This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.
Parshat Emor (5765)
This week's section contains one of the most unusual commandments in the Torah; to die for G-d.
"And I (G-d) will be made Holy within the Jewish people". (22:32)
At first glance this is not understood.
Firstly, how do these words imply giving your life for G-d?
Secondly, what is so great about dying? All the OTHER religions stress dying and the afterlife while Judaism stresses LIVING.
Also, The Torah is called Torat Chaim, it is a book of life! Life is holiness! But death is destruction and brings 'TUMA' (defilement) which is the OPPOSITE of holiness!
(I heard of a Chassidic Jew in WWII Poland that was running from a group of German soldiers and had to find a place to hide. He ran and ran ducking around corners and through alleys until he came to a Church. It was his only chance to evade them. But he couldn't bring himself to enter (Judaism considers Christianity to be idolatry). And he was consequently caught and murdered.)
Thirdly, what does the G-d mean here by the words. "I will be made Holy" G-d has to be 'made' Holy? Isn’t He already Holy?
To understand all this here is a story I saw in a weekly pamphlet called "HaG'ula" (issue #254) that took place some 30 years ago.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman Gur-Arie besides being a devoted and well known Chassid of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Rabbi Menchem Shneerson, was also important, respected and beloved, especially in Chabad circles.
So it wasn't very difficult for him to arrange a private audience for a business acquaintance and friend of his whom we will call Yitzchak (fictitious name) with the Rebbe.
This Yitzchak was in trouble and was going out of his mind with worry. His fifteen year old daughter, his only child, was suffering from a large cyst in her stomach that the doctors said was life-threatening and had to be removed surgically but they weren't optimistic.
The operation would not be an easy one, and they warned him that there was a definite probability that it wouldn't succeed. All this threw poor Yitzchak into a panic. He she was his pride and joy and the 'apple of his eye. He couldn't even bare the thought that maybe she would.....G-d forbid!! He was very desperate.
Then someone mentioned the Lubavitcher Rebbe. They said he gave blessings that worked and that people with worse problems had been helped.
But was that Yitzchak was not much of a believer in such things, in fact he wasn't much of a believer at all.
But now he was willing to do anything. And that is where Rabbi Gur-Arie came into the picture. Yitzchak had known him for many years and now in desperation he telephoned him and asked him to arrange a meeting with the Rebbe for a blessing as soon as possible.
Rabbi Gur-Arie made a few phone calls and instead of having to wait weeks or even months the next evening they entered the Rebbe's room.
As soon as the door closed behind them Yitzchak was already wishing that he hadn't come. This whole ultra-religion business was totally against his grain. But it was too late now he was already inside. Not only that, but Rabbi Gur-Arie was his friend he couldn't just walk out and leave him….and, who knows, maybe the blessings really did work; he had to think about his daughter.
The Rebbe was very cordial, asked what the problem was and after listening intently, answered.
"I think it is better to put off the operation for a few months, say two or three, until the Jewish month of Adar. Adar is a joyous month and will have a positive influence."
Yitzchak nodded his head in agreement. The Rebbe spoke with such certainty and authority that it left no room for doubt.
Then the Rebbe asked which school his daughter was learning at. Yitzchak replied with a proud smile that she was learning in a Jewish Hebrew school (that happened to be totally non-religious), not a public school.
The Rebbe replied. "You should enroll her in Bait Yaakov Orthodox Jewish girl's academy. She will like it better there and it is important to her well being. In the previous generations genuine Torah education was given at home and there was no influence from outside. But in our generation it is necessary that girls get quality Jewish education."
This was too much for Yitzchak. "Excuse me Rabbi" He protested. "My daughter is very happy where she is and so are her mother and I. We don't want to be orthodox and neither does our daughter!"
To this the Rebbe smiled and replied. "I am not a doctor, but nevertheless you are wiling to take my medical advice. But on the other hand I am an expert in education; In this I have been working all my life. So why do you oppose my advice in education?"
But it didn't help. Yitzchak just mumbled a few words of thanks and backed out of the room.
The fact is, he was a bit angry for the Rebbe entering his personal matters but, as the Rebbe said, he did take the Rebbe's medical advice and blessing seriously; He decided to push off the operation.
Time passed and Rabbi Gur-Arie was so busy that he all but forgot the entire incident. But a month later he happened to meet someone that knew Yitzchak and updated him.
He told him that Yitzchak had indeed pushed off the operation, according to the advice of the Rebbe and against the orders of the doctors. But his daughter's situation, instead of getting better got much worse! In fact the cyst grew to the point that the doctors were afraid to operate at all.
Rabbi Gur-Arie immediately dropped all he was doing and rushed to the Rebbe's headquarters to report the shocking news and ask advice. The answer was quick in coming. The Rebbe replied. "Did her father enroll her in Bait Yaakov?"
Rabbi Gur-Arie understood what the Rebbe wanted; he should call Yitzchak and tell him. But there was no way that he could call him! It was out of the question!! He would never accept the advice, never!! And he would earn an enemy forever!! The best thing was to wait and pray for the best.
First of all Yitzchak didn't have any faith in these things from the beginning; he already got angry when the Rebbe suggested changing schools. So probably he was flaming mad now.
Yitzchak already took the Rebbe's advice and now his daughter was on the verge of death! For SURE he wouldn't enroll his daughter in a different school Who knows if she was even still alive?!
But Rabbi Gur-Arie was a Chassid, and a Chassid does what the Rebbe says….. in joy.
He forced himself to pick up the phone, dial Yitzchak's number and just give over the Rebbe's message like a Chassid should.
The other end of the line was silent. After a few seconds Yitzchak just said. "I understand." And he hung up.
Two weeks later Rav Gur-Arie's phone rang. He picked it up and it was Yitzchak.
"She's better! It's a miracle Rabbi Gur-Arie! A miracle!!
"After I hung up the phone with you, Rabbi, I called the offices of Bait Yaakov and enrolled my daughter. I thought to myself 'What could it hurt'? Well the next day she felt a bit better and the day after the cyst broke open and began drying up! The operation wasn't even necessary! It was a miracle! Now she's back home completely healthy! Please give a big thanks to the Rebbe for the miracle. I also just wrote a letter to him but you thank him as well."
The next time that Rabbi Gur-Arie was in the Rebbe's office he repeated what Yitzchak had told him about how grateful he was for the miracle and how it had a deep effect on everyone who heard about it.
The Rebbe smiled and said.
"The girl was a miracle but the real miracle was you! Namely that you overcame your doubts and gave over my message. That was the miracle!"
This answers our questions:
The essence of Judaism is that G-d is ONE. This doesn't only mean that as far as gods go there is only one. Rather it means that G-d is the ONLY real existence. This is the truth: 'Ain od Milvado' namely there is no existence save Him. The Heavens and earth (spiritual and physical) are His constant miraculous creations ….. from nothing.
But G-d purposely made creation in such a way that it 'hides' this truth and He personally 'Chose' the Jews and gave them His Torah to 'reveal' it again.
This is what it means to 'Make G-d Holy": to reveal this ONEness.
But it requires self-sacrifice; overcoming one's own human nature and selfish logic like Rabbi Gur Arie in our story.
In fact, beginning with the first Jew Abraham, there have been millions of Jews that even gave their very lives rather than deny G-d's oneness. Like the Chassid in our first story.
This is the legacy given us from Abraham, Issac and Jacob; to sacrifice all for the sake of unifying G-d.
(Unlike the 'martyrs' and 'suicide bombers' of the other religions who give their lives in order to enter heaven).
But according to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the self-sacrifice demanded of us today is not to die but to do more good than we want to, to benefit others and improve the world like Rabbi Gur-Arie in our story.
That is what the Rebbe meant when je said we must open our eyes and begin living in the days of Moshiach.
Namely, to rise above our selfish natures and do everything possible to create a world that is filled with meaning, blessing and joy, void of hatred, jealousy and strife and filled with the revelation of the Creator that we pray for daily especially in the 'Alenu' prayer.
And that can be accomplished by just one more good deed, word or even thought. If done with positive self-sacrifice and desire to produce even a small 'light' that can dispel much darkness, truly make the world Holy and reveal...
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.