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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
This Shabbat is Tu B'Shevat, that fruit-eating and tree-planting time of year. Now, someone out there might be wondering what he would do if he was in the middle of planting a tree (or at least parting with his money for a tree certificate!) and Moshiach came.
Interestingly enough, one of our Sages answered that question over 1,500 years ago!
Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai used to say: "If there is a plant in your hand when they say to you: 'Behold, the Moshiach!' go and plant the seedling, and afterward go out to greet him."
What does this mean to you? Take a moment to think about it and then read on.
"Behold, Moshiach is coming."
"Moshiach is here."
"Moshiach is revealed."
The Rebbe made these statements publicly at numerous gatherings in the early 90s. One might conjecture that, once such powerful statements were made, all that was left for us to do was sit around and wait for some kind of high-tech, multi-media, miraculous event to take place which would herald the Messianic Era.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Although the Rebbe said that all of the spiritual service which needed to be completed in exile had been done, we were not expected to take a short vacation until the Redemption. On the contrary, the Rebbe told us to prepare ourselves to greet Moshiach by performing acts of goodness and kindness, doing more mitzvot, studying more Torah, and performing mitzvot in a more perfect manner.
"Go and plant the seedling," the Rebbe tells us. Continue and increase all of the good and G-dly things you are presently doing. Learn more. Give more. Do more. For the more you plant now, the more bountiful will be your harvest in the Messianic Era.
In addition, the Rebbe mentioned numerous times that we will lose nothing in the Messianic Era. To those people who were concerned that everything they worked to build up businesses, relationships, material possessions would be lost when Moshiach comes, the Rebbe explained that the difference between our lives in exile and in the Messianic Era is symbolized by the Hebrew words "gola" - "exile," and "geula" - "Redemption." The only difference between these two words is that "gola" lacks the Hebrew letter "alef" - which stands for the "Alufo shel olam" - the "Master of the Universe." When Moshiach comes, the presence and life-giving energy of the Master of the Universe will be totally revealed in every aspect of our lives.
"Go and plant the seedling," Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai tells us. And surely, with all the fruits of your labor, from all the seedlings you have planted, you will be able to greet Moshiach in a dignified and upright manner.
In this week's Torah portion, Beshalach, we learn about the manna that sustained the Jewish people in the desert. One month after the Jewish people left Egypt, their provisions ran out. The people complained to Moses and G-d responded that He will rain down bread from heaven in the mornings.
Moses told the Jewish people to gather one omer (a biblical measure) of manna per household member each day. Miraculously, no matter how much manna one picked, he arrived home with exactly the amount he was supposed to. Moses also commanded the Jewish people not to leave over any manna from one day to the next.
On Friday, when the people went out to collect the manna, they collected the same amount as on the previous days, but found that they had amassed a double portion. Moses explained that being that the next day was Shabbat, no manna would fall so the double portion was for Friday and Shabbat.
The verses describing the manna is the first time Shabbat is mentioned in the Torah. What is the connection between Shabbat and manna? What lesson can we take for our lives that Shabbat is mentioned for the first time in connection with the manna?
Logic dictates that if you don't work, you won't have. Observing Shabbat - which includes not working or doing business on the holy day - is putting trust in G-d that He will take care of you, despite logic.
The same was true about the manna. Except for Shabbat, the manna lasted for one day. Every morning the Jewish people put their trust in G-d that he would send manna to sustain them.
Shabbat and manna are about trust in G-d. It is this trust that is the source of the sustenance we are blessed with. It is also the catalyst for blessing in general. When we put our trust in G-d, it opens the channel of blessing in our lives.
When we felt like our whole world was falling apart, my wife received advice from a friend: At times like this, let go and allow G-d to take over. It was the best advice. G-d sent his blessings in the form of good, kind, and loving people, who we are so grateful for. This advice has carried us through all of our difficulties.
G-d is there for you. When there doesn't appear to be any answers, when all hope seems lost, put your trust in Him. When there seems to be nobody, G-d is there for you.
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.
With One Heart
by Rabbi Uriel Vigler
Imagine being in pain 24 hours a day. Not a little twinge or background ache, but real, severe pain. The kind of pain you can't forget about, even for a moment. It's always there. It directs your every movement, limits your time, compromises the quality of your sleep.
What kind of person would you be? How would it change you?
This past month, I met 11 people who experience severe, chronic pain yet still manage to be positive and upbeat, filled with a love for life and an excitement for new experiences and relationships.
Who are these people? Our heroes, Hilal, Alemu, Dor, Gal, Yaniv, Yotam, Matan, Adi, Ran, , Daniel and Naor, all IDF soldiers who were severely wounded in the line of duty, who are now here, visiting New York as guests of our 13th Belev Echad trip.
I've discovered that spending time with these wonderful individuals is far from depressing. In fact, it's fun and inspirational. They were heroes in the IDF, and they are heroes now, managing to spread joy and hope wherever they go, despite the constant pain and discomfort they experience.
For 10 days I've accompanied them as they visited schools, offices, restaurants and tourist sites. I've watched them interact with people from all walks of life, and I've noticed that everywhere they go people are drawn them. They want to hear their stories, bask in their smiles, be inspired by their laughter. These soldiers are truly affecting everyone they come into contact with in a remarkable way.
Surely we, most of whom do not have to contend with the type of chronic physical pain these soldiers are dealing with, have much to learn from them!
At breakfast on one of the morning, Hilal Besan shared his story. Hilal comes from a Druze family and he finished his army service with distinction. Hilal is a triplet, and one of his brothers worked as a prison guard until he was killed in 2010 while trying to save others from fires raging across the country.
Hilal and his wife have one child, and after the tragedy they adopted his brother's children. The children live right next door with their mom, and are co-parenting all three. So when people ask Hilal how many children he has, he answers, "One plus three."
In 2012 Hilal left his job and decided to honor his brother's memory by becoming an officer in Israel's prison guard unit. Two years later, while he was transporting a prisoner from his cell, the prisoner asked to use the bathroom where he managed to retrieve a pistol which had been smuggled in for him. He started shooting and Hilal immediately tried to subdue him. The prisoner shot Hilal twice in the chest, but his adrenalin kicked in and he didn't even realize how critically he had been wounded. With the help of fellow officers he was able to tackle the prisoner and calm the situation, preventing many potential deaths. For this, he later received Israel's highest medal of honor.
But at the time, Hilal was critically wounded. He lost a tremendous amount of blood and spent 45 days in intensive care. Twice he was actually considered clinically dead but the doctors were able to revive him.
When Hilal shared his story at breakfast, there was not a dry eye in the room. What incredible sacrifices this man has made!
"...there is nothing more painful than that phone call, in the middle of the night, that tells you your precious child, whom you love more than anything in the world, has been severely injured..."
This is a direct quote from a beautiful, heart-rending letter I received, penned by the mother of one of our Belev Echad heroes.
The letter continued:
"Since that awful phone call, when we found out that our child had been severely wounded by a terrorist while on active duty in the IDF, our son has been through indescribable pain and hardship, both physically and emotionally. He has undergone multiple operations and medical procedures, and he has not yet finished. He spends a significant amount of time in rehabilitation, and more surgeries loom over his future.
"It has been difficult for all of us. For my son, of course, there has been the physical trauma and the equally potent emotional trauma. The rest of us have suffered, too. Anyone who has spent time with a loved one in pain knows how difficult it is to watch someone you love suffer. How helpless we felt! If only we could alleviate his pain...
"To say I was overjoyed when my son went on the Belev Echad trip would be an understatement. But, as a mother, of course I was nervous, too. Seeing the Facebook pictures you posted kept me feeling reassured and up-to-date on my son's wellbeing. The fantastic time you gave him and the other wounded soldiers is a gift I know we will all cherish-the soldiers and their families too-forever.
The amount of love and appreciation my son received from complete strangers fills my heart with peace and contentment. The images of my son smiling, laughing, and looking happier than he has in months, are priceless. I have no words to adequately express my appreciation... Thank you!"
Rabbi Vigler and his wife Shevy direct Chabad Israel Center of the Upper East Side in New York. From Rabbi Vigler's blog at www.chabadic.com
The Sefer Torah Parade
Join two young children as they attend the ceremony for the completion of a brand new Torah and march in the Torah Parade. Every detail of the experience is lovingly described through a child's eyes: the festive music, flags and torches, the silver crown atop the Torah, the singing, dancing and rejoicing. By Tzivia Adler, newly re-illustrated by Avraham Zmora, published by HaChai Publishing.
Light from the Future
Light from the Future is a collection of essays by Rabbi Heschel Greenberg written on the weekly Torah portion. While these essays were composed with the idea of drawing positive life lessons from the weekly Torah portion to spiritually enrich our lives, this work also seeks to redefine our humanity and its potential based on the future advances associated with the Messianic Age and apply them to the present.
16 Shevat, 5723 (1963)
I trust that all of you, delegates and members of the various branches convening today, come imbued with a goodly measure of inspiration drawn from the two very recent auspicious days of this month, the yahrtzeit of my father-in-law, the Rebbe, of saintly memory, on the 10th of the month, and of the New Year for trees, which was yesterday.
Among the topics discussed at the farbrengens on both these occasions occurring within one week was the affinity between these two notable days, and how their instructive messages are related.
The Torah likens a human being to a tree, and the tzadik [righteous person] to a flourishing date palm.
Moreover, in a remarkable statement in the Talmud our Sages declare that a tzadik lives on forever, "for just as his seed is alive, so too is he alive."
It is noteworthy that the word "seed" is used here rather than "descendants," "children," or "disciples," though all these are included in the word "seed."
In choosing the word "seed" in this connection, our Sages conveyed to us the specific image and ideas which this word brings to mind:
The wonderful process of growth, which transforms a tiny seed into a multiple reproduction of the same, be it an earful of grain, or in the case of a fruit-seed, a fruit-bearing tree; the care which the growth process requires, and how a little extra care at an early stage is multiplied in the final product; the fact that the more advanced and more highly developed the fruit, the longer it takes to grow and ripen, so that grain, for example, takes but a few months to reproduce itself, while it takes fruit-bearing trees many years to mature, etc.
All these principles apply in a very practical way in the performance of our daily service of G-d, which, of course, embraces our entire daily life, since it is our duty to serve G-d in all our ways...
15 Shevat, 5736 (1976)
I was pleased to be informed of the arrangements for the forthcoming Convention, and send you prayerful wishes for success in every respect.
...The analogy between the cultivation of trees and the raising of children is well known from our sacred books of Mussar and Chassidus, based on the verse, "Man is like a tree."
As even a little extra care given to a young seedling is greatly amplified and richly rewarded when the tree matures, and can make all the difference, so too is extra care in the chinuch [Jewish education] of a young child. This, after all, is the crucial period in a child's formative years, when the mother at home shares in the responsibility with the teacher at school.
To carry the analogy further, a tree attains fulfillment when it produces good fruit. Furthermore, good fruit...is not merely good in itself (as a food, or as an object of a mitzvah [commandment] such as an etrog, for example) - but also contains the seeds to produce new trees and fruits after its kind, to the end of time.
Moreover, the new trees and fruits are of no direct benefit to the original tree, and may be far removed from it in time and place. Nevertheless, because they are the result of the original tree which behaved as it should, they are all credited to the original tree.
This is how every Jewish boy and girl should be raised and educated: Certainly to bring forth fruit, at the very least, but this is not enough, for their fruits - their good influence - must be ultimately felt to the end of the world and to the end of time.
Such an achievement seems rather a lot to expect of a limited human being. But actually it is well within reach, since a Jew operates with a Divine soul, a part of G-dliness Above, and operates with Torah and mitzvoth given by G-d.
Furthermore, he does this in a world which, though grossly material, is precisely the place where G-d desires to have His abode. With such a combination of favorable factors, the results can and should be without limit.
It is hoped that the Convention will make use of the above points as guidelines for intensified activity in all its programs and objectives, always bearing in mind that the "essential thing is the deed."
Again, wishing you success to carry out the above with Chasidic vitality and joy, and in happy personal circumstances, both materially and spiritually.
Are there special customs associated with the New Year for Trees?
The New Year for Trees is on the 15th (Tet Vov, or "Tu") of the Hebrew month of Shevat (this year Feb 11). It is customary to eat from the 5 fruits (of the 7 grains and fruits) that the Torah enumerates when describing how blessed is the Land of Israel: "A land of wheat and barley, and (grape) vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of olive-trees and (date) honey." (Deut. 8:8) It is also customary to eat carob, as well as a "new" fruit that one did not eat yet that season in order to recite the "Shehecheyanu" blessing.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat is special in two ways. It is known as "Shabbat Shira" commemorating the shira, or song that the Jewish people sang at the Splitting of the Red Sea. The song is recorded in this week's Torah portion, and includes details of how Moshe led the men in song and Miriam led the women in song and dance.
In addition, the holiday of Tu B'shevat also occurs this Shabbat. Tu B'shevat is the New Year for Trees. A New Year for Trees, in and of itself, might not seem like a very important holiday to celebrate or even acknowledge. And yet it is celebrated in various ways with different customs all over the world.
It would be appropriate to mention a few thoughts about the significance of trees in Judaism. We are told, for instance, that if one is planting a tree and is informed that Moshiach has arrived, he must first finish planting the tree before he goes on to anything else.
Whenever the Jews were involved in a war, they were enjoined never to cut down a fruit-bearing tree, so precious are they considered.
In addition, there are various laws and customs concerning eating fruit from new trees and cross-breeding different types of fruit-bearing trees.
Man is likened to a tree in the field. If a seed or seedling is planted in rich, well-dug soil, given proper care, sun, and water, it will grow strong, deep roots and produce beautiful, healthy fruit.
An infant or young child, placed in an environment rich in Judaism, given a well-thought-out education, proper care and other necessities will grow strong deep roots in his own heritage and produce accomplishment and achievements that are beautiful and healthy.
May we all merit to raise our own children, to help others raise their children, or to raise the "child within" to be beautiful, healthy, and "fruit-bearing"
And Israel saw the great power which the L-rd had shown on the Egyptians...and they believed in G-d (Ex. 14:31)
Even though the Jewish people had witnessed many wonders and miracles firsthand they still needed to have faith in G-d. For faith is on a higher level than sight; indeed, it enables a person to see more than the physical eye can ever observe.
And they believed in G-d (Ex. 14:31)
The Hebrew word for faith, emuna, has a dual meaning. Etymologically, it is related to the word meaning to train or accustom oneself, and also to the word for power and strength. However, these two meanings are interrelated. In the merit of emuna, i.e., by virtue of the strength and certitude of the G-dly soul, a Jew is able to overcome the downward pull of the animal soul and ascend from one spiritual level to the next, till he merits the very highest revelations of G-dliness. Indeed, the Jewish people merited to sing the "Song of the Sea" solely because of their emuna.
(Sefer HaMaamarim 5680)
I will put none of the diseases upon you which I brought on the Egyptians; I am the L-rd Who heals you (Ex. 15:26)
A "house doctor" who isn't paid according to how many visits he makes has a vested interest in keeping his patients well. Rather than curing people once they're ill, his whole aim is to keep them healthy in the first place. Similarly, G-d is our "in-house doctor" Who has given us the Torah for our spiritual health. When we follow His "prescription" by observing the commandments, it prevents all kinds of spiritual maladies.
It was a perfectly beautiful Shabbat day. The Jew strolled at leisure through the orchards and fields. The trees were heavy with their fragrant bounty. The bees swarmed about the blossoming flowers; each leaf glowed its own shade of green in the light. "How wonderful was the world which the Creator bestowed upon his creations," thought the man.
Then he reached the boundaries of his own vineyard. "What's that?" he thought, as he noticed a hole in the fence. "Why, how could I have failed to notice it before? I better come around early tomorrow morning and fix it before wild animals or thieves have a chance to go in and eat up the grapes. As it is, I have barely enough to support my family."
Then he suddenly stopped in his tracks and caught his breath. "Today is Shabbat," he thought, "and I have just been thinking and planning my mundane affairs on this sanctified day." The Jew, who was a pious man, was shocked that he had just transgressed the sanctity of the day by actually planning to perform work which was forbidden on the holy Shabbat. He turned his thoughts away from the fence and returned to his home and the joyous Shabbat meal that awaited him.
When Shabbat had come to an end the Jew remembered his vineyard and the broken fence, and he felt a great sorrow at having profaned his holy Shabbat with thoughts of repairing the fence. He decided that to atone for his sinful thought, he would never fix the fence.
The summer passed, and the harvest approached. The vineyard was redolent with the fragrance of ripe grapes. The man went out to his vineyard to gather in his harvest thinking, "There probably aren't many grapes left. I'm sure the foxes and rabbits must have passed through the hole and eaten them all." But when he entered the vineyard he couldn't believe his eyes. The grapes hung in gigantic clusters throughout the vineyard, and the smell of the ripe grapes was overpowering. Every grape was perfect, and there was no sign of any having been touched.
The man began to look for the hole in the fence. The damage had been quite extensive, and so he was sure to find it with little searching. And so he did, but in the place where there had been a gaping hole, there was none. Instead, completely covering the hole, there was a fully-grown caper bush. The Master of the Universe had caused it to sprout there, to cover up the opening with its bushy branches.
The caper bush had not only saved the grape crop from certain destruction, but it possessed a great value in itself. Every part of the plant could be sold at great profit. The caper buds were preserved in vinegar and savored as a tasty delicacy; the twigs and leaves were enjoyed as well.
The pious Jew benefitted from the wondrous bush for the rest of his life, earning from it a good livelihood to support his wife and children. He enjoyed the bountiful harvest from it every year and it was a reminder of the great holiness of the Shabbat and the miracle of G-d's creation.
In the Holy Land, when the Romans ruled, Rabbi Yonatan was a judge in his city. He was known to everyone as a fair and honest man. The court convened in his home which was situated next door to that of a Roman. And just as the two houses were adjacent, so were their fields. In Rabbi Yonatan's field there grew a majestic tree whose branches overspread the field of the Roman, but the Roman didn't mind, for he loved to sit under its welcome shade.
This Roman enjoyed disparaging the Jews, and he decided that it might be entertaining to listen to some of the cases brought to Rabbi Yonatan. One day two Jews came to the court arguing about a tree belonging to one of them. The second Jew complained that the shade it created interfered with his crops. The first man cried, "For twenty years the tree never bothered you!"
The second replied, "That is true, but now it has become so large that it damages my crops." Rabbi Yonatan listened and then instructed the men to return the following day for the verdict.
The Roman thought to himself, "I bet the rabbi postponed his decision because I was here. He was probably afraid that I would demand that he cut down his tree. I'll show him. I will embarrass him in front of the whole court."
Rabbi Yonatan called a carpenter and instructed him to go at once and cut down all the branches of his tree which hung over his neighbor's field.
When the verdict was read next morning, the Roman was there. "You must cut down the branches which hang over your neighbor's field, since they are disturbing him," ordered Rabbi Yonatan.
The Roman leapt up and yelled, "Why, then, don't you cut down your tree which is leaning over my property?"
"Go to the field and look at my tree. You will see exactly what this man must do to his tree."
The Roman went, and to his surprise the tree no longer hung over his field. He saw that Rabbi Yonatan made sure that he would not transgress a ruling which he laid on another person. From that time on the Roman had the greatest respect for Rabbi Yonatan and Jewish Law.
I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you will be clean...And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the heart of stone out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. ...Then will you dwell in the land that I gave your ancestors, and you will be a people to Me, and I will be to you as a G-d.... And I will multiply the fruit of the tree and the produce of the field, so that you shall no more have to accept the shame of famine among the nations.... And they shall say, 'This land that was desolate has become like the Garden of Eden...