This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Va'etchanan (5764)
This week's section contains the well known statement:
"Your eyes saw that...G-d destroyed everyone that went after [the idol] Baal P'or. And you who are clinging to G-d your L-rd, all are alive today." (4:3,4)
This second sentence about being alive today is said aloud by everyone in the synagogue just before the Torah about to be read in public (four times a week).
The Torah is eternal and its messages relate to each of us at all times; especially when it contains the word "Today" as does this one.
But at first glance this sentence is surely an exception.
Its simple meaning is that Moses was reminding the Jews just before they entered Israel that the only reason that they were alive was because they didn't worship the idol of Baal P'or.
But today the people hearing this declaration in Synagogue know that they aren't alive by virtue of their abstaining from Baal P'or; People don't get killed today for idolatry…. In fact TODAY the idol of 'Baal P'or' doesn't even exist.
So why are we saying this sentence? And why do we say it before reading the Torah? What does it have to do with the Torah?
This Shabbat is also the first of the "Seven Sabbaths of Consolation" when we read special 'Haftorah' portions to 'console' us from the trauma of Tisha B'av (when the Temple was destroyed).
To understand, here is a story.
Some Seven hundred and fifty years ago occurred the great tragedy of Rabbi Meir (nicknamed the 'Mahara'm') of Rotenberg.
Born in Worms, France in the year 1215, in his early teens he was already recognized as one of the foremost Talmudic experts of his time. He became a holy genius, a prolific writer and a beacon of light to all the great Rabbis of his age who turned to him for advice and enlightenment.
His name spread throughout the Jewish world and it wasn't long before he opened a Torah academy of his own in the city of Rotenberg. He drew hundreds, even thousands of pupils of his own and was considered the Chief Rabbi of all France and Germany. But then tragedy struck.
When he was already an old man, another wave of European Anti-Semitism suddenly erupted and spontaneous 'pogroms' were everywhere. Jewish blood flowed like water, absolutely no Jew was safe and eventually Rabbi Meir was forced to flee for his life.
According to some opinions he was on his way to Israel when it happened, but in any case he was recognized, captured and handed over to none other than Kaiser Rudolf. He had the Mahara'm imprisoned and, certain that the Jews would pay all they had in order to save their leader, demanded an exorbitant ransom.
But when the Mahara'm heard what was happening he put a stop to it. He told the Jews to save their money; paying the money would be going against Jewish law as it would only encourage more kidnappings.
So for six years he sat in prison learning Torah by heart non-stop until his passing at the age of Seventy Eight. The Kaiser actually refused to allow his remains to be buried until seven years later when a wealthy Jew gave all he had, and the Mahara'm was finally put to rest.
But one story that is little known is that of the Maharam's Torah scroll. (Chikri Minhagim, Rav Gurari pg. 311)
As we mentioned, the Mahara'm was able to occupy his time by repeating and contemplating the thousands of pages of Torah that were etched in his infallible memory.
But one thing that gave him untold agony was that he did not have a Torah scroll to read from on the Sabbaths and holidays. The thought literally obsessed him: Tefillin and the other commandments had been smuggled to him but there was no way to get him a Sefer Torah.
Then, one Thursday night after two years of imprisonment, he drowsed off while in the middle of his learning and suddenly saw what appeared to be an angel, awesome in appearance, holding what seemed to be....a large, radiant Torah Scroll.
The Mahara'm didn't know if it was a dream or reality - until the angel spoke, "I am the Angel Gavriel. Your prayers have been heard in heaven, here is your Torah.
"It is known that Moses, before he departed this world, wrote thirteen Sefer Torahs. Twelve were distributed to each of the twelve Tribes and this is the Thirteenth."
The Mahara'm could not believe his ears. The Angel held out the Torah and continued.
"It is read each Shabbat in Heaven by the Tzadikim in the Heavenly Court. But, as you know, there is nothing that can compare with commandments done by humans in this world. So it will be given to you and all of the Tzadikim will come to listen whenever you read it."
Suddenly the Mahara'm awoke and saw....the Holy Torah Scroll before him!!
It was truly a miracle! The imprisoned Rabbi's heart filled with indescribable happiness and he joyously kept his side of the bargain. Every Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh and Holiday he would sanctify himself and read aloud from this Holy Scroll, and each time the room would with fill brilliant spiritual light as though thousands of radiant souls had come to listen. On regular days he would also occasionally study this Torah and each time wondrous new ideas and connections would fill his mind from the sentences he read.
This continued for some two years until one day it occurred to him to make a copy for posterity that could be, in turn, copied from.
His pupils managed to smuggle in to him parchment, quills and ink and after a year it was finished! And after checking it several times he found it to be a perfect replica.
But that very evening he dreamt that another angel came and took the Torah Scroll back! Startled, he opened his eyes only to discover to his horror that it was true. "Woe to me!" he moaned "Perhaps I shouldn't have made that copy! Perhaps I am being punished."
But a voice interrupted his thoughts and announced that his copy was perfect, was a good idea and that it would serve as a basis for many future copies of the Torah.
When the Mahara'm felt that his end was approaching, he personally made a wooden box, tarred it inside and out to make it waterproof, put the Torah inside and lowered it from the window of his high prison cell into the Rhine River that flowed far below.
Sure enough the box floated for several weeks unnoticed until it was sited by gentile fisherman off the shore of Worms. But try as they could they could not lay their hands or even their nets upon it until finally they allowed some Jewish fishermen to try. No sooner did the Jews approach the box then it floated toward them and they hauled it into their boat.
After many other strange and miraculous events they finally were able to bring the box to the Synagogue in Worms, and when it was opened they found inscribed on the inside of one of its walls:
"This Scroll was written by the hand of Meir as a gift to the congregation of Worms. The Scroll is holy and pure and should not be read from except for twice a year: on Shavuot, the holiday of the giving of the Torah and on Simchat Torah, the holiday of the finishing of the Torah."
Despite the many tragedies and catastrophes that befell the community of Worms in the centuries to come, they always sacrificed themselves to save the Scroll and amazingly it still exisits - the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe testified that he saw it. (Chabad "HaYom Yom" pg 179)
This answers our questions: How did the Maharam's Torah come from heaven? When it was in heaven was it spiritual or physical? Or perhaps neither?
In fact we can ask even a greater question. According to many opinions the entire Third Temple (which must weigh many thousands of tons!) is WAITING IN HEAVEN to descend (Exodos 15:17, Zohar 3, pg 221a).
Similarly, all Jewish bodies are eternal and are waiting to be revived in the Raising of the Dead (thirteenth principle of faith as explained by Rabbi Mair Gabbai in Avodat HaKodesh).
That is why we say "And you who are clinging to G-d your L-rd, all are alive today" before reading the Torah:
Because all of it: Both the eternal PHYSICAL reality of the Holy Temple and of the Jewish body, comes from the Eternal Torah!
In fact the Torah was given to (transform and) reveal the TRUE eternal nature of THE ENTIRE PHYSICAL WORLD (as the Rambam writes in the very end of his "Yad HaChazaka" in the laws of Moshiach).
And this will be the ultimate consolation for the destruction of the first two Temples: The Third Temple, the Eternal Torah and the Rising of the Dead!
It all depends on us to do ALL we can to bring...
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