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Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the great English poet of the Romantic period, was once talking with a man who told him that he did not believe in giving children any religious instruction whatsoever.
His theory was that the child's mind should not be prejudiced in any direction, but when he came to years of discretion, he should be permitted to choose his religious opinions for himself.
Coleridge said nothing, but after awhile offered to show his visitor his garden. Coleridge took him out into the garden, where only weeds were growing. The man looked at Coleridge in surprise, and said, "Why, this is not a garden! There are nothing but weeds here!"
"Well, you see," answered Coleridge, "I did not wish to infringe upon the liberty of the garden in any way. I was just giving the garden a chance to express itself and to choose its own production.
Recently, the subject of "A Moment of Silence" in public schools has come up once again.
The Rebbe was a strong proponent of "A Moment of Silence" when it was being considered in the early '80s.
Amongst the Rebbe's comments at that time:
The only solution to guarantee that a child will follow the laws of justice and morality is to inculcate in him the recognition of, and belief in, the Creator and Ruler of the world.
The child must be given to understand that the world is not a jungle, for there is a Creator and Master who sees and evaluates all his actions, there is the "Eye that sees and the Ear that hears." For this reason he must conduct himself in a civilized and just manner.
In our generation it is redundant to cite proofs to refute the claim that we can rely on the study of the physical sciences or social sciences in order to refine or moderate a child's conduct.
This generation has witnessed the awesome destruction wrought by the nation which boasted the greatest advancement in science and philosophy -- they studied morality and produced the greatest murderers, whose bestiality was unmatched in the annals of human history.
Scientific knowledge and worldly wisdom are tools, which may be utilized for good or bad -- all depending on the character of the person using them.
The Holocaust has clearly proven that civilized behavior cannot be based solely on human intellect or social teachings -- only on faith in the Creator and Master of the world.
This faith must be imbued in our children while they are in school -- for is it not the role and goal of the school to educate and mold the child to be worthy of the name "human being"?!
Knowing that school time is devoted to education, the child realizes that the moment of silence must be dedicated to the most important things in his life: his outlook on life, and his belief in the Creator and Ruler of the world, as per the instructions which his parents will give him.
Since the substance of this reflection time would depend on the free will of each individual, without teacher, supervisor or government intervention, it does not represent an incursion of the state into the free exercise of religion by the individual.
It is well known that all sessions of the United States Senate and House of Representatives are opened with a prayer invoking the help of G-d in their work.
Each individual student is called an olom koton, a small world -- why shouldn't the "head" of that "world" start his day with a moment of silence?
This week's Torah portion, Va'eira, narrates the encounter between Moses and Aaron, and Pharaoh, King of Egypt.
Giving Moses certain instructions, G-d stipulated that if Pharaoh were to ask him to demonstrate a "wonder," Aaron was to throw down his staff, and it would be miraculously transformed into a serpent.
And so it came to pass. Yet, after Aaron performed this feat, Pharaoh called for his wise men and magicians and asked them to do the same. "And they cast down every man his staff, and they became serpents; but Aaron's staff swallowed their staffs."
Although the entire incident demands further study, one question stands out. Why was this "extra" miracle necessary -- the swallowing up of all the other staffs -- and what is its special significance, considering that G-d didn't mention it to Moses beforehand?
It must be understood that all of the miracles and plagues that were visited on Egypt were not merely for the purpose of punishment, but to break through the Egyptians' opposition to G-d.
Fundamental to the Egyptians' belief system was the notion that G-d has no practical influence and involvement in the world.
After creating the physical universe, G-d "stepped back" and gave the job of managing it over to the forces of nature, the Egyptians maintained.
Each one of the ten plagues was designed to refute a particular aspect of this mistaken belief.
The miracle of Aaron's staff swallowing up the staffs of the magicians expressed this central theme and served to prepare the Egyptian people for what was coming.
In his encounter with Pharaoh, Aaron stood for the forces of sanctity; his staff was symbolic of the G-dly power that is inherent in holiness. The serpent is symbolic of Egypt, as it states, "Egypt is a great serpent lying within its rivers."
When Aaron's staff was transformed into the serpent, he thereby demonstrated to Pharaoh that the very existence of the serpent itself -- i.e., Egypt -- was dependent upon G-d.
What was Pharaoh's answer? He immediately called for his magicians to duplicate the feat, "proving" to Aaron that Egypt had powers of its own and had no need for the G-d of the Jews.
When Aaron's staff swallowed up the others, it demonstrated for all to see that the might and power of Egypt was only an illusion, without independent existence.
With this miracle, G-d showed Pharaoh and his wise men that His sovereignty over creation extended even to them, forming the first chink in the Egyptian ideological armor. The ten plagues that followed corresponded to the ten levels of impurity that were invalidated one by one.
Furthermore, an important lesson in our service of G-d may be derived from this story, most notably the importance of emulating Aaron, who "loved peace and pursued peace, loved mankind and drew them closer to Torah."
Even when necessity dictates that we deal in a strict manner with others, we must always make sure that we employ "the staff of Aaron" -- and are guided solely by the highest principles of love for our fellow Jew.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. XXVI
From a speech by Devorah Halberstam at "Jewish Women United for the Redemption."
I'm here tonight to bring you a message from Ari, my son, who was murdered on the Brooklyn Bridge. Ari used to always tell me, "Ma, you don't know who I am." And, being his mother I would say, "Of course I know who you are." But I didn't know that my son possessed the soul of a kadosh -- one who dies for the sanctification of G-d's name.
Ari was an ardent believer. He was an ardent believer that Moshiach is here and the Redemption is imminent. He spent his nights learning about Moshiach. He talked about it all the time. Anytime he got into discussions about Moshiach he would be very, very serious. Ari got this belief from the Rebbe. That was the legacy that Ari left me, and Ari's message to you.
In many ways Ari was an ordinary boy. But he was really not an ordinary boy. Because, out of the hundreds of thousands of Chasidim of the Rebbe, Ari was the only boy who spent at least half his lifetime in the Rebbe's house. He absorbed holiness on a daily basis. So, when Ari told me Moshiach is here and the Redemption is coming, he knew what he was talking about.
The Rebbe told all of us three years ago, "The time of the Redemption has come." Everybody heard it, but not everybody took it to heart.
People say, "I don't see the Messiah. Everything seems to be as before, and not only that -- on the contrary there are new tragedies happening every day. How does the Rebbe know the time is now?"
As we saw with the Rebbe's statements before and during the Gulf War, the Rebbe knows because he sees the future.
Now let me tell you about my own, personal taste of Redemption.
We experienced something this week in the trial that was absolutely phenomenal. As Jews have always looked into the Torah portion to understand the relevance of today's events to their lives, I have done the same, because Torah is eternal.
In the Torah portion of Vayishlach, Jacob received a message from his brother Esau that he was coming toward him with 400 warriors. Jacob knew that Esau still wanted to kill him for taking the first-born blessings from their father, Isaac. Jacob met Esau with his family and his herds. But as soon as Esau saw Jacob, something came over him and he kissed Jacob. The commentator Rashi, tells us, "This is the rule: Esau is the enemy of Jacob forever, except for this one time, which was an exception." This was the exception to the rule, when Esau kissed his brother.
After Jacob and Esau spent some time talking together, Esau said, "I'll help you with your cattle and with your children and we'll travel together."
But Jacob said, "No, you go ahead and we'll meet later." Rashi tells us that "later" means "we'll meet later in the Redemption."
What I saw this week was that ultimate meeting of Jacob and Esau.
Amir, an Egyptian student, had been working for just two months in a mechanic shop -- the mechanic shop into which Rashid Baz drove his car.
Amir had the confidence of the people there, the other Arab workers and the Arab owner. On the day of the shooting Amir wasn't supposed to be working. He was called to fill in for someone else.
Rashid Baz came into the garage that morning and said, "I just killed four Jewish kids on the Brooklyn Bridge." Then he told Amir, "Fix my brakes." Amir looked at the car and told him there was nothing wrong with the brakes. Baz pulled out his gun from under his seat, the gun that murdered my son, and said, "I said to fix my brakes!"
While he was fixing the brakes Amir saw 20 shells on the car floor, the windshield had bullet holes in it, and the front passenger window was shattered. Amir took some shells and put them in his pocket and continued to fix the car.
Then Baz took a hammer and broke the windshield. Everyone in that garage was involved. They broke the windshield and put it into the car trunk. Amir quietly went about his business, cleaned up the car, did what he was told.
Later, Amir phoned the FBI. They asked, "What's your name?" "I can't tell you my name." The FBI hung up. He called a second time. The same thing. He called a third time and told them, "I have information for you about the Brooklyn Bridge."
He told them his name was Tom. They made up to meet at a certain time on a street corner. Amir went there and waited one full hour.
But Amir persisted. He went to the local precinct and asked to speak to a lieutenant. The officer at the front desk said, "About what?" Amir said, "I can't tell you." So the officer told him to forget it. Amir started walking out but someone ran after him and asked him what he wanted to talk about. "I have information about the Brooklyn Bridge shooting."
And finally someone listened to Amir.
My husband and I met with Amir after his testimony. He asked for a picture of Ari. Amir is 22 years old. He had to go under the witness protection program. He had to change his identity. His parents had to sell their store. The family had to run away.
That day of Amir's testimony, I saw Esau. I thought, "Baz is Esau, the Esau of exile. But Amir is Esau, too, the Esau of the Redemption. And we have met the Esau of the Redemption because we are on the threshold of the Redemption."
I would like to leave you with my prayer:
"Dear G-d, we Jewish women stand here before you united as one, in order to strengthen and prepare ourselves for the Redemption. Dear G-d, it is we, the Jewish women, in whose merit the Jewish people came out of the exile in Egypt and in whose merit the Jewish People will finally be redeemed from this exile.
"We beseech You, listen to our cries on behalf of the entire Jewish people all over the world for these 1,927 years of exile. We have suffered enough. What have we not gone through? How great were our sacrifices to You! But throughout this long and bitter darkness we have had faith.
Dear G-d, we are ready."
A Moment of Silence
In 5743 (1983) the Rebbe urged the enactment of a "Moment of Silence" at the start of the day in schools throughout the world, so that youth be made aware of the Divine "Eye that sees and Ear that hears."
In accordance with this, the Rebbe suggested sending a petition to leaders of the American people (and of all other nations) about the great urgency of such legislation.
As the topic of "A Moment of Silence" has once more come up in the United States, find out from your government officials how you can get involved. And, make sure to start your day with a moment of silence contemplating the Creator.
11 Tevet, 5718 (1968)
Having heard of you through mutual friends to the effect that you are seeking the true path which each and every Jewish man and Jewish woman should follow in life, although it is always difficult to evaluate secondhand information, I trust the following lines may be helpful to you.
The importance of heredity in transmitting physical, mental, and spiritual characteristics is well known and obvious, even in the case of several generations. How much more so where a trait is transmitted and intensified over the course of many generations uninterruptedly, when the trait becomes part and parcel of the very essence and being of the individual, his very nature.
It is also clear that when a person -- as in the case of all living things -- wishes to change an inborn trait which is deeply rooted in him, not to mention something that touches his essential nature, it demands tremendous effort, and the outcome is bound to be destructive rather than constructive, creating a terrible upheaval in him, with most unfortunate results.
I have in mind particularly the Jew, man and woman, who, belonging to one of the oldest nations in the world with a recorded history of over thirty-five hundred years, is naturally and innately bound up with the Jewish people with every fiber of his life and soul.
Hence, such sects or groups which tried to depart from the true Jewish way of life of Torah and mitzvot could not survive, as history has amply demonstrated. Such dissident groups uprooted themselves from their natural soil, and, far from being constructive, became the worst enemies of the Jewish people and their worst persecutors.
Only Jews who have faithfully adhered to the Torah and mitzvot, as they were revealed on Mount Sinai, have survived all their oppressors, for only through the Torah and mitzvot can the Jewish people attach themselves to the Superior and Supreme Power, G-d, who has given us the Torah and our way of life.
