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Retro kitchen appliances, faux fur, milk substitutes, microsuede, knock-offs, botax. Let's face it, a lot of what we come in contact with these days is trying to be something that it's not.
So what's wrong with fake?
Nothing! In fact, faking it can bring unexpectedly positive results.
A group of disciples of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism, were annoyed to note that one of their colleagues seemed to be an adept faker. When he prayed, oh how he swayed and intoned and reflected. But the disciples knew that it was all an act. And when he studied, oh how he shtieged and concentrated and delved and probed. But the disciples knew that it was all a sham.
Annoyed that they had an imposter in their midst and wondering how the situation could be remedied, the disciples went to Rabbi Shneur Zalman to ask the Rebbe's advice.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman thought for a moment and then declared, "His end has already been predicted!"
The disciples trembled. They had meant their fellow chasid no harm. They had hoped to gain some insight into how to aid their fellow chasid. But Rabbi Shneur Zalman's sentence sounded ominous.
And then, the Rebbe continued. "The Talmud states (Ketubot, 68a) that one who pretends to be afflicted with a condition will not pass from this world until he is afflicted with that condition. If one accepts charity and is not in need of it, he will not pass from this world until he comes to such a condition. So, too, with this young man. If he feigns to pray properly and he makes believe that he is studying assiduously, he will eventually do both!"
But we don't have to take an example from a wannabe Torah scholar. We can look to G-d, Himself, as the ultimate Being to copy. For Jewish teachings bid us, "Just as He is gracious so shall you be gracious, just as He is compassionate, so shall you be compassionate, just as He is called holy, so shall you be called holy." (Maimonides, Laws of Knowledge)
The High holidays have passed. Hopefully, we were all inspired to make good resolutions for the upcoming year. How about starting this coming Shabbat, when we read the very first portion of the entire Torah, Breishit. Concerning Shabbat Breishit, Jewish teachings explain that the attitude that we have on this Shabbat affects the entire upcoming year.
On this Shabbat, take some time to be happy and you'll have a happy year. You're not happy? Fake it!
On this Shabbat, take some time to be grateful and you'll have a year to be grateful for. You're not grateful? Fake it!
On this Shabbat, be inspired, be holy, be overtly Jewish, be gracious, be kind, be loving (loving others and yourself), be wise, be judicious, be G-dly, be helpful, be funny, be peaceful and peaceable. Or at least pretend to be.
And may G-d do His part to assure that the Talmud's prediction be fulfilled and that we are all truly inspired, holy, gracious, kind, loving, wise, judicious, G-dly, helpful, funny, peaceful and peaceable, for real!
This week's Torah reading, Breishit, recounts the narrative of creation; how G-d brought the world into being from absolute nothingness. This is not merely a story of the past. Firstly, on an mystic level, creation is a continuous process. Since the world was brought into being from absolute nothingness, nothingness is its true nature. The fact that it exists comes only as a result of G-d's kindness. He brings the entire cosmos into being every moment, and every moment of existence is a reenactment of the very first moment of creation.
But beyond the abstract, this concept provides a practical lesson in the personal world of every individual. The Torah portion of Bereishit is an experience of renewal. Every person has the chance to recreate himself anew, to establish a new outlook on the way he approaches life experience. In that vein, our Rabbis said: "The stance which a person adopts on Shabbat Bereishit determines the manner in which he will proceed throughout the coming year."
Our Sages teach: "G-d looked into the Torah and created the world. Man looks into the Torah and maintains the world." The Torah serves as the blueprint for creation; it is the treasure store for the principles and patterns on which our existence is based. Similarly, in the personal sense, the Torah can provide us with guidelines for our individual process of renewal. Each one of us can use the Torah to help us redefine our existence and develop a new means of relating to our environment.
When we study a portion of the Torah's wisdom, be it a law, a story, or a philosophical or ethical concept, we are not just collecting information. Instead, we are uniting our minds with G-d's wisdom. He is the author of those laws, stories, and concepts. Through this study, we are aligning our minds - and through them, our entire personalities - to function in accordance with G-d's wisdom and desires.
For learning brings about, and on a deeper level, is itself a change in behavior. Just as learning to talk gives a child new tools for self-expression, learning such wisdom gives a person new tools for appreciating the nature of the world we live in and relating to the people and situations around him.
In this manner, studying the Torah gives a person the means to go beyond his individual subjectivity. He becomes less concerned with what he wants and what he thinks is correct, and instead, focuses on what is true. He begins defining the way he responds to others according to the objective standards that G-d has laid down. Our own horizons of growth are limited, for on his own, a person is capable of seeing only so far. The study of the Torah opens us up to new vistas beyond our own conceptions and enables us to internalize these levels within our personalities.
Moreover, this study grants a person new vitality and energy that extends far beyond the intellect. G-d has invested Himself in the Torah; therefore, when a person is studying the Torah, he is not merely establishing a connection with G-d's wisdom, he is establishing a bond with G-d Himself. This taps an unlimited fountain of energy that enriches all of his activities and pursuits.
From Keeping in Touch by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, inspired by the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
People of the Book
by Yehudis Cohen
A little over a decade ago, had you walked past Rabbi Meyer and Shaindy Gutnick's home on Montgomery Street in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, New York, you would have seen the Hebrew letters spelling out the word "sofer" (scribe) boldly adorning his garage. Although today he has entered the world of corporate America and he no longer practices the ancient art of writing mezuzot, tefilin and Torah scrolls (he wrote four complete Torah scrolls during his tenure as a scribe), Rabbi Gutnick is still very much involved with holy Jewish writings.
"The final commandment of the 613 mitzvot, according to the numbering of Rabbi Moses Maimonides, is to write a Torah scroll. There are opinions in the Code of Jewish Law," explains Rabbi Gutnick, "that being involved in the printing of Jewish books is considered like writing a Torah scroll." As publisher of the Gutnick Edition of the Chumash (Pentatuch) by Rabbi Chaim Miller, Rabbi Gutnick has covered all of his bases.
Just ask Rabbi Gutnick how he got involved in the Chumash project and you hear the excitement and enthusiasm mount in his voice. "Rabbi Miller approached me with the project when he was about 75% through with the manuscript for the book of Exodus. I agreed to be involved in financing it," says Rabbi Gutnick.
Until becoming involved with the Kol Menachem Chumash, Rabbi Gutnick divided his time between his business and charitable pursuits, helping to establish Chabad Houses throughout Israel from Metullah in the north to Beer Sheva down south and all points in between. In addition, Rabbi Gutnick has supported the building of mikvaot in remote locations around the world.
The transition from silent supporter to publisher - "It's basically taken over my life; I haven't been into my office in months" - came soon after Rabbi Gutnick received overwhelmingly positive responses from anyone and everyone to whom he showed Rabbi Miller's manuscript.
"It appeals to everybody," says Rabbi Gutnick.
Nigel Grizzard of London, contrasted the Gutnick Edition with the genre of Chumashim he grew up with in the traditional "United Synagogue" congregations he attended as a child. "My late father was a Fleet Street journalist who came from the era of 'Hot Metal' when banner headlines, street corner news vendors and placard boards sold newspapers, a long time before today's 24/7 news access.
"He used to complain to me about the quality of religious publishing - that it was always second rate, that it did nothing to inspire or excite the reader. He would have been happy to have the Gutnick Edition in his library. It is a book printed with the reader in mind, a book to be read and used. It arrives like a whirlwind, with commentaries, insights, explanations, thoughts from the Rebbe, which give a new deeper meaning to the study of Torah."
Rabbi Gutnick has received correspondence from all corners of the world showing appreciation, awe and wonder at the Chumash.
"There are Jews right here in Brooklyn who have told me that they never knew that the Rebbe's teachings included insights into the Chumash. Others were surprised that the Rebbe's teachings on the Chumash are so extensive and inclusive. I have gotten responses from teachers in communities where the Rebbe's teachings or Chasidism in general is not so warmly received, and they are "secretly" using the Chumash to prepare their lessons.
Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth commented, "Beautifully produced and lovingly edited, this work is an invaluable addition to the library of Jewish scholarship and one which reminds us, yet again, of the towering stature of the Lubavitcher Rebbe as a teacher and exponent of Torah."
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, author of 365 Meditations and Bringing Heaven Down to Earth writes, "I am very impressed by Rabbi Miller's terse and communicative style. [It contains] none of the long sentences, redundancies, passive verbs and obtuse vocabulary that plague so much of Torah literature today."
In this monumental work, Rabbi Miller skillfully adapts the Rebbe's concepts in a format that can be appreciated by both the scholar and layperson. Rabbi Pinchas Stolper of Lakewood, New Jersey, describes the Chumash as "original, authentic, fascinating and enlightening."
Perhaps the unsolicited heartfelt words of Aaron from Maryland say it best: "I am a college student at the University of Maryland. Just wanted to let everyone who has worked on this Chumash know that I have never been more impressed, and that everyone who sees me with it is hooked after reading only a few pages."
Torah Chadasha - a "new Torah," G-d foretells us, will emerge in the Messianic Era. The Kol Menachem Chumash-Gutnick Edition is paving the way for an appreciation of the Torah Chadasha that we will merit to study very, very soon.
Yashar Koach to Rabbis Miller and Gutnick.
A Splinter In Your Mind
Some call it Jewish guilt, others the Jewish soul. Yet all know that there is something deep within, something distinguishing, something unique. But not everyone knows what it is or how to access it. Living in a multicultural melting pot, it's not politically correct to focus on differences. But, Judaism is the celebration of difference. A Special Shabbaton weekend with participants from around the world is being hosted by the Lubavitch community of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Subtitled, "The Re-Integration of Jewish Identity," the weekend features Rabbi Asher and Sara Esther Crispe and Rabbi Shmuel Posner. It will take place Nov. 7-9. For more info or to register call the Lubavitch Youth Organization at (718) 774-6187 or visit www.shabbaton.org
28 Tishrei, 5737 
Sholom Ubrocho [Peace and Blessing]:
I am in receipt of your letter of 20 Tishrei.
To begin with the good news towards the end of your letter, may G-d grant that your wife should have a normal and complete pregnancy and an easy delivery of a healthy offspring, and, in accordance with the traditional blessing, you should bring up all of your children to a life of Torah, Chup-pah [marriage canopy], and good deeds.
With regard to the general topic of your letter, namely that you are a Chaplain [in the United States Marine Corps] and endeavoring to fulfill your duties to the best of your ability, but you now find that it would be difficult to carry out the task of a Jewish Chaplain as you now conceive of its responsibility in light of your greater commitment to Yiddishkeit [Judaism] than before. You ask therefore whether you ought to relinquish your post:-
Perhaps you have heard of my general view in similar situations, but I will outline it briefly.
Every Jew is always a "soldier" in the service of G-d, including the duty of spreading G-dliness among fellow Jews, with emphasis on the actual deed, namely, fulfillment of G-d's commands, the Mitzvos [commandments], in the daily life.
Certainly, in our age of confusion and perplexity, the call to duty is more urgent then ever. On the other hand there is also a very favorable circumstance in the wide-spread search for truth and real values on the part of the new generation, even among young people whose parents and grand-parents had placed a priority on the pursuit of material well-being, through professions and careers, almost to the exclusion of Yiddishkeit in their personal lives.
If every Jew is in the service of G-d, as noted above, how much more so one whom the Supreme Hashgocho Protis [Divine providence] has placed in the chaplaincy, and has, moreover, given him the Zechus [privilege] of gaining deeper insights into Yiddishkeit to the extent of reassessing his position. It is clear what the response to the said call of duty should be, especially of one who is not just a "private" but a ranking officer.
Of course, the new assessment presents new challenges. But, as in the case of a military outpost facing increased pressure, the answer is not to abandon the front, but to call on reserves and reinforcements, so also in the case of facing a personal challenge. It is certain that the inner forces are there, for G-d would not give one a task which is beyond one's capacity to carry out. In the case of the military, there can sometimes be a miscalculation; but nor so with Hashgocho Protis. Thus it is only necessary to bring out these forces from potential to actuality. Even if the ultimate success is in some doubt, the Torah, Toras Chaim [the Torah of Life], does not permit one to abandon his responsible position; how much more so when there is the assurance of yogaato umotzoso ["if you try hard, you will succeed"].
Add to this several encouraging aspects, which I have often emphasized in similar situations:
The whole military establishment is based on discipline and obedience to orders. A soldier receiving an order from his commanding officer, must carry it out promptly, even if it seems irrational to him. No soldier can claim that his personal conduct is his personal affair, and he is prepared to take the consequences, for the consequences would not be confined to him, but to the entire sector, with far-reaching consequences in a time of emergency for the entire front and the country. A further point is that it is quite irrelevant if in civilian life the private was superior to his commanding officer in other areas, in physics, astronomy and the like; in the military, he must bow to the superiority of his commander, who is the expert.
All these points and the whole military training and environment make the Jewish serviceman particularly responsive to Yiddishkeit, which is based on the principle of naaseh [we will do] before v'nishma [we will understand] and to the influence of his Jewish chaplain who is permeated with true spirit of the Torah and present a living example of it to his charges. There is no need to elaborate to you on all above.
To conclude me'inyono d'yoma [with a matter connected to these days], now that we are coming from the festival of Simchas Torah, which is the conclusion and culmination of all the festival and religious experiences of the month of Tishrei that ushered in the new year, may G-d grant you and all yours, in the midst of all our people, true rejoicing throughout the year in all respects, materially and spiritually,
29 Tishrei, 5764 - October 25, 2003
Positive Mitzva 214: A Newly Married Couple
This mitzva is based on the verse (Deut. 24:5) "He shall be free at home one year and shall cheer his wife whom he has taken"
The Torah commands that the husband remain at home during the first year of marriage. He should not set out on long journeys. He is excused from certain military service. He should not take upon himself responsibilities that will call him away from home for lengthy periods. He is to spend much time at home, sharing his wife's company. In this way, he will bring joy to his home.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The holiday season has come to an end. We are slowly returning to a more regular schedule.
There is a beautiful parable about this return to day-to-day life. In olden times, people went to Leibtzik, Germany, once each year for the annual fair, the precursor to today's "global village" tradeshow. Merchants gathered from all over the area. Once there, each merchant bought goods which he sold back in his own town.
During the month in Leibtzik the merchants bought their wares. When they came back home, they started unpacking. Little by little they unloaded and sold the merchandise they had purchased in Leibtzik.
Merchants and Leibtzik are similar to a Jew during the holiday month of Tishrei. During the holidays, a Jew acquires inspiration, enthusiasm, goodwill, proper resolutions, a stronger connection to G-d and to his fellow Jews.
Then, as the month of Cheshvan begins and throughout the rest of the year, he unpacks what he acquired over the holidays. He takes everything and applies it to his day-to-day life.
May we all "unpack our bags" in the appropriate spirit, channeling all of our newfound inspiration into increased involvement in Judaism and our regular schedule of activities.
In the beginning G-d created... (Genesis 1:1)
Rabbi Yitzchak said that it was not necessary to begin the Torah with this verse. However, He did it so that if any of the nations would come to the Jewish people later and claim that they had stolen the land of Canaan, the Jewish people could say, "The entire world belongs to the Holy One, Blessed Be He, He created it and gave it to whomever it was right in His eyes."
And G-d created the man: (1:27)
G-d created one person, singly, individually, to teach us that if anyone who saves a Jewish soul, it is as if he saved the entire world.
Why doesn't the Torah state after the creation of man, "and it was good," as it does after all the other things created during the six days? Every other creature was created complete, with its nature and instincts ready to be applied to the world. Man, however, was created incomplete, and it is his purpose in life to perfect himself. Human beings are given free will and the responsibility for their own development and improvement. That is why it doesn't immediately state, "and it was good"-we must wait and see how man behaves before passing judgement.
And He put him into the Garden of Eden to till it and to keep it (2:15)
In the "Seven Blessings" of the marriage ceremony, the bride and groom are blessed with the following: "Happy and joyous may you be, O loving companions, like the joy of your progenitors in the Garden of Eden many years ago." May the young couple, just embarking on a life together, be as true and faithful to each other as Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, when they were as yet the only two people in the world.
I have gained a man with G-d (Gen. 4:1).
Eve commented that when G-d created Adam and herself, He alone created them. However, concerning the creation of their child, Cain, they were partners with G-d.
Thus, the Talmud states teaches that there are three partners in the creation of man: the Holy One, blessed be He, the father, and the mother. The father and mother supply the bodily characteristics while G-d gives life and intelligence. When one's time comes to depart from the world, G-d takes away His share and leaves the share of the father and mother.
Long ago in Babylonia there were two wise men - Shmuel, a famous Jewish scholar who knew the entire Torah, and Avlet, a wise gentile who could predict the future by looking at the stars. He knew what would happen the next day, the next week, or even the next year.
One day, Shmuel and Avlet sat by a roadside near a lake. As they were talking, a group of laborers walked towards the lake. They came to cut the reeds that grew in the shallow waters and along the shore. They sold them to the townspeople for carving flutes, weaving mats and making vessels.
As the workers were passing, Avlet pointed to one of them and said to Shmuel, "Do you see that man? He is going to the lake but I know that he will not return alive. I saw in the stars that he will be in a serious accident."
"If he is Jewish," answered Shmuel, "He will return in peace. He will pray to G-d, or do some other mitzva, and the G-d of Israel will protect him from misfortune."
Meanwhile, the laborers reached the lake and began to cut and tie the reeds. They worked for several hours. When they were hungry and tired, they stopped to eat their lunch in the shade of a tree. Now these workers had a wonderful custom. They put all their food into one basket and divided it evenly among themselves so that everyone had an equal portion, and no one would go hungry or be jealous of another.
That day, the worker whom Avlet had pointed to noticed that one of his friends was sad and depressed. He saw that the man's lunch bag was empty. Obviously, he had no money to buy bread and he would be embarrassed to ask the others for some of their food. The worker wanted to help his friend.
So he took the bread-basket and said, "Today is my turn to collect the bread and divide it."
His friends agreed, and he went around to each of them, collecting their food as he passed. When he came to the poor man with no bread, the worker put his own food in the basket, pretending to take it from the poor fellow. Then he divided the portions equally among the workers, but he took a very small portion for himself so that there was enough for everyone. Thus no one realized that the poor man had nothing to give.
When they finished their meal, the men continued their work. In the evening, they bundled the reeds and carried them to town on their backs.
Meanwhile, Shmuel and Avlet came back to the roadside to watch the workmen on their way home. They wanted to see if the worker Avlet had pointed to was missing. They saw that all the men who had left town in the morning were coming back. They all seemed well and happy; Avlet's prophecy had not come true.
Avlet was surprised. Had he made a mistake? He went to the workman and said, "Please let me see the reeds you cut today."
The worker was surprised, but set down his bundle and opened it. Avlet examined the reeds and found a poisonous snake which the workman had apparently killed by mistake and unknowingly placed in the bag! Avlet turned triumphantly to Shmuel and said, "You see, my prophecy was correct. If the snake had bitten the workman, he would not have returned alive, just as I predicted. But I do not understand how his life was spared."
Shmuel turned to the worker and asked, "Did you do something special today? Try to remember."
The worker told Shmuel how he had divided the bread without embarrassing his poor friend.
"You have fulfilled the mitzva from the Torah of 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' " said Shmuel. "Because of this mitzva you were saved from death."
Before the world was created, G-d created the soul of Moshiach. It shone very brightly, as hinted to in the verse: "And G-d saw the light, that it was good." The forces of evil also saw this light, and asked G-d, "Whose light is this?" G-d answered, "This is the king who will defeat all of you in the End of Days."
(Yalkut Shimoni, Yeshayahu 499)