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Parshat Balak (5765)

In this week's section the curses of Bilam are transformed to blessings and we see the clearest prophesies regarding Moshiach.

Even the Ramba'm, Rabbi Moses ben Mimon or as he is popularly know 'Maimonides' quotes from here when he concisely states the Torah's definition of Moshiach.

He writes that Moshiach will be a Jew who will be expert in all aspects of the Torah; both oral and written, he will fight the battles of G-d to strengthen the observance of the Torah and its commandments with the goal of building the third Holy Temple, gathering all the Jews to Israel etc.

And he concludes:

"Also in Parshat Bilam is prophesized about Two Moshiachs the first is DAVID and the last will be of his offspring: 'I will see him but not now' this is David, 'I view him but not near', this is the Moshiach etc." (Hil. Melachim 11:1)

At first glance this does not make sense.

If anyone was an expert in Torah, fought and defeated the enemies of the Jews, built the Tabernacle and brought the Jews to Israel it was MOSES!! He knew the entire Torah, he defeated Egypt, Amelek etc., built the prototype of the Temple and took the Jews to Israel.

Why does the Rambam compare Moshiach to King David and not Moses?

Another question; Elsewhere (Hil. Tshuva 9:2) the Rambam writes that Moshiach will be a great prophet. Why doesn't he include that here?

To answer this here is a story I just read in the weekly pamphlet HaGeula (#255)

The Lubavitcher Rebbe completely changed the scope of Judaism.

Before him religious Jews felt intimidated and threatened by the 'big' world. But the Rebbe taught that the opposite is true; Judaism is connected to the Creator while the world is just an aspect of creation. Torah is absolute knowledge while science is ever-changing and relative.

It used to be that when (G-d forbid) Jews were ill or if their houses were robbed they would change doctors or the locks on their doors. But now they first check Tefillin and Mezuzot and THEN call the doctors and locksmiths.

All this is due to the teachings of the Rebbe.

But his main accomplishment is the dissolving of the barrier between non-observant Jews and Torah Judaism.

It's hard to believe, but when the Rebbe first began sending Chassidim to influence non-religious Jews (for instance the Tefillin campaign in 1967) he was actually condemned by many orthodox Jewish leaders.

But now it's almost a household idea; 'All Jews, whether they know it or not, want to do all the commandments, they just have to be asked.'

Then in 1976 the Rebbe got even more specific; The Chassidim must visit prisons and encourage convicted criminals to put on Tefillin'.

Rabbi Yosi Tevel in New York took the message seriously. He bought a car and began driving from jail to jail. It wasn't easy and it took a lot of time and effort but it paid off; he managed to gain entrance to all the prisons in New York and permission to approach the Jewish prisoners. In no time it was a tremendous success; tens of Jewish inmates were putting on Tefillin and even learning Torah.

But in one prison he had problems.

He was a sixty-plus year old 'Reform Rabbi called 'Rabbi Jay'; a frail and rather scholarly looking fellow with a burning hatred for Orthodox Judaism, orthodox Jews and especially Chabad Chassidim. He gave strict orders to the guards to never allow Rabbi Yosi to even set foot on prison ground.

Of course Rabbi Yosi didn't give up; the Rebbe's words were echoing in his soul! But it didn't help him much. Every Thursday for months it was the same story. He drove to the prison, asked to get in, the guard at the gate phoned Rabbi Jay who gave orders to oust Rabbi Yosi physically if necessary and he was told to leave.

Rab Yosi needed a breakthrough; some sort of miracle. And he wasn't going to give up till he got it.

It happened two weeks before Passover. A few weeks earlier on Purim Rabbi Jay had soundly trounced Rab Yosi by denying him and his bags of 'Mishloach Monot' (Purim Gifts) entry. But this time, when he showed up with boxes of Matza and Grape Juice (wine was forbidden) Rabbi Jay found it difficult to totally refuse him.

Maybe it was because he felt a bit guilty that because of him the Jewish prisoners didn't celebrate Purim, or maybe he was just in a good mood but this time when the guard rang Rabbi Jay on the phone he told him to wait. He went down to the gate, shook Rab Yosi's hand and, in a very business-like manner told him that he was willing to make a deal;

He would take the things that Rab Yosi brought and distribute them himself to the prisoners… alone.

Rab Yosi hesitated for a second, smiled, shook Rabbi Jay's hand and agreed full-heartedly!

He was surprised. He didn't think that Rab Yosi would give in without a fight. His eyes met Rab Yosi's for a second and he saw something genuine. He had a few guards take the boxes to his office and then turned and…. invited the young rabbi into his office for a talk.

Rab Yosi didn't understand what was happening but he sensed that this was the miracle he was waiting for.

Once in the office the Rabbi became very informal and friendly. One thing led to another and finally after much hemming and hawing, he told Rab Yosi that he was considering allowing him to perhaps see a few of the prisoners on the holiday of Lag B'omer (about a month after Passover). "But" he warned, "Don't get too enthusiastic and DON"T go overboard'…… or else!!"

Lag B'omer arrived and Rab Yosi was there with three other Chassidim, one had a guitar, another with a drum and he and the third were laden with food.

They were escorted through high, winding concrete corridors to a large empty room with seats for a hundred people but with only two Jewish prisoners; it seems that Rabbi Jay 'forgot' to advertise the party.

But the music and dancing changed all that. In fifteen minutes all the Jews in the jailhouse …including Rabbi Jay, were there.

Rab Yosi sensed that the moment was right. He pulled out a pair of Tefillin and announced 'Happy Lag B'omer Jews!! Now is the time to put on Tefillin! Who's first?!!"

The other Chassidim also brandished their Tefillin and the prisoners stood in line to do the Mitzvah. Meanwhile Rabbi Jay was getting annoyed. He wanted to put a stop to it! He realized he had made a mistake and he was about to shout.

Suddenly Rab Yosi turned to him, held out the Tefillin and said "Nu, what about you Rabbi Jay?"

"You are a Chutzpan!!" (Shameless knave) Rabbi Jay exclaimed angrily. But Rab Yosi pretended that he didn't hear, took the Rabbi's arm with one hand and with the other began to push up the Rabbi's shirtsleeve and slide on the Tefillin.

Rabbi Jay jerked his arm away, hesitated a moment and suddenly his composure changed; he surprisingly declared, "I'll do it myself"!!

He took the Tefillin from Rab Yosi and put them on… albeit a bit uncertainly at first but after a moment as though it was something he did every day. He adjusted the box on his head to be exactly in the middle, put his hand over his eyes to say Shma Yisroel, stood in silence for a second or two, his body began to tremble …. and he burst into uncontrollable weeping!!

All the Chassidim and the prisoners were speechless and almost began weeping themselves… it isn't every day that you see a grown man crying aloud like a baby.

Rabbi Jay was oblivious to everyone around him. He took a prayer book, finished saying the Shma, removed the Tefillin, dried his eyes and, after the prisoners left, explained what had happened.

"I was born in Berlin into a religious family and was a young man in my late twenties on Crystal Night; the vicious beginning of the Holocaust. I ran to the attic to hide and watched from a small window. I saw how the Nazis dragged my grandfather, who had been a known Rabbi in Berlin, from his house and beat him to death in the streets along with hundreds of other Jews. I prayed and prayed to G-d to make it stop …. But He didn't. It just kept going on and on and I was helpless.

"Finally I found refuge in the forest for most of the war. I had no food, shelter or friends, I had lost everything. The world was upside down. Everything good was being destroyed and I prayed to G-d to take me away; I didn't want to live anymore, but G-d didn't answer that prayer either.

"Somehow I survived … but I was burning with anger … G-d had seriously let me and all the Jews in Europe down and I wanted revenge.

"As fate had it I moved to America, studied to become a Reform Rabbi and vowed to do all I could to make G-d mad; I encouraged the transgression of Shabbat, eating of un-kosher food, I made mixed marriages on Tisha B'av and much more.

"But when you came to me just now with those Tefillin something happened. I wanted to refuse, in fact I wanted to throw them to the ground, step on them and have you kicked out but suddenly …. I heard the voice of my father and grandfather pleading with me to be a Jew. I had to put them on.

"It suddenly became clear to me that I have been mistaken all my life."

From that day on Rabbi Jay became a different man. He decided to be a Jew in every way possible and developed a close relationship with Rab Yosi till the end of his life several years later.

This answers our questions. The Rambam does not compare Moshiach to Moses nor does he mention the fact that Moshiach will be a prophet because Moshiach, although he may do miracles and certainly will be a prophet, will not depend on those things to free the Jews as Moses did.

Rather he will be an example of self-sacrifice and leadership from the 'bottom up' as King David was. Similarly the Torah he will teach will not be the result of supernatural revelations as it was with Moses but through effort and hard work.

Because the only way that personal change is lasting is when it comes from the 'bottom up'… and Moshiach will change the priorities of all mankind permanently.

Something like the way that Rab Yosi changed Rabbi Jay and how the Rebbe has changed the lives of myriads of Jews with his Tefilln and other Mitzva campaigns.

I heard that the Rebbe once was asked what he thinks is wrong with Reform Judaism and he answered:

"Their goals are too low; they underestimate the potential of a Jew."

That is what the Moshiach will come to do; to cause each Jew, (indeed each creation), to reveal his/her true, G-d given, infinite potential.

Only then will all the prophesies of Bilam be fulfilled and all his 'curses' be truly transformed to the greatest blessing of all:

Moshiach NOW!

Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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