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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Think back to a recent vacation. Do you remember all of the excitement surrounding the plans for every aspect of the trip? The other people with you (family? friends?) agreed on all of the where's, when's and how's, so making plans was a breeze, right?
Probably not. Often, "dream" vacations turn into nightmares as each participant pushes to have his own expectations, desires, budget and interests met.
When the Jewish people journeyed from Egypt toward Mount Sinai, there were millions of people travelling together. The actual travelling could accurately be described as a dream turned nightmare. But something utterly unique happened once they reached Mount Sinai.
"They had journeyed from Refidim and had come to the desert of Sinai, camping in the desert; and Israel camped there before the mountain," the Torah says (Ex. 19:2).
Our Sages note that the verse uses a plural form for "journeyed...had come... camping..." and a singular form for "Israel camped there" - as one person, with one heart. By virtue of this unity they received the Torah. G-d said: "As they hate dissension and love peace, and they have become a singular encampment, the time has come to give them the Torah!" For "the purpose for which the whole Torah was given is to bring peace upon the world, as it is said, 'Her ways are the ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace "' (Proverbs 3:17).
People differ physically and mentally. Individual distinctions, however, need not separate and divide. They complement and supplement one another. Joining and harmonizing the differing yet complementing aspects in everyone thus leads to a higher-ultimate-unity and perfection.
The Jewish people at Sinai sensed this ultimate and absolute unity joining them together. In that frame of mind, therefore, "as one person, with one heart," they jointly desired and anticipated receiving the Torah, and that is when G-d gave it to them.
It is likewise with the Redemp-tion. Of the Messianic era it is said that "the preoccupation of the entire world will be solely to know G-d."
All knowledge of G-d derives from the Torah. Moshiach's ultimate function, therefore, will be to "teach the entire people and instruct them in the ways of G-d, and all nations will come to hear him." He will reveal novel understandings of the presently hidden, unknown and esoteric teachings of the infinite Torah, allowing people "to attain knowledge of their Creator to the extent of human capacity." In order to make it possible for the world to partake in these new revelations, the Messianic era will thus be a time of peace and harmony, with "neither famine nor war, neither envy nor strife."
As we look forward to the Redemption, we must prepare for that new revelation even as we had to prepare for the revelation at Sinai. We must overcome all differences that may lead to dissension and divisiveness, to become as "one person, with one heart" by concentrating on that which unites us, on the common denominator we all share. Peace and harmony will surely hasten the universal and everlasting peace of the Messianic era.
Adapted from Living With Moshiach by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet, published by Kehot Publication Society.
This Shabbat we begin reading from the Book of Numbers, whose Hebrew name, Bamidbar, means "in the desert." There are many places in the world that, from a Jewish perspective, are "deserts." Lacking even the most basic necessities of a Jewish community, the surrounding atmosphere is not one of Torah and sanctity. From a physical standpoint it might be a luxurious garden spot, but in the spiritual sense it is a "desolate wasteland."
A Jew finding himself in such a location might think that it is impossible to lead an authentic Jewish life under these conditions. He might even begin to compromise his Judaism, at first relinquishing those elements he doesn't consider "essential," yet gradually giving up things that really are. "Here it is different," he may say to himself. "A Jew cannot be expected to behave the same as if he lived in a traditional, Jewish neighborhood."
However, when we consider this week's Torah portion, the fallacy of such thinking becomes apparent. The Torah relates how the task of carrying the numerous components and vessels of the Sanctuary was divided among the Levite families. It describes how the journeys were conducted and how the Sanctuary was erected in every location the Jewish people encamped. Indeed, it is quite astounding when we remember that all this occurred in a barren wilderness, devoid of human habitation.
How was this possible in a place without life, let alone any trace of holiness or Judaism? And yet, the very first thing the Jews did upon arriving in an encampment was to erect the Sanctuary, immediately transforming it into a holy place where they could serve G-d!
The Torah thus teaches that G-d has not limited the power of holiness to operate only under certain specific conditions. Wherever a Jew goes, be it a "desolate wasteland" in the physical or spiritual sense, he has the ability to establish a "sanctuary" to G-d, to sanctify that place and spread the light of Torah and mitzvot.
All that is necessary is to allow the inner light of the G-dly soul to illuminate, to light up the correct path to follow. The Jew will then see how all obstacles and difficulties will disappear, until he too will reach the "Holy Land."
This concept, which applies to all Jews, is especially relevant to Jewish women. In the same way that the Jewish women were the first to contribute to the physical Sanctuary, so too do they play a unique role in erecting a spiritual sanctuary to G-d. As the "akeret habayit," the core and mainstay of the home, the Jewish woman has the unique ability to establish a Jewish tone in the home, and the strength to protect her family from negative influences.
Adapted from Volume 2 of Likutei Sichot
Chaim's Bar Mitzva
By Rabbi Yossy Goldman
I wouldn't call it your typical Bar Mitzva. There was no reading from the Torah by the Bar Mitzva boy and no chanting the haftorah. Yet, it was awesome and awe-inspiring, heart-warming and heartbreaking; it was Chaim's Bar Mitzva.
Chaim was born a healthy child to healthy parents. A precocious redhead, he was a bundle of energy. Then, out of the blue, at the age of one and a half, Chaim contracted a "virus" and started shaking uncontrollably. Batteries of tests followed, visits to specialist, but things went from bad to worse. "It will go away," said one expert. "The same way it came, the same way will it go," said another. "Be patient," said a third.
That was over a decade ago. Chaim is still plagued by "the virus." He is still shaky, spilling things a dozen times a day. His condition is a constant weight on the shoulders of his loving, dedicated parents; a daily and nightly burden on his siblings. All of them have learned to be masters of patience. Their tolerance levels are remarkable. Somehow, they accept Chaim's difficult behavior.
Chaim goes to a special school. In the summer, he attends a remarkable overnight camp where children with special needs are given a vacation by angels in human form who give up their vacations to be counselors at the now-famous Camp HASC.
The easiest thing for Chaim's parents would have been to hold a small, quiet Bar Mitzva party for their special son. A low-profile kiddush at shul and a little private party for close family and friends would have been quite acceptable under the circumstances. But Chaim's parents are made of different stuff. They made the bold decision to celebrate Chaim's Bar Mitzva in the same way they had celebrated the Bar Mitzvas of their two older sons - a hall, a catered affair, a band, the works.
The extended family wasn't sure it was the right decision. Would Chaim be able to cope with the stress of being on center stage? Would he perform? Would he behave?! But the decision was made and his parents stuck with it.
The Shabbat meals were hosted at home. Chaim's mother served lavishly. Guests spoke at the table, words of Torah, words of wisdom, and many beautiful blessings filled the atmosphere.
Chaim wore a new black hat that he was quite proud of. On Shabbat morning in shul, Chaim was called to the Torah. With his father standing by his side, he recited the blessings on the Torah relatively clearly and articulately. The atmosphere at lunch was much more festive. One hurdle passed.
The camp counselors who came to spend Shabbat with the family took turns speaking at lunch. Each one told how it was a privilege for him to be part of these special children's lives and how their own lives had been enriched from the experience. They thanked Chaim and his friends for teaching them to appreciate the blessings most of us assume are our birthright.
I felt humbled; so small, so ordinary. Here was true greatness. These were real-life heroes, regular guys who stood above the mediocre crowd.
Then came Sunday to the big party. Hundreds of guests attended. To see Chaim's face shine every time one of his classmates arrived was a study in simcha (joy). The first dance began. Chaim and his special friends danced the hora together with Chaim hoisted onto his counselor's shoulders. Soon Chaim and his friends were all up on shoulders screaming with joyous delight, faces radiant.
Have you ever danced and cried at the same time? Dancing, crying, singing, and weeping, a kaleidoscope of emotions whirled around in my heart, confusing my brain. My handkerchief was wet, saturated with tears of joy, tears of sadness.
The lead singer sang a song from Psalms, "Hazorim b'dima b'rina yiktzoru - Those who sow in tears shall reap with joy." I was reminded of the Chasidic interpretation: "Those who sow in tears with joy, they shall reap." When Chaim said a short Dvar Torah, part of the traditional Chasidic discourse said at Lubavitcher Bar Mitzvot, I felt a tangible fulfillment of that verse. His folks must have worked very hard to help him achieve that momentous milestone.
I was called upon to speak. I put aside my notes and recalled a visit some years back by a group of Israeli soldiers to the U.S.A. These were soldiers who had been wounded in Israel's wars. Some were paraplegic, others maimed, each one a holy soul in a broken body. They had elected to give up a night on Broadway to visit with the Rebbe. The big shul downstairs at 770 Eastern Parkway was cleared, ramps for wheelchairs installed and the Rebbe came down to speak to these soldiers, each of whom had given so much for our people.
The focus of the talk was how when a person is, G-d forbid, deficient in one faculty, he is compensated in another. When individuals are physically challenged, said the Rebbe, G-d gives them extra strength in the spiritual realm. You should not be called "handicapped," but "metzuyanim," those who excel!
Chaim is a metzuyan, I said. Tonight we have witnessed excellence. He may not be able to perform the same as you and I; he may not possess the skills you and I routinely take for granted. But Chaim excels at many things, including making the rest of us more aware, more sensitive and much more humble.
As a Rabbi of a large congregation, I'm called upon quite often to speak. There have been some very difficult speeches over the years. But none were as difficult for me as my speech at Chaim's Bar Mitzva. You see, Chaim is my brother's son.
Rabbi Goldman lives in Johannesburg, South Africa
Shavuot Across America
Tzivos Hashem has arranged a Shavuot Competition for children throughout North America. Any child who goes to the synagogue on the first day of Shavuot (May 28) and listens while the Ten Command-ments are being read from the Torah can be entered in a raffle to win one of ten scooters. Contact your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center for a contest brochure or enter online at www.jewishkidsonline.com. Children can also participate by mailing their name, address and parent's signature that they attended synagogue and heard the Ten Commandments to: Shavuot Competition, 332 Kingston Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11213. Or fax the above to (718) 467-8527.
Erev [eve of] Shavuos, 5735 
Greeting and Blessing:
At this time before Shavuos, the Festival of Mattan Torah [the Giving of the Torah], I send you and yours my prayerful wishes for a happy and inspiring Yom Tov [holiday] and the traditional blessing to receive the Torah with joy and inwardness, and may the joy and inspiration be with you throughout the year.
No doubt you received my previous correspondence. I trust that this letter will find you in good health and spirits - which is also relevant to Shavuos. For, as our Sages of blessed memory tell us, before G-d gave the Torah to our people at Sinai, all those who were in ill-health were cured and invigorated. This is also understand-able, since a healthy Jew, physically, can better understand and follow the Torah and Mitzvos and accomplish all that he has to.
By extension to the other end, it follows that a Jew is duty-bound to take care of his health, since the health of the Neshomo [soul] depends largely on the health of the body, and both are required to accomplish the maximum. This is particularly important in the case of a person whom Divine Providence has given a special standing in the community, to be a source of inspiration to many. I am pleased to know that Mrs. - is a true helpmate.
Wishing you again a happy and joyous Yom Tov,
Rosh Chodesh Sivan, 5738 
...I take this opportunity of expressing my regret that - for reasons you are aware of - it was impossible to talk things over with you personally and at length, nor to meet your younger daughter. However, when Jews meet at a Farbrengen [Chasidic gathering] dedicated to Torah and Yiddishkeit [Judaism], in a sacred place of Tefilah [prayer] and Torah study, especially one that had been graced by the presence of my father-in-law of saintly memory for ten years - this unites Jews and brings them closer together than a personal conversation.
Apropos of the above, and in connection with the forthcoming Festival of Mattan Torah, the unity of our people is directly related to it, as our Sages interpret the words, "and Israel encamped there facing the Mountain" (Yisro [Exodus] 19:21), taking note of the use of the singular person - k'ish echod b'lev echod, "like one person, with one heart." (Rashi, from Mechilta). It was the first time since the departure from Egypt that the Jewish people felt truly united, and G-d said, "Now they are fit to receive the Torah."
At first glance it seems extraordinary that a whole nation could be so united as to be described "like one person with one heart," especially as it has been said that "people differ in their outlooks as they differ in their looks," and there are various walks of life and interests. But the explanation is found in the words, "facing the Mountain." For, when the Jewish people were about to receive the Torah, they were all of like mind and heart, and all so eager to receive the Torah and its Mitzvos that in the light of it everything else paled into insignificance, and thus they all truly became like one person with one heart.
Since the Torah was given not only to our ancestors coming out of Egypt, but the souls of all Jews of all future generations were present and joined in "na'aseh v'nishma" ["we will do and then we will understand"], the reading of the portion of Mattan Torah on Shovuos - most solemnly and with a Brocho [blessing] before and after - inspires every one of us to relive this experience, and rejuvenates the powers of every Jew to renew his, and her, commitment to Torah and Mitzvos with increased vigor and vitality and joy. May it be so with you and yours and all of us in the midst of all our people.
Wishing you and all your family a joyous and inspiring Yom Tov, and the traditional blessing to receive the Torah with joy and inwardness,
3 Sivan 5761
Positive mitzva 127: the first tithe
By this injunction we are commanded to set aside a tithe (which goes to the Levites) from the land's produce. It is contained in the Torah's words (Num. 18:24): "For the tithe of the Children of Israel, which they set apart as a gift unto the L-rd." The commandment is only obligatory in the Land of Israel.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Monday and Tuesday (May 28th and 29th) we will celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, which commemorates the Giving of the Torah 3313 years ago. Before the eyes of the entire Jewish people,
G-d descended upon Mount Sinai and uttered the first of the Ten Commandments: "I am the L-rd your G-d Who took you out of Egypt."
Of all the things G-d could have said at this climactic moment of Divine revelation, why did He choose to remind the Jews that He had taken them out of Egypt? Wouldn't it have been more "dramatic" to refer to Himself as the Creator of heaven and earth, or something equally as "big"? Isn't the fact that G-d created the world more significant than the Exodus from Egypt?
As Chasidic philosophy explains, from a certain perspective the answer is no. The world was created (and continues to be sustained) ex nihilo, "something from nothing." To a human being this is indeed miraculous, but to G-d, Who is infinite and without limitation, it is "no big deal."
The Exodus, by contrast, was an even greater miracle. In order to take the Jewish people out of Egypt, G-d had to alter the natural laws He had already set in place, and to perform supernatural wonders. G-d had to expend even more power, as it were, to break through the boundaries and limitations He had already established.
We see this on the personal level as well. It is relatively easy to accustom ourselves to follow the right path from the beginning, but much harder to change negative habits that are already ingrained.
However, when G-d took our forefathers out of Egypt, He gave each and every Jew throughout the generations the ability to transcend personal limitations. This power to overcome negative behaviors and serve G-d to the fullest was rooted within us with the Giving of the Torah, and has been part of our inheritance ever since.
As we celebrate Shavuot, let us accept the Torah anew with an active consciousness of the Giver of the Torah, realizing that the Torah is the purpose of the entire creation. In this manner, we will bring peace and tranquility to each individual Jew and to the world at large.
And the L-rd spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting (Num. 1:1)
"In the wilderness of Sinai" teaches that a Jew should be as humble as Mount Sinai, the smallest of all the mountains; "in the Tent of Meeting" teaches that he should be joyous, as the word for "Meeting," "Moed," also means festival. The greater one's humility, the more genuine joy he will experience at having merited to be able to serve G-d.
(Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk)
Take a census (literally "lift the head") of all the congregation of the people of Israel (Num. 1:1-2)
Moses' counting of the Jews caused the Divine Presence to rest among them. Every Jew realized that he was part of an exact, specific number, and that he, the individual, had the power to influence the fate of the entire nation. Similarly, Maimonides writes (in his Laws of Repentance): "Every person should consider himself...half innocent and half guilty, and the whole world as if half meritorious and half culpable. If he does one mitzva, he tips the balance to the side of merit and brings salvation and relief both to himself and entire world." Thus by arousing them to repentance, the census caused G-d's Presence to dwell among the Jewish people.
(Shnei Luchot HaBrit)
In most years, the Torah portion of Bamidbar is read on the Shabbat immediately before the holiday of Shavuot. This is because the main preparation for the Giving of the Torah is the mitzva of "And you shall love your fellow as yourself," Jewish unity, which Moses' census accomplished and underscored.
Every man shall camp by his own flag, according to the sign of his father's house (Num. 2:2)
According to our Sages, every individual is obligated to ask himself, "When will my deeds reach the deeds of my forefathers?" This does not mean that a Jew has to worry about exactly emulating the Patriarchs, but that his behavior should at least "touch" (the Hebrew word for "reach" comes from the same root) the high standards ("sign") they set for him, and strive to follow in their ways.
Ruth was a princess, the daughter of the King of Moab. Yet despite her exalted status she was able to see the vast difference between the idol worship of her countrymen and the G-dly laws that were followed by the Jewish people.
It was a time of widespread famine, and many people in the land of Moab were dying of hunger. The storehouses of the wealthy Moabites, however, were filled with grain, with a surplus left over for planting. The rich made very sure to guard their warehouses and fields from the starving riffraff. The poor were forbidden to touch the grain upon pain of death.
The kindly princess was horrified by the depravity of her people and appalled by their unwillingness to help the needy. Suddenly, all the luxuries of the royal palace were repellent. Having made the acquaintance of a small Jewish family that had come to Moab from Beit Lechem, she was very impressed by their way of life. When a family member, one of the sons of Elimelech and Naomi, asked her to marry him, she willingly gave up her life of privilege and joined the family of poor émigrés. Even after her husband died Ruth remained devoted to her Jewish mother-in-law, Naomi.
Eventually the famine in Beit Lechem ended, and Naomi decided to return home. By that time Ruth was so bound to her mother-in-law that she refused to be parted from her. Naomi tried very hard to dissuade Ruth from following. She explained the many obligations she would have to assume as a Jew, and the numerous conscriptions the Torah's 613 commandments would impose on her. She was also quite frank about the punishments Ruth would face as a Jew for transgressing those commandments, but Ruth held firm. "Do not entreat me to leave you or to keep from following you," she replied simply, "for wherever you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your G-d my G-d." These were words that emanated from a pure heart, and from a very lofty soul. Ruth was a giyoret tzedek, a righteous proselyte, in the true meaning of the term.
Indeed, Ruth never regretted her decision. On the contrary, when she arrived in Beit Lechem she was even more convinced of the justice and compassion of Jewish law. In the Land of Israel, poor people weren't chased from the fields. One time when Ruth, tired and hungry, sat down to rest in the middle of a barley field she heard a friendly voice calling out to her in welcome. The voice belonged to Boaz, the owner of the field, who invited her to glean as much grain as she wished. He also offered her protection and water to drink.
Ruth was very grateful and gathered several bundles. She was about to depart when Boaz advised her to wait another short while, as soon the harvesting would begin and she would be able to take "pei'a."
"What is pei'a?" Ruth asked. "According to the Torah," Boaz explained, "when the owner of a field harvests his grain, he is not allowed to touch the pei'a, or corner. This section must be left for the poor, and the wandering stranger who does not have what to eat."
When the harvest began, Ruth was very busy collecting even more grain. Soon her knapsack was almost filled to bursting. Again she was preparing to leave when Boaz advised her to wait. His workers, he explained, would soon start binding the grain into sheaves, and she could benefit from "leket."
"What is leket?" Ruth asked. Boaz replied that according to Jewish law, if the sickle misses some stalks of grain and they fall from the reaper's hand, he is not allowed to pick them up. These stalks are designated for the orphaned and poverty-stricken, the widow and wayfarer who have no other source of sustenance.
In the end Ruth returned to her mother-in-law with enough grain to last them a very long time. Only now did Ruth fully appreciate the Torah's laws and understand how holy and precious they are. Not only did the Torah provide for widows and orphans, but it also looked after strangers who were outside the existing social structure in a foreign land.
With love and devotion Ruth the Moabite cleaved to the Torah and to the Jewish people. Indeed, her reward was great: The wealthy Boaz, one of the Judges of Israel, took her as a wife, and she merited to become the "mother of royalty" with children, grandchildren and her great-grandson David, the anointed of G-d, sitting on the Jewish throne.
Moshiach, too, is a descendent of Ruth, may he be immediately revealed and redeem the Jewish people and the world at once!
From Akdamut, a liturgical poem recited responsively on Shavuot before reading the Ten Commandments: "Of the great things He will do for me when redemption shall arrive; when He will bring me light, and you will be covered with shame; when His glory will be revealed with power and with grandeur, He will repay in kind to the haters [of the Jews] and the isles. But righteousness to the people who are beloved and, abundantly meritorious, When He brings total joy, and pure vessels to the city of Jerusalem as He gathers in the Exile."