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Are you planning a trip this summer with the whole family? Or do you remember when you were younger and you went away during the summer? Each summer you went up to the mountains or to a little cottage near the lake. Or did your family go to a different spot each time? Maybe your family just went for a day-trip into the country. Or maybe you took a trip to a far-away city to visit relatives.
The trip had many stages, even if it was only for a day. There was the planning stage right at the beginning at which the ultimate destination was decided. After all, if you didn't know where you were going you couldn't possibly proceed with the rest of the plans.
Next came organizing everything and packing up.
Finally you were on your way. Every once in a while the map was checked to make sure you were staying on course. But within a short while little voices (whiny voices?) started asking, "When will we be there? Are we there yet? How much longer?" Your parents reassured you, "We'll be there soon. Only another few miles (or minutes)." Sometimes Dad pointed to the clock in the car, or Mom showed you the watch on her wrist, or she even let you wear the watch so you could see for yourself that since the minutes were ticking away you were certainly that much closer to your destination.
As you neared the destination the excitement--and impatience--increased. Finally, when you were almost there, everyone started recognizing sights and landmarks that they remembered from past visits or read about in travel brochures. The directions you were following now were more explicit. There weren't any more highways to stay on for miles at a stretch, but street names to find and search for and traffic lights to count before the right turn. Maybe you didn't know the territory very well, so you had to be extra cautious not to make a wrong turn; you didn't want to wind up in a bad area. The anticipation was palpable. The air was electric. You could see that you were in a different place. You could feel that you had nearly reached your destination.
When G-d created the world He had its ultimate destination in mind--the Messianic Era when the world would actually become perfect and complete. Little by little our ancestors started organizing things and started packing the world's suitcases with a knowledge of a higher purpose for the world, a transcendence of mundane day-to-day living, and with the light of Divine morality.
We started our journey, but it's been no vacation. The road has been bumpy. For the directions given us take us on the road less traveled. And, as we have traveled, we have been asking in our tiny, little voice, "When will we be there? Are we there yet? How much longer?"
"We're almost there. We'll be there soon," is the answer. As we near the final destination--the Messianic Era--our excitement and impatience must increase. G-d is showing us sights and landmarks--like disarmament agreements which are a partial fulfillment of the prophecy of beating swords into plowshares--that we can readily recognize and which we will see even more clearly when we reach the Redemption.
And the directions G-d has given us, the map He has drawn up for us, is even more important as we reach our destination. No longer can we speed along the highways stopping only once in a while to spiritually "filler up." We have to follow the directions more carefully now, making sure to turn right or left at the correct places.
The anticipation should be palpable. The air should be electric. And it can be when we open our eyes and see that the world is in a different place from when it started out. We've nearly reached our destination. After traveling for thousands of years the Messianic Era is in sight.
Adapted from a talk by Rabbi H. Greenberg
In Miriam's merit, G-d provided the Children of Israel with water from a well which accompanied them in their travels for the entire forty-year period of their wanderings through the wilderness. The Jews were also protected by the "clouds of glory" which surrounded them wherever they went, in the merit of Aaron, Moses' brother. This week's Torah portion, Chukat, tells of the passing of Miriam and how the well which G-d had given the Jews in her merit ceased to flow when she died.
The Torah relates that the Children of Israel came to Moses and Aaron and complained about this. G-d then made the well flow once more, this time in the merit of Moses.
If we skip ahead a little bit to the passing of Aaron, we see that a similar hue and cry did not erupt when the clouds of glory were taken away. These clouds, it would seem, were no less necessary to the Jews in the wilderness than the well, for they protected them from the sun and from the harsh desert winds, paved the way before them, killed the poisonous snakes and scorpions, and showed them in which direction they were to travel. Why was this not protested as vociferously as the removal of Miriam's well?
Our Sages say there were, in actuality, two different kinds of clouds which accompanied the Jews. One kind protected them from the dangerous elements, and the other type, the "clouds of glory," were solely for the purpose of "glory"--to demonstrate the honor and esteem in which the Children of Israel were held by G-d. The latter type of clouds were the ones which ceased after Aaron's death, never to return. The clouds which were necessary for the Jews' well-being in the desert were never taken away and continued to protect them as before. The Jews did not protest after Aaron passed away because they did not need those clouds of glory for their physical survival in the desert.
The question remains: If G-d made Miriam's well flow again in the merit of Moses, why did He not restore the clouds of glory which were removed after Aaron passed away? Was Moses not great enough to merit this as well?
G-d provided the well and the clouds of glory because of Miriam's and Aaron's personal merits. When they passed away the miracles they had merited logically also ceased to be. This was not the case, however, with Moses, the shepherd of the Jewish People, who cared for the needs of his flock. When the Children of Israel required something, Moses was there to provide it, not because of his personal merit, which was obviously great, but because it was needed by them.
That is why the well was restored, while the clouds of glory were not. The people needed to drink, but did not actually need the clouds, which were only in their honor. Moses, in his role as leader of the Jewish people, made sure that the Jews would not suffer from lack of water.
We also see from this the greatness of a true leader of Israel, whose concern lies only in providing the spiritual and physical needs of the Jewish people. Moses' devotion was so great, our Sages say, that the Jews continued to eat the manna, which fell in his merit, for 14 years after he himself passed away.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
THE CITY OF LUBAVITCH
Rabbi Yosef Y. Schneersohn
In 1990 Uri Kaploun, a Lubavitcher chasid and foremost translator of Chasidic works into English, visited the village of Lubavitch. The following is an excerpt of his lyrical recollection of that village in which he pictures the scene of Chasidic life at the turn of the twentieth century.
Lubavitch is the village in White Russia where Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, was born and where he was lovingly prepared for his momentous life-work. It is the spot on earth to which his vivid memory reverted so readily, the modest cradle of the most ambitious plan in Jewish history to educate and inspire a nation.
More than seventy-five years later, though bereft of its towering tzadikim and its two thousand chasidim, its stirring farbrengens and its lively schools, the village of Lubavitch still glows with that same ethereal luminosity.
Tottering and lurching through a restless night on board the ancient train that deafens its way westward from Moscow, after a long drive from Smolensk through hibernating hamlets with unpronounceable names, the visitor's car skids to an icy halt as a miniature sooty locomotive puffs importantly past on its way from Vitebsk to the Rudnia station. This station was the closest contact that Lubavitch ever made with the twentieth century. Rudnia, the visitor recalls, was where old Reb Peisse the wagon-driver, perched atop his homemade wagon with his black fur hat and high fur collar, used to singsong his way through his Psalms as he waited patiently for his weary passengers.
These were chasidim who had come by train all the way from distant provinces in order to spend a few precious days with the Rebbe whose presence at that time graced the nearby village of Lubavitch. Musing wistfully over that era, today's visitor is awakened from his reverie by the clumsy clatter of a lazy draft-horse drawing an old-style wooden wagon, atop which is perched... a wagon-driver, complete with black fur hat and high fur collar. The visitor ventures a closer look at that driver. Could it perhaps be old Reb Peisse, waiting there all these years for an eager-eyed visitor with icicles in his beard, a sure passenger to Lubavitch?
As the car drives on, the driver finally sights the humble signpost that says "Lubavichi." During the four generations from 1813 to 1915, chasidim used to search their souls for months and years on end before daring to pass that signpost.
Across the creaking wooden bridge over the Berezina River that reverently skirts the village and sprinkled carelessly between sparse thickets of lank white Russian birch trees, stand a hundred or so picturesque and tumble-down thatched cottages and faded log cabins--the mortal remains of the Lubavitch that was.
The village appears to be deserted. Soon enough, though, plodding through its muddy lanes, the visitor stumbles upon a local peasant woman, who is busily doing her laundry in a copper basin under the water pump in the middle of the road. At the roadside lies a discarded wooden sleigh, alongside a few disused agricultural implements forged long ago by a backyard blacksmith. Apart from a solitary old woman who moved here from a nearby town, no Jews live in Lubavitch today.
In these cottages once lived the Mittler Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, and their illustrious descendants. Along these roads, on their way to and from shul, walked generations of venerable chasidim, R. Hillel of Paritch and R. Aizik of Homil, the Rashbatz and R. Michael der Alter, while younger chasidim milled wordlessly around them in the hope of hearing a rich thought that would ignite their souls. And along these muddy lanes ran Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak as a young child on his way to visit his grandmother, for the sage and saintly Rebbitzin Rivka used to sit with her grandson every Saturday night and pass on family traditions which he then preserved for posterity.
Over here bustled the Jewish market. Peddlers with loaded barrows from all the neighboring townships used to trundle in this direction early every Sunday morning, anxious to barter their home-grown produce in exchange for homemade wares and some fresh small-town news. Today it is a silent birch grove. Opposite was the nerve-center of Lubavitch--the courtyard flanked by the modest homes of the fourth, fifth and sixth Lubavitcher Rebbes; the narrow room for private audiences; and the spacious wooden study hall of the pride of Lubavitch from 1897--the world-renowned Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah, the last of whose students in their nineties today are stalwartly waiting for Moshiach. For over a century this sacred soil generated profound scholarship, earnest prayer, and the most exquisite meditative melodies. Today it is sullied by a concrete proletarian supermarket.
Turning back for a parting glimpse before once again crossing the creaking wooden bridge over the Berezina River, the visitor is vexed; his eye is bewitched by the sheer beauty of Lubavitch; his soul exults at the privilege of his visit to this hallowed spot; but his heart is sore.
Yet around the lofty parent tree that was cut down so cruelly, lush and fruitful offshoots have sprung up on all sides. In the very near future, moreover, all those hundreds of houses of prayer and houses of study that the chasidim of the Rebbe, shlita, have established throughout all the continents will be transplanted to the soil of the Holy Land. And in that resurrection of the glory that was Lubavitch, in place of the sad and gentle glow that suffuses old memories of Lubavitch, a new light will then shine over Zion. May we, with the Rebbe, shlita, to guide us there, be privileged to witness it.
LUBAVITCH IN ZAIRE
If you happen to be visiting Africa this summer stop off at the Chabad House of Kinshasa, Zaire. Rabbi Shlomo and Miriam Bentoulila opened the Chabad House this past January to work with the Jewish community of 200 families. They have organized daily classes, creative holiday awareness programs, Shabbat services and a host of other activities. In addition, Chabad of Kinshasa maintains close contact with a small Jewish community in Lubumbashi, some 2,000 miles away.
JEWISH PREP SCHOOL
The Chabad House of Rutgers University has announced the beginning of Fall registration of the Bar/Bat Mitva Preparatory School for Jewish boys and girls in the Central New Jersey Area. This unique program provides an environment for children with little or no background to experience their religion in a fun and exciting way and at the same time prepare them for Bar/Bat Mitzva. For more info call (908) 828-7373.
THE LEADER INCLUDES ALL
On the 15th of Sivan, 5687 (1927), the Previous Rebbe--Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn of Lubavitch--was arrested for his activities in spreading Yiddishkeit, Torah and mitzvot within communist Russia. At first, the Previous Rebbe was given the severest sentence possible. With G-d's help, however, that sentence was commuted to exile, and afterwards, on the 12th and 13th of Tammuz, the Previous Rebbe was released entirely. From that time onward, the two days--the 12th and 13th of Tammuz--have been celebrated as a "Festival of Redemption" by Chabad Chasidim and other Jews throughout the world.
Shortly after his release, the Previous Rebbe felt the need to leave Russia and moved to Riga, Latvia. Though contact with the chasidim in Russia was difficult, the Previous Rebbe sought to maintain a connection. In 1928, to commemorate his release from prison, he sent them a Chasidic discourse and the following letter. The discourse was entitled Asara SheYoshvim VeOskim BaTorah--"When ten sit and occupy themselves with the study of Torah". It focuses on the importance of public sessions of Torah study and the positive spiritual influences these activities arouse.
The Rebbe has emphasized that all redemptions are interrelated. In particular, the Previous Rebbe's festival of redemption is significant for, as the commentator Rashi states, "The Nassi (leader) includes the entire people."
Today marks the first day of my incarceration in the Spalerno Prison in Leningrad, in Section Six, Cell 160. There I was maltreated until the third of the month of Tammuz. On that day I was forced to leave for a three-year exile in Kostrama.... Freedom was granted to me on the twelfth day of Tammuz.
It was not myself alone that the Holy One, blessed be He, redeemed on the 12th of Tammuz, but also those who love the Torah and observe its commandments, and so too, all those who merely bear the name "Jew"--for the heart of every Jew (irrespective of his particular level in the observance of the mitzvot) is perfectly bound with G-d and His Torah.
Today, the twelfth of the month of Tammuz, is the Festival of Liberation of all Jews who are involved in the dissemination of Torah knowledge, for on this day it became known and manifest to everyone that the great work in which I labored in the dissemination of the Torah and in the strengthening of the religion is permitted according to the law of the land, which grants freedom of worship to those who observe the [Jewish] religion as it does to all the citizens of this country.
This is the day on which the light of the merit of public Torah study banished the misty gloom of calumnies and libels. It is fitting that such a day be set aside as a day of farbrengen--a day on which people arouse each other to fortify Torah study and the practice of Yiddishkeit in every place according to its needs, a day on which to offer blessings to our brethren in Russia (who are suffering from such libelers and informers), that G-d strengthen their hearts and the hearts of their children so that they will remain faithful Jews, and never again be persecuted by the above-mentioned evil-doers.
With the auspicious approach of the Festival of Liberation of all those who engage in the dissemination of Torah, I hereby offer my blessings to all our brethren who love the Torah and study it, and to all those who publicly teach the Torah: May G-d open up His goodly storehouse and grant them, together with endless blessing, that He may fortify their hearts so that they will courageously extend their dissemination of Torah knowledge and their buttressing of Yiddishkeit; and my we all be spared to see children and grandchildren engaging in Torah and mitzvot, free of care or want.
Translated with an introduction by Sichos in English.
Why do we stand during the "Shemona Esrei" prayer?
The Shemona Esrei (also known as Amida--or "standing") is said while standing because in the times of the Temple the priest stood while performing the service. Also, standing serves to differentiate people from animals. When saying the Shemona Esrei with the proper concentration, we hope to appear before G-d like angels. Therefore, we stand with both feet together, as if we have only one foot, because the angels are described as appearing one-legged.
During the summer we learn each week a chapter of Pirkei Avot--Ethics of the Fathers. In the fifth chapter we read, "Yehuda ben Tema taught: Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, fast as a deer, and strong as a lion to do the will of your Father in Heaven."
The Baal Shem Tov taught that everything we see and hear is a lesson for us in our spiritual service. Thus, we can learn from an animal how to behave in our spiritual service. And this, in fact, is what Yehuda ben Tema is telling us in this quote. Depending on the situation in which a person finds himself, it is even appropriate to behave like these animals, though they may be non-kosher, dangerous, or predatory animals. But what, specifically, can we learn from these animals?
Be bold as a leopard--one shouldn't be embarrassed to do mitzvot because others might make fun of him, but be bold-faced in front of them.
Light as an eagle--one should look lightly at something that is bad or evil, for when the eye sees, the heart desires.
Fast as a deer--one's legs should run quickly to do good.
And strong as a lion--one should strengthen one's heart to serve G-d.
Rabbi Yehuda ben Tema's words can also be found in the Shulchan Aruch--Code of Jewish Law. They are among its opening words, even before the laws of the Modeh Ani prayer which is said immediately upon awakening in the morning. This teaches us that everything we do, from the first moment we wake up in the morning, should be "to do the will of your Father in Heaven."
Rabbi Yehuda ben Tema's teaching is read just a few days before the 12th of Tammuz--the birthday of and liberation from communist prison of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Previous Rebbe's entire life was personified by doing the will of our Father in Heaven. May his life of self-sacrifice for the strengthening of Judaism and dissemination of Chasidut be a good example for us, and may he be a good advocate for all of the Jewish people to storm the Heavens that Moshiach comes, NOW.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, was a remarkable diarist, whose voluminous memoirs are interspersed throughout one of his many work, Likutei Diburim, from which the following reminiscences are excerpted, translated by Rabbi Uri Kaploun:
On my fifteenth birthday my late father [the fifth Chabad Rebbe, the Rebbe Maharash] introduced me into his communal activities as his personal secretary. That was on the twelfth of Tammuz, 5655 (1895). My father outlined for me the 140 years of communal work that the Rebbes of Chabad had conducted in the past and in the present.
Our first patriarch--the Alter Rebbe, author of the Shulchan Aruch--began his communal work at the age of eleven. My father recounted the story as follows: "The Alter Rebbe's son, my revered great [great] uncle R. Moshe, records in his memoirs an incident he had heard about from an old chasid called R. Moshe [Yitzchak] from a village near Yanovitch called Ivanski. One day, when R. Moshe Yitzchak was at the regional fair in Liozna, he saw and heard the eleven-year-old 'prodigy from Liozna' (as the Alter Rebbe was called) standing on a wagon in the marketplace and addressing a large crowd. He told them that they should leave their merchandising, and create alternative means for earning their livelihood--farming and handicrafts. R. Moshe Yitzchak promptly left town, as did hundreds of other families, and settled in the village of Ivanski.
He recalled: 'At about that time refugees arrived in our region, wanderers from Prague and Posen, and through the idea publicized by the prodigy from Liozna entire families were settled in agricultural work in his father R. Baruch's estate, that was called The White Wall.'
My father went on to describe for me the Alter Rebbe's fifty years of extensively ramified communal work; the ensuing periods of his successors, the Mitteler Rebbe and the Tzemach Tzedek; the communal activities of my grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash; the bitter plight of Russian Jewry during the last ten years of the reign of Czar Alexander III; and their tragic disappointment in his successor, Czar Nicholas II.
Throughout his account, my father highlighted the superhumanly self-sacrificing toil of the Rebbes of Chabad for the sake of the public good. He pointed out that only with resoluteness, free from vacillation and compromise, can one be a really earnest worker in this field.
Then, having concluded his precious four-hour-long account, my father wished me Mazel-tov on the occasion of my entry into communal work. My young heart aflame, I promised that I would place myself at his dis-posal, and that with every fiber of my life I would resolutely fulfill (with G-d's help) whatever tasks were entrusted to me for the public good. My father thereupon gave me my first directives as to how to learn and adapt myself to become useful in the serious business of communal activity.
The Rebbe's early education bore the fruit of dedication to Judaism and the Jewish people which continued throughout the Previous Rebbe's life. He concludes this passage by describing his life's work as follows:
The fact that in the course of my life I have fulfilled the first principle of communal work--to obey, soldier-like, the directives of those who conduct that work, resolutely, without compromise, resisting partisan influences, and unintimidated by warnings and threats--has made of me an earnest public worker, both in matters of the Torah and Yiddishkeit and in matters of Jewish livelihoods and self-respect.
I was not deterred by being hounded for twenty years, nor by frequent arrest, torture and beatings at the hands of the czarist gendarmes. I was not deterred when my life was endangered by persecution at the hands of certain criminal members of the Russian Poalei Tzion party of those days back in 1906; nor was I deterred by the frequent and painful arrests of 1921-6, nor by the threats of a death verdict at the hands of the ugly Yevsektsia in 1927.
With G-d's help, and in the merit of my holy forebears, I have remained faithful, regardless of my shattered physical condition, to the principles governing communal activity that I was taught by my Rebbe--the great self-sacrificing leader and mentor, my father, of blessed memory. With self-sacrifice I fulfill his holy testament, by disseminating Torah study inspired by the awe of heaven, by furthering authentic Jewish education, and in general by working for the public welfare.
One day a few weeks ago, as I was reading the mail, I came across a very stern, threatening letter. Its writer, representing a certain organization, warns and threatens in ominous tones that if I continue with my communal activities, dire measures will be taken against all my institutions.
I do not believe that it takes an unusually lively imagination to picture the smile of amused scorn that such a letter can arouse in an individual who has tasted the full weight of an overstuffed czarist gendarme's arm, and who has tasted the most gruesome tortures of the Yevsektsia.
And from the wilderness to Matana [literally "gift"] (Num. 21:18)
Our Sages commented: He who makes himself a "wilderness," that is, works at refining his character until his own ego is as ownerless as the unclaimed land of a wilderness, will be truly worthy of receiving the precious gift of the Torah.
And when a serpent had bitten any man, and he looked up at the serpent of copper, and lived (Num. 21:9)
The serpent has two diametrically opposed qualities: It can wind, and it can also heal. A person who is learned in Torah should also possess the same two characteristics--and know when each is appropriate. Moses, the greatest scholar who ever lived and who embodied only goodness and mercy, alluded to this in the first wonder he performed for Pharaoh when his staff turned into a serpent: A person must know when power and strength must be shown.
(Degel Machane Efraim)
And he hit the rock with his staff (Num. 20:11)
Chasidic philosophy explains that the dor hamidbar, the generation of Jews which left Egypt, was considered to be on the spiritual level of dibur, or "speech" (both words share the Hebrew root daled, bet, resh). The generation of Jews which entered the Land of Israel was on the spiritual level of deed, for they involved themselves in the practical mitzvot which could only be done after they left the wilderness. This, therefore, is one of the reasons Moses hit the rock with his staff and did not merely speak to it to bring the water forth--he recognized that a physical action was most suited to the needs of the generation of Jews he then led. In truth, however, he should have tried to elevate them to the higher level of speech. And this is why he was punished by G-d.
When Rabbi Yosef Ber Soloveitchik was in Warsaw, a delegation from Brisk asked him to become the Rabbi of their city. Rabbi Soloveitchik did not want to accept the position. Finally, one member of the delegation exclaimed: "Rabbi, 25,000 Jews eagerly await your arrival!" Rabbi Soloveitchik immediately told his wife, "Please hand me my hat and coat. I can't keep 25,000 Jews waiting."
"Rabbi Soloveitchik didn't want to keep 25,000 Jews waiting. If Moshiach knew that all Jews were eagerly awaiting his arrival," said the Chofetz Chaim, "wouldn't he arrive immediately?"