Fast-Food Judaism | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | All Together | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Long before (non-kosher) fast-food emporiums dotted the landscape like mushrooms after a rain, our Sages suggested we implement the fast-food mentality into our lives, though with a Jewish twist, of course. "Grab and eat, grab and drink," Rabbi Shmuel told his student Rabbi Yehuda Shenina (as recorded in the Talmud). "For life is like a party which will soon be over."
Far from being a fatalistic outlook, or one that places the emphasis on physicality, Rabbi Shmuel's words teach us how to define our goals and motivate ourselves Jewishly.
Mitzvot (commandments) are likened to food and the Torah is likened to water, in Chasidic philosophy. "Do mitzvot, study Torah," Rabbi Shmuel taught. "For life - in this world - will soon be over and in the World to Come those same opportunities to do mitzvot and study Torah will no longer be available."
Picture yourself in a fast-food line. Are you going to stand there leisurely contemplating the menu as you would in a fine restaurant, discussing it with the people joining you, maybe even asking what the restaurant suggests, what is the soup de jour, the house specialty? Or would you order quickly from the list on the wall and hungrily gobble it down? Most likely you would do the latter, since expedience and swiftness are major reasons for your choice of restaurant styles.
Similarly, Chasidut explains that since we are getting closer every day to Moshiach, we shouldn't spend time contemplating a menu of mitzvot. We don't have time any longer to sit and relax at a fine restaurant, dillydallying until we make our choice. Action is the main thing. Grab and eat, grab and drink. Whatever mitzva comes your way, do it. Whichever Jewish learning opportunity is available, benefit from it. We're living life in the fast-lane, traveling on the express train.
A Jewish fast-food mentality means taking hold of our every opportunity to do a mitzva, regardless of whether or not we think it should be the next one in our repertoire. There's no time for, "How can I light Shabbat candles if on Saturday I ..." Or, "Why put on tefillin if I don't..." Or, "How can I attend a Jewish mysticism/Chasidic philosophy class if I don't even know the Hebrew alphabet?"
Grab and eat, grab and drink means that these last few moments before the Messianic Era need to be filled with action not contemplation, deeds not meditations. Soon the party will be over, or will it just be beginning?
What are the properties of a well?
A well's water gushes spontaneously from its source without waiting for the thirsty person to come and drink. Likewise, its waters flow far and wide, saturating everything with which they come in contact.
In a similar vein, when the objective is bringing the waters of Torah to other Jews, we cannot wait until they come and ask to drink its knowledge. The Torah, the sustenance of life itself, must be brought to wherever Jews are found.
This approach originated with Aaron the High Priest, who "loved peace and pursued peace, loved his fellow creatures and brought them nearer to Torah." Aaron did not wait until others took the first step, but went "outside" to draw them closer to Judaism.
Significantly, Aaron "brought them nearer to Torah," and not the other way around. The Torah's principles were never altered or compromised to fit a given situation. Rather, each individual Jew was brought to the Torah, the same true and eternal Torah that has stood immutable for thousands of years.
This characteristic service of Aaron is alluded to in this week's Torah portion, Beha'alosecha -- literally, "When you light the lamps."
As High Priest, Aaron's job entailed kindling the menora in the Sanctuary.
A candle is symbolic of the Jewish soul, as it states, "the candle of G-d is the soul of man." Aaron's function was to light the candle, i.e., ignite the soul of every Jew, for every Jew possesses a G-dly soul, no matter how concealed it may be. By lighting this "candle," Aaron revealed the flame that burns inside each and every one of us.
Furthermore, Aaron made sure that the candle would continue to burn without his assistance. It is not enough to uncover the G-dly soul that exists in the recesses of every Jewish heart; the soul must be so aroused that it continues to burn with love of G-d and perpetually seeks to reunite with its Source Above.
Thus, "spreading the wellsprings outward" requires that we go "outside," beyond our own "space" to awaken the hidden spark of G-d that is the birthright of every Jew. For no matter how hidden it may seem to be, all that is necessary is that we find it and fan its flame until, like a candle after the match which lit it has been removed, it continues to burn by itself.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 2
New Heights for Tanya
Two Lubavitcher Chasidim - Meir Alfasi of Rechovot, Israel, and Shmuly Levitin of Brooklyn, New York, trekked for two weeks up to the top of the world's tallest mountain to print the Tanya, the fundamental book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy.
Setting out with two Sherpas, 10 cans of tuna, matzot, a package of paper and a printer, the duo climbed Mt. Everest in Nepal.
The unique mission was undertaken in response to the Rebbe's request in 1984 that the Tanya be printed in every place where Jews are found.
And with the number of tourists who trek all over Nepal, Jews surely frequent Mr. Everest.
Previously, Alfasi had printed a copy of the Tanya in Antarctica. He told the newspaper Yisrael Hayom, "I had a dream that I couldn't shake off to print the Tanya on Mount Everest."
Although Alfasi and Levitin bundled up in thermal clothes, Alfasi wore traditional Chabad Chasidic dress as well, especially the black hat associated with Chabad.
"It was so the Jews would see me and know that I am Jewish," he said. "One of the Israelis [traveling there] told me that it was nice to see a kipa on the mountain."
"You walk 18 hours a day," he said. "I lost 10 kilograms [22 pounds] during the trek, so now I need to switch out my entire wardrobe."
His efforts paid off when he reached the upper Everest Base Camp, where he achieved his goal.
"We went to the base there and asked them for electricity so we could print the Tanya," he said. "They agreed and helped us print the book for the first time ever on the highest mountain on earth."
All photos by Meir Alfasi and Shmuely Levitin
Rabbi Zushe and Yaeli Neimark recently moved to Cyprus to bolster the Chabad of Cyprus activities there.
Chabad's 124 Or Avner educational institutions, schools and kindergartens throughout the Former Soviet Union (FSU) celebrated the end of the school year with a "Last Bell" ceremony. The occasion marks the students' achievements throughout the year. From Tajikistan to Belarus, the end of the year was celebrated with concerts and festive ceremonies.
Beth Habad Francophone NY/Centre Culturel Juif Francais welcomed a new Torah scroll to their Manhattan Center.
Continued from last week - a discussion about the commandment to wipe out Amalek
As a matter of fact, we have in this particular subject under discussion an historic confirmation of precisely the kind of eventuality we have in mind. In the Torah she-be'l-Peh [the Oral Torah] (which I also include in our "common ground", since you quote from the Talmud), we are told in commentary on the Torah shebiksav, what were the consequences of disregarding the said commandment. King Saul, after defeating Amalek and capturing the Amalekite king Agag alive, had compassion on him and did not execute him at once, in contravention of the Prophet Samuel's instructions based on the commandment which we are discussing. The result of this misplaced clemency, which extended Agag's life for one day, was that during the night he was able to impregnate a woman, and of this seed, many generations later, came forth Haman his ten sons, who plotted the complete annihilation of the Jewish people in one day. Fortunately, the situation was miraculously reversed, and Haman and his sons were hanged. Unfortunately, in self defense, the Jews were compelled to take up arms and kill 75,000 enemies, as related in the Book of Esther. Obviously, had Saul carried out the command fully and promptly, the Jewish people would have been spared the terrorism and agony caused by Haman the Agagite, and there would have been no need for all that bloodshed which was forced upon the Jews in self-defense. And all these tragic consequences came to pass because Saul had attempted to inject his personal feelings and reasons into what was a clear, Divine commandment.
One more observation is called for, however. It so happens that the commandment under discussion has a logical explanation, which, moreover, is borne out by historical experience in a most striking manner. But this does not mean that when G-d gave us the Torah He necessarily had to provide a humanly acceptable explanation, within grasp of each and every individual, for each and every commandment which He ordained in His Torah. Obviously, the human intellect is limited, like all human capabilities, and a human being is further limited in time and place, whereas the Divine commandments are, by definition, infinite and timeless. Surely, no individual, however wise, can logically challenge the wisdom of the Torah or any particular of it. Jews have always taken the Divine Torah in this spirit and recognized it for what it is - a Toras Chessed [Torah of Truth] and Toras Emet [Torah of Truth], in addition to the other epithets by which the Torah is characterized - and time and again, throughout our long history, chose martyrdom rather than betray it.
The human intellect is limited, like all human capabilities... whereas the Divine commandments are, by definition, infinite and timeless.
I trust the above has shed some light on the "problem" and, by extension, on similar problems.
P.S. It surprises me, in view of your background as a Professor of Law that you formulated the problem on moral grounds (the horror of genocide), whereas it would seemingly be more forceful to challenge it on legal grounds, namely, the apparent contradiction in the same codex. From the viewpoint of Law, it would surely be a more effective argument to say: how can you reconcile such an apparently "cruel" decree with the very nature of Torah, as a Toras Chessed, given by a compassionate and merciful G-d? All the more so, when compassion is demanded even toward the lower species, as understood in the episode about Rabbi Judah the Prince who, for not showing adequate compassion for a calf led to the slaughter, suffered years of painful ill health. (B.M. 85a), although from the practical point of view, the case was inconsequential.
Hakhel represented the complete equalization of the Jewish people. Something similar was accomplished by the times the Jewish people were counted, since then every individual counted the same, regardless of status, intelligence, etc. Nevertheless, only men were counted, and only those who had reached a certain age. During Hakhel, however, even the tiniest babies were included. And even those who had no knowledge of Hebrew, and were therefore unable to understand what the king was reading, still were affected with an intense awe which inspired them the rest of their lives.
(The Rebbe, 29 Elul, 1987)
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Many of us are already involved in making plans for the summer. We consider the weather, prices, accommodations, attractions.
But, there should be many other concerns on our list of considerations. If we're away over Shabbat, is there a place we can hook up with that will allow us to celebrate Shabbat in the proper spirit? Will there be kosher food for body and soul?
When we look for a day camp or overnight camp for our children, we must make sure to check into the atmosphere of the camp. A Jewish camp run on authentic Jewish ideals can not only fill our children's hours with healthy activities for their bodies and minds, but for their souls as well. At a Jewish camp, run on Torah ideals, a Jewish child can learn to be proud of, and love, his heritage in a positive, hands-on environment. Unencumbered by books and desks and black-boards, Judaism literally comes to life through stories, songs, activities and practical mitzvot.
Vacation time is the perfect time to check out the really important "attractions" in life. Experience a traditional Shabbat, bask in the sunlight of mitzvot (commandments), swim in the deep pool of Torah study.
Include Torah and mitzvot at the top of your list of considerations this summer for you and your family.
When you light the lamps, then shall the seven lamps give light toward the body of the candlestick (Num. 8:2)
The seven branches of the menora are symbolic of the seven branches of secular wisdom; the body of the menora is symbolic of the G-dly wisdom of Torah. All knowledge of the natural, physical world should be used to "give light toward the body of the candlestick" - enhance our understanding of Torah - thereby enabling secular wisdom to truly illuminate.
And if they blow with but one [trumpet], then shall the princes assemble themselves to you (Num. 10:4)
If genuine Jewish unity is the goal, "then shall the princes assemble themselves" - there must first be true unity among our leaders, who must cease infighting and provide a proper example for others. Only then can they demand unity from the rest of the people.
For G-d has spoken good upon Israel (Num. 10:29)
The words "spoken good" occur only twice in our Scriptures, here and in Megilat Esther, where we find the phrase "spoken good for the king." According to our commentators this is an allusion to G-d: When a person speaks well of his fellow Jew, it is considered as if he spoke well of the Master of the world.
And G-d's anger was kindled greatly, and in the eyes of Moses it was also displeasing (Num. 11:10)
Why was G-d angered? Because "in the eyes of Moses it was also displeasing": in this instance, Moses hadn't tried to justify the Jews' behavior or find an excuse for them. From this we learn that when a tzadik (righteous person) finds merit for the Jewish people, it stills any accusations from Above.
(Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev)
In the olden days, the Jews of Germany were known for their highly organized social and community structure. Being chosen for a post in one of these communities was a badge of honor, as it signified having been approved by several screening committees. And once a candidate was selected, his authority and influence over communal life was considerable.
The selection process for religious leaders was equally stringent. Being the rabbi of a German Jewish community was a prestigious position, and there was much competition.
Rabbi Refael Cohen, the Rav of Pinsk, was one of the leading Torah authorities of his generation. At the age of ten he had been accepted into the famous yeshiva of the "She'agat Aryeh," and at 19 he already headed the yeshiva. Before Pinsk, he had served as Rav in Posna and Minsk. It was therefore not surprising when he was asked to serve as rabbi of Hamburg, one of the most important Jewish communities in Germany. The rabbi set off for Hamburg to meet with its leaders and begin the official process of appointment.
By that time, the winds of the Enlightenment had already begun to blow across Germany. The stated aim of its proponents was the "modernization" of Judaism, while retaining its age-old traditions. In fact, however, its underlying goal was the removal of all barriers separating Jew and non-Jew, and the ultimate assimilation of the Jewish people into the family of nations. Rabbi Refael, who hailed from the "backwaters" of Lithuania, had never met any Maskilim, as they were called, and the whole idea was foreign to him.
Moses Mendelssohn was one of the main proponents of the Enlightenment then living in Berlin. To many German Jews, he was a visionary whose opinions and "Weltanschauung" greatly influenced their own. Among those who regarded him in this light were several of the community leaders of Hamburg, who were now in charge of appointing a rabbi. Their ideal candidate would be knowledgeable in Torah, yet "progressive" enough to keep up with current fashions and trends.
When Rabbi Refael appeared before the selection committee they were impressed by his obvious scholarship and wisdom. His personal views and beliefs, however, remained unknown. The board decided that the best person to judge Rabbi Refael's character would be Moses Mendelssohn himself.
Rabbi Refael was told only that if he wished to conclude the appointment process as quickly as possible, he must travel to Berlin to meet with one of the greatest Jewish thinkers of all time, Moses Mendelssohn. If he received his recommendation, the position of Rabbi was his.
Rabbi Refael, in his naïveté, assumed that he was going to meet a Torah sage, and set off for Berlin. In the meantime, the board sent an urgent letter to Moses Mendelssohn explaining the situation and asking him to assess the moral fiber of the Lithuanian rabbi. Was he truly qualified to be Rav of the "progressive" community of Hamburg?
Rabbi Refael walked into Moses Mendelssohn's home and saw the "Torah Sage" sitting at his desk with his head uncovered, rifling through a Hebrew Bible. He was so astonished that he was momentarily speechless. In addition to his shock, he also felt as if he had been deliberately deceived and misled.
When Mendelssohn looked up and greeted his visitor with "Shalom," Rabbi Refael responded with a quote from Isaiah, " 'There is no peace, says the L-rd.' How could they have sent me to a heretic?" he thundered. "I would rather be reduced to begging than have to obtain the recommendation of someone who sits and learns our holy Torah with an uncovered head!" With that, he turned on his heels and left.
Before he got back to Hamburg, however, a letter arrived from Moses Mendelssohn apprising the board of his findings: "I did not have time to assess the character of the Lithuanian rabbi," he wrote, "for as soon as he saw me he called me a heretic and stormed out. Why? Because my head was uncovered as I was looking into a Bible. He refused to accept any recommendation from me, and declared that he'd rather be a beggar than need my approval."
The members of the board assumed that Moses Mendelssohn was telling them that Rabbi Refael was obviously unqualified for the position. But no! The end of the letter contained a surprise: "I therefore recommend that you appoint him as Rav, for he is a man of truth. I am sure that such a person would never be anything less than completely impartial, even if a sword were suspended over his throat..."
In the end Rabbi Refael was appointed as Rav of Hamburg, and served in that capacity for many years. Throughout his life he continued to be a staunch opponent of the Enlightenment and of Mendelssohn himself, whose recommendation secured his job in the first place.
In our present time, we are not experiencing persecution, G-d forbid, and we are living in affluence. This can sometimes be an even greater test - will we remain loyal to G-d even when living in physical comfort? However, the fact that in these times our Divine service is more difficult, proves that we were empowered and have the ability to overcome all obstacles, because G-d does not make unreasonable demands of His creations. Because of our tenacity in fulfilling G-d's will even though our spiritual awareness is very limited, we will merit the immediate redemption.
(Sefer HaMaamarim-Kuntreisim v. 1 p. 106)