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Have you looked in the mirror recently? Does it tell you you're the fairest of them all, or that those laugh lines are becoming permanent wrinkles? Maybe it's saying, "Time for a vacation." Or perhaps you're one of those people who actually tapes messages to your mirror like, "Say something nice to someone you love today."
"Your fellow is your mirror," taught the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement. "If your own face is clean, the image you perceive will also be flawless. But should you look upon another and see a blemish, it is your own imperfection that you are encountering--you are being shown what it is that you must correct within yourself."
The basis for this outlook is found in another of the Baal Shem Tov's teachings: "Nothing is by chance. Every event in a person's life is predetermined and purposeful, and an integral part of his divinely ordained mission in life."
So a person never "chances" to witness anything--there is a reason for the experience, a reason which is closely tied to his own path in life. If Divine Providence causes him to see his fellow's flaw, it is to open his eyes to a failing of his own. By engaging in an honest and thorough evaluation of his own character and behavior, he will find that he, too, suffers from the same lack in one form or another.
Ultimately, this is the only way to bring a person to recognize and deal with his own imperfections. A person's affinity towards his own self prevents him from owning up to his deficiencies and causes him to find all sorts of justifications for his misdeeds. Even when they are obvious to those around him, he simply fails to see them through the obliterating haze of self-love. Yet the selfsame trait or act, so innocent and justifiable in himself, appears in all its dreadfulness when witnessed in others; here he cannot but be appalled at the depths to which his fellow has sunk. So the most effective way to open a person's eyes to the negative in himself is to show him what is wrong with his fellow and to then tell him that he, too, suffers an identical or similar problem. If he truly wishes to improve himself, if he truly searches his heart until he discovers what it is that the Alm-ghty was pointing out to him by causing him to see what he saw, his self-love will no longer obscure the truth after it has been so glaringly presented to him in the life of his fellow.
Still, one may ask, a person's mission in life involves not only the development and perfection of his own self and character, but also his responsibility toward his fellow man. So why must he conclude that he is being shown his fellow's failing as a message concerning his own personal state? Perhaps he is being prompted by Divine providence to rebuke and rehabilite his fellow?
To answer this question, we must take a closer look at Divine Providence as taught by the Baal Shem Tov. Particular Divine Providence means that not only is every event purposeful, but also its every aspect and nuance. A person can see his fellow do something wrong, but not react in a judgemental manner. In such a case, he is aware of the fact requiring correction, but his knowledge is accompanied by understanding and compassion--he realizes what he must do for his fellow, but without sensing his fellow's guilt and culpability. So were he to be shown his fellow's deficiency for the sole reason that he can do something about it, then this is all he would perceive--the fact of the problem and what he could do to resolve it. To also sense his fellow's guilt and lowliness is completely unnecessary--on the contrary, it only hinders his ability to reach out to him and work with him in a loving and tolerent manner.
So if in addition to this he also sees and feels his fellow's shame and degradation, he must conclude that also this aspect of the experience serves a prupose. Divine providence has provided him with a mirror with which to discern his own problem.
Reprinted from V.H.H.
This week's Torah portion, Vayishlach, tells us of Jacob's eventual return to Israel after the many years he spent working for Laban, and after the fateful confrontation with his brother Esau on the way back. The Torah states: "And Jacob came whole to the city of Shechem." Rashi explains that Jacob was sound and "whole" in three ways--sound in body, for his limp had healed; perfect in means, as his wealth was still intact; and whole in Torah, for he had not forgotten any of his vast Torah knowledge during his absence.
It would certainly seem that the Torah could have found a more direct way of saying that Jacob emerged unscathed by his experience with Laban. What are we to infer from the Torah's somewhat indirect way of telling us this? Furthermore, in light of the fact that G-d had already promised Jacob that He would protect him from both Laban and Esau, why does the Torah need to tell us that Jacob was indeed unharmed?
Rather, the words "and Jacob came whole" do not refer only to Jacob's escape from the cunning of Laban and the wrath of Esau, but refer to a different type of wholeness entirely.
Our Sages taught that the story of Jacob's sojourn with Laban symbolizes the saga of the Jewish people in exile. Jacob's success in overcoming his own personal experience with Laban has served as an example and source of inspiration for us, his grandchildren, as we pass the long years of spiritual deprivation it was decreed that we suffer prior to the coming of Moshiach.
