Providence for Leaf-Peepers | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | Today Is ... | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine, even parts of New York State are deluged at this time of year with "Leaf Peepers"-people who travel specifically to view the awesome color changes in the fall foliage. Red, yellow, orange, burgundy and purple, a whole spectrum of color unfolds in front of our eyes.
While it's easy to get caught up in contemplating the beauty of nature, it might be even more interesting to consider the Divine destiny of a leaf.
The Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chasidism, told the following story illustrating the extensive role Divine Providence plays in our lives:
A person walks down a path and notices a leaf fall from the branch of a tree. "Leaf, leaf," he whispers, "why did you fall at this very moment?"
The leaf replies, "The branch shook and I fell. Go ask the branch."
The person asks the branch and is answered, "A wind came and made me shake... go ask the wind."
The wind gives a similar answer: "I don't know why, but the source of the Wind made me shake the branch, go ask it."
When the person asks the source of the wind, it says, "I am not the master. I just follow orders. Go ask G-d and surely He can tell you why."
Finally the person addresses the question to G-d. "Why did the leaf fall?" he asks simply.
"Lift up the leaf and you will understand why."
The person raises the leaf and sees an ant carrying a large piece of food. He questions the ant, who explains, "I was tired and hot. This leaf came down, shaded me, and allowed me to rest before continuing my journey."
G-d's kindness and care is exercised for the benefit of His entire creation. Even the smallest ant is included in His master plan.
Another leaf story for the avid peeper:
Once, when Rabbi Shalom Ber of Lubavitch was strolling with his son, Yosef Yitzchak (later to succeed him as Rebbe), they passed through fields of grain. "Every movement of each stalk is actualized by Divine Providence for the sake of a purpose known to heaven," exclaimed Reb Shalom Ber. Yosef Yitzchok became engrossed in contemplating this concept of Divine Providence. Deep in thought, he picked up a leaf and tore it into little pieces as he walked.
"How can you treat an object created by G-d so casually?" his father rebuked him. "Just now we were speaking of Divine Providence. The leaf you tore was created by G-d for a particular purpose. In what way is the leaf less significant than you? Just as the human being has his own task to fulfill, so has this representative of the vegetable kingdom its function to perform-and both have a Divinely-directed purpose."
So the next time you're looking at leaves, consider these stories and how concerned G-d is with every aspect of all creation.
This week's Torah portion is called Chayei Sara, literally "the life of Sara." It begins, however, with the passing of our first matriarch: "And Sara died in Kiryat Arba, which is Hebron, in the Land of Canaan."
According to the primary Jewish mystical text, the Zohar, Sara symbolizes the body while Abraham is symbolic of the soul. In this context, the Zohar explains that the verse describes the death of the body. The fact that "Abraham came to lament Sara and to weep for her" indicates that the soul weeps even after the death of the body since it remains related to the body.
Earlier in the Torah, when Abraham questioned Sara's judgment in sending away his son Ishmael, G-d told Abraham, "All that Sara may say unto you, listen to her voice." According to the Zohar, then, it would seem that the soul must listen to the body!
What is the "working relationship" between the soul and the body? Mitzvot - commandments - are given to the soul, but only souls that have been brought down into bodies. The mitzvot themselves are performed through material objects. This applies not only to mitzvot involving a physical act, but also to those mitzvot which are essentially duties of the heart - e.g., love and fear of G-d, or duties of the mind - e.g., the belief in the unity of G-d. The latter, too, are meant to be fulfilled by the physical heart and brain.
It is conceivable to meditate on and contemplate all of the intentions of a mitzva, and yet not fulfill the actual mitzva. For example, one may go through all the devotions relating to tefilin, without actually donning the tefilin, or relating to Shabbat candles, without actually lighting them.
Obviously this would constitute not only a failure in fulfilling the mitzva, but an actual transgression - by negating the mitzva. On the other hand, if one fulfills a mitzva without contemplating any of the devotions involved, though he should have had these thoughts in mind, he has at least fulfilled the mitzva.
Our ultimate preoccupation, then, is with the body. Although this is not totally apparent now, in the Messianic era it will become much more obvious. In fact, at this time, the soul will actually derive it's life-force from the body.
Adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Letters Were Flying
by Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin
Rabbi Moshe Weiss, the rabbi of Shikon N'vei Achiezer in B'nai Brak, Israel, is an illustrious scholar who merited to study under the Minchas Elazar (the Rebbe of the Munkac Chasidim). In 1988, Rabbi Weiss was diagnosed with lymphoma of the spleen. The doctors explained that there was a procedural dilemma in his case; they wanted to use chemotherapy to shrink the tumor, but his spleen was so enlarged that the chemotherapy would not be effective.
The best thing to do, they explained, was to operate, although it was still too dangerous. Water had recently been detected on the rabbi's lungs; they would have to wait until he grew stronger before attempting an operation. Meanwhile, chemotherapy was chosen as a stop-gap measure. At least they might buy some time.
Because of this prognosis, a relative of Rabbi Weiss's in Kfar Chabad suggested that a letter be sent to the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The rabbi agreed, and so a letter was soon faxed on his behalf to the Rebbe at 770 Eastern Parkway, Lubavitch headquarters. His relative explained in the letter that the rabbi had been a student of the Minchas Elazar, and he mentioned the important position the rabbi held in B'nai Brak.
Even though it normally took a number of days for a reply to arrive from the Rebbe's office, within just a few hours the Rebbe responded. His message read, "Azkir al hatzion - I will mention him at the grave of my father-in-law." The Rebbe added that Rabbi Weiss should check his tefilin and mezuzot.
Immediately, the rabbi's tefilin and the mezuzot on the doorposts of his home were inspected. A few of the mezuzot were found to be invalid, as well as his "Rashi" tefilin. As for his "Rabbeinu Tam" tefilin, the second set that Rabbi Weiss would don every day, the sofer (scribe) had a fascinating report.
The words on the scrolls inside the Rabbeinu Tam tefilin were old but fine - beautiful, in fact. They had been written by Rabbi Chaim Sofer of Munkac, a great scribe to whom many Chasidic rabbis would go for their tefilin. However, the sofer determined that the boxes were no longer kosher. Like many other boxes crafted before World War II, they were very large and made from "dakot" (thin goat leather). Over time, the boxes had developed a flaw: they were no longer square - a requirement for kosher tefilin, termed r'vuah.
A lot of fixing had to be done. Meanwhile, one of Rabbi Weiss's sons loaned his father his tefilin to wear. As soon as the rabbi started putting them on, the doctors were surprised to find that his spleen was getting smaller, against all their expectations. They soon sent the rabbi home.
Once home, the rabbi received his tefilin, with the old scrolls in new boxes. He put them on, and suddenly things turned for the worse. He was diagnosed with pneumonia and was rushed to Hadassah Hospital. Lying in bed, he was too weak to have chemotherapy. The rabbi's relative who had initially written to the Rebbe decided to send the Rebbe a second letter, an update on his situation.
Again, within only a few hours, the Rebbe answered. Once again, the Rebbe said "Azkir al hatzion - I will pray for him at the grave of my father-in-law." And the Rebbe added, "Check your tefilin."
One of the rabbi's sons asked, "Why? We just checked!" He was skeptical, and not being familiar with the Rebbe at that time, he thought the Rebbe was giving a formulaic answer. "Then again," he thought, "the answer was faxed back so quickly, the Rebbe must feel personally involved." So, the sons consulted a second sofer, and when the Rabbeinu Tam tefilin had been checked again, they were struck by his report. The sofer said that when he opened the boxes, the letters were literally "flying into the air." Was this somehow connected to Rabbi Weiss's sudden turn for the worse?
The first sofer had taken the old scrolls of the Rabbeinu Tam tefilin and placed them in new boxes. The largest contemporary boxes available were smaller than those commonly used in Pre-World War II tefilin. The parchments had to be squeezed a bit to fit them into the new boxes, and without the first sofer realizing it, the letters had begun to crumble off the parchment surface.
Rabbi Weiss's son right away acquired a new set of Rabbeinu Tam tefilin. As of the next day, the rabbi started feeling better. Ultimately, he never needed the operation, and within the next few months he was entirely healed.
The following year (1989), as a sign of his gratitude, Rabbi Weiss came from Israel to stay in Crown Heights for the holiday of Shavuot. He enjoyed participating in the prayers in the Rebbe's synagogue, studied the Rebbe's teachings, and attended the public gatherings. At the date of this publication, Rabbi Weiss is alive and well, and still resides in Israel.
- (Back to text) ) Inside the leather boxes of the tefilin are four hand-written paragraphs on parchment. According to the opinion of Rashi, the order of the paragraphs within the boxes should be: 1) Kadesh (Exodus 13:1-10), 2) V'hayah (Exodus, 13:11-16), 3) Shema (Deuteronomy, 6:4-9), and then 4) V'hayah im sh'mo'a (Deuteronomy, 13-21).
According to Rabbeinu Tam, the order of these paragraphs within the boxes should be 1), 2), 4), and then 3). Kabbalah teaches that Rabbeinu Tam tefilin represent yichud of Abba (unification of the Father, or wisdom), and Rashi represents the yichud of Imma (unification of the Mother, or knowledge). The Zohar (Vayikra, 4b) says that wisdom and knowledge are "two inseparable friends." Thus, both sets of tefilin should be worn daily. However, if one has time only for one pair of tefilin, the Rashi tefilin take precedence.
- (Back to text) ) Dakos, or goat leather, is much thinner than the cow leather normally used today. Because of its consistency, dakos is more susceptible to puncture and loss of shape.
Reprinted with permission from the recently published Guardian of Israel: Miracle Stories of Tefillin and Mezuzah (see "etc." below)
Guardian of Israel
In Guardian of Israel: Miracle Stories of Tefillin and Mezuzah Rabbi Aaron Raskin conveys great love for the sacredness of both the utilitarian and spiritual functions of mezuza and tefilin. In a breezy and informal manner, Rabbi Raskin presents a plethora of everyday experiences that explore the deeper meaning of these two ritual objects, objects that we all take for granted in our daily lives. This compact book is organized into eight topics; each consists of up to a dozen anecdotes that demonstrate how tefilin and mezuzot enhance our spiritual appreciation of life. Published by Sichos In English, www.sichosinenglish.com
Continued from previous issue
- You refer to my statement that scientists know very little about interactions of isolated atoms and subatomic particles, and also question its relevance to the theories about the dating of the world. The relevance is this: The evolutionary theory as it applies to the origin of our solar system and planet Earth, from which the dating is inferred, presumes (at least in the case of most of the hypothesis) that "in the beginning" there were atoms and subatomic particles in some pristine state, which then condensed, combined together, etc.
I am aware of the fact that a major part of physics research in this century has been concerned with interactions of individual units ranging from atoms to the most elementary particles known. But as late as 1931, of the subatomic particles only protons and electrons were known and "explored." The bubble chamber was constructed only in 1952, and a field ion microscope (by Dr. Muller of Penn State University?), reaching into the realm of the atom and subatomic particles - only in 1962. We have good reason to believe, I think, that just as scientific knowledge was enriched with the introduction of the first microscope, we may expect a similar measure of advancement with the aid of the latest (though it had been preceded by the electronic microscope). Therefore, it is safe to assume that all we have learned in the field of nucleonics in the last few decades is very little by comparison with what we can confidently expect to learn in the next few decades.
- You object to my statement that conditions of pressure, temperature, radioactivity, etc., must have been totally different in the early stages supposed by some evolutionists from those existing today, and you assert that those environmental conditions have, for the most part, either been duplicated in the laboratory or observed in natural phenomena. Here, with all due respect, I beg to differ, and I believe the study of the sources will confirm my assertion.
- You state that there is no evidence that any radioactive element produces cataclysmic changes, and go on to note that there is a lack of clear distinction in my letter between cosmogony and geochronology. The reason for the lack of such a distinction in my letter is that it is irrelevant to our discussion. The subject matter of my letter is the theory of evolution as it contradicts the account of Creation in the Torah. According to the Torah, the creation of the whole universe was ex nihilo, including the Earth, the sun, etc. The theory of evolution presents instead, a different explanation of the appearance of the universe, solar system and our planet Earth.
Now, in evaluating this theory, I have in mind that the strength of a chain is measured by its weakest link, and in my letter I attempted to point out some of the weakest links in both areas, cosmology and geochronology. With regard to geology and the changes and upheavals that may have occurred at a time when the whole universe is supposed to have been in a state of violent atomic instability, with worlds in collision, etc., cataclysmic changes cannot be ruled out, such nuclear reactions should have caused changes which would void any evolutionary calculations. Similarly, in the evolution of vegetables, animal and human life on the Earth, a radioactive process of such magnitude should have produced sudden changes and transmutations which would normally take long periods of time.
- You state, finally, that the crucial point to consider in regard to geochronology is the existence of objects and geological formations in and on the crust of the earth, which serve as physically observable clocks, etc. But I have already pointed out in my said letter that such criteria are valid only as of now and for the future, but cannot be applied either scientifically or logically to a primordial state. By way of illustration, though you do not identify any of the objects you are referring to, let us examine radiocarbon dating, since most of the letters and questions I received on this subject pointed to it. This method assumes that the average cosmic ray intensity has remained constant for the whole period of the dating, and that atmospheric mixing is rapid compared to the lifetime of...
Now to mention but one flaw in the criterion: it requires that the shielding power (density etc.) remain constant. But the evolution theory is built on the premise that there had been most radical changes. Incidentally, in most recent years geologists in South Africa discovered such a disorder in geological formations in that part of the world that it contradicted all the accepted theories of geology. The discovery was publicized at that time, but I do not have the informational media at hand, and I mention this in passing only. I suggest another look in my letter, p.5, par. beg. "The theory of evolution..."
Should you wish to continue the discussion, please do not hesitate to write me.
With esteem and blessing,
P.S. I have just been able to trace and borrow one of your books, "The Attenuation of Gamma Rays and Neutrons in Reactor Shields." May I say that I was greatly impressed with the effort, material and clarity of presentation. Incidentally, I noted in it your observations about the "discrepancies between theory and experimentation" which I found more than once in your book. Such a statement as "Not only is the simplest organism an incredibly complicated entity whose chemistry and physics are barely glimpsed at, but the classical scientific pattern of experimentation is necessarily not available in studying radiation efforts" - is very significant and has a direct bearing on the theory of evolution which involves an age of unimaginable radioactivity both in the universe and our planet Earth.
May I say that I was greatly impressed with the effort, material and clarity of presentation. Incidentally, I noted in it your observations about the "discrepancies between theory and experimentation" which I found more than once in your book. Such a statement as "Not only is the simplest organism an incredibly complicated entity whose chemistry and physics are barely glimpsed at, but the classical scientific pattern of experimentation is necessarily not available in studying radiation efforts" - is very significant and has a direct bearing on the theory of evolution which involves an age of unimaginable radioactivity both in the universe and our planet Earth.
Zevulun was one of the 12 sons of Jacob. His mother was the Matriarch Leah. When Jacob blessed his sons before his passing, he blessed Zevulun that he would dwell near the sea and have ports and merchant ships. The tribes of Zevulun and Yissachar had an arrangement whereby Zevulun's earnings from the merchant ships were split with Yissachar so that the tribe of Yissachar could devote themselves completely to their Torah studies. The Zevulunites received a heavenly reward as if they, too, were busy day and night studying Torah.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
In this week's Torah portion, Chayei Sara, we read of Sara's passing and Avraham's subsequent purchase of the Cave of Machpela as the place for her burial.
In addition to G-d's promise to Avraham that his descendants would eternally inherit the Land of Canaan (which included the land of the ten nations who lived there: Keini, Kenizi, Kadmoni, etc.) Avraham desired to actually purchase outright a portion of the land. The opportunity presented itself with Sara's passing when it was necessary to have a proper burial place for her.
Avraham knew that the Cave of Machpela, located in Hebron, was the place where Adam and Chava had been buried, and chose to purchase the field in which that cave was located for his family.
Avraham's purchase of the field containing the Cave of Machpela represents the beginning of the general redemption of all Jews.
Our commentators explain that with the 400 silver shekels that Avraham paid, he purchased one square cubit of the Land of Israel for every one of the 600,000 root-souls of the Jewish people.
May we very soon merit not only the beginning of the Redemption of the Jewish people but the complete Redemption, when the entire Land of Israel will be in the possession of its rightful heirs - according to G-d and the Torah - in the Messianic Era.
And Sarah died (Gen. 23:2)
At the end of the previous Torah portion, Vayeira, we read, "And Betuel begot Rivka." Commented our Sages: "Before Sarah's sun set, the sun of Rivka began to illuminate." Rivka had to be born before Sarah could pass away.
And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah (Gen. 23:19)
Till today, Ishmael's descendants claim that the Cave of Machpelah (in Hebron) belongs to them, by virtue of their being the children of Abraham. Among the rejoinders: 1) Ishmael did not have the right of inheritance, as he was the son of a maidservant and not Abraham's wife. 2) Ishmael had no connection to Sarah, so obviously he has no entitlement to a property that was bought as her burial place. 3) In the modern era, the majority of Arabs living in the Middle East are not ethnical descendants of Ishmael.
And Abraham was old, and well advanced in age (literally "along in days") (Gen. 24:1)
The physical manifestation of day is associated with light and illumination, as it states, "And G-d called the light day." In other words, Abraham's life was completely illuminated, as he did not squander any light of even one day of his existence.
And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the evening time ("lifnot arev") (Gen. 24:63)
As Rashi explains, "meditating" denotes prayer. If the vowels under the words "lifnot arev" are changed slightly, the Hebrew reads "lefanot areiv," literally "to remove sweetness." Isaac prayed to G-d to remove from his heart the desire for gratification from the physical world, which is perceived as sweet.
The word for meditation, "siach," also means bush or shrub. Isaac's prayer incorporated and included within it all the plants and vegetation of the field.
(Rabbi Nachman of Breslov)
About 600 years ago a religious movement began in Transylvania whose adherents, although not Jewish, observed certain Jewish commandments. In addition to keeping the Sabbath and the laws of kashrut, they celebrated Passover and had their own prayer book, an almost literal translation of the Jewish siddur into Hungarian.
For many years the group was persecuted and its leaders imprisoned, tortured and even killed. Some of its members escaped to Turkey, where they formally converted to Judaism. The most bloodthirsty enemy of the "Sabbath Observers," as they were called, was Queen Maria Teresa, who was known for her hatred of anything Jewish. Nonetheless, the sect stubbornly held on to its beliefs.
In the times of Kaiser Franz Josef the members of the sect underwent mass conversion and became full-fledged Jews. The following was written by a Jewish journalist who visited their village shortly before the outbreak of World War II:
"We entered the converts' synagogue. There we found a congregation consisting of a few dozen men praying the afternoon service, reading intently from small prayer books. Their appearance is dignified and serious, and they pray with great devotion. The person who led the service appeared to be the embodiment of the words, 'Know before Whom you stand.' These were never common people, as their lineage goes back over 1000 years to the founding of Transylvanian society. Today, however, they all have long beards and long side curls...
"At the end of the service they clustered around us and gave us a hearty 'Shalom Aleichem.' It did not take long until the conversation turned to a subject that is obviously very dear to them, their conversion to Judaism. This story is a glorious chapter in their history, and they do not conceal their pride in their ancestors' decision, in the times of Franz Josef, to join the Jewish people...
" 'And not only that,' they add modestly, 'many of our forefathers were already quite old when they willingly underwent the mitzva of brit mila (circumcision). Surely that in itself is no trifling matter!'
"As they tell it, the first member of their group to be circumcised was over 60 years old. He insisted that the Rabbi and the mohel (ritual circumciser) promise that if he died during the procedure, they would bury him as a Jew. In fact, everyone was clamoring to be circumcised first, as they all wanted to become Jewish as soon as possible. Even the youngsters were impatient...
"The new Jews suffered greatly because of their faith, but to them, all the pain and anguish was welcome. 'We knew that we had done a great thing,' they say, 'and we waited patiently for the reaction of the non-Jewish community.'
"The reaction was not long in coming. 'We were ordered to assemble at the courthouse. We were not afraid. We thought, what could do they do to us? Put us in jail? Our ancestors had also been imprisoned. Maybe we would be forced into the very same cells...'
"The date of the court appearance arrived. Everyone in the entire village put on his finest Sabbath clothing ...
"The chief magistrate turned to an elderly gentleman and demanded to know what had gotten into his head. The man replied that as his family had already been observing the Sabbath and eating kosher for several hundred years, the time had come to complete the process and not be satisfied with halfway measures. The judge then asked if anyone had felt compelled or coerced to convert, to which they all answered no, they had become Jews of their own free will. The judge then declared that he would announce his verdict in two days. The fledgling Jews were ready to accept whatever punishment he decreed...
"Two days later the verdict was announced: Whoever wished to remain a Jew would be obligated to turn over all his property to the royal treasury!
"A vast sigh of relief filled the courthouse. That was to be their punishment? Joyfully they went home and returned to the courthouse with all of their cows and oxen, jewelry and fine clothes. Everything was piled into a huge mound in front of the building. The judge, who had been watching the proceedings, then declared, 'In the name of the Kaiser Franz Josef, you are hereby granted permission to embrace your new faith. I just wanted to see how much you were willing to sacrifice on behalf of your beliefs...' "
For the next 75 years the community flourished. Jews from the surrounding areas built them a synagogue, and sent them a Rabbi and a shochet (ritual slaughterer) to attend to their needs.
Unfortunately, the Holocaust perpetuated by the Nazis, may their name be erased, did not leave these righteous converts unscathed. When the time came they entered the ghettoes and concentration camps with the rest of their brethren, where they publicly sanctified G-d's Name.
Our Sages declared that "all the appointed times for Moshiach's coming have passed." We have completed everything required of us, even - to borrow an expression from the Previous Rebbe - "having polished the buttons." However, the very fact that Moshiach has not come as of yet indicates that there is something more for us to do. What is in fact required of us? Our Sages explain that in each generation, there is an individual who is fit to be Moshiach and "when the time comes, G-d will reveal Himself to him and send him." The service at present is thus to be prepared to actually accept Moshiach and create a climate in which he can accomplish his mission and redeem Israel from the exile.
(The Rebbe, Shabbat Parshat Chayei Sara, 5772-1991)