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Translations and original material copyright (c) 1998 by Yaacov Dovid Shulman (unless otherwise noted)
* The First and Second Tablets
THE FIRST AND SECOND TABLETS
The first tablets were brought down by Moshe.
The second tablets were carved out by Moshe, who also prepared an ark to carry them. He then carried them up the mountain, carried them back down, and placed them in the ark, together with the broken fragments of the first tablets.
Perhaps the second tablets came down successfully and whole because there had been that much more preparation for them from below.
If that is the case, why did not God command Moshe the first time to engage in those preparations? Perhaps God gave the Jews a greater challenge the first time to elevate themselves to receive a more heavenly transmission of the commandments. Perhaps also that is why the original broken tablets were carried in the ark with the whole second tablets: as a reminder to the Jews of what is possible for them.
THE WORTH OF TALKING IN SHUL
It is a basic need of all beings to express themselves. If they cannot express themselves healthily, they will do so even in a twisted manner. For instance, a plant whose path is obstructed will coil about the obstruction to continue its growth.
It is noteworthy that talking in synagogues, although condemned repeatedly, has been an issue for at least a thousand years. (To deal with it, the Rambam repealed the recitation of the silent Shmoneh Esrai, so that one could only fulfill one's obligation by listening silently to the prayer-leader and answering "amen.")
Perhaps this phenomenon is an instance of the drive for self-expression. In an environment where one is literally told to be still, where speaking is clearly not the halachic norm, and where at least some social disapproval is likely, one makes a public statement of one's autonomy. One states that one is worthy and that what one has to say also has worth and validity. One states that one can stand against conformity and the "establishment," that one can create one's own social niche. One states that one can even rebel against God's rules and still be accepted by Him in His synagogue. Even as one submits to the social-oriented standards of Judaism, one carves out a space for one's own individuality.
The question then is how people can employ, develop and celebrate their autonomy in a synagogue setting appropriately. Working on the basis of such an analysis of the issue, can a community or synagogue create an environment where the need for self-expression does not result in inappropriate talking?
Whether or not this analysis is true (in whole or in part), if by using it one generates successful strategies, then it is at least useful.
RABBI NACHMAN SETS OUT FOR THE HOLY LAND
On the eve of Passover, 1798, Rabbi Nachman emerged from the mikvah and told his companion: "This year, I am sure to be in the Holy Land."
On Passover, he gave a teaching based on the verse, "Your path on the many waters and Your footsteps were not known" (Tehillim 77:20), the upshot of which was that Rabbi Nachman intended to travel as quickly as he could to the land of Israel.
When Rabbi Nachman's wife heard of this, she sent their daughter to ask him, "With whom will you leave us? Who will support us?"
He replied, "You will travel to your fiance's parents. Your older sister will work as a nursemaid. Your younger sister will be taken in by someone out of pity, and your mother will serve in someone's house as a cook. And I will sell everything in the house to pay the expenses."
[Translator's note: at this time, Rabbi Nachman's oldest daughter, Adel, was eleven years old; Sarah, to whom he was here speaking was nine; and Miriam was eight. Rabbi Nachman himself was then twenty-six. See Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom, p. 36.]
When Rabbi Nachman's family heard this, they broke into sobs. But Rabbi Nachman answered all their wailing and crying as follows: "It can be no other way. More than half of me is already there, and the smaller part must follow."
He also said: "I know that I will have obstacles and hindrances without measure. But as long as I am alive, as long as I breathe, I will do everything I can to travel to the land of Israel. And may God do whatever He wishes."
He also said: "I will experience self-sacrifice for each step to the land of Israel."
And afterwards, he said: "I want to go at once, even without money. If anyone wants to have pity on me, he can give me something for expenses."
Rabbi Nachman's Hasidim immediately went to the surrounding shtetls and raised some money so that he should at least have enough with which to set out. Rabbi Nachman was in a great rush, and they saw that he could no longer be kept back.
On the eighteenth of Iyar, 5558 (1798), Rabbi Nachman travelled from Medvedevka to Nikolayev accompanied by one of his Hasidim, who had agreed to make the long and dangerous journey with him.
[In those days, the journey from Poland-Russia to the land of Israel was bound with terrible difficulties. This particular journey took place in the midst of the Napoleonic wars in the East.
Also: who was the person who travelled with Rabbi Nachman on this long journey, who shared all the dangerous difficulties and tolerated all the caprices of this brilliant messiah-seeker? Although the writings and oral traditions of Breslov are silent on this point, it seems that this was none other than Rabbi Nachman's friend of his youth and first student, Rabbi Shimon.]
In Nikolayev, they found a ship taking wheat to Odessa. >From there, they took a ship to Istanbul. Emissaries of the Jewish communities in the land of Israel collecting funds, as well as other travellers from Poland and Russia to the land of Israel, were afraid to travel through Odessa, because they claimed that the sea there was stormy. Instead, they would go through Galatz, even though it was further and that journey had its own dangers. But Rabbi Nachman paid no attention to this talk and went from Nikolayev to Istanbul through Odessa.
When Rabbi Nachman left Odessa, people came to the dock to take leave of him, some on horseback and some by foot, with a handsome procession.
