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Israel. We gobble up all the news about it. Barely a day passes without the land being in the headlines. And day after day we all look in the small print to seek out what's happening.
There is certainly a lot happening. Unfortunately, however, not all of it is positive. Much of our concern for Israel is motivated by apprehension over the fate of our fellow Jews there. For the last 68 years, and even before, there has been a climate of worry and fear caused by the threats and attacks from its Arab neighbors.
However, while concern for our fellow Jews explains much of our interest, there is more.
Many people love their homes and their countries, but once they relocate, they form new allegiances. They cannot trace the ancestral homeland that their families claimed two millennia ago, nor do they continue to long for those places. Yet no matter where they have lived, Jews have continued to dream about the land of Israel.
Our Sages teach that every Jew possesses a portion of Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel. The converse is also true. The land possesses a portion of every Jew. Every Jew was allocated a portion of the land. This is "a land which G-d... seeks out; the eyes of G-d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year." And just as G-d seeks out the land, so do we.
And Israel has a unique quality. It is a land that has pulsed with energy and mystery since the dawn of time; a land that has captured the imagination throughout history; a land that breathes with the glory of our past and the dreams of our future.
It is the land from where Creation began; the land upon which our forefathers trod; the land where Abraham offered Isaac; the land that for which our ancestors left Egypt; the land Joshua conquered through miracles; and the land where our holy temples stood; and the land from which were exiled but that we never forgot; the land to which we will return in the times of Redemption.
Yet Israel retains its hold upon our spirit. There is a deep connection that continues to tug at us, a magnetic pull that has not waned even though many have found safe haven elsewhere. Whether Israel makes us feel pride or disappointment, hope or concern, we care about its fate and its future. Whatever our political or religious bent, we know that Israel matters.
The so-called pragmatists urge us to adopt the formula of "land for peace", to see the "two-state solution" as the only way to escape the "cycle of violence" that has preoccupied this small country since its inception. In talk after talk over four decades, the Rebbe campaigned forcefully for another approach - of peace through strength. Concession and perceived weakness invite aggression, he argued, while a steadfast conviction about the righteousness of our claim to the land, coupled with a refusal to compromise on the security of even one of its citizens, actually force the other side to come to terms with reality and learn to live together without loss of life or liberty on either side.
May we merit to see the Jewish people live peacefully in the land and the rebuilding of the temple with the coming of Moshiach.
Adapted in part from SIE.org
This week we read the Torah portion of Kedoshim. The portion of Kedoshim begins with the words: "You shall be holy, for I, the Lrd your G-d, am holy." This statement is followed by dozens of mitzvot (commandments) about how a Jew is expected to lead his or her life. Included among them is the famous dictum, "Love your neighbor as [you would love] yourself" (Leviticus 19:18).
To the average person, this commandment seems utterly detached from reality. How can one possibly be expected to love another person as much as he loves himself?
Chasidic teachings suggest that one view all Jews as if they were a complete person. Some Jews correspond to the head, others the body, and still others, the feet.
If you've ever had a headache, you'll readily admit that the pain affects not just your head, but your entire body. And an ingrown toenail can cause an inability to think or concentrate. The body, with all its organs and limbs, is a totally integrated system.
The Jewish people are an integrated body. Every Jew has a part of himself within his fellow Jew. In loving another Jew, he is actually showing love for himself.
A Chasid, Rabbi Shlomo Bayever, once related a story that the Baal Shem Tov told:
"I call as my witness heaven and earth, that when the Heavenly Court was judging a case involving a man having against him a serious charge, a man who was so simple that he only knew how to pray and recite Psalms, yet was exceptional in his love of his fellow Jew with all the faculties of his soul: in thought-always thinking thoughts of love of fellow Jews; in speech-speaking of love of fellow Jew; in deed-benefitting everyone to the best of his ability; sharing the sorrow of every Jew, man or woman, and rejoicing in their joy, that the verdict handed down by the Heavenly Court was that he is to have a place among the righteous scholars whom our Sages said were lovers of Israel."
The sigh of a Jew over the suffering of another Jew breaks all barriers, and the joy and blessings which one rejoices in another's happiness, is as acceptable by G-d as the prayer of the High Priest in the Holy of Holies.
A beautiful custom and practical way to foster love of a fellow Jew is to say each morning: I take upon myself the positive commandment of "Love your fellow like yourself." What a way to start the day.
Yearning for Israel
by Michael Allouche
I was born in La Flèche, a little town in France, to a family of Jewish immigrants from North Africa. We were the only Jewish family in town, but - even though I was educated as a proud Jew among non-Jews - we were not fully Torah observant. Over the years, I progressively became more religious especially after I joined a Zionist religious youth movement called Tikvateinu and visited Israel for the first time. As a result, I developed a strong aspiration to live there.
At the age of 20, I went to Toulouse where I was accepted to study in the famous University of Aerospace Engineering. And it was there that I met the local Chabad emissaries - Rabbi Yosef Matusof and his wife Esther.
After I graduated and got married in 1978, I travelled with my wife and baby daughter to New York, where we had our first private audience with the Rebbe. It was a very emotional and awe-inspiring moment for me, and it initiated a connection which increasingly deepened over the years.
When I started to work as an engineer for Airbus Industries in Toulouse, my work brought me frequently to the United States, and during each visit, I always spent Shabbat with the Rebbe.
In 1982, I wrote a letter to the Rebbe asking if the time was right for my family and me to make aliya - to immigrate to Israel. The Rebbe's answer came: "If your job today allows you to be Torah observant, then it is preferable that you stay where you are for the time being." I must confess that I was a bit disappointed but I followed the Rebbe's advice and stayed in Toulouse. My family certainly played a role in the Jewish community in the city, since very few Torah observant families lived there, and we served as an example to others.
Then, in 1985, I was offered a job in Israel. At this time, the State of Israel decided to become more technologically independent and it launched its own fighter aircraft project, called the Lavi. I was invited to work on this project. Excited at the prospect of moving ,to Israel, I asked the Rebbe's advice again. Surprisingly the Rebbe replied: "How can you make this decision when the situation is so volatile in Eretz Israel? You should decide about half a year before your aliya."
I didn't really understand what the Rebbe meant by "volatile." The prototype of the Lavi was already flying and the project was moving forward successfully; indeed the Lavi was so successful that it was said to be better than the American F-16 fighter jet. But I decided to "wait and see."
One year later, my family and I visited the Rebbe. During the audience the Rebbe held with guests who were visiting for the occasion the Rebbe said: "Every Jew has a mission in this world. He is meant to bear witness to the oneness of G-d by keeping Torah wherever he finds himself... And this is why G-d finds reasons to send Jews to distant places so that they can best fulfill their mission." Till this day, each time I travel for my business, I remember these words, looking for the inner dimension to my professional mission.
A few months later, in 1987, I suddenly got an attractive proposal to work as an aerospace engineering consultant in a "distant place": South Africa. Again, I went to the Rebbe. His reply was almost immediate "Accept the proposal."
It was only then - two years later - that I understood the Rebbe's reference to the situation in Israel as "volatile." Exactly at the time when we moved to South Africa, the Lavi project was cancelled due to US government pressure. Almost all the engineers working on the project lost their jobs.
The move to South Africa was the best preparation for my family's aliya, both spiritually and materially. Thanks to the wonderful Chabad community there, we strengthened our knowledge of chasidic teachings. Since that time, I began translating the works of Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz into French. Rabbi Steinsaltz once summarized the Rebbe's advice and recommendations to me as follows: "The Rebbe has chosen for you the 'long shorter way' to the Holy Land."
We lived in South Africa for five years. In 1991, when my employment there ended, I had to decide my next move. My preference was moving to Israel, and making my life-long dream of living there come true.
I sent a letter to the Rebbe, through the late Rabbi Yosef Wineberg. The Rebbe answered that I should ask advice from friends and that I should check my mezuzos and tefillin.
Before I had a chance to respond, the Rebbe asked Rabbi Wineberg: "When will you let me know what happened when he checked his mezuzos and tefillin."
I was astonished! The Rebbe received thousands of letters, yet he cared so much about every Jew that he remembered the smallest details. But his concern was as deep as that of a father who cares about every detail in his child's life. I was very moved by this.
I immediately reported back to the Rebbe and also relayed the encouragement of my friends to make aliya. The Rebbe's reply was unambiguous: "Blessing and success!" And, indeed, I subsequently accepted a job in the field of Aerospace Engineering.
Before making aliya, I decided to visit the Rebbe once more. I wanted simply to thank him. This was my thirteenth trip the Rebbe in fourteen years. I arrived in February 1992 just one week before the Rebbe suffered a stroke. I told the Rebbe, "Thank you for all you brought to us during the past fourteen years," and the Rebbe responded beautifully: "You should have "immense success in all your enterprises!"
Amazingly, we arrived in Israel "about half a year" (the exact words of the Rebbe) after we initiated the decision process about our aliya.
And to this day, thank G-d, the Rebbe's words and blessings accompany me in all my enterprises.
Mr. Michael (Michel) Allouche lives with his wife and family in Israel, where for the past 24 years he has worked as an internationally recognized expert in the field of Unmanned Aircraft Systems.
The above story is from the weekly "Here's My Story," a project of Jewish Educational Media's My Encounter with the Rebbe project. My Encounter with the Rebbe is an oral history project geared at documenting the life story of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. To learn more, please go to www.myencounterblog.com
Rabbi Yossi and Rivkie Chesney recently moved to New Orleans, Louisiana where they will sbe directing the Chabad Torah Academy in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Going with the idea of the "mega Challah" bakes that have been taking place all over the world, Chabad of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, organized a "Mega Tefillin" event. Over 100 men and boys over Bar Mitzva gathered on a Sunday morning to put on tefillin, say the morning prayers, pray for the sick of their community and pray for their country that is currently going through a political and economic crisis. The event took place at the recently built new headquarters of Chabad of Belo Horizonte.
Continued from previous issue
The above provides an insight also into the meaning of the Golus (the exile and dispersion [of the Jews] among the nations of the world) which is at the root of most, if not all, the difficulties and obstacles confronting the Jew in his desire to live his G-d-given Torah-way of life.
To be sure, we recognize the Golus as a punishment and rectification for failure to live up to our obligations in the past as, indeed, we acknowledge in our prayers: "For our sins we were banished from our land." But punishment, according to our Torah, called "Toras Chesed" (a Torah of loving kindness), must also essentially be Chesed. Since G-d has ordained a certain group, or people, namely the Jewish people, to carry the difficult and challenging task of spreading - in all parts and remotest corners of the world - the Unity of G-d (true Monotheism) through living and spreading the light of Torah and Mitzvos [commandments], a task which no other group was willing or capable of carrying out, the greatest reward is the fulfillment of this destiny, or, as our Sages put it, "The reward of a Mitzvah is the Mitzvah itself." Thus, the ultimate purpose of the Golus is linked with our destiny to help bring humanity to a state of universal recognition of G-d.
Our Divine Prophets and Sages explained at length the state of the ideal world which will eventually be attained, when all evil will be eradicated and "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb," etc., "they shall not hurt nor destroy," etc. Here again, at first glance, one may ask: "Why was it necessary to create vicious beasts in the first place, if they were ultimately - when the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d - destined to be turned into docile and peace-loving creatures, so that 'a small child shall lead them' "? But the answer is the same as above.
Paving the road to the gradual achievement of the said destiny has always been the persevering and indomitable work of determined individuals and groups conscious of their responsibility. They dedicated themselves to the vital need of strengthening and spreading the Torah and Mitzvos among the widest sections of our people.
In recent generations, more than ever before, the main emphasis has been on the need to bring the knowledge and practice of the Torah and Mitzvos to the widest possible segments of our people, in the greatest number of locations, without waiting for them to seek it - in the hope that they will sooner or later realize the need of it themselves. The most effective way to accomplish this is, of course, is through organized Torah-true education of the young, the young in years and "young" in knowledge. The pattern has been set by the founders of Chasidus and of Chasidus Chabad, who exemplified this approach with dedication and selflessness.
