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Have you made your summer plans yet? If you're intending to go away, you might already have started packing or thinking about what you'll take along with you.
Usually, before we go anywhere--even if it's just a day trip to the country--we need to know what the weather is going to be like, what kind of activities we're going to be involved in and how long we'll be staying. This information makes our packing easier and the trip more pleasant.
Imagine the ordeal of packing for a surprise, mystery trip. You'd have to take your whole wardrobe along--not knowing whether you're going to a hot or cold climate, to casual or elegant affairs, or taking walking tours or sightseeing buses.
Each and every mitzva we do is a journey--an excursion to self-betterment, an adventure to a heightened relationship with G-d, our fellowman, and ourselves.
Mitzvot are not many people's typical idea of a vacation, though, certainly not the kind of lazy, laid back, relaxing vacation many of us envision when we're at the height of a frenzied, hectic day.
They are a different kind of vacation, however, a kind of vacation you can go on every day of your life, every minute of your day. Because who doesn't want to take a vacation where you can visit new sights, reconnect to your past, carve out for yourself a place in history, experience something eternal.
One of the greatest things about vacation via Torah and mitzvot is that because of the diversity of each mitzva, you can experience the whole spectrum of vacations each and every day that you do different mitzvot. Relax by communicating with G-d (praying in the vernacular), putting on tefilin, lighting Shabbat candles. Bathe in the vast sea of Torah that is available through attending classes, reading books, or listening to pre-taped lessons in the privacy of your home. Be dazzled by the bright lights of the Infinite Light (Ohr Ein Sof) when you contemplate G-d's greatness and the purposefulness of the world and its every creation. Wine and dine at sumptuous banquets on Shabbat and holidays. Exercise your conscience and workout on your self-control by fulfilling the mitzvot between one person and another: not being jealous; loving your fellowman; judging everyone favorably; honoring your parents. The list goes on.
But, what kind of packing should you do for a vacation of mitzvot? The rule of thumb that the better you've packed the more you'll enjoy your vacation applies to mitzvot as well. Ask questions! Find out why, when, and how to do each mitzva. Learn the significance and the inner meaning behind the customs. Pack in all of the knowledge you can as you go along.
But, don't hesitate to do a mitzva just because you think you might not be properly prepared. After all, would you pass up a surprise, mystery trip just because preparing is a hassle or you didn't have a chance to pack?
Enjoy your vacation!
Shavuot is the holiday on which we celebrate the giving of the Torah, when G-d Himself descended on Mount Sinai before the entire Jewish people. The world stood still as G-d's voice thundered the first of the Ten Commandments: "I am the L-rd your G-d, Who took you out of the land of Egypt."
Our Sages asked a pointed question: What was so special about the exodus from Egypt that G-d chose to mention it in the very first Commandment? Why not "I am the L-rd your G-d, Who created heaven and earth"? Is not the creation of the world more fundamental than an isolated historical incident involving only a few million people?
In addition, the exodus from Egypt, although a great miracle, involved only that generation. The existence of the physical world, however, is a phenomenon which each generation can point to as evidence of G-d's greatness. Why then did G-d give the exodus such prominence at the moment of His revelation to mankind?
Chasidic philosophy explains that in certain respects, the Jewish people's liberation from bondage in Egypt was an even greater event than the creation of the world. G-d created the world ex nihilo--substance out of nothingness--something which we, as created beings, cannot comprehend. Although the creation of the world was a wondrous event, for an all-powerful, eternal and infinite G-d, it was no particular feat.
Furthermore, the Torah states that the world was created by G-d's speech. "By the word of G-d the heavens were created, and by His breath all of their hosts." Speech is an external power, produced without exertion. The world was created in such a way as to express only the outermost fraction of G-d's true might.
The exodus from Egypt, however, was a miracle of a totally different order. In order for the Jews to leave Egypt, G-d had to supersede the laws of nature He had already created to run the world. G-d Himself, not an angel, led the Jews as they departed. Abrogating natural law to free the Children of Israel involved an even higher level of Divine intervention than creating the world in the first place! The exodus from Egypt was therefore given the top billing it deserved in the Ten Commandments.
Likewise, in our own lives, we sometimes find that it is harder to change ingrained and established habits than it is to begin a completely new undertaking. When G-d took our forefathers out of Egypt (Mitzrayim), He gave each and every Jew the strength to break through the boundaries and limitations (metzarim) which stand in his way. This innate power, bestowed upon the Jewish people when the Torah was revealed, gives us the ability to overcome any negative habits or character traits which prevent us from serving G-d with a full heart.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
On Friday evening, the 2nd of Iyar (April 23), Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Isaac Hodakov, passed away at the age of 91. Rabbi Hodakov worked for the Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita, for the past 53 years, as director of the three main organizations which the Rebbe headed--Machne Israel, Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch and Kehot Publishing--as well as being the head of the Rebbe's secretariat.
Rabbi Hodakov was known as a true chasid of the Rebbe. He was renowned for keeping confidences and for his concern not to waste a moment. In addition, he was devoted to emet--truth, so much so that among his last words were, "We must leave this world of falsehood and come closer to truth."
In tribute to this great man we bring you excerpts of an interview with Rabbi Binyamin Klein, a member of the Rebbe's secretariat and Rabbi Hodakov's "right-hand man" and confidant for the past 30 years. (Rabbi Klein, himself, is known as a guarded person who measures his every word. He only agreed to the interview in order to better allow people to understand the greatness of Rabbi Hodakov.) The interview was conducted for the Kfar Chabad Magazine by Moshe Marinovsky.
At the age of 18, Rabbi Hodakov began his involvement in Jewish communal work in the area of Jewish education. Thus, his involvement in Jewish communal work spanned more than 75 years! Rabbi Hodakov established the Torah V'Derech Eretz Yeshiva in Riga. He was also one of the leaders of Tzeirei Agudas Yisrael as well as being the head of the official government-run office for Jewish education for all of Latvia. Rabbi Hodakov came, together with his wife Etel, to the United States with the Previous Rebbe in 1940.
Jewish education was the central point in his life. It is self-understood that Rabbi Hodakov fulfilled his responsibilities in this area superbly. But more than this, one could see daily how Rabbi Hodakov effectively applied all of the principles of education.
For example, he knew exactly, down to the most precise detail, what each of his students was up to in his studies and in his attitudes and behavior. And he also knew what each student did in his free time.
It is well known that many times, when questions in the area of Jewish education would reach the Previous Rebbe, the Rebbe would refer these question to Rabbi Hodakov.
Rabbi Hodakov was a person who, in addition to all of his amazing character traits, was extremely modest. In general, he didn't speak much and he certainly didn't speak about himself. Once, however, he did tell me that when he worked for the Previous Rebbe, of blessed memory, not a day passed when Rabbi Hodakov did not "report to work" and go in to the Rebbe. This included weekdays, Shabboses and Yomim Tovim. He related this to me to teach me how devoted one must be to the Rebbe.
There were many times, and not just a few, when the Rebbe instructed Rabbi Hodakov to call a certain person in order to give over a message from the Rebbe to the person. At those times, the Rebbe would listen as Rabbi Hodakov gave over the Rebbe's message. He was the one person who was given the privilege and the responsibility of speaking in the Rebbe's name.
In everything that Rabbi Hodakov did one could see two central qualities--total self-nullification and devotion to the Rebbe and a tremendous amount of wisdom and insight.
Rabbi Hodakov never took a day's vacation. Even in his later years, when his health didn't allow him to come into the office every day as he was used to for the past decades, he continued to work at home as much as he was able. Without exaggerating, one can say about Rabbi Hodakov that he never wasted a moment in his life.
Let me give you an example. In years gone by, the Rebbe used to come out for the afternoon services regularly at 3:15 p.m. If, for some reason, the Rebbe was going to come out even just a few minutes later, the Rebbe would ask the secretaries to inform the people waiting in the shul about the change in time. It disturbed Rabbi Hodakov when he would come out during those few minutes and see people doing nothing, just waiting. His objection was that if the Rebbe made an effort to inform those waiting, it was so that they could do something useful with that extra few minutes.
Over 30 years ago, when the Rebbe told me that I would begin working in the Secretariat, the Rebbe told me to see Rabbi Hodakov for the details. Concerning my work in the Rebbe's office, Rabbi Hodakov told me, "I can't tell you not to see what you see. I can't tell you not to hear what you hear. But I can tell you not to say anything. The first condition for working as part of the Rebbe's secretariat is to know how to keep silent." And then Rabbi Hodakov reminded me about the words of the Rebbe Maharash [the fifth Rebbe] concerning the three levels of one who keeps a secret, the highest level being that others don't even realize you have a secret.
Rabbi Hodakov had rules that were established in iron about working in the secretariat. For instance, one must never reveal to anyone an answer that the Rebbe gave to someone else, even if it is the husband or wife of the person! If, for instance, a man wrote a letter to the Rebbe and, when calling the house to relay the answer, the wife answered the telephone, the message was not given over to the wife but only directly to the husband.
Rabbi Hodakov was at the same time obstinate and yet very careful about other people's honor. This was part of his greatness for he knew just when to apply either. For example, when he had to reprimand someone, he never did it directly. He always managed to do it with a story or a parable so that the listener understood exactly what Rabbi Hodakov was getting at, but wasn't hurt by the criticism.
It is also so important to emphasize that Rabbi Hodakov was very, very careful never to say to the Rebbe a bad word about another person. When the Rebbe was not pleased about something that a member of the secretariat did, Rabbi Hodakov always took the blame rather than point out to the Rebbe who was truly at fault.
Rabbi Hodakov's "written responsibilities" were enough to keep him busy 24 hours a day. And yet, he found time to study Talmud and Chasidut each day. This was in addition to all of the other assignments the Rebbe gave him.
Also, all the days of his life, Rabbi Hodakov worried about and kept in touch with the students he had taught in Riga. Rabbi Hodakov remained in contact with his students and also encouraged all educators and teachers to form alumni associations and to keep in touch with their students.
In a word, I would describe Rabbi Hodakov as a soldier. In truth, he directed the most important, powerful and prestigious institutions in Lubavitch. But he always saw himself as a simple soldier, always ready and willing to fulfill the Rebbe's request precisely as the Rebbe wanted. He had no other desire in the world. Anyone who knew him even casually knew that he didn't have any personal ambitions except to do what the Rebbe wanted of him. Anyone who saw how he entered the Rebbe's room, each time he entered, even after more than 50 years of working for the Rebbe, could understand what is a chasid and what is a soldier.
The excerpt from the book Man of Faith in the Modern World in last week's Slice of Life was reprinted with permission of Ktav Publishing House, Inc. copyright © Rabbi Abraham Besdin and is available at your local Jewish bookstore.
From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
10 Sivan, 5712 (1952)
There is a statement in the Midrash to the effect that "If anyone tells you there is science among certain non-Jews, you may believe it; but if one tells you there is Torah among them, do not believe it."
This terse statement contains an indication of the radical difference between general science and the Jewish religion which, to be sure, is also a profound science, though "partly" in the realm of the unfathomable.
The cardinal difference is this: Science, in general, has two weak points: First, it is based on certain postulates which science cannot substantiate or prove satisfactorily and which, consequently, may be accepted, rejected, or substituted by contrary postulates. In other words, the entire structure of science rests at bottom, on unscientific principles, or, better, on premises which cannot be scientifically substantiated.
Second, science in substance, is a theory declaring that if there is Cause A, there must follow Effect B, and if Effect B is to be prevented, Cause A must first be eliminated (that is assuming the postulates in question to be true). In other words, science can never tell us, "Do this," or "Do not do that." It can only maintain that if we desire to attain B, we must first accomplish A; and if B is undesirable, then A should be avoided.
That science is subject to the above-mentioned two limitations is understandable, science being the product of the human intellect; for since man's abilities are limited, he cannot devise anything absolute. This explains weakness one. As for weakness number two, inasmuch as all men enjoy equal rights, science cannot a priori dictate any course of human conduct. The most it can do in this respect is to predict, on the basis of the experience and knowledge at its command, that a certain chain of reactions or effects is likely to follow from a given cause. Here men of science enjoy a certain advantage over the less experienced or initiated.
The said two weaknesses of science make the cardinal superiority of the Torah plainly evident. The very word "Torah"--meaning teaching, instruction--indicates it. For the ultimate purpose of the Torah is not to increase man's knowledge per se, but to instruct him to conduct his life to the fullest advantage of himself and the community at large. As a matter of course it provides all the knowledge necessary for the attainment of this ultimate purpose.
Inasmuch as the Torah is not the product of man, but is Divinely revealed at Sinai, a fact that is substantiated by undeniable multiple evidence which must be fully accepted even on scientific grounds--i.e., being given by G-d the Absolute, its foundations are likewise absolute truths, not mere suppositions. Furthermore, since G-d is the Creator of the universe and of mankind, He is not limited to the process of cause and effect, but stipulates a positive and absolute system of human conduct, of definite do's and definite don'ts.
That is why the Torah is called Torat Emet--the Law of Truth--for its teachings are absolute and its foundations are not postulates, but absolute truths, hence its consequences must also be absolute truths.
It is also called Torat Chaim--the Law of Life--to show that it is not just a science whose application is arbitrary, but a system of obligatory daily living.
This is why the dissemination of the Torah is so vital. For, in the final analysis, the important thing is not the amount of knowledge man acquires for its own sake. The important thing is to ensure that man acts consistently in the best interests of himself and society. Otherwise, he gropes in darkness, confused by conflicting ideas and theories around him and perplexed also by conflicting emotions and instincts within him, inherent in all human beings.
Torah is the answer to all these questions.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman, known as the Alter Rebbe, was the founder and first Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch and the author of its seminal work, the Tanya. He was born in 1745 to Rabbi Baruch and his wife Rivka. He became one of the greatest students of Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezritch and in 1770 was asked by him to compile a code of law, which became known as the Rav's Shulchan Aruch. In 1770, after the Maggid's passing, he was recognized as the leader of the chasidim of Lithuania and the surrounding areas. In 1797 he published the Tanya after having spent twenty years perfecting the text. He was imprisoned by the czarist government on false charges twice. A staunch opponent of Napoleon, he and his household were fleeing the French troops when he passed away in the village of Piena in 1813.
In a previous issue we discussed briefly why the last moments of exile are referred to in the Talmud as the "birth pangs of Moshiach." There is more to be said about this analogy, though.
The Vilna Gaon said that all the days of exile are like the duration of a pregnancy, and the final stage is comparable to the birth pangs immediately prior to birth.
The "Chofetz Chaim," Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, elucidated this concept in his work Shem Olam (the following is a translation by Rabbi Moshe Miller, Targum Press):
When a woman has a difficult labor and no longer has the strength to bear the pain, the midwife comforts her with the fact that her travails will not continue much longer. She tells the suffering woman that the pain itself is a sure sign of imminent birth. This concept applies in our case, too. For if the hardships were not so overwhelming, we could see ourselves bearing the pain for a prolonged period. Moreover, the fact that these hardships abate from time to time is a part of the "birth process," just as labor pains subside briefly and then resume.
However, when the hardships become so overpowering that we can no longer bear them, we can certainly assume that G-d will reveal the final Redemption very soon indeed.
Now, when a woman is in the midst of a difficult labor, all the comforts the midwife offers her may be of no avail. However, in our case, we can be certain that the moment of birth will arrive. As the verse clearly indicates, "'Will I bring on labor and not open the womb?' says the L-rd" (Isaiah 66:9).
The Jewish people have experienced an interminably long and difficult pregnancy and a relentless labor. It is time for G-d to make good on His promise and deliver the Redemption immediately!
Short stories culled from talks and letter of the Rebbe, published in "The Week in Review" Vaad HaNochos Hatmimim.
For many years, Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem Tov, lived a "hidden" life, artfully concealing his knowledge and piety in the guise of a coarse and ignorant clay digger.
Once, he came to see the rabbi of Brody. The rabbi, seeing only his visitor's crude manner and torn and muddy clothes, treated him with contempt. Said Rabbi Yisroel: "Our Sages tell us to 'learn from every man,' for your fellow is your mirror. If your own face is clean, the image you encounter will also be flawless. Should you gaze into a mirror and see a blemish, it is your own imperfection that you are seeing.
"Rabbi of Brody! When I see your sour face, I truly sense how much I myself am lacking in the ideal 'love your fellow as yourself.'"
One day, a somewhat deluded individual climbed the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem and sounded a shofar. Soon the rumor spread that Moshiach had arrived, setting off a great commotion in the street. Rabbi Mendel of Horodok, who lived in Jerusalem at the time, went to his window and sniffed the air.
"No," he said, unfortunately, the Redeemer has not yet arrived. On that day, 'the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the sea' and 'all flesh will perceive' the reality of the Creator (Isaiah 11:9, 40:5). I do not sense the Divine truth that will permeate the world in the era of Moshiach."
Said the renowned spiritual mentor, Rabbi Gronem Estherman: "Why did Rabbi Mendel need to go to the window to smell for the presence of Moshiach? Because the all-pervading truth of G-d was already a tangible reality within the walls of Rabbi Mendel's room."
A certain scholarly and knowledgeable individual once complained to Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch: "Rebbe, the entire study hall steps on me! They never accept what I say. In fact, they always do the very opposite of what I advise!"
Said the Rebbe: "Of course. You spread yourself about the entire study hall--wherever one is to step, one cannot but step on you."
The Previous Rebbe was famed for both his selfless devotion to the needs of every Jew and for his steadfast stand on the integrity of the Torah. The Rebbe maintained that to deal with the growing danger of assimilation and Jewish rootlessness by compromising on the Torah's principles will only serve to repel those whom one is seeking to accommodate. Deep down, said the Rebbe, the Jew wants the truth; offer him a watered-down, quasi-truth and you will drive him even further away from his identity.
Once, the Rebbe was asked: "True, under ideal conditions, one wants his water to be pure. But when a fire rages, is this the time to be particular? The fire must be put out by any and all means at our disposal, including polluted or tainted water. The current crises of identity among the Jewish people is threatening our very existence. Surely it is a time to be more flexible and accommodating."
Replied the Rebbe: "What you say is true, so long as one battles fire with water. But if one rushes to pour any liquid on the flames, without realizing that his bucket contains benzene instead of water, the result is disastrous."
Rabbi Binyomin Kletzker, a chasid of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, was a lumber merchant. One year, while he was adding up the annual accounts, he inadvertaintly filled in the total: "Ein od milvado--There is nothing but Him."
Upon hearing of Reb Binyomin's slip of the pen, a fellow chasid berated him for his absentmindedness. "Don't you know, Reb Binyomin, that everything has its time and place?" he admonished. "There's a time for chasidic philosophizing, and a time to engage in worldly matters. A person's business dealings are also an important part of his service of the Alm-ghty and must be properly attended to."
Said Reb Binyomin, "We consider it perfectly natural if, during prayer, one's mind wanders off to the fair in Leipzig. So what's so terrible if, when involved in business, an 'alien thought' regarding the unity of G-d infiltrates the mind?"
Ethics of the Fathers
Ethics of the Fathers, a section of the Mishna containing ethical guidelines and rules governing moral behavior, is introduced by a detailed account of the transmission of Torah down through the generations. Although non-Jewish thinkers have also produced works on ethics and codes of conduct, our Sages wanted to emphasize the Divine origin of the sayings contained in the Ethics of the Fathers.
All of Israel have a share in the World to Come (introduction to Ethics of the Fathers)
Every Jew--righteous and not so righteous--deserves reward just for being Jewish. A portion of the World-to-Come is his just by virtue of belonging to the Jewish people. Without a proper Torah education, an untutored Jew's mitzvot may be lacking. Yet he is still part of the nation of Israel and deserving of eternal life. Even the simplest Jew is full of mitzvot, like seeds of a pomegranate, by the weight of Jewish fate and responsibility.
(Blossoms, by Rabbi Yisroel Rubin)
Be of the disciples of Aaron...loving your fellow creatures, and bringing them near to Torah (Ethics 1:12)
One must never make the mistake of thinking it permissible to adjust the Torah to the level of those who may be disaffected or estranged from Judaism, in an attempt to bring them closer to observance of Torah and mitzvot. It is forbidden to alter or deviate from any part of the Torah. Judaism must remain in its entirety. Our efforts must lie in bringing alienated Jews closer to the authentic Torah.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita)
Shimon his son said:...not learning is the main thing, but doing. (1:17)
In short, theory is not as important as practice. Our own Jewish community seems to be sinking by the sheer weight of its own wordiness. Conferences, conventions, and commissions continue to grind out reams of paper with endless words. We bemoan, we bewail, we diagnose and prescribe. But all these are no substitute for actions and deeds of meaning.
(Ethics from Sinai, Rabbi I. Bunim)
What is the difference between exile and redemption?--our consciousness of G-d's presence. All the material diminsions of our present existence will continue in the Era of the Redemption. Our souls will be contained within physical bodies, we will derive our nurture from physical food, and we will live togehter with gentile neighbors. All these aspects of material existence, however, will be suffused with an awareness of G-d.
(Sound the Great Shofar)