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It Happened Once | Moshiach Matters
Even before you know what's inside the gift you say "thank you."
Before you've tasted that heavenly-looking dessert the waiter brought, you murmur, "thanks."
And before you start your day, as soon as you realize that you are no longer in that delicious mode of sleep, you say the Modeh Ani prayer:
"I give thanks to You, living and eternal King, for having restored within me my soul, with mercy; great is Your trust."
Though we haven't ritually rinsed our hands, washed our face, brushed our teeth, we can say this prayer.
The obvious reason for this dispensation is that G-d's name is not mentioned in this prayer but is referred to only as "King."
However, this allowance points to an essential component of each and every Jew, that the "Modeh Ani" of the Jew -- a Jew's very essence -- can never be tainted, sullied or contaminated.
The concept of expressing thanks to G-d is one of the fundamental principles of Jewish life.
Thus we begin each day with an expression of thanks - Modeh Ani - in which we gratefully acknowledge G-d's return of our souls.
This, our first act of the day, serves as the foundation for all of our subsequent conduct.
It teaches us to be grateful, to take nothing for granted, to appreciate everything we have.
The Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement, was renown for his efforts to spread Jewish teachings even among small children.
In particular, before he revealed himself as a leader of the Jewish people, he served as a teacher's helper.
In fact, when the story of the Baal Shem Tov's life is related -- before his scholarship, piety, unbounded love of all Jews, and miracles that he wrought are recounted -- it is first told that he began as a teacher's helper.
At that time, he would remind children to begin their day with praise of and thanks to G-d, by reciting Modeh Ani.
Through this -- one's very first act of the day -- a Jew acknowledges G-d's Kingship.
In addition, it sets the tone for the whole day and for our whole life.
It teaches us to be grateful from our earliest moment in our lives at the earliest moment in the day.
Our Sages have told us that every night when one goes to sleep one's soul returns to its Divine source and gives an account of her activities that day.
In the prayer before going to bed we say, "Into Your hand I pledge my soul; You have redeemed me, O G-d, G-d of trust."
A pledge is something the debtor gives to the creditor as security that the debt will be repaid.
Usually the creditor will not return the pledge as long as the debtor still owes him money.
But G-d is very merciful; though every day we are indebted to Him, He returns our soul to us.
Furthermore, our Sages declare:
When a person gives a pledge, even if it is a new thing, it becomes old and stained by the time it is returned. But G-d returns our "pledge" new and polished even though it has been "used," and so it is written, "They are new every morning; great is Your trust."
The fact that we go to bed "dead tired" and wake up refreshed, returning from the unconscious world of slumber, is similar to the "revival of the dead" which will take place in the Messianic Era.
This daily experience strengthens our conviction in the "resurrection of the Dead," one of the 13 principles of Judaism.
And this adds further meaning to the words, "Great is Your trust," for we have absolute trust in G-d not only that He will return our soul in the morning, but also will return our soul into our body at the end of days, when all dead will arise from their "sleep."
Get into the habit of giving thanks, right from the very first moment of the day.
Gratefulness goes a long way.
This week's Torah portion, Tavo, contains the commandment of bikurim, first fruits.
"And it shall be, when you come into the land...and you shall take of all the fruit of the earth...and put it in a basket...and you shall go to the priest...and the priest shall take the basket from your hand, and set it down before the altar of the L-rd your G-d."
The mitzva of first fruits applies only to the "seven kinds by which the land of Israel is praised" -- grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, dates, wheat and barley.
Whoever cultivated these special fruits on his portion of land was obligated to bring the very first of his harvest to G-d's representative on earth -- the priest who served in the Holy Temple -- thereby thanking G-d for His bounty and joyfully acknowledging the Creator of all things.
A mitzva may be performed in one of two ways: with a minimum of involvement and effort, merely in order to fulfill the requirement, or out of a sense of love and joy, demonstrated by one's desire to observe the mitzva in the most beautiful way possible, utilizing the very best of whatever one possesses.
This principle is best expressed in the mitzva of bikurim, for which the farmer must go against his natural inclination to retain for himself the very best of the fruits of his labor, and hand them over to the priest in Jerusalem.
As we stand now on the very threshold of the Messianic Era, when we will once again be obligated to perform this mitzva, it is fitting that we prepare ourselves for its renewed observance, at least in the spiritual sense.
By thinking of ourselves as the "first fruit" of G-d: every action we take, every thought we have and every word that comes out of our mouths must be not only "for the sake of Heaven," but must be our absolute best, the most choice and select we are capable of producing.
Furthermore, this principle should be applied not only to the realm of religious observance, but to the myriad details of our everyday, mundane lives, elevating even our business transactions to the level of "first fruits," as our Sages said, "All of your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven."
Until Moshiach comes, when we will be able to perform the mitzva of first fruits in the physical sense, every Jew must picture himself at all times as if he is standing in the Holy Temple, about to hand over his basket of offerings to the priest.. .
May our efforts to refine ourselves in this manner bring the Final Redemption speedily in our day, and with it, the opportunity to observe the mitzva of bikurim in the literal sense as well.
Adapted from a talk of the Rebbe on Shabbat Parshat Tavo, 5751
by Marc Wilson *
Few contemporary religious leaders, certainly few contemporary Jewish religious leaders, have stimulated so much curiosity -- and ambivalence -- as Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, the Rebbe of Lubavitch.
The religious and secular media have been fascinated by the devotion of his adherents and his disproportionate political influence at home and in Israel, not to mention the trumpeting of his messianic stature by his most ardent followers. When was the last time the death of a rabbi was the lead story on both channels of CNN?
He was a most unusual man: a quiet, self-effacing heir to an impeccable Chasidic pedigree.
A maritime engineer educated in the Sorbonne. The master of a dozen languages. The childless father of a half-million disciples.
My own relationship with the Rebbe has been an elliptical orbit: sometimes nearer, sometimes farther, but somehow always magnetically drawn to the focal point.
I will forever remain unapologetically prejudiced toward the Rebbe, not so much for his global influence as for my personal encounter with him less than three years before his passing.
I became momentarily privy to the Rebbe's inner circle through my friendship with Rabbi Yossi Groner, the Lubavitch emissary to North Carolina, son of Rabbi Leibel Groner, the Rebbe's personal secretary.
My encounter with the Rebbe came just months after the demise of my second marriage and the disgraced undoing of my rabbinical career had plunged me into a black hole of depression and despondency.
Accompanied by Rabbis Groner junior and senior, my meeting with the Rebbe lasted a scant half-minute.
"Sometimes," the Rebbe counseled me in Yiddish, "a devoted lay person can do incalculably more good than a rabbi.
"You should teach something, perhaps Talmud, even if it is to one or two people in your living room.
"They say," the Rebbe went on, "that you were once a student of Reb Aharon Soloveichik," invoking the name of the yeshiva teacher with whom I had had an acrimonious parting of the ways two decades earlier. How he knew, I do not know.
"I am making a gift to charity in the hope that you make peace with him."
However inspired I might have been at the moment, a year passed, and I did not take action on the Rebbe's counsel.
It was, all told, a dismal, dark year, full of sickness and grief and self-recrimination. Traveling to New York, I again found myself a guest at the Groner's Sabbath table.
"Have you been teaching?" Rabbi Groner prodded.
"Er, uh, it hasn't been feasible. The situation..." I squirmed.
"The Rebbe said," he admonished.
"No buts. The Rebbe said!"
How could I do this? Where? When?
I had not a clue.
But the Rebbe said.
Confused and disconcerted, at Sabbath's end I retrieved the messages from my answering machine.
As G-d is my witness, there was the voice of a long-forgotten colleague, a rabbi in Atlanta:
"Marc, I've been thinking all Sabbath long. It's a pity you're back in town and not teaching. Would you consider teaching a class, say in Talmud, for my congregation?"
Let the cynics snicker. These are days of miracles and wonders.
I mark the first moment of my gradual restoration to sanity and self-respect from that wondrous Sabbath in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
And I will forever attribute the first step of that restoration to one man who, with unfathomable intuition and faith in humanity, made a selfless, precise therapeutic intervention in my spirit, and demanded neither my soul nor my bank book as recompense: Make peace with yourself. Put aside anger. Reconcile with your neighbor.
Critics who assess the Rebbe's impact in terms of large social, spiritual or political issues are missing the point.
The real measure of the man's magnitude is in the thousands of pinpoint, surgical interventions he has made in the souls of his faithful that have redeemed them from despair and regained them their lives.
Let theologians quibble over whether the cumulative effect of such interventions over 40 years ordains one as a "savior."
We must freely acknowledge that our presence has been blessed by one whose life was spent as the catalyst for so many countless acts of saving grace. How much more do we dare ask of any human being?
What of the reconciliation with my long-ago teacher?
I confess that I was not so quick to act on the Rebbe's behest. Until, that is, I heard the news of the Rebbe's passing, when, you may be sure, it was the very first action I took.
After all, "The Rebbe said."
Marc Wilson, a former congregational rabbi in Charlotte, is now a writer in Atlanta.
Send Rosh Hashana Greetings
During the entire month of Elul we greet friends with the traditional blessings of, "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet year."
After Rosh Hashana until Yom Kippur we wish friends a "Chatima Tova -- to be sealed for good," and even after Yom Kippur we can still wish people a "G'mar tov -- a good completion."
It is a Jewish custom to send friends and relatives "New Year's Greetings" with blessings for the coming year.
From a letter of the Rebbe
25 Elul, 5718 (1968)
The month of Elul, especially the Days of Selichot and the Ten Days of Repentance, is the time dedicated to sincere introspection and a careful and honest examination of the record of the outgoing year, with a view to the proper deductions and resolutions which are to regulate one's personal daily life, as well as that of his home, and all his affairs in the year to come.
Moreover, these are exceptionally propitious days, days permeated with the core of the Psalm recited twice daily: "Search my inwardness: Thy inner essence, O G-d, do I seek" (Ps. 27:8).
They call and demand:
Search for the innermost and the profound within you; seek out also the inwardness of everything around you, the soul of the universe; search for and bring to light the G-dliness that animates and pervades the world!
Both aspects -- the honest self-appraisal and the search for the inner essence of things -- are interrelated and interdependent.
In evaluating the results of the outgoing year, one is very prone to err by taking into account only the external, both in himself and in the environment. In doing so, one is on equally treacherous grounds in regard to setting the pattern of daily living in the year to come.
To forestall this misleading approach, these auspicious days sound their message and challenge: Do not sell yourself short! Do not underestimate your capacities and abilities!
For, no matter what your spiritual "stock-in-trade" is, your "visible assets" -- the existing possibilities that you have to conduct your life in accord with the teachings of our Torah, no matter how formidable is your strength of character and your ability to cope with a frustrating environment, and with undaunted perseverance to follow the path of the Torah and its mitzvot, much greater and richer are your "hidden reserves" of powers to create new possibilities, and of inner qualities giving you the ability to overcome obstacles and to shape your life and the lives around you to be in harmony with truth and goodness.
In order to reveal and apply these powers, however, it is necessary that you search for and release your potential forces. But you are promised: "You will discover -- because you will search with all your heart and soul" (Deut. 4:29)
What has been said above is more especially and more fully applicable to those who occupy positions of spiritual leadership and influence, from the rabbi of the community down to the individual parent who sets the pace of the spiritual life of the household and family.
All too often do we see them stymied by doubt and fear, afraid to use, what seems to them, a strong word or excessive demand lest they might alienate, instead of attract.
To them these days address themselves with this message and challenge: Search inwardly; seek deeply and you will unravel the innermost treasures of those whom you would lead and inspire; evaluate them not externally, but according to their inner resources, according to the capacity of their soul, the veritable spark of G-dliness from Above.
For with the right approach and by indefatigable effort you will be able to uncover and activate in everyone his inner spiritual resources, so that he begins to animate his daily life.
Have confidence in your fellow-Jew and give him what he, as a Jew, truly expects from you: the whole Torah with all its precepts, unvarnished and untarnished, as it was given from Sinai, in its true eternity, for the Torah is eternal for all times and places.
Only through this approach can one attain a true estimation of oneself and of those who look up to you for guidance and leadership, a true estimation that will make the year a full year -- full in content and achievement commensurate with your fullest resources, and also full of G-d's blessings, materially and spiritually.
NINTH ANNUAL WEDDING
A joyful tradition continued at the Ninth Annual Gala Wedding of nine Jewish couples sponsored by New Jersey based Bris Avrohom.
The recent emigres from Russia, many of whom had had civil weddings in Russia, were married according to Jewish law amidst friends and families.
Following the ceremony there was a festive meal, music, and dancing.
Bris Avrohom, under the leadership of Rabbi Mordechai and Shterny Kanelsky, has served the Russian Jewish community in New Jersey for the past 14 years offering education, social and religious services.
CHABAD OF BATTERY PARK CITY
Rabbi and Mrs. Lieberman recently established a new Chabad Center to serve the Financial District and Battery Park City, Manhattan. Weekly Shabbat services and kiddush take place at 23 Thames St. They can be contacted at (718) 735-7596.
At midnight Saturday evening, and each morning thereafter until Rosh Hashana, it is customary to say special penitential prayers called "Selichot."
Call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center for the time and place nearest you.
Thursday is Chai Elul, the 18th of Elul. (August 25, 1994)
Chai Elul was the date of birth of the Baal Shem Tov -- founder of Chasidut in general, and also of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chasidut.
The Rebbe Rayatz described Chai Elul by saying that it introduces chayot -- life energy -- into the service of the month of Elul.
The service of Elul includes Torah study, prayer and deeds of kindness as well as teshuva and redemption.
The Baal Shem Tov taught that at each moment, creation is renewed.
When G-d created the world from total nothingness, the first moment of existence that He created included within it every moment that would follow.
Similarly, at every moment, as G-d totally recreates the world anew, every moment includes all previous and all subsequent moments, just as the first moment of creation included all time.
This concept helps us understand teshuva -- return and repentance.
It is explained that in one moment of true repentance a person can compensate for inadequacies in his behavior over many years.
Indeed, with one turn of sincere teshuva, one can compensate for all the transgressions committed during one's lifetime and even those committed in previous incarnations.
How is that possible?
Because each moment contains within it the totality of time and can thus alter the nature of the events which occurred previously.
This concept, although true at all times, receives greater emphasis during the month of Elul.
And Chai Elul contributes the dimension of chayot - life energy - to all of this.
On this basis, we can understand the uniqueness of Chai Elul.
As explained above, Elul is a month of general significance which includes all the service of the Jewish people.
Chai Elul emphasizes the chayot -- "life energy" -- of that service, the bond between the Jews and G-d.
And the stock-taking which takes place from Chai Elul onwards is of a more essential nature than that which took place from the beginning of Elul.
And it shall be, when you come into the land...and you shall take of all the fruit of the earth...and put it in a basket... and you shall go to the priest (Deut. 26:1-3)
Fourteen years elapsed after the Jewish people entered the land of Israel until they were able to fulfill the second half of the verse -- the bringing of their first fruits to Jerusalem.
Seven years were spent in conquering the entire land from its inhabitants; seven more years were spent dividing the land among the 12 tribes.
Our generation, which will very soon enter the promised land with the coming of Moshiach, will not need to wait any period of time before we are able to bring our first fruits to the Holy Temple.
Not only will there be no need to conquer and distribute the land, but the fruits themselves will grow with such rapidity that their harvesting will take place simultaneously with their planting.
(The Rebbe, Shabbat Parshat Ve'etchanan, 5751)
The L-rd has avouched you this day to be a people for His own possession...that you should keep all His commandments (Deut. 26:18)
The greatness of the Jewish people lies in their having been granted the observance of the commandments.
The other nations of the world are not only not required to observe them, but are actually forbidden to do so.
And all people of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the L-rd, and they will be afraid of you (Deut. 28:10)
It is through the Jewish people that the nations come to fear G-d.
Because "You are called by the name of the L-rd," your influence extends over all the peoples who observe you.
And G-d shall make you plentiful for good, in the fruit of your body (Deut. 28:11)
The Torah promises length of days and good years - even beyond what is truly deserved - in the merit of children who are raised and educated according to Torah.
(The 18th of Elul is the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov)
One of the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov once came to him and asked what profession he should follow. The Besht answered at once that he should become a chazan (a cantor).
"But I have no voice at all," the man protested.
"Never mind. I will bless you that your soul will become connected with the heavenly sphere of music."
And so it was, that the Chasid became a chazan with the sweetest voice this side of the Garden of Eden.
Once this chazan happened to visit the court of Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk.
Reb Elimelech and his son couldn't decide whether to give him the honor of leading the prayers to welcome the Shabbat queen, for fear that the beauty of his prayers would distract the congregants and the Rebbe himself.
Finally, they decided to honor him, for after all, wasn't he called "the Baal Shem Tov's chazan"?
The chazan's singing was as beautiful as could be.
Reb Elimelech was so moved by the holiness it expressed, that he was afraid that its ethereal sounds would cause him to leave his body and ascend to the supernal realms.
When Shabbat had passed Reb Elimelech summoned the chazan and requested that he tell some stories about the greatness of the Baal Shem Tov, for it is a custom amongst Chasidim to tell stories of tzadikim at the Saturday evening Melave Malka meal.
The tales that he told were amazing to hear, and all gathered around to wonder at the holiness of the Besht.
The chazan recounted the Besht's great love and fear of G-d, and his knowledge of every aspect of the Torah. He described the Besht's holy prayer and his conversations with spiritual beings which occurred to him as often as we would converse with a close friend.
Once, the Besht asked the Ari Hakodesh - who had lived hundreds of years previously - why he had revealed the great secrets of Torah so openly.
The Ari told him that had he lived another two years, he would have brought the world to perfection.
The Besht was able to converse with spiritual beings as well as understand the speech of the animals.
On Friday afternoons myriads of souls would gather around the Besht awaiting their ultimate purification which could be brought about only by a tzadik.
The holiness of the Besht was so great that he could see from one end of the world to the other.
One day, as the disciples were seated around him, the Besht began laughing for no apparent reason.
When he was questioned, he replied that he had just seen the wondrous workings of Providence.
In a far away land, a tzadik was walking to the synagogue to pray when a terrible hail storm blew up. He happened to be passing by a magnificent palace that had been built by a wealthy aristocrat, and he hurried to take shelter within. When the storm subsided the tzadik went on his way.
No sooner had he departed, than the entire fabulous structure collapsed.
It was reported in the papers that the palace had collapsed with no obvious cause.
The Besht, however, saw that the only reason the structure had existed at all was to shelter that tzadik for a few short moments on one particular day.
The chazan also revealed that the Besht had the ability look at an object and know the thoughts which the craftsman had been thinking when he made it. Reb Elimelech was amazed at all he heard.
They discussed a few more of the wonders of the great master before parting.
The chazan remembered that he was once together with the Besht and his holy disciples while they were learning Torah.
The scene was a reflection of the events at the Giving of Torah at Sinai: A heavenly fire surrounded them, while thunder and lightning were revealed and the blasts of the shofar were heard. The holiness that surrounded the holy assembly was so great that they were able to perceive the spiritual emanations that echo through the ages and have never ceased.
Each night after the Maariv prayers, the Besht would return to his room and light two candles, since one is not good for the vision. He would put certain holy books on the table and then he would receive people and hear their requests.
One evening several of his disciples entered into the room at the same time. The Besht spent time with each of them, listening to their problems and giving his advice and blessing.
When they emerged from the room, they discussed amongst themselves what the Besht had told them. But they were amazed when they realized that to each man it had seemed that the Rebbe was addressing him alone, and no one know what he had told the other.
In their own days our Sages said that the study of Torah is equivalent to the performance of loving-kindness. For with them the principal service was the study of Torah and therefore they were great scholars.
However, with the advent of Moshiach, there is no way to truly cleave unto G-d and to convert darkness into light, except through a corresponding category of action, namely the act of charity.
(Igeret HaKodesh 9, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi)