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The invitations, the hall, the caterer, the band, photographer, gown, flowers and guest list. Everything has been done for the wedding. The bride and groom have even been reading the latest best-sellers on how men and women differ, how they have unique ways of communicating, and how to make their marriage work in this day and age of divorce.
One thing the new couple knows for sure even without reading it or being told is: "In a relationship like marriage, there's no such thing as "minimum."
Whereas in business or other partnerships one might be able to ponder: "What's the least I can do in order to keep going?" such cannot be a consideration in marriage. Rather, "What can I do to enhance this relationship, to make it stronger, to help it grow" should be primary concerns of both husband and wife.
The approaching holiday of Shavuot (this year from the evening of June 3 through the evening of June 5) is likened to the marriage of G-d and the Jewish people. The Jewish people, being the bride, received the Torah - our ketuba - from G-d on that day. Mount Sinai was our chupa (marriage canopy).
Our relationship with G-d, then, is like that of wife and husband.
And, whereas the thought of "what's the minimum I can do and still remain in a healthy relationship with my significant other" could never be entertained in a human marriage, the same thought should never be a conscious or subconscious consideration regarding our relationship with G-d.
"What can I do to enhance my relationship with G-d, to make it stronger, to help it grow?" are questions we can and should ask ourselves. For Judaism encourages asking sincere questions, and then genuinely trying to find out the answers.
One answer to the above question comes from the realization that, although "G-d wants the heart," G-d also wants every other part of our bodies. Our marriage to G-d makes our relationship with Him anything but platonic. To have a healthy relationship with G-d we have to get physical.
Our hands, our feet, our brains, our mouths, should be physically involved in this relationship: our hands to give charity, light a Shabbat candle, put on tefilin; our feet to walk to shul or to visit a friend who isn't well; our brains to study Torah and find answers to our questions; our mouths to pray and only speak well of others.
And as our relationship with G-d grows, as our love deepens and intensifies, we will come to realize that we are truly content that G-d chose, 3326 years ago, to become united with the Jewish people, His eternal bride.
In truth, there have been tough times in this Divine marriage, as there are in any marriage. But the bride and Groom together eagerly await the time when this union will be truly perfect, in the Messianic Era.
In this week's Torah portion, Nasso, we read, "When a man or a woman utters a Nazirite vow... he shall abstain from new and old wine... grape-beverages, grapes and raisins..."
The term "nazir" (Nazirite) has two meanings: it denotes "separation; keeping aloof" - in the sense of his obligation to keep away from grapes and grape-derivatives etc..; and it derives from nezer (crown; diadem), as it says, "nezer (the crown) of his G-d is on his head... he is holy to G-d" (Num. 6:7-8).
We are confronted by a paradox. On the one hand the Nazirite is called "holy to G-d," thus a man of lofty spiritual stature. On the other hand, his separation from worldly things could be criticized by the Talmudic retort, "Is it not enough for you what the Torah has already forbidden you?" (Yerushalmi, Nedarim 9:1) - because man's purpose is to infuse himself and the material world with sanctity. However:
Maimonides concludes the laws of the Nazirite as follows: "He who vows unto G-d by way of holiness (as opposed to mere abstinence for its own sake) does well and is praiseworthy. Of him it is said, 'the crown of his G-d is upon his head... he is holy unto G-d.' Scripture considers him equal to a prophet, as it is said, "I set up prophets from your sons and Nazirites from your young men' (Amos 2:11)."
This verse of Amos relates also to the time of the redemption. Then, too, there will be Nazirites who will attain the ultimate holiness, above and beyond that of earlier times. With the coming of Moshiach, a person will be a Nazirite not for the sake of simply separating from worldy matters, because these will then no longer impact negatively upon us. For in the Messianic era, "good things will be abundant and all delightful things accessible like dust, and the singular preoccupation of the entire world will be to know G-d." Thus it will be the consummate form of the holiness of being a Nazirite.
The laws of a Nazirite teach us a most significant principle about our belief in the coming of Moshiach.
