This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Va'etchanan (5763)
This week's section is named after a very discouraging event. Moses begged (Vaetchanan) G-d to let him enter Israel; he prayed five hundred and fifteen prayers (the numerical value of the letters of 'Vatchanan), and G-d refused!
Why does the Torah even tell us this depressing message no less than an entire weekly portion after it?
If such a worthy person as Moses with such a worthy request as entering Israel was refused 515 times (because of the misdemeanor of striking the
rock!!) then what chance do we have? Why should we pray at all?!
The word "Torah" means instruction. What is the Torah trying to tell us here?
To help answer this here is a story:
A few days before Rosh HaShanna some 40 years ago (1963) a middle aged Jewish couple were riding in their car near Atlantic City New Jersey with their three and a half year old grandson Yakov-Shumel. The details aren't clear but suddenly another car came from nowhere and the next instant their car and their lives were demolished. The man was killed instantly and his wife and grandson were rushed to the hospital in critical condition.
The father of the child, Rabbi Gimple Ormland an orthodox Rabbi in a nearby Synagogue, was notified, and when he arrived and saw his unconscious son he almost fainted. The boy's face was mangled beyond recognition and tens of tubes and wires twisted crazily from his body to various machines that were
beeping and pulsing all around his bed.
Moments later his wife also arrived. It was after three in the morning when the doctor in charge, Professor Springer who also happened to be Jewish, took them both into the hall and said solemnly. "I don't want you to fool yourselves. Your son has no chance to live. Tomorrow evening begins two days of Rosh HaShanna, correct? And all that time burial is forbidden, correct? So take my advice. I understand that your wife's father was also killed in the accident and his funeral will be tomorrow - try to delay the funeral for a few hours. It's a shame that your son should go unburied for two full days."
"Rabbi Ormland was beside himself with grief but he was beginning to accept the worst. Then Mr. Gelman, the president of a neighboring Synagogue appeared. He had heard of the tragedy and came to help. And when he heard the prognosis he offered his advice.
"Listen Rabbi, I know that you aren't a fan of the Chassidim but if you ask me, your only chance is to contact the Lubavitcher Rebbe."
Rabbi Ormland was not too fond of Lubavitch. He had learned in Yeshiva Teferet Tzion in Bnei Brak where hating Chabad was an axiom of Judaism, and he instinctively refused. But when Mr. Gelman pointed out that the Rebbe had helped in similar cases and it was his only hope, he ran to the phone and called New York.
The Rebbe's secretary Rabbi Hodakov answered, heard his story and told him to wait on the line. A minute later he returned and said "The Rebbe said to call back in an hour."
"An hour!!??" Yelled Gimple Ormland. "My son won't be alive in an hour!! I want to talk to the Rebbe NOW!"
Rav Hodakov paused a moment and began to laugh!!
"What are you laughing about?" Rav Gimple shouted, "My son is dying! Why are you laughing?? "Why?" Answered the Rebbe's secretary. "Because if you don't believe in what the Rebbe says. then why did you call in the first place?"
"I'll call in an hour" he replied.
Meanwhile his son's condition rapidly deteriorated and, because his case was classified as hopeless, he was moved from the intensive care room to.... the room before the morgue.
Exactly one hour later he called the Rebbe again. It was five in the morning. This time the secretary told him to wait, and after a few seconds the unmistakable voice of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on the came on other end of the line and said four words to him in Yiddish that would forever echo in his memory:
"DI GEZERA IES 'OVER' !" (The Decree has passed!).
"Now you must do three things." The Rebbe continued
"First, add the name 'Ben-Tzion' to your son.
Second, give the amount of one thousand eight hundred dollars to charity, but not one penny of that money should be given to any institution of Lubavitch. If you don't have it to hand, borrow." (The third thing remains a secret).
Then the Rebbe requested that he ask the Professor to call him to receive instructions.
Rav Ormland suddenly became calm. Suddenly he felt that his friend was right, there is hope. He asked, "Rebbe, on Rosh HaShanna should I stay here? Is it all right for me to leave the hospital for Rosh HaShanna and be the cantor on in my Synagogue as every year?"
"You pray in the Shul and ask G-d for a good year." The Rebbe replied. "Your wife will stay in the hospital but she must make an effort to hear the Shofar. Also she should try to encourage another woman there to also hear the Shofar as well. This will be an additional merit."
The entire thing was unearthly. Firstly, the name 'Ben Tzion' was the name of his wife's deceased grandfather that was supposed to have been given to the child three and a half years ago! But when Rabbi Ormland's father suddenly passed he suddenly decided to name the child after him instead (which caused his wife much grief).
Secondly, although the doctor, as could be expected, at first refused to call the Rebbe; (what could an old Rabbi that never studied medicine possibly tell him?) when he finally agreed the Rebbe told him, among other things, to put the child's head in the freezer for a period of time! And even more amazing he actually followed the Rebbe's advice and it saved the child's life!
Rabbi Gimple Ormland added the name, borrowed money and gave to charity and took the Rebbe's advice about Rosh HaShanna as well. He left his wife at the hospital, and, as can be imagined, never prayed with such fervor or devotion in his life.
On the second day of the holiday as he was standing on the podium about to sound the Shofar the sextant approached him and whispered in his ear "The hospital just sent me word that your son is out of danger."
Immediately after the holiday he rushed back to the hospital to see that it was true; most of the tubes and wires had been removed and their son was breathing regularly. He was out of danger! But, as a vegetable.
His brain had suffered too much damage; he would never regain consciousness, and even if he did he would be blind, deaf, mute and paralyzed for the rest of his life. That is what all the doctors said and after a few days he was moved from the hospital to a special rehabilitation center for hopeless patients. At least he was alive.
Two months later a Chabad Chassid by the name of Rabbi Yosef Weinberg came to Atlantic City for a few days to aid in the building of a Mikva. He stayed at Rab Gimple's home and it wasn't long before he heard his story and made the obvious suggestion that he come to one of the Rebbe's public speeches called 'Farbrengens'.
A month later he was standing, pressed in with several hundred Chassidim, on the large stage near to where the Rebbe was seated before thousands of his followers. The Rebbe spoke a long, deep and interesting dissertation and when he stopped, everyone began filling small cups with vodka and holding them up in the air till the Rebbe noticed them and said 'L'Chaim'.
The Rebbe then poured a bit of wine from his cup into a large bottle of vodka before him, turned to Rabbi Ormland and motioned for him to take a big cup and hold it out for him to fill it with vodka. The cup filled rapidly till overflowing but the Rebbe kept pouring saying, "It will soon pour
(blessings) by you. Now say Le'Chiam!"
The Rabbi, who had never drunk much alcohol in his life, complied with great difficulty. But after he finished he saw that the Rebbe hadn't finished with him.
He ordered him to hold his cup out again. Again he held it out, the Rebbe filled it with vodka and motioned him 'bottoms up'.
Gimple's head was spinning, he felt heavy, but somehow he finished it to the end. The Rebbe motioned for him to fill the cup a third time.
A few months ago he would never have even considered taking the first sip...in fact he never would have set foot in this place! And now here he was; the serious honorable Rabbi Gimple Ormland drinking vodka, on stage, before thousands of Chassidim!
When he was in the middle of the third cup the Rebbe suddenly announced for all to hear.
"The Alter Rebbe (the first Rebbe of Chabad and author of the 'Tanya' over 200 years ago) is HERE. My father in law (the previous Rebbe who brought Chabad to the USA and passed away in 1950) is HERE. Now you can get what you want. Why don't you ask!? Why are you quiet!!?"
Rabbi Gimple screamed at the top of his lungs; "My son Yaakov Shmuel ben-Tzion is a vegetable. I ask for a blessing that he become completely HEALED!!"
The Rebbe smiled, nodded his head and said quietly, "Don't forget to finish the cup. And remember to inform me when there is good news."
Gimple was nauseas, dizzy, about to pass out, but the Rebbe did not stop looking at him till he drank it all.
The next thing he knew he was under the stage and then in the home of one of the Chassidim taking a shower.
The next day when he returned to the hospital and was in the middle of telling his wife about the previous day's episode, a nurse not knowing that the child was a vegetable, came in the room and offered the boy something to drink saying, "Would you like milk or soda?" He opened his eyes and slowly answered 'S O D A'.
Mrs. Ormland fainted on the spot and required a doctor. Reb Gimple ran to the phone and called the Rebbe. The Rebbe was called to the phone and replied,
"When he begins to say 'Mother and Father' and begins to speak notify me immediately"
And so it was. In the coming months little Yaakov Shmuel added more and more syllables and even entire words. And each one was reported to the Rebbe's secretaries.
But despite the child's progress, he remained paralyzed. The boy simply did not react to the physical therapy at all. It was as though the only part of him that was alive was rom the shoulders up.
One day Rabbi Ormland got a phone call from the Rebbe's office. Another of the Rebbe's secretaries, Rabbi Groner, was on the line. The Rebbe wanted to see the child!
"But they won't let him out" the rabbi complained.
"The Rebbe said you should ask them to let him come home for the weekend and bring him here on your way home on Friday" was the reply.
As usual the Rebbe's advice worked again. That next Friday morning Rabbi Ormland pushed his son Yaakov Shmuel Ben Tzion, slumped in a wheelchair, dressed in metal body braces, into the Rebbe's office.
The Rebbe requested of him, "Please stand the child here by me and, if you don't mind, leave us alone for a few minutes."
The Rabbi tried to protest that it was impossible for the boy to stand but the Rebbe took the boys hands, motioned for his father to lift him to his feet, and when he did so, to leave the room.
No one knows what the Rebbe did for the next fifteen minutes but when the Rabbi returned to the room the Rebbe gave him a small prayer book from his desk and said "When your son learns to read he should never pray by memory, only from this Siddur".
That Sunday morning Yaakov Shmuel was returned to the rehabilitation center. At first nothing changed but suddenly, two months later, the boy suddenly moved his left foot and then after another few months his right and within a year he taking a few steps on his own. Little by little all his faculties returned until he was discharged from he hospital and began learning Torah in a yeshiva like everyone else! Needless to say his father, became a devoted Chassid of the Rebbe.
Today Yaakov Shmuel Ben Tzion Ormland is married with eight children, lives in Kiriat Chabad in Tzfat and runs a center for bringing Jewish youth back to their roots. According to the Professor he should have been buried Erev
Rosh HaShanna forty years ago. But according to the Rebbe there is always
This answers our questions.
Moses knew that he wasn't going to enter Israel; G-d had decreed it. He knew that his prayers could not nullify the decree.
But the decree of exile that we have been in for these two thousand years can, must and WILL be nullified.
In fact, that is why Moses prayed five hundred and fifteen prayers.
These 'unanswered' prayers, because they were from the leader of the Jewish people, stand eternally in heaven and give us the power to never accept exile; neither physical nor spiritual, and to transform ANY and EVERY evil decree to a blessing.
Just as the Rebbe taught Rabbi Ormland to never give up; the blind can see, the mute can speak, the deaf can hear the paralyzed can move. even the dead come back to life! So it will be with ALL the Jewish people we must never lose hope that Moshiach is HERE.
Soon everyone's senses and abilities will be aware of the Creator and the world will be filled with the knowledge of HaShem, as the Rambam writes: "On that day G-d and His Creation will be one."
All we need to do is follow the instructions of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and tap in to the power to see...
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