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When NASA began to consider the possibilities of extended space travel, its scientists decided to experiment with the effects of weightlessness on plants. Several seedlings were sent in one of the first satellites.
When the satellite returned, the biologists were amazed at the results; roots were growing out of every side. In several places, a stem had started to grow, only to have its growth aborted and leaves had sprouted at random. The researchers came to an obvious conclusion: plants without up and down clearly defined don't grow correctly.
Topsy-turvy conditions have become the rule and not the exception in our society.
Today, in all areas - politics, science, economics, and health - things look uncertain.
What is happening?
In previous generations, sweeping change took time.
In the past century, and particularly in recent decades, advances in science, travel, and communications increased the rate of change.
Moreover, it is not only the rate of change that is unique, it is the nature of the changes occurring.
Most of us grew up with a Newtonian concept of the universe - that readily discernible causes produce predictable effects - a "clock-work universe."
Einstein's "Theory of Relativity" hinted at the existence of a higher degree of interrelation.
People began thinking of non-linear systems, i.e., systems whose organization is not predictable in terms of the information within our grasp at any given moment.
This line of thinking has spawned a new theoretical approach referred to as the mathematics of chaos.
Generally, we conceive of chaos as confusion or disorder.
This new approach understands that what may be chaos to us is, nonetheless, the reflection of a hidden order motivated by a deeper and more abstract reality.
Complex behavior appears random, yet conforms to a pattern.
FINDING THE NORTH STAR
In previous generations, our lives followed more clearly mapped- out routines, and so we had less difficulty charting our future.
But now, these maps are continually being redrawn.
In this environment, how does a person prevent himself from becoming disoriented as our weightless plants? By having a sense of direction and purpose.
When the leader of a desert caravan needed direction he would look into the night sky and find the North Star. As civilization advanced, the compass was invented. A person with an inner sense of purpose has a needle constantly pointing him true-north.
What is meant by inner purpose?
A person once complained of depression. Nothing in particular was wrong; both at home and at work, he was moderately successful. But he was haunted by feelings of futility. A friend told the Rebbe of the problem and the Rebbe advised: "Share this insight of our Sages with your friend: 'I was created solely to serve my Maker.' "
It made a difference.
The person's attitude changed. After he saw the direction, he knew where to put his feet.
Our Sages describe every person as an entire world, and the world as a person in macrocosm. Conceiving of ourselves as a world -- multifaceted and multidimensional -- enables us to develop harmony between and within the different aspects of our beings.
Conversely, viewing the world as a macrocosm of man also provides us with constructive insights.
Just as an inner sense of spiritual purpose is the key to an individual's success and happiness, so, too, the world at large will thrive from gaining awareness of its spiritual purpose.
IT'S GONNA BE A ...
What is the purpose of the world?
Our Sages state: "The world was created solely for Moshiach" -- for the Era of Redemption.
The first step in facilitating this sense of direction in the world is a revolution in our own thinking.
To speak in metaphoric terms: Ships have long been guided by the movement of a rudder. As ships got larger, the rudders did, too. But moving these larger rudders was difficult, so a small rudder -- a trim-tab -- was attached to the larger rudder.
The trim-tab moves the large rudder, which in turn changes the course of the entire ship. Today, each of us can be a trim-tab. The direction in which we point our lives can affect the direction of the vessel of humanity.
Living with the Redemption on a conceptual level, learning about the ideals which G-d envisions for our world, and integrating these principles in our lives can serve as a trim-tab for every individual, channeling the direction of global change.
From As a New Day Breaks by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger published by Sichos in English.
The book of Vaikra -- Leviticus, which we begin reading this week, details the laws pertaining to the offerings that were brought in the Sanctuary and Holy Temples.
It begins with the words, "And He called to Moses."
Rashi, the great Torah commentator, explains that G-d called out to Moses with a special and unique love.
