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Be like the sun - ever constant in your principles, never wavering on your journey or straying from your path. Be like the moon - ever changing with each experience, always wandering into a deeper truth and exploring tangents of growth.
The sun and the moon symbolize a spiritual struggle. On the one hand, we recognize that, if the world is to be moral and ordered, we must operate by a set of immutable principles, ethical axioms and spiritual laws. On the other hand, we are neither angels, nor robots - we must grow, experience and in the process of living and learning, reveal insights, nuances - new truths, if you will. And the process of growth itself requires periods of darkness, times when the established disintegrates, like the shell of a seed within the damp darkness of underground, so that a new perception, a more insightful understanding, may sprout and grow.
And these two symbolic opposites - the sun and the moon - play out their opposition in their yearly cycles. The seasons - nature's time - follows the sun. The months - man's time - follows the moon. And we have two calendars that reflect this difference. The solar calendar tells us when to sow, when to plant, when to harvest - when to let the land lie fallow. The lunar calendar, upon which the Jewish calendar is based, tells us when our efforts wane and understanding fails, when we must retreat and evaluate (Tishrei, the month of the High Holidays, for instance), and when joy ascends (our current month of Adar, for example). As the new moon waxes, so some times demand we engage, push forth and reveal; as the full moon fades, so some times demand we withdraw, reconsider and conceal.
In a regular year, the calendars emphasize the difference between the cycles and the spiritual imperatives - adherence to principles or the growth process of truth - they represent. For in a regular year, the two calendars are out of synch, uncoordinated.
But in a leap year - like this year - we reconcile the two. The solar calendar and the lunar calendar - and the spiritual imperatives they represent - align and progress in complement to each other. We achieve this reconciliation by adding a month - a second Adar.
Thus, a leap year teaches us an important lesson. We must be steadfast, adhering always to the principles of the Torah. For the the mitzvot (the commandments) of the Torah come directly from G-d's Will; they are infinite, always and everywhere relevant, always and everywhere the same.
Simultaneously, though, we must constantly move forward, progress in our understanding, uncover new insights, new perspectives, new transformative values.
In a leap year we combine faithfulness and originality, constancy and change. And in our personal lives, in our Divine service, we must also, and always, combine these two.
That we reconcile by adding a month, and that that month is Adar, also teaches us something of importance. For first we must have the solar calendar. First we need the adherence to the principles of the Torah, that is, practical observance of the mitzvot. Only then can we vary and move.
Also, significantly, the month we add is Adar - the month of joy. When we are in spiritual concert, our joy is doubled. And, conversely, to double our joy we must be in spiritual concert - constant in observance, growing in knowledge.
This week's Torah portion is Pekudei, the last Torah portion of the Book of Exodus, which immediately precedes Vayikra, the first Torah portion of the Book of Leviticus.
Accordingly, an intrinsic connection exists between the two:
At the end of Pekudei we are told that a cloud descended upon the Sanctuary. The purpose of a cloud is to conceal; the cloud prevented Moses from entering the Sanctuary.
The theme of Vayikra, by contrast, is revelation. "G-d called to Moses" - to reveal Himself to him.
Thus, the revelation of Vayikra follows the concealment of Pekudei. And a revelation which comes after a concealment is much more obvious than one which occurs without a prior concealment.
In the service of man, the revelation that follows a period of concealment is teshuva (repentance; literally "return"). Before the person did teshuva he was estranged from G-d, distanced from His Torah and mitzvot (commandments), i.e., in a state of concealment. His act of teshuva, his return to G-d, constitutes the revelation.
Indeed, we find that Jews who repent of past misdeeds (baalei teshuva) merit a higher revelation of G-dliness than those who were always righteous! For the revelation which follows a concealment is a more exalted one.
When a person does teshuva, his "deliberate sins are considered as merits." As our Sages declare: "In the place where penitent stand, even the completely righteous cannot." The righteous person is successful in completely banishing evil. But a baal teshuva, someone who returns to G-d with all his heart, transforms the evil he has done into good - so much so that even his deliberate sins are considered as merits! By doing teshuva, he turns darkness into light. This is the revelation that follows the concealment.
What can we learn from this? That regardless of our present spiritual condition we must never despair! We must never think that our spiritual state is so lowly that no hope exists. On the contrary: It is precisely after a period of concealment that the highest revelation of G-dliness is possible!
Past generations of Jews were on a much higher spiritual level than our own, but they were further removed from the Redemption. Our generation, however, is the generation of Moshiach's coming. Because the greatest revelation of the Redemption follows the lowest descent, we must take heart and strengthen ourselves in advance of the light about to break forth. In this manner we will soon merit the true and complete Redemption - the revelation that follows the concealment - when "the night will illuminate as the day."
Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, vol. 1
A Blessing Via Special Delivery
by Tzvi Jacobs
In September 1993, I started my first semi-scientific writing job. Manpower placed me as a temporary employee at SmithKline Beecham Consumer Products, writing stability reports for Tums® and other over-the-counter products. Not exactly creative writing, but it was a foot in the door of the pharmaceutical industry. Only one foot - with a wife and 3 little daughters to support, the hourly wage wasn't enough.
In November, I approached my supervisor and asked her if she was satisfied with the quality of my reports. She praised my work.
"Manpower promised me a 5% raise after three months of satisfactory work. They said I should speak to you."
"I never made such a promise. Sorry, I would have never said such a thing, it's not in our budget," said my supervisor.
That hurt. At least I was able to bring home free bottles of Tums that had been kept for various periods of time (4 weeks, 12 weeks, 52 weeks) under various conditions (cold, warm, humid) to test for product stability. Many times I chewed a Tum or two whenever I felt hungry. More importantly, I had the use of a computer to write stories; I used nearly every lunch break to write and often a half-hour or so after work.
By December, I was thinking daily about our growing expenses and my temp salary that just wasn't cutting it. I wondered to myself if I should write a letter to the Lubavitcher Rebbe to ask him for his blessing for parnasa (livelihood) and to write a book of stories. The Rebbe had suffered a stroke a year and a half earlier and was rarely answering letters.
I recalled a story that happened in Paris around 1939. A businessman needed advice from the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, but it was wartime and no mail could be sent to Warsaw, where the Previous Rebbe was living. The businessman asked the son-in-law of the Previous Rebbe (the future Rebbe), what to do.
"Write a telegram," the Rebbe said.
"But there is no telegram service."
The Rebbe responded: "You don't understand. A Rebbe doesn't need to receive the letter physically in order to receive it."
"How will I receive an answer?" the businessman asked.
"Don't worry, G-d will find a way."
With that story in mind, I wrote a letter to the Rebbe and mailed it to Rabbi Leibel Groner, one of the Rebbe's secretaries.
Two days later, I "received" my answer. My supervisor called me into her office. I was concerned that she was going to berate me for writing stories during my free time, but on the company's computer.
"I found some money in the budget and we don't want to lose you in the middle of this project. Starting with your next paycheck, you'll be receiving a 25% increase."
"Thank you. Thank G-d, that's great."
On the following evening, my wife Esther made a special supper to celebrate the pay increase. During the meal, the phone rang and our three-year-old daughter Nechama Dina jumped off her chair and ran down our narrow hallway to the phone. "Seben seben tee?.. Rabbi Gwoner" We heard her say.
I ran down the hall and took the receiver. It was an assistant to Rabbi Groner.
"Rabbi Groner read your letter and the Rebbe gave you a bracha (blessing)."
"For which request? I asked for a blessing for parnasa and a blessing to write a book of stories."
"Thank G-d, and thank you for calling!"
The blessing for livelihood had already been answered, before Rabbi Groner read the letter to the Rebbe... but after I had written the letter and the Rebbe had "received" it. The blessing for the writing project took a little longer to actualize. But the Rebbe's blessing carried me for the next two years until Truths Revealed was published.
Now, more than ever, I rely on this story to remind me that the Rebbe operates on a level above the physical. Nevertheless, the entire Jewish people is struggling on an earthly level. May it be G-d's will that Moshiach comes now and we will see clearly the spiritual inherent in the physical.
Transforming the Inner Self
This Chasidic discourse presents a modern-day perspective on the Biblical command to offer animal sacrifices. Rabbi Shneur Zalman teaches that each of us possesses certain character traits that can be seen as "animalistic," or materialistic, in nature, which can lead a person toward material indulgence. Our mission is to "sacrifice" and transform the animal within, through meditating upon the greatness of G-d. This volume, part of the popular Chasidic Heritage Series, is complete with extensive notes and fluid English translation by Rabbi C.Z. Citron. Published by Kehot Publications.
The Secret Tunnel
During the time of King Hezekiah, dark days lay ahead for Yonatan and the Jews of Jerusalem. The wicked King of Ashur, Sanhereb, was about to surround the city. The enemy could easily win by simply blocking off the water supply of the Jews. As the danger grew closer, Yonatan resolved to help protect his family, his city and his people. A Fun to Read book written and illustrated by Joy Nelkin Wieder, published by HaChai Publishing.
The date of this letter was unavailable
Greeting and Blessing:
I duly received your letter, in which you write about various things which you do not understand, such as the suffering of your father, etc.
Judging by your letter, it is surely unnecessary to emphasize to you at length the obvious idea, namely that it is certainly not surprising that a human being does not understand the ways of G-d, for a created and finite being surely cannot understand the Infinite. The opposite would rather be surprising, and it is only due to G-d's infinite kindness that He has revealed to man certain aspects of His Divine Providence.
There is a simple illustration: It would surely not be surprising that a five year old child could not understand the conduct of a great scientist, even though the scientist was at one time a five year old boy, and the present five year old boy may grow up and become an even greater scientist. In other words, the five year old boy is potentially in possession of all the qualities of the mature scientist, yet it would not be surprising that the five year old boy cannot understand the great scientist. But a created human being has nothing in common with the Creator insofar as intelligence and capacities are concerned. It is only because of G-d's kindness that certain aspects of G-d's Providence have revealed to man, including also the question of suffering, where we can use a similar analogy.
When a young child is told to sit down, learn the "ABC's," do homework, etc., this deprives him of going out into the fresh air, sometimes interferes with having his meal on time, and might also curtail his sleeping hours, etc. The child, while complying with these instructions, is not doing so because he realizes their wisdom, but because he has no choice in the matter, since he is compelled by his father or mother or teacher to do this. This is not a case where his freedom is curbed so that he would not go about breaking windows, and the like. Insofar as the child is concerned, it is for him true suffering to be deprived of fresh air, or rest, etc., which by common consent are considered good things.
Nevertheless, of what consideration is the child's temporary suffering, even though it extends for days or months, by comparison with the good which he will enjoy thereby for the rest of his life.
A further point to remember is this: When a person who has been ill succumbs to his illness, it is clear to every normal person that the illness could affect only the physical body. Obviously if there is something wrong, say with the blood of the patient, it cannot affect the patient's spiritual life and his everlasting soul. In other words, when a patient succumbs to an illness, this only happens because the union between the soul and the body has come to an end, but the soul is an everlasting one, and this is one of the basic foundations of our Jewish faith, as also of many other faiths.
In the Torah it is frequently explained and emphasized that life on this earth is only a preparation for the future and everlasting life in the world to come. This is also taught in the well known Mishnah of Pirkei Avos, which we read and study these Shabbosim [Sabbaths]. The Mishnah states, "This world is like a vestibule to the future world; prepare yourself in the vestibule so that you can enter the banquet hall." (Perek 4, 21).
Now, when during the time when one is in the vestibule there has been a period of suffering, whereby there will be an infinite gain in the "banquet hall," it will surely be worthwhile. It is impossible to describe the joys of the life of the soul in the world to come, for even in this world while the soul is connected with the body, its life is on an infinitely higher plane; how much more so when the soul is no longer distracted by the body.
Compare the joy and excitement of a child when he receives a tasty candy, with the joy of a very wise and learned scientist who succeeds in resolving an important scientific problem. Here again, as mentioned before, there is some connection between the child and the scientist, and everything is relative. But insofar as the life on this earth and the life of the soul in the future world is concerned, the differences are not of degree but of kind, and there is no common denominator between the two.
At the same time it should be remembered that the suffering in the "vestibule," which is no more than a corridor to the "banquet hall," is after all a temporary one, and the gain is eternal.
Of course, you may ask why things are so conditioned that one must give up something to gain more. This would be the same as a child asking why he must give up his outdoor pleasures, etc. But surely it is not an unkindness to the child to "deprive" him so.
I trust that the above will suffice to answer your question. However, if you want to discuss it further, you could do so with Rabbi Groner whom you mention in your letter.
- (Back to text) This letter must have been written sometime between the holidays of Passover and Rosh Hashana when it is customary to study Pirkei Avos on Shabbos afternoons.
1 Adar II, 5765 - March 12, 2005
Positive Mitzva 29: The perpetual fire on the Altar
This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 6:6) "There shall always be fire burning on the altar" Many miracles happened in the Holy Temple. Among them was a heavenly fire that came down on the altar and burned the sacrifices. This showed G-d's acceptance of the service. Even though a divine fire appeared, the priests are commanded to light a man-made fire, for G-d does not want us to rely on miracles. Rather, we must do our part and perform the natural actions. We will "light the flame" and G-d will "keep it burning."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
In this week's Torah portion we read of the "shekalim call," whereupon every Jew contributed a half-shekel to the Sanctuary chest which provided the public sacrifice on behalf of all the Jewish people.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, known as the "Tzemach Tzedek,"in discussing the mitzva of the half-shekel coin, offers some insights. The mitzva requires no more and no less than half a shekel. This indicates that when a Jew makes a contribution toward a sacred cause, it is immediately matched by a similar benevolence from G-d to him, in accordance with the principle that human initiative acts like an impulse which calls forth a corresponding impulse from on High. The two together, constitute the complete Shekel ha-Kodesh ("holy shekel").
Moreover, though human endeavor must be voluntary and spontaneous, the assurance has been given that where there is a resolute intention, the person receives aid from On High to carry it to fruition in the fullest measure.
The mitzva of the half-shekel teaches us, among other things, that human effort, provided it is sincere and resolute, is "met half way" by divine grace. Thus, though the goal may, at first glance, seem too ambitious or even beyond reach, we are not limited to our own human resources, since our initial effort evokes a reciprocal "impulse" from On High which assures the attainment of even the "unattainable."
May we merit to actually contribute the half-shekel this year in the Holy Temple with Moshiach, NOW!
And the Children of Israel did according to everything that G-d had commanded to Moses, they did it. (Ex. 39:32)
The Sanctuary, about which G-d commanded Moses, is described in the Torah portions Teruma and Tetzave. The Sanctuary which the Children of Israel actually built is discussed in the portions Vayakhel and Pekudei. The first two portions refer to, in actuality, a spiritual sanctuary, while the second two portions a physical sanctuary. For this reason, every detail concerning the Sanctuary was given twice. In essence, it was about two totally different Sanctuaries that these portions speak.
One hundred sockets for the one hundred talents, a talent for every socket (Ex. 38:27)
One hundred is the number of sockets that were in the Sanctuary, and the number of blessings that a Jew must recite each day. The same way that the sockets served as the foundation for the entire edifice, so do the blessings which a Jew makes serve as a foundation and basis for life. The Hebrew word for socket is "eden," which comes from the same root as "adon," or master. When a Jew makes a blessing and proclaims that G-d is "master" of the world, he is at the same time forming the "sockets" and support for his own personal spiritual sanctuary.
And Moses blessed them (Ex. 39:43)
Moses said to them: May it be His will that the Divine Presence rests upon the work of your hands... (Rashi) A blessing cannot come into an empty vessel. This is true in one's mundane life as well as one's spiritual service. A person is expected to act and not just to sit with folded hands. Only then will G-d help. This is what Moses meant in his benediction: When you participate, through the work of your hands, G-d's blessing will rest on your work.
The Tabernacle of the testimony (Ex. 38:21)
The Hebrew word for testimony - "eydut" - alludes to the "adiyim," ornaments or heavenly crowns, the Jewish people received when the Torah was given. When the Children of Israel sinned by making the Golden Calf, their crowns were taken back, and with them their extra measure of spirituality. When the Sanctuary was erected, G-d forgave them their sin and their crowns were returned to them.
Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi ("the Prince"), the compiler of the Mishna, was renowned for his fabulous wealth and the luxuriant splendor of his household. Word of his riches spread to other kings, and one day King Artaban of Persia heard about the great Jewish leader.
Now, Artaban was himself an extremely wealthy king with storehouses full of gold, silver and all manner of precious treasures. When he heard about Yehuda HaNasi's great wealth coupled with his brilliant mind, the Persian King decided that it would be to his credit to develop a friendship with the Jewish Sage. He thought at great length about how to approach the Nasi: he could send him a message; he could travel to meet him; or he could invite him to Persia. Finally, Artaban decided that since both were very wealthy men, he would take from his treasure house a beautiful and priceless gem and send it to the Nasi. Thus, he would give the Nasi a great compliment while also prompting him to return a gift of similar value, for Artaban was very curious about the extent of Rabbi Yehuda's wealth.
In order that the jewel be seen to its best advantage, Artaban had his finest artisans construct a golden box to house it. This box was a work of art in itself, fancy gold work laden with precious gems and lined in the finest plush fabric. When the gift was completed and ready for presentation, all the courtiers, and even the king himself, were awed by its extravagant beauty. What could Rabbi Yehuda send in return that could begin to equal this fabulous gift?
Artaban readied the box, and with it he sent a letter explaining that he, Artaban, King of Persia, was sending this valuable gift to Rabbi Yehuda, the Nasi of Israel, as a token of his friendship and esteem. According to the accepted custom of rulers, it was understood that Rabbi Yehuda would respond in kind.
When the Persian messenger arrived, Rabbi Yehuda received him cordially, and when he examined the box and its contents he readily understood the value of the gift. But Rabbi Yehuda, unlike King Artaban, had amassed his great wealth, assembled his fabulous household, and even garbed himself in royal garments only for the honor of the royal House of Israel, to inspire the gentiles' respect for the Torah and its Sages. He had no personal benefit from all his wealth, indeed, at the end of his life he was able to say that he had experienced no personal pleasure from any of his riches.
Rabbi Yehuda considered carefully what to send to the Persian King in return. At last, he decided that he would send him a mezuza - one written on the most beautiful parchment, by the most meticulous scribe. To enclose it he had a beautiful case constructed of the finest precious materials.
Meanwhile, Artaban had been waiting impatiently for his messenger to bring him the reply and gift exchange of the Nasi. When he arrived at long last, the Persian hurriedly took the package, unwrapped it, and examined the contents. Instead of the priceless treasure he expected, he saw only a piece of parchment - a mezuza, something which could be easily bought in any marketplace. The King's rage and disappointment welled up inside him. He wasted no time sending Rabbi Yehuda a message berating him: "Why have you insulted me like this? I have sent you a gem so rare, it is priceless, while you have sent me a simple mezuza, a mere parchment which has the worth of one coin! Do you consider this to be an equal exchange?"
Rabbi Yehuda answered him: "I tell you that all of the treasures which lie in my storehouses plus all that you own together do not possess the value of that small scroll. For a mezuza is a commandment of the Torah, and the Torah of the King of the Universe is more precious than any treasure. In addition, you have sent me something which I must guard day and night, for fear that it might be stolen or lost. I, however, sent you a gift which will take care of you. When you attach it to the door of your home it will guard you whether you are asleep or awake, whether you are in your home, or traveling afar."
We do not know Artaban's reply, but Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi's words have come down to us as a reminder of the value of this precious mitzva.
Although we are in exile at present, we can still perform a service representative of the giving of the half-shekalim coins by giving to charity. Indeed, it is customary to give three half-shekalim to charity before Purim. It is fitting that children be trained in this mitzva. And these gifts will hasten the coming of the time when, as mentioned at the beginning of Parshat Shekalim, "the heads of the Jewish people will be uplifted." ...May this take place in the immediate future... And most importantly, the present time is particularly appropriate, indeed, the most appropriate time that could be, for the coming of the Redemption.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, eve of 24 Adar I, 5752)