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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
By Dr. Yaakov Brawer
When I was 9 or 10 I received my first serious instruction in Chasidic philosophy, although I didn't recognize it as such at the time. In those days I spent many of my Sunday afternoons with my cronies at the movie theater watching cartoons. Of the hundreds of cartoons that I must have seen, one stands out in my memory. The protagonist was a speedy, clever little bird called the Road-Runner, and the villain was a voracious and exceedingly dumb coyote. The cartoon depicted several abortive attempts by the coyote to make a meal of the Road-Runner.
In one scene, the Road-Runner raced to the edge of a cliff and hid behind a rock. The coyote, however, was so absorbed in the chase that he didn't notice the precipice and ran right off the edge. He maintained his stride, in midair, oblivious to his impossible situation and in defiance of the laws of gravity, until eventually it occurred to him that the road-runner was nowhere in sight. He screeched to a stop and turned to look back. He saw the road-runner watching him from the edge of the cliff, and he began to realize that he was in major trouble. He slowly looked down and only then, when it was crystal clear to him that he was standing on thin air, did he fall.
Although this cartoon was undoubtedly produced with no loftier aim than the entertainment of children, it contains a profound insight that I was able to appreciate only after learning Chasidic philosophy for a number of years. The coyote fell specifically as a consequence of looking down. The fact that he had no trouble until he directed his vision netherward clearly indicated that he was not subject to natural law until he accepted it upon himself. Had he not looked down, had he not shackled himself with a world-oriented deterministic view of reality, had he not succumbed to conventional wisdom as to what is possible and what is not, he could have continued walking on air.
We Jews have been trying to absorb this lesson since our inception as people over 3,000 years ago. Our father Abraham had no problem with this concept. He answered to no one, feared nothing, and believed in nothing aside from the Almighty. Fire couldn't burn him, and water couldn't drown him because he accorded them no recognition whatsoever. It was not that he relied on miracles, but rather that his vision was constantly directed upward toward his Creator and he never took earthly obstacles, laws and necessities into account. He never looked down and, therefore, he never fell down.
We are the children of Abraham. Individually and as a people we are not subject to natural limitations. Our very existence is miraculous, as historians grudgingly admit. We are governed by no agency other than the Almighty and we have been endowed by our Creator with the capacity to see through all of the impediments, restrictions, difficulties and illusions inherent in mundane life, and to perceive the Divine purpose. We have seeing eyes. Our problem is that we have trouble focusing. We are distracted by the shadows of worldly appearance. We are beguiled by world-oriented imagery and we are thus preoccupied with objectives, concerns, worries, and fears that have no substance.
The antidote to this spiritual myopia is Chasidut. Through the lens of Chasidut, we are able to penetrate the gloom of exile and to clearly perceive G-d's underlying reality.
Dr. Brawer is Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology at McGill University Faculty of Medicine. This article is reprinted from his book Eyes That See.
This week's Torah portion, Re'ei, touches upon numerous subjects, including the warning not to be involved with idolatrous practices, a list of kosher animals and non-kosher birds, the laws of tithes and a brief discussion of the three Pilgrimage Festivals.
The portion opens with the words: "See (re'ei), I set before you." G-d commanded Moses to convey to the Jewish people that they must consider and reflect on the holy words of Torah until they can actually "see" how G-d Himself takes care of each and every individual, great and small. G-d abandons all His other affairs, as it were, to provide every Jew with all his needs, "from His full, open, holy and broad hand."
It is not enough for a Jew to believe this on faith or understand it as an intellectual principle. A Jew must be able to "see" Divine Providence in the same way he can perceive a physical object with his fleshly eyes.
This, in fact, is the practical directive to be derived from this week's Torah reading, whose name "Re'ei" means "See":
Everything in Torah that a Jew learns should be "seen" rather than merely accepted or believed. In other words, a person should be so confident and sure of what he has learned that it is as if he can actually see it on the physical level.
This level of surety applies at all times and in all circumstances, whether it is "daytime" or "nighttime" in either the literal or symbolic sense. A Jew must always strive to see the G-dliness and holiness in all his actions.
Even before drinking a simple glass of water we make the blessing "Shehakol - Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the world, that everything came into being with His word." We address G-d directly, recognizing that everything in the world was created and exists only because of His will.
