by Rabbi Kasriel Kastel | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | Rambam this week | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
- Twenty hours in an airplane. That's about how long it takes to get from New York to Australia, a trip I made this summer to celebrate a family simcha.
Imagine sitting on an airplane for twenty hours, flying in almost total darkness the whole time. Whether your watch reads midnight, 7 a.m. or noon, it is still pitch-black outside. Every once in a while you peak out of the window, half-expecting to see land, water, mountains, even clouds. Forget it. You don't see anything, except a great expansiveness of darkness.
- And then, all of a sudden, though after 20 hours of flying and near constant checking of your watch it's not really all-of-a-sudden, you see the "seat-belt" and "no-smoking" signs light up.
At this point I get up and start to pace. "Please sit down, sir and put your seat-belt on. The captain has indicated that we will be landing soon," I'm told by the friendly steward.
On edge, I reach for a book I've been reading and open up the tray-table to make myself more comfortable. As a different steward walks by, he says courteously, "Everyone has to lock their tray-table and return their seat to its upright position since the captain has indicated that we will be landing soon."
- I follow the command and bide my time by looking out the window. I don't see any land out there, nor mountains or water for that matter. The captain obviously knows something I don't know. Whether it's information he's received from a command tower, or the reading of his instruments I'm not exactly certain. But I do know that he possesses some knowledge that I don't have and I have to trust him and listen to his instructions.
An announcement is made that the stewards and stewardesses will be picking up excess trash and will be handing out cards to be filled in for customs, etc.
- And so, with nothing much else to do, I begin to think. I think about the 20 hour plane ride and the seemingly endless night and the captain's privileged information and my trust in the captain.
My mind wanders to the Rebbe's words of two and a half years ago, that the Redemption is imminent and that all that is left to do is for each one of us to prepare to greet Moshiach.
The past several years, the past 2,000 years of exile for that matter, are like one long, seemingly endless night. But the Rebbe--the captain, if you will--has indicated and announced that we will be landing very soon. Our landing, in fact, is quite imminent.
- And so, I must evaluate and consider what I am doing with myself and my life. Am I noting and following the others "instructions" the captain is giving? Am I securely fastened? Have I gotten rid of excess trash? Do I have all of the necessary and correct information so that I can pass through "customs" easily?
I understand, too, that the Rebbe knows and sees something that I simply don't. I'm still seeing darkness while he already sees or knows that there is land. He has been entrusted with "privileged" information and he has passed it on to us, so that we can prepare ourselves properly for the imminent landing. He's doing his part to make sure that we all experience a safe, smooth landing. And we have to do our part to make sure that we are ready to land, as well. Let's all be ready.
This week's Torah portion, Vayeishev, recounts the birth of Peretz and Zerach, the twin offspring of Judah and Tamar. The Torah relates that when Zerach "put out his hand first," the midwife tied a red thread around it as a sign, saying, "This one came out first." But Zerach drew back his hand; Peretz "broke forth" and was the first to be born.
The Torah's stories are not merely historical accounts of our progenitors. Rather, by virtue of their inclusion, they allude to events occurring later in Jewish history and reveal teachings pertinent to us in every day and age.
Our Sages teach that, by right, Zerach should have been the firstborn of the two brothers. His birthright was forefeited, however, because of a grave sin one of his descendents would commit generations later, during the time of Joshua. The sin was so great, affecting all Jews, that the twins' birth order was switched, and Peretz was born first.
The twins' names hint to an even deeper significance. The name "Zerach" comes from the Hebrew for "shining forth," like the light of the sun which illuminates the entire world. "Peretz," literally "breaking forth," was the progenitor of King David, from whom Moshiach will descend. On a more profound level, "Zerach" and "Peretz" stand for the two types of service of G-d--the service of tzadikim (righteous), and the service of baalei teshuva (penitents).
Each type of service has an advantage not present in the other. The tzadik's worship of G-d--"Zerach"--is steady and dependable. Each day, the tzadik methodically ascends the spiritual ladder, attaining higher levels of holiness. The service of "Zerach," however, is that of those whose yearning toward G-d occurs only after an initial distancing. At such times, the baal teshuva's thirst for holiness is even greater than the tzadik's, and his service is even more impassioned. The service of the baal teshuva contains the power to "break forth" and overcome the harshest of limitations. "In the place where baalei teshuva stand, even perfect tzadikim cannot."
