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Being a guest can be awkward. Of course it's fun not having to wash the dishes. Or cook. Or clean up. Or do laundry or take out the garbage or pay the bills or put the kids to bed or answer the phone ("Hello, I'm a telemarketing clich้") or do any of the things or take any of the respon-sibilities that come with being the baal habayis or baalabusta - the master or mistress of the house. (I know, a proper guest lends a hand and tries to be useful - that's the etiquette of gratitude - but he doesn't have to. And someone else is always in charge, ultimately getting the credit or the blame.)
Being a guest in someone's home differs from being a guest in a hotel. There, we pay for the gratuities and amenities. The kindness may not be forced or artificial, but it's bought and contingent. Staying at a hotel, we feel neither guilt or gratitude. Nor do we have to temper our demands. (We have to be polite because well, people are supposed to be civil.) At a hotel, we pay for what we get.
Being a guest, we behave our best. We don't walk around in socks, we don't spread the newspaper out over the whole table, we don't peek into the refrigerator; even when the host gives us permission and says 'help yourself,' we still ask beforehand or inform afterwards.
That's the pattern - ask or inform. We ask before taking a book, we inform when we're going out or coming back, we ask before using the phone, we inform about food quirks (I'm allergic to mushrooms but love french fries), we ask about checking email (!), we inform where the children took us on an afternoon walk (to the pizza shop, perhaps). And so on.
As a guest, we're dependent on others. We're dependent on them materially - for a bed, for food, for amenities and utilities. We're also dependent in an emotional or spiritual sense. We can be a guest, but unwelcome. The host can provide food, a room, all the appropriate accommodations, but make us feel like an intruder, almost like a thief. Someone else creates an atmosphere of security, of inclusion, of belonging - we feel almost like a part of the family.
But no matter how pleasantly we lodge, we live tentatively. A guest has a temporary lease, his stay always contingent. There's nothing unconditional about life as a guest; guests stay with restrictions, provisions, conditions.
Being a guest in someone else's home is sort of like, well, being a soul in a body. The soul's lodging is temporary. It has a metaphoric room and board, but in a sense the body isn't home. The soul can't be completely comfortable in the body. After all, it has to share the body with the animalistic. The selfish, material side has first claim on the body's resources. It belongs to the animal in us and is subject to the urges of the physical.
In fact, we might even say that G-d is a guest in this world. Those who live here don't always act according to His Will. His Presence isn't always felt; even when It is, It finds Itself in the background. The Divine Presence in this world too often resembles a guest at the dinner table - invited to eat, allowed to participate in the conversation, but not the center of attention.
But everything changes when Moshiach comes. Then we'll have transformed ourselves into a home for the soul and the world into a dwelling place for G-d. The guest room ceases to resemble a hotel suite and looks like part of the house. The soul becomes content within the body and G-d becomes comfortable in His world.
Maybe that's why the Sages say that hachnasat orchim - welcoming guests - is greater than greeting the Divine Presence. True hachnasat orchim - a trait inherited from Abraham - does more than make the guest feel at home. It transforms our house into His home.
This week's Torah portion, Vayeira, speaks about the greatness of our forefather Abraham, the very first Jew. Through Abraham's service, G-d's Name was made known throughout the world, and many people were brought to believe in Him.
The Torah states: "And Abraham planted an eishel [literally a grove] in Be'er Sheva, and called there in the name of G-d." The Torah specifically mentions Abraham's planting of the eishel, as this was considered a very great deed and a unique accomplishment.
The Midrash explains that an eishel is more than just a stand of trees under which wayfarers may find protection from the burning sun. An eishel is an inn, a place of lodging. Our Patriarch Abraham established his eishel in Be'er Sheva, in the heart of the desert, to cater to travelers in that inhospitable climate.
Did Abraham know these travelers personally? Of course not. He had no idea who might arrive. All he knew was that these strangers would no doubt be hungry, thirsty and tired from their trek across the desert. His motivation was to make their journey more pleasant and less taxing.
Abraham provided his guests with all kinds of amenities, not just bread and water to satisfy their hunger and quench their thirst. His visitors were offered meat, fine wines, fruit and a wide array of delicacies, as well as a place to sleep to rest from their travels.
His visitors' spiritual needs were also taken into consideration. Next to the inn that provided all their physical necessities, Abraham established a Sanhedrin, a court of law, so that wise men could answer the travelers' questions and find solutions to their personal and business problems.
This same attribute of kindness and justice is the birthright of every Jew, an inheritance from our forefather Abraham. And the Torah portion of Vayeira teaches us how we are supposed to fulfill the commandment of charity:
It isn't enough to provide a poor person with the basic requirements necessary to sustain life. We must offer him more than just the bare minimum, bringing him pleasure and enjoyment. And not only must his physical needs be met, but we must also try to help him resolve his spiritual struggles. This applies to every single Jew, even those we do not know personally, and constitutes the true meaning of the commandment of tzedaka (charity).
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 3
Once Upon A Blue Moon
by Dr. Laura Schlessinger
I have often said marriage is a covenantal relationship between a man, a woman, and G-d.
I have said this with passion, with hope, and with sincerity. But I never really felt it until recently, when I had an experience that changed me in more ways than I can fully understand.
I've been to a lot of lovely weddings that joined lovely people into lovely marriages with lovely families. We all have. But have you ever been to a wedding where you actually felt the magic of a divine presence as part of the nuptials? Not to sound like Rod Serling, but I was recently at a wedding where, for the first time in my life, I actually felt that G-d was involved.
I'm passionate about my religion, but to be honest I have never felt loved by G-d - at least not in the same concrete way as a child who says, "Mommy, I love you." This particular wedding bridged that gap for me.
The wedding was between a young Chassidic rabbi that I know and a young lady from Brooklyn. They were matched up and suggested to each other. They were not forced into anything: they met each other, talked for a million hours, saw each other some more, talked for another million hours, and then made their decision. They are a match made in heaven. Just as one of the rabbis said, "They are two souls that were designated by G-d to come together." And they did.
It was my first Chassidic wedding, so naturally I asked a lot of questions. As it was explained, they both fast on the wedding day. It is a serious occasion when two souls are joined together for eternity in a connection with G-d and all of humanity.
As I walked down the hall to see Dov - the groom - before the ceremony, I found him in a big room amidst a group of Chassidic men. What I saw touched me profoundly: they were praying and singing. The groom hadn't eaten all day, but he was focused in prayer, reciting his texts. This is one of the most, if not the most profound and relevant transitions of his life. This is as far removed from a "bachelor party" as you can possibly get. This is true spiritual focus.
Throughout history, Orthodox Jewish thought has considered a man incomplete until he is married. It is the woman who is able to attain a more spiritual connection with G-d. Man must work a lot harder to connect. Together, their souls are complete.
Another fascinating point is the 2,300-year-old pre-nup agreement in which the groom gives the bride everything: his soul, his life, his possessions, everything. What does she give him in return? As I love to put it, she shows up.
During this time, the bride was in a separate room, sitting in an almost throne-like chair. My friends said that we should congratulate her and give her a blessing. I replied that I'd just seen her in the elevator and told her how nice she looked. "No, no, no," they said, "This is the time, just before a woman is married, when she is most connected to G-d. So if you want anything, like a prayer, this is when to ask it of her. She's almost like a conduit."
Personally, whenever I think about asking G-d for anything, the first thing that comes to mind are the children in hospitals with cancer - if G-d fixes them, I can get by. Otherwise, I don't ask for anything. My friends who are deep into prayer are often frustrated when I say this, but I just can't bring myself to do anything selfish. So I went up and said something to her privately.
Next the groom was led into the room by two men, one on each arm, who held him up since he could barely walk. The groom and I are friends from Chabad; when I saw him, I knew he was in a totally altered state. It was lovely to see the expression on his face, and he had tears in his eyes. He was so moved by what this meant for all eternity!
As he approached the bride, he put the veil over her face, which she could not see through at all; from then on, she was led around because otherwise she'd walk into walls. Listen to the philosophical and spiritual interpretation behind the veil: We marry because we're so turned on to the other person; they seem to be exactly what we want. They look good, they're this, they're that, but we don't really know them. We don't truly know the other's depths.
They're hidden, and take time to reveal themselves. So too there are darker sides to all of us that we don't necessarily show. Part of the ritual of covering the face of the bride is that the groom is not seeing his pretty bride, but rather the totality of what he's committing his life to - including the things he doesn't know and cannot see. She commits herself to the same life together.
The ceremony was then moved outside, with the stars shining above. The groom stood under the Chuppa (canopy) and the bride circled him seven times to build a fortress within which is an intense spirituality of love and commitment. This is the power of the woman, because she's so connected to G-d. When she joined him under the Chuppa, they didn't even kiss. No one who was watching threw anything. Only when it was over did they walk into a room to be alone, where together they broke their fast. That was the first time they had ever touched each other.
It was incredible to see how special everything was and to realize that it took thousands - thousands - of years to create this profound, stirring moment. There, under the stars, I really felt G-d's presence. For the first time, I knew it was a man and a woman in the sight of G-d. I saw it happen.
Dr.Laura Schlessinger, Ph.D., MFCC, is a past member of the Biological Sciences faculty at USC and graduate Psychology faculty at Perpperdine University. Three books she has written became New York Times best-sellers, and her radio program, The Dr. Laura Show, is nationally syndicated.. Reprinted with permission from the Passover 2000 edition of Farbrengen Magazine, published by Chabad of California.
More Precious Than Gold
More Precious Than Gold is a story about Spain in the 1490s conceived by Evelyn Blatt and written by Eve Lynn Gardner. The fourth in the "fun-to-read" series by HaChai Publishing, the book tells the story of Sara and her family who are leaving Spain in order to live as Jews. Sara is reluctant to leave until she understands what her priorities really are. As part of the drama Sara attempts to save her friend from the clutches of the Inquisition. For children ages 8 and up.
Aleph d'Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, 5710
June 15, 1950
This is in reply to your question regarding the significance of the custom during the marriage ceremony that the bride makes seven circuits around the groom under the Chuppah.
The answer to this question, it seems to me, has to cover the following sub-questions: 1) The significance of the circuit, 2) its repetition seven times, 3) the bride circling around the groom and not vice versa, 4) the bride then joining the groom, standing by his side within the circle.
I trust that the following may give you a satisfactory answer.
It is stated in the Zohar (Part III, 7:2) that marriage, which is a union of two distinct persons, is in reality a union of two halves of the same soul. Each one, when born, possesses but half  of that soul which becomes one and complete only in wedlock, through Chuppah and Kiddushin.
This is why marriage is one of the greatest soul-stirring experiences of the bride and groom, for their respective souls have found at last the other half. Something of this joy is experienced, by way of illustration, at the re-union of two close relatives or beloved friends who had been separated for decades.
To a certain extent, therefore, the marriage marks the beginning of a complete and full life, while the pre-marital life of either the bride of groom may be considered in the nature of a preparatory period.
The union of the two parts of the same soul is not a union of two identical halves which make one whole. But they complement each other, each of them enriching the other with powers and qualities which hitherto were not possessed by him or her. For the "masculine" and "feminine" parts of the souls have basic differences, reflecting, broadly speaking, the character differences of the sexes. One such difference is what our Sage called "the nature of the male to conquer," i.e., the propensity of the male to conquer new provinces (in business, profession, science, etc.) outside his home. This quality is generally not found in the female. On the other hand, the woman is called in our sacred literature the "Foundation of the House," for within the house her personality and innermost qualities are best expressed and asserted (Psalms 45:14).
It has been mentioned earlier that marriage, in a sense, marks the beginning of a full life. The wedding ceremony reflects this by an allusion to the beginning of all life. The Blessings of Betrothal (Birchoth Hanesuin) also begin with a reference to the creation of the first man, the first woman, and their wedding.
Ever since the Creation of the world, human life has been based on the seven-day cycle. G-d created the world in six days and hallowed the seventh as a day of rest. Man was then commanded to work for six days of the week, but to dedicate the seventh as a Sabbath unto G-d. When a Jew is about to set up a home and begin a full life, it is fitting that this basic principle of a happy life should be symbolized during the wedding ceremony.
Hence the "Seven Days of Feasting," and the "Seven Blessings" (Sheva Berachot). This brings us also to the seven circuits of the bride around the groom.
Bearing the above in mind, as well as the earlier introductory remarks concerning the basic character differences between the male and female, the ceremony of the seven circuits which the bride makes around the groom suggest the following explanation:
The groom, who takes the initiative  in bringing the union to fruition, is initially the center of the new Jewish home. He is the first to take his place under the Chuppah. When the bride is led to the Chuppah, she proceeds to make a circle around the groom. This symbolizes the delineation (in space) of their own world within the outer world, with her husband-to-be as its center. She continues to make circuits one after the other seven times, symbolizing that she, the "Foundation of the House," founds an edifice that would be complete on the first day of each and every week to come as on the second, third, etc., to the end of all times and seasons, a lasting and "eternal edifice" (with the infinity of the "cycle"). Her own contribution to this sacred union is also implied in the fact that she makes the circuits around the groom.
Having completed the seven circuits, she stand besides her husband-to-be in the center of the circle, for after the preparations for the building of their home, both of them, the husband and the wife, form its center. From here on, throughout the entire ceremony both the bride and groom form the center of the holy ceremony, like king and queen surrounded by a suite of honor. Their lives become united into One full and happy life, based on the One Torah given by the One G-d.
With all good wishes and kindest personal regards,
- (Back to text) This does not mean, of course, that it is half a soul in every respect, but in the sense that in some respects, viz. the setting up of a home, an individual is but a "half," and his soul is likewise a "half."
- (Back to text) This is expressed, e.g. by the saying of our Sages that "it is the custom of the man to seek a wife." During the marriage ceremony this is symbolized by the fact that the groom declares "Harei at, etc," (Be thou betrothed unto me, etc.) while the bride remains silent.
20 Cheshvan, 5763 - October 26, 2002
Prohibition 283: A judge may not base his opinion on the opinion of another judge.
This commandment is based on the verse (Exodus 23:2) "You shall not speak in a cause following the many to pervert justice" The Torah commands a judge not to neglect his duty, to investigate the case carefully. He must reach his own decision and cannot rely on the opinion of anyone else.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
When Rabbi Sholom DovBer (the fifth Chabad Rebbe) was a very young child, he came to his grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, to receive a blessing on his birthday.
No sooner had he entered the room than the boy burst into tears. "Why are you crying?" the Rebbe asked his grandson.
"I learned in this week's Torah portion that G-d appeared to Abraham after he performed the mitzva of brit mila (circumcision). Why doesn't G-d appear to me too?" the young child wept in earnest.
The Tzemach Tzedek explained that when a tzadik, a righteous person, decides to circumcise himself at the age of 99, he is truly deserving of G-d's revelation!
There is much to be learned from this story. First and foremost is the power of a positive and well-planned Jewish education. We see from this incident how educating a child in a true Torah way cultivates a fervent desire for holiness and a sincere yearning for G-dliness.
Rather than being pulled to the latest fad, swayed by the newest craze or running to buy catwalk fashions, a Jewish education instills respect for elders, a love of one's fellow, a desire to be kind and charitable, and so much more.
As we stand now on the threshold of the Messianic Era, our longing for the revelation of G-dliness in the world should be just as strong as that of Rabbi Sholom DovBer. May we also demand that G-d appear to us in His full glory with the Final Redemption.
And when he saw them, he ran to meet them (Gen. 18:2)
"Receive every person with a cheerful countenance," declared Shammai, the great Torah Sage. Even if one bestows all the treasures in the world on another, if his face is angry, it is considered as if he gave him nothing. On the other hand, if a person greets his fellow in a friendly manner, even if he gives him nothing it is considered as if he gave him a great fortune.
And Abraham drew near (Gen. 18:3)
Rashi notes that Abraham approached G-d "to speak [with Him] in a harsh manner," to plead that He change His mind and not destroy Sodom. Abraham, the epitome of loving-kindness, saw fit to go against his natural inclination and "speak harshly" with G-d! We learn from this that when it comes to saving lives, either literally or in the spiritual sense, a Jew must pull out all the stops and do all in his power, even if it goes against his very nature.
G-d rained upon Sodom and Gomora brimstone and fire...(Gen. 19:24)
At the present time Sodom remains in its ruined state. However, when Moshiach comes and evil will be completely removed from the earth, Sodom will return to its original state of blessing and beauty, as it says, (Ezek. 16) "And I will return the captivity of Sodom."
And Abraham called the name of his son...Isaac (Yitzchak) (Gen. 21:3)
In the Messianic age, it is specifically of Isaac that we will say "for you are our father" (a verse from the book of Isaiah). The name Yitzchak is an expression of laughter and delight; when Moshiach comes the supernal joy and delight of our present service of G-d will be fully revealed.
(Likutei Sichot, Vol. I)
G-d has made laughter for me; whoever hears it will laugh ("yitzchak") on my account (Gen. 21:6)
"Laughter" refers to the supreme delight that will be revealed to the righteous in the World to Come. The Hebrew name "Yitzchak" ("he will laugh") is in the future tense, alluding to the time when this will take place.
Once, three men - a poor man, a simpleton, and an old bachelor who was both poor and simple - came to Elijah to ask for his blessing.
The first man came to the prophet and said, "I am so poor that I can't even feed and clothe my family. Please, take pity on me, and give me your blessing that I may become wealthy."
Elijah agreed to help him, but on one condition: "When you become rich, and you certainly will, you must promise to give charity and share your wealth with others." The man promised, and Elijah handed him a coin. "This coin will make you rich," assured the prophet. "Don't forget your promise."
The second man came and made his request: "The one thing I desire most in the world is to become a Torah scholar. Please, help me."
Elijah considered his request worthy, but made one condition: "When you become a Torah scholar, you must promise to instruct even the simplest folk who come to you asking to study Torah."
"Of course, I promise," said the man. "It would be my honor and privilege to teach my fellow Jews."
Elijah took a sheet of parchment on which was written the Hebrew alphabet and handed it to the man, saying, "If you study from this page you will certainly become a great scholar. But don't forget your promise." The man parted from the prophet happily clutching the parchment to his chest.
Then the third man approached the prophet. "Master, please take pity on me. I am no longer young. I am very poor and not so bright. Worst of all," said the man, "I'm all alone in the world without a wife. But I won't take just any wife-I will marry only a woman with good sense."
Elijah took pity on the man. "I have the perfect woman for you. But, you must promise to listen to your wife in every matter, all the days of your life." The man agreed and Elijah led him into the depths of the forest. They entered a small hut in the forest where an old woman and her daughter were sitting. "This woman is the perfect wife for you," said the prophet, nodding towards the daughter. Both parties agreed to the marriage and it took place soon after.
Two years passed and Elijah returned to see if the three had kept their promises. First, he visited the opulent home of the formerly poor man. Approaching the huge door, he saw a sign that read: "Beggars and Deliveries to the Rear." Elijah went to the back door and was given a small coin. "I wish to speak with your employer," demanded the prophet. "Not permitted. You can have a coin and a loaf of bread."
"No," insisted Elijah. "I want to see the master of the house!"
"Take two coins and be off!" was the curt response. Still, Elijah stood his ground. In fact, he created such a fuss that the servants had to call the owner.
Elijah asked the man for a more substantial sum, but he just scoffed: "One coin should be enough for you!" Each time he asked, Elijah was rebuffed more violently.
"I see that you don't recognize me and you have forgotten your promise," Elijah said solemnly. "So, you must return my coin."
"Ha! Do you think that silly coin did anything? You can have it back, it's worthless." The man returned the coin and in no time he was poor again.
Next, Elijah went to visit the great yeshiva where the simpleton was now a renowned Torah scholar and dean of the yeshiva. "Pardon me Rabbi, but I would like to learn Torah," the prophet said to the great men.
"Have you studied the entire Talmud and all of its commentaries?"
"No, I haven't had the chance to study, but I want to very much."
"I'm sorry, I don't have time to instruct beginner students. You see, I am the head of the yeshiva, and I have more important things to do!"
Elijah begged the man, but to no avail. Then the prophet said, "I see you don't recognize me. What is more, you haven't kept your promise. You must return my parchment!"
"This parchment is worthless!" the scholar laughed. "Take it." No sooner had the prophet departed, than the head of the yeshiva forgot all of his learning.
Sadly Elijah trudged to the hut of the couple who had been married two years. The wife saw Elijah and told her husband, "We have never been privi-leged to have a guest, and here is a distinguished looking man approaching. Let's take our cow to be slaughtered and serve our guest properly."
The husband could not imagine how they would manage without the cow; they eked out a bare subsistence from her milk. It did not seem to make sense, but he agreed all the same. "If you feel that we should, let's prepare the cow."
Elijah ate and when he finished, he said to the couple, "I see that you have lived according to your promise, and so I have two more gifts for you-a coin and a parchment..."
"We conclude and bring to a close the marriage blessings with the blessing, "...there shall speedily be heard in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, the sound of joy and the sound of happiness, the sound of a groom and the sound of a bride." For this is a blessing that is also an expression of supplication and prayer, as well as a firm assurance, that this shall indeed speedily be so. This shall take place in the course of the true and complete Redemption, through Moshiach.