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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
January, Labor Day, Presidents' Day, Memorial Day, certain times of the year are traditionally the best time to find a real bargain. If you're not desperate and your purchase can wait, you can save a bundle if you take advantage of the "sales."
Shopping for some is almost like a science, or at least a hobby. Once you get used to the routine, you know exactly when and where to shop for your needs, whether they are furniture, linens, clothing or even major appliances.
It may not be possible to avoid all the crowds of shoppers, long lines, barely helpful sales people, and high rate of returns, but at least the price is right.
Sales are great in shopping. In our lives as Jews, too, some days are more auspicious than others to aquire or solidify the various aspects of our commitment to the teachings of the Torah. Rosh Hashana is the time for introspection and return to G-d. Sukkot and Simchat Torah remind us that "Joy breaks all boundaries." Passover helps us with freedom and breaking out of our limited view of our own capabilities. Shavuot reinforces our commitment to study and to Jewish education.
Nevertheless we don't need to wait for a "sale day" to grow as Jews. Every day of our lives there are "bargains" to be found--treasures of personal growth which we can acquire as our own with a little skill and a good deal of commitment.
We don't have to wait for Rosh Hashana to be introspective or pray; King David tells us in Psalms: "G-d is close to all who call Him."
Joy and happiness are good any moment of the day and any day of the year. Just try smiling at someone on the steet and you'll see how far "spreading a little joy" can get you!
Freedom is a state of mind which we can generate without leaning at the seder table. In fact, that is the message of the Shema, said daily in the morning and evening.
Torah study is likewise a daily requirement, and a wasted opportunity to learn something new is considered a grave failing.
Above all, the "price" is right. All we have to do is invest a little energy in the right direction and the return is immense. "Open for Me a space like the eye of a needle, and I will open for you the great doors of the entrance to the Temple sanctuary," says the Talmud. Now if that isn't a real bargain, what is?
The very first Passover offering, described in this week's Torah portion, Bo, differed from those that would be offered by future generations in one important respect. That year, and that year only, the Jewish people were commanded to procure the Pascal lamb on the 10th of the month of Nisan--four days before it was to be slaughtered--and to keep it in their homes until the 14th day of the month.
Rashi, the great Torah commentator, cites the following explanation. "G-d said, 'The time has come for Me to fulfill My promise to Abraham to redeem his children.' But the Jews had no mitzvot in whose merit they deserved to be redeemed... He therefore gave them two commandments--the Passover offering and the mitzva of circumcision (which the Jews, in their suffering and degradation, had ceased to observe)."
Why was it necessary for G-d to give the Jews two mitzvot at that time in history? Why wouldn't one have sufficed to provide them with the merit they needed to be redeemed? If one was not enough, why only two and not more? And, what is the connection between all this and the commandment to keep the Passover lamb in the house for four days?
The explanation lies in the fact that these two mitzvot were given to the Children of Israel to correct two specific flaws from which they then suffered. After more than two hundred years of slavery, not only were they bereft of mitzvot, but the Jewish people had become contaminated by the paganism of the Egyptians. The opportunity to observe the fundamental mitzva of circumcision addressed the first problem; the Passover offering then severed the Jewish people from the idol worship into which they had fallen.
To the ancient Egyptians the lamb was a sacred deity. When the Jews brazenly sacrificed the Pascal lamb they thereby showed their contempt for the dominant Egyptian culture and mores. But in order for the break with paganism to be internalized and complete, more than a one-time action was necessary. G-d gave the Jews an extra four days of preparation to afford them the time to reflect upon the great significance their deed truly held.
Today, our own historical era closely parallels the period just prior to the exodus from Egypt, for we stand on the very threshold of Moshiach and the Final Redemption. The necessity to "clothe ourselves in mitzvot" exists now as before, for indeed, when Moshiach comes, every single Jew will be personally redeemed from the long and bitter exile.
It is therefore incumbent upon us to take positive steps in both directions--encouraging more and more Jews to observe practical mitzvot to increase our collective merit, and, at the same time, transforming the "idol worship" of our own era--the modern obsession with money, career advancement and power--into a channel for bringing G-dliness and the light of Torah into the world. In this manner we will be truly ready to greet Moshiach, speedily in our day.
Adapted from Collected Talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol. 16
"The Iraqi army this morning invaded its neighbor, Kuwait," the Israeli radio announcer exclaimed in a dramatic newscast. "Without prior warning, the army of the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, invaded the oil-rich Emirate of Kuwait." Thus began the chain of events that eventually resulted in the "Gulf War."
The whole world followed what was happening; threats of the tyrant from Baghdad sowed tension and foreboding. Experts on chemical warfare began to inform Israelis how to protect themselves from chemical attack. Fear was felt everywhere.
As with many crucial world events, many Jews found hints about the situation in Jewish writings. In fact, a midrash from the Yalkut Shimoni described exactly what was happening and its words contained an element of comfort: The events were nothing less than a preparation for Moshiach!
At a public gathering, the Rebbe said: "The words of the Yalkut Shimoni have already been made public. The nations of the world are fighting each other. The Kings of Persia and Aram are making noises, and the children of Israel are filled with confusion. But then G-d says to his children, 'My sons, you have nothing to fear, for all these events are merely a preparation for the coming of Moshiach, for the true and complete redemption, at which time Moshiach will stand on the roof of the Holy Temple and proclaim, "The time of your redemption has arrived!' " Then they will see everything revealed."
Meanwhile, frantic negotiations were taking place between the United States and the NATO countries. President Bush warned Saddam Hussein that the invasion of Kuwait constituted a flagrant violation of international law, which the super powers would not accept.
At the end of the summer, Mr. Eli Kulis, former chairman of the Knesset Law Committee, visited the Rebbe as he handed out dollars one Sunday. Mr. Kulis asked for the Rebbe's blessing on behalf of all the Jews living in the Holy Land. He expressed the fears of many Jews in light of recent developments. The Rebbe said that if they will increase their faith in G-d, He, in turn, will increase their blessings a thousandfold. The Rebbe's words were quickly publicized.
During a visit with the Rebbe by Israeli Police Minster Ronnie Milo, the minister commented that these were trying days for the people of Israel, and they needed the Rebbe's blessing.
"Just the opposite is true," the Rebbe said. "The month of Elul is approaching, a month when G-d is particularly close to every Jew, more than the rest of the year! This is especially true regarding those Jews who reside in the Holy Land."
These comforting words were broadcast in Israel, in response to numerous requests by people to hear the Rebbe's opinion on the crisis.
After the distribution of gas masks by the army, people became much more fearful. To an American Jew, who told the Rebbe that his family in Israel was very worried, the Rebbe said, "G-d's eyes are on the Holy Land, so there is nothing to be afraid of. Israel is the safest place in the world." The Rebbe's words, broadcast worldwide, brought great encouragement in Israel.
After numerous debates, the U.N. Security Council's conclusions were clear: Force must be used to bring about the surrender of Saddam Hussein. But Hussein was not frightened. He continued to consolidate his position in Kuwait.
Many people sent questions concerning their travel plans to the Rebbe. To all of them he gave the same response: The Holy Land is the safest place in the world; there is nothing to be afraid of.
The Jewish Federation arranged for a delegation to travel to Israel. They visited the Rebbe before their departure. Turning to a member of the delegation, the Rebbe said, "Your journey to the Holy Land must be well publicized. This is the proper thing to do. This is what every Jew should be doing, as it is the safest place in the world."
The first SCUD hit Israel at close to two o'clock in the morning on January 17. The earth trembled. Glass crashed all around, and then, utter silence. What had happened? An attack on Tel Aviv. The dramatic announcement came over the radio: "Due to a missile attack, all residents are to enter their sealed rooms and put on their gas masks."
The world waited to hear whether the missiles had carried chemical or conventional warheads. Many hours passed before General Nachman Shai announced over Israeli radio that people could remove their gas masks. An hour later, all Israelis were given permission to leave their sealed rooms. It was soon announced that all the missiles had fallen into crowded public areas, but not one person had been physically harmed!
During six long weeks, 39 missiles fell on Israel. The miracles which took place during those weeks moved even skeptics. Skyscrapers were split in two from the shock of direct hits--the workers in them had already left for home. Large buildings collapsed--they were in the middle of construction, empty. One Shabbat, a missile fell into the heart of Tel Aviv. The missile scored a direct hit on a community building and could have destroyed the neighborhood, except that the missile did not explode. It was removed intact from the building.
Once again, the world was witness to the fact that the Rebbe's words were not meant only to be taken figuratively. They were words which flowed from a sharp vision of the future.
Reprinted from Wonders and Miracles, vol. 2
A recent project of the International Campaign to Help Bring Moshiach was the placing of posters on New York Metro Area subways with the Rebbe's message, "Moshiach is on his way. Let's Get Ready." The posters publicized a toll-free number to call for more information and thousands of additional calls were received by the 800 number during the posters' viewing. The 800 number, which carries a weekly educational message about Moshiach, has been in existence for over a year now.
LAND FOR PEACE: Part 2
Excerpts from a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to (former) Chief Rabbi of Great Britain Rabbi Immanuel Jakobowitz, Nov. 1980 (all underlining and parentheses are the Rebbe's; brackets are the editor's).
I know, of course, that there are rabbis who are of the opinion that in the present situation, as they see it, it would be permissible from the viewpoint of the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law] to return areas of Eretz Yisrael [Israel]. But it is also known on what information they based this view. One argument is that the present situation is not identical with the hypothetical case of a state of "being besieged by gentiles." A second argument is that the present surrendering of some areas would not endanger lives.
That these arguments are based on misinformation is patently clear. The Arab neighbors are prepared militarily; what is more, they do demand these areas as theirs to keep, and openly declare that if not surrendered voluntarily, they will take them by force, and eventually everything else. A rabbi who says that the said psak din [halachic ruling] of the Shulchan Aruch does not apply in the present situation is completely misinformed on what the situation actually is.
A further example of how facts can be publicly distorted is in connection with the surrender of the oil wells in Sinai. Some warned at that time that it would be a terrible mistake to give them up, since oil, in this day and age, is an indispensable vital weapon, for without it planes and tanks are put out of action as surely as if they had been knocked out. Nevertheless, there were rabbis that defended the surrender of the oil wells--again having received and accepted the "information" that the country has ample oil reserves that would last for months. When it was suggested to them to verify this information with anyone who has some idea about the physical limitations of storing oil to build up reserves, especially in a small country with limited storage space--the suggestion was ignored. Sure enough, before long the government found it necessary to demand from the USA urgent oil deliveries, because the reserves would last only a few days. Moreover, prominent members of the government publicly admitted that it was a serious mistake to have surrendered the oil wells.
Be it also noted that since the surrender of the oil wells in Sinai--according to the government's figures--some 21/2 billion dollars were paid by it to Egypt for oil from the very same wells that had been surrendered. (Not to mention the fact of having to buy oil also in the spot market, all at exorbitant prices.)
I was taken to task for placing so much emphasis on the security of Eretz Yisrael, the argument being that what has protected the Jewish people during the long Exile has been the study of Torah and the practice of mitzvot; hence Torah-observant Jews should not make the inviolability of Eretz Yisrael as the overriding cause. I countered that they missed the point, for my position has nothing to do with Eretz Yisrael as such, but with the pikuach nefesh [imminent danger to life] of the Jews living there--which would apply to any part of the world.
It is said that my pronouncements on the issues are more political than rabbinic. Inasmuch as the matter has to do with pikuach nefesh, it is surely the duty of every Jew, be he rabbi or layman, to do all permitted by the Shulchan Aruch to help forestall--or, at any rate, minimize--the danger. In a case of pikuach nefesh, every possible effort must be made, even if there is a doubt, and even many doubts, whether the effort will succeed.
As we have discussed previously, many signs that were given to us by our Prophets and Sages point to the fact that we are living in the days, even the seconds, before the Messianic Era.
But why us? Is our generation so special or meritorious that we deserve to witness the revelation of Moshiach more so than previous generations?
Our generation is not necessarily more meritorious than previous generations. We just "happen" to have been born at the right time.
Chasidic philosophy presents us with an analogy which can help us understand how we fit into the scheme of things in these moments before the Redemption. It explains that we are like a dwarf and the previous generations are like giants. We are standing on the shoulders of giants of the past and can therefore actually see farther than the giants!
This is true because in the spiritual realms good is eternal whereas evil is temporary, removed by the repentance or suffering of previous generations.
In addition, as "dwarfs on the shoulders of giants" we have access to much more knowledge than previous generations, knowledge that can be used for good and for hastening the Redemption. Again, though we are mere dwarfs, many a layman today, for example, knows more about how the body functions than the greatest physicians of a thousand years ago. A high school student may well know more about physics than did Newton. And one who has just began his Jewish education at an advanced age might know more about Jewish mystical teachings than some of our great scholars of the past.
Let's not be overly humble, though, and give all the credit to past generations! For the Midrash explains that Moses' tremendous humility came from his foreseeing the self-sacrifice of our generation, the last generation of exile and the first generation of the Redemption.
When he will let you go, he will surely thrust you out altogether from here... Speak now in the ears of the people, and let them ask... and G-d gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians (Ex. 11:1-3)
Throughout the ages there have always been some people who insist on interpreting the miraculous exodus from Egypt as a purely natural event. The Children of Israel were allowed to leave Egypt, they claim, simply because the Egyptians had had their fill of Jews and decided to let them emigrate. To these skeptics the Torah replies, "He will surely thrust you out...and every man shall ask of his neighbor." When the Jewish people left Egypt, not only were they not despised, but the Egyptians plied them with gold and silver vessels, for "G-d gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians."
This month shall be unto you (Ex. 12:2)
According to Rabbi Yitzchak the Torah should have begun with this verse, and not "In the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the earth." What is so special about this mitzva, and why doesn't the Torah begin with the words "I am the L-rd thy G-d," a seemingly more fundamental principle of Judaism? The existence of G-d is the basis upon which the observance of Torah and mitzvot is predicated, but the objective of the entire Torah is best expressed in the mitzva of "this month (chodesh) shall be unto you." The purpose of the Jew is to become an active partner in creation (the Hebrew word "chodesh" comes from the word chadash--"new"), transforming the physical world, which seems to be a separate entity, divorced from G-dliness, into yet another expression of holiness.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita)
One summer day Meshulem ben Menachem, a Jewish merchant from Italy, set out from Hebron for the holy city of Jerusalem. He had two Jewish travelling companions, a business broker and agent named Yosef, and a merchant named Refoel.
They would have preferred to join a caravan of travelling merchants, as it was dangerous to travel in those days, especially on isolated roads in the Land of Israel. But it was summer, and it was only seldom that a caravan would choose to travel in that terrible heat. Meshulem and his companions had no patience to wait, and so they decided to go without delay.
They were fortunate to meet two honest Mamelukes (Turks) who were also on their way to Jerusalem and were glad to join them. Finally, a local Arab named Ali offered to go along as their guide. They set off and travelled until the sun began to set behind the Judean hills. Near a small village they stopped to allow Ali to visit with some friends who lived there. Ali promised to return soon.
Ali did, indeed, have friends there, and together with them, he plotted to kill the Jews and rob them. He returned shortly and told the travellers that his friends had advised him that it would be better and quicker to travel by the side roads, where they could avoid the watchmen who not only served to guard travellers, but also collected road taxes.
The travellers agreed to his plan and Ali led them through intricate by-ways until they reached a cave about ten miles out of Hebron. It was said that in this cave lay buried Yishai, the father of King David, and that the cave continued all the way to the Cave of Machpela.
The party continued until suddenly Ali turned on the others and demanded to be paid two ducats. Yosef protested: "We promised only one ducat, and that only upon arriving in Jerusalem! Between us we have only half a ducat with us now. The rest of our money is in Jerusalem." Yosef calculated his answer wisely, for he realized that the Arab wanted to find out if they were carrying money with them.
Ali quickly rode into the forest and they soon heard his cries echoing from the distance. The Jews feared that he was signalling some conspirators to them harm.
The Jews turned to their Mameluke companions and said: "It seems this Ali wants to murder and rob us. But we want you to know that before we left we visited the Chief of the city of Hebron and told him that we would be travelling together with you. If anything should happen to us, he will surely turn to you for an explanation."
The Mamelukes were honorable men, and they replied: "We will go and get rid of this wicked bandit Ali." They galloped into the forest, bows and arrows at the ready. Yosef followed quietly, in order to hear what was being planned. Meshulem and Refoel remained behind. Yosef hid behind some trees and listened to the conversation. Ali spoke first, saying: "Listen to me, I have arranged with three of my friends to murder those Jews and take their horses, gold, and other possessions. Join us and we will divide everything equally. These Jews are rich merchants and have lots of money with them. No one will ever know that we have murdered them."
The Mamelukes replied, "You are mistaken, Ali. The Chief of our city of Hebron has entrusted us with their lives and will demand to know where they are and what has happened to them. The evil deed will become known and we will be punished."
"Don't worry. You will say that you brought the Jewish merchants to Jerusalem where a band of Bedouins suddenly appeared and killed them, while you barely escaped with your lives."
"Say no more. You have a choice. Either you return to the Jews and we will continue on our way, or, if you refuse, we will put an end to you here and now, before your friends have a chance to come."
Ali saw that he had no choice. He rode back to the Jews together with the Mamelukes. Yosef hurried back, giving no sign of having heard the frightening conversation that had just taken place. The two Mamelukes surrounded Ali on both sides, while Meshulem, Yosef and Refoel walked behind them.
They travelled the whole night by the light of the moon, until daybreak. Ali feared that if they arrived in Jerusalem together, the Mamelukes would hand him over to the Emir, so he begged to be released, saying he had relatives in a nearby village. Since the danger was passed, the Mamelukes agreed to his request.
The travellers were soon on the main road leading to Beth Lechem, and they happily rewarded the Mamelukes with a gold ducat each for the service they had performed for them. They stopped to pray at the grave of our Matriarch, Rachel, and to thank the Alm-ghty for the miracle He had shown them by sending the two Mamelukes to protect and save them from a certain death. That very same day they reached Jerusalem with hearts full of joy and thankfulness.
Adapted from Talks and Tales.
Living on the threshold of the Messianic age as we do should be a most exciting experience. Other generations have expected the Messiah's imminent appearance on the basis of the forced interpretation of one or two prophecies, whereas we are living through the entire range of Messianic tradition, often coming to pass with uncanny literalness. If you keep your eyes open, you can almost see every headline bringing us a step closer to this goal.
(The Real Messiah by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, 1976)