A Little Light | A Slice of Life | Living With The Times | Insights
A Word from the Director | It Once Happened | Thoughts that Count | Moshiach Matters
Long, long ago in a small town in Russia, a group of chasidim were intent upon fulfilling their Rebbe's words. He had told them to go down into the pitch-black cellar to get rid of the darkness and they were attempting this seemingly simple feat.
But how exactly should they do it? they wondered.
"Go downstairs with sticks and beat the darkness away," the Rebbe told them.
The chasidim dutifully went to the cellar and started to beat at the darkness. Of course, it did no good and they soon returned to their Rebbe for his advice once more.
"Go back downstairs and this time scream and yell and shout the darkness away."
The chasidim went back downstairs. "Away darkness!" they shouted. "Begone with you!" they cried out. "Leave this place forever!" they screamed.
But nothing happened. And so, they returned to their Rebbe.
This time, the Rebbe gave them another suggestion.
"Go downstairs and light a candle."
The chasidim went downstairs and lit a candle. And the once dark cellar was filled with light--for a little light dispels even the blackest darkness.
This Friday we celebrate the 91st birthday of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, shlita. The Rebbe's approach is typified by the above story; his outlook is the ultimate in living with a positive perspective--bringing more light, joy, and good into the world.
The Rebbe, as the Moses of our generation, leads by example. He lights candles. He ignites and tends "G-d's candle which is one's soul" in each of us--always in the most positive, loving manner. And by doing so he enables everyone to light his or her own candles to help dispel the darkness.
The ultimate candle lighting is the campaign initiated by the Rebbe two years ago to educate the world about Moshiach and the imminence of the Redemption. For, the Era of the Redemption is likened to the light that comes after the darkness. And the Redemption is hastened and brought into this world through each one of us going around lighting candles--doing positive activities, being kind, being cheerful, performing another mitzva, enhancing one's Jewish education in general, and in the area of Moshiach and the Redemption in particular.
Light a candle today. Do it to dispel some of the darkness around you. Do it for yourself. Do it as a birthday present for the Rebbe. Do it for the hastening of the Redemption. Do it!
THE REBBE'S BLESSINGS
by Moshe Cheshin, translated from the Israeli newspaper, Maariv
The religious community in Jerusalem was recently astounded by an amazing story concerning the Rebbe of Lubavitch, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. The Rebbe is famous for enabling childless couples to conceive with his blessings for fertility. At first, this story was known only to a few people, but later it became the talk of the town.
The story revolves around a couple who had been childless for seventeen years. The woman had already been treated by the best doctors and professors in Israel. She had tried all the remedies, natural and supernatural. She spared no effort, but nothing helped. The couple visited various rabbis and sages, asking for a blessing for children. They had even discussed starting new lives, separately. In fact they had been at the point of requesting a divorce.
A friend advised them to write a letter to the Rebbe before they took this last, drastic step. They rushed a letter to the Rebbe, pouring out their bitterness and begging him for a blessing for children. With nervous anticipation they awaited the response. Ten days later, the hoped-for letter arrived from New York. With trembling hands and pounding hearts they opened it and pored over every word. A glimmer of light shone in their eyes. "The Rebbe instructs me to check my tefilin," the man said to his wife.
The man took his tefilin, and he and his wife went straight to a scribe who lived nearby. They followed the scribe's work with great anxiety. Nervous silence filled the workroom. Not two minutes passed before the scribe jumped from his seat as if bitten by a snake. He held his head in his hands and shouted, "Look what I see!"
The couple were amazed at what they saw. "Look at that! An entire word is missing! An entire word. And look at which word--rechem." He repeated the word slowly, emphasizing each letter.
The man turned pale. In the very first verse of the section beginning with the words "Sanctify for me the firstborn--peter rechem--of your animals." The word "rechem," which means "womb" was missing. Trepidation was soon replaced with joy. It appeared that this was the solution to the mystery of their years of childlessness.
He told the scribe to prepare new tefilin parchment for him on the spot. Then he sent a thank you letter to the Rebbe, describing what had happened. A second letter quickly came from the Rebbe, containing a blessing for children. The Rebbe wrote that he was now sure that the couple would be able to fulfill the words of the verse fully.
A short time later, the woman joyously informed her husband that she was pregnant.
A few months ago, a baby boy was born to the happy couple.
News of this wonder quickly spread through Jerusalem and made a deep impression in many circles. People began bringing in their tefilin for inspection, and scribes were willing to check tefilin free of charge. In fact, I have been told by those who were involved in the campaign that many tefilin were found to be missing letters, or words, or to have extra letters. In one case, they even found a pair of tefilin that had photocopies inside. They have now been replaced with tefilin written by hand on parchment as required by Jewish law.
The following took place on Shabbat, the seventh of Tevet, 5729--1969.
It was the middle of the afternoon at 770, World Lubavitch Headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. Close to two thousand people were packed into the main Chabad synagogue, listening intently to the Rebbe's words.
On that Shabbat, the Rebbe was explaining a comment of the Biblical scholar Rashi regarding the birth of the tribes of Israel. He raised a number of questions concerning Rashi's comment, then began his explanation, resolving the difficulties one by one. The congregation sat open-mouthed, drinking in the Rebbe's novel explanations. They were already familiar with the Rebbe's amazing approach to explaining Rashi's commentary on the Torah. He elaborated his questions with such clarity and depth that it seemed as if there could be no solutions. Then, when he offered the solution, it seemed impossible that there could have been any question to begin with.
In the middle of the list of questions, the Rebbe' s tone of voice suddenly changed. Instead of the sing-song tune of a Torah explanation, the Rebbe suddenly raised his voice and said, "Since we are now in the time of year between Chanuka and Purim, about which the verse states, 'The Jews ruled over their enemies... and no man stood before them, for their fear had fallen on all the peoples,' may it be G-d's will that all the enemies of the Jewish people should be overtaken with fear and cause no harm to the Jewish people, wherever they may be!"
The words made no sense. Why was the Rebbe quoting verses from the Scroll of Esther all of a sudden. A week had passed since the end of Chanuka, but there were still months to go until Purim. Why was there such a drastic change in his tone of voice? The surprised chasidim looked at one another. Even the rabbi in charge of reviewing the talk and explaining it again for those who did not understand every idea sat there pulling at his long beard. He could not explain what was going on.
One could easily see that something significant was taking place. The Rebbe had closed his eyes and continued talking as if he had been transported to another place: "And the Jews smote their enemies with the sword... and did with their enemies as they pleased... and these days will be remembered and observed in every generation... and these days of Purim will not pass from the Jews and their memory will not leave their seed.'"
Then, as if nothing had happened, the Rebbe returned to Rashi, answered all the questions he had posed, and concluded the talk.
Still under the influence of the Rebbe's strange words, the congregation broke out in a song from the Scroll of Esther: "And it was in the days of Ahasuerus." The Rebbe encouraged the singing, waving his hand more and more.
The gathering was over. Chasidim stood around discussing what they had heard with their own ears. Something had definitely happened. Right after Shabbat they would try to find out. They must know.
The first people who ran home and heard the radio reports from Israel right after Shabbos were shocked:
"This is Israel radio, reporting from Jerusalem. Good morning, here is the news read by Chanan Gilboa. Last night, at 10:00 p.m. the Israel Defense Forces attacked Beirut International Airport. The operation was a success. All soldiers returned safely."
Yes, it was exactly 3:00 p.m., New York time--the moment the Rebbe had interrupted his words and began to speak about the verse, "...and no man stood before them..."
Indeed, no man had stood before the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces.
From the book Wonders and Miracles of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
"On the Shabbat before Passover, the rabbi shall teach and explain the laws of Passover," states the Code of Jewish Law. This refers to the traditional sermon given on Shabbat Hagadol--the Great Sabbath, a link with olden days when "people from all the surrounding villages would gather together to learn the laws of the upcoming holiday."
Must the Rabbi include anything specific in his sermon? The Code answers: "The most important thing is that he expound upon and show them the ways of G-d, and teach them the deeds which they must do."
Obviously, the "deeds which they must do" refers to the cleaning, nullification of leaven, baking of matza, preparations for the Seder, and other practical matters pertaining to Passover. But what is meant by "the ways of G-d"?
A "way," or path, is only a means of reaching a particular goal. The path we choose to get there is not an end in itself, but only a necessary means by which we may arrive at our destination. Therefore, the "ways of G-d" are not the Torah and mitzvot themselves, for these are the ultimate goal. "The ways of G-d" must, accordingly, refer to anything which will lead us to a more observant and religious life.
Love and awe of G-d are the two main paths that lead us to a fuller life of Torah and mitzvot. It is these two emotions which infuse our service of G-d with the proper joy and delight. The Torah and mitzvot themselves are our objective, but it is the love and reverence we feel for G-d that ensures that our actions will be performed in the most perfect manner possible.
"A mitzva performed without the proper intention is like a body without a soul," say our Sages. Of course, the most important thing, in any event, is that the mitzva gets done, however lofty our intentions or ulterior our motives may be, because a mitzva connects an individual to G-d and brings holiness down into the physical world.
But G-d wants Jews to rejoice in His Torah and do His mitzvot with zeal and enthusiasm, not with an eye to fulfilling only the barest minimum prescribed by law. That is why our emotions play such an important part in our observance, and why we are obligated to reflect on the greatness and glory of G-d, to lead us to the proper awe and respect.
This Shabbat, when the rabbi delivers his sermon, he will deliver more than a dry recitation of the minutiae of practical Torah law. Rather, he will endeavor to infuse the congregation with the positive feelings that are the "ways of G-d," which bring us to the perfection in our service that we seek. For it is only with a happy heart and with true joy in being a part of the Chosen People that we may celebrate the coming festival of Pesach to the fullest.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
SEIZE THE OPPORTUNITY
From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Passover is the first day of Jewish independence, and the first festival in the history of our Jewish people. It is first in rank and significance, for it brought the liberation of our people from enslavement and made it possible for them to live a free and independent life as a nation, governed only by the Torah and its commandments dictated by G-d alone.
As such, Passover is especially meaningful for our Jewish people, and for every Jew individually, at all times and in all places. For this reason, also, every aspect of the festival, and every detail attending the historical exodus from Egypt, has a special significance in the way of a timeless message and practical instruction for the individual, the community and our people as a whole.
One of the important details of the exodus from Egypt is the haste with which the exodus took place. When the hour of liberation struck, the Jewish people left Egypt at once, losing not a moment, or, as our Sages express it--not even a wink of an eye. They add, moreover, that if the Jewish people had tarried and missed that auspicious moment, the opportunity for liberation would have been lost forever.
This seems incomprehensible, for it was already after the ten plagues, which had prompted the Egyptians to virtually expel the Jews from their land. The situation was thus "well in hand." Why, then, was the haste of the moment so important? And how is one to understand the statement of our Sages that if that moment had been missed, the whole liberation would have been in jeopardy?
Above all, what practical lesson is contained in this detail, so that the Torah (Torah meaning "instruction"), makes a point of revealing it to us with particular emphasis?
The explanation is as follows: When the end of the road of exile is reached, and the moment of liberation from the "abomination of the Egypt" arises, the opportunity must be seized at once. There must be no tarrying, even for an instant--not even for "the wink of an eye."
The danger of forfeiting the opportunity lay not in the possibility of the Egyptians changing their minds, but in the possibility that some Jews might change their minds, being loath to leave their accustomed way of life in Egypt, to go out into the desert to receive the Torah.
The practical lesson for every Jew, man or woman, young or old, is that the exodus from Egypt, as it is to be experienced in day-to-day life, is the personal release from subservience to the dictates of the body and the animal in man. It is the release from the passions and habits within, as well as from the materialistic environment without. This release can be achieved only by responding to the continual Divine call, the call of the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, seeking out the "oppressed and enslaved," and promising: "I shall redeem you from bondage... that I may be G-d unto you." As at the time of the first liberation, true freedom is conditioned upon the acceptance of the Torah and mitzvot.
This call for freedom never ceases. The exodus from Egypt must be achieved every day; each day the opportunity beckons anew.
Unfortunately, there are individuals who tarry and consign the opportunity to the "three solemn days" of the year, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur; others, at best, postpone it for Shabbat and Yom Tov; still others, who recall and experience the exodus in their daily prayer, fail to extend it to every aspect of the daily life.
What is true of the individual is also true on the community and national levels, except that on these levels the missed opportunities are, of course, even more far-reaching and catastrophic.
As in the days of our ancestors in Egypt whose exodus was not delayed even for a moment, whereby they attained full liberation of the body and full liberation of the spirit (with the acceptance of the Torah at Sinai, which was the purpose and goal of the exodus): May G-d grant that every Jew and Jewess seize the extraordinary opportunity of the present moment, to achieve self-liberation and to help others in the same direction. And may they be liberated from all manner of bondage, internal and external, and above all, liberation from the most dismal bondage of all--the idea of "Let's be like the rest."
May they return to the way of the Torah and mitzvot in the fullest measure, and thus merit the fulfillment of the promise: When the Jewish people return, they are redeemed at once, with the true and complete redemption through our righteous Moshiach.
It is a Jewish custom to say daily the chapter of Psalms corresponding to one's age.
This Friday, 11 Nisan, is the 91st birthday of the Rebbe, shlita. Jews worldwide will begin saying Psalm 92 in the Rebbe's honor.
Psalm 92 begins, "A song for the Sabbath Day." The Psalm is dedicated to the future world, described by our Sages as "the day which is completely Sabbath."
In addition to the many allusions to the exile and the redemption in the Psalm itself, there is also an entire section that deals with the personality and sterling characteristics of the tzadik. "A righteous person will flourish like a date palm, like a cedar in Lebanon he will grow tall. Planted in the House of G-d, in the courtyards of our G-d they will flourish. They will still be fruitful in old age, full of sap and freshness they will be."
Why, of all of the numerous types of trees, is the tzadik likened to a date palm and a cedar?
The Midrash explains that the palm grows straight just as the tzadik remains upright and honest. The wood of the palm tree is free of knots just as the tzadik is free of flaws. Every part of the palm tree is useful: its fruits, its leaves and fronds and its wood. Similarly, each tzadik fulfills his special purpose completely.
Like a cedar tree, whose wood is especially suitable to make furnishings, the tzadik makes of himself a "vessel" for G-dliness. Also, if a cedar is felled, its roots and stump remain alive and a new cedar sprouts in its place. Similarly, righteousness is indestructible; if a tzadik is harmed, he will only grow stronger.
Thus, the tzadik has the advantages of both the palm and the cedar. In addition, though, the tzadik--like all Jews--also has the advantage of being "planted" in G-d's House; his source and roots are in G-d Himself.
"They will still be fruitful in old age, full of sap and freshness they will be." The Mishna explains that as a Torah scholar ages his mind becomes clearer. In fact, it was not until Moses was 80 that he accepted the call of G-d to lead the Jews out of Egypt. At that point, he suddenly discovered that in the merit of accepting this mission, his youthful vigor was renewed. Up until then, he had grown physically weaker with age.
May we merit, very soon, that the Rebbe lead the Jewish people to the final Redemption and that in this merit his health and youthful vigor be renewed.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
The men sat together, crowded and bent in the large prison room. It was a common ward for Jews and Poles who were locked up for diverse and unusual reasons. Among the prisoners was an aging Rabbi caught by the Germans teaching Torah to his students in a secret basement.
In that dull, harsh dungeon everything had a dingy gray cast about it, as well as an aura of timelessness. It was impossible to distinguish between day and night. There were neither days of work nor days of rest, but rather each day brought with it its own torture. The only way to note the passage of time was by the arrival of the guards who came in to take one of the prisoners on his last ominous walk.
One day the entire jail room was aroused. Through the high, narrow window penetrated a pale ray of light. At that moment, the voice of the Rabbi was heard as he called out, "Gut Yom Tov, Jews! Why are you so quiet? Today is Passover! It's the first seder night!"
All the prisoners, including the Poles, treated the Rabbi with respect. He, the Rabbi, knew the reckoning of the Sabbaths and the weekdays, and even of day and night, and he would pray quietly, morning, afternoon and evening. At the time of even the most terrible tortures he would draw joy from his hidden, inner wellspring. This time he apparently sought to share his joy with all the Jews in the jail.
Some derisive remarks were heard in the crowd. "Nu, a Seder yet!" "Nu...and four cups of wine? Or at least one sip..." "And a piece of matza, if only for remembrance..."
The Rabbi did not seem to hear them. "My dear brother, Jews! The Hagada I know by heart. What does it say in the beginning of the Hagada?--`This year we are here, next year may we be in the Land of Israel! This year we are slaves, next year may we be free men!' Do you hear? We Jews, we are not slaves! A man is only a slave if he admits it, and we do not admit it! Next year free men, Jews!" The Jewish prisoners, old and young, religious and free-thinking, began to gather around the old Rabbi who had stirred them up, infusing them with hope for deliverance. At one corner of the room a "Seder table" was set up. There was no sign of the holiday, not even a single solitary candle, only the festive voice of the Rabbi reciting the story of the Exodus.
The old man recited the words of the Hagada and the entire assemblage repeated them after him, as if they had all been transported to an enchanted world.
Suddenly the chanting stopped. The Polish prisoners seemed to have been startled by the strange scene in front of their eyes. Some of them jumped up from their seats, madly furious. "That's Jewish impudence for you! Bojnitza (synagogue) you are making here?"
The head of the guards, a Storm Trooper, came in with a few soldiers. "Jews!" he snapped. "You can still think of praying and singing!"
And he turned to the loudest of the Polish prisoners and said to him, "Keep an eye on them! I appoint you supervisor of all the inmates. I have no time or patience for them now. But tomorrow I will let them have it."
An oppressive silence ensued. Even the organizer of the ruckus did not feel at ease. The voice of the Rabbi broke the silence, soft and tremulous. "Woe to him who of his own free will becomes a slave to the wicked."
"Shame on you, hiring yourself out to the henchman!" One of the young men suddenly stood up and faced the new "supervisor" of the jail.
After a long pause a voice was heard "Go ahead and pray as much as you want. It was the new "supervisor." A moment later he added, "But at least explain to me what you are saying with such enthusiasm!"
"By all means!" the young man responded. "That old man will continue and I will explain his words in Polish, so that everyone may understand."
The Seder celebration was resumed with renewed vigor.
"And this, this great faith, is what has kept the Jews going during the most difficult times of oppression, 'that not only one foe,' not only one Hitler has arisen to destroy us, but in every generation new enemies rise to wipe us off the face of the earth."
"We, the Polish people, we too are persecuted! We also have enemies on all sides!" the chief screamer interrupted him, all excited and agitated. "Boys! he turned to his Polish brethren, "listen to these wise words! The main thing is not to lose faith and hope! Let's learn from the Zhidki..."
Jews and Poles sat huddled together, listening to more of the story. "Aha!" the Pole interrupted in excitement, "how similar that history is to what is happening around us!"
"Blood, and fire, and billows of smoke...".
"Forgive me, old man," said the loud-mouthed supervisor. "You are a holy man," and he threw himself at the feet of the Rabbi.
The old man looked at him with eyes full of compassion, and began singing an old Chasidic folk song in Polish. Slowly, all of them, Jews and Poles, learned the old man's tune, and the melody passed from mouth to mouth, from heart to heart.
Suddenly, a shot was fired, and all eyes turned to the wide door. There stood a guard, gun in hand, mad with anger. "You are having a party, eh? To bed, or I'll empty all my bullets into your heads!"
No one was afraid of him. And no one, Jew or Pole, slept all night.
It was Layl Shimurim, the night of Pesach, a Night of Watching.
Excerpted with permission from Sparks of Glory, Moshe Prager, Mesorah Publications.
This is the law...and of the sacrifice of the peace offerings (Lev. 7:37)
The Rabbi of Lublin used to say: It is far better to have an imperfect peace than a perfect controversy. It is preferable to live in peace with one's neighbor, even if that peace is only superficial and not with a full heart, than to engage in controversy, however well intended.
Why is the chapter "Where were the places of sacrifice in the Holy Temple" included in our daily liturgy? One of the most important things we pray for is peace, and this chapter is the only one in the Mishna in which there is no controversy between the Sages.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev used to say: Every minute detail of ritual law our people adheres to on Passover is dear to G-d, not the least of which is the painstaking cleaning of the house and preparation of the dishes and utensils which precede the holiday. This brings great merit to the Jewish people and nullifies the evil plans of those who hate us. He would see all the hard work being done--cleaning, polishing and kashering--he would say, "May it be G-d's will that the heavenly angels created by all this scraping, cleansing, washing and scouring appear before the Heavenly Throne and argue favorably for the Jewish people."
(Maayana Shel Torah)
"Moses, the first redeemer of the Jews, was known as the redeemer 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."