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Chasidim used to say that when Moshiach comes it will be written about in the newspapers. No doubt, it will be front-page news all over the world.
Since information is now communicated through other forms of media as well, we can understand that when Moshiach comes, his arrival will be the prime topic of news broadcasts.
But in the meantime -- while we await that ultimate headline -- when we open a paper, tune into the radio or watch CNN, it's not a very pretty sound or sight that meets our ears and eyes.
Murder, theft, drugs, corruption, bombings--the list is endless.
What can we do about it?
Surely there is good news happening out there even in these pre-Messianic days. Certainly there are good deeds being done, altruistic acts, caring activities, humanitarian work.
From South Africa to California, from New York to Australia and all points in between, a small trickle of newspapers, radio and TV stations are picking up on the idea of publicizing people's positive accomplishments great and small. And they're not just doing it once in a while around the holidays, but as a regular weekly or even daily feature.
What part can we play in all this? We can try to influence and encourage our local media to adopt similar policies -- publicizing that which supposedly does not "sell" newspapers.
We can perform noteworthy benevolent deeds ourselves, even if they don't make the news.
We can do ordinary acts of goodness and kindness; though these might never be noticed or even appreciated, they will get us ready for Moshiach and habituate us to that which really matters.
Last, but most certainly not least, we can notice when others do good.
When appropriate, we can commend the person and/or point out his exemplary actions to his superiors. If this recognition is not possible, we can simply fortify within ourselves the knowledge that there is good in the world and good in people, despite what we read in the papers.
And don't be surprised if before you realize it, a special edition of the news reports Moshiach's coming.
As the Rebbe said, "May the Redemption come immediately; indeed, may it be that it has already come. For the newspapers have already written about Moshiach's coming -- may they continue to write more, and may these articles be in the past tense, for Moshiach's coming will already be a reality."
Although our Sages tell us that Abraham our Forefather had already "recognized his Creator" by the age of three, no mention of Abraham's early life is actually made in the Torah (aside from an account of his genealogy).
In fact, this entire time period, during which Abraham devoted himself to spreading the belief in One G-d among mankind, to the point of being thrown into a fiery furnace for his convictions, is omitted.
The Torah begins its narration of Abraham's extraordinary life in this week's portion, Lech Lecha, with the words, "And the L-rd said to Abram: Go out of your land, out of your birthplace and from your father's house" -- a commandment Abraham received when he was already 75 years old!
Every word and letter in the Torah is exact, revealing countless lessons for us to apply in our daily lives. The Torah's omission of Abraham's early years is therefore significant, and contains a valuable teaching about the essence of the Jew.
Up until the age of 75, Abraham was like any other human being.
Blessed with a gifted mind, he was able to reach the intellectual understanding that G-d existed. Yet it was only at the age of 75 that Abraham's life as a Jew, and as the progenitor of the Jewish people, truly began.
For no matter how strong a person's belief in G-d may be, when one's connection to Him is predicated on human understanding, it is necessarily finite and limited.
Even Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his life was rooted in intellectual conviction.
G-d's command to Abraham to leave the country of his birth began a whole new chapter in his and the Jewish people's relationship with G-d, one which transcends human understanding.
The Jew's connection to G-d is eternal, based not on our limited intellectual faculties but on the fact that the Jewish soul is "a veritable part of G-d Himself."
A son is connected to his father not because he appreciates his qualities, but because he is a part of him.
Similarly, our connection to G-d is so deep and profound that it cannot be attained simply by our own efforts. Only G-d Himself could have created a bond of this magnitude by choosing us to serve Him.
When G-d told Abraham, "Go out of your land, out of your birthplace and from your father's house," He was commanding him to embark on a whole new level of service.
Abraham would no longer be just a human being -- he and his children would henceforth be Jews, connected to G-d on the very deepest level possible.
The words "Go out of your land" marked the beginning of this supernatural connection between G-d and the Jewish people, a connection that transcends the limitations of nature.
It therefore follows that even those Jews who, for whatever reason, have had little connection to a Torah way of life need not wait until acquiring a deep intellectual understanding of Judaism to begin observing mitzvot.
On the contrary, as the Jew is already firmly connected to G-d, fulfilling His will, will serve to enhance the Jew's intellectual understanding of Torah and strengthen his eternal bond with the Creator.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. XXV
Children of Chernobyl
by Jay Litvin
Luba Marcus's eyes searched each face, as one by one, the children filed off the plane.
