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Jewish leaders, organizations, and assemblies continue to plead for the need for greater unity amongst the Jewish people. Jewish newspapers each week report on gatherings and speeches across the globe to foster Jewish unity.
But what exactly is Jewish unity in the traditional Jewish sense?
In Biblical times Jews were divided according to tribes as well as families. We were and still are further divided according to class: Kohein (the "priests"), Levi and Israel.
In Jewish teachings there is also a separation of the sexes in that certain mitzvot are incumbent upon men and others upon women.
Business-people are obligated differently in specific areas of Jewish law than those who devote their lives to the study of Torah.
Children, below the age of Bar or Bat Mitzva, are not required to fulfill all of the mitzvot that an adult is obligated to fulfill. The distinctions imposed by the Torah are seemingly endless.
In addition, all throughout our history, Jews have established their own classifications and denominations that have only served to divide and splinter the Jewish people.
And yet, interestingly enough, the most successful slogan of one major Jewish organization is "We Are One."
Indeed, the Torah teaches us that all Jews are connected, we are all part of a great body that comprises the Jewish people. Some of us are the toes, some are the fingers, and some are the heads. Ultimately we are all part of one body.
If we don't perceive that which unites us, it is not totally our fault. Our inability to recognize the true, unified nature of the Jewish people is due to our long, dark exile.
However, the exile is no excuse for not attempting to unite with other Jews in a considerate and cooperative relationship. Uniting doesn't mean agreeing, it means agreeing to disagree, respectfully.
United doesn't mean everyone has to be the same. United does not mean equal. It means recognizing our differences and using our differences to bind us together. It means knowing that everyone has his or her path, opinion, and way of doing things because of their different emotions, intellect and reality and then letting them do it!
And most of all, united means appreciating that "we're all connected" -- not via the local telephone company -- but because we are all Jews, and in the world in general, because we are all created by the Creator.
The Talmud teaches that one who pretends to be something he is not will ultimately become that way. Thus, one who pretends to be a pauper, though he isn't, and collects charity will eventually become impoverished. On a positive note, what can happen if we pretend that we are really united with another Jew? We will become united!
Let's focus on that which unites us. If we find the common ground, the meeting place, or even if the only thing we can relate to in another Jew is that he or she was created by G-d (no mean feat in itself), then let's concentrate on that.
The bottom line is that we are one. When the Redemption finally begins, the "earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the ocean." Just as the waters of the ocean encompass everything in the ocean while everything in the ocean remains its own distinct entity, we also will see our unity more easily, while retaining our individuality. Until that time, (may it be very short) let's concentrate on that which unites us, which most certainly transcends that which divides us.
The first plague visited upon Egypt by G-d, as related in this week's Torah portion, Va'eira, was the plague of blood. Not just the waters of the Nile, but every drop of water in the country was miraculously transformed. The only exception was the water which was used by the Jewish people.
Water, by nature, is cold -- the exact opposite of holiness.
Holiness is vibrant and warm, infusing vitality and life in all with which it comes in contact.
The first obstacle a Jew must overcome in his daily life is conquering this coldness -- the apathy and indifference towards holiness that is the source of all evil -- and replacing it with a warmth and passion for G-d and for Yiddishkeit. It is for this reason that the plague of blood was the first step in the redemptive process of the Jewish people from Egypt.
The second plague was the plague of frogs.
The cold-blooded creatures left their natural habitat and swarmed across the Egyptian countryside, filling the Egyptians' homes and crawling into their ovens.
A Jew's enthusiasm and warmth is supposed to be reserved for holiness, as opposed to the pleasures of the physical world.
When the frogs overcame their natural inclination for damp and cold, and jumped en masse into Pharaoh's ovens, they demonstrated the need for us to work on ourselves to overcome the lusts and appetites for physical indulgence.
Thus the first two plagues represent our two-pronged approach toward the service of G-d: "avoiding that which is evil" and "doing good."
The usual order of service is to first shun doing that which is bad, and afterward striving to perform positive deeds.
An analogy may be found in the preparation of a suitable dwelling place for a king: the first step involves thoroughly cleaning the house and making sure it is free of dirt ("avoid evil"), after which the living quarters may be decorated and filled with beautiful furnishings, as befits the king ("do good").
If the house is not scrubbed spic and span, the beautiful furnishings will look out of place and do little to disguise the underlying uncleanliness.
Sometimes, however, the proper order is the reverse, as expressed in the saying of the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel: "The world says that when one cannot go under an obstacle, the proper course of action is to jump over. And I say, one must always jump over."
For when a Jew brings warmth and holiness into his surroundings, the coldness and apathy is automatically dispelled.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. I
The following is an excerpt of a third letter from Leah Lipszyc who, together with her husband and children, are the Rebbe's emissaries in Simferopol, Crimea.
...We are hoping to build a mikva here soon. Plans have been drawn up. We have the property. All we need is $40,000 to build it. So what do we do in the meantime? It is a four-hour drive to the nearest mikva.
Our driver, like everyone else here, speeds down the road while turning around to talk, and drives up hills in the left lane to avoid the potholes in the right. Besides this, there is a slight problem in the privacy department.
The first time we went, he got the run-down on what a mikva is from the guard there. He promptly came back to Simferopol and, with all the gusto of a shaliach spreading mivtza Taharat Hamishpacha (the laws of family purity), told everyone where I'd been. So we decided to go by train the next time. Only the train wouldn't get us there till too late. So we decided to take a bus, and return by train. We couldn't get tickets, but we already had a connection to the head "natchalnik" who got us two front seat tickets.
Our bus left only twenty minutes late, but as soon as we were out of the "city limits," the bus broke down. The driver called the terminal, and they said they were sending a replacement bus. Two and a half hours later, this contraption comes along looking like a cross between a tank and a school bus. It had a huge pipe sticking out the back that hooked up to the front of our bus.
Once hooked up, we all climbed back on board and were pulled by this other vehicle. There was no air, and all the exhaust of the machine came into the bus. We, of course, having gotten "first class tickets," or front row seats, received the first and "choicest" of the fumes. After fifteen minutes I announced, "I don't think I can take anymore of this!" when suddenly we stopped. We had broken down again. Everyone filed off. Behind us was another bus -- this one with a totally smashed windshield. "Uh-oh," I thought, "he must also drive uphill in the left lane."
Finally at 9:30 p.m. we reached our destination, mission accomplished. Thankfully, the train ride back was less eventful. We met the "natchalnik" at a community event shortly afterwards, and he asked us to please come up to his apartment. Not wanting to seem ungrateful for his help, we accepted.
Vladimir is quite a genial and insistent host, and had a very hard time understanding why we couldn't eat his wife's homemade goodies. He said: "Even though we eat pork, she's Jewish, so that surely must make it kosher?" He started to pour vodka for my husband. The cup wasn't kosher, so Itchie told him that at friendly farbrengens, Chasidim toast each other from the bottle caps. Well, that was no problem.
Vladimir stood on a chair and reached for a brand new decanter with an eight-ounce cap! Poor Itchie. This was after a fast, and the only food he had until now was grapes! Four big drinks later, we finally escaped. Now the problem remains... how do we get to the mikva next time!
My Russian is improving considerably, but I have to be careful about words that are almost the same. Sta-ka-ni are beverage glasses, but sta-ka-ni are drunkards. On Yom Kippur, during the break, I was sitting in the kitchen with several other women. They asked me to look up their Hebrew birthdays, which I did. Then one of them said a word that sounded like the Russian word for "writing." I figured she wanted to write down her Hebrew birthday, so I told her "nyet, posli praznik," (No, after the holiday.) Everyone burst out laughing. I hadn't seen her two-year-old come into the room asking to use the bathroom, a word that in Russian is similar to "writing" and here I am telling her to wait until after Yom Tov!
After five months of constant effort and tons of red tape, we finally got onto "Internet" e-mail. The very next night, our computer was stolen! The kids and I were in the kitchen, while the yeshiva students were across the yard in the shul.
Itchie, (who works about 20 hours a day) was napping in our room. Someone walked in right under our noses, stole the computer six feet away from where Itchie was sleeping, and walked right out with it. Speak about chutzpa! Well, so much for e-mail.
The book "Tanya" is based on the Torah verse, "It [the full scope of Torah] is very close to you."
The yahrzeit of the Tanya's author, the Alter Rebbe, on the 24th of Tevet should inspire us to establish fixed programs of study that focus on this fundamental work of Chabad Chasidut.
Try Lessons in Tanya, by Rabbi Yosef Wineberg, study the Tanya on the telephone by calling (718) 953-6100 or on the Internet by sending your subscription request to: firstname.lastname@example.org - Subscribe D-1. Books in English based on Tanya include "The Long Shorter Way" by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.
Originally this was supposed to be a two part series - one for last week and one for this week.
Since the issue is so very important and timely we are providing it in full text this week again.
For those of you who re-print the L'Chaim, there is a notation from where to continue.
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.
------------------Break here for second part------------------
- 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.
ATLANTIC CITY'S SAFE BET
Gamblers on their way to Atlantic City, NJ lately have been greeted by a massive billboard with a picture of the Rebbe and the Rebbe's message, "the Time of Your Redemption Has Arrived." The billboard, which is displayed on the main highway route into the city, has attracted a good deal of attention both in the secular and the Jewish press.
One commentator suggested that the message offered hope of redemption even to those who had fallen into the clutches of the city's main industry.
The billboard, and several more like it around the state of New Jersey, have been sponsored by the New Jersey chapter of the International Campaign to Bring Moshiach.
SIGNS OF THE TIMES
"An Act of Kindness is a Vote for Moshiach" is just one of the signs that have appeared on the Canadian landscape spreading the Rebbe's message of the imminence of the Redemption and our responsibility to "get ready."
On Tuesday (the 24th of Tevet) we commemorate(d) the yahrzeit of the "Alter Rebbe," Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chasidut and the Chabad-Lubavitch Dynasty.
We have discussed many times the significance of the Alter Rebbe's name and that "Shneur" indicates the two lights ("shnei ohr") of Chasidut and the "revealed" Torah that the Alter Rebbe brought into the world.
The Alter Rebbe was considered one of the great luminaries of his and future generations. It is no coincidence, then, that he was born on a Wednesday -- the fourth day of creation -- the day on which G-d placed the two luminaries (the sun and the moon) in the sky.
The Rebbe once explained the significance of a momentous event occurring on a Wednesday:
"This provides every Jew with a twofold lesson in his service of G-d. Firstly, he must appreciate that he is a 'luminary,' that he can and he must, shine forth and provide others with light. Secondly, the mention of the two luminaries, the sun and the moon, teaches one that he must be both a great luminary and a small luminary.
"Being a 'great luminary' implies that a person realizes that he possesses important potential which he wants to use in a contributory fashion.
"Being a 'small luminary' implies that a person must appreciate and radiate to others that other individuals can contribute to him as our Sages comment, 'Who is a wise man? One who learns from every person.' As a small luminary, one reflects the positive virtues that others possess.
"A person must know how to express both of these dimensions in his life and must have the sensitivity to appreciate which quality is demanded at each particular time."
On the occasion of the Alter Rebbe's yahrzeit, may we all experience the insight and sensitivity necessary to accomplish the above.
And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob... I have also heard the groaning of the Children of Israel (Exodus 6:3-5)
Moses was concerned that after 210 years of slavery in Egypt the Jewish people would have grown too accustomed to the exile to fully absorb the message that their redemption was imminent.
G-d's answer about our Patriarchs thus reassured him that his worries were unwarranted; the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob can never accustom themselves to exile, for to them it is an unnatural state. Every day that passes is as bitter as the very first. The same is true for us today.
Despite the fact that this present exile has lasted more than 1900 years, the Jewish people is more than ready to accept the message that the Final Redemption is indeed imminent.
(The Rebbe, Shabbat Parshat Shemot, 5751)
And I appeared (va'eira) (Exodus 6:3)
The word "va'eira" is in both the past and present tense, indicating that the revelation of G-dliness that existed in the times of our forefathers continues to exist today as well.
Every Jew possesses the quality of Abraham (love of G-d), the quality of Isaac (awe of G-d), and the quality of Jacob (mercy); the revelation of these inner traits is akin to G-d's revelation to the Patriarchs.
Why does Rashi comment that G-d appeared "to the Patriarchs"? To teach us that G-d revealed Himself to them not because of their great virtue, but solely because they were the fathers of the Jewish people, and would thus pass on everything they received to their descendants forever.
You shall speak (tedaber) all that I command you (Exodus 7:2)
The word "tedaber" is related to "tadber" -- "and you shall rule over."
The defeat of Pharaoh, the epitome of arrogance and pride, could only be brought about by an individual such as Moses, the epitome of humility and nullification before G-d.
Yankel the innkeeper lived in an isolated hamlet for so long that he hardly remembered that he was a Jew. Shabbat was a word he hardly recalled. Day and night he served the Polish peasants who bought drinks in his little inn. Nothing new ever happened and one year slipped unnoticed into the next.
One day, however, a stately-looking Jew entered Yankel's inn and disturbed Yankel's quiet existence. This visitor was none other than the famous tzadik, Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov, who had leased a hut in the middle of a forest in order to meditate and pray in the stillness of the woods. At times, however, he came to the inn to purchase food, and that is how he came to know Yankel.
When the tzadik had first entered his inn, something deep inside Yankel stirred and prompted him to say to the rabbi, "You know, Sir, I too, am a Jew."
"How can you live in a place where there are no other Jews?" the tzadik queried him. "Why, it seems you have even forgotten our holy traditions. My poor brother, why, even the animals of Jews refrain from work on the Shabbat. Can you do even less than that?"
Yankel blushed at Rabbi Moshe Leib's words. "But, Rabbi," he continued, "I have to stay open on Shabbat or the peasants buy their drinks elsewhere, and I will be destitute!"
"Nevertheless," Rabbi Moshe Leib insisted, "you must close on Shabbat. How can a holy Jewish soul do less than the donkey of a Jew who is kept from working on the Sabbath day?"
When Yankel saw that the tzadik was adamant, he began to think and he resolved to close the inn on Shabbat.
Yankel's announcement provoked a bitter reaction from his customers. "If you refuse to sell us liquor, we'll...we'll... complain to the landlord! He'll throw you out! You can't do this to us!"
Yankel knew they were as good as their words -- particularly when it touched the issue of vodka. He walked deep into the forest until he found the hut of the tzadik. "The peasants are threatening to ruin me," Yankel cried.
"Don't worry. Bolt the doors. If the landlord questions you, do not hesitate to tell him that your G-d commanded Jews to keep the Sabbath day holy," replied Rabbi Moshe Leib.
The innkeeper was very frightened, but he resolved to do as the tzadik said. Shabbat arrived and Yankel bolted the door of his inn. The peasants arrived and began to pound on the door and windows trying to get in. Finally, the voice of the landlord could be heard outside, demanding that Yankel open up the inn.
Yankel had no choice but to open, and it was a very angry poritz who entered the inn crying, "Who do you think you are, denying vodka to your customers!? Why else did I lease this inn, except to make a profit?"
"Sire," began a frightened Yankel, "surely you know I am a Jew. Just recently I was told by a holy Jew that our Torah forbids us to work on the Sabbath day. That is why I have closed the inn today."
The directness of the reply intrigued the landowner. "Where is this person? Bring him to me!"
Soon, Rabbi Moshe Leib was standing before the landlord. "Tell me, Jew, does this prohibition against working apply to a Jew who is in danger of losing his livelihood?" he asked, in a cutting tone.
"Sire, it applies even in such a case," was the tzadik's reply.
"Why do you torment this man? I doubt your answer would be the same if it applied to you. I will find out, and if you are really sincere, I will permit the inn to close on the Sabbath." The landlord left, a plan hatching in his mind.
The following Shabbat, the landowner rode into the forest with a bag of gold coins. When he saw Rabbi Moshe Leib leaving his hut, he scattered the coins on the floor of the forest and waited to see what would transpire. At first the tzadik passed right by the coins, but then he returned and examined them closely. The landlord waited gleefully for the fatal moment when the Jew would eagerly scoop them into his hands. But no, he continued walking.
The landower then rushed out of his hiding place. "I am very impressed, and I will keep my end of the deal. But tell me, why did you first ignore the money and then bend down to examine it?"
"I will explain," began Rabbi Moshe Leib. "At first, I ignored the money, for it was Shabbat. But then, I began to think how I needed the money to rescue many imprisoned Jews. Perhaps that mitzva overrides the prohibitions of the Shabbat.
I became confused, and then I prayed to G-d to give me direction.
Suddenly I understood. G-d could certainly provide me with the money in a permissible way. Sire, if I had taken or hidden the money, you would not have understood my motives. You would have assumed that I was taking it for my own desires. I have always scrupulously observed the Shabbat, and now Heaven has protected me from coming to any harm. Surely, now you can see the importance of keeping the holiness of the Sabbath."
It is well known that the Messianic Era, and especially the time of the Resurrection of the Dead, is the fulfillment and culmination of the creation of the world, for which purpose it was originally created.
(Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi in Tanya)