Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Love at 2nd Sight

How does Chassidic Jewry go about "getting married"? It follows the example of matrimony detailed in Torah between Isaac and Rivkah.

The lesson, and age-old custom, is:
1) Get a mediator to introduce the pair for the sake of marriage; Then
2) Upon mutual consent, get married; And then:
3) Fall in love.

Once the couple was introduced, it says of Isaac (Beraishis 24, 67), "... he married Rivkah, she became his, and he loved her." First came the marriage - then came the love.

Another priority we learn from the above event: Just before the couple's introduction it says, "... she covered herself." In other words, female modesty is proper etiquette.

This may surprise those whose culture puts stock in the pre-requisite of first "falling in love" ("falling" seems to be an appropriate coinage). Secular (or less than orthodox) behavior endorses the flaunting of skin, even promiscuity, before marriage. Torah, on the other hand, assumes both parties will suffer from lack of humility or reluctancy to commit themselves.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Yossele Rosenblatt with the Previous Rebbe

Reb Yossele Rosenblatt visited the Previous Rebbe in Warsaw in 5688 [1938] after the Rebbe had just left Russia. Those present expected that he would sing. However, he understood from the Rebbe’s facial expression that he did not want that.

When he left the Rebbe’s presence and went into a side room, he met the Rebbe’s daughters and sang something in front of them. He had a very strong voice and was heard in the next room where the Rebbe was. Afterwards, the Rebbe said, “Er hot mir aroisgenumen fun atzvus, er zugt gut, er ken pirush hamilos” (He took me out of depression. He says well. He knows the meaning of the words).

(I heard this from my good friend Reb Shneur Zalman Baumgarten, who heard it from his uncle Reb Sholom Ber Hacohen Eichorn, who witnessed the story.)

In the year 5690, the Previous Rebbe visited America and stayed in Brooklyn for Shmini Atzeres.

During the Yom Tov, the famous Chazan Reb Yossele Rosenblatt walked from the Bronx, where he lived, to visit the Rebbe. The walk took him many hours. When he arrived, the Rebbe honored him to sing several pieces of chazonus. When he finished, the Rebbe turned to Reb Zalman Havlin – who sang nigunim with Heavenly sweetness - and said, “vaizt vos ir kent” (demonstrate what you can do). Reb Zalman sang several niggunim.

When he concluded, Reb Yossele said, “Ir mit eire nigunim macht finster mayne chazonus” (You, with your nigunim, darken [comparatively] my chazonus.)

(Reb Shneur Zalman Baumgarten heard this story from the elder chasidim Reb Shlomo Aharon Kazarnovsky and Reb Eliyahu Nochum Sklar, of blessed memory.)
Reprinted from Vert-a-lach (43) by Eliezer Zalmanov

Letter of the Rebbe: No Conflict between Science and Torah

By the Grace of G-d

You write that although many apparent contradictions between religion and science have been explained to you in a way that they could be individually acceptable to you, you find it hard to accept them in total. You attribute this difficulty to your background, which taught you to think for yourself at every phase, having been brought up in a public school and high school, instead of in a Yeshiva atmosphere. But it is not your being trained to think for yourself that is your difficulty, but rather your inability to think straight in this manner, because of the prejudice which was acquired - consciously and even more subconsciously during these formative years, which you spent in an atmosphere which was alien to the point of view of the Torah, while the Torah viewpoint has come to you only recently.

It is therefore not surprising that whenever any detail comes up which apparently is in conflict with your former attitude, you find it difficult to accept, in the belief that everything must strictly conform to your former viewpoint, without stopping to examine what of that viewpoint represents truly scientific criteria.

I believe I once pointed out to you that the behavior of any individual is, in 90% or more of his actions, determined not by rational afterthought, but habit and faith in the authority of other people. Just consider your own actions, from the moment of your awakening in the morning until you go to sleep at night, and ask yourself which and how many of them you perform on the basis of scientific analysis or any kind of premeditation?

And here is another point to bear in mind. Precisely from the point of view of modern science - more than at any time in the past - it is clear that there can be no real conflict whatsoever between science and faith. Modern science upholds the view that there is no longer any immutable physical laws, that everything is relative, and that the so-called laws are no more than probabilities.

Modern science no longer claims absolute certainty in the physical world. The fact that a certain thing behaves in a certain way today, is no conclusive evidence that the same thing behaved in the same way 5,000 to 6,000 years ago, or that it will behave the same way a thousand years hence unless all other things are equal, including all external physical conditions of atmosphere, outer space, temperature, pressure, etc., not to mention human nature which is also changeable. And even then, all things being equal, modern science will say that the past behavior of a certain thing in a certain way offers us no certainty that it will behave that way, but only the "chances" are that it will.

Clearly, therefore, modern science cannot presume to judge with any degree of certainty the truths which our religion proclaims. The most science could say is that these truths are more or less probable. Obviously, there is no room here to speak of any conflict between science and faith.

Finally to refer to your statement that your attitude to Yiddishkeit is based on your faith in a certain person, let me say that in truth this is by no means the whole story. To illustrate:

If a spark sets off a powder keg, the resulting explosion in all its force cannot be attributed to the spark "exclusively", for the spark was no more than the immediate cause setting off the reaction. The energy released was already contained in the powder keg. Similarly, every Jew already contains a Divine soul and all the potential energy, except that it is sometimes inactive, or that it is only active in a limited way. When it comes in contact with a person, or with an event or an experience, which sets in motion a chain reaction releasing the potential energy already contained in the Divine soul, the reaction is indeed deep-rooted and by no means dependent on the external cause.

I send you my personal wishes for growing faith in G-d, Whose Divine Providence extends to everyone individually, and that you strengthen your bonds with the Source of all life and all good, that is G-d, through the daily observance of the Torah and Mitzvos, which will give you peace of mind, true happiness and success in all your undertakings.

With Blessing,

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A 33-Year Story of the Rebbe

About 33 years ago, Rabbi Zalman Gafni was setting up a special Yeshiva in Kfar Chabad to draw Jews closer to religiosity. During a visit to New York, on Simchat Torah 5730, Gafni succeeded in bobbing his way inside the large and packed crowd in 770, to find a place next to where the Rebbe would be praying at his platform.

When the Rebbe began to descend the steps to make his way to accept the sefer Torah, to take the first round of Hakafot, a path among the congregants opened up and the Rebbe walked into it. When he was next to Gafni, the Rebbe stopped, and in a loud voice and with a very broad smile, the Rebbe said to him, "There should be a joyous occasion for the entire Kollel!"

"I thought I didn't hear correctly because of the overcrowding and excitement", said Gafni. "So I asked the people next to me and each one said, 'That's exactly what the Rebbe said.' I myself had no idea what the Rebbe was referring to. At that time I was extremely involved with building up my Yeshiva; I had no other plans at all to think about."

The Rebbe's statement became engraved in Rabbi Gafni's mind. For years he sought to decipher what the Rebbe meant with that mysterious statement.

Six years ago, changes in his life began to materialize. His son, Rabbi Yosef Yitschok, was picked to lead the well-respected Kollel "Ohel Moshe" in the ancient city of Tsfat. "Suddenly", said Rabbi Gafni, "it donned on me what the Rebbe meant." Nonetheless, Rabbi Gafni continued to work as usual in his Yeshiva in Kfar Chabad. Only a few weeks ago did Rabbi Gafni and his wife take their belongings and move to Tsfat. He was to take up the new position at his son's Kollel as a Mashpia there.

He told this story in the 1st celebration at his new post. Things finally came full circle after 33 years.
Story in Hebrew here.

A Story from Nepal

Bim, The Boy From Beit Chabad

A Nepalese Boy Finds a Home With Chabad of Kathmandu

He’s the good looking, buoyant 12 year old Nepalese boy who greets visitors to Katmandu’s Chabad House with a huge smile: “Hi I’m Bim, the boy from Beit Chabad," he offers. He's also quick to provide unsolicited bits of useful information, like candle-lighting time on Friday, or that Shabbos is not out until three stars are spotted in the sky.

Bim arrived at the Chabad House last year, naked but for a plastic bag that he used for some cover. One of hundreds of children exploited for profit on Kathmandu’s dangerous streets, he fixed his eyes on a Chabad rabbinical student, and asked for help. He wouldn’t leave go until the student brought him back to the Chabad House.

Chezki and Chani Lifshitz, Chabad representatives here have become beloved figures in Kathmandu, especially to thousands of Israeli backpackers who flock to the Himalayas after completing their service in the IDF. (The Lifshitzs were the inspiration for Kathmandu, a popular Israeli TV series based on their day-to-day lives as Chabad Shluchim in this third-world backwater.)

After 13 years of living here, the Lifshitzs have not become hardened to the poverty and the human suffering that are everywhere in this slum city. “My grandmother is a Holocaust survivor,” Chani says. “I learned from her not to ignore the pleading eyes of a child in need. Bim was not going to survive—that much was obvious,” she says.

Saving the Life of A Child Beggar

The boy screamed in pain as Chani and Chezki gently washed his lacerated, severely malnourished body. Scars and bruises—from beatings by his traffickers disappointed in his take home after a day on the streets—were raw. They brought a doctor in to administer first aid. They cut his long, matted hair and uncovered a beautiful face. They fed him, clothed him and made him comfortable.

What made Bim know to ask for the Chabad House?

Read the rest here.

Monday, March 04, 2013

On Replacement of The Moses of the Generation

When Harav Hagaon Pinhas Hirschprung, a"h, was asked by a non-Lubavitcher why Chabad did not see fit to nominate another rabbi to replace The Rebbe after Gimmel Tammuz, he pointed to the Torah portion of Ki Tisa, where it relates the sad story of the Golden Calf (Eigel Hazahav). When the nation reckoned Moshe had not returned after 40 days as they expected, some Jews began worshipping the Golden Calf.

But a question arises, he said; If Moshe had left behind two sons and a most esteemed brother, each of whom could serve as a natural successor, why did they need to turn to the Calf?

Said Rabbi Hirshsprung, “Whoever thinks he could be a replacement to the Rebbe is like the Eigel Hazahav!”

Apropos, Rabbi Hirshsprung also wrote a letter encouraging the proclamation of "Yechi" (Long Live the Rebbe!). Here is an approximate translation of his words: “I wish to clearly state my opinion in this matter. The entire matter of singing, printing and the very issue of Yechi Adoneinu Moreinu Verabbeinu Melech Hamoshiach Le’olam Voed and everything connected with it does not have a shadow of uncertainty in Jewish law. There are clear sources for this in Shas, Zohar, and from the greatest mekubalim upon whom we depend on for halachic rulings. Besides this, the Lubavitcher Rebbe himself also used these words in regard to his father-in-law, OBM, and did this hundreds of times. This in and of itself is reliable proof.”
[My thanks for this to Eliezer Zalmanov, author of Vert 'a 'lach.]

Saturday, March 02, 2013

The Unfolding Process of Redemption

The last Israel-Hezbollah war years ago honed the Lebanese enemy's military skills and therefore, because they also had resupplied their armaments and potential reach ten-fold, they posed a formidable threat at Israel's Northern front.

But because Israel has divine providence that guards her, that threat had to effectively be eliminated. So it now happens that Hezbollah turn its back on Israel, to train its sights on the "Syrian Rebels". In their effort to support dictator Assad, the Hezbollah terrorists are emptying out of their cavernous bunkers in Lebanon and spilling over into Syria.

How does Hashem's divine providence manifest in mundane affairs to cause this about-face? Syria had been a direct supplier of Hezbollah as well as a territorial conduit for military influx from Iran. Now that the "Syrian Rebels" posed a serious threat - to cut off this vital flow across the Lebanon-Syria border, Hezbollah was forced into action for "self-preservation".

These Iranian-backed henchmen now have their hands full fighting a war against Al-Queida. The latter are not yet as well organized or as strong as the Lebanese contingent but soon enough too, with backing from their coreligionists, will prove to be a formidable force, especially because their troops will have greater numbers.

We spoke earlier (here and here) of this feature, where we just "sit back and watch as the enemies go at each others' throats". We have as a model the exodus from Egypt in the year 2448, the epitome of Jewish Redemption, to compare with to anticipate parallel events. Just as back then kin fought kin, while Jews remained spectators, the same is happening now too, as we progress quickly into this Era of the Final and Ultimate Redemption of the Jewish people.

This is a great miracle we must be thankful for. Just as when this first happened in Egypt, Jews were making ready their preparations to leave exile, we too should be preparing in earnest to enter the divine utopia that awaits every Jew - just around the corner.