By Rabbi Tuvia Bolton
This week’s Torah portion tells us of the opening day of the Tabernacle (Mishkan) in the desert. It was a very happy day until Nadav and Avihu, the two holy sons of Aaron the High Priest, rushed in improperly and were killed by G-d.
The Tabernacle, especially the Holy of Holies where the Tablets of Ten Commandments were kept in an ark was so charged with G-dly energy that there were many criteria in order to enter. But the sons of Aaron so desired to be close to G-d that despite lacking all these, they entered… And perished.
A similar tragedy is the topic of this week’s Haftorah portion (Samuel 2:6:1). Some four hundred years later. King David returned the Ark with the Tablets from the Philistines with great rejoicing until a Jew by the name of, Uza, touched it and also died at the hand of G-d.
At first glance this is not so clear; the Torah is called a Tree of Life! (Prov.3:18) it should be the source of good and blessing not the opposite! How can religious objects like an Ark or Tablets have such destructive power?
To understand this here is a story I just heard. (Sichot HaShavoa #1162)
Once there was a very rich Jew who we will call Yitzchak, who was a follower of the great Tzadik and holy genius Rebbe Yisroel of Ruzin. Yitzchak was known for his warm heart and open hand. He gave a lot of charity. Every day his home was filled with the poor and hungry coming for a handout, a meal or just a place to rest for a while. But where he really shined was on Pesach (Passover).
Every year more than a hundred guests graced his table from far and wide to partake of the joyous celebration; remembering the miracles G-d did thousands of years ago and hoping for even greater ones.
But there is a wheel of fortune in the world and it took a turn for the worse for our hero. Yitzchak’s fortune dwindled until within months he found himself a pauper with almost nothing to eat.
He was forced to sell his businesses, his properties and even his furniture. His wife sold her jewelry and even their precious candle sticks until their house was a virtual shell… and it would only be a matter of time till it would have to be sold as well.
But there was one thing that his wife refused to part with. She had sold all her fine dresses and ornaments, even her family heirlooms but not the family ‘Kos Shel Eliahu’; the cup we fill with wine for Elijah the Prophet (who was taken in a wind to heaven some 2,800 years ago and somehow visits every Passover Seder.
It really made no sense. The cup was made of gold and would surely have brought a good sum. Every so often her husband had added a small jewel or golden inscription to it so it was worth a lot of money. But she refused to let it go saying. “It’s our only hope”. “Elijah will announce Moshiach and Moshiach is our only hope.”
Yitzchak was in no mood to argue with her. If poverty didn’t convince her to sell it, he surely wouldn’t…. And deep down… he knew, or at least hoped, that she was right.
But the morning before the Pesach Seder it didn’t look like she was. Their house was barren. Somehow, they scraped together enough money for a bottle of wine, a few Matzot, some potatoes and a small piece of fish to put on the small table in their huge empty dining room, but except for that… nothing.
So with only hope (which was waning) and an empty stomach (which was waxing) he told his wife he was going to the synagogue that morning and would return only for what was sure to be a lonely, quiet, ghost-of-the-past Seder that night.
He sat alone in a corner of the shul, then close to evening he went to the Mikva, washed up, immersed himself, changed his clothes and returned to the shul, doing his best not to weep.
But it wasn’t easy. The thought of days gone by and of the dismal future; maybe next week he wouldn’t even have his house, haunted him. But as the prayers ended and everyone was yelling ‘Happy Holiday! Chag Smeach!’ he snapped out of it: “What is this?!” He admonished himself, “I have to be happy with whatever G-d gives” and tried to keep a smile on his face and a song on his lips as he walked home after the prayers.
But as he approached and saw his house in the distance his smile faded and he fell silent in awe. His house was….. ablaze….. with light! …. From inside… it was filled with… people!
He thought that perhaps he had lost his mind. He shook his head as though trying to wake up. He rubbed his eyes and held his temples in disbelief and approached.
He opened the door and it was like a dream. His huge front room was filled with guests, maybe a hundred of them, all joyously, handsomely dressed and busy arranging their places at a huge, long, decorated table. Lights and candles were shining everywhere! He looked at his wife. She was dressed like a queen! She gazed back at him, her eyes sparkling with sweet tears of joy as she raised her arms and announced,
“My husband! Rav Yitzchak!!”
Everyone stood and applauded and poor Yitzchak broke down in tears and swooned. He would have fallen on his knees and raised his hands in thanks to G-d, but it just didn’t seem to be the right thing to do so he wiped his eyes, held up his hands for silence and yelled, “Gut Yom Tov (Happy holiday) everyone!! Thank G-d for everything!!” and everyone answered “Good Yom Tov!!” and resumed finding and arranging their places.
His wife approached, smiling from ear to ear, and explained.
“Just after you left this morning, a carriage pulled up in front of the house and an important looking Jew got out and knocked at our door. He said that many years ago he had been at our Passover Seder and never forgot it. He said that his carriage happened to break down here yesterday and he just got it fixed. He wanted to know if it was all right if he spent the Passover with us again. But when I told him that we didn’t have food he insisted that money was no problem and he gave me five thousand guilder! Five thousand!!
“I tried to refuse. I told him it was a thousand times what we needed. But he insisted. In fact, he even took some of the money and gave it to his servants to buy food and hire workers to prepare it.
He even bought new furniture and tapestries! It’s unbelievable! In just hours the food and pots and everything were delivered, the stove was burning, the house was busy and people were coming from all over to help. It’s a miracle! And soon he’ll be here. He told me not to wait for him, that he would be a bit late but I’m sure he’ll be here any moment and we can thank him.”
That Seder night was probably the best and happiest that Yitzchak and his wife ever had in their lives and, sure enough, when the meal was almost finished, their rich benefactor appeared, apologized for his delay but someone he knew from the past saw him and invited him and he couldn’t refuse.
They thanked him profusely to which he replied. “I understand that you’ve been having a hard time financially. Well, I bless you with greater riches than before.” And with those words, he turned on his heels and left.
Sure enough, several of the guests that night were businessmen and eight days later after the holiday ended, Yitzchak was back in business and in just a few weeks he was making money and giving charity like never before.
Months later Yitzchak visited his Rebbe, told him the entire story and gave a him a huge donation. The Rebbe put his head down for a minute, lifted it and said,
“That rich man was Elijah the Prophet. You merited seeing him once and your wife merited to see him twice! It was because of that cup. Your wife’s simple faith in that cup; she was right, your only hope was Elijah.”
This explains our question; how death can come from the Holy Torah.
The Torah is the source of life. But to come too close to the source is like putting too much voltage in a lightbulb.
That is why the Jews were unable to receive the intense revelation at Sinai (Ex.20:16) [and had to be revived from death at each word G-d spoke (Talmud Shabbat 88b)] and why the sons of Aaron and later, Uza died.
But in the days of Moshiach EVERY Jew will be able to.
Like Moses (Sota 13b) and Elijah the Prophet who were impervious to death (Kings 2:2:11) because their devotion to G-d and His Torah made them pure and HIGHER than any limitation. That is how Elijah can appear at every Seder Night (and every Brit (circumcision); he is beyond all physical boundaries. As the heroes of our Passover story realized;The faith of Yitzchak’s wife was the vessel for miracles and riches in this physical world.
And that is the reason that Elijah will announce Moshiach. Because this is exactly the message and accomplishment of Moshiach… to inspire the devotion of Jews to G-d and then reveal that this physical world is, in fact, the ONLY vessel for pure G-dliness.
Indeed, Moshiach will bring about not only a cessation of death but even a transformation of it to life! The dead will LEAVE heaven to live in physical bodies!
But this can only be revealed through the Torah and total devotion to the Giver of the Torah; that is why the Torah is called the “Tree of Life” because only it can provide the vessels and framework for this eternal, unbounded life.
And the Lubavitcher Rebbe said ours is the generation of Moshiach; a vessel for fantastic blessings. As the woman in our story, it all depends on our faith, joy and actions.
Now even one more good deed, word or even thought can tip the scales and bring the biggest blessings of all with ….
Rabbi Tuvia Bolton
Yeshiva Ohr Tmimim
Kfar Chabad, Israel