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Pills. Shakes. Fads. Lite. Machines. Points. Videos. Health Clubs. Proper Name Diets and Diet As A Compound Noun. Instant-workout-guaranteed-eat-all-you-want-ten-pounds-fast-in-two-weeks-fifty-pounds-calories-feelgood.
We're obsessed with our weight and we're obsessed with our diets.
Everyone knows there are two ways to diet - quick and painless or slow and difficult. What's the difference between them? Quick and painless is superficial, temporary and expensive. Slow and difficult requires profound self-analysis, commitment to a lifestyle change and costs more in time than money.
At this point, we can go in two directions. We can compare weight loss to mitzvot (commandments) or we can compare weight loss to aveirot (transgressions). Or we can do both. Let's.
Fact: Most people who go on a diet - whatever its name, rank or serial number (on the best seller list) - will lose weight initially, regardless of the specific plan, and gain it back within six months. And yet we keep going back again and again, losing some, gaining some, constantly fighting the never-ending "battle of the bulge" and feeling guilty every time the see-saw swings up.
This resembles our war with the yetzer hara, our evil inclination. Every time we don't take the opportunity to do the mitzva at hand or do do something that we aren't supposed to do, it's like cheating on our diet, abandoning it, gaining weight. And every time we resolve to do better, argue with ourselves that we can lose that weight (if only we'll be resolute and determined), it's like doing teshuva - returning to our roots. And every time we start a new diet - or restart an old - it's like acting on that teshuva, practicing what we preach to ourselves.
Fact: Those who change their lifestyles, their attitudes, and not just their eating habits, are most likely to lose the weight and keep it off. But that requires self-judgment, self-acceptance and self-enactment: judgment of one's strengths and weaknesses, acceptance one's abilities and shortcomings, and acting to maximize one and minimize the other.
It's no different with Jewish living and learning. To do more mitzvot, observe more customs, participate in more rituals, to make Judaism more integral to one's life, requires assessment - what can I do now, realistically? Drastic all or nothing approaches usually don't work, but abandonment to the status quo only leads to more excess baggage. From that assessment, that knowing of what we can do, what step, however small, we can take, comes acceptance of where we are and a realization of where we need, where we want to be, and a commitment to get there, baby step by baby step. And, then, of course, we have to act upon, to incorporate and to naturalize that commitment and new perception. We have to not only do, but do from the inside out, as a matter of course.
So here's to weight loss - loss of the pounds and loss of the heaviness that keeps you from being Jewishly involved - and to the new you - that "certain figure" you, that new perspective you, that healthy-and in-shape Jewish you.
In this week's Torah portion, Lech Lecha, we are told about the births of Abraham's two sons, Ishmael and Isaac.
When G-d promised Abraham that he would have Isaac, Abraham already had a son, Ishmael. Thus Abraham responded to G-d, "I pray that Ishmael might live before You" - i.e., that Ishmael would conduct himself as he should and pursue the Divine way of life. G-d, however, replied, "No. By Isaac shall your seed be called." From Isaac, Abraham was assured, his true joy would come.
There is a basic difference between Ishmael and Isaac. The birth of Ishmael was natural, without any heavenly intervention. Isaac's birth was miraculous for Abraham and Sara were far advanced in age.
Another difference between Ishmael and Isaac relates to the commandment of circumcision. Ishmael was circumcised when he was thirteen years old. At the age of thirteen a youngster has sufficient reason to be held accountable for his conduct and he becomes obligated to observe the mitzvot. Ishmael thus used his reason to determine his readiness to enter the covenant with G-d, and accepted circumcision.
Isaac was circumcised when he was eight days old. An infant that young cannot give consent; nevertheless he was bound up with G-d at that early age. This type of bond can never be dissolved and erased; it is eternal, as the Torah calls it "an eternal covenant."
Isaac's supernatural and miraculous birth was in contrast to Ishmael's natural birth. And Isaac's covenant with G-d was in a supra-rational manner as opposed to Ishmael's covenant.
Normally a child is born and raised under the supervision of his parents, guarded against every harm. He is educated to gain proper understanding, which in turn leads to attachment with G-d. This was the way of Ishmael. He was raised in the home of Abraham and received an education which made him understand that he ought to attach himself to G-d.
This course of life, however, provides no assurances. When religious commitment is based exclusively on reason, we cannot predict how it will be affected by the variables of life. Thus we find with Ishmael, that as soon as his inheritance was affected by Isaac's birth, his behavior deteriorated and G-d commanded Abraham to listen to Sara when she asked that Ishmael be sent away.
Lech Lecha teaches us that, to establish Jewish continuity, one cannot set out with strictly natural calculations. The very existence and purpose of the Jewish people transcends nature. A Jew's life, right from birth, is intertwined with miracles and a disregard for the course of nature.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
From an address by Rabbi Haddad at the public presentation of a Torah scroll to the Slovenian Jewish community in Ljubljana, earlier this year.
I would like to go back to the year 1991, the year of independence of the Republic of Slovenia, and share with you a story.
Among the nations demanding freedom during those confusing times was a small country wedged between Italy, Austria and Croatia, called Slovenia. But when Slovenia made this demand, communist Yugoslavia immediately responded by declaring war. The situation was bleak for the fledgling state. The Yugoslavian army was planning an attack to crush their adversary.
It so happened that in Toronto, Canada, there lived a Slovenian Jew called Marjan Furlan. He was married to a woman from Israel and one night the Slovenian government contacted him through their Canadian ambassador, hoping that perhaps his wife could secure arms or ammunition through some Israeli connection. He replied that although he could not help them in that area, perhaps he could arrange a blessing from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the most charismatic Jewish leader I have ever known. Having heard that the Rebbe does "miracles," and thinking that nothing short of a miracle would save Slovenia, the Furlans volunteered to ask the Rebbe for help.
The Furlans decided to travel to the Rebbe in Brooklyn, New York, and deliver two impassioned letters for help; one from the Slovenian ambassador, and the other from the priest of the Slovenian Church in Toronto. The priest included in his plea a request to the Rebbe that he save Slovenia from communism just as Moses saved the Jews from the evil nation of Amalek when they left their imprisonment in Egypt.
When they finally arrived to New York, it was June 7, 1991, at 4 p.m. Slovenian time. The Rebbe heard the story from Mr. Furlan and accepted the letters. He then gave his blessing to Slovenia that the fighting should cease and that there would be peace and prosperity.
At the very moment the Rebbe was blessing Slovenia, the Yugoslavian army received orders not to attack. The Yugoslav government requested a cease-fire and granted independence to Slovenia. The date was Sunday, June 7, 1991. The Rebbe's blessing saved an entire nation of non-Jews.
Shortly thereafter, Slovenia printed a booklet in honour of their newly gained statehood. On the last page of the booklet is written. "A Slovenian Jew personally delivered to New York a number of letters from the Slovenian community to the world Jewish leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneerson, and on the very day that he blessed the Slovenian nation, hostilities ended."
A few months later, the Lubavitcher Rebbe instructed me to come to Trieste, Italy, which is five kilometres away from the Italian border with Slovenia, and today we are all here together.
A lot of things have changed for Slovenian Jewry since 1991. A pioneering effort of translation from Hebrew of traditional texts to the Slovenian language has led to the publication of the "Haggadah of Ljubljana"; a copy of this book is being presented to all religious representatives that are here today. Almost four years ago, we celebrated the first community-wide kosher Passover here at the Grand Hotel Union. Since that time, this celebration has become a regular event for the community and for the Grand Hotel Union. A Torah scroll arrived on January 18 this year to our community. With its new Torah scroll, the Jewish Community of Slovenia is now able to hold the complete religious services for the first time after sixty years. The temporary synagogue that we are currently using is the first in Ljubljana after nearly half a century.
I am grateful to the Alm-ghty who gave me the opportunity to take part in all of this. I have a debt of gratitude to a lot of people; if I should list them, it would take another hour. To all of them, to those who are here and those who are not, goes all my gratitude and my friendship. To all of you I want to say: the same way you were there for me when I was in need, please remember that I will be there for you whenever you are in need. A thought must also go to my wife and my children; they are my strength and my courage. And, closing this very long speech, I must say to everyone here: we have travelled a long way until this day, but a much longer travel is ahead of us, so let us do it together.
Rabbi Ariel Haddad, a native of Rome, Italy, is the Chief Rabbi of the Jewish Community of Slovenia. He is also the director of the Museum of the Jewish Community of Trieste "Carlo e Vera Wagner" and contract Professor of Hebrew Language at the University of Trieste.
Four New Centers Open in California
There are well over 100 Chabad-Lubavitch Centers throughout California and Nevada. This past January, at the West Coast Chabad Emissaries Conference, plans were announced to expand Chabad's services by establishing an additional 20 Chabad Centers on the west coast during the year, bringing the total number of centers serving California and Nevada to 180. Since January, 12 new centers have opened, and more are scheduled to be announced in the next few months. Among the newest centers: Chabad of Piedmont under the direction of Rabbi Rabbi Boruch and Raizy Kaplan; Chabad of Chatsworth, under the direction of Rabbi Yossi and Necha Spritzer; Chabad of Stockton, under the direction of Rabbi Avremel and Nechamie Brod; Chabad at the University of California at Davis, under the direction of Rabbi Shmary and Sarah Bronstein.
Freely translated letter
Cheshvan 22, 5738 (1978)
... Perhaps you are already aware of what I spoke about on Motzoei Shabbos Parshas Lech Lecha regarding the absolute need to populate the entire territories, all at once. At the very least, Israel should settle those areas upon which there is dispute. In my opinion it is clear that the only way that the enemies of Israel will finally give up their evil designs will be when they see that Israel means this seriously. As I have stated many times, even those who are afraid of the nations' objections, have seen in the past - and continue to see - the complaints remain just as strong no matter if Israel settles one place, or the entire border.
To my great consternation, it would seem that Israel is not even considering this minimal plan which I have mentioned. They have decided to behave in the same fashion as they always have in the past, whenever there has been a victory - and each victory has transcended the bounds of nature.
This is true regarding the period after the Yom Kippur War, the Six Day War, the Sinai Campaign, etc. Each time, they decided to do "half a job" - or more properly, they consented to accept only half of what was being given to them as a gift from Above - namely, victory - and they did not act decisively, with the greatest forcefulness - to finish the issue once and for all. Clearly, this itself only invites pressure. As if this was not enough, they sent a delegation of representatives to inform the nations that they would not take full advantage of the victory, but rather, would give up an important part of that which they had already attained. Everyone sees the outcome: not only did they not achieve peace, but they brought about the opposite - terrorism, harassment, and eventually war, may G-d save us. As I mentioned, they have repeated this strategy more than three times.
I am not aware whether your orientation is what they call "hawkish" or "dovish." But regarding this, after everyone has seen the results of such behavior after all the past wars; the today's pressure and threats seem to be the outcome. In my opinion, there is no difference between a hawk or a dove. The issue is only whether a decision will be made to continue in the same way they have until now, for whatever various strange reasons. Then they will continue to delude themselves and their followers with empty hopes - that even though nothing has changed, but still, maybe this time the outcome will be the opposite. The only alternative is to at least try a different method - the one which most appeals to sound judgment, and the one which all past experience proves is worthwhile trying.
If this is also your opinion, then surely you - who live in the Holy Land and are aware of the situation up close - will make the loudest commotion, since many, many circles follow you and will perhaps listen to you. Even though it would have been preferable to build these settlements immediately, along with the first one which was established, nevertheless, it is better to do it now, late, than to continue taking two steps back, and then one step forward. I deliberately changed the order, because unfortunately the politicians are even afraid of the method of taking one step forward, and then two steps back.
May it be G-d's Will that there should finally be the fulfillment of the verse "and the earth will be filled with knowledge of G-d, as the water covers the ocean bed," and the immediate result will be the evaporation of all the fear of "what will the nations say," or concern whether they will favor this or that policy - until the Jewish fear of "the sound of a driven leaf," (lest the leaf was moved by wind from the nostrils of a non-Jew) is dispelled. G-d will help His nation to walk upright, with the proper forcefulness.
Reprinted with permission from truepeace.org
12 Cheshvan, 5764 - November 7, 2003
Prohibition 10: You shall not seek information about idol-worship
This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 19:4) "Do not turn to idols." This prohibition warns us not to even attempt to understand what idol-worshippers do, even if we are only curious about it and never intend to practice it ourselves.
Prohibition 47: You shall not believe in ideas that oppose the Torah.
This mitzva is based on the verse (Num. 15:39) "And that you seek not after your own heart and your own eyes." This prohibition cautions us to use the guidelines that are in the Torah and follow its commandments.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
In this week's Torah portion we read G-d's blessing to Abraham: "I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth; if a person will be able to count all the grains of dust in the world, then your offspring also will be countable."
The Baal Shem Tov explained why the Jews are compared to the "dust of the earth." For, just as there are treasures hidden deep within the earth, there are beautiful "treasures" hidden within every single Jew.
Along these lines, the Lubavitcher Rebbe was once asked by a group of visiting academics, "What is the purpose of a Rebbe?"
The Rebbe answered, "Concerning the Jewish people, it says, 'And you will be for Me a land of desire.' A Jew is like land, earth. Within the earth one finds many treasures. But one needs to know how to look for them and how to take them out from the depths of the earth. One who doesn't know how to search will look in the earth and find only dirt and mud, or rocks and stones.
"The same is true with a person. One psychologist digs in a person's soul and finds dirt and mud. Another finds rocks and stones. The purpose of a Rebbe is to find the treasure - the G-dly soul that rests within every Jew."
How cohesive and united the Jewish community can be if, when looking at our fellow Jew, we search not for the mud or dirt, but for the treasures that are within each one of us.
The Torah Portion of Lech Lecha
Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the first Chabad Rebbe, said, "One must live with the time." His brother, R. Yehuda Leib, explained this to mean that one must live with the Torah portion of the week. One should not only learn the weekly portion every day, but live with it. A really joyous week is that of Lech Lecha. We live every day of the week with Abraham, the first to dedicate his very life to spreading G-dliness in the world. And Abraham bequeathed his self- sacrifice as an inheritance to all Jews.
Go from your land (Gen. 12:1)
Ever since G-d told our father Abraham, "Go from your land etc," and subsequently "Avram kept travelling southward," we have the beginning of the mystery of birurim - elevating the sparks of holiness. By decree of Divine Providence man goes about his travels to the place where the "sparks" that he must purify await their redemption. The righteous tzadikim, who have vision, see where their birurim await them and go there deliberately. As for ordinary folk, The Cause of all Causes and the Prime Mover brings about various reasons and circumstances that bring these people to that place where lies their obligation to elevate the sparks.
(Reb Shalom Dov Ber of Lubavitch)
Lech Lecha - Go from your land and your birthplace and your father's house... (Gen. 12:1).
The literal translation of the words "Lech Lecha" is "Go to yourself." Going has the connotation in Torah of moving towards one's ultimate purpose - service towards one's Creator. And this is strongly hinted at by the phrase, "Go to yourself," meaning, towards your soul's essence and your ultimate purpose, that for which you were created.
(Alshich as quoted by the Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Reb Wolf Kitzes, one of the most devoted and loyal followers of the Baal Shem Tov, had a burning desire to visit the holy land. He tried to push aside this desire because he did not wish to leave his saintly Rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov. His yearning for the Holy Land gave him no peace, though, so he decided to tell the Baal Shem Tov about it.
The Baal Shem Tov listened carefully and replied: "You should not go yet."
The reply was enough for Reb Wolf and he said no more.
But after some time, Reb Wolf again was haunted by his unquenchable thirst for the Holy Land, which drove him again to ask the Baal Shem Tov if he could go. The Baal Shem Tov would still not give him permission to go, so Reb Wolf would not travel to the Holy Land.
Reb Wolf allowed some time to elapse before he again approached the Baal Shem Tov, and finally the Baal Shem Tov agreed to give his consent for Reb Wolf to undertake the long and difficult trip.
Before leaving, the Baal Shem Tov said to Reb Wolf: "If anyone on the way asks you a question, think carefully before you reply."
Reb Wolf boarded the first ship sailing to the Holy Land.
One day the ship anchored at a small island. All the passengers disembarked and so did Reb Wolf. When it was time for the afternoon prayer, Reb Wolf found a quiet spot and began to pray. He got so carried away with his prayers, he failed to hear the ship's blast calling the passengers to return to the ship.
When Reb Wolf looked up, he suddenly realized with shock what had happened. The ship was disappearing in the distance and he was left behind. The inhabitants who had come to meet the boat also disappeared, and he found himself all alone on this desolate island.
"Don't be discouraged," he told himself. "Have faith in the Alm-ghty. He will not desert you, and everything will be all right."
Feeling thus encouraged, Reb Wolf set off to look for perhaps a Jew on this unknown island. But there was no sign of any human being. Suddenly, as he approached a forest, he noticed some smoke rising to the sky. There seemed to be no road or path to follow, but he made his way through the trees until he came upon a small hut.
He quickly knocked on the door and was delighted and relieved to see the door opened by a dignified, fine looking old Jew, who greeted him with a warm "Shalom." Reb Wolf breathed a sigh of relief. Thank G-d he was now out of danger. He told the Jew what had happened to him and his host assured him that there was no reason to be afraid. The island was not altogether uninhabited. There were people living on the island through not many. True, he was the only Jewish resident, and he, in fact, would not stay there very long.
"Ships pass here regularly," he said. "The island belongs to Turkey, and a Turkish officer and his soldiers take care that the island should be free of robbers and pirates. Don't worry, Reb Wolf," he continued "a ship will soon be here on route to the Holy Land and you will be able to continue your journey. In the meantime, the Sabbath is approaching and you are welcome to be my guest."
Reb Wolf was delighted with his good fortune. He wondered why his host, who was obviously a learned and G-d fearing Jew, was living here, without a family and also, how he knew his, Wolf's, name. But he didn't dare ask.
Shabbat passed very pleasantly. On the following day, a boat docked, and Reb Wolf thanked his gracious host for all his kindness.
Just before leaving, his host said to Reb Wolf: "You have travelled through Russia and Poland. How are the Jews living there in galut (exile)?
"Thank G-d," replied Reb Wolf, "The Alm-ghty takes care of them."
Reb Wolf was already aboard the ship when he suddenly remembered what the Baal Shem Tov had told him to think carefully before answering any question put to him by anyone on his way to the Holy Land. He was terribly upset to think that he had forgotten his Rebbe's advice and had answered his host without thought. He decided that at the next port of call he would disembark and wait for the first ship to take him back to the Baal Shem Tov.
Several weeks later, Reb Wolf presented himself to the Baal Shem Tov. Reb Wolf told the Baal Shem Tov everything that had happened and that because he had forgotten the Rebbe's advice, he immediately turned back. Now he humbly asked how he could correct his mistake. The Baal Shem Tov replied: "You, personally, have already paid for your mistake by returning home without seeing the Holy Land. Now I can tell you the rest of the story.
"Our Patriarch Abraham had complained to the Alm-ghty about his children and asked why He has kept them so long in exile, making them suffer so much.
"The Alm-ghty replied: 'It's not so bad. They don't suffer so in exile. If you want proof, ask a Jew who never lies and hear what he says. That Jew is Reb Wolf Kitzes. He only speaks the truth.'
"So it was arranged that our Abraham should be your host and the rest you know. Had you been thoughtful enough to add a few words about how much Jews long for Moshiach, and how ardently they pray daily, 'May our eyes behold your return to Zion in mercy...,' Moshiach might have already come by now."
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)