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Haven't we all, at one time or another, had the thought that it would be great to add a few hours to the day?
Even after we've decided to try and "simplify" our lives - whittling away at commitments, time-consuming activities, energy-wasters, relationships that aren't going anywhere - there still need to be more than 24 hours in the day!
With such stressful and packed lives, who would even dream of adding something to his/her "to do" list?
And yet, that's exactly what Judaism demands of us!
"Make set times for Torah" urge Jewish teachings. Just as we set aside time to sleep, eat, pay bills, work, etc., - though not usually in that order and certainly never enough sleep - we are expected to set aside time for Torah study. Just think of it as exercising your most prominent Jewish organ with a uniquely Jewish work-out.
Lest someone think they can put Torah study off until they reach the "golden years," think again. Our Sages weren't just giving encouragement to people with time on their hands. They understood well the human psyche, so much so that they also enjoined us, "Do not say, 'When I will have free time I will study,' for perhaps you will never have free time.'"
Although a recent study suggests that the body would work more effeciently if there were 25 hours in the day, science has yet to find a way to add another hour. But Torah study can add quality and quantity to our 24 hours, in essence stretching them to their maximum.
Studying Torah, not in a haphazard fashion, but actually setting aside time on a regular basis to expand one's Jewish knowledge can actually help save time.
Chasidic philosophy explains that by studying Torah, especially in a Torah study group, one creates a vessel to contain G-d's blessings for livelihood and blessings in other areas of our material lives and spiritual blessings, as well.
Who hasn't had one of "those" days when anything we try to do takes for ever or doesn't get done at all? And surely we've all had the opposite experience, a "midas touch" type day when everything we do goes smoothly, all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place easily, and at the end of the time there is a sense of accomplishment.
Practically speaking, making set times for Torah study, especially in groups, can bring the blessings of the latter kind of day into your life.
When's the best time to join a Torah study group? "The wise person does it today. The fool puts it off for tomorrow," the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe was quoted as saying. Check out the options today at your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center. Or start a class of your own. There will never be a better time than now!
When the Tzemach Tzedek (Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the fourth Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch) was a young boy he learned the verse in this week's Torah portion, Vayechi: "And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years." His teacher explained that these years were the best of Jacob's entire life.
When the Tzemach Tzedek came home from cheder he asked his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, how this was possible. How could those years be the best of Jacob's life? He wanted to know. Wasn't Egypt the most corrupt and immoral place on earth?
In response, the Alter Rebbe quoted another verse: "And Judah he sent before him to Joseph, to direct him to Goshen." The Midrash relates that Jacob sent Judah to Egypt to establish a yeshiva. Throughout the time they spent in Egypt, the Twelve Tribes devoted themselves to the study of Torah. By learning Torah, a Jew draws near to G-d; thus it was possible for Jacob to "live," even in as base a country as Egypt.
* * *
The finest years of Jacob's life were the 17 he spent with Joseph in Egypt. When Jacob saw that his son was alive, and that despite the intervening years he had continued to conduct himself in a manner befitting the son of a Patriarch, it brought him great joy.
This joy was even more pronounced because it came after many years during which Jacob could not see his son, and did not know if he was still a tzadik (a righteous person). This joy is likened to a light that follows the darkness.
Obviously, light is always preferable to darkness, but the advantage it has is much more striking when it comes in the wake of total darkness. The more intense the darkness, the brighter the light appears when it finally arrives.
Furthermore, the advantage is that much greater when the light not only dispels the gloom, but actually transforms the former darkness into light. In this instance, the darkness itself becomes illuminated.
This helps to explain Jacob's joy upon being reunited with Joseph, and indeed describes the nature of the Tribes' Divine service in Egypt. Egypt was a place of darkness, to which Jacob and his sons brought light. But not only did they illuminate their surroundings, they caused Egypt itself to become a source of light through their devotion to Torah.
Thus the years Jacob spent in Egypt were the best of his life, even better than the ones he had spent in the land of Canaan. For a light that follows the most intense darkness is the very brightest light of all.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 10
AS AMERICAN AS APPLE KUGEL
by Bob Crespo
A few years back, I'm out of work and a friend hooks me up with his sister who hires waiters and barmen for affairs in Crown Heights. The caterers are Glatt kosher; the clientele is Lubavitch Chasidic.
I figure, why not? Tending bar for Chasidim? Those cats with the black hats and long beards? They were always a part of the Brooklyn landscape, but who knew much about them? My hazy impressions were of aloof, very mellow people with a rather somber outlook on life. Real, live industrial-strength Jews, quite unlike my secular Jewish friends. I didn't guess they did much celebrating and the like. Figured they sort of frowned on having fun. Well, guess again.
If you go to a Chasidic wedding in Crown Heights, you won't soon forget it. The dancing, the l'chaims (toasts), the loud music, the spontaneous bursts of song and prayer from the celebrants, the impassioned speeches, it's all quite a spectacle. Of course, the men and women are separated by dividers called mechitzas for religious reasons. As a matter of fact, I've since found out, just about everything these people do is for religious reasons. They spend a lot of time discussing their religion and what is the right way to worship G-d and interpret His will. They not only talk the talk, they walk the walk. G-d is first in these peoples' lives, and every gathering, no matter the occasion, is a religious one. Their level of education and awareness of their faith is also quite impressive. Even small schoolchildren can discuss with assured confidence many laws and fine points of Judaism.
I've worked the bar, the tables and the kitchens in the big ballrooms, the small synagogues and private homes, and I've gotten to know a good chunk of the community. Far from the xenophobic ascetics of popular myth, these men, women and children are part of the greater world as much as any ethnic group in America. At first, there's something unsettling about seeing a Lubavitcher in full regalia whipping out a cell phone like some undercover agent, tapping away at a laptop computer or discussing new models of minivans. Something is wrong with this picture, you're thinking.
Think again. These folks are thoroughly in tune with modern technology and the great world around them. I know Lubavitch corporate lawyers, doctors, general contractors, wholesalers, manufacturers, teachers and what-have-you, who are out dealing with all sorts of Other-Americans every day, save on the Sabbath. Many of the most trusted employees in their businesses are not Jewish. Rashid the Moroccan chef comes to mind, as does Frank the Cuban chef, and Joseph from Trinidad. The "main man" at the girls' school on Crown Street is a black Muslim from Africa named Mohammed, who's a great guy.
There is some sort of catered affair almost every night in Crown Heights. There is no shortage of work to be had by servers. Usually a special children's section is set up with paper plates and meatballs instead of china and chicken.
There is almost always, at affairs, another set of paper plate tables, these being for poor people to come and eat. I'd call this a Christian act except that I've never seen it done at any Christian wedding I ever attended. Sometimes 30 or 40 men and a couple of dozen women partake. Amazing. In the lobby beggars are allowed to congregate and solicit alms before they eat.
People say that when they see me they associate me with joy, because they always see me working at a celebration, and believe me, these folks have a huge capacity for experiencing joy. I suppose I have a somewhat skewed view of Lubavitchers since I see them mostly when they are having a good old time. I've found though, that sometimes being a server is like being a fly on the wall, an invisible presence able to observe people in a setting most outsiders never see. So they just relax in front of me and are themselves.
For all their seemingly strange ways, I find most of the Lubavitchers to be very normal people, which is kind of unsettling when you anticipate someone to be bizarre. It's like approaching a tough-looking biker and finding out he has the temperament and demeanor of a Buddhist monk. It takes a while for it to dawn on you that the misunderstanding is yours, not the other guy's.
I also work their annual men's conventions and women's conventions and meet people from all over the world. South Africans, a lot of Australians, people from most countries of South America, Europe, North Africa, Japan, China, the Middle East, the Philippines, India, and that hot-bed of Chasidic activity, Gary, Indiana. I thought this odd until I learned more about the Rebbe. He sent out emissaries all over the world to establish Chabad Houses, not to convert non-Jews but instead to bring Jews into the religious fold. His presence is still profoundly felt in Crown Heights. I can't remember how many public speeches were peppered with the phrases, "The Rebbe teaches us..." and of course, "Moshiach is coming!"
I'm not trying to put these people on a pedestal. They have their fair share of problems. Many of the elderly Lubavitchers were concentration camp inmates or suffered from Stalin. These graybeards of the old shul are representative of the Lubavitch temperment-tolerant, patient, loving. They have survived mankind's most heinous acts of cruelty and have known the deepest sorrow imaginable, yet they are anything but bitter and hateful. The faces of such men and women are studies in pain transcended, yearning love and wistful hope for a better world to come.
If you had told me that someday I would walk down the streets of Crown Heights and be greeted on every block by name, I'd have inspected the cigarettes you were smoking. That I have friends named Yossi, Levi, Ben-Sion, Moshe, Shlomy, Avrami and Menachem no longer amazes me. It feels right. I am friendly with a small army of children and they are as curious about me and my community as I am about them and theirs. They are a fine bunch, worthy of respect and admiration and one of the more interesting communities in this very interesting city. Mazel tov, friends.
TOP SCIENTISTS IN TORAH DISCOURSE
Academics from various fields in the sciences and humanities convened Dec. 14-16 in Miami, Florida, to search for answers to ethical problems facing society today. Some of the topics included: "Is human cloning kosher?" "What does the Bible say about surrogate motherhood?" "How does fuzzy logic help us understand the commandments?" "Is evolution a valid scientific theory?" The conference was held on the Campus of Florida International University, and was cosponsored by FIU, The Shul of Bal Harbour, B'Or Ha'Torah Journal, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, the Central Agency for Jewish Education of Miami, and the Jewish Chaplaincy Service of Miami.
5th of Teves, 5739 
Johannesburg, So. Africa
Blessing and Greeting:
After the interval, I was pleased to receive your letter of the 22nd of Kislev. I will again remember you in prayer for the fulfillment of your heart's desires for good, including finding the proper solutions to the questions about which you write.
I trust I have already indicated to you the importance of taking the fullest advantage of the formative years, which lay the foundation for the whole future life. This means that it is necessary to ensure the fullest stability to be able to withstand the influences of the external non-Jewish environment, all the more so since Jews in general, and religious Jews in particular, are such a small minority in the surrounding world. And regardless in what country one lives, including Eretz Yisroel [the land of Israel], it is necessary for every young person to absorb the maximum of proper Jewish education, especially in the essential aspect, namely Torah and Mitzvos, of which it is said, "They are our life and the length of our days." Indeed, this is the primary consideration also in regard to other fields, for whatever the vocation of a Jew, there is always the imperative "All your works should be for the sake of Heaven" and "Know Him in all your ways."
If the above is true of every young person, it is certainly more so in regard to a young lady who has to prepare herself for her great and exalted role in life as the Akeres Habayis [foundation of the home], who largely determines the conduct and atmosphere of the Jewish home and, in due course, is a true Jewish mother to whom the raising of the children is entrusted when they are very young, and who has an important influence and role also as they grow older. Therefore, every additional benefit that you gain in strengthening and developing your own Yiddishkeit and your own Yiras Hashem and Ahavas Hashem [awe and love of G-d], etc., will eventually be multiplied many times over in the atmosphere of the home, and in the children and grandchildren to all generations.
In light of the above, of what significance are any personal difficulties by comparison with the great and infinite benefits?
As for the choice of a seminary, your father as well as you, surely have adequate information about the most suitable ones, and it should not be difficult to make a choice.
I trust that you are active in spreading Yiddishkeit in your present surroundings, and are doing it in the spirit of Chanukah, which we have just celebrated by steadily increasing the number and brightness of the Chanukah Lights from day to day, thus doing it not only with Hiddur [in an enhanced manner], but in a manner of mehadrin min hamehadrin [and enhancement of the enhancement].
Wishing you Hatzlocho [success] in all above,
16 Tevet, 5760
Prohibition 234: demanding payment from a debtor who cannot pay
By this prohibition we are forbidden to demand payment from a debtor whom we know to be unable to pay. It is contained in the Torah's words (Ex. 22:24): "You shall not be to him as a creditor."
What is idolatry, according to Judaism?
Some people might dismiss the phenomenon as something that only existed in primitive cultures thousands of years ago, but for the Jew, the prohibition holds a much deeper meaning. Idolatry is one of the three fundamental mitzvot for which a Jew must give up his life rather than transgress. In fact, the first two of the Ten Commandments concern the topic.
Maimonides, whose yartzeit is the 20th of Tevet (this Wednesday), explained in his "Laws of the Worship of Stars" how idolatry came about in the first place: "In the days of Enosh, mankind made a great mistake... seeing that G-d had created the stars and constellations... and set them in the sky and gave them a place of honor... they assumed that these were worthy of praise... They began to build monuments and offer sacrifices, to verbally extol them and bow down to them." In the course of time people made representational images, and the worship of idols became widespread.
A person is also considered an idol worshipper if he believes that G-d exists, but that He is uninvolved in the world, or that other forces are also in control. Then there is a lower level of idolatry that is equally forbidden for Jews. "Shituf," literally "collaboration," is the notion that G-d has allotted certain powers to various subordinates. This also includes believing that anything other than G-d determines events.
Pure idolatry is the belief that there is something instead of G-d at the helm. The finer (but also prohibited for Jews) level is the belief that G-d has "helpers."
According to Judaism, whatever forces exist in the world (nature, planetary influences, etc.) are only doing the will of G-d. "Nature" has no choice but to obey; it is only a conduit through which G-d exerts His influence. Similarly, the boss who pays an employee a wage is not the source of his livelihood; rather, G-d alone is the source of all blessing.
And the days of Israel drew near to die, and he called his son Joseph and said...deal with me kindly and truly (Gen. 47:29)
The mitzva of accompanying the dead is called an "act of true kindness" ("chesed shel emet"), as its motivation can never be the expectation of reward. Furthermore, the Hebrew word for truth, emet, is an acronym for aron (casket), mita (bier), and tachrichin (funeral shrouds). (Baal HaTurim)
And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it upon Efraim's head, who was the younger (Gen. 48:14)
"The deeds of our forefathers are a sign for their children." Like Jacob, we should always try to draw the younger generation closer with our "right hand," symbolic of love and affection, to the light of Torah. (Daat Chachamim)
Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which will befall you in the last days (Gen. 49:1)
As Rashi explains, "He desired to reveal the end [of Israel's exile], but the Divine Presence (Shechina) withdrew from him." Yet if the Divine Presence was no longer upon Jacob, how was he able to utter other prophecies about Israel's future? The answer is that the "Shechina" - Jacob's ability to cause G-dliness to be manifested in the physical world, from the Hebrew shin-chof-nun, (meaning to dwell) - was removed from him, but not his prophetic ability. Jacob knew when the "last days" would occur, but was unable to communicate this knowledge to others. (The Rebbe)
He washes his garments in wine (Gen. 49:11)
The Alter Rebbe explained that whenever a Jew does a mitzva, a "garment" for his soul is formed. Wine is symbolic of joy, as it states in Psalms (104:15), "And wine that gladdens man's heart." "Washing our garments in wine" thus means that we should always strive to observe the commandments out of a sense of joy. (Torah Ohr)
It was already the middle of the night when the stranger appeared in the doorway, a thin figure dressed in rags. Obviously exhausted, the traveler looked ready to tumble to the ground.
The innkeeper, a warm-hearted, G-d-fearing Jew, immediately invited him in and sat him down. After bringing the stranger a warm drink to revive him, he served him an entire meal and sent him off to bed.
The next morning the traveler was much revived from the food and the good night's sleep. After praying the morning service and eating breakfast, he packed his meager belongings into his knapsack, thanked his host for his hospitality and prepared to leave.
The innkeeper, sizing up the man's outward appearance, stuck his hand into his pocket and offered him a handful of change. To his surprise, the stranger politely refused. Thinking that perhaps he had offended him by offering too little, the innkeeper added another few coins, but the man was adamant. "Thank you anyway," he said, "but I really don't need it."
The innkeeper was at a loss for words. "What do you mean you don't need it?" he asked after a few seconds.
"I'm not your usual door to door beggar," the man explained. "You may not believe it, but I'm actually very wealthy. In my hometown I own many properties, fine houses, fertile fields and abundant orchards."
By this time the innkeeper was completely confused. He demanded that the stranger give him a more detailed explanation:
"The whole thing started a little over two years ago," the stranger began, "when a large sum of money was stolen from my home. After the initial investigation, suspicion fell on one of the servants, a young orphan girl who was in my employ. I insisted that she be taken to the town magistrate, who would soon get to the bottom of the matter. But the policemen who led her away were very cruel, and they struck her repeatedly. As a result of the beating, she passed away a few days later. Till the very end she maintained her innocence.
"A few weeks after this happened, the real thieves were apprehended and the money was recovered. I became almost insane with remorse. My conscience would not allow me to live. Not only had I shamed the poor girl, but I had inadvertently caused her death. How could I ever expiate my sin? In my sorrow I turned to the tzadik Rabbi Meir of Premishlan for help.
"The tzadik's face turned grave when he heard my story. He looked deep into my eyes - into my soul - before speaking. 'You must choose one of three ways of doing teshuva [repentance],' he said. 'The first choice is death. This will save your portion in the World to Come. The second choice is illness, in which case you will need to suffer for three years as atonement. Or, you can choose to go into exile for three years. This is the punishment for taking a person's life accidentally.'
"I asked the tzadik for several days to make up my mind. Each one of the alternatives seemed too much to bear. I just couldn't decide. A few days later I started to feel terrible pains all over my body. A doctor was summoned, and he diagnosed me as having an incurable illness. I understood that the tzadik had chosen the first option - death - for me, as I seemed incapable of making a decision.
"With my last ounce of strength I went back to Rabbi Meir and asked him to pray for my recovery. I was ready to accept exile.
"The tzadik set several conditions. 'The first stipulation is that you must leave all your personal belongings with me,' he said. 'From now on you must only wear clothing that is old and torn. You must never spend more than one night in the same place. And when you are hungry, you mustn't ask for food but wait until it is offered. For three years you are forbidden to return home, but once a year you may stand at the entrance to your city and send word for your wife to bring you your accounting books. Come back to me when the three years of exile are over, and I will return all your possessions.'
"I accepted my fate and set out, and for the past two years I have obeyed the tzadik's words to the letter. Just recently, however, I learned that Rabbi Meir of Premishlan passed away, and I don't know what to do. How can I go back to him if he is no longer alive? I've decided to go to Rabbi Chaim of Szanz for guidance." With that, the stranger concluded his tale.
The innkeeper, who was a follower of Rabbi Chaim of Szanz, insisted on accompanying him. When they entered the tzadik's chamber, Rabbi Chaim began to speak before they could even state why they had come. "Go home," he instructed the weary traveler, "but make sure you pass through Premishlan. Go to Rabbi Meir's grave and tell him that the Rabbi of Szanz has ruled that two years of exile are enough, for you have fulfilled them with true self-sacrifice."
Before his passing, Jacob said to his children, "Gather together and I will tell you what will happen to you at the end of days." Jacob wished to reveal the date of the Messianic redemption. One could also read this in the sense of "he wished to reveal, i.e., manifest and bring about, the end." In this context there is an important moral for every Jew. We are to follow in the footsteps of our ancestor, and wish and pray for the manifestation of the ultimate end of the exile. (Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe)