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 (2))
This week's section 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. The gentiles ran to the leading philosopher of the time; 'Bilam, for an explanation and he told them:
"G-d is giving His people power. G-d is blessing His people with peace."
At first glance this is not understood. It doesn't seem that those who learn Torah are more powerful or peaceful than anyone else.
Exactly the opposite! The religious Jews are few and weak and are hated by most of the world. No power no peace!
And how do we see that the Torah 'lifts up' the Jews.
The answer might be found in the following story of the Baal Shem Tov who passed away on the holiday of Shavuot (as did King David some 2,500 Years earlier)
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 other unique ideas.
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 then called one of his pupils for a mission; a Jew had to be saved.
Lipa had been one of the prize Talmudic pupils of Rabbi Nachum Yitzchak of Harki. As a young boy he mastered most of the twenty some volumes of Talmud and he had all the makings of a great leader. Learning Torah was his consuming desire and he worked at it day and night with such gusto and success that it was no surprise that when he came of marriageable age he was flooded with offers.
The Rabbi of Harki took Lipa under his wing like an only son, and 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 the one who marveled the most was Lipa himself.
For the first few years Lipa sat and learned Torah uninterruptedly, but one day he good-naturedly suggested to his father-in–law that perhaps he try his hand a few hours a week in the family business.
His father-in-law welcomed the idea. He 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 he was wheeling and dealing, juggling prices, making friends and a lot of money. 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 made more and more money, he gradually abandoned the ways of his fathers and adopted the ways of his gentile business acquaintances until finally he divorced his wife, moved from Harki, bought a huge castle and began to live and act like one of the gentile nobility.
When his old teacher Rab Nachum, heard what had happened it was as though he had been struck by lightning. In his life he had never lost a pupil or even left Harki but now this! It was time to act. He had to save Lipa. He took ten of his best pupils and traveled to Lipa's estate.
He was shocked to see that all the rumors were all too true to bear. Lipa answered the door cleanly shaven, with no Tzizis, there were even no 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 completely sunk in luxury and was enjoying every second of it.
He led them through room after finely decorated room pointing out the imported mirrors, expensive tapestries, ornate furniture and massive paintings while describing his world wide business deals and exciting adventures.
But Rab Nachum's heart was breaking. He was helpless. There was nothing he could say, no argument he could present for Judaism that Lipa hadn't already heard and nothing he could offer that could match this success. He remained in Lipa's house for a day or two 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 added on fifteen minutes of saying Psalms for Lipa after his Morning Prayers.
And this went on for a while. Then, one day about a year later Rab Nachum for some reason took more time than usual in his Psalms; for almost an hour he poured out his heart to the Creator and when he finished he noticed that the room was empty except for one filthy, ragged vagrant sitting in the corner also reading Psalms with a broken heart.
As Rab Nachum got to the door to leave the synagogue 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? Was he still alive or....?
"Don't you recognize me?" Continued the stranger, "It's me, Lipa! I've come back!" And they both began to weep like babies.
Several hours later Lipa had cleaned up and told what happened.
"A week or two after you left there arrived a mysterious general fixit man, a religious Jew by the name of Azreal Yosef that said he was looking for work. He seemed intelligent and good natured so I gave him a try.
Although he was friendly with everyone he didn't mingle or participate in the frivolity and nonsense of the others. 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 house and we began to talk. Eventually we even talked about Torah. But to tell you the truth, although he liked the Torah ideas I gave, the ideas he said were from a completely different place. They were full of life and joy. Not like mine that were purely intellectual.
Finally it became too much for me. I saw that he had some sort of happiness in the Torah and in life that I didn't understand, that I had never seen before.
That is when he explained to me that he was a follower of the Baal Shem Tov and the Baal Shem Tov taught that a Jew must always be happy"
Azreal Yosef said: "G-d creates everything constantly, even you and me. Isn't that a miracle?! G-d chose us to be His people and He gave us our Torah, the Torah of Live to serve Him! Isn't this a reason to be happy?! Our commandments connect us to the Creator of the Universe. Isn't this a reason to rejoice!"
"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!
I sold my estate, gave the money to charity and have been wandering from town to town ever since; sleeping in synagogues and wherever I could and asking G-d to forgive me.
Now I'm back."
This answers our question. When the Torah was given 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 second person SINGULAR). To every Jew He gave the power to change the entire world for the good - just as G-d took us out of Egypt (first commandment) so every commandment we do makes the world into a more blessed and holy place.
Similarly the Torah is peace. When we say words of Torah and think about how each one links us to the GIVER of the Torah, it eliminates false egotism drastically. And false egotism is the cause of all strife.
That is why the Torah is likened to water, because just as water seeks the lowest level so the Torah only dwells in humble people; those who realize that everything is really only a gift from the Creator.
But 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 only take advantage of it).
Then the Torah will shine with a new light and we will see and FEEL the G-dliness in every word of G-d. That is the Torah that the Baal Shem Tov began to reveal and that Azreal Yosef enlivened Lipa with 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. And it all depends on our accepting the Torah, learning Torah and doing all we can to bring....
Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.