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"And it happened in the days of the judgement of the Judges..." For a nation that breathed, slept and ate confirmation hearings of a Supreme Court Judge this past month, the phrase sounds ominously familiar. It is, however, the opening verse of the Book of Ruth, written about an episode from Jewish history nearly 3,000 years ago.
In those days, there was no king, no true leader of the people. Therefore, "every person did that which was right in his own eyes." [Judges, 21:25] Hmm, deja vu?
Obviously, this was not the best state of the union to be in. For, as the Midrash laments, "Woe unto the generation whose Judges are judged, and woe to the generation whose Judges deserve to be judged."
Why, one may wonder, did the judges of that generation deserve to be judged? Is Anita Hill but a reincarnation of someone who lived during that era? The answer is obviously an emphatic, "No!" But to understand this properly, some revealing background information is necessary.
There was a time in Jewish history known as the period of the Judges. These were the years after the Jewish people conquered the Holy Land under the leadership of Joshua until Saul--the first king--was anointed. The leaders during this period were all called judges. And this is the time during which the incidents described in the Book of Ruth took place.
One who is accepted as a judge according to the Torah and is allowed to make Jewish legal decisions, however, is defined differently. First and foremost, his integrity is impeccable. In addition, a prerequisite for becoming this kind of judge is proficiency in and familiarity with a voluminous body of Jewish law. When this information has been mastered, the promising judge sits at the feet of the Torah sages and apprentices. Once he has become experienced in deciding Jewish law, and his reputation becomes known, he may be sought out by the leaders of different communities to become their rabbi and "judge."
So why, getting back to our earlier question, did the judges of the Book of Ruth deserve to be judged? According to some commentaries, the judges of those days lacked Torah knowledge. Which brings us quite conveniently to the next part of the verse, "and there was a famine in the land." What kind of a famine was there? It was not only a famine for bread, but also a famine for Jewish education.
This too, sounds uncomfortably familiar. For, in our days, judges are being judged, people are doing what is right in their own eyes, and there is a tremendous famine in the area of Jewish education among not only our youth, but our supposed leaders, as well.
Yet, we learn from the Book of Ruth not to despair. For, out of the desperate state in those days, the seed of Moshiach was established: Ruth was the great-grandmother of King David, and Moshiach is his descendant.
As individuals, we cannot control the judging of judges, nor can we force people to stop from living their own ideas of morality. However, we need not despair, we cannot despair. There is something we can do. We can stem the tide of famine in Jewish education. We can study Torah, as individuals or in groups, especially on the auspicious day of Shabbat. And we can study the promising topic of Moshiach and the Final Redemption, which truly will help speed the arrival of Moshiach and the imminent redemption, may it happen NOW.
This week's Torah portion, Vayishlach, describes the encounter between Jacob and his brother Esau, after Esau had sent 400 armed men announcing his arrival. Their meeting, which threatened to be confrontational, actually turned out amiable--"Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him; and they wept."
Why this change of Esau's intentions? Rashi explains: Esau's mercy was aroused when he saw Jacob prostrating himself before him so many times. Rashi continues by quoting Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai: Despite the halacha (rule) that Esau hates Jacob, Esau's compassion was stirred at that time and he kissed him with his whole heart.
Rabbi Shimon used the word "halacha," which means religious law, to emphasize something about the nature of Esau's hatred toward Jacob: it is as immutable and timeless as are the practical laws of Torah. Rabbi Shimon wished to teach us that we should not try to rationalize Esau's hatred of Jacob by ascribing various reasons or motives to it; it is a hatred rooted in Esau's very essence. If and when we find an instance of Esau's positive behavior toward Jacob, we should realize that it is an exception to the rule--"his compassion was stirred at that time."
This saying of Rabbi Shimon also found its expression in his own personal life. Rabbi Shimon lived under the yoke of Rome, and suffered under the harsh decrees issued against the Jewish nation. He, in particular, suffered greatly because of his own staunch opposition to the Romans, and was forced to hide in a cave for 13 years, together with his son. Yet it was precisely this same Rabbi Shimon who traveled to Rome to have the anti-Jewish decrees rescinded, and was successful!
The story of Rabbi Shimon illustrates both sides of the coin: the unchangeable nature of Esau's hatred and persecution of the Jews, and the triumph of one who was particularly renowned for his opposition to Roman rule.
We learn from this a valuable lesson in how to relate to our oppressors during this long and bitter Exile:
On the one hand, a Jew must not rely on the mercy of the nations, because we know that Esau's hatred toward Jacob is a given fact. At the same time, it is within the power of every Jew to command respect from the non-Jews by maintaining his pride and adherence to the Jewish way of life.
When a Jew is unbending in his commitment to Torah and mitzvot, it positively influences the nations, so that "Esau's compassion was stirred and he kissed him with his whole heart." Not only does this command respect, but it brings about Esau's cooperation and even assistance in helping the Jew to keep his Torah.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
THE CHASIDIC ARTIST
by Daniel Goldberg
From earliest childhood, Hendel Lieberman showed signs of rare artistic talent. An art professor who saw some of his early pictures forecast a great future for the boy: "He'll be the pride of the Jewish people," he declared.
Hendel's widowed mother, however, looked askance at young Hendel's artistic ambitions, fearing they would distract him from Torah study and the Chasidic way of life. To be a chasid and an artist seemed a contradition.
To ensure his Chasidic education, Hendel's mother sent him to the famous yeshiva in the town of Lubavitch. The six years Hendel studied in Lubavitch left an indelible impression upon him, imbuing him with an all-pervasive love for the Chasidic way of life.
With the outbreak of World War I, Hendel left Lubavitch to work in Moscow. Though studying Torah part time, by 1920 he had earned enough to begin art courses. Hendel married and had two daughters. He supported his family through jobs in the art field, while continuing his art courses and part-time Torah studies.
While studying art, Hendel was noticed by the distinguished Russian sculptor, Innocento Zhukov, disciple of the famous French artist Rodin. Zhukov submitted one of Hendel's paintings to a nationwide, government-sponsored art competition. Out of 500 entries, Hendel's painting won first prize. He was awarded a six-year scholarship to the Moscow Academy of Art, which he completed with honors in 3 years.
World War II reached Russia in 1941. Hendel was drafted into the Red Army and was twice wounded and hospitalized. Meanwhile his wife and daughters went to stay with her parents in Retchitza, White Russia. In 1942, on reaching Retchitza, the Nazis shot the forty Jews there, including Hendel's family.
After the war, Hendel recorded his profound grief at the loss of his family in a painting that immortalized the Holocaust. To his painting he added the words: "There lies my own portion, too." Hendel found solace in his artwork and in total dedication to the Chasidic way of life.
In the fall of 1946 hundreds of Lubavitcher families left Russia. Hendel changed his family name from Futerfas to Lieberman for passport purposes and accompanied his mother, sisters, sister-in-law, and their children to Western Europe and a new life.
But his personal tragedies gave Hendel no respite. He would fall into moods of dejection, feeling he had no place for himself. During the winter of 1951, Hendel wrote about his feelings to the Rebbe, shlita.
The Rebbe answered Hendel in a long letter encouraging him to utilize his remarkable talents in the service of Torah and mitzvot as illuminated by Chabad philosophy. The letter breathed new life into Hendel. He soon went to New York to meet the Rebbe.
A new canvas unfolded for Hendel. Settling in Crown Heights, he enjoyed the Chasidic way of life of Brooklyn's Lubavitcher community. At the same time, the prosperous economic conditions enabled him to devote himself to art as a profitable occupation. His unique style was in demand both among art enthusiasts who appreciated his expertise and among Jews seeking reminders of their heritage.
The epitome of infectious joy and optimism, Hendel became popular, even revered, among the younger generation of Chabad chasidim, especially the young people returning to traditional Judaism. They loved him for his warmth and understanding, his slightly eccentric ways, his ability to bridge the gulf between two worlds so long considered contradictory. In his later years, he became known as "The Conductor" at the Rebbe's gatherings. Between the Rebbe's talks, the chasidim sing traditional melodies and Hendel would conduct. With an imaginary baton in his hand, he would stand near the Rebbe and guide the thousands of voices.
New York's art community also fully accepted Hendel. Widely respected among artists, he belonged to the artist-society of the Museum of Modern Art, and his paintings hang today at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, London's Tate Gallery and art museums in Paris. Hendel traveled widely to exhibit his art. "When they see my paintings," Hendel once remarked, "they can really feel what it means to be a Jew." After one exhibition, the local rabbi told him his paintings had done more in ten days to arouse the community's interest in Judaism than ten years of the rabbi's own work. Hendel came to regard this aspect of his work as a sacred vocation. If he could thus arouse such interest in Torah, he would leave behind him an accomplishment of eternal value.
Few individuals are blessed to become true trailblazers. But by the time Hendel Lieberman passed away, in 1976, he had become a legend in his lifetime--the "Father of Chasidic Art."
Reprinted from The Yiddishe Heim.
BE A PART OF IT
"Chabad" and "Lubavitch" have become associated with the public Chanuka Menora Lighting ceremonies arranged each year by Chabad-Lubavitch Centers since 1979. The World's Largest Chanuka Menora stands proudly at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-Ninth Street in Manhattan. The schedule for menora-lighting at that location is: Dec. 1, 3:00 p.m.; Dec. 2-5, 5:30 p.m.; Dec. 6, 3:34; Dec. 7, 8:00; Dec. 8, 5:30.
REUNIONS IN RUSSIA
Camp reunions and winter camps are being planned for the 1,500 children and young adults who attended Chabad-Lubavitch day and overnight camps in the Soviet Union this past summer. The camps, sponsored by Lishkas Ezras Achim, were located in nearly every major city throughout Russia and Georgia. Winter camp reunions or mini-winter camps are offered by many Chabad-Lubavitch centers the world-over.
A special Braille edition of Tanya, the basic book of Chabad Chasidut, was recently published and has been well received by many in the Jewish community. We at L'Chaim are considering bringing out a braille edition of L'Chaim. If anyone you know would be interested in receiving L'Chaim in braille please contact us.
THE TRUE NATURE OF A JEW
Freely translated from a letter of the Rebbe
The historic day of Yud Tet Kislev (the 19th of Kislev), as is well known, and as explained at length in one of the epistles of my father-in-law of saintly memory (the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe), was more than a personal triumph for the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad. For, in regaining his personal freedom on that day, as well as the freedom to continue his teachings and work, he gained a victory for the whole Chasidic movement which had been threatened with suppression and extinction.
For the Alter Rebbe was the chief exponent of the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov who had founded the Chasidic movement about half a century earlier. It is for this reason that he was made the chief target of attack, and his geula (redemption) brought salvation to the numerous followers of the Baal Shem Tov, and to our people as a whole.
One of the great accomplishments of the Baal Shem Tov is that he opened our eyes to the true nature of a Jew. While he dedicated his life to the spreading of the Torah and mitzvot in the fullest measure, he never despaired of any Jew, no matter how much circumstances temporarily overshadowed his Judaism. The Baal Shem Tov taught us--and the Alter Rebbe expounded it at length--that the Jew was essentially, by his very nature, incorruptible and inseparable from G-d; that "no Jew is either able or willing to detach himself from G-dliness." It is often necessary to no more than "scratch the surface," to reveal the Jew's true inner nature.
The Baal Shem Tov introduced a new relationship between Jew and Jew, based on the inner meaning of "Have we not all one Father?" (as interpreted by the Alter Rebbe). By the example of his own dedicated work, he taught us what should be our attitude and approach to our fellow Jews. For, the Baal Shem Tov began his work as an assistant teacher, taking tender care of little children, and teaching them the Shema, blessings, and so on. At the same time he revealed to the more mature minds some of the deepest teachings of the Inner Torah, the Kabbala, and the true way to serve G-d with heart and mind together, a profound philosophy which found its systematic expression and exposition in Chabad.
As in the past, and even more so today, it is the duty and privilege of every Jew to help educate Jewish children--"children" in the literal sense, in age; and "children" in knowledge of Judaism. In a true sense, a person's education is not confined to the school-room; it should continue throughout his life, enabling him to become wiser and better every day. One must be a student and teacher at the same time, and in both cases success depends on mutual affection, on true Ahavat Yisrael.
Let us all open our hearts and minds to the teachings and inspiration of Yud Tet Kislev, through the observance of which we identify ourselves with, and attach ourselves to, the great luminaries of our people, the Alter Rebbe and the Baal Shem Tov.
What is Birkat HaGomel?
A person who has safely returned from a hazardous voyage, recovered from a serious illness, or been released from unjust imprisonment, must offer thanks to G-d in the form of a benediction recited when the Torah is read publicly. This benediction is called Birkat HaGomel.
This comming Tuesday is the 19th of Kislev, the anniversary of the liberation of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism. He was imprisoned in Czarist Russia on false charges of spreading anti-government sentiments.
Each year since Rabbi Shneur Zalman's release in 1798, the 19th of Kislev has been celebrated as a special occasion by Jews the world over. Why celebrate an event that took place nearly 200 years ago to an individual in far-away Russia?
What is behind the custom of observing the anniversary of an important event in a person's life or in the history of the Jewish people?
According to Jewish teachings, the same spiritual forces functioning at the time of the original event--whether a birth, wedding, yahrtzeit, or victorious incident--reassert themselves at the time of the anniversary. Therefore, it is an opportune time to benefit from those powers.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman was one of the chief proponents of the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement. His vindication, therefore, was the vindication of the entire fledgling movement. Through his release from prison, the teachings of Chasidic philosophy--the inner and mystical aspect of Torah--could be freely taught.
The spiritual forces operative on the original 19th of Kislev and the 19th of Kislev in each subsequent year are intimately tied up with the dissemination and study of Chasidic philosophy.
May we all use this special time and the unique spiritual forces it brings with it for the advancement of the study of Chasidic teachings, especially as elucidated by Rabbi Shneur Zalman and his successors.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
As the Chasidic Movement grew in popularity and expanded, opposition to its teachings and practices increased. Particularly in the scholarly circles of Lithuania, opposition became fierce and eventually involved the secular authorities. Some of the leaders of Chasidism even left for the Holy Land. Rabbi Shneur Zalman prepared to do likewise, but instead returned to Lithuania to spread the Baal Shem Tov's doctrines there.
The battle continued over the next twenty years. After the passing of the saintly Gaon of Vilna, the strongest oppositional figure, strife erupted again more fiercely than ever. This time the focus of opposition was Rabbi Shneur Zalman, due in part to the great strength the movement had gathered under his leadership. But perhaps the strongest reason for the violent feelings was the publication of his seminal work, the Tanya. A special committee was formed with the express purpose of destroying Chasidism. It was decided to use the power of the central government in St. Petersburg to this end, and the Rebbe was accused of treason. Since the Rebbe had established a fund for aiding the indigent of the Holy Land, which was then under the sovereignty of Turkey and an enemy of Russia, the opponents accused him of disbursing funds to a foreign power. They also added the charge that in his teachings he denigrated the importance of kingship.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman was arrested and driven in the dreaded "Black Mary," a special vehicle reserved for the transport of the worst criminals, to the frightful Fortress of Petropavlovsk where he was detained for fifty-two days. He was endlessly interrogated regarding the charges and other matters of the Jewish faith in which the government interested itself.
The interrogators were greatly impressed by the strength of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, who preserved his composure in the most trying of circumstances, and answered their inquiries with extraordinary wisdom. Even in matters totally divorced from the trial proceedings, the gentile prison officials were able to see the great saintliness of their prisoner. Once, the Rebbe was interred in a room which was pitch back, as dark in the day as in the night. His only source of light was a small lamp. One day, at about two o'clock in the afternoon, the Rebbe was told that the time was already past midnight and he should go to sleep. "Right now," the Rebbe retorted, "the time is two hours and five minutes past noon."
The astonished jailers asked him how he could possibly know that, to which he replied: "Every day is illuminated by the twelve forms of the letters of the Ineffable Name (Tetragrammaton), while the night is illuminated by the twelve forms of the Name denoting G-d's Lordship. By experiencing these various forms I know how to distinguish between the day and night, and between one hour and the other."
During the term of the Rebbe's imprisonment, the Chief of Police had discussed the case with the Czar, telling him that he perceived the prisoner to be a saintly individual who was the victim of false charges stemming from jealousy and hatred. The Czar became curious to meet such an extraordinary person and decided to draw his own conclusions. He disguised himself as an ordinary clerk of the court and went to see the Rebbe for himself. But as soon as he entered the cell, the Rebbe rose and uttered the blessing which is recited before royalty. The disguised Czar asked him in surprise why he stood and appeared to accord him such great honor, as he was a mere clerk.
The Rebbe replied, "For you must be the Czar! Our Sages teach us that 'sovereignty on earth is similar to the sovereignty of the Heavens.' Just as the fear of G-d is great, so too, did I experience an unusual sense of awe when you entered, such as I have never felt before any other official. I therefore concluded that you must be the Czar." The Czar left convinced of both his saintliness and innocence.
Throughout his terrible ordeal the Rebbe never doubted his salvation. When the time came for the Rebbe to be brought to court for an important interrogation, he was led from his underground cell out into the cold night air. He was seated on the deck of a ferry which was to bring him across the river to the Imperial Court. The Rebbe suddenly saw emerging from behind a cloud the sliver of a new moon. He turned to the officer who was escorting him and requested that the boat be stopped so that he might utter a brief prayer--the Kiddush Levana--which is said when the new moon is sighted. The officer replied that it would be impossible, but the words had hardly left his lips when the boat stopped of its own accord. The Rebbe recited the Psalm which precedes the blessing, and the boat continued across the river. A few seconds later the Rebbe repeated his request to halt the boat. The officer replied that he would heed the request, but wished that the saintly rabbi give him a blessing. This the Rebbe did, writing the blessing on a piece of paper, and the attendant stopped the boat while the Rebbe completed the blessing on the new moon. The court officer rose to a prominent position and kept the note inscribed with the blessing in an ornate golden frame which was passed as an inheritance to his descendants.
On the nineteenth of Kislev in the year 1799, Rabbi Shneur Zalman was vindicated, declared innocent of all charges and released from prison.
The remaining camp which is left may escape (Gen. 32:9)
This episode of Jacob and Esau in the Torah hints to the future wanderings of the Jewish people in exile. "The remaining camp which is left may escape"--G-d will never allow Esau to destroy the entire Jewish nation. When one king issues a harsh decree against the Jews, another king, in a different part of the world, will open his country's doors and allow the Jews refuge.
And Jacob came whole to the city of Shechem (33:18)
Rashi explains this to mean that Jacob was sound in body, his wealth was intact, and his Torah-observance was uncompromised. We learn from Jacob to always strive for excellence in all areas of our lives. Even a person whose primary path in the worship of G-d is through practical mitzvot--charity and good deeds--should also strive to be perfect in study.
Save me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau (32:12)
Jacob feared two things: The "hand of Esau"--Esau's sword, and "the hand of my brother"--the hand of friendship Esau would extend toward him. Fraternizing with Esau more than necessary worried Jacob even more than the physical threat he posed. Esau's might threatened Jacob's body, but the other put Jacob's soul in danger.
(Rabbi Yosef-Ber of Brisk)
The soul of every Jew is comprised of five distinct levels, ranging from the lowest aspect of the soul to the highest. The first four levels represent the soul's different modes of expression: action, emotion, intellect and will. The fifth level--yechida--represents the soul's very essence. While every Jew possesses a soul comprising all five levels, it is Moshiach, the yechida of the Jewish people, who makes it possible for the essence of every Jewish soul to be revealed.
(Rabbi H. Greenberg in Di Yiddishe Heim)