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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
by Rabbi Yosef Y. Jacobson
When I was a teenager, I spent my summers as a counselor at a camp in the Catskill Mountains, encouraging my campers to engage in water fights, pillow fights, and other illegal sports, which would leave them with a summer they wouldn't forget.
This summer, too, thousands of young Jewish teenagers around the world are enjoying their summer, having a blast as only 18-year-olds know how to.
But this is not the case in Israel. There, tens of thousands of youngsters of the same age - 18, 19, 20 - are confronted with a different reality.
At the time of the writing of this article, 40 IDF soldiers have been killed and dozens others have been wounded since July 12th, when Hizbullah launched a surprise, vicious war against Israel, kidnapping two soldiers, killing another eight, and launching thousands of rockets on Israeli cities and towns.
Israeli parents send their children to serve in the IDF, knowing that they may never return. For these parents, IDF is not a courageous acronym, a military might; the IDF consists of their children, infinitely precious and irreplaceable. When one of these soldiers is lost, the life of his loved ones is transformed forever. A hole is opened in the heart of a family, never to be filled.
"Shall your brothers go out to battle while you settle here?" are the words Moses thunders (Num. 32:6) to the Jewish tribes who wished to settle the eastern side of the Jordan River and not enter with their brethren into the West Bank. How can you justify to yourself, Moses was asking, that while your brothers will be at war, you will be sitting in your vineyards, meditating and munching grapes?
3,300 years later, we can still hear Moses' question reverberating through our hearts. "Shall your brothers go out to battle while you settle here?" Are we not one family? Are we not one people? Why is it that some Jewish children end up spending their summers in leisure, while others - no less holy or virtuous - end up in the killing fields of Gaza and Lebanon?
I don't know the answer. Fate places different people in different circum-stances, and it does not always seem fair. In 1938, at age five, my father watched the Soviet police take his father away. The communists sentenced my grandfather, Simon Yakobashvili, to 25 years in Krasnoyarsk for the "crime" of reviving Jewish awareness in the "communist paradise." That moment defined my father's life in ways more than one.
Why did my father go through what I never had to? Again, I don't know. But I do know that each of us has been given our own opportunities and challenges, within our own timeline in history and circumstances unique to us, and we have been charged with the mission of making a difference in our corner of the planet.
Nothing can compare to the commitment, sacrifice and holiness of our soldiers, who physically give their lives to protect their people and their land from an enemy craving to annihilate Israel. Their example must challenge us, at the least, to ask ourselves: Are we committed to our mission in this world with the diligence, zest and sacrifice personified by our brothers in the tanks and trenches?
"Shall your brothers go out to battle while you settle here?" You and I must ask ourselves at such times. Just because I live in the US, am I absolved of the line of duty? We, every single Jew, are connected to Israel in a million knots; only our bodies have been exiled from that land two millennia ago, but the Jewish soul still resides in Eretz Yisrael, in the Land of Israel. An organic and intimate connection exists between every Jew and Israel.
At such times, the entire nation must be mobilized. Mobilization means not only giving money; mobilization is directing one's essence to accomplish a single goal: achieving victory over a ruthless enemy seeking the obliteration of our people. Just as our soldiers are currently battling with all their heart and soul, so too must we increase our spiritual warfare, through the study of Torah and the observance of mitzvot; through prayer, charity and acts of goodness; through expressing solidarity without reservation. With G-d's help, we will triumph.
Rabbi Yosef Y. Jacobson, a world renowned orator and editor-in-chief of the international Yiddish-English weekly "The Algemeiner Journal" (www.algemeiner.com), has lectured to audiences in six continents and forty states. To receive his weekly internet essays on Judaism, mysticism and psychology, please e-mail: YYJ@Algemeiner.com
The Torah portion of Re'ei, illustrates the great power that teshuva, or returning to G-d, can have. This is illustrated in the section about the "town that was led astray."
In general, the Torah is very stringent when it comes to laws concerning idolatry. Indeed, idol worship is one of the three transgressions, along with incest and murder, for which we are required to give up our lives rather than transgress. And in certain circumstances, the Torah decrees capital punishment for those who worship idols. Re'ei discusses the possibility of an entire town that has been lead astray and is engaging in this transgression, and refuses to repent of its evil. In such a case, the entire village is obliterated from the face of the earth.
Maimonides explained that if the inhabitants do teshuva and return to the One True G-d, then of course the town is not destroyed.
There is something very unique about this law. In every other instance of wrongdoing where a beit din (Jewish court) is empowered to mete out punishment, the sinner's repentance has no bearing on, and in no way prevents, the sentence from being carried out. But in the case of the "town which was led astray," if the people do teshuva the town is allowed to remain in existence.
The explanation for this lies in the special category which is created by the "town which was led astray." When an entire populace is misled to serve false gods, the town attains the status of an idolatrous community. No longer are the inhabitants viewed as individuals who are sinning, but rather the entire community, as a community, is considered as deserving the harsh punishment entailed in the Torah. But if all the people sincerely repent, they revert to their former status as individuals and are no longer in this special category, and their town therefore avoids having to be destroyed.
This underscores the immense power of repentance, which can nullify even the harshest of decrees. We also learn from this chapter, if albeit in a negative fashion, the power inherent in unity. When we stand united and dedicate ourselves to good and positive causes, we can attain great heights. Conversely, when a group of people join together and unite to do evil, it causes the greatest damage and destruction.
The Jewish People draw their solidarity from the fact that all of us, all over the world, comprise one entity. We are likened to one soul which is divided and then put into the several million physical bodies which we inhabit. True repentance therefore reveals a Jew's inherent unity with his fellow Jews and with G-d Himself.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
The Asheris Mourn their Son Eliyahu
by Ezra HaLevi, News Editor www.ArutzSheva.com
Nestled on a hillside in the Shomron village of Itamar, Miriam and Yitro Asheri, parents of Eliyahu, who was kidnapped and murdered, sit on the low chairs of mourners in their living room.
Seated facing them are Public Security Minister Avi Dichter and their neighbor Rabbi Avi Ronsky - the incoming IDF Chief Rabbi - along with several family members and friends who have come to participate in the traditional mourning.
Both mother and father are soft-spoken, but Yitro looks in Dichter's eyes and asks earnestly, "The land belongs to the Jewish nation; when will we begin to act accordingly?"
Miriam recalls her final moments with her son, including shared words, anecdotes and more distant memories. "Parents should know that every Sabbath eve, when they bless their children, it is a celebration of the gift that G-d has granted you in the past week of having the miracle that is each child," she tells a neighbor who has come to comfort her.
In Eliyahu's last conversation with his parents, he mentioned that he had accidentally said vidui, a confessional prayer, on Sunday afternoon, forgetting that it is not recited on the eve of Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the Jewish month. Jews do, however, recite the prayer on their deathbed. "The soul knows everything," Yitro says.
The Asheris have lived in Itamar for 14 years. Eliyahu was an indigenous member of the Itamar community, hiking every corner of the region while losing some friends to the frequent terrorist attacks that have plagued the small town.
Today his friends mope about the Asheris' yard, watching the older visitors talk about Eliyahu with his parents. "He made you literally joyous just by being near him," a neighbor told Yitro. "The vacuum without him is so strong."
Eliyahu decided to leave high school a year early and take his matriculation exams while at the Elisha pre-military academy near N'vei Tzuf. Yitro believes his son underwent a transformation during his year at Elisha.
"He just kept removing mask after mask, searching deeper into himself for the genuine real Eliyahu," Yitro said. He recalls his son's struggles and growth with the admiration of a father who succeeded in teaching his son to emulate his search and not necessarily his destination. "The irrigated olive tree cannot be compared to the tree that strives for its water," he says. "Eliyahu struggled for knowledge and dealt with the toughest questions that a human being can face."
The Sabbath before his murder, the entire Asheri family was together in Itamar. "It was supposed to just be a small thing to celebrate finishing his first year at mechina (pre-military academy), but his older sister said, 'No way can it just be a small thing,' and everyone came to the house for Shabbat. In hindsight, it was our parting Shabbat with him."
After Shabbat, Eliyahu left his home to speak with a close confidant in the town of Beitar Illit. He left Beitar at 7 p.m. Sunday to head toward his mechina, where he and his classmates were to embark on an end-of-the-year hike in northern Israel.
At the Ofrah hitching post Eliyahu was seen getting into a van. The Arab man driving the van was dressed like a religious Jew. The driver took an early turn toward Bir Zeit. Bir Zeit is home to one of the Palestinian Authority's main universities, built with help from the Israeli government in the hope that it would breed moderation.
Immediately, Asheri was brutally murdered. The terrorists buried him hastily under loose dirt and large stones.
"We have our pain," says Yitro, "but we know that G-d has a job for Eliyahu; that He needs him closer for something much more important. We must truly accept the bad just as we thank Him for the good."
"He was in the synagogue at N'vei Dekalim," [one of the communities destroyed last summer during the "disengagement"] his father recalls. "And you know what is most remarkable about Eliyahu? The intense fiery prayer that took place in that synagogue - imagine that kind of prayer three times a day. That was Eliyahu."
Prayer is a theme that inevitably came up in every eulogy at Eliyahu's funeral. Friends and family all recalled the fervor and earnest way with which he prayed and spoke of the power of prayer.
The family read an essay Eliyahu wrote at his funeral, which they say is a letter he left for all the Jewish people. The following is a translation:
"The prayer that you pray three times each day brings you closer to the Master of the World, connecting you each time anew. When you rise in the morning, look around and see how wonderful this world G-d gave you is and thank Him for it....
"The importance of prayer is the utmost, such that prayer replaced the Temple sacrifices, which were said to give G-d 'satisfaction' (Lev. 1:9). There is the tradition that when Moses was told by G-d that he would not enter the Land of Israel, he prayed before Him 515 prayers to be allowed to enter the Land... until G-d told him to stop praying, because He had decreed that Moses would not enter. He allowed him to pray because He desired his prayers and desires the prayer of all righteous people.
"It is written 'Your nation are all righteous,' so pray, because you are righteous and G-d desires your prayers....
"We must 'Perfect the world under the Kingdom of the Almighty.' The first thing the Nation of Israel must do is perfect ourselves, to become an example to the nations of the world. How do we fix ourselves? Through prayer and return to true service of G-d, because when you are real with yourself and are true in your way, others will go after you. ..."
Reprinted with permission from Arutz Sheva
Tehillim to Soldiers
In response to the current situation in Israel, and in accordance with the Rebbe's directive to increase in Torah study, prayer and tzedakah during such times, the Lubavitch Youth Organization in Israel has printed one million pocket editions of Tehillim (Psalms of David), which will be distributed first to soldiers and to residents of northern Israel and the western Negev and later in other parts of the country.
Chassidim who are bringing aid, comfort and spiritual encouragement in the form of the mitzvah campaigns to the soldiers and to residents in bomb shelters had reported many requests for Tehillim that could be easily carry at all times. The pocket-sized copies are distributed free of charge. It is a Jewish custom to recite Tehillim in times of distress.
From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
...With regard to the question of leaving one's eyes to an eye-bank after 120 years, or similar bequests, I am of course reluctant to discuss this subject, since this whole matter is of no immediate concern to you at all, inasmuch as you have many, many years to live and to fill them with productive and joyful activities, etc. However, since you have already raised this question, and in view of the fact that there are various miscon-ceptions about it which have gained currency, I cannot pass over this question without telling you that there is a clear and distinct Psak-din [Jewish legal ruling], which leaves no doubt as to what the position of our holy Torah and religion is in regard to this matter. It is that not only is the neshomo [soul] - "Verily, a part of G-dliness Above" in the words of the Tanya, but also the body of a Jew is sacred and is the property of G-d, while the Jew is no more than a guardian of it.
This position explains also many dinim (rules) relating to the body, having to do with hygiene and the like, which are also part of our Torah. Thus, the halacha [Jewish law] rules explicitly that one must not mutilate, G-d forbid, something which belongs to G-d, and which has been placed in the care of a person as guardian and keeper. For the same reason, our Sages of blessed memory have been so strict in the matter of mutilating dead bodies. In those exceptional cases, which are very rare, where an exception was made to the rule, it was because of special reasons, which in no way diminished the sanctity and inviolability of the body, as G-d's property, but only because under special circumstances, G-d Himself has permitted, certain isolated exceptions, in which case it is the Owner's will that is being carried out, namely G-d's will.
Now to refer to your last question in the order of appearance in your letter, though in my opinion, it is first and foremost, as well the most practical one, namely the question of where you should continue your higher learning.
You have no doubt heard of my position on such a question, which I have reiterated many times, and is based on the fact that an educational institution, regardless of its character, and regardless of the student's purpose, has a twofold influence, namely in the area of knowledge "accumulation," as well as in influencing the character, views and beliefs of the students, to the extent of having an impact also on the observance of mitzvoth, etc. Clearly the second aspect of an educational institution is not less important than the first, and perhaps much more important, especially in our day and age where the outside influences are unfortunately negative, while the home influence is no longer as exclusive as it used to be. There is no need to go into the factors which have brought about the present state of affairs, but the facts are there.
In light of the above, it is my considered opinion that insofar as the continuation of your studies is concerned, even if you remain close to your home under the good influence of your parents and home atmosphere, it is important that you should study in an institution wherein the influence in regard to Torah and mitzvoth is a positive one. According to my knowledge, a good institution on this level in England is the Gateshead Seminary for Girls Certainly if you plan to study outside England, I would recommend either the Bais Rivka Seminary near Paris, or the one in Kfar Chabad, or the Bais Yaakov Seminary in Jerusalem or Bnei Brak. The other institutions which you mention are, in my opinion, completely unsuitable for you, especially in the light of the situation as it has developed lately, and where no improvement seems likely in the near future, in the natural order of things, but perhaps a deterioration. The subject is too painful to discuss in detail.
I wish to add a further point, which I think is also essential. Our Sages of blessed memory have emphasized the fact that all Jews are like one big family, and consequently the private life of every member, as well as the career or profession one chooses, and how one utilizes one's capacities, etc., are not the private concern of the individual, since they affect, more or less, every member of this family, and the Jewish people as a whole. If this has always been true, it is especially true in our time, particularly in regard to the Jewish youth, and more particularly those, like yourself, whom G-d has endowed with a special gift and capacity to work in the field of chinuch [Jewish education], that is to say, to influence other youngsters by instruction and education, in addition to being a living example. Moreover, good influence on a youngster, as I have emphasized this many times before, is like doing something beneficial to a seed or seedling, where even a slight benefit at that early stage is eventually compounded into great benefits, not to mention a great benefit to begin with.
Knowing your parents and your background, I think that it is unnecessary for me to further elaborate to you on all the above.
May G-d, whose benevolent Providence extends to each and everyone individually, guide you in your choosing the right way in life....
Hoping to hear good news from you in all above,
Why is the shofar sounded during the entire month of Elul (except Shabbat)?
Maimonides explains that the shofar is blown as a means of stirring the Jew to repentance. He says that the shofar calls out, "Awaken you sleepers from sleep, you slumberers from slumber: search your action and return in penitence." On the morning before Rosh Hashana the shofar is not blown so as to differentiate between the shofar sounding of Elul which is custom and that of Rosh Hashana which is a mitzva (commandment). Moses ascended Mt. Sinai to receive the second set of Tablets on Elul 1. A shofar was sounded to remind the Jews not to sin (as they had done when Moses was on Sinai receiving the first Tablets). The Shofar recalls Moses' ascent, Israel's repentance and G-d's forgiveness.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
There is a famous story from the Midrash that relates to this week's Torah portion.
A very pious land-owner was punctilious about following the Torah's commandment to give one-tenth of his produce to the priests. When this righteous Jew saw his end approaching, he called his son and heir over to him and cautioned, "The Alm-ghty has always been generous with us. I have always given 100 of our 1000 bushels to the priests. You must make sure to do the same."
That year, at harvest-time, the son followed his father's wishes. He gave 100 of the 1000 bushels as the tithe. The following year, however, he decided to "save" a little, and gave only 90 bushels. The next year, strangely enough, the fields only produced 900 bushels. Having incurred such a tremendous loss, the son decided to only give 80 bushels that year. And, low and behold, the following year the fields only produced 800 bushels.
Year after year, this scene repeated itself, until the once lush and prosperous fields were only producing 100 bushels. The son had still not gotten the message. His friends and relatives tried to intervene. They went to visit the son dressed in festive clothes, bringing along food and wine.
"We have come to celebrate your good fortune," they said.
"You mock me and my change of fate," he told them angrily.
"No," they contradicted him. "We have come to celebrate your elevated state," they said somewhat sarcastically. "You see, in the past, your father gave 10% of his produce, 100 bushels, to the priests, and the rest remained for him. Now, it seems that G-d has elevated you to the status of priest. He is giving you the 100 bushels and keeping the rest for Himself."
No one ever became poor from giving charity. By giving charity we are assured that G-d's blessings will also be bestowed upon us generously.
For you are a holy people unto the L-rd your G-d (Deut. 14:2)
The Torah enjoins us: you should be a holy people of your own free will and under your own initiative. Do not leave the task of making you behave properly to the gentile nations, who will make you holy martyrs through their decrees and their persecutions.
And you will say, "I wish to eat flesh," because your soul longs to eat flesh (Deut. 12:20)
The desire to eat meat originates in a person's soul. What then, is the connection between the food that one eats to sustain the corporeal body and the desires of the spiritual, intangible soul? A Jew's G-dly soul "longs" to purify and elevate the spiritual sparks of holiness which are present in physical objects. The Torah states, "Not by (physical) bread alone shall a man live, but by each utterance of G-d (the G-dly spark which is hidden in it), shall a man live." Eating flesh, or eating bread, is just one way in which the concealed sparks in the physical world are purified by a Jew. The Baal Shem Tov explained that when a person gets a sudden desire to eat or drink a particular food or beverage, the reason is that his soul desires to elevate the spark within that food, as it states in Psalms, "Hungry and thirsty, their soul shall be enveloped in them."
And your eye be evil against your needy brother (Deut. 15:9)
If you look at your poor fellow Jew with an evil eye, searching for defects and sins in him in order to explain your own stinginess and unwillingness to help, then "he shall cry out to G-d against you, and it shall be a sin in you"- G-d will regard you accordingly, searching for your even graver transgressions and defects.
(Rabbi Shmelke of Nicholsberg)
The blessing, if you will listen to the commandments of G-d (Deut. 11:27)
Being able to listen to G-d's commandments is in itself a blessing. You should be able to hear and absorb G-d's words in your very soul.
(R. Shimshon Rafael Hirsch)
The King of Persia was ill. Though all his physicians tried to cure him, none succeeded. Finally, one physician declared that lion's milk was the only possible remedy.
The Persian ministers sent a message to King Solomon, known far and wide for his wisdom. They knew that if anyone could figure out how to procure milk from a lioness, it would be the wise King.
King Solomon chose the wise and courageous Benayahu ben Yehoyada to carry out the dangerous mission. Benayahu set out for a lioness's den, taking with him some servants and ten young goats. He approached the den and went close enough to be able to see that the lioness was nursing her cubs. At that point, Benayahu threw the beast one of the goats and watched with satisfaction as the lioness devoured it hungrily.
Each day Benayahu ventured a little closer to the lion's den, threw a goat, and watched as the lioness eyed him less and less warily. By the tenth day, Benayahu was standing at the lioness' side. The giant animal allowed Benayahu to touch her and even draw some milk.
Their mission accomplished, Benayahu and his servants returned home with the lion's milk for the ailing King of Persia.
The Persian royal messenger took the milk and set out on the long journey back to his native land. On the way, he lay down for a rest and fell asleep. He dreamt that various parts of his body were arguing, each one claiming credit for safely conveying the lion's milk.
"We went to fetch the milk from the Land of Israel and deliver it to the king," claimed the feet. "We are by far the most important."
"We are the ones who are actually carrying the milk," exclaimed the hands. "We have made sure that not a drop has spilled."
The tongue now spoke up. "I am the most important part of the body. Because of me, the king was able to articulate his request that someone bring him the lion's milk!"
Upon hearing these words, all the other parts of the body pounced on the little tongue and ridiculed it: "Who are you, smallest and least significant of us all? What is your strength compared to ours? You are altogether worthless."
But the tongue refused to be intimidated. "We will see who is the strongest when we stand before the king tomorrow!"
Shaken by this strange dream, the messenger woke up and hurried to complete his mission. When he arrived at the royal palace, he went before the Persian king and bowed deeply. "I have brought the dog's milk you requested," he announced.
"Dog's milk!" the king roared. Before the servant could utter another word, the king ordered him imprisoned, to be hung the next morning.
That night, the servant lay on the stone floor of his cell. Sleep did not come to him easily, but when it did, he had another strange dream. The parts of his body were continuing their argument from the previous day.
"Now you must truly admit that I am the most important part of the body," exclaimed the tongue happily. "If you admit that I am the most powerful, I will save you tomorrow." The entire body unanimously agreed that the tongue was, indeed, the most powerful part of the body.
When the servant awoke, he instinctively knew what he must do. On the following day, as he was being led to the gallows, he asked for one last privilege before he died: to be brought before the king once more.
When this wish was granted, the servant said, humbly, "Your majesty! I did truly bring you lion's milk, as you ordered. You see, we hunters sometimes refer to lions as dogs. Please, give me a chance. Drink the milk. If it cures you, then you will surely know that I tell the truth."
The king drank the milk and began to feel better immediately. Within no time, he had recovered. The messenger was awarded his life and became the living example of King Solomon's statement in Proverbs: "Life and death are up to the tongue."
"There are those who pray for the generation to repent. This is not proper, for it arouses Divine justice, G-d forbid. The proper approach is to evoke wonders and miracles for the sake of Israel. Then, the Jews will repent out of love for the miracles." The Divrei Emes