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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Although "Get Rich Quick" books are no longer the vogue - certainly they're not as popular as "Live a Long and Healthy Life" books - many of us are still quite preoccupied with making big bucks. Buy low-sell high seems to be the indisputable way to get rich.
The Roman Emperor Hadrian (who ruled from 117c.e. to 138c.e.) once gave his nephew, Onkelos, some sound business advice. In fact, it was such an excellent suggestion that it even had an effect on world Jewry from that time forth.
Onkelos had become acquainted with Judaism through Jewish scholars who occasionally visited Rome. After much introspection, Onkelos decided to become a convert to Judaism but feared the wrath of his uncle who was not will-disposed toward Jews. Onkelos prepared to take a long journey, ostensibly in search of suitable commerce. He, therefore, asked his worldly uncle advice on which merchandise was the best to buy.
"Seek goods which are low in price because people do not realize their worth. Once you explain the real value of the merchandise, the price will rise and you will surely make a fine profit," suggested Emperor Hadrian.
Onkelos immediately put his uncle's advice into action. He went to the Holy Land, converted to Judaism and became a student of Rabbi Eliezer Ben Hycanus and Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Chananya.
When the Emperor found out his nephew had converted, he was enraged. Upon Onkelos' return to Rome, Hadrian asked him, "Why did you leave your home and religion to accept the religion of a small, persecuted, ill-treated nation?"
Replied Onkelos: "I listened to the Emperor's own good advice to buy merchandise whose value people do not know. The Torah calls the Jewish people a Nation of Priests. The Torah, itself, is eternal and priceless. I 'bought' into this precious inheritance. Someday, the entire world will know its value."
Buying into the wealth of Torah study and beautiful mitzvoth that are available in Jewish life is a sure way to get rich quick, depending on how you measure prosperity.
The Torah portion of Toldot begins with the words, "And these were the generations of Isaac the son of Abraham; Abraham begat Isaac." The commentators ask why the verse repeats itself by telling us that Abraham begat Isaac.
Among the various answers given are the following:
- The Talmud says that the cynics of the time were casting aspersions on Abraham's parentage. For, Sara had lived childless with Abraham for many years. She bore Isaac only after she had been forcibly taken by King Abimelech into his palace.
- The midrash comments: "Isaac was crowned with Abraham and Abraham was crowned with Isaac." Each was the other's pride.
There is a general principle that when different interpretations are given to one and the same verse in the Torah, they are connected, even though superficially they seem to bear no relation to each other.
What, then, is the connection between the Talmudic and midrashic explanations? They both relate events which were out of the ordinary course of nature.
If nature's laws had been obeyed, Abraham could not have had a child: he and his wife were old and barren. In fact, Abraham, himself, had seen in the stars that he and his wife were destined to be childless.
Also, if spiritual development had taken its ordinary course then Abraham would not have been "crowned" in Isaac. For, succeeding generations diminish in spiritual stature, as the Rabbis say, "If the earlier Jews were children of angels, then we are the children of men, and if they were the children of men, we are the children of donkeys. But that the father and son were "crowned" with each other and prided themselves on each other implied that Isaac completed and complemented his father's G-dly service and even supplied an element which Abraham lacked.
Both of these explanations, then, convey to us the profound fact that a Jew may transcend the constraints of natural law, not only in spiritual matters, but in physical matters as well.
Abraham had spiritual offspring before Isaac, for "the children of the righteous are their good deeds." But the birth of Isaac proved that even in the physical domain miraculous events attended him.
And this is the real refutation of the "cynics of the generation," and the cynics of every generation. For they conceded that though a Jew might transcend spiritual limitations, he could not transcend physical limitations.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Ed.'s note: These letters appeared in "Reaching Out," a publication of the Prison's Department of the Lubavitch Youth Organization. Rabbi Shmuel Spritzer, to whom most of these letters are addressed, is amongst those who are at the forefront of outreach to Jewish prisoners.
Dear Rabbi Spritzer,
You were so right. I was kvetching [complaining] big time and I was so wrong. G-d knew where I was being sent. I now get kosher meals three times a day. Plus my kosher diabetic snack once a day. It is so much better here. I get to go to the chapel on Friday before sunset to light the Sabbath candles. They give me grape juice for Kiddush. There are other Jewish women here.
