Catching Your Breath | 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
How often do we end up short of breath? Running to catch the bus or train, or after some vigorous exercise - whether it's aerobics, jogging, or basketball - we often find ourselves gulping air in big breaths.
When we have to catch our breath that way, it almost feels good. We've worked hard, we accomplished something - got to the bus on time, strengthened our cardiovascular or muscular system, whatever - we're exhausted and our deep, heart-thumping breathing signals a kind of triumph, an acknowledgment of life pushing forward.
But there are a couple of other situations when we have to catch our breath. When we're stressed out, our chest constricts and it gets hard to breathe. Indeed, shortness of breath accompanies panic attacks, anxiety, even depression. These mental disruptions, imbalances, disturbances - whatever you want to call them - manifest themselves often first, but certainly most prominently, in a shortness of breath.
And there's another time we get short of breath - when we're physically ill. Certain diseases attack the lungs - pneumonia, bronchitis, pleurisy - G-d forbid all of them. But even other diseases make breathing labored, like the flu. We're not in the same discomfort, necessarily, but with clogged passages, our breathing isn't as free and easy as it ought to be.
Finally, there are allergies and asthmas. Respiratory ailments. Inflammation of the sinuses. These are chronic and make us miserable. Whether seasonal or year-round, hay-fever sufferers, asthmatics, etc. are just plain miserable, because the ailment affects not only the nose - the first stage of breathing - but it's support system, the sinuses, tear ducts and, in a sense the eyes. It can be controlled by medication, but that has side-effects and, let's face it, the breathing still isn't open, clear and natural.
Torah study is the breath of our life. Paraphrasing Rabbi Akiva's famous analogy, a fish out of water can't breathe, and a Jew without a serious, on-going, ever-growing Jewish education can't breathe spiritually. True, studying Torah intensely and intensively leaves us breathless - with excitement, awe and insight - and gasping for more - just like the athlete after a star performance.
But if our souls go a day without Torah, it becomes spiritually asthmatic, wheezing and desperate. Our souls become miserable, ill, so to speak. But to open the clogged airways, we don't need inhalers or pills - gimmick topics or avant garde classes. All we need is old fashioned learning - a bit of the basics like the daily section of the Torah portion with Rashi, a few Psalms, some mystical Jewish insights from Tanya, a few nuggets of Jewish law from Maimonides.
It doesn't take much to clear our spiritual bronchial tubes so we can breathe deeply in an atmosphere of Torah. But we need to do it every day.
(You can find the above-mentioned "learning" on the L'Chaim homepage at www.LchaimWeekly.org)
In the Torah portion of Vayishlach we read of Jacob's preparations before confronting his brother Esau and his army of four hundred men.
Regarding Jacob's manner of preparation, the great Sage Rashi comments: "He repaired himself in three ways: to give gifts [to Esau and thereby appease him]; to pray; to do battle [with Esau]."
Why does Rashi use the unusual expression "repaired himself" rather than the more common expression "prepared himself"?
When a person "prepares himself" it means either that he mentally or physically gets ready for the event.
Repairing, however, indicates more than just general preparation: it is indicative of the person "repairing" and "rectifying" himself; changing something within himself in order to prepare to do what must be done.
This was the case with Jacob. He prepared himself for "gifts, prayer and battle" by "repairing" something within himself:
Our Sages note that Jacob was angry that he had to appease his brother through gifts. In order for the gifts to be given - as gifts should be given - with a cheerful countenance, Jacob had to effect and repair a change of attitude within himself.
Jacob was also fearful that his merits were not enough for G-d to save him from his brother's wrath. It was therefore necessary to effect a change within himself, through the vehicle of prayer, and merit G-d's blessings.
This was also the case with regard to Jacob's preparations for battle. Jacob was averse to doing battle: "...he feared and it anguished him." In order for him to mentally prepare himself to do battle, an emotional change had to transpire within himself.
These three changes which Jacob effected within himself all manifested themselves within him at one and the same time.
