Wysiwyg | 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
Reb Avrohom Ber of Homil was a follower of the Tzemach Tzedek -- the third Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch. He was a childhood genius who, by the age of ten, had already mastered many works of in-depth and intense Jewish scholarship. By nature he was instinctively curious and given to investigation. He was still very young when his father brought him to meet his Rebbe.
The Tzemach Tzedek took his handkerchief, wrapped it around his holy hand until his hand was no longer visible, and began to wave it back and forth. "What do you see?" the Rebbe asked the boy.
"I see a handkerchief waving back and forth," replied Avrohom Ber.
"And how is the handkerchief being moved?" "The Rebbe's hand is moving it," Avrohom Ber responded.
"But you don't actually see a hand, do you?" the Rebbe persisted. "Nonetheless, you can understand that even something which is not visible to the physical eye certainly exists and is real."
The clever Avrohom Ber quickly grasped the Rebbe's intent.
The word "Rebbe" is an acronym for Rosh Bnei Yisrael -- the head of the Jewish people. Just as the head guides the body, the Rebbe guides the Jewish people. And, just as we are not always cognizant of the way in which our head is guiding even the most minute activity of our body, so, too, are we not always aware of the guidance which the Jewish people gain from the Rebbe.
Our first Rebbe was Moshe Rabbeinu -- Moses our Rebbe -- as he has been known throughout the ages. Since Moses, the Jewish people has always had a Rebbe, a Moshe Rabbeinu, a leader of the generation. Jewish mystical teachings refer to this concept as "an emanation from Moshe is present in every generation." The last and eternal Rebbe will be Moshiach, whom, the Midrash states, people will address as "Rabbeinu Melech HaMoshiach."
All of these Rebbes of our people share one common factor. They share the same neshama, the same soul, the same "comprehensive" soul that encompasses and feels for and is compassionate towards, and connected to, every other Jewish soul that exists.
In today's mindset of "what you see is what you get" and "seeing is believing," it is sometimes hard to believe that we have souls. And it is just as hard to comprehend that there is a person intimately connected to our soul and to that of every other Jew. "Nonetheless... even that which is not visible to the physical eye certainly exists and is true."
This week's Torah portion, Bo, discusses the Jews' spiritual preparations for the exodus from Egypt. When G-d decided to take the Jewish people out of Egypt, He saw that they were bereft of mitzvot. There was not one mitzva in whose merit they were worthy of being redeemed!
What did G-d do? He gave them two commandments with which to prepare themselves before the exodus: the blood of the Pascal sacrifice (the Jewish people were commanded to slaughter the Passover offering and put its blood on the door posts and lintels of their homes), and the blood of brit mila (the commandment to circumcise themselves on the night of the exodus from Egypt). It was in the merit of these two mitzvot that the Jews were redeemed.
These particular commandments were chosen by G-d because they represent the two dimensions of our Divine service: "depart from evil" and "do good."
"Depart from evil" means that we must rid ourselves of negative character traits and refrain from committing transgressions. "Do good" means that we must strive to strengthen our positive character traits and increase our performance of good deeds.
The Jewish people's G-dly service in Egypt was defective on both counts, both in the sphere of "departing from evil" and "doing good." The Jews did not sufficiently distance themselves from wrongdoing, due to the negative influence of the Egyptian environment. Nor did they engage in doing mitzvot or performing acts of goodness.
Thus, in order to be redeemed, they had to correct their behavior in both directions.
"Depart from evil": The blood of the Pascal sacrifice signified the Jews' unequivocal dissociation from the evil of their surroundings. The Egyptians were idolators, and the lamb was one of their primary deities. Yet the Jews were commanded to take this "deity" and sacrifice it to G-d! By doing so the Jewish people irrevocably cut themselves off from the Egyptians' depravity.
"Do good": By performing brit mila, the Jews entered into an eternal covenant with the Creator.
"Depart from evil" and "do good" are thus both components of the process of redemption from Egypt, as it states, "When you have brought forth the people out of Egypt, you shall serve G-d upon this mountain."
"Depart from evil" refers to the exodus from Egypt.
"Do good" refers to the Jewish people's acceptance of the Torah at Mount Sinai.
By avoiding evil and increasing our performance of good deeds, we too will merit to leave our present exile and be worthy of greeting our righteous Moshiach.
Adapted for Maayan Chai from volume 16 of Likutei Sichot
The first of September was the date by which everything had to be in place. The goal was to complete the new Chabad House that would provide a home away from home for the Jewish students of Rutgers University. The five-million dollar building was almost complete, ready to house two dozen women, provide Kosher meals to thousands of students a week, and serve as the center for the vibrant Jewish life which Chabad has built at Rutgers.
