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Not long ago, if a person wanted to describe something that had happened very quickly, he would talk in terms of the "blink of an eye," or the "snap of a finger."
Today, as computer time is measured in nanoseconds, our imagery is more high-tech than human.
Despite these state-of-the-art changes, today, as in yesteryear, an instant is utterly short and at the same time, long enough for a life-altering occurrence to take place.
"Good things happen in an instant," which was created for the New York State Lottery's instant "Rich for Life" game, became the trademark slogan for all of their instant lottery games. Not bad for an instant!
But how many of us think in terms of a change for good that takes place in an instant? With life threatening diseases not yet eradicated, with devastating fires or natural disasters still occurring, with news from Israel not what we hope and pray for, it seems easier to come up with "instant" changes that are far from good.
However, as real to us as these negative momentous moments are, so too must be the possibility of lightening swift changes for good. For, Jewish teachings enjoin us to recognize that "G-d's salvation comes in the blink of an eye." In New York State Lottery lingo, this means that good things can and do happen in an instant.
The Torah sites as a primary example of deliverance occurring instantly the Exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt. When the time came for the Jewish people to be redeemed from Egypt, "G-d did not push it off for even the blink of an eye," Midrashim explain.
The Exodus from Egypt and the Jewish people's redemption is the prototype for all future redemptions, personal and national. Thus, any situation can be turned around, soaring from utterly bad to absolutely good in a moment.
The prophet Ezekiel prophesied to the Jewish people when they were exiled from Israel to Babylon with the destruction of the First Temple. By the rivers of Babylon the Jews sat down and wept, remembering Jerusalem in all its glory. Ezekiel envisioned G-d's heavenly chariot accompanied by angels that were moving at lightening speed. This vision enabled the prophet to assure the Jewish people that G-d was with them and that His salvation could come in the blink of an eye.
Last year, the NYS Lottery decided to retain the "Good things happen in an instant" tag-line and to make the umbrella theme for all of the lotteries, "Be Ready!"
"Be Ready" is a demand, an order. It inspires action!
When the Lubavitcher Rebbe spoke about how close the world is to the Messianic Era and the Redemption, he urged, "Be Ready!" The "action" the Rebbe suggests is: the study of Torah in general and topics relating to Moshiach and the Redemption in particular; increasing in Jewish observance; Permeating our thoughts and actions now with the unity and peace that will mark the Messianic Era.
May G-d's salvation come instantly, bringing us a time which is utterly good for eternity, an era when we will be rich for life monetarily, spiritually, in all matters of health and heart, and may it happen now!
In the Torah, two different names are used to refer to the tribes of Israel - "shevatim" and "matot" (as in the name of the first of the two Torah portions read this week, "Matot"). "Shevet," literally a staff and "mateh," literally a rod or stem, both denote the branches of a tree. The difference between them is that a shevet is a supple branch, attached to a living tree, whereas a mateh is a hardened stick already cut from the trunk.
The two names used to denote the Jewish tribes have spiritual significance, and refer to the type of connection every Jew has with G-d. When the connection between the Jewish soul and its G-dly source is open and revealed, the word shevet is used. When, however, the bond between the Jew and G-d is hidden and obscured, the word matot is used to describe the Jewish people.
In general, the first description refers to the Jewish soul as it exists before coming down into the physical world. The soul, united with G-d, is directly connected to its source, just as the branch is still connected to its source of life, the tree.
After the soul makes its descent into a physical body, however, it more closely resembles the mateh which has been severed from the trunk. The vital connection to its source, to G-d, is no longer easily perceived and apparent, so much so that the soul may feel as if it has been totally cut off, G-d forbid. The afflictions of the physical body and the demands of the material world harden the tender soul, making it tough and less sensitive to spirituality.
Yet despite the fact that the shevet is still connected to its source, it is not as strong and rigid as the superior mateh, which has been tempered by its experience. The branch, while attached to the tree, is green and flexible. Only after it is cut off does it become a sturdy and dependable rod.
This, in essence, is the purpose for which the soul is sent down into this world and distanced from its G-dly source - to uncover the soul's hidden strengths and enable it to reach an even higher level of spiritual closeness to G-d than before. When the soul overcomes the challenges of the Evil Inclination and the hardships of a physical existence, its bond with G-d becomes infinitely stronger and deeper.
The distinction between shevet and mateh exists on another level, as well. When the Holy Temple existed and G-dliness openly illuminated the world, the Jewish people were on the level of shevet. After the destruction, however, and the advent of the dark and bitter exile, we find ourselves on the level of mateh. For almost 2,000 years the Jewish people have had to develop its hidden resources and stand strong in the face of suffering. When Moshiach comes and the G-dliness which is concealed within all of creation is revealed, the Jewish people, through having uncovered the "mateh" within their souls, will enjoy an even closer relationship with G-d, the true purpose of the entire exile.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
G-d Will Repay You
by Rabbi Eli Gutnick
I am a sofer (scribe) working in Melbourne, Australia. One day, Mr. Leon Schnall came to see me, together with his rabbi, to buy many mezuzot for his new home. I gave Leon the choice of two types of mezuzot: standard mezuzot, which would cost at total of $650, or higher quality mezuzot, which would cost a total of $810. Unsure, he asked his rabbi which ones he should get. His rabbi explained to him the idea of hiddur mitzva - that if you spend extra effort or money to beautify a mitzva (commandment), "G-d will repay you." Leon chose to purchase the mehudar mezuzot and wrote out a check for $810.
Some weeks later, I got a phone call from Leon, and he began to tell me an amazing story. When he had come to buy mezuzot, he was putting his old home on the market. Initially, the real estate agents had told him he could expect to receive between $600,000 and $660,000 for the unit. However, on the morning of the auction, the agent told Leon that he would "probably get around $650,000." Unexpectedly, the unit sold for a whopping $810,000.
A few hours after the auction, still stunned by his good fortune, Leon was sitting at the upsherin (the first haircut at the age of 3 years old) of his rabbi's son. It was there that he remembered the words of his rabbi, that "G-d will repay you," and realized that the amount he received at the auction corresponded perfectly with the price of the mehudar mezuzot. Even more amazing, perhaps, was the correspondence between the price of the standard mezuzot and the expected auction price. For the extra $160 that Leon spent, G-d repaid him a thousand-fold!
Another story: A prominent rabbi in Melbourne once brought me a mezuza for checking. He said it was from his daughter's room and that she was having asthma attacks at night and even had to be rushed to the hospital several times. His wife had read a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe that was addressed to someone with breathing difficulties. In the letter, the Rebbe wrote that the person should change her medication and check the mezuza on her door. The rabbi implored me to check the mezuzah very carefully and to let him know if there was even the slightest problem.
I checked the rabbi's mezuza, and it was kosher. However the "sirtut," the lines etched into the parchment, had faded away completely. The laws of sirtut are complex, but the "bottom line" is that faded sirtut do not usually invalidate the mezuza. If the sirtut were completely absent at the time of the writing, the mezuza is definitely not kosher. Faded sirtut are kosher, but the mezuza will not be considered mehudar. Adding sirtut after the mezuzah has been written is not recommended. I mentioned this to the rabbi, and since he wanted everything to be mehudar, he decided to replace the mezuza.
As the weeks went by, his daughter's condition did not improve. He did not know what else to do, so he consulted a well-known kabbalist in Israel for advice. This mekubal told him to check the mezuzah on his daughter's room. The rabbi replied that he had recently done so. The mekubal explained that he actually wanted him to check the positioning and attachment of the mezuza to the doorpost.
The rabbi checked the mezuza and saw that it was attached with reusable adhesive putty.
After I had checked it, he was in a hurry and did not put it up properly. Affixing a mezuza in such a way is highly questionable. He immediately nailed the mezuza to the door in the proper way.
As soon as the mezuza was affixed properly, his daughter's condition improved significantly. Thank G-d, she is much better today.
I once heard from a member of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's administration that when the Rebbe directed people to check their mezuzot, he often referred to checking the correct positioning and attachment.
From the forthcoming book of stories about mezuzot and tefilin by Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin, edited by Matthew Brown.
On the Essence of Chasidus
In this landmark discourse, the Lubavitcher Rebbe explores the contribution of Chasidus to a far deeper and expanded understanding of Torah. The Rebbe analyzes the relationship chasidus has with Kabbalah, the various dimensions of the soul, the concept of Moshiach and the Divine attributes. Now part of the Chasidic Heritage Series, this newly revised edition includes a vowelized Hebrew text, a clear English translation, appendix, comprehensive footnotes and annotation. Translated by Rabbi Heschel Greenberg and Dr. Susan Handleman, published by Kehot Publications.
The Jewish Home
The Jewish Home-As illuminated by Kabbalah & Chasidus, is the first volume of a comprehensive handbook covering everything regarding the planning, starting and running of a Jewish home, customs, laws, explanations and guidelines. An ideal gift for the bride or groom to be. Complied by Rabbi Yosef Karasik, translated by Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg and published by Sichos in English.
To Pray As G-d Would Pray
Whenever a person prays, even if outwardly he is not praying with focused concentration, an unconscious arousal is taking place within his inner being. Every prayer recited by a Jew gives voice to an arousal from below that evokes and draws down Divine light that transcends the standard limitations of the spiritual cosmos and thus brings about change within our world. To Pray as G-d Would Pray is a discourse of the Lubavitcher Rebbe fully translated and annotated by Sichos in English as part of The Chassidic Treasure Chest Series
8 Elul, 5717 (1957)
...It is generally recognized that nothing in this world gets lost, even in the physical world - how much more so in the world of the spirit and soul!
Thus the belief in the immortality of the soul is not just a belief, it is a conviction. It is therefore self-evident that the greatest thing you can do for your father's immortal soul is to carry on his good work expertly, as this kind of work cannot be placed on anybody else's shoulders, and, moreover, inasmuch as your family has been doing pioneer work in ----, to make that continent also a fitting place for the Divine presence.
I trust also that all the members of your family will make a concerted effort to continue this work, disregarding any difficulty or financial problem, and not hesitate to increase the budget of our institutions, even where a deficit is implied.
For a deficit can always be rectified in due course, whereas an opportunity in education that is lost is hard to retrieve.
21 Elul, 5717 (1957)
I received your letter in which you write that you are completing the sixth year at the yeshiva, and that neither your parents nor your teachers at the yeshiva object to your leaving. You ask my opinion in connection with the various jobs which you were offered.
Notwithstanding the above, it is my opinion that you should continue to study at the yeshiva for at least another year, with complete devotion and dedication, without thinking about a job or career at this time, and without any distraction.
The "Giver of the Torah," Who is also "He Who feeds and sustains the whole world," will later help you settle down economically in a satisfactory way.
You should remember that at this time, in adolescence, it is still possible to study the Torah with devotion and peace of mind. After breaking away from this study and entering the world of business or work, it is difficult to recapture the same spirit and the same opportunities for learning. That is why I urge you not to miss this opportunity and to devote yourself to the study of Torah for at least another year, as mentioned above.
I trust that your parents will also agree to this.
8 Tishrei, 5715 1954)
I have received your letter in which you write that during your learning the discourse of the Shabbat on which we bless the new month of Elul, several points were not clear to you, and you request an explanation.
Generally speaking it is difficult to elaborate in a letter on this kind of question, but perhaps the following brief remarks will be helpful to you:
- You ask, what is meant by the statement that, even physically, the Jew should by his very nature flee from even unintentional sins, just as an animal instinctively avoids danger.
Your question concerns the term "guf" (body), since the body without the soul cannot commit any act; how can the two be considered separately in this connection?
The explanation should be clear from the illustration used, namely the animal, i.e. a living animal. In other words, the term "body" was not meant to exclude the "animal soul," but the "Divine soul" and even the "rational soul."
- The above explains your other difficulty regarding reward and punishment, namely, if the Jew instinctively, so to speak, avoids sin and does good, why reward him for it?
In general, within the Jew there is, first of all, the "Divine soul" pulling to good, and the "animal soul," which has free choice to follow the lead of the Divine soul or to oppose it.
It is this free will to do good despite the animal soul and Evil Inclination pulling in the opposite direction which merits the reward.
There is no contradiction here because in an act committed inadvertently, the rational soul does not participate, and therefore, in truth, the body and animal soul ought to avoid it because it is harmful.
- Your question (based on Rashi in Bava Kama) presents no difficulty, for it is a matter of common knowledge that an animal under normal conditions flees from danger.
However, in the case of the young kid (in distinction from a grown animal), it is not experienced enough to recognize a danger that is not quite clear and immediate...
Herod, who became the ruler of Judea, was the eldest son of Antipater, a descendant of slaves of the Hasmonian kings. A cruel and bloody tyrant, his rule lasted from 3725-3757 (36-4 bce), and wreaked unprecedented suffering upon the Jewish people. He destroyed the royal house of the Hasmonians, murdering even his wife, Mariamne. In penance for the murder of most of the Jewish Sages, he built the magnificent reconstruction of the Second Holy Temple, which was described thus, "He who did not see Herod's building has never in his life seen a truly grand building."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Friday is Rosh Chodesh Av, the yahrzeit of Moses' brother, Aaron the Priest.
As the Alter Rebbe explains in Tanya, on a yahrzeit, "all the deeds, Torah, and service for which a person toiled throughout his lifetime...is revealed...and 'brings about salvation in the depth of the world.' "
What was Aaron's special service? Aaron was the epitome of ahavat Yisrael, love for his fellow Jew. He was characterized by "loving peace and pursuing peace, loving the created beings and bringing them close to the Torah." Throughout his life Aaron made special efforts to spread love, peace and harmony among all Jews, especially husbands and wives.
For this reason Aaron was especially beloved, and when he passed away he was mourned by "the entire House of Israel" - both men and women. This was because the love he showed and encouraged among Jews relates to the essential point of the Jewish soul that transcends all division and differences between individuals.
The Hebrew letters comprising Aaron's name - alef-hei-reish-nun - reflect his all-encompassing love:
The alef stands for "ahava," "love," the reish for "rabba," "great," alluding to Aaron's tremendous ahavat Yisrael. The hei and the reish spell "har," "mountain," which is frequently used as a metaphor for love. The letters of the alef itself can be rearranged to spell "peleh," "wonder," indicating that Aaron's love was wondrous and unbounded in nature.
Lastly, the final letter of Aaron's name, the long nun, protrudes below the line, expressing how he extended himself to all Jews without distinction, even those whose behavior was not up to par. Because Aaron's love was unbounded, it had the potential to extend to every single person, regardless of individual nature.
Emulating Aaron's example, let us all resolve to love our fellow Jews simply because they are Jewish, thereby hastening Moshiach's immediate arrival.
The word matot, which means tribes, also means staffs. Staffs symbolize stability and permanence, like a staff which is hard and strong. Masei means "journeys," and alludes to a changing and non-permanent situation. The fact that the two Torah portions of Matot and Masei are read together teaches us that even when we are traveling on a journey, for vacation or business, we must be as vigilant and unchanging in our religious observance as when we are at home.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
He shall not profane his words; everything that leaves his mouth he shall do (Num. 30:3).
Whoever is careful never to profane his words, and is particular to fulfill his commitments, to him is the verse applied, "Everything which leaves his mouth he shall do." That is, "He" - G-d will fulfill his every blessing and utterance. "The righteous decree and the Alm-ghty fulfills."
These are the journeys of the Jews (33:1)
The 42 travels of the Jews in the desert are enumerated for good reason. They hint to 42 stages that a person must traverse in his life; 42 levels of spirituality that a person can experience in his life.
(Baal Shem Tov)
These are the journeys of the Israelites (Num. 33:1)
Why does the Torah mention all 42 stops during the Jews' 40 year sojourn in the desert? To later generations it might seem beyond belief that millions of Jews survived 40 years in the desert. They might say the Jews traveled through habitable regions, sustaining themselves - like nomadic tribes - with regional water and vegetation. The Torah repeatedly describes the deserts, most completely uninhabitable, where the people could never have survived. This, therefore, would firmly implant in our hearts the belief that G-d Himself miraculously sustained us and led our people through the wilderness.
Many years ago, in the time when the Holy Temple stood, there lived in Jerusalem two storekeepers named Rabbi Elazar ben Tzadok and Abba Shaul ben Botnit.
The two men were neighbors and friends and had known each other most of their lives. But in addition to being friends, they shared a wonderful and rare character trait - absolute and strict honesty.
It is related in the Talmud that as a favor to their fellow Jews, these two men would prepare stores of wine and oil before every holiday so that the people of Jerusalem would have what they needed to celebrate the holidays properly.
Tens of thousands of Jews would stream into Jerusalem for the holidays and would be welcomed into homes throughout the city. With so many guests, it was no wonder that their gracious hosts would sometimes run out of oil or wine during a festival.
Whenever that happened, they could go to Rabbi Elazar or Abba Shaul and take what they needed. Of course, no money would pass hands on a festival, but there would be no lack of those two necessities to prepare for the festive meals.
Even during the intermediate days of the pilgrimage festivals of Sukkot and Passover, the two generous merchants would prepare in advance and make their goods available to those in need so that they could spend their time studying Torah.
Not only did they practice these deeds of great kindness, but even on regular workdays they were outstanding in their adherence to the mitzva of honesty. When they would finish pouring the contents of one of their containers into a customer's container, they would sit their container on top of that of the customer and allow the dregs of the jug to drip into the customer's receptacle. Only then were they sure that they had given the customer everything that was due him.
Despite their stringencies, the two rabbis feared that a bit of oil and wine would still cling to the edges of the jugs. So what did they do? Each man had a special container into which he would pour the last tiny drops. Over many years, they accumulated three hundred barrels of oil and three hundred barrels of wine.
One day, they decided to bring all of these barrels to the Holy Temple. After all, they did not consider it their property, yet they could not give it to the customers either. They decided to consecrate it to the Holy Temple. When the porters arrived, they were met by the treasurers of the Temple.
"What have you brought?" they asked.
"We have brought three hundred barrels of wine and three hundred barrels of oil for use in the Holy Temple. It has taken us many years to accumulate it, allowing it to drip from the sides of our jugs. We did not want to benefit from anything which does not belong to us, and we couldn't give it to our customers."
"It was certainly not necessary to collect those small leftovers," remarked the treasurers. "Your customers understand that tiny drops adhere to the sides of your jugs, and they expect there to be some waste."
"Nevertheless," the men continued, "We don't want anything that is not rightfully ours."
"Since you wish to keep such a high standard, we will accept your offering. The oil and wine will be used for the good of the community. We will sell them and from the profits we will dig wells for the pilgrims to have water on the festivals. The residents of the city will also be able to use them. So you see, even your own customers will benefit from your offering, and your own minds can be at ease."
The two merchants left the precincts of the Holy Temple with hearts full of joy, knowing that they never departed from their customs of strict honesty and kindness.
"How is resurrection derived from the Torah? It is written (Num. 18:22) "And you shall give thereof the L-rd's heave offering to Aaron the priest." But would Aaron live for ever; he did not even enter the Land of Israel, that the heave offering should be given him? But it teaches that he would be resurrected, and Israel will give him the offering. Thus resurrection is derived from the Torah."
(Talmud, Sanhedrin 90b)