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"The Rebbe is with us." A phrase commonly heard among Lubavitcher Chasidim and supporters, a confusing phrase, a misunderstood phrase.
We may find the Rebbe in his writings - his talks, letters and discourses. We may find the Rebbe in the Mitzva Campaigns and the Chabad Houses, continual demonstrations of his leadership. We may find the Rebbe in the tributes to his ideas, embraced and implemented by thousands and thousands and thousands, many not realizing their source. We may find the Rebbe in the awareness of Redemption and the awakening to Moshiach - for who with opened eyes does not recognize that we are at a critical moment in history?
But how does one understand the phrase, the concept? Does it express no more than a feeling, perhaps a wistful rem-iniscence? Does it suggest inspiration? Are the words "the Rebbe is with us" no more than a maneuver to motivate, a symbol of survival? Is it merely a slogan to explain - or justify - the growth of Chabad?
But not if we agree there's such a thing as a soul. Not if we agree that every Jew has a Jewish soul. And not if we admit that this Jewish soul is "truly a part of G-d above" (See Tanya, ch. 2 - and Psalms 73:26). It makes sense - the soul is a part of G-d so of course it "lives on."
But the soul is also a part of the person. Indeed, in some unique individuals, it is the person.
So what do we make of this phrase, "the Rebbe is with us?" Surely the phrase implies a physical presence; but we don't perceive a physical presence. Even if the Rebbe is somehow "here" spiritually, our lives are physical lives.
One approach: we can invest the phrase with meaning by analogy - analogy with a departed loved one. Surely the presence - the soul - remains with us as more than a memory. Memories fade. But the soul of a loved one continues to communicate with us. True, our inter-actions once had a physical nature. But the nature of interactions change: it means one thing to stay "in touch" with a baby, quite another to stay "in touch" with a grown child a continent away. But in both cases we remain "in touch" not with the hand, eye or ear, but with the soul. And so, we "stay in touch" with a departed relative.
But a loved one remains a living presence only for the relatives.
Not so with a tzadik. The righteous continue to influence this world after their passing. The Zohar, the basic text of Jewish mysticism, tells us that "When the tzadik departs he is to be found in all worlds more than in his life-time." Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism, explains, "He is to be found more even in this world of action..." because "... the life of the tzadik is not a physical life but a spiritual life, consisting of faith, awe and love..." (Tanya, Igeret HaKodesh 27).
OK, so we can say that a tzadik, even after he departs this world physically, is still with us, is still found in this world and is still influencing it. The tzadik remains alive. "David Melech Yisrael Chai V'Kayam -David, king of Israel, lives forever."
Still, we don't usually "stay in touch" with a tzadik, not directly.
Then there's Moses. There's a spark of Moses not only in every leader of the Jewish people, but in every Jew. That spark of Moses is real and alive. It gives us the potential to "fear G-d." (The Torah states, "Now Israel, what does the L-rd your G-d require of you, but to fear the L-rd your G-d" (Deut. 10:12). To which the Talmud asks, "Is fear, then, such a small thing?" And the Talmud answers, "Yes, in the case of Moses it is a small thing." And because we have a spark of Moses within us, for us too it is a small thing.)
So a relative can still be with us - a living presence we sometimes sense, but a living presence only for the loved ones. A tzadik can still be with us - involved with this world, influencing it from "above," but with an influence often - usually - difficult to detect. And Moses can still be with us - a spark of his soul in our soul.
But when we say "the Rebbe is with us" we mean something different, something more. If we can still talk to a relative, if a tzadik can still be a conduit for G-dliness and blessings (faith, awe and love), if we still remain spiritually attached to Moses, then how much more so...
...then explanations aside - then reasons, objections, justifications, feelings - complications and "rationality" aside ... in the simple sense, in the plain sense, in the obvious sense - the Rebbe is with us.
This week's Torah portion, Bo, speaks of the last three plagues visited on Egypt, and of the Jewish People's Exodus. It begins with G-d's command to Moses that he go to Pharaoh to warn him of the impending plague of locusts. G-d, however, states that Pharaoh will not heed the warning: "For I have hardened his heart... in order that you tell in the ears of your child and your child's child that which I have wrought in Egypt."
From this we learn that the locusts did not come as a punishment for Pharaoh's refusal to heed the warning; G-d had hardened his heart so that he would be unable to agree to free the Jews. But if such is the case, isn't it unjust for G-d to punish Pharaoh with a plague, when G-d Himself prevented him from acceding to Moses' demand?
The commentators explain that during the first five plagues Pharaoh had free will; he could have allowed the Jews to leave. It was only after Pharaoh rebelled against G-d - "Who is G-d that I should listen to His voice?" - that his free will was taken away. This punishment clearly fit the crime: Pharaoh questioned G-d's authority and boasted of his own might, so he was shown that he did not even have the power to make his own decisions. Pharaoh was thus fully subjugated to the will of G-d.
Furthermore, Pharaoh's behavior during the plague of locusts underscored his impotence. When even his servants begged him to free the Jews - "Let the people go... Do you not yet know that Egypt is lost?" - Pharaoh immediately agreed and declared to Moses and Aaron, "Go worship your G-d." But at that very instant G-d hardened his heart and Pharaoh was forced to renege on his promise.
Even with this explanation we are still left with a philosophical problem. Why did Moses and Aaron have to go through the motions of issuing a formal warning if they knew that there was no chance that Pharaoh would agree to their request?
It is explained in Tanya, the central work of Chabad Chasidic philosophy, that even a person who is so sunken into evil ways that "he is not provided with a means to repent," even he can overcome and find his way back to righteousness. Even the most corrupt and abominable sinner can return to G-d.
If Pharaoh, totally self-centered, wicked and deprived of his free will, could have prevented the final plagues from befalling his nation by exerting supreme effort to overcome the hardening of his heart, how much more so is it possible for every Jew to overcome his negative character traits.
A Jew's G-dly soul is called "an actual part of G-d," and is in his possession always; the soul remains faithful to G-d even if the body commits a sin. A Jew always has the power to do teshuva, to return to G-d and live in harmony with his true essence. G-d awaits the return of every single Jew, for he can only sin externally, as his internal nature is untouched and holy.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
The Impact of the Rebbe
by Esther Serebryanski
It was the 1950s. I was a young woman at the time and greatly resented the intrusion of my sister and brother-in-law into my life. On their own initiative they had made an appointment for me with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I felt my independence and self-reliance were being attacked. Nonetheless, I was not averse to a yechidut, a private audience with the Rebbe. My curiosity prevailed over my wounded pride and I decided to keep the appointment.
Now I had to think of some plausible reason for taking the Rebbe's time. This was not so difficult for, as a single person, marriage was a natural topic. When I entered the Rebbe's room for the yechidut, my request was prepared. The Rebbe asked me a few searching questions and the brief interview ended. The questions were carefully thought out and seemed not only to probe for information, but to stimulate the direction of my thoughts and understanding. This was a pivotal point in my life.
Unknown to my sister and brother-in-law, there were personal questions that played on my mind at the time. I knew people who were religious and people who weren't religious. I knew that in each group there were people who were good and fine and people who were better known for their weaknesses. What was the underlying difference between the two?
Meeting the Rebbe at that moment was a decisive factor in helping me find an answer. Here was a living Torah. A type of tzadik (righteous person) whom I had only read or heard about in my home and school. A type of tzadik who, though unique, was not singular in Jewish history.
All nations have their golden ages that encapsulate the qualities of their civilizations. Judaism, in its restless history of wandering from country to country and from culture to culture, constantly produced various golden eras. In our over 3,000 years of history we have consistently produced leaders whose creative intellectual genius was balanced with an active holiness that spiritually uplifted the mundane. This brought me to the realization that Judaism has unique qualities not found elsewhere. As a result of my brief encounter with the Rebbe, I remained religious.
A number of years before that personal encounter with the Rebbe, in the midst of a lively wedding, I had a very different type of "encounter" with the Rebbe. The Rebbe stood alone in a corner of the wedding hall. (At that time his father-in-law was still the Rebbe.) It was obvious to me that the Rebbe was deep in meditation and I felt that I had intruded on the depth of his meditation. Though his body was visibly present, I sensed that his soul was elsewhere.
It was not an ordinary moment in my life. I had caught my first glimpse of holiness. The perception that the soul had a reality on a plane I couldn't grasp opened a world of a different dimension to me. A world beyond the narrow limits of human vision existed. A world where space and time and form were not confused by earthly boundaries. The unknown and unknowable were beyond my mind's ability to comprehend. I retreated to the world of "reality" whose limits I knew and understood better.
Time moved on. I married, became a mother, and the daily chores of living occupied me. One day as I bathed my five month old son I again encountered the forces beyond my "reality."
I had just secured my son to the changing table with a strap. I turned my back and bent down at the side of the bathtub where my son's little baby bath was ready to be filled and used. Suddenly I had the most powerful urge to turn around. I heard nothing physically. I felt nothing physically. Yet it was as though someone was pulling my shoulder and urgently calling to me to turn around. The sensation was so overwhelming that I had to turn around. My son had wiggled out from under the strap and had reached the edge of the table about three feet above the bathroom floor. Thank G-d he was saved at the last moment. Who saved him? Who urged me to turn around? Was it my mother who had passed away? Was it some other messenger from the spiritual domain? I don't know. However, I do know that a world we don't see exists around us.
My western background and frame of references make it difficult for me to fully absorb these "other worldly" experiences. Surely reality is what I know through my five senses! Surely reality is what my intellect can understand? And yet, I cannot deny the reality of my experiences.
I am only one individual on whom the Rebbe has had an impact. With his great love he has drawn thousands and thousands of Jews closer to their inner G-dly spark. Today, too, people connect to the Rebbe. My daughter told me about an acquaintance of hers who, upon viewing a video of the Rebbe, was deeply impressed by the wholehearted kindness shining from the Rebbe's smile and demeanor. After thoughtful reflection this inspired her to learn Torah and to begin keeping mitzvot.
My son, who reads the Rebbe's letters regularly, last summer noted that every letter that he read seemed to end with a message to check tefilin and mezuzot. Since the Rebbe had frequently instructed people in this regard, my son did not pay attention to the admonishment. In Elul, as is customary, he checked his own tefilin and mezuzot. Once the flaws that were found were corrected he was struck by the fact that none of the letters he was now reading contained a word about tefilin or mezuzot.
The spiritual world is a dimension which exists within and around us. Its reality is different than our physical reality. The Rebbe is here today leading and directing us. As when we left the first exile so shall we leave the last exile when "they believed in G-d and in Moses, His servant."
New Emissaries to Smolensk
Rabbi Levi and Chanie Mondshine arrived in Smolensk, Russia, this past month as emissaries of the Rebbe to that city. They will be serving the 4,000 Jews of Smolensk as well as families in nearby areas. A synagogue, Jewish school and mikva are in the planning stages as well as a hospitality center for visitors who come to the city of Lubavitch each year.
The Children's House
Beit HaYeladim-The Children's House was opened recently in Moscow by the Chabad educational institutions in that city. The "House" serves as a "home away from home" for children from single-parent families, underprivileged homes and children at risk. The idea was concevied by Rabbi Berel Lazar, chief rabbi of Russia, who has pledged to aid in the opening of similar Houses throughout the former Soviet Union.
...I appreciate the kind sentiments expressed in your letter. But I am mindful of the dictum of our Sages of the Talmud (B. M. end of p.84a) to the effect that compliments and approbations, how-ever justified, do not help to clarify issues, where-as a question or challenge, requiring an answer or explanation, can be more helpful to bring out important practical points and elucidations.
Following this principle and especially in view of the opening lead of your letter, referring to the well-known question (and challenge) Ayeka - where are you - in light of the Alter Rebbe's [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism] explanation of it, which reappears again in the concluding paragraph of your letter, the course of my response is already chartered.
There is no need, of course, to point out to you that when the question Ayeka is posed to a private individual, it is likely to refer to the indivi-dual personally and to his immediate family, while the same question put to a person of influence and communal responsibility, to whom many look up for inspiration, Chinuch [Jewish education] and guidance in their daily life and conduct, the question has much wider implications. It also calls for an assessment as to where he stands and what he has accomplished in the public domain. Indeed, perhaps the latter is the more significant challenge, for it is there that the person's fullest achievement is expressed, as it comes to light in those who benefited from his influence, and it is more significant for many reasons.
Needless to say, the foregoing is not contra-dicted in the least by the popular adage -"first correct yourself then correct others." Certainly in this country, and in these days, it is the duty of everyone who has any influence in his surrounding to take an active part in promoting Torah-Chinuch, bearing in mind that even a slight improvement during the formative years may well result in signi-ficant benefits in later years to the extent of affec-ting one's whole life and that of one's family, etc. The prospect is not the same, of course, for the person who is of the older generation, since he is already a mature person with a defined course in life, though he, too, is capable of a radical change and advancement to an incomparable degree.
As you are surely aware, the contemporary young generation, more than at any other time in the past, is not afraid of a challenge, even if it should entail radical change and great hardship. It is rather those who are supposed to present the challenge to them who fail to give our youngsters credit, thinking that if it is offered in a diluted form, it will be more appealing and acceptable. Their fear of tafasta miruba [too much at once] has got them down so much that all that they offer is miut sheb'miut - very little - not realizing how self-defeating their approach is.
I should not be at ease with my conscience, both for my sake and yours, if I were not to put it in plain words. I am confident that you will not take it amiss. I speak of living Yiddishkeit in the daily life and conduct in terms of actual observance, what our Sages call maase eikar - the essential thing is the practice of Mitzvos [commandments]; not the kind of Judaism that is practiced on certain occasions, or on certain days of the year, but every day; until the habit becomes second nature - in this case, actually the essential nature....
Now a word about my Ayeka, to which you refer at the end of your letter. Certainly it includes all that has been said above, and more. I wonder what were the "practical" results of our meeting and discussion, with you and your wife, when I was not only a listener but also a speaker. My Ayeka makes me ponder to what extent were my words effective - not in terms of pleasant recol-lections, but in terms of maase eikar. I will not dwell on this point, not out of any apprehension that it may embarrass you, but because there is no need to elaborate on it to you.
But I do wish to mention another pertinent point, though I may have mentioned it in the course of our conversation. I have in mind the matter of devarim biteilim, "useless words," which, like all expressions of our Sages, is a precise and meaningful term. Whenever we come across this term in Halalcha [Jewish Law], and even more so in Pnimius haTorah [the inner aspects of Torah], it is of course in a rather negative and reprehen-sible sense, and in some respects it has to do with kedushas haloshon, the sanctity of language. At first glance, a more appropriate expression would seem to be devarim asurim, "forbidden words," or devarim miusim, "obscene words," or some similar term as "unbecoming language," and the like. But this is precisely where the meaning of devarim biteilim comes in, namely, that it refers not to the quality of the word, but to their effect, whether they are useful or useless. One may speak good words, even quoting words of Torah, but if they do not impress the listener and do not affect him in terms of maase eikar, the deed is primary, then they are devarim biteilim. The blame must be placed on the speaker, since we have the rule that "words coming from the heart penetrate the heart and are eventually effective."
I trust that this letter finds you and your family in good health. If you should think it worthwhile to convey some points of my letter to your wife, I would be gratified, of course.
12 Shevat, 5763 - January 15, 2003
Positive Mitzva 157: Telling the Story of the Exodus from Egypt
This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 13:8) "You shall relate to your children on that day." The story of the Exodus from Egypt commemorates a very special event in the history of the Jewish people. Each year, on Passover, we are commanded to retell this story.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
"I came into my garden..." With these words, a quotation from the Song of Songs, the Rebbe began the interpretation of a Chasidic discourse of the Previous Rebbe that marked the Rebbe's official acceptance of the leadership of Chabad-Lubavitch.
This took place fifty-two years ago, on the Tenth of the Jewish month of Shevat (January 13 this year). We are now entering the fifty-third year of the Rebbe's leardership. Fifty-three, in Hebrew letters, is id - gan, or garden.
When one speaks of "the garden," especially in a Jewish context, the garden that automatically comes to mind is, of course, the Garden of Eden. The Garden of Eden was the idyllic place where all was perfect. And, in fact, before Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge, all was perfect! There was no hunger, there was no strife, there was no illness. Food was plentiful, life was blissful. Even animal-life existed on a unique plane, with the wolf and the lamb living together peacefully, the bear and the eagle living in harmony.
Our Sages teach that the perfect state the world will achieve in the Messianic Era is a hearkening back to the Garden of Eden. Though to us it is only "natural" that people should be sick, hungry and illiterate, that there should be strife amongst neighbors and war between nations, the true order and nature of the world is the Garden of Eden.
The Rebbe's leadership throughout the past fifty-two years has been to empower the individual to recreate the Garden and to enter it, together with all of humankind.
As we enter this Garden year of the Rebbe's leadership, may each and everyone of us allow ourselves to actualize our potential through increasing our performance of good deeds, of mitzvot, and of Torah study, thereby coming into the Garden together with all of our loved ones, may it happen NOW!
This month shall be unto you the beginning of months (Ex. 12:2)
Each month when we sanctify the new moon we say, "David, King of Israel, is living and enduring." Every month, when the moon diminishes and seems to disappear for a short time, there is no doubt in our minds that it still exists and that it will eventually reappear. Similarly, although its reign is now in a period of dormancy, we have faith that the House of King David will rule in all its glory with the coming of Moshiach.
And in order that you may tell in the ears of your son...and you shall know that I am G-d (Ex. 10:2)
How can a parent imbue his children with a sincere faith in G-d? "You shall know that I am G-d" - you yourselves must believe in G-d first, before you teach your offspring.
(Rabbi Yehoshua Rokeach)
They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place (10:23)
The worst kind of darkness is when a person does not see his brother or extend his hand to help the needy. When one ignores his responsibilities and makes believe that the problems of others don't exist, the end result is that he himself will suffer and not be able to rise.
