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Often, when we encounter something new, something that fires our imagination or inspires us, we become excited. We throw ourselves into it. We become enthusiastic, even fanatical, wanting to know everything, do everything, share everything.
For example, if we suddenly discover the joys of chess, or become fans of a particular writer, or get interested in a sport, or take up gardening, or become interested in macrobiotic cooking, then we buy books, we surf the web, we're on facebook groups, we're recruiting friends, family, neighbors.
And then, over time, our inspiration, energy and enthusiasm wane. We're still interested, we're still involved, but our activity takes on a certain mechanical tone. We don't want it to be that way. We want the enthusiasm because the activity still interests us, still has value and significance for us.
This same feeling, this same process, applies to our important encounter with Judaism. When first we encounter a particular mitzva (commandment), or an inspiring Torah topic or teacher, our energy and enthusiasm know no bounds as we thirst for the experience. And then, after a while, although the experience is so much a part of us that it doesn't even enter our minds to stop, still, we wonder where is that child-like wonder that got us going in the first place? Must experience dull enthusiasm? Is inspiration only good to get us started, and then it's all just routine?
Rabbi Aharon of Karlin offered a parable to explain the situation. A wealthy merchant once decided to help two poor people in his town. He gave each 5,000 rubles on condition it be repaid in five years.
The first pauper immediately went out and bought a fancy new house, new clothes for his family, even an expensive coach. He lived well and lived high until, of course, the money ran out. At the end of the five years he returned to the merchant, confident he would get a new loan, or at least an extension on the one he'd received.
The merchant was furious. "You have abused the loan," the merchant said, "wasting the opportunity and resources I provided. The loan must be repaid."
The second pauper, on the other hand, bought only the necessities, and purchased with caution. He took the rest and, after doing some research, invested in a business he felt competent to run. As the business began to grow, he set aside part of the profits as repayment of the loan. He and his family worked hard, cherishing the loan, always aware of it. Slowly but surely he was able to put aside enough to be able to pay back the loan. His business also grew, of course, so he and his family were no longer paupers, living modestly but comfortably.
At the end of five years he went to the merchant, and, after thanking him profusely for the loan, explained how he had used it, and returned the money. "Keep it as a gift," the merchant said, "for you have invested wisely and there can be no better use of my money."
The lesson is clear: We must internalize that initial inspiration, invest it, assimilate it into our very being so that, when we need it, we can find it - within ourselves.
This week's Torah portion, Chukat, begins with the laws of the red heifer, by which a person was cleansed of ritual defilement.
Maimonides, in his summary of these laws, includes an interesting historical note on this practice: "There have been a total of nine red heifers from the time this mitzva (commandment) was given until the destruction of the Second Holy Temple.
"The first was rendered by Moses, the second by Ezra the Scribe, and seven more between the time of Ezra and the destruction. The tenth red heifer will be rendered by King Moshiach, may he be speedily revealed, Amen, may it be Your will."
These last words seem out of place. Why did Maimonides include a prayer for the revelation of Moshiach in the middle of a legal work? Maimonides measured every word he used. Indeed, many practical implications are learned from his choice of language. Why, then, did Maimonides include this supplication in his discussion of these laws?
Had Maimonides' intent be to teach the importance of praying for Moshiach, he would have included this prayer with the laws of Moshiach, and not in a section in which Moshiach is mentioned only in passing.
Rather, the inclusion of these words - inserted after only a passing reference to Moshiach - underscores that the subject of Redemption must evoke a deep and profound longing in every Jew, culminating in the heartfelt plea: "May he be speedily revealed, Amen, may it be Your will!"
On the belief in Moshiach, Maimonides writes: "He who does not believe in him, or does not await his coming...denies...the Torah and Moses our teacher."
It is not enough to have faith in Moshiach's eventual arrival; a Jew is obligated to actively anticipate his coming, all day, every day. The faith of a person who believes Moshiach will come but does not actually expect him to arrive is lacking.
Just as the belief in Moshiach is constant, so too, is the obligation to joyfully anticipate his arrival a perpetual commandment. A Jew must always feel as if Moshiach will arrive at any moment, for indeed, such is the case.
This unquenchable longing for Moshiach stems from our realization that a Jew cannot complete his personal mission until the Final Redemption, when the entire world will reach its perfection. Every minute till then, we find ourselves in a state of spiritual deficiency.
The lesson, therefore, to be learned from Maimonides' choice of words is that when a Jew anticipates Moshiach in the proper way, the very mention of the subject must elicit such strong emotion and longing that he will spontaneously cry out, "May he be speedily revealed, Amen, may it be Your will."
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 28
by Naomi Raya Permyakova
Adapted from a speech at the International Convention of the Lubavitch Women's Organization, May 9, 2010.
With great sadness in my heart I will share with you the story of my family and possibly the story of many other Russian Jews. Once upon a time, a hundred years ago, there lived in Ukraine a Jewish family. Meira and Yaakov Goldstein lived Jewishly and simply with their six children (three others had passed away young) and a cow.
Probably nothing very extraordinary would have happened to the Goldsteins except that the October Revolution of 1917 was already in the air. As they reached adulthood, each child moved to Moscow and eventually Meira and Yaakov did as well.
All of the Goldstein children were very actively involved in the revolutionary activities. They became members of the Communist party and sincerely believed in the bright future Communism held for the simple folk. Yaakov passed away during WWII under the harsh conditions of evacuation to Kazakhstan. With the passing of Meira in the 1960s came the demise of any semblance of Jewish observance in the Goldstein family.
Some of Meira and Yaakov's children married Jews while others married Russian non-Jews. The youngest of the children was Raya Goldstein, my beloved grandmother, or "Momma," as I called her for the 20 years that I lived with her.
Raya's first husband died before the World War II, at a very young age, leaving her with two small children (one of them was my father). Her second husband died during the war, leaving her with another baby. Finally, after the war she remarried a wonderful Russian non-Jewish man, who adopted all her children, raised them as his own, gave them his last name and his nationality for the papers. From now on they were Russians with the "correct" papers. That was the best way to blend children into the Communist society, to "protect" them from anti-Semitism, to assure that they would be treated equally in regards to their future careers, and, unfortunately, to impede the expression of their Jewish souls.
Despite everything, Raya Goldstein looked for Jewish wives for her sons. My uncle and my father married Jewish women. Years later, though, my father divorced and remarried a non-Jewish Russian woman, my mother. In the flow of circumstances my parents moved almost to the North Pole, intending to stay for two years but ultimately staying for 20.
At the age of almost two, I was sent to Moscow to live with my Yiddishe Bobba. She passed away when I was 21 and, until I met my future Jewish husband, there was no one who understood me as well as she did. How many questions I would discuss with her, how many things she taught me by just being Bobba Raya! On her birthday, relatives from different cities in Russia would gather to visit her and everyone would find something there: peace, a solution to a problem, or maybe just an attentive listener in her. She was a Yiddishe Momma to everyone.
Now, let me fast-forward. I came to America in 2000. In 2001, I converted to Judaism, though not in accordance with Torah law. But the growing thirst for the true, deep and meaningful life of Torah observance was too great to ignore. Less than a year ago, I converted together with my children, this time according to Torah Law. I can hardly express all the feelings I experienced as my future conversion was becoming more and more real. The anticipation of filling in all the emptiness in my soul and in my heart, the process of becoming whole again, the joy of reuniting with my Bobba Raya many years later through her name. All of that is a wonderful gift to a convert to compensate the years of feeling incomplete, of searching to find their Jewish soul. And as much as I wished I had been born Jewish, the precious minutes in the mikva that completed my conversion process I will treasure for the rest of my life.
I want to thank the Lubavitcher Rebbe for his great love for every Jewish soul. The Rebbe's love sees the potential of every Jewish soul and has the patience to wait for the Jewish soul to reawaken and to enjoy the connection with G-d, which can even take 100 years as with my family. When I left the Ohel (the Rebbe's resting place), I had the feeling that I had visited an old friend.
It is to my dearest Rebbetzin Rivkah and Rabbi Chaim Brikman that I owe my deepest gratitude. You warmly welcomed me to our community and helped me and my children go through a kosher conversion. Only people who convert can understand how stressful it is for a potential convert to approach an Orthodox Rabbi for the first time, how fearful it is to think that one might be pushed away, since at that point I already couldn't live without being Jewish. Thank G-d, I was blessed with wonderful mentors and teachers in the Brikmans.
And, most of all I want to thank G-d for the miracle He did for our family over the "blink-like" hundred years. Do you want to taste what I mean? Imagine my six-year-old and 2½-year-old saying the "Shema Yisrael" ("Hear O Israel") at bedtime. Two children's voices, one hardly pronouncing half of the words, but still trying to follow the tune. These few minutes of Shema are proof that my family has been successful in the battle against assimilation. And, G-d willing, this is the way it will continue until Moshiach comes, may it be now!
- (Back to text) When referring to a convert, the Talmud states, "A convert who converts is like a recently born baby." Why doesn't the Talmud say, "A gentile who converts"? One explanation is that a true convert is one who, though born to a non-Jewish mother, has a Jewish soul. It is this soul that propels him/her to become Jewish through the Torah's conversion process.
Rabbi Asher and Dini Hecht arrived recently in Rio Grande Valley, Texas, where they are establishing a new Chabad Center serving the Jewish community in the Texas valley. Rabbi Yossi and Chana Stein will be arriving soon in Altoona, Pennsylvania, to establish the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish Center of Greater Altoona. Rabbi Yisroel and Shoshi Goldberg are establishing a new Chabad Center in the Rechavia neighborhood of Jerusalem. Rabbi Shmuel and Malky Raskin have moved to Cholon, Israel, to direct the Chabad House in the Vatikin neighborhood. Rabbi Kushi and Fraida Schusterman are moving to Maryland to establish a new Chabad House serving the Jewish community in Harford and Cecil County.
8th of Tammuz, 5725 
...It is not easy to adequately clarify in a letter the problem which you pose in your letter, namely the relative importance of self advancement in Torah vis-a-vis efforts to bring Jews closer to Yiddishkeit [Judaism]... However I will attempt to clarify this matter for you briefly by means of the well-known story of Hillel the Elder ([Talmud] Shabbos 31a), where he formulated the essential gist of the whole Torah in the words, "What is hateful unto thee, do not do unto others."
Accordingly, suppose we ask the student of the Kolel [post-yeshiva for married men], who claims that it is right for him to sit and study the Torah, disregarding the plight of his fellow Jew who is in need of help to be brought (closer), to Yiddishkeit, on the basis that he will help him some years later: How would you feel if the situation were reversed? That is to say, suppose you were born in a non-religious family, and under the influence of the circumstances you are not only unaware of a Kolel, but even of a Yeshiva Ketano [high school]; yet you have reached a stage where you feel that you want to identify yourself with the Torah and Mitzvos [commandments] and Jewish way of life; no one is taking an interest in you, but there is a boy who is sitting in a Kolel, desiring to advance his own knowledge of the Torah; you appeal to him to help you, but he says: "Sorry, I still wish to advance my own knowledge of the Torah; I will see what I can do for you a couple of years from now."
Now, if the Kolel boy, not of the illustration but the real one, will justify the attitude of his counterpart in the illustration, then he will be truthful to the principle of Hillel the Elder. If, however, when "The shoe presses his own foot" he would cry out in pain, but is prepared to ignore the plight of his fellow Jew, then he ought to do a great deal of serious introspection.
...In our days unfortunately it is not a question of raising the level of Torah knowledge among Jews, it is rather a question of Pikuach Nefesh [saving a life], actually saving Jews that they should remain Jews in the very plain sense of the word.
Obviously Pikuach Nefesh takes precedence over everything else.
Sometimes when one hasn't got the time to study a particular movement or Shita [way], it is possible to get an insight into the meaning and significance of the Shita by its founder. The Lubavitcher Shita to help a fellow Jew, even at self-sacrifice, began with the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism], author of the Shulchan Aruch which has been accepted by all Jews, not because he was the Rebbe of Chabad, but because he was one of the most outstanding Torah scholars of his day.
This Shita has been continued from generation to generation, down to my father-in-law of saintly memory, who received Smicha [rabbinic ordination] at the age of 17 and who was also a great Torah scholar, though he never boasted about it. He, too, would have preferred, under other circumstances, to sit and learn Torah day and night. Yet when a terrible crisis arose in Russia, and a new regime took over power, a ruthless regime which openly declared war against religion in general, and the Jewish religion in particular, and when almost everybody else fled for his life, leaving Jewish communities without spiritual guidance and support, it was my father-in-law of saintly memory who rose single-handedly to the defense and preservation of Torah and Mitzvos in Soviet Russia, and he was the only one who supported the Yeshivos there, regardless of whether they were Chassidic or non-Chassidic, and who provided facilities to teach even a child of a communist parent in some remote place. And if at this time there are thousands upon thousands of Jews shomrei [keeping] Torah and Mitzvos in Soviet Russia, it is only due to the real self-sacrificing efforts of my father-in-law of saintly memory and his disciples who actually suffered persecution and torture, as is well known.
As a matter of fact you can also cite your own father as a living example of this Shita. For, he too, had a choice of either sitting in a Kolel and advancing his own knowledge, or to go out and do what he is now doing to help save scores of Jewish families that they should remain within the Jewish fold. And, with G-d's help, many boys of those families are now sitting in Kolelim and are learning Torah.
Finally, one simple test as to the sincerity of the critics of the Lubavitcher Shita is this: Are they indeed dedicating 100% of their time to the study of the Torah, or are they taking time out to carry on debates and argumentations, to read newspapers and to do other things, which, although innocent in themselves, are time-consuming, and this time could be applied to helping other Jews in need of help? I venture to say that the argument that they do not wish to join in any such activities as Lubavitch is engaged in, because of devotion and dedication to the study of the Torah, is rather questionable...
YITZCHAK means "laughter." Yitzchak (Isaac) was the son of Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 21:5). At the age of 37 he allowed himself to be sacrificed by Abraham, but at G-d's command was spared and a ram was sacrificed instead. The ram's horn (shofar) is blown on Rosh Hashana to "remind" G-d of this incident and encourage mercy for Yitzchak's descendants.
ILONA is from the Hebrew meaning "oak tree." ILANA is a different name, meaning simply "tree."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, was born on 12 Tammuz, coinciding with June 24 this year. That date is also the anniversary of his release from the Communist sentence of exile (commuted from a death sentence).
The Previous Rebbe recorded in his diaries his entry into communal work on behalf of the Jewish people:
On my fifteenth birthday my late father [the fifth Chabad Rebbe, the Rebbe Maharash] introduced me into his communal activities as his personal secretary. That was on 12 Tammuz, 1895. My father outlined for me the 140 years of communal work that the Rebbes of Chabad had conducted in the past and in the present.
The first Chabad Rebbe, (known as) the Alter Rebbe, author of the Shulchan Aruch - began his communal work at the age of eleven.
My father went on to describe for me the Alter Rebbe's fifty years of extensively ramified communal work; the ensuing periods of his successors, the Mitteler Rebbe and the Tzemach Tzedek; the communal activities of my grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash; the bitter plight of Russian Jewry during the last ten years of the reign of Czar Alexander III; and their tragic disappointment in his successor, Czar Nicholas II.
Throughout his account, my father highlighted the superhuman self-sacrifice of the Rebbes of Chabad for the sake of the public good. He pointed out that only with resoluteness, free from vacillation and compromise, can one be a really earnest worker in this field.
Then, having concluded his precious four-hour-long account, my father wished me Mazel-tov on the occasion of my entry into communal work. My young heart aflame, I promised that I would place myself at his disposal, and that with every fiber of my life I would resolutely fulfill (with G-d's help) whatever tasks were entrusted to me for the public good. My father thereupon gave me my first directives as to how to learn and adapt myself to become useful in the serious business of communal activity.
Speak to the Children of Israel, that they bring to you a completely red cow on which there is no blemish, that has never borne a yoke (Num. 19:14)
Comments Rashi: "It should be perfect in redness; if there were two black hairs upon it, it would be disqualified." In the same way a red heifer is prevented from being "perfect" by the appearance of two black hairs, so too is a Jew's perfection disqualified by even the slightest "hairsbreadth" of dishonesty or deception, as it states, "You shall be perfect [whole] with the L-rd your G-d."
And [Moses] said to them, "Hear now, you rebels, must we bring you forth water out of this rock?" (Num. 20:10)
Calling the Jewish people "rebels" was considered a very grave sin for a person on Moses' spiritual level. For when Jews are in trouble, the proper thing to do is help rather than chastise them.
(Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev)
Lo, it is a people that shall live alone, and among the nations shall not be reckoned (Num. 23:9)
When the Jewish people are "alone," separate and distinguished from the gentiles, their existence is secure and they are respected by the nations. If, however, they begin to assimilate and copy their non-Jewish neighbors, they "shall not be reckoned" - they lose their importance and high esteem.
The story begins with a farbrengen (Chasidic gathering) of the Chasidim of the previous Lubavitch Rebbe in France shortly before WWII. The Rebbe's son-in-law (who in another ten years would become the next Lubavitch Rebbe) was also present and he was the main speaker, but some of the other Chasidim also spoke.
One of them told of a miraculous experience that he had two years earlier. After escaping death in Russia the Rebbe had to move his headquarters to Poland and many Chasidim moved there to be with him. But in the course of his stay the Rebbe told many of them to leave Poland and settle in other countries, for instance the one telling the story was one of a group of five that the Rebbe told to go to France.
Now back in those days this was no small task; they had several borders to cross, among them dreaded Germany, and to make matters worse one of them had an non-valid passport and no time to get a new one; the Rebbe told them to leave immediately.
On the trains, one of them would lie on the bench and the other four would sit on him, covering him with their long winter coats to avoid the passport checks. And they even managed somehow to pass all the other borders. But the check post at the German border was notoriously dangerous, especially for Jews, and for Jews with no passports it was almost suicide.
They decided on some sort of plan, but as they neared the front of the line they heard shouting and screaming from inside the inspection center, then a pistol shot followed by a moan and silence. They tried to look as confident as possible but were really trembling inside, if it wasn't for the Rebbe's blessing they would all have turned back and returned to Poland on the spot.
But to their amazement when the first Chasid got to the window, the official snatched his passport from his hand and stamped it without asking questions! And so he did to the second. Then he began talking on the phone and stamped the remaining three passports without even looking at them!
But their problems were far from over; the place was full of cruel robot-eyed policemen and soldiers checking and rechecking everything and everyone that moved (probably that is where the shots came from) but strangely the police paid no attention to them! They walked through the station unnoticed, as though they were invisible, hailed a taxi, and left. One half hour later they were in a telegraph office sending a message back to the Rebbe ... they were free! It was a miracle!!
The Rebbe's son-in-law listened attentively to the story. When it finished he asked for the exact date and time of the miracle and when he heard the answer he smiled and said, "Now I understand something that was a mystery to me these last two years.
"The Rebbe, my father-in-law, had to have a nurse come in every day and give him an injection because of his health. (After his imprisonment and torture in Stalin's prisons he became increasingly paralyzed).
"One day the nurse came in and saw a frightening sight: the Rebbe was sitting rigidly in his chair, eyes slightly open and completely unresponsive. She was sure that he was having a catatonic attack of some sort, and immediately called the Rebbe's wife. When the Rebbitzen entered she began weeping frantically, but before they called a doctor they called for me.
"When I entered I also was shocked at first, but then I noticed something that made me realize that there was noting to worry about; it was almost imperceptible but the Rebbe's lips were moving, he was saying or reciting something!
"I bent down and listened and then straightened up and announced that there was, in fact, no cause for alarm ...the Rebbe was saying 'Then Moses sang...' !! (The song that the Jews sang after crossing Red Sea. (Exodus 15:1 -19) After ten minutes the Rebbe opened his eyes and returned to normal.
"I never asked the Rebbe for an explanation but now I have it. It was the exact same time that your miracle was occurring. The Rebbe was passing you all through the German inspection like Moses passed the Jew through the sea! That is the job of a Rebbe; to help free Jews.
Reprinted from Beis Moshiach Magazine
At the present time, when the world trembles and all the world shudders with the birth pangs of Moshiach, it is the duty of every Jew, man and woman, old and young, to 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?
(From a letter of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn)