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 Naso (5765)
This week's section 'Naso' means 'Lift up' and it precedes the holiday of Shavuot, when G-d 'lifted up' the Jews and made them a 'Kingdom of priests and a holy nation' (Ex. 19:6)
The Talmud relates that when the Jews got the Torah, the entire world shook and when the gentiles ran to the arch sorcerer 'Bilam for an explanation he told them:
"G-d is giving His people power; G-d is blessing His people with peace."
In other words, at Sinai; the Jews received peace and power together with the Torah.
But at first glance this does not seem to be so. If you look around you will see that the Jews don't seem more powerful or peaceful than anyone else.
Exactly the opposite! Jews that keep the Torah are few, weak and hated by most of the world. So how do we see that the Torah gave power, peace or lifted us?
Another question is that Moses took the Jews from Egypt and received the Torah (When G-d spoke and appeared to the Jews at Sinai they couldn't take it (Ex. 20:15)) Why didn't G-d do it Himself without Moses?
The answer to all this might be found in this story about the Baal Shem Tov (who, incidentally, passed away on the holiday of Shavuot some 250 years ago as did king David over 2,000 years before that).
Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem, known as The Baal Shem Tov or Besh't for short, was the originator of the Chassidic approach to Judaism. He taught that every Jew is holy, G-d creates the world constantly, and every detail, especially every human being, is important and meaningful. But the only way to reveal this is by Jews observing the Torah; so there can be no greater tragedy than a non-observant Jew.
Once the Besh't was sitting with his pupils when suddenly he looked up at the ceiling for several moments as though in another dimension and saw a catastrophe. He immediately called over a pupil of his; Azriel Yosef, and sent him on a mission; to save a Talmudic scholar by the name of Lipa who had left Judaism.
Lipa was a genius and had been one of the prize Talmudic pupils of Rabbi Nachum Yitzchak of Harki. As a young boy learning Torah was his consuming desire and he worked at it day and night until he mastered most of the twenty some volumes of Talmud by heart and had the markings of a great leader.
His teacher, the Rabbi of Harki, treated young Lipa as an only son, and when he reached a marriageable age and marriage offers began pouring in he, after much searching and sifting, finally agreed to a G-d fearing girl from a well known wealthy family that would support Lipa while he sat and learned Torah - for the rest of his life if necessary.
The wedding was spectacular. Every Jew for miles around; rich and poor, learned and simple, young and old attended. But the highlight of the evening was the brilliant Torah speech given by the groom. It was so deep yet understandable that it was hypnotizing, and everyone present marveled at Lipa's great wisdom and knowledge.
But, unfortunately no one noticed that the one who marveled the most was Lipa himself.
Lipa's insatiable egotism didn't reveal itself for the first few years after his marriage. He sat and learned Torah uninterruptedly and seemed to really be doing it for G-d. But one day when he good-naturedly suggested to his father-in–law that perhaps he try his hand a few hours a week in the family business and his father-in-law welcomed the idea…. things began to change.
His father-in-law was an entrepreneur, buying, selling and making connections throughout the world and he could use some fresh blood in the business. Lipa took to it like a fish thrown into water.
Before long Lipa was wheeling and dealing, juggling prices, making friends and a lot of money just like his father in law. Gradually the pleasures of learning Torah became dwarfed by the pleasures of the real world; real money, real risks and real profits!!
Little by little, as he became more and more successful, he gradually abandoned the ways of Judaism and opted out for attending parties, gambling, hunting, drinking and taking long 'business' trips. It wasn't long before the Torah and its commandments held no interest for him, moved from Harki, sent his wife a bill of divorce, bought a huge castle and began to live and act like one of the gentile nobility.
Months later when his teacher Rab Nachum Yitzchak, heard of the divorce and what had happened he didn't believe it. His protégé couldn't be in the clutches of evil! He took ten of his best pupils, got directions and traveled to Lipa's new estate. Maybe the rumors weren't true.
But when he arrived and Lipa answered the door he was shocked to see that it was all too true to bear. Almost a year had passed since he last saw him. Lipa had totally left Judaism; there weren't even mezuzot on the doors of his palace!
But Lipa was actually pleased to see his old mentor, as though he was an interesting relic from his past, and graciously invited him and his pupils to enter.
There was no sign of shame or regret on Lipa's face or in the tone of his voice as he showed them around his mansion; exactly the opposite! He was proud of the luxury and success and was enjoying every second of it.
He led them through the finely decorated rooms pointing out the imported mirrors, expensive tapestries, ornate furniture and massive paintings while describing his world wide business deals and exciting adventures.
But his teacher's heart was breaking at the sight of this lost sheep and he was helpless to change his mind. There was no argument that Lipa hadn't already heard and nothing he could offer that could match this success. He remained in Lipa's house for few hours until he had enough.
