaming you would fulfil the heavenly decree, but it didn't; the angel was now dancing over your head.

So I thought to myself, maybe with the angel of death you have to be smart:

I figured that if I tell you to leave you'll probably catch the first carriage back home and your home is a five day journey so you will have to
stop at an inn at night. When you get to that inn I reasoned that you probably wouldn't want to sleep, so you'd probably sit awake at one of the tables all night.

Now, the Chassidim on their way here also won't be able to travel at night and will have to stop at that inn as well and they also won't be able to sleep because they'll be too happy. But for sure they won't be able to bear seeing someone sad like you and probably they will try to cheer you up by making you sit with them and have a little vodka. Now when the Chassidim drink vodka they don't just make a blessing, they say "L’Chayim" which means To Life! Right?

Maybe you don't know it, Fival, but according to the Torah when three observant Jews sit together they have the power of a Judicial Court. In other words, when they all raised their cups to you and declared: "To Life!" this was like a legal decision for life that overrode the power of the previous Heavenly decree (because the Torah was given to humans, not angels).

And I see that it worked: the angel of death has departed. Welcome to Mezibuz!!"

This answers our question:

Moshe reproved the Jews for the same reason the Besht reproved Fival - to save them.

His reproof wasn't necessarily because of sins that they themselves had done but rather to remove from them the major problem of the Jewish people. The lack of brotherly love.

This love is so important that Rabbi Akiva, the greatest of Jewish Sages, said that it is: "The Main Idea of the Torah". And when it is lacking,
everything is lacking. In fact, that is what caused the destruction of the Second Temple and the terrible exile that we suffer to this very day!

The reason that it is so important is that the world depends on the Jews observing the Torah and the only way all the Jews can possibly observe the Torah, what with all the difficulties, is if they help each other.

And that takes true love. True love means to HELP your fellow man do what the Creator wants, and what He wants is that Jews keep the Torah.

Only then will it be possible for them and the entire world to receive all of G-d's blessings; the building of the Third Temple the gathering of all
the Jews to the Holy Land and eventually the end of war, disease, suffering and even the raising of the dead.

Just as the "L'Chayim" said lovingly by the Chassidim removed the evil decree from Fival, so the reproof of Moshe came to add love and brotherhood. And that is why we need Moshiach; to finish the job that Moshe started and inspire such love.

This is the main message of the Lubavitcher Rebbe: Reach out! Help another person to do what G-d wants and bring....

Moshiach NOW!!

Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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