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Long, long ago in a small town in Russia, a group of chasidim were intent upon fulfilling their rebbe's words. He had told them to go down into the pitch-black cellar to get rid of the darkness and they were attempting this seemingly simple feat.
But how exactly should they do it? they wondered.
"Go downstairs with sticks and beat the darkness away," the rebbe told them.
The chasidim dutifully went to the cellar and started to beat at the darkness. Of course, it did no good and they soon returned to their rebbe for his advice once more.
"Go back downstairs and this time scream and yell and shout the darkness away."
The chasidim went back downstairs. "Away darkness!" they shouted. "Begone with you!" they cried out. "Leave this place forever!" they screamed.
But nothing happened. And so, they returned to their rebbe.
This time, the rebbe gave them another suggestion.
"Go downstairs and light a candle."
The chasidim went downstairs and lit a candle. And the once dark cellar was filled with light, for even a little bit of light drives away a very deep, darkness.
This coming Tuesday, Friday we celebrate the 114th birthday of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe's approach is typified by the above story, which is an illustration of a foundational teaching of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad-Lubavitch Chasidism: "A little light banishes a great deal of darkness." (Tanya, ch. 12).
The Rebbe's outlook provides the ultimate in living with a positive perspective - bringing more joy, good and light into the world.
The Rebbe lights candles. He ignites and tends "G-d's candle which is one's soul" in each of us - always in the most positive, loving manner. And by doing so he enables everyone to light his or her own candles to help dispel the darkness.
The Rebbe leads by example. The thousands whom the Rebbe has empowered as his emissaries, the tens of thousands whom the Rebbe has inspired from all walks of life, all cultures and creeds, countries and continents, light candles, thereby driving away darkness.
The ultimate candle is the Rebbe's initiative to educate the world about Moshiach and the imminence of the Redemption. The Era of the Redemption is likened to the light that comes after the darkness. And the Redemption is hastened and brought into this world through each one of us lighting candles - doing positive activities, being kind, being cheerful, helping another person, starting to keep another mitzva, advancing in our Jewish knowledge, studying Moshiach and the Redemption.
Let's all light candles today! Do it to dispel some of the darkness around you. Do it for yourself. Do it as a birthday present for the Rebbe. Do it for the hastening of the Redemption. Just do it!
This week we read the Torah portion of Metzora. Metzora deals with the various types of afflications known as tzaraat (similar to but not the same as leprosy) and the purification procedure one had to undergo after suffering that affliction. The portion details how the recovered person is purified by the kohen (priest) through a special procedure.
A home can also be afflicted with tzaraat and the kohen determines if the house can be purified or whether it must be demolished.
Yet on another level, tzaraat signifies something deeper than just a skin condition or disorder.
Surprisingly enough, Moshiach is often referred to as a leper. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 98a) calls Moshiach a "leper," for "he suffers our burdens, and our maladies are his. He is therefore afflicted, stricken by G-d and tortured."
But Moshiach is considered a "leper" only during the exile, before the Final Redemption takes place. For, although Moshiach exists in every generation, he is not yet in a revealed state even though his essence is whole and unchanged. He must therefore suffer the pain of the Jewish nation and bear the burdens of exile together with them.
But what is the nature of Moshiach's suffering? Tzaraat, as pointed out by Chasidic philosophy, is a disease affecting only the "skin of his flesh." It is an illness which disfigures only the external layer, and does not involve internal organs or even the flesh itself. Leprosy therefore symbolizes a state in which a person's inner being remains unaffected, despite the outward manifestation of disease.
The leper represents a person whose inner self has already been purified and refined. All that remains is for the outermost shell, the husk, to be cleansed. In Moshiach's case, this outer layer consists of the Jewish people's collective infirmities.
This, then, is the condition in which we find ourselves today, on the threshold of the Messianic era. On the one hand, it appears as if we are still afflicted with many plagues, but in truth our afflictions are only external, for the essence of the Jewish people has been refined and cleansed by the long years of exile.
The laws of purification delineated in this week's portion also parallel the process of Moshiach's revelation and the purification the Jewish people must go through when he is revealed. Moshiach, too, impatiently awaits the day he will no longer suffer and G-d will bring the final Redemption, speedily in our day.
My Gift to the Rebbe
by Gail Ault
Many years ago, my "rebbetzin," Blumah Wineberg of the Chabad House Center of Kansas City, arranged "Chabad Stations." These stations were baskets filled with Shabbat candles and various Jewish brochures at the front entrance and back theater entrance of the Kansas City JCC.
Once, when I was at the JCC, I called Rebbetzin Blumah and asked if I could organize the baskets more ascetically. That was all it took; the weekly responsibility of filling and caring for the stations became mine, including the ones that were later set up at Village Shalom Center, Hen House Grocery, HyVee Grocery, and three additional locations in the JCC.
Rebbetzin Blumah told me that the Rebbe had a particular penchant for Jewish women and girls lighting candles in honor of Shabbat and holidays, and that the Rebbe had even "campaigned" on behalf of this mitzva (commandment). "Let every woman - young girls included - add her holy light to illuminate the world shrouded in darkness and confusion," the Rebbe had urged. It made me feel my mission was important and special.
On Friday, April 11, 2014 - corresponding to the Jewish date of 11 Nissan, I did my usual upkeep on the baskets but with special eagerness. I knew it was the Rebbe's birthday. Rebbetzin Blumah had taught that on the Rebbe's birthday we should all increase in good deeds in the Rebbe's honor.
I then remembered that the JCC had given us clearance to include candlesticks in our displays. This would certainly attract more attention, add to the aesthetics, and be part of my "gift" to the Rebbe. I had just the right pairs of candlesticks at home and returned home to get them. For the JCC's back White Theater entrance, I brought an iridescent gold and lovely rose pink glass pair of candlesticks.
When I put the candlesticks at the Theater entrance Chabad Station they "belonged." It was as if they had been meant to be there all along.
As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words and I wanted to take a photograph for Rebbetzin Blumah, who was out of town. It was already late on Friday afternoon and the sun was going lower in the sky. The way that the sunlight was streaming in and bouncing off the iridescent candlesticks was breath-taking. I clicked and clicked and clicked away. But, no matter what position I was in, I could not seem to get a good shot of the newly enhanced Chabad Station. It seemed that the amount of light coming in and radiating off the candlesticks was too much for my camera to process. Sure enough, when I went home and looked at the photos to choose one to email to Rebbetzin Blumah, none of them had come out due to the overwhelming light. Oh well, I would just have to try to describe it to the rebbetzin when I saw her next.
On Sunday morning I awoke to an email from the rebbetzin. "If it is convenient, and not out of the way, could you pick up Passover Candle lighting times brochures at Chabad House and put them at our two main stations at the JCC, at the front entrance and at the theater?"
Passover would begin Monday night. I had already promised my hostess of the first Seder that I would help her bake on Sunday. In addition, I had my water exercise class at the JCC. No one was at the Chabad House which meant I would have to track down the rebbetzin's son, the rabbi-who-is-always-busy, to get the brochures. What was the rebbetzin thinking? Anyone who is celebrating Passover surely already knows the times! Plus the JCC is closing early for Passover, so who would even get them? Can't they just look it up on-line?
Sigh. I thought about all of Rebbetzin Blumah's kindness, her warmth, her words of wisdom, her genuine goodness of heart, all the things that make me love her. Next to G-d, she is my "one to go to for everything great and small" and she has patience for all the women in her life like me. She was there for me twice when I had surgery. Okay. What the rebbetzin wants, the rebbetzin gets!
So I called the rabbi and set up a time to meet him at the Chabad House. But the time kept on getting pushed up, from 1:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. When I got to the rabbi at 2:00 p.m. his two cell phones were ringing, beeping and notifying like crazy.
A White-Supremist, Neo-Nazi had gone on a shooting spree at the Kansas City JCC and Village Shalom Assisted Living Facility. Three people were murdered. Three lights were extinguished.
If I had not agreed to pick up the brochures, I very possibly would have been in the JCC parking lot precisely when the shootings took place. But more than that, I believe that the overwhelming, all-encompassing light I had seen radiating from the sun on the candlesticks just two days earlier, and the Chabad Station itself, had formed a protective barrier for all of those who were inside the JCC: the youngsters and their families who were already inside auditioning for KC SuperStar, the actors and theater staff who were readying for a performance of To Kill a Mockingbird and the residents of Village Shalom.
While "darkness and confusion" snuffed out three lives that day, I believe the "holy light" of the Shabbat candles that were being lit and would be lit thanks to the Chabad Stations prevented much more devastation and loss.
