A Contrast in Satisfaction | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | Rambam this week | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
"I can't wait to get the new Mac G5. That is one awesome computer."
"But you just bought the G4 Titanium Powerbook last year."
"I know, but this one's newer and better."
"Volvo has reduced its prices. Our car's three years old. Let's look into it."
"Is it in our budget?"
"If we get a good trade-in, we can move up."
"Well, we can either add a room - we'll probably need to add a bathroom, too - or we can start looking for a new house."
"We've managed so far."
"Yeah, I know, but it's just getting crowded in here, don't you think? We should act now while prices are in our range."
"Well, ladies and gentlemen, our market share has held steady the last two years. But that's not good enough. We're going to have to expand. Marketing has put together a presentation and we think we can successfully branch into new territories."
"Come on, honey, let's go. You've already won over six hundred dollars."
"This is my lucky night. Just one more."
"Yeah, I'm already making a million, but let's face it, if you've got one, you want two. That's what it's all about, right? It's not just that more is better. More means success, justification. It's playing and winning."
"Again? We just went to synagogue last week. And it wasn't even a Bar Mitzva or Rosh Hashana."
"Rabbi, I love your institution. You do such good work. Of course, you know I support you. I'll match last year's donation, but I won't be able to give you an increase. Things are tight, you know. I'll give you half now and the other half when we come back from the cruise."
"I'd really like to learn to read Hebrew better, but at my age? Well, yes, that class in Maimonides does sound interesting, but I just don't have the time. But keep me on your mailing list."
"Shabbat dinner? That's very nice of you, really. Can I get back to you on that? I may have plans. Well, I kind of like to do my own thing. All that ritual gets me a little nervous."
"Tefilin? Sure you can help me put them on today. I did that for my Bar Mitzva. But this doesn't mean I have to do it every week, does it?"
"Shabbat candles? My mother lights them."
"I've been thinking long and hard. I'm going to stop eating cheeseburgers. That's not such a big deal. But keeping kosher all the way, all the time seems too much. You know me, I'm always satisfied with small steps."
This week's Torah portion is called Chayei Sara, literally "the life of Sara." It begins, however, with the passing of our first matriarch: "And Sara died in Kiryat Arba, which is Hebron, in the Land of Canaan."
According to the primary Jewish mystical text, the Zohar, Sara symbolizes the body while Abraham is symbolic of the soul. In this context, the Zohar explains that the verse describes the death of the body. The fact that "Abraham came to lament Sara and to weep for her" indicates that the soul weeps even after the death of the body since it remains related to the body.
Earlier in the Torah, when Abraham questioned Sara's judgment in sending away his son Ishmael, G-d told Abraham, "All that Sara may say unto you, listen to her voice." According to the Zohar, then, it would seem that the soul must listen to the body!
What is the "working relationship" between the soul and the body? Mitzvot - commandments - are given to the soul, but only souls that have been brought down into bodies. The mitzvot themselves are performed through material objects. This applies not only to mitzvot involving a physical act, but also to those mitzvot which are essentially duties of the heart - e.g., love and fear of G-d, or duties of the mind - e.g., the belief in the unity of G-d. The latter, too, are meant to be fulfilled by the physical heart and brain.
It is conceivable to meditate on and contemplate all of the intentions of a mitzva, and yet not fulfill the actual mitzva. For example, one may go through all the devotions relating to tefilin, without actually donning the tefilin, or relating to Shabbat candles, without actually lighting them.
Obviously this would constitute not only a failure in fulfilling the mitzva, but an actual transgression - by negating the mitzva. On the other hand, if one fulfills a mitzva without contemplating any of the devotions involved, though he should have had these thoughts in mind, he has at least fulfilled the mitzva.
Our ultimate preoccupation, then, is with the body. Although this is not totally apparent now, in the Messianic era it will become much more obvious. In fact, at this time, the soul will actually derive it's life-force from the body.
Adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
The Few, The Proud, The... Jewish?
By Mikhail Ekshtut
In the entire U.S. military there only a few hundred Orthodox Jews - I am one of them. Why am I telling you this? Before I answer that question I should tell you my story.
I was born in Kiev, Ukraine, and in 1976, when I was five, my parents, sister and I immigrated to Seattle. I grew up mostly not observant, but maintained some connection to Judaism, primarily through Chabad. My family and I would go to Seattle's Chabad House once in a while during the holidays. During our early years in Seattle, Chabad did a lot of outreach for our family and helped instill in me the foundation of my Jewish pride.
In the summers I attended the Chabad day camp. Seattle's famous Rabbi Yechezkel Kornfeld was the camp's director at the time. I think my military career started at that Chabad day camp as one of the young soldiers in the Rebbe's Army of HaShem.
As a kid I always wanted to serve my country. By nature I was strict and never did anything in a half-hearted way, so I decided that I would join the best fighting force in the world, the U.S. Marines.
The typical Jewish reaction was: "What's a nice Jewish boy doing in the Marines?" My parents, who escaped the U.S.S.R. to keep me from having to serve in the Soviet military, thought I was crazy. I showed them! Four days after my eighteenth birthday, I shipped off to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego.
On the third day of boot camp, we were sitting in formation when a drill instructor approached the platoon and barked, "All my Jews, stand up." I thought to myself, "The persecution of the Jews is about to begin." Out of 87 recruits, I was the only one to stand up. He ordered me to report to a Major standing off in the distance, which I nervously did.
I saluted and said, "Sir, Private Ekshtut reporting as ordered, Sir!" I will never forget the first thing he said to me. "Do you know that you are one tenth of one percent of all of Marines in the Marine Corps?" He introduced himself as Major Goldberg or some similar Jewish name, and explained that only one in a thousand Marines is Jewish. He then invited me to attend Friday night services at the nearby Navy chapel. I accepted.
I went on to serve overseas, in exotic locations like Okinawa, Korea, the Philippines and Bangladesh. During the first Gulf War, I was deployed for seven months on a Navy ship in the Middle East. That winter, I lit Chanuka candles in the middle of the Persian Gulf.
After four years of active duty, I continued to serve one weekend a month and two weeks a year in the Marine Reserves. After graduating college as a Civil Engineer, I spent a few months in Israel where I decided I needed to learn more about what it means to be a Jew.
I returned home to Seattle and continued to study for several years. I was going to synagogue every Shabbat, "coincidentally" to Rabbi Kornfeld's shul, putting on tefilin every morning, and trying to keep kosher. The only time I did not keep the Sabbath was when I was doing my monthly weekend duty in the Reserves. It was not that I wasn't allowed - on the contrary. The more observant I became the more supportive everyone was. But in the Reserves, Saturday is the main training day.
It was time for me to make a decision: leave my beloved Marine Corps or stay in the Marines and not be so strict one weekend a month. After nearly 13 years of service, I left the military to keep Shabbat.
G-d shows us the path of our destiny. As it turned out, my military service was not yet over. Just two months after finally leaving the Corps, a new opportunity presented itself.
Rabbi Brett Oxman and his family were visiting our synagogue for Sukot. I discovered that Rabbi Oxman is also a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force and an active duty Chaplain stationed at McChord Air Force Base, near Seattle. He suggested that I look into becoming a Chaplain Assistant in the Air Force Reserves. He said that his counterpart Reserve Chaplains would love to have an Orthodox Jew on their staff and indicated they would accommodate my religious needs and my Sabbath schedule.
The idea of going from the Marines to the Air Force at first seemed very unorthodox to me, but I contacted the Reserve Chaplains at McChord and set up an interview. At the end of the interview they were ready to hire me on the spot. In March 2002 I joined the U.S. Air Force as a Chaplain Assistant. Now I can do both, keep the Sabbath and continue to serve part-time in the military. Perhaps best of all, as a Chaplain Assistant, I am now the one who helps provide for the religious and spiritual needs of other fellow Jews and all the personnel of the other religions within the U.S. Military.
Today, I continue to learn and grow as a Jew. I'm even on the board of my synagogue, Congregation Shevet Achim, Rabbi Kornfeld's shul.
However, a lot of what I learned in the Marines made me a better Jew. Being a Marine taught me self-discipline and responsibility, how to answer to a "higher authority," the value of teamwork, family and community, pride and self esteem. By being charged by the real Commander-in-Chief, G-d, to wake up early and go to minyan, put on tefilin, pray three times a day, keep kosher and live in a Jewish community, we acquire some of the same qualities that the military teaches. Wearing a yarmulka and tzitzit is a lot like wearing a uniform, they designate you as a member of a branch of "service."
So for me, becoming an observant Jew was a straightforward transition. Nothing else would suffice. I continue to learn and grow Jewishly.
Mikhail Ekshtut, is a Civil Engineer in Seattle and Chaplain Assistant in the Air Force Reserve, he can be reached at email@example.com.
Miracle Amidst Destruction
Chabad of San Diego County, headquar-tered on 27 acres in Scripps Ranch, was the only school in San Diego County to be destroyed in the recent fires in Southern California. No traces remain of the bright preschool classrooms, the well-stocked computer lab, the library, or the shul. But amid the destruction are miracles. The beautiful new Chabad facility that is nearly completed emerged largely unscathed though the fires came within 10 feet of the new center.
18th of Tammuz, 5714 
Sholom U'Brocho [Peace and Blessing]:
I have received your letter of June 13th, in which, after a brief biographical outline of yourself, you present your problem, namely that you recently became aware of a feeling of apathy and indifference to the religious rites and practices, due to a perplexing doubt as to the authenticity of the Jewish Tradition, by which you undoubtedly mean the Torah and Mitzvos [commandments], and you wonder how their authenticity may logically be proved.
I hope this is indeed the only difficulty which has weakened your observance of the practical precepts in daily life; in most cases the true reason is the desire to make it easy for oneself and avoid a "burden"; one later seeks to justify this attitude on philosophical grounds. If this is the case the problem is more complicated. In the hope that you belong to the minority, I will briefly state here the logical basis of the Truth that the Torah and Mitzvos were given to us Jews by Divine Revelation. This is not very difficult to prove, since the proof is the same as all other evidence that we have of historic events in past generations, only much more forcefully and convincingly.
By way of illustration: if you are asked, how do you know that there existed such a person as Maimonides, whom you mention in your letter, you would surely reply that you are certain about his existence from the books he has written. Although Rambam (Maimonides) lived some 800 years ago, his works now in print have been reprinted from earlier editions, and those from earlier ones still, uninterruptedly, going back to the very manuscript which Rambam wrote in his own hand. This is considered sufficient proof even in the face of discrepancies or contradictions from one book of Rambam to another. Such contradictions do not demolish the above proof; rather efforts are made to reconcile them, in the certainty that both have been written by the same author.
The same kind of proof substantiates any historic past, which we ourselves have not witnessed, and all normal people accept them without question, except those who for some reason are interested in falsification.
In many cases the authenticity of an historic event is based on the evidence of a limited group of people, where there is room to suspect that the witnesses were, perhaps, not quite disinterested. Nonetheless, because there is nothing to compel us to be suspicious, and especially if we can check the evidence and counter-check it, it is accepted as a fact.
From the above point of view, any doubts you may have about the authenticity of the Jewish Tradition should be quickly dispelled.
Millions of Jews have always known and still know that G-d is the author of the Torah Shebiksav (written Torah) and the Torah Shebe'al Peh, (oral tradition) which He gave to His people Israel not only to study but to observe in practice in daily life. The Al-mighty made it a condition of the existence and welfare of our people as a whole, and of the true happiness of every individual member of our nation.
How do these millions of individuals know, and how did they know in the past, that the Torah is true? Simply because they have it on the evidence of their fathers, millions of Jews that preceded them, and these in turn from their fathers, and so on, uninterruptedly back to the millions of Jews (if we include women and children, and those above and below the age range of the 600,000 male adults) who witnessed the Divine Revelation at Sinai. Throughout all these generations, the very same content has been traditionally handed down, not by a single group, but by a people of many millions, of different mentalities, walks of life, interests, under the most varying circumstances, places and times, etc. etc. Such evidence cannot be disputed.
It is difficult, in the course of a letter, to elaborate, but I am sure that even the brief above analysis should dispel any of your doubts (if indeed you had any serious doubts) as to the authenticity of our Tradition. I trust you will from now on not permit anything to weaken your observance of the Mitzvos, whose very observance of itself illumines the mind and soul more than any philosophic book can ever do. I shall be glad to hear good news from you, and I wish you success.
27 Cheshvan, 5764 - November 22, 2003
Positive Mitzva 15: The Mezuza
This mitzva is based on the verse (Deut. 6:9) "You shall write them upon the door-posts of your house and upon your gates" The Torah commands us to affix a special sign - a mezuza - on the right side of every entrance into Jewish houses and on the doorpost of every room. The mezuza assures us of Divine protection. The mezuza itself is written on parchment upon which portions of the Torah are hand-written by a qualified scribe.
Positive Mitzva 18: A personal Torah scroll
This mitzva is based on the verse (Deut. 31:19) "Write this song for yourselves." Every Jew is commanded to write a Torah scroll. A person may hire a scribe to prepare this Torah scroll for him. He may also purchase a letter in a Torah scroll being written.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
In this week's Torah portion, we learn that our ancestress, Rebecca, started kindling Shabbat lights from the age of three.
In addition, she was endeared to her new husband, Isaac, when he saw that, like his mother Sarah, the light from her Shabbat lights lasted an entire week.
Every daughter of our people is called "A daughter of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah." Every Jewish girl, even a three-year-old, inherits this wondrous power of illuminating the house through her candle lighting, for the entire week, till the next Erev Shabbat.
True, the lights which Sarah and Rebecca kindled, lasted (by a miracle) physically and shed a physical light for the whole week; but the inner effect of today's children lighting the Shabbat candles is the same. Although we cannot see it with our flesh-and-blood eyes, the Shabbat candles lit by the Jewish daughters in our age fill the home with light all week long.
The Midrash states that "If you will guard the lighting of the Shabbat candles I will show you the lights of Zion (the rebuilt Jerusalem)."
In the merit of the Shabbat candles of the Jewish daughters, may we see, speedily in our days, the light of Moshiach tzidkeinu.
One hundred years and twenty years and seven years, were the years of Sara's life (Genesis 23:1)
The commentator Rashi explains, "The years of Sara's life - they were all equally good." But a question begs to be asked: Weren't the majority of Sara's years filled with hardships, longing for children, living in exile, imprisoned at the hands of Pharoah and Avimelech? How can we say that all of her years were equally good? During her entire life, concerning everything that was seemingly bad, Sara said, "This too is for the best." She saw G-d's kindness in everything.
(Rabbi Zusia of Anipol)
And G-d blessed Abraham in everything. (24:1)
There are some righteous individuals whose main concern is with themselves, that their own relationship with G-d will be perfect. But this is not the case with true tzadikim. As we see with Abraham, our father, who was blessed with the trait of "everything." His concern was not only with himself, but for everything and everyone.
(Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev)
"Let it be that the maiden to whom I will say: `Lower your pitcher that I may drink.' And she will say, `Drink, and I will give your camels to drink, also." (24:14)
When looking for a wife for Isaac, why did Eliezer examine Rebecca in this area specifically? There is a significant difference between holiness and impurity: The objective of holiness is to give, to enliven others, to influence. Impurity, on the other hand, takes. Rebecca wasn't satisfied just to give Eliezer water but watered his camels, too. From this act Eliezer saw an indication and proof that Rebecca was connected with the "side" of holiness and fitting to bond with the descendants of Abraham.
(Rabbi Shneur Zalman, author of Tanya)
David and Meir had been childhood friends. From the earliest they could remember, they were partners in Torah study. After they both married, David mysteriously disappeared and Meir didn't see him for many years. Meir did, however, hear that David had joined the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov and eventually became the Rabbi of Nikolayev.
Meir eventually inherited his father-in-law's business and divided his time between business and Torah study. On one of his many trips to a fair in a far-off city, he was staying in an inn where he saw a group of chasidim rejoicing.
"What are you rejoicing about?" asked Rabbi Meir.
"Rabbi David of Nikolayev is here," they answered him.
Rabbi Meir realized that they were speaking of his childhood friend, and asked the chasidim where Rabbi David was. They pointed to a closed door. Rabbi Meir knocked on the door. "David, open the door for me!"
Rabbi David opened the door and recognized his old friend. They fell on each other in great excitement.
"Why did you go to the Baal Shem Tov?" Rabbi Meir began.
"Remember when you and I used to discuss that we wanted to learn Torah lishma - for its own sake - but we were not able to reach that level? I heard that in the Besht's circle, they learned Torah lishma."
"And what made you stay, once you got there?" asked Rabbi Meir.
"When I came to the Baal Shem Tov," answered Rabbi David, "I didn't find what I was looking for at first. But the chasidim encouraged me to stay a while longer. I stayed the eve of Shabbat and managed to be in the Baal Shem Tov's room when he read the holy book, Song of Songs.
Truly, it was something to hear. I felt as if a tumult was being made in the heavens. But I still wasn't convinced that this was the place for me.
"Yet, the Baal Shem Tov's chasidim convinced me to stay on, at least until they observed the yartzeit - anniversary of the passing - of one of his parents. That entire night, the Baal Shem Tov would remain in his room repeating the six books of the Mishna by heart. The chasidim were certain that this phenomenon would convince me. I waited until the night of the yartzeit, and there was truly something to be awed by. However, I still was not convinced.
"Stay until the night after the yartzeit, the chasidim told me, 'for the Baal shem tov will fast for the entire day and then, at night, he will make a big meal for the greatest of his students. If you attend this meal, it is impossible that you won't be totally drawn to the Baal shem tov.' 'But prepare yourself well,' they warned me. 'Most people fall asleep during the meal.'
"I agreed to stay. I rested well in preparation for the evening. I even said special prayers to help me stay awake. At the meal, the Baal Shem Tov sat at the head of the table, surrounded by his chasidim. He began to expound on the meditations for immersing in the ritual bath (mikva). "One of his students stood up and said, 'Rebbe, the Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria) explains this concept differently.'
"The Baal Shem Tov's face went a fiery red, and then a deathly white. Immediately, I became exhausted and could not stop myself from falling asleep. While asleep, I saw many people running somewhere. I asked the people where they were going and they told me that in a few minutes the Baal Shem Tov was going to expound on some deep concept. I, too, began to run.
"We arrived at a large building and I saw two seats in the middle of the hall. I was told the seats were for the Baal Shem Tov and the Arizal. I managed to stand right near the Baal Shem Tov's chair.
"The Baal Shem Tov began to expound on the mediations for immersion in the ritual bath. After he finished his lecture, the Arizal asked him many questions and the Baal Shem Tov answered him. Thus proceeded the exchange until the Arizal acknowledged the truth of the Besht's words.
"Immediately thereafter I awoke to find myself once again at the festive meal with the Baal Shem Tov. The Baal Shem Tov once again began to expound on the meditations for the mikva and the same disciple said once more, 'But the Arizal explains differently.'
"The Baal Shem Tov looked straight at me and said, 'David, stand and tell us what you saw!'
"And that," concluded Rabbi David, "is how I became a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov." When Rabbi Meir heard this story, he decided to travel together with Rabbi David to the Baal Shem Tov and eventually became one of his greatest chasidim.
After the passing of his wife Sara, Abraham purchased the field in Hebron with the Cave of Machpelah as a burial place. This purchase represents the beginning of the general redemption of all Jews. The commentary Pa'ane'ach Raza explains that with the 400 silver shekels that Abraham paid (Gen. 23:16), he purchased one square cubit of the Land of Israel for every one of the 600,000 root-souls of the Children of Israel.
(From Discover Moshiach)