What Am I Doing Here? | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | The Rebbe Writes
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"What am I doing here?" you ask yourself as you stop in the middle of the room, trying to figure out why you came there in the first place.
Or perhaps you're waiting in the long line at the mega-supermarket. "What am I doing here?" you mutter to no one in particular, as you weigh the few cents you'll save against the time you're wasting.
Maybe your question is bigger, triggered by a mid-life crisis, a blow out with your boss, or on a more positive note, achievement of a financial goal. "What am I doing here? Where do I go from here?"
The soul, the spark of G-dliness within every person, could ask itself a similar question. "What am I doing here? Why did I leave my holy, heavenly environment and descend into a physical body in a very physical world?"
Jewish mystical teachings would answer the soul, "You descended from your lofty place into this world for the purpose of an ascent." Regardless of how lofty the soul was before, its sojourn in the physical body serves as a springboard to attain ever higher heights, an "aliya" in Hebrew.
While the soul-in its pre-birth state-is exalted, it is also spiritually immobile, fixed in its status. The soul yearns to enter the physical world, though there it will be challenged with moral dilemmas and temptations. For it is precisely these confrontations that provide an opportunity for spiritual growth.
When the soul in this world overcomes the challenges and performs mitzvot, it goes through a transformation and becomes elevated. At the end of this physical journey, the soul will return to heaven at a higher and more elevated level than before its incarnation.
The day of birth is a great opportunity for the yearning soul. However, the day of passing after a lifetime of genuine fulfillment is even greater. For on this day we celebrate the actual, not the potential; we rejoice in what the soul has accomplished during its sojourn in this world.
The 22nd of Shevat, corresponding to January 29 this year, is the anniversary of the passing of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, wife of the Rebbe. Surely it is a fitting time to ask oneself the question, "What am I doing here?" Then listen to your soul, it will give you some important answers.
The name of this week's Torah portion is Yitro, despite the fact that only a small part of the reading is actually devoted to Yitro (Jethro), Moses' father-in-law. Most of the portion pertains to the preparation for and giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, which took place seven weeks after the Children of Israel had left Egypt. Certainly the Giving of the Torah is much more significant than the story of Yitro, "the priest of Midian" who "heard all that G-d had done for Moses and for Israel His people" and decided to become Jewish.
In truth, the Giving of the Torah is the central, most definitive historical event in Judaism. This week's portion includes many different narratives, and even contains the Ten Commandments. Nonetheless, the name of the Torah portion is Yitro.
This may be understood in light of the explanation in the Zohar (the ancient mystical text authored by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai) that Yitro's conversion to Judaism and his statement, "Now I know that the L-rd is greater than all gods," made it possible for the Torah to be given to the Jewish people.
Accordingly, the entire Torah portion (including those chapters which speak of the Giving of the Torah) is named after Yitro because of the central role he played in the giving of the Torah.
From this we learn a wonderful lesson to be applied in our day-to-day service of G-d:
Yitro is symbolic of the body and animal soul, whose only desire is the pursuit of physical pleasure. Every Jew possess this "Yitro" within him; it strives constantly to arouse his interest in material things.
When a Jew decides to utilize his "Yitro" for holy and spiritual purposes (as did the original Yitro), it is that much easier for him to learn Torah and perform mitzvot, for the animal soul assists him instead of hindering his actions.
This is within the reach of every Jew, as the Torah was given to each and every one without exception. Every Jew can actually induce his animal soul to want the same things his G-dly soul desires: to live a life of Jewish content and meaning, to perform mitzvot and study the Torah.
Furthermore, when a Jew successfully affects his animal soul in this manner, success will be his in all his other endeavors.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 4
Mikvah Chaya Muskha in Burlington, VT
The twenty-second of Shevat is the anniversary of the passing of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, daughter of the Previous Rebbe and wife of the Rebbe. Since the Rebbetzin's passing, hundreds of institutions have been established in her name. Among these are over 30 mikvahs.
What is a mikvah? Why is it so central to living Jewishly? And why is a mikvah such a fitting edifice to bear the Rebbetzin's name?
To answer these questions, we share excerpts from Total Immersion: A Mikvah Anthology, edited and with an introduction by Rikvah Slonim (published by Jason Aronson Inc. and reprinted with permission of Mrs. Slonim).
The world's natural bodies of water-its oceans, rivers, wells, and spring-fed lakes-are mikvahs in their most primal form. They contain waters of divine source and thus, tradition teaches, the power to purify. Created even before the earth took shape, these bodies of water offer a quintessential route to consecration. But they pose difficulties as well. These waters may be inaccessible or dangerous, not to mention the problems of inclement weather and lack of privacy. Jewish life therefore necessitates the construction of mikvahs (mikvah pools), and indeed this has been done by Jews in every age and circumstance.
To the uninitiated, a modern-day mikvah looks like a miniature swimming pool. In a religion rich with detail, beauty, and ornamentation-against the backdrop of the ancient Temple or even modern-day synagogues-the mikvah is surprisingly nondescript, a humble structure.
Its ordinary appearance, however, belies its primary place in Jewish life and law. The mikvah offers the individual, the community, and the nation of Israel the remarkable gift of purity and holiness. No other religious establishment, structure, or rite can affect the Jew in this way and, indeed, on such an essential level. Its extraordinary power, however, is contingent on its construction in accordance with the numerous and complex specification as outlined in Halachah, Jewish Law.
Immersion in the mikvah has offered a gateway to purity every since the creation of man. The Midrash relates that after being banished from Eden, Adam sat in a river that flowed from the garden. This was an integral part of his teshuva (repentance) process, of his attempt at return to his original perfection.
Before the revelation at Sinai, all Jews were commanded to immerse themselves in preparation for coming face to face with G-d.
In the desert, the famed "well of Miriam" served as a mikvah. And Aaron and his sons' induction into the priesthood was marked by immersion in the mikvah.
In Temple times, the priests as well as each Jew who wished entry into the House of G-d had first to immerse in a mikvah.
On Yom Kippur, the holiest of all days, the High Priest was allowed entrance into the Holy of Holies, the innermost chamber of the Temple, into which no other mortal could enter. This was the zenith of a day that involved an ascending order of services, each of which was preceded by immersion in the mikvah.
The primary uses of Mikvah today are delineated in Jewish Law and date back to the dawn of Jewish history. They cover many elements of Jewish life. Mikvah is an integral part of conversion to Judaism. Mikvah is used, though less widely known, for the immersion of new pots, dishes and utensils. The Mivkah concept is also the focal point of the Taharah, the purification rite of a Jew before the person is laid to rest and the soul ascends on high. The manual pouring of water-in a highly specific manner-over the entire body of the deceased serves this purpose. Mikvah is also used by men on various occasions; with the exception of conversion, they are all customary. The most widely practiced are immersion by a groom on his wedding day and by every man before Yom Kippur. Many chasidic men use the mikvah before each Shabbat and holiday, some ever making use of mivkah each day before morning prayer (in cities with large populations of observant Jews, special mikvahs for men facilitate these customs). But the most important and general usage of mikvah is for purification by the menstruant woman. For the menstruant woman, immersion in a mikvah is part of a larger framework best known as Taharat Hamishpacha (Family Purity).
Most Jews see the synagogue as the central institution in Jewish life. But Jewish Law states that constructing a mikvah takes precedence even over building a house of worship. Both a synagogue and a Torah Scroll, Judaism's most venerated treasure, may be sold to raise funds for the building of a mivkah. In fact, in the eyes of Jewish Law, a group of Jewish families living together do not attain the status of a community if they do not have a communal mikvah.
This is so for a simple reason: private and even communal prayer can be held in virtually any location, and venues for the social functions of the synagogue can be found elsewhere. But Jewish married life and therefore the birth of future generations in accordance with Halacha, is possible only where there is accessibility to a mikvah. It is no exaggeration to state that the mivkah is the touchstone of Jewish life and the portal to a Jewish future.
Erev Hilulo of Yud Shevat, Parshas Yisro, 5731
To All Participants in the Ninth Annual Mid-Winter Conference of Neshei UBnos Chabad
Blessing and Greeting:
I was pleased to be informed of your forthcoming Mid-Winter Convention, taking place during the weekend of Parshas [the Torah portion of] Yisro, the Sidra [portion] of Mattan Torah [the Giving of the Torah].
You surely know of the teaching of the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism] to seek in the weekly Sidra directives and inspiration for the events of that week. Accordingly, you will recall the special role of Jewish women at the time of Mattan Torah. Our Sages, commenting on the verse "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and speak to the children of Israel" declare that the "House of Jacob" refers to the women. Consequently, the Torah indicates that the women were approached first, before the men, when the Torah was about to be given. This emphasizes the women's primary role in the preservation of the Torah and Mitzvoth in their homes, as well as for the Jewish people as a whole.
Commenting on another verse, Chorus Al Haluchos ("engraved on the Tablets"), our Sages see in the word Chorus the implication of Cheirus ("liberation"). They go on to explain that true liberation can only be achieved through the Torah, when it is truly engraved upon the hearts and minds of the Jewish people. For when a Jew lives his daily life in accordance with the Torah, he is truly free; free from servitude to his own natural temptations, free from anxiety, etc.
The Torah concept of freedom is the very opposite of what nowadays passes for "liberation," which really is nothing but a clamor for freedom to do as one pleases, in order to gratify the natural appetite without restrictions and inhibitions. This kind of liberation is nothing but an attempt to legalize the lowest animal passions, and there is surely no greater slavery than being a slave to one's own passions.
True liberation from enslavement to the self and to the negative aspects of the society in which one lives, can be achieved only by submission to the Will of G-d and the acceptance of the "yoke" of the Torah and Mitzvoth. Only in this way can the Jew attain the highest degree of spiritual development in his daily life, and make his life truly worth living. For it is the Torah, Toras Chaim [the Torah of Life], which elevates the life of the Jew and gives life true meaning and fulfillment, so that the Jew can realize his destiny of being created in the image of G-d. Indeed, it has been explained that the Hebrew word Odom (man) is derived from the expression Adameh l'Elyon ("I will aspire towards the Supreme Being").
I trust the above few lines will lend further substance to the theme of your Convention, and, what is most important, that it be truly implemented in the activities of the Neshei uBnos Chabad, collectively and individually, in accordance with the traditional role of Jewish womanhood, as indicated above.
With all good wishes for your Hatzlocho, and may G-d grant that you should have good news to report always.,
21 Shevat 5760
Prohibition 313: adding to the Written or Oral Law
By this prohibition we are forbidden to add to the written or oral Torah law. It is contained in the words (Deut. 13:1): "You shall not add thereto."
Prohibition 314: detracting from the Written or Oral Law
By this prohibition we are forbidden to take away from the written or oral Torah law. It is contained in the words (Deut. 13:1): "Nor shall you diminish from it."
This Shabbat is the twelfth yartzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, of blessed memory, wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and daughter of the Previous Rebbe. Born in the Russian village of Babinovitch (a small shtetl near Lubavitch) in 1901, she played an integral role in both her father's and husband's affairs throughout her life. And yet, she deliberately chose to function out of the limelight. Extremely modest, royal in bearing and above all kindly, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka was the embodiment of Jewish womanhood and an exceptional role model for Jewish women and girls.
On the anniversary of her passing several years ago, the Rebbe spoke about the special mission all Jewish woman have been entrusted with. The function of every Jew - man, woman and child - is to "make a dwelling place for G-d" on earth. But the goal of the Jewish woman is to take this one step further, and adorn G-d's abode on the physical plane so that it is "lovely" and appointed with "fine furnishings."
In particular, the Jewish woman fulfills her role of "spiritual decorator" through the three special mitzvot G-d has given her to implement in her private home: maintaining the kashrut of her kitchen, keeping the laws of Family Purity, and lighting candles on Shabbat on Yom Tov, together with her daughters. (The Rebbe specified that young girls should light first, so that their mothers can assist them if necessary.)
The Rebbe also called on women to renew their commitment to the Jewish education of their children, from the earliest age on. When a Jewish mother sings a lullaby to her baby about how the Torah is "the best, the sweetest, and the most beautiful" thing in the world, it instills a deep love and appreciation for Torah that lasts a lifetime.
The main point during these last few moments of exile, the Rebbe stressed, is to recognize the great merit and power Jewish women and girls have to bring about the Final Redemption, may it happen at once.
Because the L-rd descended on it in fire (Ex. 19:18)
The giving of the Torah at Sinai is closely associated with fire, to teach us that a Jew should always worship G-d with a fiery enthusiasm, eagerness and warmth - the ability for which was conferred at Mount Sinai. (Sefer HaMaamarim 5701)
And Mount Sinai was altogether smoke (ashan) (Ex. 19:18)
The three letters of the word ashan, ayin-shin-nun, stand for olam (world - the dimension of place); shana (year - the dimension of time); and nefesh (soul - the energy that animates the physical plane). The revelation at Sinai signified that from that point on we were given the ability to refine and elevate these two dimensions (through Torah and mitzvot), and infuse them with a G-dly light and vitality. (Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism)
Honor your father and your mother (Ex. 20:12)
A basic principle in Judaism is that a person should always acknowledge and appreciate the good that is done for him. When a person considers that his father and mother are the reason he exists, having brought him into the world and taken care of him as a child, he will realize that it is only right that he repay their efforts to the best of his ability. This will, in turn, lead him to a greater appreciation of G-d, the Father of us all going back to Adam. (Sefer HaChinuch)
It states in Psalms (128:6), "And may you see children born to your children; peace upon Israel." The way of the world is that children always complain that their parents aren't providing them with enough. It isn't until they grow up, have children of their own and hear the very same complaints that they begin to understand their parents, and there is "peace on Israel." (Alei Zayit)
The Biblical Devora was a wealthy woman. She owned fields and orchards, date palms in Jericho, vineyards in Rama, and olive groves in Beit El. Devora was a G-d-fearing Jew who observed the Torah's commandments and performed a multitude of good deeds.
Devora's husband was not particularly learned, which saddened Devora considerably.
Devora wanted to spread the light of Torah throughout Israel. At the same time, she wanted to give her husband an opportunity to do a mitzva. To achieve these ends, Devora prepared wicks for the lamps in the Sanctuary in Shiloh and asked her husband to bring them to Pinchas, the grandson of Aaron the High Priest.
Devora kept making the wicks thicker and thicker so that the flames in the Sanctuary would burn more brightly. People began to call her "the wife of Lapidot," because the flames her wicks produced looked like "lapidim" (torches).
Devora's actions were very pleasing to G-d, Who declared, "Because Devora labors so hard to illuminate My Sanctuary, I will cause her name to be illuminated, never to be forgotten among her people."
The more Devora devoted herself to the service in the Sanctuary, the more the Divine Presence rested on her. Devora became a prophetess, filled to overflowing with G-dly wisdom. People came from far and wide to hear G-d's word, for everyone recognized Devora as a wise and sagacious judge whose utterances were holy.
Devora didn't hold court in an elegant palace, surrounded by attendants and servants. Rather, Devora sat under a date palm, under the open sky, so that everyone who sought her counsel could easily approach her. Thousands of Jews came to bask in her wisdom and hear the words of Devora the Prophetess.
In those days the Jewish people were in difficult circumstances, suffering greatly under the yoke of Yavin, the king of Canaan. Indeed, Yavin went out of his way to cause problems for the Jews. In particular, much of their suffering was attributable to Yavin's army commander, General Sisera, a fearless warrior without peer in the annals of armed conflict. When Sisera roared, the walls trembled. Wild animals fled back to their lairs in confusion and fright. Over the years, General Sisera had conquered many lands. No one had ever been able to stand up to him.
It is no wonder, therefore, that Sisera grew proud and arrogant in his own eyes. "Who can even come close to me?" he would ask himself rhetorically.
General Sisera became so haughty that he needed a good comeuppance. G-d said, "Sisera thinks he is so mighty and powerful that no one can approach him. I will arrange his downfall through a woman, that the whole world may laugh and ridicule his prowess."
Devora, moved by her spirit of prophecy, instructed a Jewish leader, Barak, to assemble an army and wage war against Sisera. Barak, for his part, insisted that Devora accompany the army in battle. He hoped that Devora's righteousness and merits would help the Jewish people win the war. It was a difficult battle, but in the end the Jews emerged victorious. Sisera's forces, which had boasted 900 iron chariots, were defeated and scattered to the wind. The mighty General himself barely managed to escape with Barak in hot pursuit.
While he was fleeing, Sisera happened to pass by the tent of Hever the Kenite, who was descended from the family of Jethro. He entered the tent and demanded of Hever's wife, Yael, that she hide him. "Stand by the door," he told her, "and if anyone asks if you've seen me, say that I ran off in another direction."
The exhausted General stretched out on the ground, desperate for some rest. When he asked Yael for a drink of water she brought him milk instead, which quickly lulled him to sleep.
Yael looked at the sleeping form of Sisera and said to herself, "This murderer has caused countless women and children sorrow and bereavement. Is it right for him to recoup his strength, that he be able to continue his murderous activities? Indeed not; such a thing is absolutely unthinkable."
Yael picked up a tent peg and hammer and walked over to the sleeping General. Mustering all her strength, she drove the pointed spike through his temple. Sisera was dead, killed by a "mere" woman.
Again the Divine Presence rested on Devora, and she composed a song of thanks and praise to G-d. But she forgot that G-d does not abide arrogance or pride; Devora described the Jews' travails "until I, Devora, arose, a mother in Israel." As soon as she uttered these words the Divine Presence left her. Her voice became weaker and weaker until it seemed as if she had fallen asleep. "Awake, awake Devora and utter a song," the people urged her.
Devora understood that she had made a mistake. From that point on she didn't speak about herself, but lauded those who had taken part in the battle against Sisera. Special mention was given to the brave Yael, who killed the wicked enemy with her own hands.
Devora concluded her song: "So let all Your enemies perish, O L-rd, but let those who love Him be as the sun when it goes forth in its might."
In the Talmud (Sota 11b), R. Akiva expounded: As the reward for the righteous women who lived in that generation were the Israelites delivered from Egypt.