Jewish Acting | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | Customs | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Have you ever considered the difference between a play done professionally and the same play done by amateurs (or a school production)? There's a major difference in the quality of the acting. A good performance is so convincing that we can't even be sure the actors are acting. Indeed, they draw us into the world of the play so completely that the characters become real people.
What enables one actor to bring a role to life while another acts so badly that there is no character, just the actor pitiably and transparently pretending?
We might say that there are in fact three types of actors. Let's call them the external, the intellectual and the intuitive.
The external actor knows his lines and follows the director's instructions. But he remains apart from the role. He has not taken on the life of the character. So what we see is the actor, pretending to be the character. Since the actor remains separate and apart from the character, the performance does not move us, does not alter our perspective or deepen our sensibility.
The intellectual actor, on the other hand, understands the character he is playing. He can identify with the character. His performance seems somewhat believable; we "get" the character. We are engaged with the story on some level. But we still see the actor behind the character. The actor acts well, but he still plays himself, so to speak.
The intuitive actor, on the other hand, literally loses himself in the role. He ceases to be himself and becomes the character, transporting us into the experience. We do not just understand the story, we experience it, we know it.
In a sense, we are all actors. For within each of us is a "Jewish essence," the Jewish soul that is an actual part of G-d Above. We - our conscious, physical selves - are actors through which this Jewish essence, this Divine Soul, expresses itself.
Just as actors on a stage, we can allow our Divine Soul, our Jewish essence, to express itself in one of three ways.
We can remain apart from our Divine Soul, in which case its expression, its manifestation in this world is, like bad acting, stiff, unconvincing. In other words, our Judaism remains superficial, somewhat artificial. Even when we follow directions (perform a mitzva - commandment), we may be just going through the motions. There remains a "disconnect" between the "character" (our Divine Soul) and our selves.
On the other hand, we can have some comprehension of our spiritual mission, some awareness of the presence of our Divine Soul. In this instance, Judaism - Torah and mitzvot - pervades our lives and affects all that we do, to one degree or another. We may even feel "spiritual," or allow ourselves to be called "religious." But inspired and motivated as we may be, we still feel an "I" - we recognize an ego, a self-awareness that connects with, and allows the expression and manifestation of, the Divine Soul.
But, at the highest level, we can have an intuitive relationship with our Divine Soul, one in which we so efface our self-awareness and ego that it is totally subsumed to the expression and manifestation of our Divine Soul. Those who see us see the Divine Soul in action. We become in a sense a living Torah, so that we experience life - even the most mundane aspects - from a spiritual perspective. Our perceptions change, for we perceive ourselves to be, and act as though we are, a dwelling place for the Divine.
We are, that level, an expression, a performance, of the Divine Soul within us. There, we are truly at one with our role and truly actors in the world.
This week's Torah portion, Chukat, begins with the laws of the red heifer, by which a person was cleansed of ritual defilement.
Maimonides, in his summary of these laws, includes an interesting historical note on this practice:
"There have been a total of nine red heifers from the time this mitzva was given until the destruction of the Second Holy Temple.
"The first was rendered by Moses, the second by Ezra the Scribe, and seven more between the time of Ezra and the destruction. The tenth red heifer will be rendered by King Moshiach, may he be speedily revealed, Amen, may it be Your will."
These last words seem out of place. Why did Maimonides include a prayer for the revelation of Moshiach in the middle of a legal work? Maimonides measured every word he used.
Indeed, many practical implications are learned from his choice of language. Why, then, did Maimonides include this supplication in his discussion of these laws?
Had Maimonides' intent be to teach the importance of praying for Moshiach, he would have included this prayer with the laws of Moshiach, and not in a section in which Moshiach is mentioned only in passing.
Rather, the inclusion of these words -- inserted after only a passing reference to Moshiach -- underscores that the subject of Redemption must evoke a deep and profound longing in every Jew, culminating in the heartfelt plea: "May he be speedily revealed, Amen, may it be Your will!"
On the belief in Moshiach, Maimonides writes: "He who does not believe in him, or does not await his coming...denies...the Torah and Moses our teacher."
It is not enough to have faith in Moshiach's eventual arrival; a Jew is obligated to actively anticipate his coming, all day, every day. The faith of a person who believes Moshiach will come but does not actually expect him to arrive is lacking.
Just as the belief in Moshiach is constant, so too, is the obligation to joyfully anticipate his arrival a perpetual commandment. A Jew must always feel as if Moshiach will arrive at any moment, for indeed, such is the case.
This unquenchable longing for Moshiach stems from our realization that a Jew cannot complete his personal mission until the Final Redemption, when the entire world will reach its perfection. Every minute till then, we find ourselves in a state of spiritual deficiency.
The lesson, therefore, to be learned from Maimonides' choice of words is that when a Jew anticipates Moshiach in the proper way, the very mention of the subject must elicit such strong emotion and longing that he will spontaneously cry out, "May he be speedily revealed, Amen, may it be Your will."
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 28
The Man Who Mocked the KGB
by Rabbi Moishe Levertov (of blessed memory)
The following is an excerpt from Rabbi Levertov's fascinating and inspiring memoirs, that "revolve around the heroic life and activities of my father, Rabbi Dovber Levertov and his family, as I recall the details from my childhood in the 1930s until I left the Soviet Union in 1946.
The only serious opposition to the systematic obliteration of Judaism in the Soviet Union came from the (previous) Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (known as the Rebbe Rayatz), who succeeded his father in 1920.
As life settled down during the early 1920s, the Rebbe Rayatz initiated an underground struggle throughout that vast land to reestablish and maintain all traditional religious institutions. He also worked to create an economic support framework to provide Jews with livelihood, which would also enable observant Jews to avoid working on Shabbos.
Eventually the government realized it was the Rebbe Rayatz who was behind this highly organized, nationwide network that was re-establishing Judaism right under its nose.
On June 15, 1927, the Rebbe was arrested. He was condemned to death. A storm of worldwide protests, however, even from non-Jewish governments such as Germany, France and the United States, helped get his sentence commuted to ten years hard labor in the frozen north, then to three years of exile. After almost three weeks of terrible suffering in jail, he was sent into exile to Kostromo, in the Urals. Soon, however, under international pressure, he was reprieved - on his birthday, 12 Tammuz - and permitted to return home to Leningrad.
But the Rebbe's enemies were ready to pounce on him at the slightest excuse. Realizing that they would never let him accomplish any more for his brethren from within the USSR, the Rebbe saw that he had no choice but to leave the country.
Settling in nearby Riga, Latvia, the Rebbe continued his work on behalf of the five million Soviet Jews, raising funds to help them and campaigning to alert world Jewry to their plight. In 1933 he left Riga and settled in Poland. Eventually he emigrated to the United States.
In order to succeed in his mighty campaign to strengthen Judaism, the Rebbe had organized an army of devoted "soldiers." These were any Jews ready to dedicate themselves to the dangerous work, which required immense self-sacrifice. Most of his soldiers were Lubavitcher Chasidim.
One of the Rebbe's most devoted soldiers was my father, Rabbi Dovber Levertov. A great Torah scholar and outstanding Chasid, Father tenaciously refused to compromise even one iota in his Torah observance, insisting on maintaining Judaism and Chasidism under the most difficult conditions. Eventually, like so many other Chasidim, he gave up his very life for the sake of his ideals....
In September 1947, my brother Sholom and I received s shocking letter. "Don't write anymore," our sister Sima wrote. "Father is very sick, and has been taken to hospital." We understood. Father had been arrested by the NKVD...
Years later, we pieced together information about father's fate from those with him at the time. One day, Father was walking with someone when they noticed they were being followed. "I don't care what they do to me now," Father told his companion resolutely. "I've already sent my sons out of this accursed land. (We had crossed over the border into Poland.) I have nothing more to fear from the police."
Soon after, on August 13, 1947, Father was arrested together with a number of other Chasidim. The NKVD accused them of being the members of an insidious group labeled "Chasidov," led by Rabbi Schneersohn from New York. It considered, they claimed, to gather Jews and work on them in an "anti-Soviet, chauvinist, capitalist spirit." They were further accused of organizing illegal shuls and schools called yeshivos in the cities of Moscow, Tashkent, and Samarkand, and of giving an "anti-Soviet, religious chauvinist" education to Jewish children and adults.
In prison Father was interrogated mercilessly to extract information about others involved in the Chasidic "counter-revolutionary underground," and to get him to "confess" to serious crimes. From the official records of the interrogations, it is clear that Father tried to mention as accomplices in his religious activities only Chasidim who had either left the USSR or had passed way.
The official indictment against all of those arrested was issued on Februrary 6, 1948. The sentence: ten years exile in Siberian labor camp.
The prison rules required everyone to shave. Father was ordered to shave off his beard, adamantly refused. Many tried to change his mind, for the prison rules were not to be trifled with, but Father would not be swayed.
As a chasid, he felt strongly that a Jew must have a full beard, no matter what. Even when he lay deathly sick in hospital in Bashkiria, he clutched his beard with both hands even while sleeping to thwart any attempts by hospital staff to shave his beard.
But in prison the officers would not tolerate Father's refusal to shave. One day they grabbed hold of him and held him down while they shaved his beard. Father was heartbroken. It was too much for his frail body to bear. Before long, in the arms of his friend, Reb Chaim Zalmen, he passed away from grief.
Somehow, Reb Chaim Zalmen managed to relay the sad news to Mother. She was devastated. Three months later, a coded letter was received by one of the Chasidim who had recently settled in the Holy Land. At the time, I was studying in Brunoy, near Paris, and it was there that I received the news and observed the week of mourning.
Reprinted with permission.
A new building for Chabad of Alfei Menashe was awarded by the town council to Chabad in recognition of their important work. The new facility will be situated in the center of town. Chabad East of the River recently dedicated a new Chabad Center in Glastonbury, Connecticut. A festive ceremony took place in Baku, Azerbaijan, when the first stone was laid for the Baku Chabad Ohr Avner Educational Complex. The new campus will be able to accommodate over 1,000 students. The new Shluchim Center was recently dedicated in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Less than a block away from 770 Eastern Parkway, World Lubavitch Headquarters, the new center gives the Shluchim, emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, an address they can turn to for their outreach and networking needs.
The following translated letter was sent by the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe for the first anniversary of his release from incarceration in Communist Russia
Sunday, 15 Sivan, 5688 (1928), Riga.
To our friends, the members of the chassidic brotherhood, and to all those who love the Torah and study it - wherever you may be:
May G-d be with you.
Greetings and blessings:
Today marks the first day of my incarceration in the Spalerno Prison in Leningrad, in Section Six, Cell 160, during the night preceding the Wednesday of the week in which one reads the verse, "And now, let the strength of G-d be magnified" - on the fifteenth of the month of Sivan, 5687 . There I was maltreated until the Sunday preceding the Shabbos on which one reads the verse, "How goodly are your tents, O Yaakov, and your dwelling-places, O Yisrael" - the third of the month of Tammuz. On that day I was forced to leave for a three-year exile in Kostrama.
It is clear to everyone that the imprisonment and exile were brought upon me by the calumnies of our brethren who hate us and despise us, by men who - in defiance of the laws of the land and its government - persecute those who observe the laws of Moses and Israel.
These people could not bear to see how Shoshanas Yaakov - the rose of Jacob - flourished, as the study of the Torah was disseminated throughout the length and breadth of this land. They therefore trumped up false libels in order to bring about my downfall, and thereby (G-d forbid) to destroy the House of Jacob.
But G-d's acts of kindness are never-ending, and the merit of our holy forefathers has not been exhausted - and will never be exhausted - in protection of those who walk in their paths. Thus it was that freedom was granted to me on the twelfth day of Tammuz, on the Tuesday preceding the Shabbos on which one reads the verse [in the Torah portion of Pinchas], "I hereby grant him My covenant of peace."
It was not myself alone that the Holy One, blessed be He, redeemed on Yud-Beis Tammuz, but also those who love the Torah and observe its commands, and so too all those who merely bear the name "Jew" - for the heart of every man of Israel (irrespective of his particular level in the observance of the commandments) is perfectly bound with G-d and His Torah.
Today, the twelfth of the month of Tammuz, is the Festival of Liberation of all Jews who are involved in the dissemination of Torah knowledge, for on this day it became known and manifest to everyone that the great work in which I labored in the dissemination of the Torah and in the strengthening of the religion is permitted according to the law of the land, which grants freedom of worship to those who observe the Jewish religion as it does to all the citizens of this country.
This is the day on which the light of the merit of public Torah study banished the misty gloom of calumnies and libels. It is fitting that such a day be set aside as a day of gathering - a day on which people arouse each other to fortify Torah study and the practice of Yiddishkeit in every place according to its needs, a day on which to offer blessings to our brethren in Russia (who are suffering from such libelers and informers), that G-d strengthen their hearts and the hearts of their children so that they will remain faithful Jews, and never again be persecuted by the above-mentioned evildoers.
With the auspicious approach of the Festival of Liberation of all those who engage in the dissemination of Torah, I hereby offer my blessings to all our brethren who love the Torah and study it, and to all those who publicly teach the Torah: May G-d open up His goodly storehouse and grant them, together with all of our brethren of the House of Israel, abounding life and endless blessing; may He fortify their hearts so that they will courageously extend their dissemination of Torah knowledge and their buttressing of Judaism; and may we all be spared to see children and grandchildren engaging in Torah and commandments, free of care or want.
At the beginning of the year 5687 (1926) I made a request to the chassidic brotherhood - that every group of worshipers in the synagogues after Shacharis [the morning prayers] should make a regular practice of reading the daily allotment of Psalms as apportioned throughout each month, and that this be followed by Kaddish, according to custom. This request still stands - for the public good. (Indeed, it would be proper to institute this practice in every shul [synagogue], for it is not relevant to chasidim alone.) And by virtue of this reading, may all those concerned be blessed by the Source of Blessings with all manner of bounty both spiritual and material.
...May our eyes witness the ascending glory of the Torah, of Israel, and of our brotherhood, and may we behold the goodly light.
Your unswerving friend, who seeks the welfare and success of yourselves and your children and grandchildren, and who blesses you all both materially and spiritually,
What is the significance of wearing tzitzit?
According to the Torah (Num. 37:39) tzitzit are to serve as a visual reminder of the obligation to keep the Divine Commandments. Tzitzit are the special threads attached to the four corners of the talit (prayer shawl) and talit katan (a four cornered garment). There are eight threads on each corner which are tied into five knots and wound 39 times. The word "tzitzit" has the numerical value of 600. By adding to that the 8 threads and 5 knots one comes up with 613 - the number of commandments in the Torah. In addition, the winding 39 times is significant in that 39 is the numerical value of the Hebrew words, "G-d is One."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Thursday, June 28 corresponds to the 12th day of the Hebrew month Tammuz. On this day in 1927, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, the Previous Rebbe was informed of his release from Soviet exile and on the 13th of the month he actually left Kostrama.
The foremost commentator on the Torah, Rashi, explains that "The Nasi - the leader of the generation - is the entire people." Thus, whatever happened to the Previous Rebbe effects not only him but the entire generation and, in fact, the entire Jewish people for all eternity.
The redemption of the Previous Rebbe on the 12th of Tammuz, sparked an increase in the service of spreading of Chasidic teachings.
Moreover, it ultimately led to the Previous Rebbe coming to America which brought about a marked increase in spreading the teachings of Judaism in general and Chasidic thought in particular.
In a gathering in honor of 12 Tammuz, the Rebbe suggested, "In connection with the 12th of Tammuz, efforts should be made to organize gatherings in each and every place where Jews are found to inspire each other in the service of spreading the wellsprings of Chasidut outward. This will generate the potential of the transformation of the Three Weeks into a positive period, with the coming of the ultimate Redemption. Even before that redemption comes, we will merit a succession of Divine miracles.
When one Jew will ask another, 'What was the last miracle that happened?' he will be unable to answer because the miracles are taking place in such rapid succession. And these miracles will lead to the ultimate miracles, those which accompany the Redemption from exile, when 'As in the day of your exodus from Egypt, I will show you wonders.'"
He who says...what is mine is mine and what is yours is yours - this is a median characteristic, and some say that this is the characteristic of the people of Sodom (Ethics of the Fathers 5:10)
An individual who behaves in this manner, not wanting anything from others and unwilling to give of himself, does not seriously threaten the existence of the world. Yet, if this same attitude is adopted by an entire society, it leads to the degradation and indifference of Sodom, where poor people died in the streets from hunger.
There are four types among those who give charity (Ethics 5:13)
Two men once came to Rabbi Yehuda Landau, to collect for a poor person. "How much does he need?" Rabbi Landau asked. After citing a particular sum, Rabbi Landau offered the entire amount, minus a few gilden, to the two visitors. They did not understand his gesture. If he could afford to part with such a large sum of money, why not the entire amount? "The Torah states, 'One who wishes to give but that others should not - he begrudges others.' One must leave room for others to perform the mitzva of charity as well..." Rabbi Landau explained.
Which is a controversy for the sake of heaven? The controversy between Hillel and Shammai (Ethics 5:17)
Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner used to say, "Only people the stature of Hillel and Shammai could engage in controversy for the sake of heaven. People on our level, however, must avoid even this type of disagreement."
Rabbi Yehudah Liebush Heber and his family were very close to the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin during World War II, when the couple lived anonymously in Paris.
"At the beginning of the war," related Rabbi Heber, "I was deliberating whether to stay in Paris or to try to immigrate to the States. This was before the Nazi invasion of Paris, and no one could predict how devastating the future would be. I was financially secure in Paris and concerned about the uncertainty and difficulty of immigration.
"The Rebbe suggested that I consult with his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn (the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe), who was living in Poland.
"I was very surprised by this advice. Contact with Warsaw was virtually impossible by phone or mail. 'Send a telegram,' the Rebbe suggested. This also seemed futile, because telegrams were not being delivered either.
" 'You have no idea,' the Rebbe said, 'what a Rebbe is. The letter and the telegram need not be delivered in order for the Rebbe to know the question. And the Rebbe's response need not arrive in order for you to receive your answer.'
"I promptly sat down to phrase my question and proceeded to the Western Union office. 'Sorry, there is absolutely no possibility of telegraphing Poland,' said the clerk. 'All the lines are down.' I did not really expect otherwise, but I had done what I could.
"The next morning I awoke with a sudden clarity. Despite my previous hesitations, I suddenly felt very adamant about leaving Paris and immigrating to the States."
Although today we have grown accustomed to overseas travel, it was much less convenient and affordable in the 1950s, during the first years of the Rebbe's leadership. Nevertheless, one of the Rebbe's emissaries from Europe arranged a trip to "770," Lubavitch World Headquarters, in order to celebrate "Yud-Beit Tammuz," (the 12th of the Jewish month of Tammuz) the anniversary of the Previous Rebbe's release from prison, and to participate in the Rebbe's gathering.
The twelfth of Tammuz usually occurs during the summer camping season. Shortly before the Rebbe's gathering, the emissary was contacted by the staff of the Lubavitch boys overnight camp in upstate New York. "Please spend the night of the twelfth of Tammuz with our campers," he was asked. "We have not been able to find anyone else who would be as capable of sharing the inspiration of this important date with the children."
The emissary had always given priority to other peoples' needs, so he spent the night of the twelfth of Tammuz with a group of campers and not at the Rebbe's gathering, even though he had planned to celebrate the Chasidic holiday with the Rebbe.
A few days later, the Rebbe announced an unexpected gathering at "770." This was extremely uncommon in those years, and many wondered what was behind this unanticipated event. During the gathering, the Rebbe resolved their questions. "There is an emissary who traveled here from afar," he explained, "and yet willingly forfeited his opportunity to spend Yud-Beis Tammuz at '770' so that he could speak for and inspire a group of campers. Now we are making it up to him."
The Previous Rebbe initiated the custom, continued on by the Rebbe, of dispatching groups of his chasidim to synagogues in various Jewish communities throughout New York City on the holidays. Despite the distance, it often involves hours of walking in each direction, the Lubavitchers joyfully make the journey, sharing the spirit of the holiday and bringing a message from the Rebbe to the congregants whom they meet.
A scholar, Rabbi Nissan Telushkin, a rabbi in a synagogue in East New York, greatly appreciated the visit by the Lubavitchers. Shortly after the holiday one year, he was privileged to have a private audience with the Rebbe, and he used the opportunity to thank him for sending his chasidim.
The Rebbe acknowledged his thanks saying, "Yes, it entails a measure of self-sacrifice on their part."
"Indeed," stated Rabbi Telushkin. "Hours of walking back and forth requires much self-sacrifice."
The Rebbe smiled. "There's a greater dimension of self-sacrifice: the readiness to extend oneself and reach out to others with the full knowledge that, at the very same time, a gathering is taking place at "770". To give up this opportunity and go to a different shul is a much greater self-sacrifice."
Reprinted from To Know and To Care by Eli and Malka Touger, published by Sichos in English.
Moses prepared the first red heifer, Ezra the Scribe prepared the second one. In the Mishna (Para 3:5) our Sages say, "Seven red heifers were prepared since Ezra. And who prepared them? Shimon HaTzaddik prepared two; Yochanan the High Priest prepared two; Eliyahu-Ayni ben Hakuf, Chananel the Egyptian, Yishmael ben Piani (or Pabi) each prepared one." The tenth and final one will be prepared by Moshiach.