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Thursday
Aug232018

THE ALEF IN THE TORAH AND THE ALEF IN THE WORLD

Dear reader sh’yichyeh,

We are currently in the month of Elul and preparing for the new year 5779. One of the minhagim of Elul is to check our Tefillin and Mezuzos by an expert Sofer. For a Yid, his Gashmius is an extension of his Ruchnius. Having his Ruchnius checked and in order helps a Yid in all ways.

In Ki Teitzei, D’varim 23:3, we read the law of the petzua daka. There is a longstanding dispute if the word “daka” is spelled with an Alef at the end or a Hey. The Ashkenazi tradition has been with an Alef, while historically the Sefardic tradition has been with a Hey. The HaYom Yom (7 Elul) tells us, in the words of the Frierdike Rebbe: “The Alter Rebbe directed that the word דכא in the phrase פצוע דכא be written with an Alef at the end, not with a Hey. In Prague, there is a Torah scroll, which according to local tradition was checked by Ezra the Scribe. They read from it only on Simchas Torah and always roll it closed at the passage beginning Shema [Yisroel]. When I was in Prague in 5668 (1908) I saw this scroll, and דכא was spelled there with an Alef. Similarly, when I was in Worms in 5667 (1907), I saw a Torah scroll which according to the tradition of that community was written by Maharam of Rotenberg. There, too, the word דכא is written with an Alef. “

Many wonder what the story behind this special Torah of the Maharam is. According to Chikrei Minhagim by Rabbi Yochanan Gurary, the great tragedy of Rabbi Meir of Rotenberg (the Maharam) occurred some seven hundred and fifty years ago. Born in Worms, France in the year 1215, in his early teens he was already recognized as one of the foremost Talmudic experts of his time. He became a holy genius, a prolific writer and a beacon of light to all the great Rabbis of his age who turned to him for advice and enlightenment.

His name spread throughout the Jewish world and it wasn’t long before he opened a Torah academy of his own in the city of Rotenberg. He drew hundreds, even thousands of pupils of his own and was considered the Chief Rabbi of all France and Germany. But then tragedy struck. When he was already an old man, another wave of European anti-Semitism suddenly erupted and spontaneous pogroms took place everywhere. Jewish blood flowed like water. Absolutely no Jew was safe, and eventually Rabbi Meir was forced to flee for his life.

According to some opinions he was on his way to Israel when it happened, but in any case, he was recognized, captured and handed over to none other than Kaiser Rudolf. He had the Maharam imprisoned and, certain that the Jews would pay all they had in order to save their leader, demanded an exorbitant ransom. But when the Maharam heard what was happening, he put a stop to it. He told the Jews to save their money; paying the money would be going against Jewish law as it would only encourage more kidnappings.

For six years he sat in prison learning Torah by heart non-stop until his passing at the age of seventy-eight. The Kaiser actually refused to allow his remains to be buried until seven years later when a wealthy Jew gave all he had to release him, and the Maharam was finally put to rest.

As we mentioned, the Maharam was able to occupy his time by repeating and contemplating the thousands of pages of Torah that were etched in his infallible memory. But one thing that gave him untold agony was that he did not have a Torah scroll to read from on the Shabbasos and holidays. The thought literally obsessed him: Tefillin and the other commandments had been smuggled to him, but there was no way to get him a Seifer Torah.

Then, one Thursday night after two years of imprisonment, he dozed off while in the middle of his learning and suddenly saw what appeared to be an angel, awesome in appearance, holding what seemed to be a large, radiant Torah Scroll. The Maharam didn’t know if it was a dream or reality until the angel spoke, “I am the Angel Gavriel. Your prayers have been heard in Heaven, here is your Torah.

