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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Have you ever gone shopping for a car? No, we're not going to talk about the haggling, the high pressure salespeople or any of the other hassles, anxieties or stress.
Rather, let's talk about the selection process - how do we choose which car we want to buy? Do we want a van, a sports car, an SUV? Stick shift or automatic? What color? Do we care more about gas mileage, performance or maintenance record?
Once we narrow all that down, then comes the hard part. What model? Every major car manufacturer - Chrysler, Ford, GM, Honda, Lexus, Nissan, Toyota and whoever else we've left out - has a make and model that fits that description. How to choose?
Well, really, isn't that just a matter of taste, or style, or some equally nebulous quality? In the end, buying a new car comes down to two criteria: how does it function and does it express my personality? Aren't these really the two questions we ask? Does it get us from here to there in reasonable comfort, with little trouble, at an affordable price? And do we like the way we look and feel inside it? Do we like the way others look at us when they see this is our car?
Understanding these two aspects of the car buying process - function and style - gives us an insight into why the soul descends into the body and our relationship with G-d as a result. You see, in Tanya (the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy), Rabbi Shneur Zalman explains that the mitzvot (commandments) "constitute the innermost Supreme Will..." Thus, fulfilling the commandments fulfills G-d's Will. So when we do a mitzva, we become a vehicle for G-d's Will. We become the car, so to speak, that gets G-d where He wants to go.
No, Tanya doesn't use the term "car." It uses the term merkava, or chariot. But that means a vehicle, a mode of transportation. And the important point of the analogy is that the vehicle - be it a car or a chariot - has no will of its own, but goes where the Driver wants to go. The more easily and efficiently the vehicle operates - the more easily and efficiently we do mitzvos - the faster the Driver gets where He wants to go. In our case, the Driver - G-d - wants to get to the final Redemption, the coming of Moshiach, when, as Isaiah states, "the whole world will be filled with knowledge of the L-rd as the waters cover the ocean."
Which brings us to the last point, about style. The Sages declared that "the Patriarchs are truly a vehicle," because they dedicated themselves, their entire existence, to serving G-d. But we know that each of them had a different "style," so to speak. While all of them kept all the mitzvot, Abraham emphasized kindness, Isaac emphasized discipline, and Jacob emphasized the harmonious blend of the two.
So while we are all obligated to fulfill the mitzvot - keep kosher, observe Shabbat, give charity, etc. - we each bring our individual style, our unique emphasis and approach. While we of course must remain within the context of Jewish law, we are all nevertheless vehicles of G-dliness, each of us with his or her special style, Divinely ordained and Divinely cherished.
This week's Torah portion, Emor, begins with a fundamental teaching about the education of children: "Speak to the priests...and say to them." Our Sages explain that this repetition alludes to the mitzva (commandment) and obligation placed on adults to instruct their children in the proper path. Parents, the Torah insists, must provide the next generation with the proper Jewish education.
But why is such a fundamental concept not mentioned until now, halfway through the Torah? Would it not have been more appropriate for this mitzva to be given immediately after the revelation at Mt. Sinai? Furthermore, why is this mitzva mentioned in connection with the priests?
In explanation, bear in mind that the Torah portion studied during any given week has particular significance for that time of year. Its selection is not arbitrary; its teachings are especially applicable at that particular time. The commandment to educate the young must therefore apply most specifically now, during the month of Iyar, a month primarily characterized by counting the omer.
The essential concept of Sefirat HaOmer, counting the omer, is education. The Jews were educated and refined as they counted the days before the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai, seven weeks after their exodus from Egypt. The release from bondage was, so to speak, the "birth" of the Jewish nation, which was then followed by a period in which they were educated for the great event to come.
This learning experience was not, however, in the fundamentals of Judaism; G-d had already said of Abraham, "For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, that they will keep the way of G-d." This process of refinement, achieved through counting the omer, refers to a higher degree of perfection.
Furthermore, this type of education has a special connection to the service of the priests, for their job was to bring the Jews closer to G-d through the sacrifices brought in the Holy Temple. Because the priests raised the sanctity of the entire Jewish nation, it is to them that the commandment to instruct the young was addressed.
We learn from this that the duty to provide our children - and every Jewish child - with a proper Jewish education involves more than teaching them just the basics of Judaism. We must also endeavor to instill in them the desire for perfection in the service of G-d.
Today, as we stand on the threshold of Moshiach's imminent arrival, this lesson is particularly apt, for it prepares us for that time when "the entire world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d, like the waters of the sea cover the earth."
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
From a speech at Chabad of Northwest New Jersey's Founders Dinner by Robert Wolfson
Last week my cousin Mark called to say "hello" and we started talking about tonight's event. Being a journalist and very verbose, he offered some suggestions about my speech. He said that I could say something to the effect that when I got involved with these crazy Chasidim I caused untold anxiety to some of my friends and family because they did not understand and were not exposed to Chabad-Lubavitch and didn't realize how far I would go with this.
Mark told me to mention that eventually Sheri and I started staying home on Friday nights, that we light the candles with the kids, and then we bless them, and say Kiddush and the motzei. On top of that, I began to attend shul most Saturdays. I definitely ignited the fear that I would come home one day looking like a facsimile of Rabbi Asher Herson: Black hat, beard, the whole nine yards.
I laughed, hung up the phone, and started thinking. My cousin was right! I did cause a lot of angst as I started my affiliation with Chabad, mostly because of a load of misconceptions that many people have. As a matter of fact, when I showed up at my first Talmud class, I had the same misconceptions. Who are these people? Is it possible that there are really people who are that good and caring, expecting and asking nothing in return? Is it possible that people in this day and age are really that nice?
It took me about three months to overcome my cynicism, and let me tell you what I found. I found people who care passionately about others. No matter what the level of observance, or affiliation, their commitment to the well-being of their fellow Jews whether spiritual or physical is overwhelming and unconditional.
In the Chabad dictionary, the terms orthodox, conservative, reform, reconstruction, unaffiliated don't exist. The only word that comes close is "Jew." The belief that we all have a soulful connection and that all were welcome to connect or reconnect to our faith on one's own level was a revelation. Their only motivation, as the Torah teaches us, is to try to make the world a better place, and one of the ways to do that is to be there for anyone at any time.
I saw elderly people, who had no affiliation with Chabad, call for help because after exhausting all the other community resources, they were forced to make a choice between buying medicine or buying food and they had no where else to turn.
I saw families call Chabad who never joined a synagogue because of financial issues or lack of interest. But when their child reached bar or bat mitzva age they wanted to acknowledge the event. After being rejected by other synagogues because they did not belong and their child did not attend the Hebrew school, they called Chabad. And they were accepted. I saw miracles happen. Families that might not have stepped foot in a synagogue in years or ever, came and were welcomed and loved. And a child established his connection to our heritage.
These are just two examples of hundreds, but the lesson is obvious. Chabad helps anyone, anytime, in any part of the world, in any way with no conditions or judgments.
I also found, to my shock and surprise, that Judaism can be fun! Back in my days in Hebrew school, as I sat in the principal's office on a regular basis, that concept would have been incomprehensible. Judaism is fun because I learned that there is spirituality in our tradition that I never knew existed. The enthusiasm and joy that accompanies everything Chabad does, including worshiping, was new and exciting to me. I learned that studying, even at my elementary level, added a depth of knowledge that made me ask questions and confront issues I never knew existed. It also gave meaning to prayers and customs I have been saying and doing my whole life but never understood.
The process also made me confront the issue of the continuity of our tradition. It was Sheri's and my goal to impart to our beautiful children, Lauren and Arielle, Judaism's importance. But we soon realized that with a little more time and effort we can impart to our children the importance they play in our people's future.
So today, I think it's safe to say that despite the fact that I did get involved with these "crazy Chasidim," the anxiety of my friends and family should cease to exist. I don't totally look like a facsimile of Rabbi Herson, and my friends and family hopefully have a better understanding of what Chabad is about and why it appeals to us.
My family's connection to our faith is stronger than it has ever been but hopefully not as strong as it will become. It is happening in a way that works for us on our different levels of comfort. So, thanks once again to everyone here for helping this organization grow and thrive and to help it continue its mission of helping to insure continuity of Judaism and to be there for anyone at any level who needs help physically or spiritually.
Ten Tzedakah Pennies
Ten Tzedakah Pennies is a new counting book from HaChai Publishing. What happens when a little boy has ten pennies to share with his large, loving family? He gives everyone a chance to do a Mitzvah! Count along as they drop the coins onto the tzadakah box, one by one. Written by Joni Klein-Higger, illustrated by Tova Leff.
The Sefer Torah Parade
Another new release from HaChai Publishing is The Sefer Torah Parade. In this beautifully illustrated book, a child attends the ceremony for the completion of a new Torah scroll. Written by Tzivia Adler, illustrated by Ita Esther Perez.
Greeting and Blessing:
Many thanks for your letter of June 24, with enclosures. I should have acknowledged it immediately, except that I was waiting for the Tefillin, which are accompanied by this letter.
Needless to say, since the Tefillin are a gift, my first thought was not to cash the check. I decided, however, that when a Jew desires to give Tzedoko [charity], he should be encouraged, not deprived of the Zechus [merit] of it. Accordingly, I have earmarked it for a sacred cause, as per enclosed receipt. May the Zechus of the Tzedoko bring you and yours additional blessings from HaShem [G-d] in all your affairs, particularly in the matters about which you wrote with such heartfelt sentiments, of which more is no doubt contained in between the lines.
Now, to answer your question in reference to my previous letter, namely, why the Pesach [Passover] blessings came first, and the subject of the Tefillin second, and in a P.S.
The answer, in plain terms, is that the subject of Pesach had precedence because of its specific timeliness. Moreover, it was entirely within my prerogative, whereas the matter of Tefillin was a request on my part and depended on your good will and resolve.
In a more significant sense (which will also explain the P.S. instead of a separate letter on such an important subject as you well recognize) the order corresponds to the Torah, where the Mitzvah of Tefillin is introduced in connection with, and following, the exhortation concerning the remembrance of Yetzias Mitzrayim [the exodus from Egypt] and the annual celebration of Pesach. Thereupon the Torah declares: "And it (Yetzias Mitzrayim) shall be for a sign unto you on your hand and for a reminder between your eyes, in order that G-d's Torah be in your mouth; for with a strong hand Hashem brought you out or Mitzrayim (Exod. 13:9).
In this section (Exod. 13: 1-10), which is one of the four Parshiyos [sections] contained in the Tefillin "houses," the Torah emphasizes that although Yetzias Mitzrayim is to be celebrated annually in the spring month for seven days (eight in the Diaspora) as Chag HaMatzos [the holiday of Matzos], the event should be remembered every day in a tangible way, through the Mivtzah of putting on Tefillin, what is the connection?
As I mentioned in my previous letter, it is explained in our sacred sources, especially in Chabad, that the putting on of Tefillin stimulates the proper balance of harmony between the heart and the mind, emotion and reason. This is the way a person can overcome his natural constraints (his "inner Mitzrayim") - constraints which an imbalance between the emotional and intellectual faculties would further aggravate.
The terms "balance" and "harmony" imply a blend, not the exclusion of one or the other. Emotions uncontrolled can drive the person to extremes, while pure intellect is by nature completely detached and "cold," lacking vitality. Only when the two are blended in the proper balance, the person attains inner harmony and can function most efficiently and productively. Such a person is inwardly unfettered and spiritually free.
It may be wondered how these two opposites and contrary paramount human faculties, personified by the brain and heart, each called a "sovereign" organ ruling all the other organs of the body, can be reconciled and brought into true and everlasting harmony.
The answer is that the Creator has given man the capacity to achieve such harmony, and He has made certain that the Jewish people, who had been chosen to receive the Torah and spread the light of G-dliness on earth, would have the wherewithal to achieve this balance and harmony through the Torah and Mitzvos, particularly the Mivtzah of Tefillin.
The historic event of Yetzias Mitzrayim brought freedom to our Jewish people from Bondage, both physical and spiritual, through the attaching of themselves to HaShem and His servant Moshe, culminating in Kabbolas Hatorah [the receiving of the Torah]. It is the forerunner and counterpart of the personal "Yetzias Mitzrayim" of every individual Jew. This is why the Mivtzah of Tefillin is central in Jewish life.
To conclude with a prayerful wish based on the Torah principle that "G-d's reward is in kind, but in a most generous measure." When a Jew makes the effort to break through his natural limitations, and succeeds with HaShem's help, His blessings come in a similar manner, transcending the natural order, so that the Parnosso [livelihood] exceeds all expectations, one's health and vigor is inordinately better than the birth certificate would normally indicate, and so on. May this be so with you and yours in the fullest measure.
With esteem and blessing,
7 Iyyar, 5765 - May 16, 2005
Positive Mitzvah 107: Impurity of coming in contact with a Dead Body
Numbers 19:11 "He that touches the dead body of any man shall be unclean"
Contact with a dead body makes a person impure.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
There's a concept in America called the "count down." It's reserved only for great events such as when a space mission takes off. The countdown shows the significance of the event and is usually prefaced by something like, "And the countdown begins."
Counting shows that the event you're expecting is very important to you. You count because you "just can't wait."
Jews, too, have a countdown. But ours is a little different. The Jews made a countdown when they were expecting the greatest event in history - the revelation of G-d, Himself, on Mount Sinai - and they "just couldn't wait" for that great moment.
To this day, we continue to count, as the Jews of old did. We count the "omer" between Passover and Shavuot. Each and every year, we, too, are expecting the greatest event in history - the Giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
Each individual is obligated to do his own counting. This indicates that he, too, is capable, in his own way, of reaching the spiritual heights of our ancestors, the spiritual heights which they achieved during the "countdown" for the revelation of G-d.
What else can we learn from counting? Honestly speaking, time will remain the same whether we count it or not. We count the days, and say a blessing each time to show the preciousness and value of time. Each minute, every hour, our whole day, should be permeated with this realization. And if, in fact, we are successful at reminding ourselves how valuable time is, certainly we will want to fill that time up with non-trivial pursuits. We will fill our time with the performance of good deeds, mitzvot, and Torah study.
In the merit of our counting, surely the Alm-ghty will reward us with "countless" blessings for health and happiness in all our endeavors and we will merit the ultimate blessing of the coming of Moshiach, NOW!
But the seventh day is a Sabbath of Sabbaths, a sacred holiday... (Lev. 23:3)
The Midrash relates: The Torah said to G-d, "Master of the Universe, when the Children of Israel enter the land, what will happen to me? They will be busy sowing and plowing. What will become of me?" Said G-d to the Torah, "I have a partner that I will give you, and it is Shabbat. On this day, the Children of Israel will not work. They will come to the synagogues and study halls and occupy themselves with Torah."
He will not go out from the sanctuary (Lev. 21:12)
A person's thoughts must always be connected with the "sanctuary" - that which is holy. He mustn't "go out" from holiness even for a moment. Even when busy with worldly matters, it should be similar to one who goes out of his house temporarily, knowing that he will soon return home.
(The Baal Shem Tov)
You shall count for yourselves... (Lev. 23:15)
The counting of the omer - a measure of barley - commences on the second night of Passover and ends on the festival of Shavuot. It is such a special mitzva that even if a small child counted the omer in the middle of the desert, it would fill the whole world with holiness.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap the corner of the field or the gleaning of the harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and the stranger. (Lev. 23:22)
Rabbi Abdimi asked, "Why did Scripture choose to place this law in the middle of the section dealing with the festivals? To teach us that whoever leaves the "corners" and "gleanings" for the poor, it is as if he built the Holy Temple and presented his offerings there.
In the manner that he has caused a defect in someone, so shall it be done to him (Lev. 24:20)
If one finds a defect or something lacking in his fellow man, this is a sign that "so shall it be done to him" - that he himself has the defect. "He who charges others, charges them with his own faults."
The chasidim of Poland were reeling from the shock. Their rebbe, the tzadik (righteous) Rabbi Moshe of Lelov, had decided to make aliya, to ascend and settle in the Holy Land! How could they possibly go on without his holy leadership?
To his most intimate chasidim he revealed that since early childhood, he had had an overwhelming desire to do something special to hasten the coming of Moshiach. When he was a small boy, Reb Moshe's father, Rabbi David of Lelov, had told him, "I did not merit to see the Holy Land, but you must go there. Through your divine service which you will perform there, you will succeed in bringing Moshiach sooner and hastening the Geula, the Redemption." This was the true reason, known only to a select few, that the tzadik was preparing for his journey to the Holy Land.
He passed through many towns and villages on his way, accompanied by his chasidim. He came to the town of Sadigur and he stopped to say his farewell to the tzadik, Rabbi Israel of Rizhin. But when the Rebbe of Rizhin heard of the Reb Moshe's plans to journey to the Holy Land he begged him to wait and allow him to go along.
Reb Moshe was impatient to continue his journey. "My white beard is unwilling to allow any postponement," he replied, and so he continued his journey alone.
From time to time, when the retinue stopped, Reb Moshe delivered Chasidic discourses. He expressed his intentions to the chasidim, telling them that upon arriving in Jerusalem he would, "First go to the Kotel (the Western Wall) and blow the shofar so that all the worlds [this world and the innumerable spiritual worlds] will shake. I will refuse to move from that spot until the Moshiach comes.
"I am also bringing with me the kiddush cup that belonged to my teacher and rebbe, the Chozeh of Lublin. This special cup is invested with great holiness that I am sure will enable me to work many wonders when I reach my destination."
The tzadik continued his journey until he reached the point of departure. Then, he bid a final farewell to his disciples and, together with his family boarded a vessel bound for the Holy Land. After a long voyage, they landed on the longed-for shores of the Holy Land. They headed at once for Jerusalem and reached the gates of the Holy City.
No sooner did they approach the city gates when the precious goblet which had belonged to the Chozeh slipped from Reb Moshe's sack and shattered on the stones.
They tried to continue their journey, but Reb Moshe was suddenly overcome with a terrible illness. They had no choice but to break their trip until he recovered. But the tzadik only became sicker and sicker, until he became critically ill. After just a few short days, Reb Moshe felt that he would not live much longer. He entreated his family to quickly carry him to the Kotel, and this they did, fearing that his end was, indeed, approaching.
But as they hurriedly carried the tzadik toward the Kotel and were about to reach the final turn, they were attacked by Arabs hurling stones down from the surrounding houses. They were lucky to escape with their lives.
Reb Moshe of Lelov passed from this world without having realized his fondest dream, and without having succeeded in bringing the Redemption, for it was ordained by Heaven that the time for Moshiach's arrival had not yet come.
Chapter 47 of Ezekiel contains prophecies about the days of Moshiach. There, Ezekiel describes how the Land of Israel will be divided. This division of the land will be different than how it was divided in the days of Joshua. In Joshua's time, only children of the 12 tribes received a portion but righteous converts did not. In the times of Moshiach, however, all who were born to righteous converts will receive a portion in the Land together with everyone else. One reason is that the converts suffered together with the rest of Jews in exile so surely they deserve a reward!
(Baal HaTurim and Abarbanel)