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There's a famous story about the Tzemech Tzedek, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, and one of his Chasidim. The Chasid wanted to move to Israel and came to the Rebbe to ask for his approval and blessing. The Rebbe refused; after some discussion he told the Chasid, "make Israel here."
What he meant, of course, was that the Chasid should transform his environment, to reveal the spiritual potential inherent where he lived. The Chasid did not have to travel to Israel to find spiritual fulfillment. Indeed, his life's mission, the reason why his soul came into the physical world, required him to be someplace else.
In our own lives we often dream of moving to "Israel." In the metaphoric sense, Israel represents not necessarily the land of our ancestors, but an idyllic other place. Our fantasy goes beyond the childish "grass is greener" syndrome, because we can imagine ourselves enduring hardships. Indeed, we imagine them deeply, admiring our projected heroism, dedication and sacrifice.
But the main point of "moving to Israel" is to move out of wherever we are. Sometimes the pressures get to us and we want to avoid life, but change the rules, play a different game, so to speak. And so the Tzemech Tzedek tells us - you can't change places by moving yourself. You can only change your place by moving - transforming your place. You don't like your environmental conditions? Transform them!
Behind this we can discover two other ideas. One is hashgacha pratit - Divine Providence. We're taught that G-d guides a person's footsteps. We are where we are because G-d wants us there. We have a Divine mission to fulfill. Our souls have a connection to some spark of holiness, buried in the place where we find ourselves. Our task is to reveal that spark, to uncover the G-dliness, the "Land of Israel" buried within the deepest recesses of the earth.
That's why we have to make Israel here.
This parallels a concept found in Midrashic literature, that "in the future the Land of Israel will extend into all lands." This means that in the times of Moshiach the holiness, the revelations of G-dliness naturally manifest in the Land of Israel, will extend over the whole world. As Isaiah says, "The earth will be filled with knowledge of G-d."
And here's the second point. Obviously, every Jew belongs in the Land of Israel. The Land of Israel is special and sacred. But we can go to Israel, taking the "here" - New York, Seattle, Buenos Aires, Sydney, etc. - with us, in which case we make Israel into here, into a New York, a Sydney, etc.
Or we can make Israel here, so that no matter where we are, we are in Israel - just as the Sages of the Midrash envisioned the Redemption.
So, when during exile we make here - wherever here is, meaning, wherever we are - into Israel, then that Israel-quality we have implanted will sprout and come to fruition during the times of Moshiach.
This week's Torah reading, Behaalotcha, begins with the command to Aaron to kindle the Menora, the candelabrum in the Sanctuary. The Menora symbolizes the Jewish people, for the purpose of every Jew's existence is to spread Divine light throughout the world, as it is written: "The soul of man is the lamp of G-d." With "the light of the Torah, and the candle of mitzvot (commandments)," our people illuminate our surrounding environment.
The Menora extends upward in seven branches, which symbolizes seven different paths of Divine service. And yet it was made of a single piece of gold. This shows that the various different qualities that characterize the Jewish people do not detract from their fundamental unity. Diversity need not lead to division, and the development of true unity comes from a synthesis of different thrusts, every person expressing his own unique talents and personality.
Not only does the Menora point to the importance of every individual, the manner in which it was kindled underscores the need for independent effort. This concept is reflected in the literal meaning of the phrase the Torah uses when relaying G-d's command to kindle the Menora: "When you raise up the lamps." The foremost commentator Rashi explains that this means the priest should apply the flame to the wick "until the flame rises on its own," and shines independently.
Interpreting this concept allegorically, each of the expressions Rashi uses reflects a fundamental concept.
"The flame" - Every person is potentially a "lamp." This, however, is not enough. He must realize his potential and become a flame, producing radiant light.
"Rises" - A person should not remain content with his current level, no matter how refined. Instead, he should seek to proceed further, searching for a higher and more complete degree of Divine service.
"On its own" - A person must internalize the influence of his teachers until their light becomes his own. The knowledge he learns should endow him with the power to "shine" independently.
