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
Collectors of unusual or outlandish data, such as Ripley's Believe It Or Not, confront us with such well-documented information (often even accompanied by photos) that we can't help but believe what is presented before our very eyes.
But can we, or better yet, do we, believe in that which is not documented, photographed, or scientifically proven in the regular sense?
That was a question that was asked recently in a poll taken by Gallup and reported in US News and World Report. They asked fellow Americans if they believe in G-d. Believe it or not, a whopping 96% of those polled answered yes.
Jewish teachings declare quite forthrightly that Jews are "believers, the children of believers." It comes with the territory, so to speak, or more correctly, with the soul.
Belief comes from the inner part of the soul, from the Jew's essence. Thus, the intrinsic faith of a fool is as great as the faith of a sage.
Belief is not a product of comprehension or knowledge; it is beyond understanding and rationale. As our Sages explain, "Where knowledge ends, faith begins."
Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, in The Long Shorter Way, a book based on the classic Chabad Chasidic work Tanya, explains: "The fact that a person is unlearned or even lacking in intellectual capacity makes no difference. One's faith is not nourished by the mind but by the wisdom of the soul, so that faith is available to all people, irrespective of their mental abilities."
So why are there so many Jews out there who profess to not believe in G-d? A Chasid once met a person who was firm and unyielding in his disbelief. He proceeded to explain all of his reasons. After a moment's reflection, the Chasid responded: "The G-d you don't believe in, I also don't believe in!" A G-d with a long white beard who sits on a big throne in the sky, or a G-d who created the world and then left it to its own devices, or a G-d who exhibits human traits of anger, jealousy and vengeance, or a G-d who lets bads things happen to good people -- such a G-d Jews also don't believe in. It would be more correct, then, to say (quite humbly), "I don't understand G-d."
Although we are expected to study, contemplate and try to comprehend Him, we limited human beings with our limited minds can never truly understand G-d or His ways. As Reb Mendel of Kotzk once said, "A G-d whom any human can understand is not worth worshipping."
Belief is intrinsic. It is our inheritance as Jews. It is part of our very lives, as it emanates from the essence of our souls.
But faith needs to be supported and enforced.
In order for faith to have consistent influence on our behavior, study and contemplation are always essential.
This week's Torah portion, Tetzave, describes the special garments worn by the high priest during his service in the Holy Temple, and enumerates eight separate items of clothing.
The Torah makes two provisos: First, the high priest may not perform his service unless he is wearing all eight garments, and second, he is not allowed to even enter the Sanctuary unless he is wearing three of them -- the breastplate, ephod, and robe.
The high priest is the emissary and representative of the Jewish people, and as such, his function is to connect them to G-d.
The relationship between the Jew and G-d exists on two levels simultaneously: One is the result of the Jew's service through Torah and mitzvot, the other stems from the Jew's innate connection with G-d by virtue of his essence. Both levels are reflected in the Torah's instructions concerning the high priest's garments.
Set into the breastplate were twelve precious stones, each inscribed with the name of a different tribe, which the high priest was required to wear "upon his heart." The breastplate therefore symbolizes the highest level of connection between the Jew and G-d, as these names were actually inscribed on the holy object itself.
The next level of the Jew's bond with G-d is expressed in the ephod, which also contained stones inscribed with the names of the tribes, but with a difference: The stones of the ephod were not worn "opposite the heart" but rather, "upon the shoulder - pieces," in the back of the garment.
The ephod therefore symbolizes those Jews who wage a constant war against their Evil Inclination, a type of service of G-d that falls into the category of "back."
The third level is expressed in the high priest's robe, the hem of which was adorned with "pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet yarn."
Our Sages commented that even the most estranged Jew is as full of mitzvot as a pomegranate; the ephod therefore symbolizes this level.
The high priest must wear all three garments -- representing all three levels of Jews -- if he is to be allowed into the Sanctuary, the place where the Divine Presence rests. For it is when all Jews stand together in unity that the deepest bond with G-d is forged -- "a remembrance before the L-rd continually."
This contains a lesson for us to apply in our lives:
Every single Jew is an essential part of the Jewish people and is therefore a "remembrance before the L-rd continually."