Gail Ault passed away last year on 11 Nissan, a year after she so devotedly added the candlesticks to the Chabad station at the JCC. May her memory and actions continue to bring physical and spiritual light into the world.
Nearly 800 Chabad-Lubavitch yeshiva students are travellinged to destinations around the world where they will conduct public Passover Seders under the auspices of "Merkos Shlichus." They are in cities with small Jewish communities or tourist spots that do not have permanent emissaries. In addition, most of the thousands of Chabad-Lubavitch Centers world-wide are hosting public Seders. To find out about the Seder location closest to you call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center or visit chabad.org.
Make sure your celebration of the Passover Seders has an authentic feel with the traditiona, round, hand-baked Shmura Matza. Available at your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
Rosh Chodesh Shevat, 5733 (1973)
Greeting and Blessing:
Pursuant to our conversation when you were here, and told me about the good news of your 60th birthday, I want to reiterate here in writing the blessing that I wished you also orally, namely that G-d should bless you - Arichas Yomim V' shonim Tovos [long and happy days and years]
I would like to add that this time-honored traditional blessing is a very meaningful one, although at first glance it may seem redundant to mention also the days ("long and happy days and years"), since the "days" are already included in the "years". The explanation is that this blessing in a double one, namely, to enjoy long and good years, and also that each and every day should be long and good in terms of content. That is to say, that each day should be completely filled with true Jewish content. Time is a relative thing, and the true measure of time, whether it is "short" or "long" is in terms of content in achievement. It is a matter of common experience that it is possible in a short while to have so much good content that it would normally fill days, weeks or even months.
And from the particular to the general. What is true of the individual in terms of personal achievement is true in a wider sense in application to the community. I have in mind such activity that stimulates a chain reaction, an activity that sets an example for others to emulate. In such a case, the person setting off this chain reaction has a share and zechus [merit] in all the good effects of which he has been the cause. A person like yourself, who has an influential and active role in the community, is thus in a very privileged and blessed position. Particularly when such activity includes, first and foremost, the area of chinuch [(Jewish) education]. Here the chain reaction in even more in evidence, since the present pupils, who are now recipients, will eventually be benefactors, with pupils of their own, and so forth.
Apropos of the above, I wish to mention also the custom introduced by the Baal Shem Tov and transmitted to us through the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad chasidism]. According to this custom, a special Psalm is recited daily corresponding to the person's age in particular year. Thus, for a person entering the 61st year, Psalm 61 is the one recited daily that year. In this connection, of special relevance is the verse (61:8) Yeshev olom lifnei Elokim, chesed ve'emes man yintzeruhu [May he be enthroned before G-d for ever! Appoint mercy and truth, that they may preserve him].
A person like yourself, who has an influential and active role in the community, is thus in a very privileged and blessed position.
The Midrash (Shemos Rabba31:15) makes the following commentary on this verse: King David was wondering why there should be rich men and poor men in the world. Would it not be better if all were equal before G.d? Where upon G-d replied: "Kindness and truth - who will practice it?" In other words, the poor and needy of the world are there so that there should be someone practicing the mitzvah of tzedoko [commandment of charity] and loving kindness. This provides an additional insight into the Jewish concept of tzedoko in all its forms, including especially tzedoko for zechus horabim [merit of the multitude].
With prayerful wishes for "long and happy days and years" in all your affairs, both personal and general,
With thanks to NissanMindelPublications.com
Every person can expereince Hakhel in their personal lives. The theme of Hakhel is to unite the entire nation: men, women, and children. Each of these different groups general characteristics; every person has - and needs - all of these characteristics: strength and firmness to lead the outside world; leadership in the home; and the willingness to learn from each and every person. In the year of Hakhel, a person must take all of these characteristics and bring them together in his inner Holy Temple; that his whole being and all his traits should be infused with a singular idea: "to be in awe of G-d all the days."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
It is a Jewish custom to say daily the chapter of Psalms associated with the number of one's years. Chasidim and followers of the Rebbe also recite daily the Rebbe's chapter. The 11th of Nissan (this year Tuesday, April 19) marks the Rebbe's 114th birthday, and so, we begin reciting chapter 115.
The Psalm, which is the third of the chapters of praise included in Hallel, begins asking G-d to reveal Himself and His glory, "Not for our sake, G-d, not for our sake, but for the sake of Your name bring glory, for the sake of Your kindness, for the sake of Your truth."
