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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 dispensa-tion 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 its 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.
In this week's Torah portion, Vayeitzei, G-d promises Jacob: "I am the L-rd G-d of Abraham your father and the G-d of Isaac; the land on which you lie, to you will I give it, and to your seed."
According to our Sages, "G-d folded up the entire Land of Israel beneath him, thereby hinting that it would be as easily conquered by his descendants as four cubits, which is the area that a person covers." In the same way that conquering a tiny space (the four cubits Jacob occupied when he lay down to sleep) is easy, so too would it be easy for Jacob's children to conquer the entirety of the Land of Israel.
Two generations previously, when G-d promised Abraham that Israel would belong to him and his descendants, He commanded him: "Arise and walk through the land in its length and in its breadth, for I will give it to you." Abraham strode throughout the Land of Israel, visiting any location he wished without interference. He walked through the Land as its "baal habayit" (proprietor), thereby demonstrating his ownership.
G-d's promise was in effect even before Abraham's sojourn. But after he walked the length and breadth of the Land, he was able to more strongly perceive the fulfillment of G-d's words.
Jacob, by contrast, was never commanded to "walk"; it was enough for him to lie down on the ground to sleep. Jacob did not openly demonstrate his ownership of the Land. No one else was present, and thus no one knew that G-d "folded up the entire Land of Israel beneath him."
The innovation in G-d's promise to Jacob (as opposed to His promise to Abraham) was that the Land of Israel would be conquered easily and without effort. You will not have to do anything to obtain it; just lie down on the earth, and it will come into your possession.
G-d promised the Jewish people that they would conquer the Land successfully and effortlessly.
Today, there are some Jews who must still be convinced that the entirety of the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people forever. There are some Jews who are not entirely sure of our ownership of the Land.
Nothing is created by G-d without a purpose. No element in the world exists that has no function, nor does G-d do anything "coincidentally" or without significance. If G-d "folded up the entire Land of Israel" to show Jacob that it would easily conquered, He did so because that is the true reality!
Adapted from Volume 20 of Likutei Sichot
By Hanna Bandes Geshelin
The route of every Jew who becomes observant is unique. One of the turning points on my journey occurred at a large Iowa university with a miniscule Jewish population, where during my freshman year of 1963-64, I was the only undergraduate female who identified herself as Jewish.
Among my roommates my first term was a junior taking a child development class on cultures. She decided to join the committee researching the Jewish culture because she had a ready-made resource to interview-me. As a fourth-generation American descendent of Reform Jews who emigrated from Germany before the U.S. Civil War, I didn't know much about Judaism, but I did my best to answer her questions. The relief that I felt when she finished questioning me was short-lived, however. Every term after that, the child development professor gave my name to the committee studying Judaism. To meet this challenge, I would have to learn something about my heritage.
The college library had two shelves of books on Judaism. I started at one end of the upper shelf and began reading. They gave me basic information about Jewish history, tradition and beliefs. With the help of the books I managed to get through the questions during the winter term. Then, in the spring of my freshman year, I met Janet.
Janet was a Southern Baptist from a small town in Iowa. Like many students at college, she came from a family for whom church was a major focus. Her beliefs guided her behavior in all aspects of her life.
I was the first Jewish person she'd ever met. She told me that she had chosen to write about the Jewish culture because she wanted to learn about the origins of her faith. Could she come with me to synagogue?
The town had a small Reform congregation that met Friday evenings in the parlor of one of the churches. I agreed to take her, and as we strolled through the quiet streets she asked me about my religious life. "Where do you eat?" she asked suddenly.
Mystified, I gave the name of the dorm dining hall.
"How do you manage?" she asked.
"What do you mean? I just eat."
With an edge to her voice she said, "How can you 'just eat?' We get ham, pork or shellfish three or four nights a week, and most of the rest of the time there's meat and milk at the same meal."
"Oh," I said confidently, "You mean kosher. I'm Reform, and we don't keep kosher."
"You don't keep kosher? But from everything I've read, kosher is one of the cornerstones of Judaism. Why don't you keep it?"
I shrugged. "I don't know, we just don't."
Janet stopped and turned to face me, hands on her hips. I can still picture her standing there in the light of a street lamp, dressed the way she would for church in a navy suit, a small white hat and white gloves. She looked me up and down as though I were a bug on a pin. Then she said words that still reverberate through my mind: "If my church told me to do something, I'd do it."