Her granddaughter, Anastasia, was on the flight list from Kiev, but Mrs. Marcus couldn't believe she would soon be holding her granddaughter in her arms. Too many disappointments at the hands of Soviet officials had dampened her optimism.
Mrs. Marcus waited, a leather purse and small bouquet of flowers clutched in her hands, her face strained from the anxious waiting and the bitter memories of Jewish life in the Soviet Union.
Her grandfather had been a rabbi in Russia, working underground to keep the spark of Judaism alive during the dark years of Soviet oppression.
He was shot one morning, wrapped in tallit and tefilin when the Communists discovered his tiny, basement shul.
His execution shattered his one great hope: to bring his family to the Holy Land and to raise his children and grandchildren there.
His son, Luba's father, carried his father's dream.
Though he scrimped and saved to gather the money for passports, transportation and the bribes needed to gain permission to leave, he never succeeded.
But he did succeed in capturing his daughter Luba's imagination with his descriptions of the Holy Land.
Mrs. Marcus carried her father's dream; though not a religious woman, making aliya to Israel became her obsession.
She worked and saved for years, applied for permission, and then waited again. Eighteen months ago, at the age of 68, she made aliya.
Mrs. Marcus was heartbroken to leave her daughter behind.
Married, with one child, her daughter and son-in-law were reluctant to make the great changes that aliya would require. They knew how to survive difficulties in the former Soviet Union, but they feared the unknown in Israel.
On June 5th, Luba stood on the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport, her grandfather's dream about to come one step closer to reality.
Ironically, this joyous event resulted from one of the worst disasters in modern history: the 1986 explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor.
Anastasia was only three when Chernobyl exploded.
She lived in Kiev, a large city in Ukraine, whose water supply, the Pripiyat River, flowed close to the Chernobyl reactor.
Although the full impact on public health was hidden for years, the Ukrainian newspapers recently reported the burgeoning rate of diseases attributed to the contaminated water supply.
This water irrigated the fields and poisoned the produce: it filled bathtubs and washing machines, baby bottles and tea kettles.
Ukrainian doctors say that one of every five Ukrainians suffers from the Chernobyl explosion.
Already the incidence of cancer is rising, together with respiratory problems, cardio-vascular disease, auto-immune- deficiency, and a host of other ailments that primarily afflict the young.
Anastasia's parents, with Mrs. Marcus' encouragement, decided that they must remove their child from these dangers.
Chabad was a name familiar to Mrs. Marcus and her daughter from newspaper stories and word of mouth. When a friend suggested they apply to the Chabad Children of Chernobyl program to take Anastasia to Israel, they were optimistic but skeptical.
After talking to other families who had sent their children to Israel on prior Chabad flights, Mrs. Marcus' daughter and her husband made the difficult decision to send their only child on the next flight.
Unknown to them, this was the Chabad flight that would carry the 1001st Chernobyl child to Israel, welcomed by a huge celebration at Ben Gurion Airport and telecast around the world.
Unexpectedly Mrs. Marcus found herself shoulder to shoulder with Israel's State Comptroller, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, and the Deputy Minister of Defense, surrounded by television cameras and photographers, and watched by an audience of 500 people at Ben Gurion Airport and tens of thousands more via satellite.
But all the excitement faded into the background when she saw Anastasia.
Apprehension turned to pure joy as the eleven year old girl hurried off the plane into her grandmother's arms.
After fiercely clutching her granddaughter to her heart, Mrs. Marcus held her at arm's length to see the difference a year and a half had made in the beaming girl.
She kissed and hugged her and held her in a tight embrace.
She then gave her the small bouquet of flowers before leading her across the tarmac to meet her Chabad caretakers and to begin her new life in Israel.
Now, four months later, Anastasia is adjusting to life in the Chabad Children of Chernobyl girls' dormitory in Kfar Chabad.
She has gone through a battery of medical exams and is learning Hebrew and Jewish history.
She often spends Shabbat with her grandmother in nearby Petach Tikva, and Mrs. Marcus comes regularly to see her granddaughter in Kfar Chabad.
Today, Mrs. Marcus' daughter and son-in-law in Kiev, impelled by concern for Anastasia's health, are saving their rubles to make aliya to Israel. With what they know now, they could never bring their only child back into the ecological devastation of the Chernobyl area. The couple works for the day they will reunite with their daughter in Israel. When that moment arrives, Mrs. Marcus and Anastasia will be standing on the tarmac waiting for them -- the fulfillment of a grandfather's dream, a father's hope, and a daughter's faithful determination.
Make Hakhel Gatherings
This year is a Hakhel year.
Hakhel means literally "assembly."
Immediately before and numerous times during the last "Hakhel" year (in 5748--1987-8), the Rebbe stressed the importance of holding gatherings and assemblies that would unite and unify Jews.
Men, women and even little children were charged with this mitzva.
Make a gathering for friends and family during this Hakhel year; all the better if you do it on a regular basis!
Incorporate into the gathering the "three pillars upon which the world stands" -- Torah study, prayer and charity.
Share a thought from the Rebbe, say a prayer for the Redemption, and give charity, even a few coins, to a worthy cause.
A LASTING IMPRINT
From a letter of the Rebbe
4th Day of Chanuka, 5715 (1955)
...You can well appreciate the inner pain and anxiety that have been caused by the reported changes introduced in the character of the yeshiva in recent years, changes which are inimical to the character of the yeshiva and harmful to its students.
I shall mention but several of the more grievous ones:
- The purpose of chinuch (Jewish education) is to bring up the Jewish child, boy or girl, to a life of the utmost possible degree of perfection, religiously as well as morally and ethically.
Co-education is not conducive to the attainment of this end; on the contrary, it is a sure step in the opposite direction.
The state of morality of present day youth is too painful a subject to dwell upon. Even non-Jewish educators have largely come to realize the harmful effects of coeducation.
Statistics, by no means complete, since for obvious reasons they are not fully reported or even recorded, reveal the state of moral depravity to which coeducation leads.
It has therefore been one of the cardinal and basic principles of our educational institutions not to permit coeducation at all costs, and it grieves me very much to hear that the yeshiva has not abided by this principle.
It has thus taken upon it self the responsibility for a breach in the fortress of chastity and morality of young children, a terrible mistake which, if not quickly rectified, is likely to bring irreparable harm, G-d forbid.
Needless to say, the financial argument that it is more expensive to run separate classes for boys and girls is not an argument at all, as the matter vitally concerns the future of many children; even if the future of a single child were involved, money would be no consideration, as our Sages say, "He who saves one life is deemed to have saved a whole world."
- It is also self-evident that one of the main purposes of the yeshiva is to prepare the Jewish child for life in an environment in which Jews form a minority.
Jews have always been "the smallest among the nations," but our strength does not lie in numbers. It is the Jewish way to be a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation." Living according to our holy Torah, adhering to and practicing the high standards of our mitzvot in our everyday life, has made us "different," but herein lies our strength, and this is what has preserved us through the ages.
This Jewish consciousness and rightful pride in our destiny has to be implanted in our children from their earliest formative years, and the vital importance of it cannot be overemphasized.
The fact that we live in a democratic country, with a full measure of freedom, makes such Jewish consciousness even more imperative, for being a small percentage of the total population, the forces of assimilation assert themselves more strongly than elsewhere.
It is the duty of the yeshiva to remove from the child any vestige of inferiority complex about his Jewishness in a predominantly non-Jewish environment he may have, until he grows up to understand that democracy and freedom are not a cauldron of assimilation, but rather the contrary: they offer the possibility for everyone to take his place, enjoy his rights and live according to his faith one hundred percent, and the opportunity to the Jew to fulfill his life's destiny.
(Incidentally, this is also a better way to win the respect of one's gentile neighbors, rather than by attempts to emulate them and invade their privacy, their religious customs, etc.)
- With the above truth in mind, it has been a basic principle in all institutions founded by my father-in-law, of saintly memory, and in others to which his influence extended, to set up a system whereby the sacred Jewish subjects are taught in the morning and the secular subjects in the afternoon.
Apart from the fact that the child's mind is more receptive and retentive in the morning, there is the basic principle of impressing upon the child the order of importance of these two departments, namely, that the Torah and Jewish way of life come first and foremost. Only in this way can he be brought up to properly appreciate his great Jewish heritage, and with pride and fortitude face any challenge he may encounter as a Jew.
It is therefore very painful to learn that the yeshiva has disregarded this vital principle, and that in certain classes, at any rate, the order has been reversed...
There are other points which call for correction, but the above three should suffice to induce some self-searching and reflection on the vital issues at stake.
Again, I repeat: I am aware of the usual arguments purporting to "justify" the above defects, and even call them advantages. The actual harm, however, is not minimized thereby.
The best of educators cannot always fully estimate the lasting imprint of what appears as small and unimportant in the child's education.
The child, in his tender years, has well been likened to a seed, or young plant, upon which the slightest scratch may grow to unforeseen proportions and crippling effects.
By the same token, every effort to correct even the smallest defect in the child's education is inestimable in value.
Great are the opportunities of those whom Divine Providence has given influence over an educational institution, especially one founded by the saintly leader of Israel...
The Lubavitch Women's Organization of California will be hosting the 33rd Regional Mid-Winter Convention of LWO in Los Angeles.
The convention's theme is "The Time For Your Redemption Has Arrived" and will take place December 15 - December 18. For more details call (310) 208-7511.
43 MORE DAYS
Chanuka being around the corner....consider sending friends and relatives gift subscriptions to the printed version of the weekly L'Chaim Newsletter.
Send your name and address, the recipient's name and address and a check for $30 payable to Lubavitch Youth Organization to: L'Chaim, 1408 President St., Bklyn., NY 11213.
For orders of six or more gift subscriptions call the LYO office at (718) 778-6000 for a quantity discount.
A dinner celebrating the first decade of Chabad in Uruguay took place recently at the New York Hilton.
Special guest of honor was the President of Uruguay, Dr. Luis Alberto Lacalle.
One of the dinner co-chairmen, Dr. Emilio Macgillycuddy, the Uruguayan Ambassador to the United States, spoke warmly about his personal relationship with the Rebbe, as well as the work of the Rebbe's emissaries in Uruguay, Rabbi Eliezer and Rachel Shemtov.
This year is a Hakhel year -- the first year in the land of Israel's seven-year agricultural cycle (the seventh year being the Sabbatical or Shemita year).
Hakhel means literally "assembly."
During the Hakhel year in Temple times, the entire Jewish nation, from youngest to oldest, assembled in the Holy Temple to hear the king read from the Torah on the holiday of Sukkot.
The occasion was unforgettable. The ceremony itself was announced dramatically by trumpet blasts. The king sat on a specially erected high wooden platform placed in the women's court, where he would be visible and audible to the vast throng below.
The king read several passages of the Torah, including the Shema and passages containing the blessings of the Jewish people.
The Jewish king was not only meant to be a political and military leader, but his role was essentially that of G-d's delegate to promote the spiritual dimension of the national life of the people.
His reading of the Torah following the observance of the Shemita year strengthened the people's adherence to G-d through keeping His commandments and studying His Torah.
Although we do not have the benefit of the physical existence of the Holy Temple, nevertheless, the celebration of Hakhel is just as relevant and meaningful to the Jewish people today as it has been throughout the ages.
As the Rebbe suggested repeatedly during previous Hakhel years and re-emphasized during the last Hakhel year in 1987-8, we too should make Hakhel gatherings.
These gatherings, large or small, enable us to focus on the unity of the Jewish people, and the love of each Jew for every other Jew.
This Hakhel year may we merit to assemble in the Holy Temple with our King Moshiach, reading us the Torah, teaching and inspiring us, and leading us eternally.
Go out of your land, out of your birthplace, and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you (Gen. 12:1)
By obeying G-d's command to go to the land of Israel, Abraham acquired it for himself and for his progeny forever. Even now, more than 3,300 years later, G-d's words convey an important message for us to apply in our daily lives, urging us to hasten the Messianic Era in which all Jews of all generations since the beginning of time will dwell in peace and prosperity in the greater land of Israel.
(The Rebbe, Lech Lecha, 5752)
I will not take from a thread even to a shoelace (Gen. 14:23)
Rabba explained: In the merit of Abraham's refusal to accept these two things from the king of Sodom, the Jewish people merited an additional two mitzvot: the thread of blue (the mitzva of tzitzit--ritual fringes), and the strap of tefillin.
But My covenant I will establish with Isaac (Gen. 17:21)
When G-d told Abraham that a son would be born to him through whom the Jewish nation would be established, Abraham replied, "O that Ishmael might live before You!" "Would that Ishmael walked in Your ways!" he pleaded.
G-d, however, informed Abraham that Isaac, and not Ishmael, would be the one with whom His covenant would be forged. Why?
Ishmael is symbolic of nature; Isaac is symbolic of the Jew's supernatural connection to G-d.
Ishmael was conceived and born according to natural law; Isaac's conception and birth were miraculous.
Ishmael was circumcised at 13; Isaac at eight days, before any intellectual understanding of the mitzva could come into play.
Every Jew, like his forefather Isaac, is similarly connected to G-d by a bond that transcends time, place and natural limitations.
And Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin (Gen. 17:24)
If, as our Sages tell us, our forefathers observed all the mitzvot even before the Torah was given at Sinai, why did Abraham wait until G-d explicitly commanded him to circumcise himself?
"Your blood, on which your lives depend, will I require," the Torah states, prohibiting the infliction of bodily harm on oneself.
Abraham needed to be told directly by G-d that the mitzva of circumcision supersedes the prohibition against drawing blood before he would take such a drastic step.
Many years ago, Pressburg -- which was later known as Bratislava -- was a great center of Torah learning. It was the site of one of the foremost yeshivas in the world, that of the great rabbi, the Chasam Sofer.
After the passing of the Chasam Sofer, his son--the Ksav Sofer-- became the head of the yeshiva.
In the time of the Ksav Sofer, there lived a wealthy matron in that city who undertook the great mitzva of supporting the recitation of the Mourner's Kaddish for all those who had no one to say it for them.
This prayer is normally said by a child of the departed one, or a close family member, and serves to elevate the soul.
The mitzva was very dear to the wealthy woman; it was her very special kind of charity. For many years she made generous donations to the Chasam Sofer Yeshiva in Pressburg on the condition that one of the students would always recite Kaddish.
After many years, the woman's business began to falter until it failed completely. She went to visit Rabbi Sofer, and told him how bitter she felt to be unable to give donations for reciting Kaddish.
She was so attached to this mitzva that she implored him to promise that in spite of her inability to pay, the Kaddish would be continued.
When her luck changed and her business improved, she promised to immediately give charity in the sum that had accrued. The rabbi agreed and she left the yeshiva quite relieved.
This woman also had daughters who needed dowries to get married, but she was so concerned about the problem of the Kaddish that she had completely forgotten to mention to the Ksav Sofer the problem of the dowries.
As she left the Yeshiva, she encountered an elderly gentleman who asked her, "Why do you look so worried?"
She replied, "I have become poor and no longer have the money I need to pay for the recitation of Kaddish and to marry off my daughters."
The man asked her, "And how much do you need?"
She replied that a large sum of money was required.
To her complete amazement, the man told her that he was a very wealthy person, and he would be happy to give her a bank note which she could cash the next day in a certain bank in the city.
"It is possible, however," the man noted, "that the banker might question the validity of the note. I suggest that two yeshiva students witness my actual writing of the note, so that their testimony will validate the authenticity of the bank note."
The next morning the woman came to the specified bank and presented the note to the banker. Upon seeing the signature on her bank note he fainted.
When the banker was revived, he explained himself:
"My father passed away a number of years ago, but last night I had a very vivid dream about him. In my dream, it seemed that my father stood before me, exactly as he was in life, and he looked very sternly into my eyes.
'A woman will come into the bank tomorrow and present you with a bank note from me, requesting a very large sum of money. You must take the money and give it to her at once!'
"I stood spellbound gazing at my father as his spectre in the dream continued,
'My son, you should know that since you, my only beloved son, married a non-Jewish woman and abandoned Judaism, it is only this woman's charity which saves me from the Gates of Purgatory. This woman has for years taken from her own funds to pay for Kaddish to be recited for the souls of those for whom no one says Kaddish.'
"He explained to me that for his soul to be thus comforted and for his salvation to continue, it was incumbent upon me to supply this good woman with the necessary money.
"You can imagine my enormous shock when the dream actually came true! When you entered the bank, I immediately recalled the dream. But when I looked at the promissory note and recognized my father's signature, the shock was too much for me, and that is when I fell to the floor! My father came from the other world to ensure that his soul would be elevated by the Kaddish which this selfless woman provided to him and to others as well."
After this extraordinary experience, the banker returned to Judaism and his wife became a ger tzedek--a righteous convert.
When the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe met Rabbi Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld in Jerusalem, the two came to discuss this wondrous story.
Rabbi Zonnenfeld told the Previous Rebbe that he himself was one of the two students who witnessed the old man, the banker's father, signing the bank note to this charitable woman!
Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter of Ger, said: "Before the exodus from Egypt, the Torah states, 'The Children of Israel groaned.' Prior to this, the Children of Israel were sunk in a spiritual exile so great that they did not realize the severity of their exile. It was only after they felt the exile that G-d redeemed them. This is also the case with the end of days. The Jewish people will forget that they are in exile, which will, G-d forbid, strengthen the exile. When we recognize that we are in exile , and this realization causes us to groan, the redemption will come."