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There's been a lot of talk lately about multi-culturalism, especially as it relates to the education of our youth and the "rewriting" of history. One thing multi-culturalism certainly has enhanced is the pride that all of these minorities feel toward their culture and history.
We Jews are a minority. Though you won't see a box marked "Jewish" to check off on job application forms or college admission forms, numbers demonstrate this fact to be true. We would do well, then, to apply an adage of the Baal Shem Tov to today's climate. The Baal Shem Tov said that everything we see or hear is a lesson for us in our spiritual service. What can we learn from the very vociferous proponents of multi-culturalism?
Many minorities have reclaimed their ancient names, clothing and even languages. Interestingly enough, our Sages have said that because the Jews in Egypt retained their modest and distinct manner of dress, continued to speak Hebrew, and never took on non-Jewish names G-d redeemed them from the Egyptian exile.
In the name of multi-culturalism might not we Jews consider reclaiming our ancient history, culture and traditions? Certainly Judaism, the basis for the world's major religions, the foundation for the modern judicial systems, the "publisher" of the greatest "best-seller" of all times, has what to be proud of. And we, as Jews, should be proud to stand out as Jews, not content to simply melt in today's great melting pot.
How can we show our pride? We might want to learn from our ancestors who merited to be redeemed from Egypt. Know your Jewish name and consider using it on a regular basis. Dress in a modest and regal manner, befitting the one people who has continued to exist despite the disappearance of all the other ancient nations. Learn Hebrew so that the world of Jewish knowledge will be open to you. But until the time that you know Hebrew fluently, do not hesitate to avail yourself of the thousands of Torah books available in English.
Antagonists of multi-culturalism bemoan what they consider to be the rewriting of history to suit the needs of the minorities. Let us Jews not fall into the trap of believing those who have been rewriting our history, as recorded in the Bible. Creation was replaced by the Theory of Evolution, the miraculous Splitting of the Red Sea was replaced by a theory of high tides, the Torah itself was considered not the word of G-d but the work of men.
We must learn from our fellow-countrymen and women to be adamant in our insistence that we Jews be accepted for who we are, what we believe, and where we come from. If we do this, will we not certainly merit to be redeemed from this final exile as were our ancestors in Egypt?
At the end of this week's Torah portion, Shemot, Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh to demand that he free the Children of Israel from bondage. Pharaoh answered them, "Why do you, Moses and Aaron, hinder the people from their work? Go about your own tasks."
Our Sages explain that Moses and Aaron, being members of the tribe of Levi, were not required to work like the rest of the Jewish People, and were exempted from the bitter decree of slavery. Pharaoh, in effect, asked the two of them: "Why do you involve yourselves in affairs that don't concern you? Let the rest of the Jews continue in their tasks, and don't disturb them."
Why did the Egyptians permit an entire tribe of the Jewish People to be exempt from the terrible bondage forced upon the rest? The Egyptians recognized that each nation must have its own leaders and teachers to whom the people could turn for spiritual guidance. Pharaoh therefore allowed the tribe of Levi to continue learning Torah and to disseminate its teachings among the rest of the Jews. It was accepted as a natural state of affairs that the spiritual authorities should enjoy a higher status and occupy an elevated position in society.
When Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh to demand that the entire Jewish nation be allowed to journey into the desert to worship G-d, they were disputing this commonly held notion. Pharaoh, for his part, claimed that it was sufficient that the upper class, the clergy, be allowed to learn Torah and carry out Jewish ritual. Pharaoh was the original proponent of the separation of "church" and state. The Egyptian king did not object to the Leviim learning Torah; he did not seek to totally negate the spiritual and intellectual yearnings of the Jews. He merely sought to perpetuate the Egyptian world-view which saw the two realms of the religious and the civil as two opposing concepts.
As religious leaders, Moses and Aaron were allowed a certain amount of authority by the Egyptian regime, on the condition that they limit themselves to the synagogue and to the yeshiva.
When Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh with their request, it was seen as a total contradiction of the existing world order. They claimed that the Torah's very purpose was to show man how to conduct his daily, private life, and that its laws were applicable to each and every facet of a person's existence. Moses and Aaron radically challenged the man-made division between that which belonged in the spiritual realm and that which was outside of religious law. The Torah is neither limited in scope nor reserved for a select few.
From this we also learn the duty incumbent upon every Jew to help other Jews, even if he is not personally threatened. Aaron and Moses were not content to remain within the secluded tents of learning if the rest of the Jews were not allowed to participate. Because of their self-sacrifice on behalf of the Jewish nation, they were ultimately successful in ending the Egyptian exile and leading the Jews to Mount Sinai.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Shlita
Forty, Chassidic Style
by Rabbi David Eliezrie
Forty is that ominous age you think you'll never get to. Well, all of us, myself included, make it there eventually.
I climbed that peak of maturity just recently. And with a little nudging from my wife, decided to mark it in chasidic style.
Lubavitcher Chasidim take birthdays very seriously. It is not considered a time for levity and partying, rather a moment of reflection and assessment. A time to pause, take a step back, and look oneself square in the eye.
You gather a few good friends, drink a little "l'chaim" to loosen the lips and get beyond the facade, sing a few melodies, say a few words of Torah and take a real hard look at yourself.
Jews with beards, long coats and black hats are filled with many of the same doubts of identity and achievement in life as their secular brethren. Their Torah lifestyle gives them a greater sense of direction and distinct goals they are seeking to attain. But if they have a little honesty, from time to time they take a real look at themselves and make a commitment to improve.
My trip into self-awareness took me to Brooklyn, not Big Sur. I went to Crown Heights for a few days. My true motive was to travel to receive the blessing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe for my transition in life. For a chasid, an encounter with the Rebbe is moving. The depth of the Rebbe's spiritual integrity summons your courage to find the truth in your life, to get beyond the external and invoke the true internal self.
Because it was during the holidays, a group of friends from all over the world gathered to help me look for that truth. Many came from different countries to celebrate the holidays near the Rebbe. A few were from Israel, including an old friend who now heads a prominent yeshiva; a lawyer and restaurant owner in Miami; rabbinical students from Australia, Englands and the U.S. and of course some of the boys (i.e., rabbis) from Chabad in L.A.
The farbrengen, as such a gathering is called, ended at close to 5 a.m.. There was an exchange of great stories, heartlifting chasidic melodies and words of Torah. My friend from the yeshiva in Israel decided some time around 4 a.m. that I must, as the chasidic birthday tradition mandates, announce my new resolutions for the next year. Some I refused to divulge (true confessions go only so far) but two I did.
I returned to Orange County after an amazing few days to a celebration of another kind. My students, all older than me, at the Jewish Senior Center threw a big party in my honor. It included a cake and even a model sports car for my mid-life crisis. In a mysterious way, it seemed to encourage me, to ratify my decisions made in the early mornings in Brooklyn.
Rabbi David Eliezrie is the spiritual leader of North County Chabad, Congregation Beth Meir HaCohen in Yorba Linda.
A TASTE OF TORAH & PIZZA
Every Thursday from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. enjoy physical and spiritual nourishment. A class on Maimonides' Thirteen Principles of Faith is held in a Brooklyn Heights Kosher Pizza shop with Rabbi Aron Raskin leading the discussion. For more info call (718) 596-0069.
A special service is available for people interested in being up-to-date on what the Lubavitcher Rebbe is saying in his weekly gatherings. If you have access to a fax machine you can subscribe to this unique service by calling (718) 363-1619.
JEWISH MEDICAL ETHICS
The Jewish approach to modern medical and ethical dilemmas will be the topic of a special weekend for medical and health professionals. Highlights of the May 14-17 conference include fetal research and genetic engineering, Jewish insights into the management of substance abuse, euthanasia, and more. The conference is hosted by the Lubavitcher community in Brooklyn and is sponsored by Lubavitch Youth Organization. For more info call (718) 953-1000.
LIFE'S TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS
From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to the Chasidic artist Hendel Lieberman (see issue #190 of L'Chaim for a story about the artist's life).
I was very pleased to read that you are utilizing your artistic talent, that you are preparing an exhibition and that the art critics wrote favorably of you in the newspapers. I am sure you will continue to progress in these endeavors and that you will fully utilize your G-d-given talents to strengthen Judaism and religious feeling. The most important part of the letter is your complaint about your situation. You feel very broken; from time to time you fall into a mood of despair; you find no place for yourself.
You do not write what has caused your current mood and I therefore cannot go into detail to show you how these causes are really the product of your imagination and arise from your yetzer hara [a person's inner inclination to evil]; not that the cause does not exist--it may indeed have some foundation. But as a reason for depression and despair--it is false. It is a trick of the yetzer, that evil inclination whom my father-in-law, the Rebbe, used to call "the Cunning One" because he approaches each person with words designed to appeal to that particular individual. Again however, since you do not write the particular causes which seem to justify your dejection, I will limit myself to a general discussion of the whole matter, taking support from the well-known teaching of the Baal Shem Tov (which my father-in-law, the Rebbe, often repeated), namely, that everyone can learn a lesson in G-d's service from everything he sees and hears. I will apply this lesson to shed some light on your particular case:
You know, I am sure, that the genius of the artist in sketching, drawing and painting is his ability to detach himself from the externality of the object he is portraying. The artist must be able to look deeply into the inner content of the object, beyond its external form, and to see the inner aspect and essence of the object. He must then be able to express that "inner essence" in his portrayal, so that whoever views the painting sees revealed for him the inner aspect of the object, an "essence" which he, the viewer, had never noticed in the object itself, for it had been obscured by non-essential, external aspects. An artist reveals in his art the essence and being of his subject; the viewer examining the result can now see the object in a completely different light and realizes that his previous impressions of the object were erroneous.
The above is an exact analogy to describe one of the cardinal principles in a person's service of his Creator. All creation is derived from "the word of G-d" which brings matter into being and sustains it every instant continuously. However, the parallel G-dly force of contraction and concealment obscures the Divine creative force; as a result, all one can see is the external form of the physical. Service of G-d, aided by the simple belief that "there is nothing aside from Him [G-d]," mandates an honest effort by each of us to "bring to the surface" the G-dliness inherent in everything in our lives, and to remove as much as possible the mask of physical externality obscuring the inner G-dliness.
The same applies to each individual; his inner "essence" is G-dliness. "You are the children of G-d your G-d." It is explained in the Tanya that just as the child is drawn from the mind of his father, so is the soul of every Jew drawn from the Alm-ghty's wisdom and thought (which is synonymous with His Essence, for He and His Wisdom are one). The essential being of each and every Jew--including you--is G-dliness.
The Alm-ghty did not want the soul to eat "bread of shame," (i.e., sustenance given gratuitously, without having been earned by the recipient); He therefore made it possible for man to serve Him in a meaningful way with toil of body and soul. Through our endeavors in avoda [G-dly service] we are Divinely enabled to earn all manner of goodness up to and including the highest levels of spiritual achievement. And do not think that some individuals will not accomplish the ultimate goal of avoda; that is not the case. Even if one initially serves the Alm-ghty for ulterior motives, his involvement in G-d's service will eventually lead to performance for the proper motivation and "...no one will ultimately be rejected by Him."
Such is the pattern and the purpose of Man's creation. Obviously, one must take great care to see that the secondary "external" matters of his life should not obscure the essence of a person and the ultimate goal and purpose of his creation.
Continued in the next issue of L'Chaim.
What is the difference between the terms "Five Books of Moses," "Chumash," "Torah," and "Pentateuch"?
Five books--Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy--were dictated by G-d to Moses. Thus, they are known as the "Five Books of Moses." In Hebrew they are known as the Chamisha Chumshei Torah--Five books of the Torah. Each book individually is called a "Chumash." The word "Torah" comes from the Hebrew word ho'ra-ah meaning "guidance" or "instruction." It is primarily applied to the Five Books of Moses but colloquially encompasses the entire body of Jewish studies. A "Sefer Torah" is the handwritten Torah scroll read in the synagogue each Shabbat, Monday and Thursday. Pentateuch is the Greek word for the Five Books.
The 20th of Teves (December 27 this year), is the yartzeit of Rabbi Moses Maimonides, otherwise known as the Rambam.
In his major work, the Mishne Torah, the Rambam enumerates and details all the 613 laws of the Torah. He places the laws relating to the Jewish king, and Moshiach, at the very end of his work. In the introduction to these laws he states that the Jews were commanded to fulfill three mitzvot upon conquering and entering the Land of Israel: To appoint a king; to kill the descendants of Amalek; to build [G-d's] Chosen House.
It would seem that these mitzvot should have been mentioned much earlier in his work if they were, in fact, so important! However, the Rambam chose to organize the Mishne Torah in this fashion to emphasize that the true and complete performance of all the mitzvot of the Torah will be attained when a king rules over Israel. The Rambam then defines Moshiach as a king, who will not only redeem the Jews from exile, but also restore the observance of the Torah and the mitzvot to its complete state.
For many, this would seem a rather novel approach. Yet, the Talmud states that "the world was created solely for Moshiach." This being the case, we certainly must do everything in our power to hasten his arrival.
What is within the power and reach of each individual, great and small? Good deeds, charity, studying concepts and laws associated with Moshiach and the Final Redemption, fostering peace between family, friends, co-workers, and actively waiting for and anticipating his arrival each and every day.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
Moshe was dreaming again. He stood next to his father and brother by the eastern wall of the synagogue. This was a place of honor, for Moshe's father was the Chief Rabbi of Cordova, just as his father and grandfather had been. But Moshe was not praying. His eyes wandered.
A sharp tap on his shoulder made him look up guiltily. His father looked at him with a stern gaze, full of disappointment and sadness. Moshe knew it was because he, the eldest son, could not learn Torah.
Every day his father would give away precious hours to learn with him. But at the end of the lesson, he would just sigh and shake his head. Yesterday it had happened again. Moshe had been sent away from his lesson. His eyes stinging with unshed tears, he made his way to the kitchen where Batsheva, their housekeeper, was frying cakes in hot oil.
"Did it not go well today?" she asked gently. "Not everyone is cut out to be a scholar. Maybe you take after your mother's side of the family."
"You mean my mother's father, the butcher?" Moshe asked.
"Yes, but that's nothing to be ashamed of. Your grandfather was a kind, honest, and G-d-fearing man, as generous as the day is long. Little wonder G-d sent him such an honorable son-in-law as your father."
The congregation was already rising for the silent prayer. Quickly Moshe turned the pages, wondering if his father had caught him daydreaming again. Moshe bent his head in prayer--and came to the words "Grant us wisdom, understanding, and knowledge..."
The words seemed to spring at him from the page. Perhaps G-d would grant him wisdom and understanding so that he would remember every word, and his father would be proud of him. Moshe resolved to try. During the lesson that morning Moshe concentrated on his father's words, "And G-d said, 'Let there be light, and there was light.'" Light. Through the open window, Moshe saw his familiar world. The fountain glistened in the sun, palm and myrtle trees swayed over the patio.
"Moshe!" his father's voice cracked like a whip. "If you don't understand, at least you could look at the holy letters! Can't you follow where I'm pointing?" Moshe shook his head miserably, "I can't."
"You can't because you don't try! Enough! Get out of my sight."
For a moment Moshe could not move. His father's words pierced his heart like a spear. Then he ran. To the very outskirts of the town he ran. He threw himself into the cold, clear water of the river there, reaching with strong strokes into the soothing waves. Then, exhausted, he dropped onto the river bank and dozed off. When he awoke, it was night.
Where should he go now? His father had driven him away. Moshe found himself wandering toward the synagogue. In the shadowy depth of the ark, the Torah scrolls glistened in their silver mantels. Suddenly the cold, hard knot inside his chest loosened, and his eyes filled with tears. "Please G-d!" he whispered. "Give me wisdom! Open my brain and let me understand Your holy Torah so my father can be proud of me! Please, teach me Your Torah!"
One by one he kissed the glowing scrolls, and carefully closed the doors of the ark. Then as a feeling of peace flowed over him, he recited the Shema, curled up on a bench and slept.
Dawn poured through the synagogue window. Had he really slept the whole night in the synagogue? Moshe murmured Modeh Ani, thanking G-d for returning his soul. Then, he realized what he had to do next. He would travel to the Yeshiva in Alisena and learn Torah from his father's teacher--the great Rabbi Yosef Ibn Migash. He would study until he could return home and make his father proud.
Moshe washed his hands, said the morning prayers with feeling, and hurried to the marketplace. The large square was filled with farmers unloading their wagons. "Sir, can you tell me which way is Alisena?" Moshe asked.
The farmer smiled. "That's just where I'm headed, son. You must be going to Yeshiva, little scholar that you are! Hop into my wagon."
The sun had already set when they finally reached Alisena. Inside the Yeshiva rows of men and boys were learning. "What do you want, boy?" said a tall youth smiling down at Moshe. "I, I came to learn Torah with Rabbi Yosef Ibn Migash," he stammered at last. "Come back when you are bar mitzvah. Now your mother must be looking for you." Suddenly a kind voice said, "Bring the boy to me. What is your name, son?"
"I am Moshe, son of Rabbi Maimon from Cordova."
"Ah, my student from Cordova! Your father sent you to learn here?" But the true story came out. When Moshe finished, he felt the lips of the tzaddik on his forehead. "May G-d bless you, my son!" Moshe felt a great weight had been lifted from him, and that something deep and good inside of him was opening up. Years later he would say that at this very moment, the wells of Torah wisdom were revealed within him.
Excerpted from a forthcoming novel from Hachai Publishing by Rochel Yaffe.
These are the names of the Children of Israel coming into Egypt (Ex. 1:1)
The verse says "coming," in the present tense, rather than "who came," in the past tense. For the duration of the 210-year exile in Egypt, the Jews felt as if they had just arrived in that land. They never adopted Egyptian ways and always considered their sojourn temporary.
And she saw the child, and behold it was a weeping boy (Ex. 2:6)
We can learn (and emulate) three things from a child: He is always happy, he is always occupied and never sits idle, and when he wants something, he cries.
(Reb Zussia of Annipoli)
And Moses was shepherding the flock of Jethro (Ex. 3:1)
A young goat once ran away from the rest of the flock Moses was tending in the desert. Moses followed the animal into a thicket that hid a pool of fresh water. Seeing the goat drinking he exclaimed, "I didn't realize that you were thirsty. You must be so tired now." After the animal had quenched its thirst, Moses tenderly picked it up and carried it back to the rest of the flock. When G-d saw Moses's act of kindness toward his father-in-law's goat, He decreed that Moses was equally worthy of tending G-d's own flock--the Jewish People.
For I am heavy of speech, and heavy of tongue (Ex. 4:10)
The fact that Moses had difficulty speaking shows that his leadership was accepted solely because he carried G-d's message, and not because he was a skillful orator and master of rhetoric.
(Drashot Rabbenu Nissim)
Before Jacob passed away, he said to his sons: "Gather together and I shall tell you that which shall occur to you in the end of days." According to the Aggada, Jacob said, "Though it is not known when the Day of Judgment will be, I do tell you that the hour you gather and assemble together you shall be redeemed." The unity of Israel, all being as one, is the preparation and condition for the ultimate redemption.
(Rabbi J.I. Schochet in Mashiach.)