In the long silence that followed, I rolled the words over and over through my mind. And I wondered, why did the Reform movement say keeping kosher wasn't important? I decided to find out.
The next day I found, on one of those shelves of Jewish books, a history of the Reform movement. Breaking bread with others, said the book, is a universal gesture of friendship and goodwill. Keeping kosher prevents Jews and non-Jews from breaking bread together; thus it prevents casual communion between "us" and "them." When Jews stop keeping kosher and eat non-kosher with their neighbors, anti-Semitism will end and Jews will be fully accepted into mainstream society.
I thought of the Jewish history I'd been reading, of Moses Mendelsohn and the Emancipation. Of my mother's family, which hadn't kept kosher in at least four generations.
And I thought of the Holocaust, which began in Mendelsohn's and my great-great-grandparent's home-land, Germany. I turned to the title page of the book and saw that originally the book had been published in German in Berlin in 1928.
Maybe in 1928 German Jews could say that eating with non-Jews would end anti-Semitism. But they were about to be proved disastrously wrong. Could I continue to eat in a non-Jewish fashion, when the reasoning for permitting Jews to eat traif was based on a complete fallacy?
"If my church told me to do something, I'd do it." Janet's words took one end of my Yiddishe neshama and the book's glaring fallacy took the other end, and they shook me until I had to sit down, right there on the floor in the library stacks. When I stopped shaking, I knew that until I could find a good reason, a true reason, to not keep kosher, I had no choice. I was a Jew, and the Jews kept kosher. It was that simple.
My complete transformation from a secular to a Torah observant Jew took many years and many more lessons in faith. But my first big step began that Shabbat night, when a Christian girl challenged me to stand up act like a Jew.
New Chabad-Lubavtich Centers
Rabbi and Mrs. Mendel Hendel recently arrived in Greece to open a Chabad Center which will serve the 3,000 Jews in Athens and its environs. Serviced by Rabbi Gershon M. Garelick, one of the Rebbe's emissaries in Milan, Italy, for over 30 years, the small Jewish community in Greece now has its own full-time emissaries.
Rabbi and Mrs. Yosef Solomon have established a new center in Sofia, Bulgaria. At the opening ceremonies, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky of Chabad World Headquarters noted, "This is not a temporary post for them, a stepping stone until they find an easier community. They are here to stay until every Jew in Bulgaria will have created his or her Jewish identity."
A New Chabad Center opened in Pavladar, Kazakhstan and will be run by Rabbi and Mrs. Shmuel Karnuach. The building, Beit Rachel-Chabad Lubavitch, is named after the mother of the director of the United Jewish communities of Kazakhstan, Mr. Alexander Moskowitz. The new center will greatly expand the Chabad activities in Kazakhstan which are currently directed by the Rebbe's emissary, Rabbi Yeshaya E. Cohen who is also the Chief Rabbi of the Republic.
Erev Rosh Chodesh Kislev, 5738
Blessing and Greeting:
After the interval, I received your (undated) letter.
As you surely know, the questions you ask regarding G-d's ways, etc. are already found in the Torah shebiksav [Written Torah] and Torah shebe'al-peh [Oral Torah], for they are natural in time of stress.
One general answer, which is really self-evident, though hard to accept in a state of emotional upset, is that it is surely illogical to limit the Creator in His designs and actions to conform to the understanding of a created human being.
I have often had occasion to cite a simple illustration to the effect that no one can expect an infant to understand the ideas and actions of a learned professor, although the professor was once an infant himself, and the present infant may have the potential even to surpass the professor in due course. How much more so, and incomparably, when it comes to the Infinite Intelligence of the Creator vis-à-vis the finite and limited intelligence of a created human being. This will, of course, not be a revelation to you; only, as the Torah says, it is difficult for a person to accept consolation in time of grief.
However, with all due respect, I must say that I was quite, and very much indeed, astonished at your remark, "Where is my father?" Knowing your family background, as well as your husband's and yours, it is surely unnecessary to remind you that the soul is eternal, and, moreover, its survival after the death of the body is not something that has to be believed, but it is plain common sense. For, obviously, physical illness that affects the body cannot affect the soul which is spiritual; it can only affect and terminate the union of body and soul, but not the soul itself.
The above would be superfluous to mention to you, except that it has a direct consequence and bearing on what should be your attitude and conduct. For, inasmuch as the soul is eternal and, indeed, is now in a state where it is not limited by the body's limitations, it is fully aware of what is happening in the family. When it sees that it is the cause of grief over and beyond the bounds of mourning set by the Torah, Toras Chaim [the Torah of Life] - it is obviously distressed by it, and this is no way of contributing to the soul's peace and blissfulness.
I have also had occasion to mention that even during the soul's sojourn in this life when clothed in a physical body, the real bond between people and members of a family is not a physical one but a spiritual one, for what makes the real person is not his flesh and bones, but his character and spiritual qualities. Hence, this bond remains, and all those who loved the person dearly should try all the more to bring gratification to his eternal soul and continuous spiritual elevation (aliyas haneshomoh) through greater adherence to the Torah, Toras Emes [the Torah of Truth], in general, and particularly in the realm directly related to the soul's passing - to observe what is prescribed for the period of Shiva [the seven days of mourning], but not extend it, and similarly in regard to the period of Shloshim [30 days of lessened mourning], but not beyond, and then, and always, serve G-d through the fulfillment of His Mitzvos as such service should be - with joy and gladness of heart.
Let me add one other point, and briefly. You should bear in mind that you and all your family are privileged to be in a position of leadership and influence - by both example and precept. Your exemplary conduct and every additional Hiddur [enhancement] is reflected and multiplied in all those who observe you and are inspired by you. Therefore, even if it entails a special effort, it is surely of no consequence in relation to the benefits that accrue to all those around you. Not to mention how careful one has to be not to give a wrong impression, especially being in Chinuch [Jewish education], as also your husband, on whom your conduct is bound to have an impact, too.
I trust you will accept all that has been said above in the spirit that it has been given. The important thing is to go about the daily life and conduct in accordance with the Torah, which is both Toras Chaim and Toras Emes, inasmuch as its teachings reflect the truth at its truest.
And G-d will surely recompense you for all the grief, though at this time it is still incomprehensible how it will be recompensed.
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 is the birthday and yartzeit of Rabbi Dov Ber, the second Chabad Rebbe, known as the Mitteler Rebbe. The following day, Sunday (10Kislev) is the anniversary of the Mitteler Rebbe's release from imprisonment on false charges.
There is a famous story about the Mitteler Rebbe told by the Previous Rebbe and often related by the Rebbe:
The Mitteler Rebbe was known for his unusual power of concentration. When he was engaged in study or prayer, he did not hear or see a thing around him.
Once, when Rabbi Dov Ber was studying, his baby sleeping in a nearby cot fell out of its cradle and began to cry. Rabbi Dov Ber did not hear the baby's cries and continued learning. But the infant's grandfather, Rabbi Shneur Zalman (the founder of Chabad Chasidism), who was in his room on an upper floor and was also learning at that time, did hear the baby's cries. He interrupted his studies, went downstairs, picked up the infant, soothed it and put it back in its cradle. Still, the infant's father did not hear or see what went on around him. Later on, Rabbi Shneur Zalman told his son: "No matter how important the thing is in which a Jew is engaged, one must always hear the cry of a child."
This story is applicable to parents, teachers and even children. We must always here the cry of a child, whether that child is a child in years or knowledge or commitment to Judaism. Even when we are involved in important things, we must not neglect or ignore the cry of the child.
This applies, as well, to the child within each one of us. This spark of good and G-dliness, the wide-eyed and innocent trust and belief that the world can become a perfect place, that evil can be eradicated, that goodness can prevail, and that "I" can be a part of it or perhaps even be the catalyst for realizing the world's potential, must be listened to and heeded.
And he gave him Rachel his daughter to him for a wife (Gen. 28:28)
How did Jacob marry both Rachel and Leah, when the Torah prohibits a man from being married to two sisters at the same time? The lineage of the children of a non-Jew (Laban) is determined by their mother; Rachel and Leah were the daughters of two different women. Accordingly, Rachel and Leah did not have the legal status of sisters.
It is not yet time that the cattle should be gathered together; water the sheep, and go and feed them (Gen. 29:7)
Rabbi Meir of Premishlan used to pray: "Father in Heaven! If it is not yet time to gather the lost flock of Israel in the Final Redemption, at least bless them abundantly from Your full and Holy Hand, that they may be able to anticipate and look forward to Your salvation, may it come speedily in our day.
G-d saw that Leah was hated, and he opened her womb (Gen. 29:31)
G-d forbid that our holy Patriarch Jacob "hated" his wife Leah! Rather, as is often the case among righteous people, Leah was forever critical of herself, always seeking character flaws to improve upon.
This time I will praise the L-rd...and she left off bearing children (Gen. 29:35)
As brought down in the Talmud (Berachot 54), whenever a Jew offers thanks to G-d for the past, he must immediately take the opportunity to pray for the future. However, when Leah thanked G-d for the birth of Judah, she did not do this; thus "she left off bearing children."
(The Rebbe of Lublin)
In Vilna of old was a certain street on which a Christian seminary for priests was located. It was forbidden for Jews to walk there with the exception of one Jewish tailor, who sewed the students' uniforms and also ran a small restaurant. A 16-year-old Jewish apprentice was also allowed to live with him.
One night, in the dead of winter, the Jews of Vilna were mourning the loss of one of their own. The Jewish cemetery, on the other side of town, was quite a distance by foot. Biting winds gusted as the funeral procession made its way in the bitter cold. Half frozen, the bearers of the heavy pallet, facing the long and tedious trek in the foul weather, decided to take a shortcut through the forbidden street. Who would ever know? It was the middle of the night and not a soul could be seen. The mourners silently entered the prohibited area.
Unfortunately, the funeral procession was spotted by the students, who came pouring out of the seminary and began to viciously attack the Jews. Fearing for their lives they fled, wounded and brutalized. The tailor's apprentice, witnessing the carnage, immediately changed his clothes so as not to be recognized and ran outside to help his Jewish brethren. Strong and powerfully built, the youth delivered several well-placed blows and injured many of the priests, who retreated and left him alone in the deserted street with the corpse. The apprentice picked up the unfortunate Jew's body, carried it the cemetery and buried him there. No one knew of the youth's good deed.
Naturally, the priests were unwilling to take their defeat lightly. Who was this person who had dared to intervene on behalf of the accursed Jews? The government was called in to investigate, but nothing ever came of the inquiry.
One day, more than a year later, a group of seminarians came to dine at the tailor's establishment. The apprentice, who waited on the patrons' tables, overheard the priests talking about the previous year's confrontation, and the fact that the "culprit" had never been identified. The youth was only able to catch snippets of their conversation, but it appeared to him as if one of the students was pointing in his direction. Terrified of being discovered, the boy fell to the floor in a dead faint. At once he was suspected of hiding something, and he was immediately arrested and imprisoned.
The boy was questioned every day for hours, but he held fast and insisted that he knew nothing. When this proved fruitless they began to torture him.
It was then that the dead man, whose funeral had precipitated all the trouble, appeared to him in a dream and announced, "I have come to repay you for your good deed. Climb up on my shoulders and I will take you away from here." The boy did as he was bidden, and he was carried away to a distant city where no one knew him. Needing a steady job to support himself, he was hired as a waiter in another Jewish restaurant.
When the prison guards discovered he was missing they were astounded. They searched and searched, but could find no clue as to how he had escaped.
Meanwhile, a controversy had erupted in Vilna over the construction of a huge mansion directly across the street from a church. Though the builder, a Jew, had already begun construction, he was prevented from finishing the job, as a city law prohibited a Jew from erecting any edifice taller than the church. The Jew claimed that that law had been passed only after he began construction, but the mansion remained half finished.
Frustrated by the local bureaucracy, the Jew decided to travel to the capital to meet with higher-ranking officials. On the way there, he happened to pass through the city in which the tailor's former apprentice now lived. The man immediately recognized the youth, for he had enjoyed a status denied the rest of Vilna's Jews - the right to walk on the forbidden street of the priests.
A treacherous idea began to form in the mind of the Jewish builder: Why should he continue making the arduous journey to the capital? He had no guarantee that he would succeed. But if he revealed to the authorities the whereabouts of the missing prisoner, they would surely allow him to finish building his mansion in gratitude for the information. He returned to Vilna and betrayed the Jewish youth.
Accompanied by the builder, the authorities descended on the city to make the arrest, but the boy was not to be found. Once again the dead man had appeared and rescued him, this time bringing him to a different country entirely. Believing that they had been led on a wild goose chase, the informant was duly punished by the police and the Jewish youth was saved.
In earlier generations there were tzadikim, Jews of absolute truth, who were near the level of prophecy and divine inspiration. On the other hand, there were exceedingly wicked people amongst the Jewish nation. In these latter generations, in the era of the "footsteps of Moshiach," there are no consummate tzadikim and no utterly wicked.
(Shaarei Ora of the Mitteler Rebbe, Rabbi Dov Ber)