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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
This Thursday, Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving. For many, it is a day of family gatherings, stuffed turkey with cranberry sauce, store sales, a long-weekend and the Macy's Parade.
How many people, as they nibble at their pumpkin pie, will stop to consider the motivation behind this three-hundred-year-old observance?
The pilgrims came here because in their own country they were unable to practice their religion in freedom. And, it was upon the ideal of religious freedom that this country was established.
On our currency, in our patriotic songs, by the manner in which an official is sworn into office or a witness is sworn to tell the truth, we still see the ideals of the Founding Fathers.
But is the principle of religious freedom evident in other areas of our lives, especially in a manner in which we educate our children?
In preparation for Thanksgiving, school-age children learn about the friendship between the Native Americans (Indians) and the Pilgrims. They draw pictures of turkeys and decorate their classrooms in fall colors. But how many of them are taught WHY the Pilgrims came to this country?
It has become almost a crime to teach any semblance of belief in a Higher Power and moral awareness to children in this country. Mention words like religion, G-d, prayer or Bible and you're likely to get your knuckles rapped. (You will not, however be penalized if you teach about abortion, alternative life-styles or suicide.) Ethics courses exist on the high school and college level, but they're filled with obscure case studies through which students are supposedly taught to distinguish between right and wrong.
This mis-education might explain why crime experts report that crimes are becoming more violent, more indiscriminate, and the criminals less remorseful.
Jewish teachings explicate the verse which describes the Ten Commandments being engraved -- "charut" -- in stone: "Do not read it `charat' but `chayrut'-- freedom [the same Hebrew letters but a different pronunciation]. For one is only truly free when occupied with Torah."
Even in the most progressive schools it has been proven that children need boundaries, discipline, rules. And adults need them too.
The Torah and mitzvot form a Divine system of discipline created by the greatest Psychologist of all. Passing trends and flitting fancies don't phase Him. True freedom is experienced by those who accept upon themselves the discipline of the Divine system of Torah and mitzvot.
Many people, unfortunately, have come to equate religious freedom with freedom FROM religion. Perhaps G-d has indeed blessed America, precisely because it was established with the vision of religious freedom for all.
This week's Torah portion, Toldot, contains the famous story of Esau's sale of his first-born rights to his brother Jacob for a pot of porridge.
Subsequently, Jacob listens to his mother's advice and dresses up as Esau in order to receive the blessing of the first-born from his father, Isaac. "The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau," Isaac tells his son Jacob when Jacob comes to receive the blessings.
Our Sages comment on this verse that against the "voice of Jacob," Esau has "no hands," that is, he has no power or authority. When the "voice of Jacob" -- the voice and sound of Torah learning -- is heard, the "hands of Esau" -- the threats of the enemies of the Jewish people -- have no power over us.
The same holds true in reverse. When the voice of Torah is weakened, G-d forbid, the "hands of Esau" are able to overcome us. This latter alternative has already come to pass with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, as stated by the prophet Jeremiah: "For what reason was the land lost? Because they had forsaken My Torah."
In our times, too, nearly 2,000 years after the destruction of the Holy Temple, it must be emphasized that Jerusalem's existence still depends on the study of Torah. To be sure, we cannot change the facts of the past, but we are able to remove its cause and thus hasten the rebuilding and restoration of Jerusalem.
Our Sages state: "Any generation in whose days the Holy Temple is not rebuilt, it is reckoned against that generation as if it was destroyed in its time." The destruction is thus not simply an historical event that happened in the distant past. Its consequences extend to this very day, and the event, therefore, must be seen as something which is happening even now -- as if the Holy Temple, as it were, were being destroyed this very moment. It follows, then, that it is our duty (and we do have the ability) to rid ourselves of the cause of the destruction and prevent its present recurrence.
How can this be accomplished? Through the study of Torah.
The study of Torah is the antidote to the destruction, and will bring about the restoration of Jerusalem, the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, and the immediate revelation of our Righteous Moshiach!
Adapted from Torat Menachem, Vol. I of the Rebbe
(Pictured in the printed version)
Yisroel Gordon surrounded by his siblings and mother
by Rishi Deitsch
My grandfather, Yochonon Gordon, and his wife, Bobbe Zeesa, lived in a town in Poland named Dokszyce. My grandparents had three healthy children, but they had also suffered the loss of several children, both before and after their births. Now Zeesa was pregnant again, and in her late forties. They were worried about how this pregnancy would turn out, and were concerned for Zeesa's health throughout the pregnancy and birth.
So Zeesa went to Dr. Tzemach Shabad, head of the Vilna Jewish Hospital. Dr. Shabad listened to Zeesa's history, examined her, and pronounced his opinion: "Madame, this time you must go to the hospital to give birth. And even before then, you should go and be cared for in the hospital for a few months before you are due to give birth."
This was radical advice in those days. It was certainly not something one should do without heavenly guidance. So my Zaide wrote a letter to his brother Yosef who lived in America. He asked Yosef to ask the Previous Rebbe, who was then in America, for advice and guidance.
The Rebbe replied that Zeesa should remain at home and not check into any hospital. And when the time came for her to give birth, she was not to go to the hospital even then, but was to give birth at home with the local midwife in attendance! And, the Rebbe added, Zeesa and Yochonon would see that this child would be a "living and lasting offspring."
When Zeesa went into labor, Yochonon wrote a letter to the Rebbe, saying that his wife, Zeesa bas Leah Pesha, was in labor and asked that the birth should go well for her, and should result in a healthy baby. Yochonon then put the letter into the Tanya (where it remained for many decades). And so my father, Yisroel, was born.
Yochonon was the last of his four brothers to come to America from Europe. As he told his brothers who were going before him, he was worried about being able to provide the "old-fashioned" Jewish education and atmosphere which he wanted for his children. When the Previous Rebbe was in America in 1929, he said to Yochonon's brothers, "A fire is burning in Europe; save your brother!" They told the Rebbe about their brother's fear. The Rebbe promised that when he would spend Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur with Yochonon in Riga, he would speak to him about it.
Yochonon used to travel every year to the Previous Rebbe in Riga where he would lead the morning prayers on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. It was during this time, in the year 1931, that the Rebbe brought up Yochonon's reluctance to move to America. "I'm afraid my children won't remain religious," Yochonon said simply.
The Rebbe promised Yochonon that if he would come to America, his children would remain religious. Yochonon remonstrated with the Rebbe that he wanted his sons to learn in the Rebbe's yeshivot, then located in Warsaw, Vilna and other places. The Rebbe replied insistently, "Your sons WILL learn in my yeshivot."
At that time it was beyond my grandparents' imagination that the Previous Rebbe might one day set up yeshivot in America! But of course he did, and two of Yochonon's sons and his son-in-law learned in it.
With communication almost nonexistent between continents in those days, America was a total unknown, and it seemed wild and inconceivable to uproot the whole family and move to America.
Yochonon, his father, grandfather and his great-grandfather were all ritual slaughterers in Dokszyce. What sort of life awaited him and his family in America? Why take a chance? But with the Rebbe's promise, and prodding, Yochonon finally did make the move. He first went to America by himself, sending for the family and reuniting with them in 1934. The youngest child, my father, was only 22 months old when Yochonon left.
When my father saw his father again at the age of four-and-a-half, it was exactly like meeting a stranger to the small boy. Of course, to the father the child was familiar. He had been receiving letters from his family all along, with all the news. He was kept informed of "the baby's" progress, too.
My father remembers meeting his father for the first time. He recalls that he was dreading the event, since his mother, two older brothers and older sister, Esther, had constantly promised to tell "Tatte in America" of any wrongdoing. His worst fears were confirmed when his father saw his family coming off the boat and, excited to see them, wagged his finger at them, as if to say, "I'm going to get you!" My father took this as proof that his mother had, indeed, told his father about every time he'd gone to sleep late or missed a day of yeshiva!
For a very long time my father had difficulty feeling close to his father. When urged to act more familiar, he would respond with perfect childlike honesty, "I don't know you, sir." The ice was finally broken on a Yom Kippur almost two years after the family was reunited.
Yochonon wasn't the type of man who felt at home in the kitchen. Even his tea was served to him European-style by his wife, or daughter, Esther.
Therefore, it amazed the little boy of six to see his father leave shul to take him home, go into the kitchen on Yom Kippur, cut a slice of challa, spread butter on it, pour a drink, etc. and take the child to wash and eat. Yochonon's preparing the little Yom Kippur meal for his son, and lovingly seeing to it that he ate, opened up little Yisroel's eyes. He knew what a reversal of his father's nature it was, and could only deduce that this man who they say is Tatte must really love him.
Rishi Deitsch is Senior Editor of the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter.
Reprinted with permission from the Newsletter
Be "charitable" on Shabbat
Charity should be given each and every day. But how is this accomplished on Shabbat, when it is forbidden to handle money? Instead of money, we can give food and drink to guests or we can make sure to speak well of another person, say an encouraging word to someone, pay someone a compliment.
TORAH STUDY FOR NON-JEWS
19 Elul, 5745 (1985)
This is to acknowledge receipt now of your letter of the 1st of Iyar, in which you write about your desire to learn Torah, though you are not Jewish.
I trust you know that the Torah itself has instructions as to the approach in such a situation. This is that the Torah -- and in a broader sense it includes not only the Written Torah, but also the Oral Torah (Talmud, etc.) -- contains parts which ARE in order to be studied by gentiles, namely, those that deal with the so-called Seven Noahide Laws, in all their ramifications and details, which are incumbent upon all human beings, both Jew and gentile.
On the other hand, there are other parts of the Torah which are of no relevance to gentiles, and for various reasons, gentiles should not be encouraged to take time out to study them, time that they can use to better and practical advantage by studying, practicing and promoting the said Seven Noahide Laws.
In light of the above, I suggest that you should personally discuss the matter with a competent Orthodox Rabbi, who only could explain the above more fully, and at the same time provide you with guidance as to how to go about your study of Torah.
I would like to add a further point, which I trust you know, that from the Torah viewpoint, there is no need whatever for a gentile to convert to Judaism, in order to achieve fulfillment in accordance with the design of the Creator.
On the contrary, Jews are required to discourage a would-be convert from the idea of conversion, which could also be further explained to you by the Rabbi you will consult with.
I take this opportunity -- inasmuch as Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, is a day of Divine judgment pertaining to all peoples and nations -- to extend to you prayerful wishes for success in the new year.
P.S. Because of your obvious concern with the matter, this letter is sent to you via special delivery.
10 Cheshvan, 5734 (1973)
In addition to the reports that I receive from time to time indirectly, I was pleased to receive just now Mrs. Stern's letter of the 4th of Cheshvan. I was gratified to read the good news about her activities in S. Africa, especially with the school children. Now it is quite evident how important and urgent has been the appeal made in the latter part of this summer centered on [Psalm 8:2] "From the mouths of babes and sucklings ... so as to ..."
The above, incidentally, conveys a basic lesson, which becomes more obvious by analogy from medicine, which has two general aspects: cure and prevention. The first has to do with curing the sick; the second -- with preventing sickness. At first glance, the accomplishment of the physician in curing the sick seems more impressive by its dramatic results, than preventative medicine, where there could be some delusion that sickness would be somehow avoided. In truth, however, it is surely better to be certain of immunity to sickness. The latter is the way of G-d, as it is written: "Every malady... I will not place upon you because I, G-d, am your Healer"
In the present situation, the "enemy and avenger" has made no secret of his intentions, which emphasizes again how true is the saying of our Sages that "the person to whom the miracle happens does not recognize the miracle" and in a manner of "the person to whom the miracle happens does not recognize the miracle", this is clearly the more desirable way, and may G-d grant that henceforth it will be only in this way.
In light of the above it is more urgent than ever to spread the Torah, Torat Chayim, and your contribution through the "Betrachtungen" [consideration] is certainly an important part of this endeavor.
TODAY'S JEWISH WOMAN
Today's Jewish Woman for a Better Tomorrow is the theme of the 34th Regional Mid-Winter Convention of the Lubavitch Women's Organization. This year's convention will be held in Toronto, Canada over the weekend of January 12 - 14. Women from all walks of life and from all over North America will be attending the convention. For more information call the Lubavitch House in Toronto at (905) 731-7000.
SAYING MAZAL TOV
For centuries it has been customary for women to adorn the birthing room and cradle with Psalm 121 (Shir Lama'alot) which states our dependence on G-d for our well-being and His commitment to guard us. If you or someone you know is expecting a child, you can get a free, full-color print of this Pslam by writing to LEFJME, 1442 Union St., Bklyn, NY 11213 or call 718-756-5700.
Limited copies of bound volumes of the 5th, 6th and 7th years of L'Chaim are available. The books are $25 at the L'Chaim office. For mail orders add $3 s&h per book and send checks to: L'Chaim - 1408 President Street, Bklyn, NY 11213.
On this Shabbat three years ago, the Rebbe addressed his emissaries who carry out his work throughout the world. Speaking at a gathering that opened the International Conference of Shluchim [Emissaries], the Rebbe stated that a different dimension of the emissary's mission now needs to be emphasized. The Rebbe said:
"It must be emphasized that the task of the shluchim in the present age, and particularly at this time, is to prepare for the acceptance of Moshiach and the advent of the ultimate Redemption. This is the task facing every Jew, for we are all shluchim of G-d...
"To explain: Although as a whole our mission is constant and unchanging, from time to time, a different dimension of the mission receives emphasis. At that time, that dimension permeates the entire mission and defines its character, serving as the gateway through which the entire mission ascends. Surely, this applies in the present instance, when the emphasis is on such an essential and all- encompassing point, preparing for Moshiach's coming.
"As mentioned repeatedly in the past, we are not speaking about a matter of the distant future, but rather a present and immediate concern... The climate in the world at large is ripe for this. We see that it is much easier to explain to a Jew -- even one who seemingly is far from such concepts -- that in addition to his individual service, he has the responsibility of acting as a shliach and motivating others to be conscious of the imminence of the Redemption and carry out an appropriate service. This must begin with the members of his household, and spread to encompass his friends, and indeed, his entire circle of influence....
"What is in fact required of us? The Chatam Sofer explains that in each generation there is an individual who is fit to be Moshiach and 'when the time comes, G-d will reveal Himself to him and send him.' The service at present is thus to be prepared to actually accept Moshiach and create a climate in which he can accomplish his mission and redeem Israel from the exile.
"This is the task of the International Conference of Shluchim: First and foremost, to make a public statement that this is the task confronting us -- to prepare ourselves to accept Moshiach. Every aspect of our service and every dimension of our activity must be directed to this goal."
May we merit the achievement of our goal immediately.
A ladder was standing on the ground and the top of it reached to heaven. (Gen 28:12)
The Hebrew word for ladder (sulam) has the same numerical value as money (mamon). This teachers us that money is like a ladder -- it can be used to ascend and come closer to the heavens, or with it one can descend to the depths. Everything depends on how we use it and for what purpose.
(The Baal Shem Tov)
The man [Isaac] became great, and grew more and more... (Gen. 23:13)
It is common that as a person becomes richer, the person within him becomes smaller and smaller. The greatness of Isaac was that even though he became more and more wealthy, he increased and expanded in his qualities as a person.
(Rabbi Yitzchak of Torchow)
Isaac had grown old and his eyesight was failing. (Gen. 27:1)
Rashi explained that Isaac's eyesight was failing him so that Jacob could receive the blessing. In order to assure that Jacob would receive the blessing was it necessary for Isaac's eyesight to fail him? Wouldn't it have been "easier" for G-d to have revealed to Isaac that Esau was wicked and therefore undeserving of the blessing? However, G-d didn't want to speak badly about Esau. If this is true concerning the wicked Esau, all the more must we be extremely careful not to gossip about or slander any Jew.
Once upon a time, there lived in a village a fine Jewish family with five lively children. They could have been very happy, but unfortunately, they were very poor, and the day finally came when they lacked even a few crusts of bread in the house.
In desperation, the wife came to her husband and said, "Please, go into the city and try to find someone who will lend you some money to buy bread for the children."
"You know I have no relative or friend who can help me. Do you want me to go and beg on the street? Only G-d can help us."
The wife did not reply, but when the hungry children began to cry for food, she again approached her husband and said, "Please go to the city. There perhaps you will find some way of earning money, after all, G-d can always find some way to make a miracle."
So, the husband went to the city, and when he arrived there he uttered a prayer, "Master of the Universe, You provide for all the creatures of the earth, have You nothing for my poor hungry children? Please help me in my hour of need."
His tears must have broken through the Heavens, for a moment later a stranger approached him, and in a calm voice asked, "What is wrong? Why do you weep so?"
The man unburdened his heavy heart to the kind stranger. "Don't despair. I can help you. Take me to the marketplace and sell me as a slave. With the money you get you will be able to purchase whatever you need."
The man was astonished at these words. "What are you suggesting?! How could I possibly accept such a sacrifice from you? Besides, who would believe that such a pauper as I would have such a fine slave?"
"Don't worry. We will exchange clothing. As for my sacrifice, don't worry about that either. I am a master builder, and I won't remain a slave for long. The only thing I ask is that you sell me only to the person I will point out to you and that you give me one gold coin of the coins you will receive for my sale."
So, they proceeded to the marketplace, the stranger dressed in the pauper's clothing. When a rich-looking coach drove up, the "slave" winked in his "master's" direction, indicating that this was the appropriate buyer. The sale was transacted, and the man offered his former "slave" the gold coin. He took it, but then returned it, saying, "Keep this coin for good luck, and G-d bless you and your family with health, wealth, and much joy from you dear children."
The husband returned home to a joyous welcome, laden with all sorts of food and clothing that the family had all but forgotten existed.
Meanwhile, the slave was brought to the royal palace as a special gift for the king. When the king inquired what particular job he was best at, he replied, "I am a master builder."
The king was overjoyed at his reply, for at that time, the king was involved in planning a magnificent new palace, but an architect had not yet been engaged. The slave was given the job of constructing the new edifice. The royal storehouses of gold and silver were made available to the slave as well as the permission to hire as many workers as necessary to complete the job.
"If you complete the construction to my satisfaction within six months, I will reward you handsomely, as well as giving you your freedom," promised the king.
That very evening, the slave, who was Elijah the Prophet, prayed to G-d that His angels descend and build the palace for the king. His prayer was answered, and that same night the palace stood in all its magnificence and glory.
When the king arose and beheld this miracle, he couldn't believe his eyes. He rushed out to inspect every corner of his new palace, stroll through its wondrous gardens, and marvel at the elegantly furnished suites.
Returning to his old residence, the king immediately sent for his slave, but there was no trace of him.
The Jew had prospered through the sale of his "slave," but the thought of what had become of his benefactor haunted him every day. He was filled with guilt for having allowed the kind man to sacrifice himself for him.
Then, one day, as he walked through the market, he saw the man coming towards him. He rushed up to him and embraced him warmly. "How have you been, my dear friend? I was so worried about you all this time!"
The man smiled, "I told you I wouldn't be a slave for long," and he recounted how he had been given to the king and had built a new palace for him and had become a free man once more.
Then Elijah blessed the man again and reminded him to always be kind to the poor, love his fellow man, and walk humbly before G-d. "If you do this and instruct your children in this way, your wealth will not leave you or your children for many generations." And just as the man was about to thank him, he seemed to melt into the surrounding crowd and disappear.
Adapted From Talks and Tales
The belief in Moshiach is not simply a hope for a blissful and carefree state of utopia. Rather, it is a belief in a world realizing its G-d-given potential, in which we will be able to strive for greater spiritual heights.
Since the advent of Moshiach is the culmination of a process and the beginning of a new and higher dimension of Divine service, every effort we make now is part of the Messianic process. We experience the Messianic era today by living that kind of life today.
(Sefer HaSichot, 5751)