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It's like a particle of dust in your eye, or a speck of coal in a diamond. Sometimes even the tiniest, teensiest thing seems to make big problems.
Which is why, when you think about it, it's not at all surprising that the ego can make such big problems. Of course, you and I know that it's not our ego making the problems. We only have a little ego, just big enough to encourage us to be goal oriented, take pride in our work, not be a doormat for the other guy. But the other guy--our neighbor, spouse, boss, co-worker--now he/she has a real ego problem!
Read on about how one person's ego got in the way, in a big way.
This Shabbat afternoon, in Chapters of the Fathers we read: "Whoever causes the many to have merit, no sin shall come through him; but one who causes the many to sin shall not be granted the opportunity to repent. Moses was himself meritorious and caused the many to attain merit, therefore, the merit of the many are attributed to him.... Yaravam ben Nevat himself sinned and caused the many to sin, therefore the sins of the many are attributed to him."
Our Sages have taught: "G-d disqualifies no one, but welcomes all; the gates of repentance are open at all times; whoever wants to enter may enter."
Yet, so great a travesty is it when one leads others to sin that "one who causes the many to sin shall not be granted the opportunity to repent."
There was, however, one exception--the very same Yaravam ben Nevat mentioned above.
The prophet Achiya prophesied to Yaravam that he would eventually be the king of ten of the tribes of Israel. Upon King Solomon's death, Yaravam successfully led a revolt against the king's successor.
Eventually, to distance his kingdom from the other two tribes, Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, Yaravam set up altars and encouraged idol worship. Thus, "Yaravam ben Nevat himself sinned and caused the many to sin."
For various reasons which we won't go into now, G-d chose to give Yaravam the chance to rectify his sins. But this unique opportunity was not all that G-d was offering. "Repent," G-d urged Yaravam. "And then I, and you and ben Yishai [King David] will walk together in the Garden of Eden." (Talmud, Sanhedrin)
And here's where the ego comes in. For, though Yaravam should have been overwhelmed with gratitude to G-d for giving him this unprecedented opportunity to repent, though he had led millions of Jews astray, he asked one very simple but very egotistical question. "Who will go first? I or ben Yishai?"
Hadn't Yaravam just been told by G-d that he would go first? Hadn't he, for that matter, just been given the most amazing opportunity to repent? And, addition, to walk together with G-d and King David in the Garden of Eden?
From Yaravam's query we see that he didn't have a problem with repenting per se, nor with belief in G-d versus idols. His problem was his ego.
Yaravam was demanding assurance. "Who will go first? I or ben Yishai?"
So G-d told Yaravam, "Ben Yishai will go first."
And Yaravam replied, "Then I will not repent."
Yaravam had it all! He had the unheard-of opportunity to repent--though the gates of repentance were locked to the likes of him. He had the opportunity to bring his entire generation to repentance. He had the opportunity to walk together with G-d and King David in the Garden of Eden.
But he could not put aside his ego long enough to accept G-d's offer.
"Who will go first? I or ben Yishai?"
Yaravam was the proverbial "other guy" who has the ego problem. But, of course, we would never have let our egos get in the way. For that matter, we would never let our egos get in the way of accepting G-d's magnanimous offers that He presents to us each day: Like the chance to be honestly happy for someone who just had some good luck; to hold one's tongue and smile instead of speaking ill of someone; to do any of dozens of mitzvot that come our way in the course of a day. You and I would never let our egos stand in the way of walking together with G-d and King David in the Garden of Eden!
Bechukotai, one of this week's two Torah portions, contains the curses and punishments to be inflicted on the Jewish people if they do not obey G-d. Even a casual reading of these misfortunes in the Torah makes our hair stand on end. Chasidic philosophy, however, teaches that by delving more deeply into the meaning of these curses we can understand that they are actually blessings.
Furthermore, these "curses" are not only blessings, but blessings of such a high order that they can only manifest themselves in their seemingly opposite form!
A perfect illustration of this concept is found in the Talmud. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai once sent his son to two Sages for a blessing. When his son returned he complained that the Sages had cursed him. "What did they say?" asked Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. "You shall sow, but not reap," answered the son. The father patiently explained that the rabbis had meant that he should grow to be the father of many children who would be healthy and strong and not die during their father's lifetime. Likewise, every example the son gave of the rabbis' "curses" were similarly interpreted to contain great blessings.
But why did the rabbis go through the trouble of disguising their good intentions in such a convoluted manner? Chasidut explains that ultimate good is sometimes clothed in an outer garment of its exact opposite, precisely because it is too lofty to come into this world in any other form.
If, then, the rabbis' blessings were so lofty that they had to be "disguised" as curses, how did Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai recognize their true content?
The Tanya explains that everything we perceive as evil in this world is, in reality, so good that we cannot absorb it in its true form (much in the way that an intense light hurts the eyes if one looks directly at its source). This good therefore takes the form of human suffering, just as we avert our eyes from a brightness which is too intense.
This, however, is only true at the present time. When Moshiach comes, the concealed good hidden within our afflictions will be revealed for what it is--utter and absolute blessing.
A Jew must, therefore, always accept whatever is decreed from Above, for when Moshiach comes we will see that the suffering of the exile was in truth a good of such magnitude that it could only be bestowed in such a way.
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai possessed a soul capable of discerning this truth even before the coming of Moshiach. Likewise, Chasidut affords us a "taste" of the Messianic Era, enabling us to understand these inner truths which will soon become apparent, speedily in our days.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
The following interview was done by former Knesset Member Geula Cohen in 1964 when she was a writer for one of Israel's leading newspapers.
I have been in the company of wise men, men of great learning and intelligence, men who were superior artists. But sitting opposite a true believer is quite a different matter. After having met a wise man you remain the same as before, you have become neither less of a fool nor more of a sage. The education of the man of learning hardly rubs off on you, nor does the artist endow you with any of his talents or inspiration. Not so with a believer. After having met him you are no longer the same. Though you may not have accepted his faith, you have nevertheless been embraced by it; for the true believer has faith in you as well.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe is both wise and learned, but above all, he is a man of faith. And if faith be the art of truth, he is also an artist whose creation is the army of believers that he commands, the army of the Jewish faith, of the G-d of Israel and the People of Israel.
"At 11 o'clock at night?" I repeated, when told by Rabbi Hodakov, the Rebbe's senior secretary, that this was the time of my appointment, for I was sure I had not heard right.
"Tomorrow, at 11 p.m.," came the laconic reply.
I duly turned up at 11 p.m...
I start by introducing myself. Except that it isn't necessary. The Rebbe knows more about me than I might be able to tell him. He knows not only what I have done, but what I ought to have done; not only what I am doing now, but what I am not doing and should do. His disciples had told me that he reads the papers every day and takes a lively interest in Israel, but it was a little frightening nevertheless.
"I understand that you are writing for the press now. Well, that's all right, but it isn't the main thing. The young generation is the main thing. One has to talk to young people, not write for them. Why is nobody talking to them? They are being addressed in lofty speeches, but nobody talks to them, and then people are surprised that they remain indifferent.
"What youth is waiting for is an order which must be given in the same voice and tone in which all the great commands were issued to the People of Israel. They may obey or they may not, but that is what they are waiting for. But there is no commander to issue that order. Where are they all? No salvation can come from those who walk on the beaten path, but only from those who break new ground. Where are those who at one time knew how to issue commands? Forces that have once existed will exist for ever. Therefore I believe in the everlasting force of the Jewish people. Whatever forces there may once have been in its youth still exist and need only be evoked. Once there were those who knew how to evoke them--where have they gone?
"Have you ever calculated how many precious youth-hours are going to waste every day? The use of every such hour could work wonders. Instead of giving orders the leaders make speeches and the young people go to cafes and waste their precious, irretrievable time. Do you remember them during the Sinai campaign, how they rose like one man because there was a commander whose orders were such as they had been waiting for, even if they did not know it beforehand? Just give them an order as was done during the Sinai campaign--all that matters is that it should ignite some spark as it did then--and you will see how all the latent forces will rise up again."
Until I suddenly heard the sharp ringing of a bell I had not realized the vast silence that dwelt in this room. The ringing came from outside; from the office, presumably. I gathered that my time had run out. But it did not occur to me to get up, and I went on sitting there as if there had been no ringing. Despite the repeated exhortation of the bell, the sound of the Rebbe's voice assured me that this was not yet the end.
"Every day that goes by is a tremendous loss. What it takes ten years to do in the Diaspora can be done in ten days in the Land of Israel, provided one gets down to the latent spark. A fire can go out, but a spark never. Our youth is asleep without knowing it, and those who address it with speeches are surprised at their not hearing.
"The spirit of Judaism is the one ideal that has not failed like all the rest. Only the values of religion persist unscathed and unaltered. And that is precisely why no compromise is possible in this respect. Attempts to compromise will only alienate our youth rather than bring it closer to our religion. Israel's youth wants no compromises. But here, too, no leader has been found, no commander who will issue the order, as in the Sinai campaign."
It is getting close to two o'clock. The bell has stopped ringing. It has probably given up. But ringing in my own ears was the redoubled sound of my question:
"Why don't you come and give the order?"
"My place is where my words are likely to be obeyed. Here I am being listened to, but in the Land of Israel I won't be heard. There, our youth will follow only somebody who has sprung up from its own ranks and speaks its own language.
"I will come, I will come when Moshiach comes. I learned physics in the Sorbonne. With that same simple faith that I have in physics I believe in Moshiach, that he will be a Moshiach of flesh and blood, visible and tangible, a man whom others will follow. And he will come."
"He has been on his way for quite a while," I found myself saying.
"But he is very near and we must be prepared for him at any moment, because he may have come just one moment before."
The article on Chaim Reisner, his journey and recipes was such a wonderful, heart warming story. The recipe for Fish Paella was so wonderful and such a treat for us; we made it for Friday night dinner.
Please communicate to Mr. Reisner that he simply must publish a book of his recipes; I'm sure it would be received by a grateful audience.
Mrs. Yehudis Adler-Chicago, IL
We've passed on your comments!
My public high school students were so intrigued by your analysis of the dollar bill that they'd like you to explore other currency denominations as well. Their appreciation of G-dliness, of what Jews have contributed to U.S. history and world values has been greatly enhanced by your publication. These students come from all walks of life: Cherokee Indians, "Third World," "Second World," "First World," and they all feel your publication is out of this world!
Keep up the awesomely good work,
E. Lambert-Bronx, NY
Any insights into other currency? Let us know.
From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
2 Sivan, 5711
With the approach of Shavuot, the festival of our Receiving the Torah, I want to send you a brief message, although I am greatly overburdened with work. This ought to indicate to you how highly I value the work of your group for advancement in both the knowledge of Torah and the practice of its precepts.
Being G-d given, the Torah has infinite aspects. The purpose of this message is to point out to you one of the most important aspects of the Torah.
To many the Torah may be a means to gain reward and avoid punishment. Others consider the Torah a guide to good living. I will give you my view after a brief introduction.
The world is a creation by G-d. As such, it can have no common denominator with its Creator. This cannot be amplified here, for lack of space, but it should be sufficiently clear anyway.
This world consists of a variety of creatures, which are generally classified into "Four Kingdoms": mineral, vegetation, animal and mankind.
Taking the highest individual of the highest group of the four mentioned above, i.e. the most intelligent of all men, there can be nothing in common between him, a created and limited being, and G-d, the Infinite, the Creator. No analogy can even be found in the relative difference between the lowest of the lowest "Kingdom" and the highest of the highest, for both are created things.
However, in His infinite goodness, G-d gave us a possibility of approach and communion with Him. G-d showed us the way how a finite, created being can reach beyond his inherent limitations, and commune with G-d the Infinite.
Obviously, only the Creator Himself knows the way and means that lead to Him, and the Creator Himself knows the capacity of His creatures in using such ways and means.
Herein lies one of the most important aspects of the Torah and mitzvot to us. They provide the ways and means whereby we may reach a plane above and beyond our status as created things. Clearly, this plane is incomparably above the highest perfection which a man can attain within his own created (hence, limited) sphere.
From this point of view, it will no longer appear strange that the Torah and mitzvot find expression in such simple, material and physical aspects as the dietary laws, and the like.
For our intellect is also created, and therefore limited with the boundaries of creation, beyond which it has no access. Consequently it cannot know the ways and means that lead beyond those bounds.
The Torah, on the other hand, is the bond that unites the created with the Creator, as it is written, "and you that cleave to G-d, your G-d, are all living this day."
To the Creator, all created things, the most corporeal, as well as the most spiritual, are equally removed. Hence, the question, "What relationship can a material object have with G-d?" has no more validity than if it referred to the most spiritual thing in its relationship to G-d.
But the Creator gave us a possibility to rise, not only within our created bounds, but beyond, toward the Infinite, and He desired that this possibility be open to the widest strata of humanity. Consequently, he had conditioned this possibility upon ways and means which are accessible to all, namely the Torah and mitzvot.
From this point of view it is also clear that no sacrifice can be too great in adhering to the Torah and mitzvot, for all sacrifices are within the limits of creation, whereas the Torah and mitzvot offer an opportunity to rise beyond such limits, as mentioned above.
It is also clear that no person has the right to renounce this Divine opportunity by professing indifference toward reward and punishment. Such views are but the product of a limited intellect which has no right to jeopardize the very essence of the soul, for the latter, being a "spark of the Divine," is above the intellect and any arguments it can produce, to deter him from the utmost perfection which he is able to attain.
I wish each and every one of you and your respective families an enjoyable and inspiring Yom Tov with lasting effects throughout the year.
Ruth was a Moabite princess who married Machlon, one of the sons of Elimelech after his family left the Land of Israel to settle in Moav during a great famine. After her husband died, Ruth chose to follow her mother-in-law, Naomi, back to Israel and to remain a true adherent of the Torah. (As described in Ruth's words to Naomi, "Where you go I will go; where you lodge I will lodge; your people are my people, and your G-d is my G-d.) Ruth married the Torah Sage, Boaz, and bore his child, Oved, who was the grandfather of King David and an ancestor of Moshiach. We read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot.
This Friday is the first day of the month of Sivan. On this day, 3,305 years ago, the Jewish people came to the wilderness of the Sinai desert and encamped there ready to receive the Torah.
The Torah tells us, "In the third month after the departure of the children of Israel from the land of Egypt, on this day they came to the wilderness of Sinai. They had departed from Refidim and had arrived in the Sinai Desert, camping in the wilderness. And Israel camped there opposite the mountain."
Interestingly, the use of the word "camp" the second time here is in singular form in Hebrew, though still speaking about all of the Jewish people.
The singular form of the verb is used because the Jewish people were united as one--"like one person with one heart" our Sages tell us. And it was precisely this unity that prepared and allowed the Jewish people to receive the Torah and experience the revelation of G-dliness on Mount Sinai.
The unity of the Jewish people preceded the revelation of the Torah. Uniting and unifying our people today can and should be a preparation for the Final Redemption when we will have the ultimate revelation of the goodness and holiness of every single Jew.
The Rebbe expressed this concept in a talk a number of years ago. "The Redemption will unify all of Israel, from the greatest to the smallest. For not a single Jew will remain in exile: 'You, the Children of Israel, will be gathered in one by one.' Moreover, the multitudes who will then be gathered in are referred to in the singular: 'A great congregation will return--in the singular--here.'
"In preparation for this state, therefore, one should make every endeavor to unify all Jews, in a spirit of the love of a fellow Jew, and of the unity of all Israel."
There are times when arguments are waged for the sake of Heaven and many great things are thereby attained. But for the revelation of the Torah on Mount Sinai there had to be unity of the Jewish people. And as a preparation for the revelation of the Torah Chadasha--new and deeper Torah which will be revealed in the Messianic Era--we would do well to heed the Rebbe's words and work towards unity and love of all Jews.
Once during his travels, Rabbi Aaron of Karlin arrived at the town of Zarowitz close to the Shabbat. He saw a small cottage situated on the edge of the town and he knocked on the door hoping to find some hospitality there. A small woman opened the door and listened to his request to remain there for the Shabbat. "You are welcome to stay," she replied simply, and she ushered him into the house.
As soon as he set his foot inside the door, Rabbi Aaron felt himself enveloped by an overwhelming sense of holiness, and he knew that there must be something unique about the occupants of this house. Reb Aaron prepared himself for the Shabbat and was about to go out the door to the shul when he met Reb Yitzchak, the owner of the house, just returning from his workday. The man was dressed in simple peasant garb, and there was nothing to distinguish him from any other worker. He greeted his guest warmly, but his features disguised any emotion.
Rabbi Aaron was accustomed to celebrate the Shabbat with enthusiastic singing and prayers, and he followed his usual rituals. His host, however, rushed quickly through the prayers, hurriedly said kiddush and then sat down to eat his simple meal. But even in this plain food, Rabbi Aaron could detect an undeniable holiness, although he couldn't figure out what it stemmed from. He studied the man and woman, but there was nothing special about anything they said or did that would set them apart from any of ten thousand other poor Jews.
When the Shabbat ended Rabbi Aaron thanked his host and hostess and continued on his journey, the mystery unsolved.
The following week the wife of Reb Yitzchak turned up in the Study Hall of the nearby city of Premiszlan and spoke to the members of the local burial society requesting that they come with her. "Please come with me to Zarowitz now, for my husband is dying and he has asked that you be with him in his last moments."
The men immediately followed her to her home, but when they entered the house, her husband wasn't even there. "What is this, some kind of joke? Have you brought us all this way for nothing?"
"No, of course not, gentlemen," she replied. "My husband is on his way and will be here shortly." And sure enough, her husband walked through the door, holding a bunch of straw. This, he spread on the floor and then simply lay down upon it. Then he began speaking to the burial society officials: "My friends, it is now time for me to leave this world. I have lived as a nistor [a hidden saint] all my life, but the time has come for me to reveal myself. The moment that I die, go with all speed to Premiszlan and bring back as many scribes as you can gather. Have them bring pens and paper, for here they will copy over my secret writings. This must be done while I am still lying here on the ground, before I am buried. Watch me, and when you see a change in my face, all writing must cease at once."
Reb Yitzhak finished speaking, closed his eyes, and for a moment his face burned like a fire. Then, his lips which had been moving in silent prayer became still, and he was gone.
Scores of scribes were hurriedly brought to the cottage where the tzadik lay. Each one was given a leaf of paper to copy and they raced against time to complete their holy task. The officials' eyes were fixed on the face of the tzadik, looking for any change. Suddenly, the face lost all of its color and the box which contained his writings mysteriously closed by itself. The scratching of pens stopped abruptly, and preparations were quickly begun to ready Reb Yitzchak for burial.
When Rabbi Aaron heard of the death of the tzadik and the circumstances which surrounded it, his heart was filled with bitter regret. What wondrous Torah secrets he might have learned from the deceased! He went to pay his respects to the widow and perhaps to glean some bit of knowledge about the tzadik's life from her.
"Well, there's nothing I can really tell you," she said. "I'm sorry, but my husband wouldn't permit it." Rabbi Aaron was bitterly disappointed. He wished her comfort, among all the mourners of Zion, and turned to leave. But just as he reached the door, the widow called out to him, "Wait, there's one small thing I can show you. Do you see those candlesticks there on the shelf? Well, from the day I married until the day my husband died, those candlesticks burned constantly all by themselves."
Rabbi Aaron left the cottage deep in reflection. The wondrous accomplishments of the hidden tzadik would remain one of G-d's many secrets, perhaps to be divulged only by Moshiach, himself.
If you walk in My statutes (Lev. 26:3)
The Baal Shem Tov taught that a person must never become settled in his habits and fixed in his ways, for G-d's laws are meant to be "walked in." The service of G-d should never be static, but should lead us to higher and higher levels of sanctity.
(Keter Shem Tov)
I will give peace in the land, and you will lie down with none to make you afraid (Lev. 26:6)
Our Sages said that King David, who spent his life waging many wars, never enjoyed even one night during which his sleep was not robbed by bad dreams or nightmares. G-d, however, promises the Jewish people that one day their sleep will be tranquil and undisturbed.
I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and my covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember (Lev. 26:42)
The Patriarchs are not mentioned in chronological order in this verse, but rather in the order of the attributes and eras they personified. After the Torah was given, the Jews entered the era of Torah, personified by Jacob who was the pillar of Torah. When the Holy Temple was built they entered the era of "service" and Isaac embodied the attribute of service. And these last generations of the era before Moshiach are connected to Abraham who was the epitome of lovingkindness. The Baal Shem Tov explained that now, in the final era before Moshiach, emphasis must be placed on deeds of kindness to hasten the redemption.
(Rabbi Ben Tzion of Bobov)
I will remember My covenant... the land will I remember (Lev. 26:42)
Why does the Torah mention the covenant with our ancestors in connection to the land of Israel? The Talmud teaches that the merit of our Patriarchs stands us in good stead only within Israel; in exile we do not have this merit. G-d promises, however, that when He remembers the land of Israel He will be reminded of this merit as well.
(Maklo Shel Aharon)
According to the Talmud, just as we look forward to the arrival of Moshiach, G-d looks forward to redeeming us. It may be asked, since He waits to redeem us, and we wait for the redemption, why has Moshiach not yet arrived? The answer is that this delay is intended to increase our reward. For this reason alone, G-d has not hastened the final Redemption.
(The Chofetz Chaim--Tzipita L'Yshua)