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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Someone tells you emphatically, "You're right. You're absolutely right!"
Ahhh, it feels so good to hear those words: "They see it my way," you sigh, relieved that the battle is over even before it has begun.
At other times, though, being told that you're right is not what you want to hear: "I don't need you to tell me I'm right; I know I'm right. I didn't want to have to deal with this stuff to begin with!"
Whether or not we're interested in hearing that we're right, we always want to be right.
Most of the time, it is clear and straight-forward what is right and what is wrong is. Still, there are those times when we think "the right thing" is so obvious, but it really isn't.
A story is told of a great rabbi whose student had been a highly successful businessman. The student had given up his worldly and mundane pursuits in order to dedicate himself to Torah study. What could be wrong?
Then one day, the rabbi warned the student, "You are in great danger."
"Why?" asked the student.
"Surely you know," explained the rabbi, "that an army is composed of many units-regimes, platoons, and so forth. If a person decides on his own to move from one unit to another, he is liable to be punished as a deserter. You were blessed by G-d with wealth and you were supposed to belong to the brigade of philanthropists. But you have deserted your brigade and on your own initiative have joined the brigade of Torah scholars."
Jewish wisdom teaches that a person can be doing something that is right, but it might not be the right thing for that person or for that particular time in that person's life.
The great Chasidic master, Rabbi Zushe of Anipoli, was wont to say, "If they will ask me in the World of Truth, 'Why weren't you like Moses?' I will know what to answer. But if they will ask me, 'Why weren't you Zushe,' I will not have an answer."
Each one of us is "only" expected to be exactly who we are. And, we are expected to be all of what we can be.
In order to be everything we can be we need to know who we are. The path to self-discovery begins with Torah study. For, we cannot possibly know who we are and where we are going unless we know where we are coming from.
But we don't have to, nor should we, go it alone. Along the path to actualizing our potential, the Torah urges us to search for and find a mentor, a teacher, a guide-someone who can direct us on the journey to fulfilling our divinely ordained purpose.
With a mentor's help, we can work on doing the right thing, without worrying that we're not like Moses or Zushe.
This week's Torah reading, Va'eira, narrates the dramatic first confrontation between Moses, Aaron and Pharaoh. G-d commanded Aaron that if Pharaoh were to ask for a miracle as proof that G-d had sent them, Aaron was to throw his staff upon the ground and it would turn into a serpent.
Indeed, Pharaoh asked for a sign, and Aaron did as G-d had instructed him. Pharaoh then called for his magicians and ordered them to do the same. "They cast down every man his staff, and they became serpents. But Aaron's staff swallowed up their staffs."
While this whole incident demands further explanation, one of the most remarkable occurrences was the miracle of Aaron's staff swallowing up the other staffs. Why did this miracle take place and what was its significance?
The miracles and plagues G-d inflicted on Egypt were not intended only as punishment; rather, their purpose was to break the Egyptians' opposition to G-d. The underlying belief in Egypt was that G-d has absolutely no effect on reality. They believed that after G-d created the world, He placed it under the sole control of natural forces.
This false notion was disproved by the Ten Plagues, each one of which refuted a different aspect of the Egyptians' world-view. The miracle of Aaron's staff swallowing the magicians' staffs laid the groundwork and prepared the Egyptians for the events that would follow.
Symbolically speaking, Aaron stood for the "side of holiness," while his staff was symbolic of the G-dly power of sanctity. The serpent was symbolic of Egypt, as the Prophet Ezekiel termed it, "Egypt, the great serpent that lies in the midst of its streams." When Aaron's staff turned into a serpent, it demonstrated to Pharaoh that Egypt, even against its will, is ultimately sustained from the forces of holiness. Not to be outdone, Pharaoh summoned his magicians and had them turn their staffs into serpents, thereby "proving" that Egypt has its own sources of power. But when "Aaron's staff swallowed up their staffs," it showed, definitively and absolutely, that all of Egypt's unholy powers were only an illusion, without a true and independent existence of their own.
In this way, G-d demonstrated to Pharaoh and to all of Egypt that His influence and dominion extended even to them. It was, in effect, the first chink in the Egyptians' theological armor, and thus a precursor to the Ten Plagues, each of which negated a different level of Egypt's spiritual impurity.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 26
By Audrey Kapuler
It has been exactly one week since I left Hadar Hatorah [ed. note: a yeshiva for men beginning their Torah studies later in life] in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn in New York, after spending a Parents Weekend with my son, Yossel Mendel (Joshua) Kapuler, his fellow students, and some of their parents. I am still digesting all of my beautiful experiences of that weekend and am finding that not a moment goes by in which a memory does not flood my daily thoughts even though I am very far away from that time and place.
I live in Coral Springs, Florida, and a local Chabad Rebbetzin contacted me prior to my visit to Crown Heights to "prepare" me so I would not be "shocked" by what I would see and learn. I thought, "Oh my, what am I getting myself into?" I calmed myself. After all, my son is studying there! How bad could it be?
Upon my arrival early Friday morning, my son and I hugged each other for several minutes and then. with luggage and warm greetings in tow, we walked down the streets of Crown Heights to my hosts' home where I would be spending the weekend. He was so happy to show me "his" world.
The planned events of the weekend were to begin on Friday evening, Shabbos, at sundown, and with some extra time, my son whisked me off to the gravesite of the Rebbe. Before I knew it I was at the cemetery, and realized the intensity of this holy place only when I entered the building for preparation to the actual site. My son began teaching me the protocol and I followed his lead like a nave child. At first, I thought I was doing this visit "for my son," but once I became a part of the process, I realized the emotional and peaceful impact visiting the site was having on me. We hadn't even begun our formalized adventure of the Parents Weekend, yet I was already feeling a part of something much larger than "my world."
Friday evening proved to be a memory for which I was not fully prepared. The mothers of the sons of Hadar Hatorah, whom I met before Shabbos, were privy to a religious experience that few will ever experience. We women went to 770 Eastern Parkway for Shabbos services and entered a world that filled me with excitement, jubilation and awe. We saw a sea of men praying in the room below us and we prayed amongst the women of the community as though we had been a part of this setting forever. It was a beautiful feeling of rejoicing to share with young and old alike in this ritual.
But the highlight of the evening for me was the dinner that followed services. The parents and sons shared and shared!
I saw that the Hadar Hatorah experience was providing role models for our children. The "teachers" not only taught Torah, but also instilled character, morals, respect, and a sense of family to our sons. What's not to like?
Rabbi Goldberg and his beautiful family, along with Rabbi Wircberg and his precocious and talented sons, hosted an evening that set the pattern of camaraderie that was shared by all during the weekend. Both students and parents were asked to participate with words and thoughts about their feelings, and contribute we did. As I talked with other parents, I learned that some of them had the same concerns about where our sons were at this stage of their lives, and who was watching over them and teaching them. Was this some sort of cult that had kidnapped them?
Through communication, we learned otherwise. Parents had the opportunity to inquire of their sons' Rabbis/teachers on several occasions about the lifestyle, purpose, teachings, beliefs, traditions, etc. that their children were learning from these worldly and wise men. Our sons are grown men and one might expect that a mother or father does not worry about a man; that the paths they choose to follow are their own. But we still worry. Through carefully planned events with very warm and loving community families, intermingled with daily religious rituals and traditions, the parents' eyes were opened to a beautiful new world. We all love our sons and soon learned that the rabbis love and care about them as well.
Throughout the weekend, there were "rap" sessions, FOOD, speakers, FOOD, tours, FOOD, praying, and more FOOD. Did I mention food? Our hosts for the weekend, the students, teachers and local community families such as the Rosenthals, the Thalers, and the Broners presented a package that I believe they themselves were surprised with. The entire weekend could not have been choreographed any better. I believe that even our hosts were surprised with the positive, exciting outcome. We all shared a beautiful experience and learned from its lessons.
If I may, I would like to further personalize my thoughts for a moment on this experience. I am a long distance runner, and in 1997 I ran my first 26.2-mile marathon. As I completed my final mile and crossed the finish line into a sea of a thousand nameless faces, my son Josh appeared out of nowhere and embraced me. My body fell limp in his arms, but I felt such peace and self-accomplishment, and as he held me, I cried from happiness. Not only had I completed a miraculous feat, but I was sharing its conclusion with my son, Josh. During my stay with him at the Hadar Hatorah Weekend, he embraced me again, along with a lifestyle and friends that will affect me in a very special way forever. As I stated above, not a moment goes by that I do not give a thought to my memories of Hadar Hatorah and a group of very distinguished and special people.
From the bottom of my heart I thank Rabbis Goldberg, Silberstein, Wircberg, Hecht and the entire community of Crown Heights for all you have touched in my life, and in doing so, you have given my son back his.
WHEN I FELL INTO MY KIDDUSH CUP
A fanciful adventure is related in rhyme by a youthful narrator. A journey through a veritable wonderland of Kiddush cups. Attractive and whimsical illustratations enliven every page and enhance the story by Sashi Fridman. Kehot Publication Society
The Tanya: Its Story and HiStory
What is the secret of the Tanya? Why is this fundamental book of Chabad Lubavitch, written by its founder, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, studied by Jews from all backgrounds? What sets it apart from other Jewish books? This and more is discussed and explained in The Tanya: Its Story and History by Rabbi Sholom DovBer Avtzon.
22nd of Adar II, 5733 
Greeting and Blessing:
...First of all, I want to express my gratification at your response to the suggestions which I proposed to you during your visit here. It was, of course, a pleasure to make your personal acquaintance.
Frankly, I had wondered what your reactions might be to my "un-American" manner of welcoming you. For, the accepted American way, if I am not mistaken, is to greet one with a shower of compliments and praise even if not always fully merited.
In your case, of course, it would have been very well deserved credit, for I was fully aware of your accomplishments and generosity on behalf of the Lubavitch work in your community, given in the best tradition of inspiration and dedication, even to the extent of getting your friends involved in it. Yet, instead of verbalizing my appreciation at length, I glossed over it briefly, and immediately challenged you with new and formidable projects.
However, the fact is that I felt impelled to use the precious time at our disposal to discuss with you those matters which, in my estimation, are of vital importance, namely the expansion of our program in Miami and also the project in our Holy Land, knowing that however much we could extend the late hour, the time would still be too short to discuss the vital need of these matters in all their ramifications.
My guiding principle in this case, as when meeting with people in general, is the bon mot I heard from my father-in-law of saintly memory: "When two Jews meet, they should not be content with the benefit that the meeting brings to each of them, but they should immediately be concerned with the prospect of bringing a benefit to a third Jew, a fourth, and to as many Jews as possible."
Moreover, I was hopeful that you would accept my suggestions in the right spirit, precisely because you have already made a magnificent start. And as I wrote to you in my previous letter, quoting our Sages of blessed memory, "He who has 100 desires 200," etc., or, in other words, since achievement is the greatest incentive to further and more ambitious achievement, I had reason to believe that your achievement in the past will widen your horizons and intensify your desire for even greater things. Hence, without losing time, I embarked upon the practical aspects of our meeting for the benefit of so many of our fellow Jews. This, I felt, would ensure also our share of the benefit, yours and mine, and yours even more than mine, since the actual implementation of these projects is something which Divine Providence has entrusted in your hands...
In the light of all that has been said above, you can well understand that your letter has greatly relieved my mind, for you have indeed shown yourself big enough to overlook the scanty praise and to give serious and favorable attention to the tasks at hand. I feel certain that the Zechus [merit] of your good deeds already accomplished has stood you in good stead...
Finally, with reference to the conclusion of your letter, on the subject of ritual observance, I need not emphasize to you, a successful businessman, that although knowledge and motivation etc. are very desirable things, the essential thing, after all, is the actual deed.
As for the "disappointment" at the lack of greater progress, I would like to cite a basic Chasidic principle, actually deriving from the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman], in his classical work, the Tanya.
It is to the effect that inasmuch as a Jew must utilize to the full all his capacities towards increasing the good and the holy within himself and the environment, "disappointment" (which usually is a negative factor, being closely linked with discouragement) can also be converted into a positive force, to redouble one's efforts in the right direction. Indeed, it can be made into a springboard for an even greater accomplishment, as in the case of a person who has to make a wide leap, which he can do only by going back - in his feelings of satisfaction not, G-d forbid, in doing Mitzvos - a few steps in order to gain momentum for that extra leap.
May G-d grant that your hope for complete observance will be realized even sooner than you expect, and the Zechus Horabim (the benefit for many) will help you, since your way of life and conduct will surely be an inspiration to many.
With esteem and with blessings for good tidings...
1 Shevat 5760
Positive mitzva 248: the law of inheritance
By this injunction we are commanded concerning the law of inheritances. It is contained in the Torah's words (Num. 27:8): "If a man dies and has no son, etc." One provision of this law is that the firstborn son inherits a double portion.
This Shabbat is Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the Hebrew month of Shevat. The name itself means a branch or a stick, yet there are many other words in Hebrew that express the same thing: makeil (staff), mateh (rod), eitz (a piece of wood), etc. Sheivet, by contrast, refers to a branch that is soft. It is obvious that our Rabbis chose this name for the month because on the Fifteenth we will celebrate Tu B'Shevat, the New Year for Trees.
The word Shevat is also related to the concept of a royal rod or staff. In the same way that a king is blessed with riches and all of life's pleasures are accessible to him, so too is every Jew considered a prince or princess, deserving of the very best. This is reflected in the delicacy and assortment of fruits we eat on Tu B'Shevat. Also, just as Moses disciplined the Jews with love and compassion rather than severity, we must always temper our authority (our "royal scepter") with kindness and concern.
Another interesting connection exists between the month of Shevat and the mezuza. Every letter in Hebrew has a numerical value. If you add up the letters of the word Shevat (shin-veit-tet) it equals 314, the same as Sha-dai (shin-daled-yud), one of G-d's Names. This Name is found on the outside of the mezuza, our protection from harm. In the month of Shevat, when we are blessed with a great deal of affluence (as demonstrated on Tu B'Shevat), we must ask G-d for special protection to guard us from taking our good fortune for granted. A Jew must always recognize his special mission in life, that G-d has put him here to refine and elevate the world for a higher purpose. When we live up to this responsibility and take up our "royal scepter," we will indeed serve as a "light unto the nations" and have a positive influence on all our surroundings.
And I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob by the name of G-d Almighty, but by the name of Havaya [the four-letter Tetragrammaton] I was not made known to them (Ex. 6:3)
What kind of answer was this to Moses, who had just asked G-d, "Why have You done evil to this people?" Rather, with these words G-d was telling Moses that the underlying purpose of the Jews' exile and oppression in Egypt was to prepare them for a greater revelation of G-dliness (at the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai) than even the Patriarchs and Matriarchs had experienced. Furthermore, the suffering they were now going through would awaken in them a powerful longing for redemption. (Torah Ohr)
Behold, the Children of Israel have not hearkened to me; how then shall Pharaoh hear me? (Ex. 6:12)
How could Moses have compared the Jewish people, whose failure to listen to him was rooted in their oppression - "because of their anguished spirit and the cruel slavery" - to the evil Pharaoh? Why was Moses afraid that Pharaoh wouldn't hear him? In truth, Moses was worried that Pharaoh would listen, unlike his fellow Jews. He was reluctant to go to Pharaoh so as not to put them in a bad light... (Rabbi Yehonatan Eibeshutz)
To Moses' claim that the Jews were unwilling to hear him talk about redemption, G-d replied, "These are the heads of their family divisions." In other words, it isn't the Jewish people's fault that they are unwilling to listen; it is the fault of their leaders, who are so far removed from the concept of redemption that they don't allow anyone to even mention it. (Ohr HaChaim)
You shall speak (ata tedaber) all that I command you (Ex. 7:2)
The defeat of Pharaoh, the epitome of arrogance and pride, had to come about through Moses, the most humble person and most nullified before G-d. This is alluded to in the Hebrew word "tedaber," the letters of which can be rearranged to read "tadber," the command form of "you must subdue." (Torat Chaim)
For several weeks, snowstorms and a thick layer of ice had rendered the roads impassable. As farmers from the surrounding villages couldn't bring their produce to market, there was a shortage of many food items in the big city of Lublin. And while most of these commodities weren't essential, there was one thing the Jews of Lublin couldn't live without: onions.
Onions played a very important role in the Shabbat menu. In all of Lublin, it would have been very difficult to find a Jewish household in which the traditional dish of chopped eggs and onions wasn't eaten on Shabbat. Indeed, a shortage of meat or fish would have been less distressing.