Not only are the nations of the world unable to destroy the eternity of the Jewish people (just as Jacob was untouched by the schemes of both Laban and Esau), but we are assured by the Torah that the Jewish nation will eventually emerge "whole," in the same three senses of the word, when our exile is over.
"Whole in body"--Although our present exile is characterized by terrible trials and tribulations, their purpose is to arouse the Jew's innate resources and desire for self-sacrifice. G-d has promised that despite all our suffering, the Jewish people will be perfect and uninjured after Moshiach comes to establish the Messianic era.
"Whole in means"--Just as Jacob amassed a great fortune while in the employ of Laban, so too shall the Jews amass great wealth during their years of hardship. The whole purpose of exile is for us to utilize the world's physical assets in the service of G-d, elevating the sparks of holiness which are to be found in even the most lowly and mundane objects we encounter.
Furthermore, we are assured that all the time and energy which was spent in the pursuit of perfecting our worldly affairs will not have been wasted, and will also be elevated and transformed into holiness with the coming of Moshiach.
"Whole in Torah"--Lastly, we are assured that the Jewish people will not lose any of their former spiritual greatness and love of Torah. Just as Jacob's long years of toil did not cause him to forget what he had learned, so too will the Jewish people eventually triumph, untouched by the stark realities of our struggles in exile.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
U.S. MARINE--CHASIDIC STYLE
First Lieutenant Leib Schaeffer
by Yaakov Silverstein
Jewish First Lieutenants in the United States Marine Corps are rare. But would you ever imagine that there's a Chasidic First Lieutenant? Meet Leib Schaeffer, a personable, gregarious leader, and your imagination becomes a reality!
Raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Leib's involvement in Judaism was limited to Chanuka observance and Sunday school. After high school, Leib went to Villanova University, a Catholic institution, on a football scholarship and immediately joined the Marine Corps Officer Program. He founded the Jewish Student Association at Villanova, partially in response to the heavily anti-Israel feelings on campus. Leib organized 100 of the 170 Jews there (out of a student population of 15,000) to fight back--with knowledge. "The purpose of the Jewish Student Association was to arm Jews with knowledge as to what they were going to confront in the classrooms."
In 1989, Leib graduated from Villanova as a history and geography major and a commissioned officer in the Marines. He went on to Baptist-affiliated Mississippi College School of Law. There, he felt an even stronger void in his Jewishness. "Just being politically supportive of Israel wasn't enough," he recalls. He read books by Meir Kahane and became aware of another aspect of Judaism, "that in order to be fulfilled as a Jew, in addition to political support of Israel, a Jew must accept the Torah as Divinely inspired."
While on a trip home to Santa Monica, California, where his parents had since moved, Leib encountered a Kahane supporter who offered him a subscription to the Jewish Press. "I found a new world in those pages and insights into Judaism in so many of the columns. I read it cover to cover every week." The Jewish Press was also Leib's introduction to Chabad. "Through various articles and Rabbi Shmuel Butman's weekly column I found out that Chabad is very tolerant and very education-oriented."
Back in Santa Monica on vacation in 1990, Leib contacted the local Chabad Center run by Rabbi Avrohom Levitansky. There he met Yoske Levin. "He came over to me in shul and started chatting, dressed from top to bottom like he came out of the 1800's, but with a bright yellow tie. I was intrigued, because he was friendly and I could absolutely relate to his modern personality." Leib's interest in Judaism accelerated.
Though Leib was loaded down with his law school curriculum, he started reading and learning about Yiddishkeit and Chasidut "with a voracious appetite." Each Friday he drove nearly three hours to the Chabad House in New Orleans to spend Shabbat there.
Because of his new interest in Judaism, Leib tried to find ways to infuse everything he did with a Jewish touch. For his legal thesis, he chose the topic of The Seven Noachide Laws. He picked as his supervising professor a woman who was a "Born Again Christian" who had continuously tried to missionize to him. "When she handed the thesis back to me she had tears in her eyes. She told me she finally understood, after 59 years as a Christian scholar, why Jews at the time of the Nazarene never accepted him as the Messiah." By the time he graduated from law school in May, 1992, Leib felt he was ready to fully integrate Judaism into his life.
It was at this time that Leib came to New York to visit Yoske Levin, who had recently moved to Crown Heights. While there, Leib wandered into Hadar Hatorah, a yeshiva for Jewish men with little or no Jewish education, and found the yeshiva's twice-yearly YeshivaCation program in session. YeshivaCation, a ten-day intensive introductory learning seminar (also offered by Machon Chana, for women) was just what Leib was looking for. "For the first time, I was in an intensive environment of yeshiva learning. I was uplifted. It felt like I was sitting down with my great-grandfather, immersed in what Jewish people have been learning for centuries."
YeshivaCation was a beginning. Leib studied for his Bar exam for the first part of the summer and attended Hadar Hatorah's summer program in the Catskills during the second half. He is currently enrolled in Hadar Hatorah's full-time yeshiva program.
Leib believes that continuing his intensive Jewish education is a must before he returns to the Marine Corps. "In order to be an observant Jew in the Marine Corps, I need the environment of yeshiva and Torah studies to help me learn to live a Jewish life--and, G-d willing, to build a Jewish family in the future.
"My goal as a Marine Corps lawyer and infantry officer is to infuse the beauty and eternal truth of Torah Judaism with the ideals of the Marine Corps. In addition, I hope to have the opportunity to share my knowledge with other Jews in the Marine Corps."
Editor's note: Mazal Tov, Leib, we just got the good news that you passed your Bar exam!
For the fourth year, a special Chanuka broadcast will take place on Sunday, Dec. 20 at 3:00 p.m. (est). By way of a simultaneous intercontinental satellite, "Chanuka Live" will connect Jewish communities throughout the world. Lubavitch World Headquarters in New York, Moscow, Paris, and Jerusalem will all be live on the broadcast. To be a part of it and find out your local cable or T.V. station carrying Chanuka live call (718) 771-2100 or 1-800-LUBAVITCH. Produced by American Friends of Lubavitch.
EXILE TO REDEMPTION
The lastest release from Sichos in English is From Exile to Redemption, a compilation of concepts about Moshiach and the Messianic Era written in a concise, punchy style. The 240-page book is available at local Jewish bookstores or from Sichos in English. Just send $15 to: SIE, 788 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11213.
THE SPIRIT OF THE LAW
A new radio program on WEVD in New York began this past month. Every Monday, at 6:30 p.m., 1050 on your AM dial, Rabbi Aaron Raskin of Congregation B'nai Avraham gives an illuminating comparison of American jurisprudence and Torah law. The show features a discussion of a legal issue that affects the Jewish community. Legal scholars analyze the positions and Rabbi Raskin considers how Jewish law treats the problem. For more info call (718) 596-0069.
GOING DOWN TO COME UP
From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe written in connection with the Day of Liberation (19th of Kislev) of the founder of Chabad, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, author of the Tanya. His release from imprisonment for the dissemination of Chabad established freedom of thought and practice for the ideology and way of life of Chabad Chasidut in particular, and of general Chasidut as a whole.
Our Sages said that "Each and every soul was in the presence of His Divine Majesty before coming down to this earth," and that "The souls are hewn from under the Seat of Glory." These sayings emphasize the essential nature of the soul, its holiness and purity, and its being completely divorced from anything material and physical; the soul itself, by its very nature, is not subject to any material desires or temptations, which arise only from the physical body and "animal soul."
Nevertheless, it was the Creator's Will that the soul--which is "truly a `part' of the Divine Above," should descend into the physical and coarse world and be confined within, and united with, a physical body for scores of years, in a state which is absolutely abhorrent of its very nature. All this, for the purpose of a Divine mission which the soul has to fulfill: to purify and `spiritualize' the physical body and the related physical environment by permeating them with the Light of G-d, so as to make this world an abode for the Shechina [the Divine Presence]. This can be done only through a life of Torah and mitzvot.
When the soul fulfills this mission, all the transient pain and suffering connected with the soul's descent and life on this earth are not only justified, but infinitely outweighed by the great reward and everlasting bliss which the soul enjoys thereafter.
From the above one can easily appreciate the extent of the tragedy of disregarding the soul's mission on earth. For in doing so one condemns the soul to a term of useless suffering not compensated for, nor nullified by that everlasting happiness which G-d had intended for it. Even when there are moments of religious activity in the study of the Torah and the practice of the mitzvot, it is sad to contemplate how often such activity is tinted by the lack of real enthusiasm and inner joy, not realizing that these are the activities which justify existence.
Aside from missing the vital point through failure of taking advantage of the opportunity to fulfill G-d's Will, thus forfeiting the everlasting benefits to be derived from it, it is contrary to sound reason to choose that side of life which accentuates the enslavement and degradation of the soul. For while rejecting the good that is inherent in it, namely, the great ascent that is to come from the soul's descent.
It will now become eminently clear what our Sages meant when they said, "No man commits a sin unless he was stricken with temporary insanity." No profound thinking is required to realize that since " life is compulsory," and since the soul which is a "part" of the Divine Above is compelled to descend into "a frame of dust and ashes," the proper thing to do is to make the most of the soul's sojourn on earth; only a life, in which every aspect is permeated by the Torah and mitzvot, makes this possible.
It is also abundantly clear that since G-d, who is the essence of goodness, compels the soul to descend from its "sublime heights to the lowest depths," for the purpose of the study of the Torah and the fulfillment of the mitzvot--how great is the value of Torah and mitzvot.
Furthermore, the descent of the soul for the purpose of ascent shows that there is no other way to obtain the objective except through the soul's descent to live on this earth. If there were an easier way, G-d would not compel the soul to descend from the sublime heights of the Seat of Glory down to this nether world, the lowest of all worlds.
For only here, in the lowest depths, can the soul attain its highest ascent, higher even than the angels, and as our Sages say, "The righteous precede the foremost angels."
Reflecting upon the greatness of the Torah and mitzvot, specifically pertaining to this life, reflecting also that the Torah and mitzvot are the only means to attain the soul's perfection and the fulfillment of the Divine purpose, one will experience a sense of real joy at his fate and destiny, despite the many difficulties and handicaps, from within and without, which are inevitable on this earth. Only in this way can one live up to the injunction: "serve G-d with joy," which the Baal Shem Tov made one of the foundations of his teachings, and which is expounded at length in Chabad, and stressed by its founder, whose liberation we commemorate on the 19th day of Kislev, in his monumental work, the Tanya (chapters 26 seq., 31 seq.).
I wish to express herewith, my inner wish that every one of us be liberated, with G-d's help and by determined personal effort, from all handicaps which arrest the good and noble in everyone's nature, so that this part of one's nature reign supreme, giving fullest expression to the threefold love: love of our people Israel, love of our Torah, and love of G-d, which are all one.
What is "Chitat"?
Chitat is an acronym for Chumash (the Five Book of Moses), Tehilim (Psalms) and Tanya (the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy). The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe instituted a study schedule which included reading daily from the week's Torah portion with the commentary of Rashi, as it is divided for the Torah reading; a number of chapters of Psalms as apportioned for the days of the month; and a daily passage of Tanya. The word "chitat" is found in Genesis (35:5) in the verse, "A terror (chitat) of G-d was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob."
This coming Monday, Jews around the world will gather for joyous celebrations on "Yud Tet Kislev." Yud Tet Kislev, the 19th of the Hebrew month of Kislev, is the day on which, in 1798, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of the Chabad Chasidic movement, was released from Czarist imprisonment. In a letter written soon after his release from prison, Rabbi Shneur Zalman wrote that he received the good news about his freedom when he was reading the daily portion of Psalms and specifically the verse (55:19): "[G-d] has redeemed my soul in peace from the battle against me, for many were with me."
This was not merely a coincidence, but most assuredly Divine Providence. The Rebbe, shlita, explains the message that this Divine Providence has for each one of us: Everybody is in need of a personal liberation from all the difficulties and hindrances encountered in daily life which hamper the attainment of our goals--both material and spiritual.
Our Sages in the Talmud commented on the above-mentioned verse: "G-d said, 'A person who engages in Torah, and in acts of loving-kindness, and prays with the congregation is regarded by Me as if he redeemed Me and My children from among the nations of the world.'"
In this way, our Sages emphasize that the personal redemption of every Jew, as well as of the Jewish people together with G-d (so to speak), is directly linked with the dissemination of the Torah, acts of benevolence ("duties towards our fellow-Jews"); and prayer ("duties towards G-d").
The arrest of Rabbi Shneur Zalman galvanized his followers into action. They banded together with one spirit and with one goal, that of freeing their rebbe and proceeding with the study and teaching of Chasidut. With no regard for their personal comfort or safety, they gave themselves over with utter dedication and total self-sacrifice to their cause. To that end they formed a central committee to oversee and coordinate all efforts on the Rebbe's behalf. They also ruled that every member of the Chasidic brotherhood be obliged to follow the instructions of the central committee in all particulars, and without question. In addition, they took it upon themselves to maintain all of the institutions which had been originated by the Rebbe.
The committee established a set of guidelines to be applicable to all chasidim until the release of the Rebbe became a reality. They included the imposition of the fast every Monday and Thursday for every person physically able to carry it out; in general, food would be limited to only bread and water throughout the week, with the addition of just one cooked dish on the Sabbath; no new engagements or weddings would be arranged, and those already planned would be celebrated very minimally; every teacher would say the book of Psalms with his pupils and teach them all the details of the false accusations which culminated in the Rebbe's imprisonment. The same would be carried out in each home, as all members of the family discussed the situation and were made completely familiar with all of the particulars.
The Rebbe's household was continuously maintained by financial contributions from the chasidim, and in addition, a list was drawn up detailing all the valuables of each chasid which were made available to help in the cause, as needed.
If any of the chasidim were to pass away during the period of the Rebbe's incarceration, the deceased would be solemnly adjured to communicate to the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid in the Next World, the severity of the situation which faced their disciple and the future of their teachings, and beg them to intercede.
The extent of the organization of those chasidim and their cooperation and unity was truly amazing, as they vowed to allow nothing in this world to stand in the way of freeing their leader. Three groups were formed to aggressively attack the problem. The first group was assigned the task of taking action to affect the release of Rebbe. Another group had the task of amassing the funds necessary for that effort and also to support the Rebbe's family and his chasidim living in the Land of Israel. The mission of the third group was to maintain and guard the teachings of Chasidut and the morale of the chasidim throughout this most trying period.
The chasidim in Petersburg worked tirelessly and at great risk to their own well-being to clandestinely gather information to aid the cause. Other chasidim were based in Vilna and Sklov in order to monitor the activities of the Rebbe's accusers. All of the chasidim engaged in this secret, undercover activity were permitted to communicate with each only through acknowledged go-betweens and never publicly or through the post.
The financial committee was run by trusted elders of the community who were supplied with extensive lists of all the silver and gold objects owned by each family. Each family furnished this committee with a legal and binding document of sale of these precious objects. It was arranged that if, G-d forbid, the Rebbe remained incarcerated and the need for funds increased, these objects would be transferred into the possession of the committee for use as required, to secure the Rebbe's release. But the chasidim went even further than that, for other funds, even including dowry money, was made available for this use.
Lastly, but of equal importance, the group entrusted with upholding the morale of the thousands of chasidim who were bound with their very souls to the Rebbe and his teachings fanned out through the cities, towns and hamlets, inculcating the people with hope and strength.
And Jacob was greatly afraid, and distressed (Gen. 32:8)
Why was Jacob so frightened of the coming confrontation with his brother Esau? There were two areas in which Esau was superior to Jacob: the performance of the commandment to honor one's parents, and the fact that Esau lived in the land of Israel. Jacob therefore worried that his merits were not sufficient to stand in the face of Esau's good deeds.
And You said, "I will surely do good with you" (Gen. 32:13)
Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov used to say: "Master of the Universe! Everything You do is most assuredly good, but there is a good which is immediately apparent, and a good which does not seem to be so at first. May it be Your will to bestow upon us only that type of good which is immediately revealed!"
And Jacob was left alone (Gen. 32:25)
The commentator Rashi relates that Jacob had gone back to retrieve some "small flasks" which he had inadvertently left behind. Rabbi Isaac Luria explains that Jacob was exceedingly careful with his possessions because every object found within a person's domain has spiritual significance and repercussions. Our physical possessions are no less important in our service of G-d than the spiritual gifts we are given. All of our assets, talents, and skills are to be utilized to the same end---to bring us closer to our Father in heaven.
(The Rim of Gur)
Because he had perpetrated a disgrace in Israel...which cannot be done (Gen. 34:7)
There are some evil acts whose atonement is effected with the same type of deed which was perpetrated. For example, a murderer is put to death for his crime, and a thief must make restoration with the goods he stole. There are, however, some evils which do not fall into this category, because they are so vile that this rule does not apply. The rape of Dina was one of these.
And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men. (Gen. 33:1)
Jacob went to meet with his brother Esau even though he knew that his life might be endangered by the encounter. But he didn't discuss the matter with anyone, or think twice about it. He just did it. From this we learn how important it is to DO things, because DOING is what will bring Moshiach.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita)
The giving of the Torah is considered the wedding between G-d and the Jewish people. More particularly, however, the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai is considered as merely the betrothal, the first stage of the marriage bond, and the consummation of the union will not be until the Era of the Redemption. For then, the total oneness will be established between G-d and the Jewish people.