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Remember the advent of photocopy machines, credit cards, automated bank tellers, data banks, satellite communications, faxes? Each advance, if it was noticed at all, went by with an, "Oh, this is more convenient, isn't it?"
And today: A tourist checks into a hotel in Moscow. He pays with an American credit card, verified by direct line to an office in Belgium which shares a computer link to his U.S. bank.
Moments later, a Japanese businessman representing a combined venture with an American company checks in.
His credit check goes in the other direction, to Japan and across the Pacific. In less than five minutes two financial transactions span the globe.
Suddenly, a single-world economy is in sight.
The technology is here.
International finance has already transcended the single-nation economies of the past.
Take a look at the Ford Escort, a car being produced in the USA, Britain, and Germany. Its component parts are made in Spain, Italy, Japan, and Brazil.
Is there a deeper message behind these changes in the world's economic fabric?
The interlocking of national economies forms a backdrop for the affluence, unity and peace that will characterize the Era of Redemption.
But we don't see it because things are not yet perfect.
Economic might is still being abused to subjugate or to reward, and the industrialized nations are still learning the hard way that unless every one wins, every one loses.
But change is happening.
The creation of a unified global society is within our conceptual grasp and is already operating in a far more encompassing manner than we realize.
But most of us are too busy hacking our way through the financial forest of daily life to think much about the larger picture.
Our Prophets speak of the Era of Redemption as a time when "the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes the sower of seeds."
To quote Maimonides: "Good things will flow in abundance, and delights will be as freely available as dust."
Already today, such limitless bounty is a real possibility.
Take a look at the United States.
At the turn of the century, one third of all Americans worked on farms. They fed America's population and produced raw material for industry, but little was left for export.
Today, the American population has grown tremendously, and only 3% of Americans work on farms. Nevertheless, they produce enough food, not only for the entire population, but to export throughout the world.
Maimonides, before telling us about the abundance of the Era of the Redemption, writes: "The Sages and prophets did not yearn for the Messianic Era to... rule over the nations, or to be exalted by them, nor in order to eat, drink and enjoy happiness. Their aspiration was to be free to study the Torah and its wisdom, without anyone to oppress and disturb them..."
Prosperity can only serve as a means; it must never become an end unto itself.
Comfort and wealth are beneficial to man only if they allow a life of wisdom, governed by spiritual values.
World prosperity will also change interpersonal relationships.
At present, people feel wealth to be scarce, and security rare.
This causes a rationalization of selfishness to assure comfort in the future, to "look out for number one," and grab one's "share of the pie."
This breeds jealousy and distrust. It leads to corporate fraud and "get-rich-quick" schemes. On a more basic level, it causes the violence and crime that plague our cities.
But what if the pie is big enough for everyone?
It always has been; it's man who has been too small. This will be revealed in the Era of Redemption.
People will become conscious of the abundance of material blessings, and will no longer be obsessed by them. Since they will be freely available to all, people will partake of them whenever they desire, but without today's grappling for wealth and power.
As Maimonides says: "In that Era, there will be neither famine nor war, neither envy nor competition. Mankind will know hidden matters, and will attain an understanding of their Creator to the full extent of the human potential."
This week's Torah portion, Pinchas, discusses how the land of Israel was apportioned among the tribes: "The land will be divided for an inheritance...to the large tribe you will give the more inheritance, and to the small you will give the less inheritance... nevertheless, through the lot the land will be divided."
From these verses we see that the land of Israel was divided up in two distinct ways: first, according to the logical, particular needs of each tribe, and second, according to lot.
The Book of Joshua mentions yet another method by which it was determined where each tribe dwelt -- "according to the word of G-d."
The High Priest, through his gift of prophecy, would consult the miraculous Urim and Tumim on his breastplate to ascertain the portion of each tribe.
Interestingly, each of these three methods yielded exactly the same result!
For the inheritance of each tribe, and by extension, every Jew, is Divinely determined and carries deep spiritual significance.
Each way of apportioning the land, therefore, whether logically acceptable to the rational mind or supernatural, was but one means of determining the underlying absolute truth.
But if all three methods led to the same outcome, why does the Torah conclude that "nevertheless, through the lot shall the land be divided"?
The answer lies in the fact that these words refer not only to the first apportionment of land in the time of Moses, but to the division of the land among the entire Jewish people that will take place in the Messianic Era, when all Jews will return to the Holy Land.
At that time, may it come speedily, the land will be divided solely according to Divinely-ascertained lot, and not according to any other method.
The underlying principle behind the terms "inheritance" and "apportionment" is that a Jew can take a plot of ground that was formerly pagan and elevate it into "the land upon which the eyes of G-d perpetually gaze."
The power to make such a transformation can come only from G-d, as He is the only One capable of effecting such a radical change. Indeed, according to human logic and understanding, such a transformation would be impossible!
Thousands of years ago, the first division of land was carried out in a manner in which G-d's supernatural Will was clothed in human understanding.
In the Messianic Era, the G-dliness hidden within all of creation will be uncovered, obvious to the human eye; there will be no need to resort to our limited understanding to arrive at ultimate truth.
At that time, therefore, the land of Israel will be apportioned solely according to Divine lot.
Adapted from a talk of the Rebbe, Parshat Balak, 5751
By Tzivia Grauman
Being South African born, and over 40, my earliest political memories -- which coincide with the Sharpville uprising in the early 1960's -- include dire predictions of gloom and doom for the country of my birth.
It was stated with relentless repetition that life in South Africa was "too good to be true" for the privileged whites.
Everyone, almost without exception, anticipated the day when the "bubble would burst" and the revolution would be upon us.
Emigration was a word I learned when very young -- and as my family bade farewell to friends and relatives seeking safer, if not greener pastures overseas, we were aware that sooner or later we, too, would have to leave.
No one could see an alternative.
Apartheid had set the country on the road to destruction.
It was simply a question of daring procrastination -- almost like playing "chicken" to see who could wait until the last, breathtakingly dangerous second before fleeing for one's life!
A joke circulated: "Would the last one to leave please turn off the light at Jan Smuts airport?"
It was in the 1970's, when the Rebbe first started sending shluchim (emissaries) to South Africa, that it began to occur to me -- and to many of my fellow South Africans who had been similarly affected, that there just might possibly be a happy ending to the South African tale of woe.
For here was a tzadik of brilliant mind, boundless love, and spiritual foresight, who was actually sending, encouraging young people from America, England, and other such "free" countries to live here, and assuring them and their families that they would be quite safe.
But the Rebbe also went much, much further to reassure Jews that the future of South Africa was favourable.
Time and time again he was questioned, and time and time again he patiently answered that, yes, life in South Africa would be good for the Jews until the arrival of Moshiach -- and after that, it would be better still.
As the tension mounted and riots, strikes and protest marches intensified, a strange type of calm settled over the Lubavitch community here.
We, alone, were not having sleepless nights, not planning our departures, not frantically renewing our passports.
Gradually, those around us became intrigued by our positive mood and, needing reassurance, questioned us.
We had only one answer: we did not know how, and were aware that there seemed to be no logical or reasonable explanation, but the Rebbe had assured us that all would be well, and we had no doubt that it would be so.
Jewish people from the entire spectrum of observance would approach Lubavitchers with questions like, "What does the Rebbe say now?" or "Does the Rebbe still say that it's OK to stay here?"
And when we finally stood at the polls on that monumentally historical day, April 27, 1994 -- the day that most of the world believed would never arrive -- the peace and calm that had seemed to have "belonged" to the Lubavitch community alone, reached out and touched all the citizens of this country.
Though many felt that they must surely be dreaming, the atmosphere of well-being, brotherly love, humanity and goodwill that pervaded the country fulfilled every prophecy the Rebbe had ever made.
People felt weightless -- they felt proud and free, triumphant and dignified. At peace. At last.
Every prophecy -- no matter how unlikely, how difficult to believe -- that the Rebbe has ever made, has been proven by time.
The Six Day War, Russian Emigration, the Gulf War, the hurricanes in Florida, the outcome in South Africa.
And soon we will see the fulfillment of the Rebbe's ultimate prophecy with the revelation of Moshiach and the Era of the Redemption.
People all over the world are reflecting on the great inspiration the Rebbe has given everyone of us.
It is important that these feelings be translated into action.
The Rebbe's slogan is "The main thing is the deed."
In this column we present suggestions from the Rebbe's Mitzvah Campaigns we can do to complete the Rebbe's work of bringing about the coming of Moshiach.
All women and girls (over age 3) -- should light candles every Friday evening eighteen minutes before sunset.
Married women light two or more candles, unmarried light one. It is important not to desecrate the Sabbath by lighting after sunset.
Excerpts of letters from the Rebbe
13th of Tevet, 5726 (1966)
I am in receipt of your letter of the 4th of Tevet, in which you write about the problem of laziness, etc., and you ask how you can overcome it.
One of the effective ways of overcoming this difficulty is by deeply thinking of the fact that G-d is present everywhere and always, as the Alter Rebbe explains in the beginning of Chapter 41 of the Tanya:
"And, behold, G-d stands over him," and the whole world is full of His glory, and He looks upon him and searches his kidneys and heart (to see) if he is serving Him as is fitting. Therefore he must serve in His presence with awe and fear like one standing before the king."
The point is to remember that inasmuch as G-d gives one the great gift of time and of mental ability, etc., one must not waste these great gifts given by G-d.
By way of illustration: Suppose a great and majestic king personally and graciously gave you a gift, and he stands by you, watching what you will do with it; what would it look like if you would drop it with great disregard, and go out for a walk or engage in some other pastime, etc.?
Surely it is unnecessary to emphasize to you this idea at greater length.
I will only add that the Yetzer Hara is never lazy, and is very busy and industrious in his efforts to distract a Jew from his service to G-d. Therefore, you must have a ready weapon with which to combat him. For this reason, I suggest that you should study well, and learn by heart, the beginning of Chapter 41 to which I referred to above, until those sacred words are engraved upon your mind and memory, so that you will always be able to recall them and think about them whenever the need arises to overcome a temptation, etc...
Rosh Chodesh Sivan, 5733 (1973)
... I would also like to take this opportunity of referring to the idea of "groundbreaking" -- in the light of the teaching of the Baal Shem Tov that everything in a Jew's experience should serve as a stimulus in avodat Hashem [Divine service].
"Groundbreaking" seems to be an American innovation, for traditionally it is rather the "laying of a corner stone" that was celebrated in such cases, to which there is reference also in the Bible.
Yet, since groundbreaking has become a legitimate and useful initiation of a Torah institution, it can be very instructive.
For one thing, digging up a piece of earth for a sacred purpose can be thought-provoking -- if we stop to think how a small piece of matter contains a tremendous amount of (atomic) energy which, if used constructively, can achieve so much for humanity.
Closer to home, and specifically relating to further teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and of Chasidut, is the thought which groundbreaking evokes in relation to human endeavor in general, and spiritual advancement in particular.
For, in order to achieve the fullest productivity, an individual must often begin with breaking his outer shell or crust (formed by habits, natural dispositions, environmental influences, etc.), so as to release the tremendous inner powers and resources, which are infinitely greater than those on the surface, and, more importantly, are infinitely more stable and durable, since they are closer to the individual's self and are anchored in the essence of the soul itself.
Finally, groundbreaking is particularly symbolic of the nature of the Jewish people, called by G-d, "desirable earth."
As the Baal Shem Tov explained it: Just as the earth is the repository of the greatest natural treasures and resources, so incalculable are the treasures with which G-d has endowed every Jew -- His own desirable land.
Seek Out the Welfare of Jerusalem
Seek Out the Welfare of Jerusalem contains essays adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbbe which analyze the Rambam's conception of the design of the Holy Temple as recorded in the "Laws of the Chosen House."
Although the study of the Holy Temple is relevant at all times, its study is particularly pertinent at the present time.
For, we are now on the threshold of the Redemption and indeed, in the process of crossing that threshold.
We are promised that this study will, in itself, hasten the coming of the time when we will actually apply these laws.
You can order the book directly from the publisher (US$15.00) Sichos in English, 788 Eastern Parkway, B'klyn, NY 11213.
GRASPING THE INFINITE
Grasping the Infinite is a series of six lectures based on Talmudic and Kabbalistic interpretations of the Torah.
The cassette tapes, by Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin, discuss "The Hidden Power of Names," "Marriage: The Fiery Reunion," "Dreams: Perceiving the Transcendent," and more. For the entire set send $18.95 to CBH Tapes, 150 Joralemon St. #6D, Bklyn, NY 11201.
ANTICIPATING THE REDEMPTION
The seven Chasidic discourses in the book, Anticipating the Redemption, represent classic treatments of Moshiach and the Redemption by the Rebbe including the dynamics of exile and redemption, the spiritual transcendance which will characterize the Era of the Redemption, the Resurrection of the Dead, and the unique role of the leaders of the generation in serving as catalysts of Redemption. Published by Sichos in English.
Our Sages have taught that for anyone who does not build the Holy Temple in his lifetime, it is as if he actually destroyed the Temple.
How can we be held liable for something that is not within our ability?
After all, Jewish law, as delineated by Maimonides, specifically states that the Third Holy Temple will not be built until Moshiach is revealed.
Jewish teachings also explain that when we learn the laws of the Holy Temple, its structure, the services and sacrifices practiced there, it is as if we are building it.
Thus, it is customary during the "Three Weeks" of mourning for the destruction of the Temple, to spend time studying those subjects which pertain to it.
With this in mind, it is appropriate to commence a brief discussion of the Holy Temple and related themes in the next few weeks.
According to the Zohar, the Temple will first be built and only afterward will the ingathering of all Jews to Israel take place.
The Midrash Tanchuma, however, proposes the opposite sequence.
First all the Jews will return to the Holy Land, and only afterward, the building of the Holy Temple will be accomplished.
Maimonides rules like the Zohar.
He envisions the Redemption in the following manner: Moshiach returns the Jewish people to the path of the Torah, then he rebuilds the Holy Temple; only then does he gather in the exiles.
In fact, Maimonides considers the ingathering of the exiles among those acts that confirm the candidate as Moshiach.
The Rebbe offers two possible reconciliations to these two opinions: The first is that Maimonides' legal ruling is only valid if the Redemption comes about in a natural manner. If, however, the Redemption comes about in a miraculous manner, the in gathering may take place first.
A second possibility is that we will experience a foretaste of the ingathering of the exiles before the rebuilding of the Temple. The Temple will then be rebuilt, and afterward we will merit the return of all Jews to the Holy Land.
In a talk a few years ago, the Rebbe described the massive immigration of Russian Jews to Israel as a foretaste of the ultimate ingathering of exiles. May we merit to proceed immediately to the rebuilding of the Holy Temple this very day.
And G-d said...take the sum of all the congregation of the Children of Israel from twenty years and upward (Num. 26:1,2)
The Midrash explains that the Jewish people are counted in nine places in Scripture; the tenth and final census will be taken in the Messianic Era.
This will be done either by Moshiach, according to the Aramaic translation and commentary of Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel, or by G-d Himself, according to the Midrash.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shabbat Parshat Chukat 5750)
My offering, My bread (Num. 28:2)
Why are the sacrifices likened to bread?
Just as bread enlivens the physical body with sustenance, so do the sacrifices bring a G-dly vitality and abundance into the physical world.