Everyone was troubled by the lack of onions, but most particularly the family of the famous tzadik, the "Chozeh" (Seer) of Lublin. Try as they could to obtain the prized vegetable, there just weren't any to be had.
One Friday morning, the Chozeh's disciple, Rabbi Naftali of Ropshitz, was on his way to the synagogue when he saw something that made him stop. There, in the middle of the town square, was a farmer sitting next to a bulging sack of onions. The farmer, well aware of their market value, had traveled a great distance to make what he hoped would be a sizeable profit.
A daring idea suddenly popped into Rabbi Naftali's head. Without further ado he approached the farmer and asked to buy his entire stock of onions. The farmer was surprised, but didn't ask any questions. He named a rather exorbitant price, and Rabbi Naftali paid him on the spot.
"Oh, and I also want to buy your sheepskin coat and hat," Rabbi Naftali added. At first the farmer was appalled by the thought of having to return home without his warm clothing, but the thick wad of bills the Jew pressed into his hand managed to convince him. A few minutes later Rabbi Naftali was hurrying home with his new purchases: a large bag of precious onions, and a peasant's sheepskin coat and hat.
That afternoon, a well-bundled "farmer" set up shop across the street from the Chozeh's house. "Onions," the farmer cried out, "onions for sale!" The peasant's body was swaddled inside a thick sheepskin coat, and his furry hat obscured most of his face. His boots were covered with mud, obviously trekked in from the countryside...
Within minutes there was a large crowd of Jews vying for his wares. The farmer named his price, then suddenly announced that he had changed his mind: he was not interested in selling his onions.
"Please!" the Chasidim begged him. "We need the onions for a holy man, a great tzadik. Surely you will be blessed if you let us buy them."
"If that is the case," the farmer replied, "I will only sell them directly to the tzadik himself." The Chasidim were wary, but what could they do? They led the farmer across the street and brought him to the Chozeh.
At that moment, the tzadik was doing what he did every Friday afternoon in honor of the Sabbath: polishing his golden Kiddush cup. It was a very unusual goblet, a true masterpiece of workmanship. Fashioned out of pure gold, the cup was engraved with scenes from the Holy Land: the Tower of David, the Western Wall, and the Mount of Olives.
There were many rumors circulating about this goblet, but the general consensus among the Chasidim was that it had belonged to a holy tzadik of a previous generation. One thing they were sure of: whoever recited a blessing over the cup and drank from it was very fortunate.
In fact, the Chozeh was the only person who ever used it. A whole week long the Kiddush cup was packed away; only on Friday would he take it out and polish it lovingly. The contrast between the burnished gold and the white Shabbat tablecloth was truly a sight to see.
"How much do you want for your onions?" the tzadik asked the farmer.
"One minute, one minute," the peasant answered. "What's your rush? My bones are frozen. First give me something to drink."
"Bring him a small glass of whiskey," the Chozeh instructed his servant.
"What?" the farmer raised his voice. "Only a small glass?"
"Bring him the whole bottle," the tzadik amended his words, but this only offended the farmer more. "What do you think I am, a drunkard?" the peasant sputtered. "That's it!" he said suddenly, jumping up and walking toward the door. "I'm going home. I don't need to sell you anything."
The Chasidim tried to placate him and eventually calmed him down. "All right," the farmer said, "I will sell you the onions, but only for a glass of whiskey from that cup." He pointed to the golden cup. The Chasidim were scandalized, but the tzadik himself hurried to fill the goblet with trembling hands.
The farmer picked up the cup, closed his eyes and then said in a loud voice: "Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, by Whose word all things came to be."
Everyone was too shocked to speak, with the exception of the Chozeh. "Lechaim, Naftali!" he said with a broad smile. "You are very clever, and truly deserve to drink from this cup..."
"I will take you out from under the burdens of Egypt, I will rescue you from their service, I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments, and I will take you to Myself for a people... And I will bring you to the land..." (Exodus 6:6-8) Chasidic philosophy explains that the first four expressions of redemption refer to the four exiles of the Jewish people. The fifth expression refers to the ultimate and final Messianic Redemption.