This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Ki Teitzei (5763)
This week's section contains 73 commandments, more than any other in the Torah. One of them is the prohibition of a Jewish woman marrying a convert from Moab (a Jewish man can marry a Moabite convert as in the story of Boaz and Ruth).
The Torah even gives a reason (22:5) "...because they (Moab) hired Bilam...to curse you."
But the Torah does not stop there, the next sentence continues(22:6):
"And G-d did not want to listen to Bilam and G-d transformed for you the curse into a blessing because G-d loves you."
At first glance this last sentence is completely unnecessary. The Torah is a book of teaching (Torah means Teaching). The Torah has already taught us that G-d loves us, didn't listen to Bilam and even overturned his plans. Why say it again? And what does it have to do with not marrying a Moabite?
Also, at the end of this week's Torah portion is the commandment to destroy Amalek: the ultimate anti-Semitic nation.
Is there a connection between this and Moab?
To help understand, here is a story that occurred over 40 years ago.
It was three thirty A.M. Friday morning and pitch black outside when a middle aged Jewish couple knocked at Rabbi Kalmanson's apartment door.
The Rabbi was the director of the Chabad house in Cincinnati Ohio and although guests and visitors always filled his house this was the first time that he received a visit at three A.M. from strangers that wanted to discuss something urgently.
"Hello, please come in." the Rabbi opened the door and said in a half whisper. "Just don't talk too loud. My wife and children are asleep. Come in, come in. Here just take a seat, would you like something to drink?" He said quietly as he led them into his front room. He hoped this would be over soon so he could go back to sleep.
The first thing he noticed was that the man was blind, but beside that they looked like a typical, secular, American couple.
They introduced themselves as Jews in trouble. He man had become incurably blind years ago after an operation to counter high blood pressure, but that wasn't their main problem
About a month ago they found a 'New Testament' under their oldest daughter's pillow and when they asked her about it she suddenly transformed into a woman possessed; screaming all sorts of curses against Judaism and how only her newfound way would save her from hell.
Till then she had been pleasant and sensitive girl but one of her teachers in college, himself a 'newborn', had been working on her for months and now she was 'saved'.
True, they themselves were very far from being observant Jews, but they were Jews and they knew that what she was doing was very wrong. Not only that, they felt she was drifting toward insanity.
"We used to be so close and now she has become hypnotized. She's like a stranger, she won't even listen to us and only talks about her religion. In fact she is trying to convince us that we should join her. Can you help Rabbi? Please, we have no one else to turn to." They were both weeping.
The Rabbi hadn't forgotten about going back to sleep and his mind wasn't working. What could he do? He had no experience in deprogramming or being an anti-missionary. In fact, generally speaking, that is not the Chabad approach. Then suddenly, from nowhere, he had an idea.
"Tell me, are you still on speaking terms?"
"Yes" the father replied. "At first we argued. But then she ran away from home for a few days and the only way we could get her back was by promising that we wouldn't talk about it any more. So now we in stalemate; we don't talk and she doesn't leave. But yesterday we happened to overhear her on the phone saying that in a few days she is going to become one of 'them' and that's why we came here; we're going crazy."
"Will she be willing to come with you to my house tomorrow night for the Shabbat meal?" The Rabbi continued, "Or maybe I should first ask if you would be willing to come? Have you ever kept a Shabbat?"
They admitted that they hadn't but promised they would come and were fairly sure that she would join them, being as it would be the first time for all of them. The Rabbi bade them farewell and returned to sleep.
The next night they were again sitting in the Rabbi's house but with a few changes. The Rabbi wasn't in pajamas; he was dressed like a Rabbi, their daughter was sitting with them, the house looked like something from another, bright and beautiful, world. And finally the Rabbi did some Jewish rituals like Kiddush on wine and washing hands before eating bread.
After a rather pleasant hour together (save a few acidic comments from their daughter that he pretended not to hear) Rabbi Kalmanson began phase two of his idea. He told the girl that, being as he didn't understand anything about her religion and she probably didn't know much about his, he would like to exchange ideas. First she would teach him.
She enthusiastically accepted. She was so excited about a Rabbi (or anyone else for that matter) actually listening to her that she lost track of the time and that night she talked until...six in the morning.
When they finished she requested another session and in the course of the next few weeks they met four more times; she did the talking and Rabbi Kalmanson listened.
Then on their fifth meeting the Rabbi asked if he could say something.
She was so sure that he was in her camp that she was all ears.
And truly he was in her camp. He explained to her in the calmest and friendliest way possible that her religious experiences were exactly what Jews felt when they worshiped the Golden Calf. But no matter what she did she was a daughter of Sara, Rivka, Rachel, and Leah and G-d would always love and forgive her.
Then, totally ignoring everything she said for the last weeks, he pointed out that G-d creates everything constantly, including her and all the 'holy' spirits that she believes in, and there is no reason to pray to any other power.
He just wants us to observe His Torah.
This all got her attention but what really struck home was when he pointed out that in our generation there is a Jew called the Lubavitcher Rebbe who does big miracles but only encouraged Jews to do more commandments and G-d forbid, never dreamed of doing the opposite.
She was quiet for a few minutes and then asked seriously,
"Big miracles? Could he make my father see again?".
"I don't know" answered the Rabbi, "But maybe. I know that he has done such things in the past and I'm sure that if you begin doing commandments as Jewish women have been doing for over three thousand years, you'll have better chances for a miracle.
Little by little her Jewish soul began thawing out a few weeks later she began lighting Shabbat Candles. Then she made her parent's home kosher and a few months after that she went with a group of girls to the Rebbe's synagogue for Simchat Torah and afterwards left her cult forever.
But that is not the end of the story; several months later she reminded Rabbi Kalmanson about her father and together they wrote the Rebbe a letter asking to restore his sight.
A week later they received an answer.
The Rebbe gave his blessing and advised that the father should put on Tefillin every day, put mezuzahs on the doors of his house and afterwards to consult a doctor who is a friend of the family.
She was so excited! But her parents wanted no part of it; as far as they were concerned the blindness was incurable, that's what all the doctors said and as far as Tefillin and mezuzos they cost too much money.
So together she and Rabbi Kalmanson bought the Tefillin and convinced her father to put the Tefillin on every day and bought mezuzas (no small task as there were forty (!) doors in their home) and then, a week later, went to the family doctor for advice.
But the doctor also protested. "First of all Rabbi," he said, "I'm not an eye doctor, second; expert eye doctors said that there is no cure, third, why build up the poor man's hopes for nothing, hasn't he suffered enough? And finally…… who does this Lubavitcher Rebbe think he is anyway!?! He knows anything about medicine? Etc etc."
In short, he almost kicked them out of the office.
Things weren't looking good. But a month later the phone in Rabbi Kalmanson's office rang. It was the family doctor. He happened to pick up a medical Journal and noticed that there was some professor in New York that had developed a new technique for curing eye problems like her fathers. He even contacted this professor and made an appointment.
Rabbi Kalmanson took the girl's father to New York, the professor made the examination and set the operation for a day or two away. It was to take at least four or five hours, perhaps more. His wife and daughter joined the Rabbi and when the day came and they took her husband in for the operation they all sat nervously in the waiting room reading Psalms.
Suddenly, after only a half-hour, the professor burst out of the operating room and ran past them into his office. Had something gone wrong? Moments later, as he rushed back to the operating table he smiled to them and said. "Everything is fine. Keep praying."
A few minutes later the professor again came out this time followed by his patient, wheeled out on an operating table unconscious with bandages covering his eyes.
Two days later they were all there for the professor to remove the bandages and were tense; they had no idea what to expect. He admitted that the reason he ran out of the operating room so early was because the operation finished hours earlier than expected; he thought that perhaps there had been some mistake.
He removed the bandages.
"OYYY!" her father yelled. "OYYYY my eyes!!!"
"What is it?" The doctor asked. "What's wrong?"
"I CAN SEE!!!" He shouted. "I CAN SEE AGAIN!!"
Now they were all in tears...including the doctor.
Two months later the father renewed his driver's license and he and his wife became observant Jews.
That answers the above questions. Why does the Torah tell us that Bilam's curse became a blessing and is there a connection to Amalek?
The Moabites hired Bilam in order to destroy the Jewish people. That is why it is forbidden to marry with them, because destruction is the opposite of Judaism. The purpose of Jews is to build and improve the world, not the opposite.
But here the Torah is telling us that it is specifically this particular Moabite trait of destruction that will be transformed to build the world!
Moshiach will transform Moab.
King David, the forerunner of Moshiach, and according to the Maimonides was the first Moshiach (Laws of Kings 11:1), originated from Ruth the Moabite. And the evil Bilam himself made the clearest prophesies in the Torah regarding Moshiach (Num. 24:17-20)
And Moshiach will destroy Amalek (Laws of Kings 1:1)
That's why the greatest prophecies about Messiah were made by Bilam.
So the Torah is letting us know here that G-d can and will transform even the worst and most destructive evils: Moav and Amalek to blessings. And sometimes ONLY by fighting such evil can good be revealed.
Just as the family in our story wouldn't have become observant and the father would not have regained his eyesight if his daughter hadn't been snared by the missionaries.
But it all depends on us to transform the darkness to light.
As the Lubavitcher Rebbe said time and time again: even one more good deed, thought or even word ….. can tip the scales and bring.
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