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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Have you shopped for Father's Day cards yet? Even if you haven't, certainly you remember from previous years that most Father's Day cards fall into a few categories. There are the sweet and sentimental ones with the soft-touch drawing on the front and then there are the humorous or tongue-in-cheek cards that seem to be written especially for your dad. Some cards talk about Dad always being there, making things right, listening and caring. Others extol Dad's virtues and then ask for the car keys, or a few extra dollars.
G-d is often referred to in our prayers as Our Father. Just like your Dad, G-d is interested and even involved in the most mundane and seemingly insignificant parts of your life. He can be approached by every Jew, no matter where, no matter when. And He can and should be approached for any of the things you might ask your flesh-and-blood father for: some money for a new car, extra assistance on the final exam, a listening ear, or forgiveness, to name a few.
"I can get by with a little help from my friends," some people say. "I don't believe in asking G-d for what I need." That sounds nice.
Sort of like you don't want to bother G-d with your "trivialities." But did you know that it is a mitzva to ask G-d for our needs? To pray that the refrigerator doesn't break down because you can't afford a new one right now. To ask G-d to heal a sick friend. To request success on that presentation you have to make next week.
Asking your Dad for something you need-and his being able to help out-gives him pleasure. Similarly, asking G-d for what we need-and His giving it to us-gives Him "pleasure."
There are times, too, that in order to get our Dad's attention we have to respectfully demand that he put down the newspaper or turn off the T.V. and LISTEN. "Listen to our voice, merciful Father, have compassion on us, accept our prayers; do not turn us away empty-handed for You hear everyone's prayers."
G-d hears our prayers, He listens to our requests, He registers our complaints. But does that mean that things always go the way we want them to? Not necessarily! Did your father always give you the car keys, or let you go to every party you were invited to, or always lend you the money you asked him for? Sometimes yes, and sometimes no.
When you got a yes, you probably never asked him why. But the no always needed an explanation.
Why a no? Sometimes, what you were asking for wasn't right. You knew it and he knew it, but you had to ask anyway. Sometimes it wasn't right, but just Dad knew it; and later, looking back, you realized Dad had made the correct decision. And sometimes, for some inexplicable reason, Dad said no without explaining himself, and you just had to accept it. This is true, too, of our Heavenly Father. Sometimes, He accedes to our requests and at other times He denies them, for He truly knows what is best for us.
There is one request, however, which we know is correct and which we have a right to demand G-d listen to. It is the plea for Moshiach, who will help the world achieve the purpose for which it was created, an era of peace, prosperity and the pursuit of G-dliness.
Father, hear our prayer, we want Moshiach NOW!
- (Back to text) Paraphrase of one of the blessings that we say in the Amida prayer recited three times each weekday.
This week's Torah portion, Shelach, contains the story of the Twelve Spies. Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism, explained the episode of the spies as follows:
The Twelve Spies were righteous individuals; the reason they wished to remain in the desert was out of concern for the Torah. The spies were afraid that the trials and tribulations the Jews would encounter in the Land of Israel would be too great, and their study of Torah and performance of mitzvot would suffer.
In the desert, there was no need to worry about the ordinary necessities of life. Bread fell from the sky, water was provided miraculously from a well that accompanied the Jews, and their clothing grew along with their bodies and never deteriorated. The entire day was free to devote to Torah study without distraction.
By contrast, the spies recognized that even before the Jews could enter the land it would have to be conquered. Once they entered Israel they would have to farm the land and engage in business in order to obtain the same amenities. They worried that this preoccupation with worldly affairs would have a negative effect on the Jews' Torah and mitzvot. This, however, was the core of their transgression.
The spies failed to comprehend that if G-d commanded them to enter Israel, they were required to do so with self-sacrifice, and to put their trust entirely in Him. It was not their place to worry about potential difficulties.
The only two who did not sin were Joshua and Caleb. "Do not rebel against G-d!" they insisted. There is nothing to be afraid of when one is carrying out His will.
A question is raised: If the spies were truly righteous, how could they have made such a terrible mistake? Indeed, when the spies first embarked on their mission, they recognized that the life-style the Land of Israel represented was radically different from the one in the desert. Nonetheless, they set out with the intention of fulfilling G-d's command. But by the time they returned they had changed their minds.
What caused them to falter is that seeing something in person is far different from hearing about it. When the spies saw for themselves the difficulties the Jewish people would face, they were stricken with fear. Thus despite their good intentions, they brought back an evil report about the Land.
It sometimes happens that a person may resolve to increase in Torah and mitzvot, but finds it difficult when it comes to actually doing so. Although his initial intention was good, when he sees firsthand the obstacles he will need to overcome, he becomes discouraged and mistakenly believes it beyond his ability.
This, however, is not so.
In the words of Caleb, "We can easily go up and take possession of it, for we are well able to overcome it." When a Jew fulfills G-d's command, he will always be successful.
Adapted from Volume 8 of Likutei Sichot
by Miriam Karp
Call Fishel Bresler on the phone, and you never know what to expect. Especially if he isn't at home in Providence, Rhode Island. His answering machine emits witty puns, a drawling cowboy, crazy sounds you only hear at the zoo. "I consider boring phone messages a minor crime," he declares. The messages have toned down a bit since Fishel's marriage to MIT-trained Elianna almost five years ago, but Fishel's impish humor still shines through.
In Fishel's work as an entertainer, musician, comedian and music therapist, he strives to infuse simcha -- Jewish joy and spirituality into the lives of his audiences and students.
Fishel describes himself as a typical baby boomer. Growing up in the fifties, his Jewish education culminated in a Bar Mitzva. He continued attending Shabbat services for a few months, but put his tefilin away in a box of childhood memorabilia. In high school, Fishel immersed himself in drama and music and his Jewish identity was comprised of enjoying Yiddish humor and theater.
In college, Fishel focused on his major of classical flute. The musician's life followed -- a series of jobs playing in clubs, concerts, bars, on the road, teaching music, festivals and so forth.
About 15 years ago Fishel was hired by the Parks and Recreation Department of Providence to develop a Jewish Folk Arts Festival. Fishel knew his Jewish background was insufficient and decided to research traditional Jewish culture and "the arts of Jewish living." A phrase from his Hebrew school days had stuck in his head: "The holiest day of the Jewish calender comes every week." Having once seen a traditional Shabbat table, he wanted to display one at the fair. So, his research started focusing more on visiting observant synagogues and families.
"Until then I had a Far Eastern spiritual orientation. I remembered Judaism as comprising stodgy words like 'hallowed,' 'sanctified,' 'magnified,' and involving stuffy rituals. I didn't think of it as spiritual.
"As I did my research, I really had to learn to keep an open mind and just record the raw data, putting my liberal prejudices and knee-jerk reactions aside," Fishel recalls. "My initial take on many things was negative. I worked hard at not making superficial judgements and at asking questions.
"One day," continues Fishel, "I had a shocking realization; my concept of Judaism was that of a 13-year-old, since that's when my Jewish education ended. I, like many other intelligent Jewish adults, assumed I understood Judaism based on an opinion I had formed when I was a child! I realized I owed my heritage another look as an adult."
Two people had a tremendous impact on Fishel's blossoming interest in Judaism, artist David Sears and klezmer musician Andy Statman. "These cool guys were doing all this mitzva-stuff and said it was important! We formed deep and lasting friendships, and they helped guide my growth."
Fishel started slowly, with "reading the prayerbook and doing the daily discipline of putting on tefilin. I'm a creeper, not a jumper. I slowly eased into Shabbat, keeping kosher, and other mitzvot, some within months, and others over years."
As a musician Fishel had unique inspiration and challenges. He was profoundly affected by nigunim, holy melodies developed by Chasidic Rebbes and their chasidim. "When I heard them, I was transported, my soul was very moved."
Making a commitment to observe Shabbat was one of the challenges. "So many gigs are on Friday or Saturday night. It took a while to extricate myself from Shabbat jobs. Now I'm proud to say I am a full-time musician without working on the biggest day of the week in my field. I once had a conflict and asked a rabbi, 'How can you do it, stop everything for Shabbat?' He replied, 'Keep Shabbat three times, and you'll wonder how you could live without it!' To play any job in the world on Shabbat now would feel like trading a priceless treasure for a trinket!"
Fishel performs as artist-in residence in schools and in public parks and festivals, for corporate functions, and at hospitals. He has been recommended by top klezmer musician Andy Statman to fill in for him when Statman was not available and has played with David Grisman on concert tours. And of course, Fishel's wry humor and lively tunes have enhanced many weddings and other Jewish life-cycle celebrations.
A unique audience is the recipient of perhaps Fishel's greatest musical efforts. For twenty years Fishel has been bringing music to adults and children with severe multiple disabilities, often stimulating progress where no other therapies can.
"Jewish teachings explain that 'Music is the pen of the soul.' Music is very deep and speaks to the soul and the core of the human. I see children who are not verbal, have limited use of their hands or feet; many autistic or semi-autistic, some blind. Every person has a means of expression or language. We just have to find it. Almost all readily respond to music. Engaging with music doesn't require any specific intellectual skill. Each reacts in his own way.
"I have learned so much. You have to use your mind and heart together, which is the Chabad approach. You have tune in to who you're working with and adjust your expectations. You find out what's essential about a human being. It's not jobs, possessions, looks, or even what we can do. It's an ability to share a sense of love, affection and wonder. If you feel sorry for yourself, go and do this work. You'll come out saying, 'Hey, I can walk, talk, breathe and digest without a G-tube.'"
A natural joker, Fishel finds it hard not to be funny. "The Chabad Rebbes teach that simcha breaks through all boundaries. Clowning is not true inner spiritual simcha, but it can help us awaken from our sluggishness and sadness. I see part of my work as holy clowning, spreading a ray of laughter and happiness."
Reprinted from The Jewish Holiday Consumer family of newspapers
Secrets of the Rebbe
Secrets of the Rebbe that Led to the Fall of the Soviet Union, by Mordechai Staiman, "paints a colorful picture of an unprecedented battle for light, wisdom, morality, and love inside the kingdom of darkness and hatred," according to Professor Herman Branover. Branover was the first Jewish scientist to emigrate legally from the former U.S.S.R., and was told by the Rebbe in 1985 to prepare his fellow Jews for the collapse of the Soviet Empire. Published by Mendelsohn Press.
Continuation of lettter from last week which began: ... 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.
...While we must not give up a single Jewish soul which happens to be in danger of straying from the path of Torah and Mitzvos, and certainly in danger of intermarriage, or assimilation, G-d forbid, and we must spare no effort in trying to save that Jew or Jewess, even if it involves a lengthy "dialogue" with him or her, we must just as resolutely reject any such dialogue with a non-Jew, for the reasons mentioned, and also because we have no interest in his conversion to our faith.
To be sure, we have obligations to our society at large. We must contribute our share to the common weal, help to maintain and raise the standards of morality and ethics, and to encourage the non-Jew to observe the "Seven Precepts of the Children of Noah" in all their ramifications. But to accomplish these objectives, there is no need for us whatsoever to have any religious dialogues with non-Jews, nor any interfaith activities in the form of religious discussions, interchange of pulpits, and the like.
Finally, I wish to stress the following points: -
- In most polemics, debates, dialogues and the like, the usual outcome is not a rapprochement of minds and hearts; rather do they evoke an impulse of rivalry and the desire to score a point, or gain a victory over the opponent by any means. This is usually the case even in non-religious polemics, and certainly very much so in religious debates, inasmuch as the subject matter touches one's inner soul; and even more so where religious zealots are concerned.
Hence, if the purpose of the "dialogue" is rapprochement, it is doomed from the start, and often even brings the opposite results.
- Where one party to the dialogue is committed to proselytizing, and the other is not, it is clear that the dialogue will be used by the first to accomplish its purpose, and the "dialogue" will in effect become a "monologue."
- Looking at the question from a practical standpoint, perhaps the most important point is that the effort expended on such "dialogues" is, to say the least, a waste we can ill afford. For, every individual has only limited resources of time, energy, and influence, while every right-thinking person must feel a sense of responsibility to accomplish something in behalf of the community in which he lives. Experience has shown that the benefits, if any, from all such "dialogues" in terms of a better understanding among men of different faiths and races, have been hardly discernible. But certain it is that the energies thus expended have been at the expense of vital areas of Yiddishkeit, where there is a crying need for strengthening the Jewish faith and practices within our own ranks, especially among the younger generation.
