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The great Rabbi Hillel was known to say, "If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I?"
Though stated more than 20 centuries ago, Hillel's words sound like great, middle-of-the-road advice to the post-"me" generation and post-Wall Street glut economy.
Basically, it sounds like Hillel is telling us, "You have to look out for number one, but make sure not to forget that there are other people in the world, too.
Sounds pretty sane, doesn't it?
Actually, though, Hillel wasn't talking about our typical pursuits; he was giving us a deep insight into how we should view our involvement in spiritual pursuits and lofty goals.
Hillel was talking about taking responsibility for ourselves spiritually and building up our own cache of mitzvot. Thus, we shouldn't expect to fall back on the good deeds, mitzva observance, or the piety of our ancestors.
On a more personal level, it is a statement about how we must be self-motivated when it comes to Judaism. I can't expect anyone else to take me by the hand and lead me, step by step, toward growth and advancement. I have to do it myself. I can't sit back, relax, and wait to be inspired by an amazing teacher or encouraged by a friend. It's up to me: If I am not for myself, who is for me?
To be more specific, we can't expect G-d to be the one to push us, either. I can't say, "If G-d really wanted me to give lots of charity, have time to pursue Jewish studies, and not work on Shabbat, He'd arrange for me to win the lottery." Or, "If G-d wants me to do this particular mitzva, He'll remove all obstacles from my path."
On the other hand, if I am only for myself, if I am so caught up with and involved in my own personal growth and advancement, that I'm not around to help or guide others, what am I? Just because I can't expect or wait for someone else to hold my hand or inspire me, doesn't exempt me from extending my hand to someone else. It doesn't absolve me from reaching out to another person, from teaching someone else the Hebrew alphabet if I know it and he doesn't--even if the alef-bet is all I know!
The only remaining question one might have after considering Hillel's statements in this light would be, "When should I start getting serious about learning, growing, advancing? And when do I have to begin reaching out to others?" To this, Hillel has a ready reply, actually the closing words of his statement: "If not now, when?"
This week's Torah portion, *Chukat*, describes the Jewish people's impatience with their long journey through the desert. Despite the manna from heaven, the fresh water from Miriam s well and the Clouds of Glory which protected them wherever they went, they were dissatisfied.
Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? they complained.
Because of their ingratitude, G-d sent a plague of fiery serpents to punish them. The serpent, to whom all food has the same taste, became the vehicle for punishment against those who complained that the manna, which acquired any taste the individual desired, was insufficient. The fiery snakes, so called because their poisonous venom burns like fire, bit the people, and many died.
Chastised, the Jews came to Moses and admitted that they had sinned. They begged him to pray to G-d to remove the terrible plague from their midst. G-d's answer to Moses' prayer was the following: Make for yourself a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole...everyone that is bitten--when he sees it--he shall live. Moses followed G-d's command and fashioned a serpent out of copper (*nechoshet* in Hebrew, from the same root word as serpent *nach-ash*), and set it high upon a pole where it could be easily seen. The Torah tells us that when an afflicted person looked up at the serpent, he was healed and did not die.
Rashi, the great Torah commentator, explains that merely looking at the copper serpent was not enough. A person had to look up in the spiritual sense as well, accepting the yoke of heaven and subjugating his heart to G-d above. Only then would the bitten person be restored to health.
The serpent itself, symbolic of the primordial serpent in the Garden of Eden, responsible for bringing evil into the world, alludes to this concept of transforming the negative into the posi-tive. The bitten person had to subjugate his whole heart, the evil as well as the good inclination, and dedicate his entire being to the service of G-d.
Another example of this concept, the transformation of evil into a positive force for good, is also found in the beginning of the Torah portion. The ashes of the red heifer, although making unclean whoever prepared them, brought purity to the sinner on whom they were sprinkled.
