(Torah Portion Bo) Extra Benefits!
In the late sixties and early seventies, New York police officers were under attack by a group named the Black Panthers. In fact, the Panthers were charged with killing two NYC police officers. Steve was a police officer, he was on his beat in the Bronx one Saturday and as he was passing a Synagogue the door swung open and a man emerged, asking the officer if he was Jewish. He responded, “Yes, I am.” “Well, we have nine men, and we need you to complete our Minyan. Would you please join us!” Steve thought to himself, “It’s so far a quiet day; no one would really notice if I sneak off for a few minutes.” So he joined.
Well, the fifteen minutes he anticipated, actually swelled into more like an hour. Upon leaving the Shul, Steve was shocked to see the Lieutenant of his department standing right in front of the Shul. Before he was able to explain himself, the Lieutenant rushed over to Steve and hugged him and said, “We were looking all over for you!” He then explained, “About a half hour ago we apprehended some Black Panthers who for weeks had been studying the pattern of your beat and they were poised on abducting you today just a few blocks down the street!” Steve personally related to me, that he always reminds himself that due to his decision to join the Minyan his life was spared!
The other day, a gentleman who lives alone, came to Shul for morning prayers, something that he does regularly. Suddenly, during the prayers he suffered a severe seizure attack. Quick medical intervention was administered by a doctor who was close by, and he was taken to a hospital where sometime later he regained consciousness. When I visited this patient, he commented to me, “Who knows what could have happened if I was at home alone at the time! That this event occurred while in Shul is a direct Hand of the Almighty.”
He then told me, “You see Rabbi, now you have something to write about in your newsletter this week!” Thanks! These are some of the extra benefits in coming to Shul.
In this week’s Parsha, the Torah speaks of the laws of the Mitzvah of Tefilin that are worn on one’s arm and head, primarily during the morning service. The Talmud relates a fascinating story: The Roman government passed a cruel edict against the Jews, stating that anyone who dons Tefilin would have his brain gouged out!
Incidentally, I once suggested to a man who had experienced severe anti Semitic abuse in pre war Europe that he avail himself of the opportunity to put on Tefilin. He turned to me with seriousness in his voice and said in his native Yiddish, “They will throw me in jail if I do so!” Such was the fear that those that hate us instilled in him, and it remained with him many years later even here in our land of freedom!
Getting back to the ghastly Roman decree against wearing Tefilin. In defiance of the edict, a person named Elisha would don them in the marketplace. An officer saw him and Elisha fled. As the pursuing officer caught up to Elisha, he took off his head Tefilin and held it in his hand. The officer demanded, “What is in your hand?” Elisha responded, “Dove’s wings.” He opened his hand and lo and behold they were found to be dove’s wings! Because of this incident Elisha got the title of, “Elisha, the Winged one.”
The Talmud asks, “Why specifically were dove wings found and not another type of bird wings?” Answers the Talmud, “Because the Congregation of Israel is compared to a dove; just as a dove protects itself with its wings rather than with its beak, so too with Israel, they are protected by fulfilling the commandments rather than with weapons!
In the Book of Song of Songs, King Solomon compares the relationship of Israel to G-d as that of a dove saying, “The righteous among you are loyal as doves.” The Medrash explains that just as once a dove recognizes its mate, she is chaste and never changes him for another, so too, Israel never exchanged the Holy One Blessed be He for another, once they learned to know Him.”
It is fitting that the laws of Tefilin were given to the Jewish people right before they left Egypt, for the verses inscribed in the Tefilin attest to the secure, trusted and loyal relationship that the Jewish people forged with the Almighty during the exodus from Egypt. In fact the Talmud relates, that from all the Mitzvos given to us, only with the Mitzvah of Tefilin does G-d join us in this Mitzvah and puts on a special pair of Tefilin inscribed with verses extolling the virtues of His special nation Israel.
It is interesting to note that although Tefilin must be colored black, the dove’s wings that were switched in Elisha’s hand were pure white, two glaring opposites. However, this really illustrates the definition of a miracle, where the opposite of that which is naturally expected, happens.
The protection that we receive from the Mitzvos we perform and the Torah we study have no connection with the laws of nature. Its protection is indeed a miraculous phenomenon – which can only be accomplished by the One for Whom we are fulfilling the Mitzvah!
Wishing you a restful, peaceful and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks