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Shortly after the Communists took over Russia and formed the now-defunct Soviet Union, they launched a campaign to prove the merits of communism. They planned several displays to demonstrate the prowess and advantages of the Communist approach to the military, to engineering, to navigation - to just about everything.
As part of this program, they announced that they had developed the swiftest, most accurate, most maneuverable gunboat, a ship that would command the rivers and defend the coastline. And on such and such a date they would unveil the first model, the prototype and proof of the superiority of Communist engineering.
And so it was that on the designated date, thousands gathered to witness the event. Many dignitaries were there, and many speeches glorifying the Communist way and praising the comrades were given.
Finally it came time for the head of Communist Naval Engineering to introduce the ship. It was the moment everyone had been waiting for. "Comrades, behind me stands the most advanced naval ship on the planet, testimony to the ultimate triumph of the Soviet Union. When I give the signal, the ship will blast out five blasts on its horn. After the fifth and final blast, the ship will begin its initial voyage, right here under your eyes."
The official raised his hat, the signal for the horn blasts to begin. One blast, and everyone cheered. Two blasts on the horn, and everyone cheered louder. Three blasts. Four blasts. The applause was as loud as the ship's horn, it seemed.
And then silence. And more silence. Uneasily, the official looked toward the ship. Nothing. No movement, only silence.
Just as the restlessness of the crowd became a loud buzzing of whispered conversations, a sailor appeared on the gangplank. He looked around nervously, then, in response to the official's desperate and insistent hand-waving, he descended. After a hurried conference with the official, he rushed back onto the boat.
The official turned to face the crowd, his face bright red in obvious embarrassment. "Comrades," he said with bravado, "it seems some of the capitalist ideology remains within our engineering department. The four blasts you heard have, because of a capitalistic design flaw, drained the ship's engines of power. There is not enough energy in the engine now to move the ship, or even blast the horn. You, however, should stay, for in three hours the engine will have regained enough energy to sound the horn a fifth time and travel a mile downstream."
Needless to say, no one stayed.
Often we substitute sound for substance. We mistake the noise, the hustle and bustle of preparation, for the deed itself. We have to remember that no matter how often or how loud we blow the horn, if the ship doesn't move we haven't done anything. We can use up all our energy on fanfares and declarations. But ultimately, we've got to go into the boiler room and get the job done.
This applies at least as much to our approach to Judaism. "Action is the main thing," as the Rebbe emphasized on many an occasion. And action here means mitzvos. We need to make sure that what we do - how much energy we put into performance of mitzvos, how far we drive the ship of Judaism - not only matches our declarations, but surpasses them.
With thanks to Rabbi Zelig Rivkin for the parable.
The Torah portion of Korach describes how Korach led a band of 250 men in a rebellion against Moses and Aaron. They all desired to become high priests and be like Aaron the High Priest, who was always able to "stand before G-d and serve Him."
The Midrash tells us that in trying to dissuade them from their folly, Moses said to them: "We have but one G-d...and but one High Priest; the 250 of you all desire to be high priests? I, too, desire to be one!"
Moses was telling them that while their desire was proper and laudable, and was in fact shared by Moses himself, it was unrealistic, since there could only be one High Priest at any given time.
When G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people, He said to them: "And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." Explains one commentator: When the Jews received the Torah they all were on the level of high priests. Korach's band desired to attain this lofty level once again. All Jews could aspire to the level of High Priest, although it is impossible them all to become one. The level of High Priest is one of total self-sacrifice for G-d.
Any Jew, if he so desires, may attain the level of the tribe of Levi, though he is not obliged to do so. With regard to the tribe of Levi, Maimonides states that "they were singled out for Divine labor and service, and to teach His just and righteous paths and laws...." He goes on to say: "Not only the tribe of Levi, but all individuals whose spirit moves them...are sanctified [i.e., are deemed] to be 'holy of holies.'"
There are three general degrees in Divine service: mitzvot (commandments), Torah study, and total self-sacrifice for G-d. Performing mitzvot involves interaction with the physical world and elevating it to holiness. Torah, however, always remains aloof from physicality. Total self-sacrifice for G-d transcends the bounds and limitations of Torah and mitzvot, enabling the individual to unite with G-d without restriction.
G-d desires that the soul be clothed in the body, transforming the world into a dwelling place for Him through the service of mitzvot and Torah. Still, all Jews should desire to reach the high-priestly state of self-sacrifice. For this desire leads to selfless dedication to G-d, enabling the individual to perform mitzvot and study Torah utterly without qualification.
From The Chassidic Dimension, adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, published by Sichos in English.
by Zalman Velvel (Stu Silver) www.ZalmanVelvel.com
This story is about ten special Jewish children. These children didn't attend Chabad's Hebrew school - they were members of another synagogue that had entrusted me to do some of their teaching, and I took this responsibility seriously. Before the first class, I spent hours preparing what I thought was an exciting discussion on the Jewish Bible. As soon as I got up to teach, the kids started yawning. Then they took turns going to the bathroom.
I hoped the second class would be better but it was worse; the kids ignored me altogether. I couldn't take a third humiliation, so I asked every teacher I knew for advice. I distilled their advice into three things: one - take control, two - listen as much as you talk, and three, show you care.
"Sit still and be quiet!" was how I started the third class. Then, I said, "I want each of you to stand up and tell us what special things have happened in your lives since our last meeting."
The kids loved it! They started by sharing little things, like winning at soccer, music awards, trips with their families to Disneyworld. As time went on, some shared painful experiences - problems with their parents' divorce, a mother diagnosed with cancer, or a grandparent passing away.
I listened to them - really listened. Then the caring started. The kids tried to hide it, but I could see that they looked forward each week to sharing their lives. They still weren't interested in learning about Judaism. But I fooled them - because by learning to care about each other they were learning an important part of Judaism.
And as I began to care, and grew to love them, I had an image of their futures. I saw them chanting their Torah portions, and doing well, because they were a smart and talented group.
Then the image fast forwarded. I saw these wonderful Jewish kids graduating high school, going off to college, starting successful careers. I saw them moving closer to the American dream, and moving further away from their Jewish roots. And because their Jewish education and Jewish involvement was limited, the statistics say 70% would marry outside the religion.
I told the kids about the future that I saw. Their reaction was : "So what? What's the big deal about being Jewish? Mr. Silver? HELLO!? Why are you so quiet? What are you thinking?"
"What's the big deal about being Jewish? I love being Jewish! That's what I'm thinking."
"Yeah, like what, Mr. Silver?"
"Well, I love Shabbos... watching my wife and daughter light Shabbos candles... pouring wine in the kiddish cup... the smell of fresh challah ... my family sitting around the Shabbos table laughing, having a great time ...
"I love the holidays ... the shofar on Rosh Hashana .. the break fast after Yom Kipper ... watching children light the Chanuka menora .. the four questions and the hiding of the afikomin on Passover ... the dancing with the Torah on Simchas Torah ... the masquerade of Purim ...
"Mr. Silver, I heard you dressed up as Superman one Purim and got ripped. Is that true?"
"Well, I was supposed to be SuperJew - I had a Jewish star on my chest ...
"But wait, there's more! I love the Jewish life cycle, starting with the bris. Well, maybe I don't love the bris, but it is important. Then there's learning the aleph bet ... becoming a bar or bat mitzva... before you know it, there's your wedding chupa and breaking the glass ... then you have children of your own... and G-d willing, your children have children, the sweetest blessing of all ... then there is the parting of loved ones - like the death of my father ... friends coming over for shiva ... saying Kadish ... the memories."
It dawned on me, by answering the question, "What's the big deal about being Jewish?" that the kids taught me something important: Judaism is not just a religion to be taught with lessons. It is a way of life, to be experienced. How was I supposed to be a major provider of those experiences to those 12-year-olds in an hour a week if they didn't already receive them at home? And most of those kids did not. Not knowing what else to do, I did what teachers do: I gave them homework!
"Oh! I hate homework!"
"Sit still and be quiet! Now write down your assignment. Ask your family to STAY home this Friday night and have a Shabbos meal together"
"Oh boy! Get a life, Mr. Silver!"
"Be quiet and keep writing! I want you to ask Mom and the girls to light candles. Have Dad say a blessing and drink a little wine. Say another blessing and cut up a challa - you can buy them fresh at Publix. And then, during the meal, I want you to go around the table and have each member of your family talk about what was special during their week, just like we did in class. Listen to each other .... slow down and find time for each other, have a party together, celebrate life ... that is one of the beautiful parts of Shabbos.
"Do you have that written down? By the way, you should try to do it every Friday"
"Gimme a break, Mr. Silver!"
"Look, it may seem inconvenient, but good things will begin to happen. After a while, you will find yourselves looking forward to sharing your lives with your family, like you found yourselves looking forward to standing up in our class. Because there is nothing, repeat nothing, more important than each other...."
"Mr. Silver? Mr. Silver ... are you all right?"
"Yes, I just have something in my eye."
"So go home and take your homework assignment with you. Learn to enjoy Shabbos. If you need help, call Rabbi Itchy and he'll give you private lessons. He has a 6th degree black belt in Shabbos given by the Lubavicher Rebbe. Then, after you start enjoying Shabbos, he'll show you the next step - enhancing your family's Jewish education.
From a talk at the Chabad of Southwest Florida annual Dinner
Chabad's Children of Chernobyl
The 73rd Chabad's Children of Chernobyl emergency airlift touched down in Israel recently. Only six weeks earlier, the 72nd flight arrived in Israel. Since 1990, CCOC has brought over 2,900 children to Israel. These children suffer the effects from exposure to radiation released by the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in 1986. Though the explosion occurred two decades ago, children continue to become sick, the land continues to be contaminated. Each slice of bread or glass of milk threatens to increase the amount of radiation in the bodies of these children. Because radiation is cumulative, it collects in their bodes, causing damage and disease. On CCOC campuses in Israel, they receive life-saving medical care, nutrition, education and everything a child needs to heal and grow healthy and strong. Nearly 2,000 of the children have been reunited with their parents.
Freely translated letters of the Rebbe
In reply to your letter of the 12th of MarCheshvan, in which you notify me that you have accepted and are following my directives regarding regular Torah study sessions and donating money to charity - however, with regard to Shalom Bayis (peace in the home), matters have only superficially changed for the better, but internally (b'pnimiyus) matters are still not as they should be:
I have already communicated to you in my previous letter that with regard to this matter, there surely will be difficulties and obstacles and particularly with regard to Shalom Bayis.
Moreover, it is particularly in this area that you must exert maximum effort, inasmuch as the multitude of difficulties and obstacles indicates that this aspect of Shalom Bayis is specifically one of your main spiritual tasks in life ("ikar ha'birurim shelo").
This is to be understood as well from the writings of the AriZal, as further explained in Chassidus (see Kuntres HoAvodah, conclusion of chapter 6,) that present-generation souls - except for select individuals - have already previously descended into this world and have now descended again in a state of gilgul (reincarnation).
The main purpose of this descent is to rectify their lack of performance of some of the 613 mitzvos (commandments) in their previous incarnations. Nevertheless, i.e., although the main purpose of their descent is to rectify some mitzvah or mitzvos which they failed to observe in their past lives, they are still obligated to perform all 613 mitzvos.
The difference i.e., the difference between those mitzvos they previously failed to perform and the rest of the mitzvos that they are obligated in any case to perform, is that the performance of those mitzvos that they fulfilled in previous incarnations is not opposed by the evil inclination to a very great extent - only to the extent necessary for the person to be able to exercise free choice. For these matters were already purified and elevated (hisbareru) in previous incarnations.
However, regarding those matters that were lacking in previous incarnations, i.e., they - and their corresponding soul powers - were not previously purified and elevated in this world and for which reason the soul descends in gilgul, the evil inclination's opposition to the fulfillment of these matters is there with [his] full force and might. I need not go on at length about something that is already amply explained in holy Jewish texts, etc.
With regard to your actual conduct - for that is what is most crucial:
I once again rouse you and ask you to accelerate your efforts - and they should be very intense efforts - to achieve Shalom Bayis. You should do this, even though it will entail forbearance on your part, but this forbearance is perfectly fine since those matters that you will have to forego are not matters of Torah and mitzvos.
It is as I have previously written to you: Our Sages, of blessed memory, tell us, "a woman's tears flow relatively easily" and "the gates of tears are never closed," and moreover, "a person receives blessings only in the merit of his wife."
Igros Kodesh, Vol. V, p. 39
... Moreover (and this is of greatest import, and it also has an effect on earning a livelihood), it is imperative that peace reign between you and your wife.
For this to be achieved, it is mandatory that each of you gives a little and does not insist on always emerging victorious viz., winning every argument, etc.
Having achieved this, you will see the fulfillment of "When husband and wife merit, the Divine Presence resides in their midst."
May you convey to me glad tidings with regard to the above.
Igros Kodesh, Vol. XXIV, p. 194
From Eternal Joy, translated by Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg, published by Sichos in English
Why does the wedding ceremony take place under the chupa?
The chupa symbolizes the home which the groom is responsible to provide for his wife. In addition, it represents Mount Sinai where the ultimate wedding took place between G-d and the Jewish people. In Ashkenazic tradition, the chupa takes place outdoors where, at night, the stars can be seen. The stars are a symbol of G-d's blessing to Abraham that He would bless and multiply Abraham's children.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat afternoon we study the fourth chapter of Pirkei Avot - Ethics of the Fathers. As the Rebbe has encouraged us not only to "read" Pirkei Avot each week, but to actually "study" it, I would like bring a thought from the Rebbe on one of the mishnas we will be studying this week.
"Rabbi Yaakov said: 'This world is like an ante-room before the World to Come; Prepare yourself in the ante-room so that you may enter the banquet hall.' "
The World to Come - the Era of the Redemption - reflects the ultimate purpose of creation, when it will be revealed that this world is G-d's dwelling.
To explain the analogy: A person reveals the fundamental nature of his character more easily in his own home. We express ourselves outside our homes as well, but there are always social conventions, personal reservations, and the like. When we're at home, these constrictions do not apply, and our true nature is revealed. In the analogue, our world is G-d's home, the place where His essence and the truth of His Being is manifest.
G-d nevertheless desired that mortals should fashion His dwelling, for man has a natural tendency to appreciate the fruit of his own labors. If, instead, this dwelling were to be granted as an unearned gift from above, the bliss we would enjoy would be tarnished. To borrow the metaphor of our Sages, we would be eating, "the bread of shame."
And so, in the present era, man's efforts are directed towards transforming the world into a dwelling for G-d. For this reason, the present era is referred to as an ante-room, a preparatory phase through which we must pass.
May we very soon enter the banquet hall, and together partake of the Messianic feast.
And Korach took (Num. 16:1)
How is it possible that a portion of the Torah is named after a sinner as great as Korach? The Torah wants to emphasize that we can learn something constructive even from Korach's bitter controversy. Just as Korach wanted to be a High Priest, every Jew should similarly desire to draw near to G-d.
And Korach took [a bold step]...together with Datan and Aviram...and Ohn, the son of Pelet (Num. 16:1)
Ohn, the son of Pelet, was one of Korach's 250 followers in his insurrection against Moses. Yet when the Torah lists those who were punished, Ohn's name is omitted. Why? Ohn was saved by his righteous wife. When she learned of her husband's intention s she persuaded him that it was wrong to go against Moses. Ohn, however, had a dilemma. He had already promised Korach he would join him. What did she do? Ohn's wife gave him a large meal and strong wine, causing him to fall asleep. When Korach and his group came looking for him, she pointedly sat in front of her tent, immodestly uncovered her hair and began to comb it. Korach and his followers would not approach her. Because of his virtuous wife, Ohn's life was spared.
And they shall keep the charge of the Tent of Meeting (Num. 18:4)
From this verse we learn of the mitzva of guarding the Tabernacle, and subsequently, the Holy Temple. This commandment was purely ceremonial, to arouse honor and respect for the holy site. Even after the destruction, the sanctity of the site where the Holy Temple stood remains in full force. Why then do we not continue to guard it even during the exile? Until Moshiach comes, speedily in our day, the Jewish people is in constant danger from the nations of the world. This applies not only when non-Jews have sovereignty over the land of Israel, but also when the land is in Jewish hands - and even when peace treaties have been signed with our enemies. As "saving even one life takes precedence over the entire Torah," for reasons of safety we are unable to perform the mitzva of guarding the site of the Holy Temple today.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Many of our greatest Sages were sustained at spiritual "tables" richly laden with the greatest delicacies, while their physical tables were almost bare. One such Sage was Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai, who lived in the time of the Nasi (prince) Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel
It was of no importance to him that he ate only the simplest fare, or even that he lacked proper clothing. His Torah learning sufficed to nourish him, even to the extent that he glowed with happiness and good health. Once he was studying with his teacher Rabbi Tarfon, when his teacher remarked in surprise, "Why is your face shining today like gold?" Rabbi Yehuda replied, "Yesterday your servants bought teradim (an inexpensive type of beet) for us to eat, and they were very delicious and healthful, and although we ate them without salt since we had no money to buy it, they were good. Had we been able to afford the salt, the teradim would have been even tastier, and our appearance would be even better."
Rabbi Yehuda never dressed in the noble manner befitting a person of his stature. In fact, he didn't even own any warm clothing at all. One day his wife managed to purchase some inexpensive wool yarn. She spun it and wove it into cloth. From this material she fashioned a loose robe worn as a cloak. She even decorated it with beautiful embroidery to give it a finer appearance, as was fitting for her distinguished husband. Now, this type of garment was worn at that time by men and women alike, so Rabbi Yehuda and his wife shared it. When she needed to do errands in the marketplace she wore it; when Rabbi Yehuda went to the study hall he would wear the new cloak. He was, in fact, so pleased to own this warm coat that he composed a special blessing to be recited before putting it on: "Blessed is G-d who has enwrapped me in a cloak." Never mind that his coat was made of coarse homespun wool or that others had cloaks of far superior quality - Rabbi Yehuda was completely satisfied with his and never even noticed the others.
Once Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel declared a day of public fast and prayer because of a problem which beset the Jewish community. On such a day it was customary for all the Sages to gather together at the residence of the Nasi to pray as a group. This time, as well, they all came, with the exception of Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai. It so happened that when the fast day was proclaimed, Rabbi Yehuda's wife was wearing the shared cape. Rabbi Yehuda, lacking a coat, was unable to join his colleagues.
Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel noted his absence with surprise, and questioned the other Sages to discover the reason he had failed to come. They explained to the Nasi that Rabbi Yehuda was unable to come because he had no coat to wear. When the Nasi heard this he was quick to dispatch a messenger to Rabbi Yehuda bearing a beautiful new cloak.
When the messenger arrived, Rabbi Yehuda was seated on a mat on the floor engaged in the study of Torah. "The Nasi has sent this coat to the Rabbi as a gift," said the messenger. "He asks that Rabbi Yehuda wear it and come to pray with the other Sages."
Rabbi Yehuda answered: "I have no need for a gift, as I already have a coat, thank G-d. My wife will return soon and bring it, and then I will come to the Nasi's house. I lack nothing; as you can see I am very wealthy." And with those words he lifted a corner of the mat on which he sat. There, sparkling like fire, were hundreds of gold dinars. The messenger was left speechless by the sight of such an enormous fortune. Rabbi Yehuda explained: "You see, I have enormous wealth if I want it, but I do not desire to benefit from this world any more than necessary."
As he spoke, the golden coins disappeared, fulfilling his spoken desire. Rabbi Yehuda lived as always, in poverty. But he was satisfied with what he had, and he exemplified the words of the Sages: "Who is a rich man. He who is happy with his lot."
The Talmud speak of two possible ways in which Mashiach can come: (a) "with the clouds of heaven"; (b) as "a poor man riding on a donkey." It may be suggested that these are not mutually-exclusive alternatives. Rather, Mashiach will be both powerfully exalted ("on the clouds of heaven") and humbly self-effacing ("a poor man riding on a donkey").
(From Exile to Redemption)