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From: Mitzvos, Middos and Miracles
by Miriam Adahan
No athlete can hope to win an Olympic medal without fierce dedication and abstention form the pleasure and comforts which others can enjoy.
The same is true in the "spiritual Olympics."
G-d, our "Coach," pushes us toward the gold medal: strength of character, which manifests in the unconditional love of G-d, self, mankind and life itself. Pain is not something to be ashamed of. Without adversity, how are we to know our greatness?
Thankfully, we are not threatened by starvation, freezing cold and dangerous criminals on a daily basis. How then are we to reveal our greatness? Through the endless variety of stressful events which G-d brings into our lives.
We may have "mini-Siberias," when we feel frozen in pain due to an illness, a critical relative or a financial crisis. In the absence of thugs, we are faced with people who thrive on crushing others verbally or physically. Instead of freezing weather, there are times when we feel isolated, angry, anxious and depressed.
The natural reaction to pain is rage and bitterness. The only way out of this darkness is with love.
A clue as to how to stay loving can be derived from a blessing we often say: "Blessed are You, L-rd of the universe, Who sanctified us with His commandments..."
An awesome idea: G-d has enabled human beings, mere flesh and blood, to sanctify their lives by following His commandments! Each time we bring G-d into our lives and put forth effort to refine our positive character traits, we not only sanctify that particular moment, but we also sanctify ourselves and our lives.
An apple is just an apple until, suddenly, with a blessing we reveal its inherent holiness. Money is coins and bills until used for charity. An ordinary day seems like just another day until we reveal its inherent holiness by turning it into Shabbat. The stressful events in our lives, such as illness or belligerent relatives, seem like just more in an endless series of frustrations until we use them as opportunities to practice self-refinement.
We have the power to reveal the inherent holiness in ourselves! When we demonstrate self-refinement and love for G-d in the midst of pain, we break down the barrier between the material world and the spiritual world and become aware of the interaction of one with other. In doing so, painful events become meaningful and bearable.
Imagine how we would feel if we got some kind of actual reward for doing a mitzva, such as an award for bearing the pain of an illness or a trophy for living with a difficult person for years on end. But no such things happens.
This is the struggle we have with spirituality; it's so subtle, and much of the time, the good we do does not seem to have any impact or leave any impression. When we give put a few coins in a charity box, give someone the benefit of the doubt, say a blessings, or don't return an insult, we do not see any major changes. In fact, it may seem like nothing has taken place.
But by seeing events in their true light, as spiritual challenges, we retain a sense of spiritual power and dignity, even if we feel physically helpless. This liberates us for the seeming absurdity of material reality. We are, in fact, accruing tremendous spiritual credit.
This Shabbat, known as "Shabbat Nachamu," is the first of the seven "Sabbaths of Consolation." A special Haftora beginning "Console, console yourselves, My people" is read.
Our Sages explain the twofold use of the word "console": "[The Jewish people] committed a twofold sin...received a twofold punishment... and are likewise comforted twofold." Elsewhere our Sages comment, "Because its mitzvot are doubled, so too are its consolations doubled."
Why this emphasis on the number two? How can a sin be twofold, anyway? Moreover, what is meant by the statement that the Torah's commandments are "doubled"?
The terms "twofold" and "double," refer to two different dimensions. Everything in a Jew's life -- the Torah and its commandants, the destruction of the Holy Temple and our consolation -- reflects this duality, for everything in the world is composed of both a physical and a spiritual component.
A Jew is a mixture of a corporeal body and spiritual soul, which together form a complete being. A Jew is considered whole when both aspects of his nature, body and soul, are working in tandem to serve G-d.
Mitzvot, too, are composed of these two dimensions.
Every mitzva contains a spiritual component -- the intentions behind it -- and a physical component -- the way the mitzva is performed.
This is what our Sages referred to when stating that the Torah's mitzvot are "doubled"; similarly, the "twofold sin" committed by the Jewish people refers to the physical and spiritual aspects of their transgression.
Accordingly, the punishment which followed -- the destruction of the Holy Temple -- was both spiritual and physical. Had the destruction been limited to the physical stones of the Temple, the G-dly light and revelation it brought into the world would have continued as before. However, the Jewish people "received a twofold punishment," and were chastised with a concealment of G-dliness as well.
The Holy Temple itself reflected this duality. The Temple was a physical structure, possessing certain limited dimensions. Yet, the G-dly light with which it was illuminated was infinite in nature. Its destruction was therefore a double blow as it affected both of these aspects.
