Melatonin | 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 Lieba Rudolph
Ask anyone who knows anything about the latest news in health and vitamins and you'll hear only one word: melatonin. Inexpensive, natural and virtually free of side-effects so far, melatonin is the drug of choice for those who need help falling asleep. And it's being touted as the wonder drug for those who wouldn't mind slowing down the aging process. Books about melatonin are on the best-sellers list and stores have to limit quantities to avoid shortages.
Never has a hormone gotten such hype. Why all the excitement?
Eternal youth has been until now an eternal dream, but this generation seems to be determined to find the cure for mortality. We research cooking oils, run for miles only to end up where we started, drink red wine even if we prefer white, all in the name of longevity. At long last, a little drug promises to be the fountain of youth.
Although we produce melatonin when we're young, our bodies' production steadily decreases as we get older. Scientific research indicates that melatonin is the chemical that in fact keeps us young; by replacing it after our bodies stop producing it, melatonin continues to have its anti-aging effect.
Only a few skeptics question this current rage. What about tampering with nature? Could there be a reason why our bodies stop producing melatonin? What are the long-term effects of taking it?
But most people aren't asking such questions. Melatonin sounds safe, it's easy to get, and even if it only prolongs our youth ever so slightly, this is a benefit too good to pass up.
We want Melatonin now. Hey, that sounds familiar. Because, in truth, the desire for eternal life is a by-product of "We want Moshiach now!"
The fact is that Moshiach will do much more than any wonder drug. Moshiach's arrival means healthy, happy bodies for alot longer than melatonin can promise. It means an end to poverty, war and disease. Moshiach's arrival even goes one step further than eternal youth, because the Messianic Era heralds the resurrection of the dead, with no harmful side effects.
There's nothing artificial about it -- Moshiach is as safe and natural as Judaism. And it's not a replacement or an additive; it's simply the revelation of that which already exists in the world.
What's more, the Rebbe has assured us that the time for Moshiach's arrival has come. As he said, "All we have to do is open our eyes and see."
Just what does that mean? For many, the message of Moshiach's awareness translates into increasing in acts of kindness and learning Torah; in short, preparing oneself and one's surroundings for Moshiach's imminent arrival by living as if he were already here. And although it's not always easy to do, living with the reality of Moshiach not only helps one feel better, it actually helps bring Moshiach.
Okay, so maybe melatonin does have its place in the world until Moshiach is totally revealed. Or maybe melatonin is actually part of the coming of Moshiach, preparing us for eternal life. But, either way, we can all learn from the enthusiasm for melatonin to increase in our enthusiasm and efforts to bring Moshiach -- the ultimate remedy.
In the beginning of this week's Torah portion, Vayeitzei, Jacob sets out from Israel and journeys toward Charan. Reaching Mount Moriah, the place where the Holy Temple would one day stand, he decided to spend the night. "And he reached a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun had set."
Our Sages tell us that this was the first time in 14 years that Jacob had slept, having occupied his nights as well as his days studying Torah in the yeshiva of Shem and Eber.
This raises a very important question. Why, having not slept in such a long time, did Jacob choose the holiest site in the world to finally allow himself to sleep?
In order to understand, we need to examine the phenomenon of sleep and its spiritual significance.
Man's unique advantage over all other creatures is most openly expressed by his upright stature when he is awake. At such times, his head, the seat of the intellect, is clearly superior to his heart, from whence the emotions are derived. At the very bottom are his feet, symbolic of man's capability to perform concrete actions. However, when a person lies down to sleep, his head, heart and feet are all on the same horizontal level.
The upper body symbolizes man's spirituality; the lower part, his physical nature. When one is awake, the superior, spiritual component is dominant (and thus physically on a higher level); sleep, therefore, represents a great descent, for the spiritual and the physical are one the same level.
Paradoxically, the phenomenon of sleep also expresses a much higher concept, one which transcends the limitations of the physical world. For from G-d's perspective, there is no difference at all between the spiritual and physical realms; both are identical when compared with Him.
Thus, when Jacob went to sleep on the holiest site on earth, the place where the light of the Infinite G-d illuminates most strongly, the limitations of the physical world (and indeed, the concept of "higher" and "lower" realms), were thus abnegated entirely.
This, then, is the inner meaning of Jacob's decision to sleep when he reached the site of the Holy Temple.
