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A front-page article in The New York Times last month was not just another example of how "Moshiach consciousness" has permeated even the media. It was a most appropriate illustration of the difference between our present age and the era of the Redemption. To wit:
" 'After 2,000 years,' the headline in the newspaper Yediot Ahronot blared today, the type huge and shaded in the national colors of blue and white.
"What could possibly have happened: An attempt to rebuild the destroyed Jewish Temple? New rumblings of the Messiah's imminent arrival?
"For some Israelis, it was even bigger than that, and certainly more immediate, justifying hyperbole of biblical dimensions.
"For the first time since the founding of the Jewish State in 1948, not to mention the two millennia that preceded it, an Israeli athlete had won an Olympic medal." (Clyde Haberman, August 1).
Why, in fact, is it that winning an Olympic medal is bigger and more immediate to most of us than rebuilding the Holy Temple or Moshiach's imminent arrival? (By the way, Mr. Haberman must know his stuff because, according to Rabbi Moses Maimonides--the Rambam, the Messianic Era will unfold in the order he mentioned: first the Holy Temple will be rebuilt by the person who is most likely the Moshiach, and after that occurs everyone will agree that he is, in fact, Moshiach.)
It is an intrinsic part of the non-Redemption era (i.e., the past 2,000 years) that what we see seems more real to us than what we don't see. Today, more than ever, living in the highly-scientific-and-I'll-believe-it-when-I-see-it-age, we often define reality by what we can see.
Let's take a few examples from everyday life, though, which might help change our perspective a bit.
When a person is sad, we don't usually know about his sadness until he expresses it in a physical way: by crying or frowning, etc. To say that the tears or the pout are reality and the feelings are just an illusion would be ridiculous. The physical expressions are simply a manifestation of the untouchable, imperceptible emotion of sadness.
We can say the same thing about joy. What is the relationship between laughter or a smile with joy and happiness? Laughter and smiling are simply physical indications of intangible and invisible emotions. To say that the emotions do not exist, though, because we cannot see them or feel them, is ludicrous. And to say that the smile or the laughter is reality, while the joy or happiness is illusory is even more ludicrous.
In Chasidic terminology, the physical world around us is like a glove and the hand which it covers is G-dliness. Just as it would be preposterous to imagine that a glove, in and of itself has any real ability to act or react, so too, the world and nature, which literally cover and conceal G-dliness, have no real existence disassociated from G-d.
So, now that we understand why Olympic medals are more real to many than the imminent arrival of Moshiach, where does that leave us?
It leaves each one of us with a personal responsibility. For, though the illusory nature of the spiritual and physical is intrinsic to exile, on a personal level we can transcend this Divinely ordained definition. This can be accomplished by trying as much as we can, even a little more than we can, to remove the glove and reveal the G-dliness and supranatural essence of everything in the world. Our efforts will be mightily enhanced by learning about Moshiach and the Messianic Era--the time when the whole world will be going for the gold and will succeed.
For a more in-depth study of some of the above-mentioned concepts you can order the audio-casette, "Demystifying Moshiach" by Rabbi S. Jacobson by calling (718) 774-6448 or writing to: Hanochos HaTmimim, 788 Eastern Pkwy., Bklyn, NY 11213.
The end of this week's Torah portion, Shoftim, deals with the egla arufa, the beheaded calf which atoned for a murder whose perpetrator was unknown. If a body was found out in the open and it was not known who had killed the person, the Torah commands the elders of the nearest city to take a year-old calf down to the river and proclaim, "Our hands did not spill this blood, and our eyes did not see." This served to both atone for the death and also publicized the matter, so that the true murderer could be found.
It seems odd at first that any culpability is ascribed to the elders of the city which just happened to be closest to the discovery. They may not have even known of this person's existence during his lifetime. What possible role could the city's leaders have played in his death? Why does the Torah involve the city's rabbinical court, when obviously the real murderer is the one who needs to be punished?
The mitzva of the egla arufa serves to underscore the dictum: "All Jews are guarantors for each other." The responsibility for the death lies not only upon the shoulders of the cold-blooded murderer, but also upon the inhabitants of the nearest town and most specifically, on the community leaders, the elders who served on the supreme court.
The innocence of these leaders must be publicly proclaimed, for it was their responsibility to ensure the high moral caliber of their flock. Had they instilled Jewish values properly, such a situation would have never arisen. The fact that this murder happened in their domain shows that something is indeed wrong with their leadership.
The concept of bloodshed may also be applied to the Jew's spiritual life. When a person transgresses Torah law he is ostensibly "murdering" his G-dly Jewish soul with the degradation it must endure. With the repetition of such actions a Jew in this spiritually reduced state can even appear to be a lifeless corpse, where he too is found in an "open field," the domain of the non-Jewish world.
Whose responsibility is this Jew's present condition? Is he not responsible for his own actions which led to his spiritual downfall? Could he not, of his own free will, have abandoned the "open field" and returned to the "city," the embracing fold of the Jewish way of life?
The Torah clearly states the duties of the Jewish leaders: "The members of the greater court were to gird themselves with ropes of iron...and make the rounds in all the inhabited places of Israel...and teach all of Israel." Their function was to ensure that this individual would not fall through the cracks and abandon the proper path of the Torah.
Being responsible for our fellow Jew is a lesson which should be noted by every Jew, especially during the month of Elul, when the thoughts of the entire Jewish People turn to repentance and return to G-d before the advent of the new year. During this propitious month for repentance, when G-d goes out into the "field" to make our return to Him that much easier, let us truly exemplify the love of our fellow Jew so we can all enter the G-dly palace on the Day of Judgement.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Music: the Pen of the Soul
by Shoshanna Silcove
Pianist, songwriter, Mirele Rosenberger travels worldwide with famed Israeli singer Ruthi Navon. For a mother of eight children this is no easy feat. "Music touches the soul in a way that nothing else does. It's hard leaving my husband and the kids every time I have a concert, but I do it to spread the beauty of Judaism, and to help my audiences prepare for the imminent coming of Moshiach. The message of my music is that people should leave themselves open for personal growth. We should realize that there is an infinite reality of which we perceive very little. When Moshiach comes our perception of truth will become incomparable to what it is now. We should be prepared for that. I want people to open up from my music to new levels of truth." says Mirele in her lyrical voice.
Mirele had never heard of Ruthi Navon before December of 1986 when her neighbor suggested that she conduct Ruthi's orchestra in an all-women concert. The concert was held during Chanukah at Brooklyn College, and it was not only the largest concert that Mirele had ever conducted, but it was also her first one for women only.
"I was a bit nervous. There were over 2,000 women there. But the concert went beautifully and afterwards Ruthi told me, 'I finally found my piano player.' We became a team from then on." Mirele recalls proudly.
Mirele finds that women react in a very excited way to a women-only concert. The performers feel freer and less self-conscious than when they are in front of men, even if it's their own husbands. The songs they play relate to themes of unity among Jews. The women sing and dance together and feel spiritually uplifted.
"There is a peace in the air of not having the male-female vibe there. It is a liberating experience." Mirele smiles, "I remember there was one woman who became so inspired that she cried and said she could imagine vividly the menora lit up in the Holy Temple. Another woman took on observance of the laws of mivka as a result of one of our concerts."
In one city the Lubavitch emissary there told Mirele that one of their concerts did more to inspire the women of his community to observe the Torah than two years of his teaching of classes.
The women in her audiences are constantly amazed that Mirele, a mother of eight, has the freedom to travel to far-off Australia, Europe and South America several times a year. Mirele has no conflict between home and career. She believes she gives her girls a good role model because it teaches them that they can be creative. Her boys learn that their own wives can also be inspiring individuals.
For Mirele, who was not always observant, becoming observant was a process of personal growth, the depth of which can only be conveyed through her music. For quite some time she was observing many of the mitzvot but without the feeling of deep inspiration that she longed for. Then when she began to learn the Tanya, the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy, her whole perception of Judaism and mitzvot changed.
"I was already keeping many of the mitzvot, but when I began learning Chasidut, it was as if a whole new universe opened up for me that I had never experienced before. I became filled with a new realm of holiness and G-dliness not only in my actions, but internally in my heart as well. This deep feeling of inspiration became reflected in my music." As Mirele says this her eyes well with tears and she adds, "I'm really not a crier. Only when I'm deeply touched."
Today Mirele's music is replete with deep spiritual meaning. While a music major at Hunter College, her teachers were always encouraging her to publish her songs, but then she didn't feel that her songs were really a part of her. They seemed to be only a collection of notes.
As she wrote in a song to her children;
Many years ago I thought I knew about all of the things of value and truth...
Passing down what I thought was enough to give you...
I have something to give you...
Something more than I ever knew, it is precious, to be treasured, to be guarded...
I have found the diamond in the sand...
My children, my children, my children, the Torah.
For Mirele Rosenberger, music is surely the pen of the soul.
SEVEN, SEVEN, SEVEN
The seven brides and grooms at the seventh annual Gala Wedding organized by Bris Avrohom in Hillside, NJ this summer. Bris Avrohom has been serving the Russian Jewish community in New Jersey for the past 12 years.
More than 200 Lubavitch Rabbinic students toured hundreds of Jewish communities throughout the world. The students in this program volunteered to spend their summer vacations bolstering Jewish awareness and identity. Traveling in pairs and armed with Jewish educational material, books, and religious items, these young troops reached every segment of the Jewish community. This summer marked the 44th year of summer outreach programs initiated by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, which have become known as the Jewish "Peace Corps." Students visited cities throughout North America as well as Aruba, Barbados, Finland, Guadeloupe, Iceland, Norway, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Turkey and the Virgin Islands.
AN ORDERLY LIFE
Adapted from a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
...The general and essential nature of the resolution [to observe G-d's commandments] is: to order one's life, in every aspect of daily life, in accord with the purpose of man's creation. This purpose is, to quote the succinct formulation of our Sages: "I was created to serve my Master," and to serve Him with joy, as it is written, "Serve G-d with joy."
The nature and end-purpose of this service is: "to make an abode for G-d in the lowest world." This means, to conduct oneself in such a way that every detail in the surrounding world, and certainly every detail of the individual's personal life, becomes an "abode" for G-dliness. And this is achieved through the everyday observance of Torah and mitzvot which permeate every aspect of life.
All this is required of every Jew, man or woman, young or old, regardless of position and stature, as this is also indicated in the verse alluding to Rosh Hashana: "You are standing firmly this day, all of you, before G-d your G-d: your heads... down to the drawer of your water." Every Jew, without exception, is required and expected to rise to the level of "standing before G-d, your G-d," regardless of how it was in the past year.
The question arises: How can one expect every Jew to attain such a level, and to attain it truly and with joy, considering that it has to do with an "abode in the lowest world," a world that is predominantly materialistic; a world in which Jews are--quantitatively--"the fewest among all the nations"; and, moreover, to expect it of the Jew when his indispensable physical requirements, such as eating, drinking, sleeping, making a living, etc., occupy the major part of his time and energy, leaving but little time for matters of spirit and holiness?
The explanation of it--in terms understandable to all--is to be found in the concept of bitachon, trust in G-d.
The concept of bitachon is the underlying theme of Psalm 27 which is recited throughout this month, the month of Elul, the month of preparation for the new year, and continued into the beginning of the new year, during the greater part of the month of Tishrei:
"A Psalm by David: G-d is my light and my help; whom shall I fear?" This trust in G-d, which King David expresses on behalf of every Jew, namely, complete confidence in G-d's help, embraces both the material and spiritual aspects of life, to the extent of attaining the highest level of Divine service, as is also evident from the subsequent verses of the above Psalm, down to the concluding verse: "Hope in G-d, be strong and let your heart take courage, yes, hope in G-d."
The idea of bitachon is to feel reassured and convinced that G-d will help overcome all difficulties in life, both material and spiritual, since "G-d is my light and my help." It is especially certain that everyone, man or woman, is able to carry out his or her mission in life, and do so with joy, reflecting on the extraordinary privilege of having been chosen by G-d to be His emissary on earth for the purpose of "making for Him an abode in the lowest world," and with the assurance of having G-d's light, help and fortitude to carry out this mission.
The joy of it is further increased by contemplating the nature of this help from G-d, which comes to him in a manner of "I turn to my loving G-d and my loving G-d turns to me"--the G-d Who loves me with infinite Divine love. And this love is bestowed particularly from Rosh Chodesh Elul through Yom Kippur, as explained by our Sages.
Hence, during this time, as well as throughout the coming year, this extraordinary Divine love must evoke in the heart of every Jew a boundless love for G-d, as the Psalmist expresses it: "Whom have I in heaven? and on earth I desire nothing but You; my flesh and my heart languish for You, O G-d." Here, too, the love and trust in G-d are underscored in all aspects of life: "in heaven"--the spiritual, and "on earth"--the material.
Bitachon in G-d is, for every Jew, an inheritance from our Patriarchs, as is written, "In You our fathers trusted; they trusted--and You delivered them." It is deeply ingrained in the Jewish heart and soul; all that is necessary is to bring it to the surface so that it permeates all aspects of daily life.
In light of the rule enunciated by our Sages of blessed memory, that "By the measure that a person measures, it is measured to him," it follows that the stronger and more embracing one's bitachon, the greater, more evident, and more inclusive is the fulfillment of this truth, through the blessing which G-d bestows, materially and spiritually.
When do we send "New Year" cards?
It is appropriate during the entire month of Elul to send wishes to friends and family that they be "inscribed and sealed for a good, sweet year." In fact, these are the words with which one greets a friend from the fifteenth of the (previous) month of Av until Yom Kippur. From Yom Kippur until Hoshana Rabba (the day preceding the holiday of Sukkot) when the Heavenly books have already been inscribed but not yet sealed, we say, "May you be sealed for a good year" or "gmar chasima tova," in Hebrew.
In this weeks Torah portion, Shoftim, we read, "You shall appoint judges and officers at all your gates." The Jews followed this commandment and, upon entering the Holy Land, appointed judges and officers. When Moshiach comes, we will return to this justice system, as the prophet Isaiah, prophet of the Redemption, prophesied, "And I will return your judges as in former times, and your advisers as at the beginning."
On a practical level, the injunction of "You shall appoint judges at all your gates," must be applied on several different levels. First, the "gates" can be interpreted as referring to the seven gates of a person: the two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and mouth. They should act according to the dictates of the Torah. On this level, the "judges" refer to the intellectual capacity of the soul and the "advisers," the emotional attributes. Thus, every element of the life of a Jew has to be permeated and led by the G-dly power of his soul.
This concept does not have to apply to oneself alone, however. It should be extended and every man and woman should serve as a "judge" and an "adviser" in his family, ensuring that it runs according to the teachings and advice of the Torah.
To extend this concept even further, the whole world should follow the directives of the "judge" and the "adviser" of the generation, the "prophet I will set up for them, like you (Moses)," the leader of the generation.
And certainly, by allowing our G-dly soul to advise us, and by advising our families to follow the dictates of the Torah, and lastly, by following the advice of the Moses of our generation, we will merit the realization of the promise of Isaiah, that of a return to the glory and Divine favor of previous times, with the coming of Moshiach, NOW.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
A chasid enquired of the Baal Shem Tov, "How can a person control himself from watching improper behavior?" The Baal Shem Tov instructed him to go to Odessa and seek an answer from one of his followers there. Following the Rebbe's advice, the chasid traveled to Odessa and took up lodging with the man, a simple, hardworking fellow who spent most of his day working as a porter at the docks.
The chasid was left alone for most of the day and spent his time pondering the Baal Shem Tov's intention. His host was a pleasant and G-d-fearing man, but he seemed totally incapable of teaching him the lesson that he had requested of the Baal Shem Tov. Nevertheless, the chasid stayed on.
Once, when he was alone in the house, he noticed a small window high up near the ceiling. Curious, the chasid climbed atop a chair which he placed on the table and peeked through the window, only to recoil in disgust at the sight of a neighbor's indecent behavior.
That evening, he confronted his host: "How can you live amongst such indecent neighbors?" he demanded, relating the unbecoming sight he had seen through the window.
"I am quite surprised at you," was the porter's straightforward reply. "I have lived in this house for twenty years and it never crossed my mind once to peek in on the neighbors. You've been here for only four days and yet you could not restrain your curiosity." (By Rabbi H. Chitrick, reprinted with permission from "My Father's Shabbos Table")
Judges and officers shall you appoint for yourself in all your gates (Deut. 16:18)
"In each and every city," comments Rashi. The Talmud goes even further, explaining that "city" may also be understood to mean the individual person, who is called the "small city."
In order for a person's Good Inclination to be victorious and to rule, one must have the assistance of "judges and officers." The "judge" part of a person's spiritual make-up first looks into the Shulchan Aruch to see if a certain act is permissible or not according to the Torah. If the Evil Inclination afterwards rears its ugly head and balks at fulfilling G-d's command, the "officers" come to the rescue to force the individual into compliance. "Man's Good Inclination must always be in a state of anger against the Evil Inclination," states the Talmud.
You shall set a king over yourself (Deut. 17:15)
If appointing a king over the Jewish People is a mitzva in the Torah, why then did Samuel the Prophet take the Jews to task when they demanded that he do so? The answer is that the Jews did not want an earthly king because G-d had so commanded; they clamored for a king out of a desire to imitate the nations around them.
According to two witnesses...shall a case be established (Deut. 19:15)
The word which the Torah uses here for "case" is "davar," which alludes to the "dibbur" (speech) of prayer. The "two witnesses" likewise stand for our love and awe of the Alm-ghty. The Torah teaches that our prayers must be uttered with this love and awe in order for them to be worthy and contain substance.
What man is there who has built a new house and has not dedicated it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in battle and another man dedicate it (Deut. 20:5)
"And indeed, that would be grievous and sorrowful," comments Rashi.
Yet why should the fear that another person will dedicate one's house be even greater than the basic fear of losing one's life in battle? The inner meaning, according to Rashi, is that when the soldier goes out to wage war, instead of concentrating on his own personal relationship with G-d and doing teshuva, his mind is liable to dwell on his house and the possibility of never returning to it.
(Rebbe of Gur)
In his Iggeret Teiman (letter to the Jews of Yemen) Rabbi Moses Maimonides writes that "as a preparatory step for Moshiach's coming... prophecy will return to Israel." To prepare us to be able to receive the revelations of the Era of the Redemption, we must experience through prophecy, a foretaste of the "advice" that will be communicated in that era. It is therefore important for later generations to know that it is "one of the fundamentals of our faith to know that G-d sends His prophecies through people." Always, in all generations, the revelation of prophecy is possible.
(From a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)