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There is an interesting phenomenon that effects us almost every single day, though most of us don't even realize it, and it's called "Coherent Light."
We benefit from the "coherent light" of lasers when we make use of supermarket check-out scanners, CD-ROMS, surgery, light shows and more.
Basically, it works like this: Light particles, known as photons, generally move in orbits. By using laser technology, individual photons can be directed into a specific orbit.
These individual photons influence other nearby photons to assume similar orbits.
They, in turn, influence other photons which influence others photons, until eventually, huge numbers of photons are traveling in a similar, highly organized fashion.
In layman's terms, there is a snowball effect.
This example from the sub-atomic world illustrates well the concept taught by our Sages in this week's Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers):
"Rabbi Tarfon said, 'It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.' "
Far from being a call to leave work undone or incomplete, Rabbi Tarfon is giving us good advice to help us get out of a slump or re-orient our thought processes.
Don't become overwhelmed by the tremendous amount of work that needs to be done before the goal is achieved.
Focus, rather, on beginning the job.
Just worry about getting one "photon" in the right orbit.
Influenced by the first photon of activity, the rest will fall in line.
Sometimes the hardest part of the job is simply beginning it.
Don't procrastinate, Rabbi Tarfon urges us.
Instead of getting bogged down with how much needs to be changed, do one small thing to change the world (or yourself) and eventually, like all those teeny, tiny, photons, the whole world will fall in line.
The Talmud tells us that a person is never required to do more than he is able. G-d gives each person a mission which that person (and only that person) can fulfill.
Together with the mission might come challenges, but they are challenges that a person is able to overcome.
Therefore, even if a person feels intimidated sometimes by the task at hand, he must know that, "He is not free to desist from it" -- he must persevere. Even when he does not feel particularly motivated, or he does not derive pleasure and enjoyment from the work, he should persist.
Full-hearted dedication will lead to personal fulfillment.
And, through such efforts, a person will reap tremendous benefits.
For the culmination of conducting our lives in the manner described is also discussed by Rabbi Tarfon: "Know that the giving of the reward to the righteous (and the Jewish people are all righteous, according to the opening statement of Pirkei Avot) will be in the World to Come -- in the Days of Moshiach."
The first of this week's two Torah portions, Matos, contains a seemingly unusual request by the tribes of Reuben and Gad.
Citing their "great multitude of cattle," the sons of Reuven and Gad asked Moses to grant their portion of the land of Israel on the other side of the Jordan.
"The country...is a land for cattle; and your servants have cattle," they said. "If we have found grace in your eyes, let this land be given to your servants as a possession; do not compel us to go over the Jordan."
Even more surprising is the fact that Moses acceded to their request.
How many verses in the Torah speak of G-d's promise to Moses to bring the Children of Israel into the promised land?
Yet these verses mention only "the land of Canaan," an area west of the Jordan river.
If so, why would the tribes of Reuven and Gad have even considered settling in the cities of "Atarot, Divon, Ya'zer and Nimrah" on the eastern shore of the Jordan, part of the land of Sichon and Og?
Did these tribes intentionally seek to distance themselves from their brethren?
Furthermore, how valid was their claim that the territory east of the Jordan would provide superior grazing land for their cattle?
Why would the tribes of Reuven and Gad have willingly forgone entering the promised land with their wives and children just to benefit their livestock?
In order to understand what really occurred we need to refer back to G-d's very first promise to Abraham concerning the land of Israel.
At that time, G-d said to Abraham, "To your seed will I give this land...the [land of] the Keni, the Kenizi and the Kadmoni..."
In all, G-d enumerated ten nations that the Jewish people would one day inhabit.
Seven of these nations were defeated by the Children of Israel soon after they left Egypt; the other three will only be conquered by the Jewish people in the Messianic Era.
The true intent behind the request of Reuven and Gad to dwell east of the Jordan was in order to hasten this process.
The portion of land they settled, formerly belonging to the kings Sichon and Og, was part of the territory of the three nations that still remained to be conquered.
This is the reason Moses agreed to their request and granted them their inheritance east of the Jordan, for he saw their settlement of that territory as a "preparation" for the full and complete settlement of the land of Israel that would occur in the Messianic Era.
In truth, the actions of the tribes of Reuven and Gad lent an added dimension to the Jews' first conquest of the land, one that brought our ultimate conquest of the entire land of Israel in the Era of the Redemption much closer.
Adapted from a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
By Schneur Zalman Stern, as told to Tzvi Jacobs
In October of 1971 I came to Crown Heights from Kentucky and enrolled in Yeshiva Hadar HaTorah, the very first yeshiva for baalei teshuva -- young men like myself who were new to Torah learning.
The Yeshiva's 76-year-old founder, Rabbi Yisrael Jacobson, obm, looked upon me as a child of his old age.
Months later, Rabbi Jacobson said to me with a glowing smile, "You don't have to worry about paying for anything anymore. Just give me your cameras, and you will be able to learn without distractions."
But my cameras were my freedom and my sole means of support.
Determined to keep my options open, I said, "I will go to Yeshiva full-time, but I still want to support myself by photography."
The following week, I arranged to meet a wedding photographer in Far Rockaway, Queens. It was about 10 pm when I took the IRT bound for Manhattan -- my first solo subway trip.
It was after one o'clock when I boarded the subway train to return to Crown Heights. The train ride seemed to go on forever, and, as all the maps in the deserted train were obscured by graffiti, I had no idea where I was.
When the train pulled into a station I got out and headed for a toll booth, relieved to find a black gentleman sitting there reading a Bible.
"Sir, could you tell me how to get to Crown Heights?"
"Take the AA to Manhattan, and change at 42nd for the 2 to Brooklyn. On Saturday nights the AA runs but once an hour. You should have stayed on that train."
I sighed. It was 2:45 a.m.
"There's a shortcut, if you're interested," he said.
He sketched a map on a scrap of paper. "Go out those doors, take a right, and at the corner of the building, you'll see a fence with a hole. Climb through it and follow the tracks.
"At the end of this field, you'll see an old, swinging bridge hanging across the tracks. Cross it. On the other side there's a staircase going into an alley. Make a right into the alley and follow it for 5 or 6 blocks. On your right, there'll be an elevated platform for the IRT."
"By the way, where I am?" "East New York," the man answered.
I headed out of the station. A mangled chain-link fence connected the station to a bridge abutment. I crawled through the hole in the fence and saw the path leading to a field littered with rotting garbage, rusty car fenders and other refuse. Pressing on, I came to the swinging bridge, and walked gingerly to its center. I surveyed the panorama: bombed-out tenement houses, garbage heaps, graffiti.
I crossed the bridge, went down the staircase and -- just as the man described -- stepped into a dark alley.
"Empty your pockets!" A voice growled from the darkness.
A black man, aged 24 or so, walked up to me and pressed a .38 revolver into my chest.
Click. He cocked the gun's hammer.
"Empty your pockets before I kill you," he barked.
I pondered the double meaning of his words and concluded that I was probably about to meet my Maker.
"Before I empty my pockets," I said, looking straight into his fierce eyes, "there is something you must know: G-d gave everyone seven basic commandments and one of them is 'Thou shall not steal.'
Now that you know this, if you steal from me, you will lose your portion in the World to Come."
After a moment of silence, he frothed, "I hate Jews!"
Just then, another man emerged from the shadows carrying a large club. "Yo man, what's taking so long?" the club man asked the gunman.
"This Jew is giving me jive," the gunman responded. "Shoot him," he retorted.
"Let me explain," I said, and I again went through the scenario of the Seven Commandments. I told him that if he stole from me he would forfeit Eternal Life.
The club man said angrily, "Is your G-d white? I don't like no white G-d."
"My G-d is invisible," I answered, "Yet, He is the Creator of all colors."
They seemed placated by my words, so I continued. "You know, if you don't steal from me, G-d will owe you. When the time comes, He's going to pay you."
Then, the club man said to the gunman, "He is a jiving Jew! I'm going to empty his pockets."
"Put your hands up Jew boy," the club man said.
His hand searched my pocket. His fingers became tangled in my tzitzit, (ritual fringes) and he couldn't reach the money in my pocket. He pulled his hand out, but the tzitzit held fast. He suddenly became terrified. Frantically, he untangled the strings from his fingers and jumped behind the gunman.
"This Jew's got pocket guards," he said.
Both men examined my tzitzit. They argued vehemently about whether my tzitzit were strings or elastic bands, then growled, "What are those things?"
