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Wednesday, February 19, 2020 24 Shevat 5780





Creating Leaders

by Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks
Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth.
From his remarks at the banquet of the Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries
Throughout Jewish history there were great leaders. But I know of no precedent for one who transformed, visibly and substantively, every single Jewish community in the world - including many parts of the world that never had a Jewish community before.
It was 1968. I was a sophomore at Cambridge University. I had already encountered Chabad. They were among the very first to go out to university campuses and I was one of the very first beneficiaries. I came to America to meet great rabbis of the day. Every single rabbi that I met said, "You must meet the Rebbe!"
Eventually the moment came when I was ushered into the Rebbe's study. I asked him all my intellectual, philosophical questions; he gave intellectual, philosophical answers. And then he did what no one else had done. He did a role reversal. He started asking me questions. How many Jewish students are in Cambridge? How many get involved in Jewish life? What are you doing to bring other people in?  I'd come to ask a few simple questions, and suddenly the Rebbe was challenging me!
I answered the Rebbe, "In the situation in which I find myself..." - and the Rebbe did something which I think was quite unusual for him, he actually stopped me in mid-sentence. He said, "Nobody finds themselves in a situation; you put yourself in a situation. And if you put yourself in that situation, you can put yourself in another situation."
That moment changed my life. Here I was, a nobody from nowhere, and here is one of the greatest leaders in the Jewish world challenging me not to accept the situation, but to change it. And that was when I realized what I have said many times since: That the world is wrong. When they think that the most important fact about the Rebbe is that here is a man with thousands of followers, they miss the most important fact: That a good leader creates followers, but a great leader creates leaders. That's what the Rebbe has done for me and for thousands of others.
There was a point when the Rebbe developed a very interesting campaign - the Seven Noachide Laws campaign - to reach out not just to Jews, but also to non-Jews.
I realized that in my new position as Chief Rabbi I could do just that. So I started broadcasting on the BBC, on radio, on television, writing for the national press. I wrote books read my non-Jews as well as Jews and the effect was absolutely extraordinary. The more I spoke the more they wanted to hear. The more I wrote the more they wanted to read.
That experience has shown me not only the wisdom, the vast foresight of the Rebbe in understanding that the world is ready to hear a Jewish message. It taught me something else as well.
Non-Jews respect Jews who respect Judaism. And non-Jews are embarrassed by Jews who are embarrassed by Judaism.
The Rebbe teaches us how to fulfill the verse, "Let all nations see that the name of G-d is called upon you." Let all the world see we are never ashamed to stand tall as Jews.

* * *

15th of Shvat
15th of Shvat, the New Year of the Trees, this year falls on February 10. But what does that have to do with us, other than eating some extra fruit, etc?
Let's take a moment to consider the fruit for which the Land of Israel is blessed as enumerated by the Torah:
Two of them, wheat and barley, are grains. The other five, grapes, pomegranates, figs, olives, and dates, are fruits.
One difference between grain and fruit is that grain is a staple food, necessary for the maintenance of our well-being. Fruits are delicacies, eaten for pleasure.
15th of Shvat gives us the potential to carry out our service, not only according to the very minimum necessary to maintain our existence, but rather in a manner that leads to pleasure - our own and our Creator's.
There is another area in which grains and fruits differ. When grain is harvested, though there is an abundant increase in quantity, the grain is of the same nature as the kernals which were originally planted. In contrast, the seed of a fruit tree is of an entirely different nature than the fruit that is later harvested.
Similarly, in regard to our service of G-d, the metaphor of fruit trees alludes to a service which is not limited to the basic necessities, but rather generates pleasure. It reveals the potential for growth, not only a quantitative increase, but also, a leap to a higher level, a new framework of reference altogether.
Since 15th of Shvat is the "New Year of the Trees," it generates new life energy for those dimensions of a Jew's service which are compared to trees.
In years gone by we were advised, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." The latest dietary guidelines call for five to 13 servings of fruits (and vegetables) a day (2½ to 6½ cups per day), depending on one's caloric intake. According to "Fruits are nature's wonderful medicines packed with vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and many phyto-nutrients (Plant derived micronutrients)....
Fruits provide plenty of soluble dietary fiber..."
So, except for when it's been tampered with by people, fruit is a healthy choice. The numerous varieties of fruit also share two other qualities: they are naturally sweet and delicious and they have seeds.
Jewish teachings refer to mitzvot (commandments) as "fruit."
In order for our mitzvot to be like edible fruit, they too have to be healthy, free of additives, untainted by ego, one-upmanship or a holier-than-thou attitude.
The fact that a fruit contains seeds means that it is able to reproduce. The seeds from a piece of fruit grow into a tree which bears fruit. Those fruits decompose and then the seeds germinate. They grow into saplings and eventually into new, fruit-bearing trees. This chain, the first link of which goes all the way back to the beginning of the world, continues eternally.
Mitzvot must "contain seeds." Our mitzvot should produce other mitzvot - they should inspire within ourselves and within others the desire and the ability to increase in Jewish living.
Moreover, mitzvot are eternal. And, like fruit trees, they link us not only to the future but to the past, as well.
It is not for naught that the first mitzva in the Torah, given to the first people, was "Be fruitful and multiply." For, it is truly a basic and prime mitzva to bring forth another Jew, to create - physically or spiritually - another person who him/herself will do fruit-bearing mitzvot, ad infinitum.
Finally, mitzvot like fruit, are sweet. They satisfy our "craving" for the most delicious things in life - loving kindness, a relationship with G-d, a sense of community, transcending our mundane existence, wisdom.
In the Garden of Eden, all trees bore fruit. The Midrash teaches that in times of Moshiach, when all of creation will return to its perfect state, all trees will once again bear fruit - healthy fruit, sweet and delicious fruit, fruit producing fruit.
There is no "Institute" or "Association" that has set limits to or recommended daily allowances for our mitzvot observance. Surely if we attempt to perform as many mitzvot as possible each day, and even more, we will soon merit to experience the perfection of the world in the final Redemption.
May we all truly avail ourselves of this new life energy to fulfill our potential in making this world a fitting home for G-d and G-dliness.

* * *


The History of Purim - A Brief Synopsis

Jewish morale was at an all-time low. The Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed, the nation conquered, and for almost 70 years, had been dispersed in foreign lands. The prophesied end of Exile had not materialized, and the blight of assimilation had set in. Just then, the enemy arose to carry out his evil plans. This time it was Haman. Descended from the Jew-hating tribe of Amalek, Haman devised his scheme to solve 'the Jewish problem' once and for all, by annihilating every Jew, men, women and children, throughout the world, in a single day.
And it almost worked. Were it not for Mordechai. A descendent of King Saul, and advisor to King Achashverosh, Mordechai sensed the danger. Donning sackcloth and ashes, he went to the gate of the palace, crying aloud, rallying the Jews to return to Torah. His niece, Queen Esther, called for him. He told her that she must go to the King and plead for her people. Officially in disfavor, she feared to go, but saw that she had no choice. She undertook a three-day fast of penitence, and called upon the whole Jewish people to do likewise. Then she went to the King.
It is a story of great courage and self-sacrifice--first and foremost by Queen Esther and Mordechai, and ultimately by the whole Jewish nation. For throughout the duration of the whole year, not one single Jew chose to convert, even to save his life. The nation was awakened to a whole-hearted return to Torah and mitzvot, and throughout the year strengthened their faith and observance. And in the merit of this, they were able to rise up against their enemies and destroy them, on the 13th of Adar, the very day destined for the "final solution." The Jewish people had shown their true character. They had earned the right to leave Exile, to return to the Holy Land, and rebuild the Temple. As it was in those days, so may it be with us today. Each year in fulfilling the special mitzvot of the Purim festival, we reaffirm our commitment to the eternal values of the Torah... and we share in the very same merit that redeemed the Jewish people in the days of Mordechai and Esther.
Purim - Then and Now Remembered and Reenacted
One of the Purim mitzvot is the reading of the Megillah - the Scroll of Esther, in which the miracle of Purim is recounted. The Talmud tells us that "whoever reads the Megillah backwards does not fulfill his obligation." Our Sages explain that "backwards" does not only mean in reverse order; it also means that whoever reads the Megillah merely as ancient history has missed the point. The Purim story is directly relevant to our contemporary world. As the Megillah itself tells us, that when we celebrate Purim each year, the miraculous events of Purim are "remembered and reenacted" in our lives.
Haman, Then and Now
One does not have to look far to find Haman's modern-day heirs. Now, as then, there are evil schemers who seek to scapegoat the Jewish people and -- Heaven forfend -- to erase us from the face of the earth. Each time they rise up to destroy us, their schemes are foiled by the miraculous Hand of G-d. The most striking example in recent times was the Persian Gulf War that ended victoriously on Purim, 5751 (1991).
From Redemption to Redemption
Throughout our history, we have seen miracles. Despite centuries upon centuries of persecution, we have survived and flourished, by the Grace of G-d. Yet we have remained in exile for nearly 2,000 years, hoping and praying for the final and complete Redemption -- the Redemption that will end suffering and exile forever. May the observance of Purim be a precursor to the coming of Moshiach, our Righteous Redeemer, whose imminent arrival will bring about a better life for all the nations of the world
For Purim date and more details on the prayers recited, see the current issue of Reaching Out.

Look in the "Current Issue" of Reaching Out for more details and information.
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