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Maimonides, Principles of the Faith, No. 12
Click here, to see pictures of the Rebbe
We are pleased to present, to the visually impaired and the blind, the 104th issue of our weekly publication, Living With Moshiach.
This week's issue focuses on:
1. The Story of Passover.
2. The Significance of Pesach.
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
25 Adar II, 5757
Brooklyn, New York
In the beginning of this week's portion, Tazria, the Torah states: "If a woman conceived seed, and bore a male child." According to the Ohr HaChaim's commentary, this verse alludes to the Jewish people and their Final Redemption with Moshiach. "A woman" is symbolic of the Congregation of Israel; "conceived seed" alludes to the Jews' service of mitzvot and good deeds; "and bore a male child" refers to the ultimate result of this process--the birth of the messianic era.
The Final Redemption is referred to as "male" as an expression of its strength, for after Moshiach redeems the world there will be no possibility of further exiles, and the messianic age will last forever. This same concept is expressed in a midrashic reference to the tenth and final song that will be sung by the Jewish people with Moshiach. The tenth song is called "shir," the masculine form, whereas the nine songs that have already been sung are termed "shirah," the feminine form.
In order to understand why the Jewish nation is symbolically a woman we need to examine the Hebrew word for woman. Eve was called isha ("woman") "because out of man ("ish") was this one taken." The word isha therefore expresses the woman's relationship with her husband, and reflects her innate desire to reunite with him.
Similarly, in the spiritual sense, G-d is "male," whereas the Jewish people is "female." Just as Eve was created from Adam, so too is every Jew's soul "taken" from within G-d himself, being a "veritable piece of G-d Above."
Accordingly, every Jew's innate desire is to reunite with G-d, the source of his being. Material wealth and physical pleasures can never satisfy the Jew's longing for G-d; neither can spiritual delights totally satiate this yearning. Consciously or not, throughout his life the Jew seeks this union with G-d; it is the driving force of his existence.
To continue the metaphor of the "seed," this innate desire to unite with G-d must be sown precisely in the ground, finding expression in practical mitzvah observance. A seed planted in the air will never sprout; good intentions and positive feelings toward Judaism alone will never yield the desired results. Only through actual Torah study and the observance of mitzvot does the Jew cultivate the "seed" and allow it to grow.
Of course, the underlying objective of the Jew's service in the world is its ultimate "germination"--the messianic era. Translating one's positive feelings into action--doing one more mitzvah, performing one more good deed for a fellow Jew--is what will bring the revelation of Moshiach and the redemption of the entire world.
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 story of Passover began with the arrival of Jacob and his family in Egypt to be with his son Joseph who had become Viceroy of all Egypt.
When Joseph and his brothers died and the Children of Israel multiplied in the land of Egypt, King Pharaoh chose to forget all that Joseph had done for Egypt--transforming it into the wealthiest country in the world at the time.
He decided to take action against the influence and growing numbers of the Children of Israel.
He summoned his council and they advised him to enslave these people and oppress them before they grew too powerful.
Pharaoh embarked upon a policy of limiting the personal freedom of the Hebrews, putting heavy taxes on them and recruiting their men into forced labor battalions under the supervision of harsh taskmasters.
The Children of Israel were forced to build cities, erect monuments, construct roads, work in the quarries and hew stones or burn bricks or dies.
But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more the Children of Israel multiplied. Finally, when King Pharaoh saw that forcing the Hebrews to do hard work did not succeed in suppressing their growing numbers, he decreed that all their newly born male children be thrown into the Nile River. Only daughters were permitted to live.
Jacob's great-grandson, Amram, who married Yocheved, had a daughter Miriam, later to become a great prophetess, and a son named Aaron, who later became the High Priest. When Yocheved bore a third child, she placed him in a basket that she hid amongst the reeds at the edge of the Nile River in order to escape the king's soldiers who were snatching all the male babies and casting them into the Nile.
When Pharaoh's daughter came to bathe in the Nile she discovered the baby and, seeing his unusual radiance, recognized that this child was someone very special.
She called him Moshe and decided to raise him herself in the palace. She hired the baby's mother Yocheved to be his nurse, who also taught him about his rich Jewish heritage.
When the Children of Israel could no longer endure their terrible suffering at the hands of their cruel overlords, their cries for help coming from the very bottom of their hearts, pierced the heavens.
