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February 6, 2004 - 14 Shevat, 5764

806: Beshalach

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You Are What You...  |  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

You Are What You...

Advertising agencies would like us to believe that you can tell a lot about people from the - fill in the blank - cars they drive, clothes they wear, beverages they drink, credit cards they use, etc., etc.

What about food? Can you tell anything about a person from the food he eats?

In honor of Tu B'Shevat, the New Year for Trees, let's take a look at the seven "fruits" with which the Torah praises the Land of Israel, "A land of wheat, barley, grapes, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey."

The Jewish people are intimately connected to the Land of Israel, a connection that expresses itself in the fruits that grow there, as well. Thus, these fruits - whether or not we eat them - can tell a lot about who we are, or who we can be. For, these seven fruits are symbolic - according to the mystical teachings of Judaism - of seven aspects of our spiritual growth.

Wheat is described by Jewish teachings as "food for humans." It refers to the part of ourselves which is uniquely human - the G-dly soul. Food taken into our bodies must be assimilated for us to remain healthy. Similarly, the Divine spark in each of us needs to be assimilated into our beings and into every aspect of our lives - even our most mundane activities.

Our Sages refer to barley as "food for animals" and this refers to our more base desires which, according to Chasidic philosophy, come from the "animal soul." Thus, those parts of us which would fall into the category of "animal instincts" need to be elevated and permeated with purpose.

Grapes make wine which, according to the Talmud, makes "G-d and man glad." Interestingly, the Talmud uses the word "anashim," rather than one of the other words for "man" in this instance. Chasidic philosophy says that anashim refers to people who are on the lowest spiritual rung. Gladness and happiness are indeed a form of spiritual service, one which can be attained by individuals who are not involved in lofty, spiritual pursuits.

The G-dly service associated with grapes indicates not only that we ourselves should strive to be joyful at all times, but that our joy should be infectious and we should influence others to have this positive approach to life and G-d.

The Torah relates that fig leaves were used to make the first garments worn by people - Adam and Eve. Afterwards, G-d gave people "leather garments." "Leather" in Hebrew is "ohr" and is spelled with the Hebrew letter "ayin." The Hebrew word for light is also "ohr" though it is spelled with an "alef." In the Talmud, Rabbi Meir refers to Adam's and Eve's clothing as garments of ohr with an alef, meaning garments of light. This means that each of us should endeavor to spread the light of the Torah to those whom we meet.

Jewish teachings explain that even the simplest Jew is as filled with mitzvot (commandments) as a pomegranate is filled with seeds. For, G-d created the world in such a way that it is virtually impossible for a person to go through life without performing mitzvot at every turn. The fact that each seed in the pomegranate is a separate entity indicates that each mitzva has its own unique importance.

Olives are bitter. This implies that, though a Jew's life must be characterized by sweetness, and that his primary approach must be one of joy, still, when evaluating spiritual achievements, he must come to a state of bitterness. (Warning: bitterness is not depression. Chasidut deals extensively with the differences between bitterness and depression and the detrimental effects of depression.)

Dates are referred to in the verse above as "honey." Honey is the Torah's mystical aspect. The study of the mystical aspects of Torah strengthens the inner dimensions of the Jewish soul, the essence of our being which controls our lives.

Through developing all of these aspects of ourselves and by encouraging others to do the same, we will merit to go to the Land of Israel where we will enjoy not only the actual fruits with which the Land of Israel is praised, but also the fruits of our labor during the long exile.

Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Beshalach, tells about the special type of food, manna, with which G-d provided the Jews during their sojourn in the Sinai desert. It was referred to a "bread from Heaven." The manna had several amazing characteristics, among them were that the manna could taste like anything a person wanted, and that each person received exactly the proper amount that his family needed.

The manna, however, was not merely a solution to the Jews' nourishment in the desert. G-d commanded that a special jar of manna be kept for future generations. Later, when Jeremiah chastised the Jews for not learning enough Torah, they would answer him back saying, "How can we just leave our jobs and learn Torah? How will we support ourselves?" Jeremiah would then take out the jar of manna and say, "This is what supported your forefathers; G-d has many emissaries to provide sustenance for those who fear Him."

At first glance, Jeremiah's answer to the question of how the Jews would provide for themselves is not clear. What is the connection between the manna that fell in the Sinai desert, and the situation of the Jews in his time? Manna had ceased to fall from the heavens and people were forced to work the earth to bring forth grain for bread.

The manna, however, symbolized not only G-d's kindness in the Sinai desert - but also that He sustains us even now.

When we plough the ground in an effort to grow food, it would seem to be a totally natural process. We do not discern anything miraculous or supernatural. Indeed, if we were to thank anyone at all for our food our gratitude would be directed toward the farmers who worked the land to bring forth its bounty. Likewise, the employee who receives a salary thinks that he is sustained and provided for by his employer alone.

If we examine the concept of sustenance further, we will see that the earth which grows wheat, and the employer who pays a salary, are only the channels through which G-d blesses us. The true blessings and good come from Him, but He uses natural means to transfer our sustenance.

Even a simpleton understands that it is not the pipes that give us water but the underground spring or well itself. We must, of course, work for a living - in order to fashion a "pipe" - but we need not make the "career" the center of our life. Fashioning a pipe cannot interfere with performing mitzvot, for by doing so, we would cut ourselves off from the "well" - from G-d's blessings.

However, our blessings do arrive in a natural way, concealing the true process. Therefore, a Jew must have faith in G-d in order to achieve this understanding. This is the importance of the manna, for it symbolizes in a concrete way the fact that our sustenance comes directly from G-d. None of man's machinations and schemes can change this; each person will receive exactly, no more and no less, the portion allotted to him.

Understanding the significance of the manna will strengthen our belief in G-d and our faith that He will take care of us both physically and spiritually.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

A Slice of Life

by Leah Sherman

This year I celebrated the 18th anniversary of my arrival to the United States, from the United Kingdom. What unites that time with the present is the steps I have taken towards spiritual growth. The journey has been full of twists and turns, turbulent at times, as it has guided me to this pinnacle, from which I begin again. The three-year-long dream of keeping kosher at home became real when I moved into a new home in East Boca, earlier in the year, answering a long-awaited prayer that I be with- in walking distance of the synagogue.

Growing up, the laws of Shabbat appeared restrictive, limiting even, and the spiritual essence of Shabbat was never revealed to me. As a child, my questions were predictably answered with just two short statements: "Because it's written," or, "Because it's our tradition." After a while, I just stopped asking. Yes, it was "nice" to light Friday night candles, and I'm sure that some part of me felt connected to the ritual, but now that I know the difference this seemingly simple gesture can make, I am infused with excitement and anticipation as the lighting time approaches on Friday night. It's more powerful than me, beyond me, and it gives me a sense of purpose, the feeling that what I do really does matter after all-that my purpose for being here is far removed from my self, and altogether to do with G-d's purpose for being here.

As the sun sets over the treetops, I light my Shabbat candles, and breathe in deeply to welcome the Shabbat. For me, it's a time to stop and think of my family and friends in England, to send healing energy to people who aren't well, to transmit peace and kindness across the universe. It's a time to disconnect from worldly matters, to absorb myself in prayer, the passages and inner wisdom of the Torah, and my relationship with G-d. Removing myself from the physicality of the workweek, everything slows down. Walking to the synagogue early on Saturday morning, I see G-dliness in the trees and the flowers, and marvel at their changing, as each week the trees shed their old branches and leaves and bear new ones, and the tropical flowers blossom with remarkable color and shape. I hear His voice in the chirping of the birds, see Him moving with the flow of the current, and recognize Him in the faces of people as we pass each other on the road. It's the time in which stress dissolves, the turbulence ceases to exist and I know peace. It recharges me, conveys to me what's real, what's most important, and it elevates my week, each and every week. I thrive on it, I am alive in it.

There is something else that happens, too. Arriving at the synagogue, I connect with other people; we're there for the same reason. I enjoy the familiarity, the family, of community. I come to know people out of the box, to bond with them on a deep level as Rabbi New unites us as one, during prayer, with the chanting of uplifting melodies, and throughout the three meals of Shabbat. Everyone is cared for, thought of, missed when they're absent. It sometimes feels as though we're in a spaceship, going on a trip together, into the mystery. As the mystery deepens, my heart unfolds to the wonder, the unknown, and I learn not to fear but to trust, and to love. The rituals ignite the heavens in a joyful dance and as each week passes God's love exists in the smallest aspects of my life, not just in the grand moments when it's clear who's making the move. I feel Him with me, all the time.

The need for material sustenance not with- standing, my prayers no longer revolve around what I can get but what I can give. I strive to replace thoughts of my self with thoughts of a G-dly nature, asking how to improve, how to move to the next level, instead of the immersion in the self, in the void. How do I deepen my connection to the Creator? How can I better position myself to serve His purpose? "What is His will," is a rich and rewarding prayer. Let Him take care of the rest. Yes, I have resistance. Sometimes Jewish law asks me to exert myself, and my faith, beyond anything I've ever known. As I morph through each stage of my unfolding, I learn to acquiesce more easily the experience of surrender so extraordinarily beautiful that gratitude becomes the focal point of my awakening. I thank G-d, and love Him, for the opportunities that these apparent challenges present. From the moment I awaken in the morning and say the Modeh Ani prayer, to the time that I lay down at night, with the Shema I am reminded of who I am. And who I am is, quite simply, beyond me.

Of course I have a long way to go; I've only just begun to scratch the surface. And for me that's part of the beauty - I will never know enough, I can always know more, and can grow towards G-d every week, every day, each moment of my life. There is always something to learn, beyond even the greatest thirst for knowledge and wisdom; it can never be satiated. There is Shabbat and the Holy Days to look forward to, and plan for, people to think of, mitzvot to perform.

18 years I've lived here; the numerical value of Chai, the Hebrew verb to live. At last I am embracing the life I dreamed of when I first moved here. L'chaim, to life.

This article was originally printed in InsideOut Magazine.

What's New

Letters of Light

As a carpenter employs tools to build a home, so G-d utilized the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, the alef-beit, to form heaven and earth. These letters are the metaphorical wood, stone and nails, cornerposts and crossbeams of our earthly and spiritual existence. In Letters of Light Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin explores the essence of these holy letters, illustrating how they continue to be a source of creation, reflection, prayer and inspiration in our everyday lives. Published by Sichos In English.

Gutnick Chumash in Spanish

The Gutnick Chumash, which has garnered much acclaim in the English speaking world, is now available in Spanish. A collaboration between Kol Menachem, the publishers of the Gutnick Chumash, and Kehot of South America, recently released the book of Exodus. The editors of a new translation of the Torah into Polish have been so impressed with the original English translation in the first two books of the Gutnick Chumash that they have asked the publishers for a pre-release copy of Chumash Vayikra (Leviticus), currently being prepared for publication later this year.

The Rebbe Writes

18th of Adar 2, 5725

Blessing and Greeting:

This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 21st of Adar 1, as also your previous correspondence.

May G-d grant that all the matters about which you write, including your activities in progress, as well as those to be undertaken in the future, should all be crowned with Hatzlocho, and in a greater measure than expected or anticipated at first glance.

In the literature of Chassidus, such activities are classified and explained under two categories: "seeding" and "planting." The difference is this: In the case of seeding, as, for example, sowing wheat, the fruits take less time to appear than in the case of planting a tree. The reason is that in the case of the former, the results, though many times the original effort, are considerably smaller than in the case of planting. Similarly, in the efforts and activities of a human being, there are such that come under one category and/or the other. If, therefore, it sometimes takes longer for the efforts to come to fruition, this is no reason for discouragement; on the contrary, the reason may well be that it is a case of "planting," where the ultimate results will be infinitely greater.

In light of the above, and also in answer to your previous letter, it is surprising to me that you should have any doubt about your ability, or the success of your efforts, etc. It would appear as if you have doubts as to whether the one who gave you the assignment had made a wise choice. Surely you do not entertain such a thought, though in any case I would not consider it in any personal way, as far as I am concerned. However, if you are certain that the one who gave you the assignment has not made a mistake, then you should continue your work with certainty and confidence, and with G-d's help you will succeed....

With blessing,

Greeting and Blessing:

I have been receiving gratifying reports from our mutual friend, Rabbi -, about your personal involvement in the activities to spread Yiddishkeit [Judaism] in your city and region. I was particularly impressed with his recent report that you have been instrumental in procuring a new mortgage for the Chabad House, which will go a long way to consolidate and expand its vital activities.

