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Mankind is blessed with a wonderful, innate gift of faith. We go through life believing that things have to get better.
Yet, for the better part of recorded history, and for nearly all of this century, there has been little to justify this instinct. The empirical evidence is overwhelmingly negative. Logic alone would dictate nihilism. The desire to reproduce, to bring new life into this flawed world, could only be viewed as an act of madness, or worse, a crime against the innocent child.
And what is true for mankind as a whole is especially true for the Jewish People. For the horrors that have visited the universal family of man pale by comparison to the atrocities that have been the Jew's constant companion for nearly two millennia.
Yet the Jewish People have survived, not just as individuals but as a community united by practice and bound together by faith. But the question is, "faith in what?"
The faith that sustains the Jew as a Jew, and mankind as a whole is the innate, unshakable faith in an ultimate redemption. That there must come a time when the words of the prophets will come true. That the world as we know it, is simply a work in progress, an unfinished canvas. That the survival of mankind and of the Jews as People, is vital to the Divine master plan.
Which is what Moshiach is all about.
Moshiach is the life force of the Jewish People, indeed of all humanity. It is the implicit understanding that there is a Creator whose goal is perfection. It is the unshakable belief that peace and universal brotherhood are not merely desirable but inevitable. If it was logical for a single individual like Hitler to rise and make murder socially acceptable, it is no less logical for a single individual, Moshiach, to rise and make goodness and G-dliness universally desirable.
Anticipation of Moshiach is the very heart and soul of Jewish belief. Maimonides, renowned as much for his philosophical rationalism as for his rabbinic scholarship, considers Moshiach the sino que non of Judaism. Maimonides, the rational philosopher, understood clearly what all of us understand intuitively, that the status quo does not do justice to humanity. He was unequivocal in his belief that Judaism devoid of Moshiach is antithetical to Judaism.
Moshiach is a man. A flesh and blood person embodying the Torah's ethos and ideals. By virtue of his own character and leadership, he can set an example for the Jewish People and all mankind. He has the unique power to bring out the best in us.
There is really nothing very mysterious about Moshiach. He is a leader whose agenda is to unite mankind. To heal the rifts that divide parent and child, that sunder husband from wife, that bring neighbors and nations into open conflict.Moshiach is the best kind of leadership--leadership by example.
To deny Moshiach is to deny the heart and soul of Judaism. Denial of Moshiach is defeatism. It is resignation to the status quo. It is acceptance of the inevitability of evil, and war, and crime, and corruption. It is the belief that things can get different, but they cannot get better. It is the hopeless cliche, "The more things change the more they stay the same."
The signs of Moshiach are all around us. Clearly we are in the midst of a seismic shift in mankind's consciousness, values and experience. G-d is telling us something. He is inviting us to take part in this accelerated movement toward the inevitable completion of his masterpiece.
The ball is now in our court. It is up to us--man and woman, boy and girl, Jew and gentile--to turn our subconscious instincts into a conscious, ra-tional movement toward Redemption.
It doesn't take much. An act of charity, a kind word, a hand to the elderly, respect for our parents, resisting the temptation to get angry, a moment of prayer, the study of Torah. These are affirmations of our faith. These are the small but important signals of our belief in the perfectibility of this world, and our readiness for Moshiach.
Because a small flame can banish a room full of darkness. And the slightest shift in current can redirect an entire ocean.
G-d has shown His hand. The next move is ours.
"These are the names of the Children of Israel who came to Egypt," begins this week's Torah portion, Shemot. The Midrash explains that the names of the Twelve Tribes which follow, enumerated when they made their descent into the land of Egypt, are mentioned in connection to the Jewish people's eventual redemption from that land.
We see that the narrative which follows tells of the beginning of the Jews' servitude, seemingly the direct opposite of their liberation and redemption. What is the meaning of this apparent contradiction?
Secondly, another opinion in the Midrash states that the names of the Twelve Tribes are mentioned to emphasize that they descended into Egypt with the names Reuven, Shimon... and ascended after the redemption with these very same names. The emphasis is on the merit of the Jewish people, that throughout the Egyptian exile, they did not change their names.
The implication of both these passages is that one must understand the descent into Egypt as a phase in the redemption of the Jewish people, and indeed, as connected with the ultimate redemption which will take place with the coming of Moshiach. In that context, the obligation to recall--and relive--the exodus from Egypt every day serves as a catalyst to bring about Moshiach's arrival.
The Jews' redemption from Egypt, the first of their four exiles, "is a great fundamental principle...of our Torah and faith," according to our Sages. That first redemption represents the opening of the potential for all future redemptions. The freedom which was granted at that time continues at all times.
In a spiritual sense, the exodus from Egypt represents the liberation of the G-dly soul from the limitations of the body, and in general, of the triumph of the spirit over the limitations inherent in the material world. Our obligation to remember the Exodus every day therefore consists of the following:
- Every day, each of us must strive to go beyond his own personal boundaries and limitations;
- Our obligation to recall the Exodus at night refers to carrying out our service of G-d during the long "night" of our exile; and
- We will also be obligated to recall the exodus from Egypt after Moshiach comes, even though the final redemption will far surpass the one which took place in Egypt. The potential for evil will be totally eradicated, and the Jewish people will never again be exiled.
In fact, the entire period of time from the Egyptian Exodus until the Future Redemption is described as "the days of your exodus from Egypt," for the exodus which began in Egypt will not be complete until the ultimate redemption is realized.
In practical terms, one must therefore anticipate the redemption and experience a foretaste of it in our daily lives by bringing a consciousness of Moshiach into all our actions, for doing so will act as a catalyst and hasten the actual coming of the redemption.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
PASS THE GEFILTE FISH
by Jonathan Hornblass
"What's the next song?" yelled Rabbi Avraham Zajac, the summer substitute at Lubavitch Hong Kong. "Come on, start one up, Jonathan."
I was transfixed. About two weeks before that Shabbat day, I arrived in Hong Kong, scared and shell-shocked. Even before I left New York, I had resigned myself to a year or two in Asia without much religion. And now, Rabbi Zajac was asking me to start a song? At least he didn't ask me to sing in Chinese, I thought.
Had you asked me before I got here whether I need chicken soup on Friday night, I would have responded, "No way." Ask me whether I would long for home and I would have laughed and said, "I am 22 years old; I can hack it." But ask me if I appreciated my new family in Hong Kong and I would grow stern and criticize you for wasting your words.
My new family, the Lubavitch community, provides the warmth and religion I need to feel at home in a foreign land--I should say, the religion I require to stay a Jew.
About two months ago, I boarded a Korean Air flight bound for Hong Kong. It was the first step in an adventure into the unknown of Asia. But, faithful to the "first step" stereotype, I was jobless, with little money and severely homesick. I reread my parents' farewell letter over and over again. Often, when I walked the streets of Hong Kong, I saw my father or my mother looking at a store window only to see they were just a mirage. But some people helped me adjust to my new life.
I stayed with a wonderful family for the first two weeks while I looked for work. I had minor successs getting a job as the end of my prescribed stay with this family approached. I had literally no place to go. I went to Chabad; I went home.
"More food?" someone groaned from the back of the room. I, for one, could not eat anymore. I must have eaten half a chicken, gefilte fish, and side dishes that seemed like they belonged in the main course.
While at journalism school, which I graduated in May, I decided to work as a foreign correspondent for a year or two. I chose to correspond from Hong Kong. With its steady flow of news (especially leading up to 1997), a plethora of English-language publications, and an ideal location, Hong Kong almost chose itself. But Hong Kong had one more very important criterion: When compared to other cities worldwide, there is a solid, albeit small, Jewish life here.
By "solid," I assumed an occasional Shabbat meal and maybe a market to buy some kosher meat. According to The Collins English Dic-tionary, solid (adj.) is described as, "substantial, as in solid ground." For me, Chabad is solid ground. I am now more observant of Torah and mitzvot than I was in New York City, where I was born. Why? Like others, I spent time at Chabad, first with the Zajac family and then, with the Avtzons.
The door is never locked. The refrigerator remains stocked, the air conditioner at full blast. Mary and Daisy, the gracious Chabad helpers, call every guest by their fist name.
"You can do whatever you want here," Rabbi Zajac said after I arrived.
"This is your home," Rabbi Avtzon added when he came back after a summer in New York and Israel.
I am not the only one. A corps of Hong Kongers, some alone, others new, come to Chabad for Judaism. A fellow who I learn with, came from Israel only to become religious here. "Rabbi Avtzon helped me a lot," he said. "He is the reason why I am here at this class." A young woman I know walks halfway across town to spend Shabbat with the Avtzons. And me, I pray that Chabad does not leave me.
"During your days and nights without the physical presence of your family, know that while in distance we are far away, we are with you," wrote my father in a book of Psalms that he slipped into my bag before I left New York. Little did I know that I had family waiting for me in Hong Kong.
"Come on, Jonathan, take some more food," the rabbi said from across the Shabbat table.
"O.K., pass me some more gefilte fish," I answered.
Reprinted from Life In the Far East, published by Chabad-Lubavitch of Hong Kong.
JEWISH FAMILY EXPO
A day of Jewish fun, excitement and educational entertainment is in store for everyone at the Jewish Family Expo. From January 24 through February 2, animated exhibits, a puppet show, a multi-media 3-D presentation, challah baking, sand painting, and much, much more. The Expo is open to the public on Saturday night, 8 p.m. - 1 a.m., Sunday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday is by appointment only. Tickets can be purchased in advance or at the door. For more information call Tzivos Hashem at (718) 367-6630.
A NEW AND PERFECT WORLD ORDER
A new course being offered at the Chabad Center of Rochester, New York is dealing with the topic of the day--Moshiach. The course will answer questions such as: Is Moshiach an escapist dream or reality? Why is this belief so crucial to Judaism? What can we expect? The class is every Tuesday from 8:10 p.m. to 9:10 p.m. For more info call (716) 271-0330.
MORE THAN JUST A LIBRARY
What has 10,000 audio-cassette tapes, 100,000 books, hundreds of periodicals, video-cassettes, in English, Hebrew and Yiddish, all on Jewish subjects? It's the Levi Yitzchok Library sponsored by the Lubavitch Youth Organization. The library, located at 305 Kingston Avenue, is open every day except Shabbat. For hours and more information call (718) 778-4598.
TOYS FOR TOTS
Toys for Tots, a division of the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education, visits children in hospitals throughout the New York Metropolitan Area each Chanuka. This year, over 1,000 children were visited in 18 hopsitals.
WHAT'S THE POINT?
From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Since you question the need to learn Chasidic Philosophy according to the Shulchan Aruch [The Code of Jewish Law], I will answer you, as briefly as possible, on the basis of your own criteria.
There are various kinds of mitzvot. There are, for example, compulsory mitzvot, and there are mitzvot incumbent under certain conditions only, which become compulsory when specific conditions prevail; and one is not obliged to create those conditions.
Six mitzvot, however, are not merely incumbent in one way or another, but their incumbency is constant, and they are obligatory on all Jews without exception, or, to quote: "their incumbency is constant; man is not free for a moment, all his life." They are mentioned in Sefer haChinuch: 1) To believe in G-d [the Rambam says to "know" G-d]; 2) Not to believe in any other thing; 3) To affirm His Unity; 4) To love Him; 5) To fear Him; and 6) Not to stray after the temptation of the heart and the vision of the eyes.
It is clear that to obtain the essential knowledge required to fulfill these six mitzvot it would be necessary to search through many different sources. And even after such a tremendous effort, one could not be sure that he had correctly understood the sources and had, therefore, formulated the right opinions and beliefs vis-a-vis the information gleaned.
Chasidic philosophy has done this. It has gleaned and collected from various sources the necessary knowledge, and presents it in a pure and concise form to all who wish to avail themselves of it.
Consider those six mitzvot. What does it mean to believe in G-d? If we come to define belief in G-d, we will have to admit that a child's belief in G-d is adequate for a child, though he imagines G-d to be a big, strong man, with powerful arms, something like his father, but perhaps, more so. But what would we think of an adult who has such an idea of G-d? For this contradicts one of the basic principles of our faith --that G-d is neither a body, nor a form in a body, etc.
Or, consider the mitzva of being constantly aware that there is no reality outside of Him. This involves the principle that "there is no place devoid of Him" (Zohar), for if one would admit a separate, independent existence, it again would be in direct conflict with our faith, as explained also in the Rambam.
Similarly, in regard to the mitzva to always bear in mind that G-d is one and unchangeable. This goes hand in hand with the belief that G-d created the world, and yet G-d remained the same after Creation as He was before Creation, and that the plurality of things does not imply, G-d forbid, a plurality in Him.
Suppose Mr. A. comes to Mr. B. and offers to give him a deeper understanding of these highly abstruse subjects which are so remote from the ordinary mind, yet which have to be borne in mind constantly. Consider that Mr. B. does not wish to be bothered, being quite content with his childish image of G-d. This would not be merely foregoing a hiddur [enhancement] of a mitzva, but it would be the renounciation of the mitzva entirely. For having the brain and the ability to acquire the necessary knowledge about G-d, yet refusing to make use of them, is tantamount to willful refusal to comply with the mitzva.
Likewise with regard to the commandments to love and fear Him. Surely it is impossible really to love or fear anything without at least some knowledge of that thing, as is also alluded to in the Rambam.
Finally, the same is true of the sixth mitzva--not to go astray after the heart and eyes. For, insofar as a spiritually mature person is concerned, the commandment surely does not refer to only carnal temptation and crude idolatry, but primarily that one should have a heart and eyes only to see in the world what is truly to be seen and to think what are truly good thoughts. However, to cultivate such vision as to see the inner content and reality of the world, and to train the heart to dwell only on the good and true--this is a very difficult attainment requiring tremendous effort, as explained in Kuntres Etz HaChayim. Nevertheless, everyone is commanded to attain all that he is capable of attaining, according to his mental capacity. And when it says, "according to his capacity," it should be remembered that "a rich man who brings a poor man's offering, has not fulfilled his obligation," and there is "no riches and poverty except when it refers to the mind,"--potential intelligence.
I trust you will not take offence if I ask, do you really think you can fully carry out the mitzva of "You shall love G-d, your G-d"--which is to be performed not by uttering a verbal formula, but with heartfelt feeling --if your knowledge of G-d is only from what you have learned in the Talmud or Shulchan Aruch, etc.?
Needless to say, all of the above is not for the purpose of causing you pain, but in the hope that it may bring you to realize that it is the Yetzer Hara [the inclination toward evil] that is inventing peculiar reasons to discourage you from learning Chasidut, thereby not merely preventing you from knowing what is taking place in the "supernal worlds," as you put it, but preventing you from fulfilling actual constant mitzvot. But of course, the Yetzer Hara does his work "faithfully." He will not come and tell you not to observe those six mitzvot; he is too "smart" for that. Instead, he will tell you, "What good will it do you to know what is happening in the Higher Worlds?"!
Let me add that the Vilna Gaon (not only Rabbi Shneur Zalman [founder of the Chabad Chasidic movement], mind you) writes that those who do not learn Pinimiyut haTorah [the innermost parts of the Torah] prolong the Exile and delay the Redemption, and that without knowledge of Pnimiyut HaTorah it is impossible to know properly the revealed Torah.
What does the groom say when he places the ring on the bride's finger?
The groom says, "Behold, you are sanctified to me with this ring according to the laws of Moses and Israel." This means that as the laws of Moses and Israel are of Divine origin and are true, so, will the marriage be sanctified and true.
This coming Sunday (January 17) is the 24th of Tevet, the yartzeit of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Chasidic philosophy.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman opened a new path which allowed the teaching of the previously hidden aspects of the Torah--Pnimiyut HaTorah--to be comprehended through the intellect and thus reveal additional G-dliness within the world.
But Rabbi Shneur Zalman was not only a master in the area of the more esoteric aspects of the Torah. Even as a child he was considered a great scholar of the revealed parts of the Torah--nigle d'Torah, as well.
This quality of Rabbi Shneur Zalman's is alluded to in his name, Shneur, which can be broken up in to two Hebrew words, "Shnei" and "ohr" which mean two lights. He illuminated the world with his greatness in the two lights of the Torah.
In Rabbi Shneur Zalman's magnum opus, Tanya, he writes: "The Messianic Era... is the fulfillment and culmination of the creation of the world, for which purpose it was originally created. This means that our spiritual service will reach its full completion only with the arrival of Moshiach. Thus, the fulfillment and culmination of the entire creation will take place when Moshiach is revealed.
The entire purpose, in fact, of the revelation of Chasidic philosophy was to hasten and prepare the world for the Messianic Era.
Thus, when each one of us studies Chasidut, whether the more sublime aspects or the most esoteric concepts, we prepare ourselves and the world around us for Moshiach.
Reb Zalman Senders was one of the prominent chasidim of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. He was a very successful merchant who was openhanded in his philanthropy with both family and strangers. Then, suddenly his business dealings began to fail one after the other. Things finally came to such a terrible point that he became completely bankrupt.
His debtors swarmed around him demanding repayment, and his problems overwhelmed him. To complicate things further, he had two daughters of marriageable age as well as several poor relatives who also needed suitable matches. What could he do? He decided to take his problems to his rebbe, and so he set out for Liadi.
He arrived late in the evening, and after reciting the prayers with a minyan, he sat down to wait his turn for a private reception with the Rebbe. When he was finally ushered into the Rebbe's study he poured out his heart, relating all that had befallen him, how all of his various business endeavors had failed and left him penniless.
"Rebbe," he said, "if it is will of Heaven that I be reduced to poverty, I am ready to accept the decree with love, but if I am unable to pay off my debts and marry off my daughter and the other young girls who are looking to me for their salvation, then I cannot accept it. For in that case it would be a desecration of the Divine Name (a Chillul Hashem). It is one thing if G-d has decided to punish me in this manner, but why should He do it in a way that brings shame to His honor? The one thing that I ask is that I be allowed to pay all of my creditors and find suitable matches for my daughters and young relatives. After that, I am willing to live in poverty forever, if that is the will of G-d."
Rabbi Shneur Zalman was listening intently to Reb Zalman Senders' recitation of his terrible problems. When it had finished he looked deep into the eyes of his brokenhearted chasid and said: "You certainly know how to talk about all the things that you need, but you have no interest whatsoever in what you might be needed for!"
Poor Reb Zalman Senders felt as if he had been pierced through the heart by his Rebbe's words. He gasped inaudibly and fell down in a faint. Chasidim, hearing the thud on the floor, rushed over to him to try to revive him. One offered water, another, vodka, but when Reb Zalman regained consciousness he had no need for anything. When he rose to his feet he was radiant with joy and infused with a new approach to life.
His put all of his problems behind him and instead focused his energy into learning Torah, both the revealed and the mystical aspects. He attended every lecture that was given, prayed with great fervor. All of his actions were infused with the deep-felt happiness and contentment of a man who is at peace with his lot.
The following Shabbat, Rabbi Shneur Zalman delivered his lecture on Kabbalistic concepts. He also used the occasion to pray on behalf of his chasid, Zalman Senders who sat listening to the Rebbe's every word. It was as if the Rebbe's prayers entered Reb Zalman's heart even as they ascended to the higher realms, for in the course of his stay in Liadi, Reb Zalman attained the strength to overcome all of his difficulties.
It was one week later that the Rebbe blessed him and instructed Reb Zalman to return to his home. Upon his arrival he resumed his normal routine and sure enough, his business began to pick up. Within a relatively short length of time, he had rebuilt his life and was thriving even more so than before.
When word reached Rabbi Shneur Zalman about the good fortune his chasid was once again enjoying he quoted a passage from his masterwork, The Tanya, in reference to the subject of trials and tribulations: "When one is at any time bothered by mundane worries,...it is the appropriate time to transform the sadness by becoming a 'master of accounts' (spiritual 'accounts'),...and to act on the counsel of the Sages' to constantly excite the Good Inclination against the Evil Inclination. In that way he will eliminate the melancholy engendered by the mundane problems, and then, he will attain true joy."
And he saw an Egyptian man smiting a Hebrew man (Ex. 2:11)
Every word in the Bible has an eternal, spiritual meaning as well as a literal significance. The word "Egypt" (Mitzrayim) is linguistically related to the word for limitations and boundaries; the "Egyptian man" therefore, symbolizes the physical body, which does all in its power to gain control over the soul, the "Hebrew man."
Moses' actions teach us that when one sees a Jew in danger of losing the battle between body and soul to his lower, physical nature, one must not remain silent. The Moses in every generation gives us the strength to overcome all obstacles and save the Jewish soul.
(Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polnoye)
And behold, two Hebrew men were striving together, and he said to the wicked one, "Why are you smiting your fellow?" (Ex. 2:13)
When Jews fight amongst themselves, at a time when great hatred and animosity is directed toward the Jewish people by non-Jews, and Gentiles are allowed to freely vent their rage on Jews unimpeded, this is the greatest wickedness.
And G-d saw the Children of Israel, and G-d knew (Ex. 2:25)
When G-d saw that the Jews were persisting in their faith--retaining their Jewish names, their distinctive manner of dress and their Jewish language--despite the terrible adversity they encountered in Egypt, He took cognizance of them and brought about their exodus.
(Maayana Shel Torah)
Now go, and I will send you to Pharaoh, and you will bring forth My people, the Children of Israel, out of Egypt (Ex. 3:10)
The physical presence of the redeemer does not necessarily signal the redemption itself, as Moses, the first redeemer of the Jews, was physically present in Egypt prior to the actual exodus.
Likewise, Moshiach, the final redeemer of the Jewish people, will also arrive some time prior to the actual redemption and the ushering in of the Messianic Era.
On the verse, "Remember the Shabbat to sanctify it," Rashi writes: "Take heed to remember the Shabbat constantly, so that if you encounter something special [such as a delicacy, in the course of the week], set it aside for Shabbat." The same applies to the future Redemption. Even when we are still in the weekdays of the Exile, we should constantly keep in mind and prepare for the Redemption, for "the Day which is entirely Shabbat and repose for life everlasting."