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A little boy runs into the street. His mother scoops him up in her arms and brings him to safety. She scolds him for running into the street and slaps his hand to make sure the lesson is not just heard but felt. "As much as your hand hurts now, a boo-boo from a car hurts even more." As the child begins to sob, the mother hugs the child and says, "I'm only doing this because I love you."
A gold cherub was atop each end of the Ark in the Holy Temple. When the Jewish people fulfilled G-d's will, the cherubs faced each other, em-bracing like lovers; when the Jewish people rebelled, the cherubs averted their gaze and faced opposite walls.
When the Holy Temple was destroyed (commemorated on 9 Av - Sunday, Aug. 10), and the invaders entered the Holy of Holies, they saw the cherubs embracing!
During the destruction of the Holy Temple, G-d "poured out His wrath like fire; G-d was like an enemy." Why, then, were the cherubs embracing at this time of apparent anger? What could their embrace mean at a time when "He cut down, in fierce rage, the pride of Israel?"
These questions can be answered by understanding our relationship with G-d. At one level, the bond is dependent upon Israel's conduct. If Israel is meritorious, she will be rewarded; if she sins, she will be punished. In this vein, exile appears to be a punishment, an expression of G-d's wrath at Israel's misdeeds.
This view, however, reflects only one dimension of the bond between G-d and Israel. There is a deeper relationship, a level at which Israel are "children unto G-d." The Baal Shem Tov intensifies the child-parent metaphor: G-d cherishes every Jew with the love of a parent for an only child born to him in his old age.
A father does not love his son only because the son is virtuous or obedient; he loves him, uncondi-tionally, because he is his son. With or without redeeming qualities, his father loves him.
G-d loves Israel in the same way. Regardless of our conduct, we are His children. Thus, even when G-d appears displeased with us, His love for us is revealed in the inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies.
Through the child-parent metaphor, we can even understand G-d's wrath as an expression of love. It is written, "He who withholds the rod, hates his son," implying that disciplining a child can be a manifestation of the parent's love. In fact, defying one's natural impulse to excuse misconduct, and instead rebuking a cherished child, demonstrates a deep and selfless commitment on the part of the parent.
Following this pattern, exile can be conceived as a temporary medium to a positive end. G-d's purpose in exiling His people is to elevate them to a higher rung, and the hardships endured - however difficult - are eclipsed by their ultimate goal.
The awareness of the nature of this process is a fundamental element in bringing it to its culmination. When a child recognizes his parent's love and corrects his conduct, his parent will no longer need to discipline him. Similarly, our consciousness of G-d's love for us will motivate us to mirror His love. And this in turn will motivate His love to be expressed only in positive ways, especially the rebuilding of the Third Holy Temple and the Messianic Era.
Adapted from Keeping In Touch by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger
The first translation of the Torah into a language other than Hebrew was rendered by Moses, shortly before the Jews entered the Land of Israel.
On the words in this week's Torah portion, Devarim, "Moses began to explain this law," our Sages commented: "In seventy languages he explained it to them." Moses also instructed that the Torah be written down in all seventy languages after the Jews crossed the Jordan.
Another translation is discussed in the Talmud (Tractate Sofrim): "Five elders translated the Torah into Greek [the Septuagint] for King Ptolemy; that day was as painful for Israel as when the Golden Calf was made." The reason? "Because the Torah could not be translated adequately." But if Moses had already translated the Torah into Greek, why did our Rabbis take such a dim view of this later translation?
In order to understand, let us examine our Sages' statement more closely. Our Sages did not liken the Septuagint to the sin of the Golden Calf, but rather, compared it to the day on which it was made. Both acts were motivated by positive intentions, yet contained the potential for dire consequences.
When the Jews made the Golden Calf, they were trying to make a substitution for Moses. For, they reasoned, if G-d had appointed Moses - a physical man - as an intermediary between themselves and G-d, the concept of intermediary was Divinely-sanctioned. When the Jews became worried that Moses wasn't returning, they sought to replace him.
In fact, this intention was laudable, as we see from the phenomenon of the Sanctuary. The purpose of the Sanctuary (and Holy Temple) was to enable holiness to dwell in the physical world. In making the Golden Calf, the Jews sought a physical representation of the Divine Chariot, and indeed imitated the "face of the ox."
Unfortunately, their logic was flawed: When G-d chooses an intermediary, the intermediary is "invisible," without independent existence. The intermediary's only function is to transmit G-d's word. By contrast, when people choose intermediaries for themselves, it can rapidly deteriorate into a situation of "two authorities" (ascribing authority to anything other than G-d) and actual idol worship. When Moses translated the Torah at G-d's command, its holiness illuminated each of the translations and precluded the possibility of misunderstanding or incorrect interpretation. But when Ptolemy demanded a translation, there was great potential for error, and the Rabbis made certain changes, as is known.
As it turned out, the Septuagint was a positive development, as it transmitted the concept of G-d's unity to the gentiles. Indeed, according to Jewish law, Greek is the only "foreign" language in which it is permissible to write a Torah scroll - the ultimate perfection of the Greek language.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 24
Two Special Safed Nights
by Rikvah Cylich
The night drifted into Safed, Israel, as it always does, silently and softly. But this time, there was a faint whisper of something more. Walking the shadowed cobblestone alleyways, you could almost hear the soundless call to journey the ancient city's mystical pathways. But then again it was a typical Safed night.
Earlier that day, among the various visitors to Ascent of Safed, was a young Russian couple, Anya and Moshe Gaifman, who had just moved from the United States. Anya had been a professor at Boston University and Moshe had been a researcher at a university in Moscow. When I met them, I was taken by Anna's glowing smile and the couple's genuine happiness.
Later that evening, one of the rabbis discovered that Anya and Moshe were newly-married. They were in the first week after the wedding. It is customary to celebrate for an entire week with a festive meal each night (or day) culminating in the recital of the special Sheva Brachot - Seven Blessings - for a new couple.
The Gaifmans told us that they hadn't planned to have Sheva Brachot. Their wedding had taken place on 16 Tammuz, the day preceding the fast day that inaugurates the three week period of mourning for the destroyed Holy Temples in Jerusalem. They erroneously thought that since the Three Weeks are a mourning period, not even Sheva Brachot are permitted.
A hasty meeting of the Ascent staff was convened to figure out how to organize Sheva Brachot; we needed a minyan, tables set, food, guests, wine and lots of simcha - rejoicing.
A quick headcount of male guests at Ascent that night left us short of a minyan. Someone ran out to grab some students studying at the local Chabad yeshiva, while others busied themselves with setting up the tables in the garden-courtyard. By the time the guests arrived, the tables were piled with dips, crackers, salad, cakes, cookies, wine, drinks and centerpieces.
There was singing and dancing on both sides of the partition and everyone joined in the beautiful commandment of rejoicing with bride and groom.
In just 18 minutes, a seemingly mundane Wednesday night was transformed into a festive occasion charged with excitement, goodness and boundless positive energy. All who participated couldn't help but marvel and be humbled by being part of such an awesome and special happening. When Moshe stood up and said a few heartfelt words, Anna's smile grew even wider.
Looking back, the Sheva Brachot was exactly what the 'Three Weeks" is about. As one of the teacher's at Ascent, Rabbi Kaye explained in his speech that night, these three weeks may mark the tragic period of national mourning for the Jewish people, but we are promised that when the Holy Temple is rebuilt these days will be revealed as days of true joy as they were always intended to be since the creation of time itself. In the spirit of this reality, we make a point of revealing the essence of this period by looking for ways to legitimately create and take part in joyful occasions during this time.
A little less than three weeks later was Tisha B'Av, the day of national mourning and sorrow over the destruction of the Holy Temples. I know Ascent as a place of buoyancy and light, smiles and laughter, warmth and heart. Which is why I couldn't imagine spending Tisha B'Av at Ascent.
But time doesn't stop, even in Safed. And so as the 8th of Av gradually sunk behind the Meron Mountains in a haze of color, guests and staff were sitting shoeless on the cold stone dining room floor eating boiled eggs and ashes as dozens of generations had done before us.
As we made our way down the deserted city center of Safed to the synagogue for the reading of Lamentations, we could all sense the absence of Safed's characteristic charm and a melancholy taking its place. And while Lamentations was read with its haunting melodies of mourning and grief, we slowly felt the same transition take place within ourselves.
Returning to Ascent, everyone awkwardly took their places on the cold floor. We were all a bit confused about what to do next. After all, isn't Tisha B'Av a 2,000-year-old tradition? What does an absent ancient Temple have to do with us?
After an unnerving silence somebody voiced the above sentiments that we discovered we all shared. "How can we grieve over the loss of something we never personally had to start?"
Granted we can go through the motions: fast, wear non-leather shoes, sit in low chairs or on the floor. But are we really required to feel worse than after last week's mishap when we dented the car?
"I don't know about you," someone said, "but I find it easier to connect to more recent tragedies of our people, like the Holocaust...."
Or the Intifada... the disengagement... the Lebanon war.... In other words, the bitter exile.
"What about our personal exiles, the daily struggle with uncertainty and doubt; the search for spirituality and truth, and all worldliness which challenges it," someone else pointed out.
That was it! The absence of the Temple translated into the lack of revelation and the concealment of greater goodness. Whereas in Temple-time G-d's presence was obvious, in exile we constantly struggle to uncover His omnipresence in our daily lives.
And that's when it hit us. We felt as cold and hard inside as the stone floor we were sitting on. Our wills to keep searching were as charred and burnt as the ashes we had dipped our eggs into. The absence of the Temple is what we suffer with every day in the actuality of G-dly concealment.
We spoke late into the night while we shared the painful reality of our personal exiles. As we said the familiar refrain from the end of Lamentations, its message resonated deep within us: "Restore us to You, O L-rd, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old ."
Rabbi Sholom Ber and Chaya Elishevitz moved to Bellevue, Washington, where they are focusing on adult education for the community at large as well as the Jewish employees at Microsoft. Rabbi Shlomo and Chani Silverman have opened a new Chabad on Campus at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Rabbi and Mrs. Shlomo Torenheim have moved to Ust-Kamenogorst in Kazakhstan on the border of Russia.
Chabad-Lubavitch of Houston, Texas has dedicated a magnificent new Chabad Campus. When completed, the center will include a synagogue, library, study-hall, Sunday School and mikva.
11 Tevet, 5718
Having heard of you through mutual friends, to the effect that you are seeking the true path which each and every Jew and Jewess should follow in life, and though second-hand information is always difficult to evaluate, I trust the following lines may be helpful to you.
The importance of heredity in transmitting physical, mental, and spiritual characteristics is well known and obvious, even in the case of transmitting to several generations. How much more so where a trait is transmitted and intensified over the course of many generations uninterruptedly, when such a trait becomes part and parcel of the very essence and being of the individual, his very nature.
It is also clear that when a person - as in the case of all living things - wishes to change an inborn trait which is deeply rooted in him, not to mention something that touches his essential nature, it would demand tremendous efforts and the outcome is bound to be destructive rather than constructive, creating a terrible upheaval in him, with most unfortunate results.
I have in mind particularly the Jewish man or woman, belonging to one of the oldest nations in the world with a recorded history of over thirty-five hundred years, who is naturally and innately bound up with the Jewish people with every fibre of his life and soul. Hence, such sects or groups which tried to depart from the true Jewish way of life of the Torah and mitzvoth [commandments], could not survive, as history has amply demonstrated. Such dissident groups uprooted themselves from their natural soil, and far from being constructive, became the worst enemies of the Jewish people and their worst persecutors.
Only Jews who have faithfully adhered to the Torah and mitzvoth, as they were revealed on Mount Sinai, have survived all their persecutors, for only through the Torah and mitzvoth can the Jewish people attach themselves to the Superior and Supreme Power, G-d, who has given us the Torah and our way of life.
Since the Torah and mitzvoth and the Jewish way of life comes from G-d and His infinite wisdom, they are not subject to man's approval and selection. Human reason is necessarily limited and imperfect. Its deficiencies are obvious, since with time and study the human intellect improves and gains knowledge, and a person's opinions change. To confine G-d to human judgement would violate even common sense.
In our long history we have had the greatest human minds possible, who nevertheless realized their limitations when it came to the knowledge of G-d and His laws and precepts. We have had great thinkers and philosophers, who not only fully accepted the Torah and mitzvot, but have been our guiding lights to this day, while the dissident groups and individuals (who number very few) were cut off from our people and either disappeared completely, or, worse still, continued as painful thorns in the flesh of our people and humanity at large. One who is familiar with our history requires no illustrations or proofs of the aforesaid.
I trust you will reflect on the above and you will cherish the great and sacred knowledge which has been handed down to each and every one of us, in the midst of our people, generation after generation, from the revelation at Mount Sinai to the present day. Accepting this sacred tradition unconditionally and without questions does not mean that there is no room for any intellectual understanding which we can further provide, only that the approach must be right. For G-d in His infinite grace has given us insight into various aspects of His commandments, an insight which grows deeper with our practicing them in our daily life and making them our daily experience. In this way the Jews attained peace of mind and a harmonious and happy life, not only spiritually but also physically and came to the full appreciation of the happiness one attains being a son or daughter of this great and holy nation, our Jewish people.
What are some of the laws and customs of Tisha B'Av?
Tisha B'Av, which begins this year on Saturday evening, August 9 and ends on Sunday evening, August 10, is a full day fast. In addition to abstaining from food and drink, we do not wear leather shoes, bathe, apply lotions and oils, or engage in marital relations. Special prayers are said in the evening and morning, as well. Many have the custom to clean their homes after noon on Tisha B'Av in anticipation of the Redemption, as the Talmud relates that Moshiach was born on Tisha B'Av.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This coming Sunday (Aug. 10) is Tisha B'Av, the day on which the Holy Temple was destroyed nearly 2,000 years ago.
Chasidic teachings offer a metaphor for the paradox of exile: A teacher is in the midst of sharing an idea with his favorite student. Suddenly, he has a flash of inspiration: an infinitely deeper idea has flashed in his mind - a concept which he feels will be of great value to his disciple. He stops talking. He closes his eyes. The student is confused and begins to speak but his queries are brusquely rebuffed.
All of the teacher's mental energy is involved in fully developing this spark of an idea.
The student is devastated. He does not understand why his teacher has shut him out.
The teacher senses the student's distress. But to divert his attention and reassure his beloved student, even if with just a word or two, could cause him to lose some of the nuances or perhaps the entire, fragile idea.
It is because the teacher cares about his student that he does not interrupt his thoughts for even a moment to reassure him.
The teacher's "rejection" of his favorite student is, in fact, an act of love. Though not in keeping with the ordinary nature of their relationship, this "rejection" actually serves to deepen the bond.
This metaphor also explains why the exile becomes "darker" as we move toward the light of the Redemption. For, were exile merely to be a punishment for our sins, then it should become lighter as we atone for those sins. But the opposite is true. The closer we are to the Redemption, the more concealed is our relationship with G-d. Despite the fact that we are approaching the Redemption, we see a decline in sensitivity to that which is holy.
But this pattern is like the teacher's "rejection" of his student: the more he de-velops the spark of the idea, the more he must pull away from his student. Yet, the withdrawal signifies a greater love for his student and a greater commitment to his role as teacher.
May we merit the "New Torah" from Moshiach that has been developing throughout this long exile, Now!
The Book of Deuteronomy
What is the difference between the Book of Deuteronomy and the other four Books of the Torah? In transmitting the first four Books, Moses acted strictly as G-d's emissary, repeating the message word for word without involving his own intellect in the process. Deuteronomy, however, was transmitted precisely through the intellect and understanding of the leader of the generation, in response to the exact needs of the people and its particular spiritual level. Accordingly, Deuteronomy - given to the Jewish people just prior to their entry into the land of Israel, and the new lifestyle it would entail - contains many explanations of concepts that were only alluded to in the first four Books.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Moses began (ho'il) to explain this law (Deut. 1:5)
The Hebrew word "ho'il" contains the same letters as "Eliyahu" - an allusion to the time to come when Elijah the Prophet will answer all our difficult questions. Also, the questions posed by the last few generations before Moshiach will be complicated and troublesome; their answer will only be found through the same self-sacrifice that was shown by Pinchas (identified by our Sages as Elijah).
How can I alone bear your weight, your burden and your strife? (Deut. 1:12)
As Rashi explains, the "burden" referred to by Moses was the heretics among the Jewish people. Commented Rabbi Nachman of Breslov: "The heaviest burden a person can bear is apostasy. The heart of a Jew who believes in G-d is calm and tranquil, while the heretic must constantly contend with the weight of his doubts and troubling thoughts."
The emperor Napoleon once passed by a synagogue and heard the people within weeping bitterly. Upon inquiring what was the reason for this sadness, he was told that today was Tisha B'Av and the Jews were mourning the destruction of their Holy Temple. Napoleon replied, "A people that mourns so faithfully over their loss will surely see their Temple rebuilt."
The destruction of both Temples took place on the ninth of Av. After the exiles returned from the first Babylonian exile the returnees rebuilt the Temple. When it had stood 300 years, cracks were discovered in the building and Herod undertook the mammoth task of rebuilding it.
Herod, an Edomite - a non-Jew - who had been a slave to the Hasmonian royals, was an implacable foe of the Torah Sages who opposed him. He had risen to the position of king only after having ruthlessly decimated the Hasmonian dynasty, including his own wife, Mariamne. Why did a man so steeped in evil and violence decide to rebuild and beautify the Holy Temple?
The particular target of Herod's bloody excesses were the great Torah Sages. Herod persecuted them to the point that there remained alive only one, Bava ben Buta, and he had been blinded by order of the king. One day, Herod disguised himself and appeared before the great Sage. Wanting to provoke the rabbi to curse him, he began: "Herod is nothing but a wicked slave!"
Bava ben Buta only replied, "What am I to do about it?"
As the disguised stranger escalated his anti-Herod rhetoric, the Sage rejoined with many passages from the Torah which forbid slandering a king. He refused to allow himself to be drawn into the conversation against the tyrant. When he could stand it no more, Herod blurted out, "I am Herod! But had I known that the Torah Sages were so cautious in their speech and actions, I never would have killed them. What can I do to atone for my sins?"
Bava ben Buta replied, "When you killed the Torah Sages you extinguished the light of the world. Now, restore the light by rebuilding the Holy Temple, for it, too, illumines the world."
Herod feared the reaction of the Roman emperor, by whose grace he reigned. Bava ben Buta suggested that a messenger be sent to Rome with a request to begin construction. By the time the messenger would return, the construction could be completed. Herod agreed and work began.
The building Herod constructed was described by our Sages thus: "Whoever has not seen the building of Herod, never saw a beautiful structure in his life." The Second Temple stood for a total of 420 years before the destruction - 90 of which were after Herod's beautification and enlargement.
The Temple, after Herod's completion, was built of gigantic stones, some of which were faced with blue-green marble, which resembled the waves of the sea. Almost all of the doors were faced with gold, and inside thousands of candles flickered. Near the doorway stood a large golden grapevine, and pilgrims who wished to present a gift to the Temple could purchase a leaf, a grape or a whole bunch of golden grapes which they would hang on this lovely golden vine. These donations were used to finance the running of the Temple.
Jews, who came to Jerusalem three times each year, were treated to a marvelous scene, which they no doubt reflected upon throughout the rest of the year. The Levites stood on the fifteen steps leading from one courtyard to the next and sang King David's psalms - the fifteen "Songs of the Steps" to the haunting music of harps, violins, cymbals, flutes and other instruments with which we are unfamiliar.
The siege and ultimate destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans was long and bloody. Millions were slaughtered or perished from lack of food and water. The Jewish defenders of the holy city, divided in their opposition to the conquerors, displayed both great heroism and tremendous folly in their vain attempt to defeat the Roman legions and their allies. But, it was G-d's decree that the Jews be exiled from the land. When the Temple stood in ruins and flames licked the walls, the "flower of the priesthood," the young kohanim threw the keys to the Temple gates towards the heavens, acknowledging, "We have not been trusty guardians of your Temple, and so we are relinquishing the keys to You." A heavenly "hand" was seen reaching out to receive the keys.
And so, the ninth of Av once again casts its shadow over our calendar. We mourn for the destruction of the Holy Temples. But while we fast and remember the destruction, we also anticipate the building of the Third Holy Temple, for our tradition teaches that our redeemer, Moshiach, is born on the very day of the destruction. From within the rumble and ashes of the Holy Temple we receive the assurance that we will be redeemed.
The Rebbe has told us that very soon we will joyfully witness the Third Holy Temple rebuilt, and we will once again be privileged to witness its incomparable holiness and beauty.
Why is Eicha (Lamentations) - the scroll read on Tisha B'Av to commemorate the destruction of the Holy Temple - not written on parchment as is the Scroll of Esther (read on Purim)? When Moshiach comes, Tisha B'Av will be transformed from a day of sorrow into a day of rejoicing. As every day we await Moshiach's arrival, making Lamentations more "permanent" by committing it to parchment is not really necessary and would imply that we had already despaired, G-d forbid. Purim, however, will also be celebrated in the Era of Redemption, and thus the parchment scrolls will also be used then.