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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger
The Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chasidism, writes that he was once granted a spiritual vision of Moshiach. Unabashed, he asked him: "When are you coming?" Moshiach answered him: "When the wellsprings of your teachings spread outward."
Chasidic teachings explains that Moshiach was not giving the Baal Shem Tov a time frame, he was explaining to him the pattern of spiritual causation.
When will Moshiach come? When the world is ready to receive him. And when will the world be ready? When the wellsprings of Chasidut, the Baal Shem Tov's teachings, spread outward.
Chasidut makes us aware of the G-dly spark within our souls and the spiritual reality that permeates the world at large. When the awareness of these factors spreads throughout humanity, the world will be prepared to accept Moshiach.
Two generations later, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chasidism, was imprisoned by the Czarist authorities. He was sending money to Chasidim who had settled in Israel, and the Russians thought that he was conspiring with the Turks (rulers of Israel at that time) to fight the Czar.
While in prison, Rabbi Shneur Zalman had a vision of the Baal Shem Tov and asked him what was the real reason for his imprisonment.
The Baal Shem Tov told him that there were spiritual factors involved. Rabbi Shneur Zalman had been spreading Chasidic teachings without restraint, and this had aroused negative forces in the spiritual realms. "The world is not ready," these forces claimed, "for such a great revelation." And therefore, Rabbi Shneur Zalman was imprisoned.
"If I am released, should I change my approach?" Rabbi Shneur Zalman asked.
"No," the Baal Shem Tov answered. "If you are released, that will be a sign that your approach has been vindicated."
On Yud-Tet Kislev, the nineteenth day of the month of Kislev, Rabbi Shneur Zalman was released from prison. That date is thus celebrated as a festival. For on it was granted the potential for the wellsprings of the Baal Shem Tov's teachings to be spread outward and prepare the world for Moshiach's coming.
The teachings of Chasidut are a foretaste of the wisdom that Moshiach will reveal. This is the reason why the teachings of Chasidut were revealed at this juncture of time.
The uniqueness of the era of Moshiach will be the outpouring of the knowledge of G-d. As the Prophet tells us: "The earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover up the ocean bed." Our existence will be submerged in the awareness of G-d; in every element of our lives, we will sense His presence.
The foretaste of that revelation is an overflow of spiritual knowledge: We gain an understanding of the spiritual forces governing our existence, we learn to appreciate G-d's hand guiding our lives, and we sense the oneness with Him contributed by every element of the Torah and its mitzvot. This is granted to us by the teachings of Chasidut.
From Keeping in Touch, published by S.I.E.
As we read in this week's Torah portion, Vayishlach, the sons of Jacob found idols among the spoils of their encounter with Shechem. But Jacob told his children to get rid of them. "Put away the strange gods that are among you, and cleanse yourselves," he instructed them. This verse is cited by Maimonides as an allusion to our Sages' decree that idol worship defiles an individual.
At first glance, the very concept of idol worship defies comprehension. How could anything that negates G-d's absolute unity and dominion over His creation even exist? Indeed, this same question was asked of the Seventy Elders by the Greek King Ptolemy, to which they replied that G-d needn't destroy His world "just because there are fools" who worship the sun and planets.
But why did G-d create the world in such a way as to give man the option of worshipping idols? Why didn't He create a universe in which it is patently obvious that He and He alone is in charge?
The answer lies in the above-cited verse, "Put away the strange gods that are among you, and cleanse yourselves." The only reason G-d allows for the possibility of idolatry is for Jews to refute it. In other words, G-d wants the Jewish people to demonstrate to the entire world that idolatry has no meaning.
The prohibition against idol worship is essentially different from all other prohibitions in the Torah, as idolatry does not really exist. It is forbidden to eat non-kosher food or chametz (leavened) on Passover; the non-kosher food and chametz are there, but the Torah forbids us to eat them or derive benefit from them. Idolatry, by contrast, is only an illusion. It is simply not possible for anything other than G-d to control or influence reality. A person who serves idols worships a fallacy; his thinking is deluded and false. But G-d doesn't want this to be imposed from Above. He wants man to discover it for himself, and to prove that idolatry has no true existence.
