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Only Jews can mourn and believe at the same time!
We find ourselves now in the midst of the Three Weeks, when we lament the Holy Temple's destruction and our subsequent exile.
And it's not just any time during the "Three Weeks" but the "Nine Days" - the most serious time of all before Tisha B'Av. And it is the eve of Tisha B'Av, which occurs this year on Shabbat (and thus all signs acts of mourning and the fast are pushed off until the Sunday, tenth of Av).
Yet it is precisely on Shabbat, during this most serious time, that we celebrate Shabbat Chazon (literally "vision"), the day on which every Jew is afforded a spiritual glimpse of the Third and Eternal Holy Temple.
This "vision" cannot be seen by our physical eyes, but it is perceived by the Jewish soul. The haftorah that we read on Shabbat Chazon warns of all the dire consequences to befall the Jewish people, but even as we listen, we simultaneously feel hope for and anticipation of the Messianic era.
Indeed, it is this combination of despair and joy, mourning and faith, that defines the true Jewish experience. Only Jews can live with this seeming dichotomy.
The Torah provides us with a complete framework of laws that enables us to feel these two conflicting emotions. On the one hand, Jews engage in many practices "as a remembrance of the destruction." On the other hand, we are expected to await Moshiach's coming joyfully every day. In fact, our Sages tell us that Moshiach "will be born on Tisha B'Av" - an allusion to the principle that Redemption springs precisely from the seeds of destruction.
Are Jews strange? Maybe, but we're certainly unique. Everyone else can be an optimist or a pessimist, but we are both, and at the same time!
G-d wants us to feel the pain of the exile. We must never make peace with it, surrendering to our present condition. Until Moshiach comes, we are like "children exiled from their Father's table."
But G-d forbid that we should despair! Our joy is genuine in anticipation of the imminent Redemption. The Rebbe has told us that Moshiach is so close that we can sense his very presence. So why not start rejoicing now, "ahead of the crowd"?
Thank G-d that when Moshiach comes, we'll no longer suffer from this "split personality."
This week's Torah portion, Devarim, is always read before or on Tisha B'Av. The Haftora that we read is the third special reading for the Three Weeks. The Haftora starts with the words Chazon Yeshayahu - the vision of Isaiah. This Shabbat therefore is called Shabbat Chazon.
The Haftora ends with the words, "Zion will be redeemed with justice, and its captives with righteousness (tzedaka).
Who or what is Zion? And who are its captives? Some interpret "Zion" as Jerusalem and "captives" as the Jewish people.
Others translate "Zion" as the Jewish people. If so, who are the "captives"? According to this interpretation, Zion refers to Jews when we are involved in Torah and mitzvot (commandment). On the other hand, when we are not involved in Torah and mitzvot, then we are like captives because we have surrendered our will to our bodies and animal souls.
Let's take a deeper look.
Our bodies can be exiled, however our souls - the spark of G-dliness within each of us - is never in exile. The soul is sent into the body to influence the body and the physical world. But, being that the soul is an actual part of G-d, it is not affected by the dark exile. On the contrary, the darkness and the exile bring out hidden powers of the soul, which would otherwise lie dormant, strengthening its connection with G-d.
The body, on the other hand, is subject to the harsh conditions and darkness of the exile. It is G-d Who put us in this great darkness, to transform the darkness into light.
While the soul is strengthened due to the darkness, this strength does not affect the darkness. However, when the body fulfills G-d's will in exile, despite the challenges of the darkness, the darkness is transformed into light. And this light that has come from the darkness through the efforts of the body in exile, is a greater light even than the soul's light. It is the light of G-d's essence, His will being carried out; it is the brightest light possible.
This brings us to yet a third explanation of our verse. "Zion" refers to our bodies and "captives" refers to our souls.
The soul, which is not subject to the exile, but being that it is in the body which is in exile, is merely in the wrong place. The soul does not need redemption, it only needs to return.
The body will be redeemed with justice, because it suffered in exile and did the work, and thus it rightfully earned its redemption.
The soul that did not suffer in exile, returns as "tzedaka" - a kindness. It did influence the body, and so it comes along, and receives the greatest revelation through the body, the body's reward for its physical work in the dark exile, the revelation of G-d's essence.
We will experience this great revelation with the coming of Moshiach, may it be now!
Adapted by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz from the Rebbe's teachings, yitzihurwitz.blogspot.com. Rabbi Hurwitz, who is battling ALS, and his wife Dina, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Temecula, Ca.
The Rebbe Refused My Request
Ariel Sharon had a long-standing relationship with the Rebbe. The first official connection was when Sharon wrote a letter to the Rebbe asking for words of encouragement after the accidental death of his 11-year-old son Gur.
Sharon met the Rebbe for the first time for a private audience at the end of June, 1968. In between encounters, the Rebbe kept close tabs on Sharon's activities, and sent him many letters in which he spelled out, among other things, his concerns about security in Israel.
The Israeli newspaper Maariv ran an article about this first private audience between the Rebbe and Sharon: "Sharon shared that the Lubavitcher Rebbe demonstrated an unusual degree of knowledge about Israel's military, security and politics, as well as international relations, particularly the goings-on in Washington. The Rebbe also showed an extremely detailed knowledge of the battles of the Six-Day War.
"'Our greatest mistake,' the Rebbe told General Sharon, 'would be to withdraw from our new borders... We must stop trying to please the gentiles. This approach has never helped and it will never help. There must be no hesitation on the part of Israel.'
"The Rebbe added, 'If the government were to decide that the newly-liberated territories should be settled, and issued a call to world Jewry to that end, I am sure that a half-million young Jews would respond to the challenge.'
"Regarding the various solutions now being put forward involving either the full or partial withdrawal of Israel, the Lubavitcher Rebbe said that these plans are liable to cause a worsening of tensions in the future. 'These are solutions that defy the natural order,' the Rebbe declared. In his opinion, the current borders of Israel are its natural borders."
Sharon provided additional details of that first encounter: "I was very surprised that a religious rabbi, a Rebbe, could understand military matters so well. The Rebbe looked at me with his piercing gray eyes, and I felt warm. I remember that I asked him to exert pressure on the Soviet Union. This was at a time when the Russians were trying to obtain economic support from the United States. I figured that the only ones who could do it were the Rebbe and his Chasidim. Weren't they the only ones who had maintained the connection with Soviet Jewry after the Russian revolution?
"But the Rebbe refused my request. He told me that it wouldn't take long until the gates of the Soviet Union were opened. We have to be very careful with the Russians, he said. At that time, Russia was going through a very difficult period under Brezhnev. One can never predict how the Soviets will react, the Rebbe explained. I remember thinking that what the Rebbe was saying sounded impossible. But evidently anything is possible, and the Rebbe was right as always.
"One of the most important areas in which I have been influenced by the Rebbe is his concern for Jewish education around the world. Even though I wouldn't define myself as a religious Jew, I am a Jew, and to me that's the most important thing. The Rebbe told me how much he worries about the Jewish people. To me, giving children a Jewish education is very, very important." (Shared by Sharon in an interview with Kfar Chabad magazine)
Another account of this encounter was written by R.M. Rodnitzky in the Israeli newspaper She'arim:
"The first thing General Sharon did upon returning to Israel was to visit Kfar Chabad, where he personally conveyed the Lubavitcher Rebbe's greetings...
"When the general was in Kfar Chabad to convey the Lubavitcher Rebbe's greetings to his Chasidim, he related an interesting anecdote. As Sharon was about to leave 770, the Rebbe had asked him not to board the plane he was supposed to take back to Israel, but to switch to a different flight. The general did not understand the Rebbe's intention, but he did not wish to refuse his request and he agreed.
"A few days later, after Sharon was safely back in Israel, it became known that the plane - the one he was originally scheduled to be on - was hijacked to Algeria. All of its Jewish passengers were taken captive, while the non-Jewish ones were allowed to leave. According to some women who were released, the Arab hijackers were looking for 'someone important,' and they were angry when they realized that he wasn't aboard. As was later revealed, the entire incident was a carefully planned operation to kidnap the most reviled object of hatred of Israel's enemies, General Ariel (Arik) Sharon, whose military exploits have long been a thorn in their side. Unaware that he had already returned to Israel, they had hoped to snatch him off the hijacked plane.
"The Chasidim of Kfar Chabad were astounded by the story, even though they are already used to hearing about the Rebbe's miracles..."
In another interview with Kfar Chabad magazine (2002), Sharon described an audience with the Rebbe after the Six-Day War: "The Rebbe mentioned the situation in Jerusalem, Judah and Samaria, and Hebron. I had asked the Rebbe to send his Chasidim to settle in Hebron, but the Rebbe (and Chabad in general) didn't like mixing into things that were liable to cause tension and dissent among Jews. Aside from that, the Rebbe had recently sent me an interesting line in a letter: 'What would happen if a fight were to break out between a Jewish boy and an Arab boy - whose side would the government take?' You have to remember that the situation then was not the same as it is today. This was right after the Six-Day War. No one imagined that we would ever arrive at our present predicament. Except for the Rebbe, who foresaw it clearly."
The letter Sharon was referring to actually covers a wide array of topics relating to Israel's security, diplomatic relations, and internal politics. Although written 50 years ago, every word is as valid today as it was then. (See "The Rebbe Writes" for excerpts of the letter).
The last time Sharon came to the Rebbe was for "Sunday Dollars" in May of 1989. The Rebbe greeted him warmly, and Sharon asked for a blessing for the security and integrity of Land of Israel. The Rebbe replied with the words of the verse, "And I will give peace in your land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid." The Rebbe pointed out that the Torah doesn't say "in the land" but "in your land," meaning that it must be obvious that the land is Jewish.
From Beis Moshiach Magazine
Chabad of Westport, Connecticut, under the leadership of Rabbi Yehuda Leib and Dina Kantor, recently dedicated a new Chabad Center. The building was a stage coach stop built in the late 1700s . In the mid 1900's and for many years after, it was a large restaurant called The 3 Bears. The facility has been expanded and now includes seating for 300, in a light-filled multi-function synagogue; eight classrooms for Hebrew school; event spaces, with a special area for teenagers; a large library; and a state-of-the-art commercial kosher kitchen. Eight apartments above can be used by visiting lecturers those who are too far from Chabad to walk on Shabbat.
Freely translated by Rabbi Zushe Kohn and excerpted from a letter dated 12 Elul, 5728 
As we discussed at length when you were here, I am of one mind with you that the territories that were freed [from Arab possession during the Six Day War] must not be returned. ...
My awareness of the government's position also explains why when you were here I asked you for an explanation as to why the Old City of Jerusalem was conquered last year in the Six Day War in a manner which caused many of the finest Israeli soldiers to die in battle.
Incidentally - or maybe not so incidentally - you still owe me a reply (for when you were here you said that you would investigate the matter and provide me with an answer), regarding the question of whether or not my sources of information - which have been reliable thus far - were correct in stating that the order for this inept manner of conquest came (unchallenged), from "the top." If only this report would turn out to be untrue.
I wish to add, that I did not, G-d forbid, ask my question about this very painful subject out of curiosity, but rather to demonstrate the thinking pattern of those who gave this order. Many of them are still in charge, and to our regret and shame, their perspective has not changed in the slightest. Last year, when they gave this order, they knew at the outset that it would result in a greater number of casualties. The same inference (i.e., that they are aware of the dangers) can be derived regarding the current situations in Hebron, Jerusalem, and so on.
Notwithstanding all of the above, I do not despair of a change occurring in the government's position, but it is not the slight reaction on the part of the Israeli public that will bring it about, but rather the mistakes of the Arabs and their supporters. As we saw last year, it was the mistakes of the enemy that finally forced the "pursuers of peace" to agree to defend the Land of Israel, and consequently, to launch an offensive war. If only in the future the government would realize its erroneous perspective in a trouble-free manner - without spiritual, physical, or even financial harm befalling any of our Jewish brethren, wherever they may be.
It is amazing to what extent the term "stiff-necked people" - conferred upon the Jewish people by our holy Torah - applies even nowadays. The problem is that the stubbornness is being utilized in a manner that is antithetical to Torah and the vital interests of the Jewish people. Take, for example, the recent hijacking by the Algerians, of an El-Al airliner. Although the world's reaction - even of those who are supposed to be friends of the Jewish nation - was clearly pathetic, the Israeli leadership nevertheless felt it necessary to thank the gentile nations for the [so-called] solution they had come up with, calling it a "moral victory" and so on. Even if it were true that the Israeli government had to agree to the blackmailing (in order to save lives, etc.), who forced them to credit specific individuals with being "ethical," "perfectly righteous," "role models," and so on? But then again, one cannot question the behavior of a stiff-necked people. Indeed, the stubborn insistence on clinging to this despicable faith in the beneficence of the gentile nations has become so intense ... that even the Czechoslovakian invasion did not weaken or budge it. Although the Czechoslovakian issue does not appear to have anything to do with this letter, it is, in fact, connected, for it demonstrates the attitude of those in charge of things in our Holy Land, an attitude that expresses itself in painful and regrettable actions that bode ill for the future (at least until such time as they rid themselves of their false perspectives).
To end on a positive note: Thank you for extending my warm regards to the people of Kfar Chabad upon your visit there. I was told that the words emanated passionately from your heart, inspiring the people and strengthening them. Everyone needs inspiration and strength, and the people of Kfar Chabad are no exception. This is especially true of these tumultuous days, and of Israel, which on the one hand is the "land that G-d's eyes are upon from the beginning of the year to the end of the year," as our Torah states, yet on the other hand, is surrounded by enemies who day by day notice more and more points of weakness in the way the Israeli government handles them. They see that the Israeli leadership treats them with silk gloves and takes unnecessary precautions not to annoy them, to the extent that if there is an argument between an Arab and an Israeli, they react to the matter only after verifying how the various governments of the world are going to react to their decisions. This is why, every so often, the enemy takes the liberty to raise the level of rioting and disturbances, which leads to terrorism and so on...
MENACHEM means "comforter" or "consoler." The Hebrew month of Av, in which the Holy Temple was destroyed, is often called "Menachem Av." The Yiddish derivation is Mendel.
MALKA means queen. Famous among the Jewish queens were Esther and Shlometzion, who succeeded her husband and ruled Judea from 76 to 67 B.C.E.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Although it is unusual for Tisha B'Av to coincide with Shabbat, it does periodically occur in this manner. In 5751 (1991) when Tisha B'Av also fell out on Shabbat, the Rebbe spoke about the significance of this schedule.
Tisha B'Av, normally a day of mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple, was therefore a day of happiness and rejoicing, as we do not mourn on Shabbat.
There is another reason to rejoice on Tisha B'Av. And this, too, the Rebbe spoke about at great length on that Tisha B'Av and the days immediately following.
Tisha B'Av is known by our Sages as the birthday of Moshiach.
In simple terms this means that at the moment of the destruction of the Holy Temple, the potential for the Final Redemption, through Moshiach, was born.
The Rebbe clarified the exact meaning of this: "Our Sages explain that this cannot refer to Moshiach's actual birth, because Moshiach will not be an infant when he redeems our people. But rather, it refers to a strengthening of his influence. For our Sages refer to a birthday as a day when mazalo govair, "the spiritual source of one's soul shines powerfully."
On the day when Moshiach's spiritual source is powerfully revealed, there is a unique potential for the Redemption to come... Each year, for the past two thousand years, on Tisha B'Av, Moshiach receives new power and new strength, and from year to year, this influence grows more powerfully."
Thus, Tisha B'Av is a unique time, when the potential for the Redemption is at its peak. Through this insight into Tisha B'Av we are introduced to a basic concept in Chasidic philosophy which teaches that the greatest ascent comes after the greatest descent.
Let us use the time properly and bring about the greatest ascent, the revelation of Moshiach and the Final Redemption, NOW.
Why is Megillat Eicha (Lamentations) - the scroll which is read on Tisha B'Av to commemorate the destruction of the Holy Temple - not written on a separate piece of parchment just like Megillat Esther (the Book of Esther) - the scroll which is read on Purim? When Moshiach comes, Tisha B'Av will be transformed from a day of sorrow into a day of rejoicing. As every single day we await Moshiach's arrival, making Lamentations more "permanent" by committing it to parchment is not really necessary and would imply that we had already despaired, G-d forbid. Purim, however, will also be celebrated in the Era of Redemption, and thus the parchment scrolls will also be used then.
Shabbat Chazon precedes Tisha B'Av in order that the vision of a glorious future can combat and neutralize the destructive forces concentrated on this fateful day. A true visionary has the ability to see a good future through even a troubled present. This idea is embodied in the Sages' statement that the Moshiach is born on Tisha B'Av. He is conceived in the collective super-consciousness of the Jewish People and his birth is the manifestation of the deep belief in the ultimate redemption of the world. This universal vision, imprinted within the very day of destruction, forms the essential core of the soul of Moshiach.
This is the story of a remarkable man named Ovadia, who lived during one of the worst periods in Jewish history - the Crusades. As during the terrible Roman persecutions, the time of the Crusades saw a notable number of men and women who risked their lives to become Jews. These gentiles, often from the highest echelons of society, became converts to Judaism out of love of the Torah and a desire to serve G-d according to its holy precepts.
Johannes, who upon conversion took the name Ovadia (which means "servant of G-d"), was one such man. He was a Norman nobleman and the son of a Norman knight who took part in the First Crusade under the command of Godfrey, the Duke of Lorraine.
The First Crusade, initiated by Pope Urban II, drew a motley crew of noblemen, adventurers and rogues who left France in 1096, ostensibly to free the Holy Land from the Moslem "infidels." Along the way, they seized the opportunity to rid France and Germany of the local "infidels," the Jews who lived peacefully in hundreds of communities along the Loire Valley, throughout the Rhineland, in Bohemia and in England. As the Crusaders passed through these lands they engaged in the most fearsome wholesale slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent Jews who happened to live in their path.
Johannes was introspective and scholarly, different from his brother, Roger, who fought alongside his father in the Holy Land. It is unknown whether or not Johannes also accompanied his father, but when Jerusalem was conquered by Godfrey and all the Jews in the Holy City were mercilessly slaughtered, he was living in Southern Italy and studying to become a priest. At some point in his Bible study, Johannes came to the conclusion that Judaism was the true faith, and he resolved to become a Jew. It is possible that he was moved by the staunch adherence to their faith displayed by countless thousands of Jews who chose to die horribly rather than abandon their beliefs. It is also possible that he was inspired by the conversion of another prominent gentile several years earlier.
The conversion, in about the year 1094, of no less a personage than Andreas, the Archbishop of Bari (Italy) created a great stir and caused tremendous consternation within the ranks of the Church.
In his diary, Ovadia (Johannes) wrote of Andreas: "G-d put the love of the Law of Moses into his heart. He left his country, his priesthood and glory, and went to the land of Constantinople, where he underwent circumcision. There he suffered great persecution and he had to run away before the uncircumcised, who had tried to kill him. But others imitated him and entered the Covenant of the Living G-d. And the man went to Egypt and lived there until his death, while the leading churchmen were downcast and bowed their heads in shame."
Upon his decision to convert, Johannes traveled to Aleppo, where he sought the help of Rabbi Baruch ben Yitzchak. Johannes told the rabbi that he came from a wealthy and powerful family, but he had decided to abandon everything to become a Jew. This revelation was not only quite astonishing, but frightening as well, since persecution was guaranteed to follow and death was a very real possibility for any gentile who risked conversion. Johannes replied that he was well aware of all the repercussions of his actions, having made the decision thoughtfully over many years. And so, convinced of Johannes's sincerity, Rabbi Baruch accepted him as a righteous convert.
It was impossible to continue living in France, and so Ovadia moved to the city of Bagdad, where life was far from easy, but there was more religious freedom for Jews. Ovadia had managed to bring a considerable part of his fortune with him, and in Bagdad he devoted himself to helping his less fortunate Jewish brethren. He became distinguished for his distribution of charity and was even appointed by the community to be treasurer of the community chest.
Ovadia wrote a fascinating diary during these years. In approximately 1121, he decided to relocate to Fostat (old Cairo), which had a flourishing Jewish community. He noted that while traveling, he met a certain Karaite named Shlomo Hakohen, who claimed to be Moshiach. The man tried to persuade Ovadia to become one of his adherents. Ovadia just laughed at him, countering that Moshiach would be a descendant of King David, not from the priestly tribe as was this Karaite.
Ovadia eventually settled in Egypt, where he wrote an autobiographical memoir in the year 1241. The only fragments that remain were discovered in the famous Cairo Geniza (a collection of ancient manuscripts discovered in the Ezra Synagogue in Cairo). In this remarkable cache of thousand-year-old documents were not only fragments of his memoirs, but an inscription on his prayer book and a letter of recommendation given to Ovadia by Rabbi Baruch ben Yitzchak. The bits and pieces which have come down to us, provide us with a window into that time and a glimpse into a remarkable life of faith, sacrifice and adventure.
Adapted from Talks and Tales
That Tisha B'Av occurs on Shabbat and thus instead of fasting, we are obligated to take pleasure in the foods and beverages served alludes to the Redemption. For every Shabbat is a microcosm of "the era that is all Shabbat and rest for eternity" and the Shabbat meals are a reflection of the feast to be served on that day. For that reason, when a fast day falls on Shabbat, there must be an additional emphasis on happiness. Indeed, in regard to a Tisha B'Av which falls on Shabbat, our Sages use the expression, "Since it was postponed, let it be nullified." On a deeper level, however, it reflects the potential for the fast to be nullified completely and totally with the coming of the Redemption.
(The Rebbe, Shabbat Tisha B'Av, 5751-1991)