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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
by Rabbi Israel Rubin
It is highly doubtful that they had a Torah scroll aboard the Titanic. Actually, a Torah scroll would have felt out of place amidst all the ritz, glitz and glamour on the grand luxury liner. Flaunting their jewelry and obsessed with materialism, the passengers probably wouldn't list a Torah among their treasures.
Yet the Titanic is making such big waves these days, that everyone and everything is being swept up with it. In fact, it was probably the word "Titanic" in the title of this article that first caught your eye and prompted you to read on.
But now that you've come aboard, please relax and make yourself comfortable. Be my guest and join me, if you will, on a little pre- holiday cruise in preparation for Shavuot (this year beginning Saturday night, May 30 and ending on Monday evening, June 1), marking the day when we received the Torah at Sinai.
Admittedly, Torah and the Titanic don't really go together. The Titanic offered thrills, rollicking fun and frolic, while the Torah requires serious study and observance.
A Torah's top wooden handles are no match for the Titanic's towering masts or looming smokestacks. A Torah is richly dressed up in velvet with gold embroidery and decked out in silver, but it probably wasn't fashionable in the vogue of that period.
The Torah may not feature majestic ballrooms, but it's been a virtual lifeboat for over 3,000 years. As a people, we've had some very rough sailing, but the Torah has weathered many a storm, and continues full steam ahead to this day.
This may sound strange, but Torah students can benefit from the Titanic! Hollywood has managed to turn this century's greatest disaster into a great success. Why, indeed, has everyone fallen in love with an old, rusting wreck?
It's not just a quaint fascination with a famous story. Actually, all the information about the Titanic had long been common knowledge. Books, periodicals and movies had already fully documented the tragic event. So what's the secret that propelled a sunken shipwreck into a super production?
Obviously, it's not the story itself, but how it is told, that makes all the difference!
Titanic's success shows us the value of breathing new life into a story, to make it alive in a real way. Just telling the dry facts isn't enough. The story should be personalized, and it is so important to put warmth and inspiration into it. We don't study Torah just for old times' sake, as an archaic, once-upon-a-time story from days gone by. Indeed, Chasidic teachings encourage us to "live with the times," by studying a portion of the weekly Torah reading each day.
The Torah's stories and issues continue to be relevant and contemporary; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sara, Rebbeca, Rachel and Leah are here and now. And on Shavuot, we bring along the children to hear the Ten Commandments, as we personally relive our experience at Sinai.
Our cruise is just about over, for very soon our ship will come in. We will reach our final dock in Moshiach's times when "Divine wisdom will fill the earth, as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 10). Then we will fully appreciate Torah's great depth, for what seems to be superficial stories are just the tip of the iceberg.
Rabbi Rubin is the director of Chabad of the Capital District, Albany, New York, and editor of Jewish Holiday Consumer - www.jewish-holiday.com
When the Jewish people left Egypt, G-d commanded that when they would enter the Land of Israel, the land should be worked for six years and allowed to lie fallow in the seventh. "Then shall the land keep a Sabbath to the L-rd." This commandment, the mitzva of shemita (the Sabbatical year), is enumerated in the first of the two Torah portions that are read this week, Behar.
Interestingly, the Torah presents the sequence of years in reverse chronological order, mentioning first the shemita year, "Then shall the land keep a Sabbath," followed by the six years that precede it, "Six years you shall sow your field." The reason for this inverted sequence is the significant influence the Sabbatical year wields over the first six. Indeed, the shemita year is the source of strength and power from which the other six years derive their vitality. In the same way it is the holy Shabbat from which we derive the capacity to work throughout the six days of the workweek. The Shabbat day exerts a powerful influence, and affects the tone of the six days which precede it.
Some people find it hard to understand how a Jew can live according to Torah on a regular weekday. How it is possible for him go about his business, given the Torah's many restrictions and commandments? The entire world around him is filled with non-Jews to whom the Torah is a foreign concept; moreover, the dominant culture in which he is immersed seems to operate according to entirely different principles. How can the Jew realistically be expected to compete with the world at large and withstand all the pressure?
The answer is found in this week's Torah portion.
The six days of the workweek commence with the knowledge that the seventh day is sanctified, "a Sabbath to the L-rd." The holiness of Shabbat provides us with the strength to overcome all difficulties, and enables us to live in strict accordance with the Torah's commandments. Indeed, it is only when we live our lives in consonance with the Torah that we are successful.
Similarly, the holy year of shemita affects the first six years in the cycle, during which we work the land. Deriving strength from the seventh year, the Jew is thus able to contend with the world at large - and precisely through the medium of his performance of mitzvot.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, vol. 2
My Bubbe Chasia
by Devora Leah Dechter
From the day she came to America 45 years ago, Bubbe Chasia lived in our house. She was meticulous by nature and kept her room very neat and tidy. She didn't need much: her sefarim (holy books), a few clothes, and (of course), a tin of candies for her grandchildren.
Bubbe helped us with all of our homework - Chumash (the Five Books of Moses), Navi (Prophets and Writings), math, or any other subject. She even helped the boys with their Mishnayot!
Bubbe was born in Nevele, the seventh of ten children. Bubbe studied at home to become a pharmacist. Only for the final exams did she go to the university. However, she worked as a pharmacist for only a couple of years, until a law was passed which meant that she would have to work on Shabbos. She went to work for her father, who had a dry goods store.
One day, after Bubbe was already married to our Zeide, Reb Chaim Schneur Zalman Pruss, she was on her way home at the train station when everyone suddenly surged forward. In the rush she was pushed and fell under the train. The train started to move. With tremendous effort Bubbe lay flat and held on for dear life. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, the train stopped. Bubbe flung herself into one of the cars, knowing that G-d had miraculously saved her.
Our Zeide had a machine that made berets - their entire livelihood. One day some children playing with matches started a fire that couldn't be extinguished, and it swept through all 70 houses on the street. Zeide insisted on rescuing his machine. "Leave it already! Just come!" Bubbe shouted. Zeide stumbled out with the machine in his hands a split second before the roof collapsed.
During the War, my Bubbe, Zeide and their children hid on a cargo train for two months. Food was scarce. Whenever the train stopped, Bubbe and Zeide got off to find whatever food was available. They never knew when the train would move on, so it was a real risk leaving their children. Shortly after they arrived in Tashkent, Zeide passed away from hunger.
Bubbe was now left a young widow with three small children. She measured a mere 4'9", yet stood tall and regal in the face of adversity, gaining strength from G-d.
The first thing she did was send her son to cheder. Then she did a very unusual thing - she hired a tutor - for her daughters! This was unheard of. Money was scarce, but she was adamant that her daughters learn Hebrew. At night, when the children were in bed, Bubbe told them stories from Chumash she had heard from her father.
In order to earn a living she acquired a machine to make stockings. She was only allowed to sell one pair at a time; more would mean that she was running an illegal business. One day she decided to give her daughter a pair and bring her along, and was promptly arrested. In the station house she tried to bribe the policemen, but to no avail. Suddenly, one of the other women, a non-Jew, exclaimed, "Leave her alone, can't you see she is innocent?" Then a policeman (!) came over and told her to run, and she fled. Bubbe always insisted that the woman was an angel sent by G-d.
After the War, Bubbe taught young girls Hebrew in a DP camp in Austria. She then worked as a cook in a yeshiva in Paris until she earned enough money to come to America.
From our earliest memories, Bubbe kept a steady schedule. She davened (prayed) three time a day and said Shema every night. Even more impressive is that she said the entire Book of Psalms every day. In the summertime, when the days were long, she even said it twice. We felt enveloped in a cloak of goodness just by being in the same room with her.
Bubbe shaped so much of what we are today, teaching and guiding us. From her day to day life, we learned about ahavat Yisrael (loving one's fellow Jew), of which hers knew no bounds. Bubbe always thanked G-d for what He had given her. From her meager pension she gave something to every tzedaka organization's envelope that came in the mail. She herself went around for years collecting charity for poor brides and the sick.
One day before our eldest son's bar mitzva we were sitting with her in the kitchen while he was practicing chanting his Torah portion. Bubbe looked up, and with a twinkle in her eyes, suddenly started reciting the entire trup (cantillation) by heart! We all stared at her in amazement. "I learned it over 80 years ago, as my father taught it to my brothers," she explained. "And I still remember!" We were all in awe. Eighty years later and she knew it perfectly!
Bubbe Chasia was our pillar and our foundation. She was truly a living example of yirat shamayim (fear of heaven) and emuna (faith) every day of her life.
With the Rebbe's blessing to her for longevity she lived to be 100 years old. We were truly privileged.
Reprinted from the N'shei Chabad Newsletter
THE BRAVEST FIREMAN
For the youngest readers and pre-readers HaChai Publications has just released a charming, beautifully illustrated story about a little boy who wants to be the bravest fireman there is. In The Bravest Fireman, he tells about how he will someday work tirelessly as part of the fire brigade, with G-d's help, of course, saving lives and protecting everyone from harm.
SEDER BIRKAS HANEHENIN
This scholarly book presents chapters from the Code of Jewish Law, as compiled by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. Vowels and punctuation have been added to the Hebrew text which is accompanied by a clear English translation and commentaries. Seder Birkas Hanehenin deals with the complex laws concerning the blessings we say to thank G-d for things we enjoy, such as food and fragrances, and also the laws concerning the ritual washing of the hands before eating. This is an important text for every home. Published by the Yeshiva of Melbourne and Kehot Publications.
Rosh Chodesh Sivan, 5725
I received your letter of May 25th. As requested, you will be remembered in prayer, when visiting the holy resting place of my father-in-law of saintly memory, in accordance with the contents of your letter.
Judging by your writing, I trust it is unnecessary to write to you at length about the need to strengthen and spread Yiddishkeit in your environment, to the fullest extent of your influence. I hope you will not limit yourself to doing this within your own home, and will also bear in mind that "V'ahavta l'reacha kamocha" ["love your fellow as yourself"] is the great principle of our Torah.
Having now entered the auspicious month of Sivan, when we will soon celebrate the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, the thought readily comes to one's mind that the Jewish woman had a primary part in this great event. For, as our Sages relate , when G-d was about to give the Torah to the Jewish people, He told Moshe Rabbeinu [Moses] to approach the women first, and persuade them to accept the Torah, and only then approach the men. This indicates that not only is the woman's cooperation very necessary, but thanks to Jewish women, the Torah was given in the first place, and is assured of eternal preservation by our people.
Wishing you and yours a truly happy and inspiring Yom Tov of Kabalat HaTorah [Receiving the Torah],
N'shei uB'nos Chabad [Lubavitch Women's and Girls' Organization] London, England "In the Days of Preparation" for Matan Torah [the Giving of the Torah, i.e. Shavuot], 5731
I was pleased to receive the report of your activities.
I trust you are familiar with the message addressed to the recent Annual Convention of the N'shei uB'nos Chabad. I reiterate my profound hope and prayerful wishes that the accomplishments of the past should spur each and every one of you to intensify your desire and efforts to accomplish even more in the future in a spirit of dedication and enthusiasm.
In these Days of Preparation for Matan Torah, (y'mei hagbala), it is well to remember the origin and significance of these days, being derived from G-d's command to Moshe Rabbeinu, "Go unto the people and sanctify them...and set bounds unto the people."
Here is a call to each and every one of us, at all times and all places, to go to the people and sanctify them, so that they would be ready to receive and practice the Torah and mitzvot in the daily life.
Moreover, before this Divine command was given, and as the first step to the actual giving of the Torah to the Jewish people, Moshe Rabbeinu was ordered first to speak to the women (the "House of Jacob"), and (then to the rest of) the Children of Israel, thus emphasizing the special role and responsibility of the Jewish women and daughters for the preservation of the Torah and mitzvot in Jewish life.
I will look forward to continued good reports, "good" in this case meaning that you are going from strength to strength in all your activities to spread and strengthen the Torah way of life in your personal life, in the family, and in the environment at large.
Wishing you a happy and inspiring Yom Tov of Kabalat HaTorah with joy and inwardness,
Rambam for 26 Iyar, 5758
Positive Mitzva 162: Resting on Shavuot
By this injunction we are commanded to rest on the day of Shavuot. It is derived from the words "You shall make a proclamation on the selfsame day; there shall be a holy convocation to you."
Negative Mitzva 325: Working on Shavuot By this prohibition we are forbidden to do work on Atzeret (Shavuot). It is contained in the words "You shall do no manner of servile work."
"Wild beasts," our Sages tell us in the fifth chapter of Ethics of the Fathers, "come upon the world for swearing falsely and for profaning the Divine Name." Animals that would fall into this category are wolves, lions, tigers, cheetahs and poisonous snakes.
The natural habitat of such animals is in the wilderness, far away from where people live. The sins of swearing falsely and profaning G-d's Name cause them to encroach on human society.
And yet, our Sages taught that a dangerous animal will only attack if it perceives a person as another animal. As the Zohar explains, Daniel was safe and unharmed in the lions' den because the animals could clearly see the "image of G-d" upon him.
The Torah promises that if a person behaves properly, "Your fear and dread will be upon the beasts of the earth." Committing the above- mentioned sins, however, causes the "image of G-d" to depart and makes a person vulnerable.
One of the most well-known prophecies concerning the Messianic era, uttered by the Prophet Isaiah, is "And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid." On a symbolic level this means that when Moshiach is revealed, the Jewish people, "a lone sheep among seventy wolves," will dwell in peace with the nations of the world. Yet on a deeper level it means that at a certain point in the Messianic era, the nature of predatory animals will actually change, enabling them to derive their sustenance from grains and plants.
In truth, this future change is explained as a reversion to the animals' original nature in the Garden of Eden. There was no such thing as a carnivorous animal before the sin of the Tree of Knowledge!
As the Rebbe has said, the process of Redemption is already in full swing. May we see its culmination with the coming of Moshiach immediately.
G-d spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying..."When you come into the land...then shall the land keep a Sabbath to G-d." (Lev. 25:1-2)
Rashi explains the connection between the Sabbatical year and Mount Sinai: "Just as all the detailed laws of the Sabbatical year were given at Sinai, so were all the mitzvot in their minutiae given at Sinai." But why did Rashi pick this particular mitzva to illustrate this point? In truth, the Sabbatical year is "proof" that the Torah is G-d-given. For no person can promise that the sixth's year's crop will be sufficient for three years-and deliver.
In the seventh year there shall be Sabbath of rest unto the land (Lev. 25:4)
Not only do the Jewish people have a Sabbath, so too does the land of the Jews! A Hebrew servant works for six years and goes free in the seventh. Similarly, the Land of Israel returns to G-d's sole authority in the seventh year. The value of the Land of Israel is not limited to the benefit human beings can derive from it. It has is own essential worth, which we honor and recognize every seven years.
(Rabbi Yitzchak Breuer)
You shall uphold him, a stranger or a sojourner, that he might live with you (Lev. 25:35)
A "sojourner" is defined as anyone who renounces idolatry. This teaches, said the Baal Shem Tov, that even if this is a person's only merit he is worthy of G-d's sustenance and eternal salvation.
And My soul shall not loathe you (Lev. 26:11)
When Reb Shemlke of Nicholsburg returned from his first visit to the Magid of Merezitch he was asked what he had learned. "Until I went to the Magid," he replied, "I used to fast and afflict my body, that it be able to bear my soul. From the Magid I learned that the soul is certainly capable of enduring the body, and that our service is to make it a suitable vessel for the soul's light..."
Once a Jewish peasant came to ask for a blessing from Rabbi Chaim of Chernowitz. The rabbi was about to give his blessing, but paused and asked the man, "Tell me, do you keep Shabbat?"
The farmer averted his eyes and did not reply, but the rabbi continued speaking. "Perhaps you don't understand the true sanctity of Shabbat. Let me explain: All week you toil with farm animals and till the earth. You work until you're so exhausted that you fall into your bed. What connection do you have with the spiritual? On the Shabbat, every Jew receives an additional soul, one which is completely pure and refined. He rests his weary body, forgets his struggle of the preceding week and devotes his thoughts to G-d. A person who lives without the Shabbat has a life of work which never ends."
The peasant listened to the rabbi's words and they struck a deep chord within his heart. He burst into tears at the thought of all he was missing in life. "Rabbi, I see now how right you are. But perhaps I haven't explained the whole reason why I don't observe Shabbat completely as I should. You see, I rent my farm from a poretz (landlord) who requires me to produce enough food for his family as well as my own. Now that you have explained the importance of Shabbat, I will try my best to keep it completely. Just during the harvest I won't be able to."
Rabbi Chaim gently asked the farmer why he was so certain that he would not be able to keep Shabbat during the harvest.
"Rabbi, during the harvest I don't have even one minute to spare, and I can't take such a long break."
Rabbi Chaim smiled and said, "Let me tell you a story: A long time ago, a local landowner invited his friends to a celebration. When they were all seated around the table, and had all drunk much too much, they began to brag about their Jewish employees. 'My Jewish tenant is unique. He's as loyal as a good hunting dog,' said one. Another countered, 'He can't be as loyal as my Jewish tenant. He's absolutely the best!'
"Then the host spoke up. 'You may all have very remarkable tenants, but my Jew is unquestionably the most loyal. Why, he would do anything I asked without hesitation. You know, if I asked him to just convert to our religion, he would do it in a minute.'
"The others began to speak at once. 'That would never happen. A Jew, no matter how loyal, would never convert because he was asked to do so by his employer!' they all contended.
"'I see you don't believe me. I will prove it to you! Send for Moshke!' the poretz barked to his servant.
"The Jewish tenant was soon standing in front of his landlord and all the drunken guests. 'Moshke,' began the poretz, 'would you do anything I requested of you?'
"The frightened Jew didn't know what was about to happen. He just hoped to avoid trouble, and so he nodded his head and replied, 'Yes, sir, I certainly would obey you.'
"'Moshke, I want you to become a Christian right now!'
"The Jew was shocked at the request, but he was too frightened to refuse. He needed a livelihood and his family needed a roof over their heads. As soon as he nodded his head a servant was dispatched to bring the priest. Before he could think about what he was doing, the Jew was baptized.
"When the poretz came out of his drunken haze, he remembered what he had done to his Jewish tenant and he regretted it very much. He apologized, 'Moshke, I was drunk and I didn't mean to offend you. Of course, you may become a Jew once again! '
"The poretz was shocked at Moshke's reaction to his words. He didn't express his relief or gratitude. In fact, he was none too anxious to resume his former religion.
"'Thank you for your offer, but soon the Jewish holiday of Passover will be celebrated. It is a very costly holiday. So, I was wondering, would you mind if I put off changing back until after the holiday?' "
Rabbi Chaim looked penetratingly at the farmer and asked, "Do you know that the Torah states, 'Six days shall you work and on the seventh you shall rest. At the time of plowing and harvesting you shall rest.' Doesn't it seem strange that the Torah adds the words 'at plowing and harvesting' when it says that Shabbat must be observed on a weekly basis? Why is it necessary to mention plowing and harvesting in particular?
"The reason is to teach us that even at the most demanding times of the year, when it seems impossible to keep Shabbat, even then, we are commanded to observe the holy Shabbat."
Rabbi Chaim continued. "Our Sages explain that the laws of Shabbat were taught when the Jews camped near the waters of Mara. Mara means bitter. From this we learn that even when life appears to be especially hard-bitter - and keeping Shabbat seems to be impossible, a Jew must have faith and must keep it despite the hardship. When he expends all the energy he needs to observe Shabbat, G-d will come to his aid, and he will surely succeed."
T'ka B'Shofar Gadol-Sound the great shofar for our freedom; raise a banner to gather our exiles, and bring us together from the four corners of the earth into our land. Blessed are You G-d, Who gathers the dispersed of His people Israel.
(The tenth of the 19 blessings said three times daily in the Amida)