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Presidents' Day is more than just an opportunity for a day off, shopping at great sales, and relief from bills in the mail. It's a chance to reflect on how beneficial it can be for a community, nation, or the world, to have true leaders.
A great Sage, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, once asked Elijah the Prophet if he could accompany him on some of his G-dly missions. Elijah agreed on the condition that Rabbi Yehoshua not ask the reason for any of his actions. Rabbi Yehoshua agreed and off they went.
Many unusual occurrences took place over the course of their days together, but the final and most curious, was the following: Elijah and Rabbi Yehoshua, dressed as two wanderers, arrived at a wealthy village late one evening. Though any of the village's inhabitants could have comfortably and easily housed and fed the wanderers, no offers were forthcoming. No one even offered them a glass of water!
They spent the evening in the synagogue, sleeping on the hard benches there. When they awoke in the morning, before they began their day's journey, Elijah intoned, "May the people of this village all be leaders."
Toward evening, Elijah and Rabbi Yehoshua arrived at another village. Unlike the first village, as soon as the townsfolk saw new faces they gathered around and joyfully vied for the mitzva of housing and feeding the two wanderers. The guests were accorded much honor and were graciously offered places to sleep, refresh themselves, eat, etc.
In the morning, with much appreciation and thanks, the two wanderers parted from the villagers. But before leaving, Elijah stopped and intoned, "May this village only have one leader."
This last statement by Elijah was too much for Rabbi Yehoshua and, though he had agreed he would not ask the prophet any questions, he could hold back no longer.
"Why did you bless the village that scorned us by praying that all the people be leaders, and curse the village that helped us by praying that they have only one leader?"
Elijah replied, "You do not understand the ways of heaven. I did not bless the first village; it was the second village I blessed."
He then explained, "If a town has many leaders, there will be no peace. There will be strife, conflicts, politics. However, if a village has one leader, a leader who cares about every individual and worries about the welfare of all those under his protection, then that village is truly blessed.
If the leader is a true leader, then he will be humble and wise, G-d-fearing and compassionate. He will know that he is an extension of G-d -- the Ultimate Leader -- in this world, and his every action will be ruled by this knowledge. Such a village will know peace, harmony, prosperity, good fortune, and spiritual growth."
Today, more than ever before, we see that the whole world is really a "global village." May we very soon hear from Elijah himself, the prophet who will herald the Redemption, of the revelation of the one true leader that this global village so desperately needs and essentially wants, Moshiach.
How does a person become a Jew? This week's Torah portion, Mishpatim, indirectly touches upon this question.
Historically, the Jewish people entered into the covenant of the Torah by performing three actions: brit mila (circumcision); immersion in a mikva; and the bringing of offerings, as it states, "And they offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto G-d."
Ever since the Torah was given, a potential convert to Judaism had to undergo a conversion process consisting of these three steps. After the Holy Temple was destroyed and offerings could no longer be brought, a person became Jewish after brit mila and immersion alone.
When Moshiach is revealed and the sacrifices are reinstated, converts will again be required to bring an offering to the Holy Temple.
A question is raised: If, for the past 2,000 years of the exile, one of the necessary requirements for conversion has been absent, how can converts be considered fully Jewish?
The answer lies in the fundamental difference between the acts of brit mila and immersion, and the act of bringing an offering.
The first two actions effect an essential change in the person and transform him into a Jew, severing him from his past and imbuing him with a Jewish holiness. Bringing a sacrifice, on the other hand, merely enhances his relationship with G-d, rather than causing an essential change in his being.
As we learn from the Hebrew word for sacrifice, "korban," which implies "closeness" and "affinity," a sacrifice is a gift to G-d that strengthens the Jew's inner bond with his Father in Heaven. Thus, in the times of the Holy Temple, a convert brought his offering only after he had already become a Jew.
When the Holy Temple stood and the Divine Presence dwelt in a physical structure, the special relationship between the Jewish people and G-d was openly revealed. During the exile, however, with the physical Temple no longer in existence, it is much more difficult for the Jew to perceive the true magnitude of his bond with G-d. In such an atmosphere of concealment it is therefore possible to become a Jew even without the enhancement of a sacrifice.
The fact that converts will be required to bring a sacrifice when the Third Holy Temple is built does not mean that their conversions have been deficient in any way. The coming of Moshiach and the building of the Temple will in no way lessen the holiness of any Jew. Moreover, converts will be able to partake of the various sacrifices like any other Jew, even before their own individual offerings are brought.
Adapted from the works of the Rebbe
Six months ago, as director and co-founder of Heart to Heart: the American Jewish Society for Distinguished Children, I was contacted by a man named Moshe Zebede from Deal, New Jersey.
He said, "Rabbi, my wife just had an amniocentesis [the extraction of amniotic fluid to determine the possibility of fetal problems], and we found out from this test that a son will be born to us with Down Syndrome. Based on this and other tests, Rabbi, the doctors are recommending that we strongly consider an abortion."
As far as I was concerned, Moshe had called the right person. My daughter Sarah was born with Down Syndrome five years ago and, despite the advice of others to institutionalize her, my wife and I took her home.
Result: Today, Sarah is a happy , well-adjusted and very loved child, very, as we like to refer to her, "handi-capable." She is thriving as a vital and integral member of our family.
My wife Chana and I co-founded Heart to Heart as a result of this perfect neshama (soul) in a less-than-perfect package. Inspired by the Rebbe's clarion call in a letter sixteen years ago that a child's Jewish education is more important than all the therapies in the world, and that there will one day be a cure for mental retardation, we have worked with almost 900 families worldwide, keeping families together, providing educational and medical services, and advocating the rights of all challenged children.
And this you can believe: People with Down Syndrome can expect to live 55 years or more, marry, hold down steady jobs, and give their parents lots of nachas! In brief, such children can and do learn to lead normal lives!
So, now, my heart went out to Moshe, who explained to us that his doctors were pressuring his wife to have an abortion. Moshe was frustrated and said he needed support.
I told Moshe, "I'll be at your house tomorrow morning," and I was. No big deal to get to Deal, New Jersey. In situations like this, at the drop of a hat, I've traveled as far as Hawaii on behalf of a child.
Once at the Zebede home in Deal, I spent six hours with Moshe and his wife Monica, explaining to them all about Down Syndrome, the possibilities, the goals and potentials that a child with Down Syndrome and with loving parents can achieve, especially in the familiarity of his or her own home.
Finally, Moshe and Monica came to their own conclusion that with this kind of support and their own strong background they would keep the baby -- no matter what.
Their other support system came from Rabbi Yitzchak and Rebbetzin Raizel Dweck, the leaders of the largest Syrian congregation in Deal, both of whom also opposed abortion.
After that first meeting with the Zebedes, I went, as is my wont, to the Rebbe's ohel the next day. There, I placed a note on the headstone, with the names of Moshe, his wife and children. The note simply requested that everything should go well for the Zebedes; nothing more.
A few months later, I got a phone call.
"Mazel tov," said Moshe, "my wife just gave birth to a baby boy, and, with G-d's help, the brit mila (circumcision) is scheduled to be performed on the eighth day."
"Mazel tov, mazel tov, mazel tov!" I kept saying.
Moshe interjected, "And, Rabbi, I'm not going to begin the brit mila until you arrive next Friday morning."
"Moshe," I said ecstatically, "I'm so happy for you. Of course, I'll be there."
"By the way, Rabbi," Moshe said matter-of-factly, "the baby was born normal and healthy."
No Down Syndrome? No nothing. Just born a healthy and normal baby.
You should also know that Deal, New Jersey is an Orthodox Jewish community, singular because it is almost exclusively Syrian. Yet, it is the same as all other Orthodox communities in the world, which have been blessed with families willing to trust in Hashem and keep their families together and able to see open miracles such as happened there in Deal.
Heart to Heart would like to wish a mazel tov to the Zebede family and also to Rabbi and Rebbetzin Kasous of Deal, New Jersey, on the recent birth of twin girls, both of whom were born with Down Syndrome.
Such an event is so rare an occurrence that the odds are 1 in 2 a centrillion.
For more information about Heart to Heart you can call (718) 774-5712 or write to: Heart to Heart, 1227 President Street, #1B, Brooklyn, NY 11225.
Give Even More
The month of Adar (which we bless this Shabbat), containing Purim and the mitzva of giving gifts to the poor, stresses charity, as does the special Torah portion, called Shekalim, which is read this Shabbat.
Every individual must therefore add in charity. This applies in the physical sense, through the giving of money, food and drink. It also applies in the spiritual sense, through helping another person, giving advice, learning with him, etc.
(The Rebbe, 25 Shevat, 5751-1991)
TO AN ORTHODOX SCIENTIEST
Although I do not know you personally, I am taking the liberty of writing to you, having just received the Av 5731 (Aug. '71) issue of Intercom, with your article in it. I find myself in agreement with some points brought out in your article, which encourages me in the hope that as Editor and influential member of your Association you may be able to give new impetus to the Association and its members, and especially, help clear up once and for all certain misconceptions which -- as it seems to me -- are still troubling some Orthodox Jewish scientists.
Specifically, I find it incomprehensible and regrettable that some of our Orthodox Jewish scientists still evince an apologetic attitude vis-a-vis science and certain scientific theories. This is evident also in some articles in the present Intercom and I have seen it also in personal discussions with some genuinely frum scientists.
To put it bluntly, some Orthodox scientists seem to be ashamed to declare openly their adherence to such basic tenets of the Torah as, for example, that G-d created Adam and Chava, or the possibility of a miracle (nes) in the present day and age, as a nes is defined in Torah, namely, an occurrence in defiance of the (so-called) laws of nature.
When I asked them, squarely, how do they reconcile this lack of conviction in basic Torah-matters with what every believing Jew believes and professes, the answer was that they have managed to "departmentalize" their day -- tefillin and Torah, etc., being one "department," science another.
Needless to say, such an attitude is untenable. For, when a Jew declares daily, "Hashem Hu ha'Elokim, ein od milvado" [Hashem is G-d, there is no Other] it is plainly meant that this is for the whole day, not part of the day.
Moreover, a scientist with such a split personality is a contradiction also to the concept of Hashem echad [G-d is One] as the Chazal interpret "echad" -- alef, chet, dalet -- that alef, i.e., Alufo shel olam [Master of the World], rules not only in the seven heavens but also on earth (chet -- "eight") and in all the four directions (dalet) ([See the] Semag, quoted in Beis Yosef, Tur Orach Chaim, par. 61).
As for the matter of miracles, as it affects the daily life, the Torah view is clear: It rules that "one should not rely on a miracle," but at the same time it requires every Jew to be permeated with complete faith that G-d acts through nature, and also "above" nature. This is also the plain meaning of the verse: "And G-d, your G-d, will bless you in all that you do." It is necessary to do (not rely on miracles), yet ultimately the blessing comes from G-d. To think otherwise would also be contradictory to the three daily prayers. The blessings of Shmone Esrei are clearly based on the conviction that G-d can interfere with nature, e.g., heal the sick and bless the crops, etc., even where the natural factors are unfavorable.
Unless one believes in G-d's omnipotence and personal interest in every individual's daily life, there is no sense in praying to Him, and asking Him for His blessings.
Of course, when a Jew finds himself in an environment of non- believers, it is difficult to be different and face possible ridicule. But this too has already been forewarned by Shulchan Aruch. At the beginning of the very first volume, the Shulchan Aruch lays down the basic principle for the fulfillment of all the four volumes: "And let him not be ashamed in the face of men who may scoff at him in his service to G-d."
What is even more surprising -- and as yet I have not received any answer from those with whom I had occasion to speak on the matter -- is that the said apologetic attitude is completely out of harmony with the view of contemporary science.
If a century ago, when scientists still spoke in terms of absolute truths, it was "understandable" why a person who wished to adhere to his faith might have been embarrassed to challenge "scientific" claims, this is no longer the case in our day and age.
Contemporary science no longer lays claim to absolutes; the principle of probability now reigns supreme, even in practical science as applied in common daily experiences. Certainly in such realms as the origin of the universe, the origin of life on earth, and the origin of the species, where theories are based on speculative extrapolation, and even more so in the realm of pure science, where everything is based on assumed premises (If we assume that, etc., then it follows, etc.) -- scientists do not deal with certainties.
It follows that there is no need whatever -- however well intentioned, to attempt to re-interpret passages in the Torah in order to reconcile them with scientific theory, not to mention "reinterpretations" which do violence to the letter and meaning of the Torah.
Thus, for example, the attempt to "reinterpret" the text of the first section of Bereishit to the effect that it speaks of periods or eons, rather than ordinary days, or to apply indiscriminately the dictum that "the Torah speaks in the language of man," etc., is not only uncalled for, but it means tampering with the mitzva of Shabbat itself, which "balances" all the Torah. For, if one takes the words "one day" out of their context and plain meaning, one ipso facto abrogates the whole idea of Shabbat as the "seventh day" stated in the same context. The whole idea of Shabbat observance is based on the clear and unequivocal statement in the Torah: "For in six days G-d made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and rested" -- days, not periods.
Such attempts at reinterpreting the Torah are, of course, the outmoded legacy of the 19th century and before, when in the face of the dogmatic and deterministic view of science prevailing at that time, a whole apologetic literature was created by well-meaning religious advocates and certain rabbis, who saw no other way of preserving the Torah heritage in their "enlightened" communities except through tenuous and spurious reinterpretations of certain passages of the Torah in order to accommodate them to the prevailing world outlook.
No doubt they knew inwardly that they were suggesting interpretations in Torah which were at variance with Torat Emet. But, at least, they "felt" they had no alternative. But surely there is no longer any justification whatever to perpetuate this "inferiority complex!"
Certainly there is no basis for holding on to views which have come down in outdated elementary and high school textbooks on science.
It is very saddening to think that those who should be the champions of the Torah-hashkafa and its advocates, especially among Jewish youth in general and academic youth in particular, are timid, or even ashamed to expostulate it. This is all the more regrettable precisely in this day and age, after science had finally come out of its Medieval wrappings, and accepted the Heisenberg principle of uncertainty etc., etc., which makes it so "easy" for an Orthodox Jewish scientist to espouse the Torah hashkafa boldly and forcefully, without fear of contradiction. Yet some Jewish scientists apparently have not yet managed to free themselves from the fetters of the 19th century approach and inferiority complex. Surely the time is ripe for a reassessment as to where they stand.
I trust that you will use your good influence to the end that the articles appearing in the future issues of Intercom be permeated with the Torah-hashkafa, and that the same approach should be reflected in all public lectures and private discussions.
By closely adhering to the Torah, Torat Emet, one can rest assured of walking the path of truth, and truth does not admit compromise. I sincerely hope that you will take up this matter with your colleagues, and "words coming from the heart, enter the heart," especially a Jewish heart, and find a ready response in terms of action, for the essential thing is the deed.
May I conclude on a note which is, of course, in no way meant as a disparagement, that every Jew engaged in any scientific field will be characterized as a "truly believing Jew and also a scientist," rather than as a "scientist and also a believing Jew."
THE SOUL IN BALANCE
The weekend of Feb. 23 - 25 will be devoted to exploring the Jewish approach to personal growth at a Shabbat Discovery Weekend hosted by the Lubavitch community of Crown Heights.
An unforgettable, fulfilling and stimulating Shabbaton featuring thought - provoking lectures, discussions and workshops -- accompanied by delicious, traditional cuisine, amidst the unique joy of Chasidic family life, song and dance. Join singles and couples from communities across the U.S. and Canada for this special week end, featuring the insights of the Rebbe on every aspect of our lives.
For more info or reservations call Lubavitch Youth at (718) 953-1000.
A convention of the Rebbe's emissaries from Chabad Houses on campuses across the United States was recently held at Lubavitch World Headquarters. Even the Blizzard of '96 couldn't keep the rabbis, representing over three dozen campuses, away from this two-day conference.
A few of the resolutions from the convention included a special Shabbaton for students only hosted by the Lubavitch Community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn; every Chabad on Campus adding a new class on the topic of Moshiach and Redemption; intensified Passover Campaign.
CHABAD ROUND TABLE
Chabad of the Upper East Side is offering a 90 minute "Round Table" get-together at your home or office, covering Mysticism, Biblical Insights, Prayer, Talmud Study, Jewish Medical Ethics, Business or Social Ethics, Jewish History, Moshiach, or any other topic of Jewish interest.
All it takes to organize these casual classes is a small group of individuals with a thirst for Jewish knowledge. If you can generate the interest, Chabad will be happy to teach the informal learning sessions in the privacy of your own surroundings.
Call Rabbi Ben Tzion Krasnianski at (212) 717-4613 or your local Chabad Lubavitch Center for similar offerings.
There are four special Torah readings read on the Sabbaths before the month of Nisan -- Shekalim, Zachor, Para and HaChodesh.
This week we read the additional portion of Shekalim. Since Shekalim is the first of the four, it has special significance over the other three. Its lesson is of general significance and conveys the fundamental and primary principles which should guide our G-dly service.
The half-shekel was a donation by every Jew to help pay for the communal sacrifice. Regardless of one's financial status, whether rich or poor, each person gave no more and no less than a half-shekel toward this sacrifice. Thus, the basic idea of giving half-shekels is that of tzedaka (charity).
This is particularly true today after the Holy Temple has been destroyed, and the mitzva of giving shekalim in its original form is no longer possible. Today this mitzva is commemorated through giving a coin worth half of the standard currency to charity on the Fast of Esther -- the day preceding Purim.
Tzedaka represents all the mitzvot -- "outweighs" them all -- and is called THE mitzva by the Jerusalem Talmud.
In addition, tzedaka must be done constantly, for two reasons:
- G-d created a world order in which there is giving and receiving. This is the reason that 'need' and 'want' are present in the world -- in order that there be the possibility of performing tzedaka and kindness. Tzedaka, therefore, is an intrinsic part of creation. Since tzedaka is an essential feature of the nature of the world, it is present as long as the world exists, i.e. constantly.
- Everything G-d gives to the world is similar to His "tzedaka." His gracious endowment of our very life and sustenance is clear proof of His great kindness. Nevertheless, this kindness is granted midda k'neged midda (measure for measure) -- commensurate to our actions. We must therefore involve ourselves in charitable acts in order to merit G-d's "tzedaka."
And since we are constantly dependent upon His tzedaka, our charitable acts must also be constant.
This explains the fundamental importance of the portion of Shekalim over the other three special portions. It is connected with charity, which is constant, and applies in all places and situations.
And these are the ordinances which you shall set before them (Exodus 21:1)
"Before them" in every sense of the word: the Jewish people must be made to realize that My commandments are of primary concern and importance.
(Rabbi Bunim of Pshischa)
His master shall bore his ear through with an awl (martze'a) (Exodus 21:6)
Why a "martze'a?" Because its numerical equivalent is 400 -- the same number of years the Jewish people were originally supposed to be enslaved in Egypt.
When G-d took the Jews out of Egypt, He declared, "The Children of Israel shall be servants unto Me." Subsequently, anyone who willingly chooses to serve a human master rather than G-d deserves to have his ear bored through...
Keep far away from falsehood (Exodus 23:7)
A liar is more despicable than either a robber or a thief: The robber steals only at night, for he worries about being discovered. The thief steals by night and by day, but only from individuals, as he is afraid to confront a larger group. The liar, however, lies by night and by day, and spreads his falsehoods and gossip about everyone.
(The Magid of Kelem)
And you shall serve the L-rd your G-d (Exodus 23:25)
According to Maimonides, we learn the positive mitzva of praying to G-d from this verse; "service" refers to "the service of the heart," i.e., prayer.
As is known, during the exile our prayers must take the place of the sacrifices that were offered in the Holy Temple. However, when the Temple stood, only kohanim (priests) were allowed to actually bring the sacrifices; Levites and Israelites were prohibited from doing so.
Thus the exile has a certain advantage over the time when the Holy Temple was in existence, for nowadays, every Jew can fulfill the role of the greatest kohen just by calling upon his Father in heaven.
Reb Moshe looked around his barren house, but his search was in vain, for there was nothing of value left to pawn. His formerly elegant surroundings were bereft of their fine furniture, crystal chandeliers and French tapestries.
It was almost impossible to believe, but Reb Moshe and family were now paupers. Even their fine tailored clothing had been sold, and each remained with only one suit of clothes. Reb Moshe and his family took one last look at their beloved house, then turned to go out the door for the last time. The only possession they took was a small bundle of personal items of no special monetary value. They stood on their front steps with no particular place to go.
Reb Moshe was a Chasid of the great Tzadik, Reb Yitzchak Meir of Ger, and so he went to the Rebbe for advice. Although he was now penniless, Reb Moshe still had a plan in mind. In a distant country he had very wealthy relatives who would certainly help him out of his difficult straits. They would surely lend him enough money to begin his business again.
When Reb Moshe entered the Rebbe's room, he poured out his broken heart, and then offered his solution. "I will travel to my relatives and ask them to help me. With a loan, which I will certainly be able to repay, I will be able to start my business again and save my family from this unbearable situation."
But, to his great surprise, the Rebbe shook his head, no. Reb Moshe thought that perhaps the Rebbe didn't agree with the idea of his traveling, so he suggested an alternate plan: "Maybe I should just write to them and explain my situation. After all, they are close relatives, and they are easily able to send me enough money to get started." But the Rebbe nodded again, "No, I am not in agreement with that suggestion."
There was nothing to do but leave, and Reb Moshe departed with a heavy heart. He had no idea where to find his salvation. Still, he took his Rebbe's advice to heart and sought any kind of work to sustain his family, all to no avail.
At his wits' end, Reb Moshe returned to Ger, hoping the Rebbe would perhaps see things differently. But, no, the Rebbe still didn't countenance approaching the wealthy relatives. Now, things had become even more difficult. Even bread was a luxury he could not afford. His wife berated him, saying, "How can you watch your own flesh and blood suffer? Go to your relatives and get help for us!"
The man traveled to Ger one more time and stood before the Rebbe, pleading, but the Rebbe answered him, "I cannot change my opinion, regardless of how you ask and what you say."
Finally Reb Moshe could no longer restrain himself; he wrote a lengthy letter to his relatives. As he expected, he soon received a reply from them and a generous sum of money to help him get back on his feet. Little by little he rebuilt his business connections. He bought new merchandise, he leased a new property, and his life began to resemble his former life of prosperity.
But just when he thought things were going on an even keel, Reb Moshe fell ill. What began as a simple cold progressed to the point that he was bedridden and doctors pronounced his situation very dangerous. His one desire was to travel to Ger. But that was impossible: he was too weak to be moved. Instead he dispatched a close friend to go to Rebbe and speak for him.
The friend was ushered into the Rebbe's study, where he informed the Rebbe of Reb Moshe's precarious state. The Rebbe was very pensive, but then spoke.
"Sometimes a person will find himself in a situation which he feels is unbearable. He may be ill, he may lose his fortune, any of the hundreds of calamities large or small that afflict the human race. But know that everything G-d does is ultimately only for his good. Every soul must have its correction in this world to enable it to proceed to its higher level in the World of Truth. And so, even when things seem bad to the eyes of man, they are contrived Above only for his benefit.
"There are times when, for a particular reason, the Heavenly Court decrees a sentence of death upon someone. But when an advocate intervenes on his behalf, the Heavenly Court is moved to lighten its verdict and to make the tikun (correction) to the person's soul in another way, through a different type of atonement. Since, 'a pauper is considered [in some respects] as one who is dead,' poverty is sometimes substituted for death by the Heavenly Court.
"This is what happened to Reb Moshe. When he came to me for advice as to whether to accept help from his relatives, I could not agree, for I felt that it was not 'bashert' for him to do so. When he asked me repeatedly for my agreement, I kept refusing, for my strong inner vision told me that he should not accept this help. But in the end, he was unable to restrain himself from accepting the money from his relatives. When he cast off from himself the burden of poverty, he removed from him self the substitute sentence, and his vital force was cut off."
The friend left Ger quickly, hoping to return to Reb Moshe while the Rebbe's words could still be of help. But when he arrived home, his friend had departed from this world.
The appointment of Melech HaMoshiach has in reality already occurred, as we say in the verse (Psalms 89:21), "I have found My servant David; I have anointed him with My holy oil." All that is needed is for the people to accept him as king and for the actualization of the total unity between the king and the people -- with the complete and total redemption.
(The Rebbe, 25 Shevat, 5751-1991)