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We've all seen or been part of a scenario repeated dozens of times. At a family gathering, a synagogue event, a Jewish lecture, a simcha, someone says, "I'm leaving," and moves to get his coat. Twenty minutes later he's still there. Either into an all-new conversation, still hugging the Bubbies and Zeidies, or noticing an old friend/relative he didn't have a chance to chat with yet. This phenomenon transcends gender, age, and country of origin. But it does seem to be particularly prevalent among Jews.
It's called a Jewish good-bye and it seems to go on forever. Because Jews never really say "good-bye." We say "shalom - peace to you." Or we say in Hebrew "Go in peace." One whose background is more Yiddish might say, "fort gezunterheit - travel in health." But we never say "good-bye."
In fact, even were you to scour the modern Hebrew language, you wouldn't find a word for "good-bye." All you'd come up with is "l'hitraot," which means "see ya later." (Some Israelis do say "bye-bye." But pronounced with that decidedly Hebrew accent you know that it's been borrowed from English.)
At a Jewish gathering, private or public, we take a long time to go because, after all, who wants to leave the warm embrace of family-and all Jews truly are one family. All Jews share in each others simchas and each others sorrows.
Is there any basis, though, in Jewish tradition, for this seeming inability to just say "good-bye"?
The Talmud enjoins us, "Whatever your host tells you, do, except leave." One of the commentaries explains that a guest must immediately comply with everything the host tells him to do except when the host tells him it is time to leave. The guest should show the host his reluctance to take leave of his company!
In addition, Jewish teachings encourage us that when we part from a friend, we should share a d'var halacha, meaning a "word of Jewish law." But d'var halacha can also be interpreted as a "word for the way."
So, it's not hard to understand why Jews don't say good-bye. Firstly, we don't really want to leave. Secondly, even when we do realize that we absolutely must leave, we should show our reluctance to leave. And lastly, when we already have our coat on, we should share a thought for the journey (however short) with our friend.
Ultimately, though, one might speculate that not saying "good-bye" has a more eternal and confident message. For, deep within every Jew is the intrinsic belief in better times, the best of times, the times of Moshiach. In that era of peace, prosperity, well-being and knowledge - the Era of the Redemption - we will see the fulfillment of one of the fundamental principles of Jewish belief, the revival of the dead. At that time, we will all be reunited with our loved ones. And when we rejoice in being together again with them, we will fully understand why we never really said, "good-bye."
In this week's Torah portion, Vaetchanan, Moses describes the Revelation at Mount Sinai to the younger generation of Jews who were about to enter the Land of Israel. He describes the voice of G-d, saying: "A great voice, which did not continue." One of the explanations that the Midrash offers for this is that G-d's "voice" did not have an echo.
The Midrash's explanation seems to present a few problems. How does the absence of an echo indicate greatness? If the voice was indeed strong, would it not have produced an echo? Furthermore, why did G-d perform such a miracle? Since miracles are not performed unnecessarily, why would G-d seemingly change the laws of nature just so that His voice would not produce an echo?
An echo is produced when sound waves hit an object. When the sound waves reach an obstacle they are bounced right back. The only condition necessary to produce an echo is that the object which deflects the sound waves must be strong and rigid. If the object is soft and yielding, the sound will just be absorbed and no echo will result.
This physical phenomenon will explain why G-d's voice on Mount Sinai had no echo. When G-d said, "I am the L-rd your G-d," His voice was so overwhelmingly powerful that there was nothing strong enough to deflect the sound. G-d's voice actually penetrated the physical world. Every object in the world, from the inanimate to the higher forms of life, absorbed the G-dly voice and was affected by it.
The phenomenon of the Revelation at Sinai is akin to what will take place when Moshiach comes, which is described in these words: "And the Glory of G-d will be revealed, and all flesh will see." Even our very bodies will be able to perceive G-dliness. So it was at the Revelation; all of physical reality absorbed the Revelation of the G-dly voice.
This is why G-d's voice had no echo. This was no miracle, and the laws of nature were not at all abrogated. It is, indeed, in keeping with physical law that when a sound is absorbed, no echo is produced. And since the voice was totally integrated into physical reality, there was nothing which could bounce the sound back. Therefore, the absence of an echo shows the infinite strength of the voice, rather than the opposite.
This phenomenon did not occur only once in the history of the world. Whenever a Jew studies Torah, the holy voice of Torah penetrates the physical surroundings and elevates the world. Our Sages say that in the Messianic Era, "the very beams of the house will bear witness," for they have been absorbing all the holiness produced when a person learns Torah in his home.
The power of Torah is such that nothing can stand in its way. The world was created in such a manner as to enable the continuing voice of Revelation to penetrate the corporeal world even today.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
A Book Like This We All Need
by Sara Karmely
It was 1979, two years before the Iranian Revolution. Rabbis Sholom Ber Hecht and Hertz Illulian went to Iran from New York at the request of the Rebbe. As part of their mission, they delivered a Tanya, the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy, to Iran's Jewish spiritual leader, Rabbi Yedidia Ezrachian. One month later, Rabbi Ezrachian received a telephone call from Rabbi J.J. Hecht, who had been very involved in efforts to bring as many Iranian Jews as possible to safety in the United States. Rabbi Hecht relayed the Rebbe's instructions to print Tanyas for the Jews in Iran.
By then, most of the Jewish population had fled Iran. It was an extremely dangerous place to live. But Rabbi Ezrachian remained at his post as head of the Jewish community in Iran and the leader of the Rabbinical Court for three more years. The Iranian Moslem Ministers, under the brutal and ruthless Khomeini, issued an edict whose purpose was to purge Iran of anything connected with the Shah of Iran, and to disobey meant a charge of treason and punishment by death.
Rabbi Ezrachian had narrowly escaped death several times already, since there was also a strict edict against anyone and anything that could be perceived to be helping the state of Israel. The death sentence was swiftly and unmercifully carried out upon anyone who dared to disobey that edict. But Rabbi Ezrachian, a scholarly, G-d fearing man, and an ardent chasid of the Rebbe, had been instructed to print Tanyas for the Persian Jews. He did so, but since most of the Persian Jews could not read, write or understand Hebrew, Rabbi Ezrachian was in the process of translating the Tanya into Persian.
One day, Rabbi Ezrachian was in the office of his synagogue in Teheran, Iran, working on his translating of the Tanya. Suddenly there was loud, insistent banging on the door and the unmistakable shouts of the Iranian Taliban. These policemen were known to be violent fanatical Moslem ministers looking for some new Jewish blood to spill, just to prove how loyal they were to their Imam.
When Rabbi Ezrachian opened the door, his heart was racing so fast that he could not think. The office was not a place for these men to search! It contained historical documents connected to the Shah. It contained large gold coins with the Magen David on one side and the Shah's likeness on the other. And worst of all, it was filled with the receipts of the money that people had given to him to donate for charity to Israel. If these receipts were now found, it would be considered aiding the enemy, the Zionist state - and he would surely be shot on the spot.
Numbly, he stood there as the violent, screaming mob of ministers burst into his office. They immediately started to pull open doors to closets, and dump out files. Any minute they would find the receipts and then.... the Rabbi understood what was about to take place, and recited his final prayers. As the strength started to leave his body, Rabbi Ezrachian prayed to G-d. He saw certain death before his eyes, and prepared to meet his Maker.
Suddenly, one of the ministers pounced on a Tanya. He leafed through it but of course could not read the Hebrew. Roughly he asked Rabbi Ezrachian what it was, and what it said. "It is a holy book, and I am translating it into Farsi," stammered Rabbi Ezrachian, praying silently that the merit of the Tanya would somehow save him. Opening the book at random, the radical ordered the pale, trembling rabbi to translate it exactly as it was written.
Rabbi Ezrachian did as he was told. He stood there and translated it faithfully, and after translating ten pages, he was quietly ordered to stop. The ministers, who had all stopped their raiding in order to listen, now stood in silent awe. Reverently, their leader took the Tanya, gently touched it to his eyes, and then kissed it. (A Persian custom to show respect). "A book like this we all need," he said. He sternly told everyone that they need search no longer, because it was obvious that they were with a man who honored "Allah." Moreover, a special edict was written to protect Rabbi Ezrachian from any form of persecution in the future as well as to allow the Rabbi to continue to translate the holy book with no more disturbances!
After they left, Rabbi Ezrachian fell to the ground in a faint. He soon regained consciousness, but found it difficult, at first, to grasp the fact that he was still alive! They had not discovered the receipts, or the letters from Israel saying that they had received the moneys sent to them. Even just one of those documents would have meant certain death, let alone a full filing cabinet of them. They had listened respectfully to ten pages of Tanya in Farsi. And he had an edict of protection issued by the Taliban radicals themselves! On the following Shabbat, Rabbi Ezrachian said the special "Gomel" prayer thanking G-d for saving him from death.
Rabbi Ezrachian visited the U.S. a few years later. At his first private audience with the Rebbe Rabbi Ezrachian was so overwhelmed that tears rolled down his cheeks. The Rebbe told him, "Serve G-d with joy!" Rabbi Ezrachian replied, "These are tears of happiness." They spoke together for a long time, and then Rabbi Ezrachian said to the Rebbe, "The Jews who are in Iran are in physical danger, and the Jews who have left Iran are in spiritual danger. I am so worried about them." Tears came to his eyes once again when the Rebbe answered, gently and sincerely, "So let us pray for them together." They held each other's hands and prayed for the Iranian Jews.
Rabbi Ezrachian had many other private audiences with the Rebbe. Each time, he tried his utmost to fulfill what the Rebbe wanted from him. Rabbi Ezrachian has translated the Abridged Code of Jewish Law, the prayer book, Psalms, as well as five other books of the Bible. The Rebbe personally checked several of the translations, though not all.
After leaving Iran, Rabbi Ezrachian lived in Israel for a while before moving to Great Neck, New York.
Reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter
This newest release from HaChai Publishing is an adorable book that can help children stop being fearful about going to bed. Dovid has trouble settling down to go to sleep. He keeps calling Mommy and asking for all kinds of things. But what does Dovid really need to have a happy bedtime? By Nechama Dina Adelman, illustrated by Fayge Devorah Blau.
This letter was written to a scientist in 1976
Greeting and Blessing:
It was a pleasure to see you recently with your family.
Pursuant to our conversation and my question if you had any connections with NASA, I do not have in mind about a position with that agency, but rather if there was any possibility of your exercising your good influence there in regard to spreading Yiddishkeit [Judaism].
What prompted me to ask this question was the fact that I had recently received the book Challenge - Torah Views on Science and Its Problems, edited by Aryeh Carmell and Cyril Domb (published by Feldheim).
I was certain that I would find in this book an essay by you, but I was disappointed.
Needless to say - and it is a well known principle - that it is no use crying over the past. If I mention my said disappointment, it is not to make you feel uncomfortable, but to call your attention to the fact that since there will no doubt be a further book of this kind, it would be well for you to maintain contact with the persons or circles that are connected with it so that you would have advance notice to be able to participate.
Furthermore, I am not thinking in terms of the distant future, but also of the shorter term, and the sooner the better. For, if you will look through this volume, you will no doubt find something to say to the editors, especially as among the contributors you will probably find some whom you know personally.
I mention NASA, etc., because Yiddishkeit should be brought to each and every Jew, particularly in the current year of Torah education, when everyone is urged to do the utmost to bring the Torah and Torah commandments to all Jews, young and old, including those who are advanced in years but still young in the knowledge and experience of Judaism.
All the more so since space technology, and the space flights, including the latest Viking probes on Mars, have made a profound impression upon wide circles of Jews, being also constantly bombarded by the media with the visual effects of photographs, etc. Consequently, if all this can be used in the right direction, by finding and pointing out those aspects which may have a bearing on Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments], the psychological effect in promoting the actual observance of the Torah commandments in the daily life could be tremendous. This would be well in keeping with the directive.
Inasmuch as you have had so much experience and success with various circles of Jewish youth, there is no need to elaborate to you on the above.
May G-d bestow His blessings on you and yours in a most generous measure, especially that you and your wife should bring up each and all of your children to a life of Torah, wedding and Good Deeds, in good health and happy circumstances.
Wishing you and all yours to be written and inscribed for good,
12 Av, 5763 - August 10, 2003
Positive Mitzva 245: Conducting Business
This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 25:14) "If you sell something to your neighbor, or buy something from your neighbor." The Torah deals with every aspect of our lives; not only with the way we pray and study, but also the manner in which we carry out our business. This Positive mitzva establishes guidelines for our business dealings and governs the way we buy, sell, and transfer ownership of property. These guidelines include writing business contracts, paying for goods with money, or exchanging one item for another.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Tu B'Av, the 15th of the Hebrew month of Av, occurs this Wednesday. "There were no greater festivals in Israel than Tu B'Av (the 15th of Av) and Yom Kippur," the Mishna tells us. What is so special about Tu B'Av that it is singled out together with Yom Kippur from all the other festivals?
A number of events in Jewish history took place on the fifteenth of Av. They were: 1) The tribe of Benjamin was permitted once again to marry the remainder of the Jewish people; 2) The Generation of the Desert ceased to die; they had previously been condemned to perish in the desert because of the sin of the spies; 3) Hoshea Ben Elah removed the blockades that the rebel Jereboam had set up to prevent the Jews from going to Jerusalem for the festivals; 4) The cutting of the wood for the Holy Altar was completed; 5) Permission was granted by the Romans to bury the slain of Betar.
These five events in themselves do not seem adequate enough reason to make Tu B'Av a festival greater than any other. There is another, all-encompassing reason.
There is another occasion of note in the month of Av, the ninth. Tisha B'Av is the day when the two Holy Temples were destroyed, signaling the start of the long exile we are still enduring-tragedies which were the result of the Jews' transgressions. Tisha B'Av is the nadir of Jewish physical and spiritual life.
But these tragedies are not for naught. "Descent is for the purpose of ascent," and the deeper the descent, correspondingly greater will be the ascent that follows. It is specifically after the awesome decline of Tisha B'Av that we can reach the loftiest heights, heights that would otherwise be inaccessible.
The five festive events on Tu B'Av, then, are the counterpart to five tragic events that took place on Tisha B'Av. Tu B'Av transforms the evil of Tisha B'Av to the greatest good - "there were no greater festivals in Israel than Tu B'Av." The ultimate goal of the tragedies of the month of Av is that they should be transformed into a greater good-the supreme festival of Tu B'Av.
You shall not add to that which I have commanded you nor shall you subtract from it, to observe the command of G-d (Deuteronomy 4:2).
The Torah is called the "prescription of life"-a medicine able to purify those who take it. That is why we are warned not to add and not to subtract from the Torah's words. A prescription drug is a precise mixture of various substances, and changing the proportions can have toxic effects. So, too, are the commandments of the Torah given in the exact and correct proportions, and to change even a word has a deleterious effect.
(Rabbi Yonatan Eibeshutz)
The purpose of the "Enlightenment" was to reform the Torah and mitzvot. One of the proponents of that approach once suggested to Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer that it was necessary to change certain detailed practices to make the observance of the commandments easier. Rabbi Hidesheimer replied "That is the meaning of the [above-mentioned] verse. Even when your purpose is to observe the command of G-d, you still may not subtract."
"In the heavens above and on the earth below" (Deut. 4:39).
When contemplating one's heavenly or spiritual condition one should look "above" to those who have attained a higher level; one can never be satisfied. However in "earthly" matters of wealth and so on, one should look "below," to the less fortunate, and be thankful for the blessings one has.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
I stand between your G-d and you (Deut. 5:5).
Early chasidim used to explain that the "I," the awareness of self, the ego, stands between the person and his efforts to come closer to G-d.
A Jew came to the rabbi of his town with a problem. "I don't know what to do. I really hate my wife. It seems like she is always doing things to aggravate me." In shame, the man continued, "Sometimes I even think of killing her!"
The wise rabbi looked at the man pensively. "How long have you felt this way?"
"Almost since the time we married," replied the man. "It wasn't so bad at first. But when she irritated me, I found it impossible to behave nicely or civilly toward her. And now, I dream of being rid of her forever."
The rabbi stroked his beard and then said, "You know, there is a way you can kill her without even being held responsible!"
The man's eyes opened wide. Never had he expected the rabbi to be an accomplice, but he needed all the help he could get. "Tell me, rabbi, what can I do?"
"Well," explained the rabbi to the simple man, "the Midrash tells us that if a man pledges a large sum of money to charity and doesn't pay it, his punishment will be that his wife will die. All you need to do is pledge a large sum of money to the shul and not pay it! Within a year, I assure you, your wife will be dead."
The man was overjoyed with his good fortune of having such an understanding and wise rabbi.
"But," added the rabbi, "You wouldn't want anyone to think that you are not paying the pledge intentionally to kill your wife. You wouldn't want G-d to think that either, would you?"
The man nodded his head. "What should I do, rabbi?"
"Well," began the rabbi. "For starters, you must treat your wife exceptionally well for the next few months."
The man was horrified. "Rabbi, I don't even treat my wife a little bit nicely because, as I told you, I can't stand her. And now, you want me to behave exceptionally kindly toward her?"
"It's the least you can do so that people don't think you're killing her intentionally, isn't it?"
The man nodded and the rabbi continued. "First, buy her a new dress. How long has it been since she's gotten a new dress?"
The man acknowledged that his wife hadn't gotten a new dress since they were married seven years previously. "And also," the rabbi continued, "make sure to give her a little spending money."
The man rolled his eyes. "She always complains that she doesn't have enough money to make good meals. But I know it's just an excuse to upset me!"
The rabbi smiled and added, "Say something nice to her once in a while. Even compliment her in public, just so that people will think you really like her, of course," the rabbi added conspiratorally.
The man left the rabbi's study beaming. He immediately made a large pledge to a charitable organization and began counting the hours until he'd be rid of his wife. He did follow the rabbi's advice, though, and went out to buy his wife a new dress. She, of course, could not understand her husband's change of heart. When he also gave her some "pocket money," she went to the market and purchased some nice fruits and vegetables, even a bit of meat. She prepared a delicious meal to show her appreciation.
Weeks passed, with the man marking off the days on his calendar and simultaneously behaving decently, for once, toward his wife.
At the end of two months, the man stopped marking his calendar. He and his wife were happier than they had ever been during their entire marriage. The more pleasant the husband was, the more he complimented his wife and tried to help her, the more she tried to please him in every way.
After a half year had passed, the husband had totally forgotten about his little conversation and "arrangement" with the rabbi. It wasn't until the year was nearly up, when he remembered about the pledge and the repercussions if it wasn't paid. He immediately ran to the rabbi.
"Rabbi, the year is nearly up and I still haven't paid the pledge," the man said frantically.
"Nu," said the rabbi. "Soon you will have peace and quiet. What are you worried about?"
"You don't understand, rabbi. I love my wife. She is the most wonderful person in the world. She can never do enough to please me and I get such pleasure from doing things that make her happy. I don't want her to die!"
"Oh my, that is a problem," replied the rabbi. "Your only choice then, is to pay the pledge."
"But Rabbi, I pledged an huge sum, something I could never possibly pay!"
"You must borrow the money then, and pay it out little by little. I will even give you a note of recommendation to some free-loan funds," offered the rabbi. "After all, it is a matter of life and death!"
"I don't know how I can ever thank you," the relieved husband told the rabbi. "Certainly that my wife should remain alive is worth all the money in the world!"
The man borrowed the money to pay the pledge. Every month he paid back a little of the money he borrowed and they lived happily ever after.
"Nachamu, Nachamu Ami- Comfort, I will comfort My people" G-d promises the Jewish people in the Haftorah we read this Shabbat. On the Shabbat after Tisha B'Av, the day on which we commemorated the destruction of the First and Second Holy Temples, G-d promises us that the rebuilding of the Third and eternal Holy Temple will also serve as a complete and perfect comfort for all of the destruction that took place throughout Jewish history.