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Is the glass half empty or half full? That's the typical example used when finding out if someone is a pessimist or an optimist. The pessimist always looks at what's missing, what isn't there, while the optimist looks at what is there, what's positive about the situation.
But are pessimism or optimism the only deciding factor in the way a person perceives the contents of the glass? Is there more to it?
Let's take another example, that of two people standing at the same point in a field. One person sees garbage and refuse in front of him. The second person sees a beautiful palace, lush gardens, idyllic orchards.
Can these two people possibly be standing in the same field at the same location? Yes. But they are looking in opposite directions. The first person is looking in the direction from where he came, the city, whose rubbish is on the outskirts of the city. The second person looks ahead toward his destination, the palace and his meeting with the king.
In this scenario it matters not whether a person is a pessimist or an optimist. What is important is where the person focuses his attention.
The month of Elul is the time when the King of Kings is, so to speak, in the field. He is available to all, not hidden behind gates and doors and guards and officialdom. So, Elul is a unique time of mercy and accessibility.
As we stand in the field, ready and waiting to greet the King - to ask G-d for our needs for the coming year, to beg for forgiveness, to request a good and sweet year - we all stand poised at the same spot in the field. No Jew is closer or further away from G-d at that moment.
The only question might be, "In which direction are we looking?" Are we looking toward the rubbish and refuse of the city whence we came or are we looking toward the palace?
Looking toward the palace is constructive and invigorating in general. And in particular, it is beneficial as well.
When the Rebbe was asked how could he say that we are now in the time just before the coming of Moshiach, he replied with the above analogy and explained that it depends toward which direction one is looking.
By focusing our sights, goals and actions on the palace, the palace is in the center of our vision; it is our constant goal.
When the Redemption commences, G-d will continuously be "in the field" as G-dliness will be revealed in its totality in the Messianic Era.
Let's cultivate the ability to focus on the true destination, the Divine Palace. And let's do everything we can to continue advancing step-by-step toward our goal by doing good deeds, mitzvot (commandments) and studying Torah until we walk hand in hand to greet Moshiach.
In the Torah portion of Eikev, Moses recounts the passing of his brother Aaron immediately after recalling the breaking of the tablets containing the Ten Commandments. Our Sages tell us that the incidents are juxtaposed because "the demise of tzadikim (the righteous) is as difficult for G-d as the breaking of the tablets."
The parallel between the demise of the righteous and the breaking of the tablets is not only that they are both extremely difficult for G-d, but also that tzadikim and the tablets are analogous. How so?
With regard to the first tablets, the Torah states: "The tablets were the work of G-d; their text was written by G-d - engraved upon the tablets." The tablets thus had two distinct attributes: their very creation was a work of G-d; the text was engraved by G-d.
After the sin of the Golden Calf, "Moses looked at them and saw that the writing had disappeared. He said: 'How can I give the Jewish people the tablets, they are without substance? Rather, I will break them.' "
But even after the writing had disappeared, the tablets were still G-d's work. How could Moses refer to them as being "without substance"?
The text of the tablets was engraved within the tablets themselves. As such, the text became an integral part of the tablets' substance, not something added as ink is added to paper. Hence, the engraving of the text had a profound impact on the actual tablets, the words becoming entirely one with them.
Therefore, once the "writing had disappeared" - although the tablets were still a work of G-d - they were "without substance," for the true entity was the actual text, with its soul and spirit.
These qualities of the tablets have a parallel within each Jew. Every Jew is a composite of body and soul. The Jew's body is similar to the tablets, which were a work of G-d, for even the body of a Jew possesses tremendous sanctity. The soul that was placed within the body is similar to the Divine writing engraved within the tablets. The unity of body and soul is thus similar to the unity of the writing and the tablets themselves.
As mentioned earlier, the tablets were important unto themselves - "the work of G-d" - even before the writing was engraved, for the tablets preceded the text. Still, once the Ten Commandments were engraved within them they were elevated to such an extent that their totality was the "Divine writing." So when the writing disappeared, they were considered to be "without substance."
So too with the Jew. Although his body was created independently of his soul, once the soul is vested in the body, it becomes truly one with the body. The essential aspect of the soul becomes the essential character of the body as well. Thus we say that "the life of the tzadik is not physical life, but spiritual life - belief, awe and love [of G-d]."
This then is the similarity between the demise of tzadikim and the breaking of the tablets. With the introduction of an even higher spiritual element - the soul, the Divine writing - both entities undergo a profound change, with spirituality becoming their entire essence.
From The Chasidic Dimension, based on Likutei Sichot, Vol. 14
A Three Minute Encounter
by Rabbi Yisroel Freeman
Twelve years ago, I spent part of my summer visiting and working with Jewish communities in Central America. I was travelling with a friend and spent time in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador making communal Jewish programs and making dozens of visits to Jewish homes and businesses. During my travels, I encountered many amazing people and experienced several incredible stories, one of which I would like to share below.
One day, we travelled to Antigua, Guatemala, an old town that sits on the Central Highlands of Guatemala. Antigua used to be the capital until it was destroyed by an earthquake and volcano eruption. The population of the town is just over 30,000 and is made up of local Guatemalans along with a healthy dose of foreign tourists. This ancient town that was situated in the shadow of the towering volcano was stunningly beautiful and rich in color and diversity.
We had heard that there were Jewish backpackers as well as one Israeli who owned a café in town; we hoped to be able to meet them. We spent some time walking around the old market and 16th century cobblestone streets where we bumped into a few Israeli backpackers who identified us and realized we were not locals.
We then went and headed over to the café that was geared towards the foreign tourists who visited Antigua and was owned and run by a young Israeli man. When we arrived, Yochai the owner was not there and instead we met an Israeli backpacker called Roey, who was running the café. We spent some time chatting with Roey; when Yochai came we chatted with him as well.
Yochai got busy running the café and Roey prepared to leave and rest, as he was not feeling that great. Before he left, we asked him if he would like to put on Tefilin and say the Shema. Roey replied, "Sure, that would be awesome"!
When we looked around the café and realized that it was starting to fill up with tourists. So Roey suggested that he don the Tefillin in the street.
We stepped outside the café onto a small side street of this picturesque town. It was surreal scene as Roey wrapped the Tefillin and local Guatemalans walked by, returning home from a long and hard day's work. Suddenly a woman dressed like one of the locals, approached us to stare at this unusual sight that was unfolding on a street in her little town. Her mouth slowly opened and her face changed to an astonished and shocked expression as she stared at us.
I realized that what we were doing was interesting and probably intriguing to say the least, so I said "hello" in Spanish and asked her how she was doing. The woman replied in Spanish and asked us if we were rabbis, to which we replied that we were. She then asked us if we were from the States to which we replied in the affirmative.
At this point, I was starting to wonder where this was going and how she even knew what rabbis were. Suddenly she switched to fluent English and now it was my turn to be in shock as she told us that she too is Jewish and had grown up in a Jewish family New York. She described to us her total shock at seeing this scene unfold on the street as she returned home from work, and told us that she is the only permanent Jew in town. She is married to a local Guatemalan and has several children.
The woman left almost as quickly as she appeared and I forgot most of the info that she had told me. Yet when I got back to Guatemala City, I relayed the info to the Chabad rabbi who was eventually able to connect with her and her family and put them in touch with the main Jewish community.
As I think back to this story, I am always amazed at the timing and coordination of the events that led to our meeting of this woman. We had spent hours talking with Roey inside the cafe, but had only spent three minutes outside in the street while he donned Tefillin at the end of the day. Yet it was in that three-minute window that the woman walked by and was transported back in time as she reconnected with her heritage and ancestors. Ultimately, without any action or choice on our part, this tiny three-minute window led to her connecting herself and her family with the Jewish community in the capital.
In life, we do not always know the power of our actions or choices and where the ripple effect will end. Often we may never discover the full impact of our actions, and only sometimes are we lucky enough to see behind the curtain how the strings of life are being pulled and directed.
Personally, this story has always reminded me of the dynamic tension that exists as we go through life and seek to live and act like a good Jew. It reminds me that our job in life is to do the right thing regardless of whether we appreciate the specific benefits of those actions. Yet at the same time, we do those actions with the knowledge that we are part of a much larger and greater plan, and in reality each performer in the show is making a specific and unique difference to the production that is being produced.
The show that we are part of is not an off Broadway Show, or even a Broadway show, instead we are part of the biggest and most important show that was ever produced, it is the story of the Jewish people and our mission of changing the world, one particle and person at a time.
Now, it's time to get back to the production.
Rabbi Freeman and his wife Shayna direct Chabad of Sudbury, Massachusetts.
Garments of the Soul
Often what is perceived in this world as secondary is in reality most sublime. What appears to be mundane and inconsequential is often most sacred and crucial. Thus, at their source, the garments of the human, both physical and spiritual, transcend the individual. Garments of the Soul is a Chassidic discourse of the Rebbe translated and adapted by Rabbi Zalman Marcus and published by Kehot.
Rabbi Shneur and Mushkie Hecht are due to arrive in Brisbane, Australia, soon to spearhead the launch and implementation of Chabad Brisbane Teens and Young Jewish Adults of Brisbane (YJAB). With Chabad Teens for ages 12-18 and YJAB for ages 18-25, these two groups will target unaffiliated teenagers, university students and young professionals.
"Unfortunately, many of our teenagers and young adults either drift away from the community, or they choose to move interstate in order to live within a more vibrant Jewish environment," said Chabad of Brisbane's Rabbi Levi Jaffe.
"It is therefore imperative for us to be more proactive in engaging this demographic, in order to stem the tide of assimilation and strengthen our local Jewish infrastructure," Rabbi Jaffe told The AJN.
Rabbi and Rebbetzin Hecht will work together to oversee all aspects of this project, including the launch of these two divisions, marketing, promotion, recruitment, organisation, direction, and implementing programs and events, as well as maintaining ongoing connections with all participants.
Among the programs to be offered within this new framework are monthly Jewish teens club, JLI (Jewish Learning Institute) Teens, Shabbat dinners, Shabbaton weekend retreats, university campus programs, and Jewish singles events.
It is intended that the young couple will partner with other local Jewish organisations and youth groups.
Rabbi Hecht said he and his wife, together with their two young children, are looking forward to making the move to Brisbane.
"We are particularly excited to meet the many teenagers and young adults and to enhance the Jewish communal infrastructure, by introducing and maintaining educational and social initiatives for this demographic," he said.
Queensland Jewish Board of Deputies president Jason Steinberg welcomed the initiative, acknowledging that many in that age group don't connect well with the community.
"For a small community like ours, it's terrific to have additional professionals working with sections of our community. And engaging the youth and young adults is particularly important in a small community because it keeps that demographic active and connected," he said.
"We're excited about the work the new shlichim will do to forward that objective."
20 Menachem Av, 5739 
To All Campers in Gan Israel, Everywhere - G-d Bless You All!
I was pleased to hear that the camp season was proceeding successfully for you, strengthening both your physical and spiritual health.
No doubt there is no need to explain to you that with man in general the health of the body is intertwined with the health of the soul, and with the Jew in particular the state of the soul is bound to the observance of the Torah and its Mitzvoth [commandments] of which it is said "for they are our life and the length of our days."
You are a children of a wise and understanding people, as the Torah attests about Israel that it is a "wise and understanding people." As the soul animates the body, you surely understand that the needs of the soul - i.e. the study of the Torah and the observance of its precepts - take precedence to everything and that is what causes the Jew to be healthy and wholesome in both soul and body.
May you continue with this kind of conduct, by way of a continuous and intensification throughout the year to follow, and as our Sages of blessed memory answered us that nothing can stand in the way of a person's will and intention. This means that everything depends exclusively on your own attitude.
This is relevant especially in the context of the month of Elul which follows the camp season. For the Torah states that Elul is an acronym for the words "Ani LeDodi VeDodi Li - I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me." And the term Dodi (my Beloved) refers to the Almighty who loves His people Israel, the young and old, and because of this love He wishes for us our true and ultimate good.
No doubt you will fully utilize these days which are days of preparation for the New Year coming - which will be most auspicious for us and all of Israel - to strengthen the conduct and attitude of "I am to my Beloved," that is a conduct inspired by a love of G-d and a willingness and desire to fulfill His will. Then you are assured that "My Beloved is to me" - that the Almighty, may he be blessed, will make you succeed and bless you and all those that are close and dear to you, with all physical and spiritual needs.
14th of Kislev, 5717 
Students of the Talmud Torah of Congregation Adas Jeshurun
I received your letter in which you expressed your desire to be blessed with success in the study of the holy Torah, and also that your parents should be blessed in all their needs.
You are a children of a wise and understanding people
Since you desire such blessings, I take it that you, on your part, are doing all you can to help in the fulfillment of these blessings. By that I mean that you are studying with diligence and devotion, and are conducting yourselves in the way Jewish children should. In this way I am sure that the promise of our Sages, "He who tries hard, succeeds," will be fulfilled in your case. In this way also you will do a great deal that your dear parents enjoy good health and well-being and real joy from you.
I was glad to see that you remembered the poor and needy children, and have sent a donation for them. Your donation has gone to help the needy children in our educational institutions in the Holy Land. I hope that, together with this financial Tzedakah [charity], you also do spiritual Tzedakah, that is to say, using your good influence on your friends, that they too study with diligence, and even children who do not as yet get the same good education as you get, may be persuaded to join you in the Talmud Torah, for if they will admire you, they will want to be like you.
Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov said: "He who fulfills one mitzva acquires for himself one advocate..."
The simple meaning of this Mishna is that the performance of a mitzva creates an angel that will act as an advocate for the person in his final judgment. Nevertheless, the fact that the Mishna uses the expression "acquires" rather than "creates" implies something deeper. In addition to the angel created by each mitzva he performs, a person acquires One advocate; the One becomes an advocate for him. For every mitzva a person performs, regardless of his intent, connects him to G-d.
(The Rebbe, Motzei Shabbat Eikev, 5738)
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
In this week when we read the Torah portion of Eikev, the yahrzeit of the Rebbe's father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson occured (Wednesday, 20 Av). The portion of Eikev 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.
The Rebbe described how his father's life exemplified the desire to make G-d his portion and his inheritance: "Although the Russian government pressured rabbis to issue proclamations declaring their support of the government and their willingness to accept its authority, my father did not succumb to the pressure.
"Furthermore, he did this with self-sacrifice. In particular, this is reflected in his journey to the capital to receive permission to bake matzot in a kosher manner. This journey was successful and they agreed to accept his rulings regarding the kashrut of these matzot. Although this caused financial loss to the government - and that was considered a very serious matter - my father refused to authorize the use of any flour that was not supervised by his supervisors, who would not bend despite the pressure they were subjected to. The matzot baked under his supervision were then distributed throughout Russia.
"Although he knew of the possibility of severe punishment, he continued his efforts to spread Judaism, 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 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."
May we truly learn from Reb Levi Yitzchak the importance of self-sacrifice for Judaism when necessary, and incorporate it into our daily lives until the revelation of Moshiach.
[Moses told the Jewish people] to walk in G-d's ways. (Deut. 11:22)
The sages of the Talmud explain that this phrase means that we are intended to imitate G-d's goodness. "Just as He is merciful, so should you be merciful; just as He perfroms acts of loving-kindness, so shold yo perfeorm acts of loving-kindness." But inasmuch as G-d;s goodness is infinite, how can we be expected to imitate Him? The answer is that it is for this very reason that G-d created us in His image. As such, we indeed possess G-d's infinite potential to do good.
(Daily Wisdom, based on the works of the Rebbe)
And it will come to pass because (eikev) you will hearken to these ordinances (Deut. 7:12)
Hebrew word "eikev" means literally "heel," and refers to the End of Days - the period right before the coming of Moshiach and the Final Redemption. Our Sages counseled us to "Anticipate the footsteps of Moshiach"; at present, we can hear their faint echo and begin to appreciate Moshiach's light.
And now, Israel, what does the L-rd your G-d require of you but to fear the L-rd your G-d, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the L-rd your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul (Deut. 10:12)
From the way this verse is worded, one would think that this command is easy. Yet the Talmud asks, "Is fearing G-d really such an easy thing to do?" For Moses, the answer goes, it was easy. But how does this help the average Jew? Every Jewish soul, without exception, contains an aspect of Moses; with the help of this element, fear of G-d is attainable by all Jews.
To be sure, the Jewish religion was not the only one to suffer. Bolshevik repression was directed equally against Christian priests and worshippers. This prompted the Pope to issue a firm protest. Russia's new dictatorial regime, in its merciless policy of terror, lost no time in learning the art of disinformation. One of its replies to the Pope and world opinion was to stage a showcase conference of Byelorussia's rabbis, scheduled for the beginning of 1928 in Minsk. It was the government's intention to have thirty-two of the rabbis attending the conference sign a declaration denying the existence of any anti-religious persecution and countering all the allegations.
With broken hearts and shaking hands, the rabbis signed the declaration prepared beforehand. In triumph, the government began to plan another conference, this one to be attended by rabbis from the Ukraine. The conference was to be held in Kharkov, then the Ukrainian capital. There was only one obstacle. According to government informers, the rabbi of Yekaterinoslav (later renamed Dnepropetrovsk), Levi Yitzchak Schneerson (a great-grandson of the Tzemach Tzedek, and an immensely popular and respected figure among the Jews), adamantly refused to sign the fabricated statement. The GPU (State Political Directorate), as the secret police had come to be called, decided to summon Rabbi Schneerson for a little talk. Everything was done to make this a "congenial" affair, with not a single threat or accusation against the rabbi. The mouths of the GPU officials were all but dripping with honey. Their boss delivered a lengthy speech to the effect that he had no doubt that the esteemed rabbi would sign the statement rebuffing the vile insinuations of international capitalism, and the Pope in particular, concerning anti-religious measures allegedly taking place in the Soviet Union. He went on to say that Jews must be grateful to the Soviet regime, which had freed them from the czarist yoke. Finally, he promised that Jews would be awarded a series of concessions provided the statement was signed. "Of course," he added with an insidious smile, "if the statement is not signed, you and other conference participants may be in for some trouble."
The rabbi had already risen to take his leave, when one of the GPU officials pulled a train ticket from a desk drawer. "We have thought of everything," he said. "Here is your ticket to Kharkov. First class, of course."
However, Rabbi Schneerson's reply was brusque and definite: "I have no need for your ticket. I will come to the conference at my own expense." He left without saying another word.
On the appointed day, the rabbi arrived at the conference. There were several dozen rabbis in the auditorium. Scurrying among them were some unfamiliar characters easily recognizable as GPU agents. Palpable fear and tension were in the air; the participants avoided talking to one another. One by one, they were called to the podium, where they recited the prepared texts and, hanging their heads in shame, returned to their seats. When it was Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson's turn, a barely audible rustle went through the auditorium, followed by total silence. With quick and confident steps, the rabbi crossed the floor, climbed up to the stage and, in a loud and clear voice, called upon everyone present not to sign the statement, calling it an outright fabrication. "Those who sign this lie will be committing a grave transgression," he concluded his brief speech.
Deep silence descended on the auditorium. To the utter astonishment of all those present, no one came up to Rabbi Schneerson to demand that he retract his words. The conference lasted for several more days, during which Rabbi Schneerson was able to repeat his appeal a number of times. His words and his unshakeable conviction were beginning to affect those attending the conference, and their spirits were regaining power.
Seeing their plans threatened, the authorities summoned Rabbi Schneerson to a meeting with the people's commissar in charge of education in the Ukraine. The commissar attempted to gain the rabbi's sympathy with a show of mildness and friendliness. However, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak explained, patiently and without the slightest sign of fear, that nothing would intimidate him into signing the declaration, which did not contain a single word of truth.
"You persecute religion every way you can," he said. "You destroy synagogues and yeshivot, close down printing houses and ritual baths, deprive us of our legal right to lead Jewish lives. Do you really believe that I can be forced to sign this fabrication?"
At this point, the commissar could no longer restrain himself. "I'll have you know," he yelled, "that we will not tolerate your incitement! You are undermining the foundations of the Soviet regime, and you will pay dearly for this!"
The authorities never did obtain the desired results from the rabbinical conference. They were literally fuming with rage, which grew even more intense when they found out that someone had managed to smuggle information about these events abroad, triggering a storm of reactions and protests throughout the world. Thousands of Jews inside and outside the Soviet Union held their breath: the solitary battle of one seemingly defenseless Jew against an all-powerful state had an unreal quality.
Naturally, the GPU added this information to his "file." Rabbi Levi Yitzchak served as the rabbi of Yekaterinoslav (Dnepropetrovsk) for 39 years before his arrest in the spring of 1939, which marked the beginning of over five years of suffering and privation. He passed away in Alma Ata, Kazakhstan, on 20 Av, 1944.
The prophet Hoshea compares the number of Jews in the era of redemption to the sand of the sea. The Midrash comments that a glass utensil that shattes can be reheated and rebuilt, and the same is true of the Jewish people. This teaching sheds light on the ancient Jewish custom of shattering a glass under the chupa canpoy at a wedding. The Jewish people are G-d's bride. Our marriage shattered at the time of the sin of the Golden Calf, but it will be rebuilt and blossom into full marriage in the era of redemption.
(Techeilet Mordechai, as quoted in Yalkut Moshiach UGeula by Rabbi Dovid Dubov)