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Anyone watching events unfold in Egypt - or throughout North Africa, for that matter - over the past few months must surely wonder themselves: where will this turmoil lead? What does it mean?
The Rebbe often emphasized the Baal Shem Tov's teaching that every-thing we see, hear or encounter can be a lesson in how we can fulfill our G-dly mission of transforming the world. Further, we are about to celebrate Passover, the holiday of Redemption, the exodus from Egypt, the first "revolution for freedom" in history, if you will.
Thus it seems appropriate to try to discern some of the possible lessons.
As we know, the Egyptian revolution was a demand for democracy, freedom, dignity - many of the basic human rights which the Torah says are obligations for all mankind. The Rebbe pointed out that the non-Jews observing the seven universal, or Noachide, commandments are part of the process of Redemption. These include commandments that demand the nations act justly, that they not steal or murder.
We can thus see the Egyptian revolution as the beginning of or an allusion to those "wonders" the prophet spoke of. We hear the media use the language of miracles when describing the events. (Of course, the movement can still go wrong. During the time of the Exodus, the Midrash tells us that there was an internal battle among the Egyptians: the first-born demanding that the Jews be freed, the others refusing. Then, the Egyptians made the wrong decision.)
Aside from the greater push toward "a world of goodness and kindness" that is now possible, one of the signs of Moshiach, there is also a specific lesson for the Jewish people. If non-Jews want true freedom, how much more so should Jews, whose history - Passover, the Exodus - is the paradigm of the move toward freedom, demand freedom for themselves.
But we know that true freedom is not internet access or a facebook account. True freedom for a Jew is a a G-d-focused life. What was it G-d told Moses to tell Pharaoh? Let My people go - that they may serve Me.
The purpose of the Exodus was not just freedom in the sense of removal of oppression. It was true freedom, a life devoted to Torah study and mitzva observance. As the non-Jews are fighting toward a life where they can - and will, as they should - devote themselves to transforming the world into a place of goodness and kindness, all the more so should we dedicate ourselves to a life that transforms the world into a dwelling for holiness.
There is another point that should be mentioned: Most experts agree that what made the current "Egyptian revolution" different, and what gives it a chance of becoming a true, democratic and transformative revolution, was the involvement of women. In Egypt, the women have been the driving force behind the demand for justice, freedom and opportunity to live a life of goodness and kindness.
Our Sages tell us that it was through the merit of the righteous women of the generation of the Exodus that the Jewish people were redeemed, and, as in the days of our going forth from Egypt, when G-d will show us wonders, it will be the merit of the righteous Jewish women that will enable us to merit the coming of Moshiach, and thus the Redemption not only of the Jewish people, but the whole world.
The Rebbe has said that we are on the verge of the Redemption. That Moshiach is ready to come now. May the events we are witnessing be a precursor to the true wonders, the wonders of the Exodus - the revelation of G-dliness and the giving of the Torah - and the greater wonders of Redemption, which we are told will occur in the month of Passover.
The Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt by Moses, about whom our Sages said, "Moses was designated for redemption from the moment he was created." Yet Moses' role as redeemer is not limited to the exodus from Egypt; our Sages tell us he will also bring the final Redemption with Moshiach: "Moses was the first and will be the last redeemer."
The Torah expresses Moses' uniqueness with the words "Moses, a man [of] G-d." The Talmud finds this description problematic. "If he is 'G-d,' why use the word 'man'? And if he is 'man,' why use the word 'G-d'?" it asks. The Talmud then goes on to answer its own question. "His lower half was 'man,' yet his upper half was G-d." In other words, Moses was a unique combination of the human and the Divine.
Accordingly, the task of Moses was to forge a connection between G-d and man, between the supernatural and the physical worlds. G-d's revelation of Himself through supernatural miracles is not enough; the ultimate goal of creation is to introduce holiness into the physical realm, where it can unite with nature and be one with it. When the revelation of G-dliness supersedes nature, there is no true connection formed between the Divine and physical reality.
Although the world may be temporarily shaken by the display of G-d's infinite power, as soon as the miracle has ended, everything reverts to its former condition. When, however, G-d reveals Himself within the limitations of natural law, nature itself is shown to be G-dly.
This connection between natural and supernatural can only be effected by a Moses who serves as intermediary between the two, as it states in the Torah, "I stand between you and G-d." His function is to connect the Jewish people to their Source and thus produce a true bond between them.
For this reason it was necessary that Moses embody both characteristics, the human and the Divine. On one hand he is a human being, on the other, he is higher than any other person. This dual nature enables him to successfully combine the physical and the spiritual, imbuing material reality with G-dliness according to G-d's plan.
This special quality will find its ultimate expression in Moshiach, the reason why Moses is credited with bringing the future Redemption.
Moshiach's task is to complete the work begun by Moses, perfecting the unification of natural and supernatural that will characterize the Messianic era.
About the coming of Moshiach, the Torah states, "Like the days of your going out of Egypt, I will show you wonders." The miracles of the final Redemption will make the miracles that occurred in Egypt pale by comparison - demonstrating to the entire world that nature is also G-dly.
Adapted from the Rebbe's Sefer HaSichot, 5751
The Matza Lifesaver
by Rabbi Uriel Vigler
After returning home from delivering boxes of special shmura matza to members of our community, a woman emailed me to say "thank you." She wrote that matza holds a cherished place in the hearts of her and her family because it saved her husband's life. Intrigued, I called her to find out the story.
Two years ago on Passover, Lisa and her husband Adam (names changed to protect privacy) sat at the Seder, surrounded by family and friends, crunching matza as is customary. Only, Adam apparently ate way more than he should have. On the last night of the holiday, he experienced severe stomach pain and was rushed to the emergency room. The matza had caused a blockage in his small intestine and the resulting obstruction needed to be removed surgically.
On the table, surgeons discovered Adam had a very rare cancer in his jejunum, a section of the small intestine. The matza had gotten caught in the tumors, resulting in excruciating pain. This kind of cancer is usually diagnosed only during stage four when other organs have already been affected. Adam's cancer had progressed to stage three; his prognosis, a mere six months.
What does a Jew do when a doctor tells him he has six months to live? Change doctors, of course! Due to the rarity of the disease, no chemotherapy treatments had been proven effective, so Adam was treated instead for regular bowel cancer with successful results. The tumors shrunk and no further treatments were necessary. As Lisa put it, "If not for the shmura matza the tumor would never have been discovered in time and there is no doubt I would be a widow today."
Six months later, on Rosh Hashana, a perfectly healthy Adam, together with Lisa, first prayed at our shul. On the holy day when members are called for an aliya to the Torah, I encourage them to commit themselves to keep one extra mitzva (commandment) for the upcoming year. Call it a new year's resolution if you wish. So when Adam asked me to suggest a mitzva to him, I proposed tefillin. After Rosh Hashana, Lisa called me to find out where she could purchase a pair. When I followed up with Adam months later, it turned out he had not missed a single day since he had bought his tefillin. Until today he remains devoted to his commitment.
This past Rosh Hashana Adam again received an aliya. This time I recommended he take on the mitzva of eating kosher. Due to its challenging nature, we came to a compromise: Adam agreed to keep kosher once a week. Since then, Lisa informed me that the family orders glatt kosher take-outs at least once a week, sometimes more than that.
Kabbalists have described matza as "bread of faith" on the first night and as "bread of healing" on the second.
While it is indeed praiseworthy to remember G-d and thank Him after a recovery, a primary component of the healing process involves initial prayer and a firm trust. Those whose faith sustains them through a dark period, spurring them to constantly pray and beseech G-d's mercy, remain totally healthy at the core. They appreciate that ultimately it is G-d who decides the outcome, no matter how bleak the test results may be.
One of the main functions of the Passover seder is an educational one. During the service, we encourage our children to ask questions by triggering their curiosity with narratives and customs. The Torah allows that every child is unique and each must be raised according to his own personality. Thus the Hagada lists four types of children who grace the seder table each year.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe opened our eyes to the reality of a fifth additional child who differs from the others. While the first four are all present at the Pesach seder, their sibling wanders about, oblivious that Pesach has even arrived. The fifth child, explains the Rebbe, is not necessarily a child, but an adult Jew exclusive to our generation, lost in its modernity and technology, foreign to all things Jewish.
The Rebbe devoted his life to reaching out to all the fifth children of the world, dispatching thousands of emissaries worldwide to locate these individuals and cater to their Jewish needs. Thus, today it is possible to attend a Pesach seder in almost any city on the globe.
It was during the Pesach of 2000 that I was privileged to lead one such seder in Kathmandu, Nepal. The city boasts the largest seder in the world with over 2,000 attending annually. It was by far one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Walking around the room one could hear practically any language, with Jews from places like France, Australia, Morocco or Brazil. Sure, there were a great many differences between us, but the electricity in the room was generated by a certain knowledge that that there is so much more that unites us than what separates us.
As a yeshiva student I would often travel the globe scouting out these "fifth children" hoping to familiarize them with their Jewish roots. The summer following my Passover in Nepal was spent in Eastern Europe. It was in Varna, Bulgaria, that a Jew named Haim invited my friend and me into his home for a chat. Toward the end of our visit, Haim donned tefillin and promptly broke down during the recitation of the Shema. Amidst sobs he explained his life story. As a child he attended a local Bulgarian cheder right until his Bar Mitzva. Around that time the country turned Communist, the transformation washing away all remnants of his Judaism.
Retrieving a family album, he showed us photos of his family. "I married a non-Jewish woman," he explained. "My children are not Jewish and my grandchildren too, will never know the beauty of our faith. I have lived a life devoid of Judaism. Not once have I put on tefillin, no Rabbi officiated at my wedding, and I have never behaved remotely Jewish since I was a child." Yet despite the total alienation with all things Jewish, one thing intrigued Haim. "Rabbi, now as the tefillin are strapped to my arm and head, I feel such an intense connection to G-d..."
Such is the nature of the fifth child. Although far removed from anything Jewish, at the core each one nurses a tiny G-dly spark, waiting to be nurtured and fired into a flame. And each one, no matter his level of observance, can always find his place among the fold. Wherever you find yourself this Pesach, don't spend your seder alone.* In almost any location, your Jewish brothers and sisters are looking to welcome you into their homes!
Rabbi Uriel and Shevy Vigler direct Chabad Israel Center of the Upper East Side in New York City. From www.chabadic.com
Visit passover.org to find a Chabad-Lubavitch Seder location near you!
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This letter was written to Mr. David Chase
12th of Nissan, 5741
Greeting and Blessing:
On the occasion of the forthcoming Yom-Tov Pesach [holiday of Passover], I send you my prayerful wishes that the festival of our freedom bring you and yours true freedom, freedom from anxiety material and spiritual, from anything which might distract from serving G-d wholeheartedly and with joy, and to carry over this freedom and joy into the whole year.
Wishing you and yours a Kosher and happy Pesach,
P.S. It was a pleasure to see you at the Farbrengen on the occasion of the 11th of Nissan, and exchange l'chayim blessings.
Although it is not customary nor proper to ask for a birthday gift, but considering our special relationship, I venture to do so, being confident that you will treat it in the proper spirit.
The birthday gift that I have in mind, which I would consider an honor, as well as a great pleasure, is that you devote a quarter of an hour of your time every weekday morning and dedicate it for the sacred purpose of putting on Tefillin, with the appropriate prayer that goes with it, such as the Shma and the like. The latter need not necessary be recited in Hebrew. If you can manage this in ten minutes, I am prepared to forego five minutes and let it be only ten minutes of your time.
In addition to the thing itself, being one of the greatest Mitzvoth [commandments], as our Sages said that the whole Torah was compared to it, the Mitzvo of putting on Tefillin on the left arm, facing the heart, and on the head, the seat of the intellect, has the special divine quality of purifying the heart and the mind, emotion and reason, and bring them into the proper balance and harmony. While this is important for every Jew, it is certainly of special significance to one whose activities normally involve a great deal of mental and emotional strain, and it is highly important to have them in proper balance for the utmost degree of efficiency.
The above is of additional significance in your case as chairman of the board of the Rabbinical College of America, in which you have had such remarkable Hatzlocho [success], with G-d's help, and have been able to involve many others to follow in your footsteps. Thus, this "birthday gift" would also have a salutary impact on the Rabbinical College, Its administration and students, and further widen the channels for all concerned to receive G-d's blessings materially and spiritually.
I trust that you put on Tefillin every morning in any case, and the reason I am asking the above is only that you should make it a definite point on your calendar, to make sure that your preoccupation with your personal business and the business of the Rabbinical College would not distract you even once to overlook the putting on of the Tefillin. And this will be my reward.
P.P.S. Although in matters of the Rabbinical College, I usually send a copy to our distinguished mutual friend Rabbi Moshe Herson, I am not sending him a copy of this letter, considering its very personal nature. I leave it to you whether you wish to show it to him.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
It is an ancient Jewish custom to say daily the chapter of Psalms associated with the number of one's years. Chasidim and followers of the Rebbe also recite daily the Rebbe's chapter.
The 11th of Nissan (this year Friday, April 15) marks the Rebbe's 109th birthday, and so, we begin reciting chapter 110.
Psalm 110 describes how Abraham's servant Eliezer recounts Abraham's victories over great kings and their armies. It also describes how Abraham recognized G-d in his youth and brought others to recognize G-d.
This short chapter of Psalms, only seven verses long, begins: "By David, a Psalm.
The L-rd said to my master, 'Wait at My right until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.' " According to the commentary Metzudat David, this verse is a paraphrase of Eliezer's answer to the kings that Abraham defeated when they asked how it was possible for Abraham, who was alone, to defeat so many nations. Abraham defeated these four powerful kings when they attempted to obliterate him and his teaching that there exists but one G-d.
In the third verse we read: "Your people willingly offered themselves in the days of your campaign - because of your holy splendor; from when you emerged from the womb, you still possess the dew of your youth." The commentary Malbim explains that when Abraham went out to battle the kings, his disciples joined him in battle. Abraham did not need to force them to go to battle together with him, they volunteered. His teachings had already infused with the courage and belief in G-d to confront even a large army. Similarly, David's men were always willing to rally to his call; they also volunteered to go out to battle. Moshiach, too, will inspire the masses to enlist in his cause.
Verse six reads: "He renders judgment upon the nations, filled with their corpses; He will crush heads over a vast area." In explaining this verse, Rashi quotes the Midrash that the Torah recounts G-d's creation of the world so that all people will know that the world is His and that He can drive out one people to settle another. Therefore, the seven nations that had inhabited the Land of Israel and were driven out when the Jewish people conquered the land after the Exodus from Egypt will never be able to say that Israel stole their land!
Our last verse reads: "Then from the river along the way [my master] he will drink, and lift his head [in triumph]." According to Targum, this verse describes the ultimate victory for which all men of faith yearn, because Abraham, David and Moshiach do not seek blood, but truth. It is destined that a prophet will arise from whom wisdom will gush as water gushes from a flowing river. His teaching will inspire men to lift their heads with a sense of spiritual triumph as they enter G-d's presence.
Speak to Aaron your brother, that he not come at all times into the holy place (Lev. 16:2)
The Talmud states: "Who is considered to fulfill [the mitzva of] charity "at all times"? One who provides for his sons and daughters when they are small." Nonetheless, lest a person think that supporting his family excludes him from having to give charity to the poor, the Torah states, "that he not come at all times into the holy place." The perpetual mitzva of supporting one's family is insufficient to attain the higher levels of holiness.
And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats, one lot for the L-rd, and the other lot for Azazel (Lev. 16:8)
As Rashi notes, "One would be placed to his right and the other to his left." Our Sages said that it was considered a good sign if the "lot for the L-rd" came out in Aaron's right hand, according to the principle: "The left hand should push away, while the right draws nearer." This is because the goat "for Azazel," which was sent into the wilderness, rendered the Jews pure from sin, whereas the one that was offered as a sin offering brought them closer to G-d.
(The Baal Avnei Nezer of Sochatchov)
Sefirat HaOmer (the Counting of the Omer)
A comment was once made to the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, known as the Rebbe Rashab, that the Chasidim of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad-Lubavitch "were always keeping count." The Rebbe Rashab took a great liking to the saying, and commented: "This idea characterizes man's Divine service. A person's hours must be 'counted hours'; then his days will be 'counted days.' When a day passes, one should know what he has accomplished and what remains to be done. In general, one should always see to it that tomorrow is much better than today."
Faivish Schapira was 12 years old when his mother passed away. His father, a prominent Chasidic Jew in Antwerp, Belgium, dedicated the remaining 45 years of his life to raising their seven sons and five daughters.
Faivish grew up in a home frequented by many rabbis and important Jews from around the world. His father would make arrangements for them whenever they were in Antwerp. "When I established my own home I continued in my father's ways," explains Mr. Schapira. He was close with many of the Lubavitcher Chasidim in his community as well, undoubtedly influenced by the warm and glowing terms that his father would use when speaking of elder Chabad Chasidim who lived in Belgium.
When Mr. Schapira was 35 he visited New York for the first time. He had heard much about the Lubavitcher Rebbe, so he included 770 Eastern Parkway, Lubavitch World Headquarters, in his itinerary. Mr. Schapira attended a farbrengen (Chasidic gathering) at "770" where the Rebbe spoke for many hours at the conclusion of Purim. "I wanted to meet the Rebbe personally at least for a moment. So after the farbrengen I went upstairs and waited for the Rebbe in the hallway, close to the Rebbe's room, having been told that the Rebbe would pass there on his way out of the gathering."
As the Rebbe approached the door of his room, Mr. Schapira held out his hand to greet him, as was the custom amongst Polish Chasidim. One of the Rebbe's attendants tried to push aside Mr. Schapira's hand, as this was not the Lubavitcher custom. But the Rebbe took hold of Mr. Schapira's hand and, in a most unusual gesture, led him into the Rebbe's private office.
Mr. Schapira stood in the Rebbe's office. "The Rebbe took out a key, opened a cabinet, and removed a letter, which he gave to me to read. I saw that it was a letter, written by my mother, before her death more than two decades earlier." In the letter, Mr. Schapira's mother had asked the Rebbe to pray for her that she should be healthy for she had 12 young children to raise. She poetically described her children as not just 12 children but as 12 generations of descendants.
"I was too shocked to even ask the Rebbe how he had known who I was. I had never before met the Rebbe. I had not identified myself. I had only extended my hand! How had the Rebbe connected me to this letter of my mother that he had received over 20 years ago?" The Rebbe told Mr. Schapira that he could not give him his mother's letter. For, the Rebbe explained, "Every year on the eve of Yom Kippur I take out the letter and read it before Kol Nidrei." Mr. Schapira later learned that before Kol Nidrei - the time that parents bless their children - the Rebbe had the custom to bless all of the yeshiva students who had gathered in the study-hall.
As told by Rabbi Laibl Groner of the Rebbe's secretariat.
There was a couple who came to the Rebbe to ask his advice. Their son, who was of marriageable age, seemed to be drifting and they were not sure what to do or how to help him. The Rebbe advised them to convince their son to go to Israel and pursue shidduchim (marriage suggestions) there. "In Israel he will find a wife who will be a good influence on him," the Rebbe told the parents.
The son, however, had other ideas. He did not want to go to Israel and, in addition, he had not interest in marrying an Israeli girl!
Try as they might, the parents could not convince their son to go to Israel. They called the Rebbe's office to find out what their next move should be. The Rebbe answered, "If he doesn't want to go to Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) we'll bring Eretz Yisrael to him."
Two months later, the mother called me to tell me the following. In her city, there is a store that she shops at frequently. Two months ago, she went into the store and the owner, who usually manned the store herself, wasn't there. Behind the counter was a young woman who, when asked, identified herself as the niece of the owner.
"Where are you from and what brings you here," the mother asked.
The niece responded, "I am from Israel and I don't know exactly why I'm here! One morning I woke up and had a strong urge to visit my aunt in America. I told my parents and, after discussing it, they agreed to buy me a ticket. My aunt couldn't be in the store now so I agreed to take over for her."
The mother and the girl chatted for a bit. Later that day, the mother spoke to the aunt to suggest the niece for her son. The aunt discussed it with the girl's parents and they agreed to let their daughter meet the young man. The girl was agreeable as well. The mother spoke with her son who also agreed to "try it out."
The mother was calling to tell me the good news that her son had gotten engaged to the young lady!
Before the wedding, the parents came to New York to get a blessing from the Rebbe. They told the Rebbe the whole story. Later the Rebbe said to me, "Why do you think she had the urge to come to America? And now you know why I said that we have to bring Eretz Yisrael to him!"
G-d will show the Jews open miracles. Although we have seen the beginning of this process, we can be assured that G-d will amplify and intensify these wonders. Each Jew will see open miracles in his own personal life....May speaking about these wonders lead to the immediate coming of the Redemption when "Your eyes will behold Your Master;" G-d will reveal Himself to every Jew.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 11 Nissan, 5751 - 1991)