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Do you remember epithets like "goody-two-shoes," or "goody-goody"? These were taunts that no one ever wanted applied to him/herself; sometimes we even did "bad" things to avoid that moniker.
And yet, despite our childhood avoidance of being "good" we always gravitated to those children, adults and relatives who were "good-hearted" or "good-natured."
Our Sages have taught that the world stands on three things: Torah study, prayer and acts of kindness.
It comes as no surprise then, that when the Rebbe was asked two years ago by CNN what was his message to the world, the Rebbe responded, "Moshiach is ready to come, now. It is only up to us to do additional acts of goodness and kindness."
When we do simple acts of kindness--cooking a hot meal for a sick friend, introducing ourselves to a lonely-looking person at a party, holding the elevator, even when in a rush--our deeds have a ripple effect.
This ripple effect can be seen in two areas. First, the person to whom we were kind will undoubtedly not let much time pass before he, too, does something kind for someone else. Maybe his kindness will be displayed by smiling at someone; giving a beggar a buck; helping a lost child find her mommy. It might not be a reciprocal gesture; it may not be of equal significance, but it will be done out of a greater awareness of how a simple act of kindness can impact one's outlook, even if just for a few moments. This of course can, and just might, continue ad infinitum.
On a different level, however, when we do acts of kindness and goodness, we are for an instant experiencing a momentary private redemption. We have fostered in others goodness, peace, sensitivity, an awareness of a Higher Power and reason for existence. This, in a small sense, replicates the era of the Redemption, an age when there will be no jealousy, no fighting, no evil; peace will reign and there will be everything good in both a mat-erial as well as a spiritual sense.
But it is not simply a performance, a mini-simulation of the redemption. Our good and kind deeds (read "personal redemptions") are part and parcel of the final Redemption and bring the universal Redemption one step closer.
This week's Torah portion, Shelach, contains the account of the twelve spies sent to scout out the land of Israel. Upon their return they announced, "We will not be able to go against the people, for they are stronger than we--mimenu."
Our Sages explain that the Hebrew word "mimenu" may also be interpreted "than him"--than Him! The spies insisted that the inhabitants of Canaan, as it was called, were even more powerful than G-d, Who had promised the land to the Jews.
How could they have made such a statement? All of the twelve spies were men of distinction and piety. Furthermore, the entire Jewish people had just witnessed the greatest open miracles--the exodus from Egypt, the splitting of the Red Sea and the manna falling from the sky. Why wasn't the spies' report simply discounted, instead of being given such credence?
When the spies insisted that the Land was too well fortified to be conquered, Calev stood up and calmed the people. "Don't worry," he insisted. "The same G-d who performed all these miracles for us will continue to guard His people. Let us go up at once, without fear!"
"But," countered the spies, "there we saw the nefilim, the sons of Anak!"
Who were these nefilim, that their mention threw fear into the hearts of the Jews? The great commentator, Rashi, explains that the nefilim were people of gigantic stature, descendents of two angels who had descended to earth many years before during the generation of Enosh. Their very name--"nefilim"--attests to their descent, from the root word meaning "to fall."
Yes, conceded the spies, G-d is certainly more powerful than mere mortals. But can G-d prevail against the nefilim and their higher level of spirituality? The nefilim had even survived the great flood which destroyed the rest of the world. These two angels, who came down into the world with the best and holiest of intentions, were unable to withstand the lure of the material world. They and their descendents ended up degraded and debased. If angels, the spies contended, have failed, how much more so will we if we even attempt to conquer the Land. Let us simply reject the material world and remain in the wilderness!
To this, two of the spies, Joshua and Calev, replied, "No, this is not G-d's plan. G-d wants us to live in the physical world, performing physical mitzvot. 'Do not fear...for G-d is with us'." Angels may not be equipped to deal with this world, but we are even higher than the angels, for we possess a G-dly soul in a corporeal body. We have the power to fuse the physical with the spiritual, by performing concrete mitzvot which bring holiness into the world and make it a dwelling place for G-d. Thus, we can withstand any negative force, not only emerging triumphant, but transforming those very forces into instruments of good.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
The first yartzeit of Rebbetzin Yehudis Heller was commemorated on the 11th of Sivan, two weeks ago. The follwing excerpts about this rare woman are from a booklet written by her children. What you read below might seem impossible or unbelievable--how could one person--especially one so young--be so righteous? But simply ask any of the thousands of women whose lives Rebbetzin Heller touched, and you will understand that this is only the barest description of this truly righteous woman.
