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by Rabbi Berel Bell
On the whole, throughout history, neither Jewish nor non-Jewish philosophers have ever seriously doubted the existence of an Infinite Primary Cause of the creation. If the world was just a fantasy, neither your boss nor the IRS nor those thugs down the street would seem so threatening. There is, in fact, a branch of philosophy that proposes just that. Rather than a flimsy excuse to escape the demands of reality, it originally represented a valiant but mistaken attempt to solve one of the heady problems of existence.
On the whole, throughout history, neither Jewish nor non-Jewish philosophers have ever seriously doubted the existence of G-d. What they have grappled with, though, is a foreboding paradox: one does not immediately perceive this All-powerful Creator in the physical universe. "If He's all that great," the philosophical voice queries, "why don't I see Him?"
The easiest solution is to blame everything on the power of imagination. Dreamers who hold onto the idea that the universe is imaginary may bring a concept from the Torah to their defense. The concept "ain od milvado" ("there is nothing other than Him") is a basic one in Jewish thought. However, it means more than just that there is no god aside from Him. It means that there is no existence other than Him. If so, perhaps the universe really is one a fantasy!
Maimonides, in his explanation and enumeration of the mitzvot (commandment), clears the air by illustrating how G-d's existence is different from that of the universe. In the fourth of his six statements regarding understanding G-d, he says, "ain od milvado: this means that He is the only true existence."
When the Torah refers to something as being "true" (emet) it means that it does not change under any conditions. For this reason, a river that occasionally dries up is called by the Mishna a "false" river.
So, too, the universe is bound both in the past and in the future. It exists now, but there was a point at which it did not. And in the Messianic Age, the universe as it is now will cease to exist. Therefore, the Torah cannot call it a "true" existence, as its existence is only temporary. Rather, ain od milvado; G-d is the only existence which the Torah can call "true."
We see from this that the universe definitely does exist, and is not just a product of the mind. On the other hand, though, it is not a "true" existence as is that of G-d. His existence is independent of any other; G-d alone has no prior source or starting point.
Pondering these concepts, we fulfill the commandment of "knowing" G-d. Moreover, it greatly enhances our perspectives on all of the mitzvot.
The purpose of performing mitzvot with physical objects is to purify and elevate the physical world. Knowing that the world is not just an illusion or figment of the imagination is fundamental to this idea. In an imaginary universe there would be no need to do mitzvot. Doing a mitzva effects a real change in a real world.
On the other hand, knowing that the world is not a true existence as
G-d's existence is - eternal and unchanging - gives one the strength and conviction to overcome its whimsical trials. Everyday obstacles are not quite as real and absolute as they might seem. There is another Existence whose Will and Wisdom overshadow them.
This Shabbat is unique as reflected by the fact that three scrolls are taken out for the Torah reading. We read the weekly portion, Vayikra, from one scroll, the Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) reading from another, and the special "Hachodesh" reading from the third scroll.
This is a rare phenomenon. There are many occasions when two Torah scrolls are taken out, but taking out three scrolls is extremely uncommon.
Significantly, each of the readings concerns the first of the month of Nissan, the date of this Shabbat. The portion of Vayikra was communicated to Moses on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the day the Sanctuary was erected. The Hachodesh reading was also communicated to Moses on Rosh Chodesh Nissan (a year previously). Furthermore, it relates the commandment of sanctifying the months and thus shows a special connection between the ordinary Rosh Chodesh passage and Rosh Chodesh Nissan.
Surely we can derive a lesson in the service of G-d from the above concepts.
The prayer recited when a Torah scroll is removed from the ark begins, "Whenever the ark set out, Moses would say, 'Arise, O L-rd, and Your enemies will be dispersed; Your foes will flee before You.'"
This verse is relevant to every Jew, even in the present era, for every Jew possesses a spark of Moses within his soul. This spark brings about "Arise O L-rd," an increase in the service of holiness, and "Your enemies will be dispersed," the nullification of undesirable influences. Thus, taking out the Torah scrolls reflects both services of "turn away from evil" and "do good," the two prongs of our service of G-d, and endows that service with new strength and vigor.
Taking out three Torah scrolls represents a "chazaka," a strengthening and reinforcement in regard to our service which is above the ordinary, the revelation of a miraculous pattern of conduct. Furthermore, the chazaka established by the three Torah scrolls on Rosh Chodesh Nissan does not relate to a miraculous sequence of events as it exists above the worldly plane, but rather to the service of drawing this miraculous source of influence into contact with the natural order, elevating our ordinary conduct.
This week's three readings can thus be seen as a progression. The Hachodesh portion introduces the concept of a miraculous order of conduct. The Rosh Chodesh reading describes how this miraculous order of conduct can influence our ordinary lives, and Vayikra reveals how this fusion of the supra-natural with the natural can become a permanent and fixed dimension of our existence.
May this chazaka lead to our service in the Third Holy Temple, where "we will give thanks to You with a new song for our redemption and for the deliverance of our souls."
From a talk of the Rebbe, Parshat Vayikra 5751-1991
Estate Sales and Opportunities
by Zalman Goldstein
It was a sunny February Friday morning in Monsey, New York. A friend invited me to attend an Estate Sale. I've never been to an Estate Sale and was not even sure what one is. For some reason I decided to join along. Perhaps because he said it was just a few minutes' drive from where we were and it wouldn't take much time.
"Here's to new experiences," I thought, and hopped into his car.
We arrived at the advertised address. We parked in front and went inside. The house was small and cozy. People were milling about picking up knick-knacks asking for prices, a dollar fifty for this, four dollars for that, said a good natured middle-aged man.
The owner was an elderly woman and her daughter and son were handling the logistics of the sale, haggling and making small talk with the slow moving crowed filing through the house.
Deeper in the house I saw a dining room table stacked with all kinds of effects for sale. In the middle was a ceramic Matza dish and two brass candlesticks. I didn't pay much attention to them at the time. Not really interested, I thought.
Being my first Estate Sale experience, I noticed I was feeling some sadness seeing 50-60 years of memories laid out bare, with people buying bits and pieces of that life. Yet the family seemed cheerful enough which helped me feel better about the whole thing.
At the end my friend and I both found something to buy costing just a few dollars, if just to make the owners happy.
On the way out, the older woman said to us "Good Shabbos." We wished her a "Good Shabbos" and left.
Driving away, the image of the candlesticks for sale on that dining room table stayed in my mind like a super-imposed image that doesn't fade easily. Why am I still thinking about them? I thought. Soon I felt more clarity - they had a mission I was to do for them and I completely missed the opportunity.
It was close to noon, time to pick up the children from school. On the way, the candlesticks spoke louder. I felt I understood their plan. I wasn't going to let them down this time.
I stopped by a bakery and picked up a fresh Challa, the plan becoming more alive, then, after collecting the kids from school and cluing them in on our mission, I stopped off at home to pick up two candles and the accompanying glass holders that sit atop candlesticks, and my book, The Shabbat Table Companion.
We wound our way back to the woman's house all the while hoping the candlesticks weren't sold in the meantime.
The plan was now in full motion. I was excited. As were the kids.
We parked in the same spot, piled out of the van and filed inside.
Yes, the candlesticks were still there!
I searched out the older woman and asked her if the candlesticks were for sale.
"Yes," she replied, going to search for her son to give us a price.
"Eight dollars for the pair," he said.
"Deal," I said while pulling out my wallet and giving him the money.
The mother went to the table, took the candlesticks and put them in my hands. "Here!"
I held them, my kids watching my every move. I then looked her gently in the eye and spoke. "You know why I came all the way back and bought these candlesticks?"
"No. Not particularly."
"I came back together with my children to buy them so we can gift them back to you, so that these candlesticks can stay in your dining room, continuing to illuminate your home every Friday and holiday night."
Tears welled up in her eyes. My eyes soon became misty as well.
Our daughter Hindy gave her the bag with the candles and glass holders. Moishy gave her the Challa. Chana gave her The Shabbat Table Companion.
Her son came over to see what was transpiring, her daughter following close behind. She told them what we had done, choking up and unsuccessfully fighting her tears.
It was a very emotionally laden moment.
There were hugs and tears between them. Even the eyes of the strangers who were there rummaging through the estate items - Jews and non-Jews - stopped to stare as if overcome by the outpouring of G-dly light radiating from the Jewish souls of this beautiful family.
The mother finally spoke and told us her Hebrew name is Tziporah. She had gone to Hebrew school as a child but not much followed. She said she warmly accepts our gift and "already knows the brochos (blessings)...".
On our way out her son said to me, "Just as you offered Mom a gift, we want to give you a gift. Take the money back as our gift to you."
I declined and asked instead that they share part of the merit of the mitzva (commandment) of lighting Shabbat and Holiday candles with my family.
"Agreed!" he said. Mom and daughter also nodding their heads.
We left as we came, the way back traveling on spiritual clouds - that sense of being part of something bigger. Something raw and deep connected our Jewish souls so quickly, so deeply and so profoundly. It was this feeling that kept us warm on the winter day as we got ready for Shabbat.
Above everything else, I am glad our children got to experience our unique "transaction." I hope the experience planted the seeds to have "Mitzva Eyes" - seeing an opportunity where there isn't one apparent at first glance.
Zalman Goldstein is the founder of The Jewish Learning Group, publisher of the popular Shabbat Table Companion, Going Kosher in 30 Days, and nearly a dozen Jewish educational books; he is also the producer of the Chabad Classics music series. He can be reached at Zalman@ZalmanGoldstein.com.
Finding the Joy in Everyday Living
Finding the Joy in Everyday Living by Rabbi Pesach Scheiner, has the potential to make a real change for the good in your life. It provides concrete answers, through inspiring stories and simple messages, for the difficult challenges we all face. The path it suggests requires more effort than the quick-fix formulas, but the results are tangible and real. It is built on the premise that happiness does not come by finding what is missing in your life, but by appreciating and maximizing the blessings you already have in all aspects of your life. Delve into this little book and see if you don't find yourself smiling... and doing things a little differently.
22nd of Adar II, 5733 
...First of all, I want to express my gratification at your response to the suggestions which I proposed to you during your visit here. It was, of course, a pleasure to make your personal acquaintance.
Frankly, I had wondered what your reactions might be to my "un-American" manner of welcoming you. For, the accepted American way, if I am not mistaken, is to greet one with a shower of compliments and praise even if not always fully merited.
In your case, of course, it would have been very well deserved credit, for I was fully aware of your accomplishments and generosity on behalf of the Lubavitch work in your community, given in the best tradition of inspiration and dedication, even to the extent of getting your friends involved in it. Yet, instead of verbalizing my appreciation at length, I glossed over it briefly, and immediately challenged you with new and formidable projects.
However, the fact is that I felt impelled to use the precious time at our disposal to discuss with you those matters which, in my estimation, are of vital importance, namely the expansion of our program in Miami and also the project in our Holy Land, knowing that however much we could extend the late hour, the time would still be too short to discuss the vital need of these matters in all their ramifications.
My guiding principle in this case, as when meeting with people in general, is the bon mot I heard from my father-in-law of saintly memory: "When two Jews meet, they should not be content with the benefit that the meeting brings to each of them, but they should immediately be concerned with the prospect of bringing a benefit to a third Jew, a fourth, and to as many Jews as possible."
Moreover, I was hopeful that you would accept my suggestions in the right spirit, precisely because you have already made a magnificent start. And as I wrote to you in my previous letter, quoting our Sages of blessed memory, "He who has 100 desires 200," etc., or, in other words, since achievement is the greatest incentive to further and more ambitious achievement, I had reason to believe that your achievement in the past will widen your horizons and intensify your desire for even greater things. Hence, without losing time, I embarked upon the practical aspects of our meeting for the benefit of so many of our fellow Jews. This, I felt, would ensure also our share of the benefit, yours and mine, and yours even more than mine, since the actual implementation of these projects is something which Divine Providence has entrusted in your hands...
In the light of all that has been said above, you can well understand that your letter has greatly relieved my mind, for you have indeed shown yourself big enough to overlook the scanty praise and to give serious and favorable attention to the tasks at hand. I feel certain that the Zechus [merit] of your good deeds already accomplished has stood you in good stead...
Finally, with reference to the conclusion of your letter, on the subject of ritual observance, I need not emphasize to you, a successful businessman, that although knowledge and motivation etc. are very desirable things, the essential thing, after all, is the actual deed.
As for the "disappointment" at the lack of greater progress, I would like to cite a basic Chasidic principle, actually deriving from the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman], in his classical work, the Tanya.
It is to the effect that inasmuch as a Jew must utilize to the full all his capacities towards increasing the good and the holy within himself and the environment, "disappointment" (which usually is a negative factor, being closely linked with discouragement) can also be converted into a positive force, to redouble one's efforts in the right direction. Indeed, it can be made into a springboard for an even greater accomplishment, as in the case of a person who has to make a wide leap, which he can do only by going back - in his feelings of satisfaction not, G-d forbid, in doing Mitzvos [commandments] - a few steps in order to gain momentum for that extra leap.
May G-d grant that your hope for complete observance will be realized even sooner than you expect, and the Zechus Horabim (the benefit for many) will help you, since your way of life and conduct will surely be an inspiration to many.
With esteem and with blessings for good tidings...
Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneerson
Rabbi Sholom DovBer Schneerson of Lubavitch, who was known by the acronym, the Rebbe Rashab, was born in 1860 and passed away in 1920. He was the son and successor of Rabbi Shmuel, the Rebbe Maharash, and was himself the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe. Because of his systematic, intellectual approach to the teaching of Chasidut, he became known as "the Maimonides of Chasidut." He was the founder of the Lubavitcher Yeshiva, Tomchei Temimim
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The second of Nissan is the anniversary of the passing in 1920 of the fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Dovber, known as the Rebbe Rashab.
Before his passing, the Rebbe Rashab told his son and successor, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok (the sixth and Previous Rebbe), "I am going up to heaven; my writings I am leaving for you."
A scant perusal of the Rebbe Rashab's writings brings to light the following gems:
"A single act is better than a thousand groans. Our G-d lives, and Torah and mitzvot (commandments) are eternal; quit the groaning and work hard in actual spiritual work, and G-d will be gracious to you."
"Cherish criticism, for it will place you on the true heights."
"When Moshiach will come, then we will really long for the days of exile. Then we will truly feel distress at our having neglected our avoda (spiritual work); then will we indeed feel the deep pain caused by our lack of avoda. These days of exile are the days of avoda, to prepare ourselves for the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our time, amen."
"And this is the main thing in these last moments before Moshiach, that we don't go according to our intellect and our reasoning. Rather, we should fulfill Torah and mitzvot above and beyond what reason dictates."
"The avoda of serving G-d according to Chasidut comprises all kinds of levels... the level of "corpse" does not need much elaboration; but, thank G-d, there is also "revival of the dead" in spiritual work. A corpse is cold; there is nothing as frigid as natural intellect, human intellect. When one's natural intelligence comprehends a G-dly concept, and the emotions latent in intellect are enthused and moved by the pleasure-within-intellect-that is true revival of the dead."
May we immediately merit the Final Redemption, when all righteous Jews (and all Jews are considered righteous!) will be resurrected with the Revival of the Dead.
And the L-rd called ("Vayikra") to Moses (Lev. 1:1)
The word "vayikra" is written in this verse with an alef smaller than the other letters of that word. This alludes to Moses' great humility, for "vayikra" with an alef indicates that G-d called Moses with an extra measure of love. The Torah tells us that "the skin of Moses's face shone" with a special radiance. According to the Midrash, when Moses was writing the Torah, he took some extra ink and rubbed it on his forehead, causing his skin to glow. This extra ink was left over from the alef of "Vayikra": G-d had wanted Moses to write it with a regular-sized alef, whereas Moses didn't want to write it at all. As a compromise, Moses made the alef tiny, and thus had a small amount of ink left over from the exact amount G-d gave him.
Every one of your meal-offerings shall you season with salt (Lev. 2:13)
The world is divided into three parts: 1/3 desert, 1/3 inhabited land, and 1/3 sea. The Midrash relates, the sea rose up in protest. "Master of the Universe!" it cried, "the Torah was given in the desert, and the Holy Temple was built on land. What are You going to give to me?" "Do not worry," G-d replied. "All the sacrifices that will be brought by the Jewish people upon the altar will be 'seasoned with salt' [which comes from the sea]."
If any person sin, because he hears the voice of adjuration (Lev. 5:1)
If a Jew sees someone committing a certain transgression, it is a sure sign that the same sin exists within him. The reason G-d caused him to witness this is so that he will be able to correct his own flaw.
(The Baal Shem Tov)
In years gone by, it was not unusual for Chasidim to spend extended periods of time in their rebbe's presence, where they would fine-tune their own character traits and learn a path of spiritual service that would become the basis for their own spiritual endeavors.
Once, the tzadik, Reb Michel of Zlotchov, sent one of his Chasidim to another town to learn the attribute of trust in G-d from a simple, unlearned Jew. The Chasid remained in that town for many weeks, observing that individual and learning how to perfect his trust in the Creator.
Finally, when the time came to leave, the Chasid made his way home, pondering the lessons he had learned. He was walking down the road lost in thought, when he was shaken by the cries and screams of women and children. The Chasid looked up to see two Jewish women, bound in chains, being dragged down the road by two large, muscular gentile guards. He ran after the party and asked the women, "What has happened to you?"
The weeping women replied to him, "Our husbands leased the inn which belongs to the master of the village and they owe him a lot of rent. When they couldn't pay the rent, the master took us and he says he will kill us!"
The Chasid told the guards, "I will go to your master and I will pay the entire debt." They all went to the house of the master of the village, but instead of finding him, they found the manager of the estate. When the Chasid explained his intention to repay the debt, the manager was very willing to make the deal.
"Here is 150 rubles and I will sign a note for the balance," the Chasid said. "You don't know my master," said the manager. "He's not the type to settle for less than the whole amount. He's waited a long time for these Jews to pay up! Either you produce the whole amount, or the deal is off!"
The Chasid had no choice but to comply, for the fate of two Jewish families was at stake. He laid all his money on the table, but was still short. Then he went and pawned whatever possessions he had to amass the entire sum of money. The manager took the money and released the captives.
The Chasid continued on his journey home, giving thanks to the Creator for having given him the privilege of performing the exalted mitzva (commandment) of redeeming captives. Before dark, the Chasid stopped at an inn to rest for the night. He soon fell into conversation with another Jewish traveler, who, by the look of his clothing, was a wealthy merchant.
The wealthy Jew asked him many questions. It so happened that the two men came from the same town. They passed the entire evening in conver-sation, until the dawn broke and it was time to recite the morning prayer.
The Chasid mentioned to his new acquaintance the names of the towns he intended to pass through on his trip home. "I have a relative living in the town of R--, not far from the road you will be taking. For some time I have been looking for a trustworthy messenger with whom I could send him inheritance money. Perhaps you would agree to do this favor for me?"
The Chasid agreed at once. He wouldn't have to go far out of his way, and he was happy to be able to do yet another favor for a fellow Jew. He took the money and carefully sewed it into the lining of his jacket. The wealthy merchant thanked him warmly and offered to compensate him for his trouble, but the Chasid refused, saying, "It is really no trouble for me to make a short detour, and I'm glad to be able to help you out."
But the merchant persisted, saying, "I promise you that your mitzva will stand intact, even though you accept this small gift from me." At last the Chasid agreed to take the money, for indeed, he had not even enough to pay for his night's stay at the inn. The two men shook hands and went their separate ways.
The Chasid finally came to the little town and asked around for the man, but no one recognized the name or the description. He was puzzled, for the merchant had entrusted him with an enormous sum of money. He certainly must have known that his relative lived in that town. Perhaps he was a recluse, or lived on the outskirts of the town. The Chasid decided to spend a few days in the town in the hope that he would discover the whereabouts of the lost relative, but all his searching was in vain.
It was a very downhearted man who returned to Zlotchov, to the court of Reb Michel. The Chasid went into the room of his rebbe and related to him all he had learned about his service to the Al-mighty; how he had learned to put his trust entirely in his Creator with a pure and simple belief. He also told the rebbe about his encounter with the two women and how he had ransomed them from their cruel captors.
Finally, he told the tzadik about his meeting with the wealthy merchant who had entrusted him to deliver the inheritance to the relative who could not be found. "Rebbe," said the man, sadly, "In this last mission which was entrusted to me I regret that I have failed, and now, I have a great sum of money which I cannot deliver to its rightful owner."
Reb Michel smiled at him and replied, "Let me offer you the explanation of what you experienced. In the merit of the great mitzva of redeeming the two Jewish women, angels were created as your advocates in the Heavenly Court. The man you took for a wealthy merchant was really an angel which was created by your merciful deed, and the money he gave you is for you to make use of with a happy and peaceful heart."
The revelations of Moshiach in this world will be after the ingathering of the exiles... after the exiles will be gathered by Moshiach then he can be a king over them...and then the revelations of Moshiach will begin.
(From a letter of the Rebbe Rashab)