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by Dr. Aryeh (Arnie) Gotfryd, PhD.
Kids are weird. All the stuff that we clever, worldly grown-ups so sensibly take for granted, children question. Which parent has not fielded such curve-ball queries as:
"Why is the sky blue?"
"Why do people die?"
You stop and think. You wonder at her wondering, take pride in her cleverness, and dig deep into the recesses of your mind to dredge up some long-forgotten explanation. Thinking how best to say it, you repackage the idea, trim off some details, choose easy words, and tell it like it is expecting (naively) that your kid will be satisfied and the matter happily laid to rest.
"The sky is blue because the air scatters around the other colors but lets the blue through."
"People die because their bodies wear out."
So the kid soaks it up, ponders a bit, rolls his toy car, pats her doll, runs a bit around the room and off you go back to your things, thinking the case is closed until one or two hours or days later when you face the next round of reality checking.
"But why doesn't the air scatter the blue light?"
"Why do bodies wear out?"
Usually not, but sometimes the questioning turns into a game called Let's-Keep-Mommy-Talking-as-Long-as- Possible-by-Asking-an-Endless-Series-of-Why's. But even then, a sincere childish curiosity underlies the game, a need to know the explanation of things.
Of course the game is not restricted to children. The fact that most of us outgrow our inherent curiosity about the world is not so much because we know the answers but more because as life grinds on, we become dulled to the wondrous workings of the world around us. By the time we hit our age, the only "why" most of us ask is "why me?" Most of us except scientists of course.
Maybe scientists are more sensitive. Maybe they just never grew up. Or maybe its an overactive Why Chromosome on their DNA. Whatever it is, the question remains: Why the Why?
Answering this turns out to be more important than it looks at first, because the uniquely human habit of seeking explanations drives two of the most powerful social forces at work today: science and religion. And since the two seem all too often at loggerheads, it may be worth the effort to investigate how one little question can generate two such radically different answers.
As with many other questions, we can use the "Abraham Principle" to resolve this too. The Abraham Princi-ple states that when two or more entities have a correlated structure or behavior, this itself is evidence for the existence of some third being or causal force, external to and more powerful than them, which deter-mines their form or mode of behavior.
For the scientist, the question 'why' is a journey from effect to cause and getting there is half the fun. The other half is knowing that regardless of what we discover, the original questions somehow remain while new questions abound. For the sincerely religious also, the question 'why' is an exploration, but one that ends not with some infinite regress, nor endless stream of questions, but rather with an ultimate answer: That there is a First Cause that seeded the world, planted the 'why chromosome' in our psyches, and gave us the logical prowess to infer back to the source, the ultimate Because before which there is no why. And why would He do a thing like that? Well, why not?
For more of Dr. Gotfryd's articles visit www.tekiyah.com/gotfryd
The first of this week's two Torah portions, Tazria, speaks of one of the most serious forms of ritual impurity, the disease of tzara'at. A person thus afflicted (called a "metzora") was sent outside the Jewish camp and lived in total seclusion until he was cured.
The only authority qualified to determine if an individual had tzara'at and was required to leave the camp was a kohen (priest), as it says, "When the disease of tzara'at is in a man, he shall be brought to the priest...and the priest shall see him and pronounce him impure...for all the days that he bears the affliction...he is impure...."
Even the greatest Torah authority was not permitted to establish the existence of tzara'at if he was not a priest. The only opinion that bore weight was that of the kohen, and his decision was accepted as law.
Why couldn't a Torah authority establish the existence of tzara'at? Why did this have to be done by a kohen?
The answer is revealed when we consider the punishment incurred by the metzora. A metzora was required to undergo a particularly harsh form of punishment: banishment and isolation from the rest of society. The metzora, forced to leave the camp of Israel, was seemingly cut off from the entire Jewish people.
By nature, kohanim are merciful people. Their hearts are filled with love for their fellow Jews, as reflected in the Priestly Blessing: "...Who has sanctified us with His mitzvot and commanded us to bless His people Israel with love."
The Torah recognizes that a priest will not rush to judge his fellow Jew impure. The priest is reluctant to pronounce a person a metzora, thereby subjecting him to severe punishment. The kohen will go to great lengths in order to spare another person suffering.
The Torah relies on a kohen's judgment as it knows he will make the determination of tzara'at only when there is no other choice. For this reason the ability to establish tzara'at, and the accompanying responsibility for condemning a fellow Jew to social isolation, is given solely to him.
This contains a lesson for all of us:
We must never deem a person worthy of censure and shun his company, even if his behavior appears defective. No flaw is so great that it warrants rejection of our fellow Jew.
Instead, the first thing we must do is examine our own conduct and motivation. Are we seeing another Jew's defects out of love for him, or are we merely recognizing character defects in others because they exist within ourselves? For it is only once we are sure that we are acting out of genuine love that we may approach another person and speak to him about correcting his behavior.
Adapted by Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, vol. 27
To Sitka and Beyond
What do a couple of nice, Jewish boys from suburbia have to do with a city on the Baranof Island of Alaska called Sitka? Quite a bit, if your name is Pinchas Taylor or Berel Brafman. The two spent a long weekend in Sitka this past March at the invitation of David and Esther Voluck.
Mr. Voluck, a lawyer, is an alumnus of the Rabbinical College of America's yeshiva for baalei teshuva (those who become Torah observant) in Morristown, New Jersey. A few years ago when he was in "Morristown" (the yeshiva's nickname for those who study there), Mr. Voluck suggested to Pinchas that a visit to the small Jewish community in Sitka would be in order. Hundreds of emails and phone calls later, the trip was scheduled for the week before Purim.
After consulting with Rabbi Yossi and Esty Greenberg, the Lubavitcher Rebbe's emissaries in Alaska, it was decided that one of the first things that the pair would do in Sitka would be to print a Tanya, the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy. The motivation for this printing is based on a public address by the Rebbe in 1984. At that time, the Rebbe explained that printing Tanya in any and every place where Jews can be found helps hasten the Redemption. The Rebbe said, "As part of the dissemination of Chasidic philosophy, editions of Tanya should be printed in every place which has a Jewish population. This will lend extra enthusiasm to the study of Tanya by all Jews, the preparation to the Messianic era."
After the Tanya was printing (it had to be taken back to the east coast to bind as there are no binderies in Sitka, population 8,800) Pinchas and Berel sat themselves down in the print shop. Together, they studied chapter 32 of Tanya, which speaks about the importance of each Jew sincerely loving his fellow Jew and seeing himself interconnected to all Jews. What a great preparation for the days to come!
On Friday morning, Pinchas and Berel took to the airwaves at one of Sitka's four radio stations. Mr. Voluck has a weekly, one-hour general news radio spot about what's going on in town and he was able to arrange an additional hour for Pinchas and Berel. The two yeshiva students spoke about Judaism and took time to explain about the upcoming Purim holiday. They informed the listeners about a Purim party that would take place at the Voluck residence on Sunday, complete with Megila reading and refreshments.
Shabbat services on Saturday morning were a first for some of Sitka's small Jewish community. Seeing a Torah scroll up close was also new for many of the 30-50 Jews who live in Sitka.
The Purim celebration was a success, with about 230 people in attendance. No, Jews didn't travel all the way from Anchorage or Juno. But folks from the area, who mostly know each other at least by sight, were eager to have this Jewish cultural experience and attended the Purim.
Pinchas and Berel had some interesting stories happen to them on their way to, in and on their way home from Sitka. One that comes easily to mind took place after their departure was delayed for a day due to a blizzard. After what seemed like an eternity, they finally boarded the aircraft - a small "shuttle" plane that goes from Anchorage to Juno to Katchakan (and a few places in between) - destined for Seattle. When the plane stopped in Katchakan, a middle-aged man boarded and sat down next to them. He introduced himself as a pastor in a local church. Striking up a discussion, the pastor asked the two young men what had brought them to Sitka.
"Did you ever hear of Purim?" Pinchas asked the pastor.
"Sure, I have some Jewish ancestry," answered the pastor. "But just on my mother's side," he continued.
Pinchas' and Berel's jaws dropped open. The pastor was a Jew! When his grandmother had emigrated to the United States from Russia she had shed her Jewish background and had gotten involved in some very strange spiritual practices. The pastor was raised with no religious education as his mother had not wanted to follow her mother's practices. "When I was a teenager I got involved in Christianity," the pastor told the young men.
The yeshiva students encouraged the pastor to spend a few moments with them at the next airport that their plane would be "shuttling" to in order to put on tefilin. The pastor readily agreed. In the airport, he smiled broadly, with tefilin on his head and arm, flanked by the two students, when Pinchas gave his camera to a passerby to snap a photo. Later, Pinchas emailed the picture to the pastor. The pastor sent Pinchas an email thanking him for the spur of the moment Bar Mitzva and telling Pinchas that he had never forgotten his Jewish roots.
These past few weeks, Pinchas and Berel were in a slightly less exotic location: S. Cruz, California. There, they were helping the local emissaries Rabbi Yochanan and Baily Friedman with special Shmura hand-matza distribution and then with leading a community Seder. Of course, once they found out that Tanya had never been printed in this Caifornia city, they arranged to print Tanya there, as well.
Next stop? Hopefully the holy city of Jerusalem with Moshiach, now!
Each section in Vidibarta Bam: Marriage by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky is flavored with Torah insights, thought-provoking ideas, homilies and explanations on marriage. As a special feature, Vedibarta Bam Marriage also includes thorough explanations to the wedding rituals and customs. As in the previous installments in the Vedibarta Bam series, the question and answer format makes it ideal for both students and teachers.
I Will Write It In Their Hearts
This fifth volume of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's letters translated into English displays the Rebbe's his scholarship, wisdom, and understanding in personal responses to communications from people in all walks of life. The profound lessons of his advice transcend the spheres of the individual recipients. Intense and inspiring, these letters provide a fascinating glimpse of the Rebbe-Chasid relationship. This volume corresponds to letters # 530 - 701 in the 3rd volume of the original Igrot Kodesh. Translated by Rabbi Eli Touger, published by Sichos In English.
Freely translated and adapted
10 Iyar, 5710 (1950)
Greetings and blessings,
Enclosed is a pamphlet that was recently published. You will certainly share it with people at large and in that way, the merit of the many will be dependent on you.
We are now in the midst of the days of the Counting of the Omer. We can learn a lesson in the service of G-d from every matter. From a mitzvah (commandment), in particular, we can learn many things.
The Counting of the Omer teaches us, among many other things, that time is precious. We always have to be counting. If we miss one day, that creates a blemish not only in the day that was missed, but in the days and weeks that follow. Conversely, when we do count that day, the coming days and weeks are also blessed.
In the blessing for the Counting of the Omer, we praise G-d as E-lokeinu ("our L-rd") which means "our strength and our vitality" and "the King of the universe," implying that He controls the entire world. (As a matter of course, it can be understood that He must, and He will, give all types of good to those whom He calls "My son, My firstborn, Israel.")
This applies to an ordinary person. In particular, it applies to a person who has influence over many people and whose activities are reflected within many Jews and have an effect on them. And in a most particular sense, it applies to those who have already succeeded in having an influence on others. They certainly must use every opportunity - and indeed, seek out new opportunities - to have an effect in strengthening the Torah and Yiddishkeit and spreading the Torah and the teachings of Chassidus. My revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, hk"m, promised that one can rest assured that any effort undertaken will not be without results.
Signing with regards to those who receive influence from you and with wishes for a recovery for your wife and success in your work to illuminate your surroundings,
17 Iyar, 5710 (1950)
Greetings and blessings,
I was sorry to hear that you feel your health is weakening and that, in addition, you are not careful in heeding the directives of the doctor.
On several occasions, I heard the following statement from my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe (hk"m), in the name of his father, the Rebbe Rashab: "How dear is a Jewish body! For it, so much is sacrificed!" For it is well known that the Torah and its mitzvos were given to souls as they are enclothed in bodies and not to angels.
If the Creator cherishes the body so much, then, as a matter of course, it is understood how much care a person must give to this article entrusted to him from Above.
Our Sages (Berachos 60a) informed us that a doctor was given license to heal. If so, the doctor is acting under the authority and the command of the Torah. Thus it is clear that if by listening to the instructions of a doctor one temporarily negates the observance of a desirable custom, the meticulous practice of a particular mitzvah, or the like, the Torah will not remain a debtor. Through nullifying the custom or the meticulous practice for a brief time, one will receive the potential to add strength to his observance of the Torah and its mitzvos manifold times for a lengthy and good span of years.
With wishes for a complete recovery and much satisfaction from all of your descendants as per the everlasting blessings of my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, hk"m,
From "I Will Write It In Their Hearts," translated by Rabbi Eli Touger, published by Sichos in English
Why, when visiting a cemetery, do we put pebbles or grass on the grave of the one whom we visited?
It is customary to put pebbles or grass because of "Kavod HaMayt" - giving honor to the deceased - for this shows that people visited the grave.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Rabbi Shmuel, who is known by the acronym of his name, the Rebbe Maharash, was the fourth Rebbe of Lubavitch. His birthday is this week on Friday, 2 Iyar (April 20 this year). The saying which became identified with him is "L'chat'chila Ariber," meaning that when one encounters obstacles, one should immediately seek to rise above them.
He said, "The world says that when you cannot go under it (around the problem), then you should rise above it, and I say, 'L'Chat'chila Ariber' - the first approach should be to go above it."
In other words, no obstacle should be considered too big, and whatever you do, do it as if you are in a position of power and command. Indeed, this approach characterized his whole approach to life and communal leadership.
The Rebbe Maharash's style was noteworthy in its expansiveness and opulence. This "broadness" of style was characteristic of him and his Divine service throughout his lifetime.
All of this extreme opulence, however, was not for the personal pleasure of the Rebbe, but in order to serve Hashem in a manner which would impress the oppressive Russian government and induce them to treat the Jews with respect.
His unique approach was also seen in his dealings with the Russian government. The Rebbe Maharash was always very outspoken and bold when relating to government.
He believed that the government should not assist the Jews out of pity; rather, he demanded that they help, and explained that it was to their own benefit to aid the Jews.
In his final years, when pogroms broke out in Russia, the Rebbe Maharash spoke out against the violence. Even though the government admonished him (he requested other governments to pressure the Russians), and threatened him with imprisonment, the pogroms stopped after he spoke out.
His outspokenness affected his health adversely. When his doctor complained that he should not have made himself ill, the Rebbe Maharash replied that it is the entire essence of the Lubavitcher Rebbes to endure any consequence to help the Jewish nation.
This approach of "L'chatchila Ariber" by the Rebbe Maharash reinforced the Jewish belief that no matter how hopeless a situation appears to be, we must never abandon hope. Instead, we must proceed in each situation, knowing that with G-d's help it is possible to overcome all obstacles.
Rebbi [Yehuda HaNasi] said, "...Be as careful in a minor mitzva as with a major one, for you do not know the reward given for the mitzvot..." (Pirkei Avot - Ethics of the Fathers 2:1)
Fulfill all of the mitzvot (commandments) in order to please your Creator, not in order to receive reward or honor. One who is interested in achieving honor through the mitzvot tries to fulfill the "major" mitzvot, whereas he tends to place less emphasis on the "minor" mitzvot. That is, he fulfills the mitzvot which will bring him more honor.
(Or Torah of the Maggid)
He [Rabbi Gamliel] used to say: "Fulfill His will as you would your own will, so that He may fulfill your will as though it were His will..." (2:4)
Try to make the will of the Almighty your own will, and fulfill His will as you fulfill your own wholeheartedly and with enthusiasm. And if the Almighty's will is difficult for you to fulfill, set aside your will because of His will. As a reward, the Holy One, blessed is He, will nullify the will of others, who do not agree with the way you would like things to be, and He will agree with your view.
He used to say: "...The bashful person cannot learn, neither can the short-tempered teach..." (2:5)
A student should not be too bashful in front of his colleagues to say, "I do not understand." Rather, he should ask and ask again, even several times.
(Shulchan Aruch HaRav)
A teacher who is overly rigid and oppressive prevents his words from being accepted by his audience. His students will not be able to discuss their learning with him in the proper way.
The fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel (the Rebbe Maharash), had a chasid who was a successful businessman. Before undertaking any significant deal, he always consulted the Rebbe and followed his instructions.
One time, the chasid was offered a fabulous opportunity.
If successful - and most certainly it would be - he would make millions. The deal, however, required that he invest almost his entire fortune.
Before the chasid would make such a major move, he set off to the city of Lubavitch to seek the Rebbe's advice.
After hearing the details of the proposition the Rebbe Maharash told him that he should not go through with the deal.
The chasid was stunned.
He tried to "convince" the Rebbe that this was a sound proposal; he described all of the great profits to be made, but to no avail. The Rebbe's answer was final: NO!
A few days later, the would-be business partners came to the chasid. When they heard that he was not interested, based upon the Rebbe's answer, they began to laugh at him. "Certainly you didn't understand the Rebbe's words," they told him. "And anyway, maybe there were some important details you left out that would solicit a different answer. After all," they said, "isn't there a saying that 'according to how you ask, that is how you're answered?' Go back to the Rebbe and make sure to tell him all the details. You'll see, the answer will be different this time."
Back to Lubavitch the chasid went. "Rebbe," he pleaded, "obviously I did not explain myself well enough last time. We're talking about tremendous sums of money. I can become rich 'overnight' and give much tzedaka as well..."
The Rebbe listened patiently once again, and at the end of the "presentation" his answer was simple and direct: "No. It's not worthwhile."
The chasid made his way home, thinking about all the money he could have made, if only the Rebbe would have agreed. "The Rebbe doesn't even explain his reasons," thought the chasid.
But his friends and family wouldn't let up. "It's forbidden to lose such an opportunity," they cried. "Go back to the Rebbe again and certainly the answer will be different."
In his third attempt, the chasid tried everything, even begging the Rebbe to let him make the deal, but the Rebbe answered once again: "No."
When the chasid came home, he couldn't stand up to the pressure of family and friends, and contrary to the Rebbe's advice, he signed the deal. He quieted his conscience by telling himself that he would now really give a lot of charity. Unfortunately, things did not go well. In a short while, the chasid lost all his money.
The chasid realized how wrong it was to not follow the Rebbe's instruction. Full of regret, he made his way back a fourth time to see the Rebbe.
The chasid spent a long time in private with the Rebbe. When he came out, he revealed only one thing the Rebbe had told him.
"There are people," said the Rebbe, "big businessmen among them, who come to ask my advice concerning important matters. Sometimes the issues are quite complex; matters which I have never engaged in, nor did my ancestors. So then why do they ask me my advice, and follow my instructions and counsel?
"There are three answers, each one matching a different type of Jew who comes to me.
"One person thinks, 'It's very simple. The Rebbe has Ruach HaKodesh - Divine Inspiration! The Rebbe is a G-dly man, a prophet. It is G-d's words coming from his mouth and therefore we must follow him, no questions asked!'
"Another type," continued the Rebbe, "is a person who operates on a different level, somewhat more down to earth. 'The Rebbe studies Torah all the time and serves G-d with his entire being. His intellect is totally nullified to G-d's Will. Therefore, everything he says stems from Torah and certainly his words will be fulfilled.'
"The third type," explained the Rebbe, "says, 'The Rebbe meets so many people, from all over the world and from all walks of life. He has acquired an incredibly broad knowledge of worldly matters. With this knowledge and his ability to see things from many different angles, the Rebbe sees what others cannot. Therefore, we must listen to him.'
"Whichever group you might belong to," the Rebbe Maharash concluded, "you should never have gone through with the deal after hearing from me not once, not twice, but three times clearly 'no!'"
Of the future time it is written, "For they will all know Me." (Jeremiah 31:33) Nevertheless, not all will be equal: the person with the deeper and broader mind will understand more than another. Hence the verse (Isaiah) "For the earth shall be as full of the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the ocean bed." contains the simile, "as the waters cover the ocean bed": though on the surface the water is even, the chasms in the ocean bed hold more water than elsewhere.
(Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi)