Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | by L. Diveer | The Rebbe Writes
Rambam this week | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count | It Once Happened
Super Bowl Sunday is just around the corner. Whether you're a casual fan, a football afficiando, an armchair quarterback, or a diehard devotee, you've probably already chosen which team you'll be rooting for.
Many of us who watch from the sidelines think that football players are mainly brawn, but more goes into a player than brute strength. Speed, hand-and-eye coordination, agility, brain power, team work, and a willingness to get bashed up if you're on the front line, are a few of the qualities of this all-American sport.
In keeping with the teaching of the Baal Shem Tov that everything we see and hear is a lesson for us in our Divine service, let's peruse just a few aspects of football and a couple of the rules, to see what we can learn from the game.
Points can only be scored through a touchdown, a field goal, or a safety. Though there are much more than just three ways to score Jewish points--mitzvot--there are also rules and regulations governing exactly how they can be scored. These rules and regulations are written in the Torah and the Talmud. They are taught and elucidated by our head coaches, defensive, offensive and speciality team coordinators.
You have to gain a minimum amount of yardage in each down in order to keep the ball. Whereas angels are described by the prophets as "standing still," people are described as "on the go." . Judaism teaches that we have to keep on moving, constantly trying to better ourselves spiritually and help those around us improve, as well. We are constantly trying to gain yardage. There is no apex, even for the greatest, most righteous and holy person. There is always room for growth and advancement. Sometimes, we move and gain yardage very, very slowly. At other times we find ourselves moving fast, unhampered by anyone or anything.
Your team can get heavy penalties for roughing up another player or for pass interference. Aside from the fact that it's simply not nice to rough people up or interfere with their positive actions, ultimately, when our own private scores are tallied, we get heavily penalized for poor, interpersonal relations.
Half-time is used for making up new strategies. There are specific times, according to Jewish teachings, that we should re-evaluate what we're doing, where we're going and consider how much we have already accomplished. Though any time is a good time for self-evaluation, Jewish half-time is specifically each evening before we go to bed, every Thursday night before the close of the old week, on the eve of the new Jewish month, and of course, during the month preceeding the High Holidays and the High Holidays themselves.
Timing is crucial and plays have to be executed according to the plan. Well, we all know that many mitzvot have to be performed at specified times, and that all mitzvot have to be executed according to the "plan"from the Divine plan-book--the Torah. As in football, you don't get many "time-out"s.
You have to keep your eye on the ball at all times. Keeping your eye on the ball means being aware of one's lifetime goal as an individual and the Jewish people's goal as a nation. As individuals, we each have our specific G-d-given mission in life and it is our responsibility to accomplish this mission.
As part of the Jewish people, our global mission is to make this world a place befitting the revelation of G-dliness which will be realized in the Era of Moshiach. We accomplish this by doing more good deeds, adding to our mitzvot, study more Torah in general and more about the Messianic Era in particular.
In football, and all sports, there are players and spectators. If you're a spectator and the game is tough, you can get up and leave before the end. The players always has to stay on the field until the very last play. If we all see ourselves as players in our role as Jews, then before we know it, we'll merit to be a part of the great historic event--and we don't mean Superbowl Sunday!
One of Pharaoh's harshest decrees against the Jews in Egypt was his order to throw every newborn male child into the Nile, as related in this week's Torah portion, Shemot. The Passover Hagadda, read each year during the seder, adds the following insight: " 'And our burden'--this recalls the drowning of the male children, as it is said, `Every son that is born you shall cast into the river, but every daughter you shall keep alive.' "
Our Sages explain that the word "burden" is equated with the raising and educating of children, implying the preeminent responsibility resting on the shoulders of Jewish parents. Our Sages understood that great effort must be expended in order to rear Jewish children properly. Both parents and teachers must share involvement in this holy task, investing much time and energy to ensure a younger generation that will develop properly and continue the Jewish way of life.
And yet, together with the recognition that raising Jewish children is hard work, the Torah promises that the rewards we reap will be well worth the effort. In fact, the more self-sacrifice a parent has on behalf of his children's Jewish education, the more he is assured that his children will be strong in their Judaism and untouched by Pharaoh's evil decree, whether thousands of years ago or today. It was precisely those Jewish children born under the threat of extinction in Egypt who were the first to recognize G-d at the splitting of the Red Sea, declaring, "This is my G-d and I will extol him."
