Fulfillment | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | A Call To Action
The Rebbe Writes | What's New | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Excerpted from Let Us Make Man.
by Dr. Abraham J. Twerski
One day I was taking a walk.
Just ahead of me was a young man who was walking his dog, whistling a lively tune. At one point he snapped his fingers and whirled himself around in a little dance. He was obviously very happy with himself.
This led me to reflect. Why was I not singing and dancing?
In the past few days I had fulfilled mitzvot in abundance.
If I indeed valued the mitzvot as the fulfillment of the Divine will, and if I sincerely believed that I have been especially privileged to serve G-d, why was I not so elated that my joy should have manifested itself in spontaneous song and dance?
If living a Torah life is the ideal that should provide for healthy self-esteem and happiness, why is it that people who are apparently in full compliance with Torah requirements still have many of the difficulties characteristic of people with low self- esteem, and why are some of them unhappy?
The answer is contained in the question.
Many people are indeed in compliance with Torah requirements, but there is a great difference between compliance with Torah and total devotion to Torah.
Torah teaches that the human being was created for the specific purpose of doing the will of G-d.
He accomplishes this by totally devoting himself to G-d, and this devotion is comprised of, not only observing the 613 mitzvot, but also complete subjugation of his personal will to the will of G-d.
While it may appear that a person has a wide choice of purposes in life, this is not quite true.
The neshama (soul) craves its fulfillment, which is total subjugation to the will of G-d.
Just as water and not food, wealth, or honor is necessary to satiate thirst, so is the devotion to the will of G-d specific for spiritual fulfillment.
The soul will remain frustrated if its specific craving for devotion is not satiated, even if the person acquires many other pleasurable things.
Some people who have achieved virtually all personal desires feel a vacuum within themselves, a vague sensation that they are lacking something essential. The missing ingredient is often the specific fulfillment of the soul.
Total surrender of one's life to the Divine will is the literal translation of mesirat nefesh.
The latter is usually understood to mean martyrdom. But, although martyrdom is indeed a great virtue, surrendering one's life to G-d through living is an even greater virtue. Giving up all of one's personal desires in deference to the will of G-d constitutes a sacrifice which is ongoing throughout a lifetime, and it is this mesirat nefesh which characterizes the ideal Torah life and distinguishes it from compliance.
That mesirat nefesh of living surpasses that of martyrdom is indicated by the Midrash which states that, when Jerusalem was destroyed, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses pleaded to G-d to have mercy on their descendants. Each cited his own virtue of having been willing to sacrifice his life for G-d, but their pleas were not accepted. Then Rachel pleaded her cause, not by virtue of her willingness to die for G-d, but rather by citing the fact that when her father substituted her sister Leah on her wedding night, she did not embarrass her sister by exposing the ruse.
Rachel pleaded before G-d, "You know how Jacob and I loved each other, yet I was willing to deprive myself of a life-long relationship with the man I loved to avoid bringing shame upon my sister." To which G-d responded, "For your sake, Rachel, I will return your children to their homeland."
It is clear that as great as the mesirat nefesh of martyrdom of the patriarchs was, it was surpassed by that of Rachel, who, in deference to the Divine will, was willing to live her entire lifetime deprived of her most intense personal desire. Such sacrifice constitutes surrender rather than compliance.
Living a Torah-true life thus calls for much more than accepting apparent inconveniences and impositions on one's comforts. It requires accepting the Divine will as one's own. Once we begin this task with sincere devotion, G-d will help us bring it to a successful conclusion.
This week's Torah portion, Toldot, begins with the words, "And these are the generations of Yitzchak, the son of Avraham: Avraham begot Yitzchak."
According to the Talmud, one of the reasons for the repetitiveness of this verse is to emphasize the fact that, according to natural law, Avraham was unable to father children at that age.
When Sara conceived and gave birth to a son the nations of the world scoffed, intimating that Avraham was not the biological father.
G-d therefore fashioned Yitzchak's facial features to look exactly like his father's, thereby proving his paternity and dispelling any misconceptions.
"The nations of the world" had no difficulty accepting Avraham's ability to father children in the spiritual sense -- spreading the belief in One G-d and fostering good deeds among mankind.
What they found impossible to believe, however, was that Avraham -- by virtue of his faith in a G-d Who transcended natural law -- could overcome his physical limitations and father a child in the literal sense as well.
