Living With The Times | A Slice of Life | What's New | Insights
Customs | A Word from the Director | It Once Happened | Thoughts that Count
Imagine when "pay phones" were just making their debut. A child approaches this newfangled contraption intent on phoning home to tell his parents his whereabouts. (This obviously takes place in days gone by!)
Again and again he tries, but nothing happens. Until, at last, a kind stranger explains that by putting money in the right place, the connection will be made, and he can in this way contact his parents. With a sigh of relief the child tries the suggestion, deposits the coin and is able to successfully phone home.
Now, change the props and the reason for the call home in the above scenario. Ready? The child is each one of us and the parent is G-d. The phone call is prayer--whether a formal invocation from the prayerbook or a spontaneous "Help me, L-rd!" And the charity box is where the coin should be put in order to make a clear connection.
Of course, it doesn't have to be a coin dropped into a charity box at all. It can be any mitzva that involves interacting positively with another person. The point is to be helpful, kind, and merciful toward another person before asking G-d to act similarly toward us.
There is a story about a great rabbi who was having problems with his "divine communication." Early one morning he was approached by a merchant for an interest-free loan. The rabbi promised to take care of it immediately following the morning prayers. On his way to the synagogue, though, the rabbi realized that the merchant needed the money to go to the market that day. So, he quickly returned home for the money, found the merchant and gave him the loan. Not surprisingly, that day's spiritual communications had no "static."
In the prayerbook compiled by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad, it says: It is proper to say before prayer, "I hereby take upon myself to fulfill the mitzva--'Love your fellowman as yourself.'" The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe explained this custom by saying that the fulfillment of this mitzva is the entry-gate through which a person can pass to stand before G-d to pray. And because of that love toward another, the person's prayer is accepted.
Give and take is the key to communication and the success of any relationship. It's ungrateful to expect to constantly receive from G-d without giving in return. But, G-d prefers that we pay our debt of gratitude by helping others. So, before your next call "home," reach out and touch someone.
With acknowledgment to The Jewish Reader.
This week's Torah portion, Chayei Sara, tells us about the mission upon which Abraham sent Eliezer his servant, and the oath he made Eliezer take beforehand. Enjoining him to find the proper wife for his son Isaac, Abraham tells Eliezer: "Put, I pray you, your hand under my thigh."
Customarily, when a person takes an oath, he must hold something holy upon which he swears. This is why Abraham told Eliezer to place his hand under his thigh, for Abraham had performed the mitzva of circumcision when he was ninety-nine years old.
Some perplexing questions arise from Abraham's behavior. According to our Sages, the patriarchs performed the mitzvot even before we received the Torah. Did Abraham, then, have nothing else upon which to ask Eliezer to swear, other than the mitzva of circumcision? And, if Abraham already followed the laws of the Torah, why did he wait until G-d personally commanded him to circumcise himself at such an advanced age?
Chasidic philosophy explains that there is a great difference between mitzvot performed before the Torah was given and after. Prior to the Revelation, mitzvot--even those performed by our ancestors--did not have the power to bring holiness into the world. Physical reality was unchanged by the performance of a mitzva, and the physical objects that were used remained in their former state. There was an unbridgeable gap between the spiritual and physical realms. The power to combine the spiritual and the physical was only given to the Jewish people after the Torah was revealed on Mount Sinai. Since that time, when a Jew performs a mitzva with a physical object, that object is elevated and becomes holy.
No matter how refined a person may be, he is limited in his ability to imbue the physical with G-dliness. But, since we do mitzvot with the power given to us by G-d and the strength that comes from His commandments the physical world is elevated by our actions.
The only mitzva Abraham performed as a direct command from G-d was circumcision. Thus, this mitzva carried the power of G-d's command. This explains why Abraham waited so long to circumcise himself. He wanted to perform the mitzva in such a manner that his body would acquire holiness. Because the circumcision was done in response to a direct command from G-d, Abraham was given the opportunity to make his flesh holy.
This mitzva, therefore, was the only one which Abraham could possibly ask Eliezer to swear on for any other physical article he had used in his life to perform mitzvot did not have the same holiness.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
A STORY OF TRUST
by June Goldsobel
This is a story of bitochen--trust and faith. The bitochen of Rebbetzin Mariashi Gorelik.
At the time of this particular incident in the life of Rebbetzin Gorelik, (who is over 90 years old, may she live to 120), the family lived in a synagogue gallery in the town of Gomel in Russia. Years before, they had lived in rented accommodations belonging to a wealthy man. However, when private property was nationalized in Russia every family was given a room, including the previous home owners. To qualify for these accommodations, the family had to work, which meant working on Shabbat.
Rabbi Gorelik, however, would not work on Shabbat, no matter what. They were warned by the bailiff that unless Rabbi Gorelik took a job they would be thrown out of their meager accommodations. The day soon came when the family--there were five small children and Mrs. Gorelik was expecting a sixth--was put out onto the street, in the middle of the winter.
Rabbi Gorelik hired a horse and sleigh, put all their belongings into it and moved into a synagogue gallery on the outskirts of town. There was some opposition by the few people who still came to the synagogue, but this displeasure soon dissolved, for eventually an official government seal was put on the door and no one was allowed in or out.
In 1937, Rabbi Gorelik was arrested for his Jewish activities. Rebbetzin Gorelik never saw her husband again. He was one of the chasidim left in Russia by the previous Rebbe to carry on Lubavitch activities. Now the family was truly destitute, but not without hope.
The upkeep of the building had come out of the proceeds of a large potato patch at the back of the shul. Mrs. Gorelik suggested to the widow who lived in a room downstairs in the shul that they sow the patch and from the potatoes and the proceeds they would be able to live.
The two women eventually found someone who was willing to do the work for 50 rubles--a tremendous sum even in the best of times. The widow was shocked at the exorbitant sum, but Rebbetzin Gorelik exclaimed with certainty, "G-d will surely help." She hired the man, though she did not yet have the funds to pay him.
On the third day, when the work was nearly finished and the worker had to be paid, a stranger walked into the shul and said to Rebbetzin Gorelik, "I am a friend of a friend of your husband's. When my friend heard that your husband had been imprisoned, he gave me 50 rubles to give to you."
Mrs. Gorelik thanked the man and asked for the address of the friend so she could personally thank him. The man gave her the address and Rebbetzin Gorelik went there. No one in the building knew of anyone by the name she had been given.
When the potato patch began to sprout it had to be watched carefully, for if anyone walked on the young potato shoots the potatoes would surely be ruined.
Just at that time, vandals began desecrating the holy books in the synagogue. Rebbetzin Gorelik decided to save as many books as she could. Since taking the books out the front door and storing them somewhere else would be too conspicuous, she decided to take them out through a window in the back, right near the potato patch.
Since the widow was adamant that no one should walk on her half of the patch, Rebbetzin Gorelik suggested that they should exchange patches so that the area they would have to walk on in order to save the holy books would only be in her patch. When the widow asked Rebbetzin Gorelik with what she would feed her children, The rebbetzin once again replied, "G-d will surely help us."
Night after night the children would sneak into the shul and pass the books out to safe hands on the other side of the window, whereupon they were carried across the potato patch to a side door in an old man's house from where they were distributed to other safe houses.
Because of all this activity, a path had been trodden on the patch. When the time came to dig up the potatoes, they were normal size everywhere except where the path was. Under the path they were gigantic!
Rebbetzin Gorelik settled in Crown Heights in 1953. She has over 100 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, all of them Lubavitcher chasidim and many of them emissaries of the Rebbe in such diverse locations as England, Israel, Argentina, South Africa, Brazil, Venezuela, Australia, Russia, Kansas City, Cleveland, Palo Alto, Akron, Solon, and Pittsburgh. Her great-great-grandchildren number in the dozens.
Reprinted from the N'Shei Newsletter of London
Likrat Shabbat, a weekly newsletter in Hebrew, recently published its 100th issue. The newsletter, with thirteen different columns each week, is published by the Vaada L'Dovrei Ivrit-Chabad. Anyone interested in a free subscription to the informative and inspiring publication can write to: Likrat Shabbat, 770 Eastern Pkwy., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11213 or call (718) 380-7050.
Upon the suggestion of the Lubavitcher Rebbe eight years ago that Tanya--the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy--be printed in every place where there are Jews, Tanya has been printed in close to 4,000 locations. Recently, a special edition was printed in the Knesset in Jerusalem.
If you're interested in an exotic, provocative and inspiring vacation this winter, consider YeshiVacation. For twelve days you'll be able to swim in the ocean of Torah, warm yourself with age-old Jewish traditions, and revitalize yourself spiritually. Sponsored by Machon Chana Women's Yeshiva and Hadar HaTorah, YeshiVacation takes place from December 19 - 30. For more information call (718) 735-0200.
SCIENTIFIC PERSONAL PREFERENCE
A letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
I am in receipt of your letter in which you touch upon the question of whether the sun revolves around the earth or vice versa, in view of the fact that you heard from a college student that "the truth is that the earth revolves around the sun."
It greatly surprises me that, according to your letter, the student declared that science has resolved that the earth revolves around the sun. The surprising thing is that a person making such a declaration would be about one half century behind the times insofar as the position of modern science is concerned. For it is approximately one half a century ago that the Theory of Relativity was expounded, which was accepted by all scientists as the basis for all the branches of science. One of the basic elements of this theory is that when two bodies in space are in motion relative to one another (actually the theory was initiated on the basis of the movements of stars, planets, the earth, etc.), science declares with "absolute certainty" that from the scientific point of view both possibilities are equally valid, namely that the earth revolves around the sun, or the sun revolves around the earth.
An essential point in the above conclusion is that it is not based on a lack of more definitive knowledge, but this is the inevitable conclusion based upon the present position of science, namely that in principle it is impossible that there could ever be scientifically proven which of the two, the sun or the earth, revolves around the other.
Needless to say, any particular scientist, like any individual, is entitled to his own opinion as to which alternative he prefers, or that he simply is inclined to believe in one rather than in the other. However, this is only an expression of a personal preference which any individual human being is entitled to. But it would not be true to say that science has resolved the question in favor of one school of thought against the other. To be sure, there were scientists who made such declarations over one half century ago, as mentioned above, and this provides at least some explanation why the textbooks in the elementary schools have still retained that outdated position. However, it is surprising that a college student, who has already passed through high school and has entered college, and should therefore have some knowledge of the Theory of Relativity, should attribute to science such an unscientific and obsolete statement.
To sum up the above, it is clear that where one says that it is possible to be a scientist and accept the idea that the sun revolves around the earth, and another one says that science rejects this idea (I emphasize the word science, as distinct from scientist who is a human being--no more, as mentioned above)--the first one has both his feet firmly on a scientific foundation, modern science, while the second one appears to have remained in the world and time of Copernicus.
I assume from your letter that it is unnecessary to emphasize to you the truth that a Jew's life and his daily conduct must revolve around the Will of the Creator, the Creator of heaven and earth, in a way that it is expressed in action, since, as our Sages said, the essential thing is the deed.
Why are three steps taken backward and forward before the silent Amida prayer?
We take three steps backward to make sure that the four cubits around us are unoccupied. We take three steps forward for numerous reasons, among them: when a servant approaches a king, he does so with short, hesitant steps to display respect; when the priest was ready to mount the altar with the sacrifice it was necessary for him to take three steps to do so.
The Torah portion is Chayei Sara--the Life of Sara. Generally, the name of the Torah portion is taken from the first few words of that portion, and it reveals much about the content of the portion.
This week's portion, however, at first glance seems to be different. It speaks of Sara's death and Abraham's purchase of a proper burial spot for her. It also discusses that Abraham sent his trusted disciple Eliezer on the mission of finding a wife for Isaac, and the subsequent marriage of Isaac to Rebecca. Why, then, is this portion, which deals not one iota with Sara's life here on earth, called the Life of Sara?
To this question the Rebbe brings the most exquisite answer. When speaking about life, life in its truest sense, and certainly the life of the first Matriarch of our people, we speak not of the transitory life of this world. We are, rather, indicating eternal life.
When a child continues in the righteous ways of his parents, the spiritual influence of the parents continues and endures forever, as the Talmud teaches: "As long as the offspring are alive, he is alive." As long as the offspring continue in the path of their parents, the parents are alive.
Since Isaac and his wife Rebecca followed in the footsteps of Sara, Sara truly remained "alive" in the most accurate sense.
May we all merit to have our children follow in the path of our righteous Matriarch Sara, thus assuring eternal life for ourselves and for them.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
The events of this story took place in Poland before the establishment of the great universities. In those times, various aristocrats supported private schools of science called academies.
In the province of Lithuania there were three such academies, each supported by different princes. One, located near Vilna, was owned by Prince Radziwill, another, near Vitebsk, was owned by Prince Sheksinski, and the third, located on the shores of the Dnieper, between Dobrovna and Liadi, was owned by Prince Decrit. In those days, the Polish people were not very accomplished in the sciences, and the actual instructors at these academies were imported from France.
On the property of Prince Sheksinski there was a big palace, and in its courtyard was a sundial. For two years the sundial had not functioned properly, and would not tell the correct time between the hours of two and five in the afternoon. The prince had already consulted many leading experts, scientists, and professors about this problem, but no one could figure it out. When the prince learned that there was a very wise Jew who was well known for his problem-solving, he sent for the Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chasidut) to come to his property and help him discover the cause of the sundial's malfunction.
At first, the Alter Rebbe refused to go, heeding the advice of our Sages not to get involved in political matters, but after he was reassured that no precious time devoted to Torah learning would be wasted, he agreed, and traveled to the palace.
Even though the Alter Rebbe spoke Polish well, he preferred to speak Yiddish, and, so, his father-in-law served as translator. After examining the sundial several times during the problematic hours, he said, "It is brought down in the Talmud that the sun is directly overhead in the middle of the day, and that nothing can intercede between the sun and the earth during this time except for clouds. However, after noon, when the sun starts to go down, it is possible for various objects to interfere with the sun's rays. It is my opinion that there is a mountain to the south of us, at a distance of 12 to 15 parsaot. It seems as if the trees growing on its peak have grown too tall and are obstructing the sun's rays between the hours of 2 and 5, preventing them from reaching the sundial. When the sun sinks little further, the trees are no longer in the way, and the sundial works properly after this time."
The prince was amazed at the Alter Rebbe's reasoning, and sent a special emissary to find the area described to see if indeed it was so.
Upon hearing this, the head of the prince's academy, a leading engineer by the name of Professor Marseilles, ridiculed the opinion of the Alter Rebbe. He laughingly said, "Those Jews imagine that all wisdom is contained in their Talmud. Zelig the doctor learns his medicine from it, Boruch the gardener learns how to prepare the soil for planting, and Zanvil the merchant learns how to cheat the landowners from this Talmud... Now, this character imagines that the sun's rays only reach the earth according to the Talmud!"
The Alter Rebbe replied to his criticism, saying: "Empirical evidence is the axe which fells those who are arrogant in their belief in science."
"Is that also a saying found in your Talmud?" asked the professor.
"No," answered the Alter Rebbe, "it is attributed to the great Galinus, who also had to suffer with those who were arrogant."
Word leaked out about the Alter Rebbe's diagnosis of the problem, and before the prince could find the exact spot, a group of troublemakers found the trees which were obstructing the light and chopped them down without telling anyone.
A few days later, when the grounds-keeper on the prince's estate reported that the sundial was in perfect working order, the prince was very surprised, but it was simply thought that the clock had spontaneously fixed itself.
Eventually, the Alter Rebbe's father-in-law heard the rumor that the trees had been chopped down in secret, and he found those responsible and brought them before the prince, demanding that they tell him what they had done. Admitting their guilt, the truth of the Alter Rebbe's wisdom was confirmed, and his fame soon spread among the ranks of the scientific community in Poland.
Four hundred shekels of silver, in negotiable currency (Gen. 23:16)
The Torah foresaw the future difficulties Jews would have defending their rights to their holy sites. The Torah therefore devotes much time detailing the transaction by which Abraham acquired the Cave of Machpela, and the exact sum he spent to purchase it.
Who ruled over all that he had (Gen. 24:2)
These words refer to Abraham and indicate just how great a person he was. Though Abraham amassed wealth, he did not become like some other wealthy people for whom money becomes the only motivating factor in their lives. Abraham ruled over his possessions, and not the other way around.
And Isaac went out to meditate in the field (Gen. 24:63)
Rashi explains that the word "meditate" means "to pray--as if pouring forth the contents of one's heart." If such is the case, why didn't the Torah explicitly state that Isaac went out to pray in the field?
We are supposed to take a lesson for our general conduct from the way Isaac prayed. A person should not call attention to himself and publicly announce his fear of Heaven. Rather, we should conduct ourselves as Isaac did--quietly, and without fanfare. A passer-by would have thought that Isaac was only strolling in the field, when in reality he was composing the afternoon prayer.
And Abraham was old, well on in days (Gen. 24:1)
In Hebrew, the phrase "well on in days" is "ba bayamim"--literally, "he had come with his days." Abraham's life was full, and he utilized every day to the fullest; he did not waste even one day.
A hint as to how we can achieve this ourselves is found in the letters of the word "bayamim"--"ba" and "yamim." "Ba" (spelled with a bait in Hebrew) means two. Abraham always had the image of two distinct days in his mind--the day of birth and the day of death. We must keep in mind why we are born and the fact that we will ultimately be accountable for our deeds after we die.
During the Era of the Redemption, physical delights will be "as freely available as dust." Although they will be accessible--and we will partake of them for the sake of our health and physical welfare--we will consider them like "dust," i.e., as being utterly worthless. Though we will live in an era of material prosperity, our attention will not be focused on it. Rather, "the occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G-d."