Countdown | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | All Together | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
It's all getting rather tedious, isn't it? The politicking and political speeches of the primaries, that is. Each day the campaigning intensifies and before we know it, the countdown to "E" day will begin.
Amidst the fevered pitch of politics, we Jews now find ourselves in our own little counting period, known as "Sefira." But, whereas the political countdown brings with it more accusations of misdeeds, mismanagement and misconduct by opponents, Sefira provides us with an opportunity to reflect on our own character traits in an attempt to repair and correct them. The vehicle used for this introspection is the counting of the days between Passover and Shavuot, the time period when our ancestors went from the decadence of the Egyptian Exile to the heights of the Revelation at Mount Sinai.
The idea of the Sefira as an occasion for spiritual growth and self-improvement began with the very first time the Omer was counted. When the Jewish people departed from the House of Slavery, they were almost totally bare of mitzvot. Spiritually, physically and emotionally they were in a depressed state. They knew, though, that they were headed for the wilderness and the mountain where they would worship G-d and receive His most precious gift - the Torah. In their eager anticipation of this event, they counted each day as it went by. During this period, they also occupied themselves in the performance of mitzvot, in serving G-d with love and fervor, and in improving their relationships with their fellow men and women. In this way, they would be adequately prepared for G-d's great revelation. As a reward for their conduct, G-d gave them the eternal mitzva of Sefirat HaOmer - the counting of the Omer.
The Omer was an offering brought from freshly harvested barley which was then ground into the finest flour, mixed with oil, and offered as a thanksgiving to G-d for the good harvest. A splendid ceremony surrounded this ritual which took place on the second day of Passover in the Holy Temple.
Nowadays we count the Omer as a remembrance of the barley sacrifice. And it is for this reason that, after concluding the counting, we say a special prayer asking G-d to rebuild the Holy Temple, speedily in our days.
Is there any value in our merely counting the days even if we may not contemplate, meditate, deliberate or cerebrate about our attributes and how to improve them? Yes! Most definitely!
Counting the Omer is a mitzva. It's as simple as that. And in these days immediately before the arrival of Moshiach, it would be very advantageous for each one of us to beef up our own personal cache of mitzvot.
Adapted from an article by Shterna Citron.
This week's Torah portion, Acharei, begins with the words, "The L-rd spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron's two sons, when they had come close before G-d, and died."
According to our Sages, both Nadav and Avihu were righteous; their failing was that they got so close to G-d that their physical bodies could not withstand the intense holiness. The desire of Nadav and Avihu to merge with G-d was so great that their souls departed, in contradiction to G-d's plan that the soul remain in a body, effecting change in the physical world through Torah and mitzvot.
Aaron's sons are symbolic of a negative type of willingness for self-sacrifice. For, one may never attempt to draw closer to G-d at the expense of one's personal mission in the world, no matter how lofty the motive.
The Talmud relates that "Four people entered the Garden: Ben Azai peeked in and died...Rabbi Akiva entered in peace and went out in peace."
"Entering the Garden" refers to the attempt to attain the highest levels of union with G-d, by delving into the Torah's most esoteric mysteries. Ben Azai's venture was as unsuccessful as Nadav and Avihu's: his extreme thirst for holiness led him to cross a certain forbidden boundary, with the result that he passed away. Rabbi Akiva, however, "entered in peace and went out in peace."
The reason Rabbi Akiva was able to "go out in peace" was because he had "entered in peace." His only motivation in drawing closer to G-d was to fulfill His will. Thus, he was able to navigate successfully when confronted with dangerous choices, with a positive outcome.
Nevertheless, Rabbi Akiva is not symbolic of the highest level of a Jew's desire to fulfill the will of G-d, a position occupied by Abraham, the first Jew. Even though Rabbi Akiva's primary motivation was to obey G-d, he desired to give up his life to sanctify G-d's name (a desire that was ultimately fulfilled when he was tortured to death by the Romans. Right before he died, Rabbi Akiva declared that he had spent his whole life in anticipation of that moment.)
Abraham, on the other hand, never sought this out. All he thought about was G-d; his entire life was devoted to making His name known in the world. If self-sacrifice proved to be necessary he would gladly give up his life, but it was never an end in itself.
From Abraham we learn that our primary concern must always be to fulfill G-d's will, without involving ourselves in the equation. If all our actions are done for the sake of Heaven we are assured that both our "entry" and our "exit" from the Garden will be peaceful, and our service of G-d will be full and complete.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 3
With One Heart
by Rabbi Uriel Vigler
One of the IDF soldiers currently here in New York as part of our Belev Echad tour is Noam.
While working in the IDF, Noam's job involved driving a bull dozer and clearing mines. Unfortunately, during Operation Protective Edge, his entire body was burned in a terrible oil explosion.
During dinner one night this week, Noam sat next to Yankel, one of our congregants. They chatted about this and that, and Noam happened to mention that since he was a young child, he had always dreamed about driving a Porsche. Even all these years later, after his life has changed so drastically, this dream has remained a constant.
Well, Yankel needed to hear no more. He arrived the next day with his sleek Porsch, surprising Noam with it. He handed over the keys and Noam was able to drive around to his heart's content, at long last fulfilling his life-long dream.
Noam, of course, was thrilled. It was patently clear how happy he was driving that Porsche. Interestingly, Yankel was no less euphoric than Noam! From the smile on his face, it was clear he, too, was ecstatic. In fact, perhaps he was even happier!
Our sages teach that the joy of giving is greater even than the joy of receiving. When a person is given something, he receives something quantifiable. He knows exactly what it is. But at the same time, he gives the giver a much larger gift-the gift of giving.
When we give to others we connect with the Divine, which is what makes the joy of giving so great.
This week I met Shaul, an IDF soldier our community is hosting for 10 days in NYC. When Israel launched Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, Shaul was already 46.
In Israel every adult is obligated to do military duty for three years when they turn 18. It is mandatory. Then, when those three years are over, all soldiers are required to do reserve duty for one month a year. Shaul did all this, sacrificing much of his life for his country, and by age 40 he was exempt from any further commitment.
Nevertheless, with his country at war, Shaul could not stand back and watch. He volunteered to serve his country yet again, this time in Operation Protective Edge.
Stationed on a battlefield near Bari, Shaul's unit was hit in a devastating missile attack. Four of his friends were killed, and several others injured. Shaul was severely sounded. His left hand was smashed, and full of shards from the explosion, leaving him permanently handicapped.
This was someone who volunteered. He certainly did not have to fight. But he did, and now his life is drastically different as a result. He lost his job. He cannot work. He cannot perform basic functions. He cannot sleep at night. He suffers constant, debilitating pain.
But despite all that, when I asked Shaul if he regrets volunteering, he responded, "Not only do I not regret it, but if Israel went to war again, I would gladly volunteer again to protect our people."
Shaul's dedication gave me an insight into true sacrifice. We no longer have Temple sacrifices, but our sages teach us that in current times, we need to sacrifice of ourselves for G-d.
If Shaul can sacrifice his hand, his job and his life to protect us, then surely we can make small sacrifices in our lives, for G-d. Let's take upon ourselves to give a little more charity, learn some more Torah, spend more time with our children and do more mitzvot. Our small sacrifices add up, and together we can make a difference.
Rabbi Vigler, together with his wife Shevy, direct Chabad Israel Center in Manhattan. They are the founder of Belev Echad. To learn more about this organization visit belevechad.nyc
Rabbi Levi and Mushky Lezell recently arrived in Hingham Woods, Massachusetts to establish Chabad of the South Shore, Boston. Since their arrival, the Lezells have organized Shabbat and holiday programs, as well as Torah classes and children's activities.
Mass Bar and Bat Mitzva for Orphans
Dozens of children who reached the age of adulthood in Jewish law had their Bar and Bat Mitzva celebration recently under the auspices of Collel Chabad in Israel. The festivities started out at the Western Wall, with relatives and friends in attendance and continued with a lavish meal at International Convention Center in Jerusalem. Israeli Chief Rabbi Lau and Prime Minister Netanyahu were amongst those in attendance.
FJC's Darkeinu Jewish Heritage Olympics finals took place in Petersburg, Russia. Over 1,500 high school students participated in the preliminary rounds of the tournament, with 39 making it to the final round. The three finalists were from Samara. Darkeinu is the Jewish studies curriculum for students in Jewish schools throughout the FSU.
The date of this letter was unavailable
You asked me to explain the following problem:
Having been brought up to believe that G-d is Master of the world, Whose omnipotent power is not limited in time and place, and Who, moreover, is the Source of goodness and desires His human creatures to live a life based on justice and morality, and insofar as Jews are concerned - a life fully in accord with the Torah and Mitzvos [commandments]-
I find it difficult to understand why such a life is often burdened with difficulties, sometimes even seemingly insurmountable obstacles?
I wish to add that I raise this question not as a skeptic, but because I believe in Divine Providence. Indeed, the more deeply I feel about G-d's benevolent, and at the same time unlimited, Providence, the more difficult I find it to reconcile this seeming anomaly.
This problem is, of course, not new. It is as old as humanity itself. The question has been asked and discussed in many a religious-philosophical work throughout the ages. But the question is still being asked, because the average contemporary thinking individual no longer has direct access to Jewish religious philosophy, either by reason of a language barrier, or for lack of time or knowledge to find the sources. So an attempt will be made here to give at least one explanation, and this, too, necessarily in a limited way, within the limitations of a letter. Obviously, the subject matter could fully be dealt with only in a book or lengthy treatise. Nevertheless, I believe that the salient points raised below hold the key to the problem.
Starting from the same basic premises that G-d is the Essence of Goodness, and that "It is in the nature of the Good to do good," it follows that G-d not only desires the true good, but also that this good be enjoyed in the fullest measure. If such good were given to man by Divine grace, in other words, if it were to be achieved without effort, it would have an intrinsic flaw, for it would be, what our Sages call "bread of shame."
To be sure, G-d could have established a world order wherein morality and ethics would reign supreme, with little or no effort on the part of man. However, obviously there is no comparison between something received as a gift and the same thing attained through hard personal efforts, after overcoming difficult obstacles both within and without, both material and spiritual, and sometimes even obstacles which appear insurmountable. Yet, knowing that there is a Divine command to follow a certain path in life, the person is resolved to fulfill his Divine mission, no matter what the difficulties may be. Indeed, the very difficulties and obstacles which he encounters are regarded by him as a challenge to be faced unflinchingly and to be surmounted; and far from being stymied by such obstacles, they evoke in him untapped powers which reinforce his determination and stimulate his effort to the maximum degree.
Coupled with this is the feeling of satisfaction which is commensurate only with the amount of effort exerted in the struggle, which makes the fruits of victory so much more delicious.
And from the above to a still further point and deeper insight:
The true and perfect way of fulfilling G-d's Will, which is embodied in the Torah and Mitzvos, is not when it is prompted by a desire to discharge an obligation towards G-d and fellowman; nor is it the gratifying feeling of having contributed something towards the world at large that matters, a world that is apart from and outside himself. For so long as the Jew's compliance with the Will of G-d is externally motivated - however commendable such motivation is in itself - it is not yet quite complete. The perfect fulfillment of the Torah and Mitzvos is achieved when such fulfillment is an integral part of one's life, to the extent of being completely identified with the individual, that is to say when the Torah and Mitzvos permeate his very essence and being and become inseparable from him in his daily living.
This is the deeper meaning of the words which we declare daily in our prayer, "For they (the Torah and Mitzvos) are our life" - meaning that just as a person and his life are one, making him a living person - so are the Torah and Mitzvos and the Jew one and inseparable. Such real identification with a thing cannot be achieved and experienced if the thing is come by without effort, or with little effort. Only that thing becomes an integral part of one's life which entails extraordinary effort in striving for it, even to the extent of staking one's life in obtaining and holding it.
Conversely, only a matter which is regarded as an indispensable and integral part of one's life can evoke one's innermost powers, even self-sacrifice.
Continued in next issue
Hakhel Et Ha'am - Unite the world
Song by 8th Day / My8thDay.com
Reach across the cities, Hands across the seas
Heart beats together, It's the sound of unity.
We're linked in a chain to change the world.
When you feel the strength you spread the word.
We're linked in a chain to change the world.
When we get together our voice is heard.
Flashback to Sinai, Great thunder, smoke and lightening
We're on a mission, Young and old we're uniting
Gather round the mountain, The elders and the youth
Gather the mitzva, Calling all the troops.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This coming Tuesday, the second of Iyar (May 10 this year) is the birthday of the Rebbe Maharash, Rabbi Shmuel, the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe.
When the Rebbe Maharash was seven years old, he was once tested in his studies by his father, the Tzemach Tzedek. He did so well in the test that his teacher was enormously impressed. Unable to restrain himself, he said to the Tzemach Tzedek, "Well, what do you say? Hasn't he done marvellous?" The Tzemach Tzedek responded, "What is there to be surprised about that 'tiferet within tiferet' does well?"
What is tiferet within tiferet? Tiferet is the sixth of the ten sefirot (Divine Emanations), and the third of the seven emotive attributes within Creation.
The Rebbe Maharash's bithday, the second of Iyar, takes place during the period known as "Sefirat HaOmer" (the Counting of the Omer) when we count the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot. Each of these 49 days is associated with a different combination of the seven emotive attributes. The second of Iyar is associated with tiferet within tiferet, i.e., beauty with beauty - an extraordinarily high spiritual level. (For more on the Counting of the Omer and its relevance to our lives today visit www.meaningfullife.com)
The second of Iyar is also associated with the Rebbe Maharash's characteristic pattern of conduct, known as "lechatchila ariber."
As the Rebbe Maharash would say, "People usually say, 'If you can't crawl under, try to climb over,' and I say, lechatchila ariber: 'Right from the outset, you should go over.'" This approach can and should be actualized by each one of us in our daily lives and when properly internalized will help us fulfill our individual mission in the world.
For in the cloud I will appear upon the ark-cover (Lev. 16:2)
This teaches that we must never despair even in the worst of the times, for G-d's Presence rested upon Israel precisely "in the cloud." No matter how dark or hopeless a situation appears we must never give up or become dejected.
(Rabbi Meir Shapira of Lublin)
And Aaron shall offer his bull of the sin offering, which is for himself, and make an atonement for himself, and for his house (Lev. 16:6)
According to law, the kohen gadol (high priest) had to be married. Without a wife a man is considered incomplete, as it states in the holy Zohar: "A man without a woman is half a body." This degree of perfection is especially necessary in order to perform the service on Yom Kippur.
The nations of the world believe that holiness is incompatible with marriage; for this reason their clergy refrain from marrying and are celibate. By contrast, in Judaism, the high priest, who embodied the highest levels of sanctity and merited to enter the holiest place on earth, was required to be married. If not, his service was invalid.
For on that day [the high priest] shall make an atonement for you to cleanse you from all your sins; before G-d you shall be clean (Lev. 16: 30)
Why is it necessary to explicitly add the words "from all your sins"? Is this not already implied? "An atonement to cleanse you" refers to sins that are committed against G-d; "All your sins...you shall be clean" refers to sins that are committed against one's fellow man. For these transgressions, Yom Kippur does not offer atonement until the wronged party has been properly conciliated.
In a small town in Poland lived a storekeeper named Abraham. Though not at all a wealthy man, when it came to giving charity and offering hospitality to wandering Jews, he was without equal.
One day Abraham had an unexpected and distinguished visitor, his Rebbe. The Rebbe was impressed with the warm hospitality and attention Abraham showed him. But his keen eyes did not fail to note that Abraham went far beyond the call of duty in the mitzvah of hospitality to visitors and giving charity. And so, before leaving, the Rebbe blessed Abraham - that he be able to practice these mitzvot (commandments) in comfort and riches.
Soon after the Rebbe left, Abraham noticed a change in his business affairs; a change for the better. Every day brought him better business and more prosperity.
But, riches can be as much a test as poverty and, without even realizing, it he began to find less and less time for the mitzvos he had always treasured so.
Abraham now lived in a beautifully furnished house, with several servants. Beggars were no longer admitted, though at the door they could still get a fairly handsome donation. People began to notice the change in their old friend.
One day Abraham was informed that a very persistent Rabbi wanted to see him. Abraham greeted the man curtly, but when told that he was sent by their Rebbe, Abraham's face lit up. "Ever since the Rebbe's visit to my house my fortune has taken a good turn, and, thank G-d, I have done well, as you can see." The Rabbi asked for help in freeing a man who had been imprisoned on false charges.
Abraham quickly took out a substantial sum of money and gave it to the visitor to take to the Rebbe. While seeing him to the door, Abraham apologized to the visitor that he was too busy to spend more time. "Remember me to the Rebbe, please," Abraham said as he shook hands with him.
The Rebbe questioned his emissary closely about Abraham and his way of life, and it saddened him to think that Abraham had changed so. "Is it possible that my blessing could have been the indirect cause of this change?" the Rebbe wondered. He decided to pay a visit to Abraham.
Abraham welcomed his Rebbe on his arrival with joy and respect. "Quite a change from before, Rebbe," Abraham commented as he saw the Rebbe looking all around.
"Quite a change" the Rebbe agreed, his face quite serious. He came up to the window and looked out.
"Abraham, come here a minute," the Rebbe called. "Who is that man walking there?"
"That is Yankel the Tailor," Abraham replied, adding "a pious Jew. Unfortunately he is very poor..."
"And who is that woman carrying an empty basket?"
"That's a widow going to market...poor woman, and a houseful of orphans, too."
Abraham began to wonder why the Rebbe had become so interested in the passers-by; he was not a man of idle curiosity. The Rebbe turned away from the window and walked up to a large mirror. "Look into the mirror, Abraham. Whom do you see there?"
"Why, myself, of course," Abraham replied, puzzled.
"Tell me, Abraham. What is the difference between a window and a mirror?"
"That is quite simple," Abraham explained. "They are both glass but a mirror has a coating of silver on it."
"I see, I see..." the Rebbe said. "When you put silver on a piece of glass, you see only yourself. Extraordinary, isn't it?"
"Yes, indeed, but..."
Abraham did not finish the sentence. Suddenly it dawned on him what the wise and saintly Rebbe was hinting at. Before he was "coated with silver" he could see everybody, but now that he had become rich, he could only see himself. Abraham felt a deep sense of shame. "I've failed my test, haven't I Rebbe? Is there any way I can make it up?" he asked tearfully.
"You must return to your good old way of giving charity generously and graciously, and inviting guests humbly into your home - all in accordance with your ability."
Later Abraham went over to his mirror with a sharp knife. He scraped off the silver in one of the corners. In this way he would always be reminded not to see only himself.
"What more can I do to motivate the entire Jewish people to clamor and cry out, and thus actually bring about the coming of Moshiach. All that I can possibly do is to give the matter over to you. Now, do everything you can to bring Moshiach, here and now, immediately. I have done whatever I can; from now on, you must do whatever you can. May it be G-d's will that there will be one, two, or three among you who will appreciate what needs to be done and how it needs to be done, and may you actually be successful and bring about the complete Redemption. May this take place immediately, in a spirit of happiness and gladness of heart."
(The Rebbe, 28 Nissan, 5752-1992)