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This story goes back to the time of the pogroms against the Jews in Israel in 1936. The British government realized that the situation could not continue the way it was; the relationship between the Jews and the Arabs was just intolerable. So a commission, headed by Lord Viscount Peel, was dispatched to Palestine. The commission would later submit its proposals to King George.
One of the last witnesses to testify before the commission was the chairman of the Jewish Agency, David Ben Gurion. On the witness stand there was a Tanach (Bible), and l'havdil a Koran and a Christian Bible. Each of the witnesses took an oath.
Ben Gurion's testimony lasted for over three hours. He spoke about the long lasting connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, declaring that this was our home and that we demand from the British government and the rest of the world to recognize our right to the Land of Israel. It was a very moving speech and the journalists who were present immediately ran to the telephones to relay Ben Gurion's impressive speech.
Lord Peel sat there coldly, without emotion, and did not display any excitement. Then, in a low voice, he spoke to Ben Gurion: "May I ask you a personal question?"
Ben Gurion: "Sure."
Lord Peel: "Where were you born?"
Ben Gurion: "In Plonsk."
Lord Peel: "Where is Plonsk?"
Ben Gurion: "In Poland."
Lord Peel: "That is very strange. All the Arab witnesses who appeared before this committee, Nusseibah, Nasabiba, El Tal and El Husseini, were born here in Palestine. And almost all the Jewish witnesses who appeared before us were not born here.
"You say that this is your house, but someone else lives here now-the Arabs. There is an international law which states that if somebody contests the right of someone who is holding on to property, he must submit a document-proof of ownership-or as it was called in the Ottoman Empire, a kushan, that this property belongs to him even though he was not born there."
Ben Gurion lifted the Bible that was on the stand and said: "Lord Peel, surely we have a kushan, this is our kushan-the Bible. The British are a nation that respects the Bible. Is our historical right, as stated in the Bible, less authentic than a document penned by some clerk in some land registry office? This is an everlasting document in which it is written: "To your children I have given this land." G-d promised this land to our Father Abraham and to his descendants. There is no doubt that we are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."
Again, the reporters ran to their telephone booths to report about Ben Gurion's response. (From an article by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, Chief Rabbi of Israel, printed in The Jewish Press)
* * *
"Breishit...-In the beginning G-d created the Heavens and the earth."
On this first verse of the Bible, Rashi brings the comments of Rav Yitzchak: "Since the Torah is the book of laws, it should have begun with the first commandment, in the Book of Exodus. Why, then did it begin with the narrative of creation?
"The reason is in order to establish the sovereignty of G-d over the earth. If the nations accuse Israel of banditry for seizing the lands of the seven nations of Canaan, the Jewish people will tell them: 'The entire universe belongs to G-d. He created it and He granted it to whomever was deemed fit in His eyes. It was His desire to give it to them and it was then His desire to take it from them and cede it to us.'"
In this week's Torah portion, Re'ei, the Jewish people are commanded to maintain their own code of behavior and not learn from the nations that inhabited the Land of Israel before its conquest. The Torah states: "Take heed that you not be snared by following them." A Jew must never ask, "How do these gentiles worship their gods, that I may do the same?" "You must not do this before the L-rd your G-d...But hearken to the voice of the L-rd your G-d, to keep all His commandments...to do that which is right in the eyes of the L-rd your G-d."
Moses warned the Jews against imitating the idol worshippers' conduct. Non-Jews have their own culture and customs, he explained. It is forbidden for a Jew to learn from their behavior!
From a numerical standpoint, of course, Jews are the most insignificant of all the nations. Nonetheless, their conduct is entirely unique. In fact, when it comes to "life style" and day-to-day existence, Jews have nothing in common with the non-Jewish world.
Some Jews might mistakenly think that the key to earning the respect and admiration of gentiles is by copying their behavior. Yet the opposite is true! It is only when Jews proudly maintain their Judaism and faith in G-d that they merit not only the respect of their gentile neighbors, but their support and assistance as well.
G-d placed the Jewish people among the nations so that others may see and learn from their uncompromising faith. Jews always remember that "You have chosen us from among the nations" and conduct themselves according to His will, as revealed in the Torah.
