Spiritual Genetics | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | A Call to Action | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Have you heard of the Lemba tribe in Zimbabwe? They have a tradition that they are one of the ten "lost tribes" of the Jewish people. According to their tradition, about 2,500 years ago they left Judea (the period prior to the second Temple). After a stay in Yemen, one group migrated to Ethiopia, and a second continued farther south to where the Lemba eventually settled.
They have several practices that resemble Biblical Judaism. Among other things, they are monotheists, they have a holy day (like Shabbat), they consider themselves a chosen people, they don't eat certain foods or combinations (milk and meat) prohibited in the Torah, they have a form of ritual slaughter, they practice circumcision, and put a Star of David on their tombstones. They even have a form of conversion.
Furthermore, the man who led them, Buba, was a kohen - and they have a priestly class. This becomes important later.
They also have "language markers" - words that don't belong in the African language they speak.
In 1998 geneticists in the U.S., Israel and England examined the "y" chromosome of Lemba men. Why? Because in 1997 scientists found a genetic marker of Jewish priesthood on the "y" chromosome. The "Kohen Gene" was quite distinct; other Jewish men didn't have it, but kohanim all over the world did. It was genetic proof of Jewish tradi-tion, or at least a critical part of it.
And the descendants of Buba, the Lemba priests, shared that marker. This meant that their oral history had some basis, that at some point there was strong evidence of a connection to the Jewish people.
Why is this significant?
Well, for one thing, it gives greater weight to oral tradition. It's a scientific nod to Yehudah HaLevi who, in the Kuzari, explained that one way we know the Torah is true is because there has been an unchallenged chain of transmission.
It's significant for another reason. We declare that we are children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that our Jewishness is part of the very fabric of our being. What these genetic markers tell us is that we carry within us the information of our ancestors. We are a living history.
There's another interesting aspect to all this. Information gets encoded because of encounters with the environment. Science tells us that our genes "learn" from experience; the kohen gene gets passed down from father to son in an unbroken chain. But our actions also influence what gets passed on.
In simple terms, when parents perform mitzvot (commandments), consistently, this becomes part of the "family genetics." It gets passed down from generation to generation, not just as an oral tradition, but as part of what that family does, and therefore, who they are.
In a sense, then, we encode our spiritual genes with mitzvot, and pass on that "spiritual genetic code" to our children, and they to their children, and so on.
And since spiritual genetics are also influenced by the environment, we can gain the "mitzva gene" (as converts do), by our actions. So not only are we a living history, we can acquire and pass on, as surely as we do blood type or eye color, a spiritual genetics, an inheritance of mitzvot and G-dliness.
This week's Torah portion, Teruma, opens with G-d's command to Moses: "Speak to the Children of Israel, that they may bring me a contribution, from every one whose heart prompts him...gold, and silver and copper." As we find out further in the Torah reading, the Jews responded in droves, donating much of their wealth for the purpose of erecting the Tabernacle in the desert. Vast amounts of precious metal were amassed, necessary for making all of the Tabernacle's many implements. Obviously, a donation of gold is at a higher level than one of silver or copper - commodities that are worth far less. Our Sages interpreted the contribution of each metal as symbolic of the different levels that exist in the giving of tzedaka (charity).
The Hebrew word for gold is zahav, an acronym for "he who gives in fullness of health (ze hanoten bari)." This refers to the highest level of charity, when one shares his wealth with others solely to fulfill the commandment of tzedaka (charity). Kesef (silver), stands for k'sheyesh sakanat pachad - when a person gives tzedaka because he is fearful, hoping that the merit of his charity will prevent evil from befalling him. This level of giving tzedaka is lower than the first, for the giver is motivated by the desire for personal gain. The lowest level of charity is that of copper - nechoshet, the letters of which stand for netinat choleh she'omer tenu - the charitable donation of one who is ill. This person, motivated by the desire to alleviate his own suffering, remembers to fulfill the mitzva of tzedaka only when he himself is in pain, hoping thereby to alleviate his misery.
On a deeper level, the differences between gold, silver and copper symbolize the differences between the First, Second and Third Holy Temples. Gold, the most precious metal, alludes to the First Holy Temple, the most perfect and complete of G-d's dwelling places. Silver, although valuable, is worth far less than gold. This alludes to the Second Holy Temple, which was missing five items present in the First, among them the Ark of the Covenant.
These deficiencies reflected the fearful state of the mind of the Jewish people at that time, who worried that the Holy Temple would once again be destroyed. Indeed, history proved that their fears were legitimate. Lastly, copper is symbolic of our present state of being, while we yet suffer the pains of the exile. Like one who is stricken with any other illness, we must cry out to our Father in Heaven, begging Him to establish the Third Holy Temple that will last forever.
Adapted from a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Vayigash 5752
An Angel Came to the Funeral
by Asna Wise
I live in Toronto and recently lost my mother, who lived in Israel. I am an only child with no husband or children. My mother was my entire family, my ally and my counselor, my one true friend who loved me and worried about me.
I had to travel to Israel quickly to arrange her burial. I had no idea how things were done there - who to deal with, where she would be buried, legal formalities. I was too distressed and confused to think straight. I asked the Rebbetzin at my Chabad synagogue, Rebbetzin Goldie Plotkin, to recommend someone in Israel who could help. She suggested her brother in Jerusalem, Rabbi Kasriel Shemtov.
My Mom had been raised in an Orthodox home. Her father was a rabbi and she had two brothers who studied in the great yeshiva in Ponevizh before they were murdered by the Nazis. This had to be done right for my Mom, and I knew that if Chabad got involved it would be.
I phoned Rabbi Shemtov from Ben Gurion Airport, and without hesitation he set things into motion. He contacted the Chevra Kaddisha (Holy Burial Society) and found out where my Mom was, where she would be buried, and who was looking after her. He made sure everything was done according to Jewish law, and even promised to attend the funeral.
My Mom's funeral was an ordeal for me. As soon as it was over people started to leave. Just then Rabbi Shemtov drove up with his son, Mendy. He asked everyone to stay just a few more moments, and gave a beautiful eulogy about my Mom's background, how she moved to Israel and how committed she was to the country. I had told him only a few details about her and yet he managed to deliver this beautiful, touching speech. He was the only one who spoke. Her other friends looked anxious to go and seemed to scatter as soon as his speech was done. I had come to the funeral in a taxi and now someone drove me back to my Mom's apartment.
I was alone. I sat in my mother's silent home, surrounded by her things, her pictures, and my memories, and felt a grief that was unbearable. Yet in this darkness G-d remembered me. There was a knock on the door and Rabbi Kasriel Shemtov came in. He said, "Why are you sitting here alone?"
I said, "I don't know. Because no one came with me." I had never sat shiva before and had no idea what to expect or what I was supposed to do.
This angel said, "I am going out to get you candles."
Half an hour later I heard footsteps on the stairs and saw Rabbi Shemtov and Mendy dragging bags and bags of food - up to the third floor of a building with no elevator, in the midday heat. He filled up my refrigerator; two weeks later I was still eating the food he'd brought.
Rabbi Shemtov set up five candles for me. We lit them and he told me what blessing to say. Then he set up a tzedaka (charity) plate and gave tzedaka. He found a small, low bench for me to sit on, he covered the mirrors and told me all the rules and customs of shiva (the first seven days of mourning). I asked him to arrange for Kaddish to be said for my Mom at a yeshiva in Jerusalem, which he immediately agreed to do.
Then he asked how Kaddish was going to be said for my mother during the week of shiva at her home. I did not know ten men in Israel for a minyan (quorom). I did not live there and most of my Mom's friends were old ladies. We went out together to find a synagogue and found an Ashkenazi synagogue a block away. Rabbi Shemtov spoke to the gabbai (sexton), explained my situation and arranged for the gabbai to say Kaddish and Kel Mallai Rachamim for my mother. The gabbai opened a private room for me near where the men daven. I could cry there as much as I wanted and not be embarrassed. Rabbi Shemtov even bent over pages of a prayer book for me so I would know which parts to say. That evening, the gabbai shared a Torah thought in honor of my mother.
As we left the shul (synagogue), Rabbi Shemtov gave me the blessing for mourners and his son Mendy also said the blessing. By now it was dark, and he still had a three-hour drive from Kiryat Bialik, where my Mom lived, back to Jerusalem. This man - to whom I was a stranger - had spent an entire day looking after me, plus six hours of driving.
Now, Rabbi Shemtov is not a man with spare time. First, he has a family with seven small children. Furthermore, he is the executive director of two yeshivos and has other obligations. This man is not a millionaire. Gasoline costs money, and he shopped for me like he would shop for his own sister.
Rabbi Shemtov did all this for a person he did not know who needed help at a difficult time. There are angels walking the earth and one of them is Rabbi Kasriel Shemtov.
Reprinted with permission from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter
New Torah Scrolls
A new Torah scroll was completed and dedicated at the Chabad House on Montezuma Road in S. Diego, California. Nizhny Novgorod, Russia's fourth largest city, recently dedicated a Torah scroll for the first time in over 100 years. The Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS Jewish Community Center in Nizhny Novgorod dedicated the Torah. The FJC Jewish Community Center in Krasnodor, Russia, also recently held a celebration for the dedication of a new Torah scroll. Until now, the community has been using a borrowed Torah scroll. The Moshiach Center of Chicago, Illinois, celebrated the dedication of a Torah scroll written in memory of a young child, Menachem Mendel Fine, who passed away. The Beis Menachem Synagogue in Petersburg, Russia, dedicated their second Torah scroll this year. In the Chabad synagogue in the settlement town of Adam, Israel, a new Torah scroll was dedicated. A new torah scroll was also dedicated in the Chabad House of Ein Kerem, Jerusalem, Israel.
Freely translated and adapted
Adar 1, 5714 (1954)
From time to time I inquire about your wellbeing and receive news about your welfare from your children. I am surprised by the fact that on a number of occasions they have told me that your mood is not as it should be.
In general, each and every one of us, when we search and ponder our lives, even during the last few years when matters do not seem to be going so well, will observe G-d's kindness and goodness, up to and including matters that were not at all expected.
In fact, the individual sees these things to an even greater extent than does another - as each person knows in his or her own life.
This should lead the person to recognize and acknowledge the blessings and goodness that he has received from G-d, and quite possibly, on more than one occasion, the person has received these blessings without any effort on his part.
This leads to the inevitable conclusion that if there do exist matters that are contrary to a person's desires, then it may very well be one of two things:
Firstly, quite often a person does not truly know what is best for him and if that which he desires will indeed bring him true benefit or possibly the opposite.
Even when the individual concludes that he knows with one-hundred-percent certainty that the thing is good for him, he still cannot possibly know the reasons why he has not been granted these matters for the time being.
This is analogous to the business world: A good and experienced businessperson will not sell his merchandise at an inopportune time. And this is the case even when he can realize a profit, but that he reckons that by selling his merchandise at a later date he can realize a far greater profit.
The same is so with G-d's goodness. If it is delayed, it is in all probability because at a later time G-d's beneficence will be in a much greater manner in both quantity and quality.
This is particularly true in your case, where G-d has blessed you with true nachas (pride) from children, something which is not so often found .... Since you and your wife can anticipate even more nachas from your children, your going around unhappy (something which can be interpreted as dissatisfaction - G-d forbid - with the manner in which G-d conducts your affairs) defies understanding. Moreover, to a certain extent this is an expression of ingratitude to G-d.
It is self-understood that I am not writing to you in order to admonish you but to convince you that even according to the way you look at your life, the good things in your life are incomparably greater and more significant than those matters that you think are - temporarily - not as they should be.
Bear in mind that when a businessman makes an accounting, he does not consider each item individually, but makes a total accounting of the inventory as a whole. And so too regarding the "balance sheet" of events in your life.
It is my hope that the above few lines will move you to reconsider the "calculation" that you are making. I am sure that when you will do so, you will reach a much happier conclusion than you have reached until now. ...
26 Adar 1, 5717 (1957)
... Surely I need not explain at length to an individual like yourself that there is no room for feeling downhearted from your encountering some difficulties in the course of fulfilling your true task in life, that of "I was created to serve my Maker."
Such feelings are from the machinations of the evil inclination that seeks to bring the person to a crestfallen state. In point of fact, the entire purpose of the evil inclination lies in man's vanquishing him. Indeed, this, i.e., that the evil inclination be vanquished, is also the desire of the evil inclination itself, as is to be understood from the holy Zohar, quoted in Tanya,ch. 29.
Ultimately, even those matters that presently conceal and obscure goodness and holiness are themselves transformed into good - and not only in a manner of "All that G d does, He does for the good," i.e., that goodness will eventually result, but in a manner of "This too is for the good," i.e., that the matter itself becomes good.
This difference is to be understood from the story itself of Nachum Ish Gam Zu, wherein the transformation of the earth into weapons served as overtly revealed goodness, as opposed to the expression "All that G d does, He does for the good," wherein it was merely "for the good" but it was not transformed into actual goodness.
This is particularly so as we are now commencing the days of the month in which there is the joyous festival of Purim, about which our holy Torah states: "The month" - i.e., this is true of the entire month - "that was transformed for the Jews into a month of joy and Yom Tov."
Now, the concept of "transformation" during this month means that the entire month is propitious for transforming those untoward events into a form of "joy and Yom Tov" that is palpably revealed to us.
From Healthy in Body, Mind and Soul, translated and compiled by Rabbi S. B. Wineberg, published by Sichos in English
... I surely need not emphasize to you that a true businessman is not one who can manage his affairs when conditions are favorable and matters are running smoothly and successfully, but also, and even more so, when he demonstrates that he knows how to deal with adversity and the occasional setback.
Indeed, facing up to the challenge of adversity makes one a stronger and more effective executive than before, with an added dimension of experience and a keener acumen, which can be put to good use even when things begin to turn upwards.
Sometimes, a temporary setback is just what is needed for the resumption of the advance with greater vigor, as in the case of an athlete having to negotiate a hurdle, where stepping back is necessary in order to facilitate a higher leap.
From a letter of the Rebbe, dated 25 Shevat, 5736
Maintain Your Jewish Name
Our Sages stated that one of the reasons the Jews merited the redemption from Egypt was that "they did not change their names." They continued using Hebrew names throughout the entire exile. Find out what your Jewish name is (a Jewish name can be Hebrew or Yiddish) and your mother's and father's Jewish names. If you were never given a Jewish name, chose one yourself after consulting your rabbi. Consider slowly switching to using your Jewish name.
In memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg and the other kedoshim of Mumbai
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
It's Adar, be happy! This is the basic theme of the Jewish month in which we find ourselves. "When Adar begins, we increase in joy," our Sages teach.
But why should we be so happy just because it is Adar? In Adar we celebrate the joyous holiday of Purim, commemorating the time when the unity and prayers of the Jewish people brought about the nullification of Haman's wicked plan to annihilate the Jews.
Our Sages declared Purim a day of festivity and rejoicing; of sharing our joy with our fellow-Jews. As Purim is the central holiday of Adar and the "theme" of the month, the entire month is permeated with our pursuit of joy and happiness. The Talmud describes Adar as having "a healthy mazal."
It is a month which brings the Jewish people strength and true health. In the month of Adar, G-d's blessings for a good and sweet year are renewed, intensified, and increased. These provide more good reasons to rejoice!
In our day and age we have another reason to rejoice when Adar begins. Jewish teachings explain that "Joy breaks all boundaries." As we stand literally on the threshold of the long-awaited Redemption of the Jewish people and the entire world, the Rebbe has suggested that our every action be permeated with joy in the hope that this will break through the last boundaries of exile.
May the joy we experience in these, the last days of exile, hasten the coming of the ultimate joy, the coming of Moshiach. May we join one Redemption to another and connect the redemption of Purim to the Messianic Redemption. May it take place imminently.
And they shall take for Me an offering (Ex. 25:2)
The word "offering" has two meanings: something set aside for a special purpose and that which is picked up and raised. An offering made to G-d achieves both of these objectives. Setting aside one's money to do a mitzva (commandment) elevates the physical object that is bought with the money, transforming the material into holiness, as it says in Tanya: "G-d gives man corporeality in order to transform it into spirituality."
Speak to the Children of Israel, that they may bring Me a contribution (Ex. 25:2)
"The fool gives, and the clever man takes," states the popular expression. What does this refer to? The giving of tzedaka (charity). The fool thinks he is parting with something belonging to him; the clever man realizes that whatever he gives, he actually receives [its reward].
(Rabbi Yisrael of Rizhin)
They shall make Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell in their midst (Ex. 25:8)
It is taught in the name of Rabbi Tarfon: How great is the significance of human labor and practical action! From the above verse we see G-d did not cause his Divine Presence to rest in the Sanctuary until Israel had performed the tasks connected to its erection.
(Avot D'Rabbi Natan)
According to Maimonides, this positive commandment refers not only to the erection of the Sanctuary, but the building of the First, Second and Third Holy Temples as well. When Moshiach comes and the Third Holy Temple is established, the original Sanctuary built by Moses will also be revealed, for a special connection exists between the two. Just as the Sanctuary was built in the desert, by an individual who himself never set foot in the Holy Land, so will the Third Holy Temple reflect the good deeds we have performed and our service of G-d throughout the present exile.
The Rizhiner Rebbe had thousands of Chasidim in Ukraine while Czar Nicholas sat on his throne. It was during this period that the opponents of Chasidism made terrible accusations against Chasidim which reached even the highest gentile authorities.
One time the Czar was told that the Rizhiner Rebbe considered himself a king, and that he did not recognize the authority of the Russian crown. Incensed, the Czar decided to dispatch an infiltrator to make an investigation.
The infiltrator was a high-ranking officer, a renegade Jew happy to turn informer. Arriving in Rizhin, he asserted that he wanted ask the tzadik (holy, righteous person) for his blessing for business endeavors. To ingratiate himself with the Chasidim, he bought refreshments. Then he began discussing his business, attacking the government for making laws and restrictions. The infiltrator was surprised that not one voice was raised in his favor. He repeated this performance several times, but each time was met by total silence from his listeners.
One afternoon he was ushered into the Rebbe's room. The spy began to tell the Rebbe how, as a wealthy merchant, he was suffering from the terrible decrees and regulations imposed by the government.
The Rebbe looked deeply at his visitor and said, "I will tell you a story.
In a small village lived a Jewish innkeeper who had an only son named Yossel. Because the village was so isolated, Yossel had no Jewish friends. His best friend was Stepan, the son of the gentile handyman who worked for his father. Stepan had a quick mind and enjoyed sitting in on Yossel's Torah lessons. In fact, Stepan was quicker than Yossel to grasp the lessons.
Years passed, and it was time to look for a bride for Yossel. A matchmaker came to the little village to interview him. Stepan sat together with Yossel as the matchmaker questioned him on Jewish topics. Each time a question was posed, however, Yossel was silent, while Stepan supplied the answer. It was clear to the matchmaker that this boy was not a good prospect and he left. The innkeeper decided to separate his son from Stepan.
After much thought, he decided to send away both father and son. When the handyman heard, he protested: 'Why should I be punished on account of my son? Let him go out into the world.' And so Stepan left the inn.
For many months Stepan went from one study hall to another masquerading as a Jewish orphan and receiving hospitality from Jews wherever he went. Eventually he tired of that life and decided to move to a large city, where he enrolled in a university and excelled in his studies. When he completed his courses he began searching for a good opportunity.
One day, arriving in a very distant city, he heard that the citizens were about to choose a new ruler, something they did every three years. All candidates were to present themselves at the palace where their suitability for kingship would be determined. Stepan rushed to the palace. With his outstanding intelligence he was chosen king.
Soon after his coronation the new king inexplicably began making terrible decrees against the local Jews. The most devastating was that the Jews would have to leave the realm at the end of twelve months!
The Chief Rabbi declared a public fast, during which the people begged G-d to soften the king's heart. On the fourth day, he called a meeting of the seven most prominent members of the community at which he related to them his strange dream. He dreamed that in a faraway land there was a young innkeeper named Yossel who would be able to change the decree of the king. Strangely enough, each man present had had the exact same dream.
Messengers were dispatched at once to bring the innkeeper to their city. They related their strange tale and begged him to accompany them and Yossel agreed. The prominent Jews of the city managed to arrange a meeting with the king, and Yossel was ushered into the royal throne room. Stepan was overjoyed to see his old friend, and they embraced each other warmly.
"What is this I am told about the evil decrees you have made against the Jews of this realm?" asked Yossel.
"I really don't have anything against the Jews," Stepan replied. "In fact, they have always treated me very kindly, but as soon as I became king, I felt that I had to make these new decrees. I don't entirely understand why."
The Chief Rabbi explained: "Your majesty, our Torah teaches that the hearts of kings and rulers are in the hand of G-d. When Jews keep the Torah they fare well. But when they rebel against G-d, He hardens the heart of their king and they fall prey to evil decrees. Nonetheless, they do not pray for another king, for they know that it is their own actions that shape their destiny and not the will of the king."
Having concluded his story, the Rizhiner looked into the eyes of the informer and said: Go and tell those who have sent you that the accusations against the Jews are untrue. They are loyal citizens and pray for the welfare of their rulers and the country in which they live.
Adapted from Talks and Talesn
Everyone should realize the ability they have to affect others. This is closely connected with the idea of Hakhel (the year following the Sabbatical year in which all Jews would gather in the Holy Temple to hear the king read the Torah) to influence all men, women and children in taking on a greater commitment to Judaism. One shouldn't think, "I can always begin later on..." On the contrary, haste is of the utmost importance, and one must begin as soon as possible. The efforts expended on positively affecting others will hasten the fulfillment of Hakhel in the plain sense, with the arrival of Moshiach.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 29 Elul, 5747-1987)