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Who doesn't remember Tevya, his sighs, questions, and conversations with G-d? When hassled by the "younger generation," Tevya's answer to their many complaints or queries was always "Tradition!" That's the way it was done. His parents did it that way, their parents did it that way, all the way back for many generations. When there seemed to be no logical reason or Tevya didn't know the answer, "Tradition!" was sufficient.
We laughed at Tevya's simplicity and understood the exasperation of his children. After all, haven't many of us, at one time or another, insisted that "Tradition!" isn't enough of a reason for us? Our generation, we remind ourselves, doesn't reside in ghettos; thank G-d we're not concerned with pogroms and we're not living hand-to-mouth.
Why do some of us, then, use that same answer of "Tradition!" when confronted with the notion that Moshiach is coming - is in fact, almost here?
"I didn't learn about Moshiach in Hebrew school or Sunday school."
"It's not something the rabbi talks about in his sermon."
"I don't recall reading any articles about it in the Jewish News."
Most of us have some fuzzy recollection of hearing about a time of total peace, or a white donkey, or the Third Holy Temple being rebuilt in Jerusalem. But to say that Moshiach is a Jewish tradition, why, even Tevya didn't mention it!
So, more often than not, if someone approaches us with a little card that encourages us to "do acts of goodness and kindness to greet Moshiach," or encourages us to do a mitzva that might tip the scales and bring the Redemption, we respond: "My parents never spoke about Moshiach, their parents didn't either. And even if they did mention Moshiach, it was like some kind of surreal fantasy, like Shangri-La in The Lost Horizon. And they surely never spoke about it as if bringing Moshiach had anything to do with them personally! Besides, it isn't part of my tradition!" we add a little too quickly.
Ah, there it is, Tevya's "Tradition."
Speaking about the coming of Moshiach in such realistic terms is not something most of us grew up with. In addition, realizing that it is within our power and up to us to actually hasten Moshiach's arrival seems to border on haughtiness: "Who am I," one might ask, "that every mitzva I do has such significance as to help bring Moshiach?"
In fact, Moshiach is not only part of Jewish tradition, it is at the very core of Jewish living and learning. Over 60 times a day we mention Moshiach or the Redemption in our daily prayers, and belief in Moshiach and his arrival is one of Maimonides' 13 Principles of the Jewish Faith.
Let's all establish a "new" tradition in our homes based on a very ancient one. Let's do acts of goodness and kindness to make the world a better place in which to live, thereby preparing ourselves and the world for Moshiach.
This week's Torah portion, Beha'alotcha, opens with the words "When you light the lamps."
Aaron the kohen (priest) was commanded to kindle the menora in the Sanctuary every day. The menora was required to burn at all times, as the Torah states, "To cause a light to burn perpetually."
Just as Aaron lit the menora in the Sanctuary, so is every Jew required to illuminate his home and surroundings with the Torah's holy light.
Aaron was a kohen, but so too is every member of the Jewish people, as it is written, "You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests." The giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai transformed every Jew into a "kohen."
The menora stood in the Sanctuary (and later in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem). Similarly, every Jewish home is a "Sanctuary" to G-d. The verse "I shall dwell in their midst" means that G-d dwells within each and every Jew; hence, every Jewish home is an abode for the Divine Presence.
The light that Aaron kindled was "perpetual"; so too must the light in every Jewish home be always shining. The Torah's light of holiness must burn night and day, and pervade all corners of a Jewish residence.
All Jews, and especially Jewish children, have the power to imbue their homes with holiness. How is this accomplished? By expressing an awareness of G-d every moment of the day.
As soon as a Jew opens his eyes in the morning he says "Modeh Ani ("I give thanks to You"); whenever he eats he recites the proper blessings both before and after. Throughout the day he conducts himself according to the Torah's laws, and at night he says the "Shema" ("Hear O Israel") before going to sleep.
The Torah and its mitzvot are likened to light: "A mitzva is a candle, and the Torah is light." Indeed, the Torah and its commandments are the medium through which the Jew is able to illuminate the "Sanctuary" in his home.
Lighting the menora is also associated with the Final Redemption with Moshiach:
The menora that stood in the Sanctuary and the Holy Temple was composed of seven lights, as it states, "The seven lamps shall give light."
When Moshiach comes, the Jews who are dispersed around the world will return to Israel in seven paths, as is written in the Book of Isaiah, "And [G-d] shall wave His hand upon the river...and smite it into seven streams."
Thus, disseminating the light of Torah and mitzvot in our own homes serves to hasten Moshiach's coming with the Final Redemption, may it happen at once.
Adapted from Volume 23 of Likutei Sichot
Letter to Grandpa
Wednesday, May 9th, 2001
Yesterday two Tekoa boys, Koby Mandel and Yoseph Ishran, decided to skip school and go for a hike in the Wadi. Like generations of boys since Tom Sawyer and before, they decided to play hooky and it cost them their lives.
Tuesday morning, Koby Mandel asked his father for a water bottle. Seth, a rabbi who worked in Jewish outreach (bringing college students from the U.S. to study at Hebrew University for a semester until this latest war cost him his job), handed him a small bottle of mineral water. "No, Abba, something bigger," he requested.
Both boys left the house with all their school books, but never boarded the bus. They asked their buddy Yehuda Millstein if he wanted to come along but he said no. The kids all know that it's absolutely forbidden to hike in the Wadi without a weapon-carrying adult.
When the boys didn't show up after school the parents didn't worry because they figured that they went right to B'nei Akiva. Tuesday night is B'nei Akiva night, and all the kids age ten and up go to a clubhouse and do activities. But when they didn't come home after B'nei Akiva the parents became worried and called the police.
Sherri Mandel, a freelance writer who contributes frequently to the Jerusalem Post, and a good friend of mine, told the police that she couldn't imagine that the boys were around here. "Koby's more of a city boy," she said. "If he skipped school it must have been to go to a movie, or do something in Jerusalem."
The police looked in Jerusalem. Here in Tekoa, Miro headed a search party that looked for the boys all night long. They discovered that a hundred of Gilad's goats had been stolen from the goat farm. And at dawn they discovered the bodies of the two boys, brutally murdered with rocks and knives, inside Tekoa's Haritoon caves.
Just yesterday my own son Kobi was supposed to go with Rabbi David and a nature club to the Haritoon. I don't know why they didn't go. If they had, they would have discovered the bodies. Or maybe they would have seen the boys still alive. Maybe. If only.
Barbara called me at 8 this morning to tell me, and I began screaming and crying. I knew I should say, "Baruch Dayan Emet"- "Blessed is the True Judge" but I couldn't bring myself to say it.
How can it be? I went to Koby Mandel's Bar-Mitzvah, he ate at my Shabbat table many times, and I at his. Koby was extremely bright, friendly, always smiling. He loved to juggle. Whenever I stopped by their house he was always reading a book, and he always had an intelligent comment on what he was reading. He was a good kid. When some of the kids his age started to get into drugs he backed away from them and told his mother that he had no interest in such things. Sherri and I always invited each other for a Shabbat meal when the other's husband was out of town. They were at our post-Thanksgiving Shabbat dinner! And now this.
I'm wailing for Sherri and Seth, who were so proud that Koby got into a great high school. They won't be going to his graduation or see him in an army uniform. They won't walk to the chupa with Koby. Never kiss his children. To think that a father has to say Kaddish for a son.
I don't really know the other family, but I cry for them as well. Ezra and Rina Ishran are building a house in Tekoa's build-your-own neighborhood, a house that's almost ready. A house that has a room built especially for Yoseph, a room that he'll never sleep in.
Rina, a nurse at Ein Kerem, is now sitting in a chair in her caravan too stunned to move or speak. To Ezra, a policeman in Bat Yam, the routine is all too familiar, except this time he's the bereaved parent and not the cop on the beat. Like the Mandel's, they also had four children.
At 8:30 a.m. we heard an announcement that there was an emergency meeting at the community center. Before I went over I called Moshe and told him to come home from work as I was and am quite incapable of taking care of the children. (Ariella kept asking me to stop crying, but I couldn't. I had to tell her, "The bad Arabs killed two of Kobi's friends.")
As we left the house we saw TV and radio reporters driving down toward the Wadi. I didn't realize that they had left the boys there -- with someone from the Burial Society watching over them -- until the police could finish searching for clues and taking evidence. I wanted to kick the media cars driving by. Vultures. The community center was packed. Someone gave the facts on what happened, then Shaul Goldshtein, the head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council spoke, but I couldn't listen.
