Weekly Torah Portion - Conversations with Rabbi Avroom Wolf » Chapter "Ray"

Ray Chapter

THURSDAY, AUGUST 28, 2008 - 04:30

Posted by Rabbi Avraham Wolff

Just over a month ago Rabbi Yitzchok Yehuda Yaroslavsky visited our community. He is the chief rabbi of the Chabad quarter in Kiryat Malachi, the secretary of the Association of Chabad Rabbis in Israel. Rav Yaroslavsky is one of the most respected Chabad rabbis in the world, the bearer of a treasury of knowledge on all matters of the Torah and a great specialist in the laws of daily observance of the commandments. I myself grew up in Kiryat Malachi, and Rav Yaroslavsky was my rabbi. Often I turned to him with questions related to the laws of observance of the Sabbath and kashrut. And at the present time, I continue to consult Rav Yaroslavsky on the complex and intricate problems that often arise in Odessa and in the South of Ukraine.

Rav Yaroslavsky came this time to Odessa with a dual purpose. First, to check the construction of two mikvahs (male and female), which is now being carried out by the Jewish community of Odessa. Since there are many complex laws associated with the mikveh, it is necessary that a rabbi visit every few months during construction to determine whether the mikvah being built complies with Jewish law, and also to solve the problems that inevitably arise from this.

The second reason why Rav Yaroslavsky made his visit to Odessa was the examination for the title of rabbi for kollel students. This exam was the second in a series of exams. The first students took Mlikha, and now they have been tested on Bosor Be-Kholov (these are one of the most difficult sections in the laws of kashrut). I personally attended the exam for some time together with Rav Yaroslavsky and was pleasantly surprised by the level of knowledge of the students of the kollel. I see them every day, I note their diligence and diligence, but I did not expect that the circle of their knowledge is so wide. I should note that Rav Yaroslavsky himself, who travels almost every month to different communities to take exams for the title of rabbi, told me with great admiration that he had not seen such knowledge and mastery of material as that of the students of the Odessa kollel, he had not met for a long time.

This time the exam was passed by: Shmuel Erish, Eliyahu Khusid and Chaim Lukashevsky. When Rav Yaroslavsky was signing the exam certificate for his students, I asked that the name of Perekrestov, which is written in his passport, be added in brackets next to Chaim's surname. Rav asked me where this surname comes from. I told him that, judging by family tradition, this family is the descendants of cantonists, as indicated by their surname.

... The history of the cantonists refers to the period 1827-56. Russian Tsar Nicholas I issued a decree that Jewish children at a young age be taken away from home and sent to military schools, where they would be trained as good soldiers for the tsarist army. The main purpose of this decree was to erase the fact that they were Jews from the memory of the children, so they were sent to very remote places so that they would not have any connection with the Jewish communities. There, they tried with all their might to force them to accept Christianity ...

The royal decree ordered each community to supply a certain number of recruits. Responsibility for the implementation of the decree was assigned to the heads of the communities. By law, boys aged 12 and over were transferred to special military schools, where they were brought up until the age of 18, and then began military service, which lasted 25 years!

Since the decision to recruit this or that boy depended on the leaders of the communities, fierce disputes and strife flared up on this issue. As a consequence of all this, the rich began to pay off with money so that their children would not be taken into the army. The poor, on the other hand, hid their boys... All this tore apart the Jewish communities in Russia at that time, and, naturally, had a negative effect on community life.

The heads of the communities hired the so-called "hackers", whose task was to snatch children from their parents' hands and hand them over to the army. When they appeared in Jewish towns, screams and curses began to be heard from every house. "Happers" took away the children, regardless of anything. Orphans and poor families suffered the most at their hands. It was one of the most difficult periods in the history of the Jews of Russia. It's a pity that today many have not even heard about it ...

The third Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (Rebbe Tzemach-Zedek), who lived at that time, founded an organization called the Chevra Thiyas ha-meisim (Society for the Resurrection of the Dead). The organization's first goal was to find ways to reduce the number of children that had to be given away from each community. Another goal was to bribe military commanders and rescue children already taken as cantonists. It was done like this: the boy was ransomed, and the officer, having received the money, wrote down that he died on the way, and sent a report on this to the command. The children themselves, who for obvious reasons could not return to their homes, were sent to remote communities in order to be brought up in Jewish traditions. Therefore, these children were called "risen from the dead."

In the schools of the cantonists, Jewish children were tortured and forced to renounce the faith of their fathers. Some of them could not withstand such an onslaught - they converted to Christianity. Many could not stand the torture and died. There were those who, after 25 years of grief and suffering, remained true to their faith. One such child was the grandfather of former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. She spoke with particular pride about the fact that her grandfather was a cantonist and in all these years he had never eaten cooked food. Even after the end of the service, when he started a family and began a normal Jewish life, he still had the habit of sleeping without a pillow, as an atonement for the fact that, perhaps, somehow by accident he ate non-kosher food ...

It is said that once in the month of Tishrei a delegation of rabbis came to St. Petersburg in order to assist in the repeal of the anti-Jewish decree. The only Jews who were allowed to live in this city during the period of the laws on the "Pale of Settlement" were the Nikolaev soldiers, that is, those same cantonists. It was the only synagogue in St. Petersburg. The delegation of rabbis in question joined the Minyanukantonists in Yom Kippur prayers. When it was Neil's turn to pray, concluding the service of that day, the rabbis asked that one of the cantonists be the chazan, the messenger of the community in this most holy of all prayers of the year. The soldiers refused, referring to the fact that they hardly know how to pray, but the rabbis told them that the Jews who had enough selflessness to remain Jews in those conditions are much closer to Gd, and their prayers will be pleasing to the Almighty and blessed much more, than the prayers of the most righteous of the rabbis!

In our today's weekly chapter "Ray" we read: "If a prophet or a dreamer rises in your midst and gives you a sign or a miracle, and a sign or a miracle appears, about which he spoke to you to say:" Let's go after other deities, which you did not know, and we will serve them, ”then do not listen to this prophet ... ”

The Torah is talking here about a man claiming to be a prophet. Such a person should be checked: whether he has two main signs of a prophet. The first sign is that it must be a person who is at a very high level of spiritual development, is able to curb his passions, and is always busy with spiritual issues. “The gift of prophecy is given only to a great sage, with a strong character. The evil inclination will never surpass him in anything, but on the contrary, he will always defeat the evil inclination with the power of his spirit,” Rambam writes in The Laws of the Fundamentals of the Torah. Rambam calls the second proof of the prophetic gift the ability of a person to predict the future: “They say to him:“ You are a prophet, you must predict the future! And he predicts, and we wait for his words to be fulfilled. If what he said is not fulfilled, even in something small, it is clear that he is a false prophet” (an example can be given: a candidate for prophets tells us that tomorrow the dollar in Ukraine will be purchase, and if the rate is even a penny more or less, then this person is a false prophet).

However, even if a person has passed all the tests and meets all the requirements, but says that “Gd sent him to add a mitzvah or subtract a mitzvah ... then he is a false prophet,” Rambam writes. And the Torah, as stated above, tells us: "Do not listen to this prophet!"

The question may arise: why does the Almighty give the false prophet the power to perform all these miracles? The Torah replies: "For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul." The Almighty tests us - to what extent our love for Him is strong, to what extent we are ready to follow Him. Even when someone appears who successfully works miracles and acts against G-d, we, the Jewish people, do not follow him, but continue to follow the Almighty.

But why does G-d test us? Why take the soul out of us? The answer is this: a Jew who has passed the test and continues to fulfill the commandments is much closer to the Almighty than the Jew who fulfills the commandments in favorable conditions for him.

What conclusion can we draw from what has been said? In order to become a selfless Jew, it is not necessary to test oneself in Russia, in the terrible times of arbitrariness. There is no need to be kidnapped from the town and sent to the school of cantonists, where you have to refuse non-kosher food for 25 years! To go to mesirus nefesh (self-sacrifice), it is not at all necessary that Stalin, may the memory of him be erased, exile you for 25 years to Siberia. Today we too are going through various trials. For example, a Jew who has not received a religious upbringing goes to the synagogue on Saturday, despite the fact that his friends called him to football. This Jew stands on a higher level of spirituality than someone who was born into a religious family and goes to the synagogue every day. Or another Jew who has never kept kosher and has not been accustomed to it decides that from now on he will only eat kosher meat. And so he sits with friends in a restaurant (or participates in an important celebration, or maybe just very hungry), and everyone asks him to at least try, but he, overcoming himself, refuses. This is an example of great selflessness, which especially brings a Jew closer to the Almighty and makes him more beloved by Him than someone who grew up in a religious home and never tasted non-kosher food in his life. And this is because he was subjected to severe trials and he managed to overcome himself. By this he answers the question: “Do you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul?” He proves to himself and to the Almighty how much he loves Him.

May it be known to you, dear friend, that every mitzvah that you perform today or perform tomorrow at home, among friends, at work or while on vacation, in Odessa, in Israel, in America or in Germany, or in any another place on earth - if its fulfillment requires you to overcome your inner doubts and conquer yourself, then this is very important for the Almighty. Know that He is testing you (even if a guard with a gun from the Stalinist Gulag is not standing over your head). Overcoming yourself, you bring a special nahes to the Almighty and fulfill your destiny in this world!