A continual burnt-offering (Num. 28:3)
The "tamid" (perpetual) offering, symbolic of all the sacrifices, was totally consumed on the holy altar, affording neither the person who brought it nor the priests who served in the Holy Temple any benefit from its flesh.
We learn from this that a person who sincerely desires to draw near to G-d must serve Him without regard for any benefit it may bring him.
And on the beginnings of your months (Num. 28:11)
Eleven sacrifices were offered in the Holy Temple on Rosh Chodesh, (the new moon): two cows, seven sheep, one ram and one goat, thus balancing the solar calendar with the Jewish lunar system (the solar year is 11 days longer than the lunar).
Millions of shining pin dots of lights spotted the black sky, and not a rustle or breath of sound was heard as Rabbi Avraham Halevi Bruchim made his nightly rounds through the narrow, winding streets of Safed.
Every night, without fail, Rabbi Avraham walked up and down the streets calling to the sleeping inhabitants: "Awake, awake, Jews; Awake Reb Yaakov! Get up, Reb Yitzchak!" calling each by his name until sleep was shaken away and they rose to address the Creator of the Universe.
According to custom, it was time to begin praying the "Tikun Hatzot" -- the midnight supplication prayers; the sleeping scholars of the city must be roused from their slumber.
It was time to remember the Holy Temple, and plead with the Master of the Universe to remember His children and fulfill His promise to rebuild the Holy Temple.
The age-old custom of praying for the Holy Temple was maintained with great devotion in Safed, and the scholars who lived there never overslept thanks to the dedication of Reb Avraham Halevi.
He persistently called the people of Safed to their prayer and study until the many study halls were filled and the voices of the Jews blended into a melodious spiritual symphony of prayer and study spiraling through the starry skies in a crescendo which reached all the way up to the Celestial throne.
The holy Arizal, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the famed Kabbalist, lived at this time and knew the tzadik Reb Avraham Halevi very well.
Once, the Arizal came to Reb Avraham with very grave tidings: "It has been disclosed to me that your life is coming to its end. All the years allotted to you have passed. However, I see one possibility for you to live. If you travel to Jerusalem and pour out your heart in prayer at the Western Wall, G-d may look favorably upon your prayer. If you are granted a vision of the Shechina, the Divine Presence, it will be a sign that your petition has been accepted and you will live another twenty-two years."
Rabbi Avraham Halevi immediately did as the Ari had instructed him.
He travelled to Jerusalem and prepared himself to storm the Heavens by fasting for three full days and nights.
When he finally reached his destination, he was ready and the prayer rose from the depths of his soul and he wept and begged the Al-mighty to spare his life.
When he lifted his eyes to gaze at the Wall, he saw a vision of the G-dly Presence and the glory of what he saw cause him to fall upon his face on the stones. He wept from the great and turbulent emotion until he fainted.
In his unconscious state he dreamt that the Shechina again appeared to him and said, "My son Avraham, take comfort, for there is hope for your future. Your sons will return to their borders, for I will return the captives from their exiles, and I Myself will comfort them."
Rabbi Avraham awake from his faint in elevated spirits, filled with joy.
He returned to Safed and resumed his activities there.
One day the Ari met him on the street. "I see by looking at your face that you had success in Jerusalem and that you did see the Shechina. You will surely live another twenty-two years."
The prediction of the Ari was realized.
Rabbi Avraham lived twenty-two more years, bringing many Jews to prayer and repentance.
A full twenty-two years after this event occurred he passed away to his eternal reward.
The Ari said of him that he was a reincarnation of the Prophet Jeremiah, who also called his fellow Jews to repentance before the destruction of the First Holy Temple.
The chains of exile are stronger than mere physical chains.
They capture the mind.
Freedom becomes too high a concept to grasp.
Learning about Moshiach frees us from these chains and lifts our minds above the Exile.
(Rebbetzin Yehudis Heller, obm)