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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Lately it seems as if everyone is running out to buy "Windows 95," the newest computer operating system to come down the superhighway.
The Zohar, the basic book of Jewish mysticism, states that in the sixth century of the sixth millennium, the gates of wisdom above will be opened (G-dly knowledge, specifically the inner, mystical teachings of the Torah), as will be the fountains of wisdom below (science and technology).
Indeed, 250 years ago, at the beginning of this time period, there was a tremendous breakthrough of wisdom in the world in both of these areas. As the Rebbe has explained, the revelation of these two types of wisdom prepares the world for the Messianic era, when "The whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d."
Until the Baal Shem Tov, the entire realm of "G-dly knowledge" was off-limits to the average person. By the same token, the "lower wisdom" of natural science was also largely mysterious and inaccessible. It wasn't until the advent of the Baal Shem Tov and Chasidut that technology began to take off like a rocket.
Everyone today is well aware of the amazing advances in all branches of science and technology. The march of progress is constant; the technology of only a few years ago is already obsolete. Nowhere, however, is this better demonstrated than in the realm of computers, where new programs and software barely manage to keep pace with technological obsolescence.
Let us now turn our attention to the latest computer program, the long-awaited "Windows 95."
Why have so many millions of people already purchased this new program? The answer lies in its simplicity. Within seconds, a task that would have taken days to execute only a few years ago is already completed (flawlessly) and sitting on your desk.
But wait a second. This is all fine and good as far as the development of the "lower wisdom" is concerned, but what's it got to do with the revelation of the Torah of Moshiach?
- "Windows 95" allows us to overcome the restriction of "space" by enabling us to perform several tasks or run several different programs simultaneously. In effect, one can now be in two or more places at the same time.
- With "Windows 95" all our errors and mistakes can be immediately corrected, without even leaving a trace to indicate that they ever existed!
- Virtually anyone can do all these nifty things with the touch of a few buttons. This great wonder of technology is accessible to all, well within the reach of the common man.
- "Windows 95" is marketed on your run of the mill, plastic diskettes. If not for the paper label, no one could even tell what wonders lie within. Every other program in the store looks the same from the outside; it's only when you put the disk in your computer that you begin to appreciate what it contains.
What are the parallels to the previous four points in the realm of the gates of wisdom above as elucidated by Chasidut?
- Each of us can transcend the limitations of time and space; the Rebbe has on numerous occasions discussed specifics of how to do this.
- Correcting our past mistakes. Not only can we now repair whatever was broken, we can do so in a way in which the "cracks" are totally invisible as explained in Chasidut about the process of teshuva -- returning to our true, G-dly selves.
- All of these objectives and teachings are well within the reach of every Jew, young and old, great or small. Via books, tapes and telephone, every single Jew can learn Chasidut and the teachings of Moshiach, grasping the most esoteric concepts in a way that was impossible in past generations.
- Last but not least, these goals are truly attainable no matter how things may look on the outside: Just as "Windows 95" comes on a few unassuming plastic disks, so too do Chasidic teachings, and specifically the Rebbe's teachings offer us the most sublime G-dly revelations in a plain and simple "wrapper."
In the Torah portion of Vayeira we learn of Yitzchak's brit which took place when he was eight days old. The Midrash relates that Yitzchak and Yishmael argued about who was more cherished. Yishmael said he was more cherished as he was circumcised at age 13. Yitzchak said: "I am more cherished for I was circumcised when I was but eight days old."
One can easily understand why Yishmael felt more cherished: at age 13 he was old enough to protest. That he did not do so was surely reason enough for him to feel superior. But why did Yitzchak reason that he was the more cherished of the two?
The overall theme of circumcision is, as the verse says: "This shall be My covenant in your flesh, an eternal covenant." Circumcision effects an eternal bond between the individual and G-d.
Concerning a covenant formed between two dear friend s there is no ironclad guarantee that the covenant will truly be everlasting, for mortals are subject to change. When, however, it is G-d who makes the covenant -- in this case, His covenant with the Jewish people through circumcision -- then it is truly eternal.
The reason that circumcision is performed at the tender age of eight days -- at a time when the infant has absolutely no say in the matter -- may be understood accordingly.
Whatever a person does on his own initiative requires preparation; adequate time must therefore be allowed. However, the covenant that is set in motion through circumcision is effected entirely by G-d. In other words, circumcision is not an act through which a person binds himself to G-d. When a Jew is circumcised G-d binds Himself to the person with an "eternal covenant."
Thus, there is no reason to wait until the infant will come of age and consciously affirm and participate in this act, for in any event he does nothing at all -- the entire covenant comes from G-d. He is therefore circumcised at the earliest age possible.
Thus, the merit of Yitzchak's circumcision at eight days surpassed not only that of Yishmael, but also the circumcision of his father Abraham. For Abraham was commanded to circumcise himself after he had attained the highest degree of perfection possible for a created being to achieve on his own. Thus, Abraham's circumcision lacked the indisputable indication that the covenant, which came as a result of the circumcision, came entirely from G-d.
Only with the circumcision of Yitzchak, at the age of eight days, was it clear for all to see that his was a covenant that had nothing whatsoever to do with his created being, but was entirely dependent on G-d.
Adapted from: The Chasidic Dimension
Berl's Jewish Roots
by Eliyahu Schusterman
The story I am about to tell you is true. The names have not been changed to protect anybody or for any other reason.
Tuesday night, 23 Shevat 5755 (January '95), in Nizhny Novgorod, (Russia) there was a major snow storm. My partner, Simcha Backman, was in Moscow putting together a seminar for the upcoming Shabbat. As I opened my eyes and noticed all the new snow, I told myself that after just a few more minutes of sleep, I would get up to go to the Synagogue. That is when the phone rang, and my day started. And what a day it was!
"Hi, this is Nina (the shul cook). Three Tzyiganers just walked into the shul. They said their father died and they want to give him a Jewish burial."
"Nina," I asked, still trying to perfect my Russian, and thinking that she must be talking about turtles or something, "what are Tzyiganers?" "I can't really explain it over the phone. Why don't you come to the Synagogue and you will understand it when you're here."
When I walked into the shul, I saw one very drunk Tzyiganer, with his son and his brother-in-law. This guy was very big and very drunk. He told me that the previous night, he celebrated the marriage of his son. After the wedding, his father wasn't feeling well and later that night returned his soul to its Maker. "One thing my father wanted," said the drunk guy whose name was Paska, "was that when he died he should be buried completely according to Jewish law."
I took a glance at my Russian-English dictionary, at the word "Tzyiganer." It means Gypsy!!! These guys were dark colored, and I had figured they were from Georgia or one of the countries in that area, but GYPSIES?! I said to him, "But why did your father want a Jewish burial? "
"Well, he was Jewish! His name was Beryl, his father, Asher, and mother, Rachel. His last name was Tzyerulnik."
Well, that was enough for me. I told them that first I had to daven and eat breakfast, and then I would go with them. In the meantime, they should find a cemetery in town that would give them a plot.
In Nizhny Novgorod there are a number of Jewish cemeteries, but they are reserved for family members. This fellow was not poor and he said he would be willing to put down five lemons (Russian slang for five million rubles) if they would give him a plot.
I quickly said the morning prayers, ate breakfast and then, with them, headed over to the cemetery. Since the snow covered the streets it took us one-and-a-half hours for what should have been a half-hour ride. It turned out that even with his money they wouldn't give him a plot. I told him that I wasn't going to schlep with him to the other four Jewish cemeteries in town. I told him that we should go to his house where I would do the tahara [the ritual purification of the body], and then they could look on their own for a plot.
When a person dies, it is a Russian custom to drink until you can't drink any more. (This is also the Russian custom on many other occasions). That is exactly what this guy was doing the whole way to the cemetery and to his house. He was also doing a lot of talking. The story he told me illuminated the extent of the exile in general and the Russian exile in particular.
His father, Beryl, was born to a Jewish family named Tzyerulnik in the Ukrainian city called Charkov. His parents knew little of their Yiddishkeit and therefore handed down very little to their son. During World War II, they moved to Kazakstan where the parents died. Beryl, not knowing anything at all about being Jewish, fell in love with a Gypsy girl and married her. They had eight children. Twenty-seven years ago he moved to Gorky (now Nizhny Novgorod) and it was here he found out that he was Jewish.
He met up with one of the few Jewish elders in the city who told him that he was Jewish and even brought him to one of the secret minyans in the city. That was the extent of his Yiddishkeit, but it was enough to spark this Jewish soul of his that lived among the Gypsies, enough that at least he should tell his son that he wants a Jewish burial.
We traveled an hour-and-a-half to his house at the other end of the city. Again, I was shocked by the sight before my eyes. Ten Gypsy women and five Gypsy men, dressed in Gypsy garb were sitting around their father's dead body and feasting on chicken, vodka and other delicacies. Another Russian custom!
I told them that according to Jewish law this was a disgrace to the dead person. Before I could blink an eye they had cleared out. I did the tahara and they drove me back to the shul.
Friday they picked me up early in the morning and we went to the cemetery. They wanted to do everything according to the law, so only Jews were going to be involved in the burial. No Gypsies. That meant myself and the Jew that was with me, would have to do everything ourselves. We carried the body and said all the proper prayers. Then we buried him.
And so a Jew, who for the first half of his life didn't even know he was Jewish, and the second half, lived among Gypsies, was laid to rest according to Jewish law. It was probably the first and last mitzva he fulfilled. If this is not exile, then what is? May the memory of Beryl Ben Asher be a blessing to us all.
May Hashem look down with mercy on His children and see the purity of a Jewish soul, and bring us to the Redemption when we will witness the fulfillment of "those who rest in dust will arise and sing."
Reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter
Commemorating a Yahrzeit
"The Chasidic custom is to commemorate a Yahrzeit (anniversary of the passing of a loved one) with a gathering associated with happiness and connecting it with a conclusion of a particular aspect of Torah study.
Charity should also be given on the Yahrzeit in honor of the loved one as well as mitzvot performed especially in his/her merit."
(The Rebbe, 24 Tishrei, 5750)
To find out the proper date in the Jewish calendar of a Yahrzeit, call the Tzivos Hashem Superphone at (718) 467-7800 or consult a Jewish library that has a "200 year Jewish calendar."
THE LAND OF ISRAEL: THE ROYAL PALACE
30 Tishrei, 5720
I received your letter of the 17th of Tishrei in which you write about your background and activities. I was especially gratified to read about your activities to strengthen Yiddishkeit in your environment, in the field of kashrut, etc.
I was especially pleased to read you realize that there is a great deal more to do. For the realization that there is more to be done ought to bring forth additional forces to meet the challenge. All the more so, since every one of us is commanded to go from strength to strength in all matters of holiness, which should be on the ascendancy.
In this connection it is well to remember the saying of my father-in- law, of saintly memory, that at this time every Jew should consider himself in the position of a mountain climber climbing a steep mountain.
In this situation he must continue to climb or slide back, for he cannot remain stationary... It is also a well-known law of physics that the rate of a falling object accelerates. The lesson is obvious.
I read with interest about the books you read and study. I was surprised to note the absence of the Tanya and other works on Chasidut, which you no doubt could study in the original, though part of this literature is available in English.
The study of Chasidut would not only be greatly inspiring to yourself, but would have a great influence on your work and inspiration on behalf of others.
Young people not burdened by family responsibilities, and full of youthful energy, should make the fullest use of their opportunities.
I trust that you have friends among Anash [members of the Chasidic community] with whom you can discuss a method of learning Chasidut and what sources you should study, though I imagine you should have a fairly good idea. But nevertheless, many heads are better than one.
As for your question with regard to my attitude towards the Holy Land etc., I trust you saw my reply to the question "What is a Jew?" which has been published both here in America and in Eretz Yisrael [the Land of Israel].
Your particular question with regard to immigration and settling in Eretz Yisrael does not indicate whether it refers to yourself or if it is in a general way. But my answer would depend on the circumstances of each individual, for it is not possible to give blanket advice on such an important question.
I should like, however, to emphasize one general point.
No matter how much is expected of a Jew in regard to Torah and mitzvot, wherever he may be, a great deal more is expected of him if he is in Eretz Yisrael, of which the Torah says "It is the land on which the eyes of G-d are upon, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year." So much so that it is regarded as a Holy Land even among non-Jews. Our Sages refer to it as "The Palace of the King."
A person wishing to enter the Royal Palace must be prepared to answer such questions as on what business is he there, and he must be prepared in every way. It is demonstrated by his conduct and actions that he realizes he is in a Royal Palace. It is unnecessary to elaborate.
May G-d grant that you will succeed in what is your true and inner purpose in life, namely to spread Yiddishkeit, and in an ever-growing way, and may you have good news to report always,
TOWARD A MEANINGFUL LIFE
In Toward a Meaningful Life: The Wisdom of the Rebbe, adapted by Simon Jacobson you will be able to read some of what the Rebbe has to say about, among other subjects, Marriage, Love, The Body and Soul, Childhood, Youth, Health and Fitness, Miracles, and Redemption.
Published by William Murrow and available at your local bookstore, Toward a Meaningful Life will bring you closer to the Rebbe. A book to introduce the teachings of the Rebbe to your friends and colleagues, both Jews and non-Jews.
A booklet culled from the Rebbe's talks and letters addressed primarily to women pertaining to the important subject of tzniut -- generally translated as modesty but much, much more than that.
Translated by Rabbi S. Wineberg and published by Sichos in English.
The twentieth of the Hebrew month of Cheshvan is the birthday of Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch, the fifth Rebbe, known as the "Rebbe RaShaB."
An interesting story is told about the events surrounding the first haircut at the age of three of the Rebbe Rashab.
(It is a Jewish custom to let a boy's hair grow until his third birthday at which time his hair is cut except for his payot -- sidelocks. The first haircut is a powerful introduction to this mitzva. Symbolically, just as a young tree may not have its fruit picked for its first three years, so too do we refrain from cutting a boy's hair for the first three years of his life.)
On the evening before the Rebbe Rashab's birthday, his grandfather, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, known as the Tzemach Tzedek, asked that he be brought into his bedroom to sleep the night there. In the morning, when the young child awoke, the Tzemach Tzedek himself said the morning blessings with him.
After the morning prayers ended, the Tzemach Tzedek called to his son, Rabbi Shmuel, (who would later succeed his father) and his daughter- in-law the Rebbetzin Rivka, the child's parents, and told them:
"The spiritual cruse of oil that the Baal Shem Tov gave to his primary disciple, the Maggid of Mezritch, to anoint Rabbi Shneur Zalman, to make him a leader of the Jewish people for his generation, with this power my father-in-law, the Mitteler Rebbe anointed me, and with this power I am anointing him."
The Rebbe, a direct descendant of the Tzemach Tzedek and the spiritual heir of the Rebbe Rashab, stated that "The anointing of Moshiach has already taken place, all that is left is for the Jewish people to accept him."
May we merit Moshaich's coming, speedily in our days.
And Abraham called the name of his son...Isaac (Yitzchak) (Gen. 21:3)
In the Messianic age, it is specifically of Isaac that we will say "for you are our father" (a verse from the book of Isaiah).
According to Chasidut, the name Yitzchak is an expression of laughter and delight; when Moshiach comes, the supernal joy and delight of our present service of G-d will be fully revealed.
(Likutei Sichot, Vol. I)
He took butter and milk, and the calf which he had dressed (Gen. 18:8)
How could Abraham have served his guests both dairy and meat at the same time? Rather, Abraham offered his guests both types of food; it was then up to the individual to decide which kind he preferred. Those who chose meat dishes did not partake of the dairy.
Alternatively, they first ate the dairy, and only later did they eat the meat (as in the order it is written in the Torah).
And Abraham drew near (Gen. 18:3)
Rashi notes that Abraham approached G-d "to speak [with Him] in a harsh manner," to plead that He change His mind and not destroy Sodom.
Abraham, the epitome of loving-kindness, nonetheless saw fit to go against his natural inclination and "speak harshly" with G-d!
We learn from this that when it comes to saving lives, either literally or in the spiritual sense, a Jew must pull out all the stops and do all in his power, even if it goes against his very nature.
THE CITY OF LUBAVITCH
Continued from last week.
From the Memoirs of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe
Wolf, the cobbler, continued living in his quiet way, attending all the learning sessions frequented by the other workers of the town, and otherwise, making no particular impression on the townsfolk, just a good-hearted, well-intentioned fellow, nothing more.
Occasionally he would pack a bundle and disappear from Lubavitch for a few weeks, but no one thought anything of it, for when he returned, he would tell them about his wanderings from village to village, fixing shoes. Many times Benjamin the peddler would accompany Wolf on his journeys, but who thought anything of it? After all, they weren't competitors, and everyone liked a bit of company on the road.
More than a year had passed since the incident with the robbers, when Rabbi Betzalel Uri of Polotzk -- a recognized mystic who possessed wondrous powers -- came to town.
To the amazement of everyone in Lubavitch, he inquired after Benjamin the Peddler, whom he obviously held in great esteem. The townspeople were bewildered, but the visitor replied: "Seemingly, you don't know that Rabbi Benjamin is a mystic, and that by his mystical powers he overcame the robbers." The people listened astounded. This would never have occurred to them.
Had they heard this from anyone other then from such a great tzadik as Rabbi Betzalel Uri of Polotzk they would not have believed it. But now, of course, there could be no room for doubt about the matter.
But where was Benjamin now? Then it was remembered that it was already some weeks since he had left Lubavitch, as always, accompanied by Wolf the Cobbler. Was it really possible then, that their simultaneous disappearances and their friendship for each other had some special significance?
The people could reach no other conclusion than that Wolf the Cobbler must also be a mystic (in truth he was)! But Rabbi Betzalel Uri had only talked of and sought the Peddler, and not the Cobbler. Anyway, as neither was in Lubavitch and nobody knew exactly when they would return, Rabbi Betzalel Uri continued in search of Benjamin somewhere along the byways of the town.
Now, all of Lubavitch was buzzing about the mystic cobbler and the "wonder worker" Benjamin. It was clear that his victory over the robbers was indeed accomplished by his supernatural powers. All the townspeople were ready to acclaim him and offer him their respect and hero-worship. But where had he disappeared? No one knew.
Benjamin meanwhile had been wandering from town to town and from village to village, arriving finally at Dobromysl, where he was unknown and anonymous.
One day, in a synagogue there, he happened to overhear some fellow- Jews discussing him and his wonders, and was greatly disturbed. He could have attained great fame and honor, and been acknowledged as a miracle worker, but this he on no account desired. He wished to remain unnoticed, and continue with his life of wandering, unknown and unrecognized.
What worried Benjamin the most was the fact that he would need to return to Lubavitch where everyone knew him. He could no longer remain in the background! He would no longer have any peace, as people would come to him with requests from all sides. Above all, they would give him too much honor.
Obviously he could not avoid going to Lubavitch as his wife was there, and all their household belongings, so he returned heavy-hearted, like a guilty man caught "red-handed."
But he needn't have worried. For in Lubavitch something dreadful happened soon after Benjamin's return. A great fire broke out in the town swallowing up all the houses and buildings in flames, Benjamin's house amongst them. Amid this great tragedy Benjamin was completely forgotten.
The Jews of Lubavitch were a hardworking lot, each an expert at handling an axe and a saw, and they soon set to work constructing new homes for themselves. Benjamin also had to replace his house, but as he was an old man, and unable to do the work alone, he hired workers.
The townspeople noticed that Benjamin seemed to be erecting a rather large building. Did he intend to replace his small, burnt-out cottage with such an imposing structure? They shrugged their shoulders, but dared not ask him, and as for himself, he said nothing.
As Benjamin's building neared completion, the mystery was cleared up -- he had built not a house for himself, but a House for G-d! There was a new House of Study in Lubavitch! Because of his righteousness, they decided to call the new structure, "Benjamin's House of Prayer."
Suddenly all they had heard about Benjamin was remembered and enthusiastically discussed. Benjamin, of course, denied everything.
As Benjamin and his wife grew older, they needed someone to care for them. They hired a pious young couple, Tzvi Aryeh and his wife, Leah Breine, who lived with them and eventually became their heirs.
Benjamin deeded them his house and possessions, on the condition that they would always welcome wayfarers and care for orphans, and if they were blessed with a son and a daughter, they would name them Benjamin and Sarah. Benjamin and his wife passed away within a month of one another, and his instructions were carried out by his heirs.
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: "Where is Resurrection derived from the Torah? -- From the verse in Psalms, `Happy are those who dwell in Your house; they shall praise You forever.' The verse does not say, `They praised You,' but `They shall praise You.' Thus the Resurrection of the Dead is taught in the Torah."