Shoftim: The Rebbe is a Prophet that Fed the Masses.



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    Shoftim: The Rebbe is a Prophet that Fed the Masses.

    This week’s Torah reading contains the commandment of believing and obeying Jewish prophets (18:18). It is one of the 13 foundations of Jewish faith and is so essential to Judaism that its transgression is punishable by death. It means we have to follow everything a true prophet says even if it makes no sense. (see Rambam, Yesodi HaTorah chapts. 7-10. Read the rest of this article by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton • Full Article, Download

    By Rabbi Tuvia Bolton

    Download as PDF for shabbos reading

    This week’s Torah reading contains the commandment of believing and obeying Jewish prophets (18:18). It is one of the 13 foundations of Jewish faith and is so essential to Judaism that its transgression is punishable by death. It means we have to follow everything a true prophet says even if it makes no sense. (see Rambam, Yesodi HaTorah chapts. 7-10. :

    This, besides turning the masses from sin, is the only way to keep G-d, Torah and Judaism relevant and ‘alive’

    But nevertheless, throughout history the Jews repeatedly disobeyed and even opposed all the prophets, including Moses!

    This was the reason for the tragic destructions of the First and Second Temples and the resultant bitter exile we are in today; no one harkened to Isaiah, Jeremiah etc. The book of Jonah tells us that Jonah fled from Israel because he was sure the Jews would ignore his message.

    So why would G-d make a commandment that is so hard to follow? And, conversely, what is so hard about it? Why did everyone reject the prophets? And finally, what has this got to do with us today? The Talmud tells us that prophesy departed some 2,500 years ago?

    To understand this, here is a story I saw in a J.E.M (Jewish Educational Media) video told by a Professor of Political Science  David Lukens.

    The story is about Shirley Chisolm the first black female to be elected to U.S. Congress.

    It happened in the mid Sixties when Black pride and Black Power were becoming major issues and she was right in the middle of it.

    She was a teacher in New York that became interested in representing the blacks and fighting for justice. She was intelligent, brave assertive, and was a formidable and outspoken speaker.

    So it was no wonder that her election to the United States House of Representatives raised a lot of eyebrows. And then, when she arrived in Washington, she discovered a she had a host of enemies who were willing to do anything and everything to neutralize her.

    It wasn’t long before the ultra-conservative Southern contingent found a way. They voted unanimously to have her assigned the Agriculture Committee; a department she knew nothing about, thereby
    rendering her completely impotent to deal with black poverty, housing, education or any of the things she stood for.

    She was angry and depressed; she had been outmaneuvered and totally defeated even before she had begun. The New York Times even wrote an article entitled “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn! A black New York girl in agriculture? ”

    All her plans, dreams and goals were down the drain and there seemed to be no way out.

    Then, early one morning, she received a phone call from the office of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Rabbi Menachem Shneerson. His secretary said that the Rebbe wanted to speak to her.

    Now it so happened that the Crown Heights district of Brooklyn where the Chabad Chassidim live was in her jurisdiction, so she was familiar with the Rebbe.

    In fact, before she had been elected, she personally visited the Rebbe to request his endorsement, which he refused to give. “But”, she quipped afterwards, “she must have done something right because all his Chassidim voted for her and their votes got her into Congress”.

    She went to the Rebbe’s headquarters, was immediately ushered into his room and sat down at his desk opposite him.

    The Rebbe welcomed her and got right to the point, “I understand that you have been assigned to the Agriculture Department and are not happy”

    “Not happy?” She replied “I’m miserable! I’m angry and depressed that they did such a thing to me and I don’t know what to do! My career has been destroyed!”

    The Rebbe replied “That is why I wanted to speak to you. You should realize that your appointment is a blessing from Heaven. There happens to be much surplus produce in the United States. And, as you know, there is also much poverty. In fact, there are very many people in the United States that are actually hungry for bread.

    “G-d has put you in the agricultural committee to feed these people. You must use this opportunity and your position to do your best.”

    Mrs. Chisolm left the Rebbe a bit confused but encouraged. This was not at all what she had planned when she entered Congress but it was certainly better than giving up. Slowly she realized that he was transforming the situation from the worst possible to the best possible!  But she was having trouble digesting it.

    Then G-d took over.

    As soon as she arrived in Washington a now famous Congressman Robert Dole approached her and said that since she is now head of the department of agriculture maybe she can help him come up with a solution to a problem that he’s had for years, was getting worse, and no one to date has been able to solve:

    The farmers in his State of Kansas and other states had millions of bushels of surplus grain and other produce that for years had to be destroyed because no one could figure out what to do with it … Maybe she had an idea?

    Suddenly she remembered that at that time there was a small, nascent program called Food Stamps that had barely gotten off the ground and she put the two together.

    She expanded and developed it into the Welfare Stamp program which eventually included millions of people; men women and children that had been desperate for food for years, now had meals three times a day.

    She attained much recognition for this achievement but each time she was interviewed in the press or on the media she was careful to give credit to the Rebbe. And when she retired from Congress she was quoted as saying,

    “If there are poor babies and poor people that have food today it is due to a Rabbi in Brooklyn. He had the vision and optimism to transform everything to good.”

    Now we can answer our question about the prophets and why they were ignored.

    Maimonides points out that there are various types of prophesy but what they all have in common is they attempt to transform bad to good. In other words, to inspire Jews to leave selfishness and follow the will of the Creator; the Torah.

    Just as the Rebbe transformed a problem in such a way that we can be grateful for the problem itself; if Mrs. Chisolm hadn’t been ‘pigeonholed’ to Agriculture millions of people would have gone hungry and millions of tons of produce would have gone to waste.

    So also, the purpose of the prophets was to transform the problems of mankind, and of each human, into assets.

    One of the biggest obstacles however is that people don’t believe they can change. That is why they rejected the prophets; they become trapped in darkness and exile and can see no way out. Sort of like Mrs. Chisolm in our story.

    But the job of the prophets was (and is) to convince them they were wrong. In fact, it’s never too late. As we saw in our story.

    The Rebbe pointed out that today there are prophets. And the commandment to hearken to them is as relevant as ever.

    We see that the Baal Shem Tov and many of the Chassidic leaders especially the Rebbes of Chabad possessed very high levels of prophesy,

    Indeed, the Rebbe himself prophesized the outcome of the six-day war, the fall of the iron curtain, the tragedy of the Yom Kippur war, the miracles of the Gulf war and much more.

    But his greatest prophesy of all was: “Behold, Moshiach arrives!” We are now in the age of Moshiach when harkening to the directions of the prophet can to transform the world into a holy, positive, meaningful and blessed place will succeed…..

    As we saw in our story … and even more so.

    We just have to do all we can to improve the world according to the teachings of the Rebbe. And not much is missing. We are standing on the merits of thousands of years of Jewish suffering, prayers and faith. Now it could be that just one more good deed, word or even thought can bring a new, good world with…

    Moshiach NOW!

    Rabbi Tuvia Bolton
    Yeshiva Ohr Tmimim
    Kfar Chabad, Israel

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