By accustoming ourselves to always look for G-d's hand in everything around us, we will merit to "see" the fulfillment of the verse at the end of the Torah portion:
"Three times a year shall all your males be seen before the L-rd your G-d in the place which He shall choose." Our daily prayers will be answered, "May the Holy Temple be rebuilt speedily in our days," and "May our eyes behold Your return to Zion in mercy," with the coming of Moshiach and the Final Redemption.
Adapted from talks on 20 and 21 Menachem Av 5749, and 22 Menachem Av 5750
Last week at the Kotel, I asked an elderly man to put on tefillin. He strongly refused.
I asked him, "When was the last time you put on tefillin?"
He smiled and proudly said, "Seventy-two years ago!" pushing aside any possibility of him putting them on again. He held out his arm to show me the fading numbers tattooed there. "1938," he said. "It was the day of Kristallnacht. Do you know what Kristallnacht is?"
"Of course I do," I told him.
"Two hundred and sixty seven synagogues were burned down in one night. They burned down our synagogue, too. My tefillin were burnt up, and I have never put them on again." He said, telling me in no uncertain terms why he was not going to put them on.
"I have a friend who was in the camps, too," I quickly said, "and he not only puts on tefillin today, but he even put them on others inside the camp!" I was trying to show him that he did not have to reject tefillin because of what those evil people did. "Do you want hear how he got the tefillin into the camp?"
"Yeah," he said, strongly, "How did he get them in there?"
"His name is Laibel. Whenever he comes to Israel, he prays with our sunrise minyan. He also has numbers tattooed on his arm. "When we first met, he asked me, 'What do you do around here?'
"Wanting to say something exciting, I said, 'I put tefillin on people here at the Kotel.'
" 'Oh yeah?' he said, 'Well, I put tefillin on people in the death camp.'
"I stared at him; there was nothing I could say. I was dumbfounded. I asked him, 'How did you get the tefillin in there?'
"He looked me in the eye and said that they came to the ghetto and grabbed 137 young boys. He told me that only five of them got out of there alive, only five.
"He was thirteen-and-a-half years old. When they grabbed him, he was wearing the high boots that his father had bought for him. He showed me with his hand that the boots came up almost to his knees. When he saw them coming, he stuffed his tefillin in the top of one boot and his prayer book in the other.
"They pushed the boys into a cattle car and drove them to the death camp. It was not far from the ghetto. When the train stopped, they slid open the side of the cattle car and immediately began pushing them toward the open door of the oven. The boys were frightened and crying out. They asked Laibel, 'What should we do?' He told them, 'I'll tell you what we're going to do. We're going to stand in rows five across and we're going to march right into that oven singing "ani ma'amin . . . "(I believe in G-d). And they did just that. They stood in rows five across and started singing and marching right into the oven.
"The guards became so confused that they did not know what to do. They screamed, 'You can't do that! No one has ever done such a thing before. Stop it! Stop it at once! Here! Go over there to the showers instead.'
"They pushed them over to the showers. They made them take off all of their clothing and throw them into a pile in the middle of the floor. They made them empty out their shoes and the tefillin and prayer book fell out onto the pile.
"After the shower, when they were dressed in the camp clothes and were being pushed back past the pile of their clothes, he saw his tefillin and prayer book lying there. He wanted so badly to run over and pick them up, but there were terrifying guards standing right there so he couldn't. He said to the boys, 'Okay, I did something for you, so now you do something for me.'
"'Whatever you want,' they said. 'You saved our lives.'
"He said, 'When I give the signal, make a big fight with each other and start screaming out loud. Okay . . . Now!' He whipped his arm in the air as if he was back at the camp giving them the signal. The boys started to fight and scream. The guards ran over and tried to pull them apart, but they wouldn't stop fighting. In the confusion, he ran over and grabbed his tefillin and prayer book and hid them under his arms.
"He was in the barracks and he wanted to put on the tefillin. He was able to put the arm piece on without anyone seeing by pulling his sleeve over it, but how could he put on the head piece? There were evil guards all over the place. He opened the window and stuck his head outside so he could put on the head piece. A guard came by and screamed at him, 'Who said you could open that window?' He told him that he was sick and was throwing up, and if he made him close the window he would throw up inside, too. The guard left him there. And he looked me in the eye and said, 'And I put tefillin on other men like that there, too.' I started to cry and I kissed him on his yarmulke.
"The next day there was a soldier at the Kotel who wouldn't put on tefillin. No matter what I said, he simply refused. Then I told him Laibel's story, and he quickly said, 'Okay, I'll do it.'
"And you can do it, too" I said, as I gently slid the tefillin I was holding on his arm. He said the blessing and started to cry. We said the Shema, and he prayed for his family. He began to smile even while the tears were streaming down his face. A crowd gathered around all congratulating him on his overcoming all those years of rejection.
You do not always succeed, but you always have to try.
Read more about Gutman Locks and his writings at www.thereisone.com
A new mikva was dedicated less than six months after completing construction on the new Lubavitch-Chabad Center for Jewish Life and Learning at the University of Florida in Gainsville, Florida. The new 23,000 sq. ft. also includes a student lounge, laundry facility, synagogue , classrooms, offices and kosher dining center.
The new Chabad Jewish Community Center - the largest Jewish center all the way to the Pacific Coast - opened this month in Aspen, Colorado. It will house the growing pre-school and Hebrew school, as well as have space for youth/teen center, summer camp, classrooms, offices, meeting space, synagogue, kitchen and ballroom.
The Chief Rabbinate of Russia recently dedicated a new facility in Moscow, Russia, that will serve as the home for all of the rabbinical concerns related to Russia's Jewish popultion. The dedication ceremony for the new offices was attended by Israel's chief rabbis.
Continuation of letter to sculptor [Jacques] Chayim Yaakov Lipschitz
Prof. Dov Saden:
I need not call upon the honored commandment, 'Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image'... but judging by the noisy publicity of the donor and especially the recipients.. demanding to make it a central aspect of the city... Here there is room for apprehension. Jerusalem's central character cannot be changed by an accidental collection of a stranger and strange spirit, even if he be a Jew. Its centrality comes from within and is intrinsically its own... To establish as its center a collection of statues which had been accumulated by the caprice of a pampered individual - would mean to fix the character of the city not compatible with its character.... It is not a question of attitude toward the art.... If I were asked, What could more fittingly characterize the inner aspect of Jerusalem, I would say a "House of T'Nach (Bible)" - to exhibit the Bible in all its editions, translations, exegeses in all languages....
Uri Avneri, Editor of Olam Hazeh (a radically "modernistic" publication):
I am opposed to compulsory religion of any kind. I am also opposed to hurting the feelings of others.... Were the State of Israel... to decide to create a national museum for the art of sculpture, and the exhibits were to be chosen by an authoritative body, I would welcome it (though I should ask myself whether Jerusalem is the right place for such a museum). However, what is happening here is that an alien "benefactor" who has made an impromptu collection of sculptural merchandise of third and fourth rank, has donated it to Israel, and so, quite by accident, would be created a museum of doubtful merit.... The artistic education of Israel should not be subjected to such accidental donations.... As for Jerusalem, each city has a character of its own, emanating from the city's national and religious history. I am not sure that the Sculpture Garden fits into this character (of Jerusalem)....
The poet Benjamin Gelai:
It is a question of a monument. The monument of Jerusalem is the absence of statues in it. On no account can this be compromised... A Sculpture Garden is something wonderful, but not for Jerusalem... Jerusalem should be a center [of] science, culture, literature and any art but sculpture... This time we, secularists, understand that the religious Jews are right. It must be explained to the man (B.R.) that what he demands is the unconditional surrender of a tradition of 4000 years. He has no moral or ethical justification to insist on his condition.
The poet Nathan Alterman (in Davar):
...One need not be an extremely sensitive person - not even Jewish - to feel and recognize the degree of paradoxality...from any aspect of culture or history... it is difficult to imagine a place less suitable for such a project. Neither Jew nor gentile can ignore (the spiritual essence) of this city; certainly not force upon it such an anti-cultural and anti-artistic breach in the name of culture and art, above all.
I trust the above comments will suffice to put the matter in its proper perspective.
