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"Don't cry over spilled milk." "You can't unscramble scrambled eggs." If you've ever heard these or similar phrases, you know you're being told that you can't change what has already happened.
Most of us have grown up with the idea that what's done is done and there is not much we can do about it.
We can learn to accept the past, to live with the past, to learn from the past. But, we've been told, we can't change the past.
Judaism has a different opinion about the past, though, which is epitomized by the fact that this Jewish year is a leap year and has an entire extra month. The lesson gleaned from the leap year is that it is never too late to make up for past deficiencies. Not only can we accept and learn from the past, we can change it, as well.
Jewish teachings explain that, in one single moment, a person can compensate for inadequacies in his behavior over many years. Indeed, with one sincere turn of teshuva -- a return to one's essential, G-dly self -- one can compensate for all the sins committed during one's lifetime and even for those committed in previous incarnations.
This is possible because each moment contains within it the totality of time and can thus alter the nature of the events which occurred previously.
In fact, Chasidic philosophy explains that one's present actions can effect major spiritual changes retroactively.
If, for example, one did not observe a positive commandment, such as eating only kosher food, and thus did not accrue the spiritual dividends of that mitzva, when one begins fulfilling that mitzva, the spiritual benefits are retroactively deposited into one's "spiritual" bank account! Helping others participate in the mitzva that one did not observe adequately, or affording others the opportunity to perform the mitzva is a most effective way to change the past, as well.
A most striking example of mitzva observance in the present actually changing the past is the observance of the laws of Jewish marriage -- Taharat Hamishpacha. Jewish mysticism explains that the soul of a child born to parents who observe the laws of Taharat Hamishpacha has increased spiritual sensitivity. If parents did not observe these laws before their child was born but begin to observe them afterward, the child -- even if already an adult -- acquires this enhanced spiritual sensitivity!
On a more down-to-earth level, we can look at the famous story of Rabbi Akiva, who, at the age of 40-something did not even know the Hebrew alphabet. And yet, he became one of the greatest teachers, scholars, and leaders of the Jewish people of all time. After mastering the Hebrew alphabet, he advanced from level to level in Torah study to the point where he had 22,000 students to whom he taught Torah! Rabbi Akiva did not let the deficiencies of his past stand in his way. He and his students are actually credited with keeping the Torah from being forgotten from amongst the Jewish people! Even and maybe most importantly, in the area of Jewish education, we can change the past.
Mom was right. It's no use crying over spilled milk, and don't try to unscramble scrambled eggs. But, can we change the past? Yes!
[If you would like to obtain a more detailed essay on this concept of Teshuva, please write us - firstname.lastname@example.org and in the body of the text or in the subject, put in the word: "Teshuva"].
This week's Torah portion, Mishpatim, begins with the verse, "And these are the judgments which you shall set before them (lifneihem)."
Our Sages learn a number of lessons from the word lifneihem:
"Before them" --- before Jews. If ever there is a disagreement among Jews they must go to a Jewish court to resolve it, rather than bring their case before a gentile judge. A Jewish judge will render judgment according to the laws of the Torah.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the first Chabad Rebbe, explains the word "lifneihem" as "lifnimiyutam --- before their inner essence --- penimiyut." G-d's wisdom must penetrate even the most hidden levels of the soul.
The mitzvot are divided into three categories: statutes - Chukim, testimonies - Edut, and judgments - mishpatim.
Statutes are commandments that are beyond our comprehension. We obey them simply because G-d has commanded us to do so, with acceptance of the yoke of heaven.
Testimonies are mitzvot which, although we would not have discerned them on our own, have a rationale we can nonetheless comprehend.
Judgments are commandments which all people can readily understand. These mitzvot are laws which are compelled by human logic, and which all mankind deems necessary for the good of society.
A question is asked: Why is it precisely the rational commandments we would have observed anyway, about which the Torah states "you shall set before them"?
A person would never consider bringing "statutes" and "testimonies" before a non-Jewish court. Statutes and testimonies are particular and unique to Torah, commandments that are derived from G-d's will rather than human understanding; thus it is obvious that they pertain solely to Jews. However, a person might think that because non-Jews understand and obey rational laws it is permissible to be judged by them in certain instances. For this reason our Sages insisted: "Before them --- and not before gentiles."
All of the Torah's commandments were given by G-d. We observe them solely because He wants us to, not because they make sense to us. Just as statutes and testimonies are performed with faith in G-d, so too must our observance of judgments have the same motivation.
Furthermore, it is precisely concerning judgments that the word "penimiyut" most relates, for the Jew must awaken the innermost recesses of his soul to obey them properly. Merely understanding the Torah's rational laws is not sufficient.
In this way we will come to obey all of the Torah's commandments with all of our individual strengths.
Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot vol. 3
by Richard Morris
Where I grew up, in the Bronx, there used to be a man who would come around the courtyards of the apartment houses, late in the afternoon, look up and shout at the top of his lungs: "High-cash clothes!" He was like the ice-cream man of shmata's.
We listened to his shrieks, kept the windows closed and waited for him to shut up! I remember thinking, what a thing to do and what a thing to be, a "high-cash clothes" man. I used the time to think through his "shrill," by wondering what I would do and what I would become. It was then and there that I decided, for sure, that the clothing and the banking businesses were definitely out!!
I became a comedian, an entertainer, you know, routines, laughs, bits. Hmm, I haven't thought about the Bronx for a long time now. I haven't thought about "who I am" for a long time either, I guess I've been too busy "doing what I do" to be thinking about "who I am."
I haven't been back to the Bronx for years. but I remember. You see, it seems wherever I go, this "violin" has been following me. From New York City to the "red-neck" nooks and crannies of eastern Texas, to Los Angeles and back and forth again. It's very annoying. I'd work and the "violin" would "fiddle," playing those same, familiar tunes that lifted my grandparents out of the shtetles of Lida and Yeketrinislav -- that apparently won't leave me alone either.
One cold March day, eight years ago, I heard the tune again. The theme I knew but not the song: "Turn Friday Night into Shabbos!" I was ready to listen. It sounded good. I remembered the word "Shabbos." I remembered the word. I looked at Shabbat as though I was a new-age camera, developing what I saw, in old time, black and white photos, of those Friday nights I'd known. We didn't call it "Shabbos." We called it "Friday night." And I remember the challah or as we called it, "chally," And the pot roast. And the gravy of the pot roast. And the carrots and potatoes in the gravy of the pot roast. And a prune swishing past the carrots and potatoes in the gravy of the pot roast! And I remember the chopped liver, warm... and the "chally," fresh!
A Jew knows there is something different about Friday night. There's an extra helping of guilt on this night. And I felt it! I felt that if I missed a Friday night at home, Jews all over the world in unison would go "Tisk!" And G-d knows, there was enough of that going on already.
I looked forward to Friday nights. I can't remember any more the family arguments and bickering, but I can remember Friday nights with all of us together. We didn't pray and we didn't drink wine or sanctify the challah... but I do remember my mother, with a handkerchief over her head, standing in front of some candles placed on top of the refrigerator, waving her hands, covering her eyes and moving her lips. I watched from the foyer. I never really knew what my mother was doing; my mother never told me, and I never asked.
I often used to wonder if G-d would come into a house so that the conflicts would end, or if the conflicts would end so that G-d could come into the house. I think G-d tried to explain it to me once, but I couldn't hear. Either way, I knew G-d was there. After all, this was the Bronx, and G-d was there.
And now, years later, G-d was here! And so was Friday night, only now, suddenly, it seemed right for me to call it "Shabbos!" Finally, I gave the "fiddler" a break. I learned about the rituals slowly -- the washing of the hands, the prayers, the singing, the humming and the banging on the table in time to the singing.
I like that! I'm always drumming on the furniture in time to music anyhow, so why not on Shabbos? And why not to Jewish songs? I like Jewish songs. It's the song "New York, New York" I can't stand. It's bad enough I have to listen to that song at the end of every New York Yankee home game; there should be one night a week, at least, where there's no possibility of hearing it at all!
I know this might be simplifying the spirit and meaning of the Torah commandment "Keep the Sabbath Holy," which has been patiently smiling at us Jews for over 3,300 years, but I think in one tiny corner of our thoughts of what the Sabbath signifies to all Jews, it might just also be -- at a distant stretch -- a chance to eat dinner once a week without listening to the song "New York, New York!" Don't you think so?
So, I'm an entertainer. That's what I happen to do. But I'm a Jew. That's what I happen to be. And every weekend I go away to a place where there's order and sense and calmness and laughter, and singing and rhythm and joy and food, and wine and "chally" and Jewish people and, always, courage and hope. It's a place where G-d forbids "unfounded hatreds" and petty ways. And, whatever happens during the six-day week, I always know that I'm going away this weekend...
Travel nice and slow Find the gifts some people left for me a long time ago. It's exotic and it's quiet. You can hear yourself go... ahh. It's a place called "Shabbos Island" At a spot called "neshama"
Sixty Days of Joy
The Jewish month of Adar begins this Friday. Being that this year is a leap year in the Jewish calendar, we have two months called Adar (Adar I and Adar II). Our Sages teach that, "As Adar enters we increase our joy." Thus, we have 60 days in which we should exhibit increased joy. "The number 60 is associated with the nullification of undesirable influences... our 60 days of joy should nullify any undesirable influences."
(The Rebbe, Adar I, 5752)
17 Shevat, 5725 
To All Participants in the 25th Annual Dinner of the United Lubavitcher Yeshivot
Our holy Torah (meaning, "instruction"), being eternal, contains instructions and insight into all events, at all times; especially an event bound up with the Torah, such as the annual celebration of the Lubavitcher Yeshivot.
The celebration takes place this year on the day when we begin to read the weekly portion of Mishpatim ("Judgments"). This Torah portion begins with laws regulating individual and social human relations.
However, this Sidra [Torah portion] follows directly the Sidra of Yitro, in which we read about Mattan-Torah (the Giving of the Torah), and the Ten Commandments beginning with "I am G-d, thy G-d."
Moreover, the final chapter of Yitro, immediately preceding Mishpatim, deals with instruction relating to the Altar, which also comes within the area of man's duty to G-d.
Our Sages point to this sequence, saying: "Why does the portion of Mishpatim follow next to that of the Altar? In order to teach us that the Sanhedrin (Judges) should be close to the Sanctuary (Altar)."
From above we note the emphasis (expressed in many and profound ways) on the basic concept that:
In the area of inter-human relations, whether on the individual or inter-group level, it is futile to rely entirely on "intuitive" feelings of equity and justice -- as bitter experience has amply demonstrated;
Only that ethics and justice can endure in the daily co-existence of individuals and groups, the norms of which derive their compelling authority from a supra-human source, namely, the sanctity given them by the Creator of the Universe and of man;
For only the Creator fully knows human nature with all its weaknesses; therefore only the Creator could prescribe true and enduring ethical and moral laws for the individual and for the society at large; and such laws as derive their truth and authority from the Supreme Being are binding upon all, without exception, and at all times and places.
In the light of the aforesaid, one can better appreciate the vital importance of Yeshivot, and the Lubavitcher Yeshivot in particular.
Gone is the day that it was generally assumed that a Yeshiva education is necessary only for the training of a rabbi, or shochet, etc., but the average Jewish layman does not need it. It has become abundantly clear that in the present day, and in the present society, the need for a deep Torah education, in a Yeshiva atmosphere permeated with the fear of love of G-d, is indispensable for every Jewish boy and girl, if they are to grow up into wholesome Jews, wholesome in their duty to G-d and fellow man, fully aware and capable of their soul's mission bestowed upon them by Divine Providence.
Herein lies the particular importance of the United Lubavitcher Yeshivot "Tomchei Tmimim," where the students are trained in wholesomeness of both knowledge and character, so that their love of G-d and love of Torah is matched by their love of fellow-Jews, and these loves are actually translated into deeds in their daily life and conduct.
I send my prayerful wishes and greetings to all the distinguished guests and participants in this year's annual celebration, which marks a milestone in the history of the United Lubavitcher Yeshivot "Tomchei Tmimim." I am confident that every one, man and woman, will contribute their full share towards the success of this occasion, in the financial as well as the spiritual aspect.
[The United Lubavitcher Yeshivoth (ULY) are currently undergoing some major financial difficulties. If you would like to send them a donation, you can do so through us. Please send your donation for "ULY" to our attention, and we will bring it to the Yeshiva. Please send letter to: Chabad-Lubavitch in Cyberspace - 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11213. Please make the check payable to "ULY" and we will hand deliver it and make sure you get a receipt and acknowledgment from them.]
THE SEVEN HABITS OF JEWISH EFFECTIVENESS
Defining and then actualizing our values and goals is what living effectively is all about. The Torah can help us do both. A Shabbaton weekend hosted by the Lubavitch community in Crown Heights is devoted to defining and actualizing personal goals and values, using Torah Judaism as a source of wisdom and inspiration.
Join Jewish couples, singles and families from February 14 - 16 as they experience an unforgettable, fulfilling and stimulating Shabbaton featuring thought-provoking lectures, discussions and workshops -- accompanied by delicious, traditional cuisine, amidst the unique joy of Chasidic family life, song, and dance.
Featured speaker is Rabbi Laibl Wolf of Australia who directs the Human Development Institute in Melbourne. For more info call the Lubavitch Youth Organization at (718) 953-1000 or (718) 493-8581 evenings.
This Shabbat, the joyous month of Adar commences. Especially as this is a leap year and we have two months of Adar -- a total of 60 days of increased enthusiasm and joy -- it is appropriate to consider Chasidic teachings on the subject of joy.
At a Chasidic gathering nearly 20 years ago, the Rebbe told the following story:
One of the tzadikim of Poland, when still a little boy, asked his father for an apple. His father, however, refused to give it to him.
The enterprising youngster proceeded to recite a blessing over the apple: "Baruch atah... borei pri haetz -- Blessed are You... who created fruit of the trees!"
The father could not possibly allow the blessing to have been recited in vain. And so, he promptly handed the youngster the apple. The Rebbe used this story to illustrate the following point:
In our situation today, if the Jewish people begin now to rejoice in the Redemption, out of absolute trust that G-d will speedily send us Moshiach, this joy in itself will (as it were) compel our Father in heaven to fulfill His children's wish and to redeem them from exile.
Needless to say, the Rebbe was not suggesting the use of mystical incantations or the like to "force" the premature advent of the end of the exile. "We are simply speaking of serving G-d with exuberant joy," the Rebbe explained.
The month of Adar brings with it not only the injunction to increase in joy, but with every command we are also given the power and energy to fulfill that command.
So, right from the start of the month, let us increase in our happiness, do mitzvot with more enthusiasm, and rejoice NOW in the imminent Redemption.
Do not glorify a destitute person in his grievance (Exod. 23:3)
Very often, the grievance of a poor person is that he feels that G-d takes care of everyone else, but not him. When someone gives charity to that poor person, he refutes the poor person's complaint, but if someone refuses to give charity, he is confirming the poor man's grievance.
They gazed at G-d and they ate and drank (Exod. 24:11)
There is a connection between the spiritual delight of seeing G-d and the physical acts of eating and drinking. The Torah is telling us that before eating and drinking at home or outside of the home, we should make sure that we are in a G-dly environment, and that the establishment is a truly kosher one.
When you lend money to My people, the poor among you (Exod. 22:24)
The words "among you" seem to be superfluous. The Hebrew word for "among you" is "imach", which also means "with you." Sometimes a person might establish an amount of money that he will give to a particular charity, and even if his wealth increases, the amount he gives remains the same. The Torah is telling us that when we are enriched, the poor should be enriched with us.
(Reb Shmelke of Nikolsburg)
If the stolen object shall be found in his possession... he shall pay double (Exod. 22:3)
A thief must pay back double what he stole. When a thief steals $100, his intention is to gain $100 at the expense of $100 dollars of his victim. By paying back double, the thief is losing $100 and at the same time the victim is gaining $100. This demonstrates how punishments in the Torah are measure for measure; what is done to the thief is the same as that which he meted out for his victim.
By the year 1843 word of the disputes between the Chasidim, Mitnagdim and Maskilim had reached the Tzar's court. An order was issued that representatives be chosen to appear in Petersburg, where a commission, headed by the minister Count Uvarov would meet to decide which "brand" of Judaism was correct.
Each group selected a representative: The Chasidim of White Russia chose Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch; the Polish Chasidim, Reb Israel Halperin of Berdichev; the Mitnagdim, chose Rabbi Yitzchak of Volozhin; the Maskilim chose to represent their viewpoint, Bezalel Stern, who was the director of the Jewish school in Odessa. Other Jewish dignitaries had been invited, but declined. Every delegate was permitted to bring an advisor; the Lubavitcher Rebbe brought his son, Reb Yehuda Leib.
When the meeting had convened, Count Uvarov explained that it was not the intention of the Tzar to overturn or annul any Jewish law or custom, merely to elucidate and clarify matters.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel was accorded due respect by the ministers, and he successfully answered all the questions that were put to him, which devolved mainly on matters of Chasidut and Kabbala.
One of the questions asked of all of the representatives was, "What is the purpose of studying Chasidut and Kabbala?"
Bezalel Stern replied that the study was totally unnecessary. Rabbi Yitzchak of Volozhin made no reply at all. When it came the turn of Rabbi Menachem Mendel and Reb Yisroel Halperin, they answered that this study is indispensable to all Jews.
On Friday afternoon, Count Uvarov made an announcement: "The question of the study of Kabbala and Chasidut will be decided according to Torah, that is, according to the majority opinion. Since Stern and I hold that it is not necessary and Yitzchak holds his peace, which indicates that he is also against it, and only Schneersohn and Halperin are in favor, I rule that this study be abolished!"
Rabbi Menachem Mendel stood up and with a bitter cry emanating from his heart declared, "Whatever may happen, the study of Kabbala and Chasidut cannot be abolished!"
Count Uvarov was beside himself with fury. "Arrest him!" he barked at his guards, and they immediately led the Rebbe from the room. Count Uvarov remained, pacing like an enraged tiger, while the other members of the commission looked on in horror.
The time came to recite the afternoon service, and Rabbi Menachem Mendel began chanting the Mincha service aloud, to the melody composed by Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the first Chabad Rebbe. Count Uvarov stopped pacing, transfixed by the beautiful tune.
"What is it he's saying?" he inquired of the members of the commission.
"He is praying the afternoon service," was the reply. And they explained that he was reciting a most profound passage taken from the Kabbala, the very thing on which the dispute centered. Count Uvarov listened intently to the entire service. When the Rebbe had finished praying, Uvarov opened the door and said, "Schneersohn, you are freed !"
The Rebbe then reentered the room and joined his fellow delegates. Then Uvarov turned to the Rebbe and said: "Perhaps we can figure out another way of deciding the outcome of this question. Let us say that since Yitzchak remains silent, that means he favors the study of Kabbala and Chasidut. In that case, you have the majority."
With that, the holy Sabbath was ushered in and passed in peace. The final session of the commission was scheduled to convene after the Sabbath.
That day arrived and everyone sat waiting for the meeting to begin -- all except Rabbi Menachem Mendel. Bezalel Stern grew impatient and decided to take a walk in the gardens until the Rebbe arrived. On the way to the meeting the Rebbe suddenly turned to his son and said, "Let's walk through the park."
There, of course, they met Stern. The Rebbe approached him and took him by the hand.
"In the holy Talmud it is written, 'Rabbi Judah the Prince wept and said, that there are those who can attain the World to Come in an hour.' Now the time has come that you have been given by Divine Providence, the chance to gain the World to Come. You only need to tell the commission that the study of Kabbala and Chasidut is indispensable."
The words of the Rebbe hit their mark in the heart of Stern, and when it came time for him to speak, he spoke in favor of the study of Kabbala and Chasidut. Hearing him, Rabbi Yitzchak also agreed. And so, with a majority vote, the commission decided in favor of the Chasidim, and with that decision, closed its session.
Moshiach signifies the separation of the good from the evil. This is why he will come "only in a generation which is altogether meritorious or altogether sinful," i.e., at a time in which there will be no mixture of good and evil. So as long as Moshiach has not come, there is a mixture of good and evil in all the worlds: there is no good without evil and no evil without good.
(Rabbi Shneur Zalman)