Although her refined nature constantly attracted her to the world of holy Jewish books and Torah study, she always realized that she should set aside her individual desires in order to dedicate her entire energy to her role as a Jewish mother. With great devotion she would busy herself with the affairs of the household and caring for her children, without ever seeking excuses or reasons to place responsibility upon others. On the contrary, she felt and viewed this as her primary role, to be the cornerstone of the home and mother to her children in the fullest sense of the word. So well did she succeed in devoting her desires and thoughts to her role in the home that, even when she had to go out to teach or give a lecture, she considered it as something out of character--although by nature she loved books and learning.
In her spare time role as teacher, educator and lecturer to women, many would seek her advice on complex personal problems, and her advice was always clear and illuminating.
At the same time, she treated gently all who came to benefit from her understanding. Her relationship with her students was the same, with gentleness, simplicity and a smile on her face.
In every aspect of life, her rule was that only what directly concerned Judaism had significance, while everything else was unimportant. She was always full of joy, brushing aside all difficulties with a smile or joke. She could always determine what should be encouraged and what discouraged, what was important and what secondary, all without ostentation and show.
She was utterly devoid of the three main damaging faults--jealousy, lust and pursuit of honor. Nor did anger, pride or other character faults have any place in her home. Although she occupied a highly honored place in her community, and her reputation also reached well beyond her community, it gave her no sense of pride or haughtiness whatsoever. She regarded herself as a very ordinary woman--a "poshete yiddena," as she would say.
When talking with other women, she would conceal her knowledge. This went so far that when she would hear anyone discussing a teaching of our Sages, she would listen intently as if she was hearing it for the first time in her life and had nothing to add on the subject--even if she had actually taught it to others and knew it thoroughly in far greater detail and depth than what she was now hearing. Only when asked about it would she explain it as much as necessary.
Rebbetzin Heller was not from a Chasidic home and only started learning Chasidut in her first year of marriage. But by the time she came for the month of Tishrei to the Rebbe, shlita, she already had a wide-ranging and profound knowledge of Chasidic philosophy and everything connected with Chasidut. She successfully developed her special talent for understanding and feeling subjects in depth, even on fine points of Chasidic philosophy. She understood very well the talks of the Rebbe at the gatherings to the extent that she could repeat them effortlessy. Starting from her very first farbrengen, [Chasidic gathering] she would repeat and explain to neighbors, during the breaks, what the Rebbe had said.
Her thirst and yearning for the Rebbe's words were amazing; in fact, this alone was enough to demonstrate what an exceptional personality she was. She understood everything in depth and sensed it profoundly to its inner essence, like the greatest chasidim.
When participating in gatherings, she aimed and tried to ensure that the conversation have a spiritual content. If it happened to slide into ordinary worldly subjects, it would bother her. But she never let those around her feel it, acting outwardly as if the talk interested her, so as not to insult anyone, G-d forbid.
Often during her illness she would say that her worry was not for herself, for she did not at all mind leaving this world. Her worry was for her responsibility towards her children, especially the younger ones, and also towards Heaven. For this reason she wanted to have done all that could humanly be done by natural means to effect her recovery, even if it involved painful and exhausting treatment. Only after she knew that she had done everything possible did it no longer trouble her.
On the other hand, even when she spoke such words, she was in a joyous mood, for she always had firm trust in G-d.
During her last weeks, our father asked her: "When you recover, G-d willing, what will you have learned from this whole course of events?" For we should learn a lesson in serving G-d from everything. She replied "I have learned the greatness of every Jew, and how much we should love each one..."
She was referring to the many examples of sacrifice and love for one's fellow-Jew shown toward her by relatives and friends, who assisted in his or her special way. She was especially impressed by Reb Sholom Oberlander of Williamsburg, who, without having every known or seen her, dedicated all his energy to helping her, even travelling on his own initiative to Toronto to reinforce the contact with her doctor. She recounted his deeds to several people. To consider every Jew precious and love all Jews to the extent of utter devotion--and, it should go without saying, not to talk or even think negatively about them--that was the lesson she learned from her situation and which she repeated on several occasions.
She said that, when she would recover, she, too, would like to act like Reb Sholom and all the others who helped her. "But what can I do," she added, "when, to give help like they have done, one needs special capabilities, which I don't have."
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A QUESTION OF SURVIVAL
A letter from the Lubavitcher Rebbe
16 Cheshvan, 5734
With reference to your writing about the idea of settling in Eretz Yisrael in the near future, about which you ask my opinion--
I have often emphasized, as you may be aware, that a Jew considering emigration from any part of the world to any other, must not take a narrow view, but should consider it in broader terms. What I mean is that Jews are, of course, a minority among the nations of the world, and must therefore always think in terms of self-preservation. Wherever Jews are, they must consider themselves in a state of perpetual mobilization to protect their independence, not only insofar as they themselves are concerned, but also insofar as the Jewish people as a whole is concerned. This applies to all places as the situation varies, for there are some places where the percentage of Jews is relatively smaller, and hence more vulnerable. And among the Jews themselves, there are places where those who are active in the strengthening of Torah and mitzvot, the very foundation of Jewish exis-tence, are very few, which increases their responsibility all the more; especially those who have been active and successful, whose departure would leave an irreparable void.
As already mentioned, this is a question of survival, not only for local communities, but for the Jewish people in general. Clearly, one's first responsibility is towards the community where one has been brought up, and to which one can contribute effectively.
Now, let us consider South Africa, where Jews originally came mostly from Lithuania and similar places, where Jewish life was flourishing. I do not have to tell you what the situation is in the R.S.A. in terms of true Yiddishkeit, even in Johannesburg, which has the largest Jewish community in South Africa. Consequently, you and your husband occupy a very special place in the community, and must consider yourselves in the forefront of a far-reaching endeavor to strengthen the true religious foundations of Jewish life in your community and in the country at large.
One can well understand the motivation and desire to help Eretz Yisrael. But it is sometimes overlooked that such help can often be even more effective when those who are responsible for their posts on the local front remain at their posts. If in the past this point might have been debatable, recent events have clearly shown how important has been the help of Jews in the Diaspora, through their contacts in the world's capitals, and otherwise, although it is premature to reveal the full extent of such help. Obviously, it is such Jews who are deeply concerned for the survival of the Jewish people, who have provided this vital help.
The prophet Ezekiel (3332-3354) was one of the greatest leaders of the Babylonian exile period. Born of a priestly family in Jerusalem, he was amongst the first of the exiles to Babylonia by King Nebuchadnezzar. Ezekiel prophesied the destruction of the First Temple and promised his brethren that they would return to the Holy Land. Perhaps his most famous prophecy is that of the Valley of Dry Bones, when he saw that the piles of dried bones rose and were vivified by G-d. In this way, he reassured his fellow Jews that Israel would enjoy new life and glory after the destruction.
Numerous times each day, for a total of about 25,000 times each year, we mention in our prayers the request to G-d that He bring the Redemption.
According to some opinions, however, simply requesting that G-d bring the Redemption is not enough; we must demand that G-d "make good" on His promise. To illustrate this point, there is a story told about the Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, and his midnight demands to G-d.
At midnight, when all were asleep, the Chofetz Chaim would enter his study, close the door and stand there in total darkness. The Chofetz Chaim would then commence to pour out his heart to G-d. He began by praising G-d for His kindness, detailing everything that had happened during the day. When he finished his own personal account, the Chofetz Chaim began speaking about the merits of the entire Jewish people.
At this point the Chofetz Chaim's style of speech, as well as his tone, changed drastically. Instead of thanking and pleading, he began demanding. The Chofetz Chaim would declare that G-d owes the Jewish nation a full accounting.
He would ask, "G-d, what have You given us? You gave us a great and Holy Torah, but it was sealed and closed. What have we done in return?
We opened the Torah, gave you the Prophets, the sages of the Talmud, the Torah geniuses; we tied crowns to the Oral Torah. But alas, what have we received in return for this? We have received misfortune, persecutions, and murder. We were not prepared for this. Throughout the lands where we were dispersed and exiled, we brought our Torah with us, carrying it, saving it from our enemies, and we carry it still to this very day! It is firmly within our grasp."
This was how the Chofetz Chaim demanded the accounting. Then, he would proceed with the demand for payment of the debt.
"How much longer must we wait? Until when? We are totally broken. G-d, consider and ponder, is the heart of one Jew whole?"
This is what the Chofetz Chaim would do every single night. When the dawn came, he would return to his studies, eagerly awaiting Moshiach's arrival and confident that the debt owed would be paid.
Let us demand that which is due the Jewish people--Moshiach, NOW!
When David Leib, the son of the famous Rabbi and Dayan Tzvi Aryeh, was ready to marry, the wealthy Reb Chaim of Vitebsk was happy to offer his daughter's hand in marriage. After all, such a promising young scholar would certainly bring great honor to the family. As part of the arrangement, young David Leib was promised eight years of support during which he would be free to pursue his budding rabbinical career.
The time passed in fruitful study, but when it was drawing to a close, the parents-in-law started to worry, for their illustrious son-in-law showed no inclination whatsoever to seek out a rabbinical position. When they broached the subject, he informed them that he did not intend to make a living from his learning. No, he intended to earn his bread as a cobbler! What was wrong with him? they wondered. And what would they tell their friends and acquaintances who were all expecting great things?
They couldn't imagine a greater disgrace. When they saw that the pressure they were exerting on him made no difference, they suggested that he give their daughter a divorce; at least she would have a decent chance at a "normal" existence. "All right," he agreed; but when his devoted wife, heard the talk, she cried, "What about me? I don't want a divorce!" That was the end of the discussion about divorce.
His in-laws couldn't have guessed that over his years of study, David Leib had developed into a serious philosophical thinker who had delved deeply into the wells of mysticism and had decided to devote himself to the perfection of his character in the manner of hidden tzadikim, while trying in every way to aid his fellow Jews.
They were so distraught that they enlisted the aid of David Leib's father, the famous rabbi Tzvi Aryeh. He would surely be able to talk some sense into his son. When David Leib heard of the imminent arrival of his father, he decided to meet with him in advance of his arrival in Vitebsk, to better explain his point of view away from the excitement of the city.
The father and son had not seen each other for eight long years during which time David Leib had matured considerably. They enjoyed each other's company and scholarly discussions, and Rabbi Tzvi Aryeh gave his blessings to his son's chosen path of Divine service. Thus, life continued in a steady, but uncomfortable course. One day, a solution presented itself. A customer suggested to David Leib that he move to Hatinka where he would be welcomed, and be able to make a good living from his cobbling.
The young family resettled there, David Leib secretly devoting himself to his mystical studies and the welfare of his fellow Jews. His greatest desire became the unmasking of other secret scholars who used to travel through the towns and villages in those days, exerting themselves to instill a love of Yiddishkeit in the simple Jewish workers. By turning his home into a hostel for wayfarers, David Leib was able to form a close bond with some of the hidden mystics who crisscrossed the countryside during that interesting period of early Chassidut.
One of the secret mystics was Shmerel, the local village "idler." Known to one and all as "Shmerel the Idler," "Shmerel the Star-gazer," and "Shmerel the Yawner," this Shmerel was the local character. He would spend his regaling the women and children with stories of Jewish history and heroes. In his gentle way, he would tell them that they should never envy others, and they should love their fellow Jews. Since Shmerel was so very good-natured, his little "talks" were always popular with his eager listeners.
Only David Leib suspected there was something more beneath "the Yawner's" mask. One day his suspicions were confirmed when he decided late one evening to follow Shmerel to his home. As his passed Shmerel's run-down shack he heard the most divine, heavenly singing of the evening service that he had ever heard. That proved that Shmerel wasn't the illiterate bumkin he pretended to be. David Leib desperately wanted to become an intimate of this hidden tzadik.
One day he couldn't contain himself any longer. David Leib approached Shmerel and tearfully begged to be admitted into his confidence. From that day on David Leib became part of the elite circle of hidden tzadikim, a member of a world of which he had only dreamed.
David Leib was never revealed to the world, although his own son noted how his father secretly cared for the sick and the needy--how he would deposit a new pair of shoes on the doorstep of a destitute family; how he would always manage to send some food to a poverty-stricken new mother. David Leib and his associates were some of the unsung Jewish saints of a bygone era, a time when there were men and women who served G-d and man with only the stillness of their own souls to witness to their deeds.
Adapted from The Lubavitcher Rebbe's Memoirs
Know...before whom you are destined to give an accounting (literally, "judgement" and "reckoning") (Ethics of the Fathers, 3:1)
Why does the word "judgement" come before the word "reckoning"? Doesn't "reckoning" always precede judgement or punishment for misdeeds?
The Baal Shem Tov taught that in reality, "judgement" always comes first. A person may think he is pronouncing judgement on others, but whatever sentence he decides on will be later applied to him as well. When a person is judgmental, condemning his fellow man for transgressing, G-d uses the same standards to judge him.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita)
If two sit together, and there are no words of Torah between them (Ethics 3:2)
When two Jews sit together, in true unity and brotherhood, and there is "nothing" between them, no enmity or ill-will, they themselves are considered to be "words of Torah."
(Rabbi Yitzchak Vorker)
Anyone with whom his fellow men are not pleased, G-d is not pleased with him (Ethics 3:10)
If a person ignores the commandments between man and his fellow man, his outward trappings of religious piety are scorned by G-d. For the greater his show of religious observance, the greater the desecration of G-d's name.
Anyone whose wisdom exceeds his good deeds, to what can he be compared? (Ethics 3:17)
Good deeds without wisdom are like a foot without a shoe; wisdom without good deeds is like a shoe without a foot.
(Rabbi Shlomo Ibn Gabirol)
A person who can find good in everyone personifies the aspect of Moshiach... Moshiach will be the defending counsel for all of Israel, even the wicked.