Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Sobering Thought

Art Rob Gonsalves

Everything can change in the blink of an eye. [Rebbe Nachman of Breslov]


"Do not drink wine that will lead to intoxication, neither you nor your sons with you, when you go into the Tent of Meeting, so that you shall not die. [This is] an eternal statute for your generations..." [Shemini 10:9]

There is a view [see Rambam, Laws of Entering the Temple 1:7] that even nowadays a priest [kohen] may not drink a revi'is [86ml] of wine, for this is sufficient to cause some degree of intoxication, and since it is quite feasible that the Holy Temple will be rebuilt within the time it takes for him to become sober, the wine would thus render him unfit for service in the Temple.

Now, according to Jewish law, intoxication caused by a revi'is of wine can be removed by either a short sleep, or by waiting the time it would take to walk a mil. (There are different views as to precisely how long this is: either 18 or at most 24 minutes).

From here we see a remarkable ramification of the above principle: that Jewish law takes seriously into consideration the fact that it is possible for Moshiach to come, with a completed Holy Temple, within a maximum of 23 minutes and 59 seconds, thus requiring the priests to be ready for service immediately!

Based on Likutei Sichos Lubavitcher Rebbe [Gutnick Chumash]

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Tazria: Following Your Destiny

The Angel in charge of conception is called לילה / Leila. When Hashem wishes a human being to be born, He bids the Angel Leila "Bring me this neshama from Gan Eden". The neshama, though, resents being uprooted from its Divine source, and complains to the Almighty "I am pure and holy, linked to Your Glory. Why should I be degraded by having to enter a human body?" Hashem responds: "The world where you will live surpasses in beauty the one from whence you emanated. You were fashioned for the sole purpose of becoming part of a human being and being elevated by his deeds."

The meaning of this is that although in Olam Haba the soul enjoys undisturbed tranquility and bliss, nevertheless the present world, despite all its tribulations, is of greater beauty. Only as long as a person lives on earth does he have the opportunity to study Torah and fulfill the mitzvos, thus accumulating merits.

Hashem subsequently compels the soul to merge with the seed for which it was destined. Even before the fetus is formed, the angel inquires of Hashem "What shall be its fate?"

At that point, the entire future of the unborn child is preordained. Hashem determines whether it is to be male or female, whether he or she shall be healthy or suffer from some sickness or handicap, his appearance, the degree of his intelligence, as well as all his mental and physical capabilities. Moreover, all particulars of his circumstances are already decided - whether wealthy or poor, what shall he possess, and who will be his future spouse.

We see that all details of a person's life are predestined. However, there is one exception. Hashem does not decree whether someone will become a tzaddik or a rasha. Each one decides how to fashion himself by means of the faculties and capabilities that were pre-ordained for him.

A person should not feel pride in his intelligence, strength or money, for these qualities are not of his own achievement, rather they were Divinely decreed for him before birth. There is only one field of endeavour in which accomplishment results from the individual's effort - whether and to what extent he will study Hashem's greatness by delving into His Torah and emulating His ways. To the degree in which he succeeds in this endeavour, he has actually accomplished something for himself.

While still in the mother's womb, the child is taught the entire Torah. He is shown a vision of both Gan Eden and Gehinnom, and the angel in charge of him entreats him "Become a tzaddik! Do not become a rasha!" When the child enters the world, the angel strikes his lips, causing all the Torah knowledge previously imparted to him to be forgotten. [Nevertheless, that knowledge was absorbed by his subconscious mind, enabling him to retrieve it during his lifetime].

Source: The Midrash Says

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Seudah Moshiach

Acharon Shel Pesach, the last day of Pesach [this coming Shabbat] has a special connection to the coming of Moshiach and is celebrated accordingly, by partaking of Moshiach's Seudah [the meal of Moshiach..... sometimes known as the Third Seder]

The last day of Pesach  is celebrated by eating a special, festive banquet called Moshiach's seudah, a custom initiated by the Baal Shem Tov. The connection between the last day of Pesach and Moshiach is explained by the Tzemach Tzedek: "The last day of Pesach is the conclusion of that which began on the first night of Pesach. The first night of Pesach is our festival commemorating our redemption from Egypt by the Holy One, Blessed be He. It was the first redemption, carried out through Moshe Rabbeinu, who was the first redeemer; it was the beginning. The last day of Pesach is our festival commemorating the final redemption, when the Holy One, Blessed be He, will redeem us from the last exile through our righteous Moshiach, who is the final redeemer. The first day of Pesach is Moshe Rabbeinu's festival; the last day of Pesach is Moshiach's festival."

Pesach is the festival which celebrates freedom. The first day celebrates the redemption from the first exile; the last day celebrates the future redemption from the final exile. The two are intimately connected, the beginning and end of one process with G-d in the future redemption showing wonders "as in the days of your exodus from Egypt."

That Moshiach's festival is celebrated specifically on the last day of Pesach is not merely because Moshiach will redeem us from the last exile. Being last has a significance beyond mere numerical order, for that which is last performs a unique function. When the Jews journeyed in the desert after leaving Egypt, they marched in a specific order, divided into four camps. The last to march was the camp of Dan, which is described by Torah as "ma'asaf l'chol hamachanos" - "gatherer of all the camps." Rashi explains this as meaning that "The tribe of Dan...would journey last, and whoever would lose anything, it would be restored to him."

The concept of "gatherer of all the camps" - restoring lost property and making sure that nothing is missing - may be applied to various situations. The Baal Shem Tov, for example, taught that just as the Jews in the desert made forty-two journeys before they reached their final destination, Eretz Yisroel, so there are forty-two journeys in each Jew's individual life. The birth of a person corresponds to the initial journey when the Jews left the land of Egypt, and at each stage of life a Jew is somewhere in the middle of one of the forty-two journeys he must experience before he enters the next world.

Not only a person's entire life, but also every individual service to G-d has various stages or "journeys." In particular, the conclusion of a specific service acts as the "gatherer of all the camps" - to make sure that nothing is missing from that service. Pesach, it was noted earlier, is associated with the concept of redemption, and our service on Pesach is correspondingly directed towards hastening the arrival of the final redemption. But even if service on Pesach was deficient, if opportunities were missed, not all is lost: the last day of Pesach acts as "gatherer of all the camps" for the entire festival. Just as the tribe of Dan restored lost articles to their owners, so the last day of Pesach provides a Jew with the opportunity to rectify omissions in the service of Pesach, and thereby regain what is rightfully his.

Because Pesach is associated with the redemption through Moshiach and the last day of Pesach is the finish to and completion of Pesach, the last day of Pesach accordingly emphasizes the coming of Moshiach.

The notion of "gatherer of all the camps" applies not only to each individual Jew's life and service, but also to Jewry in general. The forty-two journeys between leaving Egypt and entering Eretz Yisroel took place in the desert, the "wilderness of the nations," which is an allusion to the period of exile when Jews sojourn amongst the nations of the earth. The forty-two journeys in the desert served as the means wherewith Jews left the limitations of Egypt.  Thus all the journeys undertaken until the Jews actually entered Eretz Yisroel may be viewed as part of the exodus from Egypt. So too with the journeys in the exile: until Jews merit the final redemption, they are still journeying to reach Eretz Yisroel.  In every generation, Jews are somewhere in the middle of one of those forty-two journeys.

As in the journeys in the desert, there is a "gatherer of all the camps" in the generations-long journey of Jews to the Messianic Era. Our present generation is that of "the footsteps of Moshiach," the last generation of exile. It is the "gatherer of all the camps" of all generations of Jews.

That this generation of exile is the "gatherer of all the camps" of all generations is not just because it is the last. Exile is not just punishment for sin.

The mission of Jews is to elevate and refine this corporeal world, to reveal G-dliness and to transform the physical into a dwelling place for G-d. Dispersed throughout the world in exile, Jews have been given the opportunity and the means to carry out this mission in all parts of the world.

This has been the Jews' task throughout their history. "Gatherer of all the camps" in this context means that if any portion of that task is missing, it now can be rectified. Thus the era of "gatherer of all the camps" is the era when the world will have been fully refined and G-dliness revealed: the Era of Moshiach.

It is for this reason that it is our generation which is that of "the footsteps of Moshiach" and "gatherer of all the camps." For the service of Jews throughout the generations has been all but completed, and only the finishing touches - "gatherer of all the camps" - is needed. We stand ready and prepared to greet Moshiach.

Moshiach, of course, could have come in previous generations. The Talmud, for example, relates that at the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, a cow lowed twice. The first time meant that the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed; the second time meant that Moshiach was born. In other words, the potential Moshiach was born immediately after the destruction and had the Jews merited it then, he would have been the actual Moshiach.

Although Moshiach could have come in previous generations, the future redemption nevertheless has a greater connection to our generation - just as the idea of Moshiach is emphasized on the last day of Pesach,  although the whole of Pesach is associated with the future redemption. For both are the concept of "gatherer of all the camps" and we accordingly celebrate Moshiach's seudah specifically on the last day of Pesach.

There is still more to the connection between the last day of Pesach and Moshiach. The prophet Yechezkel describes the exodus from Egypt - which took place on the first day of Pesach - as the birth of the Jewish nation.

The last day of Pesach, the eighth day, is therefore the day of the circumcision, which is "the beginning of the entry of the holy soul." Moshiach is the yechidah - the most sublime level of the soul - of the Jewish people. Until the body of Jewry has undergone circumcision it is not whole; its holy soul is missing. Moreover, the Alter Rebbe writes, the highest level of circumcision will take place in the future, when "The L-rd will circumcise your heart."

The Haftorah read on the last day of Pesach is also connected with the Messianic Era. It states: "The wolf will lie down with the lamb...He will raise a banner for the return...the earth will be full of the knowledge of the L-rd." All of these verses refer to the Messianic Era.

Thus the relationship between the last day of Pesach and Moshiach. But why do we mark this relationship by eating a meal?

Belief in Moshiach is a cardinal tenet of the Jewish faith, enshrined as one of Rambam's thirteen principles of belief: "I believe with perfect faith in the coming of Moshiach; and although he may tarry, I will wait for him every day that he shall come." But abstract belief is not enough. Our intellectual awareness must be translated into concrete action - by eating of Moshiach's seudah. Moreover, the food from Moshiach's seudah becomes part of our flesh and blood, and our faith in, and yearning for Moshiach permeates not just the soul's faculties but also the physical body.

Moshiach's seudah was initiated by the Baal Shem Tov, and there is good reason why it was by him specifically. In a famous letter to his brother in law, R. Gershon of Kitov, the Baal Shem Tov tells of the time he experienced an elevation of the soul to the highest spheres. When he came to the abode of Moshiach, he asked, "When will the Master come?" to which Moshiach replied, "When your wellsprings shall spread forth to the outside." In other words, it is the Baal Shem Tov's teachings - Chassidus - which will bring Moshiach, and it is therefore particularly appropriate that it was the Baal Shem Tov who initiated Moshiach's seudah on the last day of Pesach.

In the time of the Baal Shem Tov, the principal element of the seudah was matzah. The Rebbe Rashab, fifth Rebbe of Chabad, added the custom of drinking four cups of wine. Matzah is poor man's bread, flat and tasteless. Wine, in contrast, not only possesses taste, but induces joy and delight, to the extent that our Sages say, "Shirah [song] is said only over wine."

Chabad Chassidus conveys the concepts of Chassidus, first propounded by the Baal Shem Tov, in an intellectual framework, enabling them to be understood by a person's Chochmah [wisdom], Binah [knowledge], and Da'as [understanding] - ChaBaD. And when a person understands something - in this case the concepts of Chassidus - he enjoys it that much more. Chabad, in other words, introduced "taste" and "delight" into Chassidic doctrines, which until then were accepted primarily on faith alone.

The four cups of wine also allude to the Messianic Age, for which the dissemination of Chassidus - especially Chabad Chassidus - is the preparation. The four cups symbolize: the four expressions of redemption; the four cups of retribution G-d will force the nations of the world to drink; the four cups of comfort G-d will bestow upon the Jews; the four letters of G-d's Name which will be revealed; the four general levels of repentance.

[Source: Sichah of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Acharon Shel Pesach, 5742]

Prophecy: Iran and Saudi Arabia: Moshiach

Update:  There may be a few errors in this blog post regarding the Yalkut Shimoni, thank you to Josh Waxman for bringing it to my attention - please see Parsha Blog for a critique with some extra information.

Today's News:

Iran sends navy vessels to waters off Yemen, raising stakes

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Iran dispatched a destroyer and another naval ship to waters off Yemen on Wednesday, raising the stakes amid a Saudi-led air campaign targeting Iranian-backed Shiite rebels fighting forces loyal to the country's embattled president.  The Iranian maneuver came as the U.S. deepened its support for the Saudi-led coalition, boosting weapons supplies and intelligence-sharing and carrying out the first U.S. aerial refueling mission of coalition fighter jets.


2,000 Year Old Prophecy

A medieval Jewish prophecy regarding the coming of Israel’s Messiah appears to correspond to the current situation in the Middle East.

A piece of rabbinic literature [written 2000 years ago] known as the Yalkut Shimoni touches on many future scenarios both for the nation of Israel and for the world. In its section on the biblical Book of Isaiah and the prophecies contained therein, a rabbi cited by the Yalkut Shimoni states:

“That the year the Messiah will arrive when all the nations of the world will antagonize each other and threaten with war. The king of Persia (Iran) antagonizes the King of Arabia (Saudi Arabia) with war. The King of Arabia goes to Edom (The Western Countries, headed by USA) for advice. Then the King of Persia destroys the world (and since that cannot be done with conventional weapons it must mean nuclear which can destroy most of the world). And all the nations of the world begin to panic and are afraid, and Israel too is afraid as to how to defend from this. G-d then says to them “Do not fear for everything that I have done is for your benefit, to destroy the evil kingdom of Edom and eradicate evil from this world so that the Messiah can come, your time of redemption is now.”

We can see examples of this prophecy unfolding – On September 25, 2007 Ahmadinejad spoke at the UN Assembly and said that “soon the regimes of the Western world will fall and be destroyed. This threat is not just an ideology, we know based on Israeli and world intelligence that Iran has a secret nuclear plant where it is producing nuclear warheads for their missiles.

Another interesting fact recently published in the world press is that astrologers see this winter as the “Nuclear Winter” in which the Western world will be destroyed by Iran with Nuclear weapons [which matches up with ancient prophecy].

This clearly indicates the pending probability of a Third World War, the likes which we have never seen before, to be initiated by Iran. Based on the Prophecy mentioned, the war will have three stages:

Stage One – President of Iran threatens and antagonizes the King of Saudi Arabia

Stage Two – The King of Saudi Arabia turns to the West for advice and protection.

Stage Three – Iran opens fire, starts Third World War and destroys the West.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Suffering and Debt - Zol Zein a kapara

Dovid HaMelech in Sefer Tehillim [Psalms 25:18] makes the following request of Hashem: “Look at my affliction and toil and bear all my sins.”

The seventh bracha of the Amidah, “Re’ah [Na] V’anyenu” ["Look… at our afflictions"] closely parallels this passage in Tehillim, and it is, in fact, the only bracha in the Amidah where we ask Hashem to “look” at something for us.

It is said in the name of the Apter Rav that if a person is suffering, he should affirmatively acknowledge and state “may my pain and suffering be a kapara [atonement] for all of my sins”. In this way, a person acknowledges that the purpose of his suffering or affliction is not meaningless or some kind of torture, but to achieve redirection and/or atonement. With this affirmative acknowledgement, the kapara is achieved.

"Gam zu le'tova" : this too is for the best

"Zol zein a kapara" : it should be accepted as a recompense for punishment.


Rebbe Nachman said : "There are sins whose punishment is debt. One who is punished for such a sin is constantly in debt. All the merit in the world does not erase his punishment. He can do every possible good, still he must remain in debt.

These sins can even cause others to fall into debt. When such transgressions become common, there are many debtors in the world.

The remedy for this is to repent in general for all your sins. Even though you do not know what sin is causing these debts, repent in general and ask G-d to also save you from this particular sin.

If the Torah were written in order, we would know the precise reward and punishment for each commandment."

[Rebbe Nachman]

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Immense Challenges of the Present Exile

The Maharal states in Netzach Yisrael: "In order for the new state of Redemption to be born the previous state must first dissolve." 

His descendant, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, added [in Torah Ohr] that this is why shortly before the Jews were redeemed from Egypt, the exile worsened. 

In preparation for the new revelation at the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, whatever light remained had to be withdrawn. 

His great-great grandson the Rebbe Rashab explains in a Chassidic discourse that during the final exile, it is our task to elevate the highest sparks that have fallen the lowest. 

This is the reason for the immense challenges that we face during the present exile. 

[L'maan Yishmeu]

Monday, April 6, 2015

Reaching Out and Beyond

The Chasidah [white stork]

 וְאֵת הַחֲסִידָה  "The chasidah" [Shemini 11:19]

Why is its name chasidah (literally meaning "kind one") asks Rashi. "Because it does kindness with its companions with food."

According to the Ramban, said the Chiddushei HaRim (R' Yitzchak Meir Alter of Gur), the reason why the nonkosher birds are not kosher is because of their cruel nature.  If so, the chasidah should have been a kosher-type bird; after all, it bestows kindness upon its companions!

The chasidah acts kindly towards its companions, answered the rebbe, but it does not act kindly toward anyone else. This is why it is considered not kosher.

The following was submitted by a reader: [thank you!]

A lesson we can learn from the Chasida

by: A. Faynberg

In Parshat Shemini which is read after Pesach, we are presented with a list of the Kosher and non-kosher birds and animals, among which is the chasida, translated as the Cinconia, a non-kosher bird from the stork family. Rashi explains that the reason this bird is called the Chasida is because it does chesed, showing kindness to its friends by sharing its food with them. If so, it would only seem proper that such a bird should be classified among the kosher species, as according to the Ramban (Ramban on Vayikra 11:19), the state of impurity which exists among the species of birds, stems from their attribute of cruelty.

The commentator, the Chidushei Harim zatzal explains in Wellsprings of Torah, compiled by Rabbi Alexander Zusha Friedman Hy"d, that since this chasida only does kindness with its own friends, and does not share its food with those outside of its own circle, it is unworthy of being classified as a kosher bird and is therefore impure. If Rashi points out the attribute of kindness found in the Chasida although it is a non-kosher bird, there must be an important lesson for us to learn.

The explanation given by the Chidushei Harim gives us a broader understanding of the true meaning of chesed. We see that doing chesed only with those who are part of our own circle while excluding and pushing others away is in fact looked down upon. True chesed is reaching out and beyond our own circle even if this involves some discomfort; it means being accepting of those who follow the derech and mesorah of Rabbanim from other backgrounds as well.

This could be applied both on an individual and communal level. On an individual level, we find it easier to do chesed with those who perhaps share the same character traits, goals and interests and a similar standard of living with us. On a communal level, this holds true as well. It is far easier for us to reach out to those within our own sector who share a similar outlook as we do on matters of religion and politics. However, the challenge is to reach out and beyond our own individual and communal circles. We must aspire to do chesed lovingly, reaching out with compassion also to those who do not share our social and religious criteria, without being judgmental.

We are capable of doing so and have proven that it's possible for us to break through all barriers and rise above our differences. We've proven that it's possible for us to step out of our own limited zone and reach out towards those who are not exactly like us. We proved it when our three precious bachurim were abducted in Israel and we Jews worldwide were united in prayer, taking upon ourselves many meaningful and great acts in hope for their safe return. We proved we can reach out and beyond our own individual and communal circles during this past war in Gaza where Jews of all circles came to the aid of one another both spiritually and practically. We all prayed for the well-being and safe return of the soldiers, and many went out of their way to arrange the delivery of food supplies and other basic necessities for them. Many attended the funerals of lone soldiers to show their solidarity and others concerned themselves with and attended to the needs of the residents living in fear and danger under a constant barrage of rockets in the south.

We do not need a tragic event or a bitter war to awaken us and remind us that we are one nation. Our enemies yimach shemam know this well and do not differentiate between us when they carry out terror attacks or shoot missiles and rockets at us. We may have forgotten this during the recent elections that took front stage in Israel when the public was exposed to endless degrading statements and remarks of one party or one politician against the other. We are all one nation and our moments of conflict and dispute are only a part of our external crust, but when we peel that off, we get to the inner core of who we really are – a nation who lives by ideals of loyalty, kindness, compassion and love towards the other.

We can and should be united in good and peaceful times too. The navi tells us (Yeshayah 11:6) that during the time of Moshiach “a wolf will dwell together with a sheep, and a leopard and young goat will lie down beside each other,” which is a vivid description of the ultimate peace which will prevail among all the different species during that era. There will no longer be any carnivores preying on herbivores and Hashem's entire creation will live in harmony. A question arises: During the flood in Noach's generation, we also find that the animals existed in peace and harmony and did not devour each other, so what then is so special about the time of Mashiach when such a phenomenon will recur? I recall hearing an explanation in the name of Rav Shimshon Rephael Hirsch Zatzal that during the flood in Noach's generation, uniting with one another was easier and more desirable since there was a common danger outside the Ark, so uniting was necessary for everyone's survival. However, the real test and challenge behind our ability to unite is during a time of ultimate peace, during the time of Mashiach when we won't be facing any common threat or danger from the outside world.

We are all Hashem's children and each of us is precious in His eyes. It is not our duty to evalutate the exact and true worth of another Jew, nor are we capable of doing so, but if we search carefully, we'll find something positive in each individual and in each community. The Gemara (Taanis 31a) says that when Moshiach comes, HakadoshBaruch Hu will sit all the tzaddikim in a circle and “He” will be in the center. I recall hearing that as in a circle, where the radius — the distance from any given point to the center — is always equal, so too all tzaddikim will sit at an equal distance from our common Center, pointing and declaring in unison:

“This is Hashem!” They will say, “This is Hashem for Whom we hoped; let us rejoice in His salvation!”