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Parshat Re'eh (5765)

This week's Torah portion contains the commandment to ingore the false prophet.

If there stands up a prophet....And makes miracles or wonders....And he says let us worship other gods....don't listen to him....he must die (13:2-6)

The Torah even explains why G-d deliberately tries to confuse us by sending someone with power, charisma and miracles to seduce us from the Torah;

"Because G-d is testing you to know if you love G-d with all your heart etc." (13:4)

The book Derech Mitzvotecha explains that the deeper meaning is not so much that G-d should know (because He knows all) but rather that WE know. And the word 'know' here means to be 'connected', in the sense of: "Adam knew his wife'"

Namely that only through such a strange test can we truly 'Know' and be attached to G-d.

Does this make sense? Is it really possible to 'know' G-d? Isn't G-d infinite and above understanding? And what has it got to do with a false prophet?

This Shabbat also ushers in the month of Ellul, the month of Tshuva. Is there a connection?

To understand all this here is a story.

A friend of mine here in Kfar Chabad, Rabbi Meir Tabib, recently visited an old folk's home to cheer up the patients. When one of them, an older man, heard that Rab Meir was from Chabad he got excited and told him a story.

The old fellow stressed that he was a staunch Zionist, was not religious and never would be - but once something happened to him with Chabad that almost made him consider changing his mind.

Some fifty years ago he had been a high figure in 'Mapai', a far left Zionist party that was powerful in the earlier years of the State of Israel.

One of his jobs was directing the large Mapai Library in Tel Aviv and for that reason he would frequently travel around the world, especially the U.S.A in search of books, funds and supporters.

Occasionally his travels took him to the Crown Heights district of Brooklyn, the headquarters of the Lubavitcher Rebbe where he would be the guest of one of the Rebbe's personal secretaries Rabbi Binyamin Klein (who was also given the job of hosting important Israeli guests).

One year this visit coincided with the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur and, being an intellectual and a bit of an adventurer, he gladly put on a prayer shawl took a Machzor (High holiday prayer book) and joined the hundreds of Jews in the Synagogue.

He was quite familiar with (and was full of criticism of) the regular weekly prayer book, the siddur, but he had never really studied this Machzor book.

So while the others were praying and weeping to the Master of the Universe he was examining and analyzing each idea in his new book.

It was all very similar to the same old ideas of the Siddur: in fact he found it a bit amusing that people in the twentieth century still appealed to 'the invisible one' for assistance, but then suddenly, when he got to the section about the Ten Martyrs he stopped.

"What the..?!" He exclaimed aloud, "This is simply insane!!"

The Machzor tells in some detail of how Rabbi Akiva and nine other holy Rabbis were publicly tortured to death, each in a different way, for absolutely no reason by the Romans on Yom Kippur.

But the part that shook our guest was when he read how the heavenly angels complained bitterly, "Is this the reward for learning the Torah?" and G-d answered "Be quiet, one more word and I'll return the world to water and confusion"

"What!" He exclaimed "Is it forbidden to ask questions!? Is G-d such a cruel tyrant that He would destroy the entire world just because someone complains?! What sort of medieval religious suppression is this?!"

The men around him were so engrossed in prayer they really couldn't pay attention to him. So he waited till the prayer ended and began to ask - but no one had a reply.

He even went to Rabbi Klein, his host, who also couldn't calm him down, but Rabbi Klein pointed out an old Chassid that was sitting not far from them and escorted him over there.

The old Chassid shook his hand told him to sit down and heard the question.

"Ahhh! Good question!! Excellent question!!" He said. "But for every good question is a good answer. I'll give you a parable:

The old Chassid began to speak and the old Zionist listened avidly.

"Once there was a great king who had a Jewish tailor. He loved this tailor very much and gave him a house on the castle grounds. He made all the royal garments and the King would often talk to him and take his advice about other things as well.

"But the local Bishop couldn't take it.

"He hated this Jew with a passion and longed for the moment he could eliminate him without angering the King.

"The Bishop was very clever. He bided his time and even pretended to be an admirer of the tailor until finally one day his patience paid off! He got an idea; a foolproof scheme to be rid of the cursed Jew forever.

"The Bishop bought a large piece of the finest white satin and personally presented it to the king.

"'Your majesty,' he bowed deeply and said. 'This holy cloth is a gift from the church sanctified by heaven. Its holiness is incomprehensible and it is our gift to you.

'I'm sure it will make the perfect garment for your majesty.

"'I'm sure that your majesty will give the job of making this garment to his personal tailor, for there is no better tailor in the kingdom, perhaps in the world, than he. But I must add a warning.' The Bishop's eyes narrowed as he spoke,

"'If even a thread of this holy cloth is missing then the guilty party must die. So is the law of the Scripture!' He said, raising his hand ominously.

"The King took the cloth and admired it. It was certainly the most splendid material he had ever seen. And as was to be expected he gave it to his faithful, Jewish tailor without even bothering to warn him. It was unnecessary. He trusted him completely and such a warning might make him nervous and disturb his work.

"Sure enough, two weeks later the garment was finished and presented to the king. It was even more exquisite than he had imagined. Smooth as the sea, brilliant as the sun, it was so expertly sewn and fashioned that not a stitch could be seen anywhere and was the ultimate in comfort and elegance.

"The king tried it on and was so overjoyed he rewarded the Jew royally.

"But that evening there was a knock on the king's door and entered the Bishop, accompanied by ten more priests of high rank, heads hung low with solemn and shocking news.

"They made the king take a holy oath that he would believe all that they were about to say and then, after he swore, they solemnly announced that there was conclusive proof, indeed the Bishop had seen himself, that the tailor had appropriated several small patches from the garment for ritual use.

"The tailor must die!!

"The King now had no choice; he was bound by his holy oath. He moaned and paced back and forth but he was trapped, to defy the church was unthinkable.

"With a heavy heart he called the tailor had him bound in chains and gave him the sad news; he was to be murdered for theft of holy cloth.

"The tailor tried to protest but to no avail, his fate was sealed.

"'If so, if I am about to die' the tailor begged, 'then may I have one last wish, your majesty?".

"'Yes', answered the king, 'you may.'

"Good. I want you to return me the garment I just made and give me a pair of scissors."

"'I'm warning you!" The king said, "If you destroy the garment, then instead of a quick, painless death, I will order the executioner to torture you. Please do not make me do this. It is difficult enough for me to see you killed. But believe me....I have no choice; I am bound by the holy law. Are you sure this is what you want?'

"'Yes,' The tailor answered. 'I am sure your majesty.'

"The king gave him the garment and scissors and the tailor proceeded to sit down at a table and delicately and slowly undo the entire garment thread by thread. He laid the pieces side by side and little by little, hours later, the entire cloth had been restored to its original shape. It was obvious that not so much as one thread was missing.

"'You see my Majesty' the tailor bowed deeply and said, 'The Bishop supposed that it was impossible that something not be lost in the cutting, but he was wrong. G-d helped me and I used every bit of cloth. See for yourself, not one bit is missing!

"Needless to say the Bishop was deposed and the Jew was duly rewarded."

"That," said the old Chassid 'Is the end of the parable and the answer to your question.

"G-d wasn't telling the angels not to ask questions. Rather He was telling them that when He created the world He did it with a plan and NOTHING is missing from that plan.

"But in order to understand everything that happens after that, it would be necessary 'undo everything'… to undo the entire creation! And to go back to the 'water' and 'confusion' of the beginning of the world (See Genesis 1:2) and for an angel that would be impossible (but Rabbi Akiva and his companions had no questions!!)

This answers our question. One way of knowing G-d is to appreciate all the good things He does: He creates the world, gives us livelihood, health etc. or to explain away the disappointments; suffering here enables us to get reward in heaven or repairs past gilgulim (incarnations) etc.

But to serve G-d in the times of paradox requires a different type of connection altogether, something above understanding.

When there appears a prophet that benefits everyone, saves lives, gives money to the yeshivas, heals the sick and then tells the Jews to overlook just one commandment of the Torah, it is totally against human nature to ignore him and judge him unfavorably.

The ONLY way not to fall into his trap is to connect to (i.e. to KNOW) G-d above understanding.

Namely, to go to a level of awareness 'before creation' where there is only G-d, the Torah and the Jewish people (See Rashi Genesis 1:1).

This is the meaning of TSHUVA, namely 'return' to this essence.

And that is the message of this week's section and of the month of Ellul; to return to our essence.

But more completely this is the message of Moshiach who we are impatiently awaiting. The Moshiach will be a true prophet and will bring ALL the Jews - even the holiest of Tzadikim, to complete Tshuva.

We have to do all we can to brig....

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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