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.
Shavuot (5765 (1))
This week's section is called "In The Desert". It begins the fourth book of the Torah and tells in great detail how Moses, at G-d's command, counted the Jews after the exodus from Egypt.
At first glance this is not understood; what did they have to count for?
Censuses are usually made to assess the size and the needs of the population and then to distribute the burden of taxes equally.
But here all the needs of the Jews were provided for miraculously by G-d, and G-d had no budget, needed no taxes and certainly already knew the number of Jews.
If so, then why did the Jews have to be counted? And why did G-d insist that the Moses do it?
Also, this section is a preparation for the Receiving of the Torah which we celebrate in just a few days on the holiday of Shavuot. What has counting got to do with this? And what does it all have to do with "The Desert"?
To understand this here is a story.
About nine years ago a young Russian fellow called Zachar participated in our summer program with a few other English-speaking Russian university students from St. Petersberg.
A year and a half later he sent me an email saying that;
1) He had just had a Brit Mila and was now called Zachariah
2) He was engaged to be married and was inviting me to his wedding
3) He just received his doctorate in both chemistry and physics
He even sent me a few pictures of his engagement party and when I took a look I almost fell off my seat. I couldn’t believe it was him! He had become a complete Chabad Chassid; beard, hat, long black coat, surrounded by Rabbis, and a huge smile on his face.
I flew to Russia for the wedding (it was fantastic!) and it was there that I met Dovid Segal and his wife Esther.
I stayed in their apartment for the week. They were both "Baali Tshuva" to Chabad. He had a doctorate in Physics and she was an accomplished writer. We became good friends but when I asked why they had no children I received a sad explanation.
They had been married for almost four years, had been through all the fertility tests and treatments and just a few weeks earlier received the sad news that it was medically impossible for them to have children.
I told them to keep praying, gave them my best wishes, thanked them for the hospitality and returned to Israel.
Three years later Dovid called me, said he was here in Israel and told me the most miraculous story.
A few months after I left their home he and his wife visited Israel and were the guests of a well known Chabad Rabbi and teacher; Rabbi Avraham Freidlander in the city of Kiriat Malachi. He heard their problem and proceeded to open a new era in their lives; he introduced them to "Igrot Kodesh":
'Igrot Kodesh' are 26 volumes of (a small fraction of) the 'Holy Letters' that the Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote in replies to questions from troubled Jews.
Rabbi Freidlander instructed them to write their own letter to the Rebbe, pick a volume at random, insert the letter anywhere in that book and see what the Rebbe answered.
They did as he said, wrote about their inability to have children, opened it to the page they chose and were amazed:
It was a blessing for children and a request to give the newborn child a certain name!
Dovid and Ester returned to Russia with new hope; against all odds they would have a child!! After some searching they found a doctor who, for a sizeable fee, was willing to try a new method. They somehow got up the money and Esther took the treatment
A month later Ester went back to the doctor and the results were, POSITIVE!! She was pregnant!! Miracle of miracles!!
The Doctor himself was overjoyed and gave Esther his phone to call home and relate the good news.
But in the middle of her call, while Dovid was jumping for joy on the other end of the line, a smiling nurse entered the room and interrupted with new results - it was TWINS!!
Dovid heard the news and began singing and dancing. But a few seconds later yet another nurse entered and announced that yet ANOTHER fetus had been detected! It was TRIPLETS!!!
Esther had to sit down, she hadn't expected such a miracle. But her joy was premature.
A few moments later a doctor entered the room with a serious look on his face - a fourth fetus had been detected and that spelled danger. One or two of the fetuses would have to be eliminated!!
Esther instinctively refused. She rushed outside, took a taxi home and together with Dovid, sped to the office of the head Rabbi of St. Petersburg; Rabbi Menachem Mendel Pevzner. It was a life and death situation and they needed a rabbinic opinion.
Rabbi Pevzner immediately lifted the phone and began consulting other Rabbis and even some professors in Israel. Many said that just to keep on the safe side maybe it was best to 'eliminate', but no one was sure.
The only solution, said Dovid, was to again turn to Igrot Kodesh. Rabbi Pevzner supported their decision.
They wrote a long letter, explaining all the new developments and opinions, chose a book, inserted the letter and opened to a miraculously clear answer.
The Rebbe wrote about the importance of life, the preciousness of each and every human being and the importance of never giving up on saving a person.
They knew what they had to do.
When the doctor in the Petersburg hospital heard their decision he immediately advised them to go to Israel where, perhaps, they could find a doctor willing to take the case.
They took the doctor's advice and a month later moved to Jerusalem only to find the situation even more complicated than before.
The first examination in the Israeli hospital revealed that Esther was not carrying four fetuses as they thought in Russia but FIVE! And ALL the Israeli doctors agreed that five was too many!
They sat the young couple down and solemnly described the misery and tragedy that awaited them if they didn't listen; the fetuses would starve to death, choke to death, be crushed to death and perhaps she would die with them; perhaps slowly, perhaps suddenly. But the Segal's refused to listen.
Esther was put in intensive observation and was warned that at the slightest sign of danger they would operate.
At one point there was a crises; Esther became ill and the doctors announced that they had to remove several fetuses IMMEDIATELY or else!! The doctors threatened to call in the police. The pressure mounted.
Dovid had no other choice but to again consult the Rebbe's letters.
The answer he received was in volume 11 page 162. The Rebbe inquired as to the health of his wife, told him to check his Tefillin and Mezuzot and assured him of a safe and successful pregnancy and birth.
Dovid ran to the nearest reliable scribe handed in his Tefillin and Mezuzas begged him to check them immediately and saw that the Rebbe again was right. The ink on the parchment had somehow faded and his expensive Tefillin were 'Posol' (completely unfit).
On the spot he had new parchments installed and on that very day his wife's problem disappeared and the doctors calmed down; they realized they were up against the supernatural.
In fact, at the next crisis the doctors actually asked Dovid to write to the Rebbe. And the answer he received was, again, as accurate, practical and wondrous as the others.
On the second of Ellul 5761 (Aug. 21, 2001) three healthy boys and two healthy girls were born to Dovid and Ester Segal. But that was only the beginning!
All the doctors were totally impressed but they also agreed that it was medically impossible for the Segals to have children in a normal way.
But when they inquired into Igrot Kodesh the Rebbe seemed to disagree.
Two and a half years later I got a phone call from Dovid telling me that his wife just gave birth to another baby boy and that I should try come to the Brit in Jerusalem, in a half an hour. "I live a good hour from Jerusalem", I told him, and my wife has the car. I can't make it!"
"A Chassid is above nature" he answered.
I couldn't argue with that. I grabbed my hat and jacket, ran from the house and as got to the street and stuck out my thumb a car slammed on the brakes and screeched to a halt before me in a cloud of dust.
"Where are you going!" he yelled. I answered "Jerusalem" and he replied "Get in, I'm in a hurry!!"
The whole way he drove Over 80 mph non-stop, jaws clenched and eyes concentrating intensely on the road. He finally let me off, one block from my destination! I made it!
Dovid was happy to see me but when I explained how I miraculously made it to the bris he wasn't impressed.
He said, "That's nothing compared to how the baby made it here! He was conceived without any treatments at all, against ALL the prognosis of all the doctors.
"See," he said, "I told you that Chassidim are above nature!"
Now we can understand why G-d wanted Moses to count the Jews.
Moses is called a "Eish HaElokim" (Deut. 33:1) (lit. Man G-d) and the Midrash (Dev. Raba 11:4) explains:
"Moses' 'lower' half was man and his 'upper' half was 'G-d'! In other words Moses was 'Above nature'; he 'united' the Creator in the creation.
And therefore HE had to count the Jews in order to raise ALL the Jews above nature and impart in each and every one of them this power as well:
Suddenly each Jew 'counted' so-to-speak, and was able to INDEPENENTLY bring 'Above nature' into nature.
This is the real identity of the Jewish people as expressed in the "Shma Yisroel" prayer: the Jews must feel and reveal to the world that G-d is ONE.
And this is the preparation for the receiving of the Torah.
Because the ONLY way to receive the Torah is to realize that the purpose of the Jewish people is to be attached to the 'Moses' of every generation and reveal the Creator in the creation.
And ONLY through receiving, learning and fulfilling the Torah can this be achieved.
This is the message of our section: It is up to us to change 'The Desert' of this world to a G-dly place just as Dovid Segal and his wife did by being attached to the Rebbe, the Moses of our generation, and being 'Above Nature' so must we do all we can to bring...
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.