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This article that you are currently reading is part of a major anti-bias campaign. What it aims to do is clear up many Jews' preconceived notions about what are Jewish concepts versus non-Jewish concepts, Jewish beliefs versus non-Jewish beliefs.
Since most of us grew up in countries where Christianity is the predominant religion, we often know more about it than about Judaism. Therefore, anything that our non-Jewish neighbors believed in was most definitely not Jewish in our eyes. Take, for instance, the whole concept of the Messiah.
With the recent media blitz about Moshiach (the Messiah), thank G-d, most Jews have begun to realize that the belief in Moshiach is, in fact, a Jewish principle, stemming from our Torah and our prophets.
But what about some of the details of Moshiach and the Messianic Era? For instance, the Resurrection of the Dead. Did you know that we Jews believe that the dead will be resurrected during the Messianic Era? "I believe with perfect faith that the dead will be brought back to life when G-d wills it to happen" reads the last of Maimonides' Thirteen Principles of Faith. It comes right after the principle describing our belief in the coming of Moshiach. Resurrection means that the body and soul will be reunited.
In the twelfth century, when Maimonides lived, all Jews knew that resurrection during the Messianic Era is a Jewish belief. He wrote, "The concept of the resurrection is well known among all Jews, and there are none who dispute it."
We mention the resurrection three times each day during our prayers, and it is found in many places in the Talmud and Midrash. In the book of Daniel we read, "Now go your way to the end and rest, and you shall arise to your destiny at the end of days." This is one of the Biblical verses upon which the belief in the resurrection is based.
Another concept which many Jews automatically assume we don't believe in is that Moshiach suffers because of the sins of the Jewish people. Doesn't that sound very non-Jewish? Well, it isn't.
One of the greatest prophets of all time (Jewish, of course) Isaiah, prophesied concerning Moshiach, "He bears griefs inflicted by us, and suffers sorrows we have caused... though he is wounded through our transgressions, bruised through our iniquities."
Beware, however, when considering the above words. For, though Moshiach's suffering because of the sins of the Jewish people is a Jewish concept, we DO NOT believe that his suffering atones for our transgressions. That is NOT a Jewish belief. Only we can atone for our transgressions and repair the material and spiritual damage we have caused.
Lastly, let's look at reincarnation. "We Jews don't believe in reincarnation," a young Jewish girl told her non-Jewish neighbor when asked about the Jewish point of view. Oh, but we do believe in it, we do!
Rabbi Yitzchak Luria--known as the Arizal--a foremost Kabbalist of the sixteenth century, taught that every Jewish soul must be reincarnated until that soul completes the fulfillment of each and every one of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah.
The whole concept of reincarnation also explains why we often see people who are particularly attached to one mitzva or another. While one person might give charity generously, another person might be very careful in Shabbat observance, or hospitality. For that specific mitzva might very well be the reason why the person's soul had to be reincarnated and descend into this world once again.
Everything is pointing to the fact that we are the very last generation before the Ultimate and Final Redemption through Moshiach. Now is the time to get serious about making sure that your soul has fulfilled all of the mitzvot it has left to complete.
The Torah portion of Behar contains the Biblical prohibition against usury: "Do not take from him any usury or increase, and you shall fear your G-d, that your brother may live with you." Immediately following this verse we are told: "I am the L-rd your G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt...to be your G-d." Our Sages learned from the juxtaposition of these two verses that when a person accepts the prohibition against lending money with interest, it is as if he accepts the yoke of Heaven. Conversely one who throws off the restriction against usury, simultaneously throws off the yoke of Heaven as well.
What is so significant about usury that the Rabbis used it to illustrate the concept of subservience to G-d? How does charging interest, or refraining from doing so, express the relationship between man and G-d?
Collecting interest on money means making a profit without exerting oneself, at the expense of another person's labor. Once a person lends money to another, that money becomes the property of the borrower, even though he owes the amount to the one who lent it. A person who charges interest is therefore profiting from money which is not his, and is taking advantage of the fact that it once belonged to him.
By understanding this concept, we understand why avoiding usury is so crucial: G-d's goodness and blessings are only bestowed as a direct result of our labor. Both physical and spiritual rewards are only attainable after much toil and effort. The 613 commandments of the Torah are practical expressions of this principle, each one a specific deed to be performed in order to help us reach a higher spiritual level.
But why is all this work necessary? Couldn't G-d, the source of all good, have bestowed that goodness upon us without the labor? The answer is that it is precisely because of G-d's goodness that He chose this system, for we can only truly appreciate that for which we have worked.
An undeserved gift is called "bread of shame," and provides neither joy nor satisfaction. But when a person works toward a goal and then receives his reward, the value of that gift is appreciated and his happiness is that much greater. That is why we are obligated to expend so much effort in our worship of G-d. Spirituality must be attained through hard work and not conferred as a gift.
The mitzva which best illustrates this principle is the prohibition against usury. When a person refrains from it, according to G-d's will, he confirms G-d's plan for the world, that profit may only be accrued as the result of man's work. A person who charges interest defies, with his behavior, this basic principle which is a foundation of the entire Torah.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
"GO TO LOS ANGELES"
by Hertzel Borochov
When the Chabad House in Canarsie opened, under the enthusiastic direction of Rabbis Yehuda and Yudi Friedman, my wife Chagit and I got involved. When the daily morning services became a regular occurrence, my wife and I decided to work at getting a Torah for the Chabad House.
Soon after our decision, Chagit and I went to the Rebbe for "dollars" one Sunday. I asked the Rebbe for his blessing in acquiring a Torah for the Chabad House in Canarsie. The Rebbe blessed me and gave me an extra dollar to specifically put in the tzedaka box in the Chabad House in Canarsie.
Chagit also asked for a blessing for the same matter. But, to our surprise, the Rebbe gave her a dollar to put in a tzedaka box in a Chabad House in--Los Angeles!
We went away very confused. What was the connection between Canarsie in Brooklyn and Los Angeles?
Whether we understood or not, we decided that if the Rebbe told Chagit to put the dollar in a tzedaka box in Los Angeles, then she must go there and do just as he said.
This happened at the beginning of January. We waited a few weeks until the air fares went down and then purchased a ticket. Even when Chagit was all packed and ready we still didn't know where she would stay once she got to Los Angeles; we have no friends or relatives there.
I suddenly remembered that when my mother-in-law visited us, she mentioned that an acquaintance of hers, Bila Allon--who had been Chagit's kindergarten teacher in Israel--had moved to Los Angeles and had become close with Chabad there.
We tried to get this woman's telephone number, but we were unsuccessful. Chagit set off for Los Angeles anyway, feeling that it wasn't right to put off the trip any longer. In the meantime, I continued to try and contact Bila. Eventually I got her number and reached her. I introduced myself and we had a very nice conversation. In the course of our talk, Bila told me about a personal tragedy of hers. Eleven years ago, when her son was two years old, he drowned in the family's private swimming pool. At that time, she decided that when the year of his Bar Mitzva arrived, she would donate a Torah in his memory. This was her son's Bar Mitzva year.
Bila's story touched me very much. And I immediately saw in it Divine Providence and the Rebbe's wondrous ruach hakodesh [Divine inspiration]. I told Bila the entire story about how we had decided to help get a Torah for the Chabad House in Canarsie and how, when Chagit asked the Rebbe for a blessing, he gave her a dollar to put in a tzedaka box in Los Angeles. I also told Bila that Chagit was, at this very moment, on her way to Los Angeles without even knowing where she would stay.
Bila, too, was very moved and amazed. When she and Chagit got together, Bila told my wife that she had had many thoughts about where to put her efforts in helping finance the writing of a Torah. But now, she saw a definite sign from Heaven that her efforts should be directed to the Chabad House in Canarsie.
Chagit brought with her a video of the Rebbe giving her the blessing. She helped organize a get-together on Saturday evening in Los Angeles. Together with Bila and Chagit, all of the people watched the video and were astounded at the Rebbe's vision. They were inspired to all participate in contributing money toward the writing of the Torah and having a part in this great mitzva.
The end of the story is that last month a special celebration was held in the Chabad House of Canarsie at which time a scribe began writing the new Torah scroll. Many people participated in the festivities and "purchased letters" in the scroll. Of course, a special participant was Bila Allon, who had come from across the country to be there. Many years before, she had been my wife's teacher and now they were partners in this tremendous mitzva.
Translated from the Kfar Chabad Magazine.For more information about the Chabad House of Canarsie call (718) 209-0707 or write 917 E. 82 St., Bklyn, NY 11236.
THE GREAT SHOFAR
by Eliyahu Touger
Kehot Publication Society - 770 Eastern Pkwy, Bklyn, NY 11213
Clear and unambiguous like that long-awaited clarion call, this book gives documented answers to many of today's most frequently-asked questions about Moshiach. Its essays on the imminence of the Redemption are adapted from addresses over the past two years by the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
KIND LITTLE RIVKA
by Dina Rosenfeld
HaChai Publishing - 156 Chester Ave., Bklyn, NY 11218
The latest in the series of "The Little Greats"--Biblical figures as children--is Kind Little Rivka about the Matriarch Rebecca as a young girl. It is a simply narrated, beautifully illustrated account of how Abraham's trusted servant Eliezer chose Rivka to be Isaac's wife--all because of her kindness.
WORLD OF LUBAVITCH
In this hour-long video you can follow Lubavitch through its selfless endeavors to promote Jewish ideals. Dance with Israeli soldiers on Purim. See a Chasidic wedding. Feel part of the vibrant tradition of the Jewish people. Send $5 to L.Y.O. Welcome Center, 305 Kingston Ave., Bklyn, NY 11213. A project in celebration of the Rebbe's 90th birthday.
LET'S GET READY
by Malka Touger
S.I.E. Publications - 778 Eastern Pkwy, Bklyn, NY 11213
Let's Get Ready is a book for children about Moshiach. It helps children answer questions like, "Do I really believe in Moshiach? Could he come any day? How? What kind of person will he be? What will it be like when he comes?"
Simply and clearly written, and illustrated with black-and-white line drawings.
I am in receipt of your letter in which you write about various recent happenings in your life, which were not in the category of the obvious good, and you ask what your reaction should be.
In general, as you surely know, Jews are guided by the Torah, Torat Chaim, meaning that it is the Jew's true guide in everyday life. The Torah is also called Torah Or, because it illuminates the Jew's life, and its instructions are as clear as light itself.
One of the best-known portions of the Torah, which Jews recite daily, both morning and evening, is the portion of Shema, in which the Torah tells us to love G-d "with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." The Hebrew word m'odecha that is generally translated as "your might," also conveys the meaning of mida--"measure" or "dimension," as our Sages explain. This means that a Jew has to love G-d regardless of the kind of "deal" he thinks is meted out to him by Divine Providence. And this profound love has to express itself, as the text indicates there, in terms of studying the Torah and observing its mitzvot, particularly the mitzvot of tefilin and mezuza which are mentioned specifically, since tefilin symbolizes all the mitzvot. Moreover, inasmuch as tefilin is put on the left hand facing the heart, the seat of the emotions, and on the head facing the brain, the seat of the intellect, it symbolizes that the totality of a Jew, both emotionally and intellectually, has to be involved in the service of G-d and the fulfillment of the mitzvot.
In other words, whatever happens in a Jew's life, it must not in any way affect this love and devotion to G-d, or his everyday life and conduct in accordance with the Torah and mitzvot.(Needless to note, the mitzva of reciting the Shema daily is not reserved for exceptional Jews, but is for each and every Jew.)
The question now arises, is the above something that can really be implemented, and if so, how is one to explain it?
To be sure, the human intellect is limited and cannot possibly fathom the Divine wisdom that is in the Torah. On the other hand, the Torah itself describes the Jewish people as a "wise and understanding people," and it provides at least some explanation which helps us to understand, in however limited a degree, the ways of G-d.
One of the basic teachings of the Torah is that G-d does not expect of a human being anything which is beyond the human capacity to carry out. This is quite understandable, for even a human being, who is very far from absolute perfection, would not expect of a tool that he has fashioned any more than he has put into it. Certainly G-d, the Creator of man, knows man's capacities. From this, it immediately follows that when a Jew faces any kind of a test of faith, it is certain that he has been given the capacity to overcome it. And the more difficult the test, the greater are the individual's capacities. The reason that an individual is tested is not because G-d wants to know how he will acquit himself, but in order that this person be afforded the opportunity to realize his potential, even that which is unknown to him. And when one's potential capacities are released and activated, they become part and parcel of his or her arsenal, to be used for personal as well as communal benefit.
Much more can be said on the subject, but I am confident that it will suffice to point out that the way to cope with problems such as you mentioned, is not the alternative you suggested, but, on the contrary, to strengthen your commitment to Torah and mitzvot in everyday life and conduct in accordance with the Shulchan Aruch, and to go about your daily life, including earning a living, finding your life's partner, etc., in the natural order of things, with complete trust in G-d. Then you can be certain of the fulfillment of the Divine Promise, "G-d, your G-d, will bless you in all that you do."
What are the ten sefirot that are often spoken about in Kabbala and that we mention when counting the Omer?
The following are the ten sefirot, or Divine emanations, which are also the source of the ten powers of the soul: Chochma--wisdom; bina--understanding; dat--knowledge; chesed--kindness, grace or benevolence; gevura--might, power or severity; tiferet--beauty; netzach--endurance or victory; hod--splendor or majesty; yesod--foundation; malchut--sovereignty.
One of Rashbi's (Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai) students went abroad and returned very wealthy. When Rashbi's other disciples saw this, they became envious and also wanted to go abroad so that they, too, could become wealthy. Rashbi took his students to a certain valley, according to some opinions a valley near Meron, and said: "Valley, valley, become full of golden dinars!"
As the valley filled up with golden dinars, he told his students that each of them could take as much as he wanted from the gold. But they should know that by doing this they would be taking from their share in the World to Come. The students, of course, took none of the gold."
When the Midrash relates this story, it doesn't refer to the incident as being of a miraculous nature. How can this be? Because for the Rashbi it wasn't miraculous. He was one of an elite few in every generation who are not affected by the fact that we live in a spiritual and physical exile.
In a similar vein, a story is told of a great rabbi who was informed that Moshiach had finally come. The rabbi immediately opened his window and sniffed the air outside. "No," said the rabbi, "the report is not true."
What a strange way to ascertain whether or not the Redemption has finally come, by sniffing the air! But this rabbi, a great tzadik, was not affected, in a spiritual sense, by the Exile. He was, in a sense, always living in the Garden of Eden and his surroundings were always permeated with the spiritual scent of the Garden of Eden. So, he had to open the window and smell the air outside to note whether the outside, too, had been permeated with this special aroma.
May we all merit, soon, to join those righteous few in every generation who are always in a state of Redemption, with the true and ultimate redemption of all the Jewish people and the entire world.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
As Rachel lay on the coarse pallet of straw which now served as her bed she thought back to her life before Akiva. She had been a princess or almost so, the beloved daughter of the wealthy Ben Kalba Savua, and there was nothing she lacked, not the most beautiful dresses, nor the finest delicacies. But, she would not exchange her life with Akiva for even the most precious gem in the world. For her aspirations lay elsewhere--her husband would one day be a great Torah scholar. It didn't matter that her father cast her out of their home, or that people laughed at her and scorned her--she had no doubt that one day Akiva would be a leader in Israel.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door. Akiva rose to answer and saw on the threshold a man dressed in tatters. "Please, have pity on us. My wife has just given birth and I have no bed for her and the baby." Rachel leapt to her feet, looking helplessly around for something to give him. Sensing her confusion, he said, "Just a bit of straw would help a lot." She gathered a large pile of soft straw and handed it to the grateful man.
"You see, Rachel," whispered her husband, "they are even poorer than we are, but some day I will buy you a golden tiara engraved with scenes of Jerusalem, just like your friends wear." She smiled at him, happy with his loving thoughts.
The days went by and Rachel grew accustomed to her new status. Life was hard, but her thoughts never dwelt on the present; she waited for her dream of the future to be realized.
Akiva knew that his work was cut out for him. Forty years old, he was just now embarking on his education, just now beginning with aleph-beit. Was it possible for him to achieve the heights imagined by his wife? Akiva's thoughts were interrupted by an amazing sight, for there a bit to the side of the road was a huge rock with a large hole bored through the center. He stared at it wondering what kind of tool could have made the hole and for what purpose, when he noticed a small drop of water hitting the hole and then falling again into the depression. He watched as the process repeated itself again and again. Then, he realized that the soft, pure drops had bored the hole in the hard rock. He had stumbled upon the answer to his unspoken question; if water could make a hole in solid rock, then surely the holy words of Torah could work their way into his willing heart, even at the age of forty.
The traits that Rachel had perceived in her shepherd husband matured and his learning advanced, until he reached the stage where he attracted his own students. He was actually acquiring fame as a teacher of Torah and a scholar in his own right. Rachel had encouraged him to go away and immerse himself in further learning; it was hard to believe that twenty-four long years had passed. Akiva the shepherd had become Rabbi Akiva, the teacher of twenty-four thousand students, the greatest of his generation. And the time had finally come for his triumphant return to home and his wife.
The huge crowd thronged around Rabbi Akiva and his disciples. Suddenly a woman emerged from the crowd and reached for the hem of his coat which she kissed. The students surrounded her and attempted to chase her away, but their teacher reprimanded them: "She is my wife! Know that what is mine and what is yours is all hers!"
Also amongst those gathered to welcome the tzadik was Ben Kalba Savua, the father of Rachel. He had suffered the pangs of regret during the many years since he had driven his daughter from his home. Now, the arrival of the tzadik of the generation would give him an opportunity to learn how to right the terrible wrong he had done her. Rabbi Akiva graciously admitted the old man into his presence and listened while he related the story, not knowing that this was his own father-in-law. As the man's story unfolded, Akiva realized who he was.
"If you had known that the poor, ignorant shepherd would one day become a great scholar, would you have acted differently?" inquired Rabbi Akiva.
"I promise you, if I had thought that he would know even one Torah law, I would have permitted the marriage!"
"Then know, that I am that shepherd, and it is only through the merit of your daughter that I have achieved this position!"
Rabbi Akiva was able to nullify the vow Ben Kalba Savua rashly made so many years before. The old man, in his happiness, gave the couple half of his great wealth.
Their dream realized, Rachel and Akiva felt the old pain of separation diminish, overwhelmed by the new joy of their reunion. Rabbi Akiva hadn't forgotten the promise he made many years before--he had achieved greatness; and in addition to the crown of Torah, Rachel wore a golden crown of Jerusalem.
And if your brother becomes poor...do not take from him any usury or increase (Lev. 25:35, 36)
Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar said: "The Psalms say about one who lends money without interest, 'His money was not given to extract usury, and a bribe was never taken against the innocent.' He who does these will never stumble." Conversely, one who lends money with interest is fore-warned that his wealth will eventually dissipate.
(Talmud, Baba Metzia)
And you shall not deceive one another (Lev. 25:17)
Can a person really deceive another, especially in spiritual matters? Even if he succeeds in his deception, the victory is only temporary and the deceit is always eventually revealed. The only person, therefore, who has been effectively deceived is the deceiver himself. And is it so difficult to fool a fool?
(Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch)
And you shall return, every man, unto his family (Lev. 25:10)
In the fiftieth, or Jubilee year, the former slave returns to his family, but not, as brought down in the name of Rabbi Yehuda, to his former stature.
Everything can be restored to a slave--his freedom, his inheritance, and his family--but the status and honor afforded him before he sold himself into slavery can never be returned. This was forfeited the moment he indentured himself.
For strangers and sojourners are you with Me (Lev. 25:23)
The more a person considers himself only a sojourner and a temporary resident of this world, the closer he is to G-d. And, unfortunately, the opposite is also true...
(Rabbi Boruch of Mezhibozh)
The Tzemach Tzedek (Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe) once spoke about the imminent coming of Moshiach on a day of which it is said that Moshiach cannot come. Someone asked him: "What is the meaning of this? It has been stated that at such a time he cannot come." The Tzemach Tzedek replied: "Just let him come. Once he comes, there will be answers for all problems, and this problem, too, will then be solved!"