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by Rabbi Benzion Milecki
The sore which is Bosnia continues to fester. Every day, the news is filled with reports of senseless self-destruction. Bosnia is a microcosm of a very troubled world. A world where the long overdue demise of communism has left a legacy of competing nationalisms. Having been snuffed out by totalitarian regimes they have arisen as a phoenix from the ashes.
We Jews are instructed to find significance in everything we see or hear. What can we learn from these nationalistic eruptions?
Let us commence with a story. It occurred that, when all else failed, a certain Jew decided to make his living by converting to Christianity. (Many priests in the late Middle Ages and early modern period enticed Jews to convert by offering monetary bribes.) Not that this Jew believed in Christianity. But, business is business! And so he went from village to village telling the priests he was willing to convert and then he received the appropriate fee. One day he came to a priest who agreed to the conversion, but would only pay if the Jew stayed in town so that he could monitor the new convert. The priest warned the Jew of the requirements of Christianity, including not eating meat on Fridays.
Conversion or no conversion, this Jew would keep the Sabbath. And what is Shabbat without gefilte fish, kishke and a chicken? So, behind closed doors he ate the traditional fare. Unfortunately, the priest came by.
"What! Chicken on Friday!" he yelled.
The Jew, for his part, shrugged and calmly replied that he was eating fish, not chicken. The priest stared at the platter of chicken.
"Do fish have wings?" cried the priest.
"I'm telling you, it's a fish," said the Jew.
"A fish with legs?"
"Believe me, Father, it's a fish!"
In exasperation, the priest screamed out, "You expect me to believe fish have beaks?"
"Father, allow me to explain," replied the Jew. "Last week when I came to you, you sprinkled holy water over me and solemnly pronounced, 'You are no longer a Jew, now you are a Christian!' Well, this afternoon, I got holy water and sprinkled it on the chicken. Then I solemnly pronounced, 'You are no longer a chicken; now you are a fish!' "
Ever since the 1800s there has been a belief in intellectual circles that all people are really the same. That the differences between people are no more than the product of environment. That given the right "holy water," nationalism would vanish and a humanistic being, unfettered by nationalist feelings, would emerge.
This idea, though taken to an extreme by the communists, wasn't one over which they had a monopoly. It was, and still is, shared by many intellectuals. What these past few years have shown is that despite massive efforts to assimilate people from their national and religious origins, the success is but skin deep; under the surface, nationalism is healthy and thriving. Holy water or not, no transformation has occurred.
Any attempt to change people from without is doomed to fail. The only successful change is one which comes from within--a change initiated by the individual himself. When, and only when, a person becomes emotionally or intellectually convinced that it is in his best interest to change, only then does change have a chance of success.
A parallel can be drawn from Jewish history. One often hears people say: "I would believe in G-d if He revealed Himself to me. If He would appear to me the way He is supposed to have appeared on Mt. Sinai!"
What these people fail to understand is that those very events are the greatest proof that miracles serve no purpose in convincing people to believe in G-d. After experiencing all of those wondrous events, the Israelites created the Golden Calf! Why? Because it was G-d who revealed Himself to them, washing over them with His Divine Light. When G-d's "light and sound" show came to an end, so did their enthusiasm for Him. For the relationship to endure, we need to discover G-d for ourselves.
Ultimately, it is each individual who must start the process and do the discovering.
It once occurred that a chasid committed a grievous sin. He went to ask Rabbi Sholom Ber of Lubavitch how to rectify the sin. Upon hearing the details, the Rebbe told the chasid that there was nothing he--the Rebbe--could do to help. The chasid left the room, broke into uncontrollable tears, and fainted. The Rebbe's brother, Reb Zalman Aharon, revived the chasid and asked what had happened. The chasid told Reb Zalman Aharon what the Rebbe had said. Reb Zalman Aharon entered his brother's room and asked, "How can you say that you can do nothing for him. He is totally broken!"
"If so," replied the Rebbe, "I can now begin to help him."
So you see, even a great Rebbe can't help a person until there is movement from the person himself.
After his monumental victory over the four kings in this week's Torah portion, Lech Lecha, G-d promises our forefather Abraham: "Fear not, Abram...your reward shall be exceedingly great." Rashi, the great Torah commentator, explains that Abraham was worried that the victory was the entire reward for his righteousness. "Do not worry," G-d assured him, "Your reward will be exceedingly great."
G-d's promise of further reward seems odd. For we are told that Abraham served the Creator out of love, for its own sake, untinged by ulterior motives, even the promise of spiritual gain. Maimonides explained this type of service as: "(One who) engages in Torah and mitzvot...not for the sake of the good it brings, but...because it is truth." This type of service, Maimonides continues, was best characterized by Abraham, "who only served G-d with love."
Why, then, was Abraham so concerned with his reward that G-d had to personally reassure him? Similarly, in our Torah portion, G-d urges Abraham to leave the country of his birth, promising that "I will make your name great." Surely Abraham was uninterested in personal glory!
Abraham considered himself "dust and ashes"--merely a tool to be utilized by G-d for whatever purpose He saw fit. Abraham's only goal in life was to sanctify G-d's name, to bring as many people as he could to recognize the Creator of the world. The mention of Abraham's name caused G-d's name to be sanctified; personal recognition and renown were of no consequence to Abraham himself. G-d's promise served to reassure Abraham that his efforts to that end would be met with success.
Abraham's concern with reward may also be understood in the same light. Abraham was interested in material compensation only insofar as it served to show others that the worship of G-d is something to be desired, bringing benefit to those who serve Him. Tangible reward for righteousness would offer inducement to those with whom Abraham came into contact and endeavored to influence.
For this reason, Abraham worried that a lack of tangible reward might be misconstrued as weakness, G-d forbid, on the part of the Creator. If people saw a righteous man such as Abraham lacking, how could they be convinced that his path was just?
This also explains why a Jew is encouraged to keep the Torah's commandments even if his motivation is purely personal, falling short of the ideal of "for its own sake": Although the body may be interested solely in physical reward, the Jewish soul rejoices when material blessing causes G-d's name to be publicly sanctified, just as in the case of our Patriarch Abraham.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
by Larry Gordon
Guyana is a small nation sandwiched between Venezuela and Brazil. Over the last few years, as the government of Guyana changed from Marxist to more of an open type of rulership, new opportunities for business and commerce have opened. Nevertheless, a handful of Jews have been doing business in Guyana for decades.
One such Jew is Samuel. He lives in Antwerp, Belgium, but frequently travels around the world to oversee the exploration of diamonds and gold in the fields he owns in Guyana and elsewhere. He observes Shabbat and Yom Tov, and despite his extensive travels, keeps scrupulously kosher. He spends weeks, sometimes more, in his headquarters in Georgetown, the capital city of Guyana.
A few years ago, on one of his jaunts, he encountered a Lubavitcher chasid who, thought he does not reside in Guyana, travels there frequently. Samuel usually ran into him in his hotel. The chasid told Samuel that the Rebbe had charged him with finding and extending good wishes to "the Jew born in Guyana." There must be a mistake, Samuel told the chasid, explaining that he--Samuel--was best known as "the Jew in Guyana," but was not born there.
About six months later, however, Samuel received a call from the chasid telling him that he had found the Jew born in Guyana. A meeting was arranged between Samuel, the emissary and the Jew. He was about 70 years old, partially blind and suffering various infirmities. He knew next to nothing about Judaism.
"How do you know you are a Jew?" Samuel asked the man when they met. The man, who called himself John, astounded his new friends by telling them that each morning when he awakes he recites Modeh Ani and Shema Yisrael.
"But how do you know you are Jewish?" Samuel persisted. John explained that years ago he had hoped to marry a Muslim woman, and before consenting to marriage she insisted that John meet with her Imam. The cleric asked John if he was a religious man. John answered that he was not. He asked John if there was any way at all that he served G-d. John thought for a moment, then answered that every morning he says Modeh Ani and Shema Yisrael. The Imam was quite taken aback, and declared: "Then you are a Jew. You must convert." Anyway, John explained, that's how he knows he is Jewish.
Samuel and the Lubavitcher continued to educate John about his Jewishness. Most of the time John would visit them in Georgetown. On occasion they would come to visit him in his home, which would best be described as a shack where he lived with his Christian wife.
