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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Pundits will continue for some time to discuss the necessity or excessiveness of the recent recount that followed the presidential elections in the United States. Years from now historians will, with hindsight, make "bold" and "profound" declarations about what will become an interesting piece of Americana.
In the very beginning of Bamidbar (Numbers), the fourth of the Five Books of Moses, we read that G-d demanded a recount of the Jewish people, commanding Moses, "Count the number of all the congregation of the Children of Israel."
The Jewish people had already been counted when they went out of Egypt. Why did G-d order a recount? And, didn't G-d know how many Jews there were anyway?
One of the foremost commentators Rashi, explains, "Because they are dear to Him, He counts them all the time: when they went forth from Egypt He counted them; when they fell because of the sin of the golden calf, He counted them; when He was about to make His presence dwell among them [in the Tabernacle] He counted them."
G-d did not order a recount because the validity or correctness of the previous count was in question. G-d insisted on a recount to show the worth of every Jew and to reinforce that preciousness within each individual Jew.
When something is counted, whether it's jelly beans, touch-downs, votes or people, the qualities or characteristics of that which is counted is entirely irrelevant to the final tally.
When the Jewish people were counted and recounted, they stood in perfect equality; the greatest scholar and the most unlettered person were both counted once; no more and no less. Since the counting was done out of G-d's love for the Jewish people, the count and the recount were marks of G-d's love toward that which is equal in every Jew - the Jewish soul. The counting brought the soul of each Jew into prominence, to the surface of awareness.
Rashi states that G-d counts the Jewish people all the time. And yet, he points out only three times that they were counted. How can this be construed as "all the time"?
Chasidic teachings explain that if the point of the counting was to reveal the essence of each Jewish soul, then this revelation has a depth that places it beyond the erosions of time - it is operative, literally, all the time.
Every Jew is precious and beloved to G-d. Surely each of us can act with sensitivity and reverence toward our fellow Jews and count them in.
According to a Midrash, the Jewish people were counted only a total of nine times until today. The tenth time will be when Moshiach comes. May it happen immediately for, surely then, no one will demand a recount!
In this week's Torah portion, Toldot, we read of the birth of Esau and Jacob, Esau's sale of his birthright to Jacob and the subsequent blessing of Jacob and Esau by Isaac.
Jewish teachings explain that the name of a particular Torah portion gives us a special insight into that portion. The name of the portion, Toldot, is derived from its opening words: "And these are the generations (toldot) of Isaac." An earlier Torah portion, Noach (Noah), begins with a similar verse, "These are the generations of Noah."
What is the essential difference between these two portions, as reflected in the Torah's choice of names?
The portion of Toldot emphasizes the concept of descendents. "And these are the generations of Isaac, the son of Abraham: Abraham begot Isaac."
Toldot, related to the Hebrew word for birth (holada), implies both physical offspring and spiritual heirs. When we help a fellow Jew by teaching him about the beauty and warmth of Judaism, we create new "generations," new spiritual children. Even if we are not well-versed in Torah knowledge or the practice of mitzvot, whatever we do know we should share with others. Every Jew has the obligation to act as a "candle" unto his surroundings, spreading the light and warmth of Torah to more and more Jews.
The "generations" we create, however, must be "the generations of Isaac"; it is not enough that we produce "the generations of Noah."
To explain: The name Noah is related to the word n'yacha, meaning rest and repose. Noah is symbolic of a person who is tranquil. It is a desirable state, but one that is less elevated than the level implied by the name Isaac.
Isaac (Yitzchak in Hebrew) is related to the word meaning laughter. Isaac is thus a symbol of the joyful person, one who is filled with laughter and delight. Enjoyment is obviously a more desirable state than relaxation, for the person is not only at rest but is happy.
This, then, is the way in which we are to fulfill our mission as "candles that illuminate": It isn't enough for a Jew to quietly share the light of Torah and mitzvot throughout the world in a sedate and easy-going manner. Rather, as we learn from the Torah portion of Toldot, our efforts to inspire our fellow Jews in particular and be a "light unto the nations" in general must be carried out with joy and happiness, as alluded to by the name Isaac.
Adapted from Volume 1 of Hitva'aduyot 5744
Patience, Love, Support and a little Kugel
by Steve Hyatt
A number of years ago I met an interesting guy in Palm Springs, California named Fred Divine. Fred is the Jewish version of Sylvester Stallone. I mean, if you put them in the same room it would be hard to tell them apart.
I happened to mention to Fred that I was going to join a local gym and firm up my flabby muscles. He smiled and said, "You don't have to join a gym, just come over to my house this Tuesday and we can work out in my gym." Unbenownst to me, Fred was a serious world-class body builder.
I can still remember how I felt after that first workout. Every muscle in my body cried out in pain and I definitely did not plan on ever going back. I discovered that lifting weights and doing calisthenics was HARD work!
Two days later Fred and I were supposed to meet at his house for our second workout. I sheepishly showed up and told Fred I just wasn't up to it and told him I was quitting. He looked at me with a knowing smile, flexed his right bicep and said, "Stevie, do you think this" - pointing to his flexed bicep - "just happened overnight? It happened over many days, weeks, months and years of serious training. After my first workout I felt the same way you did, I was in pain and discouraged. But I knew if I ever wanted to be successful I had to stay with it." We talked late into the night and after a little push from him, okay a BIG push, we continued with the workouts.
Literally, 120 days from my first workout I saw tremendous results. Through hard work and commitment I was on my way to achieving a goal that had been out of my reach for most of my adult life. The year I spent working out with Fred taught me a lot about commitment, hard work and dedication.
It's funny, but my first experience with davening-praying-daily was very similar to my initial weight-lifting experience. I remember walking into the Chabad shul in Wilmington, Delaware feeling very nervous and out of place. I had forgotten just about everything I had learned 30 years earlier in preparation for my Bar Mitzva. I was terribly frustrated and embarrassed because I couldn't keep up; I got hopelessly lost during the service and many times had no idea where we were in the prayer book; I had no clue when to stand up and when to sit down.
I vividly remember thinking, "I am never going to be able to learn this stuff." Everyone around me was zipping along, singing tunes I'd never heard before, standing up, sitting down and turning pages at what seemed like the speed of light. I guess Rabbi Vogel could see the look of frustration on my face. During the Shabbat Kiddush he asked me what was wrong and I told him how embarrassed and humiliated I felt because I couldn't keep up. I told him that everyone was finished long before I was even halfway through. I guess he could tell I was ready to walk out and never come back. I mean, I was 43 years old, but I felt like I was an eight-year-old surrounded by knowledgeable adults.
He said, "Most of the people here felt exactly like you do now when they first began davening. There is only one person here that has been davening his whole life. And besides, finishing last means you're really davening. Yes, you should aspire to be fluent, and that will come with time. But what really counts in Hashem's eyes is that you are standing in prayer and devotion, not how many pages you've turned. Now lets go have some of the Rebbetzin's kugel. It will make you feel better!"
Like my friend Fred, so many years before, Rabbi Vogel was absolutely right. It took discipline, dedication, desire and time to make significant progress and reach a certain comfort level in shul. But in the end it was well worth the effort. Today I love going to shul. I still don't finish before most of the others. But that's not what matters to me these days. I travel a lot due to my work and every Chabad shul I visit is filled with energy, joy and love. It doesn't matter if you finish first or last, the important thing is being there. In this age of instant gratification it's not easy to invest the time to learn and educate ourselves. In many cases we would rather quit than admit our own ignorance.
The key is to recognize, admit and embrace one's own lack of knowledge. I mean, everyone is ignorant until someone takes the time to educate him. And that, my friends, is what makes every Chabad Center so wonderful. They welcome you with open arms and do not burden you with expectations or demands. If you want to learn to say a blessing over bread, they'll show you. If you want to participate in a traditional Shabbat meal, they'll invite you. And if you want to learn to pray or learn Torah, they're more than willing to accommodate you.
Their patience, love and support are what make them stand out like a beacon in a troubled world. All you have to bring to the table is a desire to open yourself up and ask for help. And unlike the weight-lifting program I was on years ago, the lessons and experiences you learn at Chabad will not disappear if you go on vacation. These lessons gladden your heart and your spirit forever.
And just between you and me, the kugel is unbelievable!
Relationships & Tikkun Weekend
Relationships are an integral part of our lives. The weekend of Dec. 22 - 24 will be devoted to learning how to use the conflicts in relationships to bring healing - tikkun - to ourselves and to the world at large. Join Jewish couples, singles and families as they experience a stimulating Shabbaton featuring thought-provoking lectures by Rabbi Manis Friedman and Mrs. Chana Rachel Schusterman, accompanied by delicious cuisine, amidst the unique joy of Chasidic life. Sponsored by the Lubavitch Youth Organization and hosted by the Lubavitcher community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Call (718) 953-1000 or visit www.chabadiscoveryweekend.org for more info.
Pressing for Chanuka
JCC's, Hebrew schools, synagogues and youth groups around the world will be giving youngsters the opportunity for a "hands-on" Chanuka experience thanks to the Tzivos Hashem Jewish Craft Workshop Series and local Chabad-Lubavitch Centers. The Chanuka Olive Oil Workshop enables children to make their own olive oil and cotton wicks which they can use in an oil burning Chanuka menora. To find out where a workshop is being hosted in your area, call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
11th of Shevat, 5727 
Greeting and Blessing:
Thank you very much for your letter of the 5th of Shevat, containing details of your speaking engagements and activities during the past year. I want you to know that your letter has indeed brought me a great deal of real spiritual gratification. True, I have periodically included, and I have also received reports, from our mutual friends about your activities which they, incidentally, praised very highly for the impact which your lectures made. Nevertheless, there is no real substitute for a firsthand report direct from you.
In view of the fact that the Zechus Horabim [merit of the community] is at your side, I am confident that you will continue this good work consistently, with joy and gladness of heart. May G-d's blessings accompany you, to be increas-ingly effective in spreading the ideals of Torah and Mitzvoth and Yiddishkeit [Judaism], with a correspondingly growing measure of G-d's blessings to you and yours also in your personal affairs.
I shall continue to look forward to hearing good news from you.
6th of Kislev, 5730 
Greeting and Blessing:
This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter of November 14th, in which you report on the meeting which took place in the home of -. Many thanks for the good news, and particularly for your thoughtfulness in reporting to me about it.
May G-d grant that all the good resolutions which were made at this meeting should be carried out, and, indeed, even more than was resolved. For, in the words of our Sages of blessed memory, "He who has 100 desires 200," etc., and certainly this should be so in matters of the spirit in general, and in regard to the activities of the Lubavitch House in - in particular. It is hardly necessary to emphasize the vital importance of Chinuch [Jewish education], especially in this day and age. Moreover, every good result achieved with young people in their formative years is multiplied, and brings forth "fruits and the fruits of fruits," as in the case of a seed or seedling. There is surely no need to elaborate on this.
As we are now in the auspicious month of Kislev, the month of Geulo [redemption] and light, may G-d grant that there should be a deliverance from all difficulties and obstacles in the spreading of the light of the Torah and Mitzvoth in a growing measure, as symbolized by the Chanukah lights, and may it also bring a growing measure of light and happiness to you and yours.
20th of Kislev, 5732 
Blessing and Greeting:
I am in receipt of your letter of the 12th of Kislev. I must say I was greatly surprised to note the mood in which your letter was written. Surely you realize that children are the greatest of all Divine blessings. Indeed, it is the first Mitzvah in the Torah pru u'revu - "Be fruitful and multiply," and the fact that it is the first Mitzvah and blessing in the Torah in itself is very significant and shows how important it is. Thus, the news of the expected addition in the family should have brought you considerable joy.
You wonder and are shocked at your reaction. But surely you know from your own previous experience when G-d had blessed you and you were in a similar condition, that it is natural in a state of pregnancy to have certain reactions, which have nothing to do with the blessing itself. And just as there are certain physical reactions, such as, for example, a craving or dislike in regard to certain foods, so there could be also a certain moodiness and the like. At any rate, there is no basis at all to have a feeling of depression, nor to be discouraged by such a feeling if it does appear occasionally. I therefore am confident that this letter will find you in a much improved state of mind, and in full appreciation of this great Divine blessing with which you and your husband and family have been blessed.
May G-d grant that you should have an easy and normal pregnancy, and give birth to a healthy offspring at the proper time, and that, together with your husband, you should bring up all your children to a life of Torah, Chuppah [marriage] and Good Deeds.
4 Kislev 5761
Positive mitzva 199: restoring a pledge to a needy owner
By this injunction we are commanded to return a pledge to its Israelite owner whenever he is in need of it. If it is something he needs during the day, it must be restored during the daytime; if it is something he needs at night, it must be restored for the night. It is derived from the Torah's words (Ex. 22:25): "If you take your neighbor's garment as a pledge, you shall deliver it to him by sundown."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Why was the world created? The Midrash answers: "G-d desired a dwelling place below." For whatever reason, G-d wanted His Presence to dwell in a physical universe. He therefore created the world and gave the task of transforming it into a proper dwelling place primarily to the Jewish people.
What benefit does a house or dwelling afford its occupant? Aside from protection from the elements, the possession of a home to call one's own symbolizes a very essential human aspiration: freedom.
Whenever a person leaves his home and interacts with society it is necessary, if only on a subconscious level, to circumscribe one's behavior. One must dress appropriately and comport oneself according to accepted rules of behavior. Inside his own home, however, a person is comfortable and totally at ease, as he is not bound by the fetters of convention. A "dwelling" thus signifies a place where a person can reveal his true nature, unencumbered by outside checks on his behavior and external garments.
The physical world - coarse, material, and unsuited as it seems as a proper vessel for G-dliness - is precisely where G-d wants His Presence to illuminate and be revealed. Like anyone else, G-d wants to be comfortable in His own home, so to speak, to be free to reveal His true nature.
The purpose of creation is the attainment of this goal; the task of bringing it to fruition is assigned to the souls of the Jewish people, through the performance of concrete mitzvot utilizing physical objects. Every mitzva draws down a G-dly light, bringing the world one step closer to the realization of G-d's desire for a dwelling place "down below." Throughout the ages, our service of G-d and performance of mitzvot has essentially sought no other goal but to bring Moshiach.
In the Messianic era, the world will reach its preordained destiny. Although it will remain a physical world, the holiness it contains will be openly apparent and revealed. The "impossible" goal of the fusion between the material and spiritual realms will have been achieved, and G-d will at long last have a proper dwelling place for His Divine Presence.
The Rebbe has informed us that the time for Moshiach's arrival is now. How fortunate is our generation to be able to witness the ultimate "homecoming"!
The one people shall be stronger than the other people (Gen. 25:23)
As Rashi comments, "When one rises, the other shall fall." Jacob and Esau are symbolic of the struggle between the G-dly soul and the animal soul. When a Jew's G-dly soul is strengthened and "rises up," he does not have to fight his Evil Inclination in a direct manner. Rather, the animal soul automatically "falls" in its presence, in the same way that darkness is automatically dispelled in the presence of light.
And Isaac loved Esau...but Rivka loved Jacob (Gen. 25:25)
Isaac was a "perfect offering," whose "style" of Divine service was somewhat removed from the material world and its concealments. Rivka, by contrast, had grown up in household surrounded by devious people. When Esau asked his father how to "tithe salt," it was beyond Isaac's imagination that his son was being deceitful. Rivka, however, with her experience in the ways of the world, recognized that it was only a scheme to impress his father, and "loved Jacob" for his quality of truthfulness.
(Der Torah Kval)
And the man became rich, and gained more and more, until he became very wealthy (Gen. 26:13)
It often happens that the richer a person gets, the smaller his essential "humanity" and regard for his fellow man becomes. Isaac, however, not only retained his quality of being a "man" the wealthier he grew, but continued his rise to perfection as an empathetic human being.
(Rabbi Yitzchak of Torchiv)
Behold, I heard your father speak to Esau your brother (Gen. 27:6)
Although Isaac had carried on his conversation with Esau in a whisper, Rivka had heard it as loudly as if he were speaking in a normal tone. She thus interpreted it as a sign from Above to intervene.
(The Rebbe of Dinov)
One time, at a farbrengen (gathering) where the Chasidim were sitting and drinking mead (a sweet honey wine that used to be very popular), a Chasid named Reb Moshe told the following story:
"Many years ago," he began, "while visiting Vienna, I sent my servant to a nearby Jewish inn to buy a bottle of mead. When he came back I discovered that it was the most delicious mead that I had ever tasted. In fact, it was so good that I immediately sent him back to buy some more. I gave him enough money for ten bottles, figuring that my family and I would enjoy it for a long time to come.
"But my servant came back empty-handed. I took out a few more coins from my pocket, but he shook his head. 'It isn't the money,' he told me. 'There just isn't any more to be had.'
"I decided to go see for myself. When I entered the inn, I saw a large crowd of people who had apparently just finished eating a festive meal. I approached the innkeeper and asked him to sell me some of his delicious honey wine.
" 'I'm sorry, but there isn't even a drop left of that particular type,' he said. 'Well, when do you expect to get more?' I persisted. 'Quite frankly, never!' " The innkeeper then told me the following:
Many years before he had been a mohel, a ritual circumciser. From the very beginning of his holy work he had set himself one cardinal rule: that he would never refuse a request perform make a brit mila (circumcision), no matter how difficult the circumstances.
One year on the day before Yom Kippur, a Jewish farmer had knocked on his door and asked him to circumcise his eight-day-old son. The farmer lived quite a distance away - six parasangs - and it was the day before Yom Kippur. Nonetheless, the mohel agreed to conduct the brit.
When they stepped outside the mohel realized that the farmer was too poor to have hired a carriage; neither was the mohel himself a man of means. There was no choice but to walk the whole distance. The farmer started out in the direction of his house, but he was walking so quickly that the mohel soon lagged behind. Eventually the farmer disappeared behind a bend in the road.
Hours later the mohel arrived in town and asked some neighbors where the family with the new baby lived. When he walked into the house he found the mother lying in bed with the infant. She was so weakened that she could barely respond. The father, however, was nowhere to be seen. For some reason he hadn't thought it important to attend his own son's brit.
The mohel now faced a serious problem: Who would serve as sandek to hold the baby during the ritual procedure? Time was of the essence; it was the eighth day of the infant's life, and he needed to be entered into the covenant of Abraham immediately. But without a sandek it would be very dangerous. Indeed, the mohel had never attempted such a thing before.
The mohel walked outside hoping to find someone on the street he could ask. For a long time he waited, but the street was deserted. Suddenly, he spotted an old beggar coming around the corner. "I'm in a big hurry," the man replied impatiently when the mohel asked for his assistance. "Today is Yom Kippur eve, and I can collect a whole ruble going door to door if I get to the city in time."
Desperate by then, the mohel promised to pay him a ruble if he would only serve as sandek. The beggar agreed, and the brit mila was conducted without incident. The mohel then left for the long walk back to the city.
After praying the afternoon service the mohel went home for the final meal before the fast, and was astonished to see the very same beggar waiting on his doorstep. He quickly paid him the ruble he had promised, but the beggar also demanded a drink of mead. The mohel was very tired by then and in no mood for entertaining. Nevertheless, but he invited him inside and poured the drink. But even that wasn't enough for the strange old man: he insisted that the mohel join him in a glass of mead, and that they wish each other a good and sweet new year. With no alternative, the mohel complied.
"Tell me, is there any more of this wine left in the barrel?" the annoying stranger persisted. "Very little," the mohel answered, "only a few more drops." "There will always be mead in this barrel," the beggar then pronounced cryptically, "until the last blessing is recited at your youngest son's wedding celebration." The beggar then pointed to the mohel's son sleeping in his cradle.
"The blessing was fulfilled in its entirety," the innkeeper concluded his tale. "There is no explanation other than that the old man was Elijah the Prophet. With my seemingly endless supply of mead I opened this inn, and completely forgot about the rest of his prediction. That is, until today, when the barrel suddenly fell and broke into pieces as we were reciting the Grace After Meals at my youngest son's wedding. And that is why I am telling you that there will never be any more of this particular batch of mead..."
The Talmud states, "Any generation in whose days the Holy Temple is not rebuilt, it is reckoned against that generation as if it was destroyed in its time!" (Jerusalem Talmud, Yoma 1:1) The destruction of the Temple thus is not simply an event that happened in the past. It follows, then, that it is our duty - and we do have the ability - to rid ourselves of the cause of the destruction and to prevent its present recurrence. The study of Torah has this effect and will bring about the restoration of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple by the speedy coming of Moshaich! (From Living with Moshiach by Rabbi J.I. Schochet, adapted from the works of the Rebbe)