Why should raising Jewish children require so much effort? Because our children are the foundation upon which the entire Jewish nation rests. "From the mouths of babes and sucklings You have founded strength." This secret has long been known to our enemies, who, from time immemorial, have sought to eradicate Jewish schools. It was for this very reason that in communist Russia the authorities tried especially hard to suppress Torah learning in schools attended by the youngest of Jewish children. "They have plenty of time to learn Torah when they grow up," the communists claimed, knowing full well that the Jewish child's formative years spent in a Torah-true atmosphere posed the greatest threat to the atheistic regime.
In the Talmud, a man by the name of Yehoshua ben Gamla is remembered for all time because of his educational innovation--the institution of publicly funded Torah classes for children, commencing at the age of five or six, in all cities and lands where Jews dwelled. Thousands of years later his name is still revered because of this accomplishment.
Jewish parents must therefore do all in their power--physically, spiritually and monetarily--to ensure that their children are enrolled in schools where they will be instilled with our timeless Jewish values. For the education of our children is indeed our "burden"; at times, personal sacrifice may be required.
In the merit of this, we will raise a generation of Jews who will again be the first to recognize G-d, in the complete and Final Redemption with the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our day.
Adapted from the Collected Talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Vol. 1
It was a hot day, last August, when a couple entered an office furniture store in the busy Afula bus station in Israel. The salesclerk on duty, Mr. Herzl Reuven, helped the customers make their purchase. When the transaction was completed, the satisfied couple left the store.
Seconds later the shop door opened once again. The couple had returned to question something on their receipt, not understanding how the sales tax had been figured. To their utter horror they found Mr. Reuven sprawled out on the floor.
At once the husband bent down to administer CPR, while his wife ran outside to summon an ambulance. Amidst the blare of sirens Herzl Reuven was taken to HaEmek Hospital.
News of her husband's collapse was brought to Leah Reuven, who rushed to the hospital. But the stark reality that greeted her was even worse than she had imagined. Herzl Reuven was in intensive care; his wife was not allowed to enter.
The doctors informed Leah that Herzl had suffered a massive heart attack, resulting in a severe lack of oxygen to the brain. "We don't mean to be cruel," one doctor explained, "but neither should you live with false hope. Professionally, we don't give him any chance for survival..."
Meanwhile, Herzl's parents and relatives had gathered in the hospital's waiting room to begin their agonizing vigil. One brother-in-law, Chaim Dayan, a Lubavitcher chasid, received the bad news over the phone. "Have you asked the Rebbe for a blessing?" he demanded.
The response was negative, so Chaim immediately called "770," Lubavitch world headquarters. Speaking to one of the Rebbe's secretaries, he described his brother-in-law's grave condition.
In the early hours of the morning, Chaim joined the rest of the relatives in the hospital's waiting room. He had already heard from New York. "The Rebbe has given his blessing," he declared. However, Herzl's medical condition was so grave by this time that Chaim overheard his father-in-law actually discussing which room the extended family should use to sit shiva.
Dawn broke. As word of the terrible tragedy spread, many more of Herzl's friends and relatives arrived at the hospital. Departing from standard procedure, the doctors decided to allow visitors to enter the sick room. "You won't be in our way," they explained, "because there is nothing more we can do. He has absolutely no chance of recovery. Whoever wants may come and say good-bye." The monitors clearly showed Herzl's heart rate was slowing, minute by minute.
Suddenly, Chaim's wife, Herzelia, who had been sitting on a bench in the waiting room, stood up. "The Rebbe gave his bracha!" she practically shouted to the startled group of relatives and friends (to this day, Herzelia doesn't know where she found the nerve to do this). "If the Rebbe gave his blessing, it will certainly be fulfilled. A bracha never goes to waste--it just needs something to attach itself to." Turning to Leah, she said, "You must make a proper vessel for the blessing by accepting the observance of mitzvot upon yourself!" Herzelia's loud voice drew the attention of the medical staff, who stopped to listen to the interesting exchange.
Without any hesitation whatsoever, Leah Reuven answered, "Yes! I hereby declare that I will begin to observe mitzvot!"
Barely a few minutes had passed when one of the doctors, after checking the patient's condition, walked into the waiting room and informed the worried relatives that miraculously, Herzl's erratic breathing seemed to be stabilizing. A slight glimmer, of hope appeared on the horizon. In fact, a short time later, Herzl was weaned off the respirator entirely. He was breathing on his own.
Throughout that day, Herzl was disconnected from one life-support machine after the other. That evening, when Herzl's father entered the room, the patient--who had been given virtually no chance of recovery--opened his eyes and said, "Abba! Why are you crying?"
As recounted by another of Herzl's sisters-in-law, pandemonium broke out in the waiting room as everyone's joyous laughing and crying transformed the somber silence of the hospital into a noisy marketplace. Doctors, nurses and even patients hooked up to their IV poles came to see what the fuss was all about.
"A miracle!" declared one doctor. "An absolute miracle from heaven--an open miracle of the Rebbe of Lubavitch!" Everyone agreed that Herzl Reuven had been brought back from the dead.
"They must stop confusing us with announcements over the radio that the Lubavitcher Rebbe is ailing," demanded one of Herzl's friends. "The Rebbe of Lubavitch isn't ill--you call this ill?"
"Just like Moses," added someone else. "The Torah says, 'One hundred and twenty years old...and his natural force was not abated.' "
Herzl Reuven went home after being hospitalized for a total of five days. "The fact that I am on my feet after being written off by the experts is simply a miracle," Herzl says. "I was given another chance. Indeed, I began to lead a new life. My wife started to observe mitzvot, and we both began to keep Shabbat. I even go to the synagogue and pray now! G-d should only continue to grant us strength and good health to observe even more..."
Translated by Basha Majerczyk from Kfar Chabad Magazine.
THE POWER OF A NAME
7 Tevet, 5717 (1957)
Recalling the well-known dictum of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the author of the Tanya and Shulchan Aruch and the founder of Chabad Chasidism, to the effect that "a Jew should live with the times," i.e., according to the time and spirit of the weekly Torah portion, I wish to dwell briefly on the first section of the Torah portion of Shemot (Exodus), which is the "Torah-time" when your celebration is taking place.
We are told in this first portion of the book of Exodus how a handful of Jews--seventy souls--managed to survive on the foreign soil of Egypt, in the midst of an overwhelmingly powerful and hostile people. They survived not by imitating their non-Jewish neighbors and trying to hide their identity, but, on the contrary, by realizing that they were different and by guarding, most zealously and uncompromisingly, their identity and spiritual independence. Our Sages pointed out this secret of survival in their commentary on the first verse of the Torah portion, "And these are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt." The Sages write, "Because they did not change their names and their customs, they were redeemed from Egypt." Moreover, not only did they manage to survive in such adverse circumstances, but they also multiplied in number and grew strong in spirit, until they received the Torah at Sinai, bringing light to the entire world and accomplishing the purpose of Creation.
This portion of the Torah, which gives us the story of the first Jews in the first exile, contains the secret of Jewish survival in all dispersions and in all generations. This lesson should be remembered, particularly in our own day, when the exile, has become so tragically devastating both physically and spiritually. Jews dispersed throughout the world are everywhere surrounded by a demoralized and hostile world, a world in which basic principles of humanity and justice are trampled upon, a world so confused that darkness is mistaken for light, and light for darkness, a world living in fear of atomic self-destruction, G-d forbid.
In this dark exile, we Jews must realize, more than ever before, the teaching of our Torah--the Torah of Life--that only through the preservation of our identity and spiritual independence, based on the solid foundation of our Torah and mitzvot and nurtured through an uncompromising Torah-true education of our children, can we ensure the survival of our people, spiritually and physically, and, moreover, grow and prosper.
13 Cheshvan, 5741 (1981)
I was particularly gratified to note that you have officially assumed your personal Hebrew names. This is certainly in keeping with the earliest Jewish tradition and something which was an important factor in the liberation of our ancestors from Egyptian bondage. For, as you surely know, one of the merits that brought about the Redemption from Egypt was the fact that the Jews there kept their Hebrew names and did not change them. And the significance of this is that a Hebrew name has a meaning and message that binds a Jew with G-d and His Torah, and this is especially important when Jews are in Exile.
I was very gratified to read about your advancement in matters of Judaism, and especially in regard to the Torah education of your children, and may G-d grant that you should go from strength to strength in all your good efforts, including the spreading and strengthening of Yiddishkeit within the family, as well as among your Jewish colleagues and friends--all of which will surely widen the channels to receive G-d's blessings in all needs and in a growing measure.
In previous issues we discussed various signs, both positive and negative, that our Sages predicated as indicators of the Final Redemption. One might wonder how much faith we should put in these signs; and do all of them need to be fulfilled before the Redemption? Furthermore, one might ask, are we to expect the Redemption if all of the signs have not yet materialized?
The Munkatcher Rav, a great Torah scholar and Talmudist of the early 1900s, was asked just these questions. He was asked specifically about a passage in the Zohar where Rabbi Shimon tells his son, "Do not expect the footsteps of Moshiach until the rainbow of the bright colors comes."
Does this not explicitly contradict the law stated by Maimonides that we must await Moshiach's coming every day? After all, if we don't expect Moshiach to come until a particular sign is revealed, then we couldn't constantly be awaiting his arrival!
The Munkatcher Rav explained that there are many other passages in Jewish sources which give us signs. In the Talmud, for instance, it says that Moshiach will come when there are no longer judges in Israel. In another place the Talmud states that Moshiach will come only in a generation that is totally wicked or totally righteous. The Talmud also declares that Moshiach will come only "when there are no coins left in the purse."
If we put much emphasis on the fulfillment of these signs, do we not transgress the doctrine that we are to await Moshiach's coming daily?
These signs are not critical or absolute, explains the Munkatcher Rav. Neither the positive nor the negative signs must be realized before Moshiach's revelation. Rather, they can hint to us that the Redemption is imminent, though the Redemption is not contingent upon them. For only G-d Himself knows the exact date of the Final Redemption, a date which G-d did not reveal even to the Heavenly beings. "For My sake and My sake alone I will do it," G-d declares.
Any hour of any day can be that historical moment. And as the Rebbe stated so many times, we can hasten it and prepare ourselves for it more properly by increasing and enhancing our mitzvot, by studying about Moshiach and the Redemption, by giving additional charity and by making the imminence of the Redemption a reality in our lives.
And she stretched out her hand (amatah) and fetched it (Ex. 2:5)
Rashi explains that a miracle occurred: When Pharaoh's daughter stretched out her hand to reach the box, it became many cubits (amot) long. The Torah is thus teaching us that when it comes to saving a Jewish child, one must not stop to think whether or not it is actually possible. When a Jewish child is in danger we must do everything possible to save him. Once this is done G-d will assist us, and the seemingly impossible will be accomplished very easily.
And depart (lit. "go up") out of the land (Ex. 1:10)
It is only when the Jewish people reach their lowest level that their ascendancy begins, alluded to in this verse: The Jews will "go up" when they have fallen to the level of "land," the earth, upon which everyone treads. King David voiced a similar sentiment in the Psalms when he said, "For our soul is as low as the dust, our bellies have cleaved to the earth," only to immediately declare, "Rise up and help us, and redeem us for the sake of Your graciousness."
These are the names of the Children of Israel...seventy souls (Ex. 1:1-5)
In these verses G-d lists the individual names of the Jews who went down to Egypt, then sums up by telling us how many there were in all. When objects (or in this case, people) are counted, it is a reflection of their common qualities. We count objects when we want to know their number, regardless of their differences. On the other hand, when we assign an object a name, it is generally a reflection of its individuality, that which sets it apart from all others. These two qualities--being part of a greater whole, and possessing individual worth--are present in every Jew. Each of us possesses a spark of Jewishness common to all Jews, yet our Jewish names reflect our individual, distinguishing character traits and attributes.
Rabbi Benyamin of Toledo walked down the pleasant streets. It looked so peaceful, so prosperous, this Egypt of the Rambam. How could it have swallowed up his old friend, the famous physician and scholar, without a trace? He approached an imposing building with a wrought-iron gate--the Rambam's home. He had tried to enter it several times, but the discreet doorman had informed him that the family was receiving no visitors.As he neared the house, he saw a little girl swinging back and forth on the gate. She had a distinctive face...a Maimon face. She must be Moshe's little girl.
"You must be Rabbi Moshe's daughter."
"Oh, no. Everybody thinks so, because I live here. I'm his niece."
"Why, then you must be...his younger brother David's little girl."
"Yes, that's right. My mother told me that he went in a big ship in the middle of the ocean, and there was a great wind and it sank down, and never came up again. And his soul is up in heaven. Look!" She pointed to a figure hurrying toward them. "That's my mother."
"Come, Mommy, here is a rabbi who knew Father when he was little. Come and speak to him."
Benyamin followed them into the courtyard. He explained that he had come all the way from Toledo to visit his old friend, Rabbi Moshe, but had not been permitted to enter.
"There are so many enemies. We are afraid; we don't know who to trust."
"I guessed as much. He is in hiding, then. I had hoped he was done with all the running and hiding."
"Our people call him the Great Eagle. He had risen too high. Our enemies cannot bear it that a Jew should have such influence. It's such a pity you can't see him. It would be good for him to see an old friend."
Benyamin felt the awakening of hope. "Do you think that it would be possible for me to see him, even for a few moments?"
"You must meet with Rabbi Moshe's friend, Rav Yehuda Hacohen."
Three days later Rav Yehuda Hacohen scrutinized Benyamin's credentials. "I am satisfied. We know we can trust you. But secrecy is of the essence. Tomorrow a few students are going to visit him in his hiding place. Be outside the yeshiva after maariv."
Two students were waiting for him the next evening in the shadow of the yeshiva building. They began climbing the foothills outside of the city. The path grew steeper and then disappeared. Suddenly they halted. Benyamin saw nothing but a rocky projection dimly illuminated by the glow of the moon.
He watched as the students bent down and pushed a boulder from the side of the cliff. Benyamin instinctively stepped back when confronted with the intense, blinding light streaming out of the opening in the mountain. Then, blinking in amazement, he beheld the most awesome sight he had even seen.
He was staring into a cave brightly lit by several tall, yellow wax tapers fixed to the veined rock wall. Behind a large desk strewn with rolls of parchment sat a Jew with a holy face that was framed by a silver beard. His entire being seemed to glow with some mysterious inner light.
The Rabbi behind the desk recognized him immediately. "Benyamin--from Toledo!"
It was then that the man realized that this rabbi was none other than his childhood companion Moshe, whom he had come to seek.
Rabbi Moshe questioned his friend closely about his life, his family, his travels through the lands of Jewish dispersion. Benyamin answered to the best of his ability, but at last could contain himself no longer. "Rabbi Moshe, what are you doing here all alone, in this cave in the wilderness?"
He had expected to find the great Rambam in hiding, but not cramped in a rough hole, denied the most basic human comforts.
"Don't look so downcast. Believe me, my friend, it is all for the best. I have not known such peace and tranquility since my childhood in Cordova. Come, I will show you something."
Benyamin came closer, and Rabbi Moshe pointed to several parchments in a box. "I have been working on a new book. I wish to gather from every law of the Torah all the mitzvot drawn from the Oral Law, and lay them all before the students in plain language and clear style. There shall be fourteen books in all. Very soon our Redeemer will come, and we will be gathered from all over the world. We will need to be fully conversant in all the laws very soon."
"What will you call your book?"
"I will call it Misheh Torah--so that every Jew, once he has learned the written Torah, will be able to turn to this book to find help in fulfilling the mitzvot correctly and studying the Talmud with greater ease."
Benyamin sensed that the interview was over. He and the two students walked home quietly together. One student said quietly to the other, "I feel as if I had just seen Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in his cave, with Elijah the Prophet teaching him."
From The Rambam, by Rochel Yaffee, HaChai Publishing.
The Mishna forewarns: "On the eve of the coming of Moshiach...each day's curse will be heavier than the preceding day." What good could come from giving us this prophecy? Had this situation not been foretold, it would have been so perplexing when it happened that the Jews would have become dispirited. But now that we know what to expect, we can take heart, and can tackle our divinely appointed tasks with zest.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)