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An unrecognizable picture drawn lovingly in three colors of crayons. Out of the blue, a card in your mail that says, "I'm thinking of you." A note from the boss saying, "Just wanted to let you know that we think you're doing a great job." It's often the small, seemingly insignificant acts, that don't necessarily cost scads of money, that mean the most to us.
Jewish teachings explain that the acts of our ancestors are a sign or help for us. Our ancestor Abraham had tremendous self-sacrifice. He was willing to give up his very life because of his belief in the One G-d. He was willing to sacrifice his only son because G-d told him to. He was tested by G-d ten times in all. Each test he passed with flying colors. In each test he exhibited total commitment to G-d and a willingness to give up his life for his beliefs.
Abraham's actions are not only a sign for each of us, but they are our inheritance. According to Chasidic philosophy, we inherited the willingness to sacrifice ourselves for G-d and Judaism from our ancestor Abraham.
But how does that inheritance play itself out in our everyday lives? How many of us today can honestly say that we are even faced with an "opportunity" to give up our lives for Judaism as our ancestor did?
It's the little things that count.
Each and every day we are given innumerable opportunities to exhibit self-sacrifice for Judaism and mitzvot. It might be that you're grappling with the possibility of keeping Shabbat or kosher, and wondering how family and friends will react. Or it could be that you just found out that every door in your house (except closets and bathrooms) needs a mezuza and you had other plans for the money that you would need to spend on the mezuzot. Or maybe it's as simple as filling out an application that has a space for "religion" and you wonder whether to fill in "Jewish" or leave it blank.
Of course, each person has multiple opportunities each day, on his own
individual level, to exhibit self-sacrifice. One who knows that Judaism forbids speaking ill of another is constantly confronted with the chance to fulfill this commandment, though
it might mean being considered a "goody-goody" by co-workers or colleagues. Another person toying with the thought of wearing a yarmulka to work will be showing self-sacrifice in this area. And yet another person, who lovingly looks at the heirloom Chanuka menora but chooses to use a different one because the antique doesn't fulfill the Jewish legal requirements is also exhibiting tremendous self-sacrifice.
Each day we are confronted and challenged with opportunities, in little ways, in small things that are meaningful only to us--and G-d. And we have the ability, like our ancestor Abraham, to come through with flying colors, because we inherited this tremendous trait of self-sacrifice from him.
About the mitzva of mezuza, which is found in this week's Torah portion, *Eikev*, the Talmud relates that Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi once sent a mezuza as a gift to Artaban, king of Persia, explaining that the small scroll would protect him from harm.
At first glance, Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi's gesture seems odd. The commandment to affix a mezuza upon one's door posts was given only to the Jewish nation. A non-Jewish king, therefore, would not be fulfilling a religious precept by possessing a mezuza. As such, he would also be ineligible for any reward resulting from the performance of a mitzva. Why then did Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi promise the gentile king that the mezuza would guard and protect him?
A similar question may also be asked about the common practice, dating back to the time of the Mishna, of inserting a mezuza scroll into one's walking stick, also done for the sake of the protection it afforded. A walking stick is certainly not included in the commandment of mezuza. If there is no commandment, there is certainly no reward. How then, did the mezuza afford protection?
A distinction must be made between the reward a person receives for performing a mitzva and the intrinsic attribute of the mitzva itself. When a person obeys G-d's command by fulfilling a mitzva, the reward he earns is a separate and distinct entity, additional to the essential nature of the mitzva. For example, the Torah states that the reward for the mitzva of mezuza is long life: "That your days be increased and the days of your children."
Yet besides the reward promised by the Torah, each mitzva has its own special attributes and characteristics that have nothing to do with reward, but are integral parts of the mitzva itself. The mezuza's attribute is protection. Our sages explained that when a kosher mezuza is affixed to the door post, G-d Himself watches over the occupants of the house, even when they are not at home. A mezuza is written solely for the purpose of protection, and, by its nature, it protects.
With this in mind, it becomes clear that even when no fulfillment of a religious precept is involved, a mezuza still possesses this attribute of protection, at least to some degree. It was for this reason that Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi sent the mezuza as a gift to the Persian king and that Jews took mezuzot with them wherever they went inside their walking sticks.
In a similar vein, speaking about and studying the laws of mezuza afford similar protection. The Talmud relates that in the house of one Jewish king a special sign was made on those door posts which were exempt from having a mezuza.
From this we learn the crucial importance of having kosher mezuzot. The Jewish people, likened to "one sheep among seventy wolves," is always in need of special defense. Every additional mezuza affixed to a Jewish home extends G-d's Divine protection to the entire Jewish nation, for all Jews are ultimately responsible for one another.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson
Reb Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, known affectionately as Reb Leivik, was the father of the present Lubavitcher Rebbe. A Torah prodigy from his early youth, he was granted rabbinic ordination by some of the greatest rabbis of his time. A great scholar, teacher, and community leader, much has been written about his books, commentaries and letters, which he wrote under most unusual circumstances. Very little, however, has been written about his great personality, partly because few who knew him survived the Russian conditions and the war. Partly, too, because his is an enigmatic personality whose essence it is difficult to grasp, for there was a certain simplicity about him which belied his inner grandeur.
He was an outstanding scholar in Kabbala, an area which is "closed" even to most accomplished scholars. His knowledge of Kabbala was quite unusual in that it was not just a theoretical or esoteric scholarship, but had practical application. Not that Reb Leivik used it to perform miracles, although some earlier great Kabbalists had demonstrated that that was possible. He used it to better understand various halachic and Talmudic passages and coincidences which are usually not included in ordinary scholarly discussions. Reb Leivik was concerned with these minute "abandoned" phenomena in Torah. He knew the reasons and the explanations so well and so clearly that the reader of his works cannot help marvelling as he learns the Torah secrets which are revealed on every page of our sanctified texts.
Reb Leivik was also able to explain various events that transpired in his life according to Kabbala. When he was imprisoned in 1939, [for teaching Judaism in Stalinist Russia] he was moved from prison to prison and from city to city. This is only one of the many rare aspects of this great tzadik. A man who, suffering great thirst and hunger because of water and food scarcities, took the small ration of water and used it to wash and sanctify his hands, a man who, after standing in a breadline with other prisoners during a famine, came home and cried that he wasted so much time waiting for a tiny piece of *chametz*, instead of preparing for the impending festival of Passover--this was Levi Yitzchak.
Throughout his entire stay in prison, in fact, Reb Leivik's greatest anxiety was not food, clothing, or shelter but--paper and ink. His greatest need was to write, to reveal more and more secrets of Torah so that others might share and draw inspiration from the depths and beauty of the words of our sages. That urge to give of what was dearest to himself--his Kabbalistic Torah insights--he expressed in the long talks that he delivered at every occasion. But in prison and in exile he was in isolation; this exacerbated his suffering and made his need to write down his thoughts even stronger. When he was blessed with his Rebbetzin's arrival to share his exile--a long and excruciating episode recorded in detail in her diary--he was extremely happy with the holy books she was able to bring with her. Even before, though, he had quoted from them in his writings, citing exact chapter, page, etc. His joy at getting his beloved books was doubled, now, for besides being able to study them, he would use their margins to write his insights, which poured forth in tremendous volume. But he lacked ink, which was unavailable in the area. Thanks to his Rebbetzin's genius and devotion, some ink was manufactured from local herbs and plants.
Reb Leivik's unpretentiousness is also found in his writings, where he almost never uses the style common to most scholars. Reb Leivik made his comments directly, without any remarks or apolo-gies, without elaborating on the difficulty inherent in the quoted passage. But what he said in his commentaries and in his letters is so profound and so brilliant that one can feel justifiably proud just understanding it. One must be a substantial scholar to merely comprehend even his simpler remarks, let alone to question or analyze them.
While Reb Leivik accepted the Divine will which allotted him suffering Soviet incarceration, he was not depressed or paralyzed spiritually. On the contrary, he flourished spiritually under the most adverse conditions. Reb Leivik concentrated on accomplishing the utmost in Torah learning and interpretation.
Chasidic philosophy teaches that from the nature of the reward for a mitzva we may glimpse the meaning of its essence. This is perhaps true of people; from their reward we may perceive their greatness. Reb Leivik's reward is his son, the present Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita.
Excerpted from *The Yiddishe Heim*
The story in the SLICE OF LIFE section of L'Chaim issue #274 called "Beyond the Door" was not about newspaper magnate Dorothy Schiff, but about a sister of hers.
It's easy to find out what time Shabbat candle lighting time is anywhere in the United States. From a touch-tone phone just dial 1-800-SABBATH and you'll get the information you're looking for. If you're calling from New York--area codes 212 or 718--call (718) 774-3000. A project of the Lubavitch Women's Organization Candle Lighting Division.
CHASIDUT BY THE SEA
For the sixth year, Beer Miriam is presenting Chasidut By The Sea: A Journey into Jewish Mysticism. Each Monday and Wednesday evening through September 1, a lively discussion led by Rabbi Eli Cohen of Chabad at NYU (Monday eves) and Rabbi Binyamin Burston (Wednesday eves) takes place from 8:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Light refreshments are served in addition to lots of food for thought. For more information call (718) 467-5519.
LEARN MORE ABOUT MOSHIACH
Call weekly 1-800-4-MOSHIACH in the U.S. (718-2-MOSHIACH in NY), 1-800-2-MASHIACH in Canada. Or for more extensive options, call (718) 953-6168.
A GREAT REWARD
From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe 16 Av, 5739 (1979)
I am in receipt of your letter of July 27, in which you write in regard to conversion in accordance with the halacha (Jewish law) which, of course, is the only valid conversion.
Needless to say, it is difficult to deal with such a matter through correspondence. The best thing would be if you could speak personally to a practicing Orthodox rabbi, for it is a very important and serious matter. If, for some reason, this is impossible to do without delay, you ought to write to one of the competent rabbinic authorities, such as the Union of Orthodox Rabbis (address below), in whose domain it is--not in mine. And since they treat such matters in confidence, you can write to them quite freely in every detail.
Though you write that you have spoken with an Orthodox rabbi, I see from your letter that you are still confused, and the sooner it--your status--is rectified, the better.
P.S. I gather from your letter that you are aware of the general attitude of the Jewish religion not to encourage proselytizing, and, indeed, to discourage would-be converts. A gentile who wishes to embrace the Jewish faith is often reminded at the outset that gentiles, too, have a Divinely ordained purpose in life which is to promote the rules of justice and decency and the other basic Seven Divine Precepts, with all their ramifications, which have been given to all mankind (the descendants of Noah, hence the so-called Seven Noahide Laws), thereby attaining spiritual fulfillment.
You should, therefore, not be surprised that you have not been encouraged in your desire for conversion according to the halacha, which is the only kind of valid conversion. For, obviously, any other form of conversion has no validity whatsoever, since it would be a self-contradiction to adopt a new religion in a way which is contrary to that religion. And since halachic conversion requires a total commitment on the part of the proselyte to strictly adhere to all the laws--the do's and the don'ts--of the Jewish religion, which, in your present place and circumstances is well nigh impossible to fulfill, there is an additional strong reason to discourage you from taking that step. For, with all your best intentions, you would not be able to conduct a full Torah-true life in your present place--the first condition of halachic conversion, lacking which there can be no conversion.
Since it is a very serious matter, I am reiterating here what has been indicated in the main body of the letter, namely, that before you take up residence in a city and neighborhood where you can be certain of being able to carry out the said unequivocal commitment to conduct everyday life in accordance with the Jewish Code of Law (Shulchan Aruch), there is no point in talking about conversion. That is, unless, after discussing the matter with an Orthodox Rabbi, and despite his reasoning and discouragement, a basis may be found for pursuing the matter.
I trust you will accept the above in the proper spirit, since it is first of all my duty to clarify the true aspects of the situation, and it would also be in your best interests, as well as your family's, to follow the path of truth.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson was the father of the present Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita. The great-grandson of the second Lubavitcher Rebbe, he was born on Nissan 18, 5638 (1878) and passed away Menachem Av 20, 5704 (1944). He served as Chief Rabbi of the city of Dnepropetrovsk (Yekatrinislav) in the difficult years of communist anti-Jewish persecution. He was exiled to Asiatic Russia where he endured terrible suffering for his staunch, uncompromising stand on all matters of Jewish religious observance.
Many people, upon hearing that the Redemption is imminent, ask, "What will happen in the Messianic Era?"
Because we are talking about an essential change in every aspect of the world's functioning, it is only human nature to wonder about, and even be a little frightened by, the unknown.
Since the Redemption is a totally new reality, it is under-standable that people are anxious and apprehensive. First and foremost, it is important to emphasize that Moshiach's coming will bring only good, happiness and abundance to everyone of us. The changes that will take place will only be for the good, for the good of every person.
The simplest and most basic explanation of the Messianic Era is that it will bring the world to its ideal state, a righteous and perfected world in which good, truth and justice rule.
It is easy to see that today's world is not normal! But our mind-set is so established that "this is the way it has always been so this is the way it will always be," and we cannot imagine another way.
The world in which we find ourselves today can be likened to a culture in which the people live in total darkness. They create many rules, inventions and customs in order to cope with the darkness and find their way. They have been living this way for so long that they cannot even imagine a world where light exists, the benefits of light, and how much more pleasant their lives would be if they only had light. They also cannot conceive of being able to get around without all of their special inventions. But the instant they would have light, in the blink of an eye they would get rid of all of their encumbrances, realizing that there is no longer a need for them. They would be totally amazed at how they could possibly have existed until now in the utter darkness.
The same is with us. When the Redemption comes, and G-d's goodness and essence is revealed in the world for all to perceive, all problems will disappear. We will see G-dliness and truth with our own eyes. Just as today we hunger for food and thirst for water, in the Messianic Era we will hunger and thirst to learn Torah and fulfill mitzvot. We will not have to fight against evil, for in the post-redemption world there will be no room for evil.
Rabbi Israel Salanter travelled a great deal, and whenever he passed a certain town, he stopped at the inn of a certain Reb Yitzchak, who was known to be a pious Jew. One day, being in that district, he went to Reb Yitzchak's inn.
Reb Israel sat down and ordered some food. Suddenly he noticed that there was a non-kosher salami on the counter. Reb Israel always tried to judge every person for the good, so he assumed that the innkeeper had purchased the meat by mistake or had been misled by an unscrupulous supplier.
He gently approached the innkeeper and said, "Reb Yitzchak, I want to make you aware that the salami on the counter isn't kosher."
Reb Israel was shocked when the innkeeper matter of factly replied, "Yes, I know, but I'm not so careful about the laws of kashrut these days."
Reb Israel was amazed. "What has happened to you? You've always been a G-d-fearing man."
The innkeeper went on to explain what had induced him to change his ways. A certain guest at the inn who was a non-believer convinced the unlearned innkeeper that there was no G-d.
"What did this person say to you to convince you of such a terrible falsehood?" Rabbi Israel asked.
"Well, the man took a piece of treif [non-kosher] meat in his hand and said, 'If there really is a G-d who cares what I eat, He will strike me dead when I eat this. But, you'll see that I can eat this salami and nothing will happen to me. That proves that there is no G-d.' And, Rabbi, with my own eyes I saw him eat the salami, and nothing happened! When I saw that he spoke the truth, I began eating treif meat, too, since I saw that what I eat makes no difference to G-d."
Rabbi Israel listened and thought for a while of how to approach this poor, ignorant man. As he sat deep in thought, the daughter of the innkeeper danced into the room waving a piece of paper high in the air.
"Father, Father, look. I was just awarded a certificate for my achievements as a pianist. I'm so happy!" The innkeeper beamed with pride, praising his daughter to everyone.
Reb Israel called the girl to his table and said to her: "I see that you have just received a prestigious certificate for your piano playing. I don't believe you're all that good. I would like you to prove it to me."
The girl was taken aback, and replied, "This certificate is proof of my expertise. I don't have to prove it to everyone who asks!" And she turned on her heels and angrily left the room.
Reb Israel called the innkeeper and said: "Your daughter is very rude. I simply asked her to play for me so I could judge for myself if she really is a competent pianist."
The father was embarrassed by the Rav's comment and he called his daughter back. She faced the rabbi and replied, "You're not being fair. I established my talent at school and I have the certificate to prove it. I certainly shouldn't be required to give a demonstration for anyone who asks."
"So, you see, my good man," the rabbi exclaimed. "Your daughter is clever. G-d could well answer you the same way. After He redeemed us from slavery, split the sea for us, performed countless miracles for us day in and day out, is it necessary for us to require that He prove Himself for every ignoramus like that salami eater who was your guest?"
The words of Reb Israel Salanter convinced the innkeeper, and he repented of his error at once.
"By ten Divine pronouncements was the world created" (Ethics of the Fathers 5:1).
The letters of the ten Divine pronouncements uttered by G-d give each and every creation its life-force and vitality, bringing it into being from nothingness. Every created entity, from the highest celestial spheres to the lowest inanimate stone, is sustained by the various combinations and joinings of the letters of these Ten Utterances. The Hebrew name of an object, therefore, indicates the life-force it contains and reflects its true inner essence.
(* The Tanya*)
"There were ten generations from Adam to Noach, to inform us how great is His patience, for all those generations continued to anger Him, until He brought upon them the waters of the Flood" (Ethics 5:2).
In ancient days the Jewish people waged two different types of war--those in which they were commanded to completely destroy the enemy and his belongings, and those in which they were allowed to benefit from the spoils. On the spiritual front there are also two different types of evil which must be fought: That which is entirely evil and must be totally obliterated, and that which contains an element of good and thus the potential to be transformed and elevated to a higher level. The evil of the first ten generations of mankind was in the first category. G-d, therefore, sent the waters of the great Flood to utterly destroy and erase their depravity. The evil of the next ten generations, however, was of the second type, and was able to be corrected and elevated by Abraham.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shlita)
"With ten trials was Abraham our Father tested" (Ethics 5:3).
In general, G-d does not test a person in order to prove his faithfulness. Rather, when an individual overcomes the obstacles placed in his path, it strengthens his awareness and recognition of G-dliness. After successfully withstanding all ten trials, Abraham reached a level of perfection unattainable otherwise.
"Yehuda ben Tema said: Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and strong as a lion, to do the will of your Father in heaven" (Ethics 5:23).
Human beings have the capacity to learn much from animal behavior: "He teaches us through the beasts of the earth, and makes us wise through the birds of the sky," said Job.
If, when obeying the Torah, we are ridiculed, let us be as bold and fearless as the leopard. If we find ourselves in a milieu not conducive to the practice of the Jewish faith, let us flee like a deer to one that favors religious growth in observance. And if we see how shallow is the level of those around us in the practice of their religious heritage, let us rise as the eagle above the common level, on wings of perseverance and devotion.
(Ethics From Sinai)
The Talmud concludes: "The School of Elijah [the prophet, who will announce Moshiach's coming] taught, 'Whoever studies Torah laws every day is assured life in the world to Come.' " The study of Torah law gives a Jew control over the entire world and enables him to experience the World to Come within the context of his life in this world.