Parashat Nitzavim 5778

Rabbi Dr René Pfertzel – 7 September 2018

This week’s Torah portion, Nitzavim, tells us something that may seem obvious: The Torah is not in outer space. We do not have to travel to heavens nor cross the seas to learn Torah. It is close to our hearts and our lips to live and observe (Deuteronomy 30:11-14). Rashi explains, if Torah were actually in heavens, we would have to find a way to retrieve it, bring it back to earth, and study it. Isn’t it a bit odd even to imagine that Torah might somewhere else than here on earth? I believe the following Chassidic story gives the profound meaning of these verses.

The tale is told about Reb Chaikel, a poor tailor from Lodz, who had the same recurring dreams. Each night his father would appear to him and tell him about a secret fortune. All Reb Chaikel had to do was travel to Vienna and go to the royal palace. Exactly fifty yards from the palace, his father said, was an old oak tree. Under that tree, his father told him, lies a great treasure. All Reb Chaikel had to do was dig under the tree, and all his financial problems would be solved.

At first, Reb Chaikel ignored the dreams, but they recurred night after night. And so, he decided to go to Vienna and seek his fortune.

He camped out near the palace and waited for an opportune time to begin digging for the fortune. At midnight on a moonless night, he stealthily crept up to the tree and began to dig. His shovel had not even had a chance to strike dirt when he felt a rough hand squeeze the back of his neck.

“Jew!” shouted the palace guard. “What on earth are you doing at midnight, 50 yards from the palace gates, shovelling dirt?”

Reb Chaikel had no choice but to tell the story of his dreams about the great fortune that lay beneath the oak tree that he was about to dig up. He even offered to split the booty if the guard would let him go. “You idiot!” laughed the guard. “Everyone has dreams. In fact, I myself dreamed that if I were to go to the city of Lodz in Poland and dig in the basement of some Jewish tailor named Chaikel, I, too, would find a fortune! Hah! Now go away!”
Reb Chaikel returned to Lodz and, after a little digging in the basement of his own home, he found the treasure, and became a very wealthy man.

The treasure is just there, in our hearts, in our communities, and not far away, on a distant planet. The High Holy Days are a time when we are reminded to re-focus on what really matters: who we are, and where we are heading too.

May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life.

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