The Baal Shem Tov, before revealing himself and his way of life, was a Melamed - a teacher of small Jewish children. Similarly, the Alter Rebbe, founder of Chabad, a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov's disciple and successor, began his work by founding his well known three "Chadorim." This road has been followed also by his successors, the heads of Chabad, each in his generation.
They personified an indomitable spirit and a disdain for any and all difficulties and obstacles in their work for the dissemination of the Torah and Mitzvos. They also made it plain for all to see that whatever the difficulties, these are nothing but a challenge, to be expected and overcome. And by facing up to, and eventually overcoming, all obstacles, they had verified the truth of the basic tenets of our faith, namely that G-d's Providence extends to each and everyone individually, and that "He who is determined to purify himself and others, receives aid from On High."
It is a matter of common experience that when there is a firm will and unshakable determination, it soon becomes apparent that the difficulties are often largely imaginary, and even when real - not insurmountable. The forces of good are cumulative and self-generating, as our Sages indicated in their well known dictum, "One Mitzvah brings another in its train." If evil can be contagious, good is certainly much more so, and many who stand at the sidelines are inspired and willing to join in constructive and positive action, provided the lead is given and the way is shown.
The challenge of our time is to spread the knowledge of the Torah and Mitzvos, particularly through the education of our young, until each and every Jew will attain the level of "Know the G-d of your father and serve Him with a perfect heart," and the fulfillment of the prophecy: "They all shall know Me, small and great, and the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d, as the waters cover the sea."
What is demanded of us this year is Hakhel - gathering Jews together. You may ask, "Jews always gather together! So what is the difference between a Hakhel year and any other year?" The headline is what's different! Do whatever you did until now, but with new enthusaism. The headline today is Hakhel. Routine activities get a new headline and therefore a new energy; Hakhel. This fresh new headline needs to be apparent to the point where when someone sees you they will say, "There goes a Hakhel Jew!"
(Rabbi Eliezer Tzeitlin a"h)
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
As a preparation for the unity we will experience in the Messianic Era, every person should work on refining him/herself into a united, coordinated personality.
To illustrate this concept, the Rebbe told the following story:
Reb Zalman Aharon, the elder son of the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Rebbe Maharash, once asked his uncle if he recited his prayers "b'tzibbur" - with the community, i.e., with a minyan (a quorum). The uncle answered in the affirmative.
The next day, Reb Zalman Aharon noticed that his uncle was praying at great length, taking much more time than any member of the community.
Reb Zalman Aharon approached his uncle later and asked, "Didn't you tell me you prayed b'tzibbur?"
"I do," his uncle replied. "B'tzibbur means 'with the collective.' After I unify the seven emotional and three intellectual aspects of my soul, I pray!"
But how can we accomplish this internal unity? How can one bring the divergent aspects of his/her personality into harmony?
By using our talents and gifts for the purpose of bringing G-dliness into the world and uniting with G-d.
Far from being an impossible task, this job of marshalling our talents to the service of G-d is intrinsic to every Jew, for each soul - as explained at length in Chasidic philosophy - is an actual part of G-d.
Thus, uniting the diverse aspects of one's personality through devotion to G-d is intrinsic and the essential part of the existence of every Jew.
When we begin working on personal unity and harmony, we find that it is much easier to foster unity and harmony amongst the Jewish people as a whole.
You shall be holy (Lev. 19:2)
As Rashi notes, this commandment was given at a "Hakhel" gathering, when the entire Jewish people was present. This teaches that when the Torah requires us to be holy, it doesn't mean that we should become hermits and seclude ourselves from the world. Rather, a Jew is obligated to conduct himself with sanctity in the context of a full communal life.
You shall be holy... and My Sabbaths you shall keep (Lev. 19:2,3)
And My Sabbaths you shall keep: The strength to do this is derived from Shabbat itself, for it reminds us that G-d's relationship with the Jewish people is super-rational and above the constraints of nature. This knowledge in itself grants us the ability to become involved in worldly matters in a manner of holiness and purity.
You shall rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin on his account (Lev. 19:17)
The mitzva to rebuke one's fellow is preceded by the warning "You shall not hate your brother in your heart," for it is only when this condition is fulfilled that a person's words will be effective. In fact, if the rebuke was ineffectual, it means that the words were insincere and not coming from the heart.
And you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Lev.19:18)
The Holy One, Blessed be He, loves every single Jew with the same intensity as elderly parents love an only child born to them in their old age.
(The Baal Shem Tov)
You shall rise in the presence of (mipnei) an old person (Lev. 19:32)
The Hebrew word "mipnei" is related to "lifnei," meaning "before." Don't wait until you're old to take care of your spiritual needs, the Torah counsels us. Rather, rise up and do something positive for your soul before your advanced years.
(Maayana Shel Torah)
In the ancient city of Aleppo, Syria there lived a Jew named Shimshon. He was well known as a bully and half-drunk most of the time.
In the marketplace he walked from stall to stall, placing groceries in his basket, and leaving without paying. If anyone dared ask for payment he glared at them or made menacing comments. If he really got angry, he would overturn the produce or grocery cart and even give the stall keeper a big wallop.
Word eventually got to the rabbi of the town, who called Shimshon in and severely rebuked him. Shimshon, feigning innocence, asked, "Did anyone complain to you about me?"
The rabbi had to admit that no specific complaint had yet been brought. But, of course, the people were too frightened to accuse him and start up with Shimshon.
One day an older woman brought beautiful fruits and vegetables to the market. Shimshon came up to her stall, choose several items and walked away.
"Stop, come back. You haven't paid me," yelled the woman.
Shimshon turned around, looked at her threateningly and shouted, "You'll keep quiet if you know what's good for you." Then he continued on his way.
The stall keepers nearby encouraged her to go to the rabbi, who was relieved that there was finally a charge against Shimshon. The rabbi immediately sent for the culprit.
"Did you take produce from this woman without paying?" the rabbi asked Shimshon.
"Who says I'm not going to pay her?" was Shimshon's insolent reply.
"Pay her immediately or return her goods," was the rabbi's stern response. "If this ever happens again you will also have to pay a heavy fine," the rabbi added.
Shimshon took out his money and silently paid the woman. But as he was leaving, the rabbi's attendant, Levi, overheard him muttering, "I'll get even with the rabbi!"
A few days later the rabbi was invited to a circumcision in a nearby village. Along the way, Levi kept a sharp look out. When he noticed a man hiding behind some shrubs in the distance he was certain it was Shimshon. He now told the rabbi of Shimshon's threat and urged him to turn back. Instead, the rabbi noted the time and told Levi to stop the carriage so they could say the afternoon prayers. He prayed intensely and longer than usual, then climbed back into the carriage and told Levi to drive full speed ahead.
In a matter of moments, Shimshon appeared in the middle of the road and stopped the carriage. Rushing over to the rabbi, Shimshon grabbed his hands, and with tears in his eyes begged forgiveness. The rabbi forgave him on the condition that he change his ways. Shimshon promised he would and they parted like best of friends.
Levi was amazed and puzzled. The rabbi explained what had just happened with a commentary from the Torah. "When Esau threatened Jacob's life, Rivkah, their mother, instructed Jacob, "When your heart is free from any anger that you harbor against your brother for the trouble he has caused you, then you will be sure that his anger has turned away from you."
"You see," the rabbi concluded, "I was very angry with Shimshon, but I prayed to G-d to help me free my heart from any anger against him, and to help him free his heart from anger and evil. When I felt I no longer had ill feelings toward him, but rather compassion and a strong desire to help him mend his ways, I was certain that his heart, too, was pure. That is what actually happened. Thus, our sages teach us: As water reflects a face, so does one heart respond to another!
You will return to your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul, and you will listen to His voice according to all that I am commanding you this day you and your children. Then, your G-d, will bring back your exiles, and He will have mercy upon you. He will once again gather you from all the nations, where the L-rd, your G-d, had dispersed you. Even if your exiles are at the end of the heavens, your G-d, will gather you from there, and He will take you from there. G-d will bring you to the land which your forefathers possessed, and you will take possession of it, and He will do good to you, and He will make you more numerous than your forefathers.