For the true essence of the Jew is not his external appearance but his G-dly soul, "a veritable part of G-d," and all Jews are children of the same Father.
From Likutei Sichot Vol. XXI of the Rebbe.
by Dr. Yitzchak Block
I have known the Rebbe since the summer of 1952, when I first came to Lubavitch from Nashville, Tennessee. I had just graduated as a philosophy major and was on my way to Harvard to begin graduate studies in the fall. I thought I would spend the summer in Brooklyn, going to Dodgers games in the old Ebbets Field (just a ten minute bus ride from "770") and checking out Lubavitch at the same time.
As a budding philosopher, I thought I was pretty clever.
I certainly didn't think I could be wrong about anything, at least not in philosophy. My first yechidut (private audience) with the Rebbe was shocking.
We talked about Plato, whom the Rebbe called by the correct Greek pronunciation "Platown." He said that Plato's social and political philosophy was "cruel." Having just written a senior thesis on Plato, I thought I knew all that anyone could ever know about Plato and I had never heard anyone past or present say anything like that about Plato.
Plato was as venerable or godlike as a human being could become and was never wrong about anything, or so I thought at the time, being then a confirmed Platonist. To my chagrin, I read a book long afterward by Karl Popper titled The Open Society and Its Enemies which argued the very point the Rebbe had made in my first audience.
The book shocked the academic world just as the Rebbe's words had shocked me. After I reread the book, I was even more shocked to realize that the Rebbe was right and that almost everything that I had ever read on Plato's social philosophy was dead wrong. Plato's "ideal society" is both totalitarian and cruel.
Since then my experience with the Rebbe has lead me to believe that he was not wrong about anything. I sought his advice on many important and unimportant decisions I had to make over the 42 years it has been my special privilege to know and speak with the Rebbe.
I thank G-d that I listened to him on many matters.
At one point, I was on the verge of giving up my philosophy studies. I wanted to leave Harvard and learn Torah in the Rebbe's yeshiva. I thought the Rebbe would be pleased and welcome this repentant sinner with open arms. Again the Rebbe shocked me. He told me to go back to Harvard. Otherwise some day I would regret that I had given up my profession!
I knew then that I was going to be a philosopher whether I liked it or not. At that time, I did not like it at all and fell into a fit of depression such that I almost failed my courses.
Gradually, I came out of the depression and actually survived Harvard. I see now the Rebbe's wisdom, in that philosophy is about the only thing for which I have some small talent. I would indeed have regretted giving up my profession. Again the Rebbe was right, though at the time, neither myself nor any of the other students or teachers in the yeshiva could understand the Rebbe.
I am a philosopher by profession, but that's not what people call me. They call me either a rabbi or a chasid. I always go out of my way to correct people who call me a rabbi.
The Rebbe told me I should not become a rabbi nor even think of becoming one. His exact words to me, when I asked if I should study for rabbinical ordination were, "Lo with an alef." For those who don't know Hebrew, this is roughly translated as "In no way, shape or form!" This is the reason I feel obligated to tell people I am not a rabbi. They are taken aback. "That's odd," they say, "You look like a rabbi." They then conclude, "Well then, you must be a chasid." Here I don't know what to say. I usually nod my head just to end the conversation as politely as I can, but deep down inside of me turmoil is churning. Am I really a chasid?
I'm not sure I can lay claim to being a chasid of the Rebbe.
I've been around long enough to see what a real chasid looks like -- the ones who came out of communist Russia, who survived Stalin's gulags with their beards, observance of kashrut and Shabbat intact.
No, I don't think I am really that kind of chasid at all -- maybe a cheap imitation "made in America."
Being a chasid of the Rebbe requires a standard of devotion to which I have aspired my whole adult life, but which I am not sure I have attained. I envy those who have achieved it. One thing I do know and the one thing that made me want to try to become a chasid is that the Rebbe is closer to the truth than any other human being whom I have known.
By being "closer to the truth," I don't mean simply having correct views about Plato or anything else for that matter. I mean being as close to G-d as one can possibly imagine and still be human.
In the midst of the Crown Heights riots three years ago, the Rebbe refused to meet with the black militant leaders who encouraged the riots in the first place.
In that whole dark period, the Rebbe made only one small comment to the effect that we are all G-d's creatures and have to learn to live together.
No acrimony, no pointing the finger, no rhetoric -- but simple, direct and to the point.
Simple and direct but how far removed from reality! There is a "reality gap" between the Rebbe's vision of the world and the situation of the world in fact. The Rebbe, well aware of this gap, proposed to bridge it with the last and final mitzva campaign, the Rebbe's campaign to bring Moshiach.
The world has reached the stage where all the signs for Moshiach mentioned in the Torah, including those mentioned in the Talmud, are visible to everyone. Can we afford not to respond to the Rebbe's call to prepare to greet Moshiach? The fact that the Rebbe is making this demand on all Jews, not just his chasidim, places a heavy burden on all Jews of our generation -- the generation of the coming of Moshiach.
Dr. Block is a professor of Philosophy at the University of Western Ontario
The first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, inserted into the text of the prayerbook the words: "I hereby take upon myself the commandment of 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' " This pledge precedes the commencement of the main part of the prayers. Start your prayers (whether personal or standard) with the mindset that you will be caring toward others.
PRAYER IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Continued from issue #354
from a letter of 26 Nisan, 5724 (1964)
Although the context of the debate has changed, the issues raised are similar to the discussion of the "Moment of Silence."
- To oppose non-denominational prayer "on Constitutional grounds" is, in my opinion, altogether a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the problem.
Rather, the issue is whether a non-denominational prayer wherewith to inaugurate the school day is, or is not, in the best interests of the children. If the answer is "yes," then obviously it should be made Constitutional, for there can be no difference of opinion as to the fact that the Constitution has been created to serve the people, not vice versa.
It may be pertinent to add here that the approach that the Constitution of the United States must not be touched or amended under any circumstances is in itself a flagrant violation of the letter and spirit of the Constitution, which has its own built-in machinery for future amendments that may be required in the public interest; machinery which has been used in the past to incorporate into the Constitution a number of amendments.
- It is argued that the principle of separation of Church and State is the only safeguard for freedom of religion, equal rights for minorities, etc.
Without going into the question whether there actually exists a strict separation between State and Church in this country (for there are undeniable facts to the contrary, e.g. the institution of Chaplaincy in the armed forces; the opening of Congress with a prayer; the motto "In G-d we trust" on American currency, the emphasis on Divine Providence in the Declaration of Independence; etc., etc.), I submit that the validity of the argument is contingent upon the question who is behind this principle, and how is it to be interpreted and applied?
Suffice it to cite an illustration from two representative States now in existence, in one of which the said principle is in full operational force, while in the other it is not.
In the first, as the daily press reports, there is a calculated war on religion and religious practices, with the suppression of all religious freedom, etc. Incidentally (and perhaps it is relevant to our discussion), it all started there with a ban on religious instruction to young children.
In other countries, for example England, there is no separation of Church and State,... yet you find there complete religious freedom for all religious denominations.
- Some argue further that the principle of separation of State and Church must be maintained at all costs, in order to prevent a resurgence of religious persecution so prevalent in the Middle Ages, when an established state-religion denied equal, or any, rights to other religions, etc.
The fallacy of this argument should be quite obvious.
By way of illustration:
Suppose a person was ill at one time and doctors prescribed certain medication and treatment. Suppose that years later the same person became ill again, but with an entirely different, in fact quite contrary, malady. Would it be reasonable to recommend the same medication and treatment as formerly?
In Medieval times the world suffered from an "excess" of religious zeal and intolerance.
In our day the world is suffering from an excessive indifference to religion, or even from a growing materialism and atheism.
Even where religion is practiced, it often lacks depth and inspiration. (The subject is too painful to discuss in detail.) Thus, if separation of Church and State was necessary, it is not at all the answer to the problems of our contemporary youth...
P.S. ..... The vehement opposition to any kind of prayer and to the mention of G-d's Name in the public schools, which, in my opinion, is unjustified and ill-conceived, and which has placed the proponents of this view in league with the atheistic and anti-religious elements in this country, has inevitably called forth a correspondingly strong counter reaction. I am convinced that had there been taken a more practical position in the first place, it would have been acceptable to everybody (except a few fanatical anti-religionists.)
JEWISH LIFE GOES NATIONAL
"A Cable to Jewish Life" has gone national.
Every Sunday at 4:00 p.m. (EST) the "show about people and issues in Judaism, and some secrets you missed out in Hebrew school" is broadcast on more than 200 television stations in the United States and several Central and South American countries, as well as many hotels and university systems.
Past programs are available on video cassette. For more info please FAX your inquiry to: (718) 773-4908.
Limited quantities of bound volumes of the fifth year and sixth year of L'Chaim are still available. Each volume is $25 (plus $3 shipping). The seventh year of L'Chaim will soon be available. To reserve your copy send $25 (plus $3 shipping).
As there are two months of Adar this year (this year is a leap year), this week contains Purim Katan (the "minor" Purim).
The day after Purim Katan is Shushan Purim Katan, Shushan Purim being the day Purim is celebrated in walled cities such as Jerusalem.
As there are very few customs associated with Purim Katan and Shushan Purim Katan let us take a moment to understand the significance of Shushan Purim according to Chasidut.
The celebration of this holiday was instituted in connection with the Land of Israel. Our Sages decreed that Shushan Purim be celebrated in those cities that were surrounded by walls at the time of Joshua's conquest of the Land of Israel.
In this manner, they paid respect to the Holy Land, giving its walled cities the honor given to Shushan even though they had been destroyed by the time of the Purim miracle.
However, the holiday's name is connected with a city in the Diaspora -- the capital city of Achashveirosh, king of Persia (and thus the capital of the entire civilized world).
The use of the name "Shushan" expresses the completion of the Jews' mission to refine the material environment of the world. There are several levels in the fulfillment of this task; for example, the transformation of mundane objects into articles of holiness. On a deeper level, this involves the transformation into holiness of precisely those elements which previously opposed holiness.
Shushan Purim shows how Achashveirosh's capital city was transformed into a positive influence, indeed, an influence so great that it is connected with the celebration of Purim in the walled cities of Israel.
May we use all of the extra spiritual energy given to us on Purim Katan and Shushan Purim Katan to transform the mundane into the holy and that which opposes holiness into holiness, until the whole world is transformed into a dwelling place for G-d in the Messianic Era.
And you shall command the Children of Israel that they bring to you pure olive oil, pounded, for the lighting (Exodus 27:20)
Why was it necessary for the oil to be brought to Moses if Aaron was the one who would be kindling the menora?
Oil alludes to the inner goodness hidden within every Jew, even the most simple. To arouse this inner quality, the Jew must connect himself to "Moses" -- to the leader of the Jewish people in every generation -- who, in turn, elevates it to the higher level of "pounded, for the lighting...a light to burn always."
(Sefer HaMaamarim Kuntreisim)
Pure olive oil (Exodus 27:20)
Whereas usually the finest quality of oil is reserved for cooking and the more inferior reserved for lighting purposes, the order in the Holy Temple was the reverse. The purest oil was used to kindle the menora; the second-quality oil was used in the Mincha offerings.
Pounded, for the lighting (Exodus 27:20)
The Egyptian exile, with its backbreaking labor, was the crucible of fire that refined the Jewish people, transforming them into a proper vessel to contain the illumination of the revelation of Torah on Mount Sinai.
So it is with our present exile as well, when we find ourselves "pounded" by the harshness of the exile. But it is precisely this "pounding" that will bring us to the "light" -- the light of Moshiach and the Messianic Era, as our Sages commented, "It is only when the olive is crushed that the oil can emerge."
At Mount Sinai, it was primarily the revealed part of Torah that was revealed by G-d. Our present exile, however, prepares us for the revelation of the inner dimension of Torah that will be taught by Moshiach in the Era of Redemption.
You shall make holy ornaments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for ornament... to sanctify him, that he be a priest unto Me (Exodus 28:2-3)
For those who honor a person according to his external appearance and manner of dress, the holy garments serve as "glory and ornament" -- a means to ensure that they show the proper respect for Aaron.
Those who are more discerning, however, understand that the true purpose of the holy garments is their sanctity -- "that he be a priest unto Me."
(Rabbi Shimon Sofer)
One time a case was brought to judgment before Reb Levi Yitzchak.
A young and inexperienced broker who lived in Berditchev had the idea that if a certain business in Berditchev merged with one located in a neighboring town, each would have a much greater profit.
Because he was unfamiliar with the world of business and virtually unknown, he turned for help to a more experienced broker who also lived in Berditchev.
The young man proposed that in exchange for the older man's help, the two would divide the profit equally. The experienced broker agreed. He successfully arranged the deal, and when the transaction was completed, collected the profit.
The trouble began when the man refused to divide the money as he had promised. There was no choice but to go to court. Reb Levi Yitzchak heard the case and ordered the man to give the other fellow his fair share of the profits. The case was closed and the two departed, but as time passed it became obvious that the older man still refused to abide by the ruling of the rabbi. The young man had no recourse but to return to Reb Levi Yitzchak with his complaint.
When Reb Levi Yitzchak heard what had transpired he immediately dispatched an emissary to the broker, who repeated the words of the rabbi: "My dear sir, you should be aware that I too am a broker with quite a bit of experience under my belt. I, in fact, act as a broker between the Jewish people and their Father in heaven. In this capacity, I transport the merits of the Jews to G-d, and in return, I receive my sustenance and many blessings from Him.
"As I occupied myself with these matters, I realized that here was an excellent opportunity to make a very good deal. Amongst the Jews I saw three types of products for which they had absolutely no use: intentional sins, unintentional sins, and sins which occurred because they were ignorant that the Torah considered them sinful.
I saw that in Heaven they also had three kinds of products for which they had no use: forgiveness, absolution and annulment.
And I said to myself, what a good idea it would be if the Jews and Heaven were to exchange products! I went and presented my ideas to the Heavenly Court and they were quite pleased to accept my proposition. But before the deal was finalized, they suggested that I first speak to the other partner in the transaction, the Jewish people.
So, I went to the Jews, but it was more difficult to sell my idea to them. They convinced me to try for a greater commitment from the Heavenly Court.
They wanted three additional things -- children, health and livelihood -- to be added to the package.
I went back to the Heavenly Court with their request, and the new terms were granted.
The deal was signed and sealed. I was then asked by the Heavenly Court what I wanted as my reward for completing this transaction. I replied that as far as the Jews were concerned, I didn't want any reward; as for G-d, I trusted completely that He would pay me whatever is my due.
At that point G-d said to me, 'Levi Yitzchak, I will give you a special reward: the additional terms the Jews added to the original contract, namely, children, health and livelihood. I hereby place these in your hands, to distribute or revoke at will.'
"I therefore tell you that if you fulfill the ruling of my court at once, it will go well with you, but if you continue to refuse, I will act according to the law of the Torah that was put into my hands."
The broker listened to the rabbi's message, but thought the entire episode was just a jest. He went home that night and laughingly repeated the story to his wife.
Imagine Reb Levi Yitzchak trying to pressure him to incurring such an enormous financial loss with such a ridiculous story!
He had no sooner finished speaking when he was suddenly afflicted with a high fever. Moaning and groaning in pain he tossed from side to side, unable to find comfort.
The best doctors were called in; no expense was spared, but nothing helped. Finally, the patient was given up for lost.
With his last ounce of strength, the man summoned his wife. "Take a purse of money to Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev and beg him to have mercy on me."
The hysterical woman ran weeping and pleading to the rabbi. She gave him the money, accurate to the last penny. "Please, have mercy on my husband. He's dying," she cried.
Needless to say, as soon as the debt was paid, Reb Levi Yitzchak prayed for the man's recovery. The broker's body returned to full health, and as far as his soul was concerned, that too was much healthier for the experience.
The Divine service of our generation... contains a dimension of superiority (and in this context, an incomparable advantage) over the Divine service accomplished in previous generations, for the Divine service of previous generations was related to reason and logic.... The Divine service at the conclusion of the period of exile, by contrast, reflects the willingness for self-sacrifice, which emanates from the innermost level of the soul.
(From a discourse of the Rebbe)