This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Shoftim (5760)
The Jewish calendar is unique; every month contains a special message and gives us its unique power to serve G-d.
The month we are in now the last month of the Jewish year, ‘Elul’, is called The Month of ‘Return’ (Tshuva).
It is the month that we try to be truthful to ourselves and 'return' ourselves to the right spiritual place. Therefore it is a month of intense introspection, self-correction, inventory and good resolutions for the future.
For Chassidim it is the month to travel to the Rebbe.
A Rebbe is a Master of Return, a Master of Truth. He is the only one that really knows what is missing and how to fix it.
There is a story about such a Lubavitcher Chassid that, every year on the first day of Elul, would begin walking by foot to the Rebbe (I heard it was to Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the third Rebbe of Chabad called the Tzemach Tzedek) in order to be by him for the holidays (Rosh HaShanna etc.).
Now this was no easy task; the weather was usually freezing and snowy at that time of year and he got progressively older but he forced himself year after year. When he was in his sixties it was difficult, in his seventies it was an open miracle. Until finally, one year in his late seventies, on a lonely road, in the middle of some snowy forest his ‘batteries finally ran out’; his legs simply would not move!
“Nu, at least I’m dying on the way to the Rebbe.” he consoled himself “I just hope I’ll get a Jewish burial and the animals don’t eat me.” He was very tired and weak and was considering sitting in the snow for a final rest when suddenly he heard something in the distance!
It was a wagon! It sounded several miles away but the sound was unmistakable; the wheels crunching on the snow and the plodding of the horses. Occasionally the wind wafted a few notes of the song the driver was singing. It didn’t take long until it reached him; it was a wagon filled with large barrels, and it stopped before the poor Jew. “Hey, Moshke!” The wagon-driver yelled (That is what the non-Jews called all the Jews) “Hey! Want a ride? If you can find a place, jump in!” he stuck out his hand. With renewed strength the old Chassid gratefully grabbed the hand pulled himself up onto the wagon, then onto the barrels and finally wedged himself down between them as the wagon began to move.
But his gratitude did not keep him warm. After a few minutes huddled between the barrels he was abruptly reminded that he was freezing, and not being able to move didn’t help any.
That was when he noticed a small faucet sticking out of one of the barrels.
“Maybe it’s wine (wine of non-Jews is forbidden to drink), or oil, or vinegar, or maybe something else,” he thought to himself. “But, it might
He just happened to have a small cup on him (for emergencies) and with a shivering hand held it under the spigot and turned the handle. No …… It wasn’t wine or oil, not vinegar or anything else it was …..VODKA!! He quickly made the appropriate blessing and drank the cup.
“Ivan!” he yelled to the driver “I took a little of your merchandise here, I was freezing! Listen, I’ll pay, I promise! Can I take another small cup?”
“Of course, my friend” shouted the driver over his shoulder.
The second cup was better than the first, and in a minute Moshe was warm. He was happy! He was going to the Rebbe! G-d made him a miracle! And he began singing! In no time the driver was singing with him and before he knew it they had reached Lubavitch! The ten-hour drive passed like minutes.
The driver helped him out of his ‘place’ gave him a big hug and a kiss on the cheek and they warmly parted. Our Chassid walked straight to the Shul (synagogue) where he immediately gathered everyone around him and said he wanted to tell them something.
“Today I learned a very great lesson.” He began, occasionally rubbing his hands to warm up. “You know that the Torah is compared to water, right? But the Torah is supposed to make you warm and happy so that is why the Baal Shem Tov and all the Rebbes began writing Chassidus to make Jews warm and happy, right? So it comes out that Chassidus is like vodka! It’s a type of Torah that makes you warm and happy! Right?”
No one knew exactly what he was getting at but everyone respected him because of his age and waited for him to continue. “Well, I just discovered that a Chassid can be surrounded by barrels of Chassidus, by a sea of fire, and still be cold, even freezing to death.
"But … if just a little bit goes INSIDE …. Ahhh. That is a completely different story! Then he becomes warm and alive!! In fact then, he can even warm up the whole world around him as well!”
That is the purpose of the month of Elul, to take the Torah to heart and see what a warm, happy and meaningful thing it really is.
It is the month when we begin to see that we could have done much better in the year that passed, especially in the four areas (hinted at by the letters E’L’U’L: Torah, Prayer, Charity and Tshuva. (See Kitzur Shulcan Aruch chap. 126:1))
The connection between Elul and learning Torah comes from a commandment in this week’s section: Cities of Refuge.
[Anyone who accidentally murders someone can run to a city of refuge and is safe from the ‘Goail haDum’; redeemer of the deceased who has the right, according to Torah, to take revenge and kill him.]
The Lubavitch Rebbe explains that this law is very relevant to each of us today, because each of us (in a spiritual sense) is an ‘accidental murderer’ pursued by the ‘Goail HaDum”.
‘Murderer’ because every transgression we do takes life from the ‘holy man’ within us; the soul, created in the form of G-d. ‘Accidental’ because no one really intentionally wants to do such a thing. And the ‘Goail HaDum’ is the selfish impulse (Yetzer HaRa) within us that is pursuing us constantly to destroy us.
Therefore HaShem has given us learning Torah in the month of Elul as a Cities of Refuge from our own drives, urges, habits and mistakes. This month has a special spiritual aura, which protects us and draws us closer to serving G-d.
Now we can understand something about Moshiach.
In this week’s section when it speaks about Cities of Refuge it says that ‘in the future’ (which Rashi and Rambam explain refers to the time of Moshiach) G-d will add three more such cities to the six already stated in the Torah,.
The question that immediately arises is; in the days of Moshiach there will be no sins of any sort and certainly not accidental murder, why will we possibly need Cities of Refuge?
And the answer is, as we explained in our story; the Moshiach will make the Torah so real, internal and warm that even the THOUGHT of doing a sin will be considered accidental murder. Therefore, because of the increased desire of everyone to achieve perfection, even in thought, there will be a need for more Cities of Refuge.
May we all make the most of the month of Elul adding and improving in each of the four abovementioned areas of; Learning Torah, Prayer, Charity, and Tshuva (Return).
It all depends on us; just one more good deed, word or even thought can tilt the scales and bring …………
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