"You see these knots?" I said, showing them the knots made from the strings. "There are five knots. Coming out of these knots are eights strings. Five plus eight is thirteen.
The strings are called 'tzitzit' in Hebrew.
The numerical value of the letters of the word 'tzitzit' add up to 600.
Six hundred plus 5 knots, plus 8 strings, is 613, which is the number of commandments G-d gave to the Jewish people.
These tzitzit always remind us of G-d and His commandments."
There was silence followed by a long "Naah, you puttin' us on."
"I'm telling you the truth," I answered. "I want to see your G-d. Where can I see your G-d?"
I answered, "G-d fills the world, transcends the world, and is continuously creating the world anew. In fact, He is creating this whole scene right now. G-d is also creating you, but because you have chosen to do evil, you are nothing more than a stick in G-d's hands."
The guy with the club walked away, disappearing into the shadows. The other guy approached me. "Where are you headed?" he asked.
"I'm trying to get to the number 2 train," I said.
"Man, you gonna die six times before you reach the number 2. But don't worry. I'm going to protect you."
Taking the gun in his left hand, he draped his right arm over my shoulder and escorted me to the platform.
The next day I told Rabbi Jacobson what happened.
With very little coaxing, Rabbi Jacobson convinced me to fork over my cameras, and supported me while I studied in yeshiva for the next four years.
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.
Each person should establish a set time for increasing their Jewish knowledge, even a few minutes, every single day.
Most appropriate at this time is study of the sections of Torah which discuss Moshiach and the Redemption and also the Rebbe's own teachings.
Excerpts of letters from the Rebbe
Rosh Chodesh Kislev, 5743 (1983)
The repayment of a mortgage signifies that the mortgagee has fully discharged his obligations and debt to the mortgager and is now in complete possession of the property.
Parallel with this type of financial mortgage there is another kind -- a spiritual and moral "mortgage" incumbent upon every human being, in terms of obligations to the Creator and Master of the world as well as to fellow humans.
For Jews, this "mortgage" encompasses every aspect of the daily life, as our Sages expressed it succinctly: "I was created to serve my Creator."
This "mortgage" goes back to our first Patriarch, Abraham, of whom G-d said: "I have known (chosen) him because he will command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the L-rd, to do righteousness and justice." (Genesis 18:19).
This means -- to put it quite simply -- that we, all of us who are descendants of the First Jew, have mortgaged our children and our whole future in the said covenant.
It obviously follows that everyone who is actively engaged in Jewish education, the kind of education that teaches our children and youths and their children after them, to "keep the way of the L-rd" -- is doing a very good job of "mortgage repayment."
19th of Shevat, 5735 (1985)
The activities of Lubavitch are at present under a severe financial strain, which has been aggravated by the general economic situation which is all too familiar.
Of course, there can be no question of reducing expenditures, G-d forbid, since these have to do with activities which are of vital importance to Jews, not only spiritually but also materially.
Indeed, the more severe the general economic situation, the more extensive and intensive should be all the activities to spread and strengthen Torah and mitzvot, since these are the channels to receive G-d's blessings also materially, as is clearly spelled out in the Torah, in the familiar passage, beginning with the words, "If you will walk in My statutes...."
In other words, not only must all thoughts of reducing the budget be banished, but, on the contrary, ways and means must be found to increase the fund raising.
There is one form of financial help which does not call for outright donations.
I have in mind the tremendous pressure which the Lubavitcher programs are facing on account of outstanding loans and overdrafts at prohibitive interest charges.
It would therefore be a great relief if friends of Lubavitch, and indeed friends of Torah education in general, to save Jewish children from total assimilation, G-d forbid, could be approached with a heartfelt appeal and induced to offer an interest-free loan, in addition to the maximum donation they are able to make to this cause.
This would make it possible to liquidate the high interest loans and bank overdrafts and relieve this strangle-hold.
This method enjoys wide acceptability among merchants and businessmen. As a matter of fact, as I indicted, there is one benefactor here in the USA in the field of Torah education (not limited to Lubavitch) who, upon learning of the situation which Lubavitch is in, offered to lend it money without interest, provided it could come up with 19 more identical offers.
The time and terms of repayment could be arranged as the administration of the Lubavitch House would find most practical.
I also added that if this plan would be fully implemented in..., I am hopeful of finding one more benefactor in the USA to participate with a similar amount on the same conditions.
There is no need to emphasize to you at length the importance of the above plan. It is all the more feasible because, as mentioned, it does not solicit outright donations, but only loans without interest. Of course, this must not be at the expense of donations in the past and increased donations in the future according to the ability and generosity of the friends and supporters.
Chabad of Pascack Valley, located in Park Ridge, New Jersey, recently acquired a new building from which it will direct its numerous programs.
Established just 8 months ago, the Chabad Center's activities include a nursing home and hospital visitation program, an afternoon Hebrew School for children with learning disabilities, holiday and Shabbat programs and classes.
The Center, under the directorship of Rabbi Menachem and Baila Weiss, is located at 113 Ridge Ave. in Park Ridge. For information call (201) 907-0686.
"AS SEEN ON..."
Ever since the computer "screen saver" of the Rebbe was seen on ABC's Nightline, people have been asking where they can get it.
The International Moshiach Center, at 355 Kingston Ave., Bklyn, NY 11213, is offering it free of charge to anyone who sends a 3.5" diskette in a SASE. Enjoy!
The rebuilding of the Third Holy Temple is central to the Redemption.
Maimonides states that the rebuilding of the Temple will actually confirm that the Redemption has begun.
Here, too, however, we have differences of opinion as to who will build the Temple.
According to the Zohar, G-d Himself will build the Temple.
The Midrash (Vayikra Rabba and Midrash Rabba) states that man will build the eternal Holy Temple.
Maimonides' ruling agrees with the Midrash, saying that rebuilding the Temple is a commandment incumbent upon the Jewish people.
Although these opinions may seem at variance, they are, in fact, not contradictory.
The Rebbe explains that the Jewish people will build part of the Temple, as commanded, and that the Divine features of the Temple -- those aspects which will ensure its eternity -- will be built by G-d Himself.
Maimonides does not mention Divine participation because his work is a work of halacha, Jewish law; he writes only about that which is incumbent upon the Jewish people.
The man-made and the G-dly components will be combined in the Holy Temple.
Chasidic thought teaches that this combination of man's effort "from below," united with G-d's effort "from above," is the true meaning of Redemption.
For, with the Redemption, the material and the spiritual will be eternally and fully bound.
One explanation of how they will be combined is brought from the verse in Lamentations, "Her gates sank into the ground..."
The Midrash asserts that the gates of the Holy Temple are buried on the Temple Mount.
When the Third Temple descends from heaven, the gates will rise up -- but only with man's help.
As the one who fixes the gates is considered to have built entire house, so too, in this case, the Jews will thus fulfill the commandment to build the Holy Temple by fixing its gates in place.
May it happen in the immediate future.
And you shall not render unclean the land which you inhabit, in the midst of which I dwell; for I the L-rd dwell in the midst of the children of Israel (Num. 35:34)
Not only does G-d's Divine Presence accompany the Jewish people throughout the exile, but G-d Himself, as it were, goes into exile with them, sharing the suffering of the Children of Israel.
Because of G-d's great love for His children, He does not abandon them even when they are exiled because of misdeeds.
When Moshiach comes, the Divine Presence, no less than the Jews, will also be redeemed from exile.
But if her husband should be silent (Num. 30:15)
Silence on the part of someone who is in a position to rise up in protest is equal to tacit consent; others interpret his not speaking as agreement with what is being done.
But if he should annul them after [the day] he has heard them, then shall he bear her iniquity (Num. 30:16)
Just as a person who leads another to sin shares in his punishment, so, too, does one who brings his fellow man merit and leads him to good deeds share in the reward.
These are the journeys of the Children of Israel (Num. 33:1)
The first letters of these Hebrew words, "Eileh masei b'nai Yisrael" stand for the four exiles of the Jewish people: "Edom" (Rome -- our current exile among the nations of the Western world), "Madai" (Persia), "Bavel" (Babylon) and "Yavan" (Greece).
Had the Jewish people not sinned with the Golden Calf, the ultimate purpose of galut would have been realized by the Jews in Egypt; there would have been no need to endure the four later exiles.
The Western Wall, the Kotel, is the one remaining wall of the great walls which surrounded the Holy Temple.
Its name refers to the fact that it stood on the western side of the Temple.
When the Temple was destroyed, G-d swore that this part of the wall would remain forever.
Our Sages say that the Divine Presence never leaves this holy site. For this reason, the Kotel has become the national spiritual focal point.
Tens of thousands of Jews have undertaken pilgrimages to Jerusalem throughout the centuries, even when it was very dangerous, in order to stand before G-d in prayer at this holiest place. The tradition has been passed down that no prayer offered at this most sanctified spot goes unanswered.
The Kotel consists of four layers of stones, dating from different time periods and constructed in different styles.
The lowest level consists of the largest stones, which date back to the first Temple of King Solomon.
The largest stones are actually several meters high -- one even measuring a huge twelve meters in height and calculated to weigh 400 tons!
The second level of stones dates to the time of the Second Temple.
The third level was laid 700 years ago.
The highest seventeen upper rows, which consist of much smaller stones, were laid only about a hundred years ago by Sir Moses Montefiore.
Architects and engineers are puzzled as to how the huge blocks of stone were quarried and brought to the site without modern methods of transportation.
Our Sages, however, have given the answer: The enormous stones were borne aloft and laid one on top of the other in a miraculous fashion.
The great tzadik, Rabbi Chaim ben Attar, known as the Ohr Hachayim (HaKadosh), after his work of the same name, had many remarkable students.
One of them was Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai, who is known by the acronym of his name, the Chida.
When the Chida went to live in Israel his teacher gave him, as is the time-honored custom, a note to insert between the stones of the Kotel.
The Chida took the note, put it in a safe place, and resolved to follow his master's bidding as soon as he arrived in the Holy Land.
When he arrived in Israel, the Chida decided that rather than depend on charity of any kind, he would work by the sweat of his brow. To implement his plan, he bought a donkey and a wagon and set about earning his meager subsistence as a hauler of clay.
He lived in this way for the first few years, satisfied that he was managing through his own efforts, and avoiding accepting charity. Then, suddenly his donkey died, leaving him with no means of support.
The Chida was crushed by this unforeseen turn of events, and as Torah teaches us, he searched into his actions trying to discover the reason for his suffering this calamity.
Then he realized: the note! He had completely forgotten about it.
The Chida first immersed himself in a mikva.
Then he hurriedly found the paper on which the Ohr Hachayim had written his message, and rushed with it to the Kotel.
Once there, he inserted it, unread, into the deep crevices of the ancient stones.
He immersed himself in prayer, asking the forgiveness of his teacher.
Feeling much relieved, the Chida returned to his usual place in the study hall. But something was different.
People were looking at him with different gazes than before and treating him with great deference and almost fear, as if he was a notable personage.
"What has happened that you are behaving in this strange manner towards me?" he asked them.
But the people themselves couldn't explain what it was about him that provoked their reaction. "Maybe you can tell us what is different about you today," they replied.
With that, the Chida told them about his misfortune, which he regarded as a punishment for his forgetting about the note he had forgotten about for so long.
He explained to them that today he had at last completed his task and obeyed the Ohr Hachayim by placing the note in the stones of the Kotel.
When the scholars of the study hall and the heads of the community heard this story, they were very curious to know what was written on the note.
Invoking all their authority, they implored the Chida to show them where he had placed the note. He took them to the exact spot at the Kotel where the note lay.
They took it out and opened it.
The message on the note read, "My sister, my bride [mystical references to the Divine Presence which rests at the Kotel] I beg you to help my beloved student in his time of need."
When word spread around Jerusalem of this wondrous story the people understood the greatness of the Chida and decided to appoint him Chief Rabbi of the Holy City.
"...Certainly the Creator is the Supreme Ruler -- provided we can push off His actual reign to some later date.
It would be too inconvenient having the Messiah come today!
We do not wish too drastic changes in our lives.
We have certain `business deals ' to work out yet, certain vacation trips to go on. We are not ready for greater piety just yet.
`The L-rd will reign' -- but not now.
Such are the reservations and hesitations that hold back the redemption of Jewry and of mankind.
The Divine kingship must be accepted in the present.
Only thus can we fit harmoniously, in honor, in the cosmos that He created for His glory.
(Rabbi Irving M. Bunim, obm)