He tried to say a few parting words, wiped the tears from his eyes, shook Lipa's hand and finally said, "I'm still waiting for you to come back" gave him a kiss and left with his entourage.
From that day on Rab Nachum Yitzchak added fifteen minutes of Psalms for Lipa after his Morning Prayers.
And this went on for a while. Then, one day about a year later for some reason his Psalms came from a deeper place in his heart; for almost an hour he poured out his heart, weeping to the Creator as did King David thousands of years earlier, and when he finished he noticed that the Synagogue was empty except for one filthy, ragged vagrant sitting in the corner also reading Psalms and weeping.
As Rab Nachum Yitzchak reached the door and was about to leave the stranger suddenly stood and approached him.
"Rabbi, if you were saying psalms for your ex-pupil, Lipa, you can stop. Lipa is...."
The Rabbi's eyes widened in terror and the tears again began flowing. What happened? "Lipa is … what???"
"Lipa is …. ME! I've come back!" And they embraced and began to weep like babies.
Several hours later after Lipa had cleaned up and eaten he told what happened.
"A week or two after you left, a religious Jew by the name of Azreal Yosef knocked at my door and said he was looking for work as a manager and maintenance man. He seemed intelligent and good natured and, in fact I needed someone, so I gave him a try and he was very successful.
"He seemed to know how to fix everything that was broken and he was an excellent manager; everyone liked him and was happy to follow his advice and orders.
But although he was friendly with everyone he didn't mingle or participate in any frivolity. In fact the word got around that all his spare time he spent learning Torah. But on the other hand he was always available to help whoever needed it. Before long a new spirit of harmony and brotherhood could be felt among all the workers and I became curious.
So I invited this Azreal Yosef to my office and we began to talk. I saw that he was very intelligent and knew a lot of Torah but when asked him about where he came from he was mysteriously evasive. So I decided to give him a real surprise and show him my Talmudic genius.
But I was the one that got the surprise. He fully understood and even liked the Torah ideas I gave but when he explained the same ideas I almost broke out into tears. They weren't just deep intellectual evaluations that competed with mine but filled with life and joy: Like he was explaining to me how to find diamonds or the way back home.
Finally it became too much for me. I saw that he had some sort of happiness in life and in learning Torah that I had never seen before.
That is when he explained to me that he was the follower of a great Jew by the name of the Baal Shem Tov who taught love and happiness as well as awe and erudition. And this great Jew sent him to me."
I have no idea how this Baal Shem Tov knew that I existed; I had heard of him but never seen him in my life!
Azreal Yosef said: "In every generation there is one Jew that cares for all the Jews; because only they can bring blessing, meaning and peace to the world by learning Torah. A long time ago it was Moses, another example is King David, that is why his Psalms are so powerful and in our generation it is the Baal Shem Tov."
"Suddenly I realized how selfish and stupid I'd been. All this time, both when I was learning Torah and when I abandoned the Torah, I'd only been thinking about myself! But the Baal Shem Tov knew of my plight and sent someone to help me! I sold my estate, gave the money to charity and have been wandering for the last two months in repentance before I become a follower of the Baal Shem Tov."
What happened to me was a miracle no less than Moses taking the Jews from Egypt and giving them the Torah.
This answers our question. When the Torah was given G-d did not just give a book of ideas. That is what Lipa thought at first and why he left Judaism. Rather G-d gave Himself! He actually revealed Himself and spoke to an entire nation 'face to face' (Deut 5:4).
This is tremendous power to the Jewish people; G-d spoke to EVERY Jewish soul for all generations, each one individually! (That is why the Ten Commandments are all in the SINGULAR). To every Jew He gave the power to change the entire world for the good - every commandment we do 'frees the world' and makes it into a more blessed and holy place. Just as G-d took us out of Egypt (first commandment).
Similarly the Torah is peace. When we say words of Torah and think about how each word links us to the GIVER of the Torah and the constant CREATOR of the universe, it eliminates false egotism; the cause of all strife.
This is the Power and Peace G-d gave us at Sinai.
But this could only be done through Moses. Without him, and leaders like him, the Jewish people are like sheep with no shepherd (Num. 27:17) as Lipa in our story discovered.
And this will be the job of Moshiach.
The main 'power' and 'peace' of the Torah will only be revealed in the days of Moshiach (which the Lubavitcher Rebbe says is now if we open our 'eyes').
Then the Torah will shine with a new light and we will see and FEEL the G-dliness in every molecule of creation. That is what Baal Shem Tov began to reveal as Lipa also discovered in our story.
Then, in the days of Moshiach, the world will be filled with the awareness of the Creator like water fills the ocean. (Isaiah 11:9)
But amazingly it all depends of us. Even ONE more good deed, word or even thought can actually tilt the scales and bring ....
Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.