Before settling in the ship, Rabbi Nachman told his fellow- traveler to buy ink and paper. As soon as they boarded, Rabbi Nachman began to write Torah teachings. He made his fellow- traveller promise not to look at his writings, and even demanded that he give his word. Only after the other man gave his full assurance did Rabbi Nachman allow him possession of the key to his writing chest.
On the first day of their journey to Istanbul, the sea grew stormy, and the waves swept up into the ship. During the entire journey, there was lightning, thunder and storm waves, which frightened everyone on board.
In the midst of this storm, Breslov tradition tells, Rabbi Nachman saw a man who had recently died. Rabbi Nachman said to his companion, "Did you see? The man from Volchovitz came here for a rectification."
[This story corroborates my idea that Rabbi Nachman's travel-companion was Rabbi Shimon. As you may recall, on an earlier journey of Rabbi Nachman and Rabbi Shimon to Kamenetz, they took along a man from the small village of Volchovitz.]
When they arrived in Istanbul after a difficult, four-day journey, they remained at port. They didn't know a word of Turkish, and could not contact any Jews because they were unable to distinguish between the clothing of Jews and non-Jews. Finally, they found a Jew who understood them, who led them to lodgings in the Galate quarter.
When they entered the quarter, Rabbi Nachman said that it didn't please him. The Turkish Jew said, "Perhaps you would like to stay in the heart of Istanbul, where the sultan himself lives. Only males are allowed to live there."
"Yes," Rabbi Nachman replied, "that is what I would like."
And so they went to the center of Istanbul to seek lodging. On the way, the Turkish Jew mentioned that there were two Jews travelling on a charitable mission returning from the land of Israel to their Russian-Polish homes.
"Take me where they are staying," Rabbi Nachman commanded. And he told his companion, "I warn you: no matter how much someone begs you, do not tell anyone, under any circumstances whatsoever, who I am."
When Rabbi Nachman and his companion came to the new lodging, one of the two Jews there recognized the companion.
He asked him, "What are you doing here?"
"I am going with this man to the land of Israel."
"Who is he?"
"He has a travel card from the Austrian military."
"Does he have letters with him?"
"No, he has no letters with him."
"Why is he travelling to the land of Israel?"
"I don't know."
The two men told Rabbi Nachman's companion, "We've known you as an honest man. But now you seem to be misleading us. We don't know if you are as honest as you used to be."
Later, they asked, "Did you ask your rebbe, Rabbi Nachman of Medvedevka, if you should travel with this man?"
The returning travellers persisted asking Rabbi Nachman's companion questions: not out of curiosity but because they suspected that this man who looks like a rebbe is on his way to the land of Israel in order to foment controversy.
Where did such a suspicion come from? That is a story within a story.
from Reb Nachman Breslover
TORAH FOR ITS OWN SAKE
[What is] the essence of learning Torah for its own sake?
In spiritual teachings, this is self-understood. Such teachings are openly concerned with coming close to God and elevation in sanctity. We are uplifted by these teachings.
But what about Torah texts on practical matters?
We must understand that these are all branches and garments of the light of divine honesty and justice. Within their details, we may find the divine soul of the perfection of the world: in life, in physicality and in spirit, in community and in the individual. Once we realize this, light gleams and descends into every detail. Once the feeling of our inner heart and mind is dedicated to the divine and inclusive illumination hidden in the multitude of these practical teachings, we come to an inner revelation within every detail, which shines in accordance with the capability of our individual spirit.
At times, our thought may broaden and coalesce to such a point that we are able to express and explain the spark of the divine light that we grasped in one of the details of the text we are learning, as we rise through all its details.
At other times, the matter is revealed only as a subtle glimmer in the chambers of our heart. Even then, however, this lifts our soul to an elevated state, through which all of life is rarified.
In regard to this latter manifestation, our sages stated: "Whoever learns Torah for its own sake merits many things." And regarding the [former] inclusive illumination, they added: "And not only that, but the whole world is considered worthwhile for his sake."
Orot Hatorah 2:2
The second Husyatiner rebbe--who passed away in Tel Aviv-- once passed by the cheder in Vienna on a Saturday night, where Hasidim at a melave malka were sitting silently.
He asked them why they weren't either singing or telling stories about tzaddikim.
They replied, "We are waiting until one of us remembers a story about the Baal Shem Tov."
The rebbe replied, "I will tell you a story about the Baal Shem Tov":
The Baal Shem Tov once was in Brody for Succos. On the first day of Succos in the morning, he went to the mikvah. As he was leaving, he met Rabbi Chaim Sanzer, one of the leading sages of Brody, who was just on his way to the mikvah.
The Baal Shem Tov stopped him and said, "Reb Chaim, what do you have against me that you were speaking against me last night in your succah?"
Rabbi Chaim answered, "There was no one in my succah besides me and my son. Only an angel could have told you what I was saying. And if an angel may engage in tale-bearing, certainly I have the right to do so."
The Baal Shem Tov replied, "That angel was created by your tale-bearing, and it came to me seeking a rectification."
From that time on, Rabbi Chaim became a follower of the Baal Shem Tov.
Chasidishe Maasiyos, #8
A NEWLY-PAINTED HOUSE
In a newly-painted house,
In a newly-painted universe,
In a newly-painted house,
All translations and original material. Copyright 1998