Moreover, he should "rise on his own," i.e., the desire to proceed should become his own nature. Even without the encouragement of others, he should continually seek to advance.
These concepts apply not only to our personal strivings for spiritual growth, but also to the manner in which we reach out to others. We should not encourage dependency. Instead, our intent should be that the people with whom we share Judaism should also become "flame[s] which rise on [their] own" - independent lamps that spread the "light of Torah" throughout their surroundings.
From Keeping in Touch adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Rabbi E Touger, published by Sichos In English.
Be Fruitful and Multiply But When?
By Steven C. Goodman
I had been feeling uncharacteristically tired. Probably not getting enough sleep. When my lack of energy persisted, I figured I'd play it safe and see a doctor. The doctor ordered some tests. No big deal. Hardly alarming.
Several days later and two days before my family and I were to leave to spend Passover in Florida, I received a call during dinner. It was the doctor. He suggested I call off my trip. A biopsy was needed - immediately.
Somehow Sharon and I managed not to preoccupy ourselves with fear of the unknown. The next day she and friends koshered our house for Passover while I had surgery, and the following night we made the Seder.
It took four days and four nights to get the biopsy results.
On my seventh wedding anniversary, in my 37ththirty-seventh year I was informed I had Hodgkin's Disease, a cancer of the lymph system.
Eight years earlier, I was leading a life that could only described as charmed.
I had finally met my bashert, the woman for whom G-d had intended me. Jewish teachings state that finding one's bashert is an equivalent miracle to the parting of the Red Sea. No argument here.
The unifying theme of our marriage was and is our commitment to Judaism. Neither of us was raised in a religious home, but we had come to believe we were part of a people with a mission, a mission defined through the 613 commandments of the Torah. The first of these mitzvot is to "be fruitful and multiply."
Whether it was this knowledge or something more intuitive, after our first year of marriage it seemed only natural to begin raising a family.
Money was not a concern. The 80s were bestowing their bounty upon us. I owned ten stores when Sharon and I met, 20 when our first child Rachel was born, 25 a year and a half later when we were blessed with our second, Akiva, and a year after that, the number was up to 40 (stores, not children).
My dream of 100+ stores and centi-millionairehood seemed all but inevitable. But as the boom days of the 80s came to a close, so - due to adverse conditions - did several of my stores. Competition had become overwhelming, and the strategy that had served our family business for 25 years was no longer viable. My business dreams, net worth and to a great extent my self-worth, came crashing down around me.
Thank G-d I was anchored in something beyond my career. Four years earlier I had become a serious Jew, observing Shabbat, kosher and Family Purity. I was learning Torah on a regular basis and was president of a wonderful synagogue.
But ultimately the most fulfilling aspect came as a result of having learned the first commandment.
On September 9, 1990, after a two year and ultimately abandoned struggle to hold together my business, our third child, Aryeh David, was born.
And there I was one year later sitting with Sharon in the clinic room having just heard the word "cancer."
The doctor put his hand on my leg, a gesture of compassion, looked at both of us and asked, "Do you have children?"
"Yes," we said, "three of them, and one on the way."
The doctor seemed relieved.
"Because the treatment will likely cause you to be infertile."
Shalom Yitzchak was born a few months later. Sharon and I had chosen to attempt to have this fourth child because we believe in G-d.
Unexpectedly - and miraculously - my current financial position is as strong as ever. Furthermore, thanks to G-d and my doctors, the cancer seems to have been licked. My life is back on track, just as it was. Except, of course, that I may not be able to have more children. Now, every time I hug my children, I thank the G-d Who commanded me to be fruitful and multiply, even when business is off. And when I see our youngest son, Shalom, I think of doing G-d's will over my own.
I will always be grateful that I learned in time to trust in G-d, and to resist the temptation to overestimate my ability to plan the future.
Be fruitful and multiply. When? Now!
Steve Goodman lives in Chicago with his wife and four children.
Four young couples have recently arrived or will soon arrive in cities throughout the United States as emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Rabbi Mendy and Mrs. Nechama Dina Tennenhaus will be opening Chabad of Westlake Village/Northeast Hollywood in Florida.
Rabbi Yitzchok and Mrs. Pessy Gurevitz will be moving to Northwest Philadelphia where they will be serving Jewish residents in Mt. Airy, Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania and neighboring communities.
Rabbi Sender and Mrs. Chani Engel will be enhancing the work of Chabad-Lubavitch in Long Beach, California where they will be involved with Chabad's summer day camp, Jewish Day School and holiday youth programming.
Rabbi Chaim and Mrs. Baily Fischer are soon to arrive in the Grove area of Los Angeles, California where they will open a new Chabad Center to serve the large Jewish population there.
We with them all much success in all their endeavors!
Freely translated from a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
In response to your letter, which consisted of several general questions relating to faith and religion. You begin your letter with a warning that you don't believe in G-d, Heaven forbid, because you are uncertain as to whether He exists.
- You can understand my wonder and shock at this "statement," even though this type of language is unfortunately very common. There is only room for doubt about G-d's existence when one lacks true consideration and thought. It is only because of its utter simplicity that some people refuse to accept it. Just as an illustration:
Consider: A person sees a book that contains many pages of intellectual content. Yet, he stands and declares that he doesn't believe that a thinking human being was involved in writing the book, in setting the print typeset, in binding it. He doesn't believe - because of a lack of certainty - in the existence of the author and printer, who did their work with wisdom and expertise.
The truth is that this comparison would apply even if the book contained only a few pages; how much more so is it true with regard to our entire world! It is especially modern science that has revealed within the world an amazing order in every single aspect, and every day they discover new harmonies, orders, and synchronicities, that shock all those who are aware of them.
It should be noted that this should lead not only to a certainty in the existence of a Creator, but also to an assurance that His intellect and abilities are incomparably greater than all intellects and abilities in our world, etc. etc.
- The above includes also the conclusion that would provide an answer for all of the other questions in your letter: your questions about the way the world works, and that in your mind, or the mind of this or that person, it should have been run differently.
It would seem that this question is a continuation of the first, for if you don't understand the reason for the way things are, that would be a proof to you that there is no Creator or Master of the world.
Another parable: A young child is brought into a huge factory. He declares that if he will understand all the details of how and why everything works specifically, he will admit that there was a planner who set up the machinery and the way it works, etc. But since certain details in the factory seem to him to be illogical, and he has strong questions that seem to him to be unanswerable, he comes to a definite conclusion that there was no intellect, plan, or purpose involved in everything around him at all.
It should be noted that in the parable, the differential between the child and the engineer who designed the factory is only one of development, i.e. it is a relative and comparable difference rather than a definitive one.
After all, the designer was also once a child, at a similar intellectual level as the questioner. In our case, on the other hand, the differential between Creator and creation is an incomparable one.
By the way - and maybe it's more than just by the way - what can guarantee that people will behave in a righteous and just manner, if not for the belief in a greater power?...
Although all of the above was written as a response to your letter, the main thing is that not only do I not believe at all this that you write that you do not believe in G-d, Heaven forbid; I am certain that you do not believe it either. Proof positive of this: You write that whenever you see injustice around you, or whenever you are reminded of the Holocaust which was perpetrated by Hitler, may his name be obliterated, it disturbs you. If there truly were no Master or Designer to the world, why would it be surprising when things occur that are the opposite of righteousness and justice, and that whoever is bigger than someone else swallows him alive, etc.?
This question doesn't only apply in extraordinary circumstances like the Holocaust; even in the course of what we call our "regular" day-to-day lives, any event that seems to be unfair or unjust bothers us, and we feel that it should never have happened. There's no question that inanimate matter, or even animals, are not commanded to be fair and just. The fact that we are disturbed by these events must be connected with something that is higher than the mineral, vegetable, or animal kingdoms, higher even than human beings. This "something" is inside the heart of every person. It is the root of our certainty that there should be justice in the world; that people should behave fairly. This is why when we see something that seems not to belong, we spare no energy in searching for the cause that brought about the opposite of what should be.
Obviously if you have any reactions to the above you may write to me with complete openness, without any hesitation. However, as mentioned, you have a job and purpose which is more important than all of these questions and answers: to lead the youth in the path of our faith and its eternal values, the Torah and its Mitzvot, for only in them and through them can one live life worthy of its name.
18 Sivan, 5764 - June 7, 2004
Positive Mitzvah 98: Impurity of Food and Drink
Leviticus 11:34 "Of all the food which may be eaten...and all drink that may be drunk"
Food and drink can become impure if they have come in contact with a source of impurity.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This week we continue the study of the Mishna "Pirkei Avot" with Chapter Two. Chapter two contains the following advice in the name of one of the greatest Jewish Sages, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi: "Be as careful in [the performance of a seemingly] minor mitzva as of a major one, for you do not know the reward given for the mitzvot."
As the Rebbe has explained, there are two aspects to our Torah observance and two types of reward:
"The commandments were given solely to allow the creations to become refined." Each one of the Torah's 613 mitzvot causes a different aspect of spiritual purification in the person who performs the mitzva, the physical objects he uses to perform it, and in the world at large. In this sense, the reward G-d gives us for keeping His commandments is greater for certain mitzvot and less for others, according to the specific mitzva's characteristics.
At the same time, all mitzvot share something in common in the way we approach them. The Torah's mitzvot are the will of G-d. Whenever we do a mitzva, our motivation is not to bring about its particular spiritual effect but simply to do what G-d wants of us. In that sense, all of the different mitzvot are merely details.
What difference does it make which one we do first? The important thing is to fulfill the will of the Creator. Accordingly, the reward we receive for this aspect of our observance is the same for all the commandments.
Interestingly, the reward we receive for our role in refining the world is limited, just as each mitzva is categorized as "major" or "minor." But the reward for fulfilling G-d's will is beyond limitation - "you do not know" - completely above and beyond our comprehension.
How fortunate we are, as we say at the conclusion of each chapter, that G-d "wished to make the people of Israel meritorious. He therefore gave them Torah and mitzvot in abundant measure."
When you will go to war...with the oppressive enemy (hatzar hatzorer), you shall blow on the trumpets (Num. 10:9)
The sound of the trumpet arouses joy while the shofar arouses dread. The Torah reveals to us that if we greet any oppressive enemy with a joyous attitude we will be able to turn "hatzar" (the enemy) from "tzara" (trouble) into "tzohar"- illumination.
(The Baal Shem Tov)
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 that must be done at a specific time can be completed at a later date. Only for the bringing of the Passover sacrifice are we permitted to fulfill the mitzva one month later. Why is this case special? There were many Jews who wanted to bring the sacrifice in 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 means 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)
The man Moses was very humble - more than any man on the face of the earth (Num. 13:3)
According to the Midrash, Moses saw the Book of Adam, in which was written each generation's wise men and leaders. Among other things that he saw was that the generation immediately preceding the coming of Moshiach would be a generation of lowly souls, and that their learning and praying would not be on a great level. However, they would keep the Torah with true devotion and self-sacrifice, despite all the difficulties, and they would cause a great joy Above. Moses considered himself lesser than even these souls. This is what is meant by "of any man on the face of the earth" - to include even the last generation before the coming of Moshiach.
The Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement, once called in one of his Chasidim, Rav Nisan. He gave the Chasid a closed envelope and asked him to travel to the castle of the local landowner Count Radzvill. The purpose of this trip was to try to arouse the Count's best friend, Pierre Louis, to return to Judaism. Rav Nisan was to open the envelope in two days time. Rav Nisan was perplexed for, as far as everyone knew, Pierre Louis was not Jewish. Yet, he followed his Rebbe's instructions without question.
Count Radzvill was kind and just to all those living on his lands, Jew and gentile alike. On the particular day that Rav Nisan arrived at the castle, Count Radzvill and Pierre Louis were just returning from a two-month holiday in Europe. Crowds of people had gathered to welcome them back.
