Monday, May 25, 2009

Converts and Kabbalas HaTorah

Rav Tzaddok HaKohen zt”l explains that both the written and oral Torah were built on the foundation of converts. Ma’amad Har Sinai is recounted in Parshas Yisro, and Yisro was the “father” of all future converts; similarly, Rabbi Akiva who was the descendant of converts is the foundation of the oral Torah. The ger personifies absolute self-sacrifice for Hashem and His Torah from pure love, for he has freely chosen to abandon a carefree worldly existence for the demands of fulfilling the Will of Hashem.
After coming into contact with the Torah and sincerely devout Jews in France, young count Pototsky, hy”d—the famous ger tzedek of Vilna— became convinced that he could no longer remain a Catholic. He studied with great devotion, and eventually went to Amsterdam and converted; in time, he assumed the name Avraham ben Avraham. After some travel, he settled outside of Vilna, but one day he was informed upon to the authorities. He had long been sought for the “crime” of conversion, and was quickly arrested and awaited the trial for his “capital crime.”
But his non-Jewish family pleaded with him to “return to the fold.” They petitioned him, claiming that he should think of the great humiliation he would cause the family if he was publicly burned to death.
The ger tzedek replied, “It seems difficult on the face of it that some non-Jews convert. Conversely, it is surely remarkable that sometimes we find a Jew who goes away from the religion of his fathers. What could be the meaning of this? We find in that Hashem went to all the nations and offered them the Torah—which they refused—before giving it to the Jewish people. Although the nations as a whole refused, do you think it likely that not one non-Jew was willing to accept the Torah? Surely there were, but Hashem went after the overwhelming majority that rejected Torah. Similarly, although there were plenty of Jews who were not willing to accept the Torah, whom the Vilna Gaon calls Eirev Rav, Hashem followed the overwhelming majority who did.
“Before the righteous moshiach arrives, all of these mixed-up souls require clarification. Why should a non-Jew who truly wanted Torah be denied, and why should a Jew who did not be allowed to keep it? For this, Hashem causes certain non Jewish souls to convert and other Jews to leave the path of their fathers.
“It comes out that although you always thought I was a gentile, you were mistaken since I am actually a Jewish soul from the time of the revelation of the Torah on Sinai. Surely you don’t think you can prevent me from living out my destiny? The only problem I have always had is that I have a body from a non-Jewish mother. What can I do with this treif body? The Torah clearly says we must take care of ourselves physically. But if you want take care of my problem and rectify this body through burning, I will bless you from the bottom of my heart. At that moment I will become a Jew in body and soul!”
After his long imprisonment and a trial for heresy, he was left to await execution. The Vilna Gaon zt”l sent a message to him secretly:
“I am prepared to save you through a mofes, a miracle brought about by manipulating the Divine Name. Will you allow me to do it for you?”
Avraham ben Avraham sent his bold response back to the Gaon: “I do not wish to be saved—I accept the Will of Hashem, and I will gladly die for the sake of His Name!” The ger tzedek of Vilna was burned at the stake on the second day of Shavuos. Like Rabbi Akiva, he left this world filled with joy to do the Will of his Creator—both living examples of the greatness of converts!
This ma’aseh moved the Rebbe of Tzanz, zt”l, so powerfully that he would exclaim several times at the high points of the third meal, “The Graf Pototski said ‘What do we do with the treif body!”

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