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Maimonides, Principles of the Faith, No. 12
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We are pleased to present, to the visually impaired and the blind, our weekly publication, Living With Moshiach.
This Friday is Tu B'Av, the 15th day of Av. Also, this Shabbat is Shabbat Nachamu; therefore this week's issue focuses on these two topics.
This Jewish year, is the year 5758 since Creation. The Hebrew letters are Hei-Taf-Shin-Nun-Ches. Over a decade ago, in the year 5742, the Rebbe stated that the Hebrew letters for that year were an acronym for "This should be the year of the coming of Moshiach."
Since that time, the Rebbe has publicized a phrase describing the year according to the acronym of its Hebrew letters. This year has been designated by the Rebbe's followers as "Hoyo Tihei Shnas Niflaos Cheiruseinu" meaning "It surely will be a year of wondrous miracles liberating us (from the material and spiritual problems of our exile)."
It is our fervent hope that our learning about Moshiach and the Redemption will hasten the coming of Moshiach, NOW!
Rabbi Yosef Y. Shagalov,
Committee for the Blind
11 Menachem-Av, 5758
Brooklyn, New York
This week's Torah portion, Va'etchanan, speaks about the mitzvah of learning Torah, and contains the verse "...and you shall teach them to your children, to speak in them." In general, the mitzvah of learning Torah consists of two separate commandments: The obligation each person has to learn Torah himself, and the obligation to teach Torah to others, especially one's children.
Although a person might naturally think that the mitzvah of learning Torah oneself takes precedence over that of teaching others, we find that the opposite is true. Both Maimonides' writings and the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) begin the section on the laws covering the learning of Torah with the duty each parent has to teach his children. Why is this the case? And furthermore, how can a person teach others before he himself is well versed enough in the subject matter?
We learn from the emphasis on teaching children the proper approach we must have when we begin to learn Torah, G-d's Divine wisdom and blueprint for the world. To understand this, let us examine the difference between Torah learning and the performance of mitzvot.
When a Jew does a mitzvah he effects a change in the physical world, elevating and making holy the physical objects he uses in the mitzvah's performance. The practical performance of the mitzvah is therefore more important than the intentions and meditations of the person doing the deed, for the action itself serves to bring spiritual illumination into the world.
Torah learning, on the other hand, serves to refine and elevate the individual. When a Jew studies Torah his intellect becomes united with the G-dly wisdom contained in the Torah and causes him to be a G-dly person whose thoughts are those of holiness. The essence of learning Torah is therefore the humility and self-nullification one must feel before even approaching it to learn. In order to learn Torah properly one must have the sincere desire to understand G-d's wisdom without seeking self-aggrandizement or having other ulterior motives.
Before a Jew learns Torah he must subjugate his own ego and ask, what does the Torah itself want from me? Without this prerequisite, say our Sages, Torah learning can even be detrimental and become a "poisonous drug."
Emphasizing the duty to teach our children before we ourselves learn the Torah stresses that our goal is not merely the acquisition of knowledge, for the mind of a young child cannot possibly grasp the greatness of what he is learning. Our goal is, however, to cultivate and emulate the child's purity and innocence with regard to how he learns the Divinely written words. We must likewise approach the Torah in the same way, and not try to "fit" what we have learned into the preconceived, jaded view of the world we sometimes acquire as we grow older. All of us, no matter how old we are, are like young children to our Father in Heaven.
The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of Lubavitch, issued a call that "The time of our Redemption has arrived!" and "Moshiach is on his way!"
The Rebbe stressed that he is saying this as a prophecy, and asks us all to prepare ourselves for the Redemption, through increasing acts of goodness and kindness.
Let us all heed the Rebbe's call.
The first Shabbat after Tisha B'Av, is known as Shabbat Nachamu, after the first word of this week's Haftorah, "nachamu nachamu ami" (Console, console yourselves, My people). It is the first of the seven "Sabbaths of Consolation."
Our Sages explain the twofold use of the word "console": "[The Jewish people] committed a twofold sin...received a twofold punishment...and are likewise comforted twofold." Elsewhere our Sages comment, "Because its mitzvot are doubled, so too are its consolations doubled."
Why this emphasis on the number two? How can a sin be twofold, anyway? Moreover, what is meant by the statement that the Torah's commandments are "doubled"?
The terms "twofold" and "double," refer to two different dimensions. Everything in a Jew's life--the Torah and its commandants, the destruction of the Holy Temple and our consolation--reflects this duality, for everything in the world is composed of both a physical and a spiritual component.
A Jew is a mixture of a corporeal body and spiritual soul, which together form a complete being. A Jew is considered whole when both aspects of his nature, body and soul, are working in tandem to serve G-d. Mitzvot, too, are composed of these two dimensions. Every mitzvah contains a spiritual component--the intentions behind it--and a physical component--the way the mitzvah is performed.
This is what our Sages referred to when stating that the Torah's mitzvot are "doubled"; similarly, the "twofold sin" committed by the Jewish people refers to the physical and spiritual aspects of their transgression.
Accordingly, the punishment that followed--the destruction of the Holy Temple--was both spiritual and physical. Had the destruction been limited to the physical stones of the Temple, the G-dly light and revelation it brought into the world would have continued as before. However, the Jewish people "received a twofold punishment," and were chastised with a concealment of G-dliness as well.
The Holy Temple itself reflected this duality. The Temple was a physical structure, possessing certain limited dimensions. Yet, the G-dly light with which it was illuminated was infinite in nature. Its destruction was therefore a double blow as it affected both of these aspects.
When the Holy Temple is rebuilt in the messianic era our consolation will be doubled because it will encompass both dimensions: not only will the physical structure of the Temple be restored, but its G-dly revelation will also return.
This double measure of completion will be brought about by King Moshiach, who possesses a perfect "composite soul" containing all the souls of the Jewish people, and is therefore able to bring perfection to all creation.
Friday, August 7, is Tu B'Av, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av.
"There were no greater festivals in Israel than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur," the Mishnah tells us. What is so special about the 15th of Av that it is singled out together with Yom Kippur from all the other festivals?
A number of special events throughout Jewish history took place on the 15th of Av. They were:
1) The tribe of Benjamin was permitted once again to marry the remainder of the Jewish people;
2) The Generation of the Desert ceased to die; they had previously been condemned to perish in the desert because of the sin of the spies;
3) Hoshea Ben Elah removed the blockades that the rebel Jeroboam had set up to prevent the Jews from going to Jerusalem for the festivals;
4) The cutting of the wood for the Holy Altar was completed;
5) Permission was granted by the Romans to bury the slain of Betar.
These five events in themselves do not seem adequate enough reason to make the 15th of Av a festival greater than any other. There is another, all-encompassing reason.
There is another occasion of note in the month of Av, the ninth. Tisha B'Av is the day when the two Holy Temples were destroyed, signaling the start of the long and terrible exile we are still enduring--tragedies which were the result of the Jews' transgressions. Tisha B'Av is the nadir of Jewish physical and spiritual life.
But these tragedies are not without purpose. "Descent is for the purpose of ascent," and the deeper the descent, correspondingly greater will be the ascent that follows. It is specifically after the awesome decline of Tisha B'Av that we can reach the loftiest heights, heights that would otherwise be inaccessible.
The five festive events on the 15th of Av, then, are the counterpart to the five tragic events of Tisha B'Av. The 15th of Av transforms the evil of Tisha B'Av to the greatest good--"there were no greater festivals in Israel than the 15th of Av." The ultimate goal of the tragedies of the month of Av is that they should be transformed into a greater good--the supreme festival of the 15th of Av.
The Second Holy Temple was destroyed because of causeless hatred between Jews. The events of the 15th of Av, which are the counterpart to Tisha B'Av, all express the concept of ahavat Yisrael--love of a Jew.
"The tribe of Benjamin were permitted once again to marry the remainder of the Jewish people" is obviously an expression of ahavat Yisrael. Indeed, the very announcement that all Jewry was now united and allowed to come together is reason enough for a festival.
"Permission was granted by the Romans to bury the slain of Betar" and "The Generation of the Desert ceased to die" likewise emphasize the love of Jews--G-d's love, which was expressed in these acts of kindness to His people.
"Hoshea Ben Elah removed the blockades that the rebel Jeroboam had set up to prevent the Jews from going to Jerusalem for the festivals" allowed the Ten Tribes of the kingdom of Israel to unite with the other Two Tribes when they went to Jerusalem; again, the idea of unity and ahavat Yisrael.
The wood they finished cutting on the 15th was necessary for the offering of the sacrifices on the altar. And the altar, say our Sages, "removes and feeds, makes beloved, atones"; "removes" means "removes evil decrees from Israel," and "makes beloved" means "makes beloved to their Father" --again, the idea of fostering love.
Charm And Beauty
In addition to the above reasons enumerated by the Talmud for the importance of the 15th of Av--all of which we have seen are associated with ahavat Yisrael--the Mishnah itself gives a reason: "For on these days, the daughters of Jerusalem . . . came out and danced in the vineyards, saying, 'Young man, lift up your eyes and see what you are choosing for yourself. Do not set your eyes on beauty, but set your eyes on good family. Charm is deceptive and beauty is naught; a G-d-fearing woman is the one to be praised....'"
The Talmud elaborates on this theme, and explains that "the daughters of Jerusalem went out [dressed] in borrowed white garments, so as not to embarrass those who had none." This is clearly the idea of ahavat Yisrael.
The common theme behind all the reasons for the 15th of Av, then, is ahavat Yisrael, the practice of which eradicates the cause of the exile, and therefore automatically the exile itself.
On Friday, August 7, we celebrate the festive day of the Tu B'Av. On the 15th of Av the days begin to get shorter.
In times gone by, the onset of evening meant that the workday was over. Our Sages, therefore, encourage us to use the longer evenings for increased study of Jewish subjects.
The exile is often referred to as "night" and the Redemption, as "dawn." Though we are certainly in the last few moments of the long night of exile, it sometimes seems like the "night" is getting longer rather than shorter. Thus, the above teaching of our Sages is certainly appropriate.
Maimonides explains that in the era of the Redemption, the sole occupation of the whole world will be to know G-d. The Rebbe suggested, therefore, that as a preparation for that time, we increase in our studies wherever possible. In addition, just seven years ago, the Rebbe expressed the following thoughts on studying matters specifically concerning Moshiach and the Redemption:
"Since Moshiach is about to come, a final effort is required that will bring him. Every man, woman and child should increase his/her Torah study in subjects that concern the Redemption.... One should likewise upgrade one's meticulous observance of mitzvot, particularly charity, 'which brings the Redemption near.'
"It would be proper for one to connect his additional charity with his additional study of subjects connected with the Redemption, by giving charity with the intent that it hasten the Redemption. This intention in itself becomes part of learning subjects connected with the Redemption--for this is a real and tangible study of the teaching of our Sages: 'Great is charity for it brings the Redemption near.'
"The above-described study is not only a spiritual means of securing the speedy advent of Moshiach; it is a way of beginning to live one's life in the mood of Moshiach and the Redemption by having one's mind permeated with an understanding of the concepts of Moshiach and Redemption. From the mind, these concepts will then find their way into the emotions Ultimately, they will find expression in one's actual conduct--in thought, word and deed--in a way befitting this unique era when we stand on the threshold of the Redemption."
Jewish Women and Girls Light Shabbat Candles
For local candle lighting times:
consult your local Rabbi, Chabad-Lubavitch Center, or call: (718) 774-3000.
For a free candle lighting kit:
contact your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
For a listing of the Centers in your area:
In the USA, call: 1-800-Lubavitch (1-800-582-2848).
Friday, August 7, Erev Shabbat Parshat Va'etchanan:
Saturday, Aug. 8, Shabbat Parshat Va'etchanan:
1. The Shabbat candles must be lit 18 minutes before sunset. It is prohibited and is a desecration of the Shabbat to light the candles after sunset.
Laws of Shabbat Candle Lighting for the Blind
Shabbat Candle Lighting Blessing
"Let There Be Light" - The Jewish Women's Guide to Lighting Shabbat Candles.
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