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Judaism doesn't believe in asceticism. It does not consider it a lofty goal to totally separate oneself from the world and its pleasures. Rather, we are encouraged to enjoy life, but in a uniquely Jewish fashion.
Maimonides writes in his Mishne Torah: "A person may desire... not to eat meat, nor to drink wine, live in a pleasant home, or wear fine clothing... This is a wrong path and it is forbidden to follow it... Our Sages directed man to abstain only from those things which the Torah forbids him and not to deny himself those which are permitted."
The bottom line is that we're all going to partake of this world no matter what, as we should. So we might as well do it Jewishly.
The Talmud states that when one is surrounded by beautiful furnishings it expands the mind and relaxes the person. One can therefore study Torah more assiduously. So when you re-decorate or purchase artwork, consider whether this color paint or that artist's work of art, are mind expanding or stress reducing.
Don't deny yourself "meat" or "wine" or all of the delicious delicacies in-between. But do make sure that it's kosher and remember our body is on loan to us from G-d and we have to return it in as good shape as possible.
Wear fine clothes and dress for success - if you can afford to. But while you shop, keep in mind that you want to dress Jewishly, with dignity. And if you can't afford to dress on fashion's cutting edge, dress with just as much dignity, but less expensively.
At an international Chanuka gathering - hooking together people on five continents by satellite (at the time, in 1991, this was considered "cutting edge" technology) - the Lubavitcher Rebbe expressed the above concepts and brought them one step further. With an awareness of the purpose of creation for all material things, we can use them toward their proper purpose. He said:
"Our involvement with material things should be motivated by more than a desire for self-gratification. This involvement should be purposeful in nature and ultimately directed toward serving G-d.
"In this manner, not only does this satellite-link communicate spiritual truth: it expresses it itself. For satellite communication, like every other creation brought into being by G-d, exists for a purpose. As our Sages declare, `Whatever G-d created in His world, He created solely for His glory.' In this instance, G-d revealed the wisdom for this and other technological advances that unite different parts of the world so that we could better appreciate the oneness that pervades all existence.
"But Judaism never allows anything to remain in the theoretical. Practical application and an orientation toward action are the backbone of Judaism:
"The oneness achieved through satellite communication allows one person to share with another not only in the realm of thought, but also in a tangible way. For example, charitable funds can be transferred from one account to another regardless of the geographic distance, and in this manner, a needy person can be promptly given the wherewithal to purchase his physical necessities," the Rebbe concluded.
The bottom line is that we are physical people in a physical world. That's the way G-d created it and that's the way He wants it. But He also "wants" us to reveal the true purpose of everything physical and use it for its G-dly purpose.
As we approach the Messianic Era, when the Divine purpose for everything will be fully revealed, it becomes easier to achieve the goal of using the pleasures of the world to bring pleasure to ourselves and ultimately to G-d.
This week's Torah portion, Vayishlach, describes the encounter between Jacob and his brother Esau, after Esau had sent 400 armed men announcing his arrival. Their meeting, which threatened to be confrontational, actually turned out amiable - "Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him; and they wept."
Why this change of Esau's intentions? Rashi explains: Esau's mercy was aroused when he saw Jacob prostrating himself before him so many times. Rashi continues by quoting Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai: Despite the fact that Esau hates Jacob, Esau's compassion was stirred at that time and he kissed him with his whole heart.
Rabbi Shimon used the word "halacha" to describe the fact that Esau hates Jacob. Halacha, which means religious law, emphasizes something about the nature of Esau's hatred toward Jacob: it is as immutable and timeless as are the practical laws of Torah. Rabbi Shimon wished to teach us that we should not try to rationalize Esau's hatred of Jacob by ascribing various reasons or motives to it; it is a hatred rooted in Esau's very essence. If and when we find an instance of Esau's positive behavior toward Jacob, we should realize that it is an exception to the rule - "his compassion was stirred at that time."
This saying of Rabbi Shimon also found its expression in his own personal life. Rabbi Shimon lived under the yoke of Rome, and suffered under the harsh decrees issued against the Jewish nation. He, in particular, suffered greatly because of his own staunch opposition to the Romans, and was forced to hide in a cave for 13 years, together with his son. Yet it was precisely this same Rabbi Shimon who traveled to Rome to have the anti-Jewish decrees rescinded, and was successful!
The story of Rabbi Shimon illustrates both sides of the coin: the unchangeable nature of Esau's hatred and persecution of the Jews, and the triumph of one who was particularly renowned for his opposition to Roman rule.
We learn from this a valuable lesson in how to relate to our oppressors during this long and bitter Exile:
On the one hand, a Jew must not rely on the mercy of the nations, because we know that Esau's hatred toward Jacob is a given fact. At the same time, it is within the power of every Jew to command respect from the non-Jews by maintaining his pride and adherence to the Jewish way of life.
When a Jew is unbending in his commitment to Torah and mitzvot, it positively influences the nations, so that "Esau's compassion was stirred and he kissed him with his whole heart." Not only does this command respect, but it brings about Esau's cooperation and even assistance in helping the Jew to keep his Torah.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
by Malka Presti
My name is Malka, though I used to be known as Chloe, and Chloe led quite a different life than I do now. I grew up in Boca Raton, Florida, and matzo ball soup was about the extent of my Jewish affiliation. I always believed in G-d and was proud to be Jewish, but it certainly did not govern my life or my choices. Thankfully, my mother did enroll me in Sunday Hebrew school as a child, but after my Bat Mitzva, I graduated Judaism.
The year after my Bat Mitzva, we moved to Nevada where I felt like the only Jew in a sea of Mormons. My lack of interest in Judaism, along with the constant lectures from my friends to "save my soul and convert" were certainly not conducive to me finding my place in Judaism.
After high school I began Arizona State University. As a freshman, I was searching for my niche on campus. I joined a sorority where 5 of the 150 girls were Jewish. One of them offered me to come to a "Hookah in the Sukkah" event at ASU Chabad. I knew what hookah was and I vaguely remembered what a Sukkah was, so I agreed. The rabbi and rebbetzin whom I met there, Rabbi Shmuel and Chana Tiechtel, were beyond wonderful and welcoming. I had a lovely time and their family was very kind to me, but I just wasn't looking to get involved in Judaism. I did not return to the Chabad House for an entire year.
A month after that Sukkot event, my grandpa (Hershel Laib ben Avraham of blessed memory), who was my hero and inspiration in life, passed away. The following year my grandma (Devorah bas Yaacov of blessed memory) urged me to find a place to observe my grandpa's yahrtziet. Being that I was so disconnected, I didn't know what to do or where to go! I then remembered the warm Chabad House I had gone to the previous year and decided to go there to honor his day of passing. I entered the Chabad House that night alone, in total sadness and mourning...but I never felt alone again. They listened to my stories, embraced me, and toasted my grandpas memory; from then on Chabad was home.
Soon after, Rabbi Tiechtel encouraged me to become part of the "Sinai Scholars," Torah study program. I reluctantly agreed, but after the first class I was hooked. I couldn't ask enough questions or get enough answers. I was unquenchably thirsty! My shluchim (emissiaries) spent many hours learning with me which inevitably led me to start keeping Shabbat and kosher.
The next step for me was more intense Torah study. I attended Mayanot in Jerusalem for the summer. I absolutely loved yeshiva; I could feel my soul smiling and dancing that I was finally immerseing her in Torah.
I would have stayed on but I had one more year of college to complete my degree, which I finished this past May. That last year on campus was difficult for me; my soul ached to be back in yeshiva. I couldn't wait for the year to end so I could get back to learning. But as the months passed, the fire dimmed. I knew that if I returned to yeshiva for the year, Torah would become an inseperable part of me. But by March, I had yet to apply for yeshiva.
A few weeks later, a friend whom I met in Mayanot called me to study over the phone; she asked if I had applied to yeshiva yet. I admitted that I was scared to take the step that I knew would help solidify my commitment to Torah and mitzvot. She encouraged me, rekindled my fire, and sent me the link to sign up! I spent the next hour applying. .Just before I clicked submit I paused and pleaded with G-d: "I know this is pure chutzpa, but I NEED a sign that this is what You want for me. That you want me to be religious, to be Chabad, and to go to yeshiva!" If I didn't get a sign, I knew I would still go, but I felt that G-d's validation and approval would make any challenges that came my way easier.
Now I must rewind in my story to three months earlier. In December, I had gone on a "Taste of Yeshiva Shabbat" through Chabad on Campus. Before I left for the Shabbaton, Rabbi Tiechtel called and told me that he had a very special gift for me. He had had it since November when Chabad at ASU participated in the Chabad on Campus Intercollegiate Shabbaton in New York, but he felt that now was the time to give it to me.
I explained to Rabbi Tiechtel that I was on my way to the airport for the Taste of Yeshiva Shabbat and simply could not stop but would get it when I came back to Arizona. For three months, from the time I returned from the Yeshiva Shabbat until the day in March when I applied to yeshiva and asked G-d for a sign, the rabbi and I had never managed to hook up for him to give me the gift. I was the president of Chabad and the Tiechtel children's babysitter, but the gift never came into my hands during that time. Either he would leave it at home, or I would forget to ask him for it, and and so on.
Finally after a class one evening, on the same day I had asked G-d for a sign, my rabbi exclaimed, "Malka don't move, I have your present!" He went into his office and came back with a dollar from the Lubavitcher Rebbe. When the Lubavitcher Rebbe would give dollars on Sundays for people to give to charity he would say "blessing and success." Here was my sign! I felt the Rebbe was telling me I should go to yeshiva with much blessing and success.
Rabbi Tiechtel told me about the dollar: While we were at the Ohel (the Rebbe's resting place) during the Chabad on Campus Shabbaton in November, a woman approached him. She handed him a few dollars from the Rebbe, saying that he should pass them them on to his students in the right time. As this transaction was happening, I was in the Ohel begging the Rebbe for guidance and clarity regarding my connection with the Rebbe and whether I should go to yeshiva or not. At the very moment I was pleading with the Rebbe, this woman was giving my rabbi my answer.
What is even more amazing is that though I saw Rabbi Tiechtel almost every day, it had not worked out for him to give me the dollar until exactly when I needed it most! The answer couldn't have been more clear - yeshiva, and the Rebbe's yeshiva!
This is the story of how I transitioned from Chloe to Malka, a Machon Chana student, and a daughter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe!
To find out more about Machon Chana call 302-503-0770 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Once Upon A Journey
Three hundred years ago, the Jewish community of Eastern Europe was slowly breaking apart, threatening it's very foundation. Read about a secret society that set out to repair the rift. Timeless tales to educate and fascinate today's young readers. Once Upon a Journey contains true stories of hidden tzaddikim, famous leaders and simple Jews, based on the Memoirs of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe and adapted for children by Rabbi Zalman Ruderman. Published by BSD Publishers.
Rambam: The Story of Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon
Brilliant scholar, dedicated physician, prolific author, Torah leader. Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon was all of these and much more. But what were his early years like? What struggles and challenges did he endure? This newly revised biography tells the story of the Rambam's life in a well-researched, sometimes fictionalized narrative for independent readers. Excerpts from the Rambam's extensive writings are seamlessly incorporated into the action. Written by Rochel Yaffe, illustrated by Normal Nodel and published by Hachai Publishing.
20th of Elul, 5735 [Aug. 27, 1975]
Blessing and Greeting:
I duly received your letter and regret unavoidable delay to acknowledge same. You write that you find it difficult to fully understand why the Jewish people seem to feel so strongly that the Gentiles are not well disposed toward them, especially since you personally do not feel this way about the Jews.
May I say, first of all, that I am gratified to hear about your good feelings and I do hope that you avail yourself of every suitable opportunity to let people know how you feel in this matter, so they emulate you.
As for your question, what basis, if any, there may be for Jews to feel suspicion - or even frightened, as it seems to you - about the Gentiles' feelings towards them - surely there is an obvious explanation of that in what happened in our time, and before our own eyes, obvious at any rate, to those who survived the holocaust in Europe and found a haven in this country.
Considering that one third of the Jewish people was callously decimated by a Gentile nation and its collaborators, while the rest of the Gentile world looked (and sometimes not even as indifferent observers) - a subject too painful to dwell on, particularly in this letter, in view of your personal feelings. I mention it only by way of reply to your question - the explanation is fairly obvious, and it is surprising that it had eluded you. Moreover, seeing the attitude of the vast majority of the members of the United Nations toward the remnants of the Jewish people, it clearly reinforces the suspicion that the attitude of the Gentiles - generally speaking, for there have always been exceptions - has not changed radically.
By way of contrast, it is noteworthy that Jews on their part have a duty to encourage and help every Gentile to abide by the Divine commandments which have been given to all mankind, namely, the so-called Seven Precepts Given to the Children of Noah, which are the minimum standards of universal ethics and morality, law and order, without which no human society can long survive. This is expected of the Jew regardless of the Gentiles' attitude toward Jews. Similarly Jews are commanded to practice charity and benevolence towards Gentiles along with Jews.
No doubt you also know the Jewish contributions to the concepts of liberty and humanitarianism and others. Even the motto of the United Nations, "Nation shall not lift up a sword against nation," is an ideal Divinely inspired to a Jewish prophet for Jews and, through them, for Gentiles. This too, incidentally, pointedly underscores the contrast between the said ideal displayed there on the wall with what is going on there between the walls. Again, there is no need to dwell on this, as noted earlier.
My father said: Chassidus changes what exists, and uncovers the essence-character. The essence-character of the Jewish person is beyond estimation and assessment, for he is a part of (G-d's) Essence, and whoever lays hold of a part of The Essence is as though he lays hold of it all. Just as The Essence is unlimited, so is the part unlimited. This is similar to tzitzit being "on the corner" - i.e. "of the same material as the corner"of the garment. (The existence of the soul as an entity discrete from G-d's Essence) is only because G-d created the soul to be a created being; and Chassidus reveals the essence-character (of the soul).
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, was imprisoned on trumped up charges of anti-government activities. We celebrate his release from prison on the 19th of Kislev, December 11 this year.
During his imprisonment, one of the Czar's officers - having heard of Rabbi Shneur Zalman's keen intellect and outstanding genius in all areas of life - engaged him in a conversation.
The officer had an unsolved question. "It says that Adam 'hid' after he sinned by eating fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. When G-d wanted to speak with Adam, He asked him, 'Where are you?' Didn't G-d know where Adam was?" asked the officer.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman replied, "The Bible is eternal and its message is for all times. G-d was inquiring of Adam, and of all his descendants for all time, 'Where are you? Where do you stand in the fulfillment of your life's mission? How much have you accomplished today and what do you intend to accomplish tomorrow that will help you fulfill the special task with which you have been entrusted?' "
The question "Where are you?" is asked every day of each one of us.
The answer has to come from a place that goes beyond names, titles, affiliations and job descriptions. To be able to properly respond, our answer has to come from our very essence. For G-d does not direct the question to Adam or Eve, to Michael or Jennifer. He directs it to you: "Where are you?"
Being able to answer the question requires understanding who "you" are. The Chasidic teachings of Rabbi Shneur Zalman - the dissemina-tion of which was the true cause for his imprisonment - explain that "you" are comprised of a G-dly soul and a body chosen by G-d at Mount Sinai.
Torah, primarily as elucidated by Chasidic teachings, can help us understand these components of ourselves. Together with that understanding comes the ability to begin to answer the question, "Where are you."
And Jacob was left alone (Gen. 32:25)
This concept of "alone," of the absolute unity and Oneness of G-d, was bequeathed by Jacob to his descendants forever. For whenever the Jewish people would be forced to do battle with Esau, they would yearn for the time when G-d's Oneness will be manifested openly, i.e., the era of Moshiach.
(Rabbi Boruch of Mezhibozh)
And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men (Gen. 33:1)
Jacob went to meet with his brother Esau even though he knew that his life might be endangered by the encounter. But he didn't discuss the matter with anyone, or think twice about it. He just did it. From this we learn how important it is to DO things, because DOING is what will bring Moshiach.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him (Gen. 33:4)
When a small flame is brought close to a burning torch, the smaller fire is nullified within the larger one. So too was it with Jacob and Esau. Jacob was the great light, whereas Esau contained tiny, hidden sparks of holiness. When Esau spotted Jacob these sparks were aroused, prompting him to run over and be nullified in the greater holiness.
Thus Rachel died, and was buried on the road to Efrat, which is Bethlehem (Gen. 35:19)
Why didn't Jacob bury Rachel in the Cave of Machpela where Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sara, and Isaac and Rebecca were buried? Instead he buried her at the crossroads of Bethlehem in accordance with a Divine Command. When Rachel's children would, in the future, be exiled by Nebuchadnezzer to Babylonia, they would pass Rachel's tomb. She would entreat G-d for mercy for her children, and G-d would listen to her prayer.
Life in Czarist Russia wasn't easy, but in spite of everything, the couple would have been very happy if only G-d had granted them a child.
They prayed for years and even made the long trip to the Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidut, for a blessing. Finally, their prayers bore fruit, and they became the parents of a charming little boy. Not only was he an attractive and appealing child; he was possessed of an intellect that was rare. He learned with true dedication, and his mind and soul delighted in every word of Torah he studied.
The boy soon outstripped all his teachers, and so he sat alone every day in his room at home studying and making great progress in his studies. His parents were as happy as could be.
One evening the father entered his son's room and gazed down upon the page he was studying. To his shock and dismay, the boy was reading one of the books of the "Enlightenment" movement which disparaged Torah and Jewish tradition. Although his heart was racing, the father spoke to his son calmly, in a voice filled with warmth and love, "What are you reading, my son?" he asked.
"Father, don't think that I'm reading this because I'm interested in their arguments. I just feel that I need to know how to refute them when they speak." The father patted his son's arm and said nothing.
The next time the father found his son reading similar literature, his rebuke was stronger. Little by little the parents noticed a change in their brilliant son. His behavior, his carriage and his dress all bespoke the influence of the "enlightened." The words of his broken-hearted parents seemed to make no impression on the boy.
One day the boy entered the kitchen and made an announcement: "I'm going to the university in Berlin to study." His parents were so shocked and broken that they could not utter a word.
When he arrived in Berlin, the boy was greeted as a wunderkind, so brightly did his intellect shine among the other students. He excelled in his studies, and after several years he had written two original treatises which were about to the published. In addition to all this distinction, he found a woman whom he wished to marry.
Suddenly, he remembered his aged-parents, and had an urge to obtain their blessing on his proposed marriage. He also wanted to show them his scholarly manuscripts and prove to them that he had indeed succeeded in his chosen endeavors, despite their disapproval.
But then he reflected: How could his parents, totally uneducated in secular ways, begin to fathom the depth of his brilliant studies? Suddenly he had an idea. He would stop in Liozhna on his way home. There he would show his manuscripts to Rabbi Shneur Zalman, a man of great erudition who would certainly appreciate the depth and insight of his works. Then, his parents would hear about him from a source that was more familiar to their shtetl-world view.
The young man made his way to Liozhna and presented himself at the Rebbe's court - an unusual sight in his waxed moustache and Berlin garb.
Reb Moshe Meizlish, a well-known Chasid, approached him, inquiring what the young man was seeking, but he replied that he wanted only a private audience with the Alter Rebbe. When the request was presented to the Rebbe, he agreed, and the young scholar was ushered into the Rebbe's room.
He entered with his two manuscripts clutched tightly in his hands. The Rebbe and the young man were closeted in the study for several hours. The scholar finally left the room, his face flushed red, his hands shaking. He still held the manuscripts, but paced nervously, looking at one and then the other. Then he took the papers and threw them all into the fire which burned in the central room.
Reb Moshe had been watching the whole scene, and now he approached the young man and asked him, "What happened in the Rebbe's chamber?"
"I showed the Rebbe my manuscripts - scholarly concepts which I was on the verge of publishing. They had been very well received in Berlin. He looked at the first page of the first manuscript, made some notations, and quickly flipped through the remaining pages. Then he did the same with the second work. When he had finished, he looked up at me with his penetrating eyes and said, `Young man, your book is very well-written, except that it is fallacious, for your basic premises are wrong.'
"I was shocked to my core. I had spent years perfecting these works. All of my professors were highly impressed by them. I listened to the Rebbe, and then I started to argue my point of view. But I was forced to stop. For try though I may, I simply couldn't refute his conclusions. I left the room completely embarrassed, and I continued turning over in my mind the Rebbe's critique. I sorely wished to justify myself, but I realized that I simply couldn't. That is when I threw my precious manuscripts into the fire."
The young man remained in the court of the Rebbe, who himself taught this extraordinary young man. Not too long after, the young man passed away. The Rebbe explained that his soul was a reincarnation of Rabbi Elazer ben Durdaya who had lived in the times of the Talmud. Elazer ben Durdaya had lapsed into a very immoral lifestyle but eventually returned to G-d with all his heart. His sincere repentance earned him the title "rabbi." He had had several reincarnations, and this most recent incarnation completed his repentance. His soul was prepared to enter the highest realms.
The Talmud (Berachot 64a) states, "Torah scholars have no rest, neither in this world, nor in the World to Come, as it says, "They will go from strength to strength," (Psalms 84:8). The explanation of this according to Chasidic teachings (Tanya, Igeret Hakodesh, ch. 17) is that the righteous continue to rise from level to level in their attainment of Torah secrets even after their passing from this world. However, in the time of the resurrection of the dead, the souls of the righteous will return to their bodies to enjoy the ultimate eternal state of spiritual and physical contentment.