Yet, granting gifts calls for an attitude of closeness and kindness, while doing battle requires a feeling of distance and severity. Both of these are interpersonal in nature. Prayer, on the other hand, requires beseeching Divine mercy.
A human being cannot harbor these three very different and opposite emotions simultaneously, without effecting a radical change within himself. This, then, is an additional reason why Jacob had to "repair himself," so that he could harbor these conflicting emotions at the same time.
Jacob is symbolic of holiness and Esau of evil. Their confrontation symbolizes the battle between the three attributes of kindness, severity and mercy within holiness and the same three attributes within evil.
In a physical battle victory can be assured when, in one grand, united effort, three divisions from three different points converge upon one of the enemy's divisions. This strategy can be repeated over and over again with the same successful results.
In the spiritual battle against evil, when kindness, severity and mercy of holiness join ranks, attacking and subduing each unholy attribute in turn, successful results are assured.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Saving the World: One Soul at a Time
by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton
One afternoon, about thirteen years ago, I entered the office of our Yeshiva and checked the voice mail on our telephone. The first message was from a woman. "My name is Zahava and my phone number is 9876544. Please call me back," she said in Hebrew.
Zahava probably had the wrong number. Our yeshiva is for English-speaking young men, most of whom have not previously studied in yeshiva. I called her back just to let her know she had misdialed so that she could make sure to place whatever call she had wanted to make. I called the number she left, and when Zahava answered, I tried to explain to her that she had made a mistake.
"One minute" she said, "This is Kfar Chabad, right? I want to speak to Kfar Chabad."
When I explained that she had indeed reached a phone number in Kfar Chabad (a Chabad village outside of Tel Aviv in Israel), she continued, "Good! Well, I have a friend called Sara. She's pregnant and says she can't afford another child, she already has three and her husband doesn't earn much, so she decided she wants to have an abortion. I tried to talk her out of it, even sent rabbis and experts, they talked to her for hours but nothing worked. Now she says that the only thing that will change her mind is if the Rebbe of Chabad himself calls her and personally tells her not to do it. And that is why I called you. You're Chabad, right?"
I guess she had the right number after all. Sort of. I explained to Zahava that the Rebbe is very busy, that he prays, learns and teaches Torah non-stop and also answers about one thousand letters and requests each day. So it is unreasonable to expect the Rebbe to call people back on the phone.
I suggested that I was willing to send a fax to the Rebbe explaining Sara's situation and ask for a blessing that the next person who speaks with her should succeed in convincing her to have the baby.
Zahava agreed and I sent the fax. Just one hour later I received a call from the Rebbe's office that the Rebbe had answered the fax.
The secretary read me the Rebbe's response. The Rebbe had written, "Is it true that people spoke to her seriously and did not succeed? I will pray for her."
I immediately called Zahava and excitedly read her the Rebbe's answer.
For a moment she was silent and then she slowly said, "Is the Rebbe saying that I'm lying?! That no one ever spoke to Sara!?"
I really hadn't thought about it but I realized that she had a point. I tried to suggest another possible explanation but Zahava interrupted me.
"The Rebbe sits over there in New York and I am over here in Israel. How can he know if I'm telling the truth or not?"
There was silence for a minute; I didn't know what to answer.
Finally, quietly, seriously, Zahava said, "Well Rabbi, I want you to know that there is no Zahava.... I am Sara. And no one ever spoke to me about not having the abortion. I don't know how the Rebbe knew! But one thing is for sure ... I just got the answer I was waiting for, in person, from the Rebbe. Please, Rabbi, will you write back to the Rebbe, and tell him that I'm not going to have the abortion. Tell him that I decided to have the baby and G-d will help."
I wrote another letter to the Rebbe and faxed it to the office right away. Three hours later I received yet another reply:
"Thank you for the good news. It is written in a Mishna of Tractate Sanhedrin that anyone who saves one Jewish soul it is as though he saved the entire world. Please tell her that she has just saved the entire world. And with that merit, G-d will send her blessings of success, health and nachas (pleasure)."
The Rebbe stopped everything he was doing and did a miracle to save an unborn child.
Rabbi Bolton is the administrator of and has been teaching at Ohr Tmimim Yeshiva in Kfar Chabad for nearly 20 years. He is a musician with three albums to his credit and is the editor of Ohr Tmimim's Torah OnLine weekly where this article is from www.ohrtmimim.org/torah/
Yeshivacation is a ten-day intensive yeshiva experience for people with minimal background in traditional Torah-based learning. The men's yeshiva program is offered by Hadar HaTorah Yeshiva and the women's yeshiva program is offered by Machon Chana Women's yeshiva. Both schools are located in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, home of the Lubavitch community and world headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Yeshivacation includes lectures, hands-on workshops, textual study, discussions and workshops. The program runs from December 25 through January 4. For more information contact Hadar HaTorah at (718) 735-0250 or www.HadarHatorah.org and Machon Chana at (718) 735-0030 or www.machonchana.org.
Adapted from a letter of the Rebbe from 1964/5724
Continue from last week's issue
In light of the above preface, let us - you and I - consider our position. Surely, in the face of the situation as it now exists and is deteriorating, all debates and philosophical speculation must be set aside. The existing emergency demands immediate action to save Jewish souls, of the old, middle-aged and the young. This is the primary obligation of each and every one of us who desires to counteract the Hitler objective. This obligation is particularly imperative in regard to one's immediate environment where one has been raised, and to whom one owes a debt of gratitude for many benefits. More compelling still is this duty to one who has tried his ability in the field of education and has met with success. So obvious should this be to the thinking and conscientious person, that it is puzzling if such a person fails to see it. I can only explain it as follows:
If the Yetzer Hara [evil inclination] should come to a thinking person and tell him: "Forget about those spiritual crematoria; instead, go out and have a good time, give yourself up to the pleasures of the flesh!" - this line would not work, of course. But the Yetzer Hara has a better tactic, which is more "discreet" and "diplomatic." It follows in the opposite direction, something like this: "For a person like you, mundane pleasures are too trivial. You should think in terms of universal ideas, ideas which embrace the whole of mankind, based on the most profound philosophies, etc. Here you will find fulfillment of your soul's mission, for in saving the whole world you will save its part also," and so on, and so on. Unfortunately, this deception often succeeds with many a well-meaning individual, and induces him to concentrate his attention on some utopian ideas, to the neglect of the immediate environment.
All that has been said above - in the hope of your kind indulgence - is, of course, not intended, G-d forbid, as a rebuke or argument for the sake of arguing. I simply want to understand how it is possible for a young man, who contemplates what is happening around him, to fall into such a misconception. Surely the daily newspapers cannot delude one into thinking that all is well and normal. The reports on juvenile delinquency and crime; the promiscuity among college students; the rising tide of intermarriage and assimilation, etc., surely must be a constant challenge to the decent and right-thinking young man, and should "sting" him into doing something practical, rather than engaging in some abstract topics, or in some research which, as all will agree, could at any rate wait for a while; whereas, the boy or girl in the college cannot be left to wait, and unless helped and guided immediately, might soon be swept and irretrievably lost, G-d forbid, by the tide of intermarriage and assimilation.
- Chabad exemplifies the right approach, and this will answer one of your questions, namely, what does Chabad aim at?
One of the basic tenets of Chabad is that Ahavat Hashem [love of G-d], namely unity with G-d, who is not only the Creator of mankind, but also the Creator of the universe, is synonymous with Ahavat Yisrael [love of a fellow Jew]. And Ahavat Yisrael is not necessarily expressed in an attempt to save the whole Jewish people, but in helping even a single individual. Remember: "He who saves even one soul, is deemed to have saved a whole world," our Sages declared.
Indeed, the founder of Chabad himself showed an example of it: When a poor woman gave birth at the far end of town, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, we are told, took off his Talit and Tefillin, and went to her dingy hut to light the fire, and prepare some food for her. The Rebbe saw no contradiction in interrupting his prayer to G-d (and be it remembered that the prayer even of an ordinary Jew, if it is sincere and wholehearted, achieves unity with the Creator of All) in order to help a woman in need; on the contrary, such help is the best expression of being attached to G-d. How can you - and I say this with all due respect to you - sit by idly in this city, surrounded by thousands upon thousands of fellow-Jews who are starving for guidance and direction towards the right path in life, the way of the Torah, Torat Chayim? Can you turn a deaf ear toward the cries of Jewish children who, if denied immediate help, may be consigned to a spiritual crematorium, G-d forbid? Surely you should wish to dedicate all your energies and capacities to this life-saving work.
It is my prayerful hope that from now on, at least, you will open your eyes and heart to what I have said and written to you; that you will, without further procrastination, fully utilize the gifts and capacities which Divine Providence has bestowed upon you in helping to guide Jewish children and adolescents towards the path of the Torah and Mitzvot, to help save them from the clutches of complete assimilation.
Moreover, as explained in Chabad in which, I am glad to see, you are interested, this sacred work will give you new insights into Ahavat Ha-shem and all that goes with it, and will help clear up many of the problems, enigmas, and conflicts which disturb your peace of mind at present.
I hope and pray that my words, coming from the heart, will find the proper response in your heart.
17 Kislev, 5764 - December 12, 2003
Prohibition 320: It is forbidden to work on Shabbat
This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 20:10) "You shall not do any manner of work" What work is forbidden? What one person may find a fun hobby, another may view as a tedious job. The Torah defines thirty-nine forbidden activities which are called "melacha" - work - and which may not be done on the Shabbat. Using those rules as a base, our Sages have taught us a code of laws instructing us how to keep Shabbat. We are not allowed to do any of those activities which the Torah considers to be melacha on Shabbat.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Sunday, the nineteenth of Kislev (corresponding to December 14 this year), marks a special day in the Chabad-Lubavitch calendar in particular, and the Jewish calendar in general. It is the yahrtzeit (anniversary of the passing) of Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezritch, disciple and successor to the Baal Shem Tov.
The nineteenth of Kislev is also the day on which Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the first Chabad Lubavitch Rebbe, was released from prison. He was imprisoned on false charges of anti-government activity.
Interestingly, Rabbi Shneur Zalman mentions in a letter to his followers after his release that, "while I was reading in the book of Psalms the verse, 'He redeemed my soul in peace,' before beginning the following verse, I emerged in peace by (the act of) the G-d of peace."
Chasidim set aside the 19th of Kislev as a day for gatherings. It is a time when individuals and groups establish good resolutions and set aside times to study Torah and Chasidic philosophy.
In the merit of Rabbi Dov Ber and Rabbi Shneur Zalman, and in the merit of our good resolutions and increased Torah study, may we see the righteous Moshiach, NOW!
And Jacob came whole to the city of Shechem (33:18)
Rashi explains this to mean that Jacob was sound in body, his wealth was intact, and his Torah-observance was uncompromised. We learn from Jacob to always strive for excellence in all areas of our lives. Even a person whose primary path in the worship of G-d is through practical mitzvot - charity and good deeds - should also strive to be perfect in study.
I lived - garti - with Laban (Gen. 22:5)
The letters of "garti" have the numerical value of 613. Jacob was explaining that though he lived with the wicked Laban, he observed all 613 of the commandments of the Torah.
I am not worthy of all the mercy... which You have done (Gen. 32:11)
The Hebrew for "I am not worthy" can also be translated, "I have become small." Jacob our ancestor said: The great mercy which G-d has done for me has caused me to become more small and humble. The mercy which G-d shows toward a person brings him closer to G-d, and the closer one is to G-d, the more humble he becomes.
Thus Rachel died, and was buried on the road to Efrat, which is Bethlehem (Gen. 35:19)
Why didn't Jacob bury Rachel in the Cave of Machpela where Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sara, and Isaac and Rebecca were buried? Instead he buried her at the crossroads of Bethlehem in accordance with a Divine Command. When Rachel's children would, in the future, be exiled by Nebuchadnezzer to Babylonia, they would pass Rachel's tomb. She would entreat G-d for mercy for her children, and G-d would listen to her prayer.
And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men (Gen. 33:1)
Jacob went to meet with his brother Esau even though he knew that his life might be endangered by the encounter. But he didn't discuss the matter with anyone, or think twice about it. He just did it. From this we learn how important it is to DO things, because DOING is what will bring Moshiach.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz, a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, believed strongly that the doctrines of Chasidism, based on and interwoven with the Kabala, ought not to be publicized except to a select few. He was especially opposed to the practice of the disciples of his colleague, the Maggid of Mezritch, who committed the Maggid's teaching to writing, and circulated their manuscripts for copying by others.
Rabbi Pinchas' anger and criticism were aggravated one day when on a visit to Mezritch, he found one of these manuscripts lying in the gutter. To Rabbi Pinchas, his worst suspicions appeared confirmed. He was notably upset and this incident could have led to a serious rift between himself and the Maggid, leader of the Chasidic movement after the Baal Shem Tov's passing.
The situation was saved by the quick intervention of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. He approached Rabbi Pinchas and related the following parable:
"Once there was a great and powerful king who had but a single son. The king wished to see his son excel in wisdom and sent him to many distant places to be trained in the arts and sciences. One day a letter came informing the king that the prince had fallen ill with a very dangerous disease. Immediately the king gathered the greatest medical experts to find a cure, but ot no avail. Anxiety and frustration filled the kingdom, until one day a man appeared and said that he knew of an effective medicine. The elixir, however, consisted of a precious stone grounded into a fine powder which had to be mixed with a liquid and then fed to the patient. After a thorough search the king's servants could find but one stone of the type prescribed. It was the central and most precious jewel adorning the principal royal crown.
"The joy at finding this jewel was soon tempered by a great dilemma. The removal of the stone might cure the prince, but it would dim the very symbol of the royal majesty. To the king, however, nothing, mattered as much as a cure for his only son and he ordered that the jewel be removed and pounded into powder. In the meantime, however, it was reported that the patient's condition had deteriorated severely to the point, that he was unable to take in even liquids. His mouth could hardly be opened. In view of this development the king's advisors thought it senseless to destroy the precious stone. But the king insisted that they proceed, arguing that the slightest chance of getting a single drop of the elixir into the prince's mouth was worth the destruction of the inestimable stone.
"The advisors retorted, 'For as long as your son was able to drink we agreed with you. Nothing, would have been too precious to save his life, but now his condition worsened and it is unlikely that he was able to take in anything. Surely it will also destroy the very diadem of the kingdom.
"But the king replied, 'If, Heaven forbid, my son should not live, what use is the crown? Alternatively, if my son lives, surely that shall be my greatest glory - the life of an only child who exposed himself to dangers in order to obey his father's wish and excel in wisdom and strength."
Rabbi Shneur Zalman finished his tale, and Rabbi Pinchas nodded his head in approval. He understood the analogy, how sometimes even the diadem of the kingdom must serve as a means towards a higher end. The king's son, the people of Israel, were in dire need of that most precious life-giving elixir of Chasidism. With a smile he conceded, "You are right. Your words are an effective defense for the propagation of Chasidism.
Upon hearing of this incident, the Maggid personally complimented Rabbi Shneur Zalman, adding, "With your words, you saved me."
From The Great Maggid, by Nissen Mindel, Kehot Publications
The confrontation between Jacob and Esau does not merely reflect an incident in the lives of two people. These two individuals are not merely private persons, but rather archetypes representing conflicting thrusts in the spiritual and material cosmos. As the commentator Rashi relates, they are fighting for dominion of both realms: the material and the spiritual. The ultimate resolution of this conflict will be in the Era of the Redemption, when "saviors will ascend Mt. Zion and judge the mountain of Esau, and dominion will be G-d's."
(From Highlights of Moshiach)