Concern the fourth verse, "Their idols are silver and gold, the handiwork of man," a story is told of Reb Dovber, the second Chabad Rebbe when he was a young boy. One day, little Dovber sat next to an elderly chasid. The chasid was asking his two fellow-chasidim who were wealthy businessmen why they were so sad. The two men answered together, "Times are bad, and business is slow." Dovber sat up straight and, in pun, said to the first chasid, "Why do you need to ask them about their sadness (atzvut in Hebrew)? Does it not say in Psalms, 'Their idols (atzabeihem) are silver and gold...' Their sadness comes from money!"
The Kotzker Rebbe taught that man suffers from sorrow (atzabeihem) because he mistaken thinks that "silver and gold are the handiwork of man." So he torments himself to make money and is despondent at its loss, not realizing that a person's income is determined by the will of G-d.
According to the Maharal, verses 9, 10 and 11 describe three groups of Jews, each with a different motivation for serving G-d. "Israel trust in G-d": these are the children of Israel who trust in and serves G-d like a child trusts his father. "House of Aaron, Trust in G-d": These are the Jews who serve G-d out of love. "You who fear G-d, trust in G-d": These are the Jews who serve G-d out of fear and awe.
In verse 16 we read: The heavens are the heavens of G-d, but the earth He has given to humankind." Before G-d gave us the Torah, the heavens (signifying spirituality) were not in the human domain; there was no revealed connection between man and G-d. However, when the Torah was given, G-d descended to the mountain and Moses ascended to it, erasing forever this distinction.
May we imminently see the ultimate connection of the physical and the spiritual with the long-awaited Redemption NOW!
This shall be the law of the leper (Lev. 14:2)
The word used in the Torah for "leper" is "metzora." The word "metzora" is a combination of two words, "motzi ra" meaning "to bring out evil." A leper is punished for the sin of gossiping. When a person speaks gossip about an other, he brings out evil about the other person.
The Kohen will command and for the person being purified there will be taken two live clean birds (Lev. 14:4)
Two birds were needed to purify a leper, because very often when a person speaks badly about another, it can cause strife between two friends or between a husband and wife. By using two birds, the Torah is teaching us that before the leper can be forgiven for speaking evil, he must first bring about peace between the two people he has caused to become estranged.
And I will place the plague of leprosy upon a house in the land of your possession (Lev. 14:34)
To a certain extent a plague on a house after the Jews entered Israel was a good thing because the Amorites, who had lived in Israel previously, had hidden gold in the walls of their houses. When the Jews had to break down their walls because of the plague, they found the gold. This is a lesson for all of us. Every Jew has treasures hidden deep within. When he sins, he is neglecting the treasures that G-d has instilled within. When a Jew is given a plague, it reminds him to repent, which brings him closer to G-d. In that way, the hidden treasures are revealed.
by Rabbi Yosef Ehrentrau as told to Nosson Avrohom
When I was a student in CrownHeights, Brooklyn, I would devote my Wednesdays to the Rebbe's Mitzva campaigns. I spent the morning in Manhattan with the Mitzvah Tank and in the afternoon I would visit Jewish businessmen in their offices to encourage them to put on Tefilin.
It was the spring of 1989. On a Tuesday night, I had an incredible dream. I saw the Rebbe turning to me and telling me in Yiddish, "To have greater success in spreading Chasidic teachings you have to wear a tie."
I woke up. It was four o'clock in the morning. My first thought was, "Dreams are meaningless." I tried to go back to sleep, but I remained wide awake. Eventually the sun rose and I made my way to 770 Eastern Parkway for the morning prayers. My thoughts kept coming back to the strange dream.
The Rebbe entered the synagogue. On the way to his regular place, the Rebbe stopped and looked toward me. As he was looking towards me, I noticed that the Rebbe straightened his tie. A few moments later, after the Rebbe had already reached his place, he turned around toward the congregation. The Rebbe appeared to be looking for something, and when his eyes reached me, he again straightened his tie. Only then did he turn back toward his prayerbook and the cantor started the prayers. After the conclusion of the morning services, the congregation began to sing. The Rebbe encouraged the singing and then looked in my direction as he straightened his tie a third time.
