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Baseball cards, the original sports "trading cards," have been around since the mid-18th century. Although now it is popular to collect other sports cards, there's still something special about baseball cards.
No longer simply full-color printing on card stock, sports cards today include "chrome" cards, cards with holograms, and even cards with authenticated autographs or jersey materials.
As kids, many of us collected, flipped and traded baseball cards. As adults, we bemoan the fact that we, or our parents, threw out the cards when we got older. "If we had just saved them," we sob, "we'd be millionaires by now!"
Baseball cards are truly a preoccupation for many. The Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement, taught that everything we see or hear can teach us a lesson in our lives as Jews. Certainly, then, baseball cards could be a reason for introspection.
For starters, one can look at the fact that the cards are an accurate record of the player's career. How many of us, famous or otherwise, keep an accurate record of those aspects of our "Jewish" career which should, in fact, be itemized? For instance, do we give a fair amount of time to Torah study in comparison to our other pursuits? Do we give charity generously - at least the 10% which the Torah requires?
Baseball cards often have a few sentences about the highlights of the player's career. What about our Jewish career. Would we be proud to publicize those highlights?
How many times have you been "at bat" - involved with a mitzva (commandment) - and how many of those times did you actually get a hit? Did you make it to second or first base, or were you tagged out for various reasons? Did you ever hit it out of the park for a home-run?
A statistic which is even more significant for us is RBI's. One of the Baal Shem Tov teachings is that the whole reason why a person might be born and live for 70 or 80 or 90 years is just to do one favor for another person - "Runs Brought In," so to speak. Helping someone get to home base, spiritually or materially, is the whole reason why we exist, according to the Baal Shem Tov.
But since we don't know exactly which person it is that we're meant to help, we need to have a pretty high statistic of RBI's. Start working on your batting today, so you can help someone home tomorrow.
An article about baseball cards does not, of course, mean to say that collecting them is a Jewish activity. Whether as hobbyists, professionals or amateurs, we Jews "collect" mitzvot.
Giving charity, visiting a sick friend, spending time with an elderly person, welcoming guests, celebrating with a bride and groom, honoring our parents, attending a Torah class, reciting a blessing on the food we eat, praying, affixing a mezuza to our door, lighting Shabbat candles, putting on tefilin. After we do them, these and hundreds of other mitzvot that we perform are then lovingly sorted, classified and preserved by G-d, who will surely soon agree that it is time to reveal the invaluable worth of our mitzvot with the coming of Moshiach, NOW!
This week we read the Torah portion of Balak. Of all the prophecies in Scripture that refer to the Messianic era, the one contained in the Torah portion of Balak is most unusual in that it came from Bilaam, a gentile prophet.
Bilaam, the foremost prophet of his time, was forced against his will to foretell the downfall of the nations of the world and the ultimate ascendancy of the Jewish people.
The very fact that this prophecy is included in the Torah indicates its special significance; indeed, it contains a distinct advantage precisely because it was said by a non-Jew.
For, when Moshiach comes, the Jewish people will no longer be subservient to the nations; on the contrary, the gentile leaders will vie with one another for the privilege of serving the Jews!
Thus, the prophecy of Bilaam concerning the Final Redemption not only gave the Children of Israel cause for rejoicing over their future, it actually afforded them a "taste" of the way things will be in the Messianic era.
As far as prophecy itself is concerned, our Sages foretold its reoccurrence among the Jewish people before Moshiach's arrival according to the following chronology:
On the verse in this week's Torah portion, "At the proper time shall it be said to Jacob and to Israel, what G-d has wrought," Maimonides noted that prophecy would return to Israel after "the proper time" had elapsed after Bilaam, i.e., after the same number of years as had passed since the creation of the world until his prophecy.
Bilaam's prophecy was said in the year 2488; 2488 years after that, in the year 4976 (we are now in the year 5774), prophecy was destined to return to the Jewish people.
In fact we find that this was indeed the case, for it was then that prophetic luminaries began to appear on the Jewish horizon - Rabbi Shmuel Hanavi, Rabbi Elazar Baal "Harokeach," Nachmanides, the Ravad (Rabbi Abraham ben David), Rabbi Ezra Hanavi and Rabbi Yehuda the Chasid and others.
More generations passed until the birth of Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chasidut, and his successor, the Maggid of Mezeritch, about whom it was said that they "could see from one end of the world to the other."
The following generation produced Rabbi Shneur Zalman, who formulated Chabad Chasidut. Had he lived in the times of our prophets he would have been on a par with them; moreover, this chain of prophecy continued from one Chabad leader to the next, until the present day, when the Rebbe has prophesied that Moshiach's arrival is imminent.
The return of prophecy to the Jewish people is therefore both a prerequisite and preparation for the Messianic era, which is due to begin at any moment.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 2
Celebrating in Prison
by Rabbi Nosson Nota Berkahn
Rabbi Nosson Nota Berkahn (of blessed memory) recalls how he marked the liberation of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe from Bolshevik imprisonment when he, himself was imprisoned by the Soviet government.
The police searched for Rabbi Berkahn all week. After all, he was a "criminal." He was known to observe mitzvot (commandments) and to encourage others to do so as well!
His father-in-law was taken as a hostage. Secret police were posted to watch the house. There was no choice; the situation was unbearable. Rabbi Berkahn turned himself in to the police. He was just a young man, in his first year of marriage.
Rabbi Berkahn explained, "Ten years in Siberia are very hard. The trial is even harder. And the interrogation is hardest of all."
Immediately after turning himself in, the interrogations began. After ten days of interrogations, Rabbi Berkahn was finally transferred to the jail known by all as the "central barbershop."
"At the beginning of Tammuz the head warden came into my cell. His face was covered with boils. He was an evil man who was always ready to kick someone with his heavy boot or to strike someone with the large key in his hand. Sometimes he did both.
"His appearance struck terror in the hearts of the prisoners. He read names from a list and I was one of them. We had to pack our belongings and go out to the hall.
"I think that at the time my mind was blank. My emotions were also deadened. Prisoners were used to being moved from cell to cell but there was always the fear of the unknown. I could not know, I could not even imagine, what would happen to me within the next few minutes.
"They led us down the endless corridor. An order was given and we were stopped next to one of the cells. The jailer put one of the inmates in there and so on, until we reached cell 229. I did not think this would be my new living quarters. When I looked inside I was surprised. When I saw the prisoners standing in the doorway I almost stopped breathing. I wanted to cry out. There stood Rabbi Simcha Gorodetzky, my friend. With a split-second glance and a movement of his hand he motioned to me not to reveal that we knew one another."
Ten steps in the length and six in the width; that was the size of the cell. No furnishings. The "tenants" were four thieves. One of them was in charge, giving out spots to new prisoners and also helping himself and his friends to the lion's share of every package a prisoner received from home. Aside from them there was a murderer, one kolkhoznik and the two Chasidim.
"At first we made it seem as though we were strangers. Little by little, we began talking to one another. Reb Simcha is a great person. Aside from his scholarship, cleverness and Chasidic piety, he is a pleasant person. Even hardened criminals respected him. Thanks to him, I also enjoyed better treatment.
"Reb Simcha, as a veteran prisoner, taught me how to save water for washing my hands in the morning and for a meal. He taught me the 'laws of jail' with an emphasis on the fact that even here a Jew is not exempt from having set times for Torah study. If you don't remember all of Psalms by heart, review the chapters you remember and they will count as though you said the entire book.
"Listening to Reb Simcha pray, I felt how good it was to be a Jew. He prayed quietly and only occasionally raised his pleasant voice at a certain section, which pierced the heart.
"Our entire existence is solely in order 'to give praise to Your holy name.' If so, what do you care where you are, outside the walls or within? His parables and stories were meaningful. From everything that occurred around him he knew how to learn a lesson in serving G-d.
"Reb Simcha completely negated sadness. We must always be happy! He would ask: What don't you like here? The conditions, the filth, the stench? Have you considered that we, with our bad deeds, place the King's head in filth? Are you concerned about His anguish?
"One day I realized that something had changed with Reb Simcha over the past few days. He was more closed and cried a lot when he prayed. His behavior affected me too. When I finally asked him, he said that it would soon be 12 Tammuz, the Rebbe's holiday of Liberation, and he was preparing for a spiritual communing with the Rebbe. On the eve of 12 Tammuz he prepared all day for this 'private audience,' and fasted all day.
"Said Reb Simcha, 'Before the Rebbe left the country [to seek asylum in America], he said that nothing would separate between him and his students and those connected with him. There are no locks and bars! There is no barrier! The Rebbe is with us now too and I am sure he will find a way to respond to all my questions.'
"He quietly began singing a Chasidic melody with such yearning that I too began to see the Rebbe in my mind's eye. My first private audience was when I went in with my grandfather as a boy, and the Rebbe placed his holy hands on my head and blessed me. Here, the Rebbe enters ... the room full of Chasidim ... the Rebbe at the head of the table, reciting a Chasidic discourse ... utter silence. Only the Rebbe's voice is heard, penetrating the hearts of all, even those who do not understand ...
"Another picture comes to mind, of Simchat Torah. The Rebbe dancing with his sons-in-law ... The house full of people, all trying to draw spiritual nourishment ... then the Rebbe at the airport in Riga, asking all of us to unite in brotherly love, in the observance of Torah and mitzvot. The plane takes off. Rebbe! When will we see each other again?
"We said 'l'chaim' over water. Reb Simcha told the story of the Rebbe's arrest and release in great detail along with various anecdotes.
"Gut Yom Tov. Next year with the Rebbe!"
Reprinted from Beis Moshiach Magazine
The Art of Giving
The Art of Giving, a discourse on charity, was delivered by the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, known as the Tzemach Tzedek. The discourse opens with the Talmudic statement, "Each and every coin [of charity] adds up to a large sum." At the heart of the discourse is the question: What is the ideal way to give to charity? Is it best to give whatever we can at any given time regardless of the amount or should we postpone our giving until such time as we can afford to make a more sizable contribution. In the process the Rebbe touches on various Talmudic dictums and kabalistic insights and formulas as brought together through the inspired teachings of Chasidus. Translated by Rabbi Shmuel Simpson, part of the Chasidic Heritage Series published by Kehot Publications.
Shushan Purim 5712 
Sholom u'Brocho [Peace and Blessing]:
In reply to your letter, briefly:
- You ask how we can reconcile the attributes of G-d of mercifulness and kindness with cosmic catastrophes such as volcanic eruptions and the like, involving the loss of human life, etc.?
There are many circumstances involved in each event, in addition to time and location. However, there is one general answer to such apparently inexplicable occurrence, which will become clearer through the following illustration:
Suppose one encounters an individual for a brief period of time, finding him asleep, or engaged in some arduous toil. Now, if the observer should want to conclude from what he sees during that brief period of time as to the nature of the individual he had observed, he would then conclude that the individual has an unproductive existence - in the first instance; or leads a life of torture - in the second.
Obviously, both conclusions are erroneous, inasmuch as what he saw was only a fraction of the individual's life, and the state of sleep was only a period of rest and preparation for activity, and - in the second instance - the toil was a means to remuneration or other satisfaction which by far outweighs the effort involved. The truth is that any shortsighted observation, covering only a fraction of time or of the subject, is bound to be erroneous, and what may appear as negative will assume a quite different appearance if the full truth of the before and after were known.
Similarly in the case of any human observation of a world event. The subject of such an observation is thus taken out of its frame of eternity, of a chain of events that occurred before and will occur afterwards. Obviously we cannot expect to judge about the nature of such an event with any degree of accuracy. A volcanic eruption or earthquake and the like are but one link in a long chain of events that began with the creation of the world and will continue to the end of times, and we have no way of interpreting a single event by isolating it from the rest.
- The difference between "G-d is All" and "All is G-d" is in the approach and deduction. In the first instance, our starting point is G-d, and through study and research we can deduce that G-d's being is revealed even in material and "natural" things! Our study of the Unity of G-d and His other attributes will lead us to recognizing the same attributes in nature and the world around us, the practical results of which find expression in unity among mankind and the practice of G-d's precepts as the proper application of G-d's attributes in our own life, etc. One who sets out on this path dedicates himself wholly to communion with G-d. He is averse to all material aspects of life, including even the bare necessities connected with his physical wellbeing, and tries to avoid them as much as possible. Being engaged in spiritual communion with G-d, he considers all material and physical necessities, even those permitted by the Torah, as a hindrance in his consecrated life. However, his intelligence convinces him that the material and physical world is but an expression of the Divine Being, and that in them, too, G-d is to be found.
In the second part of the statement, "All is G-d," the starting point is the outer shell of the universe and all material things in it, a study of which will lead to the conclusion that there is cosmic unity in the whole world and that there is a Divine "spark" vitalizing everything, and consequently - one Creator. Hence he serves G-d even while engaged in the material aspects of life, and does so with joy, inasmuch as it is in them and through them that he recognizes the greatness of the Creator and they help strengthen his unity with G-d.
Thus we have two ways in the service of G-d, of which the first is the easier one, while the second leads to a better fulfillment of the objective - to make this lowest physical world an abode for G-d.
- An observation of my own: It seems a novel way of trying to learn Chassidus by correspondence. Even where there is no other choice, it is difficult to cover such a subject in the course of a letter. But in your case, you are within personal reach of receiving oral and fuller explanations in the normal course of study under teachers of Chassidus at Tomchei Tmimim [the Lubavitcher yeshiva], and with the aid of the senior students of Chassidus who have been learning it for years. Why not use this better method?
With all good wishes,
In the early period of his leadership the Rabbi Shneur Zalman taught: "The footsteps of man are directed by G-d." (Psalms 37:23) When a Jew comes to a particular place it is for an (inner Divine) intent and purpose - to perform a mitzva (commandment), whether a mitzva between man and G-d or a mitzva between man and his fellow-man. A Jew is G-d's messenger. Wherever a messenger (shaliach) may be, he represents the power of the meshalei'ach, the one who sent him.The superior quality that souls possess, higher than the angels (who are also "messengers"), is that souls are messengers by virtue of Torah.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Thursday and Friday of next week (corresponding to July 10-11 this year) are 12-13 Tammuz, the birthday and days of liberation of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe from Bolshevik imprisonment.
This year, Shabbat immediately follows 12-13 Tammuz. At a gathering on a Shabbat that immediately followed 12-13 Tammuz, the Rebbe spoke about the special nature of this three-day continuum:
Shabbat is connected with the idea of liberation, for on the Sabbath a Jew is free of weekday work. In this year, then, there are three consecutive days of liberation: 12 and 13 Tammuz, and Shabbat - which lends it the force of a "chazaka," (the status of permanence) "a chazaka comes into being after three times."
Since "the body follows the head," all aspects of the liberation of the previous Rebbe ("the head") apply to and affect every Jew ("the body"). Moreover, since the head encompasses the vitality of each and every limb of the body, and provides the leadership for the whole body, the relationship between the head and body is not just in the manner of one thing following another, but rather in the manner of forming one entity. Thus, 12-13 Tammuz should induce every Jew to increase in all aspects of Judaism, Torah and mitzvot, consonant to the previous Rebbe's directives.
When these days of liberation are utilized to ensure that service to Gd is performed in a manner of liberation, Gd, who pays "measure for measure." will bring the actual redemption.
When Jews perform their service in the manner of redemption, they effect the actual, literal redemption from Above, since Gd pays "measure for measure." Since the redemption comes from Above, through Gd Himself in all His glory, it will certainly be a true and complete redemption - just as Gd embodies the absolute truth and the absolute perfection. Also, since it is Gd who brings the redemption, there will be no time constraints, and Jews will be "redeemed immediately.
He has not beheld any wrong in Jacob, nor has he seen evil in Israel: The L-rd his G-d is with him, and the glory of the king dwells among him. (Num. 23:21)
Rabbi Yitzchak of Vorka used to say: It states in the holy Zohar that "The Holy One, Blessed Be He, the Torah and Israel are one." The same way one cannot pick apart G-d or His Torah by saying, "This particular verse of the Torah doesn't appeal to me," so too, should we approach our fellow Jew, treating him with respect and acknowledging his importance to the Jewish People as a whole."
And G-d opened the mouth of the donkey (Num. 22:28)
"Don't think too highly of yourself for being a prophet," G-d was rebuking Bilaam. "Look, even a donkey can speak if I so decree. Like the donkey, the only reason you have been granted prophecy is that it will ultimately bring benefit to the Jewish people."
Who can count the dust of Jacob (Num. 23:10)
Why are Jews likened to the dust of the earth? As the Baal Shem Tov explained, in the same way that the earth contains vast underground treasures and natural resources, so too does every Jew contain an immeasurable wealth of faith, love and awe of G-d - if only one digs deep enough...
(Keter Shem Tov, Hosafot)
He has not beheld any wrong in Jacob (Num. 23:21)
Whenever a Jew does a mitzva (commandment), he creates a "good" angel; whenever he transgresses, a "bad" angel is formed. Commented Rabbi Zushe of Anipoli: "Never have I seen a complete, unblemished angel that was created by the sin of a believing Jew. These 'bad' angels are always missing a limb: this one its head, that one an arm. For as soon as the Jew sighs in remorse, it cripples the accusing angels and maims them..."
In Europe it was the custom to fatten up geese in the months preceding Passover, since many families refrained from using any oil other than goose fat. For six to eight weeks the geese would be fed a full bucket of corn twice a day, so that by the time the holiday arrived they would be so huge they could barely waddle.
Two religious giants of the day, the Chasam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Sofer) and the Yismach Moshe (Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum) differed in their rulings as to whether the practice of force-feeding rendered the geese treife (not kosher). The question revolved around whether or not the sharp corn grains which were fed to the birds in such quantities would damage the esophagus, thus making the birds treife (i.e., unable to live another year). The Chasam Sofer held that the esophagus would not necessarily be damaged, and so he ruled the practice permissible. (Of course, the geese had to be carefully checked before being consumed to prove that they were kosher by the process described later.) His contemporary, the Yismach Moshe felt that since the corn kernels were sharp, the likelihood was that the birds would be rendered treife by the force feedings. He ruled that geese fed in this manner would not be permissible.
The two corresponded back and forth, each presenting learned arguments to prove his point, their dispute purely "for the sake of heaven." Finally, the Chasam Sofer suggested that instead of theorizing, they should put their rulings to a practical test. Each was to take ten geese and fatten them up. Then, they would slaughter them, fill the esophagi with air and float them in a full tub of water. If the esophagus was damaged, air bubbles would escape into the water, thus proving that the bird was treife. If no bubbles were seen, the bird would be kosher.
When the birds were duly fattened and slaughtered, an amazing thing took place. All the birds from the household of the Chasam Sofer proved to be kosher, whereas all the birds of the Yismach Moshe tested treife.
So it was seen that the legal rulings of these two great giants dominated the physical reality, proving the axiom that the rulings of true halachic authorities determine the actual reality of a physical situation.
Another story is told which illustrates the same point. There lived in Europe in the last century a well-known Chasidic rabbi who was rebbe to tens of thousands of Chasidim. He was known as the Zidochover Maggid.
One Friday as he sat and learned Torah with a group of his disciples, a woman entered his study carrying a chicken that she wished to prepare for the Shabbat meal. However, there was a question on the kashrut of the bird, so she had brought it to the Rabbi to ask if it was permissible. Now, on the face of it, the chicken had lesions on its lung that would normally indicate that it was treife, but to the astonishment of his students, the Rebbe spent hours studying many texts in an attempt to find an opinion that would permit the chicken. It was incomprehensible to them just why the Rebbe would go to such lengths when he could just as easily give the woman a ruble to buy another chicken. After hours of study the Rebbe stood up and pronounced the chicken kosher! The Rebbe's disciples couldn't believe their ears, but he had labored and succeeded in finding a way to rule the chicken permissible. The happy woman went home to prepare her Shabbat meal, and the scholars resumed their study.
Soon after she left another woman entered the hall in a state of hysteria. "Rebbe, Rebbe!" she screamed, as she fainted to the floor. When she was revived she resumed her wailing, crying, "Rebbe, you must help my husband, the doctors have given up hope!" Again the poor woman fainted and had to be revived. The Rebbe stood by her side and said, "Tell me please, what is the exact nature of your husband's ailment?"
She replied that he had serious lesions on his lungs. When he heard that, the Rebbe comforted her saying, "I just ruled that this type of malady is kosher. Go home and don't worry; your husband will live for many years." And this, in fact, is what happened. Only then did the students understand that through his ruach hakodesh (Divine inspiration) the Rebbe had known that he would need that halachic ruling to help a fellow Jew. Through his pronouncement which allowed the chicken to be used he also, so to speak, negated the fatal effects of the same illness on a fellow Jew.
Because exile is a dream, in which opposites can co-exist, the situation can change in a moment: Jews can leave the dream of exile and enter reality - the redemption. Every Jew holds the key to the redemption, as Rabbi Shneur Zalman writes: "It states in Tikkunim that if even one righteous person (and "Your people are all righteous") in a generation returns in complete repentance, Moshiach would come immediately." Maimonides rules, "When a person does a mitzva (commandment), he tilts himself and the whole world to the meritorious side, and brings redemption and salvation for himself and for them." This can be achieved in a moment.
(The Rebbe, 14 Tammuz, 1984)