G-d desires every Jew to serve Him in righteousness; accordingly, Zerach's hand was extended first. But because the world was created in such a way as to accommodate sin, it was necessary for Peretz to be born first, indicating the value of the service of the baal teshuva.
Furthermore, the Final Redemption is dependent on the service of the baal teshuva, which is why Moshiach is a descendent of Peretz. The long Exile served to expiate the sins which led to the destruction of the Holy Temple, thus placing the Jews in the category of baalei teshuva. Indeed, Maimonides states that when the Jewish nation sincerely returns to G-d, "immediately they will be redeemed."
Adapted from Talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Vol. 30.
Since 1989, nearly 500 people have taken a YeshivaCation--a ten-day Torah study program sponsored by Machon Chana Women's Yeshiva and Hadar Hatorah Yeshiva for Men. Participants come from all over the country and all walks of life.
Tanya Lokshin, a graduate student at the New England College of Optometry, learned of the program from her local Chabad rabbi. "I had no prior yeshiva experience," says the 23-year-old, "but after ten intense days of learning and living in Crown Heights, I returned home feeling as if I really had attended yeshiva. I never imagined a mini-yeshiva experience could be so fascinating."
Howard Saklad, a computer programmer at the University of Alaska, remembers how surprised he was by his own enthusiasm. "My first trip there was so informative and invigorating that I've been back three more times." Fortuitously, on his second trip, Saklad met a couple who eventually introduced him to his future wife. "My most vivid memory was experiencing the electricity of thousands of chasidim singing together. For me, seeing the Lubavitcher Rebbe each time was the most unique and rewarding experience of all."
Nechie King, Associate Professor of Education at Towson State University, found her first experience so enjoyable that she returned for another session. "I stayed with different families each time, and their hospitality added to the experience. As an academic I loved the adventure of learning and found the courses to be fast-paced and challenging." Professor King added that she considered it a special treat to meet many people at different stages of spiritual development.
Ari and Kathy Gerber decided to attend YeshivaCation as a couple. Ari, a computer analyst for the New York State Department of Transportation, reports that taking the program together gave them an opportunity to compare experiences and share what they had learned with each other. "The classes cleared up many misconceptions," he says. "Questions were answered openly and honestly. The most important thing I learned was that if you want to learn or experience more, it's not all or nothing. You can take it step by step."
Says Kathy, "I liked being around intelligent, sensitive women my own age with whom I could share experiences, women who were looking for something more out of life."
One participant wrote the following stream of consciousness:
Nine a.m. In one room, twenty women sit engrossed in a discussion of Chasidic philosophy. I am being introduced to these concepts for the first time. Suddenly, things are becoming clearer. The soul is beginning to take on some identity. In another room, advanced students grapple with the Yiddish text of an intricate Chasidic essay, sharing the challenge of a new language and the joy of discovery.
Ten o'clock. The group divides again. I go to "770" for the morning prayers, others join the beginners' prayer group at the school. Turning the pages of the siddur, learning to mouth the same words our ancestors lived with for generations.
Ten forty-five. It's time for skills. Reading and understanding Hebrew or Yiddish, studying Torah and Talmud from the original text, some of us for the first time.
Eleven thirty. The rest of the day begins. A chance to discover the depths of Jewish life. One day we focus on keeping kosher and go on a tour of a kosher kitchen. A discussion with a kashrut authority. Chasidic insights into keeping kosher make the whole concept more meaningful. Other days the focus is on Shabbat, Jewish marriage, Moshiach. All examined with the same thoroughness, a chance to discover the why, how, and when of these fundamental aspects of Jewish life.
It is already five p.m., time for a break to walk the streets of Crown Heights. Time to digest the thoughts of the past few hours. The crisp winter breeze, the dusting of snow, a woman crosses the busy street, cars rushing by. Though the wind blows she is warm, warmed by her scarf and coat from without, the fires of Torah from within.
After a home-cooked meal enjoyed in the cozy atmosphere of a neighborhood home or in the dorm, we are ready to take on the topic of the evening. A dialogue between a doctor and a rabbi on medical ethics, genetic engineering; a discussion about combining one's career with Torah; a debate on Orthodoxy and feminism; an evening of Chasidic music and art; a meal at a kosher Manhattan restaurant complement the day's learning.
Shabbat, the climax of the week. Festive meals, lectures, song and dance. This time experienced as part of the family, not a guest. The grand finale to the week's preparations, physical and spiritual.
Soon the ten days will be over and each of us will return home, some as close as Brooklyn, others as far away as California or Alaska. Some will return to the college campus, others to their professional and family life. Each one leaves with the usual souvenirs, pictures, new friends, renewed energy. But this time there is an added dimension.
YeshivaCation takes place twice a year--in late December and early June. The next YeshivaCation will be held Dec. 23-Jan. 2. For more info call (718) 735-0200. Or write to YeshivaCation, 824 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11213.
WORLD'S LARGEST MENORA
Join thousands of New Yorkers at the lighting of the World's Largest Chanuka Menora at 5th Ave. and 59th St. in New York City. Candle lighting on Dec. 8, 9, 12-15 is 5:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 10 at 3:30 p.m. Saturday evening, Dec. 11 at 8:00 p.m. There will be free hot latkas and Chanuka gelt for children on Sunday. Call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center for times and locations of public Menora lighting in your area.
The Chanuka House and Chanuka Windows, sponsored by Tzivos Hashem, will be open once again this year on 5th Ave. and 45th in Manhattan from Dec. 6 through Dec. 16. Hours for the Chanuka House, which is free of charge, are weekdays 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sat. evening from 7:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. For more info call (718) 467-6630.
Young women, ages 15-19, can meet their peers from all over the U.S. and Canada in a program that includes trips, winter sports, crafts, shopping, as well as the unique opportunity to discover some of our rich Jewish heritage at the famed Bais Chana Women's Institute in Minnesota. The special teen program runs from Dec. 22 through Dec. 28. For more information call the New York office at (718) 756-2657.
Excerpts from Letters of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
13 Kislev, 5723 (1962)
I was pleased to receive the news of your forthcoming Dinner on the 20th of Kislev, the day after the historic Day of Liberation of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, author of the Tanya and Shulchan Aruch and founder of Chabad.
It is both timely and meaningful to recall the following episode from his life and teachings:
The Alter Rebbe shared his house with his oldest married son, Rabbi Dov Ber (who later succeeded him as the Mitteler Rebbe). Rabbi Dov Ber was known for his unusual power of concentration. Once, when Rabbi Dov Ber was engrossed in learning, his baby, sleeping in its cradle nearby, fell out and began to cry. The infant's father did not hear the baby's cries. But the infant's grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, also engrossed in his studies in his room on the upper floor at the time, most certainly did. He interrupted his studies, went downstairs, picked the baby up, soothed it and replaced it in its cradle. Through all this Rabbi Dov Ber remained quite oblivious.
Subsequently, the Alter Rebbe admonished his son: "No matter how engrossed one may be in the most lofty occupation, one must never remain insensitive to the cry of a child."
This story has been transmitted to us from generation to generation; I heard it from my father-in-law of saintly memory. It was handed down because of the lasting message it conveys, one which is particularly pertinent to our time. It characterizes one of the basic tenets of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement--to hearken to the cry of our distressed Jewish children.
The "child" may be an infant in years, a Jewish boy or girl of school age, fallen from the "cradle" of Torah-true Jewish education, or it may be someone who is chronologically an adult yet an "infant" insofar as Jewish life is concerned, an infant in knowledge and experience of the Jewish religion, heritage and way of life.
The souls of these Jewish "children" cry out in anguish, for they live in a spiritual void, whether they are conscious of this or feel it only subconsciously. Every Jew, no matter how preoccupied he may be with any lofty cause, must hear the cries of these Jewish children. Bringing these Jewish children back to their Jewish cradle has priority over all else.
The Eve of Yud Tet Kislev, 5724 (1963)
...In one of his well-known letters, the Alter Rebbe declares that the happy tidings of his liberation reached him when he was reading the verse (Psalms 55:19): "[G-d] has redeemed my soul in peace from the battle against me, for many were with me."
This Providential coincidence surely carries a message for every one of us. Indeed, every individual is in need of a personal liberation from all the difficulties and hindrances encountered in daily life which hamper the attainment of the goals which should be achieved every day, in both material and spiritual endeavors.
Thus, our Sages make the following meaningful commentary on the verse: "Said the Holy One, Blessed Be He: He who engages in Torah, and in acts of loving-kindness, and prays with the congregation, is regarded by Me as if he redeemed Me and My children from among the nations of the world" (Talmud, Berachot 8a).
In this way, our Sages emphasize that the personal redemption of every Jew, as well as of the entire Jewish people, together with G-d (so to speak), is directly linked with the dissemination of Torah, acts of benevolence ("duties toward fellow-Jews"), and prayer ("duties toward G-d").
Thus, every man or woman who is involved in these three things brings liberation and redemption to himself as well as to our people as a whole.
The Eve of 19 Kislev, 5730 (1969)
The Festival of Liberation of the Alter Rebbe on Yud Tet (the 19th) Kislev, and the festival of Chanuka, though widely apart in historic perspective, have much in common in spirit and significance. It is therefore no accident that Divine Providence has brought both of them together in the same auspicious month of Kislev, within a week of each other.
The Alter Rebbe sought to illuminate Jewish life, even Torah life, with the inner light of the Torah and mitzvot, giving a new dimension of vitality and meaning to each and every Jew in his daily life. However, the light of Chabad Chasidut was threatened with extinction just as the light of the Torah and mitzvot was in danger in the time of Matathias. Thus, Yud Tet Kislev, the day on which the Alter Rebbe and Chabad were completely vindicated, may be considered a "festival of lights" much in the same way as Chanuka.
Similarly, both Yud Tet Kislev and Chanuka stress the importance of Jewish education in all its Torah purity, permeated with the spirit of self-sacrifice. It is no exaggeration to say that the dedicated workers of Chabad-Lubavitch are true heirs of the Hasmoneans of old. They render a most vital service in forming Torah outposts and strongholds in many parts of the world, in order to preserve and spread the light of the Torah and mitzvot, and to strengthen the foundation of Torah-true education.
This Friday, the 19th of Kislev, we celebrate the Festival of Redemption--Chag Hageula--of the first Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (known as the Alter or "elder" Rebbe).
Imprisoned by the Russian government on false charges of anti-governmental activities, the Alter Rebbe spent 52 days in the Petersburg Prison. The number of days providentially corresponds to the number of chapters in the Alter Rebbe's holy book upon which all Chabad Chasidic philosophy is based, Tanya.
The Alter Rebbe saw his release from prison and vindication not simply as a personal liberation, but as vindication and redemption for the entire Chasidic movement and its teachings, of which he was one of the main proponents. For the fledgling Chasidic movement, established only a few decades earlier by the Baal Shem Tov, was heavily denounced and attacked by many Jewish scholars and leaders of those times.
In a letter sent by the Alter Rebbe to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, the Alter Rebbe writes: "G-d wrought wonders and performed great miracles within the world...sanctifying His name in public, in particular before the officers of the Czar. They were also amazed by the circumstances and recognized that, "This is from G-d; it is wondrous in our eyes."
In a private audience two years ago with chasidim who had come to celebrate the 19th of Kislev together with him, the Rebbe stated, "In the spiritual realms, the Holy Temple is already in its place. And in the very near future, it will descend to the material world in the ultimate Redemption, led by Moshiach. This will be made possible by the preparations for the Era of Moshiach, the time period in which we are presently found. All the appointed times for Moshiach's coming have already passed, and all the service necessary has been completed. All that is necessary to do is open our eyes and we can see that the Redemption is already here."
If the Czar's officers nearly 200 years ago were able to recognize that Divine miracles took place for the Alter Rebbe and the Jewish people, it is certainly within our ability to "open our eyes and see that the Redemption is already here."
At this auspicious time, may G-d grant each of us the vision to see that the Redemption is here and the strength to implement the spirit of the Redemption in our lives.
What profit will it be if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? (Gen. 37:26)
The fact that we will be forced to conceal our deed indicates that it is wrong. "Wherever secrecy exists--thievery exists."
(Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk)
And he restored the chief of the butlers to his butlership...but the chief of the bakers he hanged (Gen. 40:21-22)
The butler was imprisoned because a fly had been found in Pharaoh's wine and the baker had been imprisoned because a pebble was in Pharaoh's bread. A fly is much more disgusting than a pebble. Why then was the baker's punishment harsher than the butler's? The baker and the butler hated each other with a passion. Each devised a plan to get the other into trouble so that Pharaoh would fire him from his position. When the butler was not looking, the baker put a fly into Pharaoh's wine cup. When the baker wasn't looking, the butler put a pebble into the dough from which Pharaoh's bread was made. In reality, therefore, the baker's offense against the king was greater. Likewise, his punishment was more severe.
We were binding sheaves in the field...and behold, your sheaves placed themselves round about, and bowed down to my sheaf (Gen. 37:7)
This world, in which physical objects appear to be distinct and separate entities from G-dliness, is likened to a field. To make a sheaf, the stalks of wheat must first be uprooted and then bound together. Similarly, the task of the Jew is to take physical objects, "uproot" them from their corporeality, and utilize them in the service of G-d so that they become vessels for holiness.
And on the vine were three branches (Gen. 40:10)
According to our Sages, the Jews are likened to the vine, the fruit of which "gladdens G-d and man." For within every Jew exists this attribute of "wine"--the innate ability to delight in G-dliness, an inheritance from our forefathers. This love for G-d is hidden deep inside, much like the wine is hidden in the grape and not outwardly discernable. Likewise, just as squeezing the grape releases the treasure within, so does personal refinement and self-nullification reveal this inner love and bring it to its potential.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita)
Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezritch, taught the tenets of Chasidism and the mysteries of Torah to the masses not only through stories, as did his predecessor, the Baal Shem Tov, but openly and explicitly. The Maggid's elucidation of the mystic tradition was opposed by many, amongst whom were some of his own senior colleagues who believed that these esoteric concepts were not meant for general consumption. One of these, Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz, felt strongly that the sublimity of these concepts would be degraded by their popularization. He was especially opposed to the practice of the Maggid's disciples of writing and circulating their transcripts of the Maggid's teachings for copying by others. His criticism was aggravated one day when, on a visit to Mezritch, he found one of these transcripts lying in the gutter. The wind had obviously seized the paper and carried it from an open window, but to Rabbi Pinchas, his worst suspicions appeared confirmed. He was notably upset; this incident could very well have led to a serious rift between himself and the Maggid. The situation was saved, however, by the quick intervention of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, a junior student of the Maggid. He approached Rabbi Pinchas and appeased him with the following parable:
"Once there was a great and powerful king who had but one son. The king wished to see his son excel in wisdom and strength and sent him to many distant places to be trained in all the arts and sciences. One day a letter came informing the king that while on some far-off island, the prince had fallen ill with a very dangerous disease which perplexed his doctors. Immediately the king gathered the greatest medical experts to find a cure, but to no avail. One day a man appeared and said that he knew of an effective medicine. The alleged elixir, however, consisted of a unique and most precious stone ground into a fine powder which had to be mixed with a liquid and then fed to the patient. After a thorough search the king's servants could find but one stone of the type prescribed: It was none other than the central and most precious jewel adorning the royal crown.
"The joy at finding this jewel was soon tempered by the great dilemma: The removal of the stone might cure the prince, but it would dim the very symbol of the royal majesty. But to the king, nothing mattered as much as a cure for his only son. He ordered that the jewel be removed and pounded into powder. In the meantime, however, the patient's condition had deteriorated severely to the point that he was unable to take in even liquids; for his mouth could hardly open. In view of this development the king's advisors thought it useless and senseless to destroy the precious stone and with it, the crown's glory. But the king insisted that they proceed, arguing that the slightest chance of getting a single drop of the elixir into the patient's mouth was worth the destruction of the inestimable stone.
"The advisors retorted: 'For as long as your son was able to take in food and drink we agreed with you. Indeed, nothing would have been too precious to save his life, but now his condition has worsened. It is most doubtful, in fact unlikely, that he will be able to take in anything. Surely it is not right to destroy the very diadem of the kingdom!'
"But the king replied: 'If, Heaven forfend, my son should not live, what use do I have for the crown? But if my son survives, surely that shall be my greatest glory--the life of an only son who exposed himself to danger in order to obey his father's wish and excel in wisdom and strength.' "
Rabbi Pinchas nodded his head in approval. He understood the analogy--that sometimes even the diadem of the kingdom must serve as a means towards a higher end: The King's son, the people of Israel, was in dire need of that most precious life-giving elixir of popularized Chasidut. With a smile he conceded: "You are quite right. Your words are an effective defense for the propagation of Chasidut."
Upon hearing of this incident the Maggid personally complimented Rabbi Shneur Zalman, adding: "With your words you saved me..." [For there had been an accusation made in the Heavenly Court against the Maggid for bringing the esoteric concepts of Kabbala to the masses. Rabbi Shneur Zalman refuted the charge, and therefore actually saved the Maggid's life.]
Excerpted from The Great Maggid, Kehot Publication Society.
"We were like in a dream" (Psalm 126:1) refers to these days until the coming of Moshiach, at which time the elevation of the sparks of holiness back to their source will have been completed. During these times we are likened to dreamers. In the Days of Moshiach we will be given the "explanation" of the dream, and actually understand what the exile was all about.
(Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi)