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"If you'd like to make a call, please hang up and try again. If you need help, hang up and dial your operator."
"I'm sorry. We're unable to complete your call as dialed. Please check the number and dial again, or ask your operator for assistance. This is a recording. Beep, beep, beep."
No doubt you've heard one or both of these messages on your telephone, whether it wasn't hung up because someone accidentally banged into it, or something more complicated like going to answer the door and forgetting you were talking. You might have even taken the phone off the hook on purpose to get a break from its incessant ringing.
Whatever the reason and for however long, it's simple to get the phone working again. Just hang it up. Within seconds you're reconnected.
Telephone hang-ups suitably describe our involvement with mitzvot. Mitzvot, Divine precepts which guide and govern every aspect of a Jew's life from his moment of birth to his last breath, have a dual meaning: In He-brew, the word "mitzva" means both "commandment" and "connection."
By commanding us the mitzvot, G-d created the means through which we can establish a connection with Him. The hand distributing charity, the mind thinking Torah, the heart soaring in prayer, even the stomach digesting matza on Passover, all become instru-ments to carry out G-d's will. So there are mitzvot for each limb, organ and faculty of a person, mitzvot governing every aspect of a person's life, so that no part of him remains uninvolved in his relationship with his Creator.
Each time we do a mitzva we connect with G-d. Sometimes, the connection is so unobtrusive that we don't even notice it--like when the telephone isn't ringing. At other times we feel the tremendous connection of a mitzva--tears streaming forth in a moment of prayer; an intangible peace as the Shabbat candles are lit; the slow exhale as tefilin straps are unwound.
But what about when we're not con-nected? If the lack of connection was unknowing all we need to do is recon-nect. We can put the "receiver" back by doing any mitzva, the sooner the better. If the detachment was premeditated, it's slightly different. For, sometimes we get to thinking that being off the hook gets us "off the hook." That once we're disconnected we can stay that way.
Nothing could be further from the truth. It doesn't matter how long the phone's been off the hook, or for what reason we've been disconnected, we are ultimately responsible for the missed calls and for getting the phone hung up as quickly as possible.
There's one big difference between Ma Bell's connection with our phone and our connection with G-d, though. Once the telephone company has sounded the recording followed by the annoying beeps, they can't do much else. Sure, they can check if someone is yacking away or if the phone's out of service for other reasons. But they can't get any additional messages across. G-d, on the other hand, is not limited thus.
He can send us messages even when the line is dead. Because, in truth, the line connecting us to G-d is never dead. Maybe it has some static or the wires cross once in a while. Maybe we answer a wrong number or a bad storm has done some damage. But the line is never dead, and G-d can and does send us messages. "Reach out and touch someone" applies to G-d every minute of every day. We need only perk up our ears and listen, open our eyes and see the unplugged plug or handset off the hook, and reconnect.
"If you'd like to make a connection with G-d, please hang up and try a mitzva. If you need help, hang up and dial your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center. Beep, beep, beep, beep."
- (Back to text) This definition of mitzva is from "The Week in Review" by VHH.
This week's Torah portion, Toldot, describes the life and times of our Patriarch Isaac. The Talmud tells us that in the Messianic Era, Isaac will be referred to as "our father," implying that it is Isaac from among all our forefathers who has a special connection to the Messianic Era. As we now stand at the threshold of the coming of Moshiach and the ultimate Redemption of the Jewish people, it is important to understand what exactly Isaac's path and service mean for us.
Isaac was the only one of our Patriarchs who lived his entire life within the boundaries of the land of Israel. Abraham was born outside of Israel and also left Israel to go to Egypt when a famine threatened. Jacob, too, went to Charan, where he worked for Laban for many years. However, when there was another famine in the Land during Isaac's lifetime, G-d commanded him to stay where he was and not to seek food elsewhere. "Do not go down to Egypt, but dwell in this land...and I will bless you." This is because after having shown his willingness to be sacrificed on the altar by his father Abraham, Isaac was considered a "perfect offering," too holy to dwell anywhere but in the Holy Land.
Isaac, therefore, symbolizes the Jewish people as they were meant to be, and as they will exist in the Messianic Era, their rightful place being in their land and not in exile in the four corners of the earth. During our present exile, we are like "children who have been banished from their father's table." We must therefore continue to demand that G-d send the redeemer now, so that we will be able to emulate Isaac and live a full life of Torah and mitzvot in our own land, as we were meant to.
Isaac's approach to the service of G-d is also especially applicable to us today. Even though Isaac continued in his father Abraham's path of spreading the belief in G-d throughout the world, he did so in a different manner from his father: Abraham wandered from place to place, including Egypt, spreading G-dliness wherever he went. Isaac, on the other hand, always remained in the same place, in Israel, yet others flocked to him because they were attracted by his holiness. In this way Isaac was able to influence others.
For the most part, the Jewish people have followed Abraham's example during their long exile, wandering from country to country and causing G-d's name to be called on wherever they went. After Moshiach comes, however, we will follow in Isaac's footsteps, as G-d's holiness and light will emanate from the Third Holy Temple in Jerusalem. And at that time, as happened in the days of Isaac, all the nations of the world will likewise flock to Jerusalem, as it states, "And all nations shall flow unto it...for the Torah shall go forth out of Zion."
We must, in the meantime, combine aspects of both these approaches, refining our own personal spirituality, yet at the same time, not neglecting to spread holiness throughout the world at large.
Adapted from a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe during this week last year.
SAYING MAZAL TOV
Tzvi Jacobs and Chaya Mushka receiving wine from the Rebbe.
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 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 second child 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.
Eight-year-old Yaakov Sherbakov is a tenth generation descendant of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement. He recently had a bris thanks to Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe, an organization which helps immigrants from the former U.S.S.R. materially and spiritually. Holding Yaakov is Aharon Pasternak, coodinator of brisim for F.R.E.E.
L'CHAIM IN BRAILLE AND LARGE TYPE
Thanks to the work of two devoted volunteers, L'Chaim is now available in braille and in large type for the visually impaired. To order a copy in large type call Rabbi Y.Y. Shagalov at (718) 953-1421. For braille, call Rabbi M. Sheingarten at (718) 953-8373.
From a letter of the Rebbe
Your visit gave me the pleasant opportunity of touching upon an important topic which deserved more time than I had at my disposal. I trust that the next few lines may put the subject into bolder relief to make up for the unavoidable brevity.
Any thinking person must frequently ask himself, "What is my life's purpose?"
This question occurs more frequently and with greater force in the minds of young students who dedicate a number of their best years to study and preparation for their future life which lies fully ahead of them. Moreover, adolescents have untapped resources of energy and enthusiasm which they eagerly desire to put to good advantage. To them, the question of their life's purpose is more urgent and vital than to people of maturer years.
To us Jews--the People of the Book--this question is of still greater importance. The meaning of the epithet is not merely that we are a people of education and learning in general, for "The Book" refers to the Torah with which we are identified. Torah means "instruction," "guidance," for the Torah is our guide in life. The Torah makes us constantly aware of our duties in life; it gives us a true definition of our life's purpose, and it shows us the ways and means of attaining this goal.
The life's purpose of every Jew, man or woman, has been clearly defined as far back as the Revelation at Mount Sinai more than thirty-two and a half centuries ago, when we received the Divine Torah and became a nation. We were then ordained as "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." This means that every one of us must be holy in our private life; and in our association with the outside world, every one of us, man or woman, must fulfill priestly functions. The priest's function is to "bring" G-d to the people, and to elevate the people to be nearer to G-d. Similarly, every Jew and Jewess fulfills his or her personal and "priestly" duties by living a life according to the Torah.
The extent of one's duty is in direct proportion to one's station in life. It is all the greater in the case of an individual who occupies a position of some prominence which gives him or her an opportunity to exercise influence over others, especially over youths. Such persons must fully appreciate the privilege and responsibility which Divine Providence vested in them to spread the light of the Torah and to fight darkness wherever and in whatever form it may rear its head.
This is your duty and privilege as one of the student officers in relation to your co-religionist colleagues and to the student body in general. I should also like to convey this message to your colleagues in the Jewish Culture Foundation [at New York University]. You are all no doubt aware of this, but perhaps there is room for added emphasis and the conviction that "it cannot be otherwise."
No Jewish individual ought to be satisfied with the fact that as far as he personally is concerned he is doing his best to improve himself. He owes it to the next fellow to help him improve himself, too.
Nor should discouragement or a spirit of defeatism be permitted to creep into one's mind, such as "What can I do? I am alone in the field," etc. Our father Abraham taught us what one individual can achieve. For "One was Abraham, yet he inherited all the earth" (Ezekiel 33:24). Our age, which some people refer to as the Atomic Age, has further demonstrated that in the minutest quantity of matter, tremendous stores of energy may be found. All that is necessary is to discover them and then harness these stores of energy to constructive purposes, and not, G-d forbid, otherwise.
In light of the motto, often used by my late father-in-law of sainted memory, that "A Jew neither desires, nor can he be severed from G-d," I feel sure that the thoughts expressed in the above brief lines will find their proper response in your heart and in the hearts of your colleagues and friends.
I shall always be glad to receive good news of your progress in that direction.
Why is the Torah raised at the end of the Torah reading before being rolled up and put back into the ark?
A verse in the Torah (Deut. 27:26) reads, "Cursed is he who does not confirm--yakim--the word of this Law." "Yakim," translated in this verse as "confirm" can also mean "uphold." To satisfy both interpretations of the verse we publicly confirm the sanctity of the Torah by holding it up for all to see.
Many people will be giving thanks during the long weekend ahead. Lubavitcher chasidim, in particular, will be giving thanks for events which took place in the annals of Chabad-Lubavitch history in the recent past.
This Thursday marks the return to good health of the Rebbe, shlita in 1977 after suffering a heart attack.
In addition, this Friday marks the five-year anniversary of the return of the holy books and manuscripts to their rightful owner--the library of Agudas Chasidei Chabad. After a prolonged civil court-case, which decided to whom the library of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe belonged, the verdict was rendered on the day when the Torah reading stated, "I shall return in peace to my father's house."
In general, the Jewish month of Kislev, which begins Thursday, November 26, is a month of redemption and thanksgiving. In addition to the two events already mentioned, there are many additional reasons to celebrate.
On the 10th of Kislev, the second Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Dov Ber, was released from prison where he had been interred on false charges.
On the 19th of Kislev, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad, was released from his Czarist imprisonment. He had been falsely accused of anti-government activities. During his interrogation, he impressed the investigators, including the Czar himself, who personally visited him, with his wisdom, scholarship and piety. Thus, literally, the entire Chasidic movement was exonerated and its teachings could be spread freely. Ever since, the 19th of Kislev has been celebrated throughout the world as the "New Year of Chasidut."
Of course, last but certainly not least, the holiday of Chanuka, begins on Saturday night, December 19 this year. It, too, is a holiday of thanksgiving and redemption. On Chanuka we thank G-d for the miracles that He wrought for our ancestors and for redeeming them from the oppressive rule of the Greeks.
May this month truly be a month of thanksgiving and redemption for the entire Jewish people, with the coming of Moshiach, NOW.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
One of the loyal chasidim of Rebbe Menachem Mendel, who was known as the Tzemach Tzedek, was a successful merchant in the city of Petersburg. Every year he would travel to the great fair which was held in Nizhni-Novgorod to make his purchases. He made it an annual practice to first visit Lubavitch to see his rebbe.
While in Lubavitch he drank in the vibrant atmosphere of the Rebbe's court, and listened to words of Torah which would serve to enrich his spiritual life for the rest of the year. Then, he would make a detour and continue on to the town of Dobromishl. In that town lived the old rabbi who had been his teacher many years before. This old rabbi looked forward to the yearly visit of his former pupil, enjoying the lively company and the stories his guest brought from the Rebbe's court. It wasn't every day that he had guests, and it was a happy event in the old man's life.
One year the merchant's plans for his yearly circuit through Lubavitch were disrupted. One of his biggest customers had trouble raising the money for his usual order, and the merchant was forced to postpone his departure. Finally, he received payment, and with his business now in order, he was able to set off. Even though the fair was well under way, the merchant couldn't imagine missing his yearly visit to the Rebbe, and he headed, as usual, to Lubavitch.
The merchant was invigorated by the time he spent with the Tzemach Tzedek, and after a few days he prepared to continue on his trip. By this time he was becoming concerned about the business days he had lost at the fair, and he wondered if perhaps he should skip his usual visit to his old teacher. He felt guilt about not seeing the old rabbi, but figured that would be the only way to save time.
When he was about to take his leave from the Rebbe he consulted him about his decision. The Tzemach Tzedek answered him, "Since it has always been your custom to visit your teacher it is not proper to change now."
The merchant took his Rebbe's counsel to heart and headed immediately to Dobromishl where he was warmly received by his old teacher. The old man's joy couldn't be contained as he rushed about his tiny kitchen heating up his samovar and setting out a plate of warm bread and butter. The merchant begged his teacher not to bother, as he had to be on his way after the afternoon prayers, but the old man would not forego this pleasure.
As the merchant was completing his prayers, the sky darkened and soon the village was pelted with a fierce downpour. His desire to finally get to the Nizhni-Novgorod fair had become so intense that the merchant was prepared to continue his journey in spite of the weather. The old rabbi implored him to stay overnight, since the local roads became thick with mud after a heavy rain. With one look outside, the merchant realized that it would be impossible to continue and so, he reluctantly agreed to stay.
A next day brought fair weather, but the merchant awoke feeling very ill. His head throbbed and he felt as if a fire burned in his eyes. A doctor was summoned from the nearby town of Orsha, and he diagnosed the illness to be typhus. The old rebbe sent a message to the merchant's family requesting help in caring for the sick man. And in addition, a letter was sent to the Rebbe in Lubavitch, asking that he pray for the merchant. The man lay ill in the old rabbi's house for close to two months before he recovered enough to leave for home.
But first he went to Lubavitch to present the Tzemach Tzedek with his grievance. With tears running from his eyes the merchant entered the Rebbe's study and in a voice choked with emotion asked why the Rebbe had advised him to go visit his old teacher. Why, if he hadn't gone there and exposed himself to the terrible rain storm and caught a chill, he wouldn't have become so dangerously ill. So why had the Rebbe given him such advice?
The Rebbe looked at his distraught chasid and replied: "There is a teaching in the Talmud which says that 'A man's legs may be depended upon to take him wherever he is called to be.' This means that a man's feet will carry him to that place where he is destined to die, no matter where that is. But this verse may also be interpreted to mean that a man's feet will carry him to a place where there is someone to pray for him. Be grateful and know that your very life was saved by the prayers of your old rebbe who entreated G-d on your behalf. He was able to intercede for you and save your life."
Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you (Gen. 26:3)
The Torah uses the word "sojourn" instead of "dwell" to teach us that one must always consider oneself a temporary resident of this world.
"The Shechina (G-dly presence) does not move away from one who considers himself a stranger in this world," we are taught. The second part of G-d's promise, "I will be with you," will be fulfilled when Jacob thinks of himself in this manner.
And they departed from him in peace (Gen. 26:31)
Even after having partaken of a meal with the tzadik, Isaac, Avimelech still departed convinced of his own self-importance. This is something that a Jew would have been unable to do. A Jew, when in the presence of a tzadik, realizes his own shortcomings and is humbled.
And it came to pass when Isaac was old, and his eyes were too dim to see (Gen. 27:1)
Rashi explains that Isaac's eyesight was ruined by the smoke of the incense offered up by Esau's wives to their idols. But why was he the only one in the household to be adversely affected by the smoke? "Isaac was too pure to behold evil," our Sages comment. He was therefore unable to withstand witnessing the idolatry of his daughters-in-law.
And Isaac called Jacob and blessed him (Gen. 28:1)
Ever since he acquired from his father the blessing intended for Esau, Jacob was embarrassed to be in his presence, since he had received the blessing through trickery and deceit. Isaac, therefore, called his son to him, which conveyed the message that he bore him no grudge. He even added to his previous blessings.
He summoned his older son, Esau. (Gen. 27:1)
Isaac intended to reveal to Esau the day Moshiach would come, in the hope that it would cause him to leave his evil ways. At that very moment G-d hid it from Isaac and said, "In the future I will conceal this information from Jacob's sons because they aren't deserving, and I should let it be known to this wicked man, Esau?"
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)