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There is a new group of recruits in the army. The soon-to-be soldiers are put through rigorous training, to toughen them up physically, and to prepare them psychologically for the difficulties and dilemmas they may encounter in various aspects of war in Israel.
The training is hard enough, but the greatest test is saved for last. The soldiers can only "graduate" and earn their berets after a grueling three-day survival hike. The group is given a mission to accomplish while covering the most difficult terrain with very few supplies and little support. You can't imagine how difficult it is unless you've done it; it's almost impossible. When you feel like you have no strength left, you have to dig deeply inside to find hidden resources to keep on going.
Now, obviously, not every soldier is the same. Some are stronger and hardier than others. Some are more resilient and perseverant. There are those, however, who just find it too hard. They begin to lag behind, and if no help is forthcoming, are unlikely to make it to the goal. Is it reasonable to assume that the hardier soldiers forge ahead with no backward glance?
Absolutely not! Each soldier knows that he is part of the whole. If even one of his friends doesn't make it to the finish line, then no one graduates - no beret for anyone. Consequently every person looks after the next. If a recruit sees someone starting to falter, he stops to help. Perhaps he only needs to give a word of encouragement, or a hand to steady him on a rocky slope. It may be necessary to carry some of the other fellow's equipment, in addition to his own 60-pound backpack. Sometimes there's no way the other guy will make it on his own two feet, so his friends just pick him up and carry him. If they are capable, then it's up to them to make sure everyone gets there, they can't just think of themselves.
As we mark Yud Shevat, entering the 60th year of the Rebbe's leadership of the Lubavitch movement and world Jewry, this training technique can help us understand an important facet of the Rebbe's approach to ensuring the fulfillment of our mission on earth.
While many focus on their commu-nity, strengthening their own movement and institutions, the Rebbe alone stands for the notion that we can only graduate if we bring everyone along.
While it would be easier to say, as some do, "We must keep our own people strong. We can not worry about the entire world,"the Rebbe teaches everyone to go out of their comfort zone; to seek out their fellow Jews wherever in the world they may be; and to give them the encouragement and support they need to be able to fulfill their potential as Jews.
The Rebbe has made it clear that after 2,000 years in exile we are nearly finished with our training course and are now in the final "survival hike."
We all need to pull our weight - and more! We must dig deeply inside to find the hidden resources to do another mitzva (commandment), to perform acts of kindness, to encourage a friend to join us at a Torah class, to invite another guest to a Shabbat meal, to put an additional coin in a charity box. And if we must, we must carry another person's burden - or the person himself - on our own shoulders together with our load. For when every Jew makes it to the finish line, by completing his own unique personal mission on earth, we will all receive our "berets"with the revelation of Moshiach and the rebuilding of our Holy Temple, may it be now.
Adapted from a talk by Tully Garalnik at Merkos Women, Melbourne, Australia
This week's Torah portion, Bo, contains the account of the tenth and final plague which G-d visited on the Egyptians, the only one in which the Jews were required to put a mark of identification upon their homes so that they would not also be afflicted when the firstborn sons were killed. The Jews were commanded to put blood from the Passover sacrifice on their doorposts, also symbolic of the blood of the covenant of circumcision, and warned to remain in their homes until the morning.
The Midrash offers an explanation why these precautions were necessary: "Once the Destroyer is given free reign, it cannot distinguish between the righteous and the wicked." This is why a special sign was needed to divert the Angel of Death. But wasn't the Angel of Death allowed free reign during the previous nine plagues? Why weren't measures taken then by the Jewish people to protect themselves?
The answer lies in the fact that the slaying of the firstborn was essentially different from the plagues which preceded it. The first nine plagues brought a limited and specific type of injury and devastation; the Angel of Death was not allowed to indiscriminately destroy in whatever manner it chose. During the tenth plague, however, the Egyptian firstborn died in a multitude of different ways.
Even more fundamental is the fact that the aim of the first nine plagues was to make the Egyptians acknowledge the existence and power of G-d. The final plague was sent solely to punish and to kill.
At this point, the Attribute of Justice complained before G-d and pleaded that the Destroyer be allowed to harm the Jews as well: "How are the Jews so different from the Egyptians? Both nations have served idols, and both nations have sunk into the 49 gates of impurity!" G-d therefore decreed that the Jews identify themselves with a special sign, so that no harm would befall them.
But how could a drop of blood on a doorpost defend the Jews against such a grave accusation? Chasidic philosophy explains that the tenth plague was visited by G-d Himself, and was a demonstration of G-d's overwhelming love for the Jewish people, the love a father has for his children. This is a love irrespective of the son's negative behavior; it transcends even the legitimate claims of the Attribute of Justice.
The blood with which the Jews painted their doorposts was symbolic of the essential connection which exists between G-d and the Jew, a bond which transcends all rationale and human understanding. Just as the command to publicly defy Egyptian sensitivities by slaughtering a lamb, the Egyptian deity, seemed to be irrational, it was precisely this disregard for the natural order and the desire for self-sacrifice which brought about the redemption. It is only when Jews go beyond the boundaries of logic to show their devotion to G-d that He repays in kind.
Today, the Jewish people finds itself in a situation similar to the one faced by the Children of Israel as they were about to leave Egypt. The Final Redemption is right at our door, and all that is required is that we transcend the bonds of rational deliberation and declare ourselves ready. In this merit may we see the coming of Moshiach and the dawn of the Messianic Era.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
A Blessing from the Rebbe
by Rabbi Leibl Groner
Rabbi Leibl Groner is a member of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's secretariat
A woman told me this story six months ago when I was in Melbourne for the shloshim of my brother:
In 1988 the Rebbe began a custom of "Sunday dollars." Each week, thousands of people would line up to receive a dollar and a blessing from the Rebbe. The recipients were to give the dollars or their equivalent to charity. On one of those Sundays, a married couple came to the Rebbe to ask for a blessing. The woman was expecting their first child. As she passed by the Rebbe she asked for a blessing for an easy pregnancy and an easy birth. The Rebbe gave the woman a dollar. He then gave another dollar to her and a dollar to the husband, saying, "L'orech yamim v'shanim tovos (for length of days and good years)."
The woman gave birth to healthy baby boy. For the first years of his life everything was fine. When he was twelve years old, however, he started complaining about headaches. The family doctor sent them to a neurologist who, after various tests, told them that there was a growth on the boy's brain. The growth, the doctor insisted, was very aggressive and he had only a short time to live.
Upon hearing this dire verdict, the husband told the wife, "Do you remember when we went to the Rebbe when you were pregnant and what the Rebbe said? Surely the Rebbe meant his blessing for long life and good years for this period now. We have to do everything that we can according to the laws of nature and we will rely on the Rebbe for everything else."
The couple insisted that the doctors aggressively treat the growth and do whatever was possible according to medicine to help their son. Today, he is a healthy young man, married and starting a family of his own.
I was in France a little while ago and a woman there told me that her eight-year-old daughter was suffering from an extremely severe skin rash. She had gone to a team of dermatologists and they had recommended giving her very high doses or cortisone in the hopes that it would give the little girl some relief. The mother was reluctant to follow this advice, due to various side-effects that can be caused by high dosages of cortisone.
The mother wrote a letter to the Rebbe asking for the Rebbe's advice and blessings and then placed the letter in the Igrot Kodesh (volumes of correspondence of the Rebbe). She then opened up the book to the page where she had randomly inserted the letter. In the letter on that page the Rebbe wrote "... a member of your family is suffering from a skin disease and the doctors want to give a medication that is very strong; in my opinion the diagnosis is a mistake and I do not think that the person should take the medicine. In fact, if the person will take the medicine it can be very detrimental."
With this answer from the Rebbe, the mother went back to the dermatologists and told the doctor that she was not willing to give the cortisone to her daughter. "In that case," the doctor told her, "we will have to send you to a different dermatologist. He is one of the top specialists in all of Paris."
The mother and daughter went to the specialist who examined the child and reviewed the medical reports. "The diagnosis is a mistake," the doctor told the mother. "I hope you did not give the cortisone to your daughter as the previous doctors recommended because if she were to take this medicine it could be very detrimental."
