Butterflies are Free | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | Rambam this week | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Snout, Dog-face, Milbert's, Karner Blue, Peacock, Buckeye. You're probably wondering what kind of a list this is. These names are a few of the thousands of butterfly species around the world.
Butterflies, those delicate, fragile, winged-insects, are probably among the most graceful and elusive creatures around. They seem to glide effortlessly through the air, mesmerizing adults and teasing children.
Some people collect butterflies, or butterfly decorations; others simply appreciate seeing them in nature; still others plant flowers in their gardens specifically to attract butterflies. But regardless of our disposition toward the common monarch or its more exotic relatives, we are often amazed that this exquisite creation finds its beginnings in a boring, colorless cocoon.
Butterfly aficionados claim that butterflies grow on you. You chase them as a child, later in life you contentedly watch their peaceful flight, or maybe even seek-out their cheerless cocoons. Later yet, your home becomes full of butterfly themed knickknacks.
Do you know anyone who collects butterfly "things?" It often starts for no specific reason; it's not that the person feels a particular connection to butterflies.
It might start with an off-hand comment showing appreciation for a piece of jewelry in the shape of a butterfly. From then on, the word is out: "If you want to get so-and-so something, you can buy her anything with butterflies on it."
Mitzvot (commandments), if you think about it, are very similar to butterflies.
Mitzvot. All mitzvot, from the simplest to the most exotic, are beautiful, graceful, winged-creatures. When performed with love, they fly effortlessly to the Heavens, bringing word of our good deeds and devotion.
Some mitzvot seem to be so elusive. From a distance we watch others do them; we notice that doing a mitzva brings inner contentment. But, we wonder, wouldn't we look a bit silly - like a child chasing butterflies - to go after the mitzva ourselves?
And so, we content ourselves with just appreciating other people's collections of mitzvot, certain that we could never gather such a fine grouping, such rare varieties, such exquisite specimens.
But we are mistaken. Each Jew can collect his own mitzvot, even if he starts out with just a simple, common one - like putting a penny in a charity box each day.
One of the most amazing things about mitzvot is that they often seem to come packaged in dull, mundane "cocoons." After all, what's so exciting about putting on tefilin? What's so spiritual about not mixing milk and meat? What's so exotic about lighting Shabbat candles? But if we're patient and persevere, we see the mitzva begin to grow and change - and we see ourselves metamorphose. Together with the one mitzva, and the many other mitzvot that can follow in its waked, we become that graceful creature - pleasing to G-d, pleasing to ourselves, and pleasing to others.
And mitzvot, like butterflies, are free.
The period of the Jews' exile began, to a certain degree, with the destruction of the First Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and will only end with the arrival of Moshiach. Although the Temple was rebuilt and existed for a long time, this period is also considered part of exile, for the Second Temple was missing five key elements that the First Temple had.
Bilaam, the gentile prophet, alluded to the years of exile in his prophecy in this week's Torah portion, Balak. "He crouches and lies down as a lion and as a leopard; who shall make him rise up?" During the period of exile, the Jews have assumed a position of "crouching" and "lying down," as if they are bowed and resting. The Jewish People is not in full possession of its faculties and powers, and is bent and slumbering. Bilaam's words accurately describe the period of exile.
But even as the Jews are in exile, they are still likened to the lion and the leopard. When a lion crouches down, it is not in a position of weakness; the animal retains its power and potential to pounce even in this position. It is the lion's desire to lie down; it was not forced to by an outside power.
Even during the long exile among the nations, the gentiles do not have true control over the Jewish People. For, the exile only applies to worldly affairs; the exile has no influence over a Jew's performance of mitzvot (commandments). There is nothing in the world that can prevent a Jew from serving G-d and fulfilling His commandments.
The Previous Rebbe said: "Only the body of the Jew was subjected to exile and domination by the nations; the soul was not. It is our duty to make it clear to all that strangers have no authority over anything having to do with our religion, with Torah, mitzvot, and Jewish customs, and nothing in the world can change this fact."
It can sometimes appear to us that the world does indeed rule over the "lion" and the "leopard" - over the Jewish nation. This is because of the concealment of G-dliness which is characteristic of the exile, making it possible for us to be deceived into thinking that others can truly rule over the Jewish People. That is why, from time to time, G-d shows us open miracles and wonders - to remind us that "there is nothing else but Him."
These miracles, which occur in every generation, include those signs and wonders which are revealed through the righteous and serve to dispel the darkness and reveal the holiness in the world. They allow us to see, with our own eyes, that the Jewish People are indeed "lions" and "leopards," though "crouched" and "lying down." In reality, the Jew remains a free agent and the galut has no dominion over his true essence.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
An interview with Rabbi Adin Even Yisrael Steinsaltz by Fay Kranz Greene about Rabbi Steinsaltz's recently published book entitled Open the Tanya: Discovering the Moral and Mystical Teachings of a Classic Work of Kabbalah.