The miraculous birth of Yitzchak demonstrated to the entire world that the physical body of the Jew -- not only his soul -- exists beyond the confines of nature and is created and directly sustained by G-d.
It is in this light that we can understand the words of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the Previous Rebbe, which he uttered before being exiled to the far Eastern provinces of the Soviet Union, where he was sentenced by the Communist regime for the "crime" of spreading Judaism.
Addressing the assemblage of Chasidim who had come to see him off, the Rebbe declared, "...And let all the nations of the world be apprised that it is only our physical bodies that are in galut (exile) and subject to the yoke of the nations. Our souls are not in exile and can never be subjugated! No one can exert any influence over us when it comes to matters of Torah, mitzvot and Jewish practice!"
But what good does it do us to know that our souls are not in exile, if our physical bodies -- the only medium through which we can observe mitzvot and spread the wellsprings of Judaism -- are suffering the hardships of the galut?
The answer to this question comes from our ancestor Avraham, the very first Jew.
Avraham proved that whenever a Jew uncovers the supernatural dimensions of his soul, its G-dly light will illuminate his physical being as well.
In this way the physical body is elevated above the laws of nature, to a plane on which no power on earth can exert any influence.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. III
"My beloved friend and teacher, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson,"
These words began my letter to you almost 20 years ago.
Your response -- both piercing and generous -- also lies before me. It is part of a packet of letters from you, carefully preserved.
You discuss in this letter [of twenty years ago] your own leadership, the leadership of a Rebbe.
Years ago, we had discussed that very question in your study. I was young, naive, almost disrespectful -- a reporter trying for a story. I reread now my questions and your gentle answers.
Question: How did you become a Rebbe?
Answer: What do you do if they put the key in your pocket and walk away? Permit the books to be stolen?
Question: Is a Rebbe a human being like the rest of us, or something else?
Answer: We are, of course, all of us flesh and blood, and I am not responsible for all the stories in your heart. But yes, a Rebbe can have special insight, see things and know things beyond the comprehension of most people.
Question: What about the Rebbe's blessing?
Answer: It is possible for the tzadik, the Rebbe, to awaken powers slumbering within a man. It is possible to bring himself into contact with a higher level of powers outside his own soul.
Question: Doesn't the power of Lubavitch stem from the faith of the chasid in his Rebbe?
Answer: I am not so sure.
I accepted your response as an observation of truth from one who should know, and I went to search for other secrets of Lubavitch's success.
Some of the reasons offered me were rather prosaic, including a flair for organization. This same flair for organization characterized your relationships with thousands of followers and fellow travelers.
I am witness.
Though a Reform Rabbi, no event of consequence occurred in my professional or private life without notice from you, even if that attention consisted of a few piece of honey cake delivered to my home on the eve of the High Holidays.
I gave them to my family and we ate them joyfully, believingly.
There were, of course, thousands like me.
Many of us were consequently eager to be the "Rebbe's man," if some communal situation arose in which you wanted something to happen.
Thus, while my Reform organization opposed it, I became an advocate for prayer in the public schools. Did I do this because I believed in it? Had I become influenced, as my colleagues officially decreed, by a "cult"?
I don't think so.
But though I did not become a chasid, my own liberal religious group seemed to me more and more like a cult.
Like your followers, I came to think that the power of a tzadik to facilitate connections with the One on High had roots in Judaism stretching back to Moses. So, from time to time, I turned to you for advice and a blessing.
At one of these turnings in the form of a letter, I went on to write the following words whose chutzpa still abashes me.
"I'm afraid I have the impertinence to think of you as a human being who, while accepting his task as a very important leader in Israel, also has a private world with private 'accounts.' I even think of you as one who also asks himself from time to time, 'Ayeka -- Where am I?' and receives answers that make him wonder. For such occasions in your life, I want to add to the scales of your accounting the very real gratitude and love of Herbert Weiner."
You replied only a week later. Here are some portions of the reply:
"I appreciate the kind sentiments expressed in your letter. But I am mindful of the dictum of our Sages of the Talmud (B.M. end of page 84a) to the effect that compliments and approbations, however justified, do not help to clarify issues, whereas a question or challenge, requiring an answer or explanation, can be more helpful...
"There is no need, of course, to point out to you that when the question 'Where are you?' is raised, it is likely to refer to the individual and his immediate family, while the same question put to a person of influence and communal responsibility... calls for an assessment as to where he stands and what he has accomplished in the public domain...
"Now, a word about my 'Where are you?'
"Certainly it includes all that has been said above, and more. I wonder what were the 'practical' results of our meeting, when I was not only a listener but a speaker.
"My 'Ayeka' makes me wonder to what extent were my words effective -- not in terms of pleasant recollections, but in terms of ma'ase ikar [action is essential]....
"But I wish to mention another pertinent point, though I may have mentioned it in the course of our conversation. I have in mind the matter of d'varim b'telim -- useless words... One may speak good words, even quoting words of Torah, but if they do not affect him in terms of action, then they are useless. The blame must be placed on the speaker, since we have the rule that `words from the heart penetrate the heart' and are eventually effective."
Rereading this packet of letters now, I ask myself, where in the world today is there a person to whom Jews of any or no religious persuasion, total strangers, can turn to request a word of advice, a blessing. And I ask myself again -- what will be?
To Chasidim, I would not dare offer an answer.
But as -- no, I will not call myself an outsider -- as one of the many who have been deeply nourished by Lubavitch, I find both solace and encouragement in the words I have received from you orally and in writing.
By Rabbi Herbert Weiner, Author of 9 1/2 Mystics
House Full of Jewish Books
In 5733 (1972-3) the Rebbe initiated the campaign that every Jewish home be a bayis malei sefarim -- a home full of Torah books.
Buy Jewish books for children, friends and relatives for birthdays, anniversaries, etc. (Chanuka is coming up!)
Treat yourself to a browse at your local Jewish bookstore and pick up a few for yourself.
[See the Gopher Site of Chabad Lubavitch in Cyberspace (gopher.chabad.org) for an electronic catalogue of books available from Kehot Publication Society, (Brooklyn, NY) or you can write to firstname.lastname@example.org and in the Subject or Text write Subscribe G-8].
THE ROAD TO REAL HAPPINESS
From letters of the Rebbe
4 Shevat, 5713 (1953)
I have received your letter of January 15th, in which you describe your health problem, particularly with regard to the kidneys.
As far as I know there are in Boston great medical experts as well as research centers in this field. No doubt you have consulted them, though you do not mention the names of the specialists you consulted.
It is probably not necessary for me to call attention to the fact that there are various methods to break up a stone in the kidney, either mechanically or through medicines, but you do not mention what treatment has been applied in your case.
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 the receptacles, but out of G-d's mercy and infinite kindness He gave us the Torah and 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 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.
I would suggest that you meet with two of my acquaintances and discuss your children's problem with them, and they will be able to give you suitable advice...
28 Nissan, 5712 (1952)
I have received your letter (undated), in which you write of various difficulties you are having with your studies...and that you cannot keep up with your class. From your writing it is not very clear what the reason is for this.
However, from experience we know -- and this has also been pointed out by our Sages -- that to make progress in study is largely in the student's own hands, and not only normal progress, but even greater success.
You should reflect in your mind and consider well that the question concerns the study of the holy Torah, which was given to us by the Creator of the whole universe, including Man. Not only is G-d the creator of the whole human race, but of each individual, including you.
G-d therefore knows the best ways, how each one of us can find happiness and harmony in life, and He has made them known to us.
One of the main roads leading to such happiness is the study of the Torah and fulfillment of the dinim [laws].
If you consider this carefully, you will understand that to study the Torah is not a burden which one has to force himself to carry, but it is something we should willingly and eagerly do, for this is the road to real happiness not only spiritually, but also materially, and in this life, too.
I wish you success in your studies, and I am sure you will do well when you consider the above well and often. I will be glad to hear good news from you.
93 NEW INSTITUTIONS
Ninety-three new institutions -- Chabad Centers, mikvahs, libraries, free-loan funds, all dedicated to the Rebbe and bearing his name -- have been opened in the past five months.
An advertisement in the New York Times and local Jewish papers carried a complete list of these new institutions as well as a statement of commitment and rededication to the Rebbe's life work.
NEW IN UKRAINE
Rabbi Avraham and Chaya Miriam Wolf and Rabbi Shlomo and Esther Wilhelm arrived in Ukraine recently to enhance the work of Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries there. The Wolf's are bolstering Judaism in Cherson and its environs while the Wilhelms are doing similar work in Zhitomir.
SUNDAY ISN'T EVERYDAY
The Machon Chana Women's Yeshiva, located in Crown Heights, is currently offering an exciting array of classes in their special Sunday program. The Sunday program is geared to women of all backgrounds and educational levels who want to spend their Sundays growing in their Jewish knowledge.
For info call (718) 735-0217. (Please mention you heard about it on the "information super-highway" - Chabad Lubavitch in Cyberspace).
This Friday we celebrate Rosh Chodesh Kislev, the new month of Kislev.
The first day of the month itself, in addition to being the semi- holiday of Rosh Chodesh, is also a noteworthy day.
It is the day that marks the return to good health of the Rebbe after his heart attack on Simchat Torah, 5738 (1977).
It was on 1 Kislev in 5738 that the Rebbe first left his room in which he had been treated. Although after the conclusion of the Simchat Torah holiday, the Rebbe delivered a discourse from his room by microphone, Rosh Chodesh Kislev was the first time the chasidim were able to see the Rebbe.
During the Rebbe's illness, chasidim sang joyously, "Der Rebbe iz gezunt: Moshiach zol shoyn koomen -- The Rebbe is well; Moshiach should immediately come."
What is the meaning of that refrain today?
Why do chasidim intentionally refer to the Rebbe as the "Rebbe shlita" (meaning "he should live good and long years"). How can people say, "Der Rebbe zol gezunt zein -- the Rebbe should be well"?
Amongst the thousands of letters the Rebbe received after the passing of the Previous Rebbe was a letter containing the sentiment "the Rebbe, may he be well." The chasid who wrote this letter intended his remarks toward the Rebbe, though he had not yet agreed to become the new Rebbe.
Thus, the Rebbe responded:
"I have just received your letter of 25 Iyar, and very much enjoyed what you wrote when mentioning the [Previous] Rebbe -- `may he be well.'
"According to that which is written at the end of chapter 27 in the Iggeres Hakodesh, the life of a tzadik is spiritual -- faith, love and awe. Furthermore, it is known that the tzadik perpetually ascends from strength to strength..."
Let us hope and pray that this Rosh Chodesh Kislev brings the ultimate return to health of the Rebbe, "may he be well," and then we will all go together, with the Rebbe in the lead, to the Holy Temple.
And the boys grew up, and Esav [Esau] was an expert hunter (Gen. 25:27)
"Expert at deceiving his father into believing him to be pious and a scrupulous observer of the commandments," comments Rashi, the great Torah Sage.
Esav's hypocrisy is symbolic of our present Exile, in which the forces of evil are not as readily identifiable as they were during previous exiles. It is for this reason that our Exile is termed "Galut Edom" ("the Exile of Edom"), for the nation of Edom is descended from Esav.
When Moshiach comes, the "Deliverers will go up to Mount Zion to judge the mount of Esav, and kingship will be the L-rd's."
(Lubavitcher Rebbe, Toldot, 5750)
And they called his name Esav...and he called his name Yaakov (Gen. 25:25-6)
Why is the plural -- "and they called his name" -- used for Esav, but the singular -- "and he called" -- used for Yaakov?
Esav is the father of all falsehood; many are those who find him attractive and seek him out. Yaakov, however, is the source of truth; only the rare individual desires his acquaintance.
And Yaakov was an honest man, a dweller of tents (Gen. 25:27)
Of all the superior character traits possessed by our ancestor Yaakov, the Torah chooses "an honest man" as the highest praise, to teach us that nothing is more worthy of our respect and admiration than a life lived with honesty and righteous ness.
Two nations are in your womb...and one nation will be stronger Than the other nation (Gen. 25:23)
"When one will rise, the other will fall," comments Rashi.
Yaakov is symbolic of the Jew's G-dly soul; Esav is symbolic of man's animalistic drives and the Evil Inclination.
When the G-dly soul is strengthened (through learning Torah), the Evil Inclination is weakened without effort, as a natural consequence.
For just as physical darkness is dispelled when one lights a candle, so too is spiritual darkness dispelled when the light of Torah is allowed to illuminate.
Many years ago, after the rabbi of Tchentzikov had been married for eighteen years without having been blessed with children, he travelled to the Kozhnitzer Maggid to obtain the tzadik's blessing.
When the Kozhnitzer listened to the man's request he uttered a sigh from deep within his being. "The gates of heaven are closed to your petition!" he cried.
"No, no! Please, you must help me!" the man wept desperately.
"I cannot help you," said the Kozhnitzer. "But I will send you to someone else who will be able to help. You must go to a certain person who is called 'Shvartze Wolf -- Black Wolf,' and he will be the one to help."
"Yes, I know him," the rabbi said, "He lives in my village, and a more coarse, miserable person you could never find."
At first the Kozhnitzer did not respond. The rabbi realized that if the Kozhnitzer was sending him to Black Wolf, he must have a good reason.
The Kozhnitzer then quietly revealed, "Black Wolf is head of the eighteen hidden saints whose merits sustain the world."
The rabbi sought out Black Wolf in the forest hut which was his home. Though cognizant of Black Wolf's true identity, the rabbi was still frightened to approach him.
He devised a ruse by which to gain admittance to his hut.
He would go into the forest just before Shabbat and when he found Black Wolf's house, would pretend that he had lost his way. He would beg to spend the holy Shabbat there, and under the circumstances, Black Wolf could hardly refuse a fellow Jew that favor.
Friday afternoon he set out and as planned reached Black Wolf's hut. He knocked on the door and the man's wife answered.
Her horrible appearance marked her as a true equal to her husband, for never had a more hideous and unpleasant woman been seen.
Nevertheless, the rabbi begged her to allow him to stay over Shabbat.
"Very well," she finally relented. "But if my husband finds you here, he'll tear you apart with his bare hands. You can't stay in here, but go into the stable if you want," she croaked.
Soon Black Wolf arrived home and entered the stable, his eyes blazing with hatred. "How dare you come here! If you set foot outside of this stable, I'll rip you apart with my bare hands!"
The frightened Jew shivered in his boots as he beheld the terrible visage of Black Wolf.
Suddenly the thought came to the rabbi that a tzadik is so pure that he acts as a mirror, reflecting the image of the person who is looking upon him.
Thus, what he saw in the appearance of Black Wolf was nothing more or less than a picture of his own spiritual impurity. With that, he searched into his soul, and prayed from the deepest part of his being. He poured out his soul and in those few moments returned wholeheartedly to his Maker. He felt himself suffused with a warm, peaceful feeling.
Suddenly he was shaken from his reverie by the unexpected sensation of a soft hand being laid on his shoulder. He looked up, not quite sure what he would see, a shiver of fear passing through him. There stood Black Wolf, but instead of his accustomed fierce exterior, he had a refined and peaceful visage.
The visitor was ushered into the hut, which no longer appeared rough and tumble-down, but warm and inviting. Black Wolf's wife entered with her children, and their appearance, too, was beautiful and serene.
Black Wolf turned to his guest and said in a quiet voice, "I know why you have come here. I know, I know. You and your wife will rejoice in the birth of a boy. But you must name him Schvartze Wolf."
The rabbi wondered to himself, "How can I name my son after him? It is not our custom to name after the living," but he remained silent.
The following morning Shvartze Wolf passed away.
After Shabbat, the Tchentzikover Rabbi returned home. In time, he revealed to his congregation the hidden identity of the hated Shvartze Wolf.
True to his word, a baby boy was born and he was given the strange name "Shvartze Wolf."
In the year 1945 Jews who had survived the horrors of the Holocaust began streaming into the Land of Israel. When the Belzer Rebbe held his first Melave Malka (Saturday night meal taking leave of the Sabbath Queen) in the Holy Land many Chasidim came and introduced themselves to the Rebbe.
This story was one of those related at that first Melave Malka of the Belzer Rebbe.
And at that memorable occasion one man stood before the assembled and said, "My name is Shvartze Wolf ben Chana, and I am a descendant of that child who is spoken about in the story."
The Chasam Sofer was careful to note that in the blessings of the New Month we say: "He will redeem us speedily."
Speed is the main emphasis of our prayers.
Concerning the Redemption itself our prayers are not needed, for the Redemption has been promised to us by G-d.
(Customs of the Chasam Sofer)