This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Ki Tavo (5764)
In this week's section Moses makes a strange statement:
"G-d has exalted you today to be a special nation...and to be higher than all the other nations...to make you a holy nation to G-d your L-rd ..".
This is not very clear. The Gentiles also have their religions, miracle men, unique rituals and 'bibles'. In fact the other religious are much more popular and populated than Judaism. In what way do we see that the Jews are 'special' 'higher', or 'holier' than anyone else?
To answer this here are two stories about the "Alter Rebbe", Rebbe Shneur Zalman of Laidi, the founder of Chabad and author of the Tanya. (whose birthday, and that of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidut, we celebrate this week on the 18th of Ellul. The Baal Shem in 1698 and the Alter Rebbe in 1745)
It is well known that when Napoleon began his attempt at world conquest in the name of "Liberty Fraternity and Equality" virtually all the Jewish leaders supported him - except for the Alter Rebbe of Chabad.
In fact, the Rebbe so despised him that he publicly prayed for his defeat and even sent a spy to steal information from his war room and pass it on to the Czar.
And Napoleon also despised the Rebbe.
The first thing he did when his troops entered the Rebbe's town of Liadi on their way to Moscow, was to race to the Rebbe's house. But the Rebbe escaped hours earlier and even gave orders that his house be burned to the ground before Napoleon arrived. (some say that Napoleon had powers of sorcery and could have caused the Rebbe great aggravation if he got his hands on one of his possessions).
Now to our story.
When the Alter Rebbe fled Napoleon's armies he was accompanied by some sixty families. Among them was a wealthy Jew by the name of Rabbi Yitzchak Zelver who offered to pay all the costs of the trip.
In repayment for this generosity the Rebbe promised Rabbi Zelver that he
would answer any question that wanted to ask.
This may seem like a triviality but in fact it was an incredible reward.
Nothing is more precious than knowledge and the Rebbe's knowledge was virtually unlimited.
But another of the travelers was the Rebbe's son, Rabbi DovBer, and as soon as heard of this promise, his eyes lit up!
He suddenly forgot all the danger and discomfort of the journey, took Rabbi Zelver aside and made a heartfelt request. "You must ask my father if he ever saw the Baal Shem Tov. This is very important to me. And don't leave until you get an answer!! (Although the Baal Shem passed away when the Rebbe was 15 years old, he avoided meeting the Rebbe for mystical reasons).
Rabbi Zelver went to the Alter Rebbe, and sure enough, the Rebbe tried to evade the question; he shrugged his shoulders and said,
"How could I have ever seen the Baal Shem?"
But Rab Zelver just replied, "Rebbe, I don't know how it could have been . I just asked if you ever saw him."
The Rebbe had no choice but to answer,
"When I was imprisoned by the Czar in the Petersburg prison (on false charges of treason brought by the enemies of the Chassidic movement) both the Baal Shem Tov and my teacher the 'Maggid of Mezeritz' (both had passed away years earlier) actually came to visit and encourage me. They were in my prison cell and we spoke. So the answer to your question is; yes, I saw him."
(In fact some 150 years later, when the sixth Chabad Rebbe, Yosef Yitzchak was shown a cell that was purported to have been the Alter Rebbe's, he first checked to see if it could hold three people.)
Rabbi Zelver relayed the answer to the Rebbe's son who was overjoyed. But it only whet his appetite for more.
"Now," the Rebbe's son continued, "go back and ask my father if he ever saw the Ar'i Zal!" (a nickname for Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of Blessed Memory, the founder of all contemporary Kabballa who passed away some 200 years before the Alter Rebbe's birth.)
Rabbi Zelver reluctantly returned to Alter Rebbe with this new question, and the Rebbe also tried to evade it as well:
"The Ari Zal!!" He answered. "He passed away over two hundred years ago! How could I have?" But he realized it was hopeless to resist. He was bound by his promise.
"Yes, I saw him also. Once our master and teacher the Maggid of Meseritz gathered all the pupils and told us we were about to be honored with a visit of an unusually holy man; Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polnoy who had been the Baal Shem's oldest pupil (and who many thought would be his successor).
The Maggid lined all of us up in random order. When Rabbi Yaakov Yosef arrived the Maggid gave him the honor of seating us, each according to his level.
The Rabbi was awesome. He looked deeply into the inner depths of our souls, one at a time, and it was frightening to hear his comments and see how and put each exactly in the place he deserved.
But there was one of us he was not able to place. Indeed, it was a stranger that none of us had ever seen before. and this stranger he left standing.
But I recognized him. In fact I stood and gave him my place.
That stranger was the Ar'i Zal." (Shmuot V'Siporim 3:153)
The second story occurred shortly thereafter.
Some five months after the Rebbe began this flight from Napoleon's advancing troops he became ill and tragically passed away in the town of Kfar Piena.
But before his passing he left clear orders that he should be buried in the town of Haditch which was some seventy miles away.
This presented a very serious problem. First it was the middle of winter and travel was very difficult. The only way the Rebbe's body could be moved was by sled.
Second, Napoleon's forces were everywhere and it was virtually impossible to travel anywhere with suspicious cargo; and for sure a coffin would arouse their suspicions.
So a plan was devised. They decided they would dress the Rebbe's body in a fur coat as though he was alive, sit him in a large sleigh with three other Chassidim and together they would make the journey.
They set off early in the morning and every so often, because of the intense cold, they would stop at an inn to warm up; two would enter while the third would sit with the Rebbe and at the next stop another of them would remain in the sleigh.
At one of these stops the two Chassidim went in to warm up and the third (the Rebbe's grandson Rab Nachum) remained behind.
Of course it was an awesome and even frightening experience being alone with the Rebbe, and Rab Nachum was trembling more from awe than from the cold as he spoke words of Torah non-stop to keep his mind concentrated on holy things.
Then, suddenly, the Alter Rebbe's body began to move! He rose up as though he wanted to get out of the sleigh!! Rab Nachum began shaking so hard that he almost fell from the carriage himself.
But it was no mistake, in fact the entire sleigh on the Rebbe's side began to rise. Rab Nachum tried to call the others but he was speechless. He quickly jumped out and ran around to the other side of the sleigh.
But as he did, he happened to glance down and saw that under where the Rebbe was sitting a pig, and that is what made the Rebbe rise up. Rab Nachum chased the animal away and the Rebbe settled back down. (Otzar Sipori Chabad 15:193)
Both of these stories have the same message: there is something special
about the Jewish body.
The true uniqueness 'highness' and 'holiness' of the Jewish people is that they are above death. Death is part of the Creation, and Jews are part of
the Creator; the Living G-d.
It can be best seen in their Tzadikim, as in the above stories.
And it is hinted at by the fact that the Jewish people as a whole are eternal; They still PHYSICALLY exist after almost 2,000 years of impossible conditions.
But the real truth is that each and EVERY Jew is a Tzadik; each and every one, (Isaiah 60:21). And all of them have a portion in the Raising of the Dead (introduction Pirke Avot) when the real infinite holiness and specialness of the Jews will be revealed! Then All Jews will live forever.
This is what Moses meant when he said that the Jews are 'special' 'High' and 'holy'. All Jews, are PHYSICALLY eternal.
When they do their 'rituals' and learn their 'Bible' they aren't like the other nations or religions that do everything for themselves.
Rather, like Abraham, Issac and Jacob, they connect their bodies and the ENTIRE PHYSICAL world to the SOURCE of all being. to the Eternal G-d The Source of all Highness and Holiness. (that is why all the requests in the prayers of Rosh HaShanna are for this physical world.)
This is what the Maimonides means when he says in the end of his masterpiece that Moshiach, by means of strengthening Judaism, will fill the WORLD with the Knowledge of G-d.
It all depends on US. Each of us has to reveal the eternal holiness and uniqueness of the Jewish body: Each good deed. especially those enumerated by the Lubavitcher Rebbe (see chapt. 5 of Moshiach essay at
www.ohrtmimim.org/torah) will help bring.....
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