“It is known that Moshe Rabbeinu, before he departed this world, wrote thirteen Sifrei Torah. Twelve were distributed to each of the twelve Tribes and this is the Thirteenth.” The Maharam could not believe his ears. The Angel held out the Torah and continued, “It is read each Shabbos in Heaven by the Tzaddikim in the Heavenly Court. But, as you know, there is nothing that can compare with commandments done by humans in this world. It will be given to you and all of the Tzaddikim will come to listen whenever you read it.” Suddenly the Maharam awoke and saw the holy Torah Scroll before him! It was truly a miracle!

The imprisoned Rabbi’s heart filled with indescribable happiness and he joyously kept his side of the bargain. Every Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh and Holiday he would sanctify himself and read aloud from this Holy Scroll, and each time the room would fill with brilliant spiritual light as though thousands of radiant souls had come to listen. On regular days he would also occasionally study this Torah and each time wondrous new ideas and connections would fill his mind from the sentences he read. This continued for some two years, until one day it occurred to him to make a copy for posterity that could be, in turn, copied from.

His pupils managed to smuggle in to him parchment, quills and ink and after a year it was finished! After checking it several times he found it to be a perfect replica. But that very evening he dreamt that another angel came and took the Torah Scroll back! Startled, he opened his eyes only to discover to his horror that it was true. “Woe to me!” he moaned, “Perhaps I shouldn’t have made that copy! Perhaps I am being punished.” But a voice interrupted his thoughts and announced that his copy was perfect. It was a good idea to write it for it would serve as a basis for many future copies of the Torah.

When the Maharam felt that his end was approaching, he personally made a wooden box, tarred it inside and out to make it waterproof, put the Torah inside and lowered it from the window of his high prison cell into the Rhine River that flowed far below.

Sure enough, the box floated for several weeks unnoticed until it was sighted by gentile fisherman off the shore of Worms. But try as they could they could not lay their hands or even their nets upon it until finally they allowed some Jewish fishermen to try. No sooner did the Jews approach the box then it floated toward them and they hauled it into their boat. After many other strange and miraculous events, they finally were able to bring the box to the shul in Worms, and when it was opened they found the following message inscribed on the inside of one of its walls: “This Scroll was written by the hand of Meir as a gift to the congregation of Worms. The Scroll is holy and pure and should not be read from except for twice a year: on Shavuot, the holiday of the giving of the Torah, and on Simchat Torah, the holiday of the finishing of the Torah.”

(It is important to mention at this point that the Rebbe writes in Igros Kodesh, Vol. 15 pg. 189, that unfortunately someone recently went to the shul in Prague where the Seifer Torah is kept and changed the letter from an Alef to a Hey.)

Dear Chassidim!

While we all are careful and focused that in our Sifrei Torah the word daka is spelled with an Aleph, as this is Minhag Chabad, we must really be careful to ask ourselves if we are focused on the “Aleph” that our Rebbe has taught us.

The Rebbe teaches us that in Hebrew, the entire difference between the word Gola, exile, and Geula is simply an Alef. What does this mean? The Alef represents Hashem’s unity and revealed G-dliness. In the times of Moshiach, the physical world will remain as it is, but the truth of creation will be revealed in it. Exile is the concealment of the truth of existence and Geula is bringing out that truth to the open in a revealed way. Chazal tell us that this world was created with the letter “hey” of Hashem’s name. We need to take this world, which was created with the “Hey,” and transform it into a world where the “Alef” is revealed.

The Alef needs to be revealed in the world and every Jew. As the Rebbe writes (2 Elul): “The Jewish people are called “a cherished land,” for they possess many precious qualities, [including] their love of G‑d, their fear of Him, and their upstanding character traits. [But like treasures buried in the earth,] the revelation of these positive qualities depends solely upon the person who evokes them. It is obvious that springs of fresh water exist in all parts of the earth. The difference lies only in how close or far they are [from the surface]. If so, everything depends on the digger and his patience and deliberateness.”

K’siva Va’chasima Tova!

 

Rabbi Avtzon is the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Lubavitch Cincinnati and a well sought-after speaker and lecturer. Recordings of his in-depth shiurim on Inyanei Geula u’Moshiach can be accessed at http://www.ylcrecording.com.

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