Nothing Personal | Living With The Times | A Slice of Life | What's New
Insights | Customs | A Word from the Director | It Once Happened
Thoughts that Count | Moshiach Matters
Please understand that this is nothing personal. We're not trying to enroll you in a Lamaze class, or sell you Pampers or baby food. We are only drawing your attention to the fact we are now in the midst of a year that is known in Hebrew as a Shana Meuberet-a pregnant year!
We are not referring to the 9-month pregnancy, but using a descriptive expression for the Jewish leap year--a "13 month pregnancy." The current Jewish calendar has expanded from its usual 12 months and changed its size by putting on a whole new month.
We are within that extra month right now. This is certainly a good time to be up to date on how our calendar works and understand why this additional month is important to us now.
Our calendar goes back to the first commandment given to the Israelites in Egypt. The Torah instructed the Jewish people to pattern their calendar after the moon rather than follow the more commonly used solar year.
On a monthly basis, the lunar calendar is more practical. The date and time of the month can actually be observed by the phases of the moon. The sun, however, has no real months, as solar 'months' are artificially created by dividing the year by 12.
Historically, we also relate better to the moon than the sun. Just as the moon goes through its phases of waxing and waning, we've experienced brighter and darker periods, times of growth and decline. The sun is constantly bright, but people aren't always perfect or shining examples. Reflecting the moon, human nature also has its darker side, fluctuating between good and bad, highs and lows, and ups and downs.
But the lunar cycle does not keep pace with the seasons, and can confuse our holiday schedule, especially the Passover holiday. Here's the problem: The lunar month consists of 29 1/2 days, which multiplied by 12 add up to 354 days--11 days less than the solar year with its 365 days. This discrepancy adds up to 33 days over 3 years, and eventually will push back Passover, which is supposed to be a spring festival, into the winter.
The leap year puts the Jewish calendar back on track. The extra month added every 2-3 years helps synchronize the lunar calendar with the sun's seasons and keeps Passover in the spring where it belongs.
But our pregnant year has more in it than just numbers and mathematical formulas. Let's bring the pregnancy to full term to introduce something new in Jewish life. According to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the 'pregnant' year carries within it an important personal message. The Leap Year symbolizes the impact of corrective measure, "teshuva" and repentance on our lives. It influences not only the future, but also makes up for past shortcomings.
The Leap Year demonstrates that we can make up for lost time--it's never too late! It's not water over the dam even if we've been remiss and fallen behind in Jewish life. In fact, the literal meaning of teshuva in Hebrew means "bringing back," because it retroactively sublimates and transforms negative past history into something good and positive.
by Rabbi Yisroel Rubin-director of Chabad of the Capital District, Albany, NY.
In this week's Torah portion, Noach, we find the verse, "In the six hundredth year of Noah's life...all the fountains of the great deep were split and the windows of Heaven were opened." The Zohar, the basic book of Jewish mysticism, explains that this refers to the beginning of the sixth century of the sixth millennium of Creation (the year 5500, approximately 250 years ago). At that time, the Divine fountains of knowledge would open up, both above in the celestial spheres and below in the physical realm, and the world would thus be prepared to enter the seventh millennium, the Messianic Age.
The Zohar describes the two types of knowledge that would be revealed during this time frame. The first is the opening of the "gates of knowledge above," referring to Torah and G-dly wisdom, and the second is the "fountains of wisdom below," referring to science and our understanding of nature and the physical world.
Indeed, we find that the world began to undergo great changes during that time, just as the Zohar prophesied. The amount of knowledge and understanding began to reach levels unprecedented in history. In the Torah world, this was the time when Chasidic philosophy began to be revealed, and in the secular world, scientific discoveries and developments began a frenetic pace which continues to the present day.
This period of revelation of knowledge, both G-dly and secular, came about as a preparation for the seventh millennium and the days of Moshiach. It is easy to understand how increased revelation of Torah serves as preparation, for the Messianic Era is a time when "knowledge of G-d will cover the earth like the water of the sea." But what has this to do with scientific advances and the Industrial Revolution?
A fundamental innovation of Moshiach will be that our perception of reality will change. Chasidic philosophy explains that after Moshiach reveals himself, " all flesh will see"--our physical flesh will be cognizant of the G-dliness that permeates and sustains the entire world.
Advances in scientific knowledge and understanding of the natural world are a preparation for this time. Medical, astronomic and nuclear discoveries have been revealed to man so that he can use this knowledge to serve G-d. As with everything else, we are given the free will with which to utilize these discoveries, as increased knowledge carries with it increased responsibility. When a Jew employs modern technology to serve G-d, perform mitzvot and further goodness in the world, he is utilizing these revelations properly.
We have been granted the increased understanding of the dynamics of the physical world so that we can elevate these elements as well. Furthermore, the greater our understanding of science, the greater our appreciation and understanding of the ultimate unity of G-d and Creation. We see in the progress of history the positive development of knowledge and how it leads to an understanding of G-d. In antiquity man believed in the divinity of each of the natural forces, and believed that physical matter was composed of many different elements. Modern science, however, is proving the existence of fundamental, atomic structure, proving yet another example of G-d's ultimate unity.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
This article is based on a true story.
A heavy silence hovered over the small Indian village. There was no wind, not even a breeze to ruffle the leaves. The palm trees dropped, the large leaves of the banana tree were shriveled and lifeless. Dust filled the air. The skeletal cows wandered aimlessly through the dirt roads. Children stood in the doorways of thatched huts, their eyes black and somber in their dark faces. The sun beat down mercilessly upon the parched village. The fields were empty. There were no men singing as they worked. There was no rain.
The July monsoons had not yet arrived. People lay on their mats, squatted in doorways, waiting for the rain they might never live to see.
Ruchama arrived that afternoon. For years she had come to India to learn the art of native dancing. But this time it was different. She had come to India as a Torah observant Jew. She stood by the hotel room window and looked down upon the village square. How far away Brooklyn seemed from this remote corner of India. It was Friday afternoon, and sunset came quickly. She bent over her knapsack, and took out the two brass candlesticks, the white cloth, the challahs.
She noticed a movement in the square. The aged wise man of the village was calling the people together. Slowly people emerged from the houses and came shuffling toward him. They stood listlessly as he spoke to them. She could not catch his words.
It was time to light the Shabbat candles. She struck the match. The candles glowed in the dusk. Covering her eyes she said the blessing slowly, saying each word with deep feeling: "Baruch Ata Hashem--Blessed are you G-d. May Your bounty be drawn into this world. Elokeinu--our G-d, but also King of the world, King even here, in this starving village at the end of the world, Who has commanded us to kindle the Shabbat candles." It occurred to Ruchama that these were probably the first Shabbat candles ever lit on this spot, that indeed, it must be the first Shabbat ever welcomed in this portion of India.
The Shabbat candles flickered. A small breeze sprang up from the open window. The flames leaped joyfully. The wind began to blow more strongly and the flame grew. The first rain drops fell. Ruchama closed the window against the storm. She watched as the water came down in sheets.
The wise man stood gazing at her window. He walked with purposeful steps to the hotel door, and tapped on it gently. Ruchama opened the door. The wise man greeted her with a warm smile. He gestured with his withered hands at the candles.
"Who are you, my daughter, and what are these lights?"
"My name is Ruchama, and these are Sabbath candles."
"And what is the purpose of these candles?"
"They bring light and blessing into this dark world."
"Where do you come from and who are your people?"
"I am a Jew."
He spread his hands over the candles in blessing.
"Ah, the Jews. You are a holy nation protected by a Mighty G-d. With these two candles you have brought rain--life--to our village." He bowed, and walked out into the torrents of rain.
Ruchama had a feeling that this would be the last time she would come to India. Her purpose here had been fulfilled.
Reprinted from The Yiddishe Heim.
I AWAIT HIS COMING EVERY DAY
This book offers English readers access to relevant primary sources on the subject of Moshiach and the ultimate Redemption as illuminated by the Lubavitcher Rebbe's innovative studies of the relevant chapters of Maimonides Mishne Torah. Adapted and translated by Rabbi E. Touger and originally published by Sichos in English.
Kehot Publication Society - Brooklyn, NY
LABELS FOR LAIBEL
by Dina Rosenfeld
A DELIGHTFUL book about sharing for children of all ages. In rhythmic rhyme, Laibel and his younger brother, Yossi, learn first-hand why "sharing is something all people must do."
HaChai Publishing - Brooklyn, N.Y.
THE THIRTEEN PETALLED ROSE
"The physical world in which we live, the objectively observed universe around us, is only a part of an inconceivably vast system of worlds." Thus begins the book The Thirteen Petalled Rose, described as a classic or Jewish mysticism. In this slender, but powerful book, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz seeks to answer the major questions asked by modern Jews about the nature of their existence in G-d's universe.
Basic Books, Inc. - New York, NY
THE JEW AND HIS HOME
by Eliyahu Kitov
In his book A Jew and His Home, Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov covers the entire range of concerns which comprise the life of the Jewish family. He describes the values of Jewish marriage and the character of the wedding ceremony. He continues with a loving treatment of such subjects as harmony in the home, the meaning and purpose of modesty, mutual esteem, loyalty and devotion, relations with relatives and neighbors. The author dwells broadly on conduct at meals, kashrut, the intimate aspects of Jewish family life, the upbringing of children. Many of the chapters are followed by sections containing accounts of Jewish law and customs in the subjects under discussion.
Shengold Publishers - New York, NY
LIVING WITH THE REDEMPTION
Toward the conclusion of his description of the era of the Redemption, Maimonides writes: "In that Era there will be neither famine nor war, neither envy nor competition."
The Jewish people, and indeed, the world at large, will join together in bonds of love and unity. An awareness of G-d's transcendental Oneness will pervade all existence and this will produce a higher and more inclusive conception of unity than is possible at present.
In the present era, unity involves people of differing natures joining together. As the diverse limbs of the body function together as part of a single organism, so too, unity can be established between different individuals. Nevertheless, such a bond does not raise a person above his individual identity entirely. On the contrary, his very awareness of self should be employed in his efforts to unite with others.
In contrast, the transcendent unity of the Era of the Redemption will raise every individual above the limited horizons of his personal identity, "For the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the ocean bed." The prophet's words employ this simile to express the following concept: A vast multitude of creatures inhabit the ocean. Nevertheless, what we see is the ocean as a whole and not the particular entities which it contains. Similarly, in the Era of the Redemption, individual created beings will lose consciousness of their separate identities, for they will be suffused with an awe-inspiring knowledge of G-d. The unity that will be established between individual entities will thus be of a higher and more consummate nature.
In microcosm, we should anticipate these concepts in our own present conduct. Since we are on the threshold of the Redemption, it is now possible to appreciate a foretaste of the spiritual awareness to be achieved in that era, and to apply it in our lives.
In this context, we may examine a teaching in Pirkei Avot: "Be one of the students of Aaron--loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures, and bringing them near to the Torah." Significantly, unlike many of the other teachings of Pirkei Avot that are merely suggestions, this teaching is phrased as a command.
Furthermore, this command is directed to every member of the Jewish people. The Torah states that Aaron's death was mourned by the entire Jewish people, both men and women, for everyone appreciated his patient endeavors to spread peace and harmony among them. Similarly, every Jew is urged to emulate Aaron's behavior and to reach out to others with love and care.
The wording of the above teaching, "Be one of the students of Aaron," is a reminder that one must realize that there are other "students," and one's own favorite path in bringing about love and unity among the Jewish people is not the only possible approach.
