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Years ago, an entrepreneurial Jew produced mitzva marketing items: a bumper sticker that read, "This car runs on gas, not on Shabbos"; a button with a charity box that said, "Pitch in, every little bit counts"; a T-shirt emblazoned with the words, "Torah, it's the real thing."
Zeroing in on the latter of the three messages and knowing a little about Coca-Cola's history (thanks to the August issue of Consumer Reports), it's easy and entertaining to find some interesting connections between one of the world's most favorite soft drinks and Judaism. All this, of course, while keeping in mind the adage of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement, that everything we see and hear is a lesson for us in our spiritual service.
Skeptical about the future of Coca-Cola as a bottled drink, the first official bottling franchise for Coke was sold for just $1 in 1899. This reminds us of the story of one of the greatest converts to Judaism, Onkelos. Upon becoming familiar with Judaism through the Sages who visited Rome, he decided to convert. However, his uncle was the Roman emperor Hadrian, and Onkelos feared the Emperor's wrath were he to find out about the conversion.
Onkelos asked his uncle's advice about what merchandise to buy on his upcoming trip abroad. Hadrian's advice was to seek merchandise low in price because people do not realize its value. But, after explaining its true worth to the consumer, one can sell it at a nice profit.
Onkelos' true destination was the Holy Land, where he went to convert to Judaism. When Hadrian found out he was enraged. Later, when Onkelos returned to Rome and visited his uncle, he explained: "I just took your good advice. There is no nation which people value less than the Jews. But the Torah calls the Jews a nation of priests and certainly, someday, the world will recognize them as that."
Over three thousand years of Jewish history proves that there is nothing to be skeptical about, even if others undervalue our worth.
In 1941, Coke's president vowed that every American soldier "gets a bottle of Coca-Cola for 5 cents, wherever he is and whatever it costs the company." By the end of the war there was a worldwide bottling network.
We Jews would do well to learn from that patriotic president. Though it's certainly true that Jews live on every continent and in nearly every country, anti-Semites like to give the Jewish network much more credence than it deserves.
Shouldn't we have the same visionary motto and proclaim that every Jewish child "gets a proper Jewish education for minimal tuition wherever s/he is and whatever it costs the Jewish community?"
Our final tidbit has to do with what Coke learned the hard way and Jews are still learning: It doesn't pay to tamper with the original! In 1985, Coke announced that it would be changing its formula. The company said it stumbled upon a better recipe. Vanloads of mail and 1,500 calls a day convinced the company to bring back the old, faithful recipe. This is a lighthearted article, so let's not become morbid and list the statistics of intermarriage, cult membership and assimilation to drive home the point that it doesn't pay to tamper with our original.
Coca-Cola even received one letter before bringing back "Coke Classic" that invoked the Creator's (not Coke's but the universe's) name: "Changing Coke is like G-d making the grass purple or putting toes on our ears or teeth on our knees." Would that we Jews would feel as stiff-necked and obstinate about Judaism as Coke fans do about their choice of beverage.
The Torah portion, Toldot, begins by discussing the very different relationships Isaac and Rebecca had with their children, Jacob and Esau. Isaac loved Esau, whereas Rebecca loved Jacob. The difference is epitomized by Isaac's desire before his death to bless Esau. However, Jacob, aided by his mother, received the blessings.
The Midrash comments on the special relationship between Isaac and Esau which resulted in Isaac preferring Esau though knowing he was wicked. Years after Jacob had passed away, Esau wanted to disturb Jacob's grave. One of Jacob's grandchildren beheaded Esau before he could perform this desecration and Esau's head fell on the grave.
The Midrash highlights a special connection between Esau's "head" and the holiness of his father Isaac. The first two of our Patriarchs both had a wicked son in addition to a righteous one. Abraham had Ishmael, and Isaac had Esau. Ishmael eventually repented but Esau never did.
Our Sages termed Esau an apostate Jew, considering him an inheritor of Abraham's legacy. The Torah states, "an inheritance I gave to Esau." But Ishmael, though he repented, has the status of a non-Jew. He did not inherit from his father.
This dichotomy underscores the basic difference between Esau and Ishmael: The innermost essence of Ishmael was not a part of Abraham. The essence of Esau, however, was that of a Jew, a descendant of Abraham, and even though he never repented, he remained Jewish. His basic nature and roots were still connected to Isaac, and all he represented.
Esau's head falling onto Isaac's grave illustrates this point: Esau was not totally corrupt and evil. His "head"--his roots in the spiritual realm, were connected to Isaac and holiness. However, while his soul was in this world, connected to his body, he did not choose the right path and never repented.
Furthermore, although Esau's behavior was undesirable, he himself possessed many sparks of holiness which surfaced, generations later, in his descendants--among others, the great scholars Onkelos and Rabbi Meir. Isaac was able to discern Esau's holiness and potential through the layer of his physicality, and therefore loved him and wanted to bless him, wishing to help him uncover the true goodness within.
But Rebecca, Esau's mother, realized that this lofty goal was an impossibility. She understood that Esau was good only when his "head" was separated from his body--in this world he would always be uncivilized and savage.
We learn an important lesson from Isaac: If even the wicked Esau was considered a Jew and deserving of Isaac's love, we must always strive to look only at our fellow Jew's "head"--his positive traits, and love him for his essence.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
A LETTER FROM MOSCOW
by Rabbi S. B. Cunin
Rabbi Cunin is the director of Chabad of the West Coast. He is presently in Moscow on a special mission from the Lubavitcher Rebbe. This letter appeared in the People Helping People magazine produced for the L'Chaim-To Life Chabad Telethon in Los Angeles.
Except for a few days spent on Capitol Hill and in Los Angeles, I have now been in Russia for the better part of eight months. They have been months of trial by fire for myself and my colleagues--Rabbi Y. Aranow, executive director of Chabad Youth Organization in Israel, Rabbi I. Kogan, the famed Russian emigre and activist, and Rabbi S. B. Levinson, chief librarian of the Central Lubavitch Collection in New York.
We are here, at the request of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita, to retrieve 12,000 sacred and historic volumes of books which belong to Chabad Lubavitch, but have been held captive by the Russian government since 1917.
What is at stake is much more than the outcome of a pile of books. The wisdom, understanding and knowledge held within the pages of this collection--known as the Schneerson-Agudas Chassidei Chabad Books--is the only surviving portion of original written Chasidic philosophy, collected over a 200-year period since the time of the first Chabad Rebbe, that remains separated from the 150,000 volume Chabad Library in Brooklyn. In essence, it is the missing spiritual link to an approach to life that has brought solace and succor to literally millions of people throughout the world.
To the Russian government, the books have no value. They are meaningless. In 70 years only 87 of them have been catalogued. The rest remain in their original crates, accessible to no one. To us, they are priceless. Once returned to the Chabad Library, where they will be available to the Rebbe and leading scholars from all over the world, these treasures will be the source for innumerable volumes of Chasidic insight, inspiration and guidance.
Just as each and every one of you has been touched by the work of Chabad, every single member of Chabad Lubavitch looks to the works of the Rebbe and his forbears and draws strength from the study of Chasidut. This is the driving force behind everything we do; it is what guides our efforts in reaching out to the less fortunate. That is because at the heart of Chasidic teachings is the philosophy of people helping people, and, at the core of that philosophy is the intellectual, spiritual and emotional union with G-d.
These captive texts are an integral part of that union and belong, by virtue of law and in the heart of people everywhere, to our movement.
Yet they remain imprisoned in the Lenin Library. How did they get there?
In 1916, with the German army marching toward the village of Lubavitch, the fifth Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Ber Schneerson, o.b.m., sent part of his library to a storehouse in Moscow for safekeeping.
The chaos that followed the 1917 Revolution prevented him from retrieving the books. After his passing in 1920, his son, Rabbi Y.Y. Schneerson, o.b.m.--the sixth Rebbe--began the long struggle to get them back. From early on a pattern of hope followed by crushing disappointment was established. In 1922, the authorities gave written permission to release the books, only to have the document be "misplaced." The books were then sent to the Lenin Library where they have remained, untouched, ever since.
My three colleagues and I have vowed not to leave Moscow as long as one page of these spiritual treasures remains. The four of us are responsible for humanitarian and educational institutions affecting the lives of untold thousands of people. This is a responsibility we wrestle with daily, keeping the single telephone line available to us working around the clock to fulfill our commitments to our respective communities.
The incredible support we have received from political leaders and captains of industry around the world speaks volumes about the impact Chabad has had.
We have received every encouragement from the religious, legal, academic, cultural and political establishments of the U.S.S.R., including that of President and Mrs. Gorbachev.
There have been times when it seemed the end was in sight. I have seen the books, held them in my hands as tears streamed down my cheeks--tears bearing the agony of three generations of Rebbes and the hope of millions of people around the world.
I cannot express the profound disappointment, the unbelievable pain each time that hope was thwarted by bureaucratic entanglement. I am not at liberty to go into details now. I can only assure you that those bureaucrats who shortly after our arrival said, 'Don't worry, the Russian winter will take care of these guys,' sorely underestimated the resolve of people who believe in G-d and live by the philosophy of people helping people.
NEW CENTER IN EL PASO
The new Chabad House in El Paso
In the five years since Rabbi Israel and Chana Greenberg arrived in El Paso, Texas, the demands on the Chabad Center they established have grown tremendously. Starting at first with a Shabbat program in their apartment, the Chabad Center's programs have expanded to include a nursery school, study groups for men and women, classes for teenagers, a community newspaper, and Shabbat and holiday celebrations. To accomodate all of this, Chabad of El Paso recently built a beautiful new building on the west side of El Paso. The 1/2 acre property includes a library, classrooms, offices, and playground.
A new course on the books of Exodus, Esther and Ruth is being offered by Chabad of White Meadow Lake in New Jersey. The texts are being studied with the commentary of Rashi, the greatest of all Biblical commentators. For more information contact the Chabad Center at (201) 625-1525.
A CHILD'S FIRST WORDS
From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Our contact has been on matters of a higher level, or, in Chabad language--"inward" matters. To me, as I hope also to you, this means a continuous contact, even during intervals between correspondence, for where there is a meeting of minds and thoughts, the contact transcends time and distance.
This being the case, and since my thoughts are with you, I want to share with you in a matter that has preoccupied my mind in recent weeks, namely, the inadequacy of attention given to the Chinuch (education) of children of pre-Bar (Bas)-Mitzva age, down to the very little ones. Even in circles where serious attention is given to older boys and girls, there is a prevalent tendency to take the Chinuch of the little ones more lightly.
This attitude is rather surprising, for the Torah has quite strong views on the role of the youngsters. Suffice it to cite the rule laid down by our Sages that as soon as a child begins to speak, his father must begin to teach him Torah, specifically the verse "Torah Tziva Lanu Moshe Morasha Kehilat Yakov--The Torah which Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the congregation of Jacob" (Deut. 33:4). At first glance, there is a very long way between a two-year-old toddler, just beginning to speak, and the Torah which Moshe Rabbeinu received at Sinai when he was 80-odd years old and at the height of his greatness. Yet, this is precisely what the Rabbis had in mind: to put this toddler in immediate relationship with the Torah which Moshe received at Sinai. So much so, that the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman], founder of Chabad, begins the Laws of Talmud Study in his Shulchan Aruch with this very rule laid down by our Sages.
In view of the above, I have addressed two special messages to pre-Bar (Bas)-Mitzvah children, as per enclosed copies, which I trust you will find illuminating.
Needless to say, I am certain that you will not suspect me of an indirect appeal for money. For, as you know, it is our understanding that your priority is specifically bound up with Miami, whence the voice of Torah will hopefully reverberate to the far corners of the earth. What I am after, and I make no secret about it, is the children: "Tein Li HaNefesh--Give me the persons"--in this case, the children; not to me, of course, but to Torah, in accordance with the commandment which Jews recite twice daily: "And you shall teach them (words of Torah) diligently unto your children"--talmidim, school children.
Why do we light a special candle on the yartzeit (anniversary of the passing) of a relative?
The basis for this custom is the verses from Proverbs, "The soul of a man is the lamp of G-d" and "For the commandment is a lamp and the law is light." Just as a flame always rises upward in an attempt to return to its source, so, too, does the Jewish soul attempt to reconnect with G-d through the performance of mitzvot. And ultimatly when the soul leaves the body it does return to its Divine source.
On Thursday and Friday of this week, we celebrate Rosh Chodesh Kislev, the new month of Kislev. Rosh Chodesh is celebrated as a mini-holiday, with special prayers and finer food and clothing. But it is the Jewish women in particular, who observe Rosh Chodesh more meticulously.
With the approach of the thirtieth annual national Lubavitch Women's Organization convention in Kansas City this month, it would certainly be appropriate to delve into the reason for the Jewish woman's more careful celebration of the new month.
Rabbi Eliezer wrote: "When the men came to remove their wives' gold earrings for the Golden Calf the women refused to hand them over. They said to their husbands, 'We will not obey you in order to make an abomination which has no power to save!' G-d rewarded them in this world, in giving them a greater degree of observance on Rosh Chodesh, and He rewards them in the World to Come in giving them the power of constant renewal, which characterizes [the renewal of the moon on] Rosh Chodesh."
On a more general note, the Jewish calendar is a lunar one, and our people are compared to the moon. Though our light is sometimes eclipsed by that of other nations, like the moon we are always present--at night and during the day. Our nation's history has its share of growth and decline, like the moon we wax and wane. But ultimately, these are just phases. For, though at times we seem to be as unimportant or insignificant as the sliver of the moon when it reappears, this is just a veneer.
May we sanctify the new moon this year and celebrate Rosh Chodesh in the Holy Temple with Moshiach.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
Hillel ran a tavern, which he rented from the wealthy non-Jewish landowner. His customers, the local peasants, appreciated Hillel's service and honesty. Only one peasant showed open animosity toward the Jewish tavern keeper. Stefan, a coarse, foul-mouthed lout who was almost always drunk, resented the fact that Hilke, as he was known affectionately, refused to serve him more whiskey when he had had too much.
Stefan swore revenge on the Jew. And so, he decided to implicate Hilke in a crime. Stefan went to the government authorities and told them that Hilke was not collecting the proper tax on the whiskey he sold. To back up his accusation, he provided the names of several of his fellow Jew-hating peasants willing to swear that Hilke sold them "illegal" whiskey.
An investigation was launched. The false witneseses appeared and swore their false statements. The judge, an anti-Semite himself, took this opportunity to condemn all Jews for their thievery and trickiness, and imposed the harshest sentence possible on the hapless Hilke.
Hilke, of course, denied any wrong-doing. With tears in his eyes he claimed that he was the victim of a vicious plot. Many of his customers came and gave testimony as to Hilke's good character, and even the landowner himself spoke warmly of "his" Jew. The investigators saw that Hilke was indeed, not guilty, but what could they do? They couldn't simply ignore the sworn testimony of Stefan's friends. The case dragged on for almost a year, during which time Hilke became depressed and broken, staying in his house much of the time reciting Psalms.
Hilke's wife, Devorah Leah, watched as her husband grew more and more discouraged. Her father had been a chasid of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch. She requested her husband travel to Lubavitch to seek the advice and blessing of the Rebbe.
Hilke, however, did not come from a Chasidic family, and had never visited a Rebbe, and wasn't anxious to do so now. But, as the date of the trial drew nearer, he decided to listen to his wife and set off for Lubavitch.
In Lubavitch, Hilke saw many people waiting for days to see the Rebbe privately, so many that Hilke was discouraged and almost returned home. It was only after explaining the urgency of his situation to the Rebbe's secretary that he managed to get an appointment for the following day.
When he entered the Rebbe's room, Hilke suddenly felt at a loss for words. He began to weep as he poured out his heart to the Rebbe, explaining the terrible plot which had been instigated against him.
The Rebbe listened patiently, and then said, "Don't cry, Hilke. G-d will surely help you. Everything in the world, every single creature, was created for a particular purpose. Even mice sometimes benefit man. Go home, Hilke, and put your trust in G-d."
Hilke left the Rebbe encouraged, though he did not exactly understand the Rebbe's words. Hilke's wife was equally mystified, but she trusted that G-d would fulfill the blessing of the tzadik.
The day of the trial arrived, and Hilke and Devorah Leah traveled to the courthouse which was filled to overflowing with people eager to hear the verdict. Hilke sat on the defendant's bench, pale, reciting Psalms with such an intensity that he became oblivious to his surroundings.
The trial opened, and Stefan was brought in. He repeated all his false accusations but when he was questioned by the defense lawyer, he became confused and was caught in his own contradictory statements. He wasn't worried, though, since he was sure that the testimonies of the other witnesses would wrap up the case.
But when the names of the next witnesses were announced, there was a long silence. Not one of Stefan's gang members had shown up; it seemed that something had happened to each one to prevent him from appearing.
Things were going well for Hilke, but the prosecutor wouldn't give up. He requested the original documentation, and so, the judge sent his clerk to bring the papers from storage. All present waited impatiently for the clerk to return, but when he did, he was empty-handed. He whispered something to the judge, who roared back, "Bring whatever there is!"
"But Judge," said the clerk, "There is nothing left. Mice have eaten up the whole file!"
"That's impossible," roared the judge. "Go and bring me the whole drawer." The clerk soon returned with a large, heavy drawer filled with shredded bits of paper.
And so it was that although every other document in the drawer was in perfect condition, only the file of Hilke had been completely destroyed by the mice.
Hilke, absorbed as he was in reciting Psalms, had no idea what had happened, and was surprised by the crowd of well-wishers and relatives who ran to him wishing a mazel tov. When he learned that the charges had been dropped, he thanked G-d for having saved him from this terrible plot. As they returned home, his wife filled in all the details of what had transpired in the courtroom, and only then did Hilke begin to understand the words of the Rebbe.
That my soul may bless you (Gen. 27:4)
Why did Isaac want to bless Esau instead of Jacob? Jacob was "a pure man, a dweller in tents (of Torah)," and even without a blessing he would stay away from evil. Esau, however, was very likely to fall into bad ways, and needed the assistance of his father's blessing.
And you shall stay with him a short time ... until your brother's fury turns away ... until your brother's anger turns away (Gen. 27:44, 45)
Rebecca advised her son Jacob what to do: "Run away to my brother Laban and wait until your brother gets over his anger. How will you know when that time has arrived and he is no longer angry at you? When you yourself stop holding a grudge against him." Rebecca understood the reciprocity of human emotions: Love is reciprocated with love, and hatred elicits a like response in others.
And one people shall be stronger than the other (Gen. 25:23)
Rashi comments: When one rises, the other falls.
Jacob and Esau symbolize the struggle between the G-dly soul and the animal soul, between a person's good and evil inclinations. When a Jew's G-dly soul is dominant and exerts itself, there is no need to combat the animal soul--it "falls" by itself. Light does not have to fight darkness to illuminate--as soon as it appears, the darkness vanishes. So too, does the light of holiness dispel all evil.
In the Era of the Redemption, according to Maimonides, "the occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G-d." From the expression "the entire world" it appears that this phrase includes gentiles as well. We will ultimately witness the fulfillment of the prophecy (Zephaniah 3:9), that "I will make the people pure of speech so that they will all call upon the Name of G-d," and even non-Jews will be devoted solely to seeking "the knowledge of G-d."