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The vacation section of the New York Times this past summer contained an article entitled, "The New Vacation Journey: Bed, Breakfast and Spirituality." The gist of the report was that, as an antidote to the high-pressure, fast-paced lifestyle that many of us lead, people are opting to vacation in "austere tranquility." One 37-year-old banker said, "I used to go over to the health spa when I got stressed out. Now I just sit here and listen. I end up in better shape after a weekend."
All of the locations mentioned in the article were either monasteries or convents, which might cause Jews to wonder if there are similar "Jewish" retreats. The answer is a resounding "yes."
But, the fact that Jews are vacationing in Zen and Trappist monasteries or Catholic convents and participating in their religious services or meditation groups begs another question to be asked. Why is it that so many Jews today believe that in order to get a healthy dose of spirituality--including mysticism and meditation--it has to be gotten through something other than Judaism?
In the introduction to his book, Jewish Meditation: A Practical Guide (Schocken Books) Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan discusses the above problem:
Jews are by nature a spiritual people, and many Jews actively seek spiritual meaning in life, often on a mystical level... Today, many American Jews have become involved in Eastern religions. It is estimated that as many as 75 percent of the devotees in some ashrams are Jewish...
When I speak to these Jews and ask them why they are exploring other religions instead of their own, they answer that they know of nothing deep or spiritually satisfying in Judaism. When I tell them there is a strong tradition of meditation and mysticism, not only in Judaism, but in mainstream Judaism, they look at me askance. Until Jews become aware of the spiritual richness of their own tradition, it is understandable that they will search in other pastures.
Rabbi Kaplan also explains that, according to the Talmud, in Biblical times over a million people were involved in meditative disciplines.
Regular schools of meditation existed, led by master prophets... In these schools, people were taught meditative methods in order to attain a closeness to G-d....
...these meditative schools required a strong discipline and faithful adherence to a strict regimen. Before even being admitted to one of these ancient meditative schools, a person had to be not only spiritually advanced but in complete control of all his emotions and feelings. Beyond that, the disciplines of the Torah and commandments were central to these schools, and these disciplines required a degree of self-mastery to which not everyone could aspire.
It appears that this was one of the attractions of ancient idolatry. While the Jewish meditative schools required extensive discipline and preparation, many idolatrous schools of mysticism and meditation were open to all. A person could at least think that he was having a transcendental experience, without adhering to the tight discipline of Torah and Judaism. It was very much like the situation today, when Eastern meditative groups seem easier to relate to than the strict discipline of Judaism.
Now that we understand the problem, let's start working on a solution. The most obvious one being that we all become more aware of the spiritual richness of our own tradition through studying authentic Jewish sources and applying the Torah's teachings to our lives.
- (Back to text) Nearly every Chabad Center organizes weekend retreats and/or longer programs of Jewish study and living. There are also Chabad institutions specifically geared for those Jews wishing to travel through the mysteries of Judaism, including Bais Chana in Minnesota, Machon Chana and Hadar HaTorah in Brooklyn, Ascent, Machon Alte and Ohr Temimim in Israel.
This week's Torah portion, Beraishit (Genesis), is the first portion of the entire Torah. It recounts the entire story of Creation and tells, among other things, about the creation of the first people.
We read that Adam was commanded by G-d not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. But Adam was not able to overcome his temptation and he ate the fruit.
According to the Midrash, the command not to eat the fruit was given after three-quarters of Friday had passed and was to be in effect only until Shabbat began. Adam and Eve were not to eat the fruit for only three hours!
When we consider that Adam was created by G-d, Himself, and heard the command from G-d, it seems amazing that he couldn't control himself for a mere three hours.
We learn from this episode the strength and guile of the yetzer hara--that aspect of our psyche which encourages us to go against G-d's will. The yetzer hara may camouflage its aim by trying to convince us that a commandment is too difficult or unimportant. Nevertheless, its real intention is to persuade us to go against G-d's will. Therefore, the more important a certain command is for a particular person, the harder the yetzer hara will try to dissuade the individual from performing the command. Even if the commandment is a very easy one, the yetzer hara will make it seem extremely difficult.
Thus, we can understand how Adam was tempted to eat the forbidden fruit. The yetzer hara employed its most compelling arguments to convince Adam to sin.
The yetzer hara's arguments are highly evident today. Many contend that if the "burden" of the Torah, the details and laws, would be lightened, all Jews would adhere to them. But this is not true. For, even if there was but one commandment--and that for only three hours--the yetzer hara would make it seem impossibly difficult and repressive.
We cannot overcome the yetzer hara by compromising the Torah. We must, rather, realize that we have all been imbued with the strength to overcome the yetzer hara's arguments and guile. If we draw on our G-d-given inner strength, ultimately we will be victorious.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Pearl Krasnjansky with her children
by Yehudis Cohen
One of our recent Shabbat guests was a student from New York University. When we found out that his parents live in Hawaii, we played the Chabad version of "Jewish geography."
"Do you know the Chabad couple in Hawaii, the Krasnjanskys?" we asked the guest.
"Of course," he told us matter-of-factly. "My parents are very friendly with them."
And then I remembered, with a slight twinge of guilt, that on one of her trips to New York I had interviewed Pearl Krasnjansky about life in Hawaii--but I'd never written it up. I found my notes and as I read through them, it was easy to picture myself sitting with Pearl--enjoying her enthusiasm for her work, her perceptive comments about the people with whom she comes in contact, and, most of all, her humility and dedication.
"It takes a little prodding and pushing," explains Pearl, when asked if it's easy to get people to come events. "But once they come," she continues, "it feels like home to them and they keep on coming back."
The "they" that Pearl speaks of are people of all ages and professions, "just like in every other Chabad House." One of the differences, though, that Pearl has noticed is that people in Hawaii love the "laid-back" lifestyle. "For them, California is fast paced. Many people in Hawaii consider Honolulu too cosmopolitan." And, Pearl notes sadly, "Judaism just isn't on their list of priorities."
Because the Jewish community is very transitory it's hard to develop lasting relationships with many of the people, says Pearl. "But hopefully, they'll carry the warm feeling toward Judaism they've gotten at Chabad further."
Contact with Hawaii's Jews are made in every way possible, explains Pearl. For instance, their non-Jewish cleaning woman has started introducing the Krasnjanskys to all of her Jewish friends. And, of course, people often stop her husband in the street since, with his full beard, yarmulka, and conservative clothes, he stands out on the tropical print shirts and surfing gear streets of Hawaii.
Pearl is the Chabad version of a jet-setter. Though she runs an afternoon Hebrew school twice a week in Honolulu, she also flies every other week to Kawai where she teaches a group of Jewish children there. "Honolulu seems so cosmopolitan compared to Kawai," she notes. Adding that physically, Hawaii is how she would envision the Garden of Eden.
One story that Pearl relates seems to epitomize their work in Hawaii. "There is a wonderful, wonderful woman whom we met at a Jewish Business Network Luncheon. She took a liking to us and told us that if there was anything she could do for us we should please call her. A week later my husband called her and for the next two years we nearly lived in her house. We did all of the typesetting for our publication on her computer. When this woman bought a new business, she was called by the Hawaii Jewish News to place an ad there.
"'If I advertise at all, I'll advertise with Chabad,' she told them.
"'But we're so much bigger,' the advertising person said.
"'Yes, but they're so much more sincere.'"
Though Pearl, her husband Yitzchok, and their four children are the entire staff of Chabad on location, they get tremendous support from their "New York office."
"Our New York office is my parents," says Pearl gratefully. "Chabad of Hawaii wouldn't exist without them." Most kosher food is hard to come by in Hawaii, even a lot of the national brands with rabbinical supervision that most of us on the "mainland" have come to rely on. So Pearl's parents send food. "They put a lot of effort into keeping Chabad of Hawaii alive," says Pearl.
Pearl's mother, Mrs. Rottenstreich, concurs. "To send enough food for my daughter and her family, twice a year would be enough. But they have at least twenty-five guests at each meal on Shabbat. So we send about four 60 pound boxes every three to four weeks."
Mrs. Rottenstreich also updated me on the progress of the Chabad day school, which was just in the planning stages when I originally spoke to Pearl. "They've added another grade," says Mrs. Rottenstreich proudly. "Now they have nursery, kindergarten and first grade. Pearl is the director and teaches half a day, in addition to everything else she does."
With a hectic schedule like Pearl's, it's not surprising that she and her family haven't had time to tour and enjoy the islands very much. "We're not the beach and surfing types anyway," Pearl concludes with a laugh.
Project 470 of the Lubavitch Women's Organization is once again offering a free candle-lighting instruction booklet, containing the blessings and times for lighting Shabbat and holiday candles, for the current Jewish year. To receive a booklet write to Lubavitch Women's Organization, 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11213 or call (718) 774-2060. For candle-lighting times anywhere in the U.S.A. call 1-800-SABBATH. In NYC call (718) 774-3000.
THE UNTOLD STORY
A special weekend encounter with the Lubavitch community of Crown Heights is scheduled for October 18-20. The guest speakers for the weekend will attempt to demystify the idea of Moshiach. Guest speakers include Rabbi Sholom Ber Lipskar of the Shul of Bal Harbour; Gershon Jacobson, editor of the bilingual Algemeiner Journal. Entertainment on Saturday evening will be provided by the internationally acclaimed Piamenta Band. These bi-monthly "encounter weekends" organized by the Lubavitch Youth Organization usually attract people from all over North America. Participants in the weekend will be accomodated at the Crown Palace Hotel or in the homes of Lubavitcher families in the community. For more information call (718) 953-1000.
TEENS COMING "TO LIFE"
L'Chaim Teens, a Jewish club for teenage girls, entered its second season this fall. Meeting take place on alternate Sunday evenings in White Meadow Lake, New Jersey. Community involvement, musical performances, clothing design and the art of kosher cooking offer Jewish teens an exciting excursion into the beautiful world of Jewish heritage and creativity. For more information call Sarah Herson at the Chabad Center of White Meadow Lake, (201) 625-1525.
ON THE WAY
A freely adapted letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
We are reminded of the custom in some communities to proclaim at the outgoing moments of Sicmhat Torah (the culmination and final key-note of all the festivals of Tishrei): "And Yaakov went on his way," meaning, his prescribed way and G-dly service, his way of life, throughout the year.
There is a message contained in the phrase And Yaakov went on his way--and bearing in mind that each letter and word of the Torah is a world full of meaning and instruction--
There is need to elaborate on the concepts contained in the said three Hebrew words, to wit:
And Yaakov: It is well known that the two names of our Patriarch, Yaakov and Yisrael, are quite different,
- In time--the name Yaakov was given at birth, whereas "Yisrael" was bestowed later, after he had achieved "You have striven with Angels and with men, and have prevailed."
- In meaning--the name Yaakov is associated with ekev, "heel," which is the lowest and last part of the body, wherein there is hardly any distinction between one person and another. The name Yisrael, on the other hand, has to do with leadership and mastery, and, rearranged, spell "li rosh," "I am the head," the head being the highest part of the body, wherein the essential differences (physical and spiritual) between individuals are located, viz, facial features, voice, looks, and mentality.
Now, the significance of Yaakov, in the said message of And Yaakov went on his way, is in that it refers to the Divine mission given to every Jew, without exception, from birth, while still in the state of "Yaakov," and at the beginning of his Divine service. From this starting point, the said mission is to be fulfilled in a manner containing the following elements:
Went on--implying true locomotion, i.e. leaving completely behind one place (and spiritual state) to go to another, more desirable place.
Parenthetically, this is the reason why angels are called omdim "stationary," for although "they fulfill the Will of their Maker with awe and fear, and praise G-d in song and melody"--which is their form of advancement to higher states, there is no complete departure and change involved in their nature, hence this cannot be termed perfect "going."
Only man is called mehalech, a "walker," for his task is to go from strength to strength, even if his previous station, spiritually, is satisfactory. Yet, to remain in the same state will not do at all. His progression must involve a change, to the extent where his new spiritual state is incomparably higher than his previous one, however good it was, and he must thus continue on the road that leads to G-dliness, the En Sof, the Infinite as indicated further--
His way--the King's Way, the way of the Supreme King of the universe. The preeminence of a perfect way, as has been pointed out, is that it links the remotest corner with the Royal Palace in the Capital City; it is a two-way road, leading from the Palace to the remote corner and from the remote corner to the Palace.
Likewise, the Divine mission of every Jew, whose soul descended from the pinnacle of her heavenly abode to the nadir of the material world, for the purpose of linking the two through his Divine service in both directions: "From below--upwards" (generally through prayer, "Unto You, O G-d, I lift up my soul"), and "from above--downwards" (generally through the study of Torah and the fulfillment of mitzvot, G-d's wisdom and will, respectively, as reflected, particularly, in the mitzva of tzedaka, giving alms to a poor and needy person, who craves for everything, having nothing of his own).
This is also how the service of every Jew, man and woman, should be. One must not be satisfied with one's influence at home, in the community, or country, but one must open the way, the King's way, as above, that leads even to the remotest corner of the earth, in order to bring there, too, the word of the King of Kings, and illuminate that corner with the light of Torah and mitzvot, and to uplift all that is in that corner to the state of "Unto You, O G-d, I lift my soul."
May G-d grant that each and everyone of us will carry out the mission included in the said instruction of And Yaakov went on his way, with all that it connotes, and carry it out with joy for "joy breaks through barriers."
Are there any special customs associated with traveling?
A special "Prayer for Travelers" (Tefilat HaDerech) is said upon reaching the outskirts of the city from which you are traveling. If one will be away for more than one day, the prayer is said--without using G-d's name--each subsequent day after the morning prayers.
Having just recently experienced the joy and enthusiasm of the holiday of Simchat Torah, it is appropriate to consider what kind of a message the holiday carries which we can implement into our lives.
We have been enjoined to "Serve G-d with joy" and we are told that "joy breaks all boundaries." Certainly, then, in these days immediately following Simchat Torah, the conclusive lesson for us is to carry the spirit of joy and happiness of the holiday into our observance of Judaism.
Chasidic philosophy in particular demands enthusiasm and joy in every activity connected with the performance of mitzvot and the study of Torah.
Modern science and medical studies have, in fact, conclusively found that one's attitude can directly effect one's health. We all know people who are tense, jittery or under a lot of pressure. Unfortunately they almost always pay for it with assorted physical ailments. On the other hand, we've all heard stories about people who when ill, filled their time with pleasant activities or humorous pursuits; their recovery was noticeably quicker than that of others.
The Torah, the guidebook and blueprint for all humanity, was given to us by G-d, the ultimate healer. He certainly knows how we can best keep in the top condition, physically and spiritually. By incorporating joy and happiness into every aspect of our lives, we work toward attaining a healthy body and soul.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
In the year 1648 the Jewish people were overtaken by terrible and overwhelming tragedy. In that black year the Ukrainian Cossack Bogdan Chmielnicki and his vicious hordes rampaged through the countryside murdering and pillaging the unfortunate Jewish villages in their wake.
A young girl was living in a small Polish village together with her widowed mother and small brothers and sisters at the time of great upheaval. When word spread of the approach of the murderers, the Jews fled wherever they could; this girl was separated from her family. She wandered the countryside with a group of destitute Jews, begging for food.
After some weeks of wandering, the group of refugees came to Vilna where they found a community shelter. The wife of the shelter manager took a special liking to the girl and offered to help her establish herself in Vilna, reasoning that in a large city, she would more easily find her family.
The girl, for her part, was grateful for the woman's friendship, and when she was offered a job in a Jewish house, she accepted happily. "My son-in-law," explained the lady of the house, "is a great Torah scholar and studies every night until midnight, at which time he is served his dinner. Up until now my daughter and I have had the honor of serving him, but it is difficult for us to keep such late hours and also manage the house during the day. You will have the duty and privilege of serving my son-in-law." The girl accepted the job happily.
The first night as she sat outside the door of the scholar, listening to the haunting sing-song melodies of the Talmud, the girl was transported back many years. It was as if she was listening to her father's voice rehearsing the ancient texts in just the same melodious voice. With these memories filling her mind, tears suddenly began to flow down her cheeks, as she sobbed quietly.
A moment later the door opened and in an annoyed tone of voice the young man said to her, "Please stop that noise. You are disturbing my concentration." Frightened to lose her job, the girl was quieted at once.
The following night as she sat by the closed door listening to the ancient melodies, the girl was again moved to tears, and she couldn't control her weeping. When the young scholar opened the door, he saw at once that something serious was grieving the girl. His patient questions yielded from the girl an account of her sad tale. She told him about her beloved father, Meir who had passed away many years ago and about her mother and siblings lost in the terrible upheaval. She also told him about her older brother who had been sent away to study after his bar-mitzvah and whom she had never seen again.
The young man, Rabbi Shabetai Cohen, (later known as the ShACh), quickly realized that he knew the girl's family and the whereabouts of one of her relatives, for he, in fact, was her long-lost brother. He did not disclose this information to her, though, for he had his reasons for withholding that wonderful news. Meanwhile, things continued as before, except that Rabbi Shabetai requested that the girl be relieved of her duties, remaining in the house with the status of a family-member.
About half a year later, the lady of the house took ill and the girl took upon herself the care of the invalid as well as assuming most of the household responsibilities. The illness was a prolonged one, and finally the lady passed away, deeply mourned by the whole family.
Not too long passed before matchmakers approached the wealthy widower with suggestions of matches. Uncertain about what to do, the widower consulted his learned son-in-law. Rabbi Shabetai replied that he should postpone any action in the matter, and should wait another year.
After a year passed the marriage brokers returned, and the widower consulted his son-in-law again. This time he offered this advice: "Disregard all the suggestions of the matchmakers, for the best and most suitable match is right here, the young woman you have 'adopted' into your family. Set the earliest possible date for the marriage. After the chupa I will tell you the true identity of the girl."
The young woman was happy and honored to accept the proposal, and the marriage was celebrated joyously. Rabbi Shabetai now revealed to his father-in-law that his bride was none other than his own long-lost sister. He added: "As a wedding gift, I promise that you will be blessed with a son. You will name him Meir, after my saintly father, and he will enlighten the Jewish world with his Torah knowledge and wisdom." This indeed came to pass.
Adapted from The Storyteller.
And G-d created man (Gen. 1:27)
Why doesn't the Torah state after the creation of man, "and it was good," as it does after all the other things created during the six days?
Every other creature was created complete, with its nature and instincts ready to be applied to the world. Man, however, was created incomplete, and it is his purpose in life to perfect himself. Human beings are given free will and the responsibility for their own development and improvement. That is why it doesn't immediately state, "and it was good"--we must wait and see how man behaves before passing judgement.
And G-d saw the light that it was good, and He divided (1:4)
Rashi explains that when G-d saw that the light was good, he decided that it was not fitting for both darkness and light to reign together. He therefore appointed each its proper time, light during the day and darkness at night. How can light and darkness possibly get mixed up with each other? Does not even a small amount of light immediately dispel any darkness? The original combining of darkness and light was only in the times allotted for each. Before G-d distinguished between the two, the light and darkness followed each other in rapid succession and in no particular order. G-d subsequently gave each of them its own realm.
And he put him into the Garden of Eden to till it and to keep it (2:15)
In the "Seven Blessings" of the marriage ceremony, the bride and groom are blessed with the following: "Happy and joyous may you be, O loving companions, like the joy of your progenitor in the Garden of Eden many years ago." May the young couple, just embarking on a life together, be as true and faithful to each other as Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, when they were as yet the only two people in the world.
Moshiach is already on earth, a human being of great saintly status (a tzadik) appearing and existing in every generation. On the particular day that marks the end of the exile, when Moshiach will redeem Israel, the unique pre-existing soul of Moshiach--'stored' in the Garden of Eden from aforetimes--will descend and be bestowed upon that tzadik.