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In the past hundred years we've gained a lot of insights about our health and lifestyle because we've been able to see inside the body. Physicians have been able to watch how the body works, first in a series of static pictures or "snapshots" and then advancing to the equivalent of movies. With some of the latest technology, doctors and researchers can observe the body's internal movements and interactions in real time.
It began in 1895 when Wilhelm Roentgen discovered that "x-rays" could take "pictures" of the bones. Not only did this reduce diagnostic cutting it also increased diagnostic accuracy. Suddenly doctors could see from the outset what and where the problem was; even the initial incisions were more efficient, not to mention the increased effectiveness of the whole surgical procedure.
Still, X-rays were rather crude, able only to give the outline of bones and the more massive organs. But in the past hundred years there have been a lot of refinements. Sonograms, for instance, reveal a lot of the body's internal dynamics. What a wonder of modern science - a testament to the miracle of life - to watch the heartbeat of one's unborn child or see it suck its thumb.
Other devices let scientists and doctors stare into the deepest layers of our existence. CT scans and magnetic resonance imaging reveal how the blood flows, how the brain reacts to pain, to pleasure, to thoughts and memories. They reveal small problems, G-d forbid, before they begin to enlarge. With these devices doctors can not only see inside bones, the heart and the lungs, they can see inside blood vessels and operate "in miniature" on veins and nerves.
Is such seeing artificial? No more so than microscopes, telescopes - or glasses. X-rays, CT scans, MRIs allow us to see an inner reality. They extend our vision, giving us a deeper perception of the magnitude, the complexity, the order and beauty of the physical world. When we look through their lenses, what we see is truly there. We have gained a new sense and a new insight.
Our spiritual vision can also be extended. As we mature, as we experience the world, as we encounter goodness, kindness, holiness and wisdom, our insight into the nature of nature and the nature of man expands, changes and deepens. We see relationships and inter-relationships, causes and effects, interactions and catalysts in a whole new "light."
When looking through a CT scan or an MRI we can see how tenuous are the barriers between a cell wall and the bloodstream, between a nerve cell and its muscle. That which is distinct on one level, at one magnification, becomes blurred and interwoven on the next. Discrete entities become auras or fields, interchanging elements at the edges.
So, too, when we become more spiritually sensitive we recognize an interdependence with others that transcends individual significance or accomplishment. We also recognize the paradox of being created, of being but an expression of G-dliness: on the one hand, we are not discrete or distinct but simply a movement, a letter of a word that G-d exhales. On the other, each of us manifests, after many transformations, reductions and concealments, an aspect of the Divine Will.
The advent of modern technology parallels and foreshadows Isaiah's pro-phecy that "Is it not a little while . . . and the eyes of the blind shall see?" (29:17-18). After all, the physical simply reflects and expresses the spiritual, as words express thoughts and our external appearance reflects the complex of motions, systems and biochemical reactions that compose our true, invisible selves. Is it not a little while until the "technology" of Torah and mitzvot (commandments), of acts of goodness and kindness will enable us to see truly, to perceive the inner G-dliness within ourselves, within each other, indeed, within all of existence? For when Moshiach comes, we won't need CT scans or MRIs because "then the eyes of the blind shall be opened" (Isaiah 35:5) when (as we pray thrice daily) "our eyes behold Your return to Zion in mercy."
This week's Torah portion, Toldot, describes the life of our Patriarch Isaac. The Talmud teaches that in the Messianic Era, Isaac will be referred to as "our father," implying that it is Isaac from among our Patriarchs who has a special connection to the Messianic Era. As we now stand at the threshold of the Redemption of the Jewish people, it is important to understand what exactly Isaac's path and service mean for us.
Isaac was the only one of our Patriarchs who lived his entire life in the Land of Israel. Abraham was born outside of Israel and also left Israel to go to Egypt when a famine threatened. Jacob, too, left Israel to work for Laban.
However, when there was another famine in the Land during Isaac's lifetime, G-d commanded him to stay where he was and not to seek food elsewhere. "Do not go down to Egypt, but dwell in this land...and I will bless you." This is because after having shown his willingness to be sacrificed on the altar by his father Abraham, Isaac was considered a "perfect offering," too holy to dwell anywhere but in the Holy Land.
Isaac, therefore, symbolizes the Jewish people as they were meant to be, and as they will exist in the Messianic Era, their rightful place being in their land and not in exile in the four corners of the earth. During our present exile, we are like "children who have been banished from their father's table." We must therefore continue to demand that G-d send the redeemer now, so that we will be able to emulate Isaac and live a full life of Torah and mitzvot in our own land, as we were meant to.
Isaac's approach to the service of G-d is also especially applicable to us today. Even though Isaac continued in his father Abraham's path of spreading the belief in G-d throughout the world, he did so in a different manner from his father: Abraham wandered from place to place, including Egypt, spreading G-dliness wherever he went. Isaac, on the other hand, always remained in the same place, in Israel, yet others flocked to him because they were attracted by his holiness. In this way Isaac was able to influence others.
For the most part, the Jewish people have followed Abraham's example during their long exile, wandering from country to country and causing G-d's name to be called on wherever they went. After Moshiach comes, however, we will follow in Isaac's footsteps, as G-d's holiness and light will emanate from the Third Holy Temple in Jerusalem. And at that time, as happened in the days of Isaac, all the nations of the world will likewise flock to Jerusalem, as it states, "And all nations shall flow unto it...for the Torah shall go forth out of Zion."
We must, in the meantime, combine aspects of both these approaches, refining our own personal spirituality, yet at the same time, not neglecting to spread holiness throughout the world at large.
Adapted from a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Parshat Toldot 1991
Wake Up and Smell the Davening
by Steve Hyatt
The morning sun was just moments away from making its spectacular debut as my wife Linda and I made our way through the cavernous walkway of the B terminal at the Reno-Tahoe International airport. On this particular morning we were beginning the daylong journey to Linda's hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Our ambitious travel schedule called for a 6:00 a.m. flight.
The day before the trip I had opened my newspaper and turned to the weather page to check out the next day's forecast for Reno and Pittsburgh. As I scanned the page I was chagrined to discover that sunrise would be at 5:45 a.m. I immediately picked up the phone and called my local Chabad Rabbi Mendel Cunin. I asked him how early one can begin saying the morning prayers. He informed me that Jewish law dictates one cannot start davening (praying) until 52 minutes before sunrise. As I hung up panic enveloped me. I did a quick calculation and realized our early morning departure would preclude me from davening within the comfortable confines of my home before leaving for the airport.
The realization that I might have to put on my talit and tefilin in front of hundreds if not thousands of strangers was almost more than I could endure. Concerned, I called Rabbi Cunin again, pleading for some sort of special dispensation. He told me that to do it right, I couldn't begin davening until after I arrived at the airport. He said if I was uncomfortable doing so, I could always wait and daven on the plane. "Thanks Rabbi, that suggestion is a whole lot better," I thought to myself.
As I sat in my home the night before the journey, wondering what I was going to do, the words of my good friend and mentor Rabbi Chuni Vogel of Chabad of Delaware sprang into my mind. On many, many occasions he has reminded me, "Shlomo Yakov, no one ever said a mitzva (commandment) HAD to be easy!" My mind screamed out, "Yea but no one ever said you had to do it in front of a thousand stressed-out business travelers, tired vacationers, screaming kids and no-nonsense flight crews either."
We arrived in good time at the airport the next morning. By the time we finally made our way through security I had convinced myself that I'd just have to wait to daven until I arrived that afternoon at my father-in-law's home in Pittsburgh. As I sat down in the crowded terminal, Linda looked at me and said, "We've got about 90 minutes before we board the plane, aren't you going to find a place to daven?"
Frankly, I didn't know what to say. There she was looking at me with inquiring eyes, and all I wanted to do was run screaming from the airport because I was afraid of looking foolish in front of strangers. Once again Rabbi Vogel's sagacious advice popped into my mind, "Shlomo Yakov, no one ever said a mitzva had to be easy." I looked at my wife, I contemplated the Rabbi's words once again, and I reluctantly went to find a "quiet" spot in the airport. As I walked around the terminal I calculated that I was surrounded by more than 100,000 square feet of space. Yet as I gazed off into the distance I didn't see a single area that wasn't filled to the brim with people.
Walking on, I noticed that the coffee shop hadn't yet opened. There was a large area adjacent to the shop that was totally unoccupied. I put on my talit, placed my tefilin on my arm and head, and with a smile on my face and a prayer of thanks to G-d for providing this vacant spot I started davening.
As I swayed back and forth, I literally forgot where I was. I was no longer cognizant of what was going on around me and my self-consciousness had quickly dissipated. I kept turning the pages, reciting the familiar words and reveled in the opportunity to properly fulfill the mitzva. "What was I so afraid of" I asked myself. This, as we like to say in the Hyatt household, was a piece of kugel!
When I concluded my prayers and lowered my talit from my head I was surprised by what I saw. The coffee shop had opened for business and I was now completely surrounded by at least 100 early-morning pastry-munching, coffee-drinking, newspaper-reading patrons. Not only had I failed to find a quiet spot in the airport, I had somehow managed to find the busiest place, other than the security gate, in which to conduct my business.
I stood there feeling like a statue in a museum; I couldn't help but notice that not one of the patrons was paying the slightest bit of attention to me. While they probably had taken a quick glance when they first strolled in, it was immediately apparent that they were more interested in the morning's headlines and the taste of their French-roast coffee than they were in me. Realizing that it was almost time to board the plane to Pittsburgh, I made my way back to the gate.
As I walked through the crowded terminal, I marvelled at the fact that I had found the vacant area when I did. I was convinced that if I had arrived even ten minutes later, I would have seen the huge coffee crowd and moved on. I probably would have given into my fears, never davened that morning and felt guilty for the rest of the day. Instead, G-d presented me with an opportunity to face my fears, overcome them, learn an important lesson and complete the mitzva. I discovered that the only thing standing between me and my desire to live a more observant Jewish life was me.
Since discovering Chabad I've had countless "spiritual" experiences. Some were easy and others were more challenging. Yet in each case, the joy and satisfaction I felt after accomplishing something that I had never dreamed I could do, was extraordinary. My recent experience taught me that the joy of fulfilling the mitzva far outweighed the momentary discomfort of the challenge.
With a smile on my face and a song in my heart I strolled up to the gate. Linda looked up from her newspaper and asked, "So did you have any trouble finding a quiet place to daven?" With grin I said, "No problem at all, it was a piece of kugel."
Conference on Torah and Science
The Fifth Miami International Conference on Torah and Science, entitled, "Absolute Standards in an Age of Relatively" will take place on Dec. 16-18 at the Kovens Conference Center of the Florida International University, in Miami, Florida. The conference will be followed by a Shabbaton at the Shul of Bal Harbour. The conference is sponsored by the Shul of Bal Harbour, the Department of Religious Studies: Florida International University, the Aleph Institute of Miami as well as B'Or Ha'Torah Journal of Science, Art and Modern Life. To submit a paper contact firstname.lastname@example.org. For all other information about the conference contact Miriam Gitman at (305) 868-1411 or email@example.com
11th of Kislev, 5735 
Blessing and Greeting:
Your letter of the 12th of Cheshvan reached me with some delay.
...In reply to your question: It is written, "Increasing knowledge increases pain." One of the explanations of this is as follows: A fool may altogether be unaware that he lacks anything, and he may therefore be satisfied with himself, or, as the saying goes, lives in a Fool's Paradise. But the person who strives to increase his or her knowledge of Yiddishkeit [Judaism] and increasingly appreciates the great good and precious-ness of Torah and Mitzvos, finds that with the increase of this knowledge increases also the longing and thirst for more and more of all of it; hence the impatience and dissatisfaction with oneself, etc. These are the natural "growing pains" of spiritual advancement ...
14th of Kislev, 5717 
Students of the Talmud Torah of Congregation Adas Jeshurun
Greeting and Blessing:
I received your letter in which you express your desire to be blessed with success in your study of the Holy Torah and also that your parents should be blessed in all their needs.
Since you desire such blessings, I take it that you, on your part, are doing all you can to help in the fulfillment of these blessings. By that I mean that you are studying with diligence and devotion, and are conducting yourselves in the way Jewish children should. In this way I am sure that the promise of our Sages, "He who tries hard, succeeds," will be fulfilled in your case. In this way also you will do a great deal that your dear parents enjoy good health and well-being and real joy from you.
I was glad to see that you have remembered the poor and needy children, and have sent a donation for them. Your donation has gone to help the needy children in our educational institutions in the Holy Land. I hope that, together with this financial Tzedoko [charity], you also do spiritual Tzedoko, that is to say, using your good influence on your friends, that they too, study with diligence, and even children who do not as yet get the same good education as you get, may be persuaded to join you in the Talmud Torah, for if they will admire you, they will want to be like you.
the date of this letter was available
Blessing and Greeting:
Your letter of October 4th duly reached me, but owing to pressure of work I was unable to acknowledge it sooner.
I wonder why you do not mention anything about your health. I presume it is a sign that you are enjoying good health, and I trust you will continue to do so.
I trust that you have learned to take your personal problem in stride and you are not reacting to it as acutely as before. In time you will realize that it should never have given you so much anxiety in the first place, and that "This is also for good," as our Sages said.
With regard to the question of furthering the cause of Chassidism, the first thing that everybody can and must do is to exercise a beneficial influence on the environment. This is so urgent that at times one cannot weigh one's own merits but simultaneously with improving one's self it is necessary to try to benefit the other by spreading the light of the Torah in general and of Chassidim in particular. Experience has also shown that in endeavoring to enrich the other spirituality, one becomes more receptive to spiritual influence himself. The important thing is that such endeavor should not remain confined to the intellect, but should be translated into practical experience, in thought, word and action of everyday life.
As I told you when you were here, one should not worry too much about personal problems, for we have a great G-d, Whose Divine Providence guides the whole universe, and the small universe (microcosm) of each and every individual. Thus it often happens that difficulties that at first seem insur-mountable, or goals unattainable prove an illusion, and achievements are made sometimes even without undue exertion.
Wishing you harmonious well-being, and looking forward to hearing from you good news in every way,
3 Kislev, 5763 - November 8, 2002
Prohibition 285: It is forbidden to testify falsely
This prohibition is based on the verse (Ex. 20:13) "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." We are forbidden to act as false witnesses and declare that something is true when we know that what we are saying is a lie.
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.
That my soul may bless you (Gen. 27:4)
Why did Isaac want to bless Esau instead of Jacob? Jacob was "a pure man, a dweller in tents (of Torah)" and even without a blessing he would stay away from evil. Esau, however, was very likely to fall into bad ways, and needed the assistance of his father's blessing.
And you shall stay with him a short time ... until your brother's fury turns away ... until your brother's anger turns away (Gen. 27:44, 45)
Rebecca advised her son Jacob what to do: "Run away to my brother Laban and wait until your brother gets over his anger. How will you know when that time has arrived and he is no longer angry at you? When you yourself stop holding a grudge against him." Rebecca understood the reciprocity of human emotions: Love is reciprocated with love, and hatred elicits a like response in others.
And one people shall be stronger than the other (Gen. 25:23)
Rashi comments: When one rises, the other falls. Jacob and Esau symbolize the struggle between the G-dly soul and the animal soul, between a person's good and evil inclinations. When a Jew's G-dly soul is dominant and exerts itself, there is no need to combat the animal soul - it "falls" by itself. Light does not have to fight darkness to illuminate - as soon as it appears, the darkness vanishes. So too, does the light of holiness dispel all evil.
Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you (Gen. 26:3)
The Torah uses the word "sojourn" instead of "dwell" to teach us that one must always consider oneself a temporary resident of this world. "The Shechina (G-dly presence) does not move away from one who considers himself a stranger in this world," we are taught. The second part of G-d's promise, "I will be with you," will be fulfilled when Jacob thinks of himself in this manner.
And they departed from him in peace (Gen. 26:31)
Even after having partaken of a meal with the tzadik, Isaac, Avimelech still departed convinced of his own self-importance. This is something that a Jew would have been unable to do. A Jew, when in the presence of a tzadik, realizes his own shortcomings and is humbled.
He summoned his older son, Esau. (Gen. 27:1)
Isaac intended to reveal to Esau the day Moshiach would come, in the hope that it would cause him to leave his evil ways. At that very moment G-d hid it from Isaac and said, "In the future I will conceal this information from Jacob's sons because they aren't deserving, and I should let it be known to this wicked man, Esau?"
Long ago there lived a king who had, as his closest friend and advisor, the Chief Rabbi of the Jewish community. Often, the king would call the rabbi to his palace and discuss with him all kinds of matters pertaining to the ruling of his country. At times, the king would question the Rabbi about Torah and Judaism. The rabbi answered all the king's questions patiently and wisely.
One day, the king called in his friend. The rabbi could see that the king looked quite agitated. "I have a question that has been bothering me for some time now. I have failed to find a satisfactory answer."
"Ask, your Highness," said the Rabbi, "and with G-d's help I will be able to answer."
"While studying your religion," began the king, "I have learned that one of your basic tenets is to believe in G-d who created the heavens and the earth. Now, my dear Rabbi," the king continued, "before we can believe that G-d created the world, we have to be sure that there is a G-d. What proof do we have that G-d created the world? Perhaps it came about by itself."
While the king posed these questions, he accidently brushed his elbow against a bottle of ink that was on his desk. The bottle turned over and the ink spilled out, blotting up the papers that were near the ink bottle and spilling on the king's royal garments.
The king jumped up from his seat. He asked that the rabbi wait while he left the room to change his clothing and excused himself.
As soon as the king left the room, the rabbi swiftly took the ink-filled papers off the king's desk and threw them away. The rabbi then took a clean sheet of paper and quickly began drawing a picture of lofty mountains, tall trees, a river, and beautiful flower gardens. As soon as he finished drawing the picture, he placed it on the desk right next to the overturned ink bottle, making it appear as thought the ink had spilled on the paper.
The rabbi repositioned himself in his chair and calmly awaited the king's return. Soon, the king returned to the room, and immediately noticed the beautiful drawing on his desk.
"What is this?" asked the king in surprise. "Who drew this beautiful scene?"
The rabbi looked at the king innocently and said, "When the ink spilled all over your majesty's desk it made this picture!"
"Come now," cried out the king, "certainly you are smarter than that. How could you say such a thing? Why, a magnificent drawing like this cannot happen by itself. Surely someone drew this breathtaking landscape."
"Please come with me onto the balcony," offered the rabbi. Once outside, the rabbi began, "Your majesty, tell me, where did all of these tall trees come from? Who formed these high mountains? And look at the beautiful flowers in your gardens below, who made them?"
The king nodded thoughtfully. The Rabbi continued, "Just a few moments ago, the king himself proclaimed that it would be foolish to say that anything came about by itself. Obviously, it was I who drew the picture found on your desk in an attempt to prove that G-d created the whole world. For who or what, if not G-d, made the heavens, the sun, moon and stars? Who filled the deep oceans and formed the lofty mountains? The answer is as 'black and white' as that drawing on your desk."
The king was impressed and satisfied with his friend's sagacious answer. For many years he continued to enjoy the rabbi's sharp wisdom and perception.
Just before the Redemption, all deep secrets - including the timing of the Redemption - will be revealed, even to children.
(Zohar, Bereishit 118:1)