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Let's take a moment to look at recycling. We're not talking about writing on scrap paper for convenience sake. Nor saving the tomato sauce can for the drippings from the meat. We're talking about put-the-newspapers-in-a-pile-the-soda-cans-in-a-bag-the-glass-in-another-bag-and-the-plastic-soda-bottles-in-yet-another-bag-recycling.
In most states recycling is not yet mandatory. And even where it is written into city or state ordinances it is not actively enforced. After all, what law enforcement officer wants to go through someone's smelly garbage just to see if the person is throwing out cans or recycling them?
Despite the lack of legislation or enforcement of recycling, many, many people do recycle of their own free will.
Have you ever thought about what kind of a statement you're making every time you put aside a newspaper for recycling, or return a soda can to the store even though you could care less for the nickel?
You're saying, "I have a responsibility to future generations, and I believe that my one small act can make the world a better place."
That's a pretty powerful statement to make by simply tossing a bottle into a recycling bin rather than a garbage bin. And yet, it's so simple that most of us don't even consider its significance.
Now, you're probably wondering if we're "into" recycling, or we're anti-Styrofoam or pro-green. We're none of the above. We're just interested in seeing how meaningful simple, daily acts can be, thus recognizing the higher purpose in everything. And also, of course, how these types of actions relate to basic Jewish concepts.
Jewish philosophy explains that each one of us should look at the world as if it is perfectly balanced. There is an equal number of good and evil deeds. Therefore, one good deed could, quite literally, tip the scale. The magnitude or magnificence of the deed is not at issue. For, if a scale is totally balanced even a feather can shift it--which is not to say that Judaism prefers quantity over quality. Rather, no one should think that they or their action is too insignificant or puny to make a difference.
Here Jewish philosophy and recycling converge. Because the underlying premise in concern for the environment is that despite the fact that billions of tons of glass, plastic, paper and aluminum is not being recycled, I make a difference each time I choose to recycle.
Recycling teaches us, in this instance, to forget about the rest of the world. Forget about the next-door-neighbors who aren't recycling. Forget about the fast-food place that is still using Styrofoam. Forget, even, about the fact that it's becoming harder and harder to find uses for some of the recycled materials. That's not my problem. My responsibility is to shift the scale with my small, seemingly insignificant act. And, in truth, it is just "seemingly" insignificant. For only G-d knows the import and ultimate consequence of a person's actions. I have to try to the best of my ability, and even stretch myself a little further than my ability allows, to tip the global scale through my small but world-shifting actions.
This week's Torah portion, Lech Lecha, is of general significance to us because it begins the description of the activities of Abraham, the first Jew. It begins with G-d's command to leave his native land, describes his journey through the Land of Israel, the promises G-d made to him, and culminates with Abraham's circumcision.
These events are important to all of Abraham's descendants not only because of their historical nature, but because we are to learn from them and apply their lessons to our own lives as well.
Abraham's service of G-d represents the period in time described by our Sages as "the two thousand years of the Torah," that is, the process by which Abraham prepared the world for the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. But what significance does this hold for us today, more than three thousand years after the Torah was given?
Every day a Jew recites a blessing praising G-d as "the Giver of the Torah," using the present tense to imply that every day the Torah is given to us anew. We therefore emulate our Patriarch Abraham's deeds, which helped prepare the world in general for the giving of the Torah, in order to spiritually ready ourselves as well. Abraham's service is therefore always relevant, no matter the era in which a Jew may live.
Furthermore, Abraham's service to G-d is also relevant to the true purpose of the giving of the Torah, which is the application of the Torah and its mitzvot in the physical world, ultimately in the Land of Israel, although in an extended sense we are obligated to elevate every place in which we live into the "Land of Israel." Lech Lecha relates G-d's promise of the Holy Land to the Jewish people and describes Abraham's travels through the land, through which he acquired it forever for his descendants.
There is particular relevance to G-d's promise in the present age, the era immediately preceding Moshiach's coming. G-d promised Abraham the lands of ten nations, including not only the lands of the seven Canaanite nations conquered by the Jews after the exodus from Egypt, but also the lands of the Keini, the Kenizi, and the Kadmoni. Yet we see that historically, even when the entire Jewish people lived in the Land of Israel, that territory was limited to the land of the Canaanites. The complete fulfillment of G-d's promise will only occur after Moshiach's coming, during the Era of Redemption, when the relationship between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel will reach a full state of completion. At that time, not only will all Jews of that generation--including the Ten Lost Tribes--dwell in Eretz Yisrael, but also all the Jews of previous generations who will arise in the Resurrection.
Thus, in our present generation, we are still involved in the process of preparing to take possession of Eretz Yisrael, to expand the land so that it includes the territory of the three nations which was promised to us. The Torah portion of Lech Lecha begins the preparations for the giving of the Torah, and therefore for the Era of Redemption, which will be characterized by the complete state of Torah observance which will prevail, when the ultimate expression of G-d's holy Torah will be revealed.
Adapted from a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe this past year.
JUST TO SAY THANKS
Students enjoying the Alumni Reunion
Adapted from a speech given by Jonathan Kranz at a reunion of alumni at SUNY at the Binghamton Chabad House.
What is Chabad all about? Pasta Salad and Potato Salad. Purim Carnival and Simchat Torah. Shofar Blowing and Challah Baking. Singing and Dancing.
Chabad is all of these things and more. For many students, Chabad has not only been the cornerstone of Jewish existence here at Binghamton University, but it has become the site of the ultimate catharsis--a complete and total release of the week's trials and tribulations in the form of raving, ravaging, riotous, and often relentless ruach [spirit]. The singing and chanting during a regular Shabbat meal can be heard up and down Murray Hill Road. On a clear night, the singing can be heard as far as the Student Union.
Upon closer inspection of the word "Chabad," both in Hebrew and English, we find some simple mnemonics help us remember the essential ingredients of a successful Chabad House.
The three letters of the Hebrew word for Chabad are chet, bet, and dalet. Here is how I define the acronym "Chabad."The chet stands for "chaver"--friend. This symbolizes the social aspects of Chabad. Frequently people come to Chabad to see old friends and to develop new relationships. It has become a weekly session in Jewish geography.
The bet stands for "bayit"--home. Anyone who has entered the doors of the Chabad House instantly becomes a member of the family. Even after graduation, Chabad continues to be a "home away from home."
The dalet stands for "dag"--fish. Obviously, this symbolizes the gefilte fish, a popular delicacy served at all of the finer Chabad Houses worldwide, with Binghamton no exception.
Let's change gears and look at the English word, CHABAD, for some further insights.
Community represents the various community-wide events held each year, including the menorah lighting ceremony in the Student Union, the Simchat Torah Bash, and Challah Baking in the Kosher Kitchen. Not to mention, the community newspaper, the Chai Times.
Hospitality is the trademark of Chabad. Every Friday night and Shabbat morning services are held followed by a "gourmet" meal. Every Tuesday and Thursday there is a table in the Student Union set up by Chabad to answer questions, provide information and materials and see what's doing on campus.
Adventure is an unavoidable by-product of Chabad at Binghamton. Strange and unusual occurrences have become almost commonplace.
The beard is really self-explanatory for anyone who has ever laid eyes on a Chabad rabbi.
Advice is in no short supply at the Chabad House. Classes in Hebrew reading, Jewish history or Jewish law can be set up throughout the year. There is also "Ladies Night at Chabad," which I wish I could elaborate on; however, for obvious reasons I can not attend the event.
Dream is what is at the heart of Chabad at Binghamton. Chabad is truly a dream come true for any Jew, regardless of his/her level of observance, looking for spiritual enlightenment, unrestricted ruach, and a good time.
Now let's dabble in a little gematria to get to the true meaning of Chabad at Binghamton. Each letter of the Hebrew alphabet has a certain numerical value. By comparing such values, we can make some shocking discoveries.
If we take the Hebrew word for dream, "chalom," its numerical value is 84. Now divide this 84, by the numerical value of Chabad, 14. Eighty-four divided by 14 equals 6, the current number of members in the Slonim family. Of course, this gematria may become obsolete given the Slonim's track record for adding new family members.
Now let's look at the Hebrew word for love, "ahava." The numerical value of ahava's root is 8. Add this to the number of members in the Slonim family, 6, and we get 14. Fourteen, of course, is the numerical value of Chabad.
Lastly, we take the root of the Hebrew word "to teach" (lamed, mem, daled), which has a numerical value of 74. We divide 74 by 2. This time we just use Rabbi Slonim and Rivky who are the "official" teachers at Chabad, though we often learn a tremendous amount from the kids. So 74 divided by 2 equals 37, which is the numerical value of "gadal," the Hebrew root word for "growth."
What does all of this mean?
We take a dream and divide it by the Slonims and get Chabad. Then we add Chabad and love together and get the Slonims. Then we divide learning by the Rabbi and Rivky and get growth.
And so we learn from this that Chabad at Binghamton is a place full of dreams, love and growth. Coincidence? I think not.
SHABBAT CANDLE LIGHTING
The new Shabbat candle lighting brochure, with blessings and times for 5753 is available by calling your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center. You can also get it from the brochure's publisher, the Lubavitch Women's Organization Candle Lighting Campaign by calling (718) 774-2060 or writing to: Candle Lighting Brochure, 603 Lefferts Ave., Bklyn, NY 11203.
The Jewish Youth Club, sponsored by the Chabad House of Stamford, Connecticut, has entered its third year. Boys and girls ages 7 - 13 meet once a week for fun, games, arts and crafts, stories, discussions on Jewish topics and supper. For more information call (203) 324-3779. For similar programs in your area call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
CHAI BAR MITZVAS
Eighteen boys celebrated their Bar Mitzva together thanks to Bris Avrohom, a New Jersey-based organization devoted to working with Russian immigrants. Each boy put on tefilin and was called up to the Torah in front of friends and family. A beautiful brunch followed the ceremony.
FLAVOR AND ZEST
Adapted from a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter in which you touch upon the influences of Chabad and various other loyalties and obligations, etc.
There is, of course, the general principle that the larger sum already includes the smaller one, or, as our Sages expressed it, "In the sum of 1,000, 100 is included." I refer to the teachings and way of life of Chasidut. For Chasidut did not come to minimize in any way, G-d forbid, but to add to and strengthen all matters of Torah and mitzvot by instilling a spirit of vivacity and enthusiasm into all aspects of Jewish life. The Baal Shem Tov placed the emphasis on serving G-d with joy and on the awareness of G-d's Providence which extends to everyone, and in every detail, in particular--two basic principles which go together hand in hand. For when one reflects on G-d's benevolent Providence, and His constant watchfulness and care, etc., there is no room for anxiety, and the Jew can indeed serve G-d with joy and gladness of heart.
Although you will suspect me of being favorably inclined to the Chasidic point of view, and I will not deny it (and in any case it would be futile to deny it), nevertheless, the fact is that Chasidut, far from creating a conflict in the matter of allegiance to the Torah and mitzvot, is the ingredient which gives the necessary flavor and zest to all matters of Torah and mitzvot, and can only strengthen and vitalize all positive forces in Jewish life.
I say this in all sincerity and with the fullest conviction, and I hope that you will accept these words in the spirit that they are given. You are surely familiar with the conditions of Jewish life in Soviet Russia in those days when, under the pressure of extreme religious persecution, many Jewish spiritual leaders fled from that country, and my father-in-law, of saintly memory, remained to carry the banner of the Torah and mitzvot almost single-handedly.
His work was not confined to the Chasidic community, as you know, but to all sections of Jewry, including what you call "the other camp," supporting, materially and spiritually, rabbis, yeshivot, and religious institutions, also of "the other camp," and with the same selflessness and peril to his personal safety, as he worked for the Chasidic community. This he did from the profound conviction that there are no two camps in the Jewish people; that the Jewish people is one people, united by one Torah, under one G-d.
This is a tradition that goes back to the founder of Chabad, and to the founder of Chasidut in general, who emphasized that the Chasidic movement is not the property of a select group, but the heritage of all of our people, and that there will come a day when this will be realized in the fullest measure.
It is remarkable that when one reads the letters and bans by the real opponents of the Baal Shem Tov and his teachings, and if one does so without prejudice and with an open mind, it should make everyone a chasid. In fact, the greater the attachment to and veneration of the Gaon of Vilna, the chief opponent of Chasidut in those days, the greater and more loyal a chasid one should become.
The reason is plain, for those letters also state the reasons for opposing the chasidim, namely, the fear that they may weaken the foundations of the Torah and mitzvot. How wrong these apprehensions were is obvious. Stop any Jew in the street, even one of the most stalwart adherents to "the other camp," and ask him, "What is a chasid and what is his way of life?" He will unhesitatingly reply something like this: "A chasid is a bearded Jew with long sidelocks, dressed in an old-fashioned way, who puts on two pairs of tefilin, prays much longer, is careful to eat only shemura [matzo] on Pesach, etc., etc." Further commentary is unnecessary.
I trust this will suffice on the subject matter, since this is the first time we have directly touched upon this question.
What is kabala?
Kabala is from the word meaning "reception." Since the 13th century it has been used to designate the mystical teachings of Judaism. The basic book of kabalistic literature is the Zohar (which means brightness). Practical, as opposed to theoretical, Kabala is most strongly identified with the 16th century Kabalist Rabbi Yitzchok Luria (known as the Arizal) some of whose teachings were written down by his disciple Rabbi Chaim Vital. Chabad Chasidic philosophy is based in large part on the practical kabala of the Arizal.
In this week's Torah portion, Lech Lecha, we read of G-d's promise to Abraham that he would inherit the lands of the ten nations--the seven Canaanite nations as well as three other lands, the lands of the Keini, Kenizi and Kadmoni.
Abraham and his descendants took possession of all seven Canaanite lands. However, they never took possession of the lands of the other three nations. The triumph over these nations and the possession of their lands will take place when Moshiach comes in the Era of Redemption.
Chasidic philosophy explains that a person's powers and abilities are divided into ten categories, seven of them being in the realm of emotion and three being in the realm of intellect. In spiritual terms, the ten lands described above refer to the refinement of our 10 personal powers. The seven emotive powers are the seven Canaanite nations and the three intellectual powers are the lands of the Keini, Kenizi and Kadmoni.
In the pre-Messianic Era, we have "possession" of our seven emotive powers. And, though we obviously use our intellectual powers, it is not to our fullest ability, for we have not conquered, nor do we totally possess them. This will take place only in the Messianic Era. It is then that our intellects will find their true expression and fulfillment. The Messianic Era is described by the Prophet Isaiah as a time when "the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the ocean bed."
Thus, when Moshiach comes our intellectual potential will reach its fulfillment. May that happen NOW!
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
The shoemaker and his wife had prayed every day, begging the Alm-ghty to grant them a child. Alas, the answer had consistently been "No." But their faith was as strong as their desire, and they decided to go to the renowned tzadik, Reb Yisroel, the Maggid of Koznitz to ask for his blessing.
When they arrived at his court and were admitted into his room they told their story and received the Rebbe's assurance that they would be blessed with a child. True to his word, the woman gave birth to a baby boy, but soon after his birth, the baby became seriously ill.
The parents were sick with worry and the father went back to Koznitz to ask for a blessing for the baby's recovery. The Rebbe assured him that G-d would send a complete recovery. But instead of recovering, the baby went from bad to worse.
The mother sat by his cradle day and night, her lips incessantly reciting the words of the Psalms. But she was so exhausted, that she dozed off. When she awoke, she was startled to see a soldier standing over the baby's cradle holding a spoon and a bowl and gently spooning something into the baby's mouth. She screamed in fright and the soldier quickly disappeared.
From that moment on the baby began improving by the hour, until he was soon completely well. The parents were overjoyed, but at the same time, they were fearful that perhaps the soldier had been some evil spirit or magician. They again traveled to Koznitz to relate the strange occurrence to the Rebbe.
"Don't be concerned," he told them. "It was surely not an evil spirit or sorcerer. Go home and enjoy your baby."
As soon as the couple left, the Rebbe summoned his attendant. "Go to the cemetery and knock on the grave of this soldier. Tell him that I request him to come to me." The attendant did as he was told, and the soldier soon appeared before the Maggid.
The Maggid asked him, "Who appointed you to be a children's doctor?"
"I will tell you my story," the soldier replied. "When I was a young child I was forced to go into the military service as a Cantonist. I was torn from my parents and my home, and as the years passed I forgot all about being Jewish and I lived exactly like my comrades. Only my identity papers proved my Jewishness, and I thought no more about it.
"One day as I was walking in the countryside with my comrades, we came upon an elderly Jew. A few of my fellows had the idea of robbing him, and they took seventy-five rubles. Then, fearing discovery, they bound him, hanged him from a tree, and left him for dead. That was too much for me. My long-dormant Jewish feeling rose up in my heart and I quickly and stealthily returned to the spot and cut him down. I gave him seventy-five rubles from my own pocket and sent him on his way.
When my commanding officer noticed my long absence from base, he sent my comrades out to find me. When they discovered what I had done, they decided to kill me to prevent me from testifying against them. So, they hanged me from the same tree and left me there to die.
When I found myself before the Heavenly Tribunal I was sent to Gehenom because I had sinned all my life. But when they learned that I had saved another Jew, and in the process had been killed myself, they realized their error. So then, they sent me to the Gan Eden [the Garden of Eden]. When I got there, I was welcomed with great fanfare and shown to my place. I took my seat, but when I looked out at all the great tzadikim, I felt sad that I didn't have a very good full view of the Throne of Glory. And I regretted that I had not done better with my life.
The angels, sensing my sadness approached me and tried to cheer me up, but I felt a terrible disappointment. Then, they suggested that if I wanted to return to the earth again, I could make up for my transgressions and earn a better position. I eagerly agreed and that is how I came to be the doctor of sick children. I have been given permission to heal them in those situations where there is very little hope. And that is how I came to heal this little baby."
When he had ended his story the Maggid said to him, "You may now return to Gan Eden, for you have earned your full reward." With that the soldier saluted and disappeared, and his soul rose to the highest level of Paradise.
Go out of your country...to a land which I will show you (Gen. 12:1)
The Hebrew word for "I will show you" can also be interpreted to mean "I will reveal you." It is through man's service of refining the earthly plane that his true potential is revealed. Regardless of a Jew's position in the world, he is connected with G-dliness and can thus elevate the world, revealing the G-dliness within it.
The name Abraham
Rashi explains that the changing of Abraham's name from Avram, meaning "the father of Aram"--Mesopotamia--to Avraham, meaning "father of many nations," shows how our forefather transcended his previous level of spirituality and achieved a new level of service. As reflected in his name, Abraham was thus given the potential to elevate the entire world.
And also that nation whom they serve will I judge, and afterward they will go out with great substance (Gen. 15:14)
Just as those Jews living during the previous exiles in Egypt and Babylonia who put their faith in the nations and their kings for their salvation were proven wrong, so too will those who, in our present exile, think that we must rely on the nations of the world for our continued existence and redemption. When Moshiach comes and G-d judges all the nations, the Jews will see that their faith in them was misplaced. At that time we will also "go out with great substance," the greatest riches of them all--the ultimate Redemption.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita)
And G-d said to Abraham...your reward is exceedingly great (Gen. 15:1)
According to logic, the reward for doing a mitzva should be finite and limited to the amount of effort which the person expended on its behalf. G-d, however, in His infinite greatness, increases our reward beyond the boundaries of time and place.
In the future there will be an argument between G-d and each Jew. Each Jew will insist that he never had doubts; he was certain Moshiach would come. Only, he wasn't certain Moshiach would really come today or tomorrow. He thought the exile would continue for many years. But G-d will retort sharply: "The prophet said plainly, 'The lord whom you seek--meaning Moshiach--will suddenly come to his Temple.' " Thus, everyone must consider at least that it can be today or perhaps tomorrow, but certainly not after many years.
(The Chafetz Chaim)