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Judaism doesn't believe in asceticism. It does not consider it a lofty goal to totally separate oneself from the world and its pleasures. Rather, we are encouraged to enjoy life, but in a uniquely Jewish fashion.
Maimonides writes in his Mishne Torah:
"A person may desire... not to eat meat, nor to drink wine, live in a pleasant home, or wear fine clothing... This is a wrong path and it is forbidden to follow it... Our Sages directed man to abstain only from those things which the Torah forbids him and not to deny himself those which are permitted."
The bottom line is that we're all going to partake of this world no matter what, as we should. So we might as well do it Jewishly.
The Talmud states that when one is surrounded by beautiful objects and furnishings it expands the mind and relaxes the person. One can therefore study Torah more assiduously. So when you re-decorate or purchase artwork, consider whether this color paint or that artist's work of art, are mind expanding or stress reducing.
Don't deny yourself "meat" or "wine" or all of the delicious delicacies in-between. But do make sure that it's kosher and remember our body is on loan to us from G-d and we have to return it in as good shape as possible.
Wear fine clothes and keep up with the latest fashion trends -- if you can afford to. But while you shop, keep in mind that you want to dress Jewishly, with dignity. And if you can't afford to dress on fashion's cutting edge, dress with just as much dignity, but less expensively.
At an international Chanuka gathering -- hooking together people on five continents by satellite -- the Rebbe expressed the above concepts and brought them one step further. With an awareness of the purpose of creation for all material things, we can use them toward their proper purpose. He said:
"Our involvement with material things should be motivated by more than a desire for self-gratification. This involvement should be purposeful in nature and ultimately directed toward serving G-d.
"In this manner, not only does this satellite-link communicate spiritual truth: it expresses it itself. For satellite communication, like every other creation brought into being by G-d, exists for a purpose. As our Sages declare, `Whatever the Holy One, blessed be He, created in His world, He created solely for His glory.' In this instance, G-d revealed the wisdom for this and other technological advances that unite different parts of the world so that we could better appreciate the oneness that pervades all existence.
"But Judaism never allows anything to remain in the theoretical. Practical application and an orientation toward action are the backbone of Judaism:
"The oneness achieved through satellite communication allows one person to share with another not only in the realm of thought, but also in a tangible way. For example, charitable funds can be transferred from one account to another regardless of the geographic distance, and in this manner, a needy person can be promptly given the wherewithal to purchase his physical necessities," the Rebbe concluded.
The bottom line is that we are physical people in a physical world. That's the way G-d created it and that's the way He wants it. But He also "wants" us to reveal the true purpose of everything physical and use it for its G-dly purpose.
As we approach the Messianic Era, when the Divine purpose for everything will be fully revealed, it becomes easier to achieve the goal of using the pleasures of the world to bring pleasure to ourselves and ultimately to G-d.
This week's Torah portion, Vayishlach, opens with the words "Jacob sent malachim before him to Esau his brother."
Although the word "malachim" is usually translated in this verse as "messengers," Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator, tells us that Jacob sent "malachim" in the literal sense: "angels" -- actual celestial beings.
Why did Jacob find it necessary to send the angels? Furthermore, in light of the principle that "one angel cannot perform two missions at the same time," by dispatching angels to Esau, Jacob was seemingly diverting them from their Divinely-appointed missions in the heavens.
Chasidic philosophy provides us with the answer by explaining the inner meaning of the angels' mission.
Jacob understood that the entire purpose of creation is the separation of good from evil and the restoration of the "sparks of holiness" to their G-dly source; indeed, this was his sole intention when he set out for the spiritually impure Charan.
Jacob also understood that his service alone was insufficient to achieve his goal; the participation of his brother Esau was also necessary.
Esau, described as "a man of the field," is symbolic of the highest G-dly light fallen to the lowest depths; thus, the ultimate Redemption with Moshiach will only come about when gentiles as well as Jews have reached a state of perfection.
After 20 years of service in Charan, Jacob was ready for the Redemption; he hoped that in the interim Esau had sufficiently refined himself and was ready as well. This is alluded to in Jacob's reference to "a donkey" upon greeting his brother -- symbolic, as our Sages tell us, of King Moshiach, who is described as "riding on a donkey."