John continued to enhance his religious practices. He had lost his father when he was just three, and his mother passed away before his sixth birthday. His recollections of them were vague, but he told Samuel he remembered his father hovering over him like a bird. All Samuel's questions to prod John's memory for more details produced no conclusive answers. All John could recall was that his father had hovered over him like a bird.
About half a year later, on yet another trip to Guyana, Samuel received a call in his hotel from John's distraught wife. She told Samuel that she had proof that John was planning on leaving her and told Samuel that her suspicions were raised when she found a small suitcase in a closet, packed with some of John's clothing and with some money hidden there as well. Samuel told her he would get to the bottom of the matter.
A few days later, Samuel invited John to his hotel. John arrived early, and entered just as Samuel was getting ready to say his morning prayers. With John waiting in the room, he removed his talit from a bed and spread it over his head, with his arms extended, prior to reciting the blessing on the talit. "That's it!" John said. "That's the 'bird' I remember." Hesitatingly, he recounted his faint recollection of his father spreading out his talit in the morning, as he, the toddler, watched in amazement. Other elements of his forgotten childhood began rushing back to him.
A little while later, Samuel asked John about the suitcase with the money. John told Samuel that he was losing his eyesight, and felt weak and feeble. He packed the suitcase because he was expecting Moshiach to arrive any day, and he wanted to be ready. He set aside the money be-cause he wasn't sure how else he would acquire food for himself during his journey to Jerusalem.
I heard this entire story from Samuel just a few days ago. It came up because we were talking about what is currently known as the Moshiach Campaign. We talked about the billboards on the highways, the ads in the newspapers, and the critics. We talked about the possibility of Moshiach's imminent arrival. We talked about our expensive vacations, our fancy cars and costly clothing and our doubts if Moshiach could come under such circumstances. That 's when he told me about John, a Jew living in Georgetown, Guyana. In his poverty and hardship, in his confusion and ignorance, he had the presence of mind to pack a suitcase to make sure that he's ready. How could Moshiach's arrival not be imminent? Samuel asked.
Reprinted from the Algemeiner Journal
- (Back to text) Modeh Ani are the first words of the prayer said immediately upon awakening in the morning.
THE DAYS OF MOSHIACH
by Menachem M. Brod
A wealth of information on Moshiach and the Redemption is scattered throughout Jewish literature, but few sources present it in an orderly fashion and in layman's terms. The Days of Moshiach succinctly explains and illuminates this critcal phase of Jewish history that is unfolding before our eyes. Published by Chabad Youth Organization in Israel and available at your Jewish bookstore or by sending $14 plus $3 s&h (payable to IMC) to the: Moshiach Center, 355 Kingston Ave., Bklyn, NY 11213.
GETTING READY WITH YONA
An audio tape and activity book for children with a captivating story about Moshiach, the Messianic Era and what youngsters can do to get ready for it. This innovative set is just one of the many educational materials prepared by the Chabad-Lubavitch Shluchim Office for use at home or in schools. Getting Ready With Yona is available individually for $10 plus $3 s&h at the Moshiach Center. For bulk orders contact the Shluchim office at (718) 221-0500.
From letters of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
25 Elul, 5735 (1975)
With reference to your writing about doubts and the difficulty of making decisions, and about a feeling of insecurity in general--I trust it is unnecessary to elaborate to you at length that such feelings arise when a person thinks that he is alone, and can rely only upon himself and his own judgement, and therefore feels doubtful and insecure about each move he has to make. And while he also trusts in G-d, this trust is somehow superficial without permeating him and his way of life in every detail; and only on certain days, such as the High Holy Days, he feels closer to G-d.
But when a person's faith in G-d is deep, and when he reflects that G-d's benevolent Providence extends to each and every person, and to each and every detail, and each and every minute, surely he must develop a profound sense of security and confidence. The concept of "Divine Providence" is better understood in the original term of "hashgacha pratit," for "hashgacha" means "careful watchfulness," for which reason the term hashgacha is used also in connection with the laws of kashrut, where every detail has to be carefully watched. Nor is another translation which is sometimes used in connection with hashgacha pratit, namely "supervision," entirely satisfactory in this case, because supervision implies "overseeing," that is to say, seeing from above, whereas hashgacha in the sense of G-d's watchfulness means knowing matters through and through....
13 Cheshvan, 5734 (1973)
...If anyone may entertain any doubt about his ability to meet a challenge that Divine Providence has "thrown into his lap," suffice it to remember that G-d does not act despotically or capriciously and most certainly provides the necessary capacity to meet the challenge, and to do so joyously, which is the way of all Divine service, as it is written, "Serve G-d with joy," and which, incidentally, is a basic tenet of the Chasidic approach to all matters.
10 Menachem Av, 5743 (1983)
...I trust you know that one of the basic tenets of our religion and way of life is to have complete bitachon (trust) in G-d, whose benevolent Providence extends to each and everyone individually. In addition to this being a must for its own sake, it will go a long way to reduce anxiety and strengthen your peace of mind. At the same time, it is, of course, necessary to follow the instruction of one's doctor, which is also one of the teachings of our Torah.
May G-d grant that you should have good news to report in all the above...
Chulda, one of the seven women prophetess, was the wife of Shallum, the royal chamberlain of King Josiah. She prophesied after the destruction of the first Temple, specifically to the women. Chulda was a descendant of Joshua and a relative of the prophet Jeremiah. She was buried in Jerusalem.
With the call from the Rebbe 21/2 years ago to learn more about Moshiach and the Redemption, numerous classes, books, pamphlets, tapes, newspaper ads, radio and cable T.V. shows have been produced to aid in this educational imperative.
And yet, many people still have a hard time accepting that belief in a human being of flesh and blood who will herald in the Messianic Era as G-d's anointed Moshiach is intrinsically Jewish.
Some people like to see cold, hard facts. With data in front of them they can evaluate the information themselves and come to their own, systematic conclusions.
If you fall into this category, here are some cold, hard facts to help you analyze the subject:
According to the Jewish legal authority known as the Semak, the belief in Moshiach is inherent in the first commandment of the Ten Commandments, "I am the L-rd your G-d."
The great commentator Rashi declares that the belief in Moshiach is inherent in the words "the L-rd is One" from the fundamental prayer of Judaism, the Shema. For, when Moshiach comes, everyone, Jews and non-Jews, will recognize the unity of G-d.
No less than five of the 19 prayers in the Shemona Esrei (the silent prayer that is central to each of the three daily prayer services) are requests for Moshiach or the Redemption. This, in addition to other requests in our daily prayers, make a total of 25,000 times annually that we appeal to G-d to initiate the Messianic Era.
Customs in each of our major festivals and at important moments in our lives include Moshiach, such as crying out, "Next year in Jerusalem" at the Passover Seder, breaking a glass under the chupa at a Jewish wedding and asking for the Redemption at every bris.
In the Talmud (Shabbat 31a) it is written that one of the first things we are asked when we pass from this world to the next world is, "Did you await the Redemption?"
Take a good, long look at the facts about the centrality in Judaism of the belief in and longing for the Messianic Era. And share them with your friends. They'd probably also like to have the info so they can come to their own conclusions.
When the young chasid heard that the Baal Shem Tov (the Besht) was going to spend the Sabbath in Posen, he was anxious to accompany his rebbe. Alexei, the driver readied the coach and they set out on the journey.
The Baal Shem Tov never travelled in an ordinary manner. While the driver sat napping, the horses were given free rein and ran at enormous speed. When the horses finally stopped, the carriage was standing in a grassy wooded area. The Baal Shem Tov took a flask and sent Alexei out to fill it with water from a spring.
He returned with the water and the Besht gave it to the chasid, cautioning him to make a blessing before drinking. As soon as he grasped the flask, he felt an intense thirst and just managed to say the blessing. Then the Besht and Alexei drank as well.
Everyone got back into the carriage. Once more, Alexei fell into a deep sleep. The unreined horses continued at their unnatural speed, coursing through the countryside.
"We are going so fast, but we don't seem to be reaching Posen," observed the chasid.
But the Besht was unconcerned, and replied, "We will be in Posen, G-d willing, at the proper time." They travelled throughout the night at the same enormous speed. When they stopped the next morning the Baal Shem Tov prayed at great length. Then they resumed the trip. The hours passed in rapid travel, but the chasid, who had travelled to Posen many times before, saw no familiar sites. Nevertheless, he restrained himself from questioning the Besht.
Finally, the horses drew to a stop outside a ruined shack and the Besht descended from the carriage. They entered the house and there on the floor lay a sick old man surrounded by his tattered, emaciated family. But when the old man saw the Besht, he rose to his feet and embraced him. The two spoke in hushed tones for some time. After the old man blessed the Baal Shem Tov they returned to the carriage and continued their journey.
Shabbat was descending when at last they reached the city of Posen. They alighted from the carriage on the Street of Students, a place known for violent anti-Jewish riots. Sure enough, as soon as word had spread that Jews had arrived they were surrounded by a vicious mob. The Besht traversed the crowd, unafraid, with the frightened young man at his heels.
They entered the house of a Jewish tailor, the only Jew tolerated by the locals because of his useful trade. The tailor greeted his guests joyfully, but with trepidation. "You have nothing to fear," the Besht assured him. Together with the assistant tailors, they formed a minyan, and began the Mincha service. But they were interrupted by the noise of a mob outside the door. The Besht opened the door and focused his blazing eyes on the hooligans. Terror-struck, they turned and fled.
When the story of this astonishing rabbi reached the ears of a certain university professor, he burned with curiosity. What kind of man could this be? He made his way to the tailor's house to observe the holy Besht. The following day he returned and sat, eyes riveted on the majestic figure of the rabbi. He listened intently to the Torah which was taught, and didn't move until Havdala was recited.
When they had eaten the Melave Malka meal, the Besht instructed the driver to bring the carriage and they departed, travelling again at a fabulous speed. In no time they arrived back in Brod. The young man was completely baffled. He got up the nerve to question the Besht. "I can't understand the point of this journey. Please allow me to ask you three questions: First, why did we stop in the grassy area? Second, who was the sick old man we visited? And third, why did we spend Shabbat with the tailor in Posen?"
The Besht replied: "I will answer two of your questions. The third you will decipher in due time. In the high grass there lay the bodies of two murdered Jews who had never received a proper burial. By reciting the blessings on the water, and praying the next morning we were able to elevate their souls. The sick old man was the greatest tzadik of our generation. He was destined to be Moshiach, but since our generation was not prepared for him, he was to pass away that very night. As for the reason for going to Posen, you will find out later."
Many years passed and one Shabbat the chasid happened to be in Posen. He had occasion to visit the home of the rabbi there and spent a wonderful Shabbat there, absorbing the erudite Torah commentary of his host. Suddenly the young man was struck by something his host had said. "I heard these very same words from the Baal Shem Tov in the house of a tailor right here in Posen!"
"Are you the young man who accompanied the Besht?" asked the rabbi.
"Don't you recognize me? I am the university professor who was present. The words of the Besht caused me to attach myself to Judaism."
Now the chasid finally understood the purpose of the mysterious trip to Posen.
At eight days old shall every male child be circumcised (Gen. 17:12).
A Jewish male enters into the covenant of Abraham at the tender age of eight days, before he can possibly understand the significance of the act, because brit mila involves the essence of the soul, which exists on a level far above human understanding and comprehension. The mitzva binds the soul to G-d, Who is also beyond our understanding and comprehension.
And the souls that they made in Charan (Gen. 12:5).
A person who takes pity on a poor man and sustains him is credited with having "created" that person, as we learn from Abraham our forefather: "The souls that they made" refers to the multitude of guests to whom Abraham offered his hospitality and brought into his tent.
And told it to Abram the Hebrew ("Ivri") (Gen. 14:13).
The word "Ivri" comes from the root word meaning, "side," for Abraham stood alone on one side, while all the world opposed him.
Look now toward the heaven and count the stars...so shall your seed be (Gen. 15:5).
Just as the stars in the sky appear from afar to be tiny specks of light, yet, in actuality, each one is an entire world, so, too, are the Jews: In this world Jews may be the object of scorn and derision, yet, in truth, the Jewish people are great and mighty, the foundation of the world's very creation.
(Baal Shem Tov)
Through telling stories about great tzadikim, we bring the light of Moshiach into this world and push away much darkness and troubles.
(Rabbi Nachman of Braslov)