This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Lech-Lecha (5766)
The end of this week's portion tells us about the Covenant (Brit) of Circumcision that G-d made with Abraham almost four thousand years ago.
Since then Jews have been making the same sign in the flesh of all their male children as an eternal reminder that we too are the people of the G-d of Abraham.
As we say in the blessing before performing the circumcision:
"Blessed are You G-d.......who commanded to bring him (this Jewish child) into the Covenant of AVRAHAM our father."
But interestingly, the reason we do this commandment today is NOT because of Abraham!
Rather we do it because it was commanded at Sinai over four hundred years after Abraham. "On the eighth day circumcise etc." (Lev. 12:3) See Ramba'm on Mishna Chulin end perek 7)
So if Abraham already did the commandment hundreds of years earlier then why did G-d have to give it again at Sinai? And, conversely, if the reason we circumcise is because of G-d's command to Moses then why to we call it the 'Covenant of Abraham' in the blessing?
To understand this here is a story.
Rabbi Kaminetski in Dnepropetrovsk Russia was a very busy man. Besides having to direct the activities of his Chabad House; give Torah classes, visit homes, encourage Judaism, overcome opposition, collect money, run his schools and help as many Jews as possible both spiritually and physically he also had to worry about his personal life; educating his children etc.
So it wasn't surprising that he had little patience for foolish requests.
For instance, once he was approached by a young gentile girl with a big cross dangling around her neck who asked him to give her dying grandmother a visit.
The girl explained that the old lady was over ninety years old, didn't have a penny to her name, felt she was about to die and wanted a Jewish priest to perform the last rites and, oh yes, she lived over two hours drive away!
When the Rabbi asked why she didn't just get a normal priest she answered that the old lady hated them all because of something some priest did or said to her some fifty years ago. Since then she hated all priests and never went to Church. But now she's dying and needs someone, so she said that she wanted a Rabbi. She added that her grandmother was also bit senile which also could explain her strange request.
The Rabbi had no problem refusing: two hours drive both ways for a demented gentile lady was definitely not his line of work.
But suddenly it occurred to him that perhaps the old lady was really Jewish. There were many such cases in Russia. He began asking the girl questions. Perhaps she had seen her grandmother light candles on Friday or separate milk and meat - something... anything Jewish? Maybe she once mentioned something about Judaism?
But it was a dead end. There was nothing. It was clear as day; there were some three hundred million gentiles in Russia and this old lady her daughter and granddaughter were among them.
Rabbi Kaminetski apologized, explained that he was sorry but he didn’t know any Church rites, this was definitely NOT for him and bade her farewell and that was the end of it. The girl left.
But a week later she returned. And this time she refused to leave.
She began speaking quietly but gradually raised her tone to weeping and moaning. She had traveled two long hours and would never leave until he fulfilled her precious grandmother's last request. He had to have mercy. Only he could do it. The lady was dying!!
The Rabbi tried to make excuses but she just screamed louder. He tried to reason with her but she wouldn't let him finish a sentence. He even offered to personally calling the local Church and introducing her to a real Priest but she wouldn't hear of it. Her grandmother made her a bit crazy as well.
The Rabbi was stuck. He couldn’t ignore or get rid of her. There were only two choices; call the police and get her kicked off his property or give in.
But suddenly it dawned on him that the police wouldn't understand why he, a man of 'the cloth' wouldn't give last rites to this heart-broken girl's grandmother. And even if they did understand and did evict her, she would certainly come back - perhaps every day… all day!
He gave in. After all, she was a human being! But why did she have to live so far away?! Who knows, maybe the old lady had been an anti-Semite and wanted to repent on her deathbed. In any case there was no way out.
They drove silently and two hours later they arrived at a large run down hut in a typical Russian village. On the porch was sitting a very old woman in an old torn stuffed chair. She was no more than skin and bones with a blanket covering most of her and looked out of contact with the world. But when she saw the bearded Rabbi her eyes lit up and filled with tears. She began silently weeping.
The Rabbi walked up the few stairs and as he approached she looked deeply into his eyes and began speaking....in Yiddish!
"My whole life I have been waiting for this moment," she said in a wavering voice.
"I am a Jew!"
She hesitated, took out a handkerchief and wept aloud.
"When I was nine, my parents were killed in a pogrom, and I was put in a Church orphanage. One nun there once told me that I must never tell anyone I am Jewish because all Jews get killed. Now I am ninety-six, that's right, ninety-six years old, and my entire life I have been keeping this secret, even from my children."
The Rabbi was surprised but a thought flashed through his mind; It could be that she had once worked in a Jewish home and learned Yiddish. Now she's senile; she's crazy and thinks she's Jewish.
"I know what you are thinking," She interrupted his thoughts, "You're thinking that maybe I'm not Jewish, right? Well you should know that I remember how my mother would light the candles and make a Brocha (blessing) before Shabbos; Boruch Ataw etc." (and she repeated the blessing). "And my father would put on T’filin and a Tallis and daven in Shul in the weekdays. And she repeated some more details."
She paused for a few minutes, dried her eyes again and continued.
"My whole life I have been repeating these things because I was afraid that I would forget them. See, I remembered! But I didn't tell my daughter because I didn't know how to explain it.
"Now I want you to tell her and my granddaughter that they are Jewish too, so that they will remember. Will you do that Rabbi? And teach them what it means to be Jewish. Then I will be happy."
This is what Abraham got when he made the 'covenant' with G-d; eternal Jewish identity. And he is called the 'Father' of Judaism because he passed this covenant; this feeling, down to all Jews for all time.
The old woman in our story felt only the smallest spark of it and it was enough to keep a flame burning in her all her life that she wanted to pass on to her daughter and daughter's daughter; despite the fact that she had only bad Jewish experiences and had been separated from Jews almost 90 years.
Like Abraham, she felt like the FIRST Jew; alone, connected to the Creator of the Universe above reason (despite all obstacles) and wanting to pass this to her offspring.
But although the brit of Abraham gave the Jews identity and to withstand all obstacles it did not give them more than that until it was given at Sinai.
When the Commandment of 'Brit' was re-given at Sinai it gave each Jew the power to not only withstand but to actually improve and bring blessing and meaning to the entire world.
Hard to believe but this was precisely the promise G-d made to Avraham when He made the Covenant and changed his name from Abram saying "I have made you the Father of many nations". (The entire world, Rash'i)" (17:4)
Perhaps we don't see this happening today but we will. This will be fulfilled, as Abraham saw in his vision between the pieces ( Gen.15:11 see Rashi); through Moshiach.
Moshiach will arouse and teach Abraham's offspring, all the Jewish people, to, in turn, arouse and teach all people in the world to drop their religions, worship ONLY the Creator (through the seven Noahide commandments) and fill the world with peace, love and blessing.
That is exactly what the Lubavitcher Rebbe said time and time again:
Each and every Jew, has the power to change himself and the entire world; the power of G-d's promise to Abraham and to all of us through Moses at Sinai.
Just one more good deed, word or even thought can tip the scales and bring....
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