G-d remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and decided to deliver their descendants from bondage.
Moshe was 80 years old and his brother 83 years old when they entered the palace of King Pharaoh. Pharaoh asked the two brothers what they wanted.
The message sounded like a command: "The G-d of Israel said, 'Let My people go, that they may serve me.'" Pharaoh refused, saying that he had never heard of the G-d of the Israelites. He further accused Moshe and Aaron of a conspiracy against the government and of interfering with the work of the Hebrew slaves.
At Moshe's suggestion, Aaron then performed the miracles G-d had enabled him to perform, but Pharaoh was not greatly impressed, for his magicians could do almost as well.
When Pharaoh continued to refuse to liberate the Children of Israel, Moshe and Aaron warned him that G-d would punish both him and his people. First, the waters of the land of Egypt were to be turned into blood.
This was followed by the plague of frogs that covered the entire land.
The third plague had lice crawling forth from the dust to cover all of Egypt. Although Pharaoh's advisors pointed out that this surely was Divine punishment, he hardened his heart and remained relentless in his determination to keep the Children of Israel in bondage.
The fourth plague consisted of hordes of wild animals roving all over the country destroying everything in their path. Only the province of Goshen, where the Children of Israel dwelt, was immune from this as well as from the other plagues.
As with the previous plagues, Pharaoh promised faithfully to let the Jews go on the condition that they would not go too far. Moshe prayed to G-d and the wild animals disappeared. But as soon as they had gone, Pharaoh withdrew his promise and refused Moshe's demand.
Then G-d sent a fatal pestilence that killed most of the domestic animals of the Egyptians.
In the sixth plague, boils burst forth upon man and beast throughout the land of Egypt.
Now Moshe announced to the king that a hailstorm of unprecedented violence was to sweep the land; no living thing, no tree, no herb, was to escape its fury; safety was to be found only in the shelter of the houses.
The next time Moshe and Aaron came before Pharaoh, he appeared somewhat relenting, and asked them who was to participate in the worship the Israelites wanted to hold in the desert. When they told him that everyone without exception, young and old, men and women, were to go, Pharaoh suggested that only the men should go and that the women and children, as well as all their possessions, should remain in Egypt.
Moshe and Aaron could not accept his offer and Pharaoh became angry and ordered them to leave his palace. Before leaving, Moshe warned him of new and untold suffering. But Pharaoh remained adamant, even though his advisors counseled against further resistance.
As soon as Moshe left the palace, he raised his arms toward heaven and an east wind brought swarms of locusts into Egypt, covering the sun and devouring everything green that had escaped the hail and previous plagues.
Then followed the ninth plague. For several days all of Egypt was enveloped in a thick and impenetrable veil of darkness, which extinguished all kindled lights. The Egyptians were gripped with fear and remained glued to their places wherever they stood or sat. Only in Goshen, where the Children of Israel dwelt, there was light.
Finally at midnight on the 15th of Nissan all firstborn in the land of Egypt began dying, from the firstborn of King Pharaoh unto the firstborn of the cattle, exactly as Moshe had warned.
There was a loud and bitter wail, for in each house a loved one lay fatally stricken. Then Pharaoh called for Moshe and Aaron during that very night and said to them: "Arise, go out from among my people, both you and the Children of Israel; and go, serve G-d as you have said, and go, and bless me also." At last the pride of the stubborn king was broken and he realized that there indeed was a G-d.
Meanwhile, the Jews had been preparing for their hasty departure. With beating hearts, they had assembled in groups to eat the roasted paschal lamb, together with the unleavened cakes (matzahs).
The sun had already risen above the horizon when, at the word of command, the whole nation of the Hebrews poured forth from the land of Egypt.
Thus the Children of Israel were liberated from the yoke of their oppressors on the 15th day of Nissan, in the year 2448 after the creation of the world.
There were 603,550 men between 20 and 60--military age--who, with their wives and children and flocks, crossed the border of Egypt as a free nation. Many Egyptians and other non-Israelites joined the triumphant Children of Israel, hoping to share their glorious future. The Children of Israel did not leave Egypt destitute.
In addition to their own possessions, the terrified Egyptians had bestowed upon them valuables of gold, silver and clothing in an effort to hasten their departure. Thus, G-d fulfilled in every detail His promise to Abraham that his descendants would leave their exile with great riches. Leading the Jewish people on their journey during the day was a pillar of cloud, and at night there was a pillar of fire, giving them light. These Divine messengers not only guided the Children of Israel on their way, but also cleared the way before them, making it both easy and safe.
After three days, Pharaoh received word of the progress of the Children of Israel. The unexpected direction of their march made him think that they lost in the desert. Pharaoh now regretted that he had permitted them to leave. He mobilized his army and personally took the lead of his choicest cavalry and war-chariots, in hot pursuit of his former slaves. He reached them near the banks of the Reed Sea and pressed them close to the water, in an effort to cut off their escape.
Moshe led the Israelites onwards until they came to the very borders of the Reed Sea. The pillar of cloud now changed its position, retreating from the front to the rear of the Hebrews, floating between the two Camps.
Then G-d spoke to Moshe: "Lift up your rod, stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it; and the Children of Israel shall go into the midst of the sea on dry ground." Moshe did as G-d ordered and a strong east wind rose and blew all night and the waters of the Reed Sea were divided and gathered into a wall on either side, leaving a dry passage in the midst. The Israelites marched at once along the dry path that extended from shore to shore and reached the opposite side in safety.
The Egyptians continued their pursuit, but Moshe stretched forth his staff and the waters resumed their usual course, closing over the whole army of Pharaoh.
Thus, G-d saved the Children of Israel from the Egyptians and Israel saw His great power; they recognized G-d and believed in Him and in His servant Moshe--the first redeemer of Israel.
This is the story of Passover--or Pesach-- that recounts the birth of the Jewish people as a nation--a nation called by G-d "a beloved treasure"--whose ultimate goal is to be a "light unto the nations."
This will become evident in the immediate future when Moshiach--the final redeemer-- gathers us together from throughout the world and brings us to the promised Land of Israel, "and all the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the sea."
The story of Pesach is well known: . . . how the Jewish people were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt . . . how Moses led us out of bondage and received the Torah on Mount Sinai . . . and how, after forty years in the wilderness, we entered into the Promised Land. Less well known, however, are our Sages' interpretation of the spiritual dimension of these events: what does the Exodus mean to us today? And what does the "Festival of Liberation" teach us about the future liberation of all humankind, in the messianic age? The following is just a smattering of the Rebbe's answers.
Liberation from Mitzrayim
For the Jews, "Egypt" represents more than just a place on the map. Egypt is a state of mind. The Hebrew name for Egypt is Mitzrayim, which is related to the word Maytzorim--meaning boundaries and limitations. For the Jewish people, to "escape from Egypt" means to overcome those natural limitations that impede the realization of our fullest potential.
The innermost essence of the soul is a spark of G-dliness--infinite and unbounded. But the soul is in exile, in "Egypt"--restricted within this finite, material world. One person's Egypt may be most apparent in his selfish and base desires; another person may be enslaved to the constraints of his rational mind. Pesach is an opportunity to transcend our limitations and realize the infinite spiritual potential in every aspect of our lives.
When G-d commanded Moses to bring the Jewish people out of Egypt, He proclaimed His ultimate purpose: ". . . that they shall serve G-d upon this mountain." Our liberation was not complete until we received the Torah on Mount Sinai. G-d's Torah and commandments are the key to achieving true freedom--freedom not just from physical enslavement, but from all our limiting beliefs and behavior. The Torah shows us how to avoid the pitfalls that life presents us, and teaches us how to make this world a place of peace, harmony and happiness for all humankind.
Matzah and Chometz
Pesach is known as the "Festival of Matzot." We are commanded to eat matzah on the first night of Pesach, and to rid ourselves of chometz--all bread and leavened food products--for the entire eight days of the holiday. This important commandment offers us great insight into the true nature of liberation.
The difference between leavened bread and matzah is obvious: whereas bread rises, the Pesach matzot are not permitted to rise at all. Our Rabbis explain that the "puffed up" nature of chometz symbolizes the character trait of arrogance and conceit. The flat, unleavened matzah represents utter humility.
Humility is the beginning of liberation, and the foundation of all spiritual growth. Only a person who can acknowledge his own shortcomings and submit to a higher wisdom can free himself from his own limitations. On Pesach, we are forbidden even the minutest amount of chometz . . . we should rid ourselves from the arrogance and self-centeredness from within our hearts. By eating the Pesach matzot, we internalize the quality of humility and self-transcendence that is the essence of faith.
Splitting the Sea
On the seventh day of Pesach, we commemorate the miracle of the splitting of the Reed Sea--the culmination of the Exodus from Egypt. With the Egyptian charioteers in hot pursuit, the Jewish people plunged into the sea; G-d "turned the sea into dry land," thereby creating walls of water on both sides, and allowed His people to pass through. Upon their crossing the sea, the water returned to its normal state, drowning the Egyptians.
Our Sages explain that the splitting of the sea symbolizes yet another phase in our spiritual journey toward true freedom. Just as the waters of the sea cover over and conceal all that is in them, so does our material world conceal the G-dly life force that maintains its very existence. The transformation of the sea into dry land represents the revelation of the hidden truth that the world is not separate from G-d, but is in fact one with Him.
Often, after "leaving Egypt"--after we overcome our limitations and ascend to a higher level--we experience a rude awakening. We may have left Egypt, but Egypt is still within us: We still view life in terms of the values of a materialistic world. We must strive to become more fully aware of G-d's constant presence and influence in our lives, until the "sea splits" and our liberation is complete.
"I Will Show You Wonders"
In the words of the Prophet Michah, G-d proclaims, "As in the days when you left Egypt, I will show you wonders." The Exodus from Egypt is the prototype for the final Redemption, when Moshiach will come, and slavery and suffering will be banished forever from the face of the earth.
Why, our Rabbis ask, does the verse say, "As in the days when you left Egypt," when in fact the Exodus took place on one day?
The answer is that true liberation is an ongoing process. The first steps out of "Egypt" are only the beginning. "In every generation," the Sages tell us, " and on each and every day, one is obligated to see himself as if he had gone out from Egypt that very day." All the lessons of Pesach must be applied daily: we must rid ourselves of arrogance and become humble; we must deepen our awareness of G-d, as though the Reed Sea has split; and we must strive to improve our conduct, as befits the nation that received the Torah on Mount Sinai. Every step we take toward Torah and mitzvot brings us closer to the revelations of the messianic age.
The Final Redemption
The eighth day of Pesach is traditionally associated with our fervent hope for the coming of Moshiach. The Haftorah (Prophetic reading) for that day contains Isaiah's famous prophecies about the messianic era: "The wolf will dwell with the lamb, the leopard will lie with the kid... They shall do no evil, nor will they destroy . . . for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of G-d, as the waters cover the sea."
Maimonides (the "Rambam") cites the belief in Moshiach as one of the thirteen essential principles of our faith. He explains in his codification of Jewish Law that Moshiach is a Torah Sage, who will lead the multitudes of Jewish people to the faithful observance of the Torah way of life. Eventually, he will rebuild the Holy Templein Jerusalem, gather in the exiles to Israel, and usher in an age in which there is no hunger, no war, no jealousy or strife.
Signs of Hope
In today's chaotic world, one may find the concept of imminent Redemption difficult to accept. We can take heart, however, from the story of Pesach. Then, despite our abject subjugation at the hands of the world's most ruthless and powerful nation--a nation from which not even a single slave had ever escaped before--Redemption came swiftly, "in the blink of an eye," and we were free.
In recent times, we have witnessed remarkable events that even secular leaders have termed miraculous . . . the fall of communism, the Persian Gulf War, the Exodus and ingathering of Jews to Israel from places of former oppression. Today, the wealth of nations is turning from creating weapons of destruction into means of construction and cooperation--the proverbial "sword into plowshares." Such developments--long prophesied as harbingers of a messianic age--strengthen our faith in Moshiach's imminent approach.
The last day of Pesach is a uniquely appropriate occasion for our heartfelt prayers for Moshiach: ". . . Even though he may tarry, still I anticipate his arrival every day." It will be a time of peace and plenty for all humankind . . . a time when, as Maimonides goes on to say, we will no longer have to struggle for a livelihood. "Delicacies will be as plentiful as the dust, and we will all be free to engage in spiritual pursuits--to deepen our knowledge of G-d."
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, April 11, Erev Shabbat Parshat Tazria:
Saturday, April 12, Shabbat Parshat Tazria:
*. 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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