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Why is it that in difficult times, when Jews are under pressures from without - and within - that hundreds or thousands of us remember not only that we are Jews, but that there is an all-Powerful G-d who is in charge?
The answer is really quite simple, and maybe because of its simplicity it is often overlooked. In an age when self-help books continually top the best-sellers charts, when our society approaches the ancient Greeks' idolization of the human mind and ability to reason, it is sometimes hard to accept the seemingly intangible, non-intellectual explanation of "the Jewish soul." But, current events, and "current events" throughout Jewish history, have always led us back to the unmistakable fact that within every Jew is the magnificent treasure of the Jewish soul.
So, why does it so often take a tragedy - sometimes personal, sometimes global - or sometimes, thank G-d, a happy event or victorious occasion to bring out the Jewish soul? And then again, why often is this personal discovery only momentary, fleeting, and the soul soon relegated to its hidden space?
Imagine a set of nesting dolls: those little wooden Russian peasant figurines or their variation we've all seen or played with. No matter what our age, we delight in opening the doll, only to find a slightly smaller one inside, which we expectantly open. Then, we find a slightly smaller one, and a slightly smaller one inside that, on and on until, at last, we find the tiniest doll which does not open. That minute doll, if you will, is the essence of the Jew, the "Yiddishe neshama" - the Jewish soul. And the Jewish soul, though not a physical entity, is just as real as the smallest nesting doll.
The tiny figurine can be covered and enclosed by layers and layers of bigger dolls. But bigger doesn't necessarily mean better, for we all know the tremendous disappointment of opening all the dolls just to find that the smallest one is missing.
Thankfully, the Jewish soul, the "piece of G-d" which He invests in each one of us, can never be lost. Though initially covered by bigger, more elaborate, seemingly better layers, part of our life-long job is to work at uncovering our soul, allowing its presence to be felt, thereby enriching every aspect of our lives. Sometimes the uncovering of this tiny soul happens through hard-work, sometimes, quite by accident.
Sometimes, someone else tries to help us, or G-d, Himself, eases the way. But, just as it is within our power to nest it once again within larger figures, we also have the ability to keep it uncovered.
Our Torah rportion, Bo, begins with Gd sending Moses to Pharaoh to ask him again to release the Jewish people. Gd tells Moses: Bo el Paroh, "Come to Pharaoh," i.e., come with Me. The commentaries explain that Moses hesitated before accepting the mission and agreed to go only after Gd promised that He would accompany him.
On a simple level, it is explained that Moses was afraid and Gd's promise to accompany him assuaged those fears. On a deeper level, however, the unwillingness of Moses to proceed on his own gives us a glimpse of the uniqueness of Moses' personality and the secret of his success as a leader.
Moses did not want to face Pharaoh on his own, because then there would be a confrontation between two men: Moses, representing human aspirations for good, and Pharaoh, who represents man's tendency for evil. In such a one-on-one confrontation, Moses did not know who would emerge victorious. He wanted to approach Pharaoh with a power that transcends the human sphere and, therefore, he waited until Gd promised to accompany him.
This was not a one-time event, but a motif that characterized Moses' approach at all times. What made Moses effective? His ability to put his own self aside and be no more than a medium to communicate Gd's message. Whether speaking to Pharaoh or to the Jewish people, Moses did not speak his own words. He spoke in Gd's name, as our Sages' say: "The Divine presence spoke from Moses' mouth."
When the image of leadership that a person projects is based on his own individual power, it may be effective in motivating certain people. But for a person to inspire a people as a whole, he should harness himself to a power much greater than his individual self. For in the long run, what is going to motivate other people is a mission that is transcendent in nature, one that gives them a goal above their individual selves. And the only way a leader can honestly impart such a mission to his people is when he has a similar sense of mission himself.
That was Moses' unique ability. When the people complained to him, he told them: "... and we, what are we? Your complaints are not against us, but against Gd." He did not see himself personally as part of the picture at all. He had one goal: to communicate Gd's message and motivate others to carry it out.
In our own lives, each one of us can be a Moses in a certain sense, for we all have spheres of influence where others look up to us for guidance and direction. If what we give them is ourselves, then our message will have a limited scope. But if we can rise above ourselves and communicate Gdly truth, our message will have universal appeal.
