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Through The Eyes of a Woman

Brief Themes: Random Thoughts Extracted from Shiurim

Awaiting Mashiach

Mashiach is not a theory, or an abstract idea. The Torah describes him as a very real, live person. This is one of the 13 principles of our faith. The Rambam explains that anyone who does not believe in Mashiach, or does not eagerly await his coming, is essentially a heretic! That is to say, it is not enough to simply passively await Mashiach, you have to actively await his coming.

A great lecturer, who spoke on the 40th anniversary of the Rebbe's leadership, made the following interesting point regarding the matter of awaiting Mashiach. What the Rebbe did to change this concept of waiting for Mashiach, he said, is something unique. Those of you who have heard the Rebbe's farbrengens and sichos know that almost every farbrengen and every sichah ends with the sentiment, "May Mashiach come now!" The expression, "We want Mashiach now," has become a Lubavitch trademark.

There are many different ways of waiting for something, and there's a world of difference between them. Sometimes you wait for something and really you're dreading it. You really don't want it to happen, but you know that it is going to happen, and you're waiting for it. Then you might be waiting, you know you're just waiting. However, the Rebbe has made waiting something you do with bated breath!

I once heard in a lecture a mashal, an analogy, explaining the difference between awaiting Mashiach passively, and awaiting Mashiach actively: When a parent has a sick child, with a fever, let's say, of 104. The child is very very sick and you're really worried. "Maybe I should take him to the hospital? Maybe he has something life-threatening, G-d forbid?" So you call the doctor, and you tell him the symptoms, and the doctor says, "This is very serious; I'm coming right away." The mother and father, of course, are very, very concerned, and all they can think about right now is when that doctor is going to come and what is the doctor going to say. That type of waiting is called active waiting; that's not just sitting back and waiting. There's nothing else on your mind except the waiting.

"Of course, Mashiach is going to come one of these days," you will hear stated. "It's part of the Jewish faith, you know. But we have until the year 6000. What's the rush?" No, that's not good enough anymore. We can't just wait. We have to mamash (really) wait. Every day we should say, "He's not here yet?! What's wrong? He was supposed to be here by now, it's already Iyar, how come he's not here?" And if Lag BeOmer comes and Mashiach is still not here -- impossible! He's got to be here by Lag BeOmer. By Shavuos of course he'll be with us!

The Rebbe has been working on this since he became the Rebbe -- the concept of bringing Mashiach into our everyday lives. I think that the Rebbe wants us to understand that we haven't been asking hard enough for Mashiach. If we had been asking HaShem hard enough, HaShem would not withhold him. But HaShem sees that we're perfectly content without Mashiach, "So ok, if you don't want him, I can wait."

We have to learn from our kids. You know how kids can get. They nudj and bother you so much that eventually you give them what they want, just to get them off your back. Apparently we haven't been doing that. True, we pray for Mashiach every day in the Amidah prayer, but we don't do more than that. But the Rebbe wants people to beg for Mashiach, and even demand him, until he comes.

The Gemara states that there are several questions that are asked of the Neshamah when it stands before the Heavenly Court, after passing away from this world. One of the questions is, "Did you deal honestly with your fellow man while you were on this earth?" Another question is, "Did you eagerly await the Redemption?" Did you wait for Mashiach while you were alive?

Let us make sure that we, and everyone we come into contact with, can answer this question in the affirmative.

It must be emphasized that awaiting Mashiach is not just a good thing, it is Halachah. As you may know, the Rambam's Yad HaChazakah is a book of laws. In his introduction to the work, the Rambam declares that everything in it is halachah, Torah law, rather than commentary or ethics. The Rambam's rulings are largely accepted as the final ruling. Only a relatively small percentage of his rulings were not accepted by later legal authorities. The rule of thumb is that unless one of the other major authorities disagrees with the Rambam, his rulings are law. Now, the final section of the Yad deals with the laws of Mashiach. Here the Rambam is regarded as the final authority, because here he is the sole authority.

Let us now examine some of the text: The Rambam is discussing what will happen when Mashiach comes. The first thing is that the Mashiach will be a king who will arise and return the kingdom of David to the way it was in the past, to its original sovereignty. He will rebuild the Temple and gather the dispersed remnant of Israel. All of the laws of the Torah will return in his time as they were in the days of old. Sacrifices will again be brought, and once again we will observe the laws of shemittah[21] completely. Although we observe some of the laws of shemittah in Israel today also, we do not observe all of its laws, since many of them are simply not applicable today. Similarly, the yovel (the jubilee year which follows seven shemittah years, the fiftieth year), which we do not observe at all now, will also return with the advent of Mashiach. The Rambam continues that whoever does not believe in Mashiach, or one who believes in him but doesn't wait for him (that is, he doesn't seem to really care if Mashiach comes today or not) not only rejects the prophecies of the prophets, but in effect rejects the entire Torah and Moshe Rabbeinu.

What the Rambam is telling us is that the belief in Mashiach is not an appendage to the Torah, that you can keep the 613 mitzvos and then there's an optional clause about Mashiach which you can take or leave. Because truly, what difference does the belief in Mashiach make to your observance of mitzvos? You can be very G-d fearing and keep the mitzvos because HaShem said so, whether you believe in Mashiach or not. So here the Rambam gives a ruling. This is not an opinion, this is a law: A person who does not believe in Mashiach, or one who does not eagerly await Mashiach, is considered a heretic as regards the entire Torah. That's how closely the belief and the waiting for Mashiach is bound up with the entire body of Yiddishkeit and faith in HaShem.

This is the first thing. Now the Rambam goes on to show us the proofs for this: The Torah already declared that Mashiach will come, as it says in the Torah itself: There will come a day when G-d will return all of your captives and he will gather all the Jews from the entire world, even if they are at the ends of the earth. This is written not in Chassidus and not in Midrash and not even in the Prophets. This is part of the Chumash. This has not yet happened.

The Rambam goes on to quote the section where Bilaam wanted to curse the Jewish people, but ended up blessing them and prophesying what will happen when Mashiach comes. Parshas Balak implies that there will be two Mashiachs: David HaMelech, who waged wars against our enemies and unified the Jewish people and started to build the Beis HaMikdash. (Shlomo completed it but David had a tremendous role in solidifying the Jewish people.) And Mashiach, who is his descendant, will complete it ultimately at the end of days.

So we knew as soon as we were in the desert that there were going to be not one, but two men that were going to be related to each other by blood, that would both save the Jewish people. For the remainder of this paragraph, the Rambam cites different passages that relate to both of the Mashiachs, the first being David and the second, Mashiach.

The Rebbe often quotes the Chida -- Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai -- who lived in the eighteenth century. He declares that even if a Jew is not worthy of Mashiach, because his deeds are not as good as they should be, nevertheless, the mere yearning for Mashiach is in itself a meritorious activity. In other words, the Rebbe points out here that even if we are not on the highest level yet of learning or observance, the mere desire for Mashiach is an extremely important thing for a person to cultivate, because it is written that when HaShem sees that the Jews really want Mashiach, He will bring Mashiach.

We thus have a tremendously meaningful and real role in the bringing of Mashiach. The advent of Mashiach depends on a conglomeration of many different factors, but one of those many factors is, Do the people that live in Mashiach's time really want him? If not he can just wait another while. But we cannot wait any longer. So we have to be a little bit insistent and a little assertive and demand it.

In a later passage the Rambam states that it is not good for a Jew to spend a lot of time trying to understand all of the details in the coming of Mashiach. He should better put his energy into bringing Mashiach. In other words, all the speculation --will it be like this, will it be like that, who will do what? -- is all not really important because whenever he comes, however he comes, we want him as soon as possible... and then we'll find out all the details. In the Gemara it says that there are certain times when Mashiach will not come, such as erev Shabbos, so as to not distract the Jews from their preparations for Shabbos. He won't come because preparing for Shabbos is such a holy thing. Nor will he come on Shabbos, Yom-Tov, and so on.

One time the Rebbe was farbrenging on Shabbos, and he said that Mashiach could come now, even before this farbrengen is over. Then he said with a smile, If you argue that it is Shabbos and Mashiach cannot come on Shabbos, he or Eliyahu HaNavi will surely be able to answer the question -- why he came on Shabbos, and why this is permissible! First let him come, and then we'll ask him all the questions….

Miracle of Miracles

There are many, many miracles that are performed for us that we don't even know about. But when a miracle comes down below the line, and we can see it happening, as events unfold before our eyes, that is much more exciting. When the Geulah Shleimah, the final and complete Redemption, takes place (any minute now), we're going to open our eyes and see the most fantastic miracles that anybody could ever imagine. The miracles that the Jewish people will witness during the Geulah will make Yetzias Mitzrayim (the Exodus from Egypt) sound like just ordinary events. The miracles of the future will be miraculous in comparison with the miracles of the Exodus from Egypt.

Jewish Pride

The Rebbe maintains that the pride of a Jew in his mission as a Jew should prompt him not to be shy or unassuming. On the contrary, a Jew should always be assertive and proud to be Jewish. Of course, a person can go around saying, "I am a Jew, and I am great," and feel tremendous conceit, which is directed only to himself, a "holier-than-thou" attitude. The Rebbe explains that haughtiness and arrogance are not "Jewish pride." On the contrary, a Jew is always humble and subservient towards his Creator, and towards his fellow Jews as well.

However, the idea here is that he should have a sense of mission, of purpose, and be proud of the mission he has been given in life -- to illuminate the world.

About the Holocaust

One of the questions people have asked the Rebbe about the Holocaust is, whether it is legitimate to even ask questions about it. After all, one who asks questions about the Holocaust seems to doubt Divine Justice. But the Rebbe said not only that it is all right; on the contrary, it shows that the person believes in HaShem.

An atheist or agnostic who doesn't believe that there is a Supreme Being in the world, cannot ask questions. Whom will he ask? If there's no G-d, then the world is like a jungle, and the lion has every right to eat a smaller, weaker animal -- because the fittest survive. There's no Divine Justice to question. But if you are troubled by what happened in the Holocaust, and you feel that it was unjust, unfair, and you ask questions because you can't figure out how G-d, Who is just and fair, could let such an event take place -- that is perfectly legitimate.

In our prayers we ask HaShem for parnassah, for health, and for many other things. If what HaShem does is final and absolute, there is no chance for change, so why do we daven? The fact that we can daven at all means that there is a chance of changing our "fate" and our lives. Things are not written in stone. One must have faith that justice will be done, and that the world is not a wild jungle where anybody can do anything to anybody else without having to answer for it.

We believe that there must be some G-dly reason why people have to suffer, die, be killed or hurt. Nevertheless, a Jew has to have humility and realize that he will never really understand G-d's ways. He has to have a certain acceptance without demanding that he understand.

A couple of years ago, when I was a teenager, a very strange thing happened in Crown Heights. A Lubavitcher man was going home from shul on Friday night and as he was going home, an "African American" began following him. Suddenly the mugger took out a gun and said, "Give me your money." The Yid said, "I don't have any money; it's Shabbos." The guy flew off the handle and he said, "Give me your money," and the yid said "I don't have any money." So he said, "Ok, so I'm going to kill you." The mugger was standing just a few inches from his victim, and he shot him at point blank range. The bullet went into his chin. He didn't even realize that he had been shot. When he came into the house, his wife looked at him and saw that he was full of blood. Off they went to the Emergency Room. Miracle of miracles -- they found that the bullet had hit his jawbone at such an angle that it just embedded itself in the bone. If it had been a drop below or to the side, he would have been killed because it was so close to his neck. He had an operation; they took out the bullet and he's healthy and well.

What do we see from this incident? That if a goy tries to kill a person, but he is not supposed to die yet, he won't die. We hear stories like this day after day: A woman falls from the fourth floor and nothing happens to her. Somebody else would have died. How come? Because it was not yet her time.

The neshamah is eternal -- this is one of the foundations of Yiddishkeit -- the neshamah is eternal and the body is temporary. If a Jew is murdered for the fact that he is Jewish -- even if he is not frum (pious), but just because he is a Jew -- then his death is called a Kiddush HaShem.

It doesn't have to be dramatic, like being tied to the stake and proclaiming, Shema Yisrael HaShem Elokeinu HaShem Echad as they light the fire. Even if someone is killed in a terrorist act because of the fact that he is Jewish, he is regarded as a kadosh, a holy martyr. He could have been the biggest rasha, but if he met his death because he's a Jew, he is a kadosh.

This is true of all the six million who died in the Holocaust. We call them all kedoshim, even those who were not yet observant.

There is a very big difference between something that is sad and something that is bad. You see, things could be very sad without being bad. If a child is sad because his new toy broke, it's very sad to watch him, but it doesn't mean that it is a bad thing, even though it is sad to see him cry.

The neshamah exists forever. So what happens to the body, to the person -- in the long run when you're talking about eternity -- is of less significance than what happens to his or her soul. If one keeps the bigger picture in mind, one will realize that those people who died in the Holocaust achieved the highest level, even though the manner in which they died was very sad, very painful.

Captured Souls

The Rebbe explains that in our generation, the vast majority of Jews who are not leading a Torah life, are in the category of tinok shenishbah -- a child taken captive. Let's say that this child later finds out that he really is a Jew. Now because he was captured as a child, he never learned a thing about Yiddishkeit. Can you come and start arguing with him, "Why aren't you wearing a yarmulke (skull cap)? Why aren't you wearing tzitzis (fringes)? What's wrong with you?" How can you criticize him? Many Jews in our generation are in the same category; accordingly, how can you ask, "Why don't you keep Torah and mitzvos?"

One opinion in the Gemara states that Mashiach will come when all the Yidden will keep two Shabbosos. Now, the way things look to us right now, it seems a little unlikely. However, the misconception is that this is the only way in which Mashiach can come. This is not so.

There are two verses which we repeat at the end of the nefilas apayim prayer: "HaShem, release the Jewish people from all their troubles! And He will release them from all their sins." This means that Mashiach is not going to wait for the Jewish people. Mashiach is not going to sit there and say, "Nu? There is still one Jew there and I'm waiting, I'm waiting." No! Mashiach doesn't have to wait until everyone does teshuvah. Rather, he will come when HaShem says so. And these verses tell us that first HaShem is going to release all of the Jewish people from all of their troubles and anxieties, and then He will redeem us from all of our sins.

We cannot say whether it is the absence of a complete teshuvah of all Jews that is keeping Mashiach from coming. We don't know what's keeping Mashiach. By every calculation, Mashiach should have been here already. We don't know what's stopping him.

Those of us who happen to be fortunate enough to know more, cannot bang non-religious Jews over the head and say, "You're going to get Gehinnom." That's not the way. Furthermore, one should not say bad things about Yidden. Don't invite evil by saying bad things. A frum Jew would never say, "If you go out without a sweater, you'll get pneumonia." You shouldn't say such a thing! You say, "Put on your coat."

When a Jew says something, it has an effect. You may not see it, but it is there. There is a story about the Baal Shem Tov in which he showed his disciples what happens spiritually when one Jew curses another. One person screamed at another that he was going to tear him apart like a fish. He told the disciples to form a ring and with the divine gift of spiritual vision they saw the person actually being torn apart.

Torah is an inheritance for every Jew, even for those Jews who at this moment are not behaving properly. Every Jew has an equal share in Torah. One who sees a flaw in somebody else, actually has it in himself. If you notice flaws in other people, it's very possible that this is because you have those flaws.

What's the difference between seeing flaws in a negative way, and seeing them in a positive way? If a person really wants to do good, instead of seeing flaws, you see the problem as something that needs correction. I'll give you an example. There's a tremendous difference between a mother whose child is having trouble in school who says "Oy. Maybe the kid should go to a slower class; what can I do to help my child because he's having a problem?" That's one way of looking at the situation. Another person says, "Oy. This kid is so dumb!" They'll just see it as a flaw. Somebody else sees it as a situation that needs correction, so the emphasis is on what can we do to make things better. But when the situation is only one of criticism, then we know that it's emanating not from a place of kedushah, but from the opposite. If you only see how great you are, you only automatically see how small others are. The greater you think you are, the smaller you think others are. The smaller you think you are, the greater you think others are.

All we have to concentrate on now is ahavas Yisrael, overlooking the flaws, overlooking the negative qualities, and just looking at the positive. Let's work on bringing Yidden closer, because that is going to bring Mashiach. Condemnation is counterproductive, and it's also untrue. The truth about every Jew is that he's a tzaddik. He wants to become more frum, he wants to do more. The Rebbe points out that in order to be a heretic, an apikores, you have to first know what you're defying. Most of the people who are not frum are totally ignorant of Yiddishkeit. Baruch HaShem, we have a certain chinuch, a certain hashkafah. But others don't. We must try to bring them to Yiddishkeit. But cursing them out certainly won't do it. We have to have ahavas Yisrael, and daven for Mashiach, that's all.

Turning from Evil, and Doing Good

If you want to bring a king into the house and the house is a mess, you can't decorate it until you clean it up. "Turning away from evil" is like cleaning up. Then we can "do good" -- decorate the house, put the vase on the table, bring the carpet in, and so on. However, all of this is true when things are normal, when the world runs along its natural course.

However, we live in a world where the rules are changing. So close to the coming of Mashiach, that there isn't time left to do things in the normal good old-fashioned way. You know, you can cook in five minutes what used to take your great-grandmother a day and a half. In gashmiyus (the physical world), everything is instant today. Why is that? Because in spirituality we can't waste time anymore by doing things the long way. In our generation, we can start with "doing good."

Even if a person is just beginning in Yiddishkeit, if circumstances were normal you would say, "I can't teach him Torah yet; let's finish alef-beis, then go through the Siddur; then we'll go through the Chumash." By that time, unfortunately, you may have lost the person you were trying to bring back to Yiddishkeit.

This is the answer to those who ask us why we learn Tanya with beginners -- because it will immediately affect the person, so that eventually he or she will get what they need.

The world is very confused today. Not only in gashmiyus; also in ruchniyus (spirituality). There are a lot of things in this world that are not clear. One of the reasons for this confusion in our life is because never before has there been a generation like ours. We have no precedent. Every generation before ours, was like the other ones that preceded it. In former times, a man knew that he was a man, and what his duties as a husband and father were. A woman knew that she was a woman, and she knew what her duties and responsibilities as a wife and mother were. Today, none of this is clear.

The Rebbe has stated many times that we are the last generation before Mashiach comes. We're at the bottom, at the heels of Mashiach. Mashiach is just around the corner and we are closer than any generation has ever been. This is a situation that has no precedent, and therefore it creates a certain uneasiness, and therefore many people do not know how to behave.

Charity Begins... And Doesn't End

The Frierdiker (Previous) Rebbe used to say that there are three loves -- like a triangle: love of G-d, love of one's fellow Jew and love of the Torah. In the Hebrew: ahavas HaShem, ahavas Yisrael and ahavas HaTorah. None of them can exist without the other two. Which is the key? From where do you start? You start from ahavas Yisrael -- love for your fellow Jew. If you succeed in developing ahavas Yisrael, that will lead you to ahavas HaShem and ahavas HaTorah. But a Jew who says he loves HaShem and loves Torah but doesn't care for his neighbors next door, that means there's a blemish even in his ahavas HaShem and his ahavas HaTorah.

One of the clearest expressions of ahavas Yisrael is giving tzedakah. Tzedakah is not only something done annually on Purim, and/or before Pesach. It is not only something to be done once a week before you light the Shabbos candles. People should give tzedakah every day. We shouldn't look at tzedakah as a "sometime event," as if our life is full of many things and once in a while we give tzedakah also. On the contrary, the whole reason for your life is giving tzedakah.

The Baal Shem Tov actually spelled it out in what became a famous quotation: "A neshamah may come down from heaven and live in this world for seventy or eighty years, in order to do a Jew a single favor in physical things or in spiritual matters." What does that teach us? That all of the other things you did in your life, whether you got a job or you went to school, or you got married or whatever else you did, all of these might be the minor things of your life. The main thing that your neshamah came down for, was to do a certain favor for a Jew, physically or spiritually. When you internalize this idea, you change your whole outlook on life. When you go out to work or shop, or whatever, you're not only thinking about what you have to accomplish that day, according to what is written on your "to do today list." Rather, you have to remember that the real reason for going out, to walk or to shop or just to go about life, is to look for opportunities to do tzedakah for a fellow Jew.

Now tzedakah does not only mean giving money to a person who's dying of hunger. That's one form of it, but it's not the only form of it. Tzedakah also means giving something to another Jew that he doesn't have and needs, and that you have. It can also be acknowledgement; it can be a listening ear, encouragement, sympathy, and so on. If there is something another person truly needs, and you have the capacity to give, this falls under the category of tzedakah.

When you think of it in that way, then you don't just wait until somebody comes over and taps you on the shoulder, or knocks on your door and says, "I'm collecting for a yeshivah," and then you give. You don't just wait until somebody finds you, and say, "Oh, I can't get out of this one so I'll just write him a check and get rid of him." You think, "Where can I find somebody that needs tzedakah?" You look around for opportunities to do tzedakah, whether physical or spiritual.

There's a verse in Tehillim which states, "A man goes out to his task and works until evening (adei erev)." The simple meaning is -- the rat race. But that is not what it really means. The word erev in Hebrew could have two meanings, "evening," and "sweet" (arev). Thus, according to the Baal Shem Tov, the verse means that a person goes out to his avodah, to his spiritual work, in order to transform bitterness into sweetness. In other words, a Jew looks for opportunities to sweeten the world and make it more pleasant. How does he or she do that? By seeking out opportunities where things that seem bad can be transformed into things that seem good.

If somebody comes your way and seems very tired or very hungry or very sad, you could say, "Oh, isn't that terrible that in this world there are people that are so sad. Oh, tsk, tsk, tsk. It would be nicer if everything was happy." But then you could say, "One minute, this sad person lives near me, and by hashgachah peratis I know about it, so maybe there is something I should do about it." If you go in to visit that neighbor and you bring some joy into her life, which you can do in various ways, then you've taken an opportunity to transform bitterness into sweetness. HaShem provided us with sick people not that we should say, "Oh, it's so terrible that there's sickness in the world, I wish there would be no sickness." If you know a sick person, why don't you go visit them?

Bikur cholim is also a form of tzedakah. It is written that when you visit a sick person you take away with you one-sixtieth of their illness. Our job is to work until the bitterness becomes sweetness, and the darkness light. We do not just work until it becomes dark and then punch the clock and say, "OK, I'm finished. It's night." We have to make the night into day, and then we are finished. When we have taken these opportunities for badness and made them into goodness, then we can go home. Then we have completed our task, our lifetime task.

Every year that we live and every day that we live, HaShem sprinkles throughout our lives opportunities to do tzedakah in very many ways. We have only to realize that everything else we're busy with is really superficial, compared to this.

However, sometimes people get so busy doing chessed for other people that they forget about their own families. You see this very often, these busy, busy people who are always on the phone with other people, and their children are what they used to call emotional orphans. You know they have mothers, theoretically, but the mothers are never there for them. The mothers are always running around doing mitzvos for everybody else. Be aware that tzedakah doesn't mean only to strangers. It starts first and foremost in your own home. Because if your husband needs something or if your children need something, that is your first duty of tzedakah.

Somebody told me a joke about a guy who came home from a farbrengen. His wife said, "Nu, tell me something that the Rebbe said." "The Rebbe spoke a lot about ahavas Yisrael, so I have no time to talk to you now. I must go out and do ahavas Yisrael to somebody." Here's your wife, can't you have a little ahavas Yisrael for your own wife? Must all the love for a fellow Jew be directed to people outside of your family? The fact that this is your husband and these are your children, is also significant. It's HaShem's way of telling you that these souls which happen to be in your very own house, are the first addresses of tzedakah before you do for others.

To tell you the truth, I find this a very big issue in my own life, because taking care of the needs of your family is so time consuming. They can fill your entire life so that it's very hard to know where to put your energies. But we must remember that this striving should be a continuing struggle; we should never forget about our family. On the other hand we must teach our family the importance of taking care of people other than the family. We should only thank HaShem that we are involved in these struggles and not others.

One of the interpretations of the words bechol meodecha in the Shema is bechol mamonecha -- with all your money. You have to love G-d with all your heart, soul, and money! What a strange interpretation. Our Sages explain that this is because there are people whose money is more valuable to them than their life. This can only happen when a person was nurtured in a family that didn't give tzedakah. Because when a family gives tzedakah, then people are inculcated in infancy that there's a wheel of fortune that turns, and HaShem is up there turning it. When you have the money -- you give to those that don't. And if you don't have the money, it's your turn to take. It's not pleasant, but you know that things change. Who says that I'm the one to always go up and never go down?

When is a Jew tight-fisted? When he thinks that all the money that he earns he really earns and he deserves and it's MINE! You know, if it's mine, why should I give it to you? What did you do to get my money? But if you make a proper calculation as to whether you really deserve the money, you will realize why you ought to share it with others. Ask yourself, "Did I do everything that HaShem is asking of me?" Obviously not, and still HaShem is so generous, he gives me my salary. So then you say, "Tzedakah, I've got to give some to others." Think about someone else, and you will be doing yourself the biggest service you can!

Modesty

There was a woman whom the Gemara singled out as extraordinary in her observance of the laws of modesty -- tzniyus. Her name was Kimchis. The Gemara tells us that this woman was so careful about her tzniyus, that the beams of her house never saw her hair. She had her hair covered even in her house. Even though there are times when a married woman may uncover her hair, she was extra careful and she kept her hair covered all the time. Because she was extra cautious, the Gemara tells us that she had seven sons and each one of her seven sons in turn became a Kohen Gadol (High Priest). Many women had the merit of having one son become a Kohen Gadol, but she had seven sons reach this holy position. Kimchis could have said, as any Jewish woman could say today, "Who needs sons that are Kohanim Gedolim? What's wrong with sons that are just regular Kohanim? That's nice enough. What's wrong with sons that are just Jews? Do I have to be so special that my children will be Kohanim Gedolim? Do I have to exert myself in the chinuch of my children that they should be extraordinary Jews?"

Since the Gemara told us this story in praise of Kimchis, it means that the Torah is giving us the message that we have the ability to raise our own children, or the children that we come in contact with if we don't have children of our own, to achieve the level of Kohanim Gedolim. Do not be satisfied with less. Always strive for the highest. Just as in physical things, you would never say to your daughter, "Well, as long as you have something to wear, who cares if it's old and patched and faded. You know, it's a skirt." No, you want them to have something stylish (but modest!); something nice. Similarly, as regards food: Do we just throw down an old piece of bread and say, "Come and eat, dinner's ready." No, we want to make it tasty. So why is it that in spiritual things we're willing to settle for the second best or the third best? We should always learn from Kimchis and strive to make our children Kohanim Gedolim and not just regular Kohanim. The Rebbe said that if a woman really exerts herself and really in her heart tries to do this HaShem will give her a berachah that she should merit to raise children who are truly a source of blessing to the Jewish People.

The Indivisible Essence

The Baal Shem Tov taught that when you grasp part of the essence, it's as if you are holding onto all of the essence. For example, if a person is falling, and you have to save the person, it's enough to grab onto his hand because once you've grabbed onto his hand, you've got the whole thing. You don't have to grab onto his entire body. Therefore, the Baal Shem Tov taught that it is important to get hooked onto even a part of something, because once you are connected to a part, you already have the whole. The same is true of Torah and mitzvos. Of course, one cannot decide to keep only some part of Torah and mitzvos, while ignoring the rest. This is obviously not the intention. Rather, it is like that question one Sage of the Talmud asked another, "What mitzvah was your father particularly careful with?" It is as if he was asking, "What was his favorite mitzvah?" although he obviously kept them all. In this sense, it's important to grab some of the Torah and some of the mitzvos. In this way you are connected to the greater whole.

Highest and LowestThere's a concept in Chassidus that the higher something is the lower it can fall. Chassidus explains that everything in this world has a root in the upper worlds. There is no object or concept that exists in our world that doesn't have a correlating spiritual source. The lower something is, the higher its source.

The intimate relationship between a man and woman is regarded by the world as something lowly, an animal instinct which must be fulfilled. However, in Yiddishkeit, the power to have children is called a revelation of Or Ein Sof, the Infinite Light, because this is the only area in a human being's life where one can do something infinite. Everything else that we do is finite, but when a couple has an intimate relationship, with HaShem's participation, they can create a child, something which will have eternal ramifications.

This act has a very, very high source because only in this situation is a person akin to HaShem. Because this act has fallen so low in many people's estimation, it teaches us that the source is very high. If its source wasn't so high, it could never have fallen to such a low level. HaShem gives us free choice to sanctify it or vulgarize it.

If somebody finds that they have cravings or violent tendencies or gravitations or pullings to bad things, it doesn't mean that the person is bad: just like they have very strong desires or passions for evil, it means that they have an exactly opposite corresponding power to do good. They may not know it, it may be dormant, but if you have a big yetzer hara, it means you have a big yetzer tov too. Until Mashiach comes we have to struggle with the yetzer hara. That is unfortunate. But it gives you the opportunity to rise above and reach a much higher level. This is very hard work. It isn't easy for a person to overcome his yetzer hara. But it's certainly worth the effort.

Yosef

The Rebbe gave many, many sichos about the name Yosef. Yosef means to add, to increase. When Rachel gave birth to Yosef she immediately said, "May HaShem add to me another son." In other words, her first reaction to having this son was that she should have another son.

One can increase and add to the Yidden of this world in two ways. One way is to give birth to another Jew, to add another Jew. But there are many, many Jews, we all know some of them, who do not consider themselves part of the Jewish nation. The fact that they are Jews is a very minor fact in their life. Now when you meet such a person and you make them aware of the specialness of being a Jew, and that fact all of a sudden acquires importance, it's like adding another Jew. Until now that person didn't feel that he counted as part of the Jewish Nation. Now, because of your help, you added him in. That is the idea of Yosef.

Leaders and Followers

Moshe Rabbeinu was the archetypal leader. Unfortunately, we live in a world where every country, and almost every city, has a leader who is not a true leader. They are followers. They do what the people want, not necessarily what ought to be done. Our Sages state that one of the possibilities regarding the spiritual state of the world when Mashiach comes is described by the phrase, Pnei hador kipnei hakelev -- "The face of the generation is like the face of a dog." "The face of the generation" means the leaders and representatives of the generation. Why do they have the face of a dog? If you have ever watched a dog, you will have seen that it generally runs ahead of its master, but it keeps looking back over its shoulder to see which direction its master is going in. At first glance, the dog looks like the leader, but it soon becomes clear that it is just following -- ahead of its master. The same is true of most of today's leaders. They keep a very watchful eye on what the public wants, and they mold their principles and policies accordingly. Thus they reveal what they really are... followers, not leaders.

What are the characteristics of a true leader? The Rebbe says that if we want to see an example, let's look at Moshe, because Moshe has the qualities of true leadership. One of those qualities is true devotion to the people -- to the point that the leader becomes subservient, in a sense, to the people -- although not in the way mentioned above, by looking over his shoulder to see what they want. When the Jewish people committed the sin of the Golden Calf, HaShem told Moshe, "Go down [the mountain]. Your people has sinned." Rashi comments, "I gave you greatness only for the sake of the Jewish people." Now go down from your lofty spiritual level and bring them to repentance. Subsequently, when pleading with HaShem to forgive the Jewish people, Moshe Rabbeinu declared, "If You will not forgive them, erase me from Your Book [the Torah]." This was total devotion and dedication to the Jewish people. Similarly, when the Spies sinned and discouraged the Jewish people from going into Israel, and the entire generation was punished by being prevented from going into Israel, Moshe declared, "I'm not going either." Although the ostensible reason that Moshe did not enter Israel was because he hit the rock instead of talking to it, the Rebbe explains that Moshe was so powerful that if he had really held out, "I'm not budging until You let me go into Eretz Yisrael," HaShem would have let him in. He would have accepted Moshe's teshuvah. But he chose not to do this out of his devotion to the Jewish people. He would rather remain in exile, with the rest of the Jewish people, until the final Redemption, when all Jews will be brought to Israel. This is the sign of a true leader.

Traindrivers and Astronauts

Today was the annual N'shei Chabad [Lubavitch Women's] Convention which is held every summer in the month of Av. [Since the passing of Rebbitzin Chaya Mushka, the Rebbe's wife, it is now held on her yahrzeit, the 22nd of Shvat. This date is the day before Nechoma's yahrzeit. -- ed.] I spent the whole day there today from 9:30 in the morning until I came home at about 7:15. And all day long speeches and speeches. I'm not going to share all the speeches. I just want to share a couple of little points that were of interest, that I think you'll enjoy.

One of the speakers gave a very beautiful mashal (parable) that I want you to know so that you can share it with others. A chassid should always be a ner leha'ir, a candle to illuminate -- whatever you hear you have to share.

Now, in ancient Jewish times, there weren't so many different ways of being a frum Jew. It was kind of straight. This was the path. As the years went on, towards the end of galus, and particularly in our day, there are many, many different streams of Yiddishkeit, many different paths. And it seems like everybody is legitimate. Each one claims to be the right way. And it can get very confusing. This lady gave the following mashal to explain the situation: Imagine that there's a train going on a journey. The objective of the train is not to travel the railroad tracks. Rather, the idea is to get to the next station. The train wants to go someplace. When you're riding on the train, when you're in the middle of the journey, all you can see is those two tracks that your train is riding on, and all around you are fields and forests. However, as the train progresses and gets closer to its destination, all of a sudden, more tracks start appearing, and the closer the train gets to its station, the more different tracks you see converging from different directions. The driver has to be very experienced to know how to bring the train from his track and turn to get to the one that will bring him near the platform. If he misses that turn, the train's just going to keep going and it'll never get to the station where the people have to get on or off, etc.

What is the nimshal? What does this teach us? That we are now heading towards the time of Mashiach's arrival. That's the final destination, the terminal where everybody has to get off. The closer we get to the station, the more we have different tracks converging. How do we know which is the right track? We have to rely on the driver, and we will come to the right terminal.

The multitude of paths and the multitude of ideologies in our generation, instead of confusing us, should really convince us of the importance of following a tzaddik, following a leader who can guide us, because otherwise it is very easy, as we all know, to get influenced by wrong ideas and get lost.

Another speaker explained that the Rebbe is always telling us to learn a practical instruction -- a hora'ah in avodas HaShem -- from everything in the modern world. Today we live in the space age. We have astronauts and we have satellites and so on. So these things can be understood as a mashal to teach us something in our own lives.

Satellites and astronauts are far, far away in outer space. In order for their journey to be successful, they have to be in constant touch with the control tower down here on Earth. And without getting explicit instructions every moment, they would just be lost forever. In the same way, we are alone, a little rocket ship in this big, big universe and in order not to get lost, we also have to be in constant communication with the control tower.

Minchah of Shabbos

There is a verse which we recite in the Minchah prayer on Shabbos, "Who is like the Jewish people, one nation on earth?" This means that the Jewish people are unique. There is no other nation like us in the world. That is the plain meaning. But the Alter Rebbe explained the verse according to Chassidus: Earth has the connotation of earthiness, low physicality. As the Alter Rebbe explains, it means that Am Yisrael, draws HaShem, Who is One, into this earthly world.

Sometimes you may think that a person who is very involved in gashmiyus, forgets about ruchniyus. But the Jewish people are unique -- they can spend their whole day in the field plowing, or working in a shoe shore, or whatever, but they don't forget to daven Minchah.

The Alter Rebbe concludes by saying that HaShem makes physicality from spirituality, gashmiyus from ruchniyus, and we have to make from gashmiyus, ruchniyus. In other words, when HaShem created the world, He took spirituality and made from it an earth, a world. What do we do? The opposite. We take the physical things of the earth and transform them back into ruchniyus. How? By serving guests around your table, you've made the table into a mitzvah. You can't serve a guest on the floor, not in Israel. Maybe in other countries, yes, but we need our tables to serve our guests. Around the table you talk Torah. You sanctify the world by taking the skin of an animal and you write a mezuzah on it; you buy a garment for Shabbos. Anytime you use something from the world for the sake of HaShem, you're making gashmiyus into ruchniyus.

Nittel

I couldn't prepare my shiur last night because it was nittel (the eve of the 25th of December). In Israel we're not so conscious of the Gregorian calendar. Those of you who come from the west know that the night before December 25th is a big holiday among the goyim. Many religious Jews do not learn Torah on that night. This is one of the reasons that it is called nittel -- meaning "take away." Because we do not learn Torah on that day, it has no real substance, since it is only the Torah which defines reality. In the future, when Mashiach comes, they're going to have to rewrite the calendar, because the present singificance of the 25th of December will no longer exist.

Now when a Jew learns Torah, you may say, "Oh, he learned a little Chumash. So what's the big significance?" Don't underestimate yourself. A Jewish Neshamah is extremely powerful, whether the person is a big tzaddik or just a plain, ordinary Jew. Every Jew is very powerful. When a Jew sits down to learn Torah, even if it's just sitting down and reading a Torah-based book, that Jew has a chemical effect. When you take two chemicals and put them together, zap -- something happens. When you combine a Jew with Torah it has a great effect. You may not see it. Everything still looks just the same. But that's because you're looking with your finite, physical eyes. But in the spiritual realms, any time a Jew, man, woman or child, learns any amount of Torah, it has a ripple effect in all of the worlds, this world as well as in the World to Come. This combination of the Jew studying Torah gives strength to whatever is happening in the world, just as when a Jew transgresses, G-d forbid, it causes a blemish in all of the worlds.

All of the above is just a brief and superficial comment. To understand these things better, I would recommend that you read Tanya, because in Tanya these concepts are dealt with in depth.

I grew up in a Lubavitch house, and probably because chassidim are more mystical and more spiritual, this custom of refraining from studying Torah on nittel night is more strictly observed than among other groups. Now although the reasons for not learning Torah until midnight that night are very mystical, and we don't understand them, there's a concept in Yiddishkeit known as kabbalas ol -- accepting the yoke of Heaven, even if we do not understand something.

Although we refrain from doing overt learning, most of us can find enough to keep ourselves busy, with all the laundry and the dishes...

While we are on the subject, we might as well make mention of forms of entertainment, particularly for kids. If you ever go to the toy store and take a look around, you will see for yourself that the kinds of toys that are sold today are mostly really stupid. You can spend a lot of money on a dumb toy, and it doesn't ever get smarter. Neither do some people -- they spend so much money for a toy that's so stupid.

But there are toys that are smart toys. What is the difference between a smart toy and a stupid toy? A stupid toy is something that doesn't require any intelligence. Stupid toys are like television -- you can sit in front of it glued to the screen for hours and hours on end and then at the end you say, "Did I get more intelligent? Did I get more knowledge? Did it sharpen my mind?" Nope. The more television, the duller the mind becomes. Why? Because it does not demand any input from you. It is totally passive. Certain things exercise the mind. Just as the more you do pushups, the stronger your arms will become, so too with the mind. When a person is occupied with mental activities that exercise the mind, it makes the mind sharper and more powerful.

The Rebbe spoke a lot about chess. Chess is in the category of games that not only require knowledge to play, especially to win, but they also sharpen the mind for learning Torah. So therefore the Rebbe said that a good pastime on the night of nittel is to play chess.

Once, a famous chess-player came to the Rebbe and the Rebbe explained to him what we can learn in the service of G-d from the game of chess. [This has been printed in Hebrew in Yemei Bereishis. -- ed.]. So on nittel you can play chess. This is different from the concept of leisure, lying on the beach and soaking up the sun. That's a waste of time, and I don't think you can learn anything about serving HaShem from it.

Woman: Mainstay of the Home

The role of a woman is even more important than the role of a man. When HaShem gave us the Torah He first commanded Moshe to "Tell it to the women," and only then, "Command it to the men." HaShem felt that if the women wouldn't accept the Torah then it wouldn't help to give it to the men.

A woman as a mother and wife is called an akeres habayis. This is usually translated as "housewife," but that's only common usage. The real root of the word akeres is from the word ikar which means "main." In other words, akeres habayis means that the woman is the main one in the house. The woman sets the tone of the home as far as the chinuch of the children is concerned. It's very clear that if the woman is not attuned to the values of Torah, it won't help very much if the husband is. Because the key to the atmosphere in the home is certainly in the woman's hands. Young girls should be encouraged to see themselves in their future roles as akeres habayis. The training for being an akeres habayis starts, of course, while the child is still small.

The Rebbe has often quoted the Gemara about the superiority of women over men as far as giving tzedakah is concerned. If somebody asks a man for tzedakah he'll write him a check, he'll give him some money. But women are famous for inviting people in to eat something. This is a very feminine thing. We understand the importance of a cup of coffee along with the check. Women are much more likely to think of such a thing than a man. A woman will naturally be concerned whether a person is hungry, because women are generally much more down to earth than men, and so her tzedakah is immediately appreciated, whereas if somebody's starving and you give them a check, they can't eat the check. It's not going to help them if they have to go cash the check, and go find a restaurant that is open and kosher. Until they manage to find a place to use that money to put the food into their stomachs, it'll take maybe an hour, whereas she is giving them the food right away.

The Rebbe has also spoken about the kitchen of a woman -- he called it the beis hatavshil, the house of cooking. The woman's role of providing meals for her family is a thing that is permeated with kindness because a woman cooks for others basically. We all know that when the family's away we don't cook very much. For ourselves we don't need too much. Who do we cook for? Our husbands, our kids, our guests. For ourselves we'd be happy with simple fare. So the woman's whole essence is doing for others and it's symbolized in the kitchen where she does much of her work as an akeres habayis.

Notes:

  1. (Back to text) The Sabbatical year.

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