For such an important mission -- indeed, the most important mission of all, the fulfillment of the ultimate goal of creation -- only the finest emissaries would do: celestial angels. For them, this was not an inconvenience at all; on the contrary, it was a very great merit, as they too joyously anticipated the Redemption.
Unfortunately, Esau had not yet completed his service. "We came to your brother," the angels told Jacob on their return, "to Esau." In other words, Esau is still the same person as he was 20 years ago, he hasn't changed. Hearing this, Jacob realized that the road to Redemption would be long and hard, as he told his brother, "I will go ahead slowly."
This, however, was long ago; today, after thousands of years of service, most particularly after the revelation of Chasidut, the preparation for Moshiach, the entire world is ready for the Redemption. All that is left is for it to become manifest in the physical world; may this occur at once.
Adapted from Sefer HaSichot of the Rebbe, 5752, Vol. I
Nell with her baby brother
by Lieba Rudolph
When our daughter Nell was five years old, a door slammed on her toe and nearly sliced the tip of it off. We were in the country for the weekend with Rabbi Yisroel and Blumi Rosenfeld.
Their children and our children had been playing upstairs. The adults had been enjoying a relaxing Shabbat lunch when, one by one, each of the children marched down with the news that Nell had hurt her toe.
At first, we weren't concerned, knowing how children love to report even the slightest mishap. But when my husband and Rabbi Rosenfeld saw her sock bright red with blood, and her toe inside, it was clear that she had to get a hospital. The fact that it was Shabbat did not change anything -- this was an emergency and Jewish law permits the violation of Shabbat in such cases.
An ambulance took us to the local hospital, where the doctor informed us that the surgery required to repair the toe was beyond his expertise.
A second ambulance then took us to Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh, where a resident performed the delicate task of re-sewing the tip of her toe, sixty per cent of which had been severed.
To protect the toe while it healed, he put a cast on her foot which she would have on for four weeks. The next day we called Dr. Mark Sperling, Chairman of Pediatrics at Children's, who put us in touch with Dr. Morey Moreland.
Because of the delicate nature of the injury (and the not-so-delicate nature of our impatient patient...) when the four weeks had passed and it was time to remove the cast, Dr. Moreland wanted to do so under anesthesia. This could best be done in a hospital, he explained, with Nell being treated as an outpatient.
When we agreed, he told us he wanted to schedule the surgery for 11:00am the next day. But when he told us not to feed her anything after 10:30pm that night, we became concerned about the timing. Nell had come down with a nasty flu -- the kind that "plenty of liquids" helps, and we didn't want to make her any unhappier than we had to.
Dr. Moreland felt that, despite the flu, the cast should be removed right away so that he could perform any necessary surgery while she was already "under." He was fairly optimistic that the skin had re-attached and that additional surgery would not be required, but he did not want to wait any longer to see.
Nervous but hopeful, my husband and I followed the doctor's instructions. We arrived at the hospital promptly at 10:00am to fill out the paperwork. By 2:00pm they still hadn't called us for surgery, Nellie still hadn't had anything to eat or drink, and she still had a fever. (Meanwhile, neither my husband nor I shared her endurance and we took turns sneaking away for some sustenance.)
When her name was finally called just after 2:30pm, the nurses took us to their desk and told us what the sequence of events would be. Nell would be anesthetized in the operating room, the cast would be removed, any necessary procedures would be performed and she would then be taken to the "post-op" room to recuperate. She would be quite thirsty, they said, so they would give her a popsicle.
We questioned whether or not it was kosher and the nurses assured us that other parents of patients had made similar inquiries and that the popsicles were fine. Not having seen this product's kosher symbol ourselves, we were a bit uncomfortable, but we told ourselves that it was probably, in fact, fine. And besides, we rationalized, even if the frosty treat wasn't up to our "standards" of kashrut, these were extenuating circumstance. After all, Nell was just five years old, and she had the flu, and if a popsicle would make her happy after almost a day in the hospital without anything to eat or drink how bad could it be? We kissed our little girl good-bye and waited with our Psalms in hand to be called once again.
Just after 5:00pm, the nurses called our name and told us that Nellie was awake in the post-op room. The re-sewn piece had taken, thank G-d, and she was doing find. But before we went in to see her, the nurses wanted to tell us something that had happened.
When they offered her a popsicle, she asked to see the wrapper to see if it was kosher. She didn't see a symbol she recognized, so she told the nurses she just wanted water instead.
The nurses couldn't believe it. After nearly 20 hours with nothing to eat or drink, despite surgery and the flu, this little five year old didn't want to take any chances with her kashrus. The popsicle was not worth it.
My husband and I were also amazed.
Sure we had pointed out various kosher symbols on food products in our home and she had learned in school how important it is to be conscientious about eating kosher food. But her pure, unquestioning commitment, had to have come from somewhere deep within.
And that commitment has always been a lesson for me. As I've watched that little toe grow into a big toe, I am reminded to be grateful to G-d for everything, and to ask Him not only for physical health, but for spiritual health as well.
Awakening the essence, and charity
In these last moments before the Redemption, our Jewish souls are hearing a "wake-up" call on the alarm clock of life. But this awakening has to actualize something practical as well.
"The awakening of the core of our being must be reflected in a concern for the fundamental existence of every Jew. This should be expressed in efforts to provide our fellow Jews with the necessities required to celebrate the holidays of the month of Kislev with joy and happiness.
Similarly, they should have the means to fulfill the custom which the Rebbes followed of giving Chanuka gelt to the members of their household.
(The Rebbe, 2 Kislev, 5752-1992)
12th of Kislev, 5720 
The historic day of Yud Tes Kislev [the 19th of Kislev], as is well known, and as explained at length in one of the epistles of my father- in-law of saintly memory, was more than a personal triumph for the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad. For, in regaining his personal freedom on that day, as well as the freedom to continue his teachings and work, he gained a victory for the whole Chasidic movement which had been threatened with suppression and extinction.
For the Alter Rebbe was the chief exponent of the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov who had founded the Chasidic movement about half a century earlier. It is for this reason that he was made the chief target of attack, and his geula (Redemption) brought salvation to the numerous followers of the Baal Shem Tov, and to our people as a whole.
One of the great accomplishments of the Baal Shem Tov is that he opened our eyes to the true nature of a Jew.
While he dedicated his life to the spreading of the Torah and mitzvot in the fullest measure, he never despaired of any Jew, no matter how much circumstances had temporarily overshadowed his Yiddishkeit.
The Baal Shem Tov taught us -- and the Alter Rebbe expounded on it at length -- that the Jew is essentially, by his very nature, incorruptible and inseparable from G-d; that "no Jew is either able or willing to detach himself from G-dliness." It is often necessary to no more than "scratch the surface," to realize the Jew's true inner nature is revealed.
The Baal Shem Tov introduced a new relationship between Jew and Jew, based on the inner meaning of "Have we not all one Father?" (as interpreted by the Alter Rebbe).
By the example of his own dedicated work, he taught us what should be our attitude and approach to our fellow Jews. For the Baal Shem Tov began his work as an assistant "melamed," [teacher] taking tender care of little children, and teaching them the Shema, berachot [blessings], and so on. At the same time he revealed to the maturer minds some of the profound teachings of the Inner Torah, the "Kabbala," and the true way to serve G-d with heart and mind together, a profound philosophy which found its systematic expression and exposition in Chabad.
Nowadays, as ever, it is the duty and privilege of every Jew to help educate Jewish "children"; in the literal sense, in age; and "children" in knowledge of Yiddishkeit; In a true sense, a person's education is not confined to the school-bench; it should continue throughout their life; getting wiser and better every day. One must be a student and teacher at the same time, and in both cases success depends on mutual affection, on true "Ahavat Yisrael" [Love of another Jew].
Let us all open our hearts and minds to the teachings and inspiration of Yud Tes Kislev, through the observance of which we identify ourselves with, and attach ourselves to, the great luminaries of our people, the Alter Rebbe and the Baal Shem Tov.
May G-d bless you all, and bless your efforts to spread the fountains of Ahavat Hashem [Love of G-d], Ahavat HaTorah and Ahavat Yisrael, in an ever growing measure, and in ever wider circles, thereby hastening the day of the true and complete Redemption of our people, through our Righteous Moshiach, speedily in our time.
CHABAD CHILDREN OF CHERNOBYL BRINGS 20TH FLIGHT
Eight-year-old Luda Zeitziva and 12- year-old Ola Kormatzeva, both from Gomel, Belarus, arrived in Israel aboard Chabad's Children of Chernobyl's 20th flight.
This brings the number of children evacuated by the program to 1259.
Gomel has the highest rate of thyroid cancer in the region -- 500 times above normal -- and is the most highly contaminated area outside the immediate zone surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear plant.
In Israel, the girls will live in Kfar Chabad where they will go to school and receive intensive medical evaluation and treatment. Their parents plan to join the children within two to three years.
If you'd like more information on the children, you can contact Chabad Children of Chernobyl via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Treat the entire family to a fun-filled outing this year at Tzivos Hashem's Chanuka House on Fifth Ave. at 51st St. in Manhattan.
The Chanuka House features the Chanuka windows which delight passers- by and shoppers throughout Chanukah, as well as live entertainment, arts-n-crafts, an olive press, Dreidle House and much more. For details calls Tzivos Hashem at (718) 467-6630. (You can visit the Tzivos Hashem Web Page: www.tzivos-hashem.org/).
On Tuesday, (Dec. 12, 1995) we will celebrate the auspicious day of Yud Tes Kislev [the 19th of Kislev].
This is the day on which the first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, was released from his imprisonment in the infamous Spalerno prison.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman was informed of his release from prison while he was reading Psalms, at the precise moment that he was reading the verse, "He redeemed my soul in peace..." (Psalms 55:19).
Our Sages have interpreted the word "peace" in this verse to mean one who is occupied with Torah study, in deeds of kindness, and in prayer. Thus, one's soul is "redeemed in peace" by being involved with these "three pillars" upon which the world stands.
This year we have double the energy to expand and enhance our involvement in these mitzvot:
The 19th of Kislev falls this year on the third day of the week, Tuesday, the day on which, during Creation, the expression "And G-d saw that it was good" (Genesis 1:10, 1:12) was repeated. Thus, we should do it with twice as much enthusiasm and vigor.
The 19th of Kislev is known amongst Chasidim as Rosh HaShanah of Chasidut. As the purpose for the dissemination of Chasidut in the world is to bring the revelation of Moshiach, it is appropriate, especially at this time of year, to re-dedicate ourselves to assuring that all of our actions help hasten Moshiach's revelation and the long-awaited Redemption.
We will end with the traditional greeting on the 19th of Kislev: May you be inscribed and may you be sealed for a good year in the study of Chasidut and in the Chasidic ways of conduct.
The other band which is left may then escape (Gen. 32:9)
Approaching his brother Esau, Jacob divided his camp into three groups, each of which was for a distinct purpose: to appease Esau with gifts, to pray for G-d's help, and to prepare for war should it become inevitable.
This parallels the commandment in the Shema in which we are enjoined to love G-d "with all your heart" (prayer); "with all your soul" (war); "and with all your might" (possessions and wealth).
And so he commanded also (gam) the second, also the third, also all those who followed the flocks (Gen. 32:19)
The Hebrew word "gam," spelled gimel-mem, appears three times in this verse, alluding to the three (gimel) redemptions of the Jewish people that will come about through a tzadik whose name begins with the letter mem: Moshe (the redemption fro m Egypt); Mordechai (the redemption of Purim); and Moshiach, who will usher in the Final Redemption.
And Jacob was left alone (Gen. 32:25)
This concept of "alone," of the absolute unity and Oneness of G-d, was bequeathed by Jacob to his descendants forever. For whenever the Jewish people would be forced to do battle with Esau, they would yearn for the time when G-d's Oneness will be manifested openly, i.e., the era of Moshiach.
(Rabbi Boruch of Mezhibozh)
Life in Czarist Russia wasn't easy, but in spite of everything, the couple would have been very happy if only G-d had granted them a child.
They prayed for years and even made the long trip to the Rebbe for a blessing. Finally, their prayers bore fruit, and they became the parents of a charming little boy. Not only was he an attractive and appealing child; he was possessed of an intellect that was rare. He learned with true dedication, and his mind and soul delighted in every word of Torah he studied.
The boy soon outstripped all his teachers, and so he sat alone every day in his room at home studying and making great progress in his studies. His parents were as happy as could be.
One evening the father entered his son's room and gazed down upon the page he was studying. To his shock and dismay, the boy was reading one of the books of the "Enlightenment" movement which disparaged Torah and Jewish tradition. Although his heart was racing, the father spoke to his son calmly, in a voice filled with warmth and love, "What are you reading, my son?" he asked.
"Father, don't think that I'm reading this because I'm interested in their arguments. I just feel that I need to know how to refute them when they speak." The father patted his son's arm and said nothing.
The next time the father found his son reading similar literature, his rebuke was stronger. Little by little the parents noticed a change in their brilliant son. His behavior, his carriage and his dress all bespoke the influence of the "enlightened." The words of his broken- hearted parents seemed to make no impression on the boy.
One day the boy entered the kitchen and made an announcement: "I'm going to the university in Berlin to study mathematics and science." His parents were so shocked and broken that they could not utter a word.
When he arrived in Berlin, the boy was greeted as a wunderkind, so brightly did his intellect shine among the other students. He excelled in his studies, and after several years he had written two original treatises which were about to the published. In addition to all this distinction, he found a girl whom he wished to marry.
Suddenly, he remembered his aged-parents, and had an urge to obtain their blessing on his proposed marriage. He also wanted to show them his scholarly manuscripts and prove to them that he had indeed succeeded in his chosen endeavors, despite their disapproval.
But then he reflected: How could his parents, totally uneducated in secular ways, begin to fathom the depth of his brilliant studies? Suddenly he had an idea. He would stop in Liozhna on his way home. There he would show his manuscripts to the Alter Rebbe (the first Rebbe of Chabad), a man of great erudition who would certainly appreciate the depth and insight of his works. Then, his parents would hear about him from a source that was more familiar to their shtetl- world view.
The young man made his way to Liozhna and presented himself at the Rebbe's court -- an unusual sight in his moustache and Berlin garb.
Reb Moshe Meizlish, a well-known Chasid, approached him, inquiring what the young man was seeking, but he replied that he wanted only a private audience with the Alter Rebbe. When the request was presented to the Rebbe, he agreed, and the young scholar was ushered into the Rebbe's room.
He entered with his two manuscripts clutched tightly in his hands. The Rebbe and the young man were closeted in the study for several hours. The scholar finally left the room, his face flushed red, his hands shaking. He still held the manuscripts, but paced nervously, looking at one and then the other. Then he took the papers and threw them all into the fire which burned in the central room.
Reb Moshe had been watching the whole scene, and now he approached the young man and asked him, "What happened in the Rebbe's chamber?"
"I showed the Rebbe my manuscripts -- scholarly concepts which I was on the verge of publishing. They had been very well received in Berlin. He looked at the first page of the first manuscript, made some notations, and quickly flipped through the remaining pages. Then he did the same with the second work. When he had finished, he looked up at me with his penetrating eyes and said, `Young man, your book is very well-written, except that it is fallacious, for your basic premises are wrong.'
"I was shocked to my core. I had spent years perfecting these works. All of my professors were highly impressed by them. I listened to the Rebbe, and then I started to argue my point of view. But I was forced to stop. For try though I may, I simply couldn't refute his conclusions. I left the room completely embarrassed, and I continued turning over in my mind the Rebbe's critique. I sorely wished to justify myself, but I realized that I simply couldn't. That is when I threw my precious manuscripts into the fire."
The young man remained in the court of the Alter Rebbe, who himself taught this extraordinary young man. Not too long after, the young man passed away. The Rebbe explained that his soul was an reincarnation of Rabbi Elazer ben Durdaya who had lived in the times of the Talmud. He had "committed every sin," but had returned to G-d with all his heart. He had had several reincarnations, and this completed his repentance. His soul was prepared to enter the highest realms.
Perhaps the reason for the continuation of the exile for yet one moment longer, is that "G-d desires the prayers of the righteous."
Since, according to our Prophets, "Your people are all righteous," let's pray and request and plead and make demands of G-d on account of this long exile. And then Moshiach will come at once.