Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Society's Imperative - Jewish Unity

Chabad changed the world, whether people realize this or not, and continues to change it. The Rebbe seeded his emissaries in every corner of the world to promote Jewish tradition. Chabad has become a household name and a powerful influence that continues unabated. Many thousands of Chabad centers world-wide serve to counter ignorance and reformist ploys by drawing Jews closer to Hashem.

The Rebbe said the plentifulness that God infuses into the world funnels down through the Rebbe, through his chassidim, through world Jewry, into the world. The way Jews behave, therefore, bears directly on what the world experiences.

If conflict exists among Jews, it impacts the world at large by constricting the bounty available because much of the bounty thereby transforms into wasteful and contradictory resources.

It is therefore behooves Jews to clear obstacles that impede the pipeline of plentifulness that feeds the world. Turbulence in the pipeline impedes as well. Only a unified Jewry can influence the world positively to once and make life with Moshiach a reality.

The key ingredient for clearing all impediments in the pipeline of plenty - is unity. Whether or not a Jew agrees with you or not should never be an issue or point of contention. A difference of opinion should be of no more import than the difference facial features make.

Only the instrument of unity can draw down the ultimate blessings - to the entire world. When we got the Torah at Sinai, we merited it because we stood united. To merit the utopia of the Era of Redemption, we again must stand united.

The world's welfare rests upon the shoulders of Jews, whether or not the rest of the world knows it or not.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Rebbe-Dollar Story

Pictures are illustrative only
Rabbi Groner, the secretary of the Rebbe, related this story:

A young man, about 30 years old, waited in line to receive a dollar from the Rebbe. When his turn came up, he asked the Rebbe for a blessing that he find a suitable shidduch. The Rebbe gave him a dollar and said,  
“כי קרוב אליך הדבר מאד"
("For this thing is very near you" - Deut. 30:14).

Years passed and he began to entertain doubts the Rebbe's blessing would take effect. After all, the Rebbe implied the happening was "very near you", yet many years had passed him by. Finally, many years later, he found his soul mate.

It happened once, now with his family growing, that he discovered he can buy pictures of people who passed by the Rebbe for a dollar from a website online (MyMomentWithTheRebbe.org). All you need do is supply the date and approximate time, then search through the film strips provided, seeking the frame you want to purchase. Once you pay, you can download the picture.

Upon inspection of the film strip where he found his own picture, he was struck by an unusual circumstance. Because the lines of men and women would alternate in moving forward towards the Rebbe, a person, in charge of streaming the lines, would stop one line every so often to give the other line a chance to stream ahead. In his own "men's line", he was the last one in that line before it was stopped. The first woman in the "ladies' line" was now - none other than his wife!

He now discovered how accurate indeed were the words of the Rebbe. His [future] wife was in fact indeed "very near" to him; In fact, she was the next person to appear before the Rebbe, right after him.

Until now, he interpreted "very near" to mean temporally; Now he realized the Rebbe meant it in the sense of physical proximity.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Did Noah Latch a Hatch?

When Noah opened the ark's window to send the dove out for a 3rd time, and this time the dove did not return, it says, "... and Noah removed the covering of the ark ....".
  ויסר נח את מכסה התבה (Gen.8:13)

Now I ask you, how could he manage that feat? The dimensions of this "covering of the ark" are colossal, and no few mortals together could accomplish this lift of so much timber. (This roof covered an area the size of one and a half soccer fields in length, and half a soccer field's width in width.)

Surely Noah had no hydraulic lift built in. Did he construct a release mechanism where the roof could just roll off the top? Anyone preoccupied 120 years building an ark surely becomes a master contractor.

We know that the huge giant, Og, was the sole survivor of the Great Flood (Rashi; Gen.14:13, Ba'al HaTurim 7:23) outside of Noah's family, probably by holding on to the ark. There were times, after all, when the waters reached 45 feet higher than the highest mountain tops. Maybe as a thank-you gesture he lifted off the ark's roof for Noah. But no doubt he took his leave well before that because he felt land long before they made for the exit.

Most likely a hatch comprised part of the roof. As Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan renders it in his translation, "Noah removed the ark's hatch". After all, the very next words say, "he saw", which implies he opened it to take a look. Why remove a roof anyhow, when entry and exit were accomplished through a door? "Covering" (מכסה), apparently, can also mean a "segment of roof". It's just that this hatch is never made mention of until now.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Post-Holocaust Picture

American soldiers who liberated Europe are having the High Holiday services in the former home of nazi Joseph Goebbels (ימח שמו וזכרו) after his death.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Chabad's New Marching Orders

At the Annual International Conference of Chabad Delegates, Cheshvan 25, 5752, the Rebbe rocked his audience of thousands. He dispatched his emissaries with a new set of marching orders, calling this new mission "the gate through which from now on all outreach activity must pass through". Here we fathom this new mission from a short segment of the Rebbe's talk
(ספר השיחות ה'תשנ''ב, pp. 110-111).
"Emissaries have for long now disseminated chassidic wellsprings. In fact, the Previous Rebbe declared this - a mission accomplished! *

"But because the Era of Redemption still hasn't dawned, it means something remains to be done! *

"We know every generation contains a potential Moshiach (מגילת רות ברטנורא), one whom Hashem will appoint when the time is right.
(see refs. of חתם סופר ; שדי חמד)

"According to the Previous Rebbe, who is the only emissary of the generation and the only Moshiach of the generation, all work to bring Moshiach has been completed. Thus we've reached the stage that begins with "Please send with whom You originally meant to redeem them" *
שלח נא ביד תשלח (Ex. 4:13).

"In other words, the only mission that remains is to actually accept the countenance of Moshiach - which will effectually enable Moshiach to proceed and redeem all Jews from exile!" *

* A chassid now has a more important mission to discharge!

* Normally the Rebbe would here insert the instructions that "remain to be done". Instead, he first discusses Moshiach's identity - for only thereafter can he deliver his intended instruction!

* When Moses beseeched God to let Moshiach take the Jews out from exile to their ultimate redemption.

* Note that this is a KEY requirement without which Moshiach is stuck in an inoperative mode!
Click on image to enlarge highlighted text and references
Until the 3rd of Tammuz 1994, all Lubavitcher (Chabad) Chassidim, and many Jews around the world, believed the Rebbe to be Moshiach. Thereafter, once nature apparently dashed mystical expectations and took its course on the aging, ailing rabbi, that belief faded for many Jews, although a considerable number of us Chassidim continue to believe he lives on as King Moshiach - as if nothing changed for the Rebbe; Only how we see the Rebbe has changed; It is a supernatural phenomenon.

Until that Motzei Shabbath (Chayei-Sarah 1991), Jewry had Maimonides to guide them on how to prepare for Moshiach. A Jew, he wrote, must "... believe in Moshiach ... he will come any day, and even if he tarries, ... still await him." But now the Rebbe ratcheted up this preparedness from a dormant, inactive state to one that calls for action. The Rebbe in effect said, "awaiting" Moshiach is over! From now on, he said, "Your task is - to receive the countenance of Moshiach!" (לקבל פני משיח)

Whereas Maimonides just mentioned the bare word "Moshiach", the Rebbe spoke of the "Countenance of Moshiach". Maimonides used the passive verb to "wait for"; The Rebbe, in contrast, used the active verb "to receive" (or "to accept"). He transformed preparing for Moshiach from hopefulness to a pursuit.

As the Rebbe once said to Chief Rabbi of Israel, Mordechai Eliyahu, ע''ה, in 1992, "The redemption stands at the door's threshold and awaits for every Jew to open the door and drag the redemption in!" Dragging is much more than sitting with arms folded and waiting.

Intuitively, for those who regard the Rebbe as Moshiach, and not just as a peak-profile personality, the Rebbe's words resonate clearly. To them it means - acknowledging the Rebbe as Moshiach! As if to say, "The only thing remaining for Jews to do is to accept Moshiach for who he is!"

Had the Rebbe simply said our task is "to receive Moshiach" (לקבל משיח), omitting reference to countenance (פני), there would have been no point to it. How can we "receive" or "accept" someone we don't know? To just say "receive Moshiach" removes the identity factor! It would make no sense asking his followers to receive a generic personage.

On the other hand, the Rebbe would never just come out and say "I am Moshiach" (explained here). Instead, he used an indirect figure of speech to say the same thing! To ask Jewry "to receive the countenance of Moshiach" is an ingenious way to say the same thing!

Countenance (פני) in Hebrew means "face", as if to say "accept him - he whom you recognize". It can also mean "inner essence", as if to say "accept him - and what he stands for". Or, a 3rd meaning of לקבל פני is "to greet someone", as if to say "prepare to greet him". All meanings fit the Rebbe's agenda.

The overall impression the Rebbe left on those who would deny he meant himself is, on its own, not bad. They felt he meant that emissaries (and all Jews whom they can influence) shift their yearnings for Moshiach into high gear and imbue the enterprise with more vigor. How? By delving into Moshiach literature and anticipate the imminent Era of Redemption. Furthermore, this attitude and expectation should infuse us with gusto to prepare for Moshiach's arrival. And while Chabad itself was already percolating with this expectant energy, especially in the latter years, it must now trickle down to embrace and galvanize all of world Jewry. While this is a glorious agenda, the identity of Moshiach is safely sidelined, and therefore NOT what the Rebbe meant!

The Rebbe never used words that lacked precision. The above identity-free understanding of "receiving Moshiach" cannot comprise the entire sweep of the Rebbe's words. He meant something of earth-shaking import because his whole speech served to initiate a new mission - and to retire previous priorities. He demanded all his emissaries to adopt a new mindset from which to project from now on. No matter what their activities had been until now, from now on a new mission supersedes all previous protocol. The emissary must reconfigure his approach to imbue first and foremost this new approach the Rebbe here set forth. In fact, said the Rebbe, if this new approach cannot permeate every interaction and aspect of an emissary's functions, that emissary will have failed his mission!

It stands to reason this new agenda means to get everybody on board to accept the Rebbe as Moshiach. This new mission does not invalidate former duties of an emissary; Instead it becomes the essence of all duties, the axis that traverses through all other activity to bind them collectively into a new, vital perspective. As the Rebbe himself said it, this was "the gate through which from now on all outreach activity must pass through".

Where else do we use the phrase "accepting the countenance"? We find it in the Jewish custom of making a "reception of countenance" (קבלת פנים), the final formality before the bride and groom enter under the wedding canopy's ceremony. After the hall is rented, the kesuva (כתובה) has been written and signed, the flowers, food and drinks are in place, the band and photographers, and the guests, have arrived and are waiting; Everything is prepared! The last function before the wedding, therefore, is - the קבלת פנים.

Similarly, by use of this phrase, the Rebbe hints to us that everything necessary for the Era of the Final Redemption is in place, ready to go. Only one final קבלת פנים is necessary - namely - accepting the Rebbe as Moshiach - so he can do his job - for, as he often reminded us, there can be no king without a people. In other words, it is incumbent upon Jewry to appoint the king for the king to be able to do his job. As the Rebbe said, in the above excerpt, only that acceptance "... will effectually enable Moshiach to proceed and redeem all Jews from exile!"

We also find this term (קבלת פנים) as we greet the Shabbos in song (לכה דודי) Friday night (פני שבת נקבלה). Shabbos, in essence, symbolizes the utopia for which the world was created in the 1st place, that Era of Ultimate Redemption Moshiach wants to usher in now, if only we accept him as the living King Moshiach!

Thursday, October 04, 2012

The Yoke of Torah

Good rules make you free. But how can that be; Don't restrictions, by definition, impinge on freedom? No - because inside a framework of good rules you can learn, explore, achieve and thrive. Outside this framework, good rules no longer protect you or guide you. There is constructive freedom and destructive freedom. We discuss the former.

A sports analogy will clarify this point. Take the game of baseball. Suppose the batter strikes out and a raucous group of spectators insists the batter be given one more chance, to which the players agree. Imagine then, a pop-up foul ball is dropped and the fielder complains he could have caught it were it not for the sun that blinded him; The players acquiesce and they call the batter out. Or, imagine a player sliding into base and the umpire says, "He was close enough" to be called safe, although the player was tagged out before touching the base. And so the game resumes.

You can sense this game, with its arbitrary regulations, will bore you more than amuse you. Without the rigor of strict rules, you will never try your best, simply because you don't know what to expect. Why bother making the extra effort; Why bother training to perfect an outcome if shaky rules can be invoked and in effect nullify your best efforts?

The game of baseball, or any game, brings out the best in players when the rules are strictly enforced. Only within the confines of a stringent framework of rules can you
expect a player to improve and perfect his talents. Rules eliminate wasteful behavior and give the player choices he can make about where he wants to excel, or where he needs to exert more effort to succeed.

Arbitrary rules rob you of freedom. On the contrary, arbitrary rules frustrate freedom. Living without rules - which means without a fixed set of rules - for rules always exist - is living with abandon. It means a life in which you cannot thrive. Living with abandon can only diminish useful freedom and success.

Similarly, under the guidelines of God's rules in Torah, the Jew has freedom to flourish or excel, without the worry of making wrong choices. As long as he abides by the rules, the Jew is protected from foolish behavior and wasteful efforts. Like the rules of a sport, the rules of life, as defined in Torah, do not oppress the individual, nor does the individual feel restrained. The rules become integral, natural boundaries and the game of life, as the game of sport, proceeds with genuine freedom. Failure under such an intact system is not because the system fails the person; It only highlights where the failure can be corrected.

There is a problem, however; Who's to say which system of rules is worthy for adoption? After all, a set of bad rules can frustrate the person from achievement or pleasure. A prison's set of rules, for example, stultifies one mentally. The Jew, at least, needs not worry about this dilemma, because Torah has proved itself over millennia to provide the best of all systems to integrate with. (Of course the best reason Torah's rules are the very best and infallible system is because the benevolent Creator created it and He knows best.)

The Jew is especially lucky because a truthful assessment of the best system means a person must waste much of his life testing system after system, comparing them all, before arriving at a conclusion - something a Jew can confidently and gratefully bypass. Even the Jew of a non-observant background is lucky because, once he discovers the advantages of a Torah-true life and considers the wonderful tradition and heritage he belongs to, he can easily embrace it.

Of all Gentiles, only the Noahide is as fortunate as the Jew because he too partakes in a system dictated by Torah and remains a Torah-true individual, albeit with a different, but wonderful, set of relevant rules.
___   ____    _____     ____    ___

Here's another way of seeing how the yoke of Torah facilitates life's challenges:

Is It Really “Too Hard”?
by Gutman Locks

Have you ever heard a rabbi say, “You have to accept upon yourself the yoke of Torah”? Apparently, this rabbi agrees with those who say a Torah life is very hard. Truth is, life without the Torah is the life that is too hard, and when you bring Torah into your life, it makes life much, much easier.

The yoke attaches the plow to the animal. Comparing Torah to a yoke is a metaphor showing us we should use the Torah to pull the plow of life.

Even before the yoke was invented the animal had to pull the plow. People had to eat. But, without the yoke, the animal was attached to the plow with only a harness. It had to pull that heavy plow with its head and neck muscles. What a tremendous burden that was!

Then some wise farmer came up with the idea to put a yoke around the animal’s shoulders. This allows the animal to pull the plow with its big shoulder muscles instead of its small neck muscles. What a wonderful thing the yoke is. The animal loves its yoke. The yoke saves the animal from so much pain and suffering.

In America today: 27% of non-religious, white, teenage girls, and 50% of non-religious, black, teenage girls, have one, two, or three different types of venereal diseases.

Fifty percent of babies born to non-religious girls are born out of wedlock - i.e. mommy is not married, no father at home.

Sixty-five percent of non-religious marriages end in divorce.

According to one popular talk show host, in 85% of non-religious marriages, one of the partners, every once in a while, sleeps with someone other than their spouse.

That life, the non-religious life they live, is the life that is “Too Hard” - not the Torah life.

If you will keep Shabbos (which, in fact, is a pleasure), and your wife will cover her hair (to be modest), if you put on tefillin (to pray), and if the home is kosher (so even your eating is holy), if the kids get a Jewish education (so the Jewish people and values continue), then none of these statistics will apply to you and your family.

Now tell me, which is the life that is too hard?

I have tried both, and I can tell you from the bottom of my heart it is much easier to be a religious Jew than a “free”, do whatever you want, secular Jew. It is hard, depressing, and empty to live the “American dream”, no matter which country you dream it in. In fact, that dream turns out to be a needless nightmare.

There are always going to be problems in life, no matter what you do. If you focus on the problems, you are going to be miserable. There are also always beautiful things going on in life and if you focus on them, you will be happy. It’s your call.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

The Sukkah's Embrace

What has love to do with the shape of a Sukkah? This lecture by Rabbi Y.Y. Jacobson explains it. A surprising relationship exists between the architecture of the Succah and the most intimate form of amour between God and Jew; Whereas other forms of love relate to other holidays. (LINK)