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They come in all shapes and sizes. Either they're a religious symbol or they're not, depending on whom you ask and which courtroom you're in. They're forces of energy or divine beings in human form or a number of other things great and small.
But "guardian angels" and all the "hoopla" in the books and articles written in the past few years about angels is nothing new to the initiated Jew who knows a little of what the Torah has to say about angels.
The Torah is replete with stories about angels who are given messages or missions by G-d to perform in this physical world. Most of these angels "self-destruct" after the mission is accomplished as their entire purpose for existing is to perform that one mission. Other more "famous" angels, such as Gabriel, Michael and Rafael are eternal and are continuously involved in divine tasks.
However, what interests us most in a Jewish discussion of angels is the little-known "personal" angels that accompany each and every one of us.
Let's start back in the times of our ancestor, Jacob. When he needed to send a message to his brother Esau, who years before had wanted to murder him, the Torah tells us that Jacob sent "melachim."
Now, melachim can mean "angels" or "messengers." Rashi, who explains the most simple, basic meaning of the Torah, says, "melachim mamash" - actual angels.
A commentator on Rashi describes the kind of angels Jacob sent. Taking the three letters that spell the word "mamash," the commentator explains, "maaseh mitzvot shelo" which means that the angels were created from the mitzvot that Jacob performed.
Jewish teachings explain that every mitzva you do, each prayer you utter, any good deed with which you fill your day, creates an angel who protects and guards you. In different words, the Mishna states: "One who fulfills one mitzva acquires for himself one advocate..."
Of course, most of us aren't on the spiritual level of Jacob who could actually control and command the angels he created. And though we are enjoined not to do a mitzva simply for the reward or side benefits accrued, it is enticing and more appealing when we know that our mitzvot create "guardian angels."
Young children also receive special protection from angels:
A Jewish tradition, passed down from mother to daughter throughout the ages, maintains that there are special angels whose mission is to cushion the fall of little babies (and the "tradition" isn't referring to well-padded diapers).
So the next time you get involved in the subject of angels, consider the following:
You don't need to waste your money buying guardian angel pins, or your time reading angel books. Your money would be better spent (and you'd create your own guardian angel) donated to a soup kitchen and your time would be better spent (and you'd create another guardian angel) studying the all-time best seller, the Torah.
"I will give this people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians, and when you depart, you will not go empty," G-d tells Moses in our Torah portion, Shemot.
According to the Midrash, G-d promised that the Egyptians would willingly pay the departing Jews with gifts of gold and silver "so that Abraham would not be able to claim that G-d had fulfilled the first part of the covenant -- `and they will be enslaved and tortured' -- but not the second part -- `and afterward they will leave with great wealth.'"
This explanation, however, is insufficient. How could this be the only reason G-d fulfilled His promise? Doesn't G-d fulfill His promises all the time, as it states, "For G-d is not a man who tells falsehoods"?
The huge amount of gold and silver that was given to the Jews just prior to the Exodus served a dual purpose: to punish the Egyptians for their cruelty, and to reward the Jews for their 210 years of suffering. But which one of these was the primary purpose -- reward or punishment?
Was the benefit derived by the Jewish people secondary to the main objective of punishing the Egyptians, or was their enrichment the primary goal, and the loss it represented to the Egyptians only secondary?
The Talmud relates that in the time of Alexander the Great, the Egyptians demanded that the Jews return the riches they had acquired generations before.
The response of Geviha ben Pesisa, the leader of the Jews, was that the gold and silver rightfully belonged to the Jews as "the wages of the six hundred thousand whom you enslaved in Egypt."
This answer provides us insight into why it was necessary that the Jews "find favor in the eyes of the Egyptians," and why Abraham's potential claim had to be refuted:
For there to be the fullest measure of justice, G-d wanted the Jewish people to be rewarded in the same open manner as Abraham's service was conducted in the world.
Just as all mankind was witness to the Jewish people's enslavement, so too was it necessary for the entire world to see the Egyptians making reparations of their own free will.
Chasidic philosophy explains that the inner meaning of the "great wealth" that was taken by the Jews consisted of the "sparks of G-dliness" that were hidden in Egypt. The service of the Jewish people enabled these sparks to be redeemed and restored to their G-dly source above.
Nonetheless, the primary objective of the entire experience in Egypt was the betterment of the Jews themselves, whereas the elevation of the sparks was only secondary. For the inner purpose of the exile was the spiritual elevation that was achieved thereby, the main reason for the Jews' going into exile in the first place.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 21
by Natan Meir Meretsky-Klatt
I first became aware of Shabbat when my family moved to Portland, Oregon, from an area about 30 miles west of there. I was nearing eleven years old.
In the house we moved into we ate Friday night Shabbat dinners. We were not shomer Shabbat, but every Friday night we lit candles, made kiddush, broke challa, sang songs, etc. It was very nice, but I thought that was the extent of what Shabbat was all about. In subsequent moves and subsequent houses we continued to observe Shabbat in this manner until I moved out after graduating from high school.
A two-year period followed in which the only time I would celebrate Shabbat was if I went to my mother's -- which was not that often.
Then, in the summer of 1993, for my 20th birthday, I received a pair of Shabbat candlesticks from some friends.
Later that summer, I moved to Seattle, Washington to study acting at Cornish College of the Arts. When I moved to Seattle, my candlesticks came with me. At the end of the school year, when I found out that I wasn't being asked back for the second year of the program, I had to re-assess what I wanted to do with my life. The idea came to me to study abroad in Israel.
I was starting to develop an interest in studying Hebrew, and I found out that the University of Washington had a study-abroad program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
I then set about to do everything needed to get into the University of Washington in order to study abroad in Israel the following year.
About eight months later I ran out of Shabbat candles. I had been lighting candles for much of the previous year and a half. I ended up going to the Hillel House to buy new candles. As I was walking out, I ran into someone from my Hebrew class at the University who told me that there was a Shabbat dinner that night at the Hillel House.
I couldn't make it that Shabbat, but two weeks later I did end up going. It was announced at that dinner that on the following Friday there would be a Shabbat dinner at the Chabad House co-sponsored with Hillel with guest speaker Bentzion Kravitz, head of Jews for Judaism on the West Coast.
The event was called "Missionary Impossible." I decided to attend and was very glad I did.
The evening was very enjoyable: the dinner, the singing, the talk and the service. I enjoyed the services so much (especially the way they sang, "Lecha Dodi") that I decided to go back the following morning. I found the morning services to be quick, warm and welcoming.
I continued going to the Chabad House for Shabbat morning services. I started attending a class there every Thursday evening taught by Rabbi Avrohom Erlenwein who does campus outreach.
Towards the end of the spring quarter, Rabbi Erlenwein told me about the Ivy League Torah Study Program. By this time, I had now been going to people's homes for Shabbat meals, celebrating the different holidays, and going to services. I decided that I would attend the Ivy League Program in New York and then continue on to Israel from there.
And so that summer, I went to the Catskill Mountains of New York to learn what it means to be Jewish. The program was fantastic! We had many really good rabbis as well as many outstanding lectures, activities, and field trips. My plan was to get on a plane to Israel on the last day of the Program. However, after learning about Torah and Judaism for five weeks (and enjoying myself immensely), I changed my plans and decided to stay on and to study at the Hadar HaTorah Yeshiva in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
From the few conversations I had with Rabbi Goldberg and Rabbi Wircberg, I could tell that it would be a great opportunity to learn from these two rabbis. I was amazed at how much we learned in just the first few weeks that I was there !
The learning here is very different from that of a university: it is exciting, fun, interesting, meaningful and relevant. Everything I am learning is providing me with a foundation for my life, as well as helping me with how to live it.
The study of Chasidut, in particular, gives one the basics for a happy and fulfilled life. In just three months I have already absorbed so much. I can now look at a Hebrew text and understand much of what I am reading.
Looking back on everything, I am able to see how everything happens for a reason. I can see the Divine Providence in everything -- in receiving the candlesticks, moving to Seattle, running out of candles, etc. Now that I am here, I look back at the big decision I made just over three months ago, and believe it was one of the best and most important choices I have ever made. I now have some "New Candles," the candles of Torah and mitzvot, and with these candles I will be able to bring light into my life and to the entire world.
The anniversary of the passing of the great Rabbi Moses Maimonides (the "Rambam") is this Friday.
In honor of his yahrzeit we should reinforce our study of the Rambam's works according to the three-pronged plan of study: Three chapters or one chapter a day in the Mishna Torah, or the parallel portions of Sefer HaMitzvot. Not only should one study these works himself, he should also influence others to do so.
(The Rebbe, 21 Tevet, 5752)
One can study over the phone via pre-taped classes by calling (718) 953-6100 or via the Internet by sending a request to email@example.com and subscribing to "D-3."
Originally this was supposed to be a two part series - one for this week and one for next week.
Since the issue is so very important and timely we are providing it in full text this week and it will be available again next week.
For those of you who re-print the L'Chaim, there is a notation for the "to be continued."
QUESTIONING THE TORAH
27th of Shevat, 5723
Your letter of January 14th reached me with considerable delay. You posed a number of questions regarding our Torah and mitzvot, faith and traditions, etc.
Needless to say, it is difficult to discuss adequately in a letter such questions as you raise. Since you write that you had occasion to spend time with Lubavitcher students, I trust you discussed with them some of these questions, and perhaps may have another opportunity to discuss them further. However, inasmuch as you have raised these questions, I will attempt to answer them briefly.
- How can one be certain of the authority of the Tanach [Five Books of Moses, Prophets and Writings] in all its particulars? The answer to this is based on common sense, and if one approaches the question open-mindedly and without prejudice, one must come to this conclusion.
To put it very briefly, going back from our present generation to preceding generations, we have before us the text of the Tanach as it was transmitted from one generation to the other by hundreds and thousands of parents of different backgrounds to their children.
Even during the times of the greatest persecutions, and even after the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash [Holy Temple], there always survived hundreds and thousands of Jews who preserved the text of the Tanach and the traditions, so that the chain has never been broken.
Now, assume that someone would come today and wish to add a new chapter or a new section to the Tanach, declaring this new addition to be of the same antiquity and validity as the other parts of the Tanach.
It is clear that no one would accept it on the grounds of the simple question: If this is truly a part of the Tanach, how is it that we have not had it before? The same would apply to any questions as to the dating of any particular section of the Tanach, which itself contains a record of the prophecies beginning from Moshe Rabbeinu to the latest prophets Zecharia, Haggi and Malachi.
You mention, in passing, certain theories by certain Bible critics. But, as you know, it is not a case where these people have a different tradition from ours, going back to all those ancient generations, but it is rather a case where this one or that one has come up with theories or hypotheses which are not only speculative, but have been shown to be unscientific as well as illogical. For, according to them, it would be a case where thousands upon thousands of Jews have at one point or another suddenly changed their views and attitudes toward the Tanach in radical ways.
With all the arguments about superstitions or hypnosis, etc., such radical changes by hundreds of thousands of people of different backgrounds in different parts of the world, etc. are simply very farfetched and most illogical.
Furthermore, there is a basic difference between our Jewish tradition and those of other faiths, such as Christianity or Islam. For, whereas in the latter cases, the traditions go back to one individual or a limited number of individuals, our traditions go back to a revelation which was experienced by a whole people at once, so that at no time did we have to place our trust in the veracity of one, or a few, individuals.
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- You mention the existence of other ancient codes among other ancient peoples, which are in many respects similar to the laws of our Torah.
I do not see what difference or contradiction this can have to the authenticity of the Torah. The point is that when a similarity of ideas is found between two peoples, it is necessary to ascertain which one derives from the other.
More important still is not so much the similarity as the difference. Thus, you mention Mesopotamia, and presumably you have in mind the Code of Hammurabi.
A careful comparison will show at once that the similarities are only superficial, but the differences are basic.
For, the Code of Hammurabi is permeated with a spirit of extraordinary cruelty, as for example, in regard to the penalties for theft, etc., and the same is true of other similar codes, whereas the underlying principles of the laws of the Torah are merciful. However, the essential thing is, as mentioned earlier, that there is no proof whatever that the laws of the Torah have been derived from other ancient codes.
In this connection, you also mention the similarity of the custom found in the Torah as well as in ancient Mesopotamia, that when a wife could bear no children to her husband, she could take her maid-servant and give her to her husband for a wife, with a view of adopting the children, etc. Here again, I do not see what difficulty this similarity of custom presents.
For, even today, you may find similarity of custom between the most observant Jew and his non-Jewish neighbors as long as it is not in conflict with the Torah. For, to be authentically Jewish, it is not absolutely necessary to reject every possible similarity of custom or habit which might prevail in the society, but rather to bring a spirit of holiness into a custom or practice which is otherwise not in conflict with the Torah.
- You ask: "Granted that the Torah is accepted as being of Divine origin, how is it possible to be certain of the validity of the Oral Law, and of the traditional interpretation of the Torah?"
This question is also not difficult to answer. Inasmuch as you are a University student, I will give you an example from science.
As you know, modern science has made all sorts of discoveries and opened new fields, such as electronics, etc., which are based on the science of mathematics, the basic principles of which were known thousands of years ago, as is well known and admitted.
Needless to say, the mathematicians of old had no idea or conception of electronics, but there is no contradiction here, only the application of old principles and methods of deduction to new fields or branches of science. Therefore, the traditional interpretation of the Torah is already contained in the Torah itself, and is nothing but a continuation of the written Torah, so that only both together do they constitute one living organism.
In this case, too, we can apply the argument from common sense, as mentioned above. For it is unthinkable to assume that at any particular time there arose a new school of thought which claimed to give a new interpretation to the Torah which was in conflict with the accepted traditions of the past. No one would accept such a radical change, and certainly it could not be accepted by the whole Jewish people. For, it is not a case where a particular professor is studying with a group of students, but the study and interpretation of the Torah has been going on in numerous Yeshivot and Academies, all of which presented a remarkable degree of unanimity.
To be sure, we find differences of opinion in the Mishna and Gemara, but the important thing is the resulting decisions, which became unanimous in the halacha [Jewish law]. Thus, we also find in the Torah itself a difference of opinion, on occasion, between Moshe Rabbeinu and others, but it is the final outcome of such differences that is important.
We also find a difference of opinion between the first Jew, Abraham, and his wife Sara, in which case there was Divine directive that Abraham was to follow Sarah's opinion. Therefore, the integrity of the whole tradition and Oral Law is in no way challenged by the differences of opinion which are mentioned in the Talmud, which are in themselves methods of deduction to arrive at the final decision, or psak din [legal ruling].
I trust you know the dictum that the important thing is not the discussion but the deed. Therefore, my intention in writing you the above is not for the purpose of discussion, but is an effort to remove the confusion which seems to bother you and seems to interfere with your duties as a Jew -- to live up, in your daily life, to the Jewish way of life, the way of the Torah... It is only a matter of will and determination, and we have been assured that he who determines to purify himself a little by his personal efforts, receives a great deal of help from On High.
To Live and Live Again
An overview of Techiyat HaMeitim (the Revival of the Dead in the Era of Moshiach), this book is based on the classical Jewish sources -- Tanach, Talmud, Midrash, Jewish Law, Kabala and Chasidut.
The research for this pioneering work was done by Rabbi Nissan Dovid Dubov, of Wimbledon, England.
Published by Sichos in English, 788 Eastern Pkwy, Bklyn, NY 11213. To order directly through the publisher send $16.95 to the above address.
And You Shall Speak of Them
This book, prepared by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky, well-known educator and lecturer, is a compilation of selected Torah insights, thought- provoking ideas, homilies and explanations of Torah passages.
Volume I is on the book of Bereishis. A perfect book if you are looking for material for a class on the weekly Torah portion, a Torah subject to discuss at the Shabbat table, or for a talk at a Bar Mitzva, wedding, graduation, etc. To order by mail send $16 to Sichos in English at the above address.
Bound volumes of the fifth, sixth and seventh year of L'Chaim are available in limited quantities.
To purchase a book specify the year and send $25 (plus $3 postage) to: L'Chaim, 1408 President St., Bklyn, NY 11213
The yahrzeit of Rabbi Moses Maimonides (known as the Rambam) this year is this Friday, 20 Teves - January 12 (1996). A few years ago, when the yahrzeit also came out on a Friday, that Shabbat the Rebbe discussed the following concepts:
The name Rambam is an acronym for the Hebrew words meaning, "I will multiply My wonders in the land of Egypt," an allusion to the wonders associated with Redemption. Similarly, the Rambam's spiritual service involved giving Jews in Egypt -- in the night of exile -- a foretaste of the Redemption.
Firstly, he lived in Egypt and it was there that he composed his magnum opus, the Mishna Torah.
As he explains in his Introduction, the Mishna Torah was composed because of the difficulties of exile, because the Jews were unable to derive halachic rulings from the Talmud and needed an auxiliary source.
Nevertheless, the text that the Rambam composed gave the Jews a foretaste of the Redemption -- reflected in the fact that it includes laws which will only be relevant in the Era of the Redemption when the Holy Temple will be rebuilt and in the conclusion of the text which focuses directly on the Era of the Redemption.
Since on the yahrzeit of a tzadik, "the totality of his deeds, teachings, and service is revealed and... 'brings about salvation in the depths of the earth,'" it follows that the Rambam's yahrzeit grants us further potential to anticipate the Redemption.
The above is particularly relevant in the present age when the Jewish people have completed the service required of them in exile. Everything is ready for the Redemption -- all that is lacking is for G-d to open the eyes of the Jews and allow them to realize that they are sitting at the feast of the Redemption.
The Rebbe concluded: "There is no need for any further delay, and without any interruption we will soon proceed from the present era to the Era of the Redemption. The very next moment can be the last moment of the exile and the first moment of that Era. As a catalyst for this, we must reflect an attitude of Redemption in our lives, showing how even within the exile, we can experience Redemption."
And behold, it was a weeping boy... and she said, This is one of the Hebrews' children (Gen. 2:6)
How could Pharaoh's daughter have recognized that the child was Jewish, just from his cry? This is because a Jewish cry is unique; a Jew, even when he weeps, is filled with hope.
(Rabbi Mordechai Chaim of Slonim)
And she called his name Moses... because out of the water have I drawn him (Gen. 2:10)
The name Moses ("Moshe" in Hebrew) comes from the verb "to draw out," and is in the present tense, indicating an ongoing action.
This alludes to the task of the true Jewish leader, which is to elevate the Jew from the depths of physicality and guide him toward the shores of spiritual safety. Moses, the first Jewish leader, was the prototype for all time; his actions are continued by the "reflection of Moses" that exists in every generation.
And an angel of G-d appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of the thorn bush; and he looked, and behold, the thorn bush was burning with fire, but the thorn bush was not consumed (Exodus 3:2)
Man is likened to a tree of the field: the Torah Sage is a fruit- bearing tree, whereas the simple Jew is likened to a tree that does not give fruit.
Nonetheless, the "flame of fire" burns precisely in the humble "thorn bush" -- in the simple and unlearned Jew.
A Jew who prays and recites Psalms with simple faith in G-d possesses a fire of holiness derived from purity of heart, even if he does not understand the words.
Furthermore, the "thorn bush is not consumed." The burning flame of the simple Jew can never be extinguished, as he is perpetually thirsty for Torah and mitzvot -- unlike his more learned counterpart, who is able to quench his thirst with the waters of Torah.
(The Baal Shem Tov)
Let the work be made to lie heavily upon the men, that they labor in it, and that they may not pay attention to false words (Exodus 5:9)
A true Chasid knows that his service of G-d requires great personal effort and exertion. Thus he will never ask his Rebbe for a blessing to attain that which he is obligated to accomplish on his own...
(The Tzemach Tzedek)
Many years ago, there lived in Harki a certain Rabbi Nachman Yitzchak who was renowned for his genius. He had a yeshiva of twenty students who excelled themselves for their brilliance and scholarship. Amongst these exceptional students was on e who towered above them all, Lippe Baruch.
When it came time for Lippe to marry, the Rabbi himself arranged the match with the daughter of the wealthy and scholarly landowner, Tzaddok Hillel, who supported the entire yeshiva of Harki. At the suggestion of the Rabbi, the groom would be supported for six years after his marriage to enable him to continue his studies. Everyone was well-pleased with this arrangement.
In fact, Lippe won the heart of everyone he met. Of course, every person has his faults, and Lippe suffered from some very dangerous character flaws, namely, a great self-love and a jealous nature. So that while he sat and studied Torah, his brothers-in-law labored in business and began amassing their fortunes. This, Lippe couldn't bear to see. And so, he, too, decided to join in the family business. If his eldest brother-in-law could travel through fascinating cities and hob-nob with nobility, so could he.
After the six years had passed Lippe entered the business world.
It was not long before Lippe was travelling in the "glamorous" world of the aristocracy, and before too long, terrible rumors were whispered about him. He had begun joining the young lords in their vacuous pleasures, indulging in every luxurious whim.
Word that Lippe had "gone astray" reached the ears of his former mentor, the Rabbi. He was devastated by the report, and decided that this matter must be taken care of by none other than himself. He gathered ten Jews, and together they made their way to the "court" of Lippe.
They found Lippe immersed in wealth and splendor, but totally bereft of any vestige of Judaism. "Such wealth, and at the same time, such poverty!" exclaimed the Rabbi, as he pleaded with his former pupil to return to the true Jewish path. Sadly, all his heartfelt words fell on deaf ears.
Months later, Rabbi Nachman Yitzchak stood in his House of Study and poured out his heart, "Please, G-d, save Lippe from his evil ways!" The Rabbi was so immersed in his prayer that he failed to notice the stranger that stood in the corner of the room.
When the Rabbi had finished his prayers, the young man said with pathetic eagerness, "Good day, Rabbi!" But the Rav looked at him without recognition.
"Don't you recognize me, Master? I am Lippe Baruch. Please forgive me for the sorrow I have caused you. Please tell me how to atone for all my errors; I will do whatever you say."
Unbeknownst to anyone, the secret Chasidim of the Baal Shem Tov had effected Lippe's return:
Two of the Chasidim in Harki had been given by the Baal Shem Tov, the task of "bringing back" Lippe. Rabbi Azriel, one of the messengers had to devise a plan, for gaining entrance to Lippe the "aristocrat" was not easy. He applied at the estate for a job as a laborer and was hired. But Lippe immediately realized that he was not an ordinary worker, and began treating him with special regard. He began discussing his questions about religion with his new employee and was bested in every round.
Rabbi Azriel Joseph felt that he had not wasted the months he had spent working on the estate of Lippe, and he thanked G-d for having helped him in the mission the Baal Shem Tov had given him. He now felt that he must get along to the next assignment as directed by his Master. He, therefore, found a suitable opportunity and, going in to Lippe, he told him that he must be leaving the estate, as he was going to carry out certain secret tasks assigned him by his leader, the Baal Shem Tov.
"Please let me come with you," begged Lippe. "I need your moral support, for I feel very lost now that I wish to leave the path I have so mistakenly trodden. Take me with you and teach me your ways!" Rabbi Azriel Joseph agreed, and for three months they wandered together in exile.
Lippe then made his way to Harki to seek out his old teacher Rabbi Nachman Yitzchak, to ask him what form of penance he could undertake, and for advice as to his future mode of living. His old teacher advised him to go to Minsk and settle there, as there were many good and fine Jewish families there and it was a famous center of Torah. Lippe readily agreed and remained in Minsk for ten years, living just like any of the other Jewish scholars there.
One day as Lippe was walking in Harki, he saw Rabbi Azriel Joseph, his erstwhile employee. He lovingly embraced and thanked him for being the cause of his reformation. But the latter protested that he had made a mistake, that he was not the person Lippe mistook him for.
Although Lippe was not convinced, he had to let the man go, what else could he do? For Rabbi Azriel Joseph was on a secret mission and had to remain incognito.
Excerpted from the Memoirs of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe
I believe with complete faith in the coming of Moshiach. Though he tarry, nonetheless I await him every day, that he will come.
I believe with complete faith that there will be a resurrection of the dead at the time when it will be the will of the Creator, blessed be His name and exalted be His remembrance forever and ever.
(Maimonides' Twelfth and Thirteenth Principles of Faith)