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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
by Izzy Greenberg
I used to think that the Messianic era was all about spiritual utopia. No more material worries. We'll all be free to pursue knowledge, peace, love, happiness and all the other good things. As Maimonides writes, the entire world will be busy with the awareness of the Creator, and there will be no competition or rivalry. At the same time, the Talmud speaks about all the wonders that will manifest within the natural world in the Messianic era - like edible trees and cuddly lions. What doe these physical transformations have to do with spiritual utopia?
The Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement, was once asked a similar question: "Why is it that Chasidim burst into song and dance at the slightest provocation? Is this the behavior of a healthy, sane individual? What's wrong with these people?"
The Baal Shem Tov responded with a story:
Once, a musician came to town - a musician of great but unknown talent. He stood on a street corner and began to play.
Those who stopped to listen could not tear themselves away, and soon a large crowd stood enthralled by the glorious music whose equal they had never heard. Before long they were moving to its rhythm, and the entire street was transformed into a dancing mass of humanity.
A deaf man walking by wondered: Has the world gone mad? Why are the townspeople jumping up and down, waving their arms and turning in circles in middle of the street?
"Chasidim," concluded the Baal Shem Tov, "are moved by the melody that issues forth from every creature in G-d's creation. If this makes them appear mad to those with less sensitive ears, should they therefore cease to dance?"
When you meditate or think deeply about something, it affects your entire being. If is a joyous thought, then you feel the joy not only in your mind and your heart - it permeates your entire being. You can even feel it in your toes. You might even get up and dance. The fact that the thought made you get up and dance demonstrates that it was not merely an intellectual concept, but something that touched the core of your being and thereby affected you from head to toe.
That's what we will experience in the Messianic era. If it was just a revelation of spiritual utopia, then our spirits alone would revel in the experience. Moshiach is a revelation of the core of being - the core of our own beings and of existence in general. Therefore, it will permeate all of existence, both the spiritual and material aspects of it, and everything in between. In a word, the whole world will be dancing.
Izzy Greenberg, a writer, scholar and teacher, is the Creative Director of Tekiyah Creative.
This week's Torah reading, Pinchas, contains a passage that sheds unique insight on the nature of Moses' leadership qualities. G-d tells Moses that the time has come for him to pass away. Moses' response is not to ask anything for himself or for his children. Instead, he asks G-d: "G-d, L-rd of spirits, appoint a man over the assembly." At the moment of truth, he shows no self concern. His attention is focused solely on the welfare of his people.
This is the fundamental quality that distinguishes a Jewish leader. In general, leadership involves identifying with ideals and principles that transcend one's own self. If all a person is selling is his own self, others will not identify with him so easily; for they are concerned with their own selves. Why should they nullify themselves before the other person?
Yes, they can be forced to accept authority or they can be bribed. But then, the person's authority will be dependent on the strength of the stick or the flavor of the carrot. The people will have no inner connection to him.
What will inspire a person to willingly accept the authority of another? A purpose which both the leader and the follower recognize as greater than his self. When the leader espouses and identifies with an ideal that gives his life greater meaning and direction, he will be able to share this ideal with people at large. For every person is ultimately looking for something more in life than the fulfillment of his personal desires.
A Jewish leader, a Moses, transcends himself to a greater degree. First of all, he is not concerned with his own personal objectives - even as an afterthought. Many leaders, though concerned with a purpose beyond themselves, are still looking for their own payoff. They bear in mind their own honor, wealth, or self-interest. A Moses is not looking for that.
But most of all, the purpose with which a worldly leader identifies is still somewhat intertwined with his own self, for ultimately, what is a leader looking for? To make the world a better place for all the people living here. Although he is concerned for others besides himself, his ultimate goal is how to make his own life better. He merely has the vision to appreciate that his own life cannot be consummately good until the lives of others are also improved.
A Moses, by contrast, is concerned with G-d's purpose, not man's. He wants to make the world a dwelling for Him, not merely a pleasant abode for mankind. Certainly, when G-d's dwelling is completed, it will also be very comfortable for man to live in, but that is not his purpose. He is concerned with G-d's objective, and the identification with that goal takes him beyond his personal self entirely and makes him the ultimate paradigm of leadership.
