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by Rabbi Abraham Twerski, M.D.
In medicine, we are familiar with a number of "deficiency syndromes," i.e., conditions that result when any of the body's nutrients are lacking. Each syndrome has specific symptoms. For example, vitamin C deficiency causes easy bruising and bleeding gums. Lack of vitamin D may cause defective bone growth. Each syndrome can be corrected only if the specific missing nutrient is provided. Vitamin C deficiency will not be cured by mega doses of vitamins A, B, D, and E. Symptoms will persist until the missing vitamin C is provided.
The human being is a composite creature, comprised of a body and a spirit. For all intents and purposes, the human body is essentially an animal. The uniqueness of the human being is not in his body, but in his spirit. The body is easily accessible to study and throughout the ages medical scientists have learned much about the body's needs. The spirit, however, is intangible, and therefore, much less accessible for analysis.
Our Sages have stated that the neshama, or spirit, has specific "nutritional needs" just like the body. The neshama's nutrients are the mitzvot of the Torah. Failure to provide the neshama with its essential nutrients will result in a "spiritual deficiency syndrome." The most prominent symptom of this syndrome is a feeling of discontent.
Because the spiritual needs of the person cannot be examined in a laboratory, the cause of discontent frequently goes unrecognized. The person who feels discontented will, of course, look for a way to relieve this uncomfortable feeling. One person may try to make more money; another will look for acclaim; another will turn to food; and another to alcohol, tranquilizers, or other drugs. None of these are the specific nutrients the neshama is lacking, which is why these outlets cannot provide more than very temporary relief. The person who feels a bit relieved of his discomfort after eating will soon find the annoying feeling has returned and will reach for more food.
Whether the person seeks relief in food, money, honors, alcohol, drugs or in any other way, the recurrence of discontent will result in further recourse to his manner of relief. This is how "workaholism" develops. The courses of work addiction, food addiction, alcohol addiction, and drug addiction are all similar. There is no end. There can never be any lasting satisfaction because none of these supply the missing spiritual nutrient. The spiritual deficiency syndrome cannot be relieved by any of these any more than providing vitamins A, B, D, and E can cure vitamin C deficiency.
In Jewish ethical works, we find reference to the concept of simcha shel mitzva. This is usually translated as "the joy of fulfilling a mitzva." But simcha can have several meanings. It can indeed mean "joy" or "gladness," but can also mean "satisfaction," as when the Talmud says that a truly wealthy person is one who is sameach bechelko-satisfied with his portion. This does not necessarily mean that the person is expected to be joyous if he is living under very austere conditions. But, while he may not be euphoric, he can be satisfied with his portion. Similarly, not everyone is at a level of being elated with the performance of a mitzva, but one should feel a sense of satisfaction, which is the relief of the discontent of the spiritual deficiency syndrome.
Spiritual hunger is not much different from physical hunger. One's appetite can be satiated with any food, but there is certainly a difference whether one eats tasteless foods or delicacies. Fulfilling a mitzva indeed provides the missing nutrient to the neshama, but there is a difference between whether one does the mitzva in a rote, "tasteless" way, or as a "delicacy," with proper kavana-intention. If we find ourselves persistently discontented, we would be wise to re-evaluate the quality of our mitzvos.
Reprinted with permission from Jewish Action, the magazine of the Orthodox Union
In the Torah portion of Toldot our ancestor Isaac declares, "For now G-d has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land."
Commenting on the Hebrew word for "fruitful," "ufarinu," Rashi explains that it means "to increase," to spread out, and expand.
The above verse can be divided into two parts. The first half, "G-d has made room for us," refers to the strengths and abilities G-d bestows upon an individual. The second part, "we shall be fruitful in the land," refers to the obligation it implies to utilize those gifts by working to make the world a better place.
The Torah teaches, "Man is born to labor." G-d created the world in such a way that man has the potential to improve upon creation and add to it through his efforts. To the naked eye, G-dliness is hidden and concealed. However, when man acts according to G-d's will, the true underlying G-dliness of creation becomes revealed. Man becomes a "partner" with G-d in the act of creation, as it were, by uncovering the G-dly light that sustains all existence.
A question is asked: How can human beings improve on something G-d Himself created? Is man really "superior" to G-d in this respect? Of course not, as we see from the first half of the above verse, "For now G-d has made room for us." Everything ultimately originates from G-d. Were it not for the strengths and abilities He gives us, we could never accomplish anything. It is only through the merit of these Divinely-given powers that we are able to reveal G-dliness in the world and elevate creation to a higher level.
It also follows that once these powers have been granted, we are expected to make proper use of them. As we learn from the text of our holy Torah, "For now G-d has made room for us" is immediately followed by "and we shall be fruitful in the land," indicating the need for practical action.
This same concept is expressed by a verse in Psalms, "I am the L-rd your G-d, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt; open your mouth wide, and I will fill it." The first step is the G-dly influence that comes from Above, i.e., G-d taking the Jewish people out of Egypt. Only afterwards does man's service come into play, "open your mouth wide." By telling us to "open wide," G-d is exhorting us to "add" to what He has created, improving and enhancing the state of the world. We can then be assured that "I will fill it": not only will G-d grant us the power to act, but He will also assist us in our Divine service, thereby ensuring our success.
Adapted from Volume 10 of Likutei Sichot
Why I Put On Tefilin
by F. Gary Toback, MD, PhD
My path to putting on tefilin has been long and convoluted. Even now as I look back on my journey it is not clear why I traveled as I did.
In the home of my childhood we observed the High Holidays, Passover, and Chanuka, and I attended an Orthodox afternoon Hebrew school. My family did not observe Shabbat nor keep kosher.
Most of my friends were Jewish. Playing baseball and following the Brooklyn Dodgers were my passions, and memorizing baseball facts was study I enjoyed.
My bedroom in my family's Brooklyn apartment overlooked an Orthodox synagogue that I remember entering only on the day of my Bar Mitzva. I was required to put on tefilin before my bar mitzva by the rabbi who treated his students as if we were living in a shtetl in eastern Europe, whence he had come. I did not understand why I had to put on tefillin. It felt like another indignity heaped upon me by adults.
The rote learning of Hebrew was demanded of me for my Bar Mitzva to satisfy my parents and teachers, without understanding the meaning of the text. This experience held me distant from my Jewish roots for decades. As a teenager, however, I met my future wife, Phyllis, a knowledgeable and observant Jew. During our courtship I eventually agreed to attend High Holiday services with her. To my surprise I enjoyed the sermons by the rabbi who radiated kindness and wisdom, and who later performed our marriage ceremony. But putting on tefilin would not have occurred to me at that time.
After marriage we kept a kosher home, although my role was largely passive. I trained in medicine and biochemistry, helped raise a family of three wonderful children, and eventually became successful as an academic physician doing research, teaching and patient care.
Over time my life slowly found an opening to seek attachment to my Jewish roots. I began to observe Shabbat during a sabbatical year in California in the laboratory of a Nobel laureate, and upon returning to Chicago I regularly attended services with my children.
At about age 40 I developed an inexplicable need to go to Israel. Somehow I found a way to go three times during a five-year period with my wife and children; experiences that amaze and enrich me still.
Eventually I found that study of the weekly Torah portion had meaning for me. I attended, mostly as my wife's companion, summer meetings of a Chavura and Jewish retreats in upstate New York. One of the rabbis taught mystical stories, especially those of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav. They often left me with an appetite to learn more about G-d, a hunger that surprised me by its persistence.
I also became an avid student of an American mythologist, whose analysis of myth on television and in print uncovered a burning interest within me to know more about mysticism and Oneness.
After a particularly enriching course two years ago with my teacher at the Chavura, I asked him how to continue learning when I returned to Chicago. He suggested I seek out the Lubavitchers in my community because they would teach me. I did this, and found myself in a class learning Tanya, the basic book of Chabad Chasidism, with Rabbi Aron Wolf.
As I learned more I began to understand that I was confronting major issues in my life. I was achieving my long-term life goals: family, professional, and economic. But I felt that something important was missing. I had a sense that my aspirations were not great enough. I needed to create a new life structure for myself. I decided to refocus my energies by employing a new set of values to guide me towards living a G-d-centered life.
More than a decade ago I had read about the Crown Heights community in Brooklyn and the Lubavitcher Rebbe in a series of articles in The New Yorker by Lis Harris (later published as the book Holy Days). I was much impressed by the rich spiritual life there. Though I didn't know how to live a G-d-centered life, I believed that learning Tanya with Rabbi Wolf, and studying diverse aspects of Chasidut with a Lubavitcher graduate student at the University of Chicago, were a good start.
The new ideas were very appealing and I found learning Chasidism remarkably enriching. A trip with Rabbi Wolf to Crown Heights to experience how people do live in a G-d-centered community made these ideas come alive. Slowly, as my knowledge of Chasidism increased, I found myself eager to move closer to G-d through study, which I enjoyed. But practicing a daily ritual of formal prayer was of less interest. I had developed my own practice of daily meditation and prayer: an early morning run, at sunrise when possible, as a way to experience the wonder of the natural world.
However, after 18 months of study of Chasidism I began to understand that there was a well-traveled path available to me that Jews have used for millenia to live a G-d-centered life. I became aware that putting on tefilin was part of this, so I began to consider fulfilling this obligation spelled out in the Torah as a way to move closer to G-d.
Just before Passover this past year, I learned that Passover is a particularly favorable time to "pass" over obstacles in order to reach new spiritual heights. While studying the weekly Torah portion (Exodus 13:9) I suddenly realized that G-d's commandment articulated by Moses that the Israelites put on tefilin included me. The sense of G-d communicating via Moses to me felt so direct that it was hard to ignore. Reading this Torah portion for years I somehow never understood that the command was also addressed to me, not just the Israelites in the desert.
Clearly the text of the Torah had not changed, but I had. This sense of being commanded, together with Rabbi Wolf's teaching that this was a special time in which I was enjoined to "leap over" obstacles, made my previous unwillingness to put on tefilin seem at odds with my new view of life. Clearly I had been asked to put on tefilin every year when I read this portion, but had not responded. This was different from the baffling demand of the rabbi of my childhood that felt like I should put on tefilin for him; now I would put on tefilin simply because I had been asked directly by a Higher Authority.
Putting on tefilin and saying the morning prayers, in addition to my morning run and study, continue to bring me closer to living a G-d-centered life.
Convention of Emissaries
This past weekend, the annual Kinus HaShluchim-convention of over 2,600 emissaries of the Rebbe-took place at Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. Participants included chief rabbis from cities throughout Israel and the F.S.U., Jewish day school principals, deans of Yeshivot, Chabad-Lubavitch Center directors, college campus outreach workers and synagogue rabbis. Topics of presentations and workshops range from employer/employee relations, dealing with tragedy, using technology to teach Torah, Moshiach, and many others. The Kinus HaShluchot-convention of women emissaries takes place in Februrary.
the date of this letter was unavailable
I am in receipt of your letter, in which you outline your personal views on what you consider the right approach to Judaism. As you see it, the right road is to be reached in two phases: first, the understanding, by reason and intellect, of the "language" of the Torah, etc., and second, the eventual acceptance of the Divine Covenant and Yoke.
My view, which radically differs from yours, has been made known on several occasions in the past, and I will restate it briefly again.
The world is a well-coordinated system created by G-d, in which there is nothing superfluous and nothing lacking, with one reservation, however: For reasons best known to the Creator, He has given man free will, whereby man can be cooperative with this system, building and contribute to it, or do the reverse and cause destruction even of things already in existence. From this premise it follows that a man's term of life on this earth is just long enough for him to fulfill his purpose on this earth; it is not a day too short, nor is it a day too long. Hence, if he should permit a single day, or week, let alone months, to pass by without his fulfilling his purpose, it is an irretrievable loss for him and for the universal system at large.
The second thought to bear in mind is that the physical world as a whole, as can be seen clearly from man's physical body in particular, is not something independent and separate from the spiritual world and soul. In other words, we have not here two separate spheres of influence, as the pagans used to think; rather is the world now conscious of a unifying force which controls the universal system, what we call monotheism. For this reason, it is possible to understand many things about the soul from their parallels in the physical body.
The physical body requires a daily intake of certain elements in certain quantities obtainable through breathing and food consumption. No amount of thinking, speaking and studying all about these elements can substitute for the actual intake of air and food. All this knowledge will not add one iota of health to the body unless it is given its required physical sustenance; on the contrary, the denial of the actual intake of the required elements will weaken the mental forces of thought, concentration, etc. Thus it is obvious that the proper approach to ensure the health of the body is not by way of study first and practice afterward, but the reverse, to eat and drink and breathe, which in turn strengthen also the mental powers of study and concentration, etc.
Similarly in the case of the soul and the elements which it requires daily for its sustenance, known best to its Creator, and which He revealed to all at Mount Sinai, in the presence of millions of witnesses, of different outlooks, walks of life, character, etc., who in turn transmitted it from generation to generation, uninterruptedly, to our day, the truth of which is thus constantly corroborated by millions of witnesses, etc.
Thirdly. It is told of a famous German philosopher, the author of an elaborate philosophical system, that when it was pointed out to him that his theory is inconsistent with the hard facts of reality, he replied, "so much the worse for the facts." But, the normal approach of a person is as expressed by Maimonides, that opinions are derived from reality and not reality from opinions. No theory, however cleverly conceived, can change the facts; if it is inconsistent with the facts it can only do harm to its adherents.
The conclusion from all the above, in relation to your suggested approach and order of the two phases, is clear enough. And from the practical point of view, the essential point is this: every day that passes for a Jew without practical living according to the Torah is an irretrievable loss for him and for all our people, hurting them, inasmuch as we all form a single unity and are mutually responsible for one another - and also for the universal order, and all theories attempting to justify it cannot alter this in the least.
Finally, I want to note that there is a difference in how all the above should affect the individual concerned and his friend who wishes to help him and put him on the right path. Again, the following analogy may be useful. Where a patient places conditions before taking the treatment prescribed by the physician, then notwithstanding the fact that these conditions are detrimental to the complete therapy, yet, if by going along with the patient at least some measure of success may be achieved, it is necessary to do so, if the patient is quite adamant, for besides the partial help that can be given him this way, there is the hope that the patient may sooner or later see reason. This is why I have repeatedly reasoned with you that your approach is wrong and that you are losing valuable time and causing much harm to yourselves by your approach, and though you still do not see eye to eye with me, I try to help you if I can, although for the present you still follow your own view.
May G-d help you and your friends to see the light and place yourselves on the path of Torah and Mitzvos which ensures the true happiness for both the body and soul in complete harmony.
1 Kislev 5762
Positive mitzva 248: the law of inheritance
By this injunction we are commanded concerning the law of inheritances. It is contained in the Torah's words (Num. 27:8): "If a man dies and has no son, etc." One provision of this law is that the firstborn son inherits a double portion.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Ten years ago, on Rosh Chodesh Kislev and the following Shabbat, the Rebbe spoke about how "All the days of your life should be directed toward bringing the era of Moshiach." Every waking moment of a person's life, the Rebbe stated - indeed, even during the time he sleeps, for he is alive then as well - must be devoted to this goal. This should include not only his conscious activities (thought, speech and deed), but also his every essence. In other words, the very core of a Jew's being must be focused on bringing about the Final Redemption.
In this context, the Rebbe explained what it means to "breathe the air of Moshiach." The essence of a person's life is reflected in his breathing processes. In fact, the Hebrew word for breath, "neshima," shares the same letters with the Hebrew word for soul, "neshama." The service that is necessary at present, the Rebbe explained, is to connect the core of our being to the core of Moshiach. This will ultimately awaken a pattern of conduct that will permeate every dimension of our being.
In practical terms, this means having a concern for the fundamental existence of every Jew, and providing our fellow Jews with the required necessities to celebrate the holidays of the month of Kislev with happiness and joy. Additionally, every Jew should also have the means to fulfill the custom of giving Chanuka gelt (money) to the members of his household.
As the Rebbe concluded, these activities will bring about the advent of the ultimate Redemption in this month, which is also called "the month of redemption." At that time, we will merit to see not only the essence of Moshiach, but also the revelation of Moshiach in the world at large, when Moshiach will "perfect the entire world, [motivating all the nations] to serve G-d together, as it is written, 'I will make the peoples pure of speech, so that they will all call upon the name of G-d and serve Him with one purpose.' "
May it happen immediately.
And Isaac prayed to G-d ("vaye'tar") for his wife, because she was barren (Gen. 25:21)
As Rashi explains, the Hebrew word "vaye'tar" implies a tremendous amount of prayer: "He engaged [in prayer] much and urgently." Why did Isaac have to pray so much? Because not only was Rivka childless, she had been born without a uterus (as described by the Midrash). In order for her to give birth, the G-dly influence would of necessity have to come from a higher spiritual source; thus "he engaged [in prayer] much and urgently."
And Jacob cooked a pottage of lentils (Gen. 25:29)
That which Jacob was eager to sell, Esau was eager to buy, and vice versa. Jacob wished to divest himself of the desire for worldly pleasures, symbolized by the pottage of lentils. (In the same way that a lentil is round, so too are all lusts and desires "round" in that they revolve like a wheel.) This was something that Esau wished to acquire. At the same time, Esau sought to free himself from the birthright, symbolic of a higher level of attachment to G-d (the firstborn is considered "holy unto the L-rd"), which Jacob desired.
Because Abraham obeyed My voice, and kept My charge (Gen. 26:5)
Why did G-d bless Isaac in Abraham's merit rather than in his own, as He did with the other Patriarchs? Isaac is associated with the attribute of "gevura" (severity), the nature of which is to withhold. Thus the Divine blessing and influence had to come through Abraham, who is associated with "chesed" (loving-kindness), the attribute that bestows an abundance of blessing.
(Likutei Levi Yitzchak)
The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau (Gen. 27:22)
The fact that the above statement was made by Isaac in wonderment - how can these two things go together? - implies that it is indeed impossible. For the "voice of Jacob" and the "hands of Esau" are diametrical opposites.
Don Pedro I, who ruled Castile some 600 years ago, was known as a good friend to the Jews. And it was no wonder, as everything he had - his wealth, his monarchy and even his life - he owed to them, especially to his Jewish minister of finance, Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir Abulafia.
Rabbi Shmuel Abulafia was such an efficient government minister that Don Pedro became one of the richest kings in all of Spain. When a civil war broke out among the populace and Don Pedro was imprisoned, the insurgents made sure his Jewish minister was jailed along with him. Rabbi Shmuel ransomed not only himself but also the king for a huge sum. Don Pedro was restored to the throne, and Rabbi Shmuel resumed his duties as head of the royal treasury.
Rabbi Shmuel Abulafia was a pious and G-d-fearing Jew who observed the commandments and inspired his Jewish brethren to do the same. He built several synagogues and yeshivas, many of which are famous until today. He and his family lived in a palace in the city of Toledo, which is still known as "the palace of the Jews."
In 1360 Rabbi Shmuel became the target of a libelous plot, in which his enemies accused him of revealing state secrets to a foreign power. The Jewish minister was arrested, his wealth was confiscated, and he was tortured to death at the age of 40.
Rabbi Shmuel Abulafia died for the sanctification of G-d's Name, and he was greatly mourned by the Jews of Spain for a very long time.
Don Pedro knew that the charges against Rabbi Shmuel were without merit, but he was too politically powerless to save him. Later, after another bloody war in which he defeated a stepbrother who had tried to depose him, Henrik the Second, he resolved to distance himself from the fanatical Christian element in the country and their rabid anti-Semitism. This, of course, did not endear him to everyone, and he was given the nickname "Don Pedro, king of the Jews."
In the medieval work "Shevet Yehuda" (the "Staff of Judah"), the following dialogue is recorded between Don Pedro and one of his Christian advisors, Nicholas of Valencia.
Addressing the king, Nicholas asked, "Why does Your Excellency wage war against the unbelievers [the Arabs and Moors] who live outside the boundaries of our kingdom, when there are unbelievers living right here amongst us, the Jewish people, who detest us with a mortal hatred? Is it not taught in their Jewish books that they are forbidden to bless Christians or wish them well?"
"Where did you ever get that notion?" the king responded.
"I was told this by a former Jew himself, a convert who renounced his religion and adopted the Christian faith."
"It is impossible to rely on the words of someone who renounced his faith," the king insisted. "An apostate who changes his religion can change other things as well, for he is motivated by self-hatred and hatred for his own people."
"But your Majesty," Nicholas defended himself, "it is accepted practice all over the world that a ruling monarch must force all followers of minority religions in his kingdom to accept the dominant one."
"I will not resort to methods of coercion," Don Pedro declared. "I do not believe that compulsion is successful in the long run. As soon as the outside threat disappears, everything returns to its former state. You can see this for yourself in the physical world," he went on to explain. "When a rock is tossed into the air, it continues to rise upwards only as long as the force that propelled it can sustain its flight. As soon as the energy is dissipated, the rock will immediately fall back to earth."
"No," the king reiterated, "I do not believe in coercion. This will never succeed among the Jews. The only possibility of convincing them would lie in a long-term campaign of dialogue and discussion, day after day, like an endless deluge of rain. Pleasant words would surely enter their hearts more effectively. Is it not true that a steady stream of droplets can bore a hole in stone if it is sustained over time? No, my friend, pleasantries are ultimately more successful than force and coercion."
"Your Majesty, I fear that that would also never work among the Jews," an anguished Nicholas replied. "They are very stubborn, and do not wish to listen to what they are told. I am afraid that it will never be possible to convince them, neither by force nor by more agreeable means..."
"If such is the case," Don Pedro concluded, "why should we become involved in the first place? Let us leave the Jews in peace and instead, focus inwardly. For we ourselves are surely in need of correction and improvement..."
With these words the dialogue was ended, and the Jews of Castile breathed a sigh of relief.
Yehuda ben Tema said, "Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and strong as a lion, to carry out the will of your Father in Heaven. He used to say: "The brazen is headed for Purgatory, but the shamefaced for heaven. May it be Your will, L-rd our G-d and G-d of our Fathers, that the Holy Temple be rebuilt speedily in our days, and grant us our portion in Your Torah."
(Ethics of the Fathers 5:20)