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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
by Rabbi Heschel Greenberg
Are you planning a trip this summer with the whole family? Or do you remember when you were younger and you went away during the summer? Each summer you went up to the mountains or to a little cottage near the lake. Or did your family go to a different spot each time? Maybe your family just went for a day-trip into the country. Or maybe you took a trip to a far-away city to visit relatives.
The trip had many stages, even if it was only for a day. There was the planning stage right at the beginning at which the ultimate destination was decided. After all, if you didn't know where you were going you couldn't possibly proceed with the rest of the plans.
Next came organizing everything and packing up.
Finally you were on your way. Every once in a while the map was checked to make sure you were staying on course. But within a short while little voices (whiny voices?) started asking, "When will we be there? Are we there yet? How much longer?" Your parents reassured you, "We'll be there soon. Only another few miles (or minutes)." Sometimes Dad pointed to the clock in the car, or Mom showed you the watch on her wrist, or she even let you wear the watch so you could see for yourself that since the minutes were ticking away you were certainly that much closer to your destination.
As you neared the destination the excitement-and impatience-increased. Finally, when you were almost there, everyone started recognizing sights and landmarks that they remembered from past visits or read about in travel brochures. The directions you were following now were more explicit. There weren't any more highways to stay on for miles at a stretch, but street names to find and search for and traffic lights to count before the right turn. Maybe you didn't know the territory very well, so you had to be extra cautious not to make a wrong turn; you didn't want to wind up in the wrong place. The anticipation was palpable. The air was electric. You could see that you were in a different place. You could feel that you had nearly reached your destination.
When G-d created the world He had its ultimate destination in mind-the Messianic Era when the world would actually become perfect and complete. Little by little our ancestors started organizing things and started packing the world's suitcases with a knowledge of a higher purpose for the world, a transcendence of mundane day-to-day living, and with the light of Divine morality.
We started our journey, but it's been no vacation; the road has been bumpy. For the directions given us take us on the road less traveled. And, as we have traveled, we have been asking in our tiny, little voices, "When will we be there? Are we there yet? How much longer?"
"We're almost there. We'll be there soon," is the answer. As we near the final destination-the Messianic Era-our excitement and impatience must increase. G-d has shown us sights and landmarks -like, for example, recent disarmament agreements which are a partial fulfillment of the prophecy of beating swords into plowshares-that we can readily recog-nize and which we will see even more clearly when we reach the Redemption.
And the directions G-d has given us, the map He has drawn up for us, are even more important as we reach our destination. No longer can we speed along the highways stopping only once in a while to spiritually "fill 'er up." We have to follow the directions more carefully now, making sure to turn right or left at the correct places.
The anticipation should be palpable. The air should be electric. And it can be when we open our eyes and see that the world is in a different place from when it started out. We've nearly reached our destination. After traveling for thousands of years the Messianic Era is in sight.
Adapted from a talk by Rabbi Greenberg
This week's Torah portion, Eikev, talks of the desert in which the Jews wandered before entering the Land of Israel. It is described as: "The great, terrifying desert, where there were snakes, vipers, scorpions and thirst. Where there was no water..."
The great desert symbolizes our long galut (exile). A desert, uninhabited by man, is symbolic of the Jewish people in relation to the other nations of the world. The uninhabited areas of the globe far outnumber the portions which are populated, in the same way that the nations of the world far outnumber the Jews. Furthermore, within the Jewish nation itself, those who observe the Torah and mitzvot are also vastly outnumbered by those who do not yet observe.
The Torah warns us that the very consideration that the outside world is "great" is the first step in causing our spiritual exile. Thinking that because we are outnumbered means that other nations have power over us creates the possibility that these non-Jewish influences can enter our lives.
The next spiritual step down is alluded to in the word "terrifying." This is the fear that the non-Jewish world will find out that we keep the Torah. This thinking causes a Jew to measure his behavior according to non-Jewish standards and increases the power of the galut over the Jewish soul.
The next level down is that of "snake." A snake's "hot poison" alludes to the heat and enthusiasm which a Jew can have for things which are really foreign to his essence. When a person's excitement is reserved solely for physical pleasures, his enthusiasm for the spiritual is decreased.
From here, the next jump down is to the level of "vipers"--saraf--which in Hebrew comes from the word "to burn." This is the level on which a person's whole interest toward the satisfaction of his physical desires is so great that it completely overshadows any attraction to G-dliness.
But even worse than this is the level of "scorpion." A scorpion's sting is cold, symbolizing total coldness and indifference to holiness. Heat and excitement, even if directed toward things which are unworthy, can eventually be redirected into enthusiasm for holiness. But when a person is cold to everything, it is much more difficult to inspire him.
The lowest level belongs to the "thirst, where there was no water." G-d, in His kindness, sometimes causes a Jew to be thirsty for holiness and Judaism, but if one is very far from Torah (called "water" by our Sages), he may not recognize what he is thirsting for. This is the lowest level of our exile.
The antidote to the progression of spiritual degradation is the avoidance of the first pitfall, that of considering the world to have unnecessary significance. By having the proper mindset we will merit the Final Redemption.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
From Hungary with Love
By Miriam Karp
The Shabbat glow reflected off the wood-paneled dining room. At a pause in the delicious meal, the Rabbi introduced a poised young woman.
Chava Hoch had spent several months in Machon Chana Women's Institute, first studying at the Brooklyn, New York campus and then in the summer campus nestled in the Catskill Mountains. She was preparing to return to her home in Budapest, Hungary, and shared some reflections with the varied crowd of teens, young women, and families gathered to share Shabbat in this beautiful hotel turned family yeshiva camp.
"I was raised in a small Hungarian town, with few Jews, none of them observant," she began. "I didn't know I was Jewish until I was eight-years-old. Some classmates chanted 'Heil Hitler' and saluted as a joke. When I copied them, my father emotionally told me that we were Jews and I shouldn't do that."
In the intellectual atmosphere of her home, says Chava, she grew up an aetheist. "I felt that G-d was a soothing father-figure people had invented to protect them from the fear of death and the unknown. But that I was stronger than that. In many ways, however, I feel I was given the basics to later become observant. I was raised to be a thinking, open-minded, compassionate and sensitive person.
As a teen, Chava became interested in different religions and philosophies. Through her study of biology, she said she "started to form a concept of G-d as a structure and energy in the world. Esoteric concepts and eastern religions drew me. I read the literature of many cults and groups, and Christian groups tried to involve me. I was a vegetarian, and perhaps this somewhat kosher diet helped sharpen my perception, as I rejected them all and kept searching. I moved to the more cosmopolitan Budapest, where it is more acceptable to be a Jew. Non-Jewish friends kept asking me if I was celebrating Yom Kippur and exclaiming that Judaism was so mystical! Through them I developed an intellectual curiosity about Judaism, but didn't know how or where to fill it."
Chava's sister sister showed her a publication of Chabad of Budapest, and she appreciated the approach. "I subsequently attended Chabad of Budapest's Yeshivaction program. The main teacher, the Rebbe's emissary Rabbi Boruch Oberlander, is a real Chasid - smart, giving, and someone you can count on. He made concepts in Torah and Chasidut so clear. It didn't feel like taking on something new, but like opening a curtain so that I could come home to myself."
The first time Chava decided to light Shabbat candles in her home taught her a dramatic lesson. "I was so afraid of how my father would react. In my mind I heard his arguments and all my counter-arguments. I was very sensitive to my family's opinions, and anticipated disapproval and lack of respect for my actions. I lit the candles and ran to my room, prepared for the storm with all my defense mechanisms on high alert. When I came out, my father was standing quietly looking at the candles, crying and visibly moved."
Chava started attending Shabbat services, studying about Judaism, "and presenting many arguments. I felt I was an 'enemy of the Torah'-that the Torah was a higher force, and since I recognized its authority I had to surrender to it, and do things I didn't really want to. I came to America to study for six weeks in the Ivy League Torah Study Program, and continued in this vein of learning and struggling.
"I returned to Hungary and after a year and a half Rabbi Oberlander and his wife Batsheva saw that I needed to spend some time totally immersed in an uplifting Torah environment. In Hungary, it was hard to solidify my growth. So few people live a Torah life there and I was constantly bombarded with questions like, 'Why are you making your life harder? Who says this is G-d's will?' No one would give me credit for all the intellectual searching I had done to reach this point. They thought I was brainwashed."
It was hard for Chava to see the necessity of time in Yeshiva. "I had my job teaching handicapped children, my apartment, my friends, my cell phone! Why should I travel so far and have to make so many adjustments?"
Rabbi Oberlander explained that if Chava would want to give her children even a lukewarm Jewish experience, she needed to "spend some time in a stoked furnace, so I would have the source and heat to draw from. I trust Rabbi Oberlander and eventually decided, 'Why not take a few months and get a spiritual infusion?'"
Chava says that once she decided to go, G-d eased the way. "I lost some of my students so it was easier to leave without feeling tied to my job. 'Maybe it is time to leave the country' I realized, and I saw how G-d meets you as soon as you go out of your boundaries and make the first step."
Uprooting herself and coming to Machon Chana was not easy. "But," says Chava, "I am very satisfied and had a very positive learning experience. I feel I got what I came for: deep spirituality, answers to my questions, a beautiful philosophy- not guilt, rather light and love-centered. I knew I could only get this from Chabad-joy and life in the mitzvot. I gained an inner security, so that I have the persistence and courage to know I'm on the right path. I now feel I'm a 'friend of the Torah,' and know how to strengthen my friendship and become more one with her. I now understand why an immersion is important - to 'fill my backpack.' Then I can take it out bit by bit and nurture it in Hungary.
"In the Grace After Meals we ask to find favor in the eyes of G-d and man. I think of this often. I want to be successful in the eyes of G-d first, serving Him correctly with a good heart. Secondly, in the eyes of man is also important. If I'm not serving G-d the right way, a sign will be that it's displeasing to man. I want to approach my friends the right way, show them that I'm still a thinking person and not alienate them, rather add to their lives."
The hushed dining room attested to the impact of Chava's words. All were touched by her story of search and growth.
Have Candles Will Travel
What do you do when you're travelling and aren't sure when to light Shabbat candles and what time Shabbat begins? The Lubavitch Women's Organization Candle-lighting campaign has an automated telephone system that can be reached at (718) 774-3000. Just key in your zip code and you'll hear the time for candle-lighting in that location. Or you can visit www.CandleLightingTimes.org/shabbos/ to find out Shabbat candle-lighting times for locations around the world. Of course, you can also call the local Chabad-Lubavitch Center and one of the Rebbe's thousands of emissaries will be happy to help you.
The date of this letter was unavailable
...You write that although many apparent contradictions between religion and science have been explained to you in a way that they could be individually acceptable to you, you find it hard to accept them in total. You attribute this difficulty to your background, which taught you to think for yourself at every phase, having been brought up in a public school and high school, instead of in a Yeshivah atmosphere. But it is not your being trained to think for yourself that is your difficulty, but rather your inability to think straight in this matter, because of the prejudice which was acquired - consciously and even more subconsciously during these formative years, which you spent in an atmosphere which was alien to the point of view of the Torah, while the Torah viewpoint has come to you only recently.
It is therefore not surprising that whenever any detail comes up which apparently is in conflict with your former attitude, you find it difficult to accept, in the belief that everything must strictly conform to your former viewpoint, without stopping to examine what of that view-point represents truly scientific criteria.
I believe I once pointed out to you that the behavior of any individual is, in 90% or more of his actions, determined not by rational afterthought, but habit and faith in the authority of other people. Just consider your own actions, from the moment of your awakening in the morning until you go to sleep at night, and ask yourself which and how many of them you perform on the basis of scientific analysis or any kind of premeditation?
And here is another point to bear in mind. Precisely from the point of view of modern science - more than at any time in the past - it is clear that there can be no real conflict whatsoever between science and faith. Modern science upholds the view that there is no longer any immutable physical laws, that everything is relative, and that the so-called laws are no more than probabilities.
Modern science no longer claims absolute certainty in the physical world. The fact that a certain thing behaves in a certain way today, is no conclusive evidence that the same thing behaved in the same way 5000 to 6000 years ago, or that it will behave the same way a thousand years hence unless all other things are equal, including all external physical conditions of atmosphere, outer space, temperature, pressure, etc., not to mention human nature which is also changeable. And even then, all things being equal, modern science will say that the past behavior of a certain thing in a certain way offers us no certainty that it will behave that way, but only the "chances" are that it will.
Clearly, therefore, modern science cannot presume to judge with any degree of certainty the truths which our religion proclaims. The most science could say is that these truths are more or less probable. Obviously, there is no room here to speak of any conflict between science and faith.
Finally to refer to your statement that your attitude to Yiddishkeit is based on your faith in a certain person, let me say that in truth this is no means the whole story. To illustrate:
If a spark sets off a powder-keg, the resulting explosion in all its force cannot be attributed to the spark "exclusively", for the spark was no more than the immediate cause setting off the reaction. The energy released was already contained in the powder-keg. Similarly, every Jew already contains a Divine soul and all the potential energy, except that it is sometimes inactive, or that it is only active in a limited way. When it comes in contact with a person, or with an event or an experience, which sets in motion a chain reaction releasing the potential energy already contained in the Divine soul, the reaction is indeed deep-rooted and by no means dependent on the external cause.
I send you my personal wishes for growing faith in G-d, Whose Divine Providence extends to everyone individually, and that you strengthen your bonds with the Source of all life and all good, that is G-d, through the daily observance of the Torah and Mitzvos, which will give you peace of mind, true happiness and success in all your undertakings.
22 Av 5761
Positive mitzva 102: garments contaminated by leprosy
By this injunction we are commanded concerning the spiritual uncleanness of a garment affected by leprosy (Lev. 13: 47-59). [The Biblical plague of leprosy is not synonymous with the modern disease.] It includes all the regulations on how garments become unclean and cause uncleanness; which ones need segregation or tearing, burning, washing, cleansing, etc.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat afternoon we will study Chapter 5 of Ethics of the Fathers. In this Chapter, the Mishna enumerates many things associated with the number ten: ten utterances, ten generations, ten trials, ten miracles, etc. Surprisingly, missing from all these "tens" are the Ten Commandments, which one might logically think belong in this grouping.
The Ten Commandments are symbolic of the Torah. Despite the fact that everything in the world is derived from Torah, the Torah is nonetheless "higher" than creation. The Ten Commandments thus cannot be included in the same category of items enumerated by the Mishna.
The Mishna doesn't limit itself to natural phenomena; indeed, it mentions the "ten miracles" that were associated with the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the location on earth where the Divine Presence was manifested. However, the Ten Commandments are even more elevated than that.
The Holy Temple is the place where the physical world attains its perfection, "a dwelling place for G-d in the lower realms." The Torah, however, preceded the world, and is thus on a higher level than even the Temple. The Torah and G-d are a single entity. In the same way that it would be ludicrous to say that G-d exists for any other reason, so too is the Torah its own objective.
Everything in Torah contains a directive to be applied in our Divine service. These lessons can be derived from what is said, as well as from what is not said. The omission of the Ten Commandments from this Mishna teaches the following:
The highest level of Torah study is when a Jew learns Torah for its own sake. When a Jew is motivated by any other incentive, be it physical or spiritual, his objective will be limited and by extension, his learning, too.
However, when a Jews learns Torah for its own sake, he is no longer limited, and his learning will also be boundless and unlimited. This is the ultimate level of Torah study for which every Jew should strive.
If you will say in your heart: These nations are more than I; how can I dispossess them? [Then] you will not be afraid of them (Deut. 7:17-18)
It is only when a Jew admits that that nations of the world are more physically powerful than he, and that only with G-d's help can he prevail, that he will cease being afraid...
And he afflicted you, and suffered you to hunger, and fed you with the manna (Deut. 8:3)
Even though the manna could assume the taste of any delicacy in the world, the Jews still complained to Moses, "Our soul is dried away, there is nothing at all, we have only the manna to look to." Because they could not actually see the different foods they were eating (the manna always looked the same), it contained an element of "affliction" and "suffering"; moreover, this inability to see prevented them from being fully sated. From this we learn that lighting Shabbat candles, i.e., making sure there is enough illumination at the table, enhances our pleasure of the Shabbat meal.
And He fed you with the manna...that He might make you know that not by bread alone does man live (Deut. 8:3)
In the same way that when the Jews in the desert ate the manna ("bread from heaven") they recognized that they were being sustained in a miraculous manner, so too must we be aware that it is not the physical "bread from the earth" that nourishes us, but the G-dly spark it contains.
(Keter Shem Tov)
Rabbi Yisrael of Rizhin, a Chasidic Rebbe of the Ukraine, lived during the reign of Czar Nicholas. In those days, there were opponents to the Chasidic movement who did not hesitate to bring damaging accusations to the Russian Government. When an accusation of disloyalty of any Chasidic Rebbe reached the Czar, the Czar took it very seriously.
Once, when the Czar heard that the Rizhiner Rebbe did not recognize his authority, and, in fact, held him in contempt, the Czar dispatched a secret agent to Rizhin to ascertain the facts.
One of the high ranking advisors in the Royal Court was a renegade Jew, who readily agreed to act as a spy. He arrived in Rizhin, supposedly as a successful businessman. He made his way to the study hall, where he treated everyone to drinks and refreshments. After everyone had a number of "l'chaims," he began to talk about how his business ventures were being hampered by the troublesome government. He looked around, waiting to hear some of his listeners agree with him, but no one said a single word.
The spy kept up this pretense for several days, and yet, no one ever agreed with his condemnation of the Czar. When the "businessman" finally entered the Rebbe's room for his private audience, he began bewailing the fact that his business ventures were being unfairly taxed by the government.
Giving the visitor a penetrating look, the Rizhiner Rebbe responded with the following story:
There was once a Jewish innkeeper who lived in a small town, far away from other Jewish families. The innkeeper had a young son, Yosef, who, having no Jewish friends nearby, played with the handyman's son. The father arranged for a teacher to come and teach the son to read Hebrew, pray, and study Torah. The handyman's son, Stephan, used to sit in on those lessons.
Stephan showed such an interest in the Jewish studies that he attended every lesson. When Yosef was old enough to get married, the innkeeper arranged for a matchmaker to meet Yosef. Stephan was there with Yosef and remained present during the interview. When the matchmaker asked Yosef questions of Jewish knowledge, Stephan was always first with the answers.
When the innkeeper saw what was happening, he decided he had to separate Yosef from Stephan. He saw no other way than to discharge his handyman. The handyman protested that his son was old enough to go off on his own. To this the innkeeper agreed.
Stephan began to wander, pretending to be a Jewish orphan, knowing that kind Jews would befriend him. Whenever he went to a new town, he would go into the study hall, pick up a Talmud, and begin studying it. Someone would inevitably befriend the "orphan" and invite him to a meal.
Many years passed thus. One day Stephan reached a big city where there was a commotion going on. The custom of this city was to choose a new king every three years and that the king had to be a stranger. The citizens reasoned that such a king would thus have no favorites amongst the inhabitants and would rule with equal justice for all.
Stephan hurried off to the palace, presented himself as a candidate, passed all the tests and was crowned as the new king. Not long after being coronated, Stephan began issuing severe decrees against the Jews. Eventually he decreed that all Jews had to leave the kingdom within twelve months.
The chief rabbi of the city proclaimed a fast and ordered everyone into the synagogues for communal prayers. On the fourth day, the rabbi sent for the leading members of the Jewish community and told them it had been revealed to him in a dream that in a distant land, there was a young innkeeper who would be the one who could influence the king to annul his decree. To everyone's astonishment, it so happened that each member had the very same dream!
The young innkeeper was eventually found and agreed to return with them to see if he could help the Jewish community in any way.
The Jewish delegation and the innkeeper appeared before the king. When the king saw the innkeeper, he embraced him. "Don't you remember me, Yosef?" asked the king. "I am your old friend Stephan. Look what has become of me because I was forced to leave your home," he said with a chuckle.
"Now, what can I do for you?" he asked sincerely.
Yosef asked the king to permit the Jews to remain in his kingdom.
"Believe me," said Stephan, "I have nothing against the Jews. They are good, kind people and are loyal to this country. But, every once in a while I get an overwhelming urge to persecute them. I don't know why."
The chief rabbi explained: "Our Torah teaches us that the hearts of kings and princes are in the hand of G-d. The way the king treats the Jews reflects their behavior toward G-d. That is why the Jews never pray for a new king. Because there is never any certainty that the new king will be any better..."
With this, the Rizhiner Rebbe looked straight into the eyes of his visitor and said, "Go and tell those who sent you here that all the accusations against Jews of being unfaithful to the king are false. Jews are always loyal citizens and pray for the welfare of the rulers and of the country in which they live."
The ultimate promise [of Redemption] is not limited to the Jewish people alone. The redemption of the Jew is closely linked to the emancipation of all humanity as well as the destruction of evil and tyranny. It is the first step in man's return to G-d, where all mankind will be united into "a single band" to fulfill G-d's purpose. This is the "Kingdom of the Alm-ghty" in the Messianic Era.
(The Real Messiah by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan)