Train Ride | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | Rambam this week | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Train systems, for local commute or long-distance trips, offer two modes of travel: by express train, or via a local line. The express train takes its passengers swiftly and directly to their destination. The local train travels more slowly and makes many stops.
Before the train pulls out from the station, it sounds its whistle or the conductor makes an announcement to notify the passengers who are busy with their bundles (or who have perhaps forgotten that they have a journey to make) that it is time to embark. And then the train begins to slowly move, eventually picking up speed and leaving the station behind.
Regarding the ultimate Redemption and the era of universal peace and perfection it will usher in, Isaiah prophesies: "I, G-d, will hasten it in its time." Whereupon the Talmud asks: "If the Redemption shall come 'in its time,' then, by definition, is has not been hastened; and if it is hastened, it is not 'in its time'!"
The Talmud explains that the prophet is speaking of two possible routes by which the Redemption may come about. If mankind is in a state of "merit," it will be hastened; if, however, we are "not meritorious," the Redemption will come "in its time."
Chasidic teaching adds that, in a certain sense, a redemption that comes "in its time" is greater than a "hastened" redemption. A hastened Redemption is one that is imposed on a still-imperfect world from Above; the nature of reality has not changed, but has been overwhelmed by an infusion of divine light. On the other hand, a Redemption coming "in its time" means that the world has been trans-formed from within, by its own internal processes. Thus it is deeper and truer than a "hastened" redemption.
Every person's reality consists of three basic components. At the core of our being is our "G-dly soul," the spark of divinity that drives our quest for self-transcendence and distinguishes us from all other creations.
Enfolding the G-dly soul is an "animal soul," whose drives and instincts man shares with all other living things, though in more "civilized" and "sophisticated" forms.
Extrinsic to both souls is our physical body and environment. This is the third, most material element of our reality, devoid even of the limited spirituality of the animal soul.
A hastened redemption embraces only the G-dly soul, which is by nature receptive to the divine. The other two components-the animal soul and the material world-are only affected from without. They might be "swept along" when the divine spark of the G-dly soul erupts into flame, but they themselves have not truly been redeemed.
Life is thus comparable to a rail-way. There are express trains that take the direct route to the end of the line. But these carry only certain passengers. The local train can carry them all.
There are many stations on this journey and there are warnings for those lagging behind.
All this makes for a more laborious progress toward the ultimate destination. But while the express train achieves its objective more swiftly and smoothly, its achievements are narrower than those of the local train.
What is true of the railways also applies to our individual journeys. In our quest towards personal redemption, we also have a choice of these two routes. We can strive to stimulate what is most G-dly within us, and assume that everything else will be "swept along." Or we can take the slower, more laborious route of refining also the "animal" and "inanimate" elements of our personality and world, toward a less speedy, yet more profound redemption.
Adapted from an article by Yanki Tauber, based on an address of the Rebbe. Reprinted from The Week in Review, published by V.H.H. for a subscription call (718) 774-6448 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
This week's Torah portion, Ki Tisa, contains the commandment to give the half-shekel: "This shall they give ...a half-shekel ...an offering to G-d." On this verse the Jerusalem Talmud comments: "The Holy One, Blessed Be He, removed a coin of fire from under the Throne of Glory and showed it to Moses, saying, 'This shall they give.' "
Moses had no difficulty understanding what was meant by a half-shekel; what he did not understand was how this offering could atone for the souls of the Jewish people. When G-d showed him the coin of fire, the concept was explained.
What lesson does the "coin of fire" contain for us in our own service of G-d?
A coin has the same fixed value for everyone. By contrast, different objects are worth more or less to different individuals. To one person the value of a particular object will be great, and he will be willing to pay a large sum of money to possess it. Another person, who does not desire it as much, will consider it to be of lesser value. But a coin is not open to disagreement. Its value is always the same.
A coin, matbei'a in Hebrew, comes from the root meaning nature, teva. It is symbolic of kabalat ol (the acceptance of the yoke of heaven), which is the same for everyone, independent of emotions or intellectual capacities. True, people differ greatly from one another, but the basic acceptance of the concept that G-d's will must be fulfilled is the same for all, just like a coin whose value is fixed and never changes.
Fire is characterized by a perpetual upward movement. The nature of flame is to rise up; it yearns to ascend ever higher. Not only does fire never move downward, it never stays still.
Fire is symbolic of movement and activity, of yearning and progression. A Jew's G-dly service is likened to fire, for he is always striving to ascend higher and draw closer to G-d. However, each person's spiritual service is dependent on his individual ability. The level of his service is determined by his particular powers of comprehension and emotional capacities. In this respect, all people are different. Each "fire" is different, unlike the coin whose value is always the same.
The half-shekel, the "coin of fire," represents a unification of these two concepts.
Human nature is such that when a person acts according to the dictates of his own emotions he is filled with vitality and enthusiasm - fire. When he acts out of a sense of obligation, this excitement is absent. His actions are deliberate and calculated, but they are not enthusiastic.
The Jew's service is to combine the "coin" with the "fire," to accept the yoke of heaven with fervor and enthusiasm. Such service has the power to atone for sin.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 1
THE WORLD IS READY!
Eli and Esther Kaye at the Krasnaya Gvardia Square in Rostov
by Rabbi Eli Kaye
My wife Esther and I were asked to fill in for the Lubavitcher representative and rabbi of the city of Rostov, in Russia, Rabbi Elyashiv Kaploun, while he was away in Israel, where his wife was soon to give birth. We quickly agreed; my wife, an immigrant to Israel from Rostov, had not seen her family for a long time. Personally, I had reservations, even though it was already many years after perestroika and the change from the communist regime. But since the trip was for promoting and strengthening Judaism, I put my unease to rest.
The highlight of our journey was the elaborate function held in the central synagogue in Rostov to promote awareness of the coming of Moshiach and the imminent Redemption. Just as in many other places around the world, there was live music, food and Chasidic dancing with Moshiach flags in addition to speakers from the community. For Rostov, it was a great novelty.
To our pleasant surprise, the enormous synagogue was packed! We were told that this was one of the biggest functions the shul had ever hosted. It received coverage on television, radio and in the local newspapers.
After the program had ended, members of the community spontaneously gathered around us, urging us to stay longer and speak with them. Although very tired, we complied. The impromptu question-and-answer session lasted till well after midnight.
At the end, we were left with five people and one problem: how were we to get back to our venue? Our first thought was to call a taxi, but our friends' Russian mentality of "consumer awareness" would not allow it. They assured us that the closest bus stop was not far, about a fifteen minutes walk, and that the bus company was a new private one that was far safer than the government buses.
We walked out of the shul into the darkness of the night, escorted by our comrades. Suddenly, one of the women started shouting, "Police! Police! Over here! Over here!" The police car came to a screeching stop. Two giant, scary-looking policemen emerged with guns drawn. My wife and I started getting really nervous. They advanced slowly toward us, asking what had happened. The woman went straight up to them and explained that we were a rabbinical dignitary couple visiting from Israel, and that it was their international responsibility to escort us home.
I was sure they would arrest all of us on the spot and ask questions later. After all, we are talking about people with anti-Semitic feelings, who still worked closely with the KGB from the previous communist regime!
The puzzled officers looked at each other, looked back at us, and then said, "OK." They opened the back door of the police car. I stared at the damp, dirty walls of the old paddy wagon, which reeked with the wretched odor of alcohol. The only thought that went through my mind was "How will Esther and I ever get home safely?"
The gloomy expression on my face caught the attention of the policemen and the people accompanying us. There was a short exchange between them and the woman, when suddenly she started shouting at them. Looking very apologetic, they mumbled something, got in the car and drove off. I learned afterward that they had said it would not be fit to transport such honorable guests in their car. The woman had rebuked them for having such a filthy vehicle, especially since they were public servants who should be shining examples. They promised the car would be cleaned, and then apologized and drove off.
I was overwhelmed. The same people who just a few years ago were fearsomely harassing Jews, were now excusing themselves for not having a car fit for Jews to ride in!
We were extremely tired by then and really wanted to get back to our lodgings. After a brisk fifteen minute walk we came to the bus station. When the bus pulled up, the woman and her friend insisted on escorting us to make sure we got home safely. We entered through the back door; it is accepted that people board from the back and pay later. However, the woman told my wife that we would not have to pay. She said she would arrange it, and went to speak with the driver.
When I heard this, I gave Esther money and asked that she make sure the driver was paid fully so as not to cause a chillul Hashem (desecration of G-d's name). But despite my wife's insistence he refused to take the money, assuring us that he preferred it that way. Taken by surprise, I asked Esther to find out what was said in the conversation between the woman and the driver. When I heard, I could not believe my ears! The woman had told the driver that we were representatives of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, visiting from Israel, and therefore it would not be appropriate to charge us for the bus ride. The driver had smiled and told her that he works this bus line everyday, taking hundreds of people from morning to night, which has become quite boring to him. Now that he had the merit of transporting honored guests from Israel in his bus, he would not even think of accepting any fee from us. He said it was his honor and pleasure to take us!
After these two encounters, we were even more convinced of the relevance of the Rebbe's message: "The world is ready for Moshiach! All that is left is to prepare ourselves and our environment to greet him!"
Rabbi Eliyahu Kaye teaches at Ascent and runs their Multi-media Center. Reprinted from the Ascent Quarterly, P.O. Box 296, Tsfat, Israel.
The once vibrant Jewish community in Barcelona, Spain, received a shot in the arm with the recent arrival of Rabbi David and Nechama Dina Libersohn, the Rebbe's emissaries to that city. A flourishing Jewish center during the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry, the Jewish population of Barcelona today is roughly 5,000. The Libersohns have already set up children's programs, Bar and Bat Mitzva classes, adult classes and communal holiday celebrations. Lubavitch yeshiva students have been visiting Barcelona for close to fifty years during the summer outreach program initiated by the Rebbe but the Libersohns are the first permanent emissaries to that city.
Targeting the Caribbean Islands, Rabbi Mendel and Rochel Zarchi have set up shop in S. Juan, Puerto Rico. The Zarchis will serve the Jewish residents of Puerto Rico and surrounding islands with an array of educational programs and provide support services for travelers to the area. Their first communal Shabbat dinner drew dozens of local Jews and tourists. As with Barcelona, each summer for nearly five decades Lubavitch yeshiva students have come to Puerto Rico to do outreach work.
16th of Iyar, 5739 
This letter has been long overdue, especially considering its subject matter. But it is also the subject matter of this letter, more precisely the emotional aspect of it, that is the prime reason for the delay. For it is not easy to express in words, much less in writing, very deep personal feelings, and I kept on delaying it for a calmer disposition. However, since these feelings have not subsided, there is no point for further procrastination.
I refer, of course, to your truly Yiddisher [Jewish] endeavor in the matter of restitution of the manuscripts and books that belong to the Library of my predecessor, my father-in-law of saintly memory, which you initiated with the help of friends, and have already had considerable success in regard to a substantial part of them, having them restored to their rightful place and "home."
As you know, this Schneerson Library included not only a collection which my saintly father-in-law had acquired person-ally during his lifetime, but mainly manu-scripts and books that were the legacy of his saintly forebears, some of them going back to the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman], Founder of Chabad.
There is surely no need to elaborate on what these manuscripts and books meant to him, as to all the Lubavitcher Rebbes before him. He had a very special, profound and soulful attachment to them, over and above his attachment to books and manuscripts of similar sacred content. And many of them represent the heart and soul of the sacred Chabad literature.
You can therefore well understand how deeply moved I was, and will always be, and the feelings of all the friends of Lubavitch about your great and noble endeavor in volunteering your time and effort and prestige to "bring home" these sacred manuscripts and books. It is truly a case of Pidyon Shvuim [redemption of captives], since only by being at home can these spiritual treasures resume their full vitality, not only for the benefit of those who are directly associated with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, but also for the benefit of all our Jewish people through the dissemination of the teachings of Chabad Chassidus and Pnimius Hatorah [the inner teachings of Torah].
If "the reward of a Mitzvah is the Mitzvah itself" and requires no human "thank you," your noble endeavor clearly transcends any expression of gratitude. Nevertheless, I am impelled to express, however inadequately, in my own behalf, and in behalf of the movement which I am privileged to head, as well as in behalf of all who have an actual or potential stake in this matter - our gratification and heartfelt appreciation.
Permit me to add a further point, by way of a deeper insight into the subject at hand. This, too, is based on the teachings of Chabad, which with all its philosophy is a part of our Torah, Toras Emes [Torah of Truth] and Toras Chaim [Torah of Life]. This calls for a foreword, and, to put it briefly:
One of the fundamental doctrines of Chabad, which the Alter Rebbe expounds in, among other sources, the Shaar haYichud veHoemunah section of his basic opus, the Tanya, is that in every thing, even in inanimate material objects, there is a "soul," or a vital spiritual core. To quote from the first chapter of the abovementioned section:
[Quoted in Hebrew in original letter] "Even in inanimate objects such as stones, earth and water, there is a soul and spiritual sustenance."
Of course, there are gradations in this spiritual soul. There is, to begin with, a plain material object that simply by the fact of being a created thing, contains a "spark" of the Divine Creative Force that keeps it in existence; on a higher level, there is a material object which has served a good purpose; higher still - an object that is used in the performance of a Mitzvah. It is explained in Chabad [Chassidus] that when an ordinary material thing is used for a good purpose, especially in the performance of a Mitzvah, it undergoes a "refinement" and "spiritualization," to the extent of becoming a Dovor Shebikedusho [a holy object] (e.g. Tefillin made from leather and parchment).
continued in next issue
In memory of Yosef Yitzchak ben Shlomo Shneur Zalman (yblc't)
22 Adar 5759
Positive mitzva 1: believing in G-d
By this injunction we are commanded to believe in G-d, that is, to believe that there is a Supreme Cause Who is the Creator of everything in existence. It is contained in the words (Ex. 20:2): "I am the L-rd your G-d, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt."
This Shabbat a second Torah scroll is taken out of the ark and Parshat Para, a special chapter enumerating the laws of the red heifer, is read. The ashes of the red heifer (of which only nine have ever existed) have the power to remove the spiritual impurity that is caused by contact with a dead body. The tenth and final red heifer will be prepared by Moshiach, who will purify the Jewish people in the Messianic era.
The mitzva of the red heifer is a prime example of a "chok" - an "illogical" commandment that completely transcends human understanding. While the person upon whom the ashes were sprinkled was purified, the one who performed the ritual was rendered unclean. The mitzva of the red heifer has long been derided by the non-Jewish world for its inconsistencies. The Evil Inclination wants Jews, too, to feel uncomfortable about it. But like other commandments in this category, it reminds us that the basis for our observing Torah and mitzvot is not how much of Judaism we can understand and "agree" with. A Jew's faith in G-d is higher than the limitations of the human mind.
Of course, as human beings blessed with intellect we are obligated to study Torah and comprehend it to the best of our ability. Faith and intellect are two sides of the same coin, each one complementing the other and making us complete. But the bottom line is that the Torah is Divine, and we can't expect to understand everything.
The mitzva of the red heifer thus contains an important lesson: G-d promised us Moshiach; it doesn't matter if it makes "sense," or if there are skeptics who ridicule our belief. In the same way our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt in the merit of their faith, so too must we remain strong until the Final Redemption with Moshiach is a reality.
May it happen at once.
Half a shekel, after the shekel of the Sanctuary (Ex. 30:13)
A Jew is only "half" an entity in two senses, attaining completion and wholeness by uniting with G-d, or alternately, with another Jew. Yet these explanations are interrelated, for when a person helps his fellow Jew and unites with him, he simultaneously merits G-d's blessing and draws closer to Him at the same time.
(Likutei Sichot, Vol. 3)
This verse contains an allusion to the mitzva of tzedaka, charity, for the word shekel has the same numerical equivalent as nefesh, soul (430). This teaches that giving tzedaka has the power to effect atonement for the soul.
And you shall make an incense (Ex. 30:35)
A person wrongs his fellow man and asks his forgiveness. The first time it happens the wronged party is only too happy to forgive him and excuse his behavior, but by the second and third time he isn't so easily appeased. Even though he is willing to make up, a "foul odor" still remains that taints the relationship. So too is it with G-d. The offering a person brought caused G-d to absolve him of his sin, but a "bad smell" still fouled the air. The purpose of the incense offering was to dispel this "odor."
And the Children of Israel shall keep (veshamru) the Shabbat (Ex. 31:16)
Keeping Shabbat means much more than just refraining from certain kinds of work; the Hebrew root shin-mem-reish also implies waiting in anticipation and looking forward to something. The Torah teaches that rather than being considered a burden, Shabbat should be eagerly awaited and longed for each day of the week.
The Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, related this story:
It was Reb Hillel Particher's custom to travel around the villages surrounding Cherson to visit the Jews who lived there. The settlements were comprised of all types of Jews: There were the scholars, who looked forward to Reb Hillel's learned discourses, and there were the simple folk, who understood not a word of his Chasidic teachings. Regardless of their level of learning, however, all of these Jews had been instilled from birth with certain precious Chasidic traits: they loved to do a favor for their fellow Jews; they prayed with true love and fear of G-d; and they lived in general harmony with one another.
Reb Hillel was a man who brimmed over with an overflowing love of his fellow Jews. He was also an extremely humble man. When he looked at even the most simple, uneducated Jew he saw only his pure soul, his neshama shining through; he never focused on the grubby exterior. And when he approached the common people, he never exalted himself over them. It's no wonder that they loved him, too. His arrival was greeted with great excitement in every town and village, and everyone would drop what they were doing to run out to greet him.
Reb Hillel himself was one of the most highly respected Chasidim. On each of his trips, he took the opportunity to explain the lofty ideas expressed in a Chasidic discourse to his listeners. Of course, since Reb Hillel was one of the greatest intellects of the movement, the villagers often comprehended very little of what he said. Once when Reb Hillel arrived in a village, so many people came out to hear him speak that there was no room in the entire village large enough to accommodate everyone. There was no choice but for Reb Hillel to address the crowd outdoors.
The small street was filled to capacity with men, women and children, all waiting in great anticipation for Reb Hillel to begin. As he spoke, Hillel noticed that many in the large crowd were weeping, and it dawned on him that the reason for their tears was that with their very limited education, they were unable to comprehend his words. Their tears bespoke their terrible pain at not being able to understand the profound insights of the Chasidut Reb Hillel was discussing.
When he finished the discourse, Reb Hillel told the people: "To create a letter in a Sefer Torah three things are required: ink, a quill and parchment. If there is no parchment, the letter cannot exist, even if the scribe possesses the finest quill and the best ink. Only when simple Jews, who are compared to the parchment, gather to learn Torah, the Torah scroll can be completed."
Reb Hillel continued, "There are no words to describe the tremendous joy created in the highest heavens when this happens. Now, that you, my dear friends, have come here, the Torah can be completed."
The Previous Rebbe concluded the farbrengen with the words: "The same situation is true for us today. No words can describe the great tumult in heaven as a result of our holy gathering. Not only are our physical bodies participating in this celebration, but our souls are also rejoicing."
Early one morning in the month of Tamuz, the Chasidim of the Alter Rebbe were gathered for the brit of his newborn son. Everyone knew how important punctuality was to the Alter Rebbe, and so, by seven o'clock, they had all assembled and were waiting expectantly for the brit to begin. The Alter Rebbe, however, didn't come as expected, and the hours began to pass. The Chasidim couldn't understand the reason for the delay, and even as the clock struck noon, there was no sign or word from the Alter Rebbe.
As they waited, the door to the shul opened and in walked a strange looking man. He was attired all in white, and despite the heat of the day, was wearing a fur hat. As soon as the stranger arrived, the Alter Rebbe also entered and greeted the man with an enthusiastic, "Sholom Aleichem, Reb Betzalel."
The infant was carried in and the Alter Rebbe gave the stranger the honor of bringing the child to "Elijah's chair." He was also given the honor of giving the baby a bit of wine to taste. The Chasidim were amazed. Who was this man, whom none of them had ever seen? Why had the Alter Rebbe honored him and even held up brit on his account? There was only one explanation: He had to be a hidden tzadik!
When the excitement had abated, the Chasidim approached the stranger and asked his name. "Betzalel the Shepherd," was all he replied. This curt answer piqued their curiosity, and they decided to try to speak to him later that evening. When they went to speak with him, however, to their bitter disappointment, the man was gone. Still very anxious to discover the stranger's identity, they went to the Alter Rebbe himself.
"He is indeed a shepherd," the Alter Rebbe replied to them. "In fact, he has been tending his flock for some forty years in a small village near Svitzien. Over the years he has committed the entire Talmud to memory - both the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds - he even has memorized many commentaries, including Maimonides! But the one accomplishment which has caused his soul to shine as it does is his mastery of the study of Mishnayot, for the letters which compose the word "Mishna" are the same as those which make up the word "neshama," soul. It is his devotion to learning the complete Mishna by heart that has raised him to the greatest spiritual heights."
The coming of Moshiach has been likened to birth, for it is Moshiach who is alluded to in the verse in Psalms, "This day I have begotten you." Birth, in essence, is the revelation of an infant who had been concealed in its mother's womb. With the coming of Moshiach, the essential Four-Letter Name of G-d, which is now concealed in the Divine Name Elokim [connoting G-d's xxx in this world within nature], will likewise become manifest. When a Jew stimulates the revelation of the Four-Letter Name by his fulfillment of the mitzvot, he brings nearer the self-revelation which will take place in time to come. (Torah Ohr)