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 Vayikra (5762)
This week's section begins the third and central book of the Five Books of Moses. While the first two books were mainly stories about righteous people here we have only commandments.
G-d is telling us that the only way to properly fulfill the commandments is by first learning stories about Tzadikim (righteous Jews).
For instance, in this week's section we have a mysterious phrase about the commandment of sacrifices that can only be understood by such a story. The phrase tells us that the animal sacrifices were:
"A pleasing smell to G-d". (1:9)
Rashi explains that G-d gets PLEASURE when His Will is done.
What does this mean? G-d is infinite and certainly lacks nothing. How can we give Him pleasure? Pleasure occurs when one receives something that he/she was lacking, how is this relevant to us?
To understand this here is a story I heard from Rabbi M. Glukowski:
The small room was crowded but no one spoke. Only the difficult breathing of the old man lying on the bed and the prayers of the Rabbis there broke the tense silence. Old Shlomo was dying. Several Rabbis of the Holy Society were standing around him silently reading Psalms, and behind them stood his family, but it was only a matter of minutes now.
For those of you that don't know, the "Holy Society" means the funeral staff. Traditionally in Judaism this task was (and still is) reserved for only the holiest and most spiritual of Jews and here they were none other than the holy Tzadik Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Braditchev and nine of his pupils.
Suddenly the Rabbi leaned over the sick man and spoke quietly but forcefully.
"Rav Shlomo! Rav Shlomo! Why are you sad?"
Everyone had noticed that tears were streaming down Shlomo's cheeks but no one made much of it.
"You should be happy!" continued the Rabbi, "Everyone has to die. No one lives forever until the raising of the dead. You've lived a long fruitful life. Here, just look at your beautiful family and all the good deeds you did! So why are you so sad? Why are you crying?"
"No no, not because of that!" the old man whispered. "Thank G-d, Thank G-d I'm not complaining. G-d forbid. It's just that, well...the Torah and the commandments...I never really cared. I always had other things on my mind. Who knows if I'll go to Heaven? Who knows? And even if I do, I'm pretty sure that it's not going to be very bright for me there." The tears kept running down his cheeks.
"Ahhh! That's your problem?" exclaimed Rav Levi Yitzchak. "How would you like my Heaven?"
"Ehhh!?" exclaimed the old man with all the surprise he could muster up.
"That's right, how would you like my ‘Olom Ha Ba’ (world to come)?" repeated the rabbi.
"Ehhh?" Said Shlomo as his eyes widened in disbelief and he raised his head slightly. "Ca..can you do that? Is such a thing possible? Are…. are you serious?"
"Certainly!" said the Tzadik as he turned to one of his pupils and asked him to bring a pen and a piece of paper. In just minutes he was dictating; "write, 'I Levi Yitzchak ben (son of) Sarah do hereby give my entire place in Heaven to Shlomo ben ehh…' what is your mother's name?" Ahh yes! Shlomo ben Yenta, right?" Old Shlomo shook his head in astonished agreement as the Rabbi told his pupils to sign the deed. .
A warm smile of gratitude spread over his face as he took the precious document from the rabbi. If he had any energy left in his drained-out body he would have begun dancing. He gave one last loving glance at his benefactor, another at his family as though to say everything was all right, said the final "Shma Yisroel" prayer, closed his eyes and blissfully passed on to his now significantly enhanced heavenly reward.
Later that day, after the funeral, his pupils asked their master if he could explain. What type of merit did old Shlomo have that he deserved such a gift? Perhaps he did some unique deed or special mitzvah? It must have really been something unique, after all Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's afterlife was no small gift!!
"Maybe" answered the Tzadik, "But I don't know what it was."
"You don't know?" blurted out one of his pupils in disbelief, "Then why did you give him your entire heaven?!!"
"Well" answered Rav Levi Yitzchak "It's simple. I just reasoned that to make a Jew happy, even for a few moments, was worth my entire world-to-come. That's why I gave it to him."
Of course this is a very strange idea. A great tzadik like the Rabbi of Braditchev certainly had a very clear idea of the infinite pleasures awaiting him in the afterlife. But he gladly gave it all away because he knew that nothing would make G-d happier than to make a Jew happy!
In other words all that mattered to him was to make G-d happy.
And that is the basis of Judaism. When first Jew, Abraham, and his son Isaac and later his grandson Jacob realized that G-d wanted them to make the greatest sacrifices possible; they did so with joy.
That is why the Torah cannot be fulfilled properly without first reading the stories of the forefathers and Moses. Because without these stories we can think that G-d is far far away, and that the Torah is only for US and for OUR pleasure in this world or in the next.
We can miss the real point...that everything we do should be in order to give pleasure to our creator as the Tzadikim did. And this, in turn, will give us pleasure and joy.
With this we can also understand why, according to one version, the Baal Shem Tov (a.k.a. Besh’t, the founder of the Chassidic movement some 350 years ago in Russia) was born because of such joy and selflessness.
The legend goes that once a great mystic by the name of Rab Eliezer was visited by Elisha the Prophet who made him an offer; “You did some secret thing on your ‘Bar Mitzva’ (13th birthday) that, shook the heavens but is hidden from even the highest angels. If you reveal to me what it was I will reveal to you ANY kabalistic secret you desire, including the date of the arrival of Moshiach.”
Now, to a great mystic like Rabbi Eliezer this was the greatest of all presents, a dream come true! But he refused saying “What I did was between me and G-d, I want no rewards."
Because of this it was decreed from heaven that this Rab Eliezer would have a son, the Baal Shem Tov that would teach the world to do the same as he did; to think, speak and act only in order to please the Creator.
So the stories of Tzadikim must precede the commandments because they give us the proper attitude and without this attitude, the commandments are without depth and joy; like bodies without souls.
But with it, the commandments, especially the commandment of the sacrifices that we learn about this week, become a joyous vehicle for serving the Creator. That is why we pray (in the holiday and Shabbat ‘Musaf’ prayers), for Moshiach to build the third Temple so we can “Offer the sacrifices and REALLY do G-d's will”.
Because today, due to the Chassidic teachings of the Baal Shem and his followers, especially the Chabad Rebbes (who called their teachings "Torat HaMoshiach"), we are finally able to serve G-d with joy as did the Tzadikim we read and hear about.
But it all depends on us. One more good deed, word or even thought; especially if done in joy and meaning, can tilt the scales and bring the total redemption. Wishing all our readers a Kosher and Happy Pesach with ……
Copyright © 1999-2013 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.