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"What you put in the pot is what you'll get out." This oft repeated adage makes a pretty strong statement and it can be applied to nearly every aspect of our lives, especially our interpersonal relationships.
In the darkest, most cobwebby recesses of your memory, do you recall the story of "Stone Soup?" It's a tale of international renown and it perfectly illustrates the above mentioned statement. In short: Two weary, hungry travelers stop in a town where no one will give them a meal. No problem. They'll make a hearty pot of stone soup, right in the village square. "Could we please borrow a big pot from someone?" they inquire. "We"ll fetch the water, collect the wood, gather the choicest stones, and share our unique soup with all of you."
A big pot appears. The water boils, the stones are added and the "chefs," now being watched by all the townspeople, taste the broth. "Delicious," they exclaim. "But oh, wouldn't it be even better with an onion added for flavor," they comment to each other. An onion is promptly pulled out of a peasant's apron pocket and added to the unusual soup.
This scene repeats itself with carrots, potatoes, turnips, salt, and even a few bones and a bit of meat. When everyone is invited to join in and taste the soup, they murmur their amazement that such delicious fare was created from mere stones!
"Fools," we say about the townspeople. For even as children we knew that what you put in the pot is what you get out.
How often do we take the time to think about what we've added to the various pots in our lives to assure us they'll be delicious and satisfying. Concerning relationships-with friends, relatives and co-workers-it's obvious that we won't get anything out of a relationship if we don't put in time, energy, caring.
In truth, laws of logic insist that we put more into the pot than we expect to get out to account for evaporation, "tasting," and sneaky nibblers. If you're hoping to cook up a good relationship, You have to watch it carefully lest it evaporate into nothing, "taste" it once in a while to make sure it's just right, and add a little bit of this and that, maybe even something new once in a while to spice it up.
There's another "pot" in our lives that is often, unfortunately, put on the back-burner. What can we hope to gain from Judaism, how do we expect it to be nourishing for us, our children, and future generations if all we are willing to toss in are a few choice stones? The nourishing aspects of Judaism go far beyond kugels, matza ball soup, and latkes . Our beautiful, rich religion, which has stood the test of time for thousands of years, can sustain us in ways many of us never imagined possible. But, what you put into the pot is what you'll get out.
In about a month, during Chanuka, we'll be singing Maoz Tzur-Rock of Ages. G-d, the Rock of Ages, the choicest of "stones" has given us the water-for water is symbolic of Torah. He has placed within each Jew the spark of a holy soul which can be fanned into a blazing flame. It is up to us to add the rest of the ingredients to make a delicious, hearty, and unique soup.
As we read in this week's Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, after Sarah passed away and Abraham wanted to bury her in the Cave of Machpelah, the sons of Chet offered to give him the land for free. "A mighty prince you are among us," they said, "in the choice of our tombs bury your dead." However, Abraham refused their offer, and insisted on paying "the full price."
As Rashi comments, "the full price" means "its full value." Abraham was adamant about paying the full value of the field in order to completely dissociate it from its former owner, Efron. Had Abraham received it as a gift, Efron would have still retained a certain claim on the land, even though it now officially belonged to Abraham. By paying "the full price" for the Cave of Machpelah, Abraham severed any connection it might have had to its previous owner.
King David did the same thing many years later after he conquered Jerusalem. Jerusalem had been already captured and was under his control, yet David did not wish to receive it as a gift from Aravna. Like Abraham, David insisted on paying "the full price" for the site, in order to possess it in the absolute sense.
The spiritual service of every Jew is to refine and elevate his surroundings, through learning Torah and observing mitzvot, to the point that he becomes the true "owner" of his particular corner of the world. Just as Abraham paid "the full price" for the field he bought from Efron, so too is it necessary for every Jew to pay "the full price" - to expend real effort and exertion - in his service of G-d.
A Jew must never say to himself, "I have been blessed with a good head and many talents. Why should I have to work hard if everything comes to me easily? Even my Evil Inclination isn't so powerful that it has to be fought all that vigilantly."
In the same way that Abraham and David refused to accept what was easy, rejected "gifts" and insisted on paying "the full price," so too must we invest real effort on the spiritual "labor" of Torah and mitzvot. For it only through hard work and a little "elbow grease" that we will truly succeed in refining our surroundings and by extension, the entire world.
Adapted from Volume 10 of Likutei Sichot
A Visit to Hebron
by Aliza Karp
After a week of visiting Jerusalem and Tzfat (Safed), I was flying back to America with my mother. My daughter Tirtza, who had been travelling with us, was meeting up with a group of girls who would be spending two weeks living in a war zone, the holy city of Chevron (Hebron).
The group was sponsored by Friends of Families in Chevron, an organization based in Crown Heights that supports the Jewish community in Chevron.
For safety, Tirtza had with her a prayerbook, Psalms, Tanya (the basic book of Chabad Chasidism) and a charity box, as per the Rebbe's advice that traveling with these items enhances Divine blessings for one's safety.
The participants had been warned of the real dangers involved. However, it was a chance of a lifetime to experience Jewish history, an opportunity to expand one's faith and to build character in ways that might only be revealed in years to come.
The girls were going to help out in the community in any way they could. Their visit, in and of itself, would show support to the residents of Chevron who are under tremendous pressure. Another goal of the trip was to restore dignity to the burial place of Rebbetzin Menucha Rochel Slonim, granddaughter of Rabbi Shneur Zalman and cornerstone of the Chabad community in the Holy Land in the 1800's, who is buried in the ancient Jewish cemetery in Chevron. The cemetery had been defaced numerous times in the past few years by Arabs.
Tirtza told me that everyone in Chevron welcomed them warmly and truly appreciated that they had chosen to come to Chevron.
As soon as the girls arrived they were briefed on how to respond when they heard shooting:
If the shots sound very loud, it is the army shooting at the terrorists. The more distant shots are the terrorists trying to kill Jews. When shooting begins, stay calm and do not expose yourself. Look around to see what is happening. Follow all instructions from the army. If soldiers are taking cover, do the same.
They were also told things that they would soon witness first hand. The Israeli soldiers are there to protect the Jews from the Arabs, the Israeli police are there to protect the Arabs from the Jews. Both have been known to be rough with Jewish men, women and children.
The first few days were quiet. Then the shooting started, mostly at night, but also during the day. Time and again they saw Arabs throwing stones at Jews without any compunctions. As soon as a Jew picked up a stone to "return" to the Arab, he was arrested.
Their very first night in Chevron the girls witnessed the midnight arrest of Oren Zar. Earlier in the day Zar had walked on Jewish property that is not yet inhabited by Jews because of government prohibitions. Arabs were upset to see a Jew walking there and called the police. To placate the Arabs, the police arrested Zar.
Tirtza was describing the scene to me on the cell phone as it was happening. Zar was brutally taken from his home and put in a police van. In no time, the residents of Chevron encircled the van. Anat Cohen, Zar's sister, called government officials. Chevronites began shouting at the police. Children surrounded the van so that it could not move. After about half an hour Zar was released, whereupon he was immediately taken by ambulance to the hospital to treat his police-inflicted wounds.
But the two weeks were not only filled with terror and warfare. At least once a day the girls visited Me'arat HaMachpela (the Cave of Machpela), the oldest Jewish property, purchased by Abraham as a burial place for Sarah. It is the second holiest Jewish site in the world. At Me'arat HaMachpela they prayed near our Matriarchs and Patriarchs, feeling comfortable and safe.
Much of their time was spent cheerfully getting to know the community, especially the children, for whom they organized afternoon programs. The girls would play with the children, read them stories, and talk to them in the playgrounds.
When the Chevron day camp went on its overnight trip the girls went along and had a great time rafting, visiting a kibbutz and swimming. "The kids have a lot of fun together. They can be very wild, but they do not bicker. They care a lot about each other," reported Tirtza.
As mentioned above, one of the goals of the girls' visit was to show honor to Rebbetzin Menucha Rochel. In 1998, philanthropist Yosef Gutnick restored Rebbetzin Menucha Rochel's gravesite. Since then, Arabs have desecrated the site, as well as the entire cemetery, 17 times. Appeals have been made requesting a guard, but to no avail.
Accompanied by soldiers, the girls came to the cemetery equipped with heavy duty cleaning equipment. Day after day in the sweltering summer heat, the girls filled garbage bags with debris, old shoes, teeth, bones, and the remains of Molotov cocktails. They scrubbed the surfaces where fire-bombs had turned white stones to black. They picked up chips of gravestones that had been hammered off by Arabs.
By the end of the two weeks, the difference the girls had made in the cemetery was noticable. On their last day of work, they planned a farewell gathering near Rebbetzin Menucha Rochel's grave. Mrs. Miriam Wolfson came to speak to them there.
Before the girls reached the building adjoining the cemetery where they were gathering, shooting broke out. The girls were under fire.
Suddenly, dozens of soldiers were everywhere. They rushed the girls to the small building for shelter. A bullet shattered a stone arch and one of the large chips hit Mrs. Wolfson in the forehead. She was taken away by ambulance and treated. Soldiers took the girls in armored vehicles back to one of the homes in Chevron.
The day after the incident, a military post was finally established to guard the ancient cemetery. What had eluded diplomats and community activists for years was implemented in the merit of a group of young women from Crown Heights who visited Chevron.
Once Upon A Time
For very young children, this newest release from Hachai Publishing is simply an enjoyable story about the value of time in Jewish life. For older children who are ready to learn how to tell time, this book is also a comprehensive teaching guide. Whimsical illustra-tions by Vitaliy Romanenko accompany the humorous rhymes by Draizy Zelcer..
continued from previous issue
The above provides an insight also into the meaning of the Golus (the exile and dispersion [of the Jews] among the nations of the world) which is at the root of most, if not all, the difficulties and obstacles confronting the Jew in his desire to live his G-d-given Torah-way of life.
To be sure, we recognize the Golus as a punishment and rectification for failure to live up to our obligations in the past as, indeed, we acknowledge in our prayers: "For our sins we were banished from our land." But punishment, according to our Torah, called "Toras Chesed" (a Torah of loving kindness), must also essentially be Chesed. Since G-d has ordained a certain group, or people, namely the Jewish people, to carry the difficult and challenging task of spreading - in all parts and remotest corners of the world - the Unity of G-d (true Monotheism) through living and spreading the light of Torah and Mitzvos, a task which no other group was willing or capable of carrying out, the greatest reward is the fulfillment of this destiny, or, as our Sages put it, "The reward of a Mitzvah is the Mitzvah itself." Thus, the ultimate purpose of the Golus is linked with our destiny to help bring humanity to a state of universal recognition of G-d.
Our Divine Prophets and Sages explained at length the state of the ideal world which will eventually be attained, when all evil will be eradicated and "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb," etc., "they shall not hurt nor destroy," etc. Here again, at first glance, one may ask: "Why was it necessary to create vicious beasts in the first place, if they were ultimately - when the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d - destined to be turned into docile and peace-loving creatures, so that 'a small child shall lead them' "? But the answer is the same as above.
Paving the road to the gradual achievement of the said destiny has always been the persevering and indomitable work of determined individuals and groups conscious of their responsibility. They dedicated themselves to the vital need of strengthening and spreading the Torah and Mitzvos among the widest sections of our people.
In recent generations, more than ever before, the main emphasis has been on the need to bring the knowledge and practice of the Torah and Mitzvos to the widest possible segments of our people, in the greatest number of locations, without waiting for them to seek it - in the hope that they will sooner or later realize the need of it themselves. The most effective way to accomplish this is, of course, is through organized Torah-true education of the young, the young in years and "young" in knowledge. The pattern has been set by the founders of Chasidus and of Chasidus Chabad, who exemplified this approach with dedication and selflessness.
The Baal Shem Tov, before revealing himself and his way of life, was a Melamed - a teacher of small Jewish children. Similarly, the Alter Rebbe, founder of Chabad, a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov's disciple and successor, began his work by founding his well known three "Chadorim." This road has been followed also by his successors, the heads of Chabad, each in his generation.
They personified an indomitable spirit and a disdain for any and all difficulties and obstacles in their work for the dissemination of the Torah and Mitzvos. They also made it plain for all to see that whatever the difficulties, these are nothing but a challenge, to be expected and overcome. And by facing up to, and eventually overcoming, all obstacles, they had verified the truth of the basic tenets of our faith, namely that G-d's Providence extends to each and everyone individually, and that "He who is determined to purify himself and others, receives aid from On High."
It is a matter of common experience that when there is a firm will and unshakable determination, it soon becomes apparent that the difficulties are often largely imaginary, and even when real - not insurmountable. The forces of good are cumulative and self-generating, as our Sages indicated in their well known dictum, "One Mitzvah brings another in its train." If evil can be contagious, good is certainly much more so, and many who stand at the sidelines are inspired and willing to join in constructive and positive action, provided the lead is given and the way is shown.
The challenge of our time is to spread the knowledge of the Torah and Mitzvos, particularly through the education of our young, until each and every Jew will attain the level of "Know the G-d of your father and serve Him with a perfect heart," and the fulfillment of the prophecy: "They all shall know Me, small and great, and the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d, as the waters cover the sea."
23 Marcheshvan 5762
Prohibition 237: participating in a loan at interest
By this prohibition we are forbidden to take any part in a transaction between borrower and lender involving a loan at interest, whether as surety, witness or notary. It is contained in the Torah's words (Ex. 22:24): "Neither shall you lay upon him interest."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat we will bless the new month of Kislev, the third month on the Jewish calendar. Ten years ago, on Rosh Chodesh ("the head of the month") Kislev 5752, the Rebbe spoke about the connection between Rosh Chodesh and this particular month.
Rosh Chodesh, the Rebbe stated, represents the renewal of the moon. This renewal does not occur unearned, but comes about through its previously carried out service of self-diminution.
As the Rebbe explained, this is alluded to in our Sages' statement that G-d told the moon, "Go and make yourself small." Why did G-d have to say "Go," rather than just "Make yourself small"? To emphasize that in order to "go," to make genuine progress and rise to a level that is completely above those already achieved, it is necessary to "make yourself small."
This same idea is alluded to in the book of Samuel: "Tomorrow is the new moon, and you shall be taken notice of because your seat will be empty." This implies that the path to receiving "special attention" is self-diminution, "making one's place empty."
Symbolically, this corresponds to the service of the soul in the physical world. Although the process itself involves descent and self-diminution, it ultimately generates the potential for the soul to reach previously unattainable heights, had the soul remained on the spiritual level.
Moreover, the name Kislev represents a fusion of opposites. "Kis" refers to a state of concealment, whereas "lev" (lamed-vav) is symbolic of the ultimate in revelation. (Lamed-vav, numerically equivalent to 36, six times six, represents the highest level of revelation of our six emotional powers.)
Kislev is also called "the month of redemption." May the coming month truly be a time of thanksgiving and redemption for the entire Jewish people, with the coming of Moshiach and the Final Redemption.
And Sarah died (Gen. 23:2)
At the end of the previous Torah portion, Vayeira, we read, "And Betuel begot Rivka." Commented our Sages: "Before Sarah's sun set, the sun of Rivka began to illuminate." Rivka had to be born before Sarah could pass away.
And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah (Gen. 23:19)
Till today, Ishmael's descendants claim that the Cave of Machpelah (in Hebron) belongs to them, by virtue of their being the children of Abraham. Among the rejoinders: 1) Ishmael did not have the right of inheritance, as he was the son of a maidservant and not Abraham's wife. 2) Ishmael had no connection to Sarah, so obviously he has no entitlement to a property that was bought as her burial place. 3) In the modern era, the majority of Arabs living in the Middle East are not ethnical descendants of Ishmael.
And Abraham was old, and well advanced in age (literally "along in days") (Gen. 24:1)
The physical manifestation of day is associated with light and illumination, as it states, "And G-d called the light day." In other words, Abraham's life was completely illuminated, as he did not squander any light of even one day of his existence.
And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the evening time ("lifnot arev") (Gen. 24:63)
As Rashi explains, "meditating" denotes prayer. If the vowels under the words "lifnot arev" are changed slightly, the Hebrew reads "lefanot areiv," literally "to remove sweetness." Isaac prayed to G-d to remove from his heart the desire for gratification from the physical world, which is perceived as sweet.
The word for meditation, "siach," also means bush or shrub. Isaac's prayer incorporated and included within it all the plants and vegetation of the field.
(Rabbi Nachman of Breslov)
About 600 years ago a religious movement began in Transylvania whose adherents, although not Jewish, observed certain Jewish commandments. In addition to keeping the Sabbath and the laws of kashrut, they celebrated Passover and had their own prayer book, an almost literal translation of the Jewish siddur into Hungarian.
For many years the group was persecuted and its leaders imprisoned, tortured and even killed. Some of its members escaped to Turkey, where they formally converted to Judaism. The most bloodthirsty enemy of the "Sabbath Observers," as they were called, was Queen Maria Teresa, who was known for her hatred of anything Jewish. Nonetheless, the sect stubbornly held on to its beliefs.
In the times of Kaiser Franz Josef the members of the sect underwent mass conversion and became full-fledged Jews. The following was written by a Jewish journalist who visited their village shortly before the outbreak of World War II:
"We entered the converts' synagogue. There we found a congregation consisting of a few dozen men praying the afternoon service, reading intently from small prayer books. Their appearance is dignified and serious, and they pray with great devotion. The person who led the service appeared to be the embodiment of the words, 'Know before Whom you stand.' These were never common people, as their lineage goes back over 1000 years to the founding of Transylvanian society. Today, however, they all have long beards and long side curls...
"At the end of the service they clustered around us and gave us a hearty 'Shalom Aleichem.' It did not take long until the conversation turned to a subject that is obviously very dear to them, their conversion to Judaism. This story is a glorious chapter in their history, and they do not conceal their pride in their ancestors' decision, in the times of Franz Josef, to join the Jewish people...
"'And not only that,' they add modestly, 'many of our forefathers were already quite old when they willingly underwent the mitzva of brit mila (circumcision). Surely that in itself is no trifling matter!'
"As they tell it, the first member of their group to be circumcised was over 60 years old. He insisted that the Rabbi and the mohel (ritual circumciser) promise that if he died during the procedure, they would bury him as a Jew. In fact, everyone was clamoring to be circumcised first, as they all wanted to become Jewish as soon as possible. Even the youngsters were impatient...
"The new Jews suffered greatly because of their faith, but to them, all the pain and anguish was welcome. 'We knew that we had done a great thing,' they say, 'and we waited patiently for the reaction of the non-Jewish community.'
"The reaction was not long in coming. 'We were ordered to assemble at the courthouse. We were not afraid. We thought, what could do they do to us? Put us in jail? Our ancestors had also been imprisoned. Maybe we would be forced into the very same cells...'
"The date of the court appearance arrived. Everyone in the entire village put on his finest Sabbath clothing ...
"The chief magistrate turned to an elderly gentleman and demanded to know what had gotten into his head. The man replied that as his family had already been observing the Sabbath and eating kosher for several hundred years, the time had come to complete the process and not be satisfied with halfway measures. The judge then asked if anyone had felt compelled or coerced to convert, to which they all answered no, they had become Jews of their own free will. The judge then declared that he would announce his verdict in two days. The fledgling Jews were ready to accept whatever punishment he decreed...
"Two days later the verdict was announced: Whoever wished to remain a Jew would be obligated to turn over all his property to the royal treasury!
"A vast sigh of relief filled the courthouse. That was to be their punishment? Joyfully they went home and returned to the courthouse with all of their cows and oxen, jewelry and fine clothes. Everything was piled into a huge mound in front of the building. The judge, who had been watching the proceedings, then declared, 'In the name of the Kaiser Franz Josef, you are hereby granted permission to embrace your new faith. I just wanted to see how much you were willing to sacrifice on behalf of your beliefs...' "
For the next 75 years the community flourished. Jews from the surrounding areas built them a synagogue, and sent them a Rabbi and a shochet (ritual slaughterer) to attend to their needs.
Unfortunately, the Holocaust perpetuated by the Nazis, may their name be erased, did not leave these righteous converts unscathed. When the time came they entered the ghettoes and concentration camps with the rest of their brethren, where they publicly sanctified G-d's Name.
Abraham built three altars. The first was in Shechem, in gratitude for the tidings that he would have children and that they would be given the Land of Israel. The second he built near Ai, as an intercession for his descendants. The third he built in Hebron, for the actual possession of the Land of Israel. The three altars allude to three stages in the worship of G-d and three corresponding eras in Jewish history: the times of the First and Second Holy Temple, and the time of the Third Holy Temple that will be with the coming of Moshiach.
(Living With Moshiach by Rabbi J.I. Schochet)