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Nothing happens by chance. Whether you choose your own number for your lottery ticket or let the computer do it for you, the fact that you won (or most likely didn't win!) didn't happen by chance. It's all part of G-d's Divine plan.
The idea that nothing happens by chance is a primary teaching of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chasidism. He goes even further and says that everything that happens in the world is for a purpose. The Baal Shem Tov's most famous example of this precept is a leaf that falls from a tree in order to shade an ant from the beating sun.
If this is true of a leaf falling from a tree, a blade of grass swaying in the wind, a bird flying through the air, how much more so is it true of the movement of the planets and stars in the constellations which affect the lives of hundreds of billions of people and an almost unlimited number of creatures.
The Jewish calendar is reckoned according to the lunar cycle. It is not by chance that 15 is a "winning number" in the Jewish calendar, i.e., the day on which many of our Jewish holidays fall. On the fifteenth day of the month, the moon is whole. It "shines" at its fullest potential. And for the Jewish people, who are likened to the moon which waxes and wanes, the wholeness of the moon is very significant:
G-d has implanted a soul within each one of us. Chasidic philosophy defines the soul as "an actual part of G-d." We are expected to help our souls shine brightly, to their fullest potential, thereby lighting up our surroundings.
The full moon on the fifteenth of the month teaches us that it's not enough if only a part of us, half or three-quarters, shines. We must illuminate fully and perfectly.
And the light we give off must shine in every way possible - through luminous thoughts, with bright words, and by way of shining actions. Our "moon-shine" should light up our homes, offices, communities, until we light up the whole world.
We are now in the Hebrew month of Av. From the fifteenth day of Av on, the nights become longer. Jewish teachings explain that the longer evenings should be used to delve into Torah. G-d even gives us an incentive to study more Torah beginning on the fifteenth of Av, saying that if we pursue Torah studies at night, G-d will "add on to our lives"; He will give us more energy and enthusiasm than we had before.
Nothing happens by chance. The seasons change and the nights become longer for a reason: so that we can become more involved in Jewish pursuits; so that we can learn how to help our soul shine; so that we can get closer to G-d.
Pick a winning number this month by participating in an evening Torah study class or lecture.
At the end of Va'etchanan it states, "Which I command you this day, to do them," upon which Rashi comments, "And tomorrow, in the World to Come, to receive their reward."
In principle, a Jew is rewarded for observing G-d's commandments. However, most mitzvot are rewarded not in this world, but in the World to Come. And the reason is simple:
As Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism explained, the reward for doing mitzvot is so great that this limited, physical world cannot contain it; we must therefore wait until the less restrictive World to Come to receive our reward. The majority of the Torah's commandments fall into this category.
Nonetheless, there are certain mitzvot for which we are rewarded in this world as well. These are the good deeds we do to benefit others. Not only are they "good for heaven," but "good for the creations." Such mitzvot elicit a response from G-d that is measure for measure: Because we have helped our fellow Jew in this world, it is only fitting that our reward be in this world too.
The following illustrates the concept of delayed reward:
There was once a king who ruled over the entire world. One day he left his palace and met a Jewish boy, Yisrael.
"Yisrael," the king said, "Find a beautiful diamond for my royal crown." At once Yisrael embarked on a search. When he found a diamond he thought was suitable he brought it to the palace, where the royal jewelers cut and polished the stone and set it in the king's crown. Everyone was stunned by the stone's brilliance. The king promised Yisrael a reward for his deed. Although now he was only a child, when he grew up the king would appoint him as his highest ranking minister.
The next day Yisrael sat down to eat, but his plate was empty. "It isn't fair!" he cried. "I did what the king wanted, yet still I go hungry! How can the king not care about me?"
It was only years later that Yisrael realized that he had received his true reward. The king appointed Yisrael second in command over his entire kingdom.
The second category of mitzvot, for which we are rewarded in this world, is illustrated by the following parable:
The same king once met Yisrael and asked him to do a different sort of favor: he wanted him to feed his children, the royal princes and princesses. Yisrael, of course, immediately stopped what he was doing and arranged a lavish meal for the king's children. This time the king did not allow Yisrael to go hungry. In addition to the reward he would get later, the boy was invited to sit at the table and eat.
So too is it when we help our fellow Jews. Not only are we rewarded later, but the King of the universe grants us our reward in the here and now.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 19
COMING FROM THE OTHER SIDE
by Batyah Sheindel Allicock
I entered the world in Guyana, in South America, with some difficulty after being delivered by my Great Granny. I showed no signs of life and needed a smack on the bottom and the shock of cold water to resuscitate me; I guess G-d decided I had a job to do here.
I lived in Guyana for the first ten years of my life with very limited awareness of the outside world; no TV, no newspapers, just chores, dirt roads, my parents and three brothers and two sisters, and religious Sunday school, taught by my Great Auntie Daphne. We were so isolated, we didn't know there was such a thing as snow elsewhere in the world.
Our family of eight migrated to Long Island, New York where my folks continued to raise us in a household where no pork or shellfish were allowed (my mother of blessed memory was violently allergic to both). We were constantly taught both in Guyana and Long Island that cleanliness is next to G-dliness. Growing up in my parents' home had an unexpected Jewish flavor. Of course, the house was clean and free of pork and shellfish! Also, my mother baked fresh bread for the family every Friday!
My mother was just naturally a holy woman, who believed in serving G-d every day, and lived for her children's education and well-being. She searched for a peaceful resolution to all difficulties, looking for the good and holy in every detail of life.
Before she passed on, she made the request from all of us not to be sad, nor overly mournful, but to move on with our lives and to be happy for her being able to move on in her journey. She requested of us that the anniversary of her passing should be a day of happiness.
As I grew into an adult and the need for further guidance in my life arose, I did what she would have done and had done many times in her life: I turned to G-d and had faith in His caring love and His availability to my prayers, hopes, and needs. My mother taught us to "think good and it will be good" and that "from everything 'bad' comes something good." Remembering the words my mother would say and her reactions to unhappy events, I started looking to incorporate G-d into my life, to learn and live as G-d intended us to live.
I was certainly ready and had made room in my life for a relationship with G-d. By my mid-twenties, I had graduated college, established a warmly furnished home, had a secure job and mobility. The American dream achieved! But having provided myself with all the important physical demands of society and having experienced many aspects of life in the physical world, I was feeling that there had to be more to life.
Why with all of these pleasures was my life still empty? Where is true happiness? What do I do now with all the physical accomplishments? I prayed to the Master of the Universe and was answered with guidance to Judaism. I owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Yakov Greenstein who inspired me and who brought me to the Shabbat table of the Berk family in Manhattan. They welcomed me and showed me Shabbat and the wonderful Jewish way of life. I experienced a spiritual awakening, wherein I finally found the answers to my questions: Why, Where, What, How?
Why is my life empty? I was missing having a family of my own, a human being's true calling and ideal environment, where I could experience the daily giving and receiving of unconditional love and kindness.
Where is the true happiness to be found? In having G-d's Presence in every part of life, setting aside an entire day a week for only serving G-d and spiritual renewal, and making sure that the everyday eating, sleeping, working and marching through life be imbued with just a touch of the specialness I felt on Shabbat.
What do I do with the physical accomplishments, which are not an end goal in themselves? Apply it all towards serving G-d.
How do I continue to transform myself and my surroundings to the positive and spiritual side of the world? By learning, through books, lectures, going to shul, observing Shabbat carefully and lovingly, living with a Jewish family in order to fully understand and learning in yeshivot (I have loved Machon Chana Women's Yeshiva in Crown Heights and am making plans to attend Machon Alta in Israel, G-d willing).
For my efforts to serve G-d by living according to His Torah, I was rewarded by receiving my Jewish soul on the seventh day of Iyar. This was the day on which my conversion was completed.
I am now the second of my siblings to become a Jew. My sister, Nicole, 16 months older, also converted about seven years ago. As children growing up together, Nicole and I would whisper to each other about the dread we shared of our grandmother's church. The two of us would plead with my mother not to send us. We found church to be uncomfortable when we didn't pay attention and depressing when we did. Nicole is now, thank G-d, happily married to my dear brother-in-law Morty Horowitz, and they are the proud parents of two precious daughters, Ariella and Robbin.
I have learned that the month of Iyar, the month of my birth in a sense, contains much Divine Providence. My conversion at this time is just one more manifestation of that which was already there. May I give special thanks to all my teachers, hosts, and friends who helped and supported me through this phase of my spiritual journey to a more beautiful and rewarding life.
I especially thank the Rebbe. All along I have been asking the Rebbe for help and for blessings. He has clearly been generous with both. I feel that he has welcomed me into his large family, and I am happy to say I am a Lubavitcher. Now I must make it my business to live up to that title, doing all that the Rebbe wants of me. With the blessing of the Rebbe, may Moshiach come soon.
Reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter
THE GREAT POTATO PLAN
Based on true events from author Joy Nelkin Weider's own family history, The Great Potato Plan describes the joys, fears, trials and triumphs of a young boy in World War I Poland. This new book is part of the Fun-to-Read series from HaChai Publishing for ages 7 - 10.
A thought provoking story, a pointed remark, an explanation of a Chasidic teaching, a description of personal refinement-these comprise a Chasidic farbrengen [gathering]. The reader of Rabbi Chaim Dalfin's most recent book, Farbrengen, is invited to participate in this unique kind of gathering. Published by Otsar Sifrei Lubavitch.
21st of Shevat, 5729 
Thank you very much for your correspondence and enclosures. I am particularly appreciative of your thoughtfulness in sending me the enclosures, for, obviously, they are a source of true gratification to me.
I need hardly add that I was also very pleased to read the copy of your article in the Commentary. (If Rabbi - had taken a liberty in showing it to me, we will keep it confidential.) Knowing you, and not underestimating your influence, I will apply to your article a paraphrase of the saying of our Sages, "More than is written here still remains to be said."
May I also add a further point, and I believe an essential one, to the explanations mentioned in your article as to how you and Mrs. - and your children have found the true path in life. It is that the Supreme Providence has chosen you to be special messengers to bring the word of G-d to those circles where others could not have had access to, or at any rate, could not have had the same effectiveness and success. I am referring to the academic and scientific circles which wield considerable influence on Jewish youth, particularly in this day and age. More specifically, on young men and women going into scientific careers, who are yet to establish families of their own. In other words, they represent not individuals but family units, and the beneficiaries will become benefactors in the way of a chain reaction. This, indeed, is also what you have in mind, as I see from your letters.
To use a much-used phrase, our living in the "Jet Age," I hope and pray that your influence be swift and far-reaching, and that you bring it about in joy and gladness of heart...
9th of Elul, 5718 
...In your letter you ask how can my statement that every addition in Torah and Mitzvoth brings additional Divine blessings, be reconciled with the Rabbinic statement that there is no reward for a Mitzvah in this world. In this connection let me point out to you the following: Firstly, that the said Rabbinic statement obviously does not refer to such Mitzvoth which are mentioned in the Mishna and Braysa which we say during the morning blessings, whose fruits are enjoyed in this world. Secondly, and this would refer specifically to the terms "vessel" and "channel," which I used, in the sense that even though this does not create the reward of the Mitzvah, nevertheless the very performance of the Mitzvah removes the obstacles that would have otherwise been created through the non-performance of the Mitzvah, preventing the flow of G-d's kindness to reach the person. This, therefore, refers to the flow of G-d's benevolence of the kind which is given even to children and to other people who are not duty-bound to observe Mitzvoth. In other words, G-d is always ready, willing and able to bestow blessings upon His creatures, whether merited or not, but the sin of commission or omission acts as a barrier. Therefore, the more Mitzvoth one performs, the more obstacles and barriers are removed to receive the flow of G-d's benevolence.
With regard to your question as to how to begin the study of Chassidus, surely Rabbi Dubov who lives in Manchester, could help you, and explain to you anything difficult. At any rate, generally speaking, one begins to study Chassidus with the Tanya, starting the third part of it, Iggeres Hateshuvo (especially pertinent this time of the year), gong on to the second part, Shaar Hayichud Veho-emuno; going on from there to Kuntres Umaayon, etc. After you have done the above, you will be well on your way to continue your studies of Chassidus.
You asked if it is right that a Chassid should decry those who are opposed to the Chassidic movement, etc. Needless to say, I see no benefit in decrying or criticizing others, especially when one can find so much to criticize in one's own self, namely, the "animal soul" and all those things connected with it, from which no one is absolutely immune.
With prayerful wishes for a Kesivo Vachasimo Toivo [to be written and sealed for good],
In memory of Yosef Yitzchak ben Shlomo Shneur Zalman yblc't
11 Menachem Av 5759
Positive mitzva 133: the dough-offering
By this injunction we are commanded to set aside a cake from every portion of dough, and give it to the kohen (priest). It is contained in the words (Num. 15:20): "Of the first of your dough you shall set apart a cake for a gift." By Rabbinic ordinance the setting apart of challa (dough-offering) is obligatory today, even outside the Land of Israel, and is customarily burned.
This Shabbat, the 11th of Menachem Av, is the yartzeit of one of the most famous and colorful Chabad Chasidim, Reb Hillel Paritcher.
Reb Hillel was born in 1795 and was married before his bar mitzva (!). As he was still too young to don tefilin and could only wear a talit, he was called "Chol Hamoed" ("the Intermediate Days of a Festival," when tefilin are not worn). By 13 he had already mastered the entire Talmud, and was fluent in Poskim and Kabbala. By 15, he was expert in the writings of the holy Arizal.
Originally a Chasid of Reb Mordechai of Chernobyl, he became a Chabad Chasid the first time he opened the Tanya. His lifelong dream was to meet the Alter Rebbe, the Tanya's author and the founder of Chabad Chasidism, but this was not to be. For years Reb Hillel trailed the Alter Rebbe across the Pale, but never caught up to him.
One time he arrived in the city where the Alter Rebbe was expected and hid under his bed. While waiting, he formulated in his mind the question on Tractate Erachin that he would ask the Alter Rebbe. When the Alter Rebbe entered the room, before Reb Hillel could even emerge from his hiding place, the Alter Rebbe said in his characteristic sing-song: "When a person has a question about Erachin [literally 'assessments'], he must assess himself first..." Reb Hillel fainted, and by the time he woke up the Alter Rebbe was gone.
It wasn't until after the Alter Rebbe passed away that Reb Hillel came to Lubavitch, where the Mitteler Rebbe enjoined him to "collect materiality [funds for charity] and sow spirituality."
His most famous work, published posthumously, was Pelach HaRimon. He is buried in Kharson.
May his memory be a blessing for us all.
And I pleaded with the L-rd (va'etchanan) at that time (Deut. 3:23)
One reason the Torah uses this phrase instead of "va'etpalel" ("and I prayed") is that the numerical equivalent of "va'etchanan" is the same as "tefila" ("prayer") and "shira" ("song"). This teaches that it is commendable to pray in a melodious, pleasant voice, utilizing the best of one's G-d-given abilities for speech and song for a higher purpose. (Pa'aneiach Raza)
You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor shall you diminish from it (Deut. 4:2)
The Torah is a life-giving elixir, a Divine "prescription" for purity and holiness. It is therefore forbidden to add or detract from the Torah's commandments in the same way one mustn't tamper with the proportions of a medicinal compound. Too much or too little of any one element can be extremely detrimental, and the "doctor's" instructions must be followed exactly. (Rabbi Yehonatan Eibeshutz)
Rabbi Ezriel Hildesheimer was once visited by a delegation seeking to "amend" the Torah. There are many Jews, they claimed, who would like to observe mitzvot, but find it difficult to observe all of them. The solution is to alter the Torah and make it less demanding. Countered the Rabbi, "It states, 'Nor shall you diminish from it, that you may keep the commandments of the L-rd your G-d.' Even for the sake of ostensibly doing mitzvot is it forbidden to decrease their number."
And they will say, "Surely a wise and understanding people is this great nation" (Deut. 4:6)
In a different verse (Deut. 7:7) the Torah calls the Jewish people "the fewest of all the nations." How, then, can they also be "great?" In number, the Jews are a very small people. But by accepting their role of keeping the Torah's mitzvot they become qualitatively great, enjoying an elevated status in society and wielding great influence in all areas of life. (Nofet Tzufim)
The Baal Shem Tov was so great that even many who were otherwise opponents of Chasidut stood in awe of him. One of these antagonists was Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Margolios, the Rabbi of Dubnow.
Once, Reb Yaakov of Kaiden told the following story: "I was a teacher in the village of Yanov, which is near Kovno. At that time Reb Chaim Mordechai Margolios was the rabbi there, and he owned several forests on the outskirts of the city. He used to come to inspect the woods, and on one of those trips he came to Kovno. Many wealthy and learned men came to greet him, and they exchanged words of Torah. I was privileged to be present and I listened to their learned discourse. At one point the conversation got around to the topic of Chasidut. There were some who spoke very disrespectfully of several of the great Chasidic Rebbes. One man even spoke out against the Baal Shem Tov himself.
"At that, Rabbi Margolios spoke out crying, 'My dear friends! Please do not speak in this way! I refuse to allow any negative comments about the Baal Shem Tov. Don't misunderstand me, I am as opposed to Chasidut as you are, but the Baal Shem Tov is different; he is completely beyond reproach. Why, he is considered as great as the Talmudic Sages, as great as the famed Kabbalist, the Ari Zal himself!'
"The people were shocked to hear these words spoken by their rabbi, and they begged him for further explanation. 'What was the Baal Shem Tov really like?' they asked. 'If he was truly so great, why was there such controversy about him? And why did he act so strangely, so different from the other great rabbis and scholars of his time?'
" 'You are asking very good questions. It is true that his behavior was at times very strange and his Torah interpretations were definitely unusual. However, you may not challenge his interpretations, even when they seem to deviate from the traditional understanding of the verses. He was a unique individual and he was given the power from Above to do as he pleased with his interpretations. I will explain this to you with a story:
" 'Once there was a great king who loved his only son very much. Out of his great love, he entrusted his son with the keys to his vaults where he stored all of his most valuable possessions. One day, the officers of the royal guard appeared before the king with a complaint: "Your Majesty, you have given all of your royal treasures to your son, the prince. We are sure that Your Majesty has done the best possible thing, by bestowing this honor and responsibility upon His Highness, the Prince, but we want to tell you, Sire, that with our small intellect, we cannot understand what the Prince is doing with the treasure. His arrangements are so completely different from anything Your Majesty has ever done before, it seems very strange to us."
" 'The king nodded his head in understanding, saying, "I have given my dear son all of my treasures to do with as he sees fit, and I am fully confident that he will not betray my trust. In his deep wisdom, he has a plan for all of his actions, and that plan is good and just."
"This," Reb Yaakov concluded, "was how Rabbi Margolios described the greatness of the Baal Shem Tov, whom G-d entrusted with His greatest treasures of the Torah."
The Rabbi of Kadinov used to say that the main goal of the Baal Shem Tov was to learn the Divine service that would exist in the Era of Moshiach. From the time of the Baal Shem Tov onward, the spark of Moshiach began to burn in the souls of the leaders of the generations.
This is how we can understand the verse in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 96), "The last two thousand years of the world will be the era of Moshiach." The word thousands in Hebrew is "alafim," which can also be connected to the title "aluf chochma," which translates, "teacher of wisdom." The Baal Shem Tov taught himself the special wisdom which will characterize the Era of Moshiach - Chasidut - which consists of the two basic doctrines of humility and joy.
One day a childless woman came to the Baal Shem Tov weeping and beseeching him for a blessing. He promised her a son; however, since she was truly unable to bear a child, and his promise disturbed the natural course of events, he was punished. The verdict was that he would lose his portion in the World to Come.
When the Baal Shem Tov heard this sentence pronounced upon him, he rejoiced, for he would now be able to serve his Creator without possibility of reward. His decision to now continue his Divine service for entirely pure motives elevated his soul to the most sublime heights. Then, he was told by his teacher, the prophet Achiya Hashiloni that this had all been a test given to him in order to achieve spiritual perfection.
"The teachings of Chasidut," someone might argue, "are indeed likened to gems and pearls but I'm not one to chase after pearls; I'm satisfied if my clothes aren't torn." There is an answer to this argument: "We are on the threshold of the Redemption, so we have to get ready for the coming of Moshiach, when we will be privileged to enter the marriage canopy together with the King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He. So we will need pearls, too." (Likutei Sichot, Vol. 20)