Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Chabad's Last Mission

A Jewish man who lives separated from his wife can accomplish a divorce by use of a messenger. The messenger needs only to get the wife to accept the document from him. He will then have successfully executed his role as messenger for the divorce.

An analogous event took place one Shabbat 19 years ago when the Lubavitcher Rebbe addressed his thousands of emissaries from around the world who gathered at his Brooklyn headquarters. These emissaries who serve as messengers of the Rebbe to disseminate his messages worldwide, who gather in Brooklyn for this annual meeting with their prolific leader, were shocked by the Rebbe's new marching orders. They were accustomed to the Rebbe's continual stark demands for extended outreach - but the gigantic nature of their new campaign now dwarfed whatever ambitious assignments were heaped upon them in years heretofore.

The Rebbe said they have from now on one main message to deliver, and that any other outreach to Jews they are involved with must be subsumed and secondary to the one main message. The new piece of information they must now deliver is this: That Jews must accept the Rebbe's role as Moshiach! That Moshiach has already been given this rank of redeemer but, as a king, he cannot yet function unless much of Jewry accept his kingship, without which a redemption cannot be forthcoming.

The Rebbe spoke clearly; "The solitary mission remaining ..." "The gate through which all other outreach must be channeled ..." "The year when the King Moshiach revealed himself ..." "The redeemer has already been given the go-ahead ..." "Everything you do must be penetrated with this one central idea ,,," "All Jews have already merited redemption," and "All that remains is for people to accept Moshiach for who he is!"

In plain words, God has already dispatched the Rebbe to redeem the Jewish people. The only duty that remains incumbent upon the people to accomplish this feat is to accept the messenger of God. The Rebbe wished to awaken his emissaries to a new turn of events, a turnabout, a world of new circumstances that his emissaries must from now on dwell on, to get Jews to accept the Rebbe as Moshiach. For he, as a king, needs a nation to nominate him, for him to lead them. "There is no king without a nation," we are often told in Chassidus. The king cannot force himself upon his people.

From that day on, the emissaries had their new work cut out for them. Yes, they could continue encouraging observation of commandments and continue talking Torah, but, in and of itself, these are now no longer main objectives - if they act as representatives of the Rebbe. What they can do, instead, is to continue these functions and explain how they can accelerate the Rebbe's revelation, and then broach the issue of Moshiach.

Any Chabad emissary who fails to make this main mission his priority, something that any Jew he meets can immediately sense and discern if in fact he lives up to it, then any other function with which he replaces his main mission, despite its lofty reach, is a mission unaccomplished. The litmus test of every Chabad emissary can easily be assayed by any Jew he reaches out to - did he allude to the Rebbe as Moshiach or is he avoiding the issue. It is a simple test.

Certainly such mystical news cannot be poured out in indiscreetly, to a mind that cannot yet fathom simpler religious aspects. But it must, nevertheless, serve as the core for which all endeavors are meant to expose.

For many emissaries this main mission is difficult to adjust to, particularly when he calculates that his financial backers might thereby find him unsuitable for "serious" consideration any longer. But here too the Rebbe had forewarned and informed his emissaries that "The world is ready", that people are, surprisingly enough, ready for this ostensibly irrational novelty. It is, anyhow, not for the emissary to allow his calculations to interfere with his mission otherwise he automatically disqualifies himself as the Rebbe's messenger.

Chabad's new - and only - mission is, in fact, Chabad's new and final mission; Its last hurdle to the finish line. Of all the Rebbe's "mitzvah campaigns", this one is the hardest, for obvious reasons. But it's not for his emissaries to decide on the agenda. This last mission is the toughest, a test, to be sure, and, despite occasional winds of resistance in a world accustomed to the prevalence of natural law, those loyal to the Rebbe follow through with gusto to deliver their supernatural message, albeit in a cogent, even rational manner.

So if you see a Chabad emissary (any Chabadnik thus qualifies) doing everything BUT driving this central point home, you can remind him by asking him what it was the Rebbe conscripted him for on that eventful Shabbat, Chayei-Sarah, 1992.

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Rebbe Story - Diamond Smuggling

These Rebbe stories are so plentiful, the saying in Chabad goes, they're rolling all over, even under the tables, that no one can bother picking them up. Here's one at Gruntig.net.

Huge Dolphin Pod Races Boats

The wonders of Hashem

If you enjoy wildlife, watch these dolphins having fun. It seems they are racing two boats. Four minutes of an exhilarating phenomenon.

(And if you haven't yet seen dolphins play "Solitaire", watch here.)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Windows of the Holy Temple

The openings, or "windows", in the stone wall of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem were constructed such that their dimensions expanded from inside to outside as they reached the outside of the thick wall; Much like a rectangular funnel, narrow on the inside and wide on the outside. If, for example, the opening on the inside of the wall measured 3 feet by 4 feet, its measurements at the outside of the wall were, say, 3.5 feet by 4.5 feet. Had you placed a ball on that window sill, near its inside edge, the ball would have rolled and fallen outside of the building.

In a normal dwelling, in those days, in a stone-walled home, in contrast, you'd expect the shape of the windows to widen from outside in, to project as much light as possible from the outside into the inside of the house.

So why then did the Temples' "windows" widen out from inside to outside? To indicate that the inner light of the Holy of Holies served to enlighten the outside world. God does not need His own light. People need it. Thus God's light, that which the Menorah symbolically stands for, fans out from the Temple to light up the outside world.

In fact, an aspect of the Menorah itself, inside the Holy of Holies, also suggested this same principle, by the direction of its goblet components. The Menorah's sculpture contained goblets, flowers and button-like shapes. According to Maimonides, who included a drawing of the Menorah in his writings (see here), the goblets were turned upside-down, with the wide edge turned down, and the narrow end, turned up; As if to indicate that that which the goblet contained - was meant to pour out.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Medicine's First Appearance in Torah

The Torah begins by saying the earth, prior to its formation, was in a state of "Tohu", תהו (verse 2). That is, it was in a state of mixture, or some state of amorphousness. It was, one can say, in a state of being "sick", in the sense that it needed a cure.

This condition had to be addressed and rectified. So G-d said, "Let there be light..." יהי אור (verse 3). This light became the cure for the "sickness".

Verse 3 contains 23 letters. But only 7 of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet make up these 23 letters of the verse. These 7 letters make up the two words, "אור" (= light) and "מילה" (= word), that is, the light of the mouth. The entire verse, in fact, speaks of the emission of light from the mouth; The light of healing.

The word in Hebrew for medicine is "רפואה". This word itself is comprised of letters that constitute the two words "אור פה", which means, "the light of the mouth". That is, the emission of the mouth. Just as G-d's light was the light of healing, there ought to be spiritual light coming out of the mouth of a good doctor.

(Heard during a talk given by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh of inner.org)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Taken from a Chabad journal (הקריאה והקדושה) distributed by the Previous Rebbe, written in 1941. Though written 70 years ago, its lesson rings true and loud today too!


The importance of associating Purim with democracy is, unfortunately, not well enough known among Jews. If all of us realized the importance of this great association, things might have been different for us and we would not be in such difficulties as we are in today!

A well-known Jewish idiom has it, that Purim is no holiday and fever is no sickness. Wise men know that this is true. Fever by itself is no sickness, it is merely a forewarning of a disease that is about to appear. Likewise, Purim alone is no holiday, but a reminder of Jewish troubles that may come, and the riddance of which will call for a day of rejoicing!

Purim was given us, as our Purim-scroll relates, to immortalize the causes which led to the "fast-and-prayer" miserable days that the Jews had to go through, during the time of Mordechai and Esther, and to serve as a warning to avoid similar miseries in the future.

Perhaps this too, is the reason why "Hallel" is not said during prayer-time on Purim as it is upon all other holidays which commemorate miraculous escapes for us; Purim is a warning, not only the celebration of a miracle! A warning not to bring down the curse of another "Haman" and another planned massacre upon us, heaven forbid.

At this point, we come to the relationship between Purim and democracy; the cause that brought on the Haman of old was the overdone Jewish love for world democracy, overdone because it took the place of religion.

For the first time in world history, king Ahasuaerus introduced something new in the world. He realized that he had more to gain from his 127 conquered countries by permitting them to go scot free, granting them complete autonomy and demanding nothing but tribute in exchange for all this than by oppressing them, thus making it necessary for him to suppress all sorts of revolutions. Until this king's time conquerors usually laid waste to a good portion of the lands that they captured. The majority of the populations of these countries were forced to migrate to distant lands in order that they should not rise in revolt as they might have had the courage to if permitted to remain at home. Only the weak, the poor and the ignorant ones were allowed to remain, to till the soil and work in the vineyards. Later on, prisoners of other conquered nations were moved in, just as Nebuchadnezzar did in our hold land.

Ahasuaerus introduced a revolutionary idea. He called a meeting of the leaders of all the conquered lands, proclaimed the law that each country shall enjoy complete autonomy, speak its own language, worship its own idols, and revere its own customs - democracy in the full sense of the word for the entire empire with its 127 countries. All that these countries had to do to enjoy this was to contribute toward the upkeep of this empire - pay taxes to the apex of this structure, Persia.

In those days this was a sensational event, a most unusual, revolutionary idea. It meant an end to all wars, to all destruction; a united mankind, a united states of Asia without wars, destruction and the necessity for each country to arm itself. People would pay taxes and be assured of a happy life. Even paying to their idols for national protection would no longer be necessary.

To all outer appearances, the other countries rejoiced with this. Inwardly, however, they cherished the hope that at some future, opportune time, they would cast off the Persian yoke. Only the Jews rejoiced more than anyone else. They were convinced that the world was progressing and that it was becoming so highly civilized that there was no longer any need for their religion; it was time to forget about the Torah entirely and become like all other nations, for under a democratic system there is no longer any need for the Godly protection. In all events, Jews would benefit from all the freedoms and would have no reason to fear anyone.

The appearance of Haman upon the scene has demonstrated, however, that what was good for all the 127 countries was no good for Jews. In spite of all the democracy a pogrom was quickly prepared, to massacre all Jews, men women and children and all the 127 countries agreed to it wholeheartedly.

In order to avoid in the future a repetition of any great love on the part of the Jews for any world-salvation, which might even be good for all others, the festival of Purim was proclaimed. It simply means, that Jews must not rejoice too much with any new orders which might be introduced as the other nations do, with any new economic systems, or with any new political innovations. These may be good for all others, but not for Jews without Torah. You may be sure that somewhere a Haman will arise who will see to it that the Jews don't benefit from these new world-gains, and the end will be that conditions for them will become even worse under this system for world-betterment. They will eventually realize that without the Torah, without their own Jewish salvation, and without their own kosher Jewish foods, everything must go against them. They may defile their souls by eating forbidden foods at strangers' tables without any benefit for their bodies and the only end possible is - new Jewish delicacies with which to celebrate the miracle by which they escaped a new, bloody massacre!

Purim serves to remind us, therefore, of the bad aftertaste left in our mouths as a result of the first democratic order introduced into the world, an aftertaste from which our modern, present-day Jews refuse to learn the necessary lesson. The American democracy just like the one of old, has caused many a Jewish soul to become defiled by the eating of non-kosher foods; Jews have permitted themselves to be led astray by the same foolish idea that in a democratic country there is no longer any need for fearing God, heaven forbid, and that it is time to regard the Torah as something which has outlived its usefulness. The result of this is already visible. Here, too, there are 127 nations, immigrants from countries all over the globe and here too, hatred is preached against no group except the Jewish one. Anti-semitism in America is on the upgrade. The government has already realized this and is continually warning the population against the spreading of race-hatred, which all know means anti-semitism, the modern form of "Hamanism". Only the Jews who possess the thousands year old warning not to bring upon themselves a new Haman by defiling their souls with forbidden edibles and the adoption of foreign ideologies, refuse to face the truth, and stop to think what results such actions can bring, heaven forbid!

No one can deny that democracy in any land is a good blessed thing. It is also good for the Jews because under it they are freer to practice their own religion than in any of the cruel totalitarian countries. Democracy in all countries of the world, as the free allied countries are trying to establish by the sacrifice of so much blood, certainly is a step in the right direction for all mankind in general, but it will avail the Jews nothing if they will regard this as a substitute for their Godly Torah and religion! This was the great mistake which the Jews made during the reign of Ahasuaerus. They were overjoyed with the new democracy and stopped thinking seriously about their Torah and religion. Later, they paid dearly for the forbidden food that they ate by living through a terrifying period, waiting for the massacre which was prepared for them. This is why we were given the Purim festival, to serve as a warning to us, never to repeat the same mistake, and if it fails in its purpose, then the reason for celebrating that past miracle becomes a hollow one instead of a holy one, and only proves that we remained the same frivolous fools as then.

Still more tragic and painful is the light-heartedness with which the Torah is regarded today, when the champions of world-democracy have just begun their fight to establish that system in the world and while they themselves are still not sure whether they will win that war or not, and because just now the worst "Haman" of all is raging against us, and for the very reason that we have celebrated so many Purims by rejoicing too frivolously with world democracy!

Let the Purim sober us up from our "democracy versus religion idea", let's remember that democracy without Judaism is even worse than Judaism without democracy because the former brings new "fast and prayer" days, for life, heaven forbid! One day after the triumph for world-democracy, some newly freed countries will not be ashamed to proclaim openly that democracy was not meant for the Jews any more than they were ashamed to announce it in the time of Ahasuaerus.

Without strict adherence to the Torah and commandments the fate of the Jews is a lamentable one even in time of democracy, and this is what the Purim teaches us.

If the struggle for democracy all over should be won, it would mean that each nation could remain as it formerly was, speak its own language, and live its own life. Surely it can not mean just the reverse for the Jewish nation, that they should be led to assimilate and to become that which they are not and must not be!

Democracy or no democracy, here or everywhere Jews must primarily remain Jews and never abandon their Torah. On the contrary, those who have strayed from the camp must return at once, unless they want to celebrate a new Purim, which means that the anticipated new democracy will first have brought them a new miracle to get rid of a newly planned massacre for them, heaven forbid!

The connection between Purim and democracy is, therefore, very strong and it is imperative that every Jew fully realize it before it becomes too late!

Democracy must be fought for by the Jews, as by all freedom-loving peoples, but it must not take the place of our loyalty to God, to the Torah and to our ancestral tradition!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Short Story of the Previous Rebbe

Aviv Keller, 93, a life-long resident of Rosh Pina, tells a story as if it happened yesterday. Despite his advanced age, Keller thinks clearly, articulates well, and remembers every detail of what happened 83 years ago. It was during the summer of 1929. The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Rebbe Rayatz, made then a rare visit to Israel.

The official aim of the visit was to pray at the graves of the righteous. Among other things, the Rebbe visited Tsfat, Meiron, Tiveria, Chevron, Bnei Brak, Petach Tikva, and more. The visit to the Cave of Machpelah in Chevron preceded the Arab pogrom by a few days.

Keller's story is a revelation, for never had it been logged into any official Chabad document.

On his trip to Tsfat, on the Yahrtzeit of the Arizal, the Rebbe's car broke down, forcing the driver to stop over at Rosh Pina. The place was next to Keller's uncle. "We had a family custom of gathering at my uncle's to have tea together," recalls Keller. "One day, when we sat and spoke calmly, a large car stopped here, a model that we never saw. One of the wheels had a problem, and they started to deal with it."

Keller continues: "Meanwhile, a respectable rabbi gets out of the car, and with him are about ten chassidim. We did not know him, but my grandfather, who merited to study in yeshiva as a youngster, said confidently, 'That's the Rebbe of Lubavitch', even though he never laid eyes on him before, but he did read the newspaper that reported the Rebbe's visit to Israel. I was 10 years old, but I remember every detail. This was an unusual incident."

The Rebbe introduced himself and asked if this was a Jewish family. "My grandfather ran to the doorway and pointed to the mezuzah, saying: 'Of course we are Jews'. He invited the Rebbe to enter the house. The Rebbe asked to pray Minchah, the afternoon prayer, and we joined him. After the prayer, my uncle gave the Rabbi a cup of tea. The Rebbe wore a long coat, made of special fabric.

"I remember as a kid I tried to touch the Rebbe, and he looked at me with a smile. Before leaving the house, he blessed grandfather with longevity, and turned too to look at each family member. The words of his blessing were, 'Live long lives and you should be healthy.'The blessing came true and still holds true", Keller says with a smile. "My uncle died at the age 96; grandfather died at 92; Grandmother outlived grandfather, and I, bli ayin hara, should live as long as God Almighty provides for me".

A Short Story of the Rebbe

Rabbi Nathan Vogel, an English jeweler, was a chassid of Chabad. In anticipation of the Rebbe's 70th birthday, the chassidim worked hard to establish many new institutions, as a birthday gift to the Rebbe. Accordingly, Rabbi Vogel himself decided to set up an institution.

He then started up a school for orthodox Jewish young men, one that teaches the art of setting diamonds. Among his students were also young men of Satmar persuasion. Rabbi Vogel then entertained thoughts it might be better to turn the school into a Chabad institution.

He traveled to the Rebbe and presented the Rebbe with his idea. The Rebbe emphatically rejected the suggestion, saying, "If this will be an institution that carries the name Chabad, it's possible a chassid of Satmar may not want to learn there. I do not want to take it upon myself that because of me a Jew would be prevented from acquiring a livelihood!"

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Rebbe's Letter on the Reform "Rabbinate" (1957)

By the Grace of G-d
23rd Adar I, 5717
Brooklyn NY

Mr. _____
Chelsee 50
Greeting and Blessing:

I received your letter of February 12th, in which you give a brief account of your background and education, and that you are now considering entering the appropriate institution where conservative Rabbis are trained. You ask my opinion on this matter.

My opinion can only be based on the opinion of the Holy Torah, and as it has been formulated by Maimonides, to the effect that he who admits that the Torah is G-d-given, except for one verse which he holds was given by Moshe Rabbeinu himself, such a person is regarded as denying the whole Torah.

Even without the said ruling of Maimonides, this would be self-evident and logical. For one has to be consistent: Either one accepts that the Torah is Divine, in which case a human being with his limited intellect, inasmuch as all creation is limited, cannot possibly fathom the Divine Wisdom that is in the Torah, and cannot, therefore, select passages from it which appeal to his intellect and discard others which do not.

On the other hand, if a human being is so presumptuous as to use his own discretion with regard to the Torah, and accept or reject accordingly, this means that he regards the Torah as something which does not go deeper or beyond his human understanding. Consequently also, the Torah in his opinion has no greater binding force than that dictated by human reason, which in effect means no binding force at all, since no human being can impose his views on any other human being.

From the above, it is clear that Conservative and Reform Rabbis who follow the approach of reform and compromise on religion, completely misrepresent the true Jewish religion and, moreover, mislead those who are under their influence in believing that their own form of convenient "religion" is the kind for which our ancestors have given their lives for thousands of years. They will have their followers believe that their type of man-made religion is the religion revealed to us by G-d on Mount Sinai, and this is the greatest possible fraud. When a career is made of this type of religion, and human conscience and profoundest feelings are made a "trade-in-stock" in this unholy business, then a greater depravity cannot be imagined.

In view of what you write about your own background, I think it is superfluous to emphasize that there is a great difference between a person falling on occasion to withstand a temptation and therefore committing a transgression, and one who tries to justify such sins of omission and commission by saying that they are not transgressions at all, or that the Torah itself permits one to use one's own judgement, for in the latter case it is nothing but falsification of the truth, which is what Conservative and Reform preach. The fact that a Conservative Rabbi may himself be a thoroughly religious person, and observe in his private life all 613 Mitzvos, does not alter the situation if he represents the Conservative movement and disseminates its doctrines.

From the above, it is also evident that the use of the title "Rabbi" in its traditional sense is completely contradictory when it is applied to a conservative, and is in itself misleading and fraudulent to the unsuspecting congregations. Hence, to select such a career in the first place, in my opinion, is completely out of order.

It is well-known that there are many members in Conservative congregations, and sometimes even so-called spiritual leaders in the movement, who themselves negate completely the Conservative philosophy, accepting and following fully the whole Torah, and, in the latter case, have accepted positions as rabbis in Conservative temples for various reasons. This is also the case with regard to the person to whom you refer in your letter, who obviously does not belong at all in the Conservative movement, nor in the so-called "New" brand of Conservatism, which goes under the name of "Modern Orthodoxy". On the other hand, it is clearly obvious that such a situation is pregnant with constant inner conflicts, which are often even outwardly apparent. Therefore, it is certainly advisable and illogical to select a career which is bound to bring with it constant conflict and friction, both within himself and in relation to the environment, etc.

You write that hitherto you have succeeded in safeguarding your immunity from outside influence. But surely this does not jusify to place yourself in a situation which contains more than the average elements of temptations and trials, a road which is fraught with dangers and pitfalls. Rather the contrary, inasmuch as Divine Providence has been kind to you and has safeguarded you from such influences in the past, you should, once and for all, make up your mind to break away from that dangerous path.

If you are bent on a rabbinical career, surely it would be more desiarble for you to enroll into a proper Yeshivah which prepares and trains for the Orthodox rabbinate. If this seems a more difficult climb, nothing stands in the way of determination and will.

With blessing,

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Rumblings of Gog and Magog

Those close to the Lubavitcher Rebbe were spared anxieties of troubling times in the past. For example, prior to the 6-Day War, his lone voice in the world echoed optimism and foretold of a great victory for Israel while everybody else shuddered at the prospects. Or when, before Iraq's war against Israel, amid much consternation about nerve gas bombs, the Rebbe said there was no need for gas masks. This list of prophecies can become quite long for one with a good memory.

The dire prospects of a bitter end Jewish people might suffer prior to their final redemption from our present state of exile - is a case in point. Everyone is concerned about and looking for Talmudic signs about the days of Gog and Magog.

With Iran on the verge of attaining nuclear capability, and bearing in mind Iran's Islamic ideology to sow worldwide terror as the proper setting for the debut of their holiest imam, the end of days as good as we knew it sure seems plausible. Any way you cut it, things don't look secure for the future of the Jewish state, nor for the Jewish people.

Unless, of course, you hold close to your heart the words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Before the 1st Persian Gulf War, the Rebbe said:

"It is a simple matter, to the extent there's no reason to doubt, that after the Holocaust, grief will not repeat itself, not like it was nor like any part of it, God forbid. In fact, on the contrary, there will be only good and favorable circumstances, as we ourselves deem goodness to be, for every Jew, and wherever he is. And, emphatically it bears repetition - in good and favorable circumstances!"

"... And surely ... in these days when nations provoke each other, when Jews have a special guarantee from God, 'My children, have no fear, all that I did I did only for your sake' [The Rebbe brought attention to and quoted this Yalkut Shimoni] ... and it's a certain thing that 'the Guardian of Israel neither rests nor sleeps', wherever Jews happen to be, either outside of Israel and how much more so in The holy Land itself, a land which our holy Torah refers to as 'The land ... upon which God's eyes keep watch over it from the beginning of the year until the end of the year.'"

The above good tidings by the Rebbe therefore negate the prospects of a "Gog and Magog" Armageddon.

There is a difference in how the Rebbe and his predecessor, the Previous Rebbe, viewed the forthcoming arrival of Moshiach. The Previous Rebbe witnessed and suffered from oppression in Russia and the Holocaust of Europe. These, for him, constituted the birth pangs of Moshiach. The Rebbe, on the other hand, talks of Moshiach coming under "favorable conditions and mercy," inasmuch as the birth pangs are behind us. In fact, we may well have Moshiach coming during a time of plenty and serenity. Says the Rebbe (Chayei Sarah, 1992), "The only thing remaining for Jews to do is to accept Moshiach for who he is!"

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Of God's Betrothal to the Jewish People

Picture provided by Alon Anava
My notes from a lecture by Rabbi Yitschak Ginsburg:

Three times in the whole Torah we are warned not to mix meat with milk, eg, "...Do not cook the calf in the milk of its mother." (Ex.23:19).

Each action alone is permissible (eating meat or drinking milk), yet together they become stringently proscribed.

How do two pluses, taken together, become a big minus?

You can mix two things that resemble each other. Only dissimilar objects taken together are forbidden.

In the heavenly arena, God can make peace between two opposites, Gavriel, the Angel of Fire, with Michoel, the Angel of Water. But down here in our realm, opposites taken together can only do damage, spiritually and physically.

There are 4 ways to look at this.

One way is to have two permissible things you want, and of these, you must make a choice.

The other way is to have two things to choose from that you want to reject, and must choose the lesser of the two "evils".

Another way is to have two objects, each with what attracts and with what repels at the same time. And of these two objects that contain a plus and a minus, you must choose.

A 4th way is to have objects contain more than one thing you like and more than one thing you dislike, and of these collectives you must make a choice.

The latter condition resembles that which exists in finding a mate. Each individual you have interest in has plusses and minusses, and, in narrowing the field down to one, its up to the person to decide which set to make the final commitment with.

Whomever the choice, making that choice is akin to cutting a covenant with that person, just as cutting the male child during circumcision "cuts" a permanent covenant with God. That choice implies the covenant remains faithfully with that mate, with that one person alone. In that commitment, one "circumcises" oneself by choosing the one to always be with.

When God (the "groom") married the Jewish people ("the bride"), we read, in last week's portion, "And you will be to Me special from all the nations, because to Me belongs the whole world." (Ex.19:5). But why do we need the extra phrase, "because to Me belongs the whole world"? Is not enough said by, "And you will be to Me special from all the nations"?

Because God is saying to the Jewish people, "Don't think only you were available for me as a bride to marry. No. Because 'to Me belongs the whole world', so I could have picked another nation instead."

Had the Jews been a perfect people with no faults among them, there would have been no significance to the choice God made, just as it is insignificant were one to choose a perfect groom or perfect bride.

But God "cut a covenant" with the Jewish people. This committed act based on free choice therefore takes on heavy significance. The Jewish people had plusses and minusses and, of all the nations that similarly had them, God picked the Jews.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Women Singing by the Reed Sea

Once the Jews miraculously crossed the Reed Sea, and after they saw the dead Egyptians and their chariots washed up on the shore from which they just emerged, the men, led by Moses, sang a song of praise to God; And then their women, led by Miriam, did the same (Ex.15:20-21).

ותקח מרים הנביאה אחות אהרן את התף בידה ותצאן כל הנשים אחריה בתפים ובמחלת
... ותען להם מרים שירו‬ לשם

"Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took the drum [or tambourine] in her hand, and all the women followed her with drums and dancing. Miriam led them in responsive song, 'Sing to God ....'."

But our sages tell us the singing voice of a woman is erotic (Brachot 24a). How could these women have done something against the grain of Judaic law, which states a man must not hear the voice of a woman as she sings?

Two giants of Torah, as well as the Rebbe, tackled this question.

The Gaon of Vilna held that the women, in fact, did not sing. He bases his claim on the masculine form of the word "them", להם, interpreting this to mean that the women encouraged the men to sing. This, he said, is the meaning of the phrase "ותען להם מרים"; They told the men to sing.

This explanation, however, does not fit Rashi's explanation of what happened. According to Rashi, Miriam sang the verse and the women responded by singing that verse after her.

The Rogochover (he ordained the Rebbe) also deals with this question and says the women did sing, only their voices were drowned out by the drums they used while singing, thereby preventing the men from hearing their voices.

But here too the explanation does not tally with Rashi's explanation because Miriam's voice had to be heard otherwise how could the women respond in turn?

The Rebbe answers this question saying that Rashi himself provides the answer in a very clear-cut fashion. In his commentary on a prior verse, "... This is my God Whom I will beautify...." (Ex.15:2), Rashi explains the word "This" in the phrase "This is my God", saying the people so vividly sensed God they could point to this specter with their finger. Rashi then says, "That which [even] a maidservant saw by the sea, the prophets themselves never saw."

In other words, says the Rebbe, because Godliness was fully exposed to the Jewish people, because divine radiation became so tangible and omnipresent, the issue of eroticism had no place in such a reality. Nothing but holiness penetrated every human fiber.

The story of Adam and Eve exemplifies this idea. Before they sinned, "They were both naked, the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed." (Gen.2:25). There was no significance to nakedness. But as soon as they sinned, the Torah tell us, "... they realized they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves as loincloths." (

That is, the sin caused God to conceal His revelation by a measurable degree; What was complete, sublime holiness until now gave way for a negative element to enter the space and block the holy radiation of the divine presence. By thus distancing Himself from man's visibility, man now got room for unholiness to blend into his environment to become a liability to reckon with.

Now, after the sin, after the creation of a negative sphere of influence, there's good reason to ask, as God asks Adam, "Where are you?" (
Gen.3:9), i.e., Where do you stand, do you stand on the right side of an issue or do you stand on its wrong side?

By sinning, Adam created for all his descendants a navigator's muddle that allows one to have splits in his personality, where on some issues he can be on the right side, and on others on the wrong side.

As another example, consider a naked infant running around the house. Nobody practically pays attention because of the child's innocence. But were that child a 14-year old running around naked, that would provoke an entirely different reaction because this age innocence no longer applies.

So, with regard to the situation when God's presence was felt on that miraculous day on the 7th day of their first Passover, in the first month of their freedom and formation as a nation onto God, in the year 2448, on their way to receive the Holy Torah in 43 more days, the Jews had no issue with eroticism. The only sensation they felt that day was nothing but sheer Godliness.

By the way, I want to add about the vision of the Rebbe, as demonstrated here, where the Rebbe could appreciate vicariously the actual experience Jews then felt, as did Rashi, and as Rashi alludes to when he says, "That which a maidservant saw by the sea, the prophets themselves never saw." Rashi says, in Genesis 1:4, regarding the light created on Day 1 of creation, "God saw that this light is inappropriate for use by evil people, so He stored it away for use by righteous individuals in later generations." This lofty light gives such individuals, especially the Prince of the Generation, the ability to see and feel from an entirely different dimension and perspective we others are not yet privy to. With this special, archived light, these few individuals in every generation can see from one chronological end of the world to the other.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Misplaced Trust

In days of old (3,325 years ago), when Jews endured enslavement and hard labor in Egypt, God, through Moses, unleashed 10 plagues to force Pharoah and his countrymen to free the Jews and let them depart for the desert. Every month a new plague terrorized the oppressors; The plague smit for the first week, and for the next three weeks Egyptians got a respite - a time in which to reconsider and release the Jewish people. Moses would also warn the oppressors of each oncoming plague, giving the Egyptians further impetus to implement God's request, "Let My people go!".

Although Egyptians worshipped pagan elements, some of them now abandoned faith in their gods and came to realize the Jewish God prevails. When Moses announced the plague of deadly hail, these Egyptians, unlike their peers, heeded his warnings and took their prize steeds into their own houses with them.

Nevertheless, even these refined Egyptians, now cognizant of God's power and His affinity for the Jewish people, changed their minds once the Jews had escaped Egypt, and offered these fine horses to Pharoah who, through change of heart, now desired to hitch chariots of steel to them to chase the Jews and bring them back to forced slavery.

This mutable faith of Gentiles in God our sages address when they pronounce, "Even the best of Gentiles..." are quite worthless, if not worse. A Jew should always rely on God rather than entrust his expectations to the good will of even well-meaning Gentiles.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Frustrated Donkey's Solution

When a Jew arises in the morning to face the new day, the Code of Jewish Law exhorts us how best to challenge any lethargies that might rob us from our industrious ambitions: "Wake up - strong like a lion!".

But why, nevertheless, do we find ourselves frustrated with repeated failures to match our expectations? Why can we not have the power of the lion run through our veins from the very start of the day, so that we achieve what we really want to accomplish? Some of us want to wake up early, learn Torah, pray with devotion, exercise, make good resolutions, etc. but continually fail to follow through. Why?

I heard Rabbi Chitrik of Tsfat, in the name of Rabbi Yoel Kahan, answer this question this way: "If you go to bed as a donkey, don't expect to wake up as a lion; To wake up as a lion, you have to go to bed as a lion."

In other words, the morning begins with a good preparation for the morrow's awakening by doing what's right before we go to bed. If we stand strong with our nightly commitments to do what's right, e.g., saying Kriyat Shema, learning, spending time with the kids, and going to bed early - that is the only way to assure we'll get a mighty start the next morning.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Rescuing a Jew from the Dumps

The Rebbe of Lubavitch ruffled the composure of many rabbis years ago when he dispatched his troops to reach out to Jews in places the rabbis regarded as spiritual pig sties. The criticism faded away and today the Rebbe's approach has become routine - even among non-Lubavitch sectors.

The Rebbe plied his campaign with no less a model than to emulate God Himself. When God "went down" (Ex.11:4) to kill the Egyptians during the tenth plague, God told the Jews, "And among you there will be no affliction" (Ex.12:13). This means, explains Rashi, when an Egyptian sought refuge by visiting the house of a Jew, he was not spared; ie, "Among you there will be no affliction [but among them - there will be]."; Or, when the Jew visited an Egyptian's house, you might think the Jew too would be vulnerable, so God says, "Among you there will be no affliction [no matter where you will be]."

This event occurred the night of Passover, 2448, the very first time they celebrated this holiday, the same night God struck all of Egypt's firstborns.

On that night Moses had warned the Jews, "Nobody should leave their home until morning". (Ex.12:22)

Despite Moses' warning, despite the humiliation heaped upon Egyptians by 9 preceding plagues, and despite the many years Jews suffered enslavement at the hands of these Egyptians, some Jews felt no moral compunction visiting an Egyptian neighbor.  As base and as depraved as this Jew was, visiting his Egyptian neighbor on this of all nights, God Himself "went down" to spare this Jew's life, no matter how his ignoble state and no matter how sordid the environment.

The Rebbe's critics, at the time, did not let up. How could he sends boys out to places where the "dirt" of their surroundings may well rub off on them, they cried out.

The Rebbe once spoke of this from the viewpoint of Jewish law, as it related to the laws of kosherizing (paradoxically). During the salting phase of meat processing, multiple layers of meat may be piled one on top of another, as long as salt separates every layer. Salt draws the blood from the meat, and the concern that blood oozing from a higher layer can be absorbed by meat in a lower layer is discounted because of this ruling: "While in emission mode, meat cannot be in absorption mode." In other words, when it's busy pushing out, it cannot be pulling in.

Similarly with the Rebbe's emissaries, boys reaching out to fellow Jews; As long as they engage in the effort of exerting positive influence, they protect themselves from absorbing any negative influence!