This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Chukat (5765)
This week's section begins with the commandment of slaughtering and burning the 'Red Cow' whose ashes are used to 'purify' one who has been 'defiled' by a corpse.
And immediately afterward it tells us of the death of Miriam, Moses' sister.
Rashi, the main elucidator of the Torah, explains that there is a reason for this juxtaposition.
"It comes to teach us that just as the Red Cow purifies, so the death of 'Tzadkim' (righteous Jews) purifies."
This is not understood.
First of all how can the death of Tzadikim, which is a terrible thing, possibly purify; and purify OTHERS?
Second; the purification brought about by the Red Cow is a purely technical affair; ashes are sprinkled on the defiled person and he/she automatically becomes 'pure'.
But the purification made by Tzadikim means bringing people to do 'Tshuva' i.e. change themselves deeply and personally through introspection and effort. Nothing like the sprinkling of Red Cow ashes!
Third: If the Red Cow is connected to the death of Tzadikim then why specifically Miriam? Why not to the death of Moses or Aaron or even Nadav and Avihu?
This coming week will be the holiday of Gimmel Tammuz, the day that the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Shneerson, was released from prison and certain death.
The Previous Rebbe dared to openly defy the Stalinist regime in Russia. When other Jewish leaders were urging their followers to keep a low profile or to flee Russia altogether, the Rebbe was sending his Chassidim to risk their lives spreading Judaism and teaching Torah to children. And most of them got caught,
Such a Chassid was Rabbi Mendel Futerfass. He was found guilty of 'treason' and sentenced to ten years of hard labor in Siberia. His sin was helping Jews get out of Russia by obtaining forged passports but his main occupation was raising funds and support for the massive secret 'underground' Torah educational system established by the Previous Rebbe.
Most of these underground schools had less than ten students so as not to attract attention and were located in basements, attics, behind camouflaged walls or any place that had no windows so no one 'outside' could see or even hear the Torah learning, and had no obvious entrance or exit so no one would notice anything unusual.
In those days people were afraid to even think negatively about Stalin. Secret police were everywhere and the brainwashed public was always eager to report anti-communist activities. All this, coupled with the anti-Semitism, made it suicidal to teach Torah. But the Chassidim did it.
The Rebbe taught them that Abraham, the first Jew, wasn't called the Father of Judaism because he promised spiritual prizes or eternal salvation (like the founders of other religions) but rather because he was willing to sacrifice everything, even heavenly reward, for the truth.
And it rubbed off on the Rebbe's Chassidim.
The story is told that Rabbi Futerfass got arrested as follows: After helping hundreds of Chassidim to leave Russia the word got to him that he was targeted; the secret police were hot on his trail and it would be only days, perhaps hours, before he would be arrested.
He had to act fast. He swiftly obtained forged passports for himself and his family and managed to find places on a train just moments before it left. It was a miracle! They were leaving Russia!!
At every stop soldiers would board and check everyone's passports and, miracle of miracles; they accepted his and his families' to be genuine.
Until finally they reached the last stop.... after this they would be out of Russia! He had reason to be tense but he wasn't. He just thought about the Rebbe and...hup! The police just glanced at their passports and was already continuing to the next car. He was free!
But suddenly Reb Mendel thought to himself, "How can I leave? Who will take care of the schools? Every day I'm there, even one day, is important!!"
He told his wife and family to continue without him and he got off the train.
A week or two later he was caught and was sentenced to Siberia.
Reb Mendel got out alive after seven years of hell and eventually became one of the head Rabbis in the Yeshiva where I teach in Kfar Chabad. We spoke regularly and he told me a story:
Once, before he himself was imprisoned by Stalin, the Previous Rebbe made an emergency meeting of all his important and influential supporters. Supporting the Rebbe was no simple matter in Communist Russia and just to come to the meeting was to risk one's life.
One person, a brave and self-sacrificing Doctor reported in detail how he helped and healed people often at the risk of his own life. The Rebbe listened and answered calmly,
"What you have done is nothing compared to what you could have done - and you know it. If you saved tens, you could have saved hundreds. If you helped hundreds you could have helped thousands."
Another Chassid begged the Rebbe to do something to help his sister get out of Russia. "At this meeting" answered the Rebbe, "we are not dealing with personal problems or ourselves. Here we are dealing with self-sacrifice. Only self-sacrifice will bring Judaism to victory."
Similarly with the Present Lubavitcher Rebbe. He so stressed the importance of true education that the United States Senate actually declared his birthday every year to be "National Education Day".
And he too, like the previous Rebbe, was never satisfied. He always urged his Chassidim to do more and reach more Jews.
One of the more striking examples is the village of Kfar Chabad which was founded by the previous Rebbe in 1949 less than a year before his passing with the sole purpose of spreading and providing Jewish education throughout Israel.
From the outset it was a success. The Kfar reached more and more youth until tragedy stuck in 1957.
Feyadeen Arab Terrorists entered the Youth Vocational School and in the middle of their Sabbath Morning Prayers opened fire with automatic weapons leaving three pupils and two teachers dead; murdered in cold blood.
The Kfar was shocked. Grown men that had weathered the interrogations of the KGB and the tortures of Siberia with a Chassidic song on their lips wept like babies and were broken by the meaningless massacre. There were murmurings that it was not safe to continue living in Kfar Chabad, and the vocational school certainly must be closed down.
Everyone waited for the Rebbe to send advice, direction, condolence or at least a response. But for three days there was nothing. They say the Rebbe locked himself in his room all that time.
Then, on the fourth day the answer came.
"Behemshech habinyan tinacheimu"
"By your continued building will you be comforted"
The Rebbe wanted them to BUILD!
He was telling them that abandoning the Kfar, closing the school or even just carrying on as before would be a victory for the terrorists. Rather we must BUILD; to see to it that all Jews, especially Jewish children, receive Jewish education. Even at the point of self-sacrifice.
I just read a story on Chabad.org that group of Jewish college students once had an audience with the Rebbe and one of them asked if it is really true that the Rebbe can do miracles.
"Every Jew is above nature" the Rebbe answered, "and therefore it is possible for every Jew to do miracles."
"In fact to prove it" the Rebbe continued "I am going to do a miracle right now!"
The students could not believe their ears. They were expecting an unusual answer but nothing like this… what was he going to do? They began to get nervous.
The Rebbe said, "I want each of you, right now, to make a resolution to do something that you know in your mind is good and right, but up to now you thought was impossible for you to do. That is a true miracle!"
This answers our above questions.
Tzadikim are always increasing in holiness… even after they 'pass away' (see Tanya pg book 4:27) [and there are great Tzadikim, e.g. Moshiach who are only hidden from the eye (see Rashi on Daniel 12:12) and only appear to pass away].
In fact their actual 'passing' releases tremendous positive energy to inspire and, like the ashes of the Red Cow, remove 'impurity' - namely obstacles to serving G-d and to self-sacrifice.
Just as the Red Cow purifies the defiled and defiles the pure (namely the Cohan (priest) that purifies the unclean person himself becomes unclean for a short period). Similarly the Tzadikim, especially after they have 'departed' this world, bring their followers to 'defile' and sacrifice themselves in order to purify and educate others.
And that is why the Red Cow is juxtaposed to Miriam. Because Miriam is best known for her self-sacrifice and willingness to 'defile' herself to save Jewish CHILDREN (see Rashi, Ex. 1:15).
The lesson to us is that we can and must also draw power and purity made available by the Tzadikim. Just like the Red Cow purifies from death:
As long as we do not realize our potentials that G-d gave us we are 'dead'. But Tzadikim, especially the Rebbe, continue to enliven us as in the above story with the students, by making us aware that we are really above nature and (as we will soon see in the Raising of the Dead) above even 'death'.
In fact one of the jobs of Moshiach is to reveal the tenth and last Red Cow and purify all the Jewish people, and through them the entire world.
It's up to us to do all we can to reveal...
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