26 Av 5781 / Wednesday, August 04, 2021 | Torah Reading: Re'eh
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Vayishlach: A Place of Holiness    

Vayishlach: A Place of Holiness

The Baal Shem Tov, after instructing Alexei to continue on their journey, turned to his Chassidim and said: “I have good reason to be so joyful...


Parshat Vayishlach
"I lived with Lavan" (Bereishit 32:5).
I have “lived” with Lavan: I lived with the whole Torah - I observed the 613 Commandments (Rashi).
“Who is strong?” asks the Mishna (Avot). Strength is not only in “the doing,” but also in the “not doing.” (Sifrei Chassidim)
* * *
While traveling with a small group of his Chassidim, the Baal Shem Tov turned to them and said: “The Master of the Universe – the Creator of all things, is beyond the comprehension of the wisest of man. Yet The Almighty has given us His “wisdom” in the form of the Holy Torah. If one fulfills the mitzvot (commandments) he comes to “know” God in the most sublime way - with his physical being. But Godliness fills this world so completely, that even by doing nothing one can create a dwelling place in this world for The Almighty.”
The Baal Shem Tov’s Chassidim drank in their Rebbe’s words, but could not fathom their meaning. They sat for a while pondered in silence as the wagon made its way along the muddy road though a small town.
The Baal Shem Tov unexpectedly asked his wagon driver, Alexei, to stop the wagon in front of a certain house. The Baal Shem Tov climbed down from the wagon and entered the house without explanation. The Chassidim were quite surprised, as the occupant of this house was well known as a heathen who kept an icon in his house. When the Baal Shem emerged from the house, he was in a joyful mood. The Chassidim looked at each other in confusion, and seeing their faces the Baal Shem Tov only smiled.
The Baal Shem Tov, after instructing Alexei to continue on their journey, turned to his Chassidim and said: “I have good reason to be so joyful. In the last hour I observed the entire Torah!”
The Chassidim sat with blank faces not understanding what their Rebbe was telling them.
“The Torah forbids one to meditate on any holy words of Torah in an unclean place. A place of idolatry is considered even worse, as it is spiritually unclean – not simply physically unclean. With the help of The Almighty, I was able to control my thoughts from contemplating even a single thought of Torah, and that may be counted as having observed the entire Torah.”
Reb Dovid of Dinov, relating this event, exclaimed that Rashi’s words (quoted above) explain that our patriarch Yaakov (Jacob) observed the entire 613 Mitzvot (Commandments). This seems problematic. “As there are certain mitzvot that can only be observed within the Holy Land of Israel, and as Lavan lived in Charan – outside of the Land of Israel, then how could he have observed all of the commandments?
This story about The Baal Shem Tov answers our question: When Yaakov lived with Lavan – in a house that was full of icons and idols - he was forced to guard his thoughts from the teachings of the Torah. Therefore, we can understand Rashi’s explanation that Yaakov observed all of the 613 Commandments of the Torah, and thus truly “lived” by not thinking thoughts of Torah while he was in the house full of icons and idols.
And so it was.
Tzvi Meir Cohn attended Yeshiva Hadar Hatorah in Crown Heights, Brooklyn after completing his university studies in Engineering and Law. While studying at the Yeshiva, he discovered a deep connection to the stories and teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. His many books about the Baal Shem Tov can be found in the Breslev Store. He can be contacted at howard@cohnpatents.com.


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