True Sacrifice | 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
by Rabbi Simon Jacobson
Does serving G-d mean that you have to sacrifice your life? To become a conformist? To obliterate your personality?
In the third book of the Bible, Vayikra (Leviticus), we learn the quintessential approach to how each of us can and should serve G-d. We enter the bloody world of the great altar in the Holy Temple where the Jewish people brought animal sacrifices to Jerusalem to atone for their sins. What possible connection could this slaughter of ox and sheep have to do with establishing a fulfilling relationship with G-d?
The classical Torah commentator Ramban, tells us that when a person had to bring a korban (animal sacrifice), "a person had to envision that what was happening to the animal should have been happening to him or her." Since it is we who need to be cleansed of our wrongdoings - a cleansing of our blood, our flesh, and our fat - G-d in His great mercy gave us an alternative: we could replace ourselves with an animal that would endure this process in our stead.
The Torah is not a lesson in ancient history; its every word is eternal and relevant to each of us every day. In a Temple-less world, we need to look a little deeper to discover the relationship of these sacrifices to our contemporary lives.
There are two forces within each of us: a force that desires material pleasures and a force that yearns for G-dliness. Simply put, our search for purpose, for meaning, for serving G-d, are at constant odds with "the animal" in us: the part of us that would rather indulge our selfish passions than contribute to a higher cause. The centrality of the animal offerings in the Temple reflects the essence of our Divine purpose: To submit the animal within us to G-d.
Now, when we read how a person brought a sacrifice upon the altar we find a curious twist of words. Instead of saying, "When one of you will bring an offering," the literal translation is, "When a person will bring an offering of you." The "of you" tells us that by bringing an animal to the altar, we are actually bringing to the altar the animal in us.
Offering yourself, the animal in you, to G-d is the cornerstone of all Judaism, but how is this accomplished? Do you crush the animal passion and pleasure in you and live a somber life of deprivation and misery? The answer lies in the derivation of the word korban. While korban is often translated as "sacrifice," the actual word comes from the root word "kiruv," meaning "to draw close."
We make ourselves a korban by "bringing close" the pure essence of the animal in us to G-d. We don't annihilate it, we don't squash it, we use it to help us approach Divinity, to transcend our limits and get closer to the quintessential purpose for which we were created. An animal cannot behave in any way other than how G-d created it. Bulls are aggressive, sheep are slothfully self-indulgent, and goats are stubborn. But the animal in us has a choice. We can be an obnoxious "bully," or we can channel our passions toward an assertive love for G-d. We can indulge in our sheep-like lust for pleasure, or we can get pleasure in helping others and living a meaningful life.
At the heart of every force in our lives, even the ones that manifest negative expression, lies a kernel that can be directed to a constructive and G-dly cause. What we do "sacrifice" is the object of our desires, the immature or narrow attitudes we assume, our ignorance and our blind spots - so that our essential natures can emerge, just as you sacrifice the weeds to allow the flowers to surface.
You shouldn't give up your G-d-given talents and behaviors; you should bring them closer to their purer state. When you become a korban, you have the opportu-nity to transform every aspect of yourself, to become the greatest person you can be; a person who no longer walks among the beasts, but hand in hand with G-d.
The story of the korban in Vayikra teaches us that serving G-d is not about self-annihilation but about self-actualization.
With this week's Torah reading, Vayikra, we begin the Book of Leviticus, which contains a detailed account of the various offerings brought to the Sanctuary and the Holy Temples.
Though the physical Holy Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed almost 2,000 years ago, the Torah's teachings are eternal, and apply always.
Furthermore, as we stand now on the threshold of the Messianic Era, the laws of these offerings will be in effect very soon in the Third Holy Temple.
One of the offerings discussed in our Torah portion is the Mincha, or meal-offering, about which the Torah says: "When any soul will bring a meal-offering to the L-rd; his offering shall be of fine flour, and he shall pour oil upon it, and put frankincense upon it."
What are we to learn from the Torah's use of the word "soul," something it does not do in connection with any other voluntary offering?
Our answer lies in an examination of the Mincha itself.
As Rashi, the great Torah commentator explains, a meal-offering is usually brought by a poor person, who cannot afford to sacrifice an ox or even a lamb.
G-d's choice of the word "soul," therefore, recognizes the great loss the relatively inexpensive meal-offering represents to the impoverished person: to G-d, it is as if he offered up his very soul.
When a wealthy man parts with one of his flock, it makes little difference to his overall financial situation. The poor man, however, needs to invest much labor to be able to purchase the flour and oil that make up the Mincha. His offering represents true personal sacrifice, and more of a willingness to draw closer to G-d - the purpose of all the sacrifices that were brought on the altar.
The poor man has many needs; most certainly the money could have been used to ease his plight. Consequently, the meal-offering represents the poor man's triumph against his evil inclination (which no doubt encouraged him to use the money for selfish means), and is therefore especially beloved by G-d.
Even now, during the exile, we can perform this same mitzva (commandment), albeit in the spiritual sense.
We find an allusion to this in the verse, "If any one of you brings an offering": If a Jew truly wants to draw nearer to G-d, it must come "of you" - from deep within. The Jew must sacrifice his "animal soul" - his evil inclination - for the sake of attaining this closeness to G-d.
The Mincha offering therefore provides us with a positive example of how we are to serve G-d during the exile, as the "sacrificing" of our evil inclination serves to negate the reason we were sent into exile in the first place - namely, our sins. Furthermore, this will lead to the building of the Third Holy Temple in the literal sense, speedily in our days.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 27
The Torch Lighter
by Ilana Chernack
As a child, I would sit for hours listening to my great-grandmother's stories of her childhood. The one story that I explicitly remember is the one about the "torch-lighter"; the man who, every night, after the sun had set, would take a torch and light all the street lamps where she lived. I vividly recall my great-grandmother's description of the enveloping darkness of the night and how this one man's small, insignificant flame would light up the town.
Having being raised in the internet-obsessed, fast-food frenzied generation, where life without modern technology is incomprehensible, I found this concept puzzling; how can one man have the time and patience to light every single street lamp in a town? How did this one flame, which is capable of being extinguished by a gust of wind or sudden downpour, illuminate the darkness of the night?
After a recent encounter, I finally found my answer.
One evening, I randomly met a 24-year-old girl at a mutual friend's house. As our conversation progressed, she began to ask me about my religious background. I related to her that my family had become observant about 15 years ago through the Montreal Torah Center, a Chabad House located in Montreal. And, having grown up in an environment where the love of Judaism was all encompassing, I now find myself profoundly connected to Torah and constantly striving to grow in my observance.
After giving the synopsis of my "religiosity," this girl immediately responded with her own lack of faith in G-d. Once she was finished, I found myself incapable of ending the conversation. Having been raised with close ties to Chabad, I needed to find out why she felt this way. She then recounted the following:
Her grandfather was known to be a righteous, Torah-observant and God-fearing Jew. He was dedicated to both his family and community and lived his life selflessly and generously. However, after a lifetime of monetary success, excellent health and religious devotion, at the age of 85 her grandfather suddenly became very ill and suffered for five years before passing away.
Having completed this account of her grandfather's life, this young woman turned to me, looked me straight in the eye and asked:
"My grandfather committed his life to Torah, and G-d repaid him with five years of sickness and misery. How can I believe in a G-d who can punish such an amazing person?"
As she attempted to drive home her point, I had to smile inwardly. This young woman was emphasizing her lack of faith in G-d, but she was seeking answers from Him; she denies His ways but still questions them at the same time. And then it hit me: this young woman isn't lacking faith in God, she is only trying to find a logical explanation for how He runs the world. She doesn't renounce G-d's mastery of the Universe, but struggles with her grandfather's passing because she believes in Him more than anything.
As I sat there, my mind racing with thoughts, I replied;
"Your grandfather was blessed with 85 years of success, health and happiness and only five years of suffering... more than most could ever dream of. Don't you think that was his reward for a life devoted to G-d and the Torah?"
She looked away and replied, "I never thought of it that way."
Three days later I received the following email:
"Hey you! Shavua Tov (Good week)! I wanted to thank you for your help in making me understand some stuff in the religion! You know, after Thursday night talking with you, I decided to go to the synagogue today... so I went to Chabad and I enjoyed it! It was great meeting you! Hope to keep in touch."
After receiving this message, I read it over and over again. I was shocked not only by the way in which this young woman responded to our discussion, but the way in which she inspired me as a Jew.
And, only after I received this girl's message did I finally understand the message behind my great-grandmother's story...
The same way the "torch-lighter" ignited the street lamps, I too took that G-d-given torch, sparked a soul, and began to light up the darkness that surrounds us. We are all given the gift to rekindle the souls of our brothers and sisters. And, now, it is the time for us to all become "torch-lighters"... to take that G-d-given gift and to illuminate the last vestiges of darkness in the world.
Kabalistic insights into the Jewish holidays as taught by the Chabad Rebbes over the past 200 years are now available to English readers in Holiday Discourses (ma'amarim) translated by Rabbi David Rothschild. Fully elucidated and annotated in a two-volume set, the easy-to-read format covers 22 discourses.
Why? Reflections on the Loss of a Loved One
After experiencing several personal losses, Rabbi Yitzchak Vorst - an emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Holland - put his thoughts, feelings, and conclusions based on Chasidic teachings into writing. The booklet, originally written in Dutch, has since been translated into Hebrew, English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. It has brought great comfort and solace to many in the days when they were mourning the loss of a loved one.
Freely translated and adapted
13 Nissan, 5712 (1952)
I received your letter in which you notify me about Mr. ... and his wife. [You write to me that] he is suffering from a number of ailments and his wife is also not well. You ask for a blessing on their behalf:
Explain to them that G-d, the King of kings, is the sole Master of the entire universe, and that He is the Essence of goodness, kindness and mercy. We on our part have merely to make the proper vessels in order to draw down and receive His blessings from on High. The appropriate vessels for a Jewish man and woman are matters of Torah and mitzvos (commandments).
When someone is physically hungry or thirsty, he stills his hunger with bread and quenches his thirst with water; it does not matter whether or not he understands how the bread and water are able to satisfy his hunger and slake his thirst.
The same is true regarding one's spiritual life. When the soul hungers and thirsts for the bread and water of Torah and mitzvos, the most important thing is the actual deed - that its hunger and thirst be slaked through the practical performance of Torah and mitzvos.
Once the soul becomes healthier and stronger, it will be much simpler - and a lot less time-consuming as well - for it to understand [the significance of] Torah and mitzvos. Moreover, this will [not only be apprehended by his soul, but] even by his [inherently] limited physical intellect.
However, one should not change the order and declare that only after he understands the why's and wherefore's [of the necessity of observing Torah and mitzvos] will he be ready to observe them.
All the above also applies to Mr. ... . G-d will surely return him to good health. But he on his part should not make conditions that first he must get well and only then will he use his free time to understand the necessity of performing Torah and mitzvos, and only [then] begin increasing his practical performance of Torah and mitzvos.
To act in the above manner is similar to someone who is unwell and yet insists that he will not take any medication until he concludes studying the science of medicine and understands exactly how the medication promotes his healing.
In point of fact, it is quite the contrary: Taking medicine will strengthen his intellect, making it much easier for him to understand the science of medicine [and how the medication promotes his healing].
Mr. ... should begin performing mitzvos, particularly wearing tefillin and observing kashrus (the laws of kosher), and his wife should begin conducting a scrupulously kosher home and lighting candles prior to Shabbos and Festivals, and before lighting them she should give to the charity of R. Meir Baal HaNes.
[When they will begin doing so,] they will merit to be able in a short amount of time to convey glad tidings about an improvement in their health.
6 Marcheshvan, 5715 (1954)
I received your letter via Rabbi Gerlitsky in which you ask that I remember you for success in your studies as a Torah and mitzvos observant doctor. At an appropriate time, I will mention you at the resting place of the Rebbe, my revered father-in-law, of blessed memory.
In general every Jew, and especially a Jew who has studied in a Lubavitcher yeshiva, has to always and wherever he is, consider himself an emissary of G-d, as our Sages have said (end of K'dushin) "I was only created to serve my Master"; and he must influence his Jewish friends that they come to this realization, as well.
... Considering the fact that even secular knowledge now realizes the importance of heredity to a person's life, you should therefore explain to the medical students that the health of a Jew's soul is connected with its inheritance of the Torah received at Mt. Sinai.
A Jew cannot possibly be mentally and spiritually whole if he is - Heaven forbid - sundered from the source to which his parents and grandparents were so closely connected for countless generations....
Healthy in Mind, Body and Soul, translated by Rabbi S.B. Wineberg, published by Sichos in English
How is food to be treated?
There are many laws and customs concerning the respect with which food is to be treated. We are not allowed to throw bread for this is degrading. In fact, we may not throw any food that would become loathesome by throwing it. We should not throw crumbs out, rather we should feed them to the birds. Neither should we step on food. When we see food lying on the ground we should pick it up.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The Megila, which we will read in just a few days on Purim, describes how Mordechai refused to bow down to the wicked Haman. Our Sages tell us that it is because Mordechai refused to bow down that he was called "Mordechai HaYehudi." He was given this title even though he was not from the tribe of Yehuda (Judah), but rather from the tribe of Benjamin.
"Yehuda" is from the word "hoda'ah," meaning "to acknowledge." The Talmud states that when a person rejects idol worship, it is as if he has acknowledged the entire Torah. By refusing to bow to Haman, Mordechai was acknowledging the truth of the entire Torah. For this reason, he is called "Mordechai HaYehudi." And it is for this same reason that all Jews, regardless of their tribe, are called "Yehudim"- Jews, for they acknowledge the truth of G-d's Torah.
The days of Purim teach us a lesson for all times: The Jewish people may be a minority in the world. They may be scattered among all the nations. But when it comes to the Torah and its commandments everyone must see that the Jewish people bow before no one. They do not bow before other nations or their beliefs, but stand tall with all their might for the Torah, the inheritance of the Jewish people.
This Saturday night is the ninth day of Adar. On this date in 1940, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, arrived in the United States. Like Mordechai, the Previous Rebbe refused to bow down to the "idols" of communism, assimilation, and modernism. In fact, when he came to the U.S. and began implementing his many projects for the revitalization of Judaism, he was told by many people that he would not be successful with such traditional programs in the "Goldene Medina." To this comment, the Previous Rebbe resolutely responded, "America is not different."
The hundreds of Chabad-Lubavitch Centers throughout North America are testimony to the truth of the Previous Rebbe's words.
There is far more that unites the Jewish people than what divides us. On this holiday of Purim, may we acknowledge, recognize and focus on that which makes us "Yehudim," until we experience the ultimate unification of all the Jewish people with G-d, in the Final Redemption.
If his offering be a burnt-sacrifice ("olah")...of his own voluntary will, before G-d (Lev. 1:3)
The root of the Hebrew word "olah" means "height" or "elevation," teaching us that if a person truly desires to lift himself up and draw near to G-d, he must sacrifice "his own voluntary will," as our Sages said, "Nullify your will before His."
(The Magid of Mezeritch)
He shall kill it on the side of the altar, northward, before G-d (Lev. 1:11)
The person bringing the offering must be willing to sacrifice his own wants and desires for a higher cause. The offering is only a symbol of our willingness for self-sacrifice. This is alluded to in the Hebrew word for "north," which is related to the word meaning "hidden." Even our hidden thoughts and feelings must be dedicated to G-dliness.
Every one of your meal-offerings shall you season with salt (Lev. 2:13)
The world is divided into three parts: one-third desert, one-third inhabited land, and one-third sea. According to the Midrash, the sea rose up in protest. "Master of the Universe!" it cried, "the Torah was given in the desert, and the Holy Temple was built on land. What are You going to give to me?" "Do not worry," G-d replied. "All the sacrifices that will ever be brought by the Jewish people upon the altar will be 'seasoned with salt' [which comes from the sea]."
Rabbi Moses Ben Nachman (known as the Ramban), was a great favorite of the king, and was often invited to the palace to have learned conversations with him. One day, as the two were speaking, the Cardinal entered the room. He stood observing for some time, and although he was careful not to show it, the Cardinal was seething. How could the king take a Jew into his confidence? At that very moment, the Cardinal vowed to destroy the impudent rabbi.
Several days later, when the king was alone, the Cardinal dropped in. He began to speak about the former, lost greatness of the Jewish people. "In days gone by they had great men of wisdom and prophecy. Where are they now?" "Quite so," agreed the king. "There are no great Jews today."
The Cardinal, happy to have the king's ear, began to defame the Talmud. "You see, Your Majesty, ever since the Jews have been studying that Talmud, which is filled with all kinds of foolishness, they have become fools themselves! These books prevent them from accepting the true faith."
The king listened closely and then asked, "How could they be convinced to give up this study?"
"They will never do it! The Jews are a stubborn people. The only chance is to forbid the study of Talmud on penalty of death!" said the Cardinal.
The king began to believe the Cardinal. He agreed to ban the Talmud, never suspected that this was a clever plot to destroy the Ramban.
When the king's new law became known, the Jews were panic-stricken. Immediately, Ramban sent messengers to all the Jewish communities, telling his fellow Jews that his yeshiva would remain open for anyone who wished to come. Hundreds of young scholars flocked to the Ramban' yeshiva.
The Cardinal now set his plan in action. Summoning two of the king's closest ministers, he asked, "How long has it been since the king has requested your advice on any matter?"
"Since the king befriended Ramban, he never calls for us," they replied. "And why is this?" asked the Cardinal innocently. "The rabbi is the wisest man in the kingdom," the two answered. "I'm going to tell you a great secret - the secret of his wisdom," the Cardinal whispered. "Every night angels come to him and reveal heavenly and earthly wisdom. I am going to sprinkle you with holy water. Then you will also see and hear the angels speaking to the rabbi and you, too, will possess this wisdom."
That night, after being sprinkled with the water, the ministers stealthily made their way to the Ramban's house. They stood for hours, but they saw no angels, only the many young students who went in and out of the rabbi's home.
The next day the Cardinal summoned the two men and asked what they had seen. "Your Grace, we saw not even one angel, only many young men going in and out. They spoke, but we couldn't understand one word they said."
"It seems you didn't merit to see the angels. But you did see the rabbi's students coming to study with him in open defiance of the king's law. It is your duty to report this breach to the king at once," the Cardinal said sternly. "When the king hears how his so- called 'friend' disobeyed him, he will be very angry, and you will regain you position in the court."
The two rushed to tell the king what they had seen. "What! My trusted advisor disobeyed my order!" the king cried in shock. But he could not bring himself to punish the rabbi without first allowing him to defend himself.
He summoned the Ramban to the court. "My friend, is it true that you disobeyed my law?" the king asked.
"Yes, your Majesty, I did, but with your permission. I will explain my reason by means of a story. In a distant kingdom, the king's daughter fell gravely ill. All of the doctors gave up hope. "Only G-d can help," they admitted sadly.
"The king proclaimed a three-day fast for the entire realm, during which time everyone would pray for the princess. On the second day of the fast, a Jew was caught eating and immediately arrested. He was brought before the king and questioned : "Why did you eat? Don't you desire the recovery of the princess?"
"Why, Your Majesty, I have not ceased praying for her, but, in our Talmud we have a rule: Where there is a certainty against a doubt, the certainty takes priority.
"I had a serious doubt in my mind whether my fasting for three days would save your daughter. I was sure, however that fasting for three days would kill me, because I have a weak heart and my doctor forbade it. Therefore, I decided to follow the rule of the Talmud, and I ate.
"Your Majesty, this is a similar case. I could not believe that the King, my good friend, would issue a law which would hurt me so much. I was certain, however, that if I ceased to study the Talmud, which is the very source of my life, my life would no longer be worth living. So, I followed the path of certainty. I hope that Your Majesty will understand my actions and forgive me. I am sure that Your Majesty would never have issued so cruel an order, unless you were ill-advised."
"My friend, you are correct. To my regret, I acted on the Cardinal's advice. The law is henceforth repealed." When the ban was revoked, the Jews rejoiced greatly. Ramban remained a favorite of the king, who now not only appreciated his great wisdom, but his great courage as well.
Adapted from Talks and Tales
One might ask, if a particular soul has been reincarnated in a number of bodies, in which body will it be clothed at the time of the Resurrection? The AriZal, famed Kabalist Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, explains that each time a soul descends to this world, one of its components is rectified; through successive descents, the soul as an entirety is rectified. Ultimately, each component of the soul will be resurrected in the body which served as its host.
(From To Live and Live Again, by Rabbi Nissan Dovid Dubov)