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Perhaps you've heard the story or read the poem about the six blind men and the elephant? Six blind men went to "see" an elephant in order to determine what it was. They intended to compare it to other objects in their experience, and so be able to define and explain it.
The first blind man touched the side of the elephant and, feeling how solid and vertical it was, declared the elephant was like a wall.
The second one grabbed the tusk, and declared, as vociferously as the first, that the elephant was like a spear.
The third one, standing nearby, reached out and took hold of the trunk. "Ah ha!" he said. "The elephant is like a snake."
The fourth, impatient and eager to verify for himself what the elephant was, leaned forward and grasped the knee. "It's clear the elephant is like a tree."
The fifth with outstretched hands felt up and down the ear. "The elephant is like a fan," he said.
The sixth one groped about until he caught the tail. "The elephant most resembles a rope."
The poem ends with an observa-tion that "though each was partly in the right, all were in the wrong."
The analogy to our attempts to explain spirituality, mitzvot (commandments), religious experience, and the deep questions of theology - Job's question, for instance - is obvious. Like the blind men in the parable, we can only sense a part of the whole.
Erroneously, we project the part that we can "see" - or touch - onto the rest, assuming the whole is like the part. That's not only a logical fallacy, it's a theological one.
We ourselves have a sense of identity, of wholeness - a one-ness to who we are. And yet, we present many different facets to the world. Sometimes we are like a spear, sometimes like a wall, sometimes like a tree, etc. And each facet also reflects our experience, what we make of ourselves.
And yet, in some ways, we hardly know ourselves. There's more to each of us than meets the eye.
If in a spiritual (and emotional) sense we - finite and fallible - are too big to get our hands around the whole thing, too deep to see all the way through. How much more so the universe in all its complexity?
And yet, the universe too is finite.
Often when discussing "religious matters," we act like the blind men, without knowing we're blind.
We try to explain the inexplicable - the suffering of the innocent, for example - and conclude religion is a wall against which we can only bang our heads. Or we encounter an indi-vidual who misuses religion, hiding his misdeeds behind a mitzva, and decide religion is a snake, not to be trusted. Or in a time of crisis, when we need a lifeline, we grab ahold of religion like a rope, and decide it's only good for emergencies.
In each case, we have an insight, but by limiting the spiritual to our perception, we are profoundly wrong.
G-dliness, Judaism, must be experienced. Of course we have to study and question - intellectual inquiry is part of the experience - but it's the doing that gives us a true knowledge, a true understanding, a true relationship with G-d.
And a relationship defies description or categorization. After all, love is blind.
Throughout history, G-d has revealed Himself to both Jewish and non-Jewish prophets. The manner of revelation, however, is different in each case, as underscored in this week's Torah portion, Vayikra.
Moses, the greatest Jewish prophet who ever lived, merited the highest level of prophecy, as our Sages learned from the verse: "Vayikra - And G-d called to Moses." The prophecy of Bilaam, on the other hand, the greatest of the gentile prophets, was of an inferior nature: "And G-d met Bilaam (Vayikar)."
At first glance the difference between the two Hebrew words appears nominal: one word has the Hebrew letter "alef," the other does not. Yet this tiny alef, in fact, contains a world of difference.
According to Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator, the word "vayikra" implies affection, love and holiness; "vayikar" comes from the root word meaning uncleanliness. Moreover, the alef alludes to "Alufo shel olam" - "the Master of the world" - a fact which is further emphasized by alef having the numerical value of one, representative of G-d's absolute unity.
"Vayikra," with an alef, is symbolic of the Jew's connection with G-d, a permanent uniting of two halves; "vayikar," without the alef, implies a temporary, impure connection between two entities that do not share an intrinsic bond.
In a broader sense, G-d's call to Moses is directed to every single Jew, for all Jews are said to contain a spark of Moses within. In truth, G-d reveals Himself to each individual Jew, in every generation - and precisely with love and affection.
Rashi adds that "vayikra" alludes to the affectionate manner in which the heavenly angels call to each other. Just as there is no competition or jealousy among angels, so too does G-d's revelation to every individual Jew have only positive consequences, fostering love and unity between His children.
Moreover, G-d's overwhelming love for each and every Jew should inspire us to emulate Him and thus strengthen our own sense of Jewish unity. If G-d loves and reveals Himself in such a positive manner to every Jew, surely we must follow His ways and relate to each of our brethren accordingly.
Thus, completely united as one, the Jewish people will march toward the Final Redemption with Moshiach, when we will merit to see the ultimate fulfillment of the prophecy: "G-d will be King over the entire earth; on that day G-d will be one and His name one."
Adapted from Hitva'aduyot 5749 of the Rebbe, Vol. 2
The Sky's the Limit
by Raphael Weizman
From a speech at the Chabad Center of Northwest, New Jersey, 23rd Annual Founders Dinner.
In Morocco where I was born, our family of five lived in a 100 sq. ft. room. Neither of my parents could read or write but when I brought home my report card, my father was most interested in my mark in Jewish Studies.
When my family moved to Israel in 1962 our dream of "next year in Jerusalem" was fulfilled. At the age of 13, I left the small town where we had settled and moved into a boarding school to seek a better education. I later continued to another boarding school where I received a Staff Engineering degree in Agriculture.
After serving in the Israeli Army I came to the U.S. to attend an intensive English course at Utah State University. That was September of 1973. Less than a month into the school year the Yom Kippur war broke out and I returned to Israel along with my fellow Israeli students to help our beloved State. Since my parents did not even own a telephone I was not able to tell them that I was in Israel until the war was over. After the war I returned to Utah State to complete my course.
When the course was finished I was broke. I looked for work but it was impossible for an Israeli to find a job in Utah at that time. With the help of a Jewish Iranian student friend I moved to Texas. This experience of a fellow Jew helping another stayed with me until today.
Over the next few years I worked at various jobs as a bus boy, shipyard guard and even selling flowers by the side of the highway. All the while I was going to school full-time and served as the president of the Israeli Student organization. During this time I started my first business and even failed at it! I also met my first wife and we were married in 1975. Together we hosted a steady stream of new Israeli students in our apartment as they too began their educational journey.
In 1978, I earned a degree in business administration and accounting at the University of Houston. I served as the treasurer of a medium size company, and owned and managed businesses in Houston, Tel Aviv, New York and New Jersey.
In 2000, I bought a small Hearing Aid business. From then until now, that one office has grown into 19 offices with a revenue this year of $9 million. In 2000, I also met my wife, Susan, who had grown up in the very same community where our Chabad stands today. Her parents Sig and Judith became my parents and step-grandparents to my children, Jonathan and Shelly. Susan helped me with her innovative graphics concepts as well as putting up with me with tremendous love, dedication and patience.
Sig and Judith also knew the value of an education, especially a Jewish one. They settled here so they could send their children to Hebrew school and be part of a Jewish community. In the past eight years they never missed a Shabbat lunch with us (as long as we were not traveling)! They were so happy when we were all together celebrating Passover, Rosh Hashana, and Sukkot.
My message to all, and I know you have all heard it before but for me it is real, is that if you set your mind to something and you believe in it, the sky is the limit.
Chabad Center has been a tremendous source of inspiration to me and my family. In life many different events can help shape you. I could have never imagined that I would be standing here today, able to help continue our Jewish Heritage.
We are especially proud to be honored by Chabad, an organization whose generosity reaches across the globe. In our travels, we have seen the devotion and dedication of young Chabad couples in many of the countries we visited. Before we visit a country we always go on-line to make contact with the local Chabad house. Here are few examples -
S. Petersburg, Russia: The rabbi and rebbetzin invited us to their house Friday Night together with three Israeli scientists who were in Russia on business.
Costa Rica: Chabad delivered kosher food to our hotel.
Vancouver, Canada: the rabbi and rebbetzin invited us to their home for Shabbat lunch and honored us at the small synagogue
Chang Mai, Thailand: Friday night we were touched to see the room filled with about 200 Israeli and Jewish travelers who showed up at the synagogue for Kabalat Shabbat and Friday night dinner. We sang and danced with them until late into the night.
Buenos Aires, Argentina: I was honored with an aliya to the Torah on Shabbat and we were invited to the rabbi and rebbetzin's house for Shabbat lunch.
South Beach, Miami: Every Friday night and Saturday morning that we are there we are together with a group of Jews gathered in the synagogue for a wonderful dinner and Kiddush lunch with words of Torah and songs
This past Sukkot we visited China. In Beijing the Chabad emissaries brought to our hotel not only wine and challa but also a lulav and etrog so that we could help our fellow Jewish travelers perform this important mitzva. In Hong Kong we were greeted warmly at the local Chabad where we spent a memorable Simchat Torah.
The philosophy of welcome to all is nowhere more evident than at our own Chabad Center of Northwest NJ in Rockaway where everyone is accepted with love and respect. Our Chabad is the place the community turns to for educational, spiritual and personal guidance, whether a busy mother of a preschooler, an adult child caring for an elderly parent or a curious student looking for a lively discussion.
I would like to mention Rabbi Herson and Rabbi B, who have unlimited energy, patience and a deep understanding of Judaism. Thank you for your endless efforts in making this community a wonderful place to raise a family, where children and adults are able to enrich their Jewish Heritage.
Chabad-Lubavitch of Delaware recently dedicated a new center. The Rohr Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Wilmington, Delaware, is the new home for Chabad, which was established in Wilmington in 1987. Chabad-Lubavitch of North Orlando, Florida, established last year, has a home. The Chamu Jewish Center will house all of Chabad's programming including Shabbat services, holiday events, adult education classes, Hebrew School to social events
The Chabad Center of Bonita Springs, Florida, completed a new Torah scroll. Jews from throughout Southwest Florida came to celebrate at the Torah dedication.
In reply to your letter, briefly:
- You ask how can we reconcile the attributes of G-d of mercifulness and kindness with cosmic catastrophes, such as, volcanic eruptions and the like, involving the loss of human life, etc.?
There are many circumstances involved in each event, in addition to time and location. However, there is one general answer to such apparently inexplicable occurrences which will become clearer through the following illustration: Suppose one encounters an individual for a brief period of time, finding him asleep, or engaged in some arduous toil. Now, if the observer should want to conclude from what he sees during that brief period of time as to the nature of the individual he had observed, he would then conclude that the individual has an unproductive existence in the first instance; or leads a hard life in the second. Obviously, both conclusions are erroneous inasmuch as what he saw was only a fraction of the individual's life: and the state of sleep was only a period of rest and preparation for activity: and in the second instance, the toil was a means to remuneration or other satisfaction which by far outweighs the effort involved. The truth is that any shortsighted observation, covering only a fraction of time of the subject is bound to be erroneous: and what may appear as negative will assume quite a different appearance if the full truth of the matter before and after were known.
Similarly in the case of any human observation of a world event. The subject of such an observation is thus taken out of its frame of eternity of a chain of events that occurred before and will occur afterwards. Obviously we cannot expect to judge about the nature of such an event with any degree of accuracy. A volcanic eruption or earthquake and the like are but one link in a long chain of events that began with the creation of the world and will continue to the end of time. We have no way of interpreting a single event by isolating it from the rest.
- The difference between "G-d is all" and "All is G-d" is in the approach and deduction. In the first instance, our starting point is G-d, and through study and research we can deduce that G-d's being is revealed even in material and natural things. Our study of the Unity of G-d and His other attributes will lead us to recognize the same attributes in nature and the world around us, the practical results of which find expression in unity among mankind and the practice of G-d's precepts as the proper application of G-dly attributes in our own life, etc. One who sets out in this path dedicates himself wholly to communion with G-d. He is averse to all material aspects of life, including even the bare necessities connected with his physical well-being, and tries to avoid them as much as possible. Being engaged in spiritual communion with G-d, he considers all material and physical necessities even those permitted by the Torah, as a hindrance in his consecrated life. However, his intelligence convinces him that the material and physical world is but an expression of Divine Being and that in them, too, G-d is to be found.
In the second part of the statement, "All is G-d," the starting point is the outer shell of the universe and all material things in it. The study of this will lead to the conclusion that there is cosmic unity in the whole world and that there is a Divine "spark" engaged in the material aspects of life. The apprehension of this concept brings joy, inasmuch as it is in them and through them that man recog-nizes the greatness of the Creator and they help strengthen his unity with G-d.
Thus we have two ways in the service of G-d, of which the first is the easier one, while the second leads to a better fulfillment of the objective of making this lowest physical world an abode for G-d.
- An observation of my own: It seems a novel way of trying to learn Chassidus by correspondence. Even when there is no other choice it is difficult to cover such a subject in the course of a letter. But in your case, you are within personal reach of receiving oral and fuller explanation. In the normal course of study under the teachers of Chassidus at Tomche Tmimim, and with the aid of the senior students of Chassidus who have been learning it for years. Why not use this better method?
PESACH means "to pass over." It is the Hebrew name of the Passover holiday when the houses of the Israelites were "passed over" by the angel of death. It is also the name of the special offering brought on the holiday. A similar name is PESACHYA, which means "the Pesach of G-d."
PIRCHIYA means blossom or flower.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Seventy-one years ago this week, the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, arrived in America after a 12-day voyage from Europe. His ship anchored in New York on a Monday at 6:00 p.m. (the 8th of Adar II 5700/1940), but according to law, passengers on ships arriving after 4:00 were not allowed to disembark until the next day.
That Tuesday (like this year) the Previous Rebbe was officially welcomed by a huge crowd. Thousands of people cried out "Shalom Aleichem" when they caught their first glimpse of the Rebbe, and many joyfully recited the "Shehecheyanu" blessing. Delegations from all of the American Jewish organizations were on hand, as was a special representative of the Mayor of New York. After a short ceremony the Rebbe was driven to Manhattan's Greystone Hotel, where he lived for several months before moving to 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn.
"I thank Alm-ghty G-d for having saved us and brought us to freedom," the Rebbe declared at his reception. "But as much as it pains me to infringe on the happiness of everyone present, the unmerciful torment of our brothers and sisters will not allow me to rest. Their cries, particularly those of the many yeshiva students in Poland, accompany me wherever I go. I cannot allow myself any respite until G-d will save them."
That same day, the Rebbe announced the establishment of the American branch of Yeshiva Tomchei-Temimim:
"We immigrants.have been brought here for the purpose of accomplishing a task: to transform America into a place of Torah. I know very well how much effort and self-sacrifice this requires, but I am sure that in the merit of our holy ancestors, and with our own self-sacrifice, we will succeed. Within time, Tomchei-Temimim will be the largest yeshiva in the country, and its students will illuminate Jewish homes and encourage other rabbis to devote themselves to disseminating Torah."
The first handful of students began studying in the new yeshiva the very next day, and thank G-d, the Rebbe's promise has been completely fulfilled.
He shall kill it on the side of the altar, northward, before G-d (1:11)
The person bringing the offering must be willing to sacrifice his own wants and desires for a higher cause. The offering is only a symbol of our willingness for self-sacrifice. This is alluded to in the Hebrew word for "north," which is related to the word meaning "hidden." Even our hidden thoughts and feelings must be dedicated to G-dliness.
And he called out to Moses; and G-d spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying (Leviticus. 1:1)
As explained by Rashi, G-d prefaced each exchange with Moses by calling out to him, indicative of His great love. This love between G-d and Moses is symbolic of the open and loving relationship enjoyed by the Jewish people when the Holy Temple still stood and the Divine Presence rested in the Holy of Holies. This love has not diminished any during the exile; it has only became less open and revealed. The way to restore the relationship with G-d to its former glory is by expressing unconditional love for our fellow Jew. If the Jewish people will be united in brotherhood and unity, G-d's love for Moses will once again be fully expressed when the dead are resurrected and the Third Holy Temple is rebuilt.
(Likutei Sichot, Volume 27)
If any one of you bring an offering (Leviticus 1:2)
The elevated spiritual standing of holy and righteous tzadikim is ensured by the actions of the entire Jewish people. It is in their merit that the leader of the generation draws closer and closer to G-d.
(The Holy Alshich)
If his offering be a burnt-sacrifice (Leviticus 1:3)
Because thought always precedes deed, the burnt-sacrifice, brought to atone for evil intentions, is listed first in the order of offerings. "That which was created last arose in the mind first."
One day as his disciples were all gathered around him, the Baal Shem Tov said to them, "I have decided that I will allow you to have a great revelation - something which you have never merited to experience before. The only thing I ask of you is not, under any circumstances to laugh at what you are about to see.
They were very excited about the prospect and all gladly promised to abide by their Rebbe's injunction.
The following Shabbat the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples were together in the synagogue praying the service to welcome the Shabbat Queen. The Besht made a special point of indicating one certain worshippers, by all appearances a pauper, who was praying with an unusual intensity and devotion.
When the service had ended, the Baal Shem Tov and his Chasidim followed the man to his tiny cottage and hid themselves outside the door where they could peek into the window without being seen.
The man entered the room and addressed his wife with unbounded joy, "Good Shabbat to you, my dear helpmate."
"Good Shabbat to you, my beloved husband," replied the wife.
Although she was dressed in tatters, she seemed to be in exceptionally good spirits.
The Shabbat proceeded with the man singing a joyful version of Shalom Aleichem, welcoming the two angels who accompany every Jewish man home from the synagogue on Friday night.
The disciples of the Baal Shem Tov watched every movement carefully.
Next, the man turned to his smiling wife and said, "Please bring the wine, so that I may fulfill the commandment of 'Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.'"
She placed before her husband two small rolls. "Tonight, perhaps you will please recite the Kiddush blessing over these rolls instead of wine."
And he replied in just as pleasant tones, "Of course, and I have no doubt that these rolls will be just as pleasing as the special wine that G-d is reserving for the righteous in the Garden of Eden to serve with the feast of the Leviathan when we will celebrate with Moshiach."
And the man said Kiddush over the two small loaves.
After the loving pair had washed for the bread and eaten from it, the husband again said to his wife, "Please serve the fish so that we can experience the joy of the Shabbat."
She brought to the table a plate full of beans, and served her husband a spoonful, taking the same amount for herself. "May it be G-d's will that a spoonful of these beans be as pleasing to you as the most succulent of pickled fish," said the woman as she placed the beans on her husband's plate.
The man and his wife ate the beans with the greatest pleasure, as if they were enjoying the finest salmon.
The man sat at the head of the table, singing with a deep and musical voice, and in between tunes, he thanked the Creator of the Universe for bestowing upon them all that they needed to honor the Shabbat Queen. And the disciples looked on with growing wonder.
Next the man turned to his dutiful wife and said, "Now, please bring out the soup. Ah, your soup has the flavor of the sweetest and most delicate meats and greens." And with that remark he lifted another spoon of beans to his lips and ate them as if in ecstasy.
The scenario repeated itself as the man requested the meat course and the dessert. Each course was marked by the festive consumption of another spoonful of beans, accompanied by fervent thanks to the Al-mighty for having furnished the pair with all their needs for a joyous Shabbat.
When they couple had finished eating, and all the Shabbat songs had been sung, the husband rose and said to his wife, "Now, let us dance together to celebrate the honor of the Shabbat Queen so that we will merit the reward spoken of by our Sages for those who properly honor the Shabbat."
And the man began a little dance, while his wife devised a merry dance of her own, in a pure and wordless expression of their great joy.
The disciples who had been watching this amazing scene burst into a spontaneous, silent laughter. When he saw this the Baal Shem Tov cried out, "Didn't I warn you not to laugh! Now you have forfeited the right to the revelation, the marvelous gift I wanted to grant you!"
The disciples were crushed by disappointed. "Please," they begged, "please tell us what it was that you would have revealed to us."
The Baal Shem Tov acceded to their request and told them: "I had wanted to grant you the power of enjoying the Shabbat to the same level experienced by this poor man and his wife.
For know that they did not taste the earthly delicacies; what they tasted was the Divine Shabbat itself. But since you were unable to restrain yourselves, you have lost the opportunity to attain this level of holiness.
Every person contains a spark of Moses. This represents the potential of knowledge within the Jewish soul which grants the potential for unity between man and G-d. We have the potential to bind our thoughts to Him and experience an awareness of G-d that parallels the level of connection that will be achieved by our entire people in the Era of Redemption.
(The Rebbe, Parashat Vayikra Rosh Chodesh Nissan, 5751)