THE HOLY THIEF

0 Posted by - November 12, 2015 - Breishit, Parsha

THE HOLY THIEF

Parashat Toldot

Next to the grave of the Sabba of Shpoli is the famous tombstone that says, “Here lies Yossele, the Holy Thief”.

The Hassidic masters tell that the Saba from Shpoli would spend a lot of his time with the Jewish thieves in town. “I can rely on my bandits. I trust in them.” One day, the band of thieves planned to steal the treasures of the local church. The church was locked, triple locked. But the thieves learned about a narrow side window, which was close up to the roof of the church. Next to this window, on the inside of the church, was a ladder. The thieves turned to Yossele, who was thin and tall, flexible and swift, brave at heart and perfect for the mission. Nimble as a cat, Yossele climbed up onto the slanted roof. He opened the window and slid down the ladder. A large tapestry served well to package golden idol trophies and silver coins that Yossele found. He tied a rope around his bundle of goods, climbed up the ladder, and pulled up the rope. From above, he called his band, but he did not know that, in the meantime, the police had shown up, and his friends had already fled in every direction. The police noticed Yossele calling up from the roof. They opened the front door of the church and escorted Yossele, from the top of the ladder straight to the bottom cell of the dungeon.

At his court case, Yossele defended his life to the judge with his story. “I saw that all the townsfolk would bring all different types of presents to the statues in the church. Gold and silver. I wanted to check if the statue was for real, or if the townsfolk were being fooled into giving their hard earned money to a hoax. I entered the church; I pinched the idol’s nose, but he did not flinch. I started taking the idol’s things right in front of his eyes, and he did not make a peep. I got so mad, I said, “This statue is a swindle! I will take all of the money from the statue and give it back to the good, hardworking townspeople.”

The judge became enraged with fury and sentenced Yossele to death. Both for Yossele’s thievery, and for Yossele’s Chutzpah.

But before Yossele’s execution, he was offered an ultimatum. “After you did such a brave act, it is a waste of your life that we execute you. If you convert to Christianity, we will make you into a Christian saint, and you will have a great life of glory and honor.” Yossele responded, “Yossele is a thief, but Yossele will not rebel against his G-d!” He repeated this statement, again and again, each time they attempted to persuade him.

In front of the whole town, Yossele was brought to a pot of boiling tar. “Yossele, this is your last chance. Convert to Christianity, and you will have life of luxury!” And Yossele responded, “Yossele did a lot of bad things, but Yossele will not rebel against his G-d.” They forced his hands into the boiling lead, and reminded him, “Last chance!” Yossele screamed, “Yossele stole, but Yossele won’t rebel against his G-d”. And those were his last words, as he repeated them, before his body was pushed brutally into the lead.

The Rebbe from Shpoli told his chassidim, before he died, “I want to be buried next to Yossele, the holy thief.”

Yitzhak blessed Yaakov, but only after Yitzhak had smelled with his Ruach Hakodesh the Jewish evildoers of the generations that do Teshuvah. וירח את ריח בגדיו He smelled the scent of Yaakov’s clothes, hints to וירח את ריח בוגדיו, He scented the scent of Gan Eden that emanated from the rebels, the evildoers, who repented. Even the rebels of the Jewish Nation die with the smell of Gan Eden. He smelled Yossele, the holy thief, and he smelled Yosef Mashita.

As the Roman who attempted entering the Temple was struck by an angel, the Romans did not dare to loot it .They needed a Jew to initiate that move. They found the right man. Yosef Mashita.  They told this Rasha that the first thing he would take out of the Temple would be his to keep. On each successive time, whatever he took out would belong to the Romans. Yosef Mashita had the audacity to enter the Temple and take out a golden Menorah! The Romans looked at it, and he was shocked when they said to him, “This is a candelabra that belongs in a palace, not in the home of a commoner, like you. Go into the Temple again, and the next thing you take out will be yours.” Yosef did not go back in. He refused, saying, “It is enough that I have angered my Master once; I cannot do it again…” They offered him a three-year position of levying taxes (an important and lucrative office). He refused. They threatened him with a death of suffering and torture, but he adamantly refused to repeat his transgression. “It is enough that I angered my Master once; I cannot do it again…” They did not just kill him. They tortured him to death, inflicting upon him unspeakable suffering; but, with his waning strength, he said, over and over, “Woe is to me for I have angered my Maker”.(Breishit Rabbah 65; 22) וירח את ריח בוגדיו, And he smelled the scent of the rebels. When Yitzhak smelled these descendants coming from Yaakov, he smelled the scent of Gan Eden, and he understood, intuitively, that we need this blessing of superhuman strength.

And then, Yitzhak blessed Yaakov with the blessing that Yaakov’s descendants needed in order to stand strong and live their last breaths, sanctifying G-d’s Name. And he said, ויתן לך האלקים. And may He give you, the Elokim,… The blessing hints to the source from which the Jewish People got this superhuman strength. Listen closely. And may He give you the Elokim, … May G-d give us the G-dliness we need to stand up strong for a higher purpose. G-d’s גבורה, G-d’s Might, is His strength in allowing His Attribute of Mercy to override His Attribute of Judgement. We all have this G-dliness, this צלם אלוקים inside us. It is the ability to exercise self-discipline; it is the ability to have self-sacrifice. No matter how low a Jew has fallen, there is a point of self-sacrifice he can find from within, a blessing that we received from Yitzhak, ויתן לך האלוקים.

What is the secret that separates Yaakov from Esav? It all boils down to self-talk, allowing this voice of G-dliness to take over the inner conversation. The midrash tells us the difference between the Tzaddik and the Rasha. The Tzaddik speaks אל לבו  or על לבו  to his heart or on his heart, חנה מדברת על לבה), ויאמר דוד אל לבו ( while the Rasha speaks בלבו, in his heart. ויאמר המן בלבו)) ויאמר עשו בלבו)) It is being confined to the thinking of one’s heart that makes all the difference. (M. Rabbah Esther 10)

There is not much written in the Torah about Yitzhak’s life, in comparison to the amount written on Avraham and Yaakov, who needed to deal with people. Why? Because Yitzhak’s life was about גבורה, overcoming inner battles. Akeidat Yitzhak, self-sacrifice. Yitzhak needed to concentrate on striving to be the best possible father for a son like Esav. And when he saw Esav’s Gehinom, when Esav entered his room at the time of the Berachot, it was an even greater Akeidah for Yitzhak than the Akeidah, itself. (ויחרד חרדה גדולה ) Maybe I am accountable for this? Maybe my approach as a father was faulty? These were all internal struggles of גבורה, of how to behave with his son.

When Yaakov entered, Yitzhak smelled that same smell (of Gan Eden) that he had smelled at the Akeidah. For Yaakov to listen to his mother, and to risk even the one beracha that was meant for him, and to go against his nature, was an Akeidah for Yaakov. That Akeidah, going against your nature to serve G-d, is the secret path to Gan Eden. The Ben Ish Chai explains that this is the concept of Fear of Heaven. Why not Fear of G-d? Because Heaven, שמים , is made up of אש ומים, fire and water. Fire’s nature is to make water evaporate, and water’s nature is to put out fire. Fear of Heaven is about going against one’s nature when it is necessary, just as fire and water dwell together, to serve G-d. That is what Gan Eden is all about. It is all about the Akeidahs that you go through in life.

 

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