Please tell us that this is not Madonna's Kabbalah
Personally, I am not for this new Kabbalah trend, I think it is cheap and I think it presents a danger. Not that people are learning too much Kabbalah, but that they are focusing only on the mystery and secret and magic and don't address how people should change or become more Jewish. Kabbalah is not a gimmick, it is something holy and serious and it needs much more than a smattering of knowledge. Imagine taking a six-week course in neurosurgery and hanging up a shingle. It is not only fraudulent, but dangerous.
Why has Kabbalah become so fashionable and what does that say about our culture?
It's popular now because magic is a great thing, it's New Age, it uses a different language and a different formula that people don't understand and therefore find fascinating. It's interesting that the best selling books today are diet cookbooks and books about magic and spirituality. They are interconnected: It's the idea that you can rely on something spiritual, and you don't have to work hard to change yourself.
Some might say that reading Tanya is the same thing.
No, it's not the same because the Tanya doesn't make life easer for anybody. You can't say "Hallelu" and be saved. It's a very demanding book and some people have even told me it's a frightening book. Its minimum expectations are much higher than anyone will ever reach.
So tell us something about "Opening the Tanya" and why it is different from the other books you have written on this work.
The other commentaries on the Tanya, even my own book, The Long, Shorter Way, give a summary of the basic concepts. But this is a book for study, not for reading. It's very detailed and the entire text is here. I think however, that it is a very readable book.
In the introduction, you write that the Tanya is the book of Beinonim, the intermediate person who does not sin in deed, word or thought, although the potential is there. If an ordinary person really learned the Tanya and really studies your book, can he or she actually attain that level?
The Beinoni differs from the Tzadik, the completely righteous person, in that the Beinoni has conflict. Having conflicts, doubts, and uncertainties does not make you a bad person. That's the main idea of the Tanya, that even if you have problems you can achieve. A Tzadik on the other had is born, not made. But for the majority of us who were not born a Tzadik, the Tanya tells us that we can do great good in this world if we don't give up; if we fight and properly channel our personal weaknesses, our emotions, desires, the conflicts of every day life.
Everyone can aspire to be a Beinoni, but if everybody will, that's the question. If you buy a book on physical fitness, there is the assumption that if you exercise right and eat right you can have a more fit body. But will you look like the person on the cover? Not always! If you do the work, you will have a chance. Some people will become Mr. America and some people will find it easier to climb the stairs.
You quote the statement that the Alter Rebbe, the author of the Tanya, was able to "put such a big G-d into such a small book." What do we learn about G-d from the Tanya that we didn't know before?
We learn lots of things because usually when people speak about G-d, they speak from their perception of G-d at a very basic level.
Think about it. When people say they have lost their faith it's because their faith at the beginning was too weak to withstand any challenges. When your perception of G-d does not extend beyond a basic level, you can't deal with them very effectively when you grow up. We basically found that people who went as believers to the concentration camps remained believers and vice versa. In the second part of Tanya, Shaar Hayichud, it deals with understanding G-d. Not that you will get to know G-d but at least you have an order of magnitude. It's a mathematical term. If you're talking about something expensive, what order of magnitude is it, hundreds or millions? A person who learns the Tanya gets to a different order in his perception of G-d.
And along that same vein, what do we find in Tanya that changes or enhances our view of human beings and how they relate to G-d in general?
You learn a great deal about human beings because the Tanya deals with people who are being formed, constantly changing, not already made. Tanya asks the difficult questions. What are the basic qualities within people? How do I change? How do I deal with other people's failings? Ironically, the Tanya deals with human concepts rather than ritual ones, how you understand yourself and others. Ultimately, you have a better notion of what G-d expects from you. It's not the image of the old man with or without a beard, sitting in heaven and dispensing candy to the good boys and beating the bad ones. You get a grown up version.
And finally, what is the message that you would like your writings and speeches to convey? Do you have a dream you'd like to still live out?
Wherever you stand, take one step further. That is my message. My dream is that it will be fulfilled and people will do it. When one person takes one step ahead, it is personal - when a million people take one step ahead, then the earth shakes.
Rabbi Adin Even-Yisrael Steinsaltz - an author, scholar, and social critic, is best known for his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud. Reprinted with permission from InsideOut Magazine.
The Lechaim Publishing House, under the auspices of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS, recently published the third volume of Lessons of the Torah. Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on the weekly Torah portion, Lessons of the Torah, is one of 52 books published by LPH in the former Soviet Union since its founding in 1992. LPH has also printed prayer books, Passover Hagadot, High Holiday prayerbooks, the Soncino Chumash (Five Books of Moses), all in the Russian language.
29 Shevat, 5739
February 26, l979
The Honorable Walter F. Mondale
The White House
Washington, D. C. 20500
Dear Mr. Vice President:
I read with profound interest your Remarks at the Meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee For a Cabinet Department of Education, Jan. 24, l979. Needless to say, I fully endorse the substance and urgency of your message. Indeed, in light of the saying of our Sages, "Words coming from the heart penetrate the heart and are eventually effective." I am confident, Mr. Vice President, that your words will find the proper response they deserve.
You will surely recall, Sir, the meeting at the Caucus Room of Congress, which you graciously chaired, in celebration of the H. J. Res. 770, authorizing and requesting the President to issue the Proclamation designating April l9, l978 as "Education Day, U.S.A." I trust you also read some of my remarks in this connection that appeared in the Congressional Record, the thrust of which, permit me to reiterate, was:
Education, in general, should not be limited to the acquisition of knowledge and preparation for a career, or in common parlance, "to make a better living!" We must think in terms of a "better life," not only for the individual, but also for society as a whole. The educational system must, therefore, pay more attention, indeed, the main attention, to the building of character, with emphasis on moral and ethical values.
The above principle, which is surely indisputable, assumes added significance now that the Administration is making an all-out effort to promulgate the required legislation to implement the President's proposal for a Cabinet level Department of Education - for the following reason:
The skepticism on the part of those who, at present, oppose the Administration's educational program (of which you make mention in your Remarks) is, I believe, in large measure due to the shortcomings of the educational system in this country, which leaves much to be desired in the way of achieving its most basic objectives for a better society. In a country such as ours, so richly blessed with democracy, freedom of opportunity, and material resources, one would expect that such anti-moral and anti-social phenomena as juvenile delinquency, vandalism, lack of respect for law and order, etc., would have been radically reduced, to the point of ceasing to be a problem. Hence, it is not surprising that many feel frustrated and apathetic.
I submit, therefore, that the Administration's resolve to restructure the Federal education role - long overdue - would be well served if it were coupled with greater emphasis on the objective of improving the quality of education in terms of moral and ethical values and character building that should be reflected in the actual everyday life of our young and growing generation.
I take the liberty of enclosing a copy of a brief memorandum on the subject, which I trust you will find of interest.
With prayerful wishes and blessings for success in your endeavors to upgrade the educational system, and in all your public and personal affairs,
I remain, Mr. Vice President,
17 Tamuz, 5764 - July 6, 2004
Prohibition 269: It is forbidden to ignore a lost item
This mitzva is based on the verse (Deut. 22:3) "You may not hide yourself." A person is not allowed to ignore an article he finds.
Positive Mitzva 204: Returning a Lost Article
This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 23:4) "You shall surely bring it back to him." The Torah commands us to try to find the owner of a lost article and return it to him.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This coming week will begin the three-week period of mourning over the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. This period commences with the Fast of the Seventeenth of Tamuz, this year Tuesday, July 6.
On the Seventeenth of Tamuz (70 c.e.), the Romans breached the wall surrounding Jerusalem. This in turn enabled them to enter the city, and ultimately destroy the Temple on the Ninth of Av.
The Holy Temple was destroyed because of reasonless and unwarranted hatred amongst Jews. In order for us to be privileged to experience the rebuilding of the Holy Temple with the coming of Mashiach, we must correct our collective past failing. This can be accomplished through sincere repentance and an all out effort to foster unwarranted love among all Jews.
Rabbi Yisrael of Koznitz said: "When every Jew will give his hand one to another, the hands will join into one great hand that will be able to reach all the way to G-d's holy throne."
We must all strive to put aside our differences and join hands, one to another. Then surely we will be able to approach G-d's holy throne and petition Him to take us out of exile and bring us to the Holy Land with Moshiach, NOW.
Who can count the dust of Jacob... (Num. 23:10)
Why are the Jews likened to the dust of the earth? In the earth there remain hidden great treasures, most of which have not yet been discovered. Furthermore, the importance of the simple earth is so great, in that all the creatures of the world depend on it for their sustenance and the water in it. However, in order to uncover these great treasures, one must labor and toil. One must dig deep, plough, plant seeds, etc. Every Jew has within him wonderful and numerous treasures - his faith in G-d, and the love and fear of G-d - but one must work hard to uncover them.
(The Baal Shem Tov)
He has not seen any wrong in Jacob, nor has he seen any evil in Israel; the L-rd his G-d is with him, and the glory of the King dwells with him (Num. 23:21)
Only one who "sees no wrong in Jacob" or "evil in Israel," who does not try to find fault with his fellow Jew and always judges him favorably, will merit that "the L-rd his G-d is with him, and the glory of the King dwells with him."
(Rabbi Chaim of Szanz)
The L-rd his G-d is with him (Num. 23:21)
A Jew is never alone. Wherever he goes and wherever he stands, the L-rd his G-d is with him.
(Baal Shem Tov)
And Balak the son of Tzipor saw all that the Jews did to the Emorites (22:2)
He saw what the Jews did to the Emorites, but he did not see what the Emorites had done to the Jews. This is the way of the nations of the world. They only see what the Jews are doing to the non-Jews, but the deeds of the non-Jews that led to the reactions of the Jews, these they cannot see.
Every mitzva that a Jew does creates a good angel or delegate, and every sin creates an evil one. About this, Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli used to say: "I never saw a whole angel created by the transgression of a Jew. Every angel created by a sin is missing a limb. Every Jew has an innate belief and faith in G-d, and even if he slips and commits a sin, he immediately regrets his action, sighs, and is sorry for what he has done. These sighs have the power to maim the limbs of the resulting prosecuting angels..."
The armies of Alexander the Great thundered across the Middle East on their path of total world conquest. Both Damascus and Sidon fell to their might despite spirited resistance, and Alexander seemed invincible.
Moving on to Tyre, he dispatched his messengers to the Land of Israel, demanding that the High Priest Shimon send him both troops and provisions, as well as monetary tribute, transferring to him the allegiance formerly due to Persia. But Shimon refused all the demands, provoking Alexander's avowed revenge.
At the same time, in the Land of Israel, the conflict between the Samaritans, a break-away sect, and the Jews was boiling over. The Samaritan king Sanballat had constructed a second temple on Mount Gerizim near Shechem, to compete with the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) in Jerusalem. The deep enmity the Samaritans held toward the Jews now had a new outlet. Hearing that Alexander was approaching the Holy Land, they set about to concoct all sorts of schemes to discredit the Jews in the eyes of Alexander.
The Samaritans sent word to Alexander that the Jews had rebelled against him, and as a proof of their rebelliousness they would refuse him entrance to their holy Beit Hamikdash. The general was determined to put the Jews to the test.
One wise Jew, a hunchback, named Geviya ben Petitha, learned of their wicked plot and resolved to do something about it. Geviya knew that Alexander was, according to Jewish law, actually permitted to enter the courtyard of the Temple, but not with his shoes on. The problem was, how to induce such an exalted person to remove his shoes without causing offense. Geviya came up with a creative solution: he ordered made a magnificent pair of slippers to be presented as a gift to the general. Made of soft white wool and encrusted with precious gems, they were sure to find favor in his eyes. Each slipper cost 10,000 silver coins, but the safety of the Holy City was at stake.
Alexander's approach threw the inhabitants of the city into a panic. But Shimon the High Priest, known as Shimon Hatzadik, had a plan. Dressed in the sacred vestments of the Temple service, he led a procession of young kohanim (priests) similarly attired. They, in turn, were followed by a large contingent of citizens, all dressed in white. This impressive group filed out of the city to welcome Alexander. When the two groups stood face to face - the invincible forces of the conqueror and the holy assemblage of priests - a strange thing occurred. Alexander dismounted, approached Shimon Hatzadik, and bowed to the ground. To his incredulous officers he said: "Know that when I see the face of this old man before me when I go into battle, I know that my enemies will fall to my hand. How, then, should I not accord him the greatest respect?"
Accompanied by the High Priest, Alexander and his retinue made their way into the Holy City in peace. They proceeded as far as the Temple courtyard when they were met by Geviya, who bowed before Alexander and presented him with the beautiful slippers, saying, "You would honor us by wearing these so that you do not slip on the smooth stones of the courtyard." Alexander took them happily, thinking that the Samaritans were certainly lying to him. The procession continued until they reached the Holy of Holies, when Geviya again spoke up. "Your Majesty, we may not go any further; even the High Priest enters but once a year." When he heard this, Alexander seethed with rage. Apparently, the Samaritans told the truth. He glared at Geviya and said, "When we leave this place, I will flatten out that hump on your back!" Geviya smiled at him and replied, "If you do, you will be acclaimed a great doctor, and people will offer you fat fees for your services!" Alexander was a man who had an appreciation for wit, and this response amused him and defused his anger.
Alexander left the Holy City in peace, and maintained a friendly attitude toward the Jews throughout his brief reign. To show their gratitude, the Jews named all boys born in the next year after the Emperor Alexander.
This week's Torah reading, Balak, contains the blessings recited by the prophet Bilaam. Among those prophecies is the verse: "A star shall shoot forth from Jacob, and a scepter shall arise in Israel," which refers to the coming of Moshiach. Significantly, the Jerusalem Talmud interprets that verse as referring to every Jew. And yet this does not represent a contradiction to the accepted tradition that it refers to Moshiach, for every Jew, contains a spark of Moshiach within his soul
(From Highlights, by Rabbi E. Touger, published by the Mashiach Resource Center)