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All beginnings are difficult. Starting a job, starting school, even starting the day. Starting a marriage, starting a family, starting dinner, starting a book - even starting this essay! We find beginnings difficult because a new beginning requires a change. What went before wasn't good enough. Whether we're changing from one thing to another - from one job to another, for example - or from a "nothing" state to a "something" state - from not being married to being married - we have to change. And change requires effort; we have to overcome our inertia. In order to change we have to begin. And beginning requires an act of will. We resist beginning until we want to begin. (How many times have we resisted getting out of bed in the morning to start the day until we simply decided to get up - for no apparent reason?)
This explains the difficulty of beginning: we not only have to begin, we have to begin to begin. That is, before we can start something, we have to envision it as complete, whole, finished. From where we are we have to see where we will be. We cannot imagine what we want superficially, not if we want it to be real. We have to see the details. We must anticipate not only how the thing will work but also how it will get made and how we will feel about it. We have to have a goal, a business plan.
So not only must we actually start the project - get the materials, follow the instructions, do all the little things to open the store or assemble the bookcase - we must build it virtually, so to speak, construct it in our minds. Even before we begin, we must have begun. Even as we build, we must imaginatively have already built.
In a sense, creation requires double vision. We must foresee the final result, the completed product. We must envision the end of the process, indeed, what will be after we finish that which we've begun. But the level of insight never becomes real; we constantly anticipate but never arrive. In fact, as long we see the end, as long as we live - mentally - after the fact we not only never get there, we don't ever start. We 'begin to begin' - we have constantly in mind the final moment after; but we never actually start.
Thus we have to see differently. We have to see beyond the will-be, or rather, we have to look closer than the yet-to-be. We have to perceive the process. We have to "just do it," to live in the middle, to experience the unfolding of the initial point.
The first type of beginning conceals; it's the goal, the thought in mind, the future already real but never reached. The second type of beginning reveals; it's the start, the origin, the potential for progress and the development of details.
But we don't have two eyes to see double. That strains the muscles and drains the mind. We have two eyes so that we can see holistically, integrate our vision (of the future) and perception (of the here and now). When the two become one - when the inner reality becomes outwardly manifest - then we live in the time of Shabbat, the time of perfect vision.
That's the goal of Creation, of course, to see G-dliness. And in the era of Moshiach the whole world will experience it, will be filled with knowledge of the L-rd.
"In the beginning G-d created the heaven and the earth." With these momentous words, the very first portion of the Torah, Bereishit, establish G-d's Kingship over all of creation.
The Torah, however, is not a history book. The Torah is our guidebook. We can apply its teachings to every aspect of our existence.
The ancient Sage, Rabbi Yitzchak, raises a pertinent question. "Why does the Torah open with the story of Creation?" he asks, as quoted by Rashi in his commentary. "Why didn't G-d begin with the words, 'This month is to you,'- the first commandment containing practical implications?"
"The might of His deeds He told to His nation; to bequeath to them the heritage of the nations," Rabbi Yitzchak himself answers.
"If the nations of the world will one day accuse the Jewish people of being thieves, having 'stolen' the land of Israel from the seven nations who formerly inhabited it, they will counter, 'The entire earth belongs to G-d! He is the One Who created it and bequeathed it to whom He saw fit. It was His will to give the land to the nations; it was His will to take it from them and give it to us."
According to this explanation, the entire order of the Torah's portions was changed solely to refute the world's complaint that the Jewish people misappropriated their land. But is their accusation really so important that G-d would change even one letter in His holy Torah for its sake? Would not a refutation in the Oral Tradition have been sufficient to counter whatever complaint Gentiles would one day lodge against the nation of Israel?
In truth, the Torah's choice of language holds significance not only for the nations of the world but for Jews themselves.
"In the beginning" contains an important lesson for every Jew to apply in his daily life.
In general, the life of a Jew may be divided into two realms: the religious and the secular.
The Jew willingly observes his various religious obligations because the Torah requires him to.
When, however, he is asked to also sanctify those mundane aspects of daily existence that seemingly fall outside the domain of religious observance, he balks, rejecting this demand as an invasion of privacy.
The secular realm of a person's life, pertaining to the physical and material domain, metaphorically belong to the "seven nations."
Yet it is precisely this realm that the Jew is called upon to conquer, elevating his every action by performing it solely for the sake of heaven.
"You are thieves!" the world cries out against the Jew. "How dare you conquer the domain of the seven nations and blur the distinction between religious observance and the mundane?!"
To which the Jew replies, "All of creation belongs to G-d." Every realm of existence is part of Divine plan and can be made holy.
Indeed, such is the mission of every Jew -- to transform wherever he may be into a spiritual Land of Israel.
Judaism demands that we sanctify even the lowest aspects of the material world, thereby imbuing all of creation with holiness and demonstrating the unity of the One Creator.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 20
The "Rodeo Rabbis"
by Yaakov Weiss
This summer Yosef Susskind and I spent three weeks in the state of Wyoming. We were on "Merkos Shlichus," a summer outreach program to visit places in the world where there is a weak Jewish infrastructure, established by the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
In some cities we stayed in motels and in other cities we slept at people's homes. One night, we actually slept in a "Tee Pee."
Our goal: to let the Jews of Wyoming know that someone is thinking about them. We came to encourage them to add mitzvot (commandments) to hasten the coming of Moshiach.
Practically every day we witnessed Divine providence at work. During the three weeks we were there, we met with about 100 Jews. We sold a pair of tefilin, put up some mezuzot, set up a "tefilin club" every Sunday in Cheyenne and a Torah class in Laramie and Cheyenne once a month by a Rabbi from Denver. We put on tefilin with over 30 men, many of them for their first time. Many of the men made resolutions to put on tefilin every Sunday, and even more women decided to light Shabbat candles every Friday.
You're probably wondering how we found Jews. In the big towns, we already had lists of Jews from the previous student Rabbis. Still, we found many new ones. We would drive into a town and go into a store and ask, "Do you know of any Jews living in this town?" People were very nice and helpful. If they did know of any, they did their best to help us. For example, one day we came into a town called Riverton, a population of about 5000. We went into store after store, but no one knew of any Jews living there. We were about to give up, but we decided to go into one more store. We asked the two women working there if they knew of any Jews. They did not, but they said that maybe their priest would know. They called their priest and after explaining our predicament, he told them he would be right over. He was very nice and he gave us the names of a few Jewish families, whom we visited and with whom we put on tefilin. All because of a Catholic priest.
One Friday, I had a route planned out in order to visit a town called Rock Springs, which was on the way to Salt Lake City - our destination for Shabbat. I made a wrong turn and we ended up in a small town of 2,000 residents called Pinedale. I thought to myself, "Surely it is Divine Providence that brought us here." I began asking around for Jews. Someone told me there is a Jewish chef who owns a restaurant. I went to the restaurant and asked for Chef Wendy. I was told that she was at a speech outside the museum. We decided to "crash" the speech. As we were walking out of the car we spotted a woman in a chef's uniform. We asked her if she is Wendy. She was so shocked when she saw us. Two rabbis in Pinedale! We spoke for a while about being Jewish in Wyoming. She is extremely proud of being Jewish. She told us about three other Jews in Pinedale. Only one was there and we visited her next.
We then drove to Marbleton, population 200. We went into a bar and asked for Jews. The owner said there were none. We went back to the car and as we were driving off, the owner ran out to tell us that there was a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man.
We located her house and met her and her ten children. She was thrilled to see us. After we spoke for a few moments, it became apparent that although she strongly identified with Judaism, she believed in the Christian god. We had a long conversation with her, explaining how she has a beautiful building, but no foundation. At the end, she promised to light Shabbat candles from then on.
In Cheyenne, we went to visit a man in an old age home. We put on tefilin and spoke for a while. He was very emotional. He told us we were an answer to a prayer. He had prayed to G-d to help him come closer to Judaism. He even wanted to go to Yeshiva!
One of the most interesting stories occured on Tisha B'Av, the 9th of Av, a day of mourning and fasting for the destruction of both Holy Temples. After we had met with Jews in Buffalo and Sheridan, we stopped by a small town of 650 people called Story. There is only one store in the whole town, and that is of course the bar. (In Wyoming, it is not a town without a bar.) I asked the bartender if she knew of any Jews in Story. She said she did not, but would ask around. While awaiting her return, a patron started a conversation with us. He was drinking whisky and complaining about his hard day. He asked us what we were doing there. We explained that we were Rabbis and we were looking for Jews. He said, "Hey, I'm Jewish." And so he was. We sat down at the bar and had a long conversation with him. That is how we came to spend our Tisha B'Av in a bar.
Driving through Wyoming is really beautiful. The Teton Mountains are magnificent. It was very interesting to see the old "western" lifestyle still alive. I guess that's why they call it "The Cowboy State." Actually, we really didn't stick out that much. With the hats, many mistook us for being cowboys! I told people we were "Rodeo Rabbis."
We met one man who shares my last name. He really liked us. He promised me he would come to my wedding no matter where it will be. Another man made up a song about us at the meeting and sang it on his guitar. The woman whose home we stayed at for the most time cried when we left. I have received many emails; some with questions and others just to say hi. One man wrote that he is considering making his house kosher. We are very thankful to G-d that we are able to see much fruit from our labor.
Probably the most inspiring part of our visit was that no matter who we met, everyone is extremely proud to be a Jew. Especially the children. It just goes to show how powerful the Jewish soul is.
It is my hope, that together with the Jews of Wyoming, we will all merit to be united once again in Jerusalem, with the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our days, Amen!
New Center in Plettenberg Bay
Ten thousand Jewish tourists visit Plettenburg Bay, South Africa, each summer (December and January). Now that Rabbi Zev and Gabi Wineberg have become the Rebbe's emissaries in this tourist hot spot, the local Jewish community of 150 families as well as tourists and Jews from neighboring areas now have Shabbat services, adult education classes, holiday awareness programs, and an afternoon Hebrew school.
Chabad of Boynton Beach Expands
The Rae and Joseph Gann Campus for Living Judaism, under the directorship of Rabbi Sholom and Dini Ciment, is a 13,000 square foot building on a three-acre property in the center of Boynton Beach, Florida. It houses all of Chabad's programs with a sanctuary, a social hall, Hebrew school classrooms, a youth center, and ample office space. Phase two, already under construction, includes a mikva, pre-school, and state-of-the-art recreation center.
The following is excerpted from a letter dated 24th of MarCheshvan, 5723  and are points that refer to the Rebbe's views on "the question of the Regents Prayer which became the subject of a controversy when the U.S. Supreme Court declared it, not unanimously but by a majority opinion, to be unconstitutional." The Rebbe made it clear that his views "are based on the following aspects of the problem:
- The question relates specifically to the non-denominational Regents Prayer, which reads:
"Al-mighty G-d, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country."
- The procedure of the recitation of this prayer being that the students read it together with the teacher.
The following factors have to be considered from the viewpoint of the Torah and Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law):
- Prayer as a Divine Commandment.
According to all our authorities, it is a positive commandment to pray to G-d daily. The text of the prayers has, of course, been formulated and ordained, but the law also provides that under certain circumstances (e.g. where personal safety is a factor, and distractions of a similar nature) - a short prayer should be recited and the commandment is fulfilled thereby.... Accordingly, the Regents Prayer is a valid prayer, especially as it contains two basic elements of prayer: acknowledgment (praise of G-d) and request.
- Submission to the Kingdom of Heaven (Kabbolas Ol Malchus Shomayim).
Recognition of the Divine Authority and obedience to it, is also one of the imperatives of the Torah, which is to be fulfilled every day. This is the basic purpose of our daily reading of the Shema. While the actual reading of the verses and portions of the Shema is required for the fulfillment of the precept, the element of "Submission to the Divine Authority" contained therein can also be expressed in any appropriate form.
Thus, those Jewish children who do not recite the Shema daily could, at least, fulfill that part of it which expresses recognition of the Divine Authority - by means of the Regents Prayer.
- There are certain precepts which are incumbent upon Jews not only every day, but every moment of their life, such as the belief in G-d, the love of G-d, reverence of G-d, etc..
Precisely in the case of a very great number of children of the Public Schools and their parents, Jewish and gentile, it is likely, sad to say, that many days, weeks and months might pass by without their giving a thought to G-d in a more personal way, not to mention any thought of love and reverence for G-d.
Therefore the Regents Prayer, expressing as it does the acknowledgment of, and dependence upon, G-d, and that the welfare of this country and of the parents, children and teachers depends on G-d's benevolence, offers in many cases the only opportunity for the children to make some personal "contact" with G-d every day....
- As for the argument that the Regents Prayer has little religious value because it would tend to become mechanical and would not reach the heart of the child reciting it, the same argument can be used, and with greater justification, in the case of adults and in regard to any daily prayer in any place. It is, unfortunately, true that attendance at houses of worship sometimes degenerates into a social function rather than serving as a deep religious experience, but it is not necessarily the fault of the environment; and the same is true of the Public Schools.
As a matter of fact, children are usually more sincere and more receptive than adults, and a great deal depends on the teacher, and the Regents Prayer need not degenerate into a mechanical recitation if the teacher will put some feeling into it....
- There is an additional point to be considered: The responsibility which the Jewish religion imposes upon its adherents towards the non-Jew in the matter of dissemination of the belief in G-d; certainly not to weaken that belief in any way, directly or indirectly, which comes under the Biblical injunction: "Place not a stumbling block before the blind."...
- The apprehension has been expressed in some quarters that the recitation of the Regents Prayer in the Public Schools in the manner in which it was carried out (bareheaded, and limited to only twenty-two words, etc., etc.) might create an erroneous impression among those students who are completely devoid of Jewish knowledge, even of the fundamentals of our faith. Such children might conclude that this prayer and the manner of its expression satisfies all the requirements of our Torah and the Jewish prayer; that it is permissible for Jews to pray bare headed; that no synagogue attendance is necessary, etc., etc.
In my opinion, however, these apprehensions do not justify at all the elimination of all the positive aspects of the Regents Prayer as enumerated above.
To be more exact: The said apprehensions do not at all justify the prevention of scores of thousands of Jewish children from fulfilling the Mitzvos enumerated above, all the more so since they are basic Mitzvos....
30 Tishrei, 5763 - Oct. 10, 2002
Positive Mitzva 242: The Unpaid Watchman
This commandment is based on the verse (Exodus 22:6) "If a man gives his neighbor money or vessels to watch"
This mitzva deals with the laws that apply when one person watches another person's object, but does not receive any payment for this favor. If that object is lost or stolen, the Torah provides specific instructions about the watchman's responsibilities.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
It was the custom of most merchants years ago to obtain their goods by periodically attending a great fair where all kinds of merchandise were sold wholesale and in bulk.
The merchants would take the large packages home, sort through the contents and then use them as they saw fit.
The month of Tishrei is similar to such a wholesale fair, at which time we obtain huge portions of holiness and joy in doing commandments and celebrating the festivals - enough to last us the whole year. The only condition is that we actually open the bundles and use their contents.
These bundles are opened up and used for the first time this Shabbat, on Shabbat Bereishit-the Sabbath on which the very first portion of the Torah is read.
What are some of the bundles and packages that we accrue during the month of Tishrei?
On Rosh Hashana we acquire the ability to nullify our will before G-d's will, to connect with G-d as an only child relates to a parent.
On Yom Kippur we bundle up the capacity to truly regret and feel remorse for any actions that were not up to par and to resolve to improve in the future.
On Sukkot we pack joy into our luggage. Together with the joy we pack Jewish unity, love and respect.
And, on Simchat Torah, we pack even more joy into our valises, as well as enthusiasm and excitement for all things good and holy.
As we unpack our suitcases and unload our trunks, we needn't look too longingly at all we have acquired during this festive month, for before we know it, the month of Kislev will have begun. And, although not as replete as Tishrei, it too has numerous festivals and lessons for our lives.
In the beginning G-d created (Gen. 1:1)
The final letters of the Hebrew words "G-d created" - "bara elokim et" - are alef, mem, and tav, and spell the word "emet" - truth. Truth is the foundation upon which the whole world stands, and without which the entire creation would be unable to exist.
G-d rested from all the work which He had created to be done. (2:3)
Rashi explains that the words "to be done" teach that the world was created incomplete, as it were, requiring the active participation of mankind to attain perfection. But how can we, insignificant as we are, complete the act of creation? The Torah's own words, "created to be done" assures us that this perfection is within our grasp, and is part of G-d's plan. Each of us has the strengths and talents to improve the world and elevate it into something holy and Divine.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
And G-d created man (Gen. 1:27)
Why doesn't the Torah state after the creation of man, "and it was good," as it does after all the other things created during the six days? Every other creature was created complete, with its nature and instincts ready to be applied to the world. Man, however, was created incomplete, and it is his purpose in life to perfect himself. Human beings are given free will and the responsibility for their own development and improvement. That is why it doesn't immediately state, "and it was good" - we must wait and see how man behaves before passing judgement.
Yosef Yosfa, a Spanish Jew, was a great scholar and pious man. Shortly after the Spanish Inquisition he arrived in Cracow, Poland, and became widely respected by the Jews there. Although he was 50 years old, he was unmarried.
For 30 years Yosef Yosfa lived by himself in Cracow. One day, a man from Cracow was killed during a business trip to Prague. He left behind him a young widow but no children. When a man dies childless, if he has a brother, the brother is required to conduct a special ceremony called "chalitza" to permit the wife to remarry. It was the custom in Cracow for this ceremony to be a community event, after which the wife was blessed by the rabbi that she remarry soon and have children.
Five months passed. Yosef Yosfa, known throughout the past 30 years in Cracow as "the Spanish Tzadik," came to the Rabbinical Court and told them that he wished to marry the widow if she was in agreement. Yosef Yosfa explained to the Rabbincial Court that he had never intended to marry, but due to various reasons he now wished to marry.
When the Rabbinical Court called for the young woman, they were shocked to see her burst into tears as soon as she arrived in the study hall, even before she knew the reason for her summons.
Tearfully she explained that she had had a dream many times recently in which her beloved, deceased father appeared to her. She was not sure if she should place any credence in the dream and, seeing as the Rabbis had called her, she would like to ask them advice.
"In my first dream, my father appeared to me dressed in his finest Sabbath clothes. He placed his hands on my head to bless me and said, 'I wish you mazel tov for it has been ordained that you marry the Spanish Tzadik Yosef Yosfa.' I awoke from my dream," continued the young woman, "and was shaking. After I calmed down, I paid it no attention."
The woman continued, explaining that the same dream had repeated itself, but again she put it out of her mind. The third time she dreamt of her father, however, it was different. "He looked very serious and told me that there was no way out. It had been decided in Heaven that I marry the Spanish Tzadik. 'If you listen,' my father told me, 'you will be blessed with an extraordinary son. But if you refuse, you will come to a bitter end.'
"This dream recurred three more times and finally I decided to come to you and ask you for your holy advice. Immediately upon making my decision to visit the honored rabbis, your shamash arrived and told me that I had been summoned before you," the young woman concluded.
The rabbis looked at eachother in astonishment. They told the widow that Yosef Yosfa had come to them and told them that he wanted to marry her. It was now more than clear that it was G-d's will that the widow marry the Spanish Tzadik. The marriage was arranged and the entire community of Cracow participated in the joyous celebration. This was no ordinary wedding.
Two years later, the couple was blessed with a son whom Yosef Yosfa named Eliyahu, after Eliyahu HaNavi-Elijah the Prophet. When Eliyahu was two years old, Yosef Yosfa began to teach him Torah. Yosef Yosfa remained Eliyahu's private Torah teacher and Eliyahu was an assiduous student.
Father and son studied thus until a short time before Eliyahu's Bar Mitzva. At that time, Yosef Yosfa told his wife that he was about to pass on. He informed her that after his Bar Mitzva, their son would tell her that he wanted to go into the world to continue his Torah studies. Yosef Yosfa implored his wife not to discourage him from leaving; his soul had come into the world to accomplish a special mission and he would need to wander and learn from many masters in order to fulfill this mission.
Yosef Yosfa revealed something further to his wife that he had not revealed to anyone. When her first husband had been killed nearly 15 years earlier, he - Yosef Yosfa - had received a Divine command to marry her, for a child with a very lofty soul would be born to them. This child would have a special mission to fulfill for the Jewish people and would help and uplift them.
"During the decade of Torah study that our son studied together with me, Eliyahu HaNavi himself has been studying with our son to prepare him for this mission." Eliyahu was to be the first in a long line of tzadikim who would lead the Jewish people to the coming of Moshiach.
Yosef Yosfa breathed his last breaths and passed away. A few weeks after Eliyahu's Bar Mitzva, he told his mother that he wished to go out into the world.
Forty years later, in the year 5350 (1590) a great Torah scholar, teacher, and tzadik appeared in the city of Worms, Germany. His name was Eliyahu. Rabbi Eliyahu, who became renown as Rabbi Eliyahu Baal Shem, established a yeshiva in Worms where he taught Jewish mystical teachings, particularly the Zohar, in addition to the Talmud.
Rabbi Eliyahu Baal Shem was the first in a long line of great tzadikim who have prepared the Jewish people and the world for the coming of Moshiach. Rabbi Eliyahu was succeeded by his disciple, Rabbi Yoel Baal Shem, then by Rabbi Adam Baal Shem, who was succeeded by his disciple, Rabbi Yisroel, the famous Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chasidism.
Now, because of our many sins in these times right before the coming of Moshiach, when our Sages' prediction that "the wisdom of scholars will fall into disfavor and G-d fearing people will be despised" [Sandhedrin 98a] has been fulfilled... our Torah and prayer are more. precious to G-d than those of previous generations"
(Divrei Yechezkel on Rosh Hashanah 17a)