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On the subject of evolution, there is an anecdote about Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of the greatest Torah sages of this generation.
On a flight to Tel Aviv, the rabbi was seated next to an Israeli labor leader. Throughout the flight, a girl would periodically approach the rabbi, inquire after his comfort, fluff his pillow, ask if he needed anything.
At last, his curiosity piqued, the union official asked who the child was. "That's my granddaughter," the rabbi replied. The other snorted: "One of my grandchildren wouldn't cross the street for me." "Ah," said the rabbi, "here's the difference. Religious Jews believe that we are all the descendants of Adam. My grandchildren look at me and think: 'He's two generations closer to G-d's unique creation.'
"You are a secularist and an evolutionist. Your grandchildren look at you and think: 'Two generations closer to the monkey.'"
That story came to mind when I saw Time magazine's interview with Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. The best-selling author does not hide his disdain for creationists. The interview was revelatory. Gould agreed with the interviewer that humankind is a "cosmic accident." Under slightly altered circumstances, the mighty evolutionary machine might have produced vastly different results.
Not only are you an accident, but a mishap headed for extinction. According to evolutionist gospel, all creatures are in a constant state of flux, genetic raw material for the next link in the hereditary chain. "If our presence is a fault, what then is the reason for our existence?" the interview reasonably inquires. To which the noble scientist can only respond: "There is as much reason for us to be here as there is for anything else."
The theory of evolution holds that species and sub-species of the animal kingdom are in constant competition. In the struggle for survival, the successful competitors flourish; the losers go the way of the Brontosaurus and the liberal Democrat.
Darwin believed the same principal could be applied to the racial and ethnic divisions of humanity. "Looking to the world at no very distant date, what endless number of lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilized races through the world," evolutionary theory predicted.
In our own century, there has been no shortage of aspirants for the coveted title of "ubermenschen." Adolf Hitler, a devout Darwinian, believed the Aryan race was best suited for the intra-species rivalry. "In nature there is no pity for lesser creatures when they are destroyed so that the fittest may survive. It is only Jewish impudence which demands that we overcome nature," the Fuhrer declared.
Under the Third Reich, Aryan competition for survival commenced with weeding out defective members of the race (murdering mental patients and the handicapped) and culminated in efforts to uproot inferior stock, Jews and Slavs.
The other national practitioner of Darwinism was Josef Stalin. Marx taught him that human evolution was properly understood not in racial but class terms. In order to aid the proletariat, degenerate classes (bourgeoisie, peasant farmers) were ruthlessly liquidated.
Doubtless, modern proponents of evolution, such as Gould, are horrified by these political applications of Darwin's ideology. But how can they properly oppose them? If humanity is a cosmic happenstance, rather than divinely ordained, how can they reasonably object to one accident nullifying another? With mankind fathered by biological chance--headed toward inevitable obsolescence--how can ethics be anything but relative? The rabbi was right; theories have consequences.
By Don Feder, reprinted with permission from the Boston Herald.
This week's Torah portion, Pekudei, enumerates all the details that pertain to the erection of the Tabernacle, a subject that has already been dealt with exhaustively in the previous chapters of the Torah. If the purpose of this week's portion is to teach us that indeed, all the work on the Tabernacle was carried out exactly as G-d had commanded, would it not have sufficed to say so in one sentence? Why go through the bother of listing every single detail all over again?
This question can also be asked about another section of the Torah, which speaks about the period immediately following Moses' completion of the Tabernacle. Each of the 12 leaders of the tribes of Israel brought offerings to the newly erected Sanctuary, and the Torah tells, in great detail, what these offering entailed. Yet on the face of it, all 12 offerings were identical. Why was it necessary to repeat the same words 12 times, rather than say that all of them brought the identical offerings?
The answer lies in the explanation that only externally did the 12 offerings resemble each other; spiritually, each offering had a different content and purpose. The Torah could not have said that each of the 12 leaders brought the identical offering, for in fact, they all differed from one another.
This explanation is true for this week's Torah portion as well: The Tabernacle which G-d commanded the Jews to build was in reality a different entity from the one which Moses erected. The Torah states, "These are the accounts of the Tabernacle, the Tabernacle of the testimony." This repetition of the word "tabernacle" alludes to the two sanctuaries implied by the text--the physical and the spiritual.
The physical Tabernacle was the one which G-d instructed Moses to erect. This tabernacle was built of various physical materials--silver, gold, acacia wood, etc. The second Tabernacle is the spiritual one which each of us must build, and the various building materials are spiritual entities which we must utilize to reach our goal.
Even though the spiritual Tabernacle G-d showed Moses on Mount Sinai was doubtless on a higher spiritual plane than the one built by the Children of Israel, it was precisely in the lowly, physical one where G-d's Presence dwelled. It was only after "Moses completed his tasks" that "the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Glory of G-d filled the Sanctuary." G-d desired an actual physical location in the corporeal world to show the manifestation of His infinite nature.
It is easy to belittle the power of the individual to influence his surroundings, and make an impact on the world. How can one person make a difference and bring pleasure to His Creator, when we are so puny and insignificant? The Torah answers: it is precisely because we are in such a physical world that G-d desires our performance of mitzvot. It is up to us, we who are in this world, to imbue it with G-dliness and turn it into a true dwelling place for the One Above.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
THE FOOD CONNECTION
by Shifra Faber
My Jewish upbringing was of the modified secular variety. We had a kosher home but what we ate outside of the home was not necessarily restricted. We celebrated the festivals, but not Shabbat.
I marked the holidays by the food that was served. Latkes meant Chanuka, hamentaschen meant Purim, matza meant Passover, challa dipped in honey meant Rosh Hashana. And no food at all meant Yom Kippur.
Around the time I was twelve, my mother and I survived a serious car accident. For both of us it was too close a brush with death and too significant a miracle to be ignored. I began studying in an after-school program at a local synagogue. My mother and I began to keep Shabbat and the laws of kashrut more strictly.
When I was fourteen, I went to boarding school. I was stubbornly convinced that I would be able to keep Shabbat while away at school. Before I left, I asked my mother to continue keeping Shabbat, even though I would be away. She did. Actually, she did a lot more than that.
My mother was in college and was in a Jewish philosophy course. She discovered the writing of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi [founder of Chabad Chasidic philosophy], and decided to write her final paper on this subject. Her instructor referred her to the local Chabad House. It was only a matter of time before she became observant.
Meanwhile, I was drifting farther away. I became involved in a little dance troupe. Classes and rehearsals were six days a week and I was unable to keep Shabbat. I came to New York after graduating high school. But, I kept a tentative link with Judaism. I still marked the holidays by the food I prepared and still fasted on Yom Kippur.
Eventually my father also became observant. About two years ago I acceded to my father's nudging and joined my parents on a trip to Israel. The minute the plane landed in Israel I knew I had arrived home. Everything felt comfortable and somehow familiar. We visited many places while we were there, including a religious kibbutz.
One night on the kibbutz I woke up with a start. I felt such a yearning to return to my roots that I started to cry. I knew at that moment that my destiny was with my people.
The next morning we visited the grave of a great sage. There, a man was offering blessings to the many visitors. On my turn, for some reason, my blessing took several minutes and many words. To this day I don't know what he said, but I knew that it must be significant.
I came back to New York and resumed my secular life-in-the-fast-lane. But something inside me had changed. I began to feel that there was little fulfillment in my life. I felt agitated and restless, but I didn't know why.
The real turning point came a few months later. The occasion was the annual Machne Israel Development Fund dinner that my parents asked me to attend with them. I knew that we would have an audience with the Rebbe afterward. I was still feeling strong stirrings inside from my experience in Israel. Although I didn't know much about the Rebbe at the time, I felt that if anyone would be able to confirm my feelings, he would. While we were waiting in line, I prayed. "Look, G-d, if You're really there, if what I experienced in Israel was real, please answer me somehow."
Then our turn came. My mother and father each took a moment to speak to the Rebbe. After he responded to each of them, my mother turned to me and said, "Shifra, do you have anything to say?" I stood there speechless. Then the Rebbe turned straight to me and looked deeply into my eyes. The whole room stopped. I heard no sound, and saw no movement for what seemed like hours. At that moment, I had my answer.
Later, when we got into our car, the Chabad rabbi who was with us said, "Did you see the way the Rebbe looked at Shifra? I've never seen anything like it." The only way I could explain it to them was that I had asked G-d a question, and the Rebbe had answered.
The food connection continued as I began to accept invitations to luncheons and simchas. I was shy at first and felt like I was on the outside looking in. I was invited to different families for Shabbat meals. Through them I began to develope a taste for a Torah life. I began keeping Shabbat, made my home kosher through the Kashrut Committee of the Lubavitch Women's Organization and began learning at Machon Chana Women's Yeshiva. Most importantly, I've learned that there's more to Judaism than blintzes and latkas.
Shifra Faber is a computer consultant living in Manhattan.
RISE TO THE OCCASION
Internationally acclaimed Israeli singer Ruthi Navon highlights a special event in celebration of the Jewish woman at noon on Sunday, March 1. The afternoon, which also includes an elegant lunch, a lecture entitled "The Feminine Core" and a talk by makeup artist Elana Harkavi, is sponsored by Lubavitch Women's Organization and Chabad Lubavitch of Upper Manhattan. "Rise to the Occasion" will take place at 345 East 46th St. in Manhattan. For more info call (212) 249-5629 or (718) 953-0705.
A letter from the Lubavitcher Rebbe
You write that you find yourself in a great emotional difficulty, and that you find no gratification in your work and do not know how to overcome this, etc.
Such emotional upsets are fully discussed in Chasidut, and even secular science has lately given much attention to what is called the subconscious. A person may not consciously be aware of his true spiritual state and what he lacks, having surpassed certain inner drives, so that all he is aware of is a feeling of frustration and lack of self-fulfillment.
I refer, of course, to the fact that the Jew always has an inner drive to express his Divine Soul. Those who are in a position of influence have an inner urge to exercise this influence to the utmost possible degree, to bring their fellow-Jews closer to our Torah, closer to the tradition of their fathers and to the Jewish way of life. The fact that one becomes superficially absorbed in some activity which only resembles that of true Jewish education, or a religious activity which stresses the Jewish heart and rightly so, but neglects to vigorously stress the real essence of Judaism, the daily performance of the mitzvot, and then religion becomes a three day affair, or a matter of yartzeit services, etc., such activities do not provide real justification for the soul, and, hence the inner urge is not fulfilled.
No doubt you have heard the explanation of the Old Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad] when he was asked by a gentile scholar, what is the meaning of "Where art thou?" which G-d asked Adam; surely nothing is hidden from G-d. The Old Rebbe then replied that when Adam committed the sin, he experienced a Divine call demanding "Where art thou? Do you realize what you have done and what you are supposed to do?"
The question "Where art thou?" is always asked of every individual, especially the Jew who has been endowed with a Divine soul. It calls for introspection and soul-searching, in order to find one's self again.
It is clear from the above that it is quite unjustified to think that you have permanently lost contact, etc. G-d does not demand the impossible, and having set forth a program and a goal, He has simultaneously given the full ability and capacity to fulfill them. It is only that He wants everyone to fulfill his purpose in life out of his own free choice, in spite of temptations and difficulties. If you will, therefore, realize that you have it in your power to overcome them, you will find yourself again and the contact that you are missing at present.
What are some Jewish customs associated with the birth of a child?
A custom, practiced for centuries, is to hang a paper with Psalm 121, together with other verses, in all the doorways of the home. The paper should also accompany the mother to the hospital prior to the birth, where the holy verses will invoke Heavenly blessing for an uncomplicated birth. It is also customary not to have "baby showers" or bring anything into the home--layette, furniture, etc.--before the child is born.
In this weeks Tirah portin we read of the accounts of the Tabernacle. In the first verse, the word "Mishkan"--Tabernacle--is written twice. This hints at the two Holy Temples which were destined to be built by the Jews, and later destroyed by our enemies.
A beautiful prayer of the "Shpoler Zeide" concerning the Holy Temples is recorded in Rabbi Shlomo Zevin's beloved work, "Tales of the Chasidim":
"Master of the Universe! Your people say to You, 'Return us, O G-d, to You, and we will return!' You say, 'Return to Me, and I will return to you.' And because of this deadlock You withhold the Redemption, and are waiting until the Children of Israel return to You in repentance. Very well, then, I swear to You that Israel will not repent before the Redemption!"
The Shpoler Zeide's student, Rabbi Yisrael of Ruzhin added: "I agree, but one thing I can promise for sure. When Moshiach comes the Children of Israel will certainly repent, but until then they have a justifiable claim. For we say in our festival prayers, 'Because--mipnei--of our sins we were exiled from our Land. But "mipnei" really means "before." Even before we sinned exile was decreed upon us, for when You made Your covenant with Abraham You decreed four exiles on his descendants.
"Therefore, Master of the Universe, just as You decreed exile upon Your children before they sinned, so should you redeem them before they repent!"
These prayers were composed over one hundred years ago, before Moshiach's arrival was so imminent. But I want to point out that the Lubavitcher Rebbe has said repeatedly, in no uncertain terms, that the Jewish people as a whole have repented. The "buttons have been polished" so to speak, everything is ready. The only thing left is to open our eyes and see--see the international miracles and wonders that have been taking place over the past year and a half for what they really are, the beginning of the Messianic Era, and be ready to accept and greet Moshiach. May we see him NOW.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
Shortly before the Jews were to enter the Promised Land G-d appeared to Moses, His beloved servant, and informed him that he would not be permitted to enter the Land with his people, but instead would die in the desert as a punishment for having struck the rock at Merivah. These bitter words were unacceptable to Moses. Could it be that he would be denied his supreme wish--to serve his Master in the holiness which is found only in the Land of Israel?
The day of Moses' death approached, but when the people heard of the decree, they cried out and said, "We will not allow it." Even the sun came before G-d, saying, "I will not set today so that your servant Moses will not have to die." G-d would not be moved. He sent the Angel of Death to bring Moses' soul to Him, but Moses forbade the angel to approach, and the angel fled in fear.
G-d Himself then came to Moses and consoled him, saying, "If you live longer than the usual number of years, people will turn you into a god and worship you. Furthermore, you know that even Adam, whom I fashioned with my own hands, had to die." But Moses continued to plead his cause. "Please, allow me only to cross the Jordan River, if not as a leader, then as a plain Jew; if not as a plain Jew, then as a servant." But G-d replied, "I have made two oaths: one that you will not enter the Promised Land; and the second, that I will never destroy the Jewish people. If I break the one vow, I will have to break the other."
When Moses heard this, He recoiled in fright. "I would rather die a thousand deaths than allow You to destroy even one Jewish soul. But don't I deserve to witness the triumph of my people whom I led faithfully throughout all these forty years?" G-d replied only: "Moses, do not fear, I Myself will take care of them, but you must allow the Angel of Death to approach you, for it is Joshua's turn to lead the people."
Moses still was not reconciled to his fate. He appealed to the heavens and the earth to intercede for him, they replied, "How can we pray for you when it is written 'the skies were like smoke' and of the earth it is said, 'and the earth like a garment shall wear out'?" Moses then asked the sun and the moon to pray for him, but they answered, 'We can't pray for you since it is said, 'The moon was put to shame and the sun was disgraced.'"
The stars and the mountains and the seas likewise were not powerful enough to help. Moses continued to plead for himself: "The Jews sinned many times, and yet You always forgave them. Am I worse than they that You cannot forgive me also?" But G-d replied to him, "Justice for the many is not the same as justice for one. I could forgive the sins of an entire people, but I cannot forgive yours."
Moses realized that nothing would avail, and that G-d would not retract His decree. He wrote out 13 Torah scrolls, one for each Tribe and one to remain in the Holy Ark. Moses and Joshua, the new leader, went together to the Tent of Meeting, where the Divine Presence always spoke with Moses. After they entered, a pillar of cloud descended separating Moses from Joshua. When it departed Moses turned to his former pupil and asked, "Master, what did G-d say to you?" Joshua relied, "I am forbidden to tell you." This was the first time that G-d had communicated with Joshua instead of Moses, and Moses was deeply pained. He cried out, "Better one hundred deaths than envy even once!"
Now Moses was ready to die. G-d showed him all the sights of Israel, present and future, even until the time of the Final Redemption. Then, commanding the angels to lock up the gates of prayer, lest Moses' heart-rending pleas penetrate, G-d Himself descended to take Moses' pure soul, telling it: "My daughter, leave his body immediately and I will allow you to rest under My Throne with the angels." G-d then kissed Moses, took his soul and brought it up to Heaven where even the angels wept.
Moses was born on the seventh of Adar and died on the seventh of Adar. On the day that he died a Heavenly Voice announced: "Moses was awarded the crown of Torah, the crown of the priesthood, and the crown of royalty, yet the most important crown he earned was the crown of a good name."
Moses' body never degenerated, nor does anyone know the place of his grave, lest they see the light shining from there. When the Holy Moshiach redeems his people, Moses will be together with us once more.
These are the accounts of the Tabernacle (Ex. 38:21)
Moses fully accounted for all the materials which went into crafting the Tabernacle. We can understand why he listed exactly how much gold, silver and gems were used; they are highly valuable. But why did he account precisely for the copper, which has so little comparative value? The copper was not a compulsory tax. The Torah recognizes that it is often those who give "freely" but less than they are truly able who demand the strictest accounting of every penny. For they are ever on the lookout for an excuse not to give any more.
(Der Torah Kvall)
The Tabernacle of the testimony (Ex. 38:21)
The Hebrew word for testimony--"eydut"--alludes to the "adiyim" ornaments or heavenly crowns, the Jewish people received when the Torah was given. When the Children of Israel sinned by making the Golden Calf, their crowns were taken back, and with them their extra measure of spirituality. When the Tabernacle was erected, G-d forgave them their sin and their crowns were returned to them.
And Moses blessed them (Ex. 39:43)
The fact that G-d's presence was visible when the Tabernacle was erected is not remarkable in itself, for whenever Jews gather together on Shabbat, on holidays, or to perform a mitzva as a congregation, a feeling of holiness and goodwill prevails. Moses' blessing to the Children of Israel was: "May it be G-d's will that His presence should rest on the work of your hands"--May Jews feel this closeness to G-d also during the week and while attending to their daily business concerns.
As stones of memorial to the Children of Israel (Ex. 39:7)
When Joseph was in Egypt and was tempted by Potifar's wife, the image of his father Jacob appeared to him, saying, "The names of all your brothers will one day be inscribed on the stones of the High Priest's breastplate. Do you want your name to be missing, if, G-d forbid, you commit this sin?" The 12 stones of the breastplate serve as a memorial for all of Israel. When a person reminds himself that all Jews were represented on it, he too will be ashamed and too embarrassed to commit any transgressions.
Our Sages have described the Redemption as a feast. To echo this analogy, the table has already been set, everything has been served, and we are sitting at the table together with Moshiach. All we need to do is open our eyes.
(Adapted by Sichos in English from a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)