Black tights in white shoes? | 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
by Leiba Rudolph
If the power of persuasion can be seen anywhere, it's in the world of fashion. Styles that women swore they'd never wear (and maybe never should wear) somehow become not only tolerable but even likeable.
Nobody wears something just because it's in style, our tastes actually come to change. How does this happen? Don't we think for ourselves?
Although this phenomenon is certainly applicable on a larger scale to most societal trends, those value shifts happen much more slowly, usually over generations. But, with fashion trends our tastes can change in just a few short season!
Designers first have to create the look. The retailers and fashion magazines then have to promote it. But ultimately, those always in fashion must wear it and only in the right context.
Before most of us out there in America realize how it happened those ridiculous looks not only don't look so ridiculous, they're actually kind of nice.
For many people these days, Jewish and non-Jewish, observant and not-so-observant, another idea has come into fashion--Moshiach.
In just a few short seasons, it's being "worn" by hundreds of thousands around the world. But that shouldn't come as a surprise.
After all, it's a concept that goes with everything, looks eternally good on everyone, was created by the Ultimate Designer, and has been endorsed by someone with a perfect track record for foreseeing future trends -- the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
However, the Moshiach-look isn't just a passing fad, to be replaced with next year's wardrobe. It's the idea which has been simmering since the world's beginning and it's on its way in--for good.
Like any change that challenges the current style, Moshiach-style has met with some resistance and skepticism. How should we wear it?
Though most of us are not interested in being fashion trend- setters in the physical sense, the Rebbe has directed each of us to "wear" Moshiach even if it's a little uncomfortable at first, to help ourselves and those around us get used to it.
We can give more charity, increase in our Torah learning, or commit ourselves to greater acts of kindness -- all wit h the intention of "fashioning" the world for Moshiach.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidut, teaches that our thoughts, speech and deeds are the "garments" of our soul; although they do not comprise the soul itself, they determine how our soul "looks."
Whether we are simple dressers or have a closet full of Torah and mitzvot, we all look better with an awareness of Moshiach in our spiritual wardrobe. And style being as catchy as it is, the more and better we each adopt Moshiach-style, the more we influence others to wear it, and the more Moshiach-style in the world, the more Moshiach actually comes into the world, "enclothing" it with the best style ever--the G-dly look!
Well, nobody is more anxious than the Ultimate Designer to reveal the world's new look, so how can we keep Him waiting? Each of us has to wear a little more Moshiach, NOW!
The Torah reading, Naso, contains the portion of the sota -- a wife whose behavior is indiscreet. A deeper examination of the concept reveals the symbolism behind the Torah's words, alluding to G-d as Husband, and the Jews as His wife.
On the verse, "If the wife of any man goes aside," our Sages comment: "One does not commit a sin unless the 'spirit of folly' has entered him."
The Hebrew word for "folly" is related to the word that means straying from the path.
With this statement our Sages sought to explain the seemingly incomprehensible phenomenon of a Jew who commits a sin.
How can such a contradictory state of affairs occur? Is not every Jew, by virtue of his G-dly soul, connected to G-d on the very deepest level? How then can he possibly allow himself to commit a transgression which separates him from his Source Above?
The answer to this is the "spirit of folly," an outside, external force that temporarily gains control and obscures the Jew's faith.
Because of this "spirit of folly," the Jew cannot perceive the true consequence of his actions -- the disconnection from G-d that his sin actually causes. Were he properly aware of this at all times, the Jew could never bring himself to disobey the commandment of G-d under any circumstances.
What exactly is this "spirit of folly"?
Nothing but the desire for physical gratification, which causes a lessening in spiritual perception.
Consequently, a person imagines that nothing will happen if he commits the sin, and that he will remain just as connected to G-d as he was before. His desire for gratification blinds him to the fact that even the tiniest of infractions is detrimental to his bond with G-d.
The reverse side of this principle is that even when a Jew does sin, G-d forbid, it does not mean that the Jew himself is bad; rather, every Jew is inherently good, and his innermost desire is to obey G-d's will. It is the "spirit of folly" that is to blame, an outside factor that is incongruent with the Jew's true nature.
In the symbolic sense, G-d is referred to as the "Husband" of the Jewish people.
A Jew who commits a sin is likened to a wife whose indiscreet conduct arouses the suspicion of her husband.
