This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.
Parshat Vayishlach (5764)
In this week's Torah Portion we read about the meeting between Yaakov and his evil brother Asav who had been simmering in hatred, waiting over thirty years to kill him.
But Yaakov finds the perfect strategy to appease his ruthless brother; he sends angels (!) to tell him:
"I've been living with Lavan and delayed till now. I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, men and women servants and I'll send them all to you, my lord, to find favor in your eyes".
This seems to make no sense whatsoever.
Firstly, if Yaakov could send angels, that alone should have sufficed to deter Asav! We saw that just one angels destroy Sodom and its surrounding cities! Why add the message?
Secondly, Asav was wealthy and powerful; he certainly wasn't lacking sheep and slaves. Why would Yaakov think that such gifts would placate his brother's 30 year grudge!
Thirdly, Rashi explains that Yaakov mentioned his stay by Lavan in order inform Asav that: "Although I lived by Lavan, I kept all the 613 commandments and I didn't learn from his evil ways."
Seemingly he should have said the opposite! 'I lived by Lavan for 20 years and he taught me a few dirty self-defense tricks!' what does Asav care about 613 commandments?
To understand this here are THREE stories.
1) First Story: Some 200 years ago, a group of some twenty Chassidim were sitting together repeating a deep discourse they had heard from their Rebbe the holy 'Magid', Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezeritz.
After repeating the discourse several times, they began a lively soul searching discussion. To help bring it even more 'home' they brought out vodka and something to eat. (This is called, in Chassidic jargon 'a farbrengan').
After a few drinks one of the participants who suffered from several severe ailments stood up and requested that the other Chassidim bless him with health.
But his friends were aghast, "What! We should give blessings?! Who are we to give blessings? You must have drunk too much! We aren't Holy men (Tzadikim)! We are simple Jews. If you want blessings ask the Rebbe! He is truly great and holy."
They felt that true humility doesn't only mean being humble to G-d but to be humble before everyone. In other words; to be TRULY small in ones own eyes. And this can only be accomplished if one has a Rebbe; a Jew who is truly great (because he is truly negated to the Creator like Moses. See Num. 12:3).
But the poor Chassid wasn't discouraged. He felt that now was a special time and their blessings would work. He raised his voice in supplication, weeping that they should bless him.
But the Chassidim just raised their voice in song hoping he would just give up and go the Rebbe which just agitated him even more and he was soon yelling at the top of his lungs.
One of the Chassidim present was Rebbe Schneur Zalman of Liadi [who would become the Author of the book 'Tanya', be the founder of Chabad, and whose release from prison the 19th of Kislev we celebrate this coming week]. Despite the confusion, everyone heard him when he said; 'Shha'.
Suddenly the room became silent, the singing ceased and even the sick Chassid stopped weeping as he spoke:
"My brothers and friends, have you forgotten the saying that descended from the highest heavens to the holy of our holy teacher the Magid of Mezeritz?
"A Chassidic Farbringen can accomplish things that even the Archangel Michael cannot accomplish."
All of the Chassidim present fell into deep thought for a second, immediately realized their error and the entire atmosphere changed. Smiling and joyous they heartily blessed their friend. Shortly thereafter he recovered.
2) Second Story: When the Baal Shem Tov began teaching his new approach to Judaism called Chassidut there arouse great opposition. Not long before, a charismatic maniac had misled European Jewry to believe in a false Moshiach and the results were tragic. The Rabbis feared a re-run.
So, although the Baal Shem Tov proved beyond a doubt that his approach strengthened Judaism and hastened the true Moshiach the opposition nevertheless increased and became more intense.
The entire topic of Moshiach, although it is the goal of Judaism) infuriated some Jews.
This opposition however did not come to a head until several years later in 1799 with the imprisonment of the first Rebbe of Chabad who, in his book 'Tanya' that had been published two years earlier, went very public with his explanations of the Messianic era and how to hasten it.
The Rebbe was imprisoned and sentenced to death on false charges supported by evidence fabricated by his enemies only to be freed miraculously fifty three torturous days later (on the 19th of Kislev). Upon his release he immediately issued a letter telling his followers not to hate the opposition (see the Tanya pg. 206)
On his way home to Liozne he passed through a city where a group of his enemies met and taunted him.
"NU!! Rabbi. Is your Moshiach coming? Where is he??"
The Rebbe answered sadly, "The Moshiach that you want will never come...and the Moshiach that will come...you won't want."
3) Third Story: We mentioned in the previous story that the first Rebbe of Chabad was imprisoned because of his teachings. All the time the Rebbe was in prison his followers mourned and fasted every day. But when he was freed on the 19th of the Jewish month of Kislev they rejoiced and danced in the streets. One simple, poor Jew in Liozne, the Rebbe's home town, when he heard of the Rebbe's release, his joy was so unbounded that he participated a bit to freely in the festivities and by the time the Rebbe actually entered the town this poor fellow was laying in the road, unconscious from drink and exhaustion.
When the Rebbe's carriage passed him the Rebbe commented, "Aha, the wealthy Jew of Liozne is snoring!"
Everyone present thought the Rebbe was joking…. But he wasn't.
A while later the Rebbe said he would like to see that poor fellow privately. When he arrived the Rebbe asked him how he earned a living. "I sell rags and needles in the streets" was the answer. The Rebbe replied;
"Well, you'll never get rich that way. You probably buy your merchandise from the peddler that comes into town, right? Listen, take a loan from me and instead of buying cheap things from the peddler go directly to the nearest city and buy better things, things you think people might need. When you have sold it all come back to me."
The Rebbe gave him a few rubles and the poor Chassid did as he was told. A few weeks later he was back in the Rebbe's room to pay the Rebbe his loan back.
"Not yet", said the Rebbe. "Now, instead of buying in the local city, go to Moscow and buy from the original suppliers. Then sell in the local city where you used to buy, and of course I want to see you again as soon as you've sold everything."
Sure enough in two week's time the Chassid was back.
"Now this time" continued the Rebbe. "Instead of buying from the supplier in Moscow go buy directly from the factories in Germany and France. And instead of selling in the nearby town, sell in Moscow!"
The Chassid dutifully wrote down all the Rebbe told him and was just about to leave when the Rebbe called him back.
"One more thing. When you are in France ask someone to show you to a theater. Yes, that's right, a theater where there are plays. And don't forget to bring a Tanya there with you. Then, when you have sold all your merchandise in Moscow come and tell me what happened."
The Chassid did as he was told. By now he was a man of means, but he would never dream of entering a theater if the Rebbe hadn't told him. After he bought his goods from the factory in Paris he asked the owner if he could get him a ticket to the theater. That night he was ushered to his plush seat in the massive ornate hall.
It was wonderful! The comfortable seat, the dark warm surrounding, his weary bones and the boring play almost immediately put him into a deep, blissful slumber.
Suddenly someone was shaking him. He opened his eyes to see one of the janitors standing over him. "Excuse me Rabbi" He said in Yiddish. "The play is over. Had a good sleep? Tell me, where are you from? What's a Jew like you doing in a place like this?" The Chassid told him that the Rebbe Schneur Zalman had sent him and, remembering his orders to bring a Tanya, took out the book and said, "See, the Rebbe who wrote this book."
The janitor took it, opened and began reading. He stood for several moments and finally looked up and said, "This is a very important book. Very important!"
When the Chassid returned to the Rebbe and told him what had happened and got to the part about the janitor the Rebbe smiled broadly and said "Good, now I have approval from him as well!"
Some say that the janitor was one of the 36 hidden Tzadikim and some say that it was one of the forces of evil (something like the angel that fought with Yaakov).
Now we can understand. Yaakov was preparing the way for Moshiach (see Rashi 33:14) and in order to do this he had to TRANSFORM Asav (who represents the power of selfishness and separation: creation without the Creator). That is why angels were not enough.
The first story shows that angles (even the most powerful of them) cannot do what Jews can. That is why Yaakov, although he impressed Asav with the angels had to do more.
The second story shows that Moshiach is above human understanding and can only be brought by love. By sending Asav a gift of love; the product of years of hard and holy work it actually changed his mind. It was something he had never seen before.
The third story shows that transforming this world from poverty to riches spiritually (with the Tanya) as well as physically can only be done through a Rebbe. That is why Yaakov (the prototype of all Rebbe's) mentioned Lavan.
To tell him that he didn't opt out for Lavan's type of meaningless wealth.
The message of the 19th of Kislev is: we can transform the world to a holy, happy meaningful place. The Rebbe, his blessings and his wisdom were freed today! All we need is to open our eyes, awaken the love inherent in every heart. Then one more good deed, word of even thought, can tilt the scales and we will all be dancing with...
Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.