What's the Point? | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | Who's Who | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
During his travels throughout Europe, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, once met with a delegation of prominent Jews. The meeting took place in the lobby of a rather famous hotel. The delegation asked the Previous Rebbe to explain the significance of Chasidic philosophy. What was its point, its innovation? What had it introduced into Judaism that had not been there before? And if it introduced nothing new, why did he, the Previous Rebbe, place such an emphasis on its teachings?
In response to the question, the Previous Rebbe asked the delegation to examine the ceiling of the hotel lobby. As the meeting occurred at night, it was difficult to make out many architectural details. The Previous Rebbe then held up a lamp, illuminating the intricate frescoes and artistic designs that adorned the upper walls and ceiling. What had seemed drab, ordinary, uninspiring, turned out, when bathed in light, to be inspiring, beautiful and awe-inspiring.
The Previous Rebbe then explained that Chasidism was like the lamp. It did not introduce anything new, but rather illuminated what was already - and always - there but had been hidden, unseen.
This ability to illuminate the "dark corners" takes many forms. The illumination can come from a niggun, a melody (often wordless), that rouses and raises the soul. It can be found in a profound mystical discourse, or a topical discussion of the weekly Torah reading, a holiday, some aspect of Jewish law or thought, or even current events. Even Chasidic customs clarify venerated practices, infusing the mandatory with meaning and the legal with life.
And at a "Chasidishe farbrengen" (gathering) soul-searching words-from-the-heart reach one's essence, reflecting an inner, often unknown potential.
Then there are the stories - stories of wonders and miracles, of self-sacrifice and faith, stories with deep lessons and simple truths. Chasidic stories teach life lessons from Torah insights and illuminate - there's that word again - the essence of the Jewish soul. Many acts might inspire us and many stories might impress us. But Chasidic stories are unique. For, through a Chasidic story we are shown righteousness, humility and devotion. And we are shown that these eternal qualities are not so far from us. For Chasidic stories turn on little things - a small change in pronunciation of a word, a minor act of kindness, a slight turn to perceive what had been hidden.
And Chasidism illuminates through metaphors. Since Torah is the blueprint of creation, all of creation reveals the Torah. From headaches to emoticons to hitting a fast-ball to chess, within each experience, we find Torah. That is, from every encounter we should learn to see the holiness it contains.
For if we see the holiness within one event, we will measure our actions so as to perceive it - and reveal it - in the next. And what enables us to do so, what illuminates us that we may illuminate the world?
This week's Torah portion, Chukat, spans a time period of almost 40 years. It starts off with the mitzva (commandment) of the red heifer (given to the Jews in the second year after they left Egypt), then moves on to the death of Miriam and the defeat of Sichon and Og, almost four decades later.
The Torah tells us of two separate events that took place right before the Jewish people entered the Land of Israel: The first occurred when Moses sent a delegation to spy out Yaazer, and instead of reporting back, the spies "captured the villages and drove out the Emorites." The second incident was when the tribes of Gad, Reuben and half of Menashe asked permission to settle on the eastern bank of the Jordan, which Moses eventually granted.
At first glance these incidents are reminiscent of the sin of the 12 spies. Instead of simply carrying out their mission and reporting their findings, the 12 spies had interjected their own opinion when they said, "We will not be able to go up." In truth, they had not wanted to enter the Land and preferred to remain in the desert.
It would seem that the second group of spies made the same mistake when they acted on their own and captured Yaazer without permission. Similarly, when the tribes of Gad, Reuben and half of Menashe declared that they were unwilling to cross the Jordan, they were, in effect, asking to remain outside the borders of Israel. Was this an example of history repeating itself?
The answer is - not at all. Not only were the actions of the spies at Yaazer and the request made by the tribes of Gad, Reuben and half of Menashe not a replay of the previous disaster, they were a tikun (correction) of the sin of the 12 spies.
The 12 spies had veered a way from their original mission by adding on to it in a negative way; the spies who were sent to Yaazer added on to their mission in a positive direction, confident that with G-d's help they would be victorious.
Furthermore, whereas the 12 spies hadn't wanted to enter Israel at all, the two and a half tribes who asked to settle east of the Jordan were actually expressing their desire to inherit all of the Land of Israel.
Years before, G-d had promised Abraham that he would inherit the land of the "ten nations"; 40 years after the Exodus, the Jews were poised to conquer only seven of them. (The lands of the Keni, Kenizi and Kadmoni will become part of Israel only in the Messianic era.) The tribes of Gad and Reuben were so eager for the Redemption that they wanted to settle there immediately.
Thus we see that these two incidents were really positive developments, for not only did they "fix" the damage caused by the spies, they paved the way for the future conquest of all of Israel that will take place with Moshiach, speedily in our days.
Adapted from Hitva'aduyot 5750, Vol. III
by Raiza Malka Gilbert
From a speech at the annual Lubavitch Women's Organization Spring Convention
My name wasn't always Raiza Malka Gilbert. Up until about 31/2 years ago I didn't know what Chabad was and I certainly didn't know what keeping Torah and mitzvot (commandments) meant. My father is Jewish and my mother is not. In my house we celebrated Chanuka and Passover, and that was the extent of my Jewish knowledge and observances.
For college I went to art school in Chicago. In the summer before my senior year of college, I applied to go to Israel through Birthright. This raised a lot of questions in my mind. Somehow I knew that not having a Jewish mother meant I'm not Jewish, yet I had buried that thought long ago. But now, faced with the reality of my identity, I was really uncomfortable with the idea that I might not be Jewish. I had no idea what I could do about it. I went on Birthright anyway. The trip left me completely inspired and I knew I wanted Judaism to be a much bigger part of my life.
The fall semester after my trip to Israel I did a semester abroad on the west coast of Ireland. When I got off the plane I was introduced to my roommate who was also from my college in Chicago. On the bus to our dorm I mentioned that the scenery reminded me of Israel. She turned to me and said, "Are you Jewish?"
"That's a complicated question!" I responded. She is Jewish and I asked her what her plans were for the High Holidays. She had already made arrangements with Chabad in Dublin and she assured me she would ask the rabbi, Rabbi Zalman Lent, if I could come too. The rabbi agreed and for the very first time in my life I fully observed Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur right there in Dublin, Ireland.
For the rest of the semester every Friday night my roommate and I lit Shabbat candles and ate homemade Challah. My roommate taught me the Hebrew alef bet and the Shema prayer. She had even brought a mezuza with her which she put up on our bedroom door.
By the time the semester was over, I knew I wanted to be Jewish according to Jewish law. When we came back to Chicago, I told my roommate that I wanted to celebrate Shabbat somewhere. She invited me to go to a Chabad House not far from our college.
The rabbi, Rabbi Meir Chai Benhiyoun, shared a Torah thought at the meal about the Torah portion. He explained that Yitro, Moses' father-in-law, had tried every kind of idolatry in the book. But when he became acquainted with Torah, he recognized the truth of the One G-d and converted to Judaism. In this merit, the portion in which we read about the giving of the Torah is named for him.
After that Shabbat meal I was hooked, however I was also very nervous. I was nervous that if Rabbi Benhiyoun and his wife Rivka knew I wasn't really Jewish that I wouldn't be welcomed back. When I walked into the Chabad House I felt like I was coming home.
After about a week of inner terror, I finally told the rabbi about my Jewish status, or lack thereof. We spoke for a long time and he told me that if I wanted to convert it would be a slow organic process of integration and learning. When I assured him that I was serious he encouraged me to come as much as I could to Shabbat, classes and all Chabad House events. I studied with his daughter and niece, and I came every Friday night.
That spring I graduated college. I stayed in Chicago in the hopes of starting the process of conversion.
I officially applied to the Chicago Rabbinical Council to be a conversion candidate. I met with the conversion committee (which consists of seven rabbis) for the first time in June of 2011, more than a year after I first told Rabbi Benhiyoun that I wanted to convert.
I asked my rabbi and rebbetzin if it would be possible for me to study at Machon Chana Women's yeshiva in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. My rabbi spoke to the principal, Rabbi Shloma Majeski and it was agreed that I could attend the school though I would not be allowed to live in the dormitory until my conversion was complete.
Living in Crown Heights and studying in Machon Chana I continually felt like a fish in water; every thing felt so natural here. All the classes at Machon Chana were amazing, I took notes furiously and was all too eager to answer questions in class. I was never like this in any other school in my life. I was always the average student who didn't try too hard, but yeshiva wasn't a matter of effort. I just wanted to be here so it was easy for me.
After a few months I had another meeting with the Chicago Rabbinical Council. The conversion committee was pleased with my progress, but wanted to meet with me at a later date. I returned to Crown Heights to continue learning. All the time I was waiting with bated breath because I had no idea when I would hear from the CRC again. A few more months passed and I was scheduled to meet with the CRC right after Purim. The rabbis spoke to my rabbi and rebbetzin and then to me. Then I left the room for the rabbis to deliberate. Finally I was called back in and told that with G-d's help I would be going to the mikva the next morning to complete the conversion process.
Thank G-d, with my new Jewish soul and my new name, I came back to Crown Heights to finish the year in Machon Chana. As the school year drew to a close I knew that I wanted to study for a second year and also to have the unique experience of living in the dorm. I was accepted as a second year student and as a dorm student.
I am now nearing the end of my second year in Machon Chana. I can't believe how time flies. It has been an invaluable experience. There is truly no better way to learn about Judaism than to live it first hand. My time in Machon Chana will stay with me forever and will continue to inspire me for years to come. The information and experiences I have amassed here are priceless. I have friends forever and a whole network of support between the dorm counselors, teachers and staff members who have helped me endlessly with whatever I need. I'd like to particularly thank my shluchim (emissaries of the Rebbe), Meir Chai and Rivka Benhiyoun, Rabbi Majeski, Mrs. Gansburg the dorm mother, and the whole staff of Machon Chana for helping me get to where I am today.
For more info about the school: www.machonchana.org or call 718-735-0030
Chabad-Lubavitch of Normandy, France, has begun work on their new center. Although city laws do not allow new buildings to have designs that are different from the unique style of the city, when permits were requested to build a center that had a similar style to Lubavitch World Headquarters "770" the mayor agreed to the building plans.
New Torah Scrolls
Hundreds of Jews gathered together in Sochi, Russia, to welcome a new Torah scroll to the Jewish Community Center and Synagogue of Sochi. A colorful parade proceeded through the main streets of Sochi, considered a beautiful resort for tourists, and then entered the newly renovated Synagogue. Chabad of Karlsruhe, Germany, celebrated ten years of devotion to the Jewish community with the dedication of a new Torah scroll. The celebration, which was broadcast on a local television station, took place at the Karlsruhe Palace, a 17th century former royal palace.
After the very long interval, your letter of December 30, 1960, was quite welcome. There is no need, of course, to apologize for writing to me. In the midst of numerous letters, most of which concern the material aspects of life, problems of Parnossoh [sustenance], health, and the like, a letter relating to a question in Chassidus, or in Torah generally, is a refreshing change.
Now for your questions:
- You refer to a certain book and an idea expressed in it, asking whether it would correspond to the Chasidic concept of Tzimtzum [contraction] and to the verse in Isaiah (45:15), "Ochein, Atah Kel mistater - Verily, You are a G-d Who hides Yourself."
The concepts of Tzimtzum and of the "Hidden G-d" (in the said verse) are not identical. It is difficult to discuss such concepts adequately in a letter. However, I will make one point by way of illustration which ought to help clarify the subject. I refer to the dictum of our Sages to the effect that "G-d concentrated (tzimtzem) His Shechinah [Divine Presence] between the two staves of the Ark." And as usual, in our Torah, a whole concept or doctrine is often expressed by our Sages in a brief dictum.
The concept of Tzimtzum is illustrated by the example of mirrors, which may be large or small. The image reflected in the small mirror represents the object in all its details, except in a diminutive form. The naked eye requires aids to see small objects. The "eye" of the intellect likewise requires "aids" to apprehend subtle concepts, namely the power of cogitation.
In a somewhat analogous way, it can be conceived that the act of Tzimtzum has not essentially changed anything except greatly "contracted," as in the example of the small mirror. It is therefore more difficult to see the G-dliness that is everywhere as it is before Tzimtzum, and consequently an "aid" is necessary, namely hisbonenus [contemplation].
On the other hand, the idea of "Kel mistater" is to be conceived in terms of concealment and by something that is "opposite" as, for example, in Golus [exile], when evil reigns supreme, the Beis Hamikdosh [Holy Temple] is in ruins, darkness covers the earth (note the description of this state in the Tanya). There is also the "first Tzimtzum" - basically different from all Tzimtzumim, its "nature" being the removal of the Ohr Ein Sof [Infinite Light], thus leaving a chalal (void) where the metziyus (existence) of worlds is possible. This is a state when there is no reflection at all, and the presence of G-dliness etc., can only be inferred by circumstantial evidence, as it were.
- Regarding the question of, what you call, the lamed-vovnicks [the 36 hidden righteous people], in whom the Shechinah is present, etc., and you wonder if there is any similarity between this concept and - lehavdil elef havdolos [may we distinguish a thousand times] - to the claims of Christianity, etc.
Needless to say, there is no similarity whatever between the two. One of the points which brings out the distinction is the idea that insofar as the lamed-vovnicks are concerned, it is a status which, in principle, is attainable by every Jew, since the Jew possesses a "chelek Elokah mimaal mamosh" [a veritable part of G-d Above], and as the Baal Shem Tov expressed himself in regard to etzem (essence), he who apprehends a part of the etzem apprehends it all.
Potentially, therefore, every Jewish individual has that status of being a part of G-dliness, though in many individuals this power remains in potential and is completely eclipsed, as in the case of the rasha [utterly wicked person], or it may be partly actualized but not to the full capacity, or fully realized as in the expression of Rashbi [Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai], "bchad k'tiro iskatarna," that is to say, fully bound up with G-dliness; or, as is said of Moshe Rabbeinu [Moses], who declared "v'nachnu mah" [who are we], even though he knew he was G-d's emissary, the leader of his people, who was instrumental in their deliverance through many miracles, etc.; yet in declaring himself as "nothing" he saw no contradiction, for it was the Divine soul in him that was active in a revealed form, and, as in the simile above, the image in the small mirror contains all the details, nothing hidden, and in Moshe Rabbeinu it was realized to the full, so that there was nothing but G-dliness in him.
As we have discussed the matter during one of our meetings, I believe I pointed out that the effect of Mattan Torah u'Mitzvos [the Giving of the Torah and commandments] is that thereby every Jew is completely permeated by G-dliness, though the observer sees a body, which is eating and drinking, putting on Tefillin, etc., but in reality, G-dliness permeates every move and action. And, to repeat, this is a status which is within reach of every Jew without exception. This is also contained in the saying of our Sages that every Jew can say, "When will my deeds attain those of my fathers, Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov?"
I regret that this reply was unavoidably delayed on account of other pressing matters which claimed precedence. It need not discourage you, however, from writing again whenever you feel it can be beneficial for someone or something.
Miriam was born to Amram and Yocheved when the Egyptian enslavement began. Her name Miriam comes from the Hebrew for "bitterness." She was also known as "Puah," a midwife who, together with her mother, saved Jewish babies lives against Pharaoh's orders. One of the seven women whose prophecies are recorded in the Bible, she began prophesying at five or six when she revealed to her parents that the Jewish redeemer (Moses) would be born to them. When the Jews wandered in the desert, the miraculous well that travelled with them was in her merit.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
At the end of this upcoming week, on Thursday, the 12th of Tammuz (June 20), we celebrate the birthday of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn. This day, and the one that follows, is also the anniversary of the release of the Previous Rebbe from Bolshevik imprisonment.
The Previous Rebbe's redemption from prison is related to the ultimate Redemption through Moshiach and the personal redemption of every single Jew.
How can this be so? The Previous Rebbe was the leader of the Jewish people of his generation. The great commentator, Rashi, explains: "The leader includes the entire people." Therefore, the redemption of the leader of the generation affects the entire generation.
The Previous Rebbe himself emphasized this point in a letter that he wrote to his Chasidim on the first anniversary of his release:
"It was not myself, alone, that the Holy One, blessed be He, redeemed on Yud-Beis Tammuz, but also those who love the Torah and mitzvot, and so to all those who bear the name 'Jew.'"
Our Sages have taught that on a person's birthday his mazal - luck, or strength - is stronger than at other times. This is true even after the person's passing. In addition, Judaism also teaches that the spiritual influences and energy which were present on a specific date in Jewish history repeat themselves and return on that same date throughout the ages.
Thus, on the 12th of Tammuz, the birthday and anniversary of deliverance of the Previous Rebbe, all of these additional spiritual powers are in place. Let us hook into them and use this auspicious day for Torah study, additional good deeds and charity, and a special, heartfelt request from each of us to the Alm-ghty to bring the Final Redemption immediately.
This is the statute of the Torah which the Lord commanded, saying, "Speak to the children of Israel and have them take for you a perfectly red unblemished cow, upon which no yoke was laid." (Num. 19:2)
Comments Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator: "Such is My decree: you do not have permission to second-guess [the Torah]." The same word for permission appears in Ethics of the Fathers (3:15): "Everything is foreseen, yet permission [freedom of choice] is granted." Permission implies that something is possible; "you do not have permission" implies that second-guessing G-d is outside the realm of possibility. In truth, it is against the Jew's nature to question a Divine decree. If doubts do exist, they are only the product of the Evil Inclination.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
If a person sees himself as "without blemish," confident that he has already reached perfection, it is a sure sign that he "has never borne a yoke" - he has never accepted the yoke of heaven. Otherwise he would understand that he is still full of flaws and imperfections...
(The Seer of Lublin)
Aaron shall be gathered unto his people (Num. 20:24)
Why does the Torah use this unusual phrase to mean that Aaron was about to pass away? Because despite the fact that Aaron would no longer be alive in the physical sense, his positive character traits and exemplary behavior would be "gathered up" and perpetuated by the Jewish people forever.
And [Moses] said to them, "Hear now, you rebels, must we bring you forth water out of this rock?" (Num. 20:10)
Calling the Jewish people "rebels" was considered a very grave sin for a person on Moses' spiritual level. For when Jews are in trouble, the proper thing to do is help rather than chastise them.
(Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev)
Ibrahim the Muslim and Refael the Jew had been business partners for many years. Ibrahim, who lived in the Tunisian city of Kairoan, where the soil was excellent and the price of produce low, was Refael's wholesale supplier of wheat and barley. Refael would then resell the grain in his city of Tunis.
Although Ibrahim was outwardly pleasant and polite toward Refael, in his heart he was bitterly jealous of his success.
One day Ibrahim came up with a plan. "I'm getting too old for this business," he told Refael. "Why don't you come to Kairoan and buy the grain yourself? I'll tell you where to go and introduce you to all the right people."
Refael looked at his partner in surprise. "But you know that it is forbidden for a Jew to set foot in Kairoan..."
"Nonsense!" Ibrahim reassured him with a wave of the hand. "You speak Arabic fluently. If you dress like one of us, no one will ever know that you are Jewish."
Back in the not so distant past, Kairoan had been a bustling center of Jewish life. With its fertile soil and well-developed commercial infrastructure, the city had been an important stop along the North African trade route. In fact, there had been so many Jewish merchants in Kairoan that they had formed the backbone of the city's economy. The Arabs had even coined a clever phrase: "A marketplace without Jews is like a judge without witnesses..."
Gradually, however, the Muslims had begun to make life difficult for their Jewish neighbors. Many Jews simply abandoned their homes and businesses and settled elsewhere. But even this was not enough; they declared Kairoan a "holy" city and off-limits to anyone Jewish. The law had stood for several generations.
Despite some misgivings, Refael agreed to the plan. He dressed up as an Arab and nonchalantly walked through the gates of Kairoan. Ibrahim quickly led the Jew into a narrow alleyway.
"Stay here, I'll be right back," Ibrahim told him. A few minutes later he returned with two policemen. "There he is, the despicable Jew who dared set foot in our holy city!" he cried, pointing at Refael.
By the time Refael figured out that his partner had betrayed him, his hands and feet were in chains. The policemen then threw him into a dark cell.
For three days and nights Refael languished in his cell without anyone even checking to see if he was alive. Lucky for him, he still had his knapsack, so he was able to eat some food he had brought along.
Refael's fourth night in jail was Shabbat. After making Kiddush on the last of his bread Refael began to sing zemirot, the traditional Shabbat songs. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he thought of happier times and circumstances. When he had finished singing, he began to recite the Psalms he knew by heart.
Suddenly, there was a rustling sound from the doorway. Refael held his breath, too frightened to breathe. A minute later he could discern a thin strip of light at the edge of the room. When he went over to investigate he found that the door was open a crack. With a slight push the door was completely open.
His heart pounding, Refael crept outside and began to run as fast as his feet could take him through the darkened streets. When he reminded himself that he was dressed as an Arab, he slowed down to avoid arousing suspicion. By the next morning he was already home in Tunis.
Refael knew that his life was still in danger; the police would surely come after him when they realized that he had escaped. He decided to seek the advice of the saintly Rabbi Yeshua Bassis of Tunis. "Go to your house and wait there," the Rabbi reassured him. "Everything will be all right."
Now, at that time the ruler of Tunisia was Chamuda Pasha, a wise and temperate leader who paid no attention to the Muslims' incitement against the Jews. On the contrary, he was grateful for the Jews' contributions to society, and considered Rabbi Yeshua Bassis his personal friend. When Rabbi Yeshua told the Pasha what had happened to Refael, he immediately issued an order for "the rebellious Jew who dared to enter Kairoan" to be brought before him.
A few days later the police were forced to admit defeat. Embarrassed by their incompetence, they stood before the Pasha empty-handed.
At that very moment the Pasha sent for Refael, who was waiting in the next room. The Pasha declared to his shocked audience, "G-d made a miracle and released him from prison. No doubt, it is also a sign that He wants the Jews to return to Kairoan..."
The decree against the Jews was rescinded, and the Jews of Tunisia were not restricted as to where they could live.
There is a profound link between the precept of the "red heifer" and the principle of Messianic redemption: Commandments signify life. When one follows the commandments one attaches himself to the Al-mighty and draws spiritual vitality from the Source of All Life. Sin signifies death. Violating G-d's will disrupts attachment to the Creator, thus bringing about the "impurity of death." Both the red cow and the Messianic redemption effect purification. For just as the ashes of the red cow are used for removing a legal state of impurity, the Final Redemption with Moshiach will purify the entire Jewish people from any trace of deficiency in their bond with G-d.