This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Pekudei (5765)
There is a general principle in the Torah that each chapter (and how much more so each book) tries to end on a positive note.
But this weeks portion which is also the end of the entire book of Exodus seems to be an exception. It concludes with concealment.
"The cloud of G-d was on the Tabernacle by day and fire was in the night etc."
This is doubly strange when we consider that this portion precedes and gives spiritual inspiration to the upcoming holiday of Purim: the happiest day of the year!
So why is it talking about such negative things as clouds and night?
Perhaps we can understand through a story I saw in a new book called Rabot Moftay (pg. 194).
Harmin (girl's name) was born in Holland to a good, normal, Protestant, God fearing, church-going, anti-Semitic family. As a matter of fact 'Jew' was one of the most derogatory words in their vocabulary. It was synonymous for crooked, warped, sub-human and, of course, damned. But for some reason all this religion business didn't stick to her. She was more of a free thinker.
She went to art school and so excelled in interior decorating that upon graduation she was snapped up by the biggest firms in Holland. It wasn't long before she was sent to represent the country in various international contests and exhibitions. She was busy day and night, as happy as she could be.
Or so she thought.
It so happened that there was a big exhibit in, of all places, Israel, and Hamin was chosen to go. She was exited; Israel was one of the few countries in the world that she had not yet visited and it held a certain mystique. After all, it was called the 'Holy Land' and she was interested to see what that meant.
In Israel the exhibition was a success and when it ended she had a chance to travel. It was love at first sight; especially Jerusalem. From the first time she walked the streets of that city she was hypnotized; the buildings, the different types of people, even the air was new and ancient at once.
She pushed off her return ticket for a week, then another month, then another. She simply could not bring herself to leave. Suddenly Holland seemed so empty and flat while here there was something deep and alive.
She rented a room, found a job, even began to speak Hebrew and, in no time attracted an Israeli boy-friend.
His name was Nisim Ozari and he worked as a professional news photographer.
If the Middle East is full of paradoxes, how much more so Israel: Nissim was a 'M'sorti or 'traditional' Jew which meant that he observed the commandments of his forefathers, whileHarmin was an Aryan gentile who certainly did NOT fit in the Jewish tradition. But...she was nice!
The attachment between them deepened to the point that he took her home to his parents for the various Jewish holidays; for the first time in her life she saw Judaism from the inside.
Then Nissim landed a good job accompanying the entourage of the Prime Minister Menachem Begin on one of his trips to the U.S.A. and after the mission he decided, like so many of his Israeli brothers and sisters, to remain in the Land of Opportunity. He got a high paying job in New York, rented an apartment and when he settled down called Corrine and asked her to join him - as his wife!
Harmin was overjoyed. As much as she loved Israel she loved Nissim even more, and who knows, he probably would return to Israel soon. How could he stay away?!
A week later she arrived in New York and there was Nissim waiting at the airport to greet her, but it was obvious that something was on his mind.
In the car, on the way back to his place from the airport he revealed what it was. He really wanted to marry her and he was sure that they were a perfect couple but he had been thinking about it and had one little condition; that she convert to Judaism.
"My parents would have heart attacks if I married a non-Jew." He explained, "and it wouldn't really mean much of a change on your part. Not much at all. And it would make them so happy. And Judaism is really wonderful etc. etc."
She didn't even need to think about it; she refused. Asking her to convert was like asking her to wear a mask and a straitjacket for the rest of her life; it was out of the question! Religion had no appeal to her… what so ever!!!
Nissim or no Nissim she decided to stay in New York for a while, calm down and then decide what to do; it would be no problem for her to find a job and an apartment.
But it wasn't long before another Jew, this time a young man from New York, was also drawn to Harmin's 'foreignness'.
But this suitor, although also 'traditionally observant', was a little more philosophical than Nissim. He also wanted her to convert but he took a more intellectual approach. He tried to explain Judaism to her and when he saw that she was interested he became eloquent!
He pointed out to her how the Jews, the Torah and the Commandments have unexplainably, against all odds, survived unchanged for thousands of years, and how Judaism is only religion based on the claim that the Creator of the Universe revealed Himself to millions of people and gave them His Torah.
He enrolled her in classes and lectures on Judaism and she enjoyed them, especially the Chabad speakers with their unique and lively approach. Things moved quickly. She even agreed to attend a few introductory conversion classes! Her friend began thinking about where they would live after the wedding.
But he was in for a disappointment.
When the conversion teacher began explaining how to prepare liquid soap and tear toilet paper before Shabbat it was like a bucket of cold water on her. "This is ridiculous!!" She thought to herself. "What has this trivia got to do with me?" And she walked out!
Suddenly, from desperation, her boyfriend had a brainstorm! He would take her to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe for Simchat Torah!! After all, they were already in New York. There would be a lot of happy people there. Maybe the positive surroundings would help her change her mind.
But it was more than he expected.
When they arrived the place was already packed with thousands of people and the women's section on the second floor (overlooking the main synagogue hall) was overflowing. They stood outside in a daze until some woman stopped and asked them if she could help. 'Yes", he said "can you her get a place to see the Rebbe?"
The woman took her by the hand and pulled her through the crowd of women. It was so packed that it was impossible to move, but somehow in a few minutes Harmin found herself standing in a place near the front where she could clearly see the Rebbe through the glass window.
It took her a few seconds to focus and another few seconds to digest what she was seeing but when she did it was hard to believe. It was as though the entire world stood still; no time, space, people, room - only the Rebbe. He was majestic, royal. But with alert and penetrating eyes deeper than the sky. She never experienced anything like it.
Her eyes filled with tears of joy and awe.
She watched the Rebbe almost without blinking, for some twenty minutes and when he left the room she stared at the empty place where he had been for another ten. "Maybe this is what the Bible meant when it called Abraham the 'Father of Many Nations" she thought to herself.
She walked outside to her waiting boyfriend who couldn't figure out what took her so long and before he could say a word she said; "I must talk to that Rabbi. You must get me an audience with him."
Happy that she was still interested he accomplished the near impossible. In two weeks she was standing before the door of the Rebbe. She was next to enter.
The door opened, a man came out back first. He had been crying. She entered and closed the door behind her.
The room was quiet and very brightly lit. The Rebbe sat behind a large mahogany desk facing her. Before she entered the secretary had told her to write her request on a piece of paper and hand it to the Rebbe but she thought she knew better. Now she regretted it.
She was stunned, tongue-tied, confused but she had no choice, the Rebbe smiled and suddenly she began talking.
She spoke for five minutes in German telling her life story and finished by declaring that although she was impressed with Judaism, her new boyfriend and the Rebbe, she still did not want to convert. Perhaps she should try the seven Noahide commandments.
The Rebbe answered also in German.
"My opinion in the matter is that there is no necessity for you to convert....because you are Jewish."
She was thunderstruck. Was he joking?
The Rebbe said a few more things but she didn't hear a word. She blurted out "What?! Rabbi, this is impossible. You are mistaken! How can you say such a thing?"
"No" the Rebbe answered "this is no mistake. If you investigate you certainly will reveal this."
She tried to explain how ridiculous the idea was. Her parents were bitter anti-Semites and their whole life was the Church.
But the Rebbe just answered with complete certainly, "The Torah tells us that if you search you will find. Certainly you will discover the truth for yourself."
When she walked out of the building to the street she felt like she had just landed from another planet. She took a cab to her apartment in Manhattan and the next day called her mother in Holland.
"What!" Her mother screamed "Jewish?! Where did you hear such insanity? Are you taking drugs or have you gone mad!? You called me to curse me?! I never want to hear you say that word again!!" And she slammed down the receiver.
Harmin remembered the Rebbe's words "If you search you will find" and was beginning to suspect that maybe there was something to them. Why was her mother so adamant?
A week later she flew to Holland and returned to her parent's home but was careful to keep the conversation light and cordial and not even mention the word 'Judaism'.
On the third day, when her father was away at work her mother asked her to accompany her for a walk in the woods near the house. For almost a half an hourthey walked silently until she turned to Harmin and said.
"I'm going to tell you something but I want to promise you will never reveal it to your father, do you understand me. I want you to promise." Corrine nodded her head yes and looked deeply into her mother's eyes.
"Your great grandmother, my mother's mother, was Jewish. She escaped from Spain to Holland because of the persecutions and decided that she didn't want her children to suffer as she did.
"She changed her religion, married a fine Dutch man and had many children. But her only daughter, my mother, although she also married a gentile, somehow discovered the truth. And so it was with me and now I see it is the same with you.
"Yes, it is quite strange. I suppose that G-d does not want us to forget. But you must promise me that what ever you do, you will never tell your father this. It will be the end of my happy home."
Harmin kept her promise. She returned to Israel, became an observant Jew, miraculously met Nissim again and they now are happily married with children and grandchildren.
This story shows us the secret of the holidays of Purim and Passover and, in fact, of the Jewish people; transforming confusion, concealment and darkness to G-dliness.
Just as Harmin had no idea who she really was until she met difficulties so the Jewish people 'needed' the difficulties of Egyptian slavery and Achashverosh's evil decrees to reveal their TRUE Jewish nature.
So our Torah portion is not really ending on a sour note: clouds and darkness are necessary ingredients for the Jews to reveal G-d in this world. They just need, as did Harmin in our story, a Moses or a Mordechai to help them.
This is the message of the Lubavitcher Rebbe; we have certainly already had enough concealment and difficulties for the last two thousand years.
Now is the time for a period of Moshiach; higher that Passover and Purim. We only have to open our eyes and see...
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