Since the Torah and mitzvot and the Jewish way of life come from G-d and His infinite wisdom, they are not subject to man's approval and selection. Human reason is necessarily limited and imperfect. Its deficiencies are obvious, since with time and study it improves and gains knowledge, and personal opinions change.
To confine G-d to human judgment would do violence even to common sense.
In our long history we have had the greatest human minds possible, who nevertheless realized their limitations when it came to the knowledge of G-d and His laws and precepts.
We have had great thinkers and philosophers, who not only fully accepted the Torah and mitzvot, but have been our guiding lights to this day, while the dissident groups and individuals (whose number are very few) were cut off from our people and either disappeared completely, or worse still, continued as painful thorns in the flesh of our people and humanity at large.
Anyone who is familiar with our history requires no illustration or proofs of the aforesaid.
I trust you will reflect on the above and you will cherish the great and sacred knowledge which has been handed down to each and every one of us, in the midst of our people, generation after generation, from the revelation at Mount Sinai to the present day.
Accepting this sacred tradition unconditionally and without question does not mean that there is no room for any intellectual understanding.
Within our limitations there is a great deal we can understand and which we can further enrich, provided the approach is right; our insight into His commandments grows deeper with our practicing them in our daily life and making them our daily experience.
In this way the Jew attains true peace of mind and a harmonious and happy life, not only spiritually but also physically, and fully realizes how happy one is to be a son or daughter of this great and holy nation, our Jewish people.
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Last Friday, the 20th of Tevet, was the yartzeit of Rabbi Moses Maimonides, otherwise known as the Rambam.
In his major work, the Mishne Torah, the Rambam enumerates and details all 613 laws of the Torah. He places the laws relating to the Jewish king, and Moshiach, at the very end of his work.
In the introduction to these laws he states that the Jews were commanded to fulfill three mitzvot upon conquering and entering the Land of Israel: To appoint a king; to wipe out the descendants of Amalek; and to build [G-d's] Chosen House.
It would seem that these mitzvot should have been mentioned much earlier in his work if they were, in fact, so important.
However, the Rambam chose to organize the Mishne Torah in this fashion to emphasize that the true and complete performance of all the mitzvot of the Torah will be attained when a king rules over Israel.
The Rambam then defines Moshiach as a king, who will not only redeem the Jews from exile, but also restore the observance of the Torah and its mitzvot to its complete state.
For many, this would seem a rather novel approach. Yet, the Talmud states that "The world was created solely for Moshaich." This being the case, we certainly must do everything in our power to hasten his arrival.
What is within the power and reach of each individual, great and small?
Good deeds, charity, studying concepts associated with Moshiach and the Final Redemption, fostering peace between family, friends, and co-workers, and actively waiting for and anticipating Moshiach's his arrival each and every day.
"I will take you out... and I will release you... and I will redeem you... and I will take you... and I will bring you into the land." (Exodus: 6:6-8)
The first four expressions of redemption allude to our redemption from Egypt, whereas the fifth expression, "I will bring you," alludes to the future Redemption, the final one which we are now awaiting.
Why is this mentioned, then, when foretelling our departure from Egypt? To teach us that ever since the time that we left Egypt, we have been slowly but surely approaching the Final Redemption.
But Aaron's staff swallowed up their staffs (Exodus: 7:12)
From Aaron's staff we learn about the resurrection of the dead that will take place in Messianic times: If a lifeless staff, a dry piece of wood, can be transformed into a living entity, how much more so can a human being, consisting of a physical body and soul, be restored to life!
But when Pharaoh saw that there was a relief, he hardened his heart (Exodus: 8:11)
Such is the behavior of the wicked: In the midst of their punishment they cry out that they are vanquished, yet as soon as the agony has passed they return to their evil ways.
I will put a distinction between My people and your people (Exodus: 8:19)
The Hebrew word "pedut" ("distinction") appears three times in our Scripture. Twice it is spelled pei, dalet, vav, tav, but in this instance the vav is omitted.
This signifies that the redemption in Egypt was less than perfect; the full and ultimate Redemption will only take place when Moshiach comes.
The Baal Shem Tov loved the hours and days he spent wandering alone through the beautiful and isolated forests and hills of the Carpathian mountains. There, in solitude, he could think, learn and meditate on the greatness and the revealed wonders of the Creator.
This beautiful corner of the world was lush with the bounties of nature, but virtually empty of humanity. However, it was the haunt of a cruel and vicious band of robbers and murderers who attacked any hapless soul who happened to be passing through the countryside.
This robber band had been preying on travellers for many years, and they and their terrifying chief had become a frightening legend. The chief's name was Dabash -- and he was, strangely enough, a Jew, albeit one who had descended to the lowest levels of humanity. The very mention of his name struck fear into the hearts of the villagers who lived in the settlements dotting the mountains, for no one who had fallen into his clutches had ever escaped alive.
Dabash had gotten word of a strange individual who dared to wander the mountain passes of his private domain. Summoning his most loyal followers, Dabash cried, "Find this arrogant fool who dares invade my province, and bring him to me!"
The robbers quickly set out to capture the Baal Shem Tov. But try as they might, they could not find him. Whenever they were sure that he must be right around the next bend, he eluded their grasp. "It's downright spooky," remarked one of the robbers, and they all nodded in agreement. This man was definitely something out of the ordinary. Finally, after scouring the surroundings for miles around, they were forced to report back to Dabash that they had failed in their mission. He was furious, for never had his will been thwarted. "I'll have your heads for this!" he screamed at the shaking men.
Slowly they managed to calm the robber chief. Finally, at the end of their tale, Dabash was curious enough to set out himself to try to capture the elusive Jew. Dabash led the way scaling rocky precipices and bounding over swift running streams.
Suddenly, a man appeared before them emerging from the distant trees. "That's him," they said in awe.
Dabash was happy at the opportunity for confrontation at long last, but the Baal Shem Tov spoke first: "I have come to save you the trouble of looking for me."
"Do you know who I am?" queried Dabash boldly. "Of course. I see it written all over your face! And not only that, but I know that you have regrets very often for the terrible sins you have committed. Is it not true that after you drink you always cry?"
"That's true," Dabash answered, "but it's not unusual. Lots of people do the same, although I don't understand why I cry when I do."
The Baal Shem Tov replied, "I will explain it to you. When a person is drunk, his essence, his innermost feelings that are normally hidden, can be revealed. Even inside you, a man who has abandoned the most basic human rules of life, burns a tiny spark. That spark is called the 'pintele Yid,' and it is the cause of your regrets. Why, even now, you feel bad that you have approached me with violent intentions."
When Dabash heard this he felt a stab of recognition deep inside. "Whoever harms this holy man will feel my sword!" he barked at his men.
"Just one question," said Dabash. "I and my men roam these mountains in search of victims to rob, but you? Why are you wandering about in this hills?"
"Let me explain it to you in this way:
"Once a king announced that he would grant any request his subjects made. Two of the king's subjects wanted the same thing -- to visit the royal palace. The king granted them both their requests.
"They were allowed to enter the palace for only one hour. But the men had different reasons for desiring to enter the palace. One wanted to take as many treasures as he could fit into his pockets. The other wanted only to be near his beloved king.
"G-d fills the entire world, but here, surrounded by the wonders and beauties of nature we can feel the closeness of G-d.
"You see, Dabash, you and I are both here in the 'royal palace,' but our reasons are quite different."
With those words, the Baal Shem Tov turned and disappeared among the dense trees. Dabash was confused. He felt a surge of shame, but at the same time, he cried to his men to pursue the Jew.
Again there was no trace of him. In his rage, Dabash massacred a score of his men. Legend has it that afterward Dabash fled far away and became a penitent. In any case, the people of the Carpathian mountains never heard of him or his robber band again.
If one says, "Who am I and what am I worth that I should pray for Jerusalem...will the exiles be gathered and will salvation come because of my prayer?"
His answer awaits him, as we learn, "Man was created individually so that each person should say, 'The world was created for my sake.' It is the Blessed One's pleasure that His sons desire and pray for this [Redemption].
We cannot exempt ourselves because of our inadequate strength, for in relation to all such things we learn, "The work is not yours to complete, but you are not free to abstain from it."
(Mesilat Yesharim, Rabbi Chaim Luzzatto)