Living With The Times | A Slice of Life | What's New | Insights
Who's Who | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count | It Happened Once
Two people were marveling at the height and design of the Twin Towers.
But one's look seemed deeper than the other, as if peering through the very buildings themselves. His forehead was furrowed in concentration.
"I would like to figure out how these huge skyscrapers were built," he said to himself. This person was an architect. He was trying to look through the very walls and understand the buildings' structure.
In the same way, there is a neshama, a soul, in each and every one of us.
The soul understands, feels, and wants to reach out to holiness. But the soul lives in a physical body, which doesn't sense holiness easily or naturally.
The physical body understands only physical "reality."
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, the ultimate advocate of the Jewish people, once said, "Master of the Universe. If You had put holiness in front of our eyes and written about physicality in books, it would have been easy. But you put physicality in front of our eyes and wrote about holiness in books. So what do You expect of us?"
When Moshiach comes, our bodies will be able to sense holiness just like our souls. Like a person who gets a new pair of glasses, we will be able to see the G-dliness in everything.
The understanding of holiness will come to us in a natural way, and just as the architect sees through the building's inside structure, we will see through the veil of gross materiality and perceive the spiritual essence of all things.
Getting back to our architect, he drew up the plans of the building and explained its structure to his neighbor.
"Wow!" the neighbor said. "You are a genius! You designed a brilliant frame to support those huge buildings."
"No, I didn't design it," the architect said. "The frame was already there. I just figured it out."
"Then why don't I see it?" the neighbor asked. "You need well-trained eyes, my friend."
The architect intellectually discerned the design of the building; he neither designed nor created it.
G-d put a vivifying part of His holiness into everything He created.
The holiness is there, like the frame of the Twin Towers. But more often than not we are not able to perceive it. This is because our physical eyes have not been trained to see spiritual holiness.
When Moshiach brings the long-awaited Redemption, our very perception will change -- we will all have "well-trained eyes." We will be able to discern the holiness which has been there all along.
Adapted from: Let's Get Ready, by Malka Touger
In 1943, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Y. Schneersohn, of blessed memory, issued an urgent call to Chasidim to begin a massive campaign establishing additional religious institutions around the world. Many people could not understand why the Rebbe was initiating such a large-scale operation if, as the Rebbe had stated, we could hear the approaching footsteps of Moshiach. Would not such an undertaking constitute an enormous waste of effort if the Jewish people are to return to Israel with the coming of Moshiach?
By way of explanation, the Previous Rebbe referred to a teaching derived from this week's Torah portion, Beha'aloscha.
"At times, the cloud remained from evening till morning; and when the cloud was taken up in the morning, they journeyed forward. .. at the order of G-d they remained in the camp, and at the order of G-d they journeyed forward."
For forty years, the encampments of the Jewish people as they journeyed through the wilderness towards the land of Israel, were of varying duration.
They ranged from a short overnight stay to a nineteen year period in the same location. Yet, at each site, the Sanctuary was erected and offerings were brought.
Why was it necessary to expend such massive effort even for those encampments that were destined to last only a few hours?
Erecting the Sanctuary, just like the journeys themselves, was done solely according to G-d's command.
It therefore matters little whether the Sanctuary stood for many years on the same spot, or whether it was erected for just a few minutes.
The physical object used in the performance of a mitzva is significant solely because such is the will of G-d.
In this case, the mitzva to erect the Sanctuary, for whatever length of time G-d desired, is what imbued the labor involved in its erection with meaning.
The Jewish people, "believers, the children of believers," have faith in the coming of Moshiach and await his arrival each and every day.
Yet this fundamental belief in no way contradicts our efforts to build up and strengthen Jewish life and institutions while we are waiting. G-d wants us to take an active role in imbuing our surroundings with holiness no matter where the exile takes us, for this is His will and an integral part of Divine Plan.
We needn't worry that Moshiach's arrival will interrupt us in the first stages of whatever worthy project we are currently involved in; when Moshiach comes, we will fully understand the significance of all our service throughout the thousands of years of exile, even those that have not yet been completed.
Adapted from a talk of the Rebbe, 19 Kislev, 5717 (1957)
Reb Avraham Genin
by Aharon Dov Halperin
Before I interviewed Reb Avraham Genin, I was told:
"On Shabbos, he hops on his one foot for over an hour, to the Marina Roscha-Chabad shul in Moscow. He keeps the shul alive. One of the amazing things about him is that anyone, young or old, who had a bris here in Russia in the last 20-30 years, had it arranged by him -- secretly. Even to this day, he organizes tens of brisim each week."
"How do I get to meet him?" I asked.
"Go to the big market in Moscow. There, amongst the many shops, you'll see a locksmith booth. Go in, and you will see a bearded Jew, Avraham Genin. He probably won't tell you anything, but if you find a way to get him to speak, you won't be disappointed."
We easily found the key store. A few customers stood on line.
When Reb Avraham saw us, he left his customers for a minute. After much pleading and begging Reb Avraham agreed to say a little about himself that evening at my hotel.
"I was born in White Russia. My father was a G-d-fearing Jew who wasn't home most of the time because he was running from the police. My mother was a righteous woman. My sister and brothers were killed by the Nazis, G-d should wipe out their names .
"The bad times began in my childhood. Stalin closed the shuls and the KGB banned the rabbis.
"The Chasidic rabbi of our town, before he was imprisoned, was in bad shape because people were afraid to be with him. But my mother couldn't take it. When I was eight she used to have me take food to the rabbi. This became my job. When it was dark outside, I would run with a basket of food to the rabbi's house and give it to him.
"I managed to learn a little from a rabbi until they imprisoned him. Then Mother put me in a government school for Jews. I didn't stay there too long. In the first days of school, a kid pulled off my cap and hit me. I hit him back. The teacher entered. You must understand, the boy's father was a big communist and my father, a 'parasite.' I dared to hit the son of a big communist. The teacher testified against me, and the principal suspended me for three years. So I learned nothing, neither Jewish nor secular. I am just a simple Jew.
"In 1939, when the war broke out, I went to the army and served until '43. That year I lost my foot from a bomb and was hospitalized. Then, I got blood poisoning, but Hashem wanted me to live, so I got well.
"In Stalin's Russian army, whoever mentioned something religious was either killed or sent to Siberia. The only thing I could do was that whenever I ate in the dining room I put a towel on my head and made a blessing before eating.
"After the war I lived in Moscow with an uncle. I began making keys. One day a Jew came in. He didn't know that I was Jewish. He asked me to make some kind of piercing utensil to make matzos. He also mentioned that there was a shul here. That was the Marina Roscha-Chabad shul. I went to check it out. The first thing I saw was a Jew sitting and learning. Then I recognized him. It was Reb Yisrolik Pinski.
"We talked a little, he put tefilin on me and started to teach me. The other people were afraid of me. They were middle-aged and old people. They were sure that I was from the KGB. But slowly, I got closer to them and even became active in their circle.
"They introduced me to Reb Getche, and I was invited to a farbrengen (Chasidic gathering) in his house. I came to all of them after that. They were a source of life for me. We made farbrengens in shul and also had farbrengens in people's homes. Every time the Rebbe's emissaries came, we had to find a private home to farbreng so the 'tattlers' wouldn't find out. But it was worth it."
"Tell me about the mikva."
"Six years ago the Rebbe wanted someone to build a mikva in Marina Roscha shul. He chose Reb Avraham Genin. What is the big deal!? One day a chasid came to my store and said, 'The Rebbe sent me to you. He wants you to make a mikva in Marina Roscha.'
"It seemed impossible. We needed materials, which are impossible to get, even if you wait for years. You need permission, and if the KGB finds out they will send you you know where... Only the Rebbe's strength helped us. We got materials. Don't ask how, because I won't tell you. After we built it, the informers tattled.
"The police came. I said, 'This isn't new construction, we're fixing broken pipes in an old building.' They asked: 'So why does it look so new?' I said that after you take apart the walls to find the leak, you need to plaster and paint, so it looks new..'"
"Did you also make weddings?
"Who wasn't involved? We arranged many chupas--and it wasn't any less dangerous than the brisim. There wasn't always a minyan [quorum]. If there isn't a minyan, you have no choice; you get into the car and go find some family or friends.
"The brisim and the chupas put me in danger, but Hashem watched over me. I wasn't imprisoned, but I went through many investigations. Those policemen are stubborn and don't learn from experience. They knew me, but they bothered me again and again, to tattle on who is this Jew and who is this. Again and again I told them: 'I am dumb, I don't understand Russian, I don't understand Yiddish. I come to shul, I pray, I go home and have no other business in shul.'
Times are better now and the mesirus nefesh (self-sacrifice) today is different. But everything today is built on the solid foundation of earlier mesirus nefesh. After hundreds of brisim, hundreds of chupas; after building the mikva with mesirus nefesh and supporting the shul with mesirus nefesh, this shul is indeed the main platform of all Lubavitch activities in Russia.
Continued in next week's L'Chaim.
Reprinted, with permission, from the Chabad Magazine
STILL WATERS RUN DEEP
A journey into the mitzva of mikva, this 30-minute documentary shatters the myths surrounding ritual immersion.
Visually compelling, it transmits mystical information while addressing popular misconceptions.
Produced by Higher Authority Productions for Lubavitch Educational Foundation for Jewish Marriage Enrichment, the video can be ordered by calling 1-800-860-7030 (718-756-5700 in NY) or sending $24.95 to LEFJME, 1442 Union Street, Brooklyn, NY 11213.
In Niggun: Stories behind the Chasidic Songs that Inspire Jews, author Mordechai Staiman relates 38 tales in which niggunim -- wordless Chasidic melodies -- affect the lives of Jews.
The stories range from those about great Chasidic Rebbes of the past to contemporary situations. Published by Jason Aronson, Inc. Northvale, NJ.
TEACHING ABOUT MOSHIACH
This book, which follows a question and answer format, is divided into three sections, addressing the emotional, theological and philosophical questions or barriers concerning Moshiach.
Initially intended as a guide for teaching the subject of Moshiach (sample lecture outlines are included), it is an excellent resource for the serious student, novice or advanced. Published by Lubavitch Women's Organization, Brooklyn, NY.
These two letters from the Rebbe were correspondence to the same person.
Rosh Chodesh Kislev, 5733 (1973)
I duly received the telephone message as well as the letter in regard to your state of health, and I remembered you in prayer at the holy resting place of my father-in-law, of saintly memory, in accordance with the request.
From what I have been informed about your advancement in matters of Jewish observance, it is surely unnecessary to emphasize to you the importance of bitachon -- complete trust in G-d -- not just as an abstract belief, but in a way that truly permeates one's whole being. For, in addition to this being one of the very fundamentals of our faith and way of life, it is also a channel to receive G-d's blessings, especially for the success of the medical treatment, which has to be undertaken in the natural order, inasmuch as our holy Torah itself gives authority and power to doctors to heal and cure.
You surely also know that daily life, in accordance with the will of G-d, is the channel whereby Jews receive G-d's blessings in all their needs, and additional efforts in this direction bring additional Divine blessings.
In light of the above, I would also like to suggest that although it may involve inconvenience at this time, it would be well, if at all possible, that you, yourself should light the candles (well before sunset) on the eve of Shabbat, first reciting the blessing. Many also follow the custom of putting aside a few cents for tzedaka -- charity -- before lighting the candles. This should be done bli-neder -- without future commitment, also making sure that no actual Sabbath desecration (G-d forbid) should be involved in this connection, either by the person lighting the candles or other members of the family. And since the mitzva of lighting the candles on Shabbat eve and Yom Tov eve has been given specifically to Jewish women, this mitzva has a special merit and segula -- indication for good -- for Jewish women, and the Divine blessings that go with it. For this reason, this letter is being sent to you by Special Delivery, with a copy for Rabbi ........ to make sure it reaches you before Shabbat.
With prayerful wishes to you and kind regards to your husband,
26 Tammuz, 5733 (1973)
I was pleased to receive your letter of 18 Tammuz, following our conversation when you visited here. May G-d grant that just as your letter included good news, so you should be able to continue reporting good news in the same vein and in growing measure.
You mention that you had some questions and doubts, etc. Of course, one must not feel any shame in asking for clarification, and certainly should not keep any doubts within oneself, but seek answers. However, there is only one condition: Whatever the questions and doubts may be, they must not affect one's simple faith in G-d and in His Torah and mitzvot, even if the answers have temporarily eluded one. This condition goes back to the day when the Torah was received at Sinai on the principle of "na'aseh" -- We will do -- before "v'nishma," -- We will understand -- the guiding principle for all posterity. But after na'aseh follows v'nishma, for G-d, the essence of goodness, desires us to follow up [action] with knowledge and understanding, for then the totality of the person is involved in serving G-d to the fullest capacity.
However, one must always bear in mind the limitation of the human intellect in general, and particularly in relation to the area of G-dliness, which is essentially beyond human comprehension.
By way of analogy, even within the realm of human intellectual achievement, a small child cannot possibly comprehend an advanced mathematical or scientific formula conceived of by a great professor, though the latter was a small child at one time, and the mind of the former could one day even surpass the mind of the professor.
It is quite different in the relations between the human mind and the Divine Mind, where the difference is not in degree but in kind: between a created being and the Creator.
Therefore, the Torah and mitzvot, G-d's Wisdom and Will, can at best, be comprehended only in a limited way. To the extent of a person's capacity, he is welcome to inquire and probe, but, as above, without losing sight of the basic condition.
Elisha, the prophet, was the disciple of Elijah.
When Elijah went to Heaven alive in a fiery chariot, Elisha merited to see the miraculous event occur.
Elisha performed many miracles, among them: splitting the Jordan; purifying the waters around Jericho; filling the vessels of the widow of Obadiah with oil; blessing the Shunemite woman with a son in her old age and restoring him to life when he died as a young child.
Elisha had so many disciples that special quarters were built to house them in Samaria. He prophesied for over 65 years, fulfilling his mission as fearlessly as had his master, Elijah.
Part of the Rebbe's message concerning Moshiach and the Redemption is that we have to start living NOW the way we will live in the Messianic Era. Though not every detail is known concerning exactly how we will live once the Redemption has begun, that which we do know, we must try to implement in our lives.
In the Messianic Era there will be unprecedented unity amongst the Jewish people and peace and harmony in the world at large.
In the Talmud, our Sages state that unwarranted hatred was the reason for the destruction of the Holy Temple and the exile.
It follows, then, that unwarranted love will cause the exile to cease.
In a talk just weeks before his stroke, the Rebbe stated that the reason for the exile has already been nullified. Therefore, our Ahavat Yisrael -- love toward our fellow Jew -- today serves as a foretaste of the true, unbiased love we will feel toward our fellow Jew in the Messianic Era.
Our prophet, Isaiah, alludes to the unity that will exist in the Messianic Era by saying, "The whole world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the ocean bed."
Today, when we act in unity with others, it is comparable to the different parts of the body all working harmoniously. Each limb and organ is a separate entity; each has a "sense of self," but works together for the common good.
However, in the Messianic Era, we will lose our sense of self in response to the greater consciousness of G-d. At that time, though we will continue to be separate beings with diverse personalities and feelings, we will be united in our knowledge of G-d; rather than seeing the separate trees, we will see the forest as a whole.
On a more personal level, one can and should begin to harmonize oneself into a coordinated, unified personality. We must start with ourselves, but even before we become harmonious individuals, we must begin to interact cooperatively with others.
Why shall we be deprived, so as not to offer the sacrifice of G-d? (Num. 9:7)
Although the proper time for the Passover offering was 14 Nisan, some Jews were forbidden to participate because they were in a state of ritual impurity. Appealing to Moses, they protested their lot, claiming that it was unfair that they be excluded from this mitzva.
G-d acceded to their request.
The mitzva of Pesach Sheni was given, affording those who were unable to offer the Passover sacrifice at the proper time because of ritual impurity or physical distance from Jerusalem a chance to do so one month later.
Because of the sincere entreaty of a small number of Jews, an additional mitzva was included in the Torah.
We are taught that the Final Redemption will also come about in the same manner.
In exile all Jews are ritually impure and distant from G-dliness.
Yet every Jew has the right to demand that G-d allow us to offer the Passover sacrifice at the Third Holy Temple, as well as the power to bring this into actuality.
(Likutei Sichot, Vol. 27)
But the man Moses was very humble, more so than any man on the face of the earth (Num. 12:3)
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi explained that Moses felt humble especially in comparison to our generation, the last generation before Moshiach.
For, despite the extreme darkness that would reign immediately preceding the Final Redemption, Moses foresaw and was humbled by the self-sacrifice our generation would show to keep the Jewish faith alive even in the most difficult of circumstances.
(Sichat Purim, 5747)
We remember the fish which we ate in Egypt for naught (Num. 11:5)
G-d created the world in a way which makes it necessary to exert tremendous energy to attain sanctity; being holy demands hard work. But whatever interferes with our pursuit of holiness, come to us easily.
As slaves, the Children of Israel had grown accustomed to receiving the bounty of Egypt.
After their liberation, they protested that from now on they would have to work hard to obtain G-d's blessings.
Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezeritch, sat with his young pupil.
"Mendel, how many pages of Talmud did you learn today?"
The boy couldn't suppress the smile which played across his features as he replied, "Three pages, Rebbe."
But, contrary to what one would have thought, the Maggid was far from pleased. The boy was an excellent student and showed great potential, but he was too arrogant about his abilities.
"Hmm," he said, "If your hat slants at such a cocky angle from only three pages of Talmud, I wonder how many it would take for your hat to fall off completely!"
The Rebbe's sharp words brought the boy down from his high spirits and he began to look into himself. He realized that he had better change his outlook. He went to his Rebbe and asked,
"Rebbe, please, give me your advice; I know my pride is wrong, but I don't know how I should feel."
The Maggid was pleased to see the sensitivity of his pupil.
"I will go with you to the Baal Shem Tov, and he will explain the proper path."
The following week the two set off for the Baal Shem Tov.
The Maggid made a special request of Mendel: "I want you to pay particular attention to the Rebbe's words at every discourse during Shabbat, for when he speaks, I am too overcome with awe to concentrate properly on his words."
They arrived shortly before Shabbat, and the Maggid went directly to the Baal Shem Tov. Mendel remained in his room combing his hair and dressing, as he was always very particular about his appearance. The Besht stood at the bima ready to begin his prayers, but he waited until Mendel entered.
That was the last notice the Besht seemed to take of Mendel throughout Shabbat, until, when Shabbat had departed and the Besht was relaxing, he called Mendel.
"Shalom Aleichem," he said to the boy. "I want to tell you a story." The Baal Shem Tov proceeded to describe Mendel's life from beginning until the end.
The Baal Shem Tov turned to the Maggid. "Don't worry about the boy; he is a truly humble person, and he'll turn out well," he said. Mendel grew up to be a great and renowned Rebbe, Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk.
The story the Besht told him stayed in Reb Mendel's mind all his life. Once, many years later, when Reb Mendel he was critically ill his disciples stood around his bed, weeping and praying for his recovery. Their loud weeping brought Reb Mendel to consciousness and he said to them, "Don't worry. I remember from the story the Besht told me when I was a child, that I must still travel to the Land of Israel. Therefore, I know I will recover and live longer."
That, did, in fact, come to pass, and Reb Mendel traveled to Israel. On his way, he stopped in the town of Polnoye to visit the Toldos, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef.
To the surprise of everyone there, Reb Yaakov Yosef showed no displeasure about Reb Mendel 's clothing and appearance.
The older rabbi greeted his younger colleague with great warmth and affection, and they spoke at length about their meeting so many years ago at the court of the Baal Shem Tov.
"Did you understand the story he told you?" asked the Toldos. "Yes, I understood it," replied Reb Mendel. "Tell me, how far along are you now?" "I am more than half-way through it," Reb Mendel replied. "Did you understand that the story contained a hint that you were going to come here to visit me?" "Of course. That is the reason I travelled through Polnoye."
As the two sat and reminisced for a long time, their respect for each other was obvious to all who saw them. Then, the Toldos accompanied Reb Mendel all the way back to his hotel where they parted.
The Chasidim were curious, for the Toldos had acted very much out of character. Usually, he was very particular about the attire of a person who came into his presence. But, in the case of Reb Mendel, he seemed not to take any notice at all.
"You seem surprised that I didn't mind Reb Mendel's appearance -- no belt and the silver shoelaces... it's not that I didn't notice these things, but I will explain by way of a parable:
"Once a king possessed a pearl which was worth fortunes. He was afraid it might be stolen, and so, he hid it in the bathroom -- a most unlikely place to look for valuables.
"This same thing could be said about Reb Mendel. He is such a truly humble man that he is afraid that no matter how he attires himself his humility will be an attraction for the Evil Inclination. Therefore, he dresses in the most unlikely of all clothing, that of pride."
"G-d's glory will be revealed, and all flesh will see together, for the mouth of G-d has spoken"
Nowadays, we can only believe in G-d, for we cannot see Him. In the days of Moshiach, however, G-d's light will be revealed so clearly that all flesh will see it.
(Days of Moshiach)