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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
The Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chasidism, writes that he was once granted a spiritual vision of Moshiach and asked him: "When are you coming?" Moshiach answered him: "When the wellsprings of your teachings spread outward."
Two generations later, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chasidism, was imprisoned by the Czarist authorities. He was sending money to the Chasidim who had settled in Israel, and the Russians thought that he was conspiring with the Turks (rulers of Israel at that time) to fight the Czar.
While in prison, Rabbi Shneur Zalman had a vision of the Baal Shem Tov and asked him what was the real reason for his imprisonment?
The Baal Shem Tov told him that there were spiritual factors involved. Rabbi Shneur Zalman had been spreading Chasidic teachings without restraint, and this had aroused negative forces in the spiritual realms. "The world was not ready," these forces claimed, "for such a great revelation." And therefore, Rabbi Shneur Zalman was imprisoned.
"If I'm released, should I change my approach?" Rabbi Shneur Zalman asked.
"No," the Baal Shem Tov answered. "If you are released, that will be a sign that your approach has been vindicated."
On the nineteenth day of the month of Kislev, Rabbi Shneur Zalman was released from prison. That date is thus celebrated as a festival. For on it was granted the potential for the wellsprings of the Baal Shem Tov's teachings to be spread outward and prepare the world for Moshiach's coming.
Chasidism explains that Moshiach was not giving the Baal Shem Tov a time frame, he was explaining to him the pattern of spiritual causation:
When will Moshiach come? When the world is ready to receive him. And when will the world be ready to receive him? When the well-springs of Chasidism, the Baal Shem Tov's teachings, spread outward.
Chasidic teachings make us aware of the G-dly spark within our souls and the spiritual reality that permeates the world at large. When the awareness of these factors spreads throughout humanity, the world will be prepared to accept Moshiach.
The uniqueness of the era of Moshiach will be the outpouring of the knowledge of G-d. As the Prophet tells us: "The earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover up the ocean bed." Our existence will be submerged in the awareness of G-d; in every element of our lives, we will sense His presence.
The foretaste of that revelation is an overflow of spiritual knowledge: We gain an understanding of the spiritual forces governing our existence, we learn to appreciate G-d's hand guiding our lives, and we sense the oneness with Him contributed by every element of the Torah and its mitzvos. This is granted to us by the teachings of Chasidism.
From Keeping in Touch, adapted by Rabbi E. Touger from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, published by Sichos In English.
This week's Torah portion, Vayishlach, describes the encounter between Jacob and his brother Esau, after Esau had sent 400 armed men announcing his arrival. Their meeting, which threatened to be confrontational, actually turned out amiable - "Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him; and they wept."
Why this change of Esau's intentions? Rashi explains: Esau's mercy was aroused when he saw Jacob prostrating himself before him so many times. Rashi continues by quoting Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai: Despite the fact that Esau hates Jacob, Esau's compassion was stirred at that time and he kissed him with his whole heart.
Rabbi Shimon used the word "halacha" to describe the fact that Esau hates Jacob. Halacha, which means religious law, emphasizes something about the nature of Esau's hatred toward Jacob: it is as immutable and timeless as are the practical laws of Torah. Rabbi Shimon wished to teach us that we should not try to rationalize Esau's hatred of Jacob by ascribing various reasons or motives to it; it is a hatred rooted in Esau's very essence. If and when we find an instance of Esau's positive behavior toward Jacob, we should realize that it is an exception to the rule - "his compassion was stirred at that time."
This saying of Rabbi Shimon also found its expression in his own personal life. Rabbi Shimon lived under the yoke of Rome, and suffered under the harsh decrees issued against the Jewish nation. He, in particular, suffered greatly because of his own staunch opposition to the Romans, and was forced to hide in a cave for 13 years, together with his son. Yet it was precisely this same Rabbi Shimon who traveled to Rome to have the anti-Jewish decrees rescinded, and was successful!
The story of Rabbi Shimon illustrates both sides of the coin: the unchangeable nature of Esau's hatred and persecution of the Jews, and the triumph of one who was particularly renowned for his opposition to Roman rule.
We learn from this a valuable lesson in how to relate to our oppressors during this long and bitter Exile:
On the one hand, a Jew must not rely on the mercy of the nations, because we know that Esau's hatred toward Jacob is a given fact. At the same time, it is within the power of every Jew to command respect from the non-Jews by maintaining his pride and adherence to the Jewish way of life.
When a Jew is unbending in his commitment to Torah and mitzvot, it positively influences the nations, so that "Esau's compassion was stirred and he kissed him with his whole heart." Not only does this command respect, but it brings about Esau's cooperation and even assistance in helping the Jew to keep his Torah.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
A True Champion
by Ron Ross
Dmitriy Salita, the "Star of David," was the guest of honor recently at the Standard Club's annual Boxing Gala in Chicago. It was nearing show time for the first of the two-evening sold out event pitting the New York Police Department Boxing Team against a select team of Chicago's elite amateur stars and we were sitting in the lobby when Dmitriy's hand went to his forehead and he groaned, "Oy, Vay!"
Thinking of all the terrible mishaps that could have befallen Dmitriy, from America's first case of the bird flu to forgetting how to spell his own name just before his autograph signing session, I was saved the mental exercise when he turned to me and said in as crestfallen a voice as you could ever imagine, "I forgot to pack my tefilin."
Helplessness in a critical situation is a terrible feeling, but that is exactly where I was at that moment. Locating tefilin is just not one of my strong points. When Dmitriy got up and walked to the concierge's desk and asked for a phone book my first thought was that he was going to look up the airline's phone number to book a flight back to New York to get his tefilin. Instead, Dmitriy showed me what ring generalship was all about - outside the ropes.
He called the Lubavitch Center in Chicago and explained his plight. Eleven-thirty that night, Dmitriy felt his cell phone vibrate as we sat at our table in the ballroom-converted-to-boxing arena watching the action in the ring. Rabbi Sholem Ber Raices had driven cross-town to deliver a set of tefilin to Dmitriy and was waiting for him in the lobby. The next morning Dmitriy Salita donned his tefilin at the Lubavitch Center with a group of new-found friends and admirers from the Standard Club, including its president, Cary Schiff, his 15-year old son, Ari, now Dmitriy's number one fan, and Allan Rosenfeld, boxing journalist and author.
It was one of those special moments that transcends the ordinary and adds a new dimension to an already unique personality. To those who were there, it is an occasion that will be tucked away in their memory banks. Regardless of where Dmitriy Salita goes in life or whatever he may accomplish, to many this time-frame will be frozen forever.
There is another time-frame that will remain with me, also connected with Dmitriy. It was a day or so before the holiday season last year. As I was entering the local supermarket, I looked to the left and saw a guy selling Xmas trees. I looked to the right and saw a young man with a beard holding up a small Menora.
The young man approached me and said, "You look lost." I wasn't sure whether he was speaking of a spiritual shortcoming or noticed that I didn't know how to find my way into a supermarket. (I had tried to enter through the door marked "exit.") He held out the Menora to me and smiled, "Take this as a gift. I am a Chabad rabbinical student."
I started to explain, "Look, I am not the most observant guy in the world ...," but there was no quick escape.
"Do you know the story of Chanuka?" he asked me.
I was now beginning to feel pressured and having been taught that the best defense is a strong offense, I smiled and countered, "Do you know the story of Dmitriy Salita?"
In an instant the roles were reversed as I found myself educating a spellbound student. Of course he had heard of Salita and described him as a "great champion." In very careful detail, I explained to him that in addition to the fact that Salita is not yet a champion, there is really no basis of comparison between Dmitriy and the original bearer of the "Star of David" - King David. After all, Dmitriy was bound by very strict boxing rules and would never be permitted to bring a sling-shot into the ring.
"I don't wish to correct you," the Chabad student said, "but Dmitriy Salita is a champion - a true champion."
I started to tell him about the IBO, the IBF, WBA, WBC, WBO and how each organization has a champion and someday - but not yet - Dmitriy may be wearing one of their belts.
He continued, "According to the dictionary, a champion is a person who fights for another or for a cause. It is not just every time Dmitriy enters a ring and defeats his opponent that we are proud of him. We are proud of each day that he puts on tefilin, every time that he sets foot into a synagogue to pray. We are proud that he keeps kosher and observes the Sabbath strictly, according to all the laws and tenets of Judaism. So I repeat, he is a champion, a true champion."
He handed me the Menora. We shook hands and I left, never going into the supermarket. I still have the Menora.