Instead I stood outside and cried and hugged other crying women. Moshe's home now and we're just sitting here, waiting to hear when the funerals will be, Yoseph Ishran at Givat Shaul and Koby Mandel at Gush Etzion. I guess the parents don't want them to be buried in the Tekoa cemetery. Maybe they're afraid that the Arabs will win this war and the cemetery will be moved. Maybe they won't want to remain here. I don't know.
All morning the phone has been ringing. Friends and relatives who heard the news on the radio. They weren't announcing the boys' names, they just said "two 14-year-old boys hiking in the Wadi." Our next door neighbor from Sharon, Massachusetts, Levi Segal, now studying at Tel Aviv University, said that he heard "14-year-old" and "hiking" and panicked that it could be our Kobi, because everyone knows he loves to hike.
They're all relieved it's not us, but I feel only sorrow and grief, because it IS us. Tekoa is our family and this did happen to us. I don't know how Sherri and Rina, the two mothers, will continue.
I was looking for a phone number just now when I found Koby Mandel's Bar-Mitzvah invitation in my phone book. Yaakov (Koby) Natan. The invitation reads: "For G-d selected Jacob for His own, Israel as His treasure," -- Psalm 135:4.
Love, Sara-Rivka [Ernstoff]
Editor's note: a fund has been set up to help the families and to establish a memorial for the boys. Tax-deductible donations can be sent to: The Koby and Yossi Fund, Gush Etzion Foundation, PO Box 1030, Manchester, NH 03105, Attn: Gary Wallin. The author of the article, Sara-Rivka Ernstoff, made aliya from Sharon, Massachusetts five years ago. She is a free-lance writer, teaches karate, home schools her children and is the president of N'shei Chabad, Tekoa.
New Center in Aspen
Aspen, Colorado might not seem a likely place for a Chabad-Lubavitch Center. But Aspen's Jewish community, which numbers no more than 100 Jewish families, recently warmly welcomed the Rebbe's emissaries to the valley, Rabbi Mendel and Lieba Mintz. Shabbat services and Shabbat dinners are held in the Mintz home, as are weekly Torah classes. A "Ski and Learn" program combines skiing and Torah study in a local ski lodge. Chabad-Lubavitch in Aspen serves a transient community as well. Jewish visitors, who come for business or leisure, contact the Mintzes for kosher food, Shabbat services and other Jewish accomodations.
The date for this letter was not available
By the Grace of G-d
... In reply to your question as to what should be the Jewish attitude towards the matter of "religious dialogue" which has been advocated in certain Jewish and non-Jewish circles.
It surprises me that you should have any doubt in this matter. For, anyone with some knowledge of Jewish history knows with what reluctance Jews viewed religious debates with non-Jews. There were many good reasons for this attitude, in addition to the basic reason that Jews do not consider it their mission to convert gentiles to their faith, nor do they wish to expose themselves to the missionary zeal of other faiths.
Each and every generation has its own characteristics which have a bearing on contemporary problems. One of the peculiarities of our own day and age -- a circumstance which makes such "dialogue" even more reprehensible -- is the confusion and perplexity which are so widespread now, especially among the younger generation. Symptomatic of this confusion is the lowering, or even toppling, of the once well-defined boundaries in various areas of the daily life. This process, which began with the lowering, or abolishing altogether, of the Mechitzah [divider] in the synagogue, has extended itself also to the abolishing of boundaries in the areas of ethics, morality, and even common decency. In some quarters it has even led to a perversion of values, reminiscent of the lament of the prophet: "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!" (Isaiah 5:20).
One can hardly blame the young generation for their confusion and perplexity, considering the upheavals, revolutions and wars which have plagued our times, and the bankruptcies of the various systems and ideologies to which the young generation has pinned its hopes for a better world. Moreover, many of those who should have been the teachers and guides of the younger generation, have compounded the confusion and misdirection, for various reasons which need not be elaborated here.
One of the consequences of the said state of affairs is also the misconception prevailing in some quarters regarding the so-called "interfaith" movement. The "brotherhood of mankind" is a positive concept only so long as it is confined to such areas as commerce, philanthropy, and various civil and economic aspects of the society, wherein peoples of various faiths and minority groups must live together in harmony, mutual respect and dignity. Unfortunately, the concept of "brotherhood" has been misconstrued to require members of one faith to explain their religious belief and practices to members of another faith, and in return to receive instruction in the religion of others. Far from clarifying matters, these interfaith activities have, at best, added to the confusion, and, at worst, have been used with missionary zeal by those religions which are committed to proselytizing members of other faiths.
The alarmingly growing rate of intermarriage has a variety of underlying causes. But there can be no doubt that one of the factors is the interfaith movement, or "dialogue" (which is a euphemism for the same), wherein clergymen of one faith are invited to preach from the pulpit of another. It is easy to see what effect this has on the minds of the young, as well as of their parents, whose commitments to their own faith are in any case near the vanishing point.
This in itself offers a complete justification for the prohibition which the Torah imposes upon the study of other faiths -- if, indeed, external justification were necessary. Only in exceptional cases does the Torah permit the study of other religions, and that also only to specially qualified persons. Bitter experience has made it abundantly clear how harmful any such interfaith dialogue is. Thus, even those Jews to whom the Torah is not yet, unfortunately, their Pillar of Light to illuminate their life, but who still wish to preserve their Jewish identity and, especially, the Jewish identity of their children -- even they should clearly see the dangers of intermarriage and complete assimilation, G-d forbid, lurking behind these so-called "dialogues," and should reject them in no uncertain terms.
continued in next issue
18 Sivan 5761
Positive mitzva 21: revering the Sanctuary
By this injunction we are commanded to be in exceeding awe of the Sanctuary (the "Temple Mount"), and regard it in our hearts with fear and dread. It is contained in the Torah's words (Lev. 19:30): "And you shall reverence My Sanctuary." The commandment is binding even in our own days.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat we study Chapter 2 of Ethics of the Fathers, which contains the following:
"Rabbi Shimon said: Be meticulous in reading the 'Shema' and in prayer. When you pray, do not make your prayer a routine [perfunctory] act, but rather entreaty for mercy and supplication before G-d, as it is stated, 'For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in loving-kindness, and relenting of the evil decree.'"
Our Sages taught that a Jew shouldn't look upon praying as a burden or heavy yoke he can't wait to be relieved of each day. Praying to G-d is one of the foundations of Judaism, as it helps instill an awareness that G-d is in charge of the world, and that His Divine Providence extends to every single detail.
Prayer is a mitzva for everyone, great and small. The positive commandment to ask G-d to provide us with our needs applies to all Jews, regardless of how close or estranged we imagine ourselves to be from Him. The King listens to all His subjects equally, and no matter is too unimportant to "bother" Him with.
Another point: Prayer is different from learning Torah in terms of the perception of our relationship. When a Jew studies Torah, he feels like a student before his Master. But when we pray to G-d, we feel like children entreating our Father.
No one said praying is easy; that's why it's called "avoda," which literally means "work." But as Chasidut explains, prayer is "the ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reaches to heaven." (Incidentally, sincerity is the key here, even if a person doesn't understand the meaning of the Hebrew words; the only stipulation is that "they be said imploringly and from the depths of his heart.") For every Jew has the power and potential to climb up the rungs to even the very highest of spiritual levels, thereby connecting himself to his Divine Source.
Speak to Aaron and say to him: When you light (Beha'alotcha) the lamps (Num. 8:2)
As Rashi notes, from the word "Beha'alotcha," which means "going up," our Sages derived that there was a step in front of the menora upon which the priest stood. A question is asked: If the menora was only three cubits tall, and therefore within easy hands-reach, why was it necessary for the priest to stand on something? The answer is that Aaron wore the special headdress of the High Priest, with its golden plate on which the words "Holiness to the L-rd" was engraved. As Jewish law forbids the High Priest from raising his hands higher than the gold plate, a step was placed in front of the menora to make his service more comfortable.
And Aaron did so (Num. 8:3)
As the Midrash explains, "This comes to declare the praise of Aaron, that he did not act differently" (i.e., that he carried out everything G-d commanded him to do in an exact manner." Another person in the same situation might have lost his composure: spilled the oil, dropped the wicks, etc. Aaron, however, did not allow his intense emotion to interfere with the performance of his holy service.
Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion; for behold I come, and I will dwell in your midst, says the L-rd (from the haftorah, Zech. 2:14)
Our Sages taught that the Divine Presence only rests upon someone who is joyful. G-d therefore advises the Jewish people to rejoice, as preparation for His presence among them.
For behold, I will bring My servant Tzemach (literally "Branch") (from the haftorah, Zech. 3:8)
Why is Moshiach referred to by this name? To emphasize that even though it may seem as if the branches of the royal House of David have been cut off, the "root" still exists, and when the proper time arrives, Moshiach, a descendent of King David, will be revealed. In the same way that a root can lie dormant and concealed for many years, yet germinate and develop into an entire tree under the right conditions, so too will Moshiach arise to redeem the Jewish people when G-d determines the right time has come.
There was once a Jewish family too poor to pay their rent to the local poritz (landowner). As a result they lost their home and were thrown into debtor's prison. Every day, bread and water were lowered down into the pit by means of a rope.
After a while, the guard in charge of providing them with food took pity on the unfortunate family. One day, after the poritz had left, he yelled down to them to tie themselves securely to the rope when he lowered it. He hoisted them up and set them free. The grateful Jews thanked the man and fled, but in their haste to escape they forgot to take their newborn son along.
The poritz was furious when he found out what happened. He went into the pit so he could investigate for himself. Much to his shock, there was a tiny baby, swaddled and crying in a dark corner. The poritz's manager, who had no children of his own, asked the poritz for permission to adopt the abandoned infant. The poritz agreed and the child was raised in the gentile home, calling the man and woman who reared him Father and Mother. He was never told that he was adopted.
Growing up, the child was frequently taunted by the local children, who called him "Zhid" (Jew). Everyone in the insular village was aware of his origins except for the child himself. As he grew older he realized that something about his past was deliberately being kept from him, but his parents always managed to avoid giving him direct answers to his questions.
Finally, one day the boy cornered his mother and was especially persistent. Thus he found out that he was not the couple's biological son, and learned how his Jewish parents had escaped from the pit.
Although the youngster was not sure what a Jew was, he decided that one day he would join his brethren. His opportunity came a short time later, when he fled the village and ran to the next town. He approached the first person he met, who, it turned out, was the custodian of the local synagogue. "I am a Jew, and I want to be among Jews," he announced in Russian to the startled man. The custodian took him home, treated him like his own son, and taught the boy alef-beit. The eager student soon became proficient in Yiddish, learned how to pray and began to study Torah as well.
When he was ready to enter cheder the custodian warned him not to reveal anything about his past. At the age of Bar Mitzva, the custodian bought him a pair of tefilin. He continued in his studies until, several years later, he was already considered a great scholar. His new "father" sent him off to a yeshiva of higher learning in another city, where he quickly became one of the best students.
The young student roomed at an inn that was owned by a Chernobler Chasid. The Chasid proposed that the promising young man accompany him on his next trip to his Rebbe. The youth agreed.
Before going home they went to the Rebbe for a blessing. The Rebbe turned to the young man and said, "I am giving you an amulet. Wear it around your neck at all times. You and the rabbi must open it together on your wedding day."
The young man returned to yeshiva. A short time later, someone approached the dean looking for a suitable husband for his daughter. The dean immediately thought of the young man, who quickly found favor in the eyes of his prospective father-in-law. A wedding date was set.
Right before the ceremony the young groom remembered the Chernobler Rebbe's instructions. He went to the rabbi and told him he had something to discuss with him in private. Once they were alone he took out the amulet, related the story, and together they opened it. Much to their surprise they saw the following words written inside: "It is forbidden to take a sister as a wife."
The rabbi was shocked and began to question the young man. The young man told him everything he knew of his early life.
Next, the rabbi spoke with the bride's father. While relating the young woman's life story, he happened to mention that a certain number of years ago (the age of the groom), the family had escaped debtor's prison, inadvertently leaving an infant behind. At that moment, everyone understood that Divine Providence had led the long-lost son to his parents. The young man was none other than the infant left behind so many years before.
The grateful family was awed by the Chernobler Rebbe's foresight and holiness.
Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov teaches that within every Jew there is a spark of the soul of Moshiach. This spark constitutes the very core of the soul which each individual is to unveil and release to govern his life. Each one will thus redeem himself, and this will bring about the national redemption for all of Israel. Moshiach is connected with the entire nation of Israel, with every single Jew, and that is why he is able to redeem all the Jewish people.
(Living With Moshiach, adapted by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet from the works of the Rebbe)