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Good ole Charles Osgood on CBS radio each morning brought this little tidbit of information to his listeners' attention: You can fax a prayer, request, plea to an organization in the Holy Land that will take your message to the Western Wall--the kotel--in Jerusalem. For the same money they will also stick it into the crevices of the stones at the wall. Dubbed by Osgood as a "direct fax to G-d" the novel entrepreneurial, yet spiritual endeavor makes one stop and contemplate the fax machine, or any high-tech mechanism for that matter!
Today, fax machines are being used to relay prayers to the Wall and Jewish educational material to eager students.
Computer software is available that allows children to play Jewish educational computer games or that makes it easier to keep track of some of the more detailed Jewish marriage laws.
Satellites are used to hook up Jews and non-Jews all over the world to celebrate Chanuka internationally.
OCR scanners are simplifying and expediting the reprinting of ancient scholarly Jewish texts.
Answering machines and telephones bring listeners dozens of mini-classes on subjects such as the weekly Torah portion, Talmud, Jewish law and Moshiach as well as Shabbat candle-lighting times around the world or the Jewish calendar date of birthdays, yartzeits and anniversaries.
And beepers are, as many have read in The New York Times... well that's a whole other article.
Our Sages describe this phenomenon aptly in a short explanation about why gold exists. They taught that, though in general the world would not use gold properly, it exists because it was necessary for use in the Holy Temple.
When we consider this comment from our Sages we get a whole new perspective to our high-tech age. Look around you and you can easily see how everything can potentially be used, or is already being used, for a higher purpose than its original, mundane intent.
Look around you, open your eyes, see everything for what it truly is--or can be.
- (Back to text) For a weekly mini-class about Moshiach dial 1-800-4-MOSHIACH. For a daily lesson call (718) 953-6168.
This week's Torah reading, Teruma, opens with G-d's command to the Jews to donate to the Sanctuary: "And you shall give an offering...gold, silver, and brass."
At first glance it seems odd that G-d should list gold first. Would it not have been more appropriate to begin with brass, an item that could be given freely by all, and then work up to the silver and gold, which only wealthy Jews could afford to donate? Although we know that when the Jewish people left Egypt they were inundated with gifts by the Egyptians anxious for them to leave, and that the Jews amassed great wealth during the splitting of the Red Sea, there were always differences in personal wealth between them. In fact, we find that in actuality, much more brass and silver were donated to the Sanctuary than gold. Why then is gold mentioned first?
Furthermore, since the Sanctuary was intended to establish a dwelling for G-d in this world, would it not have made more sense for it to be fashioned only through the service of the most elevated and sophisticated among the Jews? In reality, however, every single Jew, without exception, was allowed to contribute to its erection.
By way of explanation, Chasidic philosophy teaches that a Jew shares an intrinsic connection to gold. Every Jew, as he exists within the material world, is "G-d's only son," and as such, is by nature rich. The Jew has the potential to give generously, and to give gold. The very Hebrew word for "gold"--zahav--reflects a Jew's tendency to give to others, for our Sages interpret this word as an acronym for the phrase, "He who gives while healthy," that is, a person who gives not to ward off any unfavorable influences, but as a natural expression of his inner self. To emphasize this attribute, the first item asked of the Jewish people was gold.
A Jew is connected to his spiritual source, even within the context of the material world. He is in essence rich, and his inner spiritual wealth should be reflected in actual material wealth. If this is not openly apparent, it is only because G-d desires that the Jew reveal this wealth through his own efforts, that he transform the darkness into light. This, in turn, will draw down an abundance of Divine blessing into the world.
This is especially true in the present time, when the Jewish people have completed all the spiritual tasks demanded of them, and all that is necessary is to actually accept Moshiach. At this time, each and every member of the present generation, the last generation of exile and the first generation of Redemption, is surely worthy of abundant material wealth, which, as Maimonides explains, enables a Jew to devote himself to the study of Torah and the observance of mitzvot in a more complete manner, and to give more charity. This will lead to the construction of the Third Holy Temple, towards which every Jewish man, woman and child will donate, speedily in our days.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita.
SPIRITED CONFERENCE CALL
Rabbis Leible Morrison and Israel Rubin
by Paul Grondahl
It is 6:25 a.m. on a Friday, an hour when others might still be sleeping or groggily shuffling toward a hot shower. But for the participants of Talmudic Telephone, it's a spiritual wake-up call they seek. Today's discussion: a metaphorical examination of the Israelites as flexible reeds vs. rigid trees.
On the receiving end of Rabbi Israel Rubin's explication of the 2,000-year-old code of Jewish law and lore is a handful of men who forgo extra shut-eye to study the Talmud before leaving for work. They range in age from their 20's to 60's and stretch from Albany to Saratoga, but they're linked by conference call and sound as if they're all in the same living room, kibitzing.
Participants include a Schenectady architect, a mathematics graduate student in Saratoga, a doctor and a lawyer in Albany, a food inspector in Columbia County and a researcher for General Electric Co. who lives in Troy. The Talmudic Telephone hook up is conducted both at 6:30 a.m. and 9 p.m. A total of about two dozen individuals take part.
"We used to have our Talmud class meeting in one place, but as people got more spread out and more and more busy, it became very hard to get everyone together at the same place and the same time," Rubin says.
And so Talmudic Telephone came to pass.
"We're applying modem technology to the study of a 2,000-year-old text," says Ruvain Kudan of Albany, an associate system planner with the state Public Service Commission who has participated in the phone network since its inception in June. "Since the technology exists, why not use it to further our spiritual growth?"
The Talmudic Telephone concept is believed to be a first for New York, perhaps the nation.
Rubin, a rabbi who is the executive director of Chabad Outreach Centers of the Capital District, knows of taped Talmud phone lines and there are 900-number Jewish teaching services.
"But it's not the same thing," Rubin says. "I think we're the only one where there is interaction, questions, debate and socializing."
Participants tap into Talmudic Telephone by purchasing a simple teleconference option on their phone service that costs a few dollars a month. As many as a dozen people can listen in to the same discussion simultaneously. The hookup is made by one caller dialing the next in a form of telephone tag.
Rubin is a lively teacher, making the ancient Talmud text come alive. This Friday morning session begins with a mention of a bullrush.
"What's a bullrush?" someone asks.
"It's like a reed, a plant that grows on the edge of a pond," Rubin replies, before getting back to the Hebrew in his flowing, mesmerizing reading style.
Trees are tall and strong and are useful in the making of all manner of implements, someone interjects. But the bullrushes are flexible and will bend and snap back, counters another student, whereas the tree will break and fall to the ground. Plus, a reed is hollow and can be filled with ink and used to write the Torah.
"So, the bullrush could really be a blessing in disguise?" Morrison asks in summation.
"Exactly," Rubin says.
"Turn the page now," the rabbi continues. A faint shuffling of pages is heard as the students follow along with their own Talmud.
Later, Rubin explains that the Talmud is written in a Hebrew-Aramaic hybrid. The Talmud is essentially the oral Jewish law committed to prose, and was written 2,000 years ago in what today is Iraq, where Aramaic was spoken.
Much of the Talmud is technical and legalistic, but there also are sections that deal with everything from history to ethics to meteorology.
The Talmud is 2,100 pages long and the phone group covers on average 11/2 pages per week. When they complete a tractate, they throw a communal siyum, or party.
"This is having a ripple effect by bringing more people into the study of Talmud and making it part of a community celebration," Rubin says.
The Talmud appeals to a similar sense of discipline and detail that has made Matthew Granovetter of Ballston Lake a national champion bridge player and, beginning a few weeks ago, a member of the Talmudic Telephone crew.
"We got interested in Judaism through bridge," says Granovetter, whose wife, Pamela, converted to Judaism along with their two children. "They're both about discussion and arguing and intellectual detective work. They're both fun, too."
Fun, but strict, stresses Granovetter, who has recently become observant of Jewish law.
"When my wife and I teach bridge, we say the only way to learn the game is to go by the book," Granovetter says. "If you start breaking the rules at the beginning, your bridge game just flounders. We take the same approach to Judaism. The only way to learn it properly is to go by the book."
Granovetter, a professional bridge player, also co-publishes with his wife a magazine called Bridge Today and self-publishes murder mysteries with a bridge subplot.
Back to fact instead of fiction, "I'm turning the page," Rubin says and the others follow suit.
The discussion about reeds vs. trees comes to its conclusion and Rubin spends a few moments discussing Maimonides' laws concerning the Messianic Era.
Then, a man named Zev asks participants for a moment's silence to read from "From Day to Day"--pithy teachings compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. "One who is lowly and crass does not understand his lowliness and crassness."
Says Granovetter, "I like that lesson in humility. I'm going to use it in my bridge magazine."
Reprinted from The Times Union.
An unusual birth certificate is in the possession of a family in Jerusalem, Israel. When the expectant mother was informed by the doctors that she would need to have a Caesarian she refused. She explained that she had received a blessing from the Rebbe for a regular delivery and that everything would go well. While the doctors were away conferring she gave birth without any complications. The birth certificate (pictured), dated 11/13/92, from Sha'arei Tzedek Hospital, has a special note written on it by the doctors which translates: "One should note that the delivery was regular (without a Caesarian operation) in the merit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe."
WITH A LITTLE EFFORT
From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
The merit of your observance of our sacred traditions--which I was gratified to note in your letter--will surely stand you and yours in good stead in all of the above, including your continued advancement in all matters of Torah and mitzvot. For, although this is a "must" for its own sake, in compliance with G-d's Will, this is also the "channel and vessel" to receive additional Divine blessings in all needs, both material and spiritual.
The above is a particularly timely message now that we are about to celebrate Purim, the highlight of which is the reading of the Megila evening and morning. It is noteworthy and significant that although--as the Megila tells us--both Mordechai and Esther were instrumental in bringing about the miracle of Purim and saving our people, the Megila is not named after both of them jointly, nor after Esther and Mordechai in that order, but solely after Esther--"Megilat Esther." Here is a pointedly emphatic message for every Jewish woman about her unique role in Jewish life. To be sure, no one can compare to the stature of Queen Esther, but what is emphasized is the extraordinary potential of every loyal Jewish daughter to shape the future of her family, and the far-reaching consequences implicit for her environment and even for the entire Jewish people.
If this seems farfetched and mystical, the following episode will illustrate what even a comparatively small effort can accomplish.
You may have heard that many of our senior Lubavitch students volunteer their summer vacations to travel to distant places in order to reach out to fellow-Jews in need of encouragement in strengthening their identity with, and commitment to, our people and the Torah way. In the course of this program it so happened that one of the students visited a small, isolated town where he found only a few Jewish families, and, as he later reported, he was disappointed to have accomplished nothing there. But a number of months later, our Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, which sponsors this program, received a letter from one of the families in that town. The writer, a woman, related that one summer day she happened to be standing by her front window when she saw a bearded young man, wearing a dark hat, his tzitzit showing, approaching her door. She confessed that when she admitted the young man and learned of the purpose of his visit, she was not responsive, for she and her family were not prepared at that moment to change their life style. Yet for a long time after that encounter, the appearance of the young man haunted her. He reminded her of her grandfather and had refreshed her memories of the beautiful Jewish life she had seen in her grandparents' home, though the material circumstances were incomparably more modest than she had come to know in her married life. Finally--the letter went on--she decided to make the change. She made her home kosher, and the family began to observe Shabbat and Yom Tov, and she began to give her children a Jewish education. Since then her home was filled with such contentment and serenity that she decided to write to the Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch and express her profound gratitude.
Now, if all that was the result of a brief encounter with that young man, though he was unaware of this lasting impact, how much more can be achieved by an American Jewish family, whose influence is not limited to a few minutes of conversation, but serves as a shining example of the kind of daily life and conduct that should be the privilege and blessing of every Jewish family.
Needless to say, if in maintaining the proper Jewish standards there may be some difficulties to overcome (many of which may even be more imaginary than real), surely such difficulties should be of no significance in comparison to the infinite benefits. Moreover, the effort required is a personal one, while the benefits are for the many.
Who was the Baal Shem Tov?
The man who was to be known as the Baal Shem Tov, the Master of the Good Name, was born Israel, the son of Eliezer and Sarah on Elul 18, 1698. His teachings, which stressed the worth of every Jew in the eyes of G-d, lifted the depressed spiritual state of the Jews of his time and encouraged them in their spiritual growth. He also attracted some of the greatest spiritual giants of his age to his doctrine of Chasidut. Two of his main principles are: to love every Jew regardless of his status; and everything that happens in the world is a result of Divine Providence.
Much has been said, and yet much still remains to be said, about Moshiach and the imminence of the Final Redemption. With all of the talk, all of the classes, all of the newspaper articles, interviews, brochures and booklets, people often ask us how we can talk again and again about the imminence of the Final Redemption.
The Rebbe, shlita, mentioned this very question in a talk nearly ten years ago.
The Rebbe said, "There are people who are unable to understand how one can talk over and over again about the coming of Moshiach, and how one can stress every time that at that particular moment the Redemption can come. They are willing to concede that an occasional mention of the subject might be in order, but why does it have to be raised at every opportunity, and with such tangible immediacy?
"The very asking of this question is in itself a result of the exile. A person can become so permeated with a feeling of exile that he cannot sense the impending Redemption, to the point that any discussion of it sounds to him like a dream. In truth, however, the opposite is true: it is the exile which resemble a dream, as is explained in Chasidic philsophy.
"There is a positive side to this analogy, for in one moment one can wake up from a dream and return to reality. In the same way the entire Jewish people can return in one moment to their true reality--to a state in which they love G-d and try to be close to Him, to an actual state of Redemption. Current conditions can be transformed in one moment literally, so that on this very day, and at this very moment, people will open their eyes and suddenly see that our Righteous Moshiach is here with us."
May we all hear that all-important wake-up call that was initiated by the Rebbe, shlita, and is currently being continued by the Rebbe's emissaries and followers throughout the world.
Pharaoh's chief ministers had been hurriedly summoned to the royal court. They sat and listened intently as the king related his terrifying dream. In it he was sitting on his throne and an old man approached holding a huge scale in one hand. As Pharaoh watched he hung the scale in front of the monarch, reached out and seized all the nobles of the court, bound them, and placed them on one side of the scale. Then he took a little white lamb and laid it on the other side. To Pharaoh's surprise the little lamb was able to tip the scale in its favor. Pharaoh awoke in a panic, wondering what evil this strange dream foretold for him and his people.
Pharaoh's advisors were all famous men, and offered their differing opinions. Finally it was Bilaam whose advice was accepted. "This dream is telling you that a Jewish child will destroy Egypt, Your Majesty," he said. "I will tell you how to destroy them. Fire and swords have been tried, but their G-d saved Avraham from the fiery furnace and Yitzhak from his father's knife. The only weapon which will succeed is water. I suggest that you take all their newborn baby boys and throw them into the Nile. Then you will be assured that this terrible prophecy will never come true."
All the Children of Israel were in turmoil. Pharaoh's horrible decree had been announced throughout Egypt. The sound of wailing women and children echoed through the encampments, and the men were filled with despair. Soldiers appeared without warning and tore tiny babies from the arms of their grief-stricken mothers.
News of the decree reached the leader of the generation, Amram, and he pondered long and hard on what tactic to adopt. Amram, the leader of the tribe of Levi was universally held in great esteem; his word would be followed by everyone. Finally, with a heavy heart, he spoke: "I have decided for the good of the people to divorce my wife." The rest of the men followed suit and separated from their wives. Only Amram's little daughter, Miriam, objected to his decision. "Father, Pharaoh is sentencing only the boys to death, but you have sentenced the girls as well." Miriam's argument prevailed. Amram remarried his wife, as did the other men.
On the 7th of Adar Yocheved bore a son and named him Yekutiel. He was an unusual child from the start. He was born circumcised, and with his birth, the house filled with a holy light. Amram and Yocheved were sure that he was the redeemer of the Jews that Pharaoh so feared.
Yocheved managed to outsmart the Egyptian soldiers for the first three months, but as time went on it became more difficult. Seeing it was futile, Yocheved built a water-tight container for the baby. She carried it to the Nile and put it near the shore, leaving Miriam to watch the infant. Yocheved hoped that with her baby in the river, the astrological signs would change to indicate that the redeemer had perished. That is exactly what happened. Pharaoh's astrologers notified him that the child had drowned. At once his decree was nullified. The Jewish babies were safe.
That day Batya, Pharaoh's daughter, came with her maids near the shore. Looking out into the distance, she noticed a little basket floating in the river. "Get me that basket," she instructed her maids, but they suspected it was a Jew, and were afraid to violate her father's will. Batya tried to reach it herself, but couldn't. She was about to give up when G-d caused the baby to cry and Batya's heart was filled with mercy. She reached out her arm and a miracle occurred: her arm lengthened and she was able to grasp the basket. When she opened it, a light shone from the child. "This must be a holy child," she thought.
She decided to keep him and prophetically called him Moshe--"he who draws out," signifying that just as he was drawn out of the water, so would he draw out the Jews from their servitude. G-d was pleased and responded: "Because you adopted a child that was not your own and called him your son, I will call you My daughter--Batya--the daughter of G-d." She was further honored by her "son" being known by the name she gave him.
Batya brought many Egyptian women to the palace to care for her new baby, but Moshe, who was destined to speak face-to-face with G-d, refused to nurse from any of them. Miriam quickly recommended her mother, and so, G-d rewarded Yocheved by returning her beloved child to her care for the first two years of his life. After that she brought Moshe to the palace.
Little Moshe was a great favorite at court. Even Pharaoh enjoyed the charming little boy. Then, one day in the presence of the royal family and their ministers the child rose, took the crown from Pharaoh's head and set it on his own. Shock filled the silenced room. Bilaam spoke up once again, "This child will grow up to be a traitor!" he cried. But Pharaoh was unwilling to condemn his favorite so quickly. Instead, he agreed to an experiment. A burning coal and a diamond would be set before the child. If he seized the diamond, it would be clear that he had intelligent intent. If he took the coal, it would prove he was like any other child, drawn to glittering objects.
Moshe reached toward the diamond, but an angel caused him to take the coal instead. He put the glowing object to his mouth, and was burned. After that, he never again spoke clearly. Moshe's speech impediment served a holy purpose. For when he spoke as the man, Moshe's speech was difficult to understand, but when he transmitted G-d's word, his speech was com-pletely clear, leaving no doubt that he was speaking in a prophetic state.
And they shall take for Me an offering (Ex. 25:2)
The word "offering" has two meanings: something set aside for a special purpose and that which is picked up and raised. An offering made to G-d achieves both of these objectives. Setting aside one's money to do a mitzva elevates the actual physical object that is bought with that money, transforming the material into holiness, as it says in Tanya: "G-d gives man corporeality in order to transform it into spirituality."
Of a talent of pure gold shall it be made (Ex. 25:39)
Man's purpose in life is to illuminate his surroundings with the light of Torah and mitzvot. This responsibility holds true no matter what the individual's circumstances or mood may be. The numerical equivalent of the Hebrew word for talent, "kikar," is 140--the same as the numerical equivalent of "mar" (bitter), and "ram" (lofty). No matter what our situation, our task remains the same.
(Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Two and one-half cubits its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height (Ex. 25:10)
The ark was measured in fractions, not whole numbers, teaching us that to achieve spiritual growth, one must first "break down" and shatter one's negative characteristics and bad habits.
(Sefer Hamamarim U'Kuntreisim)
Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld regularly included in his evening discourse a discussion about yearning for Moshiach's coming. A student mentioned the saying of our Sages that Moshiach will only come b'hesech hada'at--when not expected. Rabbi Sonnenfeld responded, "Unfortunately, in spite of my discourses, there is still hesech hada'at when it comes to Moshiach. As we see clearly, if a trustworthy person informed you that Moshiach is in Jerusalem, wouldn't we hesitate, if even for a moment, before running to greet him?