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"Let's talk," the significant other says to the other. "Sure. We'll go for a walk. But I have to take the phone with me. You know I'm expecting an important call." Rrrrrrrrring.
"Let's talk," Mom says to Jeremy. "Sure, Mom," blip, bleep, blip. "Let me just finish this game. I'm getting the highest score yet."
"Let's talk," Melissa says to Dad. "Sure, hon. As soon as I'm done balancing the check-book and paying these bills I'll be right with you. Give me about an hour."
"Let's talk," Grandma says to Jennifer. "Sure, Gram. But I have to run out to the store before it closes. They're having a great sale and I want to see if the sweater I tried on last week...."
Just imagine. A candle-lit dinner. Fine wine. Delicious food. And the family together to enjoy each other's company for a couple of hours without the distraction of the phone, the Sega, the t.v., shopping, or the bills.
That's a Shabbat meal, and it's yours for the taking.
In today's day and age, with cellular phones, lap-top computers, and consumerism like never before, a Shabbat meal is truly an island in time.
It's simpler than you might think.
Start the meal by sanctifying the Sabbath with the blessing over the wine. You'll be surprised at how many exquisite kosher wines are available these days. (You thought, maybe, that while technology has raced ahead kosher wines have stayed in the dark ages and are all syrupy sweet?)
Then, wash your hands and say the "Hamotzee" over challa -- home-made, store bought, whole wheat, or low cholesterol, any will do just fine.
And then, enjoy a Shabbat meal with your family. Cook the night before with everyone pitching in, or buy it at your local kosher take-out place. Serve it on your finest china (and help the environment) or use throw-away so clean-up is easier. Enjoy traditional Jewish foods, or organic vegetarian, or anything in-between.
But don't forget one of the main parts of this whole experiment: take time to talk and listen, without extraneous interruptions.
Try a Shabbat dinner with your family or close friends. You'll be amazed at how special it is.
In this week's Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, Abraham sends his servant Eliezer to find a wife for his son Isaac.
"And [Eliezer] departed, having all goodly things of his master in his hand." Our Sages explain that Abraham entrusted Eliezer with all of his substantial wealth in order to impress the family of the prospective bride and obtain their agreement to the match.
This in itself was an unusual occurrence. While it is not at all extraordinary for a father to share his riches with his children during his lifetime, why was it necessary for Abraham to put all of his wealth at Isaac's disposal?
Furthermore, Abraham was an extremely wealthy man; surely sending Eliezer on his mission with just a portion of his riches would have been enough to sufficiently impress Rebecca's family.
The answer lies in the fact that this was not to be just any marriage of two individuals. Rather, the union of Isaac and Rebecca was the first Jewish marriage after the mitzva of circumcision was given. Thus, their union represented the perpetuation of the Jewish people in holiness for all time.
By committing all of his wealth to this end, Abraham thus underscored the tremendous import and significance of this marriage. For not only were all his material assets involved; Abraham, the Patriarch of the Jewish people, invested his very essence in finding the ideal wife for his son.
Chasidut explains that the marriage of Isaac and Rebecca is symbolic of the union between the soul and the physical body.
Geographically, Isaac was in the holy land of Israel; moreover, he himself had acquired an additional measure of holiness when he demonstrated his willingness to be offered as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah. Rebecca, on the other hand, lived outside the boundaries of the Holy Land, and indeed spent the first three years of her life among evil people, as our Sages put it, "like a rose among thorns." Thus their marriage exemplified the very objective of the creation itself: the joining of the spiritual and physical realms, thereby transforming our material world into a dwelling for G-d.
It is for this reason that the Torah is so explicit and provides so many details about Eliezer's mission, for indeed, it is the mission of us all. In truth, G-d gives every Jew "all goodly things of his Master" to ensure our success.
Every subsequent generation represents another step toward our ultimate goal - the long-awaited Redemption. May we merit this immediately.
Adapted from Sefer HaSichot 5752, Vol. I of the Rebbe
[Ed.'s note: This article was published in the Rosyln High School literary magazine and is about the Chabad House directed by Rabbi Aaron Konikov, Rosyln, New York.]
by Bryan Litman
"I'll be back in three seconds," I told my father as I left the house to get some gum at CVS. And it did take me three seconds to get there and buy my gum, yet my trip was about to have a slight detour. As I walked out of CVS, I ran into a Chasidic Jew of medium height.
"Are you Jewish?" The man asked me in a way that made it seem as if his question was a secret. My first thought was, "What?" So, speaking my mind, I said, "Excuse me?"
"Yes I am," I said. I mean, I had no reason to lie. "Well, I have a problem and I think you could help," the man said.
"You see, I'm a rabbi and I'm holding a minyan over at my house across the street. The problem is that, as you know, ten people must pray at a minyan." Actually the ten people part was news to me; but, he didn't have to know that. "We only have nine; we need one more Jew."
I sort of got the hint that he wanted me to be his tenth Jew, but I thought I would let him ask.
"Do you think you could come over to my house for a few minutes so we could hold our minyan?"
Being a frequent watcher of Dragnet re-runs, my first thought was that this was some type of scam to lure me away, kidnap me, and leave me to die on some back road. "I don't know. Is this some sort of scam and you'll mug me?"
He answered, "Do I look like someone who would mug a Jew?"
He had a point. I mean, he was dressed in black, wearing a yarmulke and had payas.
This was a test, a definite test from G-d. He wanted to see how I would react; I knew it. "OK," I said. And we were on our way.
I put my gum in my car and we walked across the street and into his house. When I walked in, there were eight Jews standing in the living room praying.
The second I walked in, they all stopped praying and looked up at me. At first, I thought they were mad because we disrupted their concentration, but, they all smiled and welcomed me into their sanctuary.
Feeling uneasy, I immediately took a seat in the far right corner of the room and picked up a Prayer Book. One of the men showed me what page they were on, and I blindly began to follow along. Although I was trying to look as if I was keeping up, the Rabbi was obviously able to see right through me.
"Here," he said, handing me a pamphlet. "Read this instead." "What is it?" I asked. "It's stories of Judaism."
I began to read the pamphlet, and it was rather interesting. It was about a boy who goes through life observing the High Holy days and runs into a conflict where he has to decide between observing the traditions or going on a school trip. In the end, it turns out that the boy decides to observe the holy days. Actually, the reading wasn't so terrific, but, under the circumstances, I was more than happy to have something to keep me occupied for a while.
Everything seemed to be going fine until I heard the leading men say, "Bring him up. Bring him up to the front!"
Keeping my head down in the pamphlet, I began to recite my own prayer, hoping that they were not talking to me. I got a tap on my shoulder. Oh well! I began to make my way up to the front, when one of the men walked over to a cabinet. By the time I got to the front, the man had taken out a Torah and all the men began to chant a prayer. I didn't know this one.
Since I was the guest, they gave me the honor of having the first aliya over the Torah. So there I was, standing in front of a Torah about to have an aliya, and my legs began to shake uncontrollably. I never experienced such power as I did that day. I could not believe that I was actually standing in a Chasidic rabbi's living room with people whom I had never met before, sharing in an act of truth and kindness.
In a society where strangers are suspicious of one another and are usually cold to each other, we had broken these barriers. I put my faith in these men as if we had shared a bond. Here was a perfect case of pure neighborly trust, no strings attached.
So, I read the [blessing for the] first aliya with little hesitation. They seemed very impressed with my ability to read Hebrew; and to be honest, it had been so long since I had read, I was surprised myself.
After they had finished reading the Torah I, as the youngest one present, was given the honor of dressing it. A few minutes later, all of the men burst into a song, stomping their feet and clapping their hands. When the song ended, the service was over, and after many exchanges of appreciation and thanks, I shook hand and left. Without thinking, I asked if I could keep the pamphlet, just in case this was like an episode of The Twilight Zone and they disappeared after I had gone.
On the way home, I was shocked about what I had just done and that was kind of sad.
Has society deteriorated so much that a simple act of trust and kindness between strangers is so unusual that when it does occur, it takes you off guard? I also felt ashamed that I had initially doubted the rabbi's intentions and automatically thought that his request was a set-up. Yet, in the end, I knew that I had done something special that evening and I would never forget it.
All this on my way for a pack of gum.
Sing while you pray
The prayers that we are most familiar with are the ones the congregation sings together in the synagogue or the ones we learned with a melody as children. When you take time out each day to communicate with G-d, accompany your prayers with song, which is certainly in keeping with Jewish tradition.
(The Rebbe, 1992)
22nd of Cheshvan, 5735 (1974)
This is to confirm receipt of your letter of October 10th with enclosures, which reached me with some delay. I appreciate your thoughtfulness in sending me the enclosure.
One of the reasons why my acknowledgment was delayed was the fact that there was reason to believe that Prof. Branover would be visiting the U.S., although I do not know how definite this is, when there would be an opportunity to discuss the various matters of your letter personally with him.
I was particularly gratified to read in your letter that a beginning has been made in regard to the suggestion which we discussed, namely to obtain interest-free loans from persons, in order to pay off the debts and eliminate the high interest rate.
May G-d grant that you should soon be able to complete the list of such persons, especially as some of the participants in this project have made it conditional upon the complete list of participants.
I trust that you have been active in the Five Mitzva Campaigns which I have stressed, and more recently also in the matter of encouraging young girls from the age of Chinuch [Jewish education], to light the candles Erev Shabbat and Erev Yom Tov. And while you are destined for, and are capable of, great things and accomplishments, and to participate in the above mentioned Mitzva Campaigns may seem to you that these things should be done by others, we have one of the basic teachings of the Torah to the effect that one should not attempt to weight the importance of big mitzvot and small mitzvot, but do them all as they come along.
It should be noted that the above statement speaks of "big" and "small" mitzvot but the conclusion is that all mitzvot should be carried out with the same eagerness and joy and vitality.
One of the explanations which explains the seeming anomaly in the above statement is that when a person does a good thing, no matter how big or small, he "pleases G-d" thereby and becomes attached to G-d through the fulfillment of His commandments. In this way G-d's unity permeates all these good actions of the person. Hence, bigness or smallness is of no consequence, since he fulfills G-d's commandments for the sole reason that G-d commanded him to do them.
At this time, before Shabbat Mevorchim Kislev, the mitzva of the Shabbat lights is particularly pertinent inasmuch as we shall soon be observing the festival of Chanuka with the lighting of the Chanuka candles.
We are told that the Shabbat candles have a priority over the Chanuka candles (in a case where one cannot afford both), which goes to show how important the Shabbat candles are.
You do not mention about your own daughters lighting the candles, but I am certain they do. I only want to express the hope that they are a shining example to their friends in this and in every other respect.
Wishing you hatzlocha [success] in all the matters about which you write, and especially that you and your wife should have true Torah Nachat from each and all of your children.
PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY FOR SHABBOS
The latest in the series of Yossi & Laibel books from HaChai publishing, Peanut Butter and Jelly for Shabbos is a delightful book for children based on the saying of our Sages that if you try hard you will succeed.
In this newest rollicking, rhyming adventure the boys prepare a make- shift Shabbat meal (without using a stove or a knife but under their grandfather's watchful eye) when they think a snowstorm will delay their mother's arrival home from the hospital with their new baby sister and Grandma's Shabbat delicacies.
A must for every child's Jewish book library.
THE CHASSIDIC DIMENSION
Each of the two volumes of The Chassidic Dimension comprise essays for the entire year adapted from talks of the Rebbe on the weekly Torah portion and the festivals.
Both volumes are reprinted from the popular Wellsprings of Chassidut series compiled by Rabbi Sholom Ber Wineberg and prepared for publication by Sichos in English and published by Kehot Publications.
On this weekend in 1990, the Rebbe's emissaries from throughout the world convened at the International Shluchim Convention. The convention was opened by the Rebbe, himself, at a gathering on Shabbat attended by nearly 1,000 emissaries and thousands of Chasidim.
At that gathering the Rebbe explained the characteristics of an emissary and his mission:
"First and foremost, each shliach [emissary] should feel strengthened and reinforced by this meeting. He should realize that no matter how far away he has been sent, the one who appointed him is with him.
"Indeed, "a person's shliach is considered as he, himself. This relates to the four categories of shlichus found in Jewish law:
- The deeds of the shliach are considered as having been performed by the one who appointed him; the shliach, and his powers, however, are considered as separated entities.
- The shliach's power to act is considered as given over to the one who appointed him; his other powers, his thoughts and his feelings, are his own.
- All of the shliach's powers, his thoughts, his feelings, his will, and his pleasure, are given over to the one who appointed him.
- 'A person's shliach is considered as he, himself.'"
The Rebbe then went on to explain the mission of each shliach, near or far, which is to spread Judaism and the teachings of Chasidism outward. The Rebbe continued:
"These activities will lead to the realization in deed and action of the concept that the Hebrew word 'shliach' together with the number ten (signifying the ten powers of the soul), is numerically equivalent to 'Moshiach.'
"Each Jew has a spark of Moshiach within his soul which can be revealed through the service described above. The revelation of the spark of Moshiach on an individual level will lead to the revelation of Moshiach for the entire world and the coming of the ultimate Redemption. May it be in the immediate future."
This weekend, once again, the Rebbe's shluchim will convene in Crown Heights for the International Shluchim Convention. We hope and pray that this year's convention will be addressed by the Rebbe. But this year, may it take place in the holy city of Jerusalem with the complete revelation of Moshiach.
And Abraham was old, well on in days (Gen. 24:1)
In Hebrew, the phrase "well on in days" is "ba bayamim" -- literally, "he had come with his days."
Abraham's life was full, and he utilized every day to the fullest; he did not waste even one day. A hint as to how we can achieve this ourselves is found in the letters of the word "bayamim" -- "ba" and "yamim."
"Ba" is simply the Hebrew letter beit which has the numerical value of two; "yamim" means "days."
Abraham always had the image of two days in his mind--the day of birth and the day of death. To utilize every day to its fullest we must keep in mind why we are born and the fact that we will ultimately be accountable for our deeds after we die.
G-d had blessed Abraham in all things. (Gen. 24:1)
There are those righteous people whose main goal in life is to be whole and one with G-d. But this is not the way of the true tzadik. Indeed, the way of Abraham was to concern himself with "all things." He did not worry just about himself, but about others as well. And so he was blessed in a like manner.
(Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev)
The man took a gold earring, weighing a half-shekel and two bracelets. (Gen 24:22)
The commentator Rashi explains that the half-shekel alludes to the half-shekel that each Jew donated to the Holy Temple, while the two bracelets allude to the two Tablets containing the Ten Commandments.
With these gifts, Eliezer implied that when establishing a Jewish home, Torah and the performance of mitzvot form its pillars. The half- shekel illustrates the mitzva of charity, while the two bracelets, symbolizing the two Tablets, allude to the Torah itself which is included in the Ten Commandments.
And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and took Rebecca, and she became his wife; and he loved her. (Gen. 24:67)
Rashi comments: "That is to say, 'And he brought her into the tent and, behold, she was like Sarah, his mother.' While Sarah was alive her Shabbat lights miraculously burned from one Friday to the next..." This exact same phenomenon happened with Rebecca's Shabbat lights.
Rebecca was a minor when she married Isaac. She was therefore not obligated to fulfill the mitzva of lighting the Shabbat candles, especially since Abraham had been doing it since Sarah's death. However, Rebecca was not satisfied participating in the candle- lighting of Abraham. She herself lit the Shabbat candles. This is a clear indication to us that before marriage, and even before bat mitzva -- from the age of three years -- Jewish girls should light their own Shabbat candle.
Once in a town in Ukraine, a Jewish man was accused of committing a capital crime. The judges who were hearing the case reviewed all the evidence for and against the man, but in spite of careful investigation, they couldn't decide the case.
They decided that if two well-known tzadikim (holy people) who lived in the area would swear under oath that he was innocent, they would acquit him of the crime.
The two holy Jews who were asked to swear in court were Reb Moshe of Savran and Reb Raphael of Bershad. But they were in a terrible dilemma: swearing a false oath is strictly prohibited in Jewish law, and is a grave sin. On the other hand, the saving of a life takes precedence over every other mitzva in the Torah. Isn't it said, "He who saves a life is as if he saved the entire world"?
Reb Moshe of Savran deliberated long and hard over the question, and he finally reached the conclusion that saving the life of the man and the future of his wife and children took precedence over the basic tenet of truthful testimony. And even if he were wrong in his conclusion, he was willing to suffer whatever punishment awaited him in the Next World, as long as his fellow Jew escaped death.
For Reb Raphael the decision was not just difficult, it was utterly torturous. Reb Raphael was a loyal disciple of Reb Pinchas of Korets who taught that truth was the entire basis of the Divine Service. He had devoted his life to this principle and had never allowed even the slightest hint of falsehood to enter his thought or his conduct, even to the point of not wearing dyed clothing, thus disguising the color of the fabric.
His other, most dominant, characteristic was his total love of his fellow Jews, his willingness to sacrifice his every possession or comfort in order that his fellow Jews be spared any suffering. How could he possibly resolve this terrible conflict?
Reb Raphael sat in his study immersed in the most confounding, painful and tortured thought. On one hand, there was a possibility of saving the man, his wife and his children -- and the wife and family of the accused gave him not a moment of peace. But on the other hand, he couldn't bring himself to do a thing from which he had distanced himself in an entire lifetime of spiritual struggle.
The basis of his whole philosophy was that falsehood was the source of all impurity in the world, and truth, the wellsprings of all that was holy. Now, at this time in his life, was he to repudiate all that he believed in? A vision of the man, his wife and children at the mercy of a cruel justice stood before his eyes, while his belief in the primacy of truth consumed his thoughts like a blazing fire.
Finally, he could stand it no longer. Reb Raphael broke out in a piteous wail that came from deep within him, and he could not stop weeping. "Master of the Universe, You alone know how I have striven with every fiber of my being for the sake of truth. You know I have been willing to make every sacrifice, and now, in my old age You have brought this terrible trial to me. I beg You to take away my soul, and not let me fail this test!"
He wept and wept until his soul departed from his body.
Early the following morning his Chasidim rushed to his house to give him the alarming news -- the accused man had confessed his guilt. The two tzadikim were excused from testifying before the court. But when they entered the room of Reb Raphael, they found that the tzadik had departed this world.
Exile is not simply a geographic location or an historical era. Exile is a state of mind in which there exists a barrier to the integration of the physical and spiritual domains.