Va’eschanan: The Baal Shem Tov Uproots Evil Trees



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    Va’eschanan: The Baal Shem Tov Uproots Evil Trees

    The entire book of D’vorim is final instructions of Moses to the Jews as they are about to enter the Holy Land. There are many new commandments but mostly reminders of what already happened. Read the rest of this article by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton • Full Article

    Parshat Va’eschanan

    The entire book of Deuteronomy (D’vorim) is final instructions of Moses to the Jews as they are about to enter the Holy Land. There are many new commandments but mostly reminders of what already happened. For instance, here is repeated the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-14) they heard 40 years earlier at Sinai.

    But strangely the two versions are different!!

    One of the big differences is the fourth Commandment about Shabbos; in the Exodus ‘version’ it says, “Remember the Sabbath …… because G-d made the world in six days and on the Seventh He rested.”

    But here it says; “GUARD the Sabbath…Because G-d took you out of Egypt.”

    At first glance this seems to be a very gross mistake (G-d forbid)! How could such a thing go undetected for over 3,300 years?

    But the Sages explain that it’s no mistake: The truth is that the Jews actually heard G-d say two different things simultaneously!

    But there still remains another problem: Why did G-d do it? What was the point of saying them together?

    Also this Shabbat we read the HafTorah from Isaiah: Nachamu Nachamu. A double comfort for the Two Temples. What is the connection?

    To answer this, here is a very strange story.

    When the Baal Shem Tov began to teach his new way of serving G-d called Chassidut he met with great opposition; his ideas were simply too different. Today, hundreds of years later, we know that the opposition was baseless but, in the beginning, it was very rough going.

    One of the most outspoken of these opponents was a Tzadik (righteous Jew) called Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polnoy.

    His knowledge of all aspects of Judaism, including Kabala (Jewish Mysticism) was phenomenal but his disdain and hatred for the Baal Shem Tov was even more so.

    It so happened that the Baal Shem Tov was invited to speak in one of the Synagogues in his city; In Polnoy! As soon as Rabbi Yaakov, heard of this, his first impulse was to have him ousted from the city. But from lack of clear evidence he decided not to do so. The people of Polnoy were no fools, he reasoned, they were great scholars and they would certainly pay no attention to this faker.

    The Rabbi sat at home, opened his Talmud and began to learn as he did every evening but for some reason he couldn’t concentrate. He tried making himself a cup of tea, lying down for a few minutes, praying to G-d for a clear mind and several other tested tricks but nothing seemed to work.

    So he decided to get a breath of fresh air. Maybe that would do it. He put on his overcoat, stepped out into brisk winter night and in minutes found himself standing outside of the synagogue where the Besh’t was speaking.

    At first it was hard to hear but suddenly he clearly heard the Besh’t say “You should know that the Rabbi of this town, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, is a very righteous Jew and a unique scholar. In fact, he almost has enough merit to bring the Moshiach on his own. He is only lacking one thing.”

    It was cold outside but the Rabbi didn’t feel it; he was shaking with rage. He had the urge to just burst in to the synagogue and put a stop to all this nonsense but for some reason he just got nearer to the slightly open window to hear better.  The Besh’t continued, “Last Tisha B’Av your great Rabbi was sitting on the floor of the synagogue mourning the destruction with a broken heart. His pain was so genuine that in heaven he made quite an impression. In fact, he made such a celestial stir that, somewhat similar to the story of Job, the Devil actually requested permission from the heavenly court to tempt him and permission was granted.

    “The Devil appeared before your Rabbi as an old Jew with a long white beard holding an apple.

    “‘Rabbi’ he said ‘you look very pale. I know it is a fast day today but it is clear that your life is in serious danger and must eat. After all, it is forbidden to endanger your life for the fast. Here,’ he said offering him the apple, ‘Just take a bite and save your life’

    “The Rabbi did suddenly feel very faint but he refused.

    “The old man didn’t give up. ‘What a shame! All right, if that’s what you want. But I just hope you don’t die; you look very very bad! Are you sure you won’t take just one small bite?’

    “He began to feel even worse, his eyes began to hurt and he felt terribly weak and empty, could it be he was really dying?

    “But nevertheless, he refused a second time.

    “Everything was going dark around him and it was becoming hard to breathe. “Just one bite!!” crooned the old Jew. The Rabbi was fading fast. He feebly grabbed the apple and made the blessing;

    “‘Blessed are you G-d who created the fruit of trees!’

    “But before he put the apple to his mouth, he suddenly realized it was a trick. He threw the apple at the stranger yelling ‘Be gone! Get away from me!’ and suddenly both the old Jew and his fruit disappeared!

    “The night after Tisha B’Av your Rabbi went to sleep and had a strange dream. He dreamt that he was walking from the grounds of a massive castle. Just outside the wall he saw a beautiful fenced-in apple orchard with large fragrant trees full of luscious fruits. At the gate of the orchard stood a guard and the Rabbi asked him who the orchard belonged to.

    “The guard looked him in the eyes and said ‘It’s yours’!

    “‘Mine?’ replied the Rabbi. ‘I have no orchard. My whole life I only sat and learned Torah, I know nothing about planting and harvesting, where would I get an orchard?’

    “‘Oh, it’s yours alright’ answered the guard ‘these are all evil fruits created by the false blessing you made. You took G-d’s name in vain when you said the blessing on the apple and you didn’t eat it.’

    “The Rabbi was paralyzed with fear. ‘What can I do? How can I repent?’

    “‘I’ve been ordered to tell you that you should fast and pray to G-d for forgiveness’ answered the guard. ‘When you see a vision of the trees upside down with their roots in the air know you have been forgiven.’

    “That next morning” the Besh’t continued to the crowd, “your Rabbi accepted upon himself a severe program of repentance. He would fast and pray every day of every week drinking only small amounts of water each evening, until he saw the uprooted trees in a vision.

    “At the end of the first week, he had a vision that the fruits had fallen. At the end of the second week, he saw that the leaves had withered. At the end of the third he saw the branches had dried up.

    “But, concluded the Besh’t to his audience, he won’t see the trees uprooted until he becomes my follower.”

    The Rabbi standing outside, heard every word and was astounded. The Baal Shem was exactly right! He knew everything; even every detail of his dreams and how to fix his sins.

    Rabbi Yaakov Yosef became one of the most devoted of the Besht’s pupils and wrote a book called ‘Toldot Yaakov Yosef’ which was the first to put the Besht’s ideas to print.

    This answers our question.

    The entire book of Deuteronomy is different from the others. The first four books of Moses is G-d telling Moses what to say. But in this Fifth book, Moses does all the talking ‘himself’: the Shechina (G-d’s presence) speaks directly through Moses’ throat.

    In other words, here is a different relationship between G-d and the Jews. Previously, in the desert, G-d did it all from “above”; He split the sea, provided all their needs and He gave them the Torah.

    But here, just before entering the land of Israel Moses was reminding the Jews that the revelation of G-d would only come AFTER our efforts from “below” i.e. Reminding the Jews that now would have to WORK for their blessings.

    That is why, in the first version of the Ten Commandments, G-d says the reason for Shabbat is what He DID: He created the world, But in this second version here it says because what we did: WE left Egypt.

    And the reason they were said together was to show that the goal of the Torah is to unify the physical and the spiritual and show that G-d is ONE:

    It can be compared to the two types of Torah; Talmud and Kabala. The LEGAL part (Talmud etc.) stresses what we have to do. While the Mystical Kabala stresses what Gd does.

    This is like what Rabbi Yaakov Yosef in our story lacked before he met the Besh’t: Uniting the Torah with the world. The Besh’t taught him to let the Torah unify all aspects of Gd and the world.

    Just like the Ten Commandments. The novelty of the Ten Commandments is that they are G-DLY; they combine the physical and spiritual TOGETHER at once.

    This is also the uniqueness of the Holy Temple whose destruction we mourn on Tisha B’Av; it combined the most physical of acts (slaughtering animals) with the highest spiritual revelations together. Because it was G-dly.

    And that, explains the Lubavitcher Rebbe, is the reason for the repetition in this week’s HafTorah “Nachamu Nachamu” (Isaiah 40) literally “Be Comforted, Be Comforted.”

    Namely G-d will comfort His people both for their physical and spiritual suffering and loss by bringing Moshiach and the Third Temple.

    But it all depends on us (from below) to make it happen. And not much is missing. Today it could be that just one more good deed, word or even thought can tip the scales and bring (from above) …

    Moshiach NOW!!
    Rabbi Tuvia Bolton
    Yeshiva Ohr Tmimim, Kfar Chabad, Israel

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