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Every once in a while we hear about a "back to basics" movement. Whether it's in education, clothing, eating, or healthcare, "back to basics" means zeroing in on the essential aspect of whatever it is we're getting back to.
Judaism, too, has a "back to basics" movement, but it is not a trend that goes in and out of style at the whim of experts and leading professionals. Rather, it is the Thirteen Basic Principles of the Jewish Faith, as codified by Moses Maimonides over 900 years ago.
Maimonides determined that the last two of the Thirteen Basic Principles are belief in the coming of Moshiach and the belief in the Resurrection of the Dead. These, then, are basic principles of Judaism, essential and fundamental aspects of the Jewish people's belief for thousands of years.
The Torah details a most exacting and demanding code of behavior, governing every hour of the day, every phase of life, and every aspect of the human experience. It takes every bit of one's intellectual, emotional and spiritual prowess to bring one's life into utter conformity with the Torah's edicts and ideals.
Hence, there are two ways in which to view the Torah's vision of life.
One may conceivably argue that the level of perfection expected by the Torah is beyond the reach of most people. From this perspective, Torah is an ideal toward which to strive, a vision of absolute goodness designed to serve as a point of reference for imperfect man. A person ought to seek this ideal -- says this view -- although he will probably never attain it, for he will much improve himself in the process.
The second view takes the Torah at its word: each and every individual is capable of, and expected to attain, the perfectly righteous and harmonious life it mandates. Torah is not an abstract ideal, but a practical and implementable blueprint for life.
These two views reflect two different ways of looking at the essence of G-d's creation. If man is inherently or even partially evil, then obviously he can go either way. There is no reason to assume that he will, or even can, attain a state of perfect righteousness. A world community that is utterly committed to goodness, in which every single individual acts in concert with the purpose for which he was created, can only be the dream of a chronic optimist, or of one who is hopelessly out of touch with "reality."
Yet if one believes that the world is intrinsically good, that G-d has imbued His every creation with the potential to reflect His absolute goodness and perfection, and that perfection will be realized in the Messianic Era, then, one's concept of reality is completely different. Then, it is our current, harsh reality that is the contradictory state, while the reality of Moshiach is the most natural thing in the world.
So, where a person stands on the issue of Moshiach expresses his attitude toward the entire Torah.
Is Torah's formula for life a pipe dream, or is it a description of the true nature of creation?
If the Torah is nothing more than a theoretical utopia, then one does not expect a world free of greed, jealously and hatred any time in the near future. But if the Torah mirrors the essence of man, then one not only believes in a "future" Moshiach, but understands that the world is capable of instantaneously responding to his call.
This explains why the belief in Moshiach entails not only the conviction that he will "eventually" arrive, but the anticipation of his imminent coming.
In the words of Maimonides: "The Twelfth Principle concerns the era of Moshiach: to believe and to validate his coming; not to think that it is something in the future -- even if he tarries, one should await him..." And in his Mishne Torah, Maimonides states: "One who does not believe in him, or one who does not anticipate his coming, not only denies the prophets, he denies the Torah itself."
When the possibility of Moshiach is so very realistic, it is far more "unrealistic" for another moment to go by without the Redemption taking place than the prospect of its immediate realization.
Adapted from Beyond the Letter of the Law, by Yanki Tauber
In this week's Torah portion, Korach, we read about the controversy Korach instigated against Moses after the Twelve Spies returned from their scouting mission to the land of Israel.
Why did Korach wait until then to incite the people against Moses? What was so significant about the sin of the Spies that Korach took it as his cue to challenge Moses' authority, saying, "Why do you lift yourselves up above the congregation of G-d... the whole congregation is holy!"?
The Spies wanted the Jewish people to remain in the desert so they could continue to learn Torah without distraction. Thus, their report discouraged the Jews from attempting to conquer and enter the Holy Land. Moses, however, countered that in Judaism, "the deed is the main thing." Only by performing concrete actions -- observing G-d's commandments -- would the Jews be able to fulfill G-d's will.
There is an essential difference between learning Torah and observing practical mitzvot.
Torah study requires comprehension. Yet not all people are on the same intellectual level. Some individuals are able to understand G-d's wisdom to a greater degree; others, to a lesser extent. Thus, every Jew learns Torah based on his own intellectual capacity.
But when Jews perform mitzvot, they are all on the same level. People have different intentions when they do the mitzva, but the mitzva itself is intrinsically the same.
Korach recognized that Moses' intellectual stature was far superior to anyone else's. He knew that Moses had received the Torah directly from G-d, and that his understanding of G-d's wisdom was on a higher level than any other Jew. This fact was undisputed.
But after the error of the Spies, when it became clear that the Jew's main objective is the actual performance of mitzvot, he began to grumble. Aren't all Jews equally holy? Don't they all perform the same mitzvot? If this is the case, why should Moses be superior to anyone else?
"In the morning G-d will show who is His," Moses replied to Korach.
By using of the word "morning," Moses alluded to the fact that a Jew's mitzvot must be as bright and illuminating as the light of day. True, we all perform the same mitzvot in the same manner, but without the proper intentions our mitzvot will not bring about the same revelation of G-dliness in the physical world that they could have.
This contains a teaching for us as well:
A Jew must never content himself with intentions alone, for the actual performance of the mitzva is what truly counts. But at the same time we must always strive that our mitzvot be "illuminating," thereby making for G-d a "dwelling place" down below.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 4
Finding Judaism on the Internet
by S. Fleur
I found Chabad Lubavitch on the Internet by a presumed accident, as I researched a doctoral subject through the various channels, routes, and sub-routes of Cyberspace. It seemed so strange... One moment, there I was, communicating with a computer in South America and then, in the next, a picture of Rabbi Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, appeared on my screen!
The Rebbe had become an important person in my life about fifteen years ago when, during an evening news program, I had seen his presence on the television screen. Later on, someone had given me his picture -- a picture that I kept and came to treasure throughout the years.
Around that time also, I (born Jewish but raised as a Christian) had become involved in the process of discovering my beginnings. The questioning, however, had only taken a few months when the reality of my situation became obvious to me, prompting me to abandon my search for G-d. The inner call of my own Jewishness remained within my soul, however, although limited to no more than a veiled whisper and a small photograph of the Rebbe inside my billfold.
The years passed, and all my Jewish connections became lost in a frenzy of advanced university degrees and various activities. My children grew up, and my husband and I learned the value of the ebb and flow of all significant human relationships. Yet, within my heart, there was still an emptiness.
It was the Rebbe's picture again, this time on the Internet, that seemed to awaken and touch my soul deeply. As I hurriedly began to print out all the information available about Chabad Lubavitch, I also found and subscribed to a so-called "listserv." Hoping against hope to establish contact with a human being, I wrote my first "Dear Sir" note. To my utter surprise, a very kind answer followed, signed by someone called YY.
Since then, the letters have flown back and forth, and I have learned so much! The questions are endless: "How does one say the Shema?" "Do heaven, hell, and purgatory exist?" "What happens after death?" "How does one observe Shabbat?" "Where can I find Jewish prayers?" "Is there a place on the Internet to learn Hebrew?" "Are there transliterated versions of the blessings?" "Why did G-d want animal sacrifice?" etc.
I find myself being this bottomless question mark that does not ever seem to empty itself out! It is as if years and years of repressed and wordless questions have now come to the surface and exploded in a myriad of pieces on the screen of the Director of Activities!
And yet, this same individual -- someone whom I have never personally met -- patiently and kindly, and very carefully, answers each one of them -- from the most trite and inconsequential to the most philosophical and esoteric! "Nothing is insignificant," he once replied to me, and I see, in his dedication to his work, not only his commitment to G-d but also the validation of all Jewish souls!
As of today, I do not know where all of my wandering will take me. But, for now, I have discovered that Chabad in Cyberspace is a welcoming shelter, a safe and restful place that feeds my soul and, guarding and protecting my integrity as a human being, allows me to discover my reason for existing!
by P. Laphan
...I wrote their service and questioned them -- about faith, customs, technical points, history -- in short, about everything Jewish, and they answered -- patiently and steadily.
They did not just answer with a wealth of information. They answered with people. No matter how tiny (a question about Jewish sheet music) or how important (a multitude of questions about conversion) the query, I received an answer.
They sent me to real people so that, in accord with that marvelous Jewish custom of discussion, I could communicate with minds everywhere. I asked about Orthodoxy and they answered -- and sent me to non-Orthodox Jews for other viewpoints -- via Internet. When I needed the personal assistance of an observant Jewish woman, they sent me one -- via Internet.
I was not only given responses but was, in turn, questioned. I was told that the answer: "It's just the right thing to do" was not enough. I was taught to think deeper about my feelings, my reasons. I was challenged to become more active, more observant, to write letters when I felt something was amiss, to talk to people, to search for the reason behind the ritual -- so as to be clearer in my own mind, and to be able to better explain to those around me the questions which come my way.
In the chaos of present day life, Chabad Lubavitch in Cyberspace is something I can count on. It is a comfort to know that somebody out there cares. The director of their service is a truly wonderful and humble man. When it got almost too dark to handle, he was always there (he still is!). Because of him and his, it just might not get too dark again. And I am not even Jewish -- yet! But I am certainly clear on the obligations and duties that go along with my decision now. I have received honest answers, not just a picture of a bed of roses.
Do Mitzvot with Body and Soul
Every aspect of everything in creation has a body and a soul. The "body" of the Torah, for example, is the revealed part of the Torah, whereas the soul of Torah is its inner, mystical dimension. So, too, do mitzvot themselves have a "body" and a "soul." The mitzva of tzedaka (charity) should be performed perfectly: We should increase our actual gifts to tzedaka (the body of the mitzva) and increase the warmth and care with which we give it (its soul).
(The Rebbe 10 Tammuz, 5751)
27 of Marcheshvan, 5726 
Jewish Institute for Brides and Grooms Montreal, Canada
Your letter reached me with some delay. Thank you very much also for the enclosures dealing with your activities and programs.
I hope that you are making efforts not only to maintain your activities in high gear, but also to extend them from time to time. For, needless to say, a marriage in Jewish life is an institution which is called Binyan Adei Ad -- an "everlasting edifice." And in order that it should be so, the marriage of a bride and groom should be in full compliance with the instructions of our Torah, which is called Torat Chaim [Torah of life], because it is not only the source of everlasting life in the Hereafter, but also the true guide in life on this earth.
The analogy of a marriage to an "everlasting edifice" is not merely a figure of speech, but there is an important idea and instruction in it.
Just as in the case of any structure, the first and most important thing is to ensure the quality and durability of the foundation, lacking which all the efforts put into the walls and roof and decorations, etc. would be of no avail, and so it is in regard to a Jewish marriage which, first of all, must be based on the foundation of the Torah and mitzvot, then follows the blessing of the joy and rejoicing of the beloved couple for the rest of their lives.
In view of the above, it is also clear that there is a standing obligation upon everyone to help a bride and groom to establish such an everlasting edifice, and it would be totally unjustified to think that it is a matter of their own personal life, in which no one has a right to interfere.
Surely when one sees someone bent on harming herself or himself and their children, or about to do something which might lead to self- destruction, G-d forbid, one will not consider it "interference" or "encroachment" to try to prevent that person from harming himself.
Similarly, when there is an opportunity to help someone with a lasting benefit, surely it is an elementary duty to do so, how much more so where the benefit is a truly everlasting one.
I send you my prayerful wishes to continue your good work in helping young couples to establish truly Jewish homes, homes that are illuminated with the light of the Torah and mitzvot, above all with the observance of the laws and regulations of Taharat HaMishpacha [family purity]. May you do so with deep inspiration and with ever growing hatzlacha [success].
THE LITTLE JUDGE
A delightful assortment of stories for youngsters fills this newest book from Hachai Publishing. The short stories, all of which were originally published in the popular Moshiach Times Magazine, span Jewish history and holidays. Original black and white artwork help bring the stories to life. Available at Jewish bookstores.
ON AHAVAT YISRAEL
A Chasidic discourse on the subject of Ahavat Yisrael, love of one's fellow Jew, is the basis of this new publication from Sichos in English. On Ahavat Yisrael contains the entire discourse in the original Hebrew, an English translation, and an introduction discussing key points of the discourse.
To order from the publishers send $14 to S.I.E., 788 Eastern Pkwy, Bklyn, NY 11213
This week's Torah portion is Korach. According to the simple reading of the portion, we see Korach as a wicked person, one who not only fought with Moses but also encouraged others to quarrel with him, as well. How, then, is it possible that we call something as holy as a Torah portion the name of a wicked person?
Chasidic philosophy offers a beautiful explanation of who Korach truly was and what we can learn from him. The name Korach is appropriate for the portion because, according to a deeper level of Torah -- the inner teachings of the Torah -- Korach represents the striving of the Jew to reach the highest spiritual peaks. Thus, the lesson we learn from Korach is not only a negative one, the rejection of his approach of strife, but also a positive concept, the importance of seeking spiritual peaks.
The appreciation of Korach's positive qualities, however, has to be coupled with the awareness of his negative qualities. This can be connected with a concept of general significance.
G-d desires that a Jew serve Him on his own initiative, with his own power. For this reason, the soul descends into this material world where there is a possibility to err. The intent, however, is that a Jew should make a positive choice. These qualities are reflected in the narrative of Korach.
Korach was a clever person who sought to reach the level of High Priest. Since he had to achieve this level in this world, he had two choices how to express this holy drive. In practice, he did not choose the proper approach. However, the lesson, to use one's potentials as prescribed by the Torah, remains.
The portion of Korach teaches us a practical and applicable lesson; to quote the Previous Rebbe, "Just as a person must know his faults so that he can correct them, he must be aware of his positive qualities so that he can use them in the fullest degree possible." A Jew must realize that he is not controlled by exile and can strive to reach the highest spiritual potentials, his "holy of holies." Similarly, one has to appreciate the advantage of our generation, the last generation of exile and the first generation of redemption.
Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? He who learns from every person, as it is stated: "From all those who have taught me I have gained wisdom; indeed, Your testimonies are my conversation" (Ethics 4:1)
The verse stated, "From all those who have taught me I have gained wisdom," whereas the Mishna adds that one must learn from every person. One must learn not only Torah from one's teachers, but also the good qualities of character and upright conduct which one discerns in any person, even if he is an ignoramus or a wicked fellow.
(The Maggid of Mezritch)
Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot... (4:1)
It is unnecessary to point out that when our Sages taught that the rich person is one "who is happy with his lot," they were referring to material matters. However, to be happy with one's lot in spiritual matters is a serious error.
(The Rebbe, 5749)
Ben Azzai said: Run to perform even an easy mitzva, and flee from transgression; for one mitzva brings about another, and one transgression brings about another; for the reward of a mitzva is a mitzva, and the recompense of a transgression is a transgression. (4:2)
The reward given to a person for doing a mitzva is not the same as payment given to a worker for doing a job. A worker plows and sows, etc., and the owner of the field pays him money for his labor. However, the worker does not create the money he is given as his wage. However, in our case, the mitzva itself creates its reward.
(Likutei Pirushim l'Tanya)
Rabbi Yannai said: We are incapable of understanding either the well- being of the wicked or the sufferings of the righteous. (4:15)
Why do the wicked prosper? And why are the righteous plagued with troubles and suffering? Most of the prophets expressed their views on this matter, some at greater length, and others more briefly. Rabbi Yannai, however, stresses that we are incapable of understanding G-d's ways in these matters.
Jacob's parents died when he was just a little boy, but fortunately for him, an old blacksmith took him in after finding him one day by the wayside, tired and hungry, looking for a place to eat and drink.
The old blacksmith was a kind old man but had little use for learning. Thus, young Jacob did not attend cheder (school) anymore, for the old blacksmith kept him in the smithy all day, teaching him the skills of the trade.
Jacob might have forgotten how to read, let alone study, but he had in his possession a treasure with which he would not part for anything in the world. This was a thin volume of the Talmud, known as Chagiga, which the Rabbi had given him as a parting gift upon his leaving cheder.
Whenever Jacob found a free moment, he would eagerly take out his Talmud -- the only holy book he had other than his prayer book -- and study it religiously. He loved his precious Talmud.
Thus he grew up with the old blacksmith, far away from any Jewish settlement. Only on festivals would they leave their isolated surroundings and travel to the nearest Jewish community to be with their fellow Jews. The rest of the time, except on Shabbat, they would be working in the smithy.
When the old blacksmith passed away, he left his smithy to Jacob, for he loved him as a son. He had taught Jacob to be a skilled craftsman. But even though the peasants and wagon-drivers liked Jacob's work and were more than willing to pay the price he asked, he barely earned enough to "keep the wolf from the door," as the saying goes.
Jacob lived in poverty with neither wife nor children, but he did not complain, for he had known poverty all his life. Solitude was no hardship for him either -- he was used to that, too. Jacob studied his Chagiga page by page, line by line, and word by word. He did this over and over again with every spare moment, until he practically knew it all by heart.
It is hard enough for a Jew to live far from a Jewish community, but it is worse still for a Jew to die in such a lonely place. Jacob was only in his fifties when G-d decided that he had finished his work on earth. He passed away with not a soul present to witness his last moments, bending over his treasure, the Talmud Chagiga.
Days passed and no one missed Jacob. The doors of the smithy were closed, but the few who called thought he had gone into town. The Jews of the nearest town were going about their business as usual, when the quiet was pierced by the wailing of a veiled woman in white who ran crying through the streets. People ran out of their homes and businesses to see what all the noise was about. The rabbi, too, went out and tried to calm the distressed stranger.
"What is the trouble, good woman?" he asked her gently. "My poor husband has died and there is no one to see to his burial," she replied in sorrowful tones.
"Do not worry," he assured her. "I shall see to it that your husband will be buried in the proper manner without delay."
When the local inhabitants saw the rabbi walking with this strange woman in white, everyone turned out to inquire what it was all about. When they learned that the rabbi was escorting the woman home to attend her husband's funeral, they all closed their stores and businesses and followed.
By the time the procession reached the smithy where poor Jacob lay -- still bent over his precious volume of Talmud -- the crowd had grown to include nearly every man, woman and child in the town.
When the rabbi saw the size of the crowd who had come to pay their last respects to the poor smith, he turned in astonishment to the woman and asked her: "Tell me, good woman, who are you and who was your husband that he seems to be deserving of so much honor?"
"My name is Chagiga," replied the veiled woman. "My husband was a good Jew who devoted fifty years to me. He treasured me and cared for me to the depth of his ability. Surely such a life's companion is deserving of the greatest honor."
"You are quite right," said the rabbi. "A Jew who honors his wife so, must indeed be a good and deserving man. It is fitting that all these people have come to do him honor."
The woman stepped aside to allow the rabbi to enter the room where Jacob lay. As his glance fell upon the open volume, he saw the name "Chagiga." He turned to look at the woman but she had vanished.
It dawned on him that she represented the spirit of Talmud Chagiga. She had repaid the honor and esteem in which Jacob had kept her throughout these long years.
Jacob was buried with the greatest honor, and was laid to rest amongst the graves of the saintliest of Jews.
"Blessed is the man who honors the Torah," declared the rabbi, "that the Torah should thus honor him."
"The 'only' difference between this world and the days of Moshiach is in respect to bondage of foreign powers." (Talmud Berachot 34b)
The Chozeh of Lublin explains: "'Only' is to be taken literally in this passage as in others. It should, however, be understood thus:
The difference in what Jews have now and what they will not have under Moshiach is only in regard to foreign domination.
This we have now and will not have in the Messianic age.
Yet the difference between what we don't have now, but will have when Moshiach comes is very great indeed."