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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
G-d created light on the first of the Six Days of Creation. And since then, G. E. has been creating a lot of different lighting options.
The Jewish people were enjoined by G-d to be a "light unto the nations." But exactly how are we expected to illuminate the world around us?
"A mitzva is a lamp and the Torah is light" King Solomon said in Proverbs. By performing mitzvot, those commandments which are the core of our relationship between ourselves and our fellowman, as well as those commandments which form the basis of the connection between ourselves and G-d, we illuminate the world. Studying Torah, a pursuit that commences long before we step foot into Hebrew School and continues long after our Bar or Bat Mitzva is the other way we produce light.
The type of fixture-chandelier, track, recessed, floor or table lamps-is not the focus here. What is important is that we continue to bring more and more light into the world through our performance of mitzvot and our study of the Torah.
In the book of Proverbs it also says, "A person's soul is G-d's lamp." The soul, the "spark" of G-dliness in each one of us, is a brilliant lamp. But what kind of lamp? An apt comparison for this soul-lamp is a halogen bulb. Since their introduction over a decade ago, halogen bulbs have become a most popular way to throw a lot of light on a subject. Reflecting on the halogen phenomenon just might spotlight the unique qualities of the soul, as well.
Halogen lamps pack a lot of light in a little bulb. The light produced by a halogen bulb can brighten much more than standard incandescent bulbs.
However, when handling halogen lamps, one must be careful. If you replace a halogen bulb, you cannot handle the new bulb with your bare hands. You have to make sure to touch it using something like a tissue. Otherwise, the natural oils on your hands will get on the glass of the halogen bulb and within a short time the bulb will burn out.
The care necessary for the halogen bulb can teach us something about the care we must give to our souls, G-d's lamps. Our souls are not like ordinary bulbs. They must be protected from possible damage that might be caused by even the slightest smears or smudges. Because our souls are so sensitive, we most be diligent in their handling.
Our souls can be likened to another type of bulb as well: Metal halide lamps. In years gone by we mainly encountered these lamps when police were conducting helicopter searches or if the circus or any other exciting event (even the opening of a new store!) had come to town. Nowadays, when 4 of these high intensity, 1,000 watt lamps are put in 30-foot towers they produce enough light for construction workers to be able to repair our streets and highways in the middle of the night. If you've been driving at night lately and you've come across this phenomenon, you were probably amazed at just how light it was so late in the evening.
Our souls are similar to these 1,000 watt metal halide lamps. Through our study of Torah and performance of mitzvot, they are brightening up these last moments of the dark night of exile until we will experience the true light of the Redemption.
Our Sages stated: "Everything that happened to our Ancestors is a sign for their children." The events of our ancestors' lives were not just a foreshadowing of what would happen to the Jewish people throughout history, but a source of strength and encouragement that Jews have called upon throughout the ages.
We read in this week's Torah portion, Toldot: "There was a famine in the land." G-d appeared to Isaac and said, "Do not go to Egypt. Dwell in the land which I will tell you of. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and bless you."
When G-d commanded Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, Isaac had been willing and he was thereafter considered by G-d to be "a perfect offering." It was therefore inappropriate for him to leave the holy soil of Israel for the lesser sanctity of other countries. G-d borbade him to go elsewhere despite the famine that gripped the land.
G-d's command to Isaac contains a lesson for us, his descendants: The only rightful place for the Jewish people is not in exile but in the Holy Land. Jews can never be truly happy in exile, for they know that they are not where they belong. Our perpetual hope and plea to G-d is that He bring us back to the land of Israel, as we pray three times each day, "May our eyes behold Your return to Zion in mercy."
Years before, in the time of Abraham, there was also a famine in Israel. But unlike Isaac, Abraham went down to Egypt, carrying the knowledge of the One true G-d even there. Abraham brought everyone with whom he came in contact under the wings of the Divine Presence, drawing them nearer to their Creator.
Isaac, however, never once left the borders of Israel. And, even within Israel, Isaac's emphasis was "inward." Isaac did not actively go out to draw people closer to G-d. His focus was more on achieving self-perfection.
Abraham and Isaac teach us two different paths in the service of G-d:
From Abraham we derive the strength to go outward, to reach out to other Jews. Abraham taught us how to spread the knowledge of G-d wherever we go, to disseminate Torah throughout the world. Even a Jew whose primary concern is Torah study and the perfection of his own path of worship must set aside time to involve himself with others.
Isaac, on the other hand, taught us the importance of turning "inward," and it is from him that we derive the strength to involve ourselves in Torah study. For even a Jew whose primary focus is on worldly affairs (by means of which he draws others closer to G-d and brings holiness into the world) must occasionally withdraw from these concerns to devote himself to learning and self-betterment.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 25
by Jay Litvin
Frankly, I loathe being called a "religious" person. It sounds so boring.
I'm reminded of someone who told me how much he envied me. "Life for you is so simple," he said. "Your religion tells you what to do and what not to do, and gives you all the answers."
Boy, I wish. In truth, this is what the word "religion" conjures up: something kind of old and staid, perhaps even a bit crusty. Something calm and peaceful, barely alive and never in motion.
And so I reject the title of "religious person." I'm just a guy who looks like a religious person.
So then, what am I?
Honestly, life feels more to me like a battleground than a prayer service, and my inner reality is more that of a warrior than a pious person.
So, if I have to label myself anything, I would have to call myself a "spiritual warrior." And here's what that means for me.
A warrior is one who enters the battlefield with a healthy dose of love. He fights for a principle or for his country or for his king, and his love for these outweighs the fear he feels for his own safety. He requires courage and skill, for he risks his very life.
A warrior loves the battlefield; here he is most alive. He must at all times act with full awareness and ability, for the slightest lapse will cause his downfall. The battlefield brings forth from the warrior capabilities and potentials that he didn't even know existed within himself. And so, as he fights, he is in a constant state of self-discovery.
The true warrior longs for the battlefield. It is here where he discovers that he is, in fact, more than who he thinks he is.
Living as a Jew and a chasid of the Rebbe is this experience. It is an encounter with G-d and with myself. It is the place of self-discovery. It requires the bravery of facing who I am and who I am not. It takes a willingness to see the potential of who I can be and face the smallness of who I have allowed myself to be.
When I am living Jewishly, I am living at the edge. I am in a no-man's land where each encounter, each moment, presents an opportunity to learn, to act, to refine and to transform. Sometimes, like King Arthur, I am fighting dragons within and without; sometimes I am challenged by beasts that threaten to devour me with their anger and fear; sometimes I am fighting for my own sanity, attempting to reconcile the tactual world with a world which can neither be seen, heard or touched.
As a spiritual warrior, I am fully alive. It matters not whether I am in prayer, giving my child a bath, or sitting at my computer. The battlefield includes my personal relationships, my inner desires, my overdrawn bank account, and my constant lack of sleep. It embraces my marriage and employment. My frustration, patience, envy, lust and greed. It is a state of mind, a willingness to find G-d in all places and to meet Him fully, allowing Him to penetrate into the deepest recesses of who I am and to dispel all the images of who I think I am.
Each time, and there are many such times, that I confront the imperative of what I must do with the reluctance of what I want to do; each time that I must transform thoughts and attitudes formed through years of conditioning into holy thoughts and holy attitudes, I am on the battlefield. Whether it's giving charity with the few pennies left in the coffer, or taking responsibility, or offering to help a friend or not even a friend when I can barely stay awake, I am on the battlefield. When tragedy strikes my family, G-d forbid, and I must discover a way to be both genuine with my grief and yet remain cognizant of the good I know that G-d gives to the world, I am being a spiritual warrior.
As a spiritual warrior I discover my faith when I am at the limits of my faith. I find my love of G-d when I am angry with G-d. I find my trust in the Protector of the world when I am at my most frightened. And I find my obedience to Him when I feel the most rebellious.
I am a spiritual warrior when I fully feel my despair and find the hope to go on. When I feel betrayed, yet discover my trust. When I reach higher than I should, then fail and fall, only to discover that I have landed at a station higher than the one from which I reached.
On this battlefield, I am stretched to the limit only to find that my limit is nowhere near what I thought it was. I am alive, growing, in process.
To me, all the rest, as Rabbi Shneur Zalman says in Tanya, is conceit. To be despondent that I am constantly in the midst of a struggle is to pretend that I am more than who I really am. It is to pretend that I am a tzadik, one of the righteous few who have vanquished the negative within, when in fact I can only aspire, at my best moments, to be a spiritual warrior in the battlefield of life.
The Tanya tells us to rejoice when we are challenged because this is our task: to enter the battlefield. We are, it seems, like soldiers who have trained endlessly for battle, and shout in joy when the moment finally arrives to test their abilities and find the stuff of which they are made.
And this is the spiritual warrior's challenge: to find the stuff of which he is made, whether it is to his liking or not, and bring himself fully into the struggle with himself and his encounter with G-d.
I find this battle terrifying, because I have no idea where it will lead. It forces me to open myself to G-d and allow Him into my innermost, most intimate confines.
Religious? Me? Hardly. A Torah life is no place for a religious person. Religion is much too safe for such a journey into the unknown, into a meeting place with G-d. Only a warrior can embrace such a task.
Reprinted from the Week in Review. For a one year subscription send $36 to VHH, 788 Eastern Pkwy. #303, Bklyn, NY 11213.
Nine Spoons, A Chanukah Story is a stirring tale for children, based on true events that took place during the Holocaust. It describes how even in the worst situation, the light of the menora can never be extinguished. Painstakingly researched, Nine Spoons was designed with sensitivity toward its young audience. Written by Marci Stillerman, illustrated by Pesach Gerber and published by HaChai.
One of the earliest Chasidic texts, Tzava'at Harivash is a compilation of testaments, guidance and Chasidic thought by Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement. Translated by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet and published by Kehot.
continued from previous issue
It is surely unnecessary to point out to you, an M.D., the psychological factor which has such an important role when two adversaries confront each other. When the adversary sees that his opponent is spiritually and psychologically strong and self-confident and certain of his just cause and not prone to be impressed by the adversary or any non-Jew due to the inferiority complex mentioned above-this is the best way of preventing wars, not only major wars, but even wars of attrition. It is hardly to be expected that a Jew, who in his personal life is afraid to show that he is a proud Jew, whether at home or outside, who prefers to stack his library with non-Jewish volumes and authors, etc., and who makes sure to bring up his children in a way that when they walk in the street they should show no signs of being Jewish, yet this same Jew should draw the line and take a different posture when he meets a political adversary and engages in political negotiations with representatives of other countries. Could such a Jewish representative truly consider of other countries. Could such a Jewish representative truly consider himself at least equal to the gentile adversary in such a confrontation, having tried all his life to emulate and follow slavishly the gentile world and way of life? And whatever pretense and facade he might make will surely not convince the adversary.
The same is true, of course, in regard to the education of the Jewish children, who are brought up on the culture of the various nations of the world, and where Jewish tradition and culture take second place at best or are non-existent. Could such children grow up into proud Jews, dedicated to their heritage and defend it? Parenthetically, here we find perhaps the greatest miracle, namely that despite the fact that a substantial segment of our Jewish youth in Eretz Yisroel [the Land of Israel] has been, unfortunately, brought up in such a non-Jewish atmosphere, implanting in them the idea that the non-Jewish culture is something superior to their own Jewish heritage, yet they had the strength at a critical moment to realize that they will not be intimidated by superior physical forces confronting them, and acquitted themselves with such extraordinary valor. They were quick to realize, much more so than some of their elders, that G-d has clearly intervened in their behalf, and with characteristic honesty and sincerity of youth drew their conclusions, as is evident in the great religious revival among the rank and file of the defenders of our Holy Land. One could only wish that this inspiration and revival would be further stimulated and not allowed to evaporate.
Were the theme at hand one that is gratifying both to the writer and the reader, it would have been worthwhile to expand on it. But since it is one that has the opposite effect, I must reduce it to a minimum. I trust, nevertheless, that this will stimulate you to use all the influence and energy which Divine Providence has given you to do everything possible to strengthen Torah-true Jewish education, both in your immediate surroundings and wherever your influence can be felt, instead of the schizophrenic education to which so many Jewish children are exposed and the polarity with which they are brought up, which reduces their Jewish identity to a minuscule part of their daily life, or to three days in the year when the parent feels impelled to go to the synagogue and pray and identify himself with his fellow Jews.
This is an area where every Jew, man or woman, young or old, both in the Holy Land and in the Diaspora, can and is duty-bound to do something. And if one should think, what can a single person, or even a single act, accomplish-we live in a day and age where it is repeatedly demonstrated that even a small thing or a small act can have tremendous effects, and in this case tremendous, effects for the benefit of all our Jewish people everywhere, including the Holy Land, which is the subject of your letter.
...I cannot, of course, miss this opportunity of expressing to you my great pleasure and gratification for your cooperation and assistance to our Chabad work in your region. I do not mean it simply as "help" which would imply the assistance given of one to another, for I consider it as a partnership in which your interest is truly your own as well as of those benefiting from it. May G-d grant that here too your cooperation should proceed in a growing measure...
Rambam for 3 Kislev 5759
Positive mitzva 109: Immersing in a mikva (ritual bath)
By this injunction we are commanded to immerse ourselves in the waters of a mikva, to be cleansed of any spiritual impurity with which we may have been affected. It is contained in the words (Lev. 15:16) "Then he shall bathe all his flesh in water." [A mikva must contain 40 sa'ah of water (approximately 60 gallons), and cover the entire body. No water stored in a vessel or receptacle may be used; it must be taken directly from a river or spring, or from rain water which is led into the bath. No amount of washing the body can take the place of ritual immersion where such is required.]
Every year at this time we read about one of the most famous sets of twins in history, Jacob and Esau. As any child can tell you, Jacob was the "good" one and Esau was the "bad" one, and the two brothers never got along with each other. But the Torah is not a history book; Torah means "teaching," it contains eternal lessons that are always relevant and have a direct impact on our daily lives.
On a deeper level, Jacob and Esau represent two ways of looking at the world, two different life styles that even modern man is forced to choose between. Esau's attitude was "carpe diem" - seize the day, with no thought for tomorrow. Jacob, by contrast, lived a more elevated existence, recognizing life's spiritual dimension.
According to Chasidic philosophy, every Jew is made up of two souls: an animal soul and a G-dly soul. Like Jacob and Esau, they too never get along, and are in constant conflict. The animal soul is interested only in the physical; like an animal that walks on four legs, its head is focused downward rather than up at the sky. The only thing that matters is the here and now. The G-dly soul, however, looks upward. Why am I here? What's the real purpose of my life?
As we learn from this week's Torah reading, the true birthright belongs to Jacob, and our function as Jews is to elevate the world by imbuing it with G-dliness. The battle will always be there, but it's a battle we can win by choosing wisely.
And Isaac entreated G-d on behalf of his wife, because she was barren (Gen. 25:21)
Isaac had an explicit promise from G-d that he would have children, as He had already assured Abraham that "by Isaac shall your seed be called"; that this had not yet been fulfilled was thus attributable to his wife. Isaac therefore prayed to G-d "on behalf of his wife" that the children should come from her. (Maora Shel Torah)
And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb (Gen. 25:24)
In this instance the Hebrew word for twins, "tomim," is spelled without its usual alef, relating it etymologically to the word "tamim," meaning perfect and complete. For indeed, each of the twins about to be born was perfect in his own right: Jacob was a perfect tzadik (righteous man), and Esau was a complete rasha (evil person)... (Abarbanel)
And his hand was holding on to Esau's heel (Gen. 25:26)
Esau is symbolic of the animal soul and the yetzer hara (evil inclination); Jacob is symbolic of the G-dly soul and the yetzer tov (good inclination). The function of the G-dly soul is to perfect the physical body while guiding and correcting the animal soul, "holding on" as it directs it along the right path. (Likutei Sichot)
And [Isaac] had flocks and herds and a great household, and the Philistines envied him (Gen. 26:14)
Why were the Philistines envious? Surely they had their own people who were wealthy. In truth, there were many rich Philistines, but none could approach the wealth of Isaac. And most rich people are jealous of someone who has more - especially when that person is a Jew...(HaNetziv)
All his life, the rabbi had longed for one thing only: to live in the holy land of Israel. There was no doubt in his mind that the time had now come to move to the Holy Land. Of course, just how he would manage it wasn't so clear, but G-d would surely help. The rabbi was sure that a trip to obtain the blessing of the great tzadik Reb Meir of Premishlan would facilitate his plans, and so the rabbi packed a bag and started off by foot.
When he finally arrived in Premishlan and was led into Reb Meir's study, the tzadik asked, "How will you raise the money for the journey?"
"Well," the rabbi began, "I have many relatives, and I am sure that when I explain the situation to them, they will be generous enough to help me."
Reb Meir didn't respond, but he appeared to be lost in thought. Finally, he said, "It would take many months to accumulate so much money - months which would be better spent devoted to Torah study. There is a different way. Remain here and you will obtain all the money you need for your journey and to set up your household." Needless to say, the rabbi readily agreed.
When the meeting ended, Reb Meir didn't dismiss his visitor as was usual. Instead, he had the next petitioner admitted to his study while the rabbi was still there. This man was a very wealthy person, and when he entered, Reb Meir said, "I would like to tell you a story, but I want the rabbi to listen as well for it will contain meaning for both of you.
"There was once a man named Moshe, who was very rich, but was a cruel and selfish person. Although G-d had provided him with great riches, he was the stingiest person you would ever have the misfortune to meet. Whenever a poor man came to his door asking for food or money, he would throw a veritable tantrum, screaming and cursing the hapless beggar. 'What do think this is?' he would thunder, 'a charity institution? Get out of here before I break every bone in your body!' And that beggar would be directed to the home of Moshe's neighbor, Reb Matisyahu. Now, this neighbor was not wealthy, far from it. But he had a kind and generous nature and never refused a fellow Jew in need.
"This scene occurred many times over the years, and Reb Matisyahu never failed to rise to the occasion. You might think that Moshe's reputation had gone as low as possible, but you would be wrong. For, since he was a very rich man, there were always those who sang his praises in order to ingratiate themselves with him - maybe there would be some gain in it for them.
"Reb Matisyahu's interminable kindnesses went unnoticed; after all, he was a nice guy and people expected him to be kind. The inequality of the situation may not have drawn notice down here, but in Heaven, it provoked the angelic host to fury. It was decided that Moshe's great wealth should go instead to Reb Matisyahu. The sentence was about to be carried out, when Elijah the Prophet spoke up. 'It's not right for a person to be judged on hearsay. I propose to go down to earth and test Moshe. Perhaps he isn't as cruel as we have heard.'
"This proposition was accepted, and soon an emaciated Elijah stood at the door of Moshe, knocking and begging for help. Moshe's reaction was the same as usual. First he berated the beggar for coming, and then he threw him outside into the bitter cold night. Elijah didn't give up so easily, though. He knocked again and with tears streaming down his face, he begged for a bit of food, a drop of warmth. But all to no avail, and the prophet realized that Moshe had forfeited his chance. The tears which continued to stream down his face were being shed for Moshe's lost soul."
The rabbi and the rich guest listened with rapt attention to the story, and as Reb Meir paused for a moment, they looked at him anxiously, wanting to hear the conclusion of the story. "When I heard about the terrible verdict that had been pronounced against Moshe, I felt very sorry for him. How could a man be condemned without fair warning, I thought. And so, I took it upon myself to provide Moshe with one last chance to redeem himself. If Moshe would provide the money necessary for the rabbi's move to the Holy Land, then he would be worthy of redemption. But, if, G-d forbid, he lost this one last opportunity, his soul would be lost. He would lose his fortune and be condemned to wander for the rest of his days, at the mercy of everyone he would meet."
Then, Reb Meir turned and his eyes met the terror-stricken eyes of the very Moshe of his story, but just for a split second, for Moshe fell to the floor in a dead faint. When he came to, he tearfully said to Reb Meir, "You are so right about me, and yet you have given me another chance to live and redeem my soul. He reached into his pocket and took out a heavy purse which he offered to the rabbi.
"Here, please take this, and when you reach the holy city of Jerusalem, please pray for me," said Moshe through his flowing tears.
The rabbi and his family were soon in Israel, living the fulfillment of their dreams. And Moshe completely turned his life around. In fact, every beggar or traveler who passed through his village was directed to his home, which was a comfortable haven for them all until the end of his days.
Our Sages teach that when a person is judged after his death he is asked, "Did you look forward to salvation?" But where is the mitzva written?... Just as we are to believe that G-d brought us out of Egypt, as it is written, "I am the L-rd your G-d Who brought you out of the Land of Egypt,"... so too do I desire that you believe that I am the L-rd your G-d and that I am going to gather you in and save you."
(The Semak, Positive Commandment 1)