This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Devarim (5763)
This week's section is always read on the Shabbat before the fast day commemorating the most tragic incidents in Jewish history: Tisha B'Av….. the Ninth of Av.
On this date some 3,300 years ago the entire Jewish nation refused to enter the land of Israel and was consequently punished with 40 years of wandering in the desert. Almost nine hundred years later on the same date the first Temple was destroyed and 490 years thereafter the second Temple met the same fate also on Tisha B'Av.
Millions of Jews were killed and the second destruction began the almost 2,000 years of exile and torture that we are suffering till this day.
Appropriately this Shabbat is called Shabbat 'Chazon' after the harsh 'HafTorah' portion we read after the Torah reading from the Vision (Chazon) of prophet Isaiah that reminds us (as do the majority of the sentences in our Torah portion as well) that ALL the misfortunes and disasters that befall the Jews are SOLEY because of our sins. For example 1:4: 'Ho! A nation of sinners, a people laden with sin, an evil seed, criminal children that have abandoned G-d, scorned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs!"
Nevertheless, this Shabbat is supposed to be the happiest of the year! We are supposed to eat meat, drink wine and be even more merry than usual, as though nothing ever happened.
In fact, the famous Chassidic Rebbe, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Breditchev said that on this Shabbat we can actually see a 'VISION' (Chazon) of the Third Temple!!
This is all very hard to understand and even more difficult to actually do; if one feels the awesome horror of these days then how is it possible to be happy just before the worst of them;Tisha B'Av?
To understand, here is a story that happened some 300 years ago in Russia to the holy founder of the Chassidic 'movement', Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem also known as the Baal Shem Tov.
The Baal Shem Tov (Besh't for short) had many pupils and followers and one of them was a great and holy man in his own right, Rabbi Wolfe Kitzes.
This Rab Kitzes was a truly humble man, a servant of G-d, a genius and a genuine pauper. He virtually didn't have a kopek to his name which made his life difficult and marrying off his daughter impossible.
One day the Besh't called Reb Kitzes to his office, and when he arrived the local matchmaker (shadchan) was already standing there holding a list of names in his hand.
Pick one," said the Besh't to Reb Kitzes. "The time has come for your daughter to marry."
Reb Kitzes looked at the list and his eyes widened in horror. "But, but these are the wealthiest families in the..." He stammered as he looked up almost in tears. But the Besh't just stared at him. So with no other choice he made his choice and the shadchan set off to the city where the prospective in-laws lived to finalize the match.
Everything went smoothly; the family agreed to the match, a dowry of two thousand rubles (a small fortune) was agreed upon that the Rabbi would pay their son before the wedding, they shook hands, made a toast, l'chiam, and the shadchan returned to the Besh't and his follower with the good news.
But, when Rabbi Kitzes heard the news he had trouble being happy. It was a custom for the groom to send gifts to the bride, before even sending the dowry, and he had nothing to his name. He'd been wearing the same shoes for twenty years, where would he find money to send gifts no less the immense dowry?
Two weeks later he received a letter from the father of the groom asking why he hadn't received the customary gifts and hoping that everything was all right.
Rabbi Kitzes ran to the Baal Shem with the letter but all he got from the master was a vague smile and an assurance not to worry.
Then, two weeks after that another letter arrived demanding an explanation. Why had they ignored the previous letter?! But when the Baal Shem saw it he reacted just as calmly as the first time.
A month later the third letter arrived; the groom's father was really angry. If a reply was not received immediately the engagement was off. Reb Kitzes read it again and again and each time became more depressed; he desperately wanted the match but he also couldn't stop being realistic. Maybe it was better to just call the whole thing off. But on the other hand this is what the Besh't told him to do. He was confused.
He took the letter to the Besh't.
This time the Besh't said that he should write back, apologize for the delay and invite the groom and his entire family to Mezibuz (the city of the Besh't) to rejoice together with the Besh't several days before the wedding at which time all the gifts and moneys would be paid in full. Rab Kitzes' spirits rose a bit. But two days later they came crashing down to reality!!
Two days later he received a letter saying they were on their way!
Suddenly it hit him full force. True, he should have more faith. True, Chassidim are supposed to always be happy! True, he should have more trust in the Rebbe and in G-d. But what would happen if...things just stayed the way they are?! After all, who was he that G-d should make him a miracle? He had been poor all his life, why should things be different now?
With a heavy heart he walked slowly, letter in hand, to show it to the Besh't and ask for more encouragement. As he was walking a stranger stopped him in the street and asked for directions to the Baal Shem Tov because he needed a blessing. "Come, I'm going there myself." He replied and they walked silently together, both sunk in their own problems.
When they reached the house and entered they were both ushered into the Baal Shem's office.
The Besh't asked them to be seated and, seemingly ignoring Reb Kitzes, turned to the stranger and said, "I would like to tell you a story. Is that alright with you?" Surprised by the question the stranger shook his head in agreement and the master began.
"About fifteen years ago a certain rich Jewish businessman from the Ukraine was on his way home on a long journey in his personal carriage, with his personal driver. He was returning from Prussia where he had just made a small fortune, about forty thousand rubles, on a lumber deal. He tucked the money under his seat and despite the noise and the bumpy ride drowsed off to sleep, satisfied with his success.
"Suddenly he woke abruptly; the wagon had stopped in the middle of a forest! He opened the door and shouted out to the driver if everything was all right and when there was no answer he got out of the carriage to have a look for himself.
"But no sooner did his feet touch the ground then his 'trusted' driver jumped from behind him, pushed him to a tree, tied his hands and feet and, waiving a sharp hatchet in the air, threatened to kill him if he didn't hand over all the money immediately.
"He pleaded with the driver to leave him at least some of the fortune but when he saw that he meant business he told him where in the carriage he had hidden it. The driver tied him to the tree, went inside the carriage, found the money, climbed back on the wagon, took the reins in his hands, then paused a moment, climbed back down walked over to the bound Jew and announced.
"'I've decided to kill you! If I leave you alive for sure you'll go to the police."
"The poor businessman wailed, begged and promised but the thief just declared mockingly 'You can shout as loud as you want, Jew. We are so deep in the forest no one will ever hear you.. Or find you!! I'm giving you ten seconds to pray' and yelled out 'Ten! Nine! Eight!....
"The Jew began to weep bitterly. He prayed to G-d with all his might and even swore that if he was saved he would give a tenth of all his wealth to the poor, even a half.. Even everything!!"
"Suddenly a rifle shot rang out! The Jew opened his eyes to see the driver standing with his hands raised above his head yelling 'don't shoot'. The overseer of the lands had 'happened' to be passing by and, hearing the commotion decided to see for himself. G-d answered his prayers!! He had been saved!!
"Yes, it was the miracle he had prayed for," continued the Besh't. "But unfortunately weeks later, after he returned home and all the confusion and joy died down, he completely forgot his vow. Not only that but because he by nature was a stingy person even that did not change."
"Years passed. The Jew was blessed with children, a beautiful girl and boy, but he refused to open his heart or hand to the poor; every time he found another excuse not to give charity. Even when, several years ago, his daughter became sick and tragically died he did not connect it to his vow.
"Now, just weeks ago his son also became similarly ill and when the doctors gave up hope he heard about me and decided to come here for a blessing. And that's the end of the story."
Before the Besh't could say another word the stranger yelled out "OY, OY!!! It was ME!! It was me!! I completely forgot about that vow in the forest! Oy! OY! That was me!!"
"It's not too late" The Besh't replied. "Don't worry. I'm not going to ask you to give all your wealth or even half. Give ten percent as you first vowed. Here!" he pointed to Reb Kitzes, "Give him the four thousand rubles you promised"
The stranger gave him the money right then and there. The Besh't invited him to stay for the wedding and a week later when the wedding was in progress the stranger received a letter that his son had fully recovered.
Perhaps this answers our questions.
In the Medrash (Peticha d'Eicha Raba 9) it says that when the High priest would enter the Holy of Holies every Yom Kippur he could tell if G-d was angry with His people or not; If G-d was pleased, the two Keruvim (golden statues of children's faces with outstretched wings built on lid of the Ark) would be facing one another, and if not, they would be looking away.
Interestingly when the Babylonians destroyed the first Temple and entered the Holy of Holies the Keruvim were not only facing they were embracing!
The reason for this is the same reason that Reb Kitzes should have rejoiced even before he got the money... because often the only way to reveal 'light' is by preceding it with darkness. Sometimes G-d reveals His love by first removing what we have and what we think is good.
And just like in our story, the more Zev Kitzes felt how desperate and hopeless things seem; the CLOSER the miracles really were.
And that is why we should rejoice this Shabbat. Because the true redemption; the arrival of Moshiach and the beginning of a new wondrous era; an era which is void of hatred and suffering and full of meaning, joy and blessing, although it had to be preceded by almost 2,000 years of pain and suffering is MUCH closer than we think. Indeed it can come only through the darkness and desperation caused by the destruction of our Temples and 2,000 years of exile. But now things are about to change.
In fact, if we look……. we can actually see the Third Temple.
But it all depends on us!! We are standing on the shoulders of thousands of years of Jewish self-sacrifice for Torah and Mitzvot.
Now, just one more good deed, word or even thought can tip the scales and, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe said, "we will open our eyes and see...
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