The singular conduct of the Jews also serves as a living example to the gentiles, demonstrating that it is indeed possible to adhere to the Seven Noahide laws that apply to all mankind.
The Jewish people have lived according to the Torah's laws for over 3,000 years. Yet despite its age, the Torah is equally relevant to our present day and age, imparting all who follow in its ways with renewed strength and vitality.
When Jews keep G-d's laws and refuse to mimic the surrounding nations, they merit a multitude of G-d's blessings: long life and good years, tranquility and peace, physical health and true nachas. The gentile nations not only hold them in high esteem, but lend their assistance to yeshivot, Talmud Torahs, and facilities for the elderly.
Adapted from Volume 5 of Hitva'aduyot 5745
NOT JUST COMEDY!
An interview with Stu Trivax by Mendy Hecht
I've been a stand-up comedian for a number of years, and I've done thousands of shows. I've also been on many TV talk shows. Recently, I did a tour for Chabad-Lubavitch that was a most unique experience.
I was really excited about the tour. It's always rewarding to perform for Jewish audiences and Lubavitch has been a very important part of my returning to Judaism.
Comedy is a very delicate kind of art. The lights, sound system and set-up all contribute to the impact of the effectiveness and success of the show. At my first performance on this tour, the seating arrangements and sound system were adequate; however, it wasn't the most professional set-up I had ever encountered. I was actually surprised at how well the show went considered that there were small children running around and talking as well as people walking behind me while I was performing!
The rabbi told me afterwards that he would have wanted me to speak a little bit about my return to Judaism. So I decided that throughout the rest of the tour not only would I do a comedy show, but at the end - just for two or three minutes - I would also speak to the audience and tell them my personal story. I would tell them about how I realized that what I had thought Judaism really is was a misconception, and how Chabad helped me open my eyes and see what I was missing in my relationship with G-d and Torah.
So now I wasn't just doing comedy shows at various Chabad-Lubavitch Centers across the country. I felt like I was entertaining Jewish people and describing my relationship with Torah, G-d and Chabad. I felt like I was on a mission for the Rebbe.
As I proceeded with my shows, from city to city, I felt a certain amount of pressure. I started thinking about how my show could influence people's views of Chabad. If the show went well, the people would be more inclined to come to another show or a Shabbat dinner, or they might be more receptive to coming to a lecture where they could gain more insights into Judaism And, if I didn't do such a good show, they might say, "Well, the last show we went to really wasn't so good, so I don't know if I want to go to this event."
Therefore, I really wanted the shows to go well. Under the circumstances, however, I thought it would be more difficult to have a successful show. I was dealing with a wide spectrum of people ranging from small children to senior citizens, from the very religious to the totally irreligious. The physical set-up also made it harder to perform. I knew I faced a challenge, but, of course, I was determined to do the best job I could.
I continued to do my shows and thank G-d, they really went well! I began thinking, "Hey, I'm really good!" My ego told me that I am making these shows a success. That's what I thought, for a little while, anyway.
Then came my scheduled show in Pennsylvania. It began with the same casual routine as in the other Chabad Houses: the people would come, grab a buffet meal and then I would do my show. But as people were milling around and getting ready for the buffet, there was suddenly a blackout! Except in the shul where they have some auxiliary power, it was totally dark! The rabbi, being very resourceful, took out a bag of candles and set them up on all the tables in the room. Voila! We lit the candles, "and there was light!"
The rabbi said, "We're going to continue." He hooked up a little light to the auxiliary power which served as a minimal spotlight. He had also hooked up a microphone to this "sound system," which consisted of one little speaker. I couldn't believe it! To do a show in these circumstances was unheard of!
I told the rabbi, "You can't expect me to do a show like that!" It was dark, the sound system was not good and the people wouldn't be able t see me. It just wouldn't be conducive to comedy.
He said, "We're doing it." So I did it.
And it was great! I started to tell my jokes and the people responded. We had a great time! Instead of doing ten minutes, I did a full thirty-minute show, and the audience loved it!
That's when I realized that it wasn't me who was pulling this off-I had help. I was thinking that I was so entertaining, I was working so well in situations that weren't so conducive to comedy. But this made me realize that it was the help I received from G-d that made the shows go well.
So I felt, in a way, a certain amount of relief. I thought, "You know what? Now I don't feel so much pressure because I'm getting help. I think these shows are going well because G-d wants them to go well."
All in all, it was a wonderful experience for me. I saw that I could do so much for other people and be a positive influence, utilizing my time in a way that contributes to Jewish growth. People might be inspired to increase a little in their Jewish observance or they might start thinking, "This guy is a comedian, he's on TV, and yet, he still has a love for Judaism, observes Shabbat, and does Torah and mitzvot." They might decide to connect to their background and their history a little bit more than they would have if I had not performed there.
I think it's very important for people to realize that they can be connected to G-d, to Torah and to Judaism - they can experience a full Jewish life - while being involved in the world.
Reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter
NEW CENTER IN TOKYO
Rabbi Mendel and Chana Sudakevich recently arrived in Tokyo as the Rebbe's emissaries to that country. The couple is working to develop a variety of Jewish educational and social activities geared to Israelis and another set of programs for English speakers. There are 1,500 Jews living in Japan, with a large concentration in Tokyo. Most of them, however, are only in Japan for short-term stays. Despite the unique set of challenges this creates for the Sudakeviches, they have already established Shabbat services and meals, weekly Torah classes, holiday services and programs and a kindergarten. This energetic young couple hopes to open a kosher restaurant in the near future.
From a letter dated 12th of Shevat, 5721-1961
It is sometimes difficult to help a person who acts in a way which is contrary to what we would call cooperation. I refer to the matter of learning Chasidus, about which you wrote to me once, saying, why should we bother about the Supernal Worlds, Atzilus [the uppermost Supernal world] etc., when there are so many things connected with this world?
Actually, the situation is the reverse, since everything in this world is derived from the Supernal Worlds, for, as is explained at length in Chasidus, all things in this world, even the most material and corporeal, are directly related to their spiritual sources in the higher order of things and derive their existence and their being through a series of channels and vessels of purity and holiness.
Thus, while the Old Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidus] wrote in the Tanya (chapter 6), quoting the Etz Chaim *"The affairs of this world are difficult and evil, and the wicked ones have supremacy," yet the Torah says "If you will follow in my statutes, etc., I will give rain in its season" - how is this to be reconciled.
The answer is that through the Torah and Mitzvos the Jew elevates himself above this physical world and transcends its boundaries, so that instead of being subject to its laws and limitations he can become master and ruler of the world. The reason being that the Torah and Mitzvos are connected with the Supernal Worlds which are completely good, and this world is only the last in the chain of transformations from the spiritual to the material, beginning with the world of Atzilus of which it is written "evil does not abide with You" or, as our religious philosophers call it, "The World of Souls," descending from the World of the Angels to the World of the Spheres, which is our physical world.
On the other hand, if a Jew is reckless enough to cut himself off from the Supernal Worlds, he is left only with this physical world, which has been described by the Old Rebbe as above, where "the affairs of this world are difficult and evil, and where the wicked ones have supremacy, etc." But being he is a believing Jew, and consequently prays to G-d the Creator and Master of the world, Whose Providence extends to everyone individually, there are ways whereby G-d's blessings descend even to those who are ignorant of the ways of Providence, and who know nothing about the relationship of this world to the Supernal Worlds.
However one to whom a greater measure of knowledge has been revealed about G-d and G-d's ways, yet refuses to acknowledge the channels and vessels through which G-d's blessings necessarily come down, but insists on receiving G-d's blessings directly from G-d (Bread from Heaven); it means that he wants to receive such blessings by way of an open miracle, not through a miracle which is clothed in natural garments. And it is well known that in order to receive the benefit of an open miracle, one must have extraordinary merits, and even in such a case the miracle is debited to the account and as our Sages have taught, "One should not rely on a miracle."
I trust that for a person of your background it is not necessary to elaborate at greater length what should be quite obvious.
It should also be self-evident that my intention in writing the above lines is not in order to admonish you or to cause you any pain, G-d forbid. I only wanted to throw some light on the subject, for, apart from the knowledge itself that this subject contains, it also has a direct bearing upon the daily affairs of one's life.
In a similar sense our Sages explained, "He who is engaged in the study in Torah of a Burnt offering is considered as though he has actually offered it." Similarly, when one is engaged in the study in Torah of the process of Creation and Divine Providence it has a direct bearing on the benefits to be derived thereby, both material and spiritual.
May G-d grant that you learn with vitality and for their own sake, both Nigleh [the revealed parts of Torah] and Chasidus, and may G-d channel His blessings to you and yours in all your needs, materially and spiritually, from His full, open and ample hand.
* Throughout this letter we have removed the actual Hebrew quotations and retained only their English translations
26 Av 5760
Positive mitzva 113: the ashes of the red heifer
By this injunction we are commanded to prepare the red heifer, so that its ashes will be available for removing the spiritual uncleanliness that is contracted from a dead body. It is derived from the Torah's words (Num. 19:9): "It shall be kept for the congregation of the Children of Israel."
This Shabbat we bless the Hebrew month of Elul, the final month of the year. Chasidut describes Elul as the month when "the king is in the field" as opposed to Tishrei, the month of the High Holidays, when the king is already ensconced within the royal palace.
The parable from an earthly king is readily understood. Once inside the palace, the king is no longer readily accessible to the common man. Not everyone is granted an audience, and anyone wishing to speak to the king must adhere to strict rules of protocol. Furthermore, if and when one is finally admitted, he will only be allowed a few minutes of the king's precious time.
The situation is entirely different when the king goes out into the field to greet his subjects. Although the outer trappings of royalty are not as apparent, there is a distinct advantage in that each and every citizen may approach the king and speak to him directly, without the need for intermediaries. The king greets each individual with a smiling countenance and grants his petition.
In Elul, G-d, the King of kings, goes out into the "field" where He is accessible to every Jew. Every single one of us is granted an audience; He greets us all with a smiling countenance and accedes to our requests.
Yet we should not let all this greater accessibility lead us to complacency toward our present spiritual level.
During Elul, G-d appeals to every Jew, regardless of his stature. This Divine revelation is granted to everyone, even those who are still in the "field," i.e., whose spiritual standing is not what it should be. But this does not mean that we are permitted to remain where we are and cease our efforts to improve. Rather, we must always be aware of our true standing in relationship to G-d, and seek to improve it.
When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the L-rd your G-d (Deut. 8:10)
A Jew doesn't pray to G-d only in difficult circumstances, when he is poor and hungry. Even in the best of times, when he has "eaten and is full," he should remember that it is G-d Who has given him all these blessings and that he should thank Him accordingly. (Lev Simcha)
A blessing for obeying the commandments of the L-rd your G-d.and a curse, if you will not obey the commandments (Deut. 11:27-28)
The Torah's language is significant and precise: G-d promises to bless the Jews for obeying His commandments, yet threatens to curse them "if" they will not obey. The blessing is assured; the curse is only conditional. In fact, all Jews will return to G-d in the End of Days and receive His blessing. (Panim Yafot)
And you shall bind up the money in your hand (Deut. 14:25)
The Torah commands the Jew to "bind up" his money and rule over it, and not the other way around. In other words, his monetary affairs must never exert such an influence over him that he becomes subservient. (Rabbi Meir of Premishlan)
It states in Psalms (51:16): "Save me from bloodshed ('damim'), O G-d, G-d of my salvation, and my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness." In Hebrew, the word "damim" also means money; King David was thus praying that he never make the mistake of considering money to be G-d. (Rabbi Moshe of Kovrin)
Everyone in the holy city of Jerusalem knew Shalom the shamash, the young sexton who tidied up and maintained order in the famous "Beit Kel" yeshiva. Quiet by nature, he would fetch books for the Torah scholars and in general, make himself useful. But all in all, there was nothing extraordinary about Shalom that would raise any eyebrows.
Only recently had the young Jew arrived in the Holy Land, after a long and arduous journey from Yemen. Indeed, it was the fulfillment of his life's dream when he was finally able to kiss the holy soil and devote himself to the service of G-d in Jerusalem.
Shalom the shamash had been born in the city of Sharab, where his superior intellectual gifts were evident at an early age. Unfortunately, the premature death of his father prevented him from remaining in yeshiva, as the young orphan was now the sole support of his family. Shalom became a traveling merchant and plied his wares from door to door. This left him with only his evenings free to pursue his one true love: the study of Torah. He would often remain in the study hall till the wee hours of the morning before going home to catch a few hours of sleep.
But Shalom's thirst for Torah knowledge was insatiable. Despite his achievements, he still felt as if something were missing. It was then that he discovered the esoteric realm of Torah - the Kabala and its mysteries - as developed by the sages of Yemen. Enthusiastically he plunged into the study of the higher worlds and the Torah's secrets, and distinguished himself in this realm as well. But the young Rabbi Shalom insisted on working for a living, and continued to peddle his notions as before.
One time on a business expedition Shalom found himself in a very dangerous situation, and vowed that if G-d saved him, he would move to the Holy Land. Indeed, G-d came to his aid, and he left his friends and family and embarked on the long journey through the Middle East.
Shalom's joy knew no bounds when he finally arrived at the Beit Kel yeshiva in Jerusalem, headed by the famous Kabalist Rabbi Gedalia Chiyun. His soul longed to join the other students of the inner aspects of Torah, but he had no wish to reveal his already extensive knowledge. Instead, he presented himself as a simple Jew and found employment as the sexton of the study hall.
It was a wonderful opportunity to learn without being observed. As a regular presence in the yeshiva, no one paid any attention to Shalom, who kept his eyes and ears open to every word. Thus he gradually increased his knowledge until he far surpassed everyone else. But his greatness remained a secret known only to him.
One day a question came up in the yeshiva that no one could answer. For days the Kabalists consulted their heavy tomes, but could not come up with a satisfactory explanation. Rabbi Gedalia became almost obsessed with the problem, and was very perturbed by his inability to solve it.
The shamash had been listening to their deliberations and knew the answer. But not wishing to reveal himself, he remained silent. As the days progressed, it was as if a dark cloud hovered over the study hall.
One day Shalom came upon Rabbi Gedalia weeping over an open volume, begging and imploring G-d to illuminate his mind. It was impossible to ignore such a pitiful sight. Later that night, when the study hall was empty, Shalom wrote the answer on a small piece of paper and left it between the pages of Rabbi Gedalia's book.
The next morning the study hall was in an uproar. The problem that had appeared so difficult and complex had been solved in a clear and logical manner. Everyone was curious where the wonderful explanation had come from, but it remained a great mystery.
The strange phenomenon repeated itself several times. Whenever a difficult question was raised in the evening, its answer was found in Rabbi Gedalia's book the next morning. A thorough investigation was conducted, but the head of the yeshiva could not determine where the answers were coming from.
The riddle was solved in a totally unexpected manner, when Rabbi Gedalia's young daughter happened to mention that she had noticed the Yemenite sexton flipping through the pages of one of her father's books. In fact, she had noticed him doing so on several occasions. The next time an unresolved question was raised in the study hall the Rabbi made believe he was going home for the evening but hid in a closet. Indeed, to his utter shock, he observed the sexton consulting the holy tomes and secreting a piece of paper between the pages of his prayer book.
The next morning the head of the yeshiva insisted on seating Rabbi Shalom Sharabi at his right hand side, and revealed to all the great mystery. In fact, he later appointed him his heir and successor, despite his tender age of only 27.
Rabbi Shalom Sharabi's greatness was thus revealed to everyone in Jerusalem, and many stories are told about his wisdom. For 30 years he served as head of the Beit Kel yeshiva, until passing away in the year 5537 (1777).
When Moshiach comes we will realize the greatness of hoda'a (acknowledgement, or belief) and t'mimut (earnestness), everyone' s pure faith in G-d and His Torah and mitzvot. Talmud-namely, human comprehension, even on its highest level-is limited. But hoda'a, faith, is a feeling that is boundless. Moshiach will explain the magnificent achievement of t'mimut, earnest divine service flowing from the heart. (Hayom Yom, Tevet 5)