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The story is told of a man who is on the verge of drowning in the middle of the ocean. He prays, "G-d, I put my trust in You, save me."
Sooner than later a speed boat comes along and the crew throws the man a life-preserver. "That's O.K.," he shouts to them, "G-d will save me."
Once again the man prays to G-d to save him. Within a few moments, a raft floats by. But the man ignores it until it is beyond reach.
For a third time the man prays, "Master of the World, I await Your deliverance." Just then he hears a helicopter overhead and watches as a line is let down for him. Emphatically, the man shakes his head "No." He is waiting for G-d to save him.
The man waits and waits and waits for G-d, Himself, to save him. But He doesn't, and so the man drowns.
You can well imagine that at the first opportunity the man asks G-d why He didn't save him. "Oh, but I tried to," G-d answers. "You just didn't let Me."
What a schlemiel, we say about the star of this fictitious story. It was so obvious that G-d was trying to save him. Did he really expect G-d, Himself, to save him? A real blockhead he is!
But wait a minute, how do we react when similar, though less dramatic things really do happen around us and in our own lives?
How many times do we attribute events to chance, coincidence, luck? How many miracles take place unnoticed? Do we see G-d's saving hand in the near-accident that could well have been disastrous? Do we acknowledge that it is because of G-d's blessings that our next-door-neighbor, who really isn't all that bright or motivated, landed an excellent job, even in today's economy? Do we admit that Divine Providence is a big factor in why we're doing what we're doing when we're doing it?
Each and every day G-d sends us--albeit through messengers--rafts, life-preservers, and ropes. Sometimes we use them without even acknowledging their source. Sometimes we don't use them, all the while griping and grumbling that G-d has forgotten about us or doesn't care about us or doesn't hear our requests.
Once in a long while something takes place which can only be defined as a miracle. When that happens, we uncomfortably thank G-d. Uncomfortably because we're so unused to acknowledging the Divine hand. It makes us uneasy.
But we needn't wait for a miracle, nor persistently expect G-d Himself to get us out of the fine mess we've gotten into. We can keep ourselves from drowning by opening our eyes, by re-focusing ourselves and fine-tuning our vision so that G-d doesn't have to tell us, "Oh, but I tried to save you, you just didn't let Me!"
This week's Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, contains an account of the first marriage mentioned in the Torah. This marriage, between Isaac and Rivka, affected and is a lesson for the Jewish people as a whole, and indeed the future of the entire nation which was to follow.
In a spiritual sense, this union between the two progenitors of the Jewish nation, symbolizes the relationship between the two components of each individual--the body and the soul. Rivka was from Charan, a place which was primarily materialistic. Isaac, on the other hand, symbolizes the spiritual dimension, as he had already been consecrated as a "perfect offering" by his willingness to be sacrificed upon the altar. Their marriage epitomized the unity between these two contradictory concepts.
A Jew's soul, even when enclothed in a physical body, is totally at one with G-d, for it is "an actual part of G-d." The mission for which it is sent down into this corporeal world is to bring about a change in the material realm, elevating physical objects by performing mitzvot. This unity of the spiritual and the physical is achieved when the light of the soul is reflected within the body, and the body becomes nullified to the demands of the soul.
Ultimately, the unity achieved between body and soul should extend to the point that it is obvious that all of a person's activities are performed by both in tandem. Afterwards, this unity should be extended into the world at large, so as to encompass every dimension of existence in the entire world.
In this manner, the Jew acts as G-d's emissary, transforming the world into a dwelling place for G-dliness. Thus, the Jew becomes an extension of G-dliness, in the same way that an emissary shares a single purpose and a single identity with the one who sent him on his mission.
The ultimate goal of this unity between the spiritual and the physical is the Era of Redemption, when this unity will be open and apparent. Our task as Jews is to hasten this process by doing mitzvot and studying Torah, for it was the giving of the Torah which allowed for the possibility of such unity. Prior to the Torah's revelation on Mount Sinai, spirituality and physicality, body and soul, were two distinct entities which could not merge. When Moshiach comes, speedily in our day, the unity achieved through our Torah service will be revealed in the world at large and the union between body and soul will be consummated.
As the children of Isaac and Rivka, every dimension of our existence should therefore be permeated by the awareness of this Divine mission, to make this world a proper dwelling place for G-d.
From a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, 5752.
My Grandfather's Tefilin
Mishulem, his wife Suzy, and Shayna
by Mishulem Laib Drapkin
I always felt a connection to Judaism because of my grandfather. We often spent the Jewish holidays with my grandparents and were always greeted by the warmth of my grandmother's cooking, and my grandfather's sure, but soft handshake with a hearty "Gut Yontiff!" I didn't really know what "Gut Yontiff" meant, but I knew that we always greeted each other with it at happy times.
Often when we came to visit on Sundays, my grandfather took us kids to a small amusement park. He bought us tickets for the rides, watching us scream with delight. He got such pleasure from his grandchildren. He even went on the Ferris wheel with us, his arm wrapped protectively behind us as the car soared up into the sky.
One Rosh Hashana, I asked my mother where my grandfather was. She said he was at services all day. I asked why, and she replied, "He goes to an Orthodox synagogue. They pray all day." I imagined my grandfather in a synagogue full of other grandfathers, all wearing dark suits and yarmulkes. I thought to myself that if my grandfather went there, it must be serious Judaism!
When I was older, I attended Hebrew School at our local Conservative Synagogue. I didn't much care for it. It cut into my after-public school play time. Like many children of my time, I couldn't see the relevance of Hebrew School when none of what we studied was practiced in our "regular" lives.
Although my experiences seemed to be pushing me farther from Judaism, there was one notable exception: my Bar Mitzva. I enjoyed learning how to read my Torah portion. My tutor, an elderly Orthodox rabbi teaching at our synagogue, really inspired me. I also immensely enjoyed the singing and chanting.
My Bar Mitzva was an unqualified success. I was proud of what I did, and was gratified when my mother said, "I wish that your grandfather was still alive to see your Bar Mitzva. He would have been so proud of you."
By the time I went away to college, I had little or nothing to do with Judaism. The fact that I was living far away from family and friends and the heritage I grew up with didn't bother me most of the time, except during the December holidays. Then, I became intensely aware of being a minority in a country where someone else's religion is assumed to be part of everyone's heritage.
My Jewish identity remained at an ebb for many years until a close family friend became an observant Rabbi. When his mother passed away, some local Lubavitchers volunteered to help with the necessary arrangements. After the funeral, I chanced to talk to the Lubavitcher rabbi, who to my great surprise was a really nice guy! He in turn, gave me the number of my local Chabad rabbi who also turned out to be really terrific.
He was my age, with a background like mine, and was not only observant, but seemingly fulfilled and happy with his world and existence. My preconceptions about Judaism were blown away. What an amazing world I had discovered, where people actually lived what they learned. I was overwhelmed by the vast storehouse of knowledge that I had not only discovered, but belonged to me by birthright!
I began to study more about Judaism, and one Sunday, my new found friend from Lubavitch announced a class called "Lox, Bagels, Cream Cheese and Tefilin." I eagerly went down to shul with my grandfather's tefilin which my father had recently given me, only to discover that I was the only one who showed up.
We chatted for a while, which helped to calm my jitters about something that seemed so foreign. The rabbi explained the workings of tefilin, and then told me to get them out. I was completely unprepared for what I found.
I took the tefilin out, and laid them on top of the bag. I was struck by how carefully and lovingly they had been wrapped. Although they were last touched by my grandfather over 25 years ago, it was as though I was seeing his hands carefully wrapping them and holding them right in front of me. This conscious act of his had transcended the decades since he had last used them.
The memories of my grandfather came back in a flood, and when I had his tefilin wrapped around me, I felt myself surrounded by his love, strength, and kindness. Later, I related the story to my wife and wept.
On the High Holy Days this past year when I was praying, I remembered the image of my grandfather going off to daven in his synagogue on Rosh Hashana. This was the first time that I was attending observant services in their entirety, from beginning to end! In a moment of reflection, I wished that I could be next to my grandfather, together, chanting the prayers that were such a natural part of his life. He would see them becoming a part of my own life, and I know that he would have beamed with pride.
Recently, I told one of my new, observant friends that my tefilin were my grandfather's. I told him the story of how they hadn't been used for over twenty five years, and when my local Lubavitcher rabbi had them checked that they were still "kosher." With a twinkle in his eye he said, "You know, your grandfather knows that you are wearing them." Shrugging his shoulders he concluded, "Don't ask me how, but he knows."
Mr. Drapkin is a computer consultant and a musician.
JUST LIKE MOMMY
Simple, clear writing team up with wistful, full-color illustrations in Just Like Mommy, a book for young children and beginning readers. Shoshana, who is turning three, receives a present in the mail. Each day until her birthday she and her little brother guess what is in the box. What a surprise she gets when she opens the gift!.
Kehot Publication Society - Brooklyn, NY 11213
FROM ISRAEL, WITH FOOD
This past month, an Aeroflot plane that brought 122 children straight from Kiev to Israel as part of the Children of Chernobyl Rescue program sponsored by Chabad didn't return to C.I.S. empty. It was loaded down with food which had been donated by Israeli companies to be distributed to Jews in Russia.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT ANSWERS
From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
I received your letter and I was pleased to read in it about your efforts to strengthen and spread Yiddishkeit among the youth. As for your suggestions as to how best to carry this out, this is a matter which depends primarily on local conditions. Therefore, it would be best for you to consult with some local friends who have an interest and experience in such activity. As G-d rewards in kind, but in a most generous measure, your efforts to help others will bring you G-d's blessings in all your needs.
To refer to the question which you have been asked as to the reasons why G-d does one thing this way and another thing that way, etc. The whole question has fundamentally no basis. By way of illustration, suppose a small child, whose only interest is in food, toys and the like, would be asked to explain a profound philosophical problem, or the construction of an intricate machine. This would certainly be considered absurd, although the difference between the small child and the philosopher or the engineer is a difference only in degree. It would be even more absurd to expect a human being to understand G-d's reasons, for the difference between a human being and G-d is absolute, namely, the difference between a created being and the Creator.
If sometimes one may question certain aspects of Divine Providence, it is only in cases where other people are involved, as for instance the question of why some righteous people seem to be suffering and others seem to be prosperous. The reason such a question is asked is because there seems to be a contradiction between the qualities of the people concerned and their experiences in life. On the other hand, the question of why G-d created the world is one which lies entirely in the realm of the Creator. The same may be said about the question of why G-d created the world in this way and not in another way?
Parenthetically, I wish to add that it is true that some people attempt to answer such questions. But this should not be taken to mean that the question itself is a legitimate one, that to say that it is a question which requires an answer, and if we cannot ascertain the answer, we are deficient in our understanding. It is only that in some instances G-d has revealed to us additional knowledge; but even if He did not, it would still not reflect on the knowledge which is necessary to man, inasmuch as such additional knowledge is out of his range. To illustrate this, as above: If a child, at the proper age, should not know the ABC's, or how to use a fork and knife, etc., this would be a defect on his level, whereas it would not be a defect if he did not know philosophy or mechanics. On the other hand, there may be a possibility where the engineer would attempt to give the child some rudimentary knowledge about the construction of a machine or the philosopher might use a simple parable to put across some elements of his philosophy, in a way that the child might grasp it.
On the question of the meaning of the Hebrew word "adam" in relation to the soul of the first man, needless to say, Adam, and, similarly, Noah, were the fathers of all the peoples of the earth. Generally speaking, until our father Abraham was born, there was no distinction between Jew and non-Jew, although, in so far as their souls were concerned, in their very root, the distinction was implicit. By way of illustration: Before a baby is born, there is no differentiation in the embryo between the various limbs of the body, such as between the head and the foot. Later on, however, the organ develops in such a way that the head and brain develop out of a more delicate part than the foot, although previously there was no differentiation between delicate and non-delicate parts, as there was only one entity..
I have, thus, answered your questions, although I must say that I am not at all pleased by the fact that you take up so much time with such questions. For, as the Alter Rebbe, the founder of Chabad, write in Iggeres HaKodesh--all Jews are believers, the sons of believers, who believe with simple faith that G-d created the world and gave us the Torah and mitzvot, giving humanity at large the seven basic mitzvot and what follows from them, and giving the Jewish people the 613 mitzvot, including the said seven Noahide laws. Let me emphasize again that there is an essential distinction between any human being, and the brute animals and lower forms of creation.'
Why must dishes and utensils used for food be immersed in a mikva?
Before dishes and utensils can be used in the kosher kitchen they must acquire an additional measure of holiness which is conferred through the ritual immersion in a mikva. Even if a dish, pot, etc. was never used and is therefore "kosher," it must still be immersed.
This weekend is the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Shluchim. (Shluchim is from the word "shaliach" which means emissary.) The participation of over 1,000 shluchim is expected, from nearly every country throughout the world.
The highlight of last year's convention was an address on Shabbat by the Rebbe, may we merit a similar address this year. At that time, the Rebbe explained that the task of the shluchim in this momentous period--the last few "moments" before the Messianic Era--is to make people aware of the imminence of Moshiach and the Redemption.
The Rebbe went on to explain that every person is a shaliach. Therefore, the task and responsibility of every Jew these days is to make himself and others aware of the imminence of Moshiach and the Redemption.
To quote the Rebbe:
"Every Jew possesses a spark of Moses and similarly, every Jew possesses a spark of Moshiach. Therefore, every Jew is G-d's shaliach to illuminate the world with the light of Torah...
"What is, in fact, required of us? Our Rabbis explain that in each generation, there is an individual who is fit to be Moshiach and 'when the time comes, G-d will reveal Himself to him and send him.' The service at present is thus to be prepared to actually accept Moshiach and create a climate in which he can accomplish his mission and redeem Israel from the exile."
The Rebbe explained earlier in the year that one of the most direct ways to prepare ourselves is through studying about Moshiach and the Redemption. Thus, a national "800" hot-line, local telephone information centers, books, pamphlets, brochures and classes have all been made available to the general public toward this end.
May we all take advantage of these numerous Moshiach opportunities, thus preparing ourselves, our families and friends, for Moshiach's imminent arrival, may it take place NOW!
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
Once, when Reb Elimelech of Lyzhansk was on his way to immerse in the mikva he heard a heavenly voice announce that the Rav of Nikolsburg, Reb Shmelke was having terrible problems with those who were bitterly opposed to his spiritual path. The heavenly voice promised great rewards in the Next World for the one who would extricate Reb Shmelke.
Reb Elimelech turned to his companion and asked, "Did you hear anything?" But his companion replied that he had heard nothing at all. From that, Reb Elimelech deduced that it was up to him to travel to Nikolsburg and offer his help. As soon as he arrived he asked Reb Shmelke's permission to address his congregation with a hearty sermon that would bring them to repentence. "My friend, I certainly have no objection. But, any criticism will fall on deaf ears."
When it was announced that a visiting preacher would address the congregation, the synagogue filled to capacity. Reb Elimelech used his brilliant scholarship to deliver a speech using the most involved and seemingly erudite arguments to prove that many of the prohibitions mentioned in the Torah were actually permissible.
The congregants were very impressed with his great learning and skillful arguments. So, when they heard that he would speak the following day, they flocked to hear him. But this time he proved to them, now with genuine evidence, that all the precepts which he had so skillfully disproved the previous day were actually true. In fact, he stressed that any deviation from them went completely against the teaching of the Sages.
His words were received in the manner intended, as "words from the heart enter the heart," and the people were moved to repentence. When they realized that the words of their own rabbi had been echoed by this guest preacher, they went as a group to beg Reb Shmelke's forgiveness.
Reb Elimelech left Nikolsburg and continued on his way. Soon after he left the town, he again heard a heavenly voice, this time proclaiming: "Reb Elimelech, because you helped Reb Shmelke, whomever you bless within the next twenty-four hours will have the blessing realized."
Reb Elimelech's initial happiness over this marvelous gift gave way to bitter disappointment, when after many hours of walking he met not one person he could bless. He cried out his complaint to G-d: "Why did you give me this gift, when you haven't sent me anyone that I can bless?"
Just as he finished his plaint he saw a lone woman walking toward him. He ran up to her and began to heap blessing on the startled woman. Seeing her fright, he reassured her that he meant no harm. He questioned her gently, and she told him about her life situation and the difficulties she and her husband were having with their livelihood. He finished blessing her, and they parted ways, each continuing on his own journey.
From that day on the woman and her husband experienced no more hardships and prospered in their endeavors. Their business grew more and more successful, until they had a comfortable life. They generously shared their blessings with those less fortunate and they were always sure that the stranger who had blessed them was none other than Elijah the Prophet.
Years later Reb Elimelech and his brother Reb Zusha were travelling to collect money for the mitzva of redeeming captives. They heard that in a certain city there was a very generous merchant who dispensed a great deal of charity. When they arrived at his residence, they were ushered into his parlor where he was sitting with his wife. No sooner had they seated themselves, than the wife swooned to the floor. When she regained consciousness, she said to her husband, "That is Elijah the Prophet who blessed us, and I'm sure that he has come to remove the blessing."
Reb Elimelech had heard her comment, and he replied, "I am not Elijah, but just a simple Jew, and I am not here to take any blessings from you. Through G-d's will my blessings were brought to fruition."
The merchant turned to Reb Elimelech and asked him how much money he needed to redeem the imprisoned Jews. Hearing the huge sum of five hundred gold rubles, he went to his room and brought out the entire sum and handed it to the Reb Elimelech. But Reb Elimelech was not willing to accept it; he preferred to give other Jews the opportunity of joining in that great mitzva. He accepted a large sum of money, bid a warm farewell to the couple, and continued on his travels.
And the servant took...all of his master's best possessions in his hand (Gen. 24:10)
Why was it necessary for Abraham to entrust his servant with all of his best possessions? Would not most of them have sufficed for his mission to find a proper bride for Isaac?Abraham invested all of his being to ensure that this marriage take place. He realized that this was not merely a wedding between two individuals, but that the fate of the entire Jewish people hinged on this union. We should likewise invest all of our resources into carrying out our ultimate mission in the world.
And G-d blessed Abraham in all things (Gen. 24:1)
The blessings which G-d bestows can be divided into three categories: life, children, and livelihood. Abraham was blessed with all three.
- "And Abraham was old"--indicates that he was blessed with long life.
- "And G-d blessed Abraham"--indicates that he was a wealthy man.
- "In all things"--this refers to the blessing of progeny, for in Hebrew, the sum of these letters is the same as the word for "son," indicating that Abraham was blessed with children as well.
And Abraham came to mourn for Sarah (Gen. 23:2)
Abraham was coming from Mount Moriah, where he had just undergone the trial of the binding of Isaac. Abraham eulogized Sarah by announcing that she did not voice any objection when he set out with her only son to offer him as a sacrifice. Sarah, like all Jewish mothers who follow her, had instilled in her only son the desire to give up his life willingly for the sanctification of G-d's name.
These were the years of the life of Sarah (Gen. 23:1)
Although the Torah portion is entitled, "The Life of Sarah" it really commences with her death and events occurring after her passing. This is because the actual effects of Sarah's work during her 127 years were only fully revealed in the events which unfolded after her death. So, too, the ultimate reward and effect of the mitzvot which we fulfill in this world will be fully revealed only in the days of Moshiach.
Moshiach is standing on the other side of a wall that is already cracked and crumbling. He is, as it says in Song of Songs, "watching through the windows, peering through the crevices." And it surely goes without saying that a glance from Moshiach gives a person the energy that he particularly needs to complete the required preparations so that he can be privileged to greet Moshiach.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 1985)