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Being in a "zone" is a term used by athletes to describe being so zeroed in on a task that they are oblivious to distractions. Getting yourself into your own personal zone means getting into your most productive state. How is this accomplished?
One suggestion from psychologists is to follow a ritual.
"On operating rooms days, California oral surgeon Al Steunenberg always rises at the same hour, drives to work along the same route and parks in the same parking place. He dons his scrub suit top first, then the pants; washes the right hand first, then the left; moves to exactly the same position beside the patient.
"It's not superstition. In following his ritual, the surgeon systematically focuses on the task ahead. By the time he is ready to operate, he is completely in his zone." (From Discover Your Achievement Zone by Edwin and Sally Kiester, Reader's Digest, August 95)
Following rituals not only helps you focus on the task ahead and enter your "zone" in the work-world, they can also help you enter your spiritual zone.
Let's take the example of prayer. There are many rituals that we do that help us get into a "prayer zone" before we even begin praying.
If we were going to a crucial meeting, we would certainly perform various preparatory actions in order to get ready. In addition to making sure that our dress was immaculate, that we had brushed up on the proper etiquette, and that we had sufficiently "psyched" ourselves up, we would use the time traveling to the meeting to further contemplate and meditate on the ramifications of the meeting and the various strategies we wished to present.
When we pray, we are attending the ultimate meeting with the Biggest CEO of all. But, as we don't see G-d, it is much more difficult to get into the mood of preparing for our meeting with Him. So we have "rituals" that help us get into our zone, that help us psyche ourselves up for that all-important meeting.
True, we have been cautioned not to make our prayers "fixed" or habitual, repeating the words like a meaningless chant, but with the right attitude, our rituals help us get into a "prayer zone." We wash our hands before praying; give charity; recite a declaration that we take upon ourselves the obligation of treating our fellow Jews with kindness, love and respect; and have a fixed place for prayer.
These pre-prayer rituals are neither are they trivial or trite. They help us reach our "prayer zone" so that we can connect with G-d more effectively.
Take an example from the upcoming High Holiday period. The annual rituals help us get into the "mood," reach our spiritual "achievement zone," and get ready.
An entire month before Rosh Hashana we start wishing people verbally and in writing that they should be signed and sealed for a good year. A simple ritual like that helps us (and the person we're saying it to) focus on what we should (and should not!) be doing to insure that we have a good year.
The month before the High Holidays we sound the shofar daily. Let's face it, if you don't already know how to blow the shofar one month before Rosh Hashana, practicing won't help enough. And even if it does help, why a whole month and not just a few days before Rosh Hashana?
Sounding the shofar is another pre-Rosh Hashana ritual. Our prophets say that one can't possibly hear the shofar without being moved to introspection.
The closer we get to Rosh Hashana, the more the rituals intensify. This includes saying the special "Selichot -- Penitential" prayers starting this Saturday evening.
Even the more well-known and seemingly less significant rituals such as dipping apples in honey, eating honey-cake, or sending and receiving Rosh Hashana cards create an atmosphere that not only brings back warm memories, but also helps us focus on the significance and uniqueness of this time of year.
So, as we begin to perform "all those rituals," let's remember that not only does each ritual have its own unique spiritual ramifications and significance, but it also helps us arrive at our achievement zone more efficiently.
This week's Torah portion, Tavo, opens with the mitzva of bikurim -- first fruits. "You shall put it in a basket...and the priest will take the basket out of your hand."
Closer study of the Torah's laws of bikurim reveals that the presentation of the basket (usually made out of wicker) to the kohen was an integral part of the mitzva itself.
Interestingly, while the fruits that were brought were only the choicest (and only selected from the seven varieties with which the land of Israel is praised), the basket that was used for them was made of a common material.
This seeming contradiction in the mitzva of bikurim contains an allusion to the descent of the soul from the higher spheres and its incarnation in a physical body down below.
The fruits of the bikurim are symbolic of the soul; the basket is the corporeal body. Handing the basket to the priest represents the purpose for which the soul made this drastic descent.
In general, the first fruits are symbolic of the Jewish people; more specifically, of the G-dly soul as it exists Above, completely transcendent of the physical world.
G-d's plan, however, is for this rarefied soul to become enclothed in a body, a coarse and lowly "vessel" which contains it, as it were.
This vessel makes it difficult for the soul to express its connection with G-d, even to the point of obscuring its true mission in the world. Again, just as in the mitzva of bikurim, the holy and superior "fruit" is contained and even constrained within the confines of a simple and unpretentious "basket."
Chasidut provides the reason for this, explaining that the descent of the soul into a physical body is a "descent for the purpose of ascent": It is precisely through its sojourn on the physical plane, having to confront the difficulties of this world and overcome them, that the essence of the soul is revealed and a higher level of spirituality attained -- much higher than could ever be reached without experiencing this descent in the first place.
In principle, "fruits" alone are not enough; the objective of the soul's descent is "fruits within a basket."
The soul's ascent is accomplished through the performance of practical mitzvot, which can only be done with the help of the "vessel" -- the physical body. For in truth, the soul was already filled with love and awe of G-d before it came down into the material world; the only change it experiences upon finding itself in a body is that it can now do physical mitzvot, something that was previously impossible. Thus the soul is rendered capable of elevating the physical world and turning it into holiness -- the very intent of all of creation.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Volume 29
The following is an excerpt from a speech given by Rochel Chana Schilder at the 1995 International Chabad Women's Convention, a student of Machon Chana Women's Yeshiva in Crown Heights
A year and a half ago, I was the editor-in-chief of a holistic health magazine in Princeton, NJ. I had recently bought a house, had an established community of friends and colleagues, was the barn manager of a stable of ten horses (two of which were mine) where I worked six mornings a week, and had a freelance writing and editing business in my so-called spare time.
You may think that a person with a settled-in life, a career, a home, and major responsibilities, would not be a likely candidate to quit her job, sell her house, and move to Crown Heights to study full-time at Machon Chana. But then again, one may never know who is ready to move, quit, sell, or change everything in his or her life to study Torah.
I became religious about six years ago. I was in the New Age world, spending nearly two decades floating in and out of almost every religion there is, including some that I made up on my own. But with all the talk of peace and love and light, I was miserable. In fact, I've often wanted to write a book entitled, "If this is love and light, why are we all in therapy?!!"
My desire to connect with G-d was enormous, but I just couldn't find the right keys to the palace. Finally, a friend lent me some tapes on Jewish Mysticism that a Rabbi in Flatbush had made, and the first thing I learned was that G-d wants us to do mitzvot (I didn't even know what a mitzva was), and if we're not doing mitzvot, He wants us to do teshuva (repentance). And if we don't do teshuva, then G-d sends us suffering... I became Shomer Shabbat in a week, and koshered my kitchen within a few months. Although I know that Chabad's explanation of G-d's relationship with a Jew is quite a bit gentler, this approach certainly worked for me.
I had come to Crown Heights as an observer. I knew virtually nothing about the Lubavitcher Rebbe, but my Chabad emissaries, the Dubovs, suggested that I spend Simchat Torah in Crown Heights because they were going to be here themselves and didn't want me to be without a place to go for the holiday.
My trip to Crown Heights might just have been a memory, had I not spied a flyer on my hosts' countertop about an hour before I was set to return to Princeton. It was addressed to the community from a place called Machon Chana. I had never heard of Machon Chana and nobody had ever mentioned it to me because the thought of me interrupting my over-committed life to attend classes in Brooklyn of all places, was just too absurd for anyone to imagine.
I started to attend Sunday classes, getting up at four in the morning, driving to the barn, feeding 10 horses and cleaning their stalls, changing my clothes in the saddle room, and driving to Brooklyn.
Rain, snow, sleet, I never missed a Sunday.
I commuted from New Jersey for my first full-time semester during one of the worst winters in history. My car would skate on the ice back and forth from the barn in the morning, in the dark, but I would arrive for my first class at 8:00 a.m.
If anyone thought what I was doing was unusual (and plenty of my friends did!), I couldn't understand why. Didn't they know that when G-d finally grants a person her life, obstacles are of no consequence? Didn't they know that when the soul pierces through the haze to recognize Truth, it is invincible? So, thank G-d, that's the story of how I got here.
About twenty years ago I was living in Florida, and happened to see a young woman who had had too much to drink going up to everyone she saw saying, "Are you my ride home?" In her desperate attempt to quell her loneliness, she would ask one person, and then another, in the same words in the same voice, "Are you my ride home? Are you my ride home?"
I remember laughing about it at the time, but somewhere deep down her words haunted me. So many people in the world were searching, often desperately, for their ride home, and so was I. I had asked college, a career in business, New Age spirituality, and the other accouterments of secular life if they were my ride home.
But when I came to 770 on Simchat Torah a year and a half ago, I had the great fortune to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe, across 770, from the farthest corner of the women's section. In those few seconds, I knew that not only had I found my ride Home, but that it would be in the Rebbe's royal coach.
I want to thank Machon Chana for all that I have learned there, for its brilliant teachers, for the warm and open hearts of its staff, and for its dedication to women from all over the world who have returned to Judaism.
Where would so many of us be without its open doors?
Say the special Selichot Prayers:
Saturday evening, September 16, after midnight, the first Selichot ("prayers for forgiveness") will be said in synagogues throughout the world.
From Monday morning through the eve of Rosh Hashana the Selichot prayers are said in the early morning. Go with the whole family Saturday night, let the kids stay up late! This is a real, "hands-on" Jewish experience that is bound to be remembered for months if not years.
Call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center for exact time and the location nearest you.
First day of Selichot, 5713 (1953)
To my brethren, everywhere, G-d bless you all
Greeting and Blessing:
On the threshold of the New Year, may it bring blessings to us all, I send you my prayerful wishes for a good and pleasant year, materially and spiritually.
Rosh Hashana marks the beginning of a new year since the Creation, a new date in the cycle of time, and everyone hopes and prays that it will also be the beginning of a new year in one's personal life, one that is "good and sweet materially and spiritually."
It is significant that the anniversary of the Creation is not celebrated on the first day of Creation, but on the sixth, the day when Man was created. Although all other things making up our vast universe -- the inanimate, vegetable and living creatures -- preceded the creation of Man, as is related in the Torah in the first chapter of Genesis, nevertheless it is on the anniversary of Man's creation that we celebrate Rosh Hashana, and on this day we say, "This is the day of the beginning of Thy works!"
Herein lies a profound lesson for every one of us:
Man, the microcosm ("small world"), contains within him all the "Four Kingdoms" into which the macrocosm, the universe at large, is divided.
In the course of his life man passes through the stages of inanimate, vegetable and animate existence until he reaches maturity and begins to live a rational and spiritual life of a human being.
Even then, in his daily life, he may experience a varied existence, as reflected in his deeds and actions: Part of the time he may be regarded in the category of the inanimate; at other times he may vegetate, or live an animate existence; but a true human being he is when his activities give evidence of his intellectual and spiritual qualities.
Moreover, the name "man" is justified only then, when also those areas of one's life and activities which correspond to the animal, vegetable, and even inanimate "kingdoms" are sublimated, elevated and sanctified to the level of human quality.
Rosh Hashana, and the Ten Days of Repentance introducing the new year, is the time for self-evaluation and mature reflection on the profound lessons of these solemn days:
Just as the world, all the world, begins its true existence, an existence befitting the purpose of its creation, from the day Man was created, who immediately after coming to life proclaimed the sovereignty of the Creation to all the universe : "Come, let us worship, let us bow down and kneel before G-d our Maker" inspiring the whole universe with this call (Zohar 1, 221b; Pirkei d'Rabbi Eleazer, ch. 11), thereby making all the universe an abode for the Divine Presence and carrying out the inner purpose of the Creation,
So each and every individual must realize that his whole essence and purpose consists in the predominance of the true human element of his being and the "humanization" of the inanimate, vegetable and animal parts of which he is composed.
It is not enough, not enough at all, if part of his time and effort correspond to the behavior of a true human being; it is absolutely necessary that the "man" should inspire, sublimate, elevate and sanctify all his component parts, including the animal, vegetable and inanimate, in order that they, too, respond to the call, "Come, let us worship, let us bow down and kneel before G-d, our Maker."
Such a life, in accordance with the Torah and mitzvot which G-d, our Maker, has given us, and only such a life, justifies one's own existence, and justifies thereby also the Creation.
With the traditional blessing of kesiva vachasima tova
Chabad-Lubavitch of Long Island is committed to helping you kosher your kitchen, helping you make the transition as smoothly as possible. They'll answer your questions about kosher products, help you adjust recipes, tell you the Jewish law, and most importantly, give you a listening ear.
For more information about this important way to help ensure Jewish continuity, call 1-800-9-2-KOSHER; in Long Island call 516-351-TORA.
The following is a letter that I wrote to the parents of the 127 youngsters attending the [Lubavitch] Rabbinical College of America's Summer Learning Program. Thanks for sharing it with your readers,
Sincerely, Bernice Jansen
Today I had a most joyful experience because of your sons. I live in Morris Plains, shop at the Acme, and do laundry at the Rub-A-Dub.
Usually, Wednesday is a pretty quiet day, but today introduced me to what seemed like hordes of happy, beautiful exuberant, polite boys in both places who were patient, helpful and friendly. They informed me that they are students at the Advanced Summer Program at the Rabbinical College in Morristown.
Because of this, I have contacted Rabbi Gordon to let him know how pleasantly overwhelmed I was, and to make a small contribution of $100 toward next year's camp.
While I am a Gentile, I appreciate and support a religion raising such outstanding young men,
The next few days are our last chance -- our last chance to key into the special qualities of our outgoing year and use these qualities to our advantage.
Our current year is a "Hakhel" year. In the times of the Holy Temple, the year following the Sabbatical year was a time when all Jews from all over the Holy Land gathered in the Temple to hear the King read from specific parts of the Torah.
Many years ago, in preparation for a Hakhel year, the Rebbe pointed out that even though we do not yet have the (Third) Holy Temple, we can appreciate the Hakhel year and benefit from some of its spiritual advantages.
The Rebbe indicated that an appropriate way to observe the Hakhel year would be by making gatherings which would include words of Torah, prayer and charitable acts.
These gatherings could and should be repeated throughout the entire year by Jews of all ages, from toddlers to seniors. As all Jews, from the youngest infants to the elders of our people, were all present at the Hakhel gatherings in the Holy Temple, it would be appropriate for all Jews of all ages to make and participate in these gatherings.
In addition, the Rebbe explained that the Hakhel year also teaches us a very important lesson in our personal lives. We must take the opportunities and extra spiritual strength afforded us by the Hakhel year to get ourselves "together." Each individual should gather and unite all of his or her soul powers and unify them toward enhanced G-dly service.
The Rebbe explained that these activities help us prepare for the ultimate Hakhel gathering that will take place in the Messianic Era, when all Jews, from all parts of the world, including the "ten lost tribes" will be gathered in the Third and eternal Holy Temple, may this gathering take place this very day.
And you shall go to the place which the L-rd your G-d will choose to place His name there (Deut. 26:2)
A Jew does not travel the face of the earth of his own volition; Divine Providence leads him from location to location for the sole purpose of "placing His name there" -- to sanctify the name of G-d in that particular place.
The "Reproof Section" (Deut. 28: 15-68)
In truth, all the curses that are mentioned in this section are directed against the enemies of the Jewish people, as it states, "And G-d will place these curses upon your enemies and upon those who hate you." This prophecy will ultimately be fulfilled in the Messianic era, when G-d will cause "the spirit of impurity to depart from the earth."
You will be mad from the sight of your eyes which you will see (Deut. 28:34)
Coveting everything one sees is indeed a terrible curse, for it is the root cause of all the other punishments that are mentioned in this Torah portion, eventually leading to "you will be only oppressed and crushed always."
Because you would not serve the L-rd your G-d with joy and with gladness of heart... therefore, you will serve your enemies (Deut. 29:47)
We see from this that joy is such an important part of the Jew's service of G-d that the harshest punishment of "you will serve your enemies" is not meted out for a deficiency in the service itself, but for worshipping G-d without joy and vitality.
When the Jew is happy, G-d is happy, as it were, and even the harshest decrees are annulled -- analogous to an earthly king granting amnesty to his prisoners when he is in a cheerful mood.
Reb Avraham Mordechai of Pinczov, a chasid of the Chozeh, had three daughters to marry off but no means with which to do so.
"You are a chasid of the Chozeh [the Seer] of Lublin," his wife would tell him. "Why don't you ask him for help?"
Finally he relented and told his problems to the Chozeh, who replied, "Go to the town of Krasnik. The solution to your problems is waiting for you there."
The chasid took his clothes, books, talit, and tefilin and packed them all into a chest. He went to Krasnik and rented a room at an inn there. From the look of the chasid's chest, the innkeeper assumed that his new lodger was wealthy. The inn keeper treated him well, served him hot, cooked meals, and always made sure Reb Mordechai had everything he needed. As for the chasid, he spent his days studying Torah, waiting for the rebbe's bracha to come true.
Several weeks passed in this fashion. The innkeeper began to get suspicious. "You know," he remarked one day to his wife, "he hasn't paid me anything yet, and he hasn't done any business here since he came. I'm beginning to think he's not so rich after all.
Tomorrow I will ask him to pay me. If he doesn't, I'll take whatever he has -- though it doesn't amount to what he owes me -- and I'll send him off."
That night Reb Mordechai had a visitor. It was the melamed -- tutor -- of the innkeeper's children. He looked very nervous. "I have a confidential matter to discuss with you," the melamed said. "You must promise me you won't reveal it to anyone."
"I won't breathe a word about it to anybody," the chasid promised.
"Ten years ago my boss, the innkeeper, came back from a very profitable business trip. He had made ten thousand rubles. He put the money into a drawer and locked it up. I was up late that night and noticed that in my boss's excitement, he had left the key to the drawer on the desk. I was suddenly seized by a desire for the money. I opened the drawer and took out the money, hiding it in the backyard. The next day the innkeeper noticed the empty drawer.
"He became very agitated and began accusing this one and that, but it never occurred to him or his wife that it might be me, because they had always thought I was a very honest man.
"My conscience smote me when I saw how upset they were. I wanted to give them back the money, but I knew if I did, my reputation would be ruined. I was haunted by my deed day and night. Many times I was at the point of returning the money, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Everyone would know what I had done, and I would be a ruined man.
"For ten years it's been eating at me, Reb Mordechai. I'm sorry I ever took the money. I have wished a thousand times that I hadn't taken it. I have never touched even a penny of it although there were times, believe me, that I could have used it.
"Please, can you help me out?" Would you give them back the money for me? I can't eat or sleep until it is returned. And don't worry. They'll never suspect you because you weren't here when it happened ten years ago. And I trust you that you won't give away my secret."
And the melamed handed the ten thousand rubles over to the chasid.
The following morning, Reb Mordechai spoke to the innkeeper.
"I would like to tell you something private, but you must promise that you will ask me no questions."
"I promise," the innkeeper said.
"Did you ever have anything stolen from you in this house?"
"No, I don't remember anything like that ever happening. Wait. Yes, it did, but it was a long time ago -- ten years ago," replied the innkeeper.
The chasid took out the bundle of money and put it in the hands of the astonished innkeeper. It was the long-lost bundle of ten thousand rubles.
"Wha-wha-what's this?" the innkeeper began to ask but recalled his promise and stopped. But perhaps he could ask something else. "Reb Mordechai, what are you doing here?"
"I'm not exactly sure myself. I'm only doing what my rebbe told me to do." And the chasid told the innkeeper his personal story.
The innkeeper realized that he was now in a position to help out the chasid. Besides, Reb Mordechai had just done him a tremendous favor. "How much do you need to marry off your daughters?" he asked.
The chasid added the figures in his head and told him.
The innkeeper gladly gave the chasid as much as he needed.
When Reb Mordechai returned to Lublin, the Chozeh explained, "The melamed wanted so much to do teshuva that he wasn't letting me sleep at night. That's really why I sent you to Krasnik."
Excerpted from Why Did the Baal Shem Tov Laugh? by Shterna Citron, published by Jason Aaronson.
The destruction of evil in the Redemption will transform human life beyond recognition.
The battle against evil is so woven into our lives that its removal will create a different world -- a world without locks and police, without guns and punishment, without disgrace and hate, without jealousy and money-lust.
(The Days of Moshiach)