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Friday, 7 August, 2015 - 12:14 pm

The house was absolutely quiet. The family slept peacefully. Suddenly, the telephone rang and broke the silence. Rabbi Frielich looked up at the clock over his bed. It was three o'clock in the morning. Who could be calling at such an hour?

The rabbi picked up the phone and heard the voice of a member of his congregation. "Rabbi, you must help me. I have been arrested for the crime of tax evasion. I have been placed in jail together with a bunch of addicts and criminals. I don't know what to do!" The rabbi replied, "I will do what I can to help you. Don't worry, everything will be okay."

 Later on, when the rabbi met the "prisoner" after he was set free, he asked why he had turned to him and not to a lawyer. The answer was, "Are you crazy? To call a lawyer at three o'clock in the morning?"

In this week’s portion Eikev, Moses recounts the dramatic tale of how, following the Revelation at Sinai, G-d carved out two tablets, engraved the Ten Commandments on them and presented them to Moses on Mount Sinai. When Moses descended the mountain, however, he observed that the Israelites had created a golden calf as an idol. Seeing this, Moses threw the tablets from his hands and smashed them on the ground. 

After a powerful confrontation with G-d, Moses "persuades' Him to forgive the Jewish people for their betrayal. Moses then, acting on G-d’s instructions, carves out a second pair of tablets, to replace the now smashed first ones.

The Talmud explains that Moses was permitted to keep the chips of the second Tablets, which made him very wealthy.

It seems almost like a classic Jewish Real Estate deal. Moses, G-d says, you carve out the second Tablets, and you get a big cut on the side. You will become a millionaire in the process! It seems a bit distasteful, that Moses is making money from the sacred Tablets containing the Ten Commandments! If G-d wanted him to be wealthy, He could have certainly found many a way. Why through carving the holy Tablets? 

And why is it important to know exactly how he became wealthy? What is the message of the Torah with this story?

It is explained that  the second Tablets could not be compared to the first Tablets. While the first were created by G-d himself, the second were created by a human being—Moses.  He carved out the stone into Tablets and only then did G-d inscribe on the Ten Commandments.

This reflected the different status of the Jewish people: Initially, they were “heavenly,” holy, pure, sacred,  hence they were capable of receiving the Tablets created in heaven. After they have tasted sin, corruption, and spiritual failure, now they could only receive the second Tablets which were man-made. In the process of rehabilitation, there is always a confrontation with human failure and error. We must deal with our weaknesses and our vulnerabilities. We are not any longer a clean slate of heaven, but we have much sediments, gravel and grit.

Comes the Torah and teaches us one of the most vital lessons in life: It is from the “chips” of the Tablets that Moses acquired his true wealth. The first Tablets had no “chips,” they had no “left over” pieces that go to waste. The second Tablets, in contrast, had many a chip. For they represented our confrontation with addiction, with promiscuity, insecurity and shame.

Moses on his own was a “wealthy” man. But his true wealth came only from the second Tablets—from the light and truth that is generated when we confront our darkness and we transform it into light. When we gaze at our “chips” and we turn them into Tablets of G-d

Despite the unparalleled richness of Moses’ soul, his deepest richness came from dealing with the sediments and gravel of his people. This is the wisdom and depth that emerges from life's "dirt" and grime, from amid much struggle and inner strife.  Imagine ,a regular day .   You are burdened by the daily pressures of earning a livelihood and raising a family, in addition you carry the weight of so many silent psychological obstacles, you feel like you're drowning.  Know that within the challenges lie great sparks and opportunities, for there is a deep light contained within our darkness that when extracted is infinitely greater than any ordinary light. 

They tell the story  of a young widow who once came crying to the Baal Shem Tov. “I recently lost my husband. Now my young child, my only child, is lying gravely ill. The doctors have given up hope. Please, Baal Shem Tov, please do something to save my child.” 

The Baal Shem Tov, whose heart was always open especially to the needy and oppressed, soothed and reassured her saying that she should go home and her child will be fine. He then proceeded to gather together ten of his holy hidden Tzaddikim, to pray for the child’s welfare and immediate healing.

But to no avail. As much as they tried opening their souls and in turn opening the gates of heaven, they sadly were unsuccessful. The Baal Shem Tov sensed that the decree in heaven was sealed and could not be reversed by the Tzaddikim’s prayers.

The Baal Shem Tov, however, was not one to take no for an answer and give up. He fell upon an idea. He asked his wagon driver to prepare the wagon and the horses. They were going for a trip to the forest. He directed the driver to go to a particular spot, which surprised the driver, being that this was known to a be a dangerous area where thieves lurked, and everyone would avoid.  Upon their arrival, the  Baal Shem Tov climbed off the wagon, and within a few moment to the chagrin of the driver, was surrounded by several thieves. When the head of the band of thieves saw that it was the Baal Shem Tov, he put down his weapon and with wonder and astonishment asked: “Baal Shem Tov, what are you doing here in the wild?”

The Baal Shem Tov replied: “Listen, I need to speak with you. I need your help.” All of them wondered what  could the Baal Shem Tov possibly need from lowly thieves. The Baal Shem Tov continued speaking to the band leader: “I need you to gather ten of your thieves and come with me to pray for a sick child.” The head thief didn’t understand, but since the Baal Shem Tov was requesting he complied. He gathered a minyan of his partners in crime, and they prayed with the Baal Shem Tov.  The child miraculously recovered.

Later, when the Baal Shem Tov was asked by his surprised students, “how were you able to accomplish with ten thieves more than you could have accomplished with ten Tzaddikim?!” the Baal Shem Tov replied: “Simple. I saw that all the gates in heaven were locked. And I needed someone to break in…”

There is a profound message here. We are all “thieves” in our own way. Now once a person has transgressed, he has the power not only to correct his ways, but his very crimes can teach him and all of us new ways to “break in” and reach heights that honest people can never reach.

This teaches us a double lesson: In our own lives we must celebrate rather than despair over our confrontation with  our struggles and challenges.  As leaders, parents, and educators, we must not run or shun those afflicted by the challenges of life.  Like Moses, our greatest  wealth will come when we discover and extract the sparks hidden in the “chips” of the human soul.  There are many.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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