A woman whom my wife knows was moving from one apartment to another. She came to my wife asking her if she could help her write a letter to the Rebbe requesting a blessing for the move. As she didn't know Yiddish or Hebrew, she was asking my wife to write the letter for her. "Write the letter in English," my wife encouraged her. "The Rebbe understands English." The woman wrote the letter herself and then inserted it in a volume of Igrot Kodesh that she had removed from our bookshelf. My wife opened the book to the page where the letter had been randomly placed and translated the letter that was on the page. It was a letter to a couple who were moving into a new apartment, blessing them that everything about the move should be met with success. The woman was pleased with the blessing, but then my wife noticed that the book she had taken out of the bookshelf was a collection of letters of the Previous Rebbe, the father-in-law of the Rebbe. "Of course, the Previous Rebbe was a tzadik and a Rebbe, but I would feel more comfortable having a blessing from our Rebbe, as well," the woman said to my wife. My wife pointed out to the woman the volumes of the Rebbe's Igrot Kodesh that were on the second shelf. The woman selected a volume from the second shelf and placed her letter randomly in this second volume. She handed the book to my wife and asked my wife to translate the letter that appeared on that page. My wife read, "I'm surprised that you are turning to me about a subject that my father-in-law has already dealt with..."
Recently, a father and son came to our home. The father told me, "Do you remember that you asked me for a bill? Well, this is the payment."
But let me backtrack. After the Rebbe had a stroke in 1992, the physicians who were attended to the Rebbe in the Rebbe's room at Lubavitch World Headquarters regularly needed to order blood analysis. Most of the labs were only able to provide results in 2-3 days. The doctors wanted the results as quickly as possible. We located a lab in Brooklyn owned by two brothers who assured us that for the Rebbe they could provide us with results within 4-5 hours.
A month after we started using this lab, I called the owners to ask them for a bill for the work that they had done so far and requested that they bill us on a regular basis. (The Rebbe would never accept anything gratis.) They never sent any bills. Many, many months later, a week after Gimmel Tammuz, one of the owners called my office. He told me, "You asked us for a bill for the lab work we did on behalf of the Rebbe. My wife and I have been married for nine years and we have no children. I would like the payment of the bill to be a blessing from the Rebbe that we have a child."
I asked him for his full Hebrew name and his wife's full Hebrew name. That day I went to the Ohel (the Rebbe's resting place) and told the Rebbe everything, and that they wanted the payment of the bill to be that they have a child. Eighteen months later the lab owner called me and told me the good news that his wife had had a baby boy. And recently, the boy, now 12 years old, came to visit me with his father. "Do you remember that you asked for a bill?" the father said. "This is the payment."
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Freely translated and adapted
17 Elul, 5710 (1950)
You ask to be mentioned at the gravesite of my father in law, the Rebbe, of blessed memory; I will do as you ask. You write that you have no understanding of this. [To this I respond that] even when you eat, drink, and sleep, you surely do not contemplate first how this affects your body and soul, and you do all this even if you don't understand how the impact works. The same principle applies here as well.
As for what you write that it [visiting the gravesite of a Tzaddik (righteous person)] appears: like speaking to the dead; like directing one's thoughts to a force other than G-d, G-d forbid.
You surely understand on your own that this is not so. For it is accepted [in Torah sources] that Caleb the son of Yefuneh [Sotah 34b], several Tana'im and Amora'im, and Tzaddikim throughout all the generations did so.
Your question can be explained further, albeit in brief: Even when people would come to the [Previous] Rebbe to request a blessing [during his lifetime], they would come to him not on account of the greatness of his body, but on account of the greatness of his soul. The whole idea of death is only possible for the body, since the soul is eternal. This is true of the soul of a Tzaddik in particular, for it has no connection whatsoever to Purgatory, Kaf HaKela [a punishment for the soul after death], etc. [See Zohar 3:21b] The death of the soul of the Tzaddik is termed Histalkus, which means an elevation to a higher level, and he is not called a dead person, G-d forbid, as it is written in the Zohar (3:71) [thus, visiting the Tzaddik's gravesite does not constitute speaking to the dead].
As for what you write that it appears like directing one's thoughts to a force other than G-d; in short, this is not so. For the request is that the Tzaddik in his great righteousness plead favorably on behalf of the one requesting the blessing before the King of all kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.
There is a second intention in this regard: Every Chassid and person connected to the Tzaddik is an individual aspect of the soul of the Tzaddik, which is a great gestalt. It [the Tzaddik's soul] is comparable to the head relative to its individual souls [which are compared to the body], as explained in Tanya chapter two.
Every individual organ receives its sustenance from the soul, and the soul vests itself first in the head and the brain, and from there the vitality is divided up according to the individual needs of each individual organ.
So is it also in the case of a Chassid and a Rebbe: Since the head is healthy and strong, it contains all the vitality of all the individual bodily organs. [Thus,] in order for the individual organ to be healthy, it must be fully connected to the head: The sinews and nerves that join the head with the organs must be open, for then the vitality related to each respective organ will flow to it.
Generally speaking, this is the concept of Hiskashrus, the bond of a Chassid and a Rebbe. Through this the Chassid receives everything that he needs, both materially and spiritually.
Translated and adapted by Rabbi Yehoshoiphot Olliver, published on a-farbrengen.blogspot.com
Make Hakhel Gatherings!
This year is a Hakhel year. Hakhel means literally "assembly." Immediately before and numerous times during the "Hakhel" year of 5748 (1987-8), the Lubavitcher Rebbe emphasized the importance of holding gatherings that would bring together and unite Jews. Men, women and even little children were charged with this commandment. Make a gathering for friends and family during this Hakhel year; all the better if you do it on a regular basis! Incorporate into the gathering the "three pillars upon which the world stands" - Torah study, prayer and charity. Share a thought from the Rebbe, say a prayer for the Redemption, and give charity, even a few coins, to a worthy cause.
In memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg and the other kedoshim of Mumbai
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
On this coming Wednesday, Yud (the tenth of) Shevat, we will commemorate the passing of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1950. On Yud Shevat in 1951, the present Rebbe officially accepted the position of leadership and delivered his first Chasidic discourse, "Basi Legani."
This discourse was truly ground-breaking, laying the foundation of the Rebbe's work over the next few decades. In no uncertain terms it described the uniqueness of our generation and the special role we play in history.
The core revelation the Rebbe introduced is that ours is "the last generation of exile and the first generation of Redemption." During the past seven generations of Jewish history, beginning with the inception of Chabad Chasidism, Divine consciousness has been progressively refined.
Ours, the seventh generation, is poised on the threshold of the Redemption.
"This is not through our own choice or a result of our service; in fact, it might often not even be to our liking. Nevertheless...we stand on the 'heel of Moshiach' - the very edge of the heel - ready to complete the task of drawing down the Divine Presence...into the lowest realm possible."
This knowledge implies a responsibility that is incumbent upon each and every one us. As the Previous Rebbe wrote in a letter, every Jew must ask himself, "What have I done and what am I doing to alleviate the birth-pangs of Moshiach, and to merit the total Redemption which will come through our Righteous Moshiach?" Every mitzva we do, every good deed or increase in Torah study has the potential to tip the scales, to bring the ongoing historical process toward the Messianic era to its ultimate conclusion.
As "Basi Legani" concludes, "Let us all merit to see and be together with the Rebbe, in a physical body and within our reach, and he will redeem us."
May it happen immediately,
For I have hardened his heart (Ex. 10:1)
G-d "boasts" of the free will He has given man, one of the greatest mysteries of all creation, and a part of the Divine plan. Only man can take the life-force and blessings he receives from Above and use them in a manner totally contrary to G-d's will.
We know not with what we must serve G-d, until we reach there (Ex. 10:26)
While we yet live in this world, we cannot accurately assess the value of our Torah learning and our performance of commandments, or even know if they were done only for the sake of heaven. It is only after we have reached the World to Come, the World of Truth, that we will know how faithfully we fulfilled our tasks.
This month shall be unto you (Ex. 12:2)
According to Rabbi Yitzchak the Torah should have begun with this verse, and not "In the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the earth." What is so special about this mitzva (commandment), and why doesn't the Torah begin with the words "I am the L-rd thy G-d," a seemingly more fundamental principle of Judaism? The existence of G-d is the basis upon which the observance of Torah and mitzvot is predicated, but the objective of the entire Torah is best expressed in the mitzva of "this month (chodesh) shall be unto you." The purpose of the Jew is to become an active partner in creation (the Hebrew word "chodesh" comes from the word chadash - "new"), transforming the physical world, which seems to be a separate entity, divorced from G-dliness, into yet another expression of holiness.
The tenth of Shevat is the anniversary of the passing of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn.
The Previous Rebbe led the Chabad-Lubavitch movement for thirty years. The first ten years were in anti-Semitic Communist Russia where the Previous Rebbe inspired the establishment of hundreds, even thousands of clandestine "underground" Torah schools, mikvas and the training of mohels and rabbis to keep Judaism alive. He defied Stalin's all-pervasive, deadly "purge Network" until he was finally imprisoned, sentenced to death and then miraculously released but forced to leave the country. The next ten years were in anti-Semitic Poland until the Nazis attacked and the Previous Rebbe was forced to flee to the United States.
The Previous Rebbe arrived in the United States in a wheelchair, broken in body, but whole in spirit. He immediately devoted the last ten years of his life and all his energies to saving world Judaism, beginning and developing the concept of Jewish outreach.
The Previous Rebbe vowed to "melt the ice of America." He printed books and pamphlets, encouraged programs on radio and even sent out emissaries; all with the goal of waking up Jews and preparing the world for Moshiach.
This story takes place in the first ten year period of the Previous Rebbe's leadership.
At this time (1924) the headquarters of Chabad-Lubavitch was in the city of Rostov far from the center of Russia. From there the Previous Rebbe controlled his "forbidden" educational network which, besides the physical dangers hanging over the heads of the teachers and pupils, was always in deep financial problems.
Hundreds of teachers and workers had to be paid, pupils had to be fed and donations, especially for "counter-revolutionary" Jewish causes, were very scarce.
One Chasid of the Previous Rebbe who was manager of one of these yeshivas got acquainted with a very wealthy Jew in Rostov and asked for financial assistance. "The yeshiva is folding! The teachers and staff have not been paid for months and there is no food for the pupils!" He pleaded. But despite his requests, arguments and tears the rich man would not budge; he was a true miser.
Until one day the rich Jew happened to mention his own problem: he had no children! This broke his heart and worried him day and night. Suddenly he looked the Chasid in the eyes, became serious and made a proposition. "If you, being a Chasid and a man of G-d, would bless me with a child I will give what you ask."
The Chasid, realizing that this was a golden opportunity, shifted into another gear and the words came tumbling out.
"My school is going to close any day, certainly we can't wait nine months! If you give the money that the yeshiva needs (here he quoted a very large sum) now, then I promise that within a year you will be hugging your son!"
The rich man burst into tears of grateful joy as he shook the Chasid's hand, went to his safe, took out the entire sum and gave it to the Chasid. The Chasid felt a tweak of guilt about the blessing, but hundreds of young Jewish souls would be saved! Think of all the Torah that would be studied! All the commandments that would be observed! Surely in the merit of all this, the blessing for a child would be granted!
But it wasn't. The months passed and nothing. Finally after a year, the donor went to the home of the Chasid.
"Do you remember me? Do you remember your promise? Your blessing? Where is my child?"
The Chasid didn't lose his composure, forced a smile and answered, "Give it a few more weeks."
The rich man quieted down and as soon as he left, the Chasid ran to the house of the Rebbe and arranged a private meeting. "Who told you to promise children?" said the Rebbe. "How could you do such a thing? The fact is that I can't help."
"But Rebbe," the Chasid pleaded "I did it for the children, for the pupils - without his money the yeshiva would have closed!" But his pleas were to no avail.
Two weeks later the man was back. And he was demanding his donation back if the Chasid did not make good on his blessing for a child. The Chasid had no choice but to return to the Rebbe.
"Please Rebbe" he begged after somehow managing to secure another private audience. "Save me!"
This time the Rebbe answered differently, "All right! But this is the only time! Go and tell him in my name that this year he will have a son. But from now on, never make promises that you cannot fulfill!"
Sure enough that year his son was born, he continued to support the Rebbe's programs and the Chasid never made any more such promises.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe taught that the numerical value of Moshiach, 358, equals the word for emissary, 348, with an additional yud, 10. Yud, the smallest Hebrew letter, characterizes selflessness and total dedication to fulfilling G-d's will, the prerequisite of true leadership. Yud also alludes to the highest level of soul, the yechida, whose initial letter yud symbolizes the point of Moshiach within every Jew waiting to be directed toward the fulfillment of G-d's ultimate plan. Thus, by cultivating and realizing leadership potential within our own limited reality, we help create the proper spiritual climate for G-d to reveal Himself fully.