On a deeper level, not only doesn't idolatry have an independent existence, but nothing can exist independent of G-d. Seen in this light, all of creation is part and parcel of His unity, as the concept of "otherness" doesn't truly exist. The function of the Jewish people is to reveal this concept to the world at large, through the study of Torah and performance of mitzvot.
This recognition should serve to encourage us in our Divine service. A person may sometimes encounter difficulties and obstacles that seem to require a superhuman effort to overcome. Not so, the Torah reminds us; they are only an illusion. G-d is the only true existence in the world. All that is necessary is that we "put away" the "strange gods" among us, whereupon the underlying G-dly truth is revealed.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 30
A Map for a Book
by Leon Cohen
One needs a map to travel an unknown territory. But how often does one need a map to travel through a book?
To Rabbi Shais Taub, associate director of adult education for Lubavitch of Wisconsin, one Jewish book is so rich and complex, so absorbing in its details and yet whose overall structure is so important, that a reader or student actually could use a map to navigate it. So he provided one.
That book is familiarly known as the Tanya for the book's first word, a Talmud expression for "it has been taught" and that is used to preface quotations from other Jewish literature.
But its author, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe (d. 1812), called it "Likutei Amarin" ("Compilation of Sayings") or "Safer Shel Beinonim" ("Book of the Intermediate Person" - that is, a person who is between having no impulse control and attaining the highest levels of spiritual development).
This book is the "founding text" of the Chabad Lubavitch Chasidism, said Taub. It develops the fundamental principles and concepts of Chabad mysticism; and Lubavitch rebbes for seven generations "have spent time explaining and teaching it."
But Taub, who has been teaching the Tanya for many years in yeshivas and synagogues, to young students and adults, emphasized that this book is not only for Chabadniks.
Its author "did not write it to teach you how to become a Chasid," Taub said. "The point is to teach a person to develop spiritually to a point where they can master their behavior and find fulfillment in their divine mission on earth. It is applicable not just to all Jews, but to all humanity."
But few other books are so demanding of a reader, according to Taub's description. The author, known as the Alter Rebbe, took some 20 years to write it; and a story has come down about how the author once told his brother that before he would add one letter to the work, he would review the entire book in his mind.
"From that story, I understood the importance of having a cohesive picture of the Tanya," said Taub. "It was written so every letter is integrated with every other letter and interconnected. We should aspire to read it in that fashion."
The problem, however, is that the work "is so textually dense and introduces so many esoteric and mind-blowing ideas on even a single page" that by the time readers have gotten through a chapter, they are likely to have "lost the flow from the overall context."
And the author demands readers who have exceptional memories, Taub indicated. For example, a question asked in chapter one doesn't get answered until chapter 14; and a metaphor first introduced in chapter 35 turns out to be "crucial to understand the culmination of the book in chapter 53," Taub said.
Therefore, about three years ago, Taub concluded from his own experiences of studying and teaching that "it was important to create a map that students, while studying in depth, could refer to in order to get their bearings back, to understand the flow of ideas, how the chapters flow and lead into each other, how concepts develop over a series of chapters."
He also believed that readers needed "a visual index of where things are" in the Tanya, so those seeking answers or advice for their specific situations can learn what chapter or chapters to consult, Taub said.
So for about six weeks, working "six or seven hours a day," Taub studied the book and many of the commentaries on it, and sketched a map/chart. He then brought his sketches to a Lubavitch graphic designer, who created the publishable "Map of Tanya."
Taub's map was then picked up by the Lubavitch printing firm, Kehot Publication Society, which began printing it for sale about six weeks ago, Taub said. It comes in a large poster format, about 37 by 26 inches, with one side in Hebrew and the other in English.
Though the map has been available for a short time, Taub said he has heard "only good things" about it, and from "everyone from the most erudite Chasidus experts to just laymen who had dabbled in Tanya."
A smaller folded version of the map has also been published that students can use as a bookmarker for their copies of the Tanya, Taub said.
Reprinted from the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle
All About Us
A preschool child's book about the parts of the body from a Jewish point of view. It's fun to explore the mitzvot (commandments) that every child can do... from head to toe! This new release from Hachai Publishing is written by Dina Rosenfeld and illustrated by Patti Argoff
Stories that the Rebbe Told
The second volume in this series, Stories that the Rebbe Told Us contains stories that the Lubavitcher Rebbe told at public gatherings as well as the lesson that the Rebbe explained can be derived from the story.
The Baal Shem Tov, in a famous letter to his brother-in-law, tells of the time he experienced an elevation of the soul to the celestial spheres. When he came to The abode of Moshiach, he asked, "When will the Master come?" Moshiach answered: "When your wellsprings shall spread forth to the outside."
The Baal Shem Tov was the founder of Chassidus and the Chassidic movement. Moshiach's answer meant that the world would be ready for his coming when the wellsprings of Chassidus would reach all Jews. Ever since, the dissemination of Chassidic doctrines and teachings has assumed top priority.
Chabad Chassidus, founded by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the Alter Rebbe, conveys the concepts of Chassidus in an intellectual framework, enabling them to be understood by man's chochmah (wisdom), binah (understanding) and daas (knowledge) - ChaBaD. The doctrines of Chassidus were made comprehensible to all Jews, thereby infusing life and vitality in every aspect of a person and his service to G-d.
The fundamental text of Chabad Chassidus, its "Written Law," is the Tanya, authored by the Alter Rebbe. In the title page the Alter Rebbe sums up the thrust of Chabad Chassidus. He writes that his book is "based on the verse, 'For the thing is very near to you, in your mouth, and in your heart, that you may do it' to explain well how it is very close to you..."
"The thing" in this verse refers to "this mitzvah (commandment)" mentioned previously - mitzvos in general, the common theme of which is the bond they effect between G-d and Jew. Chabad Chassidus teaches how near a Jew is to this - in thought ("in your heart"), speech ("in your mouth") and deed ("that you may do it"). Some mitzvos are performed with deed, some with speech (e.g., prayer), and others with thought (e.g., love of G-d).
Chassidus must reach all Jews, Chassidus and Chabad Chassidus in particular, we have said, lays heavy emphasis on the dissemination of its doctrines to all Jews. This began in earnest after the liberation of the Alter Rebbe from Czarist imprisonment. He was arrested because of slanderous accusations brought by opponents to the Chassidic movement, and his vindication was the signal for increased vigor in spreading Chassidus.
In describing his release, the Alter Rebbe writes: "G-d did wonders in the earth," and "all the peoples of the earth" saw the liberation by G-d. G-d's wonders did not remain unrecognized, but affected this corporeal world, to the extent that even non-Jews were cognizant of them. The redemption mirrored the dissemination of Chassidus, the idea of which is that its doctrines should not remain the privilege of a select few, but should affect the world, be spread "to the outside," to all Jews on whichever spiritual level they may be.
Part of the propagation of Chassidus is to ensure that Jews have the wherewithal to study its teachings. In particular, this means that Jews should have Tanyas in which to learn the "Written Law" of Chabad Chassidus.
It is therefore a most worthwhile project to print Tanyas in every place that has a Jewish population. When a Jew sees that it is an edition that has been printed in his city, in his town, he will be more enthusiastic about studying it.
In addition to ensuring that Jews learn Tanya in those places where it has been printed, a substantial number of copies of those editions should be left in those places, with the Rabbi, the communal leaders, etc. This will inspire and encourage them to learn Tanya themselves, and to study it with others. And because "one mitzvah brings about another," those who study Tanya will come to follow its directives.
When the Tanya is printed in a particular place but bound in another, the unbound editions should be learned immediately where they were printed. Such was the way Tanya was originally studied. The Alter Rebbe writes in the introduction to Tanya that it was originally studied in pamphlet form, and only afterwards were those pamphlets printed and bound together.
If, for some reason, Tanya was not studied in a place where it was printed, at least one of those who were involved in its printing should return to that place and learn from that edition together with the residents of that place. And, as noted above, a substantial number of copies of that edition should be left there.
May it be G-d's will that very soon we will merit the true and complete redemption through our righteous Moshiach, when we, "with our youth and our elders, with our sons and our daughters," will go together to our holy land.
Based on an address of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Parshat Bo, 5744 - 1984
Are Chasidic customs for everyone?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained: "The Previous Rebbe once said in the name of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad Chasidism, that the teachings of Chasidut are relevant to all. The same applies to the customs of Chasidut. It is common knowledge that one ought not grasp at supplementary observances not in keeping with one's own general standards. Moreover, there is sometimes a risk that one will regard the embellishment as if it were the nucleus of the commandment, which in turn will not be given its rightful attention. Nevertheless, with regard to those practices which an individual has heard about, since all things happen by Divine Providence, the issue at hand is a heavenly instruction, and has relevance to him.14 Kislev, 5714 - 1953
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Tuesday is the 19th of Kislev, the day of liberation of the founder of Chabad Chasidut, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, from imprisonment on false charges of anti-government activities.
In a well-known letter written upon his release, Rabbi Shneur Zalman declared that the happy tidings of his liberation came to him when he was reading the verse (Ps. 55:19):
"G-d has redeemed my soul in peace from the battle against me, for many were with me."
That Rabbi Shneur Zalman was informed of his release precisely at that moment when he was reading that verse is an act of Divine Providence. And it carries a message for every one of us.
Certainly, everyone is in need of a personal liberation from all of the difficulties and hindrances one encounters in daily life, especially since these obstacles often hamper the attainment of both material and spiritual goals and endeavors.
Jewish teachings explain that on the anniversary of a special day, the same spiritual energy that was present on that day is once more brought into the world. Thus, this year, on the 19th of Kislev, the energy that can bring us the ability to experience personal liberation from difficulties and hindrances to material and spiritual endeavors is invested into the world. We can hook into that energy by being aware of it and by using the day for positive actions and a heightened emphasis on Torah study and mitzvot observance.
When someone experiences a personal liberation, he helps bring liberation and redemption to our entire people and to the whole world. May we all experience personal redemptions this 19th of Kislev culminating in ultimate and Final Redemption that we are all preparing for, with the revelation of Moshiach.
Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed, and he divided the people who were with him (Gen. 32:8)
What caused Jacob to be distressed? The fact that the people who were with him were "divided." Jacob recognized that when the Jewish people are united, the forces of Esau can do them no harm. It's only when there are internal divisions and strife that Jews should worry.
If you will become as we are, that every male of you be circumcised (Gen. 34:15)
Why did the sons of Jacob, who were physically strong and powerful, avenge what happened to their sister Dina in such a "sneaky" way? Why did they insist that the people of Shechem be circumcised? Had Jacob's sons attacked them as they were, the world would have reacted with an uproar. Once the people of Shechem nominally identified themselves as Jews, however, they could be killed with impunity. For surely no one would protest the killing of Jews...
(Rabbi Yehonatan Eibeshutz)
I am not worthy of all the kindness (Gen. 32:11)
Every kindness G-d shows a person should only serve to increase his humility. The Tanya explains that "everything that exists is considered by G-d as nothing." It follows then that the more a person can be said to "exist," that is, the more he is truly worthy, the greater his perception of himself as "nothing." Jacob, who was extremely humble due to all the acts of kindness G-d had already shown him, was therefore worried that he was not worthy of being saved from Esau.
(The Rebbe, Igrot Kodesh Vol. 2)
And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him (Gen. 33:4)
When a small flame is brought close to a burning torch, the smaller fire is nullified within the larger one. So too was it with Jacob and Esau. Jacob was the great light, whereas Esau contained tiny, hidden sparks of holiness. When Esau spotted Jacob these sparks were aroused, prompting him to run over and be nullified in the greater holiness.
Reb Moshe Meisels was a loyal Chasid of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism, and was ever ready to undertake any mission the Rebbe would assign to him.
In the year 1812, when Napoleon invaded Russia, Reb Moshe received a secret letter from the Alter Rebbe. In the letter, the Rebbe informed his trusted Chasid that it was most important for the spiritual well-being of the Jews that Czar Alexander win the war against Napoleon.
When Napoleon's armies reached the gates of Vilna, Reb Moshe "found himself" in the occupied zone. He became friendly with the French officers who were impressed with his wide knowledge of languages and general education. When an interpreter was needed to question captured soldiers and officers, or to deal with the local populace, or to issue public notices and proclamations, Reb Moshe was much in demand to help carry out these tasks. It did not take long before Reb Moshe enjoyed the fullest confidence of the French general staff.
Thus, Reb Moshe was able to learn many important military secrets, and through his connection with other Chasidim of the Alter Rebbe, he was able to transmit important information to the Russian generals on the battlefront.
Once, when Reb Moshe happened to be in the French Generals Headquarters, the generals were making plans about their next attack. Huge maps were spread out on the table, and the generals debated heatedly about the various possibilities of distributing their military forces on the battlefront in order to give the Russians an unexpected blow.
Reb Moshe pretended not to hear or see what was going on, and the generals paid no attention to him.
Suddenly the door burst open and in came Napoleon. The generals sprang to their feet and stood at attention. With one glance Napoleon took in the whole scene.
"What is this stranger doing here?" he demanded, pointing to Reb Moshe. Without waiting for a reply, Napoleon rushed up to him, exclaiming, "You are a spy!" Saying which, he pressed his hand to Reb Moshe's chest to feel if his heart was beating rapidly at having been unmasked.
But Reb Moshe's heart was not pounding and his face did not pale, as he calmly replied in perfect French:
"Your Majesty, your generals appointed me to be their interpreter, and I await their orders."
His cool manner and calm voice completely disarmed Napoleon, and his suspicions were immediately dispelled. Reb Moshe was saved from certain death.
When Reb Moshe related the episode of his encounter with Napoleon, he declared that the "alef-beit" (most basic teachings) of Chasidut had saved his life at that particular moment. He explained:
"The Rebbe has taught us that the 'alef' of Chasidut is that a Jew has to use his natural powers for the service of G-d. One of these natural powers is that the brain rules the heart. In other words, according to the nature which G-d created in man, reason is basically stronger than feeling; a person has the power to control his emotions. However, it is not enough for a man to know this; he must persistently train himself to exercise this power in his daily life and conduct, until it becomes a natural habit with him. In actual practice this simply means that whenever one feels a strong desire for something, one should say to oneself, 'I can do without it.' The exercise of such self-control is the 'alef' of Chasidut and having mastered this 'alef' one can steadily advance further.
"Thus I have schooled myself to achieve absolute self-control, so that in everything I think, speak, and do, I let my mind rule my heart. And where it is important for the heart to express its feelings, the mind, too, must have its say, to make sure that the feelings do not get out of control.
"And so I trained myself to control my feelings, not to get excited under any circumstances, and not to be overwhelmed by anyone or anybody.
"And this 'alef' of Chasidut saved my life."
We can gain awareness of Moshiach through the study of the Torah's mystical dimensions, and in particular, through the study of the subjects of redemption and Moshiach. This process will open the eyes of our mind, so that as we live our daily lives, we will remain constantly attuned to the concept of redemption. Furthermore, the increase in our awareness of the nature of the Redemption will serve as a catalyst, that will hasten the day when we can actually open our eyes and see that we are in the Holy Land, and in Jerusalem, and, indeed, in the Holy Temple, with the coming of the Redemption.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 9 Kislev 5752-1991)