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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Are you still planning on going away this summer with the family? Do you remember when you were younger and you went on family vacations? Maybe your family just went for a day-trip into the country. Or maybe you took a trip to a faraway city to visit relatives.
The trip had many stages, even if it was only for a day. There was the planning stage at the beginning when the ultimate destination was decided. After all, if you didn't know where you were going you couldn't possibly proceed with the rest of the plans.
Next came organizing everything and packing up.
Finally you were on your way. Every once in a while the map was checked to make sure you were staying on course. But within a short while little voices (whiny voices?) started asking, "When will we be there? Are we there yet? How much longer?" Your parents reassured you, "We'll be there soon. Only another few miles (or minutes)." Sometimes Dad pointed to the clock in the car, or Mom showed you the watch on her wrist, so you could see for yourself that since the minutes were ticking away you were certainly that much closer to your destination.
As you neared the destination, the excitement - and impatience - increased. Finally, when you were almost there, everyone started recognizing sights and landmarks that they remembered from past visits or read about in travel brochures. The directions you were following now were more explicit. There weren't any more highways to stay on, but street names to find and traffic lights to count before the right turn. Maybe you didn't know the territory very well, so you had to be extra cautious not to make a wrong turn; you didn't want to wind up in a bad area. The anticipation was palpable. The air was electric. You could see that you were in a different place. You could feel that you had nearly reached your destination.
When G-d created the world He had its ultimate destination in mind - the Messianic Era when the world would actually become perfect and complete. Little by little our ancestors started organizing things and started packing the world's suitcases with a knowledge of a higher purpose for the world, a transcendence of mundane day-to-day living, and with the light of Divine morality.
We started our journey, but it's been no vacation. The road has been bumpy. For the directions given us take us on the road less traveled. And, as we have traveled, we have been asking in our tiny, little voice, "When will we be there? Are we there yet? How much longer?"
"We're almost there. We'll be there soon," is the answer. As we near the final destination - the Messianic Era - our excitement and impatience must increase. G-d is showing us sights and landmarks that we can readily recognize and which we will see even more clearly when we reach the Redemption.
And the directions G-d has given us, the map He has drawn up for us, is even more important as we reach our destination. No longer can we speed along the highways stopping only once in a while to spiritually "filler up." We have to follow the directions more carefully now, making sure to turn right or left at the correct places.
The anticipation should be palpable. The air should be electric. And it can be when we open our eyes and see that the world is in a different place from when it started out. We've nearly reached our destination. After traveling for thousands of years the Messianic Era is in sight.
Adapted from a talk by Rabbi H. Greenberg
This week's Torah portion, Eikev, opens with an unusual expression: "And it will be that 'eikev' ('if' or 'because') you listen to these laws..." Instead of the more common word "im" to denote "if," the Torah uses the word "eikev," which means "heel."
Our Sages note that this word has two opposite connotations. According to Rashi, "eikev" alludes to the "simple mitzvot which are usually trampled underfoot." Others interpret the word as alluding to the "very end" of the Jew's performance of mitzvot (commandments) - the reward he receives at the conclusion of his service of G-d.
In the first instance, the Torah speaks of a Jew who must be encouraged to perform even the simplest of the commandments. The second example, however, involves a Jew on a very high spiritual level, one who has already performed all the mitzvot and is ready to receive his reward.
This contradiction is also found in the term describing the period in which we now find ourselves - "ikveta d'Meshicha" - "the heels of Moshiach." On the one hand, "heel" denotes a lowly level, for the heel is the least perceptive limb. Like the insensitive heel, this era is characterized by an inability to perceive G-dliness in the world.
On the other hand, "eikev" also denotes Moshiach's footsteps, and that they can already be heard approaching. This second meaning suggests the most exalted spiritual level, when Moshiach's influence in the world can be felt and one can sense the impending Redemption.
This discrepancy is resolved when one considers the connection that exists between the highest and lowest spirituals levels, and between the beginning and the end of our service as Jews: Performing the simplest mitzvot in a conscientious manner leads to the perfection of our service; likewise, observing the Torah's commandments even when our spiritual level is not what it should be allows us to attain ever higher levels of spirituality.
The same principle holds true on the larger scale as well. It is precisely because the period right before Moshiach's arrival is so dark that we are able to hear his footsteps coming closer; furthermore, the self-sacrifice we must have nowadays in order to live as Jews is the vessel to contain the greatest revelation of Divine light which will occur with the coming Redemption.
At present we are experiencing the climax of this dichotomy, for although all signs clearly indicate that "Behold, Moshiach is coming," the full Redemption has not yet occurred. We therefore implore the Alm-ghty with the cry of "Till when?", which will prompt Him to end all contradictions forever with the establishment of the Messianic Era.
Adapted from Sefer HaSichot of the Rebbe, 5751, Vol. 2
The Doyen of DNA
by Mindy Schiller
Research hospitals, university laboratories and global pharmaceutical companies, all itching to discover new drugs and treatments for a variety of diseases, depend heavily on some pretty technical ingredients. Primary among these is artificial DNA, which allows researchers and doctors alike to decode and study your genetic makeup. But where do these institutions get what they need to complete their research?
From Dr. Joseph Walder, an ultra-Orthodox Jew who aligns himself strongly with the Lubavitch movement, and is the founder and C.E.O. of Integrated DNA Technologies (IDT), the largest of the four major DNA-producing companies in the U.S. With 425 employees, branches in Iowa, Chicago and San Diego, as well as a new satellite facility in Belgium, IDT is a multimillion-dollar biotechnology company that cranks out more than 25,000 strands of DNA per day. "There's a gold rush out there," says Walder of biotechnology. "Scientists are trying to mine all this new information. What we're doing is selling them the picks and shovels."
Slightly built, with a high, nasal voice, Walder appears more like an overgrown yeshiva student than a biotech multi-millionaire. And so it's more than a little difficult to believe - and understand - exactly what he does.
Walder's company fills a crucial niche in the rapidly advancing field of biotechnology, which can involve anything from creating new bacteria to plotting the human genome. None of it is possible, though, without its staple prerequisite: artificial DNA (identical to natural DNA, only shorter).
But, for those of us who never made it past high school biology, perhaps a brief "Cliff Notes" is in order. DNA, also known as deoxyribonucleic acid, contains the genetic information that serves as blueprints for every organism. Nestled inside of each chromosome, DNA is a sort of double-helix necklace. IDT's job is to custom-make short strands of this "necklace" - formally called oligonucleotides - and ship them to research institutions such as university hospitals or biotech start-up companies.
Walder did not start out in science, but by the time he finished high school, he had decided to go into medicine. Ten years later, with an M.D. and Ph.D in biochemistry from Northwestern University, he took a position in the University of Iowa's biochemistry department. In 1987, he founded the company that has now taken over his life, and by 1994, he had built its headquarters in Coralville, Iowa.
Still, Walder's scientific journey did not occur in a vaccum. In fact, at the same time that IDT was taking off, he was going through a transformation of his own. Raised in a Conservative household, Walder gradually drifted away from Judaism. However, his Skokie, Illinois-based sister was Orthodox, and periodic visits to her home offered him some exposure to the religious side of Judaism.
For Walder, who was searching for spirituality at the time, these visits had an enormous impact. In fact, one Purim afternoon in 1994, while taking part in a holiday meal at a Skokie Kollel, everything suddenly clicked- and Walder visibly lights up when he talks about this. "In a couple of months, I went from being unaffiliated to looking like I am now."
Walder's newfound religion meant changes for his company as well. Within that same year, he moved to Chicago and began renting a modest facility in Skokie to serve as IDT's accounting and business development center, leaving ample space for him to create his ideal workspace.
"In principle," says Walder, "there's no reason why the work environment should be any less sanctified than the beit medresh [house of study]." And, as I trail along Walder on a tour of his newest Skokie facility, it's clear he's taken that philosophy to heart. Walder gestures proudly at the in-house beit midrash, replete with Ark, Torah and sitting room for roughly 100. "We get about 40 to 50 for mincha [afternoon prayers] on a daily basis," he tells me.
Walder draws me past the pink and white terrazzo floors, past the 15-foot mural of a double helix, past the kosher cafeteria, and into another wing entirely: the ATT Frankel Teacher Resource Center. It's a teacher's paradise: a three-story-high room housing more art projects than a child could master in a lifetime; bulletin board ideas and the materials to complete them; a plethora of machines and other tools; and table room for 80 teachers to work simultaneously. Around the corner is a Jewish curriculum library, an audio visual collection, a computer lab and a day-care center at which teachers can drop off their kids while using the center.
The Frankel Center is just one aspect of another one of Walder's projects, The Foundation for Learning and Development. Led by Walder and his wife, Shira Malka, the Foundation has two main goals: enhance Jewish education through materials and training, and fund Chicago's Orthodox day schools. "We're trying to bring holinesss into the workplace," says Walder of his many projects.
As we begin to wind down our conversation, I ask Walder one last question: how does he reconcile science with religion? "Any view that [science and religion] are contradictory stems from a misunderstanding of one or the other or both," he begins. Then he goes into a mini-history lesson on the development of scientific thinking, incorporating the Big Bang, Maimonides, Einstein and relativity.
"In a certain sense," he continues, "the scientific view that there isn't a creator is itself a religious philosophy because there are no scientific grounds to believe that ... To go from nothing to something-to matter or energy-that's outside the realm of physical possibilities. So from a religious point of view, we don't just shrug our shoulders. We say G-d did it."
And, according to Walder, that's not all He did. When asked about his company's enormous success, he credits G-d, whom he considers his highly competent business partner. "Once you have Hashem as your partner," he laughs, "then you've got a lot going on your side. And when G-d delivers on His side, we have to deliver on our side."?
Mindy Schiller is the assistant editor of the World Jewish Digest. © 2007 World Jewish Digest. Shortened and reprinted with permission. For the longer version of this article, go to www.worldjewishdigest.com
Rabbi Elazar and Rivkah Bloom will be establishing the new Librescu Chabad Center at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia. Rabbi Yitzchok and Miriam Sebbag have moved to Passaic, New Jersey where they will establish a new Chabad House and Chai Tots Preschool for the Jewish residents in Passaic and Clifton, New Jersey. Rabbi Mendel and Rachel Druk arrived recently in Cancun, Mexico, where they will establish a new Chabad House serving the needs of the local Jewish residents and many tourists who visit the island.
New Torah Scroll
The year-old Chabad House in Ho Chi Mihn City, Vietnam, recently celebrated the acquisition of a new Torah scroll with 60 participants at the ceremony.
24 Adar I, 5736 (1976)
... May it be G-d's will that the wedding take place in a good and auspicious hour, and in accord with the traditional blessing - materially and spiritually concurrently.
Though the text of the traditional blessing is "materially and spiritually," with the word "material" placed before the word "spiritual," the intent is clear:
For though a person's life, as beheld by a human being, begins with material matters - eating, drinking and the like - and only after two years or more does the child begin to speak, etc.; nevertheless, the spirituality that comes after this period of time continuously gains in strength.
This is accomplished not through negating the physical, but rather by purifying, elevating and illuminating the physical, so that it is a fit vessel to matters of the spirit.
The person is thereby able to fulfill his mission within this world, particularly with regard to those aspects of the mission that can only be successfully fulfilled through interaction with the physical.
You surely suspect me, and indeed it is so, that my intent with the above is not for the sake of a discourse, and surely not to - heaven forfend - admonish, but that this refers to actual deeds, for "Deed is above all else," i.e., the performance of practical mitzvos (commandments). Moreover, it is important not only that one understands how precious they are, but to actually fulfill them.
To the contrary, the importance lies in the fulfillment of the mitzvos, and it does not matter as much that the understanding of their significance will come only after their performance.
If this is the case with regard to all the mitzvos, as well as with regard to each day and period of one's life, how much more so when the matter at hand is one of the most fundamental of all mitzvos and the period of life is such that it serves as a foundation for the entire lifetime that will follow.
With regard to the matter at hand: this refers to that period of time when one prepares for family life, which in truth is so fundamentally different from one's prior life, and contains an entirely different content than the period of life prior to marriage and the preparations thereto.
So much so, that our Sages, of blessed memory, refer to the single male and female as but "half a body": only through the institution of marriage do the man and woman become one complete and wholly unified entity, by dint of each one of the partners in marriage completing the other.
This is why the custom is to bless the chassan (groom) and kallah (bride) with the marriage blessing that they build an "eternal edifice." Of course, prior to erecting a building, one must first lay down the foundation, as the strength of the entire building and its endurance, first and foremost, depend on the character, soundness and completeness of the foundation.
As mentioned above, these preliminary days serve as a preparation for the entire lifetime that follows. From this we glean that it is necessary to utilize this time for strengthening and fortifying oneself against all future changes, etc., that may come to pass during the course of all the years to come.
And from the material we can infer with regard to the spiritual:
Just as with regard to laying the foundation of a house of wood and stone, one uses the expertise of an individual who knows the most about the composition of a foundation and how the foundation is to be laid. This expert will base his judgment about laying the foundation for the present home on his past experience or the experiences of other builders who preceded him.
All of these experts will base their judgment on their vast experience with various materials that in the past were able to withstand varied stresses and changes, and moreover, had already previously undergone many tests.
Once the expert has stated his opinion, his advice will be followed as to the actual laying of the foundation. The opinion of the person who will live in the house is of absolutely no import.
Surely it is not at all important whether the person who will live in this house understands why one particular building material is better for laying the foundation than another, since the future home dweller need not be an expert with regard to laying a foundation, nor even be an expert regarding the walls and the roof.
On the contrary, the more the future home dweller will be enamored merely by the building's external beauty and from the critique of his neighbors - people who see but the husk and shell of the building but fail to see its internal structure and true integrity - the lesser will be the true quality and strength of the future structure.
continued in next issue
From Eternal Joy, translated by Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg, published by Sichos in English
What is the Shemona Esrei prayer?
The Shemona Esrei prayer is the central prayer in the three daily services. "Shemona Esrei"means eighteen and the prayer was called thus, because when it was compiled by the Men of the Great Assembly (around 428 b.c.e.) it had 18 blessings. An additional nineteenth blessing concerning slanderers was added by Rabbi Gamliel II toward the end of the first century. The Shemona Esrei is also referred to as the Amida - meaning "standing," because it is recited while Standing
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Many people, hearing how much Lubavitchers speak about Moshiach and the importance of doing our part to hasten the Redemption, ask, "What will happen in the Messianic Era?"
Because we are talking about an essential change in every aspect of the world's functioning, it is only natural to wonder about, and even be a little apprehensive about, the unknown.
First and foremost, it is important to emphasize that Moshiach's coming will bring only good, happiness and abundance to everyone of us. The changes that will take place will only be for the good, for the good of every person.
The simplest and most basic explanation of the Messianic Era is that it will bring the world to its ideal state, a righteous and perfected world in which good, truth and justice rule.
It is easy to see that today's world is not normal! But our mind-set is so established that "this is the way it has always been so this is the way it will always be," and we cannot imagine another way.
The world in which we find ourselves today can be likened to a culture in which the people live in total darkness. They create rules, inventions and customs to cope with the darkness and to find their way. They have been living this way for so long that they cannot even imagine a world where light exists, that there are benefits to light, and how much more pleasant their lives would be if they only had light. But the instant they would have light, in the blink of an eye, they would get rid of all of their encumbrances, realizing that there is no longer a need for them. They would be totally amazed at how they could possibly have existed until now in the utter darkness.
The same is with us. When the Redemption comes, and G-d's goodness is revealed in the world for all to perceive, all problems will disappear. We will see G-dliness and truth with our own eyes. Just as today we hunger for food and thirst for water, in the Messianic Era we will hunger and thirst to learn Torah and fulfill mitzvot. We will not have to fight against evil, for in the post-redemption world there will be no room for evil.
Our patriarch Abraham was tested with ten tests... (Ethics 5:3)
Just as a father bequeaths his estate to his descendants, Abraham bequeathed his spiritual legacy to every Jew. This legacy gives us the strength to withstand the challenges we face in our Divine service.
(Sichot Parshat Chukat)
Ten miracles were performed for our forefathers in Egypt... (Ethics 5:4)
Pirkei Avot is intended to teach us pious conduct. What is the lesson learned from the above statement? When the Jews in Egypt witnessed the miracles performed on their behalf, they became aware of their true identity. Although they were in exile, they knew that they were servants of G-d rather than the Egyptian's slaves. Although we are still in exile, we are G-d servants, answerable to Him before any other authority.
There are four types of temperaments: He who is easily angered and easily pacified, his loss is cancelled by his gain... (Ethics 5:14)
The Talmud teaches: When any person gives way to anger, if he is wise, his wisdom leaves him; if he is a prophet, his power of prophecy leaves him. And even if greatness was decreed for him from Heaven, whosoever becomes angry will be degraded. Conversely, says the Talmud, among those whom the Holy One loves are a man who does not become angry as a rule, and one who will overlook irritating causes for retaliation.
(Talmud, Pesachim 66b, 113b)
The Holy One, blessed be He, wished to make the people of Israel meritorious; therefore He gave them Torah and mitzvot in abundant measure (verse recited each week following the study of Pirkei Avot)
The Hebrew word for "make meritorious" can also mean "to refine." The goal of Torah and mitzvot is to refine the Jewish people, and this is especially true of Pirkei Avot, which teaches us to lift our conduct above the limits of human wisdom.
For a long time the Soviet government had been carefully scrutinizing the actions of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, the Chief Rabbi of the city of Yeketerinaslav (and the father of the Lubavitcher Rebbe). A network of spies had infiltrated his synagogue and was observing his every step. Indeed, a thick dossier of his "crimes" had already been gathered.
The truth is that it wasn't all that difficult to substantiate evidence of the Rav's defiance. Nonetheless, by dint of his courage and ingenuity, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak had so far succeeded in avoiding their traps.
Take, for example, the time the government decided to conduct a census in which all Soviet citizens were asked if they believed in G-d. Because of the great danger involved in responding truthfully, many Jews, even observant ones, had planned on answering in the negative.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, however, would not hear of such a thing. He ran from one synagogue to the next, begging people not to deny the G-d of their fathers. His campaign earned him a summons to appear before the authorities.
"What is there to find fault with?" Rabbi Levi Yitzchak answered innocently. "When I learned that some Jews were intending to lie, I merely did my job as a Soviet citizen and urged them to tell the truth."
The day came when Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was invited to appear in court on charges of conducting Jewish activities in his home. This was strictly against the law. If he were found guilty, the punishment was potentially severe.
The Rav's apprehension only grew when he saw the two main witnesses for the prosecution. The first was the director of the housing unit in which he lived, a young Jew who was a sworn Communist, appointed by the authorities to keep track of the residents' comings and goings. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak knew that he was the housing director's primary focus. The other witness was his next-door neighbor, a woman whose husband was the regional head of the Communist Party, in charge of transportation. In truth, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak had much to fear from these two witnesses. And recent events had given him even more cause for worry.
Not long ago, a young Jewish couple, both high-ranking government employees, had suddenly appeared on his doorstep in the middle of the night and asked that he marry them "according to the laws of Moses and Israel." It was a very dangerous proposition: Not only did the Rav not know them personally, but in order to conduct a Jewish ceremony under a chupa, ten Jewish men would have to be found.
Within a short time, nine Jews were hastily assembled in Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's home. But where to locate a tenth? With no other option, the Rav had taken the bold step of asking the director of the housing project to participate. "Me?!" the man had jumped as if bitten by a snake. "Yes, you," Rabbi Levi Yitzchak had answered in earnest. Surprisingly, the director had agreed, and the clandestine wedding was held. But who knew if this would now be counted against him?
The second witness had also recently been involved in an activity that could possibly implicate him. One day, a secret messenger had come to the Rav's house and informed him that the following day, the woman's husband, the high-ranking Communist, would be away on business from morning till night. The real reason for his absence, however, was to allow the Rav to perform a brit mila (circumcision) on their newborn son.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak did not know if he was walking into a trap. But the next day, the tiny infant was entered into the Covenant of Abraham.
That evening, the baby's father returned home and made a big commotion about the "terrible" deed that was done without his knowledge. Thus, it was difficult to predict how the neighbor woman would now testify in court.
The tension was great as the trial opened. The director of the housing project was the first to testify: "As you all know," he began, "I am well aware of everyone who enters and exits Rabbi Schneerson's apartment. But the only unusual visitors I've noticed are two old relatives who drop by from time to time."
Now it was the turn of the second witness to speak. "As a neighbor of Rabbi Schneerson," the woman testified, "I always expected that as a spiritual leader, he would try to establish contact with members of his faith. I therefore find it surprising that I have never noticed any illegal activities in all the time he has lived next door to me."
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson thus emerged unscathed from this particular incident. But the evidence against him continued to mount until in 1940, he was declared an "enemy of the people" and exiled to Central Asia. After much suffering he returned his holy soul to its Maker, on the 20th of Av of 5704 (1944). May his saintly memory protect us all.
The Zohar describes the First and Second Holy Temples as "the building of mortal man which has no lasting existence," whereas the Third Holy Temple, since it is "the building of the Holy One, blessed be He," will endure forever. The First Holy Temple corresponds to Abraham; the Second Holy Temple corresponds to Isaac; the Third Holy Temple corresponds to Jacob. And since the dominant characteristic of Jacob is truth, which can be neither intercepted nor changed, the Third Holy Temple will stand forever.
(Likutei Sichot, Vol. IX, p. 26)