Montana did ship my religious books and a few of my hygiene items. But they wouldn't ship my TV, my stereo or craft items.
It was a very pleasant surprise last week to be called to the chapel to find two of your Rabbinical students here to see me. Thank you very much for sending them. Thank you for standing by a lone lady (me) in the middle of Montana and for fighting and helping me every step of the way.
Lori-Corr Center for Women, Gig Harbor, WA
Dear Rabbi Spritzer,
...You asked what kind of positive purpose can come out of the exile a Jew finds himself in and is there is something positive I see coming out of my stay in prison. Yes there is. For me, I have developed a new sensitivity to the needs of the oppressed to the extent that I want to word with a prison advocacy program after I am released, either full time or part time. This will be a part of my life that I will always remember and never forget.
Gary-Brunswick Corr Center, Lawrenceville, VA
I find myself in a very difficult situation. The US Government plans to keep me in prison 'til Dec. of 2053! I wanted you to know that Reaching Out each month and the L'Chaim weeklies you send me, it is keeping me alive. Suddenly things that I read in L'Chaim come back to me. I should "wage war" on the system that is confining me, by performing more mitzvot [commandments] and by getting others to do it too.
I can tell you first hand that nothing upsets the forces of evil, and evil people who do good. It also protects the people who do good. It also protects the people doing, in this world and in the world to come.
You know there is one mitzva that is really special and easy. It is the mitzva of tzitzit, which each of us, even me in the maximum prison, can wear it under our shirts. They are very inexpensive (about $10) and are more discreet then a yarmulke. They take less effort than Tefilin and can be easily explained to non-Jewish staff. It even fits with rehabilitation that the prisons are seeking a way of returning to: that you should look at the tzitzit and remember the commandments (as stated in Num. 15:39-40).
As I look at my own tzitzit each day, they remind me that I remain a Jew, even while in the SHU area of this maximum prison. They also remind me to try and do another mitzvah. I wait every day for Moshiach and am doing everything spiritually that I can in order to hasten it up
Hillel-US Penitentiary, Beaumont, TX
Dear Rabbi Spritzer,
Just a short letter to thank you for the very nice yarmulke. I wish you could have seen the big smile on my face as opened your letter and found it. You have filled my heart with much thankfulness to G-d and you and your organization. Thank you for all you do for inmates. People outside would never believe the hardships a Jew has in prison, but you do not forget us. With much love and respect,
Larry-US Penitentiary, Atlanta GA
It has been ten months since I wrote you. I just arrived home (Israel) and immediately notified you about my happy return. I hope you never thought that I would ever forget all what you have done for me. Under no circumstances can I ever forget you, dear rabbi. The help you extended, not just in getting transferred back here, but also do much while inside. There was not a religious problem that you avoided. If I wrote you, the issued were addressed.
I am working for my father who runs a successful and big business. He is training me to become his second in command; he has offices all over Israel. I am again living with my wife and family, they waited for me the entire time.
...May the Creator bless you, dear Rabbi, for all your help and support for the Jewish inmates. In know that you will not stop helping these desperate people. I cannot forget all my own suffering and I will promise to be in touch with you. I want to help the Jews that are still in and will call you soon.
Yaakov-Petach Tikvah, ISRAEL
Dear Rabbi Spritzer,
I apologize in the delay in writing. I have for a time been in an emotional wilderness, but in a period of spiritual growth. Every day I thank G-d for being in jail with G-d being the great physician. I have been looking at my life through a microscope and have seen what a sinner I had become, besides the humble crime that brought me to prison. Aspects of my personality were very unpleasant. Bit by bit, through study and prayer, meditation and mitzvot, I am attempting to cleanse my past and start on a new path. If only I had followed G-d's ways as a young man instead of worshiping at the alter of academic pride.
Thank you for the book The Ladder Up. I learn something new every time I read it.
David-Men's prison, New Zealandn
If you're visiting the Grand Canyon or anywhere near Flagstaff, Arizona, make sure to stop in at the new Chabad-Lubavitch Center headed by Rabbi Dovie and Chaya Shapiro. The young couple recently arrived to serve the needs of the local Jewish community as well as the thousands of Jewish tourists who visit the Grand Canyon.
Makeyevka, Ukraine, a large industrial city in the Donbass Region, located in the country's eastern portion, now has it's own Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries. Rabbi Eliyahu and Haddasa Kramer are already loooking at a facility to house a center that will offer cultural, educational and humanitarian activities. Makeyevka is one of the largest cities in the Donbass Region of Ukraine.
Excerpts of a letter from the Lubavitcher Rebbe
I received your letter in which you write of the passing of your mother (may you and all the children and your father be designated to good, long life), and your thoughts and feelings in connection to this.
The truth is that "none amongst us knows anything at all" concerning the ways of Hashem, who created man, directs him, and observes him with a most specific providence. But certainly, certainly, He is the very essence of good, and, as the expression goes, "It is in the nature of the good to do good." If, at times, what Hashem does is not at all understood by the human mind - little wonder: What significance has a limited, measured, finite creature in relation to the infinite and endless, and especially in relation to The Absolutely Infinite and Endless?
Nevertheless, G-d chose to reveal a fraction of His wisdom to man, to flesh and blood. This He did with His holy Torah, called "The Torah of Light" and "the Torah of Life" - that is to say it illuminates man's path in life in such a manner that even his limited faculties may comprehend its light. Thus, also in the case of the above-mentioned occurrence, and the similar, one can find an understanding - at least a partial one - in accordance with what is explained in our (written and oral) Torah.
Actually, this understanding is to be found in two rulings of Torah Law which address our actual conduct in these circumstances. At first glance, they seem to stand in contradiction one to the other, though they appear in the same section of the Code of Jewish Law. The section begins: "One must not mourn excessively (beyond what our Sages have instructed us); one who does so in extreme..." Yet, at the section's end it is brought down that "one who does not mourn as the Sages have guided us is a callous and cruel person." Now, if in such a case it is natural to mourn, what is so terrible about one who mourns more? Why the harsh rebuke mentioned in the Code of Jewish Law? And if to mourn excessively is so terrible, why is it cruel to mourn less?
The explanation lies in the concluding words of the Code: "One should fear and worry, search one's deeds and repent."
It is self-understood that the soul is eternal. Obviously, an illness of the flesh or blood cannot terminate or diminish the life of the soul - it can only damage the flesh and the blood themselves and the bond between them and the soul. That is to say, it can bring to the cessation of this bond - death, G-d forbid - and with the severing of what binds the soul to the flesh the soul ascends and frees herself of the shackles of the body, of its limitations and restrictions. Through the good deeds she has performed during the period she was upon earth and within the body, she is elevated to a higher, much higher, level than her status prior to her descent into the body. As our Sages expressed it: The descent of the soul is a descent for the sake of an ascent, an ascent above and beyond her prior state.
From this it is understood that anyone close to this soul, anyone to whom she was dear, must appreciate that the soul has ascended, higher, even, than the level she was at previously; it is only that in our lives, in our world, it is a loss. And just as the closer one is to the soul, all the more precious to them is the soul's elevation, so it is with the second aspect - the intensity of the pain. For they, all the more so, feel the loss of her departure from the body and from life in this world.
Also, it is a loss in the sense that-it seems-the soul could have ascended even higher by remaining in this world, as our Sages taught in the Mishna: "One moment of repentance and good deeds in this world is preferable to the entire World to Come."
Thus, since the occurrence contains these two conflicting facets - on the one hand, the freeing of the soul from the body's shackles and her ascent to a higher world, the world of truth; on the other, the above-mentioned loss - the result is the two Jewish legal rulings. The "Torah of Truth" mandates that one mourn - for the time period set by our Sages. At the same time, it is forbidden to mourn excessively (that is, beyond the set mourning period, and also in regard to the intensity of the mourning within these days).
As said, the primary cause for mourning such an occurrence is the loss on the part of the living. This is the object of mourning: The living need to understand why it is that they deserved the loss. This is why, "One should fear and worry, search one's deeds and repent."
Through this another thing is attained - the bond between the living and the soul who has ascended endures. For the soul is enduring and eternal, and sees and observes what is taking place with those connected with her and close to her. Every good deed they do causes her pleasure, specifically, the accomplishments of those she has educated and raised with the education that brings the said good deeds; that is to say, she has a part in those deeds resulting from the education she provided her children and friends.
Since all of the above constitute directives of our Torah, the wisdom and will of G-d, the fulfillment of these directives is part and parcel of our service of G-d, of which is said, "Serve G-d with joy." A directive of Torah also serves as the source of strength which provides the abilities to carry it out. Consequently, since the Torah addresses these instructions to each and every individual, it is within the capacity of each individual to carry it out - and more so, to carry it out in a manner of "Serve G-d with joy."
2 Kislev, 5766 - December 3, 2005
Prohibition 52: The prohibition of intermarriage
This mitzva is based on the verse (Deut. 7:3) "Neither shall you make marriages with them" We are forbidden to marry non-Jews.
Prohibition 361: It is forbidden to disable males from fathering children
This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 22:24) "Neither shall you do this in your land" We are forbidden to disable a male - man or animal - from fathering children.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This past weekend was the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Shluchim. (Shluchim is from the word "shaliach" which means emissary.) Nearly 3,000 shluchim participated, from almost every country throughout the world.
From its inception, the highlight of the convention was always the address on Shabbat by the Rebbe. The last time the Rebbe addressed the Shluchim was in 1992. At that time, the Rebbe explained that the task of the shluchim in this momentous period - the last few "moments" before the Messianic Era - is to make people aware of the imminence of Moshiach and the Redemption: "And this is the task of the International Conference of Shluchim: First and foremost, to make a public statement that this is the task confronting us - to prepare ourselves to accept Moshiach. Every aspect of our service and every dimension of our activity must be directed to this goal."
The Rebbe went on to explain that every person is a shaliach. Therefore, the task and responsibility of every Jew these days is to make himself and others aware of the imminence of the long-awaited Redemption, an eternal era of peace, prosperity, health and wisdom: "Every Jew possesses a spark of Moses and similarly, every Jew possesses a spark of Moshiach. Therefore, every Jew is G-d's emissary to illuminate the world with the light of Torah..."
On numerous occasions, the Rebbe suggstged that we study matters pertaining to Moshiach and the Redemption. We can attend pre-existing classes or organize them ourselves, we can avail ourselves of the many books or study-material that can be found on the internet and we should allow what we are studying to impact upon our lives and upon the lives of those around us.
May we all take advantage of these precious moments to prepare ourselves, our families and friends, for Moshiach's arrival, may it take place NOW!
That my soul may bless you (Gen. 27:4)
Why did Isaac want to bless Esau instead of Jacob? Jacob was "a pure man, a dweller in tents (of Torah)," and even without a blessing he would stay away from evil. Esau, however, was very likely to fall into bad ways, and needed the assistance of his father's blessing.
And you shall stay with him a short time ... until your brother's fury turns away ... until your brother's anger turns away (Gen. 27:44, 45)
Rebecca advised her son Jacob what to do: "Run away to my brother Laban and wait until your brother gets over his anger. How will you know when that time has arrived and he is no longer angry at you? When you yourself stop holding a grudge against him." Rebecca understood the reciprocity of human emotions: Love is reciprocated with love, and hatred elicits a like response in others.
And one people shall be stronger than the other (Gen. 25:23)
Rashi comments: When one rises, the other falls. Jacob and Esau symbolize the struggle between the G-dly soul and the animal soul, between a person's good and evil inclinations. When a Jew's G-dly soul is dominant and exerts itself, there is no need to combat the animal soul - it "falls" by itself. Light does not have to fight darkness to illuminate - as soon as it appears, the darkness vanishes. So too, does the light of holiness dispel all evil.
Isaac had grown old and his eyesight was failing. (Gen. 27:1)
Isaac's eyesight was failing him so that Jacob could receive the blessing. (Rashi) Was it necessary for Isaac's eyesight to fail him? Wouldn't it have been "easier" for G-d to have revealed to Isaac that Esau was wicked and therefore undeserving of the blessing? G-d didn't want to speak badly about Esau! If this is true concerning the wicked Esau, all the more must we be extremely careful not gossip about or slander any Jew.
Near the town of Lubavitch there was a small village with a Jewish-owned inn. On his many travels throughout the area, Rabbi Shmuel, the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe, passed the village many times, but he never stopped in that particular inn. One day, however, the Rebbe asked is driver to stop his carriage at the inn and the Rebbe went inside. No one was home except the two small children of the owners. The Rebbe asked where their parents had gone, but the children replied only that they were on some sort of errands from which they would probably return soon.
"What subjects are you learning in school?" the Rebbe asked.
"I learn Torah," replied the elder of the two.
"And I can read Psalms," chimed in the younger.
"That is very good," said the Rebbe. The Rebbe opened the nearby book of Psalms and he and the children began to read aloud together.
When the mother returned later she was amazed to find the Rebbe sitting at her table surrounded by her children reciting Psalms with them. But as she stood there, she was disquieted by the melancholy tone of the Rebbe's voice, and without knowing why, she began to weep.
The reading of Psalms continued for some time, and then the Rebbe rose as if to leave. But as he reached the door handle, he suddenly turned around and returned to his seat, bidding the children to resume their recitation. The group read together several more pages and the Rebbe stood again, wished them farewell and drove away in his carriage.
The woman's nerves were on edge. She anxiously waited for her husband's return. The innkeeper had gone off to some of the neighboring villages to collect debts owed to him by his peasant customers. But the hours passed and night fell without his arrival. Discomfort turned to fear as the family began to imagine the evil that could have happened.
Finally, in the wee hours of the morning they heard a knock on the door. The poor woman, shaking from fear, ran to open the door. To her horror, her husband fell in, fainting on the doorstep. When he finally was able to open his eyes and speak, he related the following hair-rising tale:
At the house of one of his debtors the peasant asked him to accompany him to the barn where he would measure out grain which was to be his payment. The two men walked together to the barn, but when they were inside , the peasant suddenly bolted the door announcing to the Jew that he was going to dill him. It took only a few more seconds for the Jew to realize that this was no joke; the peasant has every intention to carry out his terrible threat. The innkeeper fell to his knees and begged for his life, sobbing that he was the sole support of a wife and innocent t little children. But the farmer had no intention of being swayed. "I always do what I say, and I am going to kill you now!" was the bellowing reply. The poor Jew asked for a few minutes to pray to his Creator, and the peasant nodded absent-mindedly as he combed the barn looking for his axe. Then he remembered that he left it in the house.
He bound the Jew hand and foot with a heavy rope and ran to the farmhouse to retrieve the weapon. Not a minute has passed when the peasant's wife returned from her work in the fields. When she opened the barn door there was the Jew trussed up like a calf waiting for the slaughter. He implored the woman to untie him, promising her everything he could think of, but she was caught in a quandary. On the one hand, she found it hard to resist his tearful entreaties, on the other hand, she was deathly afraid of her husband who would murder her on the spot if he knew she had freed his quarry. Finally, she agreed and quickly undid his bonds, telling him to go hide amongst the sheaves in the field. For, when her husband found him missing e would surely search up and down the road until he found him. For his part, the grateful Hew instructed the woman to run back to the field, and pretend to be first returning only when she saw her husband coming.
While the Jew hid in the field between the high grasses and sheaves of wheat, he could hear the peasant's heavy breathing as he frantically searched for him. He could see the glint of the farmer's axe, and his heart beat in terror as he imagined being found. But miraculously, the peasant did not find him In spite of searching the farm and all the surrounding roads and pathways. The Jew, meanwhile, lay in the field, barely breathing, for fear of discovery. Finally, after midnight he gathered the courage and strength to crawl out from his hiding place and slowly began his furtive journey home.
His wife listened in increasing wonder to the recital of his tale. When he had finished she told him of the visit of the Rebbe, and they both understood what had happened. During the first reading of the Psalms the Jew had survived the encounter in the barn; and when the Rebbe returned a second time he had been saved from the peasant in the field.
"...in truth, a Jew's direct effect on global crises is very limited. How can he have an effect? By reciting a chapter of Psalms or by increasing his study of the Torah and enhancing his performance of its commandments, and doing the latter in a beautiful and conscientious manner. And most importantly, by studying the inner, mystical dimension of the Torah which prepares the world for Moshiach's coming. This is where a Jew should devote his energies."
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 25 Nissan 5751 - 1991)