You Call That Fun?! | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | Rambam this week | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
"But what are we going to do in the Messianic Era? How are we going to have fun if we're learning Torah and doing mitzvot all day?"
These are typical of the questions people ask when they learn that in the Messianic Era our lives will be filled with spiritual pursuits and that even the material prosperity we will experience is only to make the study of Torah and observance of mitzvot easier.
How we define "fun" and "enjoyable" is not a constant. Children certainly can't imagine that spending an entire day reading a good book is enjoyable. To them, playing outside in a park or at some kind of sports activity is great fun. But reading a book?!
Then there are those adults who cultivate an appreciation for classical music or the "fine arts." As youngsters, could they ever have imagined that they would later enjoy going to museums and listening to fine music? (For that matter, can their children imagine what their parents find enjoyable about these activities?)
The list goes on:
The dedication and devotion of sports enthusiasts-participants or fans-is unfathomable to one who has no interest in sports.
Rap music doesn't fit into the category of music to many, yet it has many devotees worldwide.
To the average person a camera is an instrument with which you record good memories. To a professional photographer it is a piece of artistic equipment like an easel, paintbrush or acrylic paints.
Get the picture?
In the Messianic Era, our desire, enjoyment and enthusiasm for studying Torah and performing mitzvot will be cultivated. We will enjoy doing these things. Mitzvot will be fun.
But we needn't wait until the Holy Temple is rebuilt and all of us are back in Israel before Torah and mitzvot are fun. Just talk to some friends who spend Shabbat with the family, or regularly communicate with their Creator, or study Jewish books on an ongoing basis. More often than not they'll tell you they enjoy doing these mitzvot.
For those of us who still might consider all of this totally incomprehensible, the following story will hopefully clarify the issue:
A beggar went from house to house collecting money. Day after day, hour after hour, he trudged not only up and down the streets of his little village, but up and down the steps of the fancy homes or apartment buildings whence he collected the money.
"Someday, when I am rich and powerful, I will make a rule that no houses can have their front doors above street level and all apartment buildings must have elevators," thought the beggar boldly. "What's more, I will have all of the houses that do not fit this description rebuilt. In this way, when I go begging from house to house and apartment to apartment, it will be much easier for me and I won't become so tired."
What is the problem with the poor man's logic? He is so entrenched in his lifestyle of begging that he cannot fathom that when he is rich and powerful he will no longer need to beg!
Similarly, because we are so entrenched in our material lives, where holiness, spirituality and G-dliness are so hidden, we try to superimpose our mundane attitudes onto life in the Messianic Era.
By learning more about the Messianic Era and cultivating an appreciation in the here and now for Torah and mitzvot, we will begin to live the Redemption and thus hasten the age of peace, harmony and good for all mankind that we all intrinsically want.
The Torah portion of Shoftim contains the verse: "And if a Levite comes...with all his desire to the place which the L-rd shall choose, then he shall serve in the name of the L-rd his G-d, as all his brothers the Levites do."
As Rashi explains, in the times of the Holy Temple, the kohanim (priests, from the tribe of Levi) were divided into 24 groups, each of which was assigned a specific time to come to Jerusalem and perform the holy service. However, as the above verse teaches, even if a kohen were to come to the Temple out of turn, he is permitted to offer his own sacrifice and perform the specific service associated with it.
Moreover, if it happens to be one of the three major Festivals, he is allowed to participate in the communal sacrifices together with the rest of his brethren.
The reason: If a kohen is willing to abandon all his other affairs and travel to Jerusalem for the specific purpose of serving G-d, the Torah grants him this merit regardless of whether he is actually obligated to do so, or it is officially his "turn."
As Maimonides explains, in our times every Jew has the ability to serve G-d as a "Levite." When a Jew resolves to turn aside from worldly matters and dedicate himself to serving G-d, it is similar to the service of the Levites, who were distinguished from other Jews in that they did not receive a portion of land and served G-d exclusively.
The name Levi alludes to this special level of connection to G-dliness, as our Matriarch Leah declared after giving birth to him, "Now this time will my husband be joined to me [y'laveh, from the same Hebrew root as Levi]."
Maimonides further explains that when a Jew genuinely resolves to serve G-d, he becomes sanctified with the very highest level of holiness, i.e., that of the High Priest. "G-d becomes his portion and inheritance forever," Maimonides writes. In the same way that the Levites were not permitted to work for a living and were provided with all their needs by others, so too will a person who makes up his mind to serve G-d be given Divine assistance, enabling him to carry out his resolution for good. In other words, the very act of resolving to attain the level of kohen gives the Jew the potential strength and ability to do so.
When a Jew demonstrates this willingness for self-sacrifice, it doesn't matter whether it is his "turn" or not. G-d will grant him the ability and merit to perform his holy service joyfully and with gladness of heart.
Adapted from a talk on the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul 5747 and 3 Elul 5748
My "Fair" Lady
By Tzvi Jacobs
Scene 1: September 3, 1980, at the King Solomon Cemetery in Clifton, New Jersey
A leaf, still green with life, settled at the foot of the stone. Jack Cohen, devoted husband, loving father: Rosilin stood before the stone and sighed. It seemed like the first time she stopped in 15 years.
"You're too young to remain unmarried," said a voice from behind her.
Rosilin looked up. "Oh, please, Rabbi. I'm not ready to remarry. But if I meet a nice man, I just hope he comes from a traditional Jewish family.
Indeed, two afternoons a week and on Sunday mornings, Rosilin and Jack's sons had attended Hebrew school. Jack worked like a slave, often seven days a week, to support his family and keep his slipcover business turning a profit. But by the summer of 1965, Rosilin and Jack were seeing the fruits of their labors. Their 17-year-old son had just finished Hillside High and was accepted into MIT. His 16-year-old brother also excelled in his studies, a real math whiz. MIT was expensive and soon they would have two college tuitions hanging over their heads, but Rosilin had it figured out. She would again work full-time as a bookkeeper. Jack, however, worked and worried more than ever.
It was too much pressure and, on June 25, 1965, Jack died from a massive heart attack.
Rosilin quit her job as a bookkeeper, and took over Jack's slipcover business. She didn't want to be away from home, so she ran the business from her basement. She hired a slipcover cutter - to take over the strenuous work that Jack had done - and gave the cuttings to the women employees to sew into custom-made slipcovers. After a while, Rosilin realized that draperies were easier to make, so she made draperies. Eventually, the business grew into a successful "window treatments" company.
Scene 2: That same afternoon, at the Jewish Renaissance Fair in Morristown, New Jersey
Jerry Clark walked by a table at the fair and gazed at the velvet bags. It awakened dusty memories of the shul in the Bronx where he had celebrated his Bar Mitzva, some 40 years earlier.
"Sir, would you like to put on tefilin?" asked the yeshiva student manning the tefilin table.
"Oh, no thanks. I don't put them on."
"Doing this mitzva will bring you mazel," the student said. Jerry probably looked a little down and out. With his daughter away at college and his son in medical school, and divorced from his wife, Jerry spent too many evenings alone.
"It's a very special mitzva and it will only take a minute..."
"Oh, why not." Jerry extended his arm and the student wrapped the leather strap around his arm and placed the other box on his head. Jerry felt connected to the Source and prayed quietly.
The music, the food, chatting with the students, it was a full day, a good Labor Day weekend after all, Jerry thought to himself. Oh, no, Labor Day. He had promised Sandy Silverstein, the JCC director, that he would attend the Labor Day Singles Dance that evening. Drive from Morristown back to Fort Lee and then to West Orange JCC for the dance.
Scene 3: That Sunday evening
"Rosilin, hi. Tonight's the dance. You're going, aren't you?"
"Sorry, Sarah, I'm exhausted. I just returned from the cemetery."
"But you must go! Please, my car won't start and I need a ride. I've been looking forward to this party all summer."
It was the first time Rosilin had ever attended one of these singles events. They arrived late. All the tables were full, so the staff set up a table in the back.
Another latecomer arrived and was also seated with them.
"What's your name?" he asked.
"I'm also Cohen. But my father changed it to Clark. So now I'm a Clark, Jerry Clark."
Rosilin liked Jerry. Rosilin went out with Jerry twice a week from then on. After three years, Jerry wanted to get more serious.
"Listen, I'm 18 and you're 25," she joked with a youthful laugh, "but I'm still from the old school. If you are really interested, buy me a ring." On June 24, 1984, Jerry and Rosilin married.
Sixteen years later, on Labor Day, 2000, I met Rosilin and Jerry at the Jewish Renaissance Fair in West Orange, New Jersey, and they told me their Fair story. "And we are still together after all these years," Rosilin concluded.
"And I wear my tefilin every day. You see," Jerry said, smiling at Rosilin, "it has brought me the best of mazel."
The 23rd annual Jewish Renaissance Fair, which includes booths, Judaica Arts & Crafts, a stunt show, rides, children's entertainment and more, will take place on Sunday, September 2 at South Mountain Reservation in West Orange, New Jersey. For more info call 973-731-0770 or log onto www.jewishfair.com
The Beth Haya Mouchka Girls School in Paris, France, will soon be celebrating their first anniversary in their new, state-of-the-art facilty. The seven-story, 15,000 square meter complex features 75 classrooms, nursery facilities, a commercial kitchen, library, gymnasium and three playgrounds. Enrollment is presently at 1,300, with 450 of those students bussed in from various regions, some as far as 11/2 hours away.
High Holiday Competition
This year, children can enter a special contest encouraging them to participate in the mitzvos of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah. Thanks to the ingenuity of Tzivos Hashem, the largest Jewish children's organization in the world, kids under the age of Bar and Bat Mitzva will have added incentive to celebrate the Jewish holidays this fall. The grand prize winner will be awared a ticket to Israel or $700 worth of Judaica at eichlers.com. Fifteen second prize winners will be awarded scooters and third and fourth prizes will be awarded as well. To receive a brochure contact your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center or visit www.tzivos-hashem.org
In the Month of Elul
Chodesh Horachamim [the month of mercy], 5733
To the Boys and to the Girls
Participants in the Tzedoko [charity] Campaign
G-d bless you
Greeting and Blessing:
I was pleased to be informed that you fulfilled my request to act as my agents in the Mitzvah [commandment] of Tzedoko [charity] connecting it with a word of Torah, and adding to it your own Tzedoko.
Needless to say, in every case of doing a Mitzvah there is no place for a "Thank you" from a human being, since doing the Mitzvah in fulfillment of G-d's will is itself the greatest reward and truest happiness, and as our Sages of blessed memory declared: "The Reward of a Mitzvah is the Mitzvah itself."
However, it is in order to express thanks for acting as my agents in this joint effort and for this I say: Thank you very much to each and every one of you.
I also take this opportunity, as we have entered the month of Elul, to remind you of the special significance of the month, the Month of Divine Grace in preparation for Rosh Hashonoh and for the entire coming year, may it be a good one for all of us.
The Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism] explains the special significance of this month by means of the well-known parable of a "King in the field;"
"When a King approaches the city of his royal residence the people of the city go out to welcome the king in the field. Then everyone who wishes is permitted to come and greet the king and he receives everybody graciously and with a smiling face. But after he enters his Royal Palace special permission is required to see the king and this also is the privilege of a chosen few."
This, then, is the significance of the whole month of Elul, when the King of Kings, the Holy One Blessed be He, makes known that He is "in the field" and everyone - man, woman, boy and girl can come to Him without difficulties, or special introductions.
But - one may ask - what is the meaning of approaching the King in the field, since G-d has no likeness of a body, nor a body and as the Torah warns, "You have not seen any image (of G-d)?"
Therefore the Alter Rebbe goes on to explain that this approach has to do with prayer, for prayer in general and in the days of Elul in particular is an occasion concerning which is written, "May G-d cause His face to shine upon thee" - face to face - the person praying standing directly in the presence of the King, as in the parable above.
And the Alter Rebbe adds, that in order that such closeness be truly meaningful in a lasting and tangible way, it must be followed by actual study of Torah, by Tzedoko and Good Deeds.
May G-d grant that each and every one of you should go from strength to strength in all matters of Goodness and Holiness, Torah and Mitzvos, and be a source of pride and true Nachas [pride] to your parents and teachers, and may you make fullest use of the auspicious days of this month and be inscribed for a good and sweet year materially and spiritually.
With the blessing of kesivo vechasima tovah [may you be written and sealed for good],
Positive mitzva 98: defilement of food and drink
By this injunction we are commanded to deal with uncleanness of food and drink (in reference to the Sanctuary and its holy objects) in accordance with the prescribed rules. It is derived from the Torah's words (Lev. 11:34): "Of all food which may be eaten, that on which such water comes shall be unclean; and all drink that may be drunk in every such utensil shall be unclean."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat afternoon we return to Chapter 6 of Ethics of the Fathers. In the Midrash, this Chapter is referred to as "Kinyan Torah," literally the "Acquisition of Torah."
What does acquisition mean? What are the dynamics behind it?
"Acquisition" occurs when an object is transferred from the domain of the seller to the domain of the buyer. The ownership of the object changes, but the thing itself remains essentially the same.
"Acquiring Torah" operates under the same principle. The Torah, unchanged and immutable, is brought to a place where it was previously unknown. The locations all differ, and some may actually be quite distant, but the Torah itself being conveyed remains the same.
The service of bringing Torah to all parts of the world began primarily in the sixth millennium after Creation. (We are now in the year 5761.) In previous generations, only the Nigleh (revealed) portions of Torah were revealed, whereas the Penimiyut (inner, esoteric) portions were accessible only to rare individuals in a generation. The inner part of Torah had not yet been brought down into the domain of the human intellect, and was thus not "acquired" by the average Jew.
It was only in the sixth millennium (particularly in the latter half) that it became, in the words of the Arizal, "a mitzva to reveal this wisdom." With the advent of Chasidism, the mystical teachings of Torah could be absorbed by the human mind, and its "wellsprings" transmitted to even the most remote locations on earth.
The process of "acquiring Torah" will reach its ultimate fulfillment in the Messianic era, when the entire world will be suffused and permeated with the Torah's wisdom. At that time, "The glory of the L-rd will be revealed, and all flesh shall see that the mouth of G-d has spoken."
May we merit to see this immediately.
For a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise (chacham), and perverts the words of the righteous (Deut. 16:19)
The Torah offers a slightly different version in Exodus 23:8: "For the bribe blinds the wise (pikchim), and perverts the words of the righteous." What is the difference between the two? A "chacham" refers to someone who is learned in Torah; a pikei'ach is one who is wise in worldly affairs. Accepting a bribe has the effect of distorting both kinds of knowledge.
The first fruits of your grain...shall you give him (Deut. 18:4)
As Rashi explains, "This refers to the teruma contribution set aside for the priests. [The Torah] does not specify any amount, but our Rabbis said that a person of good will gives one in forty." Symbolically, "one in forty" is an allusion to Yom Kippur. Moses ascended Mount Sinai on the 1st of Elul, where he remained for 40 days, until Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is thus the most auspicious time of this 40-day period.
For man is like a tree of the field (Deut. 20:19)
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chasidism, once remarked to a Torah scholar during his first private audience: "The Torah states, 'For man is like a tree of the field.' A tree that does not bear fruit is a barren tree. A person can be fluent in the entire Talmud and still be 'barren,' G-d forbid. A Jew must produce 'fruit.' For what benefit is there in your learning and Divine service if you do not bear 'fruit' - if you do not cause your light to shine upon another Jew?"
The month of Elul
Every month on the Jewish calendar has its own personal "trait": the trait associated with Elul, the month of repentance, is "nitzachon" - victory. Every Jew faces a constant battle in the quest to maintain holiness. We succeed in conquering our Evil Inclination only with G-d's help, which we merit by being kind to others.
(Likutei HaShas Meha'Arizal; the Talmud)
Reb Nachum and Reb Gedalya were the two wealthiest citizens in their respective counties. Thus, when a match was arranged between the two families it was the talk of the town.
Several weeks passed as preparations were made for the celebration, an event that was already being referred to as "the" social event of the year if not the decade. Then, all of a sudden, a rumor began to circulate that Reb Nachum, the father of the bride, had lost his fortune.
Eventually the bitter truth came out: Reb Nachum had been forced to declare bankruptcy. Not only had he lost his personal wealth but he had even had to sell his house to appease his creditors. With nowhere else to go the family moved into a tiny apartment paid for by the community.
When Reb Gedalya heard the news he immediately sent a messenger to Reb Nachum with a letter expressing his sympathy. Reb Nachum's reversal of fortune sincerely touched his heart. At the same time, it was obvious to him that the match between their children could no longer take place; it was simply a mistake to be remedied as soon as possible.
However, what was obvious to Reb Gedalya was not all that obvious to Reb Nachum. "A match is a match," he insisted, refusing to back out of the agreement. "It should have nothing at all to do with financial considerations."
When the messenger returned to Reb Gedalya with Reb Nachum's reply his compassion quickly turned to anger. Without a moment's delay he set out for Reb Nachum's house, taking with him all of his son's engagement gifts so he could return them.
Reb Nachum, however, was equally adamant in person about refusing to annul the match. "It's not my fault I lost all my money!" he exclaimed. " 'A person who sinned under compulsion, G-d exempts from punishment.' "
Reb Gedalya thought long and hard about his frustrating dilemma; then an idea occurred to him. "How about a third party making the decision?" he asked. "The famous tzadik, Rebbe Chaim of Sanz, lives not far from here. Let us go to him together, tell him what happened and follow his advice."
Reb Nachum was unmoved. "I am not calling off the match under any circumstances. It would never have been agreed to if it were not decreed from on high. If you want to go to the tzadik, fine. But I'm not going anywhere." Annoyed, Reb Gedalya had no choice but to make the trip alone.
It was late Friday afternoon when he arrived in Sanz. Although the Rebbe did not usually receive visitors so close to Shabbat, an exception was made for Reb Gedalya, whose acts of charity were legendary.
It is most likely that the tzadik was already aware of Reb Gedalya's story, as there was almost no one in the region who hadn't heard it. Nonetheless, he listened attentively as Reb Gedalya poured out his tale of woe.
The Rebbe was silent for a few minutes before responding. "You are very lucky to have come here," he finally said. "However, as it is almost Shabbat, it is too late now to discuss it any further. Why don't you stay here as my guest, and after Shabbat we will continue this conversation."
Reb Gedalya left the Rebbe's presence greatly encouraged and in a hopeful mood. The tzadik had listened to his every word and seemed to agree with him. Surely he would rule in his favor; hadn't he told him that he was "very lucky"? Reb Gedalya spent a delightful Shabbat in the Sanzer Rebbe's courtyard.
Right after Havdala, Reb Gedalya was again admitted into the tzadik's chamber. With awe and trepidation he awaited the Rebbe's pronouncement.
"Reb Gedalya," the Sanzer Rebbe told him, "I want you to leave immediately for Reb Nachum's house and deliver the following message:
Tell him that although he agreed to pay for half of the wedding, as he does not have even a penny left to his name, you, Reb Gedalya, will be happy to pay for the entire celebration, which will take place on the date already agreed upon."
After Reb Gedalya had recovered from his shock he surprised himself by daring to ask for an explanation. "But Rebbe!" he stammered. "I don't understand. Didn't you tell me that I was 'very lucky'?"
The Rebbe looked directly into Reb Gedalya's eyes and smiled. "I guess you didn't understand my intention," he said. "I meant that you are very lucky that it is you who has come to me and not your future in-law, Reb Nachum. Can you imagine how you would feel if it were the other way around, if the wheel of fortune had turned for you instead of him?"
Indeed, Reb Gedalya's son and Reb Nachum's daughter were wed in a good and auspicious time. And the Sanzer Rebbe himself conducted the ceremony.
Do not think that the Messianic King will have to perform signs and wonders and bring about novel things in the world, to resurrect the dead, and other such things. It is not so...[Whoever adds or diminishes anything, or interprets the Torah to change the plain sense of the commandments, is surely an imposter, wicked, and a heretic.]
(Chapter 11 of Maimonides' Laws Concerning Kings in Mishne Torah. The bracketed lines appears only in the early edition and were then omitted by Christain censors.)