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by Rabbi Michoel Gourarie
There are so many important lessons that can be learned from the Rebbe's life and leadership. One of them is about care and concern for an individual. The Rebbe was a leader who spoke about and was involved in major global issues such as the security of Israel, the fall of communism in the former Soviet Union and the establishment of thousands of Torah centers across the globe. Yet despite this global vision he focused on the physical and spiritual welfare of every single individual with incredible care and concern.
Let me share with you a personal story. Every Sunday the Rebbe would stand for many hours distributing dollar bills to thousands of people, for them to then give to a charity of their choice. With each dollar the Rebbe would briefly bless each person and occasionally have a brief conversation on an issue of importance.
In 1990 my wife Dina was in New York. When she passed by the Rebbe with our two oldest children she quickly mentioned to the Rebbe that our son's birthday was that week and requested a special blessing for him. The Rebbe looked at her and said: "And you don't have a birthday?". Confused by this strange question she hesitated while the Rebbe repeated the question, to which she answered that it had already taken place (it was just a few weeks before). The Rebbe smiled, gave them a blessing and she moved on.
Dina immediately called me in Sydney and shared with me her strange encounter. At first I too was perplexed by the seemingly odd question that the Rebbe had asked: "And you don't have a birthday?" But after I put down the phone and thought for a moment it all fell into place.
From the time that we moved to Sydney I decided that before every birthday in our family I would fax a brief letter to the Rebbe and request a blessing. I almost never received a reply, but was always completely confident that it was received and that the Rebbe would give his blessing in whichever way he wanted.
That year I forgot to write the letter before Dina's birthday. When the Rebbe asked her a few weeks later about her birthday, he was obviously expressing his surprise at not receiving the yearly fax.
Thousands of people filed passed the Rebbe each Sunday. Every day he received thousands of letters and faxes with important and urgent issues to address. Yet he cared about the birthday of one single individual living in Australia. The question - "And you don't have a birthday?" was his way of saying that you are important to me, I look forward to your yearly fax about your birthday, and I noticed when it didn't arrive this year.
The lesson for all of us is clear: We are all very busy. Some of us may even have global issues on our shoulders, or think we do. But nothing should override the attention, care and concern that we show to another single individual.
Rabbi Michoel Gourarie is the founder and director of Bina, a Sydney-based organization that provides Jewish inspiration and education for all ages and backgrounds. Read more at bina.com.au
In the Passover Haggada read at the Seder, we learn, "In every generation, a person is obligated to see himself as if he went out of Egypt." Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad, explained: "In every generation, and every day." Every day we must go out of Egypt.
Egypt is symbolic of boundaries, being locked in either physically or spiritually. On Passover we talk of being free, freeing ourselves is a daily task, breaking out of our status quo, to find deeper and higher meaning in Judaism, and G-d.
To understand this, we first have to understand why Passover is the only holiday that G-d gave us exact times of events. Regarding the plague of the death of the first born, at which time the Jewish people were officially free, it says "It was at midnight." Later, when the Jewish people actually left Egypt, it says, "It was at the essence of the day," which is high noon.
There are two different kinds of exoduses. One is out of an Egypt of darkness, midnight. This refers to one who is at a low spiritual state. He is stuck in his way of thinking, "it is a dark world, a dark exile, what is the point of trying to grow spiritually." Then there is an exodus out of an Egypt of light. This refers to a person who is at a higher spiritual state. Living a life of Torah, of light, midday, however he has become comfortable in his state, and lacks the urge to break out to reach for something higher.
Both of these Egypts are our daily struggle. Whether you find yourself in a midnight or a midday situation, you need to find a way to break out of your current constraints and attain higher plateaus of spirituality and understanding in Torah, closeness to G-d and the performance of mitzvot (commandments).
This is true in our relationships as well. We must constantly search for ways to deepen and strengthen our relationships, and not be satisfied with the status quo.
This is the life of a Jew. Always climbing higher and higher; yesterday's accomplishments are not enough today. In every generation and every day, one is obligated to see himself, as if he went out of Egypt.
Adapted by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz from the teachings of the Rebbe, yitzihurwitz.blogspot.com. Rabbi Hurwitz, who is battling ALS, and his wife Dina, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Temecula, Ca.
A Dream in Darwin
by Rabbi Yaacov Chaiton
The following story, which I was privileged to be part of, expresses how the Rebbe's impact continues to be felt:
The address 30/55 Parap Road simply didn't exist. This was the conclusion reached by myself and Zevi Shusterman, my classmate from Melbourne's Chabad Yeshiva, as we made our way through the streets of Darwin, the capital of Australia's Northern Territory.
It was four days before Passover, the 11th day in Nissan, 2006. Zevi and I were in Darwin as part of the "Merkos Shlichus" program - an international movement inspired by the Lubavitcher Rebbe whereby Rabbinical students volunteer each Passover to visit remote Jewish communities in order to raise awareness of Torah, Mitzvot and Judaism. Our main "mission" was to arrange a public seder for the local Jews. But we also wished to pay personal house visits to the fifty or so known Jews of Darwin.
One last search at the reverse address, 55/30 Parap Road, would be our last, before admitting defeat. As we walked into the courtyard of 55 Parap Road, four large buildings surrounded us. It was the epicenter of a large commune for the unemployed and underprivileged; the scene of primitiveness coupled with substance abuse was startling.
Overcoming our initial fear, we approached a group of young men and ambitiously asked them if they knew of a man by the name of Joseph De Backer. We had heard of him from a local Jew who happened to have come across him in a local post-office a few months before. The men motioned to us to go upstairs. Reaching the fourth floor, we found a group of older men, whom we assumed to be the commune elders. When we repeated our question to the elders, the men simply shrugged their shoulders. But just as we turned around to leave, one of the "elders" announced that there was a man named Joseph who lived a further flight up.
With a box of handmade matzah in hand, we excitedly approached a door that bore a tiny mezuzah. Assuming nobody would refuse a free matzah offer, we knocked and called out, "Joseph! We brought you matzah!"
An old, life-weary man came to the door with tears streaming down his face. Before exchanging any words, the old man strangely poked and prodded our arms. "I can't believe it!" he muttered, repeating the words again and again as he gazed upon us. We just stood there, speechless and perplexed.
After a few moments, Joseph calmed down and invited us inside. We sat down at the table and Joseph began telling his story:
"I am a survivor of Auschwitz. After the war, trying to run away from everything, I moved to Perth. I married a non-Jew with whom I had a son. After my business failed and I was divorced, there was nothing left for me in Perth. My only reason to live was now my son, who serves in the Australian Army and is stationed in Darwin."
Joseph took a sip of tea, then continued with his tale.
"I moved to Darwin to be near my son and found shelter with my few belongings in this government commune. I slowly lost all contact with the outside world. I have no internet, email, not even a telephone. I venture out of the house only to buy the bare essentials. Even my son rarely visits me anymore.
"I knew from when I was a little boy that around April there is a Jewish holiday. I didn't remember much about the holiday, but I knew that for a period of time bread was forbidden, and we ate flat crackers. Yesterday, my meager memories of the holiday and Jewish identity left me feeling especially lonely and depressed.
"I had trouble falling asleep last night; but when I finally did, I had a dream that two rabbis brought me the flat crackers for the holiday. That's why when you two rabbis arrived at my door, I thought I was hallucinating. I poked and prodded you to make sure you were real!"
We were overwhelmed and moved by Joseph's tale. We spent several hours speaking and listening to a man all but forgotten by society. Tears of joy streamed down Joseph's face as we helped him don tefillin and say a prayer.
Before taking our leave, we gave him all the Jewish reading material we had, including a booklet entitled "The Rebbe: An Appreciation," which contains several articles about the Lubavitcher Rebbe as well as pictures of the Rebbe.
Joseph walked us down the hall to the stairs, thanked us from the depths of his heart and bade us farewell.
A year later, I returned to Darwin. I was looking forward to meeting all the Jews whom we had encountered the previous year, but none more so than Joseph. The Jews of Darwin, after hearing from us about Joseph's plight, helped him and improved his lot.
As I entered the old man's apartment, we embraced, then sat down to talk. As Joseph spoke of the community's help, I noticed that the apartment's walls were covered with pictures of the Rebbe, neatly cut out from the brochure, "The Rebbe: An Appreciation."
I casually remarked upon the pictures on the wall, assuming Joseph had simply found them to be nice pictures with which to decorate his apartment. But Joseph turned to me with a tone that was anything but casual.
"You don't remember the dream? It's because of this man that I have reconnected to Judaism after so many years and it's thanks to him that my lot has improved so much! The least I can do is have his picture on my wall."
Reprinted from bina.com.au. Rabbi Chaiton is a lecturer at Bina Jewish Wisdom and head of Kesser Torah Boys High School.
Nearly 800 Chabad-Lubavitch yeshiva students are travelling 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.
Freely translated letter
11 Nissan, 5723 (1963)
Passover is the first day of Jewish independence, and the first festival in the history of our Jewish people.
It is first in rank and significance, for it brought the liberation of our people from enslavement and made it possible for them to live a free and independent life as a nation, governed only by the Torah and its commandments dictated by G-d alone.
As such, Passover is especially meaningful for our Jewish people, and for every Jew individually, at all times and in all places.
For this reason also, every aspect of the festival and every detail attending the historical Exodus from Egypt, has a special significance in the way of a timeless message and practical instruction for the individual, the community and our people as a whole.
One of the important details of the Exodus is the haste with which the Exodus took place.
When the hour of liberation struck, the Jewish people left Egypt at once, losing not a moment, or, as our Sages express it -- not even a "heref ayin," "the batting of an eye-lid."
They add, moreover, that if the Jewish people had tarried and missed that auspicious moment, the opportunity of the liberation would have been lost forever.
This seems incomprehensible.
For it was already after the Ten Plagues, which prompted the Egyptians to virtually expel the Jews from their land.
The situation was thus "well in hand."
Why, then, the teaching of our Sages that if that moment had been missed, the whole liberation would have been in jeopardy?
Above all, what practical lesson is contained in this detail, so that the Torah makes a point of revealing it to us with particular emphasis?
The explanation is as follows:
When the end of the road of exile is reached, and the moment arrives for the liberation from the "abomination of Egypt," the opportunity must be seized at once; there must be no tarrying even for an instant, not even to the extent of "batting an eye- lid."
The danger of forfeiting the opportunity lay not in the possibility of the Egyptians changing their mind, but in the possibility that some Jews might change their mind, being loathe to leave their habituated way of life in Egypt, to go out into the desert to receive the Torah.
The practical lesson for every Jew, man or woman, young or old, is:
The Exodus from Egypt as it is to be experienced in day-to-day life, is the personal release from subservience to the dictates of the body and the animal in man; the release from passions and habits within, as well as from the materialistic environment without.
This release can only be achieved by responding to the call of G-d, Who seeks out the oppressed and enslaved and promises, "I shall redeem you from bondage... that I may be your G-d." As at the time of the first liberation, true freedom is conditional upon the acceptance of the Torah and mitzvot.
This call of freedom never ceases.
The Exodus must be achieved every day; each day the opportunity beckons anew.
Unfortunately, there are individuals who tarry and consign the opportunity to the "three solemn days" of the year, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur; others, at best, postpone it for Shabbat and Yom Tov, still others, who recall and experience the Exodus in daily prayer, fail to extend it to every aspect of daily life.
What is true of the individual, is true also on the community and national levels, except that on these levels the missing of the opportunities is, of course, even more far-reaching and catastrophic.
As in the days of our ancestors in Egypt whose exodus was not delayed even for a moment, whereby they attained full liberation of the body and full liberation of the spirit with the acceptance of the Torah at Sinai, which was the purpose and goal of the Exodus.
May G-d grant that every Jew seize the extraordinary opportunity of the present moment, to achieve self-liberation and to help others in the same direction; liberation from all manner of bondage, internal and external, and above all, liberation from the most dismal bondage -- the idea of "let's be like the rest."
And when we return to the ways of Torah and mitzvot in the fullest measure, we will merit the fulfillment of the promise: When the Jewish people return, they are redeemed at once, with the true and complete redemption through our righteous Moshiach.
What is some of the sybolism of the three matzas and four cups of wine at the Seder?
The three matzas represent the three categories of Jews: the priests, the Levites and the Israelites. They also represent the three Patriarch: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The four cups of wine represent the four expressions of Redemption of the Jewish people: "V'hotzeiti - I will take you out," "V'hitzalti - I will save you," "V'ga'alti - I will redeem you," "V'lakachti - I will take you." (The "fifth" cup - the cup of Elijah - is connected with the final Redemption, "I will bring you.") The four cups also represent the four Matriarchs: Sara, Rebecca, Rachel and Lea.
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 Friday, April 7) marks the Rebbe's 115th birthday, and so, we begin reciting chapter 116.
In this Psalm, King David praises G-d, expressing his appreciation for all the good and the miracles G-d has performed for him. King David also declares that he does not know how he can repay G-d for all of His Kindness.
According to our Sages, this Psalm describes the final day before the Resurrection of the Dead in the times of Moshiach.
Verse two reads: For He turns His ear to me on the days when I call to Him. The Sforno shares that King David has learned from personal experience that any day he calls on G-d, even when he is not exceptionally worthy of Divine help, G-d listens to his prayers and answers them.
In Verse nine we read: I shall walk before the L-rd in the land of the living. Where is the "land of the living"? According to many opinions, this refers to the World to Come, after the times of the Resurrection of the Dead in the Messianic Era. However, other commentators explain that the "land of the living" refers to the Holy Land - the Land of Israel. It is called thus because it is in the Land of Israel that the resurrection of the Dead will take place.
Verse 13 reads: I will raise the cup of deliverance and invoke the Name of the L-rd. The Metzudat David explains that this verse refers to the offering that King David offers to bring for all of the times G-d saved him. Rashi clarifies that the specific offerings referred to are the wine libations that would in the future accompany the thanks-giving offerings in the Holy Temple.
Chasidic teachings explain that just as in order to pour into a cup it must be empty, so too must we first "empty" ourselves of our base desires before we can fill ourselves up with G-dliness.
The Talmud teaches that the raising of the cup of deliverance about which King David speaks will be in the times of Moshiach. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses and Joshua, will be offered the singular privilege to lead the Grace after Meals. Each one will decline. Finally, King David, ancestor of Moshiach, will agree to lead the Grace after Meals at that unique banquet - may it happen NOW!
The "festival of matzot"; the "festival of Pesach"
On Passover the Jewish people praise G-d, and G-d praises the Jewish people. In the Torah the holiday is referred to as the "festival of matzot," in commemoration of the Jews' willingness to go off into the desert without waiting for their dough to rise. We, however, refer to it as "Pesach," literally "He passed over," in remembrance of His having passed over our homes during the slaying of the firstborn.
(Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev)
The Hebrew word "seder" means order or arrangement, alluding to the fact that everything that has ever happened to the Jewish people, from the Exodus until today, has unfolded according to Divine plan. Nothing occurs by accident, even if we don't always understand why an event must take place.
The Seventh Day of Passover: the splitting of the Red Sea
During the festive meal of the Seventh Day of Passover 5603 (1843), the Tzemach Tzedek (the third Chabad Rebbe), who had recently returned from a mission to Petersburg to try to convince the Russian government to annul its anti-Jewish decrees, declared: "The Seventh Day of Passover is the Rosh Hashana of self-sacrifice. When Moses conveyed G-d's command - 'Speak to the Children of Israel that they should go forward' - Nachshon ben Aminadav immediately jumped into the sea. This was a continuation of the self-sacrifice shown by our forefather Abraham. On the Seventh Day of Passover, each and every Jew can and must resolve to have self-sacrifice for Torah and mitzvot and the service of the Creator throughout the year."
(Sefer HaSichot 5703)
"Are there any Israelis here?" Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg of Mumbai (may G-d avenge his blood) called out in the hallway of the primitive guesthouse frequented by backpackers on shoestring budgets.
This search for additional guests to the Chabad House festive table was part of his routine every Friday afternoon and an hour before any Jewish holiday.
His wife, Rivky (hy"d), had insisted that he make his rounds this afternoon, despite the assistance she needed at home in preparation for the Passover Seder.
"Yes," came the answer. A moment later, a young man emerged from the communal shower room at the end of the corridor. He looked at the rabbi in utter disbelief.
"Where in the world did you come from?" he blurted out. "Who sent you here?"
"G-d sent me," the shliach answered with a smile. "I'd like to invite you to our home for the Seder."
That young man, Ohr Michaeli, became the Holtzberg's guest, and told them the following story.
"I was on my way from a southern village in India to the north, where I had planned to meet a group of backpackers. I was shocked to discover that I had been pick pocketed on the way. I ended up here in Bombay, roaming the streets not knowing what to do, when I came upon some European-looking people I could communicate with. When I told them my plight, they suggested that money could be wired from Israel to a bank in India. I immediately contacted my family and relayed the instructions those kind people had given me.
"The foreigners also directed me to this dingy guest house, which would be a cheap place to stay until the money arrived. Disappointed by my bad luck and exhausted from the ordeal, what I wanted most was to take a shower and go to sleep. But all of a sudden it dawned on me that tonight will mark the beginning of Passover. I'm not an observant Jew, but I've always enjoyed the Seder and had been planning to go to one together with the group I was to meet up north. I was feeling totally dejected, and then suddenly you walked in."
"Nope," replied the head water at the Michael On East restaurant, "Mr. Michael's not in. He comes and goes. He may be back soon, though."
It was shortly before Passover, and for the fourth time Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz of Sarasota, Florida, had tried to meet Mr. Michael to try to give him a packet of hand-made matzas for the Seder.
The rabbi continued his morning errands and decided to give it one more try around noon. As he walked toward the entrance, he met two men who were just leaving.
One of them sized up the rabbi and promptly stated: "You must be an emissary of the Rebbe!"
Rabbi Steinmetz was a bit surprised. "Yes, I am, and as Passover is approaching, I'm giving out packages of matzas."
"And I assume that package is for me," the man responded confidently.
"Of course!" Rabbi Steinmetz replied, without a question, handing over the box.
"What about me?" the second man inquired indignantly.
"I have a packet for you in my car," the rabbi answered, hurrying off to fetch it.
When he returned, the first man identified himself as Mr. Harvey Rothenberg, from New York. Rabbi Steinmetz listened intently as Mr. Rothenberg filled him in.
"You see, when I was young I had an opportunity to meet the previous Rebbe, the saintly Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, and became familiar with Chabad activities. Year later, I became a close friend of Abraham Beame, mayor of New York, and was very active in a number of Jewish circles. It was then that I became acquainted with the Rebbe and his work.
"Once, at a large Chasidic gathering, the Rebbe noted my presence and, in a private encounter, gave me a pair of tefilin as for years. This year, though, I hadn't yet received my packet, and I was really a bit disappointed. But what could I expect? How could the Rebbe know where I was? But evidently," he concluded with a smile, "the Rebbe has his ways of tracking me down. So I knew exactly who you were, and I'll accept my matzas with gratitude."
"Yes," Rabbi Steinmetz thought to himself in wonder, "the Rebbe has his ways..."
From Excuse Me, Are You Jewish? by Malka Touger. Published by Emet Publications
"If he offers it in order to give thanks...." (Lev. 7:12) In the Messianic era, communal sacrifices will continue to be offered up, but there will no longer be personal sacrifices, with the exception of the thanksgiving-offering. Similarly, we are taught that in the Messianic era, all forms of prayer will cease except for prayers of thanksgiving. The purpose of personal sacrifices (other than the thanksgiving-offering) is to orient the animal soul toward Divinity. Since in the Messianic era this process will have been completed - and we will no longer sin - these types of sacrifices will become superfluous. Only the thanksgiving-offering, whose function is to express our acknowledgement of our dependence upon G-d, will remain.