But Rabbi Yosef Carlebach, director of Chabad of Middlesex/Monmouth counties in New Jersey, had a problem. In mid-July he was still eight hundred thousand dollars short of the money he needed to raise to complete the project and get the building open.
By the end of August, the situation looked pretty bleak, indeed. The contractor had walked off the job and wouldn't return unless more money was forth-coming. However, there was still a good deal of work left to do before the certificate of occupancy could be issued, and the mortgages could be obtained.
Rabbi Carlebach had called Rabbi Leibel Groner, from the Rebbe's secretariat, who had spoken at the groundbreaking ceremony of the Chabad House for some more leads. But Rabbi Groner was unable to help.
Rabbi Carlebach continued to pray at the Ohel (the Rebbe's resting place) twice a week, as he had been doing all summer. The frustration and stress of the situation was taking its toll, as was evidenced late one Sunday afternoon when Rabbi Carlebach, in the midst of making calls to solicit funds, fell asleep with the phone cradled in his hand.
Moments, or maybe hours later, the shrill of the telephone jarred him awake. It was Rabbi Groner, asking how much money was needed to complete the mikva in the Chabad House.
"Forty thousand dollars," was Rabbi Carlebach's response. Rabbi Groner called back Monday morning with good news.
A New York business man might be able to help. Time was of the essence so Rabbi Carlebach called the man, Mr. A., and offered to drive into New York, pick him up, and bring him out to the uncompleted Chabad House. Mr. A. agreed and Rabbi Carlebach picked him up the following evening. Mr. A. sat quietly for the whole drive.
As Rabbi Carlebach showed Mr. A. around the Chabad House, he seemed to be only mildly interested. However, when the two men entered the area designated to be the mikva, Mr. A. just stood there and stared. Five minutes passed, then ten. After fifteen minutes, Rabbi Carlebach told Mr. A. that he would be upstairs saying the afternoon prayers. When Rabbi Carlebach finished praying, he heard Mr. A. downstairs, talking excitedly to someone on his cellular phone.
Later, on the way back to New York, Mr. A. explained his strange behavior to the Rabbi.
Mr. A. had been born in Russia, and his family had moved to Israel when he was a child. There was very little money, and Lubavitch in Israel had taken care of the family's material and spiritual needs. As a young man Mr. A. had come to the United States and started a business. From the moment he had set foot in this country, he had maintained close contact with the Rebbe. Every step he took, in his business or personal life, he kept the Rebbe informed. When he had started his business, he had written to the Rebbe for a blessing and had committed himself to observe the mitzva which requires giving one tenth of one's earnings to tzedaka (charity). Over time his venture had been blessed with success.
A few years ago, his wife had given birth to a baby boy weighing only two pounds, three ounces. The doctors were not certain that the baby would survive. If he did he might never see or speak. Mr. and Mrs. A. had asked the Rebbe for a blessing for their son. The Rebbe assured them that the baby would develop normally, and he did.
In the past few months, however, the doctor noticed that the boy's muscles weren't developing correctly, and that he might not walk properly. Mr. A. went to the Ohel to pray for the health of his son.
Soon afterwards, he had a puzzling, yet fascinating dream. He dreamt that he approached the Rebbe for a blessing, and the Rebbe told him to follow the instructions of Rabbi Groner and then to come back to the Rebbe. Rabbi Groner told him to go and inspect a mikva. In his dream he watched himself go to a mikva, and, seeing that it was still not completed, grew more and more angry, wondering how could it be that here in America there could be a mikva that cannot be finished?
When Mr. A. awoke, the dream came back to him in bits and pieces. When he recalled the dream in its entirety, he checked with his accountant and ascertained that, in accordance with his customary charitable giving, he had fallen behind in the amount of $40,000.
Mr. A. told his brother about the dream and that he was going to Rabbi Groner. If Rabbi Groner told him of a mikva that needed somewhere around $40,000 to be completed, he would know his dream was true. While Mr. A. has was in his office, Rabbi Groner called Rabbi Carlebach. When Rabbi Groner turned around to tell Mr. A. that the mikva needed $40,000 to be completed, he saw Mr. A.'s face turn white.
And now, when Mr. A. arrived at the Chabad House, he was amazed to find that the unfinished mikva looked exactly as it had in his dream. On Thursday Mr. A. brought Rabbi Groner the $40,000. Although it was 10:30 p.m., Rabbi Groner called Rabbi Carlebach who immediately drove into New York to pick up the money.
The next day, Rabbi Carlebach had a meeting with the contractor and the workers at 8:00 a.m. The meeting did not go well and the contractor got up to leave. Rabbi Carlebach stopped him on his way out and handed him the envelope from Mr. A.
When the contractor realized that there were immediate funds available, and, even more so, after hearing the story of the dream, he ordered his workers back to the site and before long the work was completed. The following Friday, the City officials and the Board of Health gave the building a "thumbs up." That night, hundreds of Jewish students were able to celebrate Shabbat in the new Chabad House.
We're All Connected
On the anniversary of the commencement of the Previous Rebbe's leadership, the Rebbe explained that it was an appropriate day to strengthen ourselves in all those things which the Previous Rebbe taught.
On the Tenth of Shevat, the Rebbe accepted the leadership of Chabad- Lubavitch and became the leader of the generation. The Rebbe has often emphasized the great benefit of making gatherings where brotherly love and Judaism are uppermost on the agenda. Organize such a gathering at which, in the Rebbe's words, "it should be emphasized how every Jew is 'a cherished land'...each Jew has a treasure store of spiritual potentials."
continued from last week's issue
One basic scientific principle is that the first thing is to ascertain the facts, regardless whether they seem logical or not, and then to try to find the right explanation. This has been expressed in the dictum that knowledge is derived from reality, not vice versa. If according to one's reasoning the reality should be different, the fault is with one's reasoning, not with the reality.
A further basic principle of scientific method is that the veracity of testimony is compelling when it is based on the widest possible range of witnesses and observations, substantiated, moreover, by experience under the widest possible conditions...
As pointed out in the Kuzari, and in other sources through the ages, we Jews are certain that "Moshe is true and his Torah is true" on the basis of the historic events of the Exodus and the Revelation at Sinai, which were witnessed and experienced by 600,000 male adult Jews (apart from women and children).
What our ancestors witnessed and experienced they transmitted to their children and children's children, from generation to generation to this day, for there has never been a break or any interruption in our history and tradition from the time of our first Patriarch Abraham.
Thus the identical tradition has been transmitted to us by millions of Jews from all walks of life, and verified by the actual way of life and commitment to the same mitzvot of the same Torah (the same Shabbat, the same tefilin, mezuza, etc.) from generation to generation, in different lands and under different conditions. While other factors which are usually associated with the preservation of other nations and their ethnic cultures -- such as territory, political independence, language, dress, etc. -- have changed in Jewish life from time to time and from place to place, the Torah and mitzvot did not change in the life of all Jews. This fact that runs like a golden thread throughout our Jewish history not only confirms without the slightest doubt the authenticity of our Torah and mitzvot, but also demonstrates which is the truly vital constant factor that has preserved us Jews under all possible circumstances and crises, namely, the Torah and mitzvot...
No other religion, without exception, even those whose followers far outnumber our Jewish people, can claim such proof of authenticity.
For as one traces these religions back to their origins, one invariably finds that ultimately each of these, without exception, is based on a single founder or small group of founders.
Consequently, despite the multitude of followers, the skeptic may question the veracity of the revelation claimed by the original founder, whether it was a genuine prophetic revelation as claimed or perhaps a hallucination, and, in the case of a small group of founders, whether there was a genuine shared experience, or perhaps a collusion, and the like.
But of course, these doubts have no place in regard to our Torah, especially as also the other major religions clearly admit their fundamental dependence on our T'nach (the so-called "Old Testament"), with all the events recounted therein, including the Exodus and Revelation at Sinai -- our very emphatic proof (if proofs be needed) that "Moshe is true and his Torah is true."
Finally, there is yet a further important point, which is also an accepted rule in science, namely to rely on the authority of a recognized expert -- a rule faithfully followed even in medicine, where it directly concerns health and life; certainly not to dismiss, or act contrary to, expert opinion.
The experts in regard to the problems outlined in your letter are the Torah authorities in every generation, those who dedicated their entire life to the study of the Torah and whose lives are consecrated to living in full accord with the letter and spirit of the Torah and its mitzvot.
Since everything is by Hashgocha Protis [Divine Providence], and this letter, long overdue, has come out in close proximity to Yud Shevat, the Yahrtzeit - Hilulo of my father-in-law the Rebbe of saintly memory, it is timely to recall his life and work which have touched so many of our fellow Jews in all parts of the world. I trust you know of his total dedication to the preservation and, indeed, dissemination of the Torah way even under the most ruthless anti-religious totalitarian regime. Logically there was not the slightest chance that he could possibly succeed, especially after all other religious leaders (not only Jewish) had been silenced or eliminated. Yet, when the situation came to a head (in 1927), he came out victorious with G-d's help. The fruits of his victory can be seen even now, more than half a century later, in the men, women, and children who have come out from behind the Iron Curtain as strong and wholesome Jews and who are an inspiration to all who meet them....
