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Two enemies face each other on the battlefield.
One hums a merry tune as he takes a few practice sweeps with his sword before engaging his foe.
The other is clearly down hearted, barely placing one foot before the other as he approaches the opponent.
Who will win?
One does not need to know the record or the weight of each participant.
The one whose spirit is high will carry the day.
What is true in battle is true in sports and in our spiritual lives as well.
The Chasidic tradition places major emphasis on the importance of joy.
Based on the Biblical verse, "Since you did not serve the L-rd your G-d with joy and gladness of heart... you shall serve your enemies," it is explained that depression and sadness are the root of all evil.
Often, "serving G-d with joy" is merely a question of counting our blessings, of acknowledging the benevolence of our Creator in providing for all His creations.
At other times, however, happiness does not come easily.
The secret to joy, when things are not going so well, is faith.
Faith means the conviction that "the Source of all good can only do good," that everything that happens is part of a Divine plan.
The Talmud describes several personalities throughout history who saw the good in everything.
Rabbi Akiva, for example, saw a fox run across the Temple Mount after the destruction, and laughed while his companions cried.
He was able to comfort the other Sages by explaining that once the prophecy of destruction had been fulfilled, the prophecy of the rebuilding of the Third Temple would certainly also come to pass.
An often used catch-phrase translates roughly to:
"Think good and it will be good."
This is not a guidebook for ostriches on how to bury one's head in the sand. Much more than blind optimism, it is the belief that a trusting and positive approach actually creates a brighter future.
If a doctor tells a patient's family, "Only two months left," the trust of the family, and the patient, that things will get better can be eroded and actually decrease the patient's life.
Conversely, a positive attitude has been shown to add years to the life of a person.
In fact, the Torah frowns on doctors who predict the years allotted their patients. To quote the Talmud, "The doctor has been given license to heal" - and only to heal.
Not only as regards the specifics of one individual's life, but in the life span of the world itself, this forward-looking and optimistic sense prevails.
Judaism teaches that in the end, all will be well.
Death and evil will be eliminated; war, jealousy, and hatred will cease; and the knowledge of G-d will fill the entire world.
We are all aware that that long-awaited time is indeed imminent. Ironically enough, one of the major indications of the closeness of Redemption is the fulfillment of the dire descriptions of the Messianic times found in the end of Tractate Sotah of the Talmud.
Even more remarkable, there are references in the Midrash to a return to Israel by the Jews before the coming of Moshiach, followed by an attempt by Jews to return Israel to non-Jewish hands.
However, rather than evoking apprehension as to what the immediate future might bring, our knowledge should inspire joy.
After all, our joy is an expression of our faith.
Our excitement demonstrates that Moshiach is more than a vague abstract idea applicable to the distant future. Rather, we are demonstrating that we see the coming of Moshiach as an immediate and long-awaited reality.
Many sources teach us that a requirement for the redemption is faith in the redemption itself.
Knowing that we will very soon see what our ancestors, from the beginning of time, believed in and anticipated, but could only dream of, certainly lifts us to great heights of joy.
Moreover, the faith this joy represents will make that reality even a bit closer.
This week's Torah portion, Emor, speaks about the Divinely- ordained weekly cycle, the fundamental clock by which Jewish life is lived and celebrated.
"Six days may work be done, and the seventh day is the Sabbath of rest."
Yet this reference to the observance of Shabbat contains an even deeper significance.
Our Sages explain that just as the six work days of the week serve as preparation for the seventh day of rest, so too, do the six thousand years of the world's existence since creation serve as preparation for the Messianic Era, a period of time which will commence before the seventh millenium.
(The final Redemption can come at any time; six thousand years is the maximum foretold by the Torah.)
For almost six thousand years (5754, to be exact), the world has been involved in an ongoing process of preparation, getting ready for the culmination of the Divine plan.
Over the course of thousands of years, the learning of Torah and the observance of mitzvot have purified and refined the world into a state of being capable of absorbing the great revelation of G-dliness that will occur with the final Redemption.
This pinnacle of human existence, the purpose for which the world was created, has been termed by our Sages "the day which will be all Sabbath and rest for life everlasting."
The Biblical term, "Shabbat Shabbaton" (a Sabbath of rest), a repetition of the same root word, alludes to the two levels of sanctity that exist on Shabbat.
"Shabbat" refers to the actual cessation of labor; "Shabbaton" implies the extra dimension of holiness felt on that day, the inner quietude and sense of rest that reign independent of our actions. "
A day of rest and holiness You have given to Your people," we pray in the Sabbath service.
As the verse implies, our enjoyment and appreciation of Shabbat are dependent upon the energy we expend and the sincerity of our efforts during the six days of the week which precede it.
This added measure of holiness on Shabbat is attained in the merit of our labors and the good deeds we accomplish during this time.
This principle holds true on the larger scale as well.
We find ourselves now in the very last seconds of the exile, just moments before the ultimate "Sabbath of rest" is about to begin.
For indeed, the six thousand years of service prior to Moshiach's arrival have not only prepared the world for the first phase of the Messianic Era - when the age-old battle against evil will finally be won - but have readied the world for the extra dimension of holiness that will reign during the Days of Moshiach, when evil will be totally subjugated to good and the "spirit of uncleanliness" will have entirely disappeared from the face of the earth.
From a discourse of the Rebbe, shlita, "Vayakhel Moshe," 5714
Rabbi Levi Baumgarten near his tank
by Suzanne Rostler
Reprinted, with permission, from the New York Daily News.
Steve Melrose, 31, recalled the day he was "accosted" by a 12- year-old Lubavitcher boy.
The boy, said Melrose, emerged from a van "wearing the garb," approached him on the street and asked: "Are you Jewish?"
"Accost," "assault" and "pushy" are just some of the words used to describe the Lubavitchers who ride in the Mitzva Tank, that beige camper that cruises the city each day in search of wayward Jews.
But to those who have looked past the group's reputation as the most missionary-minded sect of the Chasidim and ventured inside the vans, the Mitzva Tanks offer an otherwise rare opportunity to learn about Jewish religion and culture.
"I come because the rabbi is great to talk to," said Larry Rheingold, 35, the owner of an executive search firm.
On a recent afternoon Rheingold was one of seven men who participated in a Torah reading in the 31-by-8-foot van.
"A lot of people fear the Chasidim - so did I - because of their image: the coats, hats... things that might be a little intimidating," he said.
Like Rheingold, many participants have overcome their initial reluctance and stop regularly at the Mitzva Tank.
Consider 53-year-old Steve Ash, who owns a real estate firm.
Recalling the day they met five years ago, Rabbi Levi Baumgarten, the driver, said he approached Ash ("try the word 'assaulted,'" Ash said) and invited him inside.
"So I said, 'Who needs you anyway,' recalled Baumgarten, 30, whose youth, wiry beard and round glasses give him more the air of a graduate student than a rabbi.
But the challenge was enough to draw Ash inside.
Now he visits the tank each Tuesday at 42nd St. and Madison Ave. He puts on tefilin, small boxes containing Torah verses, and recites a prayer.
"I thought they were pushy before I stepped into the tanks and understood what they're trying to do," Ash said.
"Their true purpose is to bring a dormant Jewish soul to life, and that doesn't mean you have to become a Lubavitcher, move to Crown Heights or attend shul."
But the Lubavitchers are aware that religion is not a priority for many modern Jews, and they use the van to bring a product to an apathetic audience. Baumgarten estimates he talks to nearly 200 people each day.
Even the word "tank" was chosen by the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the 92-year-old spiritual leader of the Lubavitchers, to symbolize the fight against Jewish assimilation.
AWAITING THE MESSIAH
The Lubavitchers, like all Orthodox sects, emphasize the coming of Moshiach, or the Messiah, as the focus of each lesson.
Rabbi Schneerson teaches that Moshiach will bring about redemption and the world will become a utopia.
To prepare, the Rebbe says, Jews must perform mitzvot, or good deeds, that include studying the Torah, keeping kosher and teaching other Jews about their roots.
The Mitzva Tank, and the question, "Are you Jewish?" are vehicles for such lessons.
ONCE UPON A CHASID
by Yanki Tauber
There is no better way to convey the Torah's unique and often subtle "Chasidic dimension" than to tell a story.
Hence, Once Upon A Chasid -- a collection of stories, anecdotes, conversations and sayings culled from the immense sea of writings of seven generations of Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbes and their leading Chasidim.
Each story is connected to a verse of the Torah.
Both verse and story express the same idea or ideal: the story is merely the verse come alive in the life of a Jew.
To order send $14 to Vaad L'Hafotzas Sichos, 788 Eastern Pkwy, Bklyn, NY 11213
IN THE PATHS OF OUR FATHERS
For the first time in English, an in-depth anthology of the Rebbe's insights into the Mishnaic tractate Pirkei Avot [Ethics of the Fathers].
The commentary touches on every Mishna, analyzing the homilies, showing a connection to points of Jewish law, and revealing the influence of mystical teachings.
The emphasis is that these truths should not remain theoretical, but should be applied in our lives, enabling us to grow as individuals, relate to others with greater sensitivity, and reach out to G-d with heightened spiritual feeling.
To order send $15 to Sichos In English, 788 Eastern Pkwy, Bklyn, NY 11213
THE STORY HOUR
edited by D.S. Pape
Everybody loves an exciting story.
This collection is sure to fire the imaginations and inspire the hearts of readers, young and old.
In each tale, a moment of discovery reveals the greatness of seemingly ordinary people.
Young and old, wise and simple, historical and modern characters, each courageously faces truth head on and emerges the better for it. Write/Call : HaChai Publishing Brooklyn, NY 11213, (718) 633-0100
RESPECT AND AFFECTION
Translated from a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
13 Iyar, 5730 (1970)
The story of Lag B'Omer, as related in the Talmud, is well-known.
Our Sages tell us that the disciples of Rabbi Akiva were stricken by a plague because they were not respectful toward one another.
But on the thirty-third day of the Sefira - Lag B'Omer - the plague stopped.
The story of Rabbi Akiva's students contains a lesson for every one of us.
The Talmud testifies that the students who died in the plague were "disciples of Rabbi Akiva."
It is clear that they were worthy of this title, which implies that they were dedicated to Torah and mitzvot with devotion, diligence and self-sacrifice, as their teacher, Rabbi Akiva, had taught them.
It follows that their lack of respect for one another could not have been due to trivial matters, but was motivated by the high level of their spiritual standing as "disciples of Rabbi Akiva."
The explanation of their conduct is to be found in the saying of our Sages, that people generally have different opinions and different personalities.
Each individual has, therefore, his own approach in serving G-d, studying the Torah and observing the mitzvot.
For example, one person may do it primarily out of love of G-d; another person may do it primarily out of fear of G-d; a third may do it primarily out of a sense of complete obedience and submission to the Will of G-d; and so forth, though in actual practice, all of them, of course, fully and meticulously observe the Torah and mitzvot in their daily lives.
Being disciples of Rabbi Akiva, they were surely "men of truth," who served G-d with the utmost sincerity and devotion, which permeated their whole beings.
Thus, it seemed to each one of them that his particular approach was the right one, and any one who had not attained his level was lacking in perfection.
Moreover, being disciples of Rabbi Akiva, who taught, "You shall love your fellow Jew as yourself; this is the great principle of the Torah," they were not content personally to advance from strength to strength in their own way of serving G-d, but they wished also to share this with their friends and tried to influence them to follow their path.
Seeing that the others were reluctant to accept their particular approach, they could not respect them to the degree that was to be expected of the disciples of Rabbi Akiva.
In the light of the above, we can see that the story of Lag B'Omer in the Talmud teaches us what should be the correct conduct of each and every one of us, and the instruction is threefold:
- Serving G-d, studying the Torah and observing the mitzvot, both the mitzvot between one individual and another, and the mitzvot between an individual and G-d, must be performed with true inspiration and vitality, which permeate the whole of the person and his daily conduct.
- The above includes, of course, the great mitzva of "Love your fellow Jew as yourself," which must also be fulfilled with the utmost vitality and in the fullest measure.
- Together with the above, a person must look kindly and most respectfully upon every Jew, who differs only in the manner of worship, whether it is out of love, or out of reverence, etc.
A further instruction from the above is that even if one meets a Jew who has not yet attained the proper level of Divine service, the approach must still be that of respect and affection, in accordance with the teaching of our Sages, "Judge every person favorably."
Let the great Sage, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who considered Lag B'Omer his day of personal joy, be an example and inspiration to all of us.
For Rabbi Shimon said that he was prepared to give up all his merits in order to save the world from judgement (Sukka 45b).
In other words, he was prepared to give himself completely to a person who has no merits of his own, whom he never met, and who may be at the other end of the world. How much more so should one be ready to give of himself for the benefit of near and dear ones and all his friends.
May G-d bless each one of you that you live and act in accordance with the spirit of Lag B'Omer and that you do so with the utmost measure of true Ahavat Yisrael, (love of a fellow Jew) with joy and gladness of heart, to hasten the realization of the words of the Lag B'Omer week's Torah portion, "I will break the bars of your yoke (in exile) and make you go upright" - in fulfillment of the true and complete Redemption through Moshiach.
Rivka was one of our four Matriarches.
She was the wife of Isaac and the granddaughter of Abraham's brother, Nachor.
Rivka was chosen by Abraham's trusted servant Eliezer as a wife for Isaac because of her outstanding intelligence, modesty, and kindness.
Rivka gave birth to twins, Esau and Jacob.
Rivka understood that Jacob, the tzadik, deserved to receive the blessings of the first-born, though he was the younger twin, and she took action to insure that would happen.
She was buried in the Mearat Hamachpeila Cave in Hebron.
This Friday (April 29) is the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer, known as Lag B'Omer.
As mentioned in the Talmud, Lag B'Omer is the day that marks the end of the plague that decimated Rabbi Akiva's students. It is also the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (known as Rashbi), a disciple of Rabbi Akiva and author of the Zohar.
Is it a mere "coincidence" that the plague stopped on Lag B'Omer and that years later the Rashbi passed away on that same day?
One commentary explains that the reason the plague stopped on Lag B'Omer was because that day was destined to be the day of the passing of the Rashbi.
The Rashbi had commanded his students to be joyous on the anniversary of his passing, since on that day his soul had completed its holy mission here in this world.
What certainly must have seemed to be a dark and dismal moment was to be infused with joy and enthusiasm. And because the yahrzeit of the Rashbi was destined to be a joyous date, years earlier, the Jews rejoiced at the cessation of the deadly plague.
From the above we can see that certain days or times are pre-ordained for auspicious events.
Because G-d created time, He is above the confines of time.
Therefore, the G-dly energy that will shine in the world on the anniversary of a certain event is already "in place" prior to its occurrence.
The re-investment of the G-dly energy in the world on the anniversary of the date of a special event is one of the reasons that we celebrate the Jewish holidays, and even minor festivals, on the anniversary of the event, rather than on a different day of the week (or the most convenient Monday, to make it a long weekend).
Everything that has been said above concerning the auspiciousness of a particular day is certainly true concerning the imminent Redemption.
In the "Ani Maamin" prayer which is based on Maimonides' "13 Principles of Judaism," we are enjoined to await Moshiach's coming every day - or as some commentators explain, the entire day.
If we are commanded to await Moshiach's coming at any moment, then every moment is a previously ordained auspicious time for Moshiach's arrival.
Let us infuse these last moments of exile with joy and enthusiasm, as befits every Jew, for we are all truly disciples of the Rashbi and his glorious teachings which will be fully revealed in the Messianic Era.
You shall not profane My holy name, so that I may be sanctified among the Children of Israel (Lev. 22:32)
From this verse we learn the commandment to sanctify G-d's name, even sacrificing our very lives if need be.
We are commanded to observe certain mitzvot at any price, including the forfeiture of our lives.
These mitzvot include the prohibition against the worship of idols, not engaging in adulterous relationships, and the prohibition of murder.
When a Jew gives up his life rather than commit any of these transgressions, G-d's name is publicly sanctified.
Conversely, the desecration of G-d's name is taken just as seriously.
The Prophet Ezekiel refers to the exile of the Jewish people as a desecration of G-d's name.
The ultimate sanctification of G-d's name, however, will take place when Moshiach comes and the entire world is redeemed, at which time "My great name will be sanctified...and all the nations will know that I am G-d."
(Likutei Sichot Vol. 27)
You shall sanctify him, for the bread of your G-d he offers (Lev. 21:8)
Do not look down upon the high priest and hold him in contempt because he is sustained by the gifts accrued from his position.
He serves a special, higher purpose, one ordained by G-d.
Nowadays, the tzadik (righteous person) occupies a similar position in Jewish life.
When a tzadik eats, it is considered as if he offers the sacrifices of old.
Just like the High Priest during the times of the Temple, the tzadik draws holiness into the world through his Torah and his service of G-d.
(Ktav Sofer )
"And out of the sanctuary he shall not go" (Lev. 21:12)
A Jew's thoughts must always be of holy matters, connected to G-dliness and sanctity, even when engaged in seemingly mundane affairs.
At such times (such as when conducting necessary business), the Jew should consider himself as having left his "home" temporarily, with the intention to later return.
The warm influence of the home will carry over also when he is in the street.
(Baal Shem Tov)
The great Rabbi Moshe Sofer (the Chasam Sofer) was sitting with his students one day when they were interrupted by the Parness (the head) of the Jewish community.
He hadn't want to disturb the Rabbi when he was busy with his students, but when the Chasam Sofer noticed the man's distraught face, he excused himself and called the Parness into an adjoining room.
"What has happened?" the Rabbi inquired.
The man answered with a sigh.
"I am in deep trouble. I have lost my entire fortune. There's no hope, for I am in such deep debt, and I've signed promissory notes for others as well. I'm on the brink of utter ruin. Tomorrow, when it becomes known that I didn't go to the fair at Leipzig, my creditors will come running, and that will be my end."
"How much money do you need to go to the fair?" the Chasam Sofer asked.
"Oh, Rabbi, the amount I usually bring is not worth talking about. At this point, I would be grateful for travelling money and a bit of cash." The Parness mentioned an amount.
"That's no problem. I think I have just that amount here."
The Chasam Sofer went to a certain drawer in his desk and withdrew the cash.
"Rabbi, I can't take the money from you. I came to you for advice, not a loan. If I take your money, how can I guarantee that I will be able to repay you?"
The Chasam Sofer smiled. "Don't worry, with G-d's help, you will repay me. May you have much success."
Deeply grateful and with new hope, the Parness took the money and left. He caught the early train to Leipzig, and upon leaving the train met a friend who was a big wholesaler and importer.
He offered the Parness a shipment of newly arrived coffee. The price was right, so the Parness gave a deposit and concluded the deal. Before the day ended, news reached the fair that the crop in Brazil had been damaged by bad weather, and the price of coffee had risen.
The Parness sold the coffee at a great profit.
The next day he bought large quantities of merchandise.
The pattern repeated itself every day of the fair, and by the end, he had not only recouped all his losses, but had become even richer than before.
It occurred to the Parness to buy something special for the Chasam Sofer.
Knowing the rabbi's knowledge of jewelry, he purchased a valuable gem to present to him. Back home, he went at once to visit the Rabbi and tell him the good news. "Your blessings were fulfilled beyond my dreams. In addition to repaying you, it would be an honor if you would accept this gift."
The Rabbi took the box in his hand and opened it, revealing the gem. "It's beautiful, and very valuable as well," he said turning the gem this way and that. Then he handed it back to the Parness.
"But, Rabbi, it's yours."
"No. You see, if you had given it to me at any other time, perhaps I would have accepted it, for it would support my yeshiva for some time. But since I gave you the loan, I cannot accept even something which has 'the dust of interest' on it."
The Parness left, and some students who had observed the scene came to their Rabbi with a question: "If you had no intention of accepting the gift, why did you receive it with so much happiness and pay it so much attention?"
"I will tell you a story which will answer your question.
"Once I was traveling with my Rebbe, Rabbi Nosson Adler of Frankfurt.
"The weather was bad, but it was a trip of extreme urgency to the Jewish community, so we left immediately.
"We started out after dark, and after we had gone but a short distance, the team of horses refused to budge. The driver went off to get help and we tried to shake off the cold by immersing ourselves in learning.
"Finally the driver returned and readied the team to continue the journey. Suddenly, my Rebbe leaped out of the carriage and began dancing in the snow. I was shocked and couldn't understand his actions.
" 'Don't you see, Moshe, the driver has harnessed a team of oxen together with horses!'
"I got out of the carriage and explained to the driver that we were forbidden to be drawn by a team composed of mixed species (kilaim, is forbidden, since the animals have differing strengths and it causes them great hardship).
"I offered him extra money if he would go and exchange the oxen for horses.
"When he had gone, I asked my teacher to enlighten me as to his strange behavior. He answered, 'My dear Moshe, when in Frankfurt do I get to do the rare mitzva of kilayim? Now, that it comes my way, once in my life, should I not rejoice?'
"That is why, when I got the chance to do the mitzva of ribbis (not accepting interest from a fellow Jew), I rejoiced.
"Who comes to a rabbi to request a free loan? When that mitzva came my way, I couldn't conceal my joy and excitement!"
The Divine light to be revealed in the days of Moshiach will be the light the Jewish people will have drawn earthward by serving G-d through the study of the Torah and the observance of the mitzvot.
The Divine light that will be revealed at the time of the Resurrection, however, will outshine it by far: its source will be a level of Divinity that is beyond the reach of any mortal service.