Halacha (Torah-law) decrees: If one declares, "I undertake to become a Nazirite on the day that Moshiach will come," then if he made this vow on a weekday he is forever bound by it from that very moment. If he made his vow on a Shabbat or a festival day, it will become operative from the next day onwards, forever, but not on that day itself. For it is uncertain whether Moshiach will or will not come on a Shabbat or Yom Tov, which, therefore, precludes making the vow operative on that day (Eruvin 43b; Hilchot Nezirut 4:11).
This demonstrates clearly the fact that "the day that Moshiach will come" is a possibility that applies to each day. Thus we say in our daily prayers, "every day (and all day long) we hope for Your salvation"; or in the version of the Thirteen Principles of the Faith: "I await his coming every day."
From Living With Moshiach, adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet, Kehot Publication Society
Becoming a Jew
by Dovid Staples
My family's story is a long one. In a nutshell, our goal was to become better Christians; we wound up becoming Jews.
It all started with a bible study class my parents enjoyed. The teacher was an insightful man with a gift for teaching. One day however, he simply stopped teaching at the church. My mother called him and asked if she could continue learning with him. He agreed. My parents went to his home where he taught them in a different fashion that rejected certain church teachings and was more true to the original Bible. He challenged them to search the Bible for themselves.
Surely, they thought, it was just a matter of finding a new church.
But after looking into several churches, my parents gave up church hunting. They said a prayer, asking G-d to show them where He wanted them to go and to give them the ability to follow.
One night my father saw an infomercial for what later turned out to be a cult. They called the number and had the minister come to our home. After two hours we told the minister we would like to come to services. He was kind and said we would be welcome, except, "It won't be a problem in your case since you're already married, but once a year we talk on the subject of marriage, and...well, we teach against interracial marriage." (My mother is white and my father is black.) My parents showed him to the door.
By this time, my grandmother had hopped on the bandwagon with us. After the fiasco with the previous minister she decided to see who else might observe "Biblical Feasts." Off to Google she went. She asked my mother, "Have you ever heard of the Messianics?" They still believed in the Nazarene, the difference being they believed that they were also supposed to keep all the commandments of Judaism too. We became internet Messianics. Whatever we learned on Google became add-ons to our Messianic life-style.
We lived happily this way for a while until my parents felt we needed a central place of worship. They found a Messianic Friday night service. They were moved by the candle lighting, by the beautiful tallitot the "rabbi" and all the men and women were wearing. It was the Jewishness that was so appealing! My mother asked the rabbi where to buy a tallit, candles and the "Shabbat Shalom" tablecloth, and he said tersely, "Why do you want those things? You're not Jewish."
That remark hung over our heads. We felt that our sincerity accounted for something; that our beliefs obligated us to do what the Bible said. On a Jewish message board my mother read a heated argument about non-Jews attempting to keep the mitzvot (commandments) that were given exclusively to Jews. It was like a kick in the gut. It meant that it wasn't enough to be sincere. We weren't Jewish.
My mother strongly felt we had to do something about this. My father was content with the way we were. Major arguing ensued. It climaxed when one day my father stormed out of the room and took his tallit and prayer book. "Where are you going?" my mother asked. "I need to pray now," my father angrily replied. "But," my mother countered, "the tallit, the prayers, they're not yours. They're not ours." Those words deeply affected him. He realized it was true. Those things were not his. He was not Jewish.
I had never heard the word "Jew." My mother explained to me who they are and what they stand for. I decided that was the life I wanted.
My mother had spent a good deal of time on Messianic message boards and she frequently saw a name mentioned. That name was Tovia Singer. Apparently, to them, he was second only to the devil. My mother was curious to know why this man was so hated among Messianics. It became patently clear why Tovia Singer is the enemy of the Messianic movement. He is an ant-missionary. He takes the Christian "proofs" and "sources" and turns them on their head. But the most life-changing revelation we learned from his lectures was - the Nazarene was nothing we believed him to be!
This was where my grandparents and aunt got off our Jew-bound train. We on the other hand knew we had some major changes to make.
We looked up Orthodox rabbis in our area and found Rabbi Mendy Deitsch's Chabad of the East Valley. We called him and told him of our interest in Judaism. When my parents met with him they told him a little of our journey. They mentioned the minister whose church taught against interracial marriage. Rabbi Deitsch looked genuinely puzzled. My parents explained, "Well, because we're a mixed couple." My parents will never forget his completely artless reply, "How so?" And with that they knew with certainty that they were in the right place.
Rabbi Deitsch eventually referred us to Rabbi Tzvi Block of the North Hollywood Beit Din (Rabbinical Court) in Los Angeles. They tried very hard to dissuade us. The Beit Din wouldn't even consider us as candidates for conversion until we had learned the laws of Shabbat and kashrut, my brother and I were enrolled in a Jewish school, we moved close to a synagogue, and we lived our lives fully as Jews. We were fortunate to go through the conversion process in the beautiful and warm Chabad of the East Valley Community.
The Beth Din makes the process challenging. It's necessary; once you become a Jew you carry the obligations forever. We were persistent. Before long we were making our final trip to L.A. Even at the mikva they still insisted that we had no obligation to become Jews, but of course it didn't deter us.
We became Jews on 11 Nissan, 2003. We returned from L.A. two days before Passover and hosted 18 people for our first Seder. After Passover the community threw us a "Welcome to the Tribe" party. There was a cake with our Jewish names on it. We each got the slice with our name and I recall wishing I had picked a longer name! That's my only regret about the whole journey.
Each year on the festival of Shavuot we relive the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people by G-d at Mount Sinai by hearing the Ten Commandments read in the synagogue from a Torah scroll. It is a special mitzva (commandment) for every man, woman and child to be in the synagogue on Shavuot to hear the Torah reading. This year, the Torah reading that tells of the giving of the Torah will be read on the first day of Shavuot, Wednesday, June 4, in synagogues around the world. Many Chabad-Lubavitch Centers sponsor "ice cream" parties (in keeping with the ancient tradition of eating dairy products on Shavuot) for the young and the young at heart. To find out about the closest Shavuot ice cream party call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
New Chabad House
A new Chabad House opened in the village of Menang, Nepal, on the famous Annapurna Trek, in time for the tourist season. Due to its altitude, Menang is freezing cold, without even minimal infrastructure - furnishings had to be brought by helicopter and then transferred to horses.
Lag B'Omer 5731 (1971)
Free translation of a letter of the Rebbe to the 16th Annual Convention of N'Shei UBnos Chabad
The Convention is taking place this year on the Shabbos when we bless the Hebrew month of Sivan, the month of Matan Torah (the Giving of the Torah). And inasmuch as everything is by Divine Providence, this is an opportune moment to dwell on one of the aspects of Matan Torah which also has a direct bearing on the convention.
Torah from Sinai begins with the Ten Commandments, of which the first two: "I am G-d your G-d," (the root and foundation of all positive mitzvos [commandment]) and "You shall have no other gods" (the root and foundation of all prohibitions) proclaim the Unity of G-d.
A precondition to Matan Torah was the unity of the Jewish people (as it is written, "And Israel encamped [in the singular form] there facing the Mountain" - indicating, as our Sages explain, "as one man with one heart").
The essence of Matan Torah is to realize in the material world the Unity of G-d, through the "one nation on earth" (the Jewish people), fulfilling the 613 mitzvos of the one Torah."
At first glance it is difficult to understand how such unity can be achieved, considering that G-d Himself created mankind as diverse individuals, differing in their opinions ("as they differ in their faces so they differ in their minds"), living in a world which He likewise created varied as to climate and physical features.
How can a whole nation attain true unity within itself and bring unity into such a diversified world?
The explanation is to be found in the verse, "And they stood themselves under the Mountain" - all of the 600,000 adult men, with their wives, sons, and daughters.
This means that as they were about to receive the Torah, they all submitted themselves to it so completely that all mundane matters ceased to exist for them; their self-effacement (bitul) and joy from this brought true unity to every one of the 600,000 individual men with their families, and brought the unity of G-d into the world through the one Torah.
The Jewish people began with one family, that of our father Abraham, and ever since then the Jewish family has been the foundation of our people.
In the family, too, each member is a separate individual, with a particular function and purpose in life assigned to him or her by Divine Providence. Unless there is unity in the family, there can be no unity of the Jewish people.
How is family unity achieved?
In the same way as is mentioned above: When all the members of the family accept the One Torah from the One G-d in such a way that the Torah and mitzvos are the only essential thing, and all other things merely secondary, having a significance only insofar as they are related to the essence - then there is true unity in the family.
In attaining this family unity - bearing in mind too that Jewish families are the component parts of the Jewish people and hence the basis of the unity of Klal Yisroel [the Jewish people] as mentioned above - the Jewish mother and daughter have a most important part, being the Akeres haBayis [foundation of the home], as has been underscored on previous occasions.
Needless to say, this said unity must be a constant one, without interruption; which is to say, it must be expressed not only on certain days of the year, or certain hours of the day, but on every day of the year and in every hour of the day.
This means that a Jewish home must be wholly based on the foundations of the Torah and mitzvos, and so permeated with the spirit of its dedication to Torah and the joy of mitzvot that this should also be reflected in one's conduct outside the home, in the street, and in one's entire environment.
Herein lies the essence of the "integrity and unity of the Jewish family and of Jewish family life" - the main theme of this year's convention.
It is hoped that this point will be brought out at the convention with the proper clarity and forcefulness - together with its aim and purpose - its realization in daily life, in keeping with the basic principle of our Sages of blessed memory: "The essential thing is the deed."
Rabbi Shneur Zalman taught: Sanctify them today and tomorrow, and they shall cleanse their garments. "Sanctify them today and tomorrow," is done from Above, but "they shall cleanse their garments" - one must do himself. The Tzemach Tzedek elaborated: "Sanctify them" was said by G-d to Moses. There is a Moses in every generation and this "Moses" is able to sanctify the "today" and the "tomorrow"; but for this is needed "..and they shall cleanse their garments" - the garments of thought, speech and deed. This must be done by each person on his own.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This coming Tuesday night through Thursday night is the holiday of Shavuot, celebrating when G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai.
Three people in Jewish history are particularly associated with Shavuot: Moses, King David and the Baal Shem Tov. And these three great leaders were also intimately connected with Moshiach and the Redemption.
As the one through whom the Torah was given to the Jewish people, Moses is intimately connected with Shavuot. The Torah is even referred to as "The Torah of Moses" - Torat Moshe. Moshiach will be so like Moses in his leadership qualities, humility and Torah scholarship, that our Sages even stated, "Moses is the first redeemer and the last redeemer."
Shavuot is the birthday and anniversary of the passing of King David. One of the functions of Moshiach is that he will restore the Davidic dynasty, for Moshiach will be a descendant of King David, a human king.
Finally, we come to the Baal Shem Tov. The Baal Shem Tov, too, passed away on Shavuot, on the second day of the holiday. In a famous letter to his brother-in-law, the Baal Shem Tov described a spiritual "journey" when he visited the chamber of Moshiach. He asked Moshiach, "Master, when will you come?"
Moshiach replied, "When your wellsprings - your teachings - will spread forth to the outside."
The Baal Shem Tov's teachings - Chasidut - were recorded and expounded upon by his various disciples. They are a foretaste of the new and deeper revelations of Torah that we are promised will be revealed and taught by Moshiach, himself.
This year on Shavuot, when all Jews, young and old, gather in our synagogues to reexperience the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, let us also reconnect with the essence of the holiday and cry out for the ultimate revelation of the Torah and G-d through Moshiach.
He who learns from a colleague a single chapter, a single Torah law, a single verse, a single statement or even a single letter, must show him honor (Ethics of the Fathers, 6:3)
This teaching refers to a colleague whose conduct is not above reproach. When a person's own conduct is flawed, it is natural that despite the rational self-justifications that stem from self-love, he would recognize his own failings and humbly look down on himself. One may not, however, view a colleague from whom he has learned Torah concepts in such a manner. For even when the other's conduct is unworthy he should be honored for the sake of the teachings he communicated.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Parshat Bamidbar 5738)
Rabbi Meir said: Whoever occupies himself with [the study of Torah] for its own sake merits many things (Ethics, 6:1)
The Hebrew word for "occupies," "osek" relates to the word for "businessman," "baal esek." A person's occupation with the study of Torah must resemble a businessman's preoccupation with his commercial enterprise. Just as his attention is never totally diverted from his business, so too should the Torah always be the focus of our attention.
(Likutei Sichot, Vol. XVII)
Whatever the Holy One, blessed be He, created in His world, He created only for His glory (Ethics, 6:11)
A heretic once came to Rabbi Akiva and demanded proof that G-d created the world. "Come back tomorrow," Rabbi Akiva told him. The next day, when the heretic returned, Rabbi Akiva asked him what he was wearing. "A garment," the man replied. "Who made it?" the Rabbi asked. "The tailor," was his answer. When Rabbi Akiva demanded proof, the heretic demanded, "How can you not know this?" Said Rabbi Akiva, "And what about you? How can you not know that G-d created the world?" Our Sages commented: "Just as a house indicates a builder, a garment indicates a tailor, and a door a carpenter, so too does the world tell of the Holy One that He created it."
Matzliach "the Antique Dealer," as he was known, lived long ago in Tunisia. He was a great lover of Torah, though not an outstanding scholar. And, though he was not very rich, he gave charity generously.
He was particularly known in the Jewish community for his special custom in connection with Shavuot, the festival of the Giving of the Torah. Every year he invited ten scholars to his home on the first night of Shavuot. He prepared a fine feast for them, and after the meal they would recite the special "Tikun" prayers and study Torah the entire night.
Matzliach started this tradition when, years earlier, he learned of the custom to stay awake on the first night of Shavuot. At the time, he was greatly surprised to hear that the night before G-d was to give the Torah to the Jews at Mount Sinai, they did not stay awake! Indeed, they slept soundly, so that when G-d descended on the mountain early in the morning, His chosen people were not there! It wasn't that the people were not eager to receive the Torah, but rather that they wanted to be well rested and refreshed for the great moment of Divine Revelation.
And so it became the custom of Jews everywhere to make up for this by staying awake the night of Shavuot, in this way "correcting" what had happened. In fact, this is what "Tikun" means - correction.
One year when Shavuot approached, Matzliach found himself in a difficult situation. Business hadn't been good and not only didn't he have money for his usual feast, but he didn't even have the funds for food and wine for the holiday. Sadly he told his wife Mazal about his predicament.
"I still have my precious earrings," Mazal said, taking them off and giving them to him. "Take them to the pawnbroker to get a loan until things improve."
Matzliach took the earrings to the pawnbroker and received a tidy sum.
As he was walking home, Matzliach met the chief rabbi of Tunisia, Rabbi Hai Tayeb.
"You saved me a trip," the Rabbi said. "I'm going around collecting for our poor, so they can celebrate Shavuot with joy."
Without hesitation, Matzliach gave the Rabbi the money he had just received from the pawnbroker.
On his way home, as Matzliach wondered what he would tell his wife, he heard his name called.
"His Majesty sent me out to buy a set of antique coffee-cups. I have no idea where to get them," said one of the servants of the ruler. "But you are an antique dealer. Get them for me, and you will be amply rewarded."
"I will try my best," Matzliach promised. The dealer he went to had such a set and was happy to sell them off cheaply to Matzliach.
Matzliach went to the Royal court and was introduced to the King. "Just what I wanted," he said. Then he asked how much he owed for the cups.
After hearing the price, the surprised king asked, "That's all you paid for these precious cups? The ruler of Tunisia is not looking for bargains. You shall be paid their full value!"
Matzliach left the king's palace with a large sum of money. Walking home, he met the Chief Rabbi again.
"I can now afford to double my donation," Matzliach said happily.
"Thank G-d, we both did well today," the Rabbi said. "Have a happy Shavuot."
Indeed, it was a happy holiday for Matzliach and his wife Mazal. And what made them happiest was that this year, too, they could observe their custom of celebrating Tikun-night as before.
There is a spark of Moshiach within every single Jew (the highest level of the soul - yechida). There also exists the reality of Moshiach in its simplest sense (the general yechida), as is known "that in every generation, someone is born from the seed of Judah who is fit to be Moshiach of Israel" (Bartenura, Megillat Rut). "One who is fit due to his righteousness to be a redeemer, and when the time will come, G-d Almghty will reveal Himself to him and will send him, etc." (responsa, Chasam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat, end of Sec. 98 ). Thus, in our times, all obstacles and delays have been nullified, etc., since there is in fact also the revelation of Moshiach, and now we only have to greet Moshiach Tzidkeinu in actual deed!
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shabbat VaYeira 5752-1992)