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Let's take a walk on the beach and squish the sand beneath our feet.
Let's join a caravan on its course through the desert, trekking through the dunes. Whipped and swirled by the wind, a thousand pebble-pricks sting, succeeded by a thousand more - a swift sequence of thousands on thousands. Even when quiet, the grittiness gets into clothes, clogs the skin; 'tis a desiccating lubricant, with an infinite thirst.
Let's make a sand castle, a transient fortress for our dreams. Loose particles, with no apparent bond between them, held together by that which dissolves them, severs the molecular link. Water and sand. Too little water - or none at all - and the conglomeration of grains has no connection one to another. Too little water - or none at all - and the sands blow away, each grain alone and indifferent - an irrelevant speck lost in the vastness, though surrounded and sustained by the sand's own innumerable multitude.
Water and sand. Too much water - if there can be too much water - and even the microscopic ceases to exist. A balancing act, water and sand. Sand in water must be stirred, lest it settle out, precipitate - again - into individual instability. But the right mixture suspends the sand.
Water and sand. Let there be more sand than water, but let the water penetrate, permeate and saturate. Let it infiltrate and seep, binding the granular each to each. Let the water adhere to the sand and the sands to each other. Then we can build such a castle, an edifice echoing eternity. Fragile, yes, for even a child's touch can tumble those turrets. But testament nevertheless to the enduring. For what is a sand castle if not a vision manifest? And if it be manifest but a moment, what of that? There, in that tower, that bulwark, that portal, that moat the dream becomes real. And only there, as long as it stands, does it stay real.
It's a paradox. From sand comes glass. Glass protects us from the world and let's us participate in the world.
Sand - symbol of time and eternity. An hour glass is filled with - sand. The grains slip one by one, marking the passing of the seconds one by one. As the sands run out, time runs out. But then - it's a paradox - we turn the glass over and are leased another hour. And so on, hour after hour, the sands slide and return, slide and return.
When we think of vastness, of stretching out of sight, of ownerless extensions of holiness - where the Jewish people met G-d - we think of sand.
Sand - the dust of the earth washed clean, made pure.
"And I will make your seed as the dust of the earth, so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, also shall your seed be numbered."
Water is Torah. And the Jewish people - the Jewish people are the sands of Abraham.
In the opening lines of this week's Torah portion, Lech Lecha, G-d commands Abraham to "go out" from his land, from his place of birth, to a land that G-d will show him. What can we to learn from this very first commandment to Abraham that can be applied to our own lives as well?
The first and most fundamental requirement of every Jew is to "go out" - to be in a constant state of ascent, developing and elevating both one's inner potential and one's surroundings.
But the very next thing that happened to Abraham after heeding this command appears to be the exact opposite of development and elevation: "And there arose a famine in the land, and Abraham went down into Egypt." Thus, Abraham had to leave Canaan and journey to Egypt, during which time Sarah was forcefully taken to Pharaoh's palace. Although G-d protected her from harm while there, she nevertheless underwent the hardship of the whole incident.
How does this obvious descent fit into the aforementioned theme of ascent and our task of climbing ever higher?
On a superficial level, Abraham's and Sarah's hardship was a step down, but on a deeper level it was merely a part of their eventual elevation and triumphant return. The purpose of the descent was to achieve an even higher ascent than was possible before. When they returned to Canaan they were "very heavy with cattle, with silver, and with gold."
Just as Abraham's descent was part of the greater plan of ascent, so it was the Jewish people of all generations. The Jewish people have found themselves thrust into exile after exile, only to return to their Land and achieve even higher spiritual heights than before. Galut (exile), although appearing to us to be a negative phenomenon, actually carries the potential for the highest good. And now that we are in the last moments of the final exile, we approach an era of unprecedented spirituality and goodness. For although the First and Second Temples were destroyed, the Third Temple is to stand forever, and our coming Redemption will have no exile to follow.
We therefore draw encouragement from our ancestor Abraham's descent into Egypt and eventual return to Israel: We must remember that the darkness that seems to prevail is only external, and is part of G-d's greater plan for the ultimate prevailing of good over evil and the coming of Moshiach.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
By Yael Swerdlow
I am sitting in a half-lotus position on my sea grass bedroom floor, halfway through my daily yoga and meditation practice. Tears stream down my face and my modulated breathing devolves into rib-cracking sobs.
In desperation, I look up, visualizing the heavens through the cottage cheese ceiling, and demand the following of G-d, the Universe, the goddess; some entity I pray is listening:
"Bring me, right now, my spiritual mentor, partner and companion, to lead me to my destiny for the greater good, because I know what I'm meant to do in this life, but I'm lost as to the path... and don't mess around."
It's no wonder I'm so lost. I'm a clich้; the wandering Jew.
I grew up attending Reform synagogues. I love the political, cultural and social action, but when it comes to Judaism and G-d, I am disillusioned. My spiritual identity is a recipe of Eastern, New Age, Nirvana seeking mishmash. Not that I seriously consider running off to the ashrams of India: that would require a full commitment. I'm more of a religious tourist; quick to plead "package tour" when the required disciplines mess with my comfort zone. But here I am, desperately praying for the laundry list of "evolved" human desires: inner peace, a sense of purpose, an identity not grounded in just he physical, and love. And I live in Los Angeles, where the promise of salvation and enlightenment seduces you from every storefront.
That cold day in late February 2001, my soul in so much pain, I wonder if my prayer will be answered, if I will find my path. And I wonder if I will ever feel that spiritual elation, that joy so glibly promised (along with great ab muscles), but in reality so elusive.
The next day, while checking my email, I don't recognize one of the addresses*. Most of the time, I delete anything from anyone I don't know, but I opened this one. The wording is Orthodox Jew, addressed to someone with my name who may turn out to be a relative. My family is secular with a vengence, many of them atheist, so, who could this e-mail be meant for? Not one of my relatives, surely.
Little did I know that G-d uses the Internet. Little did I know that my journey home to Yiddishkeit (Judaism) would take me to the other side of the world twice, and that I would find, in Nicole Green and her family in Cape Town, South Africa, and their extended family, the Shermans, here in Los Angeles, the friendship, the unconditional love, and the support and guidance I had so fervently prayed for.
It is mind-blowing to me (and always will be) that someone could actually care that deeply about my spiritual well being and that they would do battle with their own issues just to be able to accept and include me in their hearts and their lives. The Greens and the Shermans have made sure I know via their actions, not just their words, that Judaism does not have categories, and even though I am not frum (far from it) not kosher (okay, not yet), I am welcomed as their equal with valuable ideas and experiences to share.
It's been just over a year and a half, but I cannot begin to describe the feelings of inner peace when I light Shabbat candles. Or when I stop during my day to say the weekday Amidah prayer, or how my soul dances when praying at the Happy Minyan Orthodox shul on Saturday mornings. And imagine my surprise at my response when someone asked me what brings me joy, and my no-brainer answer is "learning Torah." Wait a minute, this is ME? Boruch Hashem (thank G-d) it is.
But this is a journey which is never over, and it's not an easy one. Nicole is constantly challenging me to fully own who I am, but not by using my old definitions. We argue, but at the end of the day we always reach common ground, strengthening our bond and honoring the faith we both have in this cosmic plan. I do battle with my own issues as well-everything changes when you define yourself as a Jew. That's when Nicole gently reminds me that Hashem's grace and holiness is in the details, and in that way, as well as so many others, I am led home.
Yael Swerdlow is a former photojournalist turned screenwriter hoping to live at least half the year in Cape Town enjoying Nicole's amazing Moroccan fish, and Kalman's rock and roll herring.
*Nicole Green, an emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Cape Town, South Africa, arranged for Miryam Swerdlov, from Crown Heights, New York, to speak at the Chabad House in Cape Town. After the event, Nicole decided to send Miryam's family a note telling them "what a special person their mother/wife is."
Continues Nicole, "A few days later, I received a most ambiguous email back, something to the effect that this is not the person but she would be willing to forward this email to some relatives. Her name, she said, is Yael Swerdlow of Los Angeles, California.
"I quickly realized that I had misspelled Miryam's last name. So I re-sent to Miryam's correct address this time, and wondered how to answer this Yael Swerdlow from California.
"What ensued were some 300 emails, long and difficult at times while Yael and I struggled to define the 'long shorter way' to G-d and to each other. There have been some very real rewards and some that are still to be revealed...
"Yael challenged my very understanding of loving one's fellow man. I had often to dig deep inside myself, hold judgment and spend hours in front of the screen wondering, 'How would I want this Judaism to be presented to me, were I in her shoes?' Yale's fundamental honesty and forthright-ness through it all kept me going and I felt a deep need to honor it, to search and find ways in which I could explain the difficult and necessary relationship we build with G-d via His commandments, despite the shortcuts that the self-help bazaars of California would have us use... I teamed up with our family in Los Angeles and Yael was able to not only connect with them but they made her welcome and part of their family. It's a long road, but then it is for all for us no matter where we define our boundaries.
Reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter
New Center in Bakersfield
Bakersfield, California celebrated the arrival of Rabbi Shmuel and Esther Malka Schlanger, emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Just under two hours from Los Angeles, Bakersfield boasts a sizeable Jewish community of several thousand families. The Schlangers' first activities after the holidays focused on youth programming, for the many young families in the community. The couple also plan on introducing adult education, holiday awareness activities, and a full range of programs for the entire family.
New Emissaries to Hebron
Rabbi Danny and Batsheva Cohen recently took positions at Chabad of Kiryat Arba and Hebron to assist with the growing needs of both of these communities.
11th of Menachem Av, 5731 
Greeting and Blessing:
In addition to the regards which I have been receiving periodically through our mutual friends, particularly Rabbi Cunin, I was pleased to receive your letter of July 29th, and to note that the ceremony of giving your daughter the name of Channah has been duly carried out, and that she is very pleased about it.
May G-d grant that together with the new name her Mazal ["luck"] should be renewed in all her affairs, especially in the very essential aspect of arranging the Get [bill of divorce] from her Jewish husband, as we talked about it at length when you were here and emphasized the great importance of it. Certainly, if any cooperation is needed on the part of Rabbi Cunin, he will be more than willing to do what he can, and may her renewed Mazal be reflected also in this matter.
I send you my prayerful wishes that your resolve to strengthen all good works, especially in regard to the Lubavitch activities in L.A., of which I was pleased to hear, should stand you and yours in good stead. All the more so since these activities are conducted at the initiative and in the spirit of my saintly father-in-law of blessed memory, at whose holy resting place you will be remembered. The vitality and joy with which these activities are carried out are a source of an additional measure of Divine blessings in all your affairs.
In the Days of Chanukah, 5721 
Blessing and Greeting:
I received your letter with considerable delay.
With regard to its contents, especially the questions and doubts that you raise in your letter about certain attitudes of Chasidus, I am amazed at your misinformation concerning even such matters which are well known and amply explained, even printed and published, to be misinformed about them. This applies also to your questions.
a. Regarding the attitude to the study of the Torah, i.e. the Nigleh ["revealed"] part of it - it is explained and ruled in the laws of Talmud Torah [Torah study] of the founder of Chabad [Rabbi Shneur Zalman], also in the Introduction to his Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law], written by his son etc., etc. Anyone can see that the attitude to learning Torah is completely the opposite to that which you were told, as you write in your letter.
b. Similarly, on the question of making L'chaim [a toast on liquor] on special occasions, concerning which I refer you to Likutei Diburim of my father-in-law of saintly memory, p. 1438.
I trust that from the above you will draw your conclusions also regarding other questions of similar nature that some people might suggest to you in the future.
Hoping to hear good news from you...
22nd of Kislev, 5722 
Greeting and Blessing:
...I read with interest the article in the Bnai Akiva Journal. I trust it had a good effect on the readers, and that it, too, will be utilized to the fullest extent and in accordance with the teachings of our Sages that the essential thing is the practice in the daily life. I trust you will continue to keep me informed...
Replying to your questions: When you daven [pray] individually, you should follow Nusach Ari [the prayer rite of the Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchak Luria]; when you act as Shliach Tzibbur [emissary for the congregation] (if there is a need for it) - you should follow the Nusach of the majority of the congregation. If at all possible, you should also daven Maariv b'Tzibbur [pray the evening service with the congregation] but if they daven early, you should be very careful to read all Krias Shema before going to bed.
To cooperate with - is very advisable; said the wisest of all men "Two are better than one."
Please write in suitable detail about -'s visit and results (if any), and thanks in anticipation.
15 Cheshvan, 5763 - October 21, 2002
Positive Mitzva 248: Laws of Inheritance
This commandment is based on the verse (Num. 27:8) "If a man dies and he has no son..." It concerns the many detailed laws of inheritance.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
In this week's Torah portion, we read that G-d promised Abraham the lands of ten nations, including not only the lands of the seven Canaanite nations conquered by the Jews after the exodus from Egypt, but also the lands of the Keini, the Kenizi, and the Kadmoni. G-d promised - and thus gave - the Jewish people all these ten lands. However, until the Era of the Redemption, the fulfillment of this promise will not be realized and we have only the lands of seven nations.
Similarly, it is in the Era of the Redemption that the relationship between the Jewish people and the Holy Land will reach a state of completion. At that time, all Jews - including the ten "lost" tribes - will arise in the Resurrection and will live there.
Today we are still involved in the process of preparing to take possession of the Holy Land, to include the lands of the Keini, Kenizi, and the Kadmoni. This is particularly relevant in our age when, as the Rebbe clearly stated, ours is the last generation of the exile and the first generation of the redemption.
The Land of Israel was given to Abraham's descendants so that they would transform it into a dwelling for G-d. For it is through the conquest and settlement of the Land of Israel that the fusion of the spiritual and the material will come to its ultimate expression.
These ten lands refer to the refinement of our personal powers, the seven emotional powers and the three intellectual powers. In the present time, the Jews were granted only the lands of seven nation, i.e., the seven emotional powers. Although we also make use of our intellect, at present, the intellect serves the emotions. In contrast, in the Era of the Redemption, the three intellectual powers will be expressed in their full potential, being used to achieve a complete bond with G-d. For through Torah study, one connects one's mind to G-d as He is manifest in the Torah. This allows for a complete unity for "G-d and the Torah are one."
This untiy will be reflected in an all-encompassing revelation of G-dliness that will characterize the Era of the Redemption.
Go out of your land... and I will make your name great (Gen. 12:1,2)
Why did G-d find it necessary to promise Abraham that his name would be great? Did Abraham really care about personal fame? Our Sages taught that the mention of Abraham's name caused G-d's name to be sanctified. Abraham's whole life was spent spreading the knowledge of the one G-d. Wherever he went he caused people to think about their Creator. Thus, whenever Abraham's name was mentioned, G-d's name was sanctified, too.
Abram took Sarai his wife... and the souls they had made in Charan (Gen. 12:5)
If all the scientists in the world attempted to create even a mosquito, they could not succeed in imbuing it with life. What then, is meant by "the souls they had made"? Rashi explains that this refers to those whom they "brought under the wings of the Divine Presence." Abraham spread the belief in one G-d among the men, and Sarai among the women; they are therefore credited with having "created" the new believers.
And Abram called there in the name of G-d (Gen. 13:4)
Our Sages taught: Do not read vayikra - "and he called," but rather vayakri - "and he caused others to call." Abraham erected a way-station for travelers in the middle of the desert, and taught each person who partook of his hospitality about the oneness of G-d. Abraham was not content to be the only one to call on G-d's name - he caused others to come to appreciate and thank G-d for His goodness.
The name Abraham
Rashi explains that the changing of Abraham's name from Avram, meaning "the father of Aram"-Mesopotamia-to Avraham, meaning "father of many nations," shows how our forefather transcended his previous level of spirituality and achieved a new level of service. As reflected in his name, Abraham was thus given the potential to elevate the entire world.
Reb Dov Ber of Lubavitch was the son and successor of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad chasidism. One time, while still a young man, Reb Dov Ber met one of the chasidim of his father during a visit to Janowitz. The young chasid was a peer of Reb Dov Ber's and they began a discussion on various matters relating to Torah and a Jew's G-dly service. During the conversation, Reb Dov Ber made light of his friend's accomplishments in Torah study and prayer.
The chasid was upset by Reb Dov Ber's words and replied: "How can you make such statements? Are you comparing yourself to me? Who is your father, and who is mine? Your father is our Rebbe, and everyone knows what spiritual level he is at. When it was time to bring a soul down to This World, no doubt he and your mother brought down a pure and lofty soul. Then as you were growing up, your family watched you carefully to make sure that not only no physical harm befell you, but also that no spiritual harm would befall you. You were given the best possible Jewish education and you were always surrounded by people of exemplary character and religiousity. So, what kind of impressive achievement is it that you are meticulous in the observance of mitzvot (commandments), that you relish Torah study, that your soul desires to cleave to its Maker during prayer?
"But me - my soul was probably arbitrarily swiped from the storehouse of souls up there. After I was born, I grew up like any other Jewish child, with as much supervision as my parents could offer while they were both involved in trying to put food on the table. Of course, I studied in the local cheder, but my playmates and comrades were just regular children like myself.
"And now, how do I make a living? I give the local peasants the capital they need to buy grain during the sowing season. But that is not the difficult part of my job, for the hard work is in the winter. During the winter I have to collect my debts. There's a whole procedure to follow in order to do this properly! I have to bring a bottle of vodka with me on these ventures. Of course, I have to travel at night, since in the winter the peasants get up while it's still dark outside. When I finally get to the first peasant's home I have to make a little 'l'chaim' with him, and his wife, too! Without that he won't even begin to talk business with me.
"I settle the accounts with him and then I move on to the next house. There, too, I must have a 'friendly' drink before they will let me discuss business. This goes on at the next house and at the next, until I've collected from three or four people. At this point it's light outside. I head home, immerse in the mikva (ritualarium) as does every chasid, and say my morning prayers with the congregation. So you can imagine what kind of praying one can muster following a 'morning' like that. After that, I grab a few precious moments for Torah study before I have to go back out and deal with the local peasants once more."
In truth, this chasid who had just delivered the long soliloquy, prayed with the greatest devotion and concentration and was an impressive Torah scholar. But, since he was a humble person, he underestimated himself considerably.
When the young Reb Dov Ber heard his words he was quite overwhelmed. He returned at once to his father, the Rebbe, related the entire conversation, and bemoaned his own spiritual attainments. It seemed to him that everything he had accomplished until now really wasn't worth anything at all.
The next time the chasid from Janowitz came to Liozna to be with the Rebbe, the Rebbe told him, "I am indeed indebted to you. You have made a chasid of my son, Berl!"
The Prophet Micah states: "Who is a G-d like You, Who pardons iniquity, and forgives the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not maintain His anger forever, for He delights in mercy." On this verse, the Metzudat David comments: "As to 'the remnant of His heritage,' those who will survive the suffering of the "birthpangs of Moshiach, G-d will not focus His attention on their transgressions and dispence due retribution, but will 'forgive their transgressions,"'continuing on as if He did not notice them."