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Parshat Vayelech (5766)

Our Torah is called a Torah of Life because it teaches how to feel meaning,life and joy in everything we do.

In fact the Baal Shem Tov taught that the Torah section of each week contains a special message how to serve the Creator with happiness for that particular week.

But perhaps this week is an exception.

This Shabbat is called Shabbat Tshuva (or 'Shuva') because it falls in the week of the "Ten Days of Tshuva".

Tshuva usually is translated as 'repentance' and is not a joyous enterprise at all. It entails remorse; searching for our faults, regretting, confessing and vowing not to do them again.

But the Baal Shem Tov taught a deeper lesson.

He taught that all this remorse, as necessary as it often is, is only a preparation for real Tshuva.

The true meaning of Tshuva is 'return' - namely to regain the consciousness, clarity of purpose and power that the soul had before it came into the world, there it wanted only to serve its Creator.

This is the secret of true happiness: feeling and fulfilling one's true identity.

And this is relevant to all Jews, even those that never sinned in their life.

But what does all this have to do with this week's section?

Most of our Torah portion deals with how Moses is about to die, is not going to lead the Jews into the Holy land and the Jews are sure to eventually stray from the Torah.

Not much to be happy about.

And what might seem to be a bright note; when Moses introduces the 'song' Hazinu (detailed in next week's portion) also isn't very happy. The song Hazinu is filled almost totally with reproof and chastisement.

So what is the connection between our section and joy?

To understand this here is a story.

The Gerer Chassidim number today over ten thousand. They originated in Poland and have been led by great Tzadikim; holy, inspired, genius leaders through the horrors of anti-Semitism the destruction of the holocaust and the trials of assimilation for the last two hundred years.

I heard a story just recently about a Chassid of Rebbe Pinchas Menachem, the Gerer Rebbe some twenty years ago.

One of Rebbe Pinchas Menachem's most devoted Chassidim was a wealthy businessman by the name of Rabbi Weinberg (the teller of the story didn't remember his first name).

Over forty years earlier when this Rabbi Weinberg was a young man just beginning in business, he began to make successful connections in New Zealand and found himself spending several months of each year there, far from his home in Israel.

He had a sister that lived in New York with her family and on one of his flights back home he made a stop in New York to visit her for a week.

This was in the late nineteen forties when there weren't many bearded Jews even in New York (in the rest of the U.S.A. it was unheard of) so it immediately caught his attention when one day as he entered the elevator to her apartment a well-dressed, religious, bearded Jew, perhaps in his early forties, also entered and greeted him with a cordial 'Shalom Alechem'.

As the elevator ascended a short conversation ensued and when Rabbi Weinberg mentioned that he spent time each year in New Zealand the well dressed Jew asked if there was a Mikvah in New Zealand.

"My friend" Rabbi Weinberg answered, "I go to New Zealand only to make money - all I see and think about there is money. As far as I know I don't think there are even any religious Jews there."

They shook hands as the elevator door opened and Rabbi Weinberg's sister was standing there to meet him as he stepped out. The well dressed Jew politely tipped his hat to her and the door closed.

"Do you know who that was?" she asked her brother, "that was the son-in-law of the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak. He visits someone here in this building regularly. They say that he is a great Talmudic Scholar. You had real luck to meet him."

Forty years passed. Rabbi Weinberg succeeded in business and was now in his seventies surrounded by grandchildren and even great grandchildren but still healthy and active.

As before he regularly traveled to New Zealand for business and regularly made a stop on the way back home to his sister in New York.

Once, on one such stop, she suggested that he go to the Lubavitcher Rebbe for dollars. This was years after Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak passed away and his replacement was his son-in-law that he had met forty years earlier on the elevator.

Usually Chassidim are connected and loyal to their Rebbes and don't visit others. But 'the Rebbe' was an exception.

Chassidim, even Rebbes and other great Jewish leaders, regularly visited and corresponded with him and were inspired by his uniquely positive views and boundless love of all G-d's creations.

But especially the Gerer Chassidim. Their leader Rabbi Pinchas Menachem was an enthusiastic fan and friend of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and it was common for his Chassidim to visit there. Rabbi Weinburg readily agreed.

He stood in the incredibly long line and three hours and ten thousand people later he was standing before the Rebbe. The Rebbe handed him a dollarand said "Brocha V'Hatzlacha" (blessing and success). Rabbi Weinburg took the dollar, nodded and continued walking, after all there were hundreds of people still waiting behind him.

"It was worth the waiting" he thought to himself "Those few seconds was a real experience! And the Gerer Rebbe will be happy when I tell him."

But one of the Rebbe's secretaries called him back; the Rebbe wanted to say something to him. Rabbi Weinburg turned and took a few steps back. The Rebbe asked, "Tell me, is there a Mikvah in New Zealand yet?"

Rabbi Weinberg was speechless. First of all he didn't know if there was or not, second he was amazed at the Rebbe's memory! He just shrugged his shoulders in confusion, said he didn't know, smiled sheepishly and continued on.

A few weeks after he returned to Israel he had the opportunity to get an audience with the Gerer Rebbe and one of the first things he told him was of his meeting with the Rebbe.

"It was incredible!" he said enthusiastically to the Gerer Rebbe, "It was after forty years! Forty years!! How could anyone possibly remember a two minute conversation of forty years ago?! And how did he recognize me!?! I look completely different with a white beard and all! But he recognized me!! What a memory!! What an eye!!"

The Gerrer Rebbe looked at him piercingly and was right to the point.

"You fool!! That's what you are excited about? that 'the Rebbe' has a good memory and recognized you?! Feh!! Idiot!!"

Poor Rabbi Weinberg didn't know where to hide.

The Rebbe continued:

"What should impress you is that The Lubavitcher Rebbe has been worrying for forty years about a Mikvah in New Zealand!! You were standing before a Jew who worries all the time about every Jew!! Even non-observant ones at the other end of the world!

This answers our question.

Our Torah portion is telling us that the Jews cannot exist without a leader; a 'King' that worries for and directs each and every one of them.... and assures us that G-d will always provide one; just as Joshua replaced Moses.

The purpose of this leader is to inspire the Jews and to infuse their every moment with meaning and G-dly purpose. Because without such inspiration Judaism becomes a selfish, dead-end enterprise.

And that is why it is called 'Vayelech'.

Vayelech means 'Walking' and moving; a Jew must always be 'moving' and expanding his service of G-d to include more and more of the creation until, as the Rambam writes regarding the Moshiach we have been awaiting for thousands of years: "Then the entire world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d"

It's practical meaning to us is that in our generation we have the teachings and inspiration of the Lubavitcher Rebbe designed and tested enliven Jewish identity and bring Moshiach even one moment earlier.

And this can only be done if we do 'Tshuva'; 'return' to our real purpose in life: to and do all we can to bring....

Moshiach NOW!!

Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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