A Slice of Life | Insights | A Word from the Director | It Once Happened
by Elie Wiesel
Remember--I will always remember my first visit to Lubavitch. It happened some thirty years ago. Though a chasid of Wizhnitz, I had heard of Chabad and its renowned leader. A foreign correspondent for Israel's evening paper "Yediot Achronot," I had thought of doing a story about the way Lubavitcher chasidim celebrate the liberation of the first--or the "Alter"--Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi from Czarist prison. When I left in the early morning hours, I still belonged to Wizhnitz, but I was already caught by something or someone one finds only in Lubavitch.
I remember: in a "shul" that seems both huge and intimate, thousands and thousands of chasidim, young and old, from all over the world, are dancing vertically, as if not moving from their place, yet forcing their rhythm onto the entire universe.
Their eyes closed, they sing as only chasidim can. Ten times, fifty times, they repeat the same words, the same tune, and the song bursts their chests and lights a thousands flames in their eyes before rising higher and higher, up to the seventh heaven, if not higher, to the "Heichel hanegina," source and sanctuary of all songs.
The center is the Rebbe. The chasid in me looks at him with wonder. There is something melancholy and profoundly moving about his personality. Disturbing and reassuring at the same time. He feels what everyone here feels, he helps all attain the unattainable. In his presence, one feels more Jewish, more authentically Jewish. Seen by him, one comes in closer contact with one's own inner Jewish center.
Am unable to take my eyes off him. His gaze encom- passes everyone and everything. I have rarely witnessed such control of and concern over such a large assembly. Thousands of eyes follow his most imperceptible movements. When he talks, everybody listens breathlessly, absorbing every word, every sigh. When he sighs, the whole world sighs with him and us.
I remember: hours long I stood there, at 770 Eastern Parkway, as in a dream, looking at the Rebbe who was looking at his followers. At times, he smiled and night vanished from their lives. There were moments when he seemed serious and somber. And, between songs, his fervent listeners trembled between fear and hope.
Suddenly I saw myself as a child again. Spending a Shabbat at the court of the Wizhnitzer Rebbe. There, too, the souls became strings and played ancient melodies.
Yet here in Lubavitch it is different. The world is different. Countless invisible cemeteries separate the past from the present. In Lubavitch I think even about Wizhnitz in a different manner. What the Rebbe of Lubavitch is doing, what he is accomplishing here can be felt beyond Lubavitch.
This I came to understand much later. As I began traveling around the country, I discovered the Rebbe's emissaries in the most forsaken places. Were it not for them and their devotion, were it not for the mission entrusted onto them by the Rebbe, in the forty-two years of his leadership, who knows how many Jewish souls would have been lost to our people.
It is part of the Rebbe's greatness that he knows whom to send where and when. Not all their accomplishments have been made public. Some must remain secret. When they will be revealed--soon, I hope --they will surely increase the existing admiration for the Rebbe's vision.
Thus the Jewish people owe the Rebbe a great debt of recognition and gratitude. I do, too. I have learned much from Lubavitch in Lubavitch.
Had I not participated in the "Chag HaGeula" of Chabad some thirty years ago, I wonder whether I would be who I am now.
Reprinted from One Hour: Forty Years
HOT OFF THE PRESS
A typical scene at the Chabad Trade School
The presses at the Kfar Chabad printing shop hum busily, rolling out freshly inked sheets of checks for a major Israeli bank. Manning the machines, with the conscientious movements of a novice, is a fair-haired boy, Ami, who appears to be no more than 15.
It is an ordinary day at school for Ami Elon. The time is 1:30 in the afternoon, and after half a day in a classroom, studying the usual things every 11th grader in Israel does, Ami makes his way through the campus to the printing shop, stopping on his way to catch a ball for a group of younger boys who call out, with fond admiration, "Shalom, Ami!"
The printing shop has some of the most desirable accounts in Israel. It is well-known that this shop produces some of the finest printing jobs in the country. But that's not all.
This print shop is the oldest established vocational center in all of Israel. As part of the Chabad-Lubavitch Trade School, Yad Hachimasha, named for the four students and one teacher who were killed here in a terrorist attack, has served, since 1956, as the training center for thousands of high school boys who have graduated with a vocation in one hand, a job offer in the other.
Ami has been learning the printing trade for a year now. That was the choice he made for his vocational training. It's been four years since Ami has settled into his new home, the Chabad-Lubavitch Trade School, and it's obvious he feels quite comfortable here. After Ami's father died, his mother became emotionally ill, unable to care for her son. For a while Ami lived with a foster family, but the Chabad-Lubavitch Trade School was clearly the best alternative. Ami visits his mother every third weekend when all the children either go home or spend the Shabbat with a family in Kfar Chabad.
Ami plans to serve in the Israel army after graduating. After that, he says, he'll check out his options. He is confident that he won't have a problem finding work. He knows that his credentials from the Chabad-Lubavitch Trade School are highly regarded in Israel.
In the carpentry shop on the north side of the campus the smell of lumber and sawdust fills the air. The students have just completed one day's work on a project, building formica night tables for a well-known hospital in Israel. One boy, 17, remains to perfect last week's project, a hand-carved, wooden charity box. As he sands the edges down for a fine finish, and cuts a groove for the brass latch, David Cohen is also carving out a future for himself.
Thirteen-year-old Yaniv Sharvit has pitch black hair and even darker eyes that sparkle in the Israeli sunlight. To an American, Yaniv's disposition seems unusually sunny, especially for a young adolescent living away from home.
But among his peers roughhousing on the lawns of the Chabad Trade School campus, the boy's upbeat spirit fits in well.
Since he was 11 years old, Yaniv has been living at the Chabad Trade School. Family problems made life at home difficult, so as soon as Yaniv was old enough, his father brought him here, hoping that he would be better able to concentrate on his education.
Although he wasn't happy about leaving home at first, Yaniv was impressed by the facilities, the clean, comfortable dorm room he shares with another boy his age, and of course, the heated, Olympic-size swimming pool. As Yaniv gathers his book-bag, he points to a matronly, middle-aged woman who is carrying a basket of laundry. "She's like a mother to us," he says. Miriam, a Yemenite woman, is one of the dorm "mothers." Each of the five dorm buildings has one dorm mother who takes care of the boys' personal needs, and the youths know they can turn to her for maternal warmth.
Yaniv, David, Ami--three boys, each with the optimism of a bright future ahead of him. These are three of the 500 boys at the Chabad-Lubavitch Trade School, nearly all of whom have come with personal family problems, and emerge as healthy young people, ready to join the Israel military, and capable of sustaining themselves by a vocation they have mastered.
Reprinted from Lubavitch International.
GROWTH IS THE SIGN OF LIFE
From a letter of the Lubavticher Rebbe
The central and focal point of this month is the New Year for Trees, which brings to mind the well-known Biblical analogy, "Man is like a tree," an analogy that embraces many aspects, general and particular. Since this analogy is given by the Torah, the Torah of Truth, it is certain to be precise in all its aspects, each of which is instructive in a general or particular way, for every one of us, man and woman.
For such is the purpose of every detail of the Torah (meaning, "instruction")--to induce everyone to reflect on it and derive practical instruction from it in everyday life.
Accordingly, I will refer to some general points of the said analogy.
To begin with, the essence of a living tree is, above all, that it grows; its growth being the sign of its being alive.
The purpose of a tree is to be--in the words of the Torah--"a fruit-tree bearing fruit after its kind, whose seed is within itself," which is, to produce fruit with seeds from which will grow trees and fruits of the same kind.
Indeed, the perfection of a tree lies in its ability to produce trees and fruits to all posterity.
To translate the above points in human terms:
A human being must grow and develop continuously, however satisfactory the level may be at any given time. This is also indicated in the expression of our Sages--whose sayings are concise but profoundly meaningful--ma'alin b'kodesh, "holiness should be kept on the ascendancy."
Similarly in regard to the second point: A human being should produce "fruits" for the benefit of many others beside himself; the kind of benefit which is coupled with delight.
The meaning of "delight" in this context will become clear from the distinction in regard to the seven species of produce with which the Land of Israel is praised in the Torah: A land of wheat and barley, and vine, and fig, and pomegranate, a land of olive oil and (date) honey." Wheat and barley are basic goods necessary for human sustenance, while the fruits of trees are both sustaining and nourishing as well as enjoyable and delightful.
And the third point: One must strive to produce "fruit-bearing fruits," so that the beneficiary enjoying these fruits should in turn become a "fruit-bearing tree" like the benefactor.
Needless to say, the "fruits" of which we are speaking here, are those which our Sages specify, saying, "the fruits of Tzadikim (which includes every Jew and Jewess, as it is written, "And Your people are all Tzadikim") are mitzvot and Good Deeds."
These are some of the basic teachings of the New Year for Trees, which have an immediate practical relevance to each and every Jew, man and woman. There is a further allusion to this in the meaningful Jewish custom to eat on this day various kinds of fruits which grow on trees.
And when a Jew firmly resolves to proceed from strength to strength in all matters of Torah and mitzvot, both in regard to himself and in disseminating them in his environment, he has the assurance of realizing his fullest potential--"like a tree planted by streams of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season; its leaf also shall not wither, and whatever he does shall prosper."
Until the time will be ripe for the fulfillment of the promise, "the tree of the field shall yield its fruit," in the plain sense, meaning that even non-producing fruit trees shall produce fruits.
Sabbath of Song. During the Torah reading on this Shabbat we read the special song of praise to G-d which the Jews sang after crossing the Red Sea.
For Shabbat Shira there is a special custom of putting out food for the birds. The reason for this custom is quite interesting and originates in this week's Torah portion. We read this week about the manna, the bread from Heaven, with which the Jews were sustained during their 40-year sojourn in the desert. The Jews were commanded to gather each morning just enough manna to feed their families for the day. Miraculously, each person had precisely the amount he needed for his family, not more and not less.
Before Shabbat, the Jews were told to gather a double portion; no manna would fall on Shabbat since it is forbidden to gather on the holy day. Some scoffers among the Jewish people saved some of their manna from that morning and scattered it on Friday evening. Their plan was to gather the manna Shabbat morning and bring it into the camp, thus discrediting Moses and proving their claim that Moses created his own mitzvot.
During the night, after the manna had been strewn, birds came and gathered it all up, thus vindicating Moses and sanctifying the Sabbath among the Jewish people.
In appreciation and gratitude of the birds' deed, we make sure to give them food on Shabbat Shira.
Might we not take a lesson from this Jewish tradition, passed on through the ages? If it is customary to show gratitude to birds for such a small act, might we not also learn to show gratitude to our brothers and sisters for each act of kindness or caring that they do for us?
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
Many years ago, when the Jews of Spain were suffering from the Inquisition, a famous doctor by the name of Avitar Ibn Karashkash lived in Madrid. To escape the wrath of the Inquisition, he left his beautiful and his prestigious job as a skilled surgeon, and exiled himself to a small town. There, he hoped he would be left to live out his life in peace.
Avitar had a young son, Avraham. Avraham was delighted with his new life in the small town where Avitar was able to devote many hours of attention to Avraham and personally supervise his Torah studies. In addition, Avitar carefully instructed Avraham about the special garden he had planted, discussing with Avraham each plant growing there.
One day Avitar called his son into the garden and said, "Today is Tu B'Shevat, the New Year for Trees. On this day it is decided in the Heavenly Courts which trees will bear fruit and which trees will dry up. What is within our power is to plant trees, to care for them and to hope that they will grow and bear fruit. However, this is not dependent on us."
Avraham would never forget that special Tu B'Shevat when his father permitted him, for the first time, to plant saplings. And he would never forget his father's serious words. "Avraham, promise me that you will always try to be a good Jew, to grow upright and faithful to our people."
Twelve saplings Avraham planted that day, according to the years of his life. Then, Avitar took Avraham to a part of the garden where no one else was permitted; Avitar was experimenting with certain plants there. "Avraham," Avitar said quietly to his son, "Remember what I am telling you. If ever you need to leave here and I am not with you, come here first. Take out this sapling and you will find something underneath that will have a tremendous influence on you in the future."
A few months later, in the middle of the night, the hoof-beats of a horse were heard near the Karashkash house. There was a sharp knock on the door.
"What do you want?" asked Avitar.
"Are you Avitar Ibn Karashkash, the man to whom G-d has given the strength to heal the sick?" asked the stranger.
"That is my name," answered Avitar. "But I am no longer permitted to work in my profession."
"I am Duke Fransicso Alba. My dear wife, the Duchess, is very sick and needs an operation urgently. You must come and operate on her or else she'll die. You cannot let her die," begged the Duke in a plaintive voice.
"Certainly you have access to great doctors in Madrid, Toledo, Barcelona," said Avitar. "Why me? You surely know that I am forbidden to practice my profession. Doing so could only endanger my life."
"I have been everywhere and have approached everyone. No one will perform the dangerous operation. I beg of you, help me," the Duke cried. "I will make sure no one harms you. I will bring a ship to take you and your family to safety if necessary. My wife is suffering. Please, help."
The Duke broke out in uncontrollable tears. "I will do what you ask of me," said Avitar. "But one thing you must promise. If anything happens to me, you must take my son to safety." The Duke agreed readily.
Avitar hadn't lost his skill as an expert surgeon. The operation went well and the Duchess's life was saved. But when he returned home, he found the officers of the Inquisition awaiting him.
Avraham broke out in a bitter cry as his father was taken away. Soon, though, the Duke's men arrived; they had heard what happened to the faithful doctor and would take Avraham to a safe haven. They promised him that the Duke would do everything in his power to save Avitar.
Avraham didn't want to go with the Duke's men, but he had no choice. He asked them to wait a moment until he got his things together. Avraham quickly made his way to the special part of the garden. He carefully dug up the sapling and uncovered a box. Opening the waterproof box he found a pair of tefillin and a note. "These tefillin will give you strength and encourage you in Judaism so that you not, G-d forbid, fall into despair and dejection. In addition, carefully take the sapling you have uprooted, and plant it in new earth. Guard it and care for it painstakingly, and it will be the source of great livelihood for you. For this sapling is from a far-off land. It provides food for the special silkworms that produce the valuable silk material purchased from abroad. Remain a good Jew, my dear son, and the good L-rd will bless you and help you like the blessing of your father who loves you--Avitar Ibn Karashkash."
Avraham wiped away his tears and went to join the Duke's men. He wondered if he would ever see his father alive again.
Months later, while Avraham was living on the island of Majorca, he turned thirteen. Precisely at the moment when he first put on his tefillin he saw a small boat coming closer to the port. As it got closer he couldn't believe what he saw. His father was getting out of the boat!
After an emotional meeting, Avraham found out that the Duke had finally been able to save Avitar from the Inquisition. Avitar explained that he had not come earlier because he had been sick. He did not, however, explain that his "sickness" was due to the terrible torture he had suffered at the hands of the inquisitors.
In due time, Avitar and Avraham gathered around themselves a group of Jews and set up a Jewish settlement on the island. And each year, on Tu B'Shevat, they planted saplings according to Avraham's years.
The actual date of the Messianic redemption is a guarded mystery unknown to man. It will happen "in its time," predetermined from the beginning of creation. Every generation has a special "time" of its own, for, as stated, Moshiach is alive and present in every generation, albeit concealed. He is ready to be revealed at a moment's notice. In the course of history prior to "its time" there are especially auspicious times when it is easier to effect his coming. To take advantage of these, to hasten the redemption, that depends completely on us.
(From Mashiach, by Rabbi J. I. Schochet)