The sota has not committed a sin with certainty; she has merely behaved in a manner which raises doubts. And just as the sota is rewarded when she is found to be innocent -- "but if she is pure she shall conceive seed" -- so too does G-d promise that every Jew will ultimately repent and return to Him, for the Jew's inner essence always remains untouched by sin.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 2
Finding our Heritage
by Kirk Douglas
At Los Angeles' Synagogue for the Performing Arts, Kirk Douglas delivered the following talk:
When I was a poor kid growing up in Amsterdam, New York, I was pretty good in cheder, so the Jews of our community thought they would do a wonderful thing and collect enough money to send me to a yeshiva to become a rabbi. It scared me, because I didn't want to become a rabbi. I wanted to be an actor. I had to work hard to get out of it.
But it took me a long time to learn that you didn't have to be a rabbi to be a Jew.
You see, when I was fourteen, I got frightened by the story of Abraham and Isaac: G-d orders Abraham to go up on the mountain and sacrifice his son, Isaac.
I remember the picture in my Hebrew school book.
Abraham with a long beard; one outstretched hand holding a large knife, and the other -- a frightened little boy. And that kid looked an awful lot like me. A hovering angel was having a hard time restraining Abraham.
How could the angel convince Abraham that G-d was only testing him? That picture stayed in my mind for a long time as I drifted away from Judaism.
I grew up, went to college, but my Judaism stayed stuck in a fourteen year-old boy's Hebrew school book.
It has been pointed out to me that no rational adult would make a business decision based on what they knew when they were fourteen. You wouldn't decide who to marry based on what you knew about love and relationships when you were fourteen. But many of us seem satisfied to dismiss religion based on what we learned at fourteen, and I was one of those people.
Of course, I was always proud to be a Jew, even though it would have been easier for me not to be.
Although I felt drawn to the mystery of Judaism, other aspects pushed me away: What did I have in common with those black-hatted bearded men with their long peyot?
But as time went on and I got older, I began to change.
The catalyst was my son Michael. One day he asked me: "Dad, where did my grandfather come from?"
That question startled me. I wasn't sure. I knew he came from Russia, from some place called Mogilev.
And then Michael asked another question: "Where did your grandfather come from?"
I suddenly realized how little I knew about my background.
Anyone who could tell me was long dead. I had no ancestors. This thought depressed me. It haunted me. I had no ancestors! Can a man know who he truly is, if he doesn't know who his ancestors were?
I was lying in my room pondering this question for the umpteenth time, when I happened to look up over my bed. There on the wall hangs my collection of Chagall lithographs, his Bible series. And then it hit me.
Here were my ancestors!
And what a famous group -- Moses, Abraham, Jacob, and so many others! I began to read about them, and the more I read, the happier I felt.
I was very grateful to Chagall for reminding me what an incredible lineage I had. Then I found out that Chagall, a Russian Jew, came from Vitebsk, a town not far from my parents' hometown of Mogilev, in White Russia.
The more I studied Jewish history, the more it fascinated me.
How did we survive?
Lost in different parts of the world, among strange cultures -- constantly persecuted. But our tormentors rose and fell, and we still hung on. The Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, all are long gone yet we remain, despite all the persecution.
And that is when I started to think that we should thank those pious, black-hatted, bearded Jews with their long peyot -- for keeping Judaism alive for so long.
They understood something very deep that we more secular types never learned or forgot if we did. G-d gave us the Torah -- and that made us the conscience of the world.
Throughout my life, when I was moving farther and farther from Judaism, I always clung to a single thread -- Yom Kippur. On that one day I fasted. I might be shooting it out with Burt Lancaster or John Wayne, or battling Laurence Olivier and his `Romans,' but I always fasted.
Two years ago, I went with my son Eric, who is a stand-up comedian, to the Yom Kippur service at the Comedy Club on Sunset Boulevard. This year, I spent Yom Kippur at a synagogue in Paris.
On one of my recent trips to Israel I took a walk through the Western Wall tunnel along the foundations of the Temple Mount, which takes you deep underneath the Moslem Quarter.
As I slowly walked along, following my guide, I let my fingers caress the huge stones that enclose the Mount where the Temple once stood. And then we stopped. My guide spoke softly: "This is rock of Mount Moriah."
I looked at this rough stone. "Mount Moriah?" I asked. "You mean..." She finished it for me. "Yes, this is where Abraham took Isaac to be sacrificed."
The picture from my Hebrew school book flashed into my mind.
But it no longer frightened me.
I had learned that Abraham lived at a time when sacrificing your son to idols was common practice.
The lesson of Mount Moriah was that G-d does not want human sacrifice. It was very quiet in the tunnel, dimly lit, cool.
My guide's voice was barely above a whisper. "This is where it all started." I couldn't speak. She was right. This place represented the beginning of my doubts. And at long last, the end of them. Here, in the dark tunnel, touching the rock of Mount Moriah, I grew up.
I felt that I had come home. And yet I knew that my journey is not over. I still have a long way to go. Judaism is a lifetime of learning and I've just started. I hope it's not too late. If G-d is patient, maybe He'll give me enough time to learn the things I need to know to understand what it is that makes us Jews the conscience of the world.
Publish Jewish Books
On Shavuot four years ago the Rebbe encouraged everyone to develop new Torah concepts and have them published:
"Every individual should endeavor to develop new Torah concepts, and to publish them. Precautions must be taken that people do not write directives of Torah law when they are incapable of doing so. Nevertheless, at the same time, it is necessary to do whatever must be done to encourage people to increase their efforts in Torah study. And for that reason, it is worthy to encourage all those who are trained in the proper approach to Torah study... to publish and disseminate the Torah ideas that they develop."
So start developing and publishing!
TRUTH IS INDEPENDENT
13 Iyar, 5738 (1978)
I am in receipt of your letter of May 18, in which you write about your present state and feelings towards Jews, Yiddishkeit, the Torah, etc., which you blame on the attitude towards you on the part of the yeshiva and its students.
Needless to say, the connection is most surprising, for it is plain and obvious that a Jew, whoever he may be, who believes in the Torah and does his best to observe its mitzvot, does so because of his personal commitment to G-d's Torah and mitzvot, which were given to each and every Jew at Sinai, and as our Sages tell us, the souls of all Jews of all generations were present there and accepted the Torah and mitzvot.
Hence, if a Jew should declare, G-d forbid, that he does not accept the Ten Commandments because his friends or teachers do not conduct themselves as they should, I do not think that anyone will say that this is a proper or sensible approach.
To put it a different way: If a teacher whom you respect will say that two times two is five, it is incorrect; and if a teacher whom you do not respect will say that two times two is four, it is nevertheless correct, for truth is independent. Judging by your writing, there is surely no need to elaborate to you on what is evident.
As for your complaint about your friends' attitude towards you -- it is also clear that neither I nor anyone else can make a judgment on this without first hearing what both sides have to say.
Now, let us assume -- from your point of view -- that you have reason to complain; surely you know, and must have seen it yourself in other situations where people have a disagreement, that in every dispute between two people it is impossible that one should be 100% right and the other 100% wrong. It would be rare indeed, if it ever happened, although one does not have to be 100% right to win his case: 99% against 1% is also sufficient.
But when one of the two parties who is personally involved, and consequently subjective, claims to be 100% right and all the others 100% wrong, this is most extraordinary. Don't you think that someone who examines the whole situation objectively may find you also wrong, at least to the extent of 1%?
If this be very likely, how is it that you didn't mention anything about it in your letter, not even by as much as a hint?
All that has been said above is by way of response to your writing, dealing with the "letter" as distinct from the "spirit."
The crucial point, however, is that it suffices to consider the fact that Yiddishkeit, Torah and mitzvot, and the Jewish people have survived 3,500 years of persecution, pogroms, the Holocaust, etc., (our nation is alive and thriving to this day, while many powerful nations and "civilizations" have disappeared without a remnant) -- to be convinced (despite your assertions in the beginning of your letter) that the Torah is Torat Emet [the Torah of Truth], and its mitzvot are Emet, and that "they are our life and the length of our days," both for the Jewish people as a whole and for every Jew individually.
It is also self-understood that G-d desires Jews to observe His mitzvot not for His benefit, but for the benefit of the one who live s in accordance with G-d's Will.
In light of the above, I hope and trust that you will do all that is in your power to learn the Torah with devotion and diligence and to fulfill the mitzvot with extra "beauty" -- not because I or anyone else tells you to do this, but because it is the truth itself, as has been amply verified by the uninterrupted history of our people from generation to generation.
And although this is an obvious "must" for its own sake, it is also the channel to receive G-d's blessing for success in all your needs, as well as for your parents and all your dear ones.
HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS HELP
A group of students at Frisch High School in New Jersey heard about the plight of children in the Chernobyl area and Chabad's heroic efforts to bring these children to Israel.
Through these students' fundraising efforts three more children were flown out of the contaminated Chernobyl area to Israel where they breath fresh air, eat food and drink water that has not even a trace of radioactive matter and receive state-of-the-art medical attention in a specially equipped clinic in Kfar Chabad.
The students were presented with an award by Nancy Speilberg-Katz who has become actively involved in Chabad's Children of Chernobyl.
There's still time to register for the final Shabbaton of the season exploring the Rebbe's teachings in the dimension of relationships.
The weekend, June 16 - 18 is hosted by the Lubavitch community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. For more info and reservations call (718) 953-1000.
The sixth of the Hebrew month of Sivan, the second day of the Shavuot holiday that we recently celebrated, is the yartzeit of Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the general Chasidic movement.
One year on Rosh Hashana, the Baal Shem Tov had a special soul- journey at which time he went into the Heavenly Palace where Moshiach's soul studies Torah until that time when he will be revealed. The Baal Shem Tov asked Moshiach, "Master, when will you come?" And Moshiach answered the by now famous words, "When your wellsprings [Chasidic teachings] will spread forth outside."
Recently an acquaintance who is new to Torah study told me that he had been studying Torah via audio tape. He popped a tape with a lecture on Chasidut into his walkman and heard a discussion about the above mentioned dialogue between the Baal Shem Tov and Moshiach.
He told me that it occurred to him that the ultimate goal of the Rebbe was not "just" to send emissaries all over the world to open Chabad Houses and bring people closer to Judaism. The ultimate objective, as far as he could tell, was to spread the wellsprings of Chasidut thereby actually bringing Moshiach.
Bringing Moshiach has been the Rebbe's goal since his first public discourse in 1951 and even before then.
Moshiach has been the ultimate goal and purpose of the foundation of the Chasidic movement over 200 years ago. Moshiach is the purpose and raison d'etre of the creation of the world 5755 years ago.
These days immediately following the festival of receiving the Torah, the yartzeit of the Baal Shem Tov and the yartzeit of King David (progenitor of Moshiach) are especially auspicious days for Moshiach's revelation.
Let us all try our best to fulfill all of the Rebbe's many directives to each and every one of us personally to prepare for and hasten the Redemption, beginning with studying more Torah, giving more tzedaka, increasing in our acts of goodness and kindness.
When a man or woman utters a Nazarite vow... he shall abstain from new and old wine... grape beverages, grapes and raisins (Numbers 2:2-3)
The laws of a Nazarite teach us a most significant principle about our belief in the coming of Moshiach: Torah law decrees that if one declares on a weekday, "I undertake to become a Nazarite on the day that Moshiach will come," he is bound by it from that very moment.
(If, however, he made his vow on a Shabbat or festival, it becomes operative on the next day, as it is uncertain whether Moshiach will or will not arrive on a Shabbat or yom tov.)
This clearly shows that Moshiach can arrive at any moment, as we say in our daily prayers, "Every day we hope for Your salvation."
Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, "Thus shall you bless the children of Israel" (Numbers 6:23)
Why does the portion of the Priestly Blessing follow that of the Nazarite? To teach us that just as the Nazir abstains from wine, so must the priest abstain before blessing the Jewish people.
This is the service of the families of the sons of Gershon... their charge shall be under the supervision of Itamar, son of Aaron the priest (Numbers 4:28)
The name "Gershon" is derived from the word meaning "to expel," alluding to the expulsion of evil.
"Itamar" is related to the word for speech, alluding to words of Torah. The juxtaposition of the two names teaches that speaking words of Torah severs evil from good and expels it.
It was the custom of Reb Chaim of Sanz, the Sanzer Rebbe, to deliver a public discourse at the afternoon meal on Shavuot.
This much anticipated event was attended by hundreds of his Chasidim who traveled to spend the holiday with their Rebbe and rejoice in his holy words.
One year all were assembled as usual, but to their surprise and disappointment, the Rebbe failed to appear, retiring to his room instead.
The Chasidim were worried and began to speculate as to why the Rebbe had departed from his usual custom.
The Rebbe's attendants passed through the murmuring crowd and motioned to several of the wealthier Chasidim to enter into the Rebbe's study.
Honored and humbled to have been singled out, they listened carefully to Reb Chaim's words. "I am old and I don't have the strength to address the entire congregation as I have in previous years. And so, I have asked you to come and I will speak only to you, very briefly, about an important matter. It is urgent that I have two thousand rubles to marry off a poor bride. I am entrusting you the matter to organize this between yourselves. I expect the sum to be pledged by the end of the holiday. I am waiting to hear from you. Come to me as soon as the money has been amassed."
In no time flat the Rebbe's attendants came to inform him that the matter was taken care of.
The wealthy Chasidim had arranged to contribute the entire sum among themselves, and the money would be presented to the Rebbe at the close of the yom tov. Reb Chaim was overjoyed with the manner in which his plea had been received by his Chasidim. He cried out, "This Shavuot I certainly have delivered my most successful sermon!"
The two famous rabbis, Reb Shmelke of Nikolsburg and Reb Pinchas of Frankfurt were brothers, the sons of the Rabbi of Tchortkov, Reb Tzvi Hirsh Halevi Horowitz. Even as small children they were known as prodigies.
When they were quite young their father took over the duty of teaching them Torah.
It was a challenging job and he taught them as quickly and as much as their brilliant minds could absorb. When they were both well below ten years of age, they were already learning the Talmud with several commentaries.
As part of their schedule, they would learn the laws which pertained to the next approaching holiday. And so, when the holiday of Chanukah ended, their father began the study of the tractate Megilla. Having completed it by Purim, they began learning the tractate dealing with the laws of Passover, which they finished right on target; the day before Pesach.
Shmelke, the elder of the two boys then said to his father, "Now we have to begin learning the tractate Shevuot if we want to finish it by the time Shavuot comes along."
"Do you think that Shevuot deals with the laws of the holiday?" asked their father smiling, for that was not the case.
"No," replied the boy. "I know it deals with the laws of oaths, but I have a reason why we should study it now. On that first Shavuot, all the Jews took an oath at Mount Sinai to keep the commandments of the Torah, and that promise has been binding ever since. I want to learn the laws of oaths so I can understand how important it is to keep a promise and how serious it is to break one. I figured out that there are forty-nine double pages of this tractate and forty-nine days between Pesach and Shavuot, and if we learn a double-page every day, we will finish in time for Shavuot.
Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh was pleased by his son's erudite reasoning and he happily agreed to learn according to his suggestion.
By the time Lag B'Omer had arrived (the thirty-third day of the Omer), they had reached a section in the tractate which mentioned a law in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
Little Shmelke jumped up from the table excitedly: "Father, Father, you see how wonderful! This is the day of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai's yahrzeit, the thirty-third day of the Omer, and here his name is mentioned. Not only that, but it says '...and they laughed in the land of Israel,' and everyone knows that it's a custom to make a big celebration in Israel on this day!" The father and sons finished exactly as they had calculated, although they had to study a double-page every day.
The following year when Pesach had passed, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh again asked his sons what they wished to learn in preparation for the holiday of Shavuot. This time the younger child, Pinchas, answered: "I think we should begin the tractates of Ketubot (marriage contracts) and Kiddushin (the laws of marriages)."
Questioned his father, "What do they have to do with Shavuot?"
"That's easy. On Shavuot, G-d took the Jewish people to be His -- it was like a wedding -- and said the words, `And I have betrothed you to Me forever.'
You taught us that He held Mount Sinai over our heads like a marriage canopy. The holy words of the Torah were like our marriage contract, and He gave us a gift as well -- the Oral Torah. That is why I think we should learn the laws of marriage contracts and betrothals -- so we will know that the `wedding' of Israel and G-d was a valid one and that both G-d and the Jews are obligated to fulfill all the points of the contract."
Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh couldn't help beaming with pride from his son's well-reasoned words.
The three scholars learned the two tractates in record speed, finishing two double pages a day until, forty-nine days later, they celebrated both the holiday of Shavuot and the successful completion of their studies.
If the redemption will come because of Israel's merit, the matter will be wondrous in degree, and the redeemer of Israel will be revealed from heaven with signs and wonders...
However, if the redemption will come at the end of the prescribed period of exile and Israel will not deserve it, it will be in another manner, about which it is said that the redeemer will come "lowly and riding on a donkey."