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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
We've all had one of those days or weeks (or months?). Whether it's pressure, stress, or foul-ups, we know that one more will send us off the deep end. When it happens, it could be the most minor infraction, something minute in comparison to the rest of the incidents that have already taken place. But it is that last, little, even insignificant unpleasant occurrence that is the "straw that broke the camel's back."
Everything in the realm of the negative has its correspondence in the realm of the positive. The great Jewish scholar and philosopher, Moses Maimonides, stated, "One must always perceive the good and evil in himself and this world as if in perfect balance. Should he perform one good deed, he will tip the scales in favor of the good and bring redemption to himself and to the entire world" (Hilchot Teshuva)
Good, according to Jewish thought, is cumulative and eternal. Evil, however, is not permanent and eventually disappears. Although, periodically in our own personal lives, we've experienced the buildup of the negative, on a global, Divine scale, it is the good endures.
So, we can understand that just as a straw can break the camel's back in a negative sense, it can break the camel's back in a positive sense, as well.
Just how powerful the last, positive straw can be is beautifully illustrated by an incident that took place many years ago. A salvage company discovered a ship with an extremely valuable cargo sunk off the Baltic coast. It tried to lift the vessel with a crane, but the portion to which divers attached the cable broke off before the wreck could be raised. Finally, it was decided that instead of attaching a cable to only one place, balloons would be tied all over the ship's surface. As those balloons were inflated, they pulled the ship as a whole from its mire.
Each one of our good deeds, each positive thought, each kind act, is a balloon. None of us knows whether it will be my balloon or your balloon that will be the one which, added to all of the others, will lift this giant vessel out of the mire in which it has been sitting for the past thousands of years. All we can do is keep on adding balloons, with the knowledge that they are cumulative, and with the hope and prayer that one of ours will very soon be the one that raises the ship to its ultimate purpose with the coming of the imminent Redemption.
This week's Torah portion, Va'eira, opens with G-d's reply to Moses' question, posed at the end of last week's reading. "Why have You allowed so much evil to befall this people?" Moses asked. "Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done more evil... You have not delivered Your People."
"I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob," G-d counters.
What kind of answer is this to Moses' seemingly legitimate complaint? Our Sages interpret this verse as a mild rebuke. "Your forefathers," G-d says, "Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, were repeatedly tested, yet none of them ever questioned My motives."
This exchange seems odd in light of the fact that, in general, the Torah goes out of its way to use only positive terms, even when referring to the lowliest beast. Every word in the Torah contains countless practical lessons to enhance our relationships with our fellow man and to apply in our service of G-d. We must therefore conclude that G-d's response to Moses must be of practical significance in our daily lives as well.
Moses, the greatest prophet who ever lived, certainly knew of the greatness of the Patriarchs and their unquestioning devotion to G-d. In fact, because Moses stood on an even higher spiritual level than the Patriarchs, his faith in G-d and trust in Him were likewise also greater. Yet if so, how could he have complained to G-d, "Why have You allowed so much evil to befall this people?"
Chasidic philosophy explains that Moses was on the spiritual level of chochma, intellect, whereas the Patriarchs were the embodiment of midot, the emotions. Intellect always strives to understand; the nature of emotion includes the willingness to accept authority. The Patriarchs were therefore unquestioning in their submission to G-d, whereas Moses argued and questioned in his desire to comprehend.
The practical lesson we may derive from this is twofold: On the one hand, we must always endeavor to emulate our forefathers, who, even in times of adversity, had complete faith in G-d and never questioned His actions. Likewise, in our own era, now is not the time for questions as we stand on the threshold of the complete and Final Redemption. Yet at the same time, Moses' demand of G-d is equally valid for us today.
Nowadays, as we find ourselves at the very end of our exile, an exile so bitter and confusing that the very boundaries between light and dark and between good and evil appear to be blurred, we must bear these two things in mind: The Jew must have utmost faith that all of G-d's actions are good, that the darkness itself is leading us toward Redemption, and, at the same time, he must beg and implore G-d with all his might to fulfill His promise and bring Moshiach.
Our cry, "How long, O G-d?" is not in contradiction to our faith; rather, our G-d-given intellect dictates that we demand, "Why have you done more evil to this people?" Both intellect and emotions must work in tandem, combining the faith of our forefathers with the cry of "We want Moshiach NOW!"
From the Collected Talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Volume 3, and a discourse given on Shabbat Va'eira, 5743.
by Sora Vigorito
I am in a Reform synagogue, part of a singing group rehearsing the "musical program" for Yom Kippur. The melodies are all beautiful and touch the innermost parts of my soul, especially the Kol Nidre. It is a beautiful feeling.
Suddenly, my attention is brought back to the synagogue, as our choir director calls our attention to learning a new melody. As the piano keys build the melody, a strange feeling overcomes me. Chills form on my skin, and my chest tightens.
Where have I heard this tune before?
Now I remember. I was four years old. My twin sister Chana and I were caged in a small crate. Our dwelling, the second floor of Crematoria II in Auschwitz-Birkenau, also Dr. Josef Megele's private laboratory.
The new melody of today was the solemn, often terrifying melody I had heard so many times especially at night, from outside the crematorium.
I would hear the singing for awhile, and then the voices would cease, and it was over.
"What is the meaning of this melody?" I wonder. Our choir director adds the words, but I cannot bring myself to sing or say them: "Ani Maamin, Ani Maamin, B'emuna shleima b'viat HaMoshiach, Ani Maamin."
The meaning of these words penetrates me through and through: "I believe--even with all this--even if he shall delay, that Moshiach will come. I believe!"
It was these words that surrounded the crematorium while the dreadful flames were stoked and the Ziklon B [deadly gas] was readied.
I suddenly realized that G-d had set me aside to bear witness to the greatest display of Jewish faith known to man. My ears, my heart witnessed Kiddush Hashem--the sanctification of the Name of G-d--elevated from the ashes of the Birkenau crematorium to the realms of holiness.
At this moment past became present. The intensity of this faith penetrated me today as I listened to this familiar melody. I also wanted to experience this depth of faith. I began on that Yom Kippur the long journey designated for me by G-d long ago at the crematorium of Auschwitz.
This same journey brought me to Cleveland, Ohio, to settle in its Jewish community and to gain from it the knowledge and commitment to live a Torah-true life. I attended Beginners Services and studied with a wonderful person.
Then came the day I knew I would sooner or later have to face.
I had been married to a non-Jew for the past 22 years. I needed to make what I felt would be a most painful decision. At this time also, I was introduced to a local Cleveland Chabad family, emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Mordechai and Miriam Mendelson. I became a frequent Shabbat guest in their home.
Through them I learned about the Rebbe. I decided to take my problem to the Rebbe and ask for his blessing for strength and courage.
I traveled to New York and stood in line one Sunday for "dollars." I assured the Rebbe that I was ready to do whatever the Torah required, even if it meant leaving my husband.
The Rebbe responded with his blessing, his kind empathy and words of comfort. He told me I should not divorce my husband but that I should temporarily separate from him and all would be well.
On the 9th of Nissan, 5751 (the spring of 1991), my husband became a Jew, and on that same day we stood under the chupa together, united under the blessings of our Holy Torah.
Many times since, I have gone to the Rebbe and he continues to pour on me and my family his blessings from G-d. My three teenage children were at different levels of rebellion over my decision to embrace Torah. I prayed every Friday while I lit the Shabbat candles that G-d would bring my children to love our Torah, too. I am at peace knowing that some day G-d will answer my prayers and that my children will also know the joy that comes from the love of Torah and mitzvot.
Ed.'s note: Before Mrs. Vigorito became observant, she spoke throughout the United States about her experiences as a Holocaust survivor and one of the few "Mengele twins" survivors. Mrs. Vigorito still speaks today, but from a different place and with a different message. In many ways, her message is unique. For, she is not sharing the experiences of one whose faith remained intact throughout and after the Holocaust. Rather, her experiences are those of one who found faith and belief in G-d after the Holocaust.
An informative and beautifully designed brochure about Moshiach and the Redemption is available from the International Campaign to Help Bring Moshiach. The brochure deals with such topics as the imminence of the Redemption, the Torah perspective on who Moshiach is, and what every person can do to prepare for this historic era. To receive a copy send a SASE to Get Ready/ International Moshiach Center, 355 Kingston Ave., Bklyn, NY 11213.
A group of 25 Floridians, ages 8 months to 80 years, made a trial run this past month of their "Moshiach Caravan." The group, from the Inverary Chabad Center, drove to World Lubavitch Headquarters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn from their Moshiach center in Florida to spend a few days in the presence of the Rebbe. Their procession of cars and vans was fully equipped with Moshiach signs and a PA system playing Moshiach music. They are planning to make the trip again in just a few weeks. But this time, it will be to celebrate the 43rd anniversary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's leadership on the 10th of Shevat (January 22.) The Floridians plan that the next caravan will be joined by thousands of the Rebbe's followers from cities all over the United States who will converge on Crown Heights to express their faith in and commitment to the Rebbe's message about the imminent arrival of Moshiach.
LAND FOR PEACE: Part I
Excerpts from a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to (former) Chief Rabbi of Great Britain Rabbi Immanuel Jakobowitz, Nov. 1980 (all underlining and parentheses are the Rebbe's; brackets are the editor's).
I am completely and unequivocally opposed to the surrender of any of the liberated areas currently under negotiation, such as Yehudah and Shomron, the Golan, etc., for the simple reason, and only reason, that surrendering any part of them would contravene a clear psak-din [Jewish legal ruling] in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim, sec. 329, pars. 6,7). I have repeatedly emphasized that this psak din has nothing to do with the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael [the Holy Land], or with the "days of Moshiach," the Geula [Redemption], and similar considerations, but solely with the rule of Pikuach Nefesh [imminent danger to life]. This is further emphasized by the fact that this psak-din has its source in the Talmud (Eiruvin 45a), where the Talmud cites as an illustration of a "border-town" under the terms of this psak-din--the city of Neharde'a in Babylon (present day Iraq)--clearly not in Eretz Yisrael. I have emphasized time and again that it is a question of, and should be judged purely on the basis of, pikuach-nefesh, not geography.
The said psak-din deals with a situation where gentiles (the term is goyim, not enemies) besiege a Jewish border-town, ostensibly to obtain "straw and hay," and then leave. But because of the possible danger not only to the Jews of the town, but also the other cities, the Shulchan Aruch rules that upon receiving news of the gentiles (even only preparations), the Jews must mobilize immediately and take up arms even on Shabbat in accordance with the rule that "pikuach-nefesh supersedes Shabbat."
Should there be a question whether the risk does, in fact, create a situation of pikuach-nefesh, then--as in the case of illness, where a medical authority is consulted--the authority to make a judgement is vested in the military experts. If military experts decide that there is a danger of pikuach-nefesh, there could be no other overriding consideration, since pikuach-nefesh overrides everything else. Should the military experts declare that while there is such a risk, yet it should be taken for some other reason, such as political considerations (or goodwill of the gentiles), this would clearly be contrary to the psak-din, for the psak-din requires that pikuach-nefesh, not political expediency, should be the decisive factor.
Now, in regard to the liberated areas, all military experts, Jewish and non-Jewish, agree that in the present situation giving up any part of them would create serious security dangers. No one says that giving up any part of them would enhance the defensibility of the borders. But some military experts are prepared to take a chance in order not to antagonize Washington and/or to improve the "international image," etc. To follow this line would not only go against the clear psak-din, but would also ignore costly lessons of the past. One glaring case in point is "the Yom Kippur War." Days and hours before the attack, there were urgent sessions of the government discussing the situation with the military. Military intelligence pointed to unmistakable evidence that an Egyptian attack was imminent, and the military experts advised a preemptive strike that would save many lives and prevent an invasion. However, the politicians, with the acquiescence of some military experts, rejected this action on the ground that such a step, or even a general mobilization, before the Egyptians actually crossed the border, would mean being branded as the aggressor, and would jeopardize relations with the USA. This decision was contrary to the said psak-din of the Shulchan Aruch, as pointed out above. The tragic results of that decision bore out the validity of the Shulchan Aruch's position (as if it were necessary), for many lives were needlessly sacrificed, and the situation came close to total disaster, but for G-d's mercies. Suffice it to mention that the then Prime Minister later admitted that all her life she would be haunted by that tragic decision.
Continued in next issue.
This Friday, 24 Tevet, is the yartzeit of the first Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Shneur Zalman. I would like to share with you just a few of the hundreds of references to and explanations about Moshiach, the exile and redemption that Rabbi Shneur Zalman made in his numerous scholarly works.
"In the days of the Holy Temple, the Children of Israel were by their very nature drawn by a genuine yearning towards the service of G-d; for them the demands of this world were a matter of necessity, to be dispensed with off-handedly, and without ardor. In the time of exile the opposite is true: A man is drawn by nature to his bodily needs and to this-worldly matters, while his divine service and his love of G-d are earned at the expense of considerable toil." (Likutei Torah)
The time of exile has been likened to a dream. For so it is written, "When G-d will return the exiles of Zion, we will have been like dreamers." A dream can fuse two opposites. In the present time of exile likewise, a person can be a paradox. While he is at prayer he is aroused to a love of G-d; when his prayers are over, this love has vanished: he is preoccupied all day with his business affairs, and gives priority to his bodily needs." (Torah Or)
Fulfilling mitzvot during the time of exile is like sowing seeds. A seed planted in the ground sprouts into a harvest that far exceeds its beginnings. So, too, by fulfilling mitzvot, one "sows" and increases the lights Above, in the Supernal "Land," and the harvest will "sprout" in future time. Moreover, the longer a seed remains in the ground, the richer will be the yield. So, too, the longer this exile is extended, the more intense will be the revelation in time to come. (Likutei Torah)
It is well known that the Messianic Era, and especially the time of the Resurrection of the Dead, is the fulfillment and culmination of the creation of the world, for which purpose it was originally created.... This culminating fulfillment of the Messianic Era and of the Resurrection of the Dead depends on our actions and service throughout the duration of the exile. (Tanya)
Behold, the Children of Israel have not hearkened to me; how then shall Pharaoh hear me? (Ex. 6:12)
Why was Moses comparing the Children of Israel to Pharaoh? The Jews had a legitimate reason for not listening to Moses--they were too preoccupied with their own suffering. But why would Moses think that Pharaoh would refuse to heed his words? Rather, Moses was afraid that Pharaoh would listen to G-d's warning--thereby making the Children of Israel look bad by comparison. He therefore refused to appear before Pharaoh to carry the message.
(Rabbi Yonatan Eibeschutz)
But they did not hearken to Moses for anguish of spirit and for cruel bondage... And G-d spoke to Moses and Aaron, and gave them a charge unto the Children of Israel (Ex. 6:9-13)
The nature of G-d's message is such that even when a Jew finds it difficult to accept, due to the hardships of the exile, one must nevertheless continue to repeat it. For in the end, G-d's words of truth will have their desired effect, if not immediately, then certainly later. Words of Torah are never uttered in vain; their holiness always enters the heart of those who hear them. This is why G-d commanded Moses and Aaron to continue their mission, even though the Jews "did not hearken for anguish of spirit"
And I will harden the heart of Pharaoh (Ex. 7:3)
If Pharaoh deserved to be punished, why didn't G-d merely punish him without taking away his free will? Rather, Pharaoh's punishment was meted out by G-d measure for measure. Pharaoh rebelled against G-d, saying, "Who is G-d that I should obey His voice?" Anyone who insolently refuses to recognize G-d, and thinks he can do as he pleases, deserves that G-d show him he is not his own boss.
The 24th of Tevet marks the birthday of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, founder of the system of Chabad Chasidut and author of Tanya and redactor of the Rav's Shulchan Aruch. The disemination of his magnum opus, Tanya, opened the "wellsprings" of esoteric Torah to the world at large.
The court of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, was located in the small, White Russian town of Lionzna. His many chasidim flocked there to be near him, to pray, to celebrate the festivals, to receive his blessings and to benefit from his Torah-wisdom.
Once, a chasid came to the Rebbe with a heavy sorrow weighing on his soul. When he entered the Rebbe's chambers, he couldn't restrain himself, and tears flowed from his eyes. "Rebbe," he sobbed, "my son has turned away from everything we have taught him. He no longer follows mitzvot, and I'm afraid that he will be completely lost from the path of truth. Please, Rebbe, give me some advice how to get him back."
The Rebbe felt his chasid's pain, and he was silent for some moments. Then he replied, "Do you think that you might be able to persuade the boy to come to see me?"
"I don't know," the man sighed. "The way he's been acting recently, I'm afraid it might be very difficult. He has some wild friends, and he hardly listens to his parents."
"Nevertheless, I want you to think up some way in which you can get him to come here. Maybe there's some errand you can send him on that would bring him to Liozna. When he gets to the town, a way will be found to bring him here to me."
The prospect of the Rebbe taking charge of his wayward son lifted the chasid's spirits. He returned home in a far brighter mood than the one in which he had come.
The man spent the whole return trip to his village deep in thought, trying to hatch some plan which would draw his son to the Rebbe. Suddenly he had an excellent idea. Much to his dismay, his son was very fond of horse-back riding, an activity considered improper for a Jewish boy. The boy, however, cared not the least for public opinion, and to his father's consternation, he took every opportunity to ride into town. This seemed a perfect ruse to get his son to the Rebbe. He would ask the boy to go and pick something up in town.
When he asked his son to go on the errand, the boy responded, "I'll go only if I can go by horseback." This time the father quickly acquiesced.
The boy happily galloped into town, unaware that his father's friends were on the lookout for him, and that the errand was merely a signal to them to bring him to the Rebbe's house.
No sooner had he arrived in Liozna, than he was spirited to the Rebbe's house, and found himself standing face to face with Reb Shneur Zalman. "I'm glad to see you," said the Rebbe. "But, tell me, why did you come by horseback, instead of in a wagon?"
"To tell you the truth, it's because I love to ride. And my horse is such a fine specimen, I figure, why shouldn't I take advantage of him?"
"Really? Tell me, what exactly are the advantages of such an animal?" asked the Rebbe.
"Surely you can imagine, an animal such as mine runs very fast. You jump on his back, and speed down the road, and in no time at all you are at your destination," the young man replied with great enthusiasm.
"That is truly a great advantage, but only provided that you are on the right road. Because, if you're on the wrong road, you'll only be going in the wrong direction faster."
"Even if that's so," countered by the young man, "the horse would help you get back on the right road more quickly as soon as you realize you're on the wrong road."
"If you realize yourself that you are on the wrong road," the Rebbe slowly emphasized. "It's true, my boy, if you catch yourself, before it's too late, and you realize that you have strayed from the right path; then you can quickly return."
The words of the Alter Rebbe, uttered so slowly and deliberately, hit the young man like a bombshell, and the Rebbe's penetrating eyes seemed to pierce right through him. The young man fell down in a faint.
He was quickly revived, and in a subdued tone, he asked the Rebbe's permission to remain in Liozna, so that he could renew his Torah studies and come back to his family as a good Torah-abiding Jew.
Adapted from Reaching Out, a publication of Lubavtich Youth Organization.
A businessman who wants to double his capital first has to invest it in merchandise, and then, empty handed, await his profit. In the same way, only by being dispersed empty handed among the nations of the world can the Jewish people ultimately arrive at their great profit--the exalted revelation of Divine Light which will take place at the time of the Redemption.
(Rabbi Shneur Zalman)