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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
By Rabbi Yossi Paltiel
Gimmel Tammuz, the third day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, is a day of reflection for all those whose lives have been touched by the Rebbe. Upon contemplating the Rebbe - the depth and breadth of his knowledge, his inventive-ness, his piety, etc. - what shines above all else is that he is a Rebbe, a leader. He is an individual whose entire existence is defined by his service to others: his people and ultimately the whole world.
We live in an age where leadership has no essential meaning. Leaders are people who have been chosen by us, who do as we say and advocate for us based on our vision.
We shun the traditional notion of a leader - of one person knowing better than everybody else and dictating his "superior" wisdom to the populace, imposing his will and his ideas on the people.
Part of our aversion to this kind of leader is from our inherent distrust. It also stems from our belief that there are no real leaders who are in fact head and shoulders above everybody else, yet are truly concerned for the population, putting others before themselves.
For this reason we actually celebrate the failures and frailties of our leaders. It keeps things "honest."
Yet in truth, we thirst for true leadership, for people who stand for something and have real principle... people who are not afraid to go against the tide, to challenge popular beliefs and to actually create new trends. We yearn for leaders who inspire us to reevaluate what is considered "normal" and "acceptable" and "mainstream."
When we contemplate the Rebbe, we experience true leadership.
Leadership: The kind of leadership for which we Westerners have an inherent ambivalence. We are threatened by it. We question if this kind of leader takes away our freedom.
But then we discover that what the Rebbe says, we feel. What the Rebbe asserts, we agree with. What the Rebbe states is right and principled and true, we embrace. And we can't get enough of it for it is truly refreshing.
The Rebbe doesn't compromise our free will, he helps us exercise it. And whenever he senses us falling back into the circular whirlpool of modern equivocation he is right there to keep us going on the linear course that is truly in our best interest.
It has been said that what makes the Rebbe unique is that rather than get us to believe in him, he believes in us and he makes us believe in ourselves.
Above all else, the Rebbe and his leadership represent deed. We live in a world of action. Thus, we must define spirituality with actions. In this world, all good intentions and deep spiritual experiences must be translated into practical action. An inspiration that doesn't manifest itself in deed is far less significant and real than an uninspired deed.
Every person is aware of the special corner in his soul that is his point of spirituality-kindness and righteousness. Some of us visit there more frequently than others. Many of us are unsettled by this dimension in ourselves that seems to lurk beneath the surface of our everyday lives. But we all must give this spark of innate spirituality expression through deed.
A little (or a lot) of charity, a prayer, a mitzva (commandment) - these are con-crete physical acts that give expression to our spiritual selves. They are also the ultimate tests of the integrity of our spirituality.
Our spirituality does not require massive acts to prove that it is authentic. The little things, simple deeds, are also appreciated. Do one mitzva if that is all you can offer at this moment. For one good deed will eventually inspire many more good deeds.
Ultimately, all our deeds will add up to a great many acts of goodness and kindness that will collectively transform the world to a good, kind and principled reality-a Messianic World!
The vision and direction of the Rebbe moves forward. Let us follow the Rebbe's lead and move forward until the coming of Moshiach.
Rabbi Paltiel is a renowned exponent of Chasidic philosophy. He is a senior lecturer in Yeshivat Tomchei Temimim Lubavitch as well as Machon Chana Women's Yeshiva and Beit Midrash L'Nashim.
This week's Torah portion, Shelach, relates the story of the spies sent by Moses to investigate the Holy Land which the Jewish people were to enter. They returned with a slanderous report, playing up the difficulties in conquering the land, thus discouraging the people and weakening their faith. This led to the tragic consequences related in the portion.
Chasidism explains that the spies did not wish to enter the Land of Israel because they did not want to become involved with the materialism of the world. Throughout the duration of the Jewish people's stay in the desert, they were free from such involvements: their food came from heaven (the manna); water they had from the miraculous "Well of Miriam"; they were sheltered by the Heavenly "Cloud of Glory." Thus, they did not wish to leave the desert to enter the Holy Land where they would have to engage in ploughing, sowing, and all other normative activities for their daily existence.
The spies' motive may have been sincere and spiritual, but it went counter to the Divine intent. G-d created the world in order to have a Divine abode in this physical world: man is to transform himself and the material world into a worthy abode for G-dliness. This is done by utilizing and interacting with every created substance for its Divinely intended purpose, thus elevating and sublimating it to a spiritual reality. That is why we were given the Torah and mitzvot (commandments), which enable us to achieve that goal. And that is our mission for the duration of the exile.
The Messianic era is the ultimate purpose of the creation. For then this physical world will demonstratably be a Divine abode, with G-d's Presence fully manifest and experienced. It will be a time of "neither famine nor war, neither envy nor strife, because good will emanate in abundance and all delightful things will be accessible like dust. The singular preoccupation of the entire world will be to know G-d. The Israelites, therefore, will be great sages and know the hidden matters, attaining knowledge of their Creator to the full extent of human capacity, as it is said: "The earth shall be full with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9) (Hilchot Melachim 12:5).
This ultimate perfection of the Messianic era and the time of the Resurrection of the Dead depend on our actions and service of G-d throughout the duration of the exile. The sin of the spies was that they tried to circumvent the process of this refining of the physical world and preparing it for Moshiach.
Mundane entanglements, involvement with worldly matters, may be tiresome and distasteful for one who aspires to spiritual heights. They are, however, an integral part of the Divine plan, and as Chasidism explains: "The ultimate intent of the descent and exile is to prepare for an immense ascent when, in the days of Moshiach, the light of G-d will radiate in a manifest way!"
From Living with Moshiach by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet, adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
By Natalie (Nechama) Cohen
I was born into a traditional Jewish family in Crown Heights in 1940, and had the great privilege to know the Rebbe as a beloved childhood friend-whose name was Mister, or so I thought then.
My grandfather, Feike Halevi Usatin (of blessed memory), prayed with the Previous Rebbe (of righteous memory), and introduced me to the Rebbe himself in June of 1946, when I was 5 years old. I remember the meeting very clearly, and can share some memories with you.
It was a beautiful sunny day, the first sunshine we had seen in weeks. My Mother, to 120 years, hurried to take her two children out of the house, for we had been housebound for days. My Mother wheeled my 2 year-old brother, Avrum Mendel in his stroller while I, Nechama Teibe, walked alongside. We walked to Schenectady and Eastern Parkway, where we met my Grandpa. We sat on the benches on Eastern Parkway, directly across from the public library-just a few blocks from 770 (World Lubavitch Headquarters). Although in those days, 770 was not what it is now.
Later that afternoon, I was playing with some friends on my dirt-covered knees at the base of a tree, where we were happily observing a family of small ants. Mom had been calling me for almost an hour to come and get my face, hands and knees washed but I was having too much fun to go over to her, and made believe I didn't hear. But I knew exactly how dirty I was
Just then my Grandpa called me over. "Nattie," he said, (my English name is Natalie) "I want you to meet the Rabbi..." When Grandpa said "Rabbi" I thought I would go through the sidewalk with shame and humiliation. About all I was capable of doing was choking out a strangled horrified "Rabbi?"
Well, the Rebbe - being who he was - understood immediately how I felt, shook his head slightly to Grandpa, and said to me, "No, not Rabbi. Mister."
"Your name is not Rabbi?" I asked.
"Your name is Mister?"
And so I called him Mister, until I understood that Mister was a title, not a name.
I used to meet him all the time and we had many conversations until he became too busy to walk around the neighborhood. He always remembered my name and asked after Grandpa, Mom, Dad (of blessed memory), and my brother. He spoke to me in Yiddish, and I responsed in English to him.
I learned to save up questions for him, for he was the only adult I knew who took certain questions seriously and would answer a child with truth, not evasions or platitudes.
He always asked me what I had learned in school. I told him we had been talking about the A-bomb-a recent event then-and I like many of my friends was terrified that a bomb might be dropped on us. (We still had very clear memories of the war, and knew children who had survived the Holocaust. I asked him if the A-bomb was as dangerous as my teacher had said. He replied by asking if we had a knife in our kitchen at home, and I said yes. But I was confused, and didn't understand what he meant. "Is it dangerous?" he asked.
"No," I said, picturing a butter knife. "It just spreads butter on bread."
"Doesn't it cut the bread?"
"No, it sometimes makes holes, but it doesn't cut. It's not sharp enough."
"Don't you have sharp knives too?"
Well we did of course, but I wasn't allowed to use them. I was allowed to use butter knives, though, and told him so. "So," I said, "the sharp knives must be dangerous because otherwise my mommy would let me use them."
He smiled, and then asked if the sharp knife my parents used to cut challah on Shabbos was dangerous. Because, he said, after all, cutting challah on Shabbos was a good thing.
That caught me back. I was stumped for a minute or two, trying to figure out how something could be dangerous and good at the same time. I think I said that out loud - but how can something be dangerous and good at the same time? - and he replied gently as he always did, "Think, Nechama, think"
"OK," I said. "But if a knife is dangerous it's only because it sticks or cuts us. But if it cuts bread then it must also be good because it helps us."
"So," the Rebbe said, smiling a big smile, which told me I was on the right track, "Is a sharp knife good or bad?"
Well, after that it was easy.
"It all depends," I said-with a great deal of triumph for I suddenly felt very grown up. "It depends on what it's used for. If it's used to stick someone it's bad, and if it's used to cut bread on Shabbos it's good."
I grew up a lot that day. But that seemed to happen after nearly every conversation we had, for that was the way he taught. He asked questions and made his students think through the answers for ourselves. He encouraged me to use my mind and I took full credit for it. And that's how I grew.
When I learned that Mister was not the Rebbe's name, I asked him his name. But I just couldn't get the name that he told me - he must have been saying Schneerson - so he told me that we had similar names, and could I say Menachem. That I got immediately, and so he told me to call him Mr. Menachem. Which I did.
Mr. Menachem always asked me what books I was reading. When I was seven - Spring of '48 I think - I discovered Science Fiction in the library. I loved it. I gave him rave reviews of two authors, Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. He was intrigued by the idea of teaching children science through fun-to-read novels. I always told him he should read them, that he would love them. He always told me that he only read Jewish books. Then one day, a year or more later, I told him about Asimov's book "Foundation." If you haven't read Asimov's Foundation Series then I should tell you it's about a secret foundation set up by a psychohistorian name Hari Seldon. The purpose of psychohistory and the Foundation was to perfect the Universe. Which is basically what I told him.
Anyway, Mr. Menachem later told me he read the book - which floored me - and told me to concentrate on Asimov, not Heinlin. And he was right. He then went on to tell me he'd written to Asimov and had gotten a reply. I was thrilled - that Asimov thought enough of him to write back. (Told you I didn't know who I was talking to.) At that point I had no concept of what he truly was, much less what he would become. He was corresponding with Asimov, and as far as I was concerned that was even better that writing to Jackie Robinson, which I think I told him.
Then he asked me what I thought of the idea of setting up a foundation. I thought it was better than Asimov and Robinson combined and told him so. He then told me he was setting up a foundation. I was so excited I started jumping up and down, telling him I wanted to join, please, please please. He said I could. Well, he did set it up, and I did join for a while. He was talking about Chabad and his shluchim [emissaries]. Maybe other things that I haven't found out yet. Who knows?
From letters that Natalie Nechama Cohen wrote to Rabbi Simon Jacobson, author of Toward a Meaningful Life, after the book was published by William Morrow & Company in September, 1995. Reprinted with permission of the author and www.meaningfullife.com where the letters first appeared.
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Adapted and excerpted from a transcript of a dialogue between the Rebbe, and Hillel directors and their students, 1961
This year has special significance, being the 200th anniversary of the histalkus of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of general Chasidism.
The word histalkus does not mean death in the sense of coming to an end, but rather an elevation from one level to another on a higher plane. When one has accomplished his mission in life, he is elevated to a higher plane. The significance of this for us is that everyone can now lift himself to a higher level by studying the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and taking an example from his life.
From the very beginning, one of the first things the Baal Shem Tov did was to teach small children simple things such as blessings and to explain to them how they could be near to G-d - that G-d was very real for them and close to them and not far-removed in some "seventh heaven." He worked not only with teenagers but even with six- and seven-year-old children, making them understand how G-d watches over them all the time - not only Sunday, Monday or Tuesday, but all the days of their life, and that by obeying G-d's will they would be assured of a happy and harmonious life, materially and spiritually.
The epoch of the Baal Shem Tov came after the Chmielnetzki pogroms, which left the Jews in a state of dejection and despair. It was the aim of the Baal Shem Tov to encourage the Jews and to show them how they could meet the problems of their day while living a life of Torah and mitzvos [commandments].
What is the view of Chasidus concerning an after-life?
As was explained earlier, death is not a cess-ation of life, but rather, one's spiritual life takes on a new dimension or is, as we said, elevated to a higher plane. This is logical and follows also from the principles of science that are considered to be the "absolute truth." In science, the principle of the conservation of matter states that nothing physical can be annihilated. This table or a piece of iron can be cut up, burned, etc., but in no case could the matter of the table or the iron be destroyed. It only takes on a different form.
So, likewise, on the spiritual level, our spiritual being-the soul-can never be destroyed. It only changes its form, or is elevated to a different plane.
Is the after-life of a soul personal or impersonal?
In conjunction with what was said before, the soul takes on a new and higher form. In this, the term after-life is inappropriate. Rather, it is a continuation of life. Until 120, life is experienced at one level, and at 121, 122 and 123, etc., it is carried on at another level, and thus we go higher and higher in the realm of the spirit.
What is the role that the Baal Shem Tov played in the Chasidic movement?
We can understand what the Baal Shem Tov did by the simile of the relationship of an electric powerhouse with a lamp that is connected to it by a wire. In order to light his lamp, he must find the right switch, or push the correct button. The soul of every Jew is a part of and connected with G-d Alm-ghty, but in order that one can enjoy the great benefits of it, the correct switch must be found for the proper button to pushed. It was the Baal Shem Tov's mission to explain and proclaim that every Jew without exception is connected with "the powerhouse," and every one of them has a switch in his innermost that will be found if searched for.
So also every one of us in our own work in strengthening Judaism, must try to find the switch in the soul of every Jew. One can never know what will make the connection, perhaps one word. But by this, you open up the well or inner fountain of his soul.
What is the function of a Rebbe?
As was said earlier, to find the switch in every Jew and help him become connected with the powerhouse.
How does the power of the Rebbe extend in natural law? Does the Rebbe have preference in regard to prayer? Can the Rebbe perform miracles?
This world is not separate from the higher worlds but is simply another stop, the last one in a chain of worlds. Everything that influences this world comes from the higher ones. A miracle is something that happens that you could not have calculated. When a Jew connects his Divine spark with G-d through prayer, Torah and mitzvos, he can affect things in this physical world that are beyond calculation. This power is not a prerogative of one Jew but of every Jew.
Now I want to ask you a question and at the same time perform a miracle. Everything has a purpose. What was the purpose of our coming together? Certainly it was not merely to ask questions and review answers bad or good. Rather, it was to achieve something positive. All of us are young-myself included-and have tens of years ahead of us. Since six million of our people have been lost to us by Hitler-yimach shmo [may his name be erased], we have a special task to accomplish the work that they would have done. Everyone counts. No Jew is expendable. In your normal day-to-day life you must use your strength to add to your side of the good, and by this you will gain a life of happiness and harmony, as I believe, this can be done only though a life of Torah and mitzvos. The obligation lies upon every Jew and G-d has been us the power to carry this through successfully. And now the miracle is that each one of us, myself include, tomorrow should add to his finite life more Torah and mitzvos. We can all do this, myself included, and this indeed will be a miracle.
29 Sivan 5762
Positive mitzva 49: the service of Yom Kippur
By this injunction we are commanded to perform the service of Yom Kippur, that is, all the sacrifices and confessions ordained by the Torah for the Day of Atonement, to atone for all our sins. It is described in Leviticus 16:1-34.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
There has always been one central theme in all of the Rebbe's talks: the Redemption. Throughout the years, the Rebbe suggested various projects to hasten the coming of Moshiach and to prepare for that eternal era of peace, prosperity and knowledge of G-d. But, upon declaring that "the time of the Redemption has arrived" in 5751 (1991), the Rebbe repeatedly stressed a number of practical and, of course, positive activities to further prepare ourselves and the world for Moshiach.
One activity is to increase one's Torah study about Moshiach and the Redemption. Concerning this the Rebbe said,"Since Moshiach is about to come, a final effort is required that will bring Moshiach. Every individual-man, woman and child-should increase his Torah study in subjects that concern the Redemption. This applies to the Written Torah and the Oral Torah-in the Talmud, Midrashim as well as (and especially) in the mystical dimension of the Torah, beginning with the Zohar and particularly in Chasidut... This study is a foretaste and preparation for the study of the Torah of Moshiach... An increase in Torah study in these areas is the 'direct way' to bring about the revelation and coming of Moshiach in reality."
Another pracitical, yet simple activity to prepare for Moshiach is to upgrade one's observance of mitzvot (commandments) particularly charity. Said the Rebbe, "One should likewise upgrade one's meticulous observance of the mitzvot, particularly the mitzva of tzedaka which 'brings the Redemption near.' It would be well to make one's increased contributions with the intent that it hasten the Redemption. This intention in itself becomes part of one's study of subjects connected with the Redemption-for this is a tangible study of the teaching of our Sages, 'Great is charity, for it brings the Redemption near.' "
Surely, by implementing these suggestions - particularly in this auspicious year of Hakhel and 100 years since the Rebbe's birth - we will imminently see the realization of the Jewish people's prayers throughout the millenia, the coming of Moshiach, NOW!
Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children (Num. 14:18)
G-d lessens the iniquity of parents whose children behave righteously. In their merit, G-d forgives the parents their sins.
Every one a ruler ("nasi") among them (Num. 13:2)
The Hebrew word "nasi" is composed of the words "ein" ("nothing") and "yeish" ("something"). A Jewish leader who is humble and considers himself "nothing" is the only kind of leader who is truly "something." Likewise, one who thinks he is "something" is not a leader at all.
(Degel Machane Efraim)
And we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes (Num. 13:33)
Relating how they were perceived by others was actually one of the sins of the spies. Reporting that they felt "as grasshoppers" is one thing, but saying that the feeling was mutual was another. For one should not care about this at all...
(Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk)
You shall offer up the first part of your dough for a gift (Num. 15:20)
The commandment to separate a portion of dough teaches an important principle in the education of our children: The "first part" of the school day, i.e., the morning hours, should be utilized as a "gift" for "offering up" - set aside for studying holy Jewish subjects, as opposed to secular ones learned later in the afternoon.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Only rebel not against G-d (Numbers 14:9)
Nothing in the spies' report encouraged open rebellion against G-d. On the surface, they were merely reporting facts. Nonetheless, Caleb and Joshua responded by cautioning them not to rebel. For the fear they expressed regarding the land's giant inhabitants and walled cities was what constituted their rebellion. As King David states in Psalms, "G-d is with me; I will not fear what man may do to me." Believing in G-d causes a person to cease fearing man.
By Noah Lantor
The year was 1968, during the Tet Offensive of the Viet Nam War. The place was the U.S. Army Base, Fort Jackson, South Carolina. And the sign on the door of the Army chapel read: "Now Appearing - Captain Chaplain Kaplan and Cantor Lantor." It was a little bit of levity during a frightening and dangerous time.
I was "Cantor" Lantor, the Jewish Chaplain's Assistant, a young 22-year-old sent far from the suburbs of Freeport, Long Island in New York. Because I had attended synagogue as a child and knew how to pray and sing, the Army gave me this assignment after basic training was completed.
The Army had drafted me even though my leg was in a cast. The draft board thought it was just a ruse to win a medical deferment. But I had worn a cast many times over the years, following an accident when I was 11 years old. I had been working as a delivery boy for a pharmacy, and was riding my bike one stormy night to deliver medication. Out of the darkness a car hit me and my knee was smashed. My family didn't have the money for the operation, and hoped instead that a cast would heal the knee. It didn't.
"Don't you worry, boy," the draft board had promised when they saw the x-rays. "The Army will fix it for you." I gulped.
With many trips to the Infirmary, somehow I got through basic training. I was stationed in Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn and then at the U.S. Army base in Stuttgart, West Germany, where I was finally seen by the Army doctor. "You need surgery," he announced, "and I intend to give you the new Slocum Procedure. I'll cut the muscles and wrap them across your knee to hold it in place." It sounded drastic but I hoped it meant that I would never fall again. The operation was set for one week after my return from my one-month leave to the U.S. to attend my sister's wedding.
My Aunt Masha came from Israel for the wedding and she and my mother decided to take the opportunity to visit the Lubavitcher Rebbe. When my mother asked the Rebbe for his blessing for the knee operation, he gave her his personal calling card and wrote a doctor's name on the back. "Tell your son to go to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Washington, D.C. for a second opinion and show this card to the surgeon," he suggested. I followed his advice.
The large waiting room at Bethesda Naval Hospital was filled with a lot of other soldiers. I signed in with the nurse, gave her the card, and, expecting a very long wait, went to sit down. But no sooner did I sit then my name was called. "Where did you get this card?" the nurse demanded. I explained and was immediately brought in to be examined by the surgeon.
The doctor pulled and twisted my knee and took x-rays. I told him that the Stuttgart surgeon was going to give me the "Slocum Procedure." He was aghast. "You tell that doctor in Stuttgart that if he does that I'll see to it that he'll never practice medicine again! You need the simple meniscectomy procedure and nothing else. Here is my card, give it to him, and tell him just what I told you!"
Back in Stuttgart a month later, I reported for my pre-operation examination and gave the Bethesda doctor's card to my surgeon. As gently as I could, I told him all of what was explained to me in Washington. He was not happy to hear it. "Who do you think you are to go to another doctor?" he screamed at me. Slamming the door as hard as he could, so hard that the walls shook, he left the room.
I sat there alone on the examining table for a long time, not knowing what to do. Was I dismissed? Should I leave or stay? I was scared. After all, I was just a lowly private and this doctor was the officer who was going to operate on me. Finally, the door opened. He had calmed himself down.
"I just looked again at the new x-rays," he said. "It's a miracle! What a change in your knee! That doctor is right. Now you don't need the Slocum Procedure, you just need the simple meniscectomy." He left the room a second time and I never saw that surgeon again. Another doctor did the operation and my knee has been fine since.
To this day I don't know whether the Rebbe cured me or saved my knee from a young doctor looking for surgical experience, but in either case he changed my life.
Although these experiences did not impel me at that time toward religious observance, it did happen, thank G-d, after I became an adult. Slowly, and with the help of many rabbis, new meaning and awareness were brought into our lives All of us - my wife Elise (now Esther Malka), my daughter Dani and I - have come to know and appreciate before Whom we are constantly standing, and how we must act accordingly. It has been a thrilling journey.
There is a Talmudic dispute as to whether the Messianic era will precede the Resurrection of the Dead or not. One opinion is expressed in the Talmud in various places, "There is no difference between this present age and the days of Moshiach, except for [our emancipation from] subjugation to the nations." This dissenting view appears in Tractate Yoma and elsewhere. Thus, the Midrash begins, "If he is from the living," in accordance with the view that the Resurrection follows the days of Moshiach. The Midrash continues, "and if he is from the dead," and rises together with his generation, for this concurs with the opinion that the Resurrection precedes the days of Moshiach.
(Yafeh Anaf on Midrash Eichah Rabba)