This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Re'eh (5764)
This week we again read the mystifying laws concerning the 'false prophet' and other charlatans who lead Jews astray.
"If there appears a prophet or dreamer...And he makes miracles or signs....And then says 'Let us worship other gods'...That prophet should be killed. etc." (13: 2-6)
What is this idea of 'other gods'? Is there really such a thing? Isn't G-d one?
And even if there are other gods, what is WRONG with worshiping them? It's not hurting anyone else! In fact it seems to be benefiting the worshiper.
Even more, billions of people, almost the entire world, are idolaters in one form or another (Worshiping a spiritual force or being other than, or in addition to the Creator). If G-d doesn't like idolatry why is it so popular and successful?
Here is a frightening story to answer the question.
It was a dark cold night in Russia some two hundred and fifty years ago. The great Tzaddik Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel of Apta was sitting in his study learning Torah when he heard a knock at his door.
It was three in the morning. The Rabbi almost never slept, but it was very unusual that anyone would knock at this hour unless it truly was an emergency.
An obviously distraught man was let it and in moments he was standing before the Rebbe. His clothes were wrinkled and in terrible disarray as though he hadn't slept in days and he looked almost insane with anxiety.
"Rebbe!" He pleaded with wide-eyes red from weeping and exhaustion, "My wife has been in labor for the last three days but the baby just won't come out. The doctors say they will have to operate but they are worried. Please Rebbe do something! Tell me what to do!!"
The Rebbe folded his hands on the table before him and then lowered his head on his hands, as though in deep contemplation or prayer.
He remained that way for several minutes while the poor man stood there bewildered not knowing what to do. Should he leave? Should he say something?
But the Rebbe finally lifted his head and said solemnly "You can go home. You have a new son. Your wife just gave birth to a boy. Mazal Tov"
He couldn't believe his ears. But why was the Rebbe so serious? He grabbed the Rebbe's hand between his and shook it, said, "Thank you Rebbe, thank you!" about ten times in a row, backed out of the room almost falling over his own feet and ran home as fast as possible.
As soon as he opened the door he heard the thin cries of his baby, and there was his wife, exhausted but alive and even faintly smiling! He burst into tears of grateful joy. It was a miracle!!
The next day he returned to the Rebbe to apologize for barging in the previous night and to thank him again. But the Rebbe's Chassidim stopped him before he entered and convinced him to ask the Rebbe what happened, why he had to put his head down etc.
At first the fellow would have no part of it. But finally he agreed and as he was about to leave the Rebbe's room he humbly requested an explanation for his son's miraculous birth. The Rebbe replied with the utmost seriousness;
"Of course I will explain. You see, the soul of your son is a very high soul. It did not want to leave the pure spiritual truth of heaven to enter this deceptive world full of tribulations and difficulties.
"But I explained to it that when it descends to the world it will be given 'special powers' that are not available even in the highest spiritual realms. And these special powers will enable it to serve G-d above all limitations.
"And it worked! The soul agreed to come into the world and your wife gave birth."
When the Chassidim heard this explanation they took great interest in this child (Who knows what a great person he would turn out to be!) and they kept track of him.
A year after he was born his mother passed away. Then seven years later his father also departed this world leaving the boy a complete orphan.
He was moved from one relative to another and, while the Chassidim did what they could to help, in those terrible days of persecution and poverty under the Czar Nicholas (of cursed memory) there was not much that could be done.
When the boy was only ten years old he was 'snatched' into the army with another boy (the Czar, an avid Russian Orthodox, decided that forcefully 'inducting' Jewish children into the army was the best way to convert them) and from then on the only connection the Chassidim had with him was by mail. They would write to him once a week and the boy would answer when he could.
His rare letters complained bitterly about how they were torturing and punishing him and his friends for not eating pork and for trying to keep the Shabbat, but that he was resolved to never be separated from the G-d of Israel.
Then the letters stopped.
A half a year later they received a letter from the boy's friend saying that the boy had died from a beating he received while refusing to convert. (Beis Moshiach Magazine #470 pg 23, see Perlov pg. 270)
These were the 'Special Powers' the Rebbe told the soul about.
It is the power of self-sacrifice and it is what has been holding Judaism together against all odds for four thousand years since Abraham; Jews CANNOT bear to be separated from the Creator of the Universe.
They know and feel that G-d creates all being; He is infinitely far (creating even the spiritual) and infinitely close (creating each of us constantly) and His Torah is the ONLY time He told all mankind what He wants.
And they know and feel that denial of this, or belief in ANY CREATION, even a spiritual one - is idolatry.
This certainty, the 'special power', is revealed in the Jewish soul only when there is a challenge. And that is why G-d lets idolatry succeed.
But this is only the negative side.
The positive side of this self-sacrifice can be seen from a story I heard from the lecturer Rabbi Yosef Y Jacobson.
A man once came before the Lubavitcher Rebbe with a unique proposition;
He proposed that at every Passover Seder there should be an empty chair at the Seder table.
An empty chair would serve as an eerie reminder of the six million Jews that are missing, that were murdered in the Holocaust and will never attend a Seder. If the Rebbe would endorse or even agree with his idea it would certainly give it a tremendous boost.
The Rebbe listened and when the man finished he replied that he agreed with the idea! Adding a chair to the Seder would certainly have a good and positive effect.
But he did not agree that the chair should be empty!
An empty chair would only dull the joy of the holiday, which is a commandment from the Torah.
The best way to remember the Holocaust, suggested the Rebbe, would be by adding a FULL chair: Every family should be sure to add someone, bring another Jew in from the street!
The man replied disappointedly that what the Rebbe was suggesting would be very difficult - too difficult. Not everyone could go out and pull in a Jew from the street.
To which the Rebbe gave two answers. First, although his way was harder it would add to the joy of the holiday. And second, it's not as difficult as it seems; HaShem gives 'Special Powers' and the bigger the obstacles the greater the 'Powers'.
So that is why HaShem makes false prophets, false religions and false ideologies and gives them power and success.
Because TRUTH; the Special Jewish Power, can only be revealed under the pressure of falsehood (the Jews are compared to olives whose oil is only revealed when they are crushed).
And the greater the falsehood we have to overcome, the greater the challenge, the greater will be the truth revealed.
But this truth will not only defy the darkness - it will TRANSFORM it.
As we say thrice daily in the 'Alenu' prayer: All idolatry will cease and all mankind, even the evil people, will turn, every knee will bend, every tongue will swear ONLY to the Creator.
All we have to do is follow the directions of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (see last chapter of Moshiach essay at www.ohrtmimim.org/torah) to reveal our 'Special Positive Powers',
And soon the entire world will be filled with blessing, peace, health, meaning and joy, with....
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