And you shall eat it in haste (12:11)
Why the big rush when the Children of Israel finally left Egypt? Didn't their extreme haste give the mistaken impression that they had to escape quickly? Pharaoh actually wanted them to leave; they could have departed at a more leisurely pace. However, leaving Egypt was not a mere geographical move for the Jews; it was a moral step in the right direction. It was a step away from the world of spiritual degradation they had become accustomed to in Egypt. When a person desires to sever his connection to evil, it must be done all at once and not gradually. A person must grab the first opportunity that presents itself to escape from a negative influence.
Yud Shevat, the tenth of the month of Shevat, is the yartzeit (anniversary of the passing) of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe.
The following story was related by Rabbi Zalman Notik of Yeshivat Torat Emet in Jerusalem:
A group of yeshiva students were on their regular Friday afternoon schedule of helping Jewish boys and men put on tefilin. The students met a group of recent immigrants from the Soviet Union.
The students were teaching the men how to put on tefilin when all of a sudden an old Russian-born Jew approached them excitedly: "You're from Lubavitch?" he asked them. "Do I have a story to tell you!
"When I was a youth back in Russia," he began, "I used to attend the secret Torah gatherings (farbrengens) of the Lubavitchers. I also used to pray with them and went to their classes.
"At one farbrengen I will always remember, the main discussion was the desire to be reunited with the Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak (the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe). We sang 'G-d should give us good health and life, and we will be reunited with our Rebbe.' Our intense yearning to be with the Rebbe was almost palpable, and was growing from minute to minute.
"In the middle of the farbrengen, a few of the Chasidim suddenly stood up and decided to 'take action.' Grabbing some chairs, they turned them upside-down and arranged them in a row to make a 'train.' Just picture it - grown men behaving like kindergarten children, sitting on overturned chairs and making believe they were going to the Rebbe!
"Most of the others, myself included, stood around watching. We laughed at them and told them they were crazy. What ridiculous, childish nonsense!
"But, do you know," concluded the man in amazement, "within a short time, all of the Chasidim who rode the 'train' received permission to leave Russia, and actually did go to the Rebbe. Whereas the rest of us, the 'normal' ones, were left behind. As you can see, most of us did not have the strength to keep up our observance of Torah and mitzvot (commandments), and are only now beginning to catch up..."
From Beis Moshiach Magazine
The financial situation in Yeshivat Tomchei Temimim-Lubavitch was very difficult. There was never enough food for the students let alone money for other necessities. One of the directors of the yeshiva approached a very wealthy Jew in Rostov and asked him for help.
At first the man refused, but after much prodding he finally agreed to contribute some of the much-needed funds. He would give the money, however, on one condition: He and his wife had been married for many years and still had no children. If the rabbi would promise them a son, the man would help the yeshiva.
The yeshiva desperately needed the money. The rabbi promised the wealthy man that in the merit of his tzedaka (charity) he would have a son. The man gave the money and the crisis lessened.
A year passed but no celebration for the birth of a child took place in the wealthy man's house. He went to the director of the yeshiva and said, "You promised me a child. I kept my part of the deal but you haven't kept yours." The rabbi encouraged the man to have faith and to wait patiently. He was certain that in the merit of the tzedaka the couple would have a child.
Another year passed and still no child was born. This time the wealthy man approached the rabbi angrily. "You deceived me. You promised me a child and we do not have any children!"
The rabbi went to the Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, and told him the whole story. "Who told you that you could promise someone that they will be blessed with children when you cannot keep your word?"
"But Rebbe," the rabbi replied, "the yeshiva was in dire straites and I was certain that in the merit of his donation that would enable hundreds of students to study Torah that he and his wife would be blessed with a child."
"Still," said the Rebbe, "it is forbidden to make a promise that you cannot personally keep."
A few years passed. The man began harassing the rabbi on a daily basis. Day after day he confronted him, crying bitterly, "Where is the child you promised me?"
The rabbi again went to the Rebbe. "He will not leave me alone. He does not let me live," the rabbi told the Rebbe.
"Go to the man," said the Rebbe, "and tell him in my name that he will have a child this year. And never again make a promise that you can't keep."
The following year the man and his wife made a festive celebration upon the brit mila (circumcision) of their son.
We are at the pinnacle of Jewish history, the time most appropriate for the Redemption to come. And the coming of the Redemption will be further hastened by the commemoration of Yud Shevat, by holding gatherings in connection with that date, by studying the Previous Rebbe's teachings, and dedicating ourselves to the activities he promulgated. And this will hasten the fulfillment of the prophecy "Those that lie in the dust will arise and sing," at which time we will emerge from the exile and proceed to the Holy Land, to Jerusalem, and to the Third Holy Temple.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 6 Shevat, 5752-1992)