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It's almost Tu B'Shevat, that fruit-eating and tree-planting time of year. Now, someone out there might be wondering what he would do if he was in the middle of planting a tree (or at least parting with his money for a tree certificate!) and Moshiach came.
Interestingly enough, one of our Sages answered that question over 1,500 years ago!
Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai used to say: "If there is a plant in your hand when they say to you: 'Behold, the Moshiach!'-- go and plant the seedling, and afterward go out to greet him."
What does this mean to you? Take a moment to think about it and then read on.
"Behold, Moshiach is coming."
"Moshiach is here."
"Moshiach is revealed."
The Rebbe made these statements publicly at numerous gatherings in 1991-92. One might conjecture that, once such powerful statements were made, all that was left for us to do was sit around and wait for some kind of high-tech, multi-media, miraculous event to take place which would herald the Messianic Era.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Although the Rebbe said that all of the spiritual service which needed to be completed in exile had been done, we were not expected to take a short vacation until the Redemption.
On the contrary, the Rebbe told us to prepare ourselves to greet Moshiach by performing acts of goodness and kindness, doing more mitzvot, studying more Torah, and performing mitzvot in a more perfect manner.
"Go and plant the seedling," the Rebbe tells us.
Continue and increase all of the good and G-dly things you are presently doing. Learn more. Give more. Do more. For the more you plant now, the more bountiful will be your harvest in the Messianic Era.
In addition, the Rebbe mentioned numerous times that we will lose nothing in the Messianic Era. To those people who were concerned that everything they worked to build up -- businesses, relationships, material possessions -- would be lost when Moshiach comes, the Rebbe explained that the difference between our lives in exile and in the Messianic Era is symbolized by the Hebrew words "gola" -- "exile," and "geula" -- "Redemption."
The only difference between these two words is that "gola" lacks the Hebrew letter "alef" -- which stands for the "Alufo shel olam" -- the "Master of the Universe."
When Moshiach comes, the presence and life-giving energy of the Master of the Universe will be totally revealed in every aspect of our lives. "Go and plant the seedling," Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai tells us. And surely, with all the fruits of your labor, from all the seedlings you have planted, you will be able to greet Moshiach in a dignified and upright manner.
This week's Torah portion, B'shalach, speaks about the manna eaten by the Children of Israel during their forty-year sojourn in the wilderness.
The Torah describes at great length the way it fell from heaven, the manner in which it was gathered, its taste, and how G-d commanded the Jews to collect only one omer (a dry measurement) per person.
"The Children of Israel ate the manna forty years, until they came to an inhabited land," the Torah states. Then, almost as an afterthought, the Torah concludes, "Now, the omer is a tenth part of an epha (a larger ancient dry measurement)."
Biblical commentators ask why this definition of the omer is left for the very end of the chapter. Why wasn't the omer defined the first time it was mentioned? The explanation that it would have interrupted the narrative of events is insufficient.
In order to answer this question, let us first pose a more fundamental one. Why did G-d decree the same portion of manna for every single person?
How is it possible for everyone, young children and adults alike, to be sustained by the exact same amount of food? Aren't a person's nutritional needs directly related to the size of his body?
A similar principle involving a uniform amount of food was applied by our Sages in the prohibition against eating on Yom Kippur.
While it is forbidden to eat or drink anything on that day, a person becomes subject to the greatest punishment when he has eaten an amount equal to "a dried date." This quantity was fixed as the minimum amount of food necessary to sustain life. Again, the size of the person is of no regard.
We see then that there are two distinct types of sustenance: one that is necessary to maintain bodily functions, directly related to the size of the individual and the organ itself, and another, more fundamental type of sustenance, that is required to sustain the person's life-force. This amount does not change from person to person or from organ to organ -- it is exactly the same for every human being.
This phenomenon stems from the two distinct levels of vitality that emanate from the soul to the physical body.
One type of energy is individualized according to the needs of the particular organism it sustains, and the other is a more generalized life-force that keeps the person alive on the most fundamental level. This latter type is always the same for everyone.
The manna -- "bread from Heaven" -- embodied both of these qualities:
On the one hand, a uniform amount was sufficient for every human being, yet at the same time, it was able to supply the person's individual needs as well.
This unique distinction is alluded to in the words "the omer is a tenth part of an epha" -- the omer of manna is part of a larger, fuller entity.
The manna was not only food in the physical sense, but provided spiritual sustenance, too.
When the Jews' forty years in the desert came to an end, it entailed "weaning" them from their G-dly subsistence and their relearning how to live in a wholly physical world once again -- the reason this point is made at the end of the manna narrative.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. XXVI
Something from Nothing
by Yaakov Brawer,
published by the TAV Seminary, Montreal, Canada
The biography of every Jewish man and woman among us could and should read like an anthology of Chasidic stories. I would like to share one of my own stories from my personal anthology of such tales.
For many years I have participated as a speaker in the mid-winter Shabbaton in Crown Heights.
Several years ago, however, I began to "burn out." It got to the point where I could barely stand the sound of my own voice. I could no longer answer the same questions over and over again. I had had it.
It was in this frame of mind that I arrived in Crown Heights in December of 1990 for what I perceived as my last speaking engagement.
Blended in with the ennui was a large measure of guilt.
The Rebbe had encouraged me in my speaking activities, and now I was afraid that I would be letting him down.
Chasidut has little patience for quitters.
There was, however, no help for it; I simply had no more talk left in me. I had spent hours casting about for some suitable activity that would serve as a replacement for public speaking, but thus far I had come up with nothing.
Predictably, the talk I delivered at the Shabbaton that Saturday evening was a disaster -- rambling, fragmented and uninspired. My swan song was most definitely off-key. In addition to the boredom and guilt I was now dejected.
On Sunday morning, the Rebbe received visitors. Anyone who wished could meet the Rebbe and obtain from him a blessing and a dollar to be given to charity.
The crowd of people hoping to see the Rebbe always numbered in the thousands, and the wait in line was uncomfortable and long.
Fortunately, I was a participant in the Shabbaton, and Shabbaton guests and participants were allowed through first.
Given the miserable performance of the preceding night and my planned retirement from the speaking circuit, I felt more than my usual apprehension at encountering the Rebbe.
Nonetheless, at 10:30am Sunday morning I set off for the Crown Hotel to join up with the Shabbaton party, which was scheduled to pass by the Rebbe at 11:30.
On the way I met a group of Shabbaton guests who wished me good morning and asked me about my horrible presentation of the night before.
The subject matter, they said, although interesting, was quite complicated and difficult to follow.
They wanted to know if I had published these ideas anywhere. When I told them I hadn't, they wanted to know why not.
I informed them that I am (was) really a speaker and that I express myself poorly in writing. They couldn't understand it. They knew that I had to write extensively and well in order to survive in the academic world. I explained that scientific writing is different from expository prose.
Indeed, my stilted writing conformed beautifully to the monotonous, dry, pedantic style that characterizes scientific journals. When we arrived at the hotel, another group of people approached to ask where they could find my writings. When I told them that there weren't any, they also wanted to know why not. I had to repeat my explanation once again.
I went up to the hotel lobby to await our departure for 770. Several yeshiva students who had been helping with the Shabbaton came over and wanted to know where they could find my "stuff." I told them there was no "stuff" in print.
"Why not?" they asked. By now, I was losing my patience. I explained to them, a little sharply, that I am not a writer, that I never was a writer, and that in fact, I cannot write.
"How can that be? You're a professor, aren't you?" they insisted.
I got up and walked outside. Finally, the Shabbaton group left for the Rebbe.
On the way, I happened to walk next to a couple who introduced themselves and wanted to know where I had written... I couldn't believe it. I smiled and pretended that I hadn't heard the question and walked on ahead.
When we arrived at 770, we skirted the throngs of people waiting and entered a door in the basement of the building. As our line crept forward, my heart began to pound and my mouth became dry.
An encounter with the Rebbe is, after all, no light matter.
An instant later I was before the Rebbe. Although a meeting with the Rebbe lasts only a few seconds, they are very long seconds.
During those precious moments the Rebbe is totally attentive to you. No one and nothing else exists. The Rebbe looked at me with unfathomable love, handed me a dollar and wished me "bracha v'hatzlacha" (blessing and success).
I had started to move on, when his secretary caught my sleeve.
I turned back to the Rebbe, who was holding out another dollar for me. As I took the dollar, the Rebbe, with a little smile and laughter in his eyes, said: "Hatzlacha in schreiben" (Success in writing).
I was stunned.
As we left the building, someone who had heard the Rebbe's words to me asked: "Yankel, are you a writer?"
"I am now," I answered.
Let them eat kasha!
On Shabbat Shira it is customary to eat kasha -- buckwheat groats.
Some also have the custom of putting kasha or bread crumbs out for the birds before Shabbat so that they, too, can partake.
This custom stems from the Midrash that says that during the crossing of the Red Sea, trees miraculously grew instantaneously and the birds plucked fruit from them and fed them to the Jewish people.
...just as his seed is alive, so too is he alive...
16 Shevat, 5723 (1963)
I trust that all of you, delegates and members of the various branches convening today, come imbued with a goodly measure of inspiration drawn from the two very recent auspicious days of this month, the yahrtzeit of my father-in-law, the Rebbe, of saintly memory, on the 10th of the month, and of the New Year for trees, which was yesterday.
Among the topics discussed at the farbrengens on both these occasions occurring within one week was the affinity between these two notable days, and how their instructive messages are related.
The Torah likens a human being to a tree, and the tzadik to a flourishing date palm.
Moreover, in a remarkable statement in the Talmud our Sages declare that a tzadik lives on forever, "for just as his seed is alive, so too is he alive."
It is noteworthy that the word "seed" is used here rather than "descendants," "children," or "disciples," though all these are included in the word "seed."
In choosing the word "seed" in this connection, our Sages conveyed to us the specific image and ideas which this word brings to mind:
The wonderful process of growth, which transforms a tiny seed into a multiple reproduction of the same, be it an earful of grain, or in the case of a fruit-seed, a fruit-bearing tree; the care which the growth process requires, and how a little extra care at an early stage is multiplied in the final product; the fact that the more advanced and more highly developed the fruit, the longer it takes to grow and ripen, so that grain, for example, takes but a few months to reproduce itself, while it takes fruit-bearing trees many years to mature, etc.
All these principles apply in a very practical way in the performance of our daily service of G-d, which, of course, embraces our entire daily life, since it is our duty to serve G-d in all our ways...
15 Shevat, 5736 (1976)
I was pleased to be informed of the arrangements for the forthcoming Convention, and send you prayerful wishes for success in every respect.
...The analogy between the cultivation of trees and the raising of children is well known from our sacred books of Mussar and Chasidut, based on the verse, "Man is like a tree."
As even a little extra care given to a young seedling is greatly amplified and richly rewarded when the tree matures, and can make all the difference, so too is extra care in the chinuch of a young child. This, after all, is the crucial period in a child's formative years, when the mother at home shares in the responsibility with the teacher at school.
To carry the analogy further, a tree attains fulfillment when it produces good fruit. Furthermore, good fruit...is not merely good in itself (as a food, or as an object of a mitzva such as an etrog, for example) -- but also contains the seeds to produce new trees and fruits after its kind, to the end of time.
Moreover, the new trees and fruits are of no direct benefit to the original tree, and may be far removed from it in time and place. Nevertheless, because they are the result of the original tree which behaved as it should, they are all credited to the original tree.
This is how every Jewish boy and girl should be raised and educated: Certainly to bring forth fruit, at the very least, but this is not enough, for their fruits -- their good influence -- must be ultimately felt to the end of the world and to the end of time.
Such an achievement seems rather a lot to expect of a limited human being. But actually it is well within reach, since a Jew operates with a Divine soul, a part of G-dliness Above, and operates with Torah and mitzvot given by G-d.
Furthermore, he does this in a world which, though grossly material, is precisely the place where G-d desires to have His abode. With such a combination of favorable factors, the results can and should be without limit.
It is hoped that the Convention will make use of the above points as guidelines for intensified activity in all its programs and objectives, always bearing in mind that the "essential thing is the deed."
Again, wishing you success to carry out the above with Chasidic vitality and joy, and in happy personal circumstances, both materially and spiritually.
In the Slice of Life of issue #342 we misquoted a series of words that are said to be beneficial to recite before a court case.
The words should read:
"Ima d'Avraham Avinu Amatla'i bat Karnevu -- The mother of Abraham our father was Amatla'i, daughter of Karnevu."
This correction was found while perusing the highly educational and entertaining "Torah Cards" series Gimmel #113.
GET READY, GET SET
Thursdays at 4:00 p.m. on WLIR 1300 AM, Rabbi Avraham Kotlarsky from Chabad Lubavitch of Rockland (NY) hosts a radio program, "Get Ready, Get Set: It's Almost Shabbat."
The show features a contemporary look at the Torah portion, stories of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and "Let's Talk Moshiach."
The internationally acclaimed program, Project Talmud, will be held this winter in the evenings at the S. Paul Jewish Community Center, sponsored by Lubavitch of Minnesota.
Through a structured study program, Project Talmud introduces its participants to a wide array of basic Torah concepts in a warm Yeshiva-like atmosphere. Other cities have hosted the program on Sundays, evenings or long weekends.
This coming Shabbat is called Shabbat Shira, "the Sabbath of Song."
It is the Shabbat on which we read the Torah portion of B'shalach, which describes the splitting of the Red Sea and the song of praise to G-d sung by the men (led by Moshe), and the song of praise sung by the women (led by Miriam).
Our Sages explain that the Jewish people are destined to sing ten songs. Nine songs have already been sung by the Jewish people as a whole; in the Era of the Redemption, we will sing the tenth song, "a new song."
The first nine songs are referred to as "shira," the feminine form of the word "song," while the "new song" of the Era of the Redemption is referred to as "shir," the masculine form of the word.
All the previous songs refer to the efforts of the Jewish people (the feminine dimension) to ascend to a higher spiritual level and to elevate their environment. In contrast, the song of the Era of the Redemption will be a song of revelation from Above (the masculine dimension).
According to the commentary Me'am Lo'ez, there is another difference between the nine songs sung in exile and the tenth song of the Redemption.
In the past, no one sang a song until after the miracle had occurred. The song was never sung in advance, even when a miracle was anticipated.
In the Messianic Era, however, people will sing because of a future miracle; it is therefore called a "new song" -- an entirely new concept. Our faith will be so strong that we will sing even before the miracle occurs.
As the Rebbe said on Shabbat Shira, "Soon we will merit the singing of the 'new song,' the song of Redemption, a song of unity and oneness.
Indeed, a foretaste of the happiness and joy which will accompany that song can be experienced at present. The confidence that the Redemption is an immediate reality should produce joy and happiness."
Then sang Moses -- "Az yashir" (Exodus 15:1)
The Hebrew word "yashir" is composed of the letters yud (the numerical equivalent of which is ten) and the word "shir" (the root word meaning "sing").
This alludes to the ten songs sung by the Jewish people in praise of G-d:
the song at the Sea of Reeds; the song at the well; the song "Give ear, O ye heavens"; the song of Joshua; the song of Deborah; the song of Chana; the song of King David; the song of King Solomon; the song of Chizkiyahu; and the song that will be sung in the Messianic era.
And the angel of G-d that went before the camp of Israel removed and went behind them (Exodus 14:19)
When the Jewish people are worthy of G-d's benevolence they attain a level higher than the angels.
The angel that until now had preceded them on their journey respectfully stood still and allowed the Children of Israel to pass on ahead.
This is my G-d and I shall glorify Him, my father's G-d and I shall exalt Him (Exodus 15:2)
The Midrash states that at the splitting of the Red Sea, every Jew pointed with his finger and said, "This," for there was such a prophetic manifestation of G-dliness at that time that they were able to actually point to it.
The Midrash also notes that the children born under Egyptian servitude were the first to perceive and recognize the Divine manifestation.
"As in the days of your going out from Egypt, I will show wondrous things" we read in Michah. In fact, the Divine revelation of the Messianic Redemption will be even greater than the one in Egypt.
Furthermore, just as at the time of the Egyptian exodus it was the children born in exile who recognized G-d first, so it will also be with Moshiach: the children born in the harshness of this bitter exile will be the first to recognize the Divine manifestation.
(Likutei Sichot, Vol. II)
Tu B'Shvat, the Rosh Hashana of the Trees, is a holiday replete with praises -- praise of the Land of Israel and her celebrated fruits, and praise of G-d, Who gave His chosen land from which his eyes never turn, to His children for an eternal inheritance. Israel, the focus of the Jewish people's longing and desire, is "a land of wheat and barley and vines and fig trees and pomegranates, and a land of olive trees and [date] honey."
On this day, when the land is renewed in its ability to produce, the Jewish people rejoice. And when the land yields its treasures to her children, they eat and praise their Father in Heaven Who bequeathed them such delicacies.
It is related by Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai that the Twelve Tribes were allotted parcels of land according to their own distinct attributes, to the extent that the fruits of one tribe differed in flavor from those of a brother tribe.
The Midrash relates the following story illustrating that teaching:
Once it happened that the people of the town of Ludkia were greatly in need of oil. They appointed one man to go and procure it for them, telling him: "Go and get for us oil in the amount of one hundred times ten thousand."
The man went on his way, inquiring of everyone he met where he could buy such a tremendous amount of oil.
His first stop was in Jerusalem, where he came into the market.
Amidst the noise of merchants hawking their wares and shoppers haggling over prices he announced boldly, "I need oil in the amount of one hundred times ten thousand." He was told to go to the town of Tzor, where someone might be able to help him.
Upon hearing of this promising location, the emissary of Ludkia gathered his humble provisions and set out in the direction of Tzor.
When he arrived there, the man went to the market and once more called out: "I need to buy oil in the amount of one hundred times ten thousand." But no one in Tzor had such a large quantity of oil.
They suggested, though, that he travel yet further, to the town of Gush Chalav.
Arriving in Gush Chalav, the man once more went to the market and made his announcement. He was told to go to the home of a certain resident of that town. With praises to G-d and the hope that his mission would soon be completed, the man went to the address he had been given.
"The master of the house is not home now, he is tending to his olive trees," was the response the emissary from Ludkia received upon inquiring after the owner.
Undaunted, the emissary went out into the olive fields in search of the prospective oil merchant. Finally, he located the man and told him, "I am in need of oil in the amount of one hundred times ten thousand."
The man was not in the least bit fazed by the emissary's request for such a tremendous amount of oil. Calmly and evenly he answered the emissary, "Please wait for me until I am finished with my work in the olive groves."
When the man had finished with the olive trees, he carefully collected all of his tools and returned home together with the prospective buyer. Yet the man seemed so unassuming in appearance.
The emissary wondered, "Could it really be possible that this man with whom I am now walking, who was himself just tending the olive grove, could supply so vast an amount of oil? I fear I have made this trip for no reason, for surely I am the object of someone's joke."
The emissary's thoughts began to change, though, when the two men reached the home of the olive grove owner. For, when they entered the house, a maidservant brought pitchers of heated water for her master to wash his hands and feet. Then she brought out a solid gold container filled with oil into which he immersed his hands and feet, in keeping with the verse, "'And he dips his foot in oil."
In no time, deliciously prepared food was laid on the table and they ate and drank.
"If you will come with me," said the man to the emissary, "I will gladly measure out the oil for you now." The emissary followed and watched in amazement as he measured out oil worth one hundred times ten thousand.
Turning to the buyer, the grove-owner asked, "Do you want more oil?" The man was astounded, and replied, "I have no more money."
"No matter," he was informed. "I will be happy to measure out the oil and accompany you to your town where I can collect the extra money." And with that, the man again measured oil, this time for another eighteen times ten thousand.
It is said that the buyer used every available mule and camel to transport the fabulous volume of oil to his home town, where he received an enthusiastic welcome from his fellow townspeople. His remarks to them were the following:
"Give your praise only to this person, for all the credit is his. Also, I am in debt to him for the sum of eighteen times ten thousand! It is said, 'Some appear to be rich and are paupers, while others appear poor, yet are exceedingly rich.'"
Rabbi Aba said: There is no greater manifestation of the Final Redemption than the verse, "And you, mountains of Israel, you shall give forth your branches and you shall bear your fruit for My people Israel, because they have come near"
When the Land of Israel will give forth its fruit bountifully, then the Redemption will draw near; there is no greater manifestation of the Redemption than this.