The Atom | The "Ship of State" | Prison: a Non-Jewish Concept | E Pluribus Unum
Space Travel | Artificial Flight | Meditation | Machines
Petroleum | Retirement | Tests | Money
Lesson from a Military Emblem | Journalism | Newspapers | Transplants
A Lesson from the Army | Medicine
In honor of the Rebbe's birthday we present our readers with a selection from the Rebbe's teachings that describe lessons for life derived from various occurences or objects in the world around us. In some way, these ideas represent a foretaste of Messianic times when G-dliness will be apparent in all aspects of the physical world. (An "unedited" talk means that the Rebbe did not review the transcript.)
In recent generations scientists have discovered that all matter, however small, is composed of a vast number of tiny particles orbiting around a central point, in a wondrous and harmonious arrangement. Among the significant details:
- The joining together of so many components in an effective, miraculous pattern is compelling evidence that Someone is responsible for combining them.
- The tremendous number of particles that exists in a particular object is an expression and revelation of the G-dly power that sustains it, and a demonstration of the underlying unity of creation.
- Perhaps the most wondrous aspect: The orbiting of subatomic particles around a central point parallels the orbits of the celestial bodies (see Maimonides' Laws of the Sanctification of the Month, Chapter 11, Principle 3). In other words, the same law that G-d set into place regarding the orbiting of components around a central point applies equally to all levels of creation! This is a manifestation of the statement "He equates large and small," i.e., the equation between even the tiniest and lowliest bit of matter on earth and the stars and planets. For as Maimonides writes (Laws of the Foundations of the Torah, Chapter 2, Principle 9): "Everything that exists, from the first creation of form to the smallest flea in the ground, is derived from the power of His existence," in equal measure.
(From a talk on Shabbat Parshat Behar 5746, unedited)
A story is told about a wealthy Jew who was vacationing on his private yacht. When it came time to pray the Jew asked the captain of the yacht, who was not Jewish, which direction was east, explaining to him that Jews face eastward when they say their prayers. The captain was very impressed by this and said, "If a person like you, the owner of a successful business, deems it appropriate to connect yourself to G-d three times a day, perhaps I should also start thinking about G-d..."
This story is symbolic of the Jewish people's position in the world. In the objective sense, the Jewish people are the true "proprietors" of the world, the "wealthy Jew" (rich in terms of Torah - "There is no wealth except for knowledge" - see Talmud Nedarim 41a), for indeed, the entire world was created for the Torah and for Israel. Sovereign powers are therefore "employees" of the Jewish people, in the same sense that the captain is the hired employee of the yacht's owner.
When the Jewish people conduct themselves according to Torah even during their exile, and stand strong with regard to religious matters, this also has an effect on the nations of the world, up to and including their sovereign powers (the "captain"), causing them to also recognize the Creator and Ruler of the world.
(From a talk on the last day of Passover 5743, unedited)
There is a fundamental difference between the penal statutes of our holy Torah and the laws of all other nations, in that there is no provision for punishment by incarceration. (The Torah does cite certain instances when a person can be detained, but not for punitive purposes - see Talmud Sanhedrin 9.) In this we can clearly see how much the Torah values practical deed and how it considers life precious, as it states, "Though they will be fashioned through many days, to Him they are one." The minutes of a person's life are finite in number; as the purpose of punishment according to Torah is tikun [correction] rather than revenge, there is therefore no room for denying a person freedom of action (the concept of prison), even for the good of society, with the exception of someone who is not worthy of fulfilling his function in the world and is sentenced to capital punishment.
From this we learn three main points:
- as mentioned above, the worth and importance of every moment of a person's life;
- the value of the yechida [the highest component of the soul], and
- even though a person may sin he is still a human being, with a unique function and mission given to him by the Creator of the world.
(Igrot Kodesh Vol. 9, page 194; From a talk on Shabbat Parshat Korach 5745)
Printed on the currency of the United States are the words "E Pluribus Unum," which translated means "out of the many, one," i.e., to make out of the multitude a single entity. In fact, the true purpose of the multitude is to transform its various components into a united whole.
- The plurality that exists among the Jewish people does not have to be a cause of conflict and dissension, G-d forbid. On the contrary, every individual Jew complements and perfects his fellow, thus forming a complete entity when they come together.
- From the multitude that exists among the human race, unity can be achieved by stressing the common denominator that all human beings share: Each and every person has been created by the One Creator for a single purpose - to observe the Seven Noahide Laws, as stated in Maimonides' Laws of Kings, Chapter 68 "specifically because they have been commanded by the Holy One, blessed be He," the One G-d.
(From talks on Chof Av 5742; Yud Shevat 5743; unedited)
Much attention has been focused recently on the attainment of a great scientific milestone: the successful launching of a manned lunar orbiting mission and its subsequent safe return to earth. From this event we may derive a general directive to apply in our Divine service:
Some people may claim that their religious observance is a personal matter, that it doesn't affect anyone except them. Interfering in others' private affairs runs contrary to the principles of freedom and democracy.
However, this argument may be countered as follows: When a person goes up in a spaceship, he willingly forfeits his own wishes and accepts upon himself to do whatever he is commanded. This includes even the tiniest details of his existence, such as when he can eat and sleep, what kind of shoes to wear, etc. The astronaut knows that any action he takes on his own initiative can endanger his life and sabotage the entire mission, leading to a loss of a billion dollars. He obeys commands even though he does not understand why a certain action is prohibited, or what kind of damage it might cause. He does not claim that it makes no difference what he, a single individual, will do in the course of the flight, if all the other members of the crew are doing what they are supposed to.
As this applies to us: Every action a Jew takes, even the most miniscule, has an effect not only on himself as an individual, but on his family and indeed the entire world.
(From a talk on Shabbat Parshat Vayigash 5729, unedited)
Man is by nature earthbound, yet at the same time he has been endowed with a mind and potential that enables him to harness the various forces of nature he has come to understand and elevate himself above the ground, and fly through the air. It is self-understood that this ability is to be utilized for good and beneficial ends...such as rapid transportation for the purpose of uniting with people all over the world... sowing vast tracts of land with a minimum of effort...seeding clouds to induce rain, etc. In other words, man has been given the power and ability to overcome his natural limitations.
If this is true in the physical sense, how much more so does it apply on the spiritual level. For even though a person is limited by his physical body and therefore connected to earthly things, it is also possible for him to rise above these limitations and utilize his natural powers to break through to a higher path: by elevating the soul over the body, form above matter and spirituality over corporeality, both in his personal and communal life, facilitating justice and righteousness, etc. And as this pertains to our brethren the Jewish people, the "holy nation": enthusiastically disseminating Torah values, studying the Torah, and observing its commandments in the daily life.
(From a letter dated 22 Shevat 5742)
The particular method of meditation known as "Transcendental Meditation," as it is practiced in many countries, including the United States, contains certain elements that are "almost" idolatry, and others that are considered true idol worship. (The use of certain ritual incenses would fall into this category. Moreover, many of its ideas and customs are contrary to the Jewish faith.)
Anyone needing to engage in this method should consult with a rabbinical authority familiar with T.M., to determine whether a particular approach is not idolatrous and thus permitted according to Jewish law. It is clear that meditation is a valuable medical tool, and that people can be helped with its proper implementation. Many mental health professionals have succeeded in helping their patients with meditative practices that do not contain any traces of idolatry. However, because these approaches are not well known, people turn to other methods that are indeed tainted.
Psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, psychologists and all others in the field would be well advised to devote more research to this subject, to determine exactly how to utilize meditation, without any idolatrous ceremonies, to help people suffering from pressure and anxiety, and incorporate it into actual treatment. In this way, the harm that is being caused to our confused youth (and to many Jews who are not young) who are attracted to these idolatrous cults as a result of their search for relief from anxiety would be ended.
(From a talk on 13 Tamuz 5739, unedited)
In every machine there are parts that, to the naked eye, seem to be superfluous. However, if someone were to decide that a particular screw is "extra" and remove it, it is obvious that the machine's function would be compromised. The engineer who designed the machine knows the exact function and purpose of each and every screw, and why it is necessary for the machine to work.
The lesson this contains for man's Divine service is as follows: Each and every detail of every mitzva is significant and plays an important role in the Jew's connection to G-d, which is accomplished through the performance of that mitzva. For this reason the Torah cautions us (Deut. 4:2) "You shall not add to the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish from it" ("such as tefilin with five sections," as Rashi comments), for each and every detail is wondrously exacting. Even though it is beyond our capacity to fully comprehend this, everything is revealed and understood by the supreme "Engineer" - the Giver of the Torah and the Commander of the mitzvot.
(From a talk on the last day of Pesach 5714, unedited)
One explanation of how petroleum is formed is that it comes from animal remains that have been subjected to great pressure, which turn into petroleum over the course of time. The petroleum is then used to illuminate and provide heat...
No physical entity is truly independent; every individual can see this for himself, in that his vitality is derived from the soul. G-d has joined the soul to the physical body for the purpose of applying "pressure" to its material, corporeal desires. And when the right degree of "soul" pressure is applied, the body itself, although inanimate, acquires the ability to illuminate and warm one's entire surroundings...
(From a letter dated 5 Tevet 5713)
It is common practice in the world ("olam" in Hebrew from the root meaning "concealed") that people who reach a certain age are dismissed from their jobs and are forced to "retire." This is due to the false notion that advancing age causes physical weakness, and that as a result, old people are unable to work or be creative and effectual. This, of course, has a negative effect on the elderly, resulting in feelings of despair and depression: they are already "old" and non-productive; they are a "burden" (G-d forbid) to their families, etc. Thus many older people are often bored, and look for ways to pass the time.
However, according to the "Torah of Truth," the situation is the exact opposite: It is precisely in old age that a person enjoys the advantage of "The multitude of years shall teach wisdom" (Job 32: 7) and "Torah sages...the older they grow, the keener their intellect" (end Tractate Kanim). And even someone who is not a Torah scholar certainly has the advantage of wisdom and knowledge derived from experience. Young people need the advice and counsel of their elders, as it states in Ethics: "At 50 [comes the qualification to give] counsel." It is therefore understood that in matters requiring wisdom and understanding, old people need to be more active. It is also obvious that when a person who has reached a certain age is prevented from working, etc., either part-time or full-time, it causes damage both to the business and the older person.
(From a talk on Chof Av 5740, et al.)
In connection with your exams... Whenever a person faces a test, the first thing he should do is conduct a "self-test" of his own in matters of holiness, i.e., his observance of Torah and mitzvot, for in this area every individual is tested daily. In the words of the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman], author of the Tanya: "And G-d stands over him, and the whole world is full of His glory. And He looks upon him and searches his mind and heart to see if he is serving Him as is fitting" (beginning of Chapter 41).
(From a letter dated 25 Sivan 5726)
The bills and coins of the United States are imprinted with two declarations of faith and trust in G-d, and the motto of transforming the many into one. Why do these things appear specifically on the nation's currency? There are several reasons. A danger exists that a person will make money into his "god" - a "golden calf" to be worshipped. And in general, money often leads to competition and dissent. To counteract these tendencies, the point is made on the money itself that:
- we trust and believe in G-d rather than in money; and
- its ultimate objective is unity rather than discord. Moreover, these principles unlock the potential for the world's refinement.
It is also significant that the words appear on the medium through which we observe the mitzva of tzedaka (charity), the primary way in which the animal soul is refined, as explained in Tanya (Chapter 37): When a person gives tzedaka, "All the strength of his vital soul is embodied in the execution of his work or occupation in which he earned the money; when he gives it for charity, his whole vital soul ascends to G-d."
(From talks on the Fifth night of Sukkot 5744; 6 Tishrei 5745, unedited)
I was pleased to receive the insignia of the Northern Command...
The emblem of a deer is significant, for it is one of the names of our Holy Land, the "land of the deer."
Our Sages have explained that one of the unique characteristics of the deer is that its skin does not "contain" its flesh, that is, that it does not limit its growth. On the contrary, the deer's skin is influenced by its flesh.
Skin, the outermost layer, is symbolic of externality and of matters that are secondary in importance. As in all aspects in life, a person should always strive for whatever is most important...which is the primacy of quality over quantity. This is also of crucial importance in the army, for even though it may appear to the fleshly eye that victory depends on sophisticated weaponry and well-trained fighters, as every military expert knows, an army's success in battle is chiefly dependent on the spiritual strength of its soldiers and commanders...
This is also the secret of our people'survival, despite our being the "least of all the nations." Because the Jews are the Chosen People, bound to G-d through the Torah and Judaism, there is no physical power on earth that can threaten their eternal existence. This is also the secret of the Israel Defense Force, in the full meaning of the Torah's words: "Israel, trust in the L-rd; [they may then rest assured that] He is their help and their shield."
(From a letter dated 5 Iyar 5739)
An individual's influence is usually limited to his immediate surroundings, his family and friends. Or, if he is a teacher or lecturer, his sphere of influence is somewhat larger. The journalist, by contrast, whose words and ideas are widely disseminated through the medium of print, wields much greater power: He is not as limited in terms of geographical location, as the printed word travels great distances, and also in terms of time, as his words are written down and recorded for posterity. You have therefore merited an unusual opportunity to influence others, and help illuminate the darkness of the night, in an ever-increasing measure...
(From a letter dated Kislev 5715)
A story is told about an elder Lubavitcher Chasid who spent his whole life studying Torah and serving G-d, and was not very interested in the happenings of the world at large. One time someone told him that Nicholas had just been crowned Czar of Russia. He was very surprised and said, "But they've already crowned him. Why would he need another coronation?" He distinctly remembered that Czar Nicholas had been crowned when he was a child (in the times of the Tzemach Tzedek, the third Chabad Rebbe), but was completely unaware that that particular Nicholas had died many years before, and that in the interim there had been several other Czars. The Czar now being crowned was Nicholas II.... This is how Jews used to live in the olden days, good and long years, and in tranquility. There were no psychiatrists or psychoanalysts, and no one took tranquilizers... Why do I bring this up?
There are some who think that just because one is supposed to derive a lesson in Divine service from everything that transpires, as the Baal Shem Tov taught, it is necessary to know everything that goes on in the world, down to the tiniest detail.
They have to read the newspaper and listen to the radio so that when they go to the synagogue on Shabbat, they can show off how well informed they are, lest others think that they're dim-witted or worse... But the Baal Shem Tov didn't mean that a Jew has to interest himself in world events in order to derive a lesson. Rather, if he happens to have heard about a certain event, in that case he should try to learn from it.
(From a talk on Shabbat Parshat Vayigash 5729, unedited)
It is a well-known fact that when an organ or limb is transplanted, the host usally reacts by rejecting the "foreign" entity, and doctors must take special steps to counteract this natural response in the recipient. The analogy is as follows: The Jew and the non-Jew are two foreign and completely different bodies. When a non-Jew is "transplanted" into the Jewish people by a "conversion" that is not valid under Jewish law, the "transplant" simply doesn't take...
(From a talk on Shabbat Parshat Shelach 5731, unedited)
During the medical exam the army conducts before drafting a potential soldier, the main thing the doctors are interested in is the health of the physical body. (The soul is only important insofar as it affects the body, i.e., that the person should be of sound mind.) If the body is found to be healthy, the person is conscripted. This teaches us several things:
- The reason this is true in the physical sense is that such is the case in the spiritual "army" of the Jewish people, the "army of G-d." A Jew who has all the right intentions but doesn't actually perform the mitzva has accomplished nothing, whereas one who observes the commandment, albeit without the proper intentions, has fulfilled it. This is because "the main thing is the deed," as our Sages said in Chapter 1 of Ethics of the Fathers.
- There are some students who ask how can they acquire the desire to study Torah. The answer is: Before a person is drafted into the military, the only thing they check for is physical health. They don't delve into the well-being of the soul, and don't ask whether the person wants to serve or not. Nor do they suggest that anyone who has no desire to be in the army should go home and rest, and come back when he decides he wants to join up... So it is in the "army of G-d": Regardless of whether or not a Jew has the desire to learn, he must sit down and study out of a sense of the acceptance of the yoke of heaven. And in the end, the desire will come...
(From a talk on Shabbat Parshat Chayei Sarah 5711, unedited)
One of the most recent medical discoveries is the great extent to which the nerves (the mental and spiritual state) affect the health of the physical body. In the Jew, the two souls (one focusing on spiritual matters and the other on physicality) are engaged in a perpetual battle; true peace can never be attained unless the G-dly soul is victorious. If the opposite occurs, G-d forbid, the result is not peace, for even at the moment of the sin's commission the G-dly soul has full faith in Him, as explained in Chapter 24 of Tanya. Moreover, the true desire of the Evil Inclination, which is only given permission to try to confuse the person, is to be vanquished, thereby increasing its reward (see Tanya, Chapter 29, and Zohar, Parshat Teruma 163).
(From a letter dated Nisan 5712)
Translated by Basha Majerczyk from Manginot HaChaim, published by Sichos In English.