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Yud-Alef Nissan is the Lubavitcher Rebbe's birthday. A birthday is more than a day for songs and celebrations. Instead, a birthday is a day when mazalo gover, the spiritual source of a person's soul shines with power. When we say "the spiritual source of a person's soul," we mean something more than our conscious thought powers. We have our thoughts and our feelings. And then we possess an inner spiritual core from which those thoughts and feelings spring forth. This spiritual core is the mazal that shines powerfully on a person's birthday.
Since a person's mazal shines powerfully on that day, he should use its influence to focus on his individual mission and align all the particular elements of his life with it. As the Previous Rebbe taught, on a birthday a person should spend time in solitude, thinking over the purpose of his life, correcting those matters that need to be amended, and making resolutions with regard to his conduct in the future.
The Rebbe's birthday is not merely a personal event, affecting him alone. On the contrary, the very name Rebbe is an acronym for the Hebrew words rosh bnei Yisrael, "head of the Jewish people." The head contains the nerve center for the entire body, allowing all its diverse organs and limbs to function together as a single whole. Similarly, a Rebbe is a comprehensive soul whose life is lived in consciousness of others and whose efforts are devoted to tightening the connection between them. As such, the Rebbe's birthday is a day which impacts us all.
What is the Rebbe's mazal and where is it directed? In one of his letters, he writes: "From the days I began going to cheder (school) and perhaps even before then, I had a vision of the ultimate Redemption." From his earliest childhood, and in every successive phase of life, the Rebbe devoted his efforts to creating a spiritual climate that will make Moshiach's coming a reality.
On a day when "the spiritual source of his soul shines powerfully," each one of us should think of the way he can help shoulder and advance this mission. The breakthroughs in sciences and communication of our era have created the backdrop for the Redemption. Its is our responsibility to create the conceptual foreground and make the values and principles that will characterize the Redemption factors that influence our lives at present. Anticipating the Redemption in this manner will precipitate its unfolding as actual reality.
From Keeping in Touch by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, published by Sichos in English.
The central theme of Passover is freedom - the liberation of the Children of Israel from the Egyptian oppressors. The celebration of this freedom is of such importance in Judaism, that we are required to relive the Exodus from Egypt every single day: "In every generation a person should consider himself as if he himself went out of Egypt."
What type of freedom were the Jews granted when they left Egypt? Did we not remove the yoke of Pharaoh only to replace it with an even greater yoke? "When you take the people out from Egypt they shall serve G-d," Moses is told. G-d took the entire Jewish People out of slavery in Egypt, only on condition that they become subservient to Him! Observing the Torah and its 613 commandments is certainly a heavy yoke. Is it not a contradiction to claim that the Jews were freed from bondage, if they afterward found themselves in a new sort of servitude?
The concept of freedom is relative, dependent on many factors. That which constitutes freedom for a plant is quite different from the freedom demanded by an animal or a human being. A tree requires good soil, abundant rain, air and sunshine to thrive. But those same conditions would present the very opposite of a free existence for an animal, which is not rooted to the ground and must enjoy freedom of movement, in addition to sufficient food and water.
Moving up the ladder of creation we see that the same freedom that suffices for an animal does not constitute freedom for a human being. If we were to fulfill all a person's physical needs, yet not allow his intellect to be satisfied, this would be a terrible deprivation. Freedom for man includes the recognition that he possesses a need to fulfill his intellectual yearnings, to develop his full potential as a human being.
And yet, even intellectual fulfillment is not true freedom for a Jew. His Jewish soul must also be taken into consideration, that "veritable piece of G-d" which is the birthright of every member of the Jewish nation. Even when this soul is clothed in a physical body it maintains its intimate connection with its G-dly source. A Jew can only find true freedom and fulfillment when his soul is afforded the opportunity to strengthen that bond with G-d, through the Torah and its commandments.
That is why our Sages said, "A truly liberated person is one who engages in the study of Torah." Torah for the Jew is as essential to his existence as water is to a fish. Contrary to being a yoke, Torah is our very life. Just as a fish can live only in water, the Torah is the Jew's only appropriate medium.
Freedom, therefore, is that which will enable every single organism in the world to live up to its full potential. For a Jew, whose soul is his true essence, genuine freedom is that which will allow him to draw closer and closer to G-d - learning Torah and performing mitzvot.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
By Rabbi Yossi Hodakov
By the time we set the Seder table on the first night of Passover, it is an hour after we were scheduled to begin, and some of our guests have not yet arrived. We decide to start the Seder, and figure that if and when they come, they will catch up. Kadeish, Urchatz, Karpas, Yachatz, Magid...
My younger son is reciting the Ma Nishtana. There is a knock on the door. Our delayed guests have arrived. From my place at the table, I hear one of them, Leah telling my wife that on their way to our house they met a couple of people looking for a Seder. Would it be okay if they come in too?
Our invited guests come inside, and with them are two Israeli boys in their twenties. I give them kippot. Settings are added to the table, and seating is rearranged for Benny and Asaf to sit next to me.
Asaf is from Tel Aviv. His long, dyed hair covers his earring.
Benny's appearance belies his origins. He lived in the Rova - the Jewish Quarter in the old city of Jerusalem - for the first 15 years of his life, just down the block from the Chabad shul. There was a time when he had long, curly peyot. He spent some time learning in a yeshiva where he even picked up some Yiddish. He remembers working in a Shmurah-Matza bakery in Meah Shearim. "Maireh! maireh!" they would scream, when a new batch of dough was ready. But that was years ago, thousands of miles and worlds away.
Now he lives in Florida, and in his truck. He drives up and down the East Coast, hauling cargo for an Israeli-owned moving company. When he is done unloading one job, he calls his manager to find out where to go next. It has been six years since Benny has participated in a Seder.
Every once in a while, the drivers in the moving company are paired up with new partners. That is how Benny met Asaf yesterday, for the first time. But that was yesterday, hundreds of miles away.
Today it is Passover. Six years is too long for any of the "Four Children" to be away from a Seder table. Benny makes Kiddush with excitement and ease, the words rolling off his tongue. We give all the guests a chance to catch up to us.
Asaf is enjoying himself, taking it all in. The food, the spirit, the wine... Benny is shining, literally bursting with joy. He proudly helps his friend through the Hagada, explaining things as we go along. He wants to share with me insights that he vaguely remembers hearing from his father so many years ago... Rachtza, Motzi, Matza, Maror, Koreich, Shulchan Oreich - the meal is served.
So now we can talk. I ask Benny, "How did you find my house? Where did you meet Leah and her friends?"
Benny tells me had wanted to join in a Seder. Not knowing anyone in New Haven, he entered two separate bars asking for directions to the Jewish neighborhood, when someone suggested he "go to Whalley Avenue." He drove up and down Whalley Avenue "making U-turns, crossing double-yellow lines, driving on the sidewalk" until he saw a few people walking in the distance. "From the way the girls were dressed, I could tell they were Jewish. I must have scared them, stopping short with my speeding truck just before jumping out wildly in front of them!" he says, laughing.
Tzafun, Beirach... Benny and Asaf join me to open the door welcoming Elijah the Prophet. I tell them that just as we open our doors on this night, so does G-d open the gates of heaven. Silently, I pray that G-d opens the gates as wide as the hearts and souls of these two Jews, frantically searching to celebrate this Festival of our Liberation. Halel, Nirtza...
After the fourth cup of wine, Benny and Asaf leave, happy to keep the kippot we have given them, promising to wear them more often in the future. Benny promises to call his father, whom he hasn't spoken to in over a year, and tell him what he did on Passover night. Make him happy. I wish them well and encourage them to stop by the next time they are in the area.
After they leave, Leah feels a need to justify why she invited two total strangers into our house. "Two of my friends decided to go elsewhere, so I figured you'd have place for them." She doesn't realize how happy we are, how fortunate we feel, to be able to host these two precious Jews from the Holy Land.
Leah apologizes again for being so late. "It was her fault," she says half in jest, pointing to one friend. "She wasn't ready on time." I explain to her that she has it all wrong. Her friend may have been taking her time, but it was, in fact, "His" fault that they left when they did. They were not late at all. They were just in time. Just in time to bring another two Jews to a Seder on the first night of Passover.
Rabbi Yossi Hodakov and his wife Perel direct Chabad of Westville, Connecticut. Rabbi Hodakov also teaches at Southern Connecticut Hebrew Academy, and hosts The Jewish Hour online at www.TheJewishHour.com
Happy Birthday To Me
What happens when a child thinks that everyone in the family has forgotten about his or her birthday? That's exactly the scenario in Happy Birthday to Me, the newest release from HaChai Publishing. Written by Channah Lieberman and illustrated by Patti Argoff, Levi - in the boy's version, and Leah - in the girl's version, set out to make a wonderful mitzva party all alone. But just when everything seems to be going so well, some unexpected problems lead to a wonderful surprise!
The next issue of L'Chaim will be for Nissan 23/April 21.
Freely translated and adapted
11 Nisan, 5722 (1962)
The Festival of Passover, the Season of Our liberation, being a part of Torah ("Torah" in the sense of instruction and guidance), teaches us the true concept of freedom.
Unlike other, often strange, interpretations of this concept, the Festival of Passover reminds and teaches us that true freedom means total freedom; that is, full and complete freedom in all three aspects which constitute human life:
- the realms of the soul,
- the realm of the body, and
- the surrounding world in which the individual lives
-- in each of the three areas individually, and in all of them together.
This means that a Jew must strive for true freedom in all of the said three aspects of his daily life, and in such a way that not only would they not be in conflict with one another, but, on the contrary, one would supplement and complete the other. Only this kind of freedom may be called true freedom.
It is self evident that the said harmonious and total freedom cannot be achieved in a way of life whereby the soul, which is truly a part of G-d (the G-dliness in man), would be subordinated to the body, and both of them (body and soul), to the (material) world.
The superior cannot serve the inferior and be content to do so.
The highest aspect of human life, the soul, will never acquiesce in subservience to the body. The obvious conclusion, therefore, is that true freedom can be achieved only when the lower constituents of human life - the body and material environment - will be elevated to the highest possible, for them, degree of affinity, with the soul and its aspirations, while the soul, on its own level, will liberate itself from everything that hinders her fulfillment.
The enslavement in Egypt, and the subsequent liberation, reflect precisely the concept of freedom defined above:
The enslavement was complete and total in all three aforementioned aspects of human life;
- spiritual enslavement in, and to, a country of the lowest moral depravity, for which reason Egypt was called the "abomination of the earth";
- extreme physical slavery of "hard labor";
- the fullest deprivation of their share of material world possessions to which they were entitled.
The liberation, likewise was in all the three aspects, and in the fullest measure:
- First and foremost, spiritual liberation -- "withdraw and take for yourselves lambs... for the Passover sacrifice." Not only was it a withdrawal from worship of the Egyptian deity, but also an open demonstration of its nothingness;
- the fullest physical liberation, by marching out of Egypt with a "high hand" (raised hand), with song and jubilation;
- as for their share of material wealth, they went out "with great substance."
In seeking self-liberation, there are those who confine themselves to their soul: they pray and learn Torah, and so on, but when they sit down to eat and drink, their enslavement to the animal in man becomes very much in evidence.
There are others who recognize that freedom must include also the body, and that the gratification of the bodily needs should conform to the true Jewish way. However, they are Jews at home only; when they go outside and go about their business (what should be their business) they feel no responsibility to elevate their share in the material world; they are slaves to the "Egyptian" environment, for the Torah, and Shulchan Aruch, their liberation from Egypt, is left behind, locked up at home.
Comes Passover and reminds every Jew that the liberation from Egypt should be a daily experience: "Remember the day of your liberation from the land of Egypt all the days of your life."
The Jew is reminded daily: You are free, liberated in soul and in body; and this personal liberation of body and soul makes it possible to convert the substance of Egypt into a great Jewish substance.
"I demand only according to their capacity" G-d, the Creator of man, declares that what he requests and demands of Jews does not exceed their capacity and ability to fulfill; all that is needed is the firm determination to fulfill G-d's request. And this is the way, indeed the only way, to our true freedom, freedom from the inner personal exile, and freedom also from the general exile, through our Righteous Moshiach.
Does ordinary matza differ from shmura matza?
The wheat for ordinary Passover matza is guarded from the time of grinding. A few authorities maintain that the wheat must be guarded from the time of reaping. Because the mitzva (commandment) of not eating any chametz (leaven) on Passover is so stringent, many people observe the mitzvot of Passover with greater caution and only eat matza that is acceptable by the strictest opinions. Many people make a point of eating shmura matza at least at the seders when eating matza is a positive command from the Torah.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
It is a custom to say daily the chapter of Psalms associated with the number of one's years. Many also have the custom to recite daily the Rebbe's chapter. The 11th of Nissan (Sunday, April 9, this year) marks the Rebbe's 104rd birthday, and so we begin reciting chapter 105.
Psalm 105 was composed by King David on the day that he brought back the holy Ark from Philistine captivity. From that day forth, this Psalm was sung each morning as part of the daily service until King Solomon built the Holy Temple and the Ark had a permanent home.
The Psalm begins, "Offer praise to the L-rd, proclaim His Name; make His deeds known among the nations." This verse describes the Divine mission of Abraham which he carried out to the utmost degree. Abraham taught about the One G-d and encouraged everyone to praise and thank G-d. As his descendants, we too are enjoined to praise G-d and to speak of G-d's wonders.
In the next verse we are further enjoined to "speak of all His wonders." Our Sages explain that those who believe in G-d speak with one another about the wonders and miracles that G-d has done and continues to do. We are encouraged to do this, especially in these days when the wonders we are experiencing are a foretaste of the miracles and wonders of the future redemption.
In verses three and four we read: "May the heart of those who seek the L-rd rejoice...Search for the L-rd and His might; continually seek His countenance." Finding G-d brings the ultimate joy and happiness. Yet, even while a person is seeking G-d, he rejoices. The search for G-d is never-ending; but simply being involved in the search is enough to cause one to rejoice.
Verse 7 reads: "...His judgments extend over the entire earth." G-d is busy with the entire world, yet He is also involved and concerned with even the minute details of our lives.
This Psalm ends: "And He gave them the land of nations, and the labor of the peoples they inherited; so that they might preserve His Statutes and treasure His Laws..." Reward is usually granted after the deed. But G-d gives the reward even before the good deed so that we will be able to fulfill His desire in peace.
May we truly fulfill His desire in peace with the revelation of Moshiach, NOW!
A perpetual fire shall be burning on the altar; it shall not go out (Lev. 6:6).
If a person guards the spark of attachment to G-d that he has, and watches over it carefully all day, even when he is not engaged in Torah study or prayer, then it shall not go out. However, if this spark is allowed to dim, it might be necessary to rekindle the fire. In addition, one who studies Torah with his friend and awakens the "perpetual (G-dly) fire" within him - "it shall not go out" - this merit shall endure forever.
(The Baal Shem Tov)
This is the law...and of the sacrifice of the peace offerings (Lev. 7:37)
The Rabbi of Lublin used to say: It is far better to have an imperfect peace than a perfect controversy. It is preferable to live in peace with one's neighbor, even if that peace is only superficial and not with a full heart, than to engage in controversy, however well intended. Why is the chapter "Where were the places of sacrifice in the Holy Temple" included in our daily liturgy? One of the most important things we pray for is peace, and this chapter is the only one in the Mishna in which there is no controversy between the Sages.
Rabbi Chaim Chaikel Miletzky was the head of the yeshiva Chayei Olam in Jerusalem. For many years he had suffered from problems with his legs. The condition worsened to the point that he was confined to bed. The doctors began to speak of amputating one leg.
In 1954 one of Rabbi Miletzky's daughters was married. He was carried into the wedding hall on a stretcher in order to participate in the joyous occasion. At the wedding celebration, Rabbi Miletzky asked for silence. When everyone had quieted down, he began the following story:
When I was young I went to yeshiva in the city of Kovno. A drunkard whom everyone called "Itche Der Shikker" lived in Kovno. Itche's claim to fame was his habit of drinking until he passed out. Itche could almost always be found in the shul, where the yeshiva students also spent most of their time.
One frigid winter night we were studying as usual. Suddenly, in rushed a wagon driver. "My wagon just overturned and landed on my horse. The reins are tangled around the animal's neck. If we don't turn the wagon over at once, the horse will choke to death. If the horse dies, G-d forbid, I'll be left without a means of earning a livelihood. Please come help me!" he pleaded.
