Not a Private Matter | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | The Rebbe Writes
A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count | It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger
Whenever the Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote public letters (such as the one reprinted in this issue of L'Chaim), he would address them "To the Sons and Daughters of
Our People Israel, Everywhere." For the Rebbe did not see himself as addressing merely his own followers, but as reaching to the Jewish people as a whole.
To cite a parallel from the Torah: After Pharaoh's unsettling dreams of the seven cows and the seven ears of grain, he turned to his advisers for an interpretation. They told him, for example, "You will father seven daughters, but then they will die." Pharaoh rejected their explanations, but he readily accepted Yosef's explanation. What was the difference?
The interpretations of his advisers were personal, relating to Pharaoh as an individual; Yosef's interpretation touched upon the whole nation. Even Pharaoh understood that if G d sends a message to the leader of a people, it will not address a private matter, but will be of consequence to all the members of his nation. With concern for every member of our people as an individual and the entire nation as a collective, he has endowed us with a vision that lifts us beyond our narrow, personal identities and inspires depth, purpose and joy.
In one of his letters, the Rebbe writes that from childhood on, he had a vision of the era of Moshiach, how the Jewish people would be redeemed from exile and build a perfect society. From his assumption of the leadership of the Lubavitch movement in 1950 onward, he made that vision, not only his individual goal, but the goal of the movement, and indeed, of the Jewish people as a whole, stating: "We are in the midst of the period when the approaching footsteps of Moshiach can be heard. Indeed, we are at the conclusion of this period. Our task is to complete the process of drawing down the Divine Presence... so that it should rest within our lowly world."
Year after year, the relevance of this goal became heightened. In the period before suffering the stroke from which he did not recover, the Rebbe gave the mission a sense of immediacy, declaring: Everyone should realize the uniqueness of the present time. We are on the verge of the dawning of an era of peace, prosperity, and knowledge to be introduced by the coming of Moshiach. Everyone can hasten the coming of this era by sharing this awareness with others and increasing their deeds of goodness and kindness.
On the Rebbe's birthday, the 11th day of Nissan (occurring Tuesday, April 3 this year) this goal becomes more cogent and powerful. The Redemption can be seen as an emerging reality that we can anticipate in our own lives and share with others.
This week's Torah portion, Tzav, contains the laws of various offerings, as well as an account of the installation of the priests by Moses before the entire Jewish people. The thanksgiving offering - korban toda - was brought to express one's gratitude to G-d, but only in specific instances. According to Rashi, these are "after having gone down to the sea, traveled through deserts, been released from prison, or recovered from illness."
These four categories are only alluded to in the Torah portion, but are openly enumerated in the Book of Psalms, where we are told exactly which circumstances require a thanksgiving offering. After listing these miracles, King David wrote: "Let them praise the L-rd for His loving kindness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men."
In truth, if we were obligated to thank G-d for all of His kindnesses, we would be busy bringing thanksgiving offerings a whole day. Our Sages tell us that "A person should praise the Creator for each and every breath he takes."
Similarly, three times a day we say in our prayers: "We will give thanks to You and recount Your praise evening, morning and noon." But not all of G-d's miracles require a thanksgiving offering; that sacrifice is reserved for the four specific instances mentioned in Psalms.
Interestingly, the commentator Rashi changes the order in which they are listed. Rashi's sequence is as follows: those who have made a journey by sea, traveled through deserts, been freed from prison, and recovered from illness.
This particular order reflects the experiences of the Jewish people during their exodus from Egypt. The first miracle that occurred was "going down to sea" - the splitting of the Red Sea. Next, they traveled through the desert. Then, for 40 years they were "imprisoned" in the desert, which surrounded them on all sides. "A sick person who recovers from illness," is enumerated last, as it is a miracle that occurs to an individual rather than an entire group.
In actuality, however, we find that the Jewish people were not obligated to bring a thanksgiving offering for any of these. A thanksgiving offering is brought only in cases involving a danger; because the Children of Israel left Egypt at the specific command of G-d Who guided them, their sojourn through the desert was entirely without risk. Nonetheless, it illustrates the specific miracles that would require a thanksgiving offering in normal circumstances.
This contains a practical lesson for every Jew: Even though G-d provides us with all our needs during the exile, we must never forget that we are still "imprisoned." This awareness should increase our longing for Moshiach, who will liberate us from our spiritual and physical imprisonment and usher in the Final Redemption.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 12
Four Pairs of Tefilin?!
From a talk by Rabbi Moshe Feller transcribed by Rabbi Shmuel Lesches
It was 1968. The Lubavitcher Rebbe's Tefilin campaign was central to my activities when I first arrived as an emissary of the Rebbe in the "Twin Cities" of Minneapolis and S. Paul, Minnesota. Together with the other emissary in the Twin Cities, Rabbi Asher Zelingold, I would frequent the Hillel building at the University of Minnesota campus to put on Tefilin with the students.
The rabbi at Hillel, Lewis Milgrom, was quite friendly with me. One time, Rabbi Milgrom approached me and asked, "Moish, you know that I already put Tefilin on every day, so what do you have to offer me?"
I responded: "For you, I have Rabbeinu Tam, I have Ra'avad, and I have Shimusha Rabba. I have all four pairs of Tefilin!"
Incredulous, Rabbi Milgrom asked, "Do you mean to say that there are people who put on four pairs of Tefilin?" I went on to explain that the Rebbe and certain select Chasidim would don four pairs of Tefilin daily, so that their observance conformed with the opinions of Rashi, Rabbeinu Tam, the Raavad and the Shimusha Rabba. From that point on, the phrase "four pairs of Tefilin" became our buzzwords every time we met.
About six months later, I attended a private audience with the Rebbe, together with my wife. At the private audience (yechidut), the Rebbe informed me that the B'nai Brith had chosen Rabbi Milgrom to open a Hillel House at a university campus in Melbourne, Australia. "You should tell him, and you may tell him in my name, that he should not think that what he could not accomplish (in terms of religious observance) at the University of Minnesota, he won't be able to achieve in Australia. There, the students are more open to religious experience."
The Rebbe added with a smile, "I do not mean that he has to initiate four pairs of Tefilin over there!"
When I recounted this yechidut to Rabbi Milgrom, he was amazed; neither of us had told the Rebbe about our discussions and constant references to four pairs of Tefilin.
I once participated in an Israel Solidarity Mission, organized by the Jewish Federation of the Twin Cities. One of the places we visited was the Park Hotel in Netanya, which is the site of one of the most devastating suicide bombing attacks carried out by the enemies of Israel. On the first night of Passover in 2002, as hundreds of guests were preparing to enjoy the Seder in the dining hall, a Hamas suicide terrorist arrived disguised as a woman and detonated himself. The terror attack left 29 civilians dead and 155 wounded.
We arrived at the hotel, and we were taken to the exact spot in the hotel's dining room where the terrorist blew himself up. A memorial was displayed, with pictures of those who perished in the attack, a yahrtzeit candle and a charity box. The mood amongst the delegates was somber as one rabbi chanted the "Kail Malei Rachamim" prayer Another rabbi led the delegation in singing of "Am Yisrael Chai" - the Jewish people live.
Then it was my turn to speak. I turned to my fellow delegates, and I said, "Friends, in this place where our enemies tried to negate the fact that 'Am Yisrael Chai,' in this very place, we will demonstrate that 'Am Yisrael Chai' - not just by declaring it, but by acting upon it and putting on Tefilin." The group was extremely receptive, and I proceeded to put Tefilin with all those who had not yet done so that day.
In the subsequent review of the Israel Solidarity Mission, the president of the Federation recounted, "My most inspiring moment of the entire tour was when Rabbi Feller put on Tefilin with me on the exact spot where the terrorists took 29 lives."
Inspired by the Rebbe's avid encouragement of education for all Jewish women, my wife and I, together with Rabbi Manis Friedman, founded Bais Chana, a place where women with little or no formal Jewish education can rediscover their heritage. It was only natural that I quickly developed ties with our sister-institution in Crown Heights, Machon Chana, whose mission statement was very similar to our own.
In its early years, our family was brought from Minnesota to run the Passover Seders at Machon Chana. On the first night of Passover, the Rebbe was accustomed to visiting several Seders in Crown Heights; the Seder of the Central Lubavitcher Yeshivah, the Seder at "Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe," and the Seder at the Machon Chana dormitory. The Rebbe would come in and observe that everyone and everything was ready for the Seder, and he also made a point of visiting the kitchen and thanking the cooks for their efforts.
In 1977, when visiting Machon Chana, the Rebbe asked one of his secretaries, Rabbi Leibl Groner, who would be asking the "four questions" at the Seder. The Rebbe was told that it would be my young son Mendel. The Rebbe turned to Mendel and asked him in Yiddish, "Du kenzt di fir kashes; du kenzt zei b'al peh?" Mendel understood Yiddish quite well, but he became bashful at being addressed by the Rebbe. The Rebbe then repeated the question in English, "Do you know the four questions; do you know them by heart?" Young Mendel nodded his head. The Rebbe then pointed to me and asked, "Does he know the answers?" Everyone in the room laughed at the Rebbe's humorous comment. The Rebbe gave his blessing and left.
The next day, the Rebbe returned to his room after the holiday prayers. Suddenly, one of the Rebbe's secretaries, Rabbi Binyomin Klein, came over to me and started marching me to the Rebbe's room. We arrived at the entrance to the Rebbe's room, and he instructed me to wait.
The Rebbe appeared at the door and told me, "The question that I asked you last night was misunderstood by the assembled as humorous. However, I didn't mean it in jest."
The Rebbe went on to explain, "A child is not interested in ceremonies. So the question that a Jewish child has at the Seder is, 'We went through all of this last year! Why are we repeating it again this year?' "
The Rebbe continued, "Sometimes, the English language conveys the meaning of a word better than Hebrew or Yiddish. When a person makes an oral recitation, it is referred to in Hebrew as B'al Peh (verbal recitation), and in Yiddish as oiserveinik (outside). However, in English, it is referred to as 'by heart.' When a child asks the four questions by heart, he means them with his full heart."
The Rebbe added, "And when I asked if you know the answers, my intention was whether you could explain to your child that this year's Seder is in fact a totally new experience, and not merely a repeat of last year's experience."
The Rebbe concluded, "Since you are having your meals at Machon Chana you will explain to the girls my question, and give them the answer."
Freely translated and excerpted from a letter of the Rebbe dated Rosh Chodesh Nissan, 5743 (1983)
To the Sons and Daughters of
Our People Israel, Everywhere
G-d bless you all!
Greeting and Blessing:
Every festival contains general and particular instructions pertaining not only to the festival days themselves, but also for every day all year round. This is especially so regarding Passover, the first of all our festivals.
The above refers to all aspects of the festival, and even more strongly to those relating to the festival's main features, particularly those that do not change with time and place, which are applicable in actual practice both during the time of the Holy Temple as well as in the time of Exile everywhere alike.
One of the festival's four names, Zman Cheiruseinu (Season of Our Liberation) is mentioned many times in the prayers and blessings, etc., recited during the festival. It reflects aspects which are pertinent in actual practice always, also now and in every place.
What is the relevance and meaning of Cheirus (liberation) and its significance, instruction and influence, in regard to every day of the year?
Season of Our Liberation, signifies not only the liberation of our Jewish people from physical slavery in Egypt of old; but also, literally, our true liberation, namely, the liberation of every Jew, man and woman, in terms of a personal "Yetzias Mitzrayim," (going out of Egypt). The Haggadah itself declares, "Not our ancestors alone did the Holy One Blessed be He deliver from Egypt, but also us has He delivered with them."
This concept is connected with the ultimate intent and purpose of the liberation from Egypt, which G-d revealed to Moses, as stated in the Torah: "When you will lead the people out of Egypt, you will worship G-d on this Mount (Sinai)." In other words, the ultimate purpose and goal of the Exodus from Egypt was to receive and accept the Torah at Sinai, to implement it and live accordingly. For it is only through Torah and mitzvos (commandments) that a Jew attains true liberation: liberation from spiritual slavery, meaning: freedom from outside influences (especially not to be overwhelmed by the surrounding world, and get rid of any slavish inferiority complex to the non-Jewish world, and the like); as well as liberation from inner proclivities and habits, one's personal "Mitzrayim" (literally, "limitations") which preclude a Jew from attaining the fullest completeness," both individually as well as a part of the completeness" of our Jewish people, through mutual love and identity (Ahavas Yisroel - love of a fellow Jew - in its fullest sense).
One of the strongest obstacles to overcome is the natural disposition to self-love, egoism and the feeling of self-importance, which may cause divisiveness and separateness between Jew and Jew, G-d forbid.
Incidentally, this also explains why the "Season of our Liberation" is connected with the announcement (at the beginning of the Seder, which is conducted in a manner of freedom): "Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat; whoever is in need, let him come and share Passover with us" - an invitation that is extended not just to relatives and good friends, but to "whoever is hungry" and "whoever is in need" - to any and all Jews without distinction, in keeping with true love of a fellow Jew to all Jews (not just to one's relatives and good friends).
For the same reason, when the original "Season of Our Liberation" was approaching and Pharaoh was presented with the order to let the Jewish people go, the condition was made from the start: "We shall go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters," etc., as it came to pass indeed when all the Jewish people, comprising each and all the tribes, left Egypt, and not a single Jew was left behind in Egyptian exile - all the Jews together, without distinction, were liberated and all in the same instant.
Observing the holiday of Passover properly enables one to become liberated from all limitations and distractions and able to carry out the G-d-given mission, "I was created to serve my Maker," through adherence to the Torah and Mitzvos - especially the Mitzva which is the Great Principle of the Torah, namely, love of one's fellow Jew; and also in areas of secular activities, livelihood, etc. one is able to fulfill the obligation of "Know Him in all your ways" and "Let all your actions be for the sake of Heaven," doubly good, "good to Heaven and good to mankind." And all this is accomplished with joy and gladness of heart - in fullest recognition of G-d's assurance: "I am the L-rd, your G-d, who brings you up from Egypt." that G-d constantly delivers, "elevates," every Jew from the Exile in the land of Egypt.
May G-d grant that everyone of us should have a truly kosher Passover materially and spiritually, and enjoy true cheirus from all matters that do not conduce to, peace of the soul and "peace" of the body.
And this should be a preparation for the imminent complete liberation that the complete and true Redemption will bring to each and all Jews.
With esteem and blessing for a Kosher and joyful Passover
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 Tuesday, April 3) marks the Rebbe's 110th birthday, and so, we begin reciting chapter 111.
This chapter of Psalms was composed according to the Hebrew alphabet. Each verse contains two or three words that begin with Hebrew letters in alphabetical order. For example, the first verse has the words Odeh and B'Sod (alef and bet) the second verse G'dolim and Drushim (gimmel and dalet), etc. The Psalm is short - only 10 verses - but important. It describes the great works that G-d has wrought.
Verse six is a pivotal one. It reads: "He has declared the power of His works to His people saying: That He will give them the inheritance of the nations."
This verse serves as the theme for the introduction to his commentary on the Torah of foremost Biblical commentator Rashi. Rashi quotes Rabbi Yitzchak and explains that the Torah starts with the creation of the world to establish the first and most fundamental law: the world and everything in it belongs to G-d. G-d, thus has the "right and power to give anything in the world to whomever He chooses. This is not meant to be a statement to convince the non-Jewish nations of the world as to the validity of the legitimacy of the claim of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, Rather, it is to strengthen the Jewish people if and when, G-d forbid, they waver in their right to possess the entire land of Israel and to dispossess those who have lived in the Land of Israel, even for generations and millennia. G-d has bequeathed the Holy Land to His people.
There is, of course, a deeper explanation to this verse as well. The Rebbe explains that the purpose of the soul's descent into exile, dispersed among the nations of the world, is to elevate the entire universe to G-dliness. The strength for this comes to us from G-d. For, according to Chasidic teachings, "He has declared the power of His works to His people" means that G-d has given the power to His people to elevate all that needs to be elevated.
May we merit immediately the ultimate elevation of the entire universe and the complete possession of the Land of Israel with pride and dignity with the complete revelation of Moshiach NOW!
This is the law of the burnt offering (Torat ha'ola), it is the burnt offering that shall burn upon the fire (mokda) (Lev. 6:2)
The great Chasidic masters used to say: When does a person's Torah study ascend on High? (The word "ola," burnt offering, comes from the Hebrew root meaning to ascend.) When it "burns upon the fire" - when the Torah is studied with a fiery enthusiasm. However, the Hebrew letter "mem" of the word "mokda," fire, is written smaller than the other letters. This teaches that the main part of the "flame" should remain within, and not draw attention to itself.
And he shall lift up the ashes left from the burnt-offering which the fire consumed on the altar (Lev. 6:3)
A person wishing to witness a fiery, all-consuming service of G-d need not search among the elite; let him better look among the simple Jews who serve G-d with all their heart, for there he will find a true, holy fire.
(The Magid of Mezeritch)
And he shall take off his garments, and put on other garments (Lev. 6:4)
Comments Rashi: "A person should not wear the same clothes while cooking for his master that he wears to pour his wine." The High Priest was obligated to change his clothes before performing his service in Holy Temple; the garments he wore while cleaning the altar were inappropriate for the exalted task. Similarly, it is a mitzva (commandment) to change one's clothing in honor of the holy Sabbath.
(Maharsha, on Tractate Shabbat)
In 1985, Rabbi Yehouda Shvartz, a Lubavitcher Chasid in Paris, was a truck driver for "Orly," importers of kosher food from Israel to France. The company was owned by Rabbi Daniel Amram, also a member of the Lubavitch community in Paris.
Once, as Yehouda was driving a used truck that been purchased two weeks earlier, he realized that the brakes didn't work. He was nearing a red light at a busy intersection. He had two choices: to continue forward and kill many people G-d forbid, or turn left towards the bridge and fall into the river.
Yehouda turned the wheel sharply and rammed into the side of the bridge. The truck broke through the railing but then remained suspended half over the water and the other half on the bridge. Emergency personnel worked for hours to extricate him. The next day all the French newspapers carried a photo of his truck balanced on the bridge's edge. G-d had made a miracle!
The police investigation uncovered that the brakes had been faulty for quite awhile. An inquest was to be held to determine the responsibility for the accident. The damage to the bridge was 25,000,000 francs and according to the finding of the judge, one or more of the parties would have to pay. In addition to Rabbi Amram, as the owner of the vehicle, and Yehouda, the driver, there was also an extremely wealth elderly gentleman who owned the company that had been responsible for repairing the truck. Each party came with lawyers who would argue that someone else was to blame.
But when the elderly man saw Yehouda and Rabbi Amram - with their beards and black hats - in the courtroom, to the amazement of the judge and the lawyers from both sides, he said: "It's not important to me who is at fault. I agree to pay the damages, the fine and the expenses of the case."
The judge was so taken aback that he waived the fine. He only had to pay for the damage that the truck had done to the retaining fence of the bridge. Then, the man said that he would take the truck to be fixed at a garage near his home and he would pay all the expenses.
Three weeks went by and Rabbi Amram got a phone call. The wealthy man was in Paris and could drive Yehouda back to the mechanic and get the truck which was now fixed. A half hour into the ride, the gentleman started asking Yehouda about Judaism. Yehouda, still shaken by the trauma of the accident, was not really interested in getting into a conversation.
"I once knew a rabbi," the man reminisced. "Let me see if I remember his name. Oh, it was Schneerson. He was a student with us in our Mathematics class in the Sorbonne." Now Yehouda began listening more intently.
"He was a noble looking young man, dressed elegantly but not in style. He always sat at the back of the class with a book on his lap and did not appear to be paying attention to the lesson. Moreover he was Jewish. We were not brought up to love Jews, and in occupied France in 1939, we did not have much to do with him at first.
"In those difficult days, some friends and I would earn money to pay for our studies by peddling butter on the Black Market. This involved travelling a distance and we would often be too tired to concentrate during our classes. This young man would explain the difficult problems to us. Many times his explanations were more clear than our teachers'. In this way we grew to appreciate his intelligence and good character and we became close to him.
"Then, one day, one of our professors, who clearly did not like Jews, decided to mock our fellow student. He put up an extremely difficult problem on the blackboard. 'We have with us an extremely intelligent student, Mr. Schneerson.' He said with disdain in his voice. 'I am sure that he can come up here and solve the problem for us.'
"Upon hearing his name, Rabbi Schneerson stood up. He walked calmly to the front of the room, looking regal as always. To the astonishment of students and teacher alike, he solved the problem, that should have taken an expert an hour and a half or more to complete, in a matter of a few minutes.
"We were happy that our friend was not embarrassed, but the professor grew more and more angry by the minute. 'Imposter, thief,' he shouted. 'Tell me who gave you the answer.'
"After the professor complained, Rabbi Schneerson was summoned to the Dean's office where a number of administrators were gathered to evaluate what had happened. Rabbi Schneerson then explained to them in great detail over several hours exactly how he had reached his solution to the problem. They were astonished at the innovative approach that he had taken and at the lucidity of his explanation.
"Once the administrators realized that they were dealing with a person of unique intelligence, they hastened to apologize. The professor was forced to beg forgiveness for the way he had treated his student in front of the class.
"I believe that the story was recorded in the official 'Livre d'Or' of the Sorbonne." The man finished, "Now you can understand why I insisted on paying for everything. I had often thought of my classmate from long ago, and wondered how I could repay his kindness. When I saw you and your friend, I remembered Rabbi Schneerson, and realized that the moment had come when I could do an act of kindness for his fellow Jews and settle my debt of gratitude to him."
Versions of this story have appeared in several publications. Yehouda Shvartz spoke with L'Chaim directly and recounted the original story.
The Previous Rebbe said, "Everyone knows that sleep is deepest before daybreak. We must be strong and vigilant not to sleep through the great moment [of the Redemption]... This is something that every Jew should know. Thus, when one meets a fellow Jew one should tell him: 'Don't fall asleep before daybreak!' " The Rebbe commented, "It is not necessary to create the desire within a Jew to fortify himself and to act to hasten the daybreak of the Redemption. All that is needed is to wake him up. Once that is done, there is no doubt that he will do whatever he can to bring the Redemption.
(Likutei Sichot, Parshat Emor, 1991)