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We've all seen pictures of optical illusions: which line is longer? Is it a vase or two faces? Which dots are darker? But did you realize that every instant you are encountering optical illusions?
Lying in bed just days before his passing, Rebbe Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad Chasidut, was discussing this very topic with his son, Rabbi Dov Ber. "Do you see that ceiling beam," the Rebbe asked his son. "It is pure G-dliness," he declared.
Touching the beam, Rabbi Dov Ber objected, "But father, all I feel is material wood."
"That is because you are touching it with physical hands," his father explained.
Does it seem hard to imagine that everything in this world is, as Rebbe Shneur Zalman proclaimed, pure G-dliness? Try considering the following and it might be easier.
Every part of matter is made up of atoms and even smaller particles. These atoms and all of their particles are constantly in motion. Yet, when we look at a ceiling beam for instance, what we see is a very solid, stationary object.
Now, rather than discussing particles of matter, consider pure G-dliness. According to Jewish philosophy, G-d is very much in touch with the world He created. He did not simply, as some believe, create the world and then leave it to its own devices. In fact, the world continues to exist because, and only because, G-d is constantly reinvesting His life-force into the world. This means that each and every object, from the largest building to the smallest particle, from the squirmiest jello to the most solid ceiling beam, exists only because it is constantly being reinvested with G-dliness. It is pure G-dliness!
When Rebbe Shneur Zalman explained to his son that he was feeling physicality because he was using his physical hand, it's like the old-fashioned 3-D glasses that let you see everything three dimensionally, or rose colored glasses that make everything seem rosy. The fact that everything looks 3-D or seems rosy doesn't mean that either of those conditions are true. Similarly, because we look at or touch things with physical limbs doesn't mean that they lack G-dliness.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe said that Moshiach is already here; if we only open our eyes we will see him. Most people don't go through life with their eyes closed. So what does "open your eyes" mean? Perhaps the Rebbe is not talking about physical eyes but spiritual eyes.
How do we open our spiritual eyes? How about trying to see the positive points in others. Or, every time something happens "coincidentally," realizing that it is Divine Providence that orchestrated the event. Or, thanking G-d for all the good you have in your life (if this seems difficult, spend just a few moments with the less fortunate and you'll understand that there's a lot to be thankful for).
Looking at everything with spiritual eyes is unlike using rose-colored or 3-D glasses, though. For, with spiritual eyes, we see the true essence of everything; as Rebbe Shneur Zalman declared, everything is pure G-dliness. And once we have exercised our spiritual eyes in this manner, they will be healthy and fit enough to see Moshiach, who is already here.
This week's Torah portion, Shemot, chronicles the events that happened to the Jewish people after they had been living in Egypt, beginning more than 100 years after they had entered that country. Nevertheless, the opening verse, "These are the names of the people who were coming into Egypt," indicates that, despite having lived there for so long, they were still "coming into Egypt." To them, it was a foreign land, not their natural habitat. They had been born in Egypt; their parents had been born in Egypt, but it was not their home. It was exile; home was Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, and they were still in the process of "coming to Egypt."
What's the difference between Egypt and Israel? In the Biblical era, the societies were primary agricultural, so when the Torah wants to contrast the two countries, it points to their water supply, stating: "The land to which you are coming to possess is not like the land of Egypt... where you plant your seed and water it by foot. Instead,... it is a land of hills and valleys. From the rain of heaven, it derives its water." In other words, in Egypt, the water came from the Nile. In Israel, there are no large rivers. Instead, the water supply is almost entirely dependent on rain.
When the supply of water comes from a river, no Gdly influence is apparent and the natural order seemed to control the water supply. In Israel, by contrast, "the eyes of all must look upward" to "the One Who holds the key to rain." It is clearly apparent that toil and till and try as we may, the success of our crops depends on G-d's blessings. In this way, the land itself educates us to trust in G-d, to see ourselves as in His hand and His providence as controlling our lives.
In Chasidic thought, it is explained that Egypt is not only a geographical location but also a state of mind. In fact the Hebrew name for Egypt, "Mitzrayim," is almost identical to the word "meitzarim," which means straits or limitations. Because Israel taught the Jews to continually look up to G-d, they never could feel at home in Egypt. The concept of life being governed by the natural routine was inherently foreign. Hence - as stated above - even after living in Egypt for an extended period, the place was new to them.
When viewed in that light, the exodus was an inevitable occurrence. Yes, it took years and, at a certain point, even the Jewish people's faith was somewhat weakened. But since the Jews, as individuals and as a people, were continually looking to G-d, ultimately, it was to be anticipated that G-d would turn to them and redeem them.
From Keeping In Touch, adapted by Rabbi E. Touger, published by Sichos in English
Just One Night
by Dr. Dovid Shalom Pape
I want to share with you a story that happened 38 years ago. At the time, my wife and I were emissaries of the Rebbe in Buffalo, New York.
Like most cities in America, in Buffalo, there are no corner stores. If you need to do some shopping, you have to go to the mall. And so, one day, my wife and I got in the car to go to Wegman's, a large supermarket.
A lot of people pass through Buffalo on their way to Niagara Falls, or other places in Canada. Often they call Chabad and ask if there is a place where they can stay for Shabbat. I remember when I lived in London, England, it was the same. People were always passing through on their way to other destinations, and needed a place to stay for a night or two.
Just that morning, some people had complained about this kind of behavior. They felt that it wasn't right to have such an attitude. They said that people were just taking advantage, and should just be directed to the nearest hotel.
I mentioned this conversation to my wife, and said that the complainers' attitude didn't seem right to me. After all, why were we in Buffalo if not to be of help to others? Wasn't that why the Rebbe had sent us?
We had hardly gone two or three minutes, when I noticed that we needed gas, and turned into the service station on the corner.
As I got out to open the gas tank, a man in his fifties got out of his car and began walking towards me. I noticed that he reached in his back pocket and pulled out a yarmulke.
"Shalom," he greeted me with a smile. "Do you know where I can find a hotel?"
I could tell from his accent that he was Israeli.
"Hashem (G-d)," I said to myself. "Are you testing me? I just finished talking to my wife about this."
"Just a minute," I replied, turning back to speak to my wife again. (Rabbi Zalman Shimon Dworkin, of blessed memory [the chief rabbi of the Chabad community until his passing in 1985], used to say that a person shouldn't bring guests home without permission from his wife, and vice versa.)
"Shulamit," I said, "this man just asked me where he could find a hotel. Can we invite him to stay with us?"
"Absolutely," she agreed at once.
I turned back to him. "Why don't you come and stay with us?" I said.
"Oh no, we couldn't do that," he said. "That's very kind of you, but there are four of us. We couldn't all stay with you. Please just tell me where there is a hotel. We only need to stay one night."
"Just a minute," I said, laughing to myself. 'Hashem, are You upping the stakes?'
I turned back to my wife. "He's says there are four of them. Can we handle that?"
"Not a problem," she replied.
Well, it took some convincing to get him to agree, but in the end he did agree, and we turned around and brought the whole lot back to our apartment. We only had two bedrooms, but with a couch and two cots, it worked out fine. One of them had an aunt who lived nearby. And one of them slept on a blanket on the carpet.
What should I say? They were the nicest people. We had a wonderful time together. They were all musicians on their way to perform a concert in Toronto for Yom Ha-Atzme'ut. A father, two sons and a son-in-law. We talked and talked till the wee hours, late at night. They were full of questions about the Rebbe, and were thirsty to hear stories about him. I remember telling them an amazing story I had heard from Rabbi Nachman Sudak o.b.m. about Ariel Sharon and the Rebbe before the Yom Kippur war. And how, when he came out of a private meeting with the Rebbe, he said to the yeshiva students standing nearby: "Boys, as great as you think your Rebbe is, you don't know even a bit of what he really is."
The next day we all got up early and went to the Chabad House for the morning prayers.They helped make the minyan. So everyone was grateful for that. When we came back for breakfast, the father went out and bought a tricycle at a garage sale for our two-year-old son. They showered us with blessings, especially my wife who was in her seventh month.
It was a wonderful experience. We parted on the best of terms.
Six months later I came to Crown Heights, Brooklyn, to be at a big gathering at 770 -Lubavitch World Headquarters. As I stood there, waiting for the farbrengen (gathering) to start, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the younger brother. "Do you remember me?" he said. "I am here now! Yes. I started studying here in Crown Heights in the Yeshiva Hadar HaTorah. My brother is in Queens, and all the family is getting more involved in Judaism! All because of the night we spent in your house."
