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Ask someone in her 60s or 70s what she thinks of when she hears the word "redemption" and she might tell you it reminds her of the trading stamps the supermarkets used to give out in the 60s; You pasted them into special books and when the book was full you took it to a "redemption" booth in the store and got cash back or a store credit.
Ask someone in his 30s or 40s what comes to mind when he hears the word "redemption" and he might tell you it reminds him of the points he earns on his credit card with every purchase or through his long- distance telephone company with each long distance phone call, redeemable for free gifts, airline mileage or certificates: "This month you earned 852 reward points. You have 8,091 reward points available for redemption. When you reach 10,000 points, you will be eligible for a level 4 reward. To order a free gift, simply call 1- 800-REWARD," read many a credit card statement.
The bottom line of either of these "free" associations with the word "redemption" is that you need to purchase something or perform some activity in order to receive the "reward." Only after you have done that can you redeem your points or stamps.
The ultimate reward that every person desires, consciously or subconsciously, is the Messianic Era and the Redemption. In addition to a utopian world of peace and harmony on all levels, of abundance and of health, the world will be suffused with knowledge of the Divine essence of everything; G-dliness, rather than physicality, will be tangible.
All of the above comes about through our activities and "purchases" in the world now, which are being redeemed and will be redeemed in the Messianic Era.
This basic concept of Judaism was expressed in Jewish mysticism by Rabbi Schneur Zalman: "The culminating fulfillment of the Messianic Era and of the Resurrection of the Dead, which is the revelation of the light of G-d's Infinite Light (En Sof) in this physical world, depends on our actions and service throughout the duration of the exile."
The Rebbe explained and brought down this concept numerous times over the past 40 years. Ten years ago he taught: "Every activity of a Jew that is connected with Torah and Judaism, draws down Divine light and infuses it into the world. Such activity thus hastens the approach of the future Redemption, which will be characterized by 'the revelation of G-d's Infinite Light in this physical world.'
"When one unveils the life-giving Divine spark within any particular entity, this is the individual redemption of that particular entity. And this particular instance of redemption is a step towards the universal Redemption, for it prepares for the revelation of the glory of G-d in the world in time to come."
"Sounds good on paper," you might be thinking. "But what does all of this have to do with me? I can accrue credit card points and redeem them, but G-dly points? I'm not 'religious.'"
This perception, too, the Rebbe addresses: "Let no person therefore argue: 'Since in my heart of hearts I know the realities of my spiritual standing, what value can there be in any particular activity of mine?'
"For in truth, every single activity of his, whether in the realm of thought or of speech or of action, has the power to bring about redemption -- an individual redemption and the universal Redemption."
You'd be surprised at how many mitzvot are already credited to your personal account and the universal account, ready and awaiting redemption. Keep up the good work. But don't stop there. Do an extra positive activity every day in the realm of thought, speech or action. Before you know it, we'll be able to redeem our points at the highest reward level for which the entire world is certainly eligible, the level of the Messianic Era.
The first two portions of the Torah, Bereishis and Noach, share an essential connection, as both pertain to the creation and existence of the world.
Bereishis, read last week, describes the actual creation, while in Noach, this week's reading, G-d promises that He will sustain the world and never bring another flood.
Symbolically, these two portions represent two different levels of the perfection of creation.
Bereishis represents the world's perfection as it is created by G-d, without man's input or interaction. Noach represents a level of perfection that can only be attained by man's efforts, i.e., the service of teshuva, returning to G-d in repentance.
From the perspective of the first level, there is no possibility for disobeying G-d's will. Were man to disobey G-d, he would automatically lose his right to exist. This is indeed what occurred at the end of last week's portion, when "G-d saw that the evil of man was great... and G-d said, 'I will destroy the man whom I have created.' "
This week, however, we see that man has been given the power to refine himself, and to reach an even higher level of perfection than before his sin. This ability is alluded to by the rainbow, symbolic of G-d's covenant with Noach and G-d's great joy when His children bring the world to even higher levels of perfection through their own actions.
This concept is also reflected in the particular Names of G-d which are used to describe the act of creation and in regard to Noach.
According to the Torah, the world was created by G-d using the Name "Elokim"; likewise, "Elokim" is used an additional 32 times in reference to creation. The Name used in reference to Noach, however, is the ineffable name of G-d which cannot be pronounced.
Elokim, the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew word for "nature," represents a level of holiness that is limited, whereas the Tetragrammaton represents a level which is above all limitations.
We learn from this that the world, as it was created and without man's contribution, has the potential for only a limited revelation of G-dliness; it is solely through the service of man that the higher, infinite and unlimited revelation of G-dliness is achieved.
This idea is further expressed by the months in which these Torah portions are read.
Bereishis is read in Tishrei, the month of holidays; moreover, at least some of the days corresponding to the week in which Bereishis is read are themselves holidays.
Noach, however, is read in the month of Cheshvan, all of whose weekdays are ordinary days. For as symbolized by Noach, man's essential task in this world is to elevate even the most mundane aspects of life and reveal the unlimited potential for G-dliness contained therein.
Adapted from Sefer HaSichot of the Rebbe, 5752, Vol. I
By Susan Zakar
In the spring of 1993, I was watching over my husband's shoulder in our basement in Bowie, MD., as he meandered through a bunch of messages on the Internet. The discussions of software bugs and new software utilities were mildly interesting, but I wondered if there might be something more worthwhile.
"Anything Jewish out there?" I asked, hoping to find some useful suggestions for teaching my fourth grade Hebrew class at the nearby Reform synagogue to which we belonged.
"There's 'soc.culture.jewish.'," my husband Joe replied.
I don't think either of us ever dreamed where this would eventually lead...
For the next two hours I sat spellbound, reading messages from Jews all over the world -- from the U.S., from Israel, from England and Australia. They were all talking to each other, carrying on discussions and debates on everything from women rabbis to terrorism in Israel.
I was hooked.
Whenever the opportunity arose, I'd ask Joe to let me on the computer and head right for s.c.j. There was just one problem: He didn't want me to write back, because any message would appear to be from him.
The obvious solution was for me to get my own internet account. Now I could send messages to folks all over the world, either on public forums, where everyone could read what I wrote and respond, or by private "email" where I could just talk one-on-one.
I was connected.
At the same time as all this was happening, I was also becoming increasingly frustrated with my lack of "spiritual growth" at my Temple. The questions I was asking just weren't getting answered. A few meetings with the rabbi resolved nothing. At the same time, I was pretty angry at Orthodoxy for the way it seemed to treat women. (There was no Orthodox shul in Bowie; my impressions were from attending my father-in-law's shul in Queens, NY)
So one evening, I vented my confusion on the Internet. To the whole world (well, everyone who happened to be on s.c.j.) I wrote a message:
"Why do the Orthodox treat women the way they do?"
I got many answers; from Orthodox Jews, mostly. There was Michelle, a programmer in California, Sheldon a physicist in Silver Spring, MD., David at Tulane University in New Orleans, Benjamin in Australia, Yosef Kazen of Chabad in Brooklyn, and a couple of others. The subject was tossed around publicly on s.c.j., then a few diehards started chatting with me privately, via email. I began to see how little I really knew on the subject, which I admitted to a couple of them. They said I had to learn mo re, and suggested books to read.
Shavuot was approaching. Our Temple didn't "do" Shavuot -- except for a potluck dinner. I asked on a local computer newsgroup about where I could go instead. I also started calling around to see when a couple of Conservative Synagogues were going to have services.
As it turned out, I got sick and was home in bed for Shavuot. Too tired for much else, I spent the day reading a couple of the books that the folks on the net had recommended.
What I learned from those books and several other events set the stage for what was to follow.
First, we decided to give up on our Reform Temple -- resign. I vented my frustrations over the computer, this time on something called FIDOnet, explaining why we were going to join the Conservative synagogue. Of course, there were responses, including one from the guy in Australia, who asked why we didn't just go "all the way" and become Orthodox. I answered that we couldn't because we'd have to move...and a few other excuses that I'm not even sure I bought into.
Second, the Conservative rabbi was in Israel for the summer.
Third, three different people on the net all recommended that I talk to one particular Orthodox rabbi in Silver Spring -- Rabbi Teitelbaum. I wondered if Someone was trying to tell me something -- but I really wouldn't have had the courage to contact the rabbi, except that...
Fourth, something that I had read in one of the books made me very worried that there had been a serious problem with my conversion 18 years before. I spoke to Joe, and he agreed that it was important for me to address it, if only for my peace of mind.
It was with a great deal of trepidation that I sat in his office at the yeshiva, and presented Rabbi Teitelbaum with the information I put together.
"It's clear to me that you are not Jewish," he concluded, confirming my worst fears. "You understand that your children are not Jewish either." I was, of course, devastated.
We talked for his whole lunch hour. By the time I left, I had a clear picture of what my choices were; I knew I would have an Orthodox conversion.
It was in large measure because of the support of the few observant Jews whom I knew only over the computer net that I found the strength to make the decisions that had to be made, face the problems, and determine to overcome them.
The details of the problems and process will have to wait for another time. Suffice it to say that, in the end, we moved from Bowie to Baltimore and the kids and I had kosher conversions. In more ways than one, we had come home.
The real story here, though, is not mine, because it is not unique.
A number of other people have written that they have become more religious because of what they have learned from other Jews on the net. The real story here is that Hashem has provided an incredible opportunity to reach out and to teach Torah to Jews all over the world.
Meeting other Jews from around the globe, sharing thoughts, discussing issues of Jewish concern...the Internet is a powerful weapon against the lack of learning, and it's a fascinating adventure.
This article, which appeared on the internet, was originally written for Susan's shul newspaper.
One must right a wrong which he committed, e.g., if one stole, one must return the stolen object. This includes even a more abstract concept of theft, to cite an example given by our Sages, a person who does not return a greeting which he was given. Even if a person had no intent of hurting his colleague's feelings and the reason he failed to return the greeting was because one was involved with the performance of a mitzva, he is required to appease his colleague.
MARRIAGE: TRULY ONE
8 Tishrei, 5722 (1962)
I received your letter, in which you write about the various problems relating to the arrangement of your wedding in a happy and auspicious hour.
Generally speaking, and as I have written to you before, and to others in similar circumstances, it is necessary to bear in mind that a marriage is not only the beginning of a partnership, but the beginning of a union, where both parties truly become one, and united for life, in order to set up an "everlasting edifice," as mentioned in the text of the sacred blessings.
Therefore, it is clear that everything should be done in order to assure the maximum degree of compliance with the will of G-d, the Creator and Master of the universe and of man, Whose Providence extends to everyone individually.
Even if it is a question of Hiddur [enhancement of a mitzva], or even an extra measure of Hiddur, and even if there are some difficulties to overcome in this connection, no effort should be spared to do even that, because it is all for the added benefit of the "everlasting edifice."
Incidentally, even among non-Jews, tremendous importance is attached to the marriage ceremony, which is attended by all sorts of customs and practices designed to bring good luck and good fortune to the newlyweds, with all sorts of symbols, good omens, etc.
As for the question of the actual problems, it is necessary to consult an Orthodox Rav in your vicinity, to whom you could personally and orally explain all the details.
It is also essential to remember that the ways of the Torah are ways of pleasantness and peace, and nothing is more hateful than dissension and strife, while nothing is more praiseworthy than peace, which is the "vessel" for all blessings. It is in this spirit that the various problems and differences should be settled.. .
27th of Shevat, 5722 (1962)
I received your letter of the 20th of Shevat, in which you bring to my attention the problem of a certain businessman in your community, Mr. K., who is generally an observant Jew, but is involved in a business which makes it difficult for him to observe Shabbat, but now a suggestion was made to him to enter another field in which he could avoid the desecration of Shabbat.
It is clear to the unbiased mind, and even to plain common sense, that the Al-mighty, Who is the Giver of the Torah and mitzvot, is also the Creator and Master of the world, Whose benevolent Providence extends to everyone individually. Therefore when G-d commanded us to live in the way of the Torah and mitzvot, He has also given us the ability to live accordingly under all circumstances, and He has given us also the power to overcome any obstacles.
It is only a matter of will and determination on the part of every Jew, since, potentially, he has the fullest capacity to live up to the will and commandments of G-d, the Creator and Master of the world.
It is also obvious that this is the only way for a Jew to be truly happy, materially and spiritually. It is only because G-d is infinitely merciful and patient that He does not immediately impose the consequences of any breach of His commandments, in order to permit the individual to mend his ways.
It is also equally obvious that no lasting good can come from breaking G-d's laws, especially such a fundamental law as Shabbat observance, for the important thing is not how much money a person earns, but that he should be able to spend it in good health and on happy things, which is entirely in the hands of G-d.
In view of the above, it is quite clear what your attitude (of the businessman in question) should be, even if there were no other immediate business proposition. For it is necessary, without delay, to give up the kind of business which interferes with Shabbat observance, with the full confidence that He who feeds and sustains three billion people and all living things will also be able to take care of the individual and his family, and provide him with a source of parnasa [livelihood] which should not be in conflict with the will of G-d.
I trust you will convey the above to the Gentleman in question, as well as to others who might be in a similar position.
Hoping to hear good news from you,
END OF DAYS
The Lubavitch Youth Organization in Israel has begun to publish a monthly newsletter entitled, Acharit Hayamim -- the End of Days. The four-page publication was created after the Rebbe's emissaries in Israel convened in Tiberias and discussed the great need for clear material to teach about the unique era in which we find ourselves.
LYO in Israel also publishes weekly Sichat HaShavua, the sister publication of L'Chaim.
FAX TO HEBRON
If you would like your prayerful requests mentioned at the resting place of our patriarchs and matriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sara, Rebecca and Leah) in the Ma'arat HaMachpela in Hebron you can fax them to 972-2-992-444. This service is free of charge.
This week we read the Torah portion of Noach in which we find G-d's promise that the world will continue to exist forever; it will never end.
"The end is near." What does this phrase mean? Certainly not the end of the world but the end of the bitter days of exile. The end of oppression and hatred, poverty and sickness, war and crime.
Why should we be afraid that the end is approaching? Should that thought truly place fear in our hearts? Or should we not be excited that "the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the ocean."
Fear is not necessarily the appropriate feeling. Rather, possibly a sense of regret, as the Rebbe stated, "When Moshiach comes, then we will long for the days of exile" Why? Because at that time we will look back at a replay of our lives and see all of the instances when we could have done more good, more mitzvot, judged less harshly, been more generous. Thus, we might look toward the imminently approaching days of Moshiach with a little anxiety. But the positive anticipation should far outweigh our trepidation.
Would the Jews, from our greatest leaders to the simplest person, have looked forward to, longed for, prayed, begged and beseeched G-d for 2,000 years if the Redemption would not be good for everyone? In fact, we are told that this redemption for which we wait anxiously is called the "geula ha-amitit v'hashleima" -- the true and complete redemption -- because every single Jew, as well as all righteous gentiles, have a portion in the Redemption.
Let us take one more lesson from this week's Torah portion and relate it to the topic of Redemption as well.
Noach was a tzadik, a righteous person. But he had one major failing. He was commanded by G-d to build an ark, which he did obediently and gladly. But he did not actively seek to help the people of his generation return to G-d. He was content to save himself and his family.
Let us all make sure not only to prepare ourselves and to feel positive and anxious about the imminent redemption. Let us make sure to influence those in our surroundings as well.
And he sent forth a dove (Gen. 8:8)
Where did it fly? To the land of Israel, which had not been inundated by the great Flood. The Jewish people is likened to a dove. Banished and exiled over the face of the earth, the Jew's heart is nonetheless always drawn to the Holy Land, the land of Israel.
(Be'er Mayim Chaim)
Go forth from the ark (Gen. 8:16)
"Your whole approach is wrong," G-d told Noach. "A person should not remain isolated from the world, safe and secure within the 'four cubits of Torah.' It is not right to think only about yourself. 'Go forth from the ark' -- go out into the marketplace and mingle with the crowd, where you can influence them for good."
In the six hundredth year of Noach's life... all the fountains of the great deep were opened and the windows of heaven were opened (Gen. 7:11)
According to the Zohar, this refers to the six hundredth year of the sixth millennium (5600 -- corresponding to the civil year of 1840), when the gates of wisdom above (G-dly knowledge, specifically the inner, mystical teachings of the Torah) and the fountains of wisdom below (science and technology) were opened in preparation for the Messianic era, when "The whole earth shall be full with the knowledge of G-d."
The Baal Shem Tov sent one of his disciples, Avraham, on a trip.
The ship on which Avraham was traveling encountered a terrible storm and capsized. Avraham was thrown into the tempestuous ocean and the next thing he knew, he was on the beach of a small island. Neither the wreckage of the ship nor the other passengers were anywhere in sight.
Avraham explored the island, going a little further each day, in the hope of finding someone who could help him.
When Thursday arrived, Avraham went the deepest into the island he had gone yet. He found a little village that was eerily still, perfectly silent.
Avraham explored the entire village which was comprised of a synagogue and a few dozen houses. He was astonished to see that the entire village was empty and yet every single house was immaculately clean; not even a thin layer of dust had accumulated on any of the furnishings. The village was truly a mystery.
Avraham decided to return to the deserted village on Friday and spend Shabbat there, albeit by himself. Friday morning, Avraham made his way to the village. But now the village was packed with people, all busy preparing for Shabbat. He grabbed one of the villagers excitedly and asked, "Where did all of you come from? I was here just yesterday and no one was anywhere in sight. It is as if you materialized our of thin air!" Avraham concluded.
Politely but firmly, the villager responded, "Excuse me, but I am very busy preparing for Shabbat. Go to the synagogue this evening. There you will find our rabbi who will certainly tell you everything you want to know."
Avraham did as he was told and after the evening services asked the rabbi for an explanation. The rabbi responded: "Be my guest this Shabbat and we will discuss this topic as well as many more interesting subjects."
That Shabbat in the rabbi's home was the most sublime, the most exalted, the holiest Shabbat he had ever experienced in his life.
Avraham felt as if the very gates of the Garden of Eden had been opened to him and he was partaking of the same Shabbat that the souls there experience. In fact, so unique was this Shabbat that Avraham totally forgot to ask the rabbi the question.
As the end of Shabbat approached, all of the villagers gathered in the synagogue. The rabbi recited the special prayer (Havdala) separating Shabbat from the rest of the week. The rabbi and all of the other villagers then dipped their fingertips into the wine of Havdala and passed their fingers over their eyes. And then, they all... vanished.
Before Avraham even realized what had happened, everyone was gone. The entire village was once more deserted.
Avraham waited in the village the entire week for the holy Shabbat to arrive. When he awoke Friday morning, he smelled gefilte fish cooking, challahs baking, chicken roasting. The village was once more busy with preparations for Shabbat. And once more, when Avraham tried to ask anyone where they had been the entire week, he received a polite but firm rebuff.
Shabbat arrived and what a beautiful, magnificent, holy Shabbat it was. Avraham once more was the guest at the house of the rabbi. And once more, Avraham forgot to ask his question.
But, when Shabbat ended this time, Avraham suddenly remembered that he must find out the village's story. When the rabbi had finished reciting Havdala, Avraham grabbed hold of his hand. "I will not let go of you until you unravel the mystery of your village for me," Avraham told the rabbi.
The rabbi, having no other choice, told Avraham the following story:
"Everyone in this village was a resident of a small town outside of Jerusalem when the Holy Temple stood. Shabbat was the favorite mitzva of our little town and we celebrated it gloriously. When the Holy Temple was destroyed our town was also destroyed and all of its inhabitants were killed.
"When we went to Heaven, we all approached the Divine Throne united, as one, just as we had always been united in our love for and observance of Shabbat. We protested to G-d, 'Heaven -- which is totally spiritual -- is not a just reward for our community, as our true love and desire has always been to uphold and celebrate the holy Shabbat. And this we will not be able to do in Heaven. Let us return to the physical, mundane world each week, on the eve of Shabbat, celebrate Shabbat there, and then we will return to Heaven.'
"G-d agreed. And since that time, for these thousands of years, each Shabbat eve we return to the physical world and celebrate Shabbat."
The rabbi then took a piece of parchment and wrote upon it various combinations of the letters of G-d's Name. He told Avraham to take this parchment to the ocean. Avraham was to close his eyes and begin walking into the ocean, all the while holding the parchment in his hand above the water. When he felt he could walk no further, Avraham was to throw the parchment into the air and he would find himself on the shores of the water near his home. The rabbi then passed his fingers over his eyes and vanished.
Avraham made his way to the shore and did as the rabbi had instructed him. When the water was almost covering his nose he pulled back his arm to throw the parchment. But then he felt a hand grab hold of his arm and drag him along. Avraham opened his eyes to find himself near his home. The Baal Shem Tov was holding his arm so that he could not throw the parchment into the air.
The Baal Shem Tov asked Avraham for the parchment.
"This is why I sent you on the mission," the Baal Shem Tov explained to Avraham. "I will be able to use the kabbalistic formula written upon this parchment to arrive instantly (k'fitzat haderech) anywhere in the world. I will be able to help Jews wherever they are and further spread the teachings of Chasidism which will hasten the coming of Moshiach."
There is no need to create the desire within a Jew to fortify himself and to take action to hasten the daybreak of the Redemption.
All that is needed is to wake him up from his slumbers. Once that is done, there is no doubt that he will do whatever he can to bring about the Redemption.
(The Rebbe, 5751)