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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
by Rabbi Yoseph Kahanov
Soon after Pharoah told the Jewish people that they could leave Egypt, he had a change of heart. He dispatched his army to pursue his former slaves, closing-in from behind. Directly ahead lay the Red Sea.
The Midrash shares that the Jewish people were actually arguing amongst themselves as to what to do. Some said: "Let us throw ourselves into the sea." "Let us return to Egypt." "Let us wage war upon the Egyptians." "Let us pray to G-d."
Moses declares: "Fear not, stand by and see the salvation of G-d which He will show you today; for as you have seen Egypt today, you will never see them again. G-d will fight for you, and you will be silent." (Exodus 14:13)
The Midrash asserts that these words imply Moses's rejection of all four options. Yet, if all the stated opinions were wrong, what was Israel supposed to do during this life threatening crossroads? Moreover, all of the alternatives seem reasonable - solutions that at one time or another in Jewish history, proved effective and even prescribed by G-d.
As well, if different crisis require different reactions, how are we to ever know which response is correct in any given circumstance?
"Speak to the Children of Israel," G-d says to Moses. In response to all their fussing, tell them "that they should go forward," i.e., "Let Me give the orders while you follow and not the other way around."
The multiple voices of the varied camps all committed the same error. Instead of looking to G-d and Moses for direction, they turned to themselves. They never even thought to consider what G-d had to say about all this.
The voyage from Egypt to Sinai is the perpetual voyage from exile to redemption - the ongoing assignment to transform humanity and the very world into a G-dly domain. At the very inception of the journey we are taught a critical lesson. Man, in his service of G-d, must not be driven by his own logic, feelings and motives; he is rather instructed to seek the true will of G-d.
There is G-d's will and then there is ours. While on the surface the two may seem as though they are one, this is usually because we have not yet learned to tell them apart. As we grow in our understanding and service of G-d through Torah, we learn to distinguish and extricate G-d's will from our own.
Now, as then, we are faced with multiple choices at every crossroads in our national and personal journey from Egypt to Sinai and beyond. And now, as then, there are many voices - inner as well as outer - that are eager to share their opinions on when and how we ought to proceed.
The first thing we must know is that not all voices are those of G-d. This is the premier message to the newborn nation of Israel upon the onset of its journey. It is likewise the premier lesson for every Jew in his personal spiritual journey.
But how are we to know which voice is from G-d and which is from elsewhere? This is perhaps the most essential skill taught by Judaism. In fact, much of Chassidic philosophy is designed to help accomplish this very task.
There is one principle however, without which it is virtually impossible to overcome this obstacle: We must recognize and follow the guidance of Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses our teacher). In absence of a Moses there is no Judaism and there is no knowable G-d.
What this means, in more practical terms, is that a Jew cannot go-it-alone. A Jew cannot rely on himself to determine and decipher the credibility of every voice - he cannot trust himself to navigate every fork in the road. This is precisely what our Sages meant when they said: "Make for yourself a teacher and free yourself from doubt." - Avot 1:16
As Jews we must always remember the lesson from that experience on the banks of the Red Sea. We must look to the Moses in our lives and discern between the voice of G-d and the voices that wish to present themselves as G-d, be it from within or without. Only then can we be certain that our ideas and ideologies are not rooted in one of the four camps which entirely missed the mark, good as their intentions were .
By following the call of the Moses of our generation, his teachings and guidance through which G-d communicates to us, we will be sure not to veer from the Divine intention and path and thereby fulfill our G-dly mission with the coming of the righteous Moshiach.
Condensed from an article by Rabbi Kahanov. Rabbi Kahanov is an emissary of the Rebbe in NorthEast Florida and author of the newly released What Chabad Really Believes.
In this week's Torah portion, Bo, we are given the first mitzva (commandment), to sanctify the new month on the testimony of two witnesses who saw the birth of the new moon.
The words in the Torah that teach us this mitzva are, "This month, for you, will be the first month." G-d showed Moses the sliver of the new moon and said "this" is how the moon should look.
At the same time, with the same words, we are taught: "This month" the month of Nissan, "for you" for the Jewish people, "will be the first month" or literally "the head of months."
Why is it so important for G-d to tell us, at the time of giving us our very first commandment as a nation, that Nissan will be our "head month"?
In the month of Nissan we became a people, in the month of Nissan we were redeemed. Asking us to consider Nissan as our head month tells us that there is something about this month that defines us as a people.
"This month" has several names. It is called Nissan, which comes from the word "nes," which means miracle. This teaches us that we are a miraculous nation, with miraculous abilities. We have the ability to change the world, to make the mundane holy by doing mitzvot. This is because though we have physical bodies we have been infused with a neshama, a soul, that is literally a piece of G-d. This makes us a G-dly people, above nature, inabeling us to take two opposites - holy and mundane - and fuse them together, thereby making the physical world G-dly.
The month is also called the month of "Aviv," - spring. Spring is the time when trees grow anew and bud. This teaches us that we cannot be comfortable with our past accomplishments, we must be constantly growing, adding in Torah, service, and good deeds.
It is also the month of Geula, redemption. This teaches us that we are a truly free people. We must never feel that we need to be like "them." We have our way, the Jewish way, which is by far superior, and by far more humane.
This is why it is told to us at the first mitzva, because first you need to know who you are. You are imbued with these traits, specifically to do these mitzvot.
This is who we are, this is what we are, it is OK to be proud of who you are.
Adapted by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz from the teachings of the Rebbe, yitzihurwitz.blogspot.com. Rabbi Hurwitz, who is battling ALS, and his wife Dina, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Temecula, Ca.
Four Questions and the Rebbe with Rabbi Shlomo Jacobovits
Since 1976, Rabbi Shlomo (Solomon) Jakobovits has served as the principal of the Eitz Chaim Orthodox Day School in Toronto, Ontario. This story was taken from Here's My Story and is presented with permission from JEM's My Encounter with the Rebbe oral history project, which is dedicated to recording first-person testimonies documenting the life and guidance of the Rebbe.
After I finished my studies at Gateshead Yeshiva in England, I enrolled at Yeshiva University in New York. And while I was there, I had a Lubavitch friend named Nochum Wolosow who suggested that I go see the Rebbe.
This was 1953 and, in those early days of the Rebbe's leadership, it was possible to talk with him at length. So I came to the appointment with a list of questions, and I was there for two hours.
It was quite a night. And, although it was long ago, I still remember the topics we discussed very well.
The Rebbe answered my questions in a very rational way. And he was quite willing to say "we don't know." He showed himself to be a very intelligent human being, a sympathetic human being - not somebody disconnected from modern society.
I remember the first question I asked was: "What is the Lubavitch movement about? We don't find any reference for it in the Talmud. It only goes back to the late 18th century, to the Tanya. So what does this movement stand for? What is a person who is not part of this movement supposed to understand?"
He said, "I am not going to answer the exact question that you ask, but I am going to tell you this: Yiddishkeit [Judaism] today is on a decline, and Chabad is needed to reverse the trend."
He went on - and I am paraphrasing his words here - "Today's world is different from the world of olden days. The Jewish world of Eastern Europe has been destroyed, and the Jewish world of the West is in a downtrend - observance is waning. This is tragic. But Chabad has the ability to reverse this decline and rejuvenate the Jewish people. Chabad teaches that those who are totally devoted can spread Yiddishkeit to others. And this type of teaching - from the mind and the heart - is what Jews are prepared to accept."
I had more questions, so I changed the subject.
I asked him, "Why did our sages or our prophets not come up with any significant inventions. We speak of them with utmost respect, but why, with all their wisdom, didn't they invent anything? Why was it left to others to discover electricity, to make progress in medicine and technology?"
He answered, "That is not what the great minds of the Torah were destined to teach the world. Every person of greatness has a particular task, and technology was not their field of innovation. Think about it: Would you have expected Moses to go up Mount Sinai in an elevator? Perhaps it might have made things easier for him - as loudspeakers would have helped the rabbis to spread G-d's word. But that is not what was expected of them."
My next question concerned the veracity of some of the pronouncements made by our sages. We find statements in their writings that contradict the facts as we know them. For example, they said that Torah study and Torah observance guarantee a long life. But we find that observant Jews get sick just as much as anybody, and good people suffer as much as bad people.
He began his reply with a general explanation: "When we come into this world, we see bits and pieces of it. When a construction company is putting up a building, we see a hole in the ground over here; we see broken pieces of wood over there. We see a pile of stones, a pile of dirt, lots of mud... It all looks very ugly and uninviting. Only later, when the building is complete, when everything is in place, does it look attractive. Everything has its logical place. And this is what the Torah verse often cited at funerals really means, 'Hatzur tomim pa'aloh, ki chol derochov mishpot - When the work is complete, then we will see that everything fits in.' The scattered components give a totally wrong impression."
And to my follow up questions, he gave the same answer, "We cannot see the total picture now. We are very limited. We are limited in space, in time, in depth. We see only bits and pieces. And therefore we are in no position to judge."
He was not going to try to explain why this or that contradiction exists and why this or that happens. He just said, "We don't have answers to these things." And I regard his to be a well thought-out answer. Others might have tried to explain this by quoting the Talmud that the sufferers' reward will come in the next world, but he didn't take that route. He said, "We don't know everything."
I also asked him about what will happen when the Moshiach comes. Specifically, I wanted to know about animal sacrifices. I mean, if you start slaughtering animals in the synagogue, people will walk out; they will not accept that. Or what will happen when the Temple is rebuilt and that is the only center of worship? Can you imagine closing down five thousand synagogues?
And his answer was that we know that the Moshiach will do certain things in the physical world - such as through him all Jews will return to the Land of Israel and the Temple will be rebuilt - but we have to understand that it will be a different physical world.
He said, "I am telling you that people's mode of thought will be totally different. I agree that it is hard to imagine animal sacrifices in today's society. It is very hard to imagine. But, that is because we are thinking in terms of the current mind-set. When the Moshiach comes that will change radically - we will be thinking in totally different terms. And, therefore, these questions just won't apply."
That is how our discussion went. And I walked out very impressed with him.
Many years later, I came to one of Chabad's gatherings. I was standing on the side when the Rebbe was going out and, as he passed, he noticed me.
"Jakobovits," he said, "do you recall our discussion?"
I was taken aback that he should remember after all that time, but I replied, "Yes, yes, of course I do. And I am still very grateful."
As I am today.
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10 Tamuz, 5726 
I am in receipt of your letter, and I was subsequently also informed of the telephone conversation which you had with our office.
Needless to say, I am gratified to note that you are taking such a profound interest in the affairs of the congregation and in the functions of the rabbi and of spiritual leadership in general. No doubt this interest finds expression to the utmost in helping strengthen the congregation, in particular, in elevating the synagogue, so that it be imbued with the proper spirit causing it to reflect its essential function, that is, that it be a place where everyone can feel its holiness. That it be a synagogue where everyone would be conscious of the dictum: "Know before Whom you are standing." Such a synagogue is truly a source of inspiration and Divine blessings, both spiritually and materially.
You mention some matters which, in your opinion, would enhance the leadership of the rabbi. In the light of your description of the situation, it is surely unnecessary to emphasize that the ultimate aim of spiritual leadership is to influence the daily conduct of the members, to bring it more fully in accord with the Torah and mitzvot. Now, in a situation where the rabbi is a relatively young man, and he has among his congregants older members, he will often be more successful if he does not impose his leadership too heavily, but rather develop it gradually and steadily, in order to create a situation where the members will themselves come to the decision as to how to conduct themselves, both in matters of the congregation, as well as in the privacy of their homes. Obviously, with the cooperation of the members, both men and women, the results of the right policy will be realized all the sooner. The rabbi himself is, of course, the best judge as to the most effective approach to take in developing his leadership and extending his influence.
You are, of course, quite right that a synagogue should be open whenever possible. As a matter of fact, as my father-in-law of saintly memory expressed himself, a synagogue should be open not only all day, but both day and night. For in a Jewish congregation, there should be members who study the Torah also at night, and when the Torah is studied in the synagogue where the prayers are recited, a special significance is added to this study. On the other hand, in view of what has been said above, the rabbi has to consider the prevailing circumstances and factors, and he must decide how the interests of the members would be served best, whether by sitting alone in the synagogue, or by spending that time in some other way. He must also consider what impression his lonesome vigil in the synagogue might have on the congregants, if his presence may be needed somewhere else, and in some other activity.
Finally, let me also say that there is no perfection in the world, and that every human being who takes over a new position in a new place, under new circumstances, requires a certain period of time to adjust himself and lay the foundations for a fruitful and growing activity. This applies also to rabbis. And judging by your letter, it is very possible that the rabbi is using his discretion to good advantage to ensure successful spiritual leadership.
I am confident that your interest in the affairs of the synagogue and congregation, and your participation in their growth and development, will be a source of Divine blessings to you and yours, and may G-d grant you success.
12th of Nissan, 5739 
...With reference to your writing "I do not 'hold' by a Rebbe now. My allegiance is to the Yiddishkeit [Judaism] with which I grew up," etc. - of course, what is expected of you, as of every Jew, is that the daily life and conduct should be in accordance with the Torah, Toras Chaim [the Torah of life], and this is the very essence of Yiddishkeit. However, inasmuch as the Torah is described as "longer than the earth and wider than the sea," it is normal that no individual, however proficient he is in Torah and Mitzvos, and however educated he is, isolates himself from others, from whom he can learn a better and deeper understanding of Torah, at any rate, in those areas where he has not yet attained the highest level. This is the function of a Rebbe, a teacher and instructor who have in their sphere of learning devoted more time and attained a higher level of knowledge, etc....
Are there blessings to say when Moshiach comes?
Five blessings may be recited when Moshiach comes. They begin: "Baruch Ata Ado-nai Elo-heinu Melech Ha'olam-Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe..." They continue, "Ga'al Yisrael-Who redeems Israel"; "Shehecheyanu v'kiyimanu v'higiyanu lizman hazeh-Who has kept us alive and sustained us and brought us to this time"; "Shechalak m'chachmato l'rei'av-Who has given wisdom to those who fear Him"; "Shechalak m'kivodo l'rei'av-Who has given honor to those who fear Him"; "Chacham Harazim-the Wise One of secrets."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This coming Monday is 10 Shevat (February 6 this year). Yud (10) Shevat is the anniversary of the passing of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn in 1950, and the ascension to leadership of the Rebbe.
One time when the elder chasid Reb Michel Piekarsky was walking with his grandson Rabbi Mendel Rubin (now an emissary of the Rebbe at CUNY Albany), he told his grandon, "This Rebbe is not like the old Rebbe. If you had a problem, and shared it with the old Rebbe, he would cry along with you. This Rebbe? He would encourage you to do more, to double your efforts, etc."
Mendel asked him, "Which style do you prefer?" Rabbi Piekarsky was a Chassid of both Rebbes. He replied, "Each generation has what it needs."
In the Rebbe's first public talk upon accepting the leadership of Chabad-Lubavitch, on 10 Shevat 1951, the Rebbe set forth his plan. He did this in the Chasidic discourse Basi L'Gani.
The original Basi L'Gani discourse was prepared by the Previous Rebbe to be published on 10 Shvat in honor of his grandmother's birthday. It turned out to be the day of his own passing.
The original discourse composed by the Previous Rebbe was 20 chapters. Each year the Rebbe expounded upon one chapter from his father-in-law's discourse.
In the very first year, expounding upon the first chapter, the Rebbe clearly outlined that our generation is different than all previous generations. We are "the last generation of the exile and the first generation of the Redemption. And that the task of our generation is to actually bring Moshiach: "This that we find ourselves in the seventh generation is not just some abstract slogan, but something that should propel us to bring Moshiach down here."
May we witness imminently the culmination of Rebbe's vision with the commencement of the Redemption and the revelation of Moshiach.
For all the Children of Israel there was light in their dwellings (Ex. 10:23)
This unique light not only illuminated their own homes, but accompanied the Jews wherever they went - even when visiting their neighboring Egyptians. Exile is a time of spiritual darkness that intensifies the closer we get to Moshiach's revelation. Nonetheless, just as our ancestors enjoyed "light in their dwellings" even before their redemption from exile, so too does every Jew possess an aura of holiness now, just prior to the Final Redemption, which accompanies him wherever he goes.
(The Rebbe, Parshat Korach, 5751)
Sanctify unto Me all the first-born (Ex. 13:2)
Just as the first-born is especially holy to G-d, so too must the first few minutes of the day be dedicated to G-d and to His Torah. Once a person has established this firm foundation, the rest of the day will likewise be secure.
(Rabbi Yisrael of Ruzhin)
And they despoiled Egypt (Ex. 12:36)
After 210 years of extremely harsh exile in Egypt, the Jewish people received "reparations" in the form of "vessels of silver, and vessels of gold, and garments." Later, at the splitting of the Sea, they received five times as many riches - precious gems and pearls. We in our generation are about to leave a longer and even harsher exile than our forefathers endured. Accordingly, the "reparations" we will receive from G-d will be infinitely greater. Keeping this in mind should cause us to be even more generous in giving tzedaka.
(The Rebbe, Parshat Vayechi, 5752)
by Rabbi Uri Kaploun
In a tiny Australian townlet called Shepparton, which was to carry the seed of today's thriving empire of Chabad-Lubavitch activity that spans the entire continent, an elderly chassid woke up suddenly one Friday night.
This was my late grandfather, Reb Moishe Zalman Feiglin of blessed memory, a chassid who for decades had been bound with every thread of his noble soul to the Previous Rebbe, of saintly memory, even though during their time in this world they had never met.
As he was then recently widowed, his twelve-year-old grandson slept in his house to keep him company.
On that Friday night he hurried anxiously into the dining-room, where I followed him, to discover what had woken him: a framed photograph of the Previous Rebbe, which for years had occupied pride of place on a sideboard at the head of the room, had fallen to the floor.
Pointing at the shattered glass he said quietly, "Something has happened!"
I did my best to reassure him that there must have been a draft or perhaps a tremor, but to no avail.
On Shabbos morning he shared his concern with our learned neighbor Reb Bezalel Wilschansky, the first of the Previous Rebbe's emissaries to Australia, who had come by as always to say Gut Shabbos, and to accompany my grandfather and my father of blessed memory to shul. He too sought to reassure my grandfather.
Now my zeide was a man who had never been known to be shocked out of his tranquil faith and equanimity. This Shabbos, the only time in my recollection, he could find no peace.
Finally, some time after Shabbat, the ominous telegram arrived from Brooklyn. The date of that Shabbos was the Tenth of 5710 (1950).
From the introduction to the English translation of Basi L'Gani - the last Chasidic discourse of the Previous Rebbe and first Chasidic discourse of the Rebbe.
And in Brooklyn, an account by Benyamin Mintz, at the time a yeshiva student.
Shabbos morning, when I arrived for services, I noticed Rabbi Nachum Novokov standing near the window and sobbing. I didn't know what had happened and thought he was crying over some personal matter. I also heard someone crying during the Torah reading but I still did not attribute any significance to this.
After the prayers, as I got ready to go to my hosts for the Shabbat meal, an older yeshiva student came over and said, "Perhaps you'll go upstairs to say Psalms." I innocently asked him why, but he said, "Don't ask questions, just go up." When I went up, I understood everything.
The Rebbe's son-in-law Ramash [the Rebbe] was restrained and dealt with everything that needed to be done, telling each one what to do. More students came up to say Psalms and I left.
When I arrived at my host's house, I found that they already knew. My host wasn't a Lubavitcher but he traveled on business to various countries including Russia. Each time, the [Previous] Rebbe asked him to take Jewish religious items with him saying, "It's dangerous but you have an American passport." A few times when he came for the Rebbe's blessing and to offer to take some items, the Rebbe declined saying, "Now is not the right time for that."
Sunday morning, we went down to the study hall and prayed the morning service while the chevra kadisha (holy burial society) made the preparations for the funeral. When we went back upstairs, the Rebbe was in the aron (coffin) that they had built out of his lectern.
They took the Rebbe downstairs for the funeral where a large crowd waited. The chevra kadisha's car took the aron to the yeshiva on Bedford and Dean from where they continued to Atlantic Avenue, and turned right towards the cemetery on Springfield Boulevard in Queens.
By the time we got to the gravesite, the burial had already taken place. As I stood there, I saw Ramash standing on the right side of the grave and Rashag [the Previous Rebbe's other son-in-law] on the left, gazing silently.
On Lag B'Omer, the Rebbe said he wanted to go to the gravesite together with a quoram. I went along. When we arrived at the Ohel, the Rebbe stood at the foot of the grave, facing the gravestone while the rest of us stood all around. Each of us said the Maaneh Lashon (special prayers said at the resting place of the righteous) and when we finished, we went out and waited for the Rebbe outside the cemetery near the bus. After the Rebbe finished, he came out.
Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Kazarnovsky, Rabbi Yisroel Jacobson and some other elder Chassidim arrived. Rabbi Kazarnovsky showed the Rebbe the plans they had prepared for a stone wall around the grave. When the Rebbe saw the plan he said, "Why was so little space left?" They said they wanted the space to be as small as possible in order to give people room to stand. To their surprise, the Rebbe said, "And who said that the [Previous] Rebbe is here?" pointing at the grave. "Maybe the Rebbe is here, more to the left?"
They were all flabbergasted by this and did as the Rebbe said. The inner wall was constructed more to the northern side. This was on Lag B'Omer, just three months after the passing of the [Previous] Rebbe, and long before the Rebbe accepted the leadership. Even then, the elder Chassidim listened to the Rebbe for they knew that the Rebbe was head and shoulders above them all."
One can be standing before a precious treasure, in broad daylight and with open eyes, yet he does not see a thing! What greater and more precious treasure is there - anticipated and hoped for by all previous generations - than the coming of Moshiach? Yet people turn their faces this way or that; everyone is busy with their own affairs.... We have just completed something that had been lacking. Now it is only up to each of us to finish the last few things that need to be done in order to break through the exile and bring Moshiach
(The Rebbe, 4 and 9 Shevat, 5730-1970)