Hope For the Future
In the years prior to World War Two, it was known that two Chassidic sects – the Belzer and the Munkatch Chassidim – did not get along very well. In the town of Munkatch lived a Belzer chassid named Moshe Silber. Fiercely loyal to his Rebbe, he would often argue with the Munkatcher Rebbe. One day, in the midst of such an argument, the Munkatcher Rebbe turned to Moshe Silber and said, "You will die with your tallit katan on!" (A tallit katan is the small fringed garment that religious men wear under their shirts.)
Some years later, the war came and Moshe Silber was deported to Auschwitz. The threat of death was constant: He suffered hunger, illness and sheer brutality. Of course, in Auschwitz there was no way of obtaining, let alone wearing, a tallit katan. So Moshe Silber never doubted that he would survive Auschwitz. Why? Because, after all, the Munkatcher Rebbe had said he would die with his tallit katan on. If the Munkatcher Rebbe – a great tzaddik – had said so, it was doubtless to be that way.
Ultimately, Moshe Silber did survive the war. And for years after, he would sit wearing his tallit katan in his house in New Jersey, telling visitors wonderful stories about his former opponent, the Munkatcher Rebbe – whose words had given him the strength and hope to survive a living hell.
Time and time again, we see how focusing on the future can get people through times of deep crisis and tragedy. Such an instance is alluded to in this week's Torah portion, Shlach.
Moses, at the behest of the Israelites, sends a group of spies to scout the land of Israel.Ten of the 12 spies bring back a negative report, warning the Israelites of great danger if they enter the land. The Canaanites, they explain, are very strong and the Israelites will be no match for them.
Though the remaining two spies, Caleb and Joshua, argue against this scenario, the people do not believe them and a wave of despair engulfs the Israelite camp. Many speak openly of flouting God's will and returning to Egypt. Angered by this treachery, God informs them that, indeed, they will not enter the land of Israel. Instead they will wander 40 years in the desert, and it is only their children who will inherit the land.
An interesting Midrash points out that this was really not all for the bad. Because it was clear that the Israelites were not ready to enter Israel. In truth, they needed time in the desert to grow spiritually, and to gain a greater confidence and trust in God.
Nevertheless, with the news of their banishment to the desert, an even greater despair became rampant in the Israelite camp. What guarantee did they have that any Israelites would ever enter the land?!
In an effort to calm the people and assure them that everything would work out, God tells Moses to teach the Jewish People the mitzvah of "Challah." (This is the separation of a portion of dough, which is then given as a gift to the Kohanim.) The key here is that "Challah" is a Mitzvah which initially could only be observed when the Jewish People entered the land of Israel!
It was a great comfort for the people to learn that the Almighty was making plans for the nations' future entry into the land. Though their present circumstances were trying, they were confident they had a future to look forward to. Just like Moshe Silber and the tallis katan...