Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | A Call To Action | The Rebbe Writes
What's New | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count | It Once Happened
Dear Sons and Daughters,
I am happy to hear about your upcoming Tu B'Shevat celebration. I am pleased that you will be taking some time to think about the fruit, trees, and me, your Mother Earth.
But before you plant your tree in Israel, or eat the special fruits for which Israel is known, or even before you go into your local gourmet, organic produce emporium to buy novel or "nouveau" fruit, I must have a few words with you.
It may sound a bit harsh, even a little earthy, but that's me, you know. I call a spade a spade.
You've become too reckless and selfish, and it's getting worse. You treat me like dirt! Who on earth do you think you are? You bury me with your garbage! You spill gook all over the place! You smoke like a chimney! You make me sick, and ruin my plants! You tear my kishkes inside out with your digging and poking around all over the place to build bigger cement monstrosities! You litter, leave behind a mess and spread your things all over creation.
Why do I always have to clean up after you? Pick up after yourself!
And don't fool me by tidying up just a little corner or sweeping your mess under the rug! I mean, it's a pleasure to see signs on highways these days that say, "The next mile is being kept litter free through the generosity of..." but that's not enough! Go and clean up the whole living space, if you know what's good for you, and your children, and your children's children.
Is it enough to remember me only on Tu B'Shevat or Earth Day? You can't think of Mom only on Mother's Day, you know, and forget about her the rest of the year!
Here I am, feeling like I have the whole world on my shoulders, working full-time to provide for you. What don't I do for you? I give you clothes and shelter. I prepare your food from scratch. I give you something to stand on. I don't even mind your walking all over me.
But don't bite the land that feeds you! This isn't the way to say, "Thank you." I'm not asking you to stop everything. Adam was given the earth to work it, but was also commanded to watch it. Learn from Adam; be a little neater, and more considerate of others.
Dear children of mine, eat a little something. Take an apple, or have an orange. And say your blessing loud and clear before you eat. And just as importantly, listen to what you're saying and count your blessings!
Your "Middle Earth" stuff isn't all of it. I am looking forward to the Whole Earth, and not just a catalog, as it is written, "And the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the sea," with the coming of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, ASAP.
Your Dear Mother Earth
Adapted from a "letter" by Rabbi Yisroel Rubin, director Chabad Lubavitch Albany, NY
This week's Torah portion, Beshalach, speaks about the perpetual battle the Jewish people was commanded to wage against Amalek. "Because G-d has sworn by His throne, that the L-rd will have war with Amalek from generation to generation."
The Targum of Yonatan ben Uziel (a translation of the Bible into Aramaic, the Jewish vernacular of ancient times) explains that the war against Amalek will end only when Moshiach comes and ushers in the Messianic age.
Nowadays we do not know the physical identity of Amalek; only Moshiach will be able to correctly distinguish between who is, and who is not, one of his descendants. Thus, at present, we are unable to fulfill the mitzva in the literal sense.
Nonetheless, the commandment to "blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven" is still incumbent on us today, albeit in the spiritual sense.
"Amalek," in terms of our spiritual service of G-d, is symbolic of coldness and apathy for all that is holy. Of Amalek it is said, "He cooled you off" -- i.e., the physical Amalek dampened Israel's eagerness and enthusiasm for the Torah they were about to receive at Sinai following the exodus from Egypt; the spiritual Amalek lurks in the recesses of our hearts.
G-dliness and holiness are warm and filled with life and vitality; apathy and indifference are cool and unresponsive.
"All right," the spiritual Amalek whispers in our ears, "you want to observe the Torah's commandments? Fine! Every Jew should do so. But why be all excited about it? It's not as if you're doing something new, something you've never done before. Every day you learn Torah, every day you recite your prayers. What's the big deal?" In this way (as well as in many other subtle ones) Amalek attempts to cool off the Jew's innate ardor and natural affinity for holiness. His aim is to blind him to the true reality: that a Jew's performance of a mitzva is the single most significant act that can ever be accomplished in this world, one which affects his entire being forever and ever.
The crafty Amalek is ever vigilant and resourceful when it comes to tricking a Jew into adopting a ho-hum attitude towards sanctity and G-dliness.
How are we to fight this incursion of coldness? By responding with warmth and emotion, consciously resisting Amalek's attempt to cloud our eyes to the truth.
