This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Shlach (5765)
This week we read about how the Jews refused to enter the land of Israel and G-d got so angry that He almost destroyed them all.
This is not understood.
First of all, if G-d wanted the Jews to go to Israel why didn't He just take them there? The Jews never went anywhere on their own in the desert; they were led by clouds of glory. So, all G-d had to do was just move those clouds to Israel and the Jews would have to follow. Why did He get mad instead?
Second; although refusing to enter the land of Israel was not a proper thing to do, it certainly is NOT a crime punishable by death. Was G-d over reacting?
Third; killing everyone is certainly no way to solve problems. Why didn't G-d just try to reason with them?
Fourth: In the beginning of the section G-d said to Moses "Shlach LECHA" (send the spies on your own responsibility). Certainly G-d foresaw the disaster. Why didn't He just tell Moses NOT to send them?
Fifth; the Jews didn't hear the order to enter Israel from G-d himself, rather they heard it only from Moses. All they heard from G-d were (the first two of) the Ten Commandments. So they weren't REALLY disobeying G-d by refusing to go to Israel. Why did He get so angry?
To understand all this here are two stories.
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (who lived some 1,800 years ago in Israel) was possibly the holiest man that ever lived. Besides writing the 'Zohar', being a master of the oral Torahand a miracle worker, he was one of the few Jews in history who spent every instant of his time learning Torah; no casual conversations, coffee breaks and certainly no vacations - only Torah.
So everyone was surprised when, the day after Rosh HaShanna (Jewish New Year's Day) he showed up at the door of his nephews home and began to lecture them about the importance of giving charity to the poor.
Although they didn't really have money to spare and totally didn't understand the urgency of what he was saying, they listened attentively; when Rabbi Shimon spoke everyone listened.
"Give with an open hand" Rabbi Shimon adjured "don't worry about tomorrow, G-d will provide. And most important; write it all down. Every penny you give, write down on a small paper and carry it with you at all times. I want to see a big sum at the end of the year."
Rabbi Shimon made them promise and he left.
Almost a year later they had another strange visit, from the Roman police - with a warrant for their arrest. Someone accused them of selling silk without paying the tax to the government. They began weeping and protesting their innocence but to no avail.
Trembling with fear they were led off to jail where they were given a choice; either pay an outrageous fine of six hundred dinar or produce an even more outrageously priced silk garment for the king, both of which were utterly beyond their means.
When Rabbi Shimon heard what had happened he immediately rushed to the prison and got a pass to visit his relatives.
"Where is the account of the charity you gave?" He asked. "How much did you give?"
"Here" they replied as one of them pulled the small parchment from his pocket.
Rabbi Shimon took the account and noticed that they had given almost six hundred dinar; they were just six dinar short. "Do you have any money on you?" he asked.
They produced six dinar that they had sewn into their garments in case they needed it. Rabbi Shimon took the money, bribed one of the officials, their charges were dropped and they were released. It had been a close call!
Outside he explained to them what had happened. "This past Rosh HaShanna I dozed off and dreamt that the government would demand of you six hundred dinars. That is why I told you to give charity, to negate the decree.
"Then why didn't you tell us about that." they whine, "we would have given the money immediately and spared ourselves a lot of anguish."
"No," he replied. "Then you wouldn't have given charity for the true reason - you would have been giving it in order to RECEIVE. Then it wouldn't have helped." (Vayikra Raba chap. 34)
The second story occurred some one hundred and fifty years ago in Russia (Otzar Sipuri Chabad pg 63)
In the city of Tchernovitz lived a wealthy and well know Jew who, together with a rich gentile, was falsely accused of hiding money from the government.
They secured the best lawyers and had the complete support from all the Jews in the area who fasted and prayed for their release. But it didn’t help.
Both were sentenced to several years of hard labor in Siberia.
The day before they were sent away to begin their sentence a messenger arrived at the home of the Rabbi of Tchernovitz, Rabbi Dovid Tzvi Chen, and requested that he come to the jail and see the Jewish prisoner.
When Rabbi Chen arrived, the rich Jew broke out into tears and said, "I confess my sins today! Woe to me that I didn't listen to the Rebbe. I used to consider myself to be a Chassid Chabad but now I know how far away I was!"
He wept uncontrollably for another minute and then continued.
"About three years ago I was riding to Petersberg in the first classcompartment of the train as was my custom, when one of the conductors that I was acquainted with knocked on my door and told me that the famous Lubavitcher Rebbe the Mahara'sh (Rebbe Shmuel the fourth Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch) was on the train. He offered to open one of the doors so I would be able to see him.
"He did so and when I saw the Rebbe's holy face I was startled. I stood frozen in fear and the Rebbe must have noticed it because suddenly his countenance became pleasant and friendly. He motioned for me to come closer and sit down and then offered me a cigarette from a gold case he had. It was the most amazing thing. He began speaking to me like a friend, asking about my business, my family, my friends until I almost forgot who I was talking to. Then suddenly he said, in the most strangely certain tones
"'You are in touch with many high officials and ministers. I'm sure you know that the government is planning to lay railroad tracks in Siberia. I'm sure that you, with recommendations from your high acquaintances, will be able to get a job building the tracks with good conditions.'
"The Rebbe stopped speaking and I understood that on that strange note the conversation had finished.
"I nodded to him and left the cabin.
"To tell you the truth I, fool that I am, paid no attention to his words. I even thought it was some sort of mistake G-d forbid! I thought, 'what would a rich man like me be doing working on the rails of Siberia'? Oy oy to me!!
"Now I see what a hard-headed dunce I was. With the grace of G-d I met with a true prophet, the source of truth, and I ignored it!! If I would have listened to the Rebbe I would be working in Siberia in comfort and honor instead of a slave as I am now. And who knows if I will every return home!"
This answers our questions.
Entering Israel was the beginning of a new era - the era of serving the Creator from FREE WILL.
Up to then G-d provided everything and made all the decisions for the Jews. He took them from Egypt, split the sea, provided manna, water, protection and direction all for one purpose… that they would eventually use their OWN FREE WILL and TOTALLY [like the first story; not for ulterior motives] 'give' to the Creator.
And, as the second story shows, the only real and true way to do this; to properly use free will, is by following Moses'.
Moses is THE essential ingredient to truth and only by following his EVERY order can the Jews truly use their power of choice properly.
That is why G-d didn't force the Jews or Moses. Because He wanted them to choose Him from free will. Above logic.
But the Jews let G-d down, instead of relying on Moses they relied on their own logic and feelings. That is why G-d couldn't reason with them; because Moses must be followed ABOVE reason.
And that is why G-d wanted to destroy them… because if after all they had seen and experienced they couldn't bring themselves to follow Moses - they were hopeless.
But finally G-d did not kill them. Because He worried about what the gentiles would say (14:13-16). Because after all, Jews are different; even the sinners of the Jewish people have a potential to listen to Moses, serve the Creator and change the ENTIRE creation...gentiles included - for good
This is an ESPECIALLY important lesson for our generation, the generation of Moshiach. Moshiach will be a great leader of unmatched holiness just like Moses, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and the Maharash, but even more so.
And, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe said many times, Moshiach is already here, all that is missing is that we use our FREE WILL to do all we can, even above reason to choose to bring....
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