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Even before you know what's inside the gift you say "thank you." Before you've tasted that heavenly-looking dessert the waiter brought, you murmur, "thanks." And before you start your day, as soon as you realize that you are no longer in that delicious mode of sleep, you say the Modeh Ani prayer:
"I give thanks to You, living and eternal King, for having restored within me my soul, with mercy; great is Your trust."
Though we haven't ritually rinsed our hands, washed our face, brushed our teeth, we can say this prayer. The obvious reason for this dispensation is that G-d's name is not mentioned in this prayer but is referred to only as "King." However, this allowance points to an essential component of each and every Jew, that the "Modeh Ani" of the Jew-a Jew's very essence-can never be tainted, sullied or contaminated.
The concept of expressing thanks to G-d is one of the fundamental principles of Jewish life. Thus we begin each day with an expression of thanks-Modeh Ani-in which we gratefully acknowledge G-d's return of our souls. This, our first act of the day, serves as the foundation for all of our subsequent conduct. It teaches us to be grateful, to take nothing for granted, to appreciate everything we have.
The Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement, was renown for his efforts to spread Jewish teachings even among small children. In particular, before he revealed himself as a leader of the Jewish people, he served as a teacher's helper. In fact, when the story of the Baal Shem Tov's life is related-before his scholarship, piety, unbounded love of all Jews, and miracles that he wrought are recounted-it is first told that he began as a teacher's helper. At that time, he would remind children to begin their day with praise of and thanks to G-d, by reciting Modeh Ani. Through this--one's very first act of the day--a Jew acknowledges G-d's Kingship. In addition, it sets the tone for the whole day and for our whole life. It teaches us to be grateful from our earliest moment in our lives at the earliest moment in the day.
Our Sages have told us that every night when one goes to sleep one's soul returns to its Divine source and gives an account of her activities that day. In the prayer before going to bed we say, "Into Your hand I pledge my soul; You have redeemed me, O G-d, G-d of trust." A pledge is something the debtor gives to the creditor as security that the debt will be repaid. Usually the creditor will not return the pledge as long as the debtor still owes him money. But G-d is very merciful; though every day we are indebted to Him, He returns our soul to us.
Furthermore, our Sages declare: When a person gives a pledge, even if it is a new thing, it becomes old and stained by the time it is returned. But G-d returns our "pledge" new and polished even though it has been "used," and so it is written, "They are new every morning; great is Your trust."
The fact that we go to bed "dead tired" and wake up refreshed, returning from the unconscious world of slumber, is similar to the "revival of the dead" which will take place in the Messianic Era. This daily experience strengthens our conviction in the "resurrection of the Dead," one of the 13 principles of Judaism. And this adds further meaning to the words, "Great is Your trust," for we have absolute trust in G-d not only that He will return our soul in the morning, but also will return our soul into our body at the end of days, when all dead will arise from their "sleep."
Get into the habit of giving thanks, right from the very first moment of the day. Gratefulness goes a long way.
This week's Torah portion, Vaetchanan, contains the central proclamation of our faith, "Shema Yisrael - Hear O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One. And you shall love...and you shall speak of them...when you lie down and when you rise...and upon your gates."
One of the Torah's positive commandments is to recite the Shema twice each day. The Torah specifies when we must say it: "when you lie down," i.e., at night, and "when you rise," i.e., during the day.
With the declaration of "Shema Yisrael," the Jew testifies that G-d is One, and that nothing else exists except for Him.
The word echad, one, is composed of three letters: alef, chet and dalet.
The numerical equivalent of alef is one. G-d is alone and unique in the universe.
The numerical equivalent of chet is eight. Only G-d is King over all seven firmaments and the earth below.
The numerical equivalent of dalet is four. This expresses the concept that G-d is the sole Sovereign over all four directions: east, west, north and south.
By saying Kriyat Shema, a Jew negates the independent existence of the world. He declares that all of creation - the celestial spheres, the earth below and the four winds - are completely nullified before Him. G-d is the One Who sustains and rules over them; without Him, they would not exist. G-d is One; there is nothing else but Him.
A Jew is obligated to recite Kriyat Shema by night and by day, two opposites that allude to the variety of situations and circumstances a person will encounter throughout his life.
Nighttime, in the allegorical sense, is a time of spiritual darkness, when G-d's light is hidden and concealed. At such times it is hard for the Jew to perceive G-dliness; his spiritual condition is as dark as night.
Daytime, by contrast, is the time of day when the sun illuminates. Symbolically, this alludes to the illumination of the Jew's soul, when G-dliness is readily perceived and apparent.
Yet regardless of one's spiritual condition, no matter whether it is day or night, a Jew must always remember (and remind others) that the entire world is nothing but G-dliness! G-d is the only King of the universe. G-d is One.
Indeed, man's function is to reveal G-d's oneness within creation, and the obligation to nullify the world in His presence is independent of our personal situation and circumstances.
"Hear O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One...when you lie down and when you rise."
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, vol. 4
By Sholom Raskin
For the past two summers, my friend Sholom Ber Piekarski and I travelled across the Midwest visiting Jewish prisoners on behalf of the Aleph Institute.
The Aleph Institute, located in Surfside, Florida and headed by Rabbi Sholom Ber Lipskar, works with Jewish prisoners and servicemen in the US Armed Forces. Throughout the year, they arrange for local Lubavitch emissaries to work as part-time chaplains. During the summer, Aleph send yeshiva students to prisons to visit Jewish inmates and cater to their religious needs, whether it's providing yarmulkes or a prayer book, giving a warm handshake, or just reminding them that they are not forgotten.
We visited fellow Jews, both men and women, in over a hundred correctional institutions. Whether they were in a pre-trial county jail, a minimum-security state cattle ranch, or the Federal Administrative Maximum Security Prison in Florence, Colorado, Aleph found them and we were there. Thank G-d, there aren't many Jews in prison.
Usually, we met with all the Jewish inmates together in the chapel. But sometimes there were Jewish prisoners in the SHU (segregated housing unit) or the "hole" as they call it, who couldn't join the rest of the prisoners. We spoke with these prisoners individually.
Some of these Jews had never set foot in a synagogue or hadn't been in one since their Bar Mitzva. These Jews found their roots while they were in prison. Some of them put on tefilin for the first time with us.
We met two Jews who were serving life sentences in a state prison in South Dakota. One was put into segregation because he didn't want to walk around without a head covering.
There was a Jewish inmate in Alabama who was eating only raw vegetables because he didn't know what he was allowed to eat and his prison didn't have a common-fare diet. We taught him the basics of keeping kosher and gave him a list of all the kosher symbols. We encouraged him to take things one step at a time.
In a prison in Colorado, near the Texas State line, the inmates asked us questions on Chasidic philosophy and on the Prophets. They had been waiting for months for a Rabbi to return and answer them.
In a Kansas state prison, we were waiting for all the Jewish inmates to gather in the chapel when we saw two Jews with beards, curly peyot (sidelooks) and tzitzit (fringes) hanging out of their prison uniforms. Sholom Ber and I looked at each other. After they greeted us with their deep southern accents and spoke with us, we found out that they had become Torah obsrvant in prison. One of them can't even read Hebrew. We learned fast not to judge a Jew by his cover.
Not all the Jews we met were prisoners! Though we tried to arrange our schedule so that at least on Shabbat we could stay at a nearby Chabad-Lubavitch Center, one week, we had to spend Shabbat in a hotel. We arrived shortly before Shabbat and found that the air conditioner was not working properly.A maintenance man was sent to our room to repair it and he explained what to do in case it happened again. We told him we were Jewish and would not be able to do anything once the Sabbath began. We got into a conversation and he told us that his mother was Jewish. She used to take him to synagogue with her on Saturday. We invited him to join us for our Sabbath meal.
When we were visiting a state prison in Iowa, the chaplain insisted we meet the head chaplain, who had been responsible for setting up our visit. We reluctantly agreed as we had very little time until our appointment at the next facility. In our conversation, the head chaplain mentioned that he remembers his grandmother and sisters going to visit their Jewish neighbors when he was child. When we asked if his grandmother was Jewish he answered "yes." We asked if he was referring to his mother's mother. Again he said "yes" and we told him that he was Jewish. Although his pastoral ordination certificate hung on his wall, he was proud to put on tefilin for the first time in his life.
At maximum-security prisons, they didn't allow us to take in more than we needed. At one prison, since we were only going to meet one person, we could only take in one pair of tefilin. The guard at the front desk locked the rest of our stuff in a drawer at the front desk.
When we went to sign out at that particular prison and retrieve our possessions, the officer handed me our bags asked me quietly where he could get a Jewish Bible. I gave him toll-free numbers of Jewish bookstores. As we walked to the parking lot, I told Sholom Ber about the guard's question. We looked at each other, wondering if he could be Jewish. We went back in and asked him if we could have a word with him in private. When we asked if he was Jewish he said, "I am not but my mom is." We told him that he was Jewish, too. He told us that he really wanted to know more. We left him with website addresses and telephone numbers. I thought back over all that had transpired during the entire day. What Divine Providence.
On another occasion, we found that Mike, a clerk at the hotel where we were staying, was Jewish. Mike had asked us what we were doing in the area. We explained that we were chaplain-student rabbis visiting Jewish inmates. Mike told us his mother was Jewish. I asked Mike if he had ever put on tefilin, or if he had a Bar Mitzva. He said he didn't think so. Since he had never celabrated his Bar Mitzva, we offered to make him a party the next morning and put on tefilin with him after our prison meeting. He was very excited. We met him at his home and he put tefilin on for the first time. We said "l'chaim," took Bar Mitzva photos and gave him a Chumash and prayerbook as a Bar Mizvah gift. We still keep in touch with him, as we do with some of the inmates.
In the past two summer we learned that even though a pesron may be locked up physically, nothing can ever separate a soul from its Creator.
Reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter
On Wednesday evenings, from 7:45p.m. to 9:15 p.m. throughout the month of August, Be'er Miriam presents "Chasidut by the Sea: A Journey into Jewish Mysticism." At Pier 17 in Manhattan's South Street Seaport, join an informational and informal lecture series with Rabbi Eli Cohen of Chabad at New York University on topics such as: evolution versus creation; the meaning of suffering; prayer-a ladder to G-d; and is Moshiach the Jewish Utopia? The classes for on rain or shine. Light refreshments are served. For more information call Be'er Miriam at (718) 467-5519.
19th of Tammuz, 5720 
I received your letter of the l6th of Sivan, and I was pleased to read in it about your efforts to strengthen and spread Yiddishkeit [Judaism] among the youth. As for suggestions as to how best to carry this out, this is a matter which depends primarily on local conditions. Therefore, it would be best for you to consult with some local friends who have interest, and experience in such activity. Needless to say, the same applies to the question of a committee on scholarships for boys to go to Brunoy. As G-d rewards in kind, but in a most generous measure, your efforts to help others will bring you G-d's blessings in your needs....
Now to refer to the question which you have been asked as to the reasons why G-d does one thing this way and another thing that way, etc. The whole question has fundamentally no basis. By way of illustration, suppose a small child, whose only interest is in food, toys and the like, would be asked to explain a profound philosophical problem, or the construction of an intricate machine. This would certainly be considered absurd, although the difference between the small child and the philosopher or the engineer is only a difference in degree. It would be even more absurd to expect a human being to understand G-d's reasons, for the difference between a human being and G-d is absolute, namely, the difference between a created being and the Creator.
If sometimes certain aspects of Divine Providence are questioned, it is only in cases where other human beings are involved, as for instance, the question of why some righteous people seem to be suffering and others seem to be prosperous. The reason such a question is asked is because there seems to be a contradiction between the qualities of the two persons and their experiences in life. On the other hand, the question why did G-d create the world is one that lies entirely in the realm of the Creator. Similarly, why did G-d create the world in this way and not in another way?
Parenthetically, I wish to add that it is true that some people attempt to answer such questions. But this should not be taken to mean that the question itself is a legitimate one, that is to say, a question which begs to be answered, and if we do not know the answer, we are deficient in our understanding. It is only that in some instances G-d has revealed to us additional knowledge, but even if He did not, it would still not reflect on man's necessary knowledge, inasmuch as such additional knowledge is out of his range.
To illustrate this, as above: If a child, at the proper age, should not know the ABC, or how to use a fork and knife, etc., this would be a defect on his level, where as it would not be a defect if he did not know philosophy or mechanics. On the other hand, there may be a possibility where the engineer would attempt to give the child some rudimentary knowledge about the construction of a machine, or the philosopher might use a simple parable to put across some element of his philosophy, in a way that the child might grasp it.
On the questions of the meaning of the Hebrew word Adam in relation to the soul of the first man, needless to say, Adam, and similarly, Noah, were the fathers of all the peoples of the earth. Generally speaking, until our father Abraham was born, there was no distinction between Jew and non-Jew, although, insofar as their souls were concerned, in their very root, the distinction was implicit.
By way of illustration: When a baby is conceived, there is no differentiation in the embryo between the various limbs of the body, such as between the head and foot. Later on, however, the organ develops in such a way that the head and brain develop out of a more delicate part than the foot, although previously there was no differentiation between delicate and non-delicate parts, as there was only one entity.
I have, thus, answered your questions, although I must say that I am not at all pleased at the fact that you take up so much time with such questions. For, as the Old Rebbe, the founder of Chabad, writes in Iggeres Hakodesh - all Jews are believers, the sons of believers, who believe in simple faith that G-d created the world and gave us the Torah and mitzvos, giving humanity at large the seven basic mitzvos, including the said seven Noahide laws. Let me emphasize again that there is an essential distinction between any human being, and the brute animals and lower forms of creation.
Hoping to hear good news from you,
11 Av 5760
Positive mitzva 70: the suspensive guilt-offering
By this injunction we are commanded to offer a certain sacrifice in case of doubt about one of those major sins for which the penalty is extinction if committed deliberately, and a fixed sin-offering if committed unintentionally. This sacrifice is called a suspensive guilt-offering. It is contained in the words (Lev. 5:17-18): "If anyone sin.though he know it not, yet he is guilty.he shall bring a ram without blemish, etc."
This Shabbat is known as "Shabbat Nachamu," the Sabbath of Consolation. For seven weeks after Tisha B'Av, special haftoras will be read in the synagogue, the "seven haftoras of consolation." These haftoras are characterized by the theme of exile and redemption, as are the Torah portions themselves.
Significantly, G-d's promise in the Book of Isaiah that He will ultimately comfort the Jewish people for all their sorrow is expressed in "double" language: "Nachamu, nachamu ami - Comfort my people, comfort them, says your G-d." As the Midrash explains, because the Jewish people were punished twice, with the destruction of the First and Second Holy Temples, the consolation G-d will give them will also be "doubled."
What is meant by a "two-fold" consolation? If a person's house burns down and a new one that is twice as nice is erected in its stead, his "consolation" is doubled. Nonetheless, this is only in the quantitative sense; the person still had to go through the trauma of the loss, which remains in his consciousness.
G-d's "two-fold" comfort, on the other hand, will be qualitative as well as quantitative, and completely erase the trauma of the destruction and exile. Not only that, but when Moshiach comes, we will actually be able to perceive the good that was hidden within the experience, and thank G-d for it! As difficult as it is to imagine now, "On that day, it will be said: I thank you O G-d, for having poured out Your wrath."
The reason is that if we were to correctly perceive the exile as a positive phenomenon, we would never be able to implore G-d to redeem us with the same sincerity and intensity of emotion that He desires from us. G-d wants us to be active participants in the Redemption, and do all we can to make it a reality.
May it happen immediately.
I beg you, let me go over, and see the good land (Deut. 3:25)
At first glance, Moses' request that he "see the good land" seems superfluous; if G-d allowed him to cross over the Jordan, wouldn't he automatically "see" the land? Rather, Moses was praying to avoid the same transgression as the Twelve Spies, and see only the "good" in the Land of Israel. (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk)
You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor shall you diminish from it (Deut. 4:2)
The reason why it is forbidden to decrease the number of mitzvot in the Torah is obvious, but what is the harm in adding extra ones? The answer is that when commandments are added, the end result is that they will also be decreased, as our Sages stated: "He who adds, actually diminishes." (Likutei Sichot)
Keep therefore and do them, for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the eyes of the nations (Deut. 4:6)
Some people mistakenly think that wisdom and understanding are unnecessary requirements for fearing G-d, and that any fool can do so easily. In truth, however, a great deal of wisdom and intelligence is necessary to be able to keep the Torah properly. (Rabbi Moshe Chafetz)
Take therefore good heed of yourselves (Deut. 4:15)
According to Torah law, a Jew is required to take care of his body and refrain from things that are harmful. But a person must never place too much emphasis on his own physical welfare, while treating someone else's spirituality as his own domain, i.e., offering unasked-for reprimands and comments about the other person's conduct. In fact, the correct order is the reverse: As regards the self, an individual's primary focus should be spiritual. But when relating to others, the primary concern should be helping with material needs. (Rabbi Yisrael of Salant)
The Jewish community of Yanov had barely recovered from its first misfortune when disaster struck a second time.
It had all begun two weeks previously, when the Rabbi of Yanov had set out with a large contingent of local Jews for his daughter's wedding. As the groom's hometown was on the other side of a forest, the wagons would be traveling in a caravan to make sure that no one got lost.
It was almost dark when the convoy stopped to pray the afternoon service. By the time they finished it was early evening, and the sun had already set.
The group was about to proceed when a cry rang out from one of the men. "The Rabbi! Where is the Rabbi?" Immediately, pandemonium broke out among the travelers. They searched all the wagons, but the Rabbi was nowhere to be found. Then someone suggested that perhaps he had wandered off to pray in solitude, and had lost his bearings in the pitch darkness. Anything was possible; the forest was an impenetrable maze at night, without familiar signposts. "Rabbi! Rabbi!" everyone cried at the top of his lungs, but the forest was silent. The Rabbi of Yanov had disappeared.
Terribly worried about their Rabbi's welfare, the Jews consoled themselves with the fact that another person was also missing: Reb Ozer, the wealthiest member of their contingent, was the only individual who had been traveling in a private carriage. "He probably hurried off as soon as we finished praying, and took the Rabbi with him," they reassured each other. "He must have wanted to reach the village before it was completely dark." Everyone clung to this tiny thread of hope as the only possible explanation.
Unfortunately, their bubble burst as soon as they arrived in town. Reb Ozer had indeed gone on ahead without the others, but he was alone, and had no idea where the Rabbi was.
With no other choice the wedding was held without the bride's father. The affair was relatively joyless, as everyone was preoccupied with the Rabbi's fate.
The Rabbi was missing for three whole days. On the fourth day, however, he walked into town, exhausted and hungry almost beyond endurance. It turned out that the travelers' first assumption had been correct: Wishing to concentrate on his prayers, the Rabbi had sought out a quiet place away from the caravan and had lost his bearings. For three days and nights he had subsisted on wild fruits and berries, avoiding the wild animals that roamed the forest. Indeed, it was a miracle that he had been able to find his way back to civilization.
Needless to say, the joy of the Jews of Yanov was beyond description. But their relief was only short-lived, as they realized that they now faced an entirely different problem: That Thursday afternoon, the Rabbi began to berate his family for not getting ready for Shabbat. Despite their protestations that it was only Thursday, he insisted that it was Friday, and that Shabbat would begin in a matter of hours. With mounting horror they realized that the Rabbi had lost track of time during his sojourn through the forest. He had lost a day, and could not be dissuaded.
The news quickly spread throughout the town, and it was decided to play along for the time being. A minyan was assembled so that the Rabbi could pray, after which he recited Kiddush. It was obvious that the situation couldn't continue for long, but no one had any idea what to do.
When the news reached the famous Reb Shmelke of Nicholsburg he jumped into action. A close personal friend of the Rabbi of Yanov, he decided to pay him a surprise visit.
The following Thursday, when Reb Shmelke suggested that they get ready to greet the Sabbath Queen, the Rabbi smiled broadly. Finally, here was someone who agreed with his own reckoning! As dusk fell Reb Shmelke donned his Shabbat clothes and sat down with his friend at the Shabbat table. "I've brought you something special," he told him, producing a bottle of rare aged wine and an elaborate Kiddush cup. "Consider it a gift, to celebrate your salvation." The Rabbi made Kiddush and drank most of the goblet's contents.
Throughout the meal Reb Shmelke kept refilling the Rabbi's cup, encouraging him to rejoice. The wine was so strong, however, that the Rabbi soon fell into a deep sleep. Reb Shmelke placed a pillow under his head, and instructed everyone to leave the room. For 24 hours he made sure that no one made any noise or disturbed him.
The next evening he called everyone back and told them to take the same seats they had occupied night before. Reb Shmelke then made Kiddush, and the Shabbat meal commenced.
Around midnight, Reb Shmelke tapped the Rabbi on the shoulder and roused him from his slumber. "Wake up, my friend," he said. "It's time to recite the Grace After Meals."
Seven things were created before the world, viz., The Torah, repentance, the Garden of Eden, Gehenna [purgatory], the Throne of Glory, the Temple, and the name of the Messiah. (Talmud Nedarim 39b)