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This Shabbat marks the beginning of the month of March...
Hey, wait a minute. In a Jewish publication, shouldn't we reserve our discussions for Jewish months and not "secular" months?
A famous teaching of the Baal Shem Tov is that from everything a person sees or hears - whether in the realm of holiness or the seemingly secular - we can learn a lesson in his G-dly service. So, what can we learn from March?
Some of us have heard the saying, "March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb." And the juxtaposition of the lion and the lamb brings to mind a time of world-peace. So powerful is this image of lion and lamb connoting world-peace that a grass-roots group of parents who promote non-violent toys for children call themselves the Lion and the Lamb.
In truth, when our prophets speak of the ultimate world peace in the Messianic Era, they state, "The wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid..." The prophet continues, "...And the lion will eat straw as the ox."
One might ask, "Is this allegorical, or will animals that were previously adversaries actually co-exist peacefully?" That's a good question! (Every sincere question is a good question, actually.)
According to the opinions of many of our great Sages, these prophecies should be taken literally. Nachmanides documents this stand profusely, although he maintains that their fulfillment will not necessitate great changes in Creation because, "Initially when the world was created, prior to the sin of Adam, animals were not predatory. Only after Adam's sin did their natures change..."
Similarly, the commentator Radak declares that animals were not originally predators, as G-d created only one male and one female of each species. If either one would have been killed, the species would have become extinct.
However, there are other great thinkers whose opinions differ. No less a giant than Maimonides declares: "Do not presume that in the days of Moshiach the nature of the world will change, or there will be innovations in the work of Creation. Rather, the world will continue according to its pattern."
How are we to understand Maimonides' words, knowing that he established as one of the 13 principles of Judaism the belief in the resurrection of the dead, an act that is certainly a change in the nature of the world?
The Rebbe explains that there are two stages to the Messianic Era. In the first stage, "the coming of Moshiach," everything will go according to its natural pattern. In the second stage, the actual Redemption, we will experience supernatural and miraculous occurrences.
However, it is possible, according to the Rebbe, that we could by-pass the first stage and go straight to the miracles - if we are meritorious.
Differing opinions aside, whichever way it's going to happen, let it just happen already!
This week's Torah portion, Pekudei, enumerates all the details that pertain to the setting up of the Tabernacle, a subject that has already been dealt with exhaustively in previous chapters of the Torah. If the purpose of Pekudei is to teach us that indeed, all the work on the Tabernacle was carried out exactly as G-d had commanded, would it not have sufficed to say so in one sentence? Why list every single detail all over again?
This question can also be asked about another section of the Torah, which speaks about the period immediately following Moses' completion of the Tabernacle. Each of the 12 leaders of the tribes of Israel brought offerings to the newly erected Sanctuary, and the Torah tells, in great detail, what these offering entailed. Yet on the face of it, all 12 offerings were identical. Why was it necessary to repeat the same words 12 times, rather than say that all of them brought the identical offerings?
The answer lies in the explanation that only externally did the 12 offerings resemble each other; spiritually, each offering had a different content and purpose. The Torah could not have said that each of the 12 leaders brought the identical offering, for in fact, they all differed from one another.
This explanation is true for this week's Torah portion as well: The Tabernacle which G-d commanded the Jews to build was in reality a different entity from the one which Moses erected. The Torah states, "These are the accounts of the Tabernacle, the Tabernacle of the testimony." This repetition of the word "tabernacle" alludes to the two sanctuaries implied by the text-the physical and the spiritual.
The physical Tabernacle was the one that G-d instructed Moses to erect. This tabernacle was built of physical materials - silver, gold, wood, etc. The second Tabernacle is the spiritual one that each of us must build, and the various building materials are spiritual entities that we must utilize for our goal.
Even though the spiritual Tabernacle G-d showed Moses on Mount Sinai was doubtless on a higher spiritual plane than the one built by the Children of Israel, it was precisely in the physical one where G-d's Presence dwelled. It was only after "Moses completed his tasks" that "the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Glory of G-d filled the Sanctuary." G-d desired an actual physical location in the corporeal world to show the manifestation of His infinite nature.
It is easy to belittle the power of the individual to influence his surroundings, and make an impact on the world. How can one person make a difference and bring pleasure to His Creator, when we are so puny and insignificant? The Torah answers: it is precisely because we are in such a physical world that G-d desires our performance of mitzvot (commandments). It is up to us, we who are in this world, to imbue it with G-dliness and turn it into a true dwelling place for the One Above.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
A Symmetry of Time
by Chava Tombosky
It was early morning when I received a call from my younger sister in New York telling me she was in labor. Although I was visiting Israel and my time zone was seven hours ahead, we were still connected at the hip as usual. I decided the only place I wanted to be as my sister's new child entered this world would be at the Kotel, the holy Western Wall in Jerusalem.
I arrived at the Wall at 1:15 p.m. in the afternoon. I remember the time because I was hoping to walk up the Temple Mount ramp. We were told we had to wait until 1:30. For 10 minutes, using my broken Hebrew, I tried to obtain a paper and pen. I finally found a small piece of paper and a pen and wrote down the names of all members of my family. I included my brothers and sisters, my grandparents, my mother, my nieces and nephews, my husband's entire family, a few close friends who are in serious need of prayers and of course my sister and her husband, the new parents-to-be who were about to give birth.
I called my sister and could hear the woofing of the baby's heartbeat on the monitor through the phone. I read each name to her. Suddenly I realized I had forgotten to write my sister Mimi's name. The clock was ticking. It said 1:35. I remembered the time because I had realized that I would now have to wait until 2:30 to be able to walk up the Temple Mount ramp to get a glimpse of where the Holy of Holies had once stood.
Again I went to look for a pen, and finally found a sweet woman willing to lend one to me. I wrote down Mimi's name and went back to the Wall. It was now 1:45. I prayed fervently, read each name and put the paper inside one of the many cracks in the Wall. Finally our names and our prayers were part of the brick and mortar of Jerusalem that carried the tears of 2,000 years worth of generations. I prayed for my sister with conviction and at 1:48, my sister called crying that she had given birth to a healthy baby girl, whom they named Chava Rosa, which translates to mean mother of all living roses.
It was an incredible moment. The feeling in the air was one of true energy. I found it interesting that the entire Kotel Plaza was filled with people. I wondered why on a regular Tuesday afternoon the Kotel was so full of men and women of all ages crying in prayer. I didn't think into it too much; perhaps Tuesdays are a good day to visit Jerusalem, I supposed..
A few days later, I learned of an awesome opportunity for prayer that had been revealed by Elijah the Prophet regarding the 50-year "Yovel" (Jubilee) cycle: "In the ninth year that Yovel arrives, in the ninth month, in the ninth day, and in the ninth hour - whereupon all the wheels in the upper worlds are agitated and Your good treasure house upon us opens... It is during these fateful moments, an incredible abundance of salvation is poured into this world. G-d opens the heavens and is receptive to salvation, joyful events, communal salvation and individual ones, Torah, good health, livelihood, finding one's love partner, marital harmony, children, and pride from one's children."
That Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013, corresponding to the date on the Jewish calendar of the ninth of Kislev, from 1:44 p.m. to 1:53 p.m. Israel time, the very time that I had been putting my list of names in the Western Wall, the very moment my niece Chava Rosa was born, was the exact moment that, unbeknownst to me, this auspicious 9-9-9 hour had taken place.
I'm one of those people who needs a lot of nudging when it comes to realizing that the Creator of my world is not me, but a larger entity creating perfect symmetry and choreography to my daily routine. But I am also curious and annoyed enough by my inability to know it without seeing it, that I tend to test this manifestation by watching life like an ongoing cinematic picture hoping to catch the nuance and subtlety that time and space sometimes holds.
And so, just when I think I have missed the big "Aha" moment, I get a little nudge reminding me that indeed something bigger is being orchestrated.
When I found out about the perfect symmetry of time that coincided with my prayers, I began to think: the obvious intervention of G-d was so recognizable, the thought that anything else besides Divine mediation orchestrates our world is truly unimaginable. G-d delivered "the mother of all roses" to gladden and bless our family. I felt the timing was also a strong, incredible gift that hinted to blessings for the entire world. For when one child is born the entire world is blessed. May this be a new era for all of us to embrace, like a flower which brings beauty and fragrance, may the energies of that moment have the power to create great beautiful blessings and the sweet perfume of abundance for us all.
A Judgment of Truth and Mercy
Written by Rabbi DovBer Shneuri, the second Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, to the Russian Governor-General. The only text of Chassidic teachings written specifically for a non-Jew, it focuses on the interrelation of our emotional qualities and the higher light drawn down when they function in complementary harmony. Sichos in English.
Confessions of a Jewish Cult-Buster
Originally released in 1985, Confessions of a Jewish Cultbuster by Rabbi Shea Hecht revolutionized the Jewish world. In an honest look at cults, the ways they attract youth, and how to stop them, it revealed actual case histories of Jewish youngsters rescued, deprogrammed and returned to their families. This completely revised and updated edition includes provocative new stories and a fresh look at the challenges of the day. Mosaica Press.
27 Adar I, 5711 (1951)
Greetings and blessings,
I was aggrieved because of your long period of silence, during which I did not receive any news from you. Therefore, I was very happy to receive your letter with the information that, thank Gd, you feel that your situation has improved. As is self-evident, I will read the pan that you sent at the grave site of my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe.
I will repeat my suggestion again that you meditate in a manner that involves firmly affixing your thought to the concept that Gd rules over His world and over each and every one of us individually. As a natural consequence, this will remove worry from your heart. For Gd will certainly arrange your affairs in the best way possible; how to manage them is not our responsibility. What is relevant to us are the Torah and its mitzvos (commandments) which were given to us and our free choice in observing them.
I am not coming to develop a new idea. On the contrary, these matters are straightforward and known to all. If, however, these ideas are left on the abstract plane, and when it comes down to practice, one carries out his life as if his affairs are dependent on himself alone, one makes his life harder. In simple terms, this refers to one's life in this material world. In contrast, when one is permeated by the concept that "Gd is my shepherd,"then even the body and the animal soul feel that "I will not lack" anything.
I am not, Heaven forbid, coming to preach. I am simply pained by the aggravation and sorrow you feel due to factors that have no foundation and, which, certainly, do not reflect reality. As is well known, there is a difference between the service of Gd in response to challenges and the service of Gd involving the refinement of the sparks of Gdliness invested in material existence, as explained in Chassidus.
Hoping to hear good tidings regarding the improvement of your health and that of my relative, your wife.
28 Adar I, 5711 (1951)
Greetings and blessings,
I am happy to see that you are among those who "say and do,"and that you have already paid $1,000 toward the account for the printing.
Tomorrow, the day before Rosh Chodesh, when - with Gd's help - I will visit the grave site of my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, I will recall you and your wife for blessings for good.
It is superfluous to speak again of the greatness of the mitzvah that you have undertaken, helping to spread the light of the teachings of Chassidus. This will certainly serve as a conduit to bring warmth and goodness into your home. And what is most important is that everything should be with happiness and gladness of heart; it should be possible to see everything in a favorable light. As my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, once related: When he was a small child, he asked his father, "Why did Gd give man one mouth and one nose, but two eyes?"
His father answered him: "So that with the right eye, we can see the positive qualities another person possesses, and with the left eye, we can see our own faults."...
From I Will Write it in Their Hearts, translated by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, published by Sichos In English
2 Adar II
The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe taught: A blessing must have a hold in something. (A blessing has no effect in a vacuum.) Just as rain benefits only the plowed and sown field, and early and later heavy rains benefit the crops of field or vine. But a waste field, unplowed and unsown, will benefit from neither soft rain, nor the early or later heavy rains.
(From Hayom Yom)
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The Shabbat before the month of Adar (and in a leap year, Adar II) is called "Shabbat Parshat Shekalim," or simply "Shabbat Shekalim." On this Shabbat we read about the mitzva of the half-shekel.
G-d commanded every Jew to give a half-shekel to atone for the sin of the Golden Calf. The sin of the Golden Calf was the sin of idolatry. Idolatry causes the Jewish people and G-d to be distanced and alienated from each other. The antidote, therefore, was to unite the Jewish people with G-d in true unison.
In essence, the Jewish people and G-d are one entity. Without G-d, the Jews are incomplete. They are only half of a single whole.
This fact was demonstrated by the mitzva of the half-shekel. The other "half" is G-d, and together they comprise a single unit. Rich and poor were commanded to give the same amount, for every Jew, no matter who he is, is only "half." Only by uniting with G-d do we become complete.
This is also connected to the month of Adar, in which the miracle of Purim took place. The Talmud explains that the spiritual reason for Haman's decree was that the Jewish people had become tainted by idolatry. The decree was nullified in the merit of the half-shekel.
When the Jews worshipped the Golden Calf, it gave the appearance that they had become disconnected from G-d. Their miraculous salvation refuted this notion, demonstrating openly that the Jewish people can never be separated from G-d.
The merit of the half-shekel aroused the Jews to observe Torah and mitzvot (commandments) with even more devotion and self-sacrifice, making them worthy of the Purim miracle. May it be G-d's will that the merit of reading about this mitzva render us all worthy of the ultimate miracle, the coming of Moshiach and the Final Redemption.
One hundred sockets for the one hundred talents, a talent for every socket (Ex. 38:27)
One hundred is the number of sockets that were in the Sanctuary, and the number of blessings that a Jew must recite each day. The same way that the sockets served as the foundation for the entire edifice, so do the blessings which a Jew makes serve as a foundation and basis for life. The Hebrew word for socket is "eden," which comes from the same root as "adon," or master. When a Jew makes a blessing and proclaims that G-d is "master" of the world, he is at the same time forming the "sockets" and support for his own personal spiritual sanctuary.
And the Children of Israel did according to everything that G-d had commanded to Moses, they did it. (Ex. 39:32)
The Sanctuary, about which G-d commanded Moses, is described in the Torah portions Teruma and Tetzaveh. The Sanctuary which the Children of Israel actually built is discussed in the portions Vayakhel and Pekudei. The first two portions refer to, in actuality, a spiritual sanctuary, while the second two portions a physical sanctuary. For this reason, every detail concerning the Sanctuary was given twice. In essence, it was about two totally different Sanctuaries that these portions speak.
And Moses blessed them (Ex. 39:43)
What was his blessing? "May it be G-d's will that the Divine Presence rest on the work of your hands." Every blessing, of any type, needs a proper "vessel" on which to rest. A person cannot sit back and wait for G-d to shower him with blessings; he must take practical action and expend the required effort in forming the vessel.
Once the Baal Shem Tov had a dream in which a deceased man appeared to him. The soul was deeply troubled because his son had forsaken the path of Torah. "I cannot rest because of my son. Please, Rebbe, try to help him."
The Baal Shem Tov lost no time. He harnessed his famous horses and in hours the carriage was standing outside the mansion of the wealthy son in Paris. The Baal Shem Tov's attendant knocked forcefully on the door, but was repeatedly rebuffed. Finally the master and mistress were awakened. The mistress peered into the carriage, and overwhelmed by the stately appearance of the man seated within, she entreated her husband to invite him to stay.
"We have such a large, empty house. Please let him stay."
The Baal Shem Tov was given a comfortable room. Word soon spread that a great wonder-working rabbi had arrived. People began to converge on the grand home. The mistress was very curious about the goings on, and engaged many of the petitioners in conversation. People began to speak about the wondrous cures that were effected by the potions and blessings of the rabbi, and the mistress of the house began to hope that she, too, could be helped.
That night she asked her husband to go to the Baal Shem Tov for his blessing and advice. "For so many years we have been denied the blessing of children. Perhaps this holy man can help us."
Her husband was uninterested. After all, the best doctors on the continent were unable to help them. What could an itinerant rabbi do for them? But his wife was relentless, and in the end, he acceded to her wish.
The Baal Shem Tov received the man and inquired about his business. "I manufacture wine," the man replied.
"Do you make kosher wine?" inquired the Baal Shem Tov.
"No," he answered.
"Well, then, at the next harvest, I want you to make a run of kosher wine. When you bring it to Medzibozh I can guarantee you a good profit."
The man just snorted. He did quite well, thank you, without the bother of kosher wine. Then he made his request to the Baal Shem Tov. The Baal Shem Tov produced several vials of remedies for the man's wife, and promised that in a year she would bear a son. The merchant was skeptical, but at least he had satisfied his wife. His wife was overjoyed and took the medicines at once. The Baal Shem Tov left, and true to his word, within a few months the woman conceived.
The merchant decided that since the Baal Shem Tov's blessing bore fruit, he would make the kosher wine and bring it to Medzibozh. He loaded the barrels of kosher wine onto several wagons and set out with his servant for Medzibozh.
After several days on the road, he lost his way. When the merchant alighted from his wagon to check directions, the driver unwittingly set off without him. Realizing that he had forgotten his passenger, the servant returned and frantically searched for him, but to no avail. He was forced to return to his mistress alone. The wife resumed the search, but was also unsuccessful. It seemed that the merchant had vanished.
The merchant wandered around for some time, and finally found shelter in a small shack. There he found a group of men playing cards and joined them. It wasn't long before he lost not only his money, but some of his expensive garments as well. Dejected, he resumed his travels, searching for someone who might take pity on him.
He wandered for hours until he came to the small cottage of a shepherd and his family. Out of the goodness of his heart, the shepherd supplied him with new clothing, food and drink.
The merchant wandered for many months from village to village in his attempt to return home. It seemed that each time he neared his home some perplexing situation intervened. From time to time he stopped at synagogues and yeshivot where the local Jews extended their warm hospitality. This experience humbled him and he began to examine his own heart as he had never done before. He felt drawn to the Torah that he studied at the yeshivot, especially the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov that some of his followers taught. Eventually, he himself became an ardent chasid of the Baal Shem Tov.
It was after many months of wandering thus that the man found himself in Medzibozh at a gathering with the Baal Shem Tov and his chasidim. The Rebbe offered the man a glass of wine. The label on the bottle was that of his own company - a non-kosher wine!
The Baal Shem Tov smiled. "Don't worry about the wine. Although it is your own label, this is the kosher wine that I had requested of you. Your own wagons loaded with the wine are standing just outside the city. Know that it is now time for you to return home. Hurry, for your wife is ready to give birth to your son."
In Psalms, we read over and over again how King David yearns to be connected with G-d. "My soul thirsts for You... in a parched and weary land without water. So too, to see You in the holy [place]..." The Baal Shem Tov explains that in this verse King David is relating how envious he is of the yearning that the Jews will experience during the time of exile. Specifically in that state, when the soul is far from G-d, she yearns for Him. King David pleads that the soul should similarly thirst for G-d even when living in a state of holiness.
(Appendix to Keter Shem Tov)