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These days you can't read an article, listen to a radio report, or watch a news broadcast without wondering what's the spin.
Who was responsible for turning a point of interest in a particular direction, and how was it done are also questions that come to mind.
Lastly, we ask if someone was specially hired -- a spin doctor -- to turn an event or news item toward a particular path.
Spinning isn't new; in fact, it's as old as the Torah itself.
We spin and turn the Torah scroll each time we read it, rolling the parchment from one stick to the other. This action serves as a reminder that a Torah spin is constant and eternal.
The Torah Sage, Ben Bag Bag said, "Turn it and turn it [the Torah], for everything is within it. Look deeply inside it; grow old and gray with it, and do not stir from it, for there is nothing more edifying than it for you."
In this week's "Ethics of the Fathers," Ben Bag Bag, enjoins us to turn and turn the Torah, to sift through it as one would sift through sand in which precious gems are buried. And then, to use the wisdom gained to understand events big or small through a Torah spin.
Without exaggeration, everything is in the Torah.
Stories abound of Torah scholars who were proficient in every area of the arts and sciences, solely through their expertise in Torah.
Rabbi Irving Bunim writes in his commentary on this verse, "Invariably, our great sages and scholars, nurtured on Torah alone, did not find their understanding faulty or their knowledge incomplete because they did not attend a university.
"In the time of the Sages, a philosopher in Rome fortuitously discovered, by empirical means, the gestation period of the serpent.
On a visit of some Sages to Rome, he asked them tauntingly how long this period was.
Rabban Gamliel, the head of the delegation, could make no reply, and his face grew ashen with shame.
When Rabbi Joshua (who was absent at the conversation) met him, he yet looked ill, and Rabbi Joshua immediately asked the reason.
Once told, Rabbi Joshua showed Rabban Gamliel how the answer could be inferred from the Almighty's words to the serpent in the Garden of Eden.
That very evening, Rabban Gamliel went and gave Rabbi Joshua's answer to the philosopher, who thereupon began beating his head against the wall. 'All that I struggled for seven years to discover,' he cried, 'this man comes and casually dangles before me at the end of a reed!' (Ethics From Sinai)
Like a diamond, the Torah has many facets.
A cursory glance at a diamond reveals nothing more than a piece of glass. But when we turn and turn a diamond, we begin to appreciate its full beauty.
Secular wisdom, esoteric teachings, medical advice, good eating habits, stress management, meditation techniques, social etiquette, obligations toward G-d, the secrets of the universe.
These and more are contained within the Torah.
Turn and turn the Torah. Look deeply into it. Even if you have studied Torah for many years, continue to study and grow old and gray with it. For everything is within it.
We find ourselves now in the special weeks during which the "Seven Haftorah's of Consolation" are read. This week we read the third of the seven, taken from the Book of Isaiah.
The Avudraham, a Torah scholar who lived in the medieval times, explains that these seven haftorahs form a dialogue between the Jewish people and G-d.
In the first Haftorah, G-d tells the Prophets to console His people over the destruction: "Comfort, O comfort, My people."
The response of the Jewish nation in the second Haftorah is, "But Zion said, 'the Eternal has forsaken me.'"
The consolation of the prophets is not sufficient; the Jews want to be consoled by G-d Himself.
In the third Haftorah, the Prophets convey this message to G-d: "O you afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted" -- the comfort we offer Israel is not enough.
In the fourth Haftorah, G-d responds by saying, "I, even I, am He Who comforts you" -- I have heard your demand and I Myself will console you. Indeed, the fifth and sixth Haftorahs begin with the words, "Sing, O barren one, you that did not bear," and "Arise and illumine, for your light is come."
In the seventh and final Haftorah, the Jewish people delight in G-d's comfort: "I will greatly rejoice in the Eternal, my soul shall be joyful in my G-d."
This explanation, however, presents a problem.
For Omniscient G-d certainly knew in advance that the Jewish people would not be satisfied with His Prophets' comforting.
Why, then, didn't G-d simply console them Himself, instead of waiting until they cried out, "The Eternal has forsaken me"?
In truth, it was necessary for the Jewish people to reveal their desire to be consoled by G-d alone, for it expressed their realization that the destruction and exile were not visited upon them as a punishment, but rather, conceal a G-dly benevolence and exalted kindness.
Chasidic philosophy explains that "no evil can come from Above."
Hidden within the disastrous destruction of the Temple is an enormous good that could not have come down into this world in a revealed and open manner; this good is of such magnitude that it must be veiled in tragedy. "G-d tries those whom He loves" -- G-d's most intense and inner love is expressed in His admonishments.
In order for the great blessings hidden within to be uncovered, one must first understand that his suffering is not a curse, G-d forbid.
When a person views his troubles as punishment from Above, he cannot perceive the good that they contain. Accepting one's suffering with joy leads to the inner good being revealed, revealed in a way that even our fleshly eyes can discern.
G-d wanted the request for comfort to come from His children, to demonstrate that they understood that the destruction contained a higher good, one that He alone would show them.
"I, even I, am He Who comforts you" -- a consolation that will reach its culmination in the Final Redemption and the building of the Third Temple, speedily in our day.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 19
by Babette Rosen
My husband, Sid, and I are serious backpackers.
Sid had travelled through 120 countries, and I was trying to catch up to him with 85 already under my belt, when we made our trip through the CIS.
Oppressive regimes were nothing new to us: from China to Tibet, from Burma to the notorious oppression of Arab nations, difficult and restricted travelling was part of the price of learning first hand about other nations.
As a rule, we rejected any country which obligated us to view it through a guided tour which crippled one's movements. Therefore, until now, we had avoided the USSR.
For us, this trip had great personal significance, for we had been involved for years in the resettlement of Russian Jews. Now, the new political situation offered us an unexpected opportunity to visit Russia and her recently released hostage nations -- and this opportunity occurred with the tremendous assistance of Chabad-Lubavitch.
Our first contact with the Russian network of Chabad was through our beloved rabbi and friend, Zalman Levertov, of Phoenix who had patiently helped us to grow in our Jewish observance.
Through him we came into contact with Rabbi Yisroel Spalter, of Ezras Achim in New York, who became our advisor in acquiring the necessary visas and preparing us for the trip.
There was no reason for Rabbi Spalter to have become so deeply involved in helping us -- other than this being Chabad's way of ahavat Yisrael [love of a fellow Jew] -- and the "Great Mitzva Machine" which is the hallmark of this organization and the will of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
The experiences we had during this trip far surpassed anything during a lifetime of travel.
The emotional outpourings and gratitude of the families of Russians we had helped surpassed anything we deserved.
And when we witnessed the selflessness of refusniks, denied exit, but still helping others leave, we realized that in the comfort of our great country, our small efforts are insignificant.
Under the Chief Rabbi of Moscow, the Ezras Achim emissary there, Rabbi Berel Lazar, a vital and energetic revival is taking place which every Jew should see and experience.
Another shaliach in Kiev, Danny Edry, and his wife, Chana -- whom I nominate for the "Woman of Valor" award -- run a very open house, bustling with young people, visiting Chabadniks, and out- of-town guests, nostalgic for home and Shabbat. With the sweetness of an angel, Chana managed the impossible, while two babies clung to her skirt.
No one is turned away, regardless of their religious level.
Without exception, every place where we encountered Chabad -- Russia, Samarkand, Bukhara, Petersburg, Riga and Ukraine -- we never failed to find the same extraordinary and unbounded devotion, vitality and commitment.
Everywhere we went this contagious energy and pride in Judaism was longingly sought by hungry communities anxious to repossess their heritage and past.
And throughout all our travels we encountered no one who was able to achieve anywhere near the same degree of bonding and unity that Chabad was able to generate.
Travelling to Uzbekistan is no easy feat, but with his finely tuned organization, Danny Edry pulled it off for us.
The moment we disembarked from the plane, all our trepidation ended, for at the foot of the airplane stairs stood two Lubavitchers who had been sent to meet us by Danny Edry.
How to describe the spartan living conditions of the Rebbe's young emissaries in the CIS?
Suffice it to say that where there were no plumbers, they became plumbers; improvisation is their way of life.
The only time improvisation is not considered was in regard to halacha -- religious law -- there no shortcuts were taken.
We saw the Rebbe's teaching embodied in these young people who evinced such unparalleled love of their fellow Jews, such Torah wisdom exercised in every thought, word and deed, that we felt ourselves to be in the presence of true spiritual greatness.
I will never forget the scene of two young men leading us through the evening twilight to an ancient synagogue we had wanted to visit. As we walked the long road to the synagogue, young local followers flocked to join them on their way to services.
Throughout our time together, these young people raised our hopes and dreams for the survival of our people, dispelling the dark clouds left by so much intermarriage, assimilation and disinterest. These young shluchim of the Rebbe, scattered across the CIS, have the unmatched commitment to ensure the survival of Judaism.
Many times we have been asked why we are so involved with Chabad, since it seems out of character for two people so involved with politics, travelling and so many secular interests.
To us the answer is clear: In its extraordinary outreach network, which reaches into the far and remote corners of the world, Chabad provides for any Jew, a totally non-judgemental, accepting environment where he can participate at his own level, without criticism.
During the course of our trip, we were the recipients of this unconditional love which is the blueprint of Chabad.
The lifetime work of the Rebbe has been realized. Through his teaching he has created a Jew anxious to embrace all Jews.
People all over the world are reflecting on the great inspiration the Rebbe has given every one of us. It is important that these feelings be translated into action.
The Rebbe's slogan is "The main thing is the deed."
In this column we present suggestions from the Rebbe's talks of what we can do to complete the Rebbe's work of bringing the Redemption.
Mezuza check-up: It is customary during the month of Elul (which begins this Monday) to have the mezuzot in one's home checked by a reliable scribe.
The letters on the mezuza parchment can fade or crack due to age or exposure to the elements, thus rendering them unfit.
Jewish law requires mezuzot to be inspected at least twice in seven years. Call your nearest Chabad-Lubavitch Center for more information.
13th of Cheshvan, 5741 (1981)
...I was particularly gratified to note that you have officially assumed your personal Hebrew names.
This is certainly in keeping with the earliest Jewish tradition and something which was an important factor in the liberation of our ancestors from Egyptian bondage. For, as you surely know, one of the merits that brought about the Redemption from Egypt was the fact that the Jews there kept their Hebrew names and did not change them. And the significance of this is that a Hebrew name has a meaning and message that binds a Jew with G-d and His Torah, and this is especially important when Jews are in Exile.
2nd of Shevat, 5740 (1980)
...You write about the forthcoming opening of your new business on the 14th of Shevat, and may G-d grant that it should be with success.
P. S. It would be well that you should keep in your business place a tzedaka pushka into which you as well as your customers could put in a coin, which will further widen the channels to receive G-d's blessings in all needs.
Rosh Chodesh Iyar, 5731 (1971)
...Secondly, while it is true that the flow of time is beyond our control, since we can neither slow it or quicken it, expand it nor shrink it; yet, in a way we can directly affect time by the content with which we fill each day of our lives.
When a person makes a far-reaching discovery, or reaches an important resolution, he can, in effect, put "ages" into minutes. On the other hand, time allowed to go by without proper content, has no reality at all, however long it may last.
13th of Nissan, 5720 (1960)
...I take this opportunity to reiterate again what I have written to you several times in the past, that it is necessary to take care of one's physical health, especially in light of the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, that every Jew should serve G-d with both body and soul together.
24th of Tammuz, 5739 (1979)
...With reference to the matter of kosher, which you mention in particular in connection with the assertion that the kosher meat available in your area does not taste so good, I trust you will be able to find the proper words to explain (especially since you are an M.D.) that the proper food has a direct effect not only on physical health, but also on such matters as mood, nerves, thinking, etc., although the latter effects are often more subtle and hidden.
This should be obvious also to common sense, inasmuch as the food one consumes becomes assimilated by the body and is directly linked to its physical and mental capacities, as has also been confirmed by medical science.
Now, the matter of taste is linked with the palate and is of very short duration, whereas the consumption of wholesome and nourishing food is, of course, of lasting vital importance.
Insofar as a Jew is concerned, our Torah, Torat Chaim, given by the Creator and Master of the universe, is quite specific as to what a Jew may or may not eat, and only that which is permissible is truly wholesome and nourishing. And, as in the case of all G-d's mitzvot, they have been given to us not for G-d's benefit, but for our own benefit, and not only for our benefit in the Afterlife, but also in this life on earth.
In view of the above, surely indulgence in taste is of little consideration in comparison to the vital importance of observing the Jewish Dietary Laws in the everyday life.
The International Moshiach Center recently published its new catalogue which includes books, video and audio-cassette tapes, and just about anything else you can imagine having to do with Moshiach and Redemption. For a catalogue send either a SASE (#10 business size envelope or a blank diskette (DOS formatted) to: International Moshiach Center - 355 Kingston Ave. - Bklyn, NY 11213.
With nearly 1,000 day and overnight camps throughout the world, Chabad-Lubavitch has the largest camp network in the world. Total registration for this year exceeded previous summers by many thousands of children, especially in CIS where 10,000 children are registered.
Bound copies of the 6th year of L'Chaim, issues #256-304, are available.
To purchase one send $28 (includes s&h) to: L'Chaim Book, 1408 President St., Bklyn, NY 11213.
A limited number of copies of the 4th and 5th years are still available.
One of the innovative, hands-on Judaism programs sponsored by many Chabad-Lubavitch Centers is the Shofar Factory, where children have the opportunity to fashion a ram's horn into a shofar. This year there are 96 Shofar Factories in the U.S.
On Shabbat we bless the new month of Elul and on Sunday and Monday we celebrate Rosh Chodesh Elul.
The month of Elul is the last month of the Jewish year. Thus, it is a month devoted to introspection and repentance, in preparation for the new year.
Jewish teachings encourage us to be more careful and conscientious in our mitzva observance during this month, to say additional Psalms, give extra charity and make an honest reckoning of our behavior over the past year.
The Rebbe discussed the Sages comment of the need for the Jewish people to do teshuva before Moshiach comes.
The Rebbe stated (in the winter of 1991):
"The Talmud (Sanhedrin) states that the coming of Moshiach is dependant only on teshuva -- repentance. As to the continuation of the above declaration of the Sages, that "the matter now depends on teshuva alone," G-d's people have already turned to Him in teshuva. For teshuva is an instantaneous process, which transpires "in one moment, in one turn." Furthermore, a single thought of teshuva is sufficient to alter one's entire spiritual status....
"Since on more than one occasion every Jew has had thoughts of teshuva, the coming of the future Redemption is surely imminent..."
Thus, though we are obligated to continuously do teshuva, the Rebbe clearly stated that the teshuva necessary to bring the Redemption has already been done.
Another important concept that the Rebbe related in that same address was the need to judge others meritoriously. At this time of Divine judgement, it is ever so crucial to judge others "with a good eye."
"What we must constantly point out is the merits of our people, merits that are surely worthy of hastening the future redemption."
May we merit the Redemption, as the Rebbe prophesied, in the immediate future.
Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse (Deut. 11:26)
There are two different kinds of "today" -- the "today" of blessing and the "today" of curse.
Consideration of the present moment as an impetus for action can be either positive or negative: "If not now, when?" spurs a Jew on to do good, whereas "Eat and drink for tomorrow we die" leads him down the path of evil.
(Rabbi Chanoch Henich of Alexander)
You are the children of the L-rd your G-d (Deut. 14:1)
Just as the child is drawn down from the brain of the father, so are the souls of the Jewish people drawn down from G-d's Supernal wisdom.
However, the connection between the Jew and G-d is even loftier than that between an earthly father and son, for G-d's wisdom is not a separate entity from Him, but "He and His wisdom are one."
You shall not shut your hand from your needy brother (Deut. 15:7)
In Hebrew, the first letters of this verse spell out the word "Tehillim" -- Psalms.
Reciting Psalms on behalf of a poor person is not enough; one must open his hand and give him material sustenance as well.
(Rabbi Yisrael of Ruzhin)
Observe and hear all these words which I command you (Deut. 12:28)
"Observe" refers to the study of Torah, explains Rashi, the great Torah commentator.
Studying Torah preserves the G-dly spark within each of us, preventing it from becoming nullified and lost in the body's physicality and coarseness.
(Sefer Hamaamarim 5672)
One day as his disciples were all gathered around him, the Baal Shem Tov said to them, "I have decided that I will allow you to have a great revelation -- something which you have never merited to experience before. The only thing I ask of you is not, under any circumstances to laugh at what you are about to see.
They were very excited about the prospect and all gladly promised to abide by their Rebbe's injunction.
The following Shabbat the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples were together in the shul praying the service to welcome the Shabbat Queen. The Besht made a special point of indicating one certain worshipper, by all appearances a pauper, who was praying with an unusual intensity and devotion.
When the service had ended, the Baal Shem Tov and his Chasidim followed the man to his tiny cottage and hid themselves outside the door where they could peek into the window without being seen.
The man entered the room and addressed his wife with unbounded joy, "Good Shabbat to you, my dear helpmate."
"Good Shabbat to you, my beloved husband," replied the wife.
Although she was dressed in tatters, she seemed to be in exceptionally good spirits.
The Shabbat proceeded with the man singing a joyful version of Shalom Aleichem, welcoming the two angels who accompany every Jewish man home from the synagogue on Friday night.
The disciples of the Besht watched every movement carefully.
Next, the man turned to his smiling wife and said, "Please bring the wine, so that I may fulfill the commandment of 'Remember the Shabbat to keep it holy.'"
She rose and placed before her husband two small rolls. "Tonight, perhaps you will please recite the Kiddush over these rolls instead of wine."
And he replied in just as pleasant tones, "Of course, and I have no doubt that these rolls will be just as pleasing as the special wine that G-d is reserving for the righteous in Gan Eden to serve with the feast of the Leviathan when we will celebrate with Moshiach."
And the man said Kiddush over the two small loaves.
After the loving pair had washed for the bread and eaten from it, the husband again said to his wife, "Please serve the fish so that we can experience the joy of the Shabbat."
She brought to the table a plate full of beans, and served her husband a spoonful, taking the same amount for herself. "May it be G-d's will that a spoonful of these beans be as pleasing to you as the most succulent of pickled fishes," said the woman as she placed the beans on her husband's plate.
The man and his wife ate the beans with the greatest pleasure, as if they were enjoying the finest salmon.
The man sat at the head of the table, singing with a deep and musical voice, and in between tunes, he thanked the Creator of the Universe for bestowing upon them all that they needed to honor the Shabbat Queen. And the disciples looked on with growing wonder.
Next the man turned to his dutiful wife and said, "Now, please bring out the soup. Ah, your soup has the flavor of the sweetest and most delicate meats and greens." And with that remark he lifted another spoon of beans to his lips and ate them as if in ecstasy.
The scenario repeated itself as the man requested the meat course and the dessert. Each course was marked by the festive consumption of another spoonful of beans, accompanied by fervent thanks to the Al-mighty for having furnished the pair with all their needs for a joyous Shabbat.
When they couple had finished eating, and all the Shabbat songs had been sung, the husband rose and said to his wife, "Now, let us dance together to celebrate the honor of the Shabbat Queen so that we will merit the reward spoken of by our Sages for those who properly honor the Shabbat."
And the man began a little dance, while his wife devised a merry dance of her own, in a pure and wordless expression of their great joy.
The disciples who had been watching this amazing scene burst into a spontaneous, silent laughter. When he saw this the Baal Shem Tov cried out, "Didn't I warn you not to laugh! Now you have forfeited the right to the revelation, the marvelous gift I wanted to grant you!"
The disciples were crushed by disappointed. "Please," they begged, "please tell us what it was that you would have revealed to us."
The Besht acceded to their curiosity and told them: "I had wanted to grant you the power of enjoying the Shabbat to the same level experienced by this poor man and his wife.
For know that they did not taste the earthly delicacies; what they tasted was the Divine Shabbat itself. But since you were unable to restrain yourselves, you have lost the opportunity to attain this level of holiness.
With the coming of the future Redemption, when we will behold Moshiach for the first time, it would appear that one would have to recite the blessing of Shehecheyanu, thanking G-d "Who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion."
For this obligation applies in principle even when one has not seen a friend for thirty days.
(From a talk of the Rebbe, 1988)