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Long before fast-food emporiums dotted the landscape like mushrooms after a rain, our Sages suggested we implement the fast-food mentality into our lives, though with a Jewish twist, of course. "Grab and eat, grab and drink," Rabbi Shmuel told his student Rabbi Yehuda Shenina (as recorded in the Talmud). "For life is like a party which will soon be over."
Far from being a fatalistic outlook, or one that places the emphasis on physicality, Rabbi Shmuel's words teach us how to define our goals and motivate ourselves Jewishly.
Mitzvot are likened to food and the Torah is likened to water, in Chasidic philosophy. "Do mitzvot, study Torah," Rabbi Shmuel taught. "For life--in this world--will soon be over and in the World to Come those same opportunities to do mitzvot and study Torah will no longer be available."
Picture yourself in a fast-food line. Are you going to stand there leisurely contemplating the menu as you would in a fine restaurant, discussing it with the people joining you, maybe even asking what the restaurant suggests? Or would you order quickly from the list on the wall and hungrily gobble it down? Most likely you would do the latter, since expedience and swiftness are major reasons for your choice of restaurant styles.
Similarly, Chasidut explains that since we are getting closer every day to Moshiach, we shouldn't spend time contemplating a menu of mitzvot. We don't have time any longer to sit and relax at a fine restaurant, dillydallying until we make our choice. Action is the main thing. Grab and eat, grab and drink. Whatever mitzva comes your way, do it. Whichever Jewish learning opportunity is available, benefit from it. We're living life in the fast-lane, traveling on the express train.
A Jewish fast-food mentality means taking hold of our every opportunity to do a mitzva, regardless of whether or not we think it should be the next one in our repertoire. There's no time for, "How can I light Shabbat candles if on Saturday I ..." Or, "Why put on tefillin if I don't..." Or, "How can I attend a Jewish mysticism/Chasidic philosophy class if I don't even know the Hebrew alphabet?"
Grab and eat, grab and drink means that these last few moments before the Messianic Era need to be filled with action not contemplation, deeds not meditations. Soon the party will be over, or will it just be beginning?
This week's Torah portion, Vayeira, begins with Abraham waiting for guests to come to his tent in the middle of the desert. Indeed, one of the main ways Abraham was able to spread the belief in one G-d was through the hospitality he showed to everyone. The Torah describes Abraham's actions: "And Abraham planted an orchard in Beersheva, and called there on the name of the L-rd, the G-d of eternity." Right smack in the middle of a wilderness, Abraham set up an inn for wayfarers, providing them with food, drink, and a place to rest from the discomforts of desert travel. After his guests had quenched their thirst and eaten their fill, Abraham would then tell them of the one G-d Who ruled the world and created all things, asking them to thank the One who had actually provided their food and drink for His kindness.
But what if they refused, claiming that thanks were due only to Abraham and not to G-d? In such a case, Abraham presented them with an inflated bill for his services, saying, "Where else would you find such fine meat, bread, and wine in the middle of an uninhabited desert?" When the guests saw that they would be left penniless if they paid Abraham's bill, they had no choice but to thank G-d.
The questions arise: What good is such forced compliance? If a person does not wish to thank G-d for His kindness, what does external pressure do? Has the individual really changed his mind? Did Abraham's guests only mumble a few words of blessing just to free themselves from his incessant demands? How was this a sanctification of G-d's name?
We find the answer to these questions by examining another example of such "religious coercion." The Spies, upon their return from the Land of Israel, caused the entire Jewish nation to fear entering the Land and to doubt G-d's ability to conquer the seven nations living there. It was only after G-d's anger was incurred and He decreed that the generation of Jews who had left Egypt would not live to enter the Land of Israel, that a change in their thinking was noted, and the Jewish people once again expressed their desire to follow G-d's command.
But why were the Jews suddenly convinced of G-d's power when He threatened to punish them? How did this cause them to abruptly believe in His ability to help them conquer the Land?
When a person commits a transgression, and afterward finds all kinds of extenuating circumstances and excuses to explain away his failing, we should know that this is only an elaborate defense concocted by the inclination toward evil to justify the sin. If, however, the evil inclination is immediately subdued, there is no reason to resort to elaborate excuses and justifications. When G-d became angry with the Jews and issued His decree, the evil inclination was immediately humbled and the Jews sincerely desired to carry out G-d's wishes.
Similarly, when Abraham saw that one of his guests was so obstinately ruled by his evil inclination, to the point that he was unwilling to thank G-d for His kindness, he would apply a little "religious coercion" by hitting him in the pocketbook to achieve his goal. Once the evil inclination was shattered, the individual could accept Abraham's words and truly express his thanks to the One who deserved them.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
SAYING MAZAL TOV
by Tzvi Jacobs
Esther and I were married for 2 1/2 years before we had our first baby. It often happens that couples have to wait a while, and our story would be more dramatic if we were married for 10 years or more without being able to have children. Still, our story is unusual.
We had heard many stories and even had friends who had trouble either conceiving or carrying a baby to term, and after receiving a blessing and sometimes also advice from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, they had at least one baby. With those stories in mind, I went to Crown Heights in September, 1988. It was a pleasant Sunday afternoon and hundreds of people were in a long line waiting to see the Rebbe.
A black limousine pulled up in front of the house, and I overheard that some politicians from New York were arriving. An official escorted them straight in to receive a blessing and seek the Rebbe's advice on an important political issue.
The line didn't move for about 30 minutes. I became unsure if I should ask the Rebbe for a blessing. Should I make the Rebbe, who had been fasting and standing all day and would continue to do so until he met and blessed the final person who got in line, stand and fast for even five seconds longer?
As I looked back at the rapidly growing line, I spotted one of my Yeshiva teachers. "Should I ask the Rebbe for a blessing for a baby?" I asked.
"Sure you should ask," he answered me, erasing all my doubts.
The line started moving. My heart started beating harder. The Rebbe is an awesome figure. He is a man, but people say the Rebbe has the superhuman ability to see into anyone's soul, even someone on the other side of the globe who has never seen or even heard about the Rebbe.
Finally, I made it into the Rebbe's home. The line was moving quickly. It was my turn. "Blessing for baby," I blurted out nervously.
"Amen. In a good and auspicious time," the Rebbe said. He spoke with a clear, strong voice while handing me a second dollar bill.
By December Esther was suspicious. She went to the doctor and the results were positive. We were pregnant. We were ecstatic. But about a week later, the nurse told us the fetal protein level was high and they wanted to do an amniocentesis to find out more and, if need be, G-d forbid, recommend an abortion. But Judaism does not allow for abortions for such reasons. The doctor's staff was pushing for the amniocentesis, but we called back and said, "No thanks."
Only then did I find out that high fetal protein was indicative of Down's syndrome. I didn't tell Esther immediately what I had found out.
The following evening we went to Crown Heights for a friend's wedding and I broke down and told Esther. We were both crying.
The "siren" sounded meaning that the Rebbe was going to say a short public discourse after which the Rebbe gave out dollars for people to give to charity. We got into the line. I couldn't say anything to the Rebbe. I tried to believe that all this was a test from G-d and that it was really a big blessing. I would have to write a letter to the Rebbe. Esther had gone through the women's line and was already waiting for me in the car.
"The Rebbe said, 'Mazal tov' to me," Esther said. "How did he know that I'm pregnant?"
"I thought the Rebbe says 'mazal tov' only after a baby is born," I said.
"I know. I was starting to doubt that I heard him right. And then when I got into the car I saw was the back cover of this magazine."
It was a picture of a pregnant woman headlined, "Saying mazal tov is not enough." The advertisement then explained that a pregnant woman should have the "shir hama'alos" card in the delivery room, as a protection against any harm to the mother or newborn baby. It's a custom from Kabala and strongly encouraged by the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
"Everything is going to be all right, Esti," I said. The Rebbe saying "mazal tov" calmed us down a lot. We just had normal worries and fears throughout the rest of the pregnancy. On Sunday night, May 9, Esther went into labor. At about 20 past midnight we drove to the Morristown hospital and went straight to maternity. At 12:55 a.m. the nurse called out, "Congratulations! It's a girl. A beautiful baby girl."