There are, of course, some well-meaning, but misguided individuals, who see in interfaith and dialogue an avenue of lofty goals and ideals deserving of their utmost efforts. But there are also those who encourage them in their misconceptions, thus abetting the misdirection and misplacement of energies and resources, sorely needed elsewhere, namely, and to repeat, in the spreading among our youths a deeper knowledge of the Torah, Toras Chaim [the Torah of Life], which, as the name indicates, is the true guide in the daily life of the Jew, at all times, and in all places. For the Torah's truths are eternal, having been given by the Eternal, the Creator of man, and the Master and Ruler of the World, at all times and all places. It is a tragic irony, that precisely in this day and age, and in this country, where we have been blessed with freedom of worship, and do not face persecution and constant peril for every observance as in certain less fortunate countries, yet so many of our younger generation are lost to us daily by the default, negligence and misdirection of the leaders who should know better.
It is high time to replace interfaith with inner-faith, and concentrate on dialogue with our own misguided youth, as well as to our shame - with the adults, so as to fan their slumbering embers of faith and to illuminate their lives with the Pillar of Light and the Pillar of Fire of the Torah.
25 Sivan 5761
Prohibition 74: a "stranger"(non-kohen) ministering in the Sanctuary
By this prohibition anyone who is not descended from Aaron is forbidden to minister in the Sanctuary. It is contained in the words (Num. 18:4): "a stranger shall not come near you."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat we bless the new month of Tamuz. (Rosh Chodesh, the "head of the month," falls out on Thursday and Friday.) The Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn, was informed by the Soviet authorities that he would be released from prison on Thursday, Rosh Chodesh Tamuz, 5687 (1927). The Rebbe was given permission to visit with his family for six hours, after which a train would take him to the far-off regions of the east to serve a three-year sentence in exile, for the "crime" of disseminating Judaism.
When the Rebbe learned that the train would arrive at its destination on Shabbat, he adamantly refused to this arrangement. "I will absolutely not travel on Shabbat!" he declared.
His jailers then threatened that if he did not go along with their plans, not only would he not be allowed to see his family, but he would have to serve a longer term in prison. The Rebbe replied, "I will remain in jail as long as necessary, but I will not travel on Shabbat!"
According to Jewish law, it is quite possible that the Rebbe would have been permitted to board the train, for reasons of pikuach nefesh (the primacy of saving a Jewish life) and the like. Nonetheless, he refused to do so, and remained in jail until the third of Tamuz.
The Rebbe knew that the danger to his life increased with every additional minute spent in prison. But his desire to sanctify the Name of G-d was an even stronger consideration.
Had the Rebbe, a public figure, agreed to be freed from prison with full knowledge that it entailed the desecration of Shabbat, it would have caused the exact opposite of a sanctification of G-d's Name. The Rebbe's conscious decision to remain in prison prevented this from happening.
The Previous Rebbe stood firm and immovable, demonstrating an extreme level of self-sacrifice. From this we learn that when it comes to sanctifying the Name of G-d, there is no room for hesitation or doubt.
Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make fringes on the corners of their garments...and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a thread of blue (Num. 15:38)
This was done in ancient times; today, however, we do not know how to make this blue dye, and all eight threads of the tzitzit (fringes) are white. Symbolically, blue alludes to fear of G-d and avoiding the negative ("depart from evil"). White alludes to love, and the service of doing good deeds ("and do good"). From this we learn that in our times, the primary thrust of our Divine service must consist of love and positive actions.
And it shall be to you for fringes, that you may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the L-rd (Num. 15:39)
Rabbi Meir explained: The Torah uses the singular "it" rather than the plural "them" because it is referring here to the Divine Presence: "Whoever fulfills the commandment of tzitzit is considered to be greeting G-d's countenance." The "blue thread" resembles the sea, which resembles grass, which resembles the sky, which should remind the wearer of the Throne of Glory.
(Jerusalem Talmud, Brachot)
Making a sign to remind oneself to do something is always helpful and appropriate. A person shouldn't rely on memory alone, regardless of whether the obligation is physical or spiritual.
That you may remember, and do all My commandments, and be holy to your G-d (Num. 15:40)
Said Rabbi Chanina ben Antignos: Whoever observes the mitzva of tzitzit will merit to live in the times about which the Prophet Zechariah said, "In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men from the nations of every language shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, We will go with you; for we have heard that G-d is with you."
A local man had recently died, leaving his childless widow with the prospect of having to perform the rite of chalitza, removing the sandal of her brother-in-law, in order to be allowed to remarry. The brother-in-law, however, was not in full possession of his mental faculties, and was therefore disqualified from being able to do this. The woman had sought the advice of several Talmudic scholars to find a solution to her dilemma, but no one could figure out what to do. A flurry of legal correspondence went back and forth from one rabbinical authority to another in an attempt to find a permissible way for the woman to perform the chalitza with her deranged brother-in-law, but to no avail. The woman had already spent a large sum of money traveling from one expert to another.
One of the Talmudic scholars she visited was Rabbi Eliezer Moshe Pinsker, who, like the others, looked up every precedent in his legal tomes to find a way to free her from her current situation. He too could not find a way out for the poor woman, but when he saw her distress he took pity on her and said, "I can only offer you some advice: Go to Lubavitch, to the Tzemach Tzedek. First of all, he is very learned. Secondly, he is a very great tzadik (righteous person). I am sure he will be able to help you."
The widow traveled to Lubavitch. When the Tzemach Tzedek was informed of the reason for her visit he instructed his attendant to usher in all the other guests for their personal audiences with him first, so he could finish with them and turn all his attention to the unfortunate woman.
After speaking with the woman, the Rebbe requested that the brother-in-law be brought to him. He was found and led into the Tzemach Tzedek's room.
"What is your name?" began the Rebbe.
"What is your name?" retorted the brother-in-law.
"If you tell me your name, I will tell you mine," said the Rebbe.
"My name is Moshe," said the brother-in-law. The Rebbe then revealed his own name in turn.
"Tell me, Moshe," the Rebbe continued. "I have a question for you. Do you know where the marketplace is?"
"Of course!" Moshe answered, having spent enough time there to inflict considerable damage.
"In that case," said the Rebbe, "here is a ten-kopek coin. Please go to the marketplace and buy me two kopeks' worth of smoking tobacco, two kopeks' worth of cigarette paper, two kopeks' worth of matches, and two kopeks' worth of snuff. The remaining two kopeks please bring back to me. Nu, Moshe, do you think you can do this?"
"What do you think I am, a thief? Don't worry, I'll bring you back your change," Moshe replied.
Then, in his usual manner of making an exit, Moshe jumped up and hurled himself out the window. He ran to the marketplace, where he was already an unpopular figure, and purchased everything the Rebbe had requested. He then took the two kopeks change and ran back to the Tzemach Tzedek.
"Here is everything. Take your two kopeks back. I'm no thief!" he shouted before bounding away.
The Tzemach Tzedek then announced that the chalitza ceremony should take place the following Tuesday.
The woman's joy was boundless. After the chalitza was performed she distributed large sums of charity to the poor.
After the ceremony the woman approached the Rebbe with one final request. "Reb Eliezer Moshe Pinsker respectfully asked you to please write down your legal opinion on this matter which would permit the chalitza. I promised to bring him your answer on my return home."
The woman assumed that the Rebbe would ask her to remain in Lubavitch for several days to properly prepare his written legal response, as had been the case when she visited other Rabbis. Much to her surprise, however, the Rebbe took out a small piece of paper and wrote on it, "It states in the Jerusalem Talmud...that a fool who is capable of making change is not considered a fool in the legal sense." This was the Rebbe's entire response. It must also be pointed out that the Rebbe did not so much as glance at the Responsa of those who had pondered the problem before him.
"How many times have I learned the Jerusalem Talmud?" Reb Eliezer Moshe Pinsker later cried out, clutching his head with both hands. "It is only when one learns Torah for its own sake that the eyes are enlightened!"
The time of exile has been likened to a dream. For so it is written, "When G-d will return the exiles of Zion, we will have been like dreamers." A dream can fuse two oppositves. In the present time of exile likewise, a person can be a paradox. While he is at prayer he is aroused to a love of G-d; when his prayers are over this love has vanished: he is preoccupied all day with his business affairs, and gives priority to his bodily needs.