With the approach of Shovuoth, the Season of Our Receiving the Torah, I send you my prayerful wishes for a happy and inspiring festival.
Since the transcription of this letter had been delayed, there appeared in the meantime my message for Shovuoth, a copy of which is enclosed. I hope you will find it interesting.
15th of Tammuz, 5720 
Greeting and Blessing:
This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter of June 26th. Needless to say, no apology is called for in a case of a difference of opinion, as our Torah, which is called Toras Chaim [Torah of Life], has emphasized that the minds of men differ as their faces differ. I hasten to add, however, that I sincerely hope that eventually you will also come to agree with the opinions which I have cited, and which strongly oppose the idea of a Garden of Sculptures in Jerusalem; an opposition which stems not only from the religious point of view, but also from the historical, ethical, etc.
As you surely know, this year is the 200th anniversary of the Baal Shem Tov's completion of his life's work, In this connection we recently published the second volume of the Memoirs of my father-in-law of saintly memory, largely dealing with the early history of the Chassidic movement and with the Baal Shem Tov's forerunners and contemporaries. I requested the office to send you a copy, as I feel certain it will interest you.
Hoping to hear good news from you, with emphasis on good health and a happy frame of mind, two points which the Baal Shem Tov placed among the cornerstones of his system, and with all good wishes,
Reprinted from Beis Moshiach Magazine
The Children of Israel are called "eretz cheifetz," (a "desired land") for they possess numerous "precious articles" (chafeitzim, in Hebrew) in the love and fear of G-d, and in fine character traits. Bringing these traits to the surface depends entirely upon the individual stimulating them. It is clear that throughout the earth are wellsprings of living water; the difference between them is only that some are near the surface, others far. Everything therefore depends on the well-digger, his patience and perseverance. The essential mission is to arouse one's will [to "dig".]
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This week's Torah portion, Re'ei opens with a foundation of the Jewish religion - free choice. G-d says to the Jewish people, "Look, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse: the blessing, that you will hearken to G-d's commandments...; and the curse, if you will not hearken to G-d's commandments..." (Deut. 11:26-28).
Why did G-d create the world so as to necessitate blessings and curses? Why did G-d create something to stand in the way of good, to make it difficult for us to do what is appropriate and right?
If there was only good in this world - no chance for a person to behave in a questionable manner - he couldn't freely choose to do good; he would be forced to do good for lack of alternatives, by default. In order to have options, there have to be at least two different routes. Then, a person can use the free choice to choose the correct path.
Freedom to choose one path of action over another is a fundamental principle of Judaism. It is at the very core of the advantages of a human over other created beings. Other creatures don't have this option of free choice; their actions are based on natural instincts and environmental training. Only man has such an advantage.
The concept of reward and punishment revolves around choice. If there is no choice, there is no room for reward and punishment. A person can receive a reward for his good deeds because he has free choice.
It is therefore understood that the existence of the opportunity to do "bad" is not to make a person evil, but the opposite. Wrong exists only to allow a person to choose right.
The opportunity to do bad, therefore, wasn't created to prevent a person from accomplishing what he needs to. In fact, it is to push the person toward the correct path, a path to be traveled on in the midst of freedom of choice and desire.
Knowing that "bad" exists only to encourage us toward the good, also gives us the ability and strength not to be intimidated or overwhelmed by the bad.
When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the L-rd your G-d (Deut. 8:10)
A Jew doesn't pray to G-d only in difficult circumstances, when he is poor and hungry. Even in the best of times, when he has "eaten and is full," he should remember that it is G-d Who has given him all these blessings and that he should thank Him accordingly.
A blessing for obeying the commandments of the L-rd your G-d.and a curse, if you will not obey the commandments (Deut. 11:27-28)
The Torah's language is significant and precise: G-d promises to bless the Jews for obeying His commandments, yet threatens to curse them "if" they will not obey. The blessing is assured; the curse is only conditional. In fact, all Jews will return to G-d in the End of Days and receive His blessing.
Observe and hear all these words which I command you (Deut. 12:28)
"Observe" refers to the study of Torah, explains Rashi, the great Torah commentator. Studying Torah preserves the G-dly spark within each of us, preventing it from becoming nullified and lost in the body's physicality and coarseness.
(Sefer Hamaamarim 5672)
You shall bind up the money in your hand (Deut. 14:25)
The Torah commands the Jew to "bind up" his money and rule over it, and not the other way around. In other words, his monetary affairs must never exert such an influence over him that he becomes subservient.
(Rabbi Meir of Premishlan)
It states in Psalms (51:16): "Save me from bloodshed ('damim'), O G-d, G-d of my salvation, and my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness." In Hebrew, the word "damim" also means money; King David was thus praying that he never make the mistake of considering money to be G-d.
(Rabbi Moshe of Kovrin)
Being too poor to afford a ride to his rebbe, the holy Reb Elimelech of Liszensk, the great Reb David of Lelov went by foot. On the way, he met a wealthy chasid traveling to Reb Elimelech in his own carriage. He offered Reb David a ride and assumed that he was a poor beggar trying for better luck in a different town.
Under this assumption, the wealthy chasid began joking with and mocking Reb David. Reb David remained silent as the chasid belittled him for the entire journey.
When they arrived in Liszensk, the wealthy man went to speak with Reb Elimelech immediately. Reb David, however, spent a few hours meditating and preparing himself to meet with his Rebbe.
Reb David finally went in and stayed closeted with Reb Elimelech for over two hours. Upon leaving the Rebbe's room, Reb David explained to the wealthy chasid that he would be remaining in Liszensk for some time and concluded, "Return without me, but you should make sure that on the way back, if you hear a cry of distress, answer the call."
The chasid realized that Reb David was no mere beggar, and assured him that his advice would be heeded.
When the chasid was half-way home, he heard a cry for help. Following the cries, he came upon a carriage stuck in deep mud. The chasid tied a rope from his carriage to the other carriage and carefully pulled the carriage and its owner out of danger. Then, the chasid took the owner, a wealthy government official from Warsaw, home with him. He gave him clean clothing, fed him, and kept him until he had recovered from the traumatic ordeal.
Within a few days, the official returned to the chasid's home, asking, "How can I repay you?"
The chasid said, "It is enough of a reward to know that I have saved the life of another human being."
"At least," begged the official, "let me have your name and address so that I can record it and remember it always."
To this request the chasid conceded.
Months passed and the wheel of fortune turned for the chasid. He became so impoverished that he was forced to become a beggar. From town to town the once wealthy chasid went begging for money.
One day, while begging in his own city of Warsaw, a passenger in a fancy carriage called out to him. The chasid began to run away, but the carriage pursued him. "Stop, I must speak to you," said the passenger.
The chasid stopped running.
"Do you recognize me," asked the man to the chasid.
"No," was the chasid's reply.
"What is your name," the man asked.
Upon hearing the chasid's name, the man, now governor of Warsaw, said, "Ten years ago you saved me when my carriage was stuck in the mud. What has happened to you over these years?"
The chasid retold the turn of events of the past ten years.
The governor exclaimed, "I never did repay you for saving my life. Accept, therefore, this check for 2,000 rubles."
The chasid was overjoyed. He started a business and once more became successful. The chasid wished to speak with a tzadik to better understand these turn of events. His rebbe had passed away. So he went to visit the Lelover Rebbe, not knowing this was the Reb David from some ten years before.
Reb David asked the chasid to repeat what had transpired over the past decade. He then said to the chasid, "Know, that because you mocked me the entire way to Liszensk, death was decreed for you on High. I, however, knew of the decree and told Reb Elimelech about it. We spent two hours discussing ways to have the decree lifted or lessened. Through prayer and meditation we were able to have the decree changed to ten years of poverty. Now that you have completed those ten years, the wheel of fortune has once more turned in your favor and you will return to your prior wealth and position."
In our prayers, we continually ask Gd to rebuild the Temple. We are asking Him to recreate this spiritual environment and again give us a place where we will be conscious of Him. But we are not merely returning to the past. As the prophet says: "The glory of this later house will surpass that of the first one." The Temple to be built by Moshiach will be greater than both the First and the Second Temples. And it is not only that the Temple will be greater. In that future era, the direct awareness of Gd will not be confined to the Temple, but will permeate all existence.
(From Keeping in Touch, based on the teachings of the Rebbe)