Furthermore, waging war against Amalek in the spiritual sense serves to prepare us for the era in which we will be able to do so in the physical sense -- the age of our Righteous Moshiach, may it commence immediately.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 2)
by Merri (Salpeter) Ukraincik
Jews have always been known as "the People of the Book." For me, that book is my friend Yosef's siddur (prayerbook), which his father Baruch Goodman, the Rebbe's emissary at Rutgers University in New Jersey, gave me three years ago, the day after Passover.
We had gone for a slice of pizza in Crown Heights, a post-Pesach ritual and a treat before I boarded a plane for a five-month stay in Budapest, where kosher pizza is not to be found.
Of course, we had more lofty pursuits as well. I had spent the last days of Passover with the Goodmans, as I have done for the past eight years, and Baruch had insisted that we go to Crown Heights to see the Rebbe before heading to the Airport. Although quite a detour, it proved well worth it.
I had recently returned from four months in Zagreb, Croatia, where I was working with Bosnian Jews displaced by the current conflict in the former Yugoslavia. During my stay in Croatia, I had met a young man involved in the Jewish community. On top of the geographical hurdles we faced, this special man was not Jewishly observant. It was something I prayed he would come to on his own so that we could pursue our relationship.
Baruch and I had spoken about this at length, and he felt that a blessing from the Rebbe would do the trick. I was skeptical about the kind of blessing I would get sitting in the women's section at 770, while the Rebbe sat in the balcony on the men's side.
I had been to dollars with Sara Goodman a few years earlier, but the Rebbe now had already suffered his stroke and was unable to perform this much beloved ceremony. Baruch lured me with pizza, and informed me that if I davened with great devotion, my prayers would be heard and the bracha granted.
I had already begun the custom of reciting Tehilim (Psalms), #26 to be exact, my friend's portion at the time, and I figured that Baruch's plan could not hurt.
So we drove to Crown Heights and had pizza. While we ate, Baruch explained that the news that the Rebbe was coming out for Mincha (the afternoon service) would spread like wildfire down Kingston Avenue, and everyone would charge toward 770. We ate slowly, but nothing happened. I bought a variety of things for my trip, even had new taps put on my shoes, but we could wait no longer. We needed to leave for the airport.
Baruch was dejected, and I, by this time, found myself one-part relieved, one-part disappointed.
We walked towards the car. Baruch opened the trunk, and I packed my new purchases in my enormous suitcases. He asked if I had a siddur with me for the flight. My siddur was already in my new apartment in Budapest, but "a Jew should always travel with a siddur," Baruch adamantly declared as he rummaged through the back seat. He found one. It belonged to his son Yosef, and Baruch insisted that I take it as Yosef had more at home.
As we closed the trunk, throngs of people began dashing towards the shul, and despite my insistence that it was already too late, Baruch had me running as well. I luckily was one of the first in what became a very crowded women's section, and managed to find a place at the front.
I stood there with the intention of davening, but found that I was unable to do anything. I was jostled by women eager to get a front seat in order to see the Rebbe, many of whom were there with the same goal as my own.
I decided, for lack of any other ideas at this moment of confusion, to recite Tehilim. It worked. By the time the Rebbe entered the shul, I could very clearly articulate the blessing I sought. My heart beat quickly as my eyes fell on the ailing, but no less beautiful, white-bearded man who had appeared to the obvious enthusiasm of a singing crowd.
My heart pounded, and I found myself focusing on many things at once: the Rebbe, my prayers, the crowd, the women standing near me. I left the shul exhausted, yet uplifted.
After that, I made a commitment to say Tehilim only from Yosef's siddur. I felt this powerful connection to it, and felt that not only I, but it had received a blessing that day in Brooklyn.
In July of that year, I worked as a counselor for several weeks at a camp in Hungary. The first Shabbat, I used the siddur to daven. One of the Israeli counselors standing near me suddenly became very emotional as she looked at the siddur. She asked if she might borrow it later. I obliged, and gave it to her after Shabbat dinner.
The next morning, she returned the siddur. Over lunch, I asked her what had inspired her to ask for it, and she told me her story.
She had grown up in Israel in a non-observant home, and following in the footsteps of her brother, had become observant through Lubavitch.
She married but later divorced. She resolved then not to continue her observant life. These days, however, she had begun to rethink that decision. The Lubavitch siddur was one with which she had been so familiar, and had once provided comfort for her. She felt that seeing it the previous evening had been a sign, and had brought her closer to returning to a religious life.
I asked her what she had read from the siddur that Shabbat evening -- perhaps the Shema, or maybe she just turned the pages, finding comfort in its familiarity. She told me that she had read some Tehilim, and I held the siddur tightly in my hands.
My husband (the young man I had wanted the blessing for) and I are, thank G-d, married almost a year. I say Tehilim from Yosef's siddur because it has special meaning for me. Through it, the memory of the day I received a great bracha from the Rebbe remains powerful for me. Through it, that very special bracha continues, years later, to provide blessings.
By the way, I made the flight.
Reprinted from The Chabad Times, New Brunswick, NJ
Let them eat fruit!
On Tu B'Shvat, it is customary to partake generously of fruits, and in particular, the species of fruit for which the Land of Israel is blessed -- wheat, barley, grapes, pomegranates, figs, olives, and dates... similarly, it is customary to eat carobs on Tu B'Shvat.
DEPRESSION AND JOY
25th of Menachem Av, 5718 
I received your letter of the 18th of Menachem Av, and, as requested, I will remember you and all those mentioned in your letter in prayer when visiting the holy resting place of my father-in-law of saintly memory.
You write that you feel depressed, as it appears to you that you have not made the success in your study at the Yeshiva which you had expected.
Even assuming that you were completely right in your appraisal, this still would be no reason for being depressed. For, it is explained in many sources, especially in the Book of Tanya, that even in the case of spiritual failure, no Jew should feel depressed, for a feeling of depression and gloom is, in itself, one of the strategic weapons which the yetzer hara [the evil inclination] uses in an effort to discourage a person from serving G-d with joy and alacrity.
And, when the yetzer hara succeeds in one thing, such as in discouraging you from study, as you write, he goes for further things.
The way to combat the yetzer hara is, as explained in the Tanya, to call forth redoubled effort on one's part to overcome the feelings of depression, and replace it with a feeling of joy in the realization that no matter what the past has been, it is always possible to attach oneself to G-d, through the study of the Torah and the observance of the mitzvot.
The well-known illustration used in the Tanya, in the case of persistent distraction, is to imagine that a heathen is standing by while one is in the midst of prayer and trying to distract one from concentrating on prayer and study. In such a case, one would certainly not blame himself, but would rather redouble his efforts to concentrate on his prayer or study, completely ignoring the distractions from outside.
Thus, in the final analysis, it is up to a person to overcome his difficulties by his own efforts and determination, and we have already been assured that where there is a determined effort, success is certain.
Moreover, in your case, it is quite possible that you have underestimated your success, which could also be a thought implanted in your mind by the yetzer hara.
With regard to your apprehension that when you return with a beard, etc., how are you to cope with any possible derision and the like:
I would suggest that you study carefully the words of the Tur and Rama (which are based on the words of the Rambam), Orach Chaim, beginning with paragraph 1. These words are essentially an introduction to the fulfillment of all of the four parts of the Shulchan Aruch.
In addition, you should also study the Responsum of the Tzemach Tzedek, Yoreh De'ah, where the question is discussed, also the latter's annotation on the verse in Tehilim, "Vehu rachum," etc.
In regard to the question of your eye-sight, you should consult a good specialist who should give you the proper instruction as to what you have to do in this connection.
As for the question of advising Mr. -- what he should study, and how to guide him in this connection, our Rabbis have taught, "A man should always study in those areas where he finds greatest gratification." At any rate, you should only advise him if he turns to you for advice.
With regard to what you write about your sister ------, the best way to influence her is through her friends rather than by direct approach, as an indirect approach promises greater success.
Finally, with regard to the transgression to which you refer, I have already given my advice in such cases by references to various sources, especially the Tanya, including those chapters which deal with the inner battle with the yetzer hara, to which I referred earlier in this letter. In addition, I would also suggest Igeret Hateshuva, chapter 11.
I was glad to read, at the conclusion of your letter, about the birth of a son to your sister ------. May G-d grant that the parents bring up the newly-born child to a life of Torah, chupah, and good deeds, and may you always have good news to report.
Circle the weekend of February 23 - 25 if you want to attend a unique Shabbaton hosted by the Lubavitch community in Crown Heights.
Third in the series of weekends designed to help us hook into and connect with the spiritual energy of our Biblical ancestors, this weekend -- open to families and singles -- features noted scholars Dr. Laibl Wolf of Australia, Rabbi Shlomo Bluming, and Rabbi Israel Haber, formerly a U.S. Army Chaplain in Alaska..
For more info call Lubavich Youth at (718) 953-1000 or (718) 493-1773.
January was Mezuza Month at the Chabad-Lubavitch Center of Southern Ontario. The Center offered discounts on mezuzot, mezuza check-ups, as well as "home visits" to people interested in making sure that their mezuzot were properly affixed or that each doorpost requiring a mezuza had one.
Previous Mezuza Months have found that more than 50% of the mezuzot affixed are unfit--either photocopies rather than hand-written mezuzot on parchment, or else mezuzot that have become damaged by weather and age.
Tu B'Shvat, the New Year of the Trees, is upon us. This year Tu B'Shvat falls on Monday, February 5. But what does that have to do with us, other than eating some extra fruit, etc?
Let's take a moment to consider the fruit for which the Land of Israel is blessed as enumerated by the Torah:
Two of them, wheat and barley, are grains. The other five, grapes, pomegranates, figs, olives, and dates, are fruits.
One difference between grain and fruit is that grain is a staple food, necessary for the maintenance of our well-being. Fruits are delicacies, eaten for pleasure.
Tu B'Shvat gives us the potential to carry out our service, not only according to the very minimum necessary to maintain our existence, but rather in a manner that leads to pleasure -- our own and our Creator's.
There is another area in which grains and fruits differ. When grain is harvested, though there is an abundant increase in quantity, the grain is of the same nature as the kernals which were originally planted. In contrast, the seed of a fruit tree is of an entirely different nature than the fruit that is later harvested.
Similarly, in regard to our service of G-d, the metaphor of fruit trees alludes to a service which is not limited to the basic necessities, but rather generates pleasure. It reveals the potential for growth, not only a quantitative increase, but also, a leap to a higher level, a new framework of reference altogether.
Since Tu B'Shvat is the "New Year of the Trees," it generates new life energy for those dimensions of a Jew's service which are compared to trees.
May we all truly avail ourselves of this new life energy to fulfill our potential in making this world a fitting home for G-d and G-dliness.
And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him (Ex. 13:19)
In the Midrash, Moses is described as "wise of heart" for concerning himself with Joseph's bones when the rest of the Jews were helping themselves to the riches that were washed up on the shores of the Sea. This is obviously a pious deed, but what does it have to do with wisdom?
Moses, as leader of the Jewish people, was like the kohanim (priests) when it came to the prohibition against defiling oneself with the dead. However, by waiting until everyone else was busy, Moses was permitted to do so (indeed, it was a great mitzva), as no one else was free to attend to the task...
Every year on Shabbat Parshat Beshalach, the Maharal of Prague would instruct the teachers to gather their students (and their parents) in the courtyard of the synagogue to tell them the story of how the birds sang and danced during the splitting of the Sea. As related in the Midrash, the Jewish children plucked fruit from the branches of the trees that sprang up on either side and fed them to the birds.
After the story was told, kasha (groats) was distributed to the children to scatter about for the birds and chickens in commemoration of this event.
The Maharal would then bless the children and their parents that they raise them to a life of Torah and good deeds and lead them to the marriage canopy.
(Sefer HaSichot 5702 of the Previous Rebbe)
And you shall hold your peace (Ex. 14:14)
This command was directed against those Jews who wished to engage in prayer instead of actually proceeding into the sea. We learn from this that there are times when a Jew must close his prayer book, remove his tefilin, fold his talit and leave the synagogue -- in order to save the thousands of Jews who are in danger of drowning in the sea of assimilation, "splitting the sea" and uncovering the light of the Jewish soul that exists within.
See, the L-rd has given you the Shabbat (Ex. 16:29)
Some things are beyond man's ability to control, but the extent to which a person feels the sanctity of Shabbat is dependent on his own service. The more a Jew prepares and invests his efforts, the more the holiness of Shabbat is felt.
The Rebbe of Apta was accustomed to hearing many of the woes of his fellow Jews, and so, he was not surprised when Mottel burst into his shul with tears streaming down his face. "Rebbe, please help me," the distraught man cried out. My daughter is getting older by the day, and I still can't raise enough money to provide her with a dowry."
The Rebbe asked how much he needed. "I need one thousand rubles. And you see, Rebbe," said the man as he turned his pockets inside out, "I have exactly one ruble to my name!"
"Well, my friend, one ruble is also something. My advice to you is to go out and with your one ruble, purchase the first piece of goods that comes your way. Surely, G-d will bless you and you will obtain all that you need."
Reb Mottel was confused by the Rebbe's answer, but he had faith in the word of the Tzadik. He would see how the blessing would materialize.
Mottel began his long trek home, but when exhaustion overcame him, he decided to rest at an inn. Soon his attention was seized by a group of rowdy fellows seated near him. From their conversation he deduced that they were diamond merchants. Suddenly, one of them noticed him.
"Are you interested in buying something?" the merchant inquired.
"Yes, I am interested," he replied.
"Well, how much money do you want to spend?"
Reb Mottel squirmed in his seat. "One ruble," he replied.
The merchants burst into loud laughter. "One ruble!" It really was ridiculous. Then someone spoke up, "I have something to sell for one ruble!"
Reb Mottel was astounded. "That's wonderful, what is it?" he asked.
"My portion in the World to Come!" he blurted out. The assembled crew exploded with laughter. One of them ran to get paper and pen -- this would be a "legal" sale. Soon the contract was drawn up. Both the buyer and the seller signed their names, and the witnesses affixed their names as well.
"All right, now give me your ruble," sputtered the merchant. Reb Mottel handed over the coin. The merchants' laughter filled the inn.
Just then, a woman entered the room. Approaching the merchants, she said to her husband, "Why are you laughing so hard?"
He could barely contain himself: "You see that beggar over there? I just got him for his last ruble! I sold him something totally worthless!"
"What did you sell him?" his wife asked.
"Ha! I sold him my portion in the World to Come!" he chortled happily. He would have continued, except for the look on his wife's face.
"What!" she cried. "You sold him the only thing of value that you own! Is nothing sacred to you? I will not live with a man who values nothing except money. You are vile and despicable! Give me a divorce!"
The merchant was shocked. Didn't she know that this sale was just a sham? He protested, but to no avail. His wife was perfectly serious.
Realizing that his little joke had gone too far, the merchant called over Reb Mottel. "My good man, I'm afraid our little 'bargain' is off. I'll give you back your ruble, and you'll give me back my paper."
But Reb Mottel just looked up at him and said, "I am very happy with my purchase. I have no intention of returning it."
The merchant was in a panic, "You know, I'll sweeten the pot for you. I'll add a few rubles 'compensation' for the 'broken contract,'" he chuckled.
"No thanks," replied Mottel.
"Well, how much do you want for that silly piece of paper?" the merchant asked, his agitation growing.
"I won't settle for less than a thousand rubles!"
"What! Are you mad? For that sum, you can keep the stupid paper!"
But then the merchant's wife entered the fray. "I promise that if you don't buy that paper back, I will have a divorce this very day! I won't spend my life with a man who could sell his portion in the World to Come! I don't care if it costs you five thousand, or five million rubles! You get that paper back!"
Finally, the merchant realized he had no other choice. He gave one thousand rubles to Reb Mottel who handed him the document. Reb Mottel then told the merchant's wife what had transpired and about the words of the Apter Rebbe. She was so impressed that she wanted to meet the Rebbe herself.
When ushered into the Rebbe's study she said, "I have one question. Was my husband's portion in the World to Come worth only one ruble?"
The Rebbe responded, "Before he sold it, it wasn't even worth that much. But when he redeemed it by 'buying' the mitzva of dowering a bride, the value of his Future Life soared, for such a mitzva cannot be measured in money.
Rabban Gamliel lectured: "In the future [Redemption] the trees will bring forth fruit every day, for it is said 'And it shall produce boughs, and bear fruit' (Ezek. 17:23) i.e., just as boughs are produced every day so also will fruit be brought forth every day."
(Talmud Shabbat 30b)