This same theme is also expressed in his dream of "a ladder set up on earth, and its head reached the heavens" -- linking and uniting both the physical and spiritual planes of existence.
The power to effect this connection was given to Jacob precisely during his journey to Charan, where he would marry and establish the Jewish people.
For in truth, establishing a dwelling place for G-d in this physical world is the essence of the mission of the Jewish people, a mission that will reach its ultimate fulfillment in the Messianic era, "when all flesh shall see that the mouth of G-d has spoken."
Adapted from Sefer HaSichot of the Rebbe, 5752, Vol. I
The Jewish people -- who are described by our prophets as "a light to the nations" -- are a guiding force in weaving the ethical and moral fabric of every community in which they live. They thereby make a "Kiddush Hashem" sanctifying G-d's Name.
With this in mind we present excerpts from two editorials in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from the week of September 13.
The Penzer Precedent
This week's announcement of a new Lazarus department store Downtown had an arresting sidelight: the news that the developer who owns the site of the new store consulted a tribunal of rabbis on whether he was morally obliged to sell the property to the city.
Richard Penzer had not signed any document promising to sell the city seven parcels of land near Fifth Avenue and Wood Street at the price agreed to in discussions that began eight months age. The question was whether he was ethically obliged to honor that gentlemen's agreement.
Mr. Penzer and his two partners, all Orthodox Jews, referred the question to a rabbinical court in Brooklyn. After hearing testimony in a library stocked with volumes of the Talmud, the three rabbis deliberated for 45 minutes and then decided that Mr. Penzer and his partners should sell the property to the city at the price discussed. Negotiations then resumed, and the sale was announced on Tuesday.
The way this ethical issue was resolved was particular to one religious tradition. But it illuminates a general principle that should guide businessmen even without advice from holy men: There is a difference between what is legal and what is right.
We Need a Rabbi In Our Court
For some time now I've been groping for a succinct way to define the Trouble with America. Are we too selfish, uncivil, undisciplined? Have we been ripped apart by our narrow interests instead of united by our common good? Do we care too much about money, power and winning and not enough about ethics, justice and morality?
Then I picked up the newspaper last week, and the answer was staring me in the face. What's wrong with America is: Not enough rabbinical courts. Or at least, not enough people going to them for guidance.
The revelation came from an extraordinary story about real estate developer Richard Penzer, who was a loggerheads with he City of Pittsburgh over plans to build a new Lazarus Department store on property owned by him and his partners.
The logjam broke when Penzer, an Orthodox Jew, and his partners, both Orthodox rabbis, went voluntarily to a rabbinical court, or Beit Din, to find out how Jewish law required them to proceed. No one from the city was present because the case was not between he partners and the city. It was between the partner and their own moral code.
"In the best tradition of Judaism, they held court without the other side and the other side won," said Daniel Butler, a Pittsburgh city magistrate who was had rabbinical training.
The whole thing took four hours. The next morning Penzer resumed negotiations, and soon the deal was done.
"The facts were never in dispute," said Aaron Stauber, Penzer's lawyer. "Richard had every legal right. But ethics were another question. He wanted to know the right thing to do."
A number of things distinguish a Beit Din from our courts.
First the rabbis aren't elected by people who never heard of them or appointed by politicians with political debts. They are organically grown through many years of study. Sure, they have human foibles; so does William Rehnquest.
Also, there are no lawyers arguing sides at a Beit Din. Parties may be represented, but the rabbis ask the questions and catch the contradictions. So who has the most charismatic counsel is not an issue.
But mainly, the point of going to a Beit Din is not to win, although parties certainly may wish to. The point is to determine what G-d wants you to do, based on a 3,000-year-old code that still contains guidance for every modern dilemma, from organ transplants to surrogate motherhood.
"Even when you lose, you come out feeling you did the right thing," said Stauber. "In our [American] courts, you can win and know in your heart justice wasn't served.
"It's like the ads for Hebrew National products: 'We answer to a higher authority.'"
Businessmen in multi-million dollar deals doing what is morally right? Is that a concept or what?
I called Rabbi Yisroel Miller of Poale Zedek Congregation in Squirrel Hill and asked: If the Pittsburgh Pirates come to you on a rabbinical court to solve their problems, could you do it?
"I can't solve their problems: a miracle worker I'm not. But we could resolve their disputes with the city, without a doubt."
Does it matter that the Pirates are not, strictly speaking, Jewish?
"Not at all," he said. "There were cases in Europe generations ago when non-Jews went to rabbinical courts because they got a fairer hearing."
And what kinds of considerations would come into play in such a deliberations?
"You have here a corporation, the Pirates, which is also a community resource. They're given special consideration by the city in the form of tax breaks and by the community in the form of loyalty and support. That creates a creating implied moral obligation and a degree of reciprocity.
"As to whether they should have to lose money if they have a better deal somewhere else, an actual tribunal would have to hear both sides."
Then he added: "The baseball strike would have been over before it started if the parties had gone to the rabbis."
I have no doubt.
No, we're not talking book club meetings here, we're talking about doing something totally different and unique this Sunday.
Get together with friends on the tenth of Kislev (Dec. 3 this year) and celebrate your Jewishness.
Share a Jewish thought, enjoy a l'chaim (the liquid kind, not the publication!) and together make practical resolutions on how to better yourselves and/or help someone else.
The tenth of Kislev is the anniversary of the release of Rabbi Dov Ber of Lubavitch from prison on trumped-up charges (of course) so it's an auspicious time to celebrate.
23rd of Adar, 5723 (1963)
I received your letter some time ago, but this is the first opportunity to reply to it.
You write about your background and how you have found your way to the Lubavitcher Yeshiva in Lod [, Israel]. I am gratified to note that you have adjusted yourself so well.
Your Chasidic ancestry certainly stands you in good stead, for spiritual qualities are hereditary, especially deep-rooted ones which the Chasidic teachings and way of life cultivate.
With regard to your question at the conclusion of your letter it is hardly necessary to seek guidance from across the sea when you are at the Lubavitcher Yeshiva and the Mashpi'im [mentors] and Rosh Hayeshiva [head of the yeshiva] are able and willing to help the students. However, since you have asked them of me I will reply briefly:
- Re: Pronunciation, whether Sephardic or Ashkenazic, you should daven [pray] in the way you are used to, and not complicate matters by a change.
- Re: Zohar, your question is most surprising, for as it is well known that the Zohar is an integral part of the Torah-Shebe'al-peh [the Oral Law], it is not a case of emphasis by the Alter Rebbe [the first Rebbe of Chabad], for it was just as sacred also to the Gaon of Vilna, though in certain respects his shita [path] differed from that of the Alter Rebbe.
- You question the propriety of religious people who give expression to their joy and enthusiasm by dancing, etc., in front of the Aron Hakodesh [the Holy Ark], and you wonder if a Chilul Hashem [desecration of G-d's name] is involved.
But of course, no chilul is involved there, because:
- This is the expression of true joy with the Torah and mitzvot; on the contrary it would be a chilul not to participate. Moreover, it is not something which is limited to Chasidim, but a basic principle of halacha [Torah law] incumbent upon all Jews, based on the Torah and the famous narrative in TaNaCh [Torah, Prophets, Writings]. See also Rambam, end of Hilchot Lulov, where the subject is treated (more) at length.
- Even when the observer does not feel the same degree of joy, but being in the company of Jews expressing their joy with the Torah, if he should not participate, it would be almost like a counter-demonstration, not only in relation to the cause of simcha [joy]. See Igeret Hakodesh 24 by the Alter Rebbe, end of p. 274, and note it well there.
- In reference to Tanya, where it is stated that the second soul of the Jew is truly a part of G-dliness, and you ask why is the Jew singled out, since all humanity descended from Adam?
The answer is that the distinction came with the Avot [Patriarchs] and especially the Giving of the Torah at Sinai, when the souls were assigned their particular place and standing, though all souls were included in the soul of Adam.
In fact, our Sages declare that even among Jews, the various souls are related to particular aspects of the souls of Adam HaRishon (the first man).
- You ask for an explanation of a statement in one of the general messages, a statement to the effect that we are living in the era of "Ikvisa DiMishicho" [the footsteps of Moshiach].
This is based on many statements of my father-in-law (ztz"l). See also the signs of this era as indicated by Chazal [the Sages] (see end of Sota). It is not difficult to see these signs in our present generation.
I trust you are applying yourself with devotion and diligence to your learning of both nigleh [revealed Torah] and Chasidut, with the view to practice maalim b'Kodesh [ascending in holiness].
This year is particularly auspicious, being the 150th anniversary of the histalkut [passing] of the Alter Rebbe, especially for those who come from Chasidic ancestry.
May your learning be the kind that prompts action: the fulfillment of the mitzvot in daily life.
THE SOUL'S INNER STRENGTH
The weekend of December 22-24 will be devoted to exploring the Jewish approach to personal growth at a special Shabbaton in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
The fulfilling and stimulating Shabbaton features thought-provoking lectures, discussions and workshops -- accompanied by delicious, traditional cuisine, amidst the unique joy of Chasidic family life, song and dance.
Guest scholar for the weekend will be Rabbi Manis Friedman, author of Doesn't Anyone Blush Anymore? and director of Bais Chana Women's Institute. Jewish couples, families and singles are welcome. For more info call the Lubavitch Youth at (718) 953-1000
Chabad Lubavitch of Bucks County publishes weekly a contemporary, one- page thought on the Torah portion. The easy-to-read style of both the writing and the design makes the Torah Fax perfect for a three minute infusion of Jewish content in your day. To receive the Torah Fax, fax your name, address and fax number to 215-321-7205.
(Alternatively, you can access their fax electronically: www.voicenet.com/~torahnet/)
This Shabbat (9 Kislev) is the birthday and yahrzeit of Rabbi Dov Ber, the second Chabad Rebbe, known as the Mitteler (or "intermediate") Rebbe. The following day, the tenth of Kislev, is the day on which the Mitteler Rebbe was redeemed from imprisonment.
The Rebbe explained that the essence of the Mitteler Rebbe is hinted to in his title, as he was an "intermediary" connecting the teachings of his predecessors with those who succeeded him, and connecting the physical with the spiritual.
In fact, the union between the physical and the spiritual was reflected in the Mitteler Rebbe's person, himself. It was said of the Mitteler Rebbe that if his finger was cut, Chasidut would flow out in place of blood. Blood is the life-force and the Mitteler Rebbe's blood was Chasidut.
When the Mitteler Rebbe, at the young age of 53, became very ill, his doctors insisted that he stop teaching Chasidut. However, this only made the Mitteler Rebbe weaker. Late in the evening on the 9th of Kislev, the Mitteler Rebbe fell into unconsciousness a number of times. Each time his family managed to revive him. However, after the last time, he called together his Chasidim and, dressed totally in white like an angel, expounded on a deep concept in Torah. He expounded on the verse, "You shall go after G-d" and a few times he asked if the sun had risen yet. Moments before sunrise, he ended his discourse with the words, "For Your nation's source of life is in eternal life" and his pure and holy soul left his body and reunited with its Creator.
The Mitteler Rebbe passed away at exactly the age of 54, one day before the first anniversary of his redemption from prison on trumped- up charges that he was aiding the Turkish enemy by sending money to impoverished Jewish families in the Holy Land.
And he took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head (Gen. 28:11)
Why didn't Jacob choose something softer to use as a pillow?
Said he: "A stone of Eretz Yisrael is more precious than all the pillows and cushions I will ever use in the Diaspora."
Ufaratzta (you shall break through; spread out) to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south (Gen. 28:14)
At present, we must serve G-d in a manner of "ufaratzta," that is, without any restrictions or limitations. Thus we shall hasten the coming of Moshiach, of whom it is written in the Book of Micha, "The poretz (the one who breaks through, i.e., the one who clears all obstacles and barriers) is gone up before them."
(Living With Moshiach)
Surely G-d is present in this place, and I knew it not (Gen. 28:16)
How could Jacob not have known that G-d was present? We need to understand this statement in the context it was uttered.
Jacob was coming directly from the Holy Land, where he had spent 14 years studying in the yeshiva of Shem and Eber. As a result, he had mistakenly concluded that a Jew can serve G-d only through Torah study. Now, however, he realized that a Jew can serve G-d even while he is sleeping, provided it is done for the sake of Heaven.
Lo, the day is yet long; it is not the time to gather the cattle (Gen. 29:7)
"The day is yet long" -- the great and powerful Day of the L-rd is approaching; "it is not the time to gather the cattle" -- there's no time to waste accumulating possessions in this temporal world, as every moment is precious.
One Friday afternoon, the Baal Shem Tov (the Besht) came to a small town to spend the holy Shabbat there. On his usual visits there, it was his habit to stay in the home of a wealthy householder who prized the honor of hosting the tzadik (holy man). This time, to the consternation of all, the Besht announced that he would be spending the entire Shabbat in the shul.
When he arrived in shul, the Baal Shem Tov prayed at great length, all the while weeping copious tears. The whole congregation joined him in the emotional prayers, and they wept too, although they didn't know the reason for their tears.
The Besht recited Psalms and enjoined the others to do the same. And when the services came to an end, he sent the congregants home to enjoy their Shabbat meal, instructing them to return and continue reciting Psalms.
The next morning, the Besht followed his usual custom and immersed himself in the Mikvah before prayer. When he returned to the shul, he announced in a hearty voice that he would be joining his usual host for the Shabbat meal. The people were relieved, and a large crowd gathered at the wealthy man's home, hoping to understand the meaning of the day's events.
The Baal Shem Tov sat at the table in a happy mood, singing one Shabbat melody after another. Suddenly a gentile walked into the room. The Besht beckoned to the Russian to enter and join him at the table.
"Offer him some liquor," the Besht cried, and suddenly glasses and bottles appeared in front of them. The Russian was pleased to down one glass after another, and soon he was quite tipsy. Then the Besht asked him, "Well, now, tell me what happened over there."
"Last night, the poritz (wealthy landowner) called in all his local fellows. He was very angry at the Jews for not buying his grains, and ruining his income. He had to put all his merchandise into storage and he lost a fortune when it began to rot. So, he decided to get them back, those Jews. All the local fellows gathered at the poritz's manor and got good and drunk, while the poritz incited them against the Jews. They were told that tonight was the night to attack the Jews -- not only in town, but wherever they could be found. Whatever they could grab would be theirs.
"All of a sudden a man walked into the house, and the poritz stood up to greet him. They embraced like long-lost brothers and went into another room where they stayed for a few hours, while the crowd of hooligans drank more and more. It turns out that the visitor was none other than the poritz's best school chum, whom he hadn't seen in a dozen years. They sat together talking and reminiscing, and in the course of their conversation, the poritz told his friend about his plan to punish the Jews for destroying his business. 'How can you think such a crazy thing?' asked the friend. 'Can't you see that you're being led around by the nose by the enemies of the Jews?
Listen to me: of all your local people, it's only the Jews you can really trust not to cheat you. Remember my old estate manager, Moshke? If not for him I would have been bankrupt more times than I care to count!' Their conversation continued in that vein, and when he came out of the room, the poritz had been completely convinced not to harm the Jews. In fact, he now felt that they were his best friends. Who could figure that one out? He paid off the drunken peasants and sent them on their way."
The Russian thanked the Besht for the fine liquor and left. Everyone in the room was perplexed and waited for an explanation.
The Besht was obviously pleased at what the gentile had told him, and he explained to the crowd, "I saw from Mezhibozh that there was a great danger hanging over this community and therefore I came to spend Shabbat here. As you know, the poritz had raised his grain prices to the point that no one wanted to buy from him. As a consequence, he suffered a tremendous loss, and the local priest and his cronies took the opportunity to slander the Jews.
The poritz was convinced that the Jews were conspiring against him, and he devised a bloody plan to destroy them. I knew that there was only one person who could persuade him otherwise, and that was his old friend. The only problem was that he had passed away some years ago. I was forced to bring him back into this world to avert this terrible tragedy. Thank G-d, I had success.
The people now understood the heartfelt prayer and the night of reciting Psalms. They were both shocked relieved at what the Besht had related to them. Then, one of them turned to the Besht and asked, "One thing I don't understand: Why did you have to come to our town to accomplish the miracle? Surely you could have done it from Mezhibozh and spared yourself the journey."
The Besht nodded in the affirmative. But then he went on to explain that if, G-d forbid, his intervention had not been successful, he had desired to be together with his fellow Jews in the time of their great ordeal. The people saw the depth of the love the Besht had for them and the extent of self-sacrifice that the tzadik of the generation has for every Jew.
We are living in a new era with a new service. Instead of concentrating on the refinement of the world, our efforts must focus on revealing the Redemption.
The era of Redemption, which is described with the analogy of a feast, is a present reality -- all that is necessary is for us to open our eyes and see.