The Perfect Time To Choose A New Mitzva | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | A Call To Action
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Putting on your shoes. Opening a food package. Responding to an inquiry about one's health.
These, and many other day-to-day activities, are part of our Divine service.
In small, seemingly insignificant ways that we cannot possibly enumerate comprehensively, we bring the spiritual into the mundane, thereby creating a comfortable place for G-d in this world.
Whenever the Rabbi of Ternigrad visited the Chozeh of Lublin, the Chozeh would always make a point of personally attending to his guest's needs in some way, thus fulfilling the mitzva of waiting on a Torah scholar.
Once, after serving his guest coffee, the Chozeh washed out the cup and returned it to its place.
The rabbi asked why the Chozeh troubled himself with this detail.
The Chozeh replied:
"When the High Priest took out the empty incense spoon and the ash pan from the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, this too was part of the Divine service of the day."
G-d gives us the incredible opportunity to infuse the most mundane areas of our lives with spirituality.
When putting on shoes, Jewish law instructs us to first put on our right shoe, then our left. Then we are to tie our left shoe followed by our right. "How controlling," some might protest. "The Torah is trying to dictate our every action and move, each thought and emotion."
Nothing could be further from the truth than this reaction.
The Torah is giving us the chance to connect with the Divine even when performing a trite, unimportant act.
Incidentally, it has been explained that the order to use when putting on and tying shoes teaches us not to show favoritism, not to select one side over another. Through our interaction with an inanimate object we become habituated to benevolence!
When you open a package of food on Shabbat or Yom Tov, don't tear through the letters, thereby "erasing" a word. Picayune, inane? No way! We are being sensitized. We are being taught how to bring holiness into every action, every breath, every thought.
When someone asks how you are, you can respond, "Thank G-d, I'm doing just fine." You have just shown gratitude to Your Creator. And, you have reminded yourself and the other person that there is a G-d in the world.
The Talmud states:
"The transgressors of Israel are as full of mitzvot as a pomegranate with seeds."
No wonder. It's so simple to do mitzvot.
We are infinitely lucky that G-d makes it so easy for us.
The fact is that opportunities to do mitzvot easily and painlessly, are endless: Greet people with a smile; say, "Have a good, sweet new year; drop a coin in a tzedaka box; give your seat to an elderly person; tie your shoes the "Torah" way; buy the ketchup with the kosher symbol instead of the one without a kosher symbol; check the egg for blood before you cook or bake with it. The list goes on.
When we realize how simple it is to do mitzvot, it entices us to want to do some that require a little spiritual elbowgrease.
Though any day is auspicious, Yom Kippur is the perfect time to choose a new mitzva to undertake for the upcoming year.
The mitzva of teshuva, returning to G-d in sincere repentance, is a commandment independent of a specific time or place. Whenever a Jew commits a sin, G-d forbid, he is immediately obligated to do teshuva.
In this light, a Jew who never sins is technically exempt from the mitzva of teshuva, for he has neither misdeeds to regret nor a need to repair his relationship with G-d.
According to this simple explanation of teshuva, the comments of Maimonides concerning Yom Kippur are problematic: "Yom Kippur is a time of teshuva for all," he writes, "both for the individual and collectively...everyone is obligated to do teshuva and confess his sins on Yom Kippur."
The question raised by Maimonides' words is therefore two-fold:
If a person is obligated to repent immediately after committing a sin, why repeat the process again on Yom Kippur?
Furthermore, why would a Jew who never sinned need to do teshuva at all?
Yet Maimonides maintains that "everyone," without exception, is obligated in teshuva on Yom Kippur.
The answer to these questions lies in the very essence of Yom Kippur and the uniqueness of the day itself.
The teshuva one does on Yom Kippur is of a different nature than the teshuva that is required as a result of one's transgressions, and is an obligation that falls equally on every single Jew, regardless of his spiritual standing.
Throughout the year, the mitzva of teshuva is dependent on the individual's personal circumstances.
If a Jew sins he must do teshuva in direct proportion to the severity of the transgression.
A person who never sins is logically exempt from this obligation.
On Yom Kippur, however, the obligation to return to G-d stems from the holiness of the day itself. On Yom Kippur, it doesn't matter whether a Jew transgressed, G-d forbid.
For those Jews who may have committed a sin and not properly repented during the year, Yom Kippur offers atonement simply by virtue of its holiness.
At the same time, those individuals who have already corrected their behavior can reach an even higher level of teshuva on the holiest day of the year.
Maimonides explains that every Jew must confess his sins on Yom Kippur, even those for which he has already done teshuva, as it states in Psalms, "For my sin is before me always."
This obligation applies even to tzadikim (the righteous), for "there is no righteous person in the world who does only good and does not sin." Every single Jew is obligated to thoroughly scrutinize his deeds on Yom Kippur, irrespective of his current level of observance.
The uniqueness of Yom Kippur -- a "time of teshuva for all" -- lies in the special bond between the Jew and G-d that is revealed on that day, a connection that transcends the limitations of the natural world.
Integral to this special relationship with G-d is the obligation to do teshuva in an ever-increasing and ascending manner, both for those who may not yet have done teshuva in the most basic sense and those who stand on a higher spiritual plane.
With true teshuva, every Jew can renew his commitment and attachment to G-d on Yom Kippur, and be blessed with a good inscription in the Book of Life for the coming year.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 29
by Tzvi Jacobs
It was just before dawn. Faige whisked her baby down the stairs while her husband, Beryl, balanced their two and three year olds in each arm. The other children piled into the station wagon on their own.
An hour later we arrived in Bridgeport and began looking for Oak Street, in the section called, "The Hollow."
In the 40s and 50s this old part of Bridgeport was a thriving immigrant neighborhood of Jews and Italians, but this was 1985 and all the Jews had long gone; some hardy Italians remained in the "neighborhood" and ran their auto body shops or small slaughter houses, or visited "The Hollow" for their motorcycle club meetings.
A man appeared out of nowhere. He walked with a swaying gait. "Excuse me, sir," Rabbi Beryl Levitin called out his window. "Do you know where Oak Street is?"
"Right there. (Hiccup.) Just swing around by the Columbus School," he said, pointing to the old grammar school at the next corner.
With no street signs we could easily have passed the decrepit- looking building, with an ancient, peeling wooden sign which read, "Live Poultry."
Stacked crates of chickens lined the walls. Chicken feathers, straw and chicken waste matted the concrete floor.
"Get out of the way," a big gruff man barked. We jumped back as he barged through with a crate of cackling chickens under each arm. "Stand by the door. Can't you see you're in the way?"
He wasn't in a good mood. Sweat mixed with dirt covered his face and his bare, muscular arms.
"I'm Levitin. We came from New Haven," Rabbi Levitin said softly, but undeterred.
"You said you'd be here by 6," the man said angrily. It was five after 7.
"I'm too busy, don't have time for this nonsense," he said.
"We'll wait till you have a break," Rabbi Levitin said quietly.
"Forget it. I got a lot of work to do. Go home, and do your rituals someplace else," he said, turning his back and going about his business.
I figured there was no taking to this guy. "Beryl, should we leave?" I asked.
"We'll wait," Beryl answered.
Beryl did not give up easily when doing a mitzva.
On the eve of Yom Kippur it is customary to rise early in the morning and perform the rite of "Kaparot." But if it is not possible to do it on the eve of Yom Kippur, the rite may be enacted the previous day... which is exactly what many people did in New Haven at the New Haven Hebrew Day School where Rabbi Levitin and I taught.
And, if one cannot procure live chickens, even a fish can be used. Or a person may recite the Kaparot verses while swinging some coins wrapped in cloth over his head. Afterwards, the money is given to charity.
But when one is raised in a home in Soviet Russia, where one's father was a follower of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and a teacher during the Stalinist years, driving to Bridgeport early in the morning was not an impossibility -- especially compared to Siberia, where Beryl's father spent his final years for the crime of teaching Judaism.
So, waiting for that cranky Italian butcher to give us some live chickens was not too difficult for Beryl. After an hour had passed, the butcher called out, "O.K., take a chicken!"
"My wife and daughters need hens, and my sons and friend and I need roosters," Beryl said.
"I'll give you one rooster and one hen," he said.
"One for everybody. I'm paying you for them," Beryl answered firmly. "White ones, please."
The angry look on the butcher's face scared me. He grabbed a crate and swung it onto the table. "Hens. Take what you want," he said.
Wasting no time, Rabbi and Mrs. Levitin each took a hen and started helping two of their daughters do kaparot.
Chaya Elke, 5, held the hen in her right hand and repeated in Hebrew the words after her mother.
Next Faige and Chaya Elke lifted the hen over Chaya Elke's head, and said the following words as they turned the hen nine times around her head: "This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my atonement. This chicken shall go to its death and I shall proceed to a life, good and long and to peace."
Suddenly, painful sobs were heard. Tears were streaming down the butcher's face.
"What's wrong?" Beryl asked compassionately.
The butcher was really crying. "My Zaide used to do that with me when I was a little boy. When Zaide died, I was only seven, and that was it for anything Jewish. My parents were too busy working, they ran a store six days a week. On Sunday, they were busy doing the books.
"Two weeks before I turned 13, my father took me to a rabbi and said I need a Bar Mitzva. The Rabbi said, 'No problem. Just give me $20; he'll repeat the blessings after me. Bring him back in three Sundays; we'll be reading the Torah then.'
"Like your three-year-old daughter, I repeated the words after the Rabbi. Only, being 13, I was so embarrassed. What's worse, no one was listening, just talking and laughing through the whole thing. That day I swore to myself that I'd never set foot in a shul again. And I haven't."
"Do you want to 'shlug kaporos?'" Beryl asked.
The Jew reached for a white rooster, and he repeated the kaporos prayer after Beryl, word for word. But this time, no one was laughing. There were only tears.
Spend time during these "Ten Days of Repentance" in sincere introspection with the knowledge that "nothing stands in the way of repentance."
Our sages have taught that our transgressions are turned into merits if we repent properly.
The Rebbe adds that by beginning to fulfill a mitzva that one had previously neglected and encouraging others to do so, one can actually retroactively rectify any spiritual damage caused by one's neglect.
From a letter of the Rebbe
In the Days of Teshuva, 5732 (1972)
On Rosh Hashana, all Jews as one, proclaimed their acceptance of the kingship of G-d as indicated in the Torah portion read before Rosh Hashana: "You are standing firmly this day, all of you together...your heads...to the drawer of your water."
I wish to take up a point brought out by Rabbi Shneur Zalman, namely, that in certain respects the "foot" assumes the role of "head," the latter following the former.
Indeed, this occurs also in the body, where the head directs the entire body, yet the legs and feet have the special quality of moving the body, together with the head, from place to place.
This analogy applies also in the spiritual realm, where this "water-drawer" can rise to the level of "head" and serve as an inspiring example to be emulated by the "head."
For "heads," in the spiritual sense, denote intelligence, understanding and comprehension in depth, whereas the "water- drawer" refers to a person whose spiritual approach (the observance of the mitzvot) is often no more than mechanical, as also in the case of his physical counterpart, the actual water-drawer, whose job requires no thinking or special comprehension, but only faithful compliance with the task.
How is it possible, then, that the "water-drawer" should be-come "head," and "your heads" should follow him?
Moreover, in the category of "your water-drawer" -- in the lowest order of Jewish diversity -- there are further subdivisions, down to the inclusion of Jews who are the spiritual counterparts of the water-drawer in the plain sense, and products of similar circumstance that made him into a water-drawer: he was born with a minimum of intellectual capacity, precluding him from engaging in an intellectual occupation; he grew up in poverty, without any means for intellectual pursuits, consequently, he could do no better than become a water-drawer.
However, since his absolute ignorance and simplicity were entirely no fault of his own -- for he is a product of circumstances beyond his control -- he is included in and united with the community of Israel as part of "all of you together."
But how can also this kind of Jew rise to the level of "head," as above?
This leads to a further question:
Inasmuch as G-d has prescribed the manner of Jewish conduct in daily life, how is it altogether possible that there could be a situation wherein a Jew does not have the possibility of conducting himself, in all details of his daily life, in accordance with the will of G-d?
Yet, as we all know and see, in certain parts of the world, there is such a situation where Jews -- with all their desire and even self-sacrifice -- are actually precluded from adhering in every detail to the Will of G-d, because of circumstances beyond their control.
To cite a well-known analogy:
Self-sacrifice can spur a person to jump from the roof, but it cannot make him leap from the ground to the roof.
The answers, briefly, are as follow:
To be sure, the essential thing is the actual deed.
On the other hand, feeling and devotion are also of supreme importance.
Thus, when a situation sometimes arises wherein a Jew finds it impossible, even with self-sacrifice, to carry out a Divine commandment in actual deed, it evokes in him a distress and anguish at being unable to perform the particular mitzva: a true and profound anguish that pervades him through and through to the core of his soul.
This brings him to such a close attachment to G-d and to Torah and mitzvot and Judaism in general, the like of which he could not have attained without the said distressing experience.
In such a case, not only is he deemed quite guiltless for not having actually fulfilled the mitzva -- since he had no possibility of doing it -- but he is rewarded for his intense desire to fulfill it.
What is even more important, his soul henceforth gains a profundity and completeness to which he might possibly never have otherwise reached.
Also, in regard to actual performance, it becomes evident that when G-d eventually takes him out of that situation and places him in circumstances in which he is able to carry out the mitzva or mitzvot which he was previously unable to fulfill, he now carries them out with a depth, enthusiasm and sincerity which he had not had before.
Thus, the "water-drawer" becomes a "head" in the performance of mitzvot to perfection with all his heart and soul, so that those who had not been through this crucible of pain can emulate him and be inspired by him.
A word of precaution must here be inserted, which is of extreme importance:
The Yetzer-hara [Evil impulse] is an expert in his trade, an extraordinary specialist, particularly when he injects a most effective "bribe" -- the person's natural self-love.
One of the accuser's tricks is to delude a person into thinking that he is unavoidably prevented from performing a mitzva, bolstering this delusion by various arguments and "proofs," giving no respite.
And since a person tends to be partial to himself, and it is very difficult to be objective in a matter concerning his own self, a person must be always aware that what seems to him a case of being a victim of circumstances, is not necessarily so in actual fact.
Therefore, in order to clarify his true position, he must turn to a person who is beyond such bribery and corruption, not corrupted also by a desire to be popular, but one who is permeated by the spirit of the Torah of Truth and truth brooks no compromise.
For only such a person can evaluate the situation and determine whether it is indeed a case of unavoidable constraint, or delusions stemming from the Yetzer-hara....
See Jewish life come alive as the Chasidic International Welcome Center introduces you to Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
A walking tour of the Lubavitch community of Crown Heights includes a behind-the-scenes-look at Lubavitch World Headquarters, a mikva, a Chasidic Art Gallery, matza bakery (in season) and more.
For more information or a free visitor's kit call 1-800-838-TOUR.
The Kashrut Committee of the Lubavitch Women's Organization just published a new brochure introducing some basic concepts about keeping kosher.
For a free copy of the brochure, send a SASE (#10 business) to: Kashrut Brochure, 750 Eastern Pkwy, Bklyn, NY 11213.
For information about making your home kosher call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center or (718) 771-4342.
WEST SIDE TRIBUTE
The Jewish community of the "West Side" of Manhattan will be gathering for an evening of inspiration and reflection in tribute to the Rebbe.
The evening, Sunday, Sept. 11, 1994 from 7:00pm 9:30 pm, will include remarks by respected rabbis and members of the community and a moving video presentation on the Rebbe.
It will take place at Lincoln Square Synagogue, 200 Amsterdam Ave.
For more info call Chabad of the West Side at (212) 864-5010.
We are currently in the days known as the Ten Days of Repentance from Rosh Hashana up to and including Yom Kippur.
In the midst of these awesome days we observe the yahrzeit of Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson, mother of the Rebbe.
In a talk following his mother's yahrzeit, the Rebbe noted that all women named Chana share a connection to the first Chana.
The Biblical Chana was a prophetess and the mother of one of our greatest prophets, Shmuel.
A scene from her life, and her prayer -- the intertwined request for a child and the Messianic Era -- are the Haftorah reading on the first day of Rosh Hashana.
Two stories recounted by the Rebbe at gatherings in honor of his mother's yahrzeit illustrate a fundamental concept.
The first anecdote took place when the Rebbe's father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, was in exile.
Rebbetzin Chana ingeniously managed to produce different color inks from wild plants for Rabbi Levi Yitzchak to use in writing his Torah innovations, as he was not even afforded ink with which to write.
The second incident related by the Rebbe took place after Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's passing.
Rebbetzin Chana miraculously succeeded in smuggling Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's writings out of Communist Russia.
The Rebbe explained that these two incidents teach us that when, by Divine Providence, a mission is given to an individual -- even if that mission seems utterly futile or impossible -- one's efforts will ultimately be crowned with success.
Though one must work within the confines of nature, one must not be constricted by nature, for it is the infinite and supranatural G-d who has presented one with this mission.
As our Divinely appointed mission in these last moments of exile is to hasten the Redemption's arrival and prepare ourselves for the long-awaited Messianic Era, we can look to the prophetess Chana and her namesake, the Rebbetzin Chana, for inspiration.
And, as the Rebbe concluded a letter written on Rebbetzin Chana's yahrzeit: "May G-d grant that everyone actively strive for the above, in accordance with the prayer of the prophetess Chana:
'My heart rejoices in G-d, my strength is uplifted through G-d... I rejoice in His help... and He will raise the horn of His Anointed one (Moshiach).'"
We are like clay in the Creator's hand
(from the Yom Kippur prayers)
Bricks of clay can build an opulent mansion or a wretched hovel; so too it is with us. The only question is the type of edifice we wish to build -- a palace to bear testimony to G-d's glory, or a destitute and poverty-stricken shack.
(Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli)
For the sin that we have sinned
When confessing our sins it is customary to beat the chest just over the heart as a symbol of repentance as each transgression is enumerated. Yet logically the opposite would seem to make more sense: Should not the heart strike out at the hand that actually committed the sin? Our intention, however, is the source of all transgression -- the lusts and desires of the heart that lead to sin.
(Hegyonot Shel Ami)
For the sin that we have sinned with an insincere confession (literally "a confession of the mouth")
This type of sin is one to which we have already confessed, but have only given lip service, as it states in Psalms, "For my transgression I will tell; I am worried that I not sin." Although the lips may have declared their concern, the heart does not participate...
How to repent
A Jew once came to the saintly Rabbi Yisrael of Ruzhin and cried, "Rebbe! I am a very great sinner and I want to repent." "So why don't you repent?" the Rabbi asked him. "I don't know how," he replied. "Where did you learn how to sin?" the Rabbi asked. "First I sinned, and only afterward did I learn that it was a sin," he explained. "In that case, you already know how to proceed," the Rabbi said. "All you have to do is repent. Afterwards you'll see that you did it properly!"
by Chana Heilbron
It began like any one of the indistinguishable, mechanical days which had followed one another in monotonous succession.
We, that is my mother, my two sisters and I, lived as Christians like the scores of families surrounding us on all sides.
We shared their bomb shelter, we ate their food, we trembling with them at the ceaseless crash of bombs over Budapest.
Our society of a hundred women, children and disabled men became our whole world; only rarely did anyone venture into the death- infested streets to bring news of the war-crazed world outside.
Thus, day followed day till we had lost the will to count them.
Yet, as soon as I woke up, I knew that there was something different about this day.
Suddenly I remembered: since the day before yesterday, no one knew where Max was, or, at least that's what they told me. Max was my only friend in this place full of strange faces and fear.
Where could he be?
My mother told me time and again not to go with him on our "promenades" around the shelter, but I went anyway. Max would come, hoist me in the air onto his shoulders and say, with his big laugh: "Well, my queen, where shall we promenade today? In the forest primeval? By the babbling brook? Or shall we just roam through the fields of laughing daisies?" Then each broken chair and bed and old box in the dingy cellar turned into trees and rocks and flowers.
But there was another side to Max, too.
In the middle of a promenade he would mutter to himself and begin one of his interminable tirades about G-d.
"Where is your G-d now? Why is He hiding? Where is His justice to those who have served Him faithfully?" He would go on for hours.
This morning, my mother prepared breakfast, but neither of my two sisters nor my mother touched the food.
"Why aren't you eating, Mommy? Why isn't anyone eating?"
"I'm not hungry this morning." Suddenly she put her two hands on my head and said a few words quietly the way my father often did. Then I started to cry.
"Where is Max, Mommy? Why doesn't he come back?"
"Shh -- don't talk about him. It's dangerous."
"Are you still angry with him for what happened...?" "Nothing happened. You must forget it."
But I couldn't forget it. It was the night before last, the night before Max left.
Max barged in on us, and began to rummage through our belongings. Suddenly, he found a little book. He looked into it and then started laughing. My mother walked in.
"Of all the insane things in the world! A siddur (prayerbook)!" He shouted at my mother, "What do you think this is going to do for you?"
"I don't know what you are talking about or where you got that thing."
Then, she crossed herself solemnly. But he didn't leave right away. First, he tore out all the pages of the siddur, shredded them, spit on them and stamped on them wildly. I made a move forward but my mother's eyes were on me and I froze.
Then Max looked at me.
"At least you should know, there is nothing up there. Remember that." With that he walked out, and that was the last I saw of him.
It was evening when I sensed a sudden commotion; someone had come in, someone new.
I ran out to look -- maybe it was Max.
But, then I stopped, frozen.
The man who was hurrying forward with his head bent was not Max - - it was my father.
His face was deathly white and I noticed a steady trickle of red dripping from his fingers.
Someone had denounced him to the Gestapo and they came looking for him in his hiding place. He jumped two flights out of a window, scaled one concrete garden wall after another and outran and outwitted a detachment of SS men.
"Soon I must go. With the help of G-d, our passports to Switzerland should be coming through soon."
"I will make you something warm to drink," my mother said.
"No, it isn't time, yet," my father answered.
"You must eat something -- you must have some strength, I tell you!"
"And since when does our food give us strength?" my father asked softly.
"And who knows whether fasting does not give more strength than food? This is the time when each man's deepest nature is uncovered and each man sees what he wants to see. If only we could understand G-d's ways!"
(Only days later did I hear what else my mother found out that day. It was about Max. He had been found in a doorway near our shelter. Tacked onto his clothing, they found a piece of paper with the word "Jude" in big letters.)
I had been sitting playing with a flashlight when my father left. Now, my mother called out angrily, "Put that down!"
"But why?" Then my mother's anger faded and she leaned close and whispered in my ear. "Because it's Yom Kippur."
My hand dropped the flashlight. So that's why nobody had wanted to eat! Blurred images flitted through my mind -- my father blessing me, people in white, and the whole day in shul -- but it was so far away.
Now I wanted to think about Max.
Somehow I had a sad, empty feeling that he wouldn't come back, and I was angry at him.
(All in the shelter was spared except for Max. Ed.)
Proclaim to all our love; walk in the midst of our camps; seek the redemption from our exile; reveal the end of exile when You will acquire us again; come swiftly to have mercy upon us; proclaim that we are Your chosen people and we will acknowledge You as our G-d.
(From the Yom Kippur prayers)