By the way, you can be sure that when we went into that delivery room, we had our "shir hama'alos--saying `mazal tov' is not enough" cards--one for the mother, one for the baby, and a spare for the expectant father.
Esther was so happy and thankful to be a mother--and to have such a healthy, adorable baby--that she wrote a thank-you note to the Rebbe about four months after Chaya Mushka Bracha was born. While writing the letter, Esther saw a friend walk past. She was still childless. So Esther added a note at the end of her letter: "May the Rebbe please give Leah bas Sara a blessing to have a baby."
Our Sages teach that when you pray for someone else, G-d blesses the one who prayed for his fellow first. Three months later both Esther and her friend were expecting. Our Nechama Dina was born within two weeks of Leah's baby.
The great physician and scholar, Rabbi Moses Maimonides wrote in his Letter to the Jews of Yemen that "as a preparatory step for Moshiach's coming...prophecy will return to Israel." This past year, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, may he have a full and speedy recovery, has been revealing more and more of his powers of prophecy. I hope that this one little story gives you some insight into who the Rebbe is.
LIVE AND LEARN JUDAISM
Bais Chana Women's Institute, in S. Paul, Minnesota, is offering a unique program for men. Geared to those at a beginner or intermediate level of Jewish education--or anyone with a background who has a strong interest in learning Chasidut--Bais Levi Yitzchak will create an unforgettable live-and-learn Jewish experience. The program runs from Nov. 29-Dec. 6. For more info call (612) 698-3858 or (718) 756-2591.
IS SAYING MAZAL TOV ENOUGH?
For centuries it has been customary for Jewish women to adorn the birthing room and cradle with Psalm 121 (Shir Lama'alot) which states our declaration of dependence upon G-d for our well being, and His commitment to guard us. If you are expecting a child or know someone who is, you can get a free, full-color print of the Psalm by writing to LFJME, 824 Eastern Pkwy, Bklyn, NY 11213. Or call (718) 756-7250.
Over 10,000 people attended the Ninth International Celebration of the Completion of Maimonides's Mishna Torah last month. The ceremony, which took place at the New York Hilton, was dedicated to the complete and speedy recovery of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Similar celebrations took place world-wide.
INTERMARRIAGE: NOT ONLY A PERSONAL MATTER
From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
For a Jewish person to marry a non-Jew is one of the greatest calamities, and not only from the religious viewpoint. Nor is it entirely a personal matter affecting the person involved, for it concerns the whole Jewish people, and there are few transgressions which affect the whole Jewish people as an intermarriage, G-d forbid. It is a transgression also against one's elementary honesty, for it is exceedingly unfair to the other party, from the viewpoint of each, and it is also unfair to the respective good friends, who wish to see their near and dear one lastingly happy, and not otherwise.
It has often been pointed out that marriage in general, even between two persons of similar backgrounds, entails a certain risk as to eventual adjustment and compatibility. Even if the two had been acquainted for some time, it is not a sure criterion as to what the relationship will be when the acquaintance is turned into a marriage, where the two will be thrown together under one roof for 24 hours a day, day after day, and week after week, etc. But when the backgrounds are entirely different, and where this difference dates back for scores of generations, and is consequently of a deep and lasting quality--the chances of adjustment and compatibility are so negligible as to be nonexistent. Especially, where the difference is of a definitely antagonistic and hostile nature, as has been evidenced by the pogroms and persecutions of Jews in every land where Jews sojourned in the past 2,000 years. Moreover, modern science has recognized the hereditary nature of character traits, particularly deep-rooted ones over generations.
Thus, if one is honest--in the plain sense of the word--one would not wish to drag another party into an alliance which is doomed from the start. And if one truly loves the other, and not in a selfish way, one would certainly not wish to involve the other in such a misfortune, and would readily forgo the prospect of immediate and short-lived pleasure in order to spare the other the inevitable result. Otherwise, the professed love is nothing but selfish and egoistic.
Should there be children from such a union, there is the added consideration of the tragedy of the children having to witness constant friction, and worse, between their parents, which is bound to follow in the natural course of events.
There is no need to elaborate on this very painful subject.
Needless to say, I am aware of the "argument" that the percentage of intermarriage is a considerable one and many of them seem to last. But it is surely unnecessary to point out that married people try to put on the appearance of a "happy" marriage, being ashamed to confess failure, and to reveal the friction and indignities, etc., suffered at home. In an intermarriage the sense of shame is even greater, knowing that many friends had warned them against it, and they had maintained that their marriage would be different. But as a matter of fact and statistics, the percentage of separations and divorces are incomparably greater in intermarriages than in non-intermarriages.
In the vast majority of cases, those who enter into an intermarriage are emotionally involved. Were they themselves to be asked about others contemplating such a step, they would counsel against taking a step which would commit the two people to possible lifelong misery. Indeed, they would consider it irresponsible to take such a step in an emotional state of mind.
As a postscript I wish to add, that according to Jewish law the child goes after the mother. Therefore, where the mother is Jewish, even if the father is not, the child is Jewish and duty-bound to fulfill all the mitzvot, etc. Further details may be obtained from any Orthodox rabbi.
Why do we say blessings on everything we eat?
When we recite a blessing we are expressing our gratitude to G-d for our sustenance. Saying a blessing transforms a commonplace activity into a holy act. Chasidic teachings explain that all food contains a G-dly spark of holiness. When we make a blessing before eating, we elevate the physical substance of the food into holiness and reunite the holy spark with its source.
This Monday, the 20th of Cheshvan, is the birthday of Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber (1860-1920), the fifth Chabad Lubavitch Rebbe.
A beautiful story is told about an important lesson that Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber (known as the "Rebbe Rashab") taught his son, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok, who was later to become his successor.
Once, when Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok set out on a journey, the Rebbe Rashab asked him to try to do a certain favor for one of the chasidim, a businessman, who was in need of help.
When Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok returned he told his father: "I did everything you told me to do, and the favor to that man I did meticulously."
"You err," said the Rebbe Rashab. "You did a favor to yourself, not to him. G-d did a favor to him, by arranging for an emissary, such as yourself, through whom the will of Divine Providence could be realized."
The Rebbe Rashab was teaching us a lesson that permeates the whole of Judaism. When we do a mitzva, especially one which ostensibly allows us to help another person, we are G-d's emissaries. And, more than helping the other person we are, in essence, helping ourselves.
Tzedaka, charity, is a prime example. When we give tzedaka it should be with the knowledge and understanding that G-d has bestowed upon us a privilege--the privilege to administer His money in a righteous manner. Certainly, this is the reason why our Sages teach, "More than charity does for the poor person, it does for the rich person."
This attitude can and should permeate all "favors" we do for others. In addition to being the correct attitude, it stops us from feeling self-righteous!
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
The Chozeh of Lublin and his disciples had set out on a long journey. As the holy Shabbat quickly approached they found themselves at an unfamiliar crossroads. Dismounting from their wagons, they debated the question of which way to turn. The Chozeh interrupted the discussion, and advised them to let the horses' reins go free and let them go where they would.
They did as he said, and they travelled quite a few miles on the road before meeting a peasant who told them that the town which they had reached was not the one they had been searching for. Nevertheless, as Shabbat was quickly approaching, they had to stop over and find some lodging for the night.
At that point the Chozeh announced to his chasidim, "This Shabbat I am not to be known as a rebbe." From this they understood that he wanted to be inconspicuous for some reason of his own. It was also understood that they would be on their own in finding appropriate accommodations.
So, they entered the town and made their way to the synagogue, knowing that, according to time-honored custom, strangers always received an invitation from some villager for the Shabbat meal. Sure enough, they all received invitations, except for the Chozeh who, in his usual fashion prolonged his prayers until all the other congregants had left. There was, however, one very old man who also remained in the shul and sat singing the traditional Shabbat tunes.
The old man noticed the stranger and asked him, "Where will you be having your meal?"
The Chozeh replied, "I don't know yet."
"Well, I would suggest that you have your Shabbat meals in the local inn, and after the Shabbat ends, I will go around and collect the money to pay the bill."
"No," replied the Chozeh, "In that inn, they don't even light Shabbat candles. No, I wouldn't make kiddush in such a place."
"Well, I would invite you to my own home, but we really don't have much of anything to eat or drink."
"Don't worry, I don't eat very much, and I don't drink very much either."
"All right, so, you'll come home with me." said the old man, still sitting with his prayer book in his hand. "Tell me, where do you come from?"
"I come from Lublin."
"You don't say! Why, you don't happen to know the tzadik, the Chozeh, do you?"
"It so happens that I know him very well. I spend all of my time with him."
The old man's eyes lit up like a fire. "Please, what can you tell me about him?"
"Well, what kind of things do you want to know?" asked the Chozeh.
"To tell you the truth, I have fasted one day every week for years, so that I might merit to set my eyes on the tzadik. You see, many years ago, when he was just a little boy, I was his teacher. In those days he was a regular boy, just like all the rest, nothing special about him. But now, I hear he performs miracles and is a great tzadik. Every day when his turn came to read from the siddur, he would be missing. And when he would finally turn up, I would always spank him. Then, one day I decided to follow him. I was curious to see where he went all the time. So, I walked a little distance behind him, and followed him into the forest. There, he sat down and cried out from the depths of his heart, 'Shma Israel, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad!' From that day on I never spanked him again."
The Chozeh was greatly moved by the old man's recitation, and it was clear to him why G-d had directed his path to this out-of-the-way little village. He revealed to the old man his real identity, and the old man fainted away. After he was revived, the tzadik told him not to reveal to anyone else who he was.
After the end of Shabbat the Chozeh and his followers continued on in the originally intended direction. They arrived at an inn and enjoyed the Melave Malka meal, bidding goodbye to the Shabbat Queen. When they had finished, the Chozeh told them, "Let's return to the village now, for it is time for us to pay our last respects to the old man I stayed with. He has just departed from this world." They returned and said the eulogy for the old man who had such a burning love for tzadikim, that G-d granted him his greatest wish.
And G-d departed as soon as He had finished speaking with Abraham; and Abraham returned to his place (Gen. 18:33)
Even after Abraham was told that there were not even ten righteous people in Sodom in whose merit the city would be spared, he "returned to his place," and continued to search for people whose deeds might qualify them as such. One must therefore never cease to look for good in one's fellow man.
(Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev)
"G-d, Himself, will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son" (Gen. 22:8)
Rashi explains that Isaac also knew that he was going to be sacrificed. Nonetheless, "they went both of them together," with equal resolve and with one heart. Isaac's willingness to be sacrificed did not detract from Abraham's trial. On the contrary, it made it that much more difficult for Abraham to consider sacrificing such a righteous son.
And he was sitting at the door of the tent (Gen. 18:1)
The sign of a true righteous person is that he always considers himself "at the door," on the outside, as if his deeds have not yet accomplished anything.
(Toldot Yaakov Yosef)
"Stay the night, and wash your feet" (Gen. 19:2)
Abraham first instructed his guests to wash their feet before extending his invitation to enter, fearing that perhaps they were among those Arab nomads who worshipped the dust of the earth as a deity. Lot, however, seeing that his guests had come directly from Abraham's house, reasoned that anyone leaving Abraham's presence could not possibly be an idol-worshipper.
G-d rained upon Sodom and Gomora brimstone and fire...(Gen. 19:24)
At the present time Sodom remains in its ruined state. However, when Moshiach comes and evil will be completely removed from the earth, Sodom will return to its original state of blessing and beauty, as it says, (Ezek. 16) "And I will return the captivity of Sodom.
Even though Moshiach's prayers are always answered immediately, nonetheless when he suffers the pains of his body, like a sheep before her shearers is silent, so too, does he suffer and opens not his mouth to request that even one of his afflictions be removed from him, or to say to G-d, "I want not the pain nor its reward."
(Alshich on Isaiah 53:7)