Chasidic philosophy further elaborates on the significance of the fact that G-d's name is not directly mentioned. This great love, it explains, emanates from an attribute of G-d so lofty and elevated that it exists beyond the limitations imposed by a name. G-d's very essence, as it were, was calling out to Moses.
Chasidut also teaches that every Jew has a spark of the soul of Moses within his own.
G-d's calling out to Moses with special love is therefore a call to every Jew, no matter who he/she is. The directives that followed, the details of the korbanot (from the Hebrew meaning "to draw near"), are the instructions by which man may draw closer to G-d, and apply to every Jew, in every time and in every place.
This concept is also reflected in the haftara (from the Book of Isaiah) which is usually read in conjunction with the Torah portion. "This people have I formed for Myself; they shall tell My praise."
The first part of the verse seems to indicate G-d's great love of the Jewish people; the second half seems to refer to their prayers, good deeds and Torah study, through which G-d's name is made great.
Yet, studying the verse in depth, we find that the type of praise G-d refers to here is of an entirely different sort, one which is totally independent of a Jew's actions.
"This people have I formed for Myself," G-d states. The Jewish people belongs to G-d; it is only through them that His sovereignty over the world is established, for a king cannot rule without subjects. A Jew, by his very nature and not by virtue of his actions, is created special.
"They shall tell My praise," G-d continues. The continued existence of the Jewish people in itself reveals the glory of G-d.
The fact that the Jewish nation, "one sheep among seventy wolves," is still flourishing after thousands of years testifies to the greatness of G-d. Every Jew bears witness to the existence of G-d and causes His name to be praised.
This is especially relevant for our generation, following, as it does, the terrible decimation of our brethren during the Holocaust.
The fact that Jews exist today, proudly continuing our holy tradition and raising a new generation of Jews to further imbue the world with holiness is in itself miraculous, bearing witness to G-d's greatness.
This tremendous love which G-d feels for every Jew, regardless of his deeds, indicates just how important it is for us to love our fellow Jew and to always judge others favorably, for each of us is G-d's special treasure.
Adapted from a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Sefer Hitvaaduyot 5750, Vol. 2
June 1967 was the last time that Shmuel Ptalis saw his roommate Ron.
They were both science majors and were bright, interesting young men. However, in one area, they had absolutely nothing in common -- in Judaism.
Shmuel, with his posters of Israel and the Western Wall, was a man of the past, while Ron, with his posters of space explorations, was a man of the future. Or at least that is the way Ron expressed it.
After graduation, Shmuel began studying Chabad Chasidic philosophy and moved to Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
Eventually, he entered the field of computer programming, married Miriam, and moved out of the New York area.
About a year and a half ago, Shmuel decided to settle in Monsey.
A few months later, to his great astonishment, he received this letter from Ron!
In their graduate school days at Purdue, Shmuel had never mentioned Monsey, and one can certainly see that it was Divine Providence that this letter came soon after his arrival in Monsey.
Our thanks to Shmuel, and Chana Sharfstein, for letting us share this letter with our readers.
April 2, 1993
If anyone ever owed a letter to someone, it's me to you.
Remember me? Your vexatious roommate at Purdue? I sure hope you're the same Sandy Ptalis I knew. Otherwise I'm going to be real embarrassed.
Guess what. I've gone baal tshuva [one who returns to traditional Judaism]! I'm more or less as observant as you were when we knew each other at grad school. Can you believe it?
A quick catch up on what's happened with me since you left Lafayette: The next year at Purdue, I switched from physics to mechanical engineering, rocket propulsion (that's where assistantship money was available) and hated it even more than my first year. But I finally met a Jewish girl, a speech therapy major, Ellen; we both dropped out at the end of the year and got married.
Through an extremely bizarre and quirky chain of events, which can only be hashgocha protis [Divine Providence] and which I must relate to you sometime, I never did enter the military, but instead ended up as a computer analyst/programmer.
Let me guess; you're one, too, right?
Through various job changes and transfers, we moved to the Washington, DC, area, where I am now.
I have two children. My son is 23, married and lives in Nachliel in Israel. His wife was born in Jerusalem and is one of 15 children.
You'll love this: My son is a Lubavitcher chasid, and a right wing one at that. He is studying shechita (the laws of ritual slaughter). My daughter is 18 and a senior at Bais Yaakov.
So, how did the baal tshuva bug come to bite me, you ask?
I suppose credit should go mostly to my son, but maybe some to you, too. When he was about 14, he got heavily involved in Republican politics, and through various connections, got a job, at 15, as a paid staffer to a senator (not a page, but a staffer, the youngest in U.S. history). After that, he worked at a few Capitol Hill lobbying outfits.
One might think, "A kid like this, eventually he would run for Congress." It turned out that in these jobs, he continually came across various religious Christians, mostly Catholics and Mormons, who would try to convert him. To defend himself against this, he started studying more and more about Judaism, and finally he became observant.
At 17, he left for Israel to go to yeshiva. After getting married he started studying Chabad chasidut and became a chasid.
Seeing this happen prompted me to do a lot of thinking and soul- searching.
To make a long story short, I came to the conclusion that I was wrong and he was right...and you were right; as he would say (before Ted Koppel came up with it), "It's Ten Commandments, not Ten Recommendations."
What does the Midrash say -- just before Moshiach comes, children will lead their parents back to Judaism? Well, it's happening, so brace yourself.
Ever since I began to become observant, and perhaps even before that, I have thought of you often. "If only Sandy could see me now, would he ever get a kick out of this! What ironic justice that the frei Yid [non-observant Jew] who gave him such problems should end up like this!"
I really think my exposure to you, despite how brief that exposure was, did have an effect on me -- perhaps a seed that took 20 years and the right soil and climate to sprout.
I'll never forget the first time I saw you.
You had gotten in late, after I went to bed, so when I woke up I was greeted with the sight of you davening. It was the first time I ever saw anyone wearing tefilin.
I just barely knew enough about Judaism to even recognize what you were doing.
"What is the school housing trying to do to me, just because I told them I was Jewish?" I recall thinking.
I remember the religious-philosophical discussions we had, like rams butting heads, each unable to move the other. I remember the time you and I and Fred crammed ourselves in my VW and drove back to NY. We stopped in at your parents' and your mother was exclaiming her dismay to me at your becoming frum.
"Where did I go wrong?!" she nearly shouted. I almost choked trying to avoid laughing out loud.
Over the years, I've gotten a strong feeling that I owe you this explanation. You deserve to know that the year you spent in Indiana may not have been in vain after all.
A couple of times, I put out messages on Jewish-oriented computer bulletin boards to see if anyone had heard of you, but got no answer. I had fantasies of running into you at the Kotel [Western Wall] when we went to Jerusalem for our son's wedding.
Finally, the thought just popped into my head today, "I wonder if he could be in Monsey." So I called 914 directory assistance, and there you were. And here it is!
So now, you can tell me, what have you been doing: Did I guess right that you got into computers, too? Are you a rabbi? What's your family like and... over all these years, did I ever pop into your head? I'd love to know your reaction to this letter.
With great affection,
Reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter.
In the over 1,300 Chabad-Lubavitch centers around the world, plans are under way for communal Passover seders, hand-baked matza distribution, and other holiday programs.
Close to 1,000,000 people are expected to be touched by one or more of Chabad 's Passover outreach efforts this year. Call your local Center for info about attending a Passover Seder or purchasing hand-baked matza..
A special program for couples will be held at the famed Bais Chana Institute in Minnesota, under the direction of Rabbi Manis Friedman. Entitled, "Come Celebrate Your Marriage" the week-long seminar runs from May 22-29. For more information call the NY office at (718) 756-2657.
From a Letter by the Rebbe Shlita
6 Tishrei, 5734 (1973)
Pursuant to the previous letter, whose theme centered on the task the Creator bestowed on humans, the chosen one of all creatures, together with tremendous powers to carry it out in life -- I wish to dwell here on a further point, namely, that just as this matter concerns every Jew as an individual, it applies also, and even more strongly, to the Jewish people as a whole, the Chosen People, whom G-d has given a special task as a nation among the nations of the world.
In the words of the Prophet Isaiah: "Thus said the L-rd G-d, 'I will protect you and set you up as a covenant-people for a light to the nations.' "
Just as the Jew, as an individual, must not forget his task, but must rather be permeated at all times with the responsibility of it -- and not underestimate his powers -- so must also the Jewish people, as a nation, always be mindful of its special purpose and not underestimate its powers, and certainly must not follow or imitate other nations.
The same applies, on a more limited scale, but in more concrete instances, to every Jewish community or organization, whatever the official purpose of its inception may be, and even to a single Jew whose status is such that people regard him as exemplary or representative of the entire Jewish nation.
The said affirmation is not necessary, needless to say, in the area where the uniqueness of the Jews is plainly evident to all, namely, in the sphere of Torah and mitzvot. But rather in the sphere of things wherein all nations are more or less comparable externally, i.e., in the sphere of so-called general and mundane affairs, as, for example, in the relations of communities and organizations with the outside world, or with each other, as to what should be the aims and aspirations of the particular Jewish body, who should be the leaders, what priorities to establish, the resources which should be allocated, etc.
There is sometimes a tendency to determine such endeavors on the basis of quantitative rather than qualitative criteria.
Wherefore also in the area of these endeavors the Jewish people have been given the directive: "Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, says G-d" to the Jewish people and Jewish community (even to the Jew as an individual) to carry out their task in the fullest measure. For, where Jews are concerned, their physical powers are linked with, and subordinated to, spiritual powers, which are infinite.
An historic example of this is found in the time of King Solomon, when the Jewish people stood out among the nations of the world by virtue of having attained the highest degree of its perfection.
Our Sages, referring to that state, describe it as being like "the moon in its fullness."
For, as is well known, the Jews are likened to the moon, and they "reckon" their times (calendar months) by the moon. One of the explanations of this, is that just as the moon goes through periodic changes in its appearance, according to its position vis-a-vis the sun, whose light it reflects, so the Jewish people goes through changes according to the measure of its reflecting the G-dly light.
This perfection in the time of King Solomon (though even then, Jews constituted numerically and physically "the fewest of all the nations"), expressed itself, in quite a distinctive form, in the relations between the Jews and the other nations of the world.
The reputation of King Solomon's wisdom aroused a strong desire among kings and leaders to come and see his conduct and learn from his wisdom -- the wisdom he had prayed for and received from G-d, and permeated with G-dliness.
And when they came, they also saw how under his leadership there lived a people, even in its material life, "with security, every man under his vine and under his fig tree," in a land where "the eyes of G-d, your G-d, are constantly on it..." And this is what brought peace between the Jews and all the nations.
Thus it was clearly demonstrated that when Jews live in accordance with Torah, true peace is attained, and they serve as a guiding light, for "the nations will go by your light" -- the light of Torah and mitzvot.
The said task of the Jews and of the Jewish community is not limited to the time when they are in a state of a "full moon," but also when in exile, "spread and dispersed among the nations." For even then they are one people, whose laws are different from those of all other nations," a fact that is known and acknowledged by all nations of the world.
Because even when Jews are in exile, it is only the Jewish body that is in exile, but the Jewish soul is never exiled and is free from any external subjugation.
Consequently, also while in exile, Jews must not ignore their task, nor underestimate their capacities, however limited their material powers may be, inasmuch as a Jew's material resources, as already noted, are bound up with the spiritual, and in the spiritual realm there are no limitations also during the time of exile.
In plain words: Wherever Jews find themselves, in the diaspora or in the Land of Israel, even a single Jew in a remote corner of the earth -- it behooves every Jew and Jewish community to remember that they are part of the whole Jewish people, the one people ever since the Torah was given at Mount Sinai and until the end of times.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772-1811) was a charismatic chasidic leader, a great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, who lived at the turn of the 19th century.
He espoused his mystical philosophy through the means of deeply symbolic parables, which are counted among the great classics of Jewish literature.
In 1798 Rebbe Nachman travelled to Israel, but stayed only a few months. His teachings stress faith, joy, and personal dialogue with G-d in the form of private meditations.
In the letter that the Rebbe wrote four years ago this past week, addressed to all Jews everywhere, the Rebbe discussed the impact of our present month, Nissan, on the daily life of a Jew throughout the entire year.
Nissan is referred to as the month of geula -- Redemption:
There are two dimensions of Divine intervention -- G-d's governing of the world within the "natural" order and that of a supra-natural miraculous order which breaks through all natural barriers of the physical world. The latter form of Divine intervention is associated with the month of Nissan.
For, it was in Nissan that we witnessed the miraculous deliverance from Egyptian bondage. The exodus from Egypt came about because of the revealed miracles that G-d wrought "for our ancestors and for us; He took us out from slavery to freedom."
But these revealed miracles brought about not only the exodus from the physical Egypt, but also the exodus from non-physical restraints and limitations ("Egypt" in Hebrew is "mitzraim," which is similar to metzarim -- restraints and limitations).
What is true of the Jewish people as a whole is true of every individual in particular. G-d wrought these physical and non- physical miracles "for our ancestors and for us." Thus the exodus from Egypt--and the month of Nissan in which it took place -- effects in each of us a personal redemption from our own natural limitations.
The Rebbe concluded the letter, "And we should all merit to see the most important miracle -- the miracle of the true and complete Redemption through our Righteous Moshiach.'
In Nissan came the first redemption, and in Nissan will come the final Redemption, at which time we will see miracles that will surpass the miracles that were wrought at the Exodus from Egypt, as our Sages interpret the prophecy, `As in the days of your coming out of Egypt, I will show you wonders,' namely, miracles that compared even with the miracles of the Exodus will be outstanding wonders.
May it come about very soon, indeed."
And he called out to Moses; and G-d spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying (Leviticus. 1:1)
As explained by Rashi, G-d prefaced each exchange with Moses by calling out to him, indicative of His great love.
This love between G-d and Moses is symbolic of the open and loving relationship enjoyed by the Jewish people when the Holy Temple still stood and the Divine Presence rested in the Holy of Holies. This love has not diminished any during the exile; it has only became less open and revealed.
The way to restore the relationship with G-d to its former glory is by expressing unconditional love for our fellow Jew.
If the Jewish people will be united in brotherhood and unity, G-d's love for Moses will once again be fully expressed when the dead are resurrected and the Third Holy Temple is rebuilt.
(Likutei Sichot, Volume 27)
If any one of you bring an offering (Leviticus 1:2)
The elevated spiritual standing of holy and righteous tzadikim is ensured by the actions of the entire Jewish people.
It is in their merit that the leader of the generation draws closer and closer to G-d.
(The Holy Alshich)
If his offering be a burnt-sacrifice (Leviticus 1:3)
Because thought always precedes deed, the burnt-sacrifice, brought to atone for evil intentions, is listed first in the order of offerings. "That which was created last arose in the mind first."
Rabbi Yehuda ben Moshe Hakohen was the personal physician of King Alfonso X of Castile, one of the first provinces which the Spaniards had recaptured from the North African Arabs in the 13th century.
A great friend of the Jews, the king invited them to settle in Toledo, Cordova, Seville and other cities in Spain, and had many prominent Jewish advisors.
Because King Alfonso appreciated the services the Jews performed for his kingdom, he protected them and allowed them to worship and live as they pleased.
However, like kings of other lands, Alfonso was strongly influenced by the clergy, who were fanatically hostile to the Jews. Rabbi Yehuda was ever on guard lest the king fall under the influence of the clergy.
One day Rabbi Yehuda came to the palace to visit the king, as he often did, only to be informed that the king couldn't see him. The change in the king's attitude towards Rabbi Yehuda was evident, and he was filled with anxiety and foreboding. Heavy- hearted, he left the palace, but instead of returning home, he went to consult with his close friend Don Yitzchak de la Maleha.
Don Yitzchak was not surprised, for he knew that the king had important visitors, two ambassadors of the king of Portugal, Alfonso the Third.
He didn't know what sort of business was being conducted, but he had friends in the Portuguese court from whom he could inquire. The two friends agreed to meet again in three days' time, to exchange information and decide on a course of action.
But before the three days passed, Yitzchak de la Maleha sent urgent word to his friend: "I have learned that the Crown Prince of Portugal, Diniz, is suffering from some mysterious illness which the Portuguese doctors were unable to cure.
In the meantime, the king's priest used the opportunity to turn the king against his loyal Jewish officials.
"As you know, our Crown Prince, Sancho, is always scheming and lusting for more power. He wants to form a political alliance with Portugal by making a match between his sister, Princess Maria, and Diniz."
"What's so bad about that?" asked Yehuda.
"What are you saying? One of the conditions of the alliance is that the two Christian kingdoms join in expelling the Jews who will not convert to the Christian faith!"
Yehuda paled and tears appeared in his eyes. "The Guardian of Israel save us," he uttered in a heartfelt prayer. The purpose of the Portuguese ambassadors was clear, as was the cold and unfriendly attitude of the King.
Yehuda thought for a minute. "Royal matchmaking takes time. In the meantime we may be able to avert the danger. Perhaps if the king finds out that Diniz is ill, he will call off the match."
"In matters of political convenience, illness isn't an impediment," replied Don Yitzchak. "But I have a better idea, if G-d only grants us success, and you will be the one to intercede."
"I will do whatever I can. But what is it?" asked Rabbi Yehuda.
"You will travel to Lisbon and cure the Crown Prince."
The two friends discussed the plan at great length.
Rabbi Yehuda packed his medical kit and secretly departed for Portugal. Word was to be spread in the royal court in Lisbon about the arrival of a great physician from Spain.
As soon as the king heard the news he sent for the new doctor to examine his beloved son. He promised any reward, if only this doctor would succeed where all the royal physicians of Portugal had failed.
Rabbi Yehuda examined the ill man and informed the king that he had a blood clot on the brain. It would require delicate surgery, but he would undertake it. Until that time, the prince would be under his care. The king agreed. All went as planned, but then, on the scheduled day of the operation, Rabbi Yehuda received the unexpected order to leave the country without delay. It was incomprehensible, but Rabbi Yehuda packed and left at once.
He had been on the road only a few hours when a carriage drew up to him and the king, himself alighted. "The priest has cooked up a nasty dish this time, but he will pay for it! What do I care if you are a Jew, if you can cure my son!" He then related what had transpired.
The priest, being sure that this new doctor was a Jew, and probably the doctor of the King of Castile, was eager to discredit him. So, he went to the king with the lie that the Jews had decided to kill the Crown Prince with the help of this Jewish doctor, in order to stop the proposed marriage.
"I admit I was swayed by the priest, but when I told my son, he just scoffed at the accusation. He cried that if you were not permitted to treat him, he would commit suicide. You are his last hope, and he has complete confidence in your skill. I have come in person to beg your forgiveness and ask you to treat my son."
Yehuda Hakohen performed the operation, and the Almighty gave him success. The Crown Prince recovered his health, and Rabbi Yehuda was sent home laden with gifts. Of course, his greatest reward was having averted the threatened deportation of the Jews, who continued to live in Spain and Portugal for the next two hundred years in relative peace and prosperity.
Adapted from Talks and Tales.
Although man will still have free will in the Messianic Age, he will have every inducement to do good and follow G-d's teachings.
It will be as if the doer of evil were totally annihilated.
And as man approaches this lofty level, he will also become worthy of a divine providence not limited by the laws of nature.
What is now manifestly miraculous will ultimately become part of the nature of things.
(Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, The Real Messiah)