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Jewish leaders, organizations, and assemblies continue to plead for the need for greater unity amongst the Jewish people. Jewish newspapers each week report on gatherings and speeches across the globe to foster Jewish unity.
But what exactly is Jewish unity in the traditional Jewish sense?
In Biblical times Jews were divided according to tribes as well as families. We were and still are further divided according to class: Kohen (the "priests"), Levite and Israel.
In Jewish teachings there is also a separation of the sexes in that certain mitzvot (commandments) are incumbent upon men and others upon women.
Business-people are obligated differently in specific areas of Jewish law than those who devote their lives to the study of Torah.
Children, below the age of Bar/Bat Mitzva, are not required to fulfill all of the mitzvot that an adult is obligated to fulfill. The distinctions imposed by the Torah are seemingly endless.
In addition, all throughout our history, Jews have established their own classifications and denominations that have only served to divide and splinter the Jewish people.
And yet, interestingly enough, the most successful slogan of one major Jewish organization is "We Are One."
Indeed, the Torah teaches us that all Jews are connected, we are all part of a great body that comprises the Jewish people. Some of us are the toes, some are the fingers, and some are the heads. Ultimately we are all part of one body.
If we don't perceive that which unites us, it is not totally our fault. Our inability to recognize the true, unified nature of the Jewish people is due to our long, dark exile.
However, the exile is no excuse for not attempting to unite with other Jews in a considerate and cooperative relationship. Uniting doesn't mean agreeing, it means agreeing to disagree, respectfully.
United doesn't mean everyone has to be the same. United does not mean equal. It means recognizing our differences and using our differences to bind us together. It means knowing that everyone has his or her path, opinion, and way of doing things because of their different emotions, intellect and reality and then letting them do it!
And most of all, united means appreciating that "we're all connected" - not via the local telephone company - but because we are all Jews, and in the world in general, because we are all created by the Creator.
The Talmud teaches that one who pretends to be something he is not will ultimately become that way. Thus, one who pretends to be a pauper, though he isn't, and collects charity will eventually become impoverished. On a positive note, what can happen if we pretend that we are really united with another Jew? We will become united!
Let's focus on that which unites us. If we find the common ground, the meeting place, or even if the only thing we can relate to in another Jew is that he or she was created by G-d (no mean feat in itself), then let's concentrate on that.
The bottom line is that we are one. When the Redemption finally begins, the "earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the ocean." Just as the waters of the ocean encompass everything in the ocean while everything in the ocean remains its own distinct entity, we also will see our unity more easily, while retaining our individuality. Until that time, (may it be very short) let's concentrate on that which unites us, which most certainly transcends that which divides us.
This week's Torah portion, Bo, speaks of the last three plagues visited on Egypt, and of the Jewish People's Exodus. It begins with G-d's command to Moses that he go to Pharaoh to warn him of the impending plague of locusts. G-d, however, states that Pharaoh will not heed the warning: "For I have hardened his heart... in order that you tell in the ears of your child and your child's child that which I have wrought in Egypt."
From this we learn that the locusts did not come as a punishment for Pharaoh's refusal to heed the warning; G-d had hardened his heart so that he would be unable to agree to free the Jews. But if such is the case, isn't it unjust for G-d to punish Pharaoh with a plague, when G-d Himself prevented him from acceding to Moses' demand?
The commentators explain that during the first five plagues Pharaoh had free will; he could have allowed the Jews to leave. It was only after Pharaoh rebelled against G-d - "Who is G-d that I should listen to His voice?" - that his free will was taken away. This punishment clearly fit the crime: Pharaoh questioned G-d's authority and boasted of his own might, so he was shown that he did not even have the power to make his own decisions. Pharaoh was thus fully subjugated to the will of G-d.
Furthermore, Pharaoh's behavior during the plague of locusts underscored his impotence. When even his servants begged him to free the Jews - "Let the people go... Do you not yet know that Egypt is lost?" - Pharaoh immediately agreed and declared to Moses and Aaron, "Go worship your G-d." But at that very instant G-d hardened his heart and Pharaoh was forced to renege on his promise.
Even with this explanation we are still left with a philosophical problem. Why did Moses and Aaron have to go through the motions of issuing a formal warning if they knew that there was no chance Pharaoh would agree?
It is explained in Tanya, the central work of Chabad Chasidism, that even a person who is so sunken into evil ways that "he is not provided with a means to repent," even he can overcome and find his way back to righteousness. Even the most corrupt and abominable sinner can return to G-d.
If Pharaoh, totally self-centered, wicked and deprived of his free will, could have prevented the final plagues from befalling his nation by exerting supreme effort to overcome the hardening of his heart, how much more so is it possible for every Jew to overcome his negative character traits.
A Jew's G-dly soul is called "an actual part of G-d," and is in his possession always; the soul remains faithful to G-d even if the body commits a sin. A Jew always has the power to return to G-d and live in harmony with his true essence. G-d awaits the return of every single Jew, for he can only sin externally, as his internal nature is untouched and holy.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Czernovitz, New York, Rechovot
by Menachem Savyon
Czernovitz, Ukraine, 1969. Silence enwrapped the Jewish cemetery when Hershel Tzvi Shur made his way one evening to the fresh grave of his mother.
Hershel was overcome with emotion. His mother was only 44-years-old when she passed away. Why had G-d taken her at such a young age? Hershel was left alone in this world, with no family except for his grandmother.
The bitterness in his heart overwhelmed him and turned into rage. He took out a pocket-knife and quickly cut off his peyot (sidelocks), letting his hair fall onto his mother's grave. Alongside his peyot he left his tefilin bag. He turned to his mother's grave and said, "Mama, I am done with it! I no longer have any use for these!"
Several moments later, he left the cemetery with a firm decision: he would no longer perform mitzvot (commandments). He had buried his past life, as Hershel the religious Jew. Now he was a different person, Gregory.
Shortly afterwards Gregory Shur received his exit visa from the USSR, and moved to Israel.
In 1977, Gregory was on a trip to the United States and was with a friend, by the name of Farkash. During this visit, Farkash suggested that he go meet the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Gregory was not interested. He had already severed all contact with G-d and religion. What possible use could he have for a Chasidic Rebbe?!
But Farkash did not give up. Finally Gregory agreed, as a "favor" to his friend, to go and see the Rebbe. Farkash got in touch with a Chabad friend, and with his help he scheduled a yechidut (private audience) for Gregory with the Rebbe.
At the designated time, Gregory arrived in the company of his friend. He entered the Rebbe's room alone, with hesitant steps. The Rebbe greeted him warmly, offered him a seat and opened a conversation with him in Yiddish.
"At first, the Rebbe related to my profession as an air conditioning engineer, speaking with me about my area of expertise. I was positively astounded by the Rebbe's considerable knowledge in the field, and this helped breach the mental wall I had placed between the Rebbe and myself. Then, when the Rebbe began to speak with me about my mother, the barriers simply melted away.
"Suddenly, the Rebbe stopped speaking and surprised me with an unexpected question: 'Where do you have the right to make decisions on your own in matters pertaining to G-d?' The Rebbe continued, with determination, 'You are indeed a very intelligent person, but not more than G-d!'
"I was stunned. How did the Rebbe know what happened in the Czernovitz cemetery? The Rebbe then mentioned several other things about me, not even known to my wife and children...
"As the meeting continued, I got up my nerve and answered the Rebbe, leading to the following dialogue between us:
The Rebbe: I am asking you, Give G-d ten minutes each morning.
Me: This is very hard for me.
The Rebbe: Give five minutes. This is most important to G-d as well...
Me: Rebbe, a lot of time has passed since then...I'm simply not willing...
The Rebbe: One minute, no more!
Me: What can I possibly do in one minute?
The Rebbe: Put on tefilin and connect to G-d.
Me: I can't do anything in so short a time.
The Rebbe: Yes, you can. Just say "Shema Yisrael" and "Baruch Sheim K'vod."
"I eventually decided that I would at least put on tefilin. I would give G-d at least one minute each day. In the more than 30 years that followed, although I continued to live a totally secular lifestyle, I was stringent about putting on tefilin each weekday morning."
In March of 2010, Gregory's grandmother, Chaya Feyerberg, passed away at the age of 112. He felt that the most precious treasure in his life had been taken from him.
After the week of mourning ended, Gregory felt a sudden, strong desire to do something for his grandmother. He decided that he would return somewhat to the "good old days" of his childhood in Czernovitz. One day, as he was walking along Herzl Street in Rechovot, he noticed a Chabad tefilin stand. He stopped and began chatting with Rabbi Eliyahu Amsalem, who offered his condolences for his grandmother's passing and some words of encouragement. Gregory began attending Torah study classes regularly, and slowly but surely, started to observe the mitzvot that had been so dear to him in his youth.
A few months after his grandmother's passing, she appeared to him in a dream. "Hershel," she said, "you made a beautiful gravestone for me, and thank G-d you have gotten stronger since then. But what about my daughter, your mother, who is buried in Czernovitz? She hasn't been privileged to have an elevation of her neshama (soul) for many years now. I am asking you to say Kaddish for her at my grave on her yahrtzeit and to organize an event in her honor. I promise that those who participate in the yahrtzeit event will be blessed in all that they require."
Hershel awoke from his dream bathed in sweat. He remembered his mother had passed away on August 7, 1968. He checked and found that it corresponded to the Hebrew date of 13 Av.
Several days later, Hershel dreamt another dream - this time of the Rebbe. "Hershel, you made a mistake with the date of your mother's death. Check carefully on her death certificate!"
Hershel woke up and searched for his mother's death certificate. Indeed, the Rebbe was right. The date was August 1, 1969, 17 Av.
A special event was held in Rechovot on his mother's yahrtzeit, attended by hundreds of people who had heard about the promise made by Hershel's distinguished and righteous grandmother to all those who would attend.
Reprinted from Beis Moshiach Magazine
New Torah Scrolls
The Shul of Blouberg-West Coast in Capetown, South Africa, recently welcomed a new Torah scroll. The scroll, called the "Mumbai Torah," was dedicated in memory of Rabbi Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg (may G-d avenge their blood), the Rebbe's emissaries in Mumbai. Chabad of Flatbush in Brooklyn, New York, dedicated a new Torah scroll in memory of Avraham Dovid Liberow and Pesha Leah Azoulay who died tragically two years ago. The Torah will be placed in the Mitzva Tank that Flatbush Chabad operates. Chabad of South Beach in Miami, Florida, welcomed a Torah scroll that was purchased on ebay from a closed synagogue in Tel Aviv, Israel, and was painstakingly restored.
Shevat 2, 5692 (1932)
Translated from a letter of the Rebbe to the Previous Rebbe, and from a personal notation the Rebbe wrote to himself.
...I cannot refrain from asking for a good explanation, regarding an issue that I have had difficulty in understanding.
I hear it said repeatedly: "In Chabad, we are not interested in the performance of miracles by tzadikim (the righteous)." I have also come across similar remarks in the Rebbe's letters and writings on this subject. Chabad Chasidim are not particularly enthusiastic about miracle stories, and also tend to downplay any discussion of them.
Surely, the early Chasidim did not need [miracles], because their hearts and minds were pure and refined. But now, due to the difficulty and pressure of the times, hearts are heavy, and people are so absorbed with materialism that they are in sensitive to lofty matters of the soul. It seems that intellectual reasoning alone cannot affect them, because the reasoning is too refined for them to grasp.
Stories of miracles and wonders by tzadikim, however, elevate and uplift the soul, inspiring them to remove and shake off some of that materialism. Such stories can have a great positive effect...and are also beneficial for a person who finds himself in difficult circumstances.
It may seem, at first glance, that issues of logic and reasoning do not benefit from miraculous events. Matters of intellect must be founded upon a rational basis that is built on Torah and rabbinical logic.
A miracle provides no specific logical proof; it only serves as a general indication of the existence of a force that supersedes nature. It also testifies to the unique holiness of the tzadik who performed the miracle or to the truth of the issue which the miracles wished to prove.
All this can also give us a better understanding and logical grasp of the matter by rational means.
It also seems that nothing else can sublimate physical nature and provide spiritual uplift as a supernatural miracle, especially in these difficult times preceding Moshiach.
In the olden days, when people blindly followed false faiths and beliefs, the performance of a miracle made them realize their mistake. Back then, it was only necessary to prove that G-d is the only One, that His Kingdom reigns supreme in this world, and that all the planets and the solar system are "only an ax in the hand of the One who wields it." But faith itself did not need to be proven. Even ignorant people, with few exceptions, were all believers. The existence of the supernatural and the Divine control of nature were simply accepted.
During periods when people follow their intellect, however, claiming that there is nothing higher than rationale, miracles prove that there is indeed something higher than intellect - an Existence that supersedes nature, rational and logical definitions. G-d, Who created logic and its definitions, also has the ability to alter and change it as He wishes, for G-d is beyond limitation or impossibility.
All agree that the physical world as we see it is only secondary and peripheral to the spirit. The essence of creation and the true reality is spiritual, but people do not fully appreciate the greatness of the supernatural. A miracle thus shows them their error in this regard.
These days, when atheism is so prevalent, common thinking holds that there is nothing else to the world but natural law. People think that the spirit is only the result of the material, a mere form of expression, which has no real existence of its own.
The People of Israel are all believers in One G-d. Yet, because of the pressure of the times, the average person's faith is only superficial, and is not recognized and felt in the person's daily actions.
People have become overwhelmingly absorbed in the constant struggle of working for a living. A person's mind is reduced to serving only as a tool and a means for earning a livelihood. In time, this inevitably numbs a person's sensitivities, and blocks his mind and understanding.
An obvious miracle can thus elevate a person, even if it is only for a short while, from the deepest pit to the greatest heights, for he suddenly sees a burst of light in the enveloping darkness surrounding him. He begins to realize that the physical world around him is really not so dark, for it is really the Divine spirit that constantly sustains him, and that above all, the Creator of everything also rules and dominates this physical and material world.
Beruryah lived during the turbulent second century, c.e. She was the daughter of the martyr Chananiah ben Teradyon and the wife of the great Rabbi Meir. She excelled in knowledge of Jewish Law and her opinion is quoted a number of times in the Talmud. She is also known for her great moral stature and her sharp, biting wit. There are a number of famous stories quoted about her. When her two sons died on the Shabbat, she kept the knowledge from her husband in order to spare him grief on the holy day.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
In this week's Torah portion, Bo, we read about the mitzva of tefilin. In fact, two of the paragraphs from our portion are among the four paragraphs handwritten on parchment by a scribe and contained within the tefilin boxes. Among the verses are: "These words must also be a sign on your arm and a reminder between your eyes. G-d's Torah will then be on your tongue. It was with a show of strength that G-d brought you out of Egypt."
"Have you put on tefilin today?" That question has become a standard opening by Chabad-Lubavitch Yeshiva students and volunteers around the world as part of the Rebbe's tefilin campaign.
In 1967, just prior to the Six Day War, the Rebbe initiated the famous Tefilin Campaign.
At that time, the Rebbe stressed that the fulfillment of the mitzva of tefilin, in addition to its essential aspect as a commandment, is especially imperative at this time. It is important not merely for its protective quality as indicated in the Torah, "and they shall fear you" - the fear that is instilled in the hearts of the enemies of Israel as a result of the observance of this mitzva - but even more so for the Divine strength which the mitzva of tefilin bestows upon defenders of Israel to vanquish the enemy in the course of battle.
The Rebbe appealed that each and every male of 13 years and older should observe this mitzva. He also urged that by every possible means, everyone should spread and foster the observance of this precept among his fellow Jews, particularly those in the Israeli military defense forces, their relatives and friends.
"Living with the times" this week includes literally living with the mitzva of tefilin. So, have you put on tefilin today (or encouraged your brother, son or husband to do so)?
Also the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the eyes of Pharaoh's servants, and in the eyes of the people (Exodus 11:3)
It is very unusual for a person to be well-liked by both the nobility and the common folk. Ordinarily, an individual who is popular among one class is scorned by the other, for each group has different criteria by which they pass judgment. Moses' greatness was reflected in the fact that he was respected "in the eyes of Pharaoh's servants" - the ministers of Egypt's upper class - as well as "in the eyes of the people."
With a mighty hand G-d brought us forth out of Egypt (Exodus 13:14)
G-d's "mighty hand" was directed not only toward Pharaoh and the Egyptians but toward the Children of Israel, as some Jews preferred to remain in slavery and were redeemed by G-d against their will. Likewise, G-d will redeem us from our present exile with a "mighty hand," taking with Him even those Jews who might prefer to remain in exile.
This month shall be to you the beginning of months (Exodus 12:2)
The mitzva of the sanctification of the month is unique in that it brings holiness into the realm of time. Through this mitzva, a regular day is transformed into Rosh Chodesh - the beginning of the month, a day that is especially holy. Other mitzvot have the ability to bring holiness into only a limited area: the objects used to perform a mitzva. The mitzva of Rosh Chodesh, however, has the power to cause time itself to become holy. Once the Jewish court has declared a certain day to begin the month, the entire month - and the entire cycle of the year - is thus affected and sanctified as well.
The great yeshiva of Volozhin, like every other Torah institution was supported largely by the donations - large and small - of good-hearted Jews. The charity collector himself was a poor man who made his rounds of the villages, thus making a living for himself as well as the yeshiva. Once, when it was time to begin his trip, it dawned on him that he would make a much better impression on his potential contributors if he were dressed for the part. What must people think of him when he comes to their door dressed like a pauper. Why, it even reflected badly on the yeshiva, he thought.
With these new ideas in mind, the fund-raiser suggested to Reb Chaim, the head of the yeshiva, that he be outfitted in a respectable new suit. They were quick to agree to that request, but then he had another idea. Perhaps, he speculated, a horse and carriage would also help in his collection, for not only would it give him a better appearance, but it would enable him to get around more efficiently and cover more ground. Again, his point was well taken, and he received what he wanted.
The charity collector, outfitted like a gentleman now, felt an extra burst of energy as he set on his trip. The first stop he made was at the home of a certain wealthy peasant who had always been very generous with his donations. This time, however, it was a different story: the peasant was closed fisted and refused to give even a penny. The charity collector was baffled; now he was properly prepared for his job, and he met with a cold shoulder.
Disappointed and confused, the collector returned to Reb Chaim and confessed that his idea hadn't produced the intended results. Soon after, Reb Chaim himself visited the villager. He was greeted with all the honor and respect due a great scholar and he exchanged small talk with the peasant. But then he asked the pointed question which, after all, was the purpose of his visit: "Why have you stopped supporting the yeshiva?"
The peasant said, "Well, Rabbi, before when I gave money to the yeshiva, I was certain that it was going to a good cause, that I was actually supporting yeshiva students' learning. I felt happy with my deed, for I want to increase the learning of the holy Torah. But now, I see that I was wrong. This time, when your collector came to me, I saw a well-dressed man driving a new carriage. This is not where I want my money to be going, for such unnecessary and wasteful extras!"
Reb Chaim shook his head in agreement. "You know, you make sense, and I agree with you, but allow me to explain the true situation to you. You certainly know that it is written about Betzalel, who constructed the Sanctuary when the Jews were wandering in the desert, 'And I filled him with the spirit of G-d, with knowledge, intelligence and wisdom to know...to do creative labor...in gold and silver and copper.'
"From this verse, you might imagine that all the contributions that were given by the people were used in the actual construction of the Holy of Holies, but that is obviously not the case. The gifts which the people gave were used in all aspects of the building. Betzalel had the Divinely-inspired insight to see the intention of each individual donor. Those whose intentions were purely for the glory of G-d's name, merited that their contributions be directly for the Holy of Holies. For those whose gifts were given with the intention of enhancing their own reputations or importance, the donations went for other aspects of the Sanctuary. It all depended on the sincerity and purity of intent on behalf of the contributors.
"The same applies here," continued Reb Chaim. "Your donation was always made with a pure heart, and so, the money you gave to the yeshiva directly supported Torah study. There are others, though, whose motivations may be a little less pure. Sure, they want to help the yeshiva, but at the same time, they want honor for themselves. It is the contributions of these people which go to support other aspects of the yeshiva management. You see, the appearance of our charity collector and his means of transportation are also important in their own right, even though in a lesser way than the actual maintenance of our students."
The wealthy peasant was well pleased with Reb Chaim's explanation. "Rabbi, thank you so much for telling me this. The truth is that I felt very bad refusing the man, and now that I know my money will be used properly, I am ready to make my usual donation."
The redemption from Egypt did not represent a complete transformation of the material nature of the world. This is why the Jews had to "flee" from Egypt. Before the ultimate Redemption, our material environment will be refined and therefore "you will not leave in haste, nor will you take flight." The Jews will approach the Redemption with eagerness, but they will not be pressured by the constraints of this world. Instead, from a state of prosperity experienced within the context of this world, they will proceed to the ultimate well-being and eternal life of the Era of the Redemption.
(The Rebbe, 6 Shevat, 5752-1992)