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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
There is a loud crunching sound. You look around wondering if anyone else hears it. Everybody else seems to be oblivious to the noise, or perhaps they are just being polite. You wonder, don't they notice it too?
But, of course, they don't hear the sound because it's you who is munching on the celery or chomping on the carrot. Since you are the perpetrator of this cacophonous conduct and the clamor is emanating from inside your head it resonates in your ears, blocking out other more subtle sounds. But ask someone seated just a few feet away from you if they can hear you chewing and they will assure you that they don't detect anything.
Perhaps it is for this very reason that the great Jewish thinker and sage, Rabbi Joshua ben P'rachya taught in the Mishna (Ethics of the Fathers 1:6) "Provide yourself with a master; acquire for yourself a friend; and judge every person favorably."
When a person finds himself in a situation where he has to make a big decision, he's sure to "chew" it over or "ruminate" on it for awhile. But, inevitably, whatever thoughts or opinions are in that person's head will come through loudest and clearest, making an objective decision essentially impossible.
However, if a person takes Rabbi Joshua's teaching to heart, he will find a "master," someone he respects and whose opinion he values. A master is not a friend whose advice we solicit but when we don't like the recommendation we ignore it. A master, or rav in the original Hebrew, is someone whose wisdom and knowledge of Torah teachings guide his advice, someone who will tailor his counsel to the person's nature, character and unique situation.
Consulting with a "master" when making decisions that affect one's quality of life will enable a person to come to conclusions that are acceptable to himself, pleasant to those around him, and pleasing to G-d.
It is worthy to note that Rabbi Joshua was a nasi, a leader of the Jewish people. That it was Rabbi Joshua who presented this advice teaches us that even someone of a very high stature, a person who is very learned and who has perhaps even reached the peak of human perfection, should humble himself and seek a teacher or "master."
Rabbi Joshua also recommends that we "acquire a friend." Jewish teachings speak of the importance of friendship and urge us to exert ourselves in these relationships. Unlike a master, though, a friend is a peer, someone on our own level who can share the trials and tribulations of life with us. They've been there and done that (or they're in the process).
The Hebrew words for "acquire" can also be understood as "buy." Rabbi Joshua is not suggesting that we "buy" our friends. Rather, we should know that even if we have to go out of our way, to give of ourselves, we must do so in order to nurture friendships.
Whether master or friend, another person will help us filter out our more personal ruminations and cogitations allowing us to really "chew over" the matter in a more objective manner.
This week's Torah reading, Behaalotcha, describes the preparations for, and initial stages of, the journey of the Jews through the desert after having camped at Sinai for more than a year.
At Mount Sinai, the Jews received the Torah and soon after constructed the Sanctuary there. Yet, our people did not remain content with having achieved these spiritual heights. Rather than staying in the desert where G-d provided for all their needs, they set out on a mission - to journey to Israel.
The desert is barren and desolate. Yet as the Jews traveled through the desert, they transformed it, albeit temporarily, into a settled land, a place where crops, trees, and even flowers grew. For the Jews did not travel empty-handed. With them, they took the Torah that they had been given and the Sanctuary that they had constructed. G-d's presence, which rested within the Sanctuary, and which is given expression in our lives, brought about these positive changes in the surroundings in which they lived.
The Baal Shem Tov explains that the journeys of the Jewish people through the desert are reflected in the journeys of every individual through life. Some of the phases that we pass through may appear barren and desolate. Nevertheless, we must appreciate that this is only the external setting in which we are placed. It should not reflect our inner state - for G-d's presence accompanies us at all times and the Torah is with us in all surroundings.
In a similar vein, the journeys of the Jewish people through the desert also allude to the journeys of our people through the ages toward the Messianic Era. Accordingly, throughout history the Jews have wandered from country to country pursuing the Divine mission of revealing the sparks of holiness everywhere by utilizing physicality in fulfilling the Torah's commandments.
To explain this motif: Our Sages state that G-d exiled the Jewish people in order that converts should be enabled to join them. In addition to the simple meaning of this statement, Jewish mysticism expands the meaning of the word "convert" to refer not only to individuals who accept Judaism, but also to the sparks of the G-dly life-force which are hidden within the world's material substance.
When a Jew uses an object for a mitzva, he or she releases these hidden sparks of G-dliness and enables them to be overtly revealed. So from land to land have our people wandered, completing phase after phase of this mission.
In the process of doing so, they have made "the desert blossom." They have endowed the world with spiritual meaning and purpose, pushing it toward the culmination of this process; Moshiach's coming, when the G-dliness that pervades our existence will be manifest and apparent.
From Keeping In Touch by Rabbi E. Touger, published by Sichos In English.
Psychiatrist by Day, Scribe by Night
by Allie Freedman
Page by page, line by line, letter by letter, Richard Epstein has spent the past eight years meticulously handwriting the words of G-d. Using a turkey feather quill and kosher animal skin parchment as his pen and paper, he masterfully created a Torah scroll for the Chabad Shul of Potomac. Running his own private practice in general psychiatry by day, Epstein, 74, devoted his nights and weekends to crafting his holy work. On Sunday, Epstein will complete his sanctified journey by penning the final of the scroll's more than 300,000 letters at a dedication ceremony at the Chabad center.
"In Deuteronomy 31:19, G-d says, 'Write for yourself this song.' That means, every Jew should write a Torah scroll," says Epstein. "It is a great honor and responsibility to inscribe the Torah.
"The first Torah scribe in the world was Moses himself," he continues. "Every time I sat down to write, I became engrossed in the work. I feel a strong sense of awe, as I am so moved by the beauty of the Hebrew letters. I am doing G-d's work. It is one of the most amazing tasks I've ever done in my life."
Living until the dawn of the 21st century a primarily secular life, the Brooklyn-born psychiatrist always felt a strong connection with the Torah, he says. He discovered Potomac's Chabad center 15 years ago and began studying the Torah with Rabbi Mendel Bluming. Throughout his studies, he immersed himself in the medieval commentary of Rashi and realized that he wanted to become a scribe.
"Rashi's teachings opened up a new world and meaning of the Torah for me," says Epstein. "After studying with Bluming, I wanted to contribute. I realized our synagogue needed a new Torah, and I knew writing the Torah would bring me closer to G-d."
Discussing his personal admiration for Epstein, Bluming says he was inspired by his longtime study partner's decision to take on the time-consuming task of writing a Torah.
"Dr. Epstein was one of the first people I met when I came to Potomac in 2000, and we began to study together regularly," says Bluming. "I was struck by his earnestness and genuine thirst for Torah knowledge and observance. His connection to learning the Torah inspired him, ultimately leading to inscribing his own Torah scroll."
Embarking on the new adventure, Epstein first had to perfect his knowledge of Hebrew scripture. He became an apprentice to a sofer [scribe] and studied the intricate laws detailing the stylizing of the Hebrew letters and the specific spellings of certain words. After practicing the art of writing the unique script of religious literature, Epstein began his side career as a scribe by working on a Megillah, since G-d's name is not included in the text. (According to Jewish law, the name of G-d is so holy, that mistakes made in its formulation can render an entire text - or sections of text - invalid for ritual use.)
Epstein then moved on to writing about a dozen parchment scrolls for placement in mezuzahs to prepare for writing G-d's name. Finally, he was ready to tackle the much larger project of writing a complete Torah scroll.
"I became so absorbed in my work," says Epstein. "Before I start writing, I say a prayer and give money to tzedakah [charity]. Then, I would say each word and each letter out loud as I wrote. After each line, I would read the line both forward and backward to ensure there were no mistakes. At this point, it would take me between 12 and 15 minutes to complete one, single line."
With 42 lines per page, Epstein uses a numbered celluloid strip to keep his place. In addition, he often writes the name of G-d in the text beforehand. If a scribe makes a mistake on G-d's name, the parchment is buried in the ground, because according to Jewish law, G-d's name cannot be thrown away. In today's hi-tech society, several computers checked the work for accuracy. In addition, the Torah was proofread four times by hand to guarantee perfection.
Epstein's act of inscribing the Torah quickly became a communitywide event at the Chabad Shul of Potomac. Throughout the past eight years, Epstein displayed each completed page of the Torah to the synagogue. He wanted the public to feel immersed in the process. In addition, Epstein has allowed some members of the community to fill in some letters of the Torah and to dedicate Torah portions.
"I feel as if I am an ambassador to helping people fulfil the mitzvah of writing the Torah," says Epstein. "As I hold the quill with members as they inscribe their letter, I watch people connect to the Torah on a new level. This is our community's Torah. I am just a regular congregant with a day job. I hope that will inspire others to fulfill mitzvot."
Once Epstein finally fills in the last letter, the synagogue will parade its brand new scroll down the streets. Joining the procession, neighboring synagogues Beth Sholom Congregation and Talmud Torah and Young Israel Ezras Israel of Potomac will bring out their own Torahs. After the parade, the synagogue will provide refreshments and a presentation on the scribal arts.
"This has been a truly transformative eight year journey for our community," says Bluming. "The extent of community excitement and involvement from day one is incredible. I never imagined how much of an impact this would have on us. Dr. Epstein has inspired many in our community to re-examine their bucket lists and expand their horizons. This is something that I want my children and the children of our community to witness and remember forever."
In celebration of the completion of the long journey, Epstein will read from his new scroll at morning prayer services on Monday. As a scribe, he plans to continue writing mezuzah scrolls and playing an active role in the Jewish community.
"Every mitzvah is a challenge and an opportunity," says Epstein. "G-d provides the Jewish people the 613 mitzvot to enhance their lives. I feel as if the Torah wrote me rather than I wrote it. I'm deeply grateful that G-d provided me this opportunity to bring his Divine light into the world with this mitzvah.
Reprinted with permission from the Washington Jewish Week
Torah Scrolls Welcomed
The Jewish community of Kharkov, Ukraine, welcomed a new Torah Scroll. Amidst the current economic and political instability participants felt uplifted and inspired by the community simcha.
The Jewish community of Las Flores, Buenos Aires, Argentina, welcomed for the first time ever their own newly completed Torah Scroll. The new Torah will be used in the local Chabad House.
The new Bais Menachem Shul in Novosibirsk, Russia, welcomed a Torah Scroll amidst dancing and rejoicing.
The Chabad Jewish Community Center in Folsom, California, finally has a Torah Scroll of their own and no longer has to borrow from other congregations. The Torah was proudly paraded through the local streets.
A Torah Scroll was completed in Auschwitz coinciding with this year's March of the Living. Survivors filled in the final letters and then sang "Ani Maamin" - "I Believe...in the coming of Moshiach." The Torah was commissioned by Chilean philanthropist and businessman Leonardo Farkas.
Chabad of Rio Grande Valley, Texas, welcomed a Torah Scroll that had previously been used by a congregation in Brooklyn, New York.
Freely translated and adapted
Sivan, 5715 (1955)
I received your letter, in reply to mine, in which I dwelt on the subject of simple faith, as emphasized by the festivals of Passover and Shavuot.
In your reply you refer to what seems to you a contradiction to the beauty of "simple" faith in the fact that the complexity and multiplicity in nature, particularly in the world of plants and animals, adds to rather than detracts from, the beauty of things, and you wonder if the same may not be true of faith.
The argument would be valid perhaps, if we were speaking of the "superficial," and not of the innermost and essential aspects of things. Actually, the analogy from nature only confirms what I wrote to you in my previous letter.
For, needless to say, I did not mean to imply that a person, especially a Jew, should content himself with faith alone, or that our religion is a simple matter. As you know, the Torah contains 613 different and varied precepts, and each one has a variety of facets. G-d expects every Jew and Jewess to reflect upon them in their daily lives according to their circumstances. This certainly makes for a variety of religious experiences and practices. I say, "to their best ability," etc., for, as our Sages ruled, "a rich man bringing a poor man's offering has not fulfilled his duty," which, of course, applies to the realm of the spiritual as well as that of the material. However, all this religious practice and experience, in all its variety, has to be based on, and permeated by, the same basic faith in G-d, a simple and absolute faith.
The analogy in nature is to be found in the fact that with all the complexity and multiplicity of plant and animal life, their basic and ultimate components are single cells, though the cell itself has a variety of components which science has by no means fully unravelled. It is only when these elementary cells behave properly in their simple function of growth, division and multiplication, without interference of foreign elements, etc., that the complex organism is properly attuned and can carry out its most amazing functions.
Even in the inorganic world, the great complexity and multiplicity of things have been reduced to a small number of some one hundred basic elements. The endeavor of science is to reduce even the complex of their nuclear composition to a minimum, in order to get closer to the secrets of nature. Here, too, the basic function of nature is determined not by the principle of complexity but by that of simplicity, the small particle, the atom, the core of things, and, more deeply by its very few components.
You write that although you believe in G-d and His closeness, you are endeavoring to find your own way of serving Him. This is a long and round-about way. It is analogous to the person searching for the secrets of the functions of the physical body, e.g., how food is converted into blood, tissue, energy, and sustains life; it would surely not be the right approach to stop eating and drinking, pending the conclusions of the study. Even a reduction in the necessary caloric intake would weaken his powers of reasoning and research and handicap him in his ever attaining his objective. Similarly, in an effort to find a way of serving G-d, one must not postpone such service until one has completed one's search. Moreover, the absence of the religious practice itself handicaps the powers of the intellect to grasp the truth. Furthermore, since the human intellect is by its very nature limited, while the subject it desires to grapple with is related to the Unlimited, it is only with the aid of the Infinite G-d that one can hope to be lifted across the unbridgeable chasm separating the created and the Creator, and such Divine aid can come only through Divine service.
Finally, there is obviously no contradiction here to the principle of the freedom of personal choice. The real issue here is the proper approach and method to be undertaken now, until one has arrived at the stage where one's intellect becomes sufficiently clear to confirm the established truth.
The key to the solution is "Na'ase v'nishma," ["We will do and then we will understand"] where "Na'ase," practical religion in daily life, is the prerequisitive condition for "Nishma," study and understanding.
The Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman - founder of Chabad Chasidism, responded to an individual in a private audience: "...The Jewish people are called neirot, lamps. A lamp comprises a vessel, wick, oil and flame. But one must kindle the flame - and then it sheds light. You have a good lamp, but you lack the igniter. By sharply striking the stone of the animal soul, a spark of fire flies out and kindles the G-dly fire."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
In this week's Torah portion, we read about the daily lighting of the seven-branched golden candelabra in the Sanctuary by Aaron the High Priest.
King Solomon writes: "The soul of man is the lamp of G-d." Just as a flame rises constantly upwards so man's soul is constantly seeking to rise higher. Aaron's lighting of the Menorah symbolized the task of all Jews, to "light up" the souls of the Jews.
Rabbi Sholom Ber of Lubavitch was once asked: "What is a Chasid?" and he replied, "A Chasid is a 'street-lamplighter.'" In Rabbi Sholom Ber's days, a street-lamp lighter kindled each street lamp by hand. The lamps were there in readiness, but they needed to be lit. Rabbi Sholom Ber implied that a Chasid is one who goes out into the street, finds the lamps - Jewish souls - that need to be lit, and carefully and gently kindles them with he beauty, warmth and light of Torah and mitzvot.
Every Jew can be, and in essence is, a street-lamp lighter. Every Jew is obligated to search out other Jews whose souls remain ready but are not yet ignited with the fire of Judaism. And certainly, in his so doing, nothing will be detracted from the "streets lamp lighter's" own flame. For, as we all surely know, lighting one candle from another does not diminish the flame of the first. Rather, when two flames burn together they burn even stronger with less of a chance that one will be extinguished.
Let us go from flame to flame until the entire Jewish menora will be proudly lighted and together illuminate the darkness of the night of exile.
Antigonos of Socho received the tradition from Shimon HaTzadik. He used to say: ...And let reverence for Heaven (literally, the fear of Heaven) be upon you (Ethics Ch. 1:3)
After Antigonos emphasizes that one should not serve G-d with a view to receiving reward, but out of complete love for Him, he declares that a person must also be careful regarding his reverence for G-d. One who serves with love is eager to fulfill a positive commandment, and one who serves with reverence is careful regarding negative ones. Thus, by being careful in both aspects, a person's service is complete.
Hillel said: Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving other people, and drawing them to Torah (Ethics Ch. 1:12)
Moses drew G-dliness down to the Jewish people from Above by means of the Torah which was given through him. Thus he is referred to as "the chaperone of the King" - analogous to the escort who accompanies the groom to his bride. Aaron, by contrast, brought the Jewish people closer to G-d from below to Above, and is thus referred to as "the bride's chaperone," analogous to the escort who accompanies a bride, leading her up to the groom who awaits her.
(Sefer Ha'Arachim Chabad, Vol. 2)
[Hillel] used to say: If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? (Ethics Ch. 1:14)
In many areas of Jewish life the individual and the community are completely integrated and harmonized, with equal emphasis on both. Hence, "If I am not for myself" expresses the importance of the individual. At the same time, each person is part of the whole Jewish community, and if he is not, i.e., "if I am only for myself," isolated from the community, what is the individual truly worth?
(Likutei Sichot Vol. 18)
Long before Rabbi Meir of Premishlan was known as a tzadik (righteous person), his unusual kindness and compassion were demonstrated. Even as a young child he would go from door to door collecting money for the poor. Rabbi Meir was simply unable to bear seeing someone in an unfortunate situation. He would do everything in his power to relieve the other's suffering.
At the same time, he was extremely modest and went out of his way to avoid drawing attention to himself. A year after he was married, he hired himself out as a tutor for an estate owner's children, a common way to support one's family in those days.
It did not take Rabbi Meir long to realize that the wealthy landlord was a coarse individual. Nonetheless, the children seemed to be progressing nicely under his tutelage, despite their father's rough and boorish behavior.
Rabbi Meir was particularly distressed by his employer's stinginess. Whenever a poor person knocked on the door asking for a donation or a crust of bread, he was treated condescendingly and with a tight fist.
For the first few weeks in his new position Rabbi Meir tried to concentrate on his teaching and ignore what was happening. But as time wore on he found it increasingly difficult to restrain himself.
One day, Rabbi Meir approached the owner of the estate and made a suggestion. "From now on," he proposed, "every time a poor person comes, I'd like to you give him a coin, which you can deduct from my salary." The landlord agreed to the plan, as there was no reason for him not to.
From that day on, every beggar who arrived on the doorstep received a coin, and sometimes even a light meal to ease his hunger. In the meantime, the owner of the estate was carefully recording every penny that went to charity in his ledger. No one could understand the miserly landlord's sudden generosity, but at least the beggars were happy.
Six months passed, and soon it was almost Passover and time for Rabbi Meir to go back home. Before he left, the owner of the estate called him in to pay him his salary. Taking out his ledger, he deducted all the coins and food he had "wasted" on the poor, and was shocked to see that nothing remained. And not only that, but Rabbi Meir actually owed him money! The landlord was furious. How could he, a smart and savvy businessman, have allowed himself to fall into such a trap?
Rabbi Meir was banished from the estate without a penny in his pocket. Why, he was lucky to even have a pocket, as the landlord had briefly considered taking Rabbi Meir's overcoat as payment for the "damages" he had incurred, before changing his mind at the last second.
Rabbi Meir, however, was not particularly upset by what had occurred. In fact, he was in a good mood. Passover was coming, he was going home, and there were many things in the world more important than money...
Rabbi Meir was on the outskirts of Premishlan when something shiny in the road caught his attention. Looking closer, he saw it was a very valuable gold coin, worth far more than the entire salary he was supposed to have received as a tutor!
Rabbi Meir, however, did not think along the same lines or in the same way as "regular" people. The whole way home his thoughts had been focused on higher, more spiritual matters. His initial reaction upon seeing the coin was hesitation. "Is this the way it has been decreed from Above that I derive my livelihood?" he thought to himself. "Does G-d really want me to make a living from the dust of the earth?" Rabbi Meir continued walking and did not bend down to pick it up.
Rabbi Meir's wife was overjoyed to see him after a half-year's absence. Several days later, when her husband still hadn't mentioned any earnings, she thought it was strange, but having full faith in him she did not bring up the subject, assuming he had his reasons.
By the following week she decided the time had come to allude, very delicately, to their financial situation. But her husband only responded cryptically, "Let's wait until tonight..." and left for the synagogue. In shul, money was soon the farthest thing from his mind.
That evening, Rabbi Meir was in the study hall when the servant of one of the wealthiest inhabitants of Premishlan suddenly tapped him on the shoulder. Handing him a gold coin he said, "My master asked me to deliver this to you."
Rabbi Meir jumped up as if bitten by a snake. "What is the meaning of this?" he inquired. The servant related that earlier that day his master had returned to Premishlan after a long journey, and had found the coin lying on the ground. After some deliberation he had decided to give it to a young Torah scholar, and Rabbi Meir's name had been drawn from a lottery.
"I see this coin really was supposed to be mine..." Rabbi Meir smiled, pondering the ways of the Creator.
L-rd our G-d, You have loved us with everlasting love; You have bestowed upon us exceedingly abounding mercy ...L-rd our G-d, may Your mercy and Your abounding kindness never, never forsake us. Hasten and speedily bring upon us blessing and peace; bring us in peace from the four corners of the earth, break the yoke of the nations from our neck, and speedily lead us upright to our land. For You are G-d who performs acts of deliverance, and You have chosen us from among all nations and tongues, and have, in love, brought us near, our King, to Your great Name, that we may praise You, and proclaim Your Oneness and love Your Name.
(From the morning prayers)