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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Only Jews can mourn and believe at the same time!
We find ourselves now in the midst of the Three Weeks, when we lament the Holy Temple's destruction and our subsequent exile.
And it's not just any day during the "Three Weeks" but the "Nine Days" - the most serious time of all before Tisha B'Av (which begins this Wednesday evening and ends on Thursday evening).
Yet it is precisely on the Shabbat during this most serious time that we celebrate Shabbat Chazon (literally "vision"), the day on which every Jew is afforded a spiritual glimpse of the Third and Eternal Holy Temple.
This "vision" cannot be seen by our physical eyes, but it is perceived by the Jewish soul. The haftorah that we read on Shabbat Chazon warns of all the dire consequences to befall the Jewish people, but even as we listen, we simultaneously feel hope for and anticipation of the Messianic era.
Indeed, it is this combination of despair and joy, mourning and faith, that defines the true Jewish experience. Only Jews can live with this seeming dichotomy.
The Torah provides us with a complete framework of laws that enables us to feel these two conflicting emotions. On the one hand, Jews engage in many practices "as a remembrance of the destruction." On the other hand, we are expected to await Moshiach's coming joyfully every day. In fact, our Sages tell us that Moshiach "will be born on Tisha B'Av" - an allusion to the principle that Redemption springs precisely from the seeds of destruction.
Are Jews strange? Maybe, but we're certainly unique. Everyone else can be an optimist or a pessimist, but we are both, and at the same time!
G-d wants us to feel the pain of the exile. We must never make peace with it, surrendering to our present condition. Until Moshiach comes, we are like "children exiled from their Father's table."
But G-d forbid that we should despair! Our joy is genuine in anticipation of the imminent Redemption. The Rebbe has told us that Moshiach is so close that we can sense his very presence. So why not start rejoicing now, "ahead of the crowd"?
Thank G-d that when Moshiach comes, we'll no longer suffer from this "split personality."
The first translation of the Torah into a language other than Hebrew was rendered by Moses, shortly before the Jews entered the Land of Israel.
On the words in this week's Torah portion, Devarim, "Moses began to explain this law," our Sages commented: "In 70 languages he explained it to them." Moses also instructed that the Torah be written down in all 70 languages after the Jews crossed the Jordan.
Another translation is discussed in the Talmud, in Tractate Sofrim: "Five elders translated the Torah into Greek [the Septuagint] for King Ptolemy; that day was as painful for Israel as when the Golden Calf was made." The reason? "Because the Torah could not be translated adequately." But if Moses had already translated the Torah into Greek, why did our Rabbis take such a dim view of this later translation?
In order to understand, let us examine our Sages' statement more closely. Our Sages did not liken the Septuagint to the sin of the Golden Calf, but rather, compared it to the day on which it was made. Both acts were motivated by positive intentions, yet contained the potential for dire consequences.
When the Jews made the Golden Calf, they were trying to make a substitution for Moses. For, they reasoned, if G-d had appointed Moses - a physical man - as an intermediary between themselves and G-d, the concept of intermediary was Divinely-sanctioned. When the Jews became worried that Moses wasn't returning, they sought to replace him.
In fact, this intention was laudable, as we see from the phenomenon of the Sanctuary. The purpose of the Sanctuary (and Holy Temple) was to enable holiness to dwell in the physical world. In making the Golden Calf, the Jews sought a physical representation of the Divine Chariot, and indeed imitated the "face of the ox."
Unfortunately, their logic was flawed: When G-d chooses an intermediary, the intermediary is "invisible," without independent existence. The intermediary's only function is to transmit G-d's word. By contrast, when people choose intermediaries for themselves, it can rapidly deteriorate into a situation of "two authorities" (ascribing authority to anything other than G-d) and actual idol worship. When Moses translated the Torah at G-d's command, its holiness illuminated each of the translations and precluded the possibility of misunderstanding or incorrect interpretation. But when Ptolemy demanded a translation, there was great potential for error, and the Rabbis made certain changes, as is known.
As it turned out, the Septuagint was a positive development, as it transmitted the concept of G-d's unity to the gentiles. Indeed, according to Jewish law, Greek is the only "foreign" language in which it is permissible to write a Torah scroll - the ultimate perfection of the Greek language.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 24
NOT YOUR GRANDPARENTS RABBIS
by Steve Hyatt
I recently had the privilege of attending a regional conference of Chabad Rabbis that took place in Portland, Oregon. Rabbis from cities throughout the West converged on the "Rose City" for a weekend of prayer, study, inspirational discussion and Rebbetzin Wilhelm's world-class cooking!
I have been praying regularly each morning, afternoon and evening for almost three years. But never had I seen davening [praying] like this. The energy, joy, excitement and love that filled the Chabad of Portland shul was unbelievable! These "Men In Black" rocked the house!
We sang, we danced, we davened with a kind of passion I had never dreamed possible. This was Shabbat! This was Jewish life as it was intended to be! These shluchim (emissaries of the Rebbe) showed us that Shabbat isn't about the things you can't do. It's not about restrictions on driving, turning on lights or cooking food. On the contrary, it's really about putting the pressures of the world away for a few hours, thanking G-d for His blessings, eating wonderful food, saying l'chaim with friends, celebrating the Jewish experience and recharging your neshama, your soul.
During the course of the weekend I had a unique opportunity to really get to know a number of these remarkable people. Don't let the men's black suits, classically-cut hats and long beards fool you. They are as different from one another as snowflakes in a snowstorm.
Yet they all share a similar passion for the men, women and children of the Jewish communities they serve. Each and every one of them has dedicated his or her life to the advancement of Jewish living in far off places around the globe. They all share a common goal; they promote Yiddishkeit to those who, for whatever reason, have drifted away from the faith of their ancestors.
At a young age they willingly leave the cozy confines of their yeshivas and journey out to places unknown. They are charged with the responsibility of setting up "shop" many miles from traditional centers of Jewish learning. Sometimes they are the first Rabbis and Rebbetzins to set foot in a city, state and/or country.
What's even more amazing is that these shluchim receive no support from their "headquarters" in New York. Most people think they move to a community, set up shop and receive a monthly check from the "corporate treasurer." The fact is they move to places unknown, with a few names and telephone numbers, and more passion than dollars in their pockets. But somehow they find a way to make the miracle happen.
Nothing deters these special people from their mission. Many times they don't know how they are going to pay the mortgage next month. "Hashem will provide" is usually the answer. Never have so few made so much, with so little.
Local Shabbat services suddenly spring up where none existed before. Kosher food "miraculously" begins to appear on local supermarket shelves where none previously existed. Purim festivals, Lag B'Omer picnics, Passover seders, distinctive sukot, rousing Simchat Torah celebrations, all spring up as the fertile ground of the Jewish community is plowed by the dedicated men and women of Chabad.
Before discovering Chabad I couldn't fathom the depth and the breadth of my people, my heritage and my religion. Davening every day, putting on tefilin in the morning, studying Torah, going to shul on Shabbat, building a suka, dancing with the Torah on Simchat Torah, finding inner peace and joy. These are the treasures and dividends one discovers through Chabad.
These Chabad Rabbis and Rebbetzins, they're not your grandparents' religious leaders. With all due respect to that generation, these couples are different. They welcome Jews with open, loving, undemanding spiritual arms. If you want to become a Torah scholar, then you've come to the right place. They'll hook you up. But if you never learned to read Hebrew and you just want to taste a kugel like your great-grandmother used to make, then there's a place for you at Chabad as well.
It's a place where all Jews are welcome. There are no demands, no expectations and no competition. No one looks down on you for what you don't know. If you are willing to learn, they are willing to teach. Unconditional love and affection is the norm.
If I seem to be over-zealous in my praise of Chabad, then I am guilty as charged. I had a Bar Mitzva when I was 13 and on occasion, attended Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services. But that was the extent of my Jewish experience. Then three years ago I realized that money and a flourishing career just weren't enough. I had a nagging, aching pain in my heart that no amount of personal success could repair. Yoga didn't ease the pain. Meditating didn't fill the void. Jogging endorphins didn't anesthetize the hurt. I was an unhappy 41-year-old man. Something was missing from my life. I was drowning in a sea of despair. And then Chabad of Delaware's Rabbi Choni Vogel threw me a spiritual life preserver, saving my life. He served as my guide through a personal journey that has taken me to places I never dreamed possible. And throughout the journey, never once did he ask me for anything in return. He selflessly gave of himself and his family.
How do you thank a person and an organization that literally saves your life? You tell everyone who will listen that there is a group of dedicated men and women out there who will help you rediscover your heritage, your people and G-d. No matter how difficult life can get, there will always be a brighter tomorrow as long as Chabad exists. Help light the flame of Yiddishkeit. Call your local Chabad Rabbi and Rebbetzin and take the first step on what will be one of the most exciting and gratifying journeys of your life!
JEWISH CHILDREN'S MUSEUM
Plans are moving along for the Tzivos Hashem Jewish Children's Museum which will be located across from World Lubavitch Headquarters, 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, New York. Architect Charles Gwathmey, from the firm that designed the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Addition and the American Museum of the Moving Image and Terry Healy from the museum designers group which designed the Jewish Heritage Museum and the Science City at Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri, described their progress in planning the museum at a recent meeting. For more information contact Tzivos Hashem/Jewish Children's International at (718) 467-6630.
Continued from the previous issue
This is what he [Rambam] states (Par. 4):
And when a king of the House of David will arise, dedicated to the study of the Torah and observance of the Mitzvos like his father David, according to the Torah Shebiksav [Written Torah] and Shebeal-Peh [Oral Torah], and he will compel all the Jewish people to walk in it and strengthen its fences, and he will fight the wars of G-d, he is assumed to be the Moshiach. (Note that this is not yet a certain sign of the Geulo [Redemption], for all this can still take place in a state of Golus [exile]. However) If he did so and has succeeded (in the above matters, namely having won all battles and impelled all the Jewish people to study the Torah and to mend its fences, we are still not sure and require a further sign, namely), and built the Beis Hamikdosh [Holy Temple] in its place (clearly in the holy city of Jerusalem, indicating that there would be a large Jewish population in that city, yet we are still not certain of the end of the Golus, so a further factor must be fulfilled, namely), and he gathers in the dispersed ones of Israel - then he is certainly the Moshiach.
Surely no further commentaries are necessary.
I will only add a further significant point, namely that this ruling and Din [legislation] of the Rambam is not contested by any Posek [Rabbinic authority]. Even the author of the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law], who has written a commentary on the Rambam, including this very chapter, the well known Kesef Mishneh has nothing to question here, accepting it fully, nor are there any other Poskim to differ.
To be sure there are various homilies and references and allusions to the period of the Geulo in the Aggadah and Midrash, etc., but these are homilies, and do not affect the practical Halachah [Jewish law]. Even in the Halachah we find at first certain differences of opinion on different matters, in the Mishna and Gemoroh, but once the final decision and Psak Din [legal ruling] is arrived at, it is valid for all without question.
It is clear from the above Psak Din of the Rambam that before there can be a Kibbutz Golyos [ingathering of exiles] and the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdosh in its place, there has to be a full and complete return to the Torah and Mitzvos while Jews are still in the Golus, and it is this that is the prelude and preparation for the Geulo.
I am aware of the fact that there are many individuals who wish to rely on this or that saying of our Sages, in the Tractate Sanhedrin or in the Yerushalmi and the like, in order to base upon it their view, but I have always marveled at the inconsistency of these individuals in regard to their entire approach. For surely the Rambam knew just as well those sayings of the Sages in the Sanhedrin or Yerushalmi, etc., and understood them at least as well as the individuals quoting them. The inconsistency is in the fact that these very individuals consider every word and expression of the Rambam's elsewhere as most meticulous, and study it with awesome reverence. Yet when it comes to this sim-ple and straightforward Psak Din of the Rambam, they simply ignored it altogether.
The reason I have written at some length in reply to your letter (though this length is overly brief in comparison with the subject matter), is that it is simply painful to contemplate how misplaced the concern is of some well-meaning individuals.
Instead of each and every Jew, young and old, man and woman, dedicating themselves wholeheartedly to reduce and eventually do away with the causes which brought about the Golus, namely "Mipnei chatoenu - because of our sins we have been exiled from our land," and what these "sins" are is clearly spelled out in the Shulchan Aruch - there are many Jews, undoubtedly with good intentions, who use all their energy and influence to find all sorts of means and ways of human inven-tion to bring about the end of the Golus.
This is doubly painful for, firstly, it is simply a deception of Jews to believe that there can be any other way of Geulo than that which G-d had specified, and secondly, while engaged in other ways and means in futile effort to end the Golus, they cannot engage fully in the true battle against the Golus in terms of the Psak Din of the Rambam.
May G-d grant that each and all of us in the midst of all Israel, should be inspired with true Heavenly inspiration to walk in the way of the Torah and to mend its fences, for it is this that will prepare the way for Moshiach to implement all the conditions necessary to bring about the truly full and complete Geulo.
In memory of Yosef Yitzchak ben Shlomo Shneur Zalman
3 Menachem Av 5759
Positive mitzva 127: The first tithe
By this injunction we are commanded to set aside the tithe from the produce of the land. It is derived from the words (Num. 18:24): "For the tithe of the children of Israel, which they set apart as a gift to the L-rd." This tithe, obligatory only in the Land of Israel, belongs to the Levites.
This coming Thursday (July 22) is Tisha B'Av, the day on which the Holy Temple was destroyed nearly 2,000 years ago.
Chasidic teachings offer a metaphor for the paradox of exile:
A teacher is in the midst of sharing an idea with his favorite student. Suddenly, he has a flash of inspiration: an infinitely deeper idea has flashed in his mind - a concept which he feels will be of great value to his disciple. He stops talking. He closes his eyes. The student is confused and begins to speak but his queries are brusquely rebuffed.
All of the teacher's mental energy is invol-ved in fully developing this spark of an idea.
The student is devastated. He does not understand why his teacher has shut him out.
The teacher senses the student's distress. But to divert his attention and reassure his beloved student, even if with just a word or two, could cause him to lose some of the nuances or perhaps the entire, fragile idea.
It is because the teacher cares about his student that he does not interrupt his thoughts for even a moment to reassure him.
The teacher's "rejection" of his favorite student is, in fact, an act of love. Though not in keeping with the ordinary nature of their relationship, this "rejection" actually serves to deepen the bond.
This metaphor also explains why the exile becomes "darker" as we move toward the light of the Redemption. For, were exile merely to be a punishment for our sins, then it should become lighter as we atone for those sins. But the opposite is true. The closer we are to the Redemption, the more concealed is our relationship with G-d. Despite the fact that we are approaching the Redemption, we see a decline in sensitivity to that which is holy.
But this pattern is like the teacher's "rejection" of his student: the more he de-velops the spark of the idea, the more he must pull away from his student. Yet, the withdrawal signifies a greater love for his student and a greater commitment to his role as teacher.
May we merit immediately the "New Torah" from Moshiach that has been developing throughout this long exile, Now!
Moses began to explain (ho'il) this law (Deut. 1:5)
The Hebrew word "ho'il" contains the same letters as "Eliyahu" - an allusion to the time to come when Elijah the Prophet will answer all our difficult questions. Also, the questions posed by the last few generations before Moshiach will be complicated and troublesome; their answer will only be found through the same self-sacrifice that was shown by Pinchas (identified by our Sages as Elijah). (Yalkut Moshe)
How can I alone bear your weight, your burden and your strife? (Deut. 1:12)
As Rashi explains, the "burden" referred to by Moses was the heretics among the Jewish people. Commented Rabbi Nachman of Breslov: "The heaviest burden a person can bear is apostasy. The heart of a Jew who believes in G-d is calm and tranquil, while the heretic must constantly contend with the weight of his doubts and troubling thoughts."
And the cause that is too hard for you (literally "from you"), bring to me and I will hear it (Deut. 1:17)
"Know," Nachmanides once told his son, "that whenever a person derives pleasure from something, he will go to great lengths to find it permissible, even if it is clearly forbidden. My advice, if you are ever faced with such a decision, is to remove the element of enjoyment from the equation. Only then should you examine both alternatives, and G-d will surely illuminate your path." Added the Baal Shem Tov: "If you ever have trouble deciding whether something is a mitzva or not, know that the difficulty emanates 'from you.' Remove the element of personal pleasure, ask your question purely for the sake of heaven, and G-d will give you the wisdom to know what to do." (Keter Shem Tov)
There was a period in Napoleon Bonaparte's life when he was very interested in Jews, and in all things Jewish. Many stories are told of how the French Emperor attempted to infiltrate among them and learn their "secret." A favorite ruse was to dress in simple clothes and leave the confines of the palace. Walking the streets of France as a common citizen, Napoleon could thus take the public's pulse without drawing attention to himself. Quite often, he visited the Jewish sector.
One summer evening Napoleon, dressed in his usual disguise, set out for the Jews' district. The weather was oppressively hot and sticky, and Napoleon anticipated seeing crowds of people chatting in doorways and in the street, hoping for a breath of fresh air. But oddly enough, it was quieter than usual. Even the courtyards and back alleys were empty.
"This is very strange," Napoleon thought to himself. "What on earth would prompt all my Jewish citizens to leave their homes at the same time? It must be," he concluded, "that today is a Jewish holiday. I'll go to their synagogue and check. No doubt that's where everyone has gone."
Napoleon rushed off in the direction of the synagogue. In his mind's eye he could already see the Jews in their great hall. They would be dressed in their Shabbat finery, swaying to and fro, their eyes glistening with fervor.
But what was this? Opening the synagogue door, Napoleon froze. Where were the festive celebrants, joyfully pronouncing their faith? Why, he could barely see, it was so dark inside! The only light came from a few flickering candles set on the floor. Instead of sitting at tables, the Jews were crouched on low stools or seated directly on the ground. Each person was holding a small book, chanting quietly to a sorrowful tune. The whole atmosphere was one of mourning, not jubilation. Sounds of lamentation filled the air.
Napoleon was completely baffled. Surely some sort of tragedy had befallen the Jewish community.
He approached a Jew sitting off in a corner. The man was barefoot, tears streaming from his eyes. "What happened?" Napoleon asked him. "Why are you all crying like that?"
The Jew looked up the stranger and gazed at him sadly. "We are mourning the destruction of our Holy Temple," he explained simply.
"The destruction of what?" The Emperor of France did not understand.
"We Jews used to have a Holy Temple," the man went on. "It was the place where G-d's Divine Presence dwelled, and we served Him in it. Three times a year we made special pilgrimages. But it was destroyed, and that is why we are in mourning."
Napoleon was confused. How could it be that he had not even heard of such a terrible event? Why, he hadn't even known that the Temple existed!
"And who had the audacity to destroy your Temple?" he wanted to know. "The Romans," the man replied. "The evil Romans brought this destruction down upon us."
"The Romans?!" Napoleon cried. "Do you mean to tell me that the Romans have invaded our land?"
"No, it wasn't here in France that this happened," the man explained patiently. "It was in the Land of Israel, in the holy city of Jerusalem."
"Jerusalem? Very interesting," Napoleon said thoughtfully. "I hadn't even heard the slightest rumor. When did this all occur?" Napoleon's curiosity was growing from minute to minute.
At that moment the Jew realized he was talking to a gentile, who had no idea what he was referring to. "The Temple was destroyed eighteen hundred years ago!" he told him. "This wasn't a recent event!"
"Eighteen hundred years ago?" Napoleon sputtered, not believing what he was hearing. "Are you saying that all these people are sitting here mourning an occurrence that not even their great-grandfathers witnessed?"
"Perhaps you don't understand," the Jew continued, "but we Jews see the destruction of the Temple as the beginning of all our woes. It was then that we were exiled from our land, and dispersed among the nations to be persecuted and humiliated. But we also believe," he stated with conviction, "that our Father in Heaven will one day redeem us. At that time He will rebuild the Holy Temple, gather all the Jews from exile and bring us back to our land."
"What a strange people," Napoleon thought to himself as he walked home. No other nation was quite like them; indeed, the Jews were truly unique. After consulting with his advisors Napoleon decided to invite the Chief Rabbi to the palace, and ask him to solve the mystery.
For many hours Napoleon sat and listened as the Rabbi outlined the Jews' bitter history. As legend has it, at the end of their discussion Napoleon rose to his feet and declared, "At first I thought the Jews were peculiar, clinging to their antiquated ways and ancient sorrows. But I now see that you are an eternal people, having outlived even the greatest of empires and civilizations. Surely you will continue to exist long after I and my republic have disappeared from the face of the earth. In the end, you will return to your land and rebuild your Holy Temple. I don't know when it will happen: this year, next year, ten years from now or even two hundred. But it will happen one day, of that I have no doubt."
There is an opinion in the Talmud (Taanit 17) that even in our days, after the Destruction of the Holy Temple, a Kohen (priest) is forbidden to drink wine, since it is probable that "the Holy Temple will be speedily rebuilt," finding him under the influence of wine, and hence disqualified from serving there.