From Keeping in Touch by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, published by Sichos In English
A Kid, a Yid, and What He Did
by Rabbi Mendy Lipskier
I'd like to share an experience that occurred in our family recently. The "Kid and the Yid (Jew)" is our son Yossi, nine years old, an avid baseball fan, and valuable team member on our local Little League team. We recently dropped him off, "uniformed up" at "the diamond" for the regular game. We do as all Little League parents normally do, sometimes we stay...sometimes we drop off. Due to other commitments, this particular day we dropped him off leaving him in his uniform with his coach and teammates.
What happened next was the "foul ball." The game was going fine, with Yossi (as always) very actively participating, and very much looking forward to his "at bat." As he came up to bat, the umpire happened to notice that Yossi wears two uniforms, his team uniform, and also the fringe undergarment uniform of every male Jew....tzitzit.
What happened next is the "tipping point" of this story...The umpire insisted that Yossi remove his tzitzit in that it could produce some type of "interference or unfair advantage." Yossi (the only Jew, not just on the team, but we think in the entire league) respectfully explained to the umpire that he is wearing a religious undergarment and had never had an issue with this previously. The umpire would not listen.
What was Yossi to do??...disrespect the umpire (an adult) or disrespect his religion? The choice was easy and clear. Yossi had "two feet on the ground" in more ways than one. He walked off the field and would not play.
Why? He knew that the following Jewish precept trumps all:
"Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: They shall make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments...and this shall be tzitzit for you, and when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of G-d, and perform them" (Numbers 15:38-39).
What happened next?
The game stopped. Yossi's team also volunteered to walk off the field and forfeit the game in its entirety. However, after a significant "pow-wow" between the coaches and the umpire, Yossi was allowed to play, "double uniforms" and all.
So what educational opportunity does this story lend itself to? Many, but here's a short list:
- Tzitzit is a sign of Jewish pride. Jews have always had a way of dress to distinguish them from the people of the lands in which they lived - even when that meant exposing themselves to danger or bigotry. By the grace of Gd, today most of us live in lands where we are free to (and should) practice our religion without such fears.
- Religious tolerance means to refrain from discriminating against others who follow a different religious path.
- The freedom of individuals to believe in, practice, and promote their religion of choice without interference, harassment, or other repercussions shall always prevail.
- Ignorance, unacceptance and religious intolerance still run rampant, and people exhibiting those traits might see Tzitzit as just part of a "fringe religion" however, we actually see it as a symbol of "forget-me-knots." Today whether it be a kippa or tzitzit (ideally both), as Yossi did, we should all wear our "Jewish uniform" unapologetically with pride and with our head's held high.
As we know, self-assertion often demands a lot of humility. Doing something out of the ordinary requires putting our image on the line. It means that I care more about my truth than what other people think about me. This is self-esteem that is rooted in soul-consciousness.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe taught a powerful lesson gleaned from the location G-d chose from where to give us His Torah.
The Midrash tells us that Gd chose Mt. Sinai, and not a more impressive mountain, to teach us the value of humility. The question, of course, is this: If humility is paramount, why did Gd give us the Torah on a mountain at all? Why not a plain, or even a valley? The mere term "Mt. Sinai" is an oxymoron. It's a mountain, towering and majestic. And it's Sinai, meager compared to her sister mountains, humble. If humility is paramount, why did Gd give us the Torah on a mountain at all?
When Gd gave us the Torah and inaugurated us into Jew-hood, He said, "You are going to need to be real strong to be a Jew." Be a mountain. Have a backbone. Be a charismatic light unto the nations, and don't give a hoot if people laugh at you.
But be a humble mountain. Humble in your recognition that your strength comes from Gd. Your life's value is not about your image, it's about your higher calling. Don't measure yourself against the standards set by your neighbors; measure yourself against your soul's potential.
There is a continuation to this story, and I hope it doesn't end here. When a fellow emissary in Kentucky related what transpired in his Chabad House, five people committed to wearing tzitzit!
Rabbi Mendy Lipskier and his wife Tzipi direct Chabad Lubavitch of Fountain Hills, Arizona.
Uncle Yossi's Big Book of Stories
Uncle Yossi's Big Book of Stories is the second volume of classic stories brought to life in the unforgettable "Story-Time With Uncle Yossi" tapes of yesteryear.Drawn from the midrash, Talmud, and Jewish lore, these cherished stories instill a love of G-d, love of the Torah, and love of the Jewish people, planting the seeds for fine character development and personal refinement. Rabbi Yosef Goldstein of blessed memory has inspired generations of children through his stories and songs conveyed in a wholesome and captivating manner, teaching the eternal ethics and morals of our people and heritage. Published by the Jewish Learning Group.
24 Tammuz, 5726 (1966)
...With regard to the question about seeking psychiatric advice, judging by the description of your mood, etc., it would seem advisable. However, for reasons which need not be entered into here, most psychiatrists are prejudiced in relation to parents, and in relation to G-d and religion.
One should, therefore, reckon with this, and more importantly, one should try to find a psychiatrist who is free from such prejudices through the recommendation of a doctor-friend, or by independent inquiry.
Needless to say, it is most advisable for you to keep in contact with the element (religious people) you mention as being new to you, involving also the study of a field of knowledge which is entirely new to you Torah. For this would obviously broaden your horizons, in addition to the essential aspect - the importance of the subject itself for its own sake.
I trust, therefore, that you will continue along these lines, and, as in all new ventures of this nature, it is necessary to apply yourself with enthusiasm and gladness of heart, which the subject merits, and which also is the way to ensure the utmost success of intensive and extensive comprehension.
I was very much surprised to read in your letter, that by becoming religious you would have to seclude yourself from the world.
This is diametrically contrary to the concept of the Jewish religion and way of life, wherein, as you surely know, there is no such thing as monasticism, celibacy, and the like.
It is even more foreign to the spirit and way of the teachings of Chassidus which emphasizes that the purpose of every Jew is not only to make himself personally a "vessel" for the Divine Presence, but also to do his utmost to make his immediate surroundings (his share in the world) a fitting abode for holiness.
This cannot be accomplished by secluding oneself from the world, or by withdrawing from it, but rather by actively participating in, contributing to it.
Of course, before this can be done, it is necessary to have the proper preparation, in order to forestall any possibility of falling under the influence of the material world with all its temptations and passions, and to ensure that one will be master over it.
I would like to make a further observation in regard to the idea (which I believe is not your own), that in order to acquire a particular system or discipline, it is first necessary to acquaint oneself with all other systems, to be able to judge and verify its truth, to the extent of being noncommittal to any discipline, pending personal verification.
Such an idea is the best rationale and excuse that an individual can find (while he still needs a rationale) to indulge fully in a licentious life, and give free rein to his carnal appetites.
As I have often emphasized - if one will not accept the first two Commandments, "I am G-d, your G-d," and "You shall have no other gods," one will inevitably break all other Commandments, including "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," not to mention "You shall not covet," however self-evident these precepts may seem.
This has been amply demonstrated by Hitler and the German nation. All the philosophies which the Germans had invented and expounded were of no avail because they made the human mind the supreme and final judge, creating the concept of a "superman," etc.
There is, obviously, quite a difference in a system which leads to human perfection through stressing the Divine qualities in man, which can be developed only through self-discipline and the curbing of natural desires and propensities. There can be no relationship between the two systems; they are diametrically contradictory.
This brings me to the final remark, which is actually the essential point of the letter.
The problem in your case, as with others in similar situations, is the lack of self-discipline, and it is due to the fact that it means curbing one's desires and passions, and this lack of discipline, therefore, extends itself also in other areas, such as regular study and daily routine, so as not to have to think and decide each day what to do with it.
You should also bear in mind that the Yetzer Hora [the evil inclination] will try to counteract this effort by causing a depressed mood and planting the thought that by breaking the discipline, the mood will improve.
The truth is, however, that even if momentarily there seems to be a relief, it is only a fleeting one attained at the cost of a regulated and orderly life which alone can assure success and contentment of a lasting nature.
Much more could be said in regard to all the above, but I trust the above lines will be adequate.
My father writes in one of his maamarim: Fatness of the body can result from the spiritual pleasure and delight derived from G-dliness. They say of Rebbe Nachum of Chernobil that he became corpulent from answering "amein y'hei sh'mei rabba."
The Baal Shem Tov's ahavat yisrael (love of fellow Jew) was beyond imagination. The Maggid said: If only we could kiss a sefer-Torah with the same love that my Master kissed the children when he took them to cheder as a teacher's assistant!
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
In a letter of the Rebbe written at the conclusion of the "Three Weeks" of mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temples, the Rebbe wrote:
"As mentioned in the well-known prayer [recited in the holiday Musaf service] 'Umipnei chatoeinu,' the only cause of the sad events in the past - the Destruction and Exile - was the neglect of Torah and mitzvot. Therefore, through rectifying and removing the cause, the effect will also be removed."
This coming Thursday (July 15) is the 17th of Tammuz, which begins the period in the Jewish calendar known as the Three Weeks or "Bein HaMeitzarim" ("Between the Straights").
During the Three Weeks, as we commemorate the destruction of the Holy Temples and the beginning of our long and bitter exile, it is appropriate and commendable to strengthen and increase our observance of Torah and mitzvot (commandments).
But we should do this with a unique outlook. For, the Rebbe stated that the Jewish people, as a whole, has already rectified the reason for the exile.
The Rebbe explained that by enhancing our ahavat Yisrael - love of a fellow Jew - we would experience a foretaste of the unity and ahavat Yisrael that will be prevalent in the Messianic Era.
For, when Moshiach is revealed, the G-dly essence of everything will also be revealed. Thus, we will experience the true appreciation of our fellow Jew, and this will lead to true "love of a fellow Jew."
The Rebbe also declared that "Teshuva [repentance] has already been done." We have repented of our transgressions, the reason for the exile, and thus, at any moment, G-d can fulfill his long-overdue promise to the Jewish people and the world at large and bring the true and everlasting redemption.
May our additional mitzvot and enhanced Jewish knowledge tip the Heavenly scales and bring the Revelation of Moshiach now.
The Torah portion of Pinchas
The Torah portions of Chukat and Balak are sometimes read together; so are Matot and Masei. Pinchas, however, is always read alone. The Rebbe Maharash (Rabbi Shmuel, fourth Chabad Rebbe) once jested as a child, "That's because Pinchas is barbed (and no one wants to stand next to him)!" [As is known, Pinchas slew Zimri and the Midianite woman with a barbed spear.]
Of Ozni, the family of the Oznites (Num. 26:16)
The name Ozni is related to the Hebrew word for ear, ozen. Interestingly, Rashi comments that this verse refers "to the family of Etzbon" - which is related to the word etzba, finger. What is the connection between the two? The reason, our Sages explained, that man's fingers were created long and thin is to enable him to stick them in his ears the moment he hears something he shouldn't...
(The Shaloh, Rabbi Yeshaya Hurvitz)
The land hall be divided by lot. (Num. 26:55)
In the land of Israel there are different kinds of areas: mountains, valleys, fields, orchards, etc. When one received his share in the mountains and another in a valley, or one received cornfields and another orchards, this division of the physical land of Israel reflected each one's individual relationship to the spiritual land of Israel. This means that everyone has something unique that relates specifically to him or her in his spiritual service.
Who may go out before them, and who may go in before them, and who may lead them out, and who may bring them in (Num. 27:17)
A true Jewish leader is one who does not alter his opinions according to popular demand. Only a leader of such stature has the power to "lead the Jewish people out" of all difficulties, and "bring them in" to the realm of holiness.
The illustrious scholar, Rabbi Akiva Eiger (1759-1837) was traveling to Hungary for his daughter's marriage to the son of the Chatam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Sofer, 1762-1839). He announced his intention to stop in Nikolsburg to pay his respects to the town's rabbi, Rav Mordechai Banet. Word spread quickly through the streets of Nikolsburg and the entire Jewish community thrilled at the news of a visit from perhaps the most illustrious scholar of the day. The simple folk yearned to see the holy visage of the great man; the town's scholars looked forward to hearing his brilliant reflections on Torah.
The brief visit was a real occasion in Nikolsburg, and the townsfolk spoke of it for months after. Rabbi Banet, however, was disappointed in his meeting with the scholar. There had been no brilliant, novel insight into some knotty passage of Talmud, no remarkable word to remember forever. In fact, Rabbi Banet wondered where the greatness of Rabbi Eiger lay after all. To his great disappointment, the conversation had been quite ordinary.
Not long after, Rabbi Eiger had occasion to visit Nikolsburg again on a matter of communal business. This time he made a totally different impression on Rabbi Banet, and the local rabbi invited his esteemed guest to address the congregation on Shabbat. During the speech Rabbi Banet differed with Rabbi Eiger's opinions, and interrupted with his own interpretation. Instead of arguing the point, as would be expected, Rabbi Eiger descended from the bima and quietly returned to his seat. Later in the day, Rabbi Banet reflected on the morning's events. Doubt, and even guilt, crept into his mind. "Did I offend or anger the great man, G-d forbid?" he wondered. He decided to visit Rabbi Eiger to make amends. To his surprise, Rabbi Eiger was neither embarrassed nor angry. But in a quiet manner, the scholar now embarked on a well-reasoned defense of his earlier remarks. Rabbi Banet soon realized the error of his position and apologized profusely.
"But, tell me, why did you not present your arguments at the time?" Rabbi Banet inquired.
"I thought as follows: I am only a visitor who is passing through your city," Rabbi Eiger explained. "There is no need for the townspeople to respect or honor me, but you are the rabbi of the community, of the whole country, in fact, and it is vital to the welfare of the community that your honor be respected by the people. Therefore, I felt it would be improper to contradict you in public."
Rabbi Banet was overwhelmed by these words and he wanted very much for the truth to be publicized. Therefore, he called the whole community together and explained to them what had happened. "Not only have I been given an understanding of Rabbi Eiger's great scholarship, but I have received an even greater insight into his sublime holiness and righteousness. On his first visit to Nikolsburg, Rabbi Eiger concealed his greatness from me, but this time, I have merited to learn from his singular and awesome humility."
When he was already elderly, Rabbi Avraham Dov of Everitch settling in the holy city of Safed. But although he had waited many years for the opportunity to bask in the spiritual light of the Land of Israel, once there he found life in the Holy Land too difficult to bear. The hardships were all too apparent, while the holiness of the land was hard to discern.
When he felt he could bear no more, Rabbi Avraham Dov began to think of returning to his home in Everitch. "After all," he reasoned, "I left my relatives and my students behind in order to live in the land, but it's all to no avail, for I am suffering so bitterly. Let me return to Everitch, and they will be happy to see me, and I will be glad as well."
When Rabbi Avraham Dov reached the decision to return home the rainy season in Israel was approaching. One day, as he was walking to the synagogue for the afternoon prayer, he heard noises coming from the surrounding rooftops. He couldn't identify the strange sounds, and he asked the people he passed, "What is happening? Where are these noises coming from?" The people were amused that he didn't know.
"Here, in Safed," they explained, "we have the custom of performing household chores on our flat roofs. We also use the roofs for storing food and other household supplies. The noise you hear is caused by the women scurrying about, removing all these things from the roofs."
"But why are they doing that?" Rabbi Avraham Dov asked.
"Why so that nothing gets ruined by the rain, of course," was the incredulous reply. But Rabbi Avraham Dov was still confused. He looked up at a sky as blue as the sea when there are no waves in sight.
"It certainly doesn't look like rain," he said, hoping for some further explanation.
"Surely you remember that tonight we say the prayer for rain. We beseech G-d to remember us and send benign rains to water our crops and provide water for us. Since we are sure that our Father in Heaven will hear our prayers and will heed our request, we take precautions so that our possessions won't be ruined when the rains come."
The unquestioning faith of the people affected the rabbi deeply. Suddenly his eyes were opened and he saw the sublime heights of faith achieved by the simple Jews of the Holy Land. His pain and disappointment were replaced by a sense of awe at the holiness of the land and its people. At that moment, he abandoned all thoughts of returning to Everitch and began a new leg of his own spiritual journey to the holiness the Holy Land.
May it be G-d's will that our talking and importuning so much about the coming of our righteous Moshiach will so disturb and nudge G-d that He will have no choice (so to speak) but to bring the redemption. This is particularly so since G-d Himself mightily wants the redemption, for since the Divine Presence was exiled together with the Jews, the redemption of the Jews means also G-d's redemption! The main thing is that the "dream" I have about Moshiach's coming - which is really your dream too - be translated into reality immediately, today, before the Mincha prayer. And may the "dream of all dreams" also be realized, that today we go "with the clouds of glory" to our holy land, and pray this Shabbat's Mincha prayer in Jerusalem, in the third Holy Temple.
(The Rebbe, 14 Tammuz, 1984)