P.C. | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | Rambam this week | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Not too long ago, if someone threw the initials "p.c." your way, you were sure they were talking about personal computers. More recently, colleges, or people, who are "p.c." have not necessarily entered the computer age. They are doing what is "politically correct."
The 1967 edition of the Random House Dictionary of the English Language defines "p.c." as percent, petty cash, postal card and price current.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition (2000) - via www.dictionary.com - lists "p.c." as abbreviations for Past Commander, personal computer, police constable, politically correct, post commander, Privy Council.
In language, culture, societal ethics, definitions are always changing.
From a Jewish standpoint, change is expected, almost taken for granted. We are taught that one who stays in the same place stagnates. Worse yet, it is as if the person who doesn't change is actually slipping down the imaginary ladder whose top is life's goals. For, having lived and learned today, tomorrow we should be at least one rung higher. If we haven't ascended, we've descended.
There is one thing, however, that never changes. The ninth of Moses Maimonides' Thirteen Principles of the Jewish Faith, the definitive creed of Judaism, states that Torah and its laws are unchangeable, immutable, and constant.
"That's not right!" we argue. "Judaism expects change. To be a vibrant, growing, non-stagnant lifestyle, there must be change."
Torah is the compass of Jewish life. When you're out there in the boondocks, lost or just trying to figure out which way to go, the compass always points north. Wherever you are, whatever your destination, as long as you know which way is north, you can easily figure out south, east and west. North never, ever changes. It is unchanging, immutable, constant.
Getting back to one's roots, letting Torah be our compass, might not be considered "p.c." by some. But, as Robert Frost said so succinctly, "Most of the change we think we see in life is due to truths being in and out of favor."
As most of us today not only have p.c.s but are "wired," here are some Jewish websites that our readers might find of interest: www.LchaimWeekly.org, www.MeaningfulLife.com, www.inner.org, www.moshiach.com, www.TruePeace.org, www.tzivos-hashem.org, www.ascent.org.il, www.askmoses.com, www.CandleLightingTimes.org, www.SichosInEnglish.org.
"And the L-rd appeared to him," we read in this week's Torah portion, Vayeira. "And he lifted up his eyes and saw three men." Citing the Talmud, Rashi explains: "It was the third day after his circumcision, and the Holy One, Blessed be He, came and inquired of his welfare."
From the fact that G-d visited Abraham when he was ill we learn that we too must perform the mitzva of bikur cholim, visiting the sick. Moreover, the Torah does not refer to Abraham by name (the verse states only "to him") to teach us that G-d visited him not because of his superior qualities or virtue, but simply because he was sick. It is a mitzva to visit any Jew who is not well.
How does the Talmud derive that G-d appeared to Abraham on the third day after his brit mila?
The Torah's commandments are intended to be performed within the natural order, as opposed to in a miraculous manner. The purpose of mitzvot is to refine the physical world and imbue it with sanctity and holiness. The preparations for doing a mitzva, as well as its results or consequences, must also be within the natural order.
There is a famous story told about the Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chasidism, who was once traveling by boat when it came time to bless the new moon. The Alter Rebbe (as he is known) performed a miracle and brought the boat to a halt, but he did not recite the blessing until the captain agreed to stop the vessel. The Alter Rebbe's intention was that the preparation for the mitzva, i.e., stopping the boat, should also be carried out within the confines of nature.
Even if it is very difficult to do a mitzva, it is still meant to be performed within the natural order. For if the hardships were to be alleviated miraculously, it would detract from the mitzva's perfection.
Among the three angels who came to Abraham that day was Rafael, whose function is to heal. It is obvious that the angel would not have visited before the third day, as according to nature, a person who undergoes circumcision is considered sick for the first two days. It is inconceivable that G-d would have healed Abraham before then in a miraculous manner, as it would have detracted from the wholeness of his mitzva. As it is understood that the angel was not sent to alleviate the difficulties associated with the mitzva of brit mila, we know that his visit, and G-d's, was on the third day.
Adapted from Volume 5 of Likutei Sichot
Gefilte Fish Helps Put On Tefilin
By Rivkah Binyamini
My husband, Rabbi Chaim Binyamini, is the dean of Yeshiva Machane Israel in the small town of Petropolis, Brazil. We live on the grounds of the yeshiva on the top of a mountain surrounded by tropical forests. We have had many opportunities to feel the Divine providence leading our lives and those of our Jewish brethren in our little community.
One day, a woman came to our house and asked me to teach her daughter Hebrew, as they were soon moving to Israel. She lived with her aged parents, Poulina, who was ill, and Israel.
My son Avraham David, a lecturer in the yeshiva, suggested that we send a yeshiva student to put tefilin on Israel. It was Friday afternoon, so I packed two home-baked challas, a jar of homemade gefilte fish and accompanied the yeshiva student.
The elderly couple was overwhelmed. Poulina told me about their problems, her being ill and incapable of preparing decent meals and her daughter working the whole day to support them. Israel put on tefilin and reminisced about his having been a yeshiva student many years ago.
From then on I visited the family each week with a complete Shabbat supper. Israel remembered that gefilte fish is preceded by Kiddush and began to recite the blessing over the wine on Friday nights.
Time passed and the daughter moved to Israel. Once she was settled, she would send for her parents.
Several months later, Poulina passed away. We continued to visit Israel each Friday until one day I received a call from his daughter. Her father had had a heart attack and died all alone in his apartment.
Now the daughter made a request of me: "My father packed all his belongings, ready to move to Israel. The landlord wants to put everything on the street as the rent was several months in arrears. Can you convince the landlord to wait ten days, until I am able to come to Brazil and sort things out?"
After some inquiries I found the address of the landlord, Mr. Claus, who owned a textile factory. I insisted on meeting with Mr. Claus personally. After a two-hour wait I presented the case. Mr. Claus asked me, "How are you related to the deceased?"
"I used to bring him gefilte fish. It's a Jewish custom to eat this special delicacy on the Sabbath."
Mr. Claus opened his eyes wide. Then he turned to his secretary and asked her to leave. He lowered his voice. "You said gefilte fish? My mother made the most tasty gefilte fish. I am also a Jew, but at the outbreak of WWII I fled here and since then I made sure that no one would know I'm Jewish."
I had an idea. "Mr. Claus, let us make a deal! I'll send one of our yeshiva students to you every Friday with gefilte fish and you will put on tefilin with him. Tefilin are a mighty source of protection and you will once again be connecting to the Alm-ghty, Who saved you from the Nazis."
Mr. Claus accepted the deal and agreed to wait for the arrival of Israel's daughter to settle the debt.
But this is not the end of the gefilte fish story. On a rainy Purim, my son asked me to come with him to a Mr. Herman's estate. "He is a Hungarian Jew with no contact with the Jewish community. He loves to speak in Hungarian and hopefully, after speaking with you, he will agree to put on tefilin."
We took a basket of some delicacies as a Purim gift. Mr. Herman's estate is surrounded by an electric gate and an armed guard.
Mr. Herman and his wife were pleased to chatter in Hungarian. He told me that since the days of Nazi persecution, he had erased any sign of his Jewish heritage. Here in Petropolis he gave his son and daughter a Christian education. His son suffered from depression and committed suicide a few years ago. His daughter married a French Catholic man who was very anti-Semetic.
The son-in-law had somehow found out about his wife's Jewish origins, so he strictly forbade his in-laws from revealing this information to his only son, Carlos. Carlos was married to a Christian girl and they had a son. Each of the three families lived in separate houses on the Herman estate.
Mr. Herman told me that his traumas from the Nazis still haunted him. He said: "I made sure that nobody would know I am Jewish."
"You aren't the only one," I noted. "Just a little while ago I found out that the owner of one of the local textile factories is Jewish and I began bringing him gefilte fish each Friday."
"Gefilte fish?" Mr. Herman asked excitedly. "I remember my mother's tasty gefilte fish. Do you mean real, homemade gefilte fish?"
"Yes," I said "I can bring you some every Friday, too."
At that point, my son took out his tefilin and suggested to Mr. Herman that he put them on.
"Since my Bar Mitzva I haven't seen tefilin," exclaimed the elderly man. He closed the shutters and locked the door. He rolled up his sleeve and my son began to explain to him how to put on tefilin.
A few minutes later, Carlos appeared. He stared at the black straps and box around Mr. Herman's arm and the black box upon his forehead.
"What is this?" he called out in surprise.
For the second time that afternoon, Avraham David explained the significance of tefilin.
"I have learned in the lectures on religion in the university that one who has a Jewish mother is also a Jew," said Carlos. "So I am also a Jew!" Turning to Avraham David, he begged, "Please, teach me what it means to be a Jew! We can meet in the city, so my father won't know anything."
Sad to say, a few weeks later, Mr. Herman was kidnapped and a huge ransom was demanded. Mrs. Herman and Carlos called Avraham David. My son sent a letter to the Rebbe's resting place and the next day Mr. Herman was put on the road, without the ransom paid and without any explanation.
Once safely home, he recounted to us, "When I was confined for a week in the middle of the forest, with only the kidnappers, I cried in desperation, 'Shma Yisrael.' Now I know how much I must cherish my life that the Alm-ghty has bestowed on me for the second time."
Reprinted from Concord Magazine, published by Friends of the Small Communities, U.K.
New Edition of Prayerbook
A new edition of the Tehillat Hashem (Nusach Ari) prayerbook was recently published. The prayerbook contains directions inserted into the English text, notes in English and illustrations at the back of the prayerbook, as well as newly reset clear and easy-to-read typefaces in Hebrew and English. Various prayers have also been transliterated and are included at the end of the book. Published by Otsar Sifrei Lubavitch.
The date this letter was written was unavailable
... You asked me to explain the following problem:
Having been brought up to believe that G-d is Master of the world, Whose omnipotent power is not limited in time and place, and Who, moreover, is the Source of goodness and desires His human creatures to live a life based on justice and morality, and insofar as Jews are concerned - a life fully in accord with the Torah and Mitzvos -
I find it difficult to understand why such a life is often burdened with difficulties, sometimes even seemingly insurmountable obstacles?
I wish to add that I raise this question not as a skeptic, but because I believe in Divine Providence. Indeed, the more deeply I feel about G-d's benevolent, and at the same time unlimited, Providence, the more difficult I find it to reconcile this seeming anomaly.
This problem is, of course, not new. It is as old as humanity itself. The question has been asked and discussed in many a religious-philosophical work throughout the ages. But the question is still being asked, because the average contemporary thinking individual no longer has direct access to Jewish religious philosophy, either by reason of a language barrier, or for lack of time or knowledge to find the sources. So an attempt will be made here to give at least one explanation, and this, too, necessarily in a limited way, within the limitations of a letter. Obviously, the subject matter could fully be dealt with only in a book or lengthy treatise. Nevertheless, I believe that the salient points raised below hold the key to the problem.
Starting from the same basic premises that G-d is the Essence of Goodness, and that "It is in the nature of the Good to do good," it follows that G-d not only desires the true good, but also that this good be enjoyed in the fullest measure. If such good were given to man by Divine grace, in other words, if it were to be achieved without effort, it would have an intrinsic flaw, for it would be, what our Sages call "bread of shame."
To be sure, G-d could have established a world order wherein morality and ethics would reign supreme, with little or no effort on the part of man. However, obviously there is no comparison between something received as a gift and the same thing attained through hard personal efforts, after overcoming difficult obstacles both within and without, both material and spiritual, and sometimes even obstacles which appear insurmountable. Yet, knowing that there is a Divine command to follow a certain path in life, the person is resolved to fulfill his Divine mission, no matter what the difficulties may be. Indeed, the very difficulties and obstacles which he encounters are regarded by him as a challenge to be faced unflinchingly and to be surmounted; and far from being stymied by such obstacles, they evoke in him untapped powers which reinforce his determination and stimulate his effort to the maximum degree.
Coupled with this is the feeling of satisfaction which is commensurate only with the amount of effort exerted in the struggle, which makes the fruits of victory so much more delicious.
And from the above to a still further point and deeper insight:
The true and perfect way of fulfilling G-d's Will, which is embodied in the Torah and Mitzvos, is not when it is prompted by a desire to discharge an obligation towards G-d and fellowman; nor is it the gratifying feeling of having contributed something towards the world at large that matters, a world that is apart from and outside himself. For so long as the Jew's compliance with the Will of G-d is externally motivated - however commendable such motivation is in itself - it is not yet quite complete. The perfect fulfillment of the Torah and Mitzvos is achieved when such fulfillment is an integral part of one's life, to the extent of being completely identified with the individual, that is to say when the Torah and Mitzvos permeate his very essence and being and become inseparable from him in his daily living.
This is the deeper meaning of the words which we declare daily in our prayer, "For they (the Torah and Mitzvos) are our life" - meaning that just as a person and his life are one, making him a living person - so are the Torah and Mitzvos and the Jew one and inseparable. Such real identification with a thing cannot be achieved and experienced if the thing is come by without effort, or with little effort. Only that thing becomes an integral part of one's life which entails extraordinary effort in striving for it, even to the extent of staking one's life in obtaining and holding it.
Conversely, only a matter which is regarded as an indispensable and integral part of one's life can evoke one's innermost powers, even self-sacrifice.
Continued in next issue
16 Marcheshvan 5762
Positive mitzva 197: lending money to the poor
By this injunction we are commanded to lend money to a poor person so as to help him and ease his position. This is an even greater and weightier obligation than giving charity. It is contained in the Torah's words (Ex. 22:24): "If you lend money to any of My people, even to the poor with you, etc."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Tuesday is the 20th of Cheshvan, the birthday of Rabbi Shalom Dovber, the fifth Chabad leader known by his initials as the Rebbe Rashab.
In 1960 the Rebbe visited Camp Gan Israel in upstate New York, during which he related a little-known story about the Rebbe Rashab. It seems that one time the Rebbe Rashab had left Lubavitch in Russia and traveled to Vienna, to be treated by doctors. While in Vienna, the Rebbe had suddenly announced that he wished to visit a certain village 100 kilometers away. Before he left, he went to a store and purchased several articles of clothing, and various other items.
When the Rebbe Rashab arrived in the town he sought out the home of a widow and her two daughters. He gave her the things he had bought and some money, and told her it was to help her marry off her daughters. In fact, the widow had been too poor to do so.
In the Rebbe's words: "Just think about it: In a far-off town 100 kilometers from Vienna, the Rebbe found an opportunity to bring G-d nachas. In truth, the Rebbe had made the lengthy trip solely for that purpose. And he himself went to the store to make the purchases, just so a poor bride could get married.
"This, then, is the lesson to be learned: Regardless of where we are, we must always look for a good deed to perform. For we will certainly find one, and thereby bring pleasure to G-d."
May we merit this year to celebrate the Rebbe Rashab's birthday together with him and with all the great tzadikim of all generations, led by our Righteous Moshiach.
And he sat at the opening of the tent in the heat of the day (Gen. 18:1)
This is the mark of the true tzadik (righteous individual), who always sees himself "at the opening," i.e., the very beginning, along the path of righteousness. Considering himself still "outside" and far from spiritual perfection, he worries that his deeds haven't accomplished much...
(Toldot Yaakov Yosef)
And he lifted up his eyes and behold, he saw three ("vehinei shlosha") men standing by him (Gen. 18:2)
The numerical equivalent of the Hebrew letters of "vehinei shlosha" is 701, the same as "eilu Gavriel, Michael u'Refael" - "these are Gabriel, Michael and Raphael" - the three angels who came to visit Abraham.
And they said, So do as you have said (Gen. 18:5)
The way of tzadikim is to say little, yet do much. The angels knew that Abraham was a tzadik, and that he would go out of his way - above and beyond what he had already offered - to make them feel at ease. They therefore asked him to "do as he had said" with regard to their comfort, and no more.
For I know him...that he will do justice and judgment (Gen. 18:19)
What is the connection between justice and judgment? Whenever G-d gives a person an abundance of blessings, he must ask himself: Do I really deserve so much goodness? Why me and not someone else? This "self-judgment" will then prompt him to give tzedaka (charity) in a generous and unstinting manner.
And he said...possibly ten will be found there (Gen. 18:32)
Why did Abraham say "possibly"? If there were ten righteous people in the city, isn't it logical to assume that he was acquainted with them? Rather, Abraham was concerned that there might be "hidden tzadikim" living in Sodom, who were afraid to reveal themselves as such in their wicked society.
Tuesday, the 20th of Marcheshvan, is the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Shalom Dovber (the Rebbe Rashab) in 1920, fifth Chabad Rebbe.
The Rebbe Rashab was only 22 years old when his father, Rabbi Shmuel, passed away. It was not until several years later that Rabbi Shalom Dovber took his father's place and assumed the mantle of leadership.
The Rebbe Rashab once commented: "It says in the writings of the Mitteler Rebbe that 'Conducting business with complete faith in G-d is an even higher level of service than learning Torah for its own sake.' If that is the case, then it is also that much more difficult to accomplish. One must therefore do all one can to become a proper vessel for earning one's livelihood in the proper manner. It is precisely because of the difficulty involved in this that I hesitated, but finally assumed the position of Rebbe."
In the early days of the Rebbe Rashab's leadership someone once asked the Rebbe's brother, Reb Zalman Aharon, if he thought that the present Rebbe was worthy of his position.
Reb Zalman Aharon answered: "Between every two diametrically opposed points in the world there exists a medium, or mean. For example, between the extremely wealthy man and the poverty-stricken beggar are those in the middle class, and between the person who spends his life doing good deeds for his fellow man and one who is cruel and selfish are those whose deeds place them somewhere in the middle. But between a Rebbe and an ordinary person there is no halfway point: one is either a Rebbe or an imposter.
"And my brother is certainly no imposter..."
There was once a Jew living in the city of Nevel who was known as "Reb Zalman the Herring," as he made his living selling all kinds of pickled fish.
One day Reb Zalman was faced with a terrible dilemma when his landlord suddenly decided to sell the house in which he lived. Although he searched all over he was unable to find an appropriate apartment, nor could he afford to buy the building himself, for it he did, he would not have enough money left over to buy fish. Not knowing what to do, Reb Zalman went to the Rebbe Rashab to ask his advice.
"What should I do, Rebbe?" he implored.
"Buy them both, the house and the fish," responded the Rebbe.
Reb Zalman wondered what the Rebbe meant. If I had the money to buy both, he reasoned, I would not have come all this distance to ask what to do.
Suddenly an idea occurred to him. Perhaps his landlord would agree to sell the house for half the price to be paid in cash immediately, while the rest could be paid out over time. Maybe the fish wholesaler would do the same!
Reb Zalman told both of them what the Rebbe had said, and both landlord and fish monger agreed to this method of payment.
In the end he bought them both, the house and the fish.
The Rebbe Rashab was once sitting at a gathering of Chasidim when the time to pray the afternoon service arrived. At that moment, the host had been about to serve tea to his guests. A controversy ensued over what to do first, pray or drink the tea.
"It all depends on what you want to do in a less hurried and more peaceful manner," remarked the Rebbe. "If you'd rather drink the tea in a leisurely fashion, then by all means pray first. If, however, you'd prefer to pray with a clear and calm head, it's better to get the tea-drinking over with..."
There was once a Jewish innkeeper who made his living selling spirits to the local peasants. One day, a Gentile opened up a new tavern right across the street. The Gentile's prices were lower, so all of the Jew's former patrons quickly switched their allegiance and bought their whiskey in the new establishment.
When the innkeeper told the Rebbe about his competition, the Rebbe instructed him to set up two barrels of whiskey. "Tell your customers that you are selling two types of whiskey - one cheaper, and one of a better quality."
The Chasid did this, and all his customers returned. They all insisted on buying the more expensive variety.
The Zohar states that the rainbow is one of the signs of the future Redemption. Commentators note that the rainbow indicates the purification and refinement that the world underwent by means of the Flood. Before the Flood the clouds were very coarse, thus preventing a reflection of sunlight. Thereafter, however, the clouds became more refined; they reflected sunlight, thus bringing about a rainbow. This, then, is the connection between the rainbow and the future Redemption. The entire world will attain the peak of refinement with the coming of Moshaich.
(Living With Moshiach, by Rabbi J.I. Schochet)