This is the goal of every Jew to utilize both of our inclina-tions in the service of G-d and serve Him with a whole heart.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
A BASKETFUL OF MIRACLES
by Avrohom Shmuel Lewin
One Sunday afternoon last month, a Subaru station-wagon drove up to the stadium of the Hapoel-Upper Galilee basketball team in Kfar Blum. Out of the car emerged Gershon Fried and Betzalel Kuptchik, two Lubavitch chasidim who run the Chabad House in Safed. They were wearing yellow T-shirts with the message (in Hebrew) "Get Ready For The Coming of Moshiach" and were carrying signs that read, "Baruch Haba Melech HaMoshiach"--"Welcome King Moshiach."
Yossi, the security guard at the stadium, began shouting, "Open the gates. The fellows from Moshiach have arrived!"
A bewildered bystander couldn't believe his eyes and went to the directors of the team to inquire whether the team members had suddenly become religious. One of the directors replied, "Those fellows bring us our success!"
The background for that unusual statement started way back on March 8 , when Hapoel-Hagalil hosted the Maccabi-Tel Aviv basketball team in the competition for the National League Championship. Maccabi had held the league championship title for the past 23 years. To beat them was like breaking a myth.
Kuptchik and Fried were aware that this being a major game, there would be thousands of fans. So they decided to utilize this event by going down to don tefillin with the players and the fans before the game. They spoke about the importance of placing mezuzot on the doorposts and about Moshiach. In the end, Hapoel- Hagalil smashed Maccabi "the Unbeatable," 97-69.
The next day, the Israeli papers were full of the great event. For the first time in 23 years, the mediocre Hapoel-Hagalil beat Maccabi-Tel Aviv. The players and managers told reporters and fans that their success was due to the Lubavitchers who alerted the crowd to the subject of Moshiach. A month later Hapoel-Hagalil hosted Hapoel-Tel Aviv to compete for the playoffs. Again Kuptchik and Fried went down to the stadium equipped with tefillin and posters and brochures on Moshiach. Hapoel-Hagalil beat Hapoel-Tel Aviv.
Spontaneously, thousands of fans ran into the court, hugged the players and manager, and began singing the song which has been playing on radio stations in Israel for the past year, "Moshiach, Moshiach, Moshiach, Aiy, yai, yai" by Chasidic recording artist Mordechai Ben David. The next day, the papers were full of the news of the "Miracle in Kfar Blum."
Kibbutzniks suddenly started thinking that maybe there is something to this whole "religion" bit and contacted the Lubavitchers to arrange for classes to learn more about Torah and the subject of Moshiach. In every kibbutz, the hit-song was "Moshiach" and sports programs on the radio all over Israel started their shows with the "Moshiach" song. The Northern Galilee was full of posters, "Get Ready for the Coming of Moshiach."
On May 19, 1993, Hapoel-Hagalil hosted Hapoel-Tel Aviv for the final game which was to determine who would win the championship. A day before, the heads of the team sent a fax to the Lubavitcher Rebbe for success in the game. The letter, written on official team stationary and which they later showed the media, read:
"To the Lubavitcher Rebbe *Melech HaMoshiach Leolam Vaed*:
"We members of the administrative committee of Hapoel-Hagalil Basketball team have complied with your wishes to draw the attention of the masses to the topic of Moshiach during our basketball games. At every game the crowd of fans spontaneously sing the Moshiach song and we have permitted the hanging of posters on the walls of the stadium advertising the topic of Moshiach--free of charge.
"During training and before every game our place is opened to Lubavitcher activities among the players and fans. We sincerely believe that our recent victories came as a result of our publicizing the topic of Moshiach, and we express our gratitude.
"In the merit of the above activities, we request the Rebbe's blessing to win the National League Championship tomorrow. This victory will enable us to play in Europe to compete for the European Cup. And with the help of G-d, there, too, we will continue to alert crowds of people to the topic of Moshiach."
The following day, Hagalil beat Hagalil-Tel Aviv, making them Israel's national basketball champions for the first time. The director of the stadium immediately ordered new kosher mezuzot for all the doors of the stadium. But most of all, the team's coach, Pini Gershon, announced that he has taken upon himself to don tefillin every weekday from now on and to give tzedaka daily. When interviewed on radio and TV, the only words that came out of his mouth were, "Thank G-d, thank G-d," and the song, "Moshiach."
The Israeli papers wrote, "If Pini Gershon, the 'atheist,' has decided to don tefillin, then we know for sure a miracle certainly happened here. Even the non-Jewish players on the team came to the Lubavitchers before the game and after to put charity in the charity box and asked for literature on the 'Seven Laws of Noah.'"
Kuptchik told "The Jewish Press" that, after the game, numerous secretaries of kibbutzim, who had previously been hostile to Torah concepts, have called him and begged him to come to speak to them about Torah and Moshiach.
Reprinted, with permission from "The Jewish Press. Some details of this miraculous story were recently carried in the "New York Post" and the "NY Daily News."
MOSHIACH DAY IN GENEVA
Chabad of Geneva hosted almost 1,500 people for the very first Moshiach Day. A major thoroughfare was turned into pedestrian mall as adults and children alike were treated to lectures, displays and materials, all on the theme of the coming Redemption. Star attraction was a robot which circulated up and down the mall answering basic questions of the visitors. Other highlights included the Children's World display and the Hall of the Jewish Woman.
APPRECIATING THE HUES OF DAWN
A new series of essays from Sichos In English called "Appreciating The Hues of Dawn," brings us a woman's perspective in the dynamics of the Redemption. Written by Malka Touger and co-published by E.M.E.T., "Appreciating..." can be obtained with a Sichos in English subscription or individually by contacting S.I.S., at 788 Eastern Parkway, Bklyn, NY 11213 or calling (718)778-5436.
LEARN MORE ABOUT MOSHIACH
Call weekly 1-800-4-MOSHIACH in the U.S. (718-2-MOSHIACH in NY), 1-800-2-MASHIACH in Canada. Or for more extensive options, call (718) 953-6168.
I duly received your correspondence, and may G-d grant the fulfillment of your heart's desires for good in all the matters about which your wrote.
At this time, in proximity to the anniversary of the geula--deliverance--of my father-in-law, the Rebbe, of saintly memory, from the tyranny of the Soviet regime, fifty-three years ago, on the 12th-13th of this month, it behooves us to reflect again on those history-making events and how they relate to every one of us here and now. For, as he indicated in his first letter on the occasion of the first anniversary of his geula, and as we see it clearly now, his deliverance was more than a personal one; it was a turning point in the survival of Russian Jewry, and is of lasting significance for every Jew everywhere.
This timely reflection should make every one of us all the more deeply appreciative of the blessing of freedom [which enables us] to live a full life of Torah and mitzvot. In addition, it should heighten our awareness of the sacred obligation to do one's utmost to spread and strengthen Yiddishkeit, with enthusiasm and love--love of G-d, love of the Torah, and love of our Jewish brethren, which are inseparable.
By his total *mesiras nefesh* [self-sacrifice], even in the face of overwhelming odds, and by his ultimate triumph, with G-d's help, the Previous Rebbe has shown the way, and in fact, trodden the path, so that every Jew can follow in his footsteps, with complete assurance that when he is firmly resolved to work for Torah and Yiddishkeit, he will overcome whatever difficulties there may be, and be successful, with G-d's help.
I hope and pray that the inspiration of the Previous Rebbe and the holiday of his redemption--especially as this year's geula anniversary also marks his 100th birthday on the selfsame day of the 12th of Tammuz--will stimulate you and yours to redouble your efforts in the said direction in the days ahead, which will also widen the channels to receive G-d's blessings for you and yours, in all your needs, both material and spiritual.
3rd of Tammuz, 5740
I was pleased to be informed of this important event, and extend congratulations and good wishes to the chairman, honored guests and all who are involved in ensuring its success, both materially and spiritually. Materially--to help provide the means, indeed substantial means, for the continuation and expansion of the educational facilities in our Holy Land; and spiritually--by being involved, with heart and soul, in this sacred cause.
It is very significant that this event is taking place in the week that is highlighted by the anniversary of the geula--deliverance--of my father-in-law, the Rebbe of saintly memory, from his arrest by the Soviet regime--on the 12th-13th of Tammuz, fifty--three years ago. His triumph, with G-d's help, over that regime's attempt to stamp out Jewish education in Soviet Russia was a turn-ing point in the survival of Russian Jewry, and it is largely due to his indomitable struggle, in the face of overwhelming odds, that we have a vibrant Russian Jewry today.
Recalling this history-making anniversary should make every one of us all the more deeply appreciative of the blessing of religious freedom in this land, and wherever it exists--a blessing that carries with it the sacred obligation to do one's utmost for the furtherance of Torah education and the support of Torah institutions, both here and wherever our help is needed, especially in the Holy Land, of which the Torah declares that "G-d's eyes are upon it continuously, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year."
Korach was one of the leaders of the tribe of Levi. He initiated a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, and induced 250 leaders of the tribes to join him. The following day, when the opposing sides offered incense to G-d, the earth suddenly rent apart at the feet of the rebel leaders, and they were swallowed up alive. The other 250 rebels were devoured by a fire that descended from Heaven. This miracle made it abundantly clear that Moses and Aaron were the Divinely appointed leaders.
At the end of this upcoming week, on Thursday, the 12th of Tammuz (July 1), we celebrate the birthday of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn. This day, and the one that follows, is also the anniversary of the release of the Previous Rebbe from Bolshevik imprisonment.
The Previous Rebbe's redemption from prison is related to the ultimate Redemption through Moshiach and the personal redemption of every single Jew.
How can this be so? The Previous Rebbe was the leader of the Jewish people of his generation. The great commentator, Rashi, explains: "The leader includes the entire people." Therefore, the redemption of the leader of the generation affects the entire generation.
The Previous Rebbe himself emphasized this point in a letter that he wrote to his chasidim on the first anniversary of his release:
"It was not myself, alone, that the Holy One, blessed be He, redeemed on Yud-Beis Tammuz, but also those who love the Torah and mitzvot, and so to all those who bear the name 'Jew.'"
Our Sages have taught that on a person's birthday his mazal--luck, or strength--is stronger than at other times. This is true even after the person's passing. In addition, Judaism also teaches that the spiritual influences and energy which were present on a specific date in Jewish history repeat themselves and return on that same date throughout the ages.
Thus, on the 12th of Tammuz, the birthday and anniversary of deliverance of the Previous Rebbe, all of these additional spiritual powers are in place. Let us hook into them and use this auspicious day for Torah study, additional good deeds and charity, and a special, heartfelt request from each of us to the Alm-ghty to bring the Final Redemption immediately.
When Rabbi Yisroel, the Rizhiner Tzadik, lay close to death, he called his sons and instructed them in the ways of Chasidut and entreated them to follow the true path. He told them that the most important thing was to always keep the Creator uppermost in one's mind to do His Will. The sons listened in absolute silence, and knew that their father was imparting to them the ultimate truths of life.
Rabbi Yisroel continued, saying, "Usually fathers leave their children some kind of legacy, but what can l leave to you? I don't have anything of importance, so I am leaving you parts of myself--to each one something else. But you will not be limited by what I leave to you; you will just have to work harder to achieve what your brothers have received. With that introduction, he proceeded. "To you, my firstborn, Reb Sholom Yosef, I leave my appearance;to you, my son Avraham Yaakov, I leave my brain; to you, my son my wisdom; and to you my youngest son Mordecha'le, I leave my knowledge of G-d. I leave you with the teaching that what a manachieves by dint of his own efforts has far more worth than anything that another gives him. When you strive through your own exertion to gain an understanding of the Creator, then you can finally say, "This is my G-d."
A short time later the Tzadik passed into the Next World. His sons decided to spend the entire years of mourning in the town where their father had spent his last days.
The brothers were in harmony about most issues. They divided their father's estate between them without dispute, but when it came to the question of their father's tefillin, they could not agree. Each claimed the tefillin for his own.
The tefillin were unique, and their father had prized them far above any other possession. They had belonged to his great- grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov, and had been meticulously written by one of his disciples. Then they passed from father to son, from Rabbi Avraham the "Angel," to his son Rabbi Shalom of Provitch, and down to Rabbi Yisroel of Rizhin. These tefillin were as fresh as the day on which they had been written, and although the Rizhiner checked them regularly several times a year, they never needed repair.
Many wondrous stories were told about those tefillin. Once Reb Yisroel had been imprisoned by the Russian authorities. Fearing that some harm might come to his precious tefillin in prison, Reb Yisroel left them in the care of a trusted friend. The moment he was released, he hurried to this friend's house to reclaim his tefillin. He opened them up to check them, and to his horror, the parchments were covered with a thick, green mildew. Panic-stricken, he sent for a scribe, who would have perhaps have some way to save them. Imagine his shock when the scribe arrived and examined the tefillin only to find that they were perfect-the mildew had vanished. Reb Yisroel took this miraculous event as a sign that he should never again allow himself to be parted with his precious tefillin.
The brothers finally came to a solution. They would each write on a piece of paper what they were prepared to relinquish from their legacy in order to possess the tefillin. Whoever gave the most would receive the tefillin. Each wrote and sealed his paper in an envelope, but at the last moment, they decided to draw lots instead. Reb David Moshe's name was drawn, but he was not in the least surprised. He told his brothers, "These tefillin have been mine for many years. A few months before my bar-mitzva, Father called me into his room and taught me all the laws of tefillin. When he had finished, he pinched my cheek and said, 'My son, l have hidden for you a pair of tefillin which are more precious than all the treasures on earth. I myself guard them, andI am keeping than for you.'
"Before my bar-mitzva, Father called me to his room again, and there, a scribe prepared a pair of tefillin for me. I wondered to myself, 'How could these be the precious tefillin which my father had promised me?'
"For many years I wondered, until now, when I understand what Father meant. Finally, the precious, unique tefillin that our father promised me are mine."
"He who says...what is mine, is mine, and what is yours--this is a median characteristic, and some say this is the characteristic of the people of Sodom" (Ethics of the Fathers, 5:10).
An individual who behaves in this manner, not wanting anything from others and unwilling to give of himself, does not seriously threaten the existence of the world. Yet, if this same attitude is adopted by an entire society, it leads to the degradation and indifference of Sodom, where poor people died in the streets from hunger.
"There are four types among these who give charity" (Ethics 5:l3).
Two men once came to Rabbi Yehuda Landau, to collect money for a poor man. "How much does he need?" Rabbi Landau asked. After citing a particular sum, Rabbi Landau offered the entire amount, minus a few gilden, to the two visitors. They did not understand his gesture. If he could afford to part with such a large sum of money, why not the entire amount?
"The Torah states, 'One who wishes to give but that others should not--he begrudges others.' One must leave room for others to perform the mitzva of charity as well..." he explained.
"Which is a controversy for the sake of heaven? The controversy between Hillel and Shammai" (Ethics 5:17).
Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner used to say: "Only people of the stature of Hillel or Shammai could engage in controversy for the sake of heaven. People on our level, however, must avoid even this type of disagreement."
"Ben Bag Bag said...Ben Hay Hay said..." (Ethics 5:21).
According to one opinion, these two individuals were really one person, a proselyte (ger) who joined the Jewish people at an advanced age, yet who excelled in his Torah studies to such an extent that he was included among the Sages who put the Mishna together.
Abraham and Sarah, the first Jews, are considered the parents of all future proselytes. The name "Bag Bag" is really an abbre- viation of the words "*ben ger*" (son of a proselyte) and "*ben giyoret*" (son of a female proselyte). Additionally, the name "Hay Hay" alludes to the letter "hay" of G-d's name which He added to Abram and Sarai, transforming them into Abraham and Sarah. Because of his self-sacrifice to become a Jew, this Sage was therefore most qualified to stress the greatness and uniqueness of Torah.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita)
Our Sages relate that the world will exist in its present state for six millennia: There will be 2,000 years of chaos, 2,000 years of Torah, and 2,000 years of preparation for the Messianic Age. Thus, the sixth millennium (in which we now live, as it is the year 5753 since the creation of the world) is intended to prepare us for the seventh millennium, the age which is "all Sabbath and rest for eternity"
the Messianic Age.