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And you thought you'd heard the last of the Exxon Valdez oil spill ages ago. After all, it's been more than two years since the catastrophic accident occurred.
Recently, however, Exxon decided to fight the 15 billion dollars in damages that the Prince Edward Island wants from the company.
A famous teaching of the Baal Shem Tov is that everything we see and hear contains a lesson for us. How much more so does this apply to something the whole world heard about!
Let's consider the oil spill for a moment.
Oil, tons of it, was spilled in one area, but it swiftly travelled and had an effect (albeit adverse) on the sea population and beaches hundreds of miles away.
At the time, if you mentioned Exxon, everyone associated it with the oil spill. And if you mentioned "prince," it was also associated with the oil spill. Today, Exxon is simply the name of your corner gas station, and "prince" is a word that comes before "Charles."
An obvious lesson to learn from this catastrophe is that there need to be fool-proof methods for the transportation of oil and in general, the handling of any kind of potential energy, whether electrical, nuclear, gas, etc.
A more esoteric and positive lesson -- for we can always learn something positive from even the most negative occurrence -- is two-fold: the existence of an immediate "ripple effect," and a less immediate long-lasting effect.
That the oil tanker could spill in one area and effect life hundreds of miles away and be the topic of conversation thousands of miles away shows us just how far-reaching every action can be.
Everything an individual does has an impact somewhere, somehow, and that impact is infinite.
A simple example of this can be seen from one who fulfills the adage of our Sages to greet everyone with a pleasant face, i.e. with a smile.
Have you ever tried to trace the path of a smile?
It begins when you smiling at someone who looks rather grumpy. That person becomes just a bit less grouchy and decides not to bark at a co-worker when he messes up.
The co-worker, feeling surprised and highly relieved, is more pleasant to the next person he comes in contact with, and it goes on and on. The ripple effect of a single smile.
Whether we know it, whether we acknowledge it, or even whether we want it to, our positive actions, good deeds and mitzvot have the power to impact far beyond what we consider our circle of influence.
The oil spill rippled outward and spread damage and destruction.
Our mitzvot ripple outward, purifying the spiritual environment, spreading healing and repair, influencing the very direction the world is going in until ultimately it will arrive at its final destination -- the Messianic Era.
The performance of mitzvot has a personal effect as well.
They refine the soul, making it more receptive to goodness and G-dliness.
But what of the fact that the repercussions of the oil spill are still being felt more than two years later? What lesson can we learn from this?
Chasidut teaches that the negative ultimately disappears and dissolves, while good is eternal. Thus, the transgressions and adverse actions of Jews throughout the ages vanish with time.
But the good of all generations, from our ancestors Abraham and Sarah right up to and including the good that each of us does every day, remains.
This is also the explanation for why it is specifically in our generation that Moshiach will take us out of exile and into the Redemption. It is not that we are more meritorious or greater than previous generations. Rather, the accumulation of goodness and G-dliness has finally reached the point where creation is saturated, and the Redemption, as the Rebbe has stressed so many times, is imminent.
By continuing to do good and performing mitzvot, our actions spread out until they alter the entire world.
In this week's Torah portion, Ekev, Moses recounts the story of the Golden Calf and the breaking of the first set of Tablets.
After praying for another 40 days and nights, G-d commands Moses, "Hew for yourself two tablets of stone like the first...and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets which you broke."
G-d then commands the Jewish people to build Him a sanctuary, "so the nations will know that the sin of the Calf has been forgiven."
Our Sages teach that one of the factors contributing to the sin of the Golden Calf was the great quantity of gold in the Jews' possession.
Because they were unable to withstand the temptation, one might think that, after their sin, G-d would forbid them the use of gold for all time. Yet we find that the exact opposite occurred: the very first material mentioned in the building of the sanctuary -- the purpose of which was to atone for the Golden Calf -- is gold!
"The world was not worthy of the use of gold..." our Sages explain. "It was created solely for the purpose of the sanctuary and the Holy Temple."
After being brought into existence for this reason, permission was then granted for mankind to utilize gold for other purposes as well.
This is but one example of the principle that everything in the world is created to serve a G-dly purpose. "Everything created by G-d in His world is only created for His honor," the Mishna teaches.
G-d grants man the free will to choose how His creations are to be used -- to fulfill the purpose for which they were created, or, G-d forbid, to do evil.
Gold, created solely for use in the sanctuary and Temple, was utilized by the Children of Israel for their idol-worship.
The gross misuse of the gold, however, did not alter its original purpose one iota.
G-d has no desire to destroy His world simply because some people are foolish!
Furthermore, the fact that G-d allows man the capacity to utilize His creations for evil adds to His honor. For human nature is such that when a person is confronted by obstacles, inner strengths that would not otherwise have been revealed are brought to the fore, strengthening his resolve in the service of G-d.
This fundamental principle applies not only to things that were created during the Six Days of Creation, but to modern discoveries and advancements in technology that are constantly being invented.
These too, are part of Divine plan, and are also "discovered" solely for a G-dly purpose. The true objective behind all of creation, in reality, is one and the same -- to enhance the service of the Creator of all things.
The fact that some people choose to utilize these means for corrupt purposes does not detract from their original intent. On the contrary, when a Jew utilizes modern technology for the purpose of spreading Torah and mitzvot, he elevates these tools to their true perfection, for which they were discovered in the first place.
Adapted from Sefer Hasichot of the Rebbe, 5748, Vol. II
The 20th of Av marks the 50th yahrzeit of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Schneerson, o.b.m., the illustrious father of the Rebbe.
Born on 18 Nisan, 1878, he served as the Chief Rabbi of Yekaterinislav during the years of Stalinist persecutions.
As a result of his fearless leadership he was exiled to Asiatic Russia, where he passed away.
On the 20th anniversary of his father's yahrzeit, the Rebbe announced the establishment of a special loan fund to be dedicated to teachers and schools of Jewish learning.
The Rebbe told of a five thousand dollar grant he had received from a woman who asked to remain anonymous. She explained that she had at one time taught in a Jewish school, and a total of five thousand dollars had accumulated in back pay.
Years passed and then, quite unexpectedly, the woman received a check for five thousand dollars in the mail. She felt that the best thing to do would be to give it to the Rebbe's charity fund.
The Rebbe expressed his admiration for this gesture, mentioning that he knew that the person was of only moderate income, and that there were several young children in the family.
These five thousand dollars, the Rebbe said, he would earmark towards the new fund. In honor of his father's 20th yahrzeit the fund would be called Keren Levi Yitzchok. It was the Rebbe's intention and hope that the status of both teachers and of Jewish education as a whole would be elevated and expanded.
In light of the Rebbe's chosen expression of honor of his father's memory and his own commitment to ensuring the education of every Jewish child, we share with our reader the following anecdote retold by Rabbi Alter Benzion Metzger, and reprinted from Di Yiddishe Heim:
I was flying to a wedding in Pittsburgh with Rabbi S., and our discussion rambled off in different directions.
Rabbi S. suddenly remembered a Chasidic narrative that he thought would be of interest to me, and proceeded to relate it.
"Many years ago, during the leadership of Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber, his son, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok [the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe], was appointed administrator of the Lubavitch educational network.
"On one occasion he was confronted by an unusual disciplinary problem. There was one young student who was very precocious, but also very disruptive. One day he hid a goat in the closet of the cheder classroom. The teacher, oblivious to the 'new presence,' commenced teaching his class the day's lesson.
"Suddenly, a strange, frightening sound was heard emanating from the closet. The entire class was gripped by a paralyzing alarm, fearful that perhaps an other-worldly demon had somehow infiltrated their simple classroom. This gave way to shrieks and shouts as the children threw down their chairs and began running in every direction. Finally one child surged to the door, and in bedlam fashion, the others hysterically followed him to escape from the frightening, unknown, phantom force.
"With racing heart, the teacher approached the closet and cautiously opened the door. Close examination brought the realization that the source of the incredible fear and disruption was simply a confined goat. Who was responsible for this disturbance of study and total loss of class control and discipline?
"Inductive logic and questions quickly elicited the fact that student A was responsible for the flagrant breach of school rules. He was confronted and punished with expulsion from the cheder.
"Since Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok was the educational administrator the child had to meet with him to officially learn his penalty. Shaken, yet clear-headed, the student began to plead with the Rabbi. Finally, unable to contain himself, the child blurted out defensively, 'If you expel me, then you are not merely doing this to me, but to my children and to my children's children and their children till the coming of our Righteous Moshiach!'
"Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok gazed at him reflectively. He sensed that behind the outer facade of mischief and disruption there existed a capacity for religious sensitivity, with great future potential. After the appropriate period of discipline, the child was reinstated."
Years passed from the time I heard the story until I first related it. One Sukkot we were asked to host a family that had come from Israel for the marriage of their daughter.
My wife suggested that we invite the whole family for tea and cake. As I sat at the head of the table surrounded by the bride's father and mother and brothers and sisters, I began to relate this tale, thinking it would be amusing.
I concluded and waited for reactions of amused surprise at the cheder child's cleverness in avoiding the harsh penalty.
The bride's father leaned forward, pointed to his wife, and with subdued seriousness stated: "That was her father."
I turned in my seat, stunned.
Around that table was that young child's vision of his future.
His children -- the bride's parents, and the bride and her husband, exemplified the potential for the future beyond -- till the coming of the Righteous Moshiach.
I have retold this story many times, and it has been inexhaustible in its rich meaning and relevance to all who have heard it.
It poignantly conveys the great possible loss in the alienation of any Jewish child, and the great spiritual treasure than can ultimately accrue through the saving of one individual Jewish soul.
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 Mitzvot Campaigns we can do to complete the Rebbe's work of bringing about the coming of Moshiach.
Kashrut: Jews not only look Jewish and think Jewish, we eat Jewish!
Jewish law discusses what the kosher diet entails, including the total separation of meat and milk, which animals, poultry and fish are permissible and how they must be slaughtered.
Kosher food is truly "soul food," and is the only proper food for a Jewish soul.
Thousands of kosher products with reliable rabbincal supervision are already stocked on your local supermarket's shelves.
To find out more about keeping kosher call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center or (718) 771-4342.
Excerpts of letters from the Rebbe
4th of Shevat, 5713 (1953)
......As you may know, in order to receive G-d's blessings it is necessary to prepare "receptacles."
It would have been impossible for us to know which receptacles but for G-d's mercy and infinite kindness, having given us the Torah and having revealed to us that Torah and mitzvot are the proper receptacles for us to receive His blessings.
Not knowing you personally, it is difficult for me to indicate to you how you can prepare for yourself such additional receptacles for G-d's blessings, but the important thing is to do better than at present in the religious observances, which will surely bring an improvement in your condition.
One of the most important things in this connection is to see that the children receive a true Jewish education.
28th of Elul, 5730 (1970)
I was pleased to be brought up to date on your activities, especially in the area of chinuch (Jewish education).
As has often been mentioned before, every activity in chinuch should be carried out with particular enthusiasm, inasmuch as it is like planting a seed, or taking care of a seedling, where every additional effort, however small, will eventually be translated into extraordinary benefits when the said seed or seedling becomes a mature fruit-bearing tree.
The same is true of the care taken to shield the seed or seedling from harmful effects.
By the same token, it will be realized that, although mitzvot and good deeds should be done without thought for reward, nevertheless the reward for every activity in chinuch is greater than the reward for any other mitzva inasmuch as the effects are lasting and cumulative and reproduce from generation to generation. There is surely no need to elaborate to you on the above.
20th of Cheshvan, 5732 (1972)
Jewish education in the spirit of our Torah and tradition has always been the life-line of our people, and it is more than ever so in the present day of confusion, drifting and alienation.
It is therefore surely unnecessary to emphasize at length the vital importance of the educational work of the Merkos Center.
I am particularly gratified to note that this most essential and indispensable work is recognized and appreciated by prominent businessmen and industrialists in the community.
Indeed, it is to be expected that good businessmen would recognize a good "investment," and there is none better and more profitable than investing in our children and adolescents. For this is the kind of investment where the original capital not only yields the highest dividends, but the dividends themselves become investment capital of the highest yield.
Thus the children and youths who benefit from the Merkos Center today, will later become active investors in Torah-true education, in a cumulative and continuous process, yielding "fruits and the fruits of fruits" for the community and for our people at large.
Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av, 5733 (1973)
..... This being the case, and since my thoughts are with you, I want to share with you a matter that has preoccupied my mind in recent weeks, namely, the inadequacy of attention given to the chinuch of children of pre-Bar (Bat)-Mitzva age, down to the very little ones. Even in circles where serious attention is given to older boys and girls, there is a prevalent tendency to take the chinuch of the younger ones more lightly.
