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What have people leading fulfilling, secure, and comfortable lives to do with Moshiach? Obsession with Moshiach was understandable in Europe. Who or what else could deliver the Jews from the oppression, poverty, and physical danger of their lives? Times, thank G-d, have changed. We are, for the most part, safe, well fed, and free to pursue whatever lifestyles and goals we choose. Why do we need Moshiach? Everything is just fine. How can this be called exile?
Paradoxically, this bewilderment regarding the need for Moshiach is itself the most emphatic indication of how desperately we need Moshiach. The most distressing aspect of this bitter exile is that we are unaware that we are in exile. We do not recognize where we are or what sort of a condition we are in.
Although exile is frequently associated with physical suffering, this is not its cardinal characteristic, as is obvious from the experience of most Jews. The definitive feature of exile is rather the absence of a central, unifying purpose to existence. People's lives appear to be determined by random forces: economic, political, and physical.
One classical metaphor for exile is that of a dream. A dream is often a grossly distorted melange, totally alien to what one encounters in normal life. From the dreamer's point of view, the dream world appears entirely ordinary and very real. The surrealistic distortion that is so apparent on awakening is entirely acceptable and natural in the dream. The dreamer may be terrified by something that, on awakening, merely evokes a be-wildered smile. He regards inanities as momentous. His vision, priorities, and plans are tailored to circumstances in the dream in which he feels he is living.
Thus, an indispensable component of the dream-like world of exile is the illusion of reality. People are entirely comfortable with the lunacy of modern life. It is normal for thousands of people to push and scream their way into a stadium to watch a man hit a ball with a stick. Magazines discuss the artistic merits of popular movies, the subject of which is cannibalism and sadism. No one sees it as unusual that millions of people watch t.v. for hours, enjoying murder, rape, filth and perversion. During the day, a person spends his precious life's strength laboring to acquire prestige or a moment's illusion of power. Driven by advertisements he labors mightily, dissipating his energy and talents for the latest sports car, a new VCR, an indoor swimming pool. Such behavior is not only "normal," it is exemplary. Universities indoctrinate the young with fallacy, bias, and blind secular fanaticism. This is higher education, and parents go into debt for it. The list goes on.
In resolving the question as to why people are content with exile, the dream metaphor raises an even more perplexing paradox. If we are all products of the dream of exile, how can we objectively assess our circumstances? How can we expect a world that is blind to its own madness to yearn for redemption? The answer is that the darkness of exile is not absolute. There are those for whom the dense obscurity of exile is only partial. They are like dreamers who know that they are dreaming and are thus able to stand somewhat aloof and perceive the truth. The agonizing impact of exile can be properly appreciated only by such people. Such individuals must be totally out of step with the rest of humanity. These unusual people are the Jews.
The Divine Jewish soul penetrates the profuse concealments of exile and illuminates the life of the Jews in this world. The strength of this influence varies, from prophets and holy individuals whose very perceptions are those of the Divine soul, to ordinary Jews in whom the illumination is somewhat beclouded by the coarseness of the physical body and the delusions of worldly life. The Jews have thus always been a people apart, isolated, alienated, regarded with suspicion by an uncomprehending world. For 2,000 years the Jews have yearned for redemption and to that end, have pursued goals that are incomprehensible to the rest of humanity. The misguided efforts of many Jews to alleviate the anguish of exile by assimilation make no more sense then it would for a psychiatrist to accept the views and behavior patterns of his patients simply because they outnumber him. Because Jews, in essence, transcend exile, we are ultimately capable of, and therefore responsible for, ushering in the redemption, for ourselves, and for the entire world.
by Dr. Y. Brawer. Reprinted from the Yiddishe Heim.
Moses, Aaron and the Elders stood weeping with despair, not knowing what to do. Zimri, a prince of the tribe of Shimon, had openly brought Kozbi, a Midianite woman, into his tent. Since the Giving of the Torah, the Jewish people had been forbidden to marry or have relations with Midianites. Witnessing this scene, together with the Jewish leaders stood Pinchas, one of Aaron's grandsons.
Pinchas saw that the leaders were silent, yet he did not hesitate. Courageously he reminded Moses of the law which the latter seemed to have forgotten--that under these circumstances, one who is "jealous" of G-d's honor may execute the offender. Moses replied, "You are the one who has remembered and reminded us of the law. You be the one to carry out the verdict." Pinchas entered Zimri's tent and slew him together with Kozbi. Pinchas had stemmed the tide of immorality and idol-worship, which had become rampant in the Jewish camp. As a result, Pinchas earned a great spiritual reward for averting G-d's anger against His people.
Pinchas was not only junior to the leaders in age but also in Torah learning. Yet, when Torah-law demanded action, Pinchas did not indulge in rationalization; he did not say "there must be a good reason why Moses, Aaron and the Elders--who surely know Torah better than I--are silent." No! Respectfully, yet boldly, Pinchas spoke up. Then, he took decisive action with great self-sacrifice--and saved Israel. G-d had caused Moses to forget the law, providing Pinchas with the opportunity to act, and earn G-d's reward of the priesthood.
To know is to do: If one becomes aware of a teaching that he can implement, of a mitzva he can do, let him do so. If one witnesses an action that needs to be corrected, let him speak up, let him act. If he sees that the accepted leaders are silent and inactive, let him realize that this may have happened in order that he should earn a special Divine reward. For in the Alm-ghty's plan for the universe, each individual has certain mitzvot and opportunities for Jewish action that are destined to be presented to him--and to no one else--for fulfillment. If, therefore, one notices that no one is taking action in a situation that he has come across, this may be because it is his mitzva, for him alone to fulfill.
From A Thought for the Week-Detroit. Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
by Menachem Zigelbaum
Day after day the old man sat alone in his store, waiting for customers. Once in a while someone came in, but usually the little shop was empty.
Once a week something happened which always caught his attention. Each Friday morning a yeshiva student, sometimes with a friend, set up a table opposite the store. They stopped Jews on the street as they passed by. "Maybe you would like to stop for a minute and put on tefilin?" he asked. Usually the people agreed, came over to the little table and put on tefilin.
The shopkeeper watched from his store, eyes filled with animosity and hostility. "They are crazy," he said out loud to himself. "What do they want from these people? Do they think they'll make them religious, too?"
Once in a while he became so angry that he almost ran out of his store to confront them face to face. But, he didn't. He would always remember how his father went out at the crack of dawn with his talit and tefilin. And he ran after his father, trying to keep up with his father's long strides. But now he tried with all his might to forget these old memories; he had spent all his years trying to run away from these memories.
It began in Russia when, as a young man he became enamored with communism. It continued on after he came to Israel, when he settled on a Socialist kibbutz in the Western Galilee. No one in his family ever dared to mention his childhood or his father, mother, sisters or brothers. He had totally cut himself off from them. And here, these yeshiva students had the nerve to stand opposite his store, and ask people if they wanted to put on tefilin? His entire body trembled with rage. Blood rushed to his head. But something inside held him back. And, as always, he stayed silently inside his store rather than confront the young men.
Eventually he became accustomed to seeing the yeshiva students every Friday morning, like clockwork, set up their table--rain or shine, heat or cold. Once in a while his ire was raised once more, but from week to week, he was less and less angry. In fact, today, he could even look at them without animosity.
Today was like every other Friday, though today it was raining. But people went about their business as usual, doing their necessary shopping for Shabbat. And the yeshiva students were there as usual, busy with their "work."
He, himself, was actually busy with a customer who had happened into his store. When the customer left, the storekeeper was happy to sit back down and return to his thoughts and his memories.
Then suddenly a customer entered. And when the old man looked at him, his heart missed a beat and anger covered his face. Yes, he thought, this is the yeshiva student from the tefilin. What does he want? In a gruff voice he asked, "What do you want here?"
The student didn't seem to notice the impatience, didn't see the anger clearly written all over the storekeeper's face. With dancing eyes and a smile, he asked, "Tefilin, certainly you already put them on today?" He stopped, and waited for a reply.
Blood rose to the old man's face and his eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. He wanted to shout, but his voice was mute. The yeshiva student didn't move, he stood there waiting. "Just one minute, not more," the student said.
The storekeeper sat down. His anger suddenly turned into a tremendous tiredness. He had lost the cold war of his mind, he would soon lose the battle, too. "Do you really want to send the student away?" a voice inside his head asked.
An instant later another voice said, "What connection do you have to tefilin and Judaism?"
The first voice made itself heard again, "You know you don't want to send him away. Your father and your mother are looking at you right now and you know what they want from you."
And the other voice, "But fifty years have passed since you had any connection with this 'foolishness.' "
Then, once again, a memory flashed before his eyes. A commanding figure dressed in white. Her face was covered with delicate hands, and tears were running down her cheeks. She stood in front of two white candles, burning brightly in gleaming candlesticks on a sparkling white tablecloth. "Momma, this is my momma, when she lit the Shabbat candles," the old man realized.
He didn't know what to do. He hesitated for another moment. But then the warm feeling of what he had just remembered conquered the anger. With a tremendous sadness he looked at the student who had been waiting so patiently. Without a word, the storekeeper followed the yeshiva student over to the small table. When he got to the table he put on a big, black yarmulka, rolled up his sleeve, and with the help of the yeshiva student started to put on the tefilin.
"Baruch," "Baruch," "Atah," "Atah," he read after the yeshiva student word by word. A warm feeling entered his heart and slowly encompassed his entire body. He remembered once more his father's house, the shtetl, his brothers and sisters. He remembered the little shul and his friends with whom he went to cheder. His entire body trembled with a deep cry. He wept like a child. Hot tears rolled down his cheeks, and he didn't even try to stop them.
Translated from the Kfar Chabad.
BUSES & MOSHIACH
Chabad Lubavitch of Dade and Broward Counties are renting advertising space on city buses to get the message out that "Moshiach is on the Way." The ad describes a little about the Messianic Era with the statement: "No more wars... no more hunger... no more suffering."
"Long Island Unites for a Better World" is how Chabad-Lubavitch Centers of L.I. and N.C.F.J.E. of Nassau County announced the mitzva telethon last month. After receiving an introductory postcard, Jews all over the island were called and asked if they'd like to choose an extra mitzva to do to make the world a better place. Also, since it is a custom to do good deeds to help the recovery of a loved one, participants were told that their additional mitzva would hasten the Lubavitcher Rebbe's recovery. To pledge a mitzva in the N.Y. metro area call 800-69-TORAH or your Chabad-Lubavitch center.
AUTHENTICITY OF JUDAISM
From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
I have received your letter of June 13, in which, after a brief biographical outline of yourself, you present your problem, namely that you recently became aware of a feeling of apathy and indifference to the religious rites and practices, due to a perplexing doubt to their authenticity, and you wonder how this may logically be proven.
I hope that this is indeed the only difficulty which has weakened your observance of the practical mitzvot in daily life; in most cases the true reason is the desire to make it easy for oneself and avoiding a "burden" and then seeking to "justify" this attitude on philosophical grounds. In the latter case the problem is more complicated. In the hope that you belong to the minority, I will briefly state here the logical basis of the truth that the Torah and mitzvot have been given to us Jews by Divine Revelation. This is not very difficult to prove, since the proof is the same as all other evidence that we have of historical events in past generations, only much more forceful and convincing.
By way of illustration, if you are asked, how do you know there existed such a person as the Rabbi Moses Maimonides, the Rambam (whom you mention in your letter), author of Hayad HaChazaka, Sefer HaMitzvot, etc. or the like, you would surely reply that you are certain about his existence from the books he had written, and although Rambam lived some 800 years ago, his works now in print have been reprinted from earlier editions and these from earlier ones still uninterruptedly, going back to the very manuscript which Rambam wrote in his hand. This is considered sufficient proof even in the face of discrepancies or contradictions from one book of Rambam to another one of his. Such contradictions do not demolish the above proof, but efforts are made to reconcile them, in the certainty that both have been written by the same author.
The same kind of proof substantiates any historic past, which we ourselves have not witnessed, and all normal people accept them without question, except those who for some reason are interested in falsification.
In many cases the authenticity of a historic event is based on the evidence of a limited group of people, even where there is room to suspect that the witnesses were perhaps not quite disinterested; but because there is nothing to compel any suspicion, and especially if we can check the evidence and counter-check it, it is accepted as a fact.
From the above point of view, any doubts you may have had about the authenticity of the Jewish tradition should be quickly dispelled.
Millions of Jews know that G-d is the author of the written Torah and the Oral Torah, which He gave to His people Israel not only to study, but to observe in practice in daily life, and made it a condition of the existence and welfare of our people as a whole and of the true happiness of every individual Jew and Jewess.
How do these millions of Jews know, and how did they know in the past that the Torah is true?
Simply because they have on the evidence of their fathers, the millions of Jews which have preceded them, and those in turn from their fathers, and so on, uninterruptedly back to the millions of Jews who witnessed the Divine Revelation at Sinai. Throughout all these generations the very same content has been traditionally handed down, not by a single group, but by a people of many millions, of different mentalities, walks of life, interests, under the most varying circumstances, places and times, etc. Such evidence cannot be disputed.
It is difficult in the course of a letter, to elaborate, but I am sure that even the above should dispel any of your doubts, if indeed, you had any serious doubts as to the authenticity of our tradition, and that from now on you will not permit anything to weaken your observance of the mitzvot, the observance of which itself illuminates the mind and soul more than any philosophic book can ever do.
What are some of the customs of the "Three Weeks"?
During the Three Weeks between the tragic day of the 17th of Tammuz when the walls around Jerusalem were breached and the 9th of Av when the Holy Temple was actually destroyed, we observe some aspects of mourning. Weddings do not take place, dancing and playing musical instruments are prohibited, as is the wearing of new garments. In addition, we do not cut the hair. Also, since historically these days are fraught with danger and misfortune, a parent should refrain from striking his child and a teacher his students.
In chapter one of Pirkey Avot we read, "Hillel said, 'Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures, and bringing them near to the Torah.' "
Our Sages were very careful about each word they wrote. Would it not have been sufficient for Rabbi Hillel to have said, "Love peace and pursue peace" and leave mention of Aaron out? There must be something that we can learn from the fact that Aaron was mentioned as the one who loved and pursued peace.
Who was Aaron? He was the High Priest, the one who served in the Holy of Holies. Because of his exalted position he could have totally separated himself from the rest of the people. Yet, he purposely involved himself in the day-to-day activities of the Jewish nation. So much so that even when two Jews, or even a husband and wife, were fighting he spoke to them and encouraged them to make peace. Thus, we are enjoined to be students of Aaron and learn this wonderful characteristic from him.
In addition, to love and pursue peace is a positive commandment, as the Talmud teaches, "Anyone who strengthens an argument or dispute commits a transgression." Thus, we are to behave like Aaron, who would say, "sholom"--hello--peace--even to an evil person. Through this he was able to bring the person closer to the Torah
May we all take to heart this lesson of Rabbi Hillel as exemplified by Aaron.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
All of the townspeople turned out to bid farewell to their friend, one of the most respected citizens of the town of Uman. Now an old graybeard, he had decided to set out for the Holy Land, there to spend his last days, and to be buried in the holy soil when the time came.
It was only a few months later that they heard the news: he had suddenly returned to Uman after only having spent a few days in Israel. No one could understand why he had suddenly come back, and he made no reply to their repeated questions.
He had been back in his hometown only a short while before he took ill and summoned the officials of the Chevra Kadisha (burial society), for he had something of great importance to tell them. They came without delay, but when they arrived the man lay in his bed and chatted randomly about this and that, coming to no particular point. They left disappointed, and were surprised when the man called for them again the following day. They were reluctant to go, but their sense of duty won out and they arrived at his sickbed only to have the whole scene of the previous day repeat itself. The officials listened for a while and then left, concluding that the unfortunate man was not in his right mind. When on the third day the officials of the Chevra Kadisha were summoned again, they flatly refused to come. This time, however, the old man begged their indulgence, promising to explain his behavior of the preceding two days.
The officials assembled around the old man's bed, and he turned to them with these words: "When I was a young man I used to do business traveling from town to town buying and selling merchandise. Since most of my business took me to the vicinity of Berdichev, I used to be sure to stop over for a day or so in order to see the tzadik Rebbe Levi Yitzchak who lived there.
"One morning I stopped in Berdichev and went straight to the Rebbe's house. The Rebbe stood wrapped in his talit, deep in prayer, and I was unwilling to interrupt him, so I sat down in an adjoining room to wait. As I sat absorbed in my own thoughts, I was disturbed by a group of angry people who hustled past me into the Rebbe's study. From the bits of conversation I overheard, I gathered that the man was a poor fellow who earned his living by money-changing. As he had no money of his own, all his transactions were accomplished with borrowed money. The day before, three hundred rubles had disappeared from his house, and he was accusing the young maid who worked in his house of stealing it. Her parents pleaded their daughter's innocence, and all were engaged in an angry screaming match. Finally, the Rebbe interrupted, saying, 'It is clear to me that this young woman is completely innocent, and the accusation is erroneous. It is also apparent that the money is truly missing. But where it is, that I cannot discern.' He paced the floor several minutes more, and then said, 'If a person who would give me the three hundred rubles for this man, I would promise him a place in the World to Come!'
"When I heard that I presented myself to the Rebbe with three hundred rubles in my hand. 'Would you put that promise into writing?' I asked the tzadik. 'Of course,' he said and I handed over the money. The Rebbe then gave the money to the poor money-changer, and said to him, 'I give you my blessing that you will never suffer a loss again.' Then, he turned to the young woman and said, 'Because you have been falsely accused I give you my blessing that you will make a good match.' The little group then left the study of the tzadik happy and contented.
"When I had the chance I reminded the tzadik of his promise, and he called to his attendant for a pen, ink and paper. He wrote out a short note and folded it double. He gave it to me saying, 'You must never read this note, nor reveal its contents to another soul. On the day which you sense is your last on earth, call the officials of the Chevra Kadisha and give them this note, asking that they place it inside your grave.'
"My joy was immeasurable as I took the note from his hand. To preserve it I had a bookbinder enclose it in the cover of my prayer book. When I left for the Holy Land I forgot the prayer book. When I realized I didn't have it, I was shocked. After a little reflection on the matter, I decided to return at once. Then when I fell ill I called for you, but when you arrived, I felt better, so I realized that my last day had not yet come. The same thing happened the second day. I hope that you gentlemen will forgive me. But, today, I feel my end is near, and so I entrust you to follow the instructions of the tzadik, and put this note in my grave."
The old man handed over the precious note, and soon after, he departed this world. The officials were curious to know the contents of the note, and they reasoned that although the tzadik had forbidden the man to read it, the prohibition surely didn't extend to them. After the funeral was concluded they took the little note and unfolded it and found these words, "Open for him the gates of the Garden of Eden. Levi Yitzchak the son of Sarah."
My sacrifice... you shall observe to offer to me in its time. (Num. 28:2)
The Hebrew word used for "observe" is often used to imply hopeful anticipation of a future happening. Though we do not have the opportunity to observe the laws of sacrifice while in exile, our constant anticipation and hope for the rebuilding of the Temple gives us a portion in the sacrifices which were previously offered there.
It is a continual burnt offering which was offered at Mt. Sinai (Num. 28:6)
A continual burnt-offering hints to the "hidden love" which every Jew has. This love is continuous, it never ceases.
Let the L-rd, G-d of all living souls, appoint a man over the congregation (Num. 27:16)
Such was Moses' plea before G-d: Our father, as You are the G-d of all living souls--to the righteous and evil alike--so may You please grant your people a leader who will deal fairly with "all living souls" who will love each Jew equally.
(Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev)
The land shall be divided by lot. (Num. 26:55)
In the land of Israel there are different kinds of areas: mountains, valleys, fields, orchards, etc. When one received his share in the mountains and another in a valley, or one received cornfields and another orchards, this division of the physical land of Israel reflected each one's individual relationship to the spiritual land of Israel. This means that everyone has something unique that relates specifically to him or her in his spiritual service.
Once the students of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi asked him, "Rebbe, we pray, we ask, we beg G-d to bring the Moshiach--why hasn't he arrived yet?"
The Rebbe looked up from his holy books and shook his head. "Perhaps the Moshiach which you are waiting for is not the one which G-d wants to bring."
(From Let's Get Ready)