After that, their lives developed in a very positive way as they became more and more involved with Chabad and the Rebbe, eventually getting married, and raising beautiful families.
We remained best of friends till the present day.
In their careers as musicians, they met with great success, and their relationship with Chabad and the Rebbe has played a very important role, and has had a powerful influence on Jewish music. Every year on Sukkot, thousands upon thousands of people rejoice and dance to the joyous music of Yossi and Avi Piamenta.
And it all started with the mitzva (commandment) of having guests!
Dr. Dovid Shalom Pape is a noted children's author and teacher of Chassidic philosophy. Dr. Pape is editor of the popular children's magazine The Moshiach Times, is a publication of Tzivos Hashem. For more info visit tzivos-hashem.org.
It's Okay to Laugh, Seriously
The world needs more simcha (joy). We can become more joyous - and we must. Still, is it possible? We're barely able to keep our heads above water! Can we (not only maintain, but) actually increase our simcha amidst life's swirling challenges? The answer is a resounding "Yes!" We can become happier by inviting humor - and its coconspirator, laughter - into our lives! Laughter and humor are the twin engines that keep joy aloft. Humor and laughter work. Let's laugh together and learn to make our lives, and the world, more joyous. It's Okay to Laugh, Seriously is a newly released book written by Gitty Stolik and published by Mosaica Press.
Continued from last week's issue, freely translated
The difficulties, trials, and tests of life are themselves the means by which we are to attain our ultimate objective - that the soul achieve the lofty spiritual level it once possessed before it descended into the body: "The soul that you have given me is pure." The purpose of life is for the soul to regain that level of original "purity" and even transcend it - for one hour of teshuva (repentance) and good deeds in this world is worth more that all the lifetime of the spiritual World to Come.
So you see that life's trials, tragedies and difficulties actually bring us closer to our goal, our raison d'etre; they are part of the divine system of toil and endeavor enabling us, finite mortals, to reach the highest levels of rewards and goodness - which can only be earned by meaningful "labor" and effort. It follows that one must not allow the difficulties of life's trials (or even one's failure from time to time) to overcome the double joy of being G-d's children and of having received His promise "Your people are all righteous."
Now along comes an individual - yourself - who is not just an ordinary person, but one who has heard of the light of Chasidic teachings, what is more, who has actually studied Chasidism, what is more, one whom the Alm-ghty has refined and purified through affliction; yet you are in a mood of despair, you "find no place for yourself," etc. Your estimation of your own worth and spiritual level is so far below the truth that it contradicts not only faith but simple logic as well. The Alm-ghty has given us an irrevocably firm promise that ultimately no one will be rejected by Him, and He does not require of the individual deeds that exceed his ability - for the Alm-ghty does not present His creations with unreasonable demands. G-d wants only that one's deeds measure up to his abilities. And G-d declares to each of us, "Make an opening for Me even as the point of a needle, then I will make an opening for you as wide as the entrance to a hall."
All this is the declaration and promise of the Alm-ghty to us. Now you come along and say that your analysis of the situation is different; it is an analysis that leads to despair. You wring your hands and persuade yourself that from time to time you are descending lower and lower. One can ask the classic rhetorical question, "When the teacher's opinions contradict the pupil's, to whose opinion do we listen?" You should ask yourself this question. It seems to you that the situation is depressingly hopeless; the Alm-ghty says it is not so. Is there any doubt who is right?
So much for arguments: Now to get down to practical matters: You must know and realize that you are one of our community of Chasidim, which means in turn that you are connected, as a leaf or branch, to the "Tree of Life" of our saintly Chasidic leaders. This connection has the effect expressed by the verse, "You who cleave to G-d your G-d are alive, all of you, this day." Our sages comment: "Even on a day when the world is dying, you live; and just as you are all alive today so will you be alive in the spiritual World to Come." So you see that you have a personal promise from our Sages that you are alive today and that you will be alive in the World to Come. In light of all the above you must utilize your time to practice Torah and mitzvos (commandments) in the spirit of Yiras Shamayim (awe of G-d). You must also utilize the artistic talent, with which the Alm-ghty has blessed you, to further religious feeling. You cannot delay this task until tomorrow, for tomorrow has its own tasks; today, you must do today's tasks. To accomplish these goals you must be aware that all hindrances are plans of the yetzer (inclination [to evil]); you must bring this into your mind and intellect, into your heart and emotions and into practical levels of thought, speech and deed.
When you apply yourself to this task, though it might well seem to you that you can only make an inroad as tiny as the point of a needle, the Alm-ghty will respond by granting you success; as promised, G-d will "make an opening as wide as the entrance of a hall." I hope you will not take the delay of my response into consideration, and that you will respond very soon with heartening tidings - mainly that you have begun to act in the spirit of the above.
The idea of reviving the commandment of hakhel in modern times was first proposed by Rabbi Eliyahu David Rabinowitz-Teomim (the "Aderes"), who published two pamphlets on the issue, Zecher leMikdash and Dvar Be'ito. Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, urged Jews everywhere to conduct large and small Hakhel gatherings in synagogues and private homes to foster greater unity and increase Torah learning, mitzva (commandment) observance, and the giving of charity.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
These next few days hold within them special anniversaries in the Jewish calendar. The 20th of Teves (this year Friday, January 1), is the anniversary of Rabbi Moses Maimonides, otherwise known as the Rambam. The 24th of Tevet (January 5 this year) is the anniversary of passing of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism.
In his major work, the Mishne Torah, the Rambam enumerates and details all the 613 laws of the Torah. He places the laws relating to the Jewish king, and Moshiach, at the very end of his work. In the introduction to these laws he states that the Jews were commanded to fulfill three mitzvot upon conquering and entering the Land of Israel: To appoint a king; to kill the descendants of Amalek; to build [G-d's] Chosen House.
It would seem that these mitzvot should have been mentioned much earlier in his work if they were, in fact, so important! However, the Rambam chose to organize the Mishne Torah in this fashion to emphasize that the true and complete performance of all the mitzvot of the Torah will be attained when a king rules over Israel. The Rambam then defines Moshiach as a king, who will not only redeem the Jews from exile, but also restore the observance of the Torah and the mitzvot to its complete state.
For many, this would seem a rather novel approach. Yet, the Talmud states that "the world was created solely for Moshiach." This being the case, we certainly must do everything in our power to hasten his arrival.
What is within the power and reach of each individual, great and small? Good deeds, charity, studying concepts and laws associated with Moshiach and the Final Redemption, fostering peace between family, friends, co-workers, and actively waiting for and anticipating his arrival each and every day.
These are the names of the children of Israel coming into Egypt (Ex. 1:1)
The verse says "coming," in the present tense, rather than "who came," in the past tense. For the duration of the 210-year exile in Egypt, the Jews felt as if they had just arrived in that land. They never adopted Egyptian ways and always considered their sojourn temporary.
Rashi explains that even though they were already counted while they were alive, the Jews were again counted after their passing, to show how dear they were to G-d. They were likened to the stars, each of which G-d counts and names, as it states, "Who takes out His hosts by number, to each He calls by name." From this comparison to the stars we learn that every Jew should realize the full extent of G-d's love for him. Furthermore, the same way that the stars were created to light up the surrounding darkness of the night, so is each Jew created in order to spread the light of Torah and holiness throughout the darkness of the physical world.
An angel of G-d appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a thorn bush, and he looked, and behold the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed (Ex. 3:2)
Man is likened to a tree in a field; Torah scholars are likened to fruit bearing trees, while unlettered Jews are likened to trees that do not bear fruit. The "flame of fire" was burning in the humble bush - the simple Jew. The simple Jew, who prays and recites Psalms with a simple faith in G-d, even without understanding the meaning of the words, has within him the "flame of fire," a holiness because of his purity of heart. The bush was also "not consumed." This fire can never be extinguished, for it is the simple Jew who is forever thirsty for Torah, always burning with a desire and longing for Torah, while the scholars quench their inner fire with the waters of Torah.
(Baal Shem Tov)
In 1812, Napoleon invaded Russia, and the route of the invasion led through White Russia. Rabbi Shneur Zalman, leader of the Chasidic movement in White Russia, who had twice been accused of high treason, turned out to be a most loyal patriot. Although the French conqueror was hailed in some religious Jewish quarters as the harbinger of a new era of political and economic freedom, Rabbi Shneur Zalman saw in Napoleon a threat to basic religious principles and spiritual values.
The Rebbe had nothing but contempt for the man whose arrogance and lust for power knew no bounds, and who represented to the Chabad leader the antithesis of humility and holiness. The Rebbe urged his numerous followers to help the Russian war effort against the invaders in every possible way. With the aid of his followers behind the enemy lines, some of whom were employed by the French Military Command, Rabbi Shneur Zalman was also able to render valuable intelligence service to the Russian generals at the front.
When the French armies approached Liadi, the Russian generals advised Rabbi Shneur Zalman to flee. In August (1812) the Rebbe hastily left Liadi, leaving everything behind, and fled with his family towards Smolensk. For some five months Rabbi Shneur Zalman and his family suffered the hardships and perils of the road and of an unusually inclement winter, until they reached a village in the district of Kursk. Here the Rebbe succumbed to a severe illness in the final stages of the harrowing journey, and passed away at the age of sixty-eight.
Traditions and records preserved in the family of Rabbi Shneur Zalman provide interesting details in connection with the Rebbe's last and fateful journey. From an account by Rabbi Nachum, grandson of the Rebbe, relating his personal experiences, we learn the following details:
It was on Friday, late in the summer, that the Rebbe fled from Liadi on the advice of the generals commanding the Russian armies in that area. Sixty wagons were put at his disposal, but they were not enough, and many had to walk on foot. A number of armed troops were assigned to accompany and protect the caravan. In view of the rapid advance of the French army, the generals suggested that the best route for the flight of the Rebbe would be through the town of Bayev. But the Rebbe decided to head for Krasna, urging the caravan to make the utmost haste, in order to cross the river Dnieper at the earliest possible time.
After covering a distance of about two miles, the Rebbe suddenly requested the accompanying troops to let him go back to Liozna. Arriving at his deserted house, he ordered his men to search the house carefully to make sure that nothing whatever, however trivial, had been overlooked. The only things found were a pair of worn-out slippers, a rolling pin and a sieve, which had been left in the attic. He ordered these to be taken along, and to set the house on fire before the enemy arrived, first removing the sacred Torah scrolls from the adjacent synagogue. Then he blessed those of the townspeople who remained in the town, and speedily departed again.
No sooner had he left the town on the road leading to the Dnieper than the avant-coureur of Napoleon's army reached the town from the opposite end. Presently, Napoleon himself with his entourage entered the town on their galloping steeds. Napoleon inquired after the house of the Rebbe, but when he reached it, he found it ablaze, the fire burning beyond control. Napoleon wished to have something which belonged to the Rebbe and offered a rich reward to anyone who could bring him anything. But nothing was there. [It seems that Napoleon practiced some sort of sorcery for which such an object was required.]
During all his long and arduous journey Rabbi Shneur Zalman kept in touch with the situation of Russian Jewry caught in the gigantic Franco-Russian war. The retreating Russian armies, using the scorched earth policy in order to deprive the enemy of vitally needed supplies, exacted a tremendous sacrifice from its own people. At the same time the invading armies plundered everything they could lay their hands on. Starvation and ruination were the order of the day, and the Rebbe's heart went out to his suffering brethren, who were the most hard-hit victims of the invasion.
The Rebbe had foreseen Napoleon's invasion of Moscow as well as his defeat there. He also predicted that Napoleon's final defeat would be at the hands of his own compatriots. At the same time he knew that the retreating French armies, starving and desperate, would plunder the Jewish communities which lay in their path. Arriving in Piena, the Rebbe embarked upon a relief campaign to aid the Jewish victims of the war, including resettlement plans, fund raising, and relief distribution. For ten days after his arrival in Piena the Rebbe worked feverishly on his plans and projects to alleviate the plight of his brethren. Then, he fell ill, his condition worsening day to day. At the conclusion of Shabbat he composed a letter full of mystical allusions, and a few minutes later he returned his soul to his Maker.
From Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Kehot Publication Society
The relationship between Moses and Moshiach is reflected in the numerical value of their names. "Moshe" (Moses) is 345 and "Moshiach" is 358. The difference between Moses and Moshiach is represented by the number 13. Thirteen is the numerical value of "echad," a word that is the keystone of the Jewish faith. Every morning and evening, the Jew recites the verse "Shema Yisrael...Hear O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is echad - one...." The Jewish people are called "an echad nation on earth" because they reveal the echad of G-d in the world. And the era of Moshiach is described as "the day that G-d will be echad, and His name echad."