This attitude is rather surprising, for the Torah has quite strong views on the role of the youngsters.
Suffice it to cite the rule laid down by our Sages that as soon as a child begins to speak, his father must begin to teach him Torah, specifically the verse "The Torah which Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the congregation of Jacob" (Deut. 33:4).
At first glance, there is a very great distance between a two- year old toddler, just beginning to speak, and the Torah which Moshe Rabbeinu received at Sinai when he was 80-odd years old and at the height of his greatness.
Yet, this is precisely what the Rabbis had in mind: to put this toddler in immediate relationship with the Torah which Moshe received at Sinai. So much so, that the Alter Rebbe, founder of Chabad, begins the Laws of Talmud Study in his Shluchan Aruch with this very rule laid down by our Sages....
A JOURNEY INTO JEWISH MYSTICISM
On Wednesday evenings from 8:00 - 9:30 pm, throughout the summer months, Be'er Miriam presents "Chasidut by the Sea: A Journey into Jewish Mysticism."
At the end of Pier 17 in Manhattan's South Street Seaport, join an informal lecture/discussion series led by Rabbi Eli Cohen of Chabad at NYU on topics such as: evolution vs. creation; the meaning of suffering; seeing is believing; prayer -- a ladder to G-d; is Moshiach the Jewish Utopia?; the revival of the dead. Free refreshments, lots of food for thought, rain or shine. For more information call (212) 995-3147.
The first two installments of the English translation of Besurat HaGeula are now available from Vaad L'Hafotzas Sichos.
The book Besurat HaGeula is a collection of excerpts of the talks, edited personally by his Rebbe, beginning with the Rebbe's pronouncements that "The time for your Redemption has arrived" and that "Moshiach is coming" in the fall of 1990.
For a copy of installments one and two send your name, address and $1 to Vaad L'Hafotzas Sichos, 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11213.
There can never be enough emphasis placed on the importance of learning about Moshiach and the Redemption.
From the time the Rebbe made the famous pronouncement, "The time of your Redemption has arrived," and "Moshiach is coming now," until his stroke 18 months later, the Rebbe delivered over 70 public talks.
Each of those talks discussed some aspect of Moshiach and the imminence of the Redemption.
Many of the talks also mentioned the importance of studying about Moshiach and the Redemption.
The Rebbe stated that studying the subject is not only a means of hastening the Redemption but actually facilitates one being able to have a foretaste of the Redemption and internalize the Redemption on a personal level.
In our "What's News" column we highlight new books and audio- cassette tapes about Moshiach and the Redemption. Every issue of L'Chaim contains telephone numbers whereby you can listen to prerecorded messages about the Redemption as well as a short thought in the Moshiach Matters section, all of which can be used as a starting point for discussions on this topic.
The Rebbe spoke numerous times of the importance of studying in groups of at least ten people and urged every man, woman and child to become a teacher of those who have less knowledge.
This is in keeping with the call of our Sages that if one person knows the Hebrew letters alef and bet, and another person only knows the letter alef, the first person is duty bound to teach the second.
We take this opportunity to urge everyone to continue or even begin to study about Moshiach and the Redemption. To join an existing class or to establish a class in your area call your local Chabad-Lubavitch representative.
Blessed shall you be above all the nations; there shall not be a barren male or female among you (Deut. 7:14)
The Torah considers the Jewish soul the most precious commodity in the world. The proliferation of the Jewish people, therefore, is the highest blessing that can be bestowed upon them.
(Rabbi Shimshon Refael Hirsch)
And the L-rd will take away from you all sickness, and all the evil diseases of Egypt (Deut. 7:15)
"Sickness" is an illness which causes the sufferer to lie in bed, not because of pain or discomfort in any particular organ, but because it has spread throughout the body; "evil disease" alludes to an ache in a particular limb, while the rest of the body remains unaffected.
As a man chastens his son, so does the L-rd your G-d chasten you (Deut. 8:5)
A father's heart is heavy when he is forced to strike his son. Similarly, G-d suffers with us when punishment is meted out.
(Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev)
A land whose stones are iron (Deut: 8:9)
Rabbi Abba said: A Torah scholar who is not as tough as iron is no Torah scholar, as it states, "whose stones are iron." Do not read "avaneha" (stones), but "boneha" (her builders).
This Talmudic homily teaches us an important lesson in how to protect the land of Israel: Although it is certainly necessary to possess "iron" weapons in the literal sense -- an army and ammunition to deter our enemies -- we must always remember that the true "iron" and strength of the Jewish people is their Torah learning and observance of mitzvot.
There was once a person who lived in the vicinity of the Baal Shem Tov.
Because of his all-consuming pride, he decided to become an ascetic, and in that way, attract to himself a following of as many admirers as the Besht had.
To that end he wore only white garments, fasted interminably, and tortured his body by rolling around in the ice and snow.
Imagine his disappointment when, in spite of all his attempts, he in fact attracted no following at all.
He decided to visit the court of the Baal Shem Tov to see where it was that he had failed. What did the Besht have that he lacked that caused thousands to flock to him?
He made his presence known to all the Chasidim and tried to gain their friendship. But they easily saw beneath his pious exterior and rebuffed all his advances.
Before he took his leave of the Besht, the man managed to gain entrance to the presence of the tzadik.
The Besht took the man by the shoulder and said to him, "Come outside with me for a minute. Do you see that horse over there tied to the post?
His garments -- white; his food -- hay; his bed -- straw; and in winter, he, too, rolls in the snow. But in spite of all of this, he will always remain a horse."
A simple Chasid once approached the tzadik Reb Bunim of Pshischa. "It is written in our holy books that if one fasts a certain number of days, one will have a revelation of Elijah the Prophet.
Now I have fasted many, many days -- exactly what is prescribed in the texts -- and still I haven't had the revelation. What have I done wrong?"
Reb Bunim said to the Chasid, "I will explain it to you by means of a parable I heard in the name of the Baal Shem Tov:
It is known that when the Besht travelled in his coach he covered extraordinary amounts of territory in an impossibly short period of time. But, you see, he used the coach only for the sake of appearing to operate in a normal fashion. The reality was that he travelled by miraculous means -- kefitzat haderech -- supernaturally contracting of distance. One time he was on a journey, and, as usual, he was covering enormous spaces in no time at all. The two horses who were flying before the coach began to think. Said one horse to the other, 'Look here, we are passing by all the usual rest-stops without ever stopping. When do you suppose they will feed us?'
The other agreed. "You're right. All along the road, I see carriages stopped off to the side where the horses are treated to some water or oats. Only we have to continue racing on non-stop like lightning. I wonder when we will finally be able to stop?"
Then the first exclaimed, 'I think I've figured out the answer! Maybe we're not horses after all! Maybe we're actually human beings, and that's why we don't stop very often, for people can go longer periods without eating and drinking.'
'I have to congratulate you on your conclusion! I bet you're right. Let's wait and see what happens when we reach the next inn. If we come to a place where people stop to rest and eat, and we're given some supper, then we'll know.'
So the horses continued their unnatural pace, which they accomplished with little effort or exertion. They passed inns, hotels and taverns, but they did not stop. The first horse again spoke to his companion:
'Well, we haven't stopped anywhere on the way to rest or partake of a bite to eat. I suppose we aren't human beings after all. Maybe we're angels in disguise.'They continued until their master, the Baal Shem Tov, ordered them to halt. They had stopped in front of an inn where they were immediately taken to the stable and given an ample amount of hay.
'You know, I think you must be right! We must be angels, because angels don't need to rest or to eat. I'm so happy that you have figured that out!' And the two horses dashed on with renewed strength.
When the two horses saw the delicious-looking hay, they began eating as if they were starved.
Reb Bunim concluded his parable:
This story refers to one who sits and fasts even if he continues his fasting for weeks on end. It may be that he will even convince himself that he is an angel. But how does that person end his fast? If, he pounces on his food like a horse, then he has remained the same horse as he had been before."
Even the great minds must lay aside their intellects and not be ruled by their reason and knowledge, for they are susceptible to being misguided by their intellect to the point that their end may be a bitter one.
The essential thing in these times of the "footsteps of Moshiach" is not to follow intellect and reason, but to fulfill Torah and mitzvot wholeheartedly, with simple faith in the G-d of Israel.
(Rabbi Sholom Ber of Lubavitch)