I thought of this conversation the following evening as Dmitriy Salita climbed into the ring of the Manhattan Center, putting his perfect record (21-0) on the line against Louis Brown (14-1). I couldn't help but root for Dmitriy, who ended up winning. But it's gratifying to realize that his biggest victory is scored outside of the ring.
Ron Ross is a native New Yorker and was himself a professional boxer, a fight promoter, and a manager. He is the author of Bummy Davis Vs. Murder, Inc.
Surfing the Waves of Change
Join Rabbi Manis Friedman and Sara Esther Crispe for a thought-provoking and empowering Shabbaton weekend of personal and spiritual growth. Along with fascinating lectures and lots of good food, you'll also meet interesting men and women of all ages, backgrounds and levels of Jewish observance from around the U.S. and Canada. The Shabbaton takes place Dec. 23-25 and is hosted by the Chabad-Lubavtich community in Brooklyn. Register on-line at www.Shabbaton.org or by calling (718) 774-6187.
Yeshivacation is a ten-day intensive yeshiva experience in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, for Jewish men and women with minimal formal background in traditional Torah-based studies. Students attend special workshops and lectures as well as traditional course of yeshiva study. The program runs from Dec. 22 - Jan. 1. For more info, call Machon Chana Women's Yeshiva at (718) 735-0030 or visit machonchana.org or call Hadar HaTorah Men's Yeshiva at (718) 735-0200 or visit www.HadarHatorah.org
From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
In your letter, you outline your personal views on what you consider the right approach to Judaism. As you see it, the right road is to be reached in two phases: first, the understanding, by reason and intellect, of the "language" of the Torah, etc. etc., and second, the eventual acceptance of the Divine Covenant and yoke.
My view, which radically differs from yours, has been made known on several occasions in the past, and I will restate it briefly again.
The world is a well-coordinated system created by G-d, in which there is nothing superfluous and nothing lacking, with one reservation, however:
For reasons best know to the Creator, He has given man freedom of will, whereby man can be cooperative with this system, building and contributing to it, or do the reverse and cause destruction even of things already in existence. From this premise, it follows that a man's term of life on this earth is just long enough for him to fulfill his purpose on this earth; it is not a day too short, nor is it a day too long. Hence if he should permit a single day, or week, let alone months, to pass by without his fulfilling his purpose it is an irretrievable loss for him and for the universal system at large.
The second thought to bear in mind is that the physical world as a whole, as can be seen clearly from man's physical body in particular, is not something independent and separate from the spiritual world and soul. In other words, we have not here two separate spheres of influence, as the pagans used to think; rather is the world now conscious of a unifying force which controls the universal system, what we call monotheism. For this reason, it is possible to understand many things about souls from their parallels in the physical body.
The physical body requires a daily intake of certain elements in certain quantities obtainable through breathing and food consumption. No amount of thinking, speaking and studying all about these elements can substitute for the actual intake of air and food. All this knowledge will not add one iota of health to the body unless it is given its required physical sustenance; on the contrary, the denial of the actual intake of the required elements will weaken the mental forces of thought, concentration, etc. Thus, it is obvious that the proper approach to ensure the health of the body is not by way of study first and practice afterward, but the reverse, to eat and drink and breathe, which in turn strengthens also the mental powers of study and concentration, etc.
Similarly, in the case of the soul and the elements which it requires daily for its sustenance known best to its Creator, and which He revealed to all at Mount Sinai, in the presence of millions of witnesses, of different outlooks, walks of life, character, etc., who in turn transmitted it from generation to generation uninterruptedly, to our day, the truth of which is thus constantly corroborated by millions of witnesses, etc.
Thirdly, it is told of a famous German philosopher, the author of an elaborate philosophical system, that when it was pointed out to him that his theory was inconsistent with the hard facts of reality, he replied, "so much the worse for the facts." But, the normal approach of a person is, as expressed by Maimonides, that opinions are derived from reality and not reality from opinions. No theory, however cleverly conceived, can change the facts; if it is inconsistent with the facts it can only do harm to its adherents.
The conclusion from all the above, in relation to your suggested approach and order of the two phases, is clear enough. And from the particular point of view, the essential point is this: every day that passes for a Jew without practical living according to the Torah is an irretrievable loss for him and for all our people, hurting them, inasmuch as we all form a single unity and are mutually responsible for one another - and also for the universal order, and all theories attempting to justify it cannot alter this in the least.
