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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Two people have an argument. They're not close friends, just acquaintances. They belong to the same organization. Or they're co-workers, members of the same synagogue, together on some community committee.
The argument might start as a question or a suggestion. The "offender" might make a remark he thought perfectly innocent; the "offended" might not speak up, from shyness, shock or a myriad of reasons. But the "offended" seethes, and the "offender's" next statement increases the aggravation and agitation.
Somehow a conversation starts. The aggrieved decides to confront his "antagonist." They'll have it out - politely. He'll speak his mind, explain why his feelings are hurt, why the other has been unjust, admit his own culpability, offer solutions and reconciliation. The other, willing to be reasonable, listens, explains, rationalizes, accepts and debates. As they approach a compromise, though, things deteriorate. They end up where they started, or worse, farther apart and more antagonistic, more stubborn, with more animosity.
A day goes by. A week. Two weeks. A month, maybe two. They have to work together, or be sociable - attend the same services or functions. One of them approaches a third party, laying out his case. The third party knows both, very well. A friend, a boss, a counselor, a rabbi - both accept the third party as objective.
He suggests another attempt. Try again. Find different words. He knows them both and the other isn't mean-spirited. They all share a common goal, a unity of purpose. Think of the greater good, the organization, the value and contribution of the other.
A second attempt is made. It's harder to get started this time. Hard feelings, suspicions, resentments, trivial mountains linger, ramble through the thoughts and words. There's a stiffness and reluctance between them. Each resists revealing too much and sidesteps the overtures.
At first they neither converse nor confront, but fence, feinting, diverting, approaching, probing. Then, as if choreographed, they begin interacting, working it out and working together. An understanding, perhaps only tentative, is reached. The relationship, maybe scarred, is deeper and stronger.
Without the second attempt, the intellectual impediments and emotional obstructions would remain, seemingly immoveable, certainly growing more entrenched. And, truthfully, sometimes one must approach the other more than once, and more than twice. Still, if the will is there, however concealed, then, eventually, ultimately - although more than occasionally after great effort and some sacrifice of pride and ego - "words from the heart go to the heart."
The Rebbe often used that expression, "words from the heart..." He frequently emphasized, and frequently advised, that if one speaks sincerely, intending good - good for the other person - surely the words must have an impact. A negative response, or one less than desirable, indicated a deficiency in the words or the heart of the speaker. For surely, if the words were from the heart, they would reach another heart.
Whether the matter involves Jewish observances, a personal relationship or a business arrangement, if disharmony has displaced unity, we should remember that one note, by itself, isn't off-key. The discord is in our hearts.
Yet we can and should try again, assured that "words from the heart ..."
This week's Torah portion, Behaalot'cha, opens with the command to Aaron to kindle the lamps of the menora, the seven-branched candelabra that stood in the Sanctuary.
Aaron, whose duties as the High Priest are also described in Behaalot'cha, was known for his love of every creature. Hillel said of him, "Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow-creatures and drawing them near to the Torah."
What was so special about Aaron's way of life that we are enjoined to emulate it? Aaron did not wait for those who stood in darkness to come within the circle of light, but went out to them. He went, in Hillel's words, to his "fellow creatures," a word including those who had no other merit than that they too, were G-d's creations. Nonetheless, he "drew them near to the Torah," rather than drawing the Torah near to them. He did not simplify or compromise its commandments in order to bring it down to their level. Rather than lower the Torah, he raised people.
This facet of Aaron's life is suggested in this week's portion which opens with the command, "When you light (literally, 'raise up') the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light in front of the menora" (Numbers 8:2).
The lamps of the menora of the Sanctuary are a symbol of the Jewish soul - "The lamp of the L-rd is the soul of man." Aaron's task was to raise up every soul, to bring out the Divine within the Jew from its concealment in the subconscious.
The Sages sought an explanation for the fact that the word "raise up" (behaalot'cha) is used, instead of the more obvious "light" or "kindle." And they concluded that the verse meant that Aaron was to kindle them "until the flame rises up by itself."
Aaron's spiritual achievement was therefore not only to light the flame in the souls of the Jewish people, but to take them to the stage where they would give light of their own accord. He did not simply create disciples, people who were dependent on his inspiration. He engendered in them a love of G-d that they could sustain without his help.
This was Aaron's path, "loving peace and pursuing peace, loving his fellow creatures and drawing them near to Torah." And this must be the path of every Jew, lighting the dormant flame in the souls of Jews wherever they are to be found, preferring to be close than to be aloof, to be kind rather than severe, in bringing all our people nearer to Judaism.
Excerpted from Torah Studies by Jonathan Sacks, based on talks by the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
The Ballad of Banjo Billy
by Yehuda L. Efune
Banjo Billy's looking for a home/ Banjo Billy's walking alone..." That's a line out of Pinchas (Pete) Spicer's signature song, and so he is. Pete had been traveling the world for almost a year when he stopped over in Morristown, New Jersey on his way down to Nashville, Tennessee and New Orleans, Louisiana. The day he arrived, he caught my eye. Was it the psychedelic skullcap on top of his long hair, or simply the air of a traveler he had about himself? He certainly stood out in our yeshiva dining hall where most of the students are sporting dark pants, white shirts and black kippot or hats!
I started talking to Pinchas and he told me that he plays the banjo. Who on earth plays the banjo these days? It had been raining all that day in November, but toward evening it had cleared up to so we stepped out into the fresh air of the yeshiva's spacious grounds. Pete sat down on a step and started tuning up his banjo, tweaking the knobs and twanging the strings. The instrument seemed to have a character of its own... students came out of the building and stood around to listen.
"This song is my Jewish answer to 'Country Boy'," he was saying, "I call it 'Kosher Boy'!" As he strummed the first chords, more guys joined us. One of the rabbis walked by; without stopping he turned his head and smiled. I listened to the song, its notes and lyrics.
"Hey, Pinchas. Did you ever study the Tanya? There are some deep Chasidic ideas in that song..." I said to him.
"Really? Like what?"
"Okay, let's see... the guy decides to keep kosher, right? But then someone tries to get him to have some rabbit stew, or some kangaroo, and he has to keep on saying 'No thanks, I'm a kosher boy now!'"
"Yeah, well, that's just about my own experience starting to keep kosher."
"Well, I guess you've been doing it right. It's important not to get caught up fighting the challenges. Usually the best thing is to say 'no' and just walk away. That's what it says in Tanya - that's the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy."
"Really? What else does it say," asked Pinchas, intrigued.
"Well, it's basically a kind of self-help book for the soul. Another thing it says is that you should never feel bad about the different challenges that come up; overcoming them is the whole point."
Pinchas had planned to move on after a few days. Originally a music teacher from Sydney, Australia, he had quit his job in order to travel the world. Eventually he was planning on making his way to Israel where he hoped to settle.
But Pinchas changed his ticket and took some time out of his travels to study Torah. He stayed a month at the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, New Jersey. I studied a chapter of Tanya with him. Sometimes, we walked around the campus, or strolled in the corridors if it was raining. In the evenings, Pinchas played his music. One day I introduced him to Rabbi Boruch Klar, the person behind the annual Jewish Renaissance Fair in New Jersey. A week later Pinchas was playing at Rabbi Klar's Chabad Center in West Orange.
"Here's a song I wrote on the road, y'know, on that road that leads toward the 'City of G-d.' You learn about all the mitzvos, and sometimes all those does and don'ts can seem like a bit much. This is a song about it called 'One More Mitzva.'
Light applause, then Pinchas began: "Now doing a mitzva's a beautiful thing, of that you can be sure/ my rabbi says it'll lift me, get me closer to the L-rd/ but when I asked him, 'Hit me! How many do I need?/ he said, 'Oh, not too many, just six hundred 'n' thirteen...'
"Well I started wearing tzitzis, doing tefilin every day/ at first I was afraid about changing my ways... Then I stopped eating all those foods that we are not allowed/ I'm a Kosher Boy now, oh L-rd, You must be proud/ But when I heard you're not allowed to eat at all sometimes/ I said 'Well one fast is alright, but L-rd, don't give me nine!' "And I looked up to the sky and said, 'Don't give me one more mitzva, I declare/ I'll try to serve You in Your way but don't put me in despair/ Oh L-rd, You know that I love You and I'll never say goodbye/ But don't give me one more mitzva, or I'm gonna cry...'
"He's the next Bob Dylan!" said one member of the audience. But Pinchas prefers to see himself closer to Dylan's singer/songwriter role-model, the restless Woody Guthrie whose playing cheered on the Oklahoma dust bowl refugees, as they rode freight trains, walked and hitchhiked west toward the promised land of California. In a way we're all refugees, even if our memory of home has faded in the two thousand years since we had to leave. Pinchas brings to mind in his songs the epic journey of the Wandering Jew. "I don't remember yesterday, or the day before/I usually lose all track of time/ but one day I'll know, what all this traveling's for/ soon as I see this land of mine..."
But as well as chronicling his progress until now, Pinchas is a modern-day minstrel bringing news of better times ahead. "Once upon a starry night, I went out to greet the moon/ I heard a voice a-callin' out 'Moshiach's coming soon!'... And I looked up to the sky and said 'Just give me one more mitzva, I declare/ I know how to serve You in Your way, I'm no longer in despair...' "
Banjo Billy is looking for his home, but the roads that lead to Jerusalem have been long and winding. Keep your eyes open, though. He might be passing through your town on his way.
New Center for Chabad of Geneva
The activities of Chabad of Geneva, Swizerland, under the leadership of Rabbi Menachem and Peshie Pevzner, will be expanding with the acquisition of a facility in the center of town. Once renovations are completed, the four story building will house a synagogue, Jewish day school, afternoon Hebrew school, auditorium, classrooms, libray, fully-equipped kitchen and a mikva.
Freely translated from a letter of the Rebbe
10 Elul, 5704 (1944)
I took pleasure in reading your essay, seeing that you reflected upon deep ideas and assessed them with powerful thought. I thank you for presenting your ideas to me and asking me to comment on them...
The concepts you touched upon are very deep and mortal language is lacking in its ability to express these concepts in full and complete detail. Therefore there are some matters that are left unclear and they give rise to doubts.
Instead of touching upon the particular points mentioned in your essay, I will address several of its general thrusts. After stating what I perceive to be the conclusion of your essay, I will respond to it.
Your conception appears to be: Every entity initially exists in a germinal state. It develops and grows until it reaches a state of fulfillment according to its present state.
This state of fulfillment, however, is itself only a seed (perhaps it would be better to say a preliminary and preparatory stage) for the rung which it will ascend to. And so, it will ascend from level to level, becoming one with other entities (who have also gone through a similar process of development). The combination of all of them together forms a seed from which a compound entity grows. This compound entity serves as a seed for a more developed entity. And so this chain continues.
Man finds himself at a given point in this chain. He possesses and manifests a new power - spirituality and free choice - that empowers him to climb further according to these "laws" of development or to oppose them.
Several factors remain unclear in the exposition in the essay:
Free choice is given only to man. All the other entities are controlled by a natural process of growth and development. Thus giving man free choice appears to be to his detriment. All of the other entities can proceed only forward, while man, because of his power of free choice, can also retreat.
It is not clear what is meant by an entity that grows and develops. For example, a seed is planted. This seed itself grows and becomes a tree that bears sour and small apples, but from that tree comes fruit which produces a tree with sweet and larger apples.
It is inappropriate to say that the first seed will develop into a second, improved seed, for the first seed no longer exists. Similarly, it is inappropriate to say that the species of apple trees has developed, since a species is not a defined entity. It is an abstract concept which our minds employ to make it easier to comprehend different concepts by grouping phenomena into different categories and species. Is it your intent to say that nature developed? That until the present what had existed was a tree with sour fruit and through this process of development, nature produces a tree with sweet fruit?
You did not explain what are the criteria through which we can evaluate what is development and what is regression. For example, when comparing sweet apples to sour ones, we cannot say absolutely that the sweet apples represent development. For it is only from the perspective of man's needs that it is considered as such.
Acute sight can be considered as an advantage and a sign of development for an animal living in a bright place that is required to use its eyes. For an animal in different circumstances, it would be considered a lack, and a regression, since it is of no value to him and the eye requires "nourishment," i.e., attention and energy. It is well known that the eyesight of the horses which live underground and work in the coal mines in England for many years deteriorates from year to year. Similarly, there are several types of fish who live in caves at the bottom of rivers and lakes where sunlight does not reach them and their eyes are almost useless or they have no eyes at all.
In a general sense, a more developed and complex entity is - according to our perspective - on a higher rung of the ladder of development than a more simple entity (e.g., a monkey is more developed than a worm). From the standpoint of that entity and its striving for existence, the opposite is true. A simple entity (e.g., a worm) can exist in both the cold and the heat. When it is cut, each portion becomes a separate, living entity. Its sustenance and its needs are simply and amply available. There is almost no sense of sickness that applies to it. These characteristics are not found in more complex forms of life.
continued in next issue
From I Will Write it in their Hearts, published by S.I.E.
According to the scheme that, at the outset, simple entities develop individually and afterwards, they join together, their coming together and uniting as a single (complex) entity is considered an ascent to a higher level of fulfillment for each of them.
Here a question arises: What or who is the grand coordinator who from the outset leads each of the entities on its path of development in a manner that it will complement another entity? With regard to the development of the entity itself, it is possible to say that everything is included in the seed, the germinal state from which the development begins. What connection, however, can it and its essence have with another entity? Therefore we must say that there is a coordinator outside of both entities and above them. It rules over both entities and leads them on the appropriate path to a common purpose that also surpasses these two entities.
Some basic concepts relevant to the above have their foundations in the teachings of Chassidus:
The Holy One, blessed be He, created the world and all it contains. In every entity, there is a Divine spark that brings it into being and grants it life at every moment. This spark is hidden, and not revealed. And yet, were it not for it, the entity would return to utter nothingness and void. (To cite an example, a person's soul is not seen. Its existence can be appreciated only by the mind.)
Whenever this G-dly spark is more apparent and active in a particular entity, that entity is - in a revealed manner - closer to its true existence. Accordingly, it ascends, develops more, and reaches greater fulfillment.
G-d is the source and the essence of life. Therefore the more this life-energy is revealed, [the greater] the ascent on the ladder of development. Therefore plant life is higher than inanimate existence. Animals are higher than plant life. And humans are higher than animals.
The Creator enjoys absolute liberty. For He created, not only all existence, but also the laws of nature. The only thing comparable to this - freedom and free choice - we find in man. This is one of the proofs that man is higher - in development - than the other created beings.
If a person, acting with his free choice does the opposite of what is desired and appropriate, through his deeds (acting in a "gluttonous and indulgent"[ Devarim 21:19.] manner), he increases the concealment of the G-dly spark in himself and in other entities. Not only does he not ascend on the ladder of development, he descends and brings down with him (the food, the drink, and the Divine spark enclothed within them), adding to the havoc of the world.
[The opposite is true] when, however, through his free choice, he chooses good deeds. Not only does he personally ascend the ladder of development - such ascents are also common to other created beings who fulfill their purpose [in creation] - but he - due to his own [initiative] and will, for he had free choice - contributes a new dimension to the creation. In this he becomes a creator as it were. It is as if the Creator endows man with His creative power. As our Sages comment (Bereishis Rabbah, ch. 98): "Yisrael (Yaakov) creates worlds."
If you have any feedback with regard to the above, I would be happy to hear from you at any time.
20 Sivan, 5763 - June 20, 2003
Positive Mitzva 102: "Tzara'at" Impurity Affecting Clothes
This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 13:47) "The garment in which there is a plague of Tzara'at..." It is the kohein (priest) who determines this impurity. This teaches us that our actions can even cause our own possessions to become affected by this Tzara'at impurity.
Positive Mitzva 103: "Tzara'at" Impurity in Houses
This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 14:34) "A plague of Tzara'at in a house." The impure signs of Tzara'at may also appear on the walls of a house. The kohein is called to inspect the house and determine the impurity. When a house is considered marked by this impurity, the stones in the wall must be removed as a step towards purification.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Despite the passing of the "me" generation and the "greed" generation, the "now" generation - an entire society that wants and expects immediate gratification and reward NOW - has persisted.
"We want Moshiach NOW!" These words have been the "theme song," if you will, of Jewish children around the globe for nearly a decade. In an age when everyone wants everything NOW, it's about time we started putting our energies into the right area - wanting, demanding, and persisting until our goal is achieved - the revelation of Moshiach and the commencement of the long-awaited Redemption.
So what can you and I realistically do to hasten Moshiach's arrival? The same thing we do when we want a tangible possession - we work hard to earn it.
Specifically, our Sages have taught that giving charity brings the Redemption closer. Also, by performing additional mitzvot and/or enhancing some of the mitzvot we already do, we prepare ourselves for the Messianic Era and can actually hasten its arrival.
Finally, we can adopt the attitude toward wanting Moshiach that we have about anything else we really want: we become obsessed with it, talk about it constantly, tell other people about it, and work at it until it happens. And this, ultimately, is how we will bring Moshiach NOW.
And the men said to him, "We are defiled by the dead body of a man. Why should we be kept back?" (Num. 9:7)
We do not find in the Torah any other instance where a mitzva (commandment) that must be done at a specific time can be completed at a later date. Only the Passover sacrifice is permitted to be fulfilled one month later. Why is this case special? There were many Jews who tried or wanted to bring the sacrifice at the correct time but for various reasons could not. They pleaded not to be excluded. In the merit of their requests, a later date was given to them. The future Redemption will also come about in the same manner. If we will stubbornly do all in our mean to end our own exile, and beg and plead with G-d with all our heart and soul, the Redemption will come.
(Rabbi Shlomo Cohen of Radomsk)
Have I conceived all these people? Have I given birth to them? (Num. 11:12)
Moses said to G-d: "I'm not the one who must suffer because of the Jews. You are responsible." A parent must share the suffering and distress of his children and have mercy on them, for good and for bad.
(Rabbi Simcha Bunim)
This is the workmanship of the menora - beaten work of gold (Num. 8:4)
"Beaten work of gold," explains Rashi, means that the menora was to be made of a single piece of gold, beaten or pounded until it assumed the proper shape. Likewise, a person who desires to transform himself into a "menora," to kindle his G-dly spark and be illuminated with the light of Torah, should also do the same to himself - striking away at his negative qualities and working on his character until he, too, assumes the proper form.
From the base, until the flowers, beaten work (Num. 8:4)
The base of the menora symbolizes the lowest level of Jews; the flowers, those on the highest spiritual plane. The Torah demands that the menora be made out of one piece of gold, just as the Jewish people is but one entity. Every Jew is incomplete by himself, without the rest of the Jewish nation, just as in the human body, the foot needs the head to function no less than the head requires the foot for mobility.
The man Moses was very humble - more than any man on the face of the earth. (12:3)
Did Moses really not perceive his own special qualities? Because of his superiority over all other people he was chosen by G-d that the Torah be given through him. However, Moses would say to himself: "If someone else had received all the great powers from Heaven that I did, he would certainly have achieved more and attained a higher level than I have. Another would have certainly used these great resources better than I." In this way, Moses considered himself lower than everyone else.
Wolfe the Cobbler and his wife wandered from town to town supporting themselves by cobbling, a job Wolfe carried on with great keenness. Cobbling meant for him much more than a means of earning a modest living, it was a shield behind which to hide his piety and scholarship.
Wolfe's wandering went on for some time until he reached a village in Wohlyn, not far from Lukatsh, where they settled and made their permanent home, "permanent" until they had to leave.
In this village Wolfe had at first found the contentment he had been looking for. He was able to lead a quiet, unassuming life without it occurring to anyone that he was a great man, a scholar and mystic. Wolfe had won a good name for himself among Jews and non-Jews alike on account of his honesty and conscientiousness in his work. He was liked for his quiet manner, and for never gossiping about people. In truth, Wolfe spoke very little altogether, and was considered a silent fellow. People ascribed this to his simplicity as well as to his goodness.
Now something occurred which compelled Wolfe and his wife again to pack and depart. In this village there lived a priest who was trying to convert the Jews. At first the priest began with soft words and a friendly manner. Every time there was a public holiday he called together all the inhabitants, Jews as well as non-Jews, and addressed the assembly from a platform in the market place.
It did not take very long, however, before the Jews saw that the priest's fine words were but a preparation. It soon became clear that all this talk of "friendship" led to his open request that the Jews submit to conversion. Soon, the priest began openly to rant against the Jewish faith.
Learned Jews knew how to answer such arguments. Jewish leaders throughout the ages have had to deal with so-called proofs submitted by missionaries, and frustrated them completely. In this village in Wohlyn, however, there seemed to be no Jew capable of replying convincingly to the priest.
Once, just before a Christian festival in the summer, the priest assembled all Jews and non-Jews in the market place again and addressed them from the platform in his usual manner. But this time the priest spoke more sharply against the Jewish religion and demanded that the Jews should embrace Christianity. He made fun of their customs and of their faith.
"Can anyone reply to my arguments?" asked the priest, looking around, confident that there was no Jew present who could reply. But suddenly someone stepped forward from among the gathered Jews, saying in a clear voice that he was ready to answer the priest. Everybody in the crowd turned round to see who this man could possibly be. And, to their great astonishment, it was Wolfe the Cobbler.
"What is the idea of his coming forward?" the people asked each other, in wonder. The priest was intrigued.
"Good Wolfe," he called out, "do you wish to say something? Come up here onto the platform and let us all hear what you have to say!" The priest was obviously certain that this Wolfe could help pin the Jews down.
With assured steps Wolfe walked onto the platform and began to speak. To the amazement of all present, they heard language which they had never believed could come from him. He spoke in a fluent clear Polish, unusual for a Jew in those days. The biggest surprise he gave the listeners, however, was what he said. He started refuting the priest's arguments one after another, and brought counter-arguments which made the priest appear ridiculous. The cobbler quoted passage after passage from the Bible in Hebrew, quickly and fluently translating them into Polish. Surprisingly, everyone understood him clearly and easily, and could see that he was right.
Thus was Wolfe discovered to be a mystic. His own actions had brought this about, but the urgent need of upholding the sanctity of G-d's name, had left him no alternative. After that, however, he did not feel like remaining in Wohlyn. He had fulfilled his mission in this place; he could leave now.
The Midrash relates that Moses was privileged to see the Book of Adam, which records all the generations that would ever be born, along with their leaders. Moses saw that the last generation before Moshiach would possess souls of a very lowly spiritual stature. However, He saw that they would be involved with Torah and its commandments with self-sacrifice, despite all obstacles, and that they would give great pleasure to G-d. Moses was in awe of these souls, and considered himself smaller than they, the last generation to be born before Moshiach's arrival.
(Sefer Hamaamarim Tav-Shin-Yud)