The man stood there while we discussed the pros and cons of abandoning our studies to help him: Was it permissible to pause in our learning or not? In the end, we concluded that the transgression of neglecting our studies was too grave a sin to risk. The poor wagon driver left the shul, angry and bitter.
All of a sudden, Itche roused himself from his nap and said, "Young men! Go right now to help that Jew before his horse chokes! If you don't," he warned, "you'll never again walk on your own legs."
About a half-hour later, the desperate wagon driver returned, pleading with us to come to his aid. Again we held a discussion, this time deciding that it was indeed permissible. We left the shul only to find that we had arrived too late. The horse was already dead...
In shul the next morning, Itche asked for me. As soon as I arrived, my fellow students informed me that Itche wished to speak to me.
"I have something to ask of you. Tonight I am going to die. I would like you to come to my house to be with me when my soul departs," he said.
I thought he was only joking, but he repeated his request. I asked him where he lived, and he described an old ruin on the edge of town. Evening came. I took my Talmud and set off for Itche's hovel.
When I got there I found Itche stretched out on some wooden boards, asleep. I sat down on a broken crate, opened the Talmud, and began to study. After several hours had passed I decided to leave, but as soon as I stood up Itche awoke. "Don't leave!" he said. "I'm going to die at exactly 4:00 a.m. I want you to tell the Burial Society that I wish to be buried next to Rabbi so-and-so." Itche named an eminent scholar, a tzadik.
"You want to be buried next to such a great tzadik? Even if I tell the Burial Society where you want to be buried they'll never listen to me," I protested.
"Under the chest with my tefilin is a small box," Itche said. "Inside you will find all my writings. If you show them to the Rav he will fulfill my request." I opened the box. A quick glance revealed a number of Kabalistic treatises, involving concepts many of which I could not understand. One thing was clear, however: The man lying on his decrepit bed was a hidden tzadik.
At that point I begged Itche to rescind the decree he had decreed on us for not helping the wagon driver rescue his horse. "As soon as the words left my mouth, I regretted them," he said. "But I was so upset at hearing yeshiva students use Torah study as an excuse for not helping a Jew, I couldn't control myself. Afterwards, I tried to nullify the decree, but I was unsuccessful. The only thing I can tell you is that in your case, it will only affect one leg."
At exactly 4:00 a.m. he died. I immediately ran to the Rav and the Burial Society as he had instructed. The whole city was in an uproar over the incredulous story. A large and stately funeral was held for Itche, with most of the city's prominent Jews attending to pay their last respects.
At this point, Rabbi Miletzky began to weep. "I have no doubt," he said, "that my years of suffering and incapacitation are the result of Itche's curse."
There wasn't a dry eye in the wedding hall. Rabbi Leib Friedman was one of the wedding guests. He could not get the story out of his mind. As he was in correspondence with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, he decided to mention Rabbi Miletzky in his next letter. He asked the Rebbe to pray for this Jew and to give him a blessing to recover his health.
A short while later, Rabbi Friedman received an answer: Everything that happens in the material world begins with its source in spirituality. Tell Rabbi Miletzky that he should accept upon himself to learn the daily portions of Chumash (Five Books of Moses), Psalms, and Tanya (the basic book of Chabad Chasidism), as instituted by the Previous Rebbe. Not only should he study these, the Rebbe wrote, but he should make sure that everyone under his influence does so, as well. In the merit of walking in the Previous Rebbe's ways, G-d will bless him with the ability to walk in the literal sense, too.
Rabbi Friedman immediately ran to show Rabbi Miletzky the letter. Rabbi Miletzky was absolutely overwhelmed. He was so happy and excited that he kissed the piece of paper.
About a half-year later, when Rabbi Friedman next visited the Rabbi Miletzky, he was sitting at his desk. The doctors no longer spoke of amputation, only of progress and rehabilitation. His condition continued to improve, and he eventually regained the ability to walk normally...
Reprinted from Beis Moshiach Magazine.
As far back as in the times of the Talmud our Sages taught that "all the appointed times have passed." How much more so must this be today, after all the divine service of our people throughout this long and bitter exile, for over a thousand and nine hundred years. Moshiach must most certainly come immediately.
(From a talk of the Rebbe, Parshat Vayechi, 5751 )