Finally, I want to note that there is a difference in how all the above should affect the individual concerned and his friend who wishes to help him and put him on the right path. Again, the following analogy may be useful. Where a patient places conditions before taking the treatment prescribed by the physician, then notwithstanding the fact that these conditions are detrimental to the complete therapy, yet, if by going along with the patient at least some measure of success may be achieved, it is necessary to do so, if the patient is quite adamant, for besides the partial help that can be given him this way, there is the hope that the patient may sooner or later see reason. This is why I have repeatedly reasoned with you that your approach is wrong and that you are losing valuable time and causing much harm to yourselves by your approach, and though you still do not see eye to eye with me, I try to help you if I can, although for the present you still follow your own view.
May G-d help you and your friends to see the light and place yourselves on the path of Torah and mitzvot which ensures the true happiness for both body and soul in complete harmony.
17 Kislev, 5766 - December 18, 2005
Prohibition 248: It is forbidden to deny our debts
This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 19:11) "You shall not reply falsely" We are not allowed to deny that we owe a debt to someone else and refuse to pay it. Additionally, we are forbidden to deny that someone has given us an object to keep in our care and watch for him.
Prohibition 249: It is forbidden to swear falsely about a debt
This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 19:11) "Neither shall you lie to each other" We are not allowed to swear that we do not owe a debt when in fact, we do.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This comming Tuesday is the 19th of Kislev, the anniversary of the liberation of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism. He was imprisoned in Czarist Russia on false charges of spreading anti-government sentiments.
Each year since Rabbi Shneur Zalman's release in 1798, the 19th of Kislev has been celebrated as a special occasion by Jews the world over. Why celebrate an event that took place nearly 200 years ago to an individual in far-away Russia?
What is behind the custom of observing the anniversary of an important event in a person's life or in the history of the Jewish people?
According to Jewish teachings, the same spiritual forces functioning at the time of the original event - whether a birth, wedding, yahrtzeit, or victorious incident - reassert themselves at the time of the anniversary. Therefore, it is an opportune time to benefit from those powers.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman was one of the chief proponents of the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement. His vindication, therefore, was the vindication of the entire fledgling movement. Through his release from prison, the teachings of Chasidic philosophy - the inner and mystical aspect of Torah - could be freely taught.
The spiritual forces operative on the original 19th of Kislev and the 19th of Kislev in each subsequent year are intimately tied up with the dissemination and study of Chasidic philosophy.
May we all use this special time and the unique spiritual forces it brings with it for the advancement of the study of Chasidic teachings, especially as elucidated by Rabbi Shneur Zalman and his successors.
The remaining camp which is left may escape (Gen. 32:9)
This episode of Jacob and Esau in the Torah hints to the future wanderings of the Jewish people in exile. "The remaining camp which is left may escape"-G-d will never allow Esau to destroy the entire Jewish nation. When one king issues a harsh decree against the Jews, another king, in a different part of the world, will open his country's doors and allow the Jews refuge.
And Jacob came whole to the city of Shechem (Gen. 33:18)
Rashi explains this to mean that Jacob was sound in body, his wealth was intact, and his Torah-observance was uncompromised. We learn from Jacob to always strive for excellence in all areas of our lives. Even a person whose primary path in the worship of G-d is through practical mitzvot - charity and good deeds - should also strive to be perfect in study.
Save me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau (Gen. 32:12)
Jacob feared two things: The "hand of Esau" - Esau's sword, and "the hand of my brother" - the hand of friendship Esau would extend toward him. Fraternizing with Esau more than necessary worried Jacob even more than the physical threat he posed. Esau's might threatened Jacob's body, but the other put Jacob's soul in danger.
(Rabbi Yosef-Ber of Brisk)
By Menachem Ziegelboim
When the Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism) remained in Russia after Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk went to Israel, the Rebbe began to spread his teachings over the vastness of Russia, sending rays of the light of Chasidic philosophy to every city and town. At first he had very few Chasidim, and the Chasidic movement was quite limited in scope, but day by day its light was revealed and people came to Liozna to investigate for themselves.
Here is the story of one who became a great Chasid of the Alter Rebbe:
He had shabby clothes and a persistent smell of vodka about him. He was tall and skinny, and had prominent cheekbones, but his most distinguished feature was the sparkle in his eyes. Very few people knew him. He was known as the Volper; nobody knew his first name. The few who did know him also knew that the Volper was a prodigious Torah scholar who used to be a student of the Maggid of Mezritch. He had shared a bench with the great Chasidic luminaries, such as Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, Rabbi Zushe of Anipol and his brother Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk, and even with the youngest of the group, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. Together they had absorbed Torah and Chasidic teachings from the great Maggid.
The Volper however, had unique qualities which set him apart from the others. After the Maggid finished speaking, the other students would go over to the Volper to hear him repeat the Maggid's teachings. When he spoke, everything was clear and his audience would be completely overcome.
Nobody knew what led to the Volper's downfall. At some point, he began drinking excessively. He even began to frequent bars. He did not speak about himself. Wherever he went on his wanderings, his mouth would spew forth pearls of Torah and wisdom, even the deepest secrets of Torah. The more he drank, the more the "secret came out," the secrets of Torah. People who did not understand him mocked him.
One day the Volper arrived in Liozna in White Russia, where he went to the local study hall. The Alter Rebbe was there with his Chasidim and outstanding students, and he was saying a deep Chasidic discourse. The Volper sat in a corner, and in a rare moment of seriousness and lucidity, he rested his head on his hands and listened closely to the Rebbe's teachings. Nobody paid him any attention at all.
When the Alter Rebbe had concluded, he left the study hall and went home. The Volper also left the study hall, backpack on his shoulders, to continue his wanderings. Before leaving though, he hiccuped loudly and proclaimed with a peculiar smile, maybe one of pain or longing, "Ah, we all ate from one bowl, but he got all the gedichte (the thick portion of the soup)."
Word got around, until the Alter Rebbe was told what had been said. "That was the Volper," the Rebbe said. "If I knew he was here, I would have tried to get him to stay with us so that he wouldn't wander any more."
The Volper continued his wanderings. The Volper arrived in Vilna, a large city full of Torah scholars. Nobody paid him any attention. He entered a hostel where he got a warm meal. Then he removed a bottle of vodka from his worn satchel and poured himself a big glass.
The poor drunkard settled down in his place and went to sleep by the warm oven, while mumbling secrets of Torah. He quoted from works of Kabala and concepts from the innermost teachings of Torah, and every so often he burst into drunken laughter.
Reb Yudel stood nearby and listened closely to the drunk. Reb Yudel was a highly esteemed Torah scholar. He was a close student of the Vilna Gaon, and merited a seat of honor in the study hall. At first he thought his ears were deceiving him, but then his amazement continued to grow. He realized that drunkard was an outstanding scholar, conversant in all aspects of the Torah.
Reb Yudel stood there and listened until the drunkard let forth a snore and nearly fell asleep. Reb Yudel shook him by the shoulder. "Tell me dear brother," he said in his ear, "where did you get all this from?"
The Volper cocked an eye at him, and Yudel suddenly saw the mysterious sparkle in his eyes. It scared him a bit and he edged away. "Ah, ah... You want to know where I got this from?"
Reb Yudel nodded his head silently. He was too shocked to utter a word.
"N-n-no!" whispered the drunk. "I can't tell you now. But if you want Torah such as this, go to Liozna where you will find peace for your soul."
Reb Yudel reeled backward in dismay. He knew good and well who was in Liozna, for he was one of the greatest opponents of Chasidism and its proponents. Yet the drunkard's words entered his heart, and a fierce battle was waged therein. "If this drunk knows so much, what does the Rebbe himself know?!" he wondered. A few days passed until he resolved to travel to Liozna to learn from the Alter Rebbe. He knew he had a lot to learn.
Like other great Torah scholars, Reb Yudel finally arrived in Liozna, where he became an outstanding Chasid of the Alter Rebbe, and a great scholar in Chasidism. The Rebbe eventually sent him to Liepelei in order to serve as rabbi of the city and to bring the light of Chasidism to the people living there.
Reprinted from Beis Moshiach Magazine.
"Moshiach signifies the separation of the good from the evil. This is why he will come "only in a generation which is altogether meritorious or altogether sinful," i.e., at a time in which there will be no mixture of good and evil. So as long as Moshiach has not come, there is a mixture of good and evil in all the worlds: there is no good without evil and no evil without good."
(Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi)