Living With The Times | A Slice of Life | What's New | Insights
Customs | A Word from the Director | It Once Happened | Thoughts that Count
"The following I heard from Elders among the Spanish [Inquisition] exiles that one ship was struck by a plague whereupon the captain cast out the exiles upon an uninhabited area. One among their midst set forth on a foot journey together with his wife and two sons. The woman, who was unaccustomed to hardship, fainted and expired. The man continued, carrying his sons in his arms. He too fainted; his two children died of hunger. Upon waking from his faint, he found the two children dead. In great anguish he rose to his feet and said: "L-rd of the Universe, You are doing much to cause me to forsake my religion. Know with certainty that, despite the will of those who dwell in Heaven, I am a Jew and I shall remain a Jew. All that you have brought upon me and will bring upon me will not avail!" (Shevet Yehuda)
What causes a Jew to have such undying faith in G-d, despite the most horrific catastrophes imaginable? Why have Jews almost always chosen exile or death rather than conversion?
Every Jew, no matter what his level of Jewish knowledge or observance, possesses something of the Divine. It is an essential part of the soul inher-ited from our ancestors. This essential aspect of the Divine is beyond intel-lect, contemplation and even morals.
According to Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidic philosophy, because every Jew possesses this aspect of the Divine, each Jew is prepared and ready to display self-sacrifice to sanctify G-d's Name.
In the times of the destruction of the Holy Temples, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, massacres, pogroms and the Holocaust many millions died sanctifying G-d's name.
We inherited this amazing self-sacrifice from the first Jew, Abraham, who exhibited total self-sacrifice to make G-d known among all mankind, and bequeathed to his descendants--to the end of all generations--pure faith in G-d and the Torah. Thus, according to the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, every Jew has the power and fortitude to have self-sacrifice for Judaism.
But what does that have to do with today's Jews, living in the 1990s? Especially since most Jews live in countries with total freedom to practice religion. Not that we're, G-d forbid, asking for tests, but if the ability to sanctify G-d's name--even to the extent of undergoing martyrdom--is so intrinsically a part of our nature as Jews, how do we or can we demonstrate self-sacrifice today?
We have the capacity to sacrifice ourselves not only in death but, just as importantly, in life, through using this intrinsic potential for martyrdom as a constant drive in life. Every time we have the chance to do a mitzva we can overcome any difficulties by using our innate self-sacrifice.
Whereas Abraham allowed himself to be thrown into a fiery furnace rather than negate his belief in the One G-d, today's Jew might find himself in a situation where he is forced to deliver a fiery speech in defense of Judaism.
When faced with having to cross dangerous waters to carry out one of G-d's commands, Abraham didn't hesitate but waded right in. The water then disappeared, being only a mirage created by the forces of evil to discourage him. Similarly, when we have the opportunity to do a mitzva, but something seems to be standing in our way, if we proceed ahead with selflessness, the obstacles disappear.
Fire and water were two of the ten trials by which G-d tested our ancestor Abraham's faith. But even more than being tests of faith, they offered repeated opportunities for Abraham to act with self-sacrifice, thereby developing and perfecting himself in a manner which would have otherwise been impossible.
For some 1990s' Jews, self-sacrifice is exhibited by choosing to perform any mitzva. For others, the level of self-sacrifice is reached only with a specific mitzva, or only by doing a particular mitzva in a more enhanced manner. Whatever the case, when a person touches and uncovers this point in his soul, he is capable of acting in an entirely different way; he transcends his ordinary state and becomes a new entity.
Based, in part, on chapter 18 in The Long Shorter Way by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.
This week we read the Torah portion Eikev, in which Moses relates the blessings the Jewish people can look forward to in the future if they keep G-d's commandments. Since this portion speaks about the future, it is connected with the times of Ikvesa d'Meshicha--the time immediately preceding the Final Redemption.
The word "eikev" can mean "heel," the least sensitive portion of the body. In this instance, Ikvesa d'Meshicha refers to the lowest of all levels in the spiritual history of the Jewish people, a time characterized by a redoubled spiritual darkness, in which all the undesirable omens that our Sages said would precede the Era of the Redemption have taken place.
But "eikev" can also mean "after" and thus Ikvesa d'Meshicha can refer to the end of the exile. This, too, refers to our generation. For, as the Previous Rebbe said, we have already "polished the buttons"--we are like soldiers of old awaiting inspection, everything is ready, even the brass buttons on our uniforms have been shined. This means that all the service demanded of us has been completed and we are on the threshold of the Redemption.
The two interpretations of the term "Ikvesa d'Meshicha" are interrelated. It is precisely when the Jews have reached the low levels implied by the first interpretation, that the ultimate fulfillment promised by the second interpretation will be realized.
The above discussion is especially appropriate for this Shabbat, the Shabbat on which we bless the month of Elul, a month of stocktaking before the new year. In addition to our regular personal accounting of the past, and in conjunction with this week's Torah portion, we must also focus on the imminence of the Redemption. We must ask ourselves what we are doing to prepare ourselves and the world around us for Moshiach's imminent arrival. And we must ask and demand of G-d, "Until when must we remain in exile?"
Adapted from a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson
by M. Elkana
To commemorate the yartzeit on the 20th of Av of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson--father of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita--we present the following interview with Dovber Guraryeh who recently moved to Israel from Russia. His family lived next door to Rav Levi Yitzchak's family in Yeketrinislav (Dnepropetrovsk) where Rav Levi Yitzchak was the Chief Rabbi.
After finishing yeshiva I attended a bookkeeping course which I completed successfully. I got a job as a bookkeeper at the train station in Dnepropetrovsk. And it was through this job that I was able to help Rav Levi Yitzchak. I remember clearly, a few years before the beginning of World War II, I was sitting in my office in the train station when I heard everyone saying that the Rav of the city was being taken away. I left my office and saw the Rav carrying a bundle on his shoulder and two policemen walking at his side. I was able to ascertain that he was being taken to Kiev and notified the family as soon as possible.
How did you feel when you saw the Rav being taken away?
As can be understood, it was very upsetting. But, truthfully, it wasn't a surprise. Everyone in the city was expecting the Rav's imprisonment. We all knew that if it wasn't today it would be tomorrow, or the next day.
What made it so obvious?
You, everyone who never lived in Russia as it was then, don't understand what it is. It was the most terrible time of Stalin, and in all of Russia there was not a strong rabbi like Rav Levi Yitzchak, of blessed memory, who would neither bend nor bow to the government. Everyone in the community worried about him. Everyone in the city. He gave sermons without being at all concerned about the Bolshevik emissaries who infiltrated everywhere. He declared publicly in the synagogue, in a voice filled with fire, that we couldn't give in one drop in areas of Judaism. The Bolsheviks didn't have to send spies. He didn't hint. He spoke clearly and decisively. There was, therefore, no doubt that he would be imprisoned. It was just a matter of when.
Did the Rav's strong words, during that difficult period, have an impact on the Jews of the city?
A tremendous impact. Specifically because people recognize words of truth that come from the heart, and whatever he demanded of others he first did himself. He was very strong-minded and didn't compromise on anything Jewish.
I remember, for example, in the area of kosher food. If he wasn't absolutely certain that something was 100% kosher, even if the manufacturers became angry or if the government threatened, he wouldn't give his stamp of approval. He always warned them that if they wouldn't accept all of his instructions he would announce that all of the products were not kosher. In Stalin's time even the mightiest warrior was afraid to do this type of thing.
The government didn't interfere?
Actually, many people were surprised. This was a great wonder. How he was not afraid to act and judge according to his reckonings at a time when all religious workers were being sent to Siberia. But this is how it was. Total self-sacrifice. He also arranged Jewish weddings with total self-sacrifice.
Did he also officiate at your wedding?
I was married in 1925 and, of course, Rav Levi Yitzchak officiated. He was also the sandek at my oldest son's bris. But the self-sacrifice for "kosher" weddings to which I was specifically referring were in the '30s, when the fear of the government reached new heights. People were afraid of their shadows, but the Rav was very adamant that couples shouldn't get married without a kosher chupa. He also went against the government in his insistence that Jewish bodies be prepared for burial and buried according to Jewish law as opposed to the civil requirements of the government.
How did the Jews react?
They loved him. Everyone. From every group. Everyone respected him, even those who were on the "other side." His upright bearing, his aristocratic face, he was quite a handsome man--his nobility made an impression on everyone with whom he came in contact. I remember that everyone, even those who did not agree with his views, spoke of him with the utmost respect.
You went to the Rav's shul on Shabbat?
Of course! He used to speak each Shabbat afternoon at the third meal, words of Torah, Chasidic discourses. The discourses were lengthy and not everyone understood them for they were filled with much esoteric wisdom. I remember on Rosh Hashana when he would blow the shofar he really looked like an angel. His face was beaming and he seemed to be like a burning flame.
I also remember that on every Simchat Torah he would rejoice with such happiness that words cannot describe it. He would dance for many hours without stopping, with the Torah scroll pressed against his heart. His deep and intense happiness was witnessed by many who came to see the dancing of "Rebbe Levik" on Simchat Torah. Anyone who saw it never forgot it.
Translated from the Kfar Chabad magazine.
IN THE NEWS
This ad from the Chai Foundation appeared in papers across the country before the solemn day of Tisha B'Av. It is one of their many projects to help make the Jewish public more aware of Jewish concepts and holidays.
Dr. Abraham Twerski, author, rabbi, psychiatrist, and director of Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh, is the guest speaker at the first annual Rabbi Yaakov Noach Kranz Memorial Lecture Series. Rabbi Kranz, the head Lubavitch emissary in the Virginias, passed away last year. The lecture will take place on Sept.3 at 8:00 p.m. in the Lubavitch Center in Richmond.
L'CHAIM GIFT SUBSCRIPTION
L'Chaim makes a great gift! To give a gift subscription send your name and address and the name and address of the gift recepient together with a check for $30 to LYO to: L'Chaim, 1408 President St., Bklyn, NY 11213.
MONEY: NOT AN END IN ITSELF
Adapted from a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
I have received your letter in which you inform me about yourself and your family and present before me your problem: you operate a hardware store, which is the source of your weekly income, and as Shabbat is the busiest day in the week, you have kept your store open on Shabbat, but the violation of the Shabbat bothers you, and you ask my advice.
I want to tell you first of all, that I was very pleased to hear that the desecration of the Shabbat disturbs you to the depth of your heart. It shows that your Jewish heart is alive and active and strongly objects to your doing something wrong--wrong not only for your soul, but also for your body, for with the Jew, the body and soul are closely united to form one whole, and there can be nothing which is hurtful to the soul and yet not be hurtful to the body.
Before answering your question, I want to make the following observations, by way of introduction:
Jews, in general, and faithful ones in particular, have no doubt that G-d created the world and guides it. Nor is there any doubt that the Ten Commandments are from G-d, and among them the fourth: "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy... you shall do no work on it."
It is equally certain that G-d, Who created man, also provides him with opportunities to sustain himself. It would be illogical to imagine that G-d would compel anyone to obtain his livelihood in a manner contrary to His will, and particularly, contrary to His will expressed in the Fourth Commandment of keeping the Shabbat day holy.
One more point I wish to underscore: the money one earns is not an end in itself; it is but a means to obtain one's needs. Obviously, rather than first earning money and then, G-d forbid, spending it on medical care, it is preferable to forego both the earnings and the medical expenses--and be well. The important thing, therefore, is not the money earned, but the assurance that the money will be well spent and properly enjoyed.
After this preface, let us consider your case. You have the privilege of being born a Jew, which means that you have been given the possibility to go through life along the Jewish path, the path of Torah and mitzvot, of which laws like Shabbat observance, kashrut and Taharat HaMishpacha [Jewish marriage laws], are fundamentals.
There can be no doubt that if you determine to follow the path of Torah and mitzvot, the Alm-ghty will provide you with a kosher means of livelihood. This does not mean, of course, that the path will be easy from the outset. For reasons often beyond our comprehension, G-d may make the path difficult with trials and tests, while another road presents itself as easier and better, that is, in the mind of the one who is put to the test, but a road which involves the neglect of a mitzva or a transgression of a prohibition. Such a test may be a severe one, for example, when it appears that so many Jews who unfortunately desecrate the Shabbat seem to prosper perhaps more than those who struggle to observe it.
It is certain, however, that it is not so. The ultimate happiness of a Jewish man or woman can only be found through Torah and mitzvos. In your case it depends on your observing the Shabbat.
Consequently, as a friend of yours, and in compliance with the mitzva of "Veahavta L'Reacha Kamocha"--to love your fellow as yourself--which is also a fundamental of Torah, it is my duty to advise you to base your life in general, and means of livelihood in particular, upon our Torah's commandments. Do not be influenced in any way by the difficulties that may arise in the beginning, even the loss of earnings. Be absolutely firm in your faith that the Alm-ghty will eventually provide for all your needs in a kosher way, and you and your wife and children will lead a happy Jewish life, a life of complete harmony between the physical and spiritual, between the material needs and the Divine soul. For, to quote a saying by my saintly father-in-law of blessed memory: "A Jew neither desires to be, nor can he be, separated from G-d."
Now that the nights are getting longer are there any special customs?
Our Sages have taught that from the 15th of Av, as the nights grow longer, one should increase his study of Torah. One who studies Torah by "lamp-light" at night is considered as if he helped rebuild the Holy Temple. While the Holy Temple lies in ruins the world exists through the merit of Torah study which replaces the services of the altar.Thus, studying by lamp-light is as if the wood on the altar were shedding the light.
In this weeks Pirkei Avot we read the words of Elisha ben Avuya, who said, "One who studies Torah as a child, to what can he be compared? To ink written on fresh paper; and he who studies Torah as an old man, to what can he be compared? To ink written on paper that has been erased."
It's quite simple for us to understand why Elisha ben Avuya made the first comment concerning Torah study at a young age. After all, this encourages us to begin our Jewish education as early as possible, for its influence is much stronger and clearer.
However, why does he bother mentioning the second part of his statement? Does this not discourage people from continuing to study Torah as they mature? And what of those people who never had the opportunity to avail themselves of a Jewish education? Should they not learn about Judaism at all because it will be unclear and smudged, like writing on paper that has been erased?
Far be it for us to think that Elisha ben Avuya's intention was to discourage or even cast insult on Torah study after childhood.
"One who studies Torah as a child" also refers to one who nullifies himself when studying Torah--one who makes himself small like a child. And in this way specifically the Torah that he studies can be more readily absorbed, like ink which is quickly absorbed on fresh paper.
What, then, does the statement about studying Torah as an old person mean? The Talmud defines an old person as "one who acquired wisdom." When one studies Torah using his wisdom and his intellect, without self-nullification, then it is impossible that G-d's Torah will be absorbed properly.
May we all strive that our Torah studies be like ink written on fresh paper.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
When word spread throughout the region around Rimanov that the famous Count Dravski would be arriving, all the local gentry assembled to pay homage to the renowned poet and freedom fighter. Although he was now, in 1883, an old man of eighty, his fame had not diminished and he was held in the highest esteem.
The Count was feted extravagantly and in the course of the reception he explained the reason for his visit. "When I was just a small child I fell ill. My mother called for the best physicians available, but none of them could cure me, and they soon despaired of my life. My poor mother was frantic. I was her only and beloved son. One afternoon a friend of hers came to visit and advised her to seek the help of a wonder-working rabbi who lived in a nearby town. This holy man was well known in the surrounding villages, and Jew and gentile alike came to request his blessings.
"My mother lost no time. She called to her coachman and with the fastest horses she flew to the house of the rebbe accompanied by her two closest friends. They arrived at the crack of dawn, but despite the early hour, the household bustled with activity, as that was the time reserved for caring for the needs of the indigent. They sent their servant to request an audience, and the rebbe agreed to see them after he completed his prayers.
"When the time finally came, my mother's friend approached the rebbe and explained the terrible situation. The rebbe listened and then replied in perfect Polish: 'Have you come to me because you think I am a sorcerer and I have some magic with which I can help you?'
"'No,' replied my mother's friend, 'but I see that you live a holy life and so, you are closer to G-d than other people. For this reason G-d listens to your prayers more closely.'"
"'Since that is your thought I agree to pray for the boy.'
"The women left his room leaving the door ajar, and seated themselves outside his door. They were able to glimpse the figure of the rebbe. He was engaged in fervent prayer, beads of perspiration glimmering on his face. After three hours of this intense devotion he called them into his room and said: 'At this exact moment your child's illness has been relieved. When he has recovered completely bring him to me so that I may bless him.'
"My mother returned home and rushed into my room, asking the maids, 'How is the child?' They told her that there was no great change, except that at exactly 12 noon, I had awakened and asked for a glass of water.
"After a few weeks of recuperation I was well enough to travel to the rebbe. I received his blessing and he admonished me to always treat the Jews with kindness. Know that I have kept my word. Now that I am an old man I wished to make a pilgrimage to the grave of the rebbe in order to pray at that holy spot."
Count Dravski began to weep uncontrollably, and in keeping with Jewish custom he wrote a note to place at the grave. The note read: "Ye sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob--pray for the soul of the late Menachem Mendel! And you, Mendel, since you stand already in the presence of the Heavenly Throne, pray for the oppressed nations--the Jewish People and Poland--and pray too for me, for my children, and for my grandchildren!
Signed: Miechislaw Dravski, son of Victoria
The second Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Dov Ber, had a group of chasidim who were musicians and who would perform together on festive occasions. There were also a number of chasidim who were horsemen, and they entertained onlookers by performing on their steeds to the rhythm of the music. The Rebbe would stand by the window listening to the music and observing the performance. His son, Reb Nachum, was one of the riders.
Once, the Rebbe unexpectedly called for a performance and stood by the window to watch. Suddenly, Reb Nachum was flung from his horse and badly hurt. Rushing to notify the Rebbe, the chasidim were surprised when he motioned to carry on with the performance.
Only a while later did the Rebbe signal for them to stop and went back to his room. In the interim, a doctor checked Reb Nachum. "It is not as bad as it looks," the doctor said calmly. "He has only broken his leg." After treating the leg, the doctor left, assuring them that it would heal properly.
Later, some of the chasidim asked the Rebbe why he had ordered the performance to continue despite the accident. "Why don't you ask why the performance was called for an ordinary weekday?" responded the Rebbe.
He explained, "I became aware of harsh judgements regarding my son in the spiritual realms. Since 'happiness mitigates judgement,' I called for the musicians and the horsemen. The festivities did help, for his injury was far less serious than predestined. To assure complete recovery, I ordered the festivities to carry on, despite the fall. Indeed, with G-d's help, he will recover and no lasting impression of the original judgement will remain."
Reprinted with permission from My Father's Shabbos Table by Rabbi Y. Chitrick
And you shall eat and be sated. (Deut. 8:10)
The Maggid of Mezritch once asked a wealthy man what he eats every day. "Bread and salt, Rebbe, like a poor man," was his reply.
The Maggid rebuked him and told him to eat meat and drink wine every day as wealthy men were accustomed to do. Later, when the Maggid's disciples asked for an explanation, he said: "If a rich man eats meat and drinks wine every day, then he will realize that a poor person needs at least bread and salt. If, however, he eats bread and salt, he will think that his poor neighbor can make do with stones!"
And to serve Him with all your heart (Deut. 11:13)
Rashi explains that this verse refers to the service of the heart, namely prayer. Reb Yisroel of Ruzhin used to take a long time over his prayers; Reb Shalom of Belz would recite his prayers hastily. On this, one of their contemporaries commented that both of them cherished every word of the prayers: the former loved them so much that he could not bring himself to part with them, while the latter--for the same reason--could not restrain his eagerness to make them his.
(A Treasury of Chasidic Tales)
And now Israel, what does G-d ask from you but to fear G-d and to follow in all His ways, to love Him and serve Him with all your heart and all your soul. (Deut. 10:12)
The Talmud asks, "Is then reverence such a small matter?" and answers, "For Moses it is a small matter."
Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the first Chabad Rebbe, commented, "The Torah speaks here to every Jew. How is this an answer for everyone? Every Jew, whoever he may be, contains a spark of Moses. This gives every Jew the strength to attain awe of G-d."
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, said: "If all Jews would join together, great and small alike, and say, 'Father, enough already. Have mercy on us and send us our Redeemer, then certainly Moshiach would come!"