Wisdom | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | Who's Who | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
We all understand the value of wisdom. It pays to be smart. We also realize that while an education and knowledge may be pre-requisites for wisdom, being educated isn't the same as being smart, and memorizing facts doesn't make us wise.
Some people doubt the value of wisdom, of thinking deeply, of analyzing. Sometimes we all shoot from the lip - make judgments before we have fully and critically examined the issue or statement or idea before us.
But there's another question about wisdom or intellect or understanding or knowledge - or the combination thereof - that almost never gets asked. What's its purpose? Not what's it good for, but why do we have it? G-d instilled in us the power of discernment, evaluation, and thought for a reason. And while some of us may be smarter than others, the reason we have a mind remains the same for each of us. As much as we have, as much as G-d has given us, we must use all of it to fulfill the purpose for which it was given.
We are given the power of wisdom and understanding in order to distinguish between good and evil. But even more, we are instilled with intellectual faculties in order to clarify the difference and to correct what we can. In other words, first we separate the good and proper from the evil and mistaken, and then we repair the negative.
The second requires us to delve into the world. Those in business, for example, uses their heads to make a living. Involvement in the give-and-take of earning a living is similar to the sifting process of the intellect: we have to discern a good deal, and we have to examine our character. A "good deal" is only good if it results in more than a material gain; it must result in a moral transformation, of ourselves and our environment. This smelting of our emotions can only be done if we analyze our actions, our impact on those around us, and think deeply about who we really are.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidim, writes in Tanya that "the mind rules the heart." A ruler cannot be capricious or random, not if he or she wants to be a good ruler. The same applies to the mind: the intellectual faculties turn inward as well as outward. They allow us to connect with our souls and our higher purpose.
The mind also has another unique ability - it can recognize its own limitations. Reason, if reasonable, knows the limits of reason. The true "leap of faith" can only be made from a peak of understanding. True, we have to have faith before hand - the Jewish people are "believers, the children of believers." But that very faith demands that we use our Wisdom to reach a faith that transcends the wisdom itself.
Read more at davidybkaufmann.blogspot.com
This week's Torah portion, Shelach, relates the story of the spies sent by Moses to investigate the Holy Land which the Jewish people were to enter. They returned with a slanderous report, playing up the difficulties in conquering the land, thus discouraging the people and weakening their faith. This led to the tragic consequences related in the portion.
Chasidism explains that the spies did not wish to enter the Land of Israel because they did not want to become involved with the materialism of the world. Throughout the duration of the Jewish people's stay in the desert, they were free from such involvements: their food came from heaven (the manna); water they had from the miraculous "Well of Miriam"; they were sheltered by the Heavenly "Cloud of Glory." Thus, they did not wish to leave the desert to enter the Holy Land where they would have to engage in plowing, sowing, and all other normative activities for their daily existence.
The spies' motive may have been sincere and spiritual, but it went counter to the Divine intent. G-d created the world in order to have a Divine abode in this physical world: man is to transform himself and the material world into a worthy abode for G-dliness. This is done by utilizing and interacting with every created substance for its Divinely intended purpose, thus elevating and sublimating it to a spiritual reality. That is why we were given the Torah and mitzvot (commandments), which enable us to achieve that goal. And that is our mission for the duration of the exile.
The Messianic era is the ultimate purpose of the creation. For then this physical world will demonstratably be a Divine abode, with G-d's Presence fully manifest and experienced. It will be a time of "neither famine nor war, neither envy nor strife, because good will emanate in abundance and all delightful things will be accessible like dust. The singular preoccupation of the entire world will be to know G-d. The Israelites, therefore, will be great sages and know the hidden matters, attaining knowledge of their Creator to the full extent of human capacity, as it is said: "The earth shall be full with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9) (Hilchot Melachim 12:5).
This ultimate perfection of the Messianic era and the time of the Resurrection of the Dead depend on our actions and service of G-d throughout the duration of the exile. The sin of the spies was that they tried to circumvent the process of this refining of the physical world and preparing it for Moshiach.