To a person who has been consistently active in this field, there is surely no need to emphasize at length the urgent and imperative need of the hour to strengthen every aspect of Torah Yiddishkeit, particularly in the Chinuch [education] of our young and growing generation. Here time is of the very essence. I have often emphasized that the Torah education of children is like the case of a young seedling, where a little extra care at an early stage results in manifold benefit when it becomes a full-grown fruit-bearing tree. It is even more important when the seedling requires protection against the elements.

There is no need to elaborate on the strong and dangerous environmental influences to which Jewish children are exposed in this day and age. No endeavor can therefore be too great for this cause. Indeed, as a successful businessman you know that embarking upon an ambitious and large-scale undertaking in the first place, generates a great deal more enthusiasm and energy to carry it through successfully.

As we are now approaching the Chag Hageulo [anniversary of liberation] of my father-in-law of saintly memory [on 12 Tammuz, early summer], the anniversary brings us a timely message that when it comes to Chinuch and Yiddishkeit in general there must be no concession to obstacles. By his unshakable determination, in defiance of a ruthless regime, he not only overcame all obstacles, but even succeeded to expand his activities, albeit, necessarily, underground. To be sure, none of us can compare to his stature, but after he has paved the way, and, especially, since by the grace of G-d we live in a country where there are no obstacles even remotely comparable to those he faced, but, on the contrary, there is freedom to work for Yiddishkeit - the lesson is obvious.

May G-d grant that the achievements in the past should stimulate you and all your co-workers to even greater endeavors, with complete assurance of G-d's blessing for Hatzlocho in these and in all personal affairs.

With esteem and blessing,

Rambam this week

16 Shevat, 5764 - February 8, 2004

Prohibition 62: We are prohibited from taking vain oaths

This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 20:7) "You shall not take the name of the L-rd, your G-d in vain." This prohibition teaches us not to make a "vain promise." A vain promise can be:

  1. To swear that something is not what it really is.

  2. To swear that something exists, when such a thing is impossible.

  3. To swear about something which is plainly obvious.

  4. To swear that you will not keep one of the mitzvot in the Torah.

All these promises are part of prohibition 62. Neither they, nor anything like them, should be made - even if they are made in a joking manner.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Shabbat is special in two ways. It is known as "Shabbat Shira" commemorating the shira, or song that the Jewish people sang at the Splitting of the Red Sea. The song is recorded in this week's Torah portion, and includes details of how Moshe led the men in song and Miriam led the women in song and dance.

In addition, the holiday of Tu B'shevat also occurs this Shabbat. Tu B'shevat is the New Year for Trees. A New Year for Trees, in and of itself, might not seem like a very important holiday to celebrate or even acknowledge. And yet it is celebrated in various ways with different customs all over the world.

It would be appropriate to mention a few thoughts about the significance of trees in Judaism. We are told, for instance, that if one is planting a tree and is informed that Moshiach has arrived, he must first finish planting the tree before he goes on to anything else.

Whenever the Jews were involved in a war, they were enjoined never to cut down a fruit-bearing tree, so precious are they considered.

In addition, there are various laws and customs concerning eating fruit from new trees and cross-breeding different types of fruit-bearing trees.

Man is likened to a tree in the field. If a seed or seedling is planted in rich, well-dug soil, given proper care, sun, and water, it will grow strong, deep roots and produce beautiful, healthy fruit.

An infant or young child, placed in an environment rich in Judaism, given a well-thought-out education, proper care and other necessities will grow strong deep roots in his own heritage and produce accomplishment and achievements that are beautiful and healthy.

May we all merit to raise our own children, to help others raise their children, or to raise the "child within" to be beautiful, healthy, and "fruit-bearing"

Thoughts that Count

The L-rd will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace. (Ex. 14:14)

According to the Midrash, the statement, "and you shall hold your peace" refers to the fact that, even after G-d assured them of victory, the Children of Israel continued praying for success against the Egyptian army when they were threatened at the Red Sea. G-d reprimanded them by saying "you shall hold your peace" - that this is not the time to pray. There are times when a Jew is required to "close his prayer book" and go out of the synagogue. This is because outside, there are thousands of Jews at the shores of the sea threatening to drown them. At this point, it is more important for the person to be involved with saving the people who are threatened by the rising water.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

On the sixth day, they shall prepare that which they bring in, and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily. (Ex. 16:5)

On every weekday during their sojourn in the desert, the Children of Israel were commanded to collect just one portion of the manna. But on the sixth day, they were told to collect two portions: one for Friday and one for Shabbat. It is for this reason that we say the blessing "hamotzi" over two loaves of bread on Shabbat.

And the waters were unto them a wall. (Ex. 14:29)

This teaches us that when we do the will of G-d and have faith in Him, to the point of being willing to throw ourselves into the sea in order to keep the Torah, not only is the water nullified and ceases to be a threat to us, but it actually becomes a protective wall.

(Likutei Sichot)

See, G-d has given you Shabbat. (Ex. 16:29)

The joy and happiness that one feels on Shabbat is in direct proportion to the effort expended in preparation during the previous six days. For, indeed, it states in the Talmud, "He who takes pains on Friday will eat on Shabbat." This is what is meant by "G-d has given you Shabbat" - G-d has given you the ability to determine the amount of holiness and pleasure you will feel on Shabbat.

(Likutei Torah)

It Once Happened

During one of the Roman Emperor Hadrian's tours through Israel, he happened upon an old man, digging holes in the soil, about to plant young saplings.

Looking at the grey hairs of the old man, the Emperor exclaimed, "Hey, Greybeard. Surely you did not work in your youthful days that you have to work in your old age!"

"Nay, sir," replied the old man, "I have worked both in my youth, and am not loath to work in my old age, as long as G-d will grant me strength."

"But surely you do not expect to eat of the fruit of your labor! Where will you be by the time these saplings bring forth their fruit?"

"If it be G-d's will," answered the old man, "I might yet enjoy the fruits of these young trees."

"You are very hopeful, old man. How old are you?"

"This is my hundredth birthday today."

"You are a hundred years old, and yet hope to eat the fruit of these trees? Why work so hard for so slim a chance?"

"Even should G-d not spare me long, I will not have worked in vain. Just as my grandfathers planted for me, so do I plant for my grandchildren."

"Upon your life, sage," exclaimed the Emperor, "if you live long enough to eat this fruit, please let me know."

Years went by, and the young fig trees brought forth their fruit. The old man remembered his conversation with Hadrian and decided it was time to keep his appointment with the Emperor. He selected a basketful of choice figs, and off he went. When the guards finally admitted him, the Emperor did not recognize him.

"What brings you here, old man?" Hadrian asked impatiently.

"I am the man you saw planting saplings near Tiberias, a few years ago. You requested me to let you know should I live long enough to enjoy their fruits. Well, here I am, and here is a basket of figs for the Emperor's pleasure."

Hadrian opened his eyes wide in astonishment. He ordered that a golden chair be placed before the old man, and begged him to be seated. The Emperor ordered his servants to empty out the basketful of figs and replace them with gold coins. Hadrian's ministers were shocked at his respectful treatment of the old Jew. But when they voiced their displeasure, he reprimanded them, saying, "If the Creator of the World has so honored this man, granting him so many years, surely he is deserving that I honor him as well!"

When the old man returned home, with gold and glory, his neighbors came out to congratulate him.

One couple, however, became very envious. The wife suggested to her husband, "It seems that the Emperor loves figs! Why don't you take some figs to him, and fetch home their weight in gold also! And don't be foolish, bringing only a small basketful! Make sure you take a big sack, and you'll bring home a veritable treasure!"

The man did as his wife suggested. When he arrived at the Emperor's gates, he said to the guard, "I heard that the Emperor is very fond of figs and exchanges them for gold coins. I brought a sackful of juicy figs. Won't you let me bring them in to the Emperor?"

"Wait here," said the Captain of the guards.

"Have that silly man stand by the gates of the palace," the Emperor commanded, angrily. "Place the sack of figs that he brought at the entrance, and let everyone entering and leaving the palace throw a fig at him!"

The Emperor's orders were carried out to the letter. Towards evening, when the 'ammunition' was exhausted, the man was released and sent home.

Upon seeing his bruised face, his wife exclaimed, "What happened to you? Where's the gold?"

"I wish you were there to share my wealth," the husband said, and related to her all that had happened.

From Talks and Tales

Moshiach Matters

Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai used to say: "If there is a plant in your hand when they say to you: 'Behold, the Moshiach!' - go and plant the seedling, and afterward go out to greet him."

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