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Whether it's a t-shirt suggesting "Visualize Whirled Peas" (Get it? "Visualize world peace"), or a bumper sticker with a '60s peace sign announcing: "An idea whose time has come," everyone wants peace.
People have always wanted world peace. But the desire and drive to make peace a reality continues to intensify. And this heightened yearning for world peace comes at a time when the possibility seems even more remote, when weapons of war and terrorism have become ever more sophisticated and deadly.
As we transition from the season of Jewish holidays into our regular day-to-day lives, our thoughts shift from personal improvement back to the consideration of the world in which we live.
But maybe, just maybe, the two are intimately intertwined. For, as the Talmud teaches, every person is a miniature world. And the fact that the first person was created as a lone individual, unlike the other creations which were created in multitude, teaches us about the power and importance of each individual.
So, this Yom Kippur, as we contemplate our miniature world and the world at large, let us contemplate a practical idea as to how we can help bring about world peace.
Esoteric Jewish teachings relate the following story, which might prove very helpful in our quest for peace, not only in the world at large, but in our own communities, family units and within ourselves.
It once happened that Rabbi Abba was sitting in the gateway to the city of Lod, and saw a fatigued person approach from the road. The stranger entered a ruin, sat down beneath a tottering wall and fell asleep. Rabbi Abba observed a serpent approach the slumbering stranger, but suddenly an animal emerged from the ruin and struck the serpent down.
When the sleeper awoke and saw the dead serpent close by, he rose to leave. As he walked away, the wall collapsed directly upon the place where he had slept. Rabbi Abba approached him and asked, "Tell me of your behavior. For G-d has wrought two miracles on your behalf. And not for naught did you merit them."
The stranger said, "Never did anyone inflect harm upon me without my effecting a reconciliation with him, and extending him my immediate forgiveness. If it happened that I was unable to effect an immediate reconciliation, I did not sleep till I had forgiven him, and I never paid attention to any harm he inflicted on me. Also, from that day I sought ways to extend him favors."
Rabbi Abba thought, "He is indeed worthy that G-d should perform miracles on his behalf." Rabbi Abba wept and said, "This man's conduct is even greater than that of Joseph. For Joseph was dealing with his own brothers, and it is normal that he would have been merciful toward them. Thus, this person's interaction with his fellowman excelled even over Joseph.
May we all be completely successful this year in actualizing the dream of the entire human race for all time, a world truly at peace, led by Moshiach.
This week we start reading the Torah from the beginning with the Torah portion of Bereshit. The Haftora this week is from the book of Isaiah.
There are several reasons we read this Haftora on this special Shabbat:
The Haftora starts with, "So says the Almighty G-d, Who created Heavens . . . Who laid out the earth. . ." These words are similar to the Torah portion that speaks of the creation of the heavens and the earth.
The prophecy continues with a discussion regarding the Final Redemption, and the song that all of creation will sing to Gd on that day. Gd promises to punish all the nations that have persecuted Israel while they were exiled. The prophet also rebukes Israel for neglecting Torah study and mitzva (commandment) observance, but assures them that they will return to the correct path and will be redeemed.
What is the connection between all these things: creation, Moshiach, Torah, mitzvot and the Jewish people?
The reason why G-d created this world, is because, He has a Divine desire to dwell in this world openly, and that we make that possible through our efforts. This is what the Jewish mission is all about. We were not just chosen because of our ancestors, rather, we are part of G-d's Divine plan from the very beginning. G-d created an unfinished world, and made us His partners in creation, to complete it, of our own free will.
The soul of a Jew is an actual part of G-d. These souls are what enable us to bring out the potential hidden in creation.
He gave us Torah and mitzvot, with which to accomplish this mission. Every mitzva is done with physical objects, time or place. When you do a mitzva, you transform the physical into holy. Even when doing everyday activities, like working, eating, exercising, etc., if you are doing them, to support your life of Torah, they too become holy and transformative actions.
When our work is done, the purpose of creation will be realized, the world will be an open dwelling for G-d, and by definition Moshiach will be here.
The world, the Torah, and the Jewish people, are parts of a puzzle, which together, complete G-d's desire, the coming of Moshiach.
This is why we read these verses from the book of Isaiah as our Haftorah on Shabbat Bereishit, because as we start the Torah from the beginning, its purpose must be made clear.
May we soon see the prophecies in this Haftora come true. May we witness the culmination of our transformative work, G-d's open revelation, with the coming of Moshiach. May it happen soon.
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 Runaway to Bombay
One day during the winter of 1974, Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner - the Rebbe's emissary to Australia, arrived at Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters, 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, New York.
Before leaving, Rabbi Groner had a private audience with the Rebbe. The Rebbe directed Rabbi Groner to travel back to Australia through "the country of India."
Rabbi Groner did not ask any questions. He called the travel agent and requested that he arrange a new plane ticket. Immediately afterwards, he entered the offices of the Vaad L'Hafotzat Sichot, the publishers of the Rebbe's talks.
Rabbi Groner asked Rabbi Zalman Chanin, director of VLS: "Reb Zalman, do you perhaps have some English translations of the Rebbe's talks for me?" Rabbi Groner shared with his friend that he had just been told by the Rebbe to make a stopover in India on his way home to Australia. "I have no idea as to what and why, but it is clear to me that if I am there, I must do something for the good of the Jews. Do you have any English materials so I can leave them there"?
Rabbi Chanin found some copies of the pamphlet "A Thought for the Week" which was based on and condensed from the Rebbe's talks.
Before leaving, Rabbi Groner mumbled, "It is impossible to know what the Rebbe's agenda is. What do I have to do in India? I have been there many times on may way to Australia. But if the Rebbe says, one must implement."
When Rabbi Groner arrived in India, he went to the local synagogue in Bombay. A dynamic and passionate speaker, he encouraged them to also be passionate about Torah and mitzvot (commandments). Before leaving, he left "A Thought for the Week" pamphlets in the synagogue.
A few months passed, and a letter arrived at the offices of VLS. The letter was written by a Jewish woman from Arizona. "Please, would it be possible to receive from you the address of any Chabad Chasid who resides in India?" the woman requested.
Rabbi Chanin knew that in the entire India there was not even one Chabad Chasid. Furthermore he wondered, why would a woman from Arizona need the address of a Chabad Chasid who lives in distant India? Rabbi Chanin called the phone number given in the letter to find out how he could help.
In response to Rabbi Chanin's question of why she needed to reach a Chabad Chasid in India, the woman related that her son had left home over a year ago and was totally estranged from the family.
The woman related, "Since he left home more than a year ago, he did not contact us even once. He seemed to have vanished. Suddenly, I received a letter from him. In his letter he related that a few days before, he went with his friends to the ocean. After spending some time in the water, he went onto the shore to relax a bit. The sun was out and disturbing his rest. He stretched out his arm to find something to shield his eyes and he found a pamphlet. He placed this over his face and hoped to close his eyes.
"He had noticed the paper had writing on it and he realized that the pamphlet he had just found had English writing on it. He sat up and he began to read it. Not only was it English, but it was about Jewish things! "Who here is Jewish?" he wondered
He began to read the pamphlet. It was a talk by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, regarding a Jewish holiday called Pesach Sheni - Second Passover. The Rebbe, who he did not know, explained that there is no situation that is totally lost. For every situation, every person, and every way, there is hope. Even for a person whose conduct was inappropriate, the Jewish holiday of Pesach Sheni teaches that it is not lost, and it is possible to rectify the wrong.
"The Rebbe's words entered into my son's heart," the mother continued. "They caused tremendous turmoil within him. He suddenly longed for home and family after being disconnected for over a year." Here the mother even quoted a segment of his letter to them. "You are American born, where do you think you are going?! You are a Jew, you do not truly belong to India, you belong to where your parents belong."
The emotional mother continued, "I have no idea how this pamphlet reached India. I cannot fathom how it came about that it reached the coast where my son was lying down. Deep in my heart I feel that this is a message from heaven, that reached him specifically, so that he would return to us.
"In his letter he included the address of the publisher of the pamphlet, and he requested that I contact you and ask how you knew to send pamphlet with the message specifically to him. He also added that the Rebbe's words do not let him rest, and he would very much like to speak to a rabbi in India regarding how he should conduct himself until the time he leaves India for home. I quickly did as my son requested and sent you a letter."
At that time, there were no Chabad Houses in India. So Rabbi Chanin gave her the phone numbers and addresses of the Rebbe's emissaries in countries near India, because perhaps they would be able to help the son who had decided that "it is never too late," to make up for the past.
Two months passed, and the phone rang again in the offices of the Vaad L'hafotzat Sichot. It was once again the woman from Arizona.
"You have no idea how much you helped me with the addresses, and mainly what your pamphlet that reached all the way to India accomplished. It literally saved my son, and brought him back into the heart of the family."
The woman shared her gratitude for the help that he provided. Her son had returned home to his family. He had even begun to take an interest in Judaism!
The next year, when Rabbi Groner arrived in 770, Rabbi Chanin told him the full story. "Go know the things that the Rebbe accomplishes. What do I have to do in India, but if the Rebbe sends to there one must fulfill without questions. By fulfilling the Rebbe's directive, we succeeded in awakening another Jewish soul."
New Emissaries, New Centers
Rabbi Chaim and Yehudis Levi have arrived in Loudoun County, Virginia, to establish a new Chabad Center there. Loudoun County is home to Dulles International Airport and the largest data centers in the world.
Rabbi Levi and Devorah Leah Marinovsky are starting a new Chabad Center in Cypres, Texas. They will focus on adult-education classes, youth programs, community events, and Shabbat and holiday services.
Rabbi Berel and Tzivia Namdar are moving to Singer Island, Florida to open Chabad of Singer Island & the Beaches. This newest Chabad Center is the 18th in the Palm Beach area.
Rabbi Akiva and Devori Sheinberger have opened a Chabad House in Yiwu, China. The new Chabad House will be primarily serving the many Jewish businessmen who visit the city.
This letter was written in 1973
Greetings and Blessings:
I duly received your letter of __, in which you write that you feel a rage, etc., as a result of the Holocaust.
There is a prevalent misconception about the Holocaust in the belief that it was something new and unprecedented, and therefore, requires an explanation which had never before been thought of. Yet, the only thing that is new about it is that it happened in the 20th century, in a country which was one of the foremost in philosophy and science, with the test of the world looking on with complete indifference. It only points out the glaring bankruptcy of the world's so-called "civilization."
The fact is - and in view of your academic background (PhD) you must surely know - that the Jewish people had suffered holocausts before, and, relatively speaking, even worse. There was the destruction of the Beth HaMikdosh at the hands of the Babylonians, and the second destruction by the Romans. In both cases more than one third of our people, men, women, and children, were brutally slain, and most of the remainder uprooted and exiled, or sold into slavery. This, in addition to the loss of the spiritual center in Jerusalem, loss of the country, and independence, etc. There were the Crusades in the Middle Ages, with the loss of countless Jewish communities and Jewish lives, and more. So why single out the recent, and let us hope last, holocaust?
Furthermore, from the viewpoint of the question "Shall the Judge of all the earth not do justice?" (a question incidentally asked by our Patriarch Abraham), in other words, from the viewpoint of Divine Justice, which is clearly the basis of your rage, etc., as you state in your letter - surely there is no difference in principle between the Holocaust and seeing a child afflicted with disease (as you also mention), for the child's suffering cannot be justified punishment.
Has it not occurred to you - to mention a further point - that throughout the ages there were fruitful and G-d-fearing Jews, among them profound thinkers, who deeply thought about these and other problems, dedicating a lifetime to study and research, whose works have become the Guide for the Perplexed (the actual title of the celebrated classic by Maimonides)? Do you think that all these great minds simply ignored such a problem as the Holocaust?
Finally, and this is perhaps the most essential point, what would you say of a person, even a super human being, who declared that were it not for the Holocaust he would walk humbly before G-d and obey all His commandments, yet because of the Holocaust he is impelled to conclude that G-d is limited in His intellect, like me and you, and indeed more so, for you and I would not tolerate such a thing!
In summary, the question about the Holocaust is as old as the age-old question. Why do the wicked prosper? It has been dealt with at great length and with great profundity by great minds and in great books throughout the ages. We have not only learned to live with it, but it has not shaken the belief of the believer, for the simple reason that the human mind, even the greatest, is woefully limited and inadequate to question the Divine Mind.
The main point I wish to bring out here is that those who say that they cannot obey and fulfill the Divine Mitzvoth because of the Holocaust are only looking for an excuse, and it is a feeble attempt at self-justification in the face of a troubling conscience.
Moreover, to use the memory of the sacred martyrs who lost their lives in the Holocaust for no other reason but that they were Jews does not reflect, in my opinion, an honest concern for them, if their sacred memory is used as an excuse for shirking commitment to our people and our sacred heritage. I trust you will forgive me if I feel impelled to add - because of what is at stake, that the last remark is an understatement.
I note that you wanted to see me personally in regard to the subject matter of your letter, but there is really no need for it, since there is surely no need to add more to what has been said above. Besides, the schedule of appointments is fully booked for a long time ahead. So why wait?
AVRAHAM (Abraham) means "father of a multitude." Avraham (Genesis 11:26) was the first person to recognize, on his own, that G-d is Creator of the whole world. Avraham was tested ten times by G-d to determine how strong his faith was. He is the first of the patriarchs of the Jewish people.
AVITAL means "father of dew" - referring to G-d as sustainer of all creation. Avital (II Samuel 3:4) was one of King David's wives. Her son, Shefatia, was born in Hebron.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat is known as "Shabbat Bereishit," the Shabbat on which we read the first portion of the first book of the Torah - Bereishit.
The Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, used to say that "the position which we adopt on Shabbat Bereishit determines the nature of our conduct in the entire year to come."
Shabbat Bereishit represents the transition from the holidays of the month of Tishrei to our regular, day-to-day life of the coming months.
Shabbat, in general, is known to elevate the spiritual service of the previous week. As Shabbat Bereishit follows the holidays of Sukkot and Simchat Torah - holidays that collect and internalize all the influences of the holiday-filled month of Tishrei - Shabbat Bereishit perfects and elevates the holidays of Tishrei.
In addition, Shabbat Bereishit is the Shabbat on which the month of Marcheshvan is blessed. One of the reasons that the prefix "mar" is added to the name of the month Cheshvan is that "mar" means bitter. Cheshvan has no holidays and is therefore a "bitter" month, especially in comparison to holiday-packed Tishrei.
Because Shabbat Bereishit has both of these aspects - the culmination of the previous month and the blessing of the upcoming month - it can potentially influence the entire year.
Thus, the position we adopt on Shabbat Bereishit has the potential to influence the entire year; it can bring the spiritual inspiration of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah into our regular, day-to-day living.
May we all have a very "successful" Shabbat Bereishit.
In the beginning G-d created (Gen. 1:1)
The final letters of the Hebrew words "G-d created" - "bara elokim et" - are alef, mem, and tav, and spell the word "emet" - truth. Truth is the foundation upon which the whole world stands, and without which the entire creation would be unable to exist.
The earth was without form and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the spirit of G-d hovered over the surface of the waters (Gen. 1:2)
What kind of spirit? "The spirit of King Moshiach" answers the Midrash. From this we learn an important lesson in our faith. Our longing for Moshiach must include a yearning for both the first and second stages of Redemption. During the first stage of the Messianic Era, the "yoke of the nations" will be removed from Israel's neck, although the world will continue to exist according to natural law. The second stage will be marked by open manifestations of G-dliness, such as the resurrection of the dead and other miracles that will be commonplace. G-d's objective in creating the world, mentioned in the Torah before the creation of man, is the Messianic Era. Our yearning must therefore be for the complete fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and the realization of Divine plan.
(Sichat Parshat Acharei 5746)
And G-d created man (Gen. 1:27)
Why doesn't the Torah state after the creation of man, "and it was good," as it does after all the other things created during the six days? Every other creature was created complete, with its nature and instincts ready to be applied to the world. Man, however, was created incomplete, and it is his purpose in life to perfect himself. Human beings are given free will and the responsibility for their own development and improvement. That is why it doesn't immediately state, "and it was good" - we must wait and see how man behaves before passing judgement.
Once there lived a wealthy Jewish butcher in a town on the seaside. In his youth he had been quite poor, and had worked very hard to amass his wealth. Unfortunately, he had never had the opportunity to learn Torah, but he took great pleasure in praying and saying Psalms. He never forgot what it meant to be needy, and he constantly went out of his way to help his fellow Jews. Every Friday afternoon before Shabbat he would distribute meat and money to all the poor families in the town.
His good nature made him a favorite among not only the Jews, but also the gentiles of the town. His reputation even spread to the governor who favored him with an important appointment as the chief customs officer of the port. As such, he would collect taxes on imports and also collect a fee for his services. As one of the benefits of his job, he was also permitted to take any one item from amongst the goods. It was in the capacity of customs collector that he amassed an even greater fortune.
One day a ship arrived in port, and he went to inspect the goods on board. After he performed his duties, the captain approached him saying, "I have some especially good merchandise on board today. Something totally unique, but I am not at liberty to divulge to you the nature of this merchandise unless you want to buy it."
The butcher was very curious and asked what it was, but he always received the same reply: "I will tell you only if you agree to buy it."
"How much do you want for it?" he inquired.
"Ten thousand gold coins!" was the astonishing answer.
"You expect me to make the purchase without knowing what I'm buying?"
"That's the stipulation. I assure you, you won't be disappointed."
The butcher was all but hooked, but the captain was enjoying his power over the butcher. He was no longer satisfied with ten thousand; he raised the price to 20,000 coins, and then 40,000 gold coins!
Finally the butcher agreed. "I will pay your price. Just show me the merchandise!
"Only after you have brought all the money," the captain answered with a grin, and off went the butcher to fetch the treasure of coins.
Even as he went to collect the coins, the butcher was doubting his sanity. He returned and laid the money on the table. The captain turned on his heel and in a few minutes he returned with the "merchandise" - Jewish men, women and children in tow - bound hand and foot.
The evil captain couldn't restrain himself, and broke out into laughter: "Aren't you happy now? What a bargain you got yourself! If you hadn't bought them, they would have been food for sharks - I certainly have no use for them!"
The butcher took the people with him and left the ship as fast as his feet could carry him, lest the wicked captain have a change of heart. He kept thinking over and over again how G-d had inspired him to spend a fortune on unknown goods in order to save these Jews.
The butcher fed and clothed the former prisoners and treated them with the utmost kindness. One day he noticed a young girl from among them and thought, "This girl would be perfect for my son." The two young people agreed and preparations were made for the wedding.
On the eve of the great affair, the butcher circulated among the guests, offering a drink here, a dainty there, when he saw a young man sitting in a corner weeping.
"What is wrong? Everyone is rejoicing, why are you so sad?"
The poor boy replied, "The girl who is about to marry your son was betrothed to me before we were abducted by the pirates."
"Why did no one tell me?" the butcher asked.
"We are all so grateful to you, that no one dared disturb your happiness," the boy responded.
The butcher thought for a while, and then called his son to him. After recounting the entire story to the groom, he asked, "What do you want to do about it?"
"There is no question. Let the couple be married today as they had planned so many months ago. I will not stand in their way."
And so it was, that the entire village celebrated the marriage that very day. The butcher not only made them the wedding, but furnished them with a house and furnishing and enough money to begin a new life.
The Sages said of this man that with his 40,000 gold coins he purchased a place in the World to Come equaled only to that of the most righteous.
The Torah begins with the words, "In the beginning (bereishit) G-d created the heaven and the earth" (Gen. 1:1) Our Sages tell us that the entire world was created solely for the sake of the two things that are called "reishit" ("first") - Israel (the Jewish people) and the Torah. Speaking about the Messianic Era, the Prophet Isaiah said, "The nation and the kingdom that does not serve you will be destroyed." When Moshiach comes the nations of the world will lend aid and support to the Jewish people, recognizing that their very existence depends on their service; those who refuse to accept their subservient position will disappear from the face of the earth.
(Likutei Sichos vol 24)