Chassidus In Braille:
Lighting Up the Path to the Redemption
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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.
In this week's issue we focus on Chof Av, 20 of Av, Wednesday, Aug. 12--when we commemorate the 54th yahrtzeit of the Rebbe's father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok.
Seven years ago, on Shabbat Parshat Eikev, 5751, (Aug. 3, 1991), the Rebbe spoke about the printing of Chassidus for the blind, in Braille.
The full text of the Rebbe's sichah (talk) is reprinted in this issue, with the kind permission of "Sichos In English."
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
15 Menachem-Av, 5758
Brooklyn, New York
About the mitzvah of mezuzah, which is found in this week's Torah portion, Eikev, the Talmud relates that Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi once sent a mezuzah as a gift to Artaban, king of Persia, explaining that the small scroll would protect him from harm.
At first glance, Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi's gesture seems odd. The commandment to affix a mezuzah upon one's doorposts was given only to the Jewish nation. A non-Jewish king, therefore, would not be fulfilling a religious precept by possessing a mezuzah. As such, he would also be ineligible for any reward resulting from the performance of a mitzvah. Why then did Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi promise the gentile king that the mezuzah would guard and protect him?
A similar question may also be asked about the common practice, dating back to the time of the Mishnah, of inserting a mezuzah scroll into one's walking stick, also done for the sake of the protection it afforded. A walking stick is certainly not included in the commandment of mezuzah. If there is no commandment, there is certainly no reward. How, then, did the mezuzah afford protection?
A distinction must be made between the reward a person receives for performing a mitzvah and the intrinsic attribute of the mitzvah itself. When a person obeys G-d's command by fulfilling a mitzvah, the reward he earns is a separate and distinct entity, additional to the essential nature of the mitzvah. For example, the Torah states that the reward for the mitzvah of mezuzah is long life: "That your days be increased and the days of your children."
Yet besides the reward promised by the Torah, each mitzvah has its own special attributes and characteristics that have nothing to do with reward, but are integral parts of the mitzvah itself. The mezuzah's attribute is protection. Our Sages explained that when a kosher mezuzah is affixed to the door post, G-d Himself watches over the occupants of the house, even when they are not at home. A mezuzah is written solely for the purpose of protection, and, by its nature, it protects.
With this in mind, it becomes clear that even when no fulfillment of a religious precept is involved, a mezuzah still possesses this attribute of protection, at least to some degree. It was for this reason that Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi sent the mezuzah as a gift to the Persian king and that Jews took mezuzot with them wherever they went inside their walking sticks.
In a similar vein, speaking about and studying the laws of mezuzah afford similar protection. The Talmud relates that in the house of one Jewish king a special sign was made on those door posts that were exempt from having a mezuzah.
From this we learn the crucial importance of having kosher mezuzot. The Jewish people, likened to "one sheep among seventy wolves," are always in need of special defense. Every additional mezuzah affixed to a Jewish home extends G-d's Divine protection to the entire Jewish nation, for all Jews are ultimately responsible for one another.
For more information about the mitzvah of mezuzah, contact your local rabbi, or Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
For a listing of the Centers in your area:
In the USA, call: 1-800-Lubavitch (1-800-582-2848).
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.
One of the unique aspects of Chassidus is that it generates the potential to see any incident in a larger scope. An idea is thus appreciated not only for its individual message, but also as a part of a more inclusive whole.
The Rebbe gave expression to this quality in his sichos (talks) on Shabbat Parshat Eikev. He focused on a unique development: the publication of the Tanya in [Hebrew] braille, emphasizing the important breakthrough it represented--bringing the teachings of Chassidus to people who had never previously had the opportunity to taste this spiritual knowledge independently.
Nevertheless, beyond this important dimension, this development can be seen as part of a process of yet greater scope--as both a foretaste of, and a catalyst for, the coming of the Era of the Redemption. Accordingly, the Rebbe encourages us here to continue this pattern, to "live with the Redemption," to conduct ourselves in its spirit, and in this manner, to precipitate its coming even sooner.
* * *
Spreading the Wellsprings Outward
Recently, a new printing of the Tanya was brought to this building, the Previous Rebbe's shul and House of Study, an event that is noteworthy in its own right, and of even greater significance when viewed as part of a cosmic canvas.
The Tanya, which has been described as "the Written Torah of Chassidus,"(2) has been reprinted many thousands of times all over the world. Indeed, the Baal Shem Tov taught that the coming of Moshiach is dependent on "the spreading of the wellsprings of Chassidus outward."(3) Ultimately, in the Era of the Redemption, "the knowledge of G-d will fill the earth as the waters cover the ocean bed."(4) And to prepare for this revelation, it is necessary to spread G-dly knowledge, the teachings of Chassidus, throughout the world at large. When seen in this context, the printing of the Tanya in so many different cities is significant, for it has transformed them into "wellsprings," centers and sources for the spreading of Chassidus.(5)
Windows for the Soul
The new printing of the Tanya mentioned above is unique, however, for it represents the spreading of the teachings of Chassidus to a group of people who had previously had no potential to study these teachings unaided. For this the Tanya was printed in braille.
In recent generations, Chassidus has been explained in ever-increasing depth and breadth, and these explanations have been communicated to people from different backgrounds and walks of life in many languages. Unfortunately, however, the physical handicap of the blind prevented them--until now--from reading these texts independently.
The significance of this printing is magnified by the fact that, as mentioned above, the Tanya is known as "the Written Torah of Chassidus." Just as the Written Torah includes the entire Oral Law, for "there is no teaching which is not alluded to in the Torah,"(6) so, too, the Tanya includes in seminal form all the teachings of Chassidus revealed in later generations.(7) In this sense, this Tanya makes the totality of the teachings of Chassidus accessible.
The Ultimate Purpose of Sight
There is an intrinsic connection between the blind and the study of Chassidus. Chassidus--the medium in which pnimiyus HaTorah (the inner dimensions of Torah) is revealed in the present age--is known as(8) "the Light of the Torah." Similarly, in Lashon HaKodesh, "The Holy Tongue," it is common to describe the blind by the euphemism sagi nahor, which means "of great light." And indeed, historically, there is a connection between the two. One of the great sages of the kabbalistic tradition, Rabbi Yitzchok Sagi Nahor,(9) was blind.
There is also a connection between the blind and the Future Redemption, because in that era the dimension they possess, which is associated with "great light," will be revealed. At that time, G-d will heal the entire world and the blind will be healed first.(10)
(The significance of the blind becoming sighted is also connected to the revelation of the "knowledge of G-d" in the Era of Redemption. Moshiach will teach the people, using the power of sight(11) and thus, this faculty will be necessary to appreciate the new dimensions of Torah knowledge that will be revealed at that time.)
Moreover, the study of the Tanya by the blind will hasten the advent of this era, for this represents the opening of an entirely new sphere in the spreading of the teachings of Chassidus. And in this context, we can appreciate the greater significance of this printing.
Moshiach's Coming is Past Due
Moshiach's coming is long overdue; "All the appointed times for the Redemption have passed."(12) Furthermore, from the perspective of the Jewish people, we have already completed the spiritual service demanded of us. To borrow a phrase from the Previous Rebbe, "We have even polished the buttons,"(13) for the teachings of Chassidus have been presented in a manner in which they are accessible to every Jew.
The printing of the Tanya in braille thus reflects the nature of the spiritual service required in the present age--making the teachings of Chassidus accessible to others who for various reasons have not yet been exposed to them. And in doing so, there must be a consciousness that these teachings are a foretaste of the revelation of "the knowledge of G-d" in the Era of the Redemption. Moreover, a study of these teachings will lead to that revelation. In this manner, studying Chassidus reflects our efforts to "live with the Redemption," and make the Redemption an active force in our daily conduct.
The above concepts are particularly relevant in the present month, the month of Elul, when it is customary to review and take stock of our spiritual service in the previous year, and in this manner, prepare for the new year to come. This stocktaking should also focus on the imminence of the Redemption and on our efforts to make the Redemption an actual reality.
Catalysts for the Redemption
A Jew has the potential to arouse himself, to arouse others, and to arouse G-d Himself, as it were. According to all the signs given by our Sages,(14) and definitely in the light of the miracles which we have witnessed recently, the ultimate Redemption should have come already, and in this present year. For the miracles described in the Yalkut Shimoni(15) are to take place in "the year in which the King Moshiach will be revealed."
We must cry out "Ad Masai!" - "Until when must we remain in exile?" And furthermore, this outcry must be coupled with actions that grant us a foretaste of--and thus precipitate--the Era of the Redemption.
And these efforts will doubtless bear fruit, particularly in the present time. The month of Elul is a time when G-d accepts the requests and grants the wishes of the Jewish people. And surely this is an appropriate time for Him to grant our truest and most essential wish--that the Redemption come about immediately.
1. Adapted from the book, Sound the Great Shofar (Brooklyn, NY: Kehot Publication Society, 1992).
2. Igros Kodesh (Letters) of the Previous Rebbe, vol. IV, p. 261ff.
3. For the relevant sources see footnotes 12, 13 and 14 to the above Overview.
4. Yeshayahu 11:9, quoted by the Rambam at the conclusion of his discussion of the Era of the Redemption in the Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 12:5.
5. See sichah of Parshas Bo, 5744, and the essay, "The Printing of Tanya," in Sichos In English, vol. XIX, pp. 113-119.
6. Zohar III, 221a.
7. Furthermore, the final portion of the Tanya, Kuntres Acharon, is an explanation of certain passages found in the previous four portions of the Tanya. In this it resembles the Oral Law, which is an explanation of the Written Law. Indeed, there is a close similarity between this fifth portion of the Tanya and the Book of Devarim, which is called Mishneh Torah, a restatement of the Torah, and thus shares a connection with the Oral Law.
8. See Yerushalmi, Chagigah 1:7, and commentary of Korban HaEdah.
9. See Shmos HaGedolim and also Recanati, Parshas Vayeishev.
10. Midrash Tehillim 146; see also Yeshayahu 35:5 and Bereishis Rabbah 95:1.
11. See Likkutei Torah, Tzav 17 a, b.
12. Sanhedrin 97b.
13. Sichah of Simchat Torah, 5689/1928.
14. See the conclusion of Tractate Kesubbos.
15. Vol. II, sec. 499, commenting on Yeshayahu 60:1, with reference to events having worldwide repercussions in the Persian Gulf.
On Wednesday, Chof Menachem-Av, Menachem-Av 20, Aug. 12, we commemorate the 54th yahrtzeit of the Rebbe's father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Schneerson, known affectionately as Reb Leivik.(16)
A Torah prodigy from his early youth, he was granted rabbinic ordination by some of the greatest rabbis of his time. A great scholar, teacher, and community leader, much has been written about his books, commentaries and letters, which he wrote under most unusual circumstances. Very little, however, has been written about his great personality, partly because few who knew him survived the Russian conditions and the war. Partly, too, because his is an enigmatic personality whose essence it is difficult to grasp, for there was a certain simplicity about him that belied his inner grandeur.
He was an outstanding scholar in Kabbalah, an area that is "closed" even to most accomplished scholars. His knowledge of Kabbalah was quite unusual in that it was not just a theoretical or esoteric scholarship, but had practical application. Not that Reb Leivik used it to perform miracles, although some earlier great kabbalists had demonstrated that that was possible. He used it to better understand various halachic and talmudic passages and coincidences that are usually not included in ordinary scholarly discussions.
Reb Leivik was concerned with these minute "abandoned" phenomena in Torah. He knew the reasons and the explanations so well and so clearly that the reader of his works cannot help marveling as he learns the Torah secrets that are revealed on every page of our sanctified texts.
Reb Leivik was also able to explain various events that transpired in his life according to Kabbalah. When he was imprisoned in 1939, for teaching Judaism in Stalinist Russia, he was moved from prison to prison and from city to city.
This is only one of the many rare aspects of this great tzaddik. A man who, suffering great thirst and hunger because of water and food scarcities, took the small ration of water and used it to wash and sanctify his hands, a man who, after standing in a breadline with other prisoners during a famine, came home and cried that he wasted so much time waiting for a tiny piece of chametz, instead of preparing for the impending festival of Passover--this was Reb Leivik.
Throughout his entire stay in prison, in fact, Reb Leivik's greatest anxiety was not food, clothing, or shelter, but paper and ink. His greatest need was to write, to reveal more and more secrets of Torah so that others might share and draw inspiration from the depths and beauty of the words of our sages.
That urge to give of what was dearest to himself--his kabbalistic Torah insights--he expressed in the long talks that he delivered at every occasion. But in prison and in exile he was in isolation; this exacerbated his suffering and made his need to write down his thoughts even stronger.
When he was blessed with his Rebbetzin's arrival to share his exile--a long and excruciating episode recorded in detail in her diary--he was extremely happy with the holy books she was able to bring with her. Even before, though, he had quoted from them in his writings, citing exact chapter, page, etc.
His joy at getting his beloved books was doubled, now, for besides being able to study them, he would use their margins to write his insights, which poured forth in tremendous volume. But he lacked ink, which was unavailable in the area. Thanks to his Rebbetzin's genius and devotion, some ink was manufactured from local herbs and plants.
Reb Leivik's unpretentiousness is also found in his writings, where he almost never uses the style common to most scholars.
Reb Leivik made his comments directly, without any remarks or apologies, without elaborating on the difficulty inherent in the quoted passage. But what he said in his commentaries and in his letters is so profound and so brilliant that one can feel justifiably proud just understanding it. One must be a substantial scholar to merely comprehend even his simpler remarks, let alone to question or analyze them.
While Reb Leivik accepted the Divine will that allotted him suffering Soviet incarceration, he was not depressed or paralyzed spiritually. On the contrary, he flourished spiritually under the most adverse conditions. Reb Leivik concentrated on accomplishing the utmost in Torah learning and interpretation.
Chasidic philosophy teaches that from the nature of the reward for a mitzvah we may glimpse the meaning of its essence. This is perhaps true of people; from their reward we may perceive their greatness. Reb Leivik's reward is his son, the present Rebbe.
16. He was the great-grandson of the third Rebbe, and was born on Nissan 18, 5638/1878. He served as Chief Rabbi of the city of Dnepropetrovsk (Yekatrinislav) in the difficult years of communistic, anti-Jewish persecution. He was arrested in 1939, and then exiled to Asiatic Russia where he endured terrible suffering for his staunch, uncompromising stand on all matters of Jewish religious observances. He passed away Menachem-Av 20, 5704/1944, while still in exile.
The weekly Torah portion is divided into seven readings, each reading being associated with one of the seven days of the week. Thus, this Wednesday, Menachem-Av 20, Aug. 12--when we commemorate the 54th yahrzeit of the Rebbe's father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Schneerson--we read the fourth portion of the Eikev where it describes the uniqueness of the tribe of Levi.
Maimonides explains that this uniqueness is not reserved only for those whose lineage is from that tribe, but includes, "each and every person...whose openness of his heart dictates to rise above the material concerns of this world and make 'G-d his portion and his inheritance,'" i.e., to dedicate himself to the study of the Torah and the performance of the mitzvot.
At a gathering, the Rebbe described how his father's life exemplified the desire to make G-d his portion and his inheritance:
"Although the Russian government at that time pressured rabbis to issue proclamations declaring their support of the government and their willingness to accept its authority, my father conducted himself as a rav did in previous generations [and did not succumb to the pressure].
"Furthermore, he did this with mesirut nefesh--self-sacrifice. In particular, this is reflected in his journey to the Russian capital to receive permission to bake matzos in a kosher manner. This journey was successful and they agreed to accept his rulings regarding the kashrut of these matzos.
"Although this caused financial loss to the government--and that was considered a very serious matter at that time--my father refused to authorize the use of any flour that was not supervised by his supervisors, supervisors who would not bend despite the pressure they were subjected to. The matzos that were baked under his supervision were then distributed throughout Russia.
"Although he knew of the possibility of severe punishment, he continued his efforts to spread Yiddishkeit, and, furthermore, did so while in exile itself. Moreover, he was recognized for his wisdom by non-Jews, and when they asked him for advice, he also endeavored to influence them to fulfill their seven(17) mitzvot, and to the extent possible at that time, he achieved this.... My father's desire was to spread Judaism in his own community and throughout the entire Jewish people and to do so with mesirut nefesh."
May we truly learn from Reb Levi Yitzchok's mesirut nefesh and incorporate it into our daily lives until the complete revelation of Moshiach.
17. The seven universal laws commanded to Noah and his descendants. These include the prohibitions against, adultery, murder, theft, eating the limb of a living animal, and saying G-d's name in vain; and the obligation to establish a system of justice, and belief in one G-d.
This Shabbat we bless the month of Elul, and we celebrate Rosh Chodesh Elul, on Saturday, August 22, and Sunday, August 23.
In addition to being the name of a Jewish month, the word Elul is an acronym for five verses from the Bible which are connected to the five different types of service, each identified with our new month.
The Rebbe enumerated these five verses:
Prayer--"I am my Beloved's and my Beloved is mine." For it is through prayer, the "duty of the heart," that our relationship with G-d is enhanced and intensified.
Torah study--"It chanced to happen and I set aside for you a place." This verse describes the Cities of Refuge to which a person who killed unintentionally can flee. But it also refers to Torah study for "the words of Torah provide refuge."
Deeds of Kindness--"A person [gives presents] to his friends and gifts to the poor." In this verse the concept of deeds of kindness is clearly expressed.
Teshuva--"And G-d your L-rd will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your descendants." For the service of teshuva--returning to G-d wholeheartedly, is primarily the service of changing one's inner self, the feelings of one's heart.
Redemption--"And they said, 'We will sing to G-d'" This phrase is taken from the Song of Redemption sung at the Red Sea.
The first three services are identified with the three pillars of man's service. These services must be permeated by the service of teshuva and by the service of redemption and thus, they will be endowed with a boundless quality that surpasses the limits of a person and the world at large.
The Rebbe's slogan is: "The main thing is the deed." We therefore present from the Rebbe's talks suggestions what we can do to complete his work of bringing the Redemption.
Facilitate an increase in Jewish education for children
A few years ago, near the end of the month of Av, the Rebbe explained:
"We are nearing the close of the month of Av, a month associated with the destruction of the Holy Temple. Removing the cause of the Holy Temple's destruction--'Jerusalem was destroyed solely because the Torah study of the children was nullified'--will cause the effect, the destruction and the exile, also to cease, and bring about the revelation of the Third Holy Temple. One should assure an increase in the area of the education of Jewish children."
You can start by enrolling your child in a Jewish day school or afternoon school program or giving a donation to an institution dedicated to Jewish education.
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, Aug. 14, Erev Shabbat Parshat Eikev:
Saturday, August 15, Shabbat Parshat Eikev:
18. 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.
19. Rosh Chodesh Elul is on Saturday, August 22, and Sunday, August 23.
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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