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Monday, October 21, 2019 22 Tishrei 5780





LIVING WITH
THE TIMES

The first Lubavitch/Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, author of the Tanya and Code of Jewish Law, once remarked that a Jew must "live with the times." His son explained the meaning: A Jew must live with the Torah portion of the week - i.e., he must assimilate the lessons of the weekly Torah portion

B"H

 
Feeling the Power
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The central mitzvah of the festival of Sukkos is to dwell in a sukkah, a temporary hut, for seven days. This mitzvah requires of us to move our meals, among other functions, into the sukkah for one entire week. This mitzvah is our way of demonstrating how G-d, upon liberating us from Egyptian bondage, provided us with shelter as we sojourned through the desert for forty years. Classical Jewish commentators compare the frail sukkah to the temporary nature of life itself. By leaving the more permanent and comfortable structure of our homes, we impress upon ourselves the temporary nature of life in the physical world.
 
Jewish history is a perfect reflection of these two themes. On the one hand, no nation has known more threats to its existence as did the Jewish people. And yet, miraculously, no nation has enjoyed such G-dly protection and shelter. We have not only survived these efforts at destroying us; we have thrived. The Jewish people are the ultimate sukkah.
 
According to the School of Shammai (the Sage made famous by his stern demeanor and display of indignation at the convert who wanted to be taught the entire Torah while standing on one foot), a sukkah must be large enough to contain the person and his table. The more lenient School of Hillel, however, disagrees and permits a sukkah that can house just the person’s head and most of his body, even if the table remains in the house.
 
It may be suggested that the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel argue about the dominant theme of Sukkos.
 
According to the School of Shammai, the emphasis should be on the flimsy and precarious nature of the sukkah, i.e., our existence. True, even though G-d protected us, we should not take that protection for granted. Instead we should always accentuate how without G-d’s protection we are vulnerable. Shammai wants us to focus on our vulnerability and weaknesses lest we become complacent and arrogant, and that, in turn, would allow the evil to consume us. We dwell in a sukkah to underscore our vulnerability. How then could we afford to have the table remain in the house outside of the protective covering of the sukkah?
 
The School of Hillel, however, emphasized that as long as we are in the sukkah and are under the influence of the s’chach covering, which symbolizes G-d’s power, we will not be adversely affected by the table in the house.
 
The great Kabbalist, the Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria) stated that in the Messianic Age, we will no longer follow the School of Hillel—as is the practice today—but we will then follow the School of Shammai. It would seem that the School of Shammai sees the individual in a far less positive light, for he sees his weaknesses and vulnerability. Why will we “graduate” from the School of Hillel to what seems to be the inferior philosophy of the School of Shammai?
 
In truth, the School of Shammai can be understood on two levels. On the more basic level, the School of Shammai is concerned with our weaknesses and vulnerability. They thus admonish us to be more vigilant.
 
On a deeper level, however, the School of Shammai represents a more advanced approach.
 
As we are in exile, we don’t have the ability to deal with and defeat evil. We therefore are required by Jewish law to follow the more positive and joyous approach of focusing on the good and letting the evil take care of itself. But, in doing so there will always be areas of evil on which we cannot have any enduring effect.
 
In the Messianic Age, however, we will be empowered to tackle evil head on, without fear of the repercussions. Moreover, we will then even be able to transform the evil.
 
Translating the above in terms of the location of the table vis-à-vis the sukkah, this means that in the Messianic Age, even our table—our must mundane activities—will be fully ensconced in the Divine enveloping force of the ultimate sukkah.

* * *

 
G-d Created in the Beginning
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
After Simchat Torah we begin a new cycle of Torah reading with the first portion of the Torah, Bereishit. A classic question asked by Torah commentators is, why does the Torah start with the letter beis, the second letter, rather than the first letter, alef?
 
One reason for starting the Torah with a beis is to teach us humility.  G-d did not start the Torah with His name, Elokim, but with b’reishis. When kings would write their chronicles they would put their name first, but G-d wished to teach us modesty.
 
When the Greek King Ptolemy ordered the 70 Jewish sages to translate the Torah into Greek, it was a sad day for the Jewish people. They were forced to take G-d's wisdom and put it into a form accessible to a secular mind. Ptolemy placed the sages into separate rooms and did not allow them to discuss their work with each other, to ensure that they would translate the Torah faithfully. They all faced a problem: If they translated the Torah’s words literally it would leave room for misinterpretation. They could not discuss these dilemmas with each other; each sage had to use his own judgment. Miraculously, each of the 70 sages independently made the same corrections to the text in their translation to avoid misinterpretation.
 
 
 
 
 
One such example is in the first verse in Torah—Bereishis bara Elokim (“In the beginning G-d created”). If they had translated the verse literally, it would have left room for doubters to say that there was an entity called Bereishis that created Elokim. Therefore they changed the wording to read “Elokim bara bereishis” (Elokim created in the beginning).  However, G-d chose to start the Torah with bereishis. Teaching us good character takes precedence over writing it in a way that would avoid all possibility of error.
 
Another reason for starting the Torah with a beis is to teach us that Torah study is not an end in itself. It is not a work of literature to interpret and admire its style, nor is it a book of history or insight. It is divine wisdom, and we study Torah to connect with G-d. The Torah begins with beis so that we never lose sight of our purpose. When we study Torah to connect with G-d, our learning is blessed, baruch. When we learn only for self-aggrandizement, it is arur, cursed.
 
The fact that Torah starts with a beis also teaches us that the world we live in is not primary. The Torah’s source is in the original, spiritual world. Most mitzvot of the Torah relate to mundane physical matters like fields and cows. G-d dressed up the deepest spiritual secrets into the garments of the physical to enable us to grasp them. However, when we study Torah we must never forget that it alludes to an original world of pure spirituality.
 
If the world we live in is only secondary and the spiritual world is primary, then why did G-d send us down here to begin with? Why create a world at all? This is the biggest mystery of all, which Chassidic teachings attempt to elucidate. G-d created a world because He wanted a “dwelling place below.” The further we are from the Divine, the more G-dliness is concealed, the harder we have to work to reveal Him. G-d wants us to do the work of making this world into His home, through using the physical for holiness. The power to do this was given to us through the Torah. The end result of our work will be shown in the era of Moshiach, when G-d will finally descend to the world and express Himself in all His glory.

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