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Is the glass half empty or half full? That's the typical example used when finding out if someone is a pessimist or an optimist. The pessimist always looks at what's missing, what isn't there, while the optimist looks at what is there, what's positive about the situation.
But are pessimism or optimism the only deciding factor in the way a person perceives the contents of the glass? Is there more to it?
Let's take another example, that of two people standing at the same point in a field. One person sees garbage and refuse in front of him. The second person sees a beautiful palace, lush gardens, idylic orchards.
Can these two people possibly be standing in the same field at the same location? Yes. But they are looking in opposite directions. The first person is looking in the direction from where he came, the city, whose rubbish is on the outskirts of the city. The second person looks ahead toward his destination, the palace and his meeting with the king.
In this scenario it matters not whether a person is a pessimist or an optimist. What is important is where the person focuses his attention.
The month of Elul is the time when the King of Kings is, so to speak, in the field. He is available to all, not hidden behind gates and doors and guards and officialdom. So, Elul is a unique time of mercy and accessibility.
As we stand in the field, ready and waiting to greet the King -- to ask G-d for our needs for the coming year, to beg for forgiveness, to request a good and sweet year -- we all stand poised at the same spot in the field. No Jew is closer or further away from G-d at that moment.
The only question might be, "In which direction are we looking?" Are we looking toward the rubbish and refuse of the city whence we came or are we looking toward the palace?
Looking toward the palace is constructive and invigorating in general. And in particular, it is beneficial as well.
When the Rebbe was asked how could he say that we are now in the time just before the coming of Moshiach, he replied with the above analogy and explained that it depends toward which direction one is looking.
By focusing our sights, goals and actions on the palace, the palace is in the center of our vision; it is our constant goal.
When the Redemption commences, G-d will continuously be "in the field" as G-dliness will be revealed in its totality in the Messianic Era.
Let's cultivate the ability to focus on the true destination, the Divine Palace. And let's do everything we can to continue advancing step-by-step toward our goal by doing good deeds, mitzvot and studying Torah until we walk hand in hand to greet Moshiach.
"At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he who is worthy of death be put to death, but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death," we read in this week's Torah portion, Shoftim.
But what happens if someone confesses to a capital crime? Is the Jewish court allowed to carry out a death sentence, according to the rule that "the admission of the plaintiff is worth 100 witnesses"?
Maimonides explains that this legal ruling applies only in monetary cases; when it comes to capital crimes, two witnesses are necessary to determine guilt.
Our Sages explain the difference thus:
A person's soul is not his property; it does not belong to him at all, but is only entrusted to him by G-d for safekeeping. For this reason it is not only forbidden to kill (oneself or others) but it is forbidden to cause harm or injury to the body, as well. An admission of guilt is therefore meaningless because it involves something which is not subject to ownership.
Wealth, on the other hand, is actually "owned" by the individual (as much as anything created by G-d, the Master of the world, can said to be "owned" by a human being). The testimony of the person involved may therefore be accepted as the determining factor.
This distinction is also reflected in the various blessings established by our Sages, appropriately called "benedictions of enjoyment."
We recite a blessing before eating or drinking, but not before enjoying our money. That is because the soul, which derives its pleasure and sustenance from the divine sparks in the food or drink we ingest, is not our own; we must therefore recite a blessing before we partake of G-d's goodness. However, we do not need to obtain G-d's permission before we spend our money. (Of course, G-d wants us to utilize our wealth for doing mitzvot, giving charity, etc.)
In truth, every single Jew is a "witness," for his observance of Torah and mitzvot attests to the existence of the Creator. The function of a witness, in both the limited and broader sense, is to uncover something which is hidden. G-d has placed the Jewish people in a physical world ("olam," from the word meaning hidden or concealed) to testify to His absolute sovereignty, and show through their actions how "everything came into being with His word."
When this will take place, the above type of testimony will not be necessary, for we will have entered the Messianic era and G-dliness will be self-evident: "The glory of G-d will be revealed, and all flesh will see that the mouth of G-d has spoken." May it happen immediately.
Adapted from talks of the Rebbe
The following letter was sent by Leah Lipsyz to friends "on planet earth" (as one of Leah's sons calls the United States now that the Lipsyz family has moved to the Crimea to be the Rebbe's emissaries there).
...When we arrived at the airport in Kiev we ran to get all of our luggage before anyone else did. The porter told us to go on through, and we "understood" that he was going to get the baggage through quickly. After two hours we were finally "cozily" seated in our own private Intourist bus. Filling up most of the bus were our 64 pieces of luggage. We squeezed into the front rows, with dreams of a comfortable ride gone. We traveled from that rainy afternoon until 7:00 the next morning. We were stopped 15 times and had to pay $60 in "fines."
Finally we arrived at our "temporary" quarters. Entering the courtyard of the shul we were met by Bubba and Liza (our upstairs neighbors), Reb Shimon (the head of the Jewish community), Rex (Bubba's dog), Iza (the cat who adopted the shul), and assorted others. Around noontime, we were unloaded, the Intourist bus gone, and I got up the courage to check out our lodgings.
The first thing that I encountered was the "kitchen": a 4' x 6' room with a counter and two hotplates. Then came a hallway with a teeny refrigerator, another cabinet, and a small enamel sink. Next came the living-dining-boys' bedroom. A wide doorway led to our bedroom, which featured a "sofabed" chairbed, and cabinet.
After unpacking all the boxes we could unpack and moving the remainder of the boxes into a "storage" area, we discovered that the space the boxes had been in was (sort of a) kitchen! The room itself had a sink with no plumbing, several broken cabinets, and -- just what every kitchen needs -- a bathtub! We outfitted the tub with a hinged door and it became a counter with storage below.
We spent the following day frantically looking for appliances to buy. If in America you can "let your fingers do the walking," here your feet do the running from "krome" (department store) to "krome" where people sell whatever they can get their hands on. We found a refrigerator which would have been great except it didn't work. In the next store we saw a freezer, but the man who owns it wasn't there. In another, we heard, "We're closed, come back tomorrow."
Finally, the next day, we found two freezers, a refrigerator, and an oven. Meanwhile, Rex somehow got a nice, juicy roast out of the outdoor locker we had been storing the meat in, and called his friends to join the party.
...At 12:30 in the afternoon, on the eve of Passover, everything was finally set up and we were ready to start cooking at a frenzied pace, when the water went off. I quickly taught Itchie [Leah's husband] and Zushe [her son] how to clean the fish outside. I was already a mayven, having done it the previous Friday. The kids peeled vegetables until the seder. At 5:00 people started coming. The seder wasn't called until after 9:30; they obviously don't know from Jewish time here. Soon there were a bunch of people in the courtyard who had washed up and were peeling horseradish! I lit candles and kept on preparing. People kept on coming -- over 200! Our only advertising had been word of mouth.
...Laundry is a whole other issue here. A few days before Passover I sent our laundry to a company to get done, but I got it back all wet and terribly wrinkled (except the things I didn't get back). The next time I needed to do the laundry, I tried the lady who cleans the shul. When she finally got around to it, she tried to take the "rich Americans" for a ride with the price. So there I was, a few hours before Shabbat, washing our clothing by hand in the bathtub. As there was no more room on Bubba's clothesline we put the remainder of the wet clothes in a garbage bag. "Make sure nobody thinks this is garbage and throws it out!" I said.
Then I took an icy bath; sometimes the water heater works and sometimes it doesn't. At candle lighting, 15 teenagers showed up unexpectedly. So we lit candles, davened, made kiddush, washed, ate, and sang. And I forgot about everything else. On Sunday morning Bubba took us to see her 92-year-old uncle's house which was for sale. It's the best house we've seen. If we can break down walls, and build up and out, we'll have a Chabad House. Cost--$15,000. Renovations--$20,000. Anyway, we came home and I saw the boys still needed to clean up before they could go to the park. I told each of the older boys to throw out one of the bags of garbage. "And don't forget to bring back the bags," I reminded them. Crazy as it sounds, when we throw our garbage in the dumpster, neighbors go out to retrieve the bags, jars, etc. to wash and reuse. And while they're doing that, our garbage ends up on the street. Since our American garbage is easily identifiable, we have to clean up their mess. So we dump out the garbage and throw the bags in after.
That night, when the kids were in bed, I started to pack for Itchie who is going to America today to raise money to buy Bubba's uncle's house. I picked up a wrinkled shirt and asked "Where is the rest of the ironing pile?" And then it all came to me... in my fog of not feeling well earlier in the day, I'd told the boys to take out the garbage... only one of the bags wasn't garbage... it was the ironing that I'd put on the side before Shabbat! We lit a candle (there aren't street lights on most blocks) and went out to see if the new shirts could possibly still be there (of course they weren't) and Itchie started laughing. "Hey, we look like real Crimeans now, looking in the garbage!" he chuckled
So I immediately thought of the Michoel Streicher song that has almost become our theme here: "When things aren't moving the way you've planned... don't give up, you've got to laugh it up, you've got to put your trust in Hashem."
Thirty days before the Holidays
Jewish law teaches us that thirty days before the commencement of a holiday we are to learn the laws of the holiday.
In addition, we should begin thinking -- and DOING something -- about the holiday needs of other Jews so that they will be able to celebrate Rosh Hashana and the days that follow in the manner stated in the Torah: "Eat sumptuous foods and drink sweet beverages and send portions to those who do not have prepared."
Letters from Elul
Erev Shabbat Kodesh Mevorchim Chodesh Elul, 5740 (1980)
I was pleased to be informed about the forthcoming Annual Dinner, celebrating the first decade of Bais Chana. May G-d grant that the event should be crowned with much hatzlacha [success] in every respect.
There is a special relevance in the fact that this event is taking place in the month of Elul, the last month of the outgoing year, which serves as a preparation for the New -- and better -- Year.
The significance of the month of Elul is alluded to in its very name, which as our Sages point out, is an acrostic of Elul, Ani L'dodi v'dodi Li -- "I turn to my Beloved, and my Beloved turns to me: (Song of Songs 6:3). It is the time of the year when Jews turn to G-d ("my Beloved") with a resurgence of love, and take the initiative to strengthen the bond with our Heavenly Father, through special efforts in Torah, prayer, and acts of loving kindness -- the Three Pillars on which the world at large, and the small world of the individual, rest.
It is also the time when "my Beloved turns to me" and promptly reciprocates and requites this love, and graciously bestows His blessings on all of us, as we are about to enter the New Year on a new dimension of mutual attachment. And since G-d's love knows no bounds, His blessings are boundless in all our needs; both spiritual and material.
In light of the above, I am confident that all friends of Bais Chana will -- in the spirit of Elul -- make a special effort on behalf of this most worthy educational institution, where Jewish daughters are educated and inspired to be worthy of our Jewish Mothers -- Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah, the Founders of the House of Israel, and will proudly fulfill their preeminent role of Akeret HaBayit -- the Foundation of the Jewish home: a home permeated with love of G-d and filled to overflowing with Torah, prayer, and mitzvot, to illuminate also its environs.
May G-d grant that the spirit of Elul will truly be reflected in your own generosity as well as in active personal involvement, to enlarge the circle of friends and supporters of Bais Chana as it enters the next decade of dedicated service to the community and to our people as a whole.
With prayerful wishes for hatzlacha in all above, and wishing each and every one of you, and yours, a kesiva vachasima tova for a good and sweet year,
12 Elul, 5724 (1964)
To the Campers of Camp Gan Israel
G-d bless you all--
I have, of course, followed with particular interest, the reports of your camp life and camp activities. I am pleased to know that you are doing well, and are benefiting physically and spiritually.
As the time approaches when you will soon take leave of your beloved camp and return to your homes and educational institutions, I want to express my hope that the benefit and inspiration which you have received from your camp will be a source of lasting strength to you in the coming year, and that you will share these benefits with others who were not as fortunate as you to spend weeks and months in Camp Gan Israel.
We are now in the significant month of Elul, the month of preparation for the new year. This is the month of opportunity, the month of special Divine grace and mercy. Of this month the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman -- founder of Chabad Chasidic philosophy] said that this is the time when, as it were, the King is in the Field. Instead of having to seek an audience with the King in His Palace, the King comes out to meet His subjects in the field. At such a time everyone can easily approach the King and present to Him a petition, and the King receives everyone with a gracious smile and fulfills the petition.
I firmly trust that every one of you will take the fullest advantage of this propitious time, to rededicate yourselves to the study of the Torah and the fulfillment of the mitzvot with a growing measure of devotion and diligence.
May you always strive to be a living example to others of what it is to be a son of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, a son of our people Israel and a member of the tribe of Gan Israel.
May G-d bless you with hatzlacha to carry out your good resolutions, in good health and with gladness of heart, and may He bless you and all your near and dear ones with a kesiva vachasima tova.
I received the following letter from one of our Listserv subscribers (Howard) who forwards the weekly L'Chaim's he receives via e-mail to several Jewish prisoners. Howard works for a Police Department in Eastern USA and has become observant himself -- thanks in large part to the material he receives and continues to receive from Chabad- Lubavitch in Cyberspace. He writes:
I now have another prisoner to whom I mail L'Chaim. Regarding the last L'Chaim I sent him he wrote the following:
I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed the current issue [#375] of L'Chaim that you sent to me. Having to deal with the Christian onslaught here on a regular basis, the "Slice of Life" by Jack Nadelman was not only great but very encouraging. I often have to defend my faith against the Christian prisoners who have a scripture for everything. This story was a great help to me and I am going to be well prepared in the future...
To contact Chabad-Lubavitch in Cyberspace, the web page is: www.chabad.org
Numerous customs are associated with our current month of Elul.
As Elul is a month of preparation for the High Holidays we increase, to the greatest extent possible, our repertoire of mitzvot and good deeds, in the hope that G-d will judge us favorably and seal us for a good and sweet year.
Among the traditional customs of this month are:
- Listening to the shofar being sounded daily. This aids our preparation and helps us in our repentance.
- Saying three extra chapters of Psalms each day (beginning with chapters 1-3 on the first of Elul, 4-6 on the second of Elul, etc.)
- Having our mezuzot and Tefilin checked during this month by a reliable scribe.
- Sending out Rosh Hashana cards to family and friends and wishing a "good and sweet year" when corresponding with or speaking to people.
- Spending time in self-reflection and stock-taking for the previous year.
- Enhancing our interpersonal relationships
- Asking forgiveness from those whom we might have wronged or hurt in the past year.
- Making good resolutions for the coming year.
Our involvement in these traditional actions will keep us sufficiently busy doing only good as we prepare for the coming year. And may we experience the complete revelation of Moshiach even before the new year commences.
Judges and officers shall you place at all your gates (Deut. 16:18)
It is explained in our holy books that these "gates" refer to the entrances to the "small city" (the human being in microcosm): the eyes, ears, nostrils and mouth.
When one places "judges and officers" at these "portals," i.e., when one utilizes them properly, the body is thereby transformed into a "G-dly city." This is especially appropriate to consider during the month of Elul (when this Torah portion is read), for it is a time when we take a full accounting of everything that has transpired in the "small city" -- thought, speech and deed -- during the previous year.
You shall be perfect with the L-rd your G-d (Deut. 18:13)
Just as it is important to safeguard one's physical health, a Jew must take steps to ensure that his soul is whole and that all his spiritual "limbs" are healthy. For just as there are 613 components in the human body -- 248 limbs and 365 sinews -- so too are there 613 parts of the Jewish soul whose state of perfection is dependent on observing the 613 commandments of the Torah.
In many prayer books, the words "I hereby accept upon myself the positive commandment of 'And you shall love your fellow as yourself'" preface the prayers themselves. One reason for this is that because our prayers are offered instead of sacrifices (which have to be whole and unblemished), so too must the entire "body" of the Jewish people (each one of whom is considered a limb) be whole and complete, united with love for one another, before we approach our Creator.
You shall appoint a king over yourself (Deut. 17:15)
The inner intent of this commandment is to instill in the Jewish people a sense of nullification before G-d and acceptance of the yoke of heaven. For a Jewish king is completely nullified before G-d; submitting to his sovereignty contains an element of nullification before G-d as well.
Once there lived a wealthy Jewish butcher in a town on the seaside. In his youth he had been quite poor, and had worked very hard to amass his wealth. Unfortunately, he had never had the opportunity to learn Torah, but he took great pleasure in praying and saying Psalms. He never forgot what it meant to be needy, and he constantly went out of his way to help his fellow Jews.
Every Friday afternoon before Shabbat he would distribute meat and money to all the poor families in the town. His good nature made him a favorite among not only the Jews, but also the gentiles of the town. His reputation even spread to the governor who favored him with an important appointment as the chief customs officer of the port. As such, he would collect taxes on imports and also collect a fee for his services. As one of the benefits of his job, he was also permitted to take any one item from amongst the goods. It was in the capacity of customs collector that he amassed an even greater for tune.
One day a ship arrived in port, and he went to inspect the goods on board. After he performed his duties, the captain approached him saying, "I have some especially good merchandise on board today. Something totally unique, but I am not at liberty to divulge to you the nature of this merchandise unless you want to buy it."
The butcher was very curious and asked what it was, but he always received the same reply: "I will tell you only if you agree to buy it."
"How much do you want for it?" he inquired. "Ten thousand gold coins!" was the astonishing answer. "You expect me to make the purchase without knowing what I'm buying?" "That's the stipulation. I assure you, you won't be disappointed."
The butcher was all but hooked, but the captain was enjoying his power over the butcher. He was no longer satisfied with ten thousand; he raised the price to twenty thousand coins, and then forty thousand gold coins!
Finally the butcher agreed. "I will pay your price. Just show me the merchandise!
"Only after you have brought all the money," the captain answered with a grin, and off went the butcher to fetch the treasure of coins.
Even as he went to collect the coins, the butcher was doubting his sanity. He returned and laid the money on the table. The captain turned on his heel and in a few minutes he returned with the "merchandise" -- Jewish men, women and children in tow -- bound hand and foot.
The evil captain couldn't restrain himself, and broke out into laughter: "Aren't you happy now? What a bargain you got yourself! If you hadn't bought them, they would have been food for sharks -- I certainly have no use for them!"
The butcher took the hapless people with him and left the ship as fast as his feet could carry him, lest the wicked captain have a change of heart. He kept thinking over and over again how G-d had inspired him to spend a fortune on unknown goods in order to save these Jews.
The butcher fed and clothed the former prisoners and treated them with the utmost kindness. One day he noticed a young girl from among them and thought, "This girl would be perfect for my son." The two young people agreed and preparations were made for the wedding.
On the eve of the great affair, the butcher circulated among the guests, offering a drink here, a dainty there, when he saw a young man sitting in a corner weeping.
"What is wrong? Everyone is rejoicing, why are you so sad?" The poor boy replied, "The girl who is about to marry your son was betrothed to me before we were abducted by the pirates."
"Why did no one tell me?" the butcher asked. "We are all so grateful to you, that no one dared disturb your happiness," the boy responded.
The butcher thought for a while, and then called his son to him. After recounting the entire story to the groom, he asked, "What do you want to do about it?"
"There is no question. Let the couple be married today as they had planned so many months ago. I will not stand in their way."
And so it was, that the entire village celebrated the marriage that very day. The butcher not only made them the wedding, but furnished them with a house and furnishing and enough money to begin a new life.
The Sages said of this man that with his forty thousand gold coins he purchased a place in the World to Come equaled only to that of the greatest tzadikim.
The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba 11:2) explains that Moshiach will reveal himself and then hide himself, whereupon, before he is definitively recognized, "Whoever believes in him and follows him will be content to eat the root of the broom and leaves of plants."