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The young child returns home from school eager to tell his mother about what he learned. With great excitement he describes his health class where he learned about the four basic food groups, the need to eat balanced meals, etc., etc. Nearly out of breath, and with the innocence only a child can muster, the boy holds up a caramel candy triumphantly for his mother to see. "Look at the ingredients, Mommy," he says enthusiastically. "It has milk, which has calcium and protein. It has sugar--that's a carbohydrate. It has corn syrup--that's a vegetable. And it has vegetable oil, that's also a vegetable." With a twinkle in his eye, the boy asks, "Can I have caramel candy whenever I want since it's such healthy food?"
Whoever said, "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing" didn't know the half of it. Because learning only part of something allows a person to make all kinds of errors, errors which are often compounded by our desire to be comfortable and use the knowledge that we have acquired for our own personal benefit. Yes, too little knowledge, especially when combined with our own preconceived notions, can be dangerous.
Let's take some common examples that we've all heard--or said ourselves--about Judaism: Women are second-class citizens; Jewish law is outdated and without compassion; Judaism is not spiritual like Eastern religions; living according to the dictates of the Torah is restrictive.
All of these misconceptions stem from being in situations where only a part, but not all of the picture is presented, where a little, but not all (or enough) knowledge is garnered to facilitate coming to an informed decision.
So, who would you go to get a look at the total picture? How can you make sure you don't start doing the Jewish equivalent of calling caramels "healthy food"?
Certainly not from someone like the United States Department of Agriculture. The USDA recently came out with a new, pyramid-shape diagram depicting, according to their studies, how much we need of the four basic food groups. Experts at Consumer Union, as detailed in Consumer Reports, assert that the USDA was very much influenced in their findings and subsequent report by the beef industry and the milk industry. They therefore allow for much more fat in the diet than is commonly considered healthy.
To expand your Jewish knowledge so that you can make accurate statements, choices and decisions, go to Jewish experts. Try to find experts who have your best interest in mind, sort of a Jewish Consumer Union. Learn from people who practice what they preach, or are at least trying their darndest to do so. Make sure that the knowledge the "experts" give you--unlike the USDA--has no political overtones and that it comes from a truly authentic source. And make sure to eat your broccoli!
As we begin this week's Torah portion, Vayeitzei, we notice that the Torah focuses on Jacob's spiritual service which is done while in an undesirable environment. Jacob is forced to leave the land of Israel and go to Charan, a city whose very name is associated with the arousal of G-d's wrath. He is forced to work for the deceitful Laban, and marries and establishes his family, laying the foundation for the Jewish people of all future generations. Even after leaving Charan, Jacob's path is fraught with difficulty when he must confront his brother Esau.
At first glance, it seems unusual that the Torah would concentrate on these aspects of his life instead of centering on Jacob's activities in the sphere of holiness. But the narrative of Jacob's difficulties is included in the Torah precisely because "the deeds of the Patriarchs are a sign for their descendants." There is much for us to learn and emulate from Jacob's trials and tribulations.
The Torah states: "He (Jacob) encountered the place. He slept there because the sun set, and he took from the stones of the place and put them around his head. And he lay down in that place."
Analogously, the concealment of G-d in this material world causes the Jew to "lie down." When a person lies down, his head and his feet are on the same level. In contrast, when a person stands, and even when he sits, his head--his intellectual faculties, are raised above the rest of the body. When a person lies down, all the parts of the body are on the same level.
As applied to us, the concealment of G-dliness in the physical world, particularly in our generation, which immediately precedes the coming of Moshiach and the Messianic Era, causes the revelation of a person's conscious powers to be hindered to the extent that one's head and feet are on the same level.
Yet there is a positive aspect to lying down as well. When Jacob chose that site to lie down and sleep, it was the first time he had slept in many years. We are taught that during the 14 years he spent learning in the House of Study of Shem and Eber, and likewise, during the 20 years he worked for Laban, Jacob did not sleep at night but instead read from the book of Psalms. Also, that very place where he chose to sleep was none other than the future site where the Holy Temple would be built in generations to come.
Although lying down would usually imply a descent, a lowering of the level of one's higher, spiritual powers, it can also be interpreted in a positive manner, for the revelation of G-d's essence is above all particular qualities and is simultaneously reflected in them. In relation to the greatness of G-d, head and feet are on the same plane.
This level of connection to the infinite can continue even after a person arises and stands on his feet. Although his conscious powers assume control, he will still recognize the fundamental equality which stems from a connection to G-d's essence. Thus, the Jew confirms that not only can the material never obscure the spiritual, and in fact, is a vehicle for its expression, but he can reach a level above all limitations, establishing a unity between the material and the spiritual.
Adapted from a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe last year this week.
THE UNINVITED DANCER
by Chani Brod
Reb Yechezkel owned a kosher butcher shop. His clientele came to buy meat from near and far, for they trusted his integrity and knew him as a G-d-fearing individual.
With each purchase, the lucky customers received a free gift--one of this sagacious butcher's abundant stories, trimmed and spiced with his wonderful sense of humor.
His feet being as nimble and graceful as his words, he was also invited by formal invitation as well as repeated oral invitations, to attend all of his customers' simchas. Reb Yechezkel did not disappoint them! At each wedding he danced with such all-encompassing joy, that it was simply contagious. Soon, the attending guests, the wall, floors, and ceiling all joined in his dizzy dancing, and the beautiful wedding was greatly enhanced. He could have easily made a successful living from this talent, but he refused to accept any compensation for the sacred mitzva of making others happy, especially a bride and groom.
When one of his regular customers suddenly disappeared from the neighborhood without a trace, Reb Yechezkel was quite concerned about the man's welfare. This man also left an overdue balance of five hundred dollars.
One day the butcher received a short letter from this customer, stating that he was compelled to leave due to unfortunate personal circumstances. He added that he would pay his outstanding balance as soon as he could. Weeks passed into months and Reb Yechezkel filed the account into his "unpaid" memory file. Times were difficult for him financially, for he had been in business for just a few short years and had a family to feed. But how could he pressure a fellow Jew who was "down in his luck?"
And then, there was the wedding.
The music played some unfamiliar song. The musicians themselves seemed to be drifting off to sleep from the monotonous tune. Reb Yechezkel tried unsuccessfully to change the tempo of the music by dancing with extra vigor and waving with his arms, but to no avail. After a while he left the wedding hall to make a phone call in the downstairs lobby.
As he descended the stairs, he noticed another wedding taking place in the center floor of the same building. His heart was stirred by the lively tune that the band was playing. As if drawn by the violin strings and piano keys, the uninvited dancer suddenly found himself in the center of the wedding guests. On and on the music played, trying to keep time with Reb Yechezkel's quick movements. By now his head, hands, feet and body were dancing with alarming speed.
"Who is he?" one guest whispered.
"Why haven't we noticed him before?" another man questioned.
"He must have been hired to dance!" a third guest declared.
"A professional with one white handkerchief as his sole prop," mused another guest.
When the music stopped and the uninvited dancer with it, the spectators sighed with disappointment. "Encore, encore!" came shouts from the wedding hall.
Suddenly, one of the wedding guests pushed his way gently through the crowd and approached Reb Yechezkel.
"Sholom Aleichem, Reb Yid," he said warmly.
"Aleichem Sholom," answered Reb Yechezkel with the customary reply. "With whom do I have the privilege of speaking? I have just danced a long dance and it seems my memory is hazy."
"No, no. We have never met before, but I recognized the 'dancing butcher' from the way my brother described you to me. He lived in your neighborhood and purchased meat and poultry from your butcher shop. You may recall, he left suddenly with an overdue balance of $500," said the man.
"Certainly I remember. Your brother was a good customer who unfortunately left due to his difficult financial circumstances. I hope things are looking up for him," the butcher answered.
"My brother is doing somewhat better, but as I am, thank G-d, wealthy, he has asked me repeatedly to drive out to your store and pay his bill. I meant to drive to your neighborhood several times, but it is so far, I haven't had an opportunity to pay you. Now you have 'danced' right into my hands and I will be delighted to pay off my brother's debt."
Reb Yechezkel wiped the sweat off of his perspiring brow with his white handkerchief. He suddenly broke out in a cold sweat. How amazing was Divine Providence!
Chani Brod teaches Jewish studies in Brooklyn.
A FRIEND AMONG US
This Sunday night, Nov. 29, at 7:30, you'll have a chance to ask all the questions that the movie didn't answer. The historical and philosophical background of the origins of the Chasidic movement and "Jewish Mysticism" will help dispel many common stereotypes. For more information call the Chabad Center of Northwest New Jersey at (201) 625-1525.
MONEY, RELIGION, POLITICS
Money, religion and politics. The challenges they pose are as old as time and it's going to take more than a new government to make real changes. A three-part seminar discussing these issues was hosted by Machon Chana Jewish Women's College. Each Sunday session presented Talmudic, Chasidic and personal perspectives. For topics of future seminars call Machon Chana at (718) 735-0217.
SPECIAL TEEN PROGRAM
Internationally reknowned Bais Chana Women's Institute in Minnesota is offering its unique live-and-learn Jewish experience for young women aged 15 - 19 this winter. The special teen program runs from December 22 through December 27. For more information contact Bais Chana at (612) 698-3858 or their New York office at (718) 756-2591.
THE WEEK IN REVIEW
"The Week in Review" is a two-page publication based on the works and talks of the Rebbe, shlita. Written in clear, concise, flowing English, subscribers receive this publication via fax or the postal service. The Week in Review contains an essay of Chasidic thought, a story told by the Rebbe in the course of a gathering, and an idea from the weekly Torah portion. For subscription information call (718) 774-6448, fax (718) 774-7FAX, or write to Vaad Hanochos Hatemimim, 788 Eastern Pkwy., Bklyn, N.Y. 11213.
RABBI AND SYNAGOGUE: THEIR AIM AND PURPOSE
The Rebbe's response to a woman's letter
I am in receipt of your letter, and I was subsequently also informed of the telephone conversation which you had with our office.
Needless to say, I am gratified to note that you are taking such a profound interest in the affairs of the congregation and in the functions of the rabbi and of spiritual leadership in general. No doubt this interest finds expression to the utmost in helping strengthen the congregation, in particular, in elevating the synagogue, so that it be imbued with the proper spirit causing it to reflect its essential function, that is, that it be a place where everyone can feel its holiness. That it be a synagogue where everyone would be conscious of the dictum: "Know before Whom you are standing." Such a synagogue is truly a source of inspiration and Divine blessings, both spiritually and materially.
You mention some matters which, in your opinion, would enhance the leadership of the rabbi. In the light of your description of the situation, it is surely unnecessary to emphasize that the ultimate aim of spiritual leadership is to influence the daily conduct of the members, to bring it more fully in accord with the Torah and mitzvot. Now, in a situation where the rabbi is a relatively young man, and he has among his congregants older members, he will often be more successful if he does not impose his leadership too heavily, but rather develop it gradually and steadily, in order to create a situation where the members will themselves come to the decision as to how to conduct themselves, both in matters of the congregation, as well as in the privacy of their homes. Obviously, with the cooperation of the members, both men and women, the results of the right policy will be realized all the sooner. The rabbi himself is, of course, the best judge as to the most effective approach to take in developing his leadership and extending his influence.
You are, of course, quite right that a synagogue should be open whenever possible. As a matter of fact, as my father-in-law of saintly memory expressed himself, a synagogue should be open not only all day, but both day and night. For in a Jewish congregation, there should be members who study the Torah also at night, and when the Torah is studied in the synagogue where the prayers are recited, a special significance is added to this study. On the other hand, in view of what has been said above, the rabbi has to consider the prevailing circumstances and factors, and he must decide how the interests of the members would be served best, whether by sitting alone in the synagogue, or by spending that time in some other way. He must also consider what impression his lonesome vigil in the synagogue might have on the congregants, if his presence may be needed somewhere else, and in some other activity.
Finally, let me also say that there is no perfection in the world, and that every human being who takes over a new position in a new place, under new circumstances, requires a certain period of time to adjust himself and lay the foundations for a fruitful and growing activity. This applies also to rabbis. And judging by your letter, it is very possible that the rabbi is using his discretion to good advantage to ensure successful spiritual leadership.
I am confident that your interest in the affairs of the synagogue and congregation, and your participation in their growth and development, will be a source of Divine blessings to you and yours, and may G-d grant you success.
Why is the "bima," the elevated platform where the Torah is read, located in the center of the synagogue?
The bima is in the center for numerous reasons:
- It is symbolic of the altar which was in the center of the Holy Temple;
- Since it is primarily used for reading the Torah, its central location makes it easier for everyone to hear;
- The Holy Temple stood in the center of the universe to diffuse its spiritual light throughout the world. So, too, the bima where the Torah is read is in the center to convey that its teachings should radiate to the entire world;
- It reminds us of the encampment of the Jews in the desert, when the 12 Tribes formed a square around the Tabernacle;
- To indicate that the Torah belongs equally to all those present.
This Friday is the birthday and yartzeit of Rabbi Dov Ber, the second Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch. An interesting anecdote is told about Rabbi Dov Ber as a young boy.
Once, when the young Dov Ber returned from cheder, he visited the room where three of his father's chasidim were waiting to be received in a private audience by the Rebbe.
The young boy overheard the elder chasidim discussing business. One chasid asked the other two, "Why are you so downcast?"
Replied the two chasidim in unison, "Times are bad and business is slow."
When Rabbi Dov Ber heard this, he asked cleverly, "Why do you need to ask them the reason for "their sadness" ("atzveihem" in Hebrew)? Doesn't it say in Psalms, "Atzabeihem--their idols--are silver and gold"? Thus, Rabbi Dov Ber punned, their sadness is from silver and gold.
On this subject, it would be worthwhile to quote a few lines from a letter of the Rebbe, shlita, to a person who was anxious about his livelihood:
"All the difficulties encountered in life are only trials and tests of a passing nature. To be sure, the question of livelihood is one of the most difficult tests--nevertheless, G-d does not subject one to a greater test than he can withstand, as our Rabbis expressed it, `According to the camel, so is its load.' Trust in G-d is a vessel and channel to receive G-d's blessings, apart from the fact that such confidence is good for one's health, disposition, and therefore is also a natural means to the desired end... In regard to the saying of our Sages that `Life is like a turning wheel,' to which my father-in-law remarked that "When a point on the wheel reaches the lowest degree, it is bound to turn upwards again."
May all of our wheels be on the upswing, now and forever more.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
The journey of the Mitteler Rebbe, Reb Dov Ber, to Haditch was unusually somber. The Rebbe, on his way to pray at the grave of his father, Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi, was not merely meditative, but reclusive. He not only refrained from delivering the accustomed Chasidic discourses for which his disciples thirsted, but he showed no interest or desire to converse at all with the chasidim who formed his entourage. When he wished to commit some of his Torah thoughts to paper he was unable to do so, and he indicated to his close followers that he felt the approach of some impending harsh judgement from Above.
He even intimated that he felt his own end approaching. He related to his chasidim that at the time of the arrest and imprisonment of his father, Rav Shneur Zalman, two alternatives had been offered from Above: suffering or death. Rav Shneur Zalman had chosen suffering. "It seems that he left the other for me," concluded the somber Reb Dov Ber.
When the entourage arrived at Haditch the Rebbe prayed at great length at his father's grave. He also delivered a number of Chasidic discourses in the study hall which had been erected at the site. One day, after having prayed for many hours, the Rebbe appeared to his followers, his face beaming with happiness. "My father has given me his promise that they will release me from my position as Rebbe," he told them.
The chasidim had long been aware of the Rebbe's desire to journey to the Land of Israel, and they understood his words to mean that he had finally decided to make the journey. "Rebbe," they cried out, "how can you leave us like that, like sheep without a shepherd?" But the Rebbe just turned to them and said, "Don't worry, you will have my son-in-law, Reb Menachem Mendel, and he will be a faithful leader for you."
When the visit ended, the party began the homeward journey, passing through the town of Niezhin. But upon his arrival, the Rebbe fell ill and was unable to continue travelling. The most experienced physicians that could be found were called in, but none could cure the Rebbe.
They ordered complete bedrest, and even proscribed the Rebbe from delivering his customary talks to his chasidim. This advice was the most bitter for the Rebbe. For the very essence of a Rebbe is to give of himself to his chasidim. The relationship between Rebbe and chasid is a symbiotic one in which both benefit physically as well as spiritually.
His condition deteriorated steadily, until he finally lapsed into unconsciousness, evincing no apparent life force. The doctors were at a loss, when one of them said to another, "Do you want to see something very strange? If we permit the Rebbe to deliver a discourse to his followers, you will see him regain his vitality."
The scene which followed was truly amazing, as the Rebbe, fully vibrant, sat in his bed and spoke to the chasidim who crowded the house to hear his words. In the course of the talk, the Rebbe said, "Now I will tell you secrets of the Torah which have never been revealed."But just as he was about to continue, a chasid leaning forward on a bench behind the Rebbe fell. The tumult interrupted the Rebbe's thoughts and he remarked, "It seems that Heaven doesn't wish these things to be revealed."
The Rebbe's condition worsened on the night of the ninth of Kislev to the point that he could not be revived. People flocked to the house to be near the Rebbe. Suddenly the Rebbe sat up in bed, smiling and said, "I heard a voice saying, 'What need has a soul like this for this world?'"
The Rebbe requested that he be dressed in white garments. And then, for the first time since he had been so ill, he delivered a discourse in which he praised the Jewish people for doing mitzvot with such devotion. He bade his family and chasidim to be joyful, for joy breaks through all boundaries and bitterness. Then he continued revealing deep Chasidic philosophy. All those present were overjoyed to see that their Rebbe appeared to have recovered his strength.
The Rebbe then turned to one of his disciples and told him, "While I am speaking, watch out that I don't fall asleep. If I do, just touch me with your hand and I will wake up."
He continued delivering his discourse in a greatly heightened mental state, asking several times whether it was yet dawn. He expounded upon the words, "For with You is the source of life," and when he had finished saying the word "life" his soul left his body.
It is seen by great tzadikim that the days of their lives are measured exactly to the day. The Mitteler Rebbe passed away, as did Moses, on the exact day of his birth, thus indicating complete fulfillment. Rebbe Dov Ber was 54 years old when he passed away, exactly the same age as was his father, the Alter Rebbe when he was incarcerated in Petersburg and agreed to accept the yoke of suffering upon himself.
And Jacob lifted up his feet ("raglav") (Gen. 29:1)
The Hebrew word for foot, "regel" is related to the word meaning habit, "hergel." Jacob "lifted up" and elevated his daily, mundane and habitual actions and transformed them into holiness. "If you turn away your foot because of the Sabbath," said the Prophet Isaiah, "I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father." If you make an effort to rise above and transform your baser instincts in order to bring holiness into the world, you will be rewarded by G-d for your actions.
(Baal Shem Tov)
And your seed shall be as the dust of the earth (Gen. 28:14)
The Jewish people is likened here to the dust of the earth, although sometimes the Torah compares the Jews to sand, and sometimes to the stars above. We learn a lesson from each of these different expressions. Stars are extremely far apart from one another in the heavens and never come into contact with each other. Grains of sand, on the other hand, are in close proximity to the other grains, but do not stick and adhere to each other. Dust, however, attaches to other particles and forms a cohesive mass. The Jewish people will receive G-d's blessings when they are as unified and undivided as dust.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita)
And Jacob went on his way (Gen. 32:2)
Every Jew, no matter who he is, is entrusted with the special mission of going from "strength to strength" in the path of the Divine King. We learn this from the above passage. The name "Jacob" comes from the word meaning "ankle," symbolizing that this mission applies equally to all Jews, as one ankle is indistinguishable from another. The word "went" teaches us that a Jew must always be on the move, growing and ascending higher and higher in his service of G-d. "On his way" indicates the way of G-d's Torah and its laws, for which purpose an individual's soul is brought down into this world.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita)
Reb Moshe of Rozvidoz was once discussing with a group of his chasidim the different possible dates up to the year 6,000 (the time allotted to the existence of this world), when Moshiach might come. "Believe me," he said, "that even if the year 5,999 comes around and we reach sunset of the last day of that year, right before the last minute, and Moshiach has not yet come, I will not despair, G-d forbid. I will confidently await his coming."