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When he was a little boy, Rabbi Yisrael of Ruzhin questioned his teacher over and over again concerning a Talmudic passage.
The teacher explained once more: "A man was traveling in the desert. He had lost his sense of time and did not know which day of the week it was. When should he observe Shabbat?
The child still couldn't understand. "How could he not know when Shabbat begins? Why didn't he just lift his eyes upward? Then he would see the heavens changing!"
Even as a child, Reb Yisrael saw Shabbat as it really is. It is not just a day of do's and don'ts; it is a day when the spiritual climate of the world changes and accordingly we modify our conduct to adapt to these different spiritual realities.
Shabbat represents the culmination of the creation. As our Sages said: "The world was lacking Shabbat.... What was created after He rested? Tranquility, satisfaction, serenity and calm."
What are these qualities of "tranquility, satisfaction, serenity, and calm?" They represent the ability to sense the spiritual behind the material. To see an entity for more than it appears, to appreciate its spiritual content.
This is the key to "tranquility, satisfaction, serenity and calm." To step above the situation and appreciate the inner truth. To look at a person or an event and sense the G-dly message that he, she or it communicates. This is what G-d endowed the world with on Shabbat, the ability to appreciate the spiritual content of each entity, the truth that lies at its core. This is what distinguishes Shabbat and makes it a day of rest.
For rest is not merely relaxation, the release of tension that comes from a good game of tennis or golf. Rest is something that happens within the soul, a shift of understanding that rejuvenates us. We begin to see the world as it really is. We gain understanding, and that understanding lifts up our hearts.
This approach leads to an all-encompassing appreciation of oneness. For from the standpoint of the G-dliness invested in creation, the entire world is at one with Him.
The physical dimensions of our exis-tence create separation. But on Shabbat, as we focus on the neshama, the soul, the spiritual vitality that pervades existence, the oneness between people - and indeed the oneness that exists throughout creation as a whole - rises to the surface.
Shabbat fuses together the physical and spiritual. Although this is true, it is not outwardly seen, our activities remain physical.
For example, one of the pleasures we are enjoined to partake of on Shabbat is that of enjoyable food. Nevertheless, we don't feel "spiritual" when we're eating. On the contrary, we sense the physical and indeed, we can get carried away with it! And yet, that is one of the observances of Shabbat.
On the afternoon of Shabbat we reach an even higher level. The afternoon service is considered a foretaste of the era of Redemption, and more specifically, the era of the resurrection of the dead, "the day which is all Shabbat and rest for eternity."
In the present gestalt, the world as it exists in its own framework is separate from G-d which precludes complete unity. Only in the Messianic Era will the unity between the spiritual and the material be realized in a complete sense.
If we consider each "day" as a thousand years, at the present time, the year 5762, it's Friday afternoon. You can feel Shabbat in the air. G-d's home, the world, is beginning to anticipate the era of the Redemption; the time when the world will truly be one with G-d and all of creation. Celebrate Shabbat this week and hasten the individual, interpersonal and global unity predicted by our Prophets and promised by G-d.
Last week we read about the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. This week, in the portion of Mishpatim, we begin learning the specific commandments the Torah contains.
There are three categories of mitzvot in the Torah: Chukim (statutes) are commandments that are above our understanding. Eidot (testimonies) are mitzvot that we would not have arrived at without the Torah. However, once G-d commanded us to obey them, we are able to understand their rationale. Mishpatim (judgments) are simple commandments that are compelled by human logic, laws that society would keep even if the Torah had not commanded their observance.
Most of the Torah portion of Mishpatim deals with these seemingly self-evident laws. Which leads to the following question:
After the extraordinary spectacle at Mount Sinai, why does the Torah stress the rational category of mitzvot, as opposed to the others? Furthermore, why was a supernatural revelation necessary for rules and regulations we would have figured out on our own?
The answer is that the Torah is teaching us how to relate to the whole concept of rational mitzvot. The natural inclination is to base these mitzvot on our intellectual understanding. It hardly seems even necessary to believe in G-d to arrive at the conclusion that it is wrong to harm others, or that we must compensate someone we have injured. These principles are patently obvious.
However, by enumerating the "logical" judgments first, the Torah emphasizes that even these mitzvot must be observed out of faith in G-d. We obey the Torah's rational laws not because they are logical, but because G-d has commanded us to obey them. Indeed, the only basis and source of all mitzvot, regardless of whether or not we understand them, is our Divinely-given Torah.
This is important for several reasons:
A truly ethical life cannot be based on the human intellect, as it is simply too flexible and open to manipulation by the will. If a person really wants to do something, not only will he develop a philosophy by which such action is justified, but he will even turn it into a "mitzva"! The human mind can also devise logical "proofs" for contradictory theorems. It is thus too unreliable a foundation for a moral existence.
Moreover, just as G-d is Infinite and without end, so too is His holy Torah. Even the simplest and most logical mitzvot are endlessly deep. If a Jew observes a mitzva only because he understands it, he misses out on all its inner significance.
By basing our observance on faith, we ensure that our moral system will be stable and unwavering. We also connect ourselves to G-d through even the most "logical" of mitzvot.
Adapted from Volumes 16 and 3 of Likutei Sichot
One Shabbat-One World
Chabad-Lubavitch Centers are encouraging Jews world-wide to celebrate this Shabbat, February 9, as "A Shabbat devoted to Unity and Redemption." The Talmud states that if every Jew observes a single Shabbat, it will usher in the final Redemption. The One Shabbat, One World Campaign emphasizes increasing one's Shabbat observance, specifically this Shabbat, as a show of unity with the Jewish people. The main things is to participate; do something on your own, include some friends, or contact your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center if you would like to join together with them.
Freely translated from a letter of the Rebbe
I have received your letter in which you inform me about yourself and your family and present before me your problem: You operate a hardware store, which is the source of your weekly income and as Shabbos is the busiest day in the week, you have kept your store open on Shabbos, but the violation of the Shabbos bothers you, and you ask my advice.
I want to tell you first of all that I was very pleased to hear that the desecration of the Shabbos disturbs you to the depth of your heart. It shows that your Jewish heart is alive and active and strongly objects to your doing something wrong - wrong not only for your soul, but also for your body, for with the Jew the body and soul are closely united to form one whole and there can be nothing which is hurtful to the soul and yet not be hurtful to the body.
Before answering your question, I want to make the following observations by way of introduction:
Jews in general, and faithful ones in particular, have no doubt that G-d created the world and guides it, nor is there any doubt that the Ten Commandments are from G-d, and among them the fourth: "Remember the Shabbos day to keep it holy. . . you shall do no work on it."
It is equally certain that G-d, Who created man, also provides him with opportunities to sustain himself. It would be illogical to imagine that G-d would compel anyone to obtain his livelihood in a manner contrary to His will, and particularly, contrary to His will expressed in the Fourth Commandment of keeping the Shabbos day holy.
One more point I wish to underscore. The money one earns is not an end in itself; it is but a means to obtain one's needs. Obviously, rather than first earning money and then, G-d forbid, spending it on medical care, it is preferable to forego both the earnings and the medical expenses and be well.
The important thing, therefore is not the money earned, but the assurance that the money would be well spent and properly enjoyed.
After this preface, let us consider your case.
You have the privilege of being born a Jew, which means that you have been given the possibility to go through life along the Jewish path, the path of Torah and Mitzvos, of which Shabbos observance, eating kosher, observing the laws of Family Purity, and the like, are fundamentals.
There can be no doubt that if you determine to follow the path of Torah and Mitzvos, the Alm-ghty will provide you with a kosher means of livelihood. This does not mean, of course, that the path will be easy from the outset. For reasons often beyond our comprehension, G-d may make the path difficult with trials and tests, while an easier road presents itself easier and better, that is, in the mind of the one who is put to the test, but a road which involves the neglect of a Mitzvah or a transgression of a prohibition (Averah). Such a test may be a severe one, for example, when it appears that so many Jews who unfortunately desecrate the Shabbos seem to prosper, perhaps more than those who struggle to observe it.
It is certain, however, that it is not so.
The ultimate happiness of a Jewish man or woman can only be found through Torah and Mitzvos. In your case it depends on your observing the Shabbos.
Consequently, as a friend of yours and in compliance with the Mitzvah of "Veohavto l'reacho komocho-you shall love your neighbor as yourself" which is also a fundamental of Torah, it is my duty to advise you to base your life in general, and means of livelihood in particular, upon the commandments of our Torah. Do not be influenced in any way by the difficulties that may arise in the beginning, even loss of earnings. Be absolutely firm in your faith that the Alm-ghty will eventually provide for all your needs in a kosher way, and you and your wife and children will lead a happy Jewish life, a life of complete harmony between the physical and spiritual, between the material needs and the Divine soul. For, to quote a saying by my saintly father-in-law of blessed memory: A Jew neither desires, nor can he, be separated from G-d.
I am looking forward to hearing good news from you, and conclude with wishing you success in arranging your affairs materially and spiritually.
26 Shevat 5762
Positive mitzva 156: removing leaven
By this injunction we are commanded to remove chametz (leavened bread made from any of the five species of grain) from our domain on the 14th of Nisan. It is contained in the Torah's words (Ex. 12:15): "The first day you shall put away leaven out of your houses."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat, an additional section of the Torah is read after the "regular" Torah portion. Traditionally read on the last Shabbat before the month of Adar, "Parshat Shekalim" contains the mitzva of the "half-shekel" the Jews were commanded to give as atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf.
In the days of the Holy Temple, these half-shekels were used for the communal offerings. Every Jew had to give the same amount, regardless of whether he was rich or poor. In fact, it was forbidden to give more. The Jewish people and G-d are one entity; giving half a coin emphasized the concept that without G-d we are incomplete.
Alternately, the "other half" is interpreted as another Jew; we are all part of the same whole. Every Jew's existence is essentially bound up with the totality of the Jewish people. In order to be a complete entity, one must join together with his fellow Jew.
Although the commandment of the half-shekel is no longer binding, it is representative of giving tzedaka (charity). (The commandment will, however, be reinstated in the Messianic era, when we will again purchase communal offerings from these funds; in the meantime, prayer substitutes for the offerings in the Holy Temple.) When we recognize the fundamental connection and unity we share with others, it spurs us on to give even more. As explained in Tanya, the mitzva of tzedaka is equal to all the commandments and brings the Final Redemption closer. The theme of Shabbat Shekalim is thus relevant throughout the year.
According to Maimonides, the half shekel had to be given "not in many installments, today a little and tomorrow a little, but all of it as one, at one time." By engaging in the service of the half-shekel in the spiritual "Holy Temple" of the Jewish soul, we bring nearer the day when we will be able to perform the mitzva in the physical sense, in the Third Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
May it happen "all of it as one, at one time" - immediately and at once.
And these are the judgments that you shall set before them (Ex. 21:1)
As Rashi explains, the Torah juxtaposes "civil" laws with the laws of the altar, to teach that the Jewish Court must be located next to the Temple. To Jews, societal laws are holy. In the same way that the sacrificial offerings in the Temple were a Divine service, so too are the Torah's laws of interpersonal behavior a way for the Jew to serve G-d in his daily life.
On the seventh day you shall rest, that your ox and your donkey may rest (Ex. 23:12)
A Jew's rest on Shabbat should be so forceful and intense that it exerts an influence on his surroundings, including his animals. Indeed, the Talmud relates the story of Rabbi Yochanan ben Torta's cow, which refused to work on Shabbat after it was sold to a non-Jew.
(The Admor of Gur)
And to bring you to the place that I have prepared (Ex. 23:20)
This refers to the Land of Israel, which was "prepared" for the Jewish people at the beginning of creation, as the Torah states: "When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance...He set the borders of the peoples for the number of the Children of Israel."
(Rabbi Avraham ben HaRambam)
You shall serve the L-rd your G-d, and He shall bless your bread and your water (Ex. 23:25)
Why is "You shall serve the L-rd your G-d" in the plural, whereas "your bread" and "your water" are in the singular? Commented the Kotzker Rebbe: When it comes to the service of G-d, i.e., prayer, even if every individual Jew were to pray by himself, the words join together to form a communal prayer. By contrast, when it comes to eating, many people can dine at the same table, but each is ultimately eating and drinking individually.
by Rabbi Yosef Wikler
Rabbi Moshe Aharon Stern, a prestigious member of the faculty at the Kamenitz Yeshiva in Jerusalem, once related the story of his journey from America to the Holy Land 60 years ago.
After studying for several years in Yeshiva Torah Voda'as in New York, Moshe Aharon wished to move on. Most of the other members of his family had traveled to Europe to study in the great yeshivot there. But by the time Moshe Aharon was ready to do that, it was the 1940s, and the War precluded this option.
Perhaps he should travel to the Holy Land instead, he reasoned. Whenever the dean of Torah Voda'as, Rabbi Shrage Feivel Mendelovitz, spoke about Eretz Yisrael, Moshe Aharon's love for the Holy Land was kindled. He decided to go there; however even after the War ended, the British authorities let only a very limited number of Jews enter the Holy Land.
One day Moshe Aharon met his uncle, Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg (dean of Torah Ohr Yeshiva in Jerusalem). When he told his uncle how much he wanted to study in Israel, Reb Pinchas quoted the Talmud: "In the way a person really wishes to go, Heaven leads him!" His uncle suggested that he exert his own efforts, as a channel for G-d's blessing.
Moshe Aharon took the advice. He applied for a passport, bought suitable clothes and packed boxes of holy books. That month, the British finally released 32 entry certificates to the Holy Land. Moshe Aharon went to Mike Tress of the American Agudah to ask for a certificate. Mr. Tress agreed on condition that he receive permission from Rabbi Mendelovitz. But Rabbi Mendelovitz refused.
"That certificate could be used for a whole family. It's unfair to waste it on just one person!" he said.
Disappointed, Moshe Aharon returned to his yeshiva, while the precious certificate went to a family. However, three days before the ship was due to sail, a family member became ill and the certificate was returned to Mike Tress. The only person able to travel at a moment's notice was Moshe Aharon Stern. Even so, Mike Tress insisted that he receive permission. This time Rabbi Mendelovitz consented - but only on condition that he marry and settle there.
That ship was the first passenger vessel to sail from America to the Holy Land after the War. There were 300 Arabs and 300 Jews on board, including 35 Jews who observed Shabbat. After two days at sea the captain realized that none of the observant Jews were eating the ships' meals. He insisted on giving them the officers' kitchen, raw food and kosher fish caught by the sailors.
Sometime later, as the ship was leaving a stopover in Naples, Moshe Aharon heard people singing. Some 60 Arabs in white gowns were dancing to a beautiful, haunting tune. As their voices grew louder, Moshe Aharon called his Israeli roommate over to watch. His bunkmate recognized the song as one that fanatic Moslems sang until they worked themselves into a frenzy - in preparation for a massacre!
The roommate bribed an Arab for information. "This ship is going to dock in Haifa, a Jewish port, the port of our enemies! It's a disgrace and insult to all Arabs, which we must prevent." The Arabs, who had bought knives and axes in Naples, were planning on taking over the ship.
When they warned the captain, he called in the Arab leaders, and they insisted the ship dock first in Beirut. But the captain refused to take sides and suggested that they dock in Alexandria, Egypt. Reluctantly, the Arabs agreed.
Unfortunately, the ship arrived in Alexandria on Shabbat. The observant Jews wouldn't sign their visas and thus couldn't disembark. The captain told them that someone would sign for them and that if they didn't get off he would take them all back to America.
The Jews tried to explain the religious restrictions about disembarking on Shabbat but to no avail. One passenger stated that it wasn't their fault that they had docked in Alexandria and if he didn't treat them properly they could sue.
In reply, the captain told them that their baggage had already been unloaded, and warned that Alexandria was full of thieves. Though upset, there was nothing to be done. They tried to stand guard over their luggage from the deck. But when they went below to pray, all their cases and boxes vanished.
To the captain's amazement not one of the Shabbat observant passengers got off to investigate. After sundown, when they finally disembarked, the captain met them. "I was only testing you," he announced. "One of my sailors hid all your luggage! Do you know why? You are the only people I have ever met who are really serious about religion, even if it involves losing money. Since the train has already left, you can have a free hotel stay, train tickets, plus $25 pocket money, as my company's treat!"
When Moshe's Aharon's grandfather, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Herman, heard this story, he announced, "The reward you will get in the World to Come for the sanctification of G-d's Name will far outweigh the reward you will get for any other Shabbat!"
The Ramban writes that each millennium of the world's existence parallels the corresponding day of creation. Shabbat thus represents the seventh millennium, "the era that is all Shabbat and rest." It is thus a microcosm of the World to Come, a taste within our present day reality of what the world will be like then.