Such a Little Thing | 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
It's like a particle of dust in your eye, or a speck of coal in a diamond. Sometimes even the tiniest thing make big problems.
Which is why, when you think about it, it's not at all surprising that the ego can wreak havoc. Of course, you and I know that it's not our egos making the problems. We only have little egos, just big enough to encourage us to be goal oriented, take pride in our work, not be a doormat for the other guy. But the other guy - our neighbor, spouse, boss, co-worker - now he/she has a real ego problem!
This Shabbat afternoon, in Ethics of the Fathers (5:21) we read: "Whoever causes the many to have merit, no sin shall come through him; but one who causes the many to sin shall not be granted the opportunity to repent. Moses was himself meritorious and caused the many to attain merit, therefore, the merit of the many are attributed to him.... Jeraboam ben Nevat himself sinned and caused the many to sin, therefore the sins of the many are attributed to him."
Our Sages have taught: "G-d disqualifies no one, but welcomes all; the gates of repentance are open at all times; whoever wants to enter may enter."
Yet, so great a travesty is it when one leads others to sin that "one who causes the many to sin shall not be granted the opportunity to repent."
There was, however, one exception - the very same Jeraboam ben Nevat mentioned above.
The prophet Achiya prophesied to Jeraboam that he would eventually be the king of ten of the tribes of Israel. Upon King Solomon's death, Jeraboam successfully led a revolt against the king's successor.
Eventually, to distance his kingdom from the other two tribes, Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, Jeraboam set up altars and encouraged idol worship. Thus, "Jeraboam ben Nevat himself sinned and caused the many to sin."
For various reasons which we won't go into now, G-d chose to give Jeraboam the chance to rectify his sins. But this unique opportunity was not all that G-d was offering. "Repent," G-d urged Jeraboam. "And then I, and you and ben Yishai [King David] will walk together in the Garden of Eden." (Talmud, Sanhedrin) G-d was offering Jeraboam that He would bring Moshiach if the wicked king would only repent!
And here's where the ego comes in. For, though Jeraboam should have been overwhelmed with gratitude to G-d for giving him this unprecedented opportunity to repent, though he had led millions of Jews astray, he asked one very simple but very egotistical question. "Who will go first? I or ben Yishai?"
Hadn't Jeraboam just been told by G-d that he would go first? Hadn't he, for that matter, just been given the most amazing opportunity to repent? And, addition, to walk together with G-d and King David in the Garden of Eden?
From Jeraboam's query we see that he didn't have a problem with repenting per se, nor with belief in G-d versus idols. His problem was his ego. Jeraboam was demanding assurance. "Who will go first? I or ben Yishai?"
So G-d told Jeraboam, "Ben Yishai will go first."
And Jeraboam replied, "Then I will not repent."
Jeraboam had it all! He had the unheard-of opportunity to repent. He had the opportunity to bring his entire generation to repentance. He had the opportunity to walk together with G-d and King David in the Garden of Eden.
But he could not put aside his ego long enough to accept G-d's offer.
"Who will go first? I or ben Yishai?"
Jeraboam was the proverbial "other guy" who has the ego problem. But, of course, you and I would never have let our egos get in the way. For that matter, we would never let our egos get in the way of accepting G-d's magnanimous offers that He presents to us each day. You and I would never let our egos stand in the way of walking together with G-d and King David in the Garden of Eden!
Bechukotai, this week's Torah portion, contains the curses and punishments to be inflicted on the Jewish people if they do not obey G-d. Even a casual reading of these misfortunes in the Torah makes our hair stand on end. Chasidic philosophy, however, teaches that by delving more deeply into the meaning of these curses we can understand that they are actually blessings.
Furthermore, these "curses" are not only blessings, but blessings of such a high order that they can only manifest themselves in their seemingly opposite form!
A perfect illustration of this concept is found in the Talmud. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, whose passing was commemorated this past week on "Lag B'Omer," once sent his son to two Sages for a blessing. When his son returned he complained that the Sages had cursed him. "What did they say?" asked Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. "You shall sow, but not reap," answered the son. The father patiently explained that the rabbis had meant that he should grow to be the father of many children who would be healthy and strong and not die during their father's lifetime. Likewise, every example the son gave of the rabbis' "curses" were similarly interpreted to contain great blessings.
But why did the rabbis go through the trouble of disguising their good intentions in such a convoluted manner? Chasidut explains that ultimate good is sometimes clothed in an outer garment of its exact opposite, precisely because it is too lofty to come into this world in any other form.
If, then, the rabbis' blessings were so lofty that they had to be "disguised" as curses, how did Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai recognize their true content?
The Tanya explains that everything we perceive as evil in this world is, in reality, so good that we cannot absorb it in its true form (much in the way that an intense light hurts the eyes if one looks directly at its source). This good therefore takes the form of human suffering, just as we avert our eyes from a brightness which is too intense.
This, however, is only true at the present time. When Moshiach comes, the concealed good hidden within our afflictions will be revealed for what it is - utter and absolute blessing.
A Jew must, therefore, always accept whatever is decreed from Above, for when Moshiach comes we will see that the suffering of the exile was in truth a good of such magnitude that it could only be bestowed in such a way.
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai possessed a soul capable of discerning this truth even before the coming of Moshiach. Likewise, Chasidut affords us a "taste" of the Messianic Era, enabling us to understand these inner truths which will soon become apparent, speedily in our days.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
ONE DAY AT A TIME
by Shula Levitch
"So, you've become Orthodox, huh??" seems to be the inevitable question people ask me these days.
Not quite. But I have gained enormous respect, appreciation, and yearning for precisely the kind of Judaism I used to frown upon as being archaic and out of sync with the realities of our modern world.
Three years ago I gave myself permission to find out what Judaism is really about. No small task for a liberal feminist who used to chair Religious and Rituals Committees and perform Friday night and High Holy Days services in various egalitarian congregations.
As a secular Israeli living in a typical California suburb, my affiliation with "progressive" Judaism was the only means to provide my family with a Jewish identity. Our family's version of religion was defined by the social circle with whom we proudly celebrated cultural Judaism, and by community activism in the spirit of political correctness. I was rendered the status of a maven (expert) in Jewish matters by virtue of my Israeli background and my fluent Hebrew - a status that fed the ego more than it nurtured the soul. Oddly, after ten years of such involvement, the prayers I so enthusiastically chanted during Friday night services started to haunt me, bringing forth a level of awareness I had never before experienced. "Fulfill all My commandments," the V'ahavta prayer echoed in my mind, "so that you shall be holy unto your G-d." Holy unto your G-d. The dawning realization that our purpose as Jews is so clearly defined in the Torah inspired me to venture beyond the cultural aspect of Judaism and become acquainted with Torah and halacha - Jewish Law. I was overcome by an urgent desire to unveil the meaning of my religion beyond the kindergarten level we were creatively rehashing year after year.
And so, I set sail on a journey to a place I did not know, seeking authentic resources free from secular prejudice and politically driven misconceptions. Of all places, I started my research on the Internet, exploring sites such as: Judaism 101, Judaism for Beginners, Chabad Lubavitch of Cyberspace, and Aish HaTorah. I specifically sought information about the status of women in the realm of the Torah observant world - a difficult issue which presents one of the major barriers in accepting Orthodoxy for those of us accustomed to embracing the modernized version of "equality" between men and women.
I have come to recognize it for what it is, a false notion of sameness which systematically and deliberately ignores the inherent, unique attributes of men and women, and blurs the realities of the obvious spiritual, emotional, physical, and intellectual differences. The devastating results are evident all around us; the family unit has crumbled and individuals are seeking illusive happiness and fleeting comfort any which way they can, pushing the envelope further and further as society becomes remarkably desensitized. How refreshing it was to find that Judaism recognizes the inner splendor and potency of femininity. How inspiring are Hashem's laws creating a perfect harmony between the strengths and weaknesses of both sexes. For me, the pieces of this mysterious puzzle have fallen into place. Men may be from Mars and Women from Venus as pop psychologist John Gray so "eloquently" enlightened us, nonetheless it is clear that they are equal in value before G-d! Accepting this basic concept was the key to understanding the mechitza, the laws governing witnesses, the "She'asani Kirtzono" blessing, and numerous other issues I eagerly criticized when I viewed Orthodox Judaism through the hazy lenses worn in secular circles. Logic and clarity of vision have replaced political correctness and egocentric values.
I continue to be in awe of the treasures I constantly uncover, and consequently try to take small steps towards embracing an observant lifestyle. To be sure, the road is filled with challenges and diversions. But, as luck (better known as Hashgacha Pratit) would have it, Rabbi Choni and Frumi Marozov, our very own Chabad shluchim (emissaries), arrived to our neck of the woods - Valencia, California - just as I started taking my first steps of exploration. Their meer presence is an inspiration, and their gentle encouragement ignites the Jewish spark in all of us who are willing to bask in their vibrant Judaism. It is their conduct, not just their words, that expresses the true meaning of Ahavat Yisrael (love of a fellow Jew). Their home is always open for a Shabbat experience infused with joy and a delicious meal, the weekly services are laced with wonderful Chasidic stories and warm humor, Torah study is refreshing and thought provoking, the Children's Academy is thriving, monthly women's programs are fun and educational, and Chabad's holiday celebrations are the biggest hit in town. With their enthusiasm and unconditional love for the Jewish people Rabbi and Mrs. Marozov touch the lives of many.
My life has been transformed by their presence. I will never forget a Friday night in those early days when we still gathered in the local park's clubhouse - a great walking distance from the Rabbi's home. Hardly anyone showed up for the service and I told the Rabbi that I hope he will not get discouraged and leave our town for a more promising community. With great conviction he replied, "If only one Jew sees me walking home tonight and is moved to light Shabbat candles next week, it would be worth it!"
Indeed, the presence of our Chabad center offers the growing Jewish community a priceless opportunity to connect with the kind of Judaism that is deeply rooted in Torah and is nurtured by a tradition that celebrates the joy of becoming closer to the Alm-ghty mitzva by mitzva, one day at a time. My neshama (soul) longs to connect to this steadfast tradition, and I pray to Hashem for the strength to continue in this path, for I, too, want to partake in the beauty and dignity of Torah-true Judaism, to be infused with its unparalleled richness; the richness of a divine tradition transmitted from generation to generation, adapting the ever-changing realities of life to the eternal truth of Torah.
Reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter
Shabbat Candles for Peace
As the sun sets on Friday, May 30, Jewish women and girls around the world will dedicate their prayers at candle-lighting to peace in Israel and peace in the world. By focusing our collective thoughts and prayers on our brothers and sisters in Israel, the combined spiritual energy can make miracles happen. In order to promote this effort, over 1,000 Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries around the world are embarking on an intensive drive to encourage women (and girls ages three and older) who are not yet lighting Shabbat candles, to take this important mitzva upon themselves. At the same time, women who are already committed to lighting candles are being urged to focus their prayers on safety and security for all of Israel. For more information or to add your name to the Wall of Honor visit www.shabbatpeace.com
Free Translation of a letter of the Rebbe to the 23rd annual Convention of N'Shei uBnos Chabad (The Lubavitch Women's Organization)
In the Days of Sefirah [counting the Omer], 5738 
G-d bless you all!
Blessing and Greeting:
I was pleased to be informed about the forthcoming Annual Convention during the weekend of Parshas Bechukosai. May G-d grant that it should be blessed with the utmost Hatzlocho [success] in every respect.
As in the case of all events, and especially in the case of such an important event, we must seek guidance and instruction in the Torah, "Torah" meaning instruction, particularly in the Sedra [Torah portion] of the week when the event is taking place.
The Sedra Bechukosai begins with the Divine promise: "If you will walk in My statutes, and keep My Mitzvos [commandments] and do them" - then G-d will bestow all the blessings mentioned further on in the Sedra.
The question that poses itself is obvious: Surely G-d's Mitzvos must be fulfilled not for the sake of material rewards, but for their own sake, because G-d commanded them, while the reward is sure to come as a matter of course, since the Mitzvos were given for the benefit of the doer, both in this life and in the eternal life that follows.
One answer, among others, as also explained at length in the Rambam [Maimonides' Mishneh Torah], is that while the Mitzvos must, indeed, be fulfilled unconditionally and without regard for reward, there are, inevitably various distractions and difficulties connected with the material aspects of the daily life. When such distractions are at a minimum, it requires no special effort to carry out the Mitzvos fully and completely. But when the material circumstances are not quite so satisfactory, though the same performance of the Mitzvos is expected, it requires a greater effort for it is obviously harder to concentrate on Torah and Mitzvos when one has to overcome outside pressures.
Thus, G-d's promise of material rewards is not meant to provide the reason for keeping the Torah and Mitzvos, but it is a promise that where there is a firm resolve to walk in G-d's ways and keep His Mitzvos, He will make it easier by providing all material needs and reducing outside pressures to a minimum.
The above focuses immediate attention on the home and the home atmosphere, which is largely the domain of the wife and mother, the Akeres haBayis [the mainstay of the home]. Even when things seem to be not all that could be desired, or even if, G-d forbid, this is not just an imagination, it is largely up to the Akeres haBayis to ensure that the home should at all times be permeated with the light of Torah and Mitzvos, in an atmosphere of peace and harmony and joy, for the benefit of the whole family, for it is in the home that the husband and children find comfort and inspiration to deal with the pressures outside the home - at business and in school.
And since this great privilege and responsibility has been given to the Akeres haBayis, it is certain that the ability has been given to her to carry this out fully, as it has also been given to the Jewish daughters who are preparing themselves to take their place as Akeres haBayis.
It is surely one of the functions of the annual convention to inspire all participants, and other Jewish mothers and daughters, to go from strength to strength in the said direction, and thus widen the channels to receive and enjoy G-d's blessings in a generous measure, materially and spiritually.
With the approach of Shovuos, the Festival of Mattan Torah [the giving of the Torah], I send each and all of you and yours prayerful wishes for a joyous and inspiring Yom Tov, and the traditional blessing to receive the Torah with joy and inwardness.
With blessing for Hatzlocho and good tidings,
23 Iyar, 5763 - May 25, 2003
Positive Mitzva 69: The Sin-offering
This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 4:27) "And if anyone of the people sin unintentionally." A person who disobeys G-d's commandments on purpose will be punished. Among the 613 mitzvot, the Torah lists 43 forbidden acts that are punishable by karet - premature death. We are responsible for our deeds and must be cautious and aware of our actions. Even if a person commits any of these forbidden acts unintentionally, he must atone by bringing a sin-offering.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This issue of L'Chaim is number 770. To every Lubavitcher Chasid, the number "770" is very significant. It is the address on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn of Lubavitch World Headquarters, known around the world simply as "the Rebbe's shul."
To give our readers a glimpse of the significance of "770" we present excerpts of an essay adapted from talks of the Rebbe on the subject. You can read the entire essay and its footnotes at www.sichosinenglish.org/books/sichos-in-english/50/42.htm
In every generation there is a Beis Rabbeinu - "the house of our master" - a "sanctuary in microcosm" which responds to the urgent needs of the generation and diffuses Torah instruction throughout the world. Thus it serves as the place where the Divine Presence is revealed par excellence.
Since the Divine Presence is revealed for the sake of the Jewish people, it is in the house of the leader of the people as a whole, the leader of the generation who is "the heart of the generation," that the Divine Presence becomes manifest during the time the Jews are in exile.
The above concept allows us to appreciate the uniqueness of the Beis Rabbeinu established by the Previous Rebbe in America. Today, the largest segment of the international Jewish community is found in America, and there is located the infrastructure for our generation's Torah leadership. This country was therefore chosen as the place for Beis Rabbeinu, the center for Torah instruction for the entire world.
The connection of the Previous Rebbe's Beis Rabbeinu to the Redemption is reflected in the very name of the building - "770," for that is numerically equivalent to the Hebrew word "paratzta," meaning "break through." On the verse concerning the birth of Peretz, the progenitor of the Mashiach, our Sages comment, "This refers to the Mashiach, as it is written, 'The one who breaks through shall ascend before them.' " This is the task of Moshiach - to break through the barriers of exile and spread holiness throughout the world.
Furthermore, the number 770 is a multiple of the number seven. Our Sages relate, "All the sevenths are cherished." The task of our generation, the seventh generation - to hasten the coming of the Era of the Redemption, the era in which G-d will again reveal His Presence in the world openly, and not merely in microcosm.
And they shall stumble one over the other, as before the sword, without one pursuing (Lev. 26:37)
"One will stumble over the sin of another," comments Rashi, "as all Jews are guarantors (arevim) for each other." The Hebrew word for guarantor has the same root as the word for sweetness and pleasantness. Every Jew must look upon his brother and fellow guarantor with a kindly eye and seek what is good and worthy in his neighbor. The same Hebrew root also implies intermingling one with the other. Every Jew is part of the greater whole of the Jewish nation.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
And you shall eat your bread to the full, and you shall dwell in safety in your land (Lev. 26:5)
Economic hardship causes strife among brothers. Unethical competition in business leads one to snatch a crust of bread from another's mouth. G-d therefore promised that all Jews will have enough to eat, they will "dwell in safety in the land," and peace will reign.
(Arono Shel Yosef)
If you walk in My statutes (Lev. 26:3)
The Baal Shem Tov taught that a person must never become settled in his habits and fixed in his ways, for G-d's laws are meant to be "walked in." The service of G-d should never be static, but should lead us to higher and higher levels of sanctity.
(Keter Shem Tov)
I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and my covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember (Lev. 26:42)
The Patriarchs are not mentioned in chronological order in this verse, but rather in the order of the attributes and eras they personified. After the Torah was given, the Jews entered the era of Torah, personified by Jacob who was the pillar of Torah. When the Holy Temple was built they entered the era of "service" and Isaac embodied the attribute of service. And these last generations of the era before Moshiach are connected to Abraham who was the epitome of lovingkindness. The Baal Shem Tov explained that now, in the final era before Moshiach, emphasis must be placed on deeds of kindness to hasten the Redemption.
(Rabbi Ben Tzion of Bobov)
I will remember My covenant... the land will I remember (Lev. 26:42)
Why does the Torah mention the covenant with our ancestors in connection to the Land of Israel? The Talmud teaches that the merit of our Patriarchs stands us in good stead only within Israel; in exile we do not have this merit. G-d promises, however, that when He remembers the Land of Israel He will be reminded of this merit as well.
(Maklo Shel Aharon)
A century ago, there lived in the town of Polotsk in Russia a simple storekeeper by the name of Reb Yisrael. He was a follower of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (known as the Tzemach Tzedek), the third leader of Chabad. Once, on a visit to the town of Lubavitch, Reb Yisrael heard a discourse of Chasidic philosophy from the Rebbe, explaining how our Father Abraham was charitable monetarily, spiritually and bodily. The Rebbe proceeded to give a profound mystical explanation to show how Abraham's physical acts of charity in this material world were in a sense higher than Supernal Kindness.
Reb Yisrael did not understand the entire dissertation, but he did grasp these few words about Abraham, which he repeated over and over until he committed them to memory. When he came home, the Chasidim gathered to welcome him at the customary festive reception for those who returned from Lubavitch. They asked Reb Yisrael if he could perhaps repeat the discourse that the Rebbe had said. Reb Yisrael replied that he could not, but he had committed to memory a few words about Abraham's charitableness, which he proceeded to repeat to them.
After the reception, Reb Yisrael went back to his store as usual.
Nachman and Yosef, also storekeepers in Polotsk, were friends of Reb Yisrael. Reb Yisrael decided that he would go into Nachman's store and ask him for a loan. He did not need the money, but having heard from the Rebbe the great quality of charitableness (which includes lending money without interest) he wanted to give his friend Nachman the opportunity to fulfill this great mitzva (commandment). Nachman and Yosef followed his example; every day they would borrow and repay small amounts of money from each other.
When Reb Yisrael was next in Lubavitch, the Tzemach Tzedek came out of the synagogue and asked one of the senior Chasidim, "Please find out a little about that Chasid over there" looking toward Reb Yisrael. The Chasid was not at all familiar with who the Chasid was, for Reb Yisrael was not one of the "well-known" Chasidim. Eventually he discovered who the person was and that he was a storekeeper from Polotsk. The Tzemach Tzedek asked that Reb Yisrael be invited to his room.
When Reb Yisrael came in, the Rebbe asked him about his work and his daily schedule. Reb Yisrael replied that he got up every morning at five, recited the book of Psalms, drank a cup of tea, chopped wood, and then went to the synagogue to pray. After the prayers, he studied a chapter of Torah, went home to eat breakfast and then went to the marketplace to his store. Later, in the afternoon, he went to the synagogue again, to say the afternoon prayers, studied a little more, prayed the evening service and went home.
The Rebbe was not satisfied. "Nu, and what about tzedaka (charity)?" he inquired.
"I am a poor man and cannot afford to give charity," Reb Yisrael replied. After further questioning by the Rebbe, however, Reb Yisrael's unusual custom of taking and giving back small loans came to the surface.
Later, the Tzemach Tzedek's son, Rabbi Shmuel, asked his saintly father, "What do you see in him?"
The Rebbe replied, "I saw, surrounding the simple store-keeper, Reb Yisrael, a radiance, a pillar of light as great as that of the Supernal Kindness."
In the generation of Moshiach there will be a very great confusion between good and bad, and the final refinement will be like sifting through a sieve. In the beginning, everything will be battered about in the sieve - good and bad; slowly the fine flour will fall below and the waste will dance above. The G-d-fearing Jews will fall and be humiliated lower and lower and the wicked ones will dance on them from above, but not for long, because in the end Hashem will shake them out all at once, as one throws the waste out of the sieve.
(From Noam Elimelech)