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 (5772)
Next week, on the 19th day of Kislev (Thursday) marks the 213th anniversary of the miraculous release of the first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shenur Zalman of Liadi, (a.k.a. the Alter (old) Rebbe) from Czarist prison which began as a death sentence and ended up in 53 days of incarceration where his teachings and holiness reached the highest Russian officials including the Czar himself.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman wrote a Jewish book called 'Tanya', which is the basic handbook on the most important and, paradoxically, the most misunderstood idea in Judaism; the Moshiach.
Indeed, this book so infuriated his enemies (all of whom were ultra Orthodox Jews) that, it became the cause of his imprisonment and near death. But, as we have been celebrating for 213 years; in the end everything miraculously came out for the best and even the gentiles were convinced of his righteousness.
Interestingly, in this week's Torah portion we read of a similar epic confrontation between Jews: Yaakov and his twin brother Eisov which was an earlier stage in bringing Moshiach (see Rashi 33:14)
The Torah tells us that when Yaakov heard that Eisov was coming with an army of four hundred men to kill him he became afraid (32:8,9) and reacted in three ways; he prayed to G-d, prepared gifts of appeasement, and got ready for war.
In the end it also came out for the best but at first glance it's not clear. Why Yaakov didn't consider the option of running away?
After all, he was vastly outnumbered, had been wounded in his battle with an angel just hours earlier (32:32) and now had everything to lose. Not only that, but he had been hiding from Eisov for over twenty years anyway, so what would it hurt to consider one more retreat?
I want to answer with two stories told about the founder of Chabad Chassidus Rabbi Shneur Zalman,
One day he was walking in the street with two other holy Jews: one was his teacher, Rabbi Dov ber of Meziritz (a.k.a. 'the Maggid) and the other, Rav Pinkus of Koritz.
Rav Pinkus was very opposed to the Maggid's policy of printing and publicizing Chassidic-Kabalistic Torah ideas to the general public. As 'fate' would have it, as they were walking he spotted a sheet of soggy paper in the dirt, picked it up, gave one look and began trembling with rage. It was a page of the "Maggid's Chassidic teachings".
"Here! It's a page of your ideas! Have a look!" He yelled, holding it up for the Magid to see. Because of YOU The HOLY TORAH is laying in the GUTTER!"
The Maggid was speechless, but the Alter Rebbe did not lose his composure and quickly came to his rescue, "Let me answer with a parable":
"Once there was a great and mighty King who had an only son whom he loved with all his heart.
"One day the boy fell ill and nothing seemed to help cure him. The best doctors were called in to treat him, but day after day their efforts unexplainably ended in failure. Needless to say the king was beside himself with grief. His beloved son was dying before his very eyes and he was helpless.
"When the boy situation deteriorated to the point that he was barely alive and everyone had given up hope, an old man with a long white beard and a radiant face appeared, as from nowhere, in the king's court, approached the throne, bowed deeply, waited for permission to speak and said, "Your Majesty please excuse me for not coming earlier, but I just heard of your son's condition and think I can cure him. It will require a big sacrifice on Your Majesty's part, and it just might be too late, but it's our only chance."
"ANYTHING!" Shouted the king, "Just tell me what to do and it shall be done!"
"The old man pointed to the top of the kings crown, where, set in gold, there sparkled the very symbol of the king's greatness and splendor; a huge brilliant diamond;." You must grind up that diamond" he answered.
A gasp went up from the crowd.
"When things quieted down he continued, 'then I will mix it in water and give your son to drink. We must work fast. He is so weak that there is very little chance of him opening his mouth. And even if he does I can't promise that he will be able to swallow. But if even the smallest amount does go down his throat, he will be healed."
"Without hesitation the king removed his crown, the old man carefully extracted the gem, crushed it, prepared the mixture, and turned to the sick prince's bedside.
"All watched anxiously as he gently opened the unconscious boy's mouth and tried to pour the mixture in. At first it all trickled down his cheek, onto his pillow and onto the floor. Then a bit entered his mouth but as it did he began coughing and spit it out. But finally ……. he swallowed!
"And, before their eyes, true to the words of the old stranger and to the unbounded joy of the King, the prince regained consciousness, opened his eyes and began to recover."
"This" continued the Rebbe to Rabbi Pinkus "is a parable explaining the page of Chassidus you saw in the gutter today. The King corresponds to G-d, the King of the Universe. The Prince, his son, represents the Jewish people. The crown is Torah. The diamond in the crown is the Torah's mystical secrets and the old man that put it all together is the Baal Shem Tov (the teacher of the Maggid) and his pupils and the mixture he prepared is …… Chassidus.
"So too today: the Jewish people are deathly ill: the disease is the exile and the results are a loss of, Jewish identity, joy and will to 'live' Judaism.
"And the only cure is Chassidus. But in the process, unfortunately, much spills out. And that is why that page of Torah was laying in the gutter today."
Later, the Maggid thanked his pupil, Shneur Zalman, profusely and told him that due to his quick thinking and brave efforts a tragedy had been averted. From heaven there was opposition to his revealing too many Torah secrets and were it not for the parable he would have had to stop teaching.
But there is another story about Rabbi Shneur Zalman when he was imprisoned that seems to carry the exact opposite message!
Years later, in 1798, the Alter Rebbe was insidiously slandered and charged (as we mentioned above) by the Czarist government with high treason, sentenced to death and incarcerated in the Peter-Paul prison for high criminals.
The immediate cause of this imprisonment was the hatred of his enemies and the anger of the Czar.
But the Rebbe sensed there must be a deeper reason and wanted to know what it was.
So just days after his arrest he got an answer from heaven: his teacher, the Maggid and his teacher's teacher, the Baal Shem Tov (who had both died years earlier) suddenly appeared to him in his prison cell and explained to him the REAL reason for his suffering.
They informed him that in the heavens there was opposition to his policy of revealing and advertising too many Torah secrets by teaching Chassidus.
Whereupon, the Rebbe replied that if from heaven there was opposition perhaps he should stop doing so!
"NO!" they replied. "Now that you have begun, continue with even more force" which he did. And, as we now know, the danger transformed into redemption and victory.
But after all, this is very strange! Why didn't the Alter Rebbe defend the spreading of Chassidus as he did earlier when the Maggid was challenged?! Why did he even entertain the idea of stopping?!
The answer is that the Maggid's teachings and goal was different than his.
The Maggid was teaching the secrets of Chassidut In order to SAVE the king's son i.e. the Jewish people: to bring joy, and awareness of G-d to the Jews in order to stop assimilation. So it was unthinkable that he could stop and therefore the Alter Rebbe did everything possible to assure his teachings.
But the Alter Rebbe's teachings were (and are) different.
His teachings were designed not only to preserve Jewish identity but rather to change the entire world by bringing Moshiach immediately. So when he heard there was opposition from heaven he suspected that perhaps the time was not yet ripe for such a radical transformation.
The prerequisite for Moshiach is a total spiritual rearrangement of Jewish priorities; The Jews will have to really desire that this physical world be filled with the revelation of G-d "like water fills the sea". (Rambam, hil Melachim 12:5).
So when the Alter Rebbe heard from his mentors that the heavens disagreed, he thought that perhaps the Jews were not ready and he should stop.
To this his holy visitors answered "No!" He must ignore all obstacles and spread his teachings more than ever before.
In fact, the world IS ready for Moshiach.
This answers our question; why didn't Yaakov consider retreat from Aisov:
Yaakov, who represented G-dliness, had worked for 20 years by Lavan only in preparation for the moment when he would meet Aisov (who represented worldliness), in order to plant the seed for the future redemption. [As he hinted by sending Aisov a message that he had a donkey (32:6) which implies Moshaich (see Midrash Rabba 75:6) and telling him they would meet "later" in Sair (Rashi 33:14)]
So, because he was only preparing the way for Moshiach (something akin to what the Magid did with his teachings) it wasn't relevant that he retreat.
But now, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe said time and time again, if we learn to 'open our eyes' we will see that Moshiach is here.
The holiday of the 19th of Kislev is the birthday of Chassidus Chabad. Celebrate it by learning Chassidus, making resolutions to learn and teach more Chassidus, and most importantly, to put what you learn into practice. (See your local Chabad House for details)
One more good deed, word or even one thought can tilt the scales and before we know it we will all be greeting....
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.