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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Have you ever tried digging out weeds that have been left to their own devices for one, two, three or more years?
You thrust the shovel into the ground and kick it deeper with your foot. Then you simultaneously push down on the handle while you attempt to dig an inch or two deeper. Lowering the handle even more closely to the ground you fight for leverage in order to bring up a shovel-full of weeds.
And what do you get for all of your exertion? Nothing. The roots have burrowed so deep and are so intricately intertwined with each other that you are sure they have metamorphosized into iron. What looked like a no-sweat, ten-minute job at first will realistically take an entire Sunday.
If you're the contemplative type, after just ten minutes of weeding such a garden, you might come to realize that there is a similarity between weeds and bad habits.
The one dandelion that happens to establish itself on your otherwise flawless lawn can be easily removed. With minimal effort you can rid your property of the weed before it has a chance to seed and spread. Likewise, if we are on the lookout for bad character traits and work at removing them as soon as we become aware of them, they won't have a chance to seed and spread.
But, if tolerated and left unchecked, a weed will dig its roots deeper. And its roots will become entangled with and spawn other roots. Then, like bad habits, they become even more difficult to eradicate.
How do we get rid of bad habits and detrimental character traits? By doing a little soul-weeding. Once we've had a little practice, it's not so difficult to tell the difference between a weed and a beautiful plant.
We recently completed the seven-week period of Sefirat HaOmer-counting the omer. During this time, we systematically enumerated and examined all of the different human characteristics. Each day we worked on weeding out a negative trait or fertilizing a positive trait. By the end of this process our spiritual garden should be in full bloom.
But, as every gardener knows, weeding never ends. Even with continual maintenance, there will probably be a patch of crab-grass here, some wild carrots over there, a dandelion that reappears. Don't be discouraged. Consider the teaching from Ethics of the Fathers: "It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work..." Like the weeds, the negative traits may reappear here or there and the job is never really finished (yet "you are not free to desist from it" the teaching concludes).
The Baal Shem Tov says that G-d leads a person along the path that he wants to go. Attend to the weeds with this thought in mind and you're sure to meet with success.
- (Back to text) For an inspiring version of the appropriate self-searching during Sefirat Haomer, see "A Spiritual Guide to the Counting of the Omer" by Rabbi Simon Jacobson, available from www.meaningfullife.com
This week's Torah portion, Naso, contains the commandment: "Then they shall confess their sin which they have done." This is the mitzva of viduy (confession), about which Maimonides writes, "We are commanded to confess the sins and transgressions we have committed before G-d, after we have repented of them."
The mitzva of viduy is one of the Torah's 613 commandments, "Positive Commandment Number 73" in Maimonides' Sefer HaMitzvot. This raises a question: Why does Maimonides consider confession - which is only one component of teshuva (repentance) - a separate mitzva, whereas teshuva itself is not enumerated?
There are several explanations:
- Repentance is not counted as one of the 613 mitzvot because there is no actual commandment in the Torah to repent. If a person wishes to do teshuva and rectify his sins the Torah shows him how, but he is not commanded to do so. Thus confession is a mitzva, but teshuva is not.
Teshuva is an inner arousal and urge to return to G-d that arises in an individual. It therefore cannot be ordered from Above, for if it were, the command itself would compel the person to obey, and it would not be initiated entirely by the individual. Accordingly, the Torah does not command us to repent because G-d wants us to do it on our own.
- Because teshuva is a "general" command, pertaining to the overall observance of Torah and mitzvot, it is not considered an individual mitzva, i.e., one of the 613. The Torah's 613 commandments are likened to the 613 organs and sinews in the human body. In the same way that only individual organs are counted in the total (whereas blood, which flows throughout the body, is not considered an organ), so too is repentance, an inner arousal of the heart, too generalized to be considered a separate mitzva.
- Confession and repentance comprise a single mitzva. Maimonides writes that "Anyone who confesses but does not resolve to abandon [his sin] is like a person who immerses [in a mikva] while holding a rodent." Whenever a mitzva consists of two parts, one practical and the other emotional, only the practical component is included in the enumeration of mitzvot. For this reason only oral confession is counted as a mitzva, whereas repentance, which involves the heart, is not.
According to this last explanation (which also follows Maimonides' interpretation) repentance is a mitzva, but it is included in the commandment of confession. Indeed, while teshuva is above all other mitzvot, we mustn't allow it to remain "up there," but must make sure that it permeates and enriches all of our observance.
Adapted from Volume 38 of Likutei Sichot
Shabbat Lights Dance for the First Time
By Steve Hyatt
Every winter my parents leave the confines of their cold and snowy home in the east and come and visit my wife Linda and me for almost three months. They've been making this annual pilgrimage for the better part of fifteen years, and every time they come I have to laugh at the reaction of my friends and coworkers. To a person, each one is incredulous that we could stand being together, in one home, for that extended amount of time.
I smile every time I hear them gasp. Most of these people spent the largest portion of their youth living in their parents' homes and yet now as adults they can't imagine spending more than a few days with them.
Although Linda and I are fast approaching 50, my parents have never stopped teaching us lessons about life. From how to properly cut the lawn (yes, there is actually a good way and a bad way to cut the lawn, but that is another story), to how to improve the kugel, my parents continue to share their wisdom, experience and love with us. On most occasions the three months go by in the blink of an eye.
One of the most rewarding aspects of this last visit was watching my wife Linda and my mother light Shabbat candles each Friday night. Now that may not be a big deal in some homes, but it was a big deal in mine. You see, I grew up in a warm and loving home, but I don't ever remember seeing my mother light Shabbat candles on a Friday evening. When I was a young boy, she would occasionally tell me stories of what Shabbat was like in her Grandmother Lena's home. Her eyes would drift off to images of a distant past, and I could almost smell the challa and taste the kugel as she shared her cherished memories with me. Unfortunately, Grandpa Charlie and Grandma Lena Cooper passed away when I was very young, and with them went the kugel, the challa and the lighting of the Shabbat candles.
Several years ago I attended a training seminar on Managing Change. The facilitator said something that has always stayed with me. She said, "It takes 90 days to make a habit and 90 days to break a habit." In other words, it takes time and repetition to turn good intentions into consistent behaviors. Over the years, I have seen this ring true over and over again. Whether one is learning to put on tefilin every morning, pray daily or light Shabbat candles, it takes time, commitment and repetition to make it a regularly scheduled event.
So it was with the lighting of Shabbat candles in our home. When my parents first arrived they kind of stood in the background and watched as Linda lit the candles, said the blessing and covered her eyes to welcome the Shabbat Queen into our home. But after a few weeks, to quote my children, my parents started to "get into it." After a little encouragement Mom stood next to Linda and they lit the candles together. Several weeks later Mom asked for her own candles to light as Linda recited the blessing. And several weeks after that, Mom was bringing out the candles, setting them up, lighting her own, saying the blessing and extending her own personal greeting to the Shabbos Queen.
I also watched as my father "got into it." He watched with pride as Mom lit her candles. He later asked for his own Kiddush cup and chanted the blessing with me. He even joined me in a little "l'chaim" after the fish and for the first time in 72 years "relaxed" on Saturday, rather than going about his normal work routine.
In short, over the course of 90 days my mother and father learned some new "habits." When they finally left to return to their mountain home I wondered if they would continue their new-found routines as soon as they settled back into their old ones. To my surprise and delight my mother called me about a half hour before Shabbat and asked me to repeat the candle lighting blessing one more time to ensure she had it right. I repeated it slowly, she repeated it back to me and then she said hurriedly, "Okay, I have to go, it's almost time to light the candles." As I put down the telephone I couldn't believe what I had just heard. Mom and Dad were excited about lighting Shabbat candles in their home!
To my knowledge, it was the first time the heavenly glow of dancing Shabbat lights had ever illuminated their home.
There is an expression, "The longest journey begins with the first step." If that's true, my entire family took a gigantic first step this year. The exciting thing is none of us knows where it will end. But one thing we know for sure; somewhere, someplace Great-Grandpa Charlie and Great-Grandma Lena Cooper are smiling from ear to ear as their grandchildren and great grandchildren learn about the joys of Shabbat.
The Feminine Soul
The Feminine Soul by Chana Weisberg, examines women's strengths and their uniquely feminine soul powers and de-mystifies ancient feminine imagery found in Kabbala. It uncovers the inner dynamics of women's special mitzvot. Dr. Laura Schlessinger, syndicated radio personality, writes about the book, "Since my conversion to Orthodox Judaism, I have been severely challenged on perceived notions of the sexist nature of mitzvot and Torah. I have always responded with pride that Judaism considers womanhood and motherhood transcendent. This book is a gentle yet compelling revelation of that transcendence. Thank you for a touching affirmation of G-d's and Judaism's love for women." Published by Jacobson and Davidson, Canada.
To All Who Are Active in Torah Chinuch
And to All Who Cherish Torah and Mitzvos in General,
Greeting and Blessing:
On this day, concluding the post-festival period of Shavuos, the Festival of Mattan Torah [the Giving of the Torah], and pursuant to what has been said and emphasized during the festive gatherings on, and before and after, Shavuos, based on the declaration of our Sages of blessed memory that only upon the assurance of the Jewish people that "our children will be our guarantors" for the keeping of the Torah), did G-d give the Torah to our Jewish people;
I take this opportunity to reiterate an urgent call in a matter which is both a sacred duty and great Zechus [privilege] for every Jew, man and woman:
That they do everything within their ability to promote Torah-true education for each and every Jewish boy and girl, and not only during the hours dedicated to Torah study, but also during the rest of the time of the day and night, bearing in mind that the need is even greater in after-school hours.
And while this duty and Zechus are in effect all year long, the call of duty is particularly urgent in the days connected with the festival of Mattan Torah and those immediately following, which recall the corresponding days in the first year of the Liberation from Egypt, culminating in Mattan Torah, when the said guarantee first took effect.
May I also call attention to the special opportunities which present themselves in the forthcoming summer months, in this country and many other countries, where the regular school curriculum is suspended or curtailed for the summer recess:
This is the time when many teachers an instructors are relieved of their regular duties, and they would surely wish to participate in activities designed to promote and expand the work of Kosher Chinuch [Jewish education].
While thousands of schoolchildren, boys and girls, are released from school, thus providing a special opportunity, hence a compelling challenge, that they be helped to join appropriate summer camps, where they could benefit from a uniform atmosphere permeated with true Yiddishkeit [Judaism] for a considerable length of time, relatively speaking, which is not always possible during the rest of the year, when some tension is inevitable between the atmosphere at school, at home, and in the street.
This, therefore, is a very special and unique opportunity of inestimable value in terms of lasting influence and education. Hence, every effort in this direction is worthwhile. And surely these efforts will justify the promise, "Try hard and you will succeed."
May G-d grant that each and everyone whose vocation is in Chinuch, or is involved in Chinuch, and every one else who can help in this, whether through personal participation or through activating others, will do so to the utmost of his and her ability, and thus help raise legions upon legions of Jewish boys and girls who can be "recognized by all who see them as G-d-blessed children," studying His Torah, "Toras Emes" [Torah of Truth] and "Toras Chaim" [Torah of Life], and keepers of its Mitzvos.
So that we may soon merit to see the fulfillment of the prophecy: "I will bestow My spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters will prophesy.... Aand as it is written before this: "And you will praise the Name of G-d your G-d, Who has dealt wondrously with you" at the coming of our righteous Moshiach, of whom it is written, "And he will reign from sea to sea, and from the River to the end of the earth."
With esteem and blessing,
10 Sivan 5761
Positive mitzva 133: the dough offering
By this injunction we are commanded to set aside a portion of every dough and give it to the kohen (priest). It is contained in the Torah's words (Num. 15:20): "Of the first of your dough you shall set apart a cake for a gift." (The commandment applies only in the Land of Israel, but by Rabbinic ordinance, the setting apart of challa is obligatory everywhere.)
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
There are 12 months on the Jewish calendar, each corresponding to one of the Twelve Tribes. Sivan, the current month, corresponds to Zevulun.
The name Zevulun means a "permanent residence," which is an allusion to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Symbolically, it stands for the holy abode that all Jews who are involved in worldly affairs establish in the world.
Our Patriarch Jacob gave all his sons a blessing before he passed away. The tribe of Zevulun, he said, would dwell on the coast of Israel and be involved in maritime affairs. Moses said that they would conduct their business with joy, and provide financial support to the tribe of Yisachar. In fact, the tribes of Zevulun and Yisachar enjoyed a symbiotic relationship: Yisachar sat and studied Torah all day, while Zevulun engaged in business to support him. However, the Torah mentions Zevulun's blessing even before Yisachar's to emphasize how important and honorable it is to subsidize the study of Torah.
The flag of Zevulun bore the emblem of a ship, through which G-d's message was brought to the world. All of Zevulun's business transactions were conducted according to Torah law, in fulfillment of G-d's desire for a "dwelling place in the world." The tribe of Zevulun had a profound impact on the non-Jewish merchants with whom they came in contact, many of whom were moved to convert to Judaism.
The Baal Shem Tov used the analogy of a ship and the ocean to refer to the descent of the soul into a physical body. In the same way that the sea conceals everything that lies underwater, so too does the flesh cover and obscure the soul. A Jew must break through the limitations imposed by the body in order to experience his connection with G-d.
Some seafarers are fortunate to have vessels that provide security and protection, while others are more vulnerable to the water's danger. Similarly, while some Jews are privileged to grow up in an authentic Jewish environment, others lack the opportunity to benefit from a traditional Torah education. It is therefore incumbent upon those who possess the "boats" and "life preservers" to descend into the murky waters, and reach out to those who are less knowledgeable.
The L-rd make His face shine upon you...the L-rd lift up His countenance to you (Num. 6:25-26)
It is written in the holy Zohar that the letters of G-d's Name engraved on the golden plate on the High Priest's headdress were luminous. Anyone looking at them was filled with awe; this created an arousal to return to G-d in repentance, and the person's sins would be atoned for. In other words, through the luminous letters ("the L-rd make His face shine") the Jews repented (allowing G-d's countenance to be "lifted up"), and their sins were forgiven.
And the one who offered his offering on the first day ("bayom harishon") was Nachshon the son of Aminadav, of the tribe of Judah (Num. 7:12)
Each letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a numerical value. The sum of "bayom harishon" is 620, which is the same as "keter," crown. This alludes to the fact that Judah, the tribe to which Nachshon belonged, was the progenitor of the Jewish monarchy (including Moshiach, a descendant of King David).
The princes of Israel... brought their offering before the L-rd (Num. 7: 2-3)
Although each of the 12 princes brought exactly the same things, the Torah enumerates their offerings separately. This is because the offerings were only the same externally; on the spiritual level, each prince made his offering in a way that was specific to the Divine Source of his tribe, drawing down Divine illumination to its members. "And even today, when the particulars of these sacrifices are read in the Torah, this nullification [before G-d] is drawn down to each and every tribe."
Reb Berel of Tchenik was a Chasid of Rabbi Mordechai of Chernobyl. Whenever the Chernobler Rebbe visited Tchenik he lodged at Reb Berel's home. Reb Berel was one of the town's most respected citizens, and his house, though simply furnished, was large and spacious.
One time, when the Chernobler Rebbe was planning a visit, he insisted upon different accommodations and refused to stay with Reb Berel. Furthermore, he explicitly forbade Reb Berel from joining the other Chasidim who would be coming to see him. Not only would the Rebbe not receive him for a private audience, but Reb Berel would henceforth be persona non grata at the Rebbe's table. Under no circumstances was Reb Berel to appear before the Rebbe, unless he brought him 2000 rubles. This was the only condition under which the Rebbe would agree to see him.
The news quickly spread among the Jews of Tchenik. Reb Berel was utterly distraught. He and his family wept and carried on as if someone had, G-d forbid, passed away. What terrible sin had he committed for the Rebbe to treat him this way? Reb Berel decided he had no other recourse but to come up with the money. But how on earth would he ever amass 2000 rubles? Even if he sold his house and his field, which he was quite willing to do, and demanded payment from all his creditors, he would receive only 800 rubles, less than half of the required amount.
Meanwhile, the Chernobler Rebbe arrived in Tchenik. The entire town was swept up in the excitement of his visit, basking in the glow of the holy tzadik. Only Reb Berel was miserable, alone in his house. He begged his fellow Chasidim to intercede on his behalf with the Rebbe. But the Rebbe just brushed their pleas aside. Not even one penny of the full amount would he waive.
Furthermore, the Rebbe added, when the time came for him to leave, he did not want to see Reb Berel among the other Chasidim who came out to escort him on his way. Indeed, when the visit was over, everyone accompanied the Rebbe to the outskirts of Tchenik except for Reb Berel, who dutifully stayed at home, crushed and bewildered. Reb Berel poured out his heart to G-d in emotional and tearful prayer, beseaching the One Above to grant him the wealth that would enable him to be reunited with his Rebbe.
A short time later a battalion of soldiers passed through Tchenik and was quartered with the local citizenry. Each family received a certain number of soldiers according to the number of rooms they had.
Reb Berel, too, was required to host the troops. Unbenownst to Reb Berel, the soldiers who stayed in his house happened to be the ones responsible for guarding and transporting the army's funds. (In those days, a chest containing the army's ready cash was moved from place to place as the army carried out its maneuvers.)
The command to move on was issued in the middle of the night. The troops, their sleep abruptly interrupted, hurriedly packed their belongings. Within minutes the entire battalion was on the road. In their haste to join their comrades, the soldiers stationed with Reb Berel forgot to take the chest of money with them. It was not until several hours later that their oversight was noticed. Soldiers were immediately sent back to Tchenik to recover the money, but for some reason, Reb Berel's house was overlooked. The houses on either side of Reb Berel's were searched, but the soldiers never thought to enter his.
Several months passed and Reb Berel happened upon the chest of money. Reb Berel realized that he had been granted a gift from Above. He opened the chest, and was amazed by the great wealth it contained. He immediately counted out 2,000 rubles and went straight to the Rebbe in Chernobyl.
The Rebbe explained the entire incident. "Great riches were ordained for you in heaven," the Rebbe said, "but in order to receive them it was necessary for you to ask. Because I know you well, and recognize that you are the type of person who is satisfied with very little, I had to find a way to get you to pray for wealth. It was only after your heartfelt prayers that the blessing was able to come down to you.
"And now," continued the Rebbe, "you must travel to the great city. There you shall engage in business, and G-d will grant you much success."
Indeed, Reb Berel of Tchenik lived to be the patriarch of the very wealthy Rappaport family, all of whom were followers of the Chernobler Rebbe.
The Previous Rebbe once said, "If all the Jews, great and small alike, together said, 'Father, enough! Have pity on us and send us our Moshiach!' - Moshiach would certainly come!"
(Sefer HaSichot 5696)