After the two men had entered the castle and the crowd had dispersed, Rav Nisan meandered around the grounds for the rest of the day wondering how he could arrange to speak to Pierre Louis. When night came, Rav Nisan travelled into town and slept in the local synagogue. Early the next morning, Rav Nisan returned to the castle hoping to be inspired as to how he could obtain an audience with Pierre Louis. But as he approached the castle, Rav Nisan immediately noticed that something was wrong. A large crowd was gathered there, but now many of them were crying.
Rav Nisan inquired and found out what had transpired. The Count and Pierre Louis had gone hunting late the night before. When they returned from their successful trip, a tragic accident had occurred. The Count tripped on one of the castle steps, his pistol discharged and he had a large bleeding wound in his chest.
Despite the attention of the best doctors, all efforts to stop the bleeding had not helped. The Count was dying.
Suddenly, Rav Nisan remembered the envelope the Rebbe had given him. He opened it, took out the letter and began reading. It was a prescription with exact directions how to prepare a salve to cure...a gunshot wound to the chest!
Rav Nisan ran to the castle gate waving the letter and demanded to be let in, but the guards refused. Pierre Louis heard the noise from inside the palace and suddenly came running out to the gate obviously very irritated, "What do you want here Jew?" he shouted, "Don't tell me you are a doctor? Leave here immediately!! What is that paper you are holding?"
Rav Nisan tried to explain but the Frenchman snatched the prescription from his hand and began to read. "This is your cure?!" He screamed. "This is nonsense!" He was about to tear it into pieces when one of the doctors emerged from the castle, saw the commotion and approached.
He examined the paper, turned facing Pierre Louis with his back to the Jew and whispered. "They've given up in there. Let the Jew try, he can't hurt."
Minutes later Rav Nisan was in the castle, had prepared the medicine and was beginning the treatment. Some of it he smeared on the wound, some of it he applied on various parts of the Count's body, and every few minutes he repeated the process, exactly according to the instructions.
To everyone's surprise the Count stopped hemorrhaging almost immediately! After a few applications he even seemed to breathe more deeply and evenly. After an hour, instead of being dead as everyone had anticipated, color returned to his cheeks and minutes later he regained consciousness!
The doctors and professors were speechless; they had never seen anything even vaguely like it. But Pierre Louis was moved to the essence of his very being.
After several hours the Count was strong enough to call Rav Nisan to his bedside and thank him. He offered to reward him but the Chasid refused. "Seeing you returned to health is my reward. Just continue to treat the Jews kindly," he said. "But I do have one request: I want to speak with Pierre Louis alone."
The bewildered Pierre Louis and Rav Nisan went into a side room and closed the door. Rav Nisan said, "I am a follower of a great Jew called Yisrael Baal Shem Tov. He was the one who wrote that prescription and saved your friend. He told me to come here and....bring you back to Judaism."
Pierre was still in shock from the near death of his friend and then his strange supernatural recovery. And now this? Pierre just looked at the Chasid, eyes wide in disbelief. "Back? Judaism?" He mumbled to himself. "Back?"
"The Baal Shem Tov told me to tell you that your real name is Pesach Tzvi," continued Rav Nisan. "Both your parents were Jewish. Your mother wanted to give you a Jewish education but your father was opposed and prevailed. Eventually you lost your Jewish identity. But now it is time for you to return."
"I don't understand," said Pierre, trying to clear his throat, "Are you saying that I am...a Jew? A Jew? It's impossible!! Impossible!!"
Pierre Louis refused to discuss the subject further and abruptly ended the conversation. He only promised he would give it further thought.
Almost a year later Rav Nisan heard a knock on his door, opened it and was astounded to see a bearded Jew standing in front of him: Pierre Louis, now Pesach Tzvi, returning to the G-d of his fathers.
Jews have been in four exiles. At the end of time, there will be a fifth and last exile, which is called the exile of Ishmael (lit., "G-d will hear"). This last exile will be so difficult that the Jews will cry out to G-d, and "G-d will hear."
(Etz Daat Tov by Rabbi Chaim Vital)