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During his travels throughout Europe, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, once met with a delegation of prominent Jews. The meeting took place in the lobby of a rather famous hotel. The delegation asked the Previous Rebbe to explain the significance of Chasidic philosophy. What was its point, its innovation? What had it introduced into Judaism that had not been there before? And if it introduced nothing new, why did he, the Previous Rebbe, place such an emphasis on its teachings?
In response to the question, the Previous Rebbe asked the delegation to examine the ceiling of the hotel lobby. As the meeting occurred at night, it was difficult to make out many architectural details. The Previous Rebbe then held up a lamp, illuminating the intricate frescoes and artistic designs that adorned the upper walls and ceiling. What had seemed drab, ordinary, uninspiring, turned out, when bathed in light, to be inspiring, beautiful and awe-inspiring.
The Previous Rebbe then explained that Chasidism was like the lamp. It did not introduce anything new, but rather illuminated what was already - and always - there but had been hidden, unseen.
This ability to illuminate the "dark corners" takes many forms. The illumination can come from a niggun, a melody, often wordless, that rouses and raises the soul. It can be found in a profound mystical discourse, or a topical discussion of the weekly Torah reading, a holiday, some aspect of Jewish law or thought, or even current events. Even Chasidic customs clarify venerated practices, infusing the mandatory with meaning and the legal with life.
And at a "Chassidishe farbrengen" (gathering) soul-searching words-from-the-heart reach one's essence, reflecting an inner, often unknown potential.
Then there are the stories - stories of wonders and miracles, of self-sacrifice and faith, stories with deep lessons and simple truths. Chasidic stories teach life lessons from Torah insights and illuminate - there's that word again - the essence of the Jewish soul. Many acts might inspire us and many stories might impress us. But Chasidic stories are unique. For, through a Chasidic story we are show righteousness, humility and devotion. And we are shown that these eternal qualities are not so far from us. For Chasidic stories turn on little things - a small change in pronunciation of a word, a minor act of kindness, a slight turn to perceive what had been hidden.
And Chasidism illuminates through metaphors. Since Torah is the blueprint of creation, all of creation reveals the Torah. From headaches to emoticons to hitting a fast-ball to chess, within each experience, we find Torah. That is, from every encounter we should learn to see the holiness it contains.
For if we see the holiness within one event, we will measure our actions so as to perceive it - and reveal it - in the next. And what enables us to do so, what illuminates us that we may illuminate the world?
This week's Torah portion, Matot, focuses on the mitzva (commandment) of making vows, whereby a person forbids him- or herself from partaking of certain foods or becoming involved in certain activities. Why would a person make a vow? Because he sees that he is becoming too involved in worldly entities; that his life is becoming too materially oriented. Therefore he seeks a safeguard. The intention of this path of conduct is certainly positive, but it has drawbacks. Our Sages teach: "Why add more prohibitions? Is not what the Torah has forbidden enough?" For G-d did not create material existence to be ignored, but instead to be used for a G-dly purpose and intent.
At the heart of this issue is an inner conflict most of us face. Generally, we conceive of a person devoted to spiritual pursuits as otherworldly, somewhat acetic, not the kind of person with whom we'd like to relax and spend a Saturday night. And for that matter, not really the kind of person we'd like to be.
Where did this concept come from? There are some spiritual approaches that consider all material involvement as "a necessary evil." Some get very graphic about how bad material indulgence is and what difficulties it can lead to.
Since people at large aren't willing to accept such an approach, they go to the other end of the spectrum, seeking out sensual gratification and making that the object of their endeavors. They aren't necessarily protesting against aceticism. They're concerned simply with what makes them feel good.
And there are some who vacillate between the two extremes, at times indulging and at times feeling remorse over their deeds and inability to hold themselves back.
Why these two extremes? Because material satisfaction in and of itself is not very uplifting or fulfilling. It does not expand your horizons or enable you to grow. On the contrary, we all know how we can sometimes get caught up in seeking such satisfaction to the exclusion of all else. Then we become coarse and downward oriented. But this is not what we want to do with our lives. We want our lives to have meaning and depth.
On the other hand, we know that we are not angels and we don't want to pretend that we are.
Judaism offers a resolution to this quandary that satisfies both perspectives: Live in the world, but know that it is G-d's world. Be happy. Know how to appreciate the good things in life and do so in a manner that others enjoy your company. However, don't indulge in material things out of selfish desire. Instead, partake of material things as an act of appreciation to G-d for creating a world that contains a great variety of good.
In this vein, our Sages taught that the verse "Know Him in all your ways" is "a small passage on which the entire Torah depends." For the Torah is intended to teach man to relate to G-d in all forms of experience.
From Keeping in Touch, adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Rabbi E. Touger, published by Sichos in English.
"Mining" for Sparks
by Steve Hyatt and Mendel Levin
One Shabbat afternoon this past winter at Chabad of Northern Nevada, the subject of holy sparks was the focus of much of our discussion. It is explained in Jewish Mysticism that every object and place in the universe has a spark of the Divine, which sustains it and causes it to exist. It becomes revealed and elevated when we sanctify it in a mitzva (commandment) setting. These sparks exist throughout the world and when enough of them have been "mined" and elevated and returned to their holy source, Moshiach will come.
The idea that these holy sparks exist all around us captured our imaginations that Shabbat afternoon. Intrigued, a number of us decided that the following morning we would meet at a nearby rural, undeveloped park to return some sparks to their source.
The next morning I walked out my front door and a teeth-shattering, frigid wind slammed directly into my face as the last gasp of winter flowed down from the towering snow-covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Talit (prayer shawl) and tefilin bag securely tucked under my arm, I hiked up my collar and walked down the mountain to meet my friends at Horseman's Park.
As the park came into view I could see Jacob, David and Baruch shivering with their hands in their pockets as they tried their best to keep warm. Just as I stepped into the parking lot, our Chabad rabbi, Mendel Cunin drove in with his five children. As we huddled together against the cold, I said, "Remember no one every said a mitzva had to be easy," to which the rabbi joyfully replied, "True, but no one ever said it can't be fun!"
With a smile on our lips and a tune in our hearts, we began our journey to a scenic overlook that provided a 360-degree view of the valley and the majestic mountains that stand guard over Reno. As we were preparing to say the morning prayers, Baruch reminded everyone that this spot could have possibly been waiting since the creation of the world to have a mitzva performed upon it. We hoped that our small effort would hasten the arrival of Moshiach, ending the exile of the Jewish people and initiate the rebuilding of the third Holy Temple.
As a relentless wind continued to challenge our resolve, we began to put on our "mining" gear. We donned talit and tefilin and started the morning service. As the wind howled around us, it was all we could do to keep the pages in our prayer books from blowing back and forth and our kippas atop our heads. Just as we thought we had everything under control an enormous gust caught our talit bags and sent them dancing down the side of the mountain. Laughing out loud we scurried to retrieve them and then hurried back to our "mine shaft" and continued chanting the psalms and prayers of the morning service.
What a sight we were to behold: a group of grown men and five children standing on the edge of a canyon, the mountains to our backs, the sun in our face and a frigid wind reminding us that winter was not quite ready to give up without a fight.
But while it was freezing outside, the heat of our prayers burned brightly in our hearts and inspired our little group to complete their mission. As our intrepid group of "miners" continued on with the service, the clouds that hung directly over the eastern horizon suddenly parted and we were drenched in the warm embrace of the sun's rays.
Re-energized, we picked up the pace and continued. Approaching the end of the service, I looked up from my prayerbook and marvelled at the views from our outdoor shul. To the west was the Sierra Nevada mountain range, to the east was a gorgeous view of the growing city of Reno, to the south was a view of the mountains that formed the gateway to the historic city of Carson City and to the North was the rugged, undeveloped high desert, home to antelope, coyote and red tailed hawk. It was both a humbling and inspirational moment.
As we concluded the service, the clouds once again slipped in front of the sun and the temperature felt like it dropped ten degrees. The promise of snow was definitely in the air as we made our way back to the park entrance. Along the trail we could see homes built on the opposite side of the Steam Boat Ditch Canyon. We couldn't help but wonder if a Jewish family might have rubbed their eyes in disbelief as they glanced out their kitchen window and saw Jewish men, wearing talit and tefilin, swaying in unison on the edge of a rugged canyon as they prayed. As my friend and mentor Rabbi Chuni Vogel once told me, "Shlomo Yakov, you never know who may be watching as you perform even a simple mitzva. What seems like a minor act for you may be a life altering experience for someone observing your actions." His wise words reverberated in my mind as my buddies and I returned to our vehicles.
When we arrived back at the parking lot we all agreed that despite the daunting weather, the experience of praying on an undeveloped piece of land, where we were fairly certain that no Jew had ever prayed before, was an experience that we wanted to repeat again.
Maimonides teaches that any individual's good deed can tip the scale and brings Redemption to the entire world. We agreed to meet regularly to perform good deeds and "mine" for holy sparks, doing our part to bring Moshiach now.
Four New Emissary Couples
Rabbi Avrohom Yitzchok and Fruma Perlstein recently arrived in Bayside/Foxpoint, Wisconsin, to enhance existing educational and outreach programs there. The young couple will be directing the local Chabad day camp, Torah High, and coordinating other youth programs.
Rabbi Avrohom and Dina Hendel will be arriving soon in Coral Springs, Florida. The Hendels will assisting with activities in the local Chabad Center as well as teaching at the Hebrew Academy Community School.
Rabbi Yossi and Naomi Winner are establishing a new Chabad Center for Jewish students and faculty at the University of Arizona in Tuscon.
Rabbi Hershy and Bella Bronstein will be arriving soon in N.W. Coral Springs, Florida. They are starting a new Chabad Center in that area to serve the Jewish residents.
Continuation of freely translated letter from 1969 of the Rebbe to (then) President of Israel Zalman Shazar
Regarding the concept of a state: If we are speaking about Eilat and the surrounding areas (which are outside of the acquisition of Joshua and Ezra) - were these areas to be made independent of Jerusalem and the rest of the Land of Israel - then these territories should be called "the State of Israel."
Regarding Jerusalem, etc.: The name has already been established by the Creator and Ruler of the world: Up until Yehoshua's conquest it was called the Land of Canaan, and afterwards, the Land of Israel. This precludes any further possibility of a referendum on the subject.
It is obvious that I have no opposition to the term "state" per se, even in reference to most of this area. On the contrary, according to the Torah, the Land of Israel includes a Temple and a state (using the terminology of the Sages in their teach-ings), like the one which includes Yehudah and the Galilee etc. But in my letter I was referring to the dispute over the two names (and the accompanying world view): the Land of Israel vs. the State of Israel - and the fact that the latter has prevailed (I add) for the time being (for my hope and belief is that ultimately the Glory of Yisroel in every single individual Jew shall prevail - and then they will proclaim before all the nations that a fundamental mistake has been made, and that the correct idea and name is The Land of Israel).
I did not write this letter directed at you - because why should I cause you distress for no reason (for you see nothing which you can do about it...)?
I wrote about this - not to some journalist - but to the woman who organized groups for Torah study (in places where, within the framework of nature, there was no chance of success) and who ran the campaign (and I hope she contin-ues) against the scourge of abortions etc. Those who opposed her efforts suspected that I was one of the motivations for her activities. So it dawned upon them that by explaining to her that I oppose the State of Israel (and the proof is that I always say "the Land of Israel"), they could convince her that she shouldn't make efforts in spreading Torah, etc. I was concerned that this might weaken her resolve, so I wrote to her concerning these matters.
You wrote: "I swore loyalty to the State of Israel," - of course, I am aware of this. I am surprised that you did not notice that a long time before you took that oath, I requested that you not refuse this appointment. This was more that just a request - for certainly you know that I was aware even then of the swearing-in ceremony. But I was certain that when you took the oath and swore "loyalty to the State of Israel," you clearly had in mind the Land of Israel, and more than this - you intended the Holy Land. And even more - I was sure that you meant "the Land where G-d's eyes are affixed from the beginning of the year until the end of the year."
The talk of a Chabadnik must be open-hearted; so you are allowed - and obligated - to say what is in your heart. Moreover, I value this as one of the essential ingredients of our friendship. Yet it pains me that in your heart you suspected me of something of which I am not guilty. On the contrary, I emphatically say that the Nation which dwells in Zion, dwells in The Land of Israel, being a special land which has no comparison. It has absolutely nothing to do with the State which lies between Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt. And I demand (not "a bit excitedly" as you write in your letter - but in a greatly agitated way) that the Ambassador to Washington and to the UN make this known - pounding their fists on the tables! The non-Jews in Washington also believe in this, but the Israeli Diplomats maintain that they were instructed not to speak in this fashion, and certainly not to bang their fists on tables, since they repre-sent a country which received permission from the other countries to exist and be considered a state. Therefore they feel that they must behave with proper protocol. And recently, when Israel's Ambassador's patience expired in the UN, and he publicly expressed a fraction of his "adoration" for them, the strongest words of rebuke were directed at him from Jerusalem for the next 24 hours - "Could it be that you actually spoke this way ..." and they forced him to retract his comments in public. Logically, these and similar episodes (of weakness) bring forth agression and terror - until there are deaths, may G-d avenge their blood....
13 Tammuz, 5765 - July 20, 2005
Positive Mitzva 197: Lending Money
This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 22:24) "If you lend money to any of My people that is poor among you"
Lending money to a needy person is a greater act of charity than actually giving it as charity. Giving money to a person who has fallen to the point where he must beg for help is important. However, by giving a fellow Jew a loan, you prevent him from begging for help.We are commanded to lend money to people who need it. By doing so, we are assisting them to stand on their own two feet and help them pull out of their difficulties.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
We are now in the period of the Jewish calendar known as "Bein HaMeitzarim - Between the Straits." These weeks, from the 17th of Tammuz through the 9th of Av are also referred to as the "Three Weeks." On the 9th of Av we will read the book of Eicha (Lamentations).
In Eicha it is written, "Come and sing in the night." Chasidic interpretation explains this to mean that during the "night" of exile one can come and sing; despite the fact that it is dark.
The beauty and specialness of the Jewish people is that we can find reasons to "sing" in the night. While the whole world is enveloped in total darkness, we find a reason to sing.
What exactly is that reason? We view the darkness of night, the darkness which surrounds us, as if it were a tunnel. At the end of every tunnel, no matter how long, there is a light shining bright. And it is because of the fact that we are surrounded by the darkness of the tunnel that we can see the brightness of the light at the end. We realize, too, the darker the tunnel, the closer we are to the light at the end.
When the redemption and Moshiach will come, these days are going to be filled with the light of joy and happiness and glory. This is what we are waiting for, what we are hoping for. This is the reason we can and must sing and dance in the night. After all, we are already at the end of the tunnel.
For I, the L-rd, dwell in the midst of the Children of Israel (Num. 35:43)
Our Rabbis elucidated: When the Jews were exiled to Edom (Rome, the West), the Shechina (G-d's presence) went with them. This also occurs on the personal level within the soul of every Jew. When a person commits a sin and causes his soul to go into its individual, private exile, G-d still accompanies him. The G-dly spark present in every Jewish soul is also dragged down with the sin.
To execute the vengeance of G-d on Midian (Num. 31:3)
Rashi explains that one who takes a stance against the Jews is actually standing against G-d. Midian tried to fight the Jews by causing them to sin, enticing them with their beautiful daughters and their idols. The sins of illicit relations and idolatry were against the will of G-d; therefore, when war was waged against Midian, G-d was taking His revenge on them. We also see the great love G-d had for the Children of Israel, for even when they sinned and died in the subsequent plague, G-d took His revenge because Midian had wronged them.
Arm some men from among you for war (Num. 31:3)
G-d instructed Moses to avenge the Jews against Midian. Why, then, did Moses send other to fight the battle? Moses had lived in the land of Midian and felt it was not right for him to personally harm those who had treated him well. This is in keeping with the saying, "don't throw stones into the well from which you drank."
One Friday afternoon, the Baal Shem Tov (the Besht) came to a small town to spend the holy Shabbat there. On his usual visits there, it was his habit to stay in the home of a wealthy householder who prized the honor of hosting the tzadik (holy man). This time, to the consternation of all, the Besht announced that he would be spending the entire Shabbat in the shul.
When he arrived in shul, the Baal Shem Tov prayed at great length, all the while weeping copious tears. The whole congregation joined him in the emotional prayers, and they wept too, although they didn't know the reason for their tears.
The Besht recited Psalms and enjoined the others to do the same. And when the services came to an end, he sent the congregants home to enjoy their Shabbat meal, instructing them to return and continue reciting Psalms.
The next morning, the Besht followed his usual custom and immersed himself before prayer. When he returned to the shul, he announced in a hearty voice that he would be joining his usual host for the Shabbat meal. The people were relieved, and a large crowd gathered at the wealthy man's home, hoping to understand the meaning of the day's events.
The Baal Shem Tov sat at the table in a happy mood, singing one Shabbat melody after another. Suddenly a gentile walked into the room. The Besht beckoned to the Russian to enter and join him at the table.
"Offer him some liquor," the Besht cried, and suddenly glasses and bottles appeared in front of them. The Russian was pleased to down one glass after another, and soon he was quite tipsy. Then the Besht asked him, "Well, now, tell me what happened over there."
"Last night, the poritz (wealthy landowner) called in all his local fellows. He was very angry at the Jews for not buying his grains, and ruining his income. He had to put all his merchandise into storage and he lost a fortune when it began to rot. So, he decided to get them back, those Jews. All the local fellows gathered at the poritz's manor and got good and drunk, while the poritz incited them against the Jews. They were told that tonight was the night to attack the Jews--not only in town, but wherever they could be found. Whatever they could grab would be theirs.
"All of a sudden a man walked into the house, and the poritz stood up to greet him. They embraced like long-lost brothers and went into another room where they stayed for a few hours, while the crowd of hooligans drank more and more. It turns out that the visitor was none other than the poritz's best school chum, whom he hadn't seen in a dozen years. They sat together talking and reminiscing, and in the course of their conversation, the poritz told his friend about his plan to punish the Jews for destroying his business. 'How can you think such a crazy thing?' asked the friend. 'Can't you see that you're being led around by the nose by the enemies of the Jews? Listen to me: of all your local people, it's only the Jews you can really trust not to cheat you. Remember my old estate manager, Moshke? If not for him I would have been bankrupt more times than I care to count!' Their conversation continued in that vein, and when he came out of the room, the poritz had been completely convinced not to harm the Jews. In fact, he now felt that they were his best friends. Who could figure that one out? He paid off the drunken peasants and sent them on their way."
The Russian thanked the Besht for the fine liquor and left. Everyone in the room was perplexed and waited for an explanation. The Besht was obviously pleased at what the gentile had told him, and he explained to the crowd, "I saw from Mezhibozh that there was a great danger hanging over this community and therefore I came to spend Shabbat here. As you know, the poritz had raised his grain prices to the point that no one wanted to buy from him. As a consequence, he suffered a tremendous loss, and the local priest and his cronies took the opportunity to slander the Jews. The poritz was convinced that the Jews were conspiring against him, and he devised a bloody plan to destroy them. I knew that there was only one person who could persuade him otherwise, and that was his old friend. The only problem was that he had passed away some years ago. I was forced to bring him back into this world to avert this terrible tragedy. Thank G-d, I had success.
The people now understood the heartfelt prayer and the night of reciting Psalms. They were both shocked relieved at what the Besht had related to them. Then, one of them turned to the Besht and asked, "One thing I don't understand: Why did you have to come to our town to accomplish the miracle? Surely you could have done it from Mezhibozh and spared yourself the journey."
The Besht nodded in the affirmative. But then he went on to explain that if, G-d forbid, his intervention had not been successful, he had desired to be together with his fellow Jews in the time of their great ordeal. The people saw the depth of the love the Besht had for them and the extent of self-sacrifice that the tzadik of the generation has for every Jew.
After his release from imprisonment in Petersburg, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chasidism, passed through the city of Vitebsk, where he was received by the city elders and community leaders. "Tell us, Rebbe," he was asked, "when will the tribulations of Israel end? When will Moshiach finally come?" Rabbi Shneur Zalman lowered his eyes to the ground and said softly: "But how can he come? The Moshiach that everyone wants will never come, and the true Moshiach, no one wants...."