One might question: But what if I do not feel Divine inspiration? Of course, I'd like to communicate Gd's truth, but I don't know how? I don't know what Gd would want me to say now.
In this, we can also draw guidance from Moses. Moses is patient. He does not go to Pharaoh until Gd tells him that He will accompany him. Not only is he willing to serve as a medium for Gd when he feels he has a Gdly message to communicate, he will not approach Pharaoh on his own. He waits until Gd promises that He will accompany him.
From Keeping in Touch, adapted by Rabbi Eli Touger, Sichos in English Publications
Mother of Myriad
Mrs. Gitta Gansburg, the "dorm mother" for 38 years of the Machon Chana Women's yeshiva dormitory in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, passed away recently.
A global conference call during the shiva (seven days of mourning) united nearly 250 Machon Chana alumnae, dorm counselors, family and friends from around the world. Participants shared memories of and lessons from Mrs. Gansburg for four hours.
The love for Mrs. Gansburg that emanated from all those who spoke on the conference call was palpable. Story after story illustrated Mrs. Gansburg's incredible skills as a an educator, how she made every student feel special and unique, the fact that she kept in touch with the alumnae even decades after they had left the school, her uncanny ability to pair up students as roommates who became lifelong friends, her delightful sense of humor.
But most of all, it was the fact that Mrs. Gansburg truly related to each and girl as she would her own daughter.
Her daughter, Fradie Brod, related: "Most interesting is that with all the devotion she displayed to others, we, her birth children, never felt that she was not available to us. She always remembered the birthday of a grandchild or great-grandchild. She always knew what was going on in our lives, what we were engaged in and where our focus was."
"Mrs. Gansburg knew I had arrived in Machon Chana after having been to art college," shared alumna Nechama Hordiner (2003), "so she asked me to paint or draw something for her. She would also find every possible connection to art in Chassidic teachings and read it with me, or asked one of the dorm counselors to. Really, I was an art school drop-out. I had never drawn or painted much ever. But for her, I tried, just like she tried, meeting me where I was.
"I painted her a tree with orange leaves, like the burning bush, because that is what it was like to know her. She lit us up in a way that preserved our form and shape, but gave us warmth and light; she led us back to ourselves, not away."
Laila Bretz Tassano, a current Machon Chana student, shared: "There was a day when I was very upset by something that had happened to me. Seven p.m. arrived and I was lying on my bed, not wanting to go downstairs for the daily communal dinner time. I knew that Mrs. Gansburg wouldn't be happy though if I didn't show up; she cared and noticed every single girl's presence and absence. Dinner time was so precious to her; we could see in her eyes the delight she would get when all the girls showed up and were together at the meal.
"As I thought about this, I jumped out of my bed, went downstairs and silently sat next to Mrs. Gansburg. Within a fraction of a second from the moment I sat there, she kindly turned to me and asked, 'What is bothering you today? Why are you upset?'
"I was very surprised that she had taken notice so quickly, 'Mrs. Gansburg, how do you know?' I said.
" 'Every day when you come to dinner, you look at me and you give me a big smile. Today, you didn't smile.' So she smiled at me and my heart was warmed and full of joy. I smiled at her, and at that second, all the pain was washed away."
"One Shabbat, at the beginning of my stay, we were having a meal in the dorm," related alumna Sara Feiga Mayteles (1984). "When it came time for bentching (Grace after Meals), all 30 or so of us, did so together. I didn't say the words, 'May the Merciful One bless my father, my teacher, master of the house and my mother, my teacher, mistress of the house.'
"Afterwards, Mrs. Gansburg called me over and asked why I didn't say that part of the bentching. I was flabbergasted. The room was full of girls, and we were all bentching out loud, how did she notice that I was remiss in saying one line?!
"I told her that since my parents weren't present, I thought I wasn't supposed to say that part as it mentioned blessing my father and mother. Mrs. Gansburg calmly explained to me that 'my father and my mother' actually refers to different aspects of G-d, and that since G-d is everywhere, I should always say these words."
Zlata Baila Chincholker, alumnu 1993, described what she learned from Mrs. Gansburg: "There was a girl in the dorm who wasn't so pleasant to me. The Rebbe had spoken often about showing love of one's fellow Jew would bring Moshiach, so I tried to be nicer to the girl. I continued to get hurt however. Finally I went to Mrs. Gansburg, almost crying, to ask her advice.
"Mrs. Gansburg told me that the best way to show my love would be by keeping myself far away from the girl, seeing as she was having more negative influence on me than I was having positive influence on her. This advice touched me and I have carried it with me ever since. Mrs. Gansburg taught me to be aware of my feelings, to have self-respect and to have boundaries."
Bluma Rapaport, alumnu 1993, shared, "I remember once while I was speaking to Mrs. Gansburg, I told her that I was about to go take my daughter to the park. She told me that the park is nice, but speaking to children along the way about the types of plants and trees that there are, is also good. I understood from this how we must not simply spend time with our children, but must always take the opportunity to teach them wherever we are."
An educator par excellence, Mrs. Gansburg was an honest and direct person who had boundless patience and infinite love for the young women whom she helped "raise."
Machon Chana is a full-time yeshiva for women who have become Torah observant as adults. For more info call 302.503.0770 or email email@example.com.
Four Torah Scrolls
The Beis Yisroel Torah lending organization, a project of Merkos Suite 302, is helping assure that our holy brothers who lost their lives this year will not be forgotten. Three Torahs, whose covers are embroidered with the names of the kidnapped and murdered teens Eyal, Naftali and Gilad are on long-term loan to Chabad of the Big Island in Kailua Kona, Hawaii; Chabad of Olney in Maryland; and to Chabad-Lubavitch of Solano County in Vacaville, California. Another Torah - in honor of the 66 Israel Defense Forces soldiers who lost their lives in the recent war in Gaza was sent to Chabad Lubavitch of Missoula, Montana. Four more Torahs are getting ready to be sent to Chabad centers in memory of the four rabbis murdered in mid-November by Palestinian terrorists in a synagogue in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Nof.
Rabbi Mordechai Bulua, whose article "Tefilin Challenge" appeared in the Slice of Life of L'Chaim issue 1355 was the visiting rabbi of the synagogue.
11 Nissan, 5711 (1951)
Blessings and Greetings,
I received your letters, one from 24 Adar II and one that was undated. As per your request, when I was at the gravesite of my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, I made mention of ... for the good, for everything that is needed. Please write me his mother's name.
In general, if it should happen that my reply to a letter is delayed, that means only that a written answer was held back. I will fulfill the request made therein, however, as soon as possible. Writing an answer, though, is dependent on many concerns that preoccupy my time.
You ask for a segulah. In general, it is not my practice to give segulos, but I will advise you as follows: as in every Jewish house, one should check the mezuzos,and the members of the household should recite Psalms every day.
You are certainly correct regarding what you wrote in your letter - that we have already suffered enough afflictions and that it is due time for everyone to be helped in the matters that he needs and, in particular, with proper health. I hope that you will be able to report good news to me about this matter.
There is, however, an observation I would like to make even though I am not altogether sure that it is entirely appropriate to this instance.
In general, in many instances, a person's feelings of security depend on a matter that is above and beyond him. To put it simply, it depends on his feelings of faith and trust in the Creator of the world as a whole and the Creator of the world in microcosm - i.e., man - in particular. The great shock waves experienced by our generation which shook many different spiritual foundations and tore many people away from the deep-rooted traditions of their family and nation had an effect on many people and made them feel as if they were suspended in midair.
I am also speaking about people who are believers, but their faith became disconnected from the realities of their lives. They think about their faith - they say Shema Yisrael or Modeh Ani, and often while paying attention to the meaning of the words - and yet they carry on throughout the entire day with the feeling that they are alone. Everyone then derives conclusions from this according to his nature and personal tendencies.
In order to bring people back in balance, the realistic approach is to reveal the traditions of one's family and the traditions of one's ancestors that are at present, hidden in their souls. They will then see that a person is not alone, and that, furthermore, a person is in control of his destiny only to a certain degree, and primarily, the matter is dependent on Gd. Therefore, he need not carry everything on his own shoulders and feel an overwhelming responsibility for everything. Needless to say, he need not feel despair over particular matters and situations.
When a person connects with feelings of faith and trust which, without a doubt, are deeply implanted within him, this brings him tranquility and enables him to persevere through the experience of "Against your will, you live"in a healthy manner. And it enables every person to carry out the task which he has been given for his life.
It is self-understood that every matter, particularly those matters associated with the inner dimensions of the soul, require assistance from Heaven. The merit of one's ancestors - the fact that one has descended from a family and parents who were permeated through and through with faith and trust in Gd - is beneficial in this regard. Ultimately, this will call forth similar feelings from their descendants and enable them to come to this recognition.
I hope that you will be able to share good tidings with me. I conclude with a wish for a kosher and happy holiday for you and your household.
With blessings that you soon report good tidings,
I would be interested in knowing the makeup of your family.
From I Will Write it in Their Hearts, translated by Rabbi Eli Touger, published by Sichos In English
The word "Mitzrayim" (Egypt) expresses constriction, limitation. The spiritual Egyptian exile is the animal soul's restricting and concealing the G-dly soul so severely that the G-dly soul is compressed to the degree that it is diminished and obscured. "Exodus from Egypt" is the removal of the constriction and bounds; i.e. the intellect in the brain illuminates the heart, bringing about fine character traits translated into actual practice.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This week's Torah portion, Bo, contains the very first commandment given to the Jews as a people - the mitzva of Rosh Chodesh, the new moon. According to Jewish law, the new month is determined by witnesses who testify to the appearance of the new moon. The Jewish court then formally establishes and sanctifies it as Rosh Chodesh.
In general, the main effect the commandments have on the world is to imbue it with G-dliness. When a mitzva is performed with an object, the object itself becomes holy, and materiality is sanctified.
The mitzva of the new moon is unique in that instead of physical objects, it relates to the dimension of time. Through this mitzva, a "regular" day is transformed into Rosh Chodesh, a day with special sanctity. When the Jewish court decides to establish a particular day as Rosh Chodesh, time itself is elevated and made holy.
In this respect, the mitzva (commandment) of sanctifying the new moon has an advantage over all other mitzvot. The ability of other mitzvot to bring sanctity into the world is limited. For example, an object directly used to perform a mitzva becomes a "utensil of holiness." Other aspects of the physical world are elevated when a Jew uses them "for the sake of heaven." Then there are things that are only considered "tools" as preparation for the performance of an actual mitzva.
However, the mitzva of Rosh Chodesh is more far-reaching. When the Jewish court establishes a certain day as Rosh Chodesh, the effect is felt throughout the month, and indeed throughout the entire year, as the court also determines the occurrence of a leap year.
Time is generally thought of as something over which we have no control. Time cannot be made longer or shorter; it cannot be hurried up or slowed down. Nonetheless, G-d gives the Jew the ability to sanctify time and transform it into "Jewish time," time that is thoroughly imbued with holiness.
"Conquering" time in this way hastens the time when the entire world will be suffused with holiness, in the Messianic era.
Tell in the ears of your son and your son's son... that you may know that I am the L-rd. (Ex. 10:2)
In order to implant faith in the heart of one's children, there first needs to be "that you may know that I am the L-rd" - you yourselves must believe in and know G-d.
(Rabbi Yehoshua Rokeach)
And you shall eat it in haste (Ex. 12:11)
Why did the Children of Israel rush when they finally left Egypt? Didn't their extreme haste give the mistaken impression that they had to escape quickly? Pharaoh actually wanted them to leave at that point. They could have taken more time to pack and depart at a leisurely pace. However, leaving Egypt was not a mere geographical move for the Jews. It was a step away from the world of spiritual degradation they had become accustomed to in Egypt. When a person desires to sever his connection to evil, it must be done all at once and not gradually. A person must grab the first opportunity that presents itself to escape from a negative influence. However, when Moshiach comes and reveals himself we will not be so hard pressed to leave the Exile immediately. G-d has promised to remove all impurity from the world, so there will be no reason to run away from evil.
With a mighty hand G-d brought us forth out of Egypt (Exodus 13:14)
G-d's "mighty hand" was directed not only toward Pharaoh and the Egyptians but toward the Children of Israel, as some Jews preferred to remain in slavery and were redeemed by G-d against their will. Likewise, G-d will redeem us from our present exile with a "mighty hand," taking with Him even those Jews who might prefer to remain in exile.
Once Rabbi Chanoch Henich of Alexander was having a Chasidic farbrengen (gathering) with his followers on the topic of humility. "If you want to know what real humility is," he said, "I'll tell you of an incident that happened to the Chief Rabbi of the Rabbinical Court of Frankfurt on Main.
"The man's name was Abraham Abish and aside from the many hours he spent occupied with rabbinical duties and scholarship, he occupied himself greatly with the mitzva of helping providing food and clothing to the poor. It was his custom to make the rounds of the wealthy citizens of the city and merchants who came to Frankfurt to conduct business to solicit charity which he later distributed to the poor, to widows and to orphans.
"One day as he made his rounds he stopped in one of the local inns and approached a merchant who was visiting Frankfurt on business. 'Excuse me, my good sir,' began the Rabbi. 'Could you please make a contribution to help the poor with food and clothing?'
"It seemed as if the merchant hadn't heard, for he didn't so much as raise his eyes to gaze at the supplicant standing before him.
"Rabbi Abraham, for his part, was too unassuming to announce his name, and so, he stood before the merchant patiently waiting. He made his request one more time. The merchant wasn't in the mood to be troubled by paupers, who seemed never to leave him in peace. He lifted his gaze and stared at the beggar who had the impunity to interrupt him. 'Go away. Get out of here and stop bothering busy people.' Rabbi Abraham said not one more word. He turned and left the inn, never insisting and never imagining to use his identity to coerce the unwilling donor.
"A few minutes later, when the merchant had finished perusing his accounts, he rose to leave and reached for his cane, but to his surprise it was nowhere to be found. This stick happened to be a prized possession of his and he was very upset to find it missing.
"It didn't take him long to assume that the pauper had stolen it in revenge. The merchant dashed out of the inn in hot pursuit of the thief. A few hundred yards away he ran right into the thieving pauper.
" 'Give me my walking stick, you no good thief!' he cried.
" 'I'm sorry, but I have not seen your stick, my good man,' Rabbi Abraham replied calmly. 'I would certainly never take anything from you.'
"But the merchant's anger, instead of being assuaged, only grew in ferocity and virulence until he even struck Rabbi Abraham. Still, the Chief Rabbi of Frankfurt didn't respond with anger; he merely picked himself up and continued on his mission.
"As Divine Providence would have it, the merchant was delayed longer in Frankfurt than he had anticipated. When the Shabbat approached he found himself still in the city. On the afternoon of the holy day all the Jews gathered to hear some words of Torah, and he decided to join them, for he had heard that the famous tzadik, Rabbi Abraham Abish would address the crowd and he very much wanted to hear the great man in person.
"The merchant entered the large hall and raised his eyes to the podium to catch a glimpse of the rabbi. To his great shock and dismay, he recognized the man at once, and the terrible, scene of a few days before appeared before him in a horrible new light.
"Unable to bear the shame, he fainted to the floor. When he regained consciousness, he was surrounded by the congregants all trying to bring him to consciousness.
"'What has happened?' they all asked him anxiously. To his great shame, he related to them the entire incident.
"'You must go to the rabbi and beg his forgiveness,' was the advice offered from all sides. The merchant realized that he must do as they said.
"When the rabbi had finished speaking he passed through the crowd, receiving the accolades of one and all. The quaking merchant stood a little to the side, speechless with embarrassment, as the rabbi approached. The rabbi caught his glance, but said nothing; only his eyes had a glitter of recognition.
"Before the merchant could stutter an apology, Rabbi Abraham began speaking in a calm, conciliatory voice, wanting only to calm the man.
"Please, believe me, I didn't take your stick. I promise you on my word of honor."
"The rabbi had no thought that the man might be coming to apologize to him. For he was so humble that he never considered his own honor above that of anyone else. The Chief Rabbi of Frankfurt was not above apologizing yet again to the thoughtless merchant, even before the eyes of his admiring congregants."
In the beginning of the month of Nissan, Moses came to the Jews and said, "This month you will be redeemed." The people objected: "But G-d said we would be in exile for 400 years, and we have been in Egypt only 210 years!" Moses answered, "Since G-d wants to redeem you, He is skipping all these years." So too when the time comes for redemption, Moshiach will tell us, "This month you will be redeemed!" The Jewish people will object: "But G-d said we first must be enslaved by 70 nations!" Moshiach will answer, "Since we have been spread out in many countries, it is as if all the Jewish people went there. Therefore, we have fulfilled G-d's condition and this month we will be redeemed!"
(Pesikta Raboti, Parshat Hachodesh 7)