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A Word from the Director
Tu B'Shevat, the New Year for trees, is celebrated on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat, this year January 27.
But let's be honest.
In addition to eating lots of fruit--some people even have the custom of eating 15 different fruits, and specifically trying to enjoy the seven fruits for which Israel is praised--what kind of resolutions would you and I be in terested in making on this New Year?
If you're an avid gardener, you can get out those gardening catalogues and decide what you'll be planting this spring--what shrubbery you'll be adding to further beautify your property or simply to give you more pleasure.
It's also an excellent opportunity to see how your own personal "Garden of Eden" is growing.
The Maggid of Mezritch, Rabbi Dov Ber (disciple and successor of the Baal Shem Tov) taught: "A person's good deeds are used by G-d as seeds for planting trees in the Garden of Eden; thus each person creates his or her own paradise."
How is your Garden of Eden looking these days?
Is it overflowing with nourishing, fruit-bearing trees? Have you planted trees that are pleasant to behold? Are there any trees that provide shade and shelter from the negative elements?
As any experienced gardener knows, it's important to remember to maintain those plants that were planted in the past, in addition to planting new plants. How are you keeping up with the trees that you've already planted, the pruning and the fertilizing?
As long as we're talking about trees, it would be interesting to mention a conversation between Rabbi Akiva and one of his students which was recorded in the Talmud.
"Teach me about emunah--faith," a student requested.
As many of our great Sages were wont to do, Rabbi Akiva taught his students outdoors. He pointed to a minute plant and bid the student,
"Pull up that tiny sprout."
The student easily fulfilled his teacher's request.
Rabbi Akiva then pointed to a young sapling. "Pull that out," he requested. This, too, the student uprooted, with just a little more difficulty.
Now Rabbi Akiva directed his glance at a small tree. The student pulled and tugged. Eventually, with both hands on the tree and his feet firmly planted on the ground, the student was able to pull out the small tree as well.
Finally, Rabbi Akiva walked over to a full grown tree with a trunk at least 2 feet wide. "Now uproot this tree," he told his student. Try as he might, the student could not even shake a leaf on the tree let alone unearth it.
"So it is with faith," said Rabbi Akiva. "If the roots of our faith run deep, no one can uproot it. Faith is always as strong and as powerful as its roots."
How do we make sure that our faith runs deep?
Jewish teachings express the unequivocal fact that Jews are "believers, the children of believers."
Part of our inheritance as Jews is that we believe.
To enhance our belief, or bring it out more distinctly, we must do mitzvot and study Torah.
This is the most efficient if not the only way to till and mulch, irrigate and fertilize the soul, so that strong, deep roots can grow.
As narrated in this week's Torah portion, Yitro, something most unusual occurred when G-d descended on Mount Sinai to give the Torah to the Jewish people. "And all the people saw the thunders," the Torah states. "They saw what is heard, and heard what is seen," elaborates Rabbi Akiva.
What an amazing phenomenon (the technical term for which is known as "synesthesia")!
But why was such a great miracle necessary to accompany the giving of the Torah? What possible benefit could be gained from seeing what is heard and hearing what is seen?
To understand what occurred, let us examine the concepts of hearing and seeing and the different ways in which they impart information to us.
A person acquires knowledge through having witnessed something with his own two eyes or through hearing the information secondhand from someone else. Yet there is a fundamental difference between the two.
Our sense of sight verifies external reality in the clearest and most convincing manner. An individual who has actually seen something needs no further proof--he is as convinced as he can be. Hearing something, however, is a much less definite and absolute way to acquire knowledge, leaving room for later doubts as to what was really heard.
(Incidentally, this is the reason behind the principle that "a witness cannot serve as judge": a judge must be able to treat the defendant fairly, without harboring preconceived notions; once he has already witnessed the defendant committing a certain act he can no longer do this.)
At the same time, our sense of sight is far more limited than our sense of hearing.
A person can only perceive physical objects through seeing, whereas hearing enables us to understand a more abstract and spiritual reality.
In our world, reality appears to be only that which can be seen with the physical eye, with spiritual matters being relegated to the more abstruse realm of hearing.
What occurred at Mount Sinai was a reversal of this order--spiritual reality was m ore easily perceived and understood, and physical existence became more indistinct.
This phenomenon was not a special miracle wrought by G-d in honor of the occasion, but was merely the natural outcome of His revealing Himself at Mount Sinai.
The reality of G-d's existence took center stage at that moment in history; it was the physical world which seemed less sure of its existence.
This entire incident lasted only a short while.
Immediately after the Revelation our perception of reality returned to its former state.
The world was not yet ready for such G-dliness to be revealed on an ongoing basis.
But when Moshiach comes and the world reaches a state of perfection, this is precisely what will occur. "And the glory of G-d will be revealed, and all flesh will see"--the underlying G-dliness hidden within physical reality will be revealed and apparent to all, until even our physical flesh will be able to perceive this. At that time, we will no longer require abstract proofs of G-d's existence; our belief in Him will stem naturally from actually seeing the G-dliness around us.
From Collected Talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Vol. 6
by Sara Alevsky
"Cleveland, Ohio". The words had a strange ring to them, an awkward sound. To the young Katzenellenbogen family, it symbolized foreign America, together with its bland Judaism, its great size and baffling language. A letter had arrived from the venerable Joint Committee, and it directed them towards this unknown city, far from the Lubavitch community in Crown Heights.
The Katzenellenbogen's were comfortable in Brooklyn, reunited with family and old friends. They had arrived from Russia by way of France not long before, and they welcomed the familiar faces and sounds of the transplanted Lubavitchers in New York. Crown Heights had become a home for their family, and they thrived in the religious freedom they had never known before.
But now they stood before the Rebbe, and discussed their future.
Rabbi Katzenellenbogen told the Rebbe how much he enjoyed living in New York, where they were finally able to live as Lubavitchers openly and freely. His wife, Shula, mentioned the Jewish education her children would finally be able to get in the Orthodox schools of Brooklyn.
The Rebbe asked them where their other options to live were, and they reluctantly mentioned the letter from the Joint Committee, advising them to move to Cleveland.
The Rebbe encouraged them to go, saying: "There are Jewish people in Cleveland who need you. Here, in New York, there are plenty of Jews."
The Rebbe instructed him to learn shechita, ritual slaughter. With the Rebbe's blessing and hope in their hearts, the Katzenellenbogens set out for Cleveland in 1953. Arriving there, they moved into a small apartment in the Kinsman area of Cleveland.
It was here they began their lives in Cleveland. They promptly enrolled their six children in the Hebrew Academy, and began to reach out to other families in their area.
In addition to his shechita work, Rabbi Katzenellenbogen became involved with the Buckeye shul in that neighborhood, and served as its rabbi until 1960.
The seven Katzenellenbogen children--six girls and a son--were expected to take initiative, too. The girls ran Shabbat groups and made clubs for the children in their area.
In 1960, the Katzenellenbogens became U.S. citizens and changed their family name to the shorter Kazen. In the same year, Rabbi Kazen applied for the position of Rabbi in the Tzemach Tzedek shul in Cleveland Heights, and was accepted.
To this day, despite the changed dynamics of the neighborhood, the Tzemach Tzedek shul is always crowded, during the week, on Shabbat and holidays.
In that same year, Rebbetzin Kazen established the Cleveland branch of the Chabad Women's Organization. Once a month, dozens of Jewish women from all backgrounds and ages would meet for a luncheon. The Rebbetzin would give a spirited speech, or in vite others to speak at the gatherings. These monthly get-togethers were an integral part of Jewish life in the fifties and sixties in Cleveland.
In 1971, The Rebbe urged Mrs. Kazen to host a convention in Cleveland for the Lubavitch Women's Organization. This convention served as a catalyst for the opening of an official Chabad House in Cleveland.
In the '70s, as the trickle of Russian Jewish immigrants turned into a flood, the Kazens were ready for them. They turned their energies and attention on the Jews of Russia, mindful of how they first felt when they came to Cleveland.
Rabbi and Rebbetzin Kazen opened up a soup kitchen for the recent immigrants, a place where the poor and lonely could eat amongst friends. They organized afternoon Hebrew school and Shabbat groups for the children, convincing many of the parents to enroll their children in Jewish Day schools and to keep kosher.
Their Russian Aid Society, the most active group of its kind in Cleveland, provides new arrivals with clothes, apartments and furniture.
Today, there is scarcely a Jew in Cleveland--and definitely not a Russian Jew--who does not know and appreciate the tremendous work Rabbi and Rebbetzin Kazen have done, or has not felt their personal kindness.
The Kazen children have followed in their parents' footsteps, being directly involved with Chabad Centers in Sao Paolo, Brazil; Johannesburg, South Africa; Cleveland; Kansas City, Missouri; and Brooklyn, New York.
They, like their parents, have dedicated their lives to bringing the joys of Judaism and warmth of Chabad to others.
Reprinted from the Lubavitch Women's Organization Convention Journal-- Cleveland.
WHAT WILL THE WORLD BE LIKE?
"One night after supper before she went to bed, Sarah looked up at her father and this is what she said: 'Father, what will the world be like when Moshiach arrives?'"
Jewish tradition has much to say about the era of Moshiach, and now a beautifully illustrated picture book provides this information for the very young.
Written in rhyme by well-known author Adel Lebovics, and illustrated by award-winning artist Norman Nodel, "What Will the World Be Like?" is fun to read and have read. For ages 3-7. HaChai Publishing Brooklyn, NY 11218.
FIRE IN MOSCOW SYNAGOGUE
The Marina Rozscha synagogue of Moscow, long the center for Chabad- Lubavitch activities, was devastated by recent fire this past month. Authorities still do not know if the fire was arson or not.
Rabbi Berel Lazar, rabbi of the synagogue and director of Chabad- Lubavitch activities in Moscow, is positive about the situation, though, saying that if the outpouring of support from Jews around the world continues, they will be able to rebuild the synagogue very soon.
For more info about the synagogue or Chabad activities in Moscow call their American office at (718) 774-5433.
Yitro...offered a burnt-offering and sacrifices to G-d, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel, to eat bread with Moses' father-in-law (Exodus 18:12)
Why was Yitro the one to host the festive meal?
Why didn't Aaron and the elders prepare the meal and invite Yitro, their guest, to partake?
Yitro had sought Moses out in the middle of the desert because of his desire to become a Jew. As is customary, after his brit, Yitro made a festive meal to celebrate. Aaron and the elders came to participate in the happy event.
And G-d said to Moses: Go to the people and sanctify them today and tomorrow (Exodus 19:10)
"Sanctify them in such a way that the holiness will permeate their lives and last until tomorrow, when they leave this place," G-d requested.
This teaches us that it is not enough to feel a spiritual awakening only when learning Torah and listening to sermons.
Honor your father and your mother (Exodus 20:12)
Our Sages said: There are three partners in the creation of a person-- the father, the mother, and the Holy One, Blessed be He.
When a person honors his parents, G-d considers the act as if He is being honored.
The reverse holds true when a person causes his parents heartache.
Israel encamped opposite the Mountain (Ex. 19:2)
The Torah was specifically given on a mountain so that the Children of Israel would elevate and spiritually purify the physicality of the world.
This is hinted to by the mountain, which is dust of the earth but is high, symbolizing the elevation of m atter and its purification.
Onkelos was a famous Roman proselyte, the nephew of the Roman emperor Hadrian, who became acquainted with Judaism through Jewish scholars who travelled to and from Rome.
He settled in the Holy Land, where he became a disciple of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus and Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya.
Onkelos is most famous for his Targum, the Aramaic translation of the Torah.
He feared that during the Babylonian exile many Jews had forgotten Hebrew, since they had become accustomed to using Aramaic and other dialects.
In addition to being a translation, the Targum is also a simple commentary .
Rabbi Shneur Zalman interpreted the statement, "Whoever saves a single person of the people Israel is as though he saved an entire world":
One must perceive a Jew as he stands... with all the generations destined to descend from him until the coming of Moshiach, the righteous Redeemer.
When one does a favor to an individual, it is a favor to all those souls until the end of all generations.
It was a perfectly beautiful Shabbat day. The Jew strolled at leisure through the orchards and fields. The trees were heavy with their fragrant bounty. The bees swarmed about the blossoming flowers; each leaf glowed its own shade of green in the light. "How wonderful was the world which the Creator bestowed upon his creations," thought the man.
Then he reached the boundaries of his own vineyard.
"What's that?" he thought, as he noticed a hole in the fence.
"Why, how could I have failed to notice it before? I better come around early tomorrow morning and fix it before wild animals or thieves have a chance to go in and eat up the grapes. As it is, I have barely enough to support my family."
Then he suddenly stopped in his tracks and caught his breath.
"Today is Shabbat," he thought, "and I have just been thinking and planning my mundane affairs on this sanctified day."
The Jew, who was a pious man, was shocked that he had just transgressed the sanctity of the day by actually planning to perform work which was forbidden on the holy Shabbat.
He turned his thoughts away from the fence and returned to his home and the joyous Shabbat meal that awaited him.
When Shabbat had come to an end the Jew remembered his vineyard and the broken fence, and he felt a great sorrow at having profaned his holy Shabbat with thoughts of repairing the fence.
He decided that to atone for his sinful thought, he would never fix the fence.
The summer passed, and the harvest approached.
The vineyard was redolent with the fragrance of ripe grapes.
The man went out to his vineyard to gather in his harvest thinking, "There probably aren't many grapes left. I'm sure the foxes and rabbits must have passed through the hole and eaten them all."
But when he entered the vineyard he couldn't believe his eyes.
The grapes hung in gigantic clusters throughout the vineyard, and the smell of the ripe grapes was overpowering. Every grape was perfect, and there was no sign of any having been touched.
The man began to look for the hole in the fence. The damage had been quite extensive, and so he was sure to find it with little searching.
And so he did, but in the place where there had been a gaping hole, there was none.
Instead, completely covering the hole, there was a fully-grown caper bush. The Master of the Universe had caused it to sprout there, to cover up the opening with its bushy branches.
The caper bush had not only saved the grape crop from certain destruction, but it possessed a great value in itself. Every part of the plant could be sold at great profit. The caper buds were preserved in vinegar and savored as a tasty delicacy; the twigs and leaves were enjoyed as well.
The pious Jew benefitted from the wondrous bush for the rest of his life, earning from it a good livelihood to support his wife and children. He enjoyed the bountiful harvest from it every year and it was a reminder of the great holiness of the Shabbat and the miracle of G-d's creation.
In the Holy Land, when the Romans ruled, Rabbi Yonatan was a judge in his city. He was known to everyone as a fair and honest man.
The court convened in his home which was situated next door to that of a Roman.
And just as the two houses were adjacent, so were their fields.
In Rabbi Yonatan's field there grew a majestic tree whose branches overspread the field of the Roman, but the Roman didn't mind, for he loved to sit under its welcome shade.
This Roman enjoyed disparaging the Jews, and he decided that it might be entertaining to listen to some of the cases brought to Rabbi Yonatan.
One day two Jews came to the court arguing about a tree belonging to one of them. The second Jew complained that the shade it created interfered with his crops. The first man cried, "For twenty years the tree never bothered you!"
The second replied, "That is true, but now it has become so large that it damages my crops." Rabbi Yonatan listened and then instructed the men to return the following day for the verdict.
The Roman thought to himself, "I bet the rabbi postponed his decision because I was here. He was probably afraid that I would demand that he cut down his tree. I'll show him. I will embarrass him in front of the whole court."
Rabbi Yonatan called a carpenter and instructed him to go at once and cut down all the branches of his tree which hung over his neighbor's field. When the verdict was read next morning, the Roman was there. "You must cut down the branches which hang over your neighbor's field, since they are disturbing him," ordered Rabbi Yonatan.
The Roman leapt up and yelled, "Why, then, don't you cut down your tree which is leaning over my property?"
"Go to the field and look at my tree. You will see exactly what this man must do to his tree."
The Roman went, and to his surprise the tree no longer hung over his field. He saw that Rabbi Yonatan made sure that he would not transgress a ruling which he laid on another person. From that time on the Roman had the greatest respect for Rabbi Yonatan and Jewish Law.
Everything significant in Judaism requires preparation.
We spend the entire month of Elul preparing for the High Holidays which take place in Tishrei.
We spend Friday preparing for Shabbat. Weeks before Passover we begin preparing for the Festival of Freedom.
Children are taught and educated to perform mitzvot years before they are Bar or Bat Mitzva and obligated to fulfill the commandments.
We even prepare ourselves for the daily prayers by giving charity and saying, "I hereby take upon myse lf the commandment of 'Love your fellow as yourself.'"
What is our preparation for Moshiach?
Actually, there are two levels of preparation.
One aspect is to do those things that will actually hasten the Redemption, while a second facet is to prepare ourselves to be ready for Moshiach.
In over 100 talks during the years 5751 (1991) and 5752 (1992), the Rebbe discussed what we should do to be ready to greet Moshiach.
The Rebbe suggested an increase in Torah study in general, the inner teachings of Torah--Chasidut, in particular.
More specifically, the Rebbe also indicated that studying those subjects relating to Moshiach and the Redemption would be especially appropriate.
Our Sages have taught that Jerusalem will be redeemed through Torah study--Tzion b'mishpat tipadeh.
Learning more about Moshiach and the Redemption in particular, enables us to live with Moshiach, to appreciate the process of Moshiach which has al ready commenced.
Concerning mitzvot, the Rebbe urged that we increase our observance of mitzvot and enhance or polish up those mitzvot that we are already performing, with an added emphasis on those mitzvot which our Sages have specified hasten the Redemption.
In future issues we will examine specific mitzvot and how they hasten the Redemption and help us prepare for Moshiach.