A Foretaste of Redemption
As mentioned, this directive is particularly relevant at present, for we need to accustom ourselves to the spirit of the Redemption. Previously it had been explained that an emphasis on Ahavat Yisrael ("love for one's fellow Jew") was necessary as a preparation for the Era of Redemption. Since the exile came about because of unwarranted hatred, we would nullify the reason for the exile by spreading love among our people. And this in turn would cause the exile itself to cease.
Since, however, to borrow an expression used by the Previous Rebbe, we have already completed all the spiritual service necessary to bring Moshiach, to the point that "we have even polished the buttons," we can assume that the reason for the exile has been eradicated already. At present, therefore, the emphasis on Ahavat Yisrael comes primarily as a foretaste of the Era of the Redemption.
And through living in the spirit of the Redemption, accustoming ourselves to this way of thinking, and more significantly, to this form of conduct, we will hasten the actual coming of the Redemption. May this take place in the immediate future.
Adapted from a recent talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Sichos in English.
Why is the present Hebrew month sometimes referred to as "Mar" Cheshvan.
Cheshvan is considered a bitter (in Hebrew "mar") month because it contains no holidays and suffering befell the Jewish people on various dates during Cheshvan throughout history. Another explanation is that "mar" also means a drop of water and Cheshvan is a month filled with bountiful rains.
The month of Tishrei which we just this week concluded is referred to in Jewish sources as a "comprehensive month." Its days include the entire spectrum of Jewish observance and emotion. It contains holy and awe inspiring days, days of introspection and penitence, fast days and regular week days, and joyous and exuberant days such as those of Simchat Torah.
Throughout the entire month of Tishrei, Jews stock up on spiritual experiences and mitzvot from the holiday seasons. Hearing the shofar, giving tzedaka, blessing the candles, inviting guests, praying, shaking the lulav, eating in the sukka, fasting, etc., etc. Little by little, throughout the year, we unpack our stored "goods," drawing strength and inspiration from the vast treasures we acquired during the month of Tishrei.
Yet, we cannot rest on our laurels. The stock we have stored up during Tishrei is not limitless. It constantly has to be replenished with mitzvot that we are currently performing. Thus, our "shelves" will be kept filled.
One particularly important mitzva to keep in abundant supply is that of Ahavat Yisrael--love of one's fellow Jew--a mitzva which is, in fact, a comprehensive mitzva. We are told that the mitzva of Ahavat Yisrael is the "basis of the entire Torah" and is a "great principle of the Torah." It encompasses and includes every single Jew, for Jews are like one body. Thus, we are required to love every Jew--even one whom we have never seen. This mitzva affects every Jew on an individual and collective level. And since it is such an important mitzva, we should never rely on what we might have in stock, but should replenish it every single day.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
Many years ago in the city of Rabat in Morocco there lived a great Rabbi who was also the mohel of the city. The Jews were not blessed with an abundance of worldly goods, but their greatest blessing lay in their many, lovely children who filled their homes with joy. Hardly a day passed without a bris, and the Rabbi was kept busy performing this holy mitzva.
After a time the Rabbi realized that he had not been called upon to perform a bris in many weeks. He couldn't understand why the Jewish women had ceased to give birth to boys, and he went to discuss the matter with the city elders.
They were also confounded by the drastic drop in the birth rate of the town, until one of them remarked that its seemed to have begun when the King granted a monopoly on fishing rights to the governor of the city. He had placed an exorbitant tax on fish, so that only the wealthiest could afford to purchase it. The Jews could no longer grace their Shabbat table with fish.
"Aha!" said the Rabbi, "That explains it. You see, it is a great mitzva to honor the Shabbat with fish, since the Creator blessed fish as He did people with the blessing 'Be fruitful and multiply.' Now, since the people can no longer afford fish, they have been deprived of this blessing."
The Rabbi had a plan. He went home and wrote out a few words on a parchment, and then instructed one of his students to take it to the seashore and drop it into the water exactly after sunrise.
The young man carried out the Rabbi's instructions, and the results were truly amazing. That day, when the fishermen went out, they were unable to catch even one fish! The same happened on the next day and the third.
The king, a great fish lover, quickly noticed the absence of fish and complained to the royal cook, who in turn replied that he had been unable to find fresh fish in any of the markets of the city. The angry king then sent for his governor and demanded an explanation. "I have given you a monopoly over the fish trade, and I cannot even get fish on my table! Have the fishermen stopped fishing, or have all the fish died!?"
The trembling governor had no explanation for the strange turn of events. He personally inspected the wharfs, but to no avail. The king gave an ultimatum: "In three days you had better come up with some fish or else I will have you thrown into the sea to find the fish yourself."
The terrified governor sent out all his informants to try to solve this puzzle, and sure enough, one returned with the story of a young Jew throwing something into the water.
The governor quickly returned to the king with the information that the Jews had bewitched the fish. The Rabbi was summoned and he addressed the king, saying, "Long live the King, Your Majesty. It is true I am responsible for the disappearance of the fish, but I did not cast any spell upon them. We Jews are strictly forbidden to use magic. I simply ordered the fish to leave these waters for the time being, and for a good reason.
"Your Majesty, G-d Who created the heaven and the earth filled them with many good resources for the benefit of man. He created air and water and made them readily available. The wind blows and the rains fall for the equal benefit of all G-d's creatures, and no man is able to capture them for his own use alone. G-d also created the fish of the sea. I am the spiritual leader of my people, and it has been my privilege to also serve as a mohel to circumcise the boys born into my congregation. In the past months I saw that no babies were being born, and I discovered that it was because the people are unable to purchase fish with which to honor our holy Shabbat."
"That is a strange thing to say," replied the king. "What could one thing possibly have to do with the other?"
The Rabbi explained: "You see, Your Majesty, G-d pronounced three blessings at the time of creation. One on the fish: 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters of the seas;' One on man: 'Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth, and have dominion over the fish of the sea...;' and on the Shabbat: 'And G-d blessed the Shabbat and made it holy.' So, that when we honor the Shabbat with fish, we are combining the three blessings, and G-d blesses our people with children who study his holy Torah."
The king now understood that because of his greedy governor poor people were unable to enjoy the bounty of the seas. He wasted no time in calling the governor and dismissing him from his high position.
The following morning at sunrise, all the townspeople assembled at the seaside to witness the wondrous return of the fish. Upon the arrival of the king, the Rabbi approached the water and called out: "Fish, hear my command! By the authority of the Creator and the authority of the Torah I order you to return at once and serve your Creator!" No sooner had he uttered these words than the calm sea began to ripple as wave upon wave of fish headed for the shore, jumping out of the water in excitement.
The crowd roared with happiness as the fishing boats raced out to sea to harvest the great bounty.
Adapted from The Storyteller.
These are the generations of Noach: Noach was a just, perfect man in his generation (Gen. 6:9)
Rashi comments: This verse teaches us that the most important legacy of a righteous person is his good deeds. A righteous person is not defined by his lineage or by his noble ancestry, but by his own actions and behavior.
A just, perfect man in his generation (6:9)
Noah's perfection was that he followed G-d's will completely and with all of his being throughout the day, not just when he learned and prayed, but with mundane matters as well.
And it [the flood] blotted out every living thing...both man and animal (7:23)
If mankind sinned, why did the animals have to be punished, too? This is explained by a parable. A person prepared a great wedding feast for his son's upcoming marriage, and procured the finest delicacies for the celebration. Before the marriage could take place, however, the son died. The father then dismantled the wedding canopy and threw away all the elaborate preparations he had made, saying, "What do I need all these for? Now that my son is dead all this is useless."
Similarly, when G-d saw that mankind had sinned, He said, "What use is there for the whole animal kingdom now? I only created them to serve mankind."
The Messianic era will witness ultimate physical and spiritual bliss. All will be healed. The blind, the deaf and the dumb, the lame, whosoever has any blemish or disability, shall be healed from all their disabilities.