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Last year, the request of a group of public high school seniors in California to recite an invocation mentioning G-d in their commencement exercises was refused. The graduating class --like all those students of the past who fought for what they believed in--organized what you might call a unique protest.
The class valedictorian stood up at the podium and eloquently pronounced the following simple phrase: "Ah, ah, ah, choo!" to which the entire class of graduating students responded, "G-d bless you!"
This year, the supreme courts in many states passed a measure allowing students to recite an invocation mentioning G-d if the majority of the students wanted such a prayer in their commencement exercises. In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public schools that allow secular non-school clubs to meet on school premises after school hours must also allow religious clubs to meet on the school grounds.
Finally, there are some people out there standing up for G-d's rights. Thank G-d (no pun intended), a group of teenagers in California decided to stand up for G-d's rights and managed to smuggle mention of the Creator into their commencement exercises.
Thank G-d, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that G-d's fans have just as much of a right to meet on school premises after school hours as, say, Star Trek fans or Heavy Metal fans.
The children of a generation of parents who said the "Pledge of Allegiance" each morning, mentioning the "G" word, but who themselves never recited it because it was considered unconstitutional, are standing up for their constitutional right to freely talk about G-d.
A whole generation of young people, many of whom have had contact with G-d only in money matters ("In G-d We Trust" is on all U.S. currency), are putting their trust in G-d and verbalizing that trust.
The only way to explain this recent phenomenon of people standing up for G-d from sea to shining sea is by quoting a great prophet of hope for the future. Concerning the Messianic Era, Isaiah said, "...the earth shall be full of the knowledge of G-d, as the waters cover the sea."
In the Torah, two different names are used to refer to the tribes of Israel--"shevatim" and "matot" (as in the name of the first of the two Torah portions read this week, "Matot"). "Shevet," literally a staff and "mateh," literally a rod or stem, both denote the branches of a tree. The difference between them is that a shevet is a supple branch, attached to a living tree, whereas a mateh is a hardened stick already cut from the trunk.
The two names used to denote the Jewish tribes have spiritual significance, and refer to the type of connection every Jew has with G-d, symbolized by the tree. When the connection between the Jewish soul and its G-dly source is open and revealed, the word shevet is used. When, however, the bond between the Jew and G-d is hidden and obscured, the word matot is used to describe the Jewish people.
In general, the first description refers to the Jewish soul as it exists before coming down into the physical world. The soul, united with G-d, is directly connected to its source, just as the branch is still connected to its source of life, the tree.
After the soul makes its descent into a physical body, however, it more closely resembles the mateh which has been severed from the trunk. The vital connection to its source, to G-d, is no longer easily perceived and apparent, so much so that the soul may feel as if it has been totally cut off, G-d forbid. The afflictions of the physical body and the demands of the material world harden the tender soul, making it tough and less sensitive to spirituality.
Yet despite the fact that the shevet is still connected to its source, it is not as strong and rigid as the superior mateh, which has been tempered by its experience. The branch, while attached to the tree, is green and flexible. Only after it is cut off does it become a sturdy and dependable rod.
This, in essence, is the purpose for which the soul is sent down into this world and distanced from its G-dly source--to uncover the soul's hidden strengths and enable it to reach an even higher level of spiritual closeness to G-d than before. When the soul overcomes the challenges of the Evil Inclination and the hardships of a physical existence, its bond with G-d becomes infinitely stronger and deeper.
The distinction between shevet and mateh exists on another level, too. When the Holy Temple existed and G-dliness openly illuminated the world, the Jewish people were on the level of shevet. After the destruction, however, and the advent of the dark and bitter exile, we find ourselves on the level of mateh. For almost two thousand years the Jewish people have had to develop its hidden resources and stand strong in the face of suffering. When Moshiach comes and the G-dliness which is concealed within all of creation is revealed, the Jewish people, through having uncovered the "mateh" within their souls, will enjoy an even closer relationship with G-d, the true purpose of the entire exile.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
THE RUSSIAN CHALLENGE
by Sara Pewsner as told to Devorah L. Dechter
"Petersburg? Who? Us?" This was our initial response when Lishkas Ezras Achim wanted to know if we'd consider moving as Lubavitcher emissaries to Petersburg, Russia. They had already sent five families to other parts of Russia.
Petersburg, formally known as Leningrad, has a very large Jewish population--over 150,000s Jews. I had already been there the year before as a single woman working in a Lubavitcher summer camp. But now it was different. I was married and soon to be a mother.
Despite our questions, we said yes to the delight of my father who was born in St. Petersburg. To be able to go back as emissar-ies of the Rebbe was amazing to my father, who had grown up there in an age when displaying one's Judaism meant immediate death or a long prison sentence.
We packed a 20-foot-long crate with everything we could think of and arrived in Petersburg last July . Two busloads of people were waiting to greet us at the airport. It was very heartwarming.
Immediately upon our arrival we set out to organize a day camp. "A day camp? There's too littLe time to plan it," we were told.
But plan it we did, and we even had to close registration because we simply did not have the staff or space for the number of children who wanted to enroll.
The success of the day camp was unbelievable and immediately spurred us on to establish other programs and institutions. We now have a yeshiva for boys as well as a separate school for girls, a kindergarten for the children and classes for adults throughout the week. This is in addition to having a minyan three times each day. When we arrived we found that we were able to get a few basic items like potatoes, onions, carrots and beets. So I have learned to cook with this small choice of vegetables in a variety of ways.
I also discovered that the Russian stores had about three items available at a time, none of which I needed. But soon I learned that when you see something you might some day need, you buy it then or you won't have it when you do need it.
Anti-Semitism in Petersburg is very strong. During a major concert that we had one night we discovered that a very anti-Semitic youth group had stationed itself outside the hall and was having a huge, raucous demonstration with banners and anti-Semitic slogans. We were very concerned. But G-d watches over His children and suddenly it started to pour. It rained so hard that the hoodlums fled. Thank G-d, everyone was able to leave peacefully.
A week later, as my husband was walking down a street, a huge, lumbering city bus, packed with passengers, pulled over to the curb and honked its horn at him. The driver, who had detoured the bus and all its passengers, called to my husband, "Rabbi, I really enjoyed the concert lat week. Thank you."
Since we live too far from the shul to walk on Shabbat and holidays, we have an apartment close to the shul where we stay on Shabbat. One Saturday night we returned to our apartment to find that it had been totally ransacked--our phone, fax machine, blend-er, appliances and more--had been stolen. There was no possible way for us to replace most of the items in Russia.
One week later, we loaded up a taxi to go for Shabbat again. We ran back upstairs to lock up and take a few remaining items. When we came back downstairs we looked up and down the street, but to our utter amazement, the taxi had disappeared! All our clothes, shoes, and even my makeup had been taken. We could only slowly replace them from America.
In our kindergarten class it is wonderful to see the pride of the parents in their children. These precious, little children knew nothing at all about Judaism and are now singing Jewish songs, learning about holidays and the Torah portion, studying Hebrew, and giving little performances at every opportunity.
Petersburg even has its own mohel [one who performs ritual circumcisions]. He has made quite a few britim since we came. One young boy about 13 years old had a bris and chose a Jewish name. A week later when he came to a yeshiva someone wished him mazel tov and asked him his Jewish name. The boy looked blank for a moment. He had forgotten his name. Suddenly his face brightened and he smiled and said, "You know, the same name as the Lubavitcher Rebbe in America." He had chosen the name Menachem Mendel.
We work on each challenge as it comes. But with G-d's help and the Rebbe's blessings, we are and will continue to be emissar-ies of the Rebbe in Petersburg.
Reprinted with permission of the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter.
SEVEN MILLION POUNDS
When the U.S. State Department donated seven million pounds of food to the people of the C.I.S., they designated the Lubavitcher organization Ezras Achim as the distributor. The food was shipped in 166 containers and is being distributed by Ezras Achim with the cooperation and assistance of the mayors and presidents of various republics. Hospitals, senior citizen homes, public schools, orphanages and even private individuals will be the beneficiaries.
A subscription to "L'Chaim" makes a great gift for birthdays, anniversaries, or "just because." To order a gift subscription send the name and address of the recipient, your name and address, and a check payable to LYO for $30 in the U.S., $33 in Canada and $40 elsewhere to: "L'Chaim," 1408 President St., Bklyn, NY 11213.
Dedicating an issue of "L'Chaim" is a great way to celebrate a special event, honor a loved one or commemorate a yarzeit. To reserve a specific date the request must be received 4 weeks in advance. For more info or prices, contact our office at (718) 778-6000 or fax (718) 493-1000.
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.
A SOURCE OF BLESSINGS
A letter from the Lubavitcher Rebbe
4 Elul, 5734 (1984)
I am in receipt of your letter of 14 August. Needless to say, I am very sorry that my previous letter caused you some anguish, which, of course, was neither intended nor anticipated. I therefore hasten to reply to your letter in order to clarify my intent and, hopefully, to dispel your anxiety.
By way of preface, you must not think that I take personal offense if the suggestions which I convey in writing or orally are not followed. Certainly, in your case, there was no thought in my mind that if my suggestions were not accepted there would be cause for apprehension. It is only that when I am asked for advice and the like, I offer it as I see it, to the best of my knowledge, in the best interest of the inquirer, and in the case of your husband and yourself--in the best interests also of those in your environment.
Now to your letter and my previous one, to which it refers: I am certain that your husband can accomplish a great deal in his field, and that he can accomplish it in a way that will also be beneficial to the cause of Yiddishkeit, which will be a source of blessing to yourselves and many others, as indicated above. The more the activities are in harmony with G-d's directives and Shabbat observance is one of the most important ones, not only as a basic mitzva of the Torah, but also of the Ten Commandments--the wider are opened the channels to receive G-d's blessings.
In the present instance there is a further benefit, in that generally when there is a proposition to appear in a show or entertainment, and, in the nature of things, such an offer may have both positive and negative aspects--the question of Shabbat and Yom Tov observance can serve as a test of its desirability. For if it has to be declined on this ground, it is an indication that it is not desirable also on other grounds, including the material aspect.
The above may seem like a mystical approach to material things. But on deeper reflection it can be seen that the mystical approach is also a practical one. Moreover, in recent years we have seen that where certain celebrities insisted on Shabbat observance, their religious convictions were respected. To cite some instances: The American Grand Master of Chess, Samuel Reshevsky, while participating in a tournament in Moscow, refused to play on Shabbat, and the game was postponed until after Shabbat. And although religion is not at a "premium" in that country, it only raised his prestige. It was also beneficial to him from a practical viewpoint, for it gave him an opportunity to rest an extra day in between games, which, needless to say, are rather strenuous.
The world chess champion, B. Fischer, who is a Jew, though he professes to be a follower of the Seventh Day Adventists, also refused to play on Shabbat, even though he forfeited the game, but it did not hurt his chances to win the crown.
A further example from the world of business: A person who is a friend of mine participated in an International Fair in Moscow some 4 or 5 years ago. He notified the authorities that he could not do business on Shabbat, and a special session was arranged for him on Sunday. It turned out highly satisfactory for him, even business-wise, quite unintentionally and unexpectedly.
You write that you hesitated to show my letter to your husband, not knowing if he would follow my suggestion, etc. But I do not see why you should be apprehensive, since, as I explained, above, it is not connected with any stricture on my part. It is only free advice which, I believe, is for his benefit also materially, in addition to the spiritual aspects. But if he is not ready yet to accept it, I am certain we will remain good friends...
May I add that apparently I give your husband more credit than you do, for I firmly believe that he is capable of forgoing the material gain and personal satisfaction of appearing in a show if he is convinced that there is a worthwhile cause to warrant it. At any rate, my suggestion was based on the assumption that it would come--as you express it in regard to yourself, and also your husband, "from within, on a voluntary basis," being certain that your husband already has it "within" him, and only needs to bring it out to the surface in actual deed.
Pinchas was the son of Elazar, the High Priest. He witnessed the immoral conduct of Zimri, and in his zeal to defend G-d's honor, slew him in his tent. By this brave act, Pinchas stopped the spread of the plague that had ravaged the Jewish encampment, killing many thousands. He was rewarded with the priesthood for him and his descendants.
"The son of David (i.e., Moshiach) will only come b'hesech hadaat--unexpectedly," is a well-known saying. If this is true, how can we pray for, await, study, teach, and speak constantly about Moshiach?
We don't have to look very far to find the answer to this question. First, nowhere do our Sages make exactly the above statement. In the Talmud (Sanhedrin) it says, "The son of David won't come until they despair from exile," and "Three things come unexpectedly, they are: Moshiach, a 'find' (metzia), and a scorpion." This tells us, in no uncertain terms, that the Redemption will come suddenly, without us being notified in advance exactly when it will come.
Thus, the simple meaning of the statement from the Talmud is that the Redemption will be as much of a surprise as finding a "metzia" or a scorpion stinging. This is despite the fact that we are to constantly pray and think about and hope for the Redemption.
Even more so, the two examples given by the Talmud show us that thinking about and awaiting the Redemption do not contradict the teaching that it will come unexpectedly. A person can go around a whole day looking for a find or a bargain. But at the moment when he actually finds the "metzia" he is certainly surprised and elated. Similarly, even if one is warned that a field has scorpions in it, and one passes cautiously through the field, constantly looking all around for scorpions--one is certainly shocked if the scorpion does bite.
In addition, the "Maharsha" says some amazing things about this saying of our Sages. He explains why in this statement Moshiach is mentioned together with a "metzia" and a scorpion. "If he merits...Moshiach's coming will be for him like the unexpected appearance of a "metzia," he will rejoice and it will be good for him. But if he doesn't merit--the coming of Moshiach will be for him like the unexpectedness or the bite of a scorpion..."
The Rebbe explains that hesech hadaat is a very high level of waiting for Moshiach. We are required to await Moshiach, not on the basis of our own personal understanding of how good it will be for us when Moshiach comes. We must divert our attention from all of our thoughts of the material and spiritual good that will be ours in the Messianic Era; our thoughts need to be on one thing only--that the Divine purpose of the creation of the world will finally be realized--that there will be a dwelling place for G-dliness in this world."
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
The chasidim of Poland were reeling from the shock. Their rebbe, the tzadik Rabbi Moshe of Lelov, had decided to make aliya, to ascend and settle in the Holy Land! How could they possibly go on without his holy leadership?
To his most intimate chasidim he revealed that since early childhood, he had had an overwhelming desire to do something special to hasten the coming of Moshiach. When he was a small boy, Reb Moshe's father, Rabbi David of Lelov, had told him, "I did not merit to see the Holy Land, but you must go there. Through your divine service which you will perform there, you will succeed in bringing Moshiach sooner and hastening the Geula, the Redemption." This was the true reason, known only to a select few, that the tzadik was preparing for his journey to the Holy Land.
He passed through many towns and villages on his way, accom-panied by his chasidim. He came to the town of Sadigur and he stopped to say his farewell to the tzadik, Rabbi Israel of Rizhin. But when the Rizhiner heard of the Reb Moshe's plans to journey to the Holy Land he begged him to wait and allow him to go along.
Reb Moshe was impatient to continue his journey. "My white beard is unwilling to allow any postponement," he replied; and so he continued his journey alone.
From time to time, when the retinue stopped, Reb Moshe delivered Chasidic discourses. He expressed his intentions to the chasidim, telling them that upon arriving in Jerusalem he would, "First go to the Kotel [the Western Wall] and blow the shofar so that all the worlds [this world and the innumerable spiritual worlds] will shake. I will refuse to move from that spot until the Moshiach comes.
"I am also bringing with me the kiddush cup which belonged to my teacher and rebbe, the Chozeh of Lublin. This cup is filled with great holiness which will enable me to work many wonders."
The tzadik continued his journey until he reached the point of departure. Then, he bid a final farewell to his disciples and, together with his family boarded a vessel bound for the Holy Land. After a long voyage, they landed on the longed-for shores of the Holy Land. They headed at once for Jerusalem and reached the gates of the Holy City.
No sooner did they approach the city gates when the precious goblet which had belonged to the Chozeh slipped from Reb Moshe's sack and shattered on the stones.
They tried to continue their journey, but Reb Moshe was suddenly overcome with a terrible illness. They had no choice but to break their trip until he recovered. But the tzadik only became sicker and sicker, until he became critically ill. In a few short days, Reb Moshe felt that he would not live much longer. He entreated his family to quickly carry him to the Kotel, and this they did, fearing that his end was, indeed, approaching.
But as they hurriedly carried the tzadik toward the Kotel and were about to reach the final turn, they were attacked by Arabs hurling stones down from the surrounding houses, and were lucky to escape with their lives.
Reb Moshe of Lelov passed from this world without having realized his fondest dream, and without having succeeded in bringing the Redemption, for it was ordained by Heaven that the time for Moshiach's arrival had not yet come.
"Know what is above you--an Eye that sees, an Ear that hears, and all your deeds are recorded in a book" (Ethics of the Fathers, 2:1).
"All three of these things are 'above' a person in the sense that they are beyond his control: The Eye observes against one's will; the Ear listens against one's will; and all of one's deeds are recorded in G-d's book whether one likes it or not"
"And all your deeds are recorded in a book" (Ethics, 2:1).
"Why does it say that G-d writes our deeds down? Does He really need a notebook to remind him of man's actions?
"Rather, the fact that each deed is recorded serves to remind us that our actions down below are important and make a definite impression above.
"(It is interesting to note that this saying is attributed to Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi, who was responsible for compiling the Mishna and committing it to writing because of the difficulties and hardships of the exile)
(Blossoms, Rabbi Yisroel Rubin).
"Rabbi Shimon said: 'One who sees the consequences of his actions'" (Ethics, 2:10).
"Why is meant by 'seeing' instead of 'understanding' the results of one's actions? Although a person may very well under-stand intellectually that a certain course of action will lead him to sin, unless that rational understanding is internalized, he may not refrain from transgressing. The intellect is not always strong enough to rule over the emotions. Furthermore, the Evil Inclina-tion sometimes presents itself clothed in logical rationalizations, which nonetheless lead a person astray.
"Seeing, however, indicates a degree of understanding deeper than mere intellectual comprehension. It is very difficult to dissuade a person from believing something he has seen with his own two eyes".
(Biurim L'Pirkei Avot)
"Rabbi Shimon said, 'Be meticulous in reading the Shema and in prayer'" (Ethics, 2:13).
"The Hebrew word for 'meticulous,' 'zahir,' relates to the word 'zohar,' which means 'to shine.' Rabbi Shimon specified reciting the Shema and praying, as opposed to Torah study, because these services are relevant to each and every Jew, regardless of his level of learning. Every Jew is enjoined to shine forth and illuminate his surroundings in this manner. Although in general, the concept of exuding light is associated with Torah study, Rabbi Shimon generated the potential for such light to be produced through the services of reciting the Shema and the daily prayers."
(Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita)
"Two or three years ago I asked the Gaon, the great and famous teacher and rav, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, shlita, (z"l), what he says about the coming of Moshiach. He said to me then, and these are the exact words, 'He is certainly already here.' I understood from him that his opinion is that Moshiach already exists here in the world and is presently doing what he needs to do--in a concealed manner--and that we have to strengthen our prayers and our repentance, for it is possible for us to hasten the chain of events leading up to our Righteous Moshiach and merit his complete revelation speedily in our days, amen"
(From Pirkei Teshuva U'Geula by Rabbi Sholom Shachne Zohn, 1970).