I left 770 and boarded the Mitzva Tank. Rabbi Levi Baumgarten, the director of the Mitzva Tank, was the first person to hear about the unusual dream I had the previous night. I didn't mention anything to him about the Rebbe adjusting his tie. He didn't seem to attach much importance to my dream. Without much more discussion, we started our drive into Manhattan.
As soon as we reached our destination, I got out of the Mitzvah Tank and started encouraging Jewish men to put on Tefilin. A middle-aged gentleman approached me. "Are you Jewish?" I asked him. Instead of answering my question, he asked me if I wanted to buy something from him. The man held an attache case, and he opened it up to show me a large selection of ties.
"A Jew must look nice," he told me, "and in order to look nice, you have to wear a tie." At first I told him that I wasn't interested, however, he was determined to sell me one, and I eventually agreed. I found a black tie to my liking. I asked him how much it cost and he told me a ridiculous price. When I explained to him that I don't have that much money, he said that he would be willing to sell it to me for less. I took the two dollars out of my pocket that I had for the subway ride back and said, 'This is all I have. If you want to sell it to me for this amount - I'll buy it."
During our entire back and forth, he kept repeating over and over again, "A Jew must look nice, and in order to look nice, you have to wear a tie."
The gentleman helped me tie the tie properly. Then he left and I resumed my work of putting Tefilin on Jewish men. I was so preoccupied with what I was doing that I actually didn't make the connection between my dream, the Rebbe adjusting his tie, and the Jewish salesman's unconventional stubbornness in getting me to buy a tie.
After a few more hours with the Mitzvah Tank, I started my regular visits to the nearby office buildings. One office belonged to a young successful Israeli businessman. Each week his secretary would tell me that the boss doesn't give permission for me to come in. I would leave some brochures on Judaism and move on. On this occasion, to my great surprise, the secretary informed me that her boss wanted me to come into his office. I asked if he would like to put on Tefillin. At first he hesitated. Eventually he explained that he didn't know how to do it.
Naturally, I offered to help him. As he recited the Shema, tears started streaming down his cheeks. When he finished, he asked. "I've seen you for months through my camera. Today, you've never looked so sharp - and with a tie yet. What happened?"
Suddenly, everything made sense. I smiled. He said he wanted to share an amazing story that had occurred that night, one that led him to bring me into his office and agree to put on Tefilin. The man said that his father had passed away many years ago. During the past year he had been dreaming about him. His father told him that he had no rest, and if the son wanted to provide that rest, he had to put on Tefillin. Though he disregarded the dreams, they continued. Night after night, his father would come to him in a dream and ask him why he still isn't putting on Tefillin.
The previous night, his father had asked the same question: Why aren't you putting on Tefilin? Unlike the other occasions, this time he answered that he wants to put on Tefilin with the young man who regularly comes to his office. However, he is too embarrassed because the young man does not look well-groomed, and he does not feel comfortable speaking with him.
As his father listened, another Jew, an impressive looking rabbi, suddenly entered the conversation. "If he will come tomorrow wearing a tie, will you put on Tefilin?" the rabbi asked.
"Yes, I would," the businessman said. The discussion ended, and his father and the rabbi disappeared.
As it turned out, I came that day wearing a tie. As soon as he had finished his story, I showed him a picture of the Rebbe, and I asked him if this was the rabbi he had seen in his dream. The man looked at the picture and nearly fainted. "Yes, this is the rabbi!" he whispered.
Now, it came my turn to tell him the entire chain of events that led me to buy the tie. Later, he told me that this was the first time in his life that he had ever put on Tefilin. We made a Bar Mitzvah celebration for him right then and there his office with his Jewish employees.
The amazing conclusion to this story came when the Rebbe spoke that night and afterward gave out dollars for people to give to charity. When I passed by, the Rebbe smiled, straightened his tie slightly, and said to me in Yiddish, "S'iz gel-oint (it was worth it)..."
Adapted from Beis Moshiach Magazine
The condition of the Jewish people in which we now find ourselves at the very end of the exile and just prior to the Redemption is that of a "metzora." Outwardly, it appears as if the Jewish people is suffering from a variety of ailments, but our inner essence is actually pristine, having already been completely purified over the course of generations. The only thing left to be refined before Moshiach's revelation is our "outer layer." All other prerequisites for the Final Redemption are already in place. May it happen immediately.
(The Rebbe, Shabbat Parshat Tazria-Metzora 1991)