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Spiegel, the well-known mail-order company, put out a catalogue recently with the words "new simplicity" splashed across pages of furniture, bedding, and home decorating ideas.
Easy-to-read, practical guides for singles, couples or families interested in downshifting, such as Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy the Things that Really Matter are selling like hotcakes.
Articles abound in newspapers and magazines containing first person testimonials of people who have downsized their lives or undertaken "voluntary simplicity."
In the past, re-evaluating one's life and life's goals often came on the heels of a crisis or disaster. But, according to recent information, today's phenomena has nothing to do with either. A recent article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer postulated, "At its core, it's about values -- valuing money and possessions and promotions less, valuing time and health and peace of mind more."
Although Judaism in no way prohibits one from having possessions, careers, or high positions, Jewish teachings give vital guidance as to where the emphasis should be placed in these areas.
A story is told of a Jew in a small town who owned a galoshes factory. On his annual trip to the Rebbe for a spiritual injection, he spent his time praying with the Rebbe's quorum, attending the Rebbe's Torah gatherings, and in brotherly communion with the Rebbe's other disciples. Yet, all the while, his mind constantly wandered back to his galoshes business.
When he finally was granted a private audience with the Rebbe, he was surprised to hear the Rebbe tell him: "I have met many people who have their feet in their galoshes. But never before have I met someone with his head in his galoshes."
Simply stated, Judaism teaches that our "feet" can be into possessions, career, or status, but our "heads" must be occupied with Jewish values -- family, Jewish education, fostering a relationship with G-d, acts of kindness.
One can, of course, have a beautiful home, a time-consuming career, or hold a high position, all in keeping with Torah and mitzvot. But this is accomplished by making sure that only the "feet" are into the "galoshes" -- not the head. The emphasis and involvement are in areas of timeless value -- that's where the head is.
Ultimately, everything in the world can be used for a positive and beneficial purpose. Thus, the Midrash teaches that the world was not truly fit to have gold in it, but as gold was necessary for use in the Holy Temple, it exists in the world and is available for all kinds of uses. If we use the gold (read: money, computers, cars, careers) for mitzvot and to perpetuate Jewish values, then we are bringing completion and wholeness to the "gold." We are also simplifying our own lives in a uniquely Jewish manner by making available the "head space" necessary to bring completion and wholeness to ourselves and to the entire world.
This week's Torah portion, Vayeitzei relates how a single and solitary Jew left his home and set out for a foreign land, arriving there with nothing, save for his faith in G-d. "For with [only] my staff I passed over this Jordan," Yaakov (Jacob) declared. Nonetheless, Yaakov's steps were sure and confident, as he had full faith in the Holy One, Blessed be He.
Once in Charan, Yaakov quickly saw that there was no one upon whom he could rely, not even his relatives. His uncle, Lavan, repeatedly tricked and deceived him, yet never once did Yaakov lose his faith.
Through outstanding service and dedication to G-d Yaakov merited to obtain great wealth. But Yaakov's main achievement in Charan was that, despite their growing up in a hostile environment, every single one of his children was a pious and religious Jew.
Avraham had one son who was good, Yitzchak, but he also had another son who was not, Ishmael. Yitzchak had one son who was righteous, Yaakov, but he was also the father of Esav. Both Avraham and Yitzchak raised their children in Israel and not in exile, yet they still had descendants who abandoned the righteous path.
Yaakov, by contrast, raised his family in exile. Required to serve G-d in the most difficult of circumstances, he made sure that his twelve sons would not be affected by the negative influence of Charan. On the contrary, he strove to instill in them the Torah he had received from his forefathers and studied with his ancestors Shem and Ever, thus proving that it was possible to live a Torah-true life even on the other side of the Jordan.
In Charan, Yaakov merited both spiritual and material success ("And the man increased exceedingly") by virtue of his faith in G-d. But the spiritual "great wealth" he acquired was the successful rearing of his children, who were all upright and devout individuals.
The lesson this contains for us at present is clear: The only one upon whom we can ever depend is G-d, to Whom we connect ourselves through the medium of Torah and mitzvot.
By educating our children in the ways of Torah, the eternal Torah we have inherited from our fathers and grandfathers, we will merit to go out of exile "with our youth and with our elders, with our sons and with our daughters." And when Moshiach comes we will be fully prepared to meet the Redemption.
May it be G-d's will that this happens very soon, and that we greet Moshiach Tzidkeinu speedily in our days.
Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, vol. 1
Rabbi Gansbourg and Charles
by Hensha Gansbourg
It was just after Passover, and we needed to do some repairs outside our home. Just that very morning I had spoken with my friend Chana on the phone. Chana lives in Manhattan and has wonderful connections with just about everyone. Just the previous year, I needed a man to hang wallpaper, and Chana immediately found Ron, an Israeli, to do the job. When Ron arrived, my husband immediately put tefilin on him. My friend Chana felt so good to have been even indirectly involved with the mitzva of tefilin.
I had been in a dilemma that morning. Who could I call to do the repairs? I spoke with Chana that morning, and a few minutes later she called back with the name Charles Christian, III.
Chana even jokingly remarked that perhaps my husband would put tefilin on him as he did with Ron! "Sure," I said to myself, "with a name like Charles Christian, III."
Charles came to our home the following week to look over what the job entailed and to give us an estimate. As we were coming back in the house, he said, "You might not know this, but I'm part Jewish."
"Part Jewish!" I exclaimed. "From your mother's side or your father's side?" I inquired.
"Well, it's really my mother who is Jewish. She survived the Holocaust and felt that Jews were persecuted only for being Jews. She decided when she arrived in the United States that it was perhaps safer to live as a non-Jew. She settled in Pennsylvania and married my father, who is not Jewish."
At this point in our conversation, my husband, who was in another part of the house but had overheard this startling revelation, came over to Charles and asked if he would like to do a Jewish thing. Charles replied that he didn't know anything about being Jewish. My husband said it didn't matter. Soon, a pair of tefilin were being wrapped around Charles's arm. He recited the Shema after my husband. He seemed visibly moved.
My husband then proceeded to tell him that he was now "Bar Mitzvahed."
Charles was shaken by that revelation. He proceeded to tell us that he didn't know anything about being Jewish, and that, in fact, he had been raised as a non-Jew.
I looked around the room thinking: Here he's Bar-Mitzvahed--what an opportunity to give Charles a Bar Mitzvah gift. Just then I noticed Simon Jacobson's book, Toward a Meaningful Life, sitting on the bureau. I grabbed the book and gave it to Charles to read, since he said that he didn't know anything about Judaism. Charles was very touched.
A few weeks later Charles and his partner came back to do the repairs. My husband again put tefilin on him, and Charles was obviously very happy to again be able to do something Jewish.
Towards the end of July, I had a question about the repair job that had been done. His partner, James, answered the phone and said that he was sorry to tell me that Charles had an accident and had passed away the previous Friday.
It says in the Talmud that the mitzva of tefilin is so basic that "a head which dons no tefilin is like a Jew who neglects the observance of the Torah precepts. Yet, a Jew who performs this mitzva even once becomes so spiritually refined that he is raised from that category and is consequently set on a path of growth and ennoblement."
I was stunned when I heard that Charles had died. I couldn't help but think of the Divine Providence. Here, a Jew who didn't even consider himself totally Jewish had the opportunity to put on tefilin shortly before his passing.
May the memory of Charles be blessed. May we continue to see the workings of Divine Providence with our eyes of flesh. May we merit to bring more and more Jews into the tent of Torah and mitzvot, so that we finally see the Rebbe with our own eyes, together with all of the souls that he has embraced. May this be speedily in our days.
Reprinted with permission from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter
Make a bride and groom happy
It is a mitzva to rejoice with a bride and groom and make them happy. Many stories tell how our Sages used to go to weddings and juggle, dance, or do other things which would bring joy and gladness to the new couple at their wedding. Today, people even prepare elaborate "shtick" -- hats, masks, etc. to enliven the festivities.
Help enliven the next wedding you attend and you'll be doing a big mitzva!
Translated from letters of the Rebbe
8 Iyar, 5718 (1958)
In response to your letter of 27 Nisan,
At this auspicious time, I will mention all of you at the holy resting place of my saintly father-in-law, each regarding his individual needs.
You should check your tefilin and the mezuzot in your home to ascertain that they are all kosher, according to the law.
Regarding what you wrote about your wife, that since the birth of your first child you have not yet been blessed with more children:
On the whole one must be steadfast in one's faith in G-d, the Creator of the world, who is the essence of good, that He will fulfill your heart's desire for healthy children.
Nevertheless, the proper thing to do is to increase one's care in the observance of the laws of Family Purity and modesty, though I hope that the basics are being adhered to -- in a matter of grave importance the performance of the mitzva should be with utmost precision, according to the directives of our holy Torah (a Torah of life) -- and to have unwavering faith in the Giver of the Torah and the commandments, that He will fulfill the desires of your heart in the near future.
About your difficulty in earning a livelihood, the teaching of our holy Torah is well known... to increase in the giving of charity frequently, particularly at the propitious times, namely every weekday after prayers in the morning.
In general you should perceive these two matters as a test, in the manner of the verse, "For G-d your G-d tests you to know if you love Him."
When it is seen Above, that one is strong in one's faith in G-d, and one rises in the general observance of Torah and mitzvot, especially in the above-mentioned, the test is nullified and there is an increase in blessing, salvation and success.
With blessings for good tidings in all of the above.
P.S. Certainly you make a practice of saying the three daily portions of Chumash, Tehilim and Tanya, as we have heard many times from my father-in-law that they are uniform for all people and auspicious for many things.
22 Adar I, 5719 (1959)
In answer to your letter in which you outline the events of your life from the time of your marriage until today, the impressions of this and your desire, etc.
After carefully reading your letter, my opinion is that in spite of all the undesirable happenings, there is absolutely no basis to disrupt a Jewish home, which according to the marriage blessings is an eternal edifice, and especially since these occurrences were experienced at a time of moving from place to place, not only in the physical sense but also in the spiritual one.
Since moving into the state of married life and from country to country are major transitions -- and primarily taking into account the greatness of peace, particularly peace in the home, about which G-d says, "It is better that My name be erased, so as to achieve peace between man and wife" -- it is imperative that you lay open your grievances before a rabbi (understandably in the presence of your husband), so that the Rabbi will hear both sides, a fundamental condition for elucidating the truth. And certainly you will find the means to rectify and improve the relationship, understanding that you both wish for this -- this wish being a sacred obligation, as our Sages point out in various places, and as we say every morning that this is "from those things whose fruit we eat in this world and whose benefit we derive in the next."
I hope that you will think into these lines, though they are few in number, with an introspection that befits the seriousness and importance of this matter, and may G-d grant you success.
With blessings for good tidings in all of the above.
Proceeding Together, vol. 2, is a collection of the earliest talks of the Rebbe. Although compiled from talks the Rebbe gave in 1950 and 1951 (immediately after the passing of the Previous Rebbe), the book contains tremendous guidance for today. The topics covered in the book are so timely that to Chasidim reading them today they almost appear to have been delivered especially for these times. Masterfully translated from the original Yiddish and Hebrew by Rabbi Uri Kaploun and published by Sichos in English. Available by sending $17 to SIE, 788 Eastern Pkwy, Bklyn, NY 11213
The Curtain Parted
The Curtain Parted: Glimpsing the Week Ahead dicusses Chasidic teachings on the weekly Torah portion. It also shows us how Jewish fulfillment, peace of mind, and contentment are directly connected to involvement with Torah and mitzvot.
The language and style of the book makes the deep and enriching Chasidic teachings within understandable to readers from various backgrounds and levels of Jewish knowledge.
The book, by Robert Kremnizer of Sydney, Australia, is based on the weekly classes he has been giving over the past nine years.
Distributed by Sichos in English and available from them by sending $14 to 788 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11213
On the 14th of the month of Kislev, we celebrate the wedding anniversary of the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka. Their wedding took place, amidst much rejoicing, in Warsaw, Poland. However, the Rebbe's parents, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson were not in attendance, as the Russian government did not permit them to travel to Poland for their eldest son's wedding. They, however, prepared a celebration and wedding feast in their town of Dniepropetrovsk, which was attended by many in the Jewish community. Their celebration lasted until the wee hours of the morning.
Before the chupa, the Previous Rebbe delivered an intricate Chasidic discourse. He began the discourse by explaining why he had woven teachings of all the previous Rebbes into his discourse. He said: "It is well-known that at the time of a wedding celebration, the souls of ancestors of the couple from three generations back come from the World of Truth to attend the simcha. There are times, however, when ancestors from generations even further back come. As a way of inviting the souls of the righteous ancestors of our holy Rebbes, so that they should come to the chupa to bless the young couple, we will say a Chasidic discourse which contains a Torah thought from the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the first Chabad Rebbe]; from the Mitteler Rebbe [Rabbi Dov Ber]; from my great grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek; from my grandfather -- the great-grandfather of the bride -- the Rebbe Maharash; from the great-great grandfather of the groom; from the great-grandfather of the bride; and my father [the Rebbe Rashab]..."
The Rebbe proceeded to deliver the Chasidic discourse entitled, "Come my Beloved to greet the bride."
May we very soon merit the ultimate wedding of G-d and the Jewish people, with the revelation of Moshiach. At that time, we will hear the Torah thoughts of our ancestors and great Sages of previous generations not through others, but they themselves will teach us!
He took the stones from the place and put them around his head. (Gen. 28:11)
Yaakov protected his head but not the rest of his body. He had spent all of his years studying Torah, and now he would have to give up some of his studying time to engage in worldly matters. He knew that he would encounter negative influences and forces that could be hostile to a Jew. Therefore, he protected his "head" to prevent anything from interfering with his Judaism.
Lavan gathered all of the people of the place and made a feast. (Gen. 29:22)
Lavan made a big wedding reception for Leah, but not for Rachel. This was to fool Yaakov into marrying Leah and distract the guests' attention. Everyone was too busy with the lavish party to notice that Leah, not Rachel, was the bride. Therefore, a big wedding reception wasn't necessary when Yaakov married Rachel.
And Yaakov sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field to his flock. (Gen. 31:4)
Yaakov wanted to speak to his wives about Lavan's corruptness in dealing with him, so he asked them to meet with him privately in the field. The reason that Yaakov added the words "to his flock" was so as not to arouse Lavan's suspicion, as Lavan knew that Yaakov was upset with his treatment. Yaakov made it seem as if he was calling his wives to the field to help him with his large flock of sheep.
Compiled by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky and printed in Vedibarta Bam
When he was a youngster, Rebbe Naftoli Katz, the head of the Rabbinical Court of Posen, was once playing outdoors with his friends. They were throwing rocks, and Naftoli accidentally hit the passenger of a fine carriage that was nearby. Unfortunately, that passenger was none other than the High Prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The prince's guards arrested the boy for this act of "rebellion." He was brought to court and found guilty. His sentence: public execution.
Naftoli was to be escorted by a guard to the empire's capital, where his sentence was to be carried out. It was a difficult journey, and the stormy weather they encountered made travelling almost impossible. At one point they stopped at an inn that was owned by a Jew.
While the guard made himself comfortable in a corner by the stove, young Naftoli sat and listened to the innkeeper's sons learn Talmud with their tutor. Naftoli knew this tractate by heart, and when the boys and their tutor were stumped by a question in the tractate, Naftoli supplied them with the answer.
The innkeeper realized that this was a brilliant boy, and when he found out why Naftoli was being kept in custody, he thought of a plan to save the boy's life. The innkeeper offered the guard free food and drinks, thus convincing him to stay at the inn for a few days until the weather cleared up.
After a while the innkeeper approached the guard casually: "What would happen if a prisoner was to die in custody as he was being escorted from one city to another?" he inquired.
Replied the guard, "The escort would simply have to present a document testifying to the prisoner's death, signed by the local authorities."
Using his connections, the innkeeper obtained the required document and handed it to the guard, along with enough money to bribe him. The guard left Naftoli with the innkeeper, who took the boy in and raised him as if he was a member of his own family.
Years passed. Naftoli was of marriageable age, as was the innkeeper's daughter. The innkeeper proposed a match between the two young people and they both agreed. The wedding date was set.
One night, some time later, the innkeeper passed by Naftoli's room and heard him talking. He peeked through the keyhole and saw Naftoli sprawled on the floor, begging and pleading. "What can I do?" Naftoli was saying, "these people saved my life."
The scene repeated itself the next night. The innkeeper could not contain his curiosity, as he knew no one was in Naftoli's room, and he asked Naftoli for an explanation. "My parents keep appearing to me and telling me that your daughter is not my intended mate."
The innkeeper, realizing that a Heavenly hand was guiding the young man, told him to obey his parents' wishes, and that he bore Naftoli no ill will.
Before Naftoli left, he requested that the innkeeper give him a written account of the money paid on his behalf to bribe the guard so many years ago.
"I have merited to fulfill the mitzva of redeeming a hostage, and seek no reimbursement," exclaimed the righteous innkeeper.
Naftoli insisted and the innkeeper finally gave him a paper stating the sum paid to the guard. Naftoli left and became famous for his exceptional qualities. He married and was appointed the Rabbi of the city of Posen.
The innkeeper's daughter also married, and settled in a town near Posen. One night, as she was walking home, she was kidnapped by a wealthy landowner and brought back to his estate with obvious intentions. Despite the dangerous situation, the young woman maintained her composure. "I will go along with all your wishes," she told the landowner, "but first you must go to town to purchase some fine liquor for me." The landowner readily agreed.
While he was in town, the clever woman looked for a means of escape from the mansion. The only window she found unbarred was very high up. Realizing the jump was dangerous, she looked for something to cushion her fall. She found the landowner 's heavy lambskin overcoat and, wrapping herself in it, offered a prayer and leaped out the window. Miraculously, she was not hurt. She fled home, still wrapped in the coat.
The husband was thankful for his wife's narrow escape. He related the entire incident to the Rabbi Naftoli of Posen.
Rabbi Naftoli told the husband, "Your wife is a righteous woman and her levelheadedness is admirable. G-d is truly with her. Open the seam of the landowner's coat, and you will find money that rightfully belongs to you and your wife."
Later, the landowner came into the husband's store to make a purchase. He complained about "some Jewish woman" who had not only outwitted him, but had managed to steal his overcoat that had a large sum of money sewn inside it. The husband returned to Rabbi Naftoli and told him what the landowner had said.
"This finally concludes a much longer story," Rabbi Naftoli replied, and proceeded to tell the husband the whole story of his arrest and ransom. "That landowner," he concluded, "was the guard who had escorted me. The amount of money in the coat is the exact sum that your father-in-law paid for my release. Here, I will show you a bill which confirms the figure exactly."
Presiding over the trial on the "Day of Judgement" will be Moshiach himself... He will weigh and consider the bleak life that Jews have lived in exile. He will intercede on their behalf and seek out their merits, pointing out that they did not want to sin: they were unable to overcome their Evil Inclination. Moshiach will see everyone's virtues.
(Likutei Diburim of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn)