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Once, when Rabbi Beruka met the prophet Elijah in the marketplace, Rabbi Beruka asked him, "Can you show me someone who is assured of a place in the World to Come?"
Elijah pointed to two ordinary looking people, whereupon Rabbi Beruka approached them and asked what their occupation was. "We are jesters who make people laugh when they are sad," they replied.
What exactly is a jester and how did these particular jesters make people laugh when they were depressed? The word "jesters" is defined by Rashi as "one who is joyful and causes others to rejoice."
This word can also be read as "I have given joy to others; consequently, I have also rejoiced." One experiences personal joy only after he dispenses it to others.
The nature of joy is that it permeates a person's entire being. When a person is happy, he lives joyfully. This happiness affects the way he conducts his life and influences everyone with whom he comes in contact. He shares happiness with those around him and his happiness brings him success in all matters.
At the conclusion of a passage in the Torah describing a series of curses to be visited upon the Jewish people, the Torah explains: "Because you did not serve the L-rd your G-d with joyfulness and with gladness of heart..."
This idea is somehow foreign to the customary notion of happiness. When do we consider ourselves happy? Well, for most of us, happiness connotes some pleasurable situation or occurrence.
Jewish teachings define happiness not only as the feeling of joy which results from pleasure. For the Jew, happiness is itself a form of devotion, of Divine service to the Creator. It is a self-imposed state of mind, which denotes our faith a nd belief in G-d. We are joyous because we are sure that everything He does is in our very best interest; we are joyous because we are living in accord with G-d's Divine blueprint for universal life, the Torah.
Our joyous state of mind exists regardless of externals, it defines our being Jews. And happiness is also a great mitzva, for it is an affirmation in the truest fashion, of our faith in an omniscient and benevolent G-d, whose plan for us may be unfathomable, but Whom we trust, as a child trusts his mother and father.
Rabbi Yitzchak Luria comments: "Simcha [joy] is fundamental to the service of G-d. Even if our service was lacking in other aspects, if we had been happy while serving G-d, we never would have been exiled." Of course, the mega-simcha we are all awaiting is the imminent commencement of the Messianic Era. And we can each hasten its arrival by maintaining an attitude of joy, which will most certainly have a ripple-effect through our relationships with everyone we encounter on our meandering paths through this world.
The korban Pesach (Pascal sacrifice) was offered only once during the Jews' 40 years of wandering in the desert, one year after the Exodus, at the express command of G-d, as it states in this week's Torah portion, Beha'alotcha: "In the second year of their going out from the land of Egypt, in the first month...and the Children of Israel made the Passover offering in the proper season."
For the next 39 years there was no korban Pesach, as G-d stipulated that it could only be offered after the Jews entered Israel. In fact, the bringing of the Pesach sacrifice resumed only after the Jews had taken possession of the land, where upon it was sacrificed every year.
Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator, interprets the Jews' failure to bring the korban Pesach in the desert in a negative light, despite the fact that G-d had told them to wait. "This was to the disgrace of Israel, that all 40 years they were in the desert they offered only one Pascal sacrifice."
But how can Rashi fault them for following G-d's command? What could possibly be shameful about not offering a sacrifice when they were not required to do so?
The "disgrace," however, was in the Jews' meek acceptance of the prohibition. Had they begged and pleaded with G-d, surely He would have allowed them to offer it, even in the desert.
Rashi thus finds it shameful that 39 years elapsed during which the Jews were silent. Praiseworthy behavior, by contrast, would have been to repeatedly beseech G-d until He acquiesced to their demand.
In truth, had the Jewish people requested permission to offer the korban Pesach before reaching Israel, G-d would have allowed it, just as He gave the Jews who were ritually impure on Pesach a second chance to bring an offering on Pesach Sheini. For G-d listens to our requests. Had the Jewish people but asked, they would have merited to bring the korban Pesach even in the desert.
From this we learn just how important G-d considers a Jew's requests. Asking something of G-d is praiseworthy; not asking Him is "disgraceful."
This also teaches how important it is to repeatedly entreat G-d to bring the Final Redemption "speedily," as we say in our prayers, "Speedily cause the scion of David Your servant to flourish," and "May it be Your will...that the Holy Temple be speedily rebuilt in our days."
The initiative must come from us. We must continually beg G-d to bring Moshiach. For when Jews ask, G-d listens.
Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, Volume 23
by Yisroel Shmueli
During the summer of 1990, two young men, Efraim Mintz and Levi Shemtov, visited ten cities in California under the auspices of "Merkos L'inyonei Chinuch." Yosemite, a beautiful vacation spot in California, was part of their itinerary, as it attracted thousands of tourists. Surely it would be worthwhile to spend a day there with a tefilin stand, giving out candle lighting brochures, etc.
Efraim Mintz relates, "The night before our trip we visited someone in Fresno. When he heard that we were going to Yosemite, he suggested we try to contact a Jewish lawyer who lives in Yosemite Lakes, a small town near Yosemite. Other than the man's name, Morris P., he had no additional information.
"The next day, as we drove toward Yosemite, we saw a small sign on the side of the road on which was written, 'Yosemite Lakes.' We stopped at a store and asked the proprietor if he knew someone by the name of Morris P. He did, and showed us the way on a map.
"When we got to the vast property, we were met by an elderly couple who were quite astonished by this unexpected visit. What really shocked them was our appearance -- we were young rabbis with beards and hats.
"We spoke about many Jewish topics. Our hosts told us that they had a daughter who had gone to study at the University of Palo Alto in northern California. There, she became involved with the Chabad House. As time went on, she became fully observant. She married and had a number of children. 'But my wife and I are not happy about that,' our host revealed to us. Then he began a litany of complaints against Judaism, religious people in general and Chabad in particular. The man spoke very excitedly and expressed intensely negative feelings about his daughter, who 'abandoned her parents' home in order to live an abnormal lifestyle.
"We listened patiently, and when he finished talking, we began to speak. We spoke for three hours about Torah and mitzvot, about the soul that is a part of G-d, about G-d having chosen the Jewish people from among all the nations, and about the importance of performing actual deeds that connect one to G-d.
"The couple listened and listened. We could see that they were moved. The husband agreed to put on tefilin. We put a mezuza on their front door, left some books with them, and parted on good terms. They accompanied us to the car with tears in their eyes and good wishes.
"We continued on our way to Yosemite. After traveling for another hour we came to a roadblock swarming with police. The entrance to the city had been closed because of a fire in the area. Until it was extinguished, the road was closed to traffic and we were asked to turn back.
"We said to each other, 'This is surely Divine Providence. Our trip to this area was solely for the couple we just visited.' With that we turned around and drove back to Fresno. In the fall, we returned to New York and 770."
Six months later, on the Rebbe's birthday, thousands of Chasidim were gathered in 770. People had congregated into small groups and were studying the Rebbe's teachings or relating incidents connected with the Rebbe. Efraim and Levi were listening to an emissary from Pittsburgh who began to tell the following story:
"We have a large Lubavitcher community in Pittsburgh. Amongst the families is one young family who had been completely shunned by the wife's parents when she became religious years ago. Even the fact that she had children, their grandchildren, did not move them in the slightest. Her father, a retired lawyer who was extremely wealthy, was furious that she had become religious, and was upset with Chabad for helping her along that path.
"Last summer," continued the emissary, "the daughter decided that the situation had to change. The time had come to reconnect despite the fact that all her previous efforts had been rejected by her father. The first thing she did was write a letter to the Rebbe, in which she detailed all of the events of her life. She concluded by asking the Rebbe for a blessing that the family reunite.
"Two weeks later, two young rabbis, who were traveling under the auspices of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, arrived at her parents' home. They sat and talked for hours. The young men had a tremendous impact on her parents. The parents decided right then and there that if their daughter belonged to the same movement as those two young men, things couldn't be so terrible!
"They suddenly felt an intense longing for their daughter and decided to travel to Pittsburgh after the summer to surprise their daughter and her family. Words cannot describe their joy after years of separation."
Efraim Mintz and Levi Shemtov sat and listened quietly. They didn't say a word, but a few of their friends who had heard of their adventure in Yosemite came over and questioned them.
"Little did we know that our mission had a precise purpose!" they declared.
The tone of the discussion changed. "It's not every day that Divine Providence is so obviously revealed!" concluded Efraim.
A novel way to celebrate one of the most joyous occasions in Jewish life, a Jewish wedding, is to add a charitable contribution to a worthy Jewish cause in the new couple's honor in addition to the customary gifts and wishes.
This letter was addressed to Rabbi Yerachmiel Benjaminson. Reference to it is found in the text, Marbitzei Torah UMussar, Vol. III, p. 66
B"H, Shvat 19, 5699, Paris
Greetings and Blessings,
....With regard to your comments concerning the tzimtzum, [the initial contraction of G-dly light,] and the statement of your acquaintances that all the different approaches [to the concept] flow in a single direction.
I was amazed to hear such a proposition, in particular insomuch as in your letter, you describe that person as one who has studied kabbalistic texts. Obviously, he does not fit that description at all.
Even in the first generation after the AriZal - the one who revealed the secret of the tzimtzum - there were radical differences in opinion among his disciples with regard to the tzimtzum. These are obvious from the texts they composed, and these differences were perpetuated [in the subsequent generations].
The crux of the differences centers around two issues:
- Should the concept of tzimtzum be understood literally or not, i.e., are we speaking about a withdrawal of the light, or merely its concealment?
- Did the tzimtzum affect merely G-d's light, or did it affect also the Source of light, [i.e., that He Himself has withdrawn or is hidden from our world]?
[In dealing with these questions,] it is possible to outline four different approaches:
- the tzimtzum should be interpreted literally, and moreover, that it affected G-d's essence. The proof offered in defense of this theory is that it is impossible for the King to be found in a place of filth, heaven forbid;
- the tzimtzum should be interpreted literally, but that it affected only His light;
- the tzimtzum should not be interpreted literally, but it affected the Source of light as well; and
- the tzimtzum should not be interpreted literally, and it affected only His light.
As is well known, the misnagdim at the time of the Alter Rebbe followed the first approach mentioned. They explained the expression, 
"there is no place apart from Him," meaning -apart from His providence.
They said, moreover, that the approach which states that G-d's essence is found everywhere contradicts the laws applying to [the restrictions against prayer and Torah study] in places of filth, as reflected in the notices and proclamations which were circulated at the time of the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe.
See also the references to the issue in Shaar HaYichud VehaEmunah, ch. 7, and Iggeres HaKodesh, the conclusion of Epistle 25.
It appears to me that Beis Rebbe also includes a letter from the Alter Rebbe concerning this subject.
[Reb Chayim of Volozin,] the author of Nefesh HaChayim which you mentioned in your letter, follows the third approach mentioned above. In this, he differs from his master, the Gaon, Rav Eliyahu [of Vilna].
In general, it appears that Reb Chayim of Volozin had seen Chabad texts, in particular, the Tanya, and had been influenced by them. I do not, however, have definite proof of this.
[As chassidim,] we follow solely the fourth approach mentioned which explains that the concept of tzimtzum should not be interpreted literally, and that it affects only [G-d's] light, but not the Source of light.
[Indeed, within the light], it affects only the lowest level of the light which existed before the tzimtzum, as explained in the texts and manuscripts of Chabad [teachings].
In our time, we have merited the revelation [of Chassidic teachings], and the concept of the tzimtzum has been explained at length - at least relatively so - and in many of its particulars, in the texts of the Chabad Chassidic teachings in print and in manuscript. As such, one who desires to understand the concept of the tzimtzum has no alternative except to study these texts.
To corroborate this, it is sufficient to compare the discussion of this issue in other texts - where it appears that for various reasons, these texts shied away from speaking in detail about the matter - to its discussion in the texts of Chabad.
I do not know which texts and manuscripts are available to you to make recommendations.
The subject of the tzimtzum is mentioned in Torah Or, in the maamar Pasach Eliyahu (and there are notes on this from the Rebbe Rashab which were printed in lithograph in Otvotzk); Likkutei Torah, in the additions to Sefer Vayikra, the maamar Lehavin Mashekasuv beSefer Otzeros Chayim; Shaar HaYichud; Sefer HaMitzvos, [the maamarim] Mitzvas Haamanas Elokus, and Shoresh Mitzvas HaTefillah (beginning ch. 34); in the Siddur, [the maamar] on the verse Zecher Rav Tovecho.
In the maamarim of my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe shlita that have been printed, [the subject is discussed] in the maamarim: Al Yipater Adam 5689, Dirshu Havayah 5691, Al Kein Yomru 5691, Shavuos 5693, p. 8, and Tov Li 5697.
I am sure that you have the series of maamarim [beginning in the year 5666. There the subject is also explained in the maamarim VaYoilech Havayah es HaYam and Anochi Havayah Elokecho.
The subject of the tzimtzum also relates to the concepts under discussion in Tanya, chs. 48 and 49, as explained in greater length in the maamarim entitled Yavi'u Levush Malchus in Torah Or and in Shaarei Orah.
I have mentioned sources of which I am certain you are aware so that a complete list would be included.
With respectful and warm regards, M. Schneerson
- (Back to text) Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun 57.
- (Back to text) I.e., that G-d is not found in these places, but that He watches over them.
- (Back to text) See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Krias Shema, ch. 3, Hilchos Tefilah 4:8-9.
- (Back to text) The letter is printed in Igros Kodesh Admor HaZakein, Epistle 34.
Many mystical customs surround the birth of a Jewish child, including having the "Shir L'Maalot (Song of Ascents)" psalm with the mother as she gives birth. If you or someone you know would like to have a full- color, illuminated Shir LaMaalot card call LEFJME at (718) 756-5700 or 800-860-7030 outside of NYC.
Kosher food vendors in the Tri-state area offered samples of kosher food at a three-day kosher food exhibition at the Rockaway Shoprite on route 46 in Rockaway. The exhibition, which ran June 5, June 8 and June 9, was the joint effort of Shoprite and local synagogues. Rabbi Asher Herson, director of the Chabad Center of Northwest New Jersey, was one of the organizers.
This week's Torah portion, Beha'alotcha, discusses the lighting of the menora by the kohen (priest) in the Holy Temple. The flames of the menora can be compared to the human soul.
The commentator Rashi states that "the menora must be kindled until the flame rises on its own." This means that G-d has given each one of us a soul, and He is constantly giving us opportunities to improve in Torah and mitzvot.
Our goal is to use our soul and the opportunities we are given to bolster our initiative to do more, to increase in our Divine service. We must each strive to be a flame, rising on our own. This is not to say, G-d forbid, that we could be so self-sufficient as to not need G-d's help in order to carry out His will, but that automatically His will becomes our will. Just as the kohen kindles the lights of the menora, so too does G-d kindle the light of our souls until they rise on their own .
In this week's chapter of Pirkei Avot, we learn further about how to advance in our service to G-d:
"Be wary of those in power, for they befriend a person only for their own benefit; they seem to be friends when it is to their advantage, but do not stand by a man in his hour of need."
While the literal meaning is surely sound advice, there is also a non- literal interpretation. The Rebbe explains that "those in power" refers to our egos, thoughts, and feelings. Although we rely on these in order to function, we must be aware of their fundamental self- interest, and that they are only concerned with their own benefit.
However, the soul - the essential self - is concerned only with being closer to G-d and observing His Torah and mitzvot. By succumbing to the desires of the soul rather than to the desires of the ego, we will surely find ourselves on the path of Torah. This, in turn, will lead to a world that is ready for Moshiach.
He said, "Please do not forsake us...and you will be to us for eyes." (Num. 10:31)
This verse refers to Yitro, Moshe's father-in-law, who gave up an exalted position in Midian to follow in the Torah's ways. After converting to Judaism, he wished to return to his homeland, but Moshe urged him to stay and be "for eyes," a living example before the eyes of the Jewish people.
We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt for free, the cucumbers and the melons (Num. 11:5)
The Egyptians were very cruel to their slaves, and yet the Jews managed to get free fish. When the Nile river rose and irrigated the ground, the fish flowed out as well. When the water subsided, the fish remained on the ground. The slaves who worked the fields gathered the fish to bring home to their families.
But now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all; we have nothing but the manna to look to (Num. 11:6)
The manna could taste like anything a person wanted, so it seemed that the Jews had nothing to complain about. The manna was delivered in three different places. For a righteous person, it was right at the entrance to his tent. For an intermediate person, one who was neither righteous nor wicked, he had to leave his camp to find his portion. One who was wicked would have to travel a great distance to receive his portion. Those who complained about the manna were the wicked, because they were upset at having their true nature revealed.
(Talmud Yoma 75a)
Not so is My servant Moshe, in My entire house he is trusted (Num 12:7)
G-d considered Moshe to be trustworthy in the sense that Moshe had great prophetic ability, yet he did not disclose anything without G-d's permission.
From Vedibarta Bam by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky
It is known that the Prophet Elijah is sometimes permitted to descend to this world to help Jews in need. Once three men -- a poor man, a simpleton, and a bachelor who was both poor and simple -- came to Elijah to ask for his blessing.
The first man came to the prophet and said, "I'm so poor that I can't even feed and clothe my family. Please, take pity on me, and give me your blessing that I may become wealthy."
Elijah agreed to help, but on one condition: "When you become rich, and you certainly will, you must promise to give tzedaka [charity] and share your wealth with others." The man promised, and Elijah handed him a coin. "This coin will make you rich," assured the prophet. "Don't forget your promise."
The second man came and made his request: "Elijah, the thing I desire most in this world is to become a Torah scholar. Please, help me."
Elijah considered his request worthy, but made one condition: "When you become a Torah scholar, and you will, you must promise to instruct simple folk who want to learn Torah."
"Of course, I promise," said the man. "It would be my honor and privilege to teach my fellow Jews."
Elijah took a sheet of paper on which was written the Hebrew alphabet and handed it to the man, saying, "If you study from this piece of paper, you will certainly become a great scholar. Don't forget your promise." The man parted from the prophet happily clutching the paper to his chest.
Then the third man approached the prophet. "Elijah, please take pity on me. I am no longer young; I am very poor and not so bright; and worst of all I'm all alone in the world without a wife. But I won't take just any wife -- I will marry only a woman with good sense."
Elijah took pity on the man. "I have the perfect wife for you. But, you must promise to listen to her in every matter, all the days of your life." The man agreed and Elijah led him into the depths of the forest. They entered a small hut in the forest where an old woman and her daughter were sitting. "This woman is the perfect wife for you," said the prophet, nodding towards the daughter. Both parties agreed to the marriage which was held without delay.
Two years passed and Elijah returned to see if the three had kept their promises. First, he visited the opulent home of the formerly poor man. Approaching the door, he saw a sign which said in large letters: "Beggars and Deliveries to the Rear." Elijah went to the back door and was given a small coin. "I wish to speak with your employer," demanded the prophet. "Not permitted. You can have a coin and a loaf of bread."
"No," insisted Elijah. "I want to see the owner of this house."
"Take two coins and be off with you!" Still, Elijah stood his ground. In fact, he created such a fuss that the servants had to call the wealthy owner.
Elijah asked the man for a more substantial sum, but he just scoffed, "A coin should be enough for you.!" Each time he asked, Elijah was rebuffed more violently.
"I see that you don't recognize me and you have forgotten your promise. I am Elijah the Prophet and you must return my coin" Elijah told the ungrateful man.
"Ha! Do you think that silly coin did anything for me? You can gladly have it back. It's worthless!" He returned the coin, laughing. Needless to say, in no time the man was poor again.
Next, Elijah visited the great yeshiva where the would-be scholar was now a famous Head of the Academy. "Pardon me, Rabbi, but I would like to learn Torah," the prophet said to the great man.
"Have you studied the entire Talmud with all of its commentaries?" "No, I haven't had the chance to learn, but I want to very much." "I'm sorry, I don't have time to instruct low-level students. You see, I am the Head of the Yeshiva, and I have more important things to do!"
Elijah begged three times, but to no avail. Then he said, "I see you don't recognize me and you haven't kept your promise. You must return my paper!"
"The paper is worthless," the scholar laughed. "Here, take it!" No sooner had the prophet departed when the Head of the Academy forgot all of his learning and was an ignoramus again.
Elijah trudged to the poor hut of the couple. The wife saw Elijah from afar and said to her husband, "We have never been privileged to have a guest, and here is a distinguished-looking man approaching. Let's slaughter our cow and serve him properly."
The husband couldn't imagine life without the cow, from which they eked out a bare subsistence, but he agreed. "If you feel that we should, let's prepare the cow."
Elijah ate, and when he finished he said to the couple, "I see that you have lived according to your promise, and so, I have two more gifts for you -- a coin and a paper."
"Then all the trees of the forest will sing joyously." (Psalm 96:12) Rashi explains that the trees of the forest symbolize the monarches of the gentile nations. With their strength and erect bearing, they resemble towering trees. They, too, are destined to recognize the sovereignty of Moshiach, and they shall rejoice when he arrives.