"Moshiach is ready to come now-our part is to increase in acts of goodness and kindness" -The Rebbe

Monday, June 28, 2010

Gazing at the Image of a Tzadik

Gazing at the Image of a Tzadik

Rabbi Y. Oliver

Sanhedrin 96b describes how the image of Nevuchadnetzar was engraved on Nuvazraden’s chariot as he travelled to destroy Yerushalayim:
“A servant [honors] his master”[1]: [this is exemplified by Nuvazraden, as it is written:] “In the fifth month, in the tenth day of the month, which was the nineteenth year of King Nevuchadnetzar, king of Babylonia, Nuvazraden, captain of the executioners, came. He stood before the king of Babylonia in Yerushalayim, and he burned the House of Hashem and the house of the king.”[2]

But had
Nevuchadnetzar gone up to Yerushalayim? Is it not written [of the time of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash], “They carried him [Tzidkiyahu] up unto the King of Babylon to Rivlah,”[3] and R. Abahu said that this [Rivlah] was [the city of] Antioch [which is in what is today southern Turkey]? [Doesn’t this implies that Nevuchadnetzar was in the city of Antioch, not in Yerushalayim?]

R. Chisda and R. Yitzchak b. Avdimi [each offered a solution]. One answered: His [
Nevuchadnetzar’s] portrait was engraved on his [Nuvazraden’s] chariot, and the other explained: He [Nuvazraden] stood in such awe of him [Nevuchadnetzar] that it is as though he were in his presence.
Rashi there explains the opinion that holds that Nevuchadnetzar’s portrait was engraved on Nuvazraden’s chariot:
It seemed to him [Nuvazraden] as if he was standing before him [Nevuchadnetzar, when he gazed at his portrait]. Therefore it is written “Nevuchadnetzar came,” for this refers to his glory [that was manifest to everyone through the image of him].
Moreover, the Maharsha explains that this also answers the first verse in that chapter: “Nevuchadnetzar the king of Babylonia came, he and all his army, against Yerushalayim, and he encamped by it.” When did Nevuchadnetzar come to Yerushalayim? Rather, since his portrait was present, it was as if he had gone to Yerushalayim.

What a tremendous impact! Nuvazraden connected with the evil energy of his master, Nevuchadnetzar, by regularly gazing at his image, and this imbued him with so much audacity to commit unadulterated evil that it was considered as if Nevuchadnetzar was actually there. 

The positive lesson from this is clear, for “Hashem made this one [the side of
Kelipah] opposite this one [the side of holiness].”[4] The realm of evil parallels that of goodness. Moreover, “The
measure of good is greater than the measure of retribution.”[5]

Thus, if
Nuvazraden was inspired to destroy the Beis HaMikdash and Yerushalayim because of the corrupting impact of an unholy image (which is consistent with the statement of Chazal, “It is forbidden to gaze at the image of a wicked person”[6]), all the more so that gazing at the holy image of a Tzaddik can imbue tremendous holy inspiration within a person.

Moreover, this is especially relevant for us,
chassidim of the Rebbe, who is adonenu, our master, for in our current situation, after Gimmel Tammuz, we do not see the Rebbe physically. However, gazing at his image from time to time (along with fulfilling all his other directives, of course) imbues us with strength to overcome the darkness of the end of the exile, and witness the coming of Moshiach very soon, when we will again see the Rebbe physically.

For as much as seeing an image of the Rebbe can accomplish, we are not satisfied with this, and we
davven to be able to see the Rebbe physically. As the Rebbe prayed on 
10 Shevat, 5711, at the conclusion of his very first ma’amar (see here), “May we merit to see and be together with the [Previous] Rebbe, down here in a physical body and within our immediate reach, and he will redeem us.” Based on the concept of “the Rebbe rules on himself” (see here), as chassidim of the Rebbe, we davven for the same thing after Gimmel Tammuz.

[1] Malachi 1:6.
[2] Yirmiyahu 52:12-13.
[3] II Melochim 25:6.
[4] Zohar 1:27:2.
[5] Rashi, Shemos 34:7.
[6] See Megillah 28a; cf. Tanchuma, Toldos 8.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Secret of the Alter Rebbe's Greatness

The Secret of the Alter Rebbe's Greatness

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

Reb Yehuda Chitrik, a”h,  related:
The chassidim once asked the Maharil, Reb Yehuda Leib of Yanovitch, the brother of the Alter Rebbe, “Why did your parents merit children of such great stature in Torah—first the Alter Rebbe, then you, and then your brothers Reb Mordechai and Reb Moishe?”

Reb Yehuda Leib answered: “This was all in the merit of our mother, who was a fine Jewish woman, with the qualities of love of Torah, and fear of Heaven. Here is an example of her good, upstanding deeds:

“Our father, Reb Boruch, was a businessman. Once his business travels required him to travel out of Russia and remain there for a while. When he returned home, he brought our mother a gift known as a ratanda [a certain kind of upper garment that was very costly]. After some time passed, my mother sensed worry and dejection on the face of the teacher who would teach us in our house. She discovered that he was not teaching us in a lively, enthusiastic manner, as he always would.

“My mother asked the teacher, ‘Why aren’t you teaching my sons with liveliness and joy? What is worrying you?’ The teacher responded, ‘My wife has been tormenting me lately, complaining to me, “See, Reb Boruch brought his wife a ratanda as a gift—why don’t you bring me gifts?”’ My mother immediately went to the cupboard, took out the ratanda, and gave it to the teacher, saying, ‘Give this to your wife so that she will no longer give you a hard time with her complaints. The main thing is that you shouldn’t be troubled, and you should be able to learn with my sons with liveliness and joy.’”

Reshimos Devorim, Vol. 1, p. 73.
When the Alter Rebbe’s mother, the Rebbetzin Rivka, saw that her children’s teacher was lacking enthusiasm, she was so concerned that this might detract from the enthusiasm of her children for their studies that she eagerly gave away an expensive garment that she had received as a gift from her husband in order ensure that her children would maintain their studies at the highest level.

It is noteworthy that although the Maharil’s father Reb Boruch was a great Torah scholar, and in fact one of the hidden Tzaddikim, as explained in the writings of the Previous Rebbe, the Maharil did not attribute the greatness of Reb Boruch’s progeny to the scholarship and diligent study of their father, but to the love of Torah and self-sacrifice for Torah exhibited by their mother. Thus, this story demonstrates how the key role in imbuing love of Torah within children lies in the hands of the mother.

Vital "extracurricular" skills and knowledge for Yeshivah students

Vital “extracurricular” skills and
knowledge for Yeshivah students 

Rabbi Y. Oliver

What do we learn in Yeshivah? Nigleh and Chassidus, and that’s it, right? Well, in a letter to the administration of the Lubavitcher Yeshivah, Tomchei Temimim, the Previous Rebbe points out other skills and fields of study that are generally regarded as extracurricular and are commonly neglected. He instructs the administration to incorporate these in the Yeshivah curriculum for students from a young age.
1. Study of Tanach: There is inherent value in knowing and absorbing the holiness of the Written Torah, which was given at Sinai and passed down through all its writers, as explained in the words of Chazal. Apart from this, the teachers need to inspire their students with the desire to know the spiritual, G–dly wealth found in the stories and writings of Tanach, such that with time the students will aspire to study these stories and derive the spirit of purity and holiness found within them.

2. Loshon HaKodesh. At the very least, the students should acquire a superficial knowledge of Hebrew grammar. This will facilitate their understanding of many concepts in Torah, and they will be more particular in pronouncing the words of the prayers and in the Torah reading. This will also enable them to compose an advanced letter in Loshon HaKodesh, and one without errors.

3. Reading with the cantillation [“trop”]: In order to know how to review the Torah portion of the week according to the method of reading shnayim mikra ve’echad targum [the custom to review the weekly Torah portion and read each verse twice, and then the translation of Onkelos once—see Berachos 8a, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 72:11]. It is proper to sing the cantillation while reading the verse using the traditional musical notes. This also has the benefit of accustoming one to letters of Torah, which ties in with the shul and praying with a Minyan. It may also benefit one’s livelihood [for people are employed to read from the Torah in shul].

4. Jewish history: At the very least, the students should have a superficial knowledge of Jewish history and in particular of the wisdom and greatness that lies within it, for from the Jewish heroes and the numerous challenges and self-sacrifice that they underwent in the past, we can derive lessons for the present.

5. Clear handwriting: Aside from the inherent necessity and benefit that lies therein, it will also bring respect for Torah scholars [when laypeople see their neat handwriting].

Igros Kodesh Admur HaRayatz, Vol. 6, p. 152.
The Rebbe specifically encouraged that this letter be publicized, as one chossid records:
The administration of the Yeshivah were admitted to the Rebbe [for Yechidus]. Among other things, the Rebbe said that the letters of the Rebbe, his father-in-law to the students [of Chabad Yeshivos] concerning the study of Tanach, grammar, cantillation, and Jewish history should be publicized. After several days, the Rebbe inquired whether anything had been done in this regard.

Sichos Kodesh 5725, Vol 1, page 534.
Note that exactly how and to what extent to incorporate teaching these skills or areas of knowledge is not prescribed. From limited personal experience, I can testify that in one Yeshivah that I attended, an hour a week was allocated to study Nach. I know of another Yeshivah in which a particular teacher delivers a lecture on Jewish history from time to time. As for learning Hebrew grammar, I do not know of any Yeshivah where it is studied in a classroom format, but I have observed many cases in which it was taught one-on-one. I have not observed trop or neat handwriting being formally taught to Yeshivah students.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Relating to obstacles in mundane matters

The Rebbe Rashab was once served noodle soup. He lifted his spoon to eat, but the noodles slipped back into the bowl. After this happened several times, he remarked, “It appears that they are not ready [to be refined].”

Otzar Pisgomei Chabad p. 11.
This story appears trivial, but since nothing in the life of a Rebbe is trivial, it seems that this story holds a deep message.

Sometimes a person tries again and again to pursue a certain course of action, and yet he feels like he is treading water. None of his efforts have borne fruit. In that case, he should consider the possibility that perhaps this is Hashem’s way of telling him that now is not the time, and he should pursue a different course of action instead.

This principle seems to apply only in cases of divrei reshus (mundane matters) comparable to eating. However, it would clearly not apply to one who faces obstacles to performing a Mitzvah, such as lighting Shabbos candles, davvenen, and so on, for Mitzvos must be performed even with Mesiras Nefesh, self-sacrifice.

To illustrate this, perhaps the following story (cited here) is relevant:

A couple once came filled with fear to Reb Velvel of Brisk on the day after their wedding. When the groom tried to put the ring on the bride’s finger, the ring fell to the ground, and this happened several times, until he finally succeeded. The couple was concerned that this episode might indicate that the match was not destined to succeed.

Reb Velvel smiled and said, “No, this is incorrect. Rather, when the heavenly voice declares that ‘the daughter of so-and-so will marry so-and-so’ [Sotah 2a], it is also declared when the wedding will take place. Since the exact time had not yet come, the ring fell.”

Monday, June 21, 2010

"And He Will Redeem us"—the Rebbe Responds

"And He Will Redeem us":
The Rebbe Responds

Rabbi Y. Oliver

On 10 Shevat, 5711, at the conclusion of the Rebbe’s very first ma’amar (see here) he declared, “May we merit to see and be together with the [Previous] Rebbe, down here in a physical body and within our immediate reach, and he will redeem us.”

Several days later, on 13 Shevat, the first Shabbos after that maamar was delivered, the Rebbe publicly responded to a question that had been asked concerning his statement. It should be noted that this response was edited by the Rebbe:
I was asked concerning my statement that soon the prophecy that “those who lie in the dust will awaken and sing” [Yeshayahu 26:19] will be fulfilled, and he—the [Previous] Rebbe, my father-in-law—will be among them, and he, the [Previous] Rebbe, will take us out of exile. [I was asked:] Isn’t the order of events—as is also referenced in the teachings of Chassidus—that first Moshiach will arrive, then the Messianic Age will commence, and only after a period of time will the dead be resurrected?

The answer to this is that indeed, in general the correct order of events will be: The coming of Moshiach, the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash, the ingathering of the exiles, and the resurrection. However, the resurrection of individuals has occurred and will occur even beforehand [i.e., even before the coming of Moshiach]. There are several famous stories in the Gemara and in Medrash [of individuals who came back to life] and [stories] of Tzaddikim who resurrected the dead, as our sages say, that “[Even] the smallest amongst you can resurrect the dead” [Avoda Zarah 10b].

Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 2, p. 517-518.
 (Cf. Toras Menachem, Vol. 1, p. 100, where the Rebbe essentially said this same idea many months earlier, on the Shav
uos before he became Rebbe.)
In my own words: 

Someone asked how the Rebbe could say that the Previous Rebbe could come back to life as the Moshiach. How can Moshiach come from the dead, if the resurrection will not take place until a while after Moshiach comes? 

The Rebbe answered that this is only true of the mass resurrection; however, since individuals can be (and have been) resurrected before Moshiach comes, Moshiach can come from one who was resurrected in the time of exile. Thus, the Rebbe’s wish that the Previous Rebbe will redeem us does not contradict the belief in a general resurrection that takes place only at some later point.

I find it noteworthy that the Rebbe chooses not to prove the concept that
Moshiach can come from the dead from the statement of the Gemara in Sanhedrin 98b, which some have quoted as proof that Moshiach can come from the dead: “Rav said ‘If he [Moshiach] is from the living, [then he is] like Rabbeinu Hakadosh [Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi]; if he is from the dead, [then he is] like Daniel, the delightful one.’” Rashi comments there that this does not necessarily refer to Daniel himself, but that it could refer to someone who resembles Daniel in his righteousness. Why the Rebbe did not cite this reference here, I do not know.

I also find it noteworthy the words “and will occur,” which to me appear to allude to and presage our current situation.

In any case, according to the principle that the Rebbe taught us that “the Rebbe rules on himself” (see here), it appears that this sicha provides support for the belief of chassidim, based on the Rebbe’s own words, that the Rebbe will come back to life “and he will redeem us”—he will be revealed as Moshiach, and redeem the Jewish people.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Counteracting the fallout from outreach for the Chabad community

The Rebbe has charged chassidim with a clear mission: Spread Torah in general and Chassidus in particular to every Jew. This is the task of our generation, the Rebbe declared.

Yet in the process, complications and dilemmas arise. To explain, for the purpose of this discussion, let us break the Jewish people
down into three general groups: non-frum Jews, frum Jews who are not chassidei Chabad, and chassidei Chabad.

Reaching every Jew means reaching each of these groups and teaching them Torah in general, and Chassidus in particular.

However, it is clear that the approach that will work for one group will not work for the other. Indeed, it is obvious to most that “hardcore” material geared to committed chassidim will most likely be looked at askance by others. Likewise, no elaboration is needed on the theme that material written for a frum crowd will usually not be effective for as-yet assimilated Jews.

However, oddly enough, for many the opposite is not at all intuitively grasped. It is commonly assumed that literature written for assimilated Jews is also appropriate for those already frum, and that literature written for those who are frum but not chassidei Chabad is also appropriate for those who are.

(This is not to say that literature prepared for one audience can never, ever be beneficial in any way for another that is more advanced, for the experience of some shows that this is also sometimes the case; however, it is a fair generalization to say that it is unlikely, and that more often than not the loss incurred outweighs the benefits, if any.)

I wrote an article (see here) focusing on the way this problem has manifested itself in terms of literature. But of course, this phenomenon is not limited to literature. In fact, this fuzziness has infiltrated its way into almost every aspect of modern Lubavitch culture. I will focus here on schools and shuls:

Schools: In many communities, Lubavitcher run schools whose students come from all the three above demographic groups together—children from non-frum, frum, and Lubavitcher homes. This setup is a recipe for constant conflict and dissatisfaction.

Often the dissatisfaction arises from what is viewed as compromise. The school makes allowances to cater to the non-frum, and the parents of the other children are unhappy. Or the school makes allowances to cater to the frum, and the parents of the Lubavitcher children are unhappy.

And of course, sometimes the complaints are leveled the other way around as well—that these schools are too religious or too, um, “chassidish” for the other kids, or at least the other parents, to handle. In many cases, the cacophony of complaints can be heard from all the parents simultaneously, making the job of administrating these schools most unenviable.

For example, some parents want no secular studies, others less, others more. Some parents want only Yiddish spoken in the school, some want a bit but not a lot, still others want none. And so on.

Shuls: Some communities that aim to cater to the non-frum or recent Ba’al Teshuva segment of the population relax standards in various ways, such as by allowing various public events such as fundraising dinners to be mixed, or have separate seating but without a mechitza, and so on.

Now, it appears that if the number of congregants identifying themselves as chassidei Chabad are a small minority, it is reasonable enough to suggest that they move elsewhere or defer to the lower standards of the majority. However, if they are a large minority, never mind the majority, I believe that this approach is not so reasonable. Those who have reached a more advanced point in their avodas Hashem are no less Jews than those who have not. Their spiritual needs are no less valid than those of others, and they should not have to lower their standards, for “maalin bakodesh, velo moridin“one should rise in holiness, and not descend” (Shabbos 21b). On the contrary, they deserve to be commended for their accomplishments, and certainly not punished, rachmana litzlan.

In practice, in both schools and shuls that contain such a mixed constituency, there is a sense among many that the spiritual needs of the non-Chabad segment are priority number one, while the spiritual needs of the Lubavitchers are not just priority number two, but are relegated to lowest priority, and are sometimes neglected altogether.

In many cases, this kind of compromise has had unfortunate, perhaps even tragic, consequences, especially for the younger generation.

One such consequence appears to be the degradation and erosion of the pristine values and high standards that should theoretically permeate the Lubavitch community, but undeniably don’t. Another is a lack of expectation for high performance, which in turn leads to a debilitating sense of complacency and an insidious corrosion of idealism. This is all the more absurd, considering that traditionally the derech of Chassidus Chabad demands rigorous personal change more intensely than other Chassidic groups.

To be sure, in many cases the schools and shuls with the lower standards described above were established with the Rebbe’s approval. However, this does not prove that this must remain forever the status quo, for it is evident that the desperate circumstances of those times necessitated such an approach. But times have changed in countless ways. The return to Yiddishkeit has increased dramatically over the post-war decades, the frum community is burgeoning, there is a plethora of schools and shuls, and Chabad communities and institutions are growing and developing worldwide. In many places the reality has changed such that separate institutions that follow higher standards are now feasible, and have been for a while.

On the practical level, the short-term solution to such natural conflicts is to come to a working compromise. In the long term, however, such a situation should not and cannot continue indefinitely. One cannot satisfy everyone, nor is it fair to drag people down to lower standards than those appropriate for them (or, conversely, to require them to adopt standards for which they are not yet ready). This problem can only be resolved by creating multiple institutions and infrastructures, each catering to the needs of a specific group.

Let us promote recognition of this problem, and do our utmost to rectify it as appropriate wherever it is found. May Hashem help us.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Completely pointless identification

The Previous Rebbe writes:
If you desire to be in the list of those bound with me, you need to fix a time every day to learn the words of the living G–d, the teachings of Chassidus Chabad. On Shabbos you should learn twice as much. You should conduct yourself in the ways of Chassidus with regard to the version of the liturgy that you use, and by immersing in the Mikveh before Shabbos, and on the morning of Shabbos and Yom Tov. You should wear Tefillin in the manner [customary for chassidei Chabad], and make a point of praying at length on special occasions.

Without the above, it is completely pointless [for you to be counted in the list of those bound with me].

For one who has not bound himself up [with me], and who does not wish to conduct himself according to the ways of chassidim, and study the teachings of Chassidus—and especially for those who oppose it, as some administrators of your age have done—I am not sure whether the blessings that we bless them have any benefit.

Igros Kodesh Admur HaRayatz, Vol. 4, p. 279.
To put this in my own words: To identify as a chossid, and reap the spiritual and material benefits of being connected to the Rebbe, there are conditions, requirements, and rules. It is not a free-for-all.

People may notice that chassidim behave distinctively in particular areas, and come to the conclusion that these areas define Chassidic identity. For example, a chossid will make a point of fraternizing with other chassidim and dressing in a certain way. To be sure, being a chossid means taking part in the Chassidic community, but that’s not to say that one’s choice of social circle makes one a chossid. Likewise, although a chossid dresses differently, one’s dress does not make one a chossid.

Rather, it’s about how one acts. One who has genuinely committed to follow the lifestyle that Chassidus prescribes makes himself a vessel for the spiritual blessings from the Rebbeim, and is worthy of being called a chossid. In contrast, one who doesn’t follow this lifestyle will not receive these blessings, and shouldn’t call himself a chossid. Not that he can’t receive any blessings, but he can’t receive these blessings. And calling oneself a chossid, and failing to fulfill what is required of a chossid, or at least striving conscientiously in that direction, won’t make one a chossid, and in that case calling oneself a chossideino inyan klal”—is completely pointless.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

We want and need the Rebbe down here!

The Rebbe delivered the sicha below a little over a month after Yud Shevat (the Histalkus of the Previous Rebbe):
Those who say that Histalkus means that the Rebbe has forsaken us are wild people who don’t know what they are talking about.

In the Basi Le’Gani discourse[1]—which [the Previous Rebbe] distributed in advance to be studied on the day of his Histalkus—the [Previous] Rebbe explains the statement of the Zohar, “When one bends the Sitra Achra [“the other side,” i.e., evil], G–d’s glory is revealed [estalek, which literally means “rises up”] throughout all the worlds.”[2] Will someone come here too and interpret the word estalek literally, G–d forbid?!

Rather, the [Previous] Rebbe explains that this expression—“G–d’s glory is revealed [estalek]” represents the eliciting of a very lofty light, on the level of Sovev Kol Almin.[3] This divine flow is called Histalkus, because it exists in an elevated state.[4] From this we can infer that the same applies concerning the “Histalkus” of the [Previous] Rebbe. ...

Yet despite this, we want and need the Rebbe in the simple sense, down here.

The father of the Rebbe Rashab, the Rebbe Maharash, once asked his father, the Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, concerning the year that had been called a “keitz” [auspicious time for Moshiach to come]: “How could it be that Moshiach didn’t arrive?” His responded, “The Likkutei Torah was printed!”[5] the Rebbe Maharash told his father, the Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, “But we want and need Moshiach literally, down here!

Toras Menachem, Vol. 1, p. 18

[1] Sefer HaMa’amarim 5710, p. 111 ff.
[2] 2:128b. Tanya ch. 27. Likkutei Torah, beg. Pekudei.
[3] “Encompassing G–dliness,” a sublime level of G–dliness relative to which all the differentiation between the higher and lower worlds is as naught.
[4] Torah Ohr, end Vayakhel.
[5] Printing of Chassidus is a kind of “spiritual redemption.” Chassidus reveals the greatness of Hashem, and this resembles the revelation of Hashem that will take place when the redemption arrives.
Summary: Histalkus is the term used for the passing of a Tzaddik. Although literally it means “departure,” the Rebbe explains very passionately that it should not be translated in this way when we speak of the Previous Rebbe, for the Previous Rebbe is with us no less after his Histalkus, albeit in a hidden manner. Although the Previous Rebbe is still with us, the Rebbe declares that we must not be willing to suffice with this, and concludes with a fervent prayer that we be reunited with the Previous Rebbe in a tangible, visible sense.

Lesson: The relevance of this sicha for Chabad chassidim today, after Gimmel Tammuz, is self-evident, and it is especially potent in light of the principle that the Rebbe himself taught us that “he ruled concerning himself.” The lesson is that the Rebbe is with us no less after Gimmel Tammuz, and yet we must not allow ourselves to come to terms with this situation. Rather, we must davven to Hashem and demand to be reunited with the Rebbe in a fully visible manner; or, as the Rebbe put it at the conclusion of his first Ma’amar here, “May we merit to see and be together with the [Previous] Rebbe, down here in a physical body and within our reach, and he will redeem us.”