Tu Bishvat - New Year for Trees
January 23, 1997
Chabad-Lubavitch of Baltimore/Washington (www.his.com/~chabad) has a real neat Tu-Bishvat interactive game which acquaints the viewer with this day.
The American History Museum at the Smithsonian in Washington DC will be inducting the recently published book "24 Hours in Cyberspace" into the Museum on January 23, 1997. Chabad-Lubavitch in Cyberspace was picked to be one of the 50 sites (of the 250 Internet sites featured in the book) to included in the Smithsonian.
This coming Shabbat is the 10th of Shevat, the anniversary of the passing, in 1950, of the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, and the beginning of the leadership of the Rebbe.
Our Sages teach that the Sabbath blesses the entire week. On Thursday of the upcoming week we celebrate the festival of Tu B'Shevat, the New Year of the Trees. It is certainly not coincidental that the Tenth of Shevat, the anniversary of the passing of the leader of the previous generation, and the ascension to leadership of the Rebbe, blesses the week in which Tu B'Shevat occurs.
What is the connection? The Torah teaches us that "man is like a tree in the field." This refers to trees in general, which allows one to compare a person to a fruit-bearing tree, a tree that offers shade, etc. A tzadik, however, is likened t o specific trees, most notably a date-palm and a "cedar of Lebanon," as described in King David's Psalms.
The date-palm is one of the seven species of the Land of Israel (whose fruit is traditionally eaten on Tu B'Shevat). The Midrash teaches that the date-palm grows straight just as the tzadik remains upright and honest. The wood of the palm tree is free of knots just as the tzadik is free of flaws. Every part of the palm tree is useful: its fruits, its leaves and fronds, and its wood. Similarly, each tzadik fulfills his unique purpose and mission completely.
Like a cedar tree, whose wood is specially suitable to make furnishings, the tzadik makes of himself a "vessel" for G-dliness. Also, if a cedar is felled, its roots and stump remain alive and a new cedar sprouts in its place. Similarly, a tzadik's righteousness is indestructible; if a tzadik is harmed, he will only grow stronger.
May we soon merit the fulfillment of the Rebbe's special purpose and mission -- which continues even today because of the Rebbe's indestructible righteousness -- the revelation of G-dliness throughout the world which will commence with the complete revelation of Moshiach, may it take place NOW!
You will then be able to tell your children and grandchildren My miraculous signs that I have performed among them, and you will know that I am G-d. (Exod. 10:2)
Since the Torah is telling us to relate the story of Egypt to our children and grandchildren, it should say, "and thus they will know I am G-d." When parents teach their children about G-d, their efforts carry a two-fold reward. They will merit to have children who have true faith in G-d. And, teaching and talking to their children about G-d will strengthen the parents' faith in G-d.
This month (Nissan) shall be for you the head of the months. (Exod. 12:2)
"For you" seems superfluous. Nissan was and always will be month of miracles and redemption. By saying "for you" the Torah is emphasizing that the ultimate redemption -- the coming of Moshiach -- depends on you, the Torah study and good deeds of each every individual Jew.
And frontlets between your eyes. (Exod. 13:16)
The two straps that hang from the head tefilin symbolize the flow of influence from the head to the rest of the body. The two straps are a continuation of the strap that surrounds the head, and begin to branch off from the special knot behind the head, which is the beginning of the spine. Just as the brain is the nerve center that controls the whole body, so too the intellect should vitalize and guide the entire life of a Jew.
(Sichot Kodesh, Cheshvan, 5718)
Many years ago Reb Yoel Kahan, a renowned teacher of Chasidus, who lives in Crown Heights, gave classes on Chasidus in the Lakewood Yeshiva in New Jersey, a place where such studies are not encouraged. In spite of the attitude of the yeshiva, many students attended Reb Yoel's classes. There was one particularly brilliant student who did not attend the class. Reb Yoel tried to interest him in Chasidus, but the student remained adamant in his refusal.
One day the student expressed a desire to meet with the Rebbe. Reb Yoel managed to arrange a meeting for just one minute late the following Monday night. At midnight the student entered the Rebbe's room where he remained, not just for one minute, but for an entire hour.
The student refused to speak to Reb Yoel about his conversation with the Rebbe. In fact, over the next few months, the student evaded Reb Yoel until the two finally lost contact.
Years passed. One day as Reb Yoel was walking, he heard a car horn and someone calling his name. He turned to see an unfamiliar, long-haired man who called out, "Remember me? From Lakewood many years ago..."
Reb Yoel finally recognized him as the yeshiva student who had ardently refused to attend his class. "Can we arrange a time to study?" the man asked.
The two began to meet weekly. After several months Reb Yoel felt he could ask about the midnight meeting with the Rebbe. The man recalled that he had discovered a difficulty in his Talmud study, which no one had been able to resolve. Hearing that the Rebbe was a great genius in all areas of Torah, he hoped that the Rebbe would be able to resolve it. Thus, he was certain that he needed not more than one minute of the Rebbe's time. And, in fact, in less than one minute, the Rebbe had resolved the problem. The student prepared to leave but the Rebbe motioned him to stay and asked, "Do you study Chasidus?"
The student replied that he did not, and offered many explanations as to why, but the Rebbe continued pressing him. Still the student wouldn't acquiesce. Finally, the Rebbe said, "When a yeshiva student does not learn Chasidus, it might happen that one day he will walk into the hall of study and take offense at a petty remark another student said. That will disturb him and he won't be able to concentrate on his studies. In his idle time, he will do such and such (a mild transgression). That will lead him further and the next day, he will do such and such (a more severe transgression)."
The Rebbe mentioned a chain of ten different transgressions. "Then," the Rebbe went on, "being an honest person, the student will not be able to reconcile his conduct with studying at a yeshiva, and he will depart. It will not be long before he will lose contact with his Jewish roots entirely."
The man explained that he had not wanted to speak to Reb Yoel at the time, for fear of being influenced to study Chasidus. He continued, "Several months afterward, I encountered a particularly difficult problem in Talmud and with tremendous effort, I resolved it. I walked into the study hall and saw two other students discussing the same question and thought I would try out my explanation on them. When I did, they didn't accept it, and what's more, one of them ridiculed my reasoning.
"I was deeply offended and very agitated. I needed a break; maybe I had become too nervous from the mental exertion of studying. That night I committed the first transgression the Rebbe had mentioned. From that time on, my life changed, and I committed every one of the ten transgressions in the list. Finally I left yeshiva and you can see the rest.
"I married a Jewish girl, but we didn't have any trace of Judaism in our home. One day my son came home from school very upset. 'Somebody called me a dirty Jew. Are we Jewish, and what does that mean anyway?'
"For some reason I could think of no way of explaining what it means to be Jewish. The next day, I happened to see an advertisement for a farbrengen (Chasidic gathering) of the Rebbe and I decided to go. Maybe I would hear something there to tell my son.
"I entered 770, and listened intently to the Rebbe. Suddenly I heard the Rebbe speaking of the exact concepts he had spoken of to me so long ago, that when a person doesn't learn Chasidus, he may lose sight of the G-dliness of Torah and may even forsake the observance of Torah.
"I marveled at the amazing coincidence and I resolved to come back. Not long after I again found myself at a farbrengen. Again, the familiar words, 'A student may protest that he is doing well in his study of the Talmud; why then should he begin the study of a new discipline?'
"Was it a coincidence? Twice I had come and twice the Rebbe had spoken about the very thing he had said to me. How could he have seen me in the crowd? I had to come again.
"I attended a farbrengen once more. Suddenly I heard the Rebbe saying: 'When a yeshiva student does not learn Chasidus, it might happen that one day he will walk into the study hall and take offense at a petty remark another student said. This will disturb him and he won't be able to concentrate on his studies...' and he continued as he had when he had spoken to me personally.
"I still couldn't be sure the Rebbe was speaking to me. I decided to stay to receive 'kos shel bracha' from the Rebbe. If I discerned even a glimmer of recognition in his face, I would study Chasidus. As I came before the Rebbe, his face broke out in a wide smile. He greeted me by name and said, 'Don't you think it's time that you began studying Chasidus?'
"That's why," the young man told Reb Yoel, "I sought you out."
Adapted from the forthcoming book, To Know and To Care vol. 2, published by Sichos in English
At the present time, when the world trembles, when all the world shudders with the birth-pangs of Moshiach... it is the duty of every Jew, man and woman, old and young, to ask himself: What have I done and what am I doing to alleviate the birth-pangs of Moshiach, and to merit the total Redemption which will come through our righteous Moshiach?
(Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the Previous Rebbe)