When the Holy Temple is rebuilt in the Messianic era our consolation will be doubled because it will encompass both dimensions: not only will the physical structure of the Temple be restored, but its G-dly revelation will also return.
This double measure of completion will be brought about by King Moshiach, who possesses a perfect "composite soul" containing all the souls of the Jewish people, and is therefore able to bring perfection to all creation.
Adapted from Sefer HaSichot of the Rebbe, 5750, Vol. 2
This letter was received a few years ago by the editor's of The Jewish Press (New York)
I read with pleasure your article on Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn. I had the great fortune to personally experience this remarkable rabbi's dedication to helping Jews return to the observance of mitzvot. Even today, many years later and despite the anemia of old age, I blush when I recall the chutzpa displayed by six of my friends and me towards Rabbi Schneersohn, and how we were gently turned around.
It was the best of times (1929) -- we had no idea of what was to come. Several articles appeared in various Jewish newspapers available in Philadelphia in those days about one Rabbi Schneersohn, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who had been given the use of a house on 33rd Street by Mrs. Faggen-Miller, a woman well-known for her charitable nature.
These newspapers articles quoted the Rebbe at great length and in much detail. My friends and I read these articles and wondered amongst ourselves whether the Rebbe was actually planning to replace the Al-mighty. We discussed this with an official of our synagogue, and he suggested that we visit the Rebbe and ask him what he had in mind.
Accordingly, late one Saturday evening we all piled into the car and went to the 33rd Street address. Our intention was to confront the Rebbe and show him that we thought he was trying to displace G-d.
As we climbed the steps to the front porch, we saw through the window that the living room was crowded with men. We rang the doorbell and a dignified, bearded man came to the door and inquired what we wanted.
One of us responded:
"We'd like to speak to the Rebbe. We have an important question to ask."
All this time the man was taking notes. He said, "The Rebbe must know the question before he can see you."
"We'd like to know how he expects us to keep an old-fashioned religion in a modern country."
"You'll have to wait," he said. "You see there is quite a crowd before you. But come in."
We told him we'd wait on the porch as there wouldn't be room for all of us in the packed living room. In a few minutes he returned and said that the Rebbe would see us at once. He ushered us into the house, through the crowded living room, and up the stairs. We wondered why we had been admitted before all those people downstairs who had been there before us.
At the top of the stairs stood the saintly Rabbi. He was tall, handsome, with gleaming, bright eyes. He wore a large fur hat. His hand was outstretched in greeting. I was surprised since I never knew that Chasidic Jews extended their hands in greeting.
"This is the happiest moment I've had in Philadelphia," he said as he started to arrange chairs around his desk. We tried to help him but he insisted that he wanted to do this task himself. Once we were seated he took a long look at each one of us and then began, "You look like very intelligent young men, and therefore I must speak on your level. You are wondering about those people downstairs who were here before you. Well, here are some of the problems for which they are asking help .
"One man's daughter is seriously ill. What can I do? Nothing more than he can do, provided he approaches G-d. He should be able to ask for a complete recovery. Another has a lawsuit and wants me to pray that he will win. I do not know who's right, but he can pray that the L-rd will give justice. There's a man who wants to buy a business and wants me to intercede to make sure it succeeds. If I could do that, I'd be a rich business man. But if I could not answer your question, I'd have no right to be a rabbi.
"First, I must admit a great secret which you will most likely keep. There are 613 mitzvot; while the Lubavitcher Rebbe tries to keep them all, he finds it impossible to keep them all. So what does he do? Discard 613 mitzvot? No, he keeps as many of them as humanly possible."
With these few words he removed the venom we had brought with us. Then he asked us to try and keep as many mitzvot as we could. If we kept as many as we could, then we'd be doing the same thing as the Lubavitcher Rebbe!
Then we were asked for our Jewish names and the names of our mothers. We also offered our legal names and addresses but he said he had no use for them. Several of the boys put their hands in their pockets, but he stopped them with a gesture, thanked us, and said he had no use for money. He wanted mitzvot. He asked us whether we put on tefilin every day. Several admitted they had given it up. He even offered them tefilin so they could fulfill the mitzva. All of us promised to try to live up to his suggestions. He then blessed us individually, shook hands again, and we left.
We stood on the porch for nearly two hours digesting the visit.
Everyone agreed to pray at least once a day. One said he would give up his Saturday work as a dental technician and some months later he even prevailed upon his employer to do the same.
One of us, Gabriel Lowenthal, of blessed memory, attached himself to a synagogue and taught what he had learned from the Rebbe's philosophy to many others. I have lost track of some of the boys, but I'm sure the ten minutes we spent with the Rebbe strengthened the spirit of Judaism in all of us.
The Depression and later World War II gave me little hope of ever gaining more light from Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak. However, I found the continued inspiration from his son-in-law, the present Rebbe, to keep as many of the 613 mitzvot as I can.
Lewis Bokser, Philadelphia
Give more charity
Giving charity, according to our Sages, hastens the Redemption.
The Rebbe explains, "On the United States' currency it is written, 'In G-d We Trust.' Trust implies more than faith. It is faith so strong that one invests all that one has. Similarly, our faith in G-d must encompass our entire being."
A JEWISH MARRIAGE
3 Shevat, 5738 (1978)
Miss T.Y. Kalms,
P.S. For understandable reasons I preferred to express my prayerful wishes to you and your fiance in the original and traditional text [*] hallowed over generations, especially as it would represent no language problem for you.
However, I would like to add some thoughts also in English for the benefit of those who are more fluent in it, with whom you may wish to share them. Though what follows is no doubt superfluous in your case, I am prompted by the saying of our Sages, "Encourage the energetic."
As you know, a Jewish marriage is called a Binyan adei-ad, "an everlasting edifice." It means that the Jewish home and married life must be built and structured on the foundations of the Torah and mitzvot, as emphasized by our Sages, whose saintliness was matched by their true wisdom.
The metaphor is meaningful in that when it comes to laying the foundation of a building, it is of no concern what neighbors or passers-by might think of the outer attractiveness of the foundation, much less what scoffers might say about it. What is important is that the foundation be of tested and durable material that can withstand any erosive elements and that it should be strong enough to support the upper floors that will be added to it.
The same is true of the "foundations of Torah and mitzvot." There is no better test than actual experience, and our Jewish people has the wisdom and conviction of thousands of years of experience, ever since Matan Torah at Sinai, that it is adherence to the Torah and mitzvot in the daily life that has preserved our people -- both collectively and individually -- through all possible crises, and made us the "Eternal People."
This is particularly relevant in our day and age, when all sorts of "isms" have brought so much confusion and disturbance into the lives of the young generation. With the Torah and mitzvot illuminating their way of life, young people starting out on their own can follow this path with a profound feeling of security a nd confidence, and it is also rewarded with hatzlocha [success] in terms of well-being, both materially and spiritually.
Since your letter and my reply have been written in proximity to Chanukah, may G-d grant that all the above come to you and your husband-to-be in a manner of increasing brightness -- on your part, by increasing the light of Ner Mitzva v'Torah Or [a mitzva is a candle and the Torah is light] in a steadily growing measure, and on G-d's part -- increasing His blessings to Ner Hashem Nishmat Adam ["G-d's light is the soul of a person"], to the soul and body together, likewise in a manner of increasing brightness.
Mr. P. M. Kalms,
P.S. In addition to the P.S. to your daughter and her fiance, as per enclosed copy, I reiterate prayerful wishes that together with your wife you should have much true Yiddishe and Chassidishe Nachas [Jewish and Chasidic pleasure] from the newlyweds and each and all of your offspring and, in due course, theirs, and in growing measure, as expressed in my letter to your daughter.
The zechut [merit] of your worthy deeds for spreading and strengthening Yiddishkeit in general, and for the cause of Chasidut in particular, will stand you and yours in good stead, in accordance with the blessings of my saintly father-in-law, at whose holy resting place you will be remembered. And may you always have good news to report.
It is my pleasurable duty to express my appreciation of your being instrumental in arranging a meeting of our Askonim [lay leaders] with Prime Minister Menachem Begin during his recent visit. This, too, will surely bring good fruits, and in a growing measure, as above.
[*] A translation of the traditional text follows:
In reply to their notification of the date of their wedding, I hereby extend my blessing, the blessing of Mazel Tov, Mazel Tov.
The wedding should be in a good and auspicious time and they should build a home in Israel which should be an everlasting edifice on the foundation of Torah and mitzvot as they are illuminated with the light of Torah; namely the teachings of Chasidut,
With the blessing of Mazel Tov, Mazel Tov.
10TH ANNUAL GALA WEDDING
On a recent Sunday, ten Russian couples were married according to Jewish law amidst great joy and celebration with family and friends. The couples were from different towns in the State of New Jersey.
Toward the conclusion of the wedding, special educational gifts were given by Rabbi Mordechai and Shterney Kanelsky, directors of Bris Avrohom, sponsors of the annual Gala Weddings. Similar celebrations, sponsored by Chabad-Lubavitch affiliate organizations, took place in Israel, Canada, New York, Chicago and Detroit.
TO LIVE AND LIVE AGAIN
A new series from Sichos In English gives an overview of the Revival of the Dead based on the teachings of Chabad Chasidism. Compiled by Rabbi N.D. Dubov of Wimbledon, England, To Live and Live Again is an eye-opener into the fundamental Jewish principle of belief in the Resurrection of the Dead.
For more info contact SIE at 788 Eastern Pkwy, Bklyn, NY 11213 or call (718)778-5436. E-mail address: email@example.com
The weekly Torah portion is divided into seven readings, each reading being associated with one of the seven days of the week. Thus, on the 20th of Av -- when we commemorate the yahrzeit of the Rebbe's father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson -- we read the fourth portion of the Eikev where it describes the uniqueness of the tribe of Levi.
Maimonides explains that this uniqueness is not reserved only for those whose lineage is from that tribe but includes, "each and every person... whose openness of his heart dictates to rise above the material concerns of this world and make ' G-d his portion and his inheritance,'" i.e., to dedicate himself to the study of the Torah and the performance of the mitzvot.
At a gathering, the Rebbe described how his father's life exemplified the desire to make G-d his portion and his inheritance:
"Although the Russian government at that time pressured rabbis to issue proclamations declaring their support of the government and their willingness to accept its authority, my father conducted himself as a rav did in previous generations [and did not succumb to the pressure].
"Furthermore, he did this with mesirut nefesh -- self-sacrifice. In particular, this is reflected in his journey to the Russian capital to receive permission to bake matzot in a kosher manner. This journey was successful and they agreed to accept his rulings regarding the kashrut of these matzot. Although this caused financial loss to the government -- and that was considered a very serious matter at that time -- my father refused to authorize the use of any flour that was not supervised by his supervisors, supervisors who would not bend despite the pressure they were subjected to. The matzot which were baked under his supervision were then distributed throughout Russia.
"Although he knew of the possibility of severe punishment, he continued his efforts to spread Yiddishkeit, and furthermore, did so while in exile itself. Moreover, he was recognized for his wisdom by non-Jews, and when they asked him for advice, he also endeavored to influence them to fulfill their seven mitzvot, and to the extent possible at that time, he achieved this... My father's desire was to spread Judaism in his own community and throughout the entire Jewish people and to do so with mesirut nefesh."
May we truly learn from Reb Levi Yitzchak's mesirut nefesh and incorporate it into our daily lives until the revelation of our true and righteous Moshiach.
And I besought the L-rd at that time, saying... "Let me go over and see the good land" (Deuteronomy 3:23-25)
Why did Moses so desire to enter the land?
"The Jewish people have been commanded many mitzvot which can only be done in the land of Israel. Let me therefore enter the land so that they can all be performed through me," he reasoned, as related in the Talmud.
Moses' motivation was not personal. Rather, had Moses merited to accompany the Jewish people into Israel, the Final Redemption would have occurred immediately, without the necessity of having to endure subsequent exiles and wait several thousand more years for Moshiach.
(The Rebbe, 5746)
From there you will seek the L-rd your G-d and will find Him (Deuteronomy 4:29)
It is precisely when you seek the L-rd your G-d "from there" -- from the depths of your heart and with a sense of complete nullification before the Creator, that "you shall find" -- the sudden revelation of the greatest G-dly light.
(The Baal Shem Tov)
You have been shown to know that the L-rd is G-d (Deuteronomy 4:35)
When G-d revealed Himself on Mount Sinai to the soul of every Jew of every generation, He thereby made it possible for any Jew who sincerely desires to serve Him to perceive the true essence of the world, despite the darkness and concealment of what presents itself as reality.
Hear, O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One (Deuteronomy 6:4)
"My children," G-d declares to Israel, "everything I created in the world I created in pairs: heaven and earth; sun and moon; Adam and Eve; this world and the world to come. I alone am without counterpart."
The making of a shidduch, a match between a man and a woman, is as difficult as splitting the Red Sea. In the case of the marriage of the daughter of the renown Rashash (Rabbi Shmuel Shtrashun) of Vilna and the son of Reb Zalman, maybe it was even harder.
One day, as the Rashash sat immersed in his Torah studies, a local tailor by the name of Reb Zalman came to borrow some money.
The Rashash was not only a noted scholar, but in addition to his job as a banker, he administered the free-loan fund.
When he explained his needs, Reb Zalman was given three hundred rubles which were to be paid within one year. The Rashash duly recorded the transaction in his ledger book and went back to his studies.
When Reb Zalman appeared before the Rashash exactly one year to the day later with the entire three hundred rubles in his hand, the Rashash was deeply involved in a difficult problem in the Talmud. He took the money, but since he didn't want to interrupt his studies, he inserted the money into the back of his large tome. So preoccupied was he with his learning that he completely forgot that Reb Zalman had ever been there that day.
Two months later, when the Rashash was checking over his ledger, he spotted the name of Reb Zalman, the tailor, who had borrowed three hundred rubles from the fund, and had not yet repaid the debt. He summoned Reb Zalman to his office, but when he asked that the money be repaid, as it was already overdue, Reb Zalman turned pale, and replied, "But I paid it exactly on the due date!"
The Rashash had no memory of the incident, and according to his records, the money was still outstanding. There was nothing to do but go to a rabbinical court to decide the matter. When the simple tailor and the great scholar went together to a Jewish court, the whole city was ablaze. How could Reb Zalman have the chutzpa to try to pull one over on one of the greatest scholars in Vilna! Imagine him contradicting the great Rashash, respected guardian of the city's free-loan fund!
The court ruled that since there had been a debt incurred and it was only the word of one man against another, Reb Zalman would have to solemnly swear that he had repaid the money, and then he would be absolved of the debt. Swearing, however, is no light matter. The Rashash was not willing to subject a fellow Jew to the possibility of swearing falsely, and so he decided to drop the entire matter.
But the case was not closed. In fact, it never really closed, for the townspeople were filled with disdain toward the unfortunate tailor. They stopped patronizing his shop, and wouldn't even look his way in the street. Eventually he had to close his business and move to a small village outside the city. He and his family were completely broken by the whole episode.
The following year, the Rashash was again studying the same subject he had been engrossed in when Reb Zalman had repaid the debt. Fingering the pages, he was astonished to find a pile of bills stuck in the back cover of the book. Then it all came back to him in a rush. He pictured in his mind the figure of Reb Zalman, proudly handing over every last penny of the loan, and saying, "Here is all the money I owe, and today is exactly one year to the day."
The Rashash was overcome with emotion. How much misery he had caused by his carelessness. He rushed to the home of the tailor, but he no longer lived there; then he went to his shop, but there were different occupants. After asking around, the Rashash discovered the extent of the damage that had ensued. He made his way to the small village and there, in a broken down shack he found Reb Zalman.
"Reb Zalman, please forgive me! I have just found the money you repaid! You were right all the time, and I was wrong!"
"So, I forgive you, but what does that help me? I have lost everything, my livelihood, my home, my reputation. I am a broken man."
"I will do everything humanly possible to help you regain your position. I will return your money, but that is not all. I will stand on the bima of the synagogue and announce that I have wronged you."
"That won't help. Everyone will just think, 'The Rashash is truly a great man. In his compassion for the poor tailor, he is trying to help cover up for him.'" When he heard that, the Rashash knew that the tailor was speaking the truth, for people would, indeed, think that way. What could he do that would really make amends for all the suffering Reb Zalman had endured?
"Reb Zalman, I have a daughter who is almost of marriageable age. You, I believe, have a son. If I betroth my daughter to your son, no one will be able to doubt that you are an honest and upright man, for I certainly wouldn't align our families forever if it were not so.
Reb Zalman agreed. Here was a solution that would work. The two young people agreed to the match, and the betrothal was celebrated in a fitting manner.
Reb Zalman was restored in the estimation of the community, and the Rashash had corrected the effects of his mistake. The young couple, who would never have come together except for the incident between their fathers, was blessed with great happiness. And that is how difficult it sometimes is to make a shidduch, harder even than splitting the Red Sea.
Rabbi Meir said: "From where do we learn 'Resurrection' in the Torah? From the verse, "Moshe and the Children of Israel then sang this song to G-d". The literal meaning of the verb is not "sang" but "shall sing." Thus the Resurrection of the Dead is taught in the Torah.