A Question Of "Life Or Death" | Living With The Times | A Slice of Life | What's New
Insights | Customs | A Word from the Director | It Once Happened
Thoughts that Count | Moshiach Matters
When I was an adolescent, I read a story in the Readers Digest which left an indelible mark on me. It was written by a gynecologist who, while delivering a baby, realized that the child was deformed. For an instant, he had a terrible urge to asphyxiate the child and thus prevent so much unnecessary anguish, heartache, expense and sorrow, as would surely be the lot of this hapless child and its family. The doctor, an ethical man, overcame the temptation to play G-d, and the baby girl was delivered, with only one leg.
Many years later, as he was attending a concert, this same doctor could not help but be impressed with the lovely and talented young woman who played the cello with such haunting poignancy and depth. He was so impressed that he inquired as to who the cellist was, only to discover that this woman was the same baby whom he had almost pre-cluded from taking her first breath.
Today, modern medicine has made giant strides in lengthening our life span, in improving the quality of life and cleaning up our environment. In order to achieve these advances untold fortunes have been spent and unfathomable human energy and resources have been expended. Yet with all this effort to preserve and enhance man's existence, life on this planet remains unbelievably cheap!
Suddenly, it seems, everyone is an expert on when a human life is no longer worth living and should be extinguished. Lest our finer instincts balk at this seeming cruelty, our moralists assure us that there should be no guilt or compunctions in pulling the plug, denying food and water to a fellow human being, even if at times he or she happens to be one's own elderly parent. Better still, why not encourage them to push up their date with fate and get the "deed" done as a matter of choice.
Why should a young army surgeon, Dr. Kenneth Swan, have been filled with anguish and doubt after he saved the life of a nineteen-year-old soldier who was horribly wounded and mangled in Vietnam? So much so, that after a guilt trip of more than twenty-three years he tracked down Kenneth McGarity and found him a happily married man, the father of two daughters, who, despite being blind and legless, had the most incredibly positive attitude and had literally come out of a hell on Earth smiling.
Dr. Swan was taught to treat the wounded, and after he had worked on McGarity for over seven hours, amputating his legs and repairing his arms and head, he was criticized by his fellow doctors who told him the soldier would have been better off dead. The catch herein lies in the words "he would have been better off" (dead).
In our callous society, we don't want to be burdened with the care of the elderly and sick, and we don't have the guts to admit it, and so--we have formulated the "big lie." Cruelty? Absolutely not, it is out of the goodness of our hearts that we so very kindly and yet persistently put fellow humans who are at our mercy, out of their/our misery. Besides being false acts of "kindness" it is this cruelty that diminishes us and makes our kindness a mockery. Shall we say shades of ancient Sparta?
I cannot forget the young woman who frantically called a rabbi because the doctors insisted that her mother, who had suffered a major stroke, would forever remain a vegetable. Pull the plug--why preserve such a useless existence. The rabbi said "No" and the daughter listened. P.S., the mother survived with all her faculties in tact, albeit handicapped.
As humans we seem to forget that we are not Divine and that the deci-sions of life and death are reserved for the One Above. He is the only One Who knows the past, present, and future and only He has the right to retrieve that which He has bestowed, the precious gift of life.
By Rivkah Korf, an educator and journalist residing in Miami Beach.
At the very beginning of this week's Torah portion, Kedoshim, there are three commandments: 1) "You shall be holy"; 2) "Every person shall fear his mother and his father"; and 3) "You shall keep My Sabbaths." The fact that these three mitzvot follow one another is significant and indicates that they are interrelated.
The term "holy" in this instance means separation, as it says at the end of our Torah portion, "You shall be holy to Me, for [I, G-d, am holy, and] I have separated you from the nations...." The Jewish people must be separate from the nations of the world. And they must be separate specifically in those areas in which we are seemingly similar, such as eating, drinking, conducting business and so forth.
The ultimate purpose of a Jew's holiness and spirituality, though, is not egocentric--to be holy just for himself. Rather, as the Torah says of our ancestor Abraham, "in order that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of G-d..." So, one of the reasons for our remaining separate from the other nations is to be able to guide our children to walk in the ways of our ancestors. And this is why the mitzva to be holy is followed by "every person shall fear his mother and his father"--which alludes to the obligation of Jewish education.
Parents are the first educators. The mother and father must instill in their children the feeling that they are different from the rest of the world, that they are part of a holy nation.
The sequence in that verse is "his mother and his father," mentioning first the mother. For the mother is the foundation of the house, and the major part of the actual education is in her hands.
How does a person imbue his children, and himself, with the consciousness of being a holy nation? This is brought out by the third commandment, "You shall keep My Sabbaths."
The Sabbath is a sign between the Alm-ghty and Israel. It signifies belief in the creation of the universe. It strengthens and reinforces the certainty that the Alm-ghty is the Creator of the universe and continuously sustains and conducts it.
Shabbat was given only to the Jewish people, and not to the nations of the world. Observing Shabbat thus means to keep and guard the sign and covenant between Israel and G-d. This is done by strengthening our faith in the fact that Jews are not subject to the forces of nature but are under the specific and individual providence of G-d.
This, in turn, will bring us full circle. It will reinforce in ourselves and our children the mitzva of "You shall be holy," to the point where our everyday activities will be infused with holiness.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
A WIFE AND A MOTHER
by Jena Morris Breningstall
From a speech at the memorial to Pesha Leah Lapine
Pesha Leah Lapine and I were not only cousins, we were good friends. I remember the night we became friends. Pesha Leah and I were exactly the same age, and had done the same things at the same time. We had each gone from the social issues of the sixties, to a growing sense of Judaism in the seventies. Everything Pesha Leah said that night made me laugh and I laughed until my sides ached.
But I also remember the pain and the awkwardness, because there I sat, with two little boys running around, and expecting another child. I wondered, "Why don't they have kids? Lubavitch, and married more than three years. Something must be wrong." Something was wrong, and more than one fertility specialist told Pesha Leah she would never have children.
The next time I saw the Lapines was two years later. They had just moved to Crown Heights. They invited us to come for Simchat Torah. I sighed with relief when Pesha Leah informed me that she had just had a baby. They told me that it was the blessing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe that proved the doctors wrong. In fact, when Pesha Leah had her fourth child in five years, she called me, saying, "I'm doing all right for a lady who was told she'd never have any kids, aren't I!"
The Simchat Torah visit was my initiation to Crown Heights, to "770," and to the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I'll be honest with you. I couldn't imagine why anyone would want to live in Crown Heights, and I told her so. "How could you leave Texas, with its wide lawns and its huge trees, to come here?"
"Now that we have this little baby to raise, we want him to be near the Rebbe. And we want Feivel to grow up knowing Chasidus. He will learn more Chasidus from the Rebbe than we could ever teach him ourselves in Houston," Pesha Leah explained to me.
My first trip to Crown Heights led to many more. It was certainly never boring at the Lapines. What a collection of unusual guests they had. I think you had to experience it to believe it. Pesha Leah's mother told me, "Her daddy never saw anything wrong with anybody. Pesha Leah was just like her daddy. He treated everybody like they were somebody, and so did she."
Unlike many other women of our generation, Pesha Leah wasn't hell-bent on her way to fame and fortune. She was a wife and a mother. That's all. But she was a wife. And she was a mother.
As a wife, Pesha Leah was as good as we'd all like to be. She told me that the secret she had learned was she didn't always have to be right. It was okay if Chaim Dovid was right, too.
Pesha Leah was unassuming and uncomplicated. She was honest to the core and called it like she saw it. What you'd call "a real straight-shooter." She had strong opinions, and I think I must have heard them all in the four days I spent with her.
Pesha Leah mentioned that she and Chaim Dovid did not own a car. "Can you imagine getting by in Houston without a car?" she laughed. Well, no, I couldn't because when I grew up we used to ride to the 7-11 which was two blocks away. "Where else but in Crown Heights could a family the size of ours get by without a car?" She marvelled at her friends who regularly volunteered to take her shopping, who always seemed to be there for her and her children.
At one point, I asked her about a certain fad, something that is popular in Minnesota, and she said, "Oh, the only fad we have here in Crown Heights is Moshiach. That's the only thing we think about and the only thing we talk about."
So I asked her, "How do you feel about Moshiach?"
She answered, "Isn't that why we're here, in this world? Isn't that what it's all about?"
In the summer of 1991, the eyes of the world were on Crown Heights as mobs came to riot and loot. At Pesha Leah's funeral they came again from all over New York, but this time it was politicians and dignitaries, clergymen and neighbors, from all ethnic groups and from all walks of life. They came to stand with the Jews, with the chasidim, in tribute to a Jewish woman, a woman of valor. I wondered if the eyes of the world were watching now.
I was standing right on the edge of the curb during Pesha Leah's funeral. Near me was a group of teachers from the Episcopal elementary school on President Street. I don't think these women were there because they knew Pesha Leah, or to make a political statement. I think they came to honor Pesha Leah for what she was--a wife and mother.
I don't know how many of you marched in civil rights marches in the sixties, but I did. As I was standing in front of the hearse, I looked around and my mind flashed back to those marches.
Then the Rebbe came out, and one of the teachers from the Episcopal school asked, "Who is that?" And her friend answered, "That's the Rebbe. He's their leader." As the crowd pressed forward, these women pressed forward as well, and when the crowd fell into step behind the Rebbe as he followed the hearse, the teachers fell into step as well.
There we were. There was Pesha Leah, who the Rebbe later said, would be among the first to arise when Moshiach arrives. And behind her was the Rebbe, and behind the Rebbe the chasidim, and behind them, and with them, was everyone else.
So, we walked along for a while, and I could see that many of the neighbors came out to pay their respects. And again, I wondered if the eyes of the world were watching now, if anyone noticed that here in Crown Heights--where not too long ago there was street fighting and bottle-throwing--there was for one moment in time complete unity.
And I want to ask you what I asked myself that day, "When the whole world walks behind the Rebbe, not just Lubavitchers, but other Jews, and gentiles, when the world falls in step behind the Rebbe, follows the Rebbe to honor a true woman of valor, isn't that a step out of Exile. Isn't that a first step into Redemption?
Contributions to the Pesha Leah Children's Fund can be sent to Cong. Ahavas Moishe, 682 Lefferts Ave., Bklyn, N.Y. 11203
Machon Chana Women's Institute in Brooklyn, offers intensive Jewish studies for women from all backgrounds and levels of observance. In a unique, all-day Sunday program, Machon Chana offers exciting and varied classes, including Chasidic Philosophy, Jewish Law, Mystical Insights into Prayer, and Hebrew language. For more info call (718) 735-0217.
RELIGION: NOT A SIMPLE MATTER
Freely translated from a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
I received your letter, in reply to mine, in which I dwelt on the subject of simple faith, as emphasized by the festivals of Passover and Shavuot.
In your reply you refer to what seems to you a contradiction to the beauty of "simple" faith in the fact that the complexity and multiplicity in nature, particularly in the world of plants and animals, adds to rather than detracts from, the beauty of things, and you wonder if the same may not be true of faith.
The argument would be valid perhaps, if we were speaking of the "superficial," and not of the innermost and essential aspects of things. Actually, the analogy from nature only confirms what I wrote to you in my previous letter.
For, needless to say, I did not mean to imply that a person, especially a Jew, should content himself with faith alone, or that our religion is a simple matter. As you know, the Torah contains 613 different and varied precepts, and each one has a variety of facets. G-d expects every Jew and Jewess to reflect upon them in their daily lives according to their circumstances. This certainly makes for a variety of religious experiences and practices. I say, "to their best ability," etc., for, as our Sages ruled, "a rich man bringing a poor man's offering has not fulfilled his duty," which, of course, applies to the realm of the spiritual as well as that of the material. However, all this religious practice and experience, in all its variety, has to be based on, and permeated by, the same basic faith in G-d, a simple and absolute faith.
The analogy in nature is to be found in the fact that with all the complexity and multiplicity of plant and animal life, their basic and ultimate components are single cells, though the cell itself has a variety of components which science has by no means fully unravelled. It is only when these elementary cells behave properly in their simple function of growth, division and multiplication, without interference of foreign elements, etc., that the complex organism is properly attuned and can carry out its most amazing functions.
Even in the inorganic world, the great complexity and multiplicity of things have been reduced to a small number of some one hundred basic elements. The endeavor of science is to reduce even the complex of their nuclear composition to a minimum, in order to get closer to the secrets of nature. Here, too, the basic function of nature is determined not by the principle of complexity but by that of simplicity, the small particle, the atom, the core of things, and, more deeply by its very few components.
You write that although you believe in G-d and His closeness, you are endeavoring to find your own way of serving Him. This is a long and round-about way. It is analogous to the person searching for the secrets of the functions of the physical body, e.g., how food is converted into blood, tissue, energy, and sustains life; it would surely not be the right approach to stop eating and drinking, pending the conclusions of the study. Even a reduction in the necessary caloric intake would weaken his powers of reasoning and research and handicap him in his ever attaining his objective. Similarly, in an effort to find a way of serving G-d, one must not postpone such service until one has completed one's search. Moreover, the absence of the religious practice itself handicaps the powers of the intellect to grasp the truth. Furthermore, since the human intellect is by its very nature limited, while the subject it desires to grapple with is related to the Unlimited, it is only with the aid of the Infinite G-d that one can hope to be lifted across the unbridgeable chasm separating the created and the Creator, and such Divine aid can come only through Divine service.
Why, when visiting a cemetery, do we put pebbles or grass on the grave of the one whom we visited?
It is customary to put pebbles or grass because of "Kavod HaMayt"--giving honor to the deceased--for this shows that people visited the grave.
Israel recently issue a report of their activities during this past month. The over 150 Chabad Centers in Israel--from all the way up north to the tip of Eilat and all points in between--exemplify extensive planning, scores of programs and thousands of participants.
Model Matza Bakeries: In every major city in Israel, Chabad Centers opened model matza bakeries, a true hands-on Passover experience for over 50,000 children. In addition, 45,000 children toured the real matza bakery in Kfar Chabad.
Passover Seders: Chabad community Passover seders were attended by nearly 25,000 people, including special Seders conducted in Russian in 100 locations for new Russian immigrants.
Lag B'Omer parades: In each city Lag B'Omer parades are currently being organized. Last year, 10,000 people marched in the main parade in Jerusalem. Similar numbers are expected this year.
Day Camps: With the pledge that no child will have to spend his summer vacation on the street, Chabad Centers are gearing up for an even larger turn-out of campers this year. In addition to the 200 day and overnight camps run last summer, plans are underway to open new camps specially for the Russian immigrants.
It's no wonder then, as one tourist to Israel put it, "All you have to do is mention the word 'Chabad' to any Israeli and his face immediately lights up.'
May we all be in Israel very soon with Moshiach, NOW.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
There were once two chasidim who were followers of Rebbe Moshe Tzvi of Sevran. One, Reb Meir who had recently lost his wife, was a poor Torah scholar. The other chasid, Reb Tzvi Verbka, was a wealthy innkeeper. Divine Providence decreed that their lives become entwined in a most amazing fashion, which is the subject of this story.
After the death of his wife, Reb Meir went to live and study at the court of his Rebbe. He set out on foot to Sevran. On Lag B'Omer he stopped at an inn belonging to Reb Tzvi. There, he joined the other Jews in their festive celebration. Although Reb Tzvi was away on business, he had prepared a large meal complete with ample refreshments.
When the guests had all eaten and drunk and were feeling tipsy they decided to have some fun at the visitor's expense. One of the locals suggested: "I've got an idea! You're a widower and the innkeeper's daughter is a widow--why don't the two of you get married?"
Reb Meir was an earnest young man, and after thinking it over he agreed. The laughing crowd proceeded to the daughter's house where they presented their idea to her. Seeing that they were all happily drunk, she saw no harm in humoring them. When Reb Meir proposed the match to her she agreed in a spirit of fun. The crowd drew up a marriage contract and brought out four broomsticks and a tablecloth to serve as a chupa. The bride and groom performed their respective roles perfectly, even breaking the glass at the end of the ceremony to shouts of "Mazal tov!"
The bride and groom were carried on the shoulders of the drunken celebrants, and the merry-making continued into the night until everyone was tired. They all went off to their beds, leaving Meir abandoned. The next morning he resumed his trip and soon arrived at Sevran.
Meanwhile Reb Tzvi returned home. Seeing the littered remains of the night's feast and the make-shift chupa he asked what had gone on. When he was told about the make-believe wedding between his daughter and the poor traveler, he began to wail: "What have you done? Don't you know that this was a perfectly legal marriage, and that you have married my daughter to some wandering beggar!"
There was nothing to do, but to go his Rebbe without delay and obtain a divorce for his daughter. Reb Meir had already arrived and had explained his side of the story. He said that in all honesty he had seen no reason not to marry the young woman. She seemed to be an upstanding and pleasant person, and she had been quite willing to marry him.
When the Rebbe suggested that he give her a divorce he flatly refused; he was very satisfied with the arrangement. The Rebbe finally summoned a rabbinical court which decided that the father of the bride must pay the groom damages of eighteen hundred rubles, after which he would grant the divorce. Both sides agreed, but a delay of a few days was requested in order to gather the money.
The Rebbe moved quickly. Borrowing three hundred rubles he set about to transform the appearance of the young groom. With a haircut, a new suit and a beautiful shtreimel, Reb Meir was a sight to behold. He impressed everyone with his good looks and intelligent mien.
When Reb Tzvi arrived, money in hand, to complete the divorce, the Rebbe took him aside and whispered: "I have found the perfect match for your daughter." He took Reb Tzvi by the hand and introduced him to the renovated Reb Meir, whom he didn't even recognize. Reb Tzvi was duly impressed and agreed to the match.
Then the Rebbe revealed the truth; this was, in fact, his daughter's new husband. Reb Tzvi's face fell, but the Rebbe spoke further: "I have heard from heaven that this match has been decreed. You, however, were supposed to have lost your entire fortune, and so been forced to take this match. When I prayed on your behalf I succeeded in averting that part of the sentence."
When the Rebbe saw that Reb Tzvi was still unmoved he continued: "Let me tell you a story. There was a wealthy man with two sons and a daughter. The Baal Shem Tov told him of a match for his daughter and asked that the girl's brothers meet the prospective groom. When they arrived, they noticed a bagel-seller in the street. Secretly, the Besht called to the peddler and gave orders that he be groomed and properly attired.
"The Baal Shem Tov then called the now elegant-looking bagel-seller to appear and he invited the visiting brothers to test the young man on any aspect of Talmud they wished. They gave him the most difficult questions and to their surprise, he answered brilliantly. They rushed home to tell their father about the excellent match the Besht had proposed. The couple was introduced, the arrangements made, and a beautiful wedding was celebrated.
"Soon after the wedding the bride and her family were surprised to find that the groom, who had seemed so scholarly the week before, showed no evidence of his previous brilliance. The brothers went to the Besht for an explanation and he told them: 'I saw in a vision that this bagel-seller was your sister's destined mate. It had been decreed that your father die, leaving her an orphan forced to go begging. In that way she was to have met her husband. But I pleaded for your father's life, promising to arrange for the couple to meet in some different way.'"
Reb Tzvi's face had softened; he was now convinced that this match was right. The couple lived many happy and prosperous years together, frequent visitors to the court of the Rebbe of Sevran.
You shall be holy (Lev. 19:2)
The commandment to be holy includes sanctifying oneself even within the confines of Torah law.
And when you come into the land (Lev. 19:23)
Certain commandments only pertain to the land of Israel, and are not applicable outside of its borders. Despite the admonition of the Tzemach Tzedek--the third Lubavitcher Rebbe--to "make here the land of Israel," we should not feel that it is acceptable to languish in exile for even one minute more than necessary. Our goal remains the physical land of Israel and the ushering in of the Messianic era through the coming of Moshiach.
Counting the Omer
Why must we count the Omer, when we know beforehand exactly how many days there are until Shavuot? The number is always 49--no more and no less. What is gained by our counting them?
We count the Omer to show our love for each and every day that we are allotted. Indeed, every minute and second of a Jewish life is equally as precious, and should be treasured.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita)
According to one opinion in the Talmud (Yevamot 62a), the reason for the mitzva of procreation is to hasten the coming of Moshiach: "The son of David will not come until all the souls in heaven have been born." Every time another child is born to the Jewish people, the coming of Moshiach is thereby hastened. Thus, every Jewish wedding is considered, in a sense, the beginning of the Redemption, for the couple will soon have children, and will thus hasten the coming of Moshiach.
(The Journal of Halacha Vol. 4 by Rabbi H. Schachter)