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(By Rabbi M. Brod)
Forty-six years ago, the hopes and dreams of Zionists all over the world were fulfilled when the modern State of Israel was established. After almost 2,000 years, the return to Zion heralded a new chapter in the history of our people.
Today, thank G-d, over four million Jews live in the Holy Land, many having escaped the horror of the Holocaust and the harsh persecution of Arab countries.
Since 1948, Israelis themselves have grappled with the basic definition of Zionism.
Politically, Israelis are of all different stripes.
At one end of the spectrum are the "anti-Zionists," those Jews, many of whom have lived in Israel for generations, who reject the concept of a secular Jewish state.
At the other end are radical leftists, proponents of secular socialist values and ideals, who have traditionally identified themselves as the true Zionists.
In the middle, fall those who seek to b lend traditional Judaism with Zionist philosophy.
Today, however, we are experiencing an interesting phenomenon.
The old definitions no longer hold true, as current developments in the Middle East challenge the basic definition of Zionism itself.
Historically, Zionism sought to throw off the shackles of exile and transform the Jewish people into "a nation like all others."
The Jewish nation, returned to its ancestral homeland, would no longer define itself in unique religious terms -- its observance of Torah and mitzvot -- but rather, would take its proper place among the family of nations, defined by a common territory, the Hebrew language and a national flag.
National sovereignty and political independence became substitutes for the age-old longing for Moshiach and the Final Redemption.
It was for this reason that the Zionist movement encountered opposition among Jews who believed in the uniqueness of the Jewish people, and who saw the establishment of the modern state as a G-d-given opportunity to save countless Jewish lives, but not as fulfillment of Biblical prophecy.
Unfortunately, over the years, it has become increasingly apparent that Zionism, as traditionally defined, contained within itself, the seeds of its own self-destruction.
Not only were Torah and mitzvot abandoned as ideological underpinnings, but the Zionist establishment began to contradict its own essential right to legitimacy -- the very love of the land of Zion which it professed.
Today we see that self-proclaimed "Zionists" are all too willing to dispense with integral parts of the land of Israel -- belittling the Biblical city of Hebron, denigrating Judea and Samaria, scorning the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights, and disputing the very sanctity of Jerusalem.
And who is rising up in protest?
Those very Jews who were wishy-washy about calling themselves Zionists in the past!
History has now come full circle.
Events have unfortunately shown that galut -- exile -- can be manifested even by a Jewish government, and that the only redemption we hope for is the Ultimate Redemption, which Moshiach himself will bring, speedily in our days.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 28
This week's Torah portion, Balak, contains the famous prophecy of Bilaam, the gentile prophet who was hired to curse the Jews, but who ended up blessing them instead.
"For from the top of rocks I see him, and from hills I behold him," Bilaam began.
Bilaam's entire prophecy is couched in symbolism.
Rashi, the great Torah commentator, explained the meaning of Bilaam's words: "I have looked back to their beginning and to the origins of their roots: I see they are as stable and secure as these rocks and hills, because of their Patriarchs and Matriarchs."
The Torah itself tells us that Bilaam's prophecy is allegorical, prefacing his words with the verse, "And he took up his parable, and said."
Bilaam, therefore, was not only describing the physical location where he stood, but was expressing a deeper concept, one pertaining to a vital attribute of the Jewish people.
But why was it necessary for Bilaam to resort to allusions? Why couldn't he have said exactly what he meant?
In general, allegorical terms are necessary only when the subject matter does not lend itself to "regular" terminology.
Deep and profound concepts are sometimes difficult to express in simple language. In such cases, an allegory is best suited for expressing these ideas.
Bilaam, with his gift of prophecy, was able to discern the eternal strength and power of the Jewish people.
"Rocks" and "hills" were the closest he could come to expressing this in human terms.
An allegory was necessary because the unique strength of the Jewish people, the inheritance of their forefathers, is unlike any other force in the world -- for it is a strength of the spirit and of the Jewish soul.
When speaking of physical matter, the larger and more substantial an object is, the stronger and mightier it is perceived to be.
But the strength of the Jewish people lies not in their physical might, but is directly proportional to the depth of their submission to G-d.
The true strength of a Jew lies in his capacity for self- sacrifice, his willingness to forfeit his very life for G-d if need be.
Every Jew, when put to the ultimate test, is unwilling to be severed from his Source for even a minute.
This spiritual power is what distinguishes the Jewish nation from all others, at it states, "For it is a people that dwells alone, and is not considered among the nations."
This spiritual strength is the inheritance of every Jew, passed down from our Patriarchs and Matriarchs.
Unlike physical characteristics that fluctuate from generation to generation, this inheritance remains just as strong today as it was thousands of years ago, for it comes from a holiness that is eternal and not subject to change.
Excerpted from a speech by Chanita Baumhaft at
the Lubavitch Women's Convention this past month.
I have thought often in recent weeks that the time I have spent in Crown Heights is the single experience of my life which I would be least willing to give up.
I was, and expect in the future to be, an extremely driven college student.
My academic success brought me opportunities to work for the Department of State and the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, as well as government funding to study at Moscow State University.
I saw a PhD and a nice house in my future. I also foresaw a good deal of unhappiness, because whatever success I was having, there was always something missing.
It was my belief that this something could not be found in Judaism, whatever longings I had in that direction. I believed that the sort of Judaism I had been raised with was as good as it got.
Modern Orthodoxy was supposed to mark the perfect balance between the Jew and the world. The truth is, I think many of us experienced our faith rather as a barrier between us and the world.
I was raised at a time when the word "diversity" was first beginning to work its way into American classrooms, and into the American psyche.
This word, especially in the context of American universities, deals with quotas, in the sense that universities seek to have so many of each type (race, gender, nationality, etc.) in the classroom.
At the root of this project in social engineering, known as "diversity" is, in essence, the premise that nothing is true.
Ethnicity, race, and religion are "nice" and "interesting," like bits of exotic cloth from a foreign country. But there can be no truth in such things.
Truth, in the university, is deconstruction.
That is, college students can spend a lot of time sitting around discussing what is not true, but never dare broach the subject of what is true.
I had been living for a long time in this world of diversity and deconstructionism.
Not only had my early exposure to Judaism not impressed me as something "true," the prevalent philosophies of my generation saw as dangerous absolute belief in the veracity of anything at all.
One could be a Jew, or anything else, for that matter, so long as one didn't take it too far, or bother anyone else with it.
If I had to venture my opinion as to the biggest barrier between Jews of academia and Chabad, I'd have to say it's a real fear of the absolute.
Chabad enters this world in which all things cultural, ethnic, and religious are considered nothing more than nice and interesting, insisting upon the existence of absolute truth.
Now perhaps on a very, very deep gut level, the academic will greet such insistence with joy. But given his or her education, he or she will most likely have great difficulty.
So, there I was.
It was my first day of graduate school, and a miracle happened.
I lost interest.
I was sitting in the classroom of a brilliant professor.
I knew that a moment before I would have been absolutely enthralled.
Instead, I got a sort of funny headache, and sat there chagrined.
As my brilliant professor talked on, speaking of great secular beauty, I was thinking, "Where am I supposed to be? I am very, very late."
As I contemplated the question, my younger cousin who had recently gone to a yeshiva in New York came into my mind.
More specifically, that place came into my mind.
It was Machon Chana.
I went to my professor, whom I knew from my undergraduate days, and told him, "I think I am about to do something crazy."
He was very supportive, saying I had a big career ahead of me, and that if there was anything I thought I wanted to do before diving in, there would be no better time than the present.
He said, "All of this will be here for you whenever you're ready."
My family, on the other hand, was shocked.
They knew that all I'd ever wanted to do was teach literature and write. "What do you mean you lost focus in class?!!" they asked.
"Everyone has a bad day!" they said. They told me I was being irrational and rash. I could hardly argue with them. I didn't understand what was happening myself. The only intellectual reason I could work out as to why I was moving to New York was that I had always suspected that there was a time in Jewish history when our belief was filled with magic, beauty, and meaning. I thought I was going to see if there were any such animals still running around on the planet.
"I called Rabbi Shloma Majeski, dean of Machon Chana, and told him what I was thinking. He suggested I come for a Shabbat."
But, having too many questions for one weekend, I was stubborn and insisted that I come right away, with all my things.
Thus began my "time" at Machon Chana.
Thank G-d I came when I did, because I got to spend the High Holidays with the Rebbe.
My time here has given me everything I could have hoped for, and more.
Finding the magic, beauty, and meaning which I had been lacking (in short, finding Chasidut) has been an amazing, terrifying, glorious experience.
It, of course, is not an "experience" which has ended.
It continues to unfold on a daily basis.
This unfolding feels like a series of mountains.
Each mountain, each set of questions, each doubt, each new level of faith threatens to break me.
Suddenly, I get up the mountain, and feel a moment's satisfaction.
My smugness crumbles, as I look up to see only another, bigger, mountain.
I'm not complaining.
This chance to struggle with Judaism and myself is, after all, the one experience of my life I would never forgo.
CHABAD IN MUENSTER
For those of us who thought that Muenster was just a variety of cheese, read on.
A new Chabad - Lubavitch Center opened this past month in Muenster, Indiana.
Considered by some to be a suburb of Chicago, Muenster actually boasts a Jewish community over 10,000 strong.
The Center, under the direction of Rabbi Aryeh and Tamara Dudowitz, is located at 324 Gregory Avenue.
THE PATH TO MOSHIACH
"The Seeds of Redemption," and "To See the Redemption," are the topics of this set of two cassette tapes on the theme of "The Path to Moshiach."
The tapes are from classes of the beloved teacher, Yehudis Heller, obm and are part of the Ada Zirkind Learning Library.
To purchase the set send $13 to Y.H. Torah Tapes, 443 Sterling Street, Bklyn, NY 11225.
WITH JOY AND CONFIDENCE
Letters of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
14 Cheshvan, 5736 (1976)
I am in receipt of your letter of the 2nd of Cheshvan, and your previous correspondence as well as your telegram.
Your question is surprising, inasmuch as you surely know that one of the basics of our Torah -- called Torat Emet because it tells the truth -- is that everything happens by hashgacha pratit [Divine Providence].
Hence, you certainly have your mission and purpose in this world, and in addition, you have been given the ability and capacity to carry it out.
For it is logical that G-d would not give one a task which is impossible to carry out.
Furthermore, it is possible and necessary to carry out one's task with joy, as it is written, "Serve G-d with joy," and also for this, the necessary capacity has been given.
One of the ways to stimulate such joy is to reflect, first of all, that G-d has chosen the Jewish people, and you in particular, to carry out a mission for Him.
Imagine, if a human king would come from his city and residence to visit your home and entrust you with a special task, how welcome this would be; how much more so is this true in regard to the King of Kings.
Our Sages state that, "It is a pleasure, so to speak, for G-d that He has given a commandant and His Will has been done."
Surely it is most gratifying to be able to please G-d, especially since G-d promises a generous reward both in this world and in the World to Come.
Carrying the illustration a little further, one should consider that in the case of a human king, one can never be certain that the task he gives is all for the good, or that it can be carried out completely, or that he can fully keep his promise of reward. All this, of course, does apply in the case of a mitzva.
It is also clear that when a person goes about his tasks with joy and confidence, he is likely to have greater success and also to overcome any discouragement or difficulty that might arise.
If you reflect on the above in some depth, you will surely find a great deal of strength and encouragement, and you will see how easy it is to carry it out without any doubts in this regard.
Hoping to hear good news from you in all of the above,
20 Kislev, 5736 (1976)
I was pleased to note your determination to advance in matters of Judaism, in actual commitment as well as in gaining more knowledge.
There is the assurance of our Sages that "He who is determined to purify himself, receives help from On High," and "a person sanctifies himself a little here on earth, and he is sanctified a great deal from Above."
If even a "little" sanctification brings forth a great deal from Above, how much more so does more than a little.
I would like to add a few words in connection with greater "awareness" which you mention in your letter -- a point which my saintly father-in-law often emphasized by the following illustration:
When a person is hungry and thirsty and desires to know how food and beverage satisfy hunger and thirst, the way to go about it is to actually begin eating and drinking to still his hunger and thirst, which will also enable him to better and more quickly understand the process of digestion.
If he should attempt to reverse the order, and try to understand the process of digestion first, he will not have the mind or heart to understand it and may never understand it.
At first glance, it may seem puzzling how physical things such as food and drink can nourish and cultivate the mind.
But the fact is indisputable.
If this is so in the physical aspect of life, it is certainly so in the spiritual aspect of life. In order to develop a greater awareness and sensitivity and appreciation for Torah and mitzvot, the first thing is to satisfy the hunger and thirst of the neshama [soul] through the actual performance of the mitzvot in the daily life.
If a Jew is in such a state that he does not even feel the pangs of hunger and thirst for Yiddishkeit, this makes it even more vital for him to begin with the actual observance of the daily mitzvot.
As usual, our Sages of blessed memory express the above in a few concise words when they emphasized that the Torah was accepted by the Jewish people on the principle of "na'aseh v'nishma," putting "na'aseh" (we will do) before "v'nishma" (we will understand).
Akavya ben Mahalal'el a Sage of the first century BCE (a contemporary of Hillel), was noted for his great piety and wisdom.
He differed with the Sages of his time on four questions of law because he had received his tradition from a different group of Sages, whom he considered a majority that outweighed his colleagues; and though they offered him the post of av beit din -- most likely at the death of Shammai -- if he would agree with them (an obvious tribute to the esteem in which he was held), he refused.
But such was his character and integrity that on his death bed he bade his son accept the rulings of his colleagues, because for his son it was only his view against theirs, and they were now the majority.
"As mentioned in the well-known prayer [recited in the Musaf service of Shabbat] 'Umipnei chatoeinu,' the only cause of the sad events in the past -- the Destruction and Exile -- was the neglect of Torah and mitzvot.
Therefore, through rectifying and removing the cause, the effect will also be removed."
(From a letter of the Rebbe at the conclusion of the "Three Weeks" of mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temples.)
This coming Sunday (June 26) is the 17th of Tammuz, which begins the period in the Jewish calendar known as the Three Weeks or "Bein HaMeitzarim" ("Between the Straights").
In these next few weeks, as we commemorate the destruction of the Holy Temples and the beginning of our long and bitter exile, it is appropriate and commendable to strengthen and increase our observance of Torah and mitzvot.
But we should do this with a unique outlook.
For, in a talk just months before his first stroke, the Rebbe stated that the Jewish people, as a whole, has already rectified the reason for the exile.
At that time, the Rebbe was speaking specifically about "unwarranted hatred" which had caused the destruction of the Second Holy Temple.
The Rebbe, therefore, explained that by enhancing our ahavat Yisrael -- the love of a fellow Jew -- we would experience a foretaste of the unity and ahavat Yisrael that will be prevalent in the Messianic Era.
For, when Moshiach is revealed, the G-dly essence of everything will also be revealed.
Thus, we will experience the true appreciation of our fellow Jew, and this will lead to true "love of a fellow Jew."
The Rebbe also declared that "Teshuva [repentance] has already been done."
We have repented of our transgressions, the reason for the exile, and thus, at any moment, G-d can fulfill his long-overdue promise to the Jewish people and the world at large and bring the true and everlasting redemption.
At that time, according to our Sages, our days will be occupied with performing mitzvot and the pursuit of knowledge of the Divine through studying Torah, and especially the new insights into Torah that will be revealed by Moshiach.
May our additional mitzvot and enhanced Jewish knowledge tip the Heavenly scales and bring the Revelation of Moshiach now.
Rabbi Meir said: "Whoever occupies himself with the study of Torah for its own sake merits many things..." (Avos 6:1)
The Hebrew word "osek," translated "occupies himself," related to the Hebrew word for businessman, ba'al esek.
A person's occupation with the study of Torah must resemble a businessman's preoccupation with his commercial enterprise.
Just as a businessman's attention is never totally diverted from his business, the Torah should always be the focus of our attention.
(Likutei Sichot, Vol. XVII)
Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi said: "Each and every day a Heavenly Voice goes forth from Mount Horeb..." (Avos 6:2)
Our souls exist on several planes simultaneously.
This Heavenly Voice reverberates, and is "heard" by our souls as they exist in the spiritual realms.
And this causes our souls as they are enclothed within our bodies to be aroused to repentance.
(Likutei Sichot, Vol. IX)
Whatever the Holy One, blessed be He, created in His world, He created only for His glory; as it is stated, "Everything that is called by My name, it is for My glory that I created it; I have formed it, indeed, I have made it"; and it says, "The L-rd will reign for ever and ever." (Avos 6:11)
Never fear, says our text:
"The L-rd will reign for ever and ever."
However dark and twisted the world seems today, however worse the mess and blunder of mankind seems to get, mankind moves on to its destiny.
By a thousand ways we can hardly surmise, mankind inches forward to its "spiritual breakthrough," when "the L-rd will reign."
That day will come. It is inherent in a creation that was wrought originally to bring Him glory.
(Ethics from Sinai, Rabbi Irving Bunim)
On the 17th of Tammuz Moshe broke the first Tablets of Law which he had received on Mount Sinai; the daily sacrifice in the first Temple ceased; the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans; the wicked Apustumus burned the Torah and put an idol in the Temple.
Because of all these tragedies, our Sages declared the 17th of Tammuz a fast day, which it remains until the Final Redemption wipes away all suffering forever.
The entire Jewish people had gathered around Mount Sinai to receive the Torah from the Creator. But after that awesome event, Moshe again ascended the Mount to learn all the details contained in the Torah and to receive the Tablets of the Covenant.
Before he left he instructed the people, "At the end of forty days, at the beginning of the sixth hour, I will return to you and bring you the Torah."
The people were very strongly attached to their leader, the faithful shepherd who had brought them out of Egypt and sustained them throughout all their travails.
As soon as he left they began calculating his return.
They assumed that the day on which he ascended the Mount was to be considered the first of the forty days. But, that day was actually to be considered only a partial day, with the full forty days ending only on the 17th of Tamuz.
When the 16th of Tamuz arrived Moshe had not returned. The Evil Inclination came and asked, "Where is your teacher Moshe?"
"He has ascended the mountain," they replied.
"No," said the Deceiver: "He is dead."
But they refused to pay any attention to him. He wouldn't desist, and tried another ploy: "Six hours have already passed," he taunted them. Still, they ignored him.
But when the Great Deceiver showed them an image of Moshe lying on his death bed, they succumbed.
Since their faith in Moshe was far deeper than anything they could perceive with their own intellect, they were completely shaken when it seemed that his words had not come true.
Their attachment and love for Moshe was so intense that they were unable to exist without him even for a short while. They ran to Aharon and cried, "Make us a god!"
How could people who had just witnessed the most stunning event in human history succumb to such a craze?
How could the same people who had just witnessed Divine revelations and heard the Voice of G-d beg for an idol?
But the entire nation did not fall into this snare. They had split apart into numerous factions, each confident of its own viewpoint.
Aharon thought he would delay them.
"Ask you wives for their gold jewelry, otherwise I cannot construct a calf," he told them.
But when the women heard the plans, they would have nothing to do with the idol. The men, however, were determined to proceed and donated all their gold.
Aharon dared not delay the mob any longer.
The hotheads amongst them were becoming violently agitated, and nothing would stand in their way.
Aharon took the gold and threw it into the fire.
To his surprise a golden calf leaped out, for sorcery was honed to a fine art in Egypt, and among the numerous Egyptians who had followed the Jews into the desert were expert practitioners of the black arts.
When they saw the calf some found the attraction of idol worship too overwhelming to resist.
After all, hadn't they been immersed in Egyptian "culture" for hundreds of years?
There was another faction which was mildly inclined to idol worship, but suppressed their desire for it after having witnessed the events at Sinai.
They looked from the sidelines with vicarious pleasure as the others danced wildly around the calf.
Still others were shocked at what they saw.
To them all the other factions seemed absurd, both those who worshipped the calf and those who merely watched on the sidelines. They said, "One faction is as evil as the other."
Yet, another group never lost faith. When they saw the actions of the other groups, they said, "They will never be able to repent.
Let's divorce ourselves from them completely!"
This attitude was in itself a sin, for they should not have abandoned all hope for their erring brethren.
The following day when Moshe descended the mountain, bearing aloft the Tablets, what a scene met his eyes!
Love of the Jews ever foremost in his mind, he immediately thought, "How can I give them the Law? It says 'Thou shalt have no other gods,' and now they will be subject to the death penalty.
When Moshe turned around to leave, the holy letters on the Tablets flew away. When that happened, the weight of the stones became too great for him (for the words themselves had carried the Tablets), and he dropped them.
The Levites, the one group which had in no way taken part in the calf-worship, rallied to Moshe like a loyal army.
Punishment was meted out to the guilty, but through this experience, the vast majority of the people became forever rooted in their belief and trust of Moshe and G-d.
The sin of the Golden Calf proved for all generations that repentance is always possible, for even the worshippers of the Golden Calf, in the end, returned to G-d.
"All flesh shall come to bow down before Me"
At the time of that supreme revelation of the Divine Presence, all of humanity -- even persons so unspiritual as to be described as "flesh" -- will attain a level of perceptiveness that will inspire them to bow down humbly before their Maker.
(Likutei Torah of Rabbi Shneur Zalman)