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A deluge of billboards and mass transit advertisements these days seems to be touting the latest disaster movies. Millions of people are, of their own free will, spending their precious free time and money watching hair-raising, cardiac-challenging scenarios of destruction and catastrophe.
Disaster movies have become so popular that a recent editorial in The New York Times discusses this genre of entertainment. "The threat in recent disaster movies seems to be nothing less than global extinction or the demise of the human species," the editorial proposes.
After discussing the differences between horror movies and disaster movies, the editorial goes on to explain why there is a proliferation of disaster movies now, more than ever before. "The only subject Hollywood has ever had is redemption. What ratchets up the scale of destruction in modern disaster movies is the sense that the redemption we really need these days is national or global."
"The sense that the redemption what we really need these days is national or global."
Had these words been written or spoken in a "religious" context they would have been ignored or perhaps would have even garnered a few snickers or knowing looks, but not much more.
However, when a bastion of knowledge and culture (come now, we've all heard highly-educated and intelligent people using facts and material they've learned via the media to support their position, so certainly the media are unfailingly accurate, right?) chooses to write about the need for national or global redemption we'd better sit up and take notice!
Perhaps, though, that is part of our problem. When people bemoan the bankruptcy of today's youth, the fraying of the very moral fabric of our society, etc., etc., we might do well to search our souls and understand why we wouldn't cold-shoulder those words in The New York Times, but would dismiss them from a less secular source.
The editorial suggests that "The whole edifice is flawed, and so it takes a colossal threat to restore perspective or the destruction of the edifice itself in order to clear room for a new beginning."
The edifice is not flawed. The world is not intrinsically evil, uncivilized or corrupt. For, as Jewish mysticism teaches, evil has no lasting reality. Once the sinner has repented, the evil has been eradicated; it ceases to exist. Goodness, however, is eternal. Goodness grows, expands and increases from generation to generation. Our generation, therefore, abounds with the goodness accumulated over thousands of years.
Our generation is, like the a midget standing on a mountain of cumulative mitzvot, good deeds, kind acts. So even if we see garbage at our very feet, we can also raise our eyes and look forward to the national and global redemption. May it speedily in our days.
This week's Torah portion, Chukat, spans a time period of almost 40 years. It starts off with the mitzva of the red heifer (given to the Jews in the second year after they left Egypt), then moves on to the death of Miriam and the defeat of Sichon and Og, almost four decades later.
The Torah tells us of two separate events that took place right before the Jewish people entered the Land of Israel: The first occurred when Moses sent a delegation to spy out Yaazer, and instead of reporting back, the spies "captured the villages and drove out the Emorites." The second incident was when the tribes of Gad and Reuben and half of Menashe asked permission to settle on the eastern bank of the Jordan, which Moses eventually granted.
At first glance these incidents are reminiscent of the sin of the 12 spies. Instead of simply carrying out their mission and reporting their findings, the 12 spies had interjected their own opinion when they said, "We will not be able to go up." In truth, they had not wanted to enter the Land and preferred to remain in the desert.
It would seem that the second group of spies made the same mistake when they acted on their own and captured Yaazer without permission. Similarly, when the tribes of Gad, Reuben and half of Menashe declared that they were unwilling to cross the Jordan, they were, in effect, asking to remain outside the borders of Israel. Was this an example of history repeating itself?
The answer is - not at all. Not only were the actions of the spies at Yaazer and the request made by the tribes of Gad, Reuben and half of Menashe not a replay of the previous disaster, they were a tikun (correction) of the sin of the 12 spies.
The 12 spies had veered a way from their original mission by adding on to it in a negative way; the spies who were sent to Yaazer added on to their mission in a positive direction, confident that with G-d's help they would be victorious.
Furthermore, whereas the 12 spies hadn't wanted to enter Israel at all, the two and a half tribes who asked to settle east of the Jordan were actually expressing their desire to inherit all of the Land of Israel.
Years before, G-d had promised Abraham that he would inherit the land of the "ten nations"; 40 years after the Exodus, the Jews were poised to conquer only seven of them. (The lands of the Keni, Kenizi and Kadmoni will become part of Israel only in the Messianic era.) The tribes of Gad and Reuben were so eager for the Redemption that they wanted to settle there immediately.
Thus we see that these two incidents were really positive developments, for not only did they "fix" the damage caused by the spies, they paved the way for the future conquest of all of Israel that will take place with Moshiach, speedily in our days.
Adapted from Hitva'aduyot 5750, Vol. III
by Anna Gotlieb
I scooped out an extra portion of ice cream for my Shabbat guests and the memory of Fruity Pebbles made me smile.
"You let your children eat that stuff for breakfast every day?" I'd asked in an accusatory tone.
Her answer had surprised me. "Only on Shabbat," she'd said. "Shabbat should be sweet."
The phrase has stayed with me through the years as I've learned something about the truth of sweetness - not all of it in abstract form.
"Take the Shabbat party," I told my recent guests. "It's a wonderful time for ice cream and cake." (And clementines, I might have added.)
Because that is what she'd served in mid-afternoon on the day of the Fruity Pebbles during my first weekend in a Sabbath observant home.
"But why?" I'd wanted to know back then when, after breakfast and shul, and Kiddush, and lunch and dessert, she had brought to the table yet another tray of cakes and sweets.
"To keep the children's interest," she had said. "To separate this day from the other days. To reinforce the lesson. Because it's good."
And she'd been right. So much so, in fact, that along with our decision to become Shomer Shabbat, came our decision to serve sweets for breakfast and clementines and cake in late afternoon (necessary aspects of the magic, we thought, at one with the day itself).
Eventually, of course, the specific treats became arbitrary, but the rituals remained the same and the lesson grew in meaning with the passing weeks.
Now, as I dish out ice cream or slice a wedge of pie for friends and neighbors, I understand better the wisdom of the sweets - the shared taste for good things, for pleasant things, for conversation, company, rest and peace - for a space of tranquility within the week.
But I realized, on that first Shabbat, that it was more than the cereal. It was the library books borrowed on Thursday and saved for the children for Shabbat afternoon. It was the Shabbat shoes, polished each week for the special day, the Shabbat clothes set aside for the occasion, the Shabbat coats and hats, the flowers purchased specially to grace the Shabbat table.
It was the sense of excitement in an atmosphere of joy which I witnessed on that day, which I wanted for my family and myself. It was the treats and the books and the shoes and the flowers and the candles and the people seated around the table singing Shabbat songs together. It was Shabbat itself that I desired. And I wanted to help make it happen - which, I believe, was precisely the point.
So I bought a box of Fruity Pebbles to begin.
I like the look of it. The sound of it. The ambience. It makes me happy to be there, makes me feel a part of something good - something warm and special and imminent. I like the fragrance and crowd and the clusters of children straining at mothers' hands. I like the combination of people, the young women, the elderly men. I like the essence of the place and the statement it makes. I like the butcher shop on Friday morning.
It is not the purchase of the meat which I particularly enjoy, but rather the reason for the shopping spree - the approaching Shabbat and that all of us standing there before the trays of chicken and chop meat and flanken are gathered together for a common reason. And I like knowing that many of us will exit the shop each Friday to hurry home, where we will cook similar meals.
Without having to say a word, those of us checking the chicken breasts understand that there will be a little kugel maybe and some soup and fish and meat on the table. There'll be salad, vegetables, interesting side dishes and, naturally, Challah. We know this about our Shabbat tables and about the tables of the others in the butcher shop. We will, all of us, welcome Shabbat with a meal fit for a queen.
Which is why we hurry there early Friday mornings just after the meat has been delivered to the store. And why we stand in line waiting for the woman at the checkout counter to bag our purchases and wish us "Shabbat Shalom" in her heavy Israeli accent.
But there is more than the imminence of Shabbat - there is the aura of Shabbat which precedes the day (and which lingers after). The sense of excited anticipation overheard in the Yiddish conversation between two women wearing white tichels (snoods), piling their carts high with meat and produce from the butcher shop.
It's the sound of laughter bubbling from the mouths of youngsters grabbing at brightly colored packages of candy lining the front counter of the store.
It's the rush of cold wind blowing through the open door as customers hurry through on chill December days. It's the hot summer air slipping by as men and women purchase meat in August when the sun bakes the sidewalk outside the butcher shop. It's the front window plastered with posters announcing classes or courses or speeches in local shuls.
It's the butcher himself making an appearance in his white apron, his sleeves rolled to his elbows - smiling at the customers checking the rows of meat, returning to the back room to bring forth the "special order" for someone or other who called yesterday about the family of 11 arriving in time for Shabbat.
It's the likeness to a meeting place - a community center, a club with a single goal. For all its sawdust and its mingled odors and its shouted orders and its harried patrons, for all its rushed and frantic pace, it is a happy place and a good place and meaningful place.
I like the kosher butcher shop - particularly on Friday mornings.
Reprinted with permission of the author from Between the Lines.
Rambam for 7 Tamuz
Negative Mitzvah 360: Restriction on a disabled man Deuteronomy 23:2 "He that is crushed or maimed in his private parts shall not enter the assembly of the L-rd"
A male whose manhood is so physically disabled that he cannot have children is cautioned not to marry a Jewish woman. This prohibition only applies to those disabilities that a man brings upon himself and not those caused by illness or other afflictions that are not his fault.
... You asked me to explain the following problem:
"Having been brought up to believe that G-d is Master of the world, Whose Omnipotent power is not limited in time and place, and Who, moreover, is the Source of goodness and desires His human creatures to live a life based on justice and morality, and insofar as Jews are concerned - a life fully in accord with the Torah and Mitzvos - I find it difficult to understand why such a life is often burdened with difficulties, sometimes even seemingly insurmountable obstacles?
I wish to add that I raise this question not as a skeptic, but because I believe in Divine Providence. Indeed, the more deeply I feel about G-d's benevolent, and at the same time unlimited, Providence, the more difficult I find it to reconcile this seeming anomaly."
This problem is, of course, not new. It is as old as humanity itself. The question has been asked and discussed in many a religious - philosophical work throughout the ages. But the question is still being asked, because the average contemporary thinking individual no longer has direct access to Jewish religious philosophy, either by reason of a language barrier, or for lack of time or knowledge to find the sources. So an attempt will be made here to give at least one explanation, and this, too, necessarily in a limited way, within the limitations of a letter.
Obviously, the subject matter could fully be dealt with only in a book or lengthy treatise. Nevertheless, I believe that the salient points raised below hold the key to the problem.
Starting from the same basic premises that G-d is the Essence of Goodness, and that "It is in the nature of the Good to do good," it follows that G-d not only desires the true good, but also that this good be enjoyed in the fullest measure. If such good were given to man by Divine grace, in other words, if it were to be achieved without effort, it would have an intrinsic flaw, for it would be, what our Sages call - "bread of shame."
To be sure, G-d could have established a world order, wherein morality and ethics would reign supreme, with little or no effort on the part of man. However, obviously there is no comparison between something received as a gift and the same thing attained through hard personal efforts, after overcoming difficult obstacles both with and without, both material and spiritual, and sometimes even obstacles which appear insurmountable.
Yet, knowing that there is a Divine command to follow a certain path in life, the person is resolved to fulfill his Divine mission, no matter what the difficulties may be. Indeed, the very difficulties and obstacles which he encounters are regarded by him as a challenge to be faced unflinchingly and to be surmounted; and far from being stymied by such obstacles, they evoke in him untapped powers which reinforce his determination and stimulate his effort to the maximum degree.
Coupled with this is the feeling of satisfaction which is commensurate only with the amount of effort exerted in the struggle, which makes the fruits of victory so much more delicious.
And from the above to a still further point and deeper insight:
The true and perfect way of fulfilling G-d's Will, which is embodied in the Torah and Mitzvos, is not when it is prompted by a desire to discharge an obligation towards G-d and fellowman; nor is it the gratifying feeling of having contributed something towards the world at large that matters, a world that is apart from and outside himself. For so long as the Jew's compliance with the Will of G-d is externally motivated - however commendable such motivation is in itself - it is not yet quite complete. The perfect fulfillment of the Torah and Mitzvos is achieved when such fulfillment is an integral part of one's life, to the extent of being completely identified with the individual, that is to say when the Torah and Mitzvos permeate his very essence and being and become inseparable from him in his daily living.
This is the deeper meaning of the words which we declare daily in our prayer, "For they (the Torah and Mitzvos) are our life" - meaning that just as a person and his life are one, making him a living person - so are the Torah and Mitzvos and the Jew one and inseparable. Such real identification with a thing cannot be achieved and experienced if the thing is come by without effort, or with little effort. Only that thing becomes an integral part of one's life which entails extraordinary effort in striving for it, even to the extent of staking one's life in obtaining and holding it. Conversely, only a matter which is regarded as an indispensable and integral part of one's life can evoke one's innermost powers, even self-sacrifice.
The above provides an insight also into the meaning of the Golus (the exile and dispersion among the nations of the world) which is at the root of most, if not all, the difficulties and obstacles confronting the Jew in his desire to live his G-d given Torah-way of life.
To be sure, we recognize the Golus as a punishment and rectification for failure to live up to our obligations in the past as, indeed, we acknowledge in our prayers: "For our sins we were banished from our land." But punishment, according to our Torah, called "Toras Chesed" (a Torah of loving kindness), must also essentially be Chesed [kind].
Since G-d has ordained a certain group, or people, namely the Jewish people, to carry the difficult and challenging task of spreading - in all parts and remotest corners of the world - the Unity of G-d (true Monotheism) through living and spreading the light of Torah and Mitzvos, a task which no other group was willing or capable of carrying out, the greatest reward is the fulfillment of this destiny, or, as our Sages put it, "The reward of a Mitzvah is the Mitzvah itself." Thus, the ultimate purpose of the Golus is linked with our destiny to help bring humanity to a state of universal recognition of G-d.
Our Divine Prophets and Sages explained at length the state of the ideal world which will eventually be attained, when all evil will be eradicated and "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb," etc., "they shall not hurt nor destroy," etc.
Here again, at first glance, one may ask: "Why was it necessary to create vicious beasts in the first place, if they were ultimately - when the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d - destined to be turned into docile and peace-loving creatures, so that "a small child shall lead them"? But the answer is the same as above.
Paving the road to the gradual achievement of the said destiny has always been the persevering and indomitable work of determined individuals and groups conscious of their responsibility. They dedicated themselves to the vital need of strengthening and spreading the Torah and Mitzvos among the widest sections of our people.
In recent generations, more than ever before, the main emphasis has been on the need to bring the knowledge and practice of the Torah and Mitzvos to the widest possible segments of our people, in the greatest number of locations, without waiting for them to seek it - in the hope that they will sooner or later realize the need of it themselves. The most effective way to accomplish this is, of course, through organized Torah-true education of the young, the young in years and "young" in knowledge. The pattern has been set by the founders of Chasidus and of Chasidus Chabad, who exemplified this approach with dedication and selflessness.
The Baal Shem Tov, before revealing himself and his way of life, was a Melamed - a teacher of small Jewish children. Similarly, the Alter Rebbe, founder of Chabad, a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov's disciple and successor, began his work by founding his well known three "Chadorim." This road has been followed also by his successors, the heads of Chabad, each in his generation.
They personified an indomitable spirit and a disdain for any and all difficulties and obstacles in their work for the dissemination of the Torah and Mitzvos. They also made it plain for all to see that whatever the difficulties, these are nothing but a challenge, to be expected and overcome. And by facing up to, and eventually overcoming, all obstacles, they had verified the truth of the basic tenets of our faith, namely that G-d's Providence extends to each and everyone individually, and that " He who is determined to purify himself and others, receives aid from On High."
It is a matter of common experience that when there is a firm will and unshakable determination, it soon becomes apparent that the difficulties are often largely imaginary, and even when real - not insurmountable. The forces of good are cumulative and self-generating, as our Sages indicated in their well known dictum, "One Mitzvah brings another in its train." If evil can be contagious, good is certainly much more so, and many who stand at the sidelines are inspired and willing to join in constructive and positive action, provided the lead is given and the way is shown.
The challenge of our time is to spread the knowledge of the Torah and Mitzvos, particularly through the education of our young, until each and every Jew will attain the level of "Know the G-d of your father and serve Him with a perfect heart," and the fulfillment of the prophecy: "They all shall know Me, small and great, and the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d, as the waters cover the sea."
BAT MITZVA CLUB
The Bat Mitzva Club, a project of Tzivos Hashem which is sponsored by local Chabad-Lubavitch Centers, has clubs for Bat Mitzva age girls in over 3 dozen locations including cities throughout the U.S. and South Africa, Australia, Western Australia, and Denmark. Clubs are starting soon in Nevada, Ohio, California, Arizona and Pennsylvania. To start a Bat Mitzva Club in your area call your Center or Tzivos Hashem at (718) 467-6630.
CELEBRATING THE DREAM
Chabad of Port Washington, Long Island (NY) marked its seventh year of service to the Jewish community with an awards dinner. The dinner celebrated the purchase and renovation of the new Chabad Educational Campus, a 23,000 sq. ft. waterfront property. For info on Chabad's activities, including the newly established Schwartz Torah Academy Day School call (516) 767-TORAH.
This Monday and Tuesday, the 12th and 13th of Tamuz, we will celebrate the Festival of Liberation of the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn. The Rebbe (who was also born on the 12th of Tamuz) was arrested and detained for the "crime" of disseminating Torah and mitzvot. In the end, of course, he was totally vindicated and released from Russian prison. The Rebbe's liberation in 1927 was a victory for all Jews, for it signified the triumph of goodness and truth over the forces of evil.
Somewhat less known are the circumstances surrounding the Rebbe's birth. Several years after their marriage the Rebbe's parents - his saintly mother, Rebbetzin Shterna Sarah, and the Rebbe Rashab - were still without children. Following an incident on Simchat Torah on which the young Rebbetzin acutely felt her childlessness, she lay down and cried herself to sleep.
The Rebbetzin dreamt that an old Jew entered her room and asked her why she was crying, whereupon she poured out her heart. "Don't cry," the stranger told her. "I promise that this year you will be blessed by a son. But only on two conditions: Right after Yom Tov you must give 18 rubles of your own money to charity, and no one must know of your deed." The man disappeared, and returned a few minutes later with two other visitors. After repeating his promise in their presence, all three gave the Rebbetzin their blessing.
After she woke up, Rebbetzin Shterna Sarah related the dream to her husband, who insisted that she tell it to his father, the Rebbe Maharash. After pressing her for a detailed description the Rebbe determined that the visitors in the dream were the Tzemach Tzedek, the Mitteler Rebbe and the Alter Rebbe - the third, second and first Chabad Rebbes respectively.
The Rebbetzin fulfilled the conditions that had been set out, and the Previous Rebbe, an only child, was born the following year.
This is the statute of the Torah...a completely red cow (Num. 19:2)
Why does the Torah refer to the laws of the red heifer as the "statute of the Torah" rather than "the statute of the red heifer," which would seem more logical? To teach us that the concept of purity is central to Judaism, the very foundation of a Torah-true life. Rather than constituting only one of the Torah's 613 mitzvot, it is the basis and starting point for all the others.
This is the law, when a man dies in a tent (Num. 19:14)
When do the holy words of Torah truly endure? According to the Talmudic Sage Reish Lakish, only if a person "kills" himself (demonstrates real self-sacrifice) in the "tents" of Torah learning. And as the verse continues, "everyone who comes into the tent, and all that is in the tent"- anyone who comes into contact with the Torah scholar and supports his study will derive benefit.
(Rabbi Avraham Mordechai of Gur)
And he shall put running water (literally "living waters") into a vessel (Num. 19:17)
Just as water has the ability to move mountains, make arid deserts flourish and overcome all boundaries and obstacles, so too is the Jewish people blessed with this ability - provided, of course, that the water is flowing and not frozen into ice. When a Jew is enthusiastic and spirited in his service of G-d, anything is possible. But if he is cold and apathetic, he will achieve nothing.
(Rabbi M. Shapiro of Lublin)
By the king's highway we will go (Num. 20:17)
In our Divine service there is only one road for the Jew to follow: the "highway" of G-d, the King of the universe. As the Previous Rebbe put it, "When it comes to our religion - the Torah, its commandments and Jewish customs - no one can rule over or control us."
The seventeenth of Tamuz is a day which was marked for tragedy.
Five separate momentous and tragic events occurred in the history of the Jewish people on that date. On the first occasion, Moses broke the Tablets of the Law when he descended from Mt. Sinai and saw the people dancing around the Golden Calf. Much later, during the siege of the first Holy Temple, the daily sacrifices were suspended, when they could no longer obtain sheep. Later, during the siege of the Second Temple, the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem on the seventeenth of Tamuz. On the same, unfortunate date the Roman Apustumus burned a Torah scroll, and the last event was when an idol was placed inside the Temple Sanctuary.
When the Jews left Egypt, they followed Moses into an uncharted wilderness, completely desolate and barren. Entering the frightening desert with no provisions or supplies, it was only their complete faith in Moses and in G-d's words which he communicated to them that sustained them. For this reason, when Moses failed to return to them at the expected time, they were shaken to the core. In truth, Moses had told them, "At the end of 40 days, at the beginning of the sixth hour, I shall come and bring you the Torah." The people, however, miscalculated, counting the day he ascended the mountain as the first day of the 40 days, instead of reckoning it only a partial day.
On the sixteenth of Tamuz, the Evil Inclination assailed the people with doubt, asking them, "Where is Moses?" When they ignored his taunts, they were shown a vision of Moses lying on his deathbed. Only then did then go to Aaron and demand a replacement, for their attachment to Moses was so strong that they couldn't go on without him. The people, who had been united "as one man with one heart," now broke up into factions. Some reverted to their old behavior and worshipped the Golden Calf. Still others remained true to G-d; yet another group, totally confused, rejected G-d and the calf.
The next day Moses returned to the encampment only to witness the Jews dancing before a golden idol. Suddenly, Moses saw the holy script "fly away" from the Tablets. Without the holy letters the weight of the Tablets was more than Moses could bear; he dropped them and they shattered on the ground.
How was it possible that this generation, the generation that experienced the greatest of miracles, could have fallen so low as to worship an idol? One explanation is that through their sin, all subsequent generations learned a most valuable and vital lesson: that no sin can stand in the way of true repentance. Through all the trials and tribulations which the Jews would be called upon to endure they would sometimes stumble and fall, but the path of return to G-d had been blazed by the Generation of the Wilderness. For they had committed the greatest sin, and yet they were accepted back by their Father in Heaven, Who always waits for their repentance.
Throughout the generations, our Sages have tried to fathom the many teachings inherent in this strange episode of our history. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi taught that the calf was made only in order to provide an opportunity for teshuva (repentance). The great commentator, Rashi, wrote that the nation would never have sinned, except that it was a "decree of the King," designed to provide an opening for repentance. For, if a sinner would ever say in the future, "I will not repent, for G-d will not accept me," we can say to him, "Go and learn from the making of the calf, by which the Jews denied G-d, and yet were accepted in repentance."
When the First Temple was under siege, the priests (kohanim) were able to maintain the order of daily sacrifices until the thirteenth of Tamuz, when there were no more sheep in the Temple courtyard. On that day, they began to bribe the enemy soldiers. The kohanim would lower baskets of silver and gold and the enemy would return to them a lamb in exchange. One day, in exchange for a basket of gold, the enemy returned a pig. On the seventeenth of Tamuz, the walls were finally breached, and the final battle ensued.
The historical record is not clear about the burning of the Torah scroll by Apustumus, but it is conjectured that this event occurred several years before the destruction of the Second Temple. According to the contemporary Jewish historian Josephus, the Romans took every opportunity to provoke the Jews, and violence was not uncommon. It happened that a Roman official was robbed on the royal road near Beit Horon. The Roman procurator sent a detachment of soldiers to arrest the villagers for failing to pursue and seize the robbers. At that point, one of the soldiers seized a Torah scroll from a nearby village, ripped it and threw it into a fire. Word of this sacrilegious deed spread through the countryside like wildfire. The Roman procurator realized that if he failed to punish the soldier, the resulting violence would be impossible to contain. He ordered that the perpetrator be hanged before his accusers, and so quiet returned for the time being.
Adapted from Talks and Tales
In the future time the Name of the Holy One, blessed be He, will be read as it is written, whereas now its pronunciation differs from it's spelling.
(Talmud Pesachim 50a)