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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
by Tzvi Freeman
This was back in the early sixties, when big mainframe computers were first being introduced into business. There was a professor in Argentina who became fascinated with these machines. At the same time, he was becoming fascinated with Judaism. He came up with a ques-tion that bothered him very much, so he went to visit the Rebbe and posed it to him.
"I know," stated the professor, "that everything that exists in the world, even something that we discover later in the path of history, has its source somewhere in the Torah. If so, where are computers in the Torah?"
The Rebbe answered immediately, as though he had the reply prepared, "Tefilin."
The professor groped to understand, but helplessly. Small black leather boxes that Jews wrap on their arms and heads have little apparent connection with anything of the twentieth century, never mind computers.
"What's new about a computer?" the Rebbe continued, after a short pause.
Remember that this was in the days of the mainframe monster. Machines that took up whole floors of buildings. Desktop computing wasn't even in science fiction.
"You walk in a room, you see many familiar machines. A typewriter, a large tape recorder, a television set, a hole puncher, a calculator. What is new?"
Another pause. The professor was thinking hard.
"But under the floor," the Rebbe went on, "unseen, cables connect all these machines so that they work as one."
The professor nodded, enthusiastically. He himself hadn't realized before, but, yes, this is all that a computer is: A synthesis of media and processing devices.
"Now look at your own self. You have a brain. It is in one world. Your heart is in another. And your hands often end up involved in something completely foreign to both of them. Three diverse machines."
"Furthermore, your whole day could go along the same path: You brush your teeth, you pray to G-d, you go to work, you eat your kosher food-each act yet another sundry, unrelated fragment."
"And so the entire Jewish people could go the same way. Each does his mitzva, follows his path-but what one does has no relation to the other."
"So you put on tefilin. First thing in the day you connect your head with your heart with your hand with these leather cables-all to work as one with one intent. And then when you go out to meet the world, all your actions find a harmony in a single coordinated purpose."
"And, whether you understand it or not," the Rebbe concluded, "when a Jew puts on tefilin in Argentina, it affects another Jew who may be fighting in a war in Israel."
The first of this week's two Torah portions, Tazria, contains the mitzva of brit mila, circumcision. "And on the eighth day shall the flesh of his foreskin be circumcised."
The Midrash relates that our Sages asked a question: If G-d wants Jewish men to be circumcised, why doesn't He create them that way in the first place? Surely it is not beyond the power of an omnipotent Creator to do so.
The reason, they explain, is the principle of tikun, or correction. G-d deliberately creates many things in the world in an incomplete or partial state, for the purpose of the Jew perfecting them. Indeed, this is the Jew's Divine mission: to bring G-d's creation to perfection through Torah and mitzvot.
Of course, G-d doesn't really need our help; He could just as easily have created everything at the very peak of perfection. However, appointing us His "partners" allows us to earn merit and actually "work" for the blessings we receive in life.
When a Jew fulfills his Divinely-ordained mission and imbues the world with holiness, all the goodness G-d bestows upon him - life, children and livelihood - is transformed from a "charitable donation" into his rightful due. G-d isn't giving him a gift; he deserves all these blessings because he has worked for them. At the same time, awareness of this relationship prompts the Jew to want to do even more to fulfill his end of the bargain, for human nature is such that a person hates to be sustained by the "bread of shame." Circumcision is only one example of how we earn this merit.
A similar question may be asked about the seemingly inequitable distribution of wealth in the world. Why does G-d give so much money to some and so little to others? Why can't the poor person receive his sustenance directly from G-d instead of relying on the generosity of others? The answer is that G-d wants the rich man to earn additional merit by giving tzedaka (charity) to the poor. In truth, not all the money in his possession belongs to him; G-d only puts it in his hands so it can be redistributed in a more equitable fashion.
Yes, the more affluent person faces a difficult test, for his evil inclination rises up in protest. But when he overcomes his inclination and gives to the needy, not only does he not forfeit his wealth, but G-d grants him even more in payment for his good deed.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 27
What's with the Strings?
by Steve Hyatt
It is a tradition at Chabad of Delaware for participants to make a number of mitzva pledges during the course of the evening's festivities on Simchat Torah. This year I decided to "pledge" to wear a tallit katan-a small tallit with tzitzit strings on each of its four corners-every Shabbat.
This was a big step for me. I was very eager to fulfill the mitzva of wearing tzitzit but I was very hesitant about walking through the neighborhood with fringes hanging from my waist. I'd come a long way during my year-long spiritual journey but I wasn't sure if I was ready to take this step.
And then, I remembered Rabbi Vogel's comment when I whined about sitting in a suka while it rained, watching raindrops soak through my piece of challa. He had smiled and reminded me that "No one ever said a mitzva had to be easy."
While I could take soggy challa, the thought of walking past my non-Jewish neighbors and co-workers with "strings" hanging down my waist was off putting. I felt like everyone would be looking at me and wondering what on earth I was wearing under my shirt.
Bolstered by Rabbi Vogel's words, however, I faced my fears and inhibitions, and donned my Tallit Katan. I have to admit the first time was very difficult. I was so self-conscious. But you know what? No one was smirking and occasionally I'd even get a thumbs up by some grandfatherly type.
I wasn't the only one who decided to make this pledge. Two of my Chabad buddies had also decided to wear tzitzit on Shabbat. Whenever we would arrive at shul we would look to see if the other person had worn his. As the weeks turned to months, we lost our inhibitions. But the story doesn't end here.
My job takes me to Washington D.C. a few times a year. I work for a large newspaper company and our national headquarters is located there.
Several months after my mitzva pledge, I was attending, of all things, a diversity conference. Newspaper employees from around the country had gathered to discuss why a diverse employee work force is good for the ultimate success of the organization. The meeting fell out on a Friday. I was going to take the train from Wilmington, Delaware and arrive in D.C. at 8:00 a.m. The meeting was scheduled to last until 4:00 p.m. If I made the 4:00 p.m. train I knew I could get back to Wilmington and make it to shul for the start of Shabbat. One problem, I wouldn't have time to go home and put on my Tallit Katan! I had two choices. Put it on in the morning and wear it to the meeting or forget it and not wear it to shul.
It was one thing to wear my tzitzit with the guys at the shul, around my neighborhood and occasionally to a friend's home. It was a whole other thing to wear it to corporate headquarters, in front of the movers and shakers in my company.
Just as I made up my mind to leave it in my drawer, I heard Rabbi Vogel's voice calling out to me, "No one ever said a mitzva had to be easy." And you know he's right, no one ever did say a mitzva had to be easy.
So I took off my shirt, put the Tallit Katan over my head, said the blessing, put my shirt back on, arranged the fringes and went to meet my destiny.
My company headquarters is your typical high rise in the middle of a big city, 32 floors of concrete and glass that reaches into the sky. I got out of the taxi and just stood in front of that building, alternating my gaze between the 32nd floor and the tzitzit from my waist. My feet just wouldn't move. Finally I forced my feet to move, one in front of the other, and I made my way through the front door.
More than 450 employees work at company headquarters. I was convinced that every one of them was looking at my tzitzit as I made my way to the 32nd floor.
When I walked into my meeting, I quickly took a seat. I stayed glued to the chair for two hours. And then, the meeting facilitator asked me to stand in front of the group and make a presentation about a training program I had recently conducted.
My mind screamed out, "No thank you, I am very happy where I am!" But my lips said.... "Sure." As I started to make my presentation I checked out everyone's body language and their eyes. Miracle of miracles, no one appeared to notice. Not an eye was focused on my tzitzit. No one appeared to even notice that there was a 6'3" man standing in front of them with fringes hanging down the sides of his pants. They all appeared to be listening attentively to my words of wisdom.
I rambled on for the next 30 minutes, answered a few questions and then confidently and comfortably made my way back to my chair. "This wasn't so bad," I thought. "No one even noticed."
Several minutes later we took a break. A group of my friends were having coffee over in the corner of the room, so I moseyed over and joined them. One of my co-workers greeted me and then said, "Hey man, what's with the strings?"
This was my moment of truth. In a matter of seconds the rabbi's words echoed in my brain, "No one ever said a mitzva had to be easy." This was going to be one of those times. Rather than retreat from the moment I chose to embrace it. After all, what better setting than a meeting on diversity to discuss diversity?
For the next little while, the brightest and the best of the largest newspaper company in the United States spent quality time learning about tzitzit and why Jewish men wear them. It was a day I will never forget. I had faced my own fears and conquered them. I had tested my belief system and succeeded.
Later that day I walked out of that high rise confident that I could continue my spiritual journey, live as a more observant Jew and still build a career with a Fortune 500 company. I boarded my train and just made it back to Wilmington in time to welcome the "Shabbat Queen."
Yeshivacation is an opportunity to join in on a fascinating and meaningful journey into Jewish life, learning, Kabala and philosophy. This ten-day tour of Jewish living, from May 27 through June 6 is sponsored by Hadar HaTorah Yeshiva (for men) and is held in Brooklyn, New York. It offers challenging courses, spirited discussions and hands-on workshops. Yeshivacation provides the thinking Jew a milieu in which to explore his roots and the key to a more enlightened and meaningful future. For more information contact Hadar Hatorah at (718) 735-0250 or email Hadarh@ix.netcom.com. For the women's Yeshivacation sponsored by Machon Chana call (718) 735-0030 or email MachonC@aol.com
24th of Tammuz, 5739 
I am in receipt of your letter of the 17th of Tammuz, in which you write about two happenings recently, connected with Tzitzis and Tefillin.
In general, there are so many clear and specific instructions and teachings in the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law] connected with these two basic Mitzvos, that there is no need to look for other interpretations.
However, since you wrote to me and requested some explanation, I want to emphasize what is mutual and common to Tzitzis and Tefillin. Our Sages declare that the whole Torah has been compared to the Mitzvah of Tefillin, and of Tzitzis it is written, "And you will see it and remember all G-d's Mitzvos."
Thus, the common denominator of the two happenings that you mentioned, namely in connection with Tzitzis and Tefillin, is to emphasize forcefully the need to strengthen adherence to all the Mitzvos in everyday life and conduct, and since you are a Yeshiva student, it is particularly indicated that there should be a growing measure of devotion and diligence in the study of the Torah.
A further point - in view of the fact that every Jew is duty-bound to do all he can to spread and strengthen Yiddishkeit [Judaism] in his surroundings, and one of the most effective ways of doing it is through showing a shining example, the above-mentioned increased efforts on your part in matters of Torah and Mitzvos will have a good influence all around you, and at the same time enable you to fulfill more fully the Mitzvah of V'Ohavto L'Reacho Komocho [love of your fellow Jew].
Wishing you Hatzlocho [success] in all above,
17th of Teves, 5728 
I was particularly gratified to receive a copy of your letter which you wrote in connection with the Tefillin Campaign under the auspices of the Bnai Brith convention.
As is evident from the contents, they were words spoken from the heart which penetrate the heart and do their work. Moreover, since they were addressed to persons with influence in Jewish affairs and over thousands upon thousands of Jewish children, there is a tremendous Zechus Horabim involved here, which will stand you and them in good stead.
I was further delighted to see that you go from strength to strength on receiving the information that you have been selected to be the guest speaker at the Seventh Annual Banquet of the Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch in Greater Miami. May G-d grant that you once again make the desired impact through words coming from the heart that will bear lasting fruit. In this connection, I am enclosing herewith a copy of my message, which you will, of course, consider privileged until the message is made public at the said Banquet.
May G-d bestow His blessing of Hatzlocho upon each and all of us to utilize our capacities and opportunities to spread Yiddishkeit and strengthen Chinuch [Jewish education] in the spirit of the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism], whose dedication and self-sacrifice are an unfailing source of inspiration and strength to us all.
With the blessing of Hatzlocho [success] and may you always have good tidings to report,
P.S. To ensure that this letter and enclosure reach you promptly, it is being sent to you via Rabbi-
In memory of Yosef Yitzchak ben Shlomo Shneur Zalman yblc't
1 Iyar 5759
Negative mitzva 321: journeying on Shabbat
By this prohibition we are forbidden to journey on Shabbat. It is contained in the Torah's words (Ex. 16:29): "Let no man go out of his place on the seventh day." Tradition fixes the limit beyond which it is forbidden to go at two thousand cubits beyond the boundaries of town. (A cubit is approximately 21.85 inches.)
The Land of Israel is not like other lands.
Other countries' borders are determined by wars, treaties and political considerations. The Land of Israel's borders are determined by G-d. There are many mitzvot that apply only in Israel. Go anywhere else in the world, and you can't do them.
The Land of Israel is called the Holy Land for a reason: its very soil is hallowed, permeated with G-dliness and holiness. It is a land "upon which the eyes of G-d rest, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year." The very air itself "makes one wise," according to our Sages.
After the terrible destruction of the Holocaust, G-d gave the Jewish people a wonderful gift - the opportunity to return to their ancestral home and live according to their own dictates. For the first time in almost 2,000 years, millions of Jews were able to take refuge in the Holy Land. But not only would the Land of Israel provide physical refuge, it was a golden opportunity for real spiritual freedom. For even though the Jewish people would remain in galut (the exile will end only with Moshiach's coming, may it happen immediately), Jews would be able to practice Torah and mitzvot proudly and openly. In allowing Jews political autonomy, G-d gave them a chance for true independence, which can only be attained through the Torah.
Shleimut ha'aretz, literally "the integrity of the land," means that the whole and complete Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people. Given by G-d to every single Jew, it simply isn't in our power to reject this gift. Aside from the fact that it is against Torah law to cede portions of Israel to non-Jews (thereby putting Jewish lives in danger), the land always retains its special, holy nature.
May G-d continue to guide His people along the right path, and help us to live up to His expectations.
If a man shall have in the skin of his flesh a swelling or scab...he shall be brought to Aaron the priest...then shall the priest isolate the person with the plague [of "leprosy"] for seven days (Lev. 13:2-4)
Our Sages taught that nothing happens by chance. When a person came down with leprosy, the seven-day isolation period was to be used for contemplation and repentance. The leprosy was a reminder that G-d watches us all the time, and if we follow the priest's guidance, He would accept our repentance and heal us. (Sefer HaChinuch)
If the plague of leprosy is on a man, then shall he be brought to the priest (Lev. 13:9)
The Biblical plague of leprosy was visited upon a person who had participated in the sin of lashon hara-gossip. During a private audience with the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe a Jew once asked for a tikun, a "prescription" to correct the spiritual damage his misdeeds had caused. The man went on and on about how badly he had behaved, and used extremely harsh words to describe himself. "I'm sure you know," the Rebbe reminded him, "how grave the Torah's prohibition is against speaking lashon hara. But just as it is forbidden to speak lashon hara about someone else, it is also forbidden to speak lashon hara about oneself!"
He shall shave off all his hair, his head, and his beard, and his eyebrows (Lev. 14:9)
In general, a person incurred the plague of leprosy for three sins: arrogance, gossip, and jealousy. The process of purification, therefore, was measure for measure: First the head was shaved, for pretentiously desiring to be the "head" in command. Next the beard was shaved, for failing to muzzle the mouth against slander and gossip. Finally, the eyebrows were shaved, for failing to prevent the eyes from looking covetously at things that belong to others. (Kli Yakar)
One Saturday night, after Shabbat had departed, Rabbi Moshe Alsheich (1521-1593) was walking down the street and overheard a conversation which was taking place inside the house of a poor couple. He heard the man wishing his wife "a good week," as is customary. Then the man began to sing the hymn "Eliyahu Hanavi," (Elijah the Prophet).
The musical tones were touchingly beautiful, but the singing was interrupted by the voice of the man's wife, who was complaining: "I can't understand you! Have you no heart? How can you sing when your children are facing yet another week with no food in the freezing cold house? Where is this Eliyahu you're singing about, and why isn't he helping us?"
Rabbi Alsheich was not only an outstanding scholar, but he was also a very wealthy man and a great philanthropist as well. He felt such sympathy for the poor family that he returned to his home and filled a small sack with gold coins. He then quietly approached the house of the poor couple and tossed the coins inside, quickly running away so to avoid being seen.
His act of selfless charity aroused the heavenly host, who clamored to reward the tzadik. The prosecuting angel wasn't going to allow such a tumult to continue unchallenged. "This isn't such a big deal," he said, and he suggested that since Rabbi Alsheich was such a great soul, it was only right that he should be subjected to a further test before receiving any reward. In fact, the prosecutor continued, he would go down and administer the test himself.
The very next Shabbat a poor stranger appeared in shul and declared: "I am very hungry. Who will bring me home for the Shabbat meal?" Rabbi Alsheich was the first to seize this opportunity for the great mitzva of hachnasat orchim (hosting guests) and invited the man to dine with him.
Upon their arrival, the poor man was seated at the fine table. The first course was placed before him and in a twinkling, he immediately devoured everything he had been served. As soon as he had downed the last bite he announced that he was still starving. Another portion was brought at once, and another, and yet another, but nothing seemed to quell his terrible hunger. Every delicious variety of food was put before the man, and he gobbled up every morsel. After each portion disappeared, he announced that he was still very hungry. Finally, with no more food in the kitchen, Rabbi Alsheich served him his own portion. When that had been eaten, the portions of the family were eaten one by one by the poor guest, but the man insisted he was still hungry.
Rabbi Alsheich didn't know what to do. He brought food from the neighbors in his courtyard to satisfy his guest, but the man was a bottomless pit of hunger. As Shabbat drew to a close, the man was still eating away, and declaring that he was not full yet. Rabbi Alsheich had exhausted all sources of food, but he promised the man, "When Shabbat ends I will make sure that you can eat your fill. You will not leave my house hungry."
After Shabbat, Rabbi Alsheich ordered that an ox be slaughtered, but upon examination it was discovered to be not kosher. He had another slaughtered, but it too was not kosher. The financial expenditure was enormous, but Rabbi Alsheich was unwilling to renege on his promise. He had another and yet another slaughtered, but each animal was found to be not kosher! Finally, on the fortieth try, the animal was kosher and could be prepared.
When at last the meal was prepared and served, the poor man had disappeared and could not be found.
This tremendous act of benevolence was unbelievable. Now, there was no question that the prosecutor's argument was null and void. Even the Adversary had to concede that Rabbi Alsheich possessed tremendous merits and deserved a reward. But what should be the reward of such a man? Of course the most dearly sought possession of a Torah scholar is a deeper understanding of Torah. And so, a decree came down from the Heavenly Court that Rabbi Alsheich merited to have one of the seventy facets of Torah revealed to him. A special messenger was immediately dispatched to impart this holy knowledge to him.
When these events transpired, Rabbi Joseph Caro (the redactor of the Shulchan Aruch - The Code of Jewish Law) was serving as the Chief Rabbi of Safed. On the following Shabbat, when he entered the synagogue, he noted that Rabbi Alsheich was not in his usual place. It had been revealed to him through his holy insight, that Rabbi Alsheich had ascended greatly in his understanding of Torah. He was impatient to see for himself, and he instructed the congregation to delay their prayers until Rabbi Alsheich entered.
When Rabbi Alsheich finally arrived, Rabbi Caro requested that he ascend to the pulpit and deliver the weekly Torah discourse in his stead, but Rabbi Alsheich refused. It was only when he was ordered to speak, that he acquiesced, and the words which he uttered astounded the entire assembly. The profundity of his discourse made it apparent that something radically new had occurred.
That day marked a change in the procedure of the Shabbat, for from that time forth, Rabbi Alsheich (who was later to be known as the "Holy Alsheich") delivered all the weekly Torah discourses. He also began to write down his Torah insights, Torat Moshe, which are studied to this day.
" 'I shall return the captivity of My people Israel and they shall build the waste cities and settle... I shall plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be plucked out of their land that I have given them,' says G-d your G-d." (The Prophet Amos, 9:14-15)