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Anyone driving north on the Bonaventure Autoroute in Montreal, Canada won't miss a 30-foot-wide, 10-foot-high yellow billboard proclaiming, in French, "Welcome Moshiach."
"The purpose [of the bill-board] is to call attention to the fact that the Messiah is coming," explains Rabbi Moshe New in an interview with Montreal Magazine. "It's meant to create interest."
But, is there possibly another message, less obvious, but just as important, even for those who will never drive north on the Bonaventure Autoroute?
What, after all, does "Welcome Moshiach" mean? Should Canadians expect Moshiach to visit Montreal on his way to the Holy Land?
Moshiach is referred to as a King. The successor to the dynasty of King David, who will restore rulership to the Jewish royal family.
In the "olden days," when royalty ruled, it was common for kings to go throughout their lands--to cities, towns and villages--visiting their subjects.
These visits were undoubtedly combined with much fanfare and preparation on the part of the inhabitants, and we can well imagine that large banners proclaiming "Welcome King" or "Long Live the King" were suspended at the entrance to the city.
And so, we might conclude, that the billboard on Bonaventure Autoroute is in preparation for a similar visit to Montreal by Moshiach.
But where does that leave the rest of us? Those of us who don't have similar signs on our highways or city streets? How do we prepare for "King" Moshiach's imminent arrival?
King Solomon, in Ecclesiastes, describes a battle that takes place in a "small city." The Talmud explains that this small city is actually a person's body. The war that takes place, according to Chasidic philosophy, is a battle between a person's yearnings to transcend his mundane existence, thus becoming closer to his Source, and a desire for more material goals and possessions.
Now, let's get back to that banner welcoming the King upon his visit to the city, or the more modern and timely "Welcome Moshiach" billboard.
Each one of us can erect his own personal "Welcome Moshiach" sign without going to the trouble or expense of renting billboard space. By learning more about Moshiach and the Redemption, by considering the imminent arrival of Moshiach as a reality, by awaiting his arrival, we are hanging a banner in our own private little city, perhaps the best banner possible.
This week's Torah portion Noach, has special significance because it is the first Torah reading which comes after the frenetic month of Tishrei which was filled with Jewish holidays from its beginning until almost the end of the month. Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah kept us busy doing all kinds of mitzvot connected to their respective celebrations.
The month of Cheshvan, however, and the first Torah portion we read to inaugurate it, start a new chapter and facet of our lives. It is this week that we begin our service of G-d within the context of our everyday, mundane activities. This is reflected in the name of the portion itself--Noach, which comes from the Hebrew root meaning "rest" and "satisfaction," for our worship of G-d, if performed properly, should arouse such feelings in us.
The Zohar teaches that all the days of the week receive their blessing from the Shabbat which precedes it. Last week, when we began to read the Torah anew with the portion of Beraishit (Genesis), we read about how the world was created and how it exists as a complete and perfect entity. Noach, however, contains G-d's promise that the world, even after man's descent into sin, will continue to exist forever. Indeed, Noach teaches us the state of perfection that man can reach if he only turns to G-d with a true desire to return to Him. In other words, Noach teaches us how the vast potential of G-d's creation can be brought into actual expression.
When a Jew fulfills his mission in life by living a lifestyle in consonance with Torah law, his service generates satisfaction and pleasure for G-d, as it were, fulfilling His desire to have a dwelling place in the world below.
"And the earth was corrupt before G-d; and the earth was filled with violence," the Torah states. Never had the world sunken to such a low and degenerate state. Yet even after such a tremendous descent man was able to recover, with the ultimate result that the world was brought to a higher level of refinement and purity than before.
This concept is even reflected in the Torah's terminology for G-d. When discussing the creation of the world, the Torah uses the word "Elokim," which is numerically equal to the word "hateva," meaning the natural world and the laws of nature which G-d put into place. In contrast, with regard to Noach, the Torah states, "And Noach found favor in the eyes of G-d (yud, hay, vav, hay)," a terminology which points to a level of G-dliness above the natural order of things. Our job as Jews, by adhering to the Torah, is to fuse the two types of holiness, so that even that level of G-dliness which is higher than mere nature is revealed in our daily lives and illuminates the physical world.
This fusion finds voice in the promise G-d made to Noach that the world will continue without interruption, for it is in the maintenance of the world's natural order that G-d's infinite power in reflected. The lack of change in the natural world conveys to us the immutability of an infinite and unchanging G-d of the universe.
Adapted from a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe this past year.
Reb Chaim Yehoshua Pshemish
by Rabbi Yosef Munitz
My grandfather, Reb Chaim Yehoshua Pshemish (known as Reb Shea), was from the city of Rysha in Poland. Once, as a young man, he heard that a Jewish family had been imprisoned for not paying their rent.
The thought of this poor family languishing in prison was too much for Reb Shea. He went to the Jews of Rysha to collect the necessary amount of money to pay the outstanding debt and buy the family's freedom. But the Jewish community was not wealthy and he came up very short.
Heartbroken, Reb Shea came to the rabbi of the city, the Kolishicer Rav, and asked his advice.
The rabbi suggested to Reb Shea, "Purim is approaching. It is customary to dress up on Purim. I am a descendant of the Rebbes of Zanz, all of whom were great tzadikim," continued the rabbi. "I inherited from one rebbe a walking stick. I have from another rebbe a shtreimel (fur hat) and from another rebbe I have a gartel (belt worn during prayer). I will lend these all to you for Purim. We will announce that you will take kvitlach [notes requesting a blessing usually accompanied by a few rubles] and that in the merit of the great tzadikim whose clothing you are wearing the blessings will come to fruition."
Reb Shea was delighted with the suggestion and waited anxiously for Purim. Jews from Rysha and neighboring towns came to give Reb Shea a kvitel together with a few rubles.
At the end of the day, Reb Shea came to the rabbi absolutely radiant, beaming from ear to ear. "Good news! I have good news, rabbi," Reb Shea cried out. "I have collected enough money to redeem the poor family from jail!"
The rabbi looked at Reb Shea's pure, unbounded joy at being able to deliver the good news. He was so moved that he blessed Reb Shea, "Just as you were so happy to announce the good news of redeeming one Jewish family, may you--like Elijah the Prophet--merit to announce the redemption for all Jewish families, the good news that Moshiach is here!"
From that time forth, my grandfather read and studied everything he could find about Moshiach and the Redemption.
In 1939, Reb Shea was amongst the "luckier" Jews of Poland who were exiled to Communist Siberia rather than murdered by the Nazis. In the labor camp he met a mekubal--a scholar well versed in the mystical teachings of Judaism. The mekubal and my grandfather studied Torah together. Once the mekubal said to Reb Shea, "I am old and won't survive the camp. You are young and strong and will certainly make it out. I am giving you a crate of my writings and holy books. Take them with you and they are yours."
When Reb Shea left Siberia around 1944, he was able to smuggle the crate out and bring it with him to New York where he settled and raised his family. Amongst the writings were many interesting ideas connected with Moshiach and the Redemption. In fact, in the fall of 1981, right before the Jewish year 5742, Reb Shea urged my uncle to give the Lubavitcher Rebbe a book from the crate which stated that the Hebrew letters for 5742 were an acronym for, "This will be the year of the coming of Moshiach." My uncle obliged and was pleasantly surprised when the Rebbe announced the acronym at a public gathering. Since then, the Rebbe has revealed an acronym before each new year begins.
Everyone in our family knew these stories about our saintly patriarch. As children, we often went over to Reb Shea and asked, "Nu, Zeidy, when is Moshiach coming?"
Reb Shea's ready reply was always, "Don't worry. I am sure the rabbi's blessing will come true and I will announce Moshiach's arrival."
In 1985, Reb Shea had a stroke. No longer able to care for himself, he moved in with my aunt in New Square, New York. There, my cousin Mirele, then a young, single girl, took primary care of my grandfather. She fed him, read to him and tended to his needs. And she, like the rest of us, would often ask, "Nu, Zeidy, when is Moshiach coming?" He always promised her, "I will let you know, Mirele."
In 1988, Reb Shea passed away. It was a tremendous loss to our entire family.
In the spring of 1991, Mirele had a dream. In her dream Reb Shea appeared. "What are you doing here, Zeidy?" Mirele asked in shock.
"I have come to announce the good news that Moshiach is coming," Reb Shea told her.
Mirele, now a young married women with children of her own, told her husband and the rest of the family about the dream.
Seven months ago, Mirele had another dream about our grandfather. This time, however, it was different. Mirele was surprised to notice that Reb Shea was dressed in his finest Shabbos clothes. He was wearing his Shabbos shtreimel, his long, black silk coat and he looked absolutely radiant. "Zeidy," Mirele asked Reb Shea, "Why are you dressed so magnificently?"
"Mirele," began Reb Shea. "I am dressed like this because I have come to tell you that Moshiach is here. Now you, too, must get dressed in your finest clothing."
Chasidic philosophy explains that the mitzvot we do are like our clothing. Reb Shea's message is clear. "Moshiach is here. Now you, too, must get dressed in your finest clothing."
Rabbi Munitz is a Lubavitcher emissary at Yeshiva Achei Temimim in Pittsburgh
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
...Re issue #233. Mont Blanc pens don't leak. Unless you were referring to their fountain pen which could conceivably leak.
Rifky S. Hecht (Brooklyn, NY)
...Your readers might be interested in a post- script to the article about my experiences in Bangladesh ["Slice of Life" issue #230]. I was in Bangladesh for business a few weeks ago and had a copy of L'Chaim #230 with me. I had thought it would be nice to locate "Walter" and show him the article. But, I had no idea where to find him and besides, I was very busy. Together with my business partner I boarded a plane going from Dhaka to Chittagong. And who should walk on the plane right behind us but Walter! Divine Providence strikes again!
I showed Walter the article. He was pleasantly surprised. After reading it he said, "All this about the Rebbe's spiritual vision is true, isn't it?" He then told me that he is hoping to retire soon, move back to the States and get much more involved in Yiddishkeit. My partner, for his part, now believed the story beyond a doubt since Walter was right there to tell him it was all true.
Michoel Cohen (Manchester, England)
...You have no idea how much I look forward to each week's message. We live in a small town with about 30 Jewish families but no Rabbi and so L'Chaim and Tehilim [Psalms] give me strength to continue in this milieu.
With best wishes to you and to the Rebbe, shlita
Mrs. Laura Bowman (Peterborough, Ontario)
WORDS FROM THE HEART
From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
In addition to my letter of yesterday's date, which was confined to a purely scientific discussion, it is this second letter which will express my real approach to you, the Torah approach of one Jew to another.
It is surely unnecessary to emphasize to you that the basic principle of the Jewish way of life is "Know Him in all your ways." This principle has been enunciated in the Talmud, and Early and Late Responsa, until it has been formulated as a psak-din [a legal ruling] in the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law] (Orach Chayim, sec. 231). There it is explained that it is the life's mission of every Jew to acknowledge G-d, even in the simplest pursuits of daily life, such as eating, drinking, etc. How much more does this apply to the more essential aspects of one's life, especially in the case of one who has been endowed with special qualifications, knowledge and distinction, etc., all of which place him in a position of influence. There are gifts of Divine Providence, which the Jew is duty-bound to consecrate to the service of G-d: to disseminate G-dliness through the Torah and mitzvot to the utmost of his ability, in compliance with the commandments "You shall surely rebuke..." and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself"--the great principle of our Torah. And since, according to the Torah view, everything in the world is ordered and measured and nothing is superfluous, the duties and privileges of every Jew are commensurate with his capacities and opportunities.
I have seen you only briefly, but I have formed some impressions, which have been augmented by your book, the only one which I have been able to obtain so far, and by what I have heard about you and your station in the academic world and otherwise. I have no doubt that you have unusual opportunities to disseminate the Torah and mitzvot among wide circles of Jewish scientists, students and laymen.
In recent years, especially in the U.S.A., we have witnessed two tendencies among Jewish youth, which pull them in opposite directions. On the one hand, there has been an intensified quest for the truth, a yearning for closer identification with our people and our eternal values. At the other extreme, the pull of assimilation, intermarriage, etc. has been gaining, too. Aside from the colleges and universities in a few major cities, the situation on campuses in regard to kashrut, Shabbat, etc., is too painful to contemplate, not to mention the widespread confusion and misconceptions in respect to the most basic tenets of our faith.
If the first of the above-mentioned tendencies were to be stimulated and fully utilized at this auspicious time, the chances are very good that it would gain momentum and grow wider, and in time, also deeper. If, as our Sages say, to save one soul is to save a whole world, how much more so to save so many lost Jewish souls.
I want to express to you my fervent hope--and, if necessary, my urgent appeal also--that you put the whole weight of your prestige as a leading scientist behind a resolute effort in the cause of the Torah and mitzvot. I am informed that you have been elected as this year's President of the organization of Jewish orthodox scientists. You could set the pace of the entire organization, individually and collectively, to follow your example, and set in motion a "chain reaction."
I will conclude with a well-known saying of the Baal Shem Tov, which I frequently heard from my father-in-law of saintly memory: "G-d sends down to earth a soul, which is truly a part of G-dliness, to sojourn, embodied, for seventy or eighty years on this earth, simply in order to render a favor to another Jew, either materially or spiritually." If a single favor justifies a whole earthbound life, how great is the privilege of a consistent effort to help a fellow-Jew, and many of them, to find their true way, the way of the Torah and mitzvot in their day-to-day living.
May G-d grant that your words coming from the heart will penetrate the many hearts which are ready and eager to respond, and may G-d grant you success in this as in all of your other endeavors for yourself and your family.
What is a ketuba?
The ketuba--marriage contract, contains the mutual obligations between husband and wife prerequisite to marriage. It is written in Hebrew-Aramaic. After it is read at the wedding ceremony under the chupa it is given to the bride and she must keep it amongst her possessions.
With a feeling of lightheartedness, we might conclude that with the passing of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur the days of introspection are over. Nothing could be further from the truth! For, every day can and should be a day of introspection and ultimately a time of growth for each and every Jew.
When we look at the conduct of another Jew, the Torah tells us that we should assume that he conducts himself properly in all of his activities. This applies to friends, relatives or acquaintances. But, when it comes to one's own personal conduct, one shouldn't rely on this assumption.
Thus, from time to time each person must spend some time being introspective in order to determine what we might have done that maybe wasn't so "proper."
There are two ways we can make an honest account of our conduct. One method is to focus on the particular weaknesses and failings of our behavior--to focus on the past. Another method is more action-oriented. It places the emphasis on involvement in positive activity, thrusting oneself into mitzvot with renewed energy--focusing on the present and the future.
Ultimately, there should be a fusion of both approaches. A person's attention to his past conduct should be included in a process of growth and development that can lift one to a higher rung on the ladder of life.
When we approach introspection in this fashion, we appreciate that the reason for our past failings is precisely this--to benefit from our present introspection and ultimately ascend to a higher level than we were previously able to reach. For these reasons, the introspection should not cause sadness, dejection or depression. Rather it should be accompanied by feelings of happiness and pleasure.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
One day while Rabbi Yehoshua ben Karcha was learning Torah with his students, a gentile entered the Beit Medrash and listened to the discussion that was taking place. His interest, however, was far from sincere. In fact, his only reason for coming was in order to glean some bits of Torah wisdom which he could then twist and use to the detriment of the Jewish people.
He understood Hebrew well, and stood quietly in the back, listening and waiting for just the right moment to spring. His plan was to put a question to Rabbi Yehoshua, and then use his own arguments to prove the rabbi wrong in front of his students. If he played his cards right, he might even succeed in sowing doubts in the minds of the young students and win them over to the ways of idolatry.
The moment came and the gentile confronted the sage. "I have a question for you. How is it that although you Jews sit all day and night and study your Torah, you still don't fulfill its precepts properly?"
Rabbi Yehoshua had seen these types before, and he turned to him with a calm demeanor and answered, "What exactly do you mean? What have you seen us do to cause you to think that we have transgressed the laws of our Torah?"
"It is not just to one particular law that I refer, but rather to the whole spirit of the Torah, for isn't it written in your Torah that 'the minority should follow the majority'? That seems to mean that if one holds a certain view while all of the others differ from him, he should follow the view of the majority. So why is it that there are many more idol-worshippers in the world than there are Jews, and yet you stubbornly insist upon following your own religion. So, you are transgressing your own laws by refusing to worship idols."
Rabbi Yehoshua had heard this foolish argument before, and he realized that the gentile had completely misunderstood the meaning of the verse he was quoting. The verse actually referred to decisions made by the Sanhedrin [the Supreme Court] while judging a case which demanded the death penalty. Then, only by a majority of two or more judges is it possible to decide for capital punishment.
Rabbi Yehoshua understood that the motives of the gentile were corrupt, and he decided not to explain the true meaning of the words to him. The idol-worshipper might distort his words and try to harm the Jews in some way. No, what he would do was to answer him in such a way that he would never try such a trick again.
Rabbi Yehoshua turned to the man and asked, "Do you have any sons?"
The man's expression changed in an instant from one of haughtiness to one of profound sadness. "How did you know? I have many sons, but they give me only trouble. Every night when the family sits down to dine, each of my sons blesses his own idol. Then the arguments begin. One son says that his idol is the true one, the next son screams, 'That's a lie--only mine is true!' And these arguments go on and on until everyone is too upset to eat. Sometimes, actual fist-fights break out and blood flows."
"How terrible!" said Rabbi Yehoshua. "I don't understand why you are unable to make peace between your children. Surely you must side with one or the other, and you can bring the others into agreement with you."
"That's not true at all! They are all mistaken; only my idol is the true one, and I can't convince them of it. There will never be peace in my home."
Rabbi Yehoshua faced the idol-worshipper and reprimanded him sharply, saying, "If you can't even make peace between your own children, how dare you come here with your phony questions!" The idol-worshipper turned on his heels and left, and was never seen there again.
Rabbi Yehoshua's students surrounded their teacher, praising him for his clever answer. "Master," they said, "it is explicitly written in the Torah in so many places that it is forbidden to worship idols. How could he have imagined that G-d would want us to follow a majority of idol-worshippers? But, tell, us, please, is his question mentioned anywhere in the Torah?"
Rabbi Yehoshua replied to them: "It may have seemed to you that I was just joking with that man, but that is not the case. My answer was serious. This man was suggesting that we must always follow the majority, even if they are evil, and that is why he asserts that we must worship idols, G-d forbid. But in truth, the gentiles are not a majority, for they are descended from Esau and have no unity amongst themselves. Since each of them has his own opinion, they consist of many individuals, rather than a unified group.
"The Jewish people, on the contrary, are descended from Yakov, and are united in service to G-d. The Torah refers to Esau, saying 'all the souls in his house'--souls in the plural, since they are divided in their opinions.
"Describing Yakov, it is written, 'all the people were seventy soul'--soul, in the singular, for all of them worshipped only the One G-d. From this we can see how exact are all the words of Torah. Nothing is extra, and each letter has deep meaning."
A window shall you make for the ark (Gen. 6:16)
The Hebrew word for "ark" is "tayva," which also has the meaning of "word." A Jew's job is to make a "window," as it were, for the words he utters in prayer or in the study of Torah, and to let them illuminate, as the sun shines at midday.
(Baal Shem Tov)
I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh (6:17)
Why did G-d choose a flood with which to punish mankind? Could he not have chosen another method to destroy the wicked?
Another purpose of the flood, however, was to purify the world which had become unclean and defiled by its inhabitants. This is alluded to in the duration of the flood, forty days, and the requirement that a purifying mikva contain at least forty sa'a [a measure] of water.
(Rabbi Shneur Zalman)
And Noach went in, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons' wives into the ark (7:7)
A person should not content himself with his own entrance into the "ark"--the holy letters of prayer and of the Torah, but should always seek to bring others with him as well, not only members of his family but every fellow Jew. Just as G-d helped Noach by closing the door of the ark after all were safely inside, so, too, is every Jew assisted by G-d when he comes to the aid of his fellow man.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita)
And only Noach was left (7:23)
Despite the fact that Noach was a righteous person, he was still required to tend to all the animals in the ark and take care of their needs. This was a physically demanding and sometimes dangerous job. Similarly, no matter how high a spiritual level one reaches, he is still obligated to take care of those around him who may need his guidance.
The Talmud associates the moon's periodic rebirth with the ultimate renewal the Jewish people will experience in the Era of the Redemption, for the Jews "calculate their calendar according to the moon and resemble the moon." Just as the moon wanes and becomes concealed, for a certain time the Jewish people must endure the darkness of exile. The shining of the moon anew each month, however, reassures us of the coming of the ultimate rebirth--the Redemption.
(From Sound the Great Shofar)