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 Eikev (5764)
In week's section Moses continues his hard-line 'last minute' instructions to the Jews before they enter the land of Israel.
Among the advice he gives is "And you should circumcise the foreskin of your hearts and don’t stiffen your necks!" (10:16)
Does this make sense?
Moses is giving practical, down-to-earth orders here.
What (and where) exactly is the foreskin of the heart? And since when is it FORBIDDEN to have a stiff neck?
Obviously Moses was speaking figuratively - but why? Why didn't he just say 'don't be insensitive and don't be stubborn' why did he suddenly decide to be poetic?
To understand this, here is a story I heard from a Chassid in Kfar Chabad.
The second Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Dov Ber (called the 'Mittler Rebbe' 1773-1827) was a very intense and holy person. When he would pray, which was often for hours, he was completely in another world. And the rest of the day he was so concentrated on learning and teaching Torah, especially Chassidut, that it was said 'if his flesh was cut it would bleed Chassidut'.
In fact, one time he said a Chassidic discourse that lasted thirteen hours non-stop!
Many of his followers were as sharp and intense as he. When he passed away these Chassidim remained devoted to him from the very essence of their souls and found it impossible to accept his replacement; Rebbe Menachem Mendel (called 'Tzemach Tzedek' 1789-1866 - the grandson of the first Chabad Rebbe).
One of these zealots was Rabbi Moshe Marinov. He lived in the city of Chernigov, and although he refused to be the Chief Rabbi of the city because it would disturb his learning, his sharp tongue and sharper mind was the fear of all the Talmudic scholars in the area far and wide.
He simply knew all the Torah by heart including all its mystical teachings and had no patience for anyone who didn't. If such a person opened his mouth within Rabbi Moshe's presence he was finished; Rab Moshe would fiendishly assault him with a barrage of exactly the questions and problems he couldn't answer.
One of the followers of the Tzemach Tzedik was a young Chassid by the name of Rabbi Peretz Chein.
Rabbi Peretz was also quite a scholar but certainly no match for Rabbi Moshe. So he was quite shocked when the Tzemach Tzedek told him to try for the position of Chief Rabbi of...Chernigov - Rabbi Moshe's home ground!
Of course Reb Peretz being a true Chassid did what the Rebbe said with joy; the Rebbe was always right, but he was expecting either a big battle or a miracle. Perhaps the Rebbe would suddenly make him into a genius, or that Rabbi Moshe would only ask him questions he knew.
[This actually happened a few years earlier when the Tzemach Tzedek sent this same Reb Peretz to a town called Beshankovitz, the home of many of the Tzemach Tzedek's opposers, and told him to learn thoroughly a certain obscure topic in Yura Deah (Jewish law).
This was a complete mystery to Rabbi Peretz but he did as he was told and, to his pleasant surprise, upon arrival the Rebbe's enemies tried to make him look foolish by bombarding him with questions on the exact impractical topic that the Tzemach Tzedek told him to learn! When they saw the ease with which he answered and heard the reason why, they ceased their opposition.]
And sure enough when Reb Peretz arrived in Chernigov what happened was more than a miracle; everyone was amazed to see that the fierce Rabbi not only made no problems but actually sat quietly and listened while he spoke and even seemed to enjoy and agree with everything he said! Rabbi Moshe had changed his personality!
Reb Peretz was chosen to be the Chief Rabbi of the city and Rabbi Moshe became his best friend and helper. It was a complete metamorphosis! Reb Peretz had never seen anything like it in his life!
It wasn't long before his curiosity overpowered him and he presented himself at the home of Rabbi Moshe to ask for an explanation.
Rabbi Moshe answered:
"Years ago, just before the Rebbe passed away he was ill for a while and his illness often caused him to be delirious with fever and say what seemed to be incoherent nonsense. But we Chassidim treasured every word. In fact whenever possible, we would even write down or at least try to remember everything.
Among the things he repeated was,
"Peretz Smolianer is also a fine young man. Peretz Smolianer is also a fine young man."
No one understood what he was referring to but we remembered it.
Then, just a few months ago when I happened to be passing through Lubavitch, the Tzemach Tzedik sent one of his secretaries to call me to his room. I entered and he said,
"Did you know that I have a Chassid called Peretz Chein and he once lived in the city Smolian?"
The name Smolian struck a bell but I at first I couldn't remember from where. Then suddenly the Tzemach Tzedek said in the exact tone of the Mittler Rebbe:
'Peretz Smolianer is also a fine man! 'Peretz Smolianer is also a fine man!"
But the most frightening thing was that his face transformed completely to look exactly like that of the Previous Rebbe's as well! It moved me to the essence of my soul!!
And that is what made me into a different person" (heard from Rabbi Michel Vishedski, see also Migdal Oz Story #93 and Shmuot V'sipurim pg 49)
This answers our questions.
Moses had been leading the Jews and speaking to them for forty years.
But each time that he finished speaking and they were left to face reality on their own the world proved too real and deceptive. After all is said and done, the physical is more 'present' than the spiritual.
So now, as he was about to see the Jews enter Israel without him, Moses had to give them something that would change their very souls. Something PHYSICAL (as the Tzemach Tzedek did with Rab Moshe in our story). That is why he brought examples from the heart and the neck.
Everyone has a heart and a neck and both are very present and very real.
One's very life and emotions depend on the heart… But who would dream that the heart (namely that our life and emotion) has a foreskin that covers, suffocates and essentially inhibits it? (And that is the reason we don't love and fear G-d with all our hearts, souls etc.)
Similarly, the neck is very vital. It holds and gives mobility to the head. But a stiff neck makes it almost impossible to turn and look around. Who would dream that we intentionally stiffen our necks and inhibit our own outlook on life?
That is Moshe's advice for the generation entering Israel: 'If you want to come to REALLY be alive and REALLY appreciate HaShem ALL the time (even when I am not physically with you) you must remove the covering from your hearts and stop stiffening your necks':
Open your heart's emotions to the One-ness of HaShem and stop look at the world in a stiff, selfish one-dimensional way.
This is VERY relevant to us today.
Our lack of love for the Torah, for other Jews and for HaShem (and all His creations) and our one-dimensional selfishness has caused both Temples to be destroyed and thrown the Jewish people into two thousand years of suffering and confusion.
That is the message of the Baal Shem Tov and his pupils and will be the SOLE job of Moshiach (the Rebbe called each Chabad leader 'The Moshiach of his generation'):
To open the emotions and widen the viewpoint of the entire world.
Then ALL the Jews will be together in Israel and the world will be filled with joy and the knowledge of the ONENESS of G-d. We only NEED....
Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.