Mundane entanglements, involvement with worldly matters, may be tiresome and distasteful for one who aspires to spiritual heights. They are, however, an integral part of the Divine plan, and as Chasidism explains: "The ultimate intent of the descent and exile is to prepare for an immense ascent when, in the days of Moshiach, the light of G-d will radiate in a manifest way!"
From Living with Moshiach by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet, adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
The Best Revenge
Oscar Lifshitz was born in Warsaw in the late 1920s, to an observant Jewish family. When the Germans invaded Poland he was in his early teens. His parents were among the naοve folk who believed that the Germans only wanted to expand their dominion, and in the end everything would work out. "The Germans are an intellectual and cultured people. If anyone can civilize the coarse Poles, it would be them."
Oscar knew otherwise. He did not trust the Germans for a moment. He detested the arrogant way they goose-stepped in the streets, and the anti-Semitic slogans they chanted constantly. Despite the views of his parents, Oscar joined the Polish underground to fight the German invaders. Within days it became apparent that this is what saved his life.
Shortly after the German invasion of Poland, Oscar's father died of a heart attack. A few days later, one fine afternoon, Oscar was standing on the roof of his home watching the street below. Suddenly he saw swarms of German soldiers marching towards his home. They grabbed his mother, brother and sister and herded them into the street together with scores of other Jews. His brothers and one of his sisters were shot to death on the spot. His mother and the rest of his siblings were sent to Auschwitz.
Oscar watched the proceedings from the rooftop, seething with rage. He was determined to avenge the Germans for the slaughter of his family. He fought side by side with the Polish partisans against the German occupation. Later, when the Russians invaded Germany, Oscar joined the Russian army, and in the end he was fortunate to be one of the liberators of Auschwitz. For days after the war was over, Oscar ran around in a daze, looking for a trace of any surviving relative - but he found no one. Oscar was alone.
The sights that Oscar saw in Auschwitz sapped him of his last remaining strength. "Is this the reward for being a Jew?" he thought bitterly.
At a certain point Oscar realized that he would no longer be able to kill any more Germans, so he deserted the Russian Army. He crossed border after border, and finally boarded a ship to faraway America. Alone, without family, without friends, cut off from his roots.
Only one desire burned in his heart - to distance himself as far as possible from Judaism. He settled in Los Angeles, changed his name from Lifshitz to Leff and taught himself English. He buried himself in work to forget his woes and his loneliness.
During the day, the high-pressured lifestyle he led distracted him enough. But at night, the hell he lived through would return in full force. In the silence of his home, the memories would overwhelm him and wreak havoc. Oscar would turn on the television to distract himself from the pain, but before his eyes danced images of his family members who no longer were. This was the life Oscar led, for years and years.
One evening, decades after the war's end, Oscar was watching television and flipping through channels, as was his habit. Suddenly he saw something on the screen that grabbed his attention. A white-bearded rabbi was lecturing to a crowd of Chasidim in Yiddish. The image reminded him of his childhood in the years before the war.
Oscar very nearly flipped to the next channel, but something about the rabbi's demeanor captivated him, held his attention. He caught one sentence that the rabbi said: "A Jew who escapes from Judaism after the war is giving a prize to Hitler, may his name be obliterated.
"The Germans tried to wipe out the Jewish people," the rabbi continued to speak, while Oscar listened raptly from his couch in Los Angeles. "the best way to avenge ourselves of the Germans is to rebuild and continue Judaism. To fulfill Torah and mitzvot and to educate the future generations."
Oscar felt that the rabbi was speaking directly to him, as if the rabbi had sensed the lust for revenge that filled his heart from the first moments of the war. Finally someone had penetrated his isolation, his loneliness, and pierced through the cloak of suffering and sadness he had worn all those years.
There was a telephone number across the bottom of the screen to call for more information about the rabbi and his organization. Oscar wrote down the number and as soon as the broadcast ended, he made a call. It was then close to midnight, and whoever answered the phone set up a meeting for the next day, in one of the Chabad centers in Los Angeles. That night Oscar hardly slept. He lay in bed and wept for his past, for his childhood, and for the many empty and lonely years he had spent after the war.
At the appointed hour Oscar came to the Chabad House, where he was given a transcript of the Rebbe's talk the previous evening. He found out the identity of the rabbi - none other than the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson. Oscar read the Rebbe's words over and over, until he had them practically committed to memory. The one sentence that really remained emblazoned in his mind was "One who escapes from Judaism is giving a prize to Hitler, may his name be obliterated."
Oscar's next step was to legally change his name back to "Lifshitz." Afterwards he returned to the Chabad House and ordered a pair of tefilin. He had decided to truly take revenge for all the Nazi atrocities, and return to Jewish observance.
Reprinted from Beis Moshiach
Awards & Appointments
Rabbi Shlomo Koves, emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Budapest, Hungary, was appointed by the Defense Minister as Chief Military Rabbi of the Hungarian Army. Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs, emissary of the Rebbe in Holland and Chief Rabbi of the Dutch inter-provincial chief rabbinate and member of the rabbinical council of the Rabbinical Centre of Europe, received a royal medal. Three Chabad books were nominated as finalists for the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards: The Passover Haggadah of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, authored and translated by Rabbi Yosef Marcus (Kehot Publication Society; The Five Book of Moses and Prayers for Friday Night both compiled by Rabbi Chaim Miller (Kol Menachem Publishers)
Greeting and Blessing:
I am in receipt of your letter in which you ask my opinion "as to whether it is a weakness or impropriety" to avoid the purchase of goods made in Germany. You add that you ask this question as a Jew, in light of Jewish law and custom.
Surely this is more a matter of feeling rather than a question of Jewish law and custom. Consequently, as in all matters of sentiment, it is difficult to express an opinion that would have universal application.
At any rate it certainly cannot be categorized as a "weakness." On the contrary, a decision of this kind bespeaks strength of will, all the more so since it entails some inconvenience.
Nor can it be considered an "impropriety," since it is based on a principle which may be considered to come under the category of "Remember what Amalek did unto you." For, as is well known, the inhuman atrocities, etc., against our defenseless and innocent brethren were not perpetrated by a small group, but were carried out with the knowledge, consent and even cooperation of the vast majority of the German nation. Moreover, I do not think that anyone seriously believes that the Germany of today is entirely different from the Germany of two decades ago.
While on this subject a point must be made which, unfortunately, is often overlooked. It is that the co-called "Final Solution," which Hitler wished to bring about, can take various forms. It can take the form of an overt attempt at physical extermination, or it can be an insidious process which is no less destructive and perhaps even more so, namely through assimilation and intermarriage, a process which began in Germany long before Hitler, when Jews tried to hide their Jewish identity and conduct their daily life like their German neighbors and associates, etc. This process, most unfortunately, is very much in evidence all around us. Whatever explanation may be given, the effect is the same. Hitler, too, had a "philosophy" that "justified" his actions.
It is too painful of a subject to dwell on here, but the conclusion is obvious. Each and every one of us who is aware of the situation must do everything possible to counteract the tide of assimilation by positive and dedicated action, to strengthen the eternal Jewish values and Torah-true institutions in his community and environment.
28 Iyar, 5734 (1974)
To the Students of Grade 2
Oholei Torah Day School
Your teacher sent me your notebooks in connection with your assignment, "My Plans for the Summer," which I looked through with much interest.
I wish you a happy and healthy summer, and since every person has a body and a soul, a healthy person is one who is healthy both in body and in soul.
As a matter of fact, the soul is the more important part of a person, and when the soul is healthy it helps the body to keep in good shape.
Since you are fortunate to be students of the Oholei Torah Day School, you surely know that the soul, like the body, needs constant nourishment, and the nourishment of the soul is the Torah and Mitzvoth.
During the school year you spend time partly in the study of Torah and partly in the study of other things, such as English and arithmetic, etc. However useful these other things are, they do not make the soul healthier, for, as mentioned above, the soul receives health and strength only from Torah and Mitzvoth.
But during the summer vacation, when you are free from other things, you have an opportunity to learn more Torah and do more Mitzvoth, and in this way to give your soul a chance to become really strong and healthy, and to also gather strength for the coming school year.
I have written more on this important subject in a special message to all students, which your teacher will surely read and explain to you.
So I will conclude with the prayerful wish that you should, with G-d's help, make the most of your summer vacation along the above lines, and G-d will surely bless you with a truly healthy summer, healthy both in soul and in body.
Judah the Prince
Rabbi Yehuda ha-Nasi (Judah the Prince) was the son of Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel II, a descendant of King David. He occupies a singular position in Jewish history. A remarkable scholar, teacher, and communal leader, his crowning achievement was the compilation of the Mishna, the basic work of Jewish scholarship which was the foundation for the Talmud and Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law). His court was extremely lavish, but the extravagance was only to preserve the honor of Jewish leaderhsip in the eyes of the Romans. He was known to have lived abstemiously, devoting all his energy to Torah and communal welfare.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The third chapter of Pirkei Avot. In this chapter we read, "Rabbi Elazar of Bartota said, 'Give Him what is His, for you and all that is yours is His.' "
Rabbi Elazar is telling us here that we should remember that everything we have comes from G-d. This thought should be uppermost in our minds, especially in the realm of giving charity.
The Rebbe offers a beautiful commentary on Rabbi Elazar's teaching and explains that reflecting the true owner of the money should come only after the charity is given. Of course, when one gives charity, it has to be done in accordance with Jewish law; it must be one's own money, not money acquired in a dishonest manner. But the fact that it is ultimately G-d's money should not be considered until charity has already been disbursed. Why is this?
When a poor person stands in front of you, you must give him the charity immediately. For, it is possible that the person is in dire straits, and if you wait until you have considered and contemplated the mitzva - in all its implications, ramifications, laws and stipulations - the poor person could, G-d forbid, starve to death! Therefore, the consideration that everything truly belongs to Him, to G-d, should come only after you have given the poor individual what he requires.
"For you and what is yours is His" - a person should not object, "It's true that everything is His, but I should also get a pat on the back, since I am giving this charity of my own free will." Rabbi Elazar reminds us that not only does everything that we have belong to Him, but we, too, belong to Him.
And what the land is...where there are trees or not (Num. 13:20)
When the Canaanites living in the Land of Israel heard that the Jews had left Egypt and were on their way, they uprooted and destroyed all the fruit trees in the land so that the Jews would not benefit from them. This was one of the things the spies were sent to investigate.
And G-d spoke to Moses saying: Send out some men to spy out the land of Canaan (Num. 13:1, 2)
According to Rashi, "send out" means "send according to how you see fit." The Hebrew word for send - shelach - implies a sense of mission and purpose. Every Jew is entrusted with a Divine mission to transform his surroundings into a "Land of Israel," by bringing the light of Torah and mitzvot to even the most remote and isolated locations. This mission, moreover, must be accomplished "according to how we see fit." G-d has given man intelligence to be utilized to that end.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
That you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of G-d (Num. 15:39)
Why do we need a large tallit (prayer shawl) to pray if we can remember the commandments by looking at the tzitzit, the fringes which are already attached to our tallit katan, the four-cornered undergarment worn under the clothes? A tallit totally envelopes the individual and symbolizes that which cannot be understood or encompassed by the human mind. It reminds us that the 613 mitzvot (commandments) of the Torah stem from a source far greater than mere human understanding.
That you shall not seek after your heart and after your eyes (Num. 15:39)
Why does heart come before eyes? Do not the eyes first see and then the heart desires that which is forbidden? Sometimes the process works in the other direction as well: an individual first gets an urge to sin and then looks around where he shouldn't to fulfill that urge.
Once there was a chasid was rented an inn from the local poretz (the all-powerful, feudal landowner) and, as so often happened, he fell on hard times and was unable to pay his rent. The poretz was infuriated and threatened the chasid with imprisonment for him and his entire family, even his young children.
With no help in sight, and not knowing where to turn, the chasid traveled to his Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael of Cherkasses, to beg the tzadik to intercede for him. When he arrived in the town, he went directly to the house of the Rebbe, but to his dismay the Rebbe was out of town. The chasid poured out his heart to the Rebbe's wife, details of his plight tumbling from his trembling lips.
She listened and opened her heart to the poor man. "Why don't you go to the shul and tell my grandson, Mordechai Dov, about your troubles. It just may be that he can help you."
The chasid didn't know what to say. The grandson of the Rebbe was just a young child of only ten, and he gingerly voiced his apprehension to the Rebbetzin. "With all respect, Rebbetzin, he is a mere lad. I need the Rebbe's help, for this is a matter of life and death."
The Rebbe's wife was adamant, and answered simply, "The Rebbe is not here now. Take my advice and go and talk to my grandson."
With no other choice, the chasid walked to the synagogue, where he found the boy deeply involved in study. Waiting until the child sensed his presence, the man began to speak, introducing himself and explaining that his grandmother had suggested that he talk to him. He felt a bit foolish discussing such heavy burdens with a young child, but the boy listened with the intensity of an adult.
When the man had finally finished his terrible story, the boy sighed from the depths of his soul. "If only Grandfather were here now. He would certainly be able to help you. But I, what can I do for you?"
The chasid hadn't expected this reaction and with blazing eyes he replied with anger and frustration, "Your grandmother sent me to you and told me that you would help me! If there is nothing you can do, then so be it. But, if you can help me and you refuse to do it, I will never forgive you in this world or the next!"
The boy was shocked at these words. He slowly and deliberately closed the book he was studying and said, "Now, we must go to the mikva."
The two chasidim, the boy and the adult, walked to the mikva, and there, the boy immersed himself in the cold water. The seconds ticked slowly, but the chasid became aware that too much time had gone by and the child had not emerged from beneath the water. The chasid was suddenly seized with a terror worse than the deepest fear he had ever experienced in his life. He moved toward the mikva, thinking he would dive into the water, but his limbs were paralyzed by intense fear. In a split second, the chasid forgot all his troubles - his rent, his debt, his fear of imprisonment-and all his thoughts focused on his one ardent desire: that the child emerge alive from the mikva.
When he finally did emerge, the boy said only, "Go home in peace. Everything will be well."
When the chasid returned to his home, the poretz sent for him and miraculously apologized for the way he had treated him. He related an incident which had occurred to him the preceding night. He was asleep in his bed, when suddenly he experienced the most distressing sensation that he was choking and couldn't catch his breath. Upon awakening, he began to reflect on what had happened. Could it be that he was being punished for the cruel punishments he inflicted on his tenants? That night he resolved to change his ways and take a more lenient position toward their financial lapses.
"My friend," he addressed the incredulous chasid, "I am going to lower your yearly rent. Not only that, but I will give you a head start by forgiving your current debt, so you can start with a clean slate!"
The chasid couldn't believe his ears. His salvation had been granted.
When the Rebbe returned home, the chasid appeared before him to relate the turn of events. When the Rebbe heard the whole story, particularly the role his young grandson played, he shook his head and said, "This is too tender an age for my grandson to endanger his life." This young boy eventually became Rebbe. For the rest of his life, he devoted himself entirely to the needs of his fellow Jews.
"G-d gave the entire land into our hands and all the inhabitants of the land have melted [in fear] of us." This verse should serve as a directive for us. We should not return to the gentiles one inch of those portions of the Land of Israel that G-d has given us. This resolve to maintain full possession of the Land of Israel will lead us to the era when the size of the Holy Land will be increased and it will encompass the lands of 10 nations....And we will proceed to the Holy Temple and offer the Thanksgiving sacrifice in thanks for our redemption from exile. May this be in the immediate future.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 26 Sivan, 5751-1991)