Living With The Times | A Slice of Life | What's New | Insights
Customs | Thoughts that Count | Moshiach Matters
Tu B'Shevat is just around the corner. As kids, many of us saved our pennies and bought trees to be planted in Israel in honor of Tu B'Shevat. We knew that it was the "New Year for Trees," whatever that meant, and that was about it. But why the big emphasis on trees? So much so that there is a special mitzva in the Torah not to destroy fruit-bearing trees when conquering enemy lands, and that we are told that if one is planting a tree and is informed that Moshiach has arrived he should finish planting the tree before going to greet Moshiach.
The Torah itself tells us that a person is similar to a tree. This likeness is particularly noticeable in a spiritual sense.
A tree has roots, a trunk and branches, and fruit or seed.
The root is the means of obtaining the nourishing substances from the earth necessary to the tree's life. It also provides a firm entrenchment for the plant against the wind. It is by far the most important life-giving agent of the plant, though the leaves also contribute toward the nourishment of the tree.
The trunk and branches provide the main body of the tree, and clearly mark the growth and development of the tree.
But the tree reaches perfection only upon producing a nut, or seed, or seed-bearing fruit, for in it lies the potential for the procreation of its kind, generation after generation.
How are these three components similar to a person's spiritual life?
The root is his faith which links the Jew with his origin, and which constantly obtains for him his spiritual nourishment.
The trunk and branches are the Torah and mitzvot. These must grow even as the age of a tree increases its stem and branches.
But the fruit, which more than anything else justifies the existence of the tree, is the good deeds of man, those mitzvot which benefit others as well as self, and which have within them the seed that produces similar good deeds.
The roots of the Jew and his very link with the origin of this life lie in his true faith in G-d and in all the fundamental principles of our religion. Unless the roots are firm, and firmly embodied in the soil, the tree, despite its trunk and branches and leaves, will not withstand the strong wind. The development and advancement--and, in fact, the entire stature--of the Jew can be seen through his good deeds, in the practice of the Torah and the performance of mitzvot. Finally, his perfection comes through the fruit, by benefitting others, and helping to perpetuate our great heritage.
Based on a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
The Jewish nation had to wage war on two separate occasions as it left Egypt and made its way to receive the Torah on Mount Sinai. The first war was against Pharaoh and his soldiers, and the second was the war against the Amalekites. This week's Torah portion, Beshalach, gives us an account of these two battles and illustrates the different reactions the Jews had to these two adversaries.
When the Jews were threatened by Pharaoh, they were commanded, "G-d will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace." But later, when attacked by Amalek, G-d enjoined them, "Go out and fight Amalek." Why was there a different attitude towards these two enemies?
The two nations posed different threats. Pharaoh presented a physical threat to Jewish existence, whereas Amalek posed a spiritual danger. The Jewish People were instructed to entrust their physical safety to G-d, but it was necessary that they themselves take action against Amalek's spiritual onslaught.
Pharaoh's pursuing army did not directly challenge the Jews' relationship with G-d and their beliefs. In this instance, G-d took their defense upon Himself, saying, "and you shall hold your peace"--just leave things to Me. G-d proved to the Jews that military might and victory is not what distinguishes Jews from all other nations.
Amalek, however, symbolizes a totally different sort of war. Amalek only dared to attack the Jewish People after they had passed through the Red Sea and were on their way to receive the Torah. It was precisely at that juncture that Amalek tried to intercept them. The Torah uses the words, Amalek "met you (korcha) on the way"--from the Hebrew word k'rirut, meaning coldness. Amalek came and cooled off the enthusiasm the Jewish people had for holiness, at a time when they were at the apex of spirituality. Against such a threat the Jews had to retaliate themselves, and immediately.
Whenever anything, anyone, or any power prevents Jews from learning Torah or performing mitzvot, we cannot wait for G-d to come to our aid. All steps must be taken, including the prospect of waging physical war, to ensure that Jews be able to continue learning and maintain their Jewish way of life without hindrance.
The struggle against Amalek is of such importance that we are reminded of what they did to us every day in our prayers. The lesson we draw from this week's Torah portion is that in the battle against Amalek there can be no compromise. We each have our own personal, internal "Amalek," the evil inclination, which stands ever ready to deter us from the right path by cooling off our ardor, enthusiasm, and the love of G-d that burns within the heart of every Jew. To combat him we must remember how to deal with this old enemy--to take an immediate stand, and to once and for all banish Amalek with any means at our disposal. Only after he is vanquished can we continue on our way to Mount Sinai.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
THE REBBE AND QUANTUM PHYSICS
by Dr. Avraham Boyarsky
There were 20,000 guests at his Bar Mitzva. True, not the best delicacies were served, but for many of the inmates in Auschwitz, the potato peels meant the difference between life and death.
Forty-seven years later, Norman Solomon was a professor of mathematics at a university in Montreal. I had known him for eighteen years as a colleague and as a friend. Early in our relationship he had watched with amusement as I donned a kippa and let my beard grow. Perhaps to counter the changes he was then witnessing, he spoke often about the war years, especially about the lines of death he had survived in Auschwitz.
Over the years we had engaged in many stimulating discussions about religion and G-d, but whenever I invited him to our house for Shabbos, he declined, replying with a smile on his ruddy face: "Remember, I'm a practicing atheist."
In the spring of 1991 he returned from a trip to Europe in poor health. A few weeks later he was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. Two courses of chemotherapy during the summer transformed his appearance but did not break his spirit. He would survive this illness as he had survived Auschwitz and as he had survived a triple bypass ten years earlier. But we both knew that the prognosis was bad.
As his health deteriorated in the fall, I tried to convince him to travel with me to New York to visit the Rebbe, shlita. I explained to him that every Sunday the Rebbe gives dollars to thousands of people to be given to charity. When it would be our turn to receive dollars, I would inform the Rebbe about Norman's condition and request a blessing for a complete and speedy cure. Norman respected the Rebbe and his accomplishments, but he was not prepared to acknowledge the possibility that the visit could have a positive effect on his health. He had placed all his trust in medicine, which so far had done very little for him. The chemotherapy had shrunk the tumor but not enough to render surgery possible. I was determined to bring him to the Rebbe. It was his only chance for survival.
During one particularly exasperating telephone conversation, he challenged me:
"We're mathematicians, we believe in rigorous proofs. Prove to me that this trip will save my life!"
I accepted the challenge. That autumn my research interests--after almost 20 years in pure mathematics--had turned, for some inexplicable reason, to quantum physics, one of the most mysterious of the sciences. Perched precariously between physicality and philosophy, it remains puzzling to its practitioners, even now, more than 60 years since its theoretical foundations have been laid. Although Einstein was one of the early founders of quantum physics, there were mysteries in the new theory that he could not tolerate.
In 1935, Einstein produced a paradox which he was convinced would prove that the theory of quantum physics was incomplete. He proposed a certain experiment in which two particles, A and B, existing in what is called a singlet state, are allowed to separate widely apart. According to classical physics, once A and B are apart, they are truly separated and independent from each other. But according to quantum physics, if something is done to particle A, there is an instantaneous effect on particle B. Since instant communication between particles was considered impossible, Einstein was convinced that he had finally undermined the theory of quantum physics.
But Einstein was wrong! In the last ten years, beautiful and convincing experiments have been performed which prove that the separated particles are indeed correlated; each particle knows precisely what the other is doing even if they are millions of miles apart. For quantum systems it seems that once two particles have met there is never any parting; mere spatial separation does not divide them from each other.
I presented these finding to Norman. He immediately grasped their astounding physical and philosophical implications. The amazing unity of the universe that the experiments implied was in the past grasped only with an act of faith. Now it was scientific fact and Norman's honest intellect would not let him deny the facts. From my silence he read the obvious argument: if two particles which were once in contact can never be separated, why should it be different for two Jews, and especially if one of them is the Rebbe, shlita?
There was a sense of somber resignation about him, but it was tinged with hope. A theorem, not a mathematical theorem, but a theorem of life had taken shape for us:
Every Jew who makes contact with the Rebbe, shlita, even if only for a moment to receive a dollar, remains in touch with him, forever reaping the benefits of that moment.
The following Sunday I drove him to the airport. We parted with a warm handshake and I wished him a complete and speedy recovery. As the plane took off, I envisaged him waiting in a long line, a line such as he had never seen before, a line of life.
Dr. Boyarsky is a professor of mathematics at Concordia University In Montreal and the author of a novel and a collection of short stories.
9,500 AND COUNTING
Pictured above are mohel, Avraham Cohen; sandek, Dr. Aaron Glatt, and Elchanan Trachenko.
Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe, F.R.E.E. for short, has just celebrated another milestone. They recently arranged their 9,500th bris (circumcision) of a young Jewish boy from Russia. Arranging brisim for Jewish males of all ages who were unable to have a bris in Russia is just one of F.R.E.E.'s many projects in working with Jewish Russian immigrants. For more information about their other projects call them at (718) 467-0860.
The Chabad Russian Synagogue and Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles recently acquired a much larger building to accommodate the needs of the ever-growing Russian immigrant community there. The 12,000 square-foot Center is in the process of being renovated and made earthquake safe. Each week over 250 people participate in the Shabbat program and hundreds more attend the dozens of weekly classes on subjects as varied as English, Hebrew, Torah studies, and employment opportunities.
If you want to keep on top of all the latest news in and around Lubavitch World Headquarters you can do so by calling the Crown Heights Newsline at (718) 976-7701. The message is changed at least twice daily. Those who have the (976) exchange blocked can call (201) 539-5115. From midnight to 5:00 a.m. you can call from anywhere in the U.S. and Canada (800) 727-1981. For more information call the Newsline Office at (718) 774-5011.
When the phone rang the night before Passover I was shocked at Sharon's voice. She sounded weak and very ill. "I want you to ask the Rebbe for a blessing for my health."
Sharon, who lives a traditionally Jewish lifestyle, has been a staff member of Bais Rivkah School in Melbourne, Australia, for a number of years. She has naturally heard of the Rebbe, as well as seen pictures of him, but otherwise has had no connection with him.
She had suffered from a thyroid condition for some time. Over the past few months, she had lost a lot of weight, felt most unwell and was finally hospitalized. Even then we didn't realize how dangerously ill she was.
Immediately after her call, I faxed her request for a bracha [blessing] to the Rebbe. The following morning there was a reply: "I will remember her at the Ohel [gravesite of the Previous Rebbe]. I rang her mother who had come from Sydney to be with her. She was most emotional and very pleased with the bracha. She told me that the hospital would release Sharon when her blood count was at a satisfactory level and that she was slightly better.
Keeping in touch by phone, I was delighted to hear that Sharon was recovering. About two weeks later, Sharon came to school to say hello and related her amazing experience.
When she had called me that night, she had actually felt that she was dying, G-d forbid. After her call to me, her temperature shot up alarmingly. "I felt I was slipping away," she told me. The nurses brought in fans to cool her and lower the fever. The hospital room appeared hazy and bathed in different colors. Then Sharon saw the Rebbe standing at her left side. "Come," he urged and beckoned. She felt a force emanating from him pulling her out of her fevered state. The fever broke, the crisis passed and she began to recover. It seems that this all occurred at the time that the fax was transmitted.
I felt chills run up my spine as Sharon told her story. "There's a sequel," she said. Her brother with whom she is very close was entirely unaware of Sharon's experience. He told their father of a dream he'd had the night before Passover. He had dreamt that he was looking in at Sharon's hospital room. Standing in the room was Sharon's late grandmother of whom she had been extremely fond. "Come Sheindele," she was saying, "Come to me. I'll look after you."
"No," Sharon responded, "I'm not ready."
"Come," repeated her grandmother.
"O.K., I'll come." said Sharon.
Then her brother saw a man with his back to him standing at Sharon's left side. The man wore a black hat and had a white beard. "No," said the man. "She won't come." The dream ended.
Sharon's progress is being constantly monitored by her doctors. She is back at work. She has written to the Rebbe and has received a reply. If her health permits, she hopes to travel to see the Rebbe soon.
by Ella Blesofsky from the N'shei Chabad Newsletter
What are some customs of Tu B'Shevat?
It is customary on Tu B'Shevat to eat fruits that grow in Israel, particularly the ones for which Israel has been praised: grapes, pomegranates, olives, dates, and figs. Some also have the custom to stay awake throughout the night and study all the Biblical, Talmudic and Kabbalistic sources related to the fruits of the Land.
G-d will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace (Ex. 14:14)
G-d will only fight your battle on the condition that you "hold your peace"--remain quiet and avoid controversy and disagreement amongst yourselves.
This is my G-d and I will glorify him (Ex. 15:2)
The Commentator Rashi explains this to mean, "I will declare His beauty and His praise." This verse teaches us that we must always strive to perform mitzvot in the most beautiful and sincere manner possible. A mitzva's beauty lies in the purity of our intent. We should be motivated to carry out G-d's will for its own sake and not for personal reasons or self-glorification.
And G-d showed him a tree (Ex. 15:25)
The Midrash explains that G-d uses bitter to sweeten bitter. The wood of the tree that sweetened the bitter waters was also bitter, but the end result was sweet and the water was made drinkable. So it is with human nature. When a person in a depressed and bitter mood sees someone even worse off than him, he realizes that his life is really not as bad as he thought.
At the present time, when the world trembles and all the world shudders with the birth pangs of Moshiach, it is the duty of every Jew, man and woman, old and young, to ask himself: What have I done and what am I doing to alleviate the birth pangs of Moshiach, and to merit the total redemption which will come through our righeous Moshiach?
(the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe)