Happy Birthday! | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | Rambam this week | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
What kind of birthday presents do you like to give? Do you break your head trying to find exactly the right gift for the person, something he'll oooh or she'll aaah about, something that will elicit a response like, "That's exactly what I wanted!" Or do you think in terms of what you would like to receive, what kind of present would make you happy?
On Passover in 1984, the Lubavitcher Rebbe proposed that Moses Maimonides' Mishneh Torah be studied on a daily basis. The Rebbe made the proposal during Passover because Maimonides (known also by the acronym "Rambam") was born the day before Passover. Studying the Mishneh Torah would be a kind of "birthday present" to the Rambam.
In the intervening years, hundreds of thousands of Jews have adopted this study schedule or the study of Rambam's more condensed Sefer HaMitzvot. Much has been translated into English and other languages. There are classes, cassettes, CDs, you can even study the daily lesson online.
It's interesting to note that Passover, commemorating the Exodus from Egypt, is the birthday of the Jewish people. It's when the nation of Israel was born.
So, in a sense, studying the Mishneh Torah isn't just a "birthday present" for the Rambam, it's a birthday present for the Jewish people, an utlimate birthday gift.
What makes the Mishneh Torah such a great "birthday present"? After all, there are a lot of great works in Judaism.
There's something unique about the Mishneh Torah: it includes all the laws of the Torah - even those not currently practiced. It's a clear, concise compendium. By studying the Mishneh Torah - or the Sefer HaMitzvot, which lists all six hundred thirteen commandments with brief explanations - we can fulfill the obligation to study all the laws of the Torah.
And studying all the laws means that they are, should be, will be, we believe they are soon to be - relevant. Why should we learn about the sacrifices in the Temple? Because, G-d Willing, shortly the Temple will be rebuilt and we'll need to know how to do it. Of the nearly one thousand (!) chapters in the Mishneh Torah, how many of them still apply today? All of them! Even if we can't put them into practice, our study says we're preparing for when the time comes to observe them; we're ready, willing and able for Redemption.
And that's another birthday that we're celebrating at this time of year: The birthday of the first Redemption of the Jewish people. Maimonides wrote about Redemption and longed for Moshiach; he arranged the Mishneh Torah in such a way that the conclusion - the finale of the whole work - concerns the laws of Moshiach.
The Rebbe, whose birthday (not so coincidentally, for nothing happens by chance) occurs also at this time - 11 Nisan/ Sunday April 13 this year - said that our generation is the last generation of exile and the first of Redemption. The Rebbe urged all of us to "prepare the world" to greet Moshiach and to "open our eyes" to the reality that the world is ready.
In 1990 - 1991, the Rebbe continually quoted a remarkable prophecy in the Midrash called Yalkut Shimoni, explaining how it foretold the Gulf War. Immediately after the war ended, he publicly stated that it had not yet reached its full conclusion and would eventually be continued - which we are now seeing.
As the Rebbe then emphasized, the passage in the Yalkut Shimoni concludes: "G-d says: 'My children, do not fear! The time of your Redemption has arrived.' " In other words, the events we are now wit-nessing are leading up to the revelation of the Moshiach and the ultimate Redemption.
As we approach the birthdays of the Rebbe and the Rambam, we can offer them a beautiful "birthday present" by studying daily the Rambam's Mishneh Torah or his Sefer HaMitzvot - a study that embraces the whole Torah and unites the entire Jewish nation, therefore helping to hasten the coming of the Moshiach.
Since Passover is also the birthday of the Jewish people, when we became a nation, it's also a gift to every one of us.
So, Happy birthday, Rebbe! Happy birthday, Rambam! Happy birthday, Jewish People! Happy birthday, Moshiach!
In the Passover Haggadah, we say: "Even if we are all wise, all men of understanding, and all know the Torah, it is a mitzva (commandment) for us to tell of the exodus from Egypt." This quote indicates that the point of the Seder is not merely an intellectual experience. For after all, if we are wise and know the Torah, then we also know the story of the Exodus.
Instead, the intent is that the Seder enables us to relive the Exodus, to realize - as we say later in the Haggadah - that "not only our ancestors [were] redeemed from Egypt, but [G-d] redeemed us as well." Every Seder is an opportunity for each one of us to leave Egypt.
What does it mean for us to leave Egypt, when many of us have never seen that part of the world?
Mitzrayim - the Hebrew name for Egypt - shares a connection with the term meitzarim, meaning "boundaries" or "limitations." Leaving Egypt means going beyond those forces that hold us back and prevent us from expressing who we really are. The idea of leaving Egypt reminds us that, in a certain way, we are all slaves.
Each one of us has a soul which is "an actual part of G-d." This is the core of our being, our real "I." But we find ourselves in Egypt, for there are forces, both external and internal, that prevent us from being in touch with this spiritual potential and giving it expression.
The Seder night is a time when these forces do not have the power to hold us back. For Passover is "The Season of Our Freedom." From the time of the Exodus - and indeed, from the beginning of time - this night was chosen as a night on which the potential is granted to express our G-dly core. Every year, at this time, within the spiritual hierarchy of the world, there is "an exodus from Egypt." All restrictions fall away and transcendent G-dliness is revealed.
This spiritual awakening filters down within our souls, prompting us to tap our spiritual core, express our unbounded G-dly potential, and leave Egypt, i.e., to break through any and all restraints.
This experience should not remain an isolated spiritual peak. Instead, Passover should initiate a process of endless growth, empowering us to continuously break through ever subtle levels of limitations and express our spiritual potential at all times.
This concept is reflected in the Lubavitch custom not to recite the passage "Chasal Siddur Pesach" ("The Passover Seder is concluded") which others say at the end of the Seder. The intent of the omission is to emphasize that our Passover experience should be ongoing. Throughout the year, we should look to the Seder as the beginning of a pattern of new growth and spiritual expression.
From Keeping in Touch by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Matza: Food of Faith
by Rabbi Boruch Shlomo E. Cunin
The festival of Passover was quickly approaching. I was in the middle of the Bronx and the train I was riding in broke down. I got out and began to walk. Heading in the general direction of Pelham Parkway, I kept asking people where a certain address was. I remember one helpful soul who told me, "Son, you've got a long way to go!"
Earlier that afternoon, a group of students in Brooklyn had finished baking the last of the Passover matza. It was 1958, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe had a custom of giving hand-baked matza to people as a spiritual gift before Passover. The Rebbe would stand for hours, greeting people and handing them matza. The mystical Jewish work, the Zohar explains that matza is the "bread of faith," and simply eating it nourishes the soul.
The Rebbe would give matza first to the people who had to travel far, because riding in a car or subway is not permitted on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.
I was 16 years old and had to get home to 167th and Jerome Avenue in the Bronx, which was pretty far away. When I approached the Rebbe, he handed me matza and asked if I could deliver some to a certain family.
Ideally, I would have taken a taxi from the subway station, asked the driver to wait, delivered the matza, and gotten home in time for our family Seder. But life is seldom ideal; it was too late to take a cab. Eventually, I found the address, which turned out to be a housing project. I knocked on the door and out came a man with no shirt, tattoos and a pot belly.
"What is it?" he snapped. In the Bronx, it's proper etiquette to snap when greeting someone. "Excuse me, are you Mr. So-and-So?" I asked. "Yeah," he said.
I noticed the loaf of rye bread sitting on the table, definitely not a traditional Seder food. I said, "The Rebbe sent me."
"The Rebbe? Oh, please come in," he said. The tiny kitchen contained only a small table, some chairs and a hot plate. I didn't understand what I was doing there, delivering matza to a family who wasn't celebrating Passover. Then I thought, perhaps that's exactly why I was there.
I asked the man if he would like to have a Seder. He agreed and called for his wife to come in. She entered, visibly pregnant, with two beautiful little girls, maybe five or six years old, trailing behind. Both girls were blind.
We cleared off the table. I put a hat on the man's head and said, "Okay, we're having a Seder!"
I tried to remember the blessings in the proper order, but it was difficult without a Hagada.
We ate the matza and used water and paper cups to recall the four cups of wine. I tried to think what the Rebbe would do if he was here. I looked at the little girls and at their mother, about to have another child, and began to tell them some things I had learned from the Rebbe.
I told them that we have to have faith. On this night, G-d liberated our ancestors from slavery, and He liberates us, too. The husband and wife seemed to hang on every word, like they were getting nourishment just by listening.
I told them that on Passover, we journey through our personal Egypt to freedom, and that G-d doesn't put on our shoulders more than we can carry. Once you know that, and believe it, you're already liberated. We sang songs with the children and time flew.
At 1:00 a.m., the woman put the girls to bed and it was time for me to leave, but I had to ask the man how he knew the Rebbe. It turned out he was a leather tanner and was acquainted with a rabbi who worked at another section of the meat plant.
Several months ago, the man's wife had become pregnant. Since there was a strong possibility that this child, too, would be born blind, their doctor recommended an abortion. The man was very depressed and didn't know what to do. So he asked this rabbi, who suggested that he write a letter to the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe wrote back, saying that they should have faith in G-d and have the child.
As I was about to leave, the man said, "You know, my wife and I weren't sure about this. How are we supposed to have faith? How are we supposed to forget what is and have hope? We didn't think it was possible. But tonight, hearing about faith and how G-d gives us the strength to overcome our personal Egypt, well, now we understand."
Their son was born fully sighted. Over time, I lost track of this family, but years later I learned that the daughters had gotten married and that each had several children, all sighted.
To really describe the Rebbe's love for hundreds of thousands of Jews and non-Jews all over the world would be impossible. The best I could do is to write about a poor family in the Bronx, living in a housing project for the blind. And how the Rebbe had faith hand-delivered to their door.
Rabbi Boruch Shlomo E. Cunin has been the Rebbe's Head Shliach (emissary) and Director of Chabad Lubavitch on the West Coast since 1966. This article is reprinted from Farbrengen Magazine, a publication of Chabad of California.
As part of the general preparations for the upcoming Passover holiday, the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS - an umbrella organization for nearly 400 Jewish communities in the Former Soviet Union - has imported one million kilos of matza into the CIS, as well as other products and materials to be used by the nearly 200,000 people who are expected to attend 500 public seders in 407 cities under the auspices of the FJC. For more information about other FJC activities in the Former Soviet Union, visit www.jewish.ru. To find out about a communal Passover Seder in your area, contact your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
The date of this letter was unavailable
. . . Torah, Jews, and Yiddishkeit [Judaism] in general, as has often been discussed before, are not separate things, in that a Jew commits himself to Torah from time to time, or at certain times, and lives accordingly; but they are all one thing. In other words: In every detail of his being, both in regard to his body and his soul, as well as in all details of his daily life, a Jew must be permeated with Torah and Yiddishkeit.
One aspect of this concept is: Just as the Torah embraces the whole world, and as our Sages of blessed memory expressed it, namely, that the Torah is the Divine "blueprint" of the whole Creation with all its particulars, so also a Jew, even as an individual, through his Torah-true Jewish living, has an impact on the whole world. This means that a Jew must endeavor, and can indeed do and accomplish much, to the end that not only he himself, but also the world at large should attain perfection. This he accomplishes both directly and indirectly - through a full and all-embracing Torah life, thereby showing a living example of what should be a man's conduct in the daily life, thus eventually becoming a "light of the nations" - to illumine and guide the life-path of all the nations of the world.
Realizing how much his personal conduct in the daily life affects his own perfection, and that of his family, and of the whole Jewish people, and ultimately that of the whole world, it gives him special courage and powers to overcome all difficulties. For, of what significance can one's difficulties be in comparison with accomplishment of such scope and magnitude?
If, in various periods in the past, one had to look for, and discover, the specific attribute of a Jew as "light of the nations," it had to be openly and clearly brought out in the time of the "birth" and beginning of the Jewish people - "when Israel came out of Egypt," in a manner which should reach all nations, and in a matter which encompasses their whole life.
At that time, Jews were completely surrounded, swallowed as it were, by the non-Jewish world, and as the Torah declares: "To take out a nation from the "inside" of a nation" from the midst of a mighty nation engulfing all nations.
Then came the first Divine commandment, addressed to the whole Jewish people, and to each individual, at the very beginning of the month of Geulo [Redemption], Rosh Chodesh Nissan: "Withdraw (from idolatry) and take unto you a lamb for your families and offer the Passover (sacrifice)."
The commandment was to take a lamb which was the idol of Egypt, where idolatry was the basis of the whole way of life, as in the whole world, and to abolish this idolatry.
This was to be done openly and demonstratively so that everybody should know and ask questions about it; and the Jews did explain what it was all about.
In this way it was also impressed upon the Jews, and through them (as the "light of the nations") upon all the nations, that true Geulo, liberation from physical enslavement, is dependent upon liberation from spiritual enslavement.
Reflecting deeply on the content of the festival of Pesach each year, with the arrival of the days of preparation for Pesach, and especially during the days of Pesach itself, which "you shall celebrate as an everlasting ordinance, seven days," an observance lasting through all the seven days of the week, thus embracing the total life of a Jew in every situation in which he finds himself - it refreshes and intensifies, all the details of Yetzias Mitzrayim [the Exodus from Egypt] which a Jew has to realize in actual life. The gist of it is:
Withdraw, which - in the line of "turn away from evil" - means: To reject each and every idolatry, particularly the one that is dominant in one's time and place.
And take unto yourselves, which - in the line of "and do good" - means: Regardless of what one's way of life was heretofore, it is time to set out on a new road, the road of true freedom, namely, the way of the Torah and Mitzvos [commandments] ("engraved on the Tablets" read - "freedom through the Tablets"), and to do this openly and with pride, with a raised arm, so that it will have the profoundest impact on the world, thus being the "light of the nations."
The actual experience of Yetzias Mitzrayim in the daily life leads to personal Geulo, the ability to overcome and liberate oneself from all difficulties which hinder that attainment of one's personal perfection; and the personal Geulo, becomes a prelude to, and part of, the general Geulo, the complete true Geulo of the whole Jewish people, when also the whole world will attain its true perfection, both in the area of withdraw - "to remove all idolatries from the earth," as well as in the area of take unto you - bringing about the fulfillment of the prophecy, "The nations shall go by your light," when "G-d will shine forth on you, and His glory on you will be seen."
And in fulfillment of the prayer of David, King of Israel, the "Sweet Singer of the Songs of Israel," uttered in behalf of all Jews and every Jew: "O, G-d, make haste to deliver me - to help me, make haste, O G-d,"
With the coming of Moshiach very soon indeed.
With blessing for a Kosher and Joyous Pesach,
11 Nisan, 5763 - April 13, 2003
Prohibition 231: It is forbidden to refuse to lend money before the Shemita (Sabbatical) year
This mitzva is based on the verse (Deut. 15:9) "Beware that there not be an unworthy thought in your heart, saying: The seventh year, the year of release is at hand..... and you will give him nothing" When the Shemitah year arrives, loans do not have to be paid back, (Prohibition 230). Therefore, a person may decide not to lend any money before the Shemita year. This is prohibited.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
On Sunday, 11 Nisan (April 13 this year), we will celebrate the Rebbe's 101st birthday. It is customary to recite daily the chapter in Psalms corresponding to one's years. Chasidic tradition encourages the daily recitation of the Rebbe's Psalm as well. Thus, Jews world-wide will begin reciting Psalm 102 in honor of the Rebbe.
Psalm 102 begins, "A prayer of the poor, when he is enwrapped [with affliction] and before the L-rd he pours out his words." King David composed this chapter to express the feelings of the poor person enveloped in misery. Any person in his time of misfortune should offer up this prayer to G-d. In a deeper sense, these verses discuss the anguishes of the Jewish people suffering in exile. This Psalm ends, however, with a prophecy of hope and redemption.
Verse 8 reads, "I rushed - shakadity - to escape to be like a bird that lives alone on the roof." The word "shakadity" can also mean "I persevered." The commentator Radak explains that the long exile resembles a dark night when a vigilant watchman must stand guard. Similarly, the only reason that Israel has survived the exile is because we persevered and preserved our faith and our identity.
In a later verse (13) which reads, "But You L-rd, will be enthroned forever, and Your memorial is for all generations," Radak explains that we will never forget G-d. In every generation we remember to pray to G-d to bring about the redemption.
The Metzudat David comments on verse 14, "You will arise and have mercy on Zion, for it is time to be gracious to her; the appointed hour has come." This is our request that He finally take pity on Israel, for the time of our redemption has come.
In the Kuzari, Rabbi Yehuda Halevi quotes this verse and asks, "When is this time of redemption? It is the time hinted at in the next verse, "For Your servants take pleasure in her stones and bestow their favor on her dust." When the desire for redemption has grown strong, then the Jewish people will return en masse to the Holy Land.
The Psalm concludes with a prophecy of redemption, says the Metzudat David, "Your servants' children will be securely settled, and their seed will be established before You." The Jewish people will return to the Land of Israel to be established there and to never be exiled again. May it happen, NOW!
For the person undergoing the purification there be taken two live kosher birds, cedar wood, yarn dyed crimson in the blood of a worm, and a hyssop branch. (Lev. 14:4)
The disease of tzaraat is the result of slanderous talk which is like babbling words. Consequently birds which babble continuously were required for his purification. The disease was also caused by pride. Through humility one rid himself of this trait. The lowly hyssop and the worm from the purification process allude to the necessity of viewing oneself with humility.
This is the law concerning the metzora - leper. (14:2)
The Biblical form of leprosy is the punishment for an "evil tongue." This is hinted to us by the word "metzora" - motzei [shem] ra - one who brings forth a bad name.
Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel told his servant: "Go buy me something good from the market." He went and bought a tongue. Rabbi Shimon said: "Go buy me something bad from the market." The servant returned with another tongue. Said Rabbi Gamliel: "I told you to buy something good and something bad and you returned with the same thing. How is this possible?" Answered his servant, "From the tongue comes good and bad. When it is good there is nothing better than it, but when it is evil, there is nothing more evil than it."
When Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev would hear someone speak poorly of another person he would go up to him and say, "My dear friend, aren't you ashamed? You are slandering G-d's tefilin upon which it is written, "Who is Your People Israel."
He shall shave off all his hair - his head, his beard, and his eyebrows. (Lev. 14:9)
Tzaraat came as punishment for three things: haughtiness, gossip, and jealousy. Therefore, the cleansing process for one afflicted with tzaraat was done in the following order: First, the hair on the head was shaved off, because the person's excessive pride caused him to desire to be above others; second, the hair of the beard was removed, because he did not control his mouth and spoke slanderously against his fellow man; and third, the eyebrows were shaved off, as they did not prevent his eyes from looking narrowly and with avarice at the possessions of others.
by Yrachmiel Tilles
In 1976, after several years of marriage, my wife and I finally mustered the courage to make our own Passover seder, at least for the second night. As soon as we made the decision, we began to invite guests. As the festival drew closer, the guest list grew. And grew. And grew! All of a sudden we were expecting sixteen guests!
After nullifying and burning the chametz on Passover eve, a new flush of excitement overtook me. Every year, for the few hours before the festival began, the Lubavitcher Rebbe would stand in the doorway of his office and distribute pieces of his matza, which had been baked earlier that afternoon. I decided that I would tell the Rebbe how many guests we were having and surely the Rebbe . Then, surely, he would give me extra matza.
Over-enthusiastic and impractical as usual, we sorely underestimated the amount of work left to be done that day. When I finally reached the Rebbe's office, it was too late! The Rebbe had gone back inside to prepare for Maariv (the evening prayer). "Oh no," I thought. "From one piece of matza, to a lot, to none. How will I face my wife?"
"Don't be upset," I was told by an old-timer. "The Rebbe will give out some more after Maariv for a short while."
"Thank G-d!" I exhaled. Immediately after the final "amen" of the services (or perhaps even a bit before, I must admit), I charged out of the shul and sprinted up the stairs to the Rebbe's office. I wasn't first on line, or even close to it, but thank G-d I could tell from the pace we were moving that I would get in. No sweat.
My turn came. The Rebbe sized me up with a rapid glance and turned to break off a piece of matza for me. Before he could do so, I quickly mustered my courage and blurted, "We have sixteen guests."
The Rebbe looked at me. Time froze. I froze. Finally the Rebbe spoke: "For the first Seder or the second?"
"The second," I answered, much surprised at the question.
"Then I can not give you matza now," the Rebbe declared.
My face must have registered great perplexity, or perhaps the Rebbe sensed I was about to faint. The Rebbe hastened to explain (and in English!), "It is already the first night of the holiday. We are not allowed to do anything on a festival or Shabbat in preparation for the following day, even if the next day is also a festival. Do you understand?"
I nodded, choking back my disappointment. But the Rebbe hadn't finished. "So come again tomorrow night after Maariv, and I will give you then. Gut Yomtov. A kosher freiliche Pesach (a kosher and happy Passover)."
Good Yomtov and what a Yomtov! I excitedly ran home to tell everyone what the Rebbe had said. Immediately after the prayers the next night, I proudly marched up to the Rebbe's door, whereupon his attendant, may he be well and live many more long years, refused to admit me. "The Rebbe doesn't give out matza tonight. Only the first night," he said, turning away.
"But the Rebbe told me to come," I gasped in panic. He clearly didn't believe me. In desperation, I told him the whole story. I could see he was still skeptical. He could see I was about to either explode or collapse. Or both. Finally, he agreed to ask the Rebbe. I peeked after him and saw the Rebbe nod.
How did the Rebbe know to ask me for which night I need the matza? I can't answer that. He hadn't asked anyone else that question: I had asked around to find out. I know only that I'm grateful the Rebbe made an exception for me, on both nights.
Oh yes. The Rebbe did give me a large amount of matza which I happily shared. I don't know about the other sixteen people, but over 25 yeras later, I still remember my matza from the Rebbe!
"A king will arise from the house of David, one who delves in Torah study and is occupied in mitzvot (commandments) just as David his father, following the Written and Oral Torah; he will coerce and influence all Jews to go in its path and to strengthen its weakness, and he will fight the battle of G-d - this is a sign that he is Moshiach. If he succeeds, he will then rebuild theHoly Temple in its place and will gather the ingathering of Jews from exile - then he is definitely Moshiach. He will also prepare the whole world to serve G-d together...
(Maimonides' Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 11:4)