Living With The Times | A Slice of Life | Insights | Customs
A Word from the Director | It Once Happened | Thoughts that Count | Moshiach Matters
Have you heard anyone kvetching lately? Do you have any friends crying on your shoulder or sighing a little too often for comfort?
Times are tough right now, it's certainly true. Everyone at least knows someone who's out of a job or down on their luck. And though many people are in the same boat it doesn't make things any easier. There's an old adage that says that if everyone's "peckelach"--package of troubles--were hung out on a line for all to view and choose from, we would look at everyone else's and then reclaim our own.
Looking at other people's misfortunes, or at other people who have it worse, is one way to learn how to accept one's "lot" in life. It might not be the most productive or positive way to achieve a kind of truce with one's portion, but it can be a step toward noticing, acknowledging and appreciating the good in life.
But there is a level which transcends the concept of simply resigning oneself to life's pitfalls and being happy with whatever good does happen to come your way. And this path is best illustrated by the following story.
Rabbi Shmelke of Nikolsburg asked his rebbe, Reb Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezritch: "How is it possible to fulfill the injunction of our Sages, that 'A person is obliged to utter a blessing on hearing evil tidings just as he does on hearing good tidings'?"
"Go along to the study hall," advised the Maggid, "and there you will find my disciple Reb Zusha of Hanipoli. He will explain it to you."
Throughout all his life, Reb Zusha lived in utter poverty. When he was now told what brought Reb Shmelke to him he said: "I am most surprised that our rebbe should have sent you with this question to me, of all people. A question like this should surely be put to a man who at some time has experience something evil, G-d forbid. I can't be of any help to you: nothing evil, has ever befallen me, even for a moment. Thank G-d, I have had only good things happening to me from the day I was born until today. How could I know anything about how to accept evil joyfully?"
Reb Shmelke had his answer. This obligation--to bless G-d on hearing evil tidings just as one does on hearing good tidings--was now clear. All a person has to do is to rejoice in his lot to the point that he is not even aware of harsh experiences.
Ah, now this is a level that we could strive to attain, an "alternative lifestyle" to which we can aspire--a point in our lives where suffering and negativity simply do not exist, are not part of our lives nor part of our life experience.
The story was excerpted from A Treasury of Chasidic Tales.
This week's Torah portion, Va'eira begins with a G-d's statement to Moses: "I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as 'G-d Alm-ghty,' but My Name 'Y-H-V-H,' I did not make known to them....Therefore say to the Children of Israel [in My name], "I am Y-H-V-H." It would seem, from these words, that the revelation granted to the Children of Israel is greater than that received by the Patriarchs.
And yet, the Patriarchs were not only the physical but also the spiritual progenitors of the Jewish people. The revelation they received was the ultimate source and cause of the higher revelation granted to their descendants.
Although the Patriarchs anticipated the giving of the Torah, and were therefore, able to experience a foretaste of the spiritual effects of mitzvot, the full ability to bring G-dliness into the physical world was realized only when the Torah was received by the Jewish people. It is through the study of Torah that this spiritual revelation is drawn down into the conscious powers of a Jew's soul and through the observance of the mitzvot, it is brought into his body and further into the world at large.
Although the Patriarch's service tapped the soul's essence, because their service was mainly spiritual, and not revealed in the world at large, its unlimited quality was also not revealed. Since the giving of the Torah the service of the Jewish people has been, to the greatest extent, to refine this world. Therein lies the difference between their service and the primarily spiritual service of our the Forefathers.
There is an advantage to the revelation of the essence of the soul at the giving of the Torah to the service of the Patriarchs. For the fact that G-dliness is revealed throughout the world at large reveals its true unbounded and unlimited quality, that it has no limitations.
So, we can understand;
- the service of the Jewish people in subsequent generations comes as a result of that of the Patriarchs; and,
- It is the service of the Jews of subsequent generations that reveals the essential potential possessed by the Patriarchs.
These concepts have great relevance to our day, as the ultimate revelation of G-d's Name Y-H-V-H will occur with the revelation of "the new dimensions of the Torah that will emerge from Me" in the Era of the Redemption.
There are parallels between the concepts referring to the service of the Patriarchs as anticipating and preparing for the giving of the Torah and our present service which prepares for and anticipates the Final Redemption. Our service through observance of Torah and mitzvot draws G-dliness down into the world, however the revelation of our service will not be seen until the advent of Moshiach. Then, "the glory of G-d will be revealed and all flesh will see...."
Just as it is the Patriarch's service which led to the revelation of the giving of the Torah, similarly, it is our service which will lead to the revelations of the Era of the Redemption. Indeed, our service in the era of exile taps the essential power of the soul, and this is the quality that will be revealed in the Era of the Redemption.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
STUDENTS SPEAK OUT
The question, "Why do you want Moshiach now?" was asked at various locations throughout the Rutgers University (Highland Park, New Jersey) campus. The following responses from students were published in a special flyer as part of R.U.’s Moshiach Campaign.
David Anders, "With Moshiach, G-d promises us more happiness and contentment in our lives, and today, we’re very much in need of things like this... not just the usual materialism stereotype."
Dina Siegel, "So that we can all live united in Israel once again--that’s the destiny of the Jewish people and it will come about when Moshiach arrives... I can’t wait!"
Adam: "To finally and fully educate all people about life--we all need it! Without Moshiach, we’re just not all going to have acceptance and respect for other people."
Steve G.: "People will finally realize how stupid they’ve been in how they’re treating each other because, when Moshiach comes and educates everyone, we’ll all realize there’s One G-d and everyone will come together and realize we’re all on the same team."
Josh S.: "I want Moshiach now because it’s all getting out of hand. With all the crime, abandonment of religion and spirituality, we need to take Judaism seriously, especially marrying within Judaism."
Josh L.: "We’ve got to keep doing more good things for Moshiach."
Steve W.: "We want Moshiach now to set the world straight on what G-d wants, because there are too many people out there who treat fellow human beings terribly."
Rabbi Goodman: "Because we miss G-d and each other too much and we want to come home already. We all want Moshiach now!"
Joe Glatt, "Because people are losing their sense of purpose. With Moshiach, G-d will increase our understanding of what this world’s all about."
Jed Latkin, "I want Moshiach now to bring us into the special place where we belong--the Holy Land of Israel, as G-d promised us in our Torah.
Julie Gelfand, "Because when he comes, everyday will be somewhat like Shabbat--that unique day when everything’s peaceful and meaningful."
THE JEW: A PART YET APART
From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
I was particularly gratified to read in your letter about your progress not only to enrich your knowledge of Judaism, but in accordance with the teaching of our Sages that the essential thing is the deed--translating this knowledge and inspiration into the daily experience of Torah and mitzvot. Needless to say, since the Torah is "our life and the length of our days," and the mitzvot are the things Jews live by--the experience of Torah and mitzvot must be a continuous process, and cannot be relegated to certain days in the year, such as Shabbat and Yom Tov.
With regard to various points and questions raised in your letter, it is, of course, difficult to explain such things adequately by correspondence. However, I will mention several salient points, after a brief introduction:
If one considers the world in which we live, the world at large, as well as the small world, namely the person, it becomes evident that there is no uniformity, but many differences, both external as well as internal. Moreover, everything and every person has its own purpose or task, and this does not make anyone any more or less important, for all are important in the totality of things, just as every limb or organ of a body is important. Indeed, if one member would wish to change his function, it would not only disturb his own personal harmony, but would also disturb the total harmony. Imagine, for a moment, what would happen if the brain would wish to do the work of the heart to pump blood; it certainly would be disastrous, for even an extra tiny drop of blood in the brain would be dangerous, whereas the heart must always have an ample supply of blood. Similarly, if the heart would wish to do the work of the digestive organs, where even a tiny speck of food would be dangerous in the heart, and so on.
The same is true in regard to the Torah and mitzvot, as well as in regard to the destiny of the Jewish people, and its place in the family of nations. For reasons best known to G-d Himself, He wished that there should be many nations in the world, but only one Jewish people, a people who should be separated and different from all the other nations, with a destiny and function of its own. Even in the future Messianic Era, as has been prophesied by our Prophets, there will be a distinction between the Jewish people and non-Jews. That is, the Jews will retain the 613 mitzvot, whereas the gentiles will have to observe only the seven Noahide commandments with all their ramifications, which is also no small thing, as explained in various sources.
The above, I trust, will answer your question why a Jew should separate himself, and not be involved in the world at large. Indeed, if a Jew were to completely separate himself from the world, it would be contrary to the Torah, since among the mitzvot which a Jew is duty bound to fulfill, there is also the mitzva that he should try to do all he can to make sure that his environment will be permeated with the awareness of the above mentioned seven commandments which were given to the children of Noah. He should further ensure that these Divine commandments, with all their ramifications, be implemented in daily life. However, this does not mean that the Jew should assume functions which are not his, for the results would be as disastrous as in the analogy of the human body mentioned above. The failure to realize this division of responsibility, and the resulting confusion, is responsible for the proliferation of intermarriage, etc. (but it is difficult to dwell at length on such painful matters).
I will only emphasize the point that one's personal convenience, desire or gratification is no justification to involve oneself in something which is wrong, especially to involve another person, least of all a loved one, in such a situation, even if the other party is sincerely agreeable. For no person has the right to harm another, even if the latter desires to be harmed.
I trust you will not take amiss my writing on something which appears to be at first glance, a personal and intimate matter. Since you wrote to me and brought the matter to my attention, I have no right to pass over it in silence. I would strongly urge you to consult an orthodox rabbi, whose guidance would be given in accordance with the Will of G-d as is clearly spelled out in the Shulchan Aruch [the Code of Jewish Law], and to inform him of all the aspects and details of the matter, with a view to rectifying it. No doubt, the rabbi would also wish to later discuss the matter with your wife. You may rest assured that acting in accordance with our Torah, called Torat Chaim, the Law of Life and the true guide in life, will be of real benefit to all concerned.
In conclusion, I hope that you will accept the above in the spirit that it is offered, that it stems from a deep and abiding concern which must permeate one person for another, especially as the commandment of V'ahavta l'rei-acha kamocha [and you must love your fellow as you do yourself] is one of the great principles of our Torah. I would have been greatly remiss had I not written to you the above, although it necessarily had to be conveyed in very brief terms, all too brief in relation to its importance.
Why do people say, "bli ayin hara," or "kenina hora"?
An "ayin hara" means an evil or begrudging eye. It is believed that an envious or begrudging glance is able to cause evil to the person at whom it is directed. According to a statement in the Talmud, 99 out of 100 die of an evil eye. Hence, we use the expression in Hebrew "bli ayin hara," or in Yiddish "kenina hora"--meaning, without a begrudging eye, when a person's health, wealth, intelligence, success, etc., are being admired.
Thank G-d, Moshiach and the imminent Redemption remains, as it should, a topic of much discussion. People are asking so many questions that we have decided to devote this column to answering some of these questions.
There is much confusion, for instance, concerning what connotes the "coming of the Redeemer" and the Redemption itself. The author of Sefat Emet (the Gerrer Rebbe) explains this difference using the example of Moses and the Redemption of the Jews from Egypt. For, we are taught that the future redemption will be similar to the redemption of the Jews from Egypt: At the time of the future redemption, "I [G-d] will show you wonders like when you went forth from the Land of Egypt."
In Egypt, first there was the coming of the redeemer, when Moses came to the Jewish people and announced that the Redemption was near. But only after a few years did the actual Redemption take place. This, according to the Sefat Emet, is how the imminent and final Redemption will occur. Moshiach will come to the Jewish people and announce that the time of the Redemption has come. But we will not at that moment see the actual Redemption, for this will come at a later stage.
In many places the similarities between the "first redeemer" and the "last redeemer" are discussed. The connection between the two redeemers is so strong that our Sages have taught, "Moses is the first redeemer and the last redeemer." This does not mean, however, that Moses will actually be Moshiach, for Moses was from the tribe of Levi and Moshiach is a descendant of King David who was from the tribe of Judah.
Another interesting similarity: A Midrash explains why Moses was brought up in Pharaoh's palace and relates this, too, to Moshiach. Moses grew up in the royal palace in Egypt, whence he eventually took out himself and the entire Jewish people. So, too, Moshiach--who will take us out of the present exile of Edom ("Edom" is Rome and the religion and culture associated with that nation)--lives with them in their country: Moses and Moshiach live in and are helped by those very lands from which they ultimately redeem the Jewish people.
The shammes-caretaker of the Baal Shem Tov's shul had completed most of his work there and as usual, went to sweep up the Rebbe's private room. When he entered he was surprised to see the Besht stretched out in his bed taking a nap. The shammes moved around the room soundlessly, tidying up, when he came upon the shoes of the Baal Shem Tov.
He stopped for a moment, as if considering his next move, and then he said to himself, "Should I move his shoes, or should I just sweep around them?" After a brief moment of thought he decided to leave them alone and clean as best he could without touching them.
Shortly after the shammes finished his work the Besht asked him, "Did you move my shoes?"
"No, Rabbi, I didn't," was his reply.
The Besht nodded and a bright smile appeared on his face. "I promise you that you will have long and healthy years," he blessed the shammes.
Many years passed and one day a chasid happened to visit the home of the shammes. In the main room there were two elderly men. He noticed that one man was warming himself by the stove while a younger man was busy cleaning up the house. Suddenly the younger of the two began to scream at the old man, "Why do lie there all day and do nothing! Get up and make yourself useful! Do you think I should do all the work around here?"
The chasid was deeply shocked and offended to see a younger man abuse someone so much older than himself. He couldn't restrain his anger and he raised his voice saying: "How do you dare to insult the old man like that? Haven't you learned to respect your elders?"
The man broke into a hearty laugh. "Elders? Do you think he is my elder?? Why, he's my son! Many years ago when I was the shammes of the Baal Shem Tov he gave me a blessing that I would have a long, healthy life, and here I am as you see me today, as strong as a boy and younger-looking than my own son!"
Reb Zalman was perplexed. Both he and his colleague, Reb Menashe, were accomplished students of the Gaon of Vilna. Nevertheless, there was a marked difference in the way people responded to the guidance they offered.
"Why is it," he asked Reb Menashe, "that people who consult me do not seem to be satisfied with my advice, while your advice is always regarded highly?"
"I think I may be able to resolve your difficulty," replied Reb Menashe. "When a person comes to you with a problem, you delve into your wealth of knowledge of Talmud Bavli and Yerushalmi, comparing the question to an example from the text. Often, the comparison is not totally appropriate because times have changed and the circumstances in which we live differ from those of the previous years. Since the matter has not been made totally relevant to him, the person may walk away unsatisfied.
"When a person approaches me, I encourage the person to describe his own feelings in detail and voice his personal thoughts and observations on the issue. When I have become aware of his perspective on the matter, I am able to give him advice which relates to him. Since the person has taken an active role in solving the problem, he is more satisfied with the suggestions offered."
Once, Rebbe Zeev Wolf from Zitomer was present when the Shpoler Zeide was dancing. Noticing that the tzadik's gartel had fallen on the ground, he picked it up and tied it around the Tzaddik's waist.
"This is like tying a band around a Torah scroll," declared Rebbe Zeev Wolf.
Once when the Alter Rebbe was planning to pass through the city of Shpola, the Zeide announced that all the people should come out with their brooms and sweep the streets. He, too, took a broom and swept. "The master of Torah is going to pass by," he explained.
Once, while Reb Michal the Elder, one of the mashpi'im [spiritual tutors] in the yeshiva in Lubavitch, was about to recite the Shema during his morning prayers, he noticed that one of the students had torn shoes. He interrupted his prayers and pointed out the torn shoes to the person who was charged with taking care of the students' material needs.
Later, Reb Michal was asked: "Couldn't the torn shoes have waited until after you completed your prayers?"
"The Shema proclaims the oneness of G-d," replied Reb Michal. "A student wearing torn shoes can, G-d forbid, catch cold and be held back from study and prayer. Being conscious of this is an expression of the oneness of G-d."
Reprinted with permission from From My Father's Shabos Table by Rabbi Y. Chitrick.
"I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as G-d Alm-ghty, but by My name Y-H-V-H I did not make Myself known to them (Ex. 6:2)
This verse comes in answer to Moses' question: Why have You dealt ill with these people? G-d answered him, "The whole purpose of the Jews' exile in Egypt is to prepare them for the giving of the Torah which will follow their liberation. The extra spiritual light which will illuminate the world when I reveal Myself in the attribute of Y-H-V-H, a light which even the Patriarchs did not merit to see, is the reason that the Jewish people must suffer through the afflictions of exile."
And I will bring you out from under the burdens of Egypt, and I will deliver you from their bondage (Ex. 6:6)
Would it not have made more sense for G-d to mention the release from bondage first, and then promise the Jews that they would be redeemed? Were they not first physically released from slavery before they left Egypt?
However, it was only after the fact, after the Jews had actually left the Egyptian exile, that they could appreciate precisely how bitter it had been. Only then could they truly understand what it meant to be delivered from bondage.
Behold, the Children of Israel have not hearkened unto me (Ex. 6:12)
What does G-d answer when Moses complains that the Jews will not listen to him? "These are the heads of their fathers' houses." The Jewish people were not to blame for their inattention to Moses' message; the fault was that of the Jewish leaders, who were closed to the idea of the redemption and unwilling to spread the message.
A person's spiritual endeavors should be imbued with a constant yearning for the Redemption, in the spirit of the phrase, "I await his coming every day." Our Sages taught, "When a person is led into the Heavenly Court he is asked, 'Did you yearn for the Redemption?'" So since one